Tartars—The Scourge of God

The Causes of Tartar Invasion:
Islam was confronted with another danger in the seventh century, unparallel in the annals of the world, which was about to wipe it out of existence. This was the invasion of the wild and savage hordes of the Tartars who issued forth from the Mongolian steppes and over-powered almost the whole of the Islamic world with a lightning speed.
The immediate cause of the Mongol invasion can be attribu ted to a grevious mistake of Ala ud-din Muhammad, the Shah of Khwarism. A body of traders who had arrived from Mongolia was put to death, and when Chengiz Khan deputed an embassy to enquire into the reasons for it, Muhammad replied by killing the envoy too. On receiving the news of this outrage upon international courtesy, the Mongol Khakan Chengiz Khan un loosened the whirlwind of savagery upon the world of Islam.
However, if one were to look into the moral behaviour and attitudes of ancient nations, particularly those relating to the Bani Israel as well as their destruction and massacre, demolition and sacrilege of Jerusalem, and the reasons therefore described in the Qur'an, one can clearly see with the insight provided by the Scripture into the nature of historical process, that the reason for converting the Islamic world into a vast charnel-house was not a solitary act of cruelty on the part of a reckless and haughty sovereign. As the Quran tells us, it was certainly not due to the mistake of a single individual that the storm of death and destruc tion burst forth on the entire world of Islam. If we were to cast a glance over the religious, moral, social and political conditions of the Muslim peoples in those days, there would be no difficulty in finding out the reason for this calamity. Such a survey would amply bear out that the carnage did not take place ail of a sudden. It had deeper and far-reaching reasons than those narrated hitherto by the historians. We shall have to look for these reasons into the political situation and the social condition of Muslim society over a century or more prior to the Mongol invasion.
After the death of Salah ud-din in 589 A. H., the vast empire carved out by him split up into several independent principalities and kingdoms headed by his sons or other successors. Like many other founders of the Empires his successors did not possess the talent of their progenitor, and, what was more, they continued to fight each other for a fairly long time. Some of these even did not hesitate to seek the assistance of the Crusaders against their own brethren, an instance of which has already been cited in the previous section. The whole of Islamic world was, in fact, in a state of chaos; nowhere was to be found peace and tranquillity; a moral and social disintegration was at work which was clearly visible in the rapidly deteriorating political situation. The Crusaders were again making inroads into the Muslim territories and had recaptured the lands emancipated from their clutches by Salah ud-din. All those factors had already contributed to the repeated famines and epidemics. A fertile country like Egypt was so devastated by the fratricidal warfare between al-Malik al-Adil and his nephew al-Malik al-Afzal that when the floods in Nile failed in 597 A.H., the country was overtaken by such a severe famine that the people had to take resort to cannibalism. Death stalked over the land killing the people in such large numbers that the dead had to be buried without shrouds. The annalist Abu Shama relates that Sultan al-Malik al-Adil provided shrouds for two hun dred and twenty thousand dead bodies in a single month. People began to take the dogs and human flesh without any feeling of revulsion; innumerable children were eaten away. Ibn Kathir writes that a stage came when the children and youth offender age were all eaten up and people began to kill one another to satisfy their hunger.' These were grim reminders of God calling people to a sincere penitence for their sins and mending their ways. The ravages of famine and pestilence were followed by a severe and widespread earthquake which hit the region covering Syria, Asia Minor and Iraq. The devastation and destruction wrought by the earthquake can be judged from the fact that in the town of Nabulus and its surrounding district 20,000 people were crushed under the fallen houses. Another historian writes in Mir at al-Zaman that eleven hundred thousand people died as a result of this earthquake. On the one hand, these natural calamities were visiting the Islamic world with unwelcome regularity, and on the other, frat ricidal feuds and forays were continuing unabated. In 601 A.M. the two chiefs belonging to the same family, Qatadah Husaini of Mecca and Salim Husaini of Madina were locked up in a hotly contested battle. In 603 A.H. the deadly feuds between the Ghorids of Afghanistan and the ruler of Khwarism flared up which encouraged the Muslims to waste their energy and power by shedding each others' blood. This was the state of affairs on the one side, while the Christendom had inflamed another Crusade, on the other, barely two years after the death of Salah ud-din, and landed its forces on the Syrian coast in 604 A.H. The rulers of al-Jazirah were secretly in league with the Franks in 607 A.H. while Damietta in Egypt, a city of considerable military impor tance, had fallen to the Crusaders in 616 A.H.
In the metropolis of Islam, Baghdad, the magnificence and splendour of the Caliph's court, copied from the etiquettes and ceremonials observed by the Iranian and Byzantine Emperors, had touched the summit of extravagance. It is difficult to imagine the wealth amassed by such personal servants of the Caliphs as pages, cupbearers, attendants of wardrobe, who normally entered the service merely as slaves. The annual income from the property acquired by Alaud-din al-Tabrasi al-Zahri, a slave purchased by the Caliph al-Zahir, is reported to have been as much as three hundred thousand Dinars. The house built by him in Baghdad was conspicuous for its size and beauty. Similar was the case with other state officials—Mujahid ud-dln Aibek, al-Salah Abdul Ghani, to name only a few. The former had an annual income of live lakh Dinars while the latter, although an illiterate man, lived like a prince. Annalists have left staggering accounts of their lavish expenditure on the marriages of their sons and daughters. On the other hand, the teachers of the celebrated Madarsa al-Mustansaryah were doled out such paltry sums which bore no comparison to the wages paid to the meanest of the slate officials. The most erudite scholars and professors did not get more than twelve Dinars a month while the servant of al-Sharabi, a grandee of the Abba"sid regime, could spend four thousand Dinars on a marriage and pay another three thousand as the price of a bird brought for him from Mosul.
The royal processions of the Caliphs on the occasion of Id and to mark the anniversary of their succession to throne were seized as an opportunity for ostentatious display of royal pomp and pageantry. The whole of Baghdad came out to witness these pro cessions in a mood, free and easy, amusing and entertaining itself and oblivious of even obligatory congregational prayers. In 640 A.H. the royal procession taken out on the occasion of Id terminated after the night-fall with the result that most of the people witness ing the procession performed the Id prayers just before midnight. Again in 644 A.H. a large number of people missed the prayers on the occasion of Id al-Ad' ha and performed the same at the time of sunset.
The usual mode of making obeisance to the Caliph was to bow almost to the ground, or touch the ground with one's nose, but nobody even felt in it anything opposed to the teachings of the Shari ah or degrading to his independent and manly character. Confiscation of private property had become a common affair; illegal gratification by officials was widely prevalent; immodesty and grossness of conduct was on the increase; the Batinites, charlatans and swindlers were basking in sunshine; everyone seemed to be after wealth; love of music had grown almost into a craze; in short, the common pursuits of the people and the social and moral disintegration of the society threw a lurid light on the state of chaos then prevailing in the Muslim world.
This was the time when the Mongols were devastating Turkistan and Iran and were casting a covetous glance over Baghdad. "The year 626 A.H. began writes Ibn Kathir, "with the indecisive yet sanguinary battles between the monarchs of the house of Ayyubids." Such a state of chaos prevailed in Baghdad, the centre of Caliphate, that from 640 A.H. to 643 A.H. no arrange ments could be made by the Caliph for sending out Hajj parties nor was the covering for Kaba sent by the Caliph. For 21 days the walls of the holy shrine remained without a cover, which was taken as an ill-omen by the people.
Ahmad Abul Abbas succeeded his father, Caliph al-Mustadhi, in 575 A.H. under the title of Al-Nasir ud Din-Illah. He had had an opportunity to rule for forty-six years. His reign was the longest one ever enjoyed by any Abbasid Caliph yet, perhaps, it was also the darkest of all the regimes of the house of Abba"sids. Historians have severely criticised his regime for tyranny and mal-administration. Writes Ibn al-Athir:
"He was a tyrant who ill-treated the populace. Iraq was a devastated land during his regime; its population mig rated to neighbouring countries, and their possessions were confiscated by the Caliph. He gave contradictory orders; rescinded the orders given by him a day earlier.... Being too much interested in sports and pastime, he had prescribed a special uniform which could be put on only by those per mitted to take part in gymnastics and athletic sports. His orders so severely curtailed the sports that these activities practically came to an end in Iraq. His interest in the entertainments had grown almost into a craze.... Iranians accuse him of inviting the Mongols to attack the Muslim territories and hatching a conspiracy for the same."-
Al-Nasir ud Din-Illah died in 622 A. H. and Mustansii b'llah (623-640) ascended the throne. He was a just, mild, benevolent and pious ruler, recalling the right-guided Caliphs but unfortunately he did not get enough time to reform the administration. He was succeeded by his son Must asim b'Illah in 640 A.H. He too was a pious and just sovereign who never touched wine nor indulged in immodest acts. He had committed the Qur'an to memory and observed fast on the Mondays and Thursdays in addition to those during the months of Ramadhan and Rajab. He is reported to be punctual in the performance of prayers but, according to Ibn al-Athir, he was too mild and miserly and also lacked foresight.
In 642 A.H., a man by the name of Muwayyid ud-din Muhammad Ibn 'Alqami was appointed as Prime Minister by the Caliph Mustasim. Disorders and disturbances were a source of constant trouble in Baghdad especially when the Sunnis and Shi ahs quarrelled in 655 A.H. It is reported that in these riots the Shi ah quarters including those of the relatives of Ibn Alqami were plun dered which led him to seek revenge from the Sunnis. Although the danger of the Mongol invasion was hovering over Baghdad, a great reduction was made in the armed forces on the advice of Ibn AIqami. The number of cavalry was reduced to mere 10,000, their allowances and promotions were withheld; the disbanded soldiers were directed to take to trade and husbandry with the result that many of them were later on seen begging alms in the bazaars and in front of the mosques. Islam was reduced to the state of imbe cility which led many poets to compose elegies to lament the help lessness of the Muslim peoples.
Al-Mustasim was personally a man of unimpeachable cha racter. He also wanted to reform administration and bring peace and prosperity in his realm but unfortunately he jacked the courage, zeal and ability of the founders of empires which alone could have saved the situation by infusing a breath of new life in the then tottering society and the administration. It has happened more than once that the last monarch of any ruling dynasty was just and wise, virtuous and humane but the degeneration of social and political order had reached the point in his time where its only natural outcome was final decay and crumbling down of that dynasty. This was the case with Mustasim too whom Providence had chosen for the badge of infamy, although he was better than most of his predecessors and had also a desire to set right the fastly deteriorating situation.
It is undoubtedly true that a group of people, pure in spirit and righteous in conduct, were there teaching and preaching in the mosques and seminaries of Baghdad but the affluent and those in authority, had become so corrupt that an annalist of that age, Abul Hasan Khazraji had to describe the conditions prevailing in his time in these words:
"The desire to acquire estates and effects has become a craze with these people who never think of the community's welfare. They are so engrossed in feathering their own nests that it can never be deemed as a rightful course. The officials of the government are all tyrants who are obsessed with the idea of amassing as much wealth as possible.... This is the most dangerous state of affairs for the government can co-exist with apostasy but never with tyranny."' In the eastern part of the Islamic world, the kingdom of Khwarism, raised towards the end of the fifth century of the Muslim era on the ruins of Saljukid Empire, held sway over almost the entire Islamic territories excluding the principalities of Saljukid Sultans over parts of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Hejaz and Asia Minor and that of the Ghorids in Afghanistan. Sultan Ala ud-din Muhammad Khwarism Shah (596-617) was one of the most powerful Muslim monarchs or perhaps the greatest sovereign of his day. Harold Lamb writes in his famous book Chenghiz Khan: "In the centre of Islam, Mohammed Shah of Kharesm had enthroned himself as war lord. His domain extended from India to Baghdad, and from the sea of Aral to the Persian Gulf. Except for the Seljuk Turks, victors over the crusaders, and the rising Memluk dynasty in Egypt, his authority was supreme. He was the emperor, and the Kalif who quarrelled with him but might not deny him was restricted to the spiritual authority of a pope."-
Muslim historians have not mentioned any noticeable per sonal laxity in the character or moral behaviour of Khwarism Shah. On the other hand, they speak of him as a brave and chivalrous ruler, just and pious, but there is no denying the fact that he spent his prowess and capabilities in subjugating the Muslim Kingdoms around his dominions. In the north-west of his territory he forced the Saljukids to retreat to the farthest end while he restrained the westward ambitions of the Ghorids by subjugating Khorasan, Mazandran, Rinnan, Ghazni and Trans-oxiana. These unending wars of Khwarism Shah had, never theless, worn out his troops who had to strain every nerve in achieving the conquests they had had so far. Apart from the war-phobia normally created by the continuous warfare over a long period of time, the conquest of the most fertile and industrially developed areas had brought to the capital of Khwarism Shah all that toil and labour could produce, along with the attendant vices of opulance and luxury, it is difficult to find any detailed account of these social ills in the annals of the time which arc mostly concerned with the descriptions of kings and emperors. Unfor tunately, however, the treatises and sermons, monographs and discourses of the saints and preachers, which would have thrown a lurid light on the subject, were all destroyed by the Mongolian avalanche. There is hardly any reason for attributing the follow ing statement of Harold Lamb to his religious prejudice or exag geration:
"It was a martial world, appreciative of song,
With an ear not unmusical. A world beset by inward throes,
slave-ridden, wealth gathering, and more than a little
addicted to vice and intrigue. It left the management of
its affairs to extortionist and its women to the custody of
eunuchs, and its conscience to the keeping of Allah."
The Sultans of Khwarism made the same fatal mistake which was committed by the Moors in Spain—an unpardonable blunder under the Divine Law of Retribution governing the historical process. They set about, body and soul, to extend and strengthen the bounds of their domain and subjugate their enemies but they never tried to diffuse the message of God and enlist adherents to it from the neighbouring lands which constituted a world different from their own. Quite apart from the religious fervour which should have diverted their energies towards this imperative task, commonsense as well as political foresight too dictated the same course which would have won over a vast but hostile population to their side and thus saved themselves as well as other Muslims from the tragic fate which was soon to engulf all of them.
Such were the conditions when the Mongols issued forth from the steppes of Mongolia under Chenghiz Khan and swooped down upon Iran and Turkistan, the eastern part of the Islamic world, like the scourge of God. By 656 A. H. the Mongols had reached the centre of Islam, Baghdad, converting it into a sham ble fulfilling the Qur'anic dictum: And guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong doers, and know that Allah is severe in punishment.''

Saviours of Islamic Spirit By: Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi