Jalaluddin Khwarazm: A Visionary Leader | An Intrepid Warrior


Waqar Akbar Cheema

1. Introduction

Every nation has a natural tendency to polish its history. All nations do it and they do it even at cost of distorting facts. Not that distortion of facts is anyway justified, but the attitude is natural somehow. However, in our society we come across people who are going against all these natural trends and end up distorting the facts and attacking the people from their own history recognized and respected as heroes. Just reminds me of Iqbal;

کہ غلامی میں بدل جاتا ہے قوموں کا ضمیر

In state of bondage, as is known,
The shift of conscience is quite sure.

A certain columnist, Salman Rashid, seems to have something special to do with Sultan Jalaluddin Monkabirti / Mang-barni (d. 1231 C.E.), the man known to have resisted the Mongols for a long period.

At least two of Mr. Rashid’s articles on the subject are available online. One of these, published in The Express Tribune, is relatively recent unlike his “love” for the Sultan that at least dates back to July 2008, when he wrote about him in Daily Times.

The purpose of this study is not to prove the Sultan infallible but to repel the attacks on his person and character. It will be followed by a more rigorous study and analysis of Sultan’s short career in India.

To keep the study rather brief I will try just to limit it to quotes from various sources. And the sources will be many unlike Salman Rashid who mostly relies only on Ata’ al-Mulk al-Juvaini’s (1226-1283 C.E.) “Tarikh Jahan-Kusha” (The History of the World Conqueror). Al-Juvaini was an employee of the Tatars and to expect him to give a balanced view speaks of one’s “deliberate simpleton-hood.” In fact even a cursory reading of his work shows, more than putting the events to record he was concerned about glorifying the Tatars and demeaning their adversaries.

2. Jalaluddin Khwarazm: A valiant Sultan

Minhaj-ud-Din Abu Umar-i-Usman aka Minhaj-i-Siraj (d. 1259 C.E.)  , the author of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri-  the work referred to as, “a contemporary and reliable history” by Mr. Salman Rashid- begins his account of the Sultan in the following way;

Sultan Jalal-ud-Din , Mang-barni, was the eldest son of Sultan Muhammad, and was endowed with great heroism, valour, and high talents and accomplishments.[1]

The translator of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Major Raverty (d.1906 C.E.) adds in his annotation;

He was, according to Yafa-i, and other trustworthy writers, the greatest, the most noble-minded, the most warlike, and the most devout of the sons of his father, and most worthy of the diadem of sovereignty. His valour rivaled that of Rustam and Isfandyar, and he was able, skilful, and sagacious.

If there was any man in those days capable of coping with Chingiz successfully, it was he; and, from his subsequent heroic actions, there can be little doubt but that his efforts would have been crowned with success, if his advice had been acted upon, or he had had the direction of affairs, and had been seconded by his brothers, nobles, and subjects, with that unity of purpose so essential in the hour of danger. His brothers, however, were selfish beyond measure, and cared for naught but their own interests and worldly pleasures and excesses …[2]

3. Sultan’s Encounter with the Mongols before his retreat to India

Just as Salman Rashid says, the Sultan did not reign over the thrown of Khwarazm but this was not out of his inability or something of the kind. Major Raverty while speaking of the acute mess in the kingdom of Khwarazm after the demise of Sultan’s father writes;

All men of experience, and the soldiery generally, were desirous of the sovereignty of Jalal-ud-Din, …” So he was in a strong position to make his bid for the thrown but instead of being a part of the dirty power struggle he; “… knowing the state of utter misery in which the country was now overwhelmed, considered it advisable to leave Khwarazm in the hands of his brother and his party, rather than weaken the little power still remaining by civil strife.[3]

As the Sultan reached Ghazni, Chengiz Khan sent a detachment under the command of his own son-in-law.

The author of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, himself mentions this;

Sultan Jalal-ud-Din advanced against the Mughal army as far as the limits of Parwan, and overthrew the Mughal infidels. He encountered them upon three different times in that quarter and on all three occasions success and victory rewarded him;[4]

Ibn Athir (d. 1233 C.E.) mentions this in more detail;

When the Tatars (Mughals/Mongols) returned from Khurasan they went back to their King (Chengiz) who prepared a mighty army and sent them towards Ghazni. Jalaluddin, the son of Khwarazm Shah, was the ruler there. He gathered what had remained of the army of his father. It is said they were sixty-thousand. When the Tatars moved towards Ghazni Muslims under (Jalaluddin) the son of Khwarazm Shah came out to fight them at the place called “Balq”.

Here the two armies met and they fought a ferocious battle. It continued for three days, then Allah bestowed His help on the Muslims and the Tatars were defeated and the Muslims killed them as they wished. Those of them who survived went to their King who was in Talaqan. When the people of Herat heard of this (the humiliating defeat of Tatars at the hands of the Sultan), they revolted against the Tatar governor of the city and killed him. Chengiz Khan sent an army towards Herat that conquered it (again) and destroyed it as we have already mentioned.

When the Tatars were defeated, Jalaluddin sent a message to Chengiz Khan saying, ‘[Say] at what place you want to fight that we may come there?’ Chengiz Khan gathered a huge army, greater than the first and sent with it some of his own sons. He sent them to Jalaluddin, they moved towards Kabul. The Muslim army turned towards them and met them there. There was a great battle fought between the two armies. The infidels were defeated the second time. Many of them were killed, and the Muslims took a lot of booty from what was with them. With them were also a huge number of Muslim prisoners (other accounts say they used them as human shields in encounters) who were saved and released.[5]

Did Salman Rashid ever mention these victories of the gallant Sultan?

4. The Battle on the bank of River Indus

 Having inflicted a crushing defeat upon the savage Mongols, Muslims lay their hands on the booty they got. However, two of the commander of Sultan’s army Amin Malik and Saif-ud-Sin Ighraq entered into a dispute on a petty issue. This resulted in Ighraq’s departure along with thirty-thousand of his men. Thus Sultan’s power was halved all of a sudden. The Sultan knowing the severity of the situation himself made a bid to work out reconciliation.

Ibn Athir writes;

Jalaluddin tried to appease him (Saif-ud-Din Ighraq) in very way. He walked to him in person, mentioned to him (the glory and reward of) Jihad and asked him to fear Allah the Almighty. He even wept in front of him (bidding him not to depart), but he did not hearken and went away deserting. This broke the power of Muslims and weakened them.[6]

Learning of the weakness of the Sultan, Chengiz Khan who earlier did not face the Sultan himself even though he was challenged came with a huge army now. Considering the weakness of his army, he decided to make a tactical retreat towards river Indus. The Mongols followed them. And at the bank of river Indus was fought the most terrible battle. Sandwiched between a savage enemy and a ferocious river, the Muslims had no choice but to fight and they did actually put a wonderful show of gallantry.

Al-Dhahabi (d. 1348 C.E.), the well known Hadith scholar and a wonderful historian, like many others puts it in the following words;

The two armies met and fought and the encounter became so ferocious that it was said; ‘Verily the earlier battles were just a play in comparison to this.’ The fight lasted for three days. And a great number was massacred from both the sides and the Tatars suffered more.[7]

Major Raverty refers to the personal heroics of the Sultan after the commanders of his right and left flanks had fallen, in the following words;

The Sultan had kept up this unequal combat from dawn to noon, and was now left with the remains of his centre reduced by this time to about 700 men [some say 100 only]. He flew from the flank to the centre, and centre to the flank of the enemy, and fought like a lion at bay, charged them repeatedly [the Mughals were commanded not to kill him, but to take him alive if possible], overthrowing numbers, and clearing a space around him at every onset, and filling them with amazement at his valour.[8]

But in wake of the large and even growing number of the Mongols, he had no choice but to save his life to carry out his future plans. He plunged into the fast flowing river in a stupefying fashion practically filling the Mongols with a strange feeling of awe. This happened in the year 1221 C.E.

5. The fate of Sultan’s family

Though most historians are overwhelmed by Sultan’s leap into the river after a valant fight and its future consequences vis-a-vis the Muslim resistance to Mongol onslaught, Salman Rashid tries to “highlight” what he calls, “Jalaluddin’s shameless abandoning of his family to the Mongols.” And then continuing his criticism of “an Urdu novelist who has written a spate of spurious ‘historical novels’” he lambasts him for his “remarkable lack of integrity” as he says;

Nor too does he address the other advice Chengez Khan gave his sons: ‘A man’s greatest pleasure is to sleep with the women of a vanquished foe.’ Indeed, that is the fate the women of the Khwarazmian harem faced after they were abandoned by the poltroon who the ignorant celebrate as a hero. (Footloose: Jalaluddin Khwarazm, Daily Times, Friday, July 11, 2008)

Even though Major Raverty also refers to something of the kind in his notes to his own translation of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, this seems far from the truth.

Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406 C.E.) mentions it did not happen this way. He writes that when the Sultan was finally cornered on the bank of Indus;

He killed all his family and harem and dashed into the river on his horse.[9]

The following narrative by al-Nasawi  -who completed the biography of the Sultan in 1241-42 C.E. – gives further details of this;

When Jalaluddin returned to the edge of river Indus, he saw his mother, his wife and a group of women from his harem. They cried at the top of their voices, ‘By Allah it is upon you to kill us and save us from being caught.’ He ordered for them to be drowned. And it was from the strangest of scourges and greatest of the pains.[10]

Apparently the myth of Sultan deserting his family at the mercy of his savage foes springs with a French historian C. D’ohsson (d. 1855 C.E.). In his work, Histoire Des Mongols, Depuis Tchinguiz-Khan Jusqu’à Timour Bey Ou Tamerlan, (History of the Mongols from Genghis Khan to Timor Bey or Tamerlane), he mentions the narrative of Muhammad al-Nasawi and then tries to question it saying;

But no other historian makes any mention of any such happening, the author of Djihankuschaï  (The History of the World Conqueror) says positively that women of his harem fell into the hands of Chengiz Khan.[11]

But this is totally wrong. Not just that historians, other than al-Nasawi, do mention the narrative of the noble women being drowned, Ata’ al-Mulk al-Juvaini, the author of “The History of World Conqueror”, also does not say anything to contend it.

The narrative given by al-Nasawi is also preserved in the following works;

Tarikh al-Islam of Hafiz al-Dhahabi

Al-Mukhtasar fi Akhbar al-Bashar of Abu al-Fida, and

Al-Tarikh of Ibn al-Wardi

Apparently C. D’ohsson has confused or deliberately mixed the tragedy of the Turkan Khatun, mother of ‘Alau-ud-Din Muhammad Khwarazm Shah, and other noble women, falling into the hands of the Tatars in the region of Mazandaran with the episode of Sultan Jalaluddin at the bank of river Indus. The tragedy that happened in Mazandaran is mentioned by ‘Ala-ad-Din ‘Ata-Malik al-Juvaini.[12]

It’s amazing that Salman Rashid used such strong wording without making requisite study. And obviously as a hero of what they call the “ghairat-brigade” you don’t expect Sultan to behave like “bai-ghairat”, anti –“ghairat-brigade” people!

6. Jalaluddin vs. Tatars after his retreat to India

Salman Rashid conveniently devours years from the life of Sultan Jalaluddin as if he died in unknown circumstances after he crossed Indus. If it comes from someone who ever consulted some history books, then it has to be a lie on his part. The Sultan made his way to Kirman and then Fars through India.

In the year 1227 C.E. Jalaluddin and the Mongols had another big encounter. Ibn Athir records;

Then the news reached him that a large army of Tatars was heading towards Damighan near Rai aiming to attack Muslim lands. He faced them and gave them a fight. There was a fierce battle between the two sides. The Tatars were defeated by him. A large number of them were killed and he followed them on their flight killing and taking them as captives. It continued this way till he reached the vicinity of Rai fearing the gathering of rest of the Tatars. When the news of huge numbers of them marching towards him came, he stood there waiting to face them.[13]

And to such an intrepid warrior Salman Rashid refers as “a craven general.”

Next year (i.e. 1229 C.E.) again there were many battles between Jalaluddin and the Mongols. Ibn Athir gives the details and Ibn Kathir puts the thing briefly in the following words;

In this year many battles were fought between Jalaluddin and the Tatars. They defeated him more than once. But after all these (defeats) Jalaluddin inflicted on them a huge crushing defeat and killed countless from among their ranks.[14]

In fact same is mentioned in Tabaqat-i-Nasiri as well;

The Mughal forces, upon several occasions, went in pursuit of Sultan Jalal-ud-Din, but victory always attended him.[15]

So it’s a shame for Salman Rashid to hide the whole phase of Sultan’s career from his readers. Half-truth is a lie! In fact even his “half-truth” lacks the thing called truth as demonstrated above. Below is more about Salman Rashid’s insinuations about the Sultan.

7. The death of Sultan Jalaluddin

Salman Rashid has been making an attempt to disparage the Sultan by arguing that he was “mercilessly stabbed to death on the orders of his own brother.”

Besides the fact that even if Sultan was to killed on the orders of his own brother it wouldn’t mean anything because as known his brothers were unworthy men with no character and vision to take up the real challenge of their times, the story is not really true even.

After a fierce battle the Sultan was forced to retreat and during the process he was left alone. And then,

he met a peasant from the land of Mayyafariqin (Silvan) who took him to be stranger for the precious ornament on his horse, and asked as to who he was. He said, ‘I am the king of the people of Khwarazm.’ The Khwarazmids (in some battle) had killed the brother of the peasant. He made him to stay with him and showed him respect but when the Sultan went to sleep he killed him with his ax and took all he had (of gold and ornaments).[16]

A person who took Sultan to be a stranger could not be one commissioned to kill him. Right?

Similar is the story of his death according to the author of Tabaqat-i-Nasiri except that in his narrative it’s a chief of a certain village instead of a mere peasant but the reason is same that the Sultan “had slain the brother of that chief.”[17]

8. What did the Sultan die for?

He was a man who died for a cause- the cause to push back the Tatars and protect the Islamic lands from the savages. In this process he had to fight even the unworthy Muslims leaders.

A few statements from Major Raverty’s notes to Tabaqat-i-Nasiri say it all;

Back in his early days even though, “All men of experience and the soldiery generally, were desirous of the sovereignty of Jalal-ud-Din”, he did not become a part of the power politics but rather, “considered it advisable to leave Khwarazm in the hands of his brother and his party, rather than weaken the little power still remaining by civil strife.”[18]

And while he even had to fight Muslim rulers- those whose were “bent on their own destruction, and played into the hands of the Mughals.”[19] he actually “endeavored [in 627-8 H.] to induce the rulers of Rum and Sham to join him against the common enemy, but jealousy and suspicion on their part prevented so advantageous an alliance.”[20]

To the ordinary minds it may seem that he died for nothing and failed as such. The fact, however, is that he resisted the Mongols for long. He was the one who entangled the Mongol hordes, reducing the momentum of the savage tide.

The great scholar Hafiz al-Dhahabi writes;

He resisted the Tatars in the initial and most bloody phase of their onslaught.[21]

And Malik al-Ashraf used to say;

He was barrier between us and the Tatars just as there is barrier between us and the Gog and Magog.[22]

9. The lesson of history

Study of Sultan’s history and the conduct of Muslims leaders of that day is a wonderful lesson for us. While another bunch of fanatic savages, the neo-cons, have set to become “the conquerors of the world” and they are sure to find many Juvainis in the persons like Salman Rashid, the true visionaries are only those who have decided to charge against the neo-Tatars and are resisting the Crusaders of this age.  There is a lesson for the Muslim rulers who are “bent on their own destruction” and “playing into the hands of their hunters”– hunters who have placed each of them in queue devouring them in turns.

Just as al-Juvaini’s insinuations about the Sultan have done no real harm to his well-deserved reputation, the quill of a just future historian will never give any attention to the words of people from Salman Rashid’s club when he writes about those who are resisting the unprecedented foreign invasion.

As to this breed of writers and “intellectuals” trying to question even the fundamentals of Islamic ideals and dying to tone-down the heroics of Muslims of the past we need not take them as an invincible of a challenge. When the swordsman of the sky will bring his blade upon the skull of the night they will disappear like the bird that turns up at night with its wide eyes is not seen after the day-break.

References and Notes:

[1] Minhaj-i-Siraj, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri: A General History of Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia including Hindustan– Translated by Major H.G. Raverty, (London: Gilbert & Ravington, 1881) vol.1, 285

[2] ibid., Vol.1, 285 n.3

[3] ibid., Vol.1, 286 n.6

[4]  ibid., Vol.1, 289-290

[5] al-Jazri, Ibn Athir, al-Kamil fil Tarikh, (Beirut: Dar al-Ketab al-Arabi, 1997) Vol.10, 362

[6] ibid., vol.10, 362-363

[7] adh-Dhahabi, Shams ad-Din, Tarikh al-Islam, (Beirut: Dar al-Ketab al-Arabi, 1993) Vol.44, 54

[8] Minhaj-i-Siraj, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri: A General History of Muhammadan Dynasties of Asia including Hindustan,Vol.1, 291 n.4

[9] Ibn Khaldun, at-Tarikh, (Beirut: Dar el-Fekr, 1988) vol.5, 141

[10] an-Nasawi, History of Djalal El-Din Monkabirti, Edit. By Hafiz A. Hamidi, (Cairo: Dar el-Fekr el-Arab, 1953) 159

[11] D’ohsson, C., Histoire Des Mongols, (Amsterdam: Les Frères Van Cleef, 1834) Vol.1, 307-308 n.3

[12] al-Juvaini, ‘Ata ul Mulk, The History of the World Conqueror, Translated by John Andrew Boyle, (Harvard University Press 1958) Vol.2, 385-386

[13] al-Jazri, Ibn Athir, al-Kamil fil Tarikh, Vol.10, 424

[14] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wal Nihaya, (Beirut: Dar Ehia al-Tourath al-Arabi, 1988) Vol.13, 143

[15] Minhaj-i-Siraj, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Vol.1, 297

[16] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wal Nihaya, Vol.13, 154

[17] Minhaj-i-Siraj, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, vol.1, 299

[18] ibid., 286 n. 6

[19] ibid., 298, n.9

[20] ibid.

[21] adh-Dhahabi, Shams ad-Din, Al-‘Ibar Fi Man Ghabar, (Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, Beirut n.d.)  Vol.3, 203

[22] Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wal Nihaya, Vol.13, 154

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Waqar Akbar Cheema

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