December 20, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

Mahmoud of Ghazni -- Plunderer and Legandary Lover


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Which raises the question: Was Mahmoud of Ghazni a true and believing Muslim?.



The pious Imam didn’t accept the Sultan’s presents.



[The Sultan's] eyes were so used to looking for opportunities to loot, grab, gouge and grasp other people’s goods and wealth that even death could not still them!



The death of our culture fractured us into mutually hurtful jagged fragments.

The Pak thesis echoed by the RSS and the Akalis in India continues to be as before.Ghaznavi is the great ‘Islamic’ hero who spent a lifetime spreading the message of the Prophet into the land of idol worshipping Kaairs. A dirham or two might have got stuck in his grubby, greedy, grasping hands but that can he be ignored and overlooked.

The ‘enemy’ continues to be the State which refuses to acquiesce in the belief that a religion alone forms the basis of a nation. To frighten them let us evoke history. Let us call our missile ‘Ghauri and ‘Ghaznavi’.

Which raises the question: Was Mahmoud of Ghazni a true and believing Muslim? One who took the Prophet (On Whom Be Peace!) as a role model and followed his teachings and example? As readers know, Mahmoud was the son of a Turki slave called Subuk or fleet, smart, quick. His great, good looks and high order of talent raised him to command. He became Subuk, the commander or Subuktagin.

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On the death of his erstwhile owner and chief, Alaptagin, Subuktagin assumed the title Amir and sent gifts to the Caliph or Khalipha. This brought preachers and priests besides recognition and title. Henceforth, some token ‘Islamism’ was in order.

Like all rulers, Subuktagin and Son were hungry for land (zamin) and gold (zar) and women (zan). Women could also be bought with money or acquired by abduction and enslavement in war.War and battles were the solution to the human lust for gold women and land.Is the Pak assessment of Mahmoud as an Islamic hero correct?

Is it right to look upon his many ‘raids’ into India (Seventeen is the number in popular estimate) as ‘Islamic’ activity? Two bits of evidence go against the thesis.On return from a particularly successful ‘raid’, Mahmoud sent some of the booty to the Imam of the mosque in Ghazni.

The pious Imam didn’t accept the Sultan’s presents. He said that he had no right to the booty. It was not an Islamic military activity which had yielded the wealth. If it were, it would make it the booty of an Islamic war or jehaad. The activity was personal and private to the Sultan and therefore other Muslims had no right to it.The other story is from the great saint, seer and poet, Shaikh Sadi.

He says that even after his death when all the rest of the body of Mahmoud became still, his eyes went on rotating wildly in their sockets. According to Saadi, these eyes were so used to looking for opportunities to loot, grab, gouge and grasp other people’s goods and wealth that even death could not still them!

Perhaps all concerned should forget Mahmoud the raider. The new emphasis should be on Mahmoud the great Lover. It should be remembered that Mahmoud has a very high rank in the galaxy of lovers. He is of the first rank. Right alongside Mujnoun and Farhaad.The great lover of Arab lore is Qais.

His unrequited love for Laila (Leylaa) so frustrated him as to make him lose his reason. He became obsessed with his love. This onset of junoon earned him the sobriquet Majnoun and few now remember that his name was Qais.Farhaad was the great irrigation engineer and stone mason who knew all there was to know in the character of both water and stone.

The ruler of Persia/Iran, Khusro had a most beautiful wife, Shireen, Farhaad was smitten by a desperate love for Shireen. Khusro wanted water to be available on abundance in his capital city. The only source was blocked by an impenetrable massive mountain. Khusro knew the genius of Farhaad.

He alone had the prowess, skill and knowledge to bring the water through the mountain by guiding it past the rocks and through the innumerable but imperceptible faults.Khusro used Shireen as bait. If Farhaad brought water to the city, the beauteous Shireen would be bestowed upon him by a grateful Khusro.

Farhaad trusted Khusro and started tunneling single-handed and with the desperate resolution of the true lover. When he got through and the water cascaded into the parched earth of the city, an old crone came weeping and wailing. ‘Alas! Woe is me! Alas! Alas! Alas! the most beauty of God’s gifts to the earth, the lady Shireen is dead! Alas!’

The heart-broken Farhaad turned the pick which had brought success to his enterprise on to his own jugular and gave up his life.Mahmoud’s great love, a passion which made him into legend in the Persian-speaking world, was for his bondsman slave, Ayaaz. Ayaaz had been bought in the market like any commodity.

His owner and master Mahmoud had total control and all rights on Ayaaz. And yet speaking of the power of Love the Urdu poet asks: ‘Who, O who dare ask Shah, Mahmoud way he acts like the slave of Ayaaz when all know that the Mahmoud is the master and it is Ayaaz who is slave!’(Poochhey Shahey Mahmoud sey kaun? Kyoun Ghulaamey Ayaaz hoataa hai?)

There is no why or how about love. Perhaps, the death of love as the Indians know it before Westernisation made it and poetry redundant and unnecessarily took people’s attention away from Mahmoud the lover and focused on his material grabbing activities.

We need to go back to the lament of Iqbal: ‘The great good taste, the cultivated style and grace, the sheer sophistication of Mahmoud has disappeared from amongst our people; the twist in the locks, the curl in the tresses of Ayaaz appears to have been lost!’(maa woh ghuznavi kaa mazaa hey, nae woh khum hey zulfey Ayaaz meyn!)

The death of our culture fractured us into mutually hurtful jagged fragments. We await a renaissance to become sensitized again. This alone can make us whole. Us equals India plus Pakistan plus Bangladesh plus Afghanistan plus Nepal plus Sri Lanka.


Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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