Social Scientist. v 18, no. 200-01 (Jan-Feb 1990) p. 13.


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M. ATHAR ALP

Encounter and Efflorescence:

Genesis of the Medieval Civilization**

There is today much introspection, and groping towards conflicting 'identities'. History (often, unhappily, appearing only as garb of part-mythology and part-fiction) has become a court of appeal for all the rival interests. It is time, therefore, that we interpret, as objectively and critically as possible, our past heritage; and as a modest contribution to this effort, I should like to offer to you my own understanding of that long and fateful encounter between two civilizations which took place in medieval times, and which I believe to have not only been fateful but immensely creative.

At first sight it may look odd why any one should choose to write on a theme ^which would now seem to be well-worn, viz, 'the intrusion of Islam' in Indian history. My own excuse for doing so is a two-fold one. First, the debate on the question, far from being closed, has intensified, and it is not likely to go away, even if the present phase of its violent expression would hopefully pass, being perhaps only one of those periodical bouts in which we have learnt, by our action, to belittle the greatness of our own civilization. Secondly, it has seemed tb me that much of the previous writing, despite the extensive research and scientific outlook on which so much of it was based, did not fully take into account the perceptions of Islamic history, generated by modern research, but rather took either the old-fashioned missionary or the apologist's view of Islam for its basis.

This is unfortunate. Wellhausen in his Arab Kingdom and its Fall had, for example, long ago shattered the stereotype picture of Arabs appearing with a sword in one hand and the Quran in another, and asking every one to stand up and be converted. For Indian scholars there was little excuse to have waited. We had in the Chachanama, the 13th-century Persian translation of a practically contemporary set of narratives of the Arab conquest of Sind, an authentic detailed account of the process of the Arab conquest (710-14) and its aftermath. Here we see the Arab conquerors easily slipping into the shoes of Indian rulers. The Chachnama tells us how the Brahmans were continued as revenue-collectors, how their mode of worship and sanctity of images was

* Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

** Presidential Address to Indian History Congress, Gorakhpur, 1989.



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