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The Islamic golden age was an era spanning the initial centuries of the rise of Islam when intellectual contact of Muslims with the world led to unrivaled gains in various sciences. The conquest of the Indus Valley in modern Pakistan stretched the Islamic frontiers inside South Asia which not only enlightened the Muslim world on its own but also served as the primary vehicle for the movement of knowledge from the rest of South Asia to the Islamic world.

The Sind-Hind Divide

Early Islamic geography was a subject under constant evolution however, one notion that the Islamic geographers upheld initially was the division of South Asia into Sind and Hind with the former being the Indus valley and the latter being the rest of South Asia. The geographer Ibn Khordadbeh’s (820-912 CE) 9th-century description of ‘Sind’ (Indus Valley) covers portions of the Indus basin and much of modern Pakistan as his Sind was comprised of Makran, Turan, Al-Qiqan, Multan, and Sind.

Apart from Sind’s status both as a geographic entity and a strong kingdom before its conquest, the probable reason that the Muslims adopted such nomenclature to differentiate Sind and Hind would be to differentiate between the areas with a Muslim stronghold and those that lay beyond the frontiers of the Islamic world. This religious distinction is apparent in the early Muslim geographic book “Kitab Al Masalik Wa Mamalik” (The book of roads and countries) where the author differentiates between the portions under Muslim rule with that of the Non-Muslim portion of South Asia by employing the term “Sind-wal-Hind” (Sind and Hind). This notion appears to be strongly ingrained in the Islamic world since we see the 11th century chroniclers Utbi and Gardezi use the name “Sayhun” of the Jaxartes river for the Indus river since both “marked the frontier zone between the land of Islam and Paganism”.

The method of discovering the origin of figures in the Islamic world is through Nisbahs i.e. attached adjectives as surnames to depict the original homeland. For the people of the Indus Valley, this mainly pertained to ‘Sindi’, ‘Mansuri,’ ‘Deybali’, ‘Qusdari’, ‘Makrani’ etc. Though due to the vague early Islamic geography, the term Sindi was also at times applied to people within modern Afghanistan, just as the term ‘Hindi’ was applied to people of Sind in modern Pakistan.

Conquest Of Sind

The initial Islamic advances upon Sind’s neighborhood coincided with the transition of Sind from the Buddhist Rai dynasty to the Hindu Chach dynasty with the battle of Rasil fought by the forces of the Caliph Umer (584-644 CE) in Sind marking the beginning. However, the conquest of Sind began nearly a century later in the era of the Umayyad Caliphate in 711 CE.

The conquest and fighting began at the port city of Deybul and slowly expanded north with a final success at the battle of Alor against Raja Dahir (633-712 CE) of Sind being most pivotal and leading to hefty amounts of booty and slaves. Due to the Muslim forces being too far away and in a completely alien land, the conquest of Sind was complex in nature. It heavily relied on using strong brutal force where necessary but also on the extension of peace treaties and the assimilation of local elements in civil and military administration for easy governance.

Though the policy for Non-Muslims varied from place to place and on the extent of cooperation, for ease of administration the Muslims adopted several surprising policies such as the extension of the Dhimmi (Protected Person) status to Hindus and Buddhists and equating them to the ’people of the covenant’. The Jizya tax was imposed upon Non-Muslims yet the Brahmins were exempted from it, who were also favored in retaining certain governmental posts. The famous sun temple of Multan was protected from destruction, but a mosque was created proximate to it. The mercantile Sindhi Buddhists largely cooperated with the Muslims both during and after the conquest due to ideological reasons and mercantile interests whereas the agrarian Hindus were unaffected by Islamic policies but most strongly affected was the Hindu ruling class which was deposed.

Theology and Literature

The beginning of Islamic theological studies in Sind started swiftly after its conquest in 711 CE and soon after with the establishment of the city of Mansura upon the banks of the Indus river. Sind soon became a fountain for theological studies especially the Ahadith (Traditions of the Prophet). This new age of the study of the science of traditions was brought forth by 3 groups: Locals who resided and studied in Sind, Locals who traveled elsewhere in the Islamic world to attain knowledge, and war prisoners from Sind who had been settled elsewhere in the Islamic world.

One of the earliest figures from the Indus Valley to earn fame in the Islamic world was the historian Abu Mashar Al Sindi (d. 786 CE). Believed to be a slave from Sind, he traveled to Medina where he bought his freed and was patronized by the then Caliph. The famous 9the century biographer Ibn Nadim regularly quotes him for chronology in his famous book ‘Al Fihrist’ and also credits him to have written a ‘Kitab Al Maghazi’ (Book of Conquests) which was an exceptional book on the life of the prophet and his military campaigns. Abu Mashar’s works won him the title of ‘Imam Al-Fann’ (Leader of the art). His status amongst the intellectuals of the golden age can be estimated through his death where his funeral prayers were led by none other than the famous Caliph Harun Al Rashid himself.  

The only one to surpass Abu Mashar in his theological knowledge was his own son Muhammad bin Abu Mashar Al-Sindi (765-861 CE). Muhammad’s tutoring by his father in Baghdad soon made him a scholar and theologian in his own right whose acclaim can be measured through his students who traveled to study under him from all over the Muslim world. Of the many students who went on to become famous traditionists, historiographers, and theologians, some of the most famous are reputed Islamic figures such as Abu Isa Al-TirmidhiAl-TabariAbu Hatim Al-RaziIbn Abi Al-Dunya.

The theologian Rija or Raja Al-Sindi (d. 837) traveled to the city of Isfarain in Persia and acquired high prestige in the study of Ahadith where his works and studies yielded him the title of ‘Rukn Min Arkan Al-Hadith’  (One of the Pillars of the Hadith). Rija’s grandson Muhammad (821-899 CE) was also an outstanding theologian and a much-celebrated author of a Mustakharaj, a sub narration, on the Hadith book Sahih Muslim.

Abu Ali Al-Sindi was one of the first figures from the Indus Valley to be recorded as a tutor of the famous Sufi Bayazid Al-Bistami (d. 848 CE) whose status amongst the Sufis makes him remembered as “Sultan Al-Arifeen” (King of Gnostics). Bayazid was known for his concept of Fanaa (self-annihilation) and it’s believed that Abu Ali Al-Sindi tutored Al-Bistami in this concept. Though the reason behind this is under strong debate within historians, it is believed for Al-Sindi to have been a Buddhist convert having studied the concept of Nirvana and thus imparted his knowledge to Al-Bistami.

The most famous of the Theologians with possible links to the Indus Valley is Imam Awzai (707-774 CE). Though his origins are debated upon and his name ‘Awzai’ is seen to be synonymous with an Arab tribe, certain historians believe the name to be a nisbah derived from the village Awza where he settled. The famous 10th-century historian Zura Al Damishqi also stated that Awzai was a descendent of war prisoners from Sind and that his name Awzai signified the village and not the tribe.

Regardless of his ancestry, Imam Awzai was a figure of legendary fame in the Islamic world who had received theological knowledge before his teen years and was deciding upon legal issues at the age of 13. As one of the most acclaimed Jurists and scholars of his time and a pioneer in the collection and compilation of traditions, he not only decided upon more than 7000 legal points but also wrote 2 books on Islamic jurisprudence. By the end of his acclaimed life, he had his own school of thought which enjoyed a strong position in Andalusia before eventually being superseded by other schools.   

More than 70 other figures from the Islamic Golden age also exist bearing nisbahs linking them to the Indus Valley who were pioneers in theology and literature.


The history of military interactions between groups from modern Pakistan and the Islamic world predates the actual inclusion of the Indus valley into the Islamic caliphates due to the pre-existing connections of it and the Sassanian Empire. The Persian custom of recruiting foot soldiers, archers, and cavalry from the Indus Valley goes back to the Achaemenid era since we learn through Herodotus (484-485 BCE) of warriors of the Indus Satrapies present at the battles of Thermopylae and Marathon.

A similar pattern of recruitment was followed by the Sassanians where we learn of Emperors like Bahram V recruiting and settling large numbers from the Jatt community of the Indus valley across his empire. The soldiers amongst them were concentrated in Southwestern Persia and were employed both as soldiers in the Sassanid Armies and also serving to protect the roads and means of trade and transportation in Persia.

These groups were amongst the earliest to engage with the Muslim armies on behalf of the Sassanians and not only formed auxiliary units in the Sassanid armies for further support but were also charged with defending core Sassanid cities like Ahvaz. Though with the crushing defeats given to the Sassanid Empire at the hands of the Rashidun Caliphate, these jatts, known as Zutt in Arabic, were amongst the earliest in Persia to accept Islam and thus join with the Muslim armies in their further conquests. They were also later replenished with more of their men when the Indus Valley fell to the Ummayad Caliphate in 711 CE.

Zutts enjoyed a spot of significance in the early Islamic age which is evident since they were employed by the Caliph Ali (601-661 CE) for defending the city of Basrah and the royal treasuries during one of the most pivotal and politically significant battles of Islamic history i.e. Battle of the Camel (656 CE). They would find themselves a mention by the Byzantine historians as possibly the ‘Indians’ who were part of the forces in the armies of Thomas the Slav during his revolt (821-823 CE) against the Byzantine empire, possibly as a contingent of fine warriors sent by the Abbasid Caliph to Thomas as aid.

The historian Al-Tabbari (839-923 CE) in his 33rd volume also speaks of a warrior named Al-Sindi Ibn Bukhtashah leading the right flanks of the general Wasif Al-Turki in what was one of the earliest Muslim offensives into Anatolia in 862 CE, however the original homeland of the warrior isn’t properly known.


South Asia’s ancient reputation as one of the strongholds of medicinal sciences and its position as the primary region for procurement of medicinal herbs was what initiated intellectual contact between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Indus Valley as well as South Asia and helped usher Islamic sciences into a new age. It was the party sent by Yahya Al-Barmaki (d. 806 CE) to the Indus Valley to procure medicinal Herbs and study South Asia which led to further contacts and resulted in a delegation of native non-muslim scholars and proponents of sciences from Sind/Indus Valley carrying Sanskrit books and treatises to Baghdad upon invitation of the Barkamid Vizirs. In the field of Medicine, 2 names stand prominently apart: those of Ibn Dahn and Mankah.

Ibn Dahn was an erudite scholar of medicine who was appointed as the chief physician of the Abbasid Hospital (Bimaristan) and was the chief of the medicinal school of Baghdad. Of the multiple medicinal texts that he wrote and translated into Arabic, some worth mentioning includes a book on 404 diseases and their symptoms, on medicinal herbs, on the descriptions of snakes and the medicines to their poisons, on dealing with pregnancies and another on diseases primarily contracted by women, on multiple forms of poison, on diseases of animals and another on diseases faced only by children.  

Though perhaps the greatest exchange of medicinal knowledge took place when the scholar Mankah translated the 2 most significant ancient compendiums of Sanskrit medicinal knowledge; The compendium of Sushruta at the behest of Caliph Harun Al Rashid (763-809 CE) and the Compendium of Charaka, both of which held immense significance in the Ayurvedic medicine of South Asia. The former was composed by an excellent physician in the city of Kashi in modern India whereas the latter was compiled by an exceptional physician who studied and practiced in the ancient city of Taxila, adjacent to Pakistan’s modern capital. These texts which dealt with a wide range of phenomena pertaining to surgery, medicine, and poisons helped the early Muslim physicians greatly in expanding their understanding of the medicinal world.


Another character of primary importance from the delegation of Sind was the astronomer known as Kankah who worked both in the courts of Caliph Harun Al-Rashid and Caliph Al-Mamun (786-833 CE). Though Kankah’s contributions varied into multiple fields, his greatest gift to the Islamic world was the passage of the most detailed and efficient work on South Asian astronomy to the Muslim astronomers. According to certain historians, it was at the behest of Harun Al Rashid that Kankah was ordered to get the Brahma Siddhanta, one of the finest mathematical and astronomical works of South Asia by the Indian mathematician Brahmagupta, translated into Arabic.

The astronomer Al-Fazari (b. 746) is known for having shouldered the responsibility of helping translate the texts, which in its final forms yielded the greatest astronomical work of the Islamic golden age, a work given the Arabic name ‘Zij Al Sind-Hind’. The Zij Al Sind-Hind of Al-Fazari was a text created by the union of South Asian, Persian, and Greek astronomical knowledge and enjoyed legendary prominence amongst astronomers and mathematicians alike. Being employed and studied by Muslims from the banks of Euphrates to the Spanish coasts, it would go on to “produce over the centuries the spectacular tradition of Arabic Astronomy”.

The great polymath Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 CE) responsible for the Algebra also created a version of the Sindhind from Al-Fazari’s. A Berber polymath named Abbas Ibn-Farnath carried it to Spain where it would go on to greatly affect the Christian world. Another Spanish polymath’s upgraded version of the Sindhind would be translated by Aberland of Bath (1080-1152 CE) into Latin and taken to benefit Christian Europe. Another Spanish polymath would utilize the SindHind in the creation of his book which would be employed for important tasks such as finding the direction of Mecca, establishing times of prayer, and inquiring about the visibility of the moon to use for the Islamic Calendar. SindHind’s significance in the Islamic world can be measured from the fact that even in the late 12th century the Jewish polymath Ben Ezra was known for creating a Hebrew translation of a commentary of the SindHind in Spain and another Spanish Jew Petrus Alphonsi would carry it to England in the same era.

Apart from the passage of the Brahma Siddhanta, Kankah is believed to have written at least 4 books on astronomical knowledge named: The Book of Nativities, The Book of Namudar for the Ages, The Great Book of Conjunctions, and the Small book of Conjunctions. Kankah would go on to occupy a position of great reverence amongst the Muslim world, to the point that many legends and myths would be attributed to him over time.

Centuries later, the polymath Al-Biruni would employ the same trigonometric methods refined by the polymaths in the court of Caliph Al Mamun to measure the circumference of the earth at Nandana in modern Pakistan.


Perhaps the largest benefit that the Muslims received at the creation of the Zij Al Sind-Hind was their introduction to the numbering system of South Asia known to the Arabs as Arqam al Hindi or the Indian numerals. The Indian numerals were based on the decimal notation system which was a base 10 system where counting was concrete and not abstract in nature like its contemporary systems. One of the oldest written manuscript of the Indian numeral system was discovered in 1881 in the village of Bakhshali in today’s north western Pakistan.

Pioneer Muslim polymaths adopted and worked on the Indian numeral system, not only deriving much benefit from it but also trying to perfect it for better efficiency. The famous Polymath Al-Khwarizmi’s 8th-century work “Addition and Subtraction in Indian Arithmetic” not only aided the Muslims but its translation into Latin and movement into Europe ushered the West into a new age of mathematical knowledge. Multiple pioneer Muslim polymaths such Al-Uqudisi, Abu’l Wafa, and Al-Nasawi would prepare manuscripts and treatise’ on Indian numerals and by the 12th century, the Muslim world was saturated completely with the new numbering system as was the West acclimating to it, changing every aspect of life from study to trade and ushering in a new age.


With the rise of the Habbarid dynasty in the Indus valley, much of the theological work and the custom of theological contacts with Persia and Arabia was abandoned and a similar blow was dealt with intellectual contact between the two regions with the vane of the influence of the Abbasid caliphate.

Though both theological and intellectual contacts between the Muslim world and the Indus Valley alongside the rest of South Asia would witness a new age with the turn of the 12th century when contacts between the Muslims and South Asia would begin again and Islamic dynasties would renew the translation of local works.

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