Killed Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen Muslim, has been identified by the FBI as a “strong believer” in Islam, and an adept of jihadism. Tamerlan was unabashed in his Muslim piety and avowal of jihad—the latter bringing him to the attention of both Russian intelligence and the FBI. Indeed, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was identified last summer, during a 6-month sojourn in Russia, as having frequented a well-known jihad-fomenting mosque in Machachkala, Dagestan, meeting directly with a jihadist underground movement leader there at least six times. It has further been suggested that Tamerlan and his surviving brother Dzhokar, a Boston Marathon bombing suspect co-conspirator, who was in thrall to his elder brother (and to jihadism, as well), were jointly “inspired” by Doku Umarov, known as Russia’s Bin Laden, and also an ethnic Chechen. Umarov is believed to have organized jihad terror attacks, such as the mass-murderous homicide bombing of Moscow’s Metro system, which slaughtered at least 40. Ominously, as noted by Chechen analyst, Dr. Carlo Gallo,
Umarov has made statements in which he said that the enemy of Islam is not just Russia, but America…
But the astute observations of young freelance writer Alyssa Kilzer—a client of Zubeidat Tsarnaev, mother to Tamerlan and Dzhokar—are even more chilling, and indicate that the brother’s “radicalization” was a pious Muslim family affair. Ms. Kilzer, who received facials from Zubeidat Tsarnaev for several years at the Tsarnaev household (410 Norfolk Street, on the border between Cambridge and Watertown, MA), therein witnessed arranged marriages, wife-battering, hijab donning, strict Islamic piety with repeated Koranic references, and ultimately, baleful anti-American Islamic conspiracy theories about 9/11/2001. Kilzer also alludes to the “political activities” of Zubeidat Tsarnaev and her husband (Anzor) had engaged in (a euphemism for their anti-Russian jihadism?), which caused the Daghestani native parents—both lawyers—to flee.
The Tsarnaev family ties to Daghestan—a primordial hub of Islamic jihadism in the Causcasus for over a millennium—may prove critical to understanding the jihad carnage in Boston wrought by the Tsarnaev brothers. Moreover, it is also worth noting that Dzhokar Tsarnaev was mentored (albeit only via e-mail correspondence) by a full-throated University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth apologist for so-called Chechen separatism, Brian Glyn Williams.
Daghestan was originally Islamized during the 7th and 8th centuries by the Arab Muslim jihad conquests of the Umayyads and Abassids. Several centuries later, a wave of invasions by nomadic Turco-Mongol tribes from the east, and their imposition of (or mass conversion to) Islam extended the Muslim population in the northern Caucasus. By the mid-16th century, Russian Cossacks began to settle the sparsely populated Chechen lowlands (the slopes of the Terek Range, and the Terek Valley). These Russian settlers became subjects of Ivan the Terrible in order to gain protection from ongoing razzias launched by the Crimean Tatars and Turks. Imperial Russia advanced actively into the Northern Caucasus and Transcaucasus in 1781, precipitating the anti-Russian jihad of the Naqshbandi Sufi Sheikh Mansur Ushurma. Following his destruction of an entire Russian brigade during the battle of the Sunzha River in 1785, Sheikh Mansur
…called the mountaineers to holy war against the encroaching infidels and for some years unified practically the whole of North Caucasus, from the Chechen territory in the west to the Kumyk steppes in the east. His appeal—at least what we know of it—sounds very much like the appeals to jihad by Naqshbandi murshids [masters; leaders of Sufi Brotherhoods] of later date…
From this watershed late 18th century jihad, through the present era, the Naqshbandi tariqat [Brotherhood] has played a critical role defending and expanding Muslim dominion, in the face of encroachments by both Czarist and Soviet Russia. Transforming “half pagan mountaineers into strict orthodox Muslims,” the Naqshbandiya extended Islam into the animist regions of upper Chechnya and the western Caucasus. Moreover, iron-disciplined and dedicated Naqshbandi followers provided such prolonged, heroic resistance to Czarist Russian conquest, that Bennigsen and Wimbush argue, quite plausibly,
It can said that the nearly fifty-year-long [19th century] Caucasian wars made an important contribution to the material and moral ruin of the Tsarist empire and hastened the downfall of the Romanov monarchy.
During the tragic violence of the revolutionary years of 1917-1921, which were particularly sanguinary in the northeastern Caucasus, the Sufi brotherhoods, especially the Naqshbandiya, once again played a pivotal role. Their ultimate goals in resisting the Communists were consistent with precepts of jihad, as both a defensive and expansionist ideology:
…to restore a theocratic monarchy governed by the Shari’yat law, the expulsion of Russians, and the liquidation of “bad Muslims” who had committed themselves to the infidel rulers. The following was one of the sayings of the Naqshbandi Sheikh, Uzun Haji, one of the leaders of the brotherhood: ‘If so God wills, we shall construct a Shari’yat monarchy, for in a Muslim land there can be no republic. Were we to accept a republic, we would thereby renounce the Calife, which would be paramount of [sic] renouncing the Prophet and finally God himself’. And somewhat more to the point: “I am weaving a rope to hang engineers, students and in general all those who write from left to right.”
Despite relentless persecution throughout the Soviet era, which included a massive, brutal deportation of over a million North Caucasian Muslims to Siberia and Kazakhstan in February, 1944, Soviet specialists in anti-Islamic propaganda conceded that they had failed to contain the expansion of Sufi organizations, which emerged even after World War II,
…more powerful and influential than before the War, probably even than before 1917. V.G. Pivovarov, a leading Soviet sociologist, wrote in 1975: ‘More than half of the Muslim believers of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Republic are members of a murid [disciple] brotherhood’
A Sufi Naqshbandi leader , Shamil Basayev, who envisioned himself to be in the mold of legendary 19th century Naqshbandi North Caucasus jihadists, such as his namesake Imam Shamil, played a key role in the ongoing Chechen jihad against the post-Soviet Russian government. Basayev, it should be noted, not only had Caliphate dreams , he orchestrated the brutal Beslan massacre of 331, including 186 schoolchildren in North Ossetia, September 3, 2004.
Dr. Gordon Hahn, an expert on contemporary jihadism in the Caucasus, has meticulously exploded the corrosive, if commonplace apologetic narrative—propounded by those such as Glyn Williams—on Chechen separatism. Hahn’s recent monograph, highlights the global jihadist aspirations of the “Caucasus Emirate,” and potential Tsarnaev brother “inspiration” Umarov:
An attendant false assumption—one common in the U.S. mainstream media and some scholarly works on the violence in the region—holds that CE attacks are responses to Russian police and security brutality, when in fact such attacks are the CE’s chosen means to achieve its raison d’être: establishment of its Salafist shari’a law-based emirate and the global jihadis’ caliphate. Of course, to some extent the rise of jihadism is a response to the two post-Soviet wars, but the Chechens bear as much responsibility for the outbreak of those wars as does Moscow. This unidirectional response fallacy—the idea that it is always the mujahideen responding to the state’s supposedly routinely brutal counterterrorist operations—is a biased assumption. It is echoed in Umarov’s own absurd claim, stated in a March 31, 2010, Kavkaz Center website posting—in turn reflected in news reports—that the March Moscow subway twin suicide bombings were a response to the killing of hunters allegedly by the security forces in Arshty, Ingushetiya, the previous month. Never mind that: (1) Umarov had announced the revival of the Riyadus Salikhiin Martyrs’ Brigade in April the year before, expressly undertaken to carry out attacks against civilians deep inside Russia; (2) there had been sixteen suicide bombings the previous year, including the November 29, 2009, “Nevskii Express” train bombing between Moscow and St. Petersburg; and (3) operations like this train bombing usually take more than a month to plan. (If the jihad is disunited and local, then why were two Dag[h]estani suicide bombers retaliating for an attack against ethnic Ingush in Ingushetiya?) The only study that closely dissects insurgency/ counterinsurgency action and response in the North Caucasus found a “relative decrease in insurgent violence after artillery strikes” and a “negative correlation between many oft-cited ‘triggers’ and insurgent retaliation.
However, in the end, there was even a more basic, profound warning sign of the Tsarnaev family’s dangerous Weltanschauung—the very name Anzor and Zubeidat Tsarnaev chose for their eldest son: Tamerlan(e).
The cover art for my recent book “Sharia Versus Freedom—The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism,” reproduces a miniature painting from a sixteenth century manuscript of the Zafarnama by Sharaf al-Din Ali-Yazdi. The image was housed in the British Library and originally published/produced in Shiraz, Iran, 1552. It depicts soldiers filing before the Islamized Mongol conqueror Amir Timur-i-lang, or “Tamerlane,” holding heads of their decapitated enemies which they used to build a tower shaped like the minaret of a mosque, in Baghdad (1401).
The upper inscription embedded within the painting reads,
How fate and destiny have cast awe in the minds of the “Tavaajis”! [king’s messengers, and herein, more generally, “traitors”]
In an orderly and numerical fashion,
They made minarets with the heads of the wretched “Tavaajis”
As a lesson to the inhabitants of the world.
While the lower embedded inscription states,
So that no subordinate would dare to challenge superiors and no fox acts like a lion, and threatens the kings; Under the temptation of the demon pride
Yazdi’s Zafarnama remains the best-known example of early Persian historiography of Tamerlane. John Woods 1988 review of this genre of “Timurid” biographical writings emphasizes the rapid, widespread praise Yazdi’s manuscript achieved, its source as an inspiration for artistic renditions of the themes described, and its subsequent translation into both French and English, which disseminated the contents well beyond Persian-speaking Muslim lands:
Immediately after its composition, the work was widely acclaimed as a model of elegance and style for historical writing in Iran, Central Asia, and India, and its themes frequently provided inspiration for the art of manuscript illumination in those regions. Its translation into French and English in the early eighteenth/ twelfth century, moreover, guaranteed its reputation as the most important source of information about Timur outside the persophone Islamic world.
A French translation of Yazdi’s Zafarnama by de la Croix was published in Paris in 1722, and this version was translated into English by J. Darby the next year. Darby’s 1723 translationcharacterizes the events surrounding Tamerlane’s summer 1401 capture of Baghdad—seized from the officers of sultan Ahmed Jelair, the latter having fled (once again), seeking refuge under the Mamelukes —as follows:
As there had been several Tartar soldiers slain in the general assault, each soldier was ordered to bring one head of the men of Baghdad; which they accordingly did, and spared neither old men of fourscore, nor children of eight years of age. No quarter was given either to rich or poor; no one could count them up…Towers were made of these heads, to serve as an example to posterity. Some learned men found means to cast themselves at the feet of the emperor, who granted them pardon and quarter, and even gave them vests and horses, with convoy to conduct them to what place of security they desired: all the rest of the inhabitants were exterminated. Afterwards Timur gave orders that there should not remain one single house in the city unrazed; but that the mosques, colleges, and hospitals should be spared. Accordingly they ruined the markets, caravanserais, hermitages, cells, monasteries, palaces, and other edifices. Thus says the Alcoran [Qur’an], “The houses of the impious are overthrown by the order of God.” [perhaps referring to Qur’an 59:2]. After the Tigris was grown red with the blood of the inhabitants of Baghdad, and the air began to be infected by the dead bodies, Timur decamped from that city…
Darby’s translation also includes the following note which refers to the Arabic writer Ahmad ibn Arabshah’s harshly critical contemporary biography of Timur, “Marvels of Destiny in the History of Timur” (Ajaibul-Maqdur fi akhbari Timur):
Arabshah says two [i.e., decapitated heads per soldier were to be presented to Timur, or his officers]; and that there were 90,000 inhabitants of Baghdad slain in cold blood. They flung away the bodies, and made trophies of the heads piled together. There were one hundred and twenty towers made of the heads for trophies.
Three modern summary historical accounts of Tamerlane’s 1401 ravages in Baghdad by E.G. Browne, Rene Grousset, and Jean Aubin, are quite uniform with regard to the salient details. Browne’s summary, first published in 1920, maintains
Timur next turned his attention to Baghdad, the capital of the recalcitrant Sultan Ahmad Jalair [Ahmed Jelair], and, having taken it, made on June 20, 1401, a great massacre, in revenge for the many notable officers of his army who had perished in the siege. Each soldier was ordered to bring a head [Browne includes a note here, that states “According to Ibn Arabshah the number of Timur’s soldiers on this occasion was 20,000, and each was ordered to bring two heads.”], and in the words of Sharafuddin Ali Yazdi, “the market of retribution became so brisk that the broker of death sold at one price the old man of eighty and the child of eight, while the oven of wrath was so enkindled that it consumed in like manner the corporeal vestiture of the wealthy plutocrat and the wretched pauper.” Having left Baghdad a smoking charnel house, Timur again turned his attention to the unfortunate Georgians…
Grousset’s assessment, originally published in 1939, described the ravages of Timur’s army once Baghdad had fallen, thusly:
The defenders had fought with the energy of despair, and Tamerlane’s vengeance was merciless. Whereas seven years before he had treated Baghdad with some moderation, he now ordered a general massacre. Each soldier had to bring the head of an inhabitant, says Sharif ad-Din [Ali Yazdi]; two heads says Ibn Arabshah. Amid all the carnage, the literary-minded Tamerlane spared certain men of letters and even offered them coats of honor. Apart from these men, the entire population was slaughtered, and all buildings except mosques demolished. Ibn Arabshah estimates the number of victims at 90,000. July heat under the sky of Iraq soon bred epidemics from the heaped corpses and forced the victor to withdraw.
Jean Aubin’s 1962 analysis notes that the Baghdad siege lasted nearly forty days, adding that the Zafarnama insists, “…in hopes of seeing the city surrender and conserve it intact, Tamerlane delayed several times the attack requested by his officers.” Ravaged by starvation, groups of soldiers and residents fled the city, “…by jumping from the summit of the ramparts.” When Tamerlane’s forces launched their final assault, escape from Baghdad was prevented by archers who were arranged on both riverbanks of the Tigris. Consistent with the earlier accounts of Browne and Grousset, Aubin summarizes the fate of Baghdad’s hapless population, as follows:
The entire population remaining in Baghdad, including children, was methodically massacred. Every soldier had to present one head to the officer where the officers kept an accounting. Piles of severed heads were built up in different places in the city. The number of victims varies according to the source; it was on the order of several tens of thousands. The rare survivors—approximately one person out of a hundred, according to the Zafar-nama—were sold into slavery. The only ones spared were theologians, sheiks, and dervishes who managed to reach Tamerlane’s pavilion. They were given food and clothes, and sent to a safe place.
Tamerlane was born at Kash (Shahr-i-Sebz, the “Green City”) in Transoxiana (some 50 miles south of Samarkand, in modern Uzbekistan), on April 8 (or 11), 1336 A.D.. Amir Turghay, his father, was chief of the Gurgan or Chagtai branch of the Barlas Turks. By age 34 (1369/70), Timur had killed his major rival (Mir Husain), becoming the pre-eminent ruler of Transoxiana. He spent the next six to seven years consolidating his power in Transoxiana before launching the aggressive conquests of Persia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and then attacking Hindustan (India) under the tottering Delhi Sultanate.
Grousset contrasts Jenghiz Khan’s “straightforward planning” and “clean sweeps” with the “higgledy-piggledy” order of Timur’s expeditions, and the often incomplete nature of the latter’s conquests:
Tamerlane’s [Timur’s] conquering activities were carried on from the Volga to Damascus, from Smyrna to the Ganges and the Yulduz, and his expeditions into these regions followed no geographical order. He sped from Tashkent to Shiraz, from Tabriz to Khodzhent, as enemy aggression dictated; a campaign in Russia occurred between two in Persia, an expedition into Central Asia between two raids into the Caucasus…[Timur] at the end of every successful campaign left the country without making any dispositions for its control except Khwarizm and Persia, and even there not until the very end. It is true that he slaughtered all his enemies as thoroughly and conscientiously as the great Mongol, and the pyramids of human heads left behind him as a warning example tell their own tale. Yet the survivors forgot the lesson given them and soon resumed secret or overt attempts at rebellion, so that it was all to do again. It appears too, that these blood soaked pyramids diverted [Timur] from the essential objective. Baghdad, Brussa (Bursa), Sarai, Kara Shahr, and Delhi were all sacked by him, but he did not overcome the Ottoman Empire, the Golden Horde, the khanate of Mogholistan, or the Indian Sultanate; and even the Jelairs of Iraq Arabi rose up again as soon as he had passed. Thus he had to conquer Khwarizm three times, the Ili six or seven times (without ever managing to hold it for longer than the duration of the campaign), eastern Persia twice, western Persia at least three times, in addition to waging two campaigns in Russia…[Timur’s] campaigns “always had to be fought again,” and fight them again he did.
Timur’s campaigns are infamous for their extensive massacres and emblematic “pyramids of heads.” Brown cites “only a few” prominent examples, in addition to the graphic cover art illustration, resulting from the 1401 Baghdad carnage:
As specimens of those acts mention may be made of his massacre of the people of Sistan 1383-4, when he caused some two thousand prisoners to be built up into a wall; his cold-blooded slaughter of a hundred thousand captive Indians near Dihli [Delhi] (December, 1398); his burying alive of four thousand Armenians in 1400-1, and the twenty towers of skulls erected by him at Aleppo and Damascus in the same year; and his massacre of 70,000 of the inhabitants of Isfahan in (November, 1387)…
Timur defeated his major Muslim rivals, the Ottomans, under Bayezid, July 20, 1402, destroying the Ottoman army (at Cubuk), and holding the sultan captive. Bayezid died a few months later (March 9, 1403, at Aksehir), “..broken by disaster and humiliation.” With the Ottoman army’s decimation, the conquest of Western Anatolia (and beyond), as Grousset has noted, “was no more than a route march for Tamerlane. ”Bursa, the Ottoman capital, was plundered, and Tamerlane’s surrogates continued their devastating advance further to Nicaea (Iznik).
Ibn Arabshah and Sharif ad-Din describe the conquerors behaving like a horde of savages, and that lovely city was set on fire. Tamerlane’s grandson Abu Bakr galloped as far as Nicaea (Iznik), “slaying and looting everywhere,” as Sharif ad-Din tells with relish.
Christian Smyrna (later Izmir)—which had defied repeated Ottoman attempts at conquest—was besieged by Tamerlane himself, after its governor, Brother Guillaume de Munte of the Knights of Rhodes refused to convert to Islam. Following a two-week siege, which began in early December, 1402, the city was overwhelmed, and a general massacre ensued. According to Ibn Arabshah,
…[H]e slew the grown men and cast in bonds the women and children and from the corpses of the slain built mosques and from the skulls raised towers; then he despoiled that fort of its wealth and robbed it of its treasure and emptied it and desolated and plundered it and utterly drained its silver and gold and made the wings of glad news fly with these exploits, which news according to his presumption he sent through the world with propitious augury and swift flight.
A rather gruesome variant on the primary use of decapitated heads for skull towers occurred during the capture and destruction of Smyrna, as recorded by the Zafarnama.
A few escaped slaughter by casting themselves into the sea, and swimming to the vessels; while others were drowned. After our soldiers had put the inhabitants of Smyrna to the sword, they razed the houses, as well of the city as of the cattle, casting their arms and movable goods into the sea. There were from certain parts of Europe great ships named Caraca, with two masts, and some with more, which brought over soldiers and arms to succor the inhabitants. When they came near the palace and beheld the town and castle in ruins, they were struck with fear and anchored. Timur ordered that some of the Christians heads should be thrown into these ships, which the slingers of wild-fire accordingly did. The mariners seeing their companions heads, returned in fear and frustrated of their hopes.
Grousset maintained Timur was indeed a pious Muslim (who may well have belonged to the Naqshbandi Sufi order, according to Manz), while emphasizing the important Islamic motivation for Timur’s jihad campaigns:
It is the Qur’an to which he continually appeals, the imams and [Sufi] dervishes who prophesy his success. [emphasis added] His wars were to influence the character of the jihad, the Holy War, even when— as was almost always the case— he was fighting Muslims. He had only to accuse these Muslims of lukewarmness, whether the Jagataites of the Ili and Uiguria, whose conversion was so recent, or the Sultans of Delhi who…refrained from massacring their millions of Hindu subjects.
Beatrice Manz concurs with Grousset’s assessment about the centrality of Islamic jihadism in motiviating Tamerlane’s conquests, although she also stresses his dual role as “restorer” of the Turco-Mongolian world order. Tamerlane patronized Muslim scholars, constructed Islamic religious buildings, and waged jihad campaigns for dissemination of the Muslim creed to establish his bona fides as a promoter of Islam. The Zafarnama, Manz observes, invokes promulgation of the Sharia, specifically, as a primary animating factor for many of Tamerlane’s campaigns:
Timur undertook many of his campaigns in the interest of religious order, and we fund that almost all mentions of Sharia in [Nizan al-Dim] Shami’s Zafarnameh occur as justification for Timur’s conquests. His campaigns against the kings of Georgia, the Shi’ite sayyids of Amul in Mazandaran [a province in northern Iran], and the non-Muslim populations on his route to India were all ostensibly taken for the preservation of Sharia; and Shami even invoked the sanctions of religion in explaining Timur’s campaigns against the Ottomans. Before beginning his campaigns in the Middle East. Timur took care to get the blessing of Muslim men of religion.
The Turki chronicle Malfuzat-i-Timuri, another putative autobiographical memoir of Timur, translated into Persian by Abu Talib Husaini, illustrates these driving Islamic sentiments, complete with a Koranic quotation:
About this time there arose in my heart the desire to lead an expedition against the infidels, and to become a ghazi; for it had reached my ears that the slayer of infidels is a ghazi, and if he is slain he becomes a martyr. It was on this account that I formed this resolution, but I was undetermined in my mind whether I should direct my expedition against the infidels of China or against the infidels and polytheists of India. In this matter I sought an omen from the Qur’an, and the verse I opened upon [Q66:9] was this, “O Prophet, make war upon infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with severity.” My great officers told me that the inhabitants of Hindustan were infidels and unbelievers. In obedience to the order of Almighty Allah I ordered an expedition against them.
Timur’s jihad campaigns against non-Muslims — whether Christians in Asia Minor and Georgia, or Hindus in India — seemed to intensify in brutality. Brown highlights one particular episode which supports this contention, wherein Timur clearly distinguished between his vanquished Muslim and non-Muslim foes. After rampaging through (Christian) Georgia, where he “devastated the country, destroyed the churches, and slew great numbers of inhabitants,” in the winter of 1399-1400, Timur, in August 1400,
…began his march into Asia Minor by way of Avnik, Erzeroum, Erzinjan, and Sivas. The latter place offered a stubborn resistance, and when it finally capitulated Timur caused all the Armenian and Christian soldiers to be buried alive; but the Muhammadans he spared.
The unparalleled devastation Timur wrought upon predominantly Hindu India further bolsters the notion that Timur viewed his non-Muslim prey with particular animosity. Moreover, there are specific examples of selective brutality directed against Hindus, cited in the Malfuzat-i-Timuri, from which Muslims are deliberately spared:
My great object in invading Hindustan had been to wage a religious war against the infidel Hindus, and it now appeared to me that it was necessary for me to put down these Jats [Hindus]. On the 9th of the month I dispatched the baggage from Tohana, and on the same day I marched into the jungles and wilds, and slew 2,000 demon—like Jats. I made their wives and children captives, and plundered their cattle and property… On the same day a party of saiyids, who dwelt in the vicinity, came with courtesy and humility to wait upon me and were very graciously received. In my reverence for the race of the prophet, I treated their chiefs with great honour…On the 29th I again marched and reached the river Jumna. On the other side of the river I [viewed] a fort, and upon making inquiry about it, I was informed that it consisted of a town and fort, called Loni… I determined to take that fort at once… Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and children in their houses and burned them, then they rushed to the battle and were killed. Other men of the garrison fought and were slain, and a great many were taken prisoners. Next day I gave orders that the Musalman prisoners should be separated and saved, but that the infidels should all be despatched to hell with the proselyting sword. I also ordered that the houses of the saiyids, shaikhs and learned Musulmans should be preserved but that all the other houses should be plundered and the fort destroyed. It was done as I directed and a great booty was obtained…
On the 16th of the month some incidents occurred which led to the sack of the city of Delhi, and to the slaughter of many of the infidel inhabitants…On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and destroying… The following day, Saturday, the 17th, all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners — men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, pearls and other gems; jewels of gold and silver, ashrafis, tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated Alai coinage; vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of the saiyids, the ulama and the other Musulmans, the whole city was sacked.
Timur left Samarkand with a large, powerful expeditionary force destined for India in April, 1398. By October he had besieged Talamba, 75 miles northeast of Multan, subsequently plundering the town and massacring its inhabitants. He reached the vicinity of Delhi during the first week of December having forged a path of destruction— pillaging, razing, and massacring— en route through Pak Patan, Dipalpur, Bhatnar, Sirsa, and Kaithal. Prior to fighting and defeating an army under Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud Tughluq on December 17, 1398, Timur had his forces butcher in cold blood 100,000 Hindu prisoners accumulated while advancing toward Delhi. Srivastava describes what transpired after Timur’s forces occupied Delhi on December 18, 1398:
The citizens of the capital, headed by the ulema, waited on the conqueror and begged quarter. Timur agreed to spare the citizens; but, owing to the oppressive conduct of the soldiers of the invading force, the people of the city were obliged to offer resistance. Timur now ordered a general plunder and massacre which lasted for several days. Thousands of the citizens of Delhi were murdered and thousands were made prisoners. A historian writes: “High towers were built with the head of the Hindus, and their bodies became the food of ravenous beasts and birds…..such of the inhabitants who escaped alive were made prisoners.”
Timur acquired immense booty, as well as Delhi’s best (surviving) artisans, who were conscripted and sent to Samarkand to construct for him the famous Friday mosque. Leaving Delhi on January 1, 1399 for their return march to Samarkand, Timur’s forces stormed Meerut on January 19th, before encountering and defeating two Hindu armies near Hardwar. The Malfuza-i-Timuri indicates that at Hardwar, Timur’s army
…displayed great courage and daring; they made their swords their banners, and exerted themselves in slaying the foe (during a bathing festival on the bank of the Ganges). They slaughtered many of the infidels, and pursued those who fled to the mountains. So many of them were killed that their blood ran down the mountains and plain, and thus (nearly) all were sent to hell. The few who escaped, wounded, weary, and half dead, sought refuge in the defiles of the hills. Their property and goods, which exceeded all computation, and their countless cows and buffaloes, fell as spoil into the hands of my victorious soldiers. Timur then traversed the Sivalik Hills to Kanra, which was pillaged and sacked, along with Jammu “…everywhere the inhabitants being slaughtered like cattle.”
Srivastava summarizes India’s devastated condition following Timur’s departure:
Timur left [India] prostrate and bleeding. There was utter confusion and misery throughout northern India. [India’s] northwestern provinces, including northern tracts of Rajasthan and Delhi, were so thoroughly ravaged, plundered and even burnt that it took these parts many years, indeed, to recover their prosperity. Lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of men, and in some cases, many women and children, too, were butchered in cold blood. The rabi crops [grown in October—November, harvested around March, including barley, mustard, and wheat] standing in the field were completely destroyed for many miles on both sides of the invader’s long and double route from the Indus to Delhi and back. Stores of grain were looted or destroyed. Trade, commerce and other signs of material prosperity disappeared. The city of Delhi was depopulated and ruined. It was without a master or a caretaker. There was scarcity and virulent famine in the capital and its suburbs. This was followed by a pestilence caused by the pollution of the air and water by thousands of uncared—for dead bodies. In the words of the historian Badaoni, “those of the inhabitants who were left died (of famines and pestilence), while for two months not a bird moved wing in Delhi.”
The late 13th century chronicler, Bar Hebraeus provided this contemporary assessment of how the adoption of Islam radically altered Mongol attitudes toward their Christian subjects:
And having seen very much modesty and other habits of this kind among Christian people, certainly the Mongols loved them greatly at the beginning of their kingdom, a time ago somewhat short. But their love hath turned to such intense hatred that they cannot even see them with their eyes approvingly, because they have all alike become Muslims, myriads of people and peoples.
Bar Hebraeus’ observations should be borne in mind when evaluating Grousset’s uncompromising overall assessment of Timur’s deeds and motivations. After recounting Timur’s 1403 A.D. ravages in Georgia, slaughtering the inhabitants, and destroying all the Christian churches of Tiflis, Grousset states:
It has been noted that the Jenghiz-Khanite Mongol invasion of the thirteenth century was less cruel, for the Mongols were mere barbarians who killed simply because for centuries this had been the instinctive behavior of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers. To this ferocity Tamerlane [Timur] added a taste for religious murder. He killed from Qur’anic piety. He represents a synthesis, probably unprecedented in history, of Mongol barbarity and Muslim fanaticism, and symbolizes that advanced form of primitive slaughter which is murder committed for the sake of an abstract ideology, as a duty and a sacred mission.
Curiously, the 1970 Rutgers University Press English translation of Grousset’s L’Empire Des Steppes (p. 513) omits the word “coranique” in translating “Il tuait par piete coranique,” so that the phrase becomes, “He killed from piety,” as opposed to Grousset’s French original, “He killed from Qur’anic piety.”
Karl Wittfogel’s study of Oriental despotism, invokes Koran 4:59, appositely, as providing the ultimate Islamic legal basis for authoritarian rule, such as Timur’s.
The Koran exhorts believers to obey not only Allah and his prophet, but also “those in authority amongst you.” In the absolutist states established by Mohammed’s followers, this passage was invoked to emphasize the importance of obedience in maintaining governmental authority.
Law Professor Emile Tyan, one of the great modern scholars of Islamic governance, produced a monumental two-volume legal analysis of the Caliphate system. Tyan expands upon Wittfogel’s apt characterization—which hinges, appropriately, upon Koran 4:59 (and its classical and modern exegeses)—highlighting Islam’s natural predilection for despotic rule, and the “sacralized” impetus to universalize this despotism, via jihad.
The power of Muslim monocracy is an absolute, personal power. Personal because, outside the person of the caliph (Muslim leader), there is no organism with its own existence directly invested with any parcel of authority whatsoever. All organs of government, administration, and justice exercise their respective competence on the basis of a formal or tacit delegation from the caliph. Absolute in that there is no constitutional body that limits, oversees, or curbs the power of the caliph.
…[O]ne of the basic principles of Islam is that it must be extended to the whole world by conversion or at the least by submission to Islamic authority. The caliph has an obligation to promote and fulfill this universalism, if necessary by the force of arms. This is the meaning of holy war or jihad. From which it follows that Islamic sovereignty is at least potentially universal.
Timur, Tamerlane, epitomized these classical Islamic trends, still very much alive today, and embodied by the murderous exploits of Tamarlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, to impose totalitarian Islam.
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