This is Part 4 of the chapter "Islamic Slavery" from M. A. Khan's book, "Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery". This part discusses the horror saga of little-known Islamic enslavement in India during the Sultanate period -- from Sultan Iltutmish to Lodi Dynasty (Part 1Part 3, Part 5).

After Muhammad Ghauri was killed by Hindu Khokar's in his war-camp in 1206, Kutbuddin Aibak settled in Delhi to inaugurate the Sultanate of Delhi. Enslavement under the joint Jihad enterprise of Ghauri-Aibak has been discussed already. Next comes the rule of Sultan Iltutmish.

During Sultan Iltutmish to Balban (12101285): Next, Sultan Iltutmish (r. 1210–36) spent his early years in suppressing the Turkish opponents. He was also in fear of invasion by Genghis Khan. In 1226, he attacked Ranthambhor. Minhaj Siraj records that ‘much plunder fell into the hands of his followers;’[1] the plunder obviously included slaves. In the 1234–35 attack of Ujjain, he made captives of the ‘women and children of the recalcitrant,’ according to Shiraj and Ferishtah.[2]

After the death of Iltutmish, there was a brief lull in enslavement because of the weakened power of the sultans. In 1244, Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud, commanded by Ulugh Khan Balban, attacked the Gukkar rebels of the Jud Mountain in Multan and carried away ‘several thousand Gukkars of all ages and of each sex,’ records Ferishtah.[3] Ulugh Khan Balban attacked Karra in 1248; there, records Siraj, his ‘taking of captives and his capture of the dependents of the great Ranas (Hindu princes) cannot be counted.’ In attacking the Rana Dalaki wa Malaki, ‘He took prisoners the wives, sons, and dependents of that accursed one, and secured great booty.[4] In 1252, Balban attacked and defeated the great Rana, Jahir Deo, of Malwa; ‘many captives fell into the hands of the victors,’ records Siraj.[5]

In the attack of Ranthambhor in 1253, Balban captured many slaves, while in the attack of Haryana in 1259, many women and children were enslaved. Balban led expeditions twice against Kampil, Patiali and Bhojpur enslaving large numbers of women and children each time. In Katehar, he captured the women and children after a general massacre of the men above eight years in age, notes Ferishtah. In 1260, Balban attacked Ranthambhor, Mewat and Siwalik—proclaiming that those who brought a live captive would receive two silver tankahs and one tankah for the head of a slain infidel. Soon three to four hundred living persons and heads of the slain were brought to his presence, records Ferishtah. While serving under Sultan Nasiruddin (d. 1266), Balban made many attacks against the infidels, but the number of the captives taken by him are not mentioned. However, a guess can be made from the fact that, slaves were so abundant that Sultan Nasiruddin had presented author Minhaj Siraj with forty of them for sending to his sister in Khurasan.[6]

Balban became the sultan in 1265 assuming the title of Ghiyasuddin Balban. As the commander of the previous sultan, Balban showed great military prowess, leading numerous expeditions against the infidels. After assuming power, his first job was, as noted already, to exterminate hundreds of thousands of recalcitrant Hindu rebels, the Muwattis etc. He ordered to ‘destroy the villages of the marauders, to slay the men, to make prisoners of the women and children.[7]

During Khilji dynasty: Under the Khilji (1290–1320) and Tughlaq (1320–1413) dynasties, the hold of the Muslim rule in India had been firmly established with the expanded army and territory. The sultan’s power was so overwhelming that ‘no one dared to make an outcry,’ noted Afif. Apart from campaigns to suppress many Hindu rebellions, many expeditions against infidel-held territories were undertaken with an ever-increasing zeal to bring them under the Muslim control. Rich booty was plundered, which obviously contained slaves, but their recording is sketchy, probably because, it had become too common. However, a few available testimonies left by contemporary chroniclers give a general idea of the extent of enslavement. Jalaluddin Khilji (r. 1290–96), the founder of Khilji dynasty, undertook ruthless campaigns to suppress Hindu revolts and to extend the boundary of the sultanate. He led expeditions to Katehar, Ranthambhor, Jhain, Malwa, and Gwalior. In the campaigns to Ranthambhor and Jhain, he sacked temples, plundered, and took captives making "a hell of paradise", writes Amir Khasrau. From the Malwa campaign, large quantities of booty (which always included slaves) was brought to Delhi, adds Khasrau.[8]

Next, Sultan Alauddin Khilji (r. 1296–1316) beat all earlier sultans in the capture of slaves. He sent a large expedition to Gujarat in 1299 sacking all major cities and towns: Naharwala, Asaval, Vanmanthali, Surat, Cambay and Somnath. According to the records of Muslim chroniclers Isami and Barani, he acquired great plunders and a large number of captives of both sexes. In the sack and plunder of Somnath alone, testifies Wassaf, the Muslim army ‘took captive a great number of handsome and elegant maidens, amounting to 20,000’, as well as the children of both sexes.’ Ranthambhor was attacked in 1301 and Chittor in 1303. In the Chittor invasion, 30,000 people were massacred; and as a standard practice, their women and children were enslaved although some of the Rajput women had committed Jauhar. Large numbers of slaves were captured in the expeditions to Malwa, Sevana and Jalor between 1305 and 1311. Sultan Alauddin also captured slaves in his expedition to Rajasthan. During his reign, capturing slaves became like a child’s play as Amir Khasrau puts it, ‘the Turks whenever they please, can seize, buy or sell any Hindu.’ So stupendous was his slave-taking that he had ‘50,000 slave boys in his personal service’ and ‘70,000 slaves worked on his buildings,’ record Afif and Barani, respectively. Barani testifies that ‘fresh batches of captives were constantly arriving’ in the slave-markets of Delhi during Alauddin’s reign.’[9]

During Tughlaq dynasty: In 1320, the Tughlaqs captured power. Muhammad Shah Tughlaq (r. 1325–51), the most learned amongst Muslim rulers of India, was the most powerful rulers of the Sultanate period (1206–1526). His notorious zeal for capturing slaves had even outstripped the feats of Alauddin Khilji. Shihabuddin Ahmad Abbas wrote of his capture of slaves that ‘The Sultan never ceases to show the greatest zeal in making war upon the infidels… Everyday thousand of slaves are sold at a very low price, so great is the number of prisoners.’ During his notorious reign, he undertook numerous expeditions to put down revolts and to bring far-off regions of India under his sway, reaching deep into South India and Bengal. He also brutally put down sixteen major rebellions. Many of these expeditions brought great booty, which invariably included slaves in large numbers. Slaves were so abundant that the sultan had sent ten female slaves to traveler Ibn Battutah on his arrival in Delhi.[10] The sultan sent a diplomatic mission to the Chinese emperor, led by Battutah, with a caravan of gifts, which included ‘a hundred white slaves, a hundred Hindu dancing- and singing-girls…[11] Sending slaves as gifts to the caliphs and rulers overseas was also a common practice during Sultan Iltutmish and Feroz Tughlaq (d. 1388). Ibn Battutah testifies that the sultan used to accumulate slaves round the year and marry them off during the celebration of two major Islamic festivals, the Eid.[12] This was obviously aimed at swelling the Muslim population in India.

Next, Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq (r. 1351–88) was a kind-hearted toward the infidels, for he first allowed drafting some non-Muslims into his army, defying Muslim opposition. Even under his rule, enslaving the infidels went on with great vigor. He had acquired a mind-blowing 180,000 young slave boys in his court, testifies Afif.[13] He, like his predecessor, used to capture thousands of male and female slaves round the year and marry them off on the days of Eid celebration. According to Afif, ‘slaves became too numerous’ under Firoz Tughlaq and ‘the institution (of slavery) took root in every centre of the land.’ Soon afterwards, the sultanate broke into several independent kingdoms, but the enslavement of the infidels continued as usual in every "centre of the land", writes Afif.[14]

In Amir Timur’s invasion: Amir Timur from Central Asia, waged Jihad against India (1398–99) to become a ghazi or a martyr, had accumulated over 100,000 captives when he reached Delhi. On the eve of his attack on Delhi, he killed them all. From his assault on Delhi onward to his return to his capital, he has left a tragic trail of barbaric slaughter, destruction, pillage and enslavement, which he recorded in his memoir, Malfuzat-I-Timuri.[15]

Of his assault on Delhi on 16 December 1398, records Timur, ‘15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering and destroying… The spoil was so great that each man secured fifty to a hundred prisoners—men, women and children. There was no man who took less than twenty.’ If each soldier, on an average, had taken 60 captives, the total yield of slaves was about 1000,000 (1.0 million)[16].

On the way back to his capital in Central Asia, narrates Timur, he instructed his commanders ‘to take every fort and town and village’ they came across, and ‘to put all the infidels of the country to the sword… My brave fellows pursued and killed many of them, made their wives and children prisoners.’ After reaching Kutila, he attacked the infidels; ‘After a slight resistance, the enemy took flight, but many of them fell under the swords of my soldiers. All the wives and children of the infidels were made prisoners.

Moving forward, upon arriving at the bank of the Ganges during the bathing festival, his soldiers ‘slaughtered many of the infidels and pursued those who fled to the mountains.’ The spoil, adds Timur, ‘which exceeds all computations… fell into the hands of my victorious soldiers.’ Spoils of course included slaves.

When he reached Siwalik, notes Timur, ‘the infidel gabrs were dismayed at the slight and took flight. The Holy warriors pursued them, and made heaps of slain… Immense spoil beyond all compute’ was obtained; ‘All the Hindu women and children in the valley were made prisoners.

On the other side of the river, Raja Ratan Sen, hearing of Timur’s approach, had drawn his force at the fortress of Trisarta (Kangra). When attacked the fortress, records Timur, ‘the Hindus broke and fled, and my victorious soldiers pursued’ them with only a few escaping; ‘...they secured great plunders,’ exceeding all calculations and each with ten to twenty slaves.’ This means that the assault yielded 200,000 to 300,000 slaves.

On the other side of the Siwalik Valley was the large and important town of Hindustan, called Nagarkot. In the attack, ‘The Holy warriors… made heaps of corpses,’ and ‘a vast booty,’ including ‘prisoners… fell into the hands of the victors, who returned triumphant and loaded with spoil,’ concluded Timur.

On his way back from Delhi, Timur had made five major assaults on the Hindu fortresses, towns and villages, besides other smaller incursions and captured slaves in each. The rough number of captives—some 200,000 to 300,000—is available only for the assault in Kangra. If similar number of slaves were captured in the other assaults, he must have acquired 1.0 to 1.5 million slaves in the course of his return. Combined with the captives taken at Delhi, he had driven away some 2.0 to 2.5 milion slaves from India. At Delhi, he also had selected thousands of artisans and craftsmen, whom he brought to his capital.[17]

During the Sayyid and Lodi dynasties (1400–1525): In the period, subsequent to Timur’s invasion, the numbers of slaves taken in wars are not properly recorded; only abstract references are found in various documents.[18] Following Timur’s departure after devastating the power in Delhi, the Tughlaqs, followed by the Sayyids, while consolidating their authority, made many expeditions. Many of these campaign yielded slaves in large numbers. As recorded by Ferishtah, in the reign of Sultan Sayyid Mubarak (r. 1431–35), the Muslim army plundered Katehar and enslaved many of the Rahtore Rajputs (1422), enslaved many in Malwa in 1423, carried away the surrendered Muwatti rebels in Alwar in 1425 and the subjects of Raja of Hulkant (in Gwalior, in 1430) were carried away as prisoners and slaves.[19]

In 1430, Amir Shaikh Ali from Kabul attacked Sirhind and Lahore in Punjab. In Lahore, records Ferishtah, ‘40,000 Hindus were computed to have been massacred, besides a great number carried away prisoners’; in Toolumba (Multan), his army ‘plundered the place, and put to death all the men able to bear arms… and carried the wives and children of the inhabitants into captivity.[20]

Following the Sayyids, the Lodi dynasty (1451–1526) re-established the authority of the sultanate and continued the practice of enslavement as usual. Sultan Bahlul, founder of the dynasty, ‘turned a free-booter and with his gains from plunder built up a strong force.’ In his assault against Nimsar (in Hardoi district), he ‘depopulated it by killing and enslaving its people.’ His successor Sikandar Lodi produced the same spectacle in Rewa and Gwalior regions.[21]

[1]. Ibid, p. 325

[2]. Lal (1994), p. 44–45

[3]. Ferishtah, Vol. I, p. 130

[4]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 348; also Ferishtah, Vol. I, p. 131

[5]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 351

[6]. Lal (1994), p. 46–48

[7]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. III, p. 105

[8]. Lal (1994), p. 48

[9]. Ibid, p. 49–51

[10]. Ibid, p. 51

[11]. Gibb HAR (2004) Ibn Battutah: Travels in Asia and Africa, D K Publishers, New Delhi, p. 214

[12]. Lal (1994), p. 51–52

[13]. Elliot & Dawson, III, p. 297

[14]. Ibid, p. 53

[15]. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. III, p. 436–71; Bostom AG (2005) The Legacy of Jihad, Prometheus Books, New York, p. 648-50

[16]. By mistake, the number of prisoners captured by Timur was cited to be 10 times less in previous editions.

[17]. Lal (1994), p. 86

[18]. Ibid, p. 70–71

[19]. Freishtah, Vol. I, p. 299–303

[20]. Ibid, p. 303,306

[21]. Lal (1994), p. 86

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