Friday, November 24, 2017

Slavery: Eunuchs and Ghilman in The Islamic Empire

Eunuchs and Ghilman in The Islamic Empire.

One of the first things we learn of when we study history books, is the British Empire and the heinous atrocities committed in the course of the British Empire colonising far away lands, people and cultures. We learn about the Aboriginal people of Canada, Australia and America who were brutally forced to give up their cultures, religions, languages, names, vast resources and indigenous identities, to the European bloc of invaders who established a strange foreign rule that terrorised the Natives beyond bounds. We learn about the Atlantic slave trade and the grave crimes committed against the subjugated black African people. But we hardly ever learn about the heinous crimes perpetuated by the Islamic Empire. We hardly ever learn about the Islamic slave trade, which was extensively more atrocious than the Atlantic slave trade in that it was more profitable, affected a wider demography of indigenous peoples, and went on longer! What’s more, slavery in Islam exists till this very day, and is afforded legitimacy by the unchanging divine Islamic text.

One of the reasons why slave trade is considered an extremely contemptible practice in the modern world is – asides from the obvious dehumanisation of social status it immediately relegates its victims to, and the curbing of natural human rights – it ushers in contemptible social ills such as sex trafficking and male castration on a grand commercial scale! The unprecedented pan-continental economic success of raiding infidel communities and enslaving war captives was exclusive to Islamic culture, under the Islamic Empire. Naturally, it gave way to the demand for Eunuchs. Eunuchs were the preferred male slave choice for consumers, because they posed lesser security risks at the harems, in the palace and in the domestic affairs of ordinary Muslims.

Eunuchs were plentiful in the Islamic Empire. Muslim rulers, who ruled under the authority of Caliphs, purchased and had slaves from Persia, the Indian subcontinent, Europe, Africa and beyond, in vast quantities in their palaces. Ordinary Muslims outside the royal class also had male slaves who were castrated specially for their service.

Many Islamic commentators, politicians, scholars and ordinary Muslims often argue that Eunuchs predate Islam and that the castration of slaves goes against Islamic doctrine itself, as Islam prohibits body mutilation. It is true that castration of slaves is not an Islamic teaching and that rather than engage in the castrations themselves, Muslim merchants had other people to do it for them (discussed further below). It is also true that Greeks for example, as well as other people outside of Arabia were castrating slaves unjustly before the advent of Islam. Islam however does not view slavery or slave trade through an abominable lens, as other legislature adopted by other cultures have come to. Muslims are encouraged to treat their slaves fairly and to go as far as manumitting them on certain occasions, but they are not once commanded to do so. There is also the instance of a Muslim being instructed to free a slave as punishment for (a Muslim’s) involuntary manslaughter of another Muslim (not the Kafir or slave), but for the most part Manumission in Islam is something a Muslim should do only if he feels in his heart to do it. It is an indisputable fact that there is no compulsion from Allah to manumit slaves. Muhammad himself freed some slaves, while enslaving others simultaneously. It would be needless perhaps, to draw attention to this debacle were it not for reoccurring reports of slavery still being widely practised today in the Islamic world (Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia). There are also calls from everyday Muslims, to re-establish Khilafa – a global empire based on the very Islamic jurisprudence that institutionalises slavery and other ills associated with it such as sex trafficking and male castration.

The British Empire, in spite of its atrocities, had a conscience. It allowed room for a vigorous abolitionist movement started by William Wilberforce in 1787, whose ideas of granting equal constitutional rights to slaves, took flight all over the Empire. Many English people at the time viewed slavery with contempt and wanted the practice to be abolished completely. They wanted the establishment to utilise its influence to promote this egalitarian ideal throughout the Empire and in the Americas, to ensure that those found transgressing were severely punished. It took a few decades but eventually the policy was implemented and all slaves were by law released from their owners. In stark contrast, there is no  abolitionist movement in Islam. There is no Islamic scholar, leader or politician publicly advocating a defiance of the Prophetic Traditions (Muhammad’s life and his examples) of: enslaving war captives, selling them off for profit, and reducing them to sex slaves. This institution which gives way to the ensuing ill of castrating slaves for the purpose of service to Muslims – Muslim comfort and security – is not actively condemned by Muslims. Attempting to abolish this kind of thinking in Islam meets fierce resistance from fundamentalist Muslims, as it is in stark contrast to the thinking certified by Islamic doctrine and the Prophetic Traditions. Heretic Muslims who find themselves stuck in a clash of civilisations and try to promote abolitionism in Islam do not do so without being considered apostates or infidels by the larger Muslim community under the herd of fundamentalists. This practice of castrating male captives, which was prominent in the Islamic Empire until the neutralisation of Ottoman rule (by the West), is discussed in M. A. Khan’s book: Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery. In the excerpt below titled Eunuchs and Ghilman taken from chapter VII, M. A. Khan attributes prevalent male castration to Muslim demand, which was in turn fuelled by three primary factors in the Islamic Empire.

With no Islamic abolitionist movement in tow, the industrial institution of slavery exist today in 2013, in the Islamic republic of Mauritania, Sudan and various parts of the Muslim world. In truth, the subject of slavery in Islam is an exiguously studied subject.


Another extremely cruel, dehumanizing and degrading aspect of Islamic slavery was the large-scale castration of male captives. It has received little attention of critics and historians. Historically, castration did receive little opposition in the Muslim world well into the modern age. But Muslims normally engaged Jews or other non-Muslims to perform the operation on the argument that mutilation of human bodies was prohibited in Islam. (This is hypocritical in the least, since beheading of totally innocent people in large numbers has been a common practice right from the days of the Prophet, while amputation of hands and legs are divine Islamic punishment for certain crimes.) Yet, the employment of eunuchs is clearly sanctioned by Allah, as the Quran instructs Muslim women to cover their body and ornaments with cloaks except ‘to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women)…’ [Quran 24:31]. Prophet Muhammad had himself accepted a eunuch as gift, says a hadith, which has been excluded from canonical collections.845

Castrated males, normally young handsome boys, were in great demands amongst Muslim rulers and elites mainly for three reasons. First, Muslim harems and households used to have a few to thousands of wives and concubines. Naturally, most of these women were left sexually unsatisfied as well as jealous and indignant about sharing their husbands and masters with so many women. Keeping male slaves in such palaces and households was a cause of concern for the husband and master, because those sexually unsatisfied and often indignant women could be tempted into sexual contact with the male-slaves. Attraction of harem women to other men was rather common. For example, when Pellow, not a eunuch, was surprisingly placed as a harem-guard by Moulay Ismail upon a request from one of his favourite wives, his wives showed amorous interest in him. Aware of the consequence of such a tango if the sultan found out, ‘‘I thought it highly prudent to keep a very strict guard upon all my actions,’’ wrote Pellow.846

It was, therefore, safer for masters—particularly the rulers and high officials, who kept large harem—to keep eunuchs, instead of virile men, in their households and palaces. It is no wonder that the term harem originated from haram, meaning prohibited—more specifically, “out of bounds” (to unrelated men).

According to John Laffin, black slaves were generally castrated ‘based on the assumption that the blacks had an ungovernable sexual appetite.’847 From India to Africa, eunuchs were specifically engaged in guarding the royal harems. They kept tab on the passage of men and women in and out of the seraglio and spied for the ruler on the harem women about their behaviour, infidelity in particular. Eunuchs were needed in their thousands to look after huge harems, probably the largest royal department in medieval Islamic kingdoms.

ImageThe Kızlar Ağası, head of the black eunuchs of the Ottoman Imperial Harem. The title literally means “Chief of the Girls”.

Secondly, the castrated men, with no hope of a family or offspring to look forward to in their old age, were likely to show greater fidelity and devotion to the master in order to earn their favor and support when they grew old. The castrated slaves, devoid of sexual distractions, could also devote themselves exclusively to work relatively easily in the usually sexually-charged Islamic culture.

The third reason for the high demand for eunuchs was homosexual infatuation of many Muslim rulers, generals and nobles. Eunuchs, kept for carnal indulgence, also called ghilman, used to be handsome young boys. They used to wear ‘rich and attractive uniforms and often beautified and perfumed their bodies in effeminate fashion.’ The concept of ghilman comes from the following verses of the Quran, which describes heavenly male attendants (ghilman) in paradise:

‘Round about them will serve, (devoted) to them, young male servants (handsome) as Pearls well-guarded.’ [Quran 52:24]
‘There wait on them immortal youths, with bowls and ewers and a cup from a pure spring.’ [Quran 56:17–18]
Anwar Shaikh in his essay Islamic Morality describes ghilman as follows: ‘Paradise is the description of the luxurious surroundings dwelt in by Houris and Ghilman. Houris are the most beautiful ever-young virgins with wide, flexing eyes and swelling bosoms. Ghilman are the immortal young boys, pretty like pearls, clothed in green silk and brocade and embellished with bracelets of silver.’848 The concept of ghilman in Islam may have been prompted by the dominant culture of sodomy that existed amongst Arabs during Muhammad’s time as discussed already (see p. 131–32). Sodomy was also prevalent in Persia. According to Hitti, ‘We read of ghilman in the reign of al-Rashid; but it was evidently the Caliph al-Amin, who, following Persian precedent, established in the Arab world the ghilman institution for the practice of sexual relations. A judge of whom there is record used four hundred such youths. Poets did not disdain to give public expression to their perverted passions and to address amorous pieces of their compositions to beardless young boys.’849

Castration was not performed on the black captives alone, but on captives of all shades and races: be it the blacks of Africa, the browns of India, the yellows of Central Asia or the whites of Europe. In the Middle Ages, notes Segal, Prague and Verdun became castration centers for white eunuchs, while Kharazon near the Caspian Sea for Central Asian eunuchs. Islamic Spain was another center for producing white eunuchs. At the beginning of the tenth century, Caliph al-Muqtadir (r. 908–937) had assembled in the Baghdad palace some 11,000 eunuchs: 7,000 Blacks and 4,000 Whites (Greek).850

It is noted already that there was widespread castration of slaves in Bengal during Mughal Emperor Jahangir, which had become a widespread practice across India. It appears that since Bakhtiyar Khilji’s conquest of Bengal in 1205, it had become a leading source of enslavement and castration for supplying eunuchs. On his way back to Venice from Kublai Khan’s Court, Marco Polo visited India in the late thirteenth century; he found Bengal as a major source of eunuchs. Duarte Barbosa in the late sultanate period (1206– 1526) and Francois Pyrard in the Mughal period (1526–1799) also found Bengal as the leading supplier of castrated slaves. Ain-i-Akbari (compiled 1590s) also affirms the same.851 Some 22,000 individuals were emasculated in 1659 in Golkunda during Aurangzeb. Said Khan Chaghtai of Jahangir’s reign owned 1,200 eunuchs. Even kind-hearted Akbar employed eunuchs in large numbers. According to Ain-i-Akbari, Akbar’s harem ‘contained 5,000 ladies, each of whom had separate apartments… watched in successive circles by female guards, eunuchs, Rajputs and the porters at the gates…’852

Sultan Alauddin Khilji had engaged 50,000 young boys in his personal services, while Muhammad Tughlaq had 20,000 and Firoz Tughlaq 40,000. Many, if not most, of these slave-boys were likely castrated. Even Malik Kafur, Alauddin’s famous commander, was a eunuch. Khusrau Khan, Sultan Kutbuddin Mubarak Khilji’s favorite commander, who killed the sultan in 1320 and occupied the throne briefly, was a eunuch too. Medieval Muslim historians—namely Muhammad Ferishtah, Khondamir, Minhaj Siraj and Ziauddin Barani et al., have recorded stories of infatuation of other illustrious sultans, namely Mahmud Ghazni, Qutbuddin Aibak and Sikandar Lodi—for handsome young boys. Sikandar Lodi had once boasted, ‘If I order one of my slaves to be seated in a palanquin,853 the entire body of nobility would carry him on their shoulders at my bidding.’854 Sultan Mahmud had infatuation toward charming Tilak the Hindu, his favorite commander.855

Castration of male captives was performed on an unprecedented scale in order to meet the demand of eunuchs in the Muslim world. It was Muslims, who inaugurated the practice of castrating male slaves on a grand scale. Most of the male slaves of the Muslim world—particularly, those captured in Africa—were castrated. While eleven million African slaves were transported to the New World (West Indies and Americas) during the 350-year trans-Atlantic slave-trade, a larger number of them ended up in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, India, Islamic Spain and Ottoman Europe during the thirteen centuries of Islamic domination. However, if compared the Diaspora left by black slaves in the New World with that in the Islamic world, it becomes evident that the overwhelming majority of the black slaves of the Islamic world were castrated; therefore, they failed to leave a notable Diaspora behind.

The fate of the millions of European, Indian, Central Asian and Middle Eastern infidels—reduced to wearing the shackles of Islamic slavery—might not have been much different. Marco Polo (1280s) and Duarte Barbosa (1500s) witnessed large-scale castrations in India; the same was occurring in the reign of Abkar (d. 1605), Jahangir (d. 1628) and Aurangzeb (d. 1707). Castration, therefore, was a common practice in India throughout the Muslim rule. It might have contributed to some extent to the decrease in India’s population from about 200 million in 1000 CE to 170 million in 1500 CE.

For the complete references to the above excerpt, please refer to M. A. Khan’s book: Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery. A free copy is available online.


843. Milton, p. 120
844. Naipaul (1998), p. 332

845. Pellat Ch, Lambton AKS and Orhonlu C (1978) Khasi, In The Encyclopaedia of Islam, E J Brill ed., Leiden, Vol. IV, p. 1089

846. Milton, p. 126

847. Segal, p. 52
848. Shaikh A, Islamic Morality,
849. Hitti PK (1948) The Arabs : A Short History, Macmillan, London, p. 99
850. Segal, p. 40–41; Hitti (1961), p. 276
851. Moreland, p. 93, note 1

852. Ibid, p. 87–88
853. Palanquins were used for carrying the women, especially the newly married brides, in medieval India.

854. Lal (1994), p. 106–09
855. Elliot & Dawson, Vol. II, p. 127–29

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Iranian "Alans" (Sarmatians/Scythians) of Europe & West Asia

In Antiquity, the steppes were ruled by horse lords speaking
an Indo-Iranian tongue, often labeled as Scythians. These "Scythians" could be categorized in the actual Scythians, who lived in western steppes north of the Black Sea, the Sarmatians, who gradualy pushed westwards during the second century BC to eventually replace the Scythians, and the Saka, the eastern Scythians living north-east of the Aral Sea. Their reign of the steppe gradually came to an end with the Huns, a people of Mongol or Turk origin. Until the 4th century AD the Sarmatians were either killed, subjugated or forced to migrate west- or southwards. A faction of these Scythians were the Alans, formerly part of the Sarmatian confederation. Some of them moved westwards, either settling on the Crimean peninsular or actively participating in the downfall of the Western Roman Empire by raiding its territory and eventually founding two post-Roman kingdoms: One short-lived kingdom north of the Loire River in modern France and an other, more famous and successful one in North Africa, where they would share their rule with the Germanic Vandals. On the long run though, all Alans who migrated westwards were assimilated fairly quickly. As dramatic their appearance was, as quickly were they forgotten, now appearing as not much more than a footnote in history, interesting only to those with a passion for late Antiquity. 

But this is not their whole story, not even close. The branch of the Alans that did not migrate to west, but to the south, was about to see a much different fate. They migrated to the steppes near the Caucasus, roughly corresponding to the modern "North Caucasus Federal district" (Leaving out Dagestan). As attested by archaeology, the Alans started to migrate in this area from the fifth to the sixth century in large numbers, where they, despite their nomadic origins, would settle immediately. It appears that the relations to the Eastern Roman Empire were quite friendly from the very beginning. Some of them, like Ardabur and his son Aspar (5th century), reached high ranks in the Eastern Roman army.

Roughly one century later sources mention an Alan king for the first time, named Sarosius and described as friend of the Byzantine Empire. He and his warriors are described as very active against the Persians in the Caucasus. It seems likely that Sarosius was the king of the western Alans, living near the Kuban River. The eastern Alans, who settled near the Terek River, were probably in closer proximity to Persia. 

Why the Alans could consolidate themselves that fast must be explained with a new branch of the Silk Road developing after the 6th century, leading through passes controlled by the Alans. The Alans would obviously greatly benefit from the taxes and luxury goods travelling through that road. Since the Byzantine Empire, western Alanias most important ally, was mostly at war with Sasanid Persia the Caucasian road was a welcome alternative to supply the markets with precious far eastern goods. The safety of the road would be granted by a myriad of fortresses how they are proven for this and even more so the following time.

Moving forward in time, we are reaching the mid 7th century, when not only the Arabs conquered Persia and large parts of the Byzantine Empire, but a new power has risen in the steppes as well: The Khazar Khanate, located on the north-western shores of the Caspian Sea. Mentioned in 586 for the first time, it quickly became one of the mightiest states of its time. Expanding Islam reached the khanate in 642, resulting in a war lasting a decade. However, the Khazars were one of the few nations who managed to defeat the Arabs decisively. It had now time to erect its hegemony over the western steppes, degrading the Alans to a tributary status until the mid-8th century. Promoted by an influx of Turkic settlers, perhaps Bulgars, the Alans also underwent a process of “soft” Turkization, visible for example in the replacement of the classical Scythian longswords by sightly curved sabres.

It was also a time when many new fortresses were constructed, serving the protection of the frontier zone with the Caliphate. Indeed, this era was one of titanic struggles, marked by the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Umayyad and later Abbasid caliphate. The Khazars mainly tried to remain neutral in these conflicts, instead focusing on its role as trading empire. Nevertheless, it was again dragged into war with the Muslim Caliphates in the 8thcentury. This time the odds were against the Khazars, and Alania became the mentioned frontier zone. However, after the 8th century the Khazar-Arab relations remained mostly peaceful.
After those conflicts the Khazars wanted to ensure once and for all that they would never to be dropped into the Byzantine-Arab sruggles. They made a revolutionary decision: The conversion to Judaism in the 9th century. As far as we can tell, this decision did not affect the Alans very much. They remained predominantly pagan, adhering the archaic Sarmatian religion and folklore of old. Yet.

The Alan independence and eventual formation of the high Medieval Alan kingdom was rendered possible by the decline of the Khazar Khanate, which started in the later 9th century. This time marked a) the rise of the Kievan Rus, a direct economical competitor b) the decay of Khazar-Byzantine relations, perhaps due to the conversion of the Khazars. Both would have dramatic consequences: The Kievan Rus would eventually not just hurt the Khazars economically, but would they attack them as well. The Rus would finally destroy the Khanate in 968, but did the Alans already obtained significant autonomy before. In fact, they were recorded to be hostile towards the Khazars already in the early 10th century. Instead, they prefered to maintain friendly relations with the Byzantines.

The Byzantine influence, coming from Abkhazia, ultimately resulted in the baptizement of the Alan king during the time of patriarch Nicholas the Mystic (901-907), followed by the establishment of the Alan diocese with its seat in the Alan capital, which was called Magas in the Arabic sources. The location of Magas is still disputed, but it is generally assumed to be identical with Arkhyz, albeit some others note that there are no signs for a royal palace there, instead suggesting modern Kiafar, which is located further west. In this early era, Christianity was limited to the ruling class only. Ibn Rustah wrote in his "Book of precious ornaments" (c. 903-913), that the king of the Alans is "Christian at heart, but all people who inhabit his kingdom are heathens worshipping idols". Part of this pagan faith was the worship of the god Apasty, the patron of the hunt. Later on he was reinterpreted to the Christian saint St. Eustace. 
Despite this, many churches were constructed throughout the country. Even though the Mongol and especially Timurid invasions caused great destruction, several dozen churches and chapel remain to this day and some, like the Zelenchuk and Nuzal churches, even contain fragmentarily preserved murals, although most are gone by now. Both the architecture ("Cross-in-square") and murals reflect the Byzantine influence.

The spread of Christianity in the Alan lands suffered a temporary blow, when the Alans abjured the Christian faith, as to al-Masudi, in 931/2. According to the "Schechter Letter" ("Cambrigde Document"), a Jewish document from the 10th century, this abjuration was the result of a lost war between Alania and the Khazars, a conflict provoked by Byzantium. The Alans then expelled the Byzantine priests and destroyed at least some of the churches, as can be attested by traces of destruction in a couple of excavated churches dating to this period. They were later repaired however and Byzantine sources show that by the mid 10th century, but after 940, the Alan king was Christian yet again. Until the fall of the Alan kingdom the Christian faith managed to spread among the common people, albeit the bishop Theodor, who wrote right before the Mongol invasion, records that the Alans were Christians "only by name". 

Al-Masudi, who died in 956, left the most detailed Arabic report on the Alan kingdom. He mentions that the Alans were allied with the Avar kingdom of Sarir via marriages, where the both kings married the sister of the other. 

That the Alans and Avars of Sarir were allies is also attested by Ahmed Lutfullah (Died in 1702), who, while relying on older sources, mentions a raid of Alans and Avars in 1032, targeting Shirvan and Yazidiyah in what is now eastern Azerbaijan. Indeed this period seemed to have been one of great aggression against the Muslim parts of the Caucasus. Except of the Alan-Avar alliance the Alans also allied with the Rus for an other raid, but were both parties defeated. This was appareantly also the end of the Rus presence in the Caucasus. Nevertheless did the Alan aggression continue. 29 years later they initiated yet an other invasion towards central Azerbaijan, capturing more than 20.000 persons.

The Alans placed a great emphasis on alliances via intermarriages with their neighbours. We already mentioned the Avars of Sarir, but did the Alan royal family also maintain relations with those of Byzantium and Georgia. After the tedious wars with the Arabs, both became increasingly influential in the region and would eventually even rival each other.

As we have seen were the Byzantines in close contact with Alania since the latter converted to Christianity. Marriage relations between the royal houses are attested since the 11th century and probably came to a close with the conquest of Constantinople in 1204, when the Byzantine empire was reduced to a local kingdom with no over-regional influence. These marriages could be like the marriage of Irene to the sebastokrator Isaac Kommenos, who was said to be the daughter of an Alan king, or be of a more passive nature, like the marriage of the famous Maria / Martha "of Alania" to Michael VII and subsequently Nicephoros III, who was infact a semi-Alan. These martial ties allowed the Byzantine empire to get access to Alan warriors. One source states at one occasion, the empire hired Alan mercenaries directly in Alania. These Alan mercenaries, repeatedly praised for their high value in battle, were an essential part of Byzantine warfare, first mentioned during the aftermath of the battle of Manzikert in 1071, while the last mention comes from the early 14th century. Some Alans even settled in the Byzantine empire. For example we know about a strong community in Thessalonici (12th century).

Now to come to the Alan-Georgian relations: The mentioned empress Maria was the daughter of the Georgian king Bagrat IV (r. 1027-1072) and his Alan wife Borena. Borena was the second attested Alan women of royal Alan pedigree that was married off to a Georgian king after Alda, which was married off to king Giorgi I (r. 1014-1027). Alda was said to be the daugther of an Alan king, while Borena was the sister of king Dorgolel (r.c. 1030-1060). Perhaps Dorgolel was the successor of Urdure, who was said to invade the autonomous Georgian kingdom of Kakheti during the 1020's, where he was killed. Under Dorgolel there was yet again an invasion, but this time under the souverainity of the Georgian crown. In around 1060, he led an army of around 40.000 men to the Muslim emirate of Ganja, causing great devastation.

So we see that especially in the 11th century, Alania was very active in the south-eastern Caucasus. Perhaps it was under the mentioned Dorgolel, known in the Georgian chronicles as "The great king of the Alans", that the kingdom reached its ultimate peak. It was in the prime of its urbanization: Arab sources speak of "uninterrupted series of settlements, so close that, when the cocks crow, they reply to each other from one side of the kingdom the other". Archaeology attests that the presumed capital Arkhyz, ie. Magas, was prospering.

However, at the turn to the 12th century, we see some signs of decline, since Geogrian chronicles start to speak of Alanian kings ruling simultaneously, perhaps indicating the (temporary?) reemergence of the west-east fragmentation of ancient times. Perhaps due to this fracture the Georgians looked for new, more powerful allies in the north, which they eventually found in the Cumans. After taking control of the steppes north of the Black Sea in around 1060, they started to push southwards until they reached the Kuban basin and therefore Alan territory. Eventually, the Georgian king David III married the daugther of khan Sharukan. Cumans started to settle in Georgia, first as fighters, later, under Khan Otrok, with their families, numbering more than 40.000 people. Since the Cumans and Alans were at the war, the Georgian mediated a peace between them, therefore ensuring the save passage of the Cumans through Darial.

Despite this recruitment of a new, powerful ally in Alanias stead, it seems that the Georgian royal family was still interested in maintaining its links with the Alan one. This interest should prove to bring fruitful results: In the mid 12th century, the Georgian king Demetre I married off his son Giorgi, later known as Giorgi III, to Burduxan, daughter of the Alan king Xuddan. They got a daugther named Tamar, who, after the death of her father, became the queen of Georgia. Her reign is considered to be the absolute peak of the Georgias golden Age. It is recorded that she tried to tie dynastic relations with the Rus by marrying a prince from Novgorod, but he after two years he rebelled and in his stead she married an Alan named Davit Soslan, who was either a king or a prince.

Nevertheless, Alania was in decline. Apart of the mentioned Cumans pushing towards Alan territory, there would have been other responsible events. One blow might have been the fall of the Cosntantinople in 1204, drastically weakening its long time ally. Ultimately however, the renown historian Kuznetsov concludes that the Alan kingdom failed because it was an enforcement of Byzantine administration and religion on a people that was heavily clan-oriented. This failure proved fatal even more, considering that it occured on the eve of the Mongol conquest. 

The Mongols first arrived in the northern Caucasus in 1222. The historian Ibn Altir describes how the Alans allied with the Cumans to face the Mongol danger, and while not able to defeat them they could keep the Status Quo. That's why the Mongols bribed the Cumans to agree with a non-agression pact, leading to the Cuman withdrawal. Now left just on their own, the Alans got crushed and the Mongols pillaged their lands. As much as Alania was already decaying, this raid must have led to anarchy. The Hungarian monk Julien states that in 1236, the land was caught in a steady war "chief versus chief, village versus village". Murder was commonplace.

The nail in the coffin was the Mongol invasion of 1238/39. In his quest for dominating the world, Khan Ogodei sent armies to destroy and subjugate the kingdoms of Russia and the Caucasus. Now a large arrmy entered Alania, equipped with siege engines for taking care of the numerous fortified villages and, finally, Magas itself. The Chinese "History of Yuan" mentions how some Alans sided with the Mongols in that siege, one of them even commanding the vanguard. This just proves how the Mongols knew how to make use of Alanias warring chiefs. In the end, Magas was conquered and the Alan kingdom, or what was left of it, destroyed, even though resistance against the Mongol occupation continued for some years.

The Mongol invasions caused an Alan exodus, similiar to the one the Huns caused over 800 years ago. Some fled to Hungary, which they probably entered together with the Cumans. Together with the Cumans the Alans, which became known as Jasz, settled in eastern Hungary. They kept their Orthodox-Caucasian culture until the 15th century and their language until the 16th century, but remain a distinct people to this very day. More Alans poured into the Balkans during the early 14th century, offering their service to the local kingdoms as mercenaries. They dissappeared from the sources fairly quickly however, probably due to assimilation.

Others were forced to fight for the Mongols. They are attested in the Golden Horde, where they appareantly converted to Islam, but, interestingly, were an often-employed force of the Mongol Yuan dynasty in China too! According to Peregrine of Castello, who wrote in the early 14th century, they numbered 30.000 men, exluding their families. Even after the Mongols were pushed out of China the Asud, as the Alans were called, are testified to have remained in Mongol service until the 16th century.

Back to Alania: The Mongol invasion and the forced recruitment of Alans into the Mongol army left the lands depopulated. Since the second half of the 13th century the Alans started to migrate into Georgia, triggered perhaps by an inner-Mongol conflict between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate, which devastated the region even further. The Alans started to wage war against Georgia under a chief who was named Paredjan in the Georgian sources, eventually even conquering Gori. His successor was Os Bagatar, who is still celebrated as an Ossetian hero. However, until 1326 the Alans were expulsed from Gori and with it Georgia.
The definite end of medieval Alania came in the 14th century. Tamerlane, a conquerer from what is now Uzbekistan, was on his quest to create a new, Islamic Mongol empire. In 1395 his armies entered Alania, defeating the warring Alan princes. He ordered brutal massacres and enslavements with no other goal than to eradicate Christianity. The few that survived had to flee to the mountains, to what would be known as Ossetia, land of the Os (Georgian designation for "Alans"). The steppe territory that was left behind was settled by Karbadians and Turks, who would later turn to the Karachays and Balkars. Locked in the mountains, the Alans turned to the Ossetians, divided into two subgroups, the Digor and the Iron. Despite the regional church infrastructure crumbling (Last mention of the diocese of Alania in 1590), they would remain one of the last (nominally) Christian groups of the Caucasus. The arrival of Russia in the late 18th century marked the beginning of the modern era in the region and with it for Ossetia-Alania. 
Not much is known about the Alan army and its structure. According to al-Masudi, the Alans could muster 30.000 men, while one century later, at it's presumable peak under king Dorgolel, the Alans could muster 40.000 thousand man, which is, even if we consider that these numbers might be exaggerrated to some extend, fairly respectable for a kingdom of its size. The army was probably multi-ethnical. Except of the ruling Alans there were Turks, Slavs and other local Caucasus people, like the Dvals, that lived within the borders of the kingdom and were therefore probably enscribed into the army as well. 

The mentioned 30.000 soldiers were described as horsemen, implying that the Alans were still an equestrial society despite having settled down. The average Alan warrior would fight as a horse archer using a composite bow and a sabre or an axe for melee. During antiquity, the Alans used to fight as cataphracts, but are there no sources implying that they still did in the Middle Ages: Numerous amulets of stylized horsemen have been found, but none appears to depict horse armour. Even lances were not very popular anymore, albeit there is the mention of a "light lance" used by an Alan mercenary shortly after the battle of Manzikert, which he used in combination with bow and arrow. 

For defense there were used small round shields, armours and helmets. The most impeccably proven type of armour is mail armour, since it is attested both by the written sources and by archaelogy. These armours would have been manufactured on a high niveau, as Friar William of Rubrick, Laonicus Chalcocondyles and others attest. Furthermore, it is possible that, due to the Georgian influence, some Georgian-Byzantinoid armours might have found their way to the noblemen. A mural from a Zelenchuk church might depict stylized lamellar armour, though it's possible that the painter was not Alanian. Same for the armour of St. Eustace from the Nuzal church. 
Concerning helmets, we know about two types: The Os-Bagatar helmet, which belongs to the Georgian "Wawel"-type and became increasingly popular in Georgia from 1200 onwards and some simple conical helmet how they are most probably depicted on two Medieval statues from Karachai-Cherkessia. The Os-Bagatar helmet had an aventail while the conical helmets have either an aventail or were put over a coif. 

Finally, the Alans / Ossetians were also said to manufacture a "kind of bronze weapon, the so-called "Alanica" (Laonicus Chalcocondyles, 15th century). Perhaps the author talks about a gunpowder weapon?

For recognizability on the battlefield, the Alans in Byzantine service used flags, as stated by the 14th century chronicler Ramon Muntaner. While these might have been Byzantine flags, a relief from Kiafar attests that the Alans also used flags on their own. Perhaps these flags were decorated with clan symbols.

The Alans were famous for their skill and ferocity in battle. In the 12th century, Nicephoros Basilaces writes that the Alans are "the most warlike race among the Caucasians; if you see their host, you will look for bravery nowhere else; if you notice their valour in war, you will not mind facing a myriad of enemies." At the battle of Philippolis in 1189, against the German emperor Barbarossa, it were only the Alans that fought (and died) against the Germans, while the rest of the Byzantine army fled before the battle even started. Even in the 15th century, when the Alans were already transforming to the Ossetians, they were still considered to be "the best warriors in combat by far" (Laonicus Chalcocondyles). The fact that even the Mongols valued the Alan warriors for centures is only a further testament for their skill and courage. A courage which is probably explained with that the Alans were fairly obsessed with honour, the honour of the motherland and all Alans. To display cowardness was to dishonour your whole people. An other aspect of honour was the blood revenge. For example it were mostly Alans who hunted down the remnants of an Sicilian army after the latter had conquered Thessalonici in 1189, in an attempt to avenge the Alans who died in that siege. For the Ossetians, blood revenge would remain common until fairly recently.

All in all, the Alans would have been a full-blown warrior society.
Here you have a compilation of Medieval Alan names, based on sources from the 11th-15th century. Sources are the Georgian and Byzantine chronicles and a couple of names clustered together from different sources. I only considered the Medieval ones, even if some antique ones are etymologically explainable with modern Ossetian words. 



*Agusti Alemany (2001): "Sources on the Alans. A critical compilation"
*Irina Arzhantseva (2002): "The Christianization of North Caucasus (Religious Dualism among the Alans)"
*Irina Arzhantseva (?): "Alans: between Bzantium and Khazaria"
*Irina Arzhantseva, Irina Turova, Maria Bronnikova and Elia Zazovskaya (2001): "Alan settlements of the first millennium in the Kislovodsk Basin, Russia"
*Vladimir Kuznetsov & Jaroslav lebedynsky (2005): "Les Alains. Cavaliers des steppes, seigneurs du Caucase. Ier - XVe siècles apr. J.-C."

Islam’s Role in the Viking & Atlantic Slave Trades

Vikings bought silk from Muslims who they sold White Slaves to...#Muslim #Vikings

The successful roll back of Muslim conquests in Europe by European resistance fighters meant that Muslim harems in the Islamic world were starved of their divinely sanctioned bountiful supply of sex slaves. Conventionally, these sex-slaves were acquired via the jihad franchise. The unmet Muslim demand for concubines found compensation in another slave-trade however. This trade was established by the Vikings. The Vikings saw an unmet demand in the market and sought to tap into its economic potential by supplying extremely wealthy sex-starved males of the Muslim Empire with the highly-prized White sex slaves they were accustomed to. Needless to say, the Vikings were the European equivalent of the corrupt African chiefs and local mercenaries in Africa who participated in neighbouring village raids to meet Muslim merchants’ insatiable demands for the infidel African slaves. These slaves were transported to the Muslim world to provide domestic and industrial services to the Muslims in the infinitely-expanding Islamic Empire. Slave trade is truly contemptible. It’s not only because slavery itself is the ultimate expression of man in his most debased form, but because it glorifies man’s debasement by institutionalising his depraved desire to own another human life completely, into a highly economically viable franchise that seduces all manner of unscrupulous men from near and far, to participation. As long as defenceless men, women and children abound for the looting, there would be no end in sight to the carnage unleashed for the lure of profit.
Accounts of mankind’s historical affair with slavery usually begins and ends with the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade. While it is necessary to understand and document crimes of the Atlantic Slave Trade so at the very least, they are never repeated; very little is taught about the similar and often times more brutal onslaughts unleashed on the Whites, Blacks, Asians, and other infidel victims of Islamic conquests. One reason why very little is written on the Islamic Slave Trades is that traditional Islamic culture still legitimises slavery. Islamic doctrine contains explicit regulations for slavery. Islam implores all of mankind to follow the Prophetic Traditions – the examples of Prophet Muhammad. Whatsoever he forbade we must forbid, what he did not forbid we may not forbid and whatsoever he did we must do. He inaugurated a tripartite model of slavery into Islam, which included sex-slavery of the prettier female captives of his war of conquests. He also sold off some of his female (Banu Qurayza) slaves for profit (to acquire weapons and horses).
Islamic slavery of Whites is inarguably an intriguing subject firstly because as stated, there is very little written on it. Secondly because it was a vigorous enterprise that went on 600 years preceding Europe’s embarking on the Atlantic Slave Trade. Was the Atlantic Slave Trade in any way inspired by the Islamic Slave Trades? Did the latter inevitably lead to the former? We know for a fact that most of the Black African slaves acquired by Europeans from Africa were acquired from the hands of Muslim merchants – about 80% slaves. We also know for a fact that upon banning the Atlantic Slave Trade, the Eastern slave trade expanded, suggesting that Muslim slave traders, unchanging in their age-old Prophetic Tradition, merely monopolised the rest of the world’s refusal to engage in slavery to their advantage. For many Africans, Western abolishment of slavery did not improve their lot, it only changed their slave market destination. For Westerners however, the rise of the Western Empire did significantly improve their lot. The mass atrocities committed during both the Islamic and Western monopolies of chattel slavery will always be in no way excusable.
In the book ‘Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery’, M. A. Khan discusses the legacy of Islamic imperialism and Islamic slavery on the non-Muslim peoples of Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, Europe, Arabia and beyond. Featured below is an excerpt from Chapter VII of the book, which documents Islamic complicity in the Viking and Atlantic Slave Trades.
In the seventh and eighth centuries after Islam’s birth, Muslim invaders and rulers enslaved the infidels in immense numbers, promoting slave-trade into a flourishing business venture in the Muslim world. Late in the eighth century, there arose a band of non-Muslim slave hunters, the Vikings, in Europe. Vikings were a North European people, originating in Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark), who turned brutal raiding brigands between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Belonging to the so-called barbarian Germanic race, they engaged in raiding and pirate attacks along the coasts of the British Isles and mainland Europe as far east as the Volga River in Russia. ‘Famed for their long ships—the Vikings had established settlements along the coasts and rivers of mainland Europe, Ireland, Normandy, the Shetland, Orkney, and Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland over three centuries. They reached south to North Africa and east to Russia and Constantinople as looters, traders, or mercenaries. Vikings under Leif Ericson, heir to Erik the Red, reached North America, with putative expeditions to present-day Canada in the 10th century. Viking raiding voyages decreased with the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia in the late 10th and 11th century.’880 The period of the rise and domance of the Vikings between 793 and 1066 CE became known as the Viking Age.
The Vikings have been severely condemned for their vocation of savage raids on innocent and peaceful families and communities along the coasts of Europe, killing the adults and capturing the children and young women for selling into slavery. The major reasons for the rise and spread of the Vikings, think historians, were overpopulation, technological innovations, and climate change, plus the interruption of trade and flow of goods from Central Europe to Scandinavia after the destruction of the Frisian fleet by Roman Emperor Charlemagne in 785.
Little attention is, however, given to the positive influence that Islam played in their engagement in slave-trade. The defeat of the Muslim army in the Battle of Tours in 732 dramatically subdued Islamic conquest on the European front. They even had to withdraw from some of the territories they had already captured. Thereafter, the enslavement of the prized white women from Europe for keeping as concubines in Muslim harems of the Islamic world had greatly reduced.
As capturing of white sex-slaves through wars and raids reduced, purchasing them became the alternative for meeting their unceasing and obsessive demand in the Muslim world. At the rise of the berserk Viking raiders, the Scandinavian fur-traders reached the Europe-Arab trading center of Bulgar Volga (in Russia), where they met traders from the Muslim world with huge demand of white women for Islamic harems. The savage Vikings, thereafter, embarked on capturing young white women for selling to traders from the Muslim world. This first opened the Eastern European route of slave-trade with the Muslim world. The supply route of white slaves via Spain also soon opened. With the spread of Christianity to Northern Europe, Viking slave-trade tapered down and eventually ceased.
Viking slave-trade has been thoroughly condemned, but little has been said of the role, Islam played, in seducing the Vikings into this abhorrent profession. There is no excuse for the crime the Vikings had committed. It is also impossible to disconnect Islam from the Viking slave-trade, because the supply was absolutely meant for meeting Islamic world’s unceasing demand for the prized white slaves.
The supply of white slaves to the Islamic world did not cease with the end of the Viking Age. Once Viking slave-trade ended, Muslim slave-hunters themselves slowly expanded the capture of white slaves in Europe to meet the Muslim world’s demand for them, thus replacing the Viking suppliers. In 1353, the Ottoman Turks, having crossed over to Europe turkishbathbypassing Constantinople, launched a new wave of raging Jihad expeditions against Europe overrunning Bulgaria and Serbia. This marked a new beginning for the capture of white slaves by Muslims in great multitudes. The Turks enslaved 7,000 whites in the attack of Thessaloniko (Greece) in 1430; while, in the sack of Methone (Greece) in 1499, Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II slaughtered all those (males) aged over ten years and “seized women and children”.881 Persian rulers Shah Tahmasp (d. 1576) attacked Georgia in 1553, enslaving more than 30,000 women and children. In his expedition to Georgia in 1551, the Ghazis ‘slew the men and took captive their wives and children.’ The sultan had earlier made another two successful expeditions against Georgia in 1540 and 1546, but the numbers enslaved are not available.882 The Ottomans and Safavids made numerous raids into European territories until the late seventeenth century. Despite suffering defeat and heavy loss in the siege of Vienna in 1683, the Ottoman Turks returned with 80,000 captives. This clearly suggests that slaves were captured in large numbers in all their campaigns.
Meanwhile the Tatar Khans embarked on numerous holy war expeditions (Razzia) into Eastern Europe and Russia in the mid-fifteenth century, capturing white slaves in tens to hundreds of thousands as noted above. The North African Barbary pirates also continued raiding and capturing white slaves along the European coastal towns from Sicily to Cornwall and from ships in the sea, enslaving more than one million white men and women between 1530 and 1780. The hunting of white slaves by Barbary pirates continued until the 1820s.
The trans-Atlantic slave-trade, conducted by European slave-traders, in which millions of African slaves were shipped to the New World, has received intense condemnations from Muslims and non-Muslims alike from everywhere, the West included. The issue of the Islamic slave-trade, however, remains largely untouched, unspoken and somewhat forgotten.
The European supply of slaves to the New World started when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V first authorized the involvement of Europe in slave-trade in 1519. The Portuguese and Spaniards, notorious amongst Europeans as slavers, first jumped into this lucrative venture followed by the Dutch, and then, the French. Britain’s King Charles I first authorized slave-trade in 1631 and his son Charles II reintroduced it by a Royal Charter in 1672. It is estimated that about eleven million African slaves were transported to the New World. Of these, approximately 4.0 million (35.4 percent) went to Portuguese controlled Brazil, 2.5 million (22.1 percent) to the Spanish colonies of South and Central America, 2.0 million (17.7 percent) to the British West Indies— mostly Jamaica, 1.6 million (14.1 percent) to the French West Indies, 0.5 million (4.4 percent) to the Dutch West Indies, and another 0.5 million to North America.883
Abolition: The French revolution was organized for wrestling the “rights of man”, although without giving any serious thought to the rights of slaves. It, nonetheless, later on prompted the legal emancipation of slaves of the French Empire in 1794. In the 1790s, Denmark and Netherlands took measures to abolish their own slave-trade. Meanwhile in Britain, parliamentarian William Wilberforce started a campaign in 1787 for the suppression of slave-trade, which soon transformed into a vigorous movement for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Twenty years later in 1807, the British House of Commons passed a bill for abolishing slave-trade by an overwhelming majority of 283 to sixteen votes, a decisive blow to slavery. Later in 1809, the British government took further steps to stop slave-trading by mobilizing its Navy to search ships, including foreign vessels, suspected of carrying slaves. It also used diplomatic cards with Muslim governments—in Persia, Turkey, Egypt, and so on—for the abolition of slavery in the Muslim world.
In 1810, the British Parliament made engagement in slave-trade punishable by fourteen years of hard labor. In 1814, Britain started lobbying for the inclusion of the abolition of slave-trade in the International Treaty of Europe, which led to the signing of such a Treaty by all the European powers on 9 June 1815. In 1825, Britain made complicity in slave-trade punishable by death. The greatest moment for the anti-slavery movement came in 1833: the British Parliament abolished the institution of slavery altogether and freed all slaves, about 700,000, of the British Empire. France followed the British example of emancipating slaves in 1848, prompting the same in Dutch colonies. The United States emancipated its slaves in 1865.
Islamic complicity: The European slave-trade must be condemned for the very dehumanizing and cruel nature of this grotesque crime against humanity. Muslims are very forthcoming in doing this laudable exercise in holier than thou pious tones as though their history is clean of slavery. In truth, even in the European slave-trade, Muslims played—both directly and indirectly—an essential and financially rewarding role. But there exists a peculiar silence about it amongst Muslims. Even non-Muslim scholars, including those of the West, are largely silent about Islam’s contributory roles in the trans-Atlantic slave-trade.
The “indirect” role of Islam in the trans-Atlantic slave-trade lies in the fact that Muslims had created an example of sustained and vibrant slave-trade across the vast Muslim world many centuries before the Europeans embarked on it. More importantly, the Europeans were a sustained and brutal victim of the Islamic enslavement and slave-trade: it started with the Muslim attack on Spain in 711 and continued until the early nineteenth century. The Vikings also were Muslims’ proxy-partners in raiding and abducting the white women and children to meet the Islamic world’s demand for white slaves, particularly concubines. The last Ottoman Sultan had a British captive in his harem. She was rescued and brought to Britain after the sultan’s ouster from Turkey. The psychological impact of this sustained and brutal subjection of Europeans to enslavement and sale for so many centuries can not be underestimated. It must have convinced them that slavery, which had become a brutal part and parcel of their life, was something not quite abnormal. The Europeans, having suffered violent subjection to Islamic slavery and slave-trade for nine centuries, finally embarked on the trade themselves.
A Divine Sanction to Exploit.
Concerning the “direct” role of Islam in the trans-Atlantic slave-trade, it was mostly the Muslim raiders and traders, who did the inhuman part of capturing the slaves in Africa. European traders bought slaves mainly from these Muslim slave-catchers and transported to the New World. When the Europeans embarked on the slave-trade, Muslims were the masters of large parts of Africa with centuries of experience in the art of slave-hunting. They became the ready supplier of slaves for European traders. The European merchants were stationed in trading centers along the African coast. Muslim slave hunters and traders brought black captives from inland locations to these coastal centers and sold to Europeans.
The European traders obtained some slaves, as high as 20 percent, directly forgoing the hands of Muslim traders. This direct procurement took place, not through violent raids and abductions, but through willing sale by non-Muslim owners, or possibly by some parents and relatives. (Some of them might have been supplied by non-Muslim slave-hunters, who following Muslims, had taken to the profession.) The Sahel region of West Africa, just south of Sahara and the regions of Angola were notorious for the lack of rainfall, occasionally for two to three years in succession. When that happened causing devastating drought and famines, people—faced with starvation and death—fled and ‘sold themselves or family members in order to survive at all.’ Senegal experienced a series of drought and poor harvest between 1746 and 1754, which dramatically increased the volume of slave-trade. ‘French exports from Senegal in 1754 were the highest ever,’ writes Curtin.884
The European traders acquired greater than 80 percent of slaves in Africa from Muslim slave-hunters and traders. Muslim warriors had turned Africa into a slave-catching and -breeding ground to meet the demand of slaves in the Muslim world, which later on also became a supply-house for European merchants. Sayyid Sa’id, a prince of Oman, moved to East Africa with the pirates of the port of Masqat, who had been put out of business by the British. Having established himself in Zanzibar (1806), his Arab raiders from the East Coast penetrated deep inland, reaching as far as Uganda and Congo for capturing slave.885 This way he founded his famed slave-empire in East Africa. In Africa, writes Curtin, there were slave-raiding chiefs or gangs of forty to fifty men. They went out in groups to nearby villages ‘stealing cattle and kidnapping people, trying to pick individuals or small groups, like women on the way to the village well or others unlikely to be able to defend themselves.’ Although these gangs could fight if needed, ‘they depended on stealth and speed to make their capture and sell them at a distance…’886 The opening of new markets in the New World proved very lucrative for the Muslim slave hunters and traders of Africa.
For the complete references to the above excerpt, please refer to M. A. Khan’s book: Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Imperialism, Forced Conversion and Slavery. A free copy is available online.
880. Viking, Wikipedia,
881. Bostom, p. 613,619
882. Ibid, p. 620–21
883. Hammond P (2004) The Scourge of Slavery, in Christian Action Magazine, Vol. 4
884. Curtin, p. 172–73
885. Gavin, R J (1972) In MA Klein & GW Johnson eds., p. 178
886. Curtin, p. 177–79

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Babak Khorramdin – The Freedom Fighter of Persia

The Umayyad- and Abbasid Caliphate of the Arabs had invaded and occupied the Sassanid Persian empire for 144 years when in 10 July 795 AD, a child was born in a village called Balal Abad situated near modern day Ardabil in northwestern Iran. This child would grow up to become the most prominent rebel leader of the Persians and he would create the largest rebel force the Arabs had ever faced anywhere in the Islamic Caliphate. He fought the invading Arabs for regaining control over Persian territories in order to liberate the Persian people and to restore Persian culture. He would be known as Babak Khorramdin.
Babak lost his father Merdas in his early childhood which resulted in him taking on the responsibility of his family, including his mother and his two younger brothers. His mother Mahrou worked as a nurse for infants while Babak himself worked as a cowherd until he was twelve years old. By the age of eighteen he was already involved in arms trade and business. He enjoyed music and singing and learned to play the Persian string instrument called tambour. A number of stories have been told about him. One story says that Babak was sleeping under a tree during an afternoon when his mother saw his hair and chest drenched in blood. But when his mother quickly woke him up and he stood on his feet, all blood had vanished and he was unharmed. Based on what she had witnessed, she told Babak that he had a great task ahead of him.
The Khorramian sect
One winter day, a wealthy man named Javidan Shahrak was on the way home from the city of Zanjan where he had gained the leadership of a Persian rebel group called the Khorramian sect established in the nearby highlands. Due to a violent snow storm, Javidan couldn't continue his journey and had to find shelter. By chance, he found the home of Babak and knocked on the door. His mother welcomed him into their home and lit a fire for him. During his stay, Babak took care of Javidan's horses and showed good manners towards the guest. His level of intelligence impressed Javidan and when the time had come for Javidan to leave, he asked Mahrou whether he could take Babak with him to work in his farms. Javidan also promised her that he would send plenty of money. She accepted his request and by this event, Babak joined the Khorramian rebel group and Javidan became Babak's role model and teacher. After some time, Babak gained the name Khorramdin, meaning of the delightful faith referring to the pre-islamic religion Zoroastrianism which is the ancient native religion of Iran.
As the leader of the Khorramian rebel group, Javidan fought the Arabs alongside Babak Khorramdin around their strong hold in northwestern Persian between the years 807-817 AD until Javidan became wounded in a battle and died in 817 AD. By the time Javidan died, Babak had learnt how to use geostrategic locations, to apply various military tactics and to lead troops. Javidan had chosen Babak as his successor and leader of the Khorramian sect before he died. Multiple rebel groups were scattered throughout the cities of Persia by the time Babak became a leader. Eventually Babak married Banu Khorramdin, the former wife of Javidan who was a female warrior and who fought side by side Babak and his men. Members of the Khorramian group wore red clothes and therefore they were known as sorkh jamegan among people, meaning the red clothed ones.
Beginning of the Rebellion
The same year as Javidan died, Babak started to motivate his followers to come together and to start a rebellion against the Arab Caliphate, and so the rebellion of the Persians begun. Babak started to recruit farmers and rebel leaders from all around Persia and ordered them to go to arms and to spread fear in the eyes of the Arabs. Babak's popularity increased rapidly and thousands of people joined his movement. There are different accounts of the number of people who joined his rebel army but the number is estimated to be between 100 000 – 300 000 people strong. The army mainly consisted of farmers and when Babak recruited these men, he also trained them for battles. He ordered his men to raid caravans along the Silk Road, to destroy Arab strongholds and to seize villages, which in turn contributed to loss of control in many provinces ruled by the Arabs.
In 819 AD, full scale battles between Persians and Arabs were initiated. The Caliphate continuously ordered Arab generals to fight Babak. An Arab general named Yahya ibn Mu'adh was sent to fight the Khorramian rebel group, but failed to defeat Babak. During two years time, armies under the command of Isa ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Khalid continuously attacked Babak's forces with no success. In 824 AD, Ahmad ibn al Junayd attacked the Khorramian rebel group but ended up captured by Babak. In 827 AD, the Arabs under the command of Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi attacked and became victorious but could not capture Babak and his closest men. In 829 AD, Babak returned to restore his strongholds and defeated Muhammad ibn Humayd Tusi who ended up getting killed while his Arab army suffered heavy losses.
The stronghold of the Khorramian rebel group was the Castle of Babak which is situated on an altitude of 2600 metres on the mountain Badd. The castle is surrounded by mountains and ravines which during ancient times provided protection from invading troops. A handful of Khorramian soldiers could easily wipe out thousands of enemies and the castle was impossible to invade during winter seasons. It was built during the Sassanid dynasty (224 AD-651 AD) with foundations built during the Parthian dynasty (247 BC-224 AD). As the brilliant war lord that he was, Babak Khorramdin took full advantage of the strategic location of the castle which had an important role in the numerous victories he had against the Arab generals.
Picture: Castle of Babak. Today the castle ruins are visited by Iranians and tourists all year round. (Source:
In 835 AD, the caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate named al Mu'tasim ordered his best general to confront Babak Khorramdin and to capture him. His name was Haydar ibn Kavus Afshin and was chosen as the governor of the area where Babak was active. He had been a former compatriot of Babak. In the early days of the Persian rebellion, Afshin made an oath together with Babak to cooperate and defeat the Arab armies and to bring back the power of Persia to the hands of the former Sassanid monarchs. By this time, after 18 years of Persian revolts, Afshin had treacherously started to cooperate with the Arabs in exchange for excessive riches, benefits and to be the head general of the Caliphate army. With the help and resources provided by the caliph, Afshin ordered Arab strongholds, which had been destroyed by Babak and his men, to be rebuilt and reinforced. Al Mu'tasim on the other hand managed to capture one of Babak's men which by torture was forced to exploit information about Babak's tactics, territorial strategies and about hidden pathways. Shortly before Afshin attacked the Castle of Babak, Babak had sent a letter to the Byzantine emperor Theophilus in request for military enforcements but the letter did not reach the emperor in time. Babak and his men had to evacuate the castle and flee. Babak himself together with his wife and a few soldiers fled to Armenia while Afshin plundered and thereafter demolished the castle. While Babak was in the custody of the Armenian prince Sahl ibn Sonbāt, the prince was informed about the large reward for finding Babak. Afshin was informed about Babak's presence in Armenia and he sent a large army to Sahl ibn Sonbāt's residence and captured Babak.
Babak Khorramdin was held in the presence of the caliph in the city of Samarra and was sentenced to death in 838 AD. Before he was executed, his hands and feet were cut off and it is said that in his agony, Babak washed his face with blood pouring out of his cuts. When the caliph asked him what he was doing, Babak answered that he wouldn't let the Arabs see his pale face when he was dead so that they wouldn't think he died with fear of the Arabs. He was decapitated and his head was later sent around the cities of Persia in order to spread fear among Iranians. His body was hanged on the walls of Samarra.
For 21 years, Babak Khorramdin successfully lead a major rebellion which brought the Arabs to their knees one battle after another. Ultimately, he wasn't defeated by the Caliphate but by treacherous allies. He will always be remembered as the Persian hero who sacrificed his life for freedom and his cultural heritage. He was a brilliant leader and is very much alive today in the minds of Iranians just as he was back in time. Today Iranians visit the ruins of his castle 10 July every year to honor the great legend and his men.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Bobby Darvish: Rebuking The Victimhood Narrative - MALA

Bobby Darvish: Rebuking The Victimhood Narrative - MALA

Bobby Darvish: Rebuking The Victimhood Narrative

Babak Darvish is an Iranian-American activist and technology specialist. He is the CEO of Lycan Group and previously worked at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank and Cisco Systems. He co-founded the Muslim Forum of Utah and served as Executive Director of CAIR Columbus from 2009-2010. He is a graduate of the FBI Citizen’s Academy. He is a Volunteer in Public Safety Support (VIPSS), which works directly with the local Sheriff’s Office under the umbrella of the DHS and partnerships with other agencies. Bobby also serves on the Advisory Board for MALA.
My name is Bobby Darvish, and I was born in Iran. I have spent the last 40+ of my life in the greatest country on earth, the United States of America. This country is very special to me because of its many freedoms, and what it essentially stands for. America has been utterly devoted to democracy through out its history, and has confronted its problems head on. It is a country which has given me the free will to live my life and pursue my dreams.
I came to the United States as a young boy at two when my parents immigrated to the United States for my father’s education. Education was the only objective and my parents planned on leaving when my father completed his studies. However, after the 1979 revolution in Iran and the theocratic establishment of the country that it has been under ever since, it became really a matter of living in a place where there was no war or hardship. Because I was so young when I came to the United States, I do not remember what life was like under the theocratic regime. I did witness its aftermath when I went back to visit at the age of 6. My parents decided to settle in America then for good, and we have stayed here ever since with our growing affection for the liberties and opportunities it offers. Hence, my American story begins with radical/political Islam.
I faced hardship in the beginning having to learn English and Farsi from my parents, and when I came back to the United States the second time around leaving Khomeini’s Iran behind, I had a tough time distinguishing between Farsi, English and German. The extent of the vocabulary was too much for me in 3rd grade, but this experience served me well later on becoming a full blown multi-cultural person living in the United States. My German skills have deteriorated since, and I am a decent speaker in Farsi, but English remains my primary and best language.
My first impression of America was a good one. I thought America is beautiful, clean, and orderly, with incredibly friendly people. I fell in love with this country of mine from the very first day. I have gone through early education to higher education in the United States and have worked in both the public and private sector as well as for non-profit organizations. My experiences of twenty years with the variable corporate and non-profit work has given me many lessons in how to view life from a perspective of an  American from Iranian decent.
I have had great experiences both in work and life in America, and feel that I was treated fairly most of the time. There have been certain occurrences  influenced by circumstances which were complicated for me, and there were moments where I felt I wasn’t treated well. With race and religion dominated by others, I did experience discrimination, but it’s not surprising for me to think this situation through.
I have only held on to the parts of my Persian heritage that brings me joy and value. I have let go of what no longer serves me. This is the reason why I haven’t been back to Iran since 2008, and that was only to visit family. The greatest challenge that I have faced living in this country is being accepted as part of this society, and also being attacked by people of my own heritage for being too “American”.  Yet, I feel that the only way to enjoy the United States for what it stands for is to completely immerse oneself and identify as an American. After all, America is the only country in the world that can afford every person with any heritage to being an American.
The aspects of life in the United States that have made the greatest impressions on me are freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I feel that I can become anything I want based on my will to work hard for it. My greatest achievements have been my will to survive and prosper as a person. For my own prosperity on multiple dimensions, I have chosen friends of various races and religion. This serves me to understand what America really is and what it essentially stands for. Intellectually, socially, and professionally, I have grown and expanded my own self through maintaining a steady stream of open-mindedness. Integration and pursuit of happiness has been the ultimate goal of what I see America’s values be placed through a true test. From having experiences with people of different religious and cultural backgrounds, I have learned to only judge people on the basis of merit and conscience.
Integration and diverse point of views, in my opinion, brings more progress than anything else in societies. More voices that stand up against the views of extreme Wahhabi or that are central in nature will serve all of us well, especially those from Muslim backgrounds. I don’t feel there are many organizations that truly represent Muslims. I served as an Executive Director for a mainstream Muslim organization, only to be encouraged to downplay my Shia-Sufi identity for the taste of the Salafi community, solely for the sake of fundraising. From what I have seen and experienced, pretty much most well-known organizations that claim to represent Muslims has displayed a clear track record of representing a certain extreme, ideological view of Islam; charging a victim-hood narrative; and deflecting on issues that matter to the incredibly diverse population of Muslims in the United States. We rob this group of very valuable representation solely based on lack of leadership.
Rather, we need a platform that accurately reflects all views including diverse interests, values and concerns. We need a think tank and leadership institution that has as diverse dimensions as the population of Muslim communities across the United States, as well as the world. This integration of ideas and people with different views but essentially same goal of democracy, voice, and human rights will be the truest representations of all Muslim communities in the United States. The need for a representation that not only focuses on the prosperity of Muslims in the United States but also focuses on developing intra-faith relationship is vital to our future in this country. These relationships will help foster a deeper understanding between inter-faith groups; thus creating harmony, and influence economic growth.
Muslims in the United States are not very well represented currentl,y and their integration in the American society has been less than encouraging. There are organizations with dogmatic hard-line views that don’t focus on discrimination within Muslim communities based on belief, gender, education, religious devotion or background. This sends a very negative image to the general population about who Muslims are and how they are represented.  Change begins on a grassroots level. The Muslim communities in the United States are seeking fresh leadership. There is a need for an organization that focuses on the educational development of Muslim youth, sparks the respect for integrity, teaches against extremist ideologies, and works for human rights issues. I believe this is possible and that we will cherish living in the United States of America with pluralism as a central cornerstone, and work towards building an America which cherishes the  principles of freedom and democracy.