It was in 706 CE, sixty-four years after the death of the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (SAW), Khurasan (now in Iran) received a new governor among its ranks; Qutayba Bin Muslim.
His name was not yet known to most people and he had yet to make his mark on the World stage. The novice official, Qutayba Bin Muslim, appeared on the scene at the time while Muslims had crossed deep into North Africa, brushed swords with the Byzantine Roman Empire and wrestled control of much of what is now Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Caliph Abdul Malik, regarded as one of the greatest rulers of the Umayyad Dynasty, had passed away the year before after ruling for twenty years and was succeeded by his eldest son, Al-Waleed.
The new caliph himself had been raised on the backdrop of a successful reign and would prove to be as stern, responsible and resolute as the era required. His father had inherited an empire lying in ruins, but by the time of his death it had vastly expanded and was now challenging the military might of Asia beyond the Middle East.
It was in such circumstances, Qutayba Bin Muslim, first made his ascent. Soon after his appointment in 706, he advanced against Balkh and Takharistan (now in Afghanistan); both principalities fell to him with ease and came under Muslim vassalage.
He then moved forward to Bukhari and after some hotly contested encounters, the city finally fell in 709. Prince Tughshad, the defeated ruler of Bukhari, was nevertheless allowed to continue to govern.
In 711, Qutayba crossed the Oxus at Amul and marched to Khawarzam. Paikand was the first city to fall and was soon followed by Kish and Nasaf. The strategic city of Khiva later fell to him and the Shah of Khawarzam agreed to pay Jizya and accept Muslim protection.
In 712, the City of Samarqand was besieged by the Muslims and the beleaguered residents sent an appeal to Farghana for assistance. The relief column duly arrived but in the ensuing battle was heavily annihilated.
Here, the Muslims observed there were a number of different idols that existed in the chief temple. Qutayba smashed the idols without hesitation. When the native population witnessed the action and saw that their gods did not strike back or at least defend themselves, many of them willingly embraced Islam in large numbers.
After annexing Samarqand, the conquest of Transoxiana was completed. In 714, Qutayba made his crossing into the Jaxartes and annexed the cities of Khojand and Shash from Farghana.
Next Qutayba invaded Chinese Turkestan, the second such military engagement between the Muslims and China. The first had been in 713, when the Chinese army appeared as relief forces to assist Farghana against the Muslims.
At the time, neither Islam nor Qutayba Bin Muslim were a threat to China personally, only an enemy of their friends, and they arrived on the battlefield as the allies of Farghana.
The Chinese, now firmly entrenched within their own boundaries, held the initial advantage at the outset. Furthermore, it was an institutionalised, highly developed and modern civilisation; possessed a powerful empire, a strong central government and civil service, an organised, efficient and large army and had once been a World leader in some respects.
As one of the oldest and most successful nations on the planet at the time, the country had evolved from a series of mini states following centuries of civil war and vicious revolutions into a succession of imperial centralised states under different royal families from across China. Several inventions among them paper, gunpowder and silk came from the Chinese.
The invasion of China, despite its obvious grandeur, was not then seen as paramount or as important as Persia had been. Rome and Persia stood out as the World’s greatest empires and challenged Islamic lands personally.
China in contrast was a regional power, far away from the nearest Muslim dominion and actually had cordial trade, economic and industrial relations with the Caliphate and other Islamic empires.
The distance between the Caliphate in Baghdad and China in Southeast Asia was another such factor. If reserve columns were required from Qutayba against them, all future detachments would come directly from Baghdad.
Such concerns may not have been important to Qutayba himself then. His responsibility was to carry the war into China itself for the initial acts of aggression against the Muslims.
Qutayba raided the City of Kashgar inside China and in a sanguinary battle the Chinese armies fought valiantly but were decisively defeated and the city lay at his feet. Qutayba pressed on and after a series of further military encounters, several Chinese fortresses fell to the Muslims.
China had fought heroically, armed with better resources and larger numbers with a strong sense of determination and national spirit, but it was the Will of Allah, the Muslims would emerge victorious. This was however ultimately to be Qutayba’s last engagement.
It has been suggested had Qutayba progressed forward into China proper, the Muslims may have conquered the entire nation and history may have taken a different turning with China developing into an Islamic civilisation.
At the time, the terrain of most of Qutayba’s conquests had occurred was difficult land area, remote and inaccessible for Muslim forces who had not come and fought here before, but still that did not alter the result of the battles.
The future seemed bright for young Qutayba; he had wanted the Caliph’s consent to carry the Jihad to China and beyond. In this way, the next engagement between the Muslims and China would not occur again until 751 and even that was little more than a skirmish.
Unfortunately for Qutayba meanwhile, the Caliph did not share his vision and the advance came to a halt. Matters took a turn for the worse when Abdul Malik passed away in 715.
The next ruler, Sulayman, a brother of Abdul Malik, felt Qutayba was dangerous and had to be contained. Qutayba however, who had an inclination he was on the new Caliph’s list of enemies, struck first and staged a revolt. The revolt was miscarried and Qutayba was killed by his own men. It was a sad end to a great Islamic personage.
In a short space of just nine years, Qutayba Bin Muslim had taken the Muslim empire from the banks of Khurasan into the heartland of Central Asia and brought them into contact with the Chinese Empire.