Saturday, 21 February 2009

Enlightened Rulers of Kashmir, Zain Al Abideen (1420-1470)

Zain Al Abideen grew up under the able guidance and tutelage of his father and the memory of his grandfather. At the time in 14th Century India, Kashmir was 80% Hindu, yet within a hundred years with the Grace of Allah through responsible kings, Islam became the religion of the majority and remains so to this day.

Under the eighteen year reign of his grandfather, Qutubudeen, many Hindus embraced Islam in immense proportions through the efforts of Dawah by preachers such as Syed Ali Hamdani.

Kashmir became a Muslim majority land for the first time under Qutubudeen’s son, Sikander, who encouraged Muslims from other parts of the Indian subcontinent to settle there.

He awarded lands to Muslims who agreed to live in Kashmir, but continued to respect the integrity, rights and personal sovereignty of the Hindus already within his kingdom.

Nevertheless, more and more Hindus embraced Islam in large numbers voluntarily and for his own missionary efforts, he was given the title, ‘But Shikan’, the idol breaker.

Sikander’s friendship and good relations with other countries led Amir Temur, the Mongol king, to refrain from invading Kashmir, one of the few Muslim kingdoms to be spared total destruction by one of the World’s most dangerous leaders of the time.

Sikander died in 1416 after a successful twenty-two year reign. His son, Zain Al Abideen, inherited a prosperous, peaceful and united territory with an amalgamation of communities living side by side with contentment.

Zain Al Abideen began his reign by following a policy of toleration for other religions. Hindu Brahmin families who had migrated from Kashmir in earlier years because of this now felt safe and able to return.

Hindu temples were restored to them and he issued a decree saying there was no compulsion in religion as stated by Islam making all residents secure to follow any religion they desired.

He made each local community responsible for its own maintenance of law and order and security and as a result of this innovation, there was a considerable drop in crime everywhere.

He further abolished unnecessary arbitrary taxes including Jizya on the Hindu population. Jizya in Islam is a tribute on Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule who are able to work and support themselves financially. Hindus and all other religions are excluded from this.

He introduced new industries such as the manufacture of carpets and paper and constructed bridges and roads. He dug canals and irrigation facilities were able to reach the remoter parts of the kingdom.

He further patronised the growth of new varieties of fruit. Apples and apricots were grown for the first time ever in Kashmir under his reign.

He also patronised the arts, literature and education. He himself was an academic scholar and was proficient in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit as well as Kashmiri. Books written in Kashmiri appeared for the first time and some classical texts even from outside the kingdom were translated into Persian.

The Capital, Srinigar, was decorated with fine architectural buildings and the kingdom looked grand and imposing. Although he was king, Zain Al Abideen, led a simple existence, was married to one wife and avoided extravagance and royal excess. His long reign is regarded as the Golden Age of Kashmir.

He was an enlightened and wise ruler who was friendly and courteous to all and enjoyed cordial and peaceful relations with his immediate neighbours and even with other countries further abroad.

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