Ala-ud-din Muhammad Khalji
"The usual policy of the Sultans was clearly sketched by Ala-ud-din, who required his advisers to draw up 'rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion.'"
Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage
Ala-ud-din was one of the most noteworthy of India's Muslim rulers during the Middle Ages. Although Hinduism and not Islam (the religion of Muslims) is the majority religion in India, Muslim invasions in the 700s and afterwards spread the faith throughout the subcontinent, so that by Ala-ud-din's time Islam dominated the land politically if not in terms of population. Ala-ud-din launched an ambitious and bloody campaign of conquest that took him deep into southern India—and might have gone on to even more far-flung campaigns if he had not wisely heeded the suggestions of his advisors.
Muslims and Hindus
Today the Indian subcontinent is divided into several countries, most notably India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The latter two, in the west and east, respectively, have Muslim majorities, whereas India's population is overwhelmingly Hindu. It would be hard to imagine two religions more different than Islam, which worships a single God, and Hinduism,Page 10 | Top of Article with its many gods. In large part because of the clash between Hinduism and Islam, India was separated into Hindu and Muslim nations when it achieved independence in 1947.
The roots of Hinduism in India go back thousands of years, but Islam only entered the country with an invasion by forces from the Middle East in 711. Thus began the first of many Muslim dynasties in India, this one a short-lived sultanate in what is now Pakistan. These Muslim invasions took place primarily in the north; in southern India, Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms prevailed (see box).
The Delhi Sultanate
During the late 900s, successive waves of Turkish invaders established their power in the cities of Lahore (now in Pakistan) and Delhi. One of the Turks' slaves was Qutb-ud-Din Aybak (kütbüd-DEEN eye-BAHK) who achieved his independence and in 1206 became ruler over an empire centered at Delhi. This marked the founding of the Delhi Sultanate, the first independent Muslim kingdom in India, with no ties to an outside ruler.
In 1290, the Khalji (kal-JEE) family began thirty years of control over the sultanate. The most important Khalji ruler, and the one who held the throne for the majority of those three decades, was the ruthless Ala-ud-din Muhammad (uh-LAH-ood-deen).
Taking control of the sultanate
Little is known about Ala-ud-din's life until the sultan—his uncle and father-in-law—appointed him governor ofPage 12 | Top of Article Kara, a state within the sultanate, in 1292. Three years later, Ala-ud-din marched on a number of enemy cities, and began making plans to overthrow his father-in-law.
Ala-ud-din moved farther south than any Muslim conqueror yet had when, in 1296, his troops plunged into the Deccan Plateau that forms the center of India. There they defeated a Hindu raja, or lord, in the region of Devagiri (dayvah-GEER-ee). As a result of this victory Ala-ud-din seized 17,250 pounds of gold, 200 pounds of pearls, and 28,250 pounds of silver. His men, buoyed by their success, supported him in his march to the capital, where he had his father-inlaw killed and declared himself the sultan.
Wars of conquest
The next fifteen years, from 1296 to 1311, were spent on a seemingly endless series of wars in which Ala-ud-din sought to gain control over southern India. He dealt severely with Hindu rajas whenever his forces clashed with theirs, and adopted the Muslim practice of treating a war of conquest as a jihad or "holy war."
By 1303, he had subdued most of the powerful kingdoms in north central India. Then he turned his attention to fighting back the Mongols, who were trying to invade the country from the northwest, and this took three years of his time. He then turned his attention to conquering central India, and by 1309 his forces had reached the southernmost tip of the subcontinent.
It had been centuries since any ruler had achieved this feat. Ala-ud-din was compared to Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), the Greek conqueror who subdued more land in a shorter period of time than any general before or since. Alexander had special significance to India, since it was there that his wars of conquest had stopped. Alexander's example, in fact, had spawned the creation of India's first large empire under the Mauryans (324–184 B.C.), who united much of the country.
Conscious of Alexander's example, and of his reputation, Ala-ud-din issued coins that referred to him as "Alexander II." From his position of glory as ruler over most of the subcontinent, he considered an ambitious plan of world conquest. His advisors, however, told him that his energies would be better spent on consolidating his rule than on trying to conquer new lands.
Ala-ud-din wisely listened to his counselors. Certainly he had plenty of reason not to risk his gains, since he was already the wealthiest sultan in the history of Delhi. He did toy with the idea of starting a new religion— presumably one based on himself—but turned from this vain scheme to the serious business of running an empire.
Ala-ud-din's authoritarian state
The rule of Ala-ud-din was tyrannical and authoritarian, making use of secret police and spies. Known for his harsh treatment of enemies, he was particularly cruel toward Hindus, who he considered enemies of Allah. He imposed severe taxes on them, and forbade them to possess weapons or ride horses.
On the other hand, Ala-ud-din cultivated the arts, making Delhi a city more splendid than ever before. Thanks to the Mongols' invasions of the Middle East and Central Asia, waves of wealthy and talented Muslim refugees had poured into Delhi; and this, combined with the wealth he had gathered in his wars of conquest, helped Ala-ud-din turn the city into a center of learning and culture.
Ala-ud-din also built a number of lasting monuments, even as his own life was fading away. Years of hard living hadPage 14 | Top of Article caught up with him, and in his last years he was weak both physically and mentally, allowing himself to be dominated by one of his generals. He died in January 1316, and the Khalji dynasty ended just four years later.
For More Information
Brace, Steve. India. Des Plaines, IL: Heinemann Library, 1999.
Dolicini, Donatella and Francesco Montessoro. India in the Islamic Era and Southeast Asia (8th to 19th Century). Illustrated by Giorgio Bacchin and Gianni de Conmo, translated by Pamela Swinglehurst. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1997.
Durant, Will. The Story of Civilization, Volume I: Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1954.
Ganeri, Anita. Exploration into India. New York: Discovery, 1994.
Schulberg, Lucille. Historic India. New York: Time-Life Books, 1968.
"Delhi—India: History & Times." [Online] Available http://www.delhiindia.com/history.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"History of India—Ancient: The Chola Empire." History of India. [Online] Available http://www.historyofindia.com/chola.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).
"Itihaas: Medieval: End of Delhi Sultanate." Itihaas. [Online] Available http://www.itihaas.com/medieval/delhi-sultanate.html (last accessed July 26, 2000).