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Monday, November 26, 2012







The Emergence of Islamic Empire During the Caliphate 
(632-661 AD)
(Part 1)
We live in an integrated world. The ability to connect, communicate and commute has astonishingly increased in recent times.  People ascribing to different religions and from different culture are found in more or less number almost everywhere. Yet the fault-lines still exist and despite this integration, the geographical landscape of the world can still be divided on the basis of faith.  All of the three great Abrahamic religions developed in and around the Hilly Flanks. However, the majority of the people living in that area are the followers of the last of the Prophet of Abrahamic tradition. What makes Islam different from Christianity and Judaism in political terms is its continuous presence in this region ever since its emergence 1400 years back.
The very prevalence of Islamic faith in the Arabian Peninsula, Fertile Crescent and the areas around makes the enquiry that how the expansion of a nascent state that Muhammad established in Medina took place? The death of the Prophet led to widespread insurgency by the unruly Arab tribes.  The geo-political situation of the besieged state was also very critical as two great empires, i.e. Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empire, were flexing muscles right across the north-eastern and western frontiers.  Despite these odds, the Muslim State of Medina showed an incredible resilience. In a short span of time, it was able to make inroads into Persia and Roman East and by the time of the assassination of Ali on 27thof January 661, the whole Peninsula, Mesopotamia, Persia, Kurdistan, Armenia, Syria  and Egypt were under the Muslim rule.  All this happened during the reign of first four Caliphs, a.k.a Rashidun Caliphate (Abu Bakar, Umar Ibn Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Talib). These Caliphs presided over republic which, despite the feud and infighting that took place by the end of this period, was able to expand beyond the frontiers of peninsula and topple the rule of Sassanid and Byzantine rule in the region. Rare in history are examples of such electrifying expansion amidst formidable adversaries are found. It laid the basis for the continued presence of Islamic faith and Muslim people in the region.
The purpose of this writing is to narrate the major historical happenings of this period which last from 632- 661. As geographical expansion necessarily entails a conflict with the surrounding powers, the main emphasis is on the conflicts and wars of the time. It’s a pity that some of the groups today justify their religious violence as necessary to enforce their ideology. The historical expansion of the Islamic Empire through war is taken as justification for violence. However, as this writing will make it clear, most of the times Muslims were provoked into a conflict. The propagation of faith did not constitute the only reason and at times when some preemptive military decisions were taken, there was a strategic ground for that. This makes it further important to understand what happened during the early years.
The article focuses on the events in a chronological order and deal with the time period of each Caliph separately.
The time of Abu Bakar;
Abu Bakar (573-634) was the first Caliph of the four Rashidun. He belonged to the clan Banu Taym of the tribe Quraish. After the demise of Prophet Muhammad he was hastily elected to administer the new state. According to another tradition, Omer consulted the elders and pronounced him as the Caliph.  Syed Amir Ali describes him “as man of fair complexion, thin countenance, of slender built and a stoop”.
The demise of the Prophet led to widespread political upheaval across the Arabian Peninsula.  The centre required the tribes to pay the poor-tax.  The political uncertainty after the Prophet’s death provided an incentive to the tribes scattered across north-east to do away with this obligation.  This movement was spearheaded by one Malik Ibn Nuwaira who contended that Zakat was no more obligatory after the Prophet’s death. This was a highly critical moment for the new state and in a short span of time it was again confined to the city of Medina. False prophets emerged in a futile attempt to fill this political vacuum.
Abu Baker’s immediate tasks were to contain these threats and embolden the spirit of the people. After being elected, he spoke “ Behold me! Behold me with the cares of the government. I am not the best among you. I need all your advice and all your help. If I do well, support me. If I do mistake, counsel me.  To tell the truth to the person commissioned to rule is faithful allegiance. To conceal it is treason. In my sight, the powerful and the weak are alike and to both I wish to render justice.  As I obey God and his Prophet obey me; If I neglect the laws of the God and the Prophet, I have no more right to your obedience”
The main threat to the republic was from north-east and the west.  Figure 1 shows the spatial distribution of the major empires during this time. The Sassanid covered the modern day Iran, Iraq, parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and  Central Asia. The Roman East had Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Egypt under its control.  So the Fertile Crescent was almost equally divided between the two empires. The two minor Kingdoms of Ghassanid and Lakhmid were the Roman and Sassanian vassals respectively.
 The Caliph barely had a chance to consolidate his rule when the rebellion at the frontiers brought the state with headlong clash with the neighboring empires. During his reign, these conflicts escalated into multiple theatres of war, in most of which despite being outnumbered and logistically inferior, the army of Saracens prevailed.   During the last days of the Prophet, a Muslim envoy had been killed in Syria. An expedition had been ordered by him to demand reparations for this murder.  An army under the command of Usama bin Zaid was gathered at Jaraf near Medina. The Prophet’s death postponed this expedition which was later on executed by Abu Baker.
Figure 1


Spatial distribution of the empires on the eve of Muslim era
The expedition was a success but it also threatened the Byzantine who had suzerainty over these Christian Arab tribes. The Christian tribes in the north-east also rose up to break away. Khalid bin Walid along with Mothana was entrusted with the task to pacify these insurgencies. This area bordered Al- Hira and Chaldea, which were the possessions of Sassanid.  Chaldea is that historical marshy land located between the Euphrates and Tigris near Shatull Arab, the place where these two rivers converge.
These wandering tribes were scattered across this region from the tip of Persian Gulf to westward along the Euphrates.  These tribes were Arab in race but mostly Christian in faith. The punitive raids conducted by Khalid Bin Walid though pacified the tribes who were erstwhile under the Muslim control but this also led to a friction between Saracens and the kingdom of Hira. The Kingdom of Hira, situated to the south of present day Kufa along the Euphrates, was under the Sassanid rule [see Figure 2] . The tribes attached to Hirrite Kingdom carried out raids into the area under the Muslim control. The conflict had a clear geographical and strategic logic to it. The Kingdom of Hira saw a threat in Muslim expeditions.  Supported by Chaldea, the ruler of Hira gathered a large force which was defeated and Hira occupied by the Saracens.
Figure 2


During this time, Khalid bin Walid was called back to Medina and Mothana was left to command the forces at Persian frontier. Khalid, the son of Walid, was dispatched to another theatre of war against the mighty Romans at present day Jordan- Palestine border.  The consequent battle with the Christian army turned out to be one of the historical battles in the history of mankind. Had the result of this battle been different, so would have been the present day demography of the Middle East. The battle ended the Roman rule in the region and shortly whole of Syria and Palestine were under the Muslim rule.

Battle of Yermuk  
The expedition of Usama bin Zaid in Syria sent shockwaves throughout the Roman East political domain. The area to the west of Chaldea all along the Fertile Crescent to the Palestine was under the control of Byzantine. The Roman Emperor Heraclius sensed the looming threat and gathered a large army at Balca. The raids from the Syrian frontier compelled the Caliph to send another force. This expedition was however met with disastrous defeat. Another force was gathered to fight the encroaching Roman army but this time a different strategy was applied. The force was divided into four divisions. A division under the command of Abu Obaidah was to concentrate its effort on Homs [Emese], Amr- Al Aas was to lead the force to Palestine, Yezid bin Abu Sufian was given the command of Damascus division whereas the soldiers under Shorabil were to fight in Jordan valley [See Figure 3]. All these divisions moved forward supporting each other. The Eastern Roman Emperor Heraclius sent four separate divisions against the Muslim army. The Roman force totaled 240000 whereas the Muslim army had only 40000 fighters.   The Saracens army was outnumbered by 6 to 1 and this disadvantage was going to be further exacerbated in the separate battles. Therefore it was decided to concentrate forces at one place and fight the Romans together. The Muslim generals along with their forces gathered in April 634 at a place called Jualan near river Yermuk, at today’s Syrian -Jordan border. 
Khalid bin Walid was dispatched from Persian front to Yermuk to lead the Muslim forces in one of the decisive battle ever. Syria was under the complete control of the Eastern Roman Empire. This battle was going to seal the fate of Byzantine in Syria and bring it completely under the Islamic dominion. Khalid bin Walid’s name was going to be remembered as one of the greatest military tacticians of all times. Byzantine army was numerically and logistically far superior to that of Muslims and the common-sense implied an easy victory for Roman army.
The Romans aware of Saracen’s strategy also concentrated their forces by the river Yermuk. Almost thirty miles before entering Jordan, the river forms a semi-circular loop. A ravine known as Wakusa or Wadi ar Raqqad provides an entrance to the plain by the river bank. The Romans thought of it as naturally protected ideal place for encampment and entered through the ravine. The Saracens army gathered outside to attack the Roman the moment they come out. Despite their superior numbers, the Romans did not issue from within and the stalemate existed for almost two months. The Caliph then dispatched Khalid Bin Walid to take command of Saracens.   The battle finally took place on 30th of August 634 when finally the Roman army, inspired by the priests, came out.  Half of the Roman army was annihilated. The estimated loss  was 140000 killed , some fled to Syria and the rest were drowned in the river. The Muslim lost 3000 men. For every Saracen soldier who fell in the battle field, almost 47 Roman soldiers were killed. This incredible battle changed the course of history for the time to come. The whole of Levant fell under the Muslim rule afterwards. The implication of Saracens victory was such that, had they lost the battle, we might have been living an entirely different world today.
Figure 3


Abu Bakar however did not live to see Saracen’s victory over the Romans and died 7 days before the battle, on 23rd of August 634.  Khalid bin Walid was informed of the death of the Caliph before the battle but he did not publish the news till the victory. That was the tenacity of one of the great generals of all time.
Abu Bakar’s rule lasted for two and half years. During his reign, the emerging Islamic Empire had come into conflict with the Sassanid and Eastern Roman Empires.  Two major battles against these empires took place but the expansion into Persia and Levant happened during the time of Omer Ibn Khattab.

Figure 4

Across the ravines lie the battlefield of Yermuk

Abu Bakar was one of the most highly respected Companion of the Prophet and was known as “Al SADIQ”( The Truthful). The level of his honesty can be judged by the fact that even on his death bed he was troubled by the pay he had taken from the treasury. Though a successful merchant himself, after becoming Caliph he concentrated his efforts on the public affairs and management of the empire.  To compensate for his expenses, he was allowed to take 6000 Dirhem annually from the treasury which he refunded by selling a part of his property. Such were the immediate companions of Prophet. Such was character of one of the greatest human being in the history of Muslims.


Death of Chacha Idrees



I am typing this post in deep distress. Someone i really felt myself attached to passed away last night. I feel like i woke up in a fantasy not in reality. The man who i just met on last Thursday, who i saw, walking around, moving, smiling, cracking jokes, doing all that living human being does, is no more. He is dead. He will never be seen again. Never be heard or felt again. The way he has been sucked out of the world has left me moved and shattered and wondering " what is the point?". Someday i will be sucked away from this totality too, like a vacuum cleaner leave no trace of dust, similarly death will also swallow me down its darkened throat. I will never be seen, heard or felt, the very normal of me that you perceive as Luqman, will be taken as someone to be occasionally talked about, and feared when you are alone.

The beloved Chacha Idrees died last night. He was the tea-maker in my department and a man admired for his hospitality and care by everyone. His death is real. His concrete life was invaded by death, the death came and planted explosives inside him, and one fateful second, a second which turned out to be more powerful ( and meaningful) than all the thousands seconds he spent among us, it pushed the button, and the explosion. Explosion and not a trace of his skin, he flesh, his nail, his hair, nothing left. Nothing left. No matter how i splash my arms and legs in the space he used to walk through, not a speck can i feel of him anymore. Death is real. Very real. 

He wanted a mobile phone from me. Every time he would come and ask for it, there was this sense of  "perpetuation" " permanence" , nothing felt ephemeral, nothing felt fleeting, Life felt real. Everything felt permanent. What if he knew he was going to die this early, had he asked for the phone? What is it? Now that i look back, all that, everything, mobile, everything we ever talked over, seems, all meaningless. What was the point? Years and Years long, we do things, we do alot of good things, but a second and its all dead. 

They say dead ones should be remember in good words. But why? I will sit with my colleagues and over a cup of tea would exchange good words about him, but what difference would that make? Will he come back? Will he be able to sit among us, his hair greased with oil, and his stammer, will i be able to hear him stammering again? He has been consumed. Consumed by the force we know not of. He has gone away somewhere. Even if i go and dig his grave up now, inter him, will that be he? Will that be he? Where has he gone? Where do everyone go? Why do they go? Why do we come here and build up , this life, all hopes, desires, attachment, affection, love, relationships, everything, if we all have go to away somewhere? Forever and ever. 

Chacha Idrees, Your death has cast a spell of meaninglessness on me. You should not have died. The more i try to love life, sooner i keep losing all the people i have loved. This keep happening. Death keep coming and keep telling, that behind all the colors of life, all the noise, uproar, cheers, there exist a power, a power with a capacity to destroy in a second  whatever the we construct all along our lives. This is the reality of our life. Death is that dark ocean we sail our life boat for a while, till the storm comes, and drown us to the  depths from where no prayers, nothing of this world can help, to rediscover the wreckage.

Good Bye Chacha Idrees 

Monday, November 12, 2012



Colonial Institutions and Comparative Development in North and South America


Map of North and South America

Colonialism started in American continent with the sighting of one of the Islands of Bahama by Christopher Columbus on 12th of October in 1492. This fateful expedition initiated the modern history of colonization of the New World and the South which were to leave lasting impression on the economic and social landscape of these lands. The motivation behind these expeditions is explained by the events that unfolded later on.

During 16th century the general price level quadrupled in Western Europe. Bodin (1530-96) wrote

"The principle and virtually sole cause of rise in prices is the abundance of gold and silver which is greater in number today than it was during the four previous centuries"

Most of this gold and silver came from the newly developed Spanish colonies in Central and South America. The empires of Aztecs in Mexico and Incas in Peru had abundance of these precious metals and that’s what the Spanish were after. 18000 tons of silver and 200 tons of gold were transferred from Americas to Spain from 1521 to 1660. Spain was forefront in this colonial enterprise.

Britain’s domestic politics was ridden with much controversy and conflict during this period. The country had not yet come to terms with the aftermaths of the civil war (1455-88). The English attempt to establish a colony in Roanoke, North Carolina thus ended in failure. The next major attempt by the English to settle colonies in America happened after she defeated Spain Armada in 1588. Spain’s failed attempt to invade England emboldened the English and they sent three ships namely Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery under the leadership of Christopher Newport to settle colonies in the New World.

Outrageous and inhuman however this apparent plundering of the indigenous wealth of American inhabitants was, the purpose of this writing is not to deliver a tirade against it. Spanish set their colonies in Central and South America while English took the left over in the North. Both of these countries developed different institutions and left entirely different colonial legacies. As we see now the countries which were under English rule are way more prosperous than those who were under Spanish colonial rule. Is it mere coincidence? This essay argues against it. The roots of divergent path to prosperity are to be found in the institutions which these European colonialists established in their respective colonies. The colonists, recognizing their objectives and constraints, put in function those institutions which were exclusive, rent-generating and design to favor the minority elite. These institutions were reformed later on (primarily in the North) as per the necessity arose. The oppressive and extractive economic institutions which the Spanish developed in Central and Southern America were to leave last impression on the economic fate of these countries. On the other hand, the historical reasons which led to an entirely different institutional framework development, the system which became more inclusive gradually, in North America initiated a process which was conducive to economic prosperity.

Hernan Cortes invaded Aztec empire in Mexico in 1519 and by fall reached the capital Tenochtitlan. The main strategy of this Spanish conquistador was to capture the ruler which would subdue the indigenous population, discourage resistance and provide the best opportunity to extract as much precious metal as possible. This strategy was to be followed by all prominent conquistador in the Spanish colonial history. The whole of Aztec empire was captured by 1521 and Cortes at this time initiated some of those oppressive economic institutions whose legacy still cast shadow on these lands. An institution by the name of “Encomeinda” was established. Encomienda was to be an indigenous person granted to Encomendero, Spanish colonialist. Encomienda was to provide his master with all sorts of services the colonialist required. This was institutionalization of abject form of slavery which would exclude the major chunk of population from any sort of economic or social activity to take part in. The same strategy was applied by Francisco Pizzaro in his conquest of Inca empire in Peru in 1533. He defeated the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, at Cajamarca and by next fall conquered Cusco, the Inca capital.


Hernan Cortes: Conqueror of Mexico


Same institution of Encomienda was established in Inca empire too. The establishment of these institutions were not without logic. The Spanish needed labor to produce food and provide services for newly established colonies thus came Encomienda. Lateron after the discovery of Silver, at Andes, in present day Bolivia, a new innovation occurred. Now they required labor for the extraction of precious metal. Francisco de Toledo was the brain behind the establishment of Reducciones ( reductions) where the adult working age population was concentrated to work in extracting metal . Mita, an Inca institution was also made functional to make the labor work in plantations to produce food who in return were given were given food and shelter. 



Francisco de Toledo: The brain behind the establishment of Reducciones 


These institutions were to last into the nineteenth century where as entirely different institutional developments were taking place in the colonies of North America. Another institutions Trajin was also put in place to make the indigenous population carry load for the Spanish colonialist. These institutions were exclusive and were designed to extract as much surplus as possible from the indigenous population. Wages were forced down to subsistence level and there was no incentive within the system to encourage any sort of innovation.

Cusco; Ancient Capital of Incas Empire


There was however a different story unfolding in the North America. Sailing in the aforementioned three ships, the English, into Chesapeak Bay, founded the settlement of Jamestown in May 1607. However the fate was not much friendly to the English. The indigenous Powhatan confederacy led by Wahunsunacock had no gold or silver. Moreover the demographic realities of the North America were also not conducive to any colonial plundering through forced labor. The population density of the land where English had set foot on was merely 0.75 whereas those in the lands of Aztecs and Incas was as much as 400. There was immense shortage of food and services and Wahunsunacock already aware of Spanish plundering in the South had imposed embargo on the new colony thus ruling out any possibility of trade. The directors of the Virginia company were forced to change the strategy and came up with plan of putting settlers to work if the colony was to survive.

Map of thirteen states which were to become United States. States of Virginia and Carolina where the English planted their earliest colonies can be seen.



Exact location of First English colony of Jamestown in North America



An oppressive institutional framework was put in place where the settlers were to put in barracks and forced to work under the supervisor from the company. Running away or trading anything with the indigenous population was crime punishable by death. The calculated ration was given to the settlers and every aspect of life was controlled. Clearly, not tune to survive in such circumstances, the opportunity cost of running away became more and more low. There was no incentive in the system to make settlers worker by choice. The company was eventually forced to change its strategy again a decade later when a General Assembly was formed to give settlers a say in the laws they were governed by. The system was opened a bit to give settlers a breathing place, to create willingness to stay and work in the colony. A decade further later another colony, Maryland, was formed after the crown gave Lord Baltimore, 10 million acres of land to establish it. The colony of Carolina was formed in 1663 by the eight Proprietors . Both of these colonies initially put up a hierarchical institutional structure where the tenants would work for the lords and pay rents to the elite. The constitution of Carolina was so formulated as there was to be Leet man who would work for the land graves and Caziques. The political power was asymmetrically distributed with only the elite having a say in the decision making. Both the systems were exclusive, designed to generate as much rent as possible and had no incentive for common settler to work willfully and be innovative. The systems had to be revamped after colonial elite failed to make settlers work. The lack of incentive pushed the opportunity cost of fleeing low and in New World such a policy was designed to fail. Clamoring for more economic and political freedom led to the declaration of Maryland and South Carolina as crown colony in 1693 and 1729 respectively. The colony status removed the privileges of the ruling elite and made system relatively more inclusive as the adult male settlers eventually got the say in decision making process.

So we see here entirely two different processes taking place maturing themselves in North and South of America. In the North system eventually got more and more inclusive thus increasing the incentive and scope of innovation in the society whereas in South the system led to congealed relations of power where minority perpetuated its rule and continuously extracted resources from the majority. The Spanish crown got more and more rich where as the indigenous population more and more poor. The roots of the divergent processes to prosperity lies here. Of course America was to experience its political upheavals in the coming years but the relative inclusiveness of its system was the reason behind its earlier take off to development. These divergent paths went further into 19th century. After the Napoleon invasion of Spain and abdication of king Fredinand, the National Junta was formed to resist the French. This national Junta was opposed to the privileges of the elite and this was an anathema to the ruling elites in the colonies attached to the crown. The independence movements thus started, in Bolivia in 1809 but eventually crushed, and culminated in the independence of Mexico 1821. The elite was the beneficiary of the institutional framework put in place during the start of colonial settlements and would no way let its privileges be curtailed.
The political upheavals in the United States during this time were also bloody. The civil war 1861-65 resulted in massive bloodshed. However the volatility of the country’s politics was not as intense as those of central and south America. Mexico had 52 presidents from just 1824 to 1857. The lack of political stability ,exclusiveness of the system and caprice of the rulers threaten the property and incentives to invest.

US had 338 banks by 1818 whereas 90 years later Mexico had only 42. Later rulers of Mexico such Porfirio Diaz indulged in massive land expropriation and rent generation. This was the direct legacy of Spanish colonial rule which developed an elite and institutionalized rent generation. The incentive to invest and innovate was absent within such an institutional framework. While the labor generated rent for elite in South, 40 percent of US citizens who had patents during the first half of 19th century had only primary school graduation. So its not surprise that innovators like Edison emerged from US rather than Mexico. The only guarantee that the former had was the security of return to his innovation and lack of any sort of expropriation.


All this historical discussion provide ample evidence to assume that the institutional framework is key to innovation and economic prosperity. The inclusive political and economic institutional framework provide incentive for the masses to undertake economic ventures. As the system gets more inclusive and competitive, it encourages innovation, which further expedite the growth. The divergent path of North and South America to economic prosperity are due to the institutionalization of the rules which made the former gradually inclusive and the latter exclusive. The institutions are those rules which shape are behavior. The rules set up during the colonial enterprise were designed to perpetuate the slavery and enrichment of minority elite. The historical developments in North America revamped the rules of the game later on whereas the South well into the twentieth century could get out of the grip of them. This to large extent explains Americas prosperity and South’s poverty.