The Afghan province of Ghazni is located at the southwest of the capital Kabul, on the Kabul-Kandahar road. It is bordered by the provinces of Bamian, Wardak and Lowgar to the north; Paktia to the east, and Zabul to the south. Ghazni city was the capital of the Ghaznivid Empire and one of the most important commercial and cultural hubs of the Islamic world. Today it stands as one of the major buoyant trade and industrial centers of Afghanistan.
Ghazni, historically known as Ghazna and Ghaznin, was described by the Arab chronicler and geographer Yaqoot Al-Hamawi as “a great city and a large province at the frontier between Khurasan and Hindustan on a road abundant with bounties, though it is weather is very cold.” The population of Ghazni province is made of many tribes. These include the Ghaljo or Ghalzi of the Pashto ethnic group, the Hazara Mongols who mixed with Turks and Persians. While western region of Ghazni province is mountainous, the others consist in plains with little agriculture activity. The great majority of the population works in agriculture and fruit production.
Overview of Ghazni’s Islamic history:
Ghazni was a remote province of the Samanid Empire which reigned over Khurasan and Transoxiana via governors appointed there. When Alptigin entrenched his rule in the region of Ghazni in 351 AH / 962 AD, Ghazni and its surroundings were governed by Turkish rulers.
In 367 AH, Sebuktegin took power in Ghazni, acknowledged Samanid sovereignty and supported them in their wars against their enemies. He then directed his attention to the Indian kingdoms of Punjab, especially the Shahü dynasty whose leader Djaypal he defeated in 369 and then in 378 AH, seizing a number of castles on the Indian border. As such Sebuktegin, a strong Sunni ruler, laid the foundations of one of the most lasting empires on the borders between today’s India and Afghanistan. When Sebuktegin died in year 387 AH / 997 AD, his son Ismail succeeded him, but his brother Mahmud soon overthrew him before he managed to entrench his rule in 389 AH.
Mahmud of Ghazni was among the most prominent rulers of this dynasty. The Ghaznivid Empire saw its heyday during his reign. After the collapse of the Samanid rule, Mahmud made a deal with the triumphant Karakhanids under which the Gihon River was made a borderline between Ghaznivid and Karakhanid territories. A Sunni enthusiast like his father, Mahmud showed loyalty to the Abbasids and approached the Abbasid caliph, Al Qadir Billah, who blessed him with the prestigious title of Yamin Al Dawla wa Amin Al Millah. Mahmud of Ghazni was famous for his numerous conquests of India, driven by the desire to spread Islam among pagan Indians. When he died in 421 AH / 1030 AD, his empire was comprising Punjab and parts of Sindh, and many Indian states on the Ganges River Valley, which recognized his rule, in addition to Afghanistan (including Ghazni) Ghor, Sajistan, Khurasan, Persia, Media (mountains) and Tokharistan.
When Sebuktegin died, he was succeeded by son Ismail. But Ismail’s elder brother, Mahmud, rebelled against him, accusing him of frailty and mismanagement, and managed to oust him after seven months. That marked the beginning of new era. No sooner did Mahmud entrench his rule than he embarked on a large territorial expansion which proved him as one of the major heroes in the history of Islam. Mahmud of Ghazni spent the first phase of his reign in anchoring the foundations of the State and expanding its realm at the expense of the Samanids, seizing the opportunity of the disintegration of their empire to eliminate them. In Jumada I 389 AH / April 999 AD, he achieved his goal after his victory over the Samanid ruler Abdulmalik bin Nuh in a decisive battle near Merv, thus bringing Khurasan under his rule. He then confronted the Buyids and took over Raiy, Dagestan and the Caspian, which were part of their dominions.
One-Dinar coin struck in 407 AH with the name of Mahmud Sebuktegin on it.
After Mahmud of Ghazni had entrenched his rule and after he had been approved by the Abbasid Caliphate as ruler of the territories under his authority, he showed ambition to extend his control to India and spread Islam among its people. He thus led 17 campaigns into India over approximately twenty-seven years, starting 390 AH / 1000 AD. In the first of those campaigns, he led an army of ten thousand men, which defeated the Hindu king Jaipal in a battle near Peshawar.
In every triumphant campaign, Mahmud annexed new territories to his dominions, promoting Islam among the communities of the regions he conquered, culminating his marches with the annexation of Gujarat, then Somnath in 416 AH /1025 AD. The efforts led by Mahmud of Ghazni culminated in the liberation of the Indian Peninsula, including Kabulistan, Multan and Punjab. He succeeded in spreading Islam across India and managed to open a road which would be used by his successors. His achievements were highly praised by various historical resources.
Sultan Mhamud of Gnazni continued his expeditions until he succumbed to a two-year sickness on 23 Rabiaa I 421 / 29 April 1030 AD after having established a vast empire encompassing major parts of Persia, Transoxiana and West India and spread a religion which still has followers In India. Despite his illness, he didn’t retreat from public life nor did he stop attending to his subjects.
After his death, his son Muhammad succeeded him in 421 AH, but his brother Mesud deposed him in the same year. Mesud was commander and governor of Isfahan and Raiy during his father’s reign, and was admired by the army. So the army sent by Muhammad to fight him let him down and joined Mesud in the city of Herat, and Muhammad was held captive. Mesud was a valiant warrior but lacks diplomatic tactfulness. Besides, the political context was not as favorable to him as it had been to his father. When he came to power, the Seljuks were crossing the Gihon River and had begun occupying Khurasan. In 432 AH / 1040 AD, Mesud was defeated in the Dandanakan plain, losing all his Persian dominions. In his campaign into India in 433 AH, he was conspiringly ousted and then assassinated while in prison. His son Mawdud (432-441 AH) rapidly marched from Balkh to Kabul to counter the Seljuks, avenged his father’s assassination, but failed to stop the march of Seljuks over Persia.
City of Ghazni
In 436 AH, the Seljuks threatened to seize Ghazni, but were countered by the Ghaznavid commander Nushtigan who managed to repel them and preserve Ghaznivid dominions in India, despite their temporary loss of some territories. Moreover, the death of Mawdud in 441 AH in Ghazni sparked a conflict between several contenders for power, which ended with the accession of Farrukh-Zad bin Mesud I (444-451 AH) to power. With the assistance of the army commander Nushtigan, Farrukh-Zad succeeded in pushing back the Seljuks who, at the time, were advancing towards Baghdad and Anatolia. His brother and successor Ibrahim (451-492 AH) concluded a friendship treaty with the Seljuks under which he renounced Khutlan, Saghanian, Qabadian while the Seljuks pledged to abandon their eastward expansionist policy. A shrewd diplomat and experienced politician capable of protecting his dominions, Ibrahim turned his attention to India between 465 and 468 AH, capturing so many fortresses and reinstating Ghaznavid rule in the Punjab. He then delegated the command of campaigns into India to his son Seif Al-Dawla Mahmud, whom he appointed as governor of Lahaore, and who took over Agra and other bastions.
Ibrahim died in 1099 AD/493 AH after 40 years in power. He was succeeded by his son Mesud III, who maintained friendly ties with the Seljuks. However, the death of Mesud III in 508 AH sparked family conflict resulting in the succession of three of his sons to power. The first was Shirzad who was forced in 509 AH to flee to Taporia. His brother, Arsalan Shah fled, in turn, to India following his defeat against his brother Bahram Shah who was backed by the Seljuk Sultan, Sanjar. In return for the support of the Seljuks, Bahram Shah was forced to recognize their sovereignty and to pay a tribute amounting to 1000 dinars a day, according to some sources. These terms, though unjust, ensured to Bahram Shah a tranquil reign and enabled him to anchor his power in the Punjab, after three campaigns in 512, 514 and 523 AH.
Bahram Shah maintained his recognition of the Seljuks’ sovereignty, despite his vain attempt, in 1135 AD/530 AH, to shake off the grip of Sanjar by stopping to pay the tribute. However, Bahram Shah’s relationship with the Ghurids deteriorated when he had one of their relatives poisoned while on a visit to Ghazni, and had a brother of the victim and several of his partisans killed in a battle. By way of revenge, the Ghurid chief Ala-Uddin Husain Shah sacked and burned Ghazni, deporting its population, and forcing Bahram Shah to flee the city before returning back when Ala-Uddin fell captive to the Seljuks. The Ghaznavid Empire soon disintegrated during the reign Khusrau Shah, son of Bahram, whose rule was limited to Ghazni, Zabulistan, Kabul and Punjab, while the Ghurids put their hand in, 552 H, on Zamindawar of Bast and Tiginabad. The reign of his son and successor, Khusrau Malik, would gradually diminish culminating in the ultimate evaporation of the Ghaznavids, whose capital, Ghazni, ended up in the hands of the Ghurids. The Ghurids managed, through one of their chiefs, Shihabuddin, to capture Multan in 571, and Peshawar 575 AH, forcing Khusrau Malik, to surrender in AH 583 following repeated blockades on Lahore, capital of Punjab. He was deposed and executed in captivity with his offspring late in 1190 AD/585 AH, which marked the end of Sebuktegin dynasty.
Civilizational and cultural renaissance in Ghazni:
A Minaret in Ghazni
Ghazni has a rich history, both in terms of the conquests led by Mahmud of Ghazni and in terms of his cultural efforts. As an admirer of Hadith science and its erudite scholars, Mahmud of Ghazni was also a theologian who produced several books on the subject. He brought many scholars, including Abu Al-Rehan Muhammad bin Ahmad Al-Biruni (d. 1049 AD /440 AH), a great mathematician and astronomer and one of the most illustrious figures of the Islamic civilization. His books have been translated into several European languages, Al-Biruni has dedicated “Al-Qanun al-Masoudi” to Sultan Mesud, son of Muhmud of Ghazni, and a book on gemstones to Sultan Mawdud, son of Mesud. He also wrote his famous book “Al-Athar Al-Baqiya Aani -Al-Qurun Khaliya.” Similarly, the historian Abu Al-Fadl Muhammad bin Hussein Al-Bayhaqi (d. 470 AH) wrote a book in Persian, entitled “the History of Al-Bayhaqi,”, which he dedicated to Sultan Musud and his father, Mahmud of Ghazni, a passionate admirer of poetry. Several Persian poets were part of his court, namely Unsuri, who was a close companion of his and upon whom he bestowed the title of “King of Poets”, as well as other major figures of poetry such as Al-Masjidi and Al-Farkhi.
Monuments of Ghazni
The Persian culture prospered during the Ghaznavid era. The greatest Persian poet Al-Firdawsi, who was a poet of the court, won Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni’s prize for his timeless epic “Shahnameh” (Epic of Kings), a masterpiece of world literature he composed in twenty-five years and in which he recorded the history of ancient Persians. Among the most prominent writers and historians of this dynasty were Abul Fath Al-Basti, poet and advisor to the Sultan and Abu Nasr Muhammad bin Abdul-Jabbar Al-Atabi, also a historian and writer of the Sultan Mahmud’s court. His book “Al-Yamini,” named after Yamin al-Dawla, Sultan Mahmoud, provides an account of the Ghaznavid dynasty’s history. Ghazni, thus became a beacon of science, a city of mosques, palaces and buildings that rivaled by their style the beauty and design of Indian architecture.
The city of Ghazni is known for its diverse Islamic architecture. It treasures various historical monuments dating back to the time of the Ghaznavids, namely the so called “An-Nasr Minarets”, built in the 12th century A.D (6th century A.H), the Mausoleum of Mahmud bin Sebuktegin of Ghazni, and the Mesud III Mosque with its famous old tower.
The ancient walls of Ghazni, with their historical fortress built in the 13th century A.D (7th century A.H), are still visible today. Indeed, Ghazni is the only Afghan city which still retains its ancient wall, while the ruins of the ancient city of Ghazni, which existed in the era of Sultan Mahmud, sill stand near today’s Ghazni.
Nizamuddin Bakshi Al-Harwi, Muslims in India, translated by Ahmed Abdelkader Al-Shazly, General Egyptian Book Organization – Cairo 1995.
Abdelmoneim Al-Namir, History of Islam in India, University Institution for Studies and Publishing, Beirut 1981.
Mahmoud Ahmed Hassan, Islam and Arab Civilization in Central Asia, Dar An-Nahda Al-Arabiya – Cairo 1968.
Essamuddin Abdul Rauf, the History of Islam in South-west Asia, Dar Al-Fikr Al-Arabi, Cairo 1975.
Hussein Mu’nis, Atlas of the History of Islam, Al-Zahra for Arab Media, Cairo 1987.
Mahmoud Ali Al-Bar, Afghanistan: From the Islamic Expedition to the Russian Invasion, 1st Ed, Dar al-‘Ilm Wa An-Littiba’a Nachr, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1985.