Sharjah, as the guest of honour of the 27th New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF 2019), has hosted a historical symposium shedding light on India’s prominent position in the cultural legacy of Arabic books and manuscripts.
In an intellectual discussion titled ‘India in the Arabic Manuscripts’, celebrated Emirati academic who teaches at the Al Ain University, Dr. Hamad bin Saray and young Arab poetess, Shaikha Al Mutairi, took Indian and international audiences on a detailed journey of the life and unique culture of India became the muse for several Arabic writers, poets and historians, who have mentioned in the greatest details several aspects that formed the Indian socio-cultural fabric, dating back to the pre-Islamic times.
Presenting a list of 18 different subject genres in which Arab writings have mentioned India in great detail, Saray said travelogues, old Arabic poetry literature and language, biographies and media writings, and applied sciences are some of the richest sources where both printed works and raw manuscripts can be found today.
“Arabic travelogue accounts contributed by geographers, sea farers, historians, religious preachers, astronomers and ancient Unani authors have beautifully described Indian rituals, food habits and social life, the country’s animals and foliage, spice routes and more. The relations of Indian kings with elite Arab traders and aristocrats and their dealings with the nation’s administrative councils are in the book, Kitab Al Hind.”
Recounting mentions of Indian society in Arabic poetry since pre-Islamic times and up until 2nd Hijri, the professor noted: “Hassan bin Saadit mentions has dedicated his poems to the Indian Oud perfume; we see Indian spices like cardamom, black pepper and cloves, and even the musk extracted from deers feature in the poetry of Omar bin Rabiyan. The Arab region’s keenness in Indian warfare and their use of swords has also been written about.”
Dr. Saray continued: “The first clash between a ruler of an Indian kingdom and the Arabs took place in 643 AD, when Arab forces defeated Rutbil, King of Zabulistan in Sistan. Arabs led by Suhail b. Abdi and Hakam al Taghilbi defeated an Indian army in the Battle of Rasil in 644 AD at the Indian Ocean sea coast, then reached the Indus River. All this is seen in the historical and biographical accounts in Arab writings.”
The session concluded with an emphasis on exploring ways to bring unpublished manuscripts written in the era that detail Indo-Arab relations to the attention of publishers, so more can be learnt about the historical exchanges between the two cultures, and the importance of disseminating the information contained within these manuscripts was highlighted.