The annals of Indian history are full of accounts of invaders and adventurers who, attracted by the riches of the land, came and established their dominations. Some of them made India their home, while others departed with all they could lay their hands on.
But there was another class of people whom India attracted in no small measure. They were the oppressed and persecuted of almost every religion and region. Change of political fortunes often led to life becoming impossible for those who resisted conforming to the beliefs of a new establishment and hence they were left with no option but to seek refuge in some other land.
India, with its age-old tradition of religious pluralism and social diversity, became the destination of all such people who fled from religious and political persecution. What made Indian pluralism durable was the fact that it was rooted in the religious ethos of unity of human soul [atma] and acknowledgement of the right of each individual to approach the supreme soul [parmatma] in a manner suitable to his or her own genius and disposition. Further, it highlighted the essential unity of truth and its diverse expressions by those who know it.
Swami Vivekananda expressed it in most precise terms
"…I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation."
But apart from Israelites and Zoroastrians there was another group who headed towards India to save their lives and honour. These were the descendants of Prophet Mohammed known as Banu Fatima and their supporters, who were subjected to severe persecution after the tragic episode of Kerbala in 680 AD. Arab chronicles like Tabari give graphic details of poisoning, murder and verbal insults heaped upon the members of the household of the Prophet [Ahle Bayt] by the new rulers of the state founded by him.
Maulana Shibli Naumani in Siratun Nabi says:
"The Umayyads, for about 90 years throughout their vast dominion from Indus to Spain insulted the descendants of Fatima and got Ali openly cursed in sermons at the mosques." According to Justice Amir Ali, "The same fierce jealousy with which the Umayyads had pursued or persecuted the Banu Fatima, characterised the conduct of the Abbasid rulers towards the descendants of Mohammed."
This persecution of Banu Fatima continued for more than 300 years and in order to save their lives they fled to Iran and Central Asia and finally most of them landed in India and made it their home. Only recently the mausoleum of Imam Mashhad Ali Wali, son of Ninth Imam Al-Taqi, has been discovered at Samana near Patiala in Punjab. Historical evidence shows that he came to India to escape persecution by Abbasi Caliph Musta’asim.
No wonder that today while there are very few families in the Arabian Peninsula claiming descent from Lady Fatima, in India there is hardly a town without a Syed family.
Arif Mohammed Khan is a former Union Minister