American Thinker, AZ
Oct 2 2005

Killing from Qur'anic Piety: Tamerlane's Living Legacy
October 1st, 2005

Osama bin Laden was far from the first jihadist to kill infidels as
an expression of religious piety. This years marks the 600th
anniversary of the death of Tamerlane (Timur Lang; `Timur the Lame',
d. 1405), or Amir Timur (`Timur' signifies `Iron' in Turkish). Osama
lacks both Tamerlane's sophisticated (for his time) military forces
and his brilliance as a strategist. But both are or were pious
Muslims who paid homage to religious leaders, and both had the goal
of making jihad a global force. Santayana was correct when he told us
that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat

Tamerlane was born at Kash (Shahr-i-Sebz, the `Green City') in
Transoxiana (some 50 miles south of Samarkand, in modern Uzbekistan),
on April 8 (or 11), 1336 C.E. Amir Turghay, his father, was chief of
the Gurgan or Chagtai branch of the Barlas Turks. By age 34
(1369/70), Timur had killed his major rival (Mir Husain), becoming
the pre-eminent ruler of Transoxiana. He spent the next six to seven
years consolidating his power in Transoxiana before launching the
aggressive conquests of Persia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and then
attacking Hindustan (India) under the tottering Delhi Sultanate. [1]

Grousset [2] contrasts Jenghiz Khan's `straightforward planning' and
`clean sweeps' with the `higgledy-piggledy' order of Timur's
expeditions, and the often incomplete nature of the latter's

Tamerlane's [Timur's] conquering activities were carried on from the
Volga to Damascus, from Smyrna to the Ganges and the Yulduz, and his
expeditions into these regions followed no geographical order. He
sped from Tashkent to Shiraz, from Tabriz to Khodzhent, as enemy
aggression dictated; a campaign in Russia occurred between two in
Persia, an expedition into Central Asia between two raids into the
Caucasus...[Timur] at the end of every successful campaign left the
country without making any dispositions for its control except
Khwarizm and Persia, and even there not until the very end. It is
true that he slaughtered all his enemies as thoroughly and
conscientiously as the great Mongol, and the pyramids of human heads
left behind him as a warning example tell their own tale. Yet the
survivors forgot the lesson given them and soon resumed secret or
overt attempts at rebellion, so that it was all to do again. It
appears too, that these blood soaked pyramids diverted [Timur] from
the essential objective. Baghdad, Brussa (Bursa), Sarai, Kara Shahr,
and Delhi were all sacked by him, but he did not overcome the Ottoman
Empire, the Golden Horde, the khanate of Mogholistan, or the Indian
Sultanate; and even the Jelairs of Iraq 'Arabi rose up again as soon
as he had passed. Thus he had to conquer Khwarizm three times, the
Ili six or seven times (without ever managing to hold it for longer
than the duration of the campaign), eastern Persia twice, western
Persia at least three times, in addition to waging two campaigns in
Russia...[Timur's] campaigns `always had to be fought again', and fight
them again he did.

Timur's campaigns are infamous for their extensive massacres and
emblematic `pyramids of heads'. Brown [3] cites `only a few'
prominent examples:

As specimens of those acts mention may be made of his massacre of the
people of Sistan 1383-4, when he caused some two thousand prisoners
to be built up into a wall; his cold- blooded slaughter of a hundred
thousand captive Indians near Dihli [Delhi] (December, 1398); his
burying alive of four thousand Armenians in 1400-1, and the twenty
towers of skulls erected by him at Aleppo and Damascus in the same
year; and his massacre of 70,000 of the inhabitants of Isfahan in
(November, 1387)...

Timur was a pious Muslim, who may well have belonged to the
Naqshbandi Sufi order. [4; also see my earlier essay, `Sufi Jihad',
for a discussion of Sufism and jihad.] Grousset [5] emphasizes the
important Islamic motivation for Timur's jihad campaigns:

It is the Qur'an to which he continually appeals, the imams and
[Sufi] dervishes who prophesy his success. [emphasis added] His wars
were to influence the character of the jihad, the Holy War, even
when- as was almost always the case- he was fighting Muslims. He had
only to accuse these Muslims of lukewarmness, whether the Jagataites
of the Ili and Uiguria, whose conversion was so recent, or the
Sultans of Delhi who...refrained from massacring their millions of
Hindu subjects.

The Turki chronicle Malfuzat-i-Timuri, a putative [6]
autobiographical memoir of Timur, translated into Persian by Abu
Talib Husaini, illustrates these driving sentiments, complete with a
Qur'anic quotation : [7]

About this time there arose in my heart the desire to lead an
expedition against the infidels, and to become a ghazi; for it had
reached my ears that the slayer of infidels is a ghazi, and if he is
slain he becomes a martyr. It was on this account that I formed this
resolution, but I was undetermined in my mind whether I should direct
my expedition against the infidels of China or against the infidels
and polytheists of India. In this matter I sought an omen from the
Qur'an, and the verse I opened upon [Q66:9] was this, `O Prophet,
make war upon infidels and unbelievers, and treat them with
severity.' My great officers told me that the inhabitants of
Hindustan were infidels and unbelievers. In obedience to the order of
Almighty Allah I ordered an expedition against them.

Timur's jihad campaigns against non-Muslims - whether Christians in
Asia Minor and Georgia, or Hindus in India - seemed to intensify in
brutality. Brown [8] highlights one particular episode which supports
this contention, wherein Timur clearly distinguished between his
vanquished Muslim and non-Muslim foes. After rampaging through
(Christian) Georgia, where he `devastated the country, destroyed the
churches, and slew great numbers of inhabitants', in the winter of
1399-1400, Timur, in August 1400,

...began his march into Asia Minor by way of Avnik, Erzeroum, Erzinjan,
and Sivas. The latter place offered a stubborn resistance, and when
it finally capitulated Timur caused all the Armenian and Christian
soldiers to be buried alive; but the Muhammadans he spared.

The unparalleled devastation Timur wrought upon predominantly Hindu
India further bolsters the notion that Timur viewed his non-Muslim
prey with particular animosity. Moreover, there are specific examples
of selective brutality directed against Hindus, cited in the
Malfuzat-i-Timuri, from which Muslims are deliberately spared:

My great object in invading Hindustan had been to wage a religious
war against the infidel Hindus, and it now appeared to me that it was
necessary for me to put down these Jats [Hindus]. On the 9th of the
month I dispatched the baggage from Tohana, and on the same day I
marched into the jungles and wilds, and slew 2,000 demon-like Jats.
I made their wives and children captives, and plundered their cattle
and property... On the same day a party of saiyids, who dwelt in the
vicinity, came with courtesy and humility to wait upon me and were
very graciously received. In my reverence for the race of the
prophet, I treated their chiefs with great honour...On the 29th I again
marched and reached the river Jumna. On the other side of the river I
[viewed] a fort, and upon making inquiry about it, I was informed
that it consisted of a town and fort, called Loni... I determined to
take that fort at once... Many of the Rajputs placed their wives and
children in their houses and burned them, then they rushed to the
battle and were killed. Other men of the garrison fought and were
slain, and a great many were taken prisoners. Next day I gave orders
that the Musalman prisoners should be separated and saved, but that
the infidels should all be despatched to hell with the proselyting
sword. I also ordered that the houses of the saiyids, shaikhs and
learned Musulmans should be preserved but that all the other houses
should be plundered and the fort destroyed. It was done as I
directed and a great booty was obtained...[9]

On the 16th of the month some incidents occurred which led to the
sack of the city of Delhi, and to the slaughter of many of the
infidel inhabitants...On that day, Thursday, and all the night of
Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and
destroying... The following day, Saturday, the 17th, all passed in the
same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty
to a hundred prisoners - men, women, and children. There was no man
who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies,
diamonds, pearls and other gems; jewels of gold and silver, ashrafis,
tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated `Alai coinage; vessels of
gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and
silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities
as to exceed all account. Excepting the quarter of the saiyids, the
`ulama and the other Musulmans, the whole city was sacked. [10]

Timur left Samarkand with a large, powerful expeditionary force
destined for India in April, 1398. By October he had besieged
Talamba, 75 miles northeast of Multan, subsequently plundering the
town and massacring its inhabitants. He reached the vicinity of Delhi
during the first week of December having forged a path of
destruction- pillaging, razing, and massacring- en route through Pak
Patan, Dipalpur, Bhatnar, Sirsa, and Kaithal. Prior to fighting and
defeating an army under Sultan Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Tughluq on
December 17, 1398, Timur had his forces butcher in cold blood 100,000
Hindu prisoners accumulated while advancing toward Delhi. [11]
Srivastava describes what transpired after Timur's forces occupied
Delhi on December 18, 1398: [12]

The citizens of the capital, headed by the ulema, waited on the
conqueror and begged quarter. Timur agreed to spare the citizens;
but, owing to the oppressive conduct of the soldiers of the invading
force, the people of the city were obliged to offer resistance.
Timur now ordered a general plunder and massacre which lasted for
several days. Thousands of the citizens of Delhi were murdered and
thousands were made prisoners. A historian writes: `High towers
were built with the head of the Hindus, and their bodies became the
food of ravenous beasts and birds.....such of the inhabitants who
escaped alive were made prisoners.'

Timur acquired immense booty, as well as Delhi's best (surviving)
artisans, who were conscripted and sent to Samarkand to construct for
him the famous Friday mosque. Leaving Delhi on January 1, 1399 for
their return march to Samarkand, Timur's forces stormed Meerut on
January 19th, before encountering and defeating two Hindu armies near
Hardwar. [13] The Malfuza-i-Timuri [14] indicates that at Hardwar,
Timur's army

...displayed great courage and daring; they made their swords their
banners, and exerted themselves in slaying the foe (during a bathing
festival on the bank of the Ganges). They slaughtered many of the
infidels, and pursued those who fled to the mountains. So many of
them were killed that their blood ran down the mountains and plain,
and thus (nearly) all were sent to hell. The few who escaped,
wounded, weary, and half dead, sought refuge in the defiles of the
hills. Their property and goods, which exceeded all computation, and
their countless cows and buffaloes, fell as spoil into the hands of
my victorious soldiers.

Timur then traversed the Sivalik Hills to Kanra, which was pillaged
and sacked, along with Jammu "...everywhere the inhabitants being
slaughtered like cattle." [15]

Srivastava summarizes India's devastated condition following Timur's
departure: [16]

Timur left [India] prostrate and bleeding. There was utter confusion
and misery throughout northern India. [India's] northwestern
provinces, including northern tracts of Rajasthan and Delhi, were so
thoroughly ravaged, plundered and even burnt that it took these parts
many years, indeed, to recover their prosperity. Lakhs [hundreds of
thousands] of men, and in some cases, many women and children, too,
were butchered in cold blood. The rabi crops [grown in
October-November, harvested around March, including barley, mustard,
and wheat] standing in the field were completely destroyed for many
miles on both sides of the invader's long and double route from the
Indus to Delhi and back. Stores of grain were looted or destroyed.
Trade, commerce and other signs of material prosperity disappeared.
The city of Delhi was depopulated and ruined. It was without a master
or a caretaker. There was scarcity and virulent famine in the capital
and its suburbs. This was followed by a pestilence caused by the
pollution of the air and water by thousands of uncared-for dead
bodies. In the words of the historian Badaoni, `those of the
inhabitants who were left died (of famines and pestilence), while for
two months not a bird moved wing in Delhi.'

The 13th century chronicler, Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286), provided this
contemporary assessment of how the adoption of Islam radically
altered Mongol attitudes toward their Christian subjects:

And having seen very much modesty and other habits of this kind among
Christian people, certainly the Mongols loved them greatly at the
beginning of their kingdom, a time ago somewhat short. But their love
hath turned to such intense hatred that they cannot even see them
with their eyes approvingly, because they have all alike become
Muslims, myriads of people and peoples. [18]

Bar Hebraeus' observations should be borne in mind when evaluating
Grousset's uncompromising overall assessment of Timur's deeds and
motivations. After recounting Timur's 1403 C.E. ravages in Georgia,
slaughtering the inhabitants, and destroying all the Christian
churches of Tiflis, Grousset states : [19]

It has been noted that the Jenghiz-Khanite Mongol invasion of the
thirteenth century was less cruel, for the Mongols were mere
barbarians who killed simply because for centuries this had been the
instinctive behavior of nomad herdsmen toward sedentary farmers. To
this ferocity Tamerlane [Timur] added a taste for religious murder.
He killed from Qur'anic piety. {Note: Curiously, the 1970 English
translation omits the word `coranique' in translating `Il tuait par
piete coranique' (p. 513 of the original L'Empire Des Steppes), so
that the phrase becomes, `He killed from piety' as opposed to
Grousset's original, `He killed from Qur'anic piety'}. He represents
a synthesis, probably unprecedented in history, of Mongol barbarity
and Muslim fanaticism, and symbolizes that advanced form of primitive
slaughter which is murder committed for the sake of an abstract
ideology, as a duty and a sacred mission.

Tamerlane's barbarous legacy is still with us, 600-years later, in
the heinous acts of jihad terrorism being committed by contemporary
jihadists. Bin Laden, Zarqawi, the Sufi Basayev, and the Shi'ite
Mugniyya - inspired by Islamic teachings conveyed through prominent
contemporary Muslim religious leaders - have continued the practice of
mass killing from `Qur'anic piety'.

Dr. Bostom is an Associate Professor of Medicine, and the author of
the forthcoming The Legacy of Jihad, on Prometheus Books (2005).

[1] E.G. Browne. A Literary History of Persia In Four Volumes, Vol.
3. The Tartar Domain (1265-1502), Cambridge University Press, 1928,
pp. 180-206; Rene Grousset. L'Empire Des Steppes. Attila,
Gengis-Khan, Tamerlan. Paris: Payot, 1952. [Translated as The Empire
of the Steppes, by Naomi Walford, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers
University Press, 1970, pp. 409-465.
A.L. Srivastava. The Delhi Sultanate, p. 222.
[2] Rene Grousset. The Empire of the Steppes, pp. 419-420.
[3] E.G. Browne. A Literary History of Persia. p. 181.
[4] Beatriz Forbes Manz. The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane, Cambridge
University Press, 1989, p. 17.
[5] Rene Grousset. The Empire of the Steppes, pp. 416-417.
[6] For conflicting views regarding the apocryphal nature of this
work, see E.G. Browne. A Literary History of Persia. pp. 183-184, and
Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, pp. 389-394.
[7] Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, pp. 394-395.
[8] E.G. Browne. A Literary History of Persia. p. 196.
[9] Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, p. 429
[10] Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, pp. 432-433.
[11] Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, pp. 445-446.
[12] Srivastava, The Delhi Sultanate, pp. 222-223.
[13] Srivastava, The Delhi Sultanate, p. 223.
[14] Srivastava, The Delhi Sultanate, p. 223.
[15] Elliot and Dowson, A History of India, Vol. 3, p. 459.
[16] Srivastava, The Delhi Sultanate, p. 223.
[17] A.L. Srivastava. The Delhi Sultanate, p. 224
[18] The Chronography of Bar Hebraeus. Translated from Syriac by
Ernest A. Wallis Budge, Oxford University Press, Vol. 1, 1932, p.
[19] Rene Grousset. The Empire of the Steppes, p. 434.; p. 513 of the
original French, L'Empire Des Steppes. I want to thank Ibn Warraq for
pointing out the omission of the word `coranique', i.e., Qur'anic in
the French to English translation by Walford.

Andrew G. Bostom