Legendary Hindu Zunbil’s Indomitable Campaign Against Mighty Arabs

Humiliating Defeat Of Ubaidullah And Jaish Al-Fana

Caliph Abdal Malik ibn Marwan appointed Abdullah as the governor of Seistan in 692 A.D. Abdullah immediately resumed the raids on Kabul and Zabul. The clever Zunbil (Ranbal) did not obstruct the path of Abdullah’s forces and allowed them to advance deep into his territory in the mountains. He then blocked the mountain passes and trapped the enemy and made Abdullah enter into a treaty to secure liberation for himself and his troops. “Ranbal did not oppose his advance into the land until he had penetrated deep into it, when he seized the mountain paths and passes against him asking the Moslems to cease hostilities,” and “asked them to put it in writing, agreeing not to raid our lands… nor to burn nor lay waste.” [1] The king also agreed to renew the annual tribute, however the Caliph Abdal Malik was displeased with the treaty and dismissed Abdullah.

In 695 A.D., Al Hajjaj became the governor of Iraq. In 697–698 A.D., Hajjaj despatched Ubaidullah, his experienced general, to renew the raids against Kabul with the express orders to “lay waste the lands of Rutbil, destroy his forts, kill and enslave people.” [2] Al Hajjaj commanded him to not linger at Seistan but to march to Kabul at the earliest, “and ordered him peremptorily not to return until he had subjugated the whole province.” [3] The Arab army led by Ubaidullah was titled ‘Jaish Al-Fana’ or ‘the army of destruction.’

Ubaidullah marched upto the neighbourhood of Kabul and camped there but his passage was blocked by the king’s armies and he was forced into submission. “In effect, the Muslim army which on this occasion marched into Zamindawar and almost as far as Kabul was virtually destroyed.” [4] Ubaidullah was forced to retreat leaving his three sons as hostages with the Zunbil. He also made a treaty with the Zunbil to not fight as long as he was governor. However, the treaty was rejected by the other Arab leaders, including Shuraih who instigated Ubaidullah to fight. Shuraih was killed in the battle that ensued thence, and Ubaidullah’s army was completely routed in the desert of Bust by the brave troops of Zunbil. “Many of the men perished of thirst and hunger and Ubaidullah died of grief for what he had brought upon his men and the fate that had overtaken them.” [5]

Valiant Heroism Of Hindu Zunbil Against The Mightiest Of Arab Forces

Troubled by the humiliating defeat of Ubaidullah, Al Hajjaj raised a very powerful, mighty army to establish Arab dominance in Kabul and Zabul. Led by Abdur Rehman Ibn Al Ash’ath, the Arab army which was titled ‘Jaish Al-Tawawis’ or ‘peacock army’ had forty thousand men and additional troops from the province of Seistan. Around 700 A.D. Abdur Rehman attacked Zabul, but he was unsuccessful and so, had to suspend further raids. Despite the support of such a powerful army, Abdur Rehman could not consolidate the Arab position in Zabul. Al Hajjaj was extremely displeased with Abdur Rehman’s delaying any further attacks on Zabul and he castigated Abdur Rehman in strong terms, “for turning away from Jehad against the infidels.” [6] Hajjaj sent Abdur Rehman an offensive letter, inciting him to attack the Zunbil without further delay and threatening to supersede him with his brother if he failed to do so.[7] Displeased with the harsh tone of the letter and the idea of supersession, Abdur Rehman revolted against Hajjaj and made a treaty with the Zunbil.[8] The pre-existing internal hostilities between the Iraqi-Arabs and Umayyads, and the reluctance of the Arab army to continue a sustained and rigorous campaign so far away from home were the major factors for the revolt. Abdur Rehman’s soldiers urged him to declare war against Hajjaj. Abdur Rehman led a strong army back to Iraq and the rebellion against Al Hajjaj and the Umayyads turned into a full-blown mutiny.[9] Both sides battled for many months. Eventually, Hajjaj and his Syrian troops won against Abdur Rehman and the Iraqi rebels in a final battle. Abdur Rehman escaped and sought refuge with the Zunbil in Zabulistan as per the treaty. However, the treaty did not last for long and Abdur Rehman committed suicide by throwing himself off a hill.

Zunbil continued the war and put up a valiant resistance against the Arab armies. As a result of Zunbil’s sustained campaign against the Arabs, the Arab expansion came to a standstill and they could not make any major impact in Zabul for the next 150 years. It would not be an exaggeration to state that Zunbil “had made Sistan an ‘ill-omened frontier’ for the Arabs.” [10] This heroic and indomitable campaign of the Hindu Zunbil against the mightiest of the armies of the Caliphate earned him tremendous repute in all of Central Asia and he became the “hero of many Arab stories of the holy wars on the frontiers of Hind.” [11] The Arab historian Masudi in his Muruj Adh Dhahab, “makes mention of a prince who reigned in the valley of the Indus, and who after having subjugated Eastern Persia, advanced to the bank of the Tigris and Euphrates. The name of this prince was Ranbal under one of its various modifications.” [12]

Al Hajjaj was left with no choice but to make peace with the Hindu Zunbil after the disastrous debacle of Abdur Rehman’s military failure. Hajjaj agreed to keep away from the Zunbil’s kingdom in exchange for an annual tribute. The Zunbil agreed to pay the tribute but stopped payment during the reign of Caliph Sulayman (715–717 A.D.). The next Caliph, Al Mansur (745–775 A.D.) tried to subdue the Hindu Zunbil and force him to make the payments but he too did not succeed against the valour of the Zunbil. The Arab generals of the Caliphate tried their best to collect the financial tribute from the Zunbil as much as possible, but they never managed to make a lasting impact on the region, as “Seistan was never completely subjugated.” [13]

All the multiple attempts by the mighty Caliphs to dominate the Indian kingdoms of Kabul and Zabul in the north-west of India failed miserably, and the same lineage of the Kabul Shahis and the Zunbils continued to rule the two kingdoms till 867 A.D. Thus, the so-called mighty world-conquering Arabs failed to fully and finally conquer even a tiny principality of a small mountainous kingdom after an epic struggle that lasted for more than 200 years i.e. from 650 A.D. till 860 A.D.


[1] – Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders Upto 1206 A.D., P 40 — Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra

[2] – Afghanistan Revisited, P 4 — R. T. Mohan

[3] – Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders Upto 1206 A.D., P 40 — Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra

[4] – Al Hind: The Making Of The Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1 — Early Medieval India And The Expansion Of Islam — 7th-11th Centuries, P 122 — Andre Wink

[5] – Kitab Futuh Al Buldan: Vol. 2, P 151 — Al Baladhuri Tr. By Francis Clark Murgotten

[6] – Afghanistan Revisited, P 5 — R. T. Mohan

[7] – Heroic Hindu Resistance To Muslim Invaders, P 16 — Sita Ram Goel

[8] – Al Hind: The Making Of The Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1 — Early Medieval India And The Expansion Of Islam — 7th-11th Centuries, P 122 — Andre Wink

[9] – The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661–750, P 67–68 — G. R. Hawting

[10] – Afghanistan Revisited, P 5 — R. T. Mohan

[11] – Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders Upto 1206 A.D., P 41 — Dr. Ram Gopal Mishra

[12] – The History Of India As Told By Its Own Historians, Vol. 2 — The Muhammadan Period, P 418 — Elliot And Dawson

[13] – Kitab Futuh Al Buldan: Vol. 2, P 153–154 — Al Baladhuri Tr. By Francis Clark Murgotten

Featured Image Credit: Kafir Qala Citadel, Farah Province, Afghanistan Dating Back To More Than 2000 Years

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