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The last lesson at Nalanda

Why Muslims burnt the library?

Vinod Kumar

P N (full name withheld)-- a poster wrote

I had to attend a wedding at Patna and managed a side trip to Nalanda. As
I walked into the ruins, a huge dark sadness descended on me. Nalanda, the
greatest ever Buddhist university, with its hundreds of monks and thousands
of books, was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khalji's Turki troops around 1200 AD.
As I looked at walls still blackened by the bonfires of books, I began my
search for answers. The museum nearby gives you a glimpse of Nalanda's
sanctity and fame across the Buddhist world: Tibet, China, Japan and most of
Southeast Asia. While inside, I saw a group of Tibetan monks walking
through, placing sacred white scarves on some statues.

Why Muslims burn the books of the "jahilayat" age?

In Islam, after the "Prophet" the first four Caliphs are regarded as the rightful Caliphs. And of these four the first two are the most right of the four. Abu Bakr and Umar.

Bakr was one of the first few converts to Islam. Both were fathers-in-laws of the "Prophet".

Prophet himself ordered wrote Shah Wali-Allah to give "precedence to Abu Bakr and Umar over Ali, despite his own preference and love for Ali." and "the Prophet himself loved Abu Bakr and Umar more as "they had dedicated themselves fully to matters relating to Prophethood." (Shah Wali-Allah and his times by Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, pp. 217)

Why am I stating this? To show what decisions Omar had taken regards to the books of the infidels.

When Egypt was conquered by the Islamic forces, there was "a vast collection of books or manuscripts, since renowned in history as the Alexandrian Library." The whole description in some details is given in Washington Irving's Mahomet and his Successors. Let me just relate the relevant part.

An intimacy had developed between Amru, the commander of the Muslim forces and John the Grammarian. After all the looting was done, and anything worthwhile had already been taken, the library and its treasure escaped the notice of Amru. John, for his love books, solicited Amru that they might be given to him.

"Unfortunately, the learned zeal of the Grammarian gave a consequence to the books in the eyes of Amru, and made him scrupulous of giving them away without permission of the Caliph. He forthwith wrote to Omar, stating the merits of John, and requesting to know whether the books might be given to him."

Now the million dollar question -- why the Muslims burn the books of the infidels?

"The reply of Omar was laconic, but fatal. "The contents of those books," said he, "are in conformity with the Koran, or they are not. If they are, the Koran is sufficient without them; if they are not, they are pernicious. Let them be, therefore, be destroyed." (pp. 327-328)

This is the decision of the Second Caliph of Islam, a companion of the Prophet. His command is second only to that of the Prophet.

So is it any wonder that the books at Nalanda were burnt down. It would be a wonder if they were not.

The above gives the reason why they were. Muslims regard to Koran everything that is worth knowing in this world. The rest is jahiliyat.


Sept 18, 2003



Also read Destruction of Buddha Statues -- Islamic or unIslamic?