Multan is a city of great historical importance, located at the crossroads of central and south Asia on the Indian subcontinent.
Inhabited since antiquity, the city was originally part of the province of Sindh, where it came under Arab rule during the Umayyad period (ca. 712) and was later administered by a series of governors through the Abbasid period.
The city was primarily populated by merchants, which is unsurprising given its position on overland trade routes connecting the Islamic world with the subcontinent.
Multan was also a site of pilgrimage for Hindus, and the city’s sun temple is often mentioned by Arab chroniclers.
Although the initial Arab administration of Multan was tolerant of worship at the sun temple, probably because it was a great source of revenue for the city, this situation was short-lived.
As the effects of Kharijite and Isma’ili (two sects within Islam) activity in undermining Abbasid power in Baghdad trickled down to distant parts of the Abbasid Caliphate, Isma’ilis gained a foothold in Sindh.
By the late tenth century they controlled Multan, and the city shifted allegiance to the Shi’i Fatimids of Egypt. It was at this time that the sun temple and its famous idol was supposed to have been destroyed.
The Isma’ili period is a crucial turning point in the city’s history as it propelled the movement of various Isma’ili saints to converge upon Multan and further laid the foundation for its transformation into a center of Sufi Islamic practice.
A number of Sufi saints are buried in and around Multan in spectacular monuments, including the tombs of Baha’ al-Din Zakariya (?–1262) and Rukn-i-‘Alam (?–1335).