End of the Road

Southasia - - CONTENTS - Re­viewed by S.G. Ji­la­nee

In­dia bids farewell to the Am­bas­sador that re­mained the coun­try’s fa­vorite car for


Per­spec­tives on Mughal In­dia’ is a col­lec­tion of ten schol­arly es­says by Sa­jida Sul­tana Alvi that were pub­lished in var­i­ous jour­nals from time to time. The au­thor, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Indo-Is­lamic his­tory at the In­sti­tute of Is­lamic His­tory, McGill Univer­sity, Canada, has delved deeply into rare, hith­erto un­tapped, sources. The pro­fusely an­no­tated es­says are the prod­uct of ar­du­ous re­search, es­pe­cially when ex­plor­ing un­known or lesser known sub­jects. They are also in­de­pen­dent of one an­other, but col­lec­tively present a pic­ture of Is­lam in In­dia, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Mughal pe­riod.

The col­lec­tion is di­vided into three parts. The first, ti­tled ‘His­tory and His­to­ri­og­ra­phy’ has four es­says. It is an over­view of Indo-Is­lamic his­tory from the time Mo­ham­mad bin Qasim set his foot in Sindh through Ghaz­navi and Ghauri, the Delhi Sul­tanate and the Mughal rule, to the par­ti­tion of In­dia in 1947 and the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

Talk­ing about how Is­lam spread in In­dia, the au­thor con­tends that there were no forced mass con­ver­sions un­der the Is­lamic rulers. "Is­lami­sa­tion was a re­sult of mul­ti­ple in­flu­ences – so­cial, cul­tural and re­li­gious." Sufi in­flu­ence also played an ac­tive role in the "adop­tion of Mus­lim iden­tity by the non-Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, pri­mar­ily in the ru­ral ar­eas." Though the rulers were gen­er­ally tol­er­ant to­wards their nonMus­lim sub­jects but it was only un­der Mughal rule that se­ri­ous at­tempts were made in a big way to cul­ti­vate the Hindu reli­gion and cul­ture, with Dara Shikoh trans­lat­ing the Upan­ishad. It was also dur­ing the same time that Urdu's sta­tus was el­e­vated as the lan­guage for lit­er­ary ex­pres­sion vy­ing with Per­sian due to the sin­cere ef­forts of Siraj Aql-Deen Khan Arzu.

The next es­say is a lit­er­ary crit­i­cism of Mazhar-e-Shah­ja­hani by Sindhi writer Yusuf Mi­rak. Mazhar is a book on po­lit­i­cal ethics and state­craft, prompted by the plight of the Sindhi peo­ple, who were "not treated well by the Mughal ad­min­is­tra­tion." The book was writ­ten dur­ing the reign of Shah­ja­han. This work has been com­pared to sim­i­lar writ­ings by Al Ghaz­ali, Niza­mul Mulk and oth­ers with re­gard to its theme, style and con­tents. It is a man­ual on ad­min­is­tra­tion, draw­ing par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion of the ruler to the sit­u­a­tion in Sindh.

Chap­ter three is an at­tempt to com­pare a lit­tle-known source, Mir'at al-Alam with two rec­og­nized sources of the his­tory of Em­peror Au­rangzeb, namely, Alam­gir namah and Ma'asir

e-Alam­giri. The au­thor painstak­ingly makes a "de­tailed, word-by-word com­par­a­tive study of the Mir'at and

Alam­gir Namah" to con­clude that the for­mer work is con­cise and con­tains much fac­tual data, whereas the lat­ter is pan­e­gyric and ver­bose.

Th­ese two works, es­pe­cially the Mir'at, are in­valu­able sources of au­then­tic in­for­ma­tion about life and times un­der Au­rangzeb's rule, be­cause, both are "eye­wit­ness ac­counts" chron­i­cled by men who held high po­si­tions and were close to the em­peror. A study of the Mir'at, for in­stance, should set at rest the con­tro­versy around Au­rangzeb's at­ti­tude to mu­sic. The fac­tual po­si­tion as re­vealed in the Mir'at was that ear­lier in his life Au­rangzeb en­joyed mu­sic but ab­stained later.

In the fourth es­say the au­thor ex­am­ines Tarikh-e- Husayniyyah, "an un­known source for the his­tory of Awadh," in thread­bare de­tail and con­sid­ers it a more re­li­able source of in­for­ma­tion for the seek­ers of truth, be­cause un­like other sim­i­lar works, it was not com­mis­sioned by the East In­dia Com­pany. The writer of the Tarikh is, there­fore, more ob­jec­tive in his ap­proach.

The sec­ond part is de­voted to ‘Is­lam, Su­fism and Re­li­gious re­newal’. Dis­cus­sion on Ta­j­did and Mu­jad­dids is spread over three chap­ters. The first, ‘The Mu­jad­did and Ta­j­did tra­di­tions in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent’ ex­plores "the con­cept of ta­j­did which amounts to re­newal and re­form in un­der­stand­ing Is­lamic faith and prac­tices" and "the scope and na­ture of the mu­jad­dids' ac­tiv­i­ties in their re­spec­tive so­ciopo­lit­i­cal con­texts."

It ex­am­ines the teach­ings of the four Mu­jad­dids – Sheikh Ah­mad Sirhindi, Shah Wal­i­ul­lah, Syed Ah­mad Sha­heed and Shah Is­mail Sha­heed – and their im­pact on the com­mu­nity. It con­cludes

with the re­but­tal of Lan­dau Tasseron's the­sis that re­form ac­tiv­i­ties in­di­rectly rec­og­nize the im­per­fec­tion of Is­lam be­cause the mu­jad­dids did not re­form Is­lam; they only re­formed the prac­tices of the Mus­lims.

The sec­ond is a dis­course on the Naqsh­bandi Mu­jad­dids. It high­lights the "sig­nif­i­cance of the sheikh in the Naqsh­bandi or­der" as well as its ba­sic prin­ci­ples with ref­er­ence to the man­u­als of con­duct for the dis­ci­ples

(adab-e-muridab) and con­cludes with a nar­ra­tive on the lives and teach­ings of two fa­mous sheikhs of the time – Kh­wa­jah Ma­sum and Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan.

The third re­lates to the spread of the Naqsh­bandi-Mu­jad­didi Sufi Or­der in Cen­tral Asia between the 17th and 19th cen­turies. Th­ese three es­says pro­vide a deep in­sight into the prin­ci­ples and prac­tices of the Naqsh­bandi or­der and the lives of its lead­ing sheikhs.

The last es­say is de­voted to Qadi Thana Al­lah Pa­ni­pati, an em­i­nent aalim who flour­ished in the 18th cen­tury, but is not fa­mous like his con­tem­po­raries, Shah Wal­i­ul­lah and Shah Ab­dul Aziz. The 18th cen­tury was a pe­riod of up­heaval, due to the tran­si­tion from Mughal to Bri­tish rule and the in­va­sions of Nadir Shah and Ah­mad Shah Ab­dali. The re­li­gious schol­ars had a great re­spon­si­bil­ity in guid­ing the flock. And Thana Al­lah, who was also a Qadi, ful­filled this obli­ga­tion with his pro­lific writ­ings in Ara­bic and Per­sian.

Part three has two es­says; one on reli­gion and state dur­ing Ja­hangir's rule and the other on Shi'as in his court, with spe­cial ref­er­ence to Mo­ham­mad Baqir Najm-i-Thani.

In the first es­say, the au­thor, re­ly­ing on orig­i­nal sources on the life of Em­peror Ja­hangir, ar­gues that he was nei­ther com­mu­nal nor a theo­crat. Thus, "he did not claim to be the pro­tec­tor of Is­lam, nor did he prom­ise to im­ple­ment shariah through his of­fice." Ja­hangir had "nu­mer­ous pri­vate meet­ings" with a Hindu her­mit Go­sain Jadrup. The ex­e­cu­tion of the Sikh Guru Govind Singh was prompted not by com­mu­nal­ism but the lat­ter's sup­port for the rebel Prince Khus­raw.

The last chap­ter il­lu­mi­nates the pen­e­tra­tion of Shi'aism in the im­pe­rial house­hold dur­ing Ja­hangir's rule, be­sides a com­men­tary on the pro­file of a prom­i­nent Shia sol­dier and scholar who was also a rel­a­tive of Nur Ja­han by mar­riage - Muham­mad Baqir Najm-i-Thani.

This work with its wealth of in­for­ma­tion is like the prover­bial caviar to the gen­eral. For re­searchers and schol­ars of his­tory, it would be a trea­sure trove but the com­mon reader would find it largely be­yond their ken.

The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southasia Mag­a­zine.

Book Ti­tle: Per­spec­tives on Mughal In­dia Rulers, His­to­ri­ans, ‘Ulama’ and Su­fis Au­thor: Sa­jida Sul­tana Alvi Pub­lisher: Ox­ford Univer­sity Press Pages: 297, Hard­back Price: Rs.850 ISBN: 9780195476439

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