End of the Road
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