Administration of the Hajj Under Mughal Rule

Administration of the Hajj Under Mughal Rule
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Suhail Ahmad Wani

To perform Hajj once in a lifetime has been the dream of believers for centuries. When we look at the difficulties they went through for this journey when there were no trains, no buses and no airplanes, we may well shake our heads in disbelief that such times actually existed. The earliest visit by Muslims in historical India to Makkah for Haj is a matter of conjecture but it is very likely that such visits pre-date the Muslim the Muslim conquests of Sindh in 664-712 A.D. Despite the long duration of the Muslim rule from (1206-1556) no effort was made to start organized Hajj administration. In the late 16th century few members of the royal family left for Hajj. Thereafter, the Mughals encouraged their family members, religious scholars and the public to perform Hajj by providing facilities in an unorganized manner.
During Mughal period, the pilgrims of India preferred sea route to reach Arabia. Usually, the long and tough terrains, forests and hostile Shia territories prevented the pilgrims who were mostly Sunnis to take land route. The port of Surat in the Gujarat region was the leading embarkation point for the pilgrims who went by the sea route. Therefore, it was named as Babu ul -Makkah or Bandar – e- Mubarak meaning blessed port. In another theory it is said that Surat was a famous international port in those days and Muslims in thousands sailed every year from Surat to Arabia for Hajj (pilgrimage) purpose. The place from where the ships sailed was called Makkai Darwazah.
The region of Hejaz is a repository of a rich Islamic heritage and the site of Islam’s two holiest cities Makkah and Madinah. Hejaz has been a witness to many religious and politically significant events in the history of Islam and is, thus, an object of great fascination for Muslims all over the world, including those from India. Because of the location of the Jeddah Port as the gateway to Makkah as well as a leading port for Red Sea trade, it attracted merchants and pilgrims alike in large numbers every year.
The Mughal period witnessed Hajj journey with the religious interests of royal family. Akbar was the first ruler to organize Hajj pilgrimage at the state expense and provide a subsidy to pilgrims. Haji Begum, wife of Humayun, second Mughal Emperor left for Hajj in 1563-1564 A.D. During the reign of Akbar, his aunt Gulbudan Begum undertook voyage to offer Hajj in the winter of 1576 A.D. She was accompanied by a group of imperial women, male escorts and senior officials. Akbar’s cousin, Akbar’s wife Salima Sultan Begum, two daughters of Akbar’s uncle Askari were the notable persons in the group. They travelled by two junks namely Salimi and Ilahi. Qulich Khan, the Governor of Surat made necessary arrangements for the smooth and safe journey. The male escorts who were in Ilahi protected the ladies of royal family who sailed in Salimi from the disturbances of Portuguese who controlled the water way leading to Red sea. The male escorts were headed by a chief escort and Sultan Khwaja sent reports of the journey to the emperor.
In the month of March 1580 A.D. Bayazid Bayat, an official under Akbar left for Hajj with his sons. He boarded on Muhammadi which took them from Surat to Aden. He returned to India after two years, overcoming the atrocities of the Portuguese. Impressed by the religious interests of his nobles, Akbar issued imperial decrees, instructing nobles and ship owners to take as many religious scholars as possible for the holy trip. As a result, Abdur Rahim Khan –i- Khanan, a top noble of his court prepared three of his own ships namely the Rahimi, the Karimi and the Salari for the transportation of pilgrims to Jeddah. They carried 1700 pilgrims each. Akbar, being generous, founded a hospice for pilgrims at Makkah and signed a treaty after 1575 A.D with the Portuguese asking them not to disturb the pilgrim ships, passing through Red sea. Furthermore, he ordered the organization of caravans similar to that of Egypt and Syria and appointed a senior noble as Amir –I –Hajj meaning leader of the pilgrims.
Akbar’s successors continued their support to holy journey with lesser volume. Maryam-uz-Zamani also known as Jodha Bai, mother of Jahangir owned a ship by name Rahimi which was made available to pilgrims to perform Hajj. It had a capacity of carrying 1500 passengers and it was called the great pilgrimage ship by the Europeans. It was once captured by the Portuguese in 1613 A.D despite the treaty. Such acts made the Mughals to have friendship with the British than the Portuguese. Shah Jahan, son of Jahangir regularly sent charity to Makkah through Mir Hajj.
Aurangzeb who was considered the most pious among all the Mughal Emperors, spent lavishly to patronize pilgrimage. Every year, he arranged two royal ships for the pilgrimage of lords, ladies, fakirs and common people of Hindustan at free of charge. He, with his daughter Zebunnisa , and nobles sent charity to Makkah. In 1676 A.D she sponsored the Hajj of Safi bin Vali Al – Qazvini as reward for his Quran translation work entitled ‘Zeb – ut – Tafsir’. He came out with a work called ‘Anis Al Hajj’ giving account about the pilgrimage of his period.
Hajj for Rewards and Punishments was also used as a tool for religious obligations, religious studies, and reward for good services and giving punishments for failures. The last act was done on the grounds that the persons left for Hajj may not return as it was an adventurous one. Humayun, to punish his brother, blinded him and sent for Hajj in 1553 A.D who performed Hajj four times and died at Makkah in 1557 A.D. Akbar, sent Bairam Khan, to Hajj by force. However, on his way to Surat he was killed by an Afghan at Ahmedabad. When Jahangir fell ill, he was attended by Hakim Sadra, a Persian doctor. Dissatisfied with his treatment, the emperor sent him to Makkah as a mark of punishment.
Qazi ul Quzzat, a noble worked under Aurangazeb once came into clash with the emperor and therefore he was asked to resign and go for Hajj. To get the favor of sheriffs of Makkah and in return to establish the influence there, the rulers of India sent gifts to sheriffs and their subjects. Between the years 1576-1582 A.D, Akbar through Mir Hajj distributed Rs.6,00,000 in money and goods to the people of Makkah and Madinah. Besides that, robes of honour and expensive gifts were dispatched to sheriffs. In 1659 A.D, Aurangzeb sent presents worth of Rs.6, 60,000 to sheriffs of Makkah. The sheriffs, to recognize them sent their agents to Delhi court. Despite their generosity towards Hajj pilgrims neither the Mughals who were rulers of India nor the Muslim provincial rulers nor small chieftains performed Hajj. After the decline of Mughal Empire in India, Sikandar Begum and Sultan Jahan Begum, women rulers of Bhopal offered Hajj in 1863 A.D and 1903 A.D respectively. The Indian pilgrims on their own in a big group for the first time proceeded for Hajj in 1821 A.D. under the leadership of Syed Ahmed, freedom fighter and Islamic reformist when a Sufi Shahul Hameed Waliullah reached Jeddah by boats along with his disciples to perform the Hajj.
It is a sacred duty for able Muslims everywhere to go at least once in their lives to Makkah, the heartland of Islam where the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) received the Revelation. But, unfortunately, despite having enormous resources and means, none of the Muslim male rulers, be it the Delhi Sultans or most powerful Mughal emperors or the provincial rulers of Bengal, Bijapur, Gujarat or Golconda or the Nizams of Hyderabad ever undertook a voyage for performing Hajj. The Monarchs owing to the fear of capture of throne by the rivals in their long absence in their state hesitated to undertake pilgrimage. Instead, the common trend was to send the royal women on Hajj and trade missions. Whatever the numbers, the faith that drives the believer’s guarantees the Hajj will continue, even within the restrictions of space and time, as long as there are Muslims. It is this faith that underpins the Hajj and gives rise to all its other aspects.

—The author, a Ph.D Research Scholar at the University of Indore, can be reached at: