The Durbar Hall of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir was packed to its capacity. The Emperor was seated on his golden throne studded with precious stones, placed on a raised marble platform, attended by his Ministers and Courtiers flanking the passage leading to the Throne. All eyes were directed impatiently towards the entrance. The Emperor had summoned to his presence a person known as a dangerous religious reformer. At the appointed hour a slim and lanky person in the attire of a dervish advanced in measured steps towards the Throne. All eyes turned towards him till he reached the Throne and did not make the customary obeisance of kissing the floor before the Emperor, whereupon the Vizier standing beside the Emperor cried out :

“Make obeisance and kiss the floor. You are in the august presence of Emperor Jahangir.”

“No”, replied the visitor firmly. “This head which bows before Almighty God can never bow before any mortal.”

A wave of resentment swept the audience and after a few cross questionings, the Emperor ordered the visitor who was no other than the Saint of Sirhind himself to be thrown into the Gawalior prison.

Sheikh Ahmad Farooqi of Sirhind, better known as Mujaddid Alif-i-Sani, also styled as Imam Rabbani, lived at a time when Islam faced the greatest threat to its existence in India due to the irreligious practices of the Mughal Emperor Akbar who, with his grotesque religious innovations, including the introduction of “Deen-i-Elahi”, had considerably weakened Islam, thus striking at its very foundation. In such an atmosphere was born Sheikh Ahmad who boldly, faced the mighty Emperor and his misguided associates, and restored Islam to its pristine glory. His courageous stand for the purification of Islam by ruthless and fearless campaigning against the irreligious practices introduced by Akbar, set an example to the future generations of Muslims to fight against any encroachment on their great religion.

Sheikh Ahmad Farooqi, Reformer of the Second Millenium of the Hejira Era and universally acclaimed as the Saint of Sirhind, was born in 1564 at Sirhind, a town in East Punjab. His family originally belonged to Madina and his great ancestor was Hazrat Abdullah ibn Umar Farooq. From Madina, his ancestors migrated to Kabul and thence to Samana in the Patiala State. His father Sheikh Abdul Ahad was reputed for his high learning and religious background. Sheikh Ahmad was his fourth son. After receiving his early education from his father, he proceeded to Lahore and Sialkot for higher education. At Sialkot, he obtained religious education from such reputed scholars as Maulana Kamaluddin Kashmiri and Maulana Yaqub Kashmiri. Another well-known scholar of the time, Qazi Bahlol Badakhshani taught him jurisprudence. Sirat and history.

Having been well versed in worldly education at an early age of 17, Sheikh Ahmad diverted his attention towards spiritual education. He was initiated into the Qadiriya System by his father and later by Shah Sikandar, On his father’s death in 1007 A.H. he became the disciple of Khwaja Baqi Billah, a great mystic saint of Delhi, who appointed him his lieutenant in Sirhind.

In one of his letters, the Saint writes about Sheikh Ahmad: “In Sirhind is a person Sheikh Ahmad by name whose knowledge is extensive and whose will power is immense. For a few days, he was with me. I chanced to observe very strange things from the way he behaved and passed his days. I hope he would prove such a shining light as would illumine the entire world. He is sure to attain perfection in mysticism and spiritualism which further leads me to confirm what I have said above”.

Sheikh Ahmad, too, had great regard for his illustrious teacher. In one of his works, the Mabda wa Ma’ad, he writes: “It is my conviction that the company like that of Khwaja Baqi Billah and training and guidance like the one imparted to us during the time of the Holy Prophet, has not been possible. This is a fit occasion of thanksgiving. Although it has not been my good fortune to have been present in the days of the Prophet, yet I have not been deprived of the company of Khwaja Baqi Billah”.

Later, Sheikh Ahmad went to Akbarabad (Agra), the seat of the Mughal Empire, where he came into close contact with Faizi and Abul Fazal, the two intellectual luminaries of the Imperial Court, who were highly impressed by his deep knowledge. It is said that once Faizi got stuck up and could not find suitable words for certain Quranic verses in connection with his Swati-al-Nham, the dotless commentary of the Holy Quran. His further progress in this connection had come to a standstill when perchance the Sheikh happened to arrive there and solved the problem without much difficulty. Abul Fazal in his momentous work, Aeen-e-Akbari, considers Sheikh Ahmad as one of the intellectual giants of the age. Once Abul Fazal, in his discussion with the Sheikh, used disrespectful language about Imam Ghazali. The Sheikh lost his temper and openly rebuked the powerful Prime Minister for using objectionable remarks against such a well-known Savant and until Abul Fazal apologised for his conduct, the Sheikh did not visit him.

The frequent contacts of the Sheikh with the two talented brothers enabled him to acquire first-hand knowledge of the scepticism and irreligiosity pervading the Mughal Court and the two brothers, too, realised the high intellect and indomitable courage of the Sheikh. During his stay at Agra, he wrote several treatises in Arabic and Persian including, Mabda wa Ma’ad and Radd-i-Rawafiz.

He married the daughter of Sheikh Sultan, a nobleman of Thanesar. He built a Stately Mosque out of the Dowry brought by his wife. He had seven sons from his wife.

He died on December 10, 1624, and was buried in the small town of Sirhind.

During the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Islam in India was at its lowest ebb and its tenets were openly violated. People were encouraged to adopt anti-Islamic ways. The Emperor himself, surrounded by irreligious courtiers, was more inclined towards Hinduism and had promulgated Deen-e-Elahi as the state religion which was the negation of some of the basic principles of Islam. The celebrated historian Badayuni in his well-known historical work MuntakhabatTwarikh throws ample light on the un-Islamic activities of Akbar and some of his courtiers. He says: “Public prayers and the Azan which was called five times a day for prayer in the state hall, were stopped. Names like Ahmad, Muhammad and Mustafa, etc. were offensive to His Majesty, who thereby wished to please the infidels outside and the princesses (Hindu women) inside the harem till after some time those Courtiers who bore such names changed them; and names like Yar Muhammad, Muhammad Khan were altered to Rahmat”. (MuntakhabatTwarikh by Abdul Qadir Badayuni, Vol. II, page 314). Badayuni further states: “During the Nauroz festivities most of the Ulema, pious men and Qazis were forced to participate in carousals . . . . A separate quarter was built for this legalised adultery in a land of Islam and was named Shaitanpura. He appointed a Keeper, a Deputy and a Secretary for the quarter so that anyone wishing to associate with those wenches or take them home or hire, may do so with the full knowledge of the government officials …….. The killing of animals on the first day of the week was strictly prohibited because this day was sacred to the Sun (Vol. II, page 322). A second-order was issued by the Emperor that the Sun should be worshipped four times a day. A thousand names of the Sun were diligently collected and Akbar devoutly read them over standing with his face towards the Sun ….. The accursed Birbal tried to persuade the Emperor that since the Sun gives light to all and ripens grains and fruits as well as supports human life, therefore this heavenly body should be the object of worship and veneration, that face should be turned towards the rising and not towards the setting Sun, i.e. the West as the Muslims do. He was further told to venerate fire, stones and trees and all other objects of nature even down to the cows and their dung, so sacred to the Hindus …. He smeared his forehead with the Hindu marks of tilak at noon and at midnight”.

It would be seen that Akbar’s policies and way of life were extremely detrimental to the healthy growth of a society based on Islamic principles. Islam met its greatest threat from within during his reign. Its basic principles were not only defied but ridiculed. All opposition was suppressed either by money or by force. This was the proper occasion for the appearance of a reformer who could have the courage to face the onslaughts of a degenerated Imperial system aimed at wiping out all traces of Islamic culture and religion from India. The great reformer who appeared on the scene was Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi. He boldly faced Akbar. With his indomitable will and incessant efforts, he once more firmly implanted Islam on the Indian soil and established a society based on equality, fraternity and justice preached by Islam. It was primarily due to the great moral and religious influence which Sheikh Ahmad wielded during his lifetime and thereafter, that the Mughal Emperors Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb and the ruling class as a whole came closer and closer to Islam.

The early period of the reign of Jahangir was troublesome for the Sheikh. His increasing popularity in the army and high personages alarmed the Emperor, who was systematically prejudiced against the Sheikh by interested persons. A showdown looked imminent. The Emperor was advised to summon the Sheikh and question him about his views, which, according to the informers, were slowly sowing the germs of revolution and indiscipline in the Imperial army. Accordingly, the Sheikh was summoned by Jahangir who, not being satisfied with the explanation offered by the Sheikh, cast him into Gwalior prison. Earlier, Shah Jahan, a sincere disciple of the Sheikh, had advised him through his associates to perform the customary obeisance before the Emperor, but the dauntless Sheikh flatly refused to do so, saying that such a bow was permitted for Almighty only.

Sheikh Ahmad remained in the Gwalior prison for a year. His exemplary character and teachings revolutionised the life of the criminals who came into contact with him in jail and became pious Muslims. Sir. Thomas Arnold says: “In the reign of Emperor Jahangir (1605–1628), Sheikh Ahmad Mujaddid who was kept in prison converted to Islam several hundred idolators who were his companions in the same prison” (Preaching of Islam).

This solitary confinement of the Sheikh was, according to his own confessions in a letter to one Mir Muhammad Noman, a blessing in disguise which gave him time for meditation and cultivation of other spiritual as well as moral virtues. The haughty Mughal Emperor, at last, realized his mistake, set the Sheikh free and bestowed all honours on him. Writing in his Memoirs on the 15th anniversary of his accession, Jahangir says: “1 called to my presence Sheikh Ahmad who had spent some time in the prison and set him free. I gave him a Khilaat (Robe) and one thousand rupees, with the option to stay at the Court or return to his home. He was fair enough to admit that the chastisement had done him good”.

Jahangir abolished the Deen-i-Elahi of Akbar and restored the practice of Shariat Law throughout his realm. Henceforward, Sheikh Ahmad was the adviser of the State in all religious matters and was free to preach his Islamic principles among all classes of people including the Imperial forces. His moral teachings had greatly influenced the army and the nobles, who now came closer to the true spirit of Islam.

Jahangir, the Mughal Emperor, had himself requested the Sheikh to remain with the Imperial army. The Sheikh complied and preached true Islam among the troops which greatly contributed to enhancing the morale of armed forces as well as prepare them for their duties towards Islam and the State.

Sheikh Ahmad, the Saint of Sirhind, was an outstanding religious reformer, who amended and rectified some of the wrong doctrines as well as practices introduced among Muslims by Sufis. His father had succeeded Abdul Quddus Gangohi as the Chief of the Chishtiya Sect, an office which later on devolved on Sheikh Ahmad. But the austere Saint did not participate in Sama practised by this sect. He was all-in-all for the strict enforcement of Islamic Shariat. As regards mysticism, he strongly repudiated, Wahdat-ul-Wajud (the unity of existence), the doctrine of mystical unity advanced by Ibn-al-Arabi, the celebrated mystic of Spain.

This doctrine propounded by Ibn al-Arabi was extremely popular among mystics, but it failed to win the approval of orthodox religious teachers as it conflicted with the Shariat of Islam. Being an orthodox Muslim, Sheikh Ahmad was against the doctrine of “Wahdat-ul-Wajud” and was in search of a preceptor who could guide him in the matter. This he got in the person of Hazrat Khwaja Baqi Billah, a Naqshbandi Saint of Delhi. Sheikh Ahmad acquired the highest spiritual teaching and experience from Hazrat Baqi Billah, Sheikh Ahmad discarded the doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wajud and instead adopted the doctrine of Wahdat us Shuhud and developed it with exceptional thoroughness and daring. “According to Sheikh Ahmad”, says Dr Iqbal, “the Alam-i-Amr or the world of directive energy, must be passed through before one reaches that unique experience which symbolises the purely objective”.

Imam Rabbani Hazrat Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, strove throughout his life to restore Islamic Shariat in all its purity among the Indian Muslims who were led astray in the anti-Islamic regime of Akbar and Jahangir. His new doctrine stirred the Muslim masses and narrowed down the gulf between the Ulema and the Sufis (mystics). He boldly practised what he preached and lived up to his convictions when he refused to kiss the ground before the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.

Sheikh Ahmad was a zealous missionary and a revolutionary religious reformer. He wrote epistles to Muslim nobles exhorting them to undo the evil effects of anti-Islamic activities carried on during the regime of Akbar. He campaigned for the full-blooded enforcement of Shariat Laws through epistles to nobles, lectures and discourses to the common man. His epistles exist in three volumes, namely

  1. Durul Maarifat (containing 313 epistles)
  2. Durul Khalaiq (containing 97 lengthy epistles)
  3. Maarifat ul Haqaiq (containing 124 epistles)

The first volume consists of epistles addressed to his teacher Hazrat Baqi Billah and Muslim nobles containing dissertations on religious and intellectual subjects. The second volume contains epistles dealing with tenets of Islam and mysticism. The third volume, compiled after his death contains an epistle addressed to Mughal Emperor Jahangir. His epistles fully bring out not only his spiritual and intellectual abilities but also his courageous stand against a despotic power countenancing irreligious activities. His epistles (Maktubaat) fully expose the irreligiosity of the majority of Ulema and their adherence to un-Islamic practices.

In one of his epistles he writes: “In the days gone by, the infidels being in power dominated the Muslims and openly ordered them to observe Hindu customs and injunctions. The Muslims could not practise their faith and if they attempted to do so, they had to pay with their lives. What a pity! Woe betide the followers of the Prophet, the chosen and most favoured of God, are these days humiliated while the disbelievers are honoured and exalted. Not only this but also the infidels jeer at them, adding insult to injury”.

In another epistle, he writes: “The infidels are demolishing mosques and converting them into temples and godowns. At Thanesar, a mosque and the shrine of a Muslim saint have been razed to the ground. A large temple has replaced both. The infidels enjoy complete freedom in the observance of their religious rites; the Muslims are inhibited and helpless in the same measure”. Such was the state of affairs in the reign of Akbar the Great, who, in the lust for Hindu women, had forsaken all morality, decency and propriety. Jahangir, in his later days, changed his mind, and under the influence of Sheikh Ahmad enforced Shariat Law throughout his vast Empire. He came to cherish great regard for the pious Sheikh, who, in one of his epistles, pays tribute to his love for Islam.

Sheikh Ahmad continued to wield great influence long after his death. His teachings, as well as his courageous stand against the Mughal power, continues to inspire the freedom fighters and his Urs (death anniversary) is celebrated with great pomp at Sirhind. Every year the pilgrims flock from all parts of the subcontinent to his shrine at Sirhind to pay homage to one who stood like a rock in the most critical period of the history of Muslim India.

His descendants continued his noble mission. Emperor Aurangzeb is said to have become a disciple of his son, Khwaja Muhammad Masoom.

The great Saint was the founder of Mujaddidiya sub-order which has made an invaluable contribution to the enforcement of Shariat (Islamic Law). In his Kalemaat-e-Tayyaba; “Imamul Hind Shah Waliullah of Delhi pays him high tributes, as the leveller of inequalities in Islamic thought, a paragon of spiritual guidance and a revealer of many special realities.”

Allama Iqbal, the greatest Poet-Philosopher of Islam, pays appropriate tributes to the Saint of Sirhind when he says :

“Gardan na jhuki jiski Jahangir ke aage,
Jis ke nafas-i-garm se hai garmi-e-Ahrar
Woh Hind men sarmaya-e-millat ka nigahban
Allah ne bar waqt kia jis ko khabardar.”

(Whose neck did not bend before Jahangir and whose breath warms the hearts of fighters for freedom. He was the protector of the Islamic faith in India and one who was alarmed by God at the right moment.)


The 18th century was a period of extreme decadence of Muslim power in India. On the death of the great Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707, had started the disintegration of his vast dominions embracing the whole of the Indian subcontinent. His successors were too weak to arrest the process of decadence and disruption besetting it. Not only the Muslim political power had rapidly declined and was soon at its lowest ebb but also their economic, religious, and cultural life showed signs of extreme degeneration. The central power which held together with the opposing groups and shielded their weakness was itself breaking up. The social contacts with the Hindus gave vogue to many whimsical and un-Islamic customs which struck at the root of the fundamentals of Islam and slowly weakened its hold in India. In such a disruptive and gloomy atmosphere was born Shah Waliullah, a great intellectual reformer, whose teachings paved the way for the renaissance of Islam in India, both in religious and political spheres. Shah Waliullah was followed in his noble mission by his son Shah Abdul Aziz of Delhi and his disciple Syed Ahmad Barelvi, assisted by his associates.

Syed Ahmad was born in a famous Syed family of Rai Bareli, known for its learning and sainthood. His great grandfather, Maulvi Ilmullah Saheb was highly respected for his deep erudition, purity of life, and devotion to God and His last Prophet. He refused to accept any gift even from a puritan like Emperor Aurangzeb and preferred a life of poverty and abstinence. He was very particular about following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet of Islam.

Syed Ahmad, who was born on the 1st of Muharram 1201 A.H. (October 24, 1786), had little inclination towards education during his childhood. He was, however, very fond of manly exercises and passed his time in learning and practicing the use of arms.

When fully grown up, Syed Ahmad, along with six companions, proceeded to Lucknow in search of employment. Lucknow, in those days, was the Capital of the Kingdom of Oudh and a great center of learning and culture in Northern India. But, he did not stay there for long and set out on foot to Delhi in quest of knowledge. After a strenuous journey, he called on Shah Abdul Aziz, a well-known divine of Delhi, who, on being informed of family connections, entrusted him to the care of his brother Shah Abdul Qadir. Syed Ahmad stayed at the Akbarabadi Mosque of Delhi and studied Quran and Tradition. His spiritual guide Shah Abdul Aziz initiated him into the Chistiya, Qadirya, and Naqshbandiya orders of Sufism.

After two year’s stay at Delhi, which proved a turning point in his life, Syed Ahmad returned home, Rai Bareli, where he was hailed by the people as a divine, known for his exemplary character and simple, pious life.

His stay at Rai Bareli lasted hardly two years, when, at the age of 24, he set out for Tonk to enter the service of Amir Khan. Then followed several years of hazardous life and his participation in several campaigns fought by the Amir, prepared him for his ultimate struggle for the faith which he was destined to lead. His exemplary life and spiritual gifts brought about a transformation among the soldiers of Amir Khan. He was respected by all and had become a trusted Counselor of Amir Khan. When the latter became subservient to the British by accepting the state of Tonk, Syed Ahmad left for Delhi. His freedom-loving spirit could not reconcile itself to the service of a Ruler who was subordinate to an alien power.

In 1815, he again arrived in Delhi. His period of preparation was over. Now he was a mature man of experience possessing rare spiritual gifts. The two outstanding luminaries of Shah Abdul Aziz’s family-Shah Ismail, his nephew, and Maulana Abdul Haiy, his son-in-law,-accepted Syed Ahmad as their spiritual guide. His enrolment as a spiritual disciple of these luminaries of the House of Shah Waliullah, enhanced Syed Ahmad’s prestige, with the result that people began to flock around him in large numbers for spiritual guidance. His proclaimed objective was to restore Islam to its pristine purity and to cleanse it of all oriental and Hindu influences.

Syed Ahmad did not confine his beneficial activities to Delhi alone. He visited a number of places in Northern India, including Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Deoband, Rampur, Bareli, and Shahjahanpur. His two principal lieutenants, Shah Ismail Shaheed and Maulvi Abdul Haiy, known for their eloquence and learning, popularised his mission with exceptional success. The reform movement was in full swing. The tongue of Shah Ismail, the pen of Maulvi Abdul Haiy and the magnetic personality of Syed Ahmad, created a stir throughout Northern India. Their righteous life and spiritual stature and noble mission brought many adherents within its fold. Syed Ahmad now headed a country-wide organization. Many evils that had crept into the Muslim society were eradicated. Syed Ahmad himself married a widow, which was considered a very obnoxious act, not only by Muslims in general but also by his own family.

During his stay in Rampur, Syed Ahmad came into contact with certain Afghans coming from Kabul, who related to his stories of Sikh atrocities committed on Muslims of North-Western India. The Sikhs had extinguished the religious freedom of Muslims inhabiting that region. They were prohibited from calling ‘Azan’ and offering prayers in congregation. Enraged at the brutalities of Sikhs, he resolved to wage Jihad against them after his return from the holy pilgrimage to Makkah, whither he proceeded in 1821, accompanied by a large party.

His journey through Allahabad, Benares, Ghazipur, Azimabad (Patna), Monghyr, Bhagalpur, Murshidabad, terminating at Calcutta, was marked with unprecedented enthusiasm and reception. People came in large numbers to have a glimpse of the great Reformer and many became his devoted followers.

From Calcutta, Syed Ahmad and his entourage proceeded to Jedda by sea. His stay in the Holy land lasted for more than one and half years. During this period he came into contact with many renowned Muslim scholars and learned about many reformatories and revivalist movements in the world of Islam, including Wahhabism.

On his return from the holy pilgrimage, he started preparations for the most important task of his life, Jihad, which ultimately ended in his martyrdom at Balakot in 1831. He sent Shah Ismail and Maulvi Abdul Haiy to different parts of the country to inform the people of his intentions to wage a holy war against the Sikhs, in whose territories the life, honor and religion of Muslims, had been gravely threatened. His appeal received an overwhelming response and a large number of persons volunteered themselves for the holy war. Finally, on January 16, 1826, he left home on an arduous journey, never to return. He was accompanied by five to six thousand companions, all prepared to die for delivering their brethren from the tyrannical Sikh rule. The party left for North-Western India by a circuitous route and arrived at their destination at Naushehra after passing through Tonk, Rajputana, Sind, Baluchistan, Qandahar, Kabul, Khyber Pass, and Peshawar. This long arduous journey and the hardships of the way, the oppressive heat of Rajputana and Sind, the hazards of brigands, and the difficult climbs of the barren hills of Baluchistan, did not diminish their crusading spirit. Wherever they went, they were given a thundering ovation by the people, but the Muslim rulers of these areas were hesitant in giving him active support and thus antagonizing the Sikhs who formed the most powerful state in Western India.

Syed Ahmad arrived in Naushehra and made it his headquarters in December 1826.

The stage was now set for the Jihad. According to Islamic practice, a proclamation was addressed to the Sikh Ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who did not pay any heed to it. The Syed, now got ready for an attack on the Sikh forces stationed at Akora and led by Budh Singh, a cousin of Ranjit Singh. The assault took place on December 21, 1826, in which the Sikhs, despite their numerical superiority in men and arms, were completely routed. They retired leaving 700 dead on the battlefield.

But jealousy and rivalry among the tribal chieftains and their irresistible lust for loot hindered Syed Ahmad from accomplishing his mission. Despite the overwhelming superiority of the Sikh army which was disciplined and led by experienced foreign soldiers and was equipped with the latest weapons of war, the ‘mujahideen’ inflicted on them defeats in several encounters. At one stage Ranjit Singh even sued for peace, but his terms were not acceptable to Syed Ahmad. He, therefore, adopted other tactics. He sowed dissensions among the Pathan supporters of the Syed through bribery and intrigue. He made secret approaches to some of the influential tribal chiefs supporting the Syed, including Yar Muhammad, the Chief of Peshawar, asking them to withdraw their support on promise of concessions. He even warned them that the Syed’s victory in the area would mean the domination of the Indian Muslims over the Pathans. Thus, a task that could not be achieved by Sikh arms was accomplished through the treachery of Muslims themselves.

On the eve of the fateful battle at Saidu Sharif, fought in March 1827, the virtuous Syed was poisoned by the servants of Yar Muhammad. But, the Syed ordered his men to take him to the battlefield. Accordingly, the next morning he was carried to the battlefield in a subconscious state. The battle went on for four days, and despite the enemy’s superiority in manpower and equipment, the Mujahideen were in a commanding position. At a time when victory was in sight, Yar Muhammad, along with his men, deserted the Muslim ranks. This caused great confusion and consternation among the Muslims. Their victory turned into a rout in which several thousand Muslims lost their lives.

This revealed the organizational weaknesses among the Mujahideen The top leaders of the force resolved to enforce more rigid discipline among the rank and file, who were to be controlled by a central authority responsible for enforcing the Shariat rule among them. Syed Ahmad was selected as Ameer-ulMomineen. The treacheries and hostilities of some of the tribal chiefs led to several skirmishes with the Mujahideen, in which Yar Muhammad Khan, the Chief of Peshawar, and Khadi Khan, the Chief of Hund, were killed. The Mujahideen occupied Peshawar in 1830. But, instead of removing Sultan Khan, brother of the treacherous Yar Muhammad Khan, the Syed retained him as the Governor of the city. He enforced the Shariat law throughout the conquered territory. Maulvi Syed Mazhar Ali of Azimabad was appointed as Qazi of Peshawar.

Sultan Khan, Governor of Peshawar, who had been pardoned, was secretly planning to avenge the death of his brother, Yar Muhammad Khan. He organized the mass killing of Mujahideen. One night, when the latter were offering their prayers, they were killed by hired assassins. The flower of Muslim chivalry and learning in the subcontinent perished in one night by the conspiracy of a brother Muslim and by the hands of Muslims themselves. This caused great dismay and grief in the Syed’s camp. All that had been won was lost in a single night.

Syed Ahmad and his followers, being greatly disappointed with the treachery and hostility of the people inhabiting the Peshawar area, decided to go northward and concentrate their efforts against the Sikhs in Hazara and Kashmir. Arriving at Balakot, a small town in the Kaghan valley, surrounded on three sides by high mountains, he set up his Headquarters there, considering it safe for the Mujahideen.

Here, too, the local Muslims spied for the Sikhs and led them through a secret route in close proximity to the Mujahideen’s camps. Here was fought the last decisive battle at the beginning of May 1831. The Sikh army far superior in numbers and arms won the day. More than six thousand Muslims perished on the battlefield. The leader of the movement, Syed Ahmad, along with his chief lieutenant, Shah Ismail, died fighting till the end.

Syed Ahmad Shaheed was a great reformer, subscribing to the Shah Waliullah School. He kept aloft the candle of religious reformation lit by Shah Waliullah. Though he was not an accomplished scholar like his spiritual teacher Shah Abdul Aziz and his spiritual disciples Shah Ismail Shaheed and Maulvi Abdul Haiy, yet he was a man of action and his simple life and purity of heart inspired awe and respect among his followers. Whoever came into contact with him, was greatly influenced by his magnetic personality. He showed great zeal in denouncing all innovations in Islam, of which the most hated were those associated with the name and Divinity of Almighty God. In his Sirat-ul-Mushtaqim he classified such innovations into three categories: those which have sprung through association with corrupt Sufis, those of heretical origin and those which have come through Hindu influences. He exhorted the Muslims not to follow anyone except the Quran and the Hadis.

The marriage of widows had begun to be considered obnoxious among Muslims like those of Hindus. Syed Ahmad himself married a widow quite contrary to his family traditions. Lavish expenditures on the occasion of marriage, birth, and death, was condemned by him. He denounced tomb-worship, a practice which was a negation of the Islamic doctrine of monotheism. He did not like the Sufis, who led a life of meditation and abhorred social contacts. Instead of making life worth living, such Sufis had preferred to withdraw from it.

Syed Ahmad was himself a Sufi, but not in conformity with its common concept. Instead of passing life of renunciation, he passed a life of action. His insistence on Jihad distinguished him from an average Sufi, who usually believes in a life of meditation and inactivity. He laid greater emphasis on the importance of following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet. According to him, one cannot attain a high spiritual status without strictly following the Shariat. He, therefore, accepted the teaching of ‘Mujaddid-Alif Sani’ in preference to those of Muhiyuddin Ibn-i-Arabi.

Syed Ahmad Shaheed was an idealist, a dreamer of dreams. With his simple straightforward manners, he raised a group of fanatical devouts who were ready to sacrifice their lives for Islam. Among his notable disciples were Shah Ismail Shaheed, Maulvi Abdul Haiy, Maulvi Wilyat Ali Azimabadi, and Maulvi Karamat Ali Jaunpuri. The last-named had the distinction of being the greatest Muslim reformer and missionary in Bengal.

Syed Ahmad Shaheed possessed a magnetic personality. Whoever came into contact with him, became his devoted follower. He was the spiritual guide of more than four million followers, among whom were some of the well-known scholars, religious leaders, and Sufis of the time.

He was the first popular political leader of the subcontinent, who created a political organization for furthering his noble mission.


The passing away of the Khilafat-e-Rashida (the Caliphate of Pious Caliphs), the glorious democratic rule in the history of Islam, provided a serious setback to the spiritual growth of Islam. The material advancement, no doubt, continued and boundaries of the Muslim states expanded on all directions bringing new realms within their fold, but the spirit which guided the actions of Pious Caliphs was gone. The spiritual glory was replaced by material progress.

The advent of Omayyads provided a death blow to the spiritual democratic rule witnessed during Khilafat-e-Rashida. Instead, a hereditary despotic monarchy in the name of Khilafat-e-Banu Umayya was introduced by the Umayyads in which Baitul-Mal (Public Treasury) was at the mercy of the rulers who used it as they wanted in furthering their nefarious ends and in maintaining their pomp and show. The nobility of Islam perished in their encounters with Umayyads, like Yezid ibn Ziyad and above all Hajjaj bin Yusuf, one of the greatest tyrants of all ages, on whose death the Saint of Basra, Hasan Basri, thanked God for relieving Muslims of such a ‘Scourge’.

The Abbasids who succeeded Omayyads attained an unprecedented standard of pomp and glory. They were, no doubt, responsible for an unparalleled advancement of learning and culture, science, and arts during the Mediaeval Ages, but they were much influenced by the Persian culture which had crept into the diverse walks of life of the Abbaside Metropolis, Baghdad. The introduction of Persian culture among the Arabs gave birth to many evils, including the advancement of the mysticism of the Platonic type, which popularised the worshipping of Saints and their graves by the Muslims. The dynamic worldly life led side by side with the spiritual devotion as preached and practiced by the Holy Prophet of Islam and his worthy Companions was replaced by the pessimism and negative spiritualism of Mystics who laid all emphasis on the world hereafter.

This pollution of Islamic spirit and thought reached a high pitch in a number of Muslim states, including India, where all sorts of irreligious and superstitious Hindu practices were adopted by the Muslims. The illiterate Mughal Emperor Akbar, who has been acclaimed as “Akbar, the Great” by the nonMuslim historians, had adopted many Hindu rituals and practices in his State and had introduced a new religion, ‘Deen-e-Elahi’, which could hardly fetch more than a few followers, including the Faizi brothers, and met its natural death on the passing away of its sponsor.

Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, was languishing in a neglected state since the downfall of the Abbasids. The Arabs, torn by strife and tribal rivalries, had lost their spiritual as well as material progress. In such a gloomy atmosphere was born in 1703 A.C. in Najd, a great Muslim visionary and reformer, Sheikh Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab, who later became the pioneer of Muslim puritan movement, aimed at restoring Islam to its pristine glory. The Wahhabi Movement aimed at purifying Islam of the unhealthy and superstitious practices which had crept into it due to its contacts with non-Islamic influences.

Abd al-Wahhab, belonging to Banu Sinan, a branch of Tamim was born in 1703 A.C. at Uyaina, a place now in ruins. He studied at Madina under Sulaiman al-Kurdi and Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi, both of whom detected in this promising young man, the signs of ‘Etihad’. Later, he spent many years in travels, four years in Basra, and five years in Baghdad, one year in Kurdistan, two years in Hamdan, and four years in Isfahan, where he studied the Mystic and Ishrakiya philosophy. Returning to Uyaina, he spent about a year in speculation. Thereafter, he publicly preached his doctrines as set forth in his Kitab al-Tauhid. Initially, he met with some success but much opposition, mostly from his own relations, including his brother, Sulaiman, and his cousin Abdullah bin Husain. His views attracted attention outside Uyaina. He left along with his family his ancestral place and was received at Dariya, where the Chieftain Muhammad bin Saud accepted his doctrine and undertook its propagation.

Within a year of his arrival at Dariya, Abd al-Wahhab won the assent of almost all the inhabitants of the town. He built a simple mosque there with a floor of uncarpeted gravel. His doctrine won more and more adherents. His patron, the Saud family, was involved in a war with other chieftains lasting for 28 years. During this period Ibn Saud and his son Abd al-Aziz, a capable General, were steadily winning ground. In 1765, Ibn Saud died and was succeeded by his son, Abd al-Aziz, who retained Abd al-Wahhab as his spiritual guide.

The Wahhabi Theology is mainly based on the teachings of Ibn Taimiya and its jurisprudence on the Hanbali Fiqh. Its fundamental principles are:

  • Absolute Oneness of God, hence its followers call themselves Mowahhidin;
  • Return to the original teachings of Islam as incorporated in Holy Quran and Traditions;
  • Inseparability of faith from the action like prayers, alms-giving;
  • Belief that Quran was uncreated;
  • Literal belief in Quran and Traditions;
  • Belief in predestination;
  • Condemnation of all non-orthodox views and act; and
  • Establishment of the Muslim State on Islamic Law exclusively.

The Wahhabis are distinguished from all other Muslims by their emphasis on the oneness of God and their practice of admonishing Muslims to do good and avoid evil.

The name of Wahhabi was given to this community by its opponents which were later used by Europeans. In fact, they call themselves Mowahhidin, or unitarians and their system as “Tarika Muhammadi”. Their theology was based on the teachings of Ibn Taimiya who criticised the cult of saints and condemned the visits to tombs. The aim of Abd al-Wahhab was to do away with all the innovations (Bida) that were adopted by Muslims later than the Third century A.H. This community acknowledges the authority of four Sunni Schools of Fiqh and the six books of Traditions. The Wahhabis are against the cult of saints as exhibited in the building of mausoleums, their use as mosques and their visitations. They believe that all the objects of worship other than that of Allah are false. According to them, it is polytheism to seek intercession from any person except Allah. The Wahhabis mosques were built with great simplicity without ornamentation. They destroyed tombs and graves, even at Jannat ul-Baqi, lest these may be worshipped by the non-orthodox and ignorant Muslims.

The Mowahhidin (Wahhabi) movement soon spread to other parts of the Islamic world, where it had won many adherents. The House of Ibn Saud, the exponent of Wahhabi movement, soon conquered almost the entire Arabian peninsula, including the Holy cities of Makkah and Madina. The movement started by Sheikh Abd al-Wahhab found its great champion in the Saudi ruling family and his disciple Sheikh Muhammad Abduh of Egypt rose to be one of the leading intellectuals of the Islamic world. It created a stir throughout the world and was greatly instrumental in uniting strife-ridden Arabia under the ruling Saudi family.

In India, the doctrine was introduced by Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who had adopted its puritan views during his pilgrimage to Holy cities in 1822. He established a centre at Patna and acquired a large following. He undertook Jihad (Holy war) against the tyranny of Sikhs on the Muslims in the Frontier provinces and liberated most of the province from the Sikh Yoke but ultimately he was killed through a conspiracy of his own men who led the Sikh army through a secret route behind the Muslim lines at Balakot in 1831. His disciple Titoo Mir, started the Mowahhid movement in lower Bengal.

The Mowahhid movement had been a threat to British rule in the Frontier and Western Punjab till 1871, when the British Government conspired to get Fatwa of the Barelvi Ulema to treat Wahhabis as infidels (kafir). A work of Muhammad Ismail known as Sirat al-Mustaqim is said to be the Quran of Wahhabis in India.

In India, the well-known Madrassa of Islamic Learning at Deoband became the centre of Mowahhid (Wahhabi) movement in the subcontinent, which produced some of the leading religious scholars of the present century in the subcontinent. The great Muslim visionary Sheikh Abd al-Wahhab died in 1787 A.C. and was buried at Dariya. His mission was carried on by his disciples, which became a powerful Muslim reformist movement during 18-20 century A.C.


The spacious hall of the Muir Central College of Allahabad University was packed to its capacity. Musicians, as well as listeners from all parts of the subcontinent, had assembled to participate in the All-India Music Conference held in 1935. The stage was occupied by a galaxy of outstanding musicians (Ustads and Kavis) including Faiyyaz Khan, the Sun of Indian Music, Abdul Karim Khan, Mushtaq Husain, and Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, the star singers and Alauddin Khan, the talented Sitar player. Ustad Faiyyaz Khan had finished a solo recital of vocal music and the atmosphere in the Hall was tense with excitement. Meanwhile, an unimpressive, frail-bodied musician with a small wooden instrument hung across his shoulders, was seen climbing up the platform. He squatted on the carpet and started tuning his small stringed instrument. Those who did not know him laughed at his coming after Faiyyaz Khan, the Star musician of the subcontinent. He started playing on his Sarangi (a stringed wooden instrument) in low tones, steadily raising it, till he reached the zenith of his performance. His hand holding the bow moved with mechanical rapidity and the instrument began to emit fire all around. The entire audience seemed to be spellbound. The old enchantment hovered over the stage casting a mesmeric spell over the listeners, who were brought to their senses only when the performance came to an end. This instrumentalist was Ustad Bundoo Khan, whose solo performance of Sarangi thrilled the audience and according to Wordsworth:

“The music in my heart I bore
Long after it was heard no more.”

It was Bundoo Khan’s unique performance long remembered by the listeners’ as Shelley has rightly observed :

“Music when soft voices die?
Vibrates in the Memory!”

Among the luminaries in the realm of classical music in the subcontinent during the present century who could draw and keep huge audiences spellbound for hours together, Ustad Bundoo Khan occupies an eminent place. From a gifted Sarangi player living in penury once, he became one of the most talented instrumentalists of the subcontinent. Bundoo Khan’s is a dramatic life story. Endowed with many attributes essential for a successful musician, he combined in him the rare qualities of musical lineage, inherent taste, intelligence, musicianship, devotion, and determination, which enabled him to rise to the great heights of professional ability and popularity.

The classical music in the subcontinent is passing through a transitional stage. The era of the great legendary Ustads, the princely patronage and of marathon recitals lasting for hours, is giving place to concerts and film music. But this vanishing era is of color and romance in which the musicians brought to the art of music dedication and a great deal of gracefulness. It is hard to forget the performances of the late Abdul Aziz Khan of Patiala, the great vichitra-veena player, of Inayat Khan Sitaria of Faiyyaz Khan, the vocalist and above all of Bundoo Khan, the veteran Sarangi player. They gave the vocation of music a heroic mold and trailed clouds of glory wherever they went.

Born in a family of traditional musicians of Delhi in 1882, Bundoo Khan got his early training in music from his father Ali Jan Khan, a well-known Sarangi player. But the man who was mainly instrumental in raising Bundoo Khan to such great heights of instrumental music was his maternal uncle and later father-in-law, Mamman Khan, the veteran Sarangi and Sursagar player.

The story of the musical training of Bundoo Khan is a story of devotion, perseverance, and endurance for the sake of art. He made pilgrimages throughout the country learning the art wherever available. A glance at his life shows his mastery by a rare combination of talent and perseverance. Starting his training at an early age of 8, his musical gifts were evident at an amazingly early age. According to his maternal uncle Mamman Khan, the musical training in his family started from the day a child was born. Their family house used to be a conservatory of music wherein one corner a vocalist was seen singing and in another an instrumentalist was found practicing on his musical instrument. This practice continued throughout the day and these strange sounds reached the ears of the newly-born child, who developed a taste for music from his very infancy.

Bundoo Khan started his training in music at an early age of 8 and completed it at the age of 20. He states: “I practiced hard day and night at the cost of my sleep. Music became the sole aim of my life. All my miseries and joys were engrossed in music”.

The young Bundoo Khan once demonstrated his skill before a selected gathering of family members. Flushed with success, the young musician expected praise from his ustad (master), but Mamman Khan remained unmoved. This non-appreciation disheartened him momentarily but soon led him to greater efforts towards perfection of his art. He practiced hard and a few months after, when he gave a solo performance of instrumental music before a special audience, he thrilled his master beyond imagination. Mamman Khan embraced the young musician with joy saying, “My son! now you have learned the intricacies of this art. Music requires refinement of taste. However expensive a dish may be, unless it is tasty, it is useless”. Bundoo Khan was hardly 13 at the time.

Bundoo Khan attached to the princely Court of Indore and remained there for 27 years. He studied Sanskrit in order to have access to classical music of ancient India. His devotion to music had impaired his health. The only thought which haunted him consistently was, How to attain perfection in his art. He had lost his sleep. Whenever he passed through the streets of Delhi, he had his Sarangi hung across his shoulders hidden under a sheet worn by him, In the way, he continuously moved his thin fingers over the strings of the little instrument.

Bundoo Khan was a maestro, universally respected by all classes of musicians. He accompanied all the great singers of his time, including Aladiya Khan, Allabande Khan, Abdul Karim Khan, Bare Ghulam Ali Khan, and Faiyyaz Khan. They considered it a privilege to be accompanied by him. He would never let a soloist down. It was a pleasure to watch him playing on his instrument. A stream of music seems to emanate from his little instrument flowed into the hearts of the listeners, transporting them to a state of ecstasy in which they lost all sense of time and space. He seemed to be so much absorbed in his art that in moments of deep exultation, he partially closed his eyes and instinctively sung with the instrument. His dreamy eyes together with the enchanting music cast a spell over the listeners.

Music demonstrates diverse moods-sorrow or delight, the fury of serenity, exultation, or ecstasy. An experienced musician demonstrates these diversities to his advantage at different moments. Bundoo Khan knew this secret of success, hence his demonstration was never boring. Every time he played the same tune in a different way, which gave freshness to his art. Once questioned about the secret of his success, he said: “Each rag mirrors a different feeling. If it is a good piece of music, do not expect it to mean the same thing to you each time you listen to it”. The change of his tunes was at times deceptive, involving among other intricacies the sudden switching from slow ones to incredibly fast ones.

He introduced many musical innovations. He introduced what is known as ‘Meendh soot ki Sargam’, in which the musician in the midst of recurring melody shifts from one note to another with bewildering alacrity.

Bundoo Khan was a mobile encyclopedia of music. He had mastered more than 500 rags (tunes), with their intricacies and differences, while hardly any oriental musician could master more than 50 rags. Bundoo Khan’s achievement in this sphere of musical art looks extraordinary. He possessed a brilliant memory and explained the differences of the rags in special musical demonstrations.

But the greatest achievement of the maestro lay in his making an insignificant instrument like Sarangi into Sau-rangi (hundred tuned instrument) a powerful musical instrument that could produce diverse tunes. This wonderful instrument in which he combined different musical instruments and could produce all sorts of tunes, bear the unmistakable stamp of his genius. Like harmonium and piano, he introduced tapping in this new instrument. He used an incredibly small Sarangi with steel strings instead of a gut. Once questioned by a Hindu vocalist about the usefulness of the insignificant instrument carried by him, Bundoo Khan retorted, “I can make any piece of the wood speak if I so desire”.

There was hardly a musical form he did not attempt on his little instrument whose tune was smooth and silvery, which cast a hypnotic spell over the listeners. “His name will always be associated with the Sarangi”, says a well-known writer on classical music, “as the name of Casals is associated that of cello, of Segovia with the guitar, of Wande Landowska with harpsichord, of Lionel Tertis with the viola”. Each one of the abovementioned musicians was responsible for the emancipation of his instrument. Bundoo Khan, too, raised the insignificant Sarangi from a position of subservience to human voice into an important solo instrument. Throughout his life, his dear Sarangi rarely left him. At home in his daily outings and even during his sleep, this little instrument was always found beside him. Even during the closing years of his long life, he devoted a major part of his leisure time in practicing on sarangi.

Bundoo Khan was also a musical theorist. His book, Jauhar-i-Mausiqi was known in Hindi as Sangeet Vivek Darpan, was published both in Urdu and Hindi languages in June 1934. Dealing with classical music of the subcontinent, it elicited high appreciation from all classes of classical musicians.

As a man, Bundoo Khan was gentle, amicable, and unassuming. He was simple like a child and humble like a saint. He was generous to a fault. Unlike most of the assuming orthodox musicians who are reluctant to part with the secrets of their art, Bundoo Khan gave out his art and his mind freely. Throughout his life, he never missed an engagement.

He was a man of sterling qualities. Unlike other artists of his class, he never cared for worldly wealth and prosperity. Despite the persuasions of the late Sardar Patel, Home Minister of India, and the offer of Rs. 1,200 a month made by the All-India Radio, he preferred a life of poverty in Pakistan, the land of his dreams, living as a refugee in a small house in Lalu Khet, Karachi, till his death on January 13, 1955. With him snapped another link with the past. His death created a void in the classical music of the subcontinent which would hardly be filled in the near future.


The absence of figural representation in Islamic art led to an unprecedented development of calligraphy as a decorative art throughout the world of Islam. In almost all periods of Muslim rule, calligraphy has been the favorite art; which has been developed in numerous patterns and floral designs.

The Muslim Rulers and Emperors have taken a keen interest in the development of calligraphy, which, besides being used in writing books, has been a favorite art of decoration, especially of architectural monuments. Such monuments, particularly mosques and mausoleums, built throughout the Muslim world, bear exquisite calligraphic inscriptions and floral designs.

Two of the well-known Muslim Rulers of India, Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-1266 A.C.) and Aurangzeb Alamgir (1656–1705 A.C.), were good calligraphists who used to transcribe the Holy Quran for their livelihood.

The Mughal rule is particularly known for the development of calligraphic art in India. Almost all the splendid monuments erected by the great Mughals, including the world-famous Taj Mahal, the famous Juma Mosque of Delhi, the Pearl Mosque in the Delhi Fort, the Badshahi Mosque of Lahore, the tombs of Mughal Emperors Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan, bear exquisite patterns of calligraphic art.

The history of calligraphy in the Muslim world dates back to the earliest period of the Islamic era when Arabic was written in Kufic script. Kufic character originated two centuries before Islam and was used in oldest Arabic documents, coins and inscriptions. For nearly five centuries, the Kufic script was popular, though it was artificial as well as awkward. The Holy Quran of early period has been written in Kufic script which continued up to the 10th-century A.C.

From the beginning of the 19th century, Naskh, a rounded script of a rather level ductus with orthographic marks was introduced in transcribing the Holy Quran. This script received the final shape by the beginning of the 10th century and was perfected a hundred years later. By and by it was developed to such a degree of perfection that it outclassed and later replaced the Kufic script.

The third and the most popular script Nastaleeq was developed by the Iranian calligraphers during the 13th century A.C. It was used mostly for writing Persian works. The Nastaleeq script was developed in Persia with rounded circles and more formal and correct symmetry. The Nastaleeq style was beautiful and fluent, but the scribes needed much time and patience to give full shape and form to circular letters.

It, therefore, gave birth to another variation called ‘Shikasta’ which is broken in style and later on to another form, Shafia, named after the scribe of that name. Shikasta was also called Khatt-i-Diwani (Civic script) in India. Urdu adopted the Nastaleeq and Sindhi the Naskh script. These attained great popularity during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, whose Court calligrapher Mirza Muhammad Husain won great fame in it and has left behind many masterpieces.

Almost all ruling Muslim dynasties had their own calligraphers but the greatest among them have been Ibn al-Bawwab, Ahmad Suhrawardy, and Yaqut al Mustasimi whose works are recognized as marvels of this art.

Abul Hasan Aladin Ali ibn Hilal, better known as Ibn al-Bawwab, the celebrated Arab calligrapher was a porter’s son of the Audience Hall of Baghdad. He was also called Al-Sitri and died in 1022 A.C.

He was buried beside the tomb of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

Ibn al-Bawwab is recognized as one of the greatest Arab calligraphers, whose works are viewed with great admiration and considered marvels of the Calligraphic Art.

He had a wide knowledge of Islamic law, had learned the Holy Quran by heart and wrote out 64 copies of the Holy Book. One of these copies, he wrote in Kihani script which is preserved in the Laleli Mosque of Constantinople (Istanbul). It was presented to this mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Salim I.

The Diwan of the pre-Islamic Poet Salma ibn Jandal, copied by him, is extant in the Library of Aya Sofia (Istanbul).

Ibn al-Bawwab had invented the Kahani and Muhakkik scripts. He founded a School of Calligraphy in Baghdad which survived to the time of Yaqut al-Mustasimi, another great Arab calligrapher, who died in 1298 A.C.