Ayodhya And It’s Muslim Connection: Extracts from Irfan Habib

Har ki pairi: mark the domes on temples at Ayodhya
Mazar of Hazrat Shāh Ibrahim at Ayodhya
The grave of Hazrat Shah Ibrahim at Ayodhya visited by both Hindus & Muslims

Muslim settlements in and around the city of Ayodhya would appear to have begun with the Ghorian occupation, c. 1200 A.D. When Minhaj Siraj says ( Tabaqat-i Nasiri , I, p. 45 3) that before Prince Nasiruddin Mahmud defeated and slew “the accursed Batua” in 1226-27, the latter had killed “one hundred and twenty-odd thousand Muslims” in the vicinity of Awadh, he is doubtless indulging in inexcusably gross exaggeration about events that happened only thirty years or so before he was writing (A.D. 1260). Yet the rhetoric does suggest that a large civilian Muslim population had now appeared in the region, and the city of Awadh or Ayodhya, as the headquarters, must naturally have contained a sizeable part of this population.

That the institutions of Muslim religious life, with theologians, mosques, and graveyards, were also simultaneously established at Ayodhya is attested by references in contemporary texts. Qazi Jalaluddin Kashani, “the Qazi (Muslim Judge) of Awadh”, attained such status that he was first sent as the Sultan’s representative to Bengal in A.H. 641/ A.D. 1243 {Tabaqat-i Nasiri, I, p.470), and, then, in A.H. 647/A.D. 1249, was summoned from Awadh to Delhi to occupy there the high office of the Imperial Qazi ( Qazi-i Mamalik) (ibid., I, p. 483).

The significance of Awadh as a Muslim centre is shown by the fact that when Qamruddin Tamar Khan Qairan, the Governor who had usurped power in Bengal, died in Lakhnauti in Bengal in or a little after AH 644 (1246-47), his wife, the daughter of an important noble under Iltutmish, took care to take his body to Awadh. to be buried there ( Tabaqat-i Nasiri, text, II, p. 18). Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya in a conversation on 6 Ramazan 710/27 January 1311 recollected hearing a story from Shaikh Rafi’uddin, whom he calls “the Shaikhu’l Islam of Awadh” (Hasan Sijzi, Fawa ‘idul Fu ‘ ad , ed. M. Latif Malik, Lahore, 1966, p. 99). Shaikhu’l Islam (‘Leader of Islam’) was a very high theological title conferred by the Sultan and borne at any one time only by a single scholar at Delhi or Multan within the Delhi Sultanate. That this title was also borne by a scholar at Ayodhya suggests that in royal eyes Ayodhya or Awadh was now a town at par with even Delhi and Multan with regard to the presence of Muslim populations and scholarly classes. Shaikh Nasiru’ddin, a major disciple of Nizamuddin Auliya, was himself born and brought up at Awadh. In or about 1354 he recalled a story told of Maulana Daud Pahili, a sufi, born in Ridauli but a regular visitor to Awadh; during such visits Shaikh Nasiruddin had himself seen Maulana Daud. Daud was a disciple of Shaikh Farid of Ajodhan (d.1265) and so must have lived no later than the latter part of the thirteenth century ( Khairu’l Majalis , pp. 11 8- 19). By the early fourteenth century, there was also a market among the Muslim devout for mystical works. On 15 Muharram 710/14 June 1310, a person reported in Shaikh Nizamu’ddin’s presence that he had seen in Awadh a book which was represented to be a book written by Shaikh Nizamuddin, though the Shaikh himself affirmed that he had not written any book at all ( Fawa’idu’l Fu’ ad, pp. 75-76).

Shaikh Nasiru’ddin’s recollections recorded by Hamid Qalandar in 1354 in the Khairu’l Majalis indicate how religious and ethical life was led at Ayodhya, with the mosque as the centre. Shaikh Nasiruddin told anecdotes of Khwajagi Khujandi, a merchant of Awadh, who was a contemporary of Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya (d.1324) (Khairu’l Majalis , p. 184). Shaikh Nasiru’ddin recalled that he and Khwajagi Khujandi used to sit in the same enclosure ( halqa ) at the Congregation Mosque of Ayodhya ( Masjid-i Juma’-i Awadh) ( Khairu’l Majalis , pp.183, 184). Whenever Khwajagi Khujandi came out of his house to offer (Friday) prayers, he used to carry a purse in one sleeve and sesame seeds and sugar in the other. Out of the purse he gave money to the beggars, and out of the other sleeve he scattered the seeds and sugar over the anthills ( Khairu’l Majalis , p.l 84).

In or about 1355 Shaikh Naisru’ddin also recalled graves and mango-groves of his youth at Awadh. He and a friend of his, Khwaja Mahmud used to go to the graves to pray for the salvation of the dead buried there and to spend their day amidst the graves reciting the call to prayers at the prescribed time, whereat a dozen people used to assemble to pray with them. At the time Shaikh Nasiru’ddin was recalling those early days in 1354, he thought that the groves with their graves existed no more, having been presumably engulfed by the expanding city ( Khairu’l Majalis , pp. 170-71).

But Muslims continued to die and be buried at Ayodhya. A Fuhrer in his record of monuments and antiquities at Ayodhya has this to say in his Monumental Antiquities and Inscriptions in the North-Western Provinces and Oudh , Allahabad, 1891, p.298:-

“Between Maniparbat and Kuberparbat there is a small Musalman enclosure 64 feet long from east to west and 47 feet broad, containing two brick dargahs which are attributed to Sis [Shis] Paighambar and Ayub Paighambar, or the ‘Prophets Seth and Job’; the first is 17 feet long and the other 12 feet.”

The importance of these tombs lies in the fact that they were represented as those of the two prophets already in the sixteenth century. Emperor Akbar’s minister Abu’l Fazl’s Ain- i Akbari , written in 1595, contains the following passage in its notice of Awadh or Ayodhya:

“Near this city two large graves have been made, six and seven yards (gaz) in length. The common people believe them to be the resting places of the prophets Shis (Seth) and Ayyub (Job) and legendary tales are related (about them).” ( A’in-i Akbari , Nawal Kishor ed., 1893, II, p. 78).

Grave of Prophet Shis at Ayodhya
Grave of Prophet Shis, another view
Grave of Prophet Ayub at Ayodhya

For such legends as this to develop normally takes much time, and these graves must therefore have already existed long before Abu’l Fazl wrote in 1595. Fuhrer, op.cit., p. 298, notes also that the mounds of Maniparbat and Kuberparbat “are surrounded by Musalman tombs”. Many of these could also well have belonged to pre-Mughal times, when the “tombs” of prophets Shis and Ayyub were so identified and laid up with masonry.

Given the information on medieval Ayodhya or Awadh we have set out above it is clear that though a great Hindu pilgrim centre, it had large populations of both religious communities. Until the rise of Jaunpur in late fourteenth century, Awadh was an important provincial capital of the Sultanate and thereafter too it remained the centre of a large district ( sarkar ) to which under Sikandar Lodi the district of Bahraich also got attached. From 1580 it was once again to become the capital of a Mughal suba or province named after itself. This was partly the reason why Awadh retained a significant size as a city, to be counted among “the large cities of India” by Abu’l Fazl in the A’in-i Akbari (Naval Kishor ed., Lucknow, 1893, Vol.11, p.78). Calculating on the basis of taxation, Moosvi sets its size inc. 1595 at nearly half of Lahore and Delhi, though far smaller than Agra or Ahmadabad (Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire , c.1595 – A Statistical Study, Delhi, 1987, pp.312-14).

Its size as a city was. perhaps, not exclusively owing to its holy repute and administrative position. We have met the merchant Khwajagi Khujandi before in these pages. We are told that he had a large amount of capital (mal), which he employed in taking pat a variety of coarse cloth from Awadh (and so evidently woven there) to sell at Delhi. He could have taken finer cloth instead, but he said that he bought pat and not any fine cloth at Awadh, because the fine cloth was worn at Delhi by “Turks and soldiers” only, while the pat that he traded in was taken by “the poor and the dervishes.” He used to travel with his goods
by the land route, crossing the Jamuna at Delhi by ferry (Khairu’l Majalis p. 182-83). The cloth market at Ayodhya is not described, but Shaikh Nasiru’ddin speaks of a bazaz, or dealer in cloth, who calculated that a fourth of his commercial effects amounted to 500 to 600 tankas .

This sum indicated a capital of 2000 tankas or more, which was a considerable amount for those days (Khairu’l Majalis , pp.1 18-19)
In another anecdote {ibid., pp. 226- more mundane aspect of the bazaar: seller of cooked-meat, out of whose c customer was picking out hot pieces of lamb by hand to eat.

Passages from: Irfan Habib, “MEDIEVAL AYODHYA (AWADH), DOWN TO THE MUGHAL OCCUPATION“, Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, Vol. 67 (2006-2007), pp. 378-81

• Professor Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi