Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

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Letter X

The Zuckhaut (God’s portion).–Syaads restricted the benefit of this charity.–The Sutkah.–The Emaum’s Zaumunee (protection).–The Tenths, or Syaads’ Due.–Mussulmauns attribute thanks to God only, for all benefits conferred.–Extracts from the ’Hyaatool Kaaloob’.–Mahumud’s advice.–His precepts tend to inculcate and encourage charity.–Remarks on the benevolence of Mussulmauns.

On the subject of Zuckhaut, commanded by Mahumud to his followers, I shall have little to remark;–the nature of the institute is intended to oblige mankind to share with the poor a due portion of those benefits they have received through the bounty of Divine Providence. Every Mussulmaun is expected by this law to set apart from his annual income one-fortieth part, denominated Zuckhaut (God’s portion), for the sole benefit of the poor. I believe there are not many,–judging by what I have witnessed among the Mussulmaun population of Hindoostaun,–who do not expend a much larger portion of their yearly income in charitable donations, than the enjoined fortieth part.

The poor Syaads are not allowed to receive any relief from ’the Zuckhaut’[1]; they being of the Prophet’s blood, are not to be included with the indigent for whom these donations are generally set apart. The strict Mussulmaun of the Sheah sect usually deducts one-tenth[2] from whatever money comes into his possession as ’the Syaads’ due’, to whom it is distributed, as proper objects present themselves to his knowledge; much in the same way as the tribe of Levi are entitled to the tenth of the produce from their brethren of Israel by the Mosaic law.

The Syaads are likewise restricted from accepting many other charitable offerings,–sutkah for instance–by which is meant the several things composing peace-offerings, offerings in atonement, &c. The better to explain this I must here describe some of the habits of the Mussulmaun population:–When any person escapes from a threatened danger, or accident, their friends send offerings of corn, oil, and money; all that is thus sent to the person preserved, must be touched by his hand and then distributed amongst the poor and needy.

If any member of a family be ill, a tray is filled with corn, and some money laid on it: it is then placed under the bed of the sick person for the night; in the morning this is to be distributed amongst the poor. Some people cook bread, and place it in the same way with money under the bed of the sick. All these things are called Sutkah[3] in whatever form they are planned, which is done in a variety of ways; and, when distributed to the poor, are never to be offered to, nor allowed to be accepted by, the Syaad race. The scapegoat, an animal in good health and without blemish, is another offering of the Sutkah denomination: a Syaad is not allowed to be one of the number to run after the goat released from the sick chamber.

When any one is going a journey, the friends send bands of silk or riband, in the folds of which are secured silver or gold coins; these are to be tied on the arm of the person projecting the journey, and such offerings are called ’Emaum Zaumunee’,[4] or the Emaum’s protection. Should the traveller be distressed on his journey, he may, without blame, make use of any such deposits tied on his arm, but only in emergencies; none such occurring, he is expected, when his journey is accomplished in safety, to divide all these offerings of his friends amongst righteous people. The Syaads may accept these gifts, such being considered holy,–paak[5] is the original word used, literally clean.

They believe the Emaums have knowledge of such things as pertain to the followers of Mahumud and his descendants. Thus they will say, when desiring blessings and comforts for another person, ’Emaum Zaumunee, Zaumunee toom kero!’[6] may the Emaums protect you, and give you their safe support!

The tenths, or Syaads’ dues, are never appropriated to any other use than the one designed. Thus they evince their respect to the descendants of Mahumud; by these tenths the poorer race of Syaads are mainly supported; they rarely embark in trade, and never can have any share in banking, or such professions as would draw them into dealings of usury. They are chiefly employed as writers, moonshies,[7] maulvees, and moollahs, doctors of law, and readers of the Khoraun; they are allowed to enter the army, to accept offices of state; and if they possess any employment sufficient to support themselves and family, the true Syaad will not accept from his neighbours such charitable donations as may be of service to the poor brethren of his race. The Syaads, however poor, are seldom known to intrude their distresses, patiently abiding until relief be sent through the interposing power of divine goodness.

Such is the way in which they receive the blessings showered by the orderings of the Almighty, that one never hears a Mussulmaun offer thanks to his earthly benefactor, in return for present benefits; but ’Shooghur Allah!’[8] all thanks to God! I was somewhat surprised when first acquainted with these people, that they accepted any kind of service done them with the same salutation as when first meeting in the morning, viz. salaam, and a bow. I inquired of the Meer if there was no word in Hindoostaunie that could express the ’Thank you!’ so common to us in England? He bade me remark that the Mussulmauns return thanks to God whenever they receive a benefit from mortals, whom they consider but as the agents appointed by God to distribute His gifts. ’All thanks to God!’ is repeated with every benefit received; and this follows every meal or cup of water as naturally, as to eat or to drink is preceded by ’Bis ma Allah!’[9]–In the name, or to the praise of God!

Amongst the many choice things I have gleaned from the work so often quoted in my Letters, viz. ’Hyaatool Kaaloob’, the following, through my Meer’s aid in translation, may here be inserted.

Mahumud’s Advice

’Observe, ye faithful, there are five things most acceptable to God the Creator, from man, His creature:–

1st. ’A generous gift, made when you have the greatest necessity yourself for that which you give away.

2nd. ’All gifts that are free-will offerings of the heart, neither expecting nor desiring your bounty, should be rewarded, either by returns or acknowledgements.

3rd. ’To be most humble, when in the enjoyment of the greatest prosperity.

4th. ’To promote peace, when the reason for indulging your anger is most enticing.

5th. ’To forgive freely from the heart, when the power to revenge is present with you.’

You perceive a system of charitable feeling is inculcated by the laws of Mahumud; and in every-day practice it is found to be the prominent feature in their general habits. It is common with the meanest of the people to offer a share of their food to any one calling upon them at meal-time. I have seen this amiable trait of character in all classes of the people; and often on a river voyage, or a land journey, when the servants cook their dinner under a tree or by the bank of the river, if a dog, which they consider an unclean animal, advances within their reach, a portion of their food is thrown to him with that kindliness of feeling which induces them to share with the hungry, whatever gifts they receive from the Author of all good.[10] Except in seasons of famine, no one need despair of having sufficient to support nature, wherever the Mussulmauns congregate. I speak it to their credit, and in justice to their character.

[1] See p. 67.

[2] Known among Indian Musalmans as dasaundh, ’tithes’.

[3] Sadaqah, used in the Koran (ii. 265) for almsgiving. In India the
    term is applied to the custom by which money, clothes, grain, &c., are
    waved over a patient, or only shown to him, and then given away to
    beggars; or they are placed near the foot of a tree, on the bank of a
    river, or where four roads meet, and are then supposed to carry away
    the disease with them.–Jaffur Shurreef, Qanoon-e-Islam, p. 252.

[4] Imam zamini, ’a gift to the guardian saint’. When about to
    go on a journey, or when any misfortune befalls a person, a coin or
    metal ring is tied up in a cloth coloured with turmeric, in the name
    of the Imam Zamin, and worn on his left arm. When the traveller
    reaches his destination, or gets rid of his affliction, it is taken
    off, and its value, with some money in addition, is spent in food or
    sweetmeats, which are offered in the name of the saint.–Jaffur
    Shurreef, p. 182.

[5] Pak.

[6] Imam Zamani, Zamani tum karo.

[7] Munshi, ’a writer, secretary’.

[8] Shukr Allah.

[9] Bi’smi’llah: the full form is
    bi’smi’llah’r-rahmani’r-rahim, ’In the name of Allah,
    the Compassionate, the Merciful!’ These latter titles are omitted when
    going into battle, or when slaughtering animals.

[10] The Prophet ordered that when a dog drinks from a vessel, it must be
    washed seven times, the first cleansing being with earth. But the dog
    of the Seven Sleepers will be admitted into Heaven.–Koran,
    xviii. 17.


Introductory Notes  •  Preface to the Second Edition  •  Introduction  •  Introductory Letter  •  Letter I  •  Letter II  •  Letter III  •  Letter IV  •  Letter V  •  Letter VI  •  Letter VII  •  Letter VIII  •  Letter IX  •  Letter X  •  Letter XI  •  Letter XII  •  Letter XIII  •  Letter XIV  •  Letter XV  •  Letter XVI  •  Letter XVII  •  Letter XVIII  •  Letter XIX  •  Letter XX  •  Letter XXI  •  Letter XXII  •  Letter XXIII  •  Letter XXIV  •  Letter XXV  •  Letter XXVI  •  Letter XXVII  •  Bibliography of Works

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