Observations on the Mussulmauns of India
By Meer Hassan Ali

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Letter XXVII

Memoir of the life of Meer Hadjee Shah.–His descent.–Anecdote of a youthful exploit.–His predilection for the army.–Leaves his home to join the army of a neighbouring Rajah.–Adventures on the way.–Is favourably received and fostered by the Rajah.–His first pilgrimage to Mecca.–Occurrences during his stay in Arabia.–Description of a tiger-hunt.–Detail of events during his subsequent pilgrimages.–The plague.–Seizure by pirates.–Sketch of the life of Fatima, an Arabian lady.–Relieved from slavery by Meer Hadjee Shah.–He marries her.–Observations on the piety of his life.–Concluding remarks...Page 400

The name of Meer Hadjee Shah has so often occurred in my Letters, that I feel persuaded a brief sketch of his life may be acceptable here, more particularly as that venerated man presented to my immediate observation a correct picture of the true Mussulmaun. I can only regret my inability to do justice to the bright character of my revered father-in-law, whose conduct as a devout and obedient servant to his Maker, ruled his actions in every situation of life, and to whom my debt of gratitude is boundless, not alone for the affectionate solicitude invariably manifested for my temporal comforts, but for an example of holy living, which influences more than precept. This much valued friend of mine was the mouth of wisdom to all with whom he conversed, for even when intending to amuse by anecdotes, of which his fund was inexhaustible, there was always a moral and religious precept attached to the relation, by which to benefit his auditor, whilst he riveted attention by his gentle manners and well-selected form of words.

Before we met, I had often heard him described by his dutiful son, but with all that affection had prompted him to say of his father, I was not prepared to expect the dignified person I found him,–a perfect model of the patriarchs of old to my imagination, nor could I ever look at him through our years of intimacy, without associating him in my mind with Abraham, the father of his people.

His form was finely moulded, his height above six feet, his person erect, even in age, his fine cast of countenance beamed with benevolence and piety, and his dark eye either filled with tears of sympathy or brightening with joy, expressed both superior intelligence and intensity of feeling. His venerable flowing beard gave a commanding majesty to the figure before me, whilst his manners were graceful as the most polished even of European society. Raising his full eyes in pious thankfulness to God (whose mercy had thus filled his cup of earthly happiness to the brim), he embraced us both with a warmth of pressure to his throbbing heart, that pronounced more than his words, the sincerity of our welcome. Never have I forgotten the moment of our meeting. The first impression lasted through our long acquaintance, for he proved indeed a real solace during my pilgrimage in a strange land.

The subject of my present Letter, Meer Mahumud Hadjee Shah, was a native of Loodeeanah,[1] the capital city of the Punjaab territory, so called from the five rivers which water that tract of country, and derived from punje (five), aab (water). He descended through a long line of pure Syaad blood, from Mahumud, many of his ancestors having been remarkable for their holy lives, and his grandsire in particular, a singularly devout Durweish, of whom are related in the family many interesting incidents and extraordinary escapes from peril which distinguished him as a highly-favoured mortal. On one occasion, when attacked by a ravenous tiger, his single blow with a sabre severed the head from the carcase: the sabre is still retained in the family with veneration, as the instrument by which the power and goodness of God was manifested to their sire.

The father of Meer Hadjee Shah was a Kauzy (Judge) of the city of Loodeeanah, a man greatly admired for his extensive knowledge of the Mahumudan law, respected for his general worthiness, and venerated for his holy life. He had a large family, of whom the subject before me was the eldest son; his father designed to instruct and prepare him as his successor in the same honourable employment, whenever old age or infirmities should render his own retirement from the office necessary. But,–as the son always regretted when talking over the circumstance, with becoming remorse that his mind was differently swayed,–through an enterprising spirit he preferred the adventurous to the more sober calling for which his father had originally destined him.

To illustrate the temper of his youth, his often repeated anecdote of an event which occurred when he was but twelve years old may here be presented:–

’After our hours of study, boys of my own age were allowed to meet together for exercise and amusement, without the controlling presence of our Maulvees (tutors). Many an enterprising feat had been performed during our hours of play, but none that has impressed me with so keen a remembrance of my youthful follies as the one I am about to relate. We had long observed the wild pigeons, which owned not any earthly master, take refuge for the night in an old and dilapidated well outside the town; a plan was laid between my companions and myself to possess ourselves of some of these pigeons, and one evening we assembled by agreement to put our project in force.

’A strong rope was procured, to which we fastened a piece of board, so as to form a seat; a bag was provided, into which the game was to be deposited as fast as it was caught; and a thick stick, with which to ascertain in the holes the situation of each pigeon, which was to be seized by the neck when thus discovered. Everything was arranged when, “Who will be lowered first?” was inquired by the head of our party. Meer Mahumud was not a little pleased when it was suggested, that he was the bravest boy among them; and with a proud feeling of ecstasy my young heart bounded whilst I seated myself on the board and was lowered from the summit for several yards down the well, my young companions holding fast the rope outside from which I was suspended; the bag conveniently slung across my left shoulder, with the open mouth in front, to enable me to deposit my gleanings without delay.

’I had collected several pigeons in this way; and, at last, my stick was presented to search in a new aperture, where it seemed to be resisted by something more than the soft feathers of a bird; fearless as I was, my young hand was thrust into the hole, and I caught at something with a firm grasp, which at once convinced me could not be a pigeon; but I resolved not to part from my prize very readily, and drawing my hand and arm from the hole with great difficulty (putting all my youthful strength and energy to the task), I discovered my prize was a living snake of rather a large size.

’Fearful to announce the nature of my present prisoner to the youngsters, at whose mercy I then was, lest they, through terror, should let the rope go, and thus precipitate me to the bottom of the well, I called out, “Draw up! draw up quickly! delay not, brothers!” and I was soon brought to the mouth of the well with the snake coiled round my arm, and firmly grasped just under the head, so that it could not extricate itself or injure me. The boys soon assisted me off the top of the well, and brought pieces of stone, with which they bruised the snake’s head until I was relieved from its pressure on my arm by its death. I should remark, that I had presence of mind to rub the head against the wall on my ascent, which had considerably lessened the snake’s pressure on my arm, and I believe it was more than half dead before I had reached the top.

’My arm pained me dreadfully, but still my greatest agony was for fear my father should hear of my exploit, which I felt convinced would not only excite his present anger, but be the means of preventing my having another opportunity of enjoying the society and amusements of my young companions. Strict secrecy was therefore enjoined by my command upon the whole party; and returning to my home, I thought to disguise my real feelings by seeking repose instead of the evening dinner which was prepared for me. My affectionate mother had no suspicion that I was ill, although she was much distressed that play had destroyed the appetite of her son. I had dozed for some hours, when the agony of my arm awoke me as from an uneasy dream; I could hardly recollect the last evening’s adventure, for my mind seemed much bewildered. My groans, however, brought my mother to my bed-side, whose tender care was exercised in fomenting my arm, which she found much swollen and inflamed.

’The secret of my enterprize was never divulged by me until the news of my sudden illness was reported in the neighbourhood; when some of my young friends told the tale, and it was conveyed by one of the gossiping old women, of the city to the zeenahnah of my mother. My arm was for a long period rendered useless, and I was under the care of doctors for many months; the whole skin peeled off, and left me cause for remembering the circumstance, although it did not cure me of that preference for enterprize, which afterwards drew me from my home to visit other places, and to search for new adventures. Often did I remonstrate with my father on the subject of my future profession: how often did I declare my disinclination to pursue those studies (deemed essential to fit me for the office I was in due time to be appointed to), and avow my predilection for a military life!’

At that period of Indian History, the Punjaab district was disturbed by the depredations of the Mahrattas.[2] Hordes of those lawless banditti were in the habit of frequent encroachments on the Mussulmaun possessions, committing frightful enormities in their predatory excursions against towns and villages, spreading terror and desolation wherever they approached. On this account military ardour was encouraged by the heads of families, and the youth of respectable Mussulmauns were duly instructed in the use of defensive weapons, as a measure of prudence by which they were enabled, whenever called upon, to defend the lives and property of their neighbours as well as of their individual families.

In describing this period of his life, I have often heard Meer Hadjee Shah confess with remorse, that he was wont to pay far greater attention to his military instructors than to the Maulvee’s lectures on law or other dry subjects of books, as he then often thought them, and at fourteen years old he was perfect master of the sabre, spear, matchlock, and the bow; able even then to defend himself against an enemy, or take the palm of victory, when practising those arts with the youth of his own standing.

At seventeen, his love of enterprize drew him from the calm study of his tutors under the parental roof, to seek amongst strangers employment better suited to his inclination. His early adventures were attended with many vicissitudes and trials, which would (however interesting to those who have loved him) appear tedious to the general reader; I shall, therefore, but digress occasionally with such anecdotes as maybe generally interesting. One which presents him in the early part of his career amongst strangers in a position which marks the bravery of his youth, I shall take the liberty of introducing in his own words:–

’After a good night’s repose, I was desirous of pursuing my march, and prepared to take leave of my hospitable entertainer (a Kauzy of the village), from whom I had received the utmost attention and civility. This kind-hearted man was unwilling to allow of my journeying alone, and insisted that two of his menservants should accompany me that day’s march at least. I had no fears, nor much to lose beside my life, and for some time resisted the offer, but without avail. The men therefore accompanied me, and after six hours’ walk, I prevailed on them to take refreshment and rest at the serai of the village, through which we had to pass, with leave to retrace their way home afterwards with my duty to their master.

’Released from their guardianship, I felt my own independence revive, and bounded on as lively as the antelope, full of hope that I might yet reach the Rajah’s territory by nightfall, who, I had heard, was willing to give employment to the enterprising youth of Loodeeanah, in the army he was then raising. I must have walked since the morning near twenty koss (forty miles) without food or water; but I neither felt hunger nor fatigue, so deeply was my heart engaged in the prospect of a military life. At length hunger awakened me to a sense of my forlorn condition, for I had left home without a coin in my possession; and although I passed through many inhabited villages where relief would have been gladly tendered, if I had only applied for it, yet my pride forbade the humble words of supplicating for a meal; hungry as I was, death even would have been preferable at that time to breathing out a want amongst strangers.

’I was overjoyed on approaching a cultivated tract of country to find a field of wheat, ripe for the harvest, evincing the great Creator’s bountiful hand, and hesitated not, without a scruple, to possess myself of an occasional handful as I passed along, rubbing the ears and eating as I went, to save that time I deemed so precious; for my anxiety to reach the Rajah and employment, increased as the day advanced. I had traversed near thirty koss on foot, scarcely having halted since the dawning day; this to a young man who had been through life indulged by the luxury of a horse for exercise, whilst under the parental roof, may be imagined to have been no trifling undertaking. But buoyant youth, filled with hopes of honour and preferment is regardless of those difficulties which must subdue the indolent or less aspiring spirit.

’At the extremity of a large field through which I had to pass, my eye rested on a man with two oxen, certain indications, I imagined, of a well of water being adjacent for the purpose of irrigation, towards whom I approached sufficiently near to inquire if a draught of pure water could be obtained for a thirsty traveller. The sturdy farmer-looking man seemed to view me with scrutiny, without deigning to reply; my question was repeated with civility, but no answer was given, and I then fancied his looks foreboded no good meaning; he held in his hand a large heavy stick studded at the top with iron rings (in common use with the lower orders of people as a weapon of defence against robbers, tigers, wolves, or reptiles), but as I stood far enough off to be out of immediate danger of a sudden attack, if such was premeditated, the surly look of his countenance gave me little concern until he called out in a commanding tone, “Youngster! off with your garments; lay down those bow and arrows instantly, or I will fell you to the earth with this staff that is in my hand!” which he raised in a position to prove himself in earnest.

’My surprise was great, but it did not put me off my guard, and I replied with courage, that his insolent demand would not meet with a willing compliance; I was able to defend myself, young as I was, against his treacherous intentions on an unoffending traveller; and I prepared my bow in the expectation that he would either be deterred, or leave me no alternative but to use it in self-defence. Two arrows were promptly prepared, one placed in my bow, the other in my girdle, as he advanced repeating his demand, with the countenance of a ruffian, and his club elevated; he no doubt fancied that the bow was a plaything in the hand of a mere ignorant stripling. I warned him repeatedly not to advance, or my bow should teach him that my young arm was well instructed.

’He however dared my vengeance, and advanced still nearer, when seeing I had no alternative, I aimed at his legs, not desiring to revenge but to deter my enemy; the arrow entered his thigh, passing completely through: he was astonished and stood like a statue. I then desired him to throw down his club, with which I walked away, or rather ran a sufficient distance to relieve myself from further expectation of annoyances from my enemy or the villagers.

’Much time had been spent in that contest, which had left me the victor; I waited not however to witness his further movements, but with hastened steps in half an hour I reached the Rajah’s palace. Several soldiers were guarding outside the gate, where stood, as is usual, charpoys for their use, on one of which, uninvited, I seated myself, fatigued by my long and unusual exercise. The men with great civility offered me water and their hookha, and when refreshed I answered their many inquiries, founded very naturally on my appearance, my youth, and travelling without an attendant.

’I frankly told them that the Rajah’s famed liberality had drawn me from Loodeeanah to seek employment as a soldier under his command. One of my new acquaintance recommended my immediately going into the palace, where the Rajah was seated in Durbar (holding his Court) for the express purpose of receiving applicants for the army now raising, under the expectation of a hostile visit from the Sikhs. I followed my guide through several avenues and courts until we arrived at the Baarah Daree[3] (twelve doors), or state apartments.’

I must, however, here abstain from following Meer Hadjee Shah through the whole detail of his intimacy with the Rajah, which continued for some years, and by whom he was fostered as a favourite son; he accompanied the Rajah to the field against the Sikhs, whose singular habits and manners, both in battle and in their domestic circle, he has often amused his friends by relating.

His first pilgrimage to Mecca was undertaken whilst a very young man, travelling the whole way by land, and enduring many trials and hardships in what he deemed ’The road of God’. On one occasion he was beset by wolves whilst on foot; but as he always confessed his preservation was by the power and goodness of Divine Providence, so in the present instance the wolves even ran from the blows of his staff, howling to their dens.

During his stay in Arabia, when on his pilgrimage, his funds were exhausted, and he had no knowledge of a single individual from whom he could condescend to borrow, but as he always put his sole trust in God, a way was made for his returning prosperity in rather a singular and unexpected manner.

A rich Begum, the widow of a wealthy Arab merchant, had long suffered from a severe illness, and had tried every medical prescription within her reach without relief. On a certain night she dreamed that a Syaad pilgrim from India, who had taken up his abode at the serai outside the town, possessed a medicine which would restore her to health. She had faith in her dream, and sent a polite message to the Syaad, who was described minutely by the particulars of her dream. Meer Hadjee Shah attended the summons, but assured the lady who conversed with him, that he was not acquainted with medicine; true, he had a simple preparation, which enabled him to benefit a fellow pilgrim, when by circumstances no better adviser could be found: he then offered her the powder, giving directions how to use it, and left her. In the evening a handsome dinner was conveyed by this lady’s orders to Meer Hadjee Shah, which he accepted with gratitude to God, and for several days this was repeated, proving a sensible benefit to him, and to others equally destitute of the means of present provision, who were abiding at the serai.

In the course of a week he was again summoned to attend the Begum, who was entirely cured of her long illness, which she attributed solely to the medicine he had left with her, and she now desired to prove her gratitude by a pecuniary compensation. He was too much gratified at the efficacy of his simple remedy, to require further recompense than the opportunity he had enjoyed of rendering himself useful to a fellow-creature, and would have refused the reward tendered, but the lady had resolved not to be outdone in generosity; and finding how he was circumstanced by another channel, she made so many earnest appeals, that he at last consented to accept as much as would defray his expenses for the journey to the next place he was on the point of embarking for, where he expected to meet with his Indian friends, and a supply of cash.

On one occasion, he was exposed to danger from a tiger, but, to use his own words, ’as my trust was placed faithfully in God, so was I preserved by Divine favour’. The anecdote relative to that event, I cannot pass over, and therefore I relate it, as near as I recollect, in his own words:–’I was at Lucknow during the reign of the Nuwaub, Shujah ood Dowlah,[4] who delighted much in field sports; on one occasion it was announced that he intended to hunt tigers, and orders were issued to the nobility and his courtiers, requiring their attendance on elephants, to accompany him on a certain day. The preparations were made on a grand scale, and excited a lively interest throughout the city. I had never been present at a tiger hunt, and I felt my usual ambition to share in the adventures of that day too irresistible to be conquered by suggestions of prudence; and accordingly I went, on horseback, accompanied by a friend about my own age, falling into the rear of the Nuwaub’s cavalcade which was far more splendid than any thing I had before witnessed, the train of elephants richly caparisoned, on which were seated in their gold or silver howdahs, the whole strength of the Court in rich dresses.

’The hunting party had penetrated the jungle a considerable distance before a single trace of a tiger could be discovered, when, at length it was announced to the Nuwaub that the sheekaarees[5] (huntsmen) had reason to believe one at least was concealed in the high grass near which the party approached. The order was then given to loosen the led buffaloes, and drive them towards the grass which concealed the game, a practice at that time common with Native sportsmen to rouse the ferocious animal, or to attract him, if hungry, from his lurking place; but it seemed as if the buffaloes were scared by the number of elephants, for with all the goading and whipping, which was dealt to them unsparingly, they could not be pressed into the service for which they were provided.

’The Nuwaub was remarkable for bravery, and prided himself on his successful shot; he therefore caused his elephant to advance to the edge of the high grass, that he might have the satisfaction of the first fire, when the animal should be roused. Some delay in this, induced the Nuwaub to order the dunkah-wallah (kettle-drummer) on horseback to be guarded on each side by soldiers with drawn sabres, to advance in front and beat his drums. The first sounds of the dunkah roused the tiger: this being instantly perceived, the horsemen wheeled round, and were in a second or two cleared from danger. The tiger sprang towards the elephant, but was instantly thrown back by her trunk to a good distance, the Nuwaub taking aim at the same instant, fired and slightly wounded the animal, only however sufficiently to add to its former rage.

’My friend and myself were at this time (attracted by our eagerness to witness the sports) not many paces from the spot, when perceiving our dangerous position, retreat was the thought of the moment with us both: my friend’s horse obeyed the signal, but mine was petrified by fear; no statue ever stood more mute and immoveable; for a second I gave myself up for lost, but again my heart was lifted up to the only Power whence safety proceeds, and drawing my sabre as the tiger was springing towards me (the same sabre which had been the instrument of safety to my grandsire in a like danger) as my arm was raised to level the blow, the animal curved his spring as if in fear of the weapon, brushed close to my horse’s nose, and then stuck its sharp talons in the neck of another horse on which a Pattaan soldier was seated: his horse plunged, kicked, threw his rider on the ground with a violence that left him senseless, his open sabre falling on the handle, which, like a miracle, was forced into the earth leaving the point upwards in a slanting position, just clearing his neck by a few inches.

’The tiger turned on the man with fury and wide-extended jaw, but was met by the sabre point, and the Pattaan’s red turban, which fell at the instant; the tiger endeavouring to extricate himself from the entanglement, the sabre entered deeper through his jaw, from which he had but just released himself, when a ball from the Nuwaub’s rifle entered his side and he slank into the grass, where he was followed and soon dispatched.’

In his travels Meer Hadjee Shah had often been exposed to the dangerous consequences of the plague; but (as he declares), he was always preserved from the contagion through the same protecting care of Divine Providence which had followed him throughout his life. He has been often in the very cities where it raged with awful violence, yet neither himself nor those who were of his party, were ever attacked by that scourge. On one occasion, he was, with a large party of pilgrims, halting for several days together at a place called Bundah Kungoon[6] (the word Bundah implies the sea-shore), preparatory to commencing their projected journey to Shiraaz; he relates, that the mules and camels were provided, and even the day fixed for their march; but, in consequence of a dream he had been visited with, he was resolved to change his course, even should his fellow-travellers determine on pursuing their first plan, and thereby leave him to journey alone in an opposite direction.

He made his new resolution known to the pilgrims, and imparted to them the dream, viz., ’Go not to Shiraaz, where thou shalt not find profit or pleasure, but bend thy steps towards Kraabaallah. His companions laughed at his wild scheme, and as their minds were fixed on Shiraaz, they would have persuaded Meer Hadjee Shah to accompany them; but, no, his dream prevailed over every other argument, and he set out accompanied by two poor Syaads and fifteen mendicant pilgrims, embarking at Kungoon on a small vessel for Bushire, which by a favourable wind they reached on the third day. Here they first learned the distressing intelligence that the plague had raged with frightful consequences to the population; and during their few days’ sojourn at Busserah, he says, many victims fell by that awful visitation. The city itself was in sad disorder, business entirely suspended, and many of the richer inhabitants had fled from the scene of terror and dismay. No accommodation for travellers within his means could be procured by Meer Hadjee Shah, and he was constrained to set out on foot with his companions, after providing themselves with provisions for a few days.

Unused to walk any great distance of late, and the effects of the short voyage not being entirely removed, he grew weary ere the first day’s march was ended; ’But here’, he says, ’I found how kind my Creator was to me, who put it into the hearts of my companions to take it by turns to carry me, until we arrived within sight of Feringhee Bargh[7] (Foreigners’ Garden), where we found many of the healthy inhabitants from Bushire had, with permission, taken refuge, some in tents, others without a shelter; and in their haste to flee from danger, had forsaken all their possessions, and neglected provision for present comfort; a change of garments even had been forgotten in their haste to escape from the pestilential city.

’Never’, he says, ’shall I forget the confusion presented at this place nor the clamorous demands upon us, whom they esteemed religious men, for our prayers and intercessions that the scourge might be removed from them. I could not help thinking and expressing also, “How ready weak mortals are to supplicate for God’s help when death or affliction approaches their threshold, who in prosperity either forget Him entirely or neglect to seek Him or to obey His just commands.”

’The next day our march led us to the vicinity of a large populated town. We halted near a plantation of date-trees, and one of our mendicant pilgrims was dispatched with money to purchase bread and dates for our sustenance, with instructions to conceal, if possible, our numbers and our halting-place, fearing that the inhabitants might assail us with stones if it were suspected that we came from the infected city. The quantity of food, however, required for so large a party excited suspicion, but our preservation was again secured by Divine interference.

’A Dirzy[9] from the city visited our resting-place, and finding we were pilgrims, asked permission to travel with us to Kraabaallah, which was readily agreed to, and when a host of men were observed issuing from the town, this man, who was an inhabitant, ran towards them, explained that we were all healthy men, and interested several Arab-Syaads to come forward and befriend me and my party, which they readily assented to on finding that brother Syaads were in danger. The Kauzy of the town hearing all the particulars attending us, came to the spot which we had selected for our halt, presented his nuzza of twenty-one dinars to me, entreated pardon for the intended assault he had in ignorance authorized, obliged me to accept his proffered civilities, and we remained several days in the enjoyment of hospitality in that town, where we had at first such strong reasons to anticipate violence and persecution; but this could not be whilst the arm of the Lord was raised to shelter His confiding servants. To Him be the praise and the glory for every preservation I have been favoured with! and many were the perils with which I was surrounded in my walk through life, yet, always safely brought through them, because I never failed putting my trust in His mercy and protection who alone could defend me.’

On one occasion of his pilgrimage to Mecca, Meer Hadjee Shah, with all his companions on board a trading ship, off the coast of Arabia, were attacked by pirates, and taken prisoners; but, as he always declared, the goodness of Divine Providence again preserved him and those with him from the hands of their enemies. In the event in question, he undertook to speak for all his party to the Arab chief, before whom they were taken prisoners, and having a thorough knowledge of the Arabic language, he pleaded their joint cause so effectually, that the chief not only liberated the whole party, but forced presents upon them in compensation for their inconvenient detention.

The most interesting, if not the most remarkable incident which occurred to Meer Hadjee Shah in his journey through life, remains to be told. The story has been so often related by his own lips, that I think there will be little difficulty in repeating it here from memory. It may be deemed prolix, yet I should not do justice by a farther abridgement.

Fatima’s History

’Fatima was the daughter of Sheikh Mahumud,[9] an Arab, chief of a tribe, dwelling in the neighbourhood of Yumen, who was a wealthy man, and much esteemed amongst his people. His wife died when Fatima, their only child, was but six years old, and two years after her father also was taken from this world, leaving his whole estate and possessions to his daughter, and both to the guardianship of his own brother, Sheikh ––, who was tenderly attached to the little girl, and from whom she received the fostering care of parental solicitude.

’This uncle was married to a lady of no very amiable temper, who seized every opportunity of rendering the orphan daughter of his brother as comfortless as possible, but her uncle’s affection never slackened for an instant, and this consoled her whenever she had trials of a domestic nature to distress her meek spirit.

’When Fatima had reached her sixteenth year, an eligible match being provided by her uncle, it was intended to be immediately solemnized; for which purpose her uncle went over to Yumen to make preparations for the nuptials, where he expected to be detained a few days; leaving with his niece the keys of all his treasuries, whether of money or jewels.

’On the very day of his departure from home, a brother of his wife’s arrived at the mansion, and required, in Fatima’s presence, a loan of five hundred pieces of silver. This could only be obtained by Fatima’s consent, who firmly declared her resolution not to betray the trust her uncle had reposed in her. The wife was severe in her censures on her husband’s parsimony, as she termed his prudence, and reviled Fatima for being the favoured person in charge of his property. This woman in her rage against the unoffending girl, struck her several times with violence. Situated as their residence was, apart from a single neighbour, she feared to stay during her uncle’s absence, and left the house not knowing exactly where to seek a temporary shelter; but recollecting a distant relation of her mother’s resided at Bytool Faakere,[10] no great distance off (within a walk as she imagined), she left her home without further reflection, unattended by a single servant.

’When within a mile of her destined place of refuge, she was observed by a party of Bedouin robbers, who descended from their hill to arrest her progress, by whom she was conveyed to their retreat, almost in a state of insensibility from terror and dismay. Arriving at their hut, however, she was cheered by the sight of females, one of whom particularly struck her as being very superior to her companions, and in whose countenance benevolence and pity seemed to indicate a sympathizing friend in this hour of severe trial. The women were desired to relieve the prisoner Fatima of her valuables, which were, in accordance with their station, very costly both in pearls and gold ornaments.

’Fatima overheard, during the night, some disputes and debates between the robbers, about the disposal of her person, one of whom was single, and declared his willingness to marry the girl, and so retain her with them; but Fatima had, when she was seized, recognized his countenance, having seen him before, and knew that his connexions lived in the town of Bytool Faakere, which she had unguardedly declared. The robbers, therefore, dreaded detection if her life was spared; they were not by nature sanguinary, but in this case there seemed no medium between their apprehension and the death of Fatima.

’The female, however, who had at first sight appeared so amiable and friendly, fulfilled the poor girl’s impressions, by strenuously exerting her influence, and eventually prevailed, in saving the orphan Fatima from the premeditated sacrifice of life; and as no better arrangement could be made to secure the robbers from detection, it was at length agreed she should be sold to slavery. This decided on, the swiftest camel in their possession was prepared at an early hour, a few short minutes only being allowed to Fatima, to pour out her gratitude to God, and express her acknowledgements to her humane benefactress, when she was mounted on the camel’s back, with the husband of that kind-hearted female.

’With the prospect of continued life, poor Fatima ceased to feel acute agony, and bore the fatigue of a whole day’s swift riding without a murmur, for the Bedouin’s behaviour was marked with respect. Towards the evening, as they drew near to a large town, the Bedouin halted by the margin of a forest, and the long night was passed in profound silence, with no other shelter than that which the forest afforded; and at the earliest dawn the march was again resumed, nor did he slacken his speed, until they were in sight of Mocha, where he designed to dispose of his victim. She was there sold to a regular slave-merchant, who was willing to pay the price demanded when he saw the beautiful face and figure of the poor girl, expecting to make a handsome profit by the bargain.

’The Bedouin made his respectful obedience and departed in haste, leaving poor Fatima in almost a state of stupor from fatigue. Left however to herself in the slave-merchant’s house, she seemed to revive, and again to reflect on the past, present, and future. Her escape from death called forth grateful feelings, and she felt so far secure that the wretch who had bought her, had an interest in her life, therefore she had no further fear of assassination. But then she reverted to her bonds; painful indeed were the reflections, that she who had been nobly born, and nursed in the lap of luxury, should find herself a slave, and not one friendly voice to soothe her in her bondage. She resolved however (knowing the privilege of her country’s law) to select for herself a future proprietor.

’Her resolution was soon put to the test; she was summoned to appear before a fisherman, who had caught a glimpse of her fine figure as she entered Mocha, and who desired to purchase her to head his house. The poor girl summoned all her courage to meet this degrading offer with dignity. A handsome sum was offered by the fisherman, as she appeared before him to reject the proposal. “Here is your new master, young lady,” said the slave-merchant; “behave well, and he will marry you.”

Fatima looked up, with all her native pride upon her brow; “He shall never be my master!” she replied, with so much firmness, that (astonished as they were) convinced the bargainers that Fatima was in earnest. The merchant inquired her objection, us she had betrayed no unwillingness to be sold to him; she answered firmly, whilst the starting tear was in her eye, “My objection to that man is our inequality: I am of noble birth. My willingness to become your slave, was to free me from the hands of those who first premeditated my murder; and sooner than my liberty should be sold to the creature I must detest, this dagger”, as she drew one from her vest, “shall free me from this world’s vexations”.

’This threat settled the argument, for the slave-merchant calculated on the loss of three hundred dinars he had paid to the Bedouin; and Fatima, aware of this, without actually intending any violence to herself, felt justified in deterring the slave-merchant from further importunities. Several suitors came to see, with a view to purchase the beautiful Arab of noble birth, but having acted so decidedly in the first instance, the merchant felt himself obliged to permit her to refuse at will, and she rejected all who had made their proposal.

’Meer Hadjee Shah, in the fulfilment of his promise to his wife at parting, to take home a slave for her attendant, happening at that time to be passing through Mocha, inquired for a slave-merchant: he was conducted to the house where Fatima was still a prisoner with many other less noble, but equally unhappy females. Fatima raised her eyes as he entered the hall; she fancied by his benevolent countenance that his heart must be kind; she cast a second glance and thought such a man would surely feel for her sufferings and be a good master. His eye had met hers, which was instantly withdrawn with unaffecting modesty; something prepossessed him that the poor girl was unhappy, and his first idea was pity, the second her liberation from slavery, and, if possible, restoration to her friends.

’When alone with the slave-merchant, Meer Hadjee Shah inquired the price he would take for Fatima. “Six hundred pieces of silver (dinars),"[11] was the reply.–"I am not rich enough,” answered the pilgrim; “salaam, I must look elsewhere for one:” and he was moving on.–-"Stay,” said the merchant, “I am anxious to get that girl off my hands, for she is a stubborn subject, over whom I have no control; I never like to buy these slaves of high birth, they always give me trouble. I paid three hundred dinars to the Bedouin for her, now if she will agree to have you for her master (which I very much doubt, she has so many scruples to overcome), you shall add fifty to that sum, and I will be satisfied.”

’They entered the hall a second time together, when the merchant addressed Fatima. “This gentleman desires to purchase you; he is a Syaad of India, not rich, he says, but of a high family, as well as a descendant of the Emaums."–"As you will,” was all the answer Fatima could make. The money was accordingly paid down, and the poor girl led away from her prison-house, by the first kind soul she had met since she quitted her benefactress in the Bedouins’ retreat.

’Fatima’s situation had excited a lively interest in the heart of Meer Hadjee Shah, even before he knew the history of those sufferings that had brought her into bondage, for he was benevolent, and thought she seemed unhappy; he wanted no stronger inducement than this to urge him to release her. Many a poor wretched slave had been liberated through his means in a similar way, whilst making his pilgrimages; and in his own home I have had opportunities of seeing his almost paternal kindness invariably exercised towards his slaves, some of whom he has, to my knowledge, set at liberty, both male and female, giving them the opportunity of settling, or leaving them to choose for themselves their place of future servitude.

’But to return to Fatima. On taking her to his lodgings, he tried to comfort her with the solicitude of a father, and having assured her she was free, inquired where her family resided, that she might be forwarded to them. The poor girl could scarce believe the words she heard were reality and not a dream; so much unlooked for generosity and benevolence overpowered her with gratitude, whilst he addressed her as his daughter, and explained his motives for becoming her purchaser, adding, “Our laws forbid us to make slaves of the offspring of Mussulmauns of either sex; although be it confessed with sorrow, unthinking men do often defy the law, in pursuance of their will; yet I would not sell my hopes of heaven for all that earth could give. I again repeat, you are free; I am not rich, but the half of my remaining funds set apart to take me to my home in India, shall be devoted to your service, and without any delay I will arrange for your return to Yumen, under safe convoy” (and seeing she was about to express her gratitude to him): “Forbear, as you respect me, a single word of acknowledgement; if any thanks are due, it is to that good Providence who hath preserved you from greater evils, to Whom be offered also my humble praises, that through His mercy my steps were directed through Mocha, at such a time as this, when an unprotected female required fatherly protection.”

’Fatima was in tears during this speech of her true friend, and when he paused, she said, “Heaven, indeed, sent you to my aid; you seem like a guardian angel. Much, much I fear to be separated from one so pious and so bountiful. May I not again be thrown into similar scenes to those your generosity has been exercised to release me from? Who but yourself and my own dear uncle could ever feel that lively interest for my preservation?”

’Meer Hadjee Shah would willingly have conveyed the poor girl to her uncle’ s residence near Yumen, had it been possible; but his arrangements were made to sail by an Arab ship to Bombay, which if many days postponed would detain him nearly another year from India, where he was aware his return was expected by his wife and family; and he was not willing to give them cause for uneasiness, by any further delay; he however went out to make inquiries at Mocha for some safe means of getting Fatima conveyed to her uncle.

’In the meantime she resolved in her mind the several circumstances attending her actual situation in the world, and before the next morning had well dawned, she had resolved on urging her kind protector to take her with him to India, before whom she appeared with a more tranquil countenance than he had yet witnessed. When they were seated, he said, “Well, Fatima, I propose to devote this day to the arrangement of all things necessary for your comfort on your journey home, and to-morrow morning the kaarawaun[12] sets out for Yumen, where I heartily pray you may be conducted in safety, and meet your uncle in joy. Have no fears for your journey, put your entire trust in God, and never forget that your safety and liberation were wrought out by His goodness alone.”

’"Huzerut[13] (revered Sir),” she replied, “I have weighed well the advantages I should derive by being always near to you, against the prospects of my home and wealth in Arabia, which I am resolved to relinquish if you accede to my proposal. Let me then continue to be your slave, or your servant, if that term is more agreeable to my kind master. Slavery with a holy master is preferable to freedom with wealth and impiety. You must have servants, I will be the humblest and not the least faithful in my devoted services.”

’The pious man was surprised beyond measure; he attempted to dissuade her, and referred to his wife and children in India. “Oh! take me to them,” she cried with energy; “I will be to them all you or they can desire,” This arrangement of Fatima’s was rather perplexing to him; her tears and entreaties, however, prevailed over his preference, and he quieted her agitation by agreeing to take her to India with him.

’After maturely weighing all the circumstances of the voyage by sea, and the long journey by land from Bombay to Lucknow, he came to the determination of giving Fatima a legal claim to his protection, and thereby a security also from slanderous imputations either against her or himself, by marrying her before they embarked at Mocha; and on their arrival at Lucknow, Fatima was presented to his first wife as worthy her sympathy and kindness, by whom she was received and cherished as a dear sister. The whole family were sincerely attached to the amiable lady during the many years she lived with them in Hindoostaun. Her days were passed in piety and peace, leaving not an instance to call forth the regrets of Meer Hadjee Shah, that he had complied with her entreaties in giving her his permanent protection. Her removal from this life to a better was mourned by every member of the family with equal sorrow as when their dearest relative ceased to live.’

It is my intention (if I am permitted), at some future period, to write a more circumstantial account of Meer Hadjee Shah’s adventures through life, than my present limits allow. In the meantime, however, I must satisfy myself by a few remarks founded on a personal observation and intimacy during the last eleven years of his eventful life. His example and precept kept pace with each other, ’That this world and all its vanities, were nothing in comparison with acquiring a knowledge of God’s holy will, and obeying Him, in thought, in word, and deed.’

He was persuaded by the tenets of his religion that by exercising the body in the pilgrimage to Mecca, the heart of man was enlightened in the knowledge and love of God. He found by obeying the several duties of the religion he professed, and by enduring the consequent trials and privations of a pilgrimage without regard to any feelings of selfish gratification or indulgent ease, that, his nature being humbled, his love to God was more abundant.

His law commanded him to fast at stated periods, and although he was turned of seventy when I first saw him, yet he never failed, as the season of Rumzaun approached, to undergo the severity of that ordinance day by day during the full period of thirty days; and it was even a source of uneasiness to my venerated friend, when, two years prior to his decease, his medical friends, aided by the solicitude of his family, urged and prevailed on him to discontinue the duty, which by reason of his age was considered dangerous to health, and perhaps to life. Prayer was his comfort; meditation and praise his chief delight. I never saw him otherways than engaged in some profitable exercise, by which he was drawing near to his Creator, and preparing himself for the blessedness of eternity, on which his soul relied.

During our eleven years’ constant intercourse, I can answer for his early diligence; before the day had dawned his head was bowed in adoration to his Maker and Preserver. At all seasons of the year, and under all circumstances, this duty was never omitted. Even in sickness, if his strength failed him, his head was bowed on a tray of earth, to mark his dutiful recollection of the several hours appointed for prayer. The Psalmist’s language has often been realized to my view, in him, ’Seven times a day do I praise thee, O Lord,’ and ’at midnight I will rise to give thanks unto Thee,’ when witnessing his undeviating observance of stated prayer duties; and when those duties were accomplished, even his amusements were gleaned from devotional works, visits of charity, and acts of benevolence. I never saw him idle; every moment was occupied in prayer or in good works. His memory was retentive, and every anecdote he related was a lesson calculated to lead the mind of his auditor to seek, trust, and obey God, or to love our neighbour as ourselves.

The many hours we have passed in profitable discourses or readings from our Holy Scripture and the lives of the Prophets have left on my memory lasting impressions.

I was, at first, surprised to find Meer Hadjee Shah so well acquainted with the prominent characters of our Scripture history, until the source from whence his knowledge had been enlarged was produced and read aloud by my husband every evening to our family party. The ’Hyaatool Kaaloob’ (a work before alluded to) occupied us for a very long period, each passage being verbally translated to me by my husband.

When that work was finished, our Holy Scripture was brought forward, which, as I read, each passage was again translated by my husband, either in Persian or Hindoostaunic, as best suited the understanding of our party at the time. So interesting was the subject, that we have been five or six hours at, a time engaged without tiring or even remembering the flight of those moments which were devoted, I trust, so beneficially to us all.

Meer Hadjee Shah’s views of worldly enjoyments resembled the Durweish’s in principle; for he thought it unworthy to heap up riches, to swell his wardrobe, or to fare on sumptuous diet; but his delight consisted in sharing the little he could at any time command with those who needed it. He possessed an intelligent mind, highly cultivated by travel, and a heart beaming with tenderness and universal charity: so tempered were his affections by a religious life, that the world was made but a place of probation to him whilst looking forward with joy to the promises of God in a happy eternity. His purity of heart and life has often realized to my imagination that ’Israelite in whom (our Redeemer pronounced) there was no guile.’

I must here draw my Letters to a conclusion, with many an anxious wish that my gleanings in the society of the Mussulmauns of Hindoostaun may afford profitable amusement to my friends and to those persons who may honour my work with a perusal, humbly trusting that the people whose character, manners, habits, and religion, I have taken upon me to pourtray, may improve in their opinion by a more intimate acquaintance.

In my attempt to delineate the Mussulmauns, I have been careful to speak as I have found them, not allowing prejudice to bias my judgment, either on the side of their faults or virtues. But I deem it incumbent to state, that my chief intimacy has been confined to the most worthy of their community; and that the character of a true Mussulmaun has been my aim in description. There are people professing the faith without the principle, it is true; but such persons are not confined to the Mussulmaun persuasion; they are among every class of worshippers, whether Jew or Gentile throughout the world.

Of my long sojourn in the society of the Mussulmauns of Hindoostaun, I need here but remark, that I was received amongst them without prejudice, and allowed the free usage of my European habits and religious principles without a single attempt to bias or control me; that by respecting their trifling prejudices as regards eating and drinking, their esteem and confidence were secured to me; and that by evincing Christian charity, (which deters the possessor from proud seeming), I believe, I may add, their affection for me was as sincere, as I trust it will be lasting.

It may be regretted, with all my influence, that I have not been the humble instrument of conversion. None can lament more than myself that I was not deemed worthy to convince them of the necessity, or of the efficacy of that great Atonement on which my own hopes are founded. Yet may I not, without presumption, hope my sojourn, with reference to a future period, may be the humble means of good to a people with whom I had lived so many years in peace? I must for many reasons be supposed to entertain a lively interest in their welfare, and an earnest desire for their safety, although at the present moment I can distinguish but one advantage accruing from our intimacy, namely, that they no longer view the professors of Christianity as idolaters. They have learned with surprise that the Christian religion forbids idolatry,–thus the strong barrier being sapped, I trust it may be thrown down by abler servants of our Lord; for the Mussulmauns are already bound by their religion to love and reverence Christ as the Prophet of God: may the influence of his Holy Spirit enlighten their understandings to accept Him as their Redeemer!

Like the true Christian, they are looking forward to that period when Jesus Christ shall revisit the earth, and when all men shall be of one faith. How that shall be accomplished, they do not pretend to understand, but still they faithfully believe it, because it has been declared by an authority they reverence, and deem conclusive. Often, during my acquaintance with these people, have I felt obliged to applaud their fidelity, although, in some points, I could not approve of the subject on which it was displayed–their zeal at Mahurrum, for instance, when they commemorate the martyrdom of the grandchildren of their Prophet,–I have thought ’had they been favoured with the knowledge we possess, what zealous Christians would these people be, who thus honour the memory of mere holy men.’

The time, I trust, is not very far distant when not one nation in the whole world shall be ignorant of the Saviour’s efficacy, and His willingness to receive all who cast their burden at the foot of His cross. My heart’s desire for the people I have dwell amongst is that which St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans declares to be his prayer to God for Israel, ’that they might be saved!’ and I know not any way in which I could better testify my regard for the Mussulmauns collectively, or my gratitude individually, than by recommending the whole of the tenth chapter of the Romans to the serious consideration of those persons who possess such influence, us that the gospel of peace may be preached to them effectually by well-chosen and tried servants of our Lord, who are duly prepared both in heart and speech, to make known the glad tidings to their understandings that ’God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life;’ that ’If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;’ and that ’He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’

Should the view I have conscientiously given of their character be the humble means of removing prejudice from the Mussulmauns of Hindoostaun, so that they may be sought and won by brotherly kindness, my humble heart will rejoice that my labours, as an observer and detailer, have been successful through the merciful orderings of Divine Providence.

[1] Ludhiana, a city, not the capital of the Panjab: ’the land of
    five rivers’ (panj-ab).
[2] Under the Peshwas, Baji Rao I and Balaji Rao
    (A.D. 1720-61) the incursions of the Mahrattas extended as far north
    as the Panjab.

[3] Barahdari, a room nominally with twelve doors.

[4] Shuja-ud-daula, son of Mansur ’Ali Khan, Safdar Jang,
    Governor of Oudh: born A.D. 1731; succeeded his father, 1753. He was
    present at the battle of Panipat in 1761: became Wazir of the
    Emperor Shah ’Alam: defeated by the British at the battle of
    Buxar, 1764: died at Faizabad, then his seat of government, 1775.

[5] Shikari.

[6] Bandar [harbour] Kangun, a port on the west side of the Persian Gulf, about 100 miles west of Gombroon.

[7] Firangi Bagh, Franks’ Garden.

[8] Darzi, a tailor.

[9] Shaikh Muhammad.

[10] Baitu’l-faqir, ’house of a holy man’.

[11] Dinar, Lat. denarius, a coin of varying value: see Yule, Hobson-Jobson[2], 317 f.

[12] Karwan, a caravan.

[13] Hazrat.

The End


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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