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Hajj: An Indian Experience in History

- Dr. Ausaf Sayeed*

The region of Hijaz is a repository of rich Islamic heritage and

site of Islam's two holiest cities Makkah Al-Mukarramah and
Madinah Al-Munnawara. Al-Hijaz is witness to many religious and
politically significant events in the history of Islam and is, thus, a
region of great fascination for people all over the world, including
Indian Muslims.

The prominence of the Jeddah as the Gateway to Makkah and

as the leading port for maritime trade through the Red Sea,
attracted merchants and pilgrims alike in large numbers every
year. The people of Hijaz were fascinated by Indian spices, pearls,
precious stones, silk, sandalwood, oud and perfumes and looked
forward to the arrival of Indian ships.

The earliest visit by Indians to Makkah for Hajj pilgrimage is a

matter of conjecture, but it is very likely that such visits pre-date
the Muslim conquests of Sindh (664-712 A.D.).

From the Mughal period until the eighteenth century, pilgrims

from India had the option of travelling to Makkah either by
overland caravans or sailing ships. Those travelling by land route
via the Northwest of India had to pass through long, challenging
and hazardous terrains, which also involved crossing unfriendly
Shia territories controlled by the Safavids. The Indian pilgrims,
most of whom were Sunnis, preferred to take the sea routes,
primarily through the Red Sea, and occasionally through the
Persian Gulf. However, rampant piracy and strict Portuguese
control over the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century made
passage through the Red Sea an onerous task. Most ships

travelling from India to the Red Sea in the sixteenth century were
forced to carry a Portuguese cartaz or pass. In fact, the conditions
at one point in time became so un-conducive for Hajj that
religious scholars at the Mughal Court even declared pilgrimage
to Makkah as non-binding under the circumstances (Al-Badaoni,
as quoted in Ain-i Akbari).

The Mughal rulers had patronised Hajj and sent several ships
to undertake the voyage, providing free passage and provisions
for the pilgrims. On their part, the Ottoman Caliphs, who had
assumed the title of Custodians of the Holy Places' spent
considerable sums in providing and protecting the large caravans
that visited Hijaz from different countries like Syria and Egypt.
The ancient port of Surat in Gujarat, which was described
variously as Bab-ul-Mecca or the Bandar-e-Mubarak (blessed
port'), was one of the leading ports of embarkation for the Indian
pilgrims during the Mughal times. Rulers of the Bengal, Bijapur
and Golconda also used various other Deccan ports on the east
and the west coasts for Hajj sailings (M.N Pearson, 1994).

Akbar was the first ruler to organise Hajj pilgrimage at state

expense and provide a subsidy to pilgrims. He also founded a
hospice for pilgrims in Makkah (Suraiya Faroqui, 1994). After 1575
when a treaty was signed with the Portuguese to allow safe
passage of pilgrim ships in the Red Sea, Akbar ordered that a
caravan is sent from Hindustan every season like the caravans of
Egypt and Syria. He appointed a senior noble as a Mir Hajj (leader
of the pilgrims) and also directed a top noble of his court Abdur
Rahim Khan-i-Khanan to set aside three of his ships the 'Rahimi',
'Karimi' and the 'Salari' for free transportation of pilgrims to
Jeddah. Contemporary traveller John Fryer Keane (Hajji
Mohammed Amin) mentions that these pilgrim ships weighed
between 1400 to 1600 tons and often carried 1700 pilgrims each.

Support to the Hajj pilgrimage continued to a lesser degree

during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan; the latter was
known to be involved in sending regular charity to Mecca and
appointing Mir Haj for the pilgrimage. One particular incident of
high historical significance was the capture of the ship 'Rahimi'
owned by Maryam-uz-Zamani (Jodha Bai), mother of Mughal
Emperor Jahangir, in 1613 A.D. by the Portuguese despite having
their cartaz. 'Rahimi' was believed to be the largest vessel of any
kind sailing in the Indian seas during its time. It had an estimated
capacity in the range of 1500 tonnes with room for carrying 1500
passengers. In Europeans described it as "the great pilgrimage
ship." The Mughals, who had depended on the Portuguese to
escort their annual pilgrim voyages across the Arabian Sea to
Makkah, regarded the capture of the royal ship as an affront to
the Mughal Empire and a deliberate act of religious persecution
by the Portuguese. This incident may have led to softening of the
Mughal stance towards the British, who had been making vain
attempts since 1608 A.D. to gain the Mughal favour, making way
for the eventual grant of royal permission to the British East India
Company for establishing itself in India.

Aurangzeb, regarded as the most orthodox among the Mughal

emperors, was especially lavish in his patronage of the Hajj.
Every year two royal ships of Aurangzeb travelled to the Red Sea
carrying lords and ladies of Hindustan, fakirs, and pilgrims. J.B.
Tavernier observed that these ships carried passengers free of
charge. Several women from the Emperor's harem and many of
his nobles sent regular charity to Makkah.

Aurangzeb's daughter Zebunnisa also extended her support to

Hajj. She sponsored the Hajj pilgrimage of a scholar Safi bin Vali
Al-Qazvini as a reward for authoring a Tafseer of the Holy Quran
by the name Zeb ut-Tafsir. Safi Al-Qazvini set sail for the
pilgrimage on board the ship Salamat Ras on 15th Shawwal 1087

A.H. (1676 A.D.) and arrived in Makkah on 3rd Dhul-Hijja. Qazvini

gives a detailed account of his voyage in his work 'Anis Al-Hajj,'
now preserved at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai, which is
an important treatise on the history of Hajj (Sadashiv Gorakshkar,

During the Mughal times, people proceeded on Hajj for various

reasons - religious obligation, religious studies, the reward for
good services and even punishment for failures. Hajj also served
as a convenient excuse for sending potential adversaries and
rebels on political exile. Sometimes even the threat of sending a
person on Hajj used to have a salutary effect on errant nobles and
scholars. Humayun is known to have blinded his brother and sent
him off on Hajj in 1553 A.D., who did Hajj four times and died in
Makkah in 1557 A.D. Akbar once became exasperated with the
over-bearing behaviour of his mentor Bairam Khan and ordered
him to proceed on Hajj. Bairam left Delhi and moved towards
Gujarat, but was killed in Ahmedabad by an Afghan before he
could embark for Hajj. Jahangir banished his Persian doctor Hakim
Sadra to Makkah for not giving him proper treatment when he fell
ill. An important Qazi under Aurangzeb, Qazi ul-Quzzat, who
habitually clashed with the Emperor, was asked to resign and go
for Hajj. Hijaz, thus, became a favourite abode for defeated
nobles, rebels and aspirants to the throne.

The Sheriffs of Makkah were the recipients of substantial

Mughal largesse. During 984-989 A.H. (1576-1582 A.D.), Akbar's
Mir Haj' carried more than Rs. 600,000 in money and goods to be
distributed to the people of Makkah and Madinah, along with
thousands of 'khilats' (robes of honour) and expensive gifts for the
Sheriffs of Makkah. In 1659 A.D. Aurangzeb sent presents worth
Rs. 660,000 to the Sheriff of Makkah. The Mughals perceived that
financial assistance rendered to the Sheriffs would bring goodwill
for Indian pilgrims and favours, when needed, for the imperial

court, like keeping an eye on disgruntled elements seeking refuge

in Makkah and sometimes even harassing them. The Sheriffs of
Makkah used to send their agents frequently to the Delhi Court to
extract benign favours from the Mughal emperors.

Interestingly, despite having enormous resources and means,

none of the Muslim male rulers, be it the most powerful Mughal
emperors or the provincial rulers of Bengal, Bijapur, Gujarat or
Golconda or the Nizams of Hyderabad ever undertook a voyage
for performing Hajj. Instead, the common trend was to send royal
women on Hajj and trade missions.

One of the first Mughal royal ladies to perform the Hajj was
Bega Begum or Hajji Begum, wife of a noble of Humayun who
later became Humayun's wife. Gulbadan Begum, Babar's
daughter, and Akbar's aunt was one of the most prominent
among the elite Mughal women to have performed Hajj. Along
with Salima Sultan Begum, widow of Bairam Khan and wife of
Akbar and nearly forty other ladies and a large number of
servants, she sailed on board the ship 'Salimi,' accompanied by
the royal officials in the ship 'Ilahi.' After an adventurous voyage,
she arrived in Makkah in 1576 A.D and stayed there until 1582
A.D., performing Hajj four times and Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage,
several times.

Other exciting episodes relate to the visit of Begums of Bhopal

to Makkah, first by Sikandar Begum in November 1863 followed
by Sultan Jahan Begum in 1903. In particular, Sikandar Begum
stands out as the first ruling head of state, male or female, to
perform Hajj. She travelled with a retinue of 1500 by road, rail and
then by the sea in three specially chartered ships to reach Jeddah
in January 1864 A.D. Her mother and former queen Qudsia Begum
accompanied her to the pilgrimage. In a wanton display of
extravagance, Qudsia Begum indulged in showering currency
notes from her carriage throughout the entire journey resulting in

her getting unduly hounded by a swarm of beggars. On arrival at

Makkah, the Begums inadvertently got involved in a protocol
breach when they chose not to partake any of the nearly fifty
royal dishes of Arabic food sent by the Sheriff of Makkah. Serious
misunderstandings were cleared later when the Begums
reluctantly tasted the fresh set of Royal dishes sent by the Sheriff
(Shaharyar M.Khan, 2004).

Nearly four decades later, Begum Sultan Jahan embarked on

the same journey with a retinue of three hundred people on board
the ship 'SS Akbar.' On her arrival in Jeddah she was received by
the British Vice-Consul, who was an Indian Muslim, and
representatives of the Turkish Governor and the Sheriff of Makkah.
Like the earlier visit of her mother, her visit also started off poorly,
when the Sheriff of Makkah, Aun-ur-Rafiq Bin Abdullah Bin Aun
frowned at the 'nazrana' (ceremonial gifts) brought by her. She
decided to go to Madinah first by sailing to Yanbu and after that in
a caravan escorted by two hundred Turkish soldiers, who braved
several onslaughts by maverick Bedouins throughout the route.
Begum Sultan Jahan got some solace after reaching Madinah as
the Governor of Madinah had made special arrangements for her
by partitioning off half the mosque for her and closing that portion
for men. She finally returned to India in 1904.

Several visits by noteworthy persons from India for Hajj

pilgrimage were reported in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan, the Nawab of Rampur,
performed Hajj in 1872 after his deposition by the British. He
returned with a good number of rare manuscripts, including a
unique 7th-century parchment manuscript of Quran attributed to
Hazrat Ali. The legendary Urdu poet Dagh Dehlavi accompanied
the Nawab on the Hajj. Many well-known literary figures and
religious scholars also performed Hajj during this period. These

include Syed Ahmad of Rae Bareili (1824), credited with

introducing Wahabism to India, poet Shefta (1842), Maulana
Siddiq Hassan Khan Bhopali (1872), noted writer G.M.Munshi
(1876), Maulana Mashuq Ali (1909) and Abdul Majeed Daryabadi
(1929). Syed Fazal-ul-Hasan (Maulana Hasrat Mohani), a leading
member of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind, performed Hajj thirteen
times. Maulana Mohammad Taeib (Head, Daruloom Deoband), Dr.
Abid Hussain, Prince Basalat Jah of Hyderabad, Syed Abdur
Rahman Bafakih Thangal and Hakeem Abdul Hameed were other
leading personalities from India who performed Hajj in the post-
Independence period. From the Indian film industry and fields of
music and art, renowned painter M.F.Hussain, legendary singer
Begum Akhtar, playback singer Mohammad Rafi, composer
A.R.Rahman, actress Sharmila Tagore and her famous cricketer
husband Nawab Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and actor Aamir Khan
also performed Hajj.

Under the British India, Hajj continued to get attention. In

1885, the British government appointed the reputed tourist
agency Thomas Cook and Son as the official travel agent for Hajj,
giving them the responsibility of streamlining the pilgrimage
trade. Thomas Cook agents were asked to coordinate rail
transportation, shipping, passports, medical provisions and
ticketing procedures. The British government affirmed that it was
under special obligation to protect the stream of Muhammadan
pilgrims who resort to the sacred places at Mecca and Karbala
(Imperial Gazette, V.4 p.111, 1909). In 1927, a 10-member Hajj
Committee was constituted, headed by Mr. D. Healy, Esq.,
Commissioner of Police of Bombay. Consequent upon the passing
of the Port Hajj Committee Act in 1932, a Port Hajj Committee was
constituted which rendered its services to the pilgrims until 1959,
when a new committee was formed following the promulgation of
the Hajj Committee Act of 1959.

During the Second World War, pilgrims continued to make the

journey to Makkah, but they did so in smaller numbers and under
severe conditions. Initially, in 1939, the Marquess of Linlithgow,
India's Viceroy, tried to dissuade Indian Muslims from going for
Hajj citing reasons of security as well as the shortage of ships.
When the Muslims became outraged and started mounting
pressure on the government, it ultimately relented and granted
permission to the pilgrims to go for Hajj. The Government of India
also made extraordinary efforts to secure shipping and subsidize

In 1959, the Reserve Bank of India issued two special Hajj

notes' for Hajj pilgrims in the denominations of Rs. 10 and Rs. 100
with the word HA inscribed on the obverse side. These notes were
not legal tender in India but could be converted at Bombay into
Indian rupees or pounds sterling under agreements in place with
the Saudi Arabian banks. These special Hajj notes were first
issued to Hajj pilgrims on 3 May, 1959 at the Mohamed Hajji
Saboo Siddick Musafirkhana in Bombay. The amount of money
permitted to be carried by pilgrims on their journey to Saudi
Arabia varied depending on their mode of travel. In 1959 Hajj
pilgrims travelling by boat were permitted to carry 1,200 rupees if
travelling 'deck class' and 1,800 rupees if travelling 'first class'.
Pilgrims travelling by air could take 1,700 rupees.

An interesting aspect of the Hajj in 1950s and 1960s was that,

unlike the present, the choice of selecting the Moallims or
Mutawwifs was exercised by the pilgrims. The Moallims used to
travel to various destinations in India for canvassing and booking
the pilgrims. In 1941, the Saudi government went so far as to
advance money to mutawwifin so that they could travel to India
and canvass for pilgrims.

Pilgrims from different regions preferred different Moallims.

For example, Mutawwif Farooq Saifuddin was preferred by pilgrims
from Hyderabad while Ahmed Sheikh Jamalullail by pilgrims from
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There was a Shaik-ul Moallimeen, who
supervised the work of Moallims as the institution of Moassasa
(Pilgrim Establishment) did not exist.

During the 1960s and until the mid-70s, the Saudi government
utilised the services of scouts from all over the world during Hajj,
and an annual Islamic Scout Jamboree was held at Makkah in
which contingents of Indian Muslim scouts regularly participated
for several years. A private contingent of Indian scouts, headed
by late K.P.Hasan Abdullah of Kerala consisting of Muslim orphans
also participated in such activities.

The largest shipping line operating from the Indian ports was
the Mogul Line, which was founded in 1888 and managed by the
British agency house Turner Morrison. The oldest of the Mogul
Line ship was 'SS Alawi' (built 1924) followed by 'SS Rizwani' (built
1930). These ships were scrapped in 1958 and 1959 respectively.
Other early Mogul Line ships were SS Saudi (capacity 999), 'SS
Muhammadi' and 'SS Muzaffari' (capacity 1460), SS Islami
(capacity 1200), 'MV Akbar' (capacity 1600), 'SS Noorjehan'
(capacity 1756) and SS Nicobar (capacity 1170). After its
nationalisation in 1962, the control of the Mogul Line passed on to
the Shipping Corporation of India, and finally, in 1987, it got
merged with the parastatal. Leading Saudi company Haji Abdullah
Ali Reza & Co. Ltd. were agents of Mogul Line in Jeddah and the
septuagenarian Indian expatriate Rafiuddin S. Fazulbhoy was its
Assistant General Manager.

In 1927 Mogul Line ships carried nearly 20,000 of the 36,000

Hajjis arriving from Indian harbours. In the late 1930s, over 70
per cent of pilgrim ships from India were Mogul Line vessels. An
interesting statistical study published by the Saudi Ministry of

Interior in 1969 indicated that over a period of 10 years from

1958 to 1968, a total of 200,100 pilgrims came from India for Hajj.
India, thus, ranked third in the number of pilgrims sent for the Hajj
in that decade after Yemen and the United Arab Republic (UAR),
which sent 321,268 and 232,070 pilgrims respectively.

Throughout the 1960s, about 14,500 Indian Hajjis used to

travel by sea and another 1000 by Air India chartered flights. The
Hajj Committee used to charter flights through the airline
company Trade Wings. Both air and sea operations were carried
out from only one embarkation point i.e. Bombay. The round-trip
ship fare for the First Class was Rs. 1000 and for the Deck Class
Rs. 500. The number of pilgrims coming by sea decreased
gradually, and by 1994 it fell to 4700. Finally, in 1995, the sea
voyage was completely stopped, and all Indian pilgrims started
arriving only by air.

By 2006 (1427 H), the number of Indian pilgrims had reached

157,000, second only to those coming from Indonesia. The
Gregorian year 2006 was unique, as it witnessed Hajj two times in
a single calendar year, a rare phenomenon which took place
earlier in 1974.


(* Dr. Ausaf Sayeed is a senior diplomat of India. He is authoring

a book Hajj: An Indian Experience in History').
Copyright 2017-2019, All Rights Reserved Dr. Ausaf Sayeed. No part of
this article should be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without
acknowledging the author.