Myanmar Muslims’ Islamic roots and the story of the last Mughal ruler


Source: BAHADUR SHAH ZAFAR His Last Days in Burma By: DR. SYED AHMED in Radiance viewsweekly

Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah, popularly known as Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal ruler, was the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II, born to his Hindu wife Lalbai in 1775. Bahadur Shah was born when the British were still a modest coastal power in India. He ascended the Mughal throne in 1837 at the age of 62.
Bahadur Shah was a ruler with wide interest. William Dalrymple (The Last Mughal, 2006), describes him as “a calligrapher, Sufi, theologian, patron of paintings of miniatures, creator of gardens and a very serious mystical poet…” Interestingly, many remember him for his Urdu poetry more than for his role in the great uprising of 1857. He wrote poetry using Zafar, meaning ‘victory’ as the pen-name (takhallus). A large collection of his poetry was compiled later under the title Kulliyat-i Zafar. Bahadur Shah’s reign of 20 years (1837-1857) was regarded as the most ‘creative period’ of the Urdu literature. During his reign Delhi College was the centre of what historians call “the Delhi Renaissance.” He patronised many men of learning. Renowned Urdu poets Ghalib, Dagh, Momin and Zauq were his contemporaries.
Bahadur Shah was also known for his secular ideals. Once a year he made a trip to Mehrauli and paid his tribute at Jog Maya temple and dargah of the renowned Chisti saint Khwaja Bhakhtiyar Kaki. Prof. Mushirul Hasan, a well-known historian and former Vice-Chancellor of Jamia Milia Islamia writes, “Under him Hindu-Muslim unity found a powerful expression. Zafar also led the ‘first expression of anti-colonial movement in which Hindus and Muslims were united as people of Hindustan.’ He also banned cow slaughter, encouraged Hindu festivals like Ramlila and Holi.”
Bahadur Shah was 82 years old and in poor health when the revolting sepoys from Meerut stormed into the palace on 11 May 1857. According to William Dalrymple, sepoys and cavalrymen from Meerut numbering 300 rode into Delhi in the morning and massacred Christian men, women and children they could find in the city, and proclaimed Bahadur Shah as their leader and emperor. Bahadur Shah gave his blessings to the sepoys.
A.G. Noorani writes in his book Indian Political Trails 1775-1947, “Bahadur Shah was the one around whom both the communities rallied as a symbol of revolt and unity…In him have still been cantered the hopes and aspirations of millions. They have looked upon him as the source of honour, and, more than this, he has proved the rallying point not only to Muhammadans, but to thousands of others with whom it was supposed no bond of fanatical union could possibly be established.”
The outbreak started in Meerut and Barrackpur from January to May 1857, and then spread to Lucknow, Allahabad, Ghaziabad, Delhi, Allahabad, Kanpur, Jhansi, Gwalior, Bareilly, Madras, Bombay, and several places in Punjab. Leaders like Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Bhakt Khan, Azimullah Khan, Rani Laxmi Bai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Kunwar Singh, Maulvi Ahmadullah, Bahadur Khan, Rao Tula Ram and Raja Nahar Singh of Punjab led the local uprisings.
Within four months the uprising was crushed by the British with a strong hand. Poets and princes, Ulema and merchants, Sufis and scholars were hunted down and hanged. Palaces, mosques, shrines, gardens and houses of Mughal Delhi were destroyed. The properties of the Muslims were confiscated. All the leaders of the uprising were either killed or drove out of India.
Bahadur Shah surrendered on 21 Sept. 1857. The next day, Major William Hodson set out to Humayun Tomb to arrest his sons, Mirza Mughal and Mirza Khizr Sultan, and his grandson, Mirza Abu Bakr. Hodson took the princes to Sher Shah Suri’s outpost, then known as Kabuli Darwaza/Lal Darwaza. They were stripped naked and shot. Since the incident the outpost came to be known as Khooni Darwaza. Hodson paid the price for his misdeeds. A few months after the shoot-out, he was killed at Begum Kothi in Lucknow on 11 Mar. 1858.
With the arrest of Bahadur Shah the four centuries of Mughal rule in India came to an end and the Mughal emperor was made a prisoner. He was brought to the walled city and kept under house arrest. Sadly, the poet was not given even a pen to write while in captivity. He scribbled some of his last verses on the wall with a burnt stick.
Bahadur Shah’s trail began on 27 Jan. 1858 and ended on 9 Mar. 1958. The trail recommended the transportation of Bahadur Shah to Burma. In Oct 1858, Bahadur Shah accompanied by his wife Zinat Mahal and 2 sons Mirza Jiwan Bhakt and Mirza Shah Abbas and daughter-in-law Shah Zamani Begum (wife of Jawan Bhakt), who all chose to follow the emperor departed from Delhi for Calcutta (now Kolkata), where they were placed on board a warship called Magara and taken to Rangoon.
In Burma, British Commissioner Captain H. Nelson Davies received Bahadur Shah and his family. The family was then lodged in a quarter near the Shwe Dagon Pagoda under the supervision of Nelson Davies. The family was provided four rooms each of 16 ft. sq., one allotted for Bahadur Shah, another for Jawan Bhakt and his wife Zamani Begum, the rest for Zinat Mahal and Shah Abbas. Pen, ink, paper were completely forbidden. The family was provided four Indian attendants (a chaprasi, water carrier, washer-man and a sweeper).
Bahadur Shah died on Nov. 7, 1862 at the ripe old age of 87. Fearing another revolt, the last rites of the emperor was performed without informing anyone. The funeral prayer was performed by an old Maulana along with the two princes. After a week Nelson Davies informed the higher officials in London about the death of the Emperor.
He wrote in his letter, “Have since visited the remaining State Prisoners – the scum of the reduced Asiatic harem; found all correct…The death of the ex-king may be said to have no effect on the Mohamedan part of the populace of Rangoon, except perhaps for a few final triumph of Islam. A bamboo fence surrounds the grave, and by the time the fence is worn out, the grass will again have properly covered the spot, and no vestige will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Mughals rests.” The news of the death of Bahadur Shah reached Delhi a fortnight later. Bahadur Shah lamented on the irony of his fate in one of his couplet thus:
Umr-e-daraaz se maang ke laye the char din / Do aarzu mein guzar gaye, do intezar mein / Hai kitna badnasseb Zafar dafn ke liye / Do gaz zameen bhi na mili koo-e-yaar mein. / Na kisii kii ankh ka nur na kisii ke dil ka qarar hun / Jo kisii ke kam na a sake main vo ek musht-e-Gubar hun / Na to main kisii ka habiib hun na to main kisii ka raqiib hun / Jo bigar gaya vo nasiib hun jo ujar gaya vo dayar hun / hamne duniyaa mein aake kyaa dekha / dekhaa jo kucch so Khvaab-saa dekhaa / hai to insaan Khaak kaa putlaa / lekin paanii ka bulbulaa dekhaa.
(I had requested the long life for a life of four days / Two passed by in pining, and two in waiting / How unlucky is Zafar! For burial / Even two yards of land were not to be had, in the land (of the) beloved. / My life gives no ray of light, I bring no solace to heart or eye / Out of dust to dust again, of no use to anyone am I / Barred is the door of the fate for me, bereft of my dear ones am I / The spring of a flower garden ruined /Alas, my autumn wind am I / I came into the world and what did I see? / Whatever I saw was just like a dream / Man is moulded out of clay but / I saw him as a bubble of water.)
It is said that Bahadur Shah marked the site for his own burial inside Zafar Mahal, which was close to the dargah of his much-loved Pir Khwaja Bhaktiyar Kaki.
In 1867 the family of Bahadur Shah was allowed to leave the prison enclosure and to settle elsewhere in the Rangoon cantonment. The long confinement made Shah Zamani Begum, who was just around 10 years old, became seriously ill suffering from extreme depression. She started getting blind. To improve her condition she along with her husband was given another house not far from the Rangoon jail. By 1872 Shah Zamani Begum became completely blind. Mirza Shah Abbas married a girl from Rangoon, a daughter of a local Muslim merchant. His descendants still live in Rangoon today. Zinat Mahal lived on alone, comforting her loneliness with opium. She died in 1886. Her body was buried near her husband’s grave. Few years later Mirza Jawan Bakht died of stroke. He was 42.
A delegation of visitors from India visited Burma in 1903 to pay their respects at the burial place of Bahadur Shah. By then, due to long years of neglect, the exact location of the graves of Bahadur Shah and his wife was uncertain. In 1905 the Muslims of Rangoon protested the neglect and demanded that the grave of Bahadur Shah be marked. The British authorities agreed in 1907 and a railing was erected around a supposed site of the grave, and the engraved stone slab marked, “Bahadur Shah, the ex-king of Delhi died at Rangoon Nov. 7th 1862 and was buried near this spot” and “Zinath Mahal wife of Bahadur Shah who died on the 17th June 1886 is also buried near this stone” was placed.
In Feb. 1991 labourers, while digging a drain at the back of the shrine, uncovered the original brick-lined grave of Bahadur Shah. It was found 3 feet under the ground, and about 25 feet away from the supposed shrine. The original shrine, located at 6 Ziwaka Road, Dagon, Rangoon, has over the years become a popular place of pilgrimage for the Burmese Muslims.
Local Muslims regard Bahadur Shah as a powerful sufi saint, and come to seek his blessings and ask for favours. A prayer hall was also constructed in front of the shrine with Indian assistance, which was inaugurated on 15 Dec. 1994. Today the shrine is managed by a trust named Bahadur Shah Zafar Mausoleum Committee. Before the military takeover in Burma, the shrine was managed by a trust set up by the descendants of Bahadur Shah.
The grave has also been a must for Indians visiting Burma. Many politicians and dignitaries not only from India but Pakistan and Bangladesh visited the grave and paid their respect to the Emperor. It is said that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose started his “Delhi Chalo” campaign in 1942 after paying his respect to the Emperor. Rajiv Gandhi during his official visit to Burma in December 1987 paid his tribute to the grave. He wrote in the visitor’s book placed at the grave: “Although you (Bahadur Shah) do not have land in India, you have it here, your name is alive… I pay homage to the memory of the symbol and rallying point of India’s first war of independence…that has been won.”

 See Also:

  1. Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar (Urdu: ابو ظفر سِراجُ الْدین محمد بُہادر شاہ ظفر), also known as Bahadur Shah or Bahadur Shah II (Urdu: بہادر شاہ دوم) (October 1775  – 7 November 1862) was the last of the Mughal emperors in India, as well as the last ruler of the Timurid Dynasty.
  2. The Mughal Empire (Persian: شاهان مغول‎ Shāhān-e Moġul; Urdu: مغلیہ سلطنت; self-designation: گوركانى Gūrkānī ),‎[2][3] or Mogul (also Moghul) Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent.[4] The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids.
  3. The Timurids (Persian: تیموریان‎), self-designated Gurkānī [2][3][4] (Persian: گوركانى‎), were a Persianate,[5][6] Central Asian Sunni Muslim dynasty of Turco-Mongol lineage[6][7][8][9] whose Timurid Empire included the whole of Iran, modern Afghanistan, and modern Uzbekistan, as well as large parts of contemporary Pakistan, North India, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Caucasus. It was founded by the militant conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th century. The Timurids lost control of most of Persia to the Safavid dynasty in 1501, but members of the dynasty continued to rule parts of Central Asia, sometimes known as the Timurid Emirates. In the 16th century, the Timurid prince Babur, ruler of Ferghana, invaded North India and founded the Mughal Empire.

  4. Timur (Persian: تیمور‎ Timūr, Chagatai: Temüriron“, Turkish: Demiriron“; 8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), historically known as Tamerlane[1] in (from Persian: تيمور لنگ‎, Timūr-e Lang, “Timur the Lame”), was a 14th-century conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until 1857

  5. The Delhi Sultanate is a term used to cover five short-lived, Delhi based kingdoms or sultanates, of Turkic origin in medieval India. The sultanates ruled from Delhi between 1206 and 1526, when the last was replaced by the Mughal dynasty. The five dynasties were the Mamluk dynasty (1206–90); the Khilji dynasty (1290–1320); the Tughlaq dynasty (1320–1414); the Sayyid dynasty (1414–51); and the Lodi dynasty (1451–1526).

  6. Urdu (Urdu: اردو, IPA: [ˈʊrd̪u] ( listen); English: /ˈʊərduː/) is a register of the Hindustani language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European family. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. It is also widely spoken in some regions of India, where it is one of the 22 scheduled languages and an official language of five states. Based on the Khariboli dialect of Delhi, Urdu is derived from Sanskrit and developed under the influence of Persian, Arabic, and Turkic over the course of almost 900 years.[4] It began to take shape in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India during the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1527), and continued to develop under the Mughal Empire (1526–1858). Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi (or Hindi-Urdu) spoken in India. Both languages share the same Indic base and are so similar in phonology and grammar that they appear to be one language.[5] The combined population of Hindi and Urdu speakers is the fourth largest in the world.[6]

    Mughals hailed from the Barlas tribe which was of Mongol origin, the tribe had embraced Turkic[7] and Persian culture,[8][9] and resided in Turkestan and Khorasan. Their mother tongue was the Chaghatai language (known to them as Turkī, “Turkic”) and they were equally at home in Persian, the lingua franca of the Timurid elite.[10] but after their arrival in the Indian subcontinent, the need to communicate with local inhabitants led to use of Indic languages written in the Persian alphabet, with some literary conventions and vocabulary retained from Persian and Turkic; this eventually became a new standard called Hindustani, which is the direct predecessor of Urdu.[11] Urdu is often contrasted with Hindi. Apart from religious associations, the differences are largely restricted to the standard forms: Standard Urdu is conventionally written in the Nastaliq style of the Persian alphabet and relies heavily on Persian and Arabic as a source for technical and literary vocabulary,[12] whereas Standard Hindi is conventionally written in Devanāgarī and draws on Sanskrit.[13] However, both have large numbers of Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit words, and most linguists consider them to be two standardized forms of the same language,[14][15] and consider the differences to be sociolinguistic,[16] though a few classify them separately.[17] Mutual intelligibility decreases in literary and specialized contexts which rely on educated vocabulary. Due to religious nationalism since the partition of British India and continued communal tensions, native speakers of both Hindi and Urdu frequently assert them to be completely distinct languages, despite the fact that they generally cannot tell the colloquial languages apart.

  7. Islam in Burma

    The first Muslims arrived in Arakan coast and upward hinterland to Maungdaw when Muhammad al-Hanafiyya, a son of Caliph Ali arrived in Arakan in 680 CE by the Bay of Bengal sea route as he and the companions left Kufa in a chaotic political environment. The tomb of Muhammad al-Hanafiyya (Muhammad Hanifa) and his wife Khaya Pari still exists in a hilltop of Maungdaw.[4] Then Muslims arrived in Burma’s Ayeyarwady River delta, on the Tanintharyi coast and in Rakhine in the 9th century, prior to the establishment of the first Burmese empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan.[5][6][7][8][9][10] These early Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam were documented by Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of the 9th century.[5][11] Burmese Muslims are the descendants of Muslim peoples who settled and intermarried with the local Burmese ethnic groups.[12][13] Muslims arrived in Burma as traders or settlers,[14] military personnel,[15] and prisoners of war,[15] refugees,[5] and as victims of slavery.[16] However, many early Muslims also held positions of status as royal advisers, royal administrators, port authorities, mayors, and traditional medicine men.[17]

    Persian Muslims arrived in northern Burma on the border with the Chinese region of Yunnan as recorded in the Chronicles of China in 860 AD.[5][18] Burmese Muslims were sometimes called Pathi,[19] a name believed to be derived from Persian. Many settlements in the southern region near present day Thailand were noted for the Muslim populations, in which Muslims often outnumbered the local Buddhists. In one record, Pathein was said to be populated with Pathis,[19] and was ruled by three Indian Muslim Kings in the 13th century.[20][21][22] Arab merchants also arrived in Martaban, Margue, and there were Arab settlements in the present Meik archipelago’s mid-western quarters.[23]

    During the reign of the Bagan King, Narathihapate (1255–1286), in the first Sino-Burman war, Kublai Khan‘s Muslim Tatars invaded the Pagan Kingdom and occupied the area up to Nga Saung Chan. In 1283, Colonel Nasruddin’s Turks occupied the area up to Bamaw (Kaungsin).[24] Turk people (Tarek) were called Mongol, Manchuria, Mahamaden or Panthays.[25]

    A Mosque in Mandalay

    The first Muslims had landed in Myanmar (Burma’s) Ayeyarwady River delta, Tanintharyi coast and Rakhine as seamen in 9th century, prior to the establishment of the first Myanmar (Burmese) empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan or Pagan.[26][27][28][29] The dawn of the Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam was widely documented by the Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of 9th century.[30][31] The current population of Myanmar Muslims are the descendants of Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moors, Indian-Muslims, sheikhs, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Chinese Muslims and Malays who settled and intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic Myanmar groups such as, Rakhine, Shan, Karen, Mon etc.[32][33]

    Muslim diaspora

    The population of the Muslims increased during the British rule of Burma because of new waves of Indian Muslim Immigration.[34] This sharply declined in the years following 1941 as a result of the Indo-Burman Immigration agreement,[35] and was officially stopped following Burma’s (Myanmar) independence on 4 January 1948.

    Muslims arrived in Burma as travelers, adventurers, pioneers, sailors, traders,[36] Military Personals (voluntary and mercenary),[37] and a number of them as prisoners of wars.[38] Some were reported to have taken refuge from wars, Monsoon storms and weather, shipwreck [39] and for a number of other circumstances. Some are victims of forced slavery [40] but many of them are professionals and skilled personals such as advisors to the kings and at various ranks of administration whilst others are port-authorities and mayors and traditional medicine men.[41]

    Pathi and Panthays

    Persian Muslims traveled over land, in search of China, and arrived northern Burma at Yunnan (China) border. Their colonies were recorded in Chronicles of China in 860 AD.[42][43] Myanmar Muslims were sometimes called Pathi, and Chinese Muslims are called Panthay.[44] It is widely believed that those names derived from Parsi (Persian). Bago Pegu), Dala, Thanlyin (Syriam), Taninthayi (Tenasserim), Mottama (Martaban), Myeik (Mergui) and Pathein (Bassein) were full of Burmese Muslim settlers and they outnumbered the local Burmese by many times. In one record, Pathein was said to be populated with Pathis. Perhaps Pathein comes from Pathi.[45] And coincidentally, Pathein is still famous for Pathein halawa, a traditional Myanmar Muslim food inherited from northern Indian Muslims. In Kawzar 583 (13th Century), Bassein or Pathein was known as Pathi town under the three Indian Muslim Kings.[46][47][48] Arab merchants arrived Martaban, Margue. Arab settlement in the present Meik’s mid-western quarters.[49]


    During Bagan King, Narathihapate, 1255–1286, in the first Sino Burman war, Kublaikhan’s Muslim Tatars attacked and occupied up to Nga Saung Chan. Mongols under Kublai Khan invaded the Pagan Kingdom. During this first Sino Burman war in 1283, Colonel Nasruddin’s Turks occupied up to Bamaw. (Kaungsin)[24] (Tarek) Turk were called, Mongol, Manchuria, Mahamaden or Panthays.[50] The Chinese General Mah Tu Tu managed the building of a mosque donated by the Yunnanese Muslim king, Sultan Sulaiman, in nineteen century in central Mandalay. The mosque is still maintained in a very good condition. Most of the Myanmar Chinese Muslims are staying around the mosque and it is well known as Panthay Mosque. That area is called Panthay Dan (Panthay Quarters).

  8. History of Islam in China …The History of Islam in China began when four Sahabas– Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas (b.594-d.674 AD), Wahb Abu Kabcha, Jafar ibn Abu Talib and Jahsh (a father-in-law of Prophet Muhammad)preached in 616/17 and onwards in China after coming from Chittagong-Kamrup-Manipur route after sailing from Abyssinia in 615/16. Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas later, after conquest of Persia in 636, went with Sa’id ibn Zaid (b.594- d.673 AD), Qais ibn Sa’d (d.682 AD) and Hassan ibn Thabit to China in 637 taking the complete volume of the Quran. Sa’ad ibn abi Waqqas again headed for China for the third time in 650-51 after Caliph Uthman asked him to lead an embassy to China, which the Chinese emperor received warmly.

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