Shah Jahan Begum (1838-1901), Ruler of the Princely State of Bhopal

Barbara Daly Metcalf’s writings are such a treat to read. Her sympathies for Muslims of the sub-continent are evident is almost all her speeches and writings. I have excerpted some passages from her remarkable book, Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband 1860-1900 and have rendered it in audio. Here is the link to the audios.

Today, I chanced to read her presidential address delivered at the 125th annual meeting of the American Historical Association, held in Boston, Massachusetts, in 2011, titled, Islam and Power in Colonial India: The Making and Unmaking of a Muslim Princess. You can also watch video of the address online: part 1, part 2, and part 3. Here are some exciting excerpts from the presidential address about the great literary achievements of Shah Jahan Begum (1838-1901) :

“Her preparation included studying the volumes of hadith and copying with her own hand the great Indian reformist tract of mid‐century, the Taqwiyatul Iman. She published a collection of hadith of her own selection. She also compiled “a dictionary,” the Khizanatul lughat (1886–1887), listing Urdu terms alphabetically, each translated into Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit, English, and Turkish. The choice of languages reflects Shah Jahan’s transnational world, and some of the definitions show her reformist bent. Thus, to equate randi, the Urdu term used for both “widow” and “prostitute,” with the neutral equivalents she chose—such as zan (Persian), stri (Sanskrit), and “a woman” (English)—was a loud and clear assertion that widowhood carried no stigma.

“Most revealing of Shah Jahan’s thought, however, is her manual on women’s behavior. There was little publishing by women at all in the nineteenth century, and guidance of this sort written by a woman was wholly unprecedented in Urdu publishing. Tahzibun niswan wa tarbiyatul insan (The Refining of Women and Nurturing of Humankind, 1873/1874) invoked scriptural sanctions throughout to guide Muslim women in managing their worldly and spiritual well‐being. Thirty years later, one of the most influential Hanafi scholars of the twentieth century gave the work his approval, despite cautions against some explicitly Ahl‐i Hadith teachings.

“…Both he [her husband] and Shah Jahan relished their transnational ties, whether British or Ottoman, as part of the late‐nineteenth‐century rise of a transnational aristocracy interacting on a grand scale. The Ottomans offered the Muslim Indian princes an alternate source of honors, and both Shah Jahan and Siddiq Hasan were among the Indian notables in the era whose charitable contributions and gifts were reciprocated with the grant of Ottoman medals. Shah Jahan gave her civil code…the Ottoman name Tanzimat.”