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Moghul Caliphate 1530-1857

In 922 AH - 1517 AD disaster occurred to the relics of the 'Abbasid Caliphate. Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I; the Caliph was carried off to Constantinople, whence he was presently sent back to Egypt to die there in obscurity. Some date the assumption of the Caliphate by the Ottoman Sultans from this event; yet it is noticeable that the Ottoman historian Sa'd ad-din calls Constantinople Dar al-Khildfah, "seat of the Caliphate" before the conquest of Egypt; and the conqueror Selim in his dispatch to his son, while enumerating the various glories of his exploit, says nothing about his seizure of the Caliph.

From at least the year 937, India had a seat of the Caliphate, and the title Caliph was actually taken by SherShah (1540-1545), and his successor Islam-Shah (1545-1552), who called himself on a coin Caliph of the Time, and assumed an imperial title al-'Adil "the Just." In an anonymous coin of the year 937-1530, fifteen years after the termination of the Egyptian Caliphate, Agra is called "Seat of the Caliphate" and in others of the following three years the same title is given to Lahore. Cities of India claimed that title from 1530 to at least 1842, the date of the latest silver Moghul coin mentioned in Lane Poole's Catalogue.

Early Signs of the Caliphate

The respect for the authority of the Khalifs appeared on coins of Indian sovereigns, both in Dehli and in Bengal. Sometimes it went no further than to say that the coin was struck in the name of the Commander of the Faithful, with a prayer for the perpetuity of the Khalifat, omitting the name. But when all doubts were removed as to the extinction of the Khalifat, it came to be the practice to introduce the names of the immediate successors of the Prophet. In one instance, a coin of Shir Shah, a soldier of fortune, who drove Humayun from Hindustan and reigned for a time in Dehli, is said to have been struck by the authority (i.e. under the auspices) of the Commander of the Faithful, Ledin illah, one of the Abbasside Khalifs of Baghdad, who died three centuries before this time.

But at this period the introduction of the names of the successors of Muhammad is to be understood merely as an expression of orthodoxy, i.e. the profession of the Sunnite faith of the reigning prince. A common formulary is to introduce their attributes, " By the truth of Abubekr and the justice of Omar, by the modesty of Othman and the knowledge of Aly."

The coins of the Mogul sovereigns of Hindustan are frequently said to be struck at the seat of the Khalifat - Agra or Shahjehanabad. In these later times, the title of Commander of the Faithful seems to have dropped out of use. Nothing probably contributed so powerfully to this as the great schism of the Muhammadans. While the Indian rulers paraded the symbols of the Sunnites, the Persian kings displayed those of the Shi'ah faith, setting forth the names or the distinguishing qualities of the twelve Imams.

In Bengal the name of Musta'sim appears on coins as late as the year 722 A.H.; in Delhi as late as 695 A.H.; this was the first of the three expedients enumerated. Doubtless the news of the death of the Caliph would not at once reach these remote regions; but even this distance would be covered in less than forty years. The third method was that adopted by the Sultan Qutb al-din Mubarakshah (716-720 A.H.; 1316-1320 A.D.) This monarch calls himself on his coin Supreme Imam, Caliph of the Lord of the Worlds, and took a title in the style of the Caliphs, Al-Wathiq billah, "The reliant on God."

The remaining expedient, looking out for a Caliph, was tried by the Sultan Mohammed Ibn Tughlaq, who reigned from 725-752 A.H., 1324-1351 A.D. This devout man, having come to the conclusion that no Sultan was authorized without investiture by an 'Abbasid Caliph, made numerous inquiries as to the existence of persons of that line; and finally heard from numerous travellers that there was an 'Abbasid Caliph in Egypt. He accordingly sent an embassy to this personage, requesting investiture, which the Egyptian Caliph was delighted to bestow; and from this time the name of the Egyptian Caliph figures on Indian coins.

One specimen of a diploma conferring sovereignty on an Indian prince was composed by a well-known belle-lettrist, Ibn Hijjah, in Damascus, 813 A.H., 1411 A.D. The person on whom it confers the realm of India with capital Delhi is Muzaffar-Shah, who, as it records, destroyed Somnath a second time in 1395, and took the fort of Diu. He appears to have been the most powerful Moslem sovereign in India at the time, and to have settled who should reign in Delhi; but does not appear to have reigned there himself. The latest notice of an Egyptian investiture is in the history of Ibn Lyas, who witnessed the Ottoman conquest of his country. In the year 876-1471 there arrived, he says, an envoy from the King Ghiyath ad-din, soliciting investiture with the sovereignty of India in place of his predecessor, and bringing gifts for the Egyptian Sultan as well as for the Caliph. This Ghiyath ad-din must be the Sultan Malwa, who according to the Chronicle, translated by Bayley, ascended the throne in 873-1469, and in a coin reproduced by Thomas calls himself the person on whom authority has been conferred by the Caliph of the time in the worlds.

Mughal Caliphate

With Akbar, however, (1556-1605) the Indian Caliphate may be said to be definitely established. This potentate was very much in earnest in his assumption of the title Caliph, as appears from his pronouncing the khutbah in the style of the Pious Caliphs and their successors, the 'Abbasids; and in the faiwa which he obtained from the Indian jurists he is styled Emir al-Mu'minin. It is likely that Akbar's assumption of the title was in part dictated by conscious rivalry to the Ottoman Caliph, and of this there is a hint in a story told by Badaoni. When Akbar wished to substitute for the second sentence of the Moslem creed the formula Akbar is the Caliph of God, he was asked what the provincial rulers, such as the Padishah of Rum (Ottoman Sultan) would think of it; and he charged some one who objected with being a secret agent of that potentate, with whom he hoped to curry favour by such conduct, and to whom he was told to go. Indeed one may well wonder that the world was large enough for two such sovereigns as Sulaiman the Magnificent and Akbar.

The possession of the Sanctuaries would seem to be sufficient occasion for a quarrel; and indeed Sher-Shah (1540-1545) entrusted an intending pilgrim with a message to the Ottoman Sultan, wherein he requested that one of the two Sanctuaries might be assigned to him (the Indian Caliph); a message which is unlikely to have been delivered. Nevertheless the Indian Caliphate was not unknown in Mecca. In a letter to the Ashraf (nobles) of this place Akbar's secretary, Abu '1-Fadl, calls Agra "the seat of the sublime Caliphate." Similarly in another to the Uzbek Sultan he speaks of a prince destroying himself when after capture he was being brought to the threshold of the Caliphate (i.e. Akbar's capital.) In another, soliciting the visit of a man of letters from Shiraz, he speaks of the fortieth year of Akbar's Caliphate.

Akbar and his secretary had virtually abandoned Islam; but this was not the case with Akbar's successors, and they figure as Caliphs in history and diplomacy as well as in numismatics. In the Memoirs of Akbar's successor, Jahangir, a letter is produced wherein the Persian Shah 'Abbas uses the word Caliphate for the empire of India; The world-conquering standard of the Caliphate in the person of Jahangir is said to have cast the shade of equity over the inhabitants of the world. In the letter sent by the next Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan, to the Shah 'Abbas II in 1646, the house u-hich adorns the Caliphate (i.e. the Indian dynasty) is contrasted with the Persian Sultanate.38. The princes of this Emperor's family are regularly called the Eldest Jewel in the casket of the Caliphate, the Cypress of the River of the Caliphate, and the like. In 1709, when the Emperor Shah 'Alam I. had ordered the name of the Fourth Caliph in public prayer to be followed by the title IVasiyy (trustee or legatee) which belongs to the Shi'ah doctrine, there were riots in Akbarabad (Agra) and Shahjahanabad (Delhi), the Seats of the Caliphate of the Indian Emperors. Appellants who tried to obtain remission from this edict were told that they must read prayer according to the command of the Caliph," i.e. Shah 'Alam.

The Moghul Caliphate was overthrown as other Caliphates had been overthrown. Shah Alam II, after having been kept in rigorous confinement by the Mahrattas, on their defeat by the English in 1803, applied to the British Government for protection, which was accorded, and from that time the titular kings of Delhi became pensioned subjects of the British. Until 1835, however, the current coin of India continued to bear the Moghul superscription.

On 10 May 1857, Indian soldiers of the Bengal army rose up after refusing to accept cartridges greased with pork and beef fat. This anti-British campaign, which comes to be called the Mutiny or Rebellion of 1857, spreads across India and lasts for over a year, causing much bloodshed. The British quell the rebellion in 1858. The emperor, Bahadur Shah II, is exiled to Burma, and his sons and grandson are killed by a British military officer, exterminating the Mughal line. There is no evidence that those who had lost their Caliph felt the loss at the time, nor was it until near the end of the 19th Century that any attempt was made to replace it.

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Page last modified: 09-02-2017 19:32:56 ZULU