Time, traffic pass by as history stands mute

Medieval monument

Time, traffic pass by as history stands mute

There would probably be not a single Delhiite who has crossed ITO and not wondered at a lofty mosque which has its back towards the main road (c) and entrance facing the Delhi Police Headquarters.

Even more curious than its placement, is its story – the story of Abdu’n Nabi Mosque.
The mosque gets its name from its founder Sheikh Abdu’n Nabi who commissioned it in 1575 AD. Sheikh Abdu’n was one of the two most powerful clergymen in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court, the other one being Makhdum-ul-Mulk.

Zafar Hasan’s Monuments of Delhi (1919) says Sheikh Abdu’n was a descendent of Abu Hanifa, one of the four Imams - the great expounders of Muslim law. Abdu’n made several pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina and studied Hadith (Muslim traditions) there. Later, he rose through the ranks of ulamas in Akbar’s court to be finally appointed Sadr-ul-sadur (the highest religious position in the realm) in 1565.

For a long time, Sheikh Abdu’n enjoyed the highest respect of Akbar. The latter would go to his house to hear him expound Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, and in turn, the Sheikh placed prince Salim, under his tutorship. In fact, Akbar had such reverence for him that he would bring him his shoes and place them before his feet.

The Sheikh’s views on Islam and religion are also said to have greatly influenced Akbar’s own thinking, initially. A strict puritan and averse to even music, he shaped Akbar’s orthodox style of practicing Islam in the initial years. Sheikh Abdu’n would also frequently enter scholarly (and bitter) debates with his arch rival Makhdum-ul-Mulk, a reference to which can also be found in the film Jodhaa Akbar.

Incidentally, around 1580, Akbar sent him on a pilgrimage to Mecca with money for the poor there. After completing his religious and courtly duties in Mecca, Sheikh Abdu’n returned and was asked to give an account of the money spent. The Sheikh, for some reason, couldn’t explain all the expenses and Akbar ordered him to be put behind bars. At last, he was found murdered in prison in 992 A.H.

Present condition

Abdu’n Nabi Mosque is a rubble-built structure consisting of a prayer-hall with three arched openings, the central apartment of which is provided with a dome. Formerly documented cloisters on the sides of its courtyard have disappeared. The façade of the prayer-hall was originally decorated with coloured tiles which have also vanished. The original features of the mosque have suffered during its recent renovation.

Nevertheless, it is an active mosque today which also serves as the office of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind - a leading Islamic organisation of India. Jamiat Ulema works on the philosophy of a secular India where both Muslims and non-Muslims work for harmony and progress - a far cry from Sheikh Abdu’n’s orthodox version of his faith.

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