A modest edifice, a remarkable history

Ancient Monument
Last Updated 20 May 2014, 14:35 IST

An active mosque from Mughal era that also serves as the office of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind .

Thousands of Delhiites cross ITO on a daily basis. Some take note of a large white mosque just next to the main traffic signal while others don’t. But those who do often wonder at its curious location. The mosque has its entry gate facing the adjoining Delhi Police Headquarters while its back – a huge blank wall – faces the main road.    

Well, even more curious than its location is its history – the history of Abdu’n Nabi Mosque.Prayer hall of Akbar’s chief priestThe 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 ulemas 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 Mohammed’s sayings, and in turn, the Sheikh accepted to tutor prince Salim. In fact, Akbar had such reverence for him that he would bring the Sheikh 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, the Sheikh sha­p­ed Akbar’s orthodox style of practising 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 (2008).

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, somehow, couldn’t explain all the expenses and Akbar ordered him to be put behind bars. At last, he was found murdered in prison in 1585.

Architecture and 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 di­­­­s­­­­­­­a- ­ppeared. 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 prominent Islamic organisation.

(Published 20 May 2014, 14:35 IST)

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