The region of Hijaz is a repository of rich Islamic heritage and site of Islam’s two holiest cities — Makkah Al-Mukarramah and Madinah Al-Munnawara. Al-Hijaz is a witness to many religious and politically significant events in the history of Islam and is, thus, an object of great fascination for Muslims all over the world, including those from India.
The prominence of the Jeddah Port, as the Gateway to Makkah and as the leading port for maritime trade through the Red Sea, attracted merchants and pilgrims in large numbers every year. The people of Hijaz were also fascinated by India’s spices, pearls, precious stones, silk, sandalwood, oudh and perfumes and looked forward to the arrival of Indian ships.
The earliest visit by Indians to Makkah for Hajj pilgrimage is a matter of conjecture but it is likely that such visits pre-date the Muslim conquests of Sindh (664-712 A.D.).
During Mughal times and until the eighteenth century, pilgrims from India had the option of travelling to Makkah either by overland caravans or by sailing ships. The Indian pilgrims travelling by land route via the northwest of India had to pass through long, difficult and hazardous terrains, which also involved crossing the hostile Shia territories controlled by the Safavids.
The Indian pilgrims, most of whom were Sunnis, preferred instead to go by the sea routes, primarily through the Red Sea, and occasionally through the Persian Gulf. However, rampant piracy and the strict Portuguese control over the Indian Ocean in the sixteenth century made passage through the Red Sea an onerous task. Most ships travelling from India to the Red Sea in the sixteenth century were forced to carry a Portuguese cartaz or pass. The conditions at one point became so un-conducive for Hajj that religious scholars at the Mughal court even declared pilgrimage to Makkah as non-binding under the circumstances (Al-Badaoni, as quoted in Ain-i Akbari).
The Mughal rulers had patronised the Hajj and sent several ships to undertake the voyage, providing free passage and provisions for the pilgrims. On their part the Ottoman Caliphs, who had assumed the title of ‘Custodians of the Holy Places’, spent large sums in providing and protecting the vast caravans that visited Hijaz from different countries like Syria and Egypt. The ancient port of Surat in Gujarat, which was described variously as Bab-ul-Mecca or the Bandar-e-Mubarak (blessed port), was one of the leading ports of embarkation for the Indian pilgrims during the Mughal times. Rulers of the Bengal, Bijapur and Golconda also used various other Deccan ports on the east and the west coasts for Hajj sailings (M.N Pearson, 1994).
Akbar was the first rulers to organise the Hajj pilgrimage at state expense and provide subsidy to pilgrims. He also founded a hospice for pilgrims in Makkah (Suraiya Faroqui, 1994). After 1575 when a treaty was signed with the Portuguese to allow safe passage of pilgrim ships in the Red Sea, Akbar ordered that a caravan be sent from Hindustan every season like the caravans of Egypt and Syria. He appointed a senior noble as a Mir Hajj (leader of the pilgrims) and directed a top noble of his court Abdur Rahim Khan-i-Khanan to set aside three of his own ships the Rahimi, the Karimi and the Salari for the free transportation of pilgrims to Jeddah. The contemporary traveller John Fryer Keane (Hajji Mohammed Amin) mentions these pilgrim ships weighed between 1400 to 1600 tons and often carried 1700 pilgrims each.
Support to the Hajj pilgrimage continued to a lesser degree during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan, the later sent regular charity to Makkah and appointed Mir Hajj for the pilgrimage. One particular incident of great historical significance was the capture of the ship Rahimi owned by Maryam-uz-Zamani (Jodha Bai), the mother of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, in 1613 A.D. by the Portuguese despite having their cartaz. Rahimi was believed to be the largest vessel of any kind sailing in the Indian seas during its time. It had an estimated capacity in the range of 1500 tonnes with a room for carrying 1500 passengers. It was known in Europe as “the great pilgrimage ship”. The Mughals, who had depended on the Portuguese to escort their annual pilgrim voyages across the Arabian Sea to Makkah, regarded the capture of the royal ship as an affront to the Mughal Empire and a deliberate act of religious persecution by the Portuguese. The incident led to the softening of the Mughal stand towards the British, who had been making vain attempts since 1608 A.D. to gain the Mughal favour, which provided ground for the ultimate grant of royal permission to the British East India Company for establishing itself in India.
Aurangzeb, regarded as the most pious and orthodox among the Mughal emperors, was lavish in his patronage of the Hajj. Every year two royal ships of Aurangzeb travelled to the Red Sea carrying lords and ladies of Hindustan, fakirs and pilgrims. J.B. Tavernier observed these ships carried passengers for free. Several women from the Emperor’s harem and many of his nobles sent regular charity to Makkah.
Aurangzeb’s daughter Zebunnissa also extended her support to Hajj. She sponsored the Hajj pilgrimage of a scholar Safi bin Vali Al-Qazvini as a reward for authoring a tafseer of the Holy Quran by the name Zeb ut-Tafsir. Safi Al-Qazvini set sail for the pilgrimage on board the ship Salamat Ras on 15th Shawwal 1087 AH (1676 A.D.) and arrived in Makkah on 3rd Dhul-Hijjah. Qazvini describes his voyage in his work ‘Anis Al-Hajj’, which is an important treatise on the history of Hajj and is preserved at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai (Sadashiv Gorakshkar, 1983).
During the Mughal times, people were sent on Hajj for various reasons: religious duty, religious studies, and reward for good services and punishment for failures. Hajj was also used as an effective instrument for sending potential challengers and adversaries on political exile. Sometimes even the threat of sending a person on Hajj used to have salutary effect on errant nobles and scholars. Humayun had blinded his brother and sent him off on Hajj in 1553 A.D., who did Hajj four times and died in Makkah in 1557 A.D. Akbar once became exasperated with the over-bearing behaviour of his mentor Bairam Khan and ordered him to go to Makkah to perform Hajj. As ordered Bairam Khan left Delhi and moved towards Gujarat, but was killed in Ahmedabad by an Afghan before he could embark for Hajj. Jahangir banished his Persian doctor Hakim Sadra to Makkah for not giving him proper treatment when he fell ill. An important Qazi under Aurangazeb, Qazi ul-Quzzat, who habitually clashed with the Emperor, was asked to resign and go for Hajj. Hijaz, thus, became a favourite abode for defeated nobles, rebels and aspirants to throne.
The Sheriffs of Makkah received substantial Mughal largesse. During 984-989 A.H. (1576-1582 A.D.) the Akbar’s Mir Hajj carried more than Rs 600,000 in money and goods to be distributed to the people of Makkah and Madinah, along with thousands of khilats (robes of honour) and expensive gifts for the Sheriffs of Makkah. In 1659 AD Aurangzeb sent presents worth Rs 660,000 to the Sheriff of Makkah. The Mughals perceived that the financial help rendered to the Sheriffs would bring goodwill for the Indian pilgrims and favours, when needed, for the imperial court, like keeping an eye on disgruntled elements seeking refuge in Makkah and sometimes even harassing them. Often, the Sheriffs of Makkah also used to send his agents to the Delhi court to extract benign favours from the Mughal emperor.
Interestingly, despite having huge resources and means, none of the Muslim male rulers, be it the most powerful Mughal emperors, or the provincial rulers of Bengal, Bijapur, Gujarat or Golconda, or the Nizams of Hyderabad, or the smallest of chieftains, ever undertake a voyage for performing Hajj. Instead, the common trend was to send royal women on Hajj and trading missions.
One of the first Mughal royal ladies to perform the Hajj was Bega Begam or Hajji Begam, wife of a noble of Humayun who later became Humayun’s wife. Gulbadan Begam, daughter of Babar and Akbar’s aunt, was one of the most important among the elite Mughal women to perform the Hajj in 1576 A.D. She, accompanied by Salima Sultan Begam, widow of Bairam Khan and wife of Akbar and nearly forty other ladies and many servants, sailed on board the ship Salimi, accompanied by the royal officials in the ship Ilahi. She arrived in Makkah after an adventurous voyage and stayed there until 1582 A.D. and performed Hajj four times and Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage, several times.
Other interesting episodes relate to the visit of Begums of Bhopal to Makkah, first by Sikandar Begum in November 1863 A.D. followed by Sultan Jahan Begum in 1903. Sikandar Begum stands out as the first ruling head of state, male or female, to perform Hajj. She travelled with a retinue of 1500 by road, rail and then by sea in three specially chartered ships to reach Jeddah in January 1864 A.D. She came with her mother and former queen Qudsia Begum, who indulged in showering currency notes from her carriage during the entire journey and was unduly hounded by a swarm of beggars. On arrival at Makkah, the Begums inadvertently got involved in a protocol breach when they left un-tasted the 50 royal dishes of Arabic food sent by the Sheriff of Makkah. Serious misunderstandings were cleared later when the Begums reluctantly partook from the fresh set of Royal dishes sent by the Sheriff (Shaharyar M.Khan, 2004).
Nearly four decades later, Begum Sultan Jahan embarked on the same journey with a retinue of 300 people on board the ship – SS Akbar, and was received upon arrival by the British Vice Consul, who was an Indian Muslim, and representatives of the Turkish Governor and the Sheriff of Makkah. Like the earlier visit of her mother, her visit also started off badly, when the Sheriff of Makkah, Aun-ur-Rafiq Bin Abdullah Bin Aun frowned at the nazrana (ritual gifts) brought by her. She went to Madinah first by sailing to Yanbu and thereafter in a caravan escorted by 200 Turkish soldiers, who braved several onslaughts by the maverick Bedouins. She got some solace after reaching Madinah as the Governor of Madinah made special arrangements by partitioning half the mosque for her and closed it to men. She finally returned to India in 1904.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, several visits by noteworthy people from India for Hajj pilgrimage were recorded. Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan, the Nawab of Rampur performed Hajj in 1872 A.D. and brought several rare manuscripts, including the unique 7th century parchment manuscript of Quran attributed to Hazrat Ali. The legendary Urdu poet Dagh Dehlavi accompanied the Nawab on the Hajj.
Many noted literary figures and religious scholars also performed Hajj including Syed Ahmad of Rae Bareli (1824), who is credited with introducing Wahabism to India, the poet Shefta (1842), Maulana Siddiq Hassan Khan Bhopali (1872), noted writer G.M.Munshi (1876), Maulana Mashuq Ali (1909) and Abdul Majeed Daryabadi (1929). Syed Fazal-ul-Hasan (Maulana Hasrat Mohani), a leading member of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind, performed Hajj thirteen times. Among the leading personalities from India who performed Hajj in the post-Independence period, mention may be made of the legendary singer Begum Akhtar, Maulana Mohammad Taeib (Head, Daruloom Deoband), Dr Abid Hussain, Prince Basalat Jah of Hyderabad, painter M.F. Hussain, playback singer Mohammad Rafi, Syed Abdur Rahman Bafakih Thangal and Hakeem Abdul Hameed.
Under the British India, Hajj continued to get attention. In 1885, the British government appointed the famous tourist agency Thomas Cook and Son as the official travel agent of the Hajj and were given the responsibility of streamlining the pilgrimage trade. Thomas Cook agents were asked to coordinate rail transportation, shipping, passports, medical provisions and ticketing procedures. The British government affirmed it was under special duty to protect the stream of Muhammadan pilgrims who resort to the sacred places at Makkah and Karbala (Imperial Gazette, V.4 p.111, 1909). In 1927, a 10-member Hajj Committee was constituted headed by D. Healy, Esq., Commissioner of Police, Bombay. Consequent upon passing the Port Hajj Committee Act in 1932, a Port Hajj Committee was constituted which rendered its services to the pilgrims until 1959, when a new committee was formed following the promulgation of the Hajj Committee Act of 1959.
During the Second World War pilgrims continued to make the journey to Makkah, but they did so in smaller numbers and under difficult conditions. At first in 1939, the Marquess of Linlithgow, India’s Viceroy, tried to dissuade Indian Muslims from going for Hajj citing the reasons of security and shortage of ships. The Muslims became indignant and mounted pressure on the government, which ultimately relented and the pilgrims could go for Hajj. The Government of India also made special efforts to secure shipping and to subsidize costs.
In 1959, the Reserve Bank of India issued two special ‘Hajj notes’ for the Hajj pilgrims in the denominations of Rs 10 and Rs 100 and had the serial number ‘HA’ inscribed on the obverse. These notes were not legal tender in India, but could be converted at Bombay into Indian rupees or into pounds sterling under agreements in place with the Saudi Arabian banks. These special Hajj notes were first issued to the Hajj pilgrims on 3 May 1959 at the Mohamed Hajji Saboo Siddick Musafirkhana in Bombay. The money allowed to be carried by pilgrims on their journey to Saudi Arabia varied depending on their mode of travel. In 1959 Hajj pilgrims travelling by boat could carry 1,200 rupees if travelling ‘deck class’ and 1,800 rupees if travelling ‘first class’. Pilgrims travelling by air could take 1,700 rupees.
An interesting aspect of the Hajj in 1950s and 1960s was that, unlike the present, the choice of selecting the Moallims or Mutawwifs remained with the pilgrims. Moallims used to travel to various destinations in India for canvassing and booking the pilgrims. The Saudi government used advance money to the mutawwifin for their travel to India, a practise which was started in 1941. Pilgrims from different regions had their favourites among the Moallims. For example, Mutawwif Farooq Saifuddin was preferred by pilgrims from Hyderabad while Ahmed Sheikh Jamalullail was preferred by pilgrims from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There was a Shaik-ul Moallimeen, who supervised the work of Moallims as the institution of Moassasa did not exist.
During the 1960s and until the mid-70s, the Saudi government utilised the services of scouts from all over the world during Hajj and an annual Islamic Scout Jamboree was held at Makkah in which contingents of Indian Muslim scouts regularly participated for several years. Private contingent of Indian scouts, headed by late K.P.Hasan Abdullah of Kerala consisting of Muslim orphans also participated in such activities.
The largest shipping line operating from the Indian ports was the Mogul Line, which was founded in 1888 and managed by the British agency house Turner Morrison. The oldest of the Mogul Line ship was SS Alawi (built 1924) followed by SS Rizwani (built 1930). These ships were scrapped in 1958 and 1959 respectively. Other early Mogul Line ships were SS Saudi (capacity 999), SS Muhammadi and SS Muzaffari (capacity 1460), SS Islami (capacity 1200), MV Akbar (capacity 1600), SS Noorjehan (capacity 1756) and SS Nicobar (capacity 1170). After its nationalisation in 1962, the control of the Mogul Line passed on to the Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) and finally in 1987 it merged with SCI. Leading Saudi company Hajji Abdullah Ali Reza & Co. Ltd. were agents of Mogul Line in Jeddah and the acclaimed Indian expatriate Late Rafiuddin S.Fazulbhoy was its Assistant General Manager.
In 1927 Mogul Line ships carried nearly 20,000 of the 36,000 Hajjis arriving from Indian harbours. In the late 1930s, over 70 per cent of pilgrim ships from India were Mogul Line vessels. An interesting statistical study published by the Saudi Ministry of Interior in 1969 indicated that over 10 years from 1958 to 1968, 200,100 pilgrims came from India for Hajj. India, thus, ranked third in the number of pilgrims sent for the Hajj in this decade and came only after Yemen and the United Arab Republic (UAR), which sent 321,268 and 232,070 pilgrims respectively.
Throughout the 1960s, about 14,500 Indian Hajjis used to come by sea and another 1000 used to travel by Air India chartered flights. The chartering of flights was done by the Hajj Committee through the airline company Trade Wings. Both air and sea operations were carried out from only one embarkation point i.e. Bombay. The round-trip ship fare used to be Rs 1000 for first class and Rs 500 for deck class. The number of pilgrims coming by sea decreased gradually and by 1994 it fell to 4700. Finally, in 1995, the sea voyage was stopped and all Indian pilgrims arrived only by air.
The number of Indian pilgrims hovered around 70,000 during 2000-2004. By 2006 (1427 H), the number of Indian pilgrims reached 157,000, the second highest after Indonesia. The Gregorian year 2006 was unique, as it saw Hajj two times in a single calendar year, a rare phenomenon which took place earlier in 1974.
In 2019, the Indian Hajj Mission handled 200,000 pilgrims, the largest ever number so far following the increase in its quota by the Saudi authorities as a special gesture.