‘Abdu’n Nabi’–At the court of Akbar

Akbar showed great respect for the two leading religious leaders at the court, Makhdum-ul-Mulk and Shaikh Abdul Nabi. Makhdum-ul-Mulk, who had been an important figure during the reign of the Surs, became even more powerful in the early days of Akbar.

‘Abdu’n Nabi aka Shaikh Abdul Nabi held the post of ‘Sadr‘, a kind of ecclesiastical registrar, in Akbar’s reign and enjoyed his confidence and was an important person in the court of Emperor Akbar.

Also known as Shaikh Abdul Nabi, who was appointed sadr-ul-sadur in 1565, was given authority which no other holder of the office (the highest religious position in the realm) had ever enjoyed. Akbar would go to his house to hear him expound the sayings of the Prophet, and he placed his heir, Prince Salim, under his tutorship. “For some time the Emperor had so great faith in him as a religious leader that he would bring him his shoes and place them before his feet.”

The assemblies in the Ibadat Khana had been arranged by Akbar out of sincere religious zeal, but ultimately they were to drive him away from orthodoxy. This was partly the fault of those who attended the gatherings. Questions were asked to belittle rivals, and soon the gatherings degenerated into religious squabbles.

The two great theologians of the court, Makhdum-ul-Mulk and Shaikh Abdul Nabi, arrayed on opposite sides, attacked each other so mercilessly that Akbar lost confidence in both of them. His disillusionment extended to the orthodoxy they represented.

Shaikh Abdul Nabi, although not personally accused of graft, is said to have had corrupt subordinates. He was a strict puritan, and his hostility toward music was one of the grounds on which his rival attacked him in the discussions in the House of Worship.

The petty recriminations of the ulama disgusted the emperor, but probably a deeper cause for his break with them was an issue that is comparable in some ways to the conflict between the church and the state in medieval Europe. The interpretation and application of Islamic law, which was the law of the state, was the responsibility of the ulama. Over against this, and certain to come in conflict with it, was Akbar’s concentration of all ultimate authority in himself.

Furthermore, with Akbar’s organization of the empire on new lines, problems were arising which the old theologians were unable to comprehend, much less settle in a way acceptable to the emperor.

i) One such problem brought matters to a climax in 1577. A complaint was lodged before the emperor by the qazi of Mathura that a rich Brahman in his vicinity had forcibly taken possession of building material collected for the construction of a mosque and had used it for building a temple. “When the qazi had attempted to prevent him, he had, in presence of witnesses, opened his foul mouth to curse the Prophet, and had shown his contempt for Muslims in various other ways.”

The question of suitable punishment for the Brahman was discussed before the emperor, but, perplexed by conflicting considerations, he gave no decision. The Brahman languished in prison for a long time.

ii) Ultimately Akbar left the matter to Shaikh Abdul Nabi, who had the offender executed. This led to an outcry, with many courtiers like Abul Fazl expressing the view that although an offense had been committed, the extreme penalty of execution was not necessary. They based their opinion on a decree of the founder of the Hanafi school of Islamic law. Abdul Nabi’s action was also severely criticized by the Hindu courtiers and by Akbar’s Rajput wives.

iii) He was sent by the emperor to Mecca with money for distribution to the poor, but on his return he failed to account for the money and was put in prison and murdered in 1584-85.

iv) A similar incident is mentioned in a book Themes in Indian History by Raghunath Rai, in the following words:

The king (Akbar) listened to the viewpoints of all the scholars and sometimes asked very intelligent questions. But he was much disgusted with the orthodox Muslims religious leaders like Makhdum ul Malik, Abdul Nabi and others as they showed obnoxious intolerance of another’s views.

v) Again in another book titled Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World by Ruby Lal, Abdul Nabi is not mentioned in good words:

One one occasion, even the Sadr (chief Judge) of the empire Shaykh Abd un Nabi has sought “protection from secluded ladies”.

Abd un Nabi was the grandson of Abdul Qaddus Gangohi, a great saint of his time.

Akbar had appointed Abd un Nabi the Sadr of the empire but found cases of bribery and murder against him, and therefore gave his position to Sultan Khvajeh.

Abd un Nabi was banished to Mecca. It was after his return that he sought refuge with the women.

In due time Akbar gave orders for his arrest “in such manner that the ladies should not know of it.”Abd un Nabi was later put to death: but it is interesting that Akbar had to do all this quietly, without crossing swords with the senior women of his Harem.

vi) Even his famous contemporary historian Abdul Qadir Badayuni, also seems to be not happy with the gentleman and his opinion is expressed in the following words:

Badauni not only has his complain only for Shias or Hindus, he too has reservations for many people from among Sunni faith. Shaikh Abd un Nabi, the chief Sadr, a bigoted Sunni is great target of him, in spite of his being good terms with Sadr, he related too many ‘infamous’ act of the Sardr.


Abdul Nabi Mosque

(Internet Photo)

Tilak Bridge, On Mathura Road, New Delhi
Dedicated To : Abdu’n Nabi
Built In : 1575-76

Abd un Nabi aka Abdul Nabi had constructed a beautiful mosque in Delhi. It was construct in 1575/76.

Abdul Nabi Mosque

Abdul Nabi Mosque, about 400m north of the Tilak Bridge, lies with its back on the Mathura road. It is a rubble-built structure consisting of a prayer-hall entered through three arched openings, the central apartment of which is provided with a dome. The cloisters on the sides of its courtyard have disappeared.
Originally, there was an inscription above the main arched bay of the prayer-hall, from which it is learnt that it was built by Shaikh ‘Abdu’n Nabi in 983 AH (1575-76). The façade of the prayer-hall was originally decorated with colored tiles, which have largely disappeared. The original features of the mosque have suffered during its recent renovation.

Tomb of Abd un Nabi aka Abdul Nabi (?) in District Gujranwala-Pakistan

Though it is clear from historical references that Abd un Nabi was a prominent courtier of Akbar, during the early decades of his rule. But it cannot be said with certainty that the same person is buried in this tomb. I found the following references about Abd un Nabi on the net, which I would like to share with you.

On 28 May, 2015, an article by Aown Ali was published in Dawn. on Abd un Nabi and his tomb.

This idea is based on the research of some of our renowned archaeologists, for example Ihsan H. Nadiem in an article on historic monuments in Gujranwala writes:

“The tomb is associated with Sheikh Abdul Nabi who was a tutor of the great Akbar. The Sheikh reached the status of Sadrus Sudur but was exiled to the holy places (Makkah and Madina) when the emperor was poisoned by Sheikh Faizi and Abdul Fazal.”

“He was ordered not to return to his country unless called by the emperor. On receiving rumors of disturbed conditions in India under Akbar he, however, came back without the permission of the emperor and settled in Ahmadabad in Gujarat in 1583. He was, therefore, arrested by Akbar and sent to prison under the charge of his old rival, Abul Fazal”.

“Another version tells of his having been murdered, while yet another attributes it was a natural death. But both accounts agree that it happened in 1584.”

Furthermore, in the same article, the veteran archaeologist says that there is no dated inscription record about the monument yet the architectural features on comparative basis suggests it dates back to the early 17th century of Shahjahan’s rule (1628-1658).

However, the comparative historical notes suggest that Sheikh Abdul Nabi was imprisoned and died in Fatehpur Sikri in 1583. It seems strange that the body of a person who was oppressed by the emperor was shifted so far away, and for what reason? Why was he buried in this great wilderness, as it surely has been towards the end of 16th century when the sheikh died?

Archeologists do not accommodate this query. But the historic record that we do have is a testament to the fact that Sheikh Abdul Nabi, the Sadrus Sudur, was buried in Narnaul in the Indian state of Haryana. This place is not too far from Fatehpur Sikri where the sheikh died while in prison.

The other school of thought regarding the tomb relates it to the Diwan Abdul Nabi Khan who is said to be the governor of Wazirabad under Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb’s era. Dr. Saif ur Rahman Dar the archeologist and Salman Rashid the travel writer are leading on this thought. Dr. Dar even establishes that Diwan Abdul Nabi Khan was a tutor of the grandchildren of Nawab Saad Ullah Khan, the prime minister, under Shah Jahan.


Tomb of Abd un Nabi at Kotly Maqbara


(Internet Photo)

Tomb of Abd un Nabi is a majestic building located in district Gujranwala, near a small village Kotly Maqbara. It is situated in such a remote country side. The huge tomb is a grand building standing tall in the green fields and visible from a long distance. Its sheer size and beauty of architecture is simply marvelous. Folk lore call it a work of Djins.

Due to negligence, it is fast approaching a stage when it would be difficult to repair or restore it. Already huge cracks have appeared in one of the four cupolas of the tomb. The main building is eroding at the lower parts.


The board reads: There are three graves under this tomb. In centre, Sheikh Abd un Nabi, on the west  side his son and on the east side his disciple lie buried.

(Internet Photo)


Passage to the lower a chamber containing graves


(Internet Photo)

There was one interesting story in November 1991: a woman had, of late, started to visit Abdul Nabi’s mausoleum. She dismounted from her escort’s motorcycle some ways away and came dancing to the tomb where she did all sorts of genuflexions at the subterranean graves.

(By the way-In the old days, when you came in front of your social superiors, you were expected to genuflect: that is, bend your knee and bow submissively. You did it before kings and nobles, and everyone did it before God.)

She told the people that a vision in her dream had informed her that these three were great heroes of Islam, who had come from Arabia and whose exertions had done much for religion in the heathen land of India.

Upon investigations it was revealed that this seer of visions was a superannuated dancing woman and prostitute from Chhicherwali, a village outside Gujranwala.



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