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The first and only visit of Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya to the royal court of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq

Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya’s popularity can’t be overestimated — he had several thousand disciples in Delhi alone, and many times that number spread across the rest of the country — and yet he wasn’t without detractors.

It was the ulemas, the orthodox clerics, who weren’t favorably disposed towards the Sheikh. It was sometime in 1324 when, finding a willing sovereign in Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the ulemas decided that the time had finally come to cut the Sheikh down to size.

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The Sheikh’s habit of hosting musical soirees at his retreat was made the bone of contention.

The ulemas claimed that the Sheikh’s practice was unlawful, and they decided to hold a debate at the royal court to prove their point.

In the royal court

The law required the Sheikh to turn up at the court, which he duly did. (This, incidentally, was the first and only time the Sheikh visited a royal court.) As soon as the Sheikh entered the court, the ulema started raining rebukes on him.

Who did Nizamuddin Auliya think he was? Why was he so interested in an unlawful practice? Did he think he knew the law best? If he knew everything, what were the ulemas there for?

Nizamuddin Auliya calmly listened to all the charges levelled at him, and when the time came for him to speak, he politely quoted a few hadiths in his defence.

The ulemas, however, weren’t amused. They told the Sheikh flatly that the particular hadiths were incumbent only on Shafiis; as Hanafis, they weren’t bound by them.

A particularly belligerent Qazi straight up threatened the Sheikh, telling him to change his ways or get prepared to be dealt with as an outlaw. The Sheikh stared at him and told him plainly that he could do what he liked provided he remained in his office.

The situation was spiralling out of control when Maulana Alamuddin stepped in.A grandson of Sheikh Bahauddin Zakariya and a fine mystic in his own right, Alamuddin made an impassioned argument in favour of Nizamuddin Auliya, claiming that he himself had participated in Sufic music sessions in cities across West Asia without facing any opposition from the local clerics.

Alamuddin ultimately carried the day; the ulemas fell silent, and Nizamuddin Auliya was allowed to return to his hospice.

HAZRAT NIZAMU’D-DIN’S DARGAH : The holy shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.

Back in his retreat, Nizamuddin Auliya gave vent to his frustration before Amir Khusrau and Ziauddin Barani (both of them celebrated historians of the Sultanate period).

In the city of Delhi, the Sheikh lamented, the hadiths of the Prophet of Islam weren’t being shown adequate reverence.

Such a city couldn’t flourish for long, and the ulemas would be squarely responsible for the city’s doom.

As it turned out, the Qazi who had brazenly threatened Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya passed away suddenly just two weeks after. The Sultan, who was hand in glove with the ulemas in orchestrating the Sheikh’s humiliation, met a violent end only some months later.

And the entire coterie of ulemas was dragged off to Daulatabad by the mercurial Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1328. Most of them never returned to Delhi: A few died on the way, many more perished after reaching Daulatabad.

The city of Delhi, too, lost its lustre: It turned into a ghost town when Muhammad bin Tughlaq decided to shift his capital, and though efforts were later made to rectify the damage done, the city never quite returned to its former glory.

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Neelesh Chatterjee

Neelesh Chatterjee is an aficionado of medieval Indian history, and counts among his passions writing telling episodes down from that epoch. He is also an out and out secular, who intends to uphold through his write-ups the secular ethos enshrined in the Indian constitution.

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