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The Queen and Abdul: A friendship beyond boundaries

In the summer of 1887 as Queen Victoria approached the Golden Jubilee of her reign, she was overcome with feelings of loneliness. She had never stopped mourning for her beloved husband, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861, and had chosen to wear widow’s black all her life. As she looked ahead to the special occasion and the celebrations that loomed before her, the lonely Queen missed his presence more than ever.

The government was doing everything they could to make a unique show to celebrate the Jubilee and suggested to Queen Victoria that they should invite some Indian princes, who with their colorful clothes and expensive jewelers provide the necessary glamour to the occasion. The Queen liked the idea and at her Jubilee, her Empire would sparkle before the world. She also suggested that it would be good to have some Indian servants around her, to help when the Indian princes as well.

He arrived in England in June 1887, just three days before the start of the Jubilee celebrations. The Queen, then aged 68, had been a widow for 26 years. For a while, the empty space in her life left by the death of her beloved Albert in 1861, had been filled by John Brown who became her trusted companion. Their relationship was so close that there were rumours that they were lovers or had even secretly married and the Queen was dubbed ‘Mrs Brown’. But Brown died in 1883, leaving the Queen devastated and lonely once more. “I sat alone! Oh! Without my beloved husband,” she wrote mournfully of the Jubilee thanksgiving service. On the 3rd day of the celebrations, the Queen was introduced to her present from India-the well dressed young servants, one stout and smiley, the other one tall and handsome. The two immediately began to wait at the Queen’s table and Karim became the favourite as he impressed her with his dignified bearing and assisting her with everything.

The tall 24-year-old Karim was a clerk in Agra Jail and the smiling and portly Buksh was a seasoned table-hand who had worked for the Maharana of Dholpore. They arrived for the Jubilee, not knowing what to expect but from the day they kissed the Queen’s feet and began waiting on her, it was the young Karim who caught the Queen’s eye. In his diary, Karim wrote following on meeting Queen Victoria for the first time; “I was somewhat nervous at the approach of the Great Empress… I presented nazars (gifts) by exposing, in the palms of my hands, a gold mohar (coin) which Her Majesty touched and remitted as is the Indian custom.”
He was to become her closest companion for the last 13 years of her life, filling the void left by the death of her husband and, later, of her close friend, John Brown.

The curry King

One day Abdul Karim walked into the kitchen in Osborne House with the spice box that he had carried from India. He had decided to cook for the Queen. As the cooks stood amazed and watched, Karim was chopping, churning and grinding the masalas. The aroma of cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin and nutmeg covered the room. Karim had prepared chicken curry, daal and a fragrant pilau. Soon after, Karim was stirring up exotic biryanis and dum pukht, dishes from the Mughal kitchen while Korma’s would simmer in the cast iron pots and ground almonds and cream laced the rich curries. For the first time in her life, Queen Victoria was introduced to the taste and smell of India. She described it as “excellent” and ordered the curries to be made regularly.

The rise of Abdul Karim

11th August 1888, the Queen noted in her journal: “I am making arrangements to appoint Abdul as munshi (teacher) as I think it was a mistake to bring him over as a servant to wait at table, a thing he had never done, having been a clerk or munshi in his own country and being of a rather different class then others. Karim had also told her that he was unhappy with his position as a table hand and that he wanted to return to India since it was a demanding job. The Queen immidiatly decided to raise his rank and make him stay: “He (Abdul) was anxious to return to India, not feeling happy under the existing circumstances. On the other hand, I particularly wish to retain his services, as he helps me studying Hindustani which interests me very much and he is very intelligent and useful.”


Karim from Agra charmed the Queen with his stories of India and even served the Queen her first curry. Always fascinated by India, her “Jewel in the Crown” and the country she ruled from thousands of miles away, the Queen chose Karim to learn about India. Soon he became her Urdu teacher, giving her lessons every evening. He read to her the poetry of Ghalib and she used to walk around with a phrase-book of Hindustani words. While Buksh remained waiting at tables, Karim was promoted and soon became noticeably close to the Queen. She tended to him personally if he fell ill and fussed about his comfort and well-being.Within a year, Karim was promoted as the Queen’s Indian Secretary and given the grand title of Munshi Hafiz Abdul Karim. She commissioned portraits of him to be painted by Rudolph Swoboda and Von Angeli, and all photos of him waiting at table was destroyed. He was also given houses in Balmoral, Windsor and Osborne and allowed to use the billiard’s room with the other gentlemen of the Household. He accompanied her on her European holidays and soon the pair was inseparable.

At every step the Queen honoured him with titles and medals and gave him the CIE and the MVO, one step away from a Knighthood. Even Karim’s father, Haji Wuzeeruddin, was given the title of Khan Bahadur and he became the first person to be allowed to smoke a hukkah (water-pipe) in Windsor Castle.

The Queen as student

The Queen wanted to kearn Hindustani and asked Karim to teach her and he proved to be a serious teacher and a hard task master. He began with teaching her a few words every day. He also made a phrase book for her and soon the Queen would carry this red and golden book with her everywhere. Karim would write a line in Urdu, followed by a line in English and then a line in Urdu in roman script and the Queen would copy these. A few weeks later an exited Queen noted in her journal: “I am learning a few words of Hindustani to speak with my servants. It is great interest to me for both the language and the people. I have naturally never come into real contact with before.”

Karim as clever as he was, helped the Queen with her correspondence and advised her on Indian politics. The Queen would often write to the Viceroy of India and demanding answers of some issues that were raised by Karim but it became more than the Household could bear. Once the Household threatened to resign collectively if the Queen took Karim on her European vacations, but the Queen in an instant rage swept everything she had on her desk on to the floor. Photos, files, ink-pots and boxes, everything fell on to the floor when the Queen heard about the threat. The Queen won the argument and Karim was accompanying the Queen to Europe and the Household did not resign but they didn’t stop plotting against Karim as they involved the Prince of Wales. No matter what the Queen heard about Karim, she would not accept anything and stood by him like a rock defending him to the last.

The Queens death – An end of the fairy tale

The close friendship created much rumours at the castle among the Household who would now gossip. When they continued to maligning Karim, the Queen announced them as racists and sent them message on how to behave. In frustration, the Household declared that the Queen wasn’t sane and threatened that the Prince of Wales would step in as people believed that she was losing her sanity. While the world watched the Jubilee with all its glory in 1897, the Palace was torn apart by intrigue, jealousy and threats to resign because of Karim.

The 81 year old Victoria had died peacefully in her sleep in the year of 1901. She was now dressed according to her wishes for the final journey to Windsor. The procession filed past her son and heir Edward VII and his wife Queen Alexandra together with the Queen’s children, grand children and with a collection of her most trusted servants and Household members. Each stood for a few minutes before the coffin to pay their respects. The King then allowed Karim to enter the Queen’s bedroom making him the last person to see her body alone as he knew about his mothers wishes. Karim entered the room with his head bowed dressed in a dark Indian tunic and turban. As he looked at the Queen’s face that was glowing from the lights of the candles, thoughts raced through his mind. Their first meeting in the summer of 1887, the lazy days they spent together as he taught her his language and described his country, the gossips they shared, her generosity towards him and her loneliness that he understood. He stood silently as he was fighting back the tears; his lips moved saying a silent prayer to Allah to rest her soul. After a final look at her, he left the room silently.

Early one cold, February morning in 1901, the inhabitants of a cottage on the Windsor Castle estate were startled by a loud banging at the door. Tired and dazed, the head of the household, Abdul Karim, opened the front door to find a group of guards standing outside. They were accompanied by Queen Alexandra, wife of the new king, Edward VII, and by Princess Beatrice, youngest daughter of the late Queen Victoria. It was on King Edward’s orders that the house was raided only days before, Abdul Karim had been given a prominent place in Queen Victoria’s funeral procession which aroused the disgust of her family.

Now, much to his astonishment, the guards were ordering him to hand over every letter, note and memo that the late Queen had sent him over the 13 years he had served her. She had written him many letters, sometimes several a day and often signing them ‘Your affectionate Mother and Karim had treasured them. Now the new King wanted to destroy them. A bonfire was started outside the cottage and Karim watched in horror as the drawers were turned upside down.

Abdul Karim, the man that the Queen had called her “dearest Munshi” (teacher) stood and watched in silence as every piece of paper bearing the Queens handwriting was thrown into the fire. All the answers lay in the letters that was cracking in the fire telling the story of a young man who had arrived to Britain 13 years ago as a waiter and had risen t become the Queen’s closest companion and was treated like a son rather than a servant. The Munshi and his family were then ordered to pack their bags and leave for India immediately. The fairy-tale had ended and 8 years later, Karim died heart-broken in Agra. He was only 46.

Abdul Karim’s descendants left for Pakistan when the country was partitioned in 1947, leaving behind all the land and exquisite gifts given to Abdul Karim by Queen Victoria and other European royalty. Only a diary and a few memorabilia survived. A lonely grave in Agra, some portraits in Osborne House, the Hindustani journals they wrote for 13 years, and a house that bears his name in Balmoral, are all that remain today of the Queen’s closes confidant. Yet the story would not manage to be erased from the history books.

Sufism-Part 4 (Hazrat Baba Fareed r.a)

Hazrat Baba Fariduddin Ganj-e-Shakar r.a. was born on the 29th Sha’ban in 569 A.H. [April 4, 1179 C.E.] in Khotwal, a village near Lahore [Pakistan]. He was a direct descendant of Hazrat Umar Farooq r.a., the second Caliph of Islam.
It is narrated that a miracle occurred before his birth proving his Saintship. One day, during the pregnancy of his mother, she wanted to pluck some plums from her neighbour’s tree without his permission, but the child in her womb (Hazrat Baba Farid) created a severe pain in her stomach that forced her to abandon the idea of plucking. After a few years after Hazrat Baba Farid’s r.a. birth, his mother lovingly expressed: “My dear son, during your confinement I never ate anything which was unlawful.” Hazrat Baba Farid r.a., however, smiled and said, “But, my dear mother, you wanted to pluck some plums from our neighbour’s tree without his permission when I had created a severe pain in your stomach which saved you from this unlawful act.”

Education: After he had completed his early religious education at the age of 7 in Khotwal, his mother sent him for higher education to Multan. Here he stayed in a masjid [mosque] where he learnt the Holy Qur’an by heart and studied Hadith, Fiqh, Philosophy and Logic under the tutorship of Maulana Minhajuddin. During his studies, Hazrat Khwaja Qutbuddin Baktiar Kaki r.a. of Delhi visited Multan where Hazrat Baba Farid r.a. became his Murid (disciple) in the Chishtiyya Silsila. Upon the instructions of his Pir-o-Murshid, he undertook a tour of Islamic countries, for about 18 years from 593 A.H. to 611 A.H. [1196 C.E. to 1214 C.E.] he travelled to Ghazni, Baghdad Sharif, Jerusalem, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Mecca and Medina meeting many great saints and Sufis. After the demise of Hazrat Khwaja Qutbuddin r.a. the mantle of spiritual leadership in the Chishtiyya Silsila fell on the shoulders of Hazrat Baba Farid r.a. when Khwaja Qutbuddin r.a.nominated him to be his Khalifa or spiritual successor.

Besharat: It is narrated that when Hazrat Baba Farid r.a.visited Medina Sharif he was spiritually commanded by the Holy Prophet s.a.w.s. to visit Baghdad Sharif and meet Hazrat Abdul Wahab, son of Hazrat Ghaus-al-Azam Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani r.a. He was to receive some sacred relics from him. Accordingly, when he reached Baghdad Sharif, he received a box from Hazrat Abdul Wahab r.a. which contained the following holy relics: Two flag-poles which were used by the Holy Prophet s.a.w.s. in some of the battles fought by him; one wooden bowl in which the Prophet s.a.w.s. used to eat from; one pair of scissors and one turban which was used by the holy Prophet s.a.w.s.

Shrine & Chishtiya Mission: Because of political upheavals in Delhi, he was obliged to shift the centre of the Chishtiyya mission from Delhi to Ajodhan now known as “Pak Patan”. The Khanqah of Baba Farid r.a., with his patronage, became a great university of “moral and spiritual training.” Thousands of aspirants, scholars, dervishes and Sufis reaped benefit from this spiritual university. Hazrat Baba Farid r.a. reached the pinnacle of spiritual glory through extremely hard Mujahidas (spiritual striving) to gain mastery over the Nafs.

Death (Purdah): On the 5th of Muharram, during the Isha prayer [evening prayer] ] while in the act of Sajdah, [prostration during prayer] he uttered “Ya Hayo Ya Qayum” [O Self-Subsisting, O Eternal — two names of God] and with these words on his lips his soul disappeared into the eternal bliss of his beloved Allah. Immediately a “Nida” or Divine Voice declared: “Dost ba Dost Pewast” – Friend has merged into the unity of “Friend” (Allah). An old woman that was one of the devotees of the Saint presented a piece of cloth for the kaffan [shroud] of Hazrat Baba Farid r.a.. She implored: “I have not spun even a single thread of this cloth without having Wudu [purification]. I had prepared it for my own coffin but if it is accepted for the kaffan of this great Saint, I feel confident, Allah would be pleased with to pardon my sins and grant me salvation.” Hazrat Baba Farid’s r.a. son accepted this cloth as the Kaffan.

Murids: His Mazar Sharif [noble shrine] is in Pak Patan, Pakistan. Hazrat Sabir Pak, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and Hazrat Jamaluddin Hansi rehmatulla alaihim [may Allah have mercy upon them] are among his favourite Murids and Khalifas. It is generally recognized that he had three wives and many children. Hazrat Baba Farid r.a. was indeed one of the most brilliant stars of the Chishtiyya Silsila and is held in high esteem by one and all.

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