By Dr A Q Khan
May 7, 2018
After travelling to Makkah, Madina, southern Persia, Iraq, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, Ibn Battuta reached the Indian Subcontinent, where he travelled from Sindh to the North West and then on to Delhi (which he called Dilli).
At that time, Sultan Ghiasuddin Tughlaq was the king. The king’s son, Mujahid Muhammad Shah treacherously killed his father when the former returned from an expedition. He took possession of the kingdom without opposition. His real name was Jawnah, but when he became king he called himself Muhammad and took the ‘Kunyah’ name of Abul Mujahid.
About the new king, Ibn Battuta said: “My statements about him are based for the most part on what I myself witnessed in the days when I was in his land. He was, of all men, the most addicted to the making of gifts and the shedding of blood. His gate is never without some poor man enriched or some living man executed, and there are current amongst the people many stories of his generosity and courage and of his cruelty and violence towards criminals.
“For all that, he is, of all men, the most humble and the readiest to show equity and to acknowledge the right. The ceremonies of religion are strictly complied with at his court and he is severe in the matter of attendance at prayer and in punishing those who neglect it. I have seen some with my own eyes and have myself had a large share; I cannot do otherwise than speak the truth. In addition, most of these facts are established by numerous independent authorities in the lands of the East.” He then goes on to list some incidents.
Abd al-Aziz was a jurist who had studied in Damascus. He came to the court of the sultan, who received him generously and gave rich gifts to him. One day Abd al-Aziz detailed a number of traditions about al-Abbas and his son and some of the memorable deeds of the caliphs descended from them. The sultan was highly pleased due to his attachment to the house of Abbas and, after having kissed the scholar’s feet, ordered a golden tray with 2,000 horse-carriages to be fetched. “These are for you”, the sultan said, “and the tray as well.”
Shams al-Din al-Andukani, a doctor, philosopher and a gifted poet, wrote a poem in Persian in praise of the sultan. It contained 27 verses, and the sultan gave him 1,000 silver dinars for each verse. Former kings used to give only one-tenth of this amount as rewards. The sultan was called to appear before a judge on a claim brought against him by a Hindu chief, saying that he had killed the chief’s brother without just cause. The sultan went on foot and unarmed to see the judge, having previously sent orders that, upon his arrival at the tribunal, the judge should not get up. Upon arrival, he saluted, paid homage and remained standing while the judgment, decreeing that he should satisfy his opponent, was passed against him.
A young boy, one of the sons of the Maliks, brought a claim against the sultan that the latter had struck him without cause. Judgment was given against the sultan, stating that he should either pay the plaintiff monetary compensation or allow him to exercise his right to retaliate in kind. The sultan summoned the boy, gave him a stick and said: “By my head, you shall strike me just as I struck you.” Whereupon the boy took the stick and hit the sultan 21 times, his high cap actually flew off his head.
Strict about the observance of prayers, congregational attendance was obligatory and any dereliction was severely punished. On just one day, he put nine people to death for neglecting these religious duties. He gave orders that people should have knowledge of the obligations and binding articles of Islam. On these matters, they were questioned and if anyone failed to give the correct answer, they were punished. The people used to study with one another and set the questions down in writing.
When a severe drought reigned over India and Sindh, and wheat prices rose extraordinarily, the sultan ordered that the whole population of Dilli, small or great, free man or slave, to be given six months of supplies from the royal granary at a nominal price.
Despite what has been said about his humility, fairness, compassion and liberality, the sultan was far too free in shedding blood. It was seldom that there would be no corpse at the entrance to his palace. One day Ibn Battuta’s horse shied away from something lying on the ground. One of his companions informed him that it was a part of a man’s torso; he had been cut into three pieces. The sultan often punished faults, great or small, without compunction, irrespective of the men being from learned, pious or noble descent. Every day, except on Fridays, every prisoner was brought before him, chained and fettered.
Once, a section of the army, under the leadership of Malik Yusuf Bughrah, was designated to engage infidels in an area bordering the province of Dilli. Some of the troops stayed behind and Yusuf informed the sultan accordingly. The sultan gave immediate orders for all of them to be arrested and all 350 of them were executed.