Female Islamic Saints


I. A painted portrait of Jahānāra Begam.

Jahānāra Begam (1614–1681) was a Mughal princess, author and mystic of the Qadiri and Chishti orders. Daughter of Mughal emperor Shāh Jahān and his wife Mumtāz Maḥal (for whom the Tāj Maḥal was constructed), she was named Jahānāra, “World Adorner”, by her grandfather Jahāngīr. She was born in Ajmer in what is now northern India and raised in Agra, tutored by her mother’s lady-in-waiting Satī an-Nisā’ Khānam, who herself hailed from the Caucusses. When her mother died in 1631, despite having remaining wives, her father elected her as Pādshāh Begam “Lady Empress”, causing her public influence to swell as she consoled her mourning father and looked over her younger siblings. As the Pādshāh Begam, she was responsible for organizing charity and almsgiving. She gave large sums in patronage, engaging in commerce and trade and dedicating much of her wealth to the arts, commissioning the construction of mosques and other buildings as well as the publication of many translations and commentaries of mystic works.

After she and her younger brother Dārā Shikoh were initiated into the Qadiri order by the master Mullah Shāh Badakhshī in 1641, she authored Risālah-i Ṣāḥibīyah, “Treatise on My Master,” giving a partial biography of Mullah Shāh and her silsilah, or spiritual lineage, as well as her experiences in mysticism. In 1644, when Jahānāra was near mortally burnt from a fire in the ḥarīm, she subsequesently visited the shrine of Mu‘īn ad-Dīn Chishtī. She credited her healing to the pilgrimage and thus wrote Mu’nis al-’Arwāḥ, “Companion of Souls”, giving a biography of Mu‘īn ad-Dīn, who she believed to be her master and posthumous initiator into the Chishti order.

When her father became ill in 1658, a war of succession broke out among his sons, in which Jahānāra supported the heir Dārā Shikoh, although the war resulted in Aurangzeb, Shāh Jahān’s third youngest son, deposing and slaying Dārā and putting his father under house arrest, as well as making his supporting sister Roshanāra the Pādshāh Begam. Jahānāra cared for her father for his remaining eight years of life, with Aurangzeb reconcinciling with her and restoring her as Pādshāh Begam at the former emperor’s death. She clashed with Aurangzeb over his intolerance of non-Muslims and religious nonconformity, yet he titled her Ṣāḥibat az-Zamān, “Mistress of the Age,” as their mother was, when she died.

II. Visitors resting by the tombstone in Jahānāra Begam’s tomb in Delhi, India.

She was buried in the shrine complex of the Chishti saint Niẓām ad-Dīn Awliyā’ in Delhi in a plain white marble roofless tomb, according to her wishes. Unlike most of the surrounding shrines, where women are not permitted in the inner grave site, women largely populate the shrine of Jahānāra, where another Mughal princess, Jamāl an-Nisā, and the princess’s daughter are also buried. Men and women gather to visit the tomb to pray and sing qawwālī, or devotional songs. Mentally ill women (many considering themselves possessed) come to seek Jahānāra’s intercession and the alleviation of their illness or possession, some even staying or sleeping in the tomb. Her tombstone reads (in Urdu verse):

“He is the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Let no one cover this tomb with anything but grass, for this grass suffices as a cover for the grave of the poor one, the poor and annihilated lady, Jahānāra, disciple of the lord of Chisht, daughter of Shāh Jahān the warrior. May God illuminate his proof.”

Photo Reference

I: “Isabelle Eberhardt, die Schweizerin, die als Mann durch die Wüsten Nordafrikas zog.” watson, watson.ch/wissen/frauen%20der%20geschichte/241121750-isabelle-eberhardt-die-schweizerin-die-als-mann-durch-die-wuesten-nordafrikas-zog.

II: Soofi, Mayank Austen. “City Monument – Jahanara's Tomb, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's Dargah.” The Delhi Walla, 15 May 2015, www.thedelhiwalla.com/2015/05/20/city-monument-jahanaras-tomb-hazrat-nizamuddin-auliyas-dargah/.

Other Reading

Nicoll, Fergus. Shah Jahan. Haus Publishing, 2009.

Soofi, Mayank Austen. “City Monument – Jahanara's Tomb, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya's Dargah.” The Delhi Walla, 15 May 2015, www.thedelhiwalla.com/2015/05/20/city-monument-jahanaras-tomb-hazrat-nizamuddin-auliyas-dargah/.

Soofi, Mayank Austen. “The Biographical Dictionary of Delhi – Jahanara Begum, b. Ajmer, 1614-1681.” The Delhi Walla, 14 Jul 2011, www.thedelhiwalla.com/2011/07/14/the-biographical-dictionary-of-delhi-%E2%80%93-jahanara-begum-b-ajmer-1614-1681/.

Jahanara Begam • Jahanara Begum • Jahan Ara • Jahan-Ara • Sahibat uz-Zamin

South AsiaChishti OrderSufiAuthorQueen/Co-regent (as Pādshāh Begam) • Mystic.