Masih Ul Mulk Hakim Ajmal Khan (1868-1927)

Hakim Ajmal Khan is considered as one of the 100 great Muslim leaders of the 20th century. He was a visionary and was blessed with some extraordinary qualities which very few people can match. Not only was he a visionary but, to many, he was a reformer when it came to Hindu Muslim unity. In a time when the rift between the two communities was growing he preached and taught that there is unity in diversity, a concept much ahead of its times.

Hakim Ajmal Khan was born at Shareef Manzil in I868 in the family of renowned Hakims of Delhi famously known as Khandaan-i-Shareefi. He draws his ancestry from the famous Naqshbandi Saint, Khwaja Ubaidullah Ahrar from Samarqand in Central Asia. Babar, The Mughal Emperor and his father were disciples of the Khwaja. On Babar’s request the Khwaja sent one of his family members to India to accompany him for the sake of divine blessings. Thus came Hakim Sahab’s ancestors to India and settled initially in Agra. Later, the family took up Hikmat or Tibb-e-Unani as its profession and rose to the positions of Shahi Hakims of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. This continued for almost 4 generations until Hakim Shareef Khan Sahab who was the last Shahi Tabib of Muhammad Shah in the late eighteenth century. The reputation of the family in the field of medicine, reached its acme under Hakim Mohammed Shareef Khan (1722A.D. – 1807A.D.), who was the son of Hakim Akmal Khan. In 1815A.D after constructing his Haveli which latter was named SHAREEF MANZIL he also built a mosque just opposite the haveli in BALLIMARAN, which still exists and has a verse inscribed in Persian, the translation of which is “Thanks to the Almighty GOD that, with the efforts of Mohammed Shareef Khan a mosque was erected which is Kaaba of purity-----when the muazzin’s (one who calls people to the proclamation from the house of Allah) call arose, the preachers of wisdom said: Seek the year of its foundation from the house of Allah”. It was after Hakim Shareef Khan that his house came to be known as Shareef Manzil and his family called KHANDAN E SHAREEFI.

Hakim Ajmal Khan was the youngest of the three sons of The Great Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan, who himself was a legendary figure. Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan had three sons, Hakim Abdul Majeed Khan, Hakim Wasal Khan and Hakim Ajmal Khan. All three of them proved worthy of their illustrious father’s legacy, contributing to the name and fame of the family thus taking its prestige and stature to dizzy heights. Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan who came to be called “MEHMOOD-e-AZAM” by the people out of sheer respect after the monumental services he rendered to the people of Delhi during the turmoil’s of 1857 war of Independence.

He was a living legend, a person of inherent inner beauty, outer grace and dignity; he was a man of exceptional character. His medical works and treatments in different diseases and ailments are so strange that despite being true, at times they seem to be unbelievable.
He was an expert SEXOLOGIST and has written two very knowledgable and practical books on sexology beside the books on other subjects. One of them which is called KAARNAMA-e-ISHRAT (Wonder of Pleasure)explain and discusses different aspects of sex, its benefits and harms, as well as how to derive maximum pleasure from this gift of nature which if misused can also lead the individual to a state of utter frustration, sometimes even resulting to dire consequences. These books are still part of the UNANI education. He was the first in his family to write a daily DIARY in which he tells his children of his hardcore experiences and advises them apart from many other things that they should NEVER leave the moral high ground which if adhered to will bring them great respect and honour in the eyes of the society and above all in the hereafter and on the Day of Judgement they will be revered. He also taught them never to equate any creature with the Creator. Never forget to respect the elders and the friends of their elders. He was a renowned physician and had a roaring practice in Delhi and in other parts of India. He was a royal physician of several princely states, especially of Patiala, Nabah, and Jind states in Punjab. Patients flocked to him for treatment from all parts of the subcontinent as well as from Central and West Asia. He was a very hospitable and generous person and despite the fact that he was patronized lavishly by the rulers of several states, he never neglected the poor and the needy. It goes to the credit of Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan that he democratized the UNANI system of medicines among the masses by taking it out from the patronage of royal courts. He severed his connections with the RED FORT of Delhi and practiced medicine for the benefit of the poor whose houses he visited frequently to examine their seriously sick and disabled patients and never ever charged any fee nor the cost of medicine provided to them.

Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan had witnessed the horrors of the rebellion of 1857 and would have fallen a victim to the British reprisals, but for the timely intervention of the rulers of Patiala, Nabah and Jind states who, being the British allies, had sent a special regiment of forces to keep round the clock vigil of his Haveli and Ballimaran, during those traumatic days. Thus Shareef Manzil became a refugee camp and Ballimaran, the only locality which was spared of the holocaust.

The great poet MIRZA ASADULLAH KHAN GHALIB, who was a neighbor and also a tenant of Hakim Mehmood Khan has recorded unforgettable events of 1857 in his diary entitled DASTANBUY which he maintained during the period of rebellion. Thus writes Ghalib:
“During all this turmoil something occurred which was of considerable help to us, the ruler of Patiala, Narinder Singh Bahadur……..supports the conquerors in this battle, his army has been assisting the British from the very beginning. Some of the Raja’s highest officials live in this lane (Ballimaran), Hakim Mehmood Khan, Hakim Murtuza Khan, Hakim Ghulamullah Khan- all of them progeny of Hakim Shareef Khan who now dwells in paradise- are themselves very honorable and famous men. The double row of their extensive homes stretches for some distance and for the past ten years I have been the neighbor of one of these rich men. Hakim Mehmood khan who with his family and relatives lives a very respectable life according to the traditions of his ancestors”.

Hakim Mehmood Khan strove hard to protect the people by providing them shelter in his house and kept their valuables in safe custody with him, which according to estimates of some historians were more than Rs. 2 Crore (20 million) at the time, which were duly handed back to the owners when they returned to Delhi after the disturbances were over. Curiously enough these sterling acts of honesty and kindness were considered as seditious by the British authorities who were hell bent upon crushing the souls of the Indians. They took strong exceptions to these activities at Shareef Manzil, which ultimately led to the arrest of Hakim Sahib. Mirza Ghalib graphically narrates this incident in the following words:

“Probably because of the spying of devilish informants, the city administrators learned that the home of Raja Narinder Singh Bahadur’s physician had become the rendezvous and refuge of the Muslims. It would be no surprise if some of these troublesome, evil-tongued informers are here also. Because of them, on Tuesday the 2nd of February, the city administrator entered that house and took with him sixty innocent refugees along with the master of the house. Although these people were held in confinement for several days and nights, the dignity of their positions was respected”.

Hakim Mehmood Khan was however, released a few days later and most of those who were arrested along with him were also set free soon after. Hakim Mehmood Khan died in 1892 A.D. at the age of 72. The burial procession was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life and Delhi had never witnessed such a sight ever before. The famous Urdu poet Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali composed an elegy of 132 verses, two stanzas of which are quoted below:

The stream of learning glide along scholars caused

And then away they passed.

Our community’s heralds the sleeping roused

And then away they passed.

Some warblers their magical numbers sang

And then away they passed.

Some saviors there were who resurrected the dead

And then away they passed.

The only plank which the shipwreck survived.

The time of tide, Oh Delhi! Took that away, too.

Seemingly thou had left the glory of thy people, city divine.

And community’s honor sullied since long;

Yet Mehmood Khan’s presence lent honour to us all.

Alack the loss that Death at last,

Laid her icy hand on him too.

What moments wouldst thou cherish about the days past?

And what the source of thy pride to endure, Oh! Jahanabad?

Hakim Ajmal Khan memorized the Holy Quran at a very young age of 7 and received his education from some of the most highly respected scholars of his time and soon became an authority on Arabic, Persian and Urdu. He later acquired command of the English language also, apart from being trained in his family profession of Tibbe Unani under expert guidance of his family elders.

History claims of very few multifaceted individuals who were illustrious physicians, theologist, great statesmen, educationists and poets, that too not only of Urdu but also of Persian all woven together, other than Masih ul Mulk Hakim Ajmal Khan.

In the historical places of Delhi, Hakim Ajmal Khan Sahab’s ancestral Haveli, Shareef Manzil has a special place, considering the amount of changes and upheavals it has witnessed in its 268 years of existence. Built by Hakim Mohammed Shareef Khan in 1740A.D. a year after Nadir Shah sacked Delhi, it is one of the oldest and most illustrious haveli of Delhi. The number of eminent personalities that have visited it in different periods of its existence bear testimony of its importance in its times. People from all walks of life-may it be cultural, medical, educational, political, religious or social- regularly visited Shareef Manzil, as its owners, the Shareefkhani Hakims were always playing some important role in Delhi’s daily life.

It has played host to many Head of States, Rajas and Maharajas, Nawabs and Princes of different royal States. The Viceroy of India, Lord Harding- who was a personal friend of Hakim Ajmal Khan, a scion of Shareefkhani family-had visited Shareef Manzil at the time of the foundation ceremony of Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbia College.
The great poet and philosopher, Allama Sir Mohammed Iqbal used to come to meet Hakim Ajmal Khan, each time he visited Delhi. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad stayed at Shareef Manzil for almost six months and it was during his stay here that during one of his visits to Shareef Manzil, Mahatma Gandhi, who a was very close to Hakim Ajmal Khan and had great regards for him, met the Maulana for the first time. Both Moti LaL Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru too were regular visitors. Due to his seniority in the freedom struggle of India, Hakim Ajmal Khan’s residence Shareef Manzil became the focal point of the movement and many important meetings and decisions were taken here. He was elected the President of Indian National Congress in 1921.

Historians write that hardly a day passed, without there being one important gathering or another, at Shareef Manzil, may it be social, political or cultural. People felt proud to be associated with Shareef Manzil in any way they could. In the troubled times of 1857 war of independence, when the whole of Delhi witnessed great turmoil and massacre, Shareef Manzil became the only refugee camp for all those displaced masses who were seeking shelter from the marauding British forces. Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan- the then Head of Shareef Khaani family, was the royal physician of the Princely States of Patiala, Nabah and Jind. Due to his respect and regard for Hakim Sahib, Maharaja Narinder Singh of Patiala-a British ally, sent a special contingent of forces to protect Ballimaran and Shareef Manzil, the residence of Hakim Ghulam Mehmood Khan, from being vandalized. In short, no other haveli can compete in Stature and services to the nation as Shareef Manzil can.

He was the Royal Physician to the Nawab of Rampur and used to stay for long periods in Rampur. During this time he was given the charge of the internationally acclaimed Raza Library. His most prominent contribution to this library was the tabulation of all the Arabic books and manuscripts. Raza Library houses large quantities of some of the rarest manuscripts of different languages which were managed by him for more than a decade.
Guy Attewell in his book “Refiguring Unani Tibb” states outstanding work done by Hakim Ajmal Khan at the time of the outbreak of plague in Bombay in 1898. Hakim Ajmal Khan’s treatise on plague was in itself a reform in the practice of Tibb in India. The treatise on plague was published in 1898 called Al- Taun (incidentally his first works to be published and the only in Urdu), at the height of interventionism in the plague and the public agitation that it entailed. In submission to his readers, he presented his treatment of the plague as breaking new ground in many fundamental ways. Ajmal Khan sahab described his book as an ‘innovation’ against the Tibbi tradition of writing in Arabic. The Arabic language, according to Hakim Sahab, had safeguarded Unani tibb for centuries. For him knowing Arabic and being able to access the works of the literary Unani tradition had been one of the keys to guaranteeing valid Unani knowledge. However, his intention was to reach not only to his fellow professional readers, but to a much larger audience. Thus, writing in Urdu made the work accessible to the literate lay person, broadening the constituency of Unani tibb beyond those who had Arabic or Persian Madrasa education.

Ajmal Khan grappled with the reorganization and reorientation of Tibb, and the Plague crisis urged him towards these ends: the reform of learned Unani Culture. Ajmal Khan occupied position in construing unani tibb as a symbol of glorious Muslim heritage, while urging tibb to adopt western knowledge where he considered tibb deficient, like in the field of surgery, anatomy and midwifery. These views of his were widely shared by other elite physicians of Lucknow and Lahore.

Ajmal Khan was an exponent of a fundamental shift in the way Unani knowledge was to be approached. The presentation of knowledge was a key element in this. Unlike the earlier method of noting Unani texts, Ajmal Khan Sahab introduced a plain and comprehensive manner of writing that was highlighted with a section of clearly defined contents for easy reference of the common reader, thereby making the text more comprehendible and attractive for reading. He was evidently firmly committed to tibb, but was intent on pushing it in new directions. For him, a more compelling motive was to reach out to the literate middle classes, to guide them and inform them about the epidemic and its grave consequences. He wanted to reach into people’s homes, lives, minds and change their attitudes and behavior. People, according to Hakim sahab, had to take responsibility for themselves and for others, instead of blaming the government to whom they should be thankful. He acknowledged that it was the government that had been instrumental in controlling the epidemic and had thought more about their health than the people themselves did. His style of writing thus made it easier for the lay man to put these readings into practical usage without the guidance of any external help, so that people could maintain their personal hygiene and safeguard themselves from disease and illness.
Apart from this, he was also an environmentalist. He pointed to the care of the body and the physical environment as a life or death issue. This is the transformation that he was preaching: the writing of tibb should be concerned with engaging with the public in their day-to-day activities, in their intimate spaces, in making them better people. In the place of common, intrusive procedures like bloodletting, Hakim Ajmal Khan Sahab favoured gentle prevention and treatment-personal hygiene and sanitation, cooling, heart-fortifying medicines, cooling bitter food and cooling drink; and the medicinal use of scents. These were practices which were not necessarily medicated by the Hakim and which people could take up in their own lives and environments.
He partially adopted the discourse on sanitation and public health of the colonial medical administration, blending it on occasions with prescriptions on hygiene in Islam, as he sought to reform the Home environment. Hakim Ajmal Khan did not shun the insights of Tibb into disease causation and therapeutics, but he brought them with a certain critical distance, into dialogue with the outside world.

Hakim Ajmal Khan was well on his way to establishing himself as a worthy successor to his family’s high-pedigree Unani practice in Delhi.

Hakim Ajmal Khan was not only a great physician but also a great humanitarian and these qualities are reflected in the works he did in the fields of medicine, education and social welfare. The Shareefi family, to which Hakim Ajmal Khan belonged, was one of the most influential in Delhi’s elite society, steeped in Perso-Islamic scholarship and with connections as Unani practitioners to the many courts of India over several generations. His eldest brother, Haziq-ul-Mulk Hakim Abdul Majeed Khan, had been involved in the early phase of the institutionalization of Tibb-e-Unani in India. He established the Madarsa Tibbiya in 1889 and the inauguration was addressed by Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan. In his speech, he is reported to have expressed hope that the Madarsa would encourage western medicine as well as Unani Tibb so that their differences would be overcome. Sir Sayyed Ahmed’s advocacy of western education for the betterment of the Muslim community in India is well known. This was probably the only public endorsement of Unani Tibb by Sir Sayyed Ahmed. Ajmal Khan Sahab took over the running over the school after the demise of his brother Hakim Wasal Khan in 1902, and began publishing the school’s journal Majallah Tibbiya- a Unani magazine in 1903. Hakim Sahab wrote that the scheme for the Delhi Madarsa Tibbiya had been devised in order to distinguish learned Tibb from popular, corrupted and ignorant Unani practices. He upgraded Madarsa Tibbia into a full-fledged college called Ayurvedic & Unani Tibbia College at New Delhi.

After establishing Ayurvedic & Unani Tibbia College where he also introduced women education, he launched a program to modernize Unani Medicine and brought about radical changes for the same. To achieve his object he made trips to European countries such as The UK, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France where he visited many reputed institutions so as to equip himself with modern and latest researches.
He went on to establish a school for training of midwifes in 1906. In Delhi and Lucknow the question of reforming dais’ (i.e. traditional birth attendants) practices was on the agendas of Hakim Ajmal Khan with the support of his peer Hakim Abdul Aziz, who had both been exposed to the activities of the Dufferin Fund and the prioritization of women’s health. The National Association for Supplying Female Medical Aid to the Women of India was commonly known by the Dufferin Fund. It was established in 1885 with the objective of training women in order to treat female patients. Models of western midwifery evidently inspired Hakim Ajmal Khan’s Madarsa Zenana Tibbiya, at the Madarsa Tibbiya, inaugurated by Lady Hardinge in Delhi in 1909 for the training of women tabibs and dais.

Hakim Ajmal Khan made the most commendable contribution in the history of Indian medicine by advancing a movement that was national in ambition and scope, through the foundation of the All India Vedic and Unani Tibbi Conference-AIVUTC. The conference gave shape to a particular and influential mode of cooperation between Vaids and Tabibs which enabled them to represent the interests of indigenous medicine, on a platform that was convened annually in centres of Unani practice in north and central India. This was the only organisation that drew its inspiration from the understanding that a shared forum of vaids and tabibs would be more powerful than those organizations which were dedicated to either Ayurveda or Tibb alone.
His sincere and persistent efforts in bridging the gap between Ayurvedic and Unani medicinal practices enhanced his stature as a visionary. He was supported by his peers in inculcating among the practitioners the need for a new approach to knowledge and practice, which would foster a new relationship between practitioners and the drugs and medicinal plants of India. Such sincerity of his was acknowledged in 1913 when Hakim Ajmal Khan Sahab was presented with an award by the Ayurvedic Mahamandal in recognition of his service to Ayurveda.

The magnanimity of his character can be gauged from the fact that even though he was a Hakim he did not neglect Ayurveda and christened his college Ayurvedic & Tibbia College, giving preference to Ayurvedic on Unani proving that Hakim sahib was a man of deed not of words and that he was a great liberal and a true Nationalist who believed that all Indian sciences which have suffered at the hands of the British must be revived and institutionalized.

Hakim sahib not only added to that collection but also made a comprehensive list of the Arabic collection that was available in the library, which made research on the subjects much easier.
On the National front he founded Jamia Millia Islamia along with two of his most prominent colleagues Dr. M.A. Ansari and Maulana Mehmood Hasan, to provide Nationalist education to the young students who sacrificed their careers by leaving Aligarh Muslim University at the call of Non Cooperation Movement given by the then Indian National Congress 1921. Thus Jamia Millia Islamia came to be founded as a consequence of Non Cooperation movement and the resentment of AMU students against the British. In 1920, Hakim Ajmal Khan was elected as the first Chancellor of Jamia.

This was initially started at Aligarh but was later shifted to Tibbiya College, Karol Bagh and then to Okhla, New Delhi where it is now located and has grown into a world famous University. This was done, so that he could personally attend to the matters and problems being faced by the young University, from the proximity of his own city as because of his health problems Hakim Ajmal Khan was finding it difficult to make frequent trips to Aligarh. Faced with financial crunch he sold his Diamond ring which was a family treasure and gave the money to Jamia and saved it from closure due to lack of finances.
In later days to come, he practically gave away all that he earned either to Tibbia College or to Jamia Millia Islamia which were considered to be his two eyes.

During one of his trips abroad, he attended the coronation of King George V in London. He became a special friend to His Majesties Royal Physician who praised his professional skills. During this tour he met a number of world renowned personalities and dignitaries namely Madam Lama, King Nadir Shah Durrani ,who later became the Shah Of Afghanistan, Ismail Pasha, Mustapha Rustam Buck of Turkey, Hasan Shaheed Suhraward and many others, this was apart from his constant company of his close friends the Maharaja of Baroda and Raja sahib Mysore.

As the president of the Khilafat committee he was in constant touch with all the leaders of the Muslim world. Ibn e Saud who later succeeded the throne of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stayed in constant touch of Hakim sahib through correspondence concerning the movement.
In his own country, if on one hand he was a close friend of Lord Hardinge, The Viceroy of India, on the other hand he was a senior party member of the Indian National congress and later also the President of the Indian National Congress. Such was the personality of Hakim sahib that it was he who introduced Mahatma Gandhi to all the important people of Delhi and Gandhiji also met Maulana Abul Kalam Azad for the first time at the house of Hakim sahib. He was a close associate of Moti Lal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. Ansari, and Jawahar Lal Nehru the First Prime Minister of India.

One is often surprised to find out that he had a triple to his credit where he was the President of not only the Indian National Congress but also of the Muslim League and of the Khilafat Committee.He was not only respected by the Muslims but also by the Hindus who held him in the highest esteem. This is born by the fact that an extremist Hindu organisation called Hindu Mahasaba which was known for its anti Muslim ideology elected Hakim sahib as the chairman of the reception committee of their annual session at Delhi in 1921 and he alone till date remains the only Muslim to do so.

A great protagonist of Hindu Muslim unity he strived to see the two communities together throughout his life. As an illustrious citizen of Delhi he often acted as a bridge not only between the two communities but also between the Congress and the Imperial crown.During the period of political tensions between the government and the Congress against the Rowlett Act, Satyagrah was launched by Mahatma Gandhi; Hakim sahib became a driving force of the movement.

As mentioned earlier he was a great humanitarian who served his people in the best way he could even at the cost of his own health. Bachon ka Ghar a big orphanage at Darya Ganj Delhi was founded by him. Mild in nature he was an affectionate elder a responsible head of the family, a true friend, a humble human being and a pious Muslim. He had a charismatic personality and his popularity amongst people from all walks of life and multicultural communities is unparalleled. This legendry figure died on 27th December 1927 in mysterious circumstances in Rampur and was buried in his family graveyard at New Delhi.

The President of India released a commemorative stamp in his memory on behalf of the Government of India on the 13th February 1987. There is also a recreational park and road named after him. He had only one son Hakim Jamil Khan who too became a famous Hakim and is considered an expert Chemist who did many innovative additions to the profession. He migrated to Pakistan in1960 and died in Lahore in 1970, and is buried there.

Submitted by: Sana Masroor, MSW (Final), Dept. of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia.

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