Debating Caliphs and Kings in the Twentieth Century: ʿAbd ul-Ḥalīm Sharar’s Essays on Empire and Governance

In: Journal of Urdu Studies
Maryam Fatima PhD Candidate, Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts Amherst USA

Search for other papers by Maryam Fatima in
Current site
Google Scholar
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution


Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):



The following is an English translation of three essays by the late nineteenth-century Urdu novelist, historian, and essayist ʿAbd ul-Ḥalīm Sharar (1860–1926). In the essays translated here, Sharar offers commentary on contemporaneous world-historical events such as the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire (which had garnered huge public uproar in British India, later culminating in the Khilafat movement) and the “Great Game” in Iran that resulted in its bifurcation into Russian and British spheres of influence. These polemical pieces concerning major imperial changes of the early twentieth century oscillate between impassioned pleas to the colonial government to save Islamic empires from total ruin and rousing calls to action to the Muslim community to band together and save themselves. The first essay, “The Fall of the Persians” (Zavāl-e ʿAjam), reflects on the twilight years of Qajar Iran and presents “Islamic” Persia as the civilizational fountainhead of large swathes of Asia from “the Bosphorus to China.” The second essay, “The End of Ottoman Power” (ʿUṡmānī Sat̤vat kā Ḳhātimah), responds to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1912 by analyzing the material reasons for the triumph of Europe. The third piece, “The Democratic Spirit of the Arabs” (ʿAraboñ kī Jamhūriyat-pasandī), captures the style for which Sharar was primarily known: narrating history through entertaining stories for moral edification. Here, a short vignette about the Andalusian ruler ʿAbd ul-ʿAzīz and his gradual decline towards conceit, at the behest of his Gothic wife, is framed by a historical review of the many ways in which Islamic rulers avoided inadvertent polytheism by not using grand titles like sult̤ān and bādshāh for themselves. This is held up as representing the intrinsic democratic ethos of the Arabs which was forfeited by later Islamic rulers under the influence of Persian culture. These essays will be of interest to literary scholars and historians of twentieth-century India interested in imperial transitions. They preserve trends in Urdu historiography that were central to the fashioning of national publics, providing a window into negotiations of the place of Urdu and Indian Muslims in the world.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 80 80 17
Full Text Views 177 177 0
PDF Views & Downloads 160 160 0