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Haji Mohammed Mohsin Isfahani, the Great Saint of Bengal

Haji Mohammed Mohsin, “The Great”, who’s learning, piety and philanthropy have kept him alive in our memory was born in Hooghly in 1730 A.D. His life is full of pain and uncertainty. It is interesting to know how his family migrated from Persia to India, amassed immense riches, and got several valuable properties into possession, which at the end formed the basis of the creation of the great Wakf which is now associated with his name.
2. Haji Mohamed Mohsin’s paternal grandfather Agha Faizullah, a merchant prince of Persia moved by the spirit of adventure then well known to Persians came to seek his fortune in India in the beginning of the 18th century, and settled for a long time at Murshidabad, where he carried on an extensive trade.
3. The flourishing port of Hooghly next attracted his attention and finding the place a convenient trading centre he sheltered himself here. His sons Haji Faizullah, whom he had left a short time, also joined his father. It was in Hooghly that the name of his famous grandson Haji Mohammed Mohsin, is shining in all splendour and solitary grandeur.
4. At that time there was in Hooghly, a wealthy Persian merchant of great renown named Agha mothar who having won his way at the court of Aurangzeb during the closing years of the emperor’s reign, came to Hooghly, and started a big trade in salt. It is with the fortunes of this great man that we are chiefly concerned here. So well did he manage his business with the help of his men, of whom Haji Faizullah, his sisters son, was one that in a short time he became one of the wealthiest men in the province. With increasing properties he extended the sphere of his activities and appointed Haji Faizullah his agent of Surat. With his vast riches, Agha Motahar purchased several properties in various mahals. Having reached the zenith of worldly prosperity, like a pious Muslim of the Imamia sect, he turned his attention to the attainment of spiritual blessedness, which is end of our life on earth. In addition to his pious and charitable acts he obtained permissions to renovate the fine Imambarah of Murshid kuli Khan, the viceroy of Bengal and thus realized the cherished object of his life. He kept a big establishment of attendants and servants. For the observance of his religious ceremony, especially the moharrum mourning days, he had set apart a portion of his property called sobhna. He had 3 wives, of whom the third was Zainab Khanam, from whom a daughter was born to him named Marium Khanam, well known as Munnu jan Khanam it was round this only child that all the affections of the father centred. He died at the age of 78, while his daughter was only seven years old, bequeathing all his properties to her and appointing his sister Sonhaji Faizulla to be the guardian of his daughter and his property. Haji Faizulla was then at Surat and returned after five months and took charge of Munnu Jan Khannam and her properties. He managed the properties very ably and honestly. He then, married Zainab Khanam, who was then young, fearing that she might marry another person and thus create troubles for him and her daughter, the only fruit of his happy union was the famous Haji Mohammed Mohsin.
Haji Mohammed Mohsin was 8 years (and some says 14 years) younger than his step sister, and both of them was brought up together in the house hold of Haji Faizulla. From the earliest year the sister tenderly watched him, taught him Arabic and Persian. When he sufficiently advanced in his studies she kept him under the care of Persian tutor, Agha Shirazi, who was a man of considerable learning and experience, having travelled in various countries, after having left his original house in Shiraz, and continued his studies as his fellow pupil. It was the spirit of the tutor, who often related his experience and the stories of his own adventure that nurtured in pupil thus early the intense desire for travel which he gratified in after years. Finally to complete the education in Koran and the classes he went to Murshidabad, and became a scholar of one of the most famous institution of the times. Having finished the life of scholars and laden with the rich fruits of learning, he returned to his sister’s home at Hooghly and now bestowed all his care and affection to relieve his sister from the onerous duties and anxious life which her wealth and position had imposed on her. He gave a ready proof of his affection by informing his sister in time of the plot that was hatched up to poison her. This discovery created many enemies for him and finding his position risky, he left Hooghly when he was quite young, but not untill his sister was ready to marry and so would not be left without protection.
He now lost no time in setting out to see the world. His travel began at a time when the Mughals were tottering and India was at the beginning of a great transition. Visiting all the famous place of Northern India he travelled far beyond the limits of the Mughal Empire. He went to Arabia, performed Hajj, visited Medina and started for Najaf. During his journey to Najaf he fell into the hands of robber, who treated him mercilessly, robbing him of everything that was with him. He was then 32 years old. Poor and desolate, he wandered for seven years from place to place in Iraq, Arab, Mesopotamia, quenching his thirst of knowledge and travel. He then preceded to Persia, reached his original home, Isphan, where he was warmly and hospitably received. For search of knowledge he had the longing for the fountain of his paternal home and he went to visit the shrine and enjoyed the company of the learned men in Khorasan. He also visited Turkey and Egypt. He spent 27 years of life in travel, and the weary traveller now, of sixty years of age, naturally wished to return to the land of his birth and in company of his friend of Isphan he at last safely arrived in India. He visited all the famous places of the Muslim world and thus added to his large stock of knowledge, fresh wisdom, and widened vision which he had acquired from each new source. During his travel his fame had reached far and wide and when he reached India he found everywhere a great reception ready for him. He stayed for many months at Delhi, Lucknow, Banaras and Patna. Nawab Asifud Dowla expressed a great desire to have an interview with Haji Mohammed Mohsin, with an intention of persuading the great scholar to remain in his kingdom and to form an ornament of his court, but he thankfully refused the offer and after a short stay returned at last to Murshidabad, whence he had set out so many years before. Now he became to pass his days living sometimes at Dacca and sometimes at Murshidabad. This ascetic life of Haji combined with his immense learning and unspotted character gained for him the universal respect. He used to feed the poor, provide clothes to the naked, entertain guest for months together. Being not a rich man yet he used to help the poor by handing over to them a copy of Quran written in his own noted hand-writing for which any one could pay Rs. 1,000/-. It is said with authenticity that he made 72 copies of the holy Qumran and distributed them in like manner to deserving men. One book is still at Hooghly Mohsin College Library. He had the mastery over all the 7 kinds of penmanship. He was of versatile talents. He was a great theologian, an accomplished traditionalist and a first rated commentator on the Holy Quran. He was a good historian and a sound mathematician. He had learned English also in his old age, and could speak Urdu fluently. He knew the art of sewing and cooking and could use all weapon of attack with considerable skill. He could play music very well. He was a great swordsman and a expert pedestrian, a skilful mechanic and a powerful wrestler. But he never used the strength of his body or of his sword to defend the weak against the strong. He always used to walk on foot every morning for 3 or 4miles.His dress was very plain and his manners simple and attractive. Two or three ordinary turbans, a course garment and a sheet served his purpose for a long time. He like the acquaintance of the poor kept himself aloof from the society of wealth and well - to - do men. Nawab Nazim Mobarakud Dowla Subadar of Bengal used often to visit him, but the Haji never went to the Nawabs palace.
Great were the changes during the long absence of the Haji from Hooghly. His sister had married Mirza Salahuddin Mohammed Khan, of Isphan, who having own the favours of Mohabbat Jung, Nawab Nazim of Bengal, by concluding a treaty with the Marhatas favourable with the Nawab, was at that time the faujdar of Hooghly. The marriage proved a very happy one. Their life passed smoothly. They spent a good deal in charity and pious purpose and their by endeared themselves to the people in the neighbourhood. They spent a good deal in charity and pious purpose and thereby endeared themselves to the people in the neighbourhood.
In 1735, they extended the building of the Imambarah begun by Agha Motahar adding a portion which was termed "Tazia Khana" and close by, Mirza Salahuddin established at Hat which still bears it name. The present grant edifice of the Imambarah was built on the site of the building by the great Mutawalli Syed Karamt Ali of Jaunpur. Maulvi Syed Keramat Ali by his service in the Afghan War attracted the notice of Lord Auckland and was appointed Mutawalli of the Hooghly Imambara in 1836. He was a very able and learned man. He was a good mathematician and a scientist. Syed Keramat Ali tried to trisect an acute angle geometrically, and nearly succeeded in his attempt. He was most outstanding man and for his Civil Services Examination for which the Directors of the East India Company presented him with a valuable watch with the inscription "Awarded to Mir Keramat Ali". The most important work during his time was the construction of the handsome Imambarah Building with its clock tower and sundial chiefly according to his plan and under his superintendence. He died on the 10th September 1875. But the happiness of the married pair was transitory. Mirza Salahuddin died in the prime of his life. The loss of the useful and the able husband was a great blow to Mannu Jan Khanum. But wise and true as she was, she remained to the memory of her husband, managing her property with tact and ability. The papers showed that she recovered the property of Sobhna which had been to the Government after the death of her husband. Her bold denial to accept the hand of Khan Jaman Khan, of Hooghly, is lasting proof of her wisdom and fidelity. Like her father she regarded the wealth to be the property of the sinless Imams, and continued the observance of Moharrum and other religious ceremonious peculiar to the Shia sect in the same spirit and scale.
Old as she was now, the management of her vast estates seemed too heavy a burden on her. She naturally longed to have the assistance now of her step-brother, Haji Mohammed Mohsin, who was so dear to her and whom she knew to be the honest and competent. She entreated him to come to her relief from Murshidabad and although Haji Mohammed Mohsin was determined to pass his life as a scholar and ascetic there, he could not help acceding to the request of the constant companion of his childhood for whom he had special regard and attachment. Accordingly he returned to Hooghly accompanied by his two friends Rajab Ali Khan and Shakir Ali Khan, and was accorded a warm reception by his sister who made over to him all the papers and management of all her property, and herself adopted a schedule life. To the credit of Haji Mohammad Mohsin it might be said that in spite of perfect aloofness from worldly affairs, he managed the Zamindari with great ability, tact and judgement. This sister passed her days in prayer, tenderly carried for by her brother, and died at the age of 81, in 1803 A.D.
Haji Mohammed Mohsin inherited all the property of his sister which she had left by a will to him as the last and enduring proof of her affection. It was thus at the age of 73 years that Haji Mohammed Mohsin became the legal heir of this vast acquisition, which he put to God. But unlike ordinary mortals his enormous wealth brought no change in him. He remained what he was, an intensely pious man living the frugal life of the traveller and scholar. He did not marry despite the earnest solicitation of his sister. The loneliness gave him ample opportunities to cultivate those virtues and prepared his mind for receiving those impression which was reflected in the on the world in beautiful prismatic diffraction. His wealth only widened the sphere of his affection and charity. It gave him opportunity to serve the suffering humanity in more efficient and approaching manner. Not to say in helping those who came to him, he even wandered from door to door seeking out the needy gentleman, the starving widow and the distressed orphan. The love of man was the keynote of his life, and this be taught us not in theory but by percept and example. There are several interesting episode illustrating his magnanimity and large hearted charity.
Like his sister and his father he was now anxious to turn the course of his charity into a more useful channel by dedicating his property to the service of God, and Prophet and the sinless Imams to whom only he owed all his pity and large - heartedness. With objects in view and contemplating his death not far off, he on April 20th , 1806 A.D. signed a deed of trust, setting apart the whole of his income for the fathea of the Prophet and the Imams, for the expense of Moharrum and for all other days of feast and festivals which had been the established practice of this great family from the days of Agha Motahar. A copy of the deed both in English and Persian is inscribed on the walls of the Hooghly Imambarah, facing the Hooghly River, in which the donor has clearly defined his intention and purpose in creating this endowment. The deed after giving some account of the founder of the property which formed the subject of the endowment and also of the founders full wish and the desire to keep up and continue and usages and charitable expenses of the Fathea etc. (Marasim - wa - Akhrajat - i - Hussainiah) of the Hazrat (whom be blessing and reward) and of the sinless Imams (on all of whom be the blessing God) which have been the established practice of the family, went on to state that the entire income of the property after paying the Government revenues were to be divided into 9 equal shares. (A) 3 shares were to applied in the expenditure of Ashra of Moharram - al - Haram (ten days of sacred Moharrum) and all other days of feast and festivals, and in the repair of the Imambarah and the cemetery.
(B) 2 shares in equal portion to be allotted as remuneration of the two mutawallis appointed to supervise the religious and zamindari affairs of the endowments;
(c) 4 shares to be disbursed in the payment of the establishment, monthly stipends of the stipendiary’s, respectable men, peadasan and other persons.
This is the summary of the Haji Mohammed Mohsin’s purpose in giving the whole of his property for the sake of God, his religion and his salvation in conformity with the Imamiah faith in permanent appropriation. I will relate briefly in other place how the trust property of Haji Mohammad Mohsin is now managed and how it proceeds is at present appropriated.
For more details visit the website: http://imambarahhooghlycommitteeofmanagement.com/

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