|Saba Ali Khan
Bhopal, Aug. 28: Saba Ali Khan, daughter of the late Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, today became the first woman naazir or caretaker of the rubaat (guesthouses) set up by the former Bhopal royals in the holy towns of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Fittingly, the move was part of efforts to honour the will of Bhopal’s first woman ruler who reigned nearly 200 years ago, Begum Qusia Jahan.
This is the second male bastion Saba has breached. Last October, a month after her father’s death, she had become the first woman muttawalli (chief patron) of the Rs 1,000-crore Auqaf-e-Shahi that looks after the Bhopal royals’ religious endowments.
Saba’s appointment as naazir has resolved a raging controversy in Bhopal. A section of Muslims was said to be upset when the Saudi authorities appointed a Saudi national without any links to Bhopal as rubaat caretaker last year.
Conservative Muslims saw this as a violation of Begum Qusia’s will, under which only the Auqaf-e-Shahi appointed the naazir — someone of Bhopali origin who would then move to Saudi Arabia. The break in tradition apparently happened because of lack of communication after Pataudi’s death.
The Auqaf-e-Shahi then applied to the Saudi authorities to let Saba be the naazir. Medina High Court gave its approval after going through the Bhopal Rubaat Wakf deed that spells out Begum Qusia’s wishes.
Announcing Saba’s appointment here today, her mother Sharmila Tagore, locally addressed as Begum Ayesha, read out from the court ruling: “The naazir and the muttawalli should/can be the same (person) and (the court) has recognised Ms Saba Ali as naazir and muttawalli.”
Saba will not move to Saudi Arabia — the day-to-day running of the guesthouses will be handled by Faheem Rizvi, a Mecca-based lawyer of Bhopali origin. The guesthouses accommodate about 300 Haj and Umrah (a mini-Haj performed round the year) pilgrims free of cost.
Rizvi was picked by a panel of six eminent citizens, including Bhopal qazi Maulana Mushtaq Nadvi, appointed by Sharmila to select someone of Bhopali origin to serve as local rubaat caretaker in Mecca and Medina.
Sharmila had sanctioned a tour led by Nadvi to conduct interviews in Saudi Arabia and coordinate with the Indian consul-general in Jeddah, an IAS officer from the Madhya Pradesh cadre named Faiz Ahmad Kidwai.
In 1819, when Begum Qusia travelled for Haj, she set up the guesthouses for Bhopalis in Mecca and Medina. She is said to have carried numerous bags full of silver and gold coins, and the Saudis were so impressed by her generosity that they offered to grant nationality to a Bhopal family she had deputed to look after the rubaat.
In March this year, when Saba’s brother and actor Saif Ali Khan visited Bhopal for a shoot, he was greeted by black flag-waving protesters who asked that a person of Bhopali origin be appointed rubaat caretaker.
Sharmila, who arrived here last night, today confirmed that Saif’s wedding with actress Kareena Kapoor would be held in October in Mumbai or New Delhi.