The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A crown beckons a princess
- Effort on to anoint Saba head of shrines and royal properties

Bhopal, March 6: Far away from the glamour of showbiz or cricket, a Pataudi daughter is preparing herself for a religious responsibility.

The 30-year-old Saba Ali Khan, sibling of two actors and daughter of one, is reportedly set to become mutawalli (chief trustee) of dozens of shrines and royal properties in Bhopal, including the Jama Masjid.

That would make her the first woman head of the Auqaf-e-Shahi — the Bhopal royal family’s Rs 250-crore wakf properties — since the end of princely rule, giving her enormous religious authority over their functioning.

For instance, before next year’s Haj, thousands of Bhopalis may need to approach the Nawab of Pataudi’s elder daughter with a request for free lodging in Mecca and Medina.

Bhopal’s begums had built these palatial accommodations for pilgrims from the then princely state. The two rubats (lodges) are now managed by the Indian consulate and put up about 300 hajis free of charge.

The head of Auqaf-e-Shahi has discretionary powers to provide the free accommodation. Till now, the post was held by Saba’s father and former Test captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, whose mother was heir to the Bhopal royal family.

Saba, younger than Saif Ali Khan but older than Soha, is a jewellery designer. Reports of her impending appointment have stirred excitement.

As a proud Pataudi took her to the tomb of Dost Muhammad Khan, Bhopal’s first nawab, and visited mosques affiliated to the Auqaf-e-Shahi, supporters and opponents of the move began to close ranks.

State minorities commission chief Anwar Mohammad Khan, appointed by the BJP government, said he would “wait and watch”.

“I respect nawab saheb and am aware of his desire to appoint the nawabzadi as mutawalli. I have no objection but we will have to see if it fulfils Shariat norms,” he said.

Shafqat Mohammad Khan, educator and cricket administrator, said he would welcome Saba’s appointment.

“This is in keeping with Islam and Bhopal’s great tradition when women rulers headed Auqaf-e-Shahi and built mosques and madarsas. The nawabzadi’s appointment will show the changing face of Muslims in India,” he said.

But Khurram Ausaf Shamiri, an opponent of Pataudi, was against the move.

“Now that the age of nawabs and rajas are over, Auqaf-e-Shahi should merge with the state-run wakf board. I urge both the state government and the Muslim clergy to make a new appointment,” he said.

Palace insiders say Saba is excited about her new role and is keen to discharge her religious obligations.

She was to appear at a cricket ground yesterday with mother Sharmila and Pataudi to give away the prizes, but skipped the engagement.

A source said that according to Bhopali tradition, women holding religious office avoided huge and largely male gatherings.

Saba today said she was trying to understand the working of the Auqaf-e-Shahi. Standing by her, Pataudi said he was worried at the encroachment of wakf properties and the falling revenues.

A source said the nawab chose Saba for the job instead of Saif because of Chhote Nawab’s profession.

“Tiger was conscious that a film actor’s appointment as head of Islamic religious bodies may not go down well with the conservative sections. With Soha following in the footsteps of Saif, Saba was the most acceptable choice.”

Pataudi has reason to be cautious. A few weeks ago, Shamiri, who heads the Muslim Toyohar (festival) Committee, had approached Bhopal’s chief qazi questioning the nawab’s standing as a “good Muslim”.

Qazi Abdul Latif summarily rejected Shamiri’s contention, saying he had no religious standing and no authority to excommunicate any Muslim.

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