Nur Begum

نور بیگم
Kandhvala, Punjab, India
Early 20th c.

Born as Ghulam Fatima yet better known through her pen name, Nur Begum (n.d.) was born to a zamindar family in a small town near Abohar, India. In 1931, Nur Begum left her village in Punjab, India to perform Hajj. She embarked on a three month journey with her mother and husband (who receives almost no mention in the poems written about her travels). Unlike other women travel authors during this time, Nur Begum came from a rural background. Her family belonged to Jauiyah caste and although little is known about her early life and education, it is apparent that Nur Begum was a woman deeply versed in Islamic sciences, when most women in Punjab were not literate. Nur’s work is steadfast in offering offers citations of both the Qur’an and hadith as well as commentary on classical Arabic sources alongside her own translations. After returning home from her voyage, Nur Begum set herself the task of writing  an account of her experiences. The final result – a poem – was completed in six months, published in 1933, and entitled Mazahir-i Nur (Manifestations of Celestial Light/Nur). It is easily one of the most captivating and honest accounts of Hajj written by a woman in any language, and is also regarded as one of the earliest known travel accounts by a woman in Punjabi. Nur’s poem is divided into two sections: a travel narrative and a separate guide on performing Hajj rites (manāsik). The narrative portion consists of the journey itself, but also social, political, and religious issues encountered during the trip. Throughout the piece, Nur Begum often takes up issue with the Wahhabism saturated within Mecca and Medina, as well as the apathy by many surrounding the subsequent religious impositions. She wrote passionately of the prohibition of certain religious practices and the destruction of historical and revered sites of devotion. Mazahir-i Nur went into at least three printings, including at least one run twenty years after its first publication. Despite her work’s early popularity however, Nur Begum and her poetry are now, unfortunately, forgotten.


Biography by Sharmain Siddiqui


Manifestations of Light

Nur Begum
Mecca (Original Language: Panjabi)

Arrival in Jeddah [Getting off the boat,] there was chaos and confusion all around As everyone searched through the luggage looking for their name. As soon as we got off the boat and set our feet on the dock God granted us our first sight of the Arabs. There was a stone kiosk beside the …