SHAIKH ABUL FAZL, Akbar's minister and friend, was born at A´grah on the 6th Muharram, 958,* during the reign of Islám Sháh.
The family to which he belonged traced its descent from Shaikh Músá, Abul Fazl's fifth ancestor, who lived in the 9th century of the Hijrah in Siwistán (Sindh), at a place called Rel (<Arabic>). In “this pleasant village,” Shaikh Músá's children and grandchildren remained till the beginning of the 10th century, when Shaikh Khizr, the then head of the family, following the yearnings of a heart imbued with mystic lore, emigrated to Hindústán. There he travelled about visiting those who, attracted by God, are known to the world for not knowing it; and after passing a short time in Hijáz with the Arabian tribe, to which the family had originally belonged, he returned to India, and settled at Nágor, N. W. of Ajmír, where he lived in the company of the pious, enjoying the friendship of Mír Sayyid Yahyá of Bukhárá.
The title of Shaikh, which all the members of the family bore, was to keep up among them the remembrance of the home of the ancestors.
Not long afterwards, in 911, Shaikh Mubárak, Abul Fazl's father, was born. Mubárak was not Shaikh Khizr's eldest child: several children had been born before and had died, and Khizr rejoicing at the birth of another son, called him Mubárak, i. e., the blessed, in allusion, no doubt, to the hope which Islám holds out to the believers, that children gone before bless those born after them, and pray to God for the continuance of their earthly life.
Shaikh Mubárak, at the early age of four, gave abundant proofs of intellectual strength, and fashioned his character and leanings in the company of one Shaikh 'Aṭan (<Arabic>), who was of Turkish extraction and had come during the reign of Sikandar Lodí to Nágor, where he lived in the service of Shaikh Sálár, and died, it is said, at the advanced age of one hundred and twenty years. Shaikh Khizr had now resolved permanently to settle at Nágor, and with the view of bringing a few relations to his adopted home, he returned once more to Siwistán. His sudden death during the journey left the family at Nágor in great distress; and a famine which broke out at the same time, stretched numbers of the inhabitants on the barren sands of the surrounding desert, and of all the members of the family at Nágor only Mubárak and his mother survived.
Mubárak grew up progessing in knowledge and laying the foundation of those encyclopedial attainments, for which he afterwards became so famous. He soon felt the wish and the necessity to complete his education and visit the great teachers of other parts; but love to his mother kept him in his native town, where he continued his studies, guided by the teachings of the great saint Khwájah Ahrár,* to which his attention had been directed. However, when his mother died, and when about the same time the Máldeo disturbances broke out, Mubárak carried out his wish, and went to Ahmadábád in Gujarát, either attracted by the fame of the town itself, or by that of the shrine of his countryman Ahmad of Khaṭṭú.* In Ahmadábád, he found a second father in the learned Shaikh Abul Fazl, a khaṭíb, or preacher, from Kázarún in Persia, and made the acquaintance of several men of reputation, as Shaikh 'Umar of Tattah and Shaikh Yúsuf. After a stay of several years, he returned to Hindústán, and settled, on the 6th Muharram, 950, on the left bank of the Jamuná, opposite A´grah, near the Chárbágh Villa,* which Bábar had built, and in the neighbourhood of the saintly Mír Rafí'uddín Safawí of Injú (Shíráz), among whose disciples Mubárak took a distinguished place. It was here that Mubárak's two eldest sons, Shaikh Abul Faiz,* and four years later, Shaikh AbulFazl, were born. Mubárak had now reached the age of fifty, and resolved to remain at A´grah, the capital of the empire; nor did the years of extraordinary drought which preceded the first year of Akbar's reign, and the dreadful plague, which in 963 broke out in A´grah and caused a great dispersion among the population, incline him to settle elsewhere.
The universality of learning which distinguished Mubárak attracted a large number of disciples, and displayed itself in the education he gave his sons; and the filial piety with which Abul Fazl in numerous passages of his works speaks of his father, and the testimony of hostile writers as Badáoní, leave no doubt that it was Mubárak's comprehensiveness that laid in Abul Faiz and Abul Fazl the foundation of those cosmopolitan and, to a certain extent, anti-Islamitic views, for which both brothers have been branded by Muhammadan writers as atheists, or as Hindús, or as sunworshippers, and as the chief causes of Akbar's apostacy from Islám.
A few years before 963 A. H., during the Afghán rule, Shaikh Mubárak had, to his worldly disadvantage, attached himself to a religious movement, which had first commenced about the year 900, and which continued under various phases during the whole of the tenth century. The movement was suggested by the approach of the first millennium of Islám. According to an often quoted prophecy, the latter days of Islám are to be marked by a general decadence in political power and in morals, which on reaching its climax is to be followed by the appearance of Imám Mahdí, ‘the Lord of the period’,* who will restore the sinking faith to its pristine freshness. Christ also is to appear; and after all men, through his instrumentality, have been led to Islám, the day of judgment will commence. Regarding this promised personage, the Rauzat ul-Aimmah, a Persian work on the lives of the twelve Imáms,* has the following passage—
Muslim, Abú Dáúd, Nisáí, Baihaqí, and other collectors of the traditional sayings of the Prophet, state that the Prophet once said, “Muhammad Mahdí shall be of my family and of the descendants of Fáṭimah [the Prophet's daughter and wife of 'Alí].” And Ahmad, Abú Dáúd, Tirmizí, and Ibn Májah state that the Prophet at some other time said, “When of time one day shall be left, God shall raise up a man from among my descendants, who shall fill the world with justice, just as before him the world was full of oppression;” and again, “The world shall not come to an end till the King of the earth shall appear, who is a man of my family, and whose name is the same as mine.” Further, Ahmad and other collectors assert that the Prophet once said, “Muhammad Mahdí belongs to my family, eight and nine years.” Accordingly, people believe in the coming of Mahdí. But there is also a party in Islám who say that Imám Mahdí has already come into the world and exists at present: his patronymic is Abul Qásim, and his epithets are “the elect, the stablisher, Mahdí, the expected, the Lord of the age.” In the opinion of this party, he was born at Surraman-raá [near Baghdád] on the 23rd Ramazán, 258, and in 265 he came to his Sardábah [prop. ‘a cool place,’ ‘a summer villa’], and disappeared whilst in his residence. In the book entitled ‘Shawáhid’ it is said that when he was born, he had on his right arm the words written, ‘Say, the truth has come and error has vanished, surely error is vanishing’ [Qorán, xvii, 83]. It is also related that when he was born into the world, he came on his knees, pointed with his fingers to heaven, sneezed, and said, “Praise be to God, the Lord of the world.” Some one also has left an account of a visit to Imám Hasan 'Askarí [the eleventh Imám], whom he asked, “O son of the Prophet, who will be Khalífah and Imám after thee?” 'Askarí thereupon went into his room, and after some time came back with a child on his shoulders, that had a face like the full moon and might have been three years old, and said to the man, “If thou hadst not found favour in the eyes of God, He would not have shewn you this child: his name is that of the Prophet, and so is his patronymic.” The sect who believe Mahdí to be alive at present, say that he rules over cities in the far west, and he is even said to have children. God alone knows the truth!