A few days ago, there was a viral image ‘Portrait of an Indian in Istanbul in 1900’, on social media. Initially, the image was shared by Ottoman Imperial Archive, which has a very large following on Facebook. This page frequently shares rare documents related to the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently it was also shared by many, which included a few of my own Facebook friends. However no one realised who is this man.
The image is striking, I have a similar image in my personal collection. The man is elegantly dressed in an Indian robe. He is none other than Barrister Sir Maulvi Rafiuddin Ahmed. He belonged to an eminent literary family from Poona. He studied basics of Islamic law from his learned father. Later joined Bombay University. In the year 1885 he delivered his first political speech in Bombay, for which he was unanimously elected as Vice President of ‘Anjuman Ishaetul Islam’. He came to England in 1889 and became member of the National Indian Association. He joined famous King’s College London, became Barrister at law in 1892. For the merit he was received with kindness at Queen Victoria’s Court. Being a good friend of Munshi Abdul Karim of Agra (secretary to the Queen) he became very close to Queen Victoria. The Queen also trusted him like Munshi Abdul Karim. To influence the Ottoman Sultan Abdul Hamid II, the Queen decided to send Molvi Rafiuddin Ahmed to Istanbul as an envoy. In August 1892 the Sultan Abdul Hamid II of Ottoman Empire received him in his audience and presented him a box of cigarettes decorated with diamonds. I am sure the photograph in question which has been shared by many must have been taken when he visited Istanbul. Later Queen Victoria commissioned a painting of him by Rudolf Svaboda, which signifies importance and role of this man.
Molvi Rafiuddin was a politician, journalist, barrister and prolific writer, he wrote on many contemporary topics of his time and presented a Muslim perspective; including the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University in India. His article must have been persuasive for the sovereign to grant permission to change the status of Mohammadan Anglo-oriental College to a University. For his work in government, he was knighted in 1932.
Below I am sharing few images and articles related to Sir Rafiuddin from my personal collection. The beautiful image of the painting of Rafiuddin is by Rudolf Svaboda is from The Royal Collection. The Life of Victorian Muslims, including famous converts is an interesting topic to explore further.