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Islamic marriage contract

This lavish certificate records the marriage of the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah II (r. 1837-57) to Zinat Mahal Begam in India on 18 November 1840.

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Islamic marriage contract

Islamic Marriage Contract. India, 1840
BL IO Islamic 4555
Copyright © The British Library Board

Listen to biographer William Dalrymple on Bahadur Shah II

What does this certificate say?

This kabin-nama (marriage contract) opens with the religious wording in Arabic traditionally associated with marriage. It records that the marriage was legally performed, openly, with the consent of the bride and bridegroom.

It also states that the bridegroom agreed to pay a kabin (jointure or settlement) of 1,500,000 current rupees, of which one-third is to be paid immediately and two-thirds at any time during their married life, and that the marriage took place in the presence of two free, adult and righteous witnesses.

Who was Bahadur Shah II?

Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar, or Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862), was the last of the Mughal emperors in India. He became emperor on his father's death on 28 September 1838, but he was an ineffective leader and political turbulence brought Muslim rule in India. Historians agree that he was a rather better poet than he was statesman or monarch, and is remembered for the Urdu poems he wrote under his pen name of Zafar.

Bahadur Shah was deposed by the British 20 years after the marriage in the aftermath of the 'Indian Mutiny'. With his family he was exiled to Rangoon, Burma, in 1858, thus ending over 300 years of the Mughal Empire. He died four years later, his widow in 1886. Some of his descendants live in India today as commoners.

Fatehpur Sikri in Agra was built as the capital of India's Mughal dynasty in the late 1500s, but was soon abandoned due to lack of water

What are the Islamic ceremonies of birth, marriage and death?

Once the call to prayer (adhaan) has been whispered into the ears of the newborn child - usually by the father - it is a Muslim. A boy may traditionally be circumcised on the seventh day after birth, but the timing of the ceremony can vary greatly, when a name will also be chosen.

A Muslim wedding is usually held in the home of the bride and may be a simple affair, without lavish costumes. Many marriages are still arranged by the parents. The groom must give the bride a dowry which will be recorded in the marriage contract.

In Islam the body is washed after death, wrapped in a shroud, and buried as soon as possible with the head turned towards Mecca. Cremation is not allowed. Memorial gatherings are held with prayers and reading from the Qur'an usually after seven and 40 days.