When I compare Europe and Asia, I am diminished in my own eyes. Sadly, Asia has become the way Europe was a thousand or twelve hundred years ago. For people of this age, it would be wishful thinking for Asia to become equal to Europe, let alone surpass it. Yes, if Asians would provide for female education, then in a hundred or two hundred years, they would catch up. I am so wistful when I see the decline and bad condition of the people of Islam after a deluge of progress and the Noah’s food-like spread of Muslims. Unfortunately, we ourselves don’t know who our great Muslim writers were and what they wrote on which subject. One feels endless shame and envy in seeing the libraries of Paris and London. We might protest that we have no money. The reply would be that we appropriated it for ourselves.

English society in London

June 10, 1908: It is a pity that one cannot do anything here in the morning. Nothing opens before eleven o’clock. The shops, etc. are all shut. Therefore, one has to go out after eleven o’clock. After strolling about, it was lunchtime, and we ate somewhere. At teatime, we had tea somewhere. Sometimes I like this practice, but at other times it irks me. How can one enjoy eating and drinking and doing everything in public? In England, there is an indiscriminate increase in eating out at hotels and such establishments. People are getting fed up with domestic problems and dealing with servants and prefer this way of life. No one has time to run a household. What in English is called “home life” is especially rare in London. But it is found in the countryside. The people of London have become very independent. They send their children to boarding schools and themselves eat and drink in any which way. There are many in India who must have no idea at all about the lifestyle of the nobles of the city here: eating and drinking sumptuously, going to playhouses, and holding parties. They are so busy taking part in festivities and having fun gambling that they don’t have a moment’s free time. Even then men act wisely, otherwise, how could England have become so wealthy and flourishing? It is an excellent practice among the people of London that anything that is invented to provide comfort is found in every house. An example of this is electric lights. Now they are found in almost all houses, boarding houses, and hotels. The more I travel through developed countries, the more I remember the virtues of my homeland, although it is still in the dark ages and years behind.

A conversation at the Paris Opera

July 3, 1908: To my left [at the Grand Opera], an elderly American woman was seated. While passing near her, my foot touched hers, and I excused myself. It seems as if she was looking for an opportunity to ask questions. She kept apologising that she wasn’t asking just out of inquisitiveness, but she was very interested in Indians and had a lot of sympathy for them. She enquired about my name, address, religion, nationality, everything, and didn’t leave anything unasked. I explained everything and said, “I am a Muslim. Do you know what that is?” She said, “Yes, your God is Confucius (the name of a Chinese sage), isn’t he?” I said, “No, no. He is the God of the Chinese. There is not a hair’s difference between our God and yours. We worship the same God that you do. Lord Jesus is also our prophet. In the same way, we also accept Moses, David, etc. as prophets.” Upon hearing this, there was no end to the questions. Then she asked about Hindus. I answered that there were so many types of Hindus that you could not imagine. They cannot intermarry or eat each other’s food.

Then she asked about India, whether Indians wanted to become independent and under self-rule. Do they approve of democratic rule or not? I answered that this was not their original aim, but when the government kindly enabled them to enjoy the fruits of knowledge, then their eyes were opened, and they now feel that they are capable of doing those things that the British do. And my view is that if the government pays more attention to their rights, the Indians are so poor that they won’t rise up. There are certainly many benefits of British rule, but there is also no doubt that the eyes of Indians have been opened. Indian minds are very sharp. With full education and training, they are not inferior to any nation.

Indians in Europe

July 20, 1908: One hears strange stories about Indians. In London, perhaps they show restraint, but in a paradisial place like Paris, they lose control of themselves. It is sad and regretful that they are infected by every kind of Western influence that is very injurious and harmful to their beings. They are forced to come to Europe to acquire knowledge and skills. When it comes to company if they are fortunate, then they meet good people, otherwise, God help them.

The biggest and real cause for this is connected to the education of women. Thinking about the matter on this line, if places of education for women in India were to be built, the thoughts of men wouldn’t be scared to this degree, for the sincere attachment to the home along with good thoughts would bring them back to their homeland. They wouldn’t be tempted to fall into any evil. Those parents who think their daughters’ education is not a worthy thing are ruining the foundation of India with the thorns they have sown. When a boy returns from Europe under its influence, what does he see in his house? Complete disorder and stark ignorance; then why would his heart be attached to such a home? And how would he blindly feel affection for his own people? It is impossible, rather, it is clear that he becomes more contemptuous and falls into excesses. The parents are ready to cry and also to curse Europe. But they remain ignorant of the real cause of the ruin. Boys from noble families are reduced to nothing and the reason is only the attention to women’s education and nothing else. Each girl who is ruined is the weakening of India’s stability, not just the loss of her family. Today Europe is the centre of education, and not sending a young man there is also not possible. Then it is better that cultured partners for them are born in India so that his life can pass with propriety and attachment. “We gave appropriate advice.” Dear Behen jan, I cannot express how such matters cause sorrow to the heart. May God effect that a better system be there for this. Otherwise in the future, ruination will show an even more horrifying aspect.

Excerpted with permission from ‘On Grand Tour with the Nawab of Janjira’ by Nazli Begum in Three Centuries of Travel Writing by Muslim Women, edited by Daniel Majchrowicz, Sunil Sharma, and Siobhan Lambert-Hurley, Zubaan Books.