At a time when the British empire was at its height, a young Muslim occupied a central position of influence over its sovereign, Queen Victoria. This was Hafiz Abdul Karim (1863-1909), the Munshi (teacher in Urdu). He was an Indian who was one of Queen Victoria's closest confidants despite the abhorrence of the royal circle.
Abdul Karim was 24 when he arrived in England to wait at table during Queen Victoria's golden jubilee in 1887. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure in court, becoming the queen's teacher and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. He taught her how to write in Urdu and Hindi, introduced her to curry, which she loved and which became a daily item on the royal menu, and eventually became her highly decorated secretary.
He and his wife were given residences on all of the main royal estates in the UK and land in India. He was allowed to carry a sword and wear his medals in court and was permitted to bring family members from India to England. He was named in court circulars, given the best positions at operas and banquets, allowed to play billiards in all the royal palaces and had a private horse carriage and footman.
Abdul Karim's influence over the queen became so great that she stipulated that he be among the principal mourners at her funeral. The queen appointed him Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire and Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Barely a few hours after the queen's funeral, her son Edward VII unceremoniously sacked Abdul Karim and ordered all records of him be destroyed.
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