The Haj In The Heart

The Haj In The Heart is Book 2 of the novel The Years Of Rice And Salt.


Kokila is brought to the world by the dai Insef in an Indian agrary village. Insef finds an abandoned girl, Bihari, and Kokila befriends her. Kokila's father arranges her marriage to Gopal. Kokila's father-in-law Shastri and brother-in-law Shardul abuse of their power as headmen of the local villages.

Bihari falls pregnant with Shardul, and when she dies while giving birth, Kokila takes her revenge by poisoning Shastri and Shardul. Kokila is executed.

Kya the tiger helps a young man find his village. But the villagers see her as a threat and kill her.

This young man was Bistami, a wandering Sufi scholar from Ahmadabad, and we are in Moghul India. Bistami travels to Agra and Fatepur Sikri, the newly founded capital of Emperor Akbar. Bistami befriends with the Emperor but he is disliked by many in the court. Through intense fast and prayer, Bistami succeeds in having a metaphysical experience.

Akbar has Bistami ostracized by sending him on haj to the Mecca. There, Bistami studies with other Persian-speaking Sufis, chief among them Ibn Ezra, a scholar that is more interested in the material world. However life in the Mecca does not reach the emotional and spiritual climax of the initial pilgrimage to the Kaaba stone. Also, Bistami feels the threat of the house of Akbar extending to the Mecca. With the Sufis, he travels to Maghrib and to al-Andalus, a rich land which is being repopulated since the plague left it empty.

Bistami and Ibn Ezra join a caravan led by the sultan Mawji Darya and the beautiful but enigmatic sultana Katima. They settle to create the city of Baraka over the ruins of a frank town. Bistami cannot but agree to Katima's progressive views on Islam and gender equity. But when the sultan dies and Katima continues to rule over Baraka, the sultan's brother Said and more traditional Muslims chase Katima and Bistami. They move up North and create the city of Nsara but are persecuted till they die.

World history



First incarnation

  • B : Bihari, an abandoned child, dai Insef’s apprentice, dies upon giving birth
  • K : Kokila, an indian child, avenged the death of Bihari, executed
  • I : Insef, old dai
  • Z : Zaneeta
  • S : Shardul

Second incarnation

  • B : Bistami, young boy
  • K : Kya, a tiger, brings Bistami home and is killed

Third incarnation

  • B : Bistami, a Sufi holy man following his epiphany
  • K : Katima, a sultana with progressive Islam convictions
  • I : Ibn Ezra, a Sufi scholar interested in physical phenomena
  • S : Said Darya, Caliph of al-Andalus, brother-in-law of Katima

Thesaurus & Encyclopaedia

Based on the Trivia and Study Guide compiled by Mark Rosa in 2004. Page numbers from the US paperback edition.

96 Lakshmi : The Hindu goddess of good fortune, and the wife of Vishnu.

96 Saraswati : Also spelled Sarasvati. The Hindu goddess of knowledge.

103 Siva and Parvati : Also spelled Shiva; the Hindu god of destruction. Shiva is considered to be benevolent despite being the destroyer. Parvati is his wife.

118 Akbar and Fatepur Sikri : Jellaladin Muhammad Akbar (the Great) (lived 1542-1605, reigned 1556-1605) ruled the Mughal Empire from his capital, Fatehpur Sikri, in Agra. Its wonders, still visited today, include the five-storied Panch Mahal ("panch" mans "five" in Sanskrit) and the Pachisi Court, which is laid out like the familiar board game. Akbar was Muslim, but was influenced by many other religions, and this shows in the designs in his capital.

118 Mughal : The Mughal (or Mogul) Empire was an Islamic empire that ruled over the Indian sub-continent, including modern-day Pakistan and great parts of Afghanistan. The Mughal Dynasty ruled from 1526 to 1857, although th latter 150 years (from 1707) were marked by revolts, rivaling empires and British colonialism. Akbar the Great ruled the Empire during its classic period.

127 ibn Khaldun : Abu Zayd 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun al-Hadrami (عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون الحضرمي in Arabic; 1332-1406) was one of the world's first great historians. His Muqaddimah, written in 1377, was highly regarded at the time and is still quoted today. Incidentally, he also served as a qadi in Egypt; the same office to which Bistami is appointed in India in the novel.

133 the tenth day of Moharram : Moharram is the first month in Islam. Imam Hosain, grandson of Muhammad, died on this day in AD 680. This is a day of mourning for Shi'ites.

133 "had once been a village girl, another time a horseman on the steppes, another time the servant of the Twelfth Imam" : Here Bistami remembers his life as Bihari, Bold, and another person whose story is not told here. Serving the Twelfth Imam, al-Mahdi, would mean that he lived around AH 260 or AD 874.

140 Ibn Sina : Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Abdullah ibn Sina (AD 980-1037). Writer on philosophy and medicine; he's also known in the West by his Latinized name Avicenna. A list of his works can be found here.

148 Suleiman : "Suleyman I, the Magnificent" (1494-1566); Turkish-born ruler of the Ottoman Empire from 1520 until his death in 1566. He conquered much of northern Africa and Europe during his lifetime, and was also famous for rewriting the laws of the empire.

148 "Khaldunian state of late dynastic corruption" : From ibn Khaldun's commentary on history. Much later (p. 616-17), Budur reads from this text.

156 Ship of Fools : This phrase seems to come from the Christian Bible. The Ship of Fools was an allegory depicting deranged passengers of a ship without a captain and without a direction, a concept popular in Renaissance literature and pictorial arts.

170 Bayonne and Bordeaux : Two cities in France; Bayonne is at the Nive and Adour river crossing.


  • (p.146: Bistami’s thoughts on history (after Ibn Khaldun’s theories))
  • (p.152-155: Bistami, Ibn Ezra & Zeya discuss the Plague, Europeans and Muslims)
  • (p.159-160: Katima explains how Muhammad’s sayings were corrupted to the inequity of genders)
  • (p.167-168: Katima explains how the caliphs corrupted Muhammad’s original idea of Islam)