Zahiruddin Babur, or Zahir-ud-din Mohammad Babur (February 14, 1483 – December 26, 1530) was a Muslim Emperor from Central Asia who founded the Mughal dynasty of India. He was a direct descendant of Timur, and believed himself to be a descendant also of Genghis Khan through his mother. Following a series of set-backs he succeeded in laying the basis for one of the most important empires in Indian history, the Mughal dynasty.
He was born on February 14, 1483 in the town of Andijan, in the Fergana Valley which is in modern Uzbekistan. He was the eldest son of Omar Sheikh Mirza, ruler of the Fergana Valley - who he described as "short and stout, round-bearded and fleshy faced", and his wife Qutlugh Nigar Khanum. Although Babur hailed from the Barlas tribe which was of Mongol origin, his tribe had embraced Turkic and Persian culture, converted to Islam and resided in a region known as Turkestan. His mother tongue was the Chaghatai language and he was equally at home in Persian, the two linguae francae of the Timurid elite; he wrote his famous memoirs, the Baburnama, in the former language, that of his birthplace.
When only eleven years of age, Babur succeeded his father as ruler of Fergana in 1494. His uncles were relentless in their attempts to dislodge him from this position. Babur, thus, spent a major portion of his life shelterless and in exile aided only by friends and peasants. In 1497, Babur attacked and gained possession of the Uzbek city of Samarkand. While he was winning that city, a rebellion amongst nobles back home robbed him of Fergana. As he was marching to recover it, his troops deserted him; he lost Samarkand as well as Fergana. Babur did manage to regain both cities within a relatively brief period. In 1501, however, he was again defeated, this time by his most formidable enemy, Muhammad Shaybani, Khan of the Uzbeks; Samarkand, his lifelong obsession, was lost again. Escaping with a small band of followers from Fergana, for three years Babur concentrated on building up a strong army, recruiting widely amongst the Tajiks of Badakhshan in particular. In 1504, he was able to cross the snowy Hindu Kush mountains and capture Kabul. With this move, he gained a wealthy new kingdom and re-established his fortunes and assumed the title Padshah. In the following year, Babur united with Husayn Bayqarah of Herat, a fellow Timurid, against the usurper Muhammad Shaybani. The death of Husayn Bayqarah in 1506 put paid to that venture, but Babur occupied his ally's city of Herat and spent a year there, enjoying the pleasures of that city and becoming further acquainted with the great poet Ali Sher Nawa'i, who encouraged the use of Chagatai as a literary language, which may have influenced Babur in his decision to use it for his memoirs.
A brewing rebellion finally induced him to return to Kabul from Herat. He prevailed on that occasion, but two years later, a revolt among some of his leading generals drove him out of Kabul; escaping with very few companions, Babur, soon returned, capturing Kabul again and regaining the allegiance of the rebels. Muhammad Shaybani died in 1510, and Babur used this opportunity to attempt to reconquer his ancestral Timurid territories. He received considerable aid from Shah Ismail I, Safavid ruler of Persia. However, the Shah's help was not free. Shah Ismail gave Babur's sister, Khanzada - widow of the now deceased Shaybani, to him for his protection, along with a large wealth of luxury goods. In return for these gifts and military assistance, the Shah's conditions stated that Babur adopt the dress and the outward customs of a Shia. The Shah's Persia had become the bastion of Shia Islam, and he claimed descent from Imam Musa al-kazim, the seventh Shia Imam. Coins were to be struck in Ismail's name, and the Khutba at the Mosque was also to be read in his name. In effect, Babur was supposed to be holding Samarkand as a vassal territority for the Persian Shah, though in Kabul, coins and the Khutba would remain in Babur's name. With this assistance, Babur marched on Bukhara, where his army were apparently treated as liberators, Babur having greater legitimacy as a Timurid, unlike the Uzbegs. Towns and villages are said to have emptied in order to greet him, and aid and feed his army. At this point Babur dismissed his Persian aide, believing them no longer required. In October 1511 Babur made a triumphant re-entry into Samarkand, his ten year absence ended. Bazaars were drapped in gold, and again villages and towns emptied to greet the liberator. Dressed as a Shia, Babur stood out starkly amongst the masses of Sunnis who had thronged to greet him. The original belief was that this show of Shi'ism was a ploy to garner Persian help which would soon be dropped. While it was indeed a ploy, Babur did not think it wise to drop the charade. His cousin, Haidar, wrote that Babur was still too fearful of the Uzbegs to dismiss the Persian aid. Though Babur did not persecute the Sunni community, to please the Persian Shah, he did not drop the show of collaboration with the Shia either, resulting in popular disapproval and the re-conquering of the city by the Uzbegs eight months later.