Non Muslim army men showing a rarer sign of communal Harmony ,performing Eid prayer along with Muslims in India
Non Muslim army men showing a rarer sign of communal Harmony ,performing Eid prayer along with Muslims in India
BEIRUT – Shelling destroyed the centuries-old mausoleum of a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in the central city of Homs on Monday, a monitoring group and activists said.
Reports of the destruction of the Muslim pilgrimage site emerged as an intense army campaign to reclaim rebel-held areas of Homs, a strategic junction city, entered its fourth week.
“Activists from the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood in the city of Homs have reported the destruction by army shelling of the mausoleum of the prophet’s companion Khaled bin Walid,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Housed in the rebel area of Khaldiyeh, the Khaled bin Walid mosque had already suffered significant damage during earlier fighting for control of the city.
Amateur video distributed by activists showed the mosque, renowned for its two towering minarets, and images of what was identified as the destroyed mausoleum.
“The Khaled bin Walid mosque was shelled, and the shrine was completely destroyed,” said the unnamed activist filming the footage.
The images show mounds of rubble, stone and metal at the site identified as the mausoleum.
The video also shows an unidentified man lashing out at the world over the destruction of the shrine. “I want to tell Arabs and Muslims, how will you face God after Khalid bin Walid’s shrine has been destroyed? Why have you abandoned besieged Homs?” says the man. Speaking to AFP via the Internet, Khaldiyeh-based activist Yazan said the mosque holds symbolic importance not only for Homs’ residents but for Sunnis as a whole.
“People used to come and visit the shrine from the world over,” Yazan said, adding that the mosque housing the shrine is “practically destroyed”.
Khaldiyeh and the Old City neighbourhoods of Homs, still under rebel control, have been under suffocating army siege and near-daily bomb attacks for more than a year. The mosque housing Khalid bin Walid’s shrine, an important pilgrimage site for Muslims, was built over several centuries. The shrine itself dates to the 11th century, while the mosque was constructed by the Mameluks in the mid-13th century.
Known for his military prowess, Khalid bin Walid’s forces captured Damascus from the Byzantine empire. A military commander under Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and under two successive caliphs, he died around the year 642, in Homs.
Bin Walid’s mausoleum is the latest of a series of Syrian religious and cultural sites damaged or destroyed in the course of the country’s 28-month war.
In the war-torn northern city of Aleppo, the minaret of the landmark Umayyad mosque was destroyed in April, while parts of the ancient souks were burnt down in September last year.
QUETTA: Unidentified men killed Jamaat Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat-Noorani provincial leader Maulana Iftikhar Ahmed Habibi in Quetta on Wednesday, sparking a wave of protests.
Police said Habibi, who was also a regular Islamic commentator on the Pakistan Television (PTV), was killed by unidentified men when he was on his way to work. Habibi was driving to the PTV Quetta station when the men opened fire, killing him instantly.
His relatives took the body to the Governor’s House to protest. The protesters chanted slogans against the police and demanded the arrest of the culprits. The police resorted to aerial firing in order to disperse them and took around 14 protesters into custody.
No group has claimed responsibility for the murder.
“This is an act of sectarianism carried out by those who had previously threatened to kill Habibi,” Mir Abdul Qudoos Sasooli, the provincial president of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), said. “The murder was carried out by the activists of banned organisations which are operating now under new names,” he said, giving the Balochistan government a 72-hour ultimatum to arrest the murderers.
The JUP will observe a Balochistan-wide strike on Thursday (today) to protest against the murder. Sasooli appealed to traders and the people to observe a shutter-down strike as a protest against Habibi’s assassination and express their solidarity with the JUP in Balochistan.
He said the JUP would contact the Anjuman-e-Tajiran Balochistan to ensure the strike was a success, APP reported. Habibi was a regular commentator of Balochi and Brahvi languages on PTV. His friends said the slain leader had been threatened in the past but the police had not provided him any security.
I have titled this message the “media circus”, although I am actually referring to yesterday’s morning’s so-called encounter killing of two young people referred to as “terrorists” in L-18 Batla House, Jamia Nagar, by the Delhi police. I call it media circus because that’s what I think it really is, like many more such incidents.
The incident happened in my neigbourhood, about 150 meters from my house. So I have the opportunity to see how things are turning up. I had gone out of the area for some work while the incident was taking place around 11 am, but found it impossible to reach back home 2 hours later, because the road for about 1 and a half kilometer (on both sides) was completely blocked, not by the police vehicles, but by the parked OB vans of the countless TV channels, some of which I never heard of before. Each of these vehicles had its generators on, and thick video cables jetting out of them for several meters to the other end where the cameraperson and the excited anchor were shouting how two terrorists have been killed in the fierce encounter. Most local people are surprised<<<<Read More
The Associated Press
Published: May 20, 2008
JERUSALEM: Orthodox Jews set fire to hundreds of copies of the New Testament in the latest act of violence against Christian missionaries in the Holy Land.
Or Yehuda Deputy Mayor Uzi Aharon said missionaries recently entered a neighborhood in the predominantly religious town of 34,000 in central Israel, distributing hundreds of New Testaments and missionary material.
After receiving complaints, Aharon said, he got into a loudspeaker car last Thursday and drove through the neighborhood, urging people to turn over the material to Jewish religious students who went door to door to collect it.
The books were dumped into a pile and set afire in a lot near a synagogue, he said.
The Israeli Maariv daily reported Tuesday that hundreds of Jewish religious school students took part in the book-burning. But Aharon told The Associated Press that only a few students were present, and that he was not there when the books were torched. Not all of the New Testaments that were collected were burned, but hundreds were, he said.
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He said he regretted the burning of the books, but called it a “commandment” to burn materials that urge Jews to convert.
“I certainly don’t denounce the burning of the booklets,” he said. “I denounce those who distributed the booklets.”
Jews worship from the Old Testament, including the Five Books of Moses and the writings of the ancient prophets. Christians revere the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, which contains the ministry of Jesus.
Calev Myers, an attorney who represents Messianic Jews, or Jews who accept Jesus as their savior, demanded in an interview with Army Radio that all those involved be put on trial. He estimated there were 10,000 Messianic Jews, who are also known as Jews for Jesus, in Israel.
Police had no immediate comment.
Israeli authorities and Orthodox Jews frown on missionary activity aimed at Jews, though in most cases it is not illegal. Still, the concept of a Jew burning books is abhorrent to many in Israel because of the association with Nazis torching piles of Jewish books during the Holocaust of World War II.
Earlier this year, the teenage son of a prominent Christian missionary was seriously wounded when a package bomb delivered to the family’s West Bank home went off in his hands.
Last year, arsonists burst into a Jerusalem church used by Messianic Jews and set the building on fire, raising suspicions that Jewish extremists were behind the attack. No one claimed responsibility, but the same church was burned down 25 years ago by ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists.
Mecca Bucks: Why Saudis invited Starbucks to Islam’s holiest city
Zvika Krieger, The New Republic Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Multinational capitalism and its edifices rise in the shadow of Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
According to some popular Muslim accounts, the marble Kaaba structure at the center of the Grand Mosque in Mecca was built first by the angels before God created mankind, reconstructed by Adam, and later rebuilt by Abraham and Ishmael. It’s safe to say that none of these builders could have anticipated the latest use of the Mosque’s image, in a promotional DVD for the Abraj Al Bait Towers, a giant new skyscraper complex slated to be built just across the street from one of the entrances to the Grand Mosque. The DVD shows a beautiful woman sitting in one of the towers’ luxury apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook thousands of pilgrims circling the Kaaba below. Eyes flashing a come-hither stare from beneath her tightly wound headscarf, she asks prospective buyers in Arabic, “Would you like to be here in this place in front of the Kaaba year after year?”
Unlike the United Arab Emirates, with its Western-friendly, oil-money-flush megalopolises Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia had, until very recently, resisted commercializing its major cities–particularly Mecca, site of Islam’s holiest relics, where millions of pilgrims flock yearly to perform the hajj. But the dramatic rise in global oil prices, and the construction boom across Saudi Arabia that followed, has finally caught up with the city where Mohammed was born.
A report by the Saudi British Bank (SABB), one of the kingdom’s biggest lenders, estimates that $30 billion will be invested in construction and infrastructure in Mecca over the next four years from local and foreign companies. Up to 130 new skyscrapers are anticipated, including the $6 billion Abraj Al Bait Towers, a seven-tower project that, once completed in 2009, will be one of the largest buildings in the world, with a 60-floor, 2,000-room hotel; a 1,500-person convention center; two heliports; and a four-story mall that will house, among 600 other outlets, Starbucks, The Body Shop, U.K.-based clothing line Topshop (Kate Moss is a guest designer), and Tiffany & Co. En route to the hajj, pilgrims already have the opportunity to stop at cosmetic superstore MAC, perfumery VaVaVoom, and Claire’s Accessories. H&M and Cartier are on the way. “All the top brands are flocking here,” says John Sfakianakis, SABB’s chief economist. “The only thing missing is Filene’s Basement.”
The boom is coinciding with Saudi Arabia’s efforts to diversify its economy, as well as its joining of the WTO in 2005, which forced the kingdom to open its retail sector to foreign companies. Still, it’s not surprising that multinational capitalism has honed in on this market: Lots of tourists on vacation, no matter how holy, tend to have a lax grip on their wallets. But, to pull off this remarkable transformation of Islam’s spiritual seat, including the destruction of many sites with sacred histories to make way for malls and luxury condos, the luxe brands of the world have had to lean on some unlikely allies.
Irfan Al Alawi, the founder and former Executive director the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation and the most vocal opponent of the destruction of Mecca’s historic sites, lives in a house in Mecca built mostly out of salvage from demolished Meccan buildings: hulking wooden doors, intricately carved panels, and ancient stone columns. As the scion of a prominent Hadhrami family descending from the prophet Mohammed, the 40 year old historian has a significant amount of leeway to criticize the government–often joking with the secret police guards stationed outside his house to track his comings and goings (Saudis are thrown into prison on a daily basis for much less).
Alawi uses his freedom to rail against the transformation of his hometown, giving presentations to groups of businessmen about the obliteration of Islam’s most significant places. Alawi estimates that over 300 antiquity sites in Mecca and Medina have already been destroyed, such as the house of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, which was leveled to make room for the Mecca Hilton Hotel. (According to Ivor McBurney, a spokesman for Hilton, “We saw the tremendous opportunities to tap into Saudi Arabia’s religious tourism segment.”)
“It’s not just our heritage, it’s the evidence of the story of the Prophet,” Alawi says, sitting in his incense-filled living room, dressed in his trademark woollen cloak and intricately wound turban–itself an act of rebellion against the austere white robes and simple headdresses that Saudi men are expected to wear. “What can we say now? ‘This parking lot was the first school of Islam’? ‘There used to be a mountain here where Mohammed made a speech’? … What’s the difference between history and legend?” he asks. “Evidence.”
Over protests by groups like the Islamic Supreme Council of America and the Muslim Canadian Congress, Saudi authorities have authorized the destruction of hundreds of antiquities, such as an important eighteenth-century Ottoman fortress in Mecca that was razed to make way for the Abraj Al Bait Towers– a move the Turkish foreign minister condemned as “cultural genocide.” An ancient house belonging to Mohammed was recently razed to make room for, among other developments, a public toilet facility. An ancient mosque belonging to Abu Bakr has now been replaced by an ATM machine. And the sites of Mohammed’s historic battles at Uhud and Badr have been, with a perhaps unconscious nod to Joni Mitchell, paved to put up a parking lot. The remaining historical religious sites in Mecca can be counted on one hand and will likely not make it much past the next hajj, Alawii says: “It is incredible how little respect is paid to the house of God.”
Ironically, however, some major culprits in disrespecting the “house of God” are Wahhabi clerics, crusading to destroy Mecca’s historical landmarks, which they fear will lead to idolatry. Developers are often tipped off by the cleric-run ministries about future construction plans. And the Abraj Al Bait Towers are being partially funded by the government through the King Abdul Aziz Endowment, which the towers’ developers describe as “a religious property” created to serve interests “vital to the welfare of Islamic society.”
Prominent clerics often speak out against conservation efforts like Alawi’s–in fact, it was Wahhabis who ran him out of his job in Mecca in the first place, after his increasingly bold criticisms of government policy irked the clerical elite.
“It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites,” proclaimed Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, then the kingdom’s highest religious authority, in a much-publicized fatwa in 1994. “Such action would lead to polytheism. … [S]o it is necessary to reject such acts and to warn others away from them.”
A pamphlet published last year by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and distributed at the Prophet’s Mosque, where Mohammed, Abu Bakr, and the Islamic Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab are buried, reads, “The green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet’s Mosque,” according to Alawi, executive director of the London-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. This shocking sentiment was echoed in a speech by the late Muhammad ibn Al Uthaymeen, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent Wahhabi clerics, who delivered sermons in Mecca’s Grand Mosque for over 35 years: “We hope one day we’ll be able to destroy the green dome of the Prophet Mohammed,” he said, in a recording provided by Al Alawi.
The clerics’ stance permits the Saudi government to play it both ways, in a perfect marriage of the secular and spiritual. It can destroy ancient sites and still maintain doctrinal credibility; the massive, capitalistic accumulation of wealth becomes a religious necessity, not an evil. “The government has finally woken up to the commercial value of religious tourism,” Sfakianakis says, “and they are really the ones driving this construction boom in Mecca.”
Saudi officials excuse the unsavoury aspects of the development by arguing that it will help ease the housing and services crunch caused by an explosion in the number of pilgrims (while about 2.4 million hajjis visited Mecca last year, some estimate that, over the next decade, the number could rise to 20 million per year). They dismiss critics like Alawi as having an overly sentimental attachment to historical sites. “It is equally fundamentalist to say that we have to keep everything exactly the way it was while the world around us is changing every day,” says Nabeel Koshak, an associate professor at the government-funded Umm Al Qura University in Mecca. Habib Zain Al Abideen, the Saudi deputy minister of municipal and rural affairs, head of all the kingdom’s hajj-related construction projects, calls the hajj “a good opportunity to visit Mecca and Medina, do some shopping, make a vacation out of it.”
Zvika Krieger is a deputy web editor at The New Republic.
Islamabad: Politics, coupled with egotism and sectarian attitude, is the evil genius that creates divisions among religions of the world.
It is the task of any ideology — be it religious, liberal or secular — to create global understanding and respect. Islam has a very strong pluralistic element in its scriptures.
Most of the world religions stress the importance of compassion, not just for your own people, but for everybody. And that is the voice we need today, because any idealism that breeds discord, disdain, or contempt is failing the test of our times.
These views came from Karen Armstrong, world-renowned scholar and author of several best-selling works on religions. Born in 1944, Karen is based in London and is currently visiting Pakistan on an invitation from The Aga Khan Foundation.
She is here to deliver a series of lectures as part of the numerous events being organised to commemorate the golden jubilee of the ‘imamat’ of His Highness The Aga Khan — the spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims.
In an exclusive interview with ‘The News’ here on Saturday, Karen, who professes to be a freelance monotheist, shared her views on world politics, democracy, sectarianism, Sufism, the commonalities among religions, and the concept of pluralism in Islam.
Although shaken by the news of one of her best friends’ diagnosis with cancer, she was gregarious during the tete-a-tete at the Serena lobby. This is what she had to say:Question: How would you describe your transition from a Roman Catholic nun to a student of modern literature at Oxford, a broadcaster, and eventually a renowned scholar on world religions?
While studying the two religions, I started discovering other resonances that I had not found in my Christian background. There were lot of things about other religions, and from that point onwards, I started developing, what I call ‘triple vision,’ which is looking at those three monotheisms as one religion that went in three different ways.
Until the 16th century, Shiites and Sunnis got along very well. Shiaism was a mystical movement, a private movement, and one that was very close to Sufism in spirit. Politics is the evil genius here. When you have the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire — one Shiite, one Sunni — and they are in competition for territory, that’s where sectarianism comes in.
Politics also plays a similar role. For instance, in Iraq, Saddam Hussain furthered the divide between Sunnis and Shiites by privileging the Sunni minority. That created antagonism. Politics is usually the course of it, plus the egotism and sectarian attitude which you find in all religions; the concept of ‘we are right, you are wrong’ is responsible.
Q: How do you see Sufism promoting pluralism and tolerance in a society which is diverse in terms of its religious, sectarian and ethnic composition?
A: Sufism, in the past, has been a very outstanding example of appreciation of other world traditions.
It started getting a bad name in the 19th, 20th centuries because people got involved in showing that we are as rational as the West. Everybody started downplaying their mystical traditions to show that they were just as philosophical minded and rational as the West; that Islam is a rational religion, etc.
But I think not everybody can be a mystic. Mysticism is a talent that some people have; I don’t have it. I have never been able to meditate very well. I am not a mystic.
In fact, I am someone who has been trained for ballet dancing, for example, and failed to get into a ballet company. But when I watch a ballet performance, I can understand what they are doing and appreciate it perhaps.
We need to look at the ideals of the Sufis — they weren’t just people locked in prayer or whirling around in an ecstasy — most of them were working in the society for justice. There was always a social concern too, and that is very important.
Q: Some schools of thought see Sufis and shrine organisations as civil society organisations providing relief to those oppressed by the state or the society while others consider them as manifesting a spiritual phenomenon only? Do you think shrine organisations have a role that transcends spiritual purification?
A: Sufi outreach usually included a very strong social outreach, always in the past. A sufi became a sufi because he was appalled by the injustice in society. So, it is not just a question of making a few social reforms; it has to come from deep within, and mysticism goes right down into the unconscious, if you can really do it.
Written by Mohib
“Faridan, tum muriid, tumrii saath pushteN muriid” (Faridan, I take you as my disciple and also your next seven generations). So replied Haji Waris Ali Shah to Faridan bibi on one of his visits to my ancestral home in Ahmadpur. Faridan bibi was the second wife of my great grandfather and was requesting Haji saahab to take her as a disciple. Courtesy that statement every child born into our family becomes a disciple of Haji saahab by default. At least that is what everyone in my father’s generation likes to believe.
Haji Waris Ali Shah was born in early nineteenth century in Dewa in a family of Hussaini Syeds. His genealogy traces origin from Hazrat Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad and martyr of Karbala, through 26 linkages in between. Some researchers have concluded his date of birth in the year 1809 A.D. His parents died when he was three years old and he was brought up by his grandmother. He was sent to maktab (preparatory school) at the age of five, where he learnt Quran by heart. Like all holy men, his biography has been embellished to look more holy than human.
He did not feed on his mother’s milk during daytime as an infant; neither did he take it on 10th of Moharram, the Yaum-e-Aashurah (the day Imam Husain, his relatives and friends were killed in Karbala, now in Iraq).
He seldom read his books but to the amazement of his tutor he could say his lessons correctly. He preferred solitude to books and often slipped away out of doors to spend long periods in retirement and contemplation. He was never seen playing with children of his age and took pleasure in giving them sweets and distributing money among the poor. It soon became evident to those around him that he was not quite of the earth.
When he was 11 years old, he pledged allegiance to his mentor and brother-in-law, Hazrat Khadim Ali Shah who made him his spiritual heir. At he age of fifteen he undertook a long journey of 12 years that took him to Saudi Arab (it wasn’t exactly ‘Saudi’ at that time but oh well), Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Rome, France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia. He traveled on foot and performed Hajj 10 times during the course of his journey. He also met Sultan Abdul Majid, the Ottoman ruler, while visiting Constantinople and was the guest of Prince Bismarck in Berlin. His followers claim that he was the first Sufi to actually visit Europe.
After returning from his sojourn, he resided in Dewa and preached the message of love till his death in 1905. Even today he continues to inspire millions of devotees who flock to his shrine every year. On any given day one would find as many Hindus and Sikhs if not more as Muslims visiting his shrine and seeking blessings. There is a majestic mosque and a Khaankaah (place for spritual salvation) near his shrine as well as shops selling souveneirs and sweets.
Waris kaa ko’ii waaris nahiiN
When his followers use to ask him about his spiritual heir, he used to say Waris kaa ko’ii waaris nahiiN meaning Waris (heir) will have no heir. He didn’t marry and didn’t anoint anyone as heir. Some of his disciples use Warsi as their last name as a mark of respect. Haji saahab always wore a saffron ahram (a single unstiched piece of clothing) which some of his followers don too. Another interesting fact is that his ardent followers wear a wooden sandal called KharaauuN. There are stories that even animals became his disciples. A buffalo kept on following him for a long time and eventually became his disciple. This is the reason that some of Haji saahab’s followers do not eat beef.
There is another interesting story about Haji saahab and Shah Fazlur Rahman which my father always tell me with some relish. Shah saahab was a big Islamic scholar from Ganj Moradabad and was a friend of Haji saahab. Apparently Haji saahab’s religious orientation was not upto the standard of Shah Fazlur Rahman, so he joked with Haji saahab one day that:
Haji, sunaa tum namaaz nahiiN paRhat ho (Haji, I have heard that you do not offer namaaz)
Haji saahab took affront to that statement and grabbed the hand of Shah saahab and took him into his hujraa (small chamber). And the next instant both of them were standing at the Masjid Haram in Mecca. Back in Dewa, Shah saahab was deeply influenced by the mystic powers of Haji saahab and laid down his turban for Haji saahab to walk onto.
The Family Connection
Apart from Faridan bibi, our family has had other connections with Haji saahab as well. Masih Uddin Ahmad, one of the London educated Bar-at-Law cousins of my great grandfather became ‘westernized’ in his outlook on his return from vilaayat. At my ancestral home in Ahmadpur he joked about Haji saahab and his mytical powers and then went to sleep. In the night he awoke shouting and told others that he saw Haji saahab standing next to his bed threatening to turn it over. At dawn the horse-cart was prepared and Masih Uddin Ahmad went to Dewa to become a disciple of Haji saahab. He willed to be buried at the footsteps of the shrine of Haji saahab and his grave is on the left side of the entrance to the shrine.
One of my aunts was married in a village near Dewa called Kheoli. All her in-laws are disciples of Haji saahab and he used to visit their home at Kheoli. My aunt tells me this story whenever I visit her home that during rainy days when Haji saahab came down to visit, he would walk on the wet ground and his feet never gathered mud.
It is one of the most popular and big gatherings in the city of Barabanki each year. Even though the Urs of Haji saahab is commemorated on 1st Safar every year, Dewa mela is organized at a fixed time period from 8th to 18th October of each year. The management of Dewa mela is handled by a trust whose chairman and secretary are the current District Magistrate and SDM of Barabanki respectively. The first chaadar on the shrine is always from the District Magistrate to kick start the mela. The mushaira and kavi sammelan organized during the Dewa mela have still maintained the standard and are one of the sought after events in the area. Some of the biggest poets have recited their verses at the Dewa mela. It also houses one of the biggest baazaars and villagers from far and near come for shopping goods and for an evening of entertainment.
In The End
Every marriage and each arrival of a newborn in our family is followed by a mandatory visiti to Dewa Sharif. However beliefs have certainly dulled in my generation and people now go there as a mark of respect to elders and traditions than anything else. My father tells me that when he took me to Dewa Sharif as a kid of a few months, my lips were trying to kiss the grave of Haji saahab. He can’t understand as an adult why I won’t do the things others have done before me. He can’t understand why I would not bow before the grave. He is however hopeful that the immense love my tender heart felt for Haji saahab as a kid would overcome all hurdles my beliefs poses today and one day and I will visit Dewa as a devotee and not a visitor. He is still waiting.
P.S. The picture of Haji saahab is courtesy Alif India.
There is something magical about Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine located in Sehwan Sharif, around two hours drive from Hyderabad. Legend has it that no prayer offered at the shrine goes unheard.
When you enter the shrine from the main bazaar, you are immediately taken to another world. There are malangs with long hair and beards, beautiful gypsies from the desert, bemused foreigners in jeans and locals wearing ajrak. The rich and the poor, the young and the old rub shoulders at the shrine.
Coming here, one realises that Islam was spread in this part of the world by enlightened saints such as Shahbaz Qalandar, who preached love and tolerance. They had a transforming influence over the lives of the people they came into contact with — that explains why Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine still attracts hundreds of thousands of devotees each year, almost 800 years after his death.
Hindus still flock to his shrine to offer their prayers. They believe he is the incarnation of one of their gods. In fact, his shrine is visited not only by Muslims and Hindus but also Christians, Sikhs and even Parsis!
Sehwan itself is an important town of Sindh — located between the Kirthar Mountains that separate Sindh from Balochistan and the River Indus. Many saints came and settled here following Shahbaz Qalandar, whose shrine was completed in 1356. During Shahbaz Qalandar’s urs (or death anniversary), celebrated every year on the 18th of Shaban, more than a half a million people from all over the country visit Sehwan Sharif.
Shahbaz Qalandar was born into a high-ranking family who were direct descendents of Imam Jaffer Sadiq, the sixth Imam. He travelled from Azarbaijan to Balochistan and then settled down in Sehwan towards the end of his life when he had attained the level of a ‘Qalandar’. This is one of the most evolved states in Sufism, when a person can find unity with God while still alive in this worldly dimension. They say that there were only two other Qalandars in this world — Hazrat Bo Ali of Panipat and Hazrat Rabia of Basra.
The golden domed shrine of Shahbaz Qalandar with its blue tile work is reminiscent of the shrines of the Prophet’s family in Iraq and Iran. The shrine seems to have a palpable energy emitting from its centre, where the saint is buried.
Marble steps take you into a large circular room which has the coffin placed inside a metal cage. The cage is opened on special days and visitors are allowed inside to pray right next to the grave. Outside is a large marble courtyard where the dhammal takes place each evening. The people dance facing the shrine to the beat of the drums and some go into ecstasy. They say that those suffering from any disease or ailment are cured by dancing.
Women also participate in the dhammal. This is indeed a special place where tolerance and love permeate the heady atmosphere of the shrine.