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Culture Watch: Masjids/ Ziyarats, more than just a place to pray

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Culture Watch: Masjids/ Ziyarats, more than just a place to pray

Ziyarat Naqshband Sahab Shrine

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18 Oct 2020

During the summers of 2019, I had planned to visit the ever-mesmerizing snow clad land of plenty, with lakes, mountains, passes and shikaras. It was my first visit to the valley. To begin with, I started my journey from Srinagar & drove up to the heavenly Gurez valley on the SH- 44, Srinagar-Bandipore road along the beautiful Jhelum river.  But before I commenced, I hired a local guide to avoid the struggle of navigation on my own, who could take me around the downtown & the nearby historically famous spots.

A house with bushes in the middle of a field  Description automatically generatedA house with trees in the background  Description automatically generatedMy earliest road trip memories are from my childhood in Southern Indian where my parents would take me to a pilgrimage site every place we visited. Hence, it was a tradition I took for granted as a child, that which ever place I visit be it with parents, friends or solo, I would definitely visit the famous places of worship. Being from a Hindu family, I had visited very few masjids, hence, I don’t recall them being on the itinerary every time. But this time, even before I landed in Srinagar, I had planned to visit the most historically famous Masjids/ Ziyarats during my visit.

As I started interacting with Gh Rasool (name changed due to privacy reasons), my guide told him about my site seeing plans, he mentioned about a very famous old Ziyarat& Masjid in Champazpura, Ajas (Guide’s hometown) which had a very significant past, however, less known to the non-locals. As my luck would have it, the Moulvi turned out to be a distant relative of my guide. The guide also mentioned that this Ziyarat is bang on the SH-44 & falls enroute our destination. Knowing this my excitement levels started rising high. Without delaying any further, both of us had a sumptuous Kashmiri breakfast in the downtown & made our way to Ajas town.

It was a long two-hour drive to Ajas& as we started nearing the location, we heard the echoes from the Masjid calling, ‘Hayya as-salah, Hayaa al-Falah’ (Come to prayer, come to success). As we reached the spot, my guide told me to cover my head before we enter the Masjid, as it was a norm that is to be complied with. As we started to enter through the big wooden door, I halted to remove my shoes & directly approached the prayer hall. However, to my surprise the guide told me that it was necessary to perform Wudu, which is the washing ritual & being traditionally followed.

The soft reverberation of the Islamic prayers was so soothing to my ears, that I almost had no sense of what was going on in the surroundings. A mid-fifties man with horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in a Thawb (Long robe upto the ankle) approached us, who happened to be the Moulvi and greeted us ‘Salam Alaikum’ and my guide introduced me to him.With sheer curiosity to know the history behind the development of the Ziyarat & masjid and to know about its rich past, I exclaimed, “This Masjid looks pretty antique and happens to have the reminiscence of the early 70’s. This surely must have a story behind its upshot in the lives of people and their belief.”

To this, the Moulvi replied, “Beta, this masjid is one of its own kind and its history traces back to almost 700 years. A spiritual messenger from the early times, named Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari (RA) came to Kashmir from Bukhara (Iran) along with around twelve hundred Islamic preachers, to proliferate the teachings of Islam. He is also referred to as Shah-Sawari-e-Bukhara (Horse rider of Bukhara), as he came here on a horse and he devoted all his life here in Ajas enlightening the masses with Islamic knowledge. What makes it even more unique is that it is the only masjid to have a ladies prayer room which none of the others ever considered of having.

Having heard this, I further asked,” But how did the people here gain belief in his teachings? What made him different from the other saints who had come to India during the same medieval period?” To which the Moulvi replied, “Ekkahani thi uss waqt ki jisse wishwas banta gaya aur karwan chalta gaya.”

Intruding Gh Rasool stated that, “It is said that, there was an old man who suffered chronic illness and after travelling all over and visiting many doctors, could not find a solution to cure his sickness. Having lost all hopes that he will ever be cured, he finally came to this place to meet Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari to seek his blessings and profess Islam. Amazed by his devotion, Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari offered him something, which healed him instantly. The man later, followed the path enlightened by Syed Jafarud din Bukhari, became a great Islamic scholar and was buried in Banyari, Ajas. After this miracle people’s belief in the preaching of Islam took a drastic boom.”

At this juncture the Moulvi stated that, “During the era of Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari (RA) people would do everything for their master and the belief just attracted lots of people from other parts of the world. Even after his demise and burial in Islamabad, people grew fond of his discourses and teachings. They followed his footsteps and came to Ajas. Around one century later another Islamic scholar namely Dawood Sahib from Tangmarg, Baramulla came here professing the same and stayed here till his death in the year 1957.”

Hearing the impact created by the teachings and the belief of the people in the messenger of Allah as one could quote Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari (RA), I wanted to see the shrine where he sat, performed prayers and how has that place been preserved. The Moulvi led us to a place where he showed us a rock, which had the feet of the horse engraved on the stone that was rode by Syed Jafar ud din Bukhari (RA) to reach Ajas. He also mentioned that every Thursday a lion comes to this shrine in the evening and leaves at early dawn during Azaan without hurting anyone.

I must say I was very surprised and astounded after hearing that there could be an age-old history associated with the shrine and the importance people had for this place. Having travelled from the southern-most part of India, I never thought that a mere visit to a masjid would enlighten me so much about the belief people have in the path of Islam and I would ever get to know the specifics of the history attached to this place.

“More than a place to pray, it gives a brief guide to everyone irrespective of religion & caste about the five pillars of Islam : Belief, Prayer, Giving, Fasting & Pilgrimage.”

Being so immersed in knowing the history, I hardly realized that almost half of the day got over and it was almost time for their Namaz. Thanking the Moulvi for providing me the details of this place, I started to head towards my car and to my next destination. Leaving the masjid as I waited outside for Gh Rasool to perform his Namaz, even if I could not understand the prayers, I could feel a sense of positivity and oneness as I heard the prayers in sheer silence. Having given much deeper thought, it made me feel that this place surely could be regarded as a place to recreate pure divine presence on earth.

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