Patron of the poor

Print edition : March 03, 2017

Devotees walk through the grand Nizami Darwaza

A glimpse of the tomb of Gharib Nawaz.

The dome of Ajmer Sharif dargah decorated for the Urs festivities.

Chandeliers at the doorstep to the tomb.

This thought-provoking book on Sufism is written in a style that rivets readers’ interest, and the illustrations are a feast for the eyes.

THERE were Sufi mystics in the subcontinent before 1200 such as the great Ali-El-Hujwiri Data Ganj Baksh whose mausoleum in Lahore, Data Darbar, has drawn millions to this day. His work Kashf-e-Mahjub ( The Revelation of the Veiled) is a classic on Sufism. Moinuddin Chishti spent 40 days in seclusion at the Darbar and his seclusion chamber is preserved there to this day “as one of his first footprints on the subcontinent”, the author notes. Born in 1141, he arrived in Ajmer in 1192.

Right now, Sufism is being pillaged in India for the sordid ends of fame and commerce. Whoever had heard of Sufi kathak before? Dancers from Egypt and Turkey are brought here to perform the dance of the dervishes to uneducated applauding audiences, enriching amply the coffers of the organisers.

In the galaxy of Sufi saints, the star that shines the brightest is that of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer, popularly known as Gharib Nawaz —patron of the poor. He belonged to the Chishti Silsilah (order) of Sufis. The other Silsilahs are Qadaria, Suhrawardy, Naqshabandi and Maulawi, named after Maulana Rumi. Sufism, especially its Chishti order, has enriched India. Gharib Nawaz died at the age of 95 in 1236. Shaikh Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, widely regarded as his heir, died in 1235 and is buried in Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi. Another pupil, Hamiduddin Sufi Sunwali (d.1276), a vegetarian, worked in a rural area, Nagaur, in Rajasthan. Baba Fariduddin Ganj-i-Shakar (d.1265) is buried in Pakpattan in Pakistan. He was greatly influenced in his youth by Shaikh Qutub.

Delhi can claim two more Chishti saints —Shaikh Nasiruddin, Chiragh-e-Delhi (lamp of Delhi; d.1356) and the legendary Nizamuddin Awliya (d.1325), whom Amir Khusrau so dearly loved. The most celebrated pupil of Chiragh-e-Delhi was Muhammad Hussain Gesu Deraz of Gulbarga.

Annemarie Schimmel pithily recorded in her magisterial work Islam in the Indian Subcontinent Moinuddin Chishti’s ideals: “The highest form of devotion is to redress the misery of those in distress, to fulfil the needs of the helpless, and to feed the hungry.” Hence the sobriquet Gharib Nawaz (patron of the poor).

This book makes a very timely appearance. Its author, Reema Abbasi, received the Gender in Journalism Award 2003 from UNESCO for the most gender-sensitive reportage. An editorial writer at Dawn, Pakistan’s leading daily, she wrote Hindu Temples in Pakistan with this striking subtitle: A Call to Conscience. Her text is informative and thought-provoking. The profuse illustrations in colour provide a feast to the eyes. Not one detail in the complex of the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer escapes her; nor a single relevant historical detail. The narrative is written devotedly and in a style that rivets interest. The saint’s mentor sent him “out into the world with four instructions—to travel, abstain from greed, forsake expectations, and to camp away from settlements”.

A popular saying has it that none can pay his respects at the Dargah except by a call from the Gharib Nawaz.

There can be no greater tribute to this book than that it makes the yearnings of the unfortunate, who did not receive the call, even more intense.

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