Interfaith Islam and the Shia Pandit

Interfaith Islam and the Shia Pandit

I was at the Dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia Delhi , the day I arrived at Delhi to celebrate Chehlum 2007, my first one in the city, the capital of India.
I left my relative Ashraf Abidis house as there was a ladies Majlis , taking my camera I arrived at the Dargah, a phone call to Peersaab Fakhru Miya of Hujra No 6 Ajmer Sharif, got me the required help from the Khadims of the Delhi Dargah Sharif.
I have posted the pictures shot on my Nikon D70, the negatives too I shot for safety on my F100..I prefer negatives , they add to the spiritual colors of Islam.
While surfing I came across this article by Dr Hyder Reza Zabeth that I am copying here, it is worth reading to understand the Indian Muslim syndrome of Faith.. The Hussaini Brahmin is thought provoking, as a matter of fact many a times I have been called a Shia Pandit because of my homesite that looks very saffronised.. I dont take it as an insult,I would rather be called a Shia Pandit tham be called a Jehadi, or a fundamentalist .I respect composite cultures.
I dont mind being called a Hindu, it is a matter of pride for me , Hinduism is not my religion but a composite cultural inheritance that I have received as my birthright , I am thankful that God chose me to be born in Hindustan.No other place would have suited my tempestuous temperament, poetic pitfalls, pictorial philandering, so to speak.
At the Dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia I was at Peace with myself..for me I felt was back in Ajmer Sharif,,I know one thing you are what you are , pretending that you are something that you are not does not help, the Naga Sadhus call me a Shia Sadhu..but I guess all this adds to one premise I am human..not boxed as a Word Press Category or a Technorati Tag.
I am happy that I joined Digg it…My hospitality as a photo blogger is all that I offer with malice to none..Words Pressed as flowers of wisdom drying in old ancient books of yore..

Islam, the Harbinger for Interfaith Understanding in South Asia
courtesy of article
Dr. Hyder Reza Zabeth
Research Scholar
Islamic History Department
Islamic Research Foundation
Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (A.S.)
Mashhad, Iran
After the arrival of Islam in South Asia it gradually won over a large indigenous population to its fold. Due to this joining ranks a large indigenous population which brought along previous religious orientations into the faith upon conversion. Thus, Islam in South Asia has retained some typically indigenous taste. Islam since its emergence in South Asia was always the harbinger for interfaith understanding in this region.
The focus of this article is on religious system typical of the Muslim communities in South Asia bringing about interfaith understanding and harmony. The Islamic religious traditions rightly responded to different cultural situations and contexts in the course of its journey from its Arabian heartland to distant parts of the world. Islam was always an important structural basis of social identity and articulation of Muslims in a religiously and culturally diverse situation encountered in South Asia.
In performing the rituals and celebrating the festivals, the Muslims seek to assert their distinct religious identity and come together as members of a unified Muslim Ummah, but at the same time the typical indigenous elements assimilated in the Islamic traditions, the Muslim rituals and festivals in South Asia have always resulted in the interfaith understanding in this region. Some of the elements assimilated in the Islamic traditions according to the accepted standards of Islamic faith and theology may be regarded as heterodox.
Certainly Islam is a basis of identity articulation for the Muslims in the plural cultural situation existing in South Asia. Islam provides the individual Muslim with a plan for life from the daily ritual of worship, through the annual cycle of ceremonies, to the ritual observance of life cycle. The Muslims in South Asia, as indeed the Muslims elsewhere in the Islamic world, believe in and fully adhere to the cardinal pillars of Islamic faith.
The observance of Muharram and Urs ceremonies in South Asia by Muslims and non-Muslims alike according to beliefs have always bolstered social cohesion, touching upon the question of cultural syncreticism and allowing a greater degree of pluralism. Thus, Islam was always the Harbinger for Interfaith Understanding in South Asia.

Islam and Interfaith Understanding
Religion is playing an increasingly important role in the world today, and so it is crucial that people belonging to different faiths should understand each other. Mutual misunderstandings need to be removed and every religion should be studied in its proper perspective. While there is still room for discussions on religion in a comparative perspective, the focus should be on trying to explore those common factors in the various religions and, on that basis, efforts can be made for people to co-operate with each other. If people from different faiths closely interact, it is likely that they will come to appreciate the good points that the others have and may become aware of their own shortcomings leading to a consensus.
Moreover, their differences may narrow down in the process. Islam wholly supports this sort of dialogue. Islam believes that it is the truth, and that the basic message of the Holy Quran is essentially the same as that revealed to all the other prophets of God that appeared in the world before the advent of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). The revelations to the other prophets, as scholarship in the field has also proved, have been modified or corrupted over time, and it is only the Holy Quran that is still preserved intact. Whatever good there is in the other scriptures may be a remnant of the original revelations that survived the process of tampering around with and we must respect that.
Islam is a universal religion, since it has been taught by all the prophets, the last of whom was the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). It is universal in another sense in that it says that all human beings are children of Adam and Eve, and there is no question of discrimination on the basis of caste or race. There is no concept of a chosen race or caste in Islam.

Islam in South Asia
Today there are more than a half a billion Muslims living in the Indo-Pak subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). This amounts to one-third of the total Muslim population of the world. Muslims form more than twenty percent of the Indian population.
Islam spread from the West throughout South Asia, from the early eighth century, to become the second largest religion in Indo-Pak sub-continent. India’s nearly 21 percent population with nearly 210 million Muslims comprises the second largest population of Muslims after Indonesia. In Pakistan 150 million Muslims, Bangladesh with 135 million Muslims, Sri Lanka with 15 percent of its population as Muslims, in Nepal with 10 percent Muslim population, Maldives with 100 percent Muslim population make Islam as the second largest religion in South Asia after Hinduism.

Commemoration of Muharram in India by non-Muslims
The observance of Muharram ceremonies in South Asia in general and India in particular have attracted the deep reverence and devotion for the performance of its rituals and customs by the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Thus, the observance of Muharram ceremonies has introduced Islam as the harbinger for interfaith understanding in South Asia.
Imam Husain’s great sacrifice is commemorated by Muslims everywhere in the world, but it is observed with great emotional intensity in Indo-Pak sub-continent. What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in India is the prominent participation of Hindus in these rituals. This has been a feature of Hinduism for centuries in large parts of India, and continues even today. In towns and villages all over the country, Hindus join Muslims in lamenting the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, by sponsoring or taking part in lamentation rituals and tazia (replica of the mausoleum of Imam Husain in Karbala) processions.
The commemoration of Imam Husain’s sacrifice every year creates the most dramatic impact in South Asia. The majority of the population in India is non-Muslim. It is curious to see these non-Muslims participating in the many colorful and devotional ceremonies during the month of Muharram. Also, it has affected the rich and the poor alike.
In India the non-Muslims like Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Christians observe Muharram ceremonies with great devotion. Varanasi, the holiest city of Hinduism in India and the city of famous ghats and Vedic saints, has a mixed tradition of commemorating Muharram where some Hindu families participate in the procession. This also happens in Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Kolkatta, Mumbai, Chennai, Amroha, Indore, Nagpur, Jaipur, Bhopal and other major cities and towns. I have personally observed during my stay in India that large groups of Hindus in these cities participate in the majlis (mourning congregations); they also take part with enthusiasm in making the taziyas (replicas of the Imam Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala).
Varanasi’s Shivala Mohalla boasts of the most artistic taziya, and a replica of Zuljinah, Imam Hussein’s brave horse which is given milk in a traditional ritual in many cities in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
The Hindu rulers of Vijayanagar in Deccan (southern India) built wonderful Imambaras during the 16th and 17th centuries. They even wore the black garments of mourning during the first 10 days of the month of Muharram. Muharram processions during the 18th and 19th centuries were taken out by the Hindus in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra with rath (Hindu chariots) shaped tazias.
The Maratha ruling kingdoms like the Scindias of Gwalior, the Holkars of Indore, the Geakwads of Baroda and the Bhonsle of Kolhapur and Pune till now observe Muharram rituals with great devotion.
During their dynastic rules they strived to create interfaith understanding between Muslims and Hindus by observing Muharram ceremonies. The most famous of them all was the Rajah of Gwalior, a state in central India. The Rajah used to go barefoot with the procession every year on the day of Ashura, holding a replica of Imam Husain’s mausoleum.
Among the Hindus of Lucknow, the former capital city of the Nawabs of Awadh, the Muharram ceremonies are greatly revered by the Hindus. In Lucknow a large number of Hindus participate in the ‘azadari’ processions of the Shia Muslims. Many Hindus fast with Muslims on this day, while others distribute sherbet (sweet juices) and iced milk to those participating in the Muharram processions.
Some of the Hindus in Lucknow walk on a carpet of red hot embers with the chants of Ya Hussain called Aag ka Maatam, a unique way of mourning during Muharram in this city of nawabs. Muharram, presents an unparalleled example of Hindu-Muslim unity in this historical city.
There are several ‘anjumans’ (religious organizations) in Lucknow run by Hindus which take out ‘azadari’ processions and organize ‘majlis’ (mourning sessions where heart-rending tales of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom are narrated) throughout Muharram.
Lucknow also boasts of several Hindu ‘imambaras’ (mausoleums). One such is the ‘Kishnu Khalifa ka Imambara’ in Bashiratganj locality in the old city area. The Imambara, established in 1880, is famous for its Hindu ‘azadars’ (devotees) who observe Muharram with all the religiosity of the Muslims. A large number of Hindus, including their children, perform ‘aag ka maatam’ here. ‘Anjuman-e-Hind-e-Abbasia’ and ‘Anjuman Haaye Sakeena’ are the other organizations known for Hindus observing all the mourning rites associated with Muharram in large numbers.
In Lucknow, seat of the Shia nawabs of Awadh, prominent Hindu noblemen like Raja Tikait Rai and Raja Bilas Rai built Imambaras to house alams, the standards representing the Karbala event.
The non-Muslim tribal Lambadi community in Andhra Pradesh has their own genre of Muharram lamentation songs in Telugu. Among certain Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Karbala battle is recounted by staging plays in which the death of Imam Husain is enacted, after which the women of the village come out in a procession, crying and cursing Yazid for his cruelty. In large parts of north India, Hindus believe that if barren women slip under an alam moving in a procession they will be blessed with a child.

Cultural and Social Effects of Muharram Ceremonies
For example the following news item was published recently on the internet during the Muharram ceremonies this year:
The Sharma Hindu families have been taking out the Tazia procession on Muharram for more than 120 years in some districts of Madhya Pradesh. The ritual began in 1882 when the Raikwar family of the Vidisha town began preparing and taking out Tazias on the ninth day of Muharram. Since then, the Raikwar’s Tazia leads the procession of mourners on Muharram, and moves ahead of the long line of replicas of Imam Husain’s tomb and flags along the streets. Like several Muslim families across the globe, the Raikwar family members, too, set aside their daily chores to grieve for the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Husain (A.S.), and his 72 companions who were brutally killed on the banks of the river Euphrates in Karbala (Iraq) in 61 A.H.
“Husain is everybody’s hero, the embodiment of virtues of piety, courage and self-sacrifice. He did not seek power. “He represented the authentic voice of Islam and, for that reason, boldly challenged the un-Islamic practices of the Umayyad ruler, Yazid,” a member of the Raikwar family said. They also march, as they do year after year, through the lanes and by-lanes in fervent lamentation chanting, “Ya-Husain, Ya-Husain”, rhythmically beating their chests, self-flagellating, carrying replicas of Imam Husain’s tomb.
“Husain laid down his life but did not compromise with a bloody-minded tyrant,” says the head of the Mishra family of Sehore, another Madhya Pradesh town where a Hindu family takes out the Tazia procession. “The practice is over 100 years old for our family. We have also secured a place for `Bade Baba Sahib’ in our house where hundreds of Hindus and Muslims visit during Muharram to seek Imam Husain’s intercession to cure the diseased, avert calamities and even procure children,” says Dinesh Chandra Mishra, present head of the family. “Every age brings forth a new Yazid, but resistance to tyranny, as is illustrated by Husain’s legendary example, is incumbent upon every man of faith”, he says.
“The Hindu”, one of the largest selling English daily in India reported in its 31 January, 2007 issue that a large number of Hindus participated in the `Tazia’ procession along with Muslims at Pulimankulam in Tamil Nadu state. The procession was led by V. Nayaz Ahmed Bijili and H. Habeebur Rahman Bijili, hereditary trustees of the Athangarai Pallivasal Dargah. Hindus from Sokkalingapuram, Urumankulam, Tiruvamabalapuram and Avudayalpuram, marched towards the `chavadi’, where the `Panjas’ were installed, and offered prayers.
Three persons, two of them non-Muslims, took part in a firewalk held in the early hours. Syed Ache Miyan, hereditary Mujaver, led the rite in which Veerabahu Asari (55 years old) of Sokkalingapuram and Arumugam Yadav (28 years old) of Pulimankulam participated. Mr. Veerabahu has been taking part in the firewalks for the past 25 years. Last year, about 10 persons participated two of them Muslims.
The Hindus, who take part in the firewalk adhere strictly to fasting as do the Muslims. Many of them also read the Tamil version of Shahadat naama, which depicts the tale of the martyrdom of Imam Husain in the war of Karbala.
Hindus of these villages vie with the Muslims in making arrangements for the Muharram. They fell trees on their farms to prepare wood for the firewalk. A group of Hindu volunteers stayed around the `alaawa’ (the fire pit) throughout the night.
According to the residents of Pulimankulam, Hindus and Muslims have been observing Muharram jointly for the past many decades.
There is a Brahmin tribe by the name of Mohiyals in Kashmir who take part in Muharram observance with great devotion and fervor. They believe that their ancestors fought with Imam Husayn (A.S.) at Karbala and later, avenged Imam Husayn’s killing by fighting the Umayyads. They believe that they traveled back to India over the centuries via Afghanistan.
“The Hindu”, English daily published from Chennai and many other cities in India also reported in its 31 January, 2007 issue that hundreds of Hindus joined Muslims in observing Muharram in an Orissa village, ending a 25-year-old conflict over the ownership of a burial ground.
Hindus and Muslims in Peteipur village had clashed many times over 1.75 acres of land that the former wanted for a cremation ground. The Muslims wanted the plot for a Muslim graveyard, said a district police official.
“But this year we decided to end the conflict,” Naresh Acharya, the village leader and a Hindu, told The Hindu.
According to Acharya, more then a hundred villagers participated in the procession on 10th Muharram to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Husain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.
“We joined the Muslims and observed Muharram by participating in their tazia (replicas of Imam Hussain’s tomb) procession. We do not have any dispute now,” Acharya said.
Education Minister of Orissa state, Bishnu Das, who belongs to the region, and Lok Sabha member Brahamananda Panda also joined the function, he said.
The local administration has also identified and demarcated land for use by both communities as cremation grounds and ‘kabristan’(cemetery) following a court order on the petitions filed by both communities, he said.
Peteipur village in the coastal district of Jagatsinghpur, 70 km from Bhubaneswar, has a population of 2,000, including 1,200 Muslims of whom 800 are Shias.
The anti-Muslim riots broke out on February-March, 2002 in Gujrat state, But after this anti-Muslim riots in the next years’ month of Muharram “Tazia” processions were taken out in the cities, towns and villages of Gujrat state by the Muslims with the cooperation of Hindus. Many Hindu families generously contributed in cash for setting up the Tazias.
The tenth day of the month of Muharram (Ashura) is a national holiday in India.
This sacrifice is remembered everywhere in the world, but nowhere is it observed as in India for it has merged seamlessly into the Indian milieu.

Husaini Brahmin Sect
Perhaps the most interesting case of Hindu veneration of Imam Husain is to be found among the small Husaini Brahmin sect, located mostly in Punjab state in India, also known as Dutts.
Unlike other Brahmin clans, the Husaini Brahmins have had a long martial tradition, which they trace back to the event of Karbala. They believe that an ancestor named Rahab traveled all the way from Punjab to Arabia and there developed close relations with Imam Husain. In the battle of Karbala, Rahab fought in the army of the Imam Husain against Yazid. His sons, too, joined him, and most of them were killed. Imam Husain, seeing Rahab’s love for him, bestowed upon him the title of sultan or king, and told him to go back to India. It is because of this close bond between their ancestor Rahab and Imam Husain that the Husaini Brahmins got their name.
After Rahab and those of his sons who survived the battle of Karbala reached India, they settled down in the western Punjab and gradually a community grew around them. This sect, the Husaini Brahmins, practiced a blend of Islamic and Hindu practices, because of which they were commonly known as ‘half Hindu, half Muslim’.
But there is also another version of how the Dutts of Punjab came to be known as Husaini Brahmins. One of the wives of Imam Husain, the Persian princess Shahr Banu, was the sister of Chandra Lekha or Mehr Banu, the wife of an Indian king called Chandragupta. When it became clear that Yazid was adamant on wiping out Imam Husain, the Imam’s son Ali ibn Hussain rushed off a letter to Chandragupta asking him for help against Yazid. When Chandragupta received the letter, he dispatched a large army to Iraq to assist the Imam. By the time they arrived, however, the Imam had been martyred. In the town of Kufa, in present-day Iraq, they met with one Mukhtar Saqaffi, a disciple of the Imam, who arranged for them to stay in a special part of the town, which even today is known by the name of Dair-i-Hindiya or ‘the Indian quarter’.
Some Dutt Brahmins, under the leadership of one Bhurya Dutt, got together with Mukhtar Saqaffi to avenge the death of the Imam. They stayed behind in Kufa, while the rest returned to India. Here they built up a community of their own, calling themselves Husaini Brahmins, and although they did not convert to Islam they kept alive the memory of their links with Imam Husain.
The Husaini Brahmins believe that Krishna had foretold the event of the Imam’s death at Karbala in the Bhagwad Gita. According to them, the Kalanki Purana, the last of eighteen Puranas, as well as the Atharva Veda, the fourth Veda, refer to Imam Hussain as the divine incarnation or avatar of the Kali Yug, the present age. They hold Imam Ali, Imam Hussain’s father, and son-in-law and cousin of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, in particular reverence, referring to him with the honorific title of Om Murti.

Muharram during the Qutb Shahi Period
The Qutb Shahs who ruled most parts of Deccan from 1510 till 1687 A.D. were Shias and therefore Muharram was of great importance to them. They celebrated it with great enthusiasm and devotion. Fortunately we have accounts of Muharram ceremonies of Abdullah Qutb Shah’s period, recorded by Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed in Hadiqat-us-Salatin.
The Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the Golconda Empire raised Alams during the Muharram days, in accordance with the orders of the Sultan in their Dewan Khanas. Every such Ashur Khana was paid for the expenditures by the imperial treasury. It were due to this that all the people were kept busy in mourning during the Muharram days throughout the empire. It has become a custom that the people, poor and needy, used to sit in Ashur Khanas silently praying throughout the night of Ashura. As a reward for this they got their wishes fulfilled. (1)
The Qutb Shahs not only patronized the Marsiya writing, but themselves wrote Marsiyas. Even in this, they followed their religious policy and allowed the people of different sects, to participate in it. We find as many as twenty one poets, during the Qutb Shahi period, who wrote Marsiyas. They were not all Shias but the list contains many Sunni poets also. Some of them belonged to Silsila-e-Qadria.(2)
The Marsiyas were purely religious in nature. They were written to fulfill the religious duty and to identify oneself with the martyrs of Karbala. Therefore, they express deep devotion and sorrow of the poet. Beside this, the marsiyas are a valuable source of information too. They describe the ceremonies of Muharram, the articles used in them, the costumes worn, the jewelry used.(3)
The Dakhni poets have described Muharraum in pure Indian setting. This goes to show the process of Indianization of the ceremonies connected with the Muslim festivals, aimed and practiced by the Qutb Shahs.(4)
The Marsiyas of Muhammad Quli also have a similar setting. He has mentioned Indian flowers, vegetables and birds in his Marsiyas. The Marsiyas were written in the Dakhni language which was spoken by the people, though, the literary language of the Ulama and nobles of the court, was Persian.
The environment in which the events were described was Dakhni, the articles, costumes, jewelry etc., mentioned in them were also Dakhni.
This goes to confirm the view that the Qutb Shahs universalized the traditions and customs around the religious ceremonies, to help the people of their kingdom to participate in them irrespective of their religion, cast or creed. (5)
Hindus in the Qutb Shahi kingdom too participated in it; not only in the cities and towns but also in the villages. We have details of Azadari in a few Qutb Shahi villages and the Marsiyas written by the Telugu poets. But the celebrations were not limited to just these villages. Muharram was celebrated in almost all the villages of the Qutb Shahi Empire, with the same spirit of piety and enthusiasm. According to the accounts that have come down to us as a legacy, the Hindus of Gugodu village observed Muharram every year. It was the only occasion on which the people of all castes were allowed to participate and the caste differences so rigid among them were forgotten. They called it Deen Govind. They even practiced the ceremony of becoming Fakir.
On the fifth night, a procession was taken out which was called Panje ka Pittar in which every one living in the village actively participated. The babies born during this period in the village were named as Faqir Appa, Husain Rao etc. (6)
Another village called Solapur in Rai Durg Taluq gained prominence as a famous Telugu poet Ramanna of the village wrote number of poems describing and eulogizing Muharram. In one such poem he writes.
Padda la pandu ga rawe
Peer la pandu ga rawe
(Come, the festival of the great man) (7)
The people of the Solapur village, even abstained from eating meat during the Muharram days. (8)
Surapalli village was yet another village which attracted a number of people during the Muharram days. Balaiah a poet of the village wrote poems during these days and recited them every day to a large audience. One of the poem written by Balaiah starts with these lines Allah ke namanu anara,
devata la devama vachurao (Recite in the name of Allah, Devata will bless you).(9)
It is interesting to note that even the women of the villages wrote poems to pay their homage to the martyrs of Karbala. Three women, who were prominent among them were, Imam Aka, Vanoor Bee, and Gateema. Vanoor Bee in one of her poems gave us the reasons for her devotion. She writes if you speak truth Bibi Fatima will bless.
There are even Telugu folk songs written to pay homage to the martyrs of Karbala. (10)
The devotion to any movement or philosophy does need a cultural background, a sort of education, ability to understand the finer values, the Qutb Shah’i Kingdom undoubtedly had these qualities in the cities, towns and villages. Therefore devotion to the martyrs of Karbala became an integral part of their socio-religious life.
The extent to which the Qutb Shahs were successful in universalizing the Azadari and converting Karbala into a symbol for devotion to truth and piety can be assessed by the fact that even the tribes living in remote parts of the Kingdom participated in it with complete devotion and faith, of course, the way in which they performed the ceremony differed from tribe to tribe, depending on their cultural background. They recited songs written in their languages describing the tragedy of Karbala.
It was customary for the Pardies to begin their Azadari, as soon as the moon of Muharram was sighted.(11)
The Pardies usually conducted their Majlis in a large hut. After the Majlis, they offered Fateha over the fruits.
Gound was yet another tribe, among whom Azadari was performed. They too had their songs, which they sang during the Majlis. The Lambadies were greater in number than the other tribes, they too celebrated Muharram. (12)
Muharram thus was a festival of the people belonging to the cross-section of the society; it was celebrated by all in their own ways, according to their cultural back grounds and traditions. The Qutb Shahs did not try to impose any restriction over the diversified ways of its celebration. They did not force the people to abide by the rules laid down for it in their religion. Instead they universalized the social customs associated with it. They knew that neither the non-Muslims could be brought into the mosque and invited to participate in the prayers, nor the Muslims could participate in the prayers inside the temple. It was Ashur Khanas in which people could be brought together and allowed to participate in the ceremonies according to their own ways. The Alams in the Ashur Khanas were made sacred not only to the Muslims but to all the people of all the religions. It was because of this that the non-Muslims, who did not believe in Islam, also paid their homage to the Alams and adorned them.
The celebrations of Muharram founded by the Qutb Shahs and established in every part of their kingdom have became a tradition of the people, and still exist to this day as it used to be during the Qutb Shahi period. There is hardly any city, town, village of Andhra Pradesh, where the Alams are not installed. Muharram still is held as a pious ceremony not only by Muslims but also by Hindus all over the state. (13)
Professor Sadiq Naqvi and Professor V.Kishan Rao from the department of history in the Osmania University, Hyderabad, India have explained in detail in their book “The Muharram Ceremonies among the Non-Muslims of Andhra Pradesh” about the observance of Muharrum ceremonies by Hindus in the Andhra Pradesh state in southern India. (14)

Universalization of Muharram Ceremonies in India
The Imambara is an Indian institution more popular with the Shias who assemble here during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Calendar. Unlike a mosque, there is no set pattern for an Imambara. Its style, architecture and unity vary with local cultural influence. In south India, for instance, it is called an Ashurkhana.
Shias in particular perform Matam (beating their chest), recite Marsiyas. Processions are taken out with Tazias (huge bamboo structures decorated with paper and tinsel representing Imam Husian’s mausoleum) and Alams (replicas of the ensign of Imam Husian, during the battle of Karbala). Taimurlane is believed to be the founder of the Tazia ceremony. As a devotion to Imam Hussian, he erected the first Tazia and carried it on his military pursuits. Gradually the Mughal emperors perfected and promoted this art.

The Imambara
The pivotal point for the Muharram activities is the Imambara. In India Imambaras or Ashurkhanas are more prominent in places patronized by the Shias. The earliest kingdom to declare Shiaism as state religion in Indo-Pak sub-continent was the Adil Shahis of Bijapur, followed by the Qutb Shahis of Golconda. The Awadh rulers of Lucknow and some of the Nawabs of Bengal were devoted Shias who observed Muharram with due sanctity.
Alams during the Qutb Shahi rule were made out of gold and silver with jewels studded in them. As they symbolized the martyrs of Karbala, upon them be peace, royal privileges like armed escorts, Naqqar Khana and Chattr were accorded to them.

Numerous Ashurkhanas dotted the Deccani Kingdoms of Adil Shah and Qutb Shah. One of the best preserved is the Badshahi Ashurkhana, not far from Hyderabad’s world-famous monument Charminar. It was erected soon after the completion of Charminar in 1592. This Ashurkhana has an impressive height and is noted for its profusion of Persian tiles. Once it boasted of 14 gold Alams and 10,000 lamps that spoke of the grandeur of the Sultan.
During the Asaf Jahi period which lasted in Deccan till 1948 efforts were made to revive the glory by introducing new Alams and European lamps. (15)
Most of the Ashurkhanas of Hyderabad are gifted with proud historic Alams or some piece of memorabilia. Koh-e-Moula Ali on the hillocks of Hyderabad is reputed for its Nishan (hand impression of Hazrat Ali); others have preserved the historic swords, fragments of the armour cap, etc. One such proud possession is Hazrat Fatima’s, chaddor. The box in which this relic is kept bears the seal of several emperors. Bibi Ka Alam contains a piece of wood on which the funerary bath of Hazrat Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad was performed. (16)
Awadh was another Shia kingdom with Lucknow as the capital where numerous Imambaras were built by different nawabs. There hardly used to be any mohalla in Lucknow that did not boast of a couple of Imambaras. The three best known Imambaras of the city – the Asafi or Bara Imambara in the old city, the Chota Imambara in Hussainabad and the Shah Najaf Imambara near Hazratganj – are famous for their architectural beauty and European chandeliers.

Sibtainabad Imambara in Calcutta
The last of the Awadh Nawabs, Wajid Ali Shah, was laid to rest within the Sibtainabad Imambara built in 1864 in Calcutta. The imposing gateway with double mermaids – the emblem of the royal family – lies across the busy road. The building evokes memories of happier times when flowering plants and fountains almost recreated a mini Lucknow.

Imambara at Hooghly
Not far from Calcutta is Hooghly where Haji Muhammad Muhsin Isfahani’s Imambara is a landmark. Hundreds of European chandeliers reflecting on the Italian marble speak for themselves. The inside walls of the Imambara are profusely worked upon with inscriptions from the Holy Quran. The sundial and the mighty clock from Black & Murray, London, have tall tales to tell. One has to climb to see the three enormous iron bells of the clock together with a room full of machinery. The spacious courtyard, gilded doors, water tanks with goldfish add to the beauty of the scenic Imambara. The backyard wall of this building is inscribed with the fairly long will (dated 1806 A.D) of Haji Muhammad Muhsin Isfahani who dedicated this grand Imambara, besides schools and hospitals, for the needy.

The World’s Biggest Imambara
Murshidabad, along the Bangladesh border, houses the world’s biggest Imambara rebuilt in 1848 at a cost 600,000 Rupees in those times. The new building was erected when the old one caught fire during a party organized for the Europeans. The Imambara in it’s hey days stocked hundreds of Alams and other relics, besides chandeliers, lamps, girandoles and other means of illumination. When the relationship between the nawab and the English took a bitter turn, the women in Murshidabad melted their jewellery to create the new Alams.

Muharram in Bangladesh
Muharram had been observed since the 10th century in Bengal. A large procession is brought out from the Husaini Dalan Imambara in Dhaka on 10th Muharram in memory of the tragic martyrdom of Imam Husain (A.S.) on this day at Karbala in Iraq. Muharram ceremonies are also held elsewhere in the country.
Husaini Dalan in Dhaka is a big two-storied building which was constructed by Mir Murad in 1642 particularly for the observance of Muharram.
Muharram processions were common in Bengal in the 18th century. Horses and elephants were also used in the processions. Processions nowadays are much smaller. In Dhaka, the procession begins at Husaini Dalan and, after winding its way through the streets, terminates at a place designated Karbala on the banks of the Dhanmandi Lake. The replica of Zuljinah, the horse of Imam Husain (A.S.) and the flags in the procession show a symbolic presence of Imam Husain (A.S.). Also latikhela (stick fights) are organized to remind of the battle between the troops of Imam Husain (A.S.) and Yazid.
The tenth day of the month of Muharram (Ashura) is a national holiday in Bangladesh.

Muharram in Nepal
On the tenth day of Muharram, the Tazia, also called Daha are taken around town in procession with mourners beating their chests and shouting ‘Ya Husain, Ya Husain’ in the Muslims dominated areas in Nepal. In the evening, the Tazias are buried. In these ceremonies Muslims and Hindus participate enthusiastically.
Muslims are a minority in Nepal, and comprise between eight and ten percent of the population. They live in almost every Tarai district, but Nepal has more Muslims than some of the smaller west Asian sultanates such as Bahrain or Qatar.

Urdu Marsiay and Nohay
Urdu marsiay and nohay, or elegies, have not only rendered to the Urdu language literary and poetic beauty, but also a medium of religious, cultural, and intellectual expression. Although some Urdu marsiay and nohay deal with topics other than the seventh-century battle of Karbala, most of them have focused on the events that paved the path to this battle and the agonizing aftermath of this event.(17)
There are many Hindu poets in India who have composed Urdu marsiay and nohay in the praise of Imam Husain (A.S.).
Muharram ceremonies in India serve to unite the Muslims in India as well as bring the non-Muslims closer to them. The local customs and traditions concerning Muharram in rural areas of India have created for rural Muslims the psychological stability and security. Muharram rituals in India have played a vital role in the very survival of Islam, especially in the various far-flung rural communities of this vast sub-continent.
The Taziya, Alams and Mehndi attract the attention and devotion of Hindus and are very popular among them. They visit the Taziyas for darshan (homage) and make mannats (vows) and give offerings. In India the Muslims and Hindus are united in seeking solutions through the Taziyas. Apart from the Taziyas, the Muharram ceremonies always increase inter-communal interaction. Muharram affords an excellent opportunity for mass participation and collective performance of rituals on joint basis by Muslims and Hindus.

Sufi Saints Contribution in the Cause of Interfaith Understanding
In the Indo-Pak sub-continent Islam was spread, upheld and revitalized by the Sufi saints. The people who loved these men often built beautiful structures around their tombs (dargah), sometimes with an adjoining mosque. These darbars are dargahs as they are called became places of homage and reverence by the Muslims and Hindus.
Sufism was primarily introduced in India for spread of Islam and the Sufi saints tombs emerged as a place of pilgrimage for spread of Islam.(18)
The numerous Sufi religious establishments in India were the major means of spreading Islam and adapting it to indigenous cultural tradition. Of the various Sufi orders, Muslims of India prominently follow Chistiyya, Naqshbandiyya, Qadiriyya and Suhrawardiyya orders.
For centuries the Hindus accepted Sufi shrines as symbol of communal harmony. A large number of them offer prayers at the tombs of the Sufi saints.
The Sufi saints wrote in local language or even dialect and hence were much closer to the people. Popularity of these Sufi saints in the Indo-Pak sub-continent is indeed tremendous.
The famous Sufi saints who contributed greatly in propagating the message of Islam in the Indo-Pak sub-continent were Baba Farid (died in 643 A.H.) in Pakpattan, Nizamuddin Aulia (died in 724 A.H.) in Delhi , Khwaja Bande Nawaz Gesudaraz (died in 826 A.H.) in Gulbarga,, Shaykh Ahmad Abdal in Rudauli, Bakhtiyar Kaki (died in 634 A.H.), Nasiruddin famous as Chirag Dehli (died in 769 A.H.), Shaykh Sirajuddin (died in 759 A.H.), Ashraf Jahangir Semnani (died in 808 A.H.), Shaykh Saleem Chishti, Syed Ali Hamadani famous as Shah-e-Hamdan (died in 786 A.H.), Ahmad Yahya Maneri (died in 773 A.H.), Muhammad Ghouse Gwaliori (died in 971 A.H.), Nur Qutb Alam, Baba Adam Shaheed, Shah Jalal Sufi, Khan Jahan Ali, Badr al-Din Shah, Shah Maqdoom in Bengal, Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi, Syed Ali Hujwairi in Lahore, Shaykh Zakaria, Shah Shams Sabzwari, Shah Ali Mardan and Shah Yusuf Gardezi in Multan,
Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, who brought the Chishtiyya order to India and he is considered as the most outstanding Sufi saint in the Indo-Pak sub-continent and famous as Sultan i-Hind.
The Dargah Sharif of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, is one of the most holy places for Muslims. The Dargah is equally holy for Hindus and other religion followers. Khwaja was also called as Gharib Nawaj, which means the protector of the poor. The shrine is equally prayed by Hindus. People have faith that any wish asked with pure heart will be fulfilled by Khwaja.
The ‘urs is a yearly celebration of the death date of a Sufi saint. About 16 days after Id-ul-fitr, many Muslims and some non-Muslims in and around Delhi take part in another festive occasion they call the Satrahvin Sharif – literally Holy Seventeenth. This is the Urs or death anniversary of Hazrat Amir Khusrau, the favourite companion of 12th century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia. Thousands of people throng the twin Dargah (tomb) and offer their nazrana (of flowers, chadurs and sweets), say the fatehas (oblation), tie threads of mannat (vow) on the tomb’s jali, or just sit there listening to ecstatic qawwalis. There is also Charaghan (illumination with lamps) inside the tomb, and outside, everyone makes merry in a colorful fete, which goes on for three to four days. (19)
There are hundreds of Sufi saints in Indo-Pak subcontinent whose tombs become center of such occasions at least once every year, yet the legend of Amir Khusrau and Nizamuddin Aulia is something special in the history of Indian Sufism. Amir Khusrau, according to the popular belief, was a steadfast Sufi and the most favorite disciple of Nizamuddin Aulia.
For last seven centuries, every year the Urs of both saints is celebrated with a gap of exactly six months – Nizamuddin Aulia’a Urs too being called the Satrahvin Sharif. (20)
Ahmad Riza Khan (1856-1921), the leader of the twentieth-century Barelwi movement, was a scholar of Islamic law and a Sufi saint in British India. His vision of what it meant to be a good Muslim was built on devotion to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.). The Barelwi movement continues to attract a large following both in South Asia and wherever South Asian Muslims have migrated.
The Urs of Syed Salar Masud or Ghazi Miyan in Bahraich which took place on the first Sunday in the month of Jeth (May/June) hundred of thousands of Muslims and Hindus participate in it. The Mir Datar Dargah at Unava, about hundred kilometers north of Ahmadabad, near the district town of Mehsana in Gujrat state also attract thousands of Hindu pilgrims.
Some dargahs maintain public kitchens which distribute free food (langar) to the poor and to the travelers. The langar is also the essential feature of the annual urs celebration

The Rich Tradition of Syncretism in India
In most part of south India, the Muslims and non-Muslims cannot be distinguished by the dress or language. But the Muslims preserve their Islamic identity by observing the Islamic rituals and customs. In the era of Islamic practices they are the staunch practicing Muslims but Islam is the basis of inter-faith understanding in these regions. Muslims and non-Muslims have always lived in peace in these southern states. The Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala state have played a very crucial role the state politics since the independence of India in 1947.
India has a long and rich tradition of syncretism or the fusion of different forms of beliefs and practices. Religions liberally borrowed each others rituals, customs and to some extent beliefs. In India, even Islam with their strict monotheism was not immune to this trend.
The Shrine of Ayappa in the Sabari Mala Mountains of Kerala attracts thirty million devotees each year. Ayappa reportedly had a Muslim disciple called Wavar who led an army of warriors and defeated Ayappa’s enemies. There still exists a mosque called Wavar Masjid at the foot of the hill where pilgrims seek the blessings from a “maulvi” before embarking on the uphill trek.
Arguably, the most popular cult in India is that of the Sai Baba of Shirdi. His portraits and popular saying, Sab Ka Malik Aik (Everyone’s lord is one), are ubiquitous among the Hindus in India, gracing everything from plush offices to auto-rickshaws.
His clothing, actions and many popular sayings and actions definitely point that he was a Muslim. He wore the dress of Muslim fakir, held ‘fatiha’ ceremony every Thursday and lived and died in a mosque in Shirdi.’ During his life he was simply known as a Muslim fakir.
Haji Baba Ratan of Bhatinda in Punjab is greatly revered. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs all claim him to be their own despite his strong Muslim connections.
Hindu ladies still line up at the doors of several mosques in India and ask the Muslim men leaving after the prayers to blow on their children. (21)

Even though the observance of Muharram and Urs ceremonies in South Asia by Muslims and non-Muslims alike according to beliefs have always bolstered social cohesion, touching upon the question of cultural syncreticism and allowing a greater degree of interfaith understanding. But the Muslims in the Indo-Pak sub-continent have always strictly adhered to the basic principles of Islam and have maintained the purity of Islamic beliefs and practices and have prevented it being infused with ideas that are regarded as secular by them.
1- Mirza Nizamuddin Ahmed; Hadiqat us-Salatin, p.59
2- Muhammad Chirag Ali; Udu Marsiye Ka Irtiqa, Hyderabad, 1973, p. 159
3- Dr. Sadiq Naqvi, Muslim Religious Institutions and their Role under the Qutb Shahs, Hyderabad, 1993, p 211
4- Ibid, p 212
5- Ibid, p 212
6- T. Donappa; Jana Pada Kala Sampada, Vishakapatnam, 1975, p. 129
7- Ibid, p. 130
8- Ibid, p. 131
9- Ibid, p. 140
10- Rama Raju; Muharram Folk Songs in Telugu, Hyderabad, p. 57
11-Nadeem A, Husain and Tribes, Alwaiz, Khames Aal-Aba Number, October, 1983, p. 71
12-Ibid, pp. 72-75
13- Dr. Sadiq Naqvi, Muslim Religious Institutions and their Role under the Qutb Shahs, Hyderabad, 1993, p 212
14- “The Muharram Ceremonies among the Non-Muslims of Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad, 2004,
15- Nigam, Mohanlal; Indian Ashur Khanas”, Red Sand, New Delhi, 1984, pp.118-120
16- Muslim Religious Institutions and their Role under the Qutb Shahs, pp.169-175
17- Rashida Moosavi; Deccan Mee Marsiya Aur Azadari , Hyderabad, p.57
18- Sayyed Athar Abbas Rizvi, History of Sufism in India, Volume 2, 1992, Page 178
19- Imtiaz Ahmad, Rituals and Religion among Muslims in India, New Delhi, 1984, pp, 174-176
20- Ibid, pp, 191-193
21- Ibid, pp, pp, 91-92

May 3rd, 2007…

Posted by firoze shakir photographerno1 on 2007-08-19 18:51:45

Tagged: , interfaith , islam , shia pandit , dargah nizamuddn aulia , composite culture , sufism

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