The day of loss

The wooden shrine, dedicated to 11th-century Sufi saint Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, in flames, last month.

You wake up to hear the noise on Twitter that a historical place, an eyewitness, an era in itself is burning. With all its might and all its fury, the grand structure raised in tribute of Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani, also known as Dastgeer Sahab in Kashmir was turning into ashes.

The pictures people were uploading on Facebook and Twitter of the blazes in Dastgeer Sahab shrine were heart-breaking.  It was highly disturbing to see a more than 200-year-old shrine turning into black ash.  All I could do was mourn in silence for the history that the shrine carried.

Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani was the patron saint of Kurds. It is believed that he became Hafiz of Quran (learnt by heart) at the age of five. His message of Islam reached many corners of the world, earning him the title of ‘Muhyudin’ or the reviver of faith. My first introduction to SAQ Jeelani was in an Urdu book at my school. As Sameer Bhat, a blogger wrote in his blog that “Folklore has it that when he was a young man in Gilan, he was sent to study in Baghdad. Since dacoity was common, his mom sewed up 40 gold coins in his jacket. When robbers ultimately intercepted his caravan, he was hauled up, like everyone else, and asked to declare what he had on him. Gaus Al Azam truthfully said ’40 gold coins’.

The dacoits took his honest reply for a kid’s joke and dragged him to their chief, who repeated the same question with a more fearsome growl. Abdul Qadir Jeelani said the only thing he ever knew: truth. The dacoits, lore has it, were so impressed by the bright sparkle in his eye that they decided to give up highway robbery. Ordinary folks, by extension, were totally consumed by Jeelani’s message of harmony.”

The Muezzin had called the Azaan; it had reached into corners of the old city. The believers came to the Mosque and offered their morning prayers. They then recited the verses from Awraad-e-Fatiha. The skies were grey outside, the echoes of old men reciting the verses of Awraad made the moment holy.

After the recital from the Awraad, people went to baker shops to take their bread home. In early morning, the fire had broken out at the Shrine. Somebody had noticed and raised hue and cry. Hordes of people came out of their homes, fighting the morning cold.  Awestruck. The fire services were called. The nearest one is around Rainawari, which is like half a mile away from the shrine.

The firefighters arrived at the spot. People were heaving a sigh of relief that it might be saved. Chanting the names of Allah, his prophet and the saintly Sheikh the situation was tense. Adding more fuel to the fire, the fire-trucks ran out of water. This fired up the people, especially the youth. They bashed up the firefighters and ransacked the fire trucks too.

The youth risking their lives tried to control the fire. The nearby locals took out the water-motors to pull water from the nearby stream. It was too less. The youth tried to save whatever they could. Hair, arms, hands and skin were burnt due to the risky rescue job.

Although, they couldn’t do much to save the wooden structure but the courage shown was exemplary. There are tightly packed houses nearby; if fire had touched one more house it could have torched a major settlement in the old city. The youth should be commended for saving an inevitable catastrophe.

As the fire doused, nothing remained of the beautiful Dastgeer Sahab shrine. One fire went out and other was generating on social networking sites. Various theories were cooked up (no surprises). Then came the self-appointed Facebook Muftis, who bombarded each other with Fatwas like it was a mortar fire. There were calls of unity from the people to not give in to the sectarian clashes, which the state wanted to create since a long time. Thanks to the almighty, nothing of that sort happened.

A minister in the ruling government and who represents the area couldn’t even step out of the car; he could have been killed by bare hands, due to the rising anger of people. Two stalwarts of the freedom struggle in Kashmir arrived at the scene, consoling the heartbroken people over the demise. Some goons bashed them up with rods and fists. Who were they? Another mystery. They were saved from getting hurt by some people from the lynching.

Rumours flew in the air. The police that had arrived at the scene wasn’t allowing the youth to cross the barricade. Further infuriating the people, a police officer was bashed up by some locals. Thus the clashes started. The clashes continued till night. From the protests against the administration to the demands of Azadi, protests continued. Protests generally take 5-10 minutes to reach to the calls for Azadi. Maybe it is the subconscious calling for its freedom from suppressed thoughts.

The situation had mellowed down in the night. The government forces from the nearby-occupied Shiraz cinema came out and ransacked houses out of anger. More protests sparked throughout the old city.

Kashmir became a besieged city. Early morning police cars had announced for people to stay inside their homes, as it was curfew. His majesty arrived at the devastated scene of our history. With his band of merry ministers and loyal police he took the stock of the situation when his own people were watching behind the bolted doors and broken windows.

The unbelievers too arrived to condemn of what was left, while the believers couldn’t venture out to pray. Nostalgia is coming, reminding us of the curfews in the 90s and late 2000s. The government appointed Grand Mufti then called for a march on coming Friday while his majesty had left to visit his ailing father leaving behind an ailing city.

We have lost a monument, which symbolized the struggle of truth against the falsehood, of spirituality and brotherhood. The shrine is lost, but we should enshrine its legacy and the words. Carry them in our hearts and keep marching on.

“Ease [yusr] and hardship [‘usr] are the feathers that give strength to the wings of your faith [iman], so that your heart and your innermost being [sirr] can use them to fly to the door of your Lord (Almighty and Glorious is He)”    – Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani


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