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Far from the Maddening World

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By: Bashir Ahmad Dar

Popularly known as ‘Janbaz-i-Wali’ in Kashmir, most of the chronicles mention him as Sayyid Mohammad Rufaee. It is only Sayyid Ali, a near contemporary who refers to him as Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani. He was born in 735 A.H. corresponding to 1329 A.D. He hailed from Ishfan, Iran and as such is sometimes referred to as Ishfani. He belonged to the illustrious Sufi house as he was the grandson of Sayyid Ahmad Rufaie, who was the nephew of venerated Sufi Shaikh Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jeelani (R.A). As such his genealogy is associated with the lineage of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W).

In the very childhood, Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani was destined to learn theology at the feet of the revered teacher, Sayyid Mohammad Arbi, an illustrious scholar of Arabia.  But to satiate the spiritual thirst, he became a disciple of Mir Sayyid Jalal-ud-din Bukhari (1308-84) of Uchh popularly known as MakhdumJahaniyan-iJhanGasht. For his extreme ascetic practices, devotion to Allah and unparalleled sacrifices in the way of Allah, Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani earned the title of “Janbaz”.

Dr Ishaq Khan, veteran historian of Kashmir says that until the reign of Sultan Zain al-‘Abidin, no Sufi of Suharwardi order save Sayyid Sharafuddin had made his presence felt in the valley. It was during the fifteenth and the first half of sixteenth century, Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani, Sayyid Ahmad Kirmani and Jalaluddin Bukhari came to Kashmir. To believe TarikhiShayaq, nearly one hundred twenty saints accompanied Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani to Kashmir.  It may be added here that Jalal ud-din became the Murshid of Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom of Kashmir. It is reported that on his arrival in Srinagar, the Sultan Zain al-‘abidin went to greet Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani and arranged his stay in the capital city. Moreover, the Sultan is said to have been a regular visitor to the saint and received spiritual blessings from him. This is indicative of the reverence and the esteem the Sufis carried during the medieval times.

And no wonder it was through their tireless, peaceful and incessant efforts that Islam reached the nook and corner of the state as in other parts of the world.  Staying in Srinagar for two years, Sayyid Mohammad moved to Varmul. The king is said to have accompanied him in a boat. On reaching Wullar Lake, Zain al ‘abidin is said to have informed the Sufi of the devastation caused by the wind storm resulting in devouring hundreds of people who used to go to the lake for fishing and extracting other lake products. The king intimated him of his plan to construct an island in the lake for the safety of the people and requested the saint to bless him for this project. The king is reported to have picked up the construction of the island pursuant to the blessings of the Sufi. The island came to be called as ‘Zaina Lank”.

It indicates to what extent the king of Kashmir, Zain al ‘abidin was concerned about the welfare of his subjects that with a view to save his subjects from the ravages of Wular Lake, he utilised the blessings of the Sufi for it. Secondly, instead of seeking blessings of the saint for any personal desire, he preferred his subjects to his personal requirements. No wonder that besides other factors, this also elevates him to the status of ‘Budshah’ (great king)

The saint stayed at a place in Varmul which acquired such significance that it came to be known as Janbazpora after the name of the saint (Janbaz). Sultan Zain al-‘abidin   granted the meadow around Janbazpora for the horses of the Saint and revenue of some villages was assigned for the kitchen maintained by him. However he retired to another nearby village Khanpur in Varmul and stayed there permanently along with his family. It is reported in the chronicles that Sayyid Mohammad Ishfani moved from Srinagar to Janbazpora and from there to Khanpur in order to avoid contact with the people who came in large numbers to seek his blessings and the schedule of the saint with regard to his spiritual pursuit began to be trespassed.

In contrast to the active participation of the Suharwardi saints of Uchh and Multan in the politics of Northern India, the immigrant Sufis of this order in Kashmir lived in relative seclusion. A comparison of the medieval and present times seems astonishing as the saints of the medieval times tried their utmost to avoid the mundane and the crowds and the so called dervishes of the present times use advertisements to attract the people and cling to the worldly riches.

The maintenance of the Langar (hospice), like the other Sufis, has attained much fame and has become proverbial as “JanbazSabenDaeg” or the large cooking utensil of JanbazWali (R.A).  These hospices served the food to all, without any distinction. In particular the destitute, the needy and the wayfarers would entertain themselves here besides those who approached the saint for spiritual solace.

It was on 24th of Rabi al –Awal, in the year 840 Hijra (1433 A.D.) that the saint breathed his last and was buried at Khanpur. Khawaja Azam Dedmari states in his ‘Waqat-i-Kashmir that the permanent abode (shrine) of the Sufi is the source of countless blessings and that it is an attraction for the Sufis and spiritual personalities. The chronicler attests the observations saying that on one or two occasions he too had been a witness to it (feeling blessed). Every year thousands of Muslims pay obeisance at the shrine of this illustrious star of the spiritual world.

(The author may be contacted at email: [email protected])

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