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Saturday, April 01, 2006

What Kind of Muslim Are You?

A red-eyed traveler arrived at the Ajmer Railway Station in the wee hours of the morning. At the platform he was immediately accosted by a sherwani-clad young man. 'Where are you from? Have you come for ziarat? What is your name?'
The questions came at rapid fire speed.

The traveler was polite but firm in his non-answers. All he wanted to do was freshen up, brush his teeth, have something to eat, see the mazar, recite fateha take in the surroundings and move on to Pushkar Lake. But this sherwani-clad man kept pestering him with queries and refused to go away.

It is a fifteen-twenty minute walk from the station to the dargah bazaar and then the inner courtyard flanked by two huge beautifully carved doors. Just before the entrance the traveler found a roadside eatery and ordered scrambled eggs and tea, hoping the pest would leave him alone. It seemed to work and he disappeared from view. After the third cup of doodh-patti the now refreshed traveler paid his bill and entered the gates. 'These daigs (cauldrons) were gifted by the Mughals' the pest was back at his side!

There are two huge cauldrons: the bigger one has a capacity of 4480 kg and the smaller one 2240 kg. The food cooked in them is called langar and distributed to the pilgrims and visitors. As he passed by there were two bamboo ladders attached to the sides of one of them and a crew was washing the insides.

And the pest stuck to the traveler like a shadow.

Inside the courtyard there are scores of chambers, big and small. Signboards over the hijrah (chamber) declare to the reader 'this hijrah belongs to the successors of Hazrat XYZ.' There must be 40 plus chambers in there. All the hazarats ostensibly must have been noble souls but the present day occupants, their 'successors' and heirs --the gadee nashins seem like capitalizing on simpletons.

Most of them have computerized lists of past donors and visitors to the Dargah. And each year they mail out pledge cards and donation solicitations to Muslims all over he world complete with self-addressed envelopes and bank account numbers for electronic transfers of funds.

There is a a la carte price for vicariously offering pledges, du'as (prayers) on behalf of absentee Muslims or patrons of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. You pay: we pray!

In the centre of the huge courtyard is the dargah. The the floor was marbled and cracked in some places around the perimeter. As the traveler climbed up to have a look at the sepulcher and offer fateha he saw the intricately woven marble screen around it and silver railings around the huge grave covered by a chador.

At the entrance to the chamber the pest in black sherwani jumped forward and introduced the traveler to a middle aged fellow sitting cross legged behind a low floor desk. 'Mr. t is visitig from Canada,' he informed. The fellow exchanged traditional Muslim greetings with the traveler and then forwarded a register. When the traveler ignored that thrust he made a point of asking the traveler to put his name and address down on the register.

'Because everyone who comes for ziarat signs the register and makes a donation.'

That explained the pest

'Thanks, but no I won't sign this register and I am not here to make any donation.'

The man behind the desk tried to persuade in vain. When his efforts failed he asked the traveler in desperation, 'Why are you here then?'

'Am here to offer fateha, look around and leave.'

'Cover your head before you go in there,' man behind the desk rudely admonished the traveler.

But by now the traveler was quite piquant. He glared at the man behind the desk.

'Janab hum aisay hee khulay sir andar ja'ayeN gay' (sir, I will enter the inner chamber bare headed.)

'No you cannot enter bare headed'


'Because everyone who enters has to cover the head'

'But i won't cover my head. It does not say here anywhere to cover your head. The only sign I saw asked me to remove the shoes. I have been to the Haram Shareef (Kaaba at Mecca) and Musjid e Nabvi (the Prophet's Mosque, at Medinah) bare headed---so what is the big deal here?'

'That is a different thing,' the man behind the desk said lamely.

'No, it is not!'

'What kind of Muslim are you?' said the man behind the desk, trying to wriggle out.

'Don't know---possibly a very bad Muslim---possibly a big gunahgaar(sinner)---but sir, I know this---I am a better Muslim than you are or can ever be,' saying this the traveler offered a fateha from outside the sanctum sanctorum, turned back without a glance and invited the man behind desk to come outside the dargah area so the traveler can throw some choice words at him.

The man declined.


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