‘Ajmer Sharif works miracles because of people’s faith’
SAGNIK DUTTA  NEW DELHI | 9th Apr 2012

Dewan Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, the custodian of the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer since 1975, spoke to SAGNIK DUTTA about the Sufi shrine's significance among South Asian Muslims and shared some memories of past visitors.

Q. What is the broad religious and historical significance of the Ajmer's Dargah Sharif?

A. The shrine of Gharib Nawaz Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti is the biggest and the oldest dargah of South Asia. Gharib Nawaz's mother was a descendant of the ninth generation of Imam Hassan and his father was a descendant of the 13th generation of Imam Hussain. Therefore, Gharib Nawaz was directly related to the Prophet himself. He can be considered the founder of Islam in South Asia. People from across the nine countries in South Asia frequent this place.

Q. What is your opinion on the widely held beliefs regarding the healing, magical powers of Sufi saints in the dargah? Purists sometimes frown upon such practices of Sufism.

A. A lot of fraud also takes place in the name of ritual healing and curing the body of jinns these days. I admit that a lot of this is nautanki (a charade). However, people must recognise the significance of the real custodian of religion in a shrine. This is a man who is well-trained in religion and who reaches out to people. Even before the independence, in the princely states, the rajas and maharajas had dharmagurus, who were serious practitioners of religion and not just conmen providing instant cures to worldly problems.

Q. What do you think of the practice of mannat or asking for a specific wish fulfillment at the shrine? Do you think it really works?

A. Of course it works. And it works for no other reason other than the faith of the people in the priest. It is real prayers and the faith of the people that makes things work and not some magic spell. Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was known as Gharib Nawaz because of his benevolence and hospitality towards the poor.

Q. Is South Asian Islam a separate entity influenced and shaped by local customs?

A. No, I do not think so. There is no 'South Asian Islam' as you mentioned. The Koran is the basis of Islam throughout the world. The preachings of the Prophet and the message of the Koran inform the practices of Muslims for the past 1400 years. It is just because the Prophet was born in Arabia that the original text is written in Arabic. But the message of the Koran is universal. In India, there are four sects based on the religious masters – Chishtia, Qadri, Nashqbandi and Sohrawardi. However, they all recognise the basic principles of the Koran which emphasises on simple living, equality between fellow human beings and charity.

Q. Who are the famous dignitaries who have visited the shrine so far whom you remember fondly?

A. I remember the visit of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988 after attending a cricket match at Jaipur. Also, Musharraf had visited in 2005. I remember Zia as a soft-spoken person. I had presented him a necklace and he even promised to offer prayers for me to Baba Farid of Punjab. Benazir Bhutto visited when she was out of power. Nawaz Sharif visited during his stint as the Chief Minister of Punjab. Also, leaders from Bangladesh, including Khaleda Zia, Sheikh Hasina, and Zia-ur-Rahman have visited the shrine.

 
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