THE MOST AMAZING PHOTOGRAPH IN OUR ARCHIVES OF A RELIGIOUS GROUP – INAUGURAL PRAYERS AT SIRIYAN WALI MASJID LAHORE, LOCAL AND MIANWALI.
The complexity of Lahore is not understood by pseudo historians of Lahore. Everybody wants to jump in this terrain with superlatives, while not having any feelings for the philosophy of the city. Egalitarianism is one thing. A city in which Governor and beggar could be having adjacent houses is another. This capitalistic attitude of separating housing schemes due to materialism is not in inherent to old Lahore. Here we enter Lahore through the Phandaian (utensils) wala bazaar, in Rang Mahal, and some steps away, there are two lanes. The right one goes to Kocha Chabuk Sawaran, and the straight one goes to Siriyan wala bazaar. Nobody really can prove what this bazaar meant in ancient times, but the name is still there, even after ages. For some this small limited lane is a place where lambs used to be slaughtered and the Siri Pavay (heads and ankles) used to be sold here (no butcher shop here ever, and why only lamb heads). Others feel this place relates to the slaughter of people (or army), perhaps even by the Mongols, or even by the Sikhs, mainly the three chieftains of Lahore, who were responsible for the carnage in the city many times. Or perhaps it was a hanging place, where prisoners were beheaded. Even a long-lost cemetery of beheaded army people. All that is possible. In any case, there is not much of interest in this small lane, except that in this lane was the house of Muhammed Chittu Patoli (son of Sheikh Elahi Baksh), a leather merchant and maker of shoes, or more specifically ‘Patolis’, portion of shoes making. This havelli was once the havelli of Meraz Khan. Meraz is an Islamic word, and means ‘Gift of Allah’. It is even possible that this havelli belonged to Ifraz Khan, maker of Chinay wali masjid, and Meraz may be the son of Ifraz Khan. And in this way both havelli and masjid came into possession of Muhammed Chittu. Perhaps bought or inherited by him. A relation can be established. And his phenomenal love for the holy book of Quran, is proven by his sacrifice of expensive property, where even his own children were unhappy with Muhammed Chittu’s decision.
Ghulam Nabi was originally from a small village, namely Chakra, near Mianwali. He was a relatively young man, when he became custodian of the Chinay wali Masjid in Lahore, in Kocha Chabuk Sawaran. His date of birth is given as 1860 AD. He was given charge of this mosque somewhere around an age of 38, or perhaps 40 years. In the hujra of the ancient Aurangzebi mosque of Ifraz Khan, revelations struck him, and his study of the Quran, became intense. He hero worshiped Hazrat Umar, Peace be upon him, and his statement that the “Quran is enough”. To those who believed that Quran was not sufficient, he came up with the idea of Ijtihad, which was a Quranic term itself. For his views, he was kicked out of the Chinay wali masjid. Muhammed Chittu, a keen observer, and contrary to portrayal by some bigoted historians, was educated enough (perhaps highly educated) to understand all this. He offered his own house in Siriyan wala Bazaar to his iconic leader. Ghulam Nabi found fault with his name, and took the name of Abdullah Chakravali. A request was made to the Municipal administrator Mr. Tapp for permission to convert the house into a mosque, and it was accepted that this was a new sect in the Muslim fold, and it was named as Ahl-Quran movement in Lahore. The permission was initially refused but as more people joined the group (from initial 62 to hundreds later on), it is probably that the permission was granted for the same. Otherwise the house was just used as a prayer house. The Waqf-nama of Muhammed Chittu dated 10th March, 1905, clears many things. An invitation was extended by Abdullah Chakravali to his home town in Chakra, and delegations came from there for the inauguration prayers at the Mosque of Siriyan wali Bazaar. And the most amazing thing is that a group photograph was taken with the inauguration of the prayers at the Siriyan wali mosque. And even more amazing that a faded copy was there in the collection of M. A. Rahman Chughtai artist. From 1905 to 2020, a journey of 115 years. Its colour was restored, but full restoration still far away.
There are many clues in the photograph. The building in front of which the group is standing, even today somewhat like that after 115 years. Plain wall with doors. There is a dari (carpeting) on the floor, for prayers. The main person Abdullah is sitting in front, and looks around 45 (or plus) years old. Behind him is his cute grandson Ismael, and on the other end is his son Ibraheem. Fancy jackets most of them from Mianwali, but the local people can be recognized as plain and simple and poor. Two old men sitting in front. One is obviously Muhammed Chittu, the other not known, but can be Munshi Umar Din, the designated Mutawalli of the new mosque. A historical epic left as a record. The photographer is not a very professional one, as people have been cut in the process of photography. And due to movement of some people, an old wooden box camera could not catch much in detail. But it has expressions of various people. All serious and anxious faces (no smiles at all), except the relaxed face of Muhammed Chittu himself. We have tried scientific approach to our analysis, but we may be wrong in our attribution. If so, everybody is welcome to correct us. The present generation of Abdullah Chakravali is even allergic to his name and memory. I remember a famous American song, “Ghost riders in the sky”, and know that the ghost of the hero, Abdullah Chakravali will not go sway in wishful thinking. A popular scholar, he risked his already made reputation for his views, which looked outlandish at that moment in life. But only time reveals the truth. A seed is planted, and a full grown fruit tree takes it time. Abdullah Chakravali’s views became the first step in establishing Islam as a Deen, and indeed for later scholars, a challenge to religion itself. May his soul rest in peace!
POST SCRIPTPhotograph can be used only with quoting source of Chughtai Museum.