A Remarkable Mosque At Maira Sharif

A Remarkable Mosque At Maira Sharif
There are a few historical mosques in Pindigheb tehsil in Attock district which are mainly constructed of stone. These stone-built mosques reflect the identity of their respective villages due to elaborate ornamentation. Local people know about the historical mosques, and of the builders and masons who built these structures. Each of the motifs actually reflects the identity of the masons.

When one visits such historical mosques in respective villages, oral historians tell tales of the craftsmanship and laborious work of each of the masons who built such imposing mosques in the villages. They even know how such large slabs were brought to the villages and dressed at the construction site. Those slabs of stone were transported on camels to the villages where the masons laboriously worked to dress each of the slabs and engrave them accordingly. This work sometimes took years to complete a single mosque. One such historical mosque is located in Maira Sharif in Pindigheb tehsil, for which stone was brought from the Soan river. Maira Sharif, which is known for the shrine complex of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi, is located about 28 km west of Pindigheb town.  Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi was a deputy of Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi (1770-1850).

The Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

A wooden door in Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

According to Faizan-e-Mairvi by Khwaja Muhammad Fakharuddin Mairvi (2006), the maternal uncle of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi was a disciple of Khwaja Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi. He used to visit him at Taunsa Sharif frequently. Once Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi also accompanied his maternal uncle Ali Khan to the khanqah of Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi. It is said that Khwaja Shah Suleiman accepted Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi as his Khalifa at the age of 15. After getting the robe of initiation from Khwaja Shah Suleiman Taunsvi, Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi travelled to various cities and villages to visit the shrines of Sufi saints. He finally settled at Maira Sharif, where he established khanqah and began preaching Chishtiyya Nizamiyya Silsila of his spiritual master.

Soon, Maira Sharif became the thriving centre of Chishti Nizami Sufis. Many people became disciples of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. Several of his students who studied in his madrassah in Maira Sharif began to preach in their respective villages. They built mosques and madrassahs in their villages which I will discuss in detail in my next article on the historical mosque of Jasial village in Talagang tehsil.

The list of his disciples and deputies is very long, but the shrines of a few of those are located in different towns and villages which include Chwali Sharif, Jasial, Tamman, Dulmial, Larri in Chakwal district, Mianwali, Jhang, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, Fateh Jang, Rawalpindi, Chhabar Sharif in Jhelum, Fazalgarh in Azad Kashmir and many others. One of his deputies Faqir Ahmed Din spread the teachings of his spiritual master in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). According to Khawaja Muhammad Fakharuddin Mairvi (2006), the author of Faizan-e- Mairvi, the shrine of Faqir Ahmed Din is located in Til bazaar in Mumbai, India. I have written an article on the "Mystics of Maira Sharif," which appeared on 09 July 2022, in The Friday Times-Naya Daur.

Arched entrances of the Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi built mosque in Maira Sharif in 1880. According to Sahibzada Farooq Ahmed, the Sajjada Nashin of the shrine of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi, it was a small mosque that was built of mud and stone. It was later expanded by his khalifa and first Sajjada Nashin of the Darbar, Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi alias Hazrat Thani, probably in 1913. It is said that the famous masons of Attock were employed to build the mosque.

Three masons worked on the Jamia mosque of Maira Sharif in different years. It was first built by Baba Hayat of Leti village and later by a mason from Chak Bhaun village. The third mason who worked and further added two more dooays was Badar Din of Kanet village in Jand tehsil in Attock district.

Decorative slab on the facade of Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

The expansion of the mosque was first done during the time of Khwaja Ahmed Khan Mairvi alias Hazrat Thani in 1913. During a visit to Leti village in Lawa tehsil in Chakwal district, I was told by a mason that Baba Hayat, a famous mason and stone and wood carver of the village also worked on Jamia mosque Maira Sharif. Moreover, he also told me that Baba Hayat also built the tomb of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. The tomb of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi is one of the most impressive structures in terms of decoration in the entire Pindigheb tehsil. The tomb of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi was also commissioned by Khwaja Ahmed Khan Mairvi alias Huzoor Thani (d. 1931).

The stone façade of the mosque was constructed by a mason from Chak Bhaun village in Chakwal district during the time of Khwaja Faqir Muhammad Abdullah Mairvi, the second Sajjad Nashin of the Darbar of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. He could not complete the front of the mosque and another famous mason named Badar Din was employed to construct the façade of the mosque by Khwaja Faqir Muhammad Abdullah Mairvi (d. 1975). It took two decades to complete the stonework of the mosque.

Pillared hall of Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

Badar Din was the most renowned mason of Jand tehsil who built a few stone mosques in Attock district. Two of his most famous works are Jamia mosque Maira Sharif and Jamia mosque of Toot village. The work of a mason of Chak Bhaun village lacked decoration. Later work by Badar Din is superb and finely executed.

There are five arched entrances from the front which lead to the verandah of the mosque. Three main arched entrances were made by the mason of Chak Bhaun, whereas flanking doorways on each side of the triple-arched entrance were constructed by Badar Din. The main triple arches lack decoration while those constructed by Badar Din have three decorative slabs above each doorway. These decorative slabs represent floral and amulet patterns. The amulet pattern is a recurrent motif in Islamic architecture which was adopted by local craftsmen and masons to use mainly in the mosques. The amulet pattern also appears in paintings in a few tombs in the Attock district.

Southern entrance of Jamia mosque Maira Sharif

Badar Din also added a stone entrance-way in the southern wall which leads to the verandah. This entrance is decorated with floral patterns and two flanking windows. Both windows are decorated with geometric patterns. There is also an entrance-way from the north which leads to the verandah. The central wooden door leads to the pillared hall of the mosque. The pillared hall of the mosque is the most splendid which was constructed by Baba Hayat of Leti village. A beam-and-pillar technique was adopted to construct the main prayer hall of the mosque. The roof of the main prayer hall rests on eight wooden pillars. All the pillars have fluted shafts that rest on a stylized square base. Each of the pillars has a single volute. Similar pillars can be seen in the langar khana building adjacent to the Jamia mosque. I have not seen such a beautiful wooden pillared hall in any other mosque in Pindigheb tehsil - in fact, not even in the entire Attock district. However, one can see such an impressive wooden pillared hall in the Jamia mosque of Chwali village in Chakwal district.

Sahibzada Faqooq Ahmed, Sajjada Nashin of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi Darbar, Maira Sharif

Inspiration might likely have been taken from the Jamia mosque of Maira Sharif while building the Jamia mosque of Chwali. There are two shrines in Chwali which belong to  Moulana Ahmed Noor and Pir Habib Shah who were deputies of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. According to Badar-e- Munir, a book on the hagiography of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi authored by Muhammad Usman Ghani Chishti Rizvi Marivi (1986), Moulana Ahmed Noor was the deputy of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. He was a religious scholar. He also built a mosque in Chwali village.  Allama Hafiz Abdul Haleem Naqshbandi (1997) writes in Tazkira Ulama-Ahl-e Sunnat Zila Chakwal that Moulana Ahmed Noor used to teach Dars-i-Nizami in Maira Sharif when Khwaja Ahmed Khan Mairvi alias Hazrat Thani was Sajjada Nashin of the darbar of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi.

The Jamia mosque was renovated several times. Two halls were constructed on the south and north by Sahibzada Maqbool Ahmed Mairvi (d. 2011), the third Sajjada Nashin of the darbar of Khwaja Ahmed Khan Mairvi. About 17 rooms were also built for the pilgrims under the supervision of Sahibzada Maqbool Ahmed. Marble was used in the courtyard of the mosque during his time.

Sahibzada Farooq Ahmed, the present Sajjada Nashin of the darbar of Khwaja Ahmed Miarvi, constructed three more rooms and a hall for pilgrims and students who study in the madrasah of Maira Sharif.  He also constructed a new ablution area etc. Despite frequent renovations, the original stonework of the mosque is still extant.

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar