Mahad Saheb; The Man Who Groomed Mirwaiz

Kashmir Magazine

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq

Wa-man lam yasykur an-nas lam yasykur Allah (A person who is not thankful towards people can never be thankful towards Allah): Holy Prophet Mohammad PBUH
Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Wani, also known as Mahad Sab, passed away in Srinagar on December 17 last year. He was among the most influential people in my life who moulded and shaped my spiritual path at one of the most crucial and critical junctures of my life. I need to acknowledge him in the most generous way possible for, besides being my teacher, mentor and guide in religious matters, he epitomized the finest confluence of Islamic belief and spiritual practice, moderation and a deep sense of responsibility towards traditions and culture.
It was not easy for me to inherit the mantle of the Mirwaiz (chief cleric) when my father Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq attained martyrdom in 1990. I was but a playful 17-year-old schoolboy. It was a tragic time for the family. In a situation when we were bereft and grieving, I was suddenly enjoined to take over the responsibility of carrying forward the hallowed religious obligation of upholding the mission of the Mirwaizeen-e-Kashmir. The institution of the Mirwaiz is unique to Kashmir. In an unbroken tradition of over a century now, the revered pulpit of the Mirwaiz has been guiding believers against social evils and urging them to follow a devotional path as per Islamic tenets. It was a journey that demanded of me an overnight transformation from being a teenager to ascend the esteemed pulpit of Jamia Masjid, the historic mosque located in the heart of Srinagar city. It was an uphill and daunting task.
That was when Mahad Sab stepped in and contributed immensely towards making that transition smooth. Being a close associate of my father and a committed adherent of the religious legacy of the Mirwaiz family, he volunteered his services to mentor me and ensure that I acquired all the skills and knowledge that was needed to fulfill my role as a Mirwaiz. He literally held me by the hand and hoisted me up the ladder to the Mirwaiz’s pulpit.
A self-taught man, Mahad Sab was professionally a devout businessman. When it came to matters of faith and practice he was unique in many ways. Although he belonged to the more orthodox Salafi sect (Ahl-e-Hadees), he was of a Sufi temperament, dedicated to understanding the teachings of Islam as a means to get close to Allah with humility and gratefulness.
He possessed great reverence for Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani, Khwaja Bahaw-ud-Din Naqshbandi and other Sufi peers (RTA). He would guide me in compiling a Wa’az for the special occasion of the Ur’s of the Sufi peers and would make it a point to participate in the congregation. I would observe him engrossed in the Wa’az which he had helped to compile with great attention and devotion. Later he would tell me that I experience a very different feeling when you are at the mimbar (pulpit) and recite from the bayaz (teachings). Immediately after my father’s death, my first sermon at Jamia Masjid from the teachings of Mirwaiz Ahmadullah, was in Kashmiri. Although I could speak the language, I was still not fluent in writing or reading it. Mahad Sab ensured I was introduced to verses written by Kashmir’s leading saint Sheikh-ul-Alam (RTA) also known as Sheikh Noor-ud-Din Wali. This became an entry point for me into the Kashmiri language. It was followed by an introduction to Persian, especially the writings of Jami, Khusrau and Rumi. Being a Mirwaiz requires special learning that no ordinary school or university can impart. The clerical tradition adopted the unique form of Wa’az-o- Tableegh (propagation through sermons) to educate people and to bring the teachings of Islam to them. The distinctiveness was in the fact that it was completely based on the oral conventions of listening, repetition and absorption.
This system continues even today without any distortion. A Wa’az puts special emphasis on the life of the Prophet (PBUH) and is suffused with reverence, devotion, love and praise for him. It also delves upon the role and the significance of the pious and learned saints and scholars of Islam. The special feature of the Wa’az is the recitation of Manqabat, with focus on glorification and accomplishment of the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (RDA); Manajaat, seeking forgiveness from Allah and Na’at, verses in praise of the Prophet (PBUH). The language traditionally has been Kashmiri and Persian, recited at specific moments during the course of the Wa’az, giving a unique structure to the recitations. As I embarked on this extraordinary journey of becoming a Mirwaiz, an intense period of initiation and education came from Mahad Sab. He introduced me to this knowledge system with its etiquettes and nuances. The kutub khana (library) at the Mirwaiz Manzil is a home to a rich collection of manuscripts, some of which are over 400 years old. These manuscripts and bayaz (teachings) are a treasure of Islamic learning and calligraphy. Mahad Sab was very well versed in these and cherished and valued them. I would be deeply impressed by his knowledge and understanding as he traversed through the manuscripts of Mirwaiz Rasool Shah, Mirwaiz Ahmadullah or Mirwaiz Ateequllah and steered me through them. He would emphasize that moderation and balance was the key message that came through the religious practice and teachings of the Mirwaizeen. With a broad vision and deep insight, he would guide me through these ancient manuscripts and prepare my sermons for the contemporary congregation. He was among the few people who knew the oral tradition of passing on the local knowledge, known as Seena-ba-Seena. An avid listener, his alert memory, thoughtfulness, wisdom and deep faith created a perfect combination.
It was through a process of osmosis, through oral repetition and listening, that he had imbibed the institution, its methodology and structure. It was through the same process that he transferred the knowledge system to me. In fact, to transmit that knowledge and understanding was his mission and I was privileged enough to be a part of it. We would have a learning session every morning before he would begin his day at his shop. His gift of the repertoire of Manajaat, Na’at and Manqabat in Kashmiri, Persian and Arabic opened up a new world to me.
Alhamdu-Lillah. I am grateful to him for the generosity, the patience and the grace with which he instilled a sense of dedication and purpose in me to learn and to understand the method and manner of the waaz-o -tabligh that is the singularity of the Mirwaizeen. He kindled a deep spiritual thirst inside me.
It is with deep affection and reverence I acknowledge his contribution to my understanding of my religious role and responsibility. His impact on my life is immeasurable, and his passing is a personal loss that words struggle to capture.
It makes me very sad that since the time I was placed under house arrest – and my Wa’az-o-Tableegh was proscribed, I was not able to meet Mahad Sab for four years. He too was extremely anguished by this and would speak with me on the phone. Now, with his death, the precious 33 years of association has come to an end. His life exemplified the virtues he imparted, leaving an enduring impression on those who had the privilege of knowing him. And I have lost my guiding light.