Akhtar Balouch, also known as the Kiranchi Wala, ventures out to bring back to Dawn.com’s readers the long forgotten heritage of Karachi. Stay tuned to this space for his weekly fascinating findings.
In the not so distant past of our beloved city of Karachi, there existed a Freemason Hall, where the fraternity would hold its sessions on a regular basis. It’s hard to believe, but the building is still there to be seen near Fawara Chowk (Fountain Square).
Fawara Chowk is located in Saddar on Abdullah Haroon Road (previously Victoria Road). On one end of the square is an old Protestant church, the Trinity Church, while on the other end is the Governor House. The square also leads to the State Life Building, one of the skyscrapers of Karachi, and the Jaffar Brothers’ building, an unusual structure that looks somewhat like a multi-storied boat.
If you head over to the Arts Council from this square, you will also pass by the Institute of Foreign Affairs, the first building on your left. Right next to this institute is an old, colonial structure, a building that effuses an aura of another time, another era of the history of Kolachi.
A distinct eeriness surrounds this old structure. There's always a small number of cars parked by the entrance. During winters, an old, the weary gatekeeper can be seen sitting a few yards from the locked entrance, basking in the warm sunlight. The melancholic trees around it seem to be lamenting how no passer-by sits under their shade.
This is the building of the Freemason Hall — the Hope Lodge. Not many know about the Freemasons and the Hope Lodge, and when I tried to do some digging, whoever happened to know anything about them had an unfavourable disposition towards Freemasons.
Most Muslim researchers and authors think that the Freemasons were a fraternity funded and promoted by the Jewish [lobby]. This is, however, far from the truth. Interestingly, before and after partition, the Freemasons always had more than one Muslim member.
Some of the names on a plaque at the Hope Lodge might surprise us. One of the well-known Muslim names from the pre-partition Karachi is that of Jam Ayoub Aliani. The names of two other Muslims can also be seen here. One is M. M. R. Sherazi, while the other is M. G. Hassan.
Jam Ayoub was only a member of the organisation, while the other two had held office.
Among the Hindu Freemasons are W. F. Bhojwani and K. P. Advani, while the Parsi members include D. F. Setna.
Saaien G. M. Syed, founder of the Sindhi separatist movement, Jeay Sindh, writes for Mir Ayoub Khan, son of Jam Mir Khan Barrister in his book Janub Guzaryum Jann Seen:
He was a sincere friend, a jolly fellow and a man of the liberal school of thought. I had the pleasure of working with him in the municipality, the local board, the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu, Young Men’s Muslim Association, Freemasonry, Sindh Madrassa Board and Sindh Mohammadan Association.
Jam Ayoub’s name is inscribed on the plaque at the Hope Lodge, but Saaien G. M. Syed’s name is nowhere to be found, despite Syed having admitted to have worked with Jam Ayoub in the Freemasons.
According to my historian friend Aqeel Abbas Jafri, even Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was a member of the Freemason fraternity. Ajmal Kamal, a renowned scholar, seconds Jafri’s claim.
In his book Karachi Taareekh Kay Aaaenay Main, Muhammad Usman Damohi writes about Jam Ayoub and the Freemasons:
With the permission of King George V, Jam Ayoub became the Vice Counsel to Iran in June 1894. He remained in this position until 1927. In those days, the Freemasons’ activities were in full swing. The fraternity would often hold cultural events and programmes in Karachi. Jam Ayoub was an honorary member of the organisation… In those days, the motives of the Freemasons were a secret...
On July 13, 2011, Abeera Khan writes in an article for Dawn:
The historical origin of the Freemasons is rather obscure and mysterious, which — combined with the somewhat secretive nature of their rituals — has led to much conjecture and conspiracy theories about their activities around the world. Their meetings involve old symbolic rituals that have been carried forward for hundreds of years. The fraternity operates from very loosely connected "grand lodges", and "lodges" which are centres of activity and meeting-places. Each independent grand lodge has its own jurisdiction. A symbol always found in these lodges is that of the 'compass' and the 'square', pointing literally or metaphorically to the tools of a mason (or stone-cutting).
But is it right to assume these were exclusively Freemason symbols?
To that question, my photojournalist friend Akhtar Soomro responded with a resounding “no!” He showed me a picture with an aerial view of the General Post Office building in Lahore. The picture showed a collection of Freemason symbols incorporated into the colonial architecture.
So the question is, could the Freemasons be so influential as to have their symbols engraved into the architecture of new, high-profile constructions?
To the best of my knowledge, however, apart from the Freemason Hall (Hope Lodge), there are no other buildings in Karachi which have any Freemason symbols incorporated into their architecture or design. If the Freemasons are working for the rights of the Jews, then other buildings should also have displayed these symbols. In addition, the symbols of Judaism and Freemasonry bear no resemblance to each other whatsoever.
There are a number of old buildings in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, of colonial origins that were designed by European Christian and Jewish architects.
I do request the readers to inform me if they spot any such symbols anywhere in Karachi on buildings or locations.
What happened to the Freemason fraternity in Pakistan is another tragic tale altogether.
Daily Dawn dated July 19, 1973 has a news report that would interest you here. Its heading: 'Freemason Hall in City taken over'.
It is reported that a team led by a Magistrate seized the Freemason Hall on behalf of the Government of Sindh. The team also confiscated all documents and other material in the building. The report goes on to say:
The cornerstone of the first ‘lodge’, i.e. the Hope Lodge in Karachi was laid in 1843. The first Governor of Sindh Charles Napier was also made an honorary member of the organisation. The government acted on the people’s demands and information provided by a rebel group in the Freemason organisation. The common understanding is that the Freemasons are Jewish-inspired and anti-Islam.
A report on a website that provides some information about the ban on Freemasons in Pakistan says that on June 16, 1983, all illegal activities of Freemasons were banned under the Martial Law Regulation 56. However, Freemasons continued their activities in secret. Then on December 29, 1985, the ban was extended to any and all Freemason activities in the country.
In 1965, Government of Pakistan had banned military servicemen from becoming members of the Freemason fraternity, the Rotary Club or the Lions’ Club. In 1969, this ban was expanded to cover all public servants, generalising the ban as a restriction from becoming a member of any organisation or fraternity whose aims and objectives were not publicly known.
The question is, when was the Freemason fraternity banned in the country for the first time; 1972, 1973 or 1983?
I asked my lawyer friend Younus Shad to help me in finding the answer. He was able to acquire a copy of the Martial Law Regulation which ordered the ban on Freemasons in Pakistan.
It is titled 'MARTIAL LAW REGULATION BY CHIEF MARTIAL LAW ADMINISTRATOR (Gazette of Pakistan, Extraordinary, Part I, 17th June 1983) No 56':
Section (1) states that any law or judicial decision before this regulation stands null and void.
Section (2) states that an organization, commonly known as the Freemason [organization] is declared a banned outfit and stands disbanded.
Section (3) states that all properties owned by the outfit are handed over to respective provincial governments.
Section (4) states that no claim will be entertained in regards to the properties seized.
Section (5) states that the organisation will not be eligible of petitioning any court of law in the country.
Section (6) states that the provincial governments can ask the federal government for help in the matter.
Section (7) states that any obstruction in the implementation of the regulation can lead to a sentence of three years in prison with fine.
Four years ago, Mike Bruce, a senior manager from an international non-profit institution approached my friend Mazhar Laghari. He wanted to visit the Hope Lodge. Mazhar asked me to help with this. I was caught up with some other things and requested my friend Amar Guriro to help Mike.
That evening, the city of lights was drowned in darkness. Using the torch in his mobile phone, Amar took Mike to the hall and showed him around.
Mike was only able to see the Star of David and the plaque with the members’ names. He was stunned that Pakistan’s history did not have a single word about the fraternity.
After a few months, I met Mike and told him that there was a Jewish cemetery near the Mewa Shah Graveyard. I also informed him about the synagogue in the city and that at least a dozen buildings in Karachi had the Star of David in incorporated into their structures somewhere.
Mike Bruce dreams of a Pakistan where he could enjoy enough religious freedom to be able to visit all such buildings in broad daylight. He had visited the Freemason Hall as if he were spying on it. His organisation strictly advises him not to get out of his hotel after dark.
Researcher and novelist Dan Brown has mentioned how important buildings in the US, including the Congress Library in Washington D.C. and the White House have the Star of David evident in the architecture in more than one place. He even claims how the dollar note has such a symbol on it.
Dan Brown and other researchers claim that the founder and the first President of the United States of America, George Washington was a member of the Secret Brotherhood of the Freemason fraternity. Even Leonardo Da Vinci they claim, was a member of the brotherhood.
We will share some more information about the Freemason Hall in Karachi in the next episode.
(To be continued...)
Translated by Ayaz Laghari