On the road just behind Islamabad’s Red Zone wherein lie sensitive government buildings like the president and prime minister houses, stands a gargantuan replica of Masjid-i-Nabvi.
At the foot of the Margalla Hills, the shrine of Bari Imam, Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi, attracts devotees from across the country.
Although the urs at the saint’s mausoleum was stopped by the government after a suicide bombing at the site in June 2005, the shrine continues to hum with activity all through the day.
From dawn to dusk, people offer prayers, leave votive offerings, take oil from earthen oil lamps to cure ailments and serve food while devotees dance while wearing bells around their feet and chant ‘Ya Ali madad’.
People from all walks of life – from labourers to traders, office workers to politicians and military personnel – come to the shrine to pay homage.
Bari Imam Hazrat Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi came to this area in the 1600s. The area, which was known as Chorpur before his arrival, became known as Nurpur Shahan after his teachings of love, peace and harmony spread throughout the region.
In the month of Jeth (May to June), a fair is held at the Bari Imam shrine to pay tribute to the saint and highlight the culture of the Potohar region.
According to the management of the shrine, as well as local residents, the saint was born in present day Chakwal. His father, Syed Mehmood Shah, migrated to the Baghan village – now known as Aabpara. His shrine is also housed along the Kashmir Highway in Aabpara.
The saint travelled to several countries, and also spent 40 days in prayer in a cave in the Margalla Hills that is now known as Loay Dandi. Upon his return, he settled in Nurpur and spread the message of Islam.
The first building of the Bari Imam shrine was built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, and was renovated during the British Raj.
According to the 1893-1894 Rawalpindi Gazetteer of the Rawalpindi district, a great fair was held in the district in Nurpur Shahan every year, which over 20,000 people attended – including Sikhs and Hindus, on each Thursday of the month of Jeth.
In 2008, caretaker prime minister Mohammadmian Soomro inaugurated the construction of the Bari Imam complex, worth Rs641 million, on the pattern of the Masjid-i-Nabvi. The Capital Development Authority (CDA) was directed to complete the complex in two phases.
Eight years later, construction is still ongoing. The main chamber of the shrine has been locked for years and cordoned off with tents and security personnel to stop people from coming close to the grave.
A senior CDA official said work on the project has been slow due to a lack of government funds.
“The first phase had been completed with the construction of the dome, the main verandas and the courtyard, but the remaining parts will be completed soon after getting funds,” he said.
When contacted, the Islamabad deputy commissioner, Mushtaq Ahmed, said construction was being carried out by the CDA, and the Islamabad Capital Territory administration would look after security. He said the government had stopped the urs for security reasons.
Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2016