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The serai in Jerusalem where Baba Farid stayed

January 29, 2018

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The plaque that adorns a wall of the room where Baba Farid stayed.
The plaque that adorns a wall of the room where Baba Farid stayed.

KARACHI: Jerusalem boasts many buildings that are of interest to Muslims in general. But there’s at least one place in the city that holds special significance for Muslims of Pakistan and India. It’s the place where Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (1173-1265), a Sufi saint from Punjab, stayed some 800 years ago, according to the Urdu website of BBC.

A feature on the website says the place is being looked after by a family hailing from the Indian city of Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh state.

The feature points out that Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi, after wresting control of Jerusalem from its Christian rulers in 1187, invited religious figures and Sufis from across the world to live in the holy city. Baba Farid was among those who answered Ayubi’s call.

He lived at the serai for a number of days, but it’s unclear when he returned to what was then India.

For several subsequent centuries pilgrims from the Sub-continent, en route to Makkah for Haj, used to stay at the inn as a mark of respect to Baba Farid. This continued until the First World War.

In the early 1900s, the buildings in Jerusalem that held significance for Muslims, like the Dome of the Rock, were in bad shape because the Muslim community didn’t have much money. In 1923, the Mufti of the holy city sent some people to India to seek financial assistance from the Nawabs and chieftains there.

The Mufti also wanted some people from the Sub-continent to go to Jerusalem to look after the serai of Baba Farid.

This was why a young man, Nazeer Hussain Ansari, was sent from Saharanpur to Jerusalem.

Later, Mr Ansari married a Palestinian girl and made Jerusalem his home. He died in 1951.

Today, two granddaughters of Mr Ansari, their husbands and their children live at the inn. Mr Ansari’s son, who is now 80, is the head of the extended family.

The place boasts an old mosque, a room full of pictures of dignitaries and other personalities visiting it, and a small room where Baba Farid stayed.

The saint used to spend most of his time in the small room, which had a basement. It is said that whenever he wanted to meditate for days together, Baba Farid used to go to the basement.

The room in which the saint spent most of his time doesn’t have a single object that came under his use. But the serai and the areas surrounding it still resonate with memories and stories associated with Baba Farid, says the BBC report.

Jerusalem has seen a number of wars and it was devastated and ravaged a number of times. But the serai where the saint stayed has remained unaffected.

Published in Dawn, January 29th, 2018