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Calligraphy of Sufi poet has great charm for visitors

March 03, 2019

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A calligraphic work of Hafiz-i-Alpuri. — Dawn
A calligraphic work of Hafiz-i-Alpuri. — Dawn

Famous for his classic Sufi poetry, Hafiz-i-Alpuri was also a good calligrapher as his handwritten copy of the Holy Quran still attracts visitors and book-lovers even after more than 300 years.

The work is so fine and intricate that it appears to be done by computer graphics.

His full name was Abdul Samad and according to his descendant, a seventh generation grandson Hamidur Rehman, he was born in 1670 in Utmanzai area of Charsadda. From there, he migrated to Saidu Sharif, Swat, where he got Islamic education and became a scholar.

After completing his Islamic education at Azikhel seminary, Hafiz Baba finally migrated to Shangla Alpuri (Halfori) and set up a seminary where he taught the Holy Quran to his pupils.

Fazal Mawjood, one of his grandsons, a primary schoolteacher says that he was a poet of the caliber of Rahman Baba. “He is famous for his collection of poetry called Diwan-i-Hafiz Alpuri,” he adds.

He was called Hafiz-i-Alpuri as he had learnt the Holy Quran by heart and settled down in the village Alpuri, a beautiful valley in district Shangla.

Mawjood says that the Sufi poet had two sons — Aulia Baba and Waisal Baba. His descendants are the offspring Waisal Baba as Aulia Baba had died unmarried.

Hafiz Baba died at the age of 110 in the year 1790 AD. His shrine is situated in Koz Alpuri near the district headquarters of Shangla. There are many literary circles in the name of Hafiz-i-Alpuri and they organise literary sessions in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Baz Pa Jala kay Cha Na day Pezhandallay Qadar Neshta Da Hafiz Pa Alpuri kay (While still in the nest, it is difficult to recognise the bird as an eagle, Similarly, there is no value of Hafiz in Alpuri)

This is one of the most popular Pashto couplets uttered by the Hafiz-i-Alpuri in which he had complained of people’s apathy towards him and his worth.

However, the Holy Quran written by Hafiz Baba over 300 years ago has been preserved and is still intact its original form. The credit for preservation of the Holy Scripture goes to the descendants of the Sufi poet. Each generation took great care in keeping it safe. It remains well-kept at his grandson Fazal Elahi’s home.

On the front page of the Holy Book is a written dedication by Hafiz Baba to his son Waisal.

“It is a masterpiece, so ancient and painted by hand,” says Mohammad Sharif, a calligrapher. “No wonder he is still remembered,” he adds.

He says that Hafiz Baba used Arabic fonts Sulus and Ruqa. He used gold water, saffron, musk, mixture of rice and sugar and other stuff as inks besides different colours. “The paper is also manually prepared from the tree,” he adds.

However, Mr Sharif wonders as to why the Sufi poet left the translation of the Holy Quran incomplete. “He translated the four verses and then continued translating along his illustrations in the Persian language. Perhaps his eyesight became weak or he passed away before completing the translation,” he adds.

In the entire manuscript, the name Allah has been written with golden ink. There are various signs in the initial pages pointing out specific verses. There are even pages of watermarks designed, displaying the extraordinary painting skills of Hafiz Baba.

Mawjood says that they have kept the copy of the Holy Quran safe and take great care of it but the task is a challenging one. A glass box was made especially for its preservation and was provided to them in 2003 by the Hafiz-i-Alpuri literary circle.

“In 1980, the Pashto Academy, University of Peshawar offered a handsome amount to my father Ismail Khan for the Holy Quran. But my father refused because of the dedication by Hafiz Baba to his son. We think that it must be taken care of and should be kept within the family,” he says.

He says that following into the footprints of Hafiz Baba, most of his family members are teachers and religious scholars, living in different parts of the valley.

“Hafiz-i-Alpuri was among the few philosophical Pashto poets. After Rehman Baba and Ali Khan Baba, the poetry of Hafiz-i-Alpuri has also great Sufi depth,” says Prof Abaseen Yousafzai.

He says that a lot of Persian and Arabic words have been used in the poetry of Hafiz Baba owing to which some people have difficulty in understanding it, especially his verses related to Sufism and mystic thoughts. “Advice, culture, ethics and morality are few of common topics of his poetry. He also shares his life experiences with the readers to teach them to live a good life and become a useful member of the society,” says Prof Abaseen.

Prof Attaur Rehman, chairman of the Pashto department at Jahanzeb College Swat, says that Hafiz Baba also used local dialect in his poetry. A large portion of his poetry is about spirituality and philosophy, he adds.

“Hafiz Baba is among the few Sufi poets of Pashto. Senior poet Sher Afzal Khan has written a book titled Andaleeb-i-Swat about Hafiz Baba Alpuri. In his other book ‘Pakhto Shair Adab’, he highlights various aspects of the life of Sufi poet,” he says

Late Abdul Haye Habibi, a senior scholar from Afghanistan, has written that Hafiz Baba lived in the era of Emir Taimur.

The grandsons of the Sufi poet demand of the government to name the Alpuri degree college after him and also appoint staff at his shrine.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2019