HYDERABAD: A narrow passage that leads to historic Qadam Gah Maula Ali looked upon as a symbol of religious harmony in one of the city’s oldest commercial areas off Station Road remains focus of authorities’ attention during 10 days of Muharram when men, women, children and elderly, Shia and non-Shia alike, converge on the place.

The Qadam Gah has been a bastion of peace even when Hyderabad was reeling from ethnic riots. It is closely located beside the shrine of Hazrat Wahab Shah Jillani, a saint of the Sunni school of thought, which is also frequented by many faithful, who have to use the same narrow lane to reach their sacred destinations but they have never fought over it.

Although managements of the two sides differed over the use of the passage, it never led to any unpleasant incident. The Qadam Gah shrine’s construction work has been under way since 2009.

Qadam Gah is in fact a 4-5 inch slab of stone, which is believed to be a prayer mat carrying imprints attributed to Hazrat Ali’s forehead, hands, knees and feet in position of prostration.

Popular lore has it that the prayer mat is gift from Iran’s Shah, Fatah Shah Kachar, who presented it to an emissary of Talpurs, Syed Sabit Ali Shah in 1805, but Shia researchers like Prof Dr Mirza Imam Ali and Zawar Abdul Sattar Dars differ over which Talpur ruler actually sent his emissary to Iran.

Dr Imam in his book Sindh aur Ahl e Bait notes: “Mir Karam Ali Khan Talpur had sent Syed Sabit Ali Shah to Iran with several gifts for his love for Ahl-i-Bait in 1208 AH”.

The gifts included horses, manuscripts of Quran, jewels, swords and decorated small knives. In lieu of these gifts, the book says, Shah-i-Iran presented him that prayer mat purportedly having the imprints of Hazrat Ali (RA). But Dars argues that it was Mir Ghulam Ali Talpur who had sent Sabit Ali Shah.

“In fact the period in which Sabit travelled to Iran is the era when Mir Ghulam Ali ruled over Sindh,” says Dars.

“The area where the prayer mat is preserved for ‘ziarat’ of faithful is its third resting place. Mir Naseer Ali had shifted it to the present Qadam Gah in 1841 from the fort where it was first preserved.

Kazim Wajid Mirza, who served as general secretary of Qadam Gah for 11 years (1994-2005), said that popular stories about Qadam Gah needed to be verified historically. He disagrees with Dars and Dr Imam that it was Sabit Ali Shah who had brought the prayer mat.

“Sabit Ali Shah wrote his travelogue of Iran and nowhere did he mention in it that it was he who had brought the relic although he had mentioned even many minor details of his travel. How can he miss this aspect of great importance of his journey?” he says.

He contends it was Ismail Shah, a minister of Talpurs, who had brought the relic from Iran, and relies on information produced by great scholar Mirza Qaleech Baig (1853-1909). Kazim Mirza is a descendant of Qaleech Baig, who was maternal grandfather of Kazim’s father. “Qaleech’s maternal grandfather Khusro Baig was a minister in Mir Naseer Talpur’s regime so his period is close to them. There has to be authentic information instead of superficial one,” he says.

Mirza regrets the first resting place of Qadam Gah inside Pucca Qilla was not preserved. “The prayer mat also suffered damage during shifting from the fort. The room where Talpurs had kept it should have been preserved,” he says.

Qadam Gah has now been shifted to the third resting place which is still under-construction, adds Dars. He claims Quran’s 15 siparas written in Kufi script were also presented to Sabit Ali Shah. “We have preserved them. The rest of 15 are kept in the tomb of Imam Ali Raza,” he says.

Dr Imam Ali agrees the prayer mat was first kept by Talpurs in a room in present day Hyderabad for (Pucca Qilla) when it was brought from Iran. “Talpurs used to pay their respects to Qadam Gah and it was not open for public. But it was shifted to present day Qadam Gah’s premises in 1841 to enable devotees to pay homage,” he says.

After Talpurs were defeated by British in 1843 and were exiled, their servants took over responsibility to look after Qadam Gah, adds Dars. “In 1908 Anjuman-i-Imamia came into being, which now runs Qadam Gah,” he said.

The foundation stone of present Qadam Gah was laid in 1993. Its design resembles mausoleum of Hazrat Ali (RA) in Najaf Ashraf. Most of its work has been completed. The covered area is stretched over 3,134 square yards that includes shops, hospital, courtyard etc.

“We consider Qadam Gah as Najaf-i-Sindh,” Dars says while showing his book titled Najaf-i-Sindh. Dome of Qadam Gah has been completed with its right and left minarets. “The dome’s fancy work is to be done while its construction work has been completed,” he says.

Kazim says the basic design of Qadam Gah which was approved by the Anjuman’s general body has been changed by the new management. It had a basement-plus-two storey structure and one floor has been deleted from the design that should not have been done, he claims.

Anjuman Hyderi — founded in 1948 by Dr Manzoor Mehdi from India — works with Qadam Gah Maula Ali management. It holds permit for staging Ashura’s central procession besides holding 10 day majalis inside Qadam Gah. Anjman-i-Imamiya stages Yaum-i-Ali procession from Karbala Dadan Shah to Qadam Gah.

Kazim says three horses (zuljanah) were also buried on the premises of Qadam Gah in his time and of them remains of two had to be shifted due to new construction while one horse’s skeleton was intact. “This horse was wrapped in a chador of Qadam Gah,” he adds.

Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021

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