Filed under: July Volume II - 2008, Magazine/ Culture, Touring, travel | Tags: travel
By Asma Younus, Special to the Islamic Post
To view the pdf of the print pversion of this paper, click here
The Shaqaiq al Naumaan (sisters of Naumaan) are waving at me. I stop to stare at them. In this wilderness of ruins of a powerful castle, I feel they want to tell me the story of Sultan Salahuddin.
This is what brings me here.
Salahuddin’s castle is on top of a mountain, flanked by two ravines. You enter through the south gate by ascending 144 steps. It is approached by traveling up the mountain on hairpin bends, and looking down at the possibility of sure death with the slightest miscalculation of the road edge.
I think of Salahuddin and his family, emigrating on the night of his birth from Mosul to Aleppo. He spends his first sixteen years being educated in Islam by the Sufis, those masters of the science whose objective is the reparation of the heart, and turning it away from all else but God.
Suddenly all the stories that I have heard about him come to life for me; that he possessed Ehsaan, a high level of Awareness of the Almighty and resulting good behavior, which is an integral part of Islam. It is a virtue that is contained in the Holy Last Messenger, and Mercy to Mankind, Muhammad, (may the Peace of the Almighty and His blessings be upon him).
Ehsaan is a quality so difficult to imbue into one’s actions as a victor with the power to hurt or desecrate.
I see Salahuddin as a young boy, learning to forgive, to give more than is being asked, to take only what is needed, and to give away the rest for the pleasure of Allah. I can see the little boy who grows up to be a powerful strong soldier, and the Sultan that spares the Crusaders when he conquers Jerusalem. Those very Crusaders, whom, on conquering Jerusalem, had massacred so many, that it is recorded in history books that their horses waded in blood up to their knees. And yet when he (Salahuddin) enters Jerusalem as a conqueror, and has those very Crusaders at his mercy, he lets them go.
Extreme faith had entered his very being. He was the epitome of a true Muslim, one who surrenders his will to the Almighty, sincere faith exuding from every cell of his heart.
Why was he a soldier then? The thought occurs to me as I walk the paths in Salahuddin’s castle. Every Shaqaiq e Naumaan, as the red poppies of the desert are affectionately called, waves to me gently in the breeze, reminding me of their frailty and their temporary stay this spring, in this stronghold.
I look around; the scene is breathtaking. The breeze blows, laden with memories of the past glory of the Muslims.
There is an underlying assurance of the impermanence of life, power, and even, for some, sincere belief.
All things must end, good or bad, with the final judgment: punishment and reward meted out by Allah, Glory be to Him, on The Day – the final Day of Judgment whence everything and every part of us will give witness to our past actions, and there will be no shade for the sinner.
Nowhere else am I more acutely aware of this than in Salahuddin’s powerful castle, now in ruins.
Something turned him into what he became: The knight for the defense of the defenseless.
As we roll back the pages of history, we realize that power changed hands when one king decided that he could attack Makkah and Madinah, the holiest of places for Muslims, and massacre a ship full of pilgrims.
Anyone with as strong an ego as most rulers and leaders possess would have punished Balian and the Franjs of Jerusalem with a vengeance, but not Salahuddin. His earlier training of reining in the lower desires with prayer and fasting stood him in good faith.
Perhaps his leniency sprouted from the knowledge that there was outside incitement by the globalists of the day, who urged the Crusaders on, in an effort to annihilate both Christian and Muslim. Some things don’t change.
From The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf:
“He entered Jerusalem on Friday October 2, 1187 or Rajab 27, 583 by the Muslim calendar, the very day on which Muslims celebrate the Holy Last Messenger Muhammad’s( may the Peace of The Almighty and His blessing be upon him) nocturnal Journey to Jerusalem (Isra wal mi’raaj- when the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, traveled during a part of one night to the ‘Aqsa Mosque, where he ascended into the heavens and was called into the Divine Presence). The Sultan’s emirs and soldiers had strict orders: No Christian, whether Frankish or Oriental, was to be touched. And indeed there was neither massacre nor plunder.”
The fact that the Christian shrines and churches still stand today in Jerusalem bear witness to Salahuddin’s level of faith when entering as the Conqueror of Jerusalem.
“Most of the Franj (Frankish Crusaders) remained in the city after Salahuddin conquered it. He (Salahuddin), surrounded by a mass of companions, went from sanctuary to sanctuary weeping, praying, and prostrating himself. He allowed the rich to sell their property to Orthodox Christians and Jews who planned to continue to stay on.”
His extreme level of faith, and fulfilling his pact with the vanquished patriarch of Jerusalem, was demonstrated when the patriarch of Jerusalem drove out of the city accompanied by numerous chariots filled with gold, carpets and all sorts of precious goods. Imad al Din Asfahani was scandalized, and the treasurers of the Muslim state became angry:
I said to the Sultan (Salahuddin): “The patriarch is carrying off riches worth at least two hundred thousand dinars! We gave them permission to take their personal property with them but not the treasures of the churches and convents. You must not let them do it!” But Salahuddin answered, “We must apply the letter of the accords we have signed, so that no one will be able to accuse the believers of having violated their treaties. On the contrary, Christians everywhere will remember the kindness we have bestowed upon them.”
The red poppies swaying in the wind smile at me, baring their chests to show me the black covering on their hearts. Is the black cover on their hearts waiting to be polished by the Believers of the Muslim world? Their petals are deep red with the blood of Muslims soaking the earth all over.
I detect no sadness in their demeanor, as they sway with the breeze, their delicate petals red with the central black covering on their hearts.
They seem to say, as they gently wave to me, “Powers greater than those who are now bent on the destruction of Muslim homes and countries have perished in the past, by the power of the Almighty, without even one human being taking part. Do not grieve, this too shall pass!”
An Adaptation of “How Sing the Andalusian Poets,”
By Juan José Ceba
The subject of poetry is always ether to us.
It spells love, solitude, time, death or destruction.
It is known to inherit gorgeous richness in form, with the refinement and aesthetics of overflowing purification: metaphors, comparisons, hyperboles, personifications and an inexhaustible technical show.
Thus, our poetry sings on a current of the light, the air, the aroma and the essence of beauty, thinking of Paradise, a garden that burns at night, the flowering of love; nature in its totality. These live on in the ardor of the soul of the poet, until oneness and aroma of the earth forms within him.
They urged on the free, wittingly powerful critic, with a fine humor that touched the core. They were loving in the end of an improvisation. It is from them, as it observed Garcia Gomez, that “everything can be turned into the matter of art.”
They go deep, and they find the route mystical. Into fusion with the Loved one, go these Sufis. They were the poets.
Filed under: July Volume I- 2008, Magazine/ Culture, Touring, travel | Tags: Gilani, Pakistan, thoughts, travel, World
By El Sheikh Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani, Vice Chancellor International Qur’anic Open University, Chief Editor Islamic Post
Introduction by Islamic Post Staff Writer
Bismillahir Rahma nir Raheem
The Vice Chancellor El Sheikh Mubarik Ali Shah Gilani was the first person to give a scientific demonstration on the healing powers of the Holy Quran from 1976 – 1977. In the 1980’s, he spent his life conducting khalwas (retreats) in the desert and mountains where talibs beheld the Holy Last Messenger, peace be upon him, who told them what was to happen in the upcoming century of Islam. This is recorded in Futihat-e-Muhammadiya. However, during his school days, he spent his entire life in the mountains leading national and international expeditions. He established mountaineering and hiking clubs based on character-building through adventure. Students and army personnel from all over Pakistan were trained. From the very beginning of his life, each and every minute has been spent in serving and achieving. Many talibs (seekers) will be amazed to learn the type of life he led and the world he faced. He undertook expeditions to explore Northern regions in the range of the Karakoram Mountains which have some of the highest peaks and longest glaciers in the world. At that time very little was known about that area. By writing articles and stories about his expeditions, he inspired the youth to be adventurous and to explore the unknown regions of Pakistan. He established a youth hostel association which eventually built hostels in many attractive mountainous regions, including the Kaghan Valley. He imparted courage, boldness, fearlessness, a sense of enterprise and a passion for adventure to the youth of Pakistan. El Sheikh and his companions were the bravest, most adventurous, and most fearless people on the face of the earth. Their expeditions produced maps and routes to unknown places and information on various cultures. After he left mountaineering, he felt saddened that no-one continued exploring the unknown areas; he was very sorry that adventure died in Pakistan. All that he and his companions had accomplished through exploration became a legend. The following article reprint from the Pakistan Times is the result of El Sheikh and his companions traveling with full pack, in burning heat, 16 to 20 miles per day. El Sheikh had hardly come out of high school; his command of language, the graphic description of the new region, Nagar Valley, previously unexplored in Pakistan, is plain to see. In the 90’s, our own mountain and hiking club of Islamberg passed through Nagar and Hunza when going to China. Of course, the Islamberg Hiking Club went by jeep but previously, the Vice Chancellor walked.
“Journey to the Land of Gold and Apricots” is reprinted on the occasion when El Sheikh celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of friendship with Brigadier Sher Khan, a lifelong friend and partner in adventure, along with a few others such as Dr. Farakh Ahmed Khan. Friendship is something, also, to feel happy and proud about; for it to be valued and unbroken continuously for fifty years is remarkable. Brigadier Sher Khan has just celebrated his fortieth wedding anniversary. This is a good lesson, for people should celebrate their 40th, 50th wedding anniversaries. We all wish Muhammed Sher Khan, Dr. Farakh Ahmed Khan, and others, a happy, prosperous and blissful life and continuation of friendship in this world and the hereafter as well!
Journey To The Land Of Gold And Apricots
By Mubarik Ali Gilani
Secretary, Climbers Club of Pakistan
Brigadier Sher Khan receives an award and certificate of honor for climbing and exploring from Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana.
This summer the Climbers Club of Pakistan sponsored a mountaineering expedition under the patronage of Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana. On their way the expedition passed through the State of Nagar which forms the subject of this article. The flight to Gilgit is well known as a daring feat of flying. Usually the route follows the Indus river gorge and the Babusar Pass. Our Dakota at Rawalpindi was stuffed with many odd things. When it was air-borne, we were rather impatient for a sight of the Nanga Parbat. Most of us occupied the seats near the windows facing the mountain. Down below, the view was partially curtained by heavy clouds. Thick, black forests bordering snowy summits heralded the approach of Kaghan Valley. The tiny, irregular shaped terraces on the banks of the river presented a beautiful pattern of many colors. The narrow, winding road running along the turquoise-green Kunhar River seemed more enchanting than usual. The view changed abruptly and the scene was now dominated by the peak of Nanga Parbat. This solitary peak has fortified itself with its steep icy precipices which fall almost vertically for more than 16,000 feet over the Diamir Glacier. This summer, the Nanga Parbat has repelled another assault by the German team.
I saw its familiar contours. I could see the last ridge on which Herman Buhl’s successful climb was accomplished in 1953. Then, down below, I saw the fatal camp site over the Monk’s Head where almost the entire German expedition vanished in 1937. I could guess that from here F. Mummery, one of the earliest Europeans, vanished in 1892. Haramosh dominated the scene when we turned west from Bunhji for Gilgit. It had defied many attempts before it was scaled. Then Rakaposhi appeared from her veil of clouds.
The Dakota landed very smoothly and we were in Gilgit, to see the old familiar faces and friends. We headed for our usual Garden rest house. There is a small island platform in the river, beside the rest house. I guess it is the favorite rendezvous of the Gilgit elite. After some days, one cloudy morning we left on our long journey towards our mountain which is situated in the Nagar territory. Nomal, the first stage from Gilgit, is about 16 miles, and is dreaded by travelers due to scarcity of water and the absence of shade and shelter. Usually, people prefer to travel on this route at night.
Chalt is the next stage from Nomal and the distance is about 15 miles. It is situated in a large bowl-shaped valley rich in orchards and crops. It is also the winter capital of the Mir of Nagar.
We traveled its long, narrow, poplar-flanked lanes for some miles which led us on to a road; this further ran along a stream, which we crossed.
About six miles up, along Hunza River, a very dangerous rock-cut track offers thrilling trekking. Usually, people get down at this extremely steep, precipitous stretch. A helper runs with a piece of stone along it in order to put it behind the tyres to check the back skid, which can result in a plunge into the river hundreds of feet below. No doubt it is risky to travel by jeep on this route.
At Khazirabad we crossed once again into Nagar territory and reached Sikandarabad. This is a large village whose source of water is the nullahs coming down from the Rakaposhi glaciers. The land is extremely fertile and the scenery magnificent. Forests high above provide these people with timber which is a rarity in Hunza.
As compared to Hunza, Nagar is much more fertile, but Nagarites have not developed a liking for outsiders yet. Since we arrived in the fruit season, we had apricots and mulberries in evidence everywhere. In the beginning we enjoyed taking fruits very much but gradually we were satiated with them.
Fruit is the staple diet of these people. Even goats, cows, dogs, and horses enjoy these fresh or dry fruits. I was told that, in the apple season, the cows are fed on apples. Rakaposhi is one of the most precious gifts of nature to the people of Nagar. Without Rakaposhi, Nagar would be reduced to desert. The most impressive view of Rakaposhi, however, can be had from Hunza. Mike Bank, a well-known British mountaineer, who led the joint Pak- British expedition which climbed it in 1958, believes that this peak is much more difficult than Everest. After having a look at its steep frozen massif and precipices and walls, I am also of the same opinion. Perhaps Nanga Parbat offers the only comparison. It is a blessing for the Nagarites. It lends eternal beauty to the valley and its sweet streams irrigate their fields. Its pastures supply them with milk and meat and its forests yield a generous supply of wood and timber.
From Sikandarabad we hired mules and donkeys to carry our equipment up to the next stage-Minnapin. All along the way, for more than sixteen miles, we passed under a canopy of fruit trees flanking the roads. We were told that every tree which grows on the roadside is dedicated to travelers. Nobody owns these trees. Our march was interrupted several times when we had to distribute medicines to the ailing people of the locality. Most of the people were suffering from dysentery. Our doctor told us that they get it from the wells they use for water storage. Cases of malaria and eye sore were also fairly common.
All Beauty is Music
I believe all the beauty in nature can be translated into music, and the mountains produce music for those who have “ears” to listen to this music. For appreciating this music, one needs to develop a hearing power which can only be acquired through communion with nature.
It was moonlight when we reached Nagar and were led towards the royal guest house. We were astonished to find that our meal was ready and that it had been arranged by the order of His Highness. Next morning we met the most illustrious and colorful personality of Nagar – the old Wazir. Although he is seventy and keeps a long white beard, he enjoys robust health.
The town of Nagar lies on the right bank of the Nagar River and to the west of Baltit, the capital of Hunza. The Nagar River is formed after the confluence of Nispar with Hopar above Nagar from where it is known as Nagar River.
From here there is no regular approach to Hunza except a rope bridge, which is considered the nightmare of travelers. Perhaps it is due to this that Nagar is very little known to outsiders. This bridge is supported by two cables which are bound together and covered by small wooden planks set at irregular distances. And a pair of cables is supposed to offer hand support to the traveler. One of my companions had a very narrow escape while crossing the bridge. Nagar is situated on a high plateau which guards approaches to the interior of the Karakoram. Routes to Hispar, Baifo, and other glaciers lead from here. Among the peaks, Dastigil Sar, Kunyang Chhish, and Ghani Chhish, all are approached from Nagar.
I was told that there were no police and all the affairs were looked after by the headmen of the villages, themselves, who keep in touch with the Ruler. Few crimes are committed, and there was only one murder, 18 years ago. There is no set code of laws.
An average Nagarite is tough, well-built, fair, and sturdy. They do not belong to the same race as the people of Hunza. The people are very religious and do not have many colorful customs and rites. The women are very shy and observe strict purdah. After marriage, many discard it in order to be able to look after the fields. The rosy, chubby children are pretty and seem to be well fed.
An average Nagar house is built with boulders and mud, which is plastered with a thin layer of hard clay. Most of the houses are double-storeyed. The lower storey is used for cattle and the upper for family members.
The Golden Peak
The Golden Peak is the most romantically carved mountain I have ever seen. It dominates the view from every ridge, spur, field, or any place in Nagar. It shoots up into the blue heaven more than 24,000 feet. For myself, I found there was no better pastime than to watch it during evening hours.
Nagarites are, by nature, peace-loving people. They have not indulged in war against any people. The royal house of Nagar is closely related to that of Hunza, due to many inter-marriages which have strengthened the relations between the two.
Songs and Dances
Nagarites dance when they wish to honor their guests, or on weddings and festivals. It is considered a necessary education for a gentleman. The better a man can dance, the more respected he is in society. It is a tradition that the wazirs of the Ruler should be fully conversant with dances. Their dances are altogether different from our dances. And there is no link between these and the Khattak dance of the Frontier. The Nagar dances closely resemble the dances performed in Tashkent. The music is simple yet very enchanting indeed. It consists of drums of various sizes, flutes, sarods, and the audience usually takes part in rhythmic clapping, howling and whistling.
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