Monday, August 22, 2011
Fareed Masood-ud-Din, also known as Baba Fareed and Shakarganj, was born in 1173 AD in a village called Kothowal near Multan where his father was a mosque imam and ran a small madrassa.
Fareed went to Multan city for higher learning in a famous madrassa. That is where he met his murshid or mentor, Bukhtiar Kaki, who was so impressed with Fareed's knowledge and disposition that he immediately accepted him as a mureed or devotee and asked him to travel the world for four-five years to gain worldly knowledge.
Fareed followed the orders of his murshid and traveled to Afghanistan, Iran and parts of central Asia. When he speaks in his poetry of wandering, we know he means it symbolically as well as literally:
With these small legs you walked through deserts and climbed hills.
But, O Fareed today to get to the earthen pot seems like miles away.
Returning from his journey, he spent some time in his native village, where he was found in tatters by visiting Sufis and scholars (they had been advised by their seniors to see him).
Eventually he moved to Jhansi and spent the next twenty years there. It is likely that his murshid advised him to go there.
In those days it was common for the heads of Sufi orders to send their brilliant devotees to go to far off places and pass on their knowledge to common people. So Baba Fareed got married in Jhansi and had a daughter who was married to another budding Sufi called Sabir Kaliar. Fareed made many friends in Jhansi who always missed him after his departure.
Later he had to move to Delhi because his murshid appointed him the head of the Chishti order (Bakhtiar Kaki himself was on his deathbed). In Delhi, for the first time in his life, Fareed met the Persian aristocracy and saw royal comforts. He got so uncomfortable here that he literally ran away to an unknown place called Ajodhan (present-day Pakpattan):
Raw and processed sugar, rare food, honey and buffalo milk...
These comedies are all sweet but they cannot assist to reach God.
According to another story, one day during his stay in Delhi, when Fareed was able to go out for a while, a poor old devotee ran to him and said that when you were in Jhansi we could catch sight of you every day but now it is impossible because these guards are all around you.
Fareed decided there and then to leave Delhi, as the story goes. Another story has it that the Persian aristocracy did not accept this boy of Multan as a head of the prestigious Chishti order, and sensing the ongoing conspiracies he left. (Fareed hints at such conditions in his poetry.)
In Pakpattan he married again; most of his offspring (four sons and three daughters) were from this wife. He married another woman whose husband, an attending devotee, expired and left her helpless. The eldest son of Baba Fareed is reported to be a step-son from this wife.
Fareed may have thought Pakpattan to be a peaceful place, far off from the conspiracies of the Delhi aristocracy, but he soon found that the life was not easy there. The city's qazi and kotwal (police commissioner) became his arch enemies and harassed his devotees and his sons.
The qazi wrote a letter to the leading authorities in Multan-the center of scholarship then-accusing Fareed of listening to music and dancing in the mosque. The scholars in Multan, however, knew Fareed and ignored the complaint. This verse depicts the pains and pressures inflicted on Fareed by rulers of Pakpattan:
Look Fareed what has happened: Sugar has become poison.
Who should we tell our pains except our spiritual Being?
Fareed did not come from the new Persian aristocratic class and never joined them like Bahaud-Din Zakria Multani who lived like royalty and was always the Delhi Court's appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam and advisor.
One of Fareed's brothers and devotee, Najib-uddin Mutawakkil, was a mere paish imam in Delhi and the third one lived a modest secluded life in Badaion. He did not promote his sons either so one of them started small farming, another joined the army, the third remained in his attendance and the fourth went to far off places in India and was murdered.
We have scant knowledge about Fareed's daughters except one, Fatima, married to his deputy. His sons always complained to him that instead of helping them he had become an obstacle in their way because of the hostility of qazi and kotwal. However, it was his great grandsons who joined the Tughlaq Court and were awarded a huge estate. Ranjeet Singh had to discuss the matter of this big estate and he decides not to interfere in it.
If Fareed had seen his descendants' greed he would have said:
They passed away building houses, castles and palaces.
After indulging in bad bargains they went to the grave.
Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, his successor as the Chishti order's main head, spent a lot of time with Fareed in Pakpattan. He reports in his diary, Fawadul Fawaid -the most and only authentic account of Fareed's life- that the day when there was salt in boiled dailas (berries) it was Eid for the devotees and his family because everyone was supposed to eat the same langar.
Probably, the source of myths about just chewing wood for twelve years is what Aulia has described:
My bread is made of wood and my food is my hunger.
The ones who eat buttered bread will suffer the most.
Fareed's living conditions improved for some time but we do not know why or when he died; by the time of his death he was so poor that there were no bricks for his grave. As a result, the bricks of his gate were used.
It was Nizamud Din Aulia who renovated the monastery and constructed the Bahisthi Darwaza or Heaven's Gate through which millions of devotees pass every year.
Fareed was a people's man and he remained so till his death. The conditions of the people around him were extremely wretched.
Poor people of India had suffered under the yoke of the caste system for thousands of years and after Shab-ud-Din Ghauri's conquest, from the Slave Dynasty onward, slavery became common.
In every invasion the Muslim armies took most of the population as slaves and sold them in the prospering slave markets of Lahore and Ghazni. The slave markets were flooded and the price for slaves had tumbled too low.
According to Khawaja Nizamud Din Aulia, a fatherless child, the conditions in his home were so bad that the next meal was uncertain and yet his mother had a slave woman who ran away and his mother did not get up from her prayer mat till she returned.
The lower caste people who chose to convert to Islam were treated by the rulers like their Hindu predecessors: this is the reason that even until 1947 the Muslims of Punjab and Sindh were peasants, artisans and laborers, while business, state functions, education, etc. were controlled by the Hindu urban classes who had not felt compelled to convert.
Misery and religious hatred practiced by the rulers and other propertied classes was all around Fareed:
Some have too much of flour
and some have not an iota of salt.
Fareed deepened the Chishti order's anti-establishment philosophy in every way. He dumped Persian and adopted Punjabi, though he was a known grammatician of Persian and Arabic and people used to travel hundreds of miles to discuss linguistic issues with him. He was in one sense a predecessor of Martin Luther, who would later translate the Bible in Germany.
He refused to see kings or their men to keep his distance from the ruling elite.
Once Tughral Khan, the army chief, who ascended the throne late as Mohammad Tughlaq, was passing through Pakpattan and wanted to see him or his army men. After so many requests Baba Fareed's shirt shoulder was hanged over the wall so that the army men could come and kiss it. At the end of the day the shoulder cloth was tattered.
But despite these displays of devotion from the rich, Fareed remained pro-poor: eventually a sweeper from the army successfully barged into the monastery and said, "God has blessed you so don't be frugal about it!" Fareed rose and embraced him, saying: "It was not for people like the state functionaries."
Fareed, the creator lives in his creature,
and the creature is embodied in God.
Then whom should we condemn
where the is no one except You.
In fact it was it was Fareed who articulated the progressive direction of Sufi thought and poetry that impacted every Punjabi poet after him.
18th century poet Waris Shah paid a special tribute to him when starting his epic story of Heer, and according to many accounts had spent spent many months in secluded meditation at Fareed's shrine before he came to Malka Hans, a small town in Sahiwal, where he wrote his everlasting epic story living in a mosque.
He displayed Fareed's defiance on the mosque's use when he was narrating Ranjha's thrashing of the mullah. In the 19th century Khawaja Ghulam Fareed also followed Baba Fareed by listening to music while sitting in the mosque.
Fareed's ideology and political philosophy were secular and opposed to the nexus between the feudal state and organized religion as preached by mullahs.
His secularism in the multi-religious society of his time -Hindus and people of all religions were allowed to visit his monastery, unlike the Suharwardy order, which shunned non-Muslims- is based on negating the mullah's Sharia and establishing a direct link with the Creator without involving intermediaries. If the practice of religion is a matter between man and God, the state cannot impose anything on citizens in the name of religion.
Fareed looked upon the ruling classes' pomp and triviality as a form of degeneration. He did not overtly formulate an anti-feudal agenda in the modern sense of the world but showed the tempernious nature of life and the pain of alienation that resulted from distatancing oneself from the masses. The following verse shows this in a stunnigly beautiful way:
I have seen the mesmerizing eyes
that could not bear the slide of maskara
and then I saw the birds shitting on them.
Despite all the heartbreaking conditions around him Fareed was not whining or pessimistic. On the contrary, he viewed the world as changing and evolving. One should pay attention to the first line of his verse:
O Fareed if you have sophisticated mind
then do not portray destiny as dark.
Look into yourself [and decide]...
Dr. Manzur Ejaz is a Washington based writer, literary critic and well-known Pakistani columnist.
Picture: Fareed with disciples.