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BBC: Jerusalem’s 800-year-old Indian Hospice


“It turns out there’s an 800-year-old Punjabi Sufi hospice in Jerusalem, linked to the famous Sufi saint Baba Farid’s visit to the city all those centuries ago. Astonishing stuff — like most people, I had no idea about any of this. The article also mentions Farid’s links to Sikhism and the Guru Granth Sahib. Farid is regarded as the founder of Punjabi Sufism; he was also the direct predecessor of Nizamuddin Auliya.” (h/t: Jai Singh)


Around the year 1200, little more than a decade after the armies of Saladin had forced the Crusaders out of the city, an Indian dervish walked into Jerusalem.

Hazrat Farid ud-Din Ganj Shakar (or Baba Farid, as he is better known) belonged to the Chisti order of Sufis, a mystical brotherhood that still flourishes today across India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Later accounts of his life said that he spent his days sweeping the stone floors around al-Aqsa mosque, or fasting in the silence of a cave inside the city walls.

No-one knows how long Baba Farid stayed in the city. But long after he had returned to the Punjab, where he eventually became head of the Chisti order, Indian Muslims passing through Jerusalem on their way to Mecca wanted to pray where he had prayed, to sleep where he had slept. Slowly, a shrine and pilgrim lodge, the Indian Hospice, formed around the memory of Baba Farid.

Baba Farid

More than eight centuries later, that lodge still exists. And although it stands inside Jerusalem’s walls – perhaps the most fiercely contested stretch of ground anywhere in the world – it is still in Indian hands.

The current head of the lodge, 86-year-old Muhammad Munir Ansari, grew up there in the years before World War Two, when Palestine seemed to end just outside the gate.

“All the residents were Indian. I felt as if I was living in India. Whenever we entered the Hospice – Indian state!” he says. “At that time people came by ship. They used to bring food, rice, even their salt. Salt! All from India. As soon as you entered the gate, the smell of Indian food, they were washing their clothes, hanging them here in the courtyard.”

The war cut off the flow of pilgrims and brought an end to the colourful scenes of Munir’s childhood.

Muhammad Munir Ansari as a boy, in about 1936

Sheikh Muhammad Munir Ansari as a boy

The lodge became a leave camp for the Indian Fourth Infantry division, whose soldiers had only just left when the first Arab-Israeli war broke out in 1948. By the time Munir succeeded his father as Sheikh – head of the lodge – in 1952, the building was scarred by shelling and overrun with Palestinian refugees.

But worse was to come.

In 1967, as the Israeli army fought its way into Jerusalem during the Six Day War, the lodge was hit by rockets.

“The ’67 war started on Monday 5 June. On the second day we found them at our entrance. By night, 50 or 60 soldiers inside the gate – Jordanians. They were in terrible condition, asking for water,” he says.

“That was on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning we went out to find not a single soldier. They ran away, leaving their uniforms and even their weapons. That day the Israelis began to prepare for entering the Old City. So these weapons that had been abandoned, some local people took these guns and started shooting. And we paid the price.”

As the Israelis bombarded the hospice, Sheikh Munir herded his family from room to room. The shells found them near the shrine of Baba Farid. The roof collapsed. Sheikh Munir, his hands and face badly burned, pulled the survivors from the rubble. His mother, his sister, and his two-year-old nephew were dead.

From a hospital in the Old City, Sheikh Munir brought his family back to the ruins. “We came home. Very sadly, I can say. Imagine how the situation was. Most of the rooms were damaged. My hands were burned, my eyes were closed, my hair was burned. It was a miserable situation.”

Miserable or not, there was no question of abandoning the lodge. Its history went back too far – to the days when Saladin was still consolidating his hold on Jerusalem.

Baba Farid arrived in a city that had just returned to Muslim hands after almost a century of Christian rule. The Crusaders, ensconced along the Mediterranean coast, had not gone away, and Saladin understood that if the Muslims were to keep Jerusalem, they would need to match the Crusaders not only on the battlefield but in their zeal for the city.

The Sufis therefore served a useful purpose.

Read the entire article…

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    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      Hopefully they remain awake. All it takes for them to go backwards is just one guy with a smile bearing gifts.

    • Friend of Bosnia

      Yes, they will have to. In this context maybe we can see the recent rapprochement between Serbia and Turkey (there are economic coperation projects, therre were joint military exercises) in a positive light, in the sense that, like it or not, the Turks might restrain the Serbs should they try to get nasty to Bosniaks again. It’s too early to tell. Let’s be optimistic but also watchful.

    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      The Serbs are going to have to get real eventually. The Russians are warming up to the Turks. The Russian South Stream pipeline project that was going to bring plenty of cash to Serbia has found its way to Turkey. And the Turks are solid supporters of Bosnia far more solid the Russian support for Serbia. All Serbia needs now is for someone to tell them that.

    • Friend of Bosnia

      I’ll endorse that.

      OK but now they’re there. The Bosniaks aren’t going away, neither are the Serbs, nor can it be that they live in enmity forever, they will have to find a way to get along. The first step for the Serbs would be to say of the Bosniaks, “All right, they exist.” From that everything else will surely follow.

    • Rajano

      Sufis are very misunderstood in the west, a lot of Americans who know that the word Sufi “has something to do with religion” are completely unaware it is a variety of Islam.

    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      I appreciate the time and effort you took to say that.

      From my research on Bosnia, well actually on the Balkans I realized that it is the Serbs who are “foreigners” to the Balkans. They were originally expelled from Russia into Bulgaria then from all the shenanigans they conducted they were expelled from Bulgaria to what is now Serbia. Secondly from what I understood the reason was also to create a burden of mass refugees on the Ottoman empire.

      The problem with Serbs is they actually don’t understand what they are talking about. They mimic supremacists who tend to be stupid to begin with.

    • Friend of Bosnia

      Aha. yes. As far as I know Bosniaks have always been there in Bosnia even though they became Muslims only on the 16th and 17th centuries. Their name is mentioned in historic documents. Yes, the Greater Serbs try to rewrite history and that’s unacceptable. Who’s to say? Not just Bosniaks, many other people became Muslims. There sure are Bosniaks who are descended from Serbs (even though most are descended from Catholics); very few are descendants of Turks or of Andalusi Muslims who came to the Ottoman Empire after being ethnically cleansed from Spain. Others may be descended from Arabs, Chechens, Hungarians, Macedonians, Bulgarians, Greeks, Albanians who settled in Bosnia. Today that is not relevant at all. A person with South Slavic language and Muslim background is a Bosniak. And that’s that. To say that Bosniaks are Serbs is like saying that Latin Americans are Spanish. Even those who are direct descendants of the first Spaniards to come to the Americas don’t see themselves as Spaniards. Bosniaks are Bosniaks. Just like Native Americans are just that, no matter where their ancestores may have come from.

    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      From what I heard these “protesters” came not only from all over Germany but from other parts of Europe as well.

      I find anyone who alters or changes history to be evil.

      I’ve talked to Serbs and each one that I talked to stated Bosnian Muslims are foreigners. They classify them as immigrants. Yet historically Muslims have been there longer than the Serbs. Serbs were expelled from Bulgaria in the 1800’s. That is similar to what zionists claim that Palestinians are immigrants. And it is similar to White supremacists who claim Europeans were in north America before us Natives.

    • Friend of Bosnia

      Not likely because the proportion of foreigners in Saxony is actually rather small. Thus there can be only a handful of Serbs there. Also I try to make the distinction; most Serbs are not actually evil, they just don’t know any better or are misguided or willfully ignorant. However, as for most of their leadership, if they had had to face the judges at Nurmeberg, it would have taken thedr judges all of 30 seconds to send thzem to the gallows, and deservedly so. The ICTY judges would be very well advised to grow some, but that’s another story. Whether a people can be said to be genocidal or not depends on the proportion that is willing to support genocidal policies. It’s difficult to say without an opinion poll; even so, the most I hear from Serbs on the www is hate speech or downright genocidal. Except for the contributions from the Serb Helsinki Committee. Xenophobia is not an exclusively Serb phenomenon but it was most notorious in the 1990s, and those who suffered because of it will feel the pain forever. And in view of the recent events and of the general feeling of anti-Muslim hostility and hysteria it can’t be ruled out that in the near future there will be pogroms, attempts and even the outlawing and ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Europe.

    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      I’ve been hearing reports that most of the PEGIDA servants in Dresden are actually Serbs.

    • Friend of Bosnia

      Hopefully. Unless several of over 600 mosques destroyed by the Bosnian Serbs.

    • Capt. JB Hennessy

      Hopefully this place still exists and has not been turned into a parking lot.

    • mindy1

      Places like that should be protected and not subject to human idiocy and hate.

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