By Haroon Khalid
Just 2 days after the 3 days annual urs celebration at the Bibiyan Pak Daman, attended but hundreds of thousands of devotees, Shiias and Sunnis alike, I visited the shrine. The entire atmosphere suffered from a collective hang over. Everything was slow. There were far fewer devotees, the guards were lazy too. People slept under the waan trees at the tomb, protected by the heat of severe heat of Lahori summers, by the cool marble floor and shady trees. Langar, or community kitchen, was running as usual, but there weren’t enough eaters.
The shrine situated near the Shimla Pahari, Davis road, Lahore and is believed to be one of the oldest Muslim shrines of the city. It is visited by hundreds of devotees every day. Besides Shiia and Sunnis, Christians and Hindus also come here for special prayers. During the 3 days urs celebration both the Sunnis and the Shiias combine to make the arrangements. On a Saturday that I visited it there were a few hundred people present there, given the fact that this was just a few days after a major celebration. This was a combination of old, young, men and women. While I was exploring a woman, in her late 30s appeared in a worn down shalwar kameez and tied a red thread on my hand. The tying of the red thread around the hand is an important feature of the shrine culture and is generally associated with a wish that is asked for at the shrine. She asked for a reward, so I gave her a note of Rs. 20. A young man, who was watching the entire episode asked me to join him where he was sitting. He asked me about my whereabouts. After being satisfied by my identity he told me that his name is Yasir Arish and that he is a Sunni Muslim. He told me that he visits the shrine almost every week. He told me that he had seen his elders do it, and coming here gives him peace.
At the lowest section of the shrine there are 6 graves. 3 of them are in the open, while the other 3 are an enclosed structure. All of them are females which earns this shrine the title bibiyan in its name. It is believed that these women belong to the family of Hazrat Ali. One of them, whose grave reads Bibi Haj is said to be the daughter of Hazrat Ali, while the remaining 5 of them are said to be the daughters of his brother Hazrat Aqeel. This thesis was first floated by the chronicler of Lahore, Maulvi Noor Ahmad Chisti, in his book, Tehqiqat-e-Chishtia. He makes the claim that after the dreadful episode of Karbala, in which Imam Hussain and a lot of his family members were martyred by the forces of Yazid, the ruler of the Muslim world at that time, these 6 women, who were also part of the group managed to escape and somehow ended up in Lahore. Lahore at that time was being governed by Hindus, so these women feared for their lives. They came to this spot and prayed to the God, who listened to them. Suddenly the earth opened up and these women interred alive.
Bholi, a 35 years old woman who serves at the tomb, and takes back food from the langar for her unemployed husband and mentally disturbed son, met me there, and told me that these women came on camels. When they were buried these camels became these trees she told me, as she pointed out to a couple of old waan trees standing in the middle of the marbled courtyard. “Their leaves are sweet. When barren women eat them they end up bearing children,” she told me as she handed me and my photographer friend Samra Noori a few. “Have them,” she told us. “But I am not looking forward to getting pregnant,” I joked to her. “They will protect you from evil eye,” she retorted.
Curious by unusual visitors, Bashir Ahmad, 80, also joined us. He told me that he is a retired worker from a factory at Rawalpindi. He lifted his kameez and showed me an old wound near his navel. He told me that about 15-16 years ago he was attacked by dacoits while he was returning from work. One of them attacked him with a knife. Even though he has recovered now, the wound still hurts sometimes. Whenever it does, he comes here, and it doesn’t hurt anymore, he told me. “This is the mazar of Bibi Ruqiya, the daughter of Hazrat Ali and the sister of Ghazi Abbass,” he told me. The commonly held belief is that Hazrat Ruqiya was also referred to as Bibi Haj. He pointed to a spot near the grave and told me that Data Ganj Baksh stood here there offering fateha for the Bibis. He also included Peer Maki and Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chisti in the list, emphasizing the fact that this is an old mazaar.
He then took me to a corner, where there is an Alm. Alm is a traditional Shiia symbol with a hand, meant to symbolize the hand of Ghazi Abbass, who was the flag bearer of the army of Imam Hussain, during the Karbala. A woman in a silk grey shalwar kameez, with her head covered by a dupatta, stood next to it, and with her eyes closed, deeply engrossed in her prayer. The alm was covered with flowers and there were lamps and incense lit next to it.
The belief that this is the tomb of the daughter of Hazrat Ali is now deeply engraved in the minds of the visitors at the shrine, a thesis that was first floated by Chisti. This is strengthened by the fact that not many historians have challenged the claim, and clarified whose tomb this is. However, in Naqoosh Lahore Number, an alternate history for this tomb is interred. A writer by the name of Peer Ghulam Dastageer Naami writing in his book Tareekh-e-Jalilia refutes the claim that the occupants of the grave are daughters of Hazrat Ali. He says that these graves belong to the daughters of a man called Syed Ahmad Tokhta, who had come to India from the area which is known Turkestan, during the time of Shahbuddin Ghori. Ghulam Dastageer Naami makes the claim that he belongs to the family of Syed Ahmad Tokhta and he obtained the information from his family tree and other documents. He says that the tomb of Tokhta is in Mohalla Chahel Bibiyan, Akbari Gate, Lahore and cites the year of his death to be 613 Hijri. He says that these daughters were called Taj, Haj, Hoor, Noor, Gauhar and Shahbaz. He further states that these are not Arabic names and none of the daughters of the Imam had these names. He points that there were no Muslims living in Lahore at that time so it would make no sense why these women would take such a long journey to come here. He cites a letter from the Sardar of Makran, which he wrote to Tokhta, in which he mentions that Bibi Haj was married to the prince of Makran.
This issue was further investigated by an official of the AUQAF Department, which manages all the historical tombs and mosque in the country. During the Ayub years a dispute erupted between the Shiias and the Sunnis. The Shiias claimed that since the tomb belongs to the daughter of Hazrat Ali so this is a Shiia place, whereas the Sunnis claimed that it belonged to the daughters of Tokhta, so it is a Sunni shrine. Masood Khadar Posh, the chairman of the department, to resolve the issue, wrote a letter to the governments of Iraq and Syria asking for details of shrines of Hazrat Ruqqiah and other members of the family. The Syrian government confirmed that the tombs of Hazrat Ali’s and Hazrat Aqeel’s daughters are in Syria, attended by hundreds of thousands of devotees throughout the year. They also sent pictures of the shrine. They clarified that it is not possible for the shrines of these women to be in Lahore therefore. Masood Khadar Posh printed a booklet, which included these letters and pictures, clarifying history. However, devotees to the mazaar, ignoring the research, continue to believe that this tomb belongs to the daughter of Hazrat Ali.