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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Pir Sadruddin, one of the best known and revered hujjats in India was born in Sebzewar probably in 700/1300. His name was Muhammad, the son of Pir Sahib'din bin Pir Nasiruddin bin Pir Shams Sebzewari. His early education followed customary lines at home. He was a man steeped in a thorough understanding of the mystical teaching and the Islamic science of tawil. He also visited Mecca several times on pilgrimage, and seems to have acquired a good command in Arabic. Pir Sadruddin is said to have visited India in 734/1335, and joined the mission of Pir Shams. He studied various religious traditions and tendencies of different cults, social customs of the inhabitants and mastered the local languages and immersed in the Indian tradition.

The scrutiny of traditions suggests that Pir Sadruddin started his proselytizing mission between 757/1356 and 798/1396 under Pir Shams. Judging from bits and shreds of the traditions, it is known that he selected twelve gifted persons from different tribes as his assistants. He seems to have travelled from Uchh to the lower part of Sind as far as the regions adjoining the Indian Ocean, and around the locality of present Karachi. The tradition has it that he hired a camel in the locality to travel into the interior Sind, and converted the owner of camel at first. Pir Sadruddin seems to have launched his brisk mission in the district Thatta, and converted a bulk of the Lohana and Bhatia castes. From lower Sind, he proceeded to the middle, and then went to Kutchh with a group of da'is. His mission also penetrated Gujrat and the regions between northern India and Deccan. He also tried to bring the lower castes into the Ismaili fold, who revered Ramdeo, wherein he assuming the name of Nizar - a familiar term among the followers of Ramdeo. He also composed few ginans bearing the name Nizar for the followers of Ramdeo. His mission also influenced other parts of Gujrat and Kathiawar.

Pir Sadruddin visited Iran in 798/1396 to report Imam Islam Shah the outcome of his mission. He was designated as the hujjat of Sind and Hind, or the Pir according to the Indian tradition. With fresh mandates, he returned to India and established prayer-halls (khana) and appointed mukhi (headman), who was an executive head and his office was no longer hereditary as he was periodically selected.

Pir Sadruddin also visited Punjab and Kashmir to build prayer-halls for the followers of Pir Shams. He also built a mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan. His next visit to Patan, Gujrat was noted for giving a new life to the early unknown Khojas converted by Pir Satgur, whose condition since the time of giving up the Hinduism was unchanged. He breathed a new life into the dead class of these Khojas and brought them within the fold of new emerging Khoja community. Pir Sadruddin visited the different villages in Gujrat and also initiated them afresh and gave them a new lease of life. He returned to Sind after a long journey. His principal area of activity radiated from a base at Uchh, where he supervised the mission works.

Muhammad Umar writes in Islam in Northern India (Aligarh, 1993, p. 371) that, "Perhaps one factor which greatly contributed to the popularity of Islam among the Hindus was that the Muslim mystics did not ask the newly converted Hindu to renounce their former customs and rituals. They presumed that the converts themselves would renounce the un-Islamic practices in due course. As such we find references about the Hindus, who had embraced Islam but still practicing the traditional beliefs and customs even after conversion." It ensues from the kernel of the ginans that the landmark of Pir Sadruddin's mission was the gradual conversion into at least three processes. The method he employed was based on a special missionary framework.

In the formative stage, the disciples were given the ethical and moral teachings with a simple understanding of the Satpanth (true path). Local terms in native dialects were employed in the sermons and ginans, such as alakh nirinjan (Ineffable God), guru bharma (the Prophet), nar naklank (Ali), nar (Imam), guru (Pir), harijan (devotees), gat (assembly), gat ganga (prayer-hall), gatpat (holy water), ja'p (invocation) etc. The vocabulary, similes and technical terms were confined to the prevalent social customs. Special ginans were composed with supreme skill in the languages of the country folk, providing the flavour of the traditional bhajan (song), wherein Pir Sadruddin identified himself with the appellations of Gur Sahodeva and Gur Harichandra. These poetical hymns were tinged with mythological ideas, social customs and folklores. Hence these ginans were paraphrased purely into Indian languages, a procedure that proved extremely beneficial on several counts. The emphasis was placed on making the transition from Hinduism to Islam as easy and as smooth as possible. He did not insist on the adoption of traditional form of Muslim rituals, which, in any case, were in language foreign to the converts, therefore no hard and fast rule had been imposed upon them. The new converts possessed crude notions of meditation, but their practice in gnostic was restricted within a narrow compass. He imparted them gradually the practice of zikr (remembrance) into a positive Sufic style, called ja'p, and watched every moment of the disciples' spiritual growth. The disciples were also afforded liberty to retain their traditions, social customs and culture. Ali Ahmad Brohi writes in History on Tombstones (Hyderabad, 1987, p. 132) that, "The main attraction that the Ismaili faith had was the freedom to continue ancient local beliefs and customs without causing any break with the old social order."

In the second stage, the disciples were entrusted the solemn word (guru mantra, or sat shabada) to mutter it privately on midnight. Pir Sadruddin sorted out and imparted the common analogical elements from Islam and Hinduism. He found analogies in their philosophical ideas, and placed the greatest value upon the inner aspects, and put aside the external formalism. Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi writes in History of Sufism in India (New Delhi, 1978, 1:109) that, "The Ismaili missionaries were enthusiastic, who unhestingly modified their esoteric system to suit their converts." Hence, this stage offered the disciples to pick up the refined teachings linked in Islamic essence with no hard Arabic shell under the theory of Das Avatara. The disciples were imparted that the tenth incarnation of Vishnu was manifested at Salmal Deep (Arabia) as naklank (Ali), who was then in the dress of Shri Salam Shah (Imam Islam Shah), residing at Irak Khand (Iran). In this way, Pir Sadruddin reformulated within the Hindu framework the Shi'ite doctrine of the Imamate as the Divine Epiphany. The doctrine of the Imamate thus was integrated into the mission within the framework of Vaishnavite ideas, who were a dominant stream of Hinduism in northern India. In sum, the new converts saw in Satpanth a completion of their old faith, and through this orientation, they also found the Prophet of Islam and Ali bin Abu Talib coherence in their own tradition.

True indeed it is, that Pir Shams was first to propound the theory of Das Avatara, which was more concise, but Pir Sadruddin exhorted it elaboratively in his small treatise, entitled Das Avatara. It is to be noted that Syed Imam Shah had also produced an amplified version on it.

Few other ginans were also composed in the second stage, differing little with the composition of preceding stage. Henceforward, the loan words and vocabulary drawn from the languages of Arabic and Persian were permeated in the ginans, wherein Pir Sadruddin identified himself as Pir Sahodeva, Pir Harichandra, or Pir Sadruddin.

After being mastered, the disciples were given pure Sufic teachings with certain rituals in the third stage, blended in Shi'ism. Emphasis was continued to be laid in getting absorbed in meditation, which bore them widely the titular appellation of kho'ja (get absorbed). It seems that the trading class of Lohana in Sind was the first to have emerged as the Khojas publicly due to their dealings with outside circles, resulting the people from all walks of life to render its meaning as the merchant or nobleman, which was fairly incorrect. This title however became a replacement for the original Hindu Lohana title thakur or thakkar, meaning lord, master.

The new converts emerged as the Khojas were now capable to apply whatever they had been initiated. Pir Sadruddin indeed islamized the faith of the people mildly and never hampered in their culture, and the Hindus in masses absorbed the best of Islamic thought more Indian than foreign in character. Pir Sadruddin then began to censure the new converts for their Hindu rites, condemning under logical expressions, such as caste distinction, idol-worship, ritual bathing, the authority of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, and the traditions of asceticism and abstraction from the world.

He thus consciously safeguarded his followers' Islamic root and identity. Eventually, the boundaries between the Muslims and Hindus were well defined in the ginans. He formed a symbolical bridge between Islam and Hinduism analogically - a landmark characteristic of his mission.

Summing up the peculiar missionary method of Pir Sadruddin, Ishtiaq Husain Qureshi writes in The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Karachi, 1977, pp. 41-2) that, "There are several instances on record where an Ismaili missionary posed as a Brahmin or a Hindu priest and instead of flatly contradicting the doctrine of the faith, he sought to subvert, he confessed its basic assumptions and introduced some of Ismaili beliefs in a disguised form and thus slowly and gradually paved the way for total conversion. Lack of total adherence has never worried the Ismailis, because they are fully confident that the convert will ultimately accept the faith fully. This kind of conversion is achieved in a peculiar manner. At the outset, the appeal is not on the basis of dogma or beliefs, but an attempt is made to convince the potential convert of the spiritual greatness of some persons. In the early days, the missionary himself was a man of exemplary character. Very often Ali was depicted as an incarnation of Vishnu among the Vaishnavites. In short, after some personal loyalty had been created, the disciple was taken through various stages into full-fledged belief in the teaching of Ismaili Islam."

It is much nearer to reasonable possibility to assert that the mass conversion took place in the proselytizing mission of Pir Sadruddin in Sind, Kutchh, Gujrat and Kathiawar. He seems to have discarded the old rituals introduced in the former missions, and gave them palpable shapes. "In this way," says Ansar Zahid Khan in his History and Culture of Sind (Karachi, 1980, p. 275), "Sadr al-Din was responsible for providing the final touches to the Nizari Ismaili sect." He also commissioned vakils (deputies) in different places to collect religious dues to be deposited at the main treasury in Uchh. He is reputed to have articulated a Communal Bond among the Indian Khoja Ismailis. Earlier, the isolated followers could hardly know their co-religionists residing in other places due to the lack of coordination. This communal bond is also sounded at present as a living force in the Ismaili world.

Pir Sadruddin summoned big assemblies of the Khoja Ismailis many times in Sind and Kathiawar, inviting the local and neighboring followers to bind them together under a community bond, since their linkage fulfilled not merely a fraternal, but also a communal function. On such occasions, special ginans were composed, which were couched in different dialects. Writing on the mission of Pir Sadruddin, Ali Ahmad Brohi says in History of Tombstones (Hyderabad, 1987, pp. 133-4) that, "Anyone who embraced Ismaili dawa was free to practice his traditional cult and even retain his previous names, caste, identity with the additional declaration of faith in Imam and veneration for Pirs and descendants of Ali. By the adoption of such liberal attitude a great many powerful tribes, such as Langah, Soomras and Lohanas, were attracted to the Ismaili Satpanth."

Pir Sadruddin passed his later period of life in Jetpur in the vicinity of Uchh, a town in Bahawalpur State, situated on the south bank of the river Satlaj. It seems that Uchh provided great respite and peace to the Muslim saints. Pir Sadruddin also made it his headquarters, and lived in the nearby village called, Sadarhu, and this may be more likely cause that he became to be revered locally as Sadarhu Shah or Sadar Shah. He built his small residence at Jetpur for his family. During his residency at Uchh, he had created a close relation with the local eminent persons, notably a certain Niyab bin Kamal of Bahawalpur, who eventually became his follower. It is related that once he was in the house of Niyab bin Kamal, where he was stricken by his last illness. Niyab wept profusely when he found that his Pir was about to depart from the world. Pir Sadruddin made a will to bury his body in his house. Thus, Pir Sadruddin died in 819/1416 and was interred in the house of Niyab bin Kamal, which had been converted to a shrine in 1058/1648 by the local people. He had five sons, viz. Syed Zahir al-Din, Syed Salauddin, Pir Tajuddin, Syed Jamaluddin and Pir Hasan Kabiruddin.

Pir Sadruddin was a great Ismaili preacher, philosopher and dialectician. He indeed towers like an Everest, with no Alps around. It ensues from his ginans that he was the first poet of Gujrati and Sindhi languages. Writing about the ginans, Prof. Annemarie Schimmel remarks in Pearls from the Indus (Hyderabad, 1986, p. 14) that, "It is possible that the mystically tinged songs (ginans) and religious instructions used by the Ismaili missionaries constitute the oldest extant example of Sindhi literature." The author further adds that, "It seems that the oldest extant documents of Sindhi religious literature are found in some Ismaili texts of the 14th century, written in Khojki script" (Ibid., p. 55). Sarah F.D. Ansari writes in Sufi Saints and State Power (Cambridge, 1992, p. 17) that, "The ginans or mystical writings of the Ismailis display considerable parallelism of thought with Sufism as well as with the Hindu Bhakti tradition, sharing markedly similar themes and motifs."

Pir Sadruddin was also well steeped in the knowledge of astronomy, astrology and physiology. He also mastered in Indian pharmacy, and used to treat the local people. He also assisted the poor in Uchh and ministered to the sick and travellers, thus he won great applause.

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