Revisiting Rahman Baba’s shrine

Published: June 26, 2010
Rahman Baba's shrine being constructed after being damaged in an attack. PHOTO: EXPRESS/SABA IMTIAZ

Rahman Baba's shrine being constructed after being damaged in an attack. PHOTO: EXPRESS/SABA IMTIAZ

On March 5, 2009, a bomb attack targeted Rahman Baba’s mazaar, in the outskirts of Peshawar, in Hazarkhwani. This attack and the blast in Meena Bazaar later that year which killed more than 100 people, are the ones people in Peshawar recall with the most intensity.

Rahman Baba (1650 – 1717) was a Sufi poet revered not just in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, but in the entire country as well as in Afghanistan. The Afghan government reportedly even offered to pay for the mausoleum’s reconstruction.

However, the shrine is now being rebuilt and devotees have started returning, though not in the same numbers yet as before.

Another sign of the shrine’s recovery was the urs that took place this year, despite it being under construction. A two-day mushaira was organised by the Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga at the shrine and a seminar was organised at the Iranian Cultural Centre in Peshawar. The jirga has also been consulted in the reconstruction of the shrine.

“The federal government has allocated Rs35 million for rebuilding the shrine,” director general of the Peshawar Development Authority, Qazi Laiq, told The Express Tribune. “We have asked the architect who built the original structure to consult on this. It will feature Quranic verses and Rahman Baba’s poetry inside.”

At the site, only Rahman Baba’s grave remains untouched.

The external structure, which was damaged since the bombs were planted on the pillars, was torn down, and changes are being made to the original structural plans. “There will be 16 pillars now,” said one of the foremen on the site, Mohammad Ishaq. “This will be bomb proof.”

While Laiq admitted that “no material can be bomb proof,” he added that they are planning to fortify the new structure against any future attacks. Other security arrangements include a police checkpoint, and one police officer was on duty in the morning as construction was underway.

“Today we have 15 workers on the site,” Ishaq told The Express Tribune. “Sometimes we have 60.”

Workers milled around the site, planting girders and layering cement, while the air was fragrant with the incense burning in mounds of rubble.

Visitors to the shrine have dropped after the blast, says the librarian who overlooks the library next to Rahman Baba’s mazaar. “There used to be 1,000 to 1,200 people every day, more on Fridays. Now there are barely 300.”

The library features over 5,000 books, culled from book stores and donations, and is visited by devotees and students.

“We are confident the shrine will be rebuilt in a year, and the new security arrangements will ensure nothing ever happens again,” said the chairman of the Rahman Baba Adabi Jirga, Yusuf Ali Dilsoz.

When asked why Rahman Baba has such a hold on people’s hearts, Dilsoz said, “His teachings were for all humanity. Let alone Muslims, non-Muslims also revere Rahman Baba because his love and teachings are not restricted to one group of people or an area.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2010.

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