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Israeli ambassador visits Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s Dargah Pious Pilgrimage

Updated: September 25, 2010 12:38 pm

The Israeli diplomacy touched a new height at the holy city of Ajmer in Rajasthan known for the holy shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti’s shrine and the Brahma temple at nearby Pushkar. The Israeli ambassador to India Mark Sofer visited the holy shrine (dargah) at a time when the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas were holding peace talk at Washington that was being brokered by the United States at the behest of President Obama. The visit of Sofer to a shrine of the Muslims in the light of the Middle East peace talk is being viewed as an effort to restore goodwill between the two countries.

                The dargah is the holy place where Syed Muhammed Moinuddin Chisti, also known as Garib Nawaz, the benefactor of the poor, the Sufi saint was laid to rest. The Khwaja is the most famous Sufi saint of the Chisti of the Indian subcontinent. He introduced and established the order in South Asia. Large number of his devotees from all over the world visit the dargah to offer prayers.

                India’s role in restoring peace between Israel and Palestine appears to be nothing more than academic, but it seems the South Block played a key role in organising the visit of the Israeli ambassador to the dargah where no Jew visited it before. Pushkar receives hundreds of Jews each year, but the Jews would visit various temples in Pushkar and nearby places, but would miss out the dargah for fear of religious persecution. Moreover the Muslims, particularly khadims, the workers

of God or the traditional caretakers as they are called who run the dargah do not permit the Jews visiting the holy shrine.

                But it seems the Israeli Mission in India carefully planned the visit of ambassador Sofer and a team of Israeli diplomats visited the dargah and met the khadims and took them into confidence so that they would not oppose the visit of the Israeli ambassador. It was a tough task to convince the khadims who are staunch Muslims and traditional people. But some educated khadims who were handpicked by the Israeli advance team convinced the senior khadims to allow the Israeli ambassador on the pretext that the holy shrine’s doors were open for all. The visit would generate a lot of goodwill among the Islamic nations and would pave the way for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The local administration of the Congress-ruled state also extended a helping hand to the Israeli team, but when the visit was planned it was kept a well-guarded secret. Ambassador Sofer dressed in a dark suit was also wearing a skull cap and the other team members were also wearing skull caps. Thus most of the visitors to the shrine thought they were Muslims. Entry into the dargah is allowed only when a person covers his or her head in respect of the Khwaja. The Ajmer’s dargah is visited by people of all faiths who visit the holy place for offering prayers to the Almighty to fulfil their wishes.

                Sofer also participated in the roza iftaar organised at the dargah and broke bread with the traditional caretakers of the dargah. It was for the first time that a Jew not only visited the dargah, but shared meal with the khadims. In the historic move to reach out to Muslims, and using India as a staging point, Sofer prayed at Ajmer Sharif and became the first Israeli Jewish official to visit the shrine. He also offered the chaddar at the shrine. Sofer said the timing of his visit was “auspicious”, coinciding with the resumption of direct peace talk between Israel and Palestine in Washington. He said Israel “respects Islam and loves Muslims”.

                “I have come to visit the holy shrine as I want to give the message that Sufism is the only tool which could retain peace and harmony in the world. And Sufism can help solve the problem between the two countries. Judaism and Islam are basically sister religions and both teach us love and peace. Sufis are found in both the religions and even in kaballah system found in Judaism,” said Sofer.

                “The Israeli-Palestine problem is not a religious but a political issue. Jews and Muslims are the children of Abraham. We are cousins,” Sofer said. Sofer was very diplomatic when he said: “We know bin Laden is not a true Muslim.” It is learnt that the khadims permitted the ambassador to visit the dargah after getting an assurance that the hereditary caretakers of Ajmer Sharif will go to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.

                “Welcome to the real face of Islam,” the convent-educated senior hereditary khadim Syed Sarwar Chishti who once worked as a journalist in Dubai’s newspaper Khaleej Times told Sofer, ushering him in the dargah. It is learnt, however, that the younger lot among the khadims was not happy with the visit of the ambassador.

                “The ambassador should not have been allowed inside the dargah. We demanded that the Israel should vacate the Gaza Strip immediately and try and restore harmony between Israel and Palestine.” said khadim Munawar Chisti. But a senior khadim who supported the ambassador’s visit quoted a famous proverb that “Khwaja Ke Darbar Mein Wahi Aate Hain, Jinhe Khwaja Bulate Hain”. [Only those can visit the shrine, whom Khwaja wants in his premises.]

                The Jews have opened a Chabad at Pushkar and it is one of the many Chabads in the country. At one time one could count that there were two hundred Jews staying in Pushkar. They visit the Chabad which is a meeting place and also the place where the Jews offer prayers. But after the Mumbai terror attack when the terrorists attacked the Nariman House and killed the Jews, the people of Pushkar have been living in fear. Some people of Pushkar demanded the closure of the Chabad as they fear a Mumbai-like attack. David Coleman Headley had visited Pushkar and stayed at a hotel opposite to the Chabad to chalk out of an attack on the Pushkar’s Chabad. The Chabad house was closed down during the summers, but the building is still occupied by the Israelis.

                It is likely that the Chabad would be reopened and with the opening of the Chabad the flow of the Israeli tourists would also become normal. There are opinions that Sofer was actually trying to study the possibilities of restarting the Chabad house in Pushkar.

By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur

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