By Munir Hussyn Fatimi
According to modern research, the credit for propagation of Islam, especially Ismailism, in Chitral goes to Nasir-e-Khusrao. After him, we hear about those saints and preachers who played a vital role in the propagation of Ismailism. Among them are Mohammad Rizai Wali. Historians refer to his writings by the name of Syed Riza, Syed Shah Riza-e-Wali. however, he is well-known to the local people as Zindapeer.
Before we go through his religious services, it is appropriate to talk about the political and religious situation before he arrived in Chitral. Before Islam came here, there were people of Chitral practiced a number of religions. Whoever came into the power here tried to spread their territories through religion. There is one folk tale that during the era of Shahinshah Gustasip, Chitral was included in Iranian’s province of Balkh which was the centre of Zaratorian (Zartasht) religion.
Sikander Azam went through Maqduyina for conquering Asia. He conquered all those areas which were on the way and Chitral was also one of them. He imposed his old Greek religion and ways of livings here and the Kalash people are said to be his remnants. These people were settled in the northern part of Chitral like Mastuj, Torkhow and Mulkow. Evidence of their existence is still present and their stronghold was in the southern Chitral till 16th century. Their short numbers are now in the Kalash Valleys. Chinese conquers also left their marks in two different periods and included Chitral into their kingship. After their first invasion here, the king of Budha Kansamak’s kingship Budhmat was promoted here.
However, the propagation of Islam concerns in Chitral, historians are not keeping common opinions. Some think that in the 8th century when there was Bahman Kohistani’s rule, Arab militants was led by Hazrat Amir Hamza(R.A) attack in this region and defeated Bahiman Kohistani, after that Islam spread here.
Opposite to him Abdul Hamid Khawar wrote in his book that Islam spread in middle of 14th century due to the coming of Rais Family into the power. Nearly, Kernel Muhamad Afzal wrote in his book that, “The religion of nearly all is Islam, conversion having taken place about the 14th to 16th century”.
Opposite to all of the above traditions and excepts when we study the modern research then the spread of Islam in that time when Nasir Khusrao in 1060th century for the sake of spreading Ismailism, he migrated from Khurasan and appeared in namely Yamgan of Badakhshan, and for certain reason he also came to Chitral.
Mirza Muhammad Ghufran wrote in these words in his letter to Khawja Hassan Nizami that Nasir-e-khusrao was the first person who brought Ismailism in our country. His shrine is in Yamgan which is closely connected to our country. His feat was this that he passed through the mountains”.
After Nasir Khusrao, saints under his supervision kept watch on preaching and worked to widen its limitation until from 1320th to 1491th during the Mughol of Badkhshan rule in Chitral and its connected areas. Rais family dynasty’s history is filled up by these stories. From these we not only get the evidence of Ismaili State in Badkhshan which was existed till 15th century was safe from the attacks of Saljoqi Salatin.
According to Mirza Muhammad Ghufran Taj Mujal was Ismaili preacher who attacked on Chitral between 1320th to 1341 century via Borgohil.
Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin stated as “In Gilgit, the Torakhan was a leading dynasty of local rulers. In the period of Torra Khan (1310-1335), his cousin Raja Rais Khan took refuge in Badakhshan in the house of an Ismaili called Taj Mughal (d. 1325). Raja Rais Khan was received with great pomp, who embraced Ismailism. He also married to the daughter of Taj Mughal. Raja Rais Khan persuaded Taj Mughal to invade Gilgit with his followers. Taj Mughal conquered Chitral and subdued Yasin, Koh Khizr and Punial Gilgit, ruled by Torra Khan, who also accepted Ismailism. Taj Mughal launched pervasive mission and said to have dominated on the north greater part of Turkistan, on the west the whole area including the city of Herat, and on the southeast right up to the border of Chitral”.
Historians are agreed on this that in 1320th Chitral was distributed into three states. The area of Mastuj whose borders are connected in the east Shandur and through other corridors to Gilgit, and in the north-east with Badkhshan which was a free states, while, in Torkhow, Mulkhow the descendents of Su Maliki were used to rule and in the southern Chitral was in the hold of Kalash tribes. Likewise below area of Chitral Lotkhow Mastuj was also included Ismailis about 95% and this particular this area opened its corridors for the preaching of Ismailism in its territories. However, in 1320th due to Taj Mughol invasion dramatic change occurred in people both religiously and politically. Mirza Muhammad Ghufran further says regarding this that “in that time the people of Mastuj agreed with the Hakim of Gilgit (Tora Khan) and accepted Ismailism”.
Muhammad Rizai Wali: He was a mystic saint, his shrine is at Sonoghur and he is also well-known as Zindapeer. He is counted among the Daiz (preachers) after Nasir-i-Khusrao. The people who are influenced by his preaching, including non-Ismailis, come from far-off areas to the shrine of the saint who also played a vital role in propagation of Ismailism in the region.
Mohammad Riazai Wali’s exact date of birth is not known nor do we know about his education. However, his descendants, who live in the area, say he belonged to the Sadat family of Khurasan and the link goes to Musa Kazim.
There are many different folk stories about his arrival in Chitral. Some think that he came with Shah Burai Wali through Shandur. For others, Rizai Wali came to Chitral in 1458 AD or 1460 AD from Boroghul when the area was under the rule of the Rais headed by Shah Karam. Contrary to all these claims, however, his descendants say that he came with Shah Burai Wali in between 1520 AD and 1531 AD from the way of Du Rah in Lotkhoh at the time of Shah Tahir.
Faramuz Askar, who belonged to the Rais family, describes in his book namely Chini Nizhad that Shah Tahir embraced Ismailism due to his preaching and also gave his daughter’s hand to him and let him preach unstintingly and take land of his choice.
Hidayatur Rehman of Jughur has said he had found some information about Mohammad Rizai Wali and Shah Burai Wali that they were brothers. I think it may be because there is a lot of resemblance between their names and it may be not because Mohammad Rizai Wali was preaching Ismailism while Shah Burai Wali belonged to Shia sect, but they came together.
Shah Burai Wali’s tomb is situated in royal cemetery Jang Bazaar Chitral. His tomb was rebuilt by Shujaul Mulk (1895-1936).
According to Gilgit oral traditions collected by John Staley and Dr A. H. Dani, Shah Burai Wali reached Gilgit from Isfahan via Kashmir. Firstly, he met Raja Kamal of Nagir and became his faithful devotee. He had certain Shia belief, therefore, he preached Shia sect in the region.
Then he came to Chitral with one of his devotee named Sangin Ali or Sang Ali… and died here. [Staley 1982: 122-124-125-127-132-185-186-187; Dani 1989: 176-177].
According to local traditions, Mohammad Rizai Wali liked the soil of Sonoghur and settled here and continued preaching.
According to Nai Tarikh-e-Chitral, the descendants of the saint who are living in Yarkhun, Mastuj and Laspur claim that the credit to spread Ismailism in the area goes to their forefathers. However, it was the non-Ismaili community areas before they preached here.
There was a giant in Sonoghur at that time who made the life of the local residents miserable. The saint fought and defeated the giant.
According to Amir Hussain, one of his descendants, the giant still appears in black dress when someone from his offsprings passes away and in white dress when there is happiness in the families. Besides, he said it was a promise which the giant made with Mohammad Rizai Wali to do so. Some of the predictions of Mohammad Rizai Wali are still common among the people like the one about the flood that came four years back in Sonoghur. The flood changed its course before reaching his shrine. Allah is the best knower.The well-known figures both in religiously and politically amongst his generation were Awlad Hussain(Zait), Qalandar Shah(Kuragh), Balandi Hussain, Shabir Hussain (Booni), Shahjee Subadar of Sonoghur, Pachardur father of Bulbuli of Ghuru and Awlad Hussain (Sani). Imams of the time used to send Faramins to them for guidance of the Jammat and those olden muniscprits are still with their ancestors in very critical condition. Shah Munawar Shah of Chunj was a prominent both religiously and politically.
A skirmish happened in Reshun in 1890s between Sher Afzal Khan Mehtar and British; Balandi Hussain one of his descendant sacrificed his life for the state after the battle and is known as Waqiya e Reshun in the history of Chitral. Syed Sabit Rahim Shah who lost his lands and was being divided with other due to a contradiction of giving Ushur. His services to the Imam of the time were remarkable. Qudarat Ullah Baig said in his book Tarikh Taghmir Centeral Jamat Khana that he was the owner of noble qualities Ismaili who was working as a Darban in the Darbar of Imam e Zaman during the presence of Aga Khan in Bombay. He used to go Ghazier and was taking to Faramins to the Jammat and informed them about the religious affairs. He died in Jinjirot and buried there.
In Chitral, the concept of building of Jamat Khanas given by Missionary Sabz Ali that Ismailies fulfill their religious affairs and creeds. Although Mehtar Shuja Ul Mulk didn’t allow for that but 14th May,1924 report from Abot Abad by Captain Bowers we get to know that Shuja Ul Mulk before leaving to Mombay allowed Ismailies to build Jammat Khanas for the purpose of both religious affairs and education. From the following excerpt it seems Sir Shuja Ul Mulk trusted more on local Sayids instead of other teachers for teaching Ismaili children. Captain Bowers wrote as, “Before he left Bombay the Mehtar gave instrutions that “Maulais” should be given free hand in all matters pertaining to their religion. They may construct their Jamat Khanas and assemble in them for prayers or educational purposes as much as they like, provided they taught by their own Sayids, but permission will not be given to them to bring up Indian teachers.pg103 Although Shuja Ul Mulk Mehtar allowed to build Jammat Khanas due unfavorable circumstances could not be made but started in the era of Mehtar Muhammad Muzafar ul Mulk.