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GUPTI

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The Ismailis in Punjab are known as the Shamsi, the followers of Pir Shams. They professed their faith secretly, and were also known as the gupti (secret ones). They were tinged with the Hindu social customs, and called the prayer-hall as dharamshala and the Imam as dharam guru. The gupti Ismailis spread over 73 different villages of Punjab, having 35 Jamatkhanas. In 1912, there was a riot between the Hindu and the Shamsi Ismailis in Amritsar, and several Ismailis lost their lives. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah thought it was a peak time that Ismailis in Punjab should forsake irrelevant customs and assume Islamic names and identify themselves as Muslims. The Imam thus issued a farman for them, asking to declare publicly as the Muslims. Most of them obeyed the orders and changed their names, such as Karam Chand as Karam Hussain, Sada Nands as Sadruddin, Khushi Ram as Khushi Muhammad, Ram Das as Rahim, etc. Thus, these Ismailis assumed Islamic names and added the term Shaikh with their names, therefore, they also came to be known as the Shaikhs (new converts).

In India, another group of the gupti flourished in north Gujrat. Fourth in the line of Syed Mashaikh bin Syed Rehmatullah Shah bin Pir Hasan Kabir, was Syed Fazal Shah; who operated proselytizing mission in north Gujrat with a tremendous effect upon the local peasants. His disciples islamized their names and forsook irrelevant customs. He is said to have visited Iran in 1035/1625 during the period of Imam Nizar and was appointed as a vakil. The tradition relates that Imam Nizar also sent with him his one relative, called Pir Kassim Shah. Both of them not only conducted the proselytism afresh, but also accelerated the economical condition of the Ismailis. It appears that Aurengzeb at Gujrat closely noticed their secret mission. In the meantime, Syed Fazal Shah died in the village of Jetral in 1068/1659, and left behind two sons, Syed Hasan Shah and Syed Mashaikh Shah II (1060-1108/1650-1697). Syed Hasan Shah, known as Hasan Pir (1062-1126/1652-1715) became next vakil and continued to work with Pir Kassim Shah in place of his father. It is however related that Syed Mashaikh Shah had strong proclivity towards Sunnism, and renounced his allegiance to the Imam. He is said to have visited the Mughal emperor Aurengzeb in the Deccan, and reviled the faith of his forbears to win the heart of the emperor.

Aurengzeb knew the Ismaili activities in Gujrat. He sent a certain Mir Shamsuddin in Gujrat with a troop when Pir Kassim Shah and Hasan Pir were on a trip of Kathiawar. Mir Shamsuddin read the royal decree before the Ismailis, impugning them to forsake Ismailism and espouse Sunnism, otherwise they would be beheaded with their children, and their properties would be confiscated. Syed Mashaikh Shah also tried to convince them to give up Ismaili faith, and as a result, many Ismailis embraced Sunnism, but other 500 Ismaili families flatly refused, who became known as momins or later on mominas. The seceders were called, chilia in Gujrat. The momina Ismailis were imprisoned at Patan. In the meantime, Pir Kassim Shah and Hasan Pir rushed to Ahmadnagar, and filed suit before the chief judge, who, after the proceeding of three days, exculpated the Ismailis, declaring the Ismailis as true Muslims. This may be perhaps the first legal verdict in India if the tradition is genuine. Pir Kassim Shah and Hasan Pir came in Patan and relieved the Ismailis. Henceforward, the Ismailis broke their relation with the chilia, the followers of Syed Mashaikh Shah, who died in 1108/1697 in Ahmadabad, and his followers later quarrelled as to whether he had been a Sunni or Shi'ite, causing further internal splits. Pir Kassim Shah took about 250 Ismaili families to different villages of Gujrat, and Hasan Pir flourished other 250 families in Kathiawar. Pir Kassim Shah died around 1121/1710, and was buried at a village, called Mudana, two miles from Sidhpur. Thus, Hasan Pir had to administer the mission alone in Gujrat and Kathiawar, and died probably in 1126/1715. Hasan Pir was revered as the saint of the momina Ismailis. In addition to his mausoleum in Thanapipli, near Junagarh, the local Ismailis built a shrine in 1128/1717 at Ganod, Gujrat as a tribute to Hasan Pir. His shrine is flocked by the multitude of visitors, and one like visit is noteworthy that of Mahomed Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, who as a child was taken from Karachi by his parents.

After the death of Pir Kassim Shah and Hasan Pir, the momina Ismailis were severely in trouble without any other vakil for many years. The Mughal governors seem to have continued the tradition of Aurengzeb, and the circumstances did not allow the Ismailis to divulge their faith or perform prayers in their prayer-hall. In Surat, the momina Ismailis were yet tinged with the Hindu social customs and had to live sometimes under Shi'ite garbs. It seems that the Mughal authorities had made the Hindus and the Shi'ites as their main target, and as a result, the momina Ismailis had to face problems on either side. It is said that they built a secret prayer-hall in Surat, where both the Muslim-Hindu styles were significantly employed at two main entrances. The first entrance facing the Hindu locality was ornamented like a temple. The second entrance lying at the street of the Shi'ite Muslims, imitated the design of a mausoleum. The edifice was known simply as Vada Bhuvan (big mansion). The Ismailis used secret codes at the entrances before admission. When the enemies hunted the Shi'ite Muslims in their locality, the entrance in that area was to be closed, and another was opened instead. And if the Hindus were persecuted in their locality, the gate lying in that street was to be shut, and other was opened for the service. This was a sort of taqiya that could avoid the Ismailis from being domineered. In the middle of premises, there was a big hall, whose underground chamber was used for prayers. It must be noted that a like tradition of two exterior faces of the secret prayer-hall is reported to have been employed in Surat once again in the middle of 19th century, known as Dada'nu Ghar (house of the grandfather).

Syed Abdul Nabi mostly preached in Gujrat. In Surat, he came into the close contact of the gupti momna Ismailis. He used to organize a weekly religious gathering, known as satsang (the pious congregation) in which the local Hindu families were also invited, notably the Laiwala, Naginawala and Jamiatram families. Syed Abdul Nabi died in Surat, and his mausoleum is situated at Kankara Khadi, near Surat, which is venerated by the Muslims.


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