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KHAK-I SHAFA

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The Persian word khak-i shafa means healing clay. The burial of the dead bodies in Karbala or Najaf, and the use of Karbala clay in holy water once held a firm dominance in the Ismaili community in Indo-Pakistan subcontinent.

Karbala was considered a sacred place for burial, where the rich class sent dead bodies of their relatives for interment. The dead body used to be kept in the Jamatkhana for some time and transported to Karbala via Baghdad. None spoke anything wrong against this practice, because Imam Hasan Ali I (1660-1694), Imam Abul Hasan Ali (1730-1792) and Imam Khalilullah Ali II (1792-1817) were also buried in Najaf, excepting Imam Hasan Ali Shah (1817-1881), who lies buried in Bombay. When Imam Hasan Ali Shah was buried in Bombay, an average Ismailis seem to have realized that there was no necessity to sanctify a particular place. It procured maximum impact after 1881. When Imam Aga Ali Shah was buried in Najaf in 1885, it reacted nothing and maintained that every place is worthy for interment in Islam.

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (1885-1957) seems to have reduced importance of Karbala in the community when he said in Zanzibar on August 16, 1905 that, "People go to Karbala, where they physically see the golden houses (shrines), stones and clay, so what? Make an inner house, which is profitable indeed."

The second issue was the belief in the sanctity of Karbala clay, known as Niyaz, Niyaz ji Goli or Khak-i Shafa. Pir Hasan Kabiruddin (1341-1449) imparts in his one ginan that: "The place where the Imam puts his legs, you pick up its clay. Prepare its tablets by his orders. Drink the water (mixed) with the clay. Without drinking, the sins cannot be forgiven." (15:45-6)

The ginanic verses quoted above designate the "place" as holy where the Imam put his legs, and collect the clay beneath his legs to mix in the water for making it sacramental. It seems that the Indian pilgrims visiting Iran brought clay of the footprints of the Imams and used for the patients for healing and mixing in the Ab-i Shafa.. It appears that it was an irregular practice. Procuring clay from Iran and distribute everywhere was not so easy in India. It is however probable that the Imam's vakils would have also brought it and supplied in their places. With the passage of time, the Indian Ismailis would have been influenced with the practice of the native Ithna Asharis, who used the clay of Karbala as holy in their rites. If this tradition is genuine, its implies that the Karbala clay took its root in Indian community in place of the clay of the footprints of the Imam. For their conviction in the holiness of Karbala clay, they were told that Karbala was the place where Imam Hussain had put his steps on it, therefore, its clay should be sacred. The argument collaborated almost with the ginanic verses of Pir Hasan Kabiruddin, therefore, the Karbala clay took no time to find its proper place in the rites/ceremonies of the Indian Ismailis. The replacement soon generated an indomitable tradition all over India. Muscat seems to have become a place, wherefrom the Karbala clay was procured.

The dust of Karbala is made into moulds, called mohurs in India from their resemblance in shape and size to pieces of coined money and into strings of large beads. Whenever the Ithna Ashari prayed, he put his mohur or mould of the dust of Karbala on the ground, so that it might meet his forehead in the act of prostration. When in prayer he muttered the name of God, he touched one of the beads fashioned out of the clay of Karbala that strung on his rosary. On more occasions, such as the new moon, the Ramzan or the Muharram, they were in the habit of partaking of a sort of sacramental cup consisting of water mingled with the clay of Karbala.

The tradition has it that the Indian Ismailis met in the Jamatkhanas and their worship also consisted in the repetition of the 99 or 101 names of the Pir Shah, on rosary of glass or amber, or preferably one made of beads of Karbala clay. On the night of lailat qadr (night of majesty) during 23rd Ramzan, a service of the chhanta held in the Jamatkhanas. The confessor knelt in front of the Mukhi/Kamadia and uttered, Ya Ali. The Mukhi or Kamadia took a little of the holy water mixed with the mould of Karbala and sprinkled it on the confessor's forehead. Its foothold in the community can be judged from the fact that it also echoed in the judgment of the Aga Khan Case of 1866, which reads: "And then what is to be said of the prayers performed three times a day, in all the Jamatkhanas of the Khojas, and with arms held down to the sides, not crossed on the breast; of the prostrations on moulds made of the dust of Karbala, the solemn drinking at stated anniversaries of water mixed with the dust of Karbala


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