Dafther Jailani – Kuragala

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By Latheef Farook

Qutub Muhiyuddin Abdul Qadir Jailani, also known as Ghouse-e Azam, is one of the greatest scholars in Islamic history,  held in very high esteem by  Muslims throughout the Middle East ,Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even as far as Indonesia.

In view of his extreme piety, depth of knowledge, simple life and miracles performed and other such noblequalities some call him a saint while others describe him as the saint of all saints.  

I had heard so much about him that during my first visit to Baghdad in 1976 the first thing I did was to visit the mosque where his mausoleum is.  

Qutub Mohiyuddin was born into a pious family in the Iranian village of Naif   in the south of the Caspian Sea on 18 March   1077. His father died when he was young .Early in life, with the permission of his mother, he proceeded   to pursue his knowledge in Baghdad, the only seat of learning in the whole world. He died in the evening on Saturday 15 January 1166   at the age of ninety-one years. His body was entombed in a shrine within his madrassa in Babul-Sheikh, Resafa (East bank of the Tigris) in Baghdad, Iraq.

During his life he had mysteriously disappeared for around 13 years during which he had, as believed by millions, meditated in Dafter Jailani or Kurugala (15 miles off Balangoda) thousands of feet above sea level, covered with dense jungle growth.  

In article written in the 1960s following a visit to the area by late veteran journalist M.M.Thawfeek stated that; Qutub Mohyiuddin sought asylum here for meditation after a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak.   

According to late M. L. M. Aboosally, eldest son of Marikar and was President of the Balangoda Islamic Association “there is a cave also in this rock with its underground labyrinths leading to 400 yards. After which there is a sudden drop which is difficult to negotiate.

“Various stories exist about this dark cave where bats are plentiful and snakes may exist. No man has yet come out alive from this cave to tell the tale. But there is no doubt that this passage (if it can be negotiated) will end at the foot of the rock about a thousand feet below in the Bintenna plains.

Providing a historical account of the Dafthar Jailany Rock Cave Mosque in his well researched book M.L.M.Aboosally who was elected to Parliament to represent Balangoda electorate between 1977 and 1994, by a large majority of Sinhalese, defeating Mallika Ratwatta from the powerful family  of Ratwattes, had this to state;

The saint Qutub Muhyiudin meditated at Kuragala, the site of historic rock cave mosque .There are many stories about his visit and its impact on that sacred place.

If Sri Lanka was well known among the Arabs in 300 BC, it is also true that Adam’s Peak was as well known to travelers of the Middle East and has been often mentioned in their writings.

Muslims believe in Adam as the first man, as the first Muslim, and as the first Prophet of Allah. The Hadith ( traditions and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad ( SAL) such as Shahih ul Bukhari and Quranic commentaries of Tafsir Baizavi and Tafsir Khazin have stated that Adam descended in Serendib, Sri Lanka, upon a mountain called “ Nood”.

References to the sacred mountain Adam’s Peak are many.

Sir W. Ousely, in his TRAVELS quoting from a Persian manuscript called Berhan Kattea” stated that Serendib is the name of a celebrated mountain where Adam descended from paradise”.

However, one of the most famous Arab travelers to Adam’s Peak is Ibn Batuta, from Morocco. He visited Adam’s Peak in 1344 AD. In his writing Ibn Batuta speaks of many famous Muslim shrines on the way to Adam’s Peak. He also mentions” A Muslim ascetic who had lived on the road to the peak at a point in those days which was a recognized halting place for pilgrims and wayfarers.

According to Van Sanden in his book

Sonahar, this Muslim shrine is said to have been sanctified by one Khader or Khidr through his visit.

A map showing Ibn Batuta’s route to Adam’s Peak made in 1344 AD including the Kuragala route, is reproduced courtesy of Denis Fernando in Aboosally’s book.

This was the reason why the early Arabs and Muslims made the hard and arduous journey to Adam’s Peak and why it is probable that Qutub Mohyiuddin visited Dafther Jailany-one of the established routes to Adam’s Peak through Kuragala.

Following extensive research in Tamilnadu, Susan Schoemburg, research scholar at Harvard University, UK, had told Aboosally that it is believed that Saint Qutub Mohyiuddin spent 40 days in meditation in Kilakarai, South India, after his visit to Adma’s Peak and Daftar Jailany in Sri Lanka

It is probable that his visit to the historic rock cave of Dafther Jailany in Kuragala coincided with his visit to Indian subcontinent. Stories had endured for centuries how he had sought asylum for meditation on the edge at Kuragala, after a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak.

Kuragla and Hituwangala are two rock formations at the edge of the Balangoda plateau .They are commonly called as Dafther Jailany, a mountain retreat on the ancient road from Galle to Ratnapura and Adam’s Peak. Rock carvings, Arabic inscriptions, writings, tombstones and legends lead us to believe that Qutub Muhyiuddin had spent a part of his meditation at Jailany-Kuragala.

A detailed account of his visit is also given in the book Shathura Shankaram which stated that he came first to climb Adam’s Peak to pay his respect to  Adam  and then travelled to Dafther Jailany where he spent 12 years fasting and meditation.

R.N.Thaine, Government Agent .Ratnapura, wrote in his official diary in 1914 that” I understand that this mountain is known to the Mohammadan world as Dastur or Dakma.   Qutub Mohyiuddin was seeking the way to Heaven. One day, he placed his hand on the rock which opened. He passed through the aperture. The rock closed and he has never been seen again. Hence the practice of pilgrims imprinting their hand marks on the rock”.

Among the proofs of Qutub Muhiyuddin’s links with Kuragala was the tombstone discovered in 1922 when excavating to build a mosque about ten feet below a mound of earth with the words stating “Disciple of Mohyiuddin” dated 1322 AD. Obviously this is the grave of his follower who had died long before the arrival of Portuguese which ended the lucrative trade of the Arabs and the use of the Kuragala route.

For a tombstone to be engraved in 1322 AD, about 154 years after the death of Qutub Mohyiuddin, there must have been a significant link between Kuragala and the revered saint.

A small mosque was constructed under the Hituwangala rock in 1922.The mosque needed no roof as the rock itself is shaped like a cobra hood and is a shelter from the sun and rain. There are several writings in Arabic and the direction of Kaaba, kibla, direction of Muslim prayer,shown in the form of a mihrab cut into the rock.

According to Aboosally’s book vested interests started claiming in the 1960s that Kuragala was a place for meditation for Buddhists monks. While not disputing this claim- although no proof can be adduced- the other version held by the Muslims cannot also be disputed. The trade links with the Middle East, the many references to Adam’s Peak and the ancient roadway through Kuragala from the South, Arabic writings and carvings, tombstones, historical facts and the connection between Sri Lanka and the Middle East from early times, vindicate this view”

In fact, maps printed in 1901 and 1928, as well as earlier, refer to Kuragala as” Mohammedan shrine”. However in the one inch to a mile map of Sri Lanka revised after independence   this identification had been omitted in  1971.The 1971 version depicts the area only as a Buddhist monastery of the 2nd century BC (the only evidence of which is a board placed by the Archaeological Department in 1972.) 

This is a clear indication that communal elements began planning since independence to deprive Muslims of this place of importance to Muslims.

In fact following the occupation of the coastal areas by Portuguese followed by Dutch, Dafther Jailany was almost abandoned as Muslim traders ceased to use the Kuragala-Ratnapura route to Adam’s Peak. Thus until around 1850 Dafther Jailany was only known in name.

However Dafther Jailany as a Muslim place of religious importance is recorded in the Government Agent’s diaries in the Ratnapura Kachcheri. This included H Mooyarts, 13 January 1857, H. Wace, 20 March 1887, R.B.Hellings, 12 February 1910, G.Cookson, 12 January  1911,R.N.Thaine, 26 March 1914, G.H. Collins 1922 and 1929 and N.J Luddington in 1935.

The task of protecting Dafther Jailany has been carried out mainly by the Trustees of the Mosque. When the Waqf Act was enacted the mosque and the shrine were registered under the Act, and the mosque has been administered in accordance with this order.

In the 1940s Land Settlement Officers started settling land in the Balngoda area and the Muslims claimed two plots in Tanjantenna, Balangoda, where the mosque is situated. Following representations the Settlement Officer agreed to set apart the four acres to the Muslims and ordered surveyor Mr. Kekulandara, to survey the land in question. The survey was done in May 1953.

Thus the claim of the Muslims was accepted by the government. On 18 February 1958 the government agent sent the draft to the Trustees to bring the Dafther Jailany annual feast under the Pilgrimage Ordinance. However subsequently, for unknown reasons, the Government changed its mind and decided to give the four acres claimed on preferential lease.

In the midst vested political interests once again started to claim that Kuragala was a place of Buddhist importance. The Archaeological Department started building a new dagoba    at Dafther Jailany when Dr Nissanka Wijeratne was the Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. When the dagoba was constructed to the height of two feet in 1971 they tried to claim that this was 2000 years old.

 However when it was pointed out that the dagoba was built of local bricks and Kankesanthurai cement the cabinet ordered the construction of the dagoba be stopped and the area where the mosque and cave were situated were declared an Archaeological Reserve in 1971.

The fact that there was no dagoba at Kuragala was confirmed by Rev Kiriella Gnanawimala Thero in an article in the Davasa newspaper on 21 January 1971.

He said that he had visited the area five times and inspected the area fully with Charles Godakumbura, the Deputy Archeological Commissioner, but found no trace of whatsoever of any Buddhist ruins in the area. This evidence was important as the hastily built dagoba by the Archaeological Department was the cause of dispute.

When the construction was stopped by a cabinet order in 1972 the Commissioner was directed to send out a circular in all three languages to the effect that the rights of the Muslims of Kuragala ( Jailany) would not be affected.

Later the Archaeological Department also issued a notice on 13 September 1973   in all three languages to the effect that” The Muslims who have been using Kuragala as a pace of worship will not be affected

According to   Aboosally   some officials went all out to create unnecessary problems to the people and the government in power while the Archaeological Department appears   only interested in Sinhala and Buddhist archaeology. For example when Mr. Godakumbura was asked to record and decipher the Arabic writings at Dafther Jailany Mosque especially on the Hittuwangala Rock, his answer was that it was of no relevance, especially, as one cannot say how old these carvings were because Arabic writing had not changed in style. However the point of the Trustees was that the Arabic inscriptions and their contents could be recorded .Discrimination such as this is one of the causes for communal tensions in the country.

Since then there was no more problems at Daftar Jailany and both parties have so far adhered to the cabinet decision.

However tension started rising a following a claim by ultra nationalists Jathika Hela Urumaya which accompanied by people visited Kuragala claiming that it is a Buddhist centre. This was aggravated by an extremely inflammatory speech by ethno religious fascist by Bodu Bala Sena  inciting Sinhalese to rise up against Muslims. At the Kandy meeting on 17 March 2013 BBS said ” get ready to celebrate Wesak at Kuragala”.

Meanwhile in an article on 10  April 2013 (Midweek Politics: The Battle For Sacred Ground published in the Financial Times) well known columnist Dharisha Bastians  had this to state;

The misty mountain village of Kuragala, just off Balangoda came alive on Monday ( 8 April 2013) when a Sri Lanka Air Force helicopter landed in the area carrying Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and a full retinue of military, police and intelligence officers onboard.

Accompanied by dozens of Buddhist monks including Jathika Hela Urumaya Leader Ellawela Medhananda Thero,  Moulavis ,Chief of National Intelligence Major General (Retd) Kapila Hendawitharana and officials from the Department of Archeology, the Defence Secretary undertook a site visit of the rock face on top of which sits an Islamic hermitage shrine. 

Kuragala is home to an ancient Sufi shrine, sacred to Muslims because Arabic rock inscriptions, tombstones and other historical evidence point to a greatly revered Islamic saint having meditated in the rock caves for 12 years on a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak. Once a year, pilgrims flock to the site to commemorate the death anniversary of Saint Sheikh Muhiyadeen Abdul Qadir. At all other times, it is a haven for meditation and solitary reflection that Sufism preaches.

The shrine’s tranquility has been marred in the recent past by disputed claims over its historic origins. Buddhist monks and hardline groups that are gaining momentum in the political firmament have renewed a decades old claim that the rock cave was in fact an ancient Buddhist monastic site. The groups want the site cleared of all Islamic buildings and monuments, including the mosque. Given the significance the shrine holds for Muslims all over the island, any potential threat to the Jailani mosque and attempt to alter the history of the site could seriously escalate tensions between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in the country.

 Custody of Jailani

When a similar claim for Jailani was made by Buddhists in the 1970s the Department of Archeology took custody of the site, although the custodianship of the Jailani shrine, the rock cave mosque and pilgrim rests in the area was held in trust by the Aboosally family. UNP Parliamentarian M.L.M. Aboosally was the first trustee of the Jailani shrine, and his daughter Roshan holds the trusteeship today.

On Monday, when the shrine’s trustees and Moulavis sat down for initial discussions with the Defence Secretary soon after a quick tour of the sacred site, the tone adopted was that the land belonged to the Department of Archeology and all the buildings on the rock face had to go. Discouraged by the tone of the discussion, the Muslim representatives believed the battle was already lost. But subsequently, the Defence Secretary asked Director General of the Department of Archeology, Dr. Senarath Dissanayake to explain to the members of the Muslim community and the Sinhalese villagers who had also gathered there, the actual situation with regard to the site’s archeological significance.

 Proposed compromise

Dr. Dissanayake explained that no harm would come to the rock cave mosque, but that the Archeological Department had to investigate the inscriptions on the rock and inspect the rock caves. The Director General promised that the Government would allocate 26 acres of land for the pilgrim rests and mosque feasts to be held nearby. In return, the mosque would be left standing, but the other buildings on the rock face would have to come down while excavations and archeological inquiry took place.

Several members of the Muslim community who listened to Dr. Dissanayake’s explanation were dissatisfied by the compromise. They believed that a surrender of the Jailani monuments and premises would effectively open the door for further ‘reclamation’ of sacred Islamic sites in the country based on claims of original settlement.

However, moderates cautioned against being unyielding on the issue, especially after authorities assured the mosque would not be torn down. It was agreed that if further attempts were made to annexe sites sacred to the Muslims, the community would adopt a tougher position then, appealing if necessary to the international community and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a major Islamic bloc of 57 countries that has been staunchly supportive of Sri Lanka over the years.

 No demolition

After Dr. Dissanayake had explained matters and reassured Muslim representatives that the mosque would not be harmed and Muslim pilgrims and visitors to the site would not be impeded, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya  Rajapaksa who had been walking around, returned to the discussion. He assured the Muslim community that their religious rights would not be hindered and that the Government would ensure that no Buddhist monuments would be constructed on the site.

Instead, Rajapaksa said, the site would be a free area, open to both Buddhist and Muslim pilgrims. Given the tensions between the communities, both in the Balangoda area and around the country, it is unclear if this attempt at a compromise would help or hinder the peace. Large crowds of Buddhists with a territorial claim, encountering large crowds of Muslim pilgrims with a historic claim of their own, could spell trouble if unruly elements were to infiltrate the crowds to disturb the peace, analysts warn.

The Defence Secretary instructed Dr. Dissanayake to appoint a committee, comprising the shrine’s trustees, Medhananda Thero and other monks and the Archeology Department to meet as soon as possible and find a suitable compromise that would defuse tensions regarding the Kuragala shrine.

Interestingly, the Muslim representatives were assured that neither the Bodu Bala Sena nor the Sinhala Ravaya would have a say in the matter or sit on the committee. Ellawela Medhananda Thero also assured members of the Muslim community that Buddhists would not impede Muslim pilgrims to the site. The JHU Leader takes a hardline on most ethnic issues and the JHU as a political party has never espoused ideologies of peace, but the entrance of the Bodu Bala Sena with their blatant anti-minority agendas has made monks like Medhananda seem moderate.

Storming the rock cave

About 18 months ago, a JHU led brigade of monks and laymen attempted to storm the Kuragala shrine, determined to “reclaim” the site and its rightful Buddhist heritage. Upon discussions with the shrine’s trustee Roshan Aboosally and other Muslim representatives, about the site’s historic significance to Muslims and evidence to support legends of the meditating Islamic saint, the monks agreed to allow the matter to rest. But for hardline groups gaining ground the Jailani shrine was an easy cause to take up and it has become a key focal point in their anti-Muslim campaigns.

In January 2013, the Sinhala Ravaya and Bodu Bala Sena groups organised about 150 monks who attempted to storm the Jailani mosque. Accompanied by several policemen, they clambered up the rock face, carrying Buddha statues in their hands, sources say, only to find their attempt foiled by a massive thunder-shower that caused the group to retrace their steps. 

A tense meeting

The attempted raid of Jailani in January and the potential flashpoint the dispute was creating, spurred authorities into action the following month. On 6 February, a meeting was held in the office of the Director General of the Department of Archeology, Dr. Senarath Dissanayake in Colombo. The meeting included the Trustee of the Kuragala shrine, other representatives and scholars from the Muslim community, Archeology Department officials, officials of the Ministry of Defence and the police and  walking in at the last minute, representatives of the Bodu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya groups.

Adopting a harsh tone from the outset, the hardline monks refused to allow Roshan Aboosally to speak in English, when she apologetically requested to be allowed to do so since her Sinhala was not fluent. The Bodu Bala Sena representatives flatly refused to allow her to do so, insisting that Sri Lanka was a Sinhala country and she should address the meeting in Sinhalese.

The Bodu Bala Sena representatives dominated the meeting, responding to the Director General’s claims that things had to be done according to the law, with threats. “Neither laws nor acts nor history matters – if the Kuragala is not cleared by 14 February, we will bring a force of 25,000 people and take it back ourselves,” the monks raged.

According to representatives at the meeting, the threat of a raid on 14 February raised major fears of a clash on the sacred site, since the date coincided with the Jailani mosque feast that would bring hundreds of Muslims to the area. Following further extensive discussions, the “deadline” was extended to 30 April with a resolution to be sought before then.

Meeting at Defence Ministry

It was as a follow up to that disastrous 6 February meeting that the Kuragala Shrine trustees and members of the Muslim community sought a meeting with Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa . When the delegation arrived at the Defence Ministry, Bodu Bala Sena representatives were also in the premises. The Muslim representatives flatly refused to discuss the issue with the hardline group, prompting the Defence Secretary to summon a different group of Buddhist monks to the Ministry.

The second delegation included learned and moderate monks, such as Prof. Bellanvila Wimalarathana Thero who was also instrumental in defusing the Halal controversy after a compromise was “brokered” on the issue. The monks and defence ministry officials however, were insisting that a settlement be reached at the meeting and the matter laid to rest. However, the Trustee and members of the Muslim delegation insisted that the Defence Secretary visit the hotly contested site, before any settlement was reached.

Roshan Aboosally believes that the involvement of the Defence Secretary was an attempt to defuse tensions arising about the sacred shrine, especially after attempted raids by hardline groups and threats that mobs would arrive at the site to tear down monuments on Vesak Poya Day. She believes that once the committee is convened by the Director General of Archeology, a compromise could be reached, that will allow the Jailani mosque to stand, even if the other premises on the rock will have to be given up by the Trust. “My priority as the Trustee, would be to ensure that the mosque remains, and that Muslim religious activities could still take place at the site. From here on, that would be my primary responsibility, to preserve the mosque and ensure Muslims can still come there to worship,” she said.

Creating controversy

The Kuragala issue is just one key flashpoint in a sea of tension created by hardline groups that are being permitted to run amok. The creation of non-issues, like the Halal controversy or the conflict over the Abhaya, aimed at heightening paranoia in the Sinhala Buddhist community and inciting at the very least the boycott of Muslim businesses and consumer products, and at the worst, brutal violence against those enterprises and Islamic places of worship, is their modus operandi.

The anti-Muslim campaign is gaining such traction that it is increasingly becoming a concern as to how much longer the Muslim community and its elders can keep calm in their ranks and prevent any retaliation that could set communal fires ablaze. Not only does the campaign against another minority community push the country to the edge of renewed ethno-religious strife, but all signs are that Islamic countries of the world are   beginning to take notice.

Apart from its public statement raising the alarm about rising tensions against the Muslim community in Sri Lanka by the Organisation of IslamicCooperation (OIC)  , the organisation has also dispatched a confidential letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa appealing to him to restore calm and contain the threats posed to Sri Lankan Muslims by hardline movements galvanizing support against them.

The country, having largely lost the support of the West, by its obdurate positions on devolution, reconciliation and investigating alleged war-time excesses and lately, even India, has come to rely more and more on the support of the Islamic bloc and the African bloc in its international battles.

It will be recalled, and not without some irony, that it was Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC that slammed the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva last month and even called for a vote to contest the move. Ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka remain enduring and robust, especially after Islamabad was one of the few countries to continue supplying ammunition to Sri Lanka during the final phase of its battle with the LTTE.

But with the anti-Muslim rhetoric growing louder in the island and its impacts spilling over as violence against Muslims, their enterprises and places of worship, especially following the attack on Fashion Bug in Pepiliyana, Pakistan faces a dilemma with regard to its continued and unwavering support of Sri Lanka.

This article was written on Thursday, 11 April 2013 by Latheef Farook , a Colombo based veteran journalist and author .

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