The Indians in Jerusalem
Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 09.06.2006:
The Indian presence in Jerusalem could be traced back to over 700 years ago when a well-known Indian saint (Walli) Baba Farid Shakarganj from Ajodhan, now known as Pak Pattan, a direct descendant of the second Caliph of Islam, as part of his 18-year tour of some Islamic countries, came for pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Impressed by his piety, the local Islamic community offered him as accommodation during his stay in Jerusalem a property comprising two small rooms attached to a mosque. After his departure, these two rooms and the mosque became a pilgrimage site for Indian pilgrims visiting the Holy City. This site, which was known as ?Zawiya Al-Faridiah,? was granted to the Hospice and dedicated as a charitable Wakf property in trust for a pious purpose.
With time, further Indian donations brought the area of the Hospice to the present seven dunums (seven thousand square metres), located inside the Old City of Jerusalem, opposite Bab Al-Zahera (Herod’s Gate) and only minutes away from the holiest sites of the three monotheistic religions. This area came to be known by Indian pilgrims as Al-Zawiya Al-Hindiya, (the Indian Hospice) referring to a place where travellers and pilgrims could find rest and comfort. In addition to this location in Jerusalem, some Indian visitors also bought property in the city of Gaza and offered it to the Indian Hospice trust in Jerusalem.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain was designated by the League of Nations as the mandatory power in Palestine with Jerusalem as the administrative capital. The Islamic Higher Supreme Council was established in Jerusalem to supervise Islamic affairs and places. The Council was headed at that time by Al-Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine. In 1922, the Council sent a delegation to India to collect donations for the renovation of Al-Aqsa Mosque. Members of this delegation met with some Indian leaders of the Khilafat Movement represented by Mawlana Mohammed Ali (who died in London on 3 January 1931 and was buried upon his request at Al-Aqsa Mosque), his brother Shawkat Ali, Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan, with whom they also discussed the affairs of the Indian Hospice. They conveyed to the Indian authorities the urgent need for a reliable and well-qualified Indian representative to reside in Jerusalem and to be the official delegate of India in order to administer and supervise the Hospice. The late Sheikh Nazer Hassan Ansari from Ambehta, Saharanpur U.P., being a member in the Khilafat Movement was finally chosen for this position. He was sent to Jerusalem in 1924. The choice of Sheikh Ansari was welcomed by all the members of the Islamic Supreme Council in
Jerusalem and they proclaimed him the Sheikh of the Indian Hospice as well as the trustee of the Indian Wakf in Palestine.
During the administration of Sheikh Ansari from 1924 until 1951, he paid several visits to India and collected donations from leading personalities. The funds were used to erect new buildings on the land of the Hospice and to renovate old ones. The new structures were named after the most generous donors such as Osman Manzel for Mir Osman Ali Khan, the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad, Reza Hall for Nawab Syed Mohammad Reza Ali, the 11th Nawab of Rampur and Sadiq Gate for Sadiq Muhammad Khan, the 12th Ameer of Bahawalpur.
During the time of the Second World War from 1939 to 1947, the Indian Hospice was utilized as a leave camp for the Indian soldiers who served with the British troops in the Middle East. The General Headquarters established two wings on the Hospice?s property as a gift, the Delhi Wing and the Travancore Wing. After the War the British Mandate in Palestine ended in 1947. In that same year, India became independent and the first Indian Embassy in the Middle East was established in Cairo. From that date on, communications were officially established with the Government of India.
Sheikh Ansari passed away in 1951 and according to the traditions followed at the Hospice, his eldest son Mohammad Munir Ansari was chosen at the recommendation of the official and local councils in the country to inherit the position. As a result, a Shari’a document was issued by the Shari’a Court in Jerusalem proclaiming Sheikh Mohammad Munir Ansari as the Director and Trustee of the Indian Hospice Wakf as of 1952.
During the administration of Sheikh Mohammad Munir Ansari communication with the Government of India intensified and Indian visitors to the Holy Land increased in numbers. In 1963 the Indian Hospice was granted financial assistantship from the Government of India in order to construct a building consisting of twelve shops, the rent from which would provide a fixed revenue to meet the Hospice’s expenses.
Because of the new political situation that developed after 1967, Indian visitors stopped travelling to Jerusalem. The Indian Hospice sustained extensive damage during the war but it continued to render its services in whatever manner it could. Since 1992 the Government of India has been granting financial assistance to renovate and keep up this historical and religious monument. Many of India’s Ministers of State for External Affairs and several high level delegates came to visit, with the Indian Hospice being the venue for very important meetings.
Work is still under way to renovate and further develop the Hospice. The Ansari family, the proud custodians of the Indian Hospice since 1924, looks forward to welcoming Indian pilgrims and visitors once again to the Holy City.
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