Azan Fakir: Steering Assam’s Muslims Back To The Faith
The region of Assam is known for its Ahom history and legacy. But did you know that not too far from the former Ahom capital, Sibsagar, you will come across the shrine of a Sufi saint who is said to have brought the concept of the azan, a call to prayer, to this region?
Among the many famous visitors to the Ahom kingdom in what is now Assam was the 17th century CE Sufi saint Shah Miran, or ‘Azan Fakir’. He was a ‘Fakir’ because he had travelled all the way from Baghdad to Assam, a distance of more than 6,000 km, but it is the ‘Azan’ that steers you towards his unique story.
When Shah Miran arrived in the Ahom kingdom, he was dismayed that the religious practices of the Muslims here were not very different from those of the Ahoms, who were Hindus. Although he believed in a syncretic approach to spirituality, Shah Miran felt he had to guide the Muslim community towards the essential tenets of their faith.
Shah Miran, who had settled in Garhgaon, the then Ahom capital, built a mosque in Sonpura, not far from present-day Sibsagar town. He started chanting azan, a call to prayer among followers of the Islamic faith. Muslims here embraced this ‘new’ element of their religion. They started heeding the fakir’s call and flocking to the mosque to pray. They also started referring to him as ‘Azan Fakir’.
Here are some other interesting details about this spiritual leader:
- He married an Ahom woman and learnt the local language
- He imbibed the teachings and music of Srimanta Sankardev, the great Vaishnava saint
- He created two genres of devotional songs known as Zikir and Zari. While the former resembles Borgeet, the devotional songs of the Vaishnava sect in Assam, the latter is based on the tragic tales of the Battle of Karbala.
- Azan Fakir noticed that Muslims who participated in community prayers or kirtanas took the prasad or ‘sacred food’ offered at these events. So he began distributing firni (a sweet dish prepared from rice, milk and nuts) at the end of community gatherings where his zikirs and zaris were performed.
Although Islam doesn’t permit songs, Azan Fakir believed that music was a great spiritual pathway. Besides, he had shown through his work that regardless of the path one chooses, the path leading to spirituality is ultimately one.
While his following kept growing, Azan Fakir also attracted some enemies. Among them was Rupai Dadhora, a Muslim official in the Ahom administration who convinced the King that Azan Fakir’s teachings were against the tenets of Islam and were corrupting the people. He also claimed that he was a Mughal spy. So the King ordered the eyes of Azan Fakir to be plucked out.
According to legend, Dadhora ordered that the earthen pots carrying Azan Fakir’s eyes be tossed into the Dikhow River instead of being taken to the King. It is said that the river started to flow in the opposite direction as soon as the eyes were dropped into it!
On hearing this, the King regretted his decision and built a shrine in Shah Miran’s name at Soraguri Sapori near Sibsagar. It has since been a holy place for both Hindus and Muslims, and the Urus festival is held here, every year, in memory of the saint.
There aren’t many written resources on Azan Fakir but there is no doubt that he influenced Assamese society and taught Muslims living here about the greatness of Islam. He also showed that true spirituality lies in religious harmony and embracing the best of different faiths.
– ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mahasweta Dey is an MA in History from Cotton College, Assam and currently teaches history and social science in a school in Guwahati.