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 noble qualities 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. The tranquil and peaceful environment in the mosque attract the visitors like magnet that I used to go for Maghrib prayer and stay there till Isha prayer during my weeklong stay in Baghdad.
Thousands of people were seen around. Some reciting the holy Quran, some discussing teachings of Islam in groups while others sitting around the mausoleum enveloped by the smell of traditional incense all over the mosque which contained more than 40,000 rare books.
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 land 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;
Thanks to the Muslim laird of Balangoda, Cassim Lebbe Marikkar Hadjiar, J.P. (popularly called “Balangoda Hadjiar” by the Sinhalese and Muslims alike there) much of the jungle has been cleared, and the shrine has been maintained with some orderliness.
It is rough going in the last two miles of the 14 mile drive from Balangoda as the road is bad—one comes across wild elephants at dusk, in this section. A flag indicates where the pilgrimage begins.
The climb up the mountain covers one and half miles. Mercifully there is a large slice of rock in the shape of an immense mushroom on which one could rest half-way. I finally reached Hituwangala, which is called by the Muslims as “Kal-adi Malai” (palm-print mountain) because the palm-print of the saint is seen on the overhanging rock. Marikar Hadjiar has built a mosque under the rock which serves as a shelter from the sun and the rain.
Qutub Mohyiuddin sought asylum here for meditation after a pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak. He went alone to ‘Kal-adi Malai” (footprint mountain)
or “Soranga Malai” (Tunnel Mountain). This is a huge cliff with an outsize boulder perched precariously on the edge of the cliff. Here he meditated for over a decade, after which he left by divine power.
Ascent up to the steep side of Kal-adi Malai or Soranga malai was very trying. When I reached the top, however the breeze was reviviscent. On the underside of the huge boulder at the edge of the cliff is a huge footprint, which can be viewed with ease if one lies fully stretched under the rock.
A few yards away is a cave-like tunnel, which can be investigated with the help of a flashlight.
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.Aboosallay who was elected to represent Balangoda electorate between 1977 and 1994, by a large majority of Sinhalese, defeating Mallika Ratwatta from the powerful family interest 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 his 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 ledge 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 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, 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 19071.
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”.
Perhaps the country is heading towards another unwanted disaster.