The man who would not be qazi

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn April 14, 2007

VERY few people in the old walled city know about him, but those who do are attracted towards his message. This is the story of the man who refused to be the qazi of Lahore, and all because he felt that a ruthless ruler could never feel the tender ‘iron grip’ of justice.

The year was 1325AD and it was the reign of the ruthless Tuglaks. From Multan after a gruelling campaign came the Sultan Muhammad Tuglak. He stopped over and went over the affairs of the state, for he was now the undisputed ruler of a major portion of the subcontinent. He met the finance persons and was happy that Lahore was providing an impressive booty to his finances. He went over the law and order situation and felt that the people of the city of Lahore needed a just and firm qazi. So he ordered that all the men of letters and influence, as well as all the teachers and religious scholars be called to a major gathering in the Lahore Fort.

So it was that this impressive array of people collected. After spending over two hours discussing the competence of every person present, he ordered that it was his opinion that the religious scholar, philosopher and mathematician, Pir Sirajuddin Sherazi, also known as Pir Sherazi in the city, would be the new qazi of Lahore. It came as no surprise to the Tuglak ruler that everyone thought that it was a wise choice. So the order was passed and the kind ‘pir’ was asked to approach the king.

Pir Sirajuddin meekly approached the king, who asked him how he felt about the honour bestowed on him. He replied: “I am not competent to be a qazi, so with humility I must refuse your very kind offer”. There was stunned silence in the court, for no man had ever refused anything in front of the ruthless Tuglak. An irritated king asked him to reconsider, but he refused again. There was a long silence and Muhammad Tuglak asked three leading religious scholars of Lahore to lead Pir Sirajuddin away and behead him in the main square leading out of Mori Gate towards the Lohari Gate main bazaar the next morning after prayers.

So Pir Sherazi was led away and he was calm and silent as was his normal disposition. The Tuglak king sent a spy to report on the condition of the religious scholar. They reported back that he was sitting in his room, smiling and reading the Holy Quran. He was also teaching some children the basics of mathematics. There was no panic about what awaited this sage. This further upset the king who called in an emergency meeting of some leading religious scholars.

The clerics pleaded with the king to spare this outstanding scholar, and after a lot of arguments, he agreed to spare his life if only he never sees the light of the sun again, even after he dies. So it was arranged that Pir Sirajuddin was interned in a small room inside Mori Gate in the Jorray Mori Mohallah. Here he lived the rest of his life, and it was a full life in which he contin ued to preach and pray and teach children the finer arts and sciences as were known then.

But his courage to stand up and say ‘No’ to the ruthless ruler made a special place in the hearts of the people of Lahore, who flocked to him in great numbers. Pir Sherazi was so called because after teaching in the city of Bukhara, he moved to India and settled in Lahore. He belonged to Shiraz in Iran, and had gone to teach in the leading university of Bukhara, then acknowledged as the finest in the known world. It was his view that the ruler of Bukhara was a despot, and so no man of any substance could live in peace there.

So it was that this scholar, mystic and man of letters moved to Lahore. Among the many miracles attributed to him was his ability to restore the health of the poor with just a prayer. He could tell with amazing accuracy where a child was if kidnapped, provided he was given enough information about the name and birth time of the child. It has been almost 700 years since Pir Sherazi came to Lahore, and he still lives on in the hearts of the people as an upright man who would not bend.

After his death he was buried in the room where he lived.Today you would have to go to the mohallah and ask for the house of Pir Sherazi. Inside the courtyard of the old decaying house is the grave of this great man, the man who would not bend and the man who refused to take on the biggest job in Lahore. One is reminded of two things. One is the saying that a “man with courage is a majority”, and the second is that it seems times do not change.The qazi and the king are still at loggerheads. I need not tell you which side yours truly is, and which side will, eventually win, unless wisdom prevails.

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