By Faisal Hassan
And if you ask about heaven’s ground and its soil, it is of musk and saffron.
– Ibn Al Qayyum
Awadh is considered the goldmine of culture and heritage, spanning across the plains of Uttar Pradesh, its glorious past and heritage tantamount to major portion of medieval Indian history and among everything else are the Sufi courtyards of Awadh which have been the centers of spirituality and universality. This goldmine is synonymous with the spiritual and religious syncretism that has been instrumental in holding the composite culture of India together standing all the tests of time. What could be precisely said about it geographically is that, Awadh is a triangulated hinterland that encapsulates Khairabad Awadh in the Himalayan foothills, runs through Mahmudabad Awadh and gets consummated the banks of Ghaghra in Faizabad Awadh. The best way to communicate is through language and there is no denying that Awadhi remains the most favourite language across the world, therefore people of Awadh always have had an edge in winning the conversations. Khairabad Awadh is home to Makhdooms or Makhdums meaning a teacher of Sunnah, the ornate and enchanting shrines of Hazrat Makhdoom Shaikh Saduddin Chishti alias Bade Makhdoom and Hazrat Makhdoom Syed Nizamuddin Allah Diya Khairabadi alias Chhote Makhdoom adorn the skyline of this sleepy dusty town nestling away from the chaos of metropoles. The genealogy of Bade Makhdoom Sahab could be traced to Prophet Moses (A.S.) and the family tree of Chhote Makhdoom Sahab meets Hazrat Usman Harwani (R.A.). Needless to say that missionary of all faiths have lived in Khairabad and contributed towards the social welfare without discrimination. This very town holds the honour of being the first schools for two of the nine gems of Akbar’s court.
From the descendants and spiritual heirs of Chhote Makhdoom Sahab emerged a very pious Sufi saint of 16th century, Hazrat Syed Mushtaque Ahmad alias Chheda Miyan who was ordered by Chhote Makhdoom Sahab to migrate towards the woods of Kheri, another small town of Awadh. Hazrat Mushtaque Ahmad is known for performing Hajj pilgrimage on foot twice in his life, he has been revered highly by the people around the region for his love and piety towards the blessed Prophet of Islam, Hazrat Mohammed (SAWW). The shrine of Chheda Miyan is situated in Kheri Town of Lakhimpur Kheri district, the Urs of Chheda Miyan was a public holiday in calendars during the days of British Raj. Four centuries on, the baton of Chishti legacy in Kheri was passed onto Syed Meraj Ahmad alias Bhai Sahab by his uncle Syed Matin Ahmad (R.A.) and this passing of light goes to Chheda Miyan, who happens to be the forefather of Syed Meraj Ahmad in the genealogical order of ascension. While performing one of his hajj journeys, due to his fame and reverence, Chheda Miyan had made many disciples in Afghanistan and has several followers and spiritual heirs there. Syed Meraj Ahmad received the permission from his uncle Syed Matin Ahmad, as well as from the Sajjadanasheens of his forefather Chheda Miyan. Syed Meraj Ahmad was born to Syed Moin Ahmad in the year 1962, after receiving his early education in Kheri, he attended school in Lakhimhpur and moved to Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh for his higher education. Having graduated in economics, he went to Delhi University and continued his education, following which he joined as Finance Officer in Uttar Pradesh Minorities Financial Development Corporation under the aegis of Minorities Welfare Department of the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
Syed Meraj Ahmad held various ranks as an expert of finances and with his indomitable zeal and passion to serve humanity he worked tirelessly. One could ascertain his admiration for knowledge and love for his Alma Mater that when he was transferred to Aligarh in 2015, he got himself enrolled at the K.A.Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies, AMU Aligarh for a certificate course in Tajweed. He has been actively involved in the social causes and serving the needy, living a life strictly to the values of Sufi saints. He always wore a smile in worst of the times and never seemed worn out by the stressors which could destroy sanity of a person. While he was admitted to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Medical College at AMU Aligarh for his cardiac issues, he never allowed anyone who visited him leaving without having meals. An Alig to the core, he was popularly known as Meraj Bhai as per the traditions of Aligarh, a towering personality back home, he led a humble life in Aligarh. He envisioned the free of cost civil services coaching program for underprivileged students at Aligarh in collaboration with Muslim Education Conference, reliving the mission of Sir Syed. He also established Mansha Educational Society which works for the education of girl students from weaker sections of the society. He established Raza Montessori School in the compound of Dargah Chheda Miyan in Kheri and was working upon the plan to establish another college which could provide quality education to the students of Kheri as well as Lakhimpur.
Meraj Miyan alias Bhai Sahab or simply Meraj Bhai had a very positive aura and anybody who ever met him would leave bedazzled by his wit and wisdom. An elder brother for all the coveted seniors of Aligarh, a true companion for people of all ages, a son for all the elderly, Meraj Bhai wore many hats. His was a charm which is rare. He always said that the duty of a Sufi is to connect people to other people, and when all the people would get connected, they would eventually find god together. The sacredness in his conduct, affection in his words and guardianship in his advice would always be unmatchable. He became the Honourary Secretary of the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Association, Lucknow in the year 2009 and had completed a fruitful term in 2012. During his tenure he united the Aligs in Lucknow and brought several groups on same page, putting a closure to independent SS Days in Lucknow and reorganizing them to hold a united SS Day in the city of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. He also developed a proposal to bring up a Sir Syed Bhawan in Lucknow which could function as a cultural centre for people of Lucknow in general and Aligs in particular.
On the morning of an unfortunate day, Meraj Bhai left his home for Agra, where he was recently transferred as Field Officer of Wakf Department, Government of Uttar Pradesh, and never came back home. He was admitted to S.N. Medical College and Hospital in Agra on 11th February 2020 only to return asleep eternally. Rumi says that, “our death is our marriage with eternity”, and he is right in saying so, as one who breaks the shackles of life and transcends this mortal world, he finds immortality in the other. At least that is what the faith of Sufis is, an afterlife that would last eternities, a sleep that comforts the body which is tired of the life’s unending chaos. Meraj Bhai left for his heavenly abode, leaving behind a trail of memories that would only last till eternity. A people’s favorite he was Aligarh’s apple of eye and well as the guardian of Kheri. He was brought to his own place and his mortal remains were laid to rest in the courtyards of Dargah Chheda Miyan on 13th February 2020. A Chishti lamp got extinguished by the orders of Almighty, having enlightened hearts and minds for half a century and touching thousands of lives wherever it went. His funeral prayers saw flood of people going berserk over catching a glimpse of their beloved Bhai Sahab. The writer of this ode to a true saint tried hard to get a last sight to keep in eyes forever but the Sufi had veiled himself by then.
As the deer thirsts for flowing brooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.