Akhund Sahib Swat, Muhammad Shafee Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)
Publishing Date: Friday, September 16 2005
It was a warm day on the 23rd of August 1823. British troops from all over India were headed towards the battlefield via the rugged mountains of Ambela. The opponents were the Yusufzai Tribesmen. On one hand was a renowned Military Officer, Sir Nevile Chamberlain and on the other was a Darwesh, Hazrat Akhund Abdul Ghafoor Sahib of Swat. The British army had hand picked the best of its men from throughout India to crush the Frontier resistance movement such that even the Punjab Governor's personal bodyguards comprising of only 24 men were selected.
After the end of the War of Independence (1857), the British turned all of their attention to crush the remaining pockets of resistance in Yusufzai territory. They had a two pronged approach; first to take control of the mountain strongholds of the tribesmen, and second to punish the Swat and Buner populace for providing sanctuary to the rebels. The British cunningly laid a network of lies and deceit to create differences amongst the ranks of the Yusufzai tribesmen. Occasionally, the tribesmen would leave their strongholds and attack enemy positions; incurring huge losses upon them.
In July 1863, the British attacked the Mujahideen at Satana and incurred heavy losses on them. On the 7th of September of the same year, Mujahideen under the banner of Tehreek e Mujahideen retaliated by attacking the Guide Regiment. Such skirmishes happened time and again. The British Empire was applying all its knowhow in trying to bring the lands of Swat and Buner under its dominion. In these uncertain times, emerged Ameer ul Mujahideen, Maulvi Muhammad Abdullah of the Tehreek e Mujahideen who rendered his services in the cause of Islam by approaching Ghaus e Zaman, Hazrat Akhund Sahib of Swat. Akhund Sahib was a person who shunned materialism and was a true Darwesh. He was also one of the most famous Mujahed of his time. Taking advice from Maulvi Abdullah, Akhund Sahib announced Jehad against the British. The enemy did not realise what this call for Jehad meant. It would have been unimaginable for any sound person to stay indoors after a call for Jehad had been made by such a pious person.
Within no time, a Lashkar of 60,000 men was arranged who stood face to face against the enemy. W. W. Hunter, in this book, "The Indian Muslims" describes the composition of this Lashkar as such:
"2000 men from Hasanzai, 1000 from Akazai, 6000 from Chaghar Zai, 4000 from Mada Khel, 2500 from Ama Zai, 4000 from Gadoon, 2000 from Khada Khel, 12,000 from Buner, 3000 from Bajaur, 2000 from Rani Zai, 6000 from Dir, 10,000 from Swat, and others comprising 7000."
The resistance put up against the British in the Jehad of Ambela astounded the British. They had not expected in their wildest of imaginations that they would be facing such an uphill task. On the 18th of October, 1863, Sir Nevile Chamberlain headed to Ambela with only 7000 men and cannonry. He was considered as the most experienced General amongst all of the Frontier missions. The battle was to be fought in a mountainous territory and for that reason he has 4000 donkeys at hand as well for ease of transportation. It seemed that he had emptied all of the Punjab of these donkeys and had left none behind.
The British presence throughout the Frontier increased considerably during these times. All major roads and access routes were manned by large number of troops to prevent counter attacks by other tribesmen. Chamberlain made many calls for reinforcements during this time and by the 14th of November, he had quite a large number of men under his command but he was not content with them because of unfavourable conditions. All of his men were surrounded in the footholds of the Ambela mountains and were under constant target of the tribesmen who had taken higher ground. On the 18th of November, the tribesmen left their strongholds and broke down upon the enemy; killing and maiming 114 in one go. The next day witnessed another attack in which 128 enemy soldiers were killed. This second attack was aimed at the central command of the enemy and Chamberlain managed to escape death by a very narrow margin. After the attack seceded, he made contact with his headquarters and complained that his troops were under constant conflict since the past one month and they were seriously demoralized and unless immediate reinforcements do not arrive, it would be difficult to sustain themselves any longer.
Considering the sensitivity of the situation, the Commander of the Indian Armed Forces himself arrived at Lahore from Calcutta and personally started to manage affairs. Immediate reinforcements were sent as requested but the spate of attacks continued.
Meanwhile, winter was setting in. In such circumstances, it was difficult for both sides to keep on in the harsh atmosphere. But the tribesmen did not lose moral and continued to maintain their positions, even though it meant spending time out in the open cold nights. But in reality the British were so desperate in these times that the Viceroy of India Lord Elgin himself grew ill after repeatedly hearing of their failures and died in his illness. But the British did see a turn in tides. W.W. Hunter of the Indian Civil Services himself shamefully admitted that, "Our diplomacy won where our soldiers failed." The Commissioner of Peshawar started to bribe tribesmen and started helping weaker tribes and convincing them to switch sides.
The attacks continued till the 22nd of December. During this time, Zaidullah Khan of Buner and some other elders were convinced by the British for a ceasefire and peace talks. But the British themselves broke the ceasefire when some British officers went to the Mujahideen strong base of Malka; accompanied by Zaidullah Khan and burnt and demolished a few houses. This again led to a spate of attacks. The British suffered very heavily. Many Mujahideen also attained martyrdom. But one thing that the British learnt was never to head again for the lands of Swat and Buner. These lands remained free just as they had been free from time immemorial.
The main spiritual guidance behind the Jehad of Ambela was given by Hazrat Akhund Abdul Ghafoor Sahib Rahmatullah Alaihe. Despite being a Faqeer, he turned the tables on Kings who ruled the world. Under his blessings, all the tribesmen remained united and thus managed to give a hard blow to the enemy. It is said about such great personalities that,
آن مسلمانان که ميری کرده اند
در شهنشاهی فقيری کرده اند
The Ghaus of Swat's real name was Abdul Ghafoor and he was born at a village called Jabrhi in Shamizai in 1784. His father's name was Abdul Wahid and he belonged to the Safi Mohmand tribe. Since childhood, he had received Islamic education. In those days, there was a lack of Islamic Madrassas amongst the tribes. It was for this reason that Akhund Sahib received Islamic education from scholars from a number of places. In his quest for knowledge, he also came to Peshawar, where he spent four years as a student of Hafiz Muhammad Azeem (Ganj Wal). He also spent some time under the spiritual guidance of Mian Ghulam Muhammad (Hazrat Jee) of Peshawar. Later on, he studied at a Madrassa near Hazrat Muhammad Omar Rahmatullah Alaihe's shrine. Akhund Sahib also spent some time in Tehkal Bala's with Muhammad Yusuf Alikozai and Ziarat Kaka Sahib.
After completing his Islamic education, he joined the Qadria Tariqat by taking Baiyah from Hazrat Muhammad Shu'aib (Tor Derhi) Rahmatullah Alaihe. Akhund Sahib was so steadfast that he spent 12 consecutive years in the preaching of Islam at a place called Baki near the Indus River. Later on, after the death of Hazrat Muhammad Shu'aib, he migrated to Saidu Shareef.
Akhund Sahib did not leave any opportunity for fighting in the path of Islam and took pride in waging Jehad against opressors. In 1835, when Ameer Dost Muhammad Khan announced Jehad against the Sikhs, Hazrat Akhund Sahib was also invited to take part. Upon which, Akhund Sahib along with many of his followers heeded the call. Akhund Sahib tried his level best to eradicate some wrong and un-Islamic practices from the Frontier, and for uniting the people and leading calm and peaceful lives. He also constructed many mosques for preaching Islam and arranged for food for the poor via "Langars". All his life, he devoted for the service of Muslims.
It was Akhund Sahib himself who called for a Jirga in 1850, comprising of respected people from Saudi Shareef and its surroundings in which he encouraged everybody to choose Syed Akbar Shah of Sathana as Ameer of the Islamic State of Swat. It was on this occasion that Akhund Sahib was given the title of Sheikh-ul-Islam.
When Syed Akbar Shah died in 1857, Syed Mubarak Shah was appointed as his hier. However, Mubarak Shah paid more attention towards politics rather than upholding Islam. As a direct consequence of this, the Islamic state was abolished due to outside interference. In the 1863 Jehad of Ambela, thousands of tribesmen answered the call of Jehad made by Akhund Sahib himself. Throughout the confrontations with the British, Akhund Sahib maintained his allegiance to the Tehreek e Mujahideen and its leader Maulvi Muhammad Abdullah despite political and ideological differences with him.
It was Akhund Sahib's far-sightedness that Swat and Buner remained free from the clutches of the British Empire. A beautiful mosque has been constructed at that point in Ambela where Akhund Sahib used to stay. This mosque refreshes the memory of the Jehad even in todays times.
On the 5th of January, 1864, the British Troops headed back to Peshawar in humiliation. In the campaign, the British lost around 1,000 of its soldiers and officers. Being arrogant that they were, and to cover their humiliation, the British took revenge by putting on trial all those Muslims throughout the subcontinent who helped the rebellion. Special courts were setup for this very purpose. By 1865, many known personalities were found guilty of rebellion and hanged whereas others were put in life in prison.
On the 2nd of August, 1868, Zaidullah Khan cheated a Swati business man of his land and money. Hazrat Akhund Sahib sent a small lashkar to recover the losses made by Zaidullah Khan. Zaidullah defended himself by putting up a fight. He however, died in the ensuing battle. What was more Ironic was the fact that Zaidullah was shot with the very same revolver that the British had presented to him as a gift.
The British looked for many other excuses to interfere in the affairs of Swat and Buner but Akhund Sahib made sure that their influence not be felt. W.W Hunter in his diaries writes that, "Akhund Sahib had a charisma over the tribesmen of astounding proportions." Syed Jamaludin Afghani in his book; Al Bayan also praises the bravery, far-sightedness, character and his love of freedom. A famous Christian missionary of that time, Hughes also is all praises for Akhund Sahib.
Later on, the Swat state was engulfed with civil unrest and on a number of occasions it was engaged in conflict with Dir. A grand loya jirga was called at a place called Kabal in Napki Khel where all the tribes unanimously appointed Akhund Sahib of Swat's grandson; Miangul Abdul Wadood as the emperor of Swat in November 1918. Miangul Rahmatullah Alaihe established a model state in Swat and established peace in the area. On the 3rd of May, 1926, the British Government granted recognition to the state of Swat and thus Miangul Abdul Wadood became the first Wali of Swat. At the age of 63, Miangul gave successor ship of the state to his son Mian Gul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb. The new Wali tried his level best to keep Swat as a modern and well developed state. On the 28th of July, 1969, the Government of Pakistan abolished all states and thus the state of Swat was converted into a District of NWFP.
It was nothing but the pure blessings of Akhund Sahib that his heirs were successful in running the state successfully and throughout this time, they did not back down from the sacred duty of Jehad. Qutb ul Aqtab, Ghaus e Zaman, Hazrat Akhund Abdul Ghafoor Baba left this world on the 22nd of January, 1877. His shrine is located in Saidu Shareef and is thronged by people everyday seeking blessings.
Akhund Sahib Swat, Muhammad Shafee Sabir
Published in Khyber.ORG on Friday, September 16 2005 (http://www.khyber.org)