Spreading misinformation about Shahi Masjid of Chiniot can take away from its historical significance
t is often argued that history is, actually, ‘his-story’ — the viewpoint of the person who narrates or records the account. In other words, the narrators control the tale. This seemed to be the case when I watched a video by a local vlogger, who, along with their team, runs a YouTube channel that primarily aims at discovering places, buildings, cultures, cuisines etc, across Pakistan. Without discrediting them, as they are doing excellent work mainly by setting new trends of recording history through vlogs, I would hold that they are doing a disservice to history itself. They are not historians by training. For instance, they made a critical mistake while discussing Shahi Masjid, Chiniot. This distorts the historical facts and misleads the viewers.
I would like here to clarify some details. In the vlog, they mixed up Saad Ullah Khan (d. 1656) and Shaikh Ilam-ud-Din Ansari (d. 1641), widely known as Wazir Khan. The former served as the Grand Vizier (or the prime minister) of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan from 1645 till his death in 1656 and supervised the construction of Jamia Masjid Delhi — the construction was completed in six years (1650 – 1656). The latter, a court physician of Shah Jahan, commissioned the construction of Masjid Wazir Khan, Lahore (1634 – 1641), and founded the city of Wazirabad on the eastern bank of the River Chenab.
The vlogger claimed that Hakeem Saad Ullah Khan built Shahi Masjid Chiniot over almost nine years (1946 – 1955). In fact, it was built in the Seventeenth Century (1646-56).
The vlogging team created more confusion for themselves and the viewers by holding that the architecture and the design of Masjid Wazir Khan, Lahore, Jamia Masjid, Delhi, and Shahi Masjid Chiniot are similar because all these mosques were built (supervised or commissioned) by Hakeem Saad Ullah Khan. This is factually incorrect. The construction of Masjid Wazir Khan was commissioned by Wazir Khan, while the construction of Jamia Masjid Delhi was supervised and Shahi Masjid of Chiniot ordered by Saad Ullah Khan.
The purpose of this writing is three-pronged: to educate the vloggers, who lack training in history writing or recording, to be more careful while doing the vlogs since it may cause damage to the history and mislead their viewers; to set the records straight; and to highlight the Badshahi Masjid of Chiniot.
Unlike Jamia Masjid in Delhi, Mahabat Khan’s Masjid in Peshawar, and Wazir Khan’s and Badshahi Masjid in Lahore, Badshahi Masjid in Chiniot is not well known. According to the available information, it was built on the orders of Saad Ullah Khan, who served as Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s vizier for almost eleven years (1645–1656) at the place where he had received his education in a maktab. The construction was completed in nine years — starting in 1646 and completing in 1655.
The Masjid was designed by local architects. It had an eighteen square feet pond, with a fountain in the courtyard that was watered through a well. The well was destroyed in 2004. Subsequently, the pond dried up and the fountain was closed.
The mosque has three domes on its roof and four minarets in the four corners. These domes and minarets are built with Chiniot’s famous stone, Sang-i-Abri, which glitters/ shines on cold nights. It is said that the upper parts of these minarets used to jiggle when shaken till they were renovated in 1971.
Colourful glazing and mapping on the ceiling and light-coloured glazing and mapping on the walls make its architecture peerless. The mosque was originally decorated with coloured decorations in floral and geometric patterns. Unfortunately, this style of decoration is now almost lost, with the exception of small patches here and there.
It has two doors: one opening on the north and the other on the east. The former has been closed since 2004.
The area of the mosque spread to the Masjid Boharr Wali in the west, the Mohalla Chiniot in the north, the Muslim Bazaar in the east and the Mohalla Kamangran in the south. However, a significant chunk of the mosque’s land was encroached upon. There were 17 halls around the ground floor of the mosque. These were residential quarters for its employees. When the mosque was handed over to Auqaf Department in 1960, these halls were converted into shops. Of these, eight were leased, while the remaining were illegally occupied by some vendors.
The revenue generated from the mosque’s properties and the locals’ donations are claimed or collected by Auqaf Department. However, the department does not pay any attention to its renovation and preservation. That is why the mosque is dilapidated despite being renovated twice: in 1971 and 2013.
The Masjid is now situated almost at the centre of the old city. Narrow streets leading to it are often clogged, discouraging tourists from visiting the site. In addition, the vendors have opened iron sheets shops, poultry shops and vegetable shops that cause foul odour and noise.
It is one of the historical monuments and tourist attraction sites in the district of Chiniot, visited by thousands of people from all over the country and abroad. Given the recent digitalisation of historical accounts, mainly by vloggers and the revival of tourism in Pakistan, such historic sites should be preserved, renovated and promoted to achieve the desired goal of attracting the right number of tourists.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @MazharGondal87