Maira Sharif village is located about 28 km west of Pindi Gheb town in the Attock district. It is famous for the shrine complex of Khwaja Ahmed Mairvi. Like other districts of Punjab, Attock is also home to many shrines of Chishti Nizami Sufis who traced their spiritual ancestry back to Khawaja Noor Muhammad Muharvi (1730-1790), who was the prominent khalifa of Fakhiruddin Dehlavi (1717-1785). He was also believed to have been an initiator of the Nizamiya branch of the Chishtiya order in Punjab and Sindh. He founded his Khanqah at the small village of Muhar near Bahawalpur in the mid-eighteenth century.
Khalifas of Khawaja Noor Muhammad Muharvi spread the Chishtiya Nizamiya order in every nook and corner of Punjab. One of his prominent khalifas Shah Muhammad Sulieman Taunsvi (1770-1850) took the Chishtiya Nizamiya order to its peak. Several of his khalifas and their disciples established their khanqahs in various towns and villages of Punjab with prominent ones at Sial Sharif, Sangharh, Ahmadpur, Chachran, Makhad, Jalalpur, Bahawalpur, Multan, Pakpattan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Hajipur, Rajanpur, Narwala, Muhammadpur, Ferozepur, Kot Mithan Sultanpur, Garhi Afganan etc.
According to the Tarikh-e-Mashaikh-e-Chisht by K. A. Nizami Shah, Muhammad Suleiman of Taunsa Sharif had 70 khalifas, and his khalifa Khawja Shamsuddin Sialvi of Sial Sharif further had 35.
In Attock district, two of the most prominent deputies (khalifas) of Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi were Moulana Muhammad Ali Makhadi (1750-1837) and Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi (1832-1911). They established their khanqahs at Makhad Sharif in Jand tehsil (formerly Pindi Gheb) and Maira Sharif in Pindi Gheb tehsil respectively. After receiving robes of initiation from Khawaja Shah Muhammad Suleiman, Moulana Muhammad Ali Makhadi established his khanqah at Makhad and started preaching the spiritual thought of his mentor. Many people responded to the teachings of Moulana Muhammad Ali Makhadi and soon Makhad became the hub of Chishti Nizami Sufis in the region.
Apart from the Khanqah of Moulana Muhammad Ali Makhad, another khalifa of Khawaja Shah Muhammad, i.e. Suleiman Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi, also became an eminent Chishti Nizami Sufi in the nineteenth century.
Khawaja Ahmed Mairvi was born in a respectable family of the Khokhar tribe in 1832. His father Barkhurdar was a disciple of Khawaja Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi. Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi was a still child when his father died. Later, he was raised by his maternal uncle Ali Khan. According to Faizan-e-Mairvi by Khawaja Muhammad Fakharuddin Mairvi, the maternal uncle of Khwaja Ahmad Mairvi was a disciple of Khawaja Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi. He used to visit him at Taunsa Sharif frequently. Once Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi also accompanied his maternal uncle Ali Khan to the khanqah of Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi. It is said that Khawaja Shah Suleiman accepted Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi as his Khalifa at the age of 15. After receiving the robe of initiation, Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi travelled to many shrines in Kashmir, the northern areas of what is today Pakistan, Multan, Delhi and Ajmer Sharif. After visiting the shrines of Sufi saints, he travelled to Pindi Gheb and reached Maira. The landscape of Miara impressed Khawaja Ahamd Mairvi greatly and he decided to settle there. From Maira Sharif, he started preaching the ideology of his mentor Shah Muhammad Suleiman – and within no time, many people became his disciples and Maira Sharif became a centre of Chishti Nizami Sufis in Pindi Gheb tehsil.
Like Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi, many other Chishti Nizami Sufis who received spiritual training from Shah Muhammad Suleiman Taunsvi and his khalifas revitalized the Chishti order in Punjab in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Sial Sharif in Shahpur in Sargodha district, Jalalpur in Jhelum district, Golra Sharif in Rawalpindi/Islamabad became centres of the Chishti Nizami Sufis. Khawja Shamsuddin Sialvi was also Khalifa of Shah Muhammad Suleiman alias Pir Pathan, who made Sial Sharif the centre of the Chishti Sufis. Many of Khawaja Shamsuddin Sialvi’s khalifas later established their khanqahs, which later turned into dargahs, in their respective villages and towns. Pir Mehar Ali Shah, who was a disciple of Khawja Shamsuddin, became the most famous Chishti Sufi of the twentieth century and he made Golra Sharif the centre of Chishti Sufis. Likewise, Pir Syed Ghulam Hyder Ali Shah (d. 1908), another disciple of Khawja Shamsuddin, established his khanqah at Jalapur in Jhelum district where he started to preach the spiritual thought of his mentor.
From Faizan-e-Mairvi, one comes to know that Khawaja Ahamd Mairvi had friendly relations with Pir Mehar Ali Shah Golarvi (1859-1937) as both were spiritually connected to Khawaja Shah Muhammad Suleiman. They also regularly corresponded and also met to discuss some religious issues.
The shrines of disciples of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi were not only found in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) but also in India. The names of some of the eminent disciples of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi include Jalaluddin Baloch alias Jhangi Wale, Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani (Maira Sharif), Khawaja Moulana Akbar Ali (Mianwali), Khawaja Ahmad Noor (Chawli Sharif), Khawaja Muhammad Fakhharuddin Chishti (Birbal Sharif, Khushab) , Syed Sultan Muhammad Shah ( Shahpur), Hafiz Salih Muhammad Sahib (Maira Sharif), Hafiz Badaruddin Sahib (Maira Sharif), Moulana Muhammad Nawaz ( Dera Ismail Khan), Haji Muhammad Fazal Karim (Chakwal), Syed Ghulam Hussain alias Pir Baba Koney Shah (Neliyanwala, Jhang), Pir Habi Shah Chawli (Pindi Gheb), Moulana Qazi Muhammad Abdullah (Fazal Garh, Azad Kashmir), Pir Fateh Shah Hashmi (Rawalpindi) Mian Mir Muhammad Sahib (Pehawar), Faqir Ahmad Din (Til bazaar, Mumbai, India) etc.
Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi passed away in 1911 and was buried in Maira Sharif. An impressive tomb was erected over the grave of Khawaja Ahmad by his first successor Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani. In fact, Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani was the eminent khalifa and first successor of Khajwa Ahmad Mairvi. During his time, the numbers of disciples also increased. Keeping in view the growing number of his disciples, he built the guest house, tank and well in Maira Sharif.
Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani was born to the notable Salih Muhammad Panah Awan of Chakrala in Mianwali in 1870-71. His father died in his childhood. His mother raised him and got him admitted to a madrasah of Khwaja Faqir Muhammad Abdullah, who was a disciple of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi. After hearing so much about the spiritual knowledge from Faqir Abdullah about his mentor Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi, he went to Maira Sharif where he became the disciple of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi.
Kawaja Ahmad Khan Thani was a well-learned Sufi and Gaddi Nashin of the shrine of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi. He travelled extensively in Punjab, KP (formerly NWFP) Kashmir and Sindh. Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani passed away in 1931 and was buried next to his mentor Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi.
The tomb of Khawaja Ahmad is one of the most splendid structures in the entire Pindi Gheb tehsil. It is adorned with beautiful paintings which contain Arabic calligraphy. The interior walls of the tombs also depict the Persian poetry of Allama Muhammad Iqbal. Floral designs also cover the domed ceiling and arches of the tomb. The majority of the tombs of Chishti Nizami Sufis in Pindi Gheb and Jand tehsils of Attock district have beautiful paintings of Makkah and Madinah.
There are four graves inside the tomb which belong to Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi and his disciples, Khawaja Ahmad Khan Thani, the first Gaddi Nashin of the shrine of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi, Khawaja Faqir Muhammad Abdullah Mairvi (d. 1975) and Khawaja Faqir Maqbool Mairvi (d. 2011). There are also a few graves of disciples of Khajwa Ahmad Mairvi in the tomb corridor which belong to Khawaja Pir Mehboob Ahmad (d. 2003) Khawaja Pir Fakhar Ahmad (d. 2004), Sahibzada Manzoor Ahmad and Sahibzada Zafar Ahmad Mairvi (d. 1992). To the east of the tomb of Khawaja Ahamd, there is another shrine of his disciples which contain the graves of Pir Fateh Shah, Pir Noor Ahmad Shah etc.
Apart from the tomb complex of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi, there is also located the historic Jamia mosque Maira Sharif which was built by Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi. The façade of the mosque is noted for some stone carvings.
Today the shrine of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi is visited by many people every day. During the annual Urs of the Sufi mystics of Maira Sharif, thousands of devotees of Khawaja Ahmad Mairvi and his deputies and disciples throng the shrine, coming from all over Pakistan to pay homage to their pirs.
The author is an anthropologist. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Excerpts have been taken from the author’s forthcoming book “Memories, Mystics and Monuments of Pothohar.” All photos are by the author.