Ghaus e Buner (Swat), Syed Ali Tirmidhi’s Descendant Syed Akbar Shah of Sathana

By Muhammad Shafi Sabir

Tazkara Sarfaroshan e Sarhad: Syed Akbar Shah of Sathana

One of the most vocal and active resistance leader against the Sikh Regime’s injustices was Syed Akbar Shah of Sathana. He belonged to the family of Ghaus e Buner, Hazrat Syed Ali Tirmidhi also known as Pir Baba Rahmatullah Alaihe. In tribute of Syed Akbar Shah, British Historians have this to say: “The death of Swat’s Ruler Syed Akbar Shah on the 11th of May 1857 was a good omen for our Government. This was the day when news of the war of independence had reached our offices in Peshawar. If he were alive by this time, then the political scenario of the Frontier would have been much different.”

Shah e Khurasan, Syed Ali Ghawas, Al-Ma’roof Pir Baba Buneri RA is a very respected and revered figure amongst the Ulema and Mashaikh of the Frontier. His achievements in the field of Da’wah to the people in the 16th Century are unmatched. Even amongst his offspring we find personalities whose services for Islam qualified them to be remembered by all for generations to come. Allah Ta’lah has blessed this pious family with knowledge and spirituality. The famous revolutionary leader Syed Jamaludin Afghani and Emperor of Swat Syed Akbar Shah of Sathana belonged to this family as well. All of the members of this family are treated with honour and respect.

Syed Akbar Shah was a Khalifa of Pir Baba Buneri RA. He rendered great sacrifices for uplifting the religious and social life of the people. His family is dispersed throughout the frontier but majority of them reside in Mangal Thana, Takhta Band, and Sathana in and around Buner. Originally, they belong to Asadabad in Kunarh Province of Afghanistan. The members of their family are known as ‘Tirmidhi Sadaat’ or ‘Sadaat Sathana’.

Hazrat Pir Baba was born in 1506 AD. He pursued Da’wah work throughout his area until he died in the year 1583. Maulana Ghulam Rasool Mahar writes about the Sadaat Sathana in his book ‘Sarguzasht e Mujahideen’ that:

“Syed Zaaman Shah settled in this area in the 18th Century. Since this family of the Sadaat Tirmidhi was a very respected and reverred family, therefore their settlement started to be known as ‘Astana’ or ‘Astana e Sadaat’. The original village of Sathana was on the west bank of River Indus but due to a great flood in the river in 1841, many areas were damaged. It was because of this flood that the village was re-built some distance from the river where now the present day Sathana is found.”

W.W. Hunter, a famous British Historian in his book “the Hindustani Muslims” comments that:

“The Sathana camp was evidently a religious learning place for the Muslims. The clergy here pass on Islamic teachings to their students here but in reality their main aim is to instil hatred against the British Empire in the minds of the youth and to invoke them to be prepared for a massive rebellion. Granted an opportunity, they will kidnap our officers and them have them released after we pay a heavy sum.”

Apart from the field of Da’wah, the Sadaat family have also made their mark in Jehad against the Sikhs. At a time when Sultan Muhammad Khan; the Governor of Peshawar and Dost Muhammad Khan; emperor of Afghanistan did not have the courage to face the well organised Khalsa Army, it was Syed Akbar Shah and his compatriots who faced the enemy boldly despite heavy odds.

History is witness that this was the only family in the Frontier whose every member sacrificed their life for the struggles of Syed Ahmad Barelvi Shaheed RA. Even after his death, it is the same family who devoted their wealth and self for the Mujahideen to such an extent that they even had to be exiled from their home of Sathana. When the British cannonry was bombarding their village in trying to subdue them, the Sadaat’s had to seek refuge in a mountain range ‘Balka’ just 35 miles from the area. When the British followed them to their hideouts they were again forced to seek refuge someplace else. For 50 years, the Sadaat family played this cat and mouse game with the British when finally they got the opportunity to come back to their base in Sathana and re-establish their rule.

The remarkable story behind this families achievements and struggles is that their forefather Syed Zaaman Shah left his home in Takhta Band (Buner) to travel to Delhi. During his travels, he got acquainted with an Afghan Sardar in Chach who allowed his daughter to enter wedlock with Zaaman Shah. In Delhi, the emperor granted him vast lands in Nowshera but Zaaman Shah had no intentions of pursuing worldly pleasures. He gave control of those lands to somebody else and himself pursued his travels. After the passage of some time, some Utmanzai sardar’s gave him some property in Sathana where he established his ‘Astana’. Being the offspring of Pir Baba RA, the Pashtoons throughout the Frontier treated him with much respect. After settling down, he paid a visit to Pakli in present day Hazara District. It was during this visit that he died and met his Creator in the heavens. His body was brought back to Sathana and buried there.

Syed Zaaman Shah had two sons; Syed Shah Gul and Syed Shah Mardan. Shah Gul later came to be known as Shah Jee whereas Shah Mardan died while he was still young. Shah Gul got married to Syed Sher Shah’s daughter in Gandaf. The Sadaat of Gandaf also trace their roots back to Pir Baba RA.

Shah Gul left behind six sons; Syed Azam Shah, Syed Akbar Shah, Syed Omar Shah, Syed Imran Shah, Syed Asghar Shah and Syed Shah Madaar. All of his sons were very blessed by Allah and were pious and truthful people. Amongst his sons the most outspoken, far-sighted, and with deep love of Islam was Syed Akbar Shah. Allah had blessed him with knowledge and true leadership qualities.

Syed Azam Shah was the eldest son of Shah Gul. He was married to Ahmad Ali Khan Palaal’s daughter who was also the niece of Khan Nawab Khan of Tanawal. Her other sister was married to Nawab Payinda Khan. According to family custom, it was Syed Azam Shah who would be the natural successor after the death of his father Shah Gul, but considering the extraordinary qualities of Syed Akbar Shah, he happily put his name forward.

In a sense, Syed Akbar Shah was the leading figure behind the Tehreek e Mujahideen. Syed Ahmad Barelvi RA, Shah Ismail RA, and other leaders of the movement would always consult Syed Akbar Shah for any decision making. He was also the treasurer of the movement. Throughout the subcontinent, anybody who would donate money to the Mujahideen would be given to Syed Akbar Shah for safe custody.

Maulana Ghulam Rasool Mahar in his book “Syed Ahmad Shaheed” writes that:

“Syed Sahib was still in Khabal when Syed Akbar Shah came along with his brother Syed Asghar Shah, his friends Syed Noor Jamal of Mandi and Syed Kamil Shah came in order to visit him. Due to their sincerity, the Ameer ul Mujahideen (Syed Ahmad) and other Ghazis treated them with much respect”.

Maulvi Syed Ja’far Ali Naqvi comments that:

“The mannerism of the Sadaats, especially Syed Akbar Shah is beyond our description as it can’t be elaborated in our words. From the beginning till the end, he maintained all his relations with sincerity. He was full of promise”.

In the book Waqa’i (pg 1186), Maulvi Sahib further states that:

“How can I explain his praise worthy manners or his merits? Anybody who has spent some time in his company is aware that such a good charactered, mild mannered, pious, brave, open-hearted, sincere, and truthful person could not be found anywhere else in the Frontier.”

Syed Ahmad Barelvi himself once visited Sathana with his 250 Ghazis to extend honour to Syed Akbar Shah and his family. The people of Sathana were very hospitable to him. At that time, Syed Akbar Shah’s mother was also alive and everybody, including her, pledged their allegiance (took Bait) to Syed Ahmad. During his visit to Sathana, Syed Ahmad also took time to visit Hazrat Pir Baba’s RA Shrine at Pacha Kili in Buner. After meditating at the shrine, he said, “He (Pir Baba RA) was a man of great knowledge and his stature amongst our Mashaikh is very high. I had the honour of talking with his spirit. He came and with affection held my hands and said Allah o Akbar three times.” Later on, Syed Ahmad also went to Pir Baba RA’s grandson; Syed Abdul Wahab’s Shrine for Fateha.

Due to his abilities, Ameer ul Mujahideen Syed Ahmad Barelvi laid a lot of trust in Syed Akbar Shah and thus always gave priority to his advices. When the Ameer had to leave for Panjtar from Umb in the September of 1827, he handed over control of the Umb Fort to Sheikh Buland Bakht Deobandi and also instructed him not to make major decisions without securing the approval of Syed Akbar Shah.

During his stay at Panjtar, Ameer ul Mujahideen decided to send a Lashkar with 250 men under the command of Shah Ismail Shaheed towards Pakli where they will be strengthened by the tribes there. Syed Azam Shah and Syed Akbar Shah welcomed this decision. Later on, Syed Akbar Shah confided to Maulana Syed Ismail that majority of the Khans of Pakli are hypocrites and not trustworthy. They will be on your side but during battle they will sideline themselves and just be spectators. In any case if Allah gives us victory than the booty and honour will be ours, if not we still won’t have much to lose and will go back to our homes with our heads held high. But there is a possibility that Inayatullah Khan of Khan Khel, Abdul Ghafoor Khan of Agarwar, and Nasir Khan of Battagram would abide by their promises and allegiances unlike the others.

Syed Akbar Shah personally knew all of the Khan’s of Pakli therefore he was able to make this judgement and the way events turned out proved his analysis as correct. Actually, almost all the Khans and Sardars in the Frontier were very active against each other. They never seemed to agree with one another. This was a major hurdle in the path of the Mujahideen. In such a situation, it was very difficult for them to take side with any Khan. This was also the case with Nawab Payinda Khan of Umb. One one front he was fighting the Sikhs while on the other side he was in confrontation with his very own brothers. Looking at this from one perspective, this scenario shows that Muslims have always suffered more because of their internal fighting rather than due to an outside force.

As far as Syed Akbar Shah is concerned, he was the driving force behind the biggest assault ever made against the Sikhs in the Frontier. History remembers this as the ‘Jehad of Pir Sabak’.

Jehad of Pir Sabak:

Maharajah Ranjid Singh of Punjab was a very cruel emperor of his time. According to the ‘Hazara Gazetteer’, his empire was based on terrorising the population. Similarly, it is narrated in the ‘Peshawar Gazetteer’ (pg 70) that:

“From Abasin River to the valley of Lund Khwarh, any village that you come across will either have been burnt or looted by the Sikhs … “

The Sikhs were a very big power of their time. Their army was trained by European Generals in modern warfare. They were also equipped with the best weapons and cannonry. This was the reason that the people used to shrink away and lay down their weapons at the mere mention of Ranjid Singh’s name. On the other hand, the ruling elite in Afghanistan were themselves embroiled in civil war where a brother was cutting the throat of his other brother. Therefore there was no check on the rapid advances of the Sikhs from anybody.

In 1818, Ranjid Singh captured the Attock Fort. After crossing the River Indus, he had a fort constructed at Khairabad to station the Sikh Army. Seeing the Sikhs on the doorsteps of their lands, the Pashtoons got infuriated. Thousands of Mujahideen from the Peshawar Tribes and especially the Khattaks broke upon the Sikh camp. They were able to get the upper hand temporarily but the Sikhs were well entrenched and easily repelled all attacks due to their vast numbers. If the Barakzai Emperors of Peshawar had played a positive role in this occasion, the Sikhs would never have dared continue their conquests. As soon as Maharaja Ranjid Singh ordered his forces to march on Peshawar, Yar Muhammad Khan approached the Sikh Darbar to reach a settlement and as a result agreed to pay the Sikhs annual tax. Ranjid Singh thus appointed Yar Muhammad as the Chief Tax Collector of the area and his troops pulled back to Lahore.

From amongst the Barakzai brothers, Sardar Muhammad Azim Khan was the Ruler of Afghanistan. He was personally very disappointed that his younger brother Yar Muhammad had given in to the Sikhs so easily. He sent his brother Samand Khan along with some respected Ulema to Yusufzai lands so as to motivate the people for Jehad against the Sikhs; something that Yar Muhammad hadn’t done. For this reason, Samand Khan seeked the help of Syed Akbar Shah and other respected Khans. Their efforts bore fruit and the result was that a grand Lashkar of 20,000 Yusufzai and Khattak tribesmen was organized. This lashkar stationed themselves in the Pir Sabak mountains on the left bank of River Kabul near Nowshera. The person in command of this lashkar was none other than Syed Akbar Shah.

Sensing a threat from the tribesmen, Ranjid Singh reciprocated by arranging a large number of Sikh Army to confront them. He divided the Sikh Army upon arrival at Hund into two. Command of the larger part of the army was given to the most feared general, Akali Phoola Singh. Phoola Singh and his men went to their positions facing the tribesmen in Pir Sabak The smaller part of the army was itself commanded by the Maharaja who crossed the River Kabul and took up positions on its right bank. Sardar Muhammad Azim Khan had also sent his troops from Kabul to support the tribesmen. They marched on from Nowshera and positioned themselves on the right bank as well. The aim of both the armies was to reinforce their men across the banks of the river if needed.

Everything was set up for the showdown. It was one bright morning in the March of 1823. The sky was once again going to witness what had happened centuries ago when a few muslims were confronting the Kufar at the battle of Badr. On one side were the Mujahideen who neither had proper weapons, nor cannonry. Their communication infrastructure was in shambles. On the other side were the highly organised Sikh armies; trained by European General and equipped with the most modern weapons. The Sikh General Sardar Phoola Singh had created a name for himself throughout the sub-continent. He was the person who had conquered Multan and appended it to the Sikh Empire. According to the Punjab Government Records, Phoola Singh had been given total freedom to terrorise and subjugate the Muslim populations in any way he deemed suitable. His aim was to evict the tribesmen from their mountain positions and push them back. But the Mujahideen were fighting head over heels and it was a task not so easily accomplished. The battle continued throughout the day during which the Sikhs made three attempts to push them back but they were repelled each time. All the assaults were mostly made by the Sikhs. With help from Sardar Azim Khan’s cannonry, the Sikhs could have easily been defeated because the Mujahideen were on higher ground and thus well in place. But Azim Khan acted just like a spectator of the occasion because he had no trust in his brothers. He was much more worried that Yar Muhammad Khan and Sultan Muhammad Khan were trying to strike up a deal with the Maharaja.

The battle raged till it was Asr (Late Afternoon). The Sikhs had become weary due to repeated assaults and the tribesmen were just nearing a victory. Seeing the state of his army, Maharajah Ranjid Singh himself crossed the river along with his men to reinforce the weary Sikhs. Seeing the Maharajah on his elephant, physically taking part in the battle boosted the moral of the Sikhs and they started their assaults with even more force. The Mujahideen on the other hand did not budge from their positions.

One assault was made by the Maharajah’s personal elite bodyguards and two regiments of the Gurkha’s. The Gurkha’s are renowned for their abilities in mountain warfare. The tribesmen replied by fighting with true Islamic Spirit. 10,000 of the total 20,000 tribesmen were either martyred or injured during the battle. Darkness was prevailing but the Mujahideen still fought. Two hundred Pashtoon Tribesmen were fighting off the assaults on one ledge. As their ammunition ran out, they fought with the enemy using their swords in hand-to-hand combat. All of them were martyred one by one but they did not pull back from their positions.

This was a memorable occasion in all of the Frontier’s wars. Such was the valour of the Mujahideen in Syed Akbar Shah’s command that they started assaulting the Sikhs the very next day despite suffering huge losses. Nevertheless, they were no match for the Sikhs.

The Tarkai Graveyard near Nowshera is abode of the Mujahideen who sacrificed their lives in this battle. On the other hand, the Sikh army was left licking their wounds. They had won the battle but they had to pay a great price for it. Sardar Phoola Singh; the murderer of many innocent Muslims had been killed during the battle. On his death, the Sikh Darbar called for a day of mourning. The Maharajah constructed a tomb in Pir Sabak in honour of the General and allocated thousands of Acres of cultivable land in its dominion. Sardar Muhammad Azim Khan was left on the other bank of the River. He was feeling guilty for not rushing for the much needed help of the Mujahideen on the other side. If he had even fired a couple of shots on the Sikh positions to harass them, they would have thought twice about making such open attacks. Nevertheless he was heart broken because of the attitude of his brothers. His troops headed back to Kabul but in his grief, he died on the way. He had left behind a will in which he stated that all his personal wealth be spent on the Mujahideen’s welfare and their further military preparations.

Victory in this battle raised the moral of Maharaja Ranjid Singh and he marched on to Peshawar. The marauding army destroyed the palaces and beautiful gardens of Peshawar; which the city was famous for. Anybody confronting them was killed mercilessly. Even on this occasion, Sardar Yar Muhammad and Sultan Muhammad turned a blind eye to what was happening. Instead of resisting, they showered the Sikhs with jewels, gifts, and horses so as to save their own necks. Such was their lust for power that they preferred to rule in subjugation of the Sikhs rather than be kicked out altogether.

Emperor of Hazara:

The very next year, in 1824, Syed Akbar Shah headed towards Hazara. All his confrontations on the way were against the Sikhs and in all of them he provided full fledged support to the Tehreek e Mujahideen. When Maharaja Ranjid Singh died, civil war ensued in the Sikh Kingdom as a result of which they were weakened significantly. Not only this but they also suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of the British. As the government fell apart, so did the infrastructure in the Hazara and the Frontier. The Sikhs may have been cruel but at least there was some form of government in place. In the absence of any government the lives, honour and health of the people are at stake. In such a critical situation, Syed Akbar Shah recommended that a grand Loya Jirga be held in Haripur which would comprise of representatives of all the Hazara Tribes. The Jirga ended with the conclusion that the people of Hazara would not be subjugated to any Raja or Sardar and that no form of government would be accepted apart from an Islamic one where Islamic Shariah Law will be the Supreme Law. The Jirga nominated Syed Akbar Shah as the ruler of Hazara and Ghulam Khan Tarin & Nawab Khan of Shingarhi as his Viziers.

The entire nation agreed to the payment of Zakah & Ushr and conflicts & cases were settled according to Shariat-e-Muhammadi. Thus for the very first time an Islamic Welfare state was established on this land where the people heaved a sigh of relief. But unfortunately this state was given a very small breathing space because of the invasion of the British in 1849. The locals recall this small period of Islamic rule as ‘Landai Musalmani’ (Brief rule of Muslims). The efforts and sacrifices of Syed Akbar Shah for this purpose are evident to all.

The people of the Frontier appreciated the leadership of Syed Akbar Shah and had a lot of faith in him. Until now the lands of Swat, Buner and its surrounding environs had never been under the subjugation of any outside power. But with the advent of the British in the area in 1849, they immediately started military campaigns in the areas. An infantry from the Guides Regiment under the command of Risaldar Fateh Khan Khattak attacked the Yusufzai lands. In one such attack on Bagh Kali in the Panjtar mountains, all the houses in the village were burnt. But due to feeling insecure in the areas, they used to pull back to the Mardan cantonment after each campaign.

In those days a spiritual leader; Ghaus-e-Swat Akhund Sahib Abdul Ghafoor was the crownless king of both Swat and Buner. The people used to seek guidance from him in any issue whether personal or political. Akhund Sahib and other respected Ulema were quite surprised with the open and rude aggression of the British and decided to fight back in order to upkeep their freedom and honour. He very well realized the fact that the key to keeping the British back was unity amongst the tribes. For this reason he called for a Jirga to be held in Saidu Sharif which was attended by representatives of all tribes. Akhund Sahib made an appeal to all the tribes that if they seek freedom and peace than they should unite and establish a government based on the principles of Islamic Shariah. All the participants of the Jirga agreed to the idea but only one member named Khan Ghazan Khan of Dir walked away.

After consultations with the representatives of the tribes, Hazrat Akhund Sahib nominated Syed Akbar Shah of Pir Baba Rahmatullah Alaihe’s household as the Ameer. Considering his leadership qualities and his past record, all the tribes agreed to the nomination and thus Syed Akbar Shah was appointed as the King in 1850. Thus Syed Akbar Shah was honoured in a way the likes of which no one else in the Frontier ever experienced. Apart from the local tribes, Syed Akbar Shah was also supported by leaders of the Tehreek-e-Mujahideen. Along with this, Hazrat Akhund Sahib was given the title of Sheikh-ul-Islam and thus a government based on Shariah Law was established in Swat, Buner and its environs.

Such were the blessings of this imposition that the whole area became a citadel of peace. People started living their lives according to Islamic principles and their issues were settled in Islamic Courts. Everybody happily paid Zakat and Ushr where necessary. This peaceful atmosphere lived on until 11th of May 1857. This was the day on which Mujahed-e-Islam Syed Akbar Shah left this world to meet the Creator in the heavens. Incidentally, news of the War of Independence reached Peshawar on this day as well. The British Commissioner of Peshawar at that time commented upon the death of Syed Akbar Shah that, “If he were alive by this time, than the political scenario of the Frontier would have been much different.”

After the death of Syed Akbar Shah, his son Syed Mubarak Shah was appointed as the Ameer of the Islamic Government. But later on, the role was given to the children of Akhund Sahib’s family. Mian Gul Abdul Wadood Khan had established the Swat State on grounds of Islamic Principles. His son; Miangul Abdul Haq Jehanzeb’s reforms and policies made it a progressive, modern and Ideal Islamic State. Miangul Jehanzeb performed his duties with devotion until 1966 when the Swat State was abolished and absorbed into Pakistan as a district of Malakand Division.

[Publishing Date: Friday, September 16, 2005]
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See Also: 

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How my grandmother (nani) and others provided a taste of our traditions and culture:
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    1. Anonymous Avatar

      The Shajra on the tombstone is disputed. According to another version, he is a descendant of Hazrat Hasan Askari rather than Hazrat Muhammad Samrqandi. Only Allah knows the best.

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