Faqir Janan Chan
Sufi Faqir Jan Muhammad alias Janan Chan, Sadiq Ali - a Sufi master, a mystic poet and a humanist, was born in 1895 AD/1313 AH in a small village of Thariree Hajra, Larkana region in Sindh (the southern province of Pakistan).
He was named Jan Muhammad by his parents. Raheem Khatoon, the mother; a housewife and Muhammad Hassan Chan, the father; a religion teacher in local madressah.
Jan Muhammad grew up with his four brothers and lived a simple village life. At the school-going-age, he was sent for basic Arabic lessons for progression to Quranic studies. His father had given up teaching then and had repudiated the usual way of life. He had made his living in the wilds, near the village, aloof, alone on his own.
Jan Muhammad, however, in three years, couldn’t do any better than grasping Alif - the first character of Arabic language and had covered hardly a quarter of the basics. Eventually, his teacher called upon his elder brothers, and advised to make a shepherd of the boy. By then, Jan Muhammad was eleven, and his father had disappeared without leaving any trace. The grownup sons looked for their father but never found his whereabouts.
Jan Muhammad grew up, a responsible shepherd and a dignified laborer, a thoughtful and an intuitive fellow. He became immensely inspired by the poetry of Shah Latif Bhitai, whose poems were sung and quoted by the commoners & the learned, equally (and so is true to date), Jan Muhammad began to express his feelings and thoughts in poetry. He adopted ’Janan Chan’ as his nom de plume.
He would write about beauty & love and the miserable life with never settled rights of a peasant and a labor.
In the year 1919, Janan Chan joined the Khilafat movement (1919-1924) contributing with his patriotic songs along with his younger brother; Muhammad Buksh Chan. They would participate at public gatherings and meetings in Larkana & other parts of the province, singing in the traditional folk way, using yaktaro (a single stringed Indus Valley instrument).
Janan Chan married the woman he loved and the couple was blessed in due course of time with five daughters and four sons. He continued to earn livelihood as a peasant and used to work on a farmland owned by a Hindu landlord. After the Indo-Pak partition that land was allotted to him by the government but he refused to own it and gave it up for the needy laborers.
His passion for finding the ultimate truth; to unveil the mystery behind the creations, and to understand the logic for the labors of life, often drove him into debates. He would dialogue in plain talk or through his poetry with the literate, the intellectual folks and the orthodox. He, in his soil, was a proponent of human rights, freedom of expression, and an antagonist of unfairness. His trust in the Unseen was definite, he believed; ’Today, He has given tomorrow, He will!’
Humbleness was one of his attributes but he stood bravely belligerent in the face of the false preaching and obtuse traditions sold under the flag-pole of religion.
When the movements for the rights of peasants began to rise in the Indo-Pak states, Janan Chan joined Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi- a revolutionist, leftist, peasant leader in Sindh. The opponent to Comrade Jatoi, Haji khan Kalhoro, a wealthy landlord attempted to win-off Janan Chan to his support but failed.
Janan Chan had found a wider platform to do more what he had always been doing in his own capacity. His role as an active stalwart of the movement and of an action-igniting poet made him popular in region of Larkana. That wasn’t the end, merely the beginning of his long carried aim.
Meeting the Master
He nurtured his longing to serve the helpless. His thirst, though, for the true existence kept him ever the restless. He often recalled his father and had visions, where he met him but briefly. To express his feelings, he sang his poems and of the Sufi masters. And to learn formal singing, he found a teacher; Syed Ghulam Hussain Shah, whose genre was classical and folk, he belonged to Multan (Lower Punjab). Shah became his mentor for Raag as well as a companion. He played harmonium and Janan Chan sang with his yaktaro. They traveled occasionally to the other villages of Sindh, paid reverences at various shrines of Sufi saints. And they attended Kachehri, a traditional gathering peculiar to Sindh usually held on lunar dates.
Janan Chan’s urge for a spiritual guide mounted in time. He expressed it to Shah, who assured him the answer for his quest. Shah took him to a village called Shahani (Ranipur), one of the stations of the Sufi master they had traveled to see. There, he observed that that figure was giving away money to the needy and there the thought crossed his mind: ’the master is a wealthy man…’and that master replied reading his mind; ’there were times when we did not even see coinage, as for now, we don’t adore it …’
Again he wondered; ’there may still be a better master somewhere…’and the master spontaneously responded; ’sure! One needs a heart to believe that “that is the master”,’
Janan Chan remained in awe, stayed over for two nights, yet indecisive. He headed to the shrine of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, whose articulations had always inspired him. Upon reaching there, he realized as always, that Bhitai’s teachings were alive in his works only, as for his legacy there were no more true practitioners to impart the spiritual discipline, only amateurs.
So, he returned, and found out that the master had gone to his other station, near Kot Diji. When he reached there, the master welcomed him and remarked:
’Bhitai has given away his earned wisdom in such a profusion that had that been followed; everyone in Sindh, would have been a Vali (saint)’ and continued ’when we buy even an earthenware vessel, we tap it to check if it’s intact…Bhitai is ever praise-worthy, be glad, you observed those too, who pretend to be following him…’
That was the greatest Sufi master of the time; Syed Imam Mehdi Shah Jahania, the master & the leader for the spiritual path, a pure Sufi Faqir of Al-Hyderi discipline a poet, a humanist (Departed: 1968, shrine at Shahpur Jahania, Morom Sindh, lineage with Syed Sher Shah Jalal Surk-posh Bukhari of Uch Sharif). It was 1951, Janan Chan, had finally found the Guide for the spiritual journey.
With his master’s spiritual teachings, he adopted a Sufic life in due course of time. Bright orange color cloth, being the symbol of belongingness to the sufi school of thought was given to him by his master. The master gave him a name too reflecting an assigned role; hence Janan Chan was titled Sadiq Ali- the teller of the truth. Continually adopting arduous disciplines, in a decade, Jan Muhammad evolved from a disciple in to a master himself, and was declared so with great appreciation and encouragement by his spiritual-leader. On the other hand, he was forsaken by his brothers and relatives, who were inspired of fundamentalism, except his mother, wife and children. He transformed his dress code and outlook gradually; by wearing cattle-bells in a rope, worn like a long necklace, jingling anklets, on a half-armed long white rob that was awarded to him by his master for his hard works. He moved further on, and wore a dhoti, a janiyo/zanaar (a thread with a bead round the neck and right arm worn by Brahman Hindus) on his forehead he wore a Hindu like tilak; the entire outlook of a non-Muslim. Socially, people looked down on him, something he found himself to be happy with, for he knew what was he earning i.e. Malamat [Persian, meaning; disapproval by the worldly people in order to gain Qurbat/closeness with the Creator] one of the practices by the Al-Hydery discipline in Sufism. It wasn’t all, those, who had grudges for him from the past, felt stronger and did all that was possible for them to hurt or hunt him. Like most of the revolutionists and Sufis Janan Chan too had to voluntarily migrate quite a few times, not due to inconvenience direct to him or his family by the villagers but to his students and disciples who regularly visited him. False court cases were lodged against him and to everybody’s surprise he pleaded guilty. He explained what he was thinking; ’Jail is considered hell, I decided to see it, that way he who wants me to suffer will be pleased and I will get to see the hell where everybody else longs for heaven…’
The indictments involved theft and attempt to murder; the total sentence technically would have been nearly seven years of imprisonment. For the later indictment Qazi Fazallullah - a very well reputed senior advocate of Sindh appeared for Janan Chan before the judge and acknowledged that that was enlightened to him through vision to defend the mystic. The judges in both the events realized the intention of Janan Chan, though he did not reveal it. Conclusively, he spent ten months in imprisonment at Sukkur Jail, during that period twelve prisoners embraced the righteous path and living by becoming his students in jail, and a many became his admirers. Jan Muhammad helped them through spiritual lessons and teachings of Sufism to overcome their weaknesses and get strong on the positive aspects and feeling closeness with the Lord.
The accounts of his life are vindication that counters the widely perceived image of Sufis as anti-social and anti-struggle people. Fortunately, Janan Chan’s biographical data is in sufficient detail unlike most of the Sufi masters, poets and mystics of the by-gone era in the Indus valley. All the Sufis though struggled hard and fought for the human rights and the betterment of the human society they dwelt, on the whole but their services and approaches have often been deliberately misinterpreted, rejected and opposed by the hypocrites present in the domination.
In the year 1963, the historic Gharr Canal, in Larkana region was an approved but ignored public project. It was meant to convene the dire need for means of irrigation in the entire region. Thousands of acres of land and helpless peasants waited for some relief. Hundreds of applications were written to the concerned authorities by the affected people whose livelihood depended on agriculture. The issue didn’t escape Janan Chan’s attention and he decided to appeal to a minister whose residence was in Larkana; Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Mr. Bhutto was then the foreign minister. Janan Chan in his usual Sufi dress up arrived at a political gathering, where Mr. Bhutto was the chief guest in Laloo Rank, (Larkana). The general attendance was surprised to see him in the socially non-acceptable and on the top ’a non-Muslim’ appearance. He managed to grab the opportunity to draw the attention of Mr. Bhutto. In a poem Janan Chan addressed his appeal for Gharr canal issue in his enthusiastic way, clearly pointing out the corrupt bureaucracy as the root cause of the problem. Mr. Bhutto listened to him keenly, with all the attention, greatly admiring & appreciating his effort. The matter was looked in to detail by Mr. Bhutto and Janan Chan was kept involved for the progress. Eventually the issue was resolved and the canal was made fully functional providing relief to hundreds of thousands of folks and it continues to serve to this day.
The blunt and fearless way of Janan Chan impressed Mr. Bhutto, who spoke of him to Ayub Khan- then the President of the country. The President found it hard to believe that during his marshal law in effect, a common man could be so daring. Mr. Bhutto told him it’s the quality of Faqir; who is fearless. The President decided to see him.
On an occasion the President visited Larkana region and asked Mr. Bhutto to invite the Faqir. When he was asked to present the poem about Gharr canal issue before the President, Janan Chan presented a new one. In that poem he became the voice of the country and addressed the President directly, about the corruption, lawlessness and injustice during his regime. The audience feared that the president may issue order to shoot the Faqir for his insolence but he was rather appreciated both by the President and Mr. Bhutto.
Janan Chan had lived all his life as an egalitarian and always opposed gathering of wealth
At different times he was awarded of agricultural land by the President Ayub Khan and Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, forty three (43) acres collectively.
Of that he didn’t keep a single for himself, or even for his sons. He voluntarily gave up in writing, the ownership to the peasants who used to cultivate those lands and to those who were the destitute and continued as a wayfarer himself.
Giving away, his food to feed the starved, and his possessions to help the deprived were his ethics. He once attempted to sell himself in the local bazaar of Warah (Larkana district), to help a poor and aged man pay off his debt. Janan Chan was hired against the amount of 1200 rupees to work for a month, looking after cattle of a local doctor. Who was known as Dr. Pir Saheb Qureshi, and was surely a man of wisdom. He paid within a week amount promised to the poor man to pay off his debt, and Jan Muhammad served the contract.
He inspired through his actions and preached by practicing. At one occasion Janan Chan sold his bull along with the cart to bail out, one of his students who was arrested by local police accused for theft.
Janan Chan defied the customs of purported spiritual leaders in the region. Who, in the name of religious leadership & master-hood, have customs that make them rich and their followers burdened; where the masters live lavishly, ripping off their devotees of their wealth and personal possessions; a corrupt and a murky tradition.
He condemned such practices and has strongly criticized such a culture in his poetry and teachings.
One of his important contributions was encouraging his students to sing and hence spread the thought in folk way. That brought the demand of simple but traditional musical instruments back, a lot of which were in fading phase but due to Janan Chan’s growing number of students using to play those instrument they were saved from extinction.
In the year 1975, he got Peecher Canal (Dadu district) functioning. The chief engineer for irrigation Mr. Ghulam Rasool Shahani and Janan Chan both happened to be students of the same spiritual master.
He in his unique way presented the cry of the Peecher canal in poetic form and Mr. Shahani took great interest. The issue was dealt with, bringing relief to thousands of farmers and villagers. Similarly, another canal, though a smaller one, was gotten approved and functioning with the efforts of Janan Chan. He named it ’Ali Behr Wah’ Ocean of Ali and it was for a small village of the Changani a Baloch tribe, (near Wagan, a small town in Larkana district).
The greatest of his services was his guiding the people that had gone astray. Healing their weak and forlorn spirits, he showed them the righteous path and gave them hope for life, here and here-after. In decades, the number of his followers multiplied from hundreds to thousands throughout the province. He enlightened the path for true seekers, and people from all walks of life became his students. Quite a few gave up forever their unlawful ways of living; a lot many rectified their characters respectively. He brought a considerable number of families from the local gypsy tribes to the light Islam. He would never enforce any rites rather believed that effectiveness of actions depended upon the intention and personal will of the individual.
Accused for Blasphemy
It has always been ’fruit of the hard-work’ for Sufis and saints; to be accused of profanity! Whether they were in East as Mansur-al-Hallaj who was executed for blasphemy in Turkey (Then Greater Persia-309 AH/ 922 AD) or in West as Joan of Arc, executed on 30 May 1431 accused of heresy, in Rouen, France (Then England).
Shams Tabrizi’s (465AH/1248AD) skin was peeled off in Baghdad;
Sarmad was beheaded for heretical poetry, by the order of Emperor Aurangzeb in India (1661);
Makhdoom Bilawal was pulverized in a seed grinder under false accusation of dishonoring Quran, by the Arghoon rulers (in Sindh, 30th Safar 929AH/1523 AD).
Shah Inayat a Sufi master and a peasant revolutionist, was executed for revolting against the feudal system, by the Kalhora rulers of Sindh (Then Greater India- 1701 AD)
In 1991 Janan Chan along with his followers was accused of atheism, profanity and having formed a cult of non-Islamic believes. The allegations had finer and interesting details, like a tale, all hoaxed by an orthodox mullah and a many opponents of Sufism. That mullah, namely Shamsuddin Mughul, was a resident of Hussainabad, Hyderabad, whose adult son Qamer-uddin Mughul had become a student of Janan Chan.
He gathered like-minded people spreading the word, and eventually launched a formal campaign bringing notoriety to the Sufi master. As a result, Janan Chan and his devotees gained controversial prominence nation-wide. As concerns were raised against their heretic character in the local and national newspapers, more of the masses got to hear about them.
Trial & Death penalty
The clerics from four major sects, summarizing; Ahl-e-Sunna, Fiqah-e-Jafria, Devbandi, Ahl-e-Hadith, declared Janan Chan and his league as atheists and formally decreed; death-penalty.
Consequently, raids and arrests were made, in Hyderabad by the Hussainabad police where the formal complaint was lodged in the month of August 1991. A few of Janan Chan’s devotees were taken in to custody (including the author of this article). Throughout the province of Sindh, orange color dress depicting the belongingness to Janan Chan was being condemned and mocked at. Janan Chan was 96 then, he set out from Pyaro (a small village in district Dadu) one of his temporary habitats to voluntarily present himself to the police. A significant number of devotees insisted to go along with him, however he declined their requests.
With fourteen disciples on the day of 30th August 1991, Janan Chan reached the station, gave himself along with his disciples in to the custody. And later in the evening they were shifted to the Nara Jail Hyderabad. There he joined a similar number of his students and disciples who were arrested a week before him.
Janan Chan while he was in the special cells with his followers, attempted to give way to them. He suggested to all his devotees that they could save themselves from the inevitable death sentence if they walked out on him.
He explained that it was him the one condemned, if they expressed disapproval of him they could walk free with little or no imprisonment. The students actualized and insisted if they would give up on him they wouldn’t be true followers.
On the other hand when the court of Magistrate of Hyderabad called upon the plaintiffs to appear for the trial, they denied appearing in the presence of Janan Chan in the court; fearing that ’the atheist leader might cause death or considerable harm with his black magic or wrath…’
They insisted that Janan Chan must not be given the right of defend himself, as he is an atheist and the court must pass the decree, for him and his followers to be hanged till death.
However the court decided to dismiss the case, as it being baseless and false, with no witnesses to come forward, and no evidence to prove the charges.
The judges had realized the matter, it was a reiterate of usual orthodox grudge for and dominance over Sufis as found in the history, and ordered that all the accused should be released.
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto meets Janan Chan
In the year 1994, the word about the acquaintance and fellowship of Martyr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with Faqir Janan Chan reached Benazir Bhutto’s notice. She decided to meet her father’s friend and arranged to see him in person. The meeting took place at the Prime Minister house, Naon Dero, a small town in the vicinity of Larkana. She sat down on the carpet with Janan Chan and asked for blessings and guidelines. She insisted to offer her services to him of financial and social nature; whatever he would accept.
Janan Chan assured her that for him, his Master Imam Mehdi was sufficient for ever and he didn’t need any service to be provided. For the blessings, he told her that Martyr Bhutto, her reverent father, was blessed by Janan Chan’s master, hence that continues. As for the guidelines; he clearly addressed her as:
’You, your mother and your brother (Martyr Mir Murtaza Bhutto, Assassinated on 20th September 1996) must stay united then no one shall defeat you…’
’Get rid of the corrupt members in your political alliances, who thrive on bribery and confiscation of rights of the common people…’
’Serve the poor…’
’And do pay your reverence at the shrine of Master Syed Imam Mehdi Shah Jahania, in Shahpur Jahania...’
After the brief but succinct meeting, Benazir Bhutto with her wish got a two room quarter constructed right next to the hut of Janan Chan (However he never resided there and it is used as a guest house for the visitors to his shrine.) in the village of Mondar Lakha, Naseerabad, Larkana, the last abode of Janan Chan.
From the year 1992, accounts of his life and work on his poetry and lectures had started by the author of this article. By the year 1995 Janan Chan had given a lot of time to the culling and compiling of his poetic works and saw it completed. He by then had shared significant details of events of his century on earth. From the month of August 1995, his health began to decline. After having undergone successful treatment for urology at Dr. Adeeb Rizvi Ward (Civil Hospital Karachi) in November the same year, he returned to Mondar Lakha to his home.
On the eve of December 23rd, he asserted to his disciple Aman Ali, who used to nurse him that he would depart the world at dawn. Before the sunrise on 24th December 1995 / Shuaban the 1st 1416 AH, Janan Chan passed away. His death saddened countless hearts across the country and his funeral was a communal vista. His was buried adjacent to his abode in Mondar Lakha, of where the villagers felt honored to have his body rested in their village.
His annual celebrations are held at his shrine every year and his poems are echoed throughout the country.
Janan Chan in his poetic works unfolded many a mysteries and elaborated in depth a lot of indications by the masters of by-gone era. He was an aficionado of the poetry and expressions of the Great Sufi Master Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai. In his works reflections of the basic ideologies highlighted by former great Sufi masters are found.
He, in the year 1993, titled the collection of his poetry which comprises of almost six hundred poems ’Haq Esbaat’ i.e. Truth evident. It was first published in parts but in 1997 in the form of one book by the author of this article. In his works, he has bridged the ravines, reviving the message of Wahdat-ul-Wujud the unity of existence, and has described a lot more than ever before him. He changed the approach to the understanding of the major Tariqah disciplines of Sufism i.e Naqshbandi, Chishti, Qadri, Suharwardi and Al-Hyderi. He defined them ’unified’ and ’interlinked’ as components and functions of the Sufi way.
Janan Chan’s sons too were his disciples, namely Faqir Shoukat Ali Chan (departed 1997) and Faqir Fateh Ali Chan (martyred 2003) who carried forward his message and teachings. Through out Sindh and parts of Balochistan Janan Chan’s disciples and devotees are living the Sufic way. His grand sons live a simple Sufic life in huts by his shrine and keeping alive his message and teachings.