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A Curious tale of Aghas the Guardians/ Caretakers of Masjid Nabawi

A Curious tale of Aghas the Guardians of Masjid Nabawi

The curious tale of the Aghas / the Abyssinian Guardians of Masjid Nabawi

The Prophet’s Mosque is also known as Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, where Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) is buried. This mosque represents one of the three oldest mosques in the world and is located in Medina.

The history of Masjid Nabawi is incomplete without the mention of the Guardians who have their own story.These Interesting People hail from Abyssinia .They are eununchs who love to live in seclusion.

Watch the History of Masjid Nabawi-Documentry

There are also known as Aghas or the aghwats .Agha is a non-Arabic word derived from Turkish. The Turkish word comes from the Old Turkic aqa, meaning “elder brother”. In Makkah and Madinah, the word was used to respectfully address people who were selected to serve in the holy mosques.

Who are the Guardians /Aghas or the Aghawat of Masjid Nabawi?

The Guardians /Aghas, or eunuch servants /caretakers of the masjid Nabawi have a long and illustrious history, dating back to the mid-12th century. This group of Guardians(also known as the Aghwats), hailing from Abyssynia (a region in northern Ethiopia), hold the keys to both the Prophet Muhammad’s burial chamber and the minbar (mosque’s pulpit). At one time, their numbers rose to over one hundred strong. Today, this tradition has now shrunk to a handful of Guardians. Indeed, three of those whom Al-Quraishi documented have subsequently sadly passed away.

In the past the aghas were involved in 42 activities. They washed the mataf (the circumambulation area around the Kaaba), cleaned the Haram and burned the lanterns. Today their service is limited to receiving the king and serving state guests visiting the holy cities.

They served the guests Zamzam, holy water from the Zamzam well located within the Grand Mosque just 20 meters away from the Holy Kaaba. They also helped segregate men and women worshippers during circumbulation.

At the Prophet’s Mosque, they cleaned the Prophet’s chamber and opened it to state guests when required. They also received the guests and accompanied them to the Prophet’s chamber.

The History of Aghas-

The aghas dedicated their lives to the service of the two holy mosques. Throughout history, they put on special gowns and sashes while serving in the mosques.

The system dates back to the era of Caliph Muawiya Bin Abu Sufyan. He was the first Muslim ruler to appoint servants in the Holy Kaaba from among slaves while his son Caliph Yazid appointed eunuchs to serve the sacred precincts.

Author Rafaat Basha believes that Caliph Abu Jaafar Al-Mansour was the first to organize aghas in the Grand Mosque in Makkah. According to him, the history of aghas in the Prophet’s Mosque dates back to the time of Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi.

Historical photographs of chambers of keepers of Madina /Aghas

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One can sense the different characters and characteristics on display and Quraishi’s camera manages to imbue the portraits with the weight of history. This last group of Guardians will have seen Mecca develop from a small pilgrim town to the metropolis it is today. Next to Sheikh Saeed Adam Omar’s sombre visage, there are seven portraits that highlight the stately visages of the last of the Guardians. Sheikh Ahmed Ali Yaseen peers into the frame with a playful expression on his face, appearing to be concealing a secret and a smile. Sheikh Abdo Ali Shaikh is impassive, staring off into the distance and refusing to meet the camera’s lens with his eyes. He appears deep in contemplation. Sheikh Ahmed Masibo Saleh, dressed in pure white, looks frankly and sedately out from his portrait. They are the last of the Guardians — there will be no others after them. Quraishi acknowledges the historical significance of his portraits. “Photographing the Guardians was not just an artistic practice but a historical documentation also. Three of the Guardians have passed away since the photographs were taken in 2013 and others are all quite elderly. That makes these portraits quite unique and made me realise that I had to capture them correctly to do them justice,” he said.

At one time the Guardians numbered in the thousands, there are now only five remaining, who live in recluse and spend their days in a small room connected to the burial chamber itself. Though they have an 800 year history, their existence is ephemeral, they drink their coffee in paper cups and break their fast with a piece of bread, not leaving marks or keeping belongings there, remaining transient in their role as keepers of the chamber. Though they are glad to meet and connect with anyone who visits them, they live modestly and quietly, and without many dealings in the outside world.

In 2013, the governor of Medina commissioned Quraishi to photograph the remaining Guardians, an historic documentation of their final generation for the 2014 exhibition, ‘Letters and Illumination’ in Medina. As the only man to have ever been permitted to photograph them, the photographs hold enormous historical significance as documentation of their final generation, the oldest of whom is over 110 years of age. “I was aware of them as a kid”, Quraishi recalls, “In particular of the great authority in their dress. I was not aware they still existed, there was no coverage of them in the media, and we thought they were extinct. I think the reclusive nature of their community was a conscious decision made by the Guardians themselves. It is part of their character. Because the order of my portraits came from the government to their Sheikh, got dressed, sat for the photographs, and left. The surprising thing was that they were not interested in documenting their story at all. They only agreed because they were asked. It was clear the Sheikh who received the request was the alpha male of the group and as they take their responsibilities and duties very seriously, he took this order from the government as a professional obligation.”

Quraishi describes the large scale of the photographs as fitting to the magnitude of his subjects. The intimacy and emotions of his subjects are striking and disarming in the enormity of the portraits. Quraishi explains, “As a photographer, I can connect to people more than I connect with still life. In a very deep way there were emotions not easily expressed, but I still felt it. You feel at ease around them. They have very balanced personalities. There was light in the room – not my own lighting, but there was something beyond that. A beautiful energy.”

During their tenure, they have seen major changes in Medina, they recall a time before electricity when the entire mosque was lit with one lamp. During the holy month of Ramadan, they recollect two lines of men present for prayers, today crowds spill past the expansions. With these vast changes and in their old age, they have taken on fewer responsibilities, they open the burial chamber for visits, from heads of states and dignitaries, but chief among their tasks, they maintain the burial chamber, and with greatest care take their time to wash its floors with rosewater. In future, it will be left to the religious community to decide whom the next custodians of the key and chamber will be.

Of the five men photographed, their leader, known as the Sheikh of the Azzawat, passed away since sitting for his portrait. Quraishi says of their new Sheikh, “He was succeeded by the most interesting character of them all. I had to travel three times to Medina to photograph him. When I finally met him I asked, ‘Where were you?’. He said, ‘I was in Texas.’ He had family there who was studying and he went to visit them. He was such an interesting character, very different from the others, and he became their Sheikh, and justifiably so. He speaks English and I’m sure he learnt other languages. Can you imagine what he would answer at immigration when asked of his profession?”

The Guardians can still be seen roaming the prayer halls of the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina but it is an increasingly rare sight. For many Muslims, a chance encounter with one of the elderly Guardians is a momentous occasion, remembered by children and grandchildren. Soon the Guardians will be relegated to the annals of history but they will live on through Quraishi’s elegantly shot portraits. Quraishi has an ongoing relationship with the Guardians and prays by their side of his frequent visits to Medina, “Inshallah I will continue to be their friend as long as God keeps them all alive – for me it is an honour and a pleasure.”

The Guardians exhibition is on display at Leighton House from 21 October to 29 November 2015 as a part of the Nour Festival of Arts, celebrating contemporary arts and culture from the Middle East and North Africa.

If You want to Know more about this Topic,you can read this book :

Eunuchs and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society (Studies in Middle Eastern History)

This article first appeared in Tribe Photo Issue 00 / 2015 and Images of guardians are collected from other sources.

JazakAllah Khair.

Related articles : Secrets of Masjid Nabawi and Ziyarah places in Mecca and you might like to check our other articles on Mecca/Madina


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Pakistani Actor Hamza Ali Abbasi,ex aetheist to quit acting for Allah and to Spread Islam.

In a video shared by him on Twitter, Hamza Ali Abbasi spoke about his journey – how he became an atheist when he was 14-15 years old and how science “brought him back” being a theist when he went to the US.

“I want to spend the rest of my life talking about God,” Abbasi said in the video-sharing that his decision is based on 10 years research.

Abbasi, who recently married Naimal Khawar, said that now he will try to shape his life in accordance with Islam and will try to spread across the message through various platforms.

“Being an ‘ex-atheist’, I want to share the answers I have received about God with people. I don’t want to debate or convince people, I just want to share,” he said and added that if he will make any movie or show, then it will be about Islam.

Read –What Allah says to the disbelievers

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babri masjid demolisher now a muslim

Man involved in Babri Masjid demolition now builds mosques to wash away guilt

Do you know that Kar sevak from Haryana who was part of Babri Masjid demolition, now preaches Islam, builds masjids ?He has built 90 Mosque so far.

Aamir, a former Shiv Sena leader from Panipat, Haryana often recalls the fateful day of December 6, 1992, that marked the demolition of Babri Masjid.

Aamir said that along with his friend Mohammed Umar, formerly Yogendra Pal, he had vowed to construct the Sri Ram Mandir at Ayodhya demolishing the masjid. Today, the two are fulfilling their pledge to renovate 100 mosques, in an attempt to purge themselves of their sins.

On December 1, 1992, Aamir reached Ayodhya to join thousands of kar sevaks coming from across the country. On December 6 that year, according to Aamir, he was the first man to climb the middle dome.

“We feared that the army might have been deployed in large number. But on ground there was hardly any security, that gave us a boost and we were mentally prepared to demolish the masjid that day,” said Mohammed Aamir.

Aamir along with many other kar sevaks from Sonipat and Panipat demolished the dome with spades and pickaxes.

“When I reached my home town Panipat after that I was given a hero’s welcome by the people,” Aamir said.

“But at home, my family’s reaction shocked me. My secular family denounced my actions. I had participated in the kar seva because I felt strongly about it, but I realized later that I was wrong.”

Mohammed Aamir, born a Rajput, said, “I realized that I had taken law in my hands and violated the constitution of India. Guilty, I embraced Islam.”

Ref :India Today.

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#Hijabisanidentity- Hijab walk to Stop the discrimination and marginalization of Muslim women and girls.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right in the Ghanaian legal system. To be specific Article 21 (c) of the 1992 Constitution states: “All persons shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.”

Unfortunately, most Muslim women and girls living in Ghana have dealt with individuals who exert their biases and bigotry into institutional cultures. Thus, making it impossible for Muslim women to wear the hijab as part of their religious freedoms stipulated in the 1992 constitution.

The #Hijabisanidentity campaign pushes for the right of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab to be free to do so without intimidation from any individual or institution.

Why do Muslim Woman Wear Hijab.

Recently, an invigilator of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) asked a candidate to remove her hijab before sitting her exams. This latest move sparked a recent social media campaign by Islam advocates dubbed: #Hijabisanidentity

They believe the successful campaign which culminated in a massive demonstration in some regions – North, Ashanti and Accra – will help shake up some traditionally-held cultural misconceptions about the female Muslim identity. On Saturday October 12, Ghanaian Muslim women marched for their right to wear the hijab. The #Hijabisanidentity campaign is still on.

Stop policing Women’s bodies!

My hijab, my CHOICE My choice, my right

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Sinead o connor

Sinéad O’Connor Performs in Hijab.Says : ‘I have been a Muslim all my life and I didn’t realise it’

Dublin: Singer Sinead O’Connor stepped out in a traditional hijab with her son after converting to Islam in October.

The 52-year-old wore a bright red abaya and matching hijab when she appeared on “The Late Late Show” in Dublin on Friday night, reports ” the sun”

Earlier in the day, she arrived at the studio with her son, 15-year-old Shane Lunny, who looks exactly like his mom.

Sinead was dressed more casually in blue trousers, a matching belted shirt, and a navy cardigan. She complete the look with a dark blue headscarf. Shane carried his mother’s red abaya to the venue.

Shane apart, Sinead is also mother to 32-year-old Jake, 23-year-old Roisin and 12-year-old Yeshua.

In October last year, Sinead announced that she had converted to Islam, changing her name to Shuhada Davitt.

Sinéad O’Connor has described how she felt “at home” after reading the Koran and subsequently embracing the Muslim religion.

The singer, who has returned following a five-year hiatus from touring, announced her decision to “revert” to Islam almost a year ago and says she often wears the hijab as a means of signalling her new-found beliefs.

The word ‘revert’ refers to the idea that if you were to study the Koran you would realise that you were a Muslim all your life and you didn’t realise it. That’s what happened to me,” she said on Friday night’s Late Late Show.

“I am 52. I grew up in a very different Ireland to the one that exists now and it was a very oppressed country religiously speaking. And everybody was miserable; nobody was getting any joy in God.

”The singer, who has long captivated audiences with her views on Irish life, spoke about reading the scriptures as a child and later exploring other religious texts “trying to find the truth about God”. She left Islam until last because she held her own prejudices about the religion, she said.

Ref :”The Sun”

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oldest rural mosque

Archeologists finds the World’s Oldest Rural Mosque in Israel

 Archaeologists in Israel have discovered the remains of one of the world’s oldest rural mosques, built around the time Islam arrived in the holy land,

world's oldest rural mosque

The Israel Antiquities Authority estimates that the mosque, uncovered ahead of new construction in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev desert, dates back to the 7th to 8th centuries.

There are large mosques known to be from that period in Jerusalem and in Makkah but it is rare to find a house of prayer so ancient whose congregation is likely to have been local farmers, the antiquities authority said.

Play the Quiz : Identify these Mosques

Excavated at the site were the remains of an open-air mosque — a rectangular building, about the size of a single-car garage, with a prayer niche facing south toward Makkah.

“This is one of the earliest mosques known from the beginning of the arrival of Islam in Israel, after the Arab conquest of 636 C.E.,” said Gideon Avni of the antiquities authority.

“The discovery of the village and the mosque in its vicinity are a significant contribution to the study of the history of the country during this turbulent period.”

Source : Arab news

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9 thoughts on “A Curious tale of Aghas the Guardians/ Caretakers of Masjid Nabawi”

  1. Walekum Assalam,

    Do you know how lucky you are ?You may be disabled but your longing to earn the pleasure of Allah swt and your unanswered dua can put you way ahead of all of us.keep thanking Allah swt and never despair on his mercy .I will pray to Allah swt to make it possible for you .May Allah give every Muslim a chance to visit Mecca and Madina.May Allah reward you for making dua for me .May Allah shower his immense blessings on all of us.Zajak Allah Khair for your beautiful feedback.May Allah answer your prayer.

  2. Sister afia I consider myself as a lucky Muslim from canada that I learned about aghast, really you have done a great khidmah for people’s like me who will never know such hidden facts of great people’s like AGHA’s , I pray for a longer healthier and prosperous life, so that you can do other great and hidden history of Islam. Particularly for people’s like me who are disabled and I will pass away from this world with only one wish in heart and that is to see and touch these places with my hands, I hope that you will remember me in your prayers that my wish and dream comes true one day, you may not understand about my this wish because you live close to these places, this is because Allah want you to stay there, and not me.thank you sister afia for going down through it, please don’t forget to remember me in your prayers,asalam o Alikum, Allah maak

  3. Jazakallah khair for a wonderful insight to those so so fortunate to have made khidmat of the greatest Masjids and of the Chamber of the most beloved of Allah Sbht! Subhanallah, it would indeed be a most humbling experience to meet with any of the Aghas InshAllah!! Shukran for spreading the light and the love!! Was Salaam

  4. Salaam sister afia. I am mansoor from UK also a student of Ilm. I am in Madina Sharif atm. Do you have imo or something through which I can speak to you directly..?

  5. Walekum Assalam. I am happy to know that you found this article useful. Adel Quraishi is a Photographer from Saudi Arabia .He was born in Khobar in 1968 and he is in the field of Photography since 1991. Sorry,I don’t have his contact information. But I have a suggestion .May be you can enquire the workers inside the Masjid about the guardians . I live near Madina alhumdulillah and I was fascinated about their story that’s why I took more effort in learning about them.However I have no chance of seeing them because I am a Woman Lol ! but I really appreciate their service towards the Prophet’s Mosque and Pray for them wholeheartedly.

    And yes,If You want to Know about Prophet’s Mosque, you may like to Read our this article-15 Rare Known facts on Masjid Nabawi.You may find this useful.Specially the one about locating the blessed Points of Masjid Nabawi.

    Jajakallahukhairan for writing to Us.

  6. Salaams Aafia,

    Jazakallahukhairan for the wonderful article. It was a fantastic read! I was actually in Madina when I read your article. I’m keen on learning more of the never-ending secrets of Madina and this really catered to my obsessions. How did you go about doing your research on this subject and where is Adel Quraishi from? Do you have his contact info, perhaps an email address? I would love to speak with him and ask him some more questions about his meeting with the guardians.

    Again Jazakallahukhairan


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