Masjid Sheikh Kabir, a lesser known 18th century mosque at Pilibhit

Background: Masjid Sheikh Kabir is one of the foremost among the undocumented remnants of 18th-century Ruhela monuments at Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh. It seems to be one of the earliest constructed mosques of Ruhela settlement at Pilibhit. Prof. Iqbal Hussian cited Kabirpur in district Bareilly as the settlement named after the prominent Ruhela officer of Nawab Ali Muhammad Khan, Sheikh Kabir who rose to higher ranks in time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Syed Altaf Ali Barelivi, a 1931 history graduate from Aligarh Muslim University wrote in a Biographical account of Hafiz Rahmat Khan titled “Hayate Hafiz” that Sheikh Kabir was among the earliest friend of Hafiz Rahmat Khan and accompanied with him from Tor Shahmatpur to Rohilkhand on the invitation of Ali Muhammad Khan in 1739. The Pashtun history expert https://twitter.com/Pashz7  told me that Tor Shahmatpur is now the part of Mardan District in North West Frontier of Pakistan.  A small locality in Pilibhit city Kabir Ganj was also named after Sheikh Kabir.

The roof of the verandah has been replaced in modern times, & part of it was renovated by Sheikh Wasi Ahmad Alias Muhadith Surti during late 19th century| Rehan Asad

Description of Mosque: In Pilibhit as common with other Pashtun settlements in North India, each of the chief ( Sardar) has a mosque after his own. I was not able to find the exact date of its construction but it was constructed somewhere in between 1740 to 1750 as it predates from the construction of the Grand Jama Masjid in 1769. This mosque was built by Sheikh Kabir who was among one of the leading Ruhela Sardar during the time of Hafiz Rahmat Khan. Its located approximately one kilometer east of the Jama Masjid with its main gate located on the court road. The current name of the mosque derives due to the presence of the Bel (Wood Apple) trees present in the orchard of old graveyard lying on the eastern and southern flank of the mosque. With few modifications added in the later days, the main body of the mosque retained its old structure. Located on the plinth, the main section of the mosque is accessed by the ten steps from the northern gate. The old vaulted roof of the verandah seems to replaced during modern renovation. Five arched facades leads to the inner section of the mosque. The inner section still retains its vaulted roof, the arched facade for the entrance, mihrab & taakhs on the wall. Traditional lime mortar (Surkhi Chuna) has been used as the cementing substance for connecting  Lakhori/Kakiya (small) bricks.

The central arched entrance to the inner section of mosque| Rehan Asad
Mehrab of the mosque in inner section/Rehan Asad

All the three ends were surrounded by the gardens that have been replaced by thick human settlements by the centuries except the eastern end. The main entrance that might be added later on is now located on the Northern side of the structure. Built on the pattern of the late 18th century mosque on first floor, the Northern wall gave space to the couple of shops. The verandah open in the courtyard and this section has been replaced by the later stage renovations. It was in 1871, one of the notable students of Mufti Muhammad Masood Muhadith Dehalvi of Fatehpuri Masjid, Sheikh Maulana Wasi Ahmad alias Muhadith Surati opened a school of Hadith in the premises and extensions of Sheikh Kabir mosque. Sheikh Wasi Ahmad was buried outside the prayer section in the premises of the mosque in 1913 after his death. It was from here the second name of the mosque derived as Muhadith Sahab Ki Masjid. Interestingly while I was exploring for the mosque, I came to know that great Urdu legend Ale Ahmad Suroor offered his Friday prayers during his childhood days with his father Maulvi Karam Ahmad in this mosque when he was deputed at Pilibhit during Colonial days as a postmaster. During 1974, this was narrated by the legendary poet to my father when he got a chance to meet him at the home of Prof. Ansarullah Nazar Sahab at Aligarh. The crossroad near the mosque also derived the name Belon Wala Chauraha from the nearby Bel (Wood Apple) trees standing in the graveyard of Sheikh Kabir Mosque.

One of the few Wood apple trees left in graveyard close to the mosque/Rehan Asad
Multiple shops were opened in the southern wall of the mosque| Rehan Asad

The local community is not aware of more than two and half centuries old mosque carries many layers of the historical timeline with it. The cupola shaped merlons sandwiched in between the parapet shaped design on the walls of the mosque are some of the remnants from its old construction. More popular as Belon Wali Masjid, except the old generation, hardly people could recall it as Masjid Sheikh Kabir.

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Rehan Asad
Website | + posts

Documenting heritage, culture & food.