Moses In Butho Village?

A myth brought hundreds of devotees from across continents to a remote Bandipore village looking for the grave of Moses. But a demystifying campaign about the Ded Mouj shrine by a local religious scholar has stopped it. Majid Maqbool finds out the possible origins of the ‘busted’ myth.

A CENTURIES-OLD shrine in the hilly Butho village of Bandipora has till recently attracted visitors from around the world because they believed Moses is buried inside it near an old tree. This shrine of Hazrat Bibi Sang Arifa is locally known as Ded Mouj.

As foreigners kept coming for the ‘Moses Shrine’, the village headman and Auqaf chairman, Moulvi Bashir Ahmed Reshi, began strongly contesting the claims made in some books that enticed the foreigners.

Inside a small cupboard in his house adjacent to the shrine, Reshi maintains a diary with entries of many visitors who came visiting this picturesque village from countries as far as Uganda, Thailand, France, Germany and America. They had read about the ‘burial site of Moses from some books and articles on the web. The village remains cut off from the rest of the valley in winters.

“I told them they were mistaken, and Musa (Moses) is not buried in the shrine here,” says Reshi. “The direction of the graves inside the shrine is contrary to how the Christians bury their dead.”

Reshi had pursued Quranic studies in Lucknow University before returning to Bhuto in 1982. He found people from many countries frequently visiting the shrine and started his campaign to erase the ‘myth’. But that did not stop devotees of Moses from visiting the shrine and take pictures.

“Every year around twenty foreigners, mostly Christians and Jews would visit the village and spend time inside the shrine,” he says.

“Last year an American woman stayed for 3 days in the village and spent a night meditating inside the shrine,” says Reshi.

“There were some foreigners who said they would get some machine to verify if Moses is buried in the shrine,” says another villager.

According to Reshi the myth was first circulated when a scholar from Lahore, Dr Abdul Aziz Kashmiri, researching ‘Moses in Kashmir’ visited the village in 1962 and met his grandfather.

“My grandfather told him that Isa (AS) is buried in the village inside the shrine,” says Reshi.

Dr Aziz later mentioned it in his book. “My grandfather had just told Dr Aziz that he himself had heard it from some other people,” Reshi pointed out.

Since 2005 Reshi began refuting the claims saying there is no evidence from the religious scriptures. When he heard more people from outside the village talking about the ‘myth’ of Moses in his village, Reshi began writing back to counter ‘theories’ propagated in books and in cyberspace by some scholars.

Reshi says when Bibi Arifa passed away Makdoom seab visited the village to offer prayers at her grave. “He would have made some mention of Musa somewhere had he (Musa) been buried in the shrine, but he didn’t, which is another proof that Moses is not buried in the shrine,” says Reshi, who is looking for more documentary evidence to refute the claims.

So far his clarifications on this matter have had some impact. Foreign visitors are not seen in the village anymore.

Butho also houses the grave of Hazrat Neek Reshi. The village elders say he had come to the village to become the disciple of Bibi Arifa. Another grave in the shrine belongs to Navroz Baba. “He came to Bandipora from Gilgit, where he was a tax collector,” says Reshi. He was told that there was a rich old man in this village. “He came to this village to collect tax from Neek Reshi, but once he collected money from him, he lost his eyesight,” Reshi claims. Eventually, he became a disciple of Neek Reshi and settled in the village.

The village, with a population of around 700 people, has 100 households. The tradition is that each household looks after the shrine throughout a year in a manner that all the households are in-charge on rotation.

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