Maniparbat (Ayodhya): Ayodhya may have come to be known as the land of Rama because of the dispute over Ram Janmabhoomi, but it has also been known as ‘Chhoti Mecca’, a term coined locally to celebrate its pluralist culture.
This facet of Ayodha comes into sharp focus particularly during the month of Ramzan. Mahant Girishpati Tripathi of Tewari Mandir said the temple town has at least 20 shrines which are important to Muslims. “Each of these attracts Hindus as well,” he said.

There are more than a 100 mosques which follow a strictly vegetarian code as a mark of respect for the Hindu brethen. “The presence of these mazars, mosques and mausoleums jointly give Ayodhya its identity of Chhoti Mecca. To a believer, Ayodhya is next to Mecca,” said Mohd Omar, a Muslim religious leader. Maulvi Mohd Akram added that secular Muslims see Lord Rama as ‘messenger of god’ (meaning paighambar). “Religious texts describe him as an avatar and Quran directs us to respect all paighambars,” he said.

“Ayodhya is perhaps the only place in India to have the mazar of Islamic paighambar Hazrat Shees which makes the place a must-visit for Muslims,” said Krishna Kumar Mishra (alias Barfi Maharaj), convenor of Shri Saryu Avadh Balak Samiti, a 110-year-old people’s group working to conserve Ayodhya’s heritage and legacy. Expectedly, Hazrat Shees’s mazar is one of the most revered among all places.

“Hazrat Shees was the son of Hazrat Aadam (the first man to be sent on earth) and epitomized the importance of sharing in life,” said Mohd Kaleen-udDin Firdausi, caretaker. “The mazar is at least 600 years old. He was the first child to be born on earth and lived for about a 1,000 years. His mazar has increased in length since the time it was made.” Abul Fazl, a writer in Akbar’s times, has mentioned this mazar. It also finds a mention in ‘The Gazeteer’ for the province of Oudh (1877).

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