Akbarpura, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

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Akbarpura, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (old NWFP)

‘Doomsday clock’ is ticking in Nowshera town

By Rashid Khattak

Dawn

NO ONE knows when the world will end. But majority of the people living in Akbarpura, a town between Peshawar and Nowshera, believe that they can calculate when the doomsday will come. They claim to have a parameter for gauging the exact time in the shape of their sinking mosque.

Built about 400 years ago, ‘Pokh Jumaat (stone mosque)’ of Akbarpura has sunk more than four feet since its establishment. Its main hall now requires four steps down for someone to enter. “The mosque is subsiding at a rate equivalent to the size of a wheat grain (3mm) per year,” says Shah Faisal, 33, a resident of the area.

Elderly residents of the town tell with great respect how the founder of the mosque, Akhund Panjoo Baba, a famous Sufi saint, told his disciples and pupils that when the mosque would sink completely, it will be the doomsday.

“We consider it a miracle of Akhund Panjoo Baba. We can easily calculate how many years are left for the world to end,” says Shoaib, 75, and hastens to add that thousands of Hindus and non-believers embraced Islam on the hand of Baba. He said his grandfather and some other elders told him about the myth. “We believe it because Baba was a great saint,” he adds.

A local faith-healer Syed Shamshad Ali Shah, 50, says that the stairs have been increased to four from three, which means that the mosque is sinking at a constant rate. There is no drainage system in the mosque but you will never see a drop of water in its courtyard as the earth absorbs all the rainwater, he adds.

Contrary to other educated youths, some of whom now question the authenticity of the myth, Mr Shah’s son Obaidullah also accepts the version of his father and other elders about the sinking mosque. “There must appear some cracks in the mosque or the whole area should sink if it is not the miracle of the great saint,” Obaid, 19, says and a group of young bearded-men sitting in the mosque nod.

However, Shah Faisal has a different view. He says that there must be some scientific explanation for the phenomenon and only geologists can elaborate it. “In past I myself believed it, but now after getting education I think that geological factors are responsible for the subsidence of the mosque,” he opines. He says that the area was hit by water logging some 500 years ago before the establishment of the town. The subsidence of the mosque may have a link with the water logging, he says.

Rejecting his views, Farman Khan, 65, says if something is wrong with earth then the whole town or at least few neighbouring streets should also sink. There can be no explanation for the miracles of saints, he says firmly.

Giving the scientific explanation, Dr Mohammad Iqbal, deputy chief geologist Pakistan Petroleum Limited, says that the mosque is slowly sinking due to the depletion of the water level beneath it. Giant aquifers that serve as water reservoirs are being emptied faster than they can be refilled, causing the earth to sink, he says, adding it seems that it is built on layers of clay and highly permeable sand and gravel that easily compress when fluid is withdrawn.

He says that it is a local phenomenon and downing of water table is its main reason. “The sinking of earth at a larger scale is called regional phenomenon like that of Mexico City. But when it subsides at a specific point, it is called local phenomenon,” Dr Iqbal says.

He adds that there are some other ‘sinking places’ in Dir and Swat but geologists didn’t inspect them properly to ascertain the reasons for their sinking. But less than half of the Akbarpura residents, majority of them youths, are agreed to accept this explanation as elders of the area prefer to believe the myth.

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