The Ansari Family of the Indian Hospice
By Nourjahan Ansari
For nearly seven centuries, the Indian Hospice in Jerusalem has served as a unique and historic destination for Indian pilgrims to the Holy Land. The saga of this Hospice began in the days of the Ottoman Empire when the legendary Sufi saint, Baba Farid of Shakar Ganj, travelled to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. Out of respect for his saintly qualities, the governor allowed him to stay in a part of the Islamic Wakf, which is comprised of two rooms attached to a mosque.
It is not known how long he stayed there. But the impact of his personality was such that these rooms and the mosque became objects of veneration particularly for Indian visitors. From then onwards, it was known as Zawiya Al-Faridiah. The property - now an Indian trust - is situated inside the Old City opposite Herod’s Gate near the holy sites of Al-Haram al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa.
The British Mandate over Palestine was established with the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. The Grand Mufti of Palestine deputed a delegation to India in 1922 to discuss the Palestinian issue with eminent Muslim leaders and also to seek support for the trust. The legendary Ali Brothers - Mawlana Mohammed Ali Johar and Shaukat Ali - as well as Dr. Ansari and Hakim Ajmal Khan responded helpfully and, in addition, appointed Khawaja Nazer Hassan Ansari of Saharanpur as a “resident delegate to administer and supervise” Hospice affairs. The Grand Mufti welcomed the choice and appointed him the Sheikh and sole director and trustee of the property. One of his life achievements was being awarded the Victoria Cross by the Queen of England for his service in the British Army.
Sheikh Nazer, who died in 1953, did a lot to improve and develop the property. He visited India several times in order to mobilize funds to ensure the continued operation of the Hospice during many difficult periods.
Sheikh Nazer Ansari’s Indian wife, who had accompanied him to the distant land, bore him four sons and two daughters who live in various locations throughout the world. His Palestinian wife bore him four daughters and one son, Sheikh Mohammad Munir Ansari, who succeeded Sheikh Nazar as the director and trustee in 1953.
Sheikh Mohammad Munir, who was born in Jerusalem in 1927 and speaks fluent Urdu, married a local Palestinian woman from the very prominent Jerusalemite family, Bitar. She gave birth to three daughters who were given traditional Indian names: Najam (a star), Nourjahan (the light of the universe), and Nimala (a name of Sanskrit origin); and two sons: Nazer Hassan and Nazeer Hussein, who currently administers and supervises the affairs of the Indian Hospice alongside his father.
Throughout the years, the members of the Ansari family have kept their Indian identity and nationality and frequently visit their relatives in India. The entrance to the Ansari family residence within the Indian Hospice is adorned with a lovely poster that bears the famous namaste greetings. The Indian spirit permeates the air, and the Indian flag, proudly displaying its colours of orange, white, and green, is raised high. Although the director’s wife is of Palestinian origin, she carries an Indian passport and has become famous for her culinary talents and expertise in the riches of Indian cuisine.
The Ansari family has been the proud custodian of the Indian Hospice since 1924 and always looks forward to welcoming Indians to the Holy Land and keeping the legend alive.