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Mausoleum of Safed Bulan & Shah Fasil

Safed Bulan, KyrgyzstanThe shrine stands on the outskirts of the village of the same name. The brick-built mausoleum is said to have been built in the 12th century and still has considerable potency as an important Sufi pilgrimage site in the region. Many Uzbeks from Uzbekistan's Fergana Valley come here, as well as their kinsmen from Kyrgyzstan. Visitors should respect this and dress and behave appropriately.

The mazar contains the graves of two revered individuals: Safet Bulan, a pious local woman, and Shah Fasil, a warrior and descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.

Shah Fasil is reputed to have first brought Islam to central Asia, while Safed Bulan was responsible for burying the heads of thousands of decapitated prisoners captured in battle.

Legend tells that a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed came with an army to the region in order to convert the local populace to Islam. When the Arab army was at prayer the locals attacked the proselytising soldiers, taking 2,700 prisoners whom they proceeded to behead. A woman travelling with the army searched in vain through the carnage for the head of her lover and, although she did not find him, she proceeded to carry out the gruesome task of washing and burying all of the heads of the fallen, before staying on at the village to look after the graves of the fallen. In gratitude for this pious act of purification, she was given the honorary title safed, 'white', and the village was named after her.

Another, altogether more ethnocentric, version of the legend suggests that Safed Bulan had originally been a black woman and that Allah turned her skin white as a reward for her deed. A mausoleum was erected to her when she died and in later years her grave was joined by that of Shah Fasil, who came to the area to avenge the massacre of his father, Mohammed ben Jarir, who had been Safed Bulan's lover. The legend is supported to some extent by archaeological evidence, which suggests that a large battle took place near here.

The mausoleum complex consists of several vaults, a mosque and a large holy stone within a courtyard. Shah Fasil's tomb, although stark externally, has a tall central cupola set in an octagonal base and a lavishly decorated interior that has fine decorative panels, ornaments and complex Farsi calligraphy depicting verses from the Qu'ran covering every centimetre. Opposite Shah Fasil's mausoleum stands the tomb of Safed Bulan, next to the room that is said to contain the skulls she washed. Pilgrims come from far and wide to parade clockwise around the graves, the standard procedure at any Sufi site. Only women may enter the tomb of Safed Bulan.