Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
The Asheqan wa Arefan shrine provides an important religious and community focus for the neighbourhood in the old city of Kabul to which it lends its name. The seat of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis, the graves of two brothers who were purported to have introduced Islam to Kabul are both the focus for religious rites and a place of pilgrimage.
Building on the experience gained during the conservation of the smaller mosques in the area, work was initiated on the Asheqan wa Arefan shrine complex in late 2005. Situated beside one of the graveyards that lay outside the walls of Bala Hissar, the site takes its name from the graves of two brothers who are reputed to have introduced Islam to Kabul in the 8th century AD, during the third Caliphate. To this day, visitors come to pay respect to the graves, in the hope that this might bring good luck and prosperity. Together with the adjacent mosque, the complex is the home of an important Sufi brotherhood.
A modern concrete structure had been erected over the grave of Khoja Abdus Salam, which stands in the midst of a larger graveyard, and is accessed from a portico, a mosque-like timber structure, leading to a semi-underground corridor lined with fine lattice screens. Repairs were carried out to the roofs of these structures, which were found to be close to collapse, and a stone retaining wall built along the length of the corridor, to protect the timber screens, which were cleaned and repaired, along with the fine carved timber entrance door. During the course of repairs to the plasterwork of the portico, a series of decorated plaster niches were uncovered and restored.
The entire roof over the lower grave of Khoja Abdus Samad was re-built and its internal plaster and marble decoration restored. Extensive repairs were also carried out on the roof of the adjacent mosque, which dates from the early 20th century and retains fine decorated plasterwork on the mihrab, the domed winter mosque beneath this and its long corridor. Rehabilitation works concluded in late 2007 with the landscaping of the shrine courtyard.