Posted in Books and reading

Story of a dead saint.

There is an odd structure covered in blue and white tiles bang across the cricket stadium that overlooks my kitchen balcony. The only thing that makes it imposing I suppose, is the height at which it is situated, as the architecture is hardly worth mentioning. It has been a landmark for years and years, and I wonder if the man buried there has any idea of his own posthumous miraculous powers…

Everyone knows the Mazaar. It is revered as the final resting place of Abdullah Shah, a Sayyid, direct descendant of the Prophet, tracing his lineage back to Abu Talib, the uncle of the Prophet.

The funny thing is, I always thought Abdullah Shah ‘Ghazi’ was a local Sufi saint, so I am amazed to learn that he was actually an Arab and the story goes something like this:

Abdullah Shah was around 40 years old when he travelled to Sindh in 760 A.D, bearing horses from Iraq (for trade purposes presumably, since he was a merchant). He was given a warm welcome by Raja Dahir (who was a big shot of sorts around these parts) as he was impressed by his nobility. (Raja Dahir had a soft spot for fleeing Sayyids, who were being persecuted left and right by those nasty Umayyads)

So Abdullah Shah made himself at home here in Sindh, and proceeded to preach love, tolerance and politeness, teachings that smacked of Sufism of the early days. But not for long. Hajjaj bin Yousuf, governor of Iraq and an Umayyad to boot, sent word to Raja Dahir to hand Abdullah Shah over to him, as he was becoming too popular and Hajjaj bin Yousuf couldn’t have that. Raja Dahir turned out to be chivalrous and honourable, and sent word back to Hajjaj along the lines of  ‘Never! thou dastardly dog!’  It was against all rules of honour to break the vow of protection and sanctuary, so Hajjaj bin Yousuf was forced to send his 17 yr-old nephew, Mohammad bin Qasim, to make short work of  Raja Dahir and his little army, who died fighting to protect the Sayyids.


battling it out with Raja Dahir


In the meantime, Abdullah Shah was on a hunt, something he loved to do, in what is present-day Karachi. In those days, Sindh teemed with wildlife, and I’m sure Abdullah Shah had a good time hunting down ibex, gazelles and blue bulls and deer. But the hunter became the hunted, and Abdullah Shah was outnumbered by some unknown enemy whom he chose to fight rather than submit to, and this is what gave him the title ‘Ghazi’, meaning ‘victorious’. Except he was killed.

He was buried near the coast of the Arabian Sea, and has since then been revered as a saint. That makes his shrine about 1400 years old.

Today, the area is a mess of devout people, flower vendors, beggars, drug addicts and roadside astrologers complete with green parrots; food is always distributed there as alms to the needy and as blessings for those who prayed to Abdullah Shah Ghazi to intercede with God on their behalf.  They say Karachi has never witnessed a cyclone or other tropical disaster because of the blessing of this shrine. Many people claim to have been granted their wishes after praying here, but what good is a miracle that doesn’t involve water? Here’s the mother of them all, listen to this. There are a number of wells along the coastal area where people draw up water to use for their own various purposes, except for drinking, since the water is always brackish. But the well at the shrine of  Abdullah Shah Ghazi always produces fresh water and if that isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is.

It’s just a stone’s throw away from me, those stairs leading up to the shrine, but I have never dared to venture there myself. People travel to get here from all parts of the country to pray at the dargah, setting up camp in shady spots on the surrounding sidewalks, and become part of the teeming masses always to be found there. Everyone is welcome, even the ones who’d rather use drugs to induce a feverish trance-like state. At times it gets pretty festive, especially when the Urs (death anniversary) draws near, when men wearing bright petunia-yellow kurtas, white dhotis and dramatic turbans beat clamorously on their drums and devotional music and qawwali blare out over the multitudes from numerous loudspeakers, for three days. I’m sure there’s plenty of dancing too. Throw in the odd snake-charmer, performing monkeys and cotton candy and you have a perpetual carnival-like setting.

Who’d ever think that a member of the Banu Hashim tribe of Arabia, a descendant of the last Messenger, would find his way to the deserts of Sindh, die here, and be remembered forever in so lively a manner? Heck, the kids even get a school holiday! 🙂


sunset from my kitchen balcony