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

 

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14 thoughts on “Story of a dead saint.

  1. huzaifazoom April 9, 2010 / 10:04 am

    I vaguely recall from school (class 9) of being told (taught?) that mohd bin qasim came to ‘save women and children from the tyranny of raja dahir.’ And I have furiously regurgitated that and similar bits of historic nonsense on my exam sheets. Turns out Pak Studies was as dishonest as it was boring.

  2. saxophone April 11, 2010 / 6:34 pm

    you might very well have found your niche my dear…in parts the piece was hilarious and i admit i cracked up several times but in all it was very informative and interesting….good work!!

    BTW the pics were an apt addition…set the mood sort of…

  3. Muhammad Shahzad Mirza April 12, 2010 / 9:15 am

    well .. all i must say is that u really know how to use words .. u have a beautiful gift .. a gift with wich u can move people .. i pray for u that u keep on writing good things and spread knowledge to people ….

    • munira April 15, 2010 / 5:50 am

      Thank you Shahzad, for your heartening comment 🙂

    • munira April 15, 2010 / 5:45 am

      Thanks for your in-depth research Ashfaq 🙂 I only picked the more interesting version for my blog, the one i hadn’t heard before, and I admit I took some artistic liberties with it. No one needs to get defensive for the sake of history. It’s all screwed up anyway.

  4. Mufaddal April 19, 2010 / 9:13 pm

    Wow…very nicely put never enjoyed a history read before..you sure have some writing skills….keeps the reader engrossed in what he is reading……and ya wow you started a blog man..

  5. muhammadkazim November 8, 2011 / 8:55 am

    ahh, Thanks for the Information , Till now i was aware of being Muhammad Bin Qasim as a Hero , But things you mentioned in the blog are so true as Umayyad family was / is after Syed’s.

    Thanks for sharing the truth

  6. Tarek Fatah February 1, 2015 / 3:44 pm

    Fascinating isn’t it? I thought no one in Pakistan would have the courage to expose the true reason why Bin Qasim came calling.

    There is just a timeline error in your story. The Ummayads were wiped out to the last man in Damascus in 750ad. So Hajjaj bin Yusuf could not have sent a msg to Raza Dahir in 760AD but rather 706AD.

    Bin Qasim landed on our lands in 711, the same year my namesake Bin Zidan landed in Spain. Btw, both got recalled to Damascus and disappeared forever.

    If you run into any other material on this subject, would you mind sharing it with me at . I am one of those who were forced to leave just at the dawn of Pakistan’s Saudization in 1978.

    Tarek Fatah

    • Munira February 24, 2016 / 3:36 pm

      What a poorly researched post I threw together I must say! It is an offense to history! Shame and fie on me 😛
      Thank you, Tarek Fatah, for pointing out the discrepancy 🙂 And my sincerest apologies for responding to you so late. Life got in the way.

  7. Murtaza April 10, 2015 / 6:55 am

    Yes that is contradiction in the dates of Hajaj and Shah Ghazi arrival in Sindh.
    I am also interested to know what happened before and after arrival of Shah Ghazi in Sindh seems very important for Karachi -History.

    • Munira February 24, 2016 / 3:32 pm

      It’s all too confusing for my little brain 😛

  8. Anonymous February 23, 2016 / 3:47 pm

    That pictures is of the Khalsa (Sikh Army) battling some Mughals and has nothing to do with your story. Notice the nishan sahib(the yellow flag with the khanda symbol) flag of the Khalsa(army of the pure)

    • Munira February 24, 2016 / 3:31 pm

      Hope my use of the picture didn’t offend you! I just used it to sort of set the mood for the rudimentary bit of history I touched upon in this post ….found it on the internet. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

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