Abdullah Shah Ghazi: 'The saint that keeps cyclones at bay'

Hourly news updates on Cyclone Nilofar’s advancing location are met with blunt dismissals by Baba Ghazi’s mureeds.
Published October 30, 2014

As Cyclone Nilofar rages a few hundred kilometres from Karachi’s coastline, in close proximity a contrasting calm envelopes the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi.

Waves of devotees enter the shrine undeterred and oblivious to the imposition of Section 144 and the notices of immediate evacuation by Sindh’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).

Hourly news updates on the cyclone’s advancing location are met with blunt dismissals by Baba Ghazi’s mureeds.

“I've been coming here for the past 22 years. And my parents before that. Baba's presence is holding back the sea, there is no chance of any cyclone affecting us,” says Naila Khan, a devotee.

Despite a suicide bombing at the shrine in 2010 that killed at least eight people and injured more than 60 others, the sick, the childless and the grateful from across Pakistan continue to throng the shrine today.

-Photo by Muhammad Umar
-Photo by Muhammad Umar

Another devotee from Lyari, 60-year-old Rashid Khan says, "Whenever Shah Ghazi calls, we oblige. There was a storm some years ago that even damaged one of the walls near the shrine but as always, we were protected."

Leaving behind the loud clatter of flower shops and tea stalls below, the devotees start upon a long and strenuous climb up the stairs to the chamber that holds Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s grave.

Inside the chamber, the air is thick with swirls of incense smoke. A heavy silence, seeping out of the singular entrance door, is broken ever so often by an inaudible munnat. There is visible relief on the faces of those who manage to lean in over the railing around the grave to touch it.

-Photo by Muhammad Umar
-Photo by Muhammad Umar

Mohammad Tariq, a devotee visiting from Punjab says, “Whenever I come to Karachi, I make sure I visit the shrine to pay my respects. There is a lot of talk of the approaching cyclone but Baba has pushed back something as great as the sea, what then is a mere storm? The cyclone will be diverted away from Karachi at the order of Baba. I say these things because I truly believe it, not because of the tales I've been hearing over the ages.”

Also read: Cyclone emergency declared in 10 Sindh districts; holiday tomorrow

Abdullah Shah Ghazi is considered to be the patron Sufi saint of Karachi; his disciples staunchly believe no harm can come to the metropolis under the saint’s protection – a claim that was also recently stated in the Sindh Assembly by Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani.

-Photo by Muhammad Umar
-Photo by Muhammad Umar

Many are of the opinion that this absolute devotion to the Sufi saint is not entirely unfounded. As per stories passed down by generations of his disciples, soon after the shrine was built, there was only brackish water found in the area. Ghazi’s followers were concerned about not having access to clean drinking water, when out of nowhere, a spring of fresh drinking water started trickling behind the shrine. His devotees claim the water, which flows to this day, to have healing properties.

"The water here was full of salt and the locals could not drink it. But one day Abdullah Shah Ghazi prayed to God and fresh water started flowing out of a well. And it still flows, no one knows where it comes from," shrine attendant Akram says.

-Photo by Muhammad Umar
-Photo by Muhammad Umar

A man who referred to himself simply as a malang, claimed to have spent his entire life at the shrine. He says:

“Cyclone Nilofar may or may not hit, I can’t say for sure. What I do know is that all the storms of the world could be raging around me, and I would still be at peace because I am here.”

As local authorities scamper to ensure the safety of Karachi’s residents, Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s disciples sway in a dhamaal of gratitude for their assumed salvation.

Photography by Muhammad Umar