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Denizens of the Abdullah Shah Ghazi Shrine

Published Sep 15, 2012 01:04pm


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The shrine of the Sufi saint, Abdullah Shah Ghazi (720 – 773AD) is a major presence in the physical and spiritual landscapes of Karachi. Every day, thousands of devotees both rich and poor come by way of luxurious cars, buses, bicycles, rickshaws, taxis, donkey carts, or on foot and even crutches, to pay their respect to the Saint.

They pray for everything. From good health, better financial fortunes, winning a legal dispute, to the recovery of a lost goat or the birth of a boy after seven daughters.  In a country where life is often harsh, the shrine provides some hope and succour to the needy, the abandoned and the suffering.

The shrine is popular with the pickpockets syndicate and a cautionary notice is prominently displayed.

Shahbaz Lahori, a malang, is a long term resident of the mazaar.  Here he is dancing away to his own rendition of Shahbaz Qallandar.

O’ you beautiful maidens, what more could you have wished for from the Saint?

Gate to the free food haven.

Potful of palao awaits the afternoon rush.

Great free food and rapid service.  The line will melt away in minutes.

Along with the intangible benefits of prayers for worldly problems there are some tangible benefits of visiting the shrine. High on the list are the food stalls (langar) where food that is paid for by the well heeled and cooked in huge cauldrons is available, free to all those who seek a savoury and filling meal. Plastic bags are available free of cost to the diners. I noticed that no one was breaking the queue or getting impatient.  Normally, you can even come back for seconds.  The service is fast and you don’t need to show your National Identity Card to qualify!

The custodian of the food court obviously eats well.

A small man with a big heart mans the door.

Other pleasures of life like papadum, orange juice, sugarcane juice, tea, pakoras, fried fish and entertainment drugs are also available freely, but are not free.

No visit to a Sufi shrine is complete without crispy paappers.

Young understudy working under the watchful eye of the sugar cane juice master.

Fill up on vitamin C here.

A potential customer eying the hip juice seller with suspicion.

In addition to the free food, there are service providers sitting on the footpath ready to cater to your more metaphysical needs. Palmists armed with complex diagrams and tables will tell your fortune for a humble sum of Rs. 20.

For those customers who are either too poor or tight fisted, there is the option of having their fortune picked up by an Islamic parrot from a pile of “pre-written” fortunes (this is perfectly logical since our fortunes are written on the day we are born. It then becomes a matter of finding a skilled fortune finding parrot!).

The owner can relax as the parrot does all the work!

After encountering the hard working palmists and parrots, you come across entrepreneurs who seek to micro-finance themselves with some of your money in return for prayers for your health and wealth.  This activity is incorrectly called “begging” by people with a narrow view of the business world.

This young cripple had arrived from Punjab the day before. A well-dressed man approached him and offered to ship him off to Iraq if he was willing to share half his earnings with him.

Finally, there are the most exalted of the footpath dwellers, the elite in the realm of other worldliness and spirituality.  They have crossed to the other side.  They live on air laced with some special substances. Their food comes from the langar, the pavement is their bed and the gentle sea breeze their lullaby.

Those that have crossed over to the dark side riding on a puff of smoke.

The land, the sky and the sea breeze belong to him.

Life in balance – man sleeping on the road divider across from the shrine while traffic roars by.

A satisfied man with a few needs.

Most denizens of the shrine have a philosophical bent of mind.  The sweeper who was blowing a dust storm on the sidewalk with his broom was also aggressively advising a newly arrived cripple that he should never reveal his heart’s deepest secrets to anyone. The sweeper/philosopher was also very critical of the newbie for sitting in the shade. “You want to earn some money? Then be a man and sit out in the sun”.

The shrine footpath sweeper and resident philosopher advising a crippled beggar never to reveal the heart’s deepest secrets to anyone.

The shrine is a place where people of all faiths and social status’ come and go, work and pray, and live in peace.  Here, tolerance is the operative word. Among the denizens of the footpath there is the full spectrum of human strengths and fallibilities. Faith, hope, and entrepreneurship co-exist with despair and failure.

If the spirit at Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine prevails across Pakistan, we will all be living in a much more humane place. Maybe, the sea breeze will carry the goodness of the shrine from Karachi to Khyber.

Photographs by Vaqar Ahmed.


The author is an engineer turned part-time journalist who likes to hangout at unfashionable places like shrines, railway stations and bus stops.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

Jimmy Butt Sep 16, 2012 12:45pm
Hope keeps one alive. The situation of those who seek relief, hope or glory by visiting this shrine is no different to any other shrine in the sub continent. Shrines tend to offer many who might have been drifted off course a safe heaven and a piece of mind. May be the whole nation should pay a visit here to solve our problems once and for all as the powers to be seem to have either no interest, will or dtermination. Good article!
Vaqar Ahmed Sep 16, 2012 08:44pm
Thanks Azfar. You have put it very well when you say "....yet you can see their faces do not show the burden of modern life". This is precisely my thought and I wanted to communicate it in the essay. BTW, I am also the cameraman!
Umair Sep 15, 2012 02:10pm
wonderful insight
p kumar Sep 16, 2012 07:21am
beautiful atmosphere.muslim shrines often evoke mixed feelings to subcontinental hindus.we know in our heart it's a house of God and yet some fear lingers.partly because a large number of such shrines are built on demolished hindu temples.partly because we feel worshippers of god in here call our worship in less respectful terms.i have also been told ghazi means slayer of infidel and wonder whether it is still interpreted that way
oosman hansrod Sep 15, 2012 07:10pm
Well done brother the last paragraph is well said.
nimesh Sep 16, 2012 08:04pm
Great pics. Interesting, original and sparkling!
muhammad Sep 16, 2012 12:48pm
One word:Awesome!
Zeeshan Sep 16, 2012 03:38pm
These shrines are an example of 'tolerance' at the cost of religious ignorance.
bendintheriver Sep 16, 2012 07:07am
Hina Kamal Sep 16, 2012 06:37am
I have a different take on this, some might call me extremist, but some might agree may be, it
imran Sep 16, 2012 08:14am
people come and expect good fortune, luck,and male babies etc, but they don't exmine baggers, street dewllers and other picpockets around the shrine who spended most of their life in shrines and left devoid of all humen qualities. the concept of shirne preying is not in islam but humen's ill faith make them to do so
Yawar Sep 17, 2012 02:00am
Vaqar Sahib, you have presented a good picture of life at the mazar of a Sufi saint. However, after reading your article and looking at the photographs, I felt very sad. The way to counter maayusi is through sabr and struggle and not by giving up.
Zain Sep 17, 2012 11:38am
Very nice. On your next visit, you can complete the circle by taking pics of the handicrafts/seashell sellers too. They are also somewhat part of the ecosystem there. By the way, did the subjects know you were taking pictures?
Kam Sep 17, 2012 03:43am
Spoken like a true Muslim
anand Sep 17, 2012 06:20am
More likely true will be the breeze from khyber to karachi.
Sumaila Sep 17, 2012 12:21pm
have fear of Allah, worship Him alone, ask Him alone, with out partners. That is the message of every prophet, and that is Islam.
Tahir Butt Sep 16, 2012 10:44am
There should be a shrine in our country which passes message to work hard in school, colleges,universities,in offices etc to make our country prosperiois and better place to live
Abdul Malik Sep 15, 2012 08:53pm
Good job Vaqar. Sincere thanks from Canada. You took me down the memory lane.
Azfar Sep 15, 2012 05:22pm
Enjoyed the article. Brought out the, for lack of better words, romanticism of such places. Look at the pictures of the people living on "footpath" or sidewalks. Though they do look in need of a haircut and wear fresh pair of clothes yet you can see but their faces does not show the burden of modern life. Good job Vaqar Sahib and also by the cameraman..keep bringing in such articles! AZFAR DALLAS.
sb Sep 15, 2012 04:22pm
Very Interesting.. Thank you!
khoso Sep 15, 2012 04:04pm
Gud work
abc Sep 15, 2012 03:42pm
Thank you, this was such a fascinating post!
Truth Hurts Sep 17, 2012 09:46am
I second your comments and allow me to add the interpretation of the meaning from the Noble Quran Surat Al Hasr (Surat No: 59 and in Juz/Para 28) Verse 22-24 (end of surah) How Allah States of Himself in His Own Words He is All
Ercelan Sep 16, 2012 07:14pm
some very good. va needs more patience with faces and angles. optimism is misplaced, because the same breeze is overwhelmed by the pollution dumped by karachi -- all of us -- into the nearby sea.
Khawar Haiderk Sep 17, 2012 09:44am
Tahir, I liked your comment.........