On a moonlit night My father would park the car at the Clifton beach, I would look out at the lighted dome of The Saint’s Mazaar on a hill on the right and we would go down the steps to the water which would come and lap at the edge of the mazaar……never encroaching any further even in a storm. I would think to myself: One day I will go inside that building…..
It is the month of monsoons and I am once again in Karachi after so long and yet it seems like I never left. Temperature and feelings can never be measured by degrees. A Karachi summer is the same as always, hot, humid and unrelentless in dissolving all fakeness be it be makeup or a fake temperament. It unveils the real human within just like heat melts butter to reveal its real essence, Karachi unveils the inner strength of people in its humid heat and when they are naked in the heat all makeup gone, the sea breeze blows on the face of their naked skin, revealing their true features.
I enter the revolving door, to the entire building complex which comprises of the Mazaar of The Saint HAZRAT ABDULLAH SHAH GHAZI the place where the “langar” ( free food distribution) is held, and the mosque.
I give my shoes to the man in the shoe shed, he hands me a number it says 35 on a crudely cut hardboard and he carefully places my shoe with the matching number in the shoerack with multiple open pigeon holes to hold the shoes of the weary and the needy. I move towards the stairs which lead up to the mazaar, on my right the mosque stands with its dome and on my left is the place where the Langar is held, the entrace is tiled with blue and white tiles reminiscent of ones from Multan. More on that later.
Today the Karachi sun seems more intense than what I remember, or my skin may have forgotten what it feels like to be in a natural environment. The sea breeze seems to have taken a deep breath and become still.
It is after Dhuhr and I feel the sweat pour down my back, the intensity of the sun has transformed my skin to a heating pad. I start the ascent, all my touristy intentions of going where I have never been able to go before begin to fall like old skin, flake by flake. I can see the dome of the mosque on the right and memories of the dome and the stairs leading down to the beach with the glistening black sand rise and take over.
Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. The sea has receded or the land has been reclaimed for beach front high rises. I am not sure but it no longer touches the feet of the saints last resting place. Perhaps it has been barred from doing so by rich investors who want a view of the sea from their balcony or it has respectfully withdrawn leaving space around the domed building of the Saint for people to arrive and leave without the waves lapping at their feet.
The stairs leading to the Saints tomb are made of the classic Karachi marble chip, where chips of different colored marble mostly black and white are mixed with cement and spread on a concrete floor and later buffed to a shiny surface which exposes the glint of the marble in the grey background of the cement. The stairs feel cool to my feet. Gaunt sindhi women with worn hands and wiry bodies, holding their head high like crowned queens, their heads and front covered with large colorful printed dupattas are ahead of me. They climb with a purpose of getting to their destination.
Half way up I am out of breath, I stop at the landing and look to the right at the green flags fluttering in the sea breeze which has decided to come caress me and all those headed to The Saint’s last resting place.
I start my ascent again and reach a large open room, and a feeling of peace, quiet and Sakina steals into me. I feel like I should be doing something but I am rooted at the entrance. On the left side some of the women are standing in the back ground. In front of me is a simple humble tomb, with a marble headstone and a low marble railing. No one pays any attention to me beung rooted to the spot. There is quiet in the room, a hushed silence of being in front of a much respected, honorable presence. Each person seems focused on what their need is, paying little attention to the other except to give way to another to also approach the tomb.
As I stand there I feel the pity and the empathy from my fellow women touching me in waves of tenderness. It is as if they know the depths of my neediness, sorrow, and my multiple losses. Even though my dress and my demeanor is so different from theirs, we are bonded as sisters in need. They do not speak my language and I don’t speak theirs. There is no need. the waves of silence only interrupted by the hum of the Quran recitation are enough language to bridge our sisterhood.
They step back to give me space, closer to the marble railing. I touch the petals, the scent of the Pakistan red rose fills my senses, and their softness sits on my outstretched hand like a touch of love. The fragrance fills the room, yet it is not heady like a rose perfume but subtle, sacred, fresh and pure. what do I pray here besides Surah Fatiha? My mind goes blank, similar to the sensation I had when I had been pushed against the door of the Kaaba. As I stand there my mind is a total blank.
I feel women waiting behind me, the man at the headstone hands me a long scarf with the kalima on it, “How much?” I ask mistakenly thinking that I need to pay for it. “It is a gift” he says. I feel I am truly lacking the adab of this place. I feel like a bull in a china shop. I thank him as he gives it to me and I place it around my shoulders. Its crisp texture holds its own, not yet accepting me as a recipient.
I move to the foot of the grave, a man beside me is softly reciting surah Inshirah again and again “with every difficulty comes relief”. Gently someone pulls the plug to the dam of my well controlled grief of my multiple losses, and I am drenched with it, and feel it flowing out and away from me. The deluge overwhelms me and yet I cannot ask Allah for anything, I feel He knows what to give me and when. Instead I stand there and ask Allah to give others what they have asked for, in this room and elsewhere.
I stand my hand extended on to the mound of rose petals gently touching them They lay scattered over the mossy green cover on the grave giving all: their fragrance, their softness and their life. I feel the scent of the roses enter me and fill me with the promise of healing and solace.
The hum of the surah Inshirah repeated many times on my left fills me with peace and quietness. A woman brings her ailing young teenage daughter bent over in pain and touches the mossy green cover reverently and raises her hands to pray. I move back and away from the grave with the marble railing and realize that all the women around me are in clothes that have been worn for years and washed a hundred times, their chadors are classically muticolored Sindhi and there are bare feet are callused enough to be soles of a shoe. I am obviously an outsider.
The rich and famous do not come here, they have nothing to ask for they have already been given which they are busy spending lavishly. The religious ones do not come here because they are conflicted with all the various labels of why you should not go to graves, and then the seculars who do not believe in saints obviously do not come here, which leaves the poor and the needy.
The one thing I have in common with the women here is that we are all needy. Are they asking the Saint for miracles or not it does not matter. This is a safe place for them to lay down their sorrows and their burdens, to feel the caress of the Divine Clifton sea breeze and to ask Allah in full abandon without reservations. These are the few private, sacred, undisturbed moments of intense focus for them to lay down their unbesrable pain and desperate needs in front of the Divine in the presence of the DNA of one of his most beloved servant.
Could they do this at home, or in the fields? Could they take time off from the labor in the fields in the hot grueling sun and say to their Vedera boss ( Sindhi land owner) “excuse me I want 15 minutes off to pray for my desperate needs”? Could they?
They have only this one chance of a culturally accepted opportunity to lay everything before the Divine in the presence of the DNA of His beloved Awliya. After which their life spins them into nonstop labor, melting days into nights of backbreaking work.
The most denigrating comments about the Saints and those who go to make dua at their graves usually comes from the affluent and the healthy.
As I exit the room the young girl who was besides the grave with her mother doubles up in pain, and holds on to the wall. Her fair skin glistens with sweat and as she raises her head her eyes are pools of pain. A man crosses over from the men’s side and brings her water, deep concern is written all over his face like a hologram of sorrow; However she is unable to drink it. Her mother stands patiently and beckons the man to go back and wait. He goes back to the men’s side. I try to assess their background from their dress but it is hard to do. Both the mother and daughter are dressed plainly. The mother wears a brownish shawl and the daughter covers her head with a black shawl, their bare feet have seen better days. They are not as poor in the monetary sense as the others around me. They have travelled in the dust and grime of heat from far away lands. The girl probably has an “incurable disease” they are not poor but they are also not rich they are what is called “safaid posh”
The girls silent pain swirls around me like an invisible whirlpool. Her mother has a confident goal-oriented look. Her body language speaks of the confidence that the hallowed grounds of this shrine will receive her entreaties to Allah wrap them in rose petals from the Saints grave and fly them on the wings of prayer to reach The Divine and will surely be granted.
From my experience of working in the Pediatric ward in Civil Hospital as an intern I fully understand that this is the last stop, for most people who have come here, especially for those with a terminal or incurable illness. They have probably exhausted their visits to doctors, homeopaths, chiropractors, homemade remedies, prayers at home, all have failed to stop whatever is causing the relentless pain. They have come here to send a petition for Shifa (healing) to The Divine through His beloved Saint, also termed Wasila.
As I exit the cool of the room with the Saint’s grave and descend the marble chip stairs, the blistering heat of a Karachi afternoon slaps me down and I stagger towards the shoe shed to retrieve my shoes. I thank the attendant for keeping my shoes and try to give him a tip which he does not accept. I see in his eyes : “he is doing this for the honor of serving the Saint not for monetary gain”
I look back and there is a sign stating that food can be made on your behalf and distributed to the needy. It is called a “degh” which translates into a giant cooking pot usually filled with rice and meat which makes a complete meal. This is a longstanding Muslim tradition called “Langar”. Usually in the past the affluent would fund the langars and personally come to serve the needy every Thursday or everyday depending on the generosity of the rich patron. This Muslim tradition has now been adopted by the west in the form of soup kitchens. It has been dropped by most religious affluent Pakistani Muslims by dubbing it as a superstition because it is being done at the Mazaar of a Saint. Walking out I ask myself when did a good deed become tainted if you did it in one location or another? intention has always been the key to an action and that only Allah knows.
I look around there are no rich and affluent feeding the poor here, it is the poor feeding the poor. I may be mistaken after all it is not a Thursday and maybe the affluent of Karachi will flood the gates with Deghs and serve the poor and hungry on that day.
I turn around and move towards the exit to the parking lot. A man with a wife in a black burqa and kids is letting his family through the exit, he stops and holds the door for me. The adab (etiquette) in this place and its visitors is such a drink of cool water.
The driver is waiting for me and I sink into the airconditioned car, overwhelmed by my visit to the Saint that I always wanted to visit ever since I was a child.
When I mention my visit to the Saint’s Shrine, a Karachiite friend who doesn’t believe in going to the Saints to pray or even visit, relates to me the Legend of the Saint buried at the edge of the sea of Clifton.
“Karachi has been flooded many times by monsoon rains” he says “ but it has never been encroached upon by the sea even though Karachi is actually below sea level in some places”
The legend goes as follows: The sea out of respect for the Saint buried at the edge of the Clifton beach does not inundate the coast where he is buried.
For some even when their DNA is buried and mixed with the earth, it holds within it the purification of consistent, prolonged ebadah (Remembrance of the Divine in worship) for time immemorial and for some……..:? the struggle continues!
A beautiful reflection Asma and thank you for taking us with you on this visit! My heart almost feels the desperation of the mother with her ailing daughter and of others with their own dire needs! May Allah ease their and our burdens whatever they may be 🤲🏽
I also agree it is our intention that only matters and as you said Allah knows it. We honor His Awliya by praying Fatiha for them and only ask Allah to fulfill our needs.
Thank you Saira, this visit opened my eyes to what my Sindhi poor patients went through with incurable disease, I always found them strangely optimistic no matter how dire the disease their child had they still had hope in Allah and a respite in the lap of the Awliyas.
Ameen to you dua.
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Nice article, Asma
JazaikAllah hu Khairan!
Beautifully written Aunty Asma. I was there with you, feeling the heat, pain and hope! Hearts/qulub never die. Allah choses to honor His beloved ebads/saints as He wishes, even after their earthly existence.
Thank you for this beautiful endorsement of a very challenging journey both physically and spiritually!
A very expressive piece.May Allah(S.W.T) reward you abundantly.
JazaikAllah hu Khairan Maryam! Thank you for sharing your impressions!
I have never been to his grave as I have seen people doing sajda all the way from the stairs to the actual tomb.. Not only is this Shirk going on but there is more to it . The men and women tie cloths or locks that their wishes will be granted. I NEVER WANT TO BE A PART OF IT. we can stand outside and recite Surah Fateha, which is beneficial.
People say that because of him the storms don’t reach Karachi, everything is Controlled by Allah Subhan Wa Ta’ala and NO ONE ELSE.
Salaams! I understand your concerns but as you can see none of what you and I had heard from others is true. We are not going for other people we are going only if we want to or not. No compulsion at all. Allah loves the Awliya of Allah, May we be in their shoes if He Subhanawataala accepts us and our Ebada.