Spiritual succour : Devotees continue to visit shrines despite closure
Hundreds visit Mazars and pray outside, while others sit on nearby footpaths to receive Langar, rations
KARACHI: With the imposition of a lockdown in Karachi to contain the spread of Covid-19, religious shrines of the city, which would otherwise remain crowded with thousands of devotees throughout the day, have also been shut down.
Despite their closure, however, people are still seen flocking to the shrines to pay tribute to their murshids (spiritual leaders) and pray for good fortune outside of the shrine’s premises.
“It does not matter if the shrine is closed because our hearts are still full of respect and love for the murshid,” a devotee named Junaid Ahmed, who visited the Mazar of Abdullah Shah Ghazi to pray outside, told The Express Tribune.
Twin suicide attacks at Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine
Even though the government has lifted the lockdown and life is gradually returning to normalcy, shrines are still closed because of the increasing number of Covid-19 cases in the province.
“Ghazi is our murshid. My family and I customarily visit the Mazar every weekend to offer fateha and lay a chaddar on the shrine,” said Sohail Siddiqui, a resident of North Nazimabad. He visited the shrine along with five of his family members, all of who sat on the footpath to pray.
“The shrine has been closed for last three month but we continue to come here and practice our praying ritual outside the premises of the Mazar,” Sohail Siddiqui said. “Not everyone can understand the bond between a murshid and his devotees. Only those who share that connection know why we come here despite the restrictions.”
Since the closure of the shrine, no one is allowed to enter except for designated police officers. When approached, they said that it has been quite challenging to stop people from accessing the shrine.
“On the first day of Eid, a few people tried to get inside by jumping the barricades, but we foiled their attempts,” a police officer on duty at the shrine, who chose not to be named, said.
Pilgrims flock to crocodile shrine in Karachi as Taliban threat recedes
“Since people don’t listen, we had to erect steel fencing around the walls of the shrine.”
Many visitors sitting outside the shrine said that they do not come to pray but to receive langar.
“I am not a devotee, but I come here for langar or some ration,” a man sitting on the footpath said, adding that many people visit the shrine in their big cars every evening to distribute free food and ration among the poor.
A similar scene was witnessed outside other shrines in Karachi as well as other districts of Sindh. The shrine of Misri Shah Ghazi in Karachi’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Phase 6 was locked. However, several devotees could be seen touching and kissing the main gate of the shrine and praying outside.
“When markets, malls, and mosques are opened, why are shrines closed? We can also ensure the implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) like other places. With the closure of the shrines, the provincial government is also losing huge sums of money as people generously give charity therein every day,” a Sindh Auqaf Department official deputed at Misri Shah’s Mazar said.
Healing powers: Shrines in Thatta beckon those who ‘believe’
Per official records, there are 313 shrines in Karachi city alone. The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalander in Sehwan, Sindh, is also closed and for the first time in history, the urs of the Sufi saint scheduled to happen on April 12 was cancelled.
When approached, the Sindh Auqaf Department’s chief administrator Munawar Ali Mahesar defended the provincial government’s decision to close the shrines and said that the saving the lives of people is more important than generating income from the shrines.
“The majority of our people are not sensitised about the virus and its effects. It will be difficult to manage the crowds and follow the SOPs, so the government has the shrines closed,” he said. “They will reopen when the situation returns to normalcy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2020.