Pakistan Travel and Culture

Sufis Shrines of Sindh – Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai

July 21, 2014 – 6:49 am

Clad in a black shalwar kameez, a 50-something Dargahee faqir waits for sunset. And the moment arrives. With alacrity, he starts beating the naqara (two small-sized drums kept in opposite directions) to mark the start of the dhamaal of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, the revered Sufi saint.

A few men instinctively start moving their bodies, unaware of their surroundings or who is there. As the beats of the drums gather pace, the group begins to swell: soon, women join in too. Lost in the trance are devotees of all kinds and hues: landless peasants, pregnant women, professionals, those suffering at the hands of poverty, even those looking for businesses to boom. The dhamaal continues for around 10 minutes; it ends moments before maghrib prayers, when the dargaee faqir prays to the Almighty for the welfare, prosperity and peace of the universe in line with Bhittai’s message.

Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai’s shrine in the town of Bhit Shah, District Matiari, is among the shrines in Sindh that hold a special place in the hearts and minds of devotees across the world. Some devotees’ association with Bhittai is purely in spiritual terms, while others bond with Bhittai over his widely acclaimed mystic poetry. Everyone who visits the shrine has a purpose — everybody seeks Bhittai’s blessings and help.

Elderly couple Umra Khatoon and Mehmood Chandio arrived at the shrine from Ratodero of Larkana district. Sitting in a pensive mood in a corner of the courtyard, the couple explains that their family and home was ravaged by the recent heavy rains. “We lost everything. Our house collapsed and we didn’t get our rice crop,” says Umra — a peasant woman — as she tries to make her point in Sindhi. Umra tills the land of a private landowner; she would have got a share in the rice harvest had rainwater not accumulated in the standing crop. “Murshid [Bhittai] will arrange money for us,” she says, folding her hands and pointing towards the shrine’s dome.

They provide solace to the seekers and a place of rest for both the weary and the wanton. They are where the material and the spiritual worlds meet. They are the sufi shrines of Sindh.
Bhittai attracts visitors from around the globe year-round, with the devotees’ number swelling at the time of the saint’s urs that is held in the Islamic calendar month of Safar. Urs otherwise marks the death anniversary of a spiritual personality, and for commoners, it is a mournful affair. But not for the devotees: they consider the occasion to be a milan (meeting) of their murshid (spiritual guide and mediator) with the Almighty. The devotees celebrate the urs with jubilation as their saint remains the only contact between them and the Creator; they congregate at the shrine to have their prayers answered.

The practice of urs is traditionally carried out by followers of the Ahl-i-Sunnat sect (inclusive of the Deobandi and the Barelvi schools of thought, albeit with some difference of opinion over its observance). The Ahl-i-Hadees (non-conformists) dismiss the practice and call for total submission to the Holy Quran and the Almighty. An element within the Deobandi sect exists that dislikes the urs narrative, for they consider the practice to be “un-Islamic”.

Theological differences over the place of urs in Islam have caught Sindh’s shrines in the line of fire in the recent past. Most attacks were attributed by the police to Taliban groups, comprised mostly of non-conformists and the extremist element of the Deobandi sect. It is for the three-day urs celebrations alone that Bhittai’s shrine receives some security cover, that too due to VIP movement, but otherwise, devotees are left to fend for themselves.

Photos by Mohammed Hussain
Photos by Mohammed Hussain
In fact, security around the shrines in Sindh has never been ideal — thanks to an under-resourced police force that is hit by capacity issues. Around 23 policemen are deployed at Bhittai’s shrine for security purposes, but six of them work as guards of the present family members of Bhittai. The shrine has multiple exits, none of which are manned adequately. There are no permanent walkthrough gates either; these devices are only borrowed from the special branch by the district police during the urs.

Even the SSP of Matiari, Mohammad Amjad Shaikh, can’t help remarking: “I am not satisfied with this kind of [security] arrangement.”

Apart from the urs, when the Sindh chief minister and ministers want to lay floral wreaths at the shrine, occasions such as Bhittai’s birth anniversary on Rajab 1, the ‘Sahu Soomar’ (first Monday of the Islamic month), Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha merit no attention in the government’s eyes despite devotees arriving in large numbers to catch a glimpse of the shrine’s sajjada nasheen (custodian).

Near the shrine is the Dambora Roundabout — named after a musical instrument Bhittai used to carry. From there, a passage with shops on both sides leads to the staircase of the shrine’s premises. Vehicles, including buses and rickshaws, pick and drop commuters near this spot, thereby clogging an already-cramped area. Hotels in the area offer accommodation to guests without any record requirements, such as NIC copies. In the market’s hustle and bustle it is often hard to differentiate between buyers and devotees.

Inside the shrine, there is complete calm: some recite the Holy Quran, others stand in front of the gravesite to have their prayers answered and many others raise spiritual slogans. A group of faqirs, right in front of the gravesite, are busy reciting the Sufi poet’s ‘surs’ that are centred on famous folklores. Those who arrive at Bhit Shah mostly have nothing in hand or hope. “I have been here for around a month now, after leaving the agricultural land of my landowner, as I couldn’t clear his debt of Rs10,000,” says Amb Kohli, who hails from the Tando Adam area of Sanghar district.

Kohli is staying in the courtyard with his young wife and three children. He gets food through the lungar provided by the Auqaf department, twice a day, and so, he is comfortable with his stay. “Phutti [cotton] picking is going to start soon, and I believe Bhittai will send some other landowner to engage me. Then I will go there, earn money and clear my debt,” says Kohli

For most devotees, security is not something to be worried about nor have they given much active thought to it. They come here only for solace, to find peace in the dhamaal, and to enjoy the professional performers’ dance to the drumbeats.

“We stay for four days after arriving a day before the urs,” says devotee and professional performer, Mohammad Aslam. “Then we leave for Baba Salahuddin’s urs in Jamshoro, on the other side of the river [Indus]. His urs is scheduled right after Bhittai’s urs.” Aslam was here last year, and he brought his family this time round too. “We earn handsomely by participating in the urs but when no celebrations are scheduled, we work as daily-wagers in Punjab.”

But amidst the hubbub of daily life, the shrine’s security remains highly compromised. People from different sects and religions frequent the shrine in large numbers and stay there for weeks, sometimes even for months, without being questioned. They bring with them their beddings and some edibles to consume; some puff on hashish-filled cigars [chilam] without any check by the Auqaf department or the police.

Given its management and security scenario, even average deterrence measures are missing. An under-resourced police is supposed to handle issues with policemen deployed at two entrances performing the ‘ritual’ of checking. This doesn’t serve any purpose.

According to the SSP, other policemen “remain invisible in the premises,” but he admits that at least 100 policemen are required to have an acceptable level of security at the shrine — one whose parameters are clearly defined to segregate the shrine proper from the other areas.

“The Auqaf department hasn’t defined even the basic parameters of security for Bhittai’s shrine. While shops at the main entrance are a few paces away, those on other side abut the shrine’s walls,” contends SSP Shaikh. “A commercial complex can be built to house these shops at some other location. It can help resolve things.”

Much like the SSP, Waqar Hussain Shah, son of the shrine’s 11th sajjada nasheen, Syed Nisar Hussain Shah, also finds much fault with the Auqaf department. “There is no regulation by the Auqaf department; on our own initiatives, we are trying to take some basic measures in and around the shrines. Even the narcotics business is patronised by those who are considered among the shrine’s stakeholders and the police.”

The Auqaf department, in theory, looks after the administrative side of things at the shrine, with its manager sitting in a room within the courtyard. For all practical purposes, however, the department remains irrelevant to the shrine’s security as it is more concerned with its oft-repeated renovations. The Auqaf office is largely concerned with the collection of money donated by visitors and the overall supervision of the shrine through its volunteers.

“We are doing our level best to manage the shrine. There is clear directive to the manager that if anyone goes wrong, action should be taken through the police,” remarks Auqaf chief administrator Abdul Rehman Channa. Comfortable with how the shrine is being managed, Channa says that he didn’t find anything untoward on the shrine premises.

But Mazhar Ali Shah, the sajjada nasheen’s younger brother, remains concerned about the state of security affairs. “We can’t compare our shrine’s security with that of Data Darbar which is much better than this shrine,” he contends.

On an average, Mazhar explains, 12 policemen are posted but only three or four are on duty. He says that if the shrine’s two entrances are manned properly, it could improve the situation to a great extent. “Yes, there have to be searches of those staying in the courtyard. No one knows who is carrying what in their luggage and given the present conditions, security checks are of utmost importance,” he remarks.

Waqar Shah echoes the thought. “Recently, when we randomly checked devotees (lodged in the courtyard), we found some of them staying there for 50-60 days, some for as long as two years,” he says.

“The Auqaf department owned the shrine for monetary considerations but disowned its sajjada nasheen and ideology,” alleges a dejected Waqar. He claims that his elders handed over Bhittai’s shrine to the government for better management and control, but the government’s “core interest” is money alone.

According to Waqar, it is shrines that have become more relevant today than ever. “We need to promote shrine culture and reject the face of Islam being projected by extremists,” he said.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 20th, 2014

PTDC offers 50% discount during month of Ramadan

June 30, 2014 – 3:38 pm

Islamabad, June 27: Pakistan Tourism Development Cooperation (PTDC) offers upto 50 percent discount on accommodation in PTDC motels and hotels during the holy month of Ramadan.

PTDC offers 50% discount on accommodation at its Ayubia and Naran Resorts while 30% discount at Balakot, Saidu Sharif, Kalam, Miandam, Chitral, Booni, Bamburet (Kalash Valley), Mastuj, Phandar, Gupis, Gilgit, Hunza, Sost (Pak-China border), Rama Lake, Skardu, Khaplu and Besham is being offered. In addition to that, Sehri and Iftar dinner is being offered during the holy Month. It is a wonderful opportunity for tourists to spend their holy month of Ramadan at cool places on affordable rates.

Managing Director PTDC Ch.Khabir Ahmed Khan has issued instructions on the directives of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) MianRiaz Hussain Pirzada to provide all facilities to tourists at affordable rates while making all out efforts to promote tourism across the country, luring domestic and foreign tourists.

With an objective to introduce Pakistani culture and tourist attractions on international level and since 1970, PTDC has been working hard to promote beautiful picnic spots situated in far-flung areas of Pakistan, especially where the private sector is shy to invest.

PTDC is currently operating one dozen Tourist Information Centres all over the country to provide information, travel guide, brochures and maps to tourists for planning their holidays, he added. PTDC has recently set up “Tourism Friends Club” and invited applications for membership while giving 20 percent discount to the members on its boarding, lodging, transport and tour package facilities.

Emirates suspends flights from Dubai to Peshawar

June 25, 2014 – 6:51 pm

Dubai : Dubai’s flagship airline Emirates has suspended flights to and from Peshawar effective from Wednesday because of the security situation in city, the carrier said.

Flights are suspended until further notice and passengers will be rebooked on alternative Emirates flights, it said.

“Emirates has suspended flights to and from Peshawar effective 25 June 2014 until further notice, due to the security situation at the destination. Affected passengers will be rebooked on alternative Emirates’ flights and are asked to check on emirates.com for further updates. We apologise for the inconvenience caused – however, the safety of our passengers and crew is a top priority and will not be compromised,” an Emirates spokesperson said.

On Tuesday night, gunmen fired on a Pakistan International Airlines plane as it was landing in Peshawar, killing a woman on board and injuring three crew members in the third incident at a Pakistani airport this month.

Azab and other Swords of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH)

June 19, 2014 – 9:13 pm

Here is translation of the article about the swords of Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon Him) published in BBC Urdu in connection witht he name of the operation in Waziristan named after the Sword of Prophet (PBUH) Azab

Azab one of the 9 swords

By Subookh Syed

Prophet of Islam had 9 swords 2 of which he inherited from his family, 3 were from the spoils of war Azab was given to him as a gift befor the war of Uhad, 8 of these swords are kept in the museum of Topkapi in Istanbul while one is kept in a Jamia mosque of egypt.

Pakistan army has named the operation in Northern Waziristan against the terrorist on the name of one of these words the  Zarb-e-Azab which means the wound of Azab while Azab the sword means a very sharp sword. Al Azb was presented to prophet by one of his Sahabi (Follower) Saad Bin Ibadah Al Ansari before the war of Uhad. Prophet gave this sword to Abu Dajanah during the war of Uhad. This sword is now kept in the famous in Cairo’s Jamia Masjid Al Hussain bin Ali

Names of other Swords of the Prophet (PBUH)

Alam Al Thor: Also called Mathor Al Fajr, it was inherited from Prophet’s father . This Swords handle was made of gold and is twisted and Topaz and Zamarud. It is 99 centimeters long prophet had given this sword to his cousin Ali Abn-e-Talib (KAW). Now this Sword is kept in Turkey’s Topkapi museum.

Al Rasyub : Al Rasyub Min Al Syoof means the sword that can penetrate inside. It is 140 centimeter long. This sword is also associated as a inherited sword. This Sword has golden circles which have name of Imam Jafar Sadiq carved in them. THis sword is also in the Topakapi museum

Al Battar : Al battar means Al Saif or Al Qatae i.e. the one that cuts through, according to the records the original owner of this sword was Jaloot whom propher David had killed at the age of 20 years, the sword has a scene carved where Hazrat David is cuting the head of Jaloot. The sword also has a symbol which is said to be carved on it 2000 years ago in Petra Jordon

This sword is also called Saif Ul Anbia (Swords of Prophets) because names of prophet David, Solomon, Haroon, Ysau, Zakaria, Yahya, Jesus and Islam’s prophet Mohammad PBUH are carved on this sword. It is said that Jesus will fight with Dajjal (Antichrist) with this sword

The length of this sword is 101 centimeters, prophet got this sword in from Yathrab’s Jewish clan Banu Qenqae as spoils of war, now this sword is in Topakapi

prophets-swords

Al Hataf : Hataf means To Kill and Hataf Al Saif means the Killing Sword, This sword was shied from clan to clan in the Jewish tribes as symbol of Bani Israel. This sword came to prophet as spoils of war from Banu Qenqae. It is said that this sword was made by Hazrat Dawood (David) with his hands, as he was an expert of making things from iron.

This sword is made similar to Al Battar but it is slightly longer it is 112 centementrs long and 8 centimeters wide.

Al Qalaei : One with Beautiful scabbard  (cover ) this sword also came to The Prophet (PBUH) as spoils of war from Banu Qenfae like Al Battar & AL Hataf, there also a saying that this sword with 2 golden deer was unearthed by Prophets grand father Abdul Mutalib from Zam Zam wells which were burried by the in laws of prophet Ishmail.

The name Qalaei may refer to its origin from Syria, India or China while some researchers refer it to a metal which gives other metals shining or used as polish for metals. This sword is 100 centimeters long and it kept in Tapakopi museum Istanbul.

Al Zulfiqar : This sword is famous for it being sharp from both sides, it also has two points at the end. This sword came to prophet from the spoils of battle of Badar.  However later prophet gave this sword to his cousin Ali Ibne Talif (KUW)  Karamullah Wajahu. From records it is known that this this sword remained with the family for many generations. Now this sword is in Topakapi museum

Al Makhzam: Al Makhzam also means ne that cuts through. It is said that this sword was taken by Ali (KUW) while fighting with a syrian tribe, while another opinion is that prophet himself gave this sword to Ali and it was with the clan of the prophet since centuries.

It is 97meters long and words of Zainuddin Al Aabdeen are carved on it. This sword is Topakapi museum

Al Qazeeb : Qazeeb means broken branch or untamed camel. This sword is thin and very sharp.  This sword remaind with the Prophet (PBUH) but was never used in any battle. This sword has carving of La Illahe Illalah Mohammad Ul Rasoolullah, Mohammad bun Abdullah bun Abdul Mutalib. This sword always remains in the house of prophet.

It is said that this during the Fatimids times this sword was used in abttles. It is 100 centimeters long and its scabbard  is made of some animal’s skin. This sword is also kept in Topakapi museum

Al Azab : Al Azab means the one that runs fast or is very sharp. A follower of the prophet Saad Bin Ibadah (RA) gave this sword to Prophet (PBUH) before the battle of Uhad. Prophet gave this sword to Abu Dajajah Al Ansari to fight. This sword is kept in Egypt’s Hussain Bin Ibne Ali Jamia mosque

The pictures of these swords were taken by Mohammad Hassan Mohammad Al Tahami in 1929 for his research paper about Prophets swords battle weapons.

Annual Urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar being held at Sehwan

June 18, 2014 – 5:31 pm

lal-shahbaz-qalandar-uris

The annual Urs (Festival) of the great Sufi Saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is being held his shine in Sehwan. The inauguration of 762nd Urs was done by the minister of Auqaf Sidh. Special prayers were held for the prosperity and peace of Pakistan on the occasion.

The minister of Auqaf Abdul Haseeb also inspected the construction work of the mausoleum and CCTV camera network for the pilgrims. He expressed his satisfaction on the ongoing work and said Pakistan is struggling with terrorism, it is the high time that we must follow the message of peace and brotherhood of the saints like Lal Shahbaz qalandar .

Qalandar’s devotes are not just Muslims there are many non Muslims who pay their respect to the Sufi saint.

The Urs will continue 2 more days and will come to an end on Friday.

Annual Urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is held every year from 10th Saban to 13th Shaban every year

 

First Pakistani expedition takes off for K2

June 16, 2014 – 12:38 pm

SKARDU: The first-ever summit K2 peak expedition of Pakistani mountaineers received an overwhelming reception from the local authorities, tourist organisations and foreign mountaineers at a send-off ceremony held here the other day.

The ceremony was arranged by the Central Karakoram National Park (CKNP) and the Gilgit-baltistan tourism department with the support of the Ev-K2-CNR at a local hotel, said a press release issued here. GB minister Shaikh Nisar Hussain Sarbaaz was the chief guest on the occasion while the speakers included Italian mountaineering expert Murizio Gallo, deputy commissioner Raja Faisal Khaliq, CKNP director Raja Abid Ali, mountaineer Hassan Sadpara, mountaineering trainer and president Baltistan Association of Tour Operators (Bato) Mohammad Iqbal, president Pakistan Association of Tour Operators (Pato) Amjad Ayub, Pakistan K2 Expedition team Leader Mohammad Taqi, and expedition focal persons Munir Ahmed and Arif Hussain.

pakistani-mountaineers

The GB minister while speaking on the occasion said that our mountains were the best for adventure tourism and mountaineering and added that the region was very peaceful and hospitable for domestic and foreign guests.

Murizio Gallo mentioned that the team was competent enough to scale the K2 peak if something harsh would not happen. “All the mountaineers are very enthusiastic and well aware of the harsh behaviour of the mountains,” Mr Gallo said and added they had the requisite skills and techniques to handle any untoward situation.

Two Italian mountaineering ambassadors Michele Cucchi and Simone Origone, world champion in speed skiing, would be available to the Pakistani expedition for technical support and assistance in the hour of need.

Director CKNP Raja Abid Ali said we had several opportunities of tourism in park that were being developed with the support of Italian government. This expedition would mainstream CKNP and Pakistan at national and international level.

Bato President Mohammad Iqbal was very happy to see the porters becoming the mountaineers. “I trained them as porters and to climb initially, now the Italian mountaineering experts have equipped them with skills and techniques to climb the harshest mountain – the K2.1 believe in their skills and with the mercy of God they would be successful” President Pato Amjad Ayub urged the government to take steps to promote and mainstream internationally the mountaineering and adventure tourism.

Operation in Waziristan with spirit and hope

June 16, 2014 – 12:27 pm

Amid the attack on Karachi and the open acceptance of Taliban of the attack Government and the military has finally decided to start the all out operation on the terrorists. The first phase of the operation will start in North Wazirsistan see map below

waziristan-map

Pakistan Army said on Sunday it had launched a comprehensive operation against local and foreign militants in North Waziristan, the area is sealed off and Afghan National Army has also been requested to close the border to to plug possible escape routes across the border.

operation-zarab-e-azab

“On the directions of the government, the Armed Forces of Pakistan have launched a comprehensive operation against foreign and local terrorists who are hiding in sanctuaries in North Waziristan. The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb”, head of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, said in a statement. The name Zarb Azb means the “attack of Azab” Azab being the name of the sword of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

The army claimed to have killed more than 50 militants, most of them being Uzbeks, the figure was raised to 150 later. Abu Abdur Rehman Almani, an expert on improvised explosive devices, associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was also among the killed.

No independent confirmation of the number of casualties or the identities of those killed is available. The ISPR statement said that North Waziristan had been isolated from other tribal regions, including South Waziristan and Kurram to block the movement of militants within and outside the tribal region.

It also said that troops had been moved to cordon off terrorists’ bases in Miramshah and Mirali, while announcements would be made to provide for an orderly evacuation of local people for which the political administration and Fata Disaster Management Authority had taken appropriate logistic and administrative measures for registration and their settlement in camps.

Inside the tribal region, however, there was little indication of any troops movement after an overnight bombings and artillery shelling in Mirali. In Miramshah, some troops were seen leaving the fort but they returned immediately

afterwards.

In Mirali, some troops left their fort to establish a post on a hilltop in Hassokhel. A roadside bomb wounded three soldiers which prompted immediate artillery shelling. The troops, however, managed to set up a post as helicopter gunships hovered above to provide air cover.

The announcement regarding the launch of the military operation came as a surprise to the tribesmen in North Waziristan, who were expecting a tribal jirga which had managed to get 15 days from the military authorities to expel foreign militants from the restive region. The 15-day deadline was to expire on June 21.

It was not clear why the military had agreed to grant 15 days to the tribal jirga to mediate expulsion of foreign militants, but officials said the audacious attack on Jinnah International Airport brought forward the date of the military operation.
“The whole process was speeded up. The attack on the airport tilted the balance,” the official said.

Maulvi Gul Ramzan, a key member of the jirga, said the military was no longer willing to honour their commitment and said the people were now free to leave Waziristan. Residents say thousands of people are desperately waiting to leave but have been caught in a helpless situation owing to the curfew that was put in place on Saturday morning.

Insiders said that additional forces had been brought in to further augment one division of the Pakistan Army in North Waziristan but it took the military quite some time to convince a somewhat sceptic Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that it would be able to cope with the possible blowback from North Waziristan operation.

“The prime minister had made up his mind but he had asked the military if our security forces, civil as well as armed
forces, could deal with the fallout from North Waziristan,” one insider who attended the last two crucial meetings told Dawn. “He wanted to be assured that we can cope with the blowback and we had good intelligence on the ground to finish the job,” the insider said.

It was only after Army Chief General Raheel Sharif assured him that arrangements had been made to deal with any eventuality, did the prime minister agree to give the go-ahead to the operation in the last week’s meeting, the insider said.

Also, the prime minister wanted to know if there was good enough intelligence on the ground to make the operation a success. He also wanted to know the duration of the operation, coming so close to the holy month of Ramazan later this month, amid sweltering heat. The military, the insider said, projected the operation to last three weeks but some officials now say that it might extend to the middle of Ramazan and even
beyond it. “The duration of the operation is determined by several factors, it would be premature to predict its closure in a specific timeframe,” a security official said.

Insiders said the military machine would start rolling under the overall command of the Commander, 11th Corps, Lt.
Gen. Khalid Rabbani, as soon as arrangements were made to evacuate the local population. Except for the roadside bombing in Mirali, there was no reaction and no resistance in Miramshah and Mirali. “Not a single bullet was fired,” a security official

Emirates to fly six times a day to Karachi

June 2, 2014 – 7:23 pm

Dubai: Emirates ailin o Dubai which has been flying to all major cities of Pakistan has announced that it will launches its sixth daily service to Karachi starting from August 1, 2014.

This was announced by the airline in a statement that it has served Karachi since it was founded in 1985, and in the past decade alone has transported over six million passengers on the route. ?The additional service will be operated by an Emirates Airbus A330-200 in a two-class configuration. The new service means that as of August 1, Emirates will offer passengers 14,185 seats each week on the route from Dubai, it stated.

Emirates is the best connection from Karachi to Europe middle East and Africa and North America for Pakistanis.

emirates-in-karachi