“When I was at my barest, my ugliest, my weakest, you took me out to the open square, to be pelted upon with stones by yours. My tears cloaked me – buffered the pain – for in the tears, my God was crying along with me. And flowers grew over my wounds instead.”
The road to the Haji Ali dargah is paved with sweet offerings to a beloved saint, doorways to zakat, human suffering, and faith.
I go to the sufi shrine often. It is the final resting place for Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. Dating back to 1431, the dargah (shrine) and mosque, rebuilt in the 19th Century, lie 500 meters away from Worli in South Mumbai, on a little islet in the Arabian Sea. The shrine is connected to the mainland by an unrailed causeway nearly a kilometer long which gets buried during high tide.
Tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the dargah everyday, from all faiths and all walks of life, the figures burgeoning on Fridays and going up to hundreds of thousands on the second day of Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha.
The story of the Pir, like most legends is steeped in myth, yet tugs unabashedly at its devotees’ beliefs. The tale goes that once upon a time there was a wealthy merchant in Bukhara (present day Uzbekistan), who whilst helping a mortal woman with his powers, inadvertently injured the earth. Remorseful, he gave up all his worldly possessions before making his pilgrimage to Mecca. He traveled the world, thereafter, to finally settle in Mumbai, India and spread the word of Islam. On a later pilgrimage to Mecca, he died on his way, and his casket found its way back to the rocks where the shrine was eventually built.
On weekends qawaals sing odes in his name, quoting him with fervor: “if you know yourself, you know god.”
It is said, Pir Haji Ali never disappoints. I think faith never disappoints, for when we believe, we also, just, accept.