African origin people in Pakistan : Threatened by Radical Islamists

Kamal Siddiqi, Hindustan Times
Karachi, March 26, 2009


Where Africa meets Pak: The shrine of Mungo Pir


It's time for Karachi's sheedi mela, where Pakistanis of African origin dance and make merry. The mela is called dhamaal and takes place at the shrine of Mungo Pir, the saint of people of African origin, or sheedis, who dot Pakistan's coastline from Karachi all across the Balochistan belt.


Most of these men and women were brought to Pakistan from African countries several generations back. Born and bred here, they have African features but otherwise are Pakistani – in dress, culture and food habits.


For them, the sheedi mela is an occasion to assert their African identity. Most of the singing and dancing at this shrine, on the outskirts of Karachi, has a distinct African flavour.


The high point of the mela is the feeding of the crocodiles, which are housed in a pond at the rear of the shrine. These crocodiles are also called the “lice of Mungo Pir” — legend has it that they fell from the hair of the saint when he wanted to make an offering here.


This year, like in previous years, on the final day of the mela, the keeper of the crocodiles will feed them halwa — a major change in diet since they otherwise eat only meat offered by devotees.


It is believed that if the crocodile accepts the meat offering by devotees, their wishes will be granted. People come here — like at all other shrines, with their problems and desires. And their belief, they say, is strengthened by the presence of the crocodiles, considered to be “custodians” of the shrine.


But the shrine and the crocodiles haven't been able to escape the problems the rest of Pakistan is facing. Fundamentalist Muslims have increased their visits to the shrine, terming the mela as being against the “essence” of Islam.


Caretaker Abdul Hamid Khaskheli told HT that there have been people coming to the shrine and demanding that the mela be called off. “They are polite, but we fear the worst,” he said.


Only a few weeks ago, the Taliban bombed the shrine of Rehman Baba in Peshawar. Khaskheli and others around him say they have their fingers crossed. They pray that Mungo Pir will turn on the power to protect what is his.


Courtesy : Hindustan Times
© Copyright 2007 Hindustan Times


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