The 'URS OF SAYYID BUKHARI
hajj Mustafa Shawqi
Looking ahead of us, the
oasis village of Uch Sharif, nestled deep
in the eastern Punjab of Pakistan, emerged
from the desert. As we entered it was throbbing
with people. Today was not only Friday,
Jum’ah, but the ‘urs of a famous
saint, Sayyid Bukhari.
is a yearly celebration of the death date
of a famous wali (friend) of Allah. In Pakistan
and the Indian sub-continent Islam was spread,
upheld and revitalised by Sufis. The people
who loved these men often built beautiful
structures around their tombs, sometimes
with an adjoining mosque. These darbars
as they are called became places for Muslims
to come to, and by the life-example and
barakah of the dead wali, to remember, possibly
with greater humility and awareness, their
relationship to Allah.
Our van headed
into the bazaar, becoming a wedge parting
a sea of people. The colourful clothes and
flowing turbans blended into one another.
A collage of living colour and movement.
The road began to climb up into a narrow
winding street of walls and doors leading
onto courtyards. We went as far as we could,
stopped, and began the walk to where the
main gathering was taking place, at the
tomb of Sayyid Bukhari.
us were graves, lumps of mud piled up in
shifting lines spread out over a continuously
rising area. We were now several hundred
yards up the hill. Later I learned that
once there was no hill at all, and that
over the years it had been gradually built,
one grave over another, the final resting
place of more than 100,000 people.
is an ancient city. It existed as a trade
centre during the lifetime of the prophet
Muhammad (s.a.w.). Later, after the arrival
of Islam, it became a centre for religious
teaching with universities and schools of
Islamic knowledge. Sufis from many parts
of the Muslim world came to teach and live
in what was one of the most beautiful cities
in the world. Now there remain only reminders
of that time.
was being held in the courtyard of the mosque
in honour of Sayyid Bukhari. We were now
on a path leading to its entrance. In front
of us was an arched door. I could see only
slightly through the door, as there were
many people stopped at its entrance removing
their shoes. But what I could see was fantastic:
a courtyard spread out across the very top
of the hill. Arriving at the entrance, I
removed my shoes and entered.
people everywhere; men, women and children,
all dressed in an array of colours like
so many flowers gleaming in the sun on a
bright summer day. I put my shoes down on
the ground where they soon disappeared in
the pile that grew at every moment. But
I didn’t care. No one did; it was
taken for granted that everyone would find
their shoes later. We began moving through
the crowd stepping over people, each foot
searching for a piece of ground to balance
on before going on. Hands stretched out
from every direction helping our balance
until we found space to sit.
I sat enthralled
by the mass of people praying, singing and
crying to their Lord: their faces as timeless
as their worship. Time had stopped. My sense
of being a tourist or visitor fell away
and my heart began to open to this experience.
singers began to chant their songs about
the prophet (s.a.w.) and his noble character
and qualities, as well as songs about following
the path of love for Allah. The sounds of
their drums and musical instruments filled
the air. With each breath we imbibed a portion
of their intoxication.
my eyes fell upon what seemed to be the
vortex of the gathering across the courtyard;
I moved towards it. It was the door to the
tomb of Sayyid Bukhari.
I had never
been in a tomb like this before. Upon entering
it, I remembered the tomb of the prophet
Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Medina. There was a
similar taste, but reverence for the prophet
and his unattainable station forbids further
comparison. I entered the tomb and immediately
felt cooled from the desert sun. It was
just the dark coolness of a mud building,
but felt like entering a garden.
The tomb of
the saint was lit up and the inside covered
by mounds of flowers that sparkled in contrast
to the deep green cover over the stone grave.
I had no idea of the correct courtesy, of
how to approach the situation I found myself
in. Suddenly I was compelled to touch the
green cover. I buried my face in it. I felt
as though I were being brought through a
tunnel whose end was complete darkness.
For a moment there was nothing but cool,
uninterrupted blackness. Tears burst from
my eyes and a hand tugged at my shirt, indicating
it was time to move on.
the celebration ended. From death had come
life. People began to disperse and we headed
back to the village of Ahmadpur from where
we had come. On the journey I remembered
a saying that my shaykh so often repeated:
From the womb to the tomb; what is in between
is nothing other than realising our ultimate
fate and by this realisation discovering