Located on an islet off the coast of Worli in the southern part of the city is one of the most recognizable landmarks of Mumbai: the Haji Ali dargah. The structure below consists of a mosque and a tomb, built some 500 years ago.
Shirk is rampant, unfortunately. It is a common belief among people that if one pray’s at this durgah, his/her wishes are fulfilled. On Thursdays and Fridays the shrine is visited by thousands of people, irrespective of faith and religion to get the “blessings” of Haji Ali.
We didn’t go into the dargah. The place where I took the picture above is as far as we went. At the entrance along the main road (next to a police station), was a security check. We passed through a metal detector and had our bags checked.
Past the security personnel, we found ourselves surrounded by men and women selling flowers and green/red blankets (for offerings in the dargah), copies of Qur’an, tasbih beads, perfumes, sun glasses, key chains, religious books, and cassettes/DVDs of songs on Haji Ali (which, frankly speaking, sounded very filmy and ridiculous).
There were also a couple of men who offered to write our names on a grain of rice. And of course, there were also beggars.
Who is Haji Ali?
His name is Ali Shah Bukhari, a rich Muslim merchant from the ancient Persian Empire (now Uzbekistan), who gave up all his worldly possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
He traveled around the world in the early 1400s, eventually settling in Mumbai where had this mosque built.
Some legends about the man:
# 1: That he drowned in the sea and his devotees built a tomb at the spot where he died.
# 2: That he once saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. He asked her what the problem was. She sobbed that that her husband would thrash her since she had stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying. He asked her to take him to the spot where she lost the oil. There, he jabbed a finger into the soil and the oil gushed out. The overjoyed woman filled up the vessel and went home. Later, he had a recurring – and disturbing – dream that he had injured Mother Earth by his act. Full of remorse, he soon fell ill and directed his followers to cast the coffin carrying his body into the Arabian Sea.
# 3: That he died on his pilgrimage to Mecca and his body was put in a casket. The casket is said to have floated back to Bombay, stopping near the rock bed on the sea here. The place where his casket was found later served as the venue of his dargah (tomb), built by his devotees.
“Verily, Allah forgives not (the sin of) setting up partners (in worship) with Him, but He forgives whom He wills, sins other than that, and whoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, has indeed strayed far away” [al-Nisa’ 4:116]