Nadir Ali Shah

Syed Nadir Ali Shah, (Urdu: سید نادر علی شاہ, Sindhi: سيد نادر علي شاهه) popularly known as Murshid Nadir Ali Shah, was a 20th-century Sufi saint of the Qalandariyya Sufi Order of Islam, Muslim preacher, ascetic, mystic, philanthropist and humanitarian. He was born in Gandaf in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent and eventually ended up settling in Sehwan Sharif, Sindh. He was spiritual successor of the famous Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in Sehwan Sharif.[1][2][3] Nadir Ali Shah's legacy rests primarily on his having been one of the most notable figures among saints of Qalandariyya Sufi Order with regard to the Islamic preaching, mysticism and asceticism.[4] Additionally he is believed to have contributed significantly to the promotion of human welfare and social empowerment of the underpriviledged as one of the essential features of the teachings of Qalandariyya Sufi Order of Islam.[5][6] He was also custodian of the shrine of the Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi.[7][8][3]

Syed Nadir Ali Shah
Shrine of Syed Nadir Ali Shah.jpg
Tomb of Syed Nadir Ali Shah in Sehwan
Other namesMurshid Nadir Ali Shah
Gandaf, District Swabi (modern day Pakistan)
Died8 October 1974
ParentsGhulam Shah (father)
Main interest(s)Sufism, Asceticism, Divine love, Philanthropy, Herbal medicine
Other namesMurshid Nadir Ali Shah
Muslim leader
Based inSehwan
Period in office20th century
PredecessorMurshid Deedar Ali Shah
SuccessorMurshid Dr Syed Arif Ali Shah

Early lifeEdit

He was born in Village Gandaf, District Swabi in 1897 to a Pashtun Syed family. He received his early education from his father Ghulam Shah. He was young when his father died.

Finding his MurshidEdit

In his early youth, he with the permission of his mother, embarked on the journey of finding his Murshid (spiritual guide). He stayed in different cities of the then Indian subcontinent, of which Lahore, Sirhind Sharif, Delhi, Ajmer and Quetta are worth mentioning. He spent time in the company of many saints and scholars, and was blessed with their attention and training. At last he saw a dream in which he was instructed by Lal Shahbaz Qalandar to come to Sehwan Sharif.

It was in the Sufi centre, near the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan Sharif, that he met his Murshid (spiritual mentor), who he was searching for and who was to have the greatest influence on his life, Deedar Ali Shah.[9] Murshid Deedar Ali Shah, who was the then successor of the Qalandariyya Sufi Order and custodian of the Sufi centre named Kafi Sakhi Sarwar, became his spiritual teacher, and later on appointed him as his successor. After Deedar Ali Shah's death in 1931, Nadir Ali Shah became the custodian, taking the name of Murshid Nadir Ali Shah.[9]


He chose an extremely ascetic life, spending much of his time meditating, praying and remembering God. He gave up solid food altogether, early in his life. In 1946 Indian mystic Meher Baba went Sehwan Sharif to meet him. He called him "an advanced pilgrim". According to him Nadir Ali Shah stood in a ditch for a period of two years.[2][4] He would take only liquid food.[1][10] He would wear faqirs' clothes and a Qalandari cap (a cotton cap with flaps over the ears).[1] Nadir Ali Shah kept fasting for fifty consecutive years. During all these years, he fasted all the day and prayed all the night. He would sit for hours at night with raised hands in dua or supplication to God.[11]

As a Sufi MasterEdit

Nadir Ali Shah was the most distinguished disciple of Murshid Deedar Ali Shah, who belonged to the Qalandariyya Sufi Order of Islam, attributed to Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Deedar Ali Shah was the then custodian of the Sufi Khanqah, named Kafi Sakhi Sarwar in Sehwan Sharif. After Deedar Ali Shah's death in 1931, Nadir Ali Shah became the Murshid (spiritual leader) of this Sufi Order.[9][7] He held this position for 43 years until his death in 1974. His life was one of the service to mankind through the ethical, spiritual, and practical physical philosophy in action. As a Murshid, he inspired a large number of people to reform their lives and many of them gained eminence for their devotion to God and service to humanity, which included feeding the poor and hungry.[12] Like his predecessors Murshid Nadir Ali Shah was called as Ruler of The Brotherhood.[13] He was succeeded after his death by Murshid Arif Ali Shah in 1974.[9][7][14] British author and Literature Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipaul, during his travel to Pakistan in 1979, visited the Sufi Centre of Nadir Ali Shah in Sehwan Sharif and recognised the community of his disciples as a group of friendly, delighted people with brightness in their eyes, who "knew they served the poor and God".[12] They had chosen a "life of sacrifice and service".[15] Many of his disciples attained spiritual height.[5]

Syed Nadir Ali Shah was also custodian of the shrine of the two grandsons of Abdul Qadir Gilani. The shrine of Mahmood ibn Abdul Razzaq Gilani and Ahmed ibn Abdul Razzaq Gilani is located in the west of the Sehwan city, also called as Pir Pota Mazar or Dargah Masoom Pak.[9] Large number of people attend the annual congregation or Urs, which is held every year in their remembrance on 10th of Rabi' al-Thani.[9][16]

Nadir Ali Shah was also custodian of the shrine of the 8th-century Sufi saint Abdullah Shah Ghazi, located in Karachi.[7][8] The Shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi was built, expanded and beautified during his era in Mid-20th century.[7][5][8][17] He built the dome of the shrine and the windowed ambulatory, the Mosque, the free kitchens or Langar Khana, the Qawwali Hall or court and the Guest House in its premises as well as the long stairway leading to the shrine, which was located on the top of a sandy hill.[5][8][3][18] A devotional connection has always been observed between the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi and Syed Nadir Ali Shah's Sufi order in Sehwan Sharif.[3][19]

The Sufi CentreEdit


Located just a short walk from the Qalandar's shrine in Sehwan Sharif, it is an ancient spiritual institution and abode for the dervishes of the Qalandariyya Sufi Order of Islam. It is commonly called as Kafi.


Kafi is referred to a Khanqah or a teaching and dwelling place for the dervishes of Qalandariyya Sufi order. Other names of this dervish lodge are Kafi of Murshid Nadir Ali Shah and Kafi Sakhi Sarwar (due to the vicinal worship place of 12th-century Sufi saint Sultan Sakhi Sarwar).[5]


The Kafi is as old as the era of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.[5] The custodian of Kafi is called Murshid (spiritual guide) and the disciples are called malangs (dervishes) and sawalis (aspirants).[14][5][20] The Murshid traces his spiritual descent from Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.[1] The malangs are well organised and devoted to their cause.[14] As of 1980s, their number was over two hundred and fifty, some of whom were in the service of the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi and some of the other shrines as well.[5] Among them were highly educated and well-to-do people, who had chosen a "life of sacrifice and service".[15] Hundreds of thousands of followers were affiliated with the Sufi order across the globe.[11]

The shrines of the previous nine Murshids are inside the premises. They are held in high regard for their services and hence "became rulers or governors of the brotherhood".[13] The last Murshid was Nadir Ali Shah, who died at the age of seventy-seven. The current incumbent is Murshid Arif Ali Shah, a certified MBBS doctor. He was the most distinguished disciple of Nadir Ali Shah, so the throne and the crown were handed over to him shortly after the death of his predecessor.[5]


The Qalandari Tariqa or Sufi order proposes struggle with the self, purification of the heart and feeding of the soul. This is accomplished with prayers and remembrance, along with Khidmat (service to humanity).[5]


The Kafi works as a spiritual institution, where spiritual education and training of Qalandar's devotees has been going on for the last more than seven hundred years. For centuries, the Kafi had the honor of the Caretaking of the Sacred Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, which also included keeping the shrine in good repair.[1][4][14][20] It had also the privilege of supplying free food and water to the pilgrims and visitors who came to Sehwan Sharif.[5][21]

After Murshid Deedar Ali Shah's death in 1931, his spiritual successor, Murshid Nadir Ali Shah assumed the charge of the Kafi, as well as the privilege and right of the repair of the sacred Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and the provision of food and water to the pilgrims.[9] He held this prestigious office for forty three years. He was known for his wisdom, simplicity, patience, compassion, generosity and hospitality.[11][5] He worked throughout his life for the alleviation of hunger and remarkably expanded the Free Food and Water Program, first to all the poor population of the town and its suburbs and then to Karachi and other cities. Since then the Kafi maintained serving a nutritional meal twice a day to thousands of people daily.[21][22] Among the daily routine work of the dervishes, besides observing prayers and the all-night remembrance of God, was the hard work and toil with which they managed the Kafi and arranged the food and water for the pilgrims and the poor population of the town and its suburbs. According to Ali Ahmed Brohi, a notable writer and scholar, this service continued throughout the year. According to him, in the deadly heat of Sehwan, kneading thirty maunds (1200 kilograms) of flour and feeding bread to large number of people daily was such a difficult task, that only the Qalandar's devoted malangs had the courage to undertake it. Provision of water was no easy task at that time, as it involved drawing water from the river Indus, a few miles away from the centre of the town, filling it in large leather bags, loading it onto bullocks, trekking it back, through some of the hottest weathers in the world, and then to fill the leather cisterns and earthenware vessels in the sacred Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and the Dervish Lodge. Nadir Ali Shah also built a pilgrim hostel for the travellers. He was honoured and held in high esteem by the people.[14][22]

To the north of dervish lodge is Kafi Sakhi Sarwar, named after 12th-century Sufi saint Sultan Sakhi Sarwar who worshipped here for forty days and prayed in The Divine Court for a permanent Langar (free food facility), which was accepted and the Langar continued here forever. Once a well-wisher advised Murshid Nadir Ali Shah that wheat was going to be expensive and it would be difficult to get even fifty rupees a maund, so it should be arranged in advance. Murshid smiled and told him that "this Langar is running in the name of Allah and He is also responsible for the provision. Even if a grain of wheat is found at the price of fifty rupees, the Langar will continue till the Day of Judgment".[5]

Teachings and ImpactEdit

Being a Murshid of the Qalandariyya Sufi Order of Islam, Nadir Ali Shah emphasized on devotion to God, seeking of knowledge, tawakkul, sabr, purity, humility, brotherhood, forgiveness and Khidmat (service to humanity). His teachings influenced large number of people across the world.[11][5]


Murshid Nadir Ali Shah remarkably expanded the volunteer work of his dervish lodge. He gave the vision of free access of all the underprivileged sections of society to quality food, healthcare, education, shelter, safe water and sanitation as well as ensuring their economic security. In 1930s, he laid the foundation of a volunteer organisation for the alleviation of hunger and malnutrition.[5] For this purpose, he started a Langar khana (Free Meal Service Program) in Sehwan Sharif, for the pilgrims as well as the general public. In addition to fighting against malnutrition and hunger, the programme was also intended to combat age, gender and socioeconomic inequalities in access to food. This Langar khana continued to serve free food to thousands of men, women and children daily.[6][21][22][23]

He also expanded the Free Meal Service Program to the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi.[5][3]

Herbal MedicineEdit

Nadir Ali Shah was an expert physician in Herbal Medicine. People from far away places would come and seek treatment from him.

Spiritual LineageEdit

As with any other major Sufi order, the Qalandariyya proposes a Silsila (an unbroken spiritual chain) of transmitted knowledge, going back to the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through one of his companions, which in the Qalandariyya case is Ali (d. 661).

Thus Nadir Ali Shah's spiritual lineage is traditionally given as follow:

  1. Murshid Nadir Ali Shah (d. 1974), "taught by"
  2. Murshid Deedar Ali Shah (d. 1931), "taught by"[9]
  3. Murshid Shamsher Ali Shah (d.1926), "taught by"
  4. Murshid Qutub Ali Shah (d. 1914), "taught by"
  5. Murshid Mehboob Ali Shah (d. 1900), "taught by"
  6. Murshid Khaki Shah (d. 1869), "taught by"
  7. Murshid Aman Ali Shah (d. 1853), "taught by"
  8. Murshid Darbar Ali Shah (d. 1841), "taught by"
  9. Murshid Roshan Ali Shah (d. 1826).

This uninterrupted chain is traced back to Prophet Muhammad via Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and Ali.

Death and BurialEdit

Nadir Ali Shah died in the early hours of Tuesday, 8 October 1974 (21st Ramadan 1394 AH) at the age of 77 years.[24] His funeral prayer was held in the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and was attended by large number of people. The funeral prayer was led by Qazi Muhammad Murad. He was laid to rest alongside his spiritual mentor Murshid Deedar Ali Shah in Sehwan Sharif.[9]


Murshid Nadir Ali Shah was succeeded after his death by Murshid Arif Ali Shah in 1974.[9][5]

He left behind hundreds of thousands of followers in Pakistan and across the world, who are known for their devotion to God and service to humanity.[11]

The Langar khana (Free food facility) of Nadir Ali Shah is located in the dervish lodge of Nadir Ali Shah, also called Kafi in Sehwan Sharif.[25][22] This charity center provides meal to thousands of men, women and children daily and virtually feeds the entire poor population of the town as well as the travellers.[22][23][26][27][28][29] Dozens of Malangs (devotees) participate in preparing and distributing the food on regular basis.[5] Several free drinking water Sebils have been set up in Sehwan Sharif by the devotees of Nadir Ali Shah, where cold water is freely dispensed to thousands of people daily.[9]

Apart from this, the centre also provides free accommodation to the travellers in the travellers' lodge.[22][23][26]

In Poetry and ProseEdit

Famous poets of Pakistan, in different periods, have paid homage and expressed their love to Murshid Nadir Ali Shah by writing and saying numerous Qasidas (panegyrics) and Manqabats (devotional poems) in national and regional languages such as Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, Balochi and Pashto. Noor Jehan, Shaukat Ali, Ahmed Khan, Khyal Muhammad are among the singers who have commemorated and paid tribute to him in their Qawwalis.

EMI Pakistan released an album of devotional songs in his remembrance, titled "Qawwali Hazrat Syed Nadir Ali Shah" on his 40th death anniversary.[30]


The Dargah (shrine) of Nadir Ali Shah is located in the dervish lodge of Nadir Ali Shah which is situated in southeast of the Shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. The iconic white and green dome is made of ceramic tiles.[31] The hemispherical dome rests on the square building, the corners of which are decorated with four minarets, made of mosaic ceramic tilework. The walls of the shrine are also covered from outside by the same mosaic tilework, making horizontal lines of white, red, green, yellow, blue and black ceramic tiles, from top to bottom, giving an expression of pure delight.[13] On the interior delicate glasswork adorns the lofty ceiling and the dome. The walls are decorated from inside with the turquoise ceramic tiles and delicate glass work. Quranic verses have been carved in the glasswork on the northern wall. Large number of people visit the shrine daily and pay tribute to Nadir Ali Shah.[12]

Before his death in 1974, Nadir Ali Shah appointed his disciple and nephew Dr Syed Muhammad Arif Shah as his successor.[9][5]


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