All You Need To Know About Pakistan's African 'Sheedi' Community

Sheedi has a noble origin, derived from the Arabic word 'Syed'.

Earlier this month, the Pakistan People\\’s Party (PPP) nominated Tanzeela Qambrani in the 25th of July general elections to a women\\’s reserved seat in the Sindh Assembly. This decision highlighted Sindh\\’s small but vibrant \\’Sheedi community\\’ and attracted the media\\’s attention towards Qambrani\\’s origins.

Tracing the origins and accomplishments of Qambrani

Qambrani, a 39-year-old postgraduate in Computer Science, is a mother of three children. Earlier, she was nominated by the PPP to head the Badin district\\’s Matlij town\\’s municipal committee. She belongs to the Sheedi tribe – a tribal name indicating origins in Africa – a gifted but ignored minority.

Qambrani says:

My ancestors came to Sindh a century ago from Tanzania. My family has maintained ties with our ancestral homeland to this day.

Life in Pakistan

Due to their background, Qambrani and her tribe had to endure neglect, maltreatment, and controversies in Pakistan. No matter how talented or educated the Sheedi tribe\\’s people were, they were still unable to enact any meaningful change to their community.

In Pakistan, the people of Sindh refer to the word \\’Sheedi\\’ as a \\’bad person\\’, while the people of other provinces are entirely unaware of the noun \\’Sheedi\\’. Sheedi has a noble origin, derived from the Arabic word \\’Syed\\’; however, over time, \\’Sheedi\\’ has been twisted from honorific to insult.

Hoshoo Sheedi – An Origin Theory that eliminates the insult associated with Sheedi

In the 1960s, Hoshoo Sheedi (the martyred general of the Talpurs) became Sindh\\’s hero when he fought the British Army in the 1800s. He was killed in 1843 during the Battle of Hyderabad. Now, Hooshoo Sheedi lies at Pakka Qila in Hyderabad, the traditional castle of the Talpur rulers and home to Muhajirs from India. Despite his exceptional bravery in the battlefield, little is known about Hoshoo Sheedi. Questions arise as to why he (a Sindhi) was called \\’Sheedi\\’. Perhaps he belonged to the Sheedi community that we know now. This theory eliminates the insult associated with the word \\’Sheedi\\’ in Pakistan.

How did Sheedi get to South Asia?

According to Dr. Helene Basu, an associate professor at the Free University in Berlin, African slaves were brought to South Asia in large numbers to serve the royal courts or imperial armies. These victims of the East African slave trade became the Sheedis. The largest community of Sheedis (50,000+) now resides in Sindh, Pakistan.

Origin and etymology of the word Sheedi

When African slaves were brought to Sindh, they were called \\’Sidis\\’. Along the way, people made \\’Sheedi\\’ out of that and associated it with hoodlums. In reality, the root of \\’Sidi\\’ means \\’black.\\’ It is another way of saying Habshi, which means Negro in Arabic.

Pakistan\\’s link to the Sheedi tribe

In ancient India, in times of lax central authority, territories ruled by Sidis sprang up around the coastline. One such example was Sachin in Gujarat, India; another was Janjira, on the Maharashtra coast.

The rulers of Janjira traced their origins back to Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia in East Africa) and joined forces with the first Mughal emperor, Babur.

Nawab Ahmad Khan of Janjira descended from a Sidi dynasty from Abyssinia. The Nawab married into the distinguished Bohra Tyabji family. His 12-year-old wife Nazli attracted her sister Atiya Fyzee to her side in the state.

Fyzee went to England to study, which left a mark on Pakistan\\’s history. Daily Dawn reported:

On the 1st of April 1907, Miss Beck sent Atiya Fyzee a special invitation to meet a very clever man named Mohammad Iqbal from Cambridge, who was inspired by her. The two became friends.

Another notable person who was inspired by her was the famous biographer of \\’Islam\\’s Prophet\\’, Shibli Numani, who was supported financially in his educational ventures by the state of Janjira.

During the Partition in 1947, Atiya Fyzee moved to Karachi at the request of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and was given land. She built a large house there: the Aiwan-e-Riffat.

Traditions of Sheedi: the Mangho Pir

After the Partition of Pakistan and India, the Sheedi of Sindh started to live in the Lyari-Mangho Pir locality. They had long since given spiritual significance to the crocodiles (mangho) of the area by accepting them as their mystical guides (pir).

The crocodile shrine outside Karachi remains home to a well-known annual Sheedi ritual. Dancing and chanting in Swahili, hundreds of Sheedis assemble there every year to celebrate their ancient roots.

Today, Tanzeela Qambrani highlights the success of the Sheedi community in Pakistan. The now-not-so-ignored minority has crossed another barrier and has made others recognize their community. We wish them good luck and hope that their talent takes them further on this journey of self-realization.

What are your thoughts on this? Share with us in the comment section below.

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