Varas Ismaili Gangji: The Turning Point by Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant

Editor’s note: While I constantly think of my mum, Alwaeza Maleksultan J. Merchant, as she continues her recovery at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, near Vancouver, from an open heart surgery some 5 weeks ago, I felt I should re-post her excellent piece on Varas Ismail Gangji that she contributed as part of Simerg’s highly acclaimed “I Wish I’d Been There” series. Her photo, left at image below, was taken by my brother, Alnoor, when he visited her at the RCH a few days ago. To read her inspiring piece, please click on the photo or on Varas Ismail Gangji: The Turning Point

Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, 83, shown at left in image above seen recovering at the Royal Columbian Hospital following her triple bypass surgery. Please click on photo for her article on the great Ismaili hero Varas Ismail Gangji. Photo/image: Alnoor Merchant/Nurin Merchant.

Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, 83, shown at left in this image, is seen recovering at the Royal Columbian Hospital following her triple bypass surgery. Please click on image for her article on the great Ismaili hero Varas Ismail Gangji. Photo/image: Alnoor Merchant/Nurin Merchant.

Aab-i Shifaa, Water that Heals

The reference by the Persian Ismaili Missionary, Fida’i  Khurasani, of the distribution of healing water by Imam Islamshah (a.s.), the 30th Ismaili Imam, is significant, as the practice of drinking water blessed by the Imam is frequently attested in Ismaili Ginans and continues to form part of the Ismaili tradition to this day.

The use of such consecrated water is widely practiced in several religious traditions. Many Twelver Shi’a, for example, dissolve the dust of Karbala where Imam Husayn (a.s.) is buried, or that of Najaf, the resting place of the Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), and drink the resulting healing water (Aab-i Shifaa) as a cure for illness, both spiritual and physical.

In India, an offering (Nyaz) is conducted at many Muslim homes with great respect and devotion. Verses of the Holy Qur’an are recited  on the death of Muslim saints in whose name the Nyaz is held, and the person who performs the ritual of Nyaz keeps some water and food aside while reciting the Qur’anic verses. By association with the  recitation of the holy verses, the food is considered to become sacred and is shared with those present and even sent to friends and relatives. Whoever partakes of the Nyaz is considered fortunate since Nyaz is associated with barakat or blessing.

The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic belief, it is a miraculously-generated source of water from God, which began thousands of years ago when Prophet Abraham's  infant son Ismail was thirsty and kept crying for water. Millions of pilgrims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water. The Zamzam well was excavated by hand, and is about 30 m (98 ft) deep and 1.08 to 2.66 m (3 ft 7 in to 8 ft 9 in) in diameter. It taps groundwater from the wadi alluvium and some from the bedrock. Originally water from the well was drawn via ropes and buckets, but today the well itself is in a basement room where it can be seen behind glass panels (visitors are not allowed to enter). Electric pumps draw the water, which is available throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the Tawaf area.Photo and Caption Credit: Wikipedia.

The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic belief, it is a miraculously-generated source of water from God, which began thousands of years ago when Prophet Abraham’s infant son Ismail was thirsty and kept crying for water. Millions of pilgrims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water. The Zamzam well was excavated by hand, and is about 30 m (98 ft) deep and 1.08 to 2.66 m (3 ft 7 in to 8 ft 9 in) in diameter. It taps groundwater from the wadi alluvium and some from the bedrock. Originally water from the well was drawn via ropes and buckets, but today the well itself is in a basement room where it can be seen behind glass panels (visitors are not allowed to enter). Electric pumps draw the water, which is available throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the Tawaf area. Photo and caption credit: Wikipedia.

The Ismaili emphasis on the spiritual aspect of this healing is clear from the names used to designate the water, which include Light (Nur) and ambrosia (Amiiras, Aamiijal) and Nyaz. Their use of the blessed water is also distinctive in another regard. It is taken in the name of the Imam of the Time (Imam-e-Zaman), who is always physically present on earth.

In the old prayer associated with this ritual, preserved in many of the manuscripts, the water is sanctified with the following formula when poured into the vessel:

Pure is the water,  pure is the wind
Pure is the earth,  pure is the sky
Pure is the moon,  pure is the sun
Pure is the Lord’s vessel,  pure is the Lord’s name
By the name of the Lord,  pure becomes the Lord’s congregation

In the remainder of this long prayer, the primordial existence of a manifest divine authority is repeatedly evoked. The lineage of this authority is traced through the cosmic ages and is ultimately affirmed to be vested in the living Imam of the age. The sections of the prayer end with a declaration that the Imam is alive and eternally present.

At this point the reciter of the prayer would announce the word farman, to which those in attendance would reply Shah-Pir-a reaffirmation of their allegiance to the command (Farman) of the reigning Imam (Shah) and his representative (Pir).

The current practice is similar, but the expression Shah-Pir has been replaced by Ya Ali-Ya  Muhammad.

In this manner, the community members voiced their allegiance, in the words of Nasir al-Din Tusi, not solely to the command, but to the Commander of their time, the Possessor of the Command.

Date posted: January 11, 2015.

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(An earlier version of this reading was posted on this website in 2009. It was adapted from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, 2007, and Wikipedia’s article on Holy Water. This revised piece includes material from Frontiers of Embedded Muslim Communities in India, edited by Vinod K. Jairath).

“Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” – A Film Created and Produced by Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe

Originally aired on PBS to a word-wide audience exceeding 150 million people

“CANDID, THOUGHTFUL AND VISUALLY STUNNING” – Los Angeles Times

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) changed world history in 23 years and continues to shape and inspire the lives of more than 1.4 billion Muslims around the world.

Simerg is pleased to make available for its readers around the world a link to the film, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, that was originally aired on PBS to a world-wide audience exceeding 150 million people.  The internet age is a blessing of our time that, through outstanding movies such as this, we are able to learn more about the wonderful and noble qualities of  Prophet Muhammad. In his Presidential Address to the Seerat Conference in 1976, His Highness the Aga Khan had asked:

“In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, ‘Do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim Society is to be in times to come?’ And if as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search then in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?”

 His Highness continued:

“The Holy Prophet’s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty, honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead.”

Some of these examples from the Prophet’s life come alive through this ground-breaking PBS film, which takes the viewers from the ancient Arabian sites where Prophet Muhammad’s story unfolded to the homes, mosques, and workplaces of some of America’s estimated seven million Muslims. The Los Angeles Times called the film “a candid, thoughtful, flowing, visually stunning film,” while The Catholic News Service commented that the Prophet’s biography offers viewers fresh insights into the spiritual foundations of Islam.

Readers can watch a preview of the film as well as the the full-length movie by clicking  on the following image:

Please click for links to full length movie and excerpts

2014 Simerg Collection: Passings, Achievements and Historical Reminiscences

PLEASE CLICK: Ameer Kassam Janmohamed (1931-2014) or photo for tribute.

Ameer Kassam Janmohamed (1931-2014), lived his life to the fullest. Please click on photo for tribute.~~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: “Conversations on Three Continents”

Please click on image for book excerpt.~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: Rediscovering a Lost Piece of Ismaili History — First Steps in the Migration of Tanzanian Ismailis to Canada

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, blessing Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in October 1957. Photo: Sadru Meghji Collection, Toronto.  Please click on photo for article.

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PLEASE CLICK: To the Memory of Roshan Thomas and Zeenab Kassam

The deaths of Roshan and Zeenab in Kabul at the hand of terrorists have touched the hearts of thousands around the world.

PLEASE CLICK: Roshan Thomas – Acting in the Path of God By Jalal Jaffer

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PLEASE CLICK: Simerg’s Exclusive Interview with Mirza Ali and his Sister Samina Baig Who Became the First Ismaili and Pakistani Woman to Reach the Summit of Mt. Everest

Samina Baig climbing Mt. Everest. Photo: Mirza Ali. Copyright.~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: A True Account of How Three Ismaili “Shaheeds” Lost Their Lives in a Tragic Accident in 1925 Near Kilosa, Tanganyika

Portraits of the three Shahids, Karmali Dahya, Lalji Ladha and Missionary Khudabaksh Talib (right), who died when their lorry slid into a ditch near Kilosa in 1925. The photo was displayed in the lobbies of jamatkhanas around East Africa at the instruction of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957). Photo: Anverali Talib Family Collection, Montreal, PQ, Canada. ~~~~~~

PLEASE CLICK: Remembering Rai Hussein Khanmohammed of Burma

Rai Hussein Khanmohamed (1932 - 2013)

Date posted: December 31, 2014.

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Did Mawlana Hazar Imam Mention the Planet Venus At Any Time?

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

Magellan spacecraft radar data enabled scientists to penetrate Venus' thick clouds and create simulated views of the surface. Venus is a dim world of intense heat and volcanic activity.  Similar in structure and size to Earth, Venus' thick, toxic atmosphere traps heat in a runaway 'greenhouse effect.' The scorched world has temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Glimpses below the clouds reveal volcanoes and deformed mountains. Venus spins slowly in the opposite direction of most planets. However, NASA scientists imagine sending astronauts to study Venus by floating them above the planet where the atmosphere is similar to that of Earth's. Credit for image and caption (NASA).

Magellan spacecraft radar data enabled scientists to penetrate Venus’ thick clouds and create simulated views of the surface. Venus is a dim world of intense heat and volcanic activity. Similar in structure and size to Earth, Venus’ thick, toxic atmosphere traps heat in a runaway ‘greenhouse effect.’ The scorched world has temperatures hot enough to melt lead. Glimpses below the clouds reveal volcanoes and deformed mountains. Venus spins slowly in the opposite direction of most planets. However, NASA scientists imagine sending astronauts to study Venus by floating them above the planet where the atmosphere is similar to that of Earth’s. Credit for image and caption (NASA).

By Abdulmalik J. Merchant 

As a young boy with a rudimentary understanding about the planets in our solar system, I was always interested in high-flying objects and space. I often wondered why Mawlana Hazar Imam would have made a reference to Venus during his address in Dar-es-Salaam in 1959, as in the following quote:

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: John Macdonald.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: John Macdonald.

“During your lifetime, you and probably more your children are going to face a revolution which will be somewhat like the Industrial Revolution in Britain, but it will be of a far greater consequence. For those in astronomy, geology, mechanics, radio, television, printing, this is such a thorough revolution that if you want to be able to comprehend it and yet to be able to keep for your children the values which you have in life, you have to have a source for these values which your children can live to. When you think that you will be able to leave this world, and spend the weekend on the moon or Venus or something like that, this is a fact which may be very far from you today, but I want you to understand this is not a thought which will be far from your children” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [1]

A reference to Mars might not have intrigued me, as it has always been the most-talked of all the planets that we earthlings might one day visit, but Venus, I said to myself, seemed to be out-of-place at 500 degrees Celcius, where its scorching heat can melt lead!

However, during the past week, media around the world — including the BBC, CNN and CBC — have carried a story about NASA’s possible future venture into Venus with significant importance. The following excerpt from Sputniknews is one of many reports on the subject, which was first released by the renowned professional scientific organization IEEE [2]:

“Much of the recent focus on interplanetary travel has been on manned missions to Mars. But Venus is much closer — and the upper atmosphere of that planet is remarkably like Earth’s. That’s why NASA scientists are proposing a mission to study our next-door neighbor in giant airships.”

Sputniknews then lightly adds:

“Are you looking to get out-of-town after the holiday season?…If you’re looking to really escape, you might want to consider a trip to Venus. At a mere 38 million kilometers (24 million miles), it’s the closest planet to Earth. But it’s not exactly a vacation destination. With an average temperature of about 860 degrees, you’d burn to a crisp before you had a chance to get your tan on. Still, if you’re really convinced Venus is the place to be, NASA has you covered.” [3]

Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, our beloved 48th Imam, had once said that when Imams open their mouths to speak, heaps of pearls (moti na dagla) flow. The Imam’s words often carry pointers to what might follow later. As my beloved father often told me, the Imam of the Time can see over a high wall — a distance away that we can never see.

On reading the story about Venus, I thought I might share with readers of this blog some of the images that NASA has put out to show how they intend to build a colony above Venus, which offers an earth-like environment and where one day, perhaps, our great-grandchildren may wander.

For me, at least, the reference to the moon and Venus by Mawlana Hazar Imam, is an affirmation of the Imam’s broader insight and vision, that his knowledge is all-encompassing, and that if we, as his murids, hold strong to the Rope of Imamat we shall always remain on Sirat -al-Mustaqeem (the straight path) regardless of the age and time we live in — the atomic age, the space age or something even beyond that.

With this thought, I wish all contributors, readers and subscribers of Simerg as well as its sister blog, Simergphotos, a Blessed and Happy New Year!

FIVE STEPS IN BUILDING A VENUS COLONY

Phase 1: Robotic exploration. Photo: NASA.

Phase 1: Robotic exploration. Photo: NASA Langley Research Center

Date posted: December 28, 2014.

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  1. Precious Gems, Volume 1, Published by His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Canada, pp 17-18.
  2. http://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/space-flight/nasa-study-proposes-airships-cloud-cities-for-venus-exploration (IEEE)
  3. http://us.sputniknews.com/us/20141225/1013381394.html

Please also see:

2014 Twelve Piece Collection from Simergphotos: Selected Photos Spanning the Reign of Two Ismaili Imams – Glimpses of 130 Years of Ismaili History

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Photo Essay: The Ismaili Centre – “Peace Through Prayer” and “A Splendid Reality”

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Photos and Videos: Simerg Captures the Spirit of the Jamat on the Opening Day of the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, Canada

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The message appeared in the Diamond Jubilee Yearbook published in Dar-es-Salaam on 10th August 1946. See cover of special issue following message transcript below.

11 Year Old’s “Incredible Interview” with Star Indian Musician Touches on Mawlana Hazar Imam, FIFA and Music (of course!)

“…it was quite something to perform in front of him [Mawlana Hazar Imam] and be in his presence. It was truly, truly magical. I think it was one of our most prestigious performances” — Salim Merchant

PLEASE CLICK: 11 Year Old Boy Aspiring to Become an Astronaut Interviews India’s Iconic Singer Salim Merchant

Please click on image for interview

Please click on image for interview

A Thank You Note to Pir Hasan Kabirdin by Navyn Naran

“…The Nav Chugga are our choice. In the poem, if all goes well, the inevitability is for the butterfly (or silk moth) to emerge and do its butterfly thing, remembering its delicate wings can intricately avert the forces of evil with strength of flight and purpose. Only by guidance, reflection and intention can this occur for the ruh (spirit)…”

Navyn Naran’s Ode to Pir Hasan Kabirdin – the Author of Anant Akhado and the Nav Chugga

Please click for “An Ode to Pir Hasan Kabirdin.” Image in frame is copyright Istockphoto.com.

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For series, please click Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures

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