An Englishman Reflects on the Nature of Imam Ali by Barnaby Rogerson @Simerg

Editor’s note: For the month of September 2015, Simerg will be publishing new posts on a less frequent basis. Normal publication of 6 – 8 new posts per month will resume in October. The following piece by Barnaby Rogerson first appeared on this website in 2012.

PLEASE CLICK: An Englishman Reflects on the Nature of Imam Ali

“….No one could ever doubt the devotion with which Ali held Muhammad and the many bonds that connected them: Ali was the Prophet’s cousin, the Prophet’s son-in-law, the Prophet’s first male believer, the father of the Prophet’s only male grandchildren, the Prophet’s most intimate disciple and the first heroic warrior champion of Islam. Ali had also served the Prophet as an army commander, missionary, diplomat and administrative secretary…..”

This is an image of Nurin Merchant’s mixed media canvas painting titled “Nature of Prayer.” Secured on the 14″ x 10″ canvas with strong glue are a handmade Tasbih (prayer beads), and 3 dried leaves bearing the Arabic inscriptions of Allah, Ali, and Muhammad. The whole piece represents prayer through the invocation of these names. Copyright: Nurin Merchant. Please click for Barnaby Rogerson’s article.

Previous post: Readings for the Birth Anniversary of Hazrat Ali (a.s.): Kalam-i Mawla, Nahj al-Balaghah for Young People, and more @Simerg

Remembering Hurricane Katrina on its 10th Anniversary

Editor’s note: This poem was composed by Nazim Bhimani, a deaf Ismaili boy, when he was twelve. Nazim calls himself Deaf 1 Naz, and his profile in his own words can be read by clicking on Nazim Bhimani: The Deaf World.


“You came with a beautiful name and took everything in vain” pens Deaf 1 Naz

By Nazim Bhimani

You came with a beautiful name, and took everything in vain,
You left the babies crying, fathers dying, and mothers praying,
You came with danger and left with total devastation and pain.


You took so many human lives,
the dogs, the cats, the house, the monies, the food, the water,
Are you sure you are mother nature’s daughter??


You took so much, yet you didn’t even leave a pot of rice,
instead you left them with disease that come from rats and mice,
and you didn’t even try and make things right,
so Katrina you are not nice.


Oh my God! what have you done?
Have you come here to make us pay the price?

Date posted: August 30, 2015.


Please also read Nazim Bhimani: The Deaf World.

Simerg invites readers’ feedback. Please click on Leave a comment.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Letter to Kofi Annan: “The World’s Drug Problem Must Remain a Matter of Permanent Concern”

“…For all clear thinking individuals, wherever they may be, the world’s drug problem must remain a matter of permanent concern. With the density of the Ismaili population in Gorno-Badakhshan, in Afghan Badakshan, in Chitral and Hunza and elsewhere in South West Asia and Africa, the leaders of the Ismaili Community, its institutions and I, as the Imam, must be particularly concerned with this aggressive and damaging problem…” — Excerpt from Aga Khan’s letter to Kofi Annan. Please download complete letter in PDF format below.


By Abdulmalik Merchant

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has throughout his 58 years of Imamat urged his followers not to indulge in dangerous and unhealthy social habits such as alcohol, drugs and smoking. In the eyes of the Imam, all his followers are his spiritual children and, like all parents, the 49th Ismaili Imam desires nothing but the best for his community in both spiritual and temporal matters.

There is one farman on alcohol and smoking that has particularly reverberated in my heart and memory for many decades. I remember it well because Alwaez Nizar Chunara, who was our neighbour in Dar-es-Salaam, had conveyed it to us well before it got read out in jamatkhanas across East Africa. It was made in Mbale, Uganda, sometime in the 1960’s, and Mawlana Hazar Imam said in the farman that some of his spiritual children had the impression and told others in the jamat that they were not socially advanced if they did not drink and smoke. This he said, “is absolute and complete nonsense,” (repeating it), and further stated that if we really wanted to be socially distinguished we should not drink and smoke.

During the same East African visit Mawlana Hazar Imam described alcohol as not being for his jamat because it led to losing our honour and creating a bad impression, especially when one went around being drunk. A few years later in London he mentioned that alcohol was a bringer of spiritual sorrow. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s beloved grandfather when addressing Muslims in South Africa warned about alcohol as follows:

“The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen – I have not the least hesitation in saying it – is alcohol. Time has shown that it is an injury to you; an injury to your person; an injury to your health. It is forbidden because it carries greater evil than good. Believe me, in a community like yours, alcohol is a very grave danger. Once you got into the alcohol habit, I do not know where it would lead you. A handful, here and there, of the weak, or of the unhappy, find their way to this terrible poison. Avoid it at all costs. Avoid it, I say, for in this country you cannot afford to lose one man.”


Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00008

7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Kofi Annan, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Then, another farman on social habits that immediately comes to mind, because I was present to hear it as a youth  and as a volunteer standing close to the stage, was the one that he made during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam in 1970 for the opening of the IPS building by President Julius Nyerere. The newly established Karimabad Jamat and the Changombe Jamat located in Dar-es-Salaam’s outskirts were brought together for the mulaqat with Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Diamond Jubilee Hall.

The farman dealt substantially on economic matters; Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke about him being happy if families could afford one car and very happy if they could afford two cars, but he went on to say that he did not want to see that second car. Turning to the subject of health and social habits, he made a plea to the jamat not to be wasteful on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. This mention of drugs was one of the earliest references to drugs in any farman that Hazar Imam had made from 1957 until 1970.

In this connection, it may be mentioned that the use of drugs, particularly of heroin in the USA, was rising at alarming rates in the 1960’s. The Reader’s Digest had even published an incredible heart wrenching essay, “We are All Animals,” about chilling stories of being a drug addict. My mum, I recall, read the entire article out to her students at the Aga Khan Girls Secondary School. Her students literally had tears in their eyes, hearing the sad stories.


Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00005

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam.

So, when I ran into this letter that Mawlana Hazar Imam sent to Kofi Annan, which had been preceded by the Secretary General’s letter to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s late uncle Prince Sadruddin (and perhaps to Mawlana Hazar Imam too, judging by the acknowledgement given), I thought I had also bring to light the general concern about social habits and their absolute wastefulness, and indignity they bring on the community. In making choices between good and bad habits, Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to adopt those that would enable the jamat to live happily, leaving aside alcohol, drugs and other social habits that would compromise the well-being of the jamat.

A key point that emerges from Hazar Imam’s letter to Mr. Annan is the damaging and aggressive problem of drugs not merely in the regions of Central Asia, where poppy plants are being grown in abundance, but elsewhere in the world where his community resides. The growth of poppy is destroying the physical and mental lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Others profit from its growth and illegal trade, as the resin from the plants is extracted and refined into morphine, with further refinements yielding different forms and grades of heroin.

Mawlana Hazar Imam is continuously concerned for the well-being of his jamat, and nothing is more important to him than the strength of our mental health and capacity, which he has said must be preserved and enhanced rather than being destroyed through the use of drugs. The Ismaili community can certainly set a true example of  social distinction and wisdom by avoiding all forms of social habits that do not contribute to any form of advancement. As a small community, our resolve to abstain from detrimental social habits would help us to serve our families, our communities and countries more effectively and purposefully in the coming years and decades.

Date posted: July 23, 2015.
Last updated: July 25, 2015 (updated with additional material from the personal notes of my mother, Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, on smoking, drinking and drugs).


Credits: The PDF files are from the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS). ARMS is open to the public. Materials are available for research, teaching, legal proceedings, publication, television and radio programmes, and for general interest.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Share this post with your friends and contacts around the world. Subscribe to this blog at the top right of this page. For complete contents of this website, please click on Table of Contents (2009–2015).

Watch Video: President Obama Recognizes Muslim Youth at White House Ramadan Dinner

“….It [Ramadan] is a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of one’s duty to our fellow man — to serve one another and lift up the less fortunate. The Qur’an teaches that God’s children should tread gently upon the earth and, when confronted by ignorance, reply ‘peace.’ In honoring these familiar values together — of peace and charity and forgiveness — we affirm that, whatever our faith, we’re all one family — President Barack Obama, White House, June 22, 2015.

President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

“…..So, Ziad, Munira, Batoul — they all talk about how much they value the opportunities they’ve had to succeed here in the United States. And they also remind us that our obligations to care for one another extend beyond our immediate communities, beyond our borders.” — President Barack Obama, White House, June 22, 21015.

Simerg’s Photo Features: Iran and Alamut Like You Have Never Seen Before and the Seal of the Aga Khan University

As part of the 3rd anniversary of Simerg’s photo blog, we bring you two previous features portraying the rich culture and history of Iran, and the meaning behind the logo of the Aga Khan University. Please click on the links or images shown below.

1. Iran and Alamut Like You Have Not Seen Before

004 Iran and Alamut Like You Have Not Seen Before

2. The Magnificent Aga Khan University, its Symbolic Logo and the Elegant Jamiapoash Worn by His Highness the Aga Khan for the University’s Convocation

005 Aga Khan University Seal and Jamiaposh

Simerg to Launch Photo Contest to Celebrate the Opening of the New Aga Khan Museum

An artistic rendering of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park. Photo: The Ismaili/Imara.

An artistic rendering of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park. Photo: The Ismaili/Imara.

Simerg is celebrating the public opening of the Aga Khan Museum on September 18, 2014, by launching a photography contest. A total of 25 photos, all related to the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park taken from the time the grounds become open to the public through to September 25, 2014, will be selected by an independent panel of judges and posted on this website on or around 7th October, 2014. The prizes will consist of a total of 20 free annual youth and family memberships to the museum as well as 5 merit prizes from the museum’s shop.

There will be two categories. The Youth Category will be open to anyone 19 and under. A total of 10 annual youth memberships will be given to the winning entries and, in addition, the judges will select 5 merit entries who will be awarded with the Aga Khan Museum catalogue.

The Open Category is for anyone over the age of 19. It will be for all amateur photographers and photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who likes to shoot photographs, either using a camera or their smart hand-held devices and phones! For this category we will expect each photo to be accompanied with a 75 to 100 word narrative to encapsulate the photographer’s experience of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre or their Park. Only spaces where photos are allowed to be taken will be accepted for the contest.

The opening days of the museum will be the perfect breeding ground for passionate picture taking and writing a brief narrative, and if you are selected as a winner in the Open Category you will be one of 10 to receive an annual family membership.

Here are some ideas for taking and submitting photos: artistic and architecture beauty and grandeur of the projects, interior spaces (where permitted), landscape, nature (as in the park), as well as spontaneous moments involving people!

The prizes that are to be given are from gracious donations by numerous individuals and families in Ontario. Further details of the contest, including the names of judges, will be published in the coming fortnight. Start preparing for this contest as communities in Ontario and Canada as well as around the world eagerly anticipate the opening of three unique cultural initiatives undertaken by His Highness the Aga Khan!

“What is Faith?” by Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah and “Love for the Imam” by Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq


by Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah

Faith (Iman) is like a tree, the roots of which go into the heart: its trunk is in reason, and its branches are in the instincts, while imagination is its new shoots and leaves – (senses of) the body. The foundation (asl) of faith is love for the Imam-e-Zaman (the Imam of the Time). And if this foundation, that is, this love, and the roots of faith are strong and in good condition, all other parts of the tree, such as its trunk, its branches and leaves, can be expected to continue to flourish even if they are (accidentally) damaged. If, on the contrary, the roots are not well grounded, or even rotten, the whole tree will soon dry, and then will become good for nothing except to be used as fuel.

Thus love for Mawlana Hazar Imam is everything, being the root of faith. If it is not strong, all the acts of outward piety (a’mal-i zahiri) which are like leaves of the tree, will fade. If you have thousands of leaves, fresh and of good colour, they will dry in a short time, and then a very small fire will be sufficient to burn them completely.



by Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq

It is related from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that a group of Shias visited him one day. One in the group addressed the Imam and spoke of a man who was with them.

O Son of the Messenger of God: this man has love for you.”

On hearing these words, the Imam looked at the person and said:

“The best kind of love is the love for the sake of God and His Messenger. There is no gain in any other kind of love.”

The Imam then continued.

“Once the ansars [helpers] came to Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (s.a.s.) and said, ‘O Messenger of God! We were on the wrong path and Allah guided us through you. We were destitute and we prospered by your blessings. For this reason, you may ask of anything you desire from our belongings and we shall give it to you.’

“At this, the following verse was revealed by Allah, ‘Say (O Muhammad): No reward do I ask (for my favours) except your love for my kith and kin’.”

Moved to tears, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq then raised his hands and exclaimed:

“Praise be to God, Who has exalted us above all.”


“Faith” adapted from Risala dar haqiqat-i din by Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah Al-Husayni, translated as True Meaning of Religion by Wladimir Ivanow.  Pir Shihabu’d-Din Shah was the eldest son of the  47th Ismaili Imam, Aga Ali Shah, also known as Aga Khan II. The Pir was only 33 when he died due to a chest related illness, a few months before the demise of his own father, Imam Aga Ali Shah. Mawlana Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, then only 8 years old, succeeded to the throne of Imamat as the 48th Imam.

“Love for Imam” excerpted from article by Jehangir Merchant and Alnoor Bhatia published in Ilm, Volume 5, Number 1 (July 1979). The article was based on the Gujarati edition of Qadi al-Numan’s work, Da’aim al-Islam.

Mi’raj-e-Rasul – The Night Journey of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) by Jehangir A. Merchant

PLEASE CLICK: An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj and the Prophetic Tradition ‘I Have a Time with God’ (li ma’a Allah waqt) By Jehangir A. Merchant

This painted page from a manuscript shows the Archangel Gabriel with the Prophets Moses (left) and Muhammad (right). Surrounded by angels they discuss the question of daily prayers. This happened during Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. Because it was forbidden to show Muhammad, his face is veiled. Image: Copyright Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF). Please click on image for literary reading.

This painted page from a manuscript shows the Archangel Gabriel with the Prophets Moses (left) and Muhammad (right). Surrounded by angels they discuss the question of daily prayers. This happened during Prophet Muhammad’s ascent to heaven. Because it was forbidden to show Muhammad, his face is veiled. Image: Copyright Museum With No Frontiers (MWNF). Please click on image for literary reading.


This single sheet probably came from a handwritten work completed for the Ottoman Sultan Murad III (r. AH 982–1003 / AD 1574–95), and is currently housed at the Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. It features, between bands of script, the prophets Moses and Muhammad and the Archangel Gabriel conversing in heaven. Angels, perched on five clouds behind these three principal characters, appear to be listening. The scene portrayed is one from Muhammad’s visionary ascension to heaven. Muhammad stands on the right-hand side in a long green robe and turban, and Moses, wearing a long dark red robe, is on the left, in front of his heavenly throne, which is denoted by an inscription in Arabic lettering. Moses is gesturing his hands in speech. Muhammad, with whom he is conversing, stands on the opposite side. A white veil conceals his face, while his hands are hidden in the long sleeves of his gown. The heads of both prophets are crowned with halos, within which their names, written in a black script, can be deciphered. The Archangel Gabriel stands between Muhammad and Moses, turning towards Muhammad. He is characterised by a twin pair of multi-coloured wings and a crown. He is featured in the Old Testament as the gate-keeper of Paradise. As one of two angels standing in the presence of God (Luke 1:19), it was Gabriel who explained the story of the Messiah (Daniel 8:16ff.). In Muslim tradition, the angel brought the Divine Revelation of the Holy Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad. In Sura 2 verse 97 it is written that: Gabriel ‘has by God’s grace revealed it [the Qur’an] to you [Muhammad] to your heart’.

The text above the three personages, which describes the story, is written in Ottoman Turkish. It includes the account of Muhammad discussing with God the number of daily prayers. Both eventually agreed on five daily prayers. Moses is Muhammad’s heavenly adviser and Gabriel is his companion. The direct speech of all those involved is written in Arabic. The text is taken from a biography of the prophet which had appeared from the AH 1st century/AD 7th century on. The generic term for this type of biography is sira, which translates as ‘life facts’ or ‘way of life’.  (Text adapted from the website of MWNF – see link below).

Date posted: Saturday, May 24, 2014.


For further information about the image shown above, please click on Page of Ottoman Manuscript. Please also click on

Links to a selection of Jehangir Merchant’s pieces at Simerg:

35 Short Readings and Messages on Didar and Imamat in Anticipation of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Bangladesh and India

PLEASE CLICK: Simerg’s Imamat and Didar Series

INTRODUCTION: His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam as he is affectionately and respectfully addressed by his Ismaili followers, will be visiting Bangladesh and India during the coming month. In July 2011, the 49th Ismaili Imam who is the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) made a highly successful visit to East Africa and Simerg provided a religious context of the visit by publishing a seven-part series on Imamat and what didar (lit. glimpse of the Imam of the Time) represents to an Ismaili.

Please click on photo to download Imamat and Didar series

Please click on photo to download Imamat and Didar series. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.

We are pleased to provide the entire series which consists of  thirty-five brief  readings such as “Didar: Life’s Ultimate Purpose” by Imam Mustansir-Billah in PDF format. To download this highly educational and inspiring series, please click Simerg’s Imamat and Didar Series. We invite you to share this post with your contacts around the world. 


A Note to Readers: Please scroll down or click Home page for other recent posts and click What’s New for links to all articles published on this blog since March 2009. Subscribe to this Website via the box near the top right of this page.

Stories of Ismaili Volunteers: At 85, Vancouver’s Rajabali Mecklai Wins Hearts by Serving the Community With Dedication and Warmth

Rajabali Mecklai served in numerous capacities as a volunteer both in Uganda and Canada for many years but he registered as a badged Ismaili volunteer over 30 years ago. His late wife, Maleksultan, was a motivating force of his volunteering activities. She passed away in Vancouver’s downtown Drake Jamatkhana at the call of prayer on Friday, August 16 1996. Rajabali’s deep affection and closeness to Maleksultan is shown by the love letters he wrote in her memory, many of which he shares with his friends and youth of the Jamat….Read more of this first piece in Simerg’s new series

Please click for article on Rajabali Mecklai, the first piece in Simerg's special series on Ismaili Volunteers from Around the World. Image: Simerg.

Please click for article on Rajabali Mecklai, the first piece in Simerg’s special series on Ismaili Volunteers from Around the World. Image: Simerg.

Please contribute your stories, see STORIES OF ISMAILI VOLUNTEERS.