“…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.
LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
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.”
KOFI ANNAN’S LETTER TO THE LATE PRINCE SADRUDDIN AGA KHAN
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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.
HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN’S LETTER TO KOFI ANNAN
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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.
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