Personal Reflections

by Abdulmalik Merchant
Editor and Publisher, Simerg.com

I was born in Mumbai, India and moved with my parents to East Africa, first to Mozambique, and then to Tanzania. Subsequently, I spent a number of years in London, England and in Salt Lake City, United States. After that I lived in Edmonton, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Burlington and Vancouver.  I currently reside in Ottawa. Simerg is my passion – not my full-time occupation. I work in the IT industry as a consultant.

To be a journalist has been my dream since childhood. I have particularly fond and vivid memories of exposure to “journalistic activities”. In my younger days in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, I would cycle to news stores or vendors nearer the downtown core to acquire my own copy of the “Sunday Nation” and the “Sunday Post”, published in Nairobi, but widely popular in Tanzania. “The Standard, Tanzania”, was home delivered – originally “The Tanganyika Standard”, it became “The Standard” when Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to become one nation, Tanzania. Although long nationalized, “The Standard” could not shed its colonial origins. Perhaps, it needed a name change. And this occurred years after President Julius Nyerere (“Mwalimu”) introduced African Socialism and Ujamaa Villages in Tanzania. A highly publicized competition was held for the re-naming of the newspaper and providing it with a new identity. I entered the competition but my entry of socialist sounding names – “The Socialist Standard” and “The People’s Daily” was not successful. Simple “Daily News” was the winning name.

President Nyerere (April 13, 1922 - October 14, 1999)

“Throughout his years in office, I had the opportunity to admire the steadfastness and integrity of purpose Mwalimu applied to Tanzania’s development challenges,” the Aga Khan in a condolence message to the Mwalimu’s wife

East African newspapers at a newstand

East African newspapers at a newstand

I was also intrigued and excited by newspaper circulation numbers and wars, and followed the Tanzanian dailies as well as the Kenyan “Nation” and “Taifa Leo”. My parents, Alwaez Jehangir and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, were constantly engaged in Literary pursuits, including the publications of weekly and monthly community journals such as the “Ismaili Crescent” and “Read and Know”. I would accompany my dad to “The Standard” printing offices whenever special souvenir editions were to be published to match the high quality of “Africa Ismaili”, edited by A. M Sadruddin, which was published in Nairobi.

My parents Alwaez Jehangir and Alwaeza Maleksultan, instrumental in my upbringing

I would relish being in the midst of the editors and journalists as we would walk through the corridors leading up to the printing manager’s room with proofs of text and photos. Adarsh Nayar, the photographer, Trevor Grundy, Philip Ochieng, once with “The Nation” in Nairobi, are some of the names I recall who worked for “The Standard” in Dar-es-Salaam. Mansoor Ladha, an Ismaili who also worked for “The Standard” had a scoop with an exclusive and a very interesting interview with the present Aga Khan sometime in the late 1960′s. Issa Muhammad Shivji, who used to tutor me in mathematics, wrote some brilliant essays on African Socialism. I remember also an excellent Ismaili freelance photographer, whose name I believe was Bahadur (?) Khaki. He died at a very early age from a motor car accident while crossing Upanga Road.

Ilm magazine, London

Ismaili Crescent” or “Read and Know” ‘pinja (fifty) cent’, I would call out at the steps of the Jamatkhanas as I tried to increase the sales of Ismaili community magazines. I proof read the (English) articles alongside my dad. Then many years later, in London, my proposal led to the publication of Ilm magazine, which I co-edited for a number of years before I moved to the United States.

Salt Lake City was a truly inspiring place – I think any spiritual centre and capital of any faith enforces the connection that you have with your own faith. In East Africa, we tended to take for granted the beauty of nature – the wonderful Indian Ocean, the magnificent National Parks, the stunning Rift Valley and the majestic Kilimanjaro. In Salt Lake City my appreciation for the beauty of nature was considerably enhanced. Seeing the New Moon in the night sky on my way home to a nearby suburb, Sandy, would make me aware that a new Islamic Month had just been launched.

On the Nights of Chandraat (New Moon) my heart would be filled with happiness and joy – I would recall the words of the 48th Imam of the Ismailis (Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah or Aga Khan III) on the significance of this night and this set the stage for my special prayers for the remainder of the evening. Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas were hundreds of miles away, and I would take the peanut flight (literally $17.00 and served peanuts only) from Salt Lake to Denver on specific occasions like Navroz and Imamat Day. The Mukhi would be at the airport to pick me up and host me at his hotel. Salt Lake City was the place where I was truly awestruck by the gift of nature – The Wasatch Mountain Range, the Great Salt Lake, the Canyons.

“Do you like small cities or large cities?”, I am often asked. I have no preference per se, but settling in a new, unfamiliar territory is not intimidating to me. But of all the cities that I have mentioned, where I have lived anywhere from one to ten years or more, my favourite remains Salt Lake City. It enriched me and instilled in me self-confidence like never before, with a strong belief that Allah is everywhere. This spiritual centre of the Mormon faith, with its mighty temple from where every other coordinate and street name and number sprung out, exposed me to the ethic of the Church, one of which was a very strong and powerful emphasis on voluntary services, done with a sense of commitment, pride and enthusiasm. It reminded me of how this spirit of honorary service was a very integral and powerful force in the Ismaili community, based on the teachings of  Holy Quran, the Prophet Muhammad and the Imams.

“Voluntary service to others is viewed as an integral part of daily life in the Ismaili tradition, never as a burdensome obligation or an elective activity. Service is a means for each individual to actualise Islam’s ethics of inclusiveness, of compassion, of sharing, of the respect for life, and of personal responsibility for sustaining a healthy physical, social and cultural environment.” Princess Zahra Aga Khan, daughter of  His Highness the Aga Khan, speaking in Edmonton, Canada, 25th August 1998.

The Mormons took pride in simple things – “the Tabernacle’s acoustics are so good that you can distinctly hear the noise of a pin fall even if you are sitting at the back of the hall.” The pressures of conversion were immense too – but I would politely say: “you can tell me about your faith but I should like to tell you something about Islam.” Their response “We don’t do the conversion. It is the Holy Ghost….”

The internet and the world wide web opens many doors and opportunities for everyone. The accomplishments of  Ismail Mail is remarkable. And Ismaili.net has been around, I think, since the advent of the world wide web.

With some little extra time to spare, I felt I had to get into some kind of activity related to “journalism”.

The thought of interviewing individuals struck a chord with me and this is why Simerg has created “Voices”, a page dedicated to interviews with diverse people from all around the world. It certainly will fulfil my childhood dream. In addition to “Voices”, I plan to add contents in other areas such as Literature, Arts, and Culture. In fact, a special page “Literary Readings” has also been added as of March 9th, 2009.

I look forward to your interest in this blog. Please submit your comments and thoughts to simerg@aol.com or in the appropriate pages in this blog.

Thank you

Abdumalik  J. Merchant
March/April 2009

Date updated: Sunday, February 16, 2014.

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13 thoughts on “Personal Reflections

  1. Dear Malik,

    After all this time, I finally got around to going through your website and I must say, your dream has finally become a reality. You have done an amazing job and kept up living your dream. I remember when Simerg was just a “thought” and a “seed”: and look at it now, its blossomed into a tree with a lots of branches and fruits!!
    Congratulations and all the best!!

    Almas Allibhai

  2. Dear Abdulmalik,
    In my esteem you are the most accomplished journalist who inspires me providing me with spiritual nourishment, in this physical world. Of course, the Lord above is most supreme.
    Today for the first time, I read details about you as a person who gives so much to those who care to browse your website. Sadly, I fail to do this myself regularly and falter in this practice. I must practise before preaching! My best wishes for success for many more anniversaries of simerg.com. May Allah fulfil your wishes and grant you good health, Ameen.

  3. This is the best way of communication within our community of sharing knowledge, getting to know and learn more of our roots… especially for the younger generation who have to know where, how and what’s of our traditions, history, philosophy, etc. So thank you for coming up with this site and sharing with us all.

  4. Your editorial profile is so impressive, because it’s good writing, concise, informative and very interesting. Journalism is definitely your calling. I liked how you used your 11 cities to base the bio on, and then sprinkled some important names to give these people credit for your development. Then you listed all the publications that have informed and shaped you, and I loved reading about the peanut flight. In all this, you did not lose sight of natural beauty and spirituality.

  5. In the spirit of journalism, you are also open to ideas and contributions from members of the jamat, no matter their standing. This is humble, ethical and enouraging. There are so many people who have something to contribute, and who contribute every day in their lives..and you let them share. Thank you for your graciousness.

  6. Dear Malik,

    It is heartening that you have followed in the footsteps of your parents in disseminating worthwhile information. Your website is delightful and full of inspiration. It adds another dimension to recognition of the Ismaili community at large and with intersting articles and interviews.

    As your teachers from a distant past, we offer you our congratulations and pray for success in your venture. Keep it up and bravo!!

  7. Make sure , Syrian home is opened by our hearts and eyes to all , if my nest will be small , make sure my heart is very very big , and Golden Jubilee with its international programs and Almulaqat in many countries in the world , made the meaning of brotherhood bigger , and the connection stronger , which should be always here and there..

  8. Dear Simerg,

    Congratulations for the endeavour. I was wondering what and where do you see Simerg in future….say for example five years down the line.

    Dilshad

    • Thank you, Dilshad.

      I should be able to address the very important question you have asked in more detail over the next few days and weeks. There is one thing I would like to say at this moment and it is this: The closures of newspapers and magazines is something I dread and when it does happen it is a sad day for me, whether I read that publication or not. Unfortunately, this has happened too often with our community publications, whether they backed institutional support or were private initiatives, such as mine. When this occurs their revival becomes impossible – the apathy and malaise has set in!

      My focus over the next few months will be on how to sustain and strengthen this website along the lines of many other established publications. Having noted that, I will say that technically, this is a very basic site at the moment, and therefore content management and development will be the keys to its success in the immediate future. The launching of artistic expressions last week will need to gather support and participation from artists all over; in Voices the hope is to conduct and publish one to two interviews every month; and in literary readings the goal is to continuously provide new readings to educate, inspire and stimulate in a simple comprehensible format.

      Of course, there is a vision that was proposed some years ago to celebrate the Golden Jubilee called “One Jamat”. It is something that I would like to share with the readers of this website in the near future, and all of us can discuss on how that notion can be incorporated into http://www.simerg.com. Everyone’s input will be critical into making that specific project effective and purposeful.

      There are exciting plans for this website and also a vision to expand beyond simply the internet community.

      Thank you
      Abdulmalik Merchant

  9. I can’t keep my admiration of this location Simerg. I am from Syria but I always read you – thanks for all efforts to make this like a net of hands which connect with Faith, Identity, Brotherhood, Pluralism, Knowledge, Diversity, and of course with our love for Mawlana Hazar Imam.

    We have a nice Ismaili location for a dialog and news, and we always receive opinions about us, Ismaili, Hazar Imam, and AKDN in Syria ..so when I visit it daily to read many things related us as an Ismaili Jamat with all news , and visit your location to read something internationally …these are the happiest moments ..and I would congratulate you for the “Conference of Birds” ..now no need to fly to see the world.. it is here..

    • Thank you for your very kind comments. I would say, a little bit of the “Conference of the Birds” is here, but it is so gratifying that our Jamat today is all over the world. I look forward to visiting my Syrian brothers and sisters in the near future.

  10. A context for this web site, simerg, is mentioned in the main page of “Literary Readings”.

    The correct spelling is Simurg or Simoorg or other variations thereof, none of which include Simerg. It was chosen mainly because of the preference for the letter “e” over the other vowels. In any case the inspiration for the name was “The Conference of the Birds”.

    There is no personal mission on my part except to provide a platform to educate, to inspire and to inform through the Voices and Insights of individuals from around the world – past and present.

    Simerg looks forward to your active engagement in this web site. Please contribute informative, interesting, educational and inspiring material. It will be considered for publication.

    And, Sufee, thank you for your good wishes.

    Merchant

  11. Dear Merchant,

    Thanks for this initiative, it promises to be very interesting and fruitful, inshallah.

    I wonder about the title of the weblink and profile overall. Why did you call it Simerg? So far as I have understood, you related it to the main hero of the “Conference of Birds” tale, but that is not simerg, it is simurg or simoorg. Anyway, the question is why it is Simoorg? How do you relate this word to your personal mission?

    Best of luck,
    sufee

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