The crucial role of early Ismaili migrants to Africa in identifying the needs of the community, mobilizing resources, and taking the steps to build the foundations for a strong socio-economic infra-structure have over the past century resulted in a fairer, more resourceful and productive Ismaili community. In this continuing series on Thank You Letters to Ismaili Historical Figures, Salim J. Kanji of Toronto acknowledges the contributions of three such early East African Ismailis – Kassam Ali Paroo, Lutafali Maherali, and Aziz Esmail.
May 16, 2012.
Dear Kassam Ali Paroo, Lutafali Maherali, and Aziz Esmail, pioneers in a most noble tradition,
The Ismaili community is composed of thousands of volunteers around the world. The spirit of honorary and volunteer service has existed in the Jamat for hundreds of years, and has enabled the Jamat, under the Imam’s direction and guidance, to make tremendous strides. I sincerely wish to thank the countless volunteers for their dedicated services to the Jamat out of their love for the Imam; you are among the ones I particularly wish to thank for the roles you played in securing the future of the Jamat in East Africa.
When the early Ismaili immigrants began arriving in East Africa from the Indian Sub-Continent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, much work needed to be done in the socio-economic factors of the community’s life. The ground work for infrastructure thus began and the impact was felt even to the west, in Ruanda-Urundi and the Congo. The foundations upon which various institutions were established were so strong, their presence in East African countries remains to this day, despite thousands of Ismailis moving onward to settle in Europe and the North Americas during the past 40 years. These educational, financial, and health institutions were built to the highest of standards, and are still regarded today as some of the finest in East Africa. They are used by everyone in their respective countries, and not just members of the Ismaili community.
These institutions were not built by accident. Any settlement in a new country requires the greatest of sacrifices; there were many dedicated Ismaili volunteers who made these things happen. Not forgetting the many volunteers in local towns and villages in any way, I would particularly wish to thank all three of you for playing such a pivotal role in the establishment of a proper Jamati institutional infrastructure in East Africa. I think that without your foresight, dedication, and hard work, which you carried out in coordination with the efforts of many others in the Jamat, there would have been no housing, banking, or schools for the East African Jamat for several more years. In many cases, without your presence, Ismailis would also have had to forgo the business opportunities your vision helped to create.
Count Kassam Ali R. Paroo (1906-1998), you were instrumental in the formation and gradual progress of the Jubilee Investment Trust and the Insurance Company by the same name. There are too many other countless activities you undertook which I cannot possibly mention here, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that you were also an Honorary Alwaez (missionary) — you articulated the depth of your spiritual wisdom to my older family members, from whom I acquired some of life’s important teachings.
Late Lutafali Maherali, you were indeed a remarkable murid. I understand that Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah once said it would be hard to find a more dedicated volunteer than you. Your roles were many and pivotal; you were also instrumental in establishing the Ismaili Volunteer Corps, and thousands of us have served as volunteers in the Jamat at one time or another. Like the late Imam, the current Imam has likewise expressed his deep gratitude for the volunteers of the Jamat, and he further wishes that this organization you helped to establish endures for countless generations to come. Service, as the Imam has mentioned, is the pillar of our Jamat, and I sincerely express my heartfelt thanks to you for this remarkable organization that you helped to establish. I am aware of the benefit that volunteers provide to the Jamat, and the immense happiness each one of us derives when serving as volunteers is priceless. In this respect, you also organised and led the Mayat & Gushal (or the funeral preparation) Committee in Mombasa for many years for the Jamat and for other Muslim communities.
There is another incredible contribution that you made for the Jamat. You were the main proponent in getting the first medical doctor, an Ismaili, to East Africa, and for making sure he was well equipped with his own office including a small surgery space. You also made provisions to provide him with an automobile and driver that would take him to visit surrounding villages, to treat Ismailis and others who needed healthcare. As I understand, the automobile along with the services of a driver was donated by Fatehali Dhalla, another important Ismaili figure in East Africa, who I wish to thank as I write to you.
In the sphere of social services, you assisted with the establishment of Mombasa Housing Projects. These projects enabled countless families to improve our standards of living, the key to our progress in other endeavours in life. In this you were supported by the third unsung hero I would like to thank, the Late Aziz Esmail.
Aziz Esmail; you were the person behind the Housing Development and behind the Savings and Loans Corporations (predecessor to Jubilee Investment), and in many instances you established schools in the small and tiny villages where our Jamat lived in East Africa. These schools provide the education that our Imams have so much emphasized, and which has enabled the future generation including myself to settle well on new continents filled with opportunities. Lest I forget, you also taught us the value and importance of savings. Many of us remember that in the 1950s and 60s, we used to take the little boxes (or piggy banks as they are now known) to Jamatkhana in which we saved some pennies (East African cent coins). After the ceremonies were completed, there was a volunteer who would open these little boxes, count our moneys and write down our deposits in a passbook totaling our savings! This was started by you. I thank you for nurturing the idea and the importance of savings, in addition to the memorable work you did for the Housing Projects in many East African Cities.
As three pioneering volunteers you have given me and thousands of others like me the life that we now enjoy. The examples you three have set by your love for the Jamat will remain timeless, and I thank you for your exemplary dedication and loyalty to the Imam.
Salim J. Kanji,
About the writer: Originally from Mbale, Uganda, and now based in Toronto, Canada, Salim Kanji has been in the financial sector serving his clients as a mortgage broker for over a quarter of a century providing them with educated and informed choices on home financing, Through his diligence and understanding of market trends and rates, he has been able to satisfy the needs of his clients seeking new properties or in refinancing existing ones. He is with HLC Home Loans Canada. His contribution to the thanking Ismaili historical figures series is based on his belief that pioneering work by Ismailis in Housing, Banking and Community Welfare must be recorded in the history books.
We invite your contribution for the thank you series. Please click on Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures to read about the series and links to published letters.
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