Story and Photos: Mansoor Ladha’s Memorable Moments with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Calgary based Mansoor Ladha, a veteran award winning Ismaili journalist and author of two acclaimed books, was a features editor with the Tanzanian English daily, The Standard (renamed later to Daily News), and interviewed Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in 1970. Later, after he migrated to Canada, Mansoor became the Administrative Committee Chairman of the Ismaili community in Edmonton, and received Mawlana Hazar Imam during his first visit to Canada in 1978. Please read Mansoor’s story about his wonderful opportunities on Simerg’s sister web site Barakah which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please click HERE or on image below to read the full post.

Mansoor Ladha with His Highness the Aga Khan
1970: Mansoor Ladha interviewing His Highness the Aga Khan for Tanzania’s daily, The Standard (now Daily News). Photo: Adarsh Nayar/The Standard/Mansoor Ladha Collection. Please click on image for story and photos.

Date posted: May 8, 2021.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Nurin Merchant’s Photos of the 2021 Tulip Festival in Ottawa, with the Aga Khan Park’s Perspective on the Venerated Flower

Nurin Merchant gets to Dows Lake on a sunny day to photograph some of the 300,000 tulips that are planted there, making it the biggest tulip festival in Canada. She incorporates into her piece some excellent material prepared by the Aga Khan Park on the origins and significance of the tulip, one of the most venerated flowers in Islamic culture, to make her photo essay truly informative and and educational….PLEASE CLICK HERE OR ON IMAGE BELOW FOR PHOTO ESSAY

Please click on photo for Nurin’s photo essay on tulips.

Date posted: May 6, 2021.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

May 4, 2021, the 23rd Night of Ramadhan: Laylat al-Qadr Program for Jamats in North America

Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadhan, which falls on Tuesday, May 4, in 2021. Jamati members across North America are cordially invited to participate in a special Laylat al-Qadr program that will be held in three sessions as highlighted in the poster below (click on image for enlargement).

Please also click HERE for the institutional events page, and click on Laylat al-Qadr to read Simerg’s piece on the Night of the First Revelation of the Holy Qur’an.

Laylat al-Qadr programming poster for 2021, May 4, 23rd of Ramadhan
Please click on image for enlargement

Date posted: May 4, 2021.

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A Visit to the Ismaili Cemetery at the Victory Memorial Park: I Bid Farewell to My Mum, “Mrs. Merchant,” and Pay My Deep Respects to My Beloved Dad and Other Deceased Members of the Jamat

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant pictured in Lisbon, Portugal, in July 2018 during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

As I reached the burial sites of my parents on Thursday, April 29, 2021, I was deeply gratified when a Bangladeshi woman walked over to me and offered me two stems of roses that were part of a large bouquet of flowers that she had brought to lay on the grave of her beloved 31 year old son who passed away 3 years ago following a bone marrow transplant. She was in a state of grief as the loss of a child to any parent is the greatest sorrow that can occur. She prayed fervently by her son’s graveyard, and before departing came to me once again to offer her sincere and heartful condolences for the recent loss of my mum, and my dad three years ago. She told me she would think of them during her future visits.

Mrs. Merchant grave Victory Memorial Park
Grave of Alwaeza Malek Merchant (June 9, 1931 — Jan 21, 2021) bearing a temporary plaque with her name. She was buried at Victory Memorial Park, a few metres from my dad’s grave. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Grave of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (December 13, 1928 — May 27, 2018) at Victory Memorial Park, with a permanent marker bearing his name and the Qur’anic verse “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” (Surely we belong to God, and to Him we return, 2:156). Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

My visit to the burial grounds was on my 17th day in Vancouver. I had missed my mum’s funeral that took place almost 3 months ago. I had come to close up on her matters and to pay my respects to both her as well my father who had died 3 years ago on May 27, 2018 shortly after he and my mum were blessed with the Diamond Jubilee Deedar (glimpse) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Victory Memorial Park Aga Khan Ismaili Cemetery, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada Simerg
A layout of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery grounds, with the Ismaili section indicated by the word “Aga Khan” at top left section. Image: Brochure, Victory Memorial Park.

The Victory Memorial Park burial site has been in use by the Ismaili Jamat (community) since 2017. Located in Surrey, it is at a fair distance from the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana, where all the funeral rites and ceremonies take place. However, the previous cemetery, Forest Lawn that is just minutes away from the Burnaby Jamatkhana, continues to administer matters such as the transfer and storage of bodies until the funeral actually takes place as well as the issuance of death certificates.

Modern technology brought me to Victory Memorial Park without any hitch whatsoever. Once at the cemetery, which has a picturesque view of the mountains, the site of Ismaili burials was easily located. The graves are arranged chronologically by year.

The Ismaili cemetery section at Victory Memorial Park.
The Ismaili cemetery section at Victory Memorial Park in foreground, with the main funeral home building seen in the upper centre of the photo. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I spent a considerable amount of time, offering the Fateha and Salwats, for my parents as well as other deceased members of the Jamat, including family friends who were well known to us. I also connected via Facetime with my brother Alnoor in the UK, and my relatives in Canada and Spain who, like me, were unable to attend the funeral because of Covid-19. We all participated in the recitation of the Fateha, and I was deeply inspired that they were able to join me while I was at the cemetery. It was a lovely day, and the beautiful sunshine warmed my heart.

Victory Memorial Park Cemetery, Simerg
A view of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery from the main funeral home building. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I then proceeded to the cemetery’s main building where the director of the funeral home kindly gave me a quick tour of the building and provided me with a map of the cemetery site.

A view of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery from a section of the burial grounds. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I left the picturesque cemetery knowing that the deceased souls are in a world filled with light, peace and happiness. I recollected an excerpt of the Talika Mubarak of Mawlana Hazar Imam that was sent to the Jamats worldwide on the occasion of his 84th birthday. It read:

Mr and Mrs Merchant in fromt of Aga Khan Hazar Imam portrait.
Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant in front of a large portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

11th December 2020

My beloved spiritual children,

On the occasion of my birthday, the 13th of December 2020, I send my warmest and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children throughout the world.

I give my best loving blessings for the souls of all my ruhani spiritual children, and I pray for the eternal peace and rest of their souls….

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

During my return drive to my hotel, as my mum’s unit where I had stayed for a fortnight was now empty, I suddenly thought of Tessie, an elderly lady from the Philippines whom my mum deeply adored. Tessie would come by to help my mum on a regular basis, except from November to February when she would go away to the Philippines to spend time with her family. She was still abroad when my mum passed away on January 21, 2021. When Tessie opened the door to me, she was obviously surprised to see me and her first question was, “How is Mrs. Merchant? I miss her a lot.” She broke down when I told her that my mum had passed away, She was in utter shock. She tearfully offered me her condolences and prayers. I then left her home peacefully, knowing that the person my mum would have liked to be informed about her passing had been told about it by a family member.

As I reflected on my parents deaths, I remembered all the members of the Ismaili mayat (funeral) committee for the wonderful work they do to alleviate our pain and sadness, and keep us at peace during a grieving time. They are amazing, as are the Mukhis and Kamadias of the Jamat with their inspiring prayers that provide the Jamat with immense comfort and strength. And, not to be forgotten, are the hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues around the world who write and telephone to express their feelings, condolences and prayers for the deceased.

Jehangir and Malek Merchant books, waezes, sermons, Simerg
My parents collections of waezes (sermons), religious texts and other material, all carefully packed and ready for shipment. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Mrs. Merchant alwaeza malek jehangir merchant waving goodbye
My mum waves goodbye to my younger brother Alnoor’s fiancé, Shellina, as she departs for the airport after a recent stay with my mum. Photo: Shellina Karmali.

As I prepare to return to Ontario after spending 3 weeks in Vancouver, I do so with immense satisfaction that I was also able to stay with them for long periods of time before both of them passed away.

Finally as we prepare to observe Laylat al-Qadr (Read Institution Program Details), the holiest of all the nights, on the 23rd night of Ramadhan (Tuesday May 4, 2021), my family and I once again draw comfort from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings and his prayers for the eternal peace and rest of all his ruhani spiritual children.

Date posted: May 2, 2021.
Last updated: May 4, 2021 (added link to Laylat al-Qadr program)

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman of Calgary, Alberta

by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Canadian writer Azmina Suleman’s book “In the Name of Justice – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge.” We follow the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Alnasir Rajan, Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We encourage Ismaili authors to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to the editor of Simerg, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.

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Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

Azmina Suleman: A man of honor, principle and great personal integrity, James Valentine Hogarth Milvain’s name was often synonymous with ‘Justice’ in Alberta. He was appointed judge of the Alberta Supreme Court in 1959 and Chief Justice in 1968. Known for his ready wit, wisdom and innate ‘horse sense,’ Milvain was also popularly dubbed the ‘Cowboy Judge’ where his ranching background kept him close to people, and where ethics and morality guided him in everything he did.

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Azmina: The book reads like an ‘oral’ judgment. Its tone and text has been kept deliberately simple and free of ‘legal jargon’ so even the ordinary man on the street not necessarily well-versed in the law can appreciate Alberta’s law and its early history – the hardships, courage and tenacity of the early pioneers who helped open up the ‘old West’ in Canada.

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Azmina: I actually had the privilege of knowing Milvain for a short period of time Yet, he managed to leave a lasting impression on my mind – more for his humility, compassion and ‘common touch’ than his formidable list of legal accomplish­ments. After graduating from journalism, I felt inspired to write about this outstanding human being whom I genuinely admired and respected, and simply called ‘Uncle Val.’ I may note that in 1987 Justice Milvain was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

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Cover of Azmina Suleman's "In the Name of Justice -- Portrait of a 'Cowboy' Judge,"
Cover of Azmina Suleman’s “In the Name of Justice — Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge,” pp. 316, available in Hardback.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Azmina: The book is available in hardcover printed format, and can be purchased at a special discounted price by clicking on The Legal Archives Society of Alberta (LASA)

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Azmina: The book was published through LASA and printed in Canada.

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Azmina: The book was professionally edited, but I created the cover myself and had some help formatting the manuscript itself.

Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?

Azmina: I have written two books: My first book “In the Name of Justice – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge,” that is being highlighted in this post, was published in 1998. My second book: “A Passage to Eternity – A Mystical Account of a Near-Death Expe­rience and Poetic Journey into the Afterlife” was published in 2004.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write In the Name of Justice — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Azmina: Approximately 4 to 5 years from start to finish.

Simerg: Tell us something more about the book and its main character.

Azmina: Justice Milvain was born in 1904 on a ranch in Southern Alberta during the days of the pioneers, legendary cowboy, horse-buggy and itinerant country doctor. From his humble farm beginnings to his slow rise in the legal profession in Calgary, Milvain became known for his special no-nonsense brand of ‘western’ justice and practical landmark decisions, which went beyond the mere letter of the law to invoke its true spirit while administrating justice in the ‘wild and woolly West.’ Milvain’s passing away in 1993 served as a stark reminder of the fact that a material part of Alberta’s living history was slipping away. Consequently, this book now forms a part of the oral and written history of Alberta. To put it in Milvain’s own words: “Without the written or spoken word, it is not possible that wisdom and knowledge can be passed on to others.”

Date posted: April 28, 2021.

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Azmina Suleman
Azmina Suleman

Azmina Suleman was born and educated in Nairobi, Kenya and moved to England to complete her post-secondary education, before immi­grating to Canada in the early 1980’s. She has a Master’s degree in legal his­tory and is a published author and journalist. She lives in Calgary, Alberta.

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CALLING ALL ISMAILI AUTHORS

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.

The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji (article published on February 10, 2021)
2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff (February 25, 2021)
3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha (March 6, 2021)
4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
5. “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
6. “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Vartan Gregorian – Educator, Historian, Philanthropist and Restorer of a Fading Library – Passes Away at 87; He Was President of Brown University When His Highness the Aga Khan Became the First Muslim to Deliver Baccalaureate Address to Brown’s Class of 1996

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

On the morning of Friday April 16, 2021, while quickly scanning through the subject column of new emails that I had received overnight, my heart sank when I saw “Carnegie Corporation of New York Mourns the Death of President Vartan Gregorian.”

As a personal tribute to him, I would like to share three beautiful memories I have of Mr. Gregorian, who had previously held the positions of President both at Brown University and the New York Public Library.

The first memory is when I saw him introducing Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to the University’s graduating class of 1996. I had specially travelled to Brown from Philadelphia for the historic occasion, and watched the entire event from the University’s “Green.” The tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam will be etched in my heart forever, and you can read it in Barakah by clicking HERE. But here is a very short excerpt from the piece:

“His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the first Muslim baccalaureate speaker in Brown’s history and I dare say in the history of the Ivy League. He embodies the ecumenical spirit that links the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Aga Khan, a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammed, became 49th Imam — spiritual leader — of the Shia Ismaili Muslims in 1957 at the age of 20….The new Aga Khan shouldered great responsibilities even before he received his undergraduate degree. His challenge was awesome. After all, he was succeeding his grandfather, a world leader….In spite of his youth, he established himself firmly not only as spiritual leader, but also as an enlightened guardian of the far-flung Ismaili community’s welfare and progress.” — Vartan Gregorian

At the end of the speech, President Gregorian thanked Mawlana Hazar Imam for entrusting Prince Rahim’s education to Brown University.

May 26, 1996: A captive audience at Brown University’s “Green” watches a live telecast from the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church where Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan delivered the Baccalaureate Address to the 1996 graduating class. Photo: Barakah/Malik Merchant.
May 26, 1996: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, receives a standing ovation at the conclusion of the Baccalaureate Address at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Next to him is Vartan Gregorian who was then President of the University.
Prince Rahim Aga Khan graduated from Brown University. In this photos, he is seen delivering his commencement address for the Graduation Ceremony of the Institute of Ismaili Studies held at the Ismaili Centre in London in 2007.

During the same weekend, Brown University also conferred Mawlana Hazar Imam with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Aga Khan Vartan Gregorian Brown University
Brown University President Vartan Gregorian (right) confers the honorary degree Doctor of Laws upon Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in May 1996. AKDN / Gary Otte.

It was the event at Brown that inspired me to read more about Vartan Gregorian. I learnt that he was responsible for reviving the New York Public Library (NYPL), before he became the President of Brown University. And this is how he re-entered my life after the Brown event — my second wonderful memory of him.

After a number of years of trying and finally been given the go-ahead in December 2006 to re-open the Ottawa Jamatkhana Library that had been closed for several years for unexplained reasons, my thoughts immediately turned to Carnegie Corporation, which a few years earlier had published an insightful monograph entitled “Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith” by Mr. Gregorian. I contacted Carnegie to send us as many copies of the book as were available, because we wanted to use it as an incentive to attract members to the Jamati library! Carnegie Corporation sent us the entire remaining stock of more than 100 books. The incentive idea worked as we had over 100 members join the library during the first week. Individuals inspire us in so many ways, and Mr. Vartan Gregorian inspired me to stay on course to re-establish an important institution in the Jamat — the library — and using his book to impart knowledge and increase library membership. I am pleased to include Gregorian’s book as a PDF file. Please click Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith.

I may also note that during his long tenure as President of Carnegie Corporation, Mr. Gregorian contributed insightful and thoughtful essays on diverse matters of interest in the Corporation’s magazine, The Carnegie Reporter. You may download the magazine as a PDF file or subscribe to it for free home delivery by clicking Free Carnegie Reporter. It is a very good read every month.

Carnegie reporter
Winter 2020 edition of Carnegie Reporter. The quarterly magazine may be downloaded as a PDF file or delivered by mail free of charge to your address.

The third beautiful memory I have of Mr. Gregorian is when Mawlana Hazar Imam honoured him with a major gift to Brown University. In its press release dated October 15, 2010 under the headline “His Highness the Aga Khan Honors Vartan Gregorian with Major Gift to Brown University,” Carnegie Corporation of New York stated:

“Prince Karim Aga Khan IV has established the Aga Khan Visiting Professor of Islamic Humanities at Brown University in honor of Vartan Gregorian, President of Carnegie Corporation of New York, who served from 1988 to 1997 as President of Brown University. The gift of $2 million was announced following the October meeting of the Corporation of Brown University.

“The university said that the gift will allow Brown to bring in experts from a wide range of disciplines, including religion, history, anthropology and comparative literature. The Aga Khan Visiting Professor of Islamic Humanities will come from any of the various disciplines depending on who is thought to be the best for the job in a given year, and will be affiliated with the Cogut Center for Humanities.

“For many years, Vartan Gregorian served on the Board of the Aga Khan University.  During Dr. Gregorian’s tenure as president of Brown University, the Aga Khan was the first Muslim spiritual leader to give a Baccalaureate Address at a major American university. He is also the recipient of an honorary degree from Brown University, from which his son, Prince Rahim Aga Khan, graduated.”

In response to the gift, President Gregorian said:

“I am deeply moved and extremely grateful that the Aga Khan has chosen to make this wonderful gift to Brown University in my honor. It is particularly meaningful to me because the Aga Khan is internationally recognized as a major activist for civilized humanity and in promoting the universal values that unite and transcend us all. And he believes that education, self-reliance, solidarity and character are the elements which keep a community vibrant and healthy and lead to enlightenment and dignity. In addition, he supports the education of women as central to global progress. I salute him, I thank him, and I celebrate the bond that he has created with Brown University today, and with the generations of students, faculty, scholars and others who will continue to benefit from his generosity on into the future.” (Read Complete Press Release).

With these fond memories of Vartan Gregorian that I will always carry with me, I now reproduce the email message I received from Carnegie Corporation announcing his death. It is then followed by a link to a detailed obituary posted in the corporation’s flagship magazine Carnegie Reporter.

We convey our condolences to all the members of Mr. Gregorian’s family and wish them strength and courage at this time of bereavement.

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Brief Announcement from Carnegie Corporation on the Passing of Vartan Gregorian

At the JFK Library in Boston, Vartan Gregorian addresses new citizens, friends, and family at a naturalization ceremony. (Photo: Celeste Ford.

Dear Friends of the Corporation,

Vartan Gregorian, an international luminary, legendary educator, distinguished historian and humanities scholar, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, died suddenly on April 15, 2021, in New York City at age 87. He had been hospitalized for testing related to stomach pain.

Gregorian served as the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York at the time of his death. During his tenure, beginning in 1997, he championed the causes of education, immigration, and international peace and security — key concerns of the philanthropic institution’s founder, Andrew Carnegie. Like Carnegie, Gregorian was a naturalized United States citizen whose experiences in a new country helped shape him, including his belief in the great importance of immigrant civic integration to the health of American democracy.

Gregorian was especially devoted to higher education and was the highly respected president emeritus of Brown University and the former provost of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, Gregorian is renowned for revitalizing The New York Public Library during his presidency in the 1980s. The recipient of more than 70 honorary degrees and dozens of significant awards, he was decorated by the governments of the United States, France, Italy, Austria, Armenia, and Portugal. His extraordinary story is told in his autobiography, The Road to Home: My Life and Times, published in 2003.

At the Corporation, Gregorian focused the foundation’s grantmaking on aiding the development of innovative ideas and transformative scholarship. During his presidency, Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded more than 10,000 grants totaling some $2.8 billion. He will be sorely missed by all who crossed his path in whatever manner during his long and fruitful life, but especially by those of us who had the good fortune to call him a friend and colleague.
Sincerely,

Thomas H. Kean
Chair, Board of Trustees
Carnegie Corporation of New York

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Tribute to Vartan Gregorian in Carnegie Reporter

Vartan Gregorian. Click on photo to read obituary in Carnegie reporter. Photo: Carnegie.org.

Please read Former president of Brown University and The New York Public Library, illustrious scholar, and steward of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy dies at age 87

Date posted: April 17, 2021.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan of Mississauga, Ontario

by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Canadian writer Alnasir Rajan’s book “Invisible Birthmarks.” We follow the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We encourage Ismaili authors to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to the editor of Simerg, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.

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Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

Alnasir Rajan: Invisible Birthmarks – This is a unique name for the simple reason that it captures the essence of the characters in my book. These characters lived through some of the most horrid times and their pain and scars are in most cases hidden from the rest of the world, they are Invisible. So, I called it ‘Invisible Birthmarks’ because pain is not a visible scar. It lives in the heart, in the eyes and in the memory. Sharing it through stories brings it to light.

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Rajan: Most families have been through migration. However, the places they settled into, did not always be their destination homes, even though their families lived there for generations. Similar stories of such migrants who lived for generations in Zanzibar had to flee for their lives. However, the regimes in Zanzibar at the time were restricting any form of travel while persecuting the minorities. This resulted in loss of lives and people found creative ways of getting off the island. You will always relate to the characters as you read through my book. This is not a history of my family.

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Rajan: I was always writing short stories and just let them gather dust. However, after moving from Tanzania for 18 years and residing in Kenya and studying there, fate took me back to Dar es Salaam. I had some old friends and I met some new friends who inspired me to write a book to honor people who had no choice, no voice and no hand it what transpired during their struggles in Zanzibar. I had never been exposed to real life tragedies. It was a calling.

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Simerg Ismaili authors Invisible Birthmarks by Alnasir Rajan
Cover of Alnasir Rajan’s “Invisible Birthmarks,” pp. 236, available in Soft and Hardbacks as well as Ebook formats.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Rajan: They are available in Paperback, Hard cover and eBook formats. I am contemplating to get an Audiobook version created as that seems the future of readership for me. This book is available from all online book sellers including iUniverse and Amazon.

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Rajan: Traditional publishers are very difficult to please. They kept returning my manuscript saying it was not a Canadian content. I have no idea what that meant. So, I opted for a self-publishing route because it is a very fast process of getting a publication online.

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Rajan: I did all the writing by myself. I hired an editor but because my book had some Kiswahili language in it, I had to make sure that it was not edited out by error. I had to read the edited version over and over for this reason. The self-publishing company that I had to pay dearly, did the cover page and some esthetics like selecting the images and preparing the book descriptions etc.

Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?

Rajan: Invisible Birthmarks is my first book about the survival of minorities in the pre and post independent Zanzibar. My second book is Unfolding Africa which is a story of my family’s migration history from India to Africa in 1897 and the shared history of the generations that followed.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write Invisible Birthmarks — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Rajan: When I came to Canada on 15th November 1995, I already had a hand written manuscript that was very raw. The journey to rewrite it began while I was working in Canada and it came into fruition after 15 years in 2010. I went through a learning process. I realized writing a book is just like any other job. You have to sit and work.

Simerg: Tell us something more about the book and its main character(s).

Rajan: Some of the people I met when I returned to Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania after 18 years, were originally from Zanzibar. How they ended up living in Dar-es-salaam became an interesting topic but one which was full of sadness. I listened to many people and I realized that tragedies had happened in our beloved Zanzibar that no one was talking about. It was like a dark phase no one was ready to talk about. People in Tanzania are very forgiving. But the pain still exists. I began writing down these events and the writing bug in me was awakened. I had to share these stories with the rest of the world.

Shiraz is one of the main characters who faced rejection from family and society. He is a very humble person with no bitterness as he still loves his homeland Zanzibar. In my book, I have mentioned Ramzan Bhaloo who was from Zanzibar. Before he came to Canada, he was the care-taker of the Mombasa Ismaili Rest house. A very popular and loved man. Mohammed Meghji is also mentioned in my book. He had shared some of his experiences. I used their struggles and the struggles of some other families to show in totality what the system did to harm them as a minority. I have not used any real names of my friends as characters as the characters are a combination of several characters. However, I tried to do justice by relaying a shared history of sufferings that the surviving families told me about. It is never enough to write about it, but at least it is a start.

Date posted: April 13, 2021.

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Alnasir Rajan Invisible Marks Simerg Ismaili author seriesIsmaili
Alnasir Rajan

Alnasir Rajan lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada where he and his wife, Narima, own a flower shop called Fairview Florist. They have two sons and a daughter. In his spare time, he loves to give life to the pen and paper affair. He treasures his childhood and adulthood memories as a long path of learning.

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CALLING ALL ISMAILI AUTHORS

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji have done in their respective interviews. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.

The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji; (article published on February 10, 2021)
2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff; (February 25, 2021)
3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha; (March 6, 2021) and
4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Magnolia flowers on tree #049 at the Aga Khan Park in Toronto, simergphotos malik merchant

Tree #049 at Aga Khan Park

Malik Merchant feels that trees planted or re-planted at the Aga Khan Park behind the Ismaili Centre were not simply assigned random numbers. There was a reason and meaning behind their placement and numbering. He captures the beautiful setting of tree #049 and the other 2 magnolias on either side of it, and his photos show how well they are blooming. He begins his story, though, by first focusing his attention on the four flags, including the Ismaili Flag, flying majestically at the front of the park…..MORE ON SIMERGPHOTOS.

Magnolia at Aga Khan Park, Tree #049
Tree #049, a Magnolia, at Aga Khan Park, behind the Ismaili Centre building. Photo: Malik Merchant. Please click on photo for more photos and story.

Date posted: April 13, 2021.

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Meaning of Irfan, as Prince Irfan Aga Khan turns 6 years old; and Nurin Merchant’s 4,500 km drive in the Covid-19 pandemic year takes her through beautiful Canadian landscapes and the Terry Fox Memorial

Click image for Prince Irfan

As Prince Irfan Aga Khan celebrates his 6th birthday on April 11, 2021, we adapt a previously published piece that also explains the meaning of his name and the name of his younger brother Prince Sinan Aga Khan…..MORE

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Canadian Prairies, Aga Khan depiction at Winnipeg Museum, and Terry Fox Memorial. Please click on image for photos and story.

Nurin Merchant braves a 4,500 km road trip from Vancouver to Ottawa in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the 3,300 km, mark she and her mom reach the iconic memorial to Canadian cancer hero Terry Fox, overlooking Lake Superior. As ever, she is ready with her camera and comes up with a diverse collection of photos of the memorial and some beautiful Canadian landscape. She is also reminded of Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s quote on life and includes it in her piece with a unique depiction of Hazar Imam at a Canadian Museum….MORE

Date posted: April 11, 2021.

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The world woke up to books during the pandemic and book sales even went up, but ITREB did not empower the Jamat to read by offering curbside pick up and online ordering of important books

This matter has been on my mind for 12 months, and this piece was prepared some 3 months ago. I have now decided to post it after patiently waiting for Jamati institutions, and specifically ITREB, to provide an absolutely essential service to the Jamat — availability of Farman books, important objects (eg. tasbihs) as well as Dua recordings with meanings, and copies of the Qur’an.

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

ITREB Curbside pickup
If booksellers and communities can arrange for curbside pickup, the best volunteers in the world can offer this service to the Jamat. Image — imaginary but all is doable — Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Millions of Americans and Canadians turn to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Newshour every evening for solid and reliable reporting, insightful analysis as well as highly informative interviews that are conducted by the network’s team of outstanding reporters. PBS and its member stations across the USA lay claim to being “America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world.”

For some time now the Newshour program, which is anchored by Judy Woodruff, has been running special regular episodes under the banner “CANVAS, PBS’s Newshour art hub.” In a broadcast in late December, PBS reporter Amna Nawaz turned her attention to two American booksellers for their look at the year in books and the public response to books during the Covid-19 year of isolation and pain (read article).

Janet Webster Jones of Source Booksellers in Detroit told Nawaz, “We have been so busy…. that we can hardly answer the phone. We have had a very busy, busy season. We have been frantically doing our fulfillment orders, as well as greeting people by twos and threes as they come to the store.” Ann Patchett co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville added, “People have stepped up to help us out, ordering books online, ordering curbside. We have been running books out to people’s car. And now we’re letting a few people into the store at a time. We take everybody’s temperature. Everybody wears masks, hand sanitizer. And people have been really kind and compliant and supportive. It’s been a very heartwarming Christmastime.”

Thus, as we abide by social distancing guidelines to stay home, books suddenly have become more vital than ever! It is interesting to note that all across North America many religious organizations as well as bookstores have facilitated curbside pick-ups or ramped up their online platforms to service members of their communities (read article).

Shortly after the first shutdown of Jamatkhanas in mid-March (2020), following provincial or federal restrictions recommendations, I had proposed to the national leadership of ITREB (Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) to facilitate curbside pickup of a selection of books and objects that are close to the heart of Jamat. I had personally offered my assistance to volunteer curbside pickup at the Ismaili Centre in Toronto. Remember, that after more than 40 years of waiting, the Jamat was finally presented with a 2-volume set of Farman books sometime in the middle of January 2020. By the time of Jamatkhana closures in mid March (2020), thousands had already acquired their copies of the Farman books. Yet there were an equal number who never acquired the set. Those who missed the opportunity during the 6-8 week between January and March would have hardly thought that the Jamatkhanas would remain closed for such a lengthy period, or that they would open with limited capacity. I was told that an online order processing system was being seriously considered to fulfill an important and vital need for the Jamat. It hasn’t materialized. I quote, “Do not let time pass….once it has passed it has gone forever.” (Mawlana Hazar Imam, India, 1973).

In addition to the Farman books, Jamati members would want Tasbihs, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s photographs, Du’a and Ginan books and audios, copies of the Holy Qur’an as well as a few other texts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies that are within the grasp of the Jamat’s understanding (Eagle’s Nest?). The pandemic would have provided the opportunity for the Jamat of all ages to begin to become more literary oriented at home. Also, parents would have been able to spend some time teaching their children to recite Du’a properly, and to request them to learn the meaning of the Du’a (“How many amongst you can tell me what the word qul is?” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Atlanta March 17, 2018. One hand went up!). Memorization by phrases would be excellent, for starters.

Indigo (Chapters-Indigo), the largest bookseller chain in Canada, offering curbside pick-up and even in-store purchase when provinces were not in total shutdown.

Yes, the curbside pickup would have required devotion of time by Jamati members and volunteers of a few hours every week, say at parking lots of selected Jamatkhanas across Canada or in large spaces within the Jamatkhana premises. But where there is a will there is a way, just as our institutions and volunteers around the world organized food and water distributions for their respective communities, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, during the pandemic. Their efforts were highly appreciated in the communities they served.

The sad part is that once Jamatkhanas re-opened in Canada last summer with limited capacity, the literature counters continued to remain closed. Social distancing could have been instituted at Jamatkhana literature counters or at appropriate larger areas (such as social halls) during this window that was available. Curbside pick-up should have been facilitated for those unable to attend Jamatkhanas. The summertime window closed! Autumn once saw Jamatkhana closures due to the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Then, last month we saw the re-opening of some Jamatkhanas in Ontario, which are now once again closed down, as of the week of April 5th due to lockdown measures. So when windows of opportunities are available, however brief, we have to take advantage of them. And friends can purchase for their family members who might not attend Jamatkhanas for sometime.

In addition, an online shop should be strongly considered where authenticated Jamati members, who are in the Jamati data base, may be able to order books and then do curbside collections at selected hours. This is not rocket science, just as registration for Jamatkhana attendance is not. If other communities and institutions can take appropriate measures to serve their constituents with energy and some creativity, there is no reason why we can’t equal their enthusiasm, with the best volunteers in the world we have.

Can we be prepared for such eventualities, as well as opportunities that come our way, and not let time pass without being aware that once it has passed, it has gone forever?

Date posted: April 9, 2021.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.