Transforming Rare and Endangered Ismaili Texts Into Accessible Digital Resources: Projects at British Library and Princeton University Library

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

This is the first in a two-part series on projects that are underway to preserve and digitize Ismaili texts that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. We begin the short series with initiatives undertaken by Endangered Archives Programme with respect to rare Ismaili and other Central Asian texts at Semyonov’s Memorial Library in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where the material is “becoming progressively worse because of inadequate care.”

Our second part will focus on documents from Badakhshan in Tajikistan and Afghanistan dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries that relate to Ismaili Imams, Nasir Khusraw and others, as well as property documents. They are being digitized through a National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant, with the support of Princeton University Library.

Endangered Archives Programme: Preserving Endangered Archives on Ismailism and Central Asian Cultural Heritage at Semyonov’s Library in Tajikistan

NOTE: The material published in this post is taken from the website of Endangered Archives Programme. We would like to credit the British Library Board for the copyright material; it is reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

The Endangered Archives Programme captures forgotten and still not written histories, often suppressed or marginalised. It gives voice to the voiceless: it opens a dialogue with global humanity’s multiple pasts. It is a library of history still waiting to be written. — Lisbet Rausing, Co-founder of the Programme

INTRODUCTION TO THE BRITISH LIBRARY AND THE ENDANGERED ARCHIVES PROGRAM

The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and gives access to the world’s most comprehensive research collection. It provides information services to academic, business, research and scientific communities. The Library has a collection of over 170 million items includes artefacts from every age of written civilisation. The Library keeps the nation’s archive of printed and digital publications, adding around three million new items to its collection every year.

The British Library administers the Endangered Archive Program (EAP), whose key objective since 2004 has been to facilitate the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration, and make it available to as wide an audience as possible. The British Library is responsible for managing and monitoring the research grant scheme, and ensuring the material digitised through the programme is consistently catalogued and discoverable online.

Archive types digitised so far through EAP include rare printed sources, manuscripts, visual materials, audio recordings running into more than 10 million images as well as 35,000 sound tracks. The continually expanding online collection is available freely through local archival partners, the EAP website and it is discoverable via the British Library catalogue, for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Generous funding from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, has enabled the British Library to provide grants to more than 400 projects in 90 countries worldwide, in over 100 languages and scripts.

One such very important project relates to the preservation of rare collection of materials on the Ismailis at Semyonov’s Memorial Library in Tajikistan.

PROFESSOR SEMYONOV AND THE STATE OF HIS MEMORIAL LIBRARY IN DUSHANBE

While travelling across Near East and Central Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Professor Semyonov and other Russian Oriental scholars collected valuable materials about the history and culture of the Ismaili people and, therefore, made a significant contribution to the study of Islamic philosophy, theology, and anthropology. The Ismaili people were not well known to many researchers and wider audiences and continue to be often misunderstood both in terms of their religious tenets and historical background.

Semyonov’s Library has not received sufficient funding to modernize its facilities….A large number of materials are in exceptionally vulnerable conditions and in danger of perishing if not digitised and properly cared for

The rare collections at Semyonov’s Memorial Library, which has been operating since 1958, sheds light on the rich culture and history of the Ismaili people, including their early stages of development in the pre-industrial periods, and provides invaluable materials for scholars and students of Ismailism, Islam, and Muslim cultures.

Physical conditions of the materials differ according to their age but overall, the physical condition of the whole collection of Semyonov’s Library is becoming progressively worse because of inadequate care.

Since the independence of Tajikistan from the Soviet Union in 1991, Semyonov’s Library has not received sufficient funding to modernize its facilities (e.g. to change window frames to prevent accumulation of dust and dirt inside the building). Manuscript cleaning and treatment technologies are outdated. None of the materials at the library have been properly digitised; the staff scanned some materials using regular office scanners, but the scanned copies are of poor quality. Moreover, some manuscripts have been badly eaten by insects and are damaged around the edges because the library cannot afford to buy special insect repellents.

In addition to insufficient government funding, less attention was paid to the rare collections at Semyonov’s Library by donor agencies despite the fact that the collections are an important cultural, historical, and intellectual heritage. Manuscripts located at the library are mainly from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Newsletters, periodicals, and other publications are from the early 20th century. A large number of materials are in exceptionally vulnerable conditions and in danger of perishing if not digitised and properly cared for.

In 2014, a grant was given to Dr Sunatullo Jonboboev to investigate the potential to digitise the endangered archives at Semyonov’s Memorial Library for a future major project. This was in alignment with the University of Central Asia’s mission to help the different peoples of Central Asia to preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages as assets for the future.

PROJECT OUTCOME

An outcome of this project was that the University of Central Asia and Semyonov’s Memorial Library within the Institute of History and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan, signed an agreement to work together to preserve the endangered archives of the library.

Over the course of the project, the team developed an electronic catalogue for the library, which comprises of 8611 library holdings — valuable books, manuscripts, guides, dictionaries, encyclopaedias on Central Asian cultures and languages, articles and monographs. From the total holdings of the library, 396 books are in Arabic and Persian; 112 manuscripts; 284 lithograph; 413 books in English; French and German. The holdings in Russian, 7802 items, have been also catalogued, which consist of 6021 reference books, dictionaries and brochures; and 1781 journals. The team also organised the library’s holdings, re-shelving, labelling, cleaning and in addition partly repaired 2170 books.

It has become possible, for the first time, to develop an electronic catalogue for the full collection of the library, many of which are rare and valuable books and manuscripts, due to the support of the project. The catalogue is divided into three separate catalogues: in Russian, Persian and English. The links to the PDF catalogue files are provided below:

(1) Catalogue translated from Persian and Tajik (PDF document 613KB); and

(2) Russian catalogue (PDF document 7,871KB)

Date posted: September 14, 2021.

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Next: Badakhshan Collection, Princeton University Library.

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.

Afghanistan Update: “We are Operational and We Will Do More” – Aga Khan Foundation Makes Inspiring Statement at Humanitarian Conference Convened by UNSG António Guterres in Geneva on September 13

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

This post was updated multiple times during the day, beginning with the announcement and link to the live coverage of the UN Conference on Afghanistan held in Geneva. We now conclude this post with a recording as well as the full text of the statement that was delivered this morning at 10:30 AM by Michael Kocher of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in response to the UN Secretary General’s worldwide appeal to support Afghanistan’s humanitarian needs. We regret that the first few words of the statement were not recorded. The event commenced at 8:00 AM and concluded at 1:45 PM (all times stated New York/Toronto EDT).

Featured photo at top of post: Michael Kocher, General Manager, Aga Khan Foundation, attending the Afghanistan humanitarian conference in Geneva, Palais des Nations, September 13, 2021. Photo: UN Photo/Violaine Martin.

Audio of Aga Khan Foundation Statement: AKDN Says it is Operational in Afghanistan and Asks World Community to Learn from its Experiences in the Country

Please listen to AKF Statement made at the Afghanistan High Level Ministerial Conference on September 13, 2021.

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Important note from the editor: The content of the text produced below from the AKDN website is not the exact transcript of the speech that you heard Michael Kocher deliver. Participants to the conference were frequently reminded to limit their statements to 3 minutes, and the time taken to read the speech below would have taken at least a minute longer. The (revised) speech delivered by Mr. Kocher was compact and touched on all the points that are stated in the statement below.

Speech Delivered by Michael Kocher

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network are honoured and privileged to convey our abiding commitment to the peoples of Afghanistan.

This allegiance is enduring. It is founded on the most profound respect for Afghanistan’s many traditions and the bonds of our shared humanity. AKDN’s work and its aim of improving the quality of life of all communities it seeks to serve is premised on the ethical principles of Islam, which promote peace and harmony.

With that ideal in mind, we wish to thank the United Nations for convening the international community at this critical juncture in the country’s history.

For more than three decades, we have stood with the people of Afghanistan. We take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment, which remains unshaken.

During this time, and today, we listen to and support people at the community level to help them realise their individual and collective aspirations for a better life – coming together to find solutions that are sustainable, acceptable and deliverable.

In the process, AKDN has provided life-saving medical treatment and healthcare to millions of mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers; helped educate hundreds of thousands of boys and girls; built rural infrastructure including roads, bridges, and irrigation canals; assisted families in improving household incomes; helped to preserve cultural heritage; strengthened community preparedness and resilience in the face of natural disaster and climate change; and brought connectivity and enhanced communications to many corners of the country.

Our experience teaches us that determined, transparent and inclusive engagement, led and driven by Afghans in their communities, can and does succeed. Indeed, it is the only method to bring real and lasting change.

That is a lesson we urge the international community to heed, and to act with compassion and foresight. For now is the time to engage, to stay in dialogue, and to continue on the path to mutual accommodation – to establish lasting peace, opportunity and prosperity.

Now is certainly not the time to turn our back on decades of progress. Or on the two-thirds of the country under the age of 25, a generation that has grown up under the shadow of war but with determined hopes of a better life. Their dreams and aspirations remain intact in Afghanistan, and we owe them the dignity – the promise – of standing together with them and their communities as they face the future.

For conditions are dire.

As we hear today, the economic situation in Afghanistan is bad and worsening. The banking system is non-functional. Rampant unemployment is increasing. Resources are desperately needed for food, medicine, education and other essential services. Healthcare facilities in many areas may close in a matter of days, in the midst of a pandemic. 18 million people are already in extreme need, with a similar number at risk. That suggests virtually the entire country could be without adequate healthcare, without enough food, and without sufficient livelihoods.

As a long-standing partner of Afghanistan and its people, we draw attention to the need for urgent, corresponding measures:

  • Restoring the banking system to facilitate international transfers, allowing much-needed financial support and access to markets;
  • Authorising direct support without delay to the providers of healthcare and education;
  • Arranging robust and inclusive food aid and work programmes to stave off desperation; and
  • Unblocking assistance already authorised for direct support to the Afghan population, providing relief today, as well as the tools and means to reduce dependency on such relief in the future.

We join others in underscoring that these measures be taken quickly and decisively if we are to avert a sustained crisis of shocking regionally-destabilising proportions. We urge here as well that the international community not abandon Afghanistan’s longer-term development, as the consequences of doing so would be profound.

Today we require collectively focused attention on the urgency of humanitarian action. Today and going forward, our actions must be meaningfully humane.

Thank you.

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“The Taliban takeover must not mean the end of international aid to Afghanistan” — The Guardian, UK

“Time is of the essence if the immediate balance of payments crisis is not to balloon into a catastrophe. The Americans and Europeans must exploit every legal loophole to get aid into the country. In this they will find willing partners in those international NGOs that enjoy highest prestige among ordinary Afghans, and which, through judicious handling of Taliban officials in the country’s far-flung provinces, enjoy cooperative relationships with its new rulers.

“This is the kind of aid that works: projects like those of the Aga Khan Development Network, the Bangladeshi NGO Brac and the International Rescue Committee that pride themselves on assisting Afghans to meet their own demands – for piped water, for instance, a clinic for young mothers, or a fruit tree nursery – employing mainly locals, watchful of waste and corruption, and working with whoever is in power.” — Read Christopher de Bellaigue’s article in the Guardian

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The Geneva Conference on Afghanistan

Earlier news (compiled from UN Press Release): United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called the international community to join him in Geneva, in person and virtually, on Monday September 13, 2021 to express solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and pledge tangible support to address their critical humanitarian needs.

Afghanistan’s children, women and men have faced decades of conflict and deprivation. Recent developments have increased their vulnerability. A severe drought is ruining the upcoming harvest and hunger is rising. The economy is grinding to a halt with cash in short supply. Concern for the rights of women and girls is rising. Afghans urgently need food, medicine, health services, safe water, sanitation, and protection.

UN agencies and non-governmental partners have launched a Flash Appeal seeking US$606 million for the remainder of the year to bring vital relief to 11 million people. International and Afghan humanitarian organizations are on the ground and can deliver in a rapidly changing context. They need fast and flexible funding and sustained access into and around Afghanistan. And all aid workers, including women, must be assured of their safety and freedom of movement. Swift action and support from the international community is vital to ensure humanitarians can rapidly provide basic and essential services for the Afghan people.

That is the objective of the High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan.

The event and press conference will be webcast live on UN TV commencing at 8:00 AM New York time.

For further details on UN website click HERE.

Date posted: September 13, 2021
Last updated: September 13, 2021 (01:22 PM)

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan: Photos and Report of His First Visit to the Jamat in Toronto in 1973

In an exclusive piece for Simerg’s sister website Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family, Dr Mohamed Manji of Vancouver digs into his archives of photos, and reflects on Prince Amyn Aga Khan’s visit to Toronto in 1973. Dr Manji was then a member for Health in the newly established Aga Khan Regional Council for Ontario and Quebec. His article also coincides with Prince Amyn’s 84th birthday on Sunday September 12, 2021, which also marks the 7th anniversary of the opening of two iconic Ismaili Imamat projects in Toronto, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum. Please click HERE or on the image below for photos and article on Prince Amyn, the younger brother of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Please click on image for photos and article on Prince Amyn’s 1973 visit to Toronto:

Date posted: September 10, 2021.

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Afghanistan Update: Ismaili Drives For Afghan Refugees in Chicago Area Fill 4 Trucks With Resettlement Supplies

Ismaili CIVIC

This is an update to our recent post Ismaili CIVIC to Host Supply Drive For Afghan Refugees at 3 Chicago Jamatkhanas on September 4 which referred to an article by Tom Robb in Journal & Topics.

Tom Robb now reports in the September 8 edition of Journal & Topics that the drive on September 4 at the Jamatkhanas resulted in the donation of supplies that filled four large U-Haul trucks. Donors came through the Glenview Ismaili Jamatkhana alone at the rate of 25 to 30 cars per hour. To read Tom Robb’s report click HERE or on image below.

Ismaili CIVIC donation drive
Mountains of kitchen supplies, diapers, and other donated home goods, filling two long U-Haul trucks were collected at the Glenview Ismaili Jamatkhana and organized by Ismaili CIVIC volunteers for Afghan refugees Saturday, Sept. 4. Other donation sites made similar collections in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood and in Naperville. (Tom Robb/Journal photo). Click on photo for full story.

Date posted: September 8, 2021.

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We have created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul simerg

Sunday, September 5, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [3] – Leadership Urges Jamati Members Not to Cross Border into Pakistan

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

This is the third in our series of on-going reports from our special correspondent in Afghanistan who is covering for us the developments in his country that are impacting the lives of the Ismaili Jamat. The first two reports can be read HERE – August 26 and HERE – August 29.

We urge all members of the Jamat to support institutions worldwide, such as Focus Humanitarian, in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new Taliban leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

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LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: DANGEROUS AND RISKY BORDER CROSSING, CURRENT GROUND SITUATION AND AN APPEAL TO THE ISMAILI LEADERSHIP

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[REPORT #3]. SUNDAY, SPETEMBER 5, 2021

[This is our Ismaili correspondent’s third letter to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first two letters HERE – August 26 and HERE – August 29. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed.]

Please click on map for enlargement

Afghanistan Map, Spin Boldak
Map of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The area, Spin Boldak, in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan, and the border town of Chaman in Pakistan where many Afghans seek refuge, are circled in red. Please click on map for enlargement. Credit: Map adapted and annotated by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

First of all, a special thanks to the Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Afghanistan for staying alongside the Jamats in such a critical time in the country, and for apprising the Jamats about the overall measures we need to take for our well being and safety.

A vast majority of members of the Jamat are concerned regarding the recent upheavals and there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding their future, especially of their children. Many have therefore decided to embark on a journey to neighboring countries through whatever available means. I have learnt that recently several left the country through the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan, without proper and legal documentation (see map above). This is a very risky and dangerous proposition. Those crossing the border face risks from smugglers who are notorious in their dealings with innocent people, and the Jamat has been specifically requested not to put their life in jeopardy and avoid using illegal ways to reach their destination. Social media reports suggest that some Jamati members were successfully able to cross the border into Pakistan, while some other Ismaili families have gone missing and there is no clue about their fate. Those who have legal documents to travel or leave the country have been advised that they should wait until the opening of passport offices, the Hamid Karzai international airport, as well as other border crossings so they can travel out of the country safely.

Following the official departure of US troops from Afghanistan, the political future and formation of new government have remained uncertain. The Taliban, the only ruling party, was scheduled to announce the new government on Friday, September 3, but this has not yet happened. Another concern is related to the inclusive nature of the new government. We anxiously await the announcement.

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A man on motorcycle carries a delivery in Kabul. August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

Most public institutions particularly key functional ministries have remained closed. The nation is suffering from lack of fuel and food. According to the United Nations, about a third of Afghan citizens are struggling to survive in the face of the crisis and insecurity, with the prospect that the country could functionally be out of food within a month. Drought, conflict, Covid-19, unemployment and drain of international aids have contributed to escalating of this crisis. It is therefore gratifying to read that yesterday, Saturday, September 4, 2021, the UN Secretary General António Guterres announced that the United Nations will hold an international conference to raise humanitarian funds for the Afghan people on September 13.

Following the Taliban takeover, the security situation in almost all parts of the nation has relatively improved. But, ISIS-K is considered a potential threat to the new government led by the Taliban. Clarissa Ward, CNN International chief correspondent had twitted recently that the Taliban sources told CNN they were concerned ISIS-K had melted with Taliban in Kabul and it was challenging to distinguish them from legitimate Taliban fighters. The emergence of ISIS-K, an affiliated group with ISIS mainstream based in the Middle East, has raised concerns among all people and specially in the Shite minority groups consisting of Twelvers and Ismailis. 

Given the recent developments and new the unfolding realities, all Jamat members have to be vigilant and act cautiously in such a dire situation. The Ismaili Council for Afghanistan had issued an announcement last week that require all the Jamat members to observe the following points: (1) No definitive surveys of the Jamat in Afghanistan is available, and members of the Jamat who need help for their safety and security, are required to take personal measures; and (2) the Jamats have been asked to avoid illegal immigrations without visas and passports, since no country has officially announced its cooperation for accepting refugees.

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A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul.
A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul. August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

A further announcement made in the last 24-48 hours has instructed the Jamat not to try and cross the border into Pakistan illegally, as those who do cross the border at Spin Boldak will be hosted in refugee camps in nearby Chaman (see map shown above). The camps are under full control of the Pakistani military and they will not permit the refugee arrivals from Afghanistan to leave the camps. Thus, the Jamats have been requested not to travel to Pakistan without having legal documents.

In short, the Ismaili Afghan Jamats need to demonstrate resilience and vigilance in the face of unfolding challenges and crises, and follow the instructions and guidance provided by AKDN agencies and the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan. However, I continue to express my concern about there not being a plan on the part of AKDN and the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan to overcome the crisis that Ismailis are encountering throughout the nation, particularly in the economic spheres in the life of the Jamat.

I therefore sincerely appeal to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), the AKDN agencies and Ismaili Council leadership to be forward thinking, closely monitor the situation and adopt an effective strategy for addressing all the issues that will continue to emerge in the foreseeable future.

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A man waits for a minibus at a traffic square in Kabul. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

I will, as mentioned previously, continue to provide updates on the situation in Afghanistan and will also report about whether the Jamati institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the Jamat. As you know, email addresses have been provided (click HERE) whom we can write to. I again assure readers around the world that the information I have provided is as accurate and reliable as can be.

I do appreciate that my Ismaili brothers and sisters in Afghanistan may have a different perspective of issues affecting the Jamat, and the editor and I invite them to provide their honest and sincere feedback in the comments box below. Opinions should be expressed in a constructive manner as that would be for the betterment of the Jamat. I also believe we can individually act as guides to our institutions who are working in extremely difficult circumstances. We also have to remember that we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic which complicates things even further. The editor will publish your feedback anonymously.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: September 5, 2021.
Last updated: September 5, 2021 (18:10 – the original version had a few typos that have now been corrected).

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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. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Afghanistan Update: Aga Khan Trust for Culture Resumes Work in Kabul; Ismaili CIVIC to Host Supply Drive For Afghan Refugees at 3 Chicago Jamatkhanas

Aga Khan Trust for Culture

Philip Kennicott, art and architecture critic of The Washington Post, reports in the paper’s August 30, 2021 edition that The Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in Afghanistan which was closed for about a week after the Taliban took over Kabul, has restarted some long-running projects, including a major restoration and development project of historical buildings along the Kabul River that employs some 900 people. “We are cautiously optimistic,” said Ajmal Maiwandi, who heads AKTC in Afghanistan. That optimism is based on promises the Taliban has made and, so far, mostly kept to respect historical and cultural heritage sites, and on their recent behavior in Kabul. “There were a lot of doomsday scenarios prior to the events of the last 10 days, but the most drastic of those predictions have not materialized,” Ajmal told the Post…. Please read full Washington Post story Artists and cultural workers face life under Taliban

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Ismaili CIVIC

In a story dated August 31, 2021, Tom Robb reports in the on-line edition of Journal and Topics that members of the Ismaili CIVIC organization will host a supply donation drive-thru on Saturday September 4 to create welcome kits for Afghan refugees at three locations: Glenview Jamatkhana at 100 Shermer Rd., the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Chicago’s North Side Edgewater neighborhood, and the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Naperville….. To read Tom Robb’s report click HERE or on image below.

A view of the Glenview Ismaili Jamatkhana in the Chicago area.
A view of the Glenview Jamatkhana in the Chicago area, one of three Ismaili Jamatkhana locations to host donation for refugees from Afghanistan on Saturday September 4, 2021. Please click on image for story.

Date posted: September 2, 2021.
Last updated: September 3, 2021 (link to Washington Post article added, see top).

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We have created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Afghanistan Update: Ismaili CIVIC Volunteers Join Local Organizations in Cedar Park, Texas, to Support Refugees

Dozens of cars lined up outside the Ismaili Jamatkhana to show support for the hundreds of Afghan refugees who are about to call Central Texas their new home. Local organizations are making sure refugee families have what they need when they arrive….Click HERE or on image below to see video and read report by Ricardo Lewis on CBS Austin.

Ismaili Humanitarian Supply Drive
Dozens of volunteers with Ismaili CIVIC along with other local organizations hosted a humanitarian supply drive to collect donations from hygiene to school supplies. Photo: Extracted from CBS Austin Video Report. Click on image for complete text and video report by Ricardo Lewis.

Date posted: August 30, 2021.

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We have created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

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.

Kabul residents walking on the street at Taimany Square.

Sunday, August 29, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [2]

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

This is the second in our series of on-going reports from our special correspondent in Afghanistan who is covering for us the developments in his country that are impacting the lives of the Ismaili Jamat. Our first report dated Thursday, August 26, 2021 can be read HERE.

We urge all members of the Jamat to support institutions worldwide, such as Focus Humanitarian, in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

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LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: THE REALITIES ON THE GROUND AND AN APPEAL TO THE ISMAILI LEADERSHIP

A man uses a makeshift carrier for providing tea drinking service at Kabul's Kote Sangi commercial hub sector of the city
A man uses a makeshift carrier for providing tea drinking service at Kabul’s Kote Sangi commercial hub sector of the city. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.


[REPORT #2]. SUNDAY, AUGUST 29, 2021

[This is our Ismaili correspondent’s second letter to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first letter HERE. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed.]

Dear Jamats:

I am aware about your anxiety and concerns regarding the new developments unfolding in recent days throughout my country and in particular the capital “Kabul”. Many of you also have families and friends in Afghanistan. Others who have visited from outside the country or worked here have built strong bonds with the country as well as members of the Jamat. Generally though, as brothers and sisters living in any part of the world, we think of one another, especially in times of difficulties such as the one the Afghan Jamat is facing at the moment. Hence, I am compelled to provide the global Jamats with some insights pertaining to the Afghan Jamats, who are experiencing difficulties and uncertainties in their life at the present time. In my continuing reports I will endeavour to cover all aspects of our concerns as well as our appeals to the Ismaili leadership in Afghanistan, and how they are responding to our needs. I will seek to be sincere and honest.

As readers are aware the people of Afghanistan and of course the Ismailis have been adversely impacted by recent political changes. We are concerned and anxious about our safety, wellbeing and fate. When it comes to safety of our Jamati members, no party involved in affairs of the country can assure us of our absolute security. In this case, no entity — even the Jamati leadership — in the country can guarantee that all Ismailis living across the country are secure and that are exposed to no threat at the moment. 

Generally, all communities including Ismaili community are concerned about the political future of the country. Thus, many have been desperately trying to leave the country, abandoning their homes and belongings.

The emergence of ISIS-K (Islamic States of Iraq and Syria, Khorasan Branch) that claimed the responsibility for the suicide attack near Kabul airport killing more than 170 people has left us deeply worried. The incident is of particular and real concern to the ethnic Hazara Shia Muslims and indeed all Shia Muslims, who are regarded as heretics by the group. However as we have seen, ISIS-K doesn’t distinguish as they even consider the Taliban as their enemy. They are indiscriminate. However, it is important to note that ISIS-K have previously targeted civilian masses belonging to Hazara Shite minority, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties including women and children. In such a situation, as you can imagine, the Jamats living in the region which is predominantly Hazara see no other option but to flee to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, or Western nations. [Read Hazara Shias flee Afghanistan” in The Guardian — Ed.]

Fortunately, members of the Jamat who had worked with foreign nationals and entities have either already left or waiting to be evacuated from the country before August 31. No doubt, many will be left behind with the deadline that all countries are trying to meet. Most of the countries say they have now stopped the evacuation process. The members of the Jamat who are able to afford ticket payments and have some sort of overseas family sponsorship are determined to embark on a journey intended to those nations as well as Afghanistan’s neighboring countries.

The Jamats living in poverty are deeply worried about feeding their families, and are expecting and hoping that the leadership in Afghanistan, namely the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan, will come to their rescue and provide emergency assistance of food and medicine. In this regard the Jamats around the world can be of great material assistance through institutions such as Focus. [To make on-line contributions please visit Focus Canada; Focus Europe; and Focus USA — Ed.]

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Students seen entering the grounds of Kabul's Polytechnique University
Students seen entering the grounds of Kabul’s Polytechnique University, founded in 1963. It is the second largest university in Kabul. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

One piece of good news is that the Taliban has recently announced that all female employees working in health sector can attend their duties on a regular basis. However, given the uncertainty and deteriorated security situation, some parents are reluctant to allow their daughters to resume their career or attend their daily university classes. 

Under all these circumstances, we are hoping that the Ismaili leadership in Afghanistan including the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan and AKDN agencies will design a plan and take measures in order to overcome the crisis that we are facing at the moment. I had raised this matter in my first letter. Also, I am hoping that the Ismaili leadership will be able to specifically guide and advise parents and their daughters on how they can carry on with their careers and studies — hopefully some guarantees can be secured from the Taliban about the safety of female members in the Jamat who lead professional lives in health care and education.

We are also appealing to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum to closely monitor the developments unfolding in Afghanistan and extend its necessary aid for Jamats in need, and adopt a proper strategy that can address the problems confronting Afghan Ismailis at the current time. Communication with the Jamat is very important. So far, as I note, one advisory has been put out on August 20 (Read English and Farsi), with a brief follow-up by AKDN on August 25 (Read English, Arabic, Farsi and Russian).

I would like to express my gratitude and thankfulness for giving me the opportunity to provide a forum so that I am able to share the Afghan Jamat’s concerns and living conditions with your readers around the world. To summarize the above points, I request that the following be done:

(1) Understand the ground realities in different parts of the country, and specifically prepare, plan and take steps to remedy the situation as necessary. For example, the Hazara Jamat may require special guidance and instructions with regard to their well-being and safety;

(2) Address the poverty issue where families are economically deprived and ensure that they receive material assistance, food and proper health care; and

(3) Advise students, the youth and professionals of the Jamat about their studies and careers. The council should seek to get guarantees from the Taliban that ladies who are in the health and education sectors will be well-treated and respected when they report for their duties. Otherwise, parents will be reluctant to send their daughters for their duties.

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Kabul residents walking on the street at Taimany Square.
Kabul residents walking on street at the city’s Taimany Square. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

I will continue to provide updates on the situation in Afghanistan and will also report about whether the Jamati institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the Jamat. As you know, email addresses have been provided (click HERE) whom we can write to. I again assure readers around the world that the information I have provided is as accurate and reliable as can be.

I do appreciate that my Ismaili brothers and sisters in Afghanistan may have a different perspective of issues affecting the Jamat, and the editor and I invite them to provide their honest and sincere feedback in the comments box below. Opinions should be expressed in a constructive manner. It would be for the betterment of the Jamat, and we can actually act as a guide to our institutions who are working in extremely difficult circumstances. We also have to remember that we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic which complicates things even further. The editor will publish all feedback anonymously.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: August 29, 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.

Recent pieces on Afghanistan in Simerg:

[1]. Letter from Afghanistan (1);

[2]. Aga Khan Development Network’s Commitment to Afghanistan and Its People; and Overview of AKDN’s Work in the Country for the Last 25 Years;

[3]. To the Women of Afghanistan: Let Your Story and that of Bibi Khadijah (a.s.) Be a Powerful Trampoline of Progress for the People of Afghanistan and Around the Muslim World;

[4]. Flowers – with Love – for the Children, Girls, Sisters and Mothers of Afghanistan;

[5]. Ismaili Institutions Says Majority of Jamati Members in Afghanistan Safe and Continuing with Normal Life; and

[6]. Ismailis in Afghanistan Asked to Stay Home and Not Panic

Provincial Map of Afghanistan

August 27, 2021: Anxious Ismaili Couple in New Mexico, USA, Await News About their Extended Family Members in Afghanistan

Prepared and Compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

Albuquerque doctor Sharmin Dharas and her husband, Shams Mehri, are desperately waiting to hear whether more than 100 extended family members — some of whom worked for Americans in Kabul — will be among those flown to safety as the deadline for Americans and some Afghans to leave by August 31, 2021 quickly approaches…. READ FULL STORY IN THE SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN.

Also, please click on the following links for posts published on this website, Simerg, on the situation in Afghanistan:

[1]. Letter from Afghanistan (1);

[2]. Aga Khan Development Network’s Commitment to Afghanistan and Its People; and Overview of AKDN’s Work in the Country for the Last 25 Years;

[3]. To the Women of Afghanistan: Let Your Story and that of Bibi Khadijah (a.s.) Be a Powerful Trampoline of Progress for the People of Afghanistan and Around the Muslim World;

[4]. Flowers – with Love – for the Children, Girls, Sisters and Mothers of Afghanistan;

[5]. Ismaili Institutions Says Majority of Jamati Members in Afghanistan Safe and Continuing with Normal Life; and

[6]. Ismailis in Afghanistan Asked to Stay Home and not Panic.

Date posted: August 27, 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.

Caption for featured image of maps of Afghanistan and its provinces at top of post:

Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces. The provinces of Afghanistan are the primary administrative divisions. Each province encompasses a number of districts or usually over 1,000 villages. Population (2020 estimate): 32,890,171; Largest city Kabul (capital), population 4.6 million. At left, Provincial map of Afghanistan. Key (alphabetical order): Badakhshan (30); Badghis (4); Baghlan (19); Balkh (13), Bamyan (15), Daykundi (10), Farah (2), Faryab (5); Ghazni (16); Ghor (6), Helmand (7); Herat (1); Jowzjan (8); Kabul (22), Kandahar (12); Kapisa (29); Khost (26); Kunar (34); Kunduz (18); Laghman (32); Logar (23); Nangarhar (33); Nimruz (3); Nuristan (31); Paktia (24); Paktika (25); Panjshir (28); Parwan (20); Samangan (14); Sar-e Pol (9); Takhar (27); Uruzgan (11); Maidan Wardak (21); and Zabul (17).

Map Credits: Provincial map (left): Joshbaumgartner via Wikepedia, Public Domain. Map of Afghanistan with key cities (right): Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

street scene kabul after taliban takeover august 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [1]

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

We have received a very reliable report by an Ismaili individual (name withheld) of the ground realities in Afghanistan following the recent swift and generally peaceful takeover of the country by the Taliban. The author is in contact with numerous Ismaili individuals in Kabul and around the country, and will be sending regular updates to Simerg. The editor is directly in contact with the individual, and will consolidate the reports received as “Letter from Afghanistan” until normality returns to the country.

The recent institutional announcement (read it HERE) as well as the AKDN press release of August 25, 2021 (read it HERE) has no doubt helped the spirit of the Jamat in Afghanistan during these extremely difficult days. However, there are difficulties being faced in the capital and elsewhere in the country, and many members of the Jamat are deeply apprehensive about what the future holds for them. This concern is noted in the letter below. Generally, we are pleased with the announcements that the Taliban has made regarding the safety and well being of every citizen of Afghanistan, including minority communities as well as the children and women of the country. However, there may be elements within the Taliban that are not abiding by the instructions of their Taliban leadership, bringing fear to many of the country’s citizens, especially those living outside the capital, Kabul.

We pray for safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan, and the members of the Ismaili Jamat.

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Note: This report was submitted hours before the tragic suicide bombing near Kabul airport that resulted in dozens of death and injuries to Afghan civilians and US military personnel.

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: REALITIES ON THE GROUND


[REPORT #1]. THURSDAY, AUGUST 26, 2021

street scene in Kabul following Taliban takeover
A street scene in Kabul following the Taliban takeover. Photo: Special to Simerg.

August 26, 2021: I am writing this letter to provide authentic information based on the ground realities and feedback from Jamats living in Afghanistan. 

Afghan Ismaili Jamats are grateful to Ismaili Council for Afghanistan that has stayed beside the Jamat in this critical moment, and for providing instructions on how to deal with day to day challenges. It is a great honor for us as Ismailis who are able to continue practicing their faith without any fear and disruption after the entire country came under the control of Taliban. We appreciate the global Jamats’ sharing the same concern regarding their Ismaili brethren and sisters, offering their help and support for Afghan Ismailis in such a dire and critical moment. 

street scene kabul after taliban takeover august 2021
A street scene in Kabul following the Taliban takeover. Photo: Special to Simerg.

As readers may be aware, the Taliban declared general amnesty for all public service employees, military and security members and even those who worked with foreign nationals. But practically, they are on the look out for those who had any ties with the former government or were associated with Western military or Western NGOS. Therefore, the Jamati members who worked with the Afghan Government or western organizations are concerned about their fate along with many youth members of the Jamat who joined the military post-Taliban in the early 2000’s.

The majority of the people, including members of the Afghan Ismaili Jamat living in the capital Kabul are afraid, unemployed and locked at home. The women and girls worry about their education, returning to their work, or even leaving home without a male companion. A vast percentage of the Jamat is unemployed in the cities governed by the Taliban militants. The remittance sent by family members living abroad to their immediate families in the country has been blocked, since Money Gram and Western Union Transfer are not available.

Generally, the people of Afghanistan and of course the Ismailis are concerned about the gains achieved and preserved during past two decades in human rights, freedom of speech, respect for the rights of women and minorities. Now, there is an element of uncertainty, and we are concerned about feeding our families and fulfilling our daily requirements. The education of the youth and and children in the upcoming future is also uncertain.

Local residents and members of the Taliban army seen at Kabul’s Babur Gardens shortly after the city was captured by the Taliban in mid August. The Gardens were restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, providing much needed green space for Kabul’s residents after years of war and destruction. Photo: Special to Simerg.

We are all hoping that the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan, Jamati and Imamat institutions such as the Aga Khan Development Network will respond to this crisis we are facing in the best possible way. 

The devotion, dedication and steadfastness shown by leadership in Afghanistan is highly appreciated. But, the leadership only assures them of their relative safety, issuing statements that ignores the concerns and anxieties of Afghan Jamats. We sincerely hope that the leadership in Afghanistan will share with the Jamats their plans and the measures they are taking on how they plan to overcome the confusion, crisis and chaos, and thus ease the burden that is in our hearts and minds with regard to our present situation as well as our future.

At last, I would like to express my gratitude and thankfulness for giving me the opportunity to provide a forum so that I am able to share the Afghan Jamat’s concerns and living conditions with your readers around the world.

I would like to assure the Jamats around the world that we are generally fine, and there is no threat to us. I wish to assure you that the information provided by me is authentic and reliable. Thank you.

Date posted: August 26, 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.