Prophet Muhammad: Books for the Young from Aga Khan Museum, a Song and the Call to Hazrat Ali

Strength does not lie in carrying heavy loads: a camel can do that. The essence of strength lies in taming your temper and your anger. — Tradition of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) from article How a Muslim Sees Muhammad by Michael Wolfe

Compiled and prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

The Milad or Mawlid of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) falls on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal. In 2021, Muslims in different countries around the world will be observing the birth anniversary between October 18-19. The Ismaili community in Canada will be marking the Milad on Monday, October 18 in Jamatkhanas around the country. The Milad is an appropriate time to learn more about his inspiring life and leadership as well as his faith in God whom he served as the last messenger for 23 long and devoted years, bringing to Muslims the blessing of the Holy Qur’an. We present to you briefs on two books that will appeal to young Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a song by Late Izzat Muneyb (d. May 20, 2017), and an artistic Sufi hat from the collection of the Aga Khan Museum that depicts the well known prayer of Naad-e-Ali invoked by the Prophet.

1. Books on Islam and Prophet Muhammad for the Young

In the Prophet's Garden - Traditions or Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad
Available at the Aga Khan Museum bookshop or order on-line. Click on image.

In the Prophet’s Garden is a compilation by Fatimah M D’oyen and Abdelkadir Chahi of two hundred ahadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) taken from authentic sources. The book is thematically arranged in twenty-nine short chapters to cover essential Islamic teachings on faith, religious practices, morals and manners, character, and conduct. Aimed at children and young people from the age of ten onwards, this book also forms a suitable general introduction to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad for people of other faiths and those new to Islam. The book is a colorful presentation with images, Arabic narration, and English translation. Buy In the Prophet’s Garden at Aga Khan Museum.

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important themes in Islam—its message of peace, love of the Prophet Muhammad Aga Khan  Museum
Available at the Aga Khan Museum bookshop or order on-line. Click on image.

A Whisper of Peace by Dawud Wharnsby, a convert to Islam, is a delightful collection that covers important themes in Islam — its message of peace, love of the Prophet Muhammad, God’s nearness, and caring for and marvelling at the wonders of the world. Full of uplifting rhymes and faithful ideas, this collection will inspire and inform children of all faiths and none. Dawud is well known for writing stories, songs, and poems for people of all ages for many years. Buy A Whisper of Peace at Aga Khan Museum.

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2. Song

By LATE IZZAT MUNEYB (d. May 20, 2017)

This song introduces us to some of the titles by which Prophet Muhammad came to be known. They are: ‘Ahmad’, ‘Mustafa’, ‘Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen and ‘King of law laak’. The words ‘law laak’ in Arabic mean, “Were it not for…” There is a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, where Allah speaking to His prophet, says, “Were it not for you, I would not have created the universe – law laaka lamaa khalaqtu’l-aflaaka.” [1]. In the song, the lines marked * are sung twice.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Ahmad?*
He who is praised in heaven
Shall be praised here on earth.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Mustafa?*
The Chosen of God on earth,
You have brought us the Qur’an.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen?*
God sent you as a Mercy
To the whole of creation.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you the ‘King of law laak’?*
Even God says He created
The universe for you.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Notes:

[1] Source: Sukheel Sharif, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006

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3. Nadi Ali

Sufi Hat Aga Khan Museum Naad e Ali or Nadi Ali
Views of a Sufi hat in the collection of the Aga Khan Museum depicting the famous “Nadi ‘Ali” (also Naad-e-Ali) prayer of the Prophet Muhammad. Photo: Aga Khan Museum, Copyright: Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5 CA.

By  DR. ULRIKE AL-KHAMIS

This white felt hat [1] once formed part of a dervish’s outfit. It is embroidered with a well-known prayer to ‘Ali (“Nadi ‘Ali”), the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the figurehead of Shia Islam. The embroidered text is contained within tall and elongated, gracefully crenellated units that interlock. Hats of this shape are known to have been worn since the Safavid period, but this particular style seems to have emerged much later in the nineteenth century. A similar cap, attributed to the Khaksari Sufi Order and dated to the nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, can be found among the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (Reg. No. 2004.100.5).

Transliteration and Translation of Arabic Inscription

Transliteration: Nadi ‘aliyyan muzhir al-aja’ib. Tajidahu ‘awnan laka fi al-nawa’ib. Kullu hamm wa ghamm sayanjali bi ‘azamatika ya Allah, binabuwwatika ya Muhammad, bi-wilayatika, ya ‘Ali, ya ‘Ali, ya ‘Ali, ya ‘Ali, ya ‘Ali, ya ‘Ali 

Translation: Call upon ‘Ali, the revealer of miracles! You will surely find him a helper to you in crisis. Every care and sorrow will pass through your magnificence, oh God, your prophethood, oh Muhammad, your companionship, oh ‘Ali, oh ‘Ali, oh ‘Ali, oh ‘Ali, oh ‘Ali, oh ‘Ali.

To read article at source, please click Sufi Hat, AKM678, The Aga Khan Museum

Date posted: October 16, 2021.

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Dr. Ulrike Al-Khammis Aga Khan Museum CEO
Dr. Ulrike Al-Khammis

Dr. Ulrike Al-Khammis was recently appointed as the Director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum. She has been a key member of the Aga Khan Museum’s executive and leadership team over the past four years, acting as Director of Collections and Public Programs since 2017. Commenting on the new role that Dr; Ulrike assumed, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, Chairman of the Aga Khan Museum Board and speaking on behalf of the Board of Directors said: “I have worked for four years with Dr. Al-Khamis and it has been a joy. She is committed, creative and always ready to try something new. I think that under her leadership the Museum will play a major educational role and will open new and exciting doors.”

[1] Spirit & Life: Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection (Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2007), 67, Cat. No. 41. Also click Spirit & Life: Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collection. Geneva: Aga Khan Trust for Culture, 2007. ISBN: 9782940212022

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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.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan: 50 Years in Pictures

Born on October 12, 1971 in Geneva, Switzerland, Prince Rahim Aga Khan has been engaged with the work of the Ismaili Imamat for the past 15 years. Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, has prepared a special tribute taking readers through 50 years of his life with beautiful images, excerpts from his speeches as well as other pertinent material related to his education and responsibilities. Do not miss this extraordinary and inspiring post on Prince Rahim. Please click HERE or on the image below.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan Photo essay as he turns 50 years old.
Please click on image for Barakah’s exclusive photo essay on Prince Rahim to mark his 50th birthday on OctoBer 12, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg/Barakah.

Date posted: October 12, 2021.

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An Unforgettable Thanksgiving Weekend: A Great BBQ, Historical Photos and a Rejuvenating Holy Message of Blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

For the first time in more than 19 months, I accepted an invitation to visit friends who were hosting a BBQ for their family. They regard me as one of their family members. I am fully vaccinated against Covid-19. I have known Salim and Nevin Kanji for decades. Salim’s older brother, Mohamed Amersi, was one of Tanzania’s top table tennis players, and he spent time with me and improved my game at the Diamond Jubilee Hall in Dar es Salaam in the late 1960’s. Mohamed passed away at the age of 51! It was shocking when I got the news some 20-25 years ago. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Salim’s grandfather was the well known Late Count Amersi Kanji of Zanzibar, who served the Ismaili Imamat for decades. A couple of stories that Sikandar, Salim’s younger brother, told everyone yesterday about their grandfather, deserve a special post. Hopefully, we can prepare a special piece about Count Amersi’s contribution to the Jamat and the Imamat, often in extremely dangerous circumstances. The photos of the late count that are featured in this post are in Salim and Nevin’s home.

Article continues below

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Salim Kanji’s grandfather Count Amersi Kanji. Photo: Salim Kanji Family Collection.

The BBQ was absolutely delicious and Nevin kindly filled up containers for me to take home. I left their place after about 4 hours, planning to return home and retire early. It was exactly 6:25 PM as I turned left onto Wynford Drive from Don Mills Road. The Ismaili Centre/Headquarters Jamatkhana was 300 metres away. On weekends, the Headquarters Jamatkhana Dua time is 6:30 PM. It was not my scheduled day to attend but deep down something told me to try my luck as a walk-in. I followed my instincts and luckily got a space. I saw the Ab-e-Shifa table set up, and wondered why. Was I wrong about the Milad-un-Nabi date? The mystery was solved when the President of the Aga Khan Council stood up and read the Talika from our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam, which was followed by the recitation of the Talika Ginan. Everyone’s heart was touched, and there was unbounded joy and happiness on everyone’s face.

Article continues below…with Talika

A personal Thanksgiving weekend experience, as Ismailis receive a Talika - a holy message - from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, with the family of (Late) Count Amersi Kanji (seated left with robe). Photo: Salim Kanji Family Collection.

Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude, and families get together for meals. It was a great afternoon being with a loving family, and I made new friends at Salim’s home with other members of his family that I had never met before. The invitation was a blessing indeed, and the kindness shown to me by Salim, Nevin, their son Hafez (a die-hard Liverpool fan, yes Salah is the best in the world) and all those who were present led me to the Jamatkhana. For me, this Thanksgiving was the happiest one in my 40 years in North America (the USA Thanksgiving comes later in November).

Barakah wishes Ismailis around the world Mubaraki on the auspicious occasion of the Talika. Let us earnestly continue to follow Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance, and always keep his blessings in our hearts.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Mubarak Talika

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

7th October 2021

My dear spiritual children,

On the occasion of a recent mulaqat with my senior Jamati leaders to review their reports on current Jamati work and activities, I send my warmest and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children throughout the world.

I send my best loving blessings for the souls of all my ruhani spiritual children, and I pray that their souls may rest in eternal peace.

I am happy that, in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, my Jamat is continuing to undertake the measures recommended by the health authorities to mitigate the risks, particularly by accepting to be vaccinated as soon as the opportunity becomes available. I wish all my spiritual children to remain constantly mindful of the importance of maintaining good health in all aspects of human life.   

At this time my Jamat in some parts of the world is witnessing political transformation. I remind my spiritual children of our tradition to contribute positively for the growth of a healthy civil society, which I believe will enable the improvement of the quality of life of all peoples and will therefore underpin the restoration of peace and stability.

I send my most affectionate loving blessings for your spiritual wellbeing, worldly success, good health, happiness and progress, with best blessings for my Jamat’s strength of faith and unity. 

I send my special loving blessings for mushkil-asan, and for the safety and security of all my Jamat. You are all particularly in my heart, in my thoughts and in my prayers.

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

Date posted: October 11, 2021.

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TALIKA TRANSLATIONS: Please click on the following links for translations of the above Talika in French; Portuguese; Farsi; Arabic; Gujarati; Russian; Urdu; Tajik; and Spanish.

Please visit our sister website Barakah’s Talika page for links to all the Talikas that Mawlana Hazar Imam has sent to the Jamats since the beginning of Covid-19.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. 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.

The above post is also published in Barakah, a website dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please visit www.barakah.com.

Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Ooncha Re Kot: Explanation and Recitation, with Metaphoric Video Footages from Toronto’s Amazing Salmon Run

Chinook salmon leap  Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a 6 foot dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, see video of leap below.

By (LATE) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

The transliteration and meaning of the popular Ismaili Ginan Ooncha (or Uncha) Re Kotfirst appeared on this website in 2009, accompanied by an image of a salmon swimming upstream and trying to jump over a steep rapid. The “borrowed” image was a metaphor for the first verse of the Ginan, where the “fish of the briny deep” seeks to overcome an obstacle — a high cliff — to return to its original abode — in the case of the salmon, the place where the mother had first brought it into the world by releasing the egg a few years earlier (a salmon lays between 1,000 to 17,000 eggs out of which only a few survive). It may be noted that certain species of salmon e.g. the Pacific Chinook, die after spawning, and the salmon that it has given birth to, swim to the lake or the ocean, where they reach maturity in about two to three years. After mating, the adult returns to its place of birth to spawn.

I have lived in Canada since the 1980’s and have on three occasions visited Hell’s Gate in British Columbia, a very popular spot to observe salmon going upstream to spawn. Unfortunately, however, I never got to witness this amazing phenomenon there.

A Chinook salmon swimmin g in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
A Chinook salmon swimming in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I was not aware that Toronto rivers had salmon as well. Indeed, the Don River, only a few hundred metres from where I live, is active with Chinook Pacific salmon moving upstream in autumn. The Chinook were introduced into Lake Ontario in the mid 1960’s because the native Atlantic salmon had virtually vanished. Their introduction was an immediate boon to the province’s fishing industry. The Don River flows into Lake Ontario, and at the park close to me it does not have high rapids, so you don’t get to see salmon jumping that high.

An amazing video by a visitor to Etienne Brulé Park on October 7, 2021 of a salmon trying to leap unsuccessfully over a dam on Humber River, near the 13 Crosby Avenue entrance. Please watch upper section of the film for the salmon leap. Video provided to Simerg by Ms. Sze Thang of Toronto.

Google search located a great spot in Toronto where I could view the incredible show, referred to as the Salmon Run. I went to the recommended Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto’s west end, where the Humber River flows. A regular visitor here told me that the salmon activity was low on that day (October 5). I reached the man made dam on the Humber River. The crowd was very small. I began my video taking at one end of the river and was able to see the entire breadth of the river. I would keep my video on for around 30 seconds, turn it off and turn it on again within a second or two. I took about 70 videos, and seven of those provided me the images that I wanted. Some salmon repeatedly kept on hitting the cliff rock and falling back. A few nearly made it but fell back. It was painful to see that! But then a couple managed to leap high enough and continue its spawning journey. Wow! What an exciting and thrilling moment. I visited the site again a couple of times, and was able to capture more failures as well as two successful leaps with reactions from the crowd of hurrays and hand-clapping. The happy crowd apologized to me for making so much noise, but I was very happy they were cheering with every successful leap, and would have joined them in the celebration. For visitors who missed the successful jumps, my cameras became the centre of attraction, and numerous individuals asked me to forward them the videos so that they could show them to their children!

The effort that the salmon were making was painful to witness especially when they hit the wall of the dam, but they would not give up despite the setbacks. They had a set goal and objective: to reach the spawning location. And they had more rapids to overcome in their long journey.

This extraordinary effort by the fish reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan’s advice to his Jamat (community) in Congo in the early 1960’s that if we have faith it will give us the strength to start life all over again (naveen sharuat in the gujarati translated Farman), even a hundred times if necessary. There are two principles in life that Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to be guided by: To work hard and to have faith. Let us work hard, be strong and as eager as the salmon, in our life’s material and spiritual journey. As Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah said, “Struggle is the meaning of life; defeat or victory is in the hands of God. But struggle itself is man’s duty and should be his joy.” These notions of hard work and struggle, and then accepting success or failure define Islam: Submission to the Will of God.

Please enjoy the videos, the explanation of the Ginan by Esmail Thawerbhoy and the recitation by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji. And those who live in Toronto or close to rivers where there are salmon, please go and see the fascinating show called the Salmon Run.

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Eji Ooncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen

Freely rendered in English verse
By (Late) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY
(iambic tetrameter, rhyme scheme abab)

Verse 1

So high the fort and climbing steep,
And surging round its base the sea;
I am a fish of the briny deep,
Ah Love, haste Thou to succour me.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion,
Beloved come home, my Love return;
Forgive Thy slave his scant devotion,
Show me Thy face, to Thee I turn.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion.

Verse 2

This sweet-scented sandalwood home,
Enclosed with beauteous acts galore;
‘Tis Love that locks me in my tomb,
Beloved I pray Thee ope the door.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 3

Enmeshed in ties of kith and kind,
How few realize its fatal art!
My soul’s torment, my body’s grind,
Beloved come soothe my aching heart.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 4

Be not so wroth, O Darling mine,
And deign to grant Thy Sight sublime;
Pir Hasan Shah entreats divine
Redemption from the sea (of time).
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

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Must Watch Video 1: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Transliteration of Ginan

Verse 1

Eji Ooncha re kot bahoo vech-na,
Neeche vahe dariya;
Hoon-re dariya vandi maachhli,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri,
Baalam ghare aav, Saajan ghare aav;
Bando bhooli-yo taari bandagi,
Sa-yan soorat bataav,
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri.

Verse 2

Eji Agar chandan-ni kota-di,
Soofal rachi-ya kamaad;
Taara deedha chhe premana,
Sa-yan kholan aav
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 3

Eji Pinjar padi-yo pari-vaar no,
Koik boojat jann;
Merre tann-ki vedana,
Sa-yan tapat boojaav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 4

Eji Itana kop na keeji-ye,
Sa-yan deeje didaar,
Pir Hasan Shah-ni venati,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

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Must Watch Video 2: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Commentary of the Ginan

In this Ginan Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-deen speaks of the soul’s yearning for the Beatific Vision (Noorani Didar). The imagery employed by the Pir is the familiar mystical vehicle of human love and the pangs of separation. In mysticism human love is ennobled and elevated to symbolize divine Love.

The word ‘religion’ comes etymologically from the two roots ‘re,’ again, and ‘ligare,’ to bind. It thus implies a former union from which the soul was separated and seeks to be reunited again.

The Holy Qur’an has the Verse with the same signification:
Inna li-llahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon which means
“From Allah we come and to Him is our return.”

A famous Hadith of Prophet Muhammad says:
“Between Him and me there are seventy thousand Veils of Light.”

By ‘Veils of Light’ are meant the entanglements of the flesh which hinder the Soul from its meeting the Noor. It is in transcending the limitations of the flesh and establishing rapport with the Noor that the soul finds its ultimate fulfilment.

But this is no easy matter. Family ties, material gains, power and pelf distract man from his duty.

How difficult the task is, is allegorized by the Pir as the effort of the fish (soul) to swim to the edge of the sea, and then climb up a stiff and fortified fort. The soul is also symbolized as a bird in its cage which is enamoured of its cage, and is loth to leave it to find its true place.

Beatific Vision can only be an act of Grace; and no soul, however much it strives, can claim to be entitled to it. If and when Grace comes, it comes from above. It is transcendent, not immanent. That is to say, it must come from outside of our sense-perception, and cannot be induced from within our consciousness. If we can, in Ibadat, eliminate all consciousness of Space and Time, the soul untrammelled by ‘mortal coil’ could, with Divine Grace, hope for a glimpse of the Beatific Vision—Noorani Didar. But it is always an act of Grace, and man cannot claim to merit it on the strength of his effort.

To use the terminology of photography, a sensitized plate kept in a darkroom will not take an impression however long it remains in the darkroom. But if light from an object falls upon it, it immediately takes an impression. The soul, freed from its entanglements, is like a sensitized plate. It is ready to receive Noorani Didar. But this Light must come from outside. It may come in a few days, a few weeks, or months, or years. It may not come at all. Man’s volition cannot accelerate or ensure the moment. He must strive patiently, and hope for Divine Grace.

Redemption is a common motif in many philosophies. In Eastern philosophy the sea is the symbol of the cycle of life (bhava saagar). To be saved from the sea means release from the flux of life. In Neo-Platonic philosophy it stands for the Individual Soul’s relation to the Universal Soul. In Sufism it is fanna fillah baqa hillah (annihilation in God and then everlasting existence in God). In Ismaili philosophy it stands for the absorption of the individual soul into the Noor of Imamat.

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Must Watch Video 3: Salmon Leap — Successful…The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021 Please see near end for leap. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Must Watch Video 4: Salmon Leap — Successful… The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Recitation of Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Rai Shamshu Bandali Haji

Ginan Uncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na sung by (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Credit: Ginans Central

Date posted: October 8, 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.

Editor’s Note:

This article by the (Late) Esmail Thawerbhoy was published in the July 1977 issue (Volume 3, Number 1) of Ilm magazine, London under the title Ginan Sharif of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen.

The late Esmail Thawerbhoy, originally from Mumbai, India, was a lawyer by profession and lived in Bangladesh before making London, England, his home in the 1970’s. He participated actively in numerous research and study groups while he was in Mumbai and Dacca. The editor remembers him fondly for his immense interest and support for Ilm magazine, published by the Ismailia Association for the U.K, (now the Ismaili Tariqah an Religious Education Board) and for contributing an extensive article “The Concept of  Imamat in Ismailism and Other Schools in Islam” which appeared in the March, 1977 issue of the magazine (Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4).

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.

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Chinook salmon leap Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video. Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Alwaez Nizar Chunara with his wife and children. Passings Simerg

Passings: Alwaez Nizar Chunara (1940 – 2021)

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

“Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021), Simerg passings
Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021)

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

[In writing this tribute, I am deeply indebted to the family of Alwaez Nizar Chunara for supplying me with important information related to his life].

It is with the utmost sadness that I record the recent demise of the much beloved missionary of the Ismaili world, Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara, who passed away in Vancouver on September 8, 2021 at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife Fariyal and their three children Fayaz (Shirzad), Arif (spouse Amynah) and Fazillah (spouse Alim) as well as grandchildren Raeesa, Raian, Mikayla, Alayna, Kayden, Alyssa and Mila and two younger brothers, Alnoor (Remtulla) in Edmonton and Azeem in Australia. Alwaez was laid to rest in Vancouver on September 14, 2021.

Born on October 29, 1940 in Manyoni, a small town near Dodoma, Tanzania, Nizar Chunara did his early schooling in Tabora and completed his secondary education at Dar es Salaam’s Aga Khan Secondary School. He then joined his father’s business in Manyoni and shortly thereafter went to Pakistan to pursue his dream of becoming a missionary (or Alwaez). 

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Aga Khan  Mawlana Hazar Imam with Nizar Chunara waezin program student in Pakistan, photo for Simerg
During his visit to Pakistan in the early 1960’s Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets young East African waezin student Nizar Chunara in Karachi. Having learnt from Nizar about his interest in the comparative study of religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam then wrote down the title of a dissertation that would be of interest to the future waezin (see inset image). This note was preserved by Alwaez, and attached to the bottom of the photo shown above, and the blessed moment stayed with him all his life. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

During his studies in Pakistan in the early 1960’s, he was blessed with an opportunity to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam, who inquired what subject interested him the most. When he said he was keen on studying comparative religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam referred Alwaez to Professor Louis Massignon’s dissertation on Al-Hallaj by writing the information down on a piece of paper (see photo, above). This was an unforgettable incident in Nizar’s life at a very young age. It is a well known fact that Massignon (d. 1962), besides being an authority on the life of the legendary Muslim mystic Al-Hallaj, wrote and spoke on interfaith dialogue and was particularly interested in the relationship of the three Abrahamic faith traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For Alwaez, this was the first of several opportunities in his life to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam.

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Aga Khan group photo Nairobi Kenya with Nizar Chunara
This group photo was taken in 1982 in the course of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Kenya, when the leadership and spouses of every Jamati institution had the opportunity of a group photograph with Hazar Imam, Begum Salimah and Prince Amyn Mohamed. This particular group was the Ismailia Association, the precursor of the present-day ITREB. Alwaez Nizar Chunara is seen standing in back row (5th from left), immediately behind Hazar Imam, and his wife Fariyal is seated on floor, 5th from left. The then Chairman of the Ismailia Association, Rai Ameerally Kassim-Lakha, is on Begum Salimah’s right. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1964, following the completion of the waezin training program in Pakistan, he joined the Ismailia Association (now known as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB) in Tanzania as a full-time Alwaez. He dedicated the rest of his life to the service of Ismaili institutions, the community and the Imam-of-the-Time both in full-time and honorary capacities. His sermons were enjoyed by Jamats wherever he preached.

The most profound memory in his life was of him accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his fifty-four day visit to East Africa and Madagascar in 1966, as the official missionary. The memories of this visit stayed with Alwaez Nizar and inspired him throughout his life.

As a son of one of his best waezin friend, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (d. 2018), whom he would visit every single day as they were neighbours in the same apartment building on United Nations Road, I can say that Alwaez Nizar’s recollection of this extraordinary visit were absolutely remarkable and truly inspiring. I sincerely hope that the recorded written details of this visit have been carefully preserved.

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Jehangir Merchant, Nizar and Fariyal Chunara in Dar es Salaam Tanzania United Nations Road, Simerg, Passings
Nizar Chunara (left), his wife Fariyal and Jehangir Merchant pictured outside their apartment building – Islamabad Flats – located on United Nations Road in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection, photo taken in late 1960’s.

I vividly recall the day when my mum, Alwaeza Malek (d. 2021), was preparing her material for a waez on social habits. Having just returned from the tour, Alwaez Nizar mentioned a Farman that Mawlana Hazar Imam had made in Mbale during a Jamati mulaqat. Hazar Imam warned the jamat about social habits in very strong terms. He also said that some  members of the jamat who had these habits had said to their friends that they were not socially advanced if they did not smoke and drink. Mawlana Hazar said that this was complete and absolute nonsense. That recollection by Alwaez Nizar set the groundwork for my mum’s waez material. The three missionaries shared their hopes and aspirations for the Jamat without any form of rivalry between them. Indeed, they were most respectful and helpful to each other in their common objective to serve the jamat and Mawlana Hazar Imam. That bond of friendship and affection remained throughout their lives until their deaths.

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Nizar Chunara Notes
A page from a waez notebook of Alwaez Nizar Chunara. Photo: Late Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his 1966 visit as well as serving the jamat and its institutions, Alwaez Nizar was following in the footsteps of his forefathers who had served the Imam-of the-Time with love and devotion. Indeed, the voluminous history of Ismaili Imams in Gujarati written in 1936 known as Nurun Mubin was authored by AJ (Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad) Chunara, who is among those who has been profiled in 101 Ismaili Heroes.

Nizar was also a superb volleyball player as well as a fantastic football (soccer) goalkeeper. But of course his service to the Jamat was most profoundly felt as an Alwaez.

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Nizar Chunara Ismaili missionary or Alwaez Simerg Passings
Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara with his wife Fariyal. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1972, as he was set to depart for Canada from Tanzania, he was summoned to Kenya for full time service there. By this time he had been married to Fariyal for a few years, and they had two boys, Fayaz and Arif, who were both born in Dar es Salaam. Their third child, Fazillah was born in Nairobi. He served in Kenya until 1988, and then settled in Canada. During his tenure in Kenya he went on several official waezin duties around the world, and one of the most significant ones was visiting refugee camps in Europe where many Ugandan Ismailis had been housed after their expulsion in late 1972.

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Nizar Chunara with his family, Simerg passings
Alwaez Nizar Chunara and his wife Fariyal pictured in group photos with their grandchildren (top photo), and their children with their respective spouses and children, bottom photo. Photos: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

As children, what do we most remember of our parents and grandparents? Of course, their unbounded love for us and their devotion to us by giving us the best education possible. Alwaez Nizar and his wife Fariyal gave their children the best they could in every way. Alwaez Nizar’s children and grandchildren also have other fond memories of their beloved dad and grandfather. They simply could not wait for their loving papa to return home from his waez tours, bringing for them heaps of chocolates. To see his children filled with happiness, was Nizar’s greatest joy. He would visit them everyday, play with them and take them for drives. All the grandchildren absolutely loved their Dada and Nana banana!! 

Alwaez Nizar led his life to the fullest, and serving as an Alwaez gave him the greatest happiness. He was fortunate to have the support of his wife and his entire family.

Although he struggled with Parkinson’s for about 15 years, he was not deterred in his determination for service to the Jamat, and continued to be a valuable source of information and inspiration to many in the Jamat. 

Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara will be sorely missed by jamats around the world and we pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: October 02, 2021.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Alwaez Nizar Chunara by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings.

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.

A Brief Reflection on the Late Premier Bill Davis and His Highness the Aga Khan’s 1978 and 1983 Visits to Toronto During His Premiership

Zahir Dharsee was already settled in Toronto when Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, visited Canada in 1978 and 1983. Bill Davis was Ontario’s Premier during the two visits and Zahir reflects on his leadership as well as the warmth with which he welcomed the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) Please click HERE or on photo below to read Zahir’s historical recollection, published in Barakah.

Bill Davis and Aga Khan
Premier Bill Davis receives Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at Queen’s Park on November 20, 1978. Please click on photo for story.

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

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A Visit to the Rooftop Terrace of the Ismaili Centre Toronto: Views of the Jamatkhana Prayer Hall’s Crystalline Glass Dome

What we dedicate today is what we identify as an Ismaili Centre — a building that is focused around our Jamatkhana, but which also includes many secular spaces…..And soaring above it all is the great crystalline dome that you have observed, through which light from the prayer hall will provide a glowing beacon, symbolising the spirit of enlightenment that will always be at the heart of the Centre’s life.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Opening Ceremony of Ismaili Centre Toronto, September 12, 2014.

Simerg’s Malik Merchant visits the rooftop terrace of the Ismaili Centre, and comes as close as possible to the unique dome of Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana located on 49 Wynford Drive. Click HERE or on image below to see photos of the dome and the area surrounding the Ismaili Centre.

Crystalline glass dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana Toronto
Please click on image for photo essay

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

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Media Coverage: Ismaili Ethos of Volunteerism is Reflected in Ismaili Civic Day Held Around the World to Improve Quality of Life of Communities

Simerg proudly recognizes the hundreds of Ismaili volunteers who participated in the Ismaili Civic Day that was held in numerous countries around the world on September 26, 2021 to improve the quality of life of the communities in which they live, regardless of faith, gender and background. We are pleased to share with our readers links to a selection of news reports that appeared in the local and national media. They reflect the significance of this day within the Ismaili community. Among the hundreds of different activities that Ismaili volunteers participated in, one of the most heart-warming and touching contributions was the clean-up and beautification of the Woodland Cemetery in Henrico County, Virginia, USA.

NBC News, USA: Ismaili Civic volunteers help with Woodland Cemetery beautification work

Ismaili Civic -- NBC News Report
Please click on photo for NBC News Report – Woodland Cemetery Cleanup

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CTV News, Richmond, Canada: Photos: Volunteers clean-up Richmond park in celebration of Ismaili CIVIC Day

A youth volunteer during Richmond's first Global Ismaili CIVIC Day activity in B.C.
Please click on photo for CTV News Park Cleanup Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

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CTV News Edmonton, Canada: Ismaili community celebrates civic day by tidying local park

Please click on photo for CTV News Edmonton Park Cleanup, Alberta, Canada

A SELECTION OF LINKS TO OTHER ARTICLES:

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

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Afghanistan Update: Nature Journal’s World View – The Incoming Afghan Government Must Allow Immunizations

“I am optimistic that Taliban Leaders could be persuaded to permit vaccinations again” — Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta

Aga Khan University's Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta
Aga Khan University’s Professor Zulfiqar Bhutta. Photo: Aga Khan University. Click photo to read article.

“The world must work with Kabul’s new rulers to get polio and other diseases under control….The Taliban now running the country has an opportunity to show a pragmatic, reformist face to the world and people of Afghanistan: it needs to run the health system, to care more about protecting women and children….and for the polio-immunization programme to resume.” — Zulfiqar Bhutta, writing in Nature…. READ MORE

Zulfiqar A. Bhutta of the Aga Khan University and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is the Founding Director, Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, which includes a teaching hospital in Kabul. He was recently honoured the 2021 Roux Prize for his tremendous impact on maternal and child health, as a researcher and a leader as well as his commitment to reducing health inequities. READ PROFESSOR BHUTTA’S SEPTEMBER 23 PIECE IN NATURE.

NATURE is a weekly international journal publishing the finest peer-reviewed research in all fields of science and technology on the basis of its originality, importance, interdisciplinary interest, timeliness, accessibility, elegance and surprising conclusions.

Date posted: September 28, 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.

Afghanistan Update: Aga Khan Cultural Services Launches Social Media Pages to Monitor on Potential Dangers to Country’s Cultural Heritage

We invite you to read Melissa Gronlund’s report in the September 23 edition of The National on the news that Aga Khan Cultural Services (Afghanistan) has recently launched Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages that will be a repository of verified information on potential dangers to heritage landmarks in Afghanistan.

We produce, below, excerpts on the subject from the Facebook page of Aga Khan Culture Services Afghanistan, which is part of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

Photo: Aga Khan Cultural Services Facebook Page. Please click on image to read Melissa Gronlund’s report in The National.

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TALIBAN CULTURAL COMMISSION STOPS DESTRUCTION OF HISTORIC FORTRESS

16 September 2021, Gereshk, Helmand: “According to sources, local authorities approved the demolition of sections of the perimeter fortifications at the historic fortress in the city of Gereshk (origins dating back to the 8th century) using heavy machinery. The news was posted on social media and stated that the destruction paved the way for the construction of a new madrassa building.”

17 September 2021: “Following criticism by local inhabitants and on social media, the demolition was halted and Ahmadullah Wasiq, Deputy Head of the Taliban Cultural Commission, stated in an interview with Radio Azadi that “this is a historic fortress and is part of Afghanistan’s history and when news of its destruction reached the elders, it was stopped.”

NO RESTRICTIONS ON VISITING GARDEN IN KABUL

15 September 2021, Kabul: Low and high ranking members of the Taliban frequently visit the Chihilsitoon garden in Kabul, the rehabilitation of which was funded by the German government, surrendering their weapons as required by garden operations. To date they have not imposed restrictions on who can visit the garden which includes large numbers of women and young girls.

For more news and other developments, please click Aga Khan Cultural Services – Afghanistan | Facebook.

Date posted: September 24, 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.