An Important Reminder to Ismaili Authors/Artists to Submit Information About Their Books and Artistic Endeavours by February 15, 2021

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

We shall be commencing our special series on books by Ismaili authors at the beginning of February 2021, followed by the publication of a revised version of our beautiful artists compendium at the end of March.

First edition of Simerg’s artists compendium

These are major initiatives by Simerg and we want as many authors and artists to be represented on our website series on Ismaili authors as well as our artists compendium that was published a few years ago — it is in need of a major update, and we need artists not recorded in the publication to submit their profiles as shown in the compendium. Please see our earlier announcement on this initiative by clicking HERE and submit the information that we require by February 15, 2021.

Date posted: January 20, 2021.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

From Dawn to Dusk at the Aga Khan Park, Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum: A Collection of Superb Photos

Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s vision, creativity and thought followed by action makes him a talisman for the Ismaili community and for millions around the entire world. For Simerg’s Malik Merchant, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s three projects in Toronto, among hundreds of others around the world that benefit humanity at large, attest to his brilliant leadership. Malik spent a few hours from dawn to dusk at the grounds of the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre to bring you a collection of marvellous photos. View the complete collection by clicking SIMERGPHOTOS or the image below.

Aga Khan Museum Aga Khan Park and Ismaili Centre
Please click on image for photos.

Date posted: January 19, 2021.

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

Khyber, a Remote Ismaili Village in Hunza, is Also Home to Magnificent Wildlife: Watch Rare WWF-Pakistan Footage of Himalayan Ibex

In a fascinating 5 part travelogue of his trip to China and Pakistan, Ali Karim dedicated an entire post to the Ismailis of Northern Hunza. His visits to the villages of Passu and Khyber left Ali and his wife Dilshad speechless. They noted, “The experience was overwhelming, as were the sights! The Ismailis of Khyber village and Passu showed us that you can symbolically scale and even climb above the highest of peaks through goodness, warmth and generosity.” Please read Ali’s piece Ismailis of Remote Northern Hunza Rise High Above the Tallest Peaks.

Interestingly, just this past week, the media in Pakistan reported a story about Nyal Mueenuddin, wildlife filmmaker for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan and Imtiaz Ahmed, a local photographer, spotting a herd of about 50 Himalayan ibex including females along with their yearlings near Khyber village. We located the beautiful short film on Youtube, which every member of your family, young and old alike, will love watching. The short film follows photos of Khyber Village and Passu from Ali Karim’s must read article.

Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
A view of the Khyber village, home to Ismaili families in Northern Hunza. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
The local jamatkhana in Khyber village is nested on top of a hill, and is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world. There is an archway entrance at the foot of the hill beyond which several stairs lead upto to the jamatkhana building. Photo: © Ali Karim. 
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
The main jamatkhana at Passu. Photo: © Ali Karim. 
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier
A view of the lower-end or terminus of the 20.5 km Passu Glacier from the Sarai Lodge. The glacier covers an area of 115 sq km. The Passu Peak in the back of the Glacier is not visible in this photo because of clouds. Passu Peak, which rises to 7,478 m (or 24,534 ft), was first climbed by Captain Sher Khan (later Colonel) who was part of joint Pakistan-Japan army expedition in 1978. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier, Photo: © Ali Karim.
Writing etched into the mountainside in Passu commemorating Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit in November 1987. The cathedral peaks are at the left. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier
A close up view of the writing on the mountain. Photo: © Ali Karim.

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WWF-Pakistan Film

Date posted: January 16, 2021.

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A version of this post also appears at Simergphotos.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

The Guardian on Wikipedia at 20: Last Gasp of an Internet Vision, or a Beacon to a Better Future?

The naysayers said the user-written encyclopedia would never work. Now it boasts 55m articles and 1.7bn visitors a month…..READ MORE AT THE GUARDIAN

Wikipedia Logo
Wikipedia logo. Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0). Please click on image to read article at The Guardian

Date posted: January 15, 2021.

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

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

SALT LAKE CITY SIMERG

A Personal Reflection on the 2020 USA Election: How the People of the Beautiful State of Utah Let Me Down

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

In the summer of 2011, I finally fulfilled a pledge I had made to my 19-year old daughter, an animal and nature lover, who was aspiring to become a veterinarian; her dream finally fulfilled in 2019.

The promise I had made to her when she was in her early teens was that I would take her to see two of my favourite places in the world, that I had either lived in or visited as a tourist. In my mind, they were not going to be Lourenço Marques, (now Maputo) in Mozambique, Dar es Salaam, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro, all in Tanzania, nor to the majestic mountains and national parks in Canada and the USA such as the Blue Ridge Mountains, Glacier National Park, the Rockies in Alberta and Colorado and the Grand Canyon. She wondered what those two places might be, and my reply to her was, “I will take you to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park”. (Since then, as it will be obvious to my regular readers, I have added to my favourite list His Highness the Aga Khan’s magnificent projects in Toronto — namely the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, all three located at one site).

Yellowstone National Park, Minerva Terrace
Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: © Simerg.

I will not say much about Yellowstone, except that I found it to be the most thrilling of all the parks in North America I have visited. It is a 5-in-1 park with its incredible geysers, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, rivers and lakes, forests as well as superb and varied wildlife, including grizzly bears and wolves. It is truly rich and diverse! I had stopped there some 22 years ago during my 4,500 km road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver via the USA, and vowed to one day return with my daughter and share with her the beauty I experienced.

But what about Salt Lake City, and why?

In 1979, while in London, I was recruited by a New York software firm to work as a trainee computer programmer in the USA under the H3 visa program. Upon my arrival at the company’s headquarters in the Big Apple, I began to familiarize myself with the IBM JCL (Job Control Language), a suite of steps that are necessary to execute computer and related utility programs. My experience in the UK had primarily been on ICL (International Computers Limited) computers.

Then after about a week, as I was taking some in-house JCL tests I was summoned into the director’s office late in the afternoon. He told me that one of company’s two clients in Salt Lake City had dismissed two consultants due to poor representation and performance, and the company was in danger of losing the project altogether. He handed me $300.00 in cash, an airline ticket to fly to Salt Lake City the following day, and firmly asked me to do well and salvage the highly profitable project for the company!

That evening I went to the Jamatkhana in New York only to learn from the Mukhisaheb that there were no Ismailis that he knew lived in Salt Lake City. I nervously travelled to Salt Lake City and was greeted at the airport by the consulting company’s project team lead, an Irish Catholic. He calmed my fears down at the hotel, where he dropped me off.

Within 24 hours I was on the client’s site. I was assigned to an in-house systems analyst, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who presented me with specifications to develop an intricate file manipulation program that in his view “was the most complex program on their new payroll-personnel system”.

I was a Muslim of South Asian descent, who had grown up in Africa and then completed my college computer degree in the UK. My heart was that of an African, and I loved Africans. In Sandy in the outskirts of Salt Lake City, and then closer to work in Salt Lake City, I shared a home and apartments with Catholics and Protestants. On the project, I worked with members of numerous Christian denominations, Mormons in particular. As a non-smoker, I loved the smokeless office environment; in London I’d shared a small office on Tottenham Court Road with 2 chain smokers! 7-Up had become my favourite drink in the UK, and that became a daily treat for me in the cafeteria in Salt Lake. In the mid 1960’s Sprite had been introduced in Tanzania, close enough.

Project team members showed me immense courtesy and respect, and the country’s ethic of hard work and motto that anything is possible in the USA was true. I myself experienced it. Americans were fantastic people. Everyone who passed me at Salt Lake’s Main Street would give a friendly nod. Yes, America had that ability to inspire, instill confidence and make one courageous! I became self-confident and fearless. My new friends took me to Park City, Snowbird and Utah Jazz basketball games the franchise was quite new. Adrian Dantley became my favourite player. Mormon missionaries, in pairs, came to places where I resided to indoctrinate me with the faith’s teachings, and I respectfully discussed faith matters with them, and in turn told them about Islam. We realized how common our ethics were. It was wonderful. I can honestly say that Salt Lake City made me a strong and confident person.

Moreover, Salt Lake City was surrounded by the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. It is where I also deeply started appreciating nature. The night sky, as I watched the stars and the full and new moons, inspired me. Surely, this would be a place I would like to one day return. My daughter made that wish happen.

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Simerg, Malik Merchant. ©
The spiritual centre of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: © Simerg.

When I returned with my daughter to Salt Lake City some 32 years later, I had already approached a Mormon missionary I knew to give us an extended tour of the Mormon Temple. He drove from Provo and spent hours with us. My daughter was impressed with the ethic of teachings of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) that he shared with us, including the faith’s tithing principle as well as the honorary time members devote to the dissemination of LDS Christian teachings around the world.

In 2008, 3 years before our trip to Utah and Yellowstone, Barack Obama became the 44th USA president, and extended his term in 2012. Hillary Clinton, in 2016, lost to Donald Trump. Utah in large numbers gave him the Presidential vote. That, I said to myself, was fine as it was Trump’s first time!

Then, throughout his 4-year tenure as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world as well as the period following the recent 2020 election, President Trump insulted decent hard working human beings, accused them of cheating and corruption, made condescending remarks to loyal and patriotic citizens of the USA including iconic leaders such as the late Republican Senator John McCain, told lies, divided children from their parents, insulted Muslims and immigrants, backed out of important world treaties, instigated seeds of division and hatred, stopped distinguishing good people from bad, undermined science and scientists, and couldn’t bother to care about American lives being taken due to Covid-19; these were only some of his character traits besides being selfish, insultingly prideful, and profoundly arrogant! He did not accept his defeat in the US elections, and never conceded to President-elect Joe Biden. On November 5th, upon hearing his speech after he knew he was losing the election, I had tears in my eyes and sought solace from my mum thousands of miles away in Vancouver. She too was deeply hurt.

And yet Utah’s citizens, who having heard and read the sickening Trump for a 4 full years, still went and voted for him in 2020, in even larger proportion than in 2016 (from 45.5% in 2016, increasing it to 58.4% in 2020 vs Biden at 37.7%).

Has a faith that I have been raised to respect by my own parents, who were both teachers and missionaries, lost its moorings or have the people of Utah stopped recognizing worthy and perennial Christian and LDS values? I note that the LDS church is in an expansion mode as it has been for decades   around the world, and yet by voting for Trump the citizens of Utah forgot some cherished and revered perennial values that all GOOD global citizens must have, such as (1) the necessity of an abundant capacity for compromise; (2) more than a little sense of patience; (3) an appropriate degree of personal humility and honesty; (4) a respect for others; (5) having a good measure of forgiveness; as well as (6) genuinely welcoming human differences. Many of these values that I have noted were shortlisted by His Highness the Aga Khan when he was presented with the Adrienne Clarkson Global Citizenship Award in September 2016. They are also values common to all faiths and I would therefore expect religious minded people to be championing and upholding these values and behaving in accordance with them.

As a Muslim, I hold some conservative values too, but my expressions of them would be for support of the rule of law through the members of the Congress, the House and the Senate, and not by blindly handing over my votes and voice to a divisive leader like President Trump. Let a better Republican candidate show-up, and vote for the person then.

Being a Muslim I have to state that the Holy Qur’an makes it very clear on the unity of mankind, beautifully articulated by His Highness the Aga Khan in an address he delivered to both the Houses of the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. He said:

“As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Qur’an which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says: ‘Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.’ I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.”

Utahns voted ignoring key ethical values which I thought were dear to the hearts of those I came to know and cast their voices in support of a divisive president.

So now I carry with me only distant memories of the great city and people I came to know in 1979-1980, where my experiences were such that I promised to take my daughter to Salt Lake City in 2011, to meet people I thought I knew and trusted. I will not make that same promise to anyone else again!

As a footnote let me say there are three Mormons I deeply respect today: My Mormon missionary friend, Andrew Kosorok, who was our tour guide at the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah for seeking to speak out honestly and asking his fellow Republican colleagues to be truthful and, last but no means the least, former Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona for standing up to the president of the USA, who has completely relinquished his duties to his country and the revered Constitution of the USA that has been an inspiration to Americans and the world for 233 years. On January 6, 2021 the outgoing president clearly incited his supporters to a destructive march on the citadel of democracy, the Capitol of the USA, to prevent President-elect Biden’s confirmation as president. How could the people of Utah have voted for such a person?

Date posted: January 12, 2021.
Last updated: January 19. 2021.

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Reproduction of material posted on this website without the expressed written permission of the publisher is prohibited. For permission to reproduce in full or part, please write to Simerg@aol.com.

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

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

Institute of Ismaili Studies: Historical Aspirations, Contemporary Possibilities

By KARIM  H. KARIM
(The author is Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam and former Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies)

“… we find ourselves in the moment of transit, where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion.” Professor Homi K. Bhabha, former Master Jurist, Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Abstract: A former Co-Director of the IIS considers this key Ismaili institution’s way forward, following its Board of Governors’ recent reconstitution. Although substantial changes have been made, certain features regarding the diversity of office holders remain. The IIS’s past performance is briefly examined in the article, with respect to academic metrics as well as Ismaili history and values. There have been several achievements in last four decades but also some unexpected outcomes. The author discusses the importance of ethics and clarity in chains of authority. IIS’s reconstituted governance structure has the opportunity to put it on a path to globally-recognized excellence and long-lasting impact.

A New Phase

Recent appointments to the governance structures of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) present an opportunity to consider its way forwards. The substantial reconstitution of the Board of Governors appears to initiate a new phase for this key Imamat institution, which occupies a unique place in-between Jamati and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) organizations. This is a time of particular significance as the Governors are tasked with guiding the IIS towards its 50th anniversary in 2027.

1975 Ismailia Association Conference Aga Khan Establish Institute of Ismaili Studies, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam met with leaders of the Ismailia Association and Ismaili scholars in April 1975 in Paris. A decision was taken at the world conference to establish the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Photo: Ilm magazine, October 1975.

The concept of the Institute was formally discussed in 1975 in the historic Paris Conference of the Ismaili Associations, at which Mawlana Hazar Imam presided. He announced the IIS’s establishment in a Talika to the international Jamat on December 13, 1977. The institution began with a very small staff occupying one floor of a London building. Growing and traversing the city for four decades, the IIS settled into its purpose-built home at the Aga Khan Centre in 2018. It currently has research, teaching and support staff of over a hundred and has seen some 650 graduate students pass through its doors. Scores of publications and several sets of curricular materials have been produced. Alumni work around the world in a variety of professions and have particularly enriched the knowledge base of the worldwide Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs).

Unintended Consequences

The Institute, which has a very distinct institutional character, operates in an organizationally and intellectually liminal space. Governors have played an unusual hands-on role in the operation of this academic organization. Although the IIS’s educational endeavours are limited to the community, it positions itself in the public sphere. Unlike similar scholarly bodies, it does not identify as a theological seminary or a divinity school. It is a post-graduate institution whose students receive degrees from various universities, including the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

IIS publishes materials on Ismaili, Shia, Quranic and Central Asian studies authored by its own researchers and external scholars. Islamic Publications Limited (IPL), an affiliate, produces them with the imprimaturs of presses such as I.B. Tauris and Oxford University Press. Whereas substantial work has been carried out in examining Arabic and Persian documents, the study of Indic manuscripts (bearing content such as Ginans) has been miniscule in the last four decades. Research is also conducted on the transnational Ismaili community’s living traditions, but it is not published for the most part. The Institute prioritizes a rationalistic and civilization-centred approach over faith perspectives in its course instruction and religious education curricula for the global Jamat.

These characteristics, viewed as appropriate for the IIS’s particular mandate, have, however, raised an air of ambivalence that has apparently produced unintended consequences. A number of students in the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH), who arrive at the Institute of Ismaili Studies expecting a faith-friendly academic approach undergo cognitive dissonance (Magout, 2020, chapter 6). Most alumni do not list the Institute on their CVs or LinkedIn profiles; faculty members have been leaving for university positions as soon as they secure them; and one of the two Co-Directors’ posts has remained unfilled for almost a decade. Furthermore, donors who have contributed substantially to the endowment are perplexed by the asymmetry in Ismaili areas of research.

Aspirations for Excellence

At its founding, the IIS was compared to learned institutions like the Dar al-Ilm and Al-Azhar University, which were established a thousand years ago under the aegis of Fatimid Imam-Caliphs. Al-Azhar survived the fall of the Fatimids and flourishes today as a prominent centre of Muslim learning. Can one expect that the IIS will also function for hundreds of years? Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether it will make a lasting impact. What will the role of the governance structure be in helping it achieve this?

Although the Institute is a globally-recognized hub of Ismaili Studies, it has some ways to travel before being acknowledged as a centre of scholarly excellence. It recently made a selection of books available electronically, but many important IIS contributions remain absent in cyberspace and from most bookstores as well as university and public libraries. It is also unfortunate that only a handful of its more than 120 books have done well in academic citation indices.

One could argue that standard scholarly metrics are inappropriate for an institution whose aspirations are drawn from millennial-long history. Is it more apt then to measure the Institute’s performance in terms of the Ismaili past? Of the many luminaries in previous eras, the most well-known outside the community are the Ikhwan al-Safa (circa 10th century), Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 1088) and Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274). Satpanthi Pirs conducted ingenious syntheses of Indic and Islamic traditions that stand as major human achievements of pluralist engagement. These intellectuals are exemplars of excellence whose contributions have been of universal significance. They maintained a rigorous independence of thought within parameters of the Ismaili movement and its intellectual universe. Given the aspirations for the IIS, should we expect it to provide the conditions for nurturing scholars of similar calibre in our time?

Contemporary Values as Metrics

Contrarily, one can contend that it is not right to apply historical standards to 21st century contexts. Perhaps the benchmarks for success are to be drawn from the community’s current emphases on ethics, meritocracy, and pluralism. This topic is addressed here only with reference to IIS’s Boards.

IIS Institute of Ismaili Studies London Board of Governor Members
New Board of Governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, appointed by Mawlana Hazar Imam effective December 13, 2020. Top row (from left): Professor Ali Asani, Dr Nadia Eboo Jamal, Mrs Karina Govindji, Dr Arif Jamal, Mr Rahim Karim, Mr Alykhan Kassam, and Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz. Bottom row (from left): Mr Amyn Kassim-Lakha, Professor Tashmin Khamis, Mr Naguib Kheraj, Dr Sharofat Mamadambarova, Dr Shogufa Mir Maleky, Mr Habib Motani, and Professor Farid F. Panjwani. Collage by Barakah from IIS profile photos

The new Governors are drawn from commercial and academic sectors, and they include some IIS alumni. Mawlana Hazar Imam continues as Chairman. Membership of the current Board of Governors (BoG), which began its term on December 13, 2020, is remarkably different from earlier ones in size, gender, age, ethnicity, geographic scope, and outlook. Although the IIS has been an international institution since inception, preceding Boards consisted almost entirely of middle aged men of British residence, with the balance tilting towards commercial worldviews. The incoming BoG’s average age has dropped considerably in comparison to the preceding one. There are now six women and eight men, and half of the Governors are currently located outside the UK. Eight newcomers are academics, most of whom have taught at universities. Several individuals have had experience in Jamati institutions, including ITREB, which is a major partner of the IIS. It is also noteworthy one Governor has professional expertise in diversity and inclusion.

There has been some non-Ismaili presence previously; however, this BoG’s members are all Ismaili. When Professor Mohammed Arkoun passed away in 2010, the remaining six Governors were all South Asian men of East African provenance. Whereas the new BoG is enriched by the presence of other ethnicities, all three members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), the IIS’s primary governing body and of which the BoG is a sub-committee, are UK residents of South Asian background, as are all four Board members of Islamic Publications Limited. Full time academics are absent from the BoT and IPL. The former does, however, have a female Trustee. There is much more pluralist inclusion than in earlier manifestations of the institution’s governance structures, but they have considerable room for improvement.

IIS Board Institute of Ismaili Studies
The IIS Board of Governors (1995-2020). From left to right: Mr Naguib Kheraj (who remains on the new board appointed on December 13, 2020), Dr Mohamed Keshavjee, Dr Shafik Sachedina, Dr Aziz Esmail, Mr Zauhar Meghji and Professor Afzal Ahmed. Missing in the photo is the Late Professor Mohammed Arkoun who was also a member on the Board. He passed away on September 14, 2010 at the age of 82. Photo: The IIS

A truly unique characteristic of the previous BoG was not identity but longevity. Its more than 25-year term was one of the lengthiest in the world. Whereas this provided continuity and familiarity with the work at hand, shorter tenures usually mitigate detrimental tendencies in such organizations. Stretches that are longer than seven years seem inadvisable.

The presence of new university-linked Governors should help to assert academic norms in matters such as standardized merit-based pay scales rather than particular arrangements for some employees; remuneration for performance adjudicated according to published benchmarks instead of bonuses based on ambiguous criteria; and discontinuation of consulting contracts with Governors. Notably, the current separation of Board members from IIS’s remunerated staff makes the organizational chart look less like the M.C. Escher lithograph “Relativity”.

Ethics, Ambiguity, and Credibility

Ismaili history has seen the development of ethical codes in the works of Qadi Nu’man (d. 974), dai Ahmad al-Naysaburi (d. circa 11th century), Pir Sadardin (d. circa 14th century), and Imam Mustansirbillah II (d. 1475). Writing at a time of deep corruption in the Fatimid state, al-Naysaburi warned that “chaos will reign” with the failure of integrity among the Imam’s leaders (Klemm and Walker, 2011, p. 75). The IIS developed an AKDN “ethical framework” two decades ago; however, this theoretical document does not provide guidance for actual deontological practice. There remains ambiguity about the pragmatics of ethics in contemporary Ismaili institutions. Narratives on this subject have sometimes drifted towards trivialization; for example, one Jamati periodical’s feature on an “Ethic of the Month” seemed to reduce long-term values to fleeting tastes (The Ismaili Bulletin, Issue 54, March 2018). Given the importance that the community gives to the subject of ethics, serious issues like conflicts of interest, cronyism, nepotism, harassment, and bullying, which unfortunately appear over time in most human organizations, will need to be dealt with effectively and coherently. These issues must be an integral part of a 21st century code of conduct that provides clear guidance for everyone involved with the work of Jamati as well as AKDN institutions.

Systemic deficiencies in institutional procedures have unpredictable outcomes and can be factors for reputational loss. Incoming academic Governors will know that ambiguous chains of authority in scholarly institutions lead to the unchecked promotion of pet projects with dubious merit. A book published in 2018 by the Institute (but not initiated by its Department of Academic Research and Publications) was reviewed in a recent issue of the journal Arabica. The reviewer, who is the Director of the University of Lausanne’s Institute of the History and Anthropology of Religions, assessed it to be “a book of propaganda … without method and completely devoid of critical analysis” (Halawi, 2020, 315). Such unfortunate situations can be avoided by instituting an academic editorial board that oversees IIS’s scholarly publications to replace largely ambiguous practices of vetting manuscripts for “sensitivities.” (Such an editorial board already exists for the Quranic Studies Series.) The new Governors will also be aware of the importance of ensuring that the institution’s faculty, students and academic visitors have ready access to library materials that reflect a plurality of views, including those that are considered to be “sensitive.” Such efforts will assist in enhancing the IIS’s scholarly credibility in academic circles.

Transparency and Demarcations of Authority

Despite the noblest of intentions, the tendency in human organizations is for power to accumulate in a few persons. Whereas the doubling of the number of Governors to 14 offers advantages, it may also produce the conditions for the emergence of a hierarchy and the marginalization of some individuals. A horizontal relationship and equitable sharing of information in the globally-constituted BoG is important. Fair and optimal participation by Governors can be ensured by upholding transparency. Transparency and disclosure will not only strengthen the corporate governance framework but also provide Mawlana Hazar Imam with all the pertinent information.  

It is expected that Hazar Imam will meet with the Governors and Directors once a year, with respective Board committees working on specific policy issues in the interim. The transnational BoG has the challenge of working efficiently across continents. Given these circumstances, safeguarding the greatest possible diversity in every committee will help ensure the pluralist expression of views. This should help to mitigate the influence of cliques and undue bias for or against specific issues and employees.

A key consideration facing the new Governors is the extent of the BoG’s involvement in operational matters. Healthy, well-functioning institutions are characterized by clear demarcations of authority and function, with Boards having confidence in duly-appointed Directors to take charge of administration. Clear protocols regarding Governors’ communications with employees, which rarely occur in universities, ensure that administrative authority is not undermined. Scholarly conventions should also determine the leadership of various organizational committees (academic, curricular, and community relations as well as finance and human resources).

 A Potential Turning Point

The strong presence of university-based academics in the Institute’s new BoG signals that scholarly priorities will be paramount in the years to come. This Board’s tenure has the potential for being a turning point. It has the opportunity to put the IIS on the path to globally-recognized excellence by moving closer to academic norms of organization and outlook. Professor Mohammed Arkoun used to speak of intellectual modernity in contemporary Muslim contexts. Such a disposition requires not only scholarly rigour but the confidence to conduct critical introspection. There are important discussions to be had about the adoption of greater academic freedom, critical inquiry, and the broaching of “sensitive” topics as well as about effective ways to engage with the transnational Jamat, with which the Institute has an integral relationship. Governors will constantly have to account for the dual contexts of community and public scholarship. This calls for skillful and conscientious navigation between the shores of the parochial and the universal. The likes of the Ikhwan al-Safa, Nasir-i Khusraw, Nasir al-Din Tusi and Pir Sadardin have shown us that this is eminently possible.

Date posted: January 10, 2021.
Last updated: January 11, 2021 (typos).

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Reproduction of material posted on this website without the expressed written permission of the publisher is prohibited. For permission to reproduce in full or part, please write to Simerg@aol.com.

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Karim H. Karim

About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam where he has held the International Ismaili Studies Conference. He previously served as Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism & Communication. Dr. Karim has had visiting scholarly appointments at Harvard University, Aga Khan University/Simon Fraser University, and the IIS. He has also been an advisor for AKU and the Central Asian University and has been a member of the AKDN’s Higher Education Forum. Additionally, he has served in Kenyan, American, and Canadian Jamati institutions (Education, Ismaili Association, and Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ITREB). Professor Karim is an award-winning author, whose globally-cited writings include publications on Ismaili communities, institutions, and leadership. He has delivered distinguished lectures at venues around the world and has been honoured by the Government of Canada for promoting co-operation among faith communities. He studied at Aga Khan schools in East Africa and at the IIS, and holds degrees from Columbia and McGill universities in Islamic and Communication Studies.

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1975 Ismailia Association Conference Aga Khan Establish Institute of Ismaili Studies, Simerg

January 1, 2021: Simerg Wishes All its Readers Many Happy Returns for the New Year; and We Collectively Express Our Gratitude for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Blessings

Festive Lights Ottawa Simerg Nurin Merchant
Ottawa downtown, December 31, 2020, lit during the festive holiday season. Greetings at top and bottom are mine and not part of original photo. Photo: Nurin Merchant / Simerg.

By NURIN MERCHANT

My dad arrived at the grounds of the Aga Khan Park on the evening of December 31, hoping to take photos of the setting sun for the last time in 2020. Unfortunately, he was a little bit late to see the setting sun as it had gone under cloud cover. Pointing his camera to the west towards and beyond the unique dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana situated on 49 Wynford Drive, he was able to capture photos of the clouds that were glowing white from the sunlight. The Jamatkhana lights at the base of the dome were already on, and the scene was quite beautiful. Snow that had covered the grounds on December 25, Christmas day, had melted with warmer temperatures and rain on days that followed. Small patches of snow were scattered throughout the Park.

Sun set New Years Eve Aga Khan Park and Ismaili centre
A couple chat on a bench across one of the 5 ponds at the Aga Khan Park on a cool December 31, 2020 evening, as the setting sun in the horizon, at right of picture, casts its lights on clouds covering it. The majestic dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana is seen at left of picture, with its circular base lights turned on. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Flags of Ismaili Imamat, Canada, Ontario and Toronto at Aga Khan Park on December 31, 2020.
The flags of Canada (nearest), the province of Ontario, the city of Toronto and the Ismaili Imamat flutter on a cool and windy December 31, 2020 evening at Aga Khan Park, while the setting sun in the horizon casts its light across clouds covering it. The Ismaili Centre building is seen at left of the flags. The dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana is not in view in this photo, but see preceding photo. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

I was 440 kms away in Ottawa watching Ismaili TV. Then a few hours later, before midnight, I headed to downtown Ottawa to seek out that extra bit of new year feeling in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Auckland, Sydney, Bangkok had already celebrated the start of 2021 with incredible fireworks. Ottawa stopped the new year fireworks many years ago but there have been exceptions with shows at Parliament Hill on rare occasions. Ottawa is one of the world’s coldest capital cities, but it doesn’t feel that way this year, and there has also been very little snow. Toronto, I think, has seen more of it.

Some marvellous decorations on Wellington Street made me feel that 2021 was finally here. I am glad I went to downtown. So with these photos, some embellished with new year greetings, my dad and I along with members of our family convey our best wishes for the new year to all our readers and friends, with many happy returns.

December 31, 2020: Holiday season lights decorate Ottawa, corner of Elgin and Wellington Streets. Festive artwork at top of photo are mine. Photo: Nurin Merchant / Simerg

We remain humble and grateful to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, for his constant care and guidance, and for showering all his spiritual children around the world with his most affectionate loving blessings for good health and happiness, spiritual progress, worldly success, strength of faith and unity, as well as best loving blessings for mushkil-asan. He has also said to us that we are all in his heart, in his thought and in his prayers.

Aga Khan Museum Sunrise January 1 2021
Sunrise Aga Khan Museum January 1, 2021, camera facing SE. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Date posted: January 1, 2021.

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Nurin Merchant with her bunny, Pistachio.

Dr. Nurin Merchant received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph) in 2019, and now works as a veterinarian in the Ottawa region. Born and raised in Ottawa, Nurin completed her international baccalaureate (IB) program at Colonel By Secondary School before proceeding to the University of Guelph for an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences which she passed with Honours. She then pursued veterinary medicine in the same school. Nurin enjoys hiking, loves nature and, of course, animals. She is also an artist. She paints, sculpts as well as designs and makes greeting cards during her spare time. She has two lovely bunnies named Pistachio and Canela, which she acquired from animal care and rescue facilities a few years after the death of her first rabbit, Wobbles. She assists her dad Malik with the publication of this website and two other blogs Simergphotos and Barakah.

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At Aga Khan Museum, young and old alike share messages of hope for 2021 and beyond: No deadly virus, cleaner water, happiness and freedom for all, unity, no wars, vaccine for Covid-19, and more

MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

Please click on images for enlargement

Messages of Hope at Aga Khan Museum Wall Simerg
Aga Khan Museum portraits of resilience, togetherness and hope: Photo: Malik Merchant /Simergphotos. Please click on image for enlargement.

Before its latest shutdown due to provincial regulations, Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum gave visitors an interesting opportunity to pen their heartfelt wishes on one of several beautiful pre-designed tiles available at the museum bookstore, and post them onto a large panel prominently placed by the beautiful courtyard. The theme of the project was “Blossom Together Community Tile Wall.”

Community wall messages of hope Aga Khan Museum Simerg Malik Merchant
Section of panel (see inset, bottom right) highlighting purpose of the community wall. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simergphotos.

The cards contained the following themes that visitors could write about: “I hope the future will be …”; “I will make the world better by …”; “I hope ….“; and “My hope for the world is …” Here is a selection of images that I was able to capture. As I glanced at the tiles, I was encouraged by the wishes of hope that I read, several of which related to the current pandemic. It is with these feelings of the young and old alike who expressed themselves on the museum wall that we enter 2021, with the hope that new Covid-19 vaccines which have been developed will become game changers in bringing the pandemic under control.

Messages of Hope Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Museum portraits of resilience, togetherness and hope: Photo: Malik Merchant /Simergphotos. Please click on image for enlargement.

We wish all our readers a happy new year.

Date posted: January 1, 2021.
Last updated: January 2. 2021 (minor centre image change, thumbnail inset added)

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This post has been adapted from the original version first published on December 31, 2020 at Simergphotos.

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Simerg – 2020 in Pictures and Words: Blessings from His Highness the Aga Khan; Photos from Private Collections; and Tributes to Deceased

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

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Talikas 2020, Simerg and Barakh
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, pictured at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Kenya. Photo: The Ismaili

TALIKAS AND BLESSINGS FROM MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM

March 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam sends Talika on the occasion of Navroz with special blessings for mushkil asan, and prayers for the Jamat’s health and well-being

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, showers his paternal and maternal blessings on his spiritual children around the world in light of the present crisis 

April 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends message to his spiritual children around the world on Covid-19, with blessings for their protection from difficulty; multiple translations including Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati and Russian

May 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s loving and inspiring Talika on the occasion of Eid ul-Fitr shows his concern for his spiritual children in all facets of their lives 

July 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends Talika Mubarak to Ismailis around the world on the occasion of his 63rd Imamat Day

November 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his message on November 2, 2020, tells his spiritual children “there is no room for complacency” over the risks posed by the coronavirus “for sometime to come” and send his blessings for mushkil-asan

December 2020

Please click: In Talika Mubarak on the occasion of his 84th birthday, Mawlana Hazar Imam asks us to draw comfort from the practice of our faith, appreciates the excellent work of volunteers, and conveys his paternal maternal blessings to the world wide Jamat

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PASSINGS

The following tributes/obituaries appeared in Simerg in 2020. Some of the deceased may have died before 2020.

Passings Simerg 2020 Year in Review
Top row (left to right): Mahebub Rupani, Nazeer Ladhani, Amirali Gillani, Salima Arthurs, Sultan Methanwalla, Goulzare Foui, Amirali Nagji; bottom row (left to right): Alnoor Ramji, Shamshu Jamal, Zubeda Jamal, Sultanali Mohamed, Razia Jamal, James Wolfensohn and Madatali Jamal. Image collage: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Please click: Mahebub Mohamed Juma Rupani

Please click: Nazeer Ladhani

Please click: Shamshu Jamal

Please click: Missionary Amirali Gillani

Please click: Alnoor Ramji, Goulzare Foui, Amirali S. Nagji, Sultan Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala, Salima Wanda Arthurs

Please click: Madatali Merali Jamal, Razia Jamal, Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal

Please click: James D. Wolfensohn

Please click: Alwaez Sultanali Mohamed

Please also click: Benjamin Mkapa (d. July 2020. As Tanzania’s President from 1995-2005, the late Benjamin Mkapa strongly supported the work of the Ismaili Imamat in his country as well as abroad. The support that he gave is clearly illustrated in a special piece about him in Barakah, a blog dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan)

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HISTORICAL PHOTOS OF MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM AND HIS FAMILY, IMAMAT PROJECTS AND OTHER EVENTS

2020 Year Simerg photos Aga Khan and Projects
Please click on image for 2020 stories and accompanying photos

Please click: Top photo selections from our 2020 stories: Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family, Covid-19 impact, Aga Khan projects, the four seasons, and other events

Date posted: December 27, 2020.
Last updated: December 28, 2020.

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Aga Khan Park, Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum on a Snowy Xmas Day

With more than 10 cms of overnight snow, affirming December 25, 2020 as white Xmas, Malik Merchant put on his winter boots, in addition to wearing warm clothes, and headed to his favourite spot armed with a fully charged camera, an orange and an apple (to keep the doctor away)! Someone’s genuine love for winter, however, put Malik behind in second place, as a cheerful looking snowman had already been constructed…..MORE

PLEASE CLICK: Simergphotos at Aga Khan Park, Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum on Christmas Day 2020 or on image below

Snowman at Aga Khan Museum Malik Merchant
Please click on image for photo essay

Date posted: December 26, 2020

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