Farouk Verjee, Former President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Remembers Baroness Margaret Thatcher

By Malik Merchant, Editor

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of meeting and having a delightful lunch at Vancouver’s well-known Jambo Grill with (Itmadi) Farouk B.K.S. Verjee who was the President of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada during the 1980’s. During his term of office, he witnessed the opening of two major Ismaili Centres in the Western World, including one in his own jurisdiction in Canada, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre located in Burnaby, British Columbia. He was, as Canada’s President, very much involved in every phase of the planning, construction, completion and opening of the magnificent Burnaby icon which was designed by Canadian architect Bruno Freschi.

Presidents of National Ismaili Councils around the globe are often invited to major functions and projects related to the Ismailis and the Ismaili Imamat, as community representatives for their respective countries, and Farouk Verjee was present for the historic opening of the London Ismaili Centre from which the following anecdote, with photo,  is published.

Farouk Verjee, left, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925 - 2013) at the opening of the iconic Ismaili Centre in London, England, on April 24, 1985. Looking on in the centre is Anil Ishani, then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

Farouk Verjee, left, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) at the opening of the iconic Ismaili Centre in London, England, on April 24, 1985. Looking on in the centre is Anil Ishani, then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

After being introduced to the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher by His Highness the Aga Khan, Verjee told her that the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby was nearing completion and that it would be opening in the coming summer, and he hoped she would visit it on her next visit to British Columbia. She asked,  “Which is the better building?” Farouk replied that one was a Cadillac and the other a Rolls! In a typical British fashion, the Baroness quickly responded, “I hope this one is the Rolls!.” Verjee found the Baroness to be a very amicable person.

The Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana  in Burnaby was opened a few months later in the same year on August 23 by the then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the presence of His Highness, Premier Bill Bennett of the Province of British Columbia and other dignitaries including members of the Aga Khan’s family. Mawlana Hazar Imam, as His Highness is addressed by members of his community, designated the new Ismaili Jamatkhana as the Darkhana of Canada at a gathering of some 20,000 Ismailis on the same day at BC Place.

It may be of interest to note that Itmadi Farouk Verjee’s father was Kamadia of the London Jamat with Janmohamed Verjee as Mukhi. They were appointed to their positions in a talika (a written message) from Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877 – 1957), the 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, which is dated April 10, 1936. The newly appointed Mukhi and Kamadia were law students in the U.K. at that time. Janmohamed Verjee was the father of Amir Bhurio a well-known personality in the UK Ismaili community.

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