By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)
When you have not missed a day in Jamatkhana attendance over the past several years, how do you cope with sudden and unforeseen closures of your favourite Jamatkhana? We live in difficult circumstances. Covid-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — has infected tens of thousands around the world and has been declared a pandemic, causing anxiety and worry. I left a pharmacy on Friday March 13 with a customer expressing, “it feels like death can approach anyone of us, and I just feel at the moment that I might die.” When I next visited a supermarket at around noon time, people were filling their shopping carts to the brim with supplies for their families. Ismaili institutions in Canada on the same day announced the closure of Jamatkhanas in several provinces around the country to protect the elderly and everyone who is vulnerable due to compromised immune systems. A similar decision was made by the USA Aga Khan Council for cities across many states on Saturday, March 14. Of course, these are also containment measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. These measures have also been necessary as a result of bans that have been imposed by state or provincial or even Federal authorities on large gatherings.
In 1979, I was left with a difficult situation of being the only Ismaili in Salt Lake City, Utah, for several months, until a family arrived just before I left the following summer. The nearest Jamatkhanas were in Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, hundreds of miles away. I disciplined myself to pray regularly and the happiness and strength I achieved was comparable to my earlier praying days at 5 Palace Gate in London, England. In London, I had become a regular only in 1976, and before that attended Jamatkhanas only on Fridays at Central Hall when I was a student at the Polytechnic of North London. In Salt Lake City, I set aside a corner in my room for the purpose of praying. It was a tiny 12-15 sq ft space beside my bed. The night table contained my rosary (tasbih), with the drawers containing Farman and Ginan books along with a copy of the Holy Qur’an as well as some literary magazines and books. I performed my prayers in an identical fashion to what takes place in Jamatkhana — reciting the Du’a, Farmans and Ginans loudly as well as standing up for the tasbih. My heart and soul enjoyed the spiritual nourishment that I experienced even from praying alone. Chandraat (New Moon day or first day of the Islamic month) was a joyful day for me as I saw the new moon above the Wasatch Mountains that surround the Mormon capital. On my drive home in my roommate’s car, I looked forward to the special Chandraat prayers that I would recite.
A few years ago in Ottawa, I met and interviewed the eldest member of the Ismaily family, who was probably the first Ismaili to settle in Canada in the early 1950’s. He had met our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), just before his lone settlement in a new country. He told me the late Imam asked him to set aside a small portion of his room and conduct his prayers in that space just as he would in a Jamatkhana. The Imam also asked him to keep away from bad and evil social habits, and to work hard. Mr. Ismaily abided, and said that the practice that he adopted of praying regularly in a designated space gave him immense strength, comfort and spiritual happiness.
So here are my recommendations to families where Jamatkhanas have been temporarily closed — and we don’t yet know for how long! Try as a family to pray together. Visit your parents or grandparents at their home, if you are not staying with them, and say to them that you would like to join them for prayers. When visiting them, if you are healthy, take precautions such as hand washing and other important recommended hygienic steps like the ones posted by the Government of Singapore.
Remember they have all of a sudden been deprived of the most valuable moments in their lives — being in Jamatkhanas. Tell them you will recite the Du’a out loud. Keep in mind that many elderly people rely on listening to the prayers recited by another person. Many do not have the capacity to recite the Du’a. Play or recite a ginan or qasida, and join together in tasbihs to help ease our difficulties that we are facing at the present time. Say Ya Allah, Ya Muhammad or Ya Ali. Recite Salwats. Recite the tasbihs of Allahu Akhbar (God is Great), Subhanallah (Glory be to God) and Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah) suggested by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) to his beloved daughter Bibi Fatimah (A.S.). Say the tasbih of Ya Ali Tu Rahem Kar (O Ali be Merciful) Ya Mawla Tu Fazal Kar (O Lord [Ali] be gracious) that we recite during Jamati Satada (7 consecutive days of special prayers for the easing of difficulties). Remember, Mawlana Hazar Imam is our strength, so say Ya Shah Karim Ya Mawlana anta Quwati from the 5th part (O Shah Karim, You are my strength/support).
This is a perfect time to come together at home as families, with no live sporting distractions to take occupy our times! It is an opportunity to be together, to help each other out, to motivate each other, to connect more with our parents and children and to build family unity. It is also an opportunity to develop a balanced life, for those who are immersed with worldly issues, and engage more with our faith. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings are with us constantly, and it is an opportune time to read his Farmans from the two-set Farman books that has just been published under his directive. Read them aloud to your children, siblings, parents and grandparents when you are around them.
These are my humble suggestions to ease through the anxious times that we face which is unprecedented in recent history.
May we continue to fulfill our spiritual responsibilities well during this difficult and anxious time in our lives to avail ourselves of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s constant blessings for our well-being, strength and mushkil asan (protection from difficulty).
Finally, as a subscriber to the National Geographic (NG) magazine, I would recommend this superb link containing educational and informative articles on the Coronavirus from the magazine’s fine writers and photographers. NG is making this information available without a paid subscription.
Date posted: March 13, 2020.
Last updated: March 21, 2020.
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.
We welcome your feedback. If you don’t see the feedback form below please click on Leave a comment
A religion is a system of worship. Faith and trust in the Divine will, inshallah, help humanity amidst calamities through regular prayers with humility and realization of our ultimate DESTINY. Karam and dharam (deeds and religion) will make our transition flawless with Divine Mercy. Ameen.
Ya Ali Madad Malik:
As always, a wonderful article. Your article suggested washing hands. May I suggest something practical we can do during these times.
We should be washing our hands as often as we can and for it to be effective we should wash with soap and water for twenty seconds. How could we be conscious and count those twenty seconds—-recite the al-Fatiha* (The Opening) slowly, that would be most likely twenty seconds .
Think of the idea of cleaning hands as wudhu (ablution) and ask for purity as we join our two hands cleansing and connecting our outside to our inside through the pores of our hands and at the same time engaging in prayer.
The more often we do this the healthier we would be and would help our sense of Taqwa (being conscious of God, piety).
With prayers for all and for the health of our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.
Your classmate Omar.
*Holy Qur’an, Sura 1, which we recite at the beginning of the 1st part of the Holy Dua:
Transliteration: Bismillaah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem. Al hamdu lillaahi rabbil ‘alameen. Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem Maaliki yaumid Deen. Iyyaaka na’abudu, wa iyyaaka nasta’een. Ihdinas siraatal mustaqeem, Siraatal ladheena an ‘amta’ alaihim; Ghairil maghduubi’ alaihim waladaaleen.
Translation: In the name of God, the infinitely Compassionate and Merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds. The Compassionate, the Merciful. Ruler on the Day of Reckoning. You alone do we worship, and You alone do we ask for help. Guide us on the straight path, the path of those who have received your grace; not the path of those who have brought down wrath, nor of those who wander astray. (Translation by Kabir Helminski)
Most timely, informative and useful post. Merci Malikbhai…May you always remain blessed. Ameen
I recall that Mawlana Hazar Imam has made a farman where he said that he was always always with his Jamat: everyday, every minute, every second; and that he wanted us to remember that because his spiritual children were always with him day and night, every season of the year, and every place in the world.
In light of the monoreality, we are always alive and have our beings in one powerful existence, Ameen. We could never be disconnected or alone – Shukar – All Praise and Glory is due to Allah.
Is there not room to take advantage of internet to have a virtual jamatkhana for each time region?
My responses in the form of questions to you and perhaps for the sake of discussion are as follows. Are you aware of any brick and mortar Jamatkhana that has been established without Mawlana Hazar Imam’s approval? If so, has the entire Jamat in that area wholeheartedly supported that initiative? Have institutional leaders thought of the concept of official virtual Jamatkhanas around the world in moments like we have at the present time, and presented their suggestions to Mawlana Hazar Imam for his feedback? Assuming virtual Jamatkhanas are officially instituted in a case like we have today, and life returns to normal, would virtual Jamatkhanas, for the sake of convenience for many who don’t attend the Jamatkhana, continue to be conducted? Would they have their own Mukhi and Kamadia and so on? Is there a danger that virtual Jamatkhanas sites would proliferate worldwide once this trend of establishing an official virtual Jamatkhanas has begun? What about their impact on physical spaces that we currently have?
Virtuality is there to stay and is good for many purposes, but nothing is as valuable as the presence of people together in one physical space that engenders dialogue, friendship and a genuine affection! The idea however definitely needs further discussion as we are increasingly seeing virtual prayer spaces in almost all religions, and especially in Chritianity. In this regard I would like to mention about a so-called unofficial virtual Jamatkhana that was established by an Ismaili website and has been around for a few years. I will state that it has no authority of the Imam and is also disrespectful of the traditional notion of Jamatkhanas that was conceived and established by our Pirs centuries ago. I cannot at my own whim create a space for myself, call it a Jamatkhana and invite others to attend it and to believe that it is actually a Jamatkhana. It is not right to mislead.
Your views on virtual Jamatkhana is to the point. If need be Mawlabapa being our leader and empowered to decide future course will direct us. We don’t need unauthorised and non-empowered people to float such ideas without explicit permission of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and we as spiritual children and followers should refrain even from discussing such issues. Thanks for the inputs.
Your article has given me strength during this difficult period.
We pray for muskhil assan for the global Jamat. Ameen.
May Mawla resolve the situation so we can be blessed to celebrate Navroz Mubarak next Saturday Ameen
As of today Malik your most timely and useful article advising the Canadian Jamat on how to pray during Jamatkhana closures became globally applicable with closures of several Jamatkhanas around the world including the USA. Thank you for your service.
Thank you also for updating the post to include references to hand hygiene and safe greeting especially when visiting the elderly whose immune systems tend to be tender. Placing the right hand on the heart and bowing and smiling with eye contact are excellent alternative greetings to a handshake. We often see Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family placing their hands on the heart.
Lastly, you should only visit your family and friends if you are well.
Would we have this joy of congregational prayer at our usual times through the medium of sound if there is place online to pray together? It may not be best alternative, but virtually Jamat may find a way to offer congregational prayers along with the special prayers for alleviation of difficulties in our unforeseen times.
Excellent suggestion and well articulated.
The closures of our Jamathkhanas makes us appreciate more what it is to have a place for congregational prayer, contemplation and interaction with our spiritual brothers and sisters. The daily read outs of our beloved Hazar Imam’s Firmans and blessings contained therein are a source of strength and inspiration to lead wholesome lives and do good.
Hopefully once our Jamatkhanas open attendance will be better than ever, and our children will appreciate what it is to be part of our spiritual family , Amen Ya Ali Madad Farouk Verjee
Ya Ali Madad Malik
You are a fantastic reminder of your Dad who was my religion teacher and heard his Waez mostly at Palace Gate. You have articulated so beautifully as to how we all can cope with the closure of our Jamatkhanas but you have demonstrated that there is always another way to be with Mawlabapa every day every breath of our life. Thank you and May Mawlabapa guide you always to serve Him and his Jamat like your late Dad Alwaez Jehangir Merchant. Ameen.
Similarly, I recall most fondly our beloved religion teachers Alwa’z Jehangir Merchant and Alwa’za Malekbai Merchant, my religion teachers in Dar-es-Salaam.They formed a sound, evergreen foundation in us to prepare for our future course in life. For a new beginning with new hopes, or simply to battle through ordinary, mundane life in changing times, to achieve the balance asked of us by our faith. In the daily struggle, striving or noblest form of jahd to achieve success in its truest definition.
Through swings in material circumstances, even “black swan” events of the kind we may be witnessing now, the foundation which they bequeathed us endures as a gift. Through thick and thin, swings of time and fortune. When the only constant is the constant remembrance of Allah, and recourse to the faith of our forefathers. Then, as in the times of our forefathers, the sun shines ever brighter. The blessing manifests brighter simply because it is bringing us closer to Allah the most Merciful.
The values of our faith, best in character and virtuous conduct, shine brightest, as ambassadors and Dais. With self-abnegation and gentle forbearance, reaching out to the less fortunate, the vulnerable, excluded, marginalized, left behind, voiceless, or who are simply in the unacceptable state of despair, “Beware your duty to Allah about your attitude towards the poor, the disabled, the aged and the orphan”. The virtues of best conduct and Ihsan shine brighter than any other sign to proclaim, Let no one, absolutely no one, despair of Allah’s Rahmat.
Thank you Malik for nourishing us with yet another beautiful article. Keep up your contribution and be blessed thousandfold. God bless!
Thank You, Malik, for your suggestions and encouragement. We pray Allah bless you and your family.
Thank you for the wonderful advice and encouragement. May Allah (swt) bless you and your loved ones. Ameen.
Thank you for sharing this encouraging and wonderful way to pray. One can pray any where as long as we all pray for each other and our entire world Jamats.
As long as we pray from the bottom of our hearts, we will all be safe and our Imam says I am always with you. Keep him in in our hearts and Mowla will be there.c Stay safe and look after your neighbours, families and friends. Ameen.
Such an appropriate article. Thank you for sharing