An extraordinary short film on the first Ismaili settlement in Europe – Sí, es España!

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergSimergphotos  and Barakah

My Spanish cousins, Yasmin and Shamsah, recently reminded me to watch a special program on Ismaili TV which among other things portrayed their grandfather’s arrival in Spain in 1914, and how he raised a beautiful family that has now lived in Spain for more than 106 years!

The 20-minute Spanish historical segment of the program is presented in the Youtube link below, and we sincerely thank the Aga Khan Development Network’s communication department for arranging to send us the clip. It will familiarize our viewers about an important phase in the Ismaili settlement in Europe, a narrative that been missing when discussing recent Ismaili migrations to Europe.

My aunt Sakina, who is 93, introduces the film with great insight, wisdom and passion, and one quickly realizes her immense faith and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

story continues after video link

Youtube Video on Jamat in Spain

As the story goes, Sakina aunty accompanied her father, Ashad Ali Haji, to India in 1947. The trip lasted 3 months and during this time she met my father Jehangir’s older brother, Abdulmahomed, whom she would marry 3 years later. They would spend the next 10 years in India, mainly in Calcutta.

The couple then lived in London, England, until the mid 1960’s before settling down with their four children — Abdulsultan Yasmin, Gulammahomed and Shamsah — in Madrid.

While in London, Abdulmahomed uncle served as Kamadiasaheb and Mukhisaheb of the Jamat during the early 1960’s. He and my father both passed away six months apart, less than 3 years ago. Apparently, because they used different surnames, many Jamati members do not know the family link — my uncle used the surname Allibhoy Mahomed and my father used Merchant. Their father manufactured leather goods and traded as a leather merchant, and I suspect that’s how I have Merchant as my surname.

story continues after photo

Abdulmahomed and Jehangir
Photo taken in Madrid at wedding of Gulammahomed (missing in photo). From left to right: Maria Jose, Abdulsultan, Yasmin, Jehangir Alibhai Merchant, Shamsah, Abdulmahomed Allibhoy Mahomed, Sakina, Gulbanu and Felipe. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Over the past 43 years, I have had the privilege of meeting Abdulmahomed uncle, Sakina aunty, and my four cousins as well as their families several times. Our most recent get together was in Lisbon in July 2018, during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee visit. Abdulmahomed uncle is buried in Lisbon, and we all went to his burial site to pay homage to him and pray for his soul. He is seen in the film, walking by his beloved wife of more than 70 years, Sakina (see featured photo at top of this post).

Sakina aunty has a photographic memory, whereby she can recount with precise detail every important incident from the 1940’s onwards. Once she starts telling stories, you want keep on hearing. She accompanied her father and siblings to a number of mulaqats with Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. This blessing of mulaqats continued after Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam succeeded to the throne of Imamat in 1957. Incidents from the mulaqats are in themselves deeply touching, and some that were articulated to me related to the continuity of the Imamat from Hazrat Ali, and attested to the fact that the Imams are bearers of the same Noor (Light). The Spanish Jamat exhibition that was held in Lisbon 4 years ago included some rare photographs of those mulaqats.

Hopefully, Sakinas aunty’s rich and detailed accounts of memorable moments will be captured by her family members in the coming months, and we sincerely hope that other families around the world have started documenting stories of their parents and grandparents, before they leave this earth. The younger generation can draw immense wisdom from the faith of their forefathers.

The Jamat in Spain has grown to several hundred in the past 30 years, and live in different cities, and the film highlights this. If you visit Spain, please obtain the contact information of my aunt and her family as well as other Mukhisahebs or institutional representatives in Spain from the Ismaili council in your jurisdiction. Note that due to Covid-19, Jamatkhanas in Spain may be closed, as is the case in many other parts of the world. Gradual reopening of Jamatkhanas is taking place, as in Portugal.

Youtube Video on Jamat in Spain

Watch this amazing Youtube presentation by The Ismaili.

Date posted: July 5, 2020.
Last updated: July 6, 2020 (clarity to story as per feedback).

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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Simerg’s Merchant

Malik Merchant is the editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at

5 thoughts on “An extraordinary short film on the first Ismaili settlement in Europe – Sí, es España!

  1. My belated condolences of passing of your uncle Mukhisaheb Abdulmohammad, whom I got to know as a child and my fear of him calling me over to recite the first Dua on Sunday evenings no matter where I sat or hid inside the prayer hall at Palace Gate Jamatkhana came to no avail. I remember him and Mukhianisaheba Sakina fondly, but regret not meeting your parents, since I did not attend mission classes. I shall cherish this article and when I visit Spain again in the near future I will take this article with me when I go Jamatkhana and hopefully meet/see your cousins again. Last but not least I heard (it) through the grapevine that Sakina’s father got in touch with my father (old connections?) when he went to Bombay in 1947 with your aunt (long before my time). Great piece Malik!

  2. My grandmother Shahsultan was the sister of Abdul Mohamed uncle and Jehangir uncle mentioned in the article. The family is still connected and we also hosted Shamsha aunty (Abdulmohamaed uncle and Sakina Aunty’s daughter) when she was visiting India last year. The family has a big branch in Mumbai and we were all happy to see Sakina aunty describe her experience on Ismaili TV.

  3. This article on Ismaili settlement in Spain and the video clip is excellent. I recall about 15 years ago, I met an Ismaili senior who had visited Madrid with an Ismaili tour group. He talked about their experience at the Madrid Jamatkhana and that the lady they met in Jamatkhana recited her standing tasbi prayers in a very diligent and traditional way and had done so for years despite having lived in Madrid for so long. I think that lady must have been your aunt Sakina who also narrated the history of the Spanish Jamat so well. Overall, an excellent and informative article. .

    • We were fortunate enough to visit Madrid Jamat in 2017 and met your amazing uncle and aunt and their family including Yasmin and her brother Gulammahomed. We joined them for Friday prayers with Alwaez Shahzad Patel and his wife from Mississauga who were also visiting at the time. We also took a token of a Book Momento Golden Jubilee in Canada Visit. We took some pictures with them after prayers and mingled with the family! They were amazing! We are in touch with Yasmin Allibhoy.
      Yasmin & Nasir

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