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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24 thoughts on “Passings: Alwaez Nizar Chunara (1940 – 2021)

  1. Alwaez Nizar Chunara was a beautiful teacher soul.
    His waez material was well researched and always very life changing. It was clear that he understood the material very well. He outlined steps to achieve spiritual goals that made sense and were practical and do-able.
    He was an excellent and kind teacher. The world has lost a precious resource.
    Mowla rest his soul in eternal peace and give family sabar. Aameen.

  2. Fariyal and Chunara Family:

    We pray for your family to find strength during this difficult time. May the happy memories you shared bring you comfort.

    This special tribute shared with all of us has given an opportunity for many in the jamat to remember and honour him. My daughter had interviewed him while doing research on Ismaili History. She was very impressed with his knowledge and dedication. His seva has touched many lives, young and old. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen

  3. Alwaez Chunara is a most exemplary human being. He always greeted me and everyone with a wide brimmed smile, a warm heart and has always been so generous in sharing his knowledge. He always made time to answer my questions not just with a simple answer, he thought about the question and then he drew out the answer which had a quality of reverence and grace. His words and his presence have been an inspiration to me. To an Alwaez who walked the talk, who lived and breathed service. An exemplary human being. He shall be deeply deeply missed. Prayers for strength and courage for his family, his beautiful wife Fariyal. May the grace behind his words always live through us lighting our way.

  4. Thank you for such a great tribute for a beautiful soul! May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen!

    The first time I heard his waez was in 1976 in Dar es Salaam. I never forgot his teachings. It was explained in such a simple manner for anyone to understand. He was one of my favourite missionaries.

  5. I vividly remember listening to his waezs in Upanga Jamatkhana (Dar es Salaam) in late sixties. Mowla ruh ke amar shanti bakshe.

  6. Thank you Malik for honoring my dad with your very meaningful tribute. We will be forever grateful for the memories you have so eloquently captured. We really appreciate it.

  7. A selection of condolences posted in the social media:

    Mohammad Ali Bhimani: Great AL-WAEZ.
    Nassim Merali: Mes condoléances sincères a la famille je l ai bien connu
    Sakina Chunara Popatia: May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace. Aameen. Nizar visited us often in Karachi when he came for his Waezen training. It was such a good feeling to find that my grand father’s family lived in other continent too.
    Moh Ebrahim: RIEP 🌹 🌹 🌹 Great Missionary
    Abdul Rehman Allibhoy: May Mawla bless Nizar bhai’s soul in eternal peace. Aameen.
    Rukhsana U Kan Gyi: May his soul rest in peace aameen
    Karima Mawji: 🙏🙏🙏 May Mawla Rest his Soul in Eternal Peace. Ameen
    Rozy Areshia: May Mawla rest his soul in eternal peace. Aameen
    Muhammed Raju Nathani: May his soul rest in eternal peace Ameen
    Yasmin Nanji Ramji: May Allah rest his soul in eternal soul. Ameen🙏
    Gully Jiwa: May his soul rest in eternal peace 🙏🙏🙏
    Azim Ibrohimov: May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace Ameen 🙏🙏🙏
    Bahadur Kanji: May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace Ameen 🙏🙏🙏
    Nurali Premji: Poleni sana🙏 May his Soul Rest in Eternal Peace Ameen 🙏🙏
    Tazim Mawji: May his soul rests in peace. Ameen. Condolences to the family.🙏🙏🙏🙏

    Parvin Damji: Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raji’un. Our deepest condolences to the family. Mawla rest his soul in eternal peace 🤲🤲. Ameen
    Nabila Hafeez Jiwa: Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un , “We belong to God, and to Him we shall return.” May his soul rest in eternal peace. Amen
    Salima Merali Tejani: May his soul rest in eternal peace – Ameen.
    Alnoor Shariff: May God bless his Soul & Rest him in Eternel Peace .Ameen. 🙏 Late Al- waez was our favourite religion teacher in Karimabad once open a time. Very talented in delivering Kachi waezs.
    Mariam Merali: Innalillahi wa inna Ilayhi rajeoon. Amen 🙏.
    Shahida Mamdani Sunderji: May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen
    Karim Jaffer: May His Soul Rest In Peace. Ameen.
    Salim Dharas: Karimshah bless his soul in Eternal Peace.
    Mohammedali Samnani: May departed soul rest in eternal peace! Ameen.
    Mariam Qurbany: May his soul rest in eternal peace! May his services be rewarded! Ameen!
    Shahbuddin Makhani: May his soul rest in eternal peace AAMEEN.
    Farida Wahid: May the departed soul rest in eternal peace.
    Nargis Virani: May his soul rest in eternal peace Ameen.

  8. At the age of 14 and in secondary school, it was a privilege to have a religious teacher that was humble, nurturing, kind hearted, jovial and empowering to yearn for religious knowledge. Rai Missionary Chunara was a blessing, innovative, non judgmental, non bias and realistic in his teachings. I have always treasured the lessons learned from his teachings. He was the very first missionary to introduce me to the practice of Ibadat, meditation. Shukhar Alhamdulillah for all pearls of wisdom.

    Zabin.

  9. Thank you Malik for this excellent obituary for the late Missionary Nizarali Chunara. He led a very interesting and fulfilling life. May his Soul rest in Eternal Peace. Ameen. A Very Remarkable Man who dedicated his life in the service of our Community and the Imam.

    On another note while looking at the pictures noted in this write up, it would be interesting to know Who, and Where are the other people Now, in the Group picture taken with Hazar Imam in the 1980’s in Nairobi, Kenya. Maybe a context of the background for the picture could be noted. I think this picture may have been taken during the 1982 Silver Jubilee visit to Kenya.

  10. May Mowla rest his soul in eternal peace. Alwaez was a great person. I have an opportunity to meet him during my visit to Nairobi in 1985/86 .

  11. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

    Late Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara was one of the charismatic persons whom the Jamats looked up to, respected and listened attentively when he delivered his waezes.

    I had heard about him in Uganda during Mowlana Hazar Imam’s visit in 1966 and him delivering a waez to Montreal Jamat some years back.

    Thank you Mr. Malik Merchant, as always expressing your views and giving an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.

    Salim Somani
    Montreal

  12. Late Alwaez Nizar Chunara, may Allah rest his soul in eternal peace and rest. Aameen.
    An amazing Alwaez and a very inspiring person.
    His selfless service is indeed, extra ordinary.
    My mother’s first cousin, but, unfortunately never got to spend enough time with him.
    Malik, appreciation to you for the obituary.

  13. I met Alwaez Nizar and his lovely wife Fariyal in Vancouver. Amazing people.

    May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

  14. I am very sad to learn about the demise of Alwaez Chunara. I have fond memories of his powerful and inspiring waezis when I was in Dar es Salaam. He was very articulate in his delivery of waezes. He will be truly missed.

    May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

  15. Alwaez Nizar Chunara was one of the finest Ismailis I have known. He was a superb mentor to all of us waezeens, always tutoring us, directing us and encouraging us. His knowledge of other faiths beyond our Ismaili Mazhub was exemplary, being able to quote Massignon and Corbin and even His Holiness The Pope was eye opening!! A wonderful role model indeed.

    Alwaz Nizar Chunara’s legacy like that of Alwaez and Alwaeza Merchant will live on through his students especially those privileged to be around him here in Vancouver.

    Mowla Ruhani ke Asal meh Wasal Kare . Ameen .

    A grateful student waezeen
    Omar Kassam

  16. Our sincere condolences to the family of Alwaez Nizar Chunara’s. My mother was very fond of Alwaez Chunara’s Waezes on Audio Tapes in the 80’s and shared them with us.

    We pray that Alwaez Chunara’s Soul Rest In Eternal Peace .Ameen. We also pray for the strength of the family for their great loss. Ameen 🤲😊

  17. May Mowla rest his soul in eternal bliss. I was very privileged to have had the opportunity to speak with Alwaez just about an hour before his passing. One of the finest missionaries of our time. He taught me in mission class as well as my son when he was growing up.

  18. Thank you Malik for paying tribute to the life of Alwaez whose life long mission was to serve the Imam and the Jamat.

    May his soul rest in eternal peace 🙏

    Amin Merani
    Montréal

  19. Amazing article and account of another renowned Alwaez. Late Alwaez Nizarali Chunara was personally known to me for many decades from Tanzania. He was respected and admired by me among others, viz. Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchat, Late Alwaeza Malek Merchant, Late Alwaez Rai Abuali Alibhai, Late Alwaez Amirali Gillani, Alwaez Shamshudin Allidina and Alwaeza Gulshan Allidina to name the few.

    We pray that may the departed souls rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

    Malik – keep up the good work and great service.

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