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.
By KAMRUDIN A. RASHID
Practically every morning after saying our prayers, I spend some time reminiscing about services that are rendered by tens of thousands of murids (one who has given allegiance and pledged loyalty to the Ismaili Imam, namely His Highness the Aga Khan) around the world to the jamat (community), its institutions and to the Imam-of-the-Time. Over the past 60 years of my services to the jamat in East Africa and Canada, I have been fortunate to encounter and develop special bonds of friendships with countless such individuals serving the Imamat in both honorary and professional capacities.
One group of people that has constantly amazed me and has been in my heart and thoughts are the missionaries (waezin) of the past and present eras who have been responsible for molding the lives of millions of murids throughout our Ismaili history, by imparting religious knowledge and understanding as well as inculcating the ethic of the Islamic faith. Referred to in contemporary times as Alwaez or Alwaeza, historically the missionaries were often designated titles such as Dai, Hujjat or Pirs in the Ismaili Tariqah (path) of Islam. Several individuals who held such positions were also given the mandate and responsibility of disseminating the faith among non-Ismailis, especially in the Middle East, Central and South Asia. In the last two years, during the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen Ismaili missionaries and scholars appearing in weekly online Jamati programs, and talking openly about the Ismaili Tariqah in the context of the Islamic faith, and also articulating the ethic of maintaining a strong balance between our spiritual and material lives, an emphasis that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has laid on his community throughout the past 64 years of his Imamat.
Over the last few decades, the Ismaili community has seen numerous outstanding Ismaili missionaries pass away. Their rich and inspiring lives have not been told and their works are awaiting proper documentation for future research. It was for this reason that my suggestion to the editor of this website, Malik, to launch a series on Ismaili missionaries was welcomed by him with gratitude and enthusiasm. In recent years, we have seen brief tributes and articles on some of the deceased missionaries such as Abualy Alibhai (d. 2008, age 89), Amirali Gillani (d. 2020, age 75), Sultanali Mohamed (d. 2020, age 93), Nizar Chunara (d. 2021, age 81), and Malik’s own parents Jehangir (d. 2018, age 89) and Malek Merchant (d. 2021, age 89). I wanted to launch the series with an Alwaez or Alwaeza who was still alive. There are many, but I could think of no one to begin the series with other than Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina who, with her husband Alwaez Samsoudine, has served the jamats around the world for 60 years.
Alas, while Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina’s piece was awaiting publication on this website, I learnt with deep sadness that she was unwell and in hospital. Then, with profound grief, I received the news that she passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at the age of 93. She is survived by her beloved husband, Alwaez Rai Samsoudine Alidina, daughters Khatidja Mohammed and Fatima Alidina, and grandchildren Shamsa Alidina, Tanwir and Sohail Alidina.
Alwaeza Gulshan’s funeral ceremonies took place on Saturday, May 14th at Toronto’s Scarborough Jamatkhana — where all Ismaili funeral ceremonies in the Metro Toronto are held. The funeral and burial ceremonies were followed by special prayers (known as samar and zyarat) for the departed soul at Richmond Hill Jamatkhana during evening prayers. Alwaeza was very well known and popular in many parts of the world, and it it is expected that many of her colleagues, friends and family members will hold samars in their respective Jamatkhanas.
Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina and her beloved husband Alwaez Samsoudine Alidina had an amazingly long track record of services to the Jamat, and over the past sixty years, like their late friends Jehangir and Malesultan Merchant, served the Jamat unitedly with the goal to teach the Ismaili tariqah and its essence to murids of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Gulshan and Samsoudine’s inspiring waezes (sermons) were very well attended wherever they preached. They were known as the missionaries from Madagascar. Often the person reading an announcement about their forthcoming sermon, would refer to them as Madagascarwala (i.e. of or belonging to Madagascar). That was in a sense part of their identity, and the community members would show up in very large numbers to listen to them and benefit from their knowledge and wisdom.
Gulshan and her future husband, Samsoudine, both joined the waezin training programme that was offered in Karachi in 1958. Gulshan had travelled from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) for the extensive 2 year programme that was conducted by the outstanding scholar (Late) Professor Javad Muscati. He trained the new students on all aspects of Islam and Ismailism, and the recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Gulshan and Samsoudine both said that they could not have studied under a more knowledgeable person than Professor Javad.
On completing the waezin program, the qualifying students were presented with certificates by none other than Mawlana Hazar Imam, who bestowed the new waezin with many blessings for their success. It was during that precious moment in Karachi that Gulshan delivered a waez in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Gulshan found it unthinkable that her very first waez to the Jamat would be in front of Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Indeed, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s remarks on the waez that she delivered on September 27, 1960 deeply inspired and motivated Alwaeza Gulshan in her career goals. Mawlana Hazar Imam said after the waez that it was one of the most impressive waez he had yet heard, and that Alwaeza in delivering the waez had done well.
After completing her waezin training program in Karachi, Gulshan returned to Tanzania. A proposal of marriage from Samsoudine, who had studied with her in Karachi, was accepted and she commenced her journey of service to the Jamat as a waezin and teacher with the Ismailia Association in Madagascar, her husband’s home. She served in Madagascar from 1960 until 1974, after which the couple settled in Paris for a brief period. The family then made their home in Canada, first in Montreal and then in Toronto. She served with the Ismailia Association, that later came to be known as ITREB (the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) from 1978 until the mid 1990’s. Upon her retirement, she continued to give waezes and serve the jamat in an honorary capacity. This she continued to do until the last stages of her life.
Throughout her waezin career, and because of her excellent knowledge and oratory, she received invitations to deliver waezes in many parts of Africa including Mozambique, South Africa, and East Africa. Following her highly successful waez tour to East Africa in 1968, Mawlana Hazar Imam sent a message to the president of the Ismailia Association for Tanzania, Rai Shamshudin Tejpar, in which he expressed his deep happiness and pleasure with Alwaeza’s excellent work. He sent her his affectionate paternal and maternal loving blessings for the good work that she had done and for her devoted services. Later in life, Alwaeza also travelled to many European countries, where Ismailis had made new homes, and also travelled to deliver sermons in distant Australia and New Zealand. She was successful and popular because she worked hard and was skillful with the Jamat, and always carried with her the blessings of Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Alwaeza Gulshan’s death lives a big vacuum in the jamat and in her family. She was 93 and lived a rich and purposeful life, sharing her wisdom into her late age and inspiring the jamat, both young and old alike.
We convey our sincere and deep condolences to Alwaez Samsoudine and all the members of her family, and pray that Alwaeza’s soul may rest in ternal peace. We wish everyone in her family the courage and fortitude to face her immense loss.
The services rendered by Alwaeza Gulshan will always be remembered by Ismailis around the world. We sincerely hope that everything possible will be done to preserve the written and oral legacy that she has left behind, so that future generations of the jamat are inspired by a great dai of the contemporary era, who served her 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Aga Khan, with love and devotion.
Date posted: May 19, 2022.
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About the writer: Born in Zanzibar, Kamrudin Rashid lived in both Zanzibar as well as in Pemba from 1946 until after 1964 Zanzibar Revolution that saw the island merge with mainland Tanganyika into a unified country called Tanzania. He then settled in Dar es Salaam, before making Canada his home in early 1975. Kamru was in Pemba during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s historic visit on November 18th, 1957. Kamru has served the Ismaili community in honorary and professional positions for over six decades, and today continues to serve and contribute to the Ismaili institutions. Please also read his co-authored piece with Shahbanu Abdulla by clicking on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Pemba visit.
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