“Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – When Hope is All You Have Left, a Story for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Salgirah

By Gulnor Saratbekova

Special to Simerg

Happy Ismaili People - Ismaili girls in Central Asia proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Ismaili girls in Central Asia proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

I can still remember how our usual summer vacation in 1990 became a complete nightmare in the blink of an eye. My oldest brother and I were sent to Khorog on vacations each summer. We were thrilled to spend our vacations there, in our beautiful Khorog, with our cousins and friends. It was something we were always looking forward to each summer, without even imagining that anything would change; but everything changed this particular summer.

The situation in the capital, Dushanbe, and its surroundings started to show evidence of tension. Political issues were the crux of this angst. Watching hundreds of discontented people on the news, protesting in the main squares of Dushanbe and other places was something unusual for us all to see. Within the context of a Communist background where protests, demonstrations and freedom of speech were sure paths to one’s death, to see such events was rare.

Such protests always lead to confrontations which ended up in Civil War. There is nothing more devastating than a Civil War and it was indeed a path to devastation in my country. Neighbors were killing neighbors, people who were once friends, bore arms against each other. Too many innocent lives were taken and too much blood was shed. Children were left orphans and parents had to bear the loss of their children and grandchildren. The whole country turned completely black. Things we never imagined could happen in our land, happened, and unimaginable pain and grief filled most each and every home.

A War never comes alone, it’s ALWAYS followed by poverty, hunger, disease, despair, moral and physical damage, blockage… you name it. That’s exactly what happened in our country. It became something so normal to hear cries; and when you did, you knew that someone had been killed somewhere. The whole country came to mourn, and it continued to mourn. Thousands of people became refugees; my family and I were among them. We had to leave everything behind; our home, our clothes, our toys, our friends and our childhood. We only had with us, the summer clothes we had brought for that summer vacation

My siblings and I were living with different relatives. My dad was the last one to make it to Khorog after the war had already started. We heard nothing about him for months. I remember clearly when one day I went to get some water not far from my uncle’s house where I was staying. I saw a strange, exhausted man with dirty clothes, long hair and beard come close to me and call my name. Only when he dropped on his knees and started talking to me and crying, that I realized it was my dad. I remember I could hardly breathe; the shock and joy that my daddy was alive was overwhelming. He had been trying to get to Khorog for weeks. He’d crossed mountains on foot together with several other people. The roads to Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomus Oblast (GBAO) were blocked and there were hundreds of checkpoints on the road that basically hunted men. Only women and children were allowed to leave Dushanbe and its surroundings. The only way for men to get to GBAO was by walking through the mountains or to hide inside trucks. I remember my aunt had to bring my 15 year old cousin under the bus seats covered with luggage. He looked older for his age and if he were unlucky to have been found, he would doubtlessly, have been killed just because he was Pamiri.

In 1991, leaders of the Ismaili community in Gorno-Badakhshan (representing some two-thirds of the local population) drew the attention of His Highness the Aga Khan to the potential danger of famine in the region as a result of the cessation of Soviet subsidies following the independence of Tajikistan. Consultants sent by the Aga Khan Development Network concluded that a famine was imminent and humanitarian relief programme were prepared targetting the most vulnerable families. Subsequently over a period of time more than 200,000 metric tons of relief supplies were transported from Osh in Kyrgyzstan and distributed throughout Gorno-Badakhshan, an average truck journey of 2,000 km over passes above 4,000m. The photo above is of trucks with humanitarian assistance on the Taldyk pass (altitude: 3,615m). Source: Web site pamirs.org

Trucks with humanitarian assistance on the Taldyk pass (altitude: 3,615m). Source: Web site pamirs.org

In short time, we were running out of clothes, food, medicine due to the blockade. People started to die because of starvation and illness. There was shortage of everything and I mean EVERYTHING. We hardly had food, especially during winter and spring. Those were the worst times, and there was hardly any electricity. I remember we had 1 pancake each (made of water, flour and salt) with tea in the morning and didn’t know if we’d have anything to eat for the night or the next day. Without power, people began to cut trees for wood to heat their houses. Since GBAO is mostly a mountainous region, after a while, there were hardly any trees left. Well-known politicians, professors, doctors, and scholars had to sell anything they could in order to survive. I remember I was very creative, so handy, that I made shoes for my sister and I with a piece of cloth and cut-off tires.

More than 2 years after the beginning of this chaos and nightmare, it seemed this was the end for us. We had lost all hope; life stopped making sense any more. Most people were convinced that if no help arrived soon enough, that this winter would be the last for many.

Then a miracle. I was approaching the age of 12 and it was  just before people lost complete hope.  I remember clearly when I saw our Mawla on TV for the very first time (it was when we had electricity for some hours). I was at my uncle’s and there were about 15 of us living at his house. I didn’t understand why suddenly all the grownups started to cry and say SHUKR MAWLO, SHUKR MAWLO. Then the news said that humanitarian aides would be sent as soon as possible. I remember the day people ran to the main road to welcome all the trucks with AKF (Aga Khan Foundation) and WFP (World Food Programme) written on them. I remember seeing women cry, including my mother, because they finally had hope that they wouldn’t witness their children starving to death. We could finally eat as much bread as we wanted,  without thinking ‘we won’t have any left  for the next day’.

For us, the kids, the best part was clothes and shoes, even though they didn’t fit. We couldn’t believe how beautiful all those clothes were and that they were actually used! We couldn’t believe people would just give away  these clothes and shoes. I remember  an instance when we were all sitting, very anxiously, in our cold classroom and our teacher came in with a box. She opened it and without looking inside started putting one item on each table. It was like Christmas for us. I remember the  item placed on my desk was a pair of red overalls, about 5 size bigger, but oh boy, was I happy! I finally had “new” clothes!

Mawlana Hazar Imam is seen addressing the Jamat of Ishkashim in Badakhshan during his first historic visit to the Pamirs in 1995.

Mawlana Hazar Imam is seen addressing the Jamat of Ishkashim in Badakhshan during his first historic visit to the Pamirs in 1995.

Time went and we reached the most momentous day in our life: May 25, 1995, a historical date that no Badakhshani will ever forget. We were blessed with Mawla’s didar for the very first time. That is when we really knew that we would never be alone, ever again. This was the day for which all our elderly and ancestors were longing, for centuries. This is the date that changed our history forever. This is the day after which we knew that we would survive, no matter what, no matter how, no matter where. It’s amazing how lucky we are despite everything: because we are Mawla’s mureeds. We still have a long way to go even so many years after the war but I have hope for my country and people. I hope we will rise as high as the Pamiri mountains

Love and only love can overcome any obstacle and endure anything. Give as much love as possible to as many people as possible. Remember, each one of us is very special and being a mureed makes us that extra special.

I end with a sincere prayer for all Ismailis around the world: May Mawla bless each one of us on the joyous occasion of his seventy-sixth Salgirah.

Date posted: December 10, 2012.

Copyright: Gulnor Saratbekova/Simerg.


About the author: Gulnor Saratbekova was born in Yavan, near the capital of Tajikistan, Dushanbe. She fled to the predominant Ismaili town of Khorog due to the civil war in the early 1990’s. She has 3 siblings, 5 cousin-siblings whom she grew up with, a father and 2 mothers – her own bilogical mother, who passed away, and her aunt who then adopted and raised her.


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41 thoughts on ““Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – When Hope is All You Have Left, a Story for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Salgirah

  1. Extremely touching narrative of the hardships endured by our brothers and sisters in Tajikistan. Shukhar Mowla for all your tireless efforts in ensuring your jamats are safe and never forgotten.
    Shukhar Shukhar Shukhar

    • Thank you for this journey you experienced with us. We are so blessed here in the West that we sometimes do not have a clue of trials and tribulations our spiritual brothers and sisters are encountering each day. Shukhar Al Hamdullilah for the Grace Hazar Imam has bestowed on the ones that go through such extreme and dire difficulties and who are so brave and have such a strong convinction towards the love our Hazar Imam has for us and His protection and His concern for all of us. Shukhar Allah

  2. Gulnor, thank you for your heart warming encounter. Allah’s blessings are infinite, & our Imam loves us, always.
    As Ismailis, philanthropy is our pillar of faith, give, give some more…Give until it hurts, for in giving you shall receive…

  3. Mowla is always there for everyone who needs him. Shukr mawlo is only what I can express. Yeh, the story brings tears in our eyes. It brings hope to all the one’s who are suffering in the harsh real world of today.
    Nooor ud din Qizill

  4. Very emotional. Hope and pray our Syrian Ismailis soon benefit the benevolence of our Imam the same way as our Tajik brothers and sisters did.

    Hope and sincerely pray Syrian Ismaili mureeds come out of this horrible war Soon, Inshallah!

    Shudder to think how and what our Imam feels at the plight of Syrians, Ismailis and non-Ismailis in view of the atrocities that are committed there on the part of both sides.

    Please keep up your prayers for them.

  5. Mashallah, in the end, love is shining brighter than any other armour or military might, as a sign of the indestructible light that never leaves the side of a mureed. Almighty knows that which we know not, and everything shall in the end become reconciled into one reuniting truth of oneness. Verily after hardship cometh ease, Shukranlillah.

  6. Ya Ali Madad

    Thank you for the time you devote for producing Simerg, with its insights from around the world. Please keep on going.

    Mawla aap ko kosh rakhe, Ameen.

  7. Beautifully written narrative that evokes the image of the past in my mind. The grey and gloomy days are gone and stories such as this remind us about two simplest things in life: love and hope. Love will obviously connect and reconnect the hearts and ease the pain if that love is pure in nature. Hope nourishes and gives growth to belief. It was the hope that people lived in for centuries to see the presence of their Imam. He was living in their heart. The communities in the mountains of Badakhshan kept that love alive through the tradition of maddakhani, charagh rawshan and other religious rites.

    Thank you for such a beautiful and emotional story.

  8. I was a refugee from Uganda in 1972 and although I remember some attrocities from then it was nothing compared to what my fellow Ismailis endured in Tajikistan. Thank you for sharing your story it was very moving and touched all our hearts. I think it should be the aim of each murid living in the west to visit with our brothers and sisters from the east.

    We should remember that our beloved Mawla is everywhere, sees everything and knows everything. As he has said “The Imam loves you much more than you can ever love him” and that “his love for us is deep and pure.”

    Our prayers aims and ambitions should be that no Ismaili has to suffer any hardship anywhere ever. May we all be guided by Mawla every nanosecond of our lives and may he be with us till our last breath….Ameen

  9. I can say that almost each and every Ismaili must have experienced miracles in his or her life at some point in their life. May be sometimes we understand clearly and sometimes we come to know later. We are in the heart, thoughts and prayers of our beloved Mawla and his hands are on each and every mureed. I still remember that Mawla had mentioned in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2000 that the Jamats of Central Asia had been his priority for a long time.

    I want to share a writing which has helped me a lot gifted by my sister, it says: Faith is not believing that God can; it is knowing that He will. May we all remain blessed on the path of Siratal Mustaqueem.

  10. Beautifully written & very emotional. I still have tears as I am writing this. We are so blessed Mowla is always with us. Shukar!
    Rashida Kanji
    Toronto, Ontario

  11. Very moving account by Gulnor Saratbekova! Just goes to show that if you have faith, Mawla will never leave you in difficult times. Best wishes on this happy occasion, and Mr. Merchant may Mawla bless you for your services.

  12. Thank you Gulnor for the story – it made the hard time of those days live in my memory again. It is always important to remember the past not to repeat the mistakes of those days, and say shukur to Mawlo. The support of Hazir Imam for the pamiri Ismailis was no doubt very huge but he also saved the whole country from the civil war by meeting the key players and putting an end to it. Following his every word would be the only way to reach those high mountains. Khushali Mubarak to all!!

  13. Our everyday problems are minuscule compared to this story! We are indeed very fortunate to be in Canada. My very best wishes and prayers for peace in your lives to all. Than you Malik for your excellent work.

  14. Wow! Superb.
    Really like these lines: “Love and only love can overcome any obstacle and endure anything. Give as much love as possible to as many people as possible. Remember, each one of us is very special and being a mureed makes us that extra special.” God Bless us all Aamin 🙂

  15. Thank you very much dear sister for the wonderful memory that really touched our hearts, made us cry and filled our hearts with the love, hope and care of our beloved Hazir Imam in this especial occasion.

    (Salgirah Mubarak to my entire global Ismaili family)

  16. Gulnorjon,

    What a great way to relay your message, so simple but yet so touching. The memories were so live as I was reading your write up. Thank you, thank you and thank you once again. We must never forget how blessed we are and how Mawla has saved us from harsh times and to date guides us on the right path. I truly believe as stated by you, that one day we will be as high as those mountains of Pamirs thanks to our Mawla’s guidance.

    Love you

  17. This story, as I think, must reach each and every Ismaili murid of the world. Let us all make an effort to distribute the link to as many people as possible.

  18. Salute to your courage and patience. May Mawla bless you always…Prayers for peace, Barkat and Success in your life..
    Salgreh Mubarak…

  19. Gulnor, you have a powerful way with words that brought tears to my eyes. I have never read such a personal account of the civil war in Tajikistan and I truly believe you have an amazing talent. I’d love to meet you some day and see how we could partner with each other. I currently live in Dushanbe.

    PS – Salgirah Muborak to you and your family!

  20. Mowla is always there for everyone who needs him. Shukr mawlo is only what I can express. Yeh, the story brings tears in our eyes. It brings hope to all the one’s who are suffering in the harsh real world of today.

  21. A very touching story. It brought tears to my eyes as this exact words were relayed to me while I was in Khorog this summer.
    God bless us all.

  22. Being from a different cultural and religious background, this story seems like something from a movie. Thank you for sharing it and making me realize again how blessed we are and how important faith is.

  23. Beautifully written, it brought the civil war to life as I hadn’t seen before, and moving when he weaved in seeing the AKF/WFP trucks roll in with supplies and Mawlana Hazar Imam coming in front of them in 1995. The expulsion of Asians from Uganda was nothing compared to this, although the rescue missions mounted by the Aga Khan and his uncle Prince Sadruddin (UNHCR) are still remembered tearfully by stranded people.

  24. A very well written account of the civil war and the subsequent developments that took place. God bless everyone.

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