Ismaili Jamatkhanas in Canada and Around the World Begin to Reopen with Covid-19 Precautions in Place; and start using the Ismaili App for latest news

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

The Ismaili Canada’s iicanada.org portal proudly announces, “Jamatkhana Reopening Welcome Back,” and goes on to state, “As Jamatkhana capacity is limited due to COVID-19 regulations, and to enable contact tracing in the event of a potential infection event, all individuals will need to register online to gain access to Jamatkhana. Pre-registration allows Jamati members to indicate their preferred dates and times of Jamatkhana attendance (including Jamatkhanas not yet open), and be allocated a confirmed spot ahead of time.”

The Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana, known as Toronto’s Headquarters Jamatkhana, shown above as a featured photo, opens on August 17.

Speaking to a close friend in Ottawa, I am told that yesterday’s (Tuesday, August 12, 2020) opening of the Jamatkhana filled it up to the maximum persons permitted in the prayer hall. It felt like a commemorative occasion with the announcement of appointments of new Majlis Mukhi and Kamadia Sahebs as well as Mukhiani and Kamadiani Sahebas. From Vancouver, I get a video from a friend who attends his local Jamatkhana after more than 150 days, since the Jamatkhana closures in mid-March, and he watches the sky with the moon illuminated at 42%. His face glows, and as he reaches his Jamatkhana his heart is filled with joy.

Narratives circulate on the social media and Whatsapp about 1st day experiences in the Jamatkhana after a long long lay-over, especially from Portugal, where Jamatkhanas first opened a few weeks ago.

A comprehensive list of Jamatkhana opening days, registration details etc. for Canada is available at iicanada.org.

Canada Jamatkhana Reopenings Simerg
The.Ismaili image on Jamatkhana reopenings in Canada

For openings and latest announcements of Jamatkhana openings in some other parts of the world please click FRANCE and PORTUGAL. A few USA Jamatkhanas in small centres were scheduled to open several days ago but the openings have been delayed due to a surge of coronavirus infections in numerous states.

Regrettably, the country portals available through the.ismaili community website are not updated with the status of Jamatkhana openings — except for Canada and France, and local Jamati members in various countries are often informed through their respective Jamati institutions newsletters or Apps. It is advisable that readers download their respective country wide institutional Jamati Apps available in their regions or subscribe to the weekly newsletters for the latest information.

For example in Canada the link iicanada provides a list of Jamati newsletters that you may subscribe to. Of particular importance on the list would be the weekly Al-Akhbar for different regions, BC, Alberta, Ontario etc.

It is important that there is some consistency about how information for different countries is available through the different portal Ismaili websites. I was personally confused, and would be happy to stand corrected if others don’t find that to be the case.

However, as we live in an App driven world, I would request readers to visit the official Ismaili community page where instructions are provided for downloading the.Ismaili app onto your hand held device. The Ismaili states that “with the app, which is available to download for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, users can stay up-to-date on global and national news, receive official messages from Jamati institutions, and watch The Ismaili TV live.”

Among other things, the App will “allow you to receive notifications, including breaking news and official messages from Jamati Institutions.” It will also allow you to see news from other countries around the world by toggling to as many countries as the readers wishes to. Again, please visit the page the.Ismaili app.

Date posted: August 13, 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.

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Tributes to Ismailis who have passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic: Issue no. 2 of a multipart series

Share memories of members of your family who you have lost during the Coronavirus pandemic, either due to Covid-19 or any other cause. Please write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; you must include your full name and contact information. Please read earlier tributes in Issue # 1.

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Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

Huzurmukhi Madatali Merali Jamal
(Canada)

Madatali Jamal, age 89 (d. .April 2020)

Submitted by Shahida Mamdani-Sunderji, daughter of Madatali Jamal

Huzurmukhi Madatali Merali Jamal (April 30, 1930 – April 13, 2020), husband of Dilshad Jamal for 66 years, father of Shahida Mamdani-Sunderji and Amin Jamal, father-in-law of Begum Jamal, and grandfather of Shelina, Shairoz, Rahim and Aminmohamed, passed away in Ottawa during the spring of 2020, just over two weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was surrounded by his family in volunteers uniform at his funeral.

For the past several years, Mr. Jamal had dedicated his service to the Ottawa Jamat, at both the old and new Jamatkhana locations on Carling Avenue and Conroy Road, respectively. For years he lovingly tendered the Jamatkhana garden on 991 Carling Avenue. In the evenings, Mr. Jamal would present himself regularly as a volunteer at both the Jamatkhanas. His record of Jamatkhana attendance and services as volunteer was impeccable. He was accompanied and supported in his service and Jamatkhana attendance by his loving wife of 66 years, Dislshad. He served the Ottawa Jamat enthusiastically until the very last months of his life, when dementia took over.

Born and raised in Kakumiro, Uganda, he and his family settled in Scotland in October 1972 following the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, decreed by dictator Idi Amin. Huzurmukhi Jamal held positions of Mukhisaheb and Kamdiasaheb during his years in Uganda and Scotland. In 1985, he migrated with his family to Ottawa.

His dedication to the house of Imamat inspired his children to serve in numerous positions in the Jamat. His son Amin and wife Begum served as the Kamadia and Kamadiani of Ottawa Jamat for 4 years, which included the Golden Jubilee period of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat from July 11, 2007 until December 13, 2008. This service of his children filled Mr. Jamal with immense joy and happiness.

He was very fond of Ginanic literature, and instilled the wonderful tradition in his children. His daughter Shahida recites Ginans in Ottawa Jamatkhana regularly. Ambitious for his family, Mr. Jamal always asked them to take on life’s challenges and meet them with courage, hard work and wisdom.

He is deeply missed by all his family members in Canada and around the world, as well as his friends and the entire Ottawa Jamat.

We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

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Huzur Mukhiani Razia Jamal
(United Kingdom)

Razia Jamal, Stoke on Trent, Tribute Simerg
Razia Jamal, age 73 (d. May 3, 2020)

Submitted by Navrose Chappell, daughter of Razia Jamal

Razia Jamal, born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1947, passed away peacefully in hospital on Sunday, May 3, 2020 with her three children by her side, her family including her much loved grandchildren, brothers and sisters holding her hand virtually, whilst her favourite Zikr tasbih played in the room.

Before she passed away, she spoke with all of her family, received Chanta (sprinkling of water on face), and the Stoke-on-Trent Mukhisaheb bestowed Dua upon her and the family via a conference call.

Razia served Stoke-on-Trent Jamati Institutions for over 40 years.  She held the position of Jamati Kamadia Saheba for six years and supported her late husband Huzur Mukhisaheb Shiraz Jamal as he undertook the role of Jamati Mukhisaheb.

She was a dedicated volunteer who also undertook the role of Vice Captain and Captain at Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana during her service. Razia was an integral part of the Team in securing a permanent building for Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana which was founded in 2000.

As the Central Property Management (CPM) Lead for Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana for 14 years, Razia was also the first female CPM Lead in Europe.

Since her passing, the family have received many touching tributes conveying how much of an inspiration she was regarding her voluntary work, remarking on her wonderful services, writing how she was a real example of how voluntary service (seva) should be conducted, describing her as a legend, and commenting on her immense dedication to Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana.

Razia was a strong, classy, beautiful, thoughtful and humble lady, who loved her children, grandchildren and family immensely. 

She will be fondly remembered by all of her family, friends, Stoke-on-Trent Jamati members, and all the other Ismaili brothers and sisters who she has worked with during her lifetime of seva.   

Razia will be deeply missed every day, and we pray for her soul to rest in eternal peace. Ameen. 

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Alijah Saheba Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal (Canada)

Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal, d. age 83.

Submitted by Shariffa Keshavjee, friend and colleague of Zubeda Jamal

Alijah Saheba Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal’s funeral took place at Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana, in Burnaby, British Columbia, on August 6, 2020. Originally from Kisumu Kenya, she settled in Vancouver, and attended the Darkhana Jamatkhana.

Zubeda and I became friends as she encouraged me to take an active role in the Guiding Movement. In 1959, when I was in Kisumu, Zubeda was a Commissioner of the Girl Guides. I led the Brownies from the Siriguru Singh Saba School. We took the Brownies and Girl Guides camping.

I am grateful to Zubeda for her encouragement because it led me to serve as a girl guide to date.  I remain a Trustee with the Kenya Girl Guides Association and an Honorary Associate with the World Association.

Rest in peace dear Zubeda. Ameen.

Date posted: August 12, 2020.

We welcome tributes from our readers to individuals portrayed in this piece. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Please also see our earlier tributes by clicking  Issue # 1.

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To submit a tribute to your family member who has passed away due to Covid-19 or any other cause, please read TRIBUTES and write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; please include your full name and contact information.

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.

Recitations of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan Eji Anand Anand, with a note on Eid al-Ghadir

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

If there is one Ginan that gets an entire Jamatkhana congregation immediately connected and singing in unison with joy and unbounded happiness, it has to be Pir Sadardin’s Ginanic composition of 7 verses, Eji Anand Anand Kariyo.

Eji Anand Anand is one of the first Ginans every Ismaili child learns at home and memorizes. You can sing it on any occasion or on any day, and if you have arrived in the Jamatkhana with a feeling of sadness or worry, then those worries and apprehension disappear on hearing the first line! It is arguably the most inspiring Ginan, and I personally crave for its recitation. It is good for me, any day any time. Here two beautiful recitations of the Ginan:

Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by BUI Ginans 1. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

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Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by Shamshu Bandali Haji. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

Though short, Eji Anand Anand incorporates key messages: the recognition of the Imam of the Time, the importance of unity, that good actions and deeds reap rewards, and the importance of service to the Imam of the Time. The Ginan reminds its listeners about the physical presence of the Imam of the Time, who at the time it was written, was located very far away in Iran. Therefore it has a congratulatory undertone to it. In other Ginans, the Pirs promised their listeners that the Imam would one day arrive at their doorstep in India, referred to as Jampu Dipma. It took several hundred years for that promise to be fulfilled, but it did happen in the 19th century when the 46th Imam, Mawlana Shah Hassanali Shah (a.s.), Aga Khan I, set both feet on Indian soil.

Commemorating Aga Khan's first visit to Badakhshan in 1995
Young Ismaili ladies proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The was was taken in Alichur , a village at an altitude of 4000 metres which is comprised mainly of Ismailis. The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to Badakhshan. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these ladies, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: © Matthieu Paley.

The same could be said for the Central Asian Jamats in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan, who physically had the mulaqat of the Imam of the Time centuries after they accepted the teachings of the revered Ismaili Da’i Pir Nasir Khushraw and other dais of his tradition, and became Ismailis. Mawlana Shah Karim was the first Imam to have visited Central Asia in centuries. His historical visit took place in 1995, and was commemorated with joy and happiness, as shown in the photo of young Ismaili ladies holding a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

History in Quotations by Cohen and Major
With 9,000 chronological quotations arranged in 90 thematic chapters, this huge treasury of quotations is bursting with historical gems, including a reference to the famous tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, “He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is his Mawla.”

However, the recognition of the Imam goes back hundreds of years before the time of Pir Sadardin and Nasir Khushraw. The era of the Divine Institution of Imamat began with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir-Khumm when he declared, by Divine Commandment, that Hazrat Ali was to be his successor. In the book “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: “Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ This became the proof text for the Shia, who claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” The authors sum up by stating that, through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Iran Stamps and coins Ghadir Khumm Eid Simerg and Barakah
Images of some stamps and coins issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1990 and 2010 commemorating the Eid-e-Ghadir. The inscriptions include the Shahada, Qur’anic ayats and the declaration made by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm, “Mun Koontu Mawla, Fa Hada, Aliyun Mawla” meaning “He of whom I am the Mawla Ali is also the Mawla.”

Coming back to the present time, the affirmation of the Institution of Imamat to the world at large has been made by Mawlana Hazar Imam on numerous occasions but none as succintly as in the following two remarks made by him at the Parliament of Canada in 2014 and in an interview in 2010 with the French journal Politique Internationale:

“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet Muhammad” — Parliament, 2014

and

“The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself.” — Politique, 2010

Aga Khan Parliament of Canada Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, seen addressing at the House of Commons Chambers to both the houses of Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

On this auspicious occasion of Eid al-Ghadir falling on August 7, 2020, let us rejoice in the knowledge that for 1388 years, Ismailis in a multitude of settings and practicing different traditions, have been guided by the Rope of Imamat, and that the Noor of Imamat, through the physical manifestation of the Imam of the Time, has lit our path to clarity so that we may obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.

Date posted: August 6, 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.

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An expanded version of this post can be read at Barakah.

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Iringa Jamatkhana, Mohamed Hamir, Ismaili, Simerg

Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Inspiration Behind the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Iringa, Tanzania

By MOHAMED HAMIR

[This special piece for Simerg is a revised version of the original article by the author that was published in Khojawiki in July 2020 — Ed.]

In 1933, in the midst of a global recession, a landmark building, a prayer house, arose in the center of a small provincial town in the interior highlands of Africa. The story of this remarkable building had its genesis in Kutch based family patriarch by the name of Hamir Pradhan, my great grandfather.

The Hamir family of Sinogra/ Nagarpur districts of Kutch was remembered as a reasonably prosperous and enterprising family in the latter half of 1800s. Hamir Pradhan had sired eight sons and one daughter. He was also a person of deep faith and community service. He had built and donated a small Jamatkhana in Sinogra. There is evidence that Hamir Pradhan had created a legacy of community service and sacrifice that left deep impression on his children and the community in Kutch. 

During early part of 1900s, six of the Hamir male siblings had joined the large scale migration of peoples from Kutch, Kathiawaar and other parts of Gujarat plagued by large scale famine, to the colonized countries of eastern and southern Africa. One of the young men among these siblings to migrate was Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, my grandfather. He was married to Bachibai, my grandmother. She and their first born daughter Fatma, who was around 3 years at the time, were to join my grandfather in Africa several years later.

Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 - 1943) of Iringa, Tanzania Simerg
Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 – 1943). Photo: Hamir Collection.

My grandfather, Mohamed Hamir (Pradhan) was born in Sinogra, Kutch in 1880. Following his siblings, in 1902, he arrived in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), a German colony at the time. After a short stint in Kilosa with one of his brothers, Haji Hamir, he followed another brother, Satchu Hamir, to Iringa, a quintessential German/British colonial outpost town in the Southern Highlands, where he went to work for him in his retail (duka) shop. He helped his brother expand his business to inland villages, often traveling for weeks with a caravan of porters carrying merchandise. In 1905, three years after his arrival in Tanganyika, he formed his own business.

Benefiting from his trading experience and extensive contacts with both the German and later British colonialist, he was able to capitalize and benefit from the war economy of the First World War (1914-1918). Over the next three decades he became a successful entrepreneur in retail and residential real estate development. Also over the next several years he and my grandmother Bachibai who had joined him from Kutch, expanded the family to include three more daughters and a son. This expanded, and eventually extended family through marriages, was to play a large role in my grandfather’s business successes, and more importantly in helping him achieve his ultimate legacy. Since his son, my father was only 12 or 13 years of age, his daughters played a key role in running his retail business and were deeply involved on his legacy project.

Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Ismaili Iringa simerg photos
Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Hamir Collection.

The names of my grandfather’s children and their marital families are (chronologically): daughters Fatma Mahamed Ladha, Sikina Bhimji Asser Sachedina, Jena Ramzan Parpia, and Rehmat Fazal Manji; and son and daughter-in law Akbar and Kulsum Mohamed Hamir.

In early 1930’s and in the midst of The Great Global  Economic Depression, our grandfather embarked on a project that would become a matter of pride and an important legacy for our family and the Ismaili community of Iringa. Inspired by his father Hamir Pradhan’s generosity and community service, as well as his own deep faith, he proposed to the community that he wanted to build a Jamatkhana complex and donate it to the Imam for benefit of the Ismaili community in Iringa. My grandfather’s proposal called for a two story Jamatkhana building with a capacity for 600 people, four times the Jamat size at the time. The complex was to include primary school facilities, a social hall, a guest house (dharmshara) and a recreation compound. The building was to be located right in the middle of the main street, which later was named as Jamat Street, a tribute to the Ismaili community of Iringa for the Jamatkhana building that manifested prominently on the street.

With perseverance and after several design changes, he was able to get an agreement on his plan and approval for the project from the appropriate jurisdictional leadership as well as our Imam. The construction was commenced in 1931 and completed in 1933. Due to drastic economic conditions, my grandfather had to resort to borrow money to complete the project. Several prominent families had stepped up to lend him the money. Our family folklore describes his obsession with the project that was of legendary proportion. At times, things got so desperate that he personally and physically toiled on the projects along with our family members to help the project move along to completion.

Iringa KIsmaili Jamatkhana, landmark street scene, Simerg.
Street scene with Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana standing out prominently with its high tower and clock. The Jamatkhana was completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

At the time of the completion of the Jamatkhana in 1933, it was reported to be one of the best in Tanganyika, and architecturally one of the most beautiful in the whole of East Africa. Over the next twenty-five years the Ismaili Jamat in Iringa grew five-fold, exceeding the original capacity of 600. The Jamatkhana complex was not only the anchor of the community, but also a major catalyst for the growth of the Ismaili community in Iringa. Later in the 1960s, my father, Alijah Akbar Mohamed Hamir, expanded the capacity of the Jamatkhana to accommodate the growing Khoja Ismaili community in Iringa.

At the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in Nairobi 1936, our grandparents were scheduled for special audience with the Hazar Imam in order to formally present the gift of the Iringa Jamatkhana. However due to the last minute illness of my grandmother they were not able to make the long journey to Nairobi. Our Imam accepted their gift in their absence, and conveyed much appreciation and blessings to them and to their family. This was the happiest moment in our grandfather’s life! The Imam also bestowed on him an honorific title of Alijah.

Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana Tnazania Simerg article
A close up view of Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana, completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.
Aga Khan Ismaili Iringa Jamatkhana close-up of bell clock, Simerg
An enlarged view of the prominent bell clock of the Iringa Jamatkhana. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

Since its manifestation almost 90 years ago, the Iringa Jamatkhana  continues to stand as symbol of the town’s identity. Located in the heart of the town, the high and prominent clock tower, adoring the architecturally beautiful building, remains the emblem and inspiration to the local and diasporic community of Iringa. Its large bell clock and high visibility reminds people to the calling of the time, and the out-of-town visitors to their bearings.

It is a source of pride for our community and our family to have the Jamatkhana be such an iconic monument of the town. It is also a tribute to my grandfather’s foresight, faith, leadership and perseverance. His generosity and service to the community is a remarkable legacy and an inspiration for our family and for the future generations.

Date posted: August 2, 2020.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters

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Mohamed Hamir

About the author: Mohamed Hamir, originally from Tanzania, has lived in numerous locations throughout USA since 1969. He is a retired financial services executive including a 20 year career with Citibank in the USA. He has an undergraduate degree in science from London University, UK and an MBA in finance from Indiana University. His work experience and extensive travel included both USA domestic and international markets.

Since his retirement in 2001, he has been passionate about causes involving female infanticide and education of marginalized children. He is on the Advisory Board and member of the LEADers Circle of PRATHAM USA, a prominent global educational NGO. He is also the Executive Producer of “Petals in the Dust”, an award winning documentary exposing gender discrimination, girl killing and violence against women in India.

Among his numerous services to the Ismaili community, he has served as both Mukhi and Kamadia of the Jamats in the USA. From 1988 to 1991 he served as a member of the National Council for USA with a portfolio of fund raising for Jamatkhanas. In 1968, when he was a student in London, he co-founded and was the first president of the inaugural Aga Khan Sports Club of U.K. He currently resides with his family in Southern California.

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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.

A Brief History of the Ismaili Jamat of Jinja

By SALIM AND SULTAN SOMANI

The authors, Salim and Sultan Somani, acknowledge with thanks Nizar Adatia and Sultan Allidina for their valuable feedback and contribution to this article.

Introduction

This brief essay on the history of the Jamat of Jinja was prompted largely by some historical photos found in our family album and also by other photos that we encountered on the internet. Over the years we have shared these photos with friends and family from Jinja. But there are many others with whom we never had the chance to meet in person or through social media to share these remembrances. As we grow older, memories fade and people pass away, carrying with them some of the past history that the young and upcoming generation never get a chance to know about and appreciate. There are many who have no inkling of what their parents and grandparents went through, growing up in Africa, the trials and tribulations they encountered and the challenges they faced.

Rather than let these photos sleep in our albums, we have decided to give them exposure through this website, Simerg, and talk a little bit about them in the hope that they will trigger some memories and invite contributions to make this essay more complete. This essay has some gaps and missing information and is, by no means, exhaustive. Simerg, which is the repository of historical facts, findings and accounts, is, we believe, the right forum for this exposé.

These photos belonged to our beloved father, Gulamali Kara Somani, who was a great teacher and a volunteer. It is to him that we dedicate this essay and honor his memory. Towards the end of this essay, we have paid him a tribute for his outstanding and exemplary contributions to the Jinja Jamat and the role that he played in shaping and impacting the lives of all those whom he taught and worked with.

Jinja in Brief

Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.
Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.

Situated on the shores of Lake Victoria (the third largest lake in the world), where the River Nile (the longest river in the world) leaves the lake to make its long, meandering 4000 mile journey up north to the Mediterranean Sea, Jinja had the second largest Jamat in Uganda, after the Jamat of Kampala, some 50 miles away. This is going back some 70 years, to the fifties and sixties before the 1972 crisis when the dictator Idi Amin expelled everybody of Asian origin as well as many expatriates.

 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls.
 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls. Photo taken in 1936 on a flight with Imperial Airways on a World Trunk route following the Nile from the Delta to the Victoria Nile and the Victoria Lake. Photo: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection / US Library of Congress.

On the banks of the River Nile in Rippon Village was a huge rock which was a drop off or pick up point for travellers crossing the Nile. Jinja literally means a stone or rock and this is how the city derived its name. John Hanning Speke, a British explorer, discovered Jinja as the source of the River Nile in 1858.


First Indian Settlers in Jinja

The early 1900s saw the arrival of the first Indian settlers to Jinja. This is best described in the facebook post by Jinja City:

“Indians first settled in Jinja in the early 1900s. During the late 19th century, Indians of mostly Sikh descent were brought to Uganda on three-year contracts, with the aid of Imperial British contractor Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, to build the Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kisumu by 1901, to Jinja by 1920 and to Kampala by 1931. Some died, others returned to India after the end of their contracts, and others chose to settle.

“Hajji Tamachi was the first Indian settler in Jinja. He set up Jinja’s first shop and Post Office. Hajji Tamachi played a vital role in encouraging other Indians to settle and do business in Jinja. Other Indians followed suite, with Alidina Visram, Vithaldas and Kalidas also setting up shop. Vithaldas and Kalidas, Madhvani’s uncles, helped to tutor Madhvani in business. Madhavani would later single handedly transform Jinja.”

With the building of the railway and much later in 1954, the Owen Falls Dam for generation of hydro-electric power, the Indian population grew with more of them setting up shop. Different communities lived side by side in peace and harmony, doing business and providing services in their respective fields of expertise and professions. Schools were built and so were places of prayer and worship. The Hindus had their temple, the Sikhs their Gurudhwara, the Ithnasharis their Masjid and, in 1937, the Ismaili Jamatkhana was built.

Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja

In 1937, on March 01, thanks to the generosity of Varasianima Virbai, widow of late Mr. Ali Bandali, the Jamatkhana, school, library, traveller’s residence (or musafar khana) etc. were constructed at a cost of 25,000 shillings, for the benefit of Ismailis of Jinja. The project was dedicated to Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan (A.S.).

Jinja Jamatkhana opening photos from Fidai magazine, Simerg
In the top photo, younger and older members of the Jamat are seen gathered at the entrance to the Jamatkhana building at the time of the opening, a proud moment indeed for the Jamat of Jinja. The second photo shows antique cars parked in the front of the Jamatkhana building, indicating that even at that time there were affluent members in the Jamat. Photos: Fidai Magazine, 1885-1936 Golden Jubilee Number.
Jinja Jamatkhana, Simerg
A photo of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja taken in 2008. Note the presence of a wall around the building which was missing when the Jamatkhana was first built. See preceding image. Photo: © Nazlin Rahemtulla.

A photo of the Jamatkhana taken much later shows a wall built around the perimeter of the building to make it more secure and private. Land was also acquired for sports activities and to hold Imamat Day, Salgirah and Navroz festivities (generally referred to as Khushialis), as well as other special events.

Another new building was built to house the Council Chamber and the Council Office with some space allocated for activities such as baby shows, cooking demonstrations, exhibitions and other social events etc. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Mukhi Gulamhussein Karim. Mukhi Karim was a prominent and affluent member of the Jamat who served in key leadership positions and commanded lot of respect from members of the Jamat.


Religious Education Classes in Jinja

Jinja Jamatkhana building, Simerg
Shams Somani, who was on an assignment as a volunteer teacher with Aga Khan Schools Uganda during the year 1999-2000, is seen standing in front of the building adjacent to the Jamatkhana building where religious education classes were held. Next to the classrooms was the musafar khana (or traveller’s residence) and a residence for the Jamatbhai (caretaker of the Jamatkhana). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Adjacent to the Jamatkhana building, was the building where there were spaces allocated for conducting religious education classes, a musafar khana and a residence for the caretaker of the Jamatkhana known as the Jamatbhai.

One of the principal mandates of the Ismailia Association, precursor to the present day Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB), was to run a religious education school. This school comprised of classes for students of all age groups, from lower primary to senior secondary level students. Popularly referred to as dharmic (religious) classes (the equivalent of today’s Baitul Ilm or BUI religious education program), they were held in the evenings during Jamatkhana time. After recitation of the two Du’as, subjects such as Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of our Holy Imams, and General Knowledge etc. were all taught. Our father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was the sole senior teacher and was assisted by other student teachers (e.g. Sultan Allidina, Rosy Kassamali) to teach the lower primary students. He was addressed to as ‘Sir’, a title that stuck with him for many years, even after he settled in Canada.

Much later on, there were other teachers who taught, namely, Gulamhussein Alibhai Pradhan (popularly referred to as GAP) and Yusufali K. Adatia (popularly referred to as YK).

‘Sir’ was a disciplinarian. Like it or not, all students were expected to go to the classes and parents made sure they did. In the evenings, there were those who played cricket and when it was time for classes, they would come carrying their cricket gear and place it at the back of the classroom. Before commencing the class, ‘Sir’ would take a cricket stump and place it on the teacher’s table in front. If anybody did not learn properly or misbehave, they would get the stump on the palms of their hands. Those were the days of corporal punishment. Generally, girls were better students than boys. But everybody learnt, whether out of fear or personal motivation and went on to progress in life. There were competitions held, such as waez (sermon) competitions, which brought out the best in the students.

It was customary to have a visiting Alwaez meet and address the students of the dharmic classes. Such was the case when Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma visited Jinja. An opportunity was taken to take group pictures of the different classes of students on the steps of the Council Chamber and Office building.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back centre, with hands folded. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger as well as some older students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back, second from left, with glasses. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The three historic photos that are presented here may have volumes to speak about the individuals, with their own personal stories and experiences. Unfortunately, some may have passed away. Of course, individuals who can identify themselves or whose friends can identify for them are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com so that the captions may be updated. For now the captions in all the three photos only include the names of the office bearers seated on the front row with Alwaez Juma.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
All girls! Students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma and members of the Ismailia Association. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Via author contacts.

Dhanjibhai – Jinja’s Jamatbhai

Dhanjibhai
Dhanjibhai – see previous group photos

A unique individual in two of the photographs shown above, is the unmistakable figure of Dhanjibhai, bespectacled standing behind the group. He was the Jamatbhai, the caretaker for the Jinja Jamat who took care of the day-to-day operation of the Jamatkhana: opening and closing the Jamatkhana, cleaning, making all the necessary arrangements, preparing tea on a sigri (charcoal burning stove) etc. He was the point man for getting anything done on the Jamatkhana premises and had the keys to all the rooms. He was also responsible for collecting Jamatkhana empty plates, bowls etc. from Ismaili households, going from house to house and putting them in a big raffia basket carried by an assistant. Dhanjibhai also delivered notifications to all those who had been given waras (assignments) to recite Du’a, Tasbih, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana. The response for the acceptance or non-acceptance of the wara had to be given immediately and indicated on the wara card.

Dhanjibhai lived in a residence just next to the musafar khana with his wife, popularly known as maasi (aunty). In the evenings, maasi would prepare fried mogo (cassava) on a makaara (charcoal) burning sigri (stove) and was stationed near the back exit door. She would sell these mogo pieces inexpensively to supplement their meager income. There was chili, salt and a ambli (tamarind) sauce to go with the mogo which was a real treat. As youths, we would always look forward to this mouth-watering mogo after Jamatkhana, huddling near the parked cars on the street and socializing as we waited for our parents to come out of Jamatkhana.

Ismaili Institutions in Jinja

Ismailia Association members Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Jinja Ismailia Association members. Sitting left to right: Mrs. Shirin Haji Bachu, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Jamal (Chairman) and Mrs. Noorbanu Mohamed Mitha; and standing are Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (our father: ‘sir’) and Ms. Malek Alarakhia, who was a secular school teacher. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Inspite of the relative small size of the Jamat, Jinja was very well organized with a functioning Provincial Council, an Ismailia Association as well as numerous sub-committees to cater to the needs of different segments of the Jamat including women and youth. The Ismailia Association was primarily responsible for imparting religious education to members of the Jamat, arranging waezeen tours from time to time, selling religious books, making Farmans available, as well as ensuring that rites, rituals and religious ceremonies were being followed.

Aga Khan Proivincial Council Jinja Uganda, Simerg
The Jinja Aga Khan Provincial Council in session. Sitting clockwise from left are Mr. Sadru Mitha, Mr. Abdul Ramji, Mr. Haji Bachu, Mr. Abdul Devji, Mr. Badru Gulamhussein Adatia (Secretary), Mr. Haroon R. Khamis (Council President), Mrs. Gulshan Adatia, Mr. Madat Hemani, and Mr. Sadru Walji Adatia. Photo: Via author contacts.
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Jamat Entertainment Committee, Simerg
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Entertainment Committee. Seated left to right: Sadrudin V. Virani (Hon. Treasurer), Sadrudin Mitha (Ismaili Youth Organization, IYO, member), Madat Shariff (Chairman), Parin Jamani (Hon. Secretary); standing left to right: Zebun Mitha, Nizar Shariff, Zebun Khamis, Bahadur Shamji, Gulzar J. Karim and Amirali A. Lalani. Photo: Via author contacts.

In sports, the youths of Jinja were very active in practically every sport, be it badminton, table tennis, volleyball and netball (equivalent to today’s basketball). Soccer and cricket were also played, though the playground was not large enough. Volleyball, traditional style, was played regularly, usually over the weekends. Of particular interest was the volleyball match played between married vs bachelors that took place once a year during one of the Khushialis. The match created quite a rivalry and was talked about for weeks afterwards.

At Khushialis, the whole playground was taken over with various activities, both for youths and adults. Starting with the flag raising ceremony, there were games and matches played. Usually the finals in sports such as table tennis were played on that day and trophies awarded to the winners. At lunch time there was sagridaam jaman (communal feast) when pillau (rice), cooked in a deg (large pot) was served in thalaas (large round trays) by the dynamic volunteer corps in full uniform. The Khushiali was a two-day weekend event with dandiya raas (Indian folk stick dance) and raas garba (circular folk dance) being played on Saturday until late at night with music provided by the Ismaili band.

Ismaili Business and Professional Activities in Jinja

Ismaili entrepreneurs were active in all spheres of business; Taxi & Car Rental (Hadi Jamal), Bus Company (Mohamed Mitha, Ibrahim Mohamed, Kassam Haji), Watches & Jewellery (Charanias), Insurance (Hussein Velji), Hotel Blue Cat (Abdul Devji), Restaurant & Bar (Sadru Hussein Rashid Khamis), Wholesale Clothing (Jeraj Sheriff), Portello Soda (Mohamed Remtulla), Pharmacy Retail (Jamal Govindji – Musa Diamond), Gifts (Madatali Hemani), Shoes (Sadru Bata), Molasses (Madatali Moolji), Bakery (Rahim Rajan), Butchery (Alaudin Kara) etc. to name just a few. There were also professionals such as Dr. Abdul Kassam Adatia, first Dean of Faculty of Dentistry at Bristol University (U.K) and visiting professor at Makerere University (Kampala), Yusuf Adatia (Architect) and secular school teachers, Ms. Malek Alarakhia, Ms. Gulzar Allidina and Ms. Gulshan Allidina, who appears in a very rare secondary school staff photo shown below. Indeed, generations of Ismaili students who attended the school will be able to relate to the photo, by recognizing some of their teachers.

Photo of Staff at Senior Secondary School in Jinja

Secondary School Jinja teachers Uganda Simerg
Back row, left to right: R. L. Avasthi, Bahal Singh, L. A. Gomes, B. S. Bhabuta, C. M. Bashir, R. C. Saksena, S. V. Ayyar, P. S. Nayar, Jaswant Singh, A. D. Oza and C. P. Bhabuta; Middle row, left to right: D. B. Deshpande, Beant Singh (Sr. Master Eng.) K. M. Chakravartty, R. S. Aggarwal, J. C. Aggarwalla, Sheikh M. Hussain, B. S. Batra, S. Chakraborti (Sr. Master Hist.), A. A. Khan (Sr. Master Urdu), and H. P. Joshi; and Seated left to right: Miss J. K. Sandhu, Mrs. J. K. Sangha, Mrs. P. Dass, R. N. Banernjee (Headmaster), N. R. Metha (Chief Asstt,), Miss G. Allidina, Mrs. M. Saxana, and Mrs. S. Desai. Photo: Via author contacts.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1957

The Jinja Jamat was blessed with two visits by Mawlana Hazar Imam. The first one was in 1957, shortly after the Takhtnashini (ceremonial installation) on October 25, 1957 in Kampala, and the second took place in 1966, when Mawlana Hazar Imam made an extensive visit to East Africa.

Aga Khan in Jinja
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Jinja airfield, and is received by the Jamati leadership. Here he is seen blessing Kamadia Haji Bachu with Kamadiani Shirin standing next to him. Immediately behind Hazar Imam is Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (with hat). Leaning on the car is Alwaez Jaffererali Sufi. On the extreme right is our father (‘Sir’) in full uniform, standing behind Mr. Haji Molu, his colleague. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam blesses Mrs. Jenabai Karim after being garlanded by her upon his arrival at the Jinja airfield. In the foreground, dressed in white with a hat is Mr. Sadruddin Karim, who was designated to drive Mawlana Hazar Imam’s car in Jinja. In volunteer uniform, at far left, are (left to right): Mr. Amin Alarakhia, Mr. Haji Molu and our father, Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (‘Sir’). The two persons shown immediately to the left of the policeman (in shorts) are President Mr. Haji Rashid Khamis (in a light colored suit and dark glasses) and Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji (light suit). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam paid a visit to the Jinja Provincial Council Chamber during his 1957 visit. In this photograph, he is seen conferring with the leaders of the Jamat. Seen from left to right are President Haji Rashid Khamis, person standing (not visible), Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji, Kamadia Haji Bachu, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Mrs. Zohrakhanu Allidina (seated), who held the portfolio of Member for Women and Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (standing). Photo: Allidina Family Collection.
Jinja Ismaili volunteers
The Jinja Ismaili volunteers in full uniform on duty in 1957 during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival at the Jinja airfied. Standing from right to left: Our father Gulamali Kara Somani (Lieutenant), Haji Molu (Lieutenant), Amin Alarakhia, Bahadur Fazal, Hassam Mawji, Ahmed Jamal, Madat Khamis, Feroz Khamis, Sultan Allidina and Nizar Sheriff. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1966

Mawlana Hazar Imam graced the Jinja Jamat with a second visit in 1966. The photos shown are also from our album. The first photo, though, where Hazar Imam is seen stepping down, is of his arrival at Entebbe Airport.

Aga Khan arrives in Entebbe, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Entebbe Airport for his visit to Uganda in 1966. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja leaving Counci Chambers Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam leaving the Ismaili Council Chamber building surrounded by his murids, trying to get a last glimpse before his departure. From left to right are Amir Madhavji, Zulfikar Devji, Abdul Alarakhia, Mehboob Charania, Malik Kassim-Lakha, Salim Somani, Nizar Sheriff and Sadruddin Karim. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

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Conclusion

We trust that this short essay has served to provide some history of the Jinja Jamat from our perspective and in so doing, we have honored the memory of our beloved father. But by no means is it complete. There may be some minor errors that need to be corrected and some omissions and information gaps that need to be filled. We are sure that there is much more that others can contribute, and readers can do that by completing the comments box below.

After the 1972 Uganda crisis, when there was a mass exodus, the economy went down tremendously. But since then things have picked up particularly in Kampala, the capital, where there is lot of construction going on. A number of ex-Ugandans have returned and there is new immigration, mostly from India. There is lot of outside investment including by Hazar Imam, e.g Serena Hotel, Bujagali Falls Hydro-electric power station (in partnership between Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development or AKFED, Sithe Global Power of USA, Government of Uganda, Industrial Promotion Services, IPS, and Jubilee Investment Company).

Photo taken in 2000 on the steps of previously used Jinja Council Chamber/Office building, which is now used as a Jamatkhana by the Jinja Jamat. Among those pictured in the front row are Mukhiani Saheba of Jinja (3rd from left), originally from Northern Pakistan, ITREB Uganda Chairman Anil Samji, Religious Education Coordinator Karim Jiwani, and Kamadia Saheb of Jinja Jamat; in middle row at left is Shams Somani of Montreal who was on voluntary assignment in Uganda with Aga Khan Schools during 1999-2000; and in back row are Council Secretary Shellina Hasham with her husband Salim Hasham, ITREB District Member. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The economy in Jinja is still depressed with abandoned buildings and buildings in a state of disrepair. The historic Jamatkhana building still stands but there is now a clinic there. The small Jamat that is there, mostly from India, meets for Jamatkhana in the Council Chamber/Office building (see photo, above).

Let us hope and pray that the beautiful city of Jinja, once the industrial hub of Uganda, prospers and blossoms to its days of past glory and become the dynamic and vibrant city that it once was.

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A Tribute to Our Late Father, Gulamali Kara Somani

Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 - 2010) of Jinja, Uganda, Montreal Canada, Simerg tribute Ismaili and Aga Khan
Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 – 2010).

The history of Jinja Jamat and the pictures that we have shared with readers with Simerg are a testimony of our father’s love for Mawlana Hazar Imam and his Jamat. He preserved these photos in our family album for more than 62 years. We wish to pay him our humble tribute.

Our loving father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was born in 1924 in Jinja, He lost both his parents when he was just 8 years old. He was brought up by his uncle and, like many from his generation, he set up shop and started to do business after finishing school. He was always mechanically inclined, fixing things, be it cars, bicycles etc. and was always very creative. For example, he could take a black & white picture and color it using photo tints. (There were no colored pictures at the time). He also developed his own pictures at home. Music was his passion. He started writing and composing songs and played them on a musical stringed instrument of Japanese origin called Taishokoto.

Then he got into repairing watches and got very good at it, a skill that he practiced till his last days. He could pull apart a watch completely, clean the parts, oil them and put them back together for perfect timing. It was this skill that landed him a job in Montreal when he applied to come to Canada. His mind worked on small, intricate details which is why he was very successful in fixing things or creating works of art. At Jamatkhana, when they needed something decorative to be prepared, they knew that they could count on him for something original and he never let them down.

In the 50s and 60s his services were called upon to teach in the religious night school at Jinja to students from junior level to senior secondary level covering all subjects: Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of the Imams, Farmans etc. We remember that at one time during a wa’ez competition he wrote a wa’ez in English for us on the subject of: “Education”.

He also served as a senior volunteer (Lieutenant: the highest ranking officer) rendering exceptional services along with other volunteers particularly during Hazar Imam’s two visits to Jinja. We remember seeing him with burn-bubbles on his hands from serving hot, steaming pillau (rice) from the deg (large pot). When he presented himself for Mehmani to Hazar Imam, Hazar Imam blessed him and mentioned: “Good service!”

He was also a member of the Ismaili Band that provided music for dandiya  raas and garba during the Khushiali celebrations.

In 1966 when Hazar Imam visited Uganda, there was a small town named Mbale in Eastern Uganda, on his itinerary (see Uganda map on top of page). Mr. Hadi Jamal of Jinja provided a fleet of cars for Hazar Imam’s staff to travel to Mbale. Our father volunteered to drive one of the cars and was assigned Hazar Imam’s photographer, which was great because he could go everywhere where Hazar Imam went. At one point, Hazar Imam was at a reception and was drinking Coca-Cola from a glass. Our father did not take his eyes off this glass. As soon as Hazar Imam kept his glass on the table and started to leave, our father made a beeline for the glass, picked it up, and then took the glass with him. We still have this glass in our possession which our father preciously guarded and brought it with him to Canada.

A teacher, a volunteer par excellence and above all, a humanitarian, our father served with utmost distinction and dedication, never seeking recognition. His outstanding and exemplary services are truly worthy of admiration and emulation and rubbed off on of us, his children, who have served in various capacities over the years in Jamati institutions.

Our younger sister, Shams, a secular teacher, took one year out of her teaching profession to work as a volunteer with Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) in Kampala from 1999 to 2000. Both our sisters, Layla and Shams were also heavily involved in BUI (Bait-ul Ilm) and have continued to play a role in imparting religious education for many years now. I, Salim Somani, served in various Majalis as Mukhi and Kamadia, in committees (audio visual, catering etc.) and also as a volunteer. My brother Sultan Somani, the co-author with me on this Jinja piece, served as Chairman of Ismailia Association (6 years), as Hon. Secretary on the Aga Khan Council for  Quebec & The Maritime Provinces (6 years), Member and Chairman, Conciliation and Arbitration Board (6 years), and as Majlis Mukhi (3 years), among other duties etc.

Never missing a day, except for health reasons, our father attended Jamatkhana everyday in the morning and evening, no matter what the weather was like. We have seen him bundle up and walk to Jamatkhana when it was extremely cold.

Our beloved father passed away in April 2010 at the age of 86.

We pray that may Allah in His Infinite Grace and Mercy forgive all his sins and rest his soul in eternal peace – Amen.

Story Copyright: © Salim and Sultan Somani.

Date posted: July 31, 2020.
Last updated: August 12, 2020 (caption updates with name of person(s) as they become available, and typos).

CORRECTIONS:

(1) In the original version of this piece, the year 1958 was mentioned as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Jinja, Uganda. Actually, the visit took place in 1957, shortly after Mawlana Hazar Imam’s enthronement (Takhtnashini) ceremony in Kampala on October 25, 1957. The article has been updated with the correct year (correction made on August 9, 2020).

(2) Earlier versions of this piece mentioned that Mawlana Hazar Imam travelled by car to towns outside Kampala, such as Jinja and Mbale. Our attention has been drawn to the fact that in 1957, Mawlana Hazar arrived in Jinja by plane, where there was an airfield available for the landing of military aircraft as well as some civilian planes. We have updated our captions of the 1957 visit to reflect this (correction made on August 10, 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.

Please report typo or error in story to Simerg@aol.com.

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We welcome your feedback/letters on this special piece on Jinja by clicking on Leave a comment or writing to the editor, Malik Merchant, at Simerg@aol.com. If you were a Jinja resident, your reminiscences about life in Jinja, your participation as a student, a volunteer, a leader or a member of the Jinja Jamat, as well your surprising anecdotes will uncover a wealth of information about Jinja. We also welcome historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Jinja. Kindly note that your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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About the Authors

Salim, in volunteers uniform, 1966

The authors of this article, Salim and Sultan Somani, were both born in Jinja, Uganda and now reside in Montreal, Quebec.

Salim immigrated to Canada in 1974 from England where he pursued his studies in Hotel Management & Catering at Huddersfield Polytechnic and specialized in cuisine. Unable to return to Uganda, following the 1972 expulsion of Asians, Salim moved to join his parents in Montreal where over the years he applied his culinary skills at a number of prestigious places, including the Ritz Carlton, Bonaventure Hilton and Montreal Casino in different cuisines. Most recently he worked at the renowned catering company, La Maison Carrier-Besson.

He is married to Rashida and has a son, Hussein, a National Account Executive with RGIS and a daughter, Aliya, Educational Consultant with EMSB (English Montreal School Board). Salim is now retired.

In recent years, Salim has started carving fruits, particularly watermelons, and his impressive work has resulted in him being invited to carve fruits for several important festivals and ceremonial occasions.

Sultan Somani portrait Jinja article simerg
Sultan Somani with his daughter, Sarah

Salim’s brother, Sultan, immigrated to Canada in 1973. He was studying Physics/Mathematics at Makerere University, and 3 months before writing his final exams, he was in the unfortunate position of having to leave Uganda due to Idi Amin’s expulsion orders. He proceeded to Nairobi, Kenya, and with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, under the leadership of late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was moved to a refugee camp in Italy where he stayed for 5 months. He then joined his parents in Montreal, where he studied computer science in a university before commencing a career as a systems analyst and programmer at Bell Canada’s Behavioural Sciences Group, Comptrollers Results Department and Corporate Systems Organization (CSO).

Sultan later diversified into a number of businesses in partnership. He has for years dedicated his time to serving Ismaili Institutions in numerous capacities and the Ismaili community in general, for which the title of Rai was bestowed on him. He is now retired, and at the age of 70 is a father of 6 year old daughter, Sarah, whom he takes care of on a full-time basis with his wife, Shainaze.

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The authors recommend the website Sikh Heritage for more information and photos of Jinja.

The Great Sacrifice

By FARAH TEJANI

Omnipotent and Merciful is He,
Allah knows what is best,
At certain times He chooses
To put us through certain tests

He observes our response
To His Rightful Command,
And on this He Judges,
Just exactly where we stand.

It is not meant to be easy,
What would be the purpose,
So we are challenged in truth,
Our response to Him defines us.

Reflect and recall a time when,
We chose not to obey His Laws,
He being of course, All-Forgiving,
No doubt, forgave us our flaws.

But what is to be said,
Of Hazrat Ibrahim, The One,
On the day he was commanded,
To take the life of his own son!

Put yourself in his place,
Could you do the same,
Take the life of who you hold most dear,
The ultimate sacrifice in Allah’s name.

Eid al-Adha celebrates Ibrahim’s loyalty,
To The Great and Loving Wise One,
Though surely riddled with fear and pain,
He placed Ismail, his most precious son,

In front of him, and said a prayer,
In the Name of Allah, Lord of All Things,
He swang the knife and opened his eyes,
And “Oh, But what Mercy God Brings.”

In the place of his very own son’s head
A miraculous goat’s head had fallen,
Allah rewarded Ibrahim’s obedience,
Without even a moment of stalling.

Try to imagine the emotions he went through,
Ibrahim was elated and held Ismail near,
Most Merciful is Our Most Gracious Creator,
Humbled by Allah’s Grace he held back a tear.

Abraham would we if we could,
Be as loyal as you are to Allah’s Laws,
You stand as a testimony of Great Faith,
Without even a moment to pause.

Let it be our endeavour, to faithfully honor,
The Words from Above they are in our best interest,
Take a moment to reflect this Eid al-Adha,
And we, too, will surely be at our best.

(The poem was composed on July 30, 2020).

Date posted: July 30, 2020.

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Farah Tejani Simerg Ismaili poet and writer
Farah Tejani

“Heavy topics painted beautifully with her word,” was how one reader responded to Farah Tejani’s recent contribution Elastic Embrace: A Collection of Poems. Farah graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in May of 1997 and earned top Honors for her Thesis on Short Fiction. With the help of her agent Barbara Graham she then went on to publish a collection of short stories published by Trafford, called, “Make Your Own Chai, Mama’s Boy!” — ten short stories dealing with different dilemmas South Asians face. Farah also wrote and co-directed her stage play, “Safeway Samosas,” which won “The Best of Brave New Playwrights Award” in July 1995. Her short story , “Too Hot” won third place in the “Canada-Wide Best Short Fiction Award.” and was read at The Vancouver Writers Festival. Currently, Farah is working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called, “Elastic Embrace” to be published in 2021.

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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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Editor’s Choice: A Photo Report of the 2020 Hajj in The Washington Post

Sterilized Pebbles, Holy Water in Plastic Bottles, Tracking Wristbands are all Part of Covid-19 measures for the annual Hajj that is currently underway in Mecca, as mentioned in our last post.

We now invite our readers to see some remarkable photos in The Washington Post of the 2020 Hajj. Please click on A Trickle of Hajj Pilgrims Where Millions Once Worshiped or on photo below.

Please click on image to see complete story in The Washington Post.

Featured image at top of page (NASA photo): Astronaut Scott Kelly posted the photo taken from the International Space Station to Twitter on Sept. 23, 2015 with the caption, “#GoodMorning to the Holy City of #Mecca #Makkah! #YearInSpace”. 

Date posted: July 30, 2020.

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Editor’s Choice: Sterilized Pebbles, Holy Water in Plastic Bottles, Tracking Wristbands Part of Covid-19 Measures for the Hajj

The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, drew almost 2.5 Muslims from around the world in 2019. This year’s Hajj has begun and will end on August 2/3. On Friday, July 31, the 10th day of the Islamic month of Dhul al-Hijjah, Muslims will observe the festival of Eid al-Adha which will last into Sunday or Monday August 2/3. This year’s Hajj is limited to 10,000 pilgrims. Pilgrim selection has been done from among local residents of Saudi Arabia as well as overseas citizens who are already living in the country. Pilgrims are required to wear face masks and will only be able to drink holy water from the Zamzam well in Mecca that has been prepackaged in plastic bottles. Pebbles for casting away evil that are usually picked up by pilgrims along hajj routes will be sterilized and bagged before being distributed to the pilgrims….FULL STORY WITH PHOTOS AT ASSOCIATED PRESS

Please click on image for full article and more photos at Associated Press Website

Featured image at top of page: Mecca, ca. 1910. Bird’s-eye view of uncrowded Kaaba. Photo: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection / US Library of Congress.

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.

Date posted: July 28, 2020.
Last updated: July 29, 2020.

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Crescent Moon at Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre

Malik Merchant, having spent a whole night on July 4-5, 2020, at Aga Khan Park taking photos of the Full Moon, alas, did not have the same opportunity with the New Moon a few days ago. It rose during daytime, and set soon after dusk, and its visibility was extremely low. So 3 days later, he spent a few hours at the Ismaili Centre photographing the Crescent Moon that had reached an illumination of around 12%. Please click HERE or on image below for story and plenty of photos!

Crescent moon over the front main entrance of the Ismaili Centre Toronto. Please click for story and photos.

Date posted: July 26, 2020.

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Elastic Embrace: A Collection of Poems by Farah Tejani

A Mother’s Plea

By FARAH TEJANI

With one hand on his expanded stomach and another wiping his eyes,
The hot sun shows no mercy, and the despondent mother cries.
She has no fear and curses God, for how could this not shake her,
She vows to make her reasons heard just when she’ll meet her Maker.

“Why must my babe go hungering for basic bread and water,
When across the globe another Mom is feeding milk to her daughter,
In big brick homes with fancy lawns and furniture and floors,
While I hide from the sun in my simple hut with no doors?

Can you hear my wretched painful cries as the tears fall down my face?
Is this why you gave me this gift so that I could not give him even a trace,
Of something warm and substantial to ease the hole within his gut.
Or is this my sad misfortune to be haunted in this agonizing rut?

How do you wish me to appease him, how is he supposed to understand?
Why does his own mother, his loving provider, not soothe him with her hand?”
The mother enraged by the Injustice and Unfairness of it all,
Decides there is nothing left to do but to surrender to the Fall.

She takes a piece of fabric from the only dress that she has in her keeping,
And moistens it with water she has boiled, and cooled down while she was sleeping,
And draws it to her son’s parched lips, with prayers he will not get worse;
And after he has drunk a few spoonfuls, she will pray to release this curse.

The doctors never make trips out to her people, they are miles from anywhere,
“Yet people in better off countries are privileged with the very best Healthcare!”
With trembling hands she tries to soothe her aching hungry child,
But all the while the injustices just make her mind run wild.

“Just give me some hope, just give a sign, that You will promise to provide,
All I want is these words from You and on this I will abide.”
Just then she heard a rumbling of a crowd outside her door,
A truck was parked and handing out rations while the people shouted, “More!”

Her uncle came with powdered milk and she simply could not believe it,
She mixed it with the boiled water and praised how she received it,
She drew it to his hungry mouth and he drank it with sheer delight,
While tearfully she thanked her Maker and praised Him with her might.

“Hear me, I am grateful, but please God promise me this,
You will stand faithfully by my side so that I will not dismiss,
That when in need You are always there, so preserve my faith in You.
Now my child’s hunger is satisfied, I am not so disheartened and blue.”

The mother held her babe to her breast and stroked him sweetly to sleep,
And in his ears she whispered a promise that she vowed that she would keep,
“I leave you In my Maker’s Hands, for He looks after us  all,
And whenever I am weak in faith I will remember upon Him to call.”

(The poem was composed on May 18, 2020).

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The Forest Cries at Night

By FARAH TEJANI

Dance june bug dance,
Upon the dogwood’s dew kissed petal,
Make your movements carefully
On which foot will you settle.

Do you wonder needlessly,
About that dreaded rattle snake,
Or how she strikes fear in all who pass,
With the clatter that she makes?

In the forest you are just a little one,
Amidst the towering trees,
With their sinewy branches,
Blowing secrets in the breeze.

Mocking monkeys hanging by their tails,
Eating ripe and sweet bananas,
They thrive in this lush green forest,
But could not possibly endure the savannahs.

Parrots with feathered wings bright,
Squawk loudly praising the Moon,
Rains quench this great green carpet,
The owls hoot a different tune.

Greet the twitching grasshopper,
Paying heed to their chirping sounds,
Should there be a coming storm,
Every animal knows what might abound.

Hear the forests buried secrets,
Their message to us all,
The riches that lie within her,
ARE THE SACRED TREES THAT WE FALL!

So find shelter friendly squirrels,,
Shine on Madame Firefly,
These are the tears of the forests,
And the animals never lie.

(The poem was composed on May 10, 2020).

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From Behind Heaven’s Curtain

By FARAH TEJANI

Take time and summon thoughts for those whom we cherish,
In doing so we make certain that from our memories they don’t perish.
As for the loved ones who’s souls have remorsefully passed on,
Though it may feel like, they are certainly not gone.

From behind Heaven’s Curtain, they watch us from Above,
When loneliness prevails, they shower us with LOVE.
Blessing our endeavours, every moment, every action,
Our successes, they recount with humble satisfaction.

When we are in distress, they beg God to ALTER,
Our destiny, so that we can endure but not falter.
Their prayers go answered; they are so loved by the LORD
And it is on these sweet prayers that our very lives have soared.

Their hearts burst with joy when we are immersed in happiness,
Months without hardships and countless hours without stress.
In remembering our LOVED ONES precious pictures we keep,
Upon gazing at their faces we cannot help but weep.

We ask God how could He? It was much too soon for them to part,
But we are soon reminded of what we have known from the start,
From the very moment we are born there is one thing for sure,
There is no way to defy the grasp of death’s final lure.

Reminisce and treat precious these moments we have now,
Before destiny takes another life and then it is too late somehow.
Be joyous, take pictures, share loving words, embrace,
Texting’s overrated LOVE IS ONLY REAL FACE TO FACE.

So put down your phone and just travel the distance,
Be prepared for often you will be met with resistance.
Because these days, no one has time left to spare,
Take time to MAKE TIME and let them know that YOU CARE.

Busy lives just get busier and often time gets LOST
And once it is GONE we realize at what PRECIOUS COST.
While we are living make peace and share your heart,
So that should one of us leave this earth, with LOVE SHALL WE PART.

(The poem was composed on May 27, 2020).

Date posted: July 24, 2020.

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Farah Tejani Simerg Ismaili poet and writer
Farah Tejani

We are delighted to introduce readers of Simerg to our new contributor Farah Tejani, with three of her recently penned poems.

Farah graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in May of 1997 and earned top Honors for her Thesis on Short Fiction. With the help of her agent Barbara Graham she then went on to publish a collection of short stories published by Trafford, called, “Make Your Own Chai, Mama’s Boy!” — ten short stories dealing with different dilemmas South Asians face. Farah also wrote and co-directed her stage play, “Safeway Samosas,” which won “The Best of Brave New Playwrights Award” in July 1995. Her short story , “Too Hot” won third place in the “Canada-Wide Best Short Fiction Award.” and was read at The Vancouver Writers Festival. Currently, Farah is working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called, “Elastic Embrace” to be published in 2021.

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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 feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters