Exactly a year ago, on Thursday, January 21, 2021, my beloved mum “Mrs. Merchant” (Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant) passed away peacefully at the age of 89. Tributes and condolences poured from all over the world, which deeply touched the entire family. The family also received a Talika of blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as well as a message of condolence from Prince Rahim Aga Khan, both of which deeply inspired and gave courage to the family during their period of bereavement. My dad, Jehangir, her loving husband of 66 years, had died three years earlier on May 27, 2018. They both served Imamat institutions on a professional and voluntary basis as missionaries and religious education teachers for more than 60 years.
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I was unable attend the funeral because of Covid-19, and other challenges. Knowing my situation, my mum told me on Facetime on the morning of her admission to the hospital, “Malik, tereku nai aneka hai” (you are not going to travel). She passed away 12 hours later.
A few months later I travelled to close her rented home, and spent three weeks packing my parents belongings. As mentioned earlier my beloved father, had died 3 years earlier. As I went through thousands of pieces of objects that included their beautifully handwritten waezes (sermons) I came across a priceless album of tributes prepared by Baitul Ilm (BUI) students of Central London, England, for her retirement. All these objects, including the album, were packed and shipped to Ottawa, numbering some 86 boxes.
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The Untiring Efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant
by TASNEEM VIRANI
…Let us take our minds back in the 1970’s when they [Mr and Mrs Merchant] worked seven days and evenings, spreading their knowledge to not only the children, but the leaders, the Mukhisahebs and Kamdiasahebs, as well as all the members of the Jamat. They would be in London one morning, then Brighton later in the afternoon, then back to another centre in London, then off again — all by British Rail.
They continued to be extremely involved with teaching, preparing teaching notes, training Mukhisahebs and Kamadiasahebs, perfecting varas [recitations] for children, training the teachers, training and supporting those coming into our Tariqua and so on. This is a real backbone of our strength in our institution as we see today and will never be forgotten. Our gratitude for those untiring efforts have no bounds.
I remember the long hours we all spent together in the stages when we we were planning to formalize the structure of religious education as we know it today. This format of Bait-al-Ilm is the culmination of the untiring and continued support and input from you both, Mr. and Mrs. Merchant.
Mrs. Merchant, you have taught us to follow, in spirit and in action, the most important Farman of Mawlana Hazar Imam of not accepting mediocrity but always aiming at the highest level and not compromising on quality. The time you spent on an individual child and the patience you show all make you a role model for those left now to do the job you started so long ago and continue to do.
We pray to Mawlana Hazar Imam to shower you with blessings that you will have happiness, long life, strength and courage to continue your hard work and give to others what what you have given to us. Ameen, Tasneem Virani, Administrator.
With some help from members of the Jamat, I began unpacking a few of the boxes that I had carefully labelled at the time of packing. I am deeply happy to post a few images from the voluminous album of tributes to my mum by the London students. I hope to be able to scan as well as OCR a few more pages from the album highlighting the impact of her contribution to religious education in the UK, and to publish another post sometime in the near future.
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The Gentle Mrs. Merchant: A Letter from a Student
By Shaheen and BUI Students
…..We are all gathered here today to say Good-Bye to our dear Mrs. Merchant, What I would really like to do is to share with you a letter which I have written to Mrs. Merchant.
Dear Mrs. Merchant,
I am going back a good number of years when I recall that when I started religious training at  Palace Gate you were my first teacher and you have continued to be the gentle but strong influence in my life, for religious training does not end at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday but continues to be an integral part of our lives. I have spent many Saturdays listening and discussing in your classes and these are the roots of my understanding of my beautiful religion. Your constant guidance and willingness to answer the questions, however bizarre, never once a harsh word, or a change in the pitch of your voice, however much we tried your patience, makes you a role model for us. Yes, believe or not Mrs. M. I now come in to teach the little children and I will try and use the same gentle but impossible to say No! manner when asking a child to take a vara [recitation of Dua, Farman, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana]…. It is thanks to personal touches and willingness to do anything for your students that makes you that special person that you are….
If we have a vara we can be sure a day or so before the phone would ring and the familiar voice would say, “Beta, you were not in Jamatkhana today, why? How are you doing in your exams? I will pray for you. Are you ready for your vara? Can I hear it over the phone?”
This kind of dedication is rare and we are the lucky few who received it. Well Mrs. Merchant, today we pray for you, that you will always find peace and satisfaction and find more children to benefit from your softly softly approach so that they can become staunch Ismailis and may they also experience the love and confidence we have enjoyed.
We love you and we will miss you. Don’t forget us for we will never forget you. Love from Shaheen and all the others in London.
Mrs Merchant was a truly beautiful soul, a deeply caring mother and grandmother as well as a fantastic teacher and an Alwaeza (missionary) loved by thousands around the world.
I humbly and sincerely ask everyone to join the family in praying that Alwaeza Malek Merchant’s soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.
Date posted: January 21, 2022.
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