January 1, 2021: Simerg Wishes All its Readers Many Happy Returns for the New Year; and We Collectively Express Our Gratitude for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Blessings

Festive Lights Ottawa Simerg Nurin Merchant
Ottawa downtown, December 31, 2020, lit during the festive holiday season. Greetings at top and bottom are mine and not part of original photo. Photo: Nurin Merchant / Simerg.

By NURIN MERCHANT

My dad arrived at the grounds of the Aga Khan Park on the evening of December 31, hoping to take photos of the setting sun for the last time in 2020. Unfortunately, he was a little bit late to see the setting sun as it had gone under cloud cover. Pointing his camera to the west towards and beyond the unique dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana situated on 49 Wynford Drive, he was able to capture photos of the clouds that were glowing white from the sunlight. The Jamatkhana lights at the base of the dome were already on, and the scene was quite beautiful. Snow that had covered the grounds on December 25, Christmas day, had melted with warmer temperatures and rain on days that followed. Small patches of snow were scattered throughout the Park.

Sun set New Years Eve Aga Khan Park and Ismaili centre
A couple chat on a bench across one of the 5 ponds at the Aga Khan Park on a cool December 31, 2020 evening, as the setting sun in the horizon, at right of picture, casts its lights on clouds covering it. The majestic dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana is seen at left of picture, with its circular base lights turned on. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Flags of Ismaili Imamat, Canada, Ontario and Toronto at Aga Khan Park on December 31, 2020.
The flags of Canada (nearest), the province of Ontario, the city of Toronto and the Ismaili Imamat flutter on a cool and windy December 31, 2020 evening at Aga Khan Park, while the setting sun in the horizon casts its light across clouds covering it. The Ismaili Centre building is seen at left of the flags. The dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana is not in view in this photo, but see preceding photo. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

I was 440 kms away in Ottawa watching Ismaili TV. Then a few hours later, before midnight, I headed to downtown Ottawa to seek out that extra bit of new year feeling in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Auckland, Sydney, Bangkok had already celebrated the start of 2021 with incredible fireworks. Ottawa stopped the new year fireworks many years ago but there have been exceptions with shows at Parliament Hill on rare occasions. Ottawa is one of the world’s coldest capital cities, but it doesn’t feel that way this year, and there has also been very little snow. Toronto, I think, has seen more of it.

Some marvellous decorations on Wellington Street made me feel that 2021 was finally here. I am glad I went to downtown. So with these photos, some embellished with new year greetings, my dad and I along with members of our family convey our best wishes for the new year to all our readers and friends, with many happy returns.

December 31, 2020: Holiday season lights decorate Ottawa, corner of Elgin and Wellington Streets. Festive artwork at top of photo are mine. Photo: Nurin Merchant / Simerg

We remain humble and grateful to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, for his constant care and guidance, and for showering all his spiritual children around the world with his most affectionate loving blessings for good health and happiness, spiritual progress, worldly success, strength of faith and unity, as well as best loving blessings for mushkil-asan. He has also said to us that we are all in his heart, in his thought and in his prayers.

Aga Khan Museum Sunrise January 1 2021
Sunrise Aga Khan Museum January 1, 2021, camera facing SE. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Date posted: January 1, 2021.

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Nurin Merchant with her bunny, Pistachio.

Dr. Nurin Merchant received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (University of Guelph) in 2019, and now works as a veterinarian in the Ottawa region. Born and raised in Ottawa, Nurin completed her international baccalaureate (IB) program at Colonel By Secondary School before proceeding to the University of Guelph for an undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences which she passed with Honours. She then pursued veterinary medicine in the same school. Nurin enjoys hiking, loves nature and, of course, animals. She is also an artist. She paints, sculpts as well as designs and makes greeting cards during her spare time. She has two lovely bunnies named Pistachio and Canela, which she acquired from animal care and rescue facilities a few years after the death of her first rabbit, Wobbles. She assists her dad Malik with the publication of this website and two other blogs Simergphotos and Barakah.

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At Aga Khan Museum, young and old alike share messages of hope for 2021 and beyond: No deadly virus, cleaner water, happiness and freedom for all, unity, no wars, vaccine for Covid-19, and more

MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

Please click on images for enlargement

Messages of Hope at Aga Khan Museum Wall Simerg
Aga Khan Museum portraits of resilience, togetherness and hope: Photo: Malik Merchant /Simergphotos. Please click on image for enlargement.

Before its latest shutdown due to provincial regulations, Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum gave visitors an interesting opportunity to pen their heartfelt wishes on one of several beautiful pre-designed tiles available at the museum bookstore, and post them onto a large panel prominently placed by the beautiful courtyard. The theme of the project was “Blossom Together Community Tile Wall.”

Community wall messages of hope Aga Khan Museum Simerg Malik Merchant
Section of panel (see inset, bottom right) highlighting purpose of the community wall. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simergphotos.

The cards contained the following themes that visitors could write about: “I hope the future will be …”; “I will make the world better by …”; “I hope ….“; and “My hope for the world is …” Here is a selection of images that I was able to capture. As I glanced at the tiles, I was encouraged by the wishes of hope that I read, several of which related to the current pandemic. It is with these feelings of the young and old alike who expressed themselves on the museum wall that we enter 2021, with the hope that new Covid-19 vaccines which have been developed will become game changers in bringing the pandemic under control.

Messages of Hope Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Museum portraits of resilience, togetherness and hope: Photo: Malik Merchant /Simergphotos. Please click on image for enlargement.

We wish all our readers a happy new year.

Date posted: January 1, 2021.
Last updated: January 2. 2021 (minor centre image change, thumbnail inset added)

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This post has been adapted from the original version first published on December 31, 2020 at Simergphotos.

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Simerg – 2020 in Pictures and Words: Blessings from His Highness the Aga Khan; Photos from Private Collections; and Tributes to Deceased

Prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Talikas 2020, Simerg and Barakh
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, pictured at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Kenya. Photo: The Ismaili

TALIKAS AND BLESSINGS FROM MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM

March 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam sends Talika on the occasion of Navroz with special blessings for mushkil asan, and prayers for the Jamat’s health and well-being

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, showers his paternal and maternal blessings on his spiritual children around the world in light of the present crisis 

April 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends message to his spiritual children around the world on Covid-19, with blessings for their protection from difficulty; multiple translations including Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati and Russian

May 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s loving and inspiring Talika on the occasion of Eid ul-Fitr shows his concern for his spiritual children in all facets of their lives 

July 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends Talika Mubarak to Ismailis around the world on the occasion of his 63rd Imamat Day

November 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his message on November 2, 2020, tells his spiritual children “there is no room for complacency” over the risks posed by the coronavirus “for sometime to come” and send his blessings for mushkil-asan

December 2020

Please click: In Talika Mubarak on the occasion of his 84th birthday, Mawlana Hazar Imam asks us to draw comfort from the practice of our faith, appreciates the excellent work of volunteers, and conveys his paternal maternal blessings to the world wide Jamat

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PASSINGS

The following tributes/obituaries appeared in Simerg in 2020. Some of the deceased may have died before 2020.

Passings Simerg 2020 Year in Review
Top row (left to right): Mahebub Rupani, Nazeer Ladhani, Amirali Gillani, Salima Arthurs, Sultan Methanwalla, Goulzare Foui, Amirali Nagji; bottom row (left to right): Alnoor Ramji, Shamshu Jamal, Zubeda Jamal, Sultanali Mohamed, Razia Jamal, James Wolfensohn and Madatali Jamal. Image collage: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Please click: Mahebub Mohamed Juma Rupani

Please click: Nazeer Ladhani

Please click: Shamshu Jamal

Please click: Missionary Amirali Gillani

Please click: Alnoor Ramji, Goulzare Foui, Amirali S. Nagji, Sultan Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala, Salima Wanda Arthurs

Please click: Madatali Merali Jamal, Razia Jamal, Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal

Please click: James D. Wolfensohn

Please click: Alwaez Sultanali Mohamed

Please also click: Benjamin Mkapa (d. July 2020. As Tanzania’s President from 1995-2005, the late Benjamin Mkapa strongly supported the work of the Ismaili Imamat in his country as well as abroad. The support that he gave is clearly illustrated in a special piece about him in Barakah, a blog dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan)

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HISTORICAL PHOTOS OF MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM AND HIS FAMILY, IMAMAT PROJECTS AND OTHER EVENTS

2020 Year Simerg photos Aga Khan and Projects
Please click on image for 2020 stories and accompanying photos

Please click: Top photo selections from our 2020 stories: Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family, Covid-19 impact, Aga Khan projects, the four seasons, and other events

Date posted: December 27, 2020.
Last updated: December 28, 2020.

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Rays of Hope: Greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Blessings from the Aga Khan, the Covid-19 Vaccine and the Inspiring Crescent Moon

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

Prime Minister’s Greetings

I am among the millions of Canadian who have received “Season’s Greetings” from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Their message in a card filled with family photos reads: “Let’s cherish the bonds of love, family and friendship, near or far. We are one big Canadian family. We will have each other’s backs and hearts in the moments when it’s needed the most. We will pull through together!”

Click on photos for enlargements

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with members of his family. Credit: Greeting card
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with members of his family. Credit: Greeting card issued by Justin Trudeau; collage prepared by Simerg / Malik Merchant.

I thank the Prime Minster for the greetings as well as for seeking to ease the burden for millions of Canadians who are living through one of the most challenging periods in the nation’s history. He has tried to work across party lines both federally and provincially as well as with mayors around the country to bring relief and hope during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through his spontaneous briefings, he has kept the country united. He has recognized the work of the front-end workers, whose spirit and dedication for our well-being during the pandemic will remain in our hearts forever.

The Aga Khan’s Messages

In addition to the Prime Minister’s message, within my own Ismaili community, His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam as we affectionately and respectfully address him, has sent us messages also known as Talikas, throughout the pandemic year. He has given is guidance, blessed us with his prayers and singled out volunteers for their extraordinary work, offering them his “best affectionate blessings.” In the latest message on the occasion of his 84th birthday which was celebrated on December 13, 2020 by millions of Ismailis, either remotely or in person in Jamatkhanas that were open, His Highness referred to the encouraging development of vaccines and asked his community members to “be guided by the advice and directives of their health authorities to benefit from the protection these vaccines will provide.” I am confident that the Ismaili community will seriously participate in the vaccination program. It was gratifying to watch the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, created by the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, being administered to long-term care workers at the Ottawa Hospital’s civic campus on the morning of Tuesday, December 15, an occasion which prompted a visit from the Prime Minister.

Mawlana Hazar Imam Online?

In addition to the Talika’s that are now being read by Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, my hope is that we will soon be able to hear and see the Imam speaking and addressing about the challenges that we have gone through, and on “building for the future from a position of strength and wisdom.” With Jamati visits now possibly a thing of the past for sometime to come, the digital media offers us the opportunity to see and hear the Imam at opportune times to make that connection even stronger. My own daughter, when she was a student some years ago, and other youth recognizing that Mawlana Hazar Imam cannot be travelling to every Jamat in the world on a regular basis, raised the possibility of the youth of the Jamat being particularly singled out and being spoken to by the Imam for his guidance on numerous aspects of their lives on an annual basis via an online platform. This interaction with their beloved Imam would help increase their awareness about their future responsibilities and paths to success, as well as their greater and more meaningful involvement with the Jamat and its institutions.

Story continues below

A view of the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome across the ponds of the Aga Khan Park, with the sun setting in the west end of Toronto. A jet plane leaves a white trail in the sky and, in this photo, cloud cover does not provide a clear view of the crescent moon. See next photo.Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

A Walk for Inspiration and Hope

Buoyed by the message of hope in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s most recent Talika and the Prime Minister’s greeting, I decided to walk over to my favourite place in the world — none other than the site of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park that has added value to my life over the past several months of the pandemic. The grounds were empty of people. There was a dusting of snow on the ground, while some parts of the USA had already seen several inches of snow. Armed with a compass, I knew the 3 day old new moon, still in its beautiful crescent state, was exactly above me but cloud cover prevented me from seeing it clearly. Patience is a good virtue to have, and we have all built that over the pandemic months.

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Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana Dome Simerg
The crescent moon emerges from the clouds over the dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana located at 49 Wynford Drive. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

The Crescent Moon and Covid-19 Impacts

After about 30 minutes, as the clouds drifted away, the crescent moon came to my full view. Being in the earlier stages of development, the crescent moon reminded me of the blessed night of Chandraat (new moon night) that fell on Monday, December 14th, and which Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, the 48th Imam, had told us would bring us spiritual peace and happiness. Some prayers on the blessed night of Chandraat are also dedicated to the souls of the deceased. That reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Talika of December 11 for the occasion of his birthday in which he gave his best loving blessings for the souls of all his ruhani (deceased) spiritual children, and his prayers for the eternal peace and rest of their souls. My thoughts turned to the thousands of souls who have departed this world during the pandemic, most often without the presence of their families around them or not having ceremonies that they would normally have had.

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Scotiabnak Wynford Drive and Aga Khan Museum Simerg
Scotia Bank building, at left of Aga Khan Museum, with Aga Khan Park ponds at foreground. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

Then, as I walked away from the Ismaili Centre towards the Aga Khan Museum, the Scotia Bank building with its red logo at the top came to my view. It raised my consciousness of the financial impact Covid-19 has had on the livelihood of millions of individuals and their families, as well as businesses.

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Aga Khan Museum, the Park, Ismaili Centre, Flags and the crescent moon, Simerg
The Aga Khan Museum (left), the Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana dome, the crescent moon over highrises, and the flags of Canada, Ontario, Toronto and the Ismaili Imamat. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

As I began my homeward walk, I turned around and in a single shot captured the glory of nature, the iconic spaces that the Aga Khan has built in a country that values and respects diversity and pluralism, and the flags of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto flying in unison, alongside the flag of the Ismaili Imamat.

And Greetings from Simerg

Big Heech, Ismaili Centre, Aga Khan Park, Jamatkhana dome, Simerg Malik Merchant
The Big Heech sculpture outside the Aga Khan Museum and the Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana dome on the night of December 18, 2020. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

Thus with this small collection of photographs and messages of hope from the Aga Khan and the Prime Minister, the ingenuity of the human mind in developing a vaccine in record time, the dedication of front-line workers in alleviating the sufferings of millions upon millions of people, I send my SEASONS GREETINGS filled with hope to all Canadians as well as friends subscribers and supporters of Simerg and its sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos. My family joins me in wishing everyone happiness.

Date posted: December 18, 2020.
Last updated: December 19, 2020 (new photo added).

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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 from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or, if you don’t see the box, please click Leave a comment . Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Malik Merchant of Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos
Simerg’s Malik at Aga Khan Museum courtyard.

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of this website, Simerg (2009), as well as two other blogs Simergphotos (2012) and Barakah (2017). Formerly an IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to family projects and his 3 websites. He is the eldest son of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions for several decades in Mozambique, Tanzania, Pakistan, the UK and Canada in both professional and honorary capacities as teachers and missionaries. Malik’s daughter, Dr. Nurin Merchant, assists him as an honorary editor of the three websites. She received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (2019, University of Guelph) and now works as a veterinarian.

The Magnificent Shahnameh, “The Book of Kings,” and a Note on Aga Khan Museum’s New Exhibit REMASTERED

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

“I would take my students on a field trip to Toronto to see this miracle of miniature painting, one that continues to fascinate when greatly magnified. It features extraordinary details of flora and fauna, as well as a rainbow coalition of human beings from every continent and culture, much as one sees on the streets of Toronto.” — Gary Tinterow, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on the Shahnameh Folio ‘Court of Gayumars’ at the Aga Khan Museum

When I first started learning English upon my arrival in the early 1960’s in Dar es Salaam from Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, where I had received instructions in Portuguese at my primary school, in Gujarati at today’s equivalent of Baitul Ilm classes, and spoke Hindi at home, my dad presented me with a hardback version of the story of Rustum (or Rustam) and Sohrab (Suhrab). It was a large print book with beautiful illustrations. However, it was also story of tragedy. Rustum had been separated from his princess (Tahmina) for a long time, and did not know that he had a son named Sohrab from her. Several years later, the father and his son met on one to one combat on opposing sides, where Rustum wrestled Sohrab to the ground and fatally injured him. Rustum, to his horror, realised the truth when he saw his own arm bracelet on Sohrab, which he had given to Tahmina many years before and which she had in turn given to Sohrab before the battle, in the hope that it might protect him.

Little did I know then, that this was a story from Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, written by Ferdowsi, now some 1030 years ago.

Rustam and Shorab, Shahnameh,
The hero Rustam was unaware that he had a son, Suhrab, by Princess Tahmina. It came to pass that the two met in battle, fighting on opposing sides. They struggled in single combat until Rustum stabbed Suhrab fatally. Rustum realized that he had slain his own son when he saw Suhrab’s arm bracelet, which he himself had given to Tahmina many years before. Tahmina had given it to Suhrab before the battle, hoping it would protect him. Photo: Wikipedia, CCO 1.0 Public Domain.

The illustration from the book, which my beloved late father Jehangir Merchant had given me, of a father standing above his son, whom he has just mistakenly killed in a combat, is one of the most powerful and saddest images I have seen in storytelling. The folio of the father and son in tragic combat that is shown above is from the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Aga Khan Museum Remastered Exhibition Shahnameh and more
Remastered at Aga Khan Museum until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant /Simerg

The Aga Khan Museum does not have any folios from the Shahnameh depicting this specific battle scene, but some other outstanding loose folios from the Shahnameh form part of a new exhibition under the theme REMASTERED in the museum’s upper gallery (running until March 21, 2021). In addition, the permanent collection on the main floor of the museum contains other magnificent folios from a number of illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnameh that were produced during the 13th-16th centuries. These folios are located just at the right of the Wagner carpet exhibit.

Missing from display, at the moment, is what is considered to be one of the finest folios from the Shahnameh, called The Court of Gayumars. Apollo Magazine, in its issue dated August 29, 2018 recommended the Gayumars as “one of the pieces that every school kid in the USA needs to see.” Writing for the issue, Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, stated:

“I would take my students on a field trip to Toronto to see this miracle of miniature painting, one that continues to fascinate when greatly magnified. It features extraordinary details of flora and fauna, as well as a rainbow coalition of human beings from every continent and culture, much as one sees on the streets of Toronto.” He has also recommended that when the folio is exhibited, it should contain a little bit of commentary.

And speaking of the new REMASTERED exhibition itself, Ulrike al-Khamis, the acting Director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum, in a recent press release stated: “We have created one of the most innovative showcases of Islamic manuscript paintings ever to have been assembled. Remastered invites viewers to immerse themselves in the beauty of some of the most impressive masterpieces in the Islamic tradition and find new meaning in centuries-old stories of heroism, love and principled living.”

Remastered at Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Museum’s introduction to the new Remastered Exhibition, on until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A view of the Remastered Exhibition that runs on the second floor of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A display at the Remastered exhibition which was launched recently at the Aga Khan Museum, and continues to March 21, 2021. Here the jackal Dimneh is brought before the Lion-King and his mother. Illustration from a manuscript of Anvar-i Suhaili, Iran 1593. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Over the coming weeks, we plan to publish special features on the folios in the Remastered exhibition that powerfully present tales of courage, stories of the heart, and exemplary living or model life, along with their corresponding digitally engaging panels prepared by Ryerson University library that offer new ways of understanding the manuscripts.

Ferdowsi is everything we expect of a great poet…, for he teaches us both what people are and what they should become” — Federico Mayor

The focus of this post is on the Shahnameh, which forms an integral and important component of Remastered. What is the Shahnameh and who was Ferdowsi? Of course, readers will find many resources on the internet but I have come across a fantastic address delivered by UNESCOS’s former Director General, Federico Mayor in 1990 on the 1000th anniversary of the completion of the Book of Kings. His piece, below, is a must read.

Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: The Book of Kings

Court of Gayumars, Shahnameh, Aga Khan Museum, Firdawsi Book of Kings, Persian Poet
An image of folio Court of Gayumar from Firdawsi’s Book of Kings. This page is considered as one of the most exquisite pieces in the Aga Khan Museum collection, and has been recommended as one that every student must be taken to see. Photo: The Aga Khan Museum.

“The ‘intellect’, which Ferdowsi calls Kherad, demands more than ‘intelligence’ in the common meaning of the term: it includes the ability to perceive good, a deep-seated and generous wisdom and a serenity that comes from balance and self-control. The concept of Kherad runs through the entire book, being at one and the same time its dominant theme, the spirit that animates it and the good it extols” — Federico Mayor

By FEDERICO MAYOR

The following article has been adapted from an address delivered in Tehran on December 22, 1990 by Mr Federico Mayor, to mark the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript of the Book of Kings (the Shanameh by Firdausi). At the time, Mr. Mayor was the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Mr. Mayor’s complete address can be read at the organization’s website HERE.

‘Be Name Khodavande Jano Kherad’ (‘In the name of the Lord of the soul and of wisdom’). These majestic words open the Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, that monument of universal literature. And as I read on I discover, immediately after the glorification of the Creator, a passage on this second page that forces me to stop, taken aback with amazement, wonder and near disbelief: the words before me sing the praises of intelligence!

Can it really be that a thousand years ago, an Iranian poet was exalting above all else the process of thought based on knowledge? And he did it with such conviction and felicitous expression that he cannot fail to convince:

‘The intellect is the greatest of all the gifts of God…It is the source of your joys and your sorrows, of ‘your profits and your losses…It is the guardian of the soul, and to it is thanksgiving due’. “

At that instant, I knew I had come across a work and a man of exceptional qualities. This ‘intellect’, which Ferdowsi calls Kherad, demands more than ‘intelligence’ in the common meaning of the term: it includes the ability to perceive good, a deep-seated and generous wisdom and a serenity that comes from balance and self-control. The concept of Kherad runs through the entire book, being at one and the same time its dominant theme, the spirit that animates it and the good it extols.

“Can it really be that a thousand years ago, an Iranian poet was exalting above all else the process of thought based on knowledge? And he did it with such conviction and felicitous expression that he cannot fail to convince” — Federico Mayor

There are few books in the world and in history that have become, like The Book of Kings, an expression of national identity. Ferdowsi’s poem is both the reflection and the leaven of a culture that is in many respects reconciled with itself.

In terms of language, it forms a reservoir, an encyclopaedia of inexhaustible wealth. In terms of historical perspective, it reconciles past and present. In terms of historical perspective, reconciles past and present, integrating in a unified culture the pre-Islamic tradition and the contributions of Islam; that is an achievement whose importance is not perhaps sufficiently appreciated, for the resulting fusion, with its creative repercussions, was to prove most prolific.

Lastly, in terms of literary genre, it is an epic that blends in a single creation the true and the legendary, the observable and the imaginary. Ferdowsi reconciles history and myth, resembling at one moment Herodotus and at the next Homer. As a historian, he relates an episode with the same fervour and magical inspiration as if it were a tale; as a mythologist, he describes an adventure with the same precision and concern for details as if it were drawn from real life.

Ferdowsi thus bequeathed to his country a heritage that has been transmitted from one generation to the next in all its vitality. There are few civilizations in which a poetic work has become so ‘popular’, that is to say both widely known and deeply loved.

Let me say how much I regret that my ignorance of your language prevents me from savouring in full the subtlety of these lines, their majesty and their secret music.

“The 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript continues a long-standing tradition whereby, ever since the death of the poet, scholars have attempted to make amends for the ingratitude of the Sultan to whom Ferdowsi offered this treasure and who failed to appreciate its true value” — Federico Mayor

But even when translated Ferdowsi’s poetry preserves an inimitable charm. The Book of Kings, which was translated into Arabic in the 12th century of the Christian Era, has been avidly read, studied and commented on. Historians, linguists, poets, writers, painters and miniaturists have used it as the source material for the work of several lifetimes. Jules Mohl translated it in its entirety into French in the 19th century, and thanks should be rendered to him for devoting 30 years of his life to the translation of the 60,000 verses that Ferdowsi had spent 30 years perfecting 800 years before.

The task was so tremendous that not all the volumes were published until two years after the translator’s death. Mohl has been the benefactor of countless scholars in Western Europe — he has enabled them to discover one of the summits of world literature.

0n 11 February 1850 the French writer, Sainte-Beuve, in one of his Causeries du lundi (Monday conversations), urged the resumption of publication by the Imprimerie rationale (national publishing house) of what he called ‘the magnificent book’. Stressing the popularity of the work in Iran, he enthusiastically presented the author, his themes and a few episodes, based on his reading of Jules Mohl. His enthusiasm proved to be contagious: the English poet, critic and essayist, Matthew Arnold, became immersed in all the available historical and geographical works on Persia, reread the Iliad, and in 1853 published a splendid poem entitled Sohrab and Rustum, relating the tragic episode of the hero’s killing of his son on the field of battle. A complete translation into English of The Book of Kings was published in 1925; the translation was an enormous task that had been carried out by two brothers, Arthur and Edmund Warner.

Shahnameh Book of Kings Gallery Aga Khan Museum near Wagner Garden
A view of the Aga Khan Museum’s folios from manuscripts of Shahnameh, The Books of Kings, that were produced between 13th-16h centuries. At the near end is the famous Wagner Carpet depicting “Islamic Garden of Eternal Bliss.” Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

In Germany, the great lyrical poet and orientalist Friedrich Rückert translated the tragedy of Rustum and Sohrab, at the beginning of the 19th century. Another German poet, Schack, translated the entire epic part of the work, the translation being published in 1853. Complete translations of The Book of Kings exist today in all the widely spoken languages, and numerous translations of extracts exist in some 40 languages.

The 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript continues a long-standing tradition whereby, ever since the death of the poet, scholars have attempted to make amends for the ingratitude of the Sultan to whom Ferdowsi offered this treasure and who failed to appreciate its true value.

And today here, in this hall that bears the poet’s name, we ourselves have now come together from the four corners of the world, to carry on and give new impetus to that tradition. But what is it in The Book of Kings that draws us together, captivates our hearts and enables its author to triumph over both time and place?

0f many outstanding passages in the work, one might mention the meeting of the hero Rustum and his son Sohrab, a beautiful and poignant story of two beings related by blood and brought by destiny to a fatal confrontation. Following in the footsteps of Sophocles, who gave voice to the sufferings experienced by Oedipus when he had murdered his father and then married his mother, Ferdowsi paints the picture of Rustum discovering that he has just killed his own son. This is a perfect example of what Aristotle meant by ‘tragedy’: it is a story that arouses in us feelings of both pity and horror, for Rustum, during the three days of the duel between them, has come to admire the qualities of his adversary — agility, intelligence in combat, nobility and chivalry.

On several occasions, father and son are on the point of recognizing one another; their speeches are tinged with admiration and tenderness, but Fate will not be cheated. When Sohrab dies under Rustum’s blows and Rustum discovers the identity of his victim all Ferdowsi’s readers shudder; all are fathers who have just killed their sons. We can see why this great tragic theme has attracted the attention of poets of all periods and civilizations: the feelings to which it gives rise are common to all times and all countries.

In celebration of the millennium of Ferdowsi’s birth a solemn tribute was paid to him at the Sorbonne, where French poets emphasized the lesson of wisdom he dispensed:

‘This poet is not only an enchanter: he is a scholar; he is not only a scholar: he is a sage. While our heads are still humming with all the wonders he has filled them with our spirits retain the lessons he has given us. Even when the enchantment of his tale fades and we fall back into the normal world from the fairyland into which he had carried us we are not disoriented: on the contrary, the poet deposits us on a well-marked road with a sturdy staff in our hand. Ferdowsi is everything we expect of a great poet…, for he teaches us both what people are and what they should become’.

The Book of Kings is indeed studded with precepts, and it is not uncommon for an episode to be accompanied, in the same enchanting style, by a moral for the reader’s edification.

“the characteristic of Ferdowsi by which he appears eminently modern to us is without doubt, first of all, his faith in the ability of people to rise above hostility, contempt, suspicion and hatred by an impulse of fellow feeling and compassion” — Federico Mayor

Statue of Ferdowsi in Tus,_Iran
Statue of Ferdowsi in Tus, Iran. Photo: Wikipidea / CC by 4.0.

Princes, for example, are exhorted to be humble, in a concept of power in which the notion of ‘service’ predominates. ‘When you become a sovereign,’ says Ferdowsi, ‘behave as a humble servant’. Addressing the mighty, the poet reminds them of the ephemeral nature of all things, like the slave who, in ancient Rome, had to accompany the victor on his triumphal chariot and whisper to him from time to time: Memento quia pulvis es (‘Remember that thou art but dust’). Nevertheless, the characteristic of Ferdowsi by which he appears eminently modern to us is without doubt, first of all, his faith in the ability of people to rise above hostility, contempt, suspicion and hatred by an impulse of fellow feeling and compassion. The French poet Lamartine, moved by the moral qualities with which Ferdowsi endows his heroes, wrote of them: ‘They are more than kings, for kings reign only for a time — and these heroes reign over the future’.

In The Book of Kings there are many colourful battle scenes, but they never glorify vanity nor the thirst for violence. On the contrary, Ferdowsi depicts in them the absurdity of conflict and struggle. We have seen the pain in which the duel between Rustum and Sohrab ends. Elsewhere, Alexander the Great goes to the bedside of his mortally wounded enemy, Darius III. Moved by compassion, he swears to the dying man that he will re-establish peace between the Persians and the Greeks, and when Darius is dead, he organizes his funeral with great ceremonial. In another scene Isfendyar, mortally wounded by Rustum, sees in a flash that his killer is only the instrument of fate and is not truly responsible for his death. Before dying therefore, he entrusts to him the education of his son, Bahman.

Ferdowsi shows his respect for and appreciation of others, with their different religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. Would it not be worth while to relay and amplify this message Asia has passed on to the world down the centuries?

Shahnameh gallery Aga Khan Museum, Simerg
Another view of the Shahnameh folios on the main floor of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

I personally think that The Book of Kings should be distributed as widely as possible. This work is not only part of the human heritage but can also help men and women of the 20th century — what am I saying, the 21st century — to improve and to live in greater peace with themselves and with others. I would in particular want to see it brought to the knowledge of young people throughout  the world.  By exposing young people to the humanism  of Ferdowsi we sow the seeds of wisdom in the minds of those who will forge the future.

‘It is through peace that men achieve happiness’, said Ferdowsi, ‘may those who preach war vanish from our midst’.

Peace, not violence. Temperance, not excess. Mercy, not cruelty. Remember the passage in which the young Iredj sets out in a spirit of peace and wisdom to find his brothers, whose evil designs are known to him. When one of them hits him in anger and is about to kill him Iredj says to him gently ‘Have you no fear of God or pity for our father?…What? You are alive and you want to take the life of another? How can you reconcile these two things? Harm not an ant that is dragging a grain of wheat, for it is alive, and life is sweet and good’ .

This love of life is love of one’s fellow, of all others. Ferdawsi, the Persian national poet, is not a chauvinistic poet. This is why the Arabs, the Turks and the Indians have adopted Ferdawsi, translating him into their languages. He is becoming universal, he belongs to everyone. That is what makes Ferdowsi an inspired forerunner of today’s world, in which the spirit of war may be vanquished only by the spirit of tolerance and in which it is UNESCO’s task to ensure that peoples achieve a better understanding of each other through an ever-deeper knowledge of their respective cultures, which represent their most precious heritage.

Indeed, it was with lines by Ferdowsi that Mr Golan Ali Raadi, the then Chairman of the Executive Board, welcomed the ceremonial inauguration of UNESCO Headquarters on 3 November, 1958:

‘The best-constructed buildings crumble under
the action of the rain and burning sun,
But neither wind nor rain shall have any hold
on the monument my verse has built.’

Just as Ferdowsi’s words are in striking accord with the intention of UNESCO’s founders, so I hope that the Organization will pursue its action in accordance with the ideals that inspired the poet: a sense of honour and human dignity, a demand for justice in the exercise of power, tolerance, compassion for the weak and the vanquished, serenity and wisdom — in a word, Kherad.

Date posted: November 15, 2020.

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Federico Mayor Zaragoza
Federico Mayor. Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Federico Mayor Zaragoza (born 27 January 1934 in Barcelona) is a Spanish scientist, scholar, politician, diplomat, and poet. He served as director-general of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999. He is currently the chairman of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and member of the Honorary Board of the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World as well as the honorary chairman of the Académie de la Paix. According to 1995 issue of the Ismaili magazine, during his tenure as UNESCO’s Director General, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was invited to address a full session of its Executive Board, which met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Mr. Mayor paid tribute to the Aga Khan Development Network’s success in building capacity and empowering people — especially women — to manage their own development according to local models that respect the diversity of needs and resources. (Profile excerpted from Wikipedia and the Ismaili, 1995).

Please click on Toronto.com and Toronto Star to read reviews of Aga Khan Museum’s new exhibition Remastered (on until March 21, 2021). Please also visit the Aga Khan Museum website for the latest information and details about visiting the museum — it is open Thursday-Sunday, with a pay as you wish entrance.

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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Aga Khan Park

Let Storms Beware

Karim H. Karim’s beautiful poem is followed by a brief note from the editor as well as some pictures that he set off to take at Toronto’s Aga Khan Park, shortly after he had been inspired by the poem.

 By KARIM H. KARIM

(Dedicated to all who are sad)

Sweetest are the songs
That we sing in sorrows;
Tears swell in our eyes
Even when joy overflows.

Naïve folk fear the thorns
Where flowers do flourish,
Fresh with hues of hope.

Dawn’s light is nearest
When sadness is darkest,
Sings the black night
In stars’ silent twinkle.

Embrace the aching pain,
Learn to laugh a little
And to comfort others.

Let storms beware
That we are lighting
The lamps of love.

Date posted: October 20, 2020.
Last updated: October 22, 2020.

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(Based on Shankardas Shailendra’s (1923-1966) “Hain Sabse Madhur Wo Geet,” which evokes Percy Shelley’s (1792-1822) line “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of the saddest thought.”)

Karim H. Karim Carleton University
Karim H. Karim

About the author: Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam and a Professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

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Editor’s note: I was truly feeling sad earlier today (October 20), thinking about my daughter and my mother whom I haven’t visited for several months due to Covid-19. I was lonely, and also worried about my health in these uncertain times! My friend Karim H. Karim who is nearly 450 kms from me must have sensed that. I was waiting for another article from him altogether, not a piece dedicated for those who are sad. In my reply to his humble submission, I told him I would review it in a few days time! However, I decided to read it straight away, and his piece truly cheered me up. And in that moment of becoming a lot less sad, I gained some energy and headed to my favourite place! Yes, the Aga Khan Park, with two incredible buildings, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum around it — gracious gifts from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Admittedly, I haven’t been to the Park for a number of weeks, passing by it only in my car. The photographs that I took during my visit to the Park, represent my joyous moments, that I owe to Karim’s beautiful rendition. As I walked to the park, I was reminded of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s quote where he says that if one has faith, one may be worried, one may at times feel sad but one will never be unhappy. How true! Enjoy the photos, which were inspired by the poem.

Note: The following photos — and more — can be viewed in larger format at Simerg’s special photo blog. Please click Bidding Farewell to Vibrant Autumn Colours at Aga Khan Park. If you haven’t visited the blog please click Simergphotos for an outstanding collection of photo essays!

The Flag of the Ismaili Imamat
The flag of the Ismaili Imamat by maple trees at the peak of autumn colours. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A close up of autumn colours on a maple tree at the Aga Khan Park. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park
The Aga Khan Museum building as seen from the edge of the Aga Khan Park at the Wynford Drive bridge over the Don Valley Parkway. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Big Heech Aga Khan Museum
The famous Big Heech sculpture by the north end of the Aga Khan Museum, with maple trees in the background exhibiting their fall colours. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Aga Khan Park
A gorgeous view of the dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana, with rich autumn colours at the Aga Khan Park adding to the beauty of entire area. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Aga Khan Park Autumn Foliage Malik Merchant
Beautiful trees with rich autumn colours at the Aga Khan Park. To the left and not shown is the dome of the Ismaili Centre. See previous photo. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg
Ismaili Jamatkhana Dome and Aga Khan Park
A close up of the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome with a maple tree rich in autumn colours in the foreground. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Evergreen Brick Works
A view of CN Tower from the Evergreen Brick Works located in the Don River Valley on 550 Bayview Avenue, Toronto, a 10 minute drive from the Aga Khan Park. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Red maples Aga Khan Park
A beautiful view of red maple trees lined up at the edge of the Aga Khan Park along Wynford Drive, from the Aga Khan Museum (near end) to the Ismaili Centre. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg
Red Maples Aga Khan Park
Red maples reach the peak of their fall colours at the Aga Khan Park, with a view of the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome at left. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Aga Khan Park, Flags of Canada and the Ismaili Imamat
From left to right, flags of the Ismaili Imamat, the City of Toronto, the Province of Ontario and Canada, with its famous Maple Leaf. Photo: © Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Date posted: October 20, 2020.
Last updated: October 21, 2020 (new link).

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or, if you don’t see the box, please click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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.

“Largesse” of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and Photos of Fall Colours and Waxing Moon at 3 Unique Aga Khan Projects in Toronto

Watch a short 90 second interview in which a non-Ismaili speaks about Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and then view a collection of superb photos of the waxing moon rising above the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana as well as a display of autumn colours at Aga Khan Park…MORE AT SIMERGPHOTOS

Click on image for interview, story and more photos

Date posted: September 26, 2020.

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Aga Khan Museum

Wow! The Aga Khan Museum Reopens to the Public on Saturday, June 27, 2020

by MALIK MERCHANT

When I am in Toronto, I walk through the Aga Khan Park virtually every day. I take the east entrance, and first walk around to the Ismaili Centre, sit on a bench by tree number 49, and if it’s evening time I contemplate. Often, I read newspapers. The other day I read my month’s supply of the Toronto Star and the Sunday New York Times — 4 hours under glorious sunshine, but protected by the shade of trees.

Ismaili Centre Toronto Dome
Ismaili Centre, Jamatkhana dome. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Then, as I cross a small pathway by the majestic dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana, I see the Museum 200 metres away, where a lone guard stands by the main entrance. Is he bored? I wonder. Thousands have been, for many many weeks. The Museum’s on-line programming has kept us going. But we miss the inside — the actual exhibits, the shop, the samosas at the café, the Diwan restaurant, the courtyard with its many performances, the design, colours and architecture of the building, the Bellerive Room, and the tunnel entrance downstairs that we walk through when we are parked underground! Yes, we do miss so many things, inside and outside the museum building, beautifully thought out by His Highness the Aga Khan and his younger brother Prince Amyn. The children especially love water, and the 5 ponds are empty. The geese who used to fly into the ponds in glorious harmony at around 6:00 AM have to take their bathing somewhere else — it’s truly a joy to watch them bathing in an acrobatic manner! Absolutely magical! For the rest of us, who walk by the 5 ponds or sit on the benches, there is no running water to soothe our senses! But all this changes on Friday, June 26!

Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park
Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park. Photo: Aga Khan Museum.

Museum supporters have just received an email from the Aga Khan Museum’s Development Manager, Caroline Chan, inviting them to a special Friends and Patrons day on Friday, June 26, 2020, before it opens to the general public on Saturday June 27!

The supporters will be the first to see the Museum’s Sanctuary and Chrysalis exhibitions, which both explore the many dimensions of sanctuary, immigration, and migration. The guests have been invited to enjoy a complimentary beverage and cookies at the Courtyard Café and take in the summer blooms at the Aga Khan Park!

Aga Khan Museum, Sanctuary exhibition.
Sanctuary exhibition hall. Photo: Aga Khan Museum.

In line with provincial health directives, the visit will be a little different from what we have been accustomed to in the past. Special health and safety protocols have been put in place including a tool to conduct self-assessment for coronavirus, wearing of face masks, availability of hand sanitization stations and social distancing.

Carolin’es invitation ends with the slogan “Welcome back to where we all belong!”

In addition, the Aga Khan Museum’s CEO, Henry Kim, issued a statement on the reopening. Here are excerpts from his statement:

Dear friends, 

I would like to thank you for your patience and ongoing support during these challenging times. With restrictions on gatherings gradually easing, I am pleased to let you know that the Museum will reopen on June 27, 2020. As we rebuild our lives and livelihoods over the next few months, I do hope you can look to the Museum as a source of hope and inspiration. 

The safety of our visitors is our primary focus, and our intention is to make your return a safe and enjoyable experience. We have instituted a number of measures designed to protect you and our staff, so that during your visit, you can see beautiful art, be moved by learning, and enjoy live performances worry-free. 

As your hosts, we have a duty to ensure your health and safety — it is our highest priority……

The world has changed, and so have we. Reflecting what we have gone through together over the last few months, we have redrawn our programs for the remainder of the year and created Rebuild 2020, our commitment to reconnect and reinvigorate communities through the arts. Please do visit our website for more information on the many programs we have created to reignite your curiosity and spark your imagination. 

Whether you explore online or plan to visit in-person, you are welcome at the Aga Khan Museum. We cannot wait for your return.  

With gratitude, 

Henry S. Kim
Director and CEO, 
Aga Khan Museum 

Mr. Kim, I can assure you we have missed you more than you have missed us! It is us who can’t wait to get into the beautiful and inspiring space, which His Highness the Aga Khan created for millions to enjoy some 6 years ago!

Date posted: June 23, 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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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.

Malik Merchant Publisher Editor Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/ editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

Photos: Walking through the Aga Khan Park on a beautiful day of spring

PLEASE CLICK: Photos of Aga Khan Park, Ismaili Centre, Aga Khan Museum and Cherry Blossoms at Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre

Aga Khan Park Photos at Simergphotos
Please click on image for more photos.

Date posted: May 8, 2020.

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Kaba textile fragment at Aga Khan Museum Toronto

Outstanding 100 year old Ka’ba textile on display at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum until September 9, 2019

The following piece has been compiled and adapted from material supplied by the Aga Khan Museum; it incorporates notes by Dr. Ulrike al-Khamis, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Public Programs.

From Mecca to Toronto

Ka’ba in Mecca. Photo: Aga Khan Museum; Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Rian Dewji.

On display for the first time in Toronto is a 100-year-old silk fragment from a hizam — part of a ceremonial draping that covers the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest site to which millions of Muslims made the annual pilgrimage on Friday August 9, 2019.

The Ka’ba is draped in a black ceremonial covering known as the kiswa, and around the upper part of the kiswa runs the hizam — an ornamented belt embroidered  in silver and silver-gilt thread with Qur’anic verses relating to the pilgrimage.

This hizam is one of the Aga Khan Museum’s most significant textiles and is on special display until September 9, 2019. Measuring eight metres long and nearly one metre tall, it once belonged to a kiswa that measured 47 meters and was made in Cairo around the early 20th century.

Aga Khan Museum Textile from the Kaba
This textile from the Ka’ba is on display at the Aga Khan Museum until September 9, 2019. Free viewing was available during celebrations marking the Hajj and Eid al-Adha from August 10-14. Photo: The Aga Khan Museum.

As one of the most prominent kiswa ornaments, the hizam traditionally runs the length of the Ka‘ba’s upper perimeter. The inscription here contains verses 27-29 from chapter 22 (Al-Hajj) of the Qur’an:

“And proclaim to mankind the hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days, over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor who have a very hard time. Then let them complete their prescribed duties and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House.”

The roundels contain further Qur’anic references that mention ‘God the Eternal’ as well as the Prophet Muhammad.

The Ka‘ba receives a new drape every year during the pilgrimage season. After it ends, the kiswa is taken down, divided and either gifted to dignitaries or sold to raise money for charity.

Note: The museum is open everyday from 10 am to 6 pm (8 pm on Wednesdays). It is closed on Mondays, except holiday Mondays.

19th/20th Century Views of Ka’ba

A bird’s eye view of the Ka’ba as photographed in 1889. Note the hizam that runs around the upper part of the Ka’ba. Photo: US Library of Congress.
ca. 1910. A close-up photo of the Ka’ba with the hizam running around the upper part of the black cloth (the kiswa). Photo: US Library of Congress.

Date posted: August 7, 2019.
Last updated: August 15, 2019.

[Before leaving this page, please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to a vast and rich collection of articles and photographs published on this blog as well as its two sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos.]

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