Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad on the Pumpkin, as the Aga Khan Museum Uses it to Decorate its Courtyard

By MALIK MERCHANT
Editor/Publisher SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

The Aga Khan Museum is one of the few museums in Toronto that has been able to implement Covid-19 protocols and make the museum safe for its visitors. The visiting times were revised this past week, and it is now open from Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

In recent weeks, Simerg and its sister websites have produced a superb collection of photos of the Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, which divides the two magnificent buildings. Readers have been uplifted to see the photos of the 3 magnificent projects, built by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, under the full moon, crescent moon, as well as at the peak of the autumn foliage season.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard Pumpkin Decoration Simerg Malik Merchant
Aga Khan Museum Toronto Courtyard decorated with pumpkins. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

On a fine day, there is no better place in the museum than to be sitting in its open air courtyard, while enjoying a delicious cup of latte.

October 23, 2020 was one such day. It actually felt like summer, with blue skies and very warm temperatures. The magnificent courtyard was a perfect place for my morning coffee as well as a late breakfast — an egg salad croissant, slightly grilled. I was thrilled to enter the courtyard, and noticed pumpkin decorations in one corner of the courtyard. Of course, pumpkins are to be seen everywhere at this time of the year. It is one of the most popular desserts served during Thanksgiving holidays in Canada (October 12, 2020) and the USA (November 26, 2020), and I wondered how the food was viewed in Islam. My little bit of research led me to numerous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) on the pumpkin, and I am delighted to post adaptations of some that I read.

“I saw the Prophet being served with soup and containing gourd (pumpkin or squash) and cured meat, and I saw him picking and eating the pieces of gourd.” — Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Number 348.

It is related that a sailor once invited Prophet Muhammad to eat some food that he had prepared. Anas bin Malik who accompanied the Prophet, noted that the Prophet was served barley bread and a soup with pumpkin in it. The Prophet keenly ate the pumpkin around the dish, and from that day Anas made it his favourite food. Traditions also note that whenever a a dish of bread, meat and broth was presented to the Prophet and it contained pumpkin, the Prophet would pick up the pumpkin because he really liked it, and made the heart strong. Other Muslim traditions note that the pumpkin increases brain function and brain strength.

Ibn Ridwan, in a medical treatise written during the Fatimid period, recommended the pumpkin as a diet for healthy living along with several other fruits and vegetables such as celery, carrots, lentils and cucumbers.

Interestingly, there is also a general consensus among scholars about the Arabic word yaqteen that is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. They say that it refers to the pumpkin — a food that nourished and helped heal Prophet Yunus (A.S.), after he was cast into the wilderness while he was sick (see Qur’an, 37:144-146, at Corpus Quran English Translation).

The website healthline mentions that pumpkin is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is incredibly healthy. Moreover its low calorie content makes it a weight-loss-friendly food. It goes on to add that “its nutrients and antioxidants may boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, lower your risk of certain cancers and promote heart and skin health.”

After about an hour at the museum’s courtyard, I could not return home without walking around the Aga Khan Park. As I looked up in the blue sky above the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome, I saw two birds beautifully gliding at the dome’s left. I was left wondering: Were they turkey vultures, eagles or hawks? Alas, I wasn’t carrying a powerful lens to get a better and sharper close-up.

Please click on photo for enlargement

Headquarters Jamatkhana Toronto at the Ismaili Centre, with birds overhead.
Two birds seen gliding at left of the dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana, part of the Ismaili Centre. Click on image for enlargement. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Returning to the museum’s courtyard on Sunday October 25, offered a much different kind of experience, as the temperature had dropped from Friday’s 22°C to only 8°C. But the museum had that in mind too! Blue lounge blue chairs had been placed in the courtyard, with portable fireplaces where visitors mingled with their family members over light refreshments.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard
Visitors keep warm at a portable fireplace at the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard as temperatures take a dip on Sunday, October 25. 2020. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

The overall experience at the three Aga Khan projects during recent weeks has been overwhelming.

As we all seek good health, I dedicate this post to the humble pumpkin which supports heart and eye health, and boosts immunity, among other benefits.

And, without the pumpkin’s presence in the museum’s courtyard, it may have never occurred to me to search out the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) that have showed that he really liked the pumpkin. As Muslims around the world celebrate his birth anniversary — the Milad un Nabi — on or around October 29, let us seek to learn more about his inspiring life and leadership as well as his faith in God whom he served as the last messenger for 23 long and devoted years, bringing to Muslims the blessing of the Holy Qur’an.

Date posted: October 24, 2020.
Last updated: October 25, 2020 (new photo/information added)

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The Three Shams in Ismaili History: Imam Shamsuddin, Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz

Editor’s Note: Malik Mirza’s recent piece, Exclusive Photo Essay: The Mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, resulted in comments from our readers concerning the status of the shrine today, its role within the Ismaili community, the miracles attributed to Pir Shams, as well as confusion over the identities of Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz. Simerg turned to Mumtaz Ali Tajddin for some answers, and we are pleased to publish his piece that sheds light on the subject.

By RAI MUMTAZ ALI TAJDDIN S. ALI
Special to Simerg

In the contemporary period of 13th century, there is a confusion on the name “Shams” as there were three personalities existing at the same time. These were Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, Pir Sham Sebzewari and Shams Tabriz, which is discussed in this paper. 

1. IMAM SHAMSUDDIN MUHAMMAD

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad (1257-1310), the 28th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis is said to have been born in 646/1230 in the fortress of Maimundiz. He was known as Agha Shams in Syria and Shah Shams in India. He is also known as Shamsu’l Haq in a few Iranian poems. Poet Nizari Kohistani (d. 1320) called him Shamsuddin Shah Nimroz Ali and Shah Shams. He was also known as Shams Zardozi due to residing in a village called Zardoz in Azerbaijan, but another tradition suggests that he had adopted the profession of embroidery, and as such the term zardoz (embroiderer) became his epithet. 

JUVAINI AND MODERN HISTORIANS’ VIEWS ON ISMAILIS AND THE IMAMAT

Ata Malik Juvaini, the Persian historian who wrote an account of the Mongol Empire, wrongly considers the butchery of the Ismailis conducted by the Mongols in Qazwin and Rudhbar following the reduction of Alamut in 1256, as an end of the Ismailis and unbroken line of the Imamate as well. It is however, ascertained from reliable sources that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad had left the fortress of Maimundiz probably on 11th Shawal, 654/November 1, 1256; the Mongols reached there on 17th Shawal, 654/November 7, 1256.

Ata Malik Juvaini joined the Mongols after 12th Zilkada, 654/December 2, 1256, and as is well known entered the library at Alamut, and upon the orders of Mongol leader burnt the entire library, sparing only a few copies of the Qur’an and some other works, just enough to fit into a small wheelbarrow.

According to Bernard Lewis in The Assassins (London, 1967, p. 63), “The extirpation of the Ismailis in Persia was not quite as thorough as Juvaini suggests. In the eyes of the sectarians, Rukn al-Din’s small son succeeded him as Imam on his death and lived to sire a line of Imams.” Marshall Hodgson also writes in The Order of Assassins (Netherland, 1955. pp. 270 and 275) that, “Juvaini assures himself that every Ismaili was killed; yet even if all the members of garrison were in fact killed, a great many other will have escaped.”  He further adds, “but their spirit was more nearly indomitable; as it is from among them that the great future of Nizari Ismailism sprouted again. It is said the child Imam was carried to Adharbayjan, where the Imams lived for some time.” According to W. Montgomery Watt in Islam and the Integration of Society (London, 1961, p. 77), “In 1256, Alamut was surrounded, and was destroyed and in the following year the Imam met his death and there was a widespread massacre of the Nizaris. It may be further mentioned that, despite this catastrophe and the fact that it has never since had a territory of its own, the community was not exterminated and the line of Imams was maintained unbroken.” 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad went to Daylam, and thence moved to Ardabil. It is said that he also lived in Ahar, about 150 miles west of Ardabil. He had been also in Tabriz, which he most possibly evacuated in the early months of 1257 as Halagu invaded Tabriz on July 26, 1257. It seems that he became known as Shams Tabriz in the Sufic circle in Tabriz. Pir Shihabuddin Shah (d. 1884) writes in Khitabat-i Alliya (Tehran, 1963, p. 42) that, “Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad who lived in Tabriz, was compared by the local people to the sun, because of his handsome countenance, and thus he came to be called Shams (the sun) of Tabriz. This gave rise to the confusion between him and Shams Tabrizi, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but they were always in reality two different persons.” 

The tradition has it that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad most probably lived from one to another place under different mantles in the province of Azerbaijan. The veritable locality of his residence, however, has not been substantiated. Azerbaijan was an ideal land for the growing Sufi circles, and the Imam had settled in northern region with his family, where he professed in the embroidery works. 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad is reported to have betrothed to a Sufi lady at Daylam in 1276, or in the next year. His sons, Momin Shah and Kiya Shah operated Ismaili mission as far as Gilan. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310 in Azerbaijan after vesting the office of Imamate to his son, Kassim Shah.

2. PIR SHAMS

The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza. Simerg.
The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza.

Pir Shams was born most probably in Sebzewar, a town in Khorasan, lying 64 miles west of Nishapur. His father Syed Salauddin had been deputed in Baltistan by Imam Kassim Shah, who most probably came into the contact of Taj Mughal in Badakhshan. Kamaluddin Mujahri of Sebzewar writes in Malfuz-i Kamalia that Pir Syed Muinuddin Hasan of Sebzewar of Ajmer had a meeting with Syed Salauddin in Sebzewar in 1165. It is recounted that Pir Shams had gone to Badakhshan with his father at the age of 19 years, and thence he proceeded to Tibet and returned back to Sebzewar.

It is said that after the death of Syed Salauddin, Imam Kassim Shah commissioned Pir Shams as the hujjat of Sind and Hind at Daylam. In referencing the Imam, Pir Shams says: “Adore sincerely the true guiding light manifested in the person of Kassim Shah, the Lord of the Time.” (vide, Garbi, 5:17).

The earliest description of Pir Shams is found in the treatise of the biographies of Sufis, entitled Nafahat al-Uns (comp. 1478) by Nuruddin Abdur Rahman Jami (1414-1492), the last classic poet of Iran. Nurullah bin Sharif Shushtari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (comp. 1604) traces his ancestry back to the Ismaili root. Some details are also found in Tarikh-i Firishta (comp. 1606). The great Sufi saint Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) also referred to Pir Shams in his poetry.

It is indeterminable point in the modern sources as to when Pir Shams was born? The extant materials however don’t afford one to draw a safe conclusion. His death in 1356 however is indisputable, based on the plaque at the mausoleum in Multan. The most confusing and unsolved point is to locate his date of birth. Most of the scholars concur in his age for 115 years, but it however seems that Pir Shams had lived to an advanced age beyond 115 years. Syed Bawa Ahmad Ali Khaki writes in his Dar-i Khuld-i Bari (Ahmadabad, 1905, p. 123) on the basis of an old manuscript that the span of Pir Shams’s life was for 171 years. If the date of his demise in 1356 may be considered genuine, it means that his birth would have been taken place around 1175 during the period of Imam Ala Muhammad (1166-1210). The genealogy of Pir Shams given in the Shajara, preserved in the shrine at Multan, indicates the birth of Pir Shams in 1165, which is also corroborative.

Pir Shams arrived from Daylam to Badakhshan, where he is said to have brought many followers of Momin Shahi sect into the Ismaili fold. He visited Gilgit and proceeded to Tibet and as far as the ranges of the Himalayas. He came back to Ghazna, where he deputed the local converted prince to Badakhshan on mission work. Pir Shams also converted a bulk of the Hindus during their dasera festival after singing garbis (songs) in a temple for ten consecutive nights in the village called Analvad. W. Ivanow places its location in Gujrat, called Anilvad, not far from Ahmadabad. Pir Shams also visited Kashmir in 1316 and converted the Chak and Changad tribes, thence he proceeded to Multan in 1326 for the first time.

Pir Shams Mausoleum in Multan Pakistan, Simerg
A board on a wall of the mausoleum of Pir Shams which briefly describes short incidents from the life of Pir Shams. He is referred to him as ‘Hazrat Shamshuddin Tabrizi Sabzwari’ which has resulted in confusion over his identity Photo: © Malik Mirza.

In Multan, many miracles of Pir Shams are reported, but not potential for historical value. It needs interpretation to translate the miracles. It is therefore difficult to penetrate through the mist of legends, which formed even during the lifetime of Pir Shams and thickened rapidly after his death. The most popular miracle was the bringing down of the sun on earth, which earned him an epithet of taparez (burning) in Punjab. The word taparez is so coherent with that of Tabriz that it began to be pronounced as Tabriz, contriving a wrong theory to merge these two into one. Since Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz were proximate to each other in time, it is probable that Pir Shams, also known as Shams Taprez was confused with that of Shams Tabriz. It is believed that Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, left Konya and then died in in Khoy, where he was buried. A false tradition arose that he moved from Konya to Multan, thus charactering Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz as the same and one, which is absolutely untrue.

Among the Sufis, there existed four principal orders in India, viz. Chisti, Qadari, Suharwardi and Naqashbandi. The period of Pir Shams was thus noted for the several skilled exponents of Sufi thought. He therefore launched his brisk and pervasive mission during the eve of the growing Sufi circles in Punjab. In the villages of Punjab, he mostly converted the Aror or Rohra, a leading caste in south-western part of the Punjab, i.e., of the lower reaches of the five rivers and below their junction, extending through Bahawalpur into Sind. They were mostly cultivators, and their large portion on the lower Chinab were purely agricultures, while in the western Punjab, they were mostly tailors, weavers of mats and baskets, makers of vessels of brass and copper and goldsmiths. Pir Shams appointed musafir (one who travels) in different regions to collect the religious dues, and also built prayer-halls (khana) and appointed their Mukhis. He also introduced the daily prayer in Sairaki dilect, which continued to be recited till the period of his son, Pir Sadarddin. Pir Shams expired in 1356 and was buried at Multan.

MAUSOLEUM OF PIR SHAMS AND ITS RECONSTRUCTION

The mausoleum of Pir Shams is located on the high bank of the old bed of the river Ravi. The tomb is square, 300 feet in height surmounted by a hemispherical dome. It is decorated with ornamental glazed tiles.

Seth Mehr Ali was a prominent person in Sind. His later life was quite different from his early life, which sounds his great leaning towards the doctrine of the Kaysania sect. In spite of the diversity in the oral traditions, there is a common story that Seth Mehr Ali had visited Bombay and then proceeded to Pirana, and came into the contact of the Kaka (headman) of the Imam Shahi sect, named Syed Sharif (d. 1795). This contact would have created his strong disposition towards the veneration of the shrines. Soon after his return, he visited Multan and became the disciple of Makhdum Safdar Ali alias Jiwan Shah, the custodian of the mausoleum of Pir Shams. This contact prompted Seth Mehr Ali to rebuild the mausoleum of Pir Shams. A sum of Rs. 75,000 was spent in its renovation, which he procured through donation in Sind in 1779. He posed himself as a Syed to win the hearts of the people. This is the reason that he is called Syed Mehr Ali in Tawarikh-i Zila’e Multan (Lahore, 1884, p. 85) by Munshi Hukam Chand and Multan: History and Architecture (Islamabad, 1983, p. 206) by Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan.

CULTURE OF VENERATNG SHRINES AND ISMAILI RESPONSE

Syed Mehr Ali intended that the mausoleum should be crowded on the first Friday after 15th Shaban. He therefore he invited the local Shi’ites and the Ismailis of Sadiqabad, Uchh Sharif and Sind, but his objective was foiled. The Shi’ites venerated it and took its possession, but few Ismailis responded.

The culture of veneration and vows gradually continued to thicken. The custodian of the shrine gave thread and so called sacred water. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah visited Multan on February 16, 1950, the Mukhi humbly requested the Imam that some local Ismaili attended the shrine of Pir Shams, claiming that there was power, which fulfilled the vows. The Imam asked the Mukhi to make an announcement in the Jamatkhana that he would visit the shrine of Pir Shams, and the Jamat was also invited to be there

On the next day, before noon, Ismailis gathered outside the mausoleum. The Imam also came and entered alone, while the Ismailis were outside. It is said that the Imam made seven rounds around the grave of Pir Shams, and came out and said to the Ismailis, “You claim that there is power in the shrine.” Then the Imam raised his right hand and put inside his pocket and said, “I have picked up all the power. Hence, there is nothing in the shrine, therefore, don’t come here and make your vows in the Jamatkhana.” Since then, the Ismailis didn’t go to make the vows at the shrine of Pir Shams as well as other shrines of Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin in Uchh.

The shrines of Pir Shams, Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin are under control of the local Muslims.

3. SHAMS TABRIZ OR SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI, MASTER OF JALALUDDIN RUMI

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Tomb of Shams Tabriz in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Shams Tabriz was born either in Daylam or Tabriz in 1165. He was called Parinda (flying bird), because he was always traveling from place to place.

In 1244, while Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was teaching his pupils in an open courtyard next to a fountain in Konya, a shabbily externally dressed but perfectly internally adorned Sufi Shams Tabriz came to their assembly and watched them. He saw Maulana Rumi was referring to a large stack of handwritten books in the course of his teaching. Shams Tabriz asked him as to what was in the books. Rumi scoffed and replied, “O! Sufi. This contains knowledge that is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to recite your rosary.” Unnoticed by Rumi, Shams Tabriz threw the stack of books into a nearby pond of water. When Rumi’s students saw what had occurred they began beating Shams Tabriz. Rumi complained that all his valuable knowledge had been destroyed. Shams Tabriz said, “I will give back your books.”

A visibly dejected Rumi conceded to the request thinking that this was impossible. He was surprised to see that Shams Tabriz lifted the drenched books from the pond, blew dust of them and returned the books intact. He asked Shams Tabriz as to how he did this. Shams Tabriz replied, “This knowledge is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to teach your pupils.” Rumi fell at his feet and was swept into the currents of love. The presence of this ragged Sufi, Shams Tabriz, changed Rumi from a respected professor of theology into a lover of God. This event made Rumi to become a disciple of Shams Tabriz.

Hence, Rumi left orthodox teaching of his disciples, and learnt esoteric treasure from Shams Tabriz. One day, Shams Tabriz mysteriously disappeared, and was never seen again. Some say that he was killed by close disciples of Rumi, who were jealous of the close relation between Rumi and Shams. Other also assert that in the plot of his murder, Sultan Walad, the son of Rumi was involved. Shams Tabriz the master of Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), was not traceable after 1247 in Konya. Shamsuddin Aflaki, who wrote in 1353, stated that the death of Shams Tabriz took place in Konya in 1247.

However a group of Sufis maintained that after leaving Konya, Shams Tabriz travelled to Tabriz, about 900 miles to the east. Interestingly, a tomb of Shams Tabriz that had remained obscure for many centuries was discovered in Khoy in the Western Azerbaijan Province in Iran. It has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The distance from Khoy to Tabriz is approximately 100 miles.

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Bust, monument tower, and Tomb of Shams Tabrizi — in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

As we have noted previously, Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310. When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was in Tabriz, he became known as Shams Tabriz.

Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872), a 19th century poet, scholar and literary historian in the service of Qajar kings, writes in Majmau’l Fusaha that, “Shaikh Abu Hamid Awhadu’ddin Kirmani had seen and met Shams Tabriz in Tabriz.”

It is therefore quite likely that Shaikh Abu Hamid had actually seen Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad in the mantle of Shams Tabriz, and that the Imam’s identity began to be equated with that of Shams Tabriz. Henceforward, the presence of two Shams Tabriz during the same period became perplexing and puzzling. 

When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was identified as the “son of the last ruler of Alamut”, he was made the “son of Alauddin Muhammad,” incorporating him in the above report. 

The scrutiny of the sources indicates that a bulk of the frightened Muslims began to evacuate the vicinity of Rudhbar and Kohistan during the period of Imam Alauddin Muhammad (1221-1255) to escape the main brunt of the Mongols.

The stampede of the Muslims also carried away with them, the then latest report that, “Alauddin Muhammad is the ruler of Alamut, and the Mongols are about to come to reduce Alamut.”

These Muslims ultimately settled down in Qazwin, Daylam and Tabriz, where they came to know the fall of Alamut by the Mongols in 1256. They seem to have generalized an image in mind that the Alamut’s fall would have taken place in the time of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, and this story continued to prevail for many years in Qazwin, Rudhbar and Tabriz, making Imam Alauddin Muhammad as the last ruler of Alamut.

Marco Polo (1254-1324) passed by these regions in 1272, and heard these fantastic stories from these orbits, which he noted in his diary as follows, “I will tell you his story just as I Messer Marco, have heard it told by many people…The Shaikh was called in their language Alaodin…So they were taken, and the Shaikh, Alaodin, was put to death with all his men.” (vide, The Travels of Marco Polo (London, 1958, pp.40-42) by Ronald Latham. 

When the people conclusively identified Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah as the last ruler of Alamut, most probably after 1272, one other tradition seems to have originated to distinguish these two characters. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was deleted from that story from being the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, but Shams Tabriz was made known as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad instead. Being influenced with this tradition, Daulatshah (d. 1494) was the first to show Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, in his Tazkertu’sh Shu’ara.

A question then arises, who was Shams Tabriz?  He indeed was an Ismaili, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but not the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. As to the early life of Shams Tabriz, we are yet in dark. Shamsuddin Aflaki (1310-1354) in Manaqibu’l Arifin and Abdur Rahman Jami (d. 1493) in Nafhatu’l Uns concur that Shams Tabriz was the son of a certain Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad. Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872) in his Majmau’l Fusaha also relied on Aflaki and Jami. According to Silsilatu’ad-Dhahab, it is wrong to allege Shams Tabriz to have been the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. It was only Daulatshah, who made him the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad.

Prof. Muhammad Iqbal of Punjab University, who prepared the Lahore edition of Daulatshah’s work, makes his remarks that: “It is evident that Daulatshah has not written historical facts carefully in his book. He has accepted all sorts of traditions, right or wrong, owing to which several errors have crept into his work.” The British orientalist Edward G. Browne writes in A Literary History of Persia (3:436) that “This is an entertaining but inaccurate work, containing a good selection of historical errors.” 

It is also curious that Daulatshah quoted another tradition of parentage of Shams Tabriz that, “Some people say that he was originally a native of Khorasan and belonged to the town of Bazar. His father had settled in Tabriz for the purpose of doing business in cloth.” It is probable that Shams Tabriz was the son of Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad according to Aflaki and Jami, and he seems to be a native of Khorasan as per another tradition cited by Daulatshah.

Nurullah Shustari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (6:291) states that Shams Tabriz descended from “Ismaili headman” (da’iyani Ismailiyya budand). His father had settled in Tabriz, and was a cloth merchant. Shams Tabriz was indeed an Ismaili like his father. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah delivered a historical speech on 20th July, 1945 at Dar es Salam during the Ismaili Mission Conference in which he said, “Jalaluddin Rumi himself was not an Ismaili, but a murid (disciple) of an Ismaili (Shams Tabriz)”. It clearly means that Shams Tabriz was the master of Jalaluddin Rumi.

There is also a reason to believe that Jalaluddin Rumi must have known both Shams Tabriz and Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, but did not describe that palpably in his Diwan. He however addresses Shams as the heir of the Prophet (verse no. 2473) and compares him to Ali (verse no. 1944), which seems to have been referred only to the Imam. 

Rumi has repeatedly said in his Mathnawi and Diwan that it was not him but Shams talking through him. That is why he did not use his name in any of the verses out of more than 50,000 verses that he left behind. Rumi ends most of his poems with the name of Shams of Tabriz.

Finally, I may humbly note that the above write-up is not conclusive; it still needs further research.

Date posted: September 23, 2020.
Last updated: September 25, 2020 (typo, wrong birthdate was given for Shams Tabriz).

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Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

About the author: Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali is a prolific writer based in Pakistan. He majored in Islamic history with a Masters degree. Over the past several decades, he has contributed numerous articles to Ismaili literary journals, and is also the author of several books including 101-Ismailis Heroes, Encyclopaedia of Ismailism, and Ismaili Pirs,  Sayeds, Vakils of South Asian Region. Most recently his Brief History of Ismaili Imams was serialized on the website Ismaili Digest. Within Ismaili institutions, he has served as a religious education teacher at the Karachi Religious Centre in Kharadar as well as an Honorary Lecturer/Waezeen with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for Pakistan. In addition, he is a curator of Hashoo Museum in Karachi which is dedicated to memorabilia from recent Ismaili history. For his long and devoted services to the Ismaili community, he has been bestowed with the titles of Huzur Mukhi (1986), Alijah (1996) and Rai (2010) by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

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Jamatkhana Ismaili Centre Toronto and Aga Khan Park, Simerg, Photo Malik Merchant

A Poem Inspired by the Reopening of Jamatkhanas

As We Reopen

By Parin Verjee

Approaching the doors of the Jamatkhana
Heads bowed in all humility
Lower your gaze
Pause a moment
Softly say a heartfelt prayer
Shukhrana, Al Hamdu’lillah
The blessed day has arrived
Quieten your thoughts
Touch your heart
Hand on your heart
Smile with your eyes
Greet gently
Gracious to one and all
Carry your mehmani in your heart
Let Allah’s light guide you
To His threshold
Let divine grace
Touch your praying hands
Embrace the silence
Be at peace
The sacred space
Awaits your soulful zikr

Date posted: August 16, 2020.

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About the author: Parin’s love of books, music, theatre, and travel sometimes leads her to writing about her experiences, and the reopening of Jamatkhanas inspired her to pen a few lines here. Originally from Kenya, she studied at Makerere University, Kampala, and at the University of Dijon, France, and lived in Oxford, England, before moving to Canada. She has been in Doha, Qatar, for the last 12 years and living in the Middle East has enhanced her appreciation of Islamic art and culture. She is presently back in Calgary.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click on Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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The featured photo shown at the top of this post was taken on the night of Friday August 14, 2020, when the Headquarters Jamatkhana dome at the Ismaili Centre Toronto was lit up for the first time since mid-March when Jamatkhanas across Canada closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The spectacular lit up dome is visible from the busy Don Valley Parkway, and is much admired by pedestrians and drivers alike as they drive through the Parkway or walk along Eglinton Avenue and Wynford Drive. The photo and the beautiful poem penned by Parin Verjee celebrate the opening of the Headquarters Jamatkahana on Monday August 17, as well as other Jamatkhanas that have opened in recent days or will be opening in the coming days.

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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.

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

The Drape, and an Invitation to Singers to Set up a Geet

By S. GIGA PATNEY
Special to Simerg  

A hundred years ago Katchhi and Kathiawadi Ismaili Khoja Muslims sailed to Africa and Zanzibar to make a living. Today, they have prospered in America, Canada and Europe. They wear western clothes, live in palatial homes and drive expensive cars but in the homes they still speak their rustic dialect and they remember the ‘pacchedi’ (Khoja Muslim head drape) their mothers wore.

The ‘Pacchedi Geet’ in a folk song form, is written in Gujarati, ‘transcreated’ in English, and transliterated in Roman script. The song is composed to remember and celebrate the pioneers who left India a century ago but kept memories of their homeland alive.

My thanks to Sultan Somjee for permission to use the bandhani image, and Zahir Dhalla for transcribing in Gujarati script.

I welcome singers to set up a geet with the lyrics that have been provided below. Recordings or questions regarding the geet may be sent directly to me at safder8@gmail.com or to the editor of Simerg at simerg@aol.com.

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Drape
(Khoja Pacched̨̨i)

Kohl-grey silk
Studded with white stars
A border of a thousand flowers.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Milk, oudh and attar
Strands of jasmine hanging,
Underneath, I sleep in deep slumber.
Mother, these are the colours under your drape.

Ghee, molasses,
Apricots and raisins.
Mother, your bread tastes so sweet.
Mother, what colours under your drape?

Storms, thunder
And lightening!
Frightened, I hide under your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

Witches, warlocks
Ghosts and giants
Scare me not under the shade of your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

With tables and chairs
We built boats
And flew sails made out of your drape.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Leaving home
We crossed the seas.
We spread Giga Patney’s patola.
Mother, how can I break from the ties of your drape?

Your eyes closed,
Your soul departed.
We draped you in rosy pink.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

_________________

પછેડી
(Gujarati)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

સુરમય રેશમ
માથે ધોળા તારા
ચારે કોર હજાર ફૂલ ની પટ્ટી …..૧
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ કેટલા રંગ ?

દૂધ ઊધ ને અંતર
માથે ટાંક્યા મોતિયા
છાયેં હું સુવું ઊંડી નીંદરે …..૨
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ઘી ગોળ અને
સૂકો મેવો
મા, મને મીઠી લાગે તારી રોટલી …..૩
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે કેવા રંગ ?

વાયુ વીજળી
મેધા ઘરજે
હું ડરી સંતાઉ પછેડી ની નીચે …..૪
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ડાકણ દઈંત
ભૂત રાક્ષસ
મને ન ડરાવે પછેડી ના છાયેં …..૫
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ તેવા રંગ.

મેજ ખુરસી ના
વાણ બનાવયા
ઊપર ઊડાડીયા પછેડી ના સઢ …..૬
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે તેવા રંગ.

દેસ છોડી
દરિયા તરીયા
ગીગા પટણી ના પટોળા પાથરીયા …..૭
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પછળ કેમ છોળું ?

આંખ મીચાણી
જીવ ઊડયાં
ઓઢાળી તને ગુલાબી પછેડી…..૮
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે એવા રંગ.

_________________

Pached̨i
(Gujarati transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Mathé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ni putti
Maai tari pacched̨I ni pacchad̨ ketla rung

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Mathé tankya motia
Cchayeñ huñ suwuuñ oondi ninderé
Maai tari pacched̨i ni pacchad ewa rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
Ané sooko mewo
Ma mané mith̨I lagé tari rotli
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Huñ santauñ durri pacched̨I ni niché
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Mané na darawé pachced̨I na cchayeñ
Maai tari pacched̨̨i ni pacchad̨ tewa rung

Mej khud̨si na
Waan̨ banawya
Ooper oodad̨̨iya pacched̨̨I na suddh
Maai tari pacched̨i ni niché kewa rung

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariya tariyañ
Giga Patney na patol̨a pathariyañ
Ma tari pacched̨i ni pucchud̨ kem cchod̨uñ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i tunné gulabi pacched̨̨i
Ma tari pacched̨i ni niché ewa rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

_________________

Pached̨i
(Kachchhi transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Muthé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ji putti
Maai toji pacched̨I ji pudthia kitra rung?

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Muthé tungya motia
Cchayeñ niche awuñ suwañ oondi ninder mé
Maai tojii pacched̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
né sooko mewo
Ma muké mith̨i lagé tojii mani
Maai tojii pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Awuñ dhirji santayañ pacched̨I ji niché
Maai toji pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Muké na dhirjai pachced̨I ja cchayeñ
Maai tojii pacched̨̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Mej khud̨si ja
Waan̨ banayasi
Ooper oodariasi pacched̨̨I ja suddh
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché keda rung?

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariyo tariyasi
Giga Patney ja patol̨a pathariyañsi
Maai toii pacched̨i ji pucchud̨ kiñ cchod̨yañ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i toké gulabi pacched̨̨i
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché heda rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

Date posted: August 15, 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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This piece is also available as a PDF File, and may be downloaded by clicking on The Drape PDF.

S. Giga Patney, Simerg The Drape Pacchedi
S. Giga Patney

S. Giga Patney has taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan, Portugal and England; and English as a Second Language in England and Canada. He won the Teacher Fellowship at the University of London Institute of Education when he was a teacher with the Inner London Education Authority. He was Head of Language Service In Berkshire, UK and Principal Lecturer in the Department of Teaching Studies at The University of North London. He joined the Department of Language Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada to teach on their post-graduate program. He has now retired and lives in the interior of British Columbia where he does his creative writing.

Books by the author:

Literary Fiction:
The Shiv-Shivani Trilogy:
Book 1: Shiva – Lord of Dance – A Novel in Raga Bhairava
Book 2: Shivani’s Story – A Novel in Raga Bhairavi
Book 3: Shivani’s Dance of Destruction – A Novel in Four Movements.

Fact-fiction:
Ties of Bandhana- The Story of Alladin Bapu

Facetiae:
The Alchemist Quartet
Book 1: The Alchemist and the Prince – A Story of the Prince With a Nut in His Navel
Book 2: The Alchemist’s Manuscript – Of the Travels of the Merchant of Yemen & His servant in the Erythrean Sea as Related to the Alchemist of Gozo, the Younger
Book 3: The Alchemist and the Empire of Evil
Book 4 (Forthcoming): The Alchemist and the Indian Boy

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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.

Brief notes on 3 books by Ismaili poet Ayaz Pirani, inspired by the oral tradition of Ginans

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor Simerg (2009), Simergphotos (2012) and Barakah (2017)

When Ayaz Pirani is in your neighbourhood doing a reading from one of his books, please attend the event. You will become utterly relaxed listening to his beautiful poetry reading in a calm, gentle and soothing voice. He was in Toronto last year and I attended his reading at Knife Fork Books on 244 Augusta Avenue in the vibrant Kensington Market Area. I couldn’t locate the place easily, and even the NU Bügel staff did not know there was beautiful poetry being served upstairs on a regular basis. After a few more inquiries, I climbed a few set of stairs, excused myself for arriving a little bit late and sat to listen to Ayaz! The small crowd, mainly a gathering of Ismaili youth and professionals, kept urging Ayaz to continue with his reading, and he graciously complied. Meeting him later, I came away even more convinced of the nobility of his heart and soul. I acquired Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets but had to put it away in storage with my other books, as I was preparing to leave for Vancouver to be with my mum. I never got to reading the book nor interviewing this highly gifted literary personality in the Ismaili community. Recently, I asked him to present a short overview of his titles. I am delighted to present his piece below. Links to some on-line stores selling Ayaz’s books are provided at the end of the piece. I look forward to interviewing this literary jewel in the coming months, once my nomadic life style comes to an end!

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“My love of ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition” — Ayaz Pirani

Ayaz Pirani author of Happy you are here and Kabir has a thousand Pockets
Ayaz Pirani reading from “Happy You Are Here” at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. Photo: Ayaz Pirani.

By AYAZ PIRANI

With my first book, Happy You Are Here, I began to wrestle with geography and humanness in my poems. Canadian poet Suzanne Buffam called Happy You Are Here “tender and intimate” and Heather Birrell said “Ayaz Pirani positions himself as a kind of plainspoken anti-prophet, bringing human nosiness and gratitude to a number of subjects—displacement and immigration, the oak woods of the Arroyo Seco, a mother’s love, a pub in Toronto…—as well as the more mysterious geographies of the soul.”

My second book, Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets, was described as “wisdom poetry” that was “surprising and sly” by New England poet David Rivard. All of my work, including my new chapbook, Bachelor of Art, is informed by my affection for Ginans. Perhaps for this reason Rivard felt they were tinged with perennial truths.

My love of Ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition. When a Ginan is experienced in situ, that is, in a Jamatkhana, there is further the resonances that come from a living heritage.

Happy You Are Here was reviewed in The Dalhousie Review and Qwerty Magazine and my individual poems have recently appeared in The Malahat Review, ARC Poetry Magazine, and The Antigonish Review.

Bachelor of Art by Ayaz Pirani
Cover of Bachelor of Art features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the Tiger of God

My new work, Bachelor of Art, is a chapbook of poems. Individual poems include “Ali’s Tiger,” “Nutshells,” and “Sat Panth.” It’s a bit hard to talk about my own work without sounding pretentious, especially when it’s a genre like poetry which has so many romantic associations. In my work I’m trying to describe a particular diaspora experience by finding resources in various treasuries: ginans, divans (of Kabir, Ghalib, et al.), and English literature. I suppose I’m conscious of trying to situate my poems as a Canadian experience as well. I’m drawn to subjects like loneliness, immigration, faith, human awkwardness, love.

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Ayaz Pirani’s books are available in local bookstores and online at Amazon and Chapters-Indigo. His new book, Bachelor of Art, is currently available from Anstruther Press for $10. The cover features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the tiger of God.

Date posted: June 30, 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.

Photos: Countdown to the reopening of the Aga Khan Museum on June 27, 2020

The Aga Khan Museum in Toronto reopens to the public on Saturday, June 27, 2020. As a passionate supporter of the Museum, Simerg’s Malik Merchant decides to visit the grounds on the penultimate day of the reopening to take some pictures. Please click on image below or Aga Khan Museum Reopening Countdown Photos

Heech Sculpture Aga Khan Museum Simergphotos
Please click on photo for Aga Khan Museum countdown to reopening.

Date posted: June 26, 2020.

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June 28, 1957: A Special Day for Islam in America – President Eisenhower opens Mosque in Washington, D.C.

“I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion” — President Eisenhower, June 28, 1957, Islamic Center, Washington D.C.

In an on-line story dated February 3, 2016, TIME magazine informed its readers that President Barrack Obama would be visiting the Islamic Society Mosque in Baltimore, Maryland, thus setting a milestone for his presidency. The reporter, Sarah Begley, reminded readers that the President was far from being the first American President to do so.

Story continues after photo

Islamic Center, Washington, D.C. Conceived in 1944, the site for the mosque was purchased in 1946, and the cornerstone was laid on January 11, 1949. The mosque was designed by Italian architect Mario Rossi and completed in 1954. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive collection / US Library of Congress.

The honour, she said, belonged to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as the 34th President of the United States from 1953 to 1961. He opened the Islamic Center of Washington in the city’s Embassy Row district on June 28, 1957. First lady Mamie Eisenhower accompanied him to the dedication ceremony.

In his speech, President Eisenhower emphasized the importance of religious freedom in the USA, and highlighted the “Muslim genius” that has cultivated some of history’s most important inventions, discoveries, art, literature and thought now considered indispensable to modern civilization.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Remarks at the Opening of the Islamic Center in Washington D.C. on June 28, 1957

34th US President Dwight D. Eisenhower. White House portrait painted by James Anthony Wills.

By DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
(see profile, below)

[For a photo of the President delivering the speech, please click Politicio — ed.]

Mr. Ambassador, Dr. Bisar, Governors of the Islamic Center, and distinguished guests:

It is a privilege to take part in this ceremony of dedication. Meeting with you now, in front of one of the newest and most beautiful buildings in Washington, it is fitting that we rededicate ourselves to the peaceful progress of all men under one God.

And I should like to assure you, my Islamic friends, that under the American Constitution, under American tradition, and in American hearts, this center, this place of worship, is just as welcome as could be a similar edifice of any other religion. Indeed, America would fight with her whole strength for your right to have here your own church and worship according to your own conscience. This concept is indeed a part of America, and without that concept we would be something else than what we are.

The countries which have sponsored and built this Islamic Center have for centuries contributed to the building of civilization. With their traditions of learning and rich culture, the countries of Islam have added much to the advancement of mankind. Inspired by a sense of brotherhood, common to our innermost beliefs, we can here together reaffirm our determination to secure the foundation of a just and lasting peace.

Our country has long enjoyed a strong bond of friendship with the Islamic nations and, like all healthy relationships, this relationship must be mutually beneficial.

Civilization owes to the Islamic world some of its most important tools and achievements. From fundamental discoveries in medicine to the highest planes of astronomy, the Muslim genius has added much to the culture of all peoples. That genius has been a wellspring of science, commerce and the arts, and has provided for all of us many lessons in courage and in hospitality.

This fruitful relationship between peoples, going far back into history, becomes more important each year. Today, thousands of Americans, both private individuals and governmental officials, live and work — and grow in understanding — among the peoples of Islam.

At the same time, in our country, many from the Muslim lands — students, businessmen and representatives of states — are enjoying the benefits of experience among the people of this country. From these many personal contacts, here and abroad, I firmly believe that there will be a broader understanding and a deeper respect for the worth of all men; and a stronger resolution to work together for the good of mankind.

As I stand beneath these graceful arches, surrounded on every side by friends from far and near, I am convinced that our common goals are both right and promising. Faithful to the demands of justice and of brotherhood, each working according to the lights of his own conscience, our world must advance along the paths of peace.

Thank you very much.

Date posted: April 28, 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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Pakistan Prime Minister Huseyn Suhrawardy being received at the White House by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1957. Photo: Thomas J. O’Halloran / US Library of Congress.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) served as the thirty-fourth president of the United States, governing from 1953 to 1961, after a military career culminating in his role as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II. Eisenhower’s presidency was largely occupied by foreign affairs, most notably the Korean War, the expansion of U.S. involvement in the Middle East after the Suez Crisis, and the general deepening of the Cold War. Even domestically, many of Eisenhower’s achievements were shaped by national security, including the construction of the interstate highway system. Eisenhower joined the Presbyterian Church as an adult and played a role in the addition of “In God We Trust” on American currency. Eisenhower famously stated that “our government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

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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.

Noteworthy book: “This Day in Presidential History,” by Paul Brandus. For each of the 365 days of the year, Brandus offers fascinating facts, historical anecdotes, and pithy quotations from and about all the presidents of the United States, from George Washington to Donald Trump.

Nade Ali, Cry Aloud to Ali: Must Listen, Powerful song

Naad E Ali, Original Song at Youtube, Munir Gillani Official

[Note: The lyrics in the song in both Arabic and English are slightly different from the transliteration and translation published below – Ed.]

Nade Ali, Nade Ali, Nade Ali
Nade Aliyyan mazhar al-ajaib
Tajidahu awnan lakafin-nawaib
Kullu hammin wa ghammin
sayanj-i Ali Bi wilayatika,
Ya Ali! Ya Ali! Ya Ali!

Translation

Call Ali call Ali call Ali,
the manifestation of marvels
He will be your helper in difficulty
Every anxiety and sorrow will end
Through your friendship.
O Ali, O Ali, O Ali.

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: April 6, 2020.

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We welcome your feedback. Please complete the form below or click on LEAVE A COMMENT if the form is not displayed. Comments are published at the discretion of the editor, and may be subject to moderation.

Beautiful recitations of the 16th century Ginan "Navroz na din Sohamna," and composer Sayyid Fatehali Shah's fervent search and illuminating meeting with his Spiritual Master, the Imam of the Time

Conceived and created by Ottawa’s Dr. Nurin Merchant, this Navroz greeting incorporates the rose and jasmine flowers which are extremely popular in Iran during the celebration of Navroz. The base of the picture shows shoots of wheat grass signifying robust evergreen health throughout the year.

Abstract: Two beautiful recitations of the Navroz Ginan by Shamshudin Bandali Haji and Mumtaz Bhulji followed by an explanation by Sadruddin Hassam. In the Ginan, Sayyid Fatehali Shah relates the combined experience of the zahiri deedar (exoteric or physical glimpse or meeting) that he was granted by the 45th Ismaili Imam, Shah Khalilullah (peace be on him), and the inner joy of contentment and ecstasy that he experienced with the bestowal of Noorani (spiritual or esoteric) grace.

Were it not for the shutting down of Jamatkhanas because of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of Ismailis around the world would be making their preparations for the Navroz celebrations in their respective Jamatkhanas on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The beautiful occasion of Navroz generates immense happiness and makes our hearts jump with joy as we receive blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam together with roji and Ab-e-Shifa.

Included in the Navroz Jamatkhana ceremonies, is the recitation of selected verses of the traditional Navroz Ginan and verses from Qasidas.

We once again provide an explanation of the Ginan that many readers have read over and over again but still like to return to it because of its significance in the context of a murid’s yearning to be close to the Imam of the Time. We are pleased to include a full recitation of the Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji of Edmonton as well as a shorter recitation by Mumtaz Bhulji. At the beginning of his powerful recitation, Alwaez Shamshu Haji has incorrectly attributed the Ginan to Pir Shams. This misunderstanding is clarified in the piece on Navroz by Sadruddin Hassam that is produced below.

Navroz Ginan recitation by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Recitation of Navroz Ginan by Late Shamshudin Bandali Haji

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Navroz Ginan recitation of selected verses by Mumtaz Bhulji

Recitation of selected verses of Navroz Ginan by Mumtaz Bhulji

These 2 recitations have been retrieved from University of Saskatchwan’s Library webportal Ginan Central. Click on the link, and you will be able to hear many more recitations of the same Ginan by other Ismaili members of the Jamat.

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Explanation of Navroz Ginan

By SADRUDIN K. HASSAM

Introduction

An attempt is made in this article to give an interpretation of the devotional Ginan Navroz na din Sohamna, which is recited by Ismaili Jamats in many parts of the world on the occasion of the celebration of the Persian New Year which falls on March 21st. In this ginan the composer, Sayyid Fatehali Shah, relates the combined experience of the zahiri deedar (exoteric or physical glimpse or meeting) that he was granted by the 45th Ismaili Imam, Shah Khalilullah (peace be on him), and the inner joy of contentment and ecstasy that he experienced with the bestowal of Noorani (spiritual or esoteric) grace. At the same time, he gently persuades the mu’min (a believer) to always strive for esoteric understanding as well as to develop a lasting spiritual relationship with the Imam of the Time. It may be noted that in Shia Imami Ismaili theology each Imam is the bearer of the same Divine Light (Noor). The Divine Institution of Imamat has its origins in the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Ali (peace be on him), who was declared as the successor to Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) at the famous historical event at Ghadir-e-Khumm.

As the composer has to narrate the exoteric experience as well as the ineffable esoteric relationship, the ginanic diction that he uses has to resort to the traditional and familiar imagery and symbolic expressions in order to convey his message. The words, the imagery and the symbolic expressions, however, blend beautifully in this ginan. This beauty, unfortunately, cannot be recreated in this prosaic interpretation. Nor can we go into the prosody of the ginan.

In this reading we shall first address a common held misunderstanding about the identity of the composer. We shall then make an attempt to describe the exoteric experience of the composer’s meeting with the Imam, as so wonderfully narrated in the ginan, and finally we shall examine and interpret some of the key words and expressions to convey the ineffable spiritual experience as well as the composer’s gentle persuasion to the mu’mins. One hopes that this brief reading will heighten the reader’s appreciation and understanding of this ginan.

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A clarification about the composer and the period of composition

The composition of this ginan is sometimes wrongly attributed to Pir Shams al-Din who lived more than four centuries before the actual composer of this ginan, Sayyid Fatehali Shah. This mistake may have arisen because of the pen-name he has used in the second line of the last verse which reads:

Bhane Shamsi tamme sambhro rookhi.

It was a normal practice for the composer to mention his own name in the concluding verses of the ginan. But Shamsi here does not refer to Pir Shams al-Din  – rather it was the pen-name of  Sayyid Fatehali Shah.

He, like a number of other Sayyids, who did the work of da’wa (propagation and teaching) in India, may have been a descendant of Pir Hassan Kabirdin. Sayyid Fatehali Shah himself preached among the communities in Sind. He eventually died there and was buried near Jerruk which is south of Hyderabad in Pakistan.

The first two lines in verse seven give us the clues as to the period when this ginan was composed as well as validate the real name of the composer. These lines read:

Eji gaddh Chakwa ne kille Shah Khalilullah ramme
Tiyaan Fatehali ne mayya karine bolaawiyya

Shah Khalilullah here refers to the forty-fifth Ismaili Imam, whose Imamat was from 1780 to 1817 A.C. He lived in Iran in the town of Mahallat, which is located approximately 362 kilometers from Tehran. The town is situated on the slope of a mountain. Mahallat is also amongst the most ancient residential areas in Iran and was an important base of the Ismailis; hence the many references to the 46th and 47th Imams (Aga Khan I and II) as Aga Khan Mahallati. Sayyids and murids of the Imam from various parts used to come to Mahallat to pay their respects. This ginan is therefore fairly recent, having been composed either towards the end of eighteenth century or early in the nineteenth century.

It appears that like many other murids, Sayyid Fatehali Shah travelled from Sind to Iran to meet Hazrat Imam Shah Khalilullah.

On arriving in Mahallat on the day of Navroz, he learns that the Imam has gone to the woods on a hunting expedition. The Sayyid naturally feels disappointed that having come all the way, he did not have the opportunity for the deedar. This feeling of sadness is lamented in the first stanza of the ginan. Despite this, there is an undercurrent of inner hope at the prospect of having the deedar by the mercy of the Imam.

The pangs of separation from the beloved and the yearning for reunion are a recurrent theme in Ismaili ginans and also in Sufi mystical poetry. In this ginan, there is the lament of this separation, but in keeping with the traditional ginanic function, there is also gentle persuasion and hope of spiritual union.

We shall now examine how Sayyid Fatehali Shah relates his zaheri deedar of the Imam and how this blends with his esoteric experience.

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The meeting with the Imam of the Time in the woods and at the fort 

In the following four verses (1, 2, 3 and 7), Sayyid Shamsi relates his quest for the Master which leads to his meeting with Imam Shah Khalilullah. The meetings (deedar) fulfilled his intense yearning.

Transliteration:

Eji Navroz na din sohamna,
Shah Ali Qayam shikaar ramwa vann gaya,
Sevak na mann thaya oodassi,
Praan Ali charne rahiya…..1

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

On a beautiful day of Navroz,
Imam-e-Zaman had gone to the woods to hunt.
(I) His murid (disciple) became sad at heart (for missing my Master),
as my soul was yearning to be at the feet of the Imam. (An expression of respect and – obedience to the Imam)….1

Navruz (Navroz – Gujrati variation) is a Persian word meaning ‘New Year’s Day’ (twenty-first March). This is the first day of spring, hence the day is beautiful (sohamna).
Shah Ali Qayam refers to Imam-e-Zaman (Imam of the Time) because Noor-e-Imama is everpresent (qayam).
Shikaar ramwa gaya  means ‘went hunting’ and vann means ‘woods.’
Sevak is ‘one who is ready to serve or obey,’ in this case a ‘disciple’ or a ‘murid.’
Praan means ‘inner life’ or ‘soul.’

VERSE 2

Transliteration

Eji Shah Qayam preete jo chint baandhi
Nar ne preete amme vann gaya
Eva vann sohamna Nar Qayam ditha,
Dela dai devanta rahiya …..2

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Impatient because of my ardent and deep loving desire to meet the Imam,
I also went into the woods,
which in the presence of the Imam
unfolded like heavenly gates looking angelically beautiful….2

The expression preete jo chint baandhi literally means ‘with love when (one) focuses on the remembrance (dhikr).’
Dela dai devanta rahiya is an idiomatic expression implying ‘the unveiling of angelic (devanta) beauty with the opening of gates (dela).’ When the murid (devotee) searches inwards  for the murshid (master), spiritual insight keeps on unveiling the gates with ever-increasing beauty.

VERSE 3

Transliteration

Eji bhalu thayu Saahebe soomat aali,
Shah Ali Qayam saathe ramwa amme vann gaya.
Anant aasha poori amaari
Shah dil bhaave gamya….3

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

It was a blessing that the Master inspired in me the wisdom
so that I went into the woods.
My intense yearning was fulfilled
because  true bliss had blossomed in my heart…..3

Saahebe soomat aali means ‘the Master inspired in me the wisdom.’
Anant asha poori amaari
means ‘my intense yearning (for deedar, both zahiri and batini) was fulfilled.’

VERSE 7

Transliteration

Eji gaddh Chakwa ne kille Shah Khalilullah ramme,
Tiyaan Fatehaline mayya kari ne bolaawiya,
Anant aasha poori amaari
Neet Ali Noore oothiya….7

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Shah Khalilullah, pleasantly relaxing at the fortress in Chakwa,
graciously summoned me (Fatehali) in his presence;
then with the constant overflowing of His Noor,
fulfilled my many ardent wishes (for spiritual growth)….7

The expression Neet Ali Noore oothiya implies ‘the mystical experience of the overflowing of the Noorani Deedar of Ali (The Imam Eternal) which was granted (to him).’

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The inner search and experience

In the remaining four verses (4, 5, 6 and 8 ) of the ginan, Sayyid Shamsi, touches upon his own inner yearnings and gently persuades the listener to seek out the spiritual vision through the love and grace of the spiritual lord.

VERSE 4

Transliteration

Eji hette Alisu hirakh baandho,
Avichal ranga Sahebse girahiya,
Evi chint baandhi Nar Qayam saathe,
Sat bhandaar motiye bhariya….4

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Be joyfully bound in the love of Ali
And attain the unfading spiritual color (the state of bliss) from the Master;
When my mind was bound to the Ever-Living Lord in contemplation
Reality adorned (the Soul) with priceless treasure of (Noorani) pearls….4

Avichal ranga Sahebse girahiya means ‘the permanent state of bliss from the Lord’ and refers to the nafs-i-mutmainna or ‘the contented self’ (Holy Qur’an, 89:27). It is a state of mind which is serene because the self has understood the Reality. The verse of the Holy Qur’an reads: But ah! thou soul at peace! (translated M. Pickthall).

VERSE 5

Transliteration

Eji amme Saheb saathe sahel kidha,
Riddh siddhaj paamiya,
Ek mann ginan je saambhre
Aa jeev tena odhariya….5

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

I (Fatehali) relished the spiritual journey with the Master (the Imam),
and (as a result) I was blessed with spiritual elevation and gnosis (spiritual insight).
He who listens to the Ginans attentively (and strives for the contemplative knowledge),
his soul finds the path to salvation….5

Here the Sayyid implies that a mu’min should strive for the batini deedar (spiritual reality of the Imam). One may achieve this with the blessing of the Imam.

VERSE 6

Transliteration

Eji jeev jiyaare joogat paame,
Praan popey ramm rahiya,
Agar chandan prem rasiya,
Hette hans sarowar zeeliya…..6

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

When the self understands reality,
the soul blends beautifully like a flower
and experiences musk and sandalwood-like fragrance.
The self floats in ecstasy of love as a swan swims in a lake….6

This verse contains symbolic expressions and imagery to convey the ineffable serenity and the inner joy of the fortunate one who has been graced with the the batini (esoteric) experience. The life of such a person becomes beautiful like a flower.

The fragrance of musk (agar) and sandalwood (chandan) symbolizes good behavior of the gifted one through speech and good deeds.

The swan (hans) represents the soul that is pure. Through esoteric and ecstatic experiences it remains liberated and is in abiding love for the beloved.

VERSE 8

Transliteration

Eji bhai re moman tamey bhaave araadho,
Bhane Shamsi tamey saambhro rookhi,
Saaheb na goon nahi wisaare,
Tena praan nahi thashe dookhi….8

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

O momin brothers! With deep affection remember the Lord.
Take heed and listen to what Shamsi says:
“They who do not forget the batin of the Imam (realizable through Imam’s grace),
their souls will never ever be miserable or unhappy”…..8

Sayyid Shamsi gently reminds his momin brothers (rookhi) always to remember the Lord with affection. Here, rookhi is probably the intimate form of the word rikhisar which is used in the ginans to refer to mu’min brothers. The word has been used thus to rhyme with the last word of the stanza dookhi (miserable).

The last two lines are to remind us not to forget the batin of the Imam but to strive towards it through regular prayers. Those who carry out these responsibilities with dedication and devotion can never  be unhappy whatever the worldly life might impose upon them. Thus the souls of the true mu’mins will always be at peace within themselves, knowing that they are under the protection and guidance of a living manifest Imam.

“Remember the Day when we will summon all human beings with their Imam. …” – The Holy Qur’an 17:71

From the above discourse, we can see why the ginan is appropriate for the occasion of  Navroz, which marks the commencement of a new year. The glorious transformation of nature in spring reminds us of the creative power of Allah, who continually showers His bounties for us. Thus, the festival of Navroz should effect a spiritual renewal in each one of us. It should inspire greater love for Imam-e-Zaman as is enjoined upon us by Allah and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).

This Navroz ginan by Sayyid Fatehali Shah reminds us of our spiritual obligations for continuous search for enlightenment through the Ta’alim (teachings and guidance) of the Imam of the time.

Date posted: March 19, 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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This reading has been adapted by Simerg from the original article, “Eji Navroz Na Din Sohamna – An Interpretation,” by Sadrudin K. Hassam, which appeared in Ilm, Volume 9, Number 2, (March 1985).