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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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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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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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).

The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow: Splendid new book on the Fatimids looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation; + 2 videos

The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow
The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow, published on January 14, 2020 by the Princeton University Press; Pages: 624; Size: 7 x 10 in. Illus: 83 color + 17 b/w illus. 4 maps. 4c throughout. To purchase hardcover, Kindle or Kobo versions see links at bottom of this page.

Very recently this website reproduced An interview with authors of Lost Maps of the Caliphs: A meticulous book about an extraordinary Fatimid manuscript illustrating the heavens and the earth as was known in 11th century Cairo.

Grabbing our attention now is a splendid new book on the Fatimids that looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation. In an editorial review of the book, Konrad Hirschler of the Freie Universität Berlin describes Marina Rustow’s work “as a veritable magnum opus that will remain a point of reference for decades to come.” He also notes that “there are few books like this one that take the reader on such a long-distance journey across centuries and writing systems.”

The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue is Marina Rustow’s second work on the Fatimids. Her first one was entitled Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate. She is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and professor of Near Eastern studies and history at Princeton University. She is director of the Princeton Geniza Lab and a MacArthur fellow. Her latest work is also praised by Geoffrey Khan, University of Cambridge, who states that “with great historiographical skill, Rustow brings new insights into the history of the medieval Middle East through a holistic analysis of the surviving state documents of the Fatimid dynasty. This is a splendid book.”

Marina Rustow has made very interesting and informative presentations of her research and work at the American Philosophical Society and the University of New Mexico. Links to both the videos are provided at the end of this piece.

The lost archive of the Fatimid caliphate survived in an unexpected place: the storage room, or geniza, of a synagogue in Cairo, recycled as scrap paper and deposited there by medieval Jews. In the book Marina Rustow tells the story of this extraordinary find, inviting readers to reconsider the longstanding but mistaken consensus that before 1500 the dynasties of the Islamic Middle East produced few documents, and preserved even fewer.

Beginning with government documents before the Fatimids and paper’s westward spread across Asia, Rustow reveals a millennial tradition of state record keeping whose very continuities suggest the strength of Middle Eastern institutions, not their weakness. Tracing the complex routes by which Arabic documents made their way from Fatimid palace officials to Jewish scribes, the book provides a rare window onto a robust culture of documentation and archiving not only comparable to that of medieval Europe, but, in many cases, surpassing it. Above all, Rustow argues that the problem of archives in the medieval Middle East lies not with the region’s administrative culture, but with our failure to understand preindustrial documentary ecology.

Illustrated with stunning examples from the Cairo Geniza, this compelling book advances our understanding of documents as physical artifacts, showing how the records of the Fatimid caliphate, once recovered, deciphered, and studied, can help change our thinking about the medieval Islamicate world and about premodern polities more broadly.

The hard copy or electronic Kindle version of “The Lost Archive” may be purchased at the following websites:
Princeton
Amazon & Amazon Canada
Indigo

Date posted: March 8, 2020.

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American Philosophical Society presentation by Marina Rustow (34 minutes)

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University of New Mexico presentation by Marina Rustow (1 hour 35 minutes)

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Amazing – Must watch Abida Parveen’s rendition of “Man Kunto Maula, Ali Maula Maula, Ali Ali Ali…” from a live concert in Oslo, Norway

Abida Parveen performing in Oslo, Norway. Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

On Saturday, February 29, 2020, Abida Parveen performed in Melbourne, Australia, in a rare appearance outside Pakistan. On the day of her performance she gave an interview to Andrew Ford, host of ABC Australia’s The Music Show.” In discussing shades of Sufi music (Kafi) towards the end of the interview, the last question Ford asked Abida was what she would be singing in Melbourne that evening, and she replied “Man Kunto Maula.” She demonstrated a few lines from the song in the studio. The famous words are attributed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May peace be upon him and his family) at Ghadir Khumm when he said, “He whose Maula I am, Ali is his Maula” thus giving Hazrat Ali parity with himself as his successor to the Divine Institution of Imamat, a hereditary institution that continues to this day under the 49th Imam, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The following rendition of Man Kunto Maula sung by Abida Parveen in Oslo, Norway, is deeply inspiring and worth listening to in full. It has been viewed on YouTube more than 2.7 million times.

Date posted: March 1, 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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The traditional Ismaili Motto “Work No Words” needs a revision to “Work and Many Words” in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Farman

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

“Today my Farman is ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy…” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Calgary, May 10, 2018.

The volunteer's traditional motto given by the late Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, "Work No Words" needs a revision to "Work and Many Words" in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee Farman made in Calgary in 2018. Malik Merchant, publisher and editor of Simerg and Barakah, provides his insight on the mottos.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets representatives of the Jamat on his arrival in Calgary, Alberta, for his Diamond Jubilee visit in May 2018.

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

The Ismaili community is a dynamic community with the Imam-of-the-Time guiding his followers according to the time. The essence of the faith remains the same but the form may change over time in cognizance of differences in traditions, cultural, social or other factors. Similarly, there could be changes over time in the manner in which voluntary services may be rendered. Paraphrasing the 48th Imam’s Farman, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah had once said that we should follow the Farmans of the Imam-of-the-Time, noting that as the world changes, even his Farmans would change as time progressed.

Ismaili Volunteers Bage
The volunteer’s badge with the motto “Work No Words” is based on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s message, “Today I will give you  a small motto and that is ‘Work No Words’.” The motto needs to be revised to reflect Mawlana Shah Karim’s Diamond Jubilee Farman in Calgary “Work and Many Words.”

One of the best known motto given by the late Imam in the 20th century to the volunteers of the Ismaili community was “Work No Words.” It is inscribed on every badge that an Ismaili volunteer wears today. It is also something that many honorary workers serving in institutions in various capacities constantly bear in mind.

What do these words actually mean for any volunteer, badged or otherwise?

I think the motto carries several meanings. Perhaps it is an expression of humility — that one does the work without seeking recognition.

It can be perceived to mean that you serve without question and not react to any attitude that may be shown to you while you are doing your work. 

Other volunteers may have their own personal interpretations of the motto during the performance of their duties, and apply it during their service.

Remarkably, that motto was mentioned in the Farman Mawlana Hazar Imam made in Canada during the Diamond Jubilee. At the second Calgary mulaqat, on May 10th, 2018, while mentioning and praising the work of the volunteers, he made a reference to his grandfather’s motto “Work No Words” and declared that “Today my Farman is, ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy….” 

Eighteen months have since passed but still there seems to be no discussion on this matter. The old motto “Work No Words” appears everywhere in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the volunteers including a new video “All Work, No Words” that has just been released at The Ismaili website. There is absolutely no reference to the most recent Farman and the new motto. For example, I was quite surprised that the President of the National Council for Tanzania, Amin Lakhani, speaking as recently as July 19, 2019, used the motto that Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah gave in one of his speeches, but did not make any reference to the new motto given by Mawlana Hazar Imam. When I raised the issue with a long serving Jamati member, the volunteer became very defensive saying that he would like to see the old motto remain on his badge.

I beg to differ, I believe that we now have to adopt to a new paradigm based on the most recent Farman, “Work, and Many Words.”

How then is this to be interpreted?

Firstly, the volunteers badged and non-badged should not feel fearful to speak up and express their views on matters that concern them on services that they are performing and how they can become more effective, rather than simply taking orders as subordinates. The superiors in the volunteer leadership and heads of various institutions should make their teams more engaged in decision making and seek out creative thoughts, ideas as well as best practices. Quite so often when suggestions are made to institutional heads about new approaches, one is often made to feel that they already knew about the idea that has been brought up. A case in point was when a suggestion was made to make Jamati members more engaged in meetings that the Aga Khan Council and national institutional boards hold on a quarterly basis. The reply was, “We are thinking about it.” For how long?

Many serving in institutions who speak out are left marginalized for speaking out boldly, even when they have done so sincerely and from the heart. This should no longer be the norm. I have personally experienced such treatment.

The old motto “Work No Words” on the badge that volunteers have been wearing for some 70 years is in need of a change. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” should resonate with everyone. We should communicate openly and sincerely and the office bearers should listen respectfully. One area that should require particular attention is legitimate concerns of volunteers in doing their work.

There is one other aspect where the motto “Work, and Many Words” may be applied very effectively. Volunteers of the Jamat participate in many outreach programs outside the community. We have each been considered by the Imam to be his Da’is — a very important term in Ismaili history where only a select few were known as Da’is. Now, remarkably, Mawlana Hazar Imam has told everyone that he or she is a Da’i! The Diamond Jubilee Farmans made at various locations attest to this role we have been asked to play. I think another way of looking at the Farman “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” is in the context of the volunteer who as a Da’i would be a great communicator to others about the ideals, principles and ethos of the Ismaili community. The following Farman made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in 2002 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, gives us a clear direction on the role the volunteers as well as the youth and professionals in the Jamat can play:

“…It is important, I think, today, that my Jamat worldwide, not just here in Tanzania, my Jamat worldwide, should reaffirm the traditions that we have, the rectitude and correctitude of our interpretation of Islam, of the role, within Shia Islam, of the intellect, of the human intellect, so that the young, the less young, the old, all of you, wherever you are, are ambassadors of Islam — the Islam that we believe in, that we practice, and that guides us in our lives. So I say to you today, whether you are in Tanzania or whether you are in any other part of the world, stand up, do not run away. Speak openly and frankly about what is our interpretation of Islam.”

Interestingly, in his Diamond Jubilee Farman in Atlanta, USA, Mawlana Hazar Imam asked the Jamat if they knew the meaning of the word Qul (from Sura Ikhlas, which is recited by Ismailis in their Du’a multiple times everyday). One person out of thousands raised a hand! Was that a hint from the Imam to us to seek to understand our faith better? To be effective communicators, requires that we have good knowledge of the faith, its ideals and the work of the Imamat, including for example the AKDN agencies.

So my notion of the work of the volunteers — and indeed each one of us — is to work, and with “many words” express kindness to others, convey good ideas and best practices and pass on the ethos of Islamic and Ismaili principles to everyone we come across.

What should the new badge say? Totally opposite of “Work No Words.” Indeed, the badge should now say “Work and Many Words.” However those “many words” should be spoken with humility, sincerity and thoughtfulness.

I welcome your feedback. Please click LEAVE A COMMENT or send your comment in an email to Simerg@aol.com. You may remain anonymous. Your email address will never be shared.

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: December 7, 2019.

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We welcome your feedback. Please click on LEAVE A COMMENT.

Malik Merchant is founding publisher/editor of 3 websites, Barakah (2017), Simerg (2009), and Simergphotos (2012). They are works of passion influenced by his parents involvement with literary pursuits and community publications, as well as his childhood dream of becoming a journalist. However, he spent almost 4 decades working as an IT consultant in both the public and private sectors in the UK, USA and Canada. He has volunteered in the Ismaili community as a teacher and librarian and was co-editor with his late father, Jehangir Merchant, of the flagship UK Ismaili publication Ilm. He has also held numerous institutional and Jamati portfolios, including being the Member for Religious Education and Chairman of the Ottawa Tariqah Committee. He is currently based in Ottawa and Toronto. He welcomes your feedback on this piece by completing LEAVE A REPLY or by sending him an email at Simerg@aol.com.

Kaba textile fragment at Aga Khan Museum Toronto

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

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

From Mecca to Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19th/20th Century Views of Ka’ba

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

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

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

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Photos: Doors Open Attracts Thousands to Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre

PLEASE CLICK: Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre Draw Thousands during Doors Open Event Held in Toronto on May 25-26, 2019

Please click on photo for report and photos.

Date posted: May 27, 2019.