When you have not missed a day in Jamatkhana attendance over the past several years, how do you cope with sudden and unforeseen closures of your favourite Jamatkhana? We live in difficult circumstances. Covid-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — has infected tens of thousands around the world and has been declared a pandemic, causing anxiety and worry. I left a pharmacy on Friday March 13 with a customer expressing, “it feels like death can approach anyone of us, and I just feel at the moment that I might die.” When I next visited a supermarket at around noon time, people were filling their shopping carts to the brim with supplies for their families. Ismaili institutions in Canada on the same day announced the closure of Jamatkhanas in several provinces around the country to protect the elderly and everyone who is vulnerable due to compromised immune systems. A similar decision was made by the USA Aga Khan Council for cities across many states on Saturday, March 14. Of course, these are also containment measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19. These measures have also been necessary as a result of bans that have been imposed by state or provincial or even Federal authorities on large gatherings.
In 1979, I was left with a difficult situation of being the only Ismaili in Salt Lake City, Utah, for several months, until a family arrived just before I left the following summer. The nearest Jamatkhanas were in Denver, Las Vegas and Phoenix, hundreds of miles away. I disciplined myself to pray regularly and the happiness and strength I achieved was comparable to my earlier praying days at 5 Palace Gate in London, England. In London, I had become a regular only in 1976, and before that attended Jamatkhanas only on Fridays at Central Hall when I was a student at the Polytechnic of North London. In Salt Lake City, I set aside a corner in my room for the purpose of praying. It was a tiny 12-15 sq ft space beside my bed. The night table contained my rosary (tasbih), with the drawers containing Farman and Ginan books along with a copy of the Holy Qur’an as well as some literary magazines and books. I performed my prayers in an identical fashion to what takes place in Jamatkhana — reciting the Du’a, Farmans and Ginans loudly as well as standing up for the tasbih. My heart and soul enjoyed the spiritual nourishment that I experienced even from praying alone. Chandraat (New Moon day or first day of the Islamic month) was a joyful day for me as I saw the new moon above the Wasatch Mountains that surround the Mormon capital. On my drive home in my roommate’s car, I looked forward to the special Chandraat prayers that I would recite.
A few years ago in Ottawa, I met and interviewed the eldest member of the Ismaily family, who was probably the first Ismaili to settle in Canada in the early 1950’s. He had met our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), just before his lone settlement in a new country. He told me the late Imam asked him to set aside a small portion of his room and conduct his prayers in that space just as he would in a Jamatkhana. The Imam also asked him to keep away from bad and evil social habits, and to work hard. Mr. Ismaily abided, and said that the practice that he adopted of praying regularly in a designated space gave him immense strength, comfort and spiritual happiness.
So here are my recommendations to families where Jamatkhanas have been temporarily closed — and we don’t yet know for how long! Try as a family to pray together. Visit your parents or grandparents at their home, if you are not staying with them, and say to them that you would like to join them for prayers. When visiting them, if you are healthy, take precautions such as hand washing and other important recommended hygienic steps like the ones posted by the Government of Singapore.
Remember they have all of a sudden been deprived of the most valuable moments in their lives — being in Jamatkhanas. Tell them you will recite the Du’a out loud. Keep in mind that many elderly people rely on listening to the prayers recited by another person. Many do not have the capacity to recite the Du’a. Play or recite a ginan or qasida, and join together in tasbihs to help ease our difficulties that we are facing at the present time. Say Ya Allah, Ya Muhammad or Ya Ali. Recite Salwats. Recite the tasbihs of Allahu Akhbar (God is Great), Subhanallah (Glory be to God) and Alhamdulillah (All praise is due to Allah) suggested by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) to his beloved daughter Bibi Fatimah (A.S.). Say the tasbih of Ya Ali Tu Rahem Kar (O Ali be Merciful) Ya Mawla Tu Fazal Kar (O Lord [Ali] be gracious) that we recite during Jamati Satada (7 consecutive days of special prayers for the easing of difficulties). Remember, Mawlana Hazar Imam is our strength, so say Ya Shah Karim Ya Mawlana anta Quwati from the 5th part (O Shah Karim, You are my strength/support).
This is a perfect time to come together at home as families, with no live sporting distractions to take occupy our times! It is an opportunity to be together, to help each other out, to motivate each other, to connect more with our parents and children and to build family unity. It is also an opportunity to develop a balanced life, for those who are immersed with worldly issues, and engage more with our faith. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings are with us constantly, and it is an opportune time to read his Farmans from the two-set Farman books that has just been published under his directive. Read them aloud to your children, siblings, parents and grandparents when you are around them.
These are my humble suggestions to ease through the anxious times that we face which is unprecedented in recent history.
May we continue to fulfill our spiritual responsibilities well during this difficult and anxious time in our lives to avail ourselves of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s constant blessings for our well-being, strength and mushkil asan (protection from difficulty).
Date posted: March 13, 2020. Last updated: March 21, 2020.
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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. Sheis 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.
Awarded by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize is an essay competition seeking bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges. The following paper by Aly Verjee is the second winner of the Peacewriter Prize.
Monitoring Ceasefires is Getting Harder: Greater Innovation is Required
By ALY VERJEE
Far from helping resolve conflict, flawed ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring may well contribute to significantly increased mistrust between the parties to that conflict. The consequences may be even more damaging; as ceasefires are often one of the first objectives a mediator attempts to achieve, in the eyes of the combatants, early failure may more broadly damage the viability, or the perception of viability, of external action to effectively resolve the conflict.
This may reinforce the thinking of some belligerents that the only solution is military. Still, as I saw firsthand during my involvement in the peace process in South Sudan, the mediator may spend much time, energy and political capital in attempting to achieve an operable ceasefire with little promise of return.
Rather than a milestone on the road to conflict resolution, in complex conflicts that seem apparently irresolvable through peaceful means (e.g. Syria, Yemen, Ukraine), ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring often appear to be, at best, a form of conflict management. As Oliver Richmond notes, such efforts may “not even aim at a [durable] ceasefire but instead mediate . . . the continuation of violence in order to avoid further escalation.” 
Several recent such attempts at ceasefires have either collapsed quickly (Syria) or had a very limited geographic and political scope (Yemen), or may likely ‘freeze’ the conflict for years to come (Ukraine).
As the nature of conflict evolves and is increasingly fragmented, incrementally tinkering with conventional ceasefire monitoring may be insufficiently transformative to address its current limitations. While, for example, working to better specify the parameters of a ceasefire agreement, improving the training of international monitors prior to deployment, and improving their performance once deployed may still help in some cases, in many contemporary conflicts, peacemakers may need to consider more unorthodox and radical solutions.
At the outset, mediators who design ceasefire monitoring mechanisms should question the three core normative assumptions of conventional ceasefire monitoring. The first of these is that viable information about truce violations can be reported both accurately and in a timely manner. Second, such information can be used to deter violations and/or to incentivise agreement compliance. Third, the potential political and reputational cost of non-compliance is higher than any benefits of continuing the conflict. In a fragmented conflict, such normative logic may not fully apply, calling for other solutions to be considered.
The fragmentation of conflict has been accompanied by other discernible trends in ceasefire monitoring practice. For example, while UN peacekeeping itself began with the monitoring of ceasefire arrangements, today a regional organisation (such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Ukraine or the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in South Sudan) is as likely as the UN to be overseeing an agreement. There are obvious, possibly negative implications of near-neighbours being involved in monitoring conflicts on their immediate borders.
Further, the cautionary story of Norway’s experience in Sri Lanka has largely gone unheeded: today’s mediators are also often ceasefire monitors, or vice versa. Recall that in 2002, Norway agreed to oversee the ceasefire reached between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, despite “reservations about becoming both the mediator and the implementer of the ceasefire.”  As a result, ceasefire violators were not ‘named and shamed’, in order to avoid the risk of undermining Norway’s role as a mediator. 
Today, almost two decades later, there are numerous examples of the mediator also serving as monitor. In Yemen, the UN is both mediating between the government and the Houthis and monitoring the ceasefire arrangements in the vicinity of Hodeidah. In Ukraine, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission is mandated “to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine . . . and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis.”  In South Sudan, the regionally led Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM) is controlled and led by the same regional body that leads the peace process, IGAD. Repeated interruptions to the disclosure of ceasefire monitoring data have resulted when IGAD leaders deemed disclosure to be inopportune.
In such multi-party, fragmented conflicts, conflating the roles of mediator and monitor may make attempts to address such conflicts even more difficult. Trying to encourage the coalescing of rival forces that may be fighting each other as well as the government may affect the mediator’s ability and enthusiasm to report on ceasefire violations, particularly in an asymmetric conflict.
Historically, the idealised, neutral third-party monitor was theoretically conceived of as a desirable aide to the exchange of credible information between former combatants, and whose monitoring presence would help reduce uncertainty. The monitor was also traditionally intended to serve as a trusted intermediary between mistrustful parties. 
But in many of today’s civil-war conflicts, the belligerent parties may well hold more information about the intentions and capacities of their adversaries (with whom they may have once been aligned) than any third parties. Syrian, Yemeni or South Sudanese fighters understand the topography and geography of their countries better than any external actors could ever hope to do, despite the advantage international monitors may now derive from access to satellite imagery or other technologies.
While these trends underline the sometimes problematic investing of agency in outsiders to the conflict, such as the drafters, monitors and enforcers of ceasefire arrangements, is the lower ambition of documenting, and perhaps occasionally deterring, the worst of the violence, the best to which a ceasefire process in an apparently intractable conflict can aspire? My answer is that, while there are no easy solutions, conflict mediators can do better by learning from past experience. And while no single novel approach will overcome all of the problems inherent in ceasefire arrangements, and, more particularly, in the monitoring of such arrangements, monitors can do more to innovate and adapt their practice, so that ceasefire monitoring is fit for purpose in this new era of conflict.
This essay proposes three practical possibilities, relevant to consider at both design and negotiation phases of a peace process, and during its implementation, to reshape, complement and strengthen, existing practice. These are:
to apply lessons from the evolution of election observation to ceasefire monitoring;
to widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations; and,
to better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework.
Learn from the evolution of election observation
Much like ceasefire monitoring, election observation began as a largely internationally led, externally directed process. Increasingly, however, the most effective election observers today are found in domestic networks (e.g. the Church-based coalitions formed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or Kenya, or the alliances fostered by secular groups in Nigeria, Afghanistan or Mexico). Domestic observer networks have the scale, personnel and motivation to report comprehensively and deeply on electoral processes, well before and beyond election day. Aided by crowd-sourcing, geolocation technology, quantitative rigour and greater consistency in methodology, domestic election observers cover more ground, and offer findings more statistically authoritative than those of international counterparts, whose sample is comparatively limited.
While there are some examples of broad-based, citizen-led ceasefire monitoring over the years (a recent report cites, as examples, Guatemala and Sierra Leone in 1996 and the Philippines in 2001), the paucity of recent examples suggests the practice has been largely piecemeal, and far from widespread and systematically practised.  Except in the most geographically modest of contexts, scale matters: more than a few plucky, courageous observers or forward-thinking local NGOs are needed for a domestic ceasefire monitoring effort to be transformative. Nor has domestic ceasefire monitoring to date usually attained sufficient sophistication, nor applied consistently robust methods (areas in which election observers have developed their methodology considerably) to make a sizeable difference in most conflicts. Often, domestic monitoring efforts have been subsumed into the more generic monitoring of peace agreement accords, as civil society actors attempt to balance multiple priorities and objectives. While the latter may seem a complementary task, the thematic areas are substantially different, and the particularities of security arrangements may necessitate more tailored methodologies.
Certainly, domestic observation of ceasefires is no panacea. The concept presents its own risks and limitations of observer credibility, consistency and investigative methodology. But, as with election observation, a domestic approach boasts the potential for greater reach, both within complex geographies, across conflict lines, and between combatants and non-combatants. The possibility of a response that may be more timely than international monitors can ever hope to achieve is also alluring. Perhaps of equal importance, at scale, there is the possibility for greater innovation in monitoring, which also offers the potential for mobilising a coalition for peace from below.
Effectively widen the focus of ceasefire monitoring to other forms of violations
Increasingly, ceasefire monitoring mandates have moved beyond mere determinations of who fired at whom, with what weapons, to broader concerns about international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, and sexual and gender-based violence. But the core of monitoring work remains concerned with what are perceived as first-order violations. Even when other issues are explicitly outlined in a ceasefire agreement, they are often felt to be the purview of human rights investigators, not ceasefire monitors.
While some see dedicating more time, personnel and resources to other ceasefire monitoring priorities as a distraction, such monitoring may not necessarily require more money, equipment and personnel but, more specifically, monitors with more diverse backgrounds, experiences and skills. This is more than a play to political correctness; it could help unlock new paths to conflict resolution. This is because, in some contexts, there may be an opportunity to use a broader understanding of the violation environment to improve relations with the belligerents in a conflict. Conducting an investigation, or building rapport with communities, may not require a sophisticated appreciation of the different forms of arms and ammunition, as important as that knowledge may be. But these are skills that might strengthen the credibility of the mission more broadly.
The point is not to overburden ceasefire monitors with an over-ambitious mandate. Instead, it is to see these additional aspects of the monitoring mandate as both opportunities for confidence-building between the parties and as an additional means to bolster the authority and credibility of monitoring efforts.
Both the parties to an agreement and its monitors must conceptualise that the spectrum of violations is broad. It does not consist only of extremes: at one end, inconsequential technical violations (e.g. 31 rounds of ammunition held by a party instead of the prescribed 30), and, at the other, the most egregious violence and mass atrocities imaginable. In between, there is much space for manoeuvre (in all senses of that word), and therefore opportunity. While it may be impossible for the drafter of an agreement to consider every possible violation at the outset, further elaborating other forms of prohibitive behaviour might reduce the space for future ambiguity.
Beyond punitive measures, better specify options for corrective or remedial action within a ceasefire framework
The international community’s options for coercive action in support of a ceasefire agreement are limited. While both unilateral and multilateral sanctions and arms embargoes remain commonly contemplated measures, the likelihood, efficacy and effect of such measures is debatable. In some cases, such measures may be merely symbolic, even when political consensus exists amongst the great powers to impose them. At the same time, most ceasefire agreements leave the messy tasks of corrective and/or disciplinary actions to the parties to the agreement, without much specificity.
Instead, ceasefire brokers could use their formulation and facilitation functions to improve the spectrum of self-enforcement and internal disciplinary mechanisms within the framework of a ceasefire agreement itself. Further, such agreements could better link the activities of monitoring mechanisms with the power to offer appropriate recommendations.
For example, a ceasefire agreement could provide monitors with the power to recommend that identified offenders, whether as units or individuals, be rotated or removed from the theatre of operations, or from command responsibility. Or, that they be restricted to non-combat duties, or be required to perform public works (e.g. road-building or repairs) as reparation for violations. 
Such measures would not supersede the conventionally classical punitive measures of trials, courtsmartial and/or dismissal or suspension from the armed party that remain within the internal purview of most armed groups. But they might give a wider menu of more proportionate options to ceasefire supporters and enforcers, to bridge the extremes of total inaction and comprehensive sanctions. Such measures may also help in fragmented conflicts, where outright condemnation or the imposition of heavily punitive measures may well risk further fragmentation of the conflict. 
Further, in an environment where participation in a ceasefire agreement is itself a demonstration of signalling a desire to cooperate, creative specificity could identify a window for further positive signalling. A recommendation that suggests Unit A should be redeployed from Province B is a more tangible area for focus than the more conventional refrain of monitors that “it is recommended that the appropriate action be taken”. In such boilerplate formulations, the who, how, when and why of the recommended action is often left unsaid, with predictable consequences for follow-up.
Widening the spectrum of possible measures might help in fostering parties’ compliance. From the point of view of the parties, implementing a specific recommendation emanating from a neutral body may be more politically palatable, if the optics of the burden of the political costs can be partially shifted to the monitoring institution. Given their internal dynamics, the parties may be unable or unwilling to enforce consequences against their own forces on their own initiative.
However, if the parties are more willing to act at ceasefire monitors’ behest, the disadvantages of monitors being painted as the bad guys may be less consequential, even if some monitors might fear being too prescriptive would risk their neutrality, or see such innovation as moving their mandate from ‘technical’ to ‘political’. Providing the party in non-compliance with the political cover to take corrective action it might not otherwise imagine or devise itself could help in future efforts to resolve the underlying conflict.
The suggestions offered here are not exhaustive. They are intended to demonstrate that, even though the templates of ceasefires and ceasefire monitoring remain at the mercy of a given conflict’s internal and external political realities, creative additions to the mediator’s arsenal can be made, and could be developed further. Central to these ideas is to look to the citizens beyond the signatories to an agreement to shift the paradigm of conflict. For this to be effective, citizen-led efforts will need support beyond the conventional models. Perhaps paradoxically, the lack of active examples in the practice of many of these ideas suggests there is much latitude for innovation and creative application. Fundamentally, such strategies should be seen as more than just desirable additions to classical practice; the increasingly complicated nature of conflict demands equally meaningful innovation in response.
Verjee’s profile with photo, below, is taken from the website of the United States Institute of Peace ( https://www.usip.org).
Aly Verjee is a researcher specializing in the politics of eastern Africa. He is a visiting expert at the U.S Institute of Peace and a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. From 2015-2016, he was deputy and then acting chief of staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, overseeing the implementation of the 2015 peace agreement in South Sudan. From 2014-2015, he was senior advisor to the chief mediator of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led peace process for South Sudan.
He lived and worked in Sudan from 2005-2010, and returned in 2011 as chief political analyst for the European Union (EU) observation of the South Sudan independence referendum. He was chief political analyst for the EU election observation missions to Zambia (2016) and Tanzania (2015); directed Free Press Unlimited’s media development initiatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan (2011-12); directed Democracy International’s election observation mission to Djibouti (2011); was deputy director of the Carter Center’s political and electoral observation mission to Sudan (2008-10); helped manage the first-ever election observer network established in the DR Congo (2006), comprising some 7,000 Congolese observers, and managed international election observation missions in Somaliland (2005, 2010 and 2012).
Mr. Verjee has provided expert testimony before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, the British Parliament and the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is the author of The Economics of Elections in Somaliland (2015); New North, Old North: The Republic of Sudan after the split (chapter) in Sudan after Separation: New Approaches to a New Region (2012); Disputed Votes, Deficient Observation: the May 2011 Election in South Kordofan, Sudan (2011) and Race Against Time: Countdown to the Referenda in Southern Sudan and Abyei (2010).
EXCERPT FROM STATEMENT ISSUED ON ALY VERJEE BY U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE
The U.S. Institute of Peace congratulates our Aly Verjee on being awarded the 2019 Oslo Forum Peacewriter Prize, which recognizes “bold and innovative responses to today’s peacemaking challenges,” for his essay on addressing the increasing challenges of cease-fire monitoring.
“USIP is delighted to see Aly Verjee receive well-deserved recognition for his innovative ideas and approaches to conflict de-escalation,” said Mike Yaffe, the Institute’s vice president for the Middle East and Africa. “Aly is tireless in applying his ample knowledge of peace mediation together with incisive analysis about the situation on the ground to come up with creative and thoughtful solutions to some of the toughest conflicts in Africa.”
“So much effort is put into reaching an agreement to end violence. But then the hard work begins to ensure that those who are fighting will keep their commitments,” said USIP Director for Africa Programs Susan Stigant. “Aly draws on his rich experience in peace mediation and on elections to offer some new ways to make sure that guns remain silent and citizens remain safe. Most importantly, he challenges all of us to bring evidence, creativity and our best minds to finding solutions.”
 Oliver Richmond, “A genealogy of mediation in international relations: from ‘analogue’ to ‘digital’ forms of global justice or managed war?”, Cooperation and Conflict, January 2018, p.13.
 Luc Chounet-Cambas, “Negotiating ceasefires: dilemmas & options for mediators”, Mediation Practice Series 3, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, March 2011, p.10.
A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..”
By ZAFEERA KASSAM
(This piece originally appeared on Simerg’s sister blog http://www.barakah.com. It is reproduced, with minor layout changes).
Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses the Jamat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Aziz Islamshah.
I don’t think I can ever understand the human capacity to experience two polar opposite emotions simultaneously: indescribable happiness and also deep sadness, a profound sense of soulful quietude and also a rippling feeling of restlessness.
As I sat there in the hall, participating in intezari program, I was a column of conflict: Ecstatic to finally be here, excited over the joy of the possibility of seeing my Imam in all his grandeur. But also concerned that time was going by too quickly, that all of this would end too soon. Time always moves like rapids whenever he is physically present and when he isn’t, time is a meandering snail.
It was endearing listening to the children singing ginans like ‘Eji Anand Anand’ and ‘Kalapat Jalapat’ as well as qasidas like ‘Dam Hamma Dam Ali Ali’, ‘Ya Imami Ya Imami’ and ‘Goyum Ali Joyum Ali’. The ventis, zikr and renditions of ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ were well received. And the Al-Waez who came on periodically to explain the procedures that take place during the Darbar and the significance of these gestures made an emphatic point to revel in the moment, to use the silences that would lapse between one ginan and another to reflect on various facets of the Darbar, including who our beloved Imam is, what he has done for the world at large in the past 60 years and our own relationship with the Imam of the time.
The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.
The gentleman next to me found it curious that I kept checking my watch but how could I explain to him my contention with time – it was moving too swiftly: 7am had become 9am all too soon, and yet it wasn’t moving swiftly at all. When would 11am arrive and bring with it our Lord and Murshid, our beloved Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam?
The Nairobi Darbar stage.
Amidst the hustle of standing up for the zikr and inching forward to make space to accommodate the large numbers filing in, I was able to glance around at the hall decorated by volunteers who worked day and night to create a simple yet alluring ambience. White festooning hung from the ceiling in circular formations and delicate floral arrangements adorned diamond-shaped hangings. The stage itself was classy too with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s chair appearing majestic in the centre. The Diamond Jubilee motif dominated the hall, reminding us of what the occasion represented – not that we needed the reminder but their striking colour and form captured the eye frequently.
In what felt like no time at all, it was five minutes to 11am. The ginan that was going on ended abruptly as the screens lit up with Mawla’s motorcade rounding the corner at Darkhana. Mawla’s green Audi slowed down at the entrance. The door opened. Breathing halted. Mawla alighted and salwats swelled in the hall. That jovial countenance filled the screen and it felt like he too was in a hurry to enter as he gestured to the Mukhi Kamadia and Mukhiani Kamadiani and swept into the foyer. The screens went blank and the heart started racing. He was here! The Lord of Light and love was but a glance away. It felt like the soul itself was eager to leap out and embrace him as soon as he appeared in sight. All the conflicting emotions converged into one geyser of ardour. And then time slowed to a standstill – waiting, waiting, waiting for him to emerge from the Green Room and step into the hall.
I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap.
The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.
Ishq pe ho gayi meher khuda ki, Rab ne soon li araz hamari, Shukrana, shukrana,
Rabba tera lakh lakh shukrana — excerpt of poem by Ravindran Jain
Lord has shone His mercy on my love And has fulfilled my yearning Gratitude to you, O my Lord Hundreds and thousands of thank you, O my Lord
The only feeling that comes the slightest bit close to this feeling is the one you get when standing at the shore and seeing the sun rise at the brink of the ocean. The Light had appeared before me and finally I saw him dressed in his Diamond Jubilee Khil’at. What I thought I would feel seeing this was nothing like what I truly felt. But the visceral thirst was momentarily quenched and I watched the screen as the camera followed his walk along the red carpet. I saw a lady thrust a letter to the Imam, which he graciously accepted then handed over to the Mukhisaheb.
Mawlana Hazar Imam walks through the Jamat amid the recitations of the Salwat during the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Nairobi. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali
I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap. A ripple of amusement spread through the jamat at that moment. Hazar Imam continued along the red carpet, showering generous blessings upon individuals, and finally ascended the steps to take his place on the stage.
He gave his permission for the ceremonies to take place. The 49-link gold chain was garlanded around his neck, and from the point where the Tilawat-e-Qur’an was recited along with its translation, the Venti Ginan and Zikr, Hazar Imam’s expression was a serious and sombre one. But when those who recited the prayers went to him to get blessings, his face lit up with beguiling beams. The President of the Council, respected Mr Nawaz Gulam, gave his pledge of allegiance on behalf of the jamats present and that was indeed a solemn moment. I thank him for including the plea for forgiveness of any shortcomings or transgressions.
[Mawlana Hazar Imam] directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”
And then came the moment we were all earnestly awaiting, the moment when Hazar Imam came to the microphone and his enchanting voice resonated throughout the hall. How we thirsted to hear his “My beloved spiritual children” and the warmth that cocooned us with those special words was indescribable. Glee thrummed through my veins to hear him extended his “warmest and best, best, BEST, loving blessings” and the heart swelled to enormity to hear: “I hope this will be a day of happiness in the Jamat as it is a day of happiness for me. That there will be lots of joy. I think you call it Dandia Raas and so there will be plenty of dancing.”
The heart was already dancing. He went on to joke, “I suspect a little bit of biryani from here or there.” And then He shared something that was truly touching and poignant, “And I will participate with you in your rejoicing for it is a day of immense happiness for me.” Imagine that. The Imam rejoicing with you, dancing with you, savouring the yummy biryani with you. Wow.
He went on to thank the government for extending kindnesses and courtesies to him and he mentioned this thrice. The second time round He added, “I am grateful to the government on your behalf and on my behalf”. He instructed the jamat to take back to their countries, families and friends, his best, affectionate blessings.
He said, “tell your Jamat that I am thinking of them, that I send them blessings for mushkil aasaan in their lives, not only here in Kenya but around the world.” He further said he looks forward for strong work, for the unity of the jamat, for the strength of our institutions and for success of our younger generation in their education.
He emphasized on this and directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”
He gave special blessings for the younger generation to succeed in their educational endeavours.
A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..” and it felt like an important reminder that we are all one universal brotherhood and it is high time we put aside our hang-ups with status and position, we dissolve our discriminations and biases, and begin acting in the manner that Mowla sees us: brothers and sisters; one jamat; one family.
He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent!
Hazar Imam further emphasized that our tradition is an intellectual tradition: “Invest in your intellect. Learn. Use learning for the benefit of yourselves, your families and your jamat. Acquire knowledge throughout your lifetime, not just during academic years.” He urged us to keep knowledge part of the way we think and develop our activities, to bring into these activities competence, wisdom and ‘Best Practice’. He specified, “I would be so happy if all my jamat was part of Best Practice worldwide. This is what I hope for my jamat.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam shares a light moment with the Jamat. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafrani Mansurali
It was extraordinarily touching when Mawlana Hazar Imam shared a childhood memory. He and his brother, Prince Amyn, used to collect rabbits and every morning, they would go out to say ‘good morning’ to the rabbits. One morning they had a terrible surprise. The rabbits were all gone! He held out his hands and we aww-ed when He said, “they had been eaten.” We were all smiles to hear him end this anecdote with: “Lots of fun, a few heartaches, and, above all, happiness of being here in Kenya.”
Immense, immense happiness and gratitude is what I felt for being part of this Darbar.
He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent! With an Imam like that, whose love knows no bounds and crosses all barriers, who is the epitome of all facets good and positive, what are problems and what tenacity do they even have?
Mawlana Hazar Imam took his seat and the Mukhi Kamadia Sahebs Mukhiani Kamadiani Sahebas of the Kenyan Jurisdiction, Congo Jamat and Malagasy Jamat, respectively, presented mehmanis to the Imam, which were graciously blessed. This was promptly followed by the Imam divinely blessing the Aab-e-Shafa. Next, the Nazranas were humbly offered to the Imam. Earlier, during the intezari programme, these nazranas were shared with the jamat, photographs of which were shown on the screens. The Kenyan jurisdiction’s nazrana was a pair of high back wooden armchairs from Lamu; the Democratic Republic of Congo unearthed a water sprinkler that had six tubes extending from the bottom bowl to the top bowl and it was shared that the six tubes each represent 10 years of Hazar Imam’s Imamat, totalling to 60 glorious years; the Malagasy jamat found a ewer and plate from a rare collection made in France with Islamic engravings on it.
He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.
The nazranas were presented in forms of photo catalogues to the Imam. He showed keen interest in these and when He came to the mic the second time around, he expressed genuine pleasure at having received these nazranas and wished that the gifts be returned to the jamat – each and every individual – a thousand times over. Such a generous Imam, truly!
He confided that Mukhisaheb has reminded him – though he did not need to – that the volunteers had done good work and Mawla gave special blessings for all the hard work they had put in to make this visit a happy one for him. He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.
And then came the moment we didn’t look forward to – Mawlana Hazar Imam descending the stage to leave the hall. Oh, if only we had the capability to make him stay with us longer. But he didn’t leave straight away. He walked along the red carpet and made his way to where the senior citizens were sitting on the chairs, passing by the hospital beds, walking – it seemed – slowly and swiftly (if that is even possible) until he loomed into sight where I was seated. It’s not possible to put into words what kind of transformation takes place when “naino se nain mila” but the ginan ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ captures the essence of deeply coveting this phenomenon. I don’t think it’s meant to be expressed in words as it is a highly personal and ‘anmol’ occurrence.
He turned the corner and reached the exit, pausing briefly to acknowledge, with a smile, some jamati members waving at him.
We were informed that he would spend some time with the leaders of the jamat to discuss important issues, that he had spent 45 minutes in Dubai and 40 minutes in Mumbai doing so, and the jamat was requested to stay put and participate in the post-darbar programme of zikr, ginans and tasbihs.
Mawlana Hazar Imam waves to young volunteers after departing the Darbar hall. The children held up placards with the words “We love you, Hazar Imam” which are reflected on the car. Photo: The Ismaili/Hussein Jiva.
Mawlana Hazar Imam left after one whole hour (60 minutes) and was sent off by the Ismaili Youth Band and Volunteers Corp who held up placards stating “We love you, Hazar Imam.” That was a touching sight to behold.
But the mixed emotions came flooding back – the same incomprehensible polar-opposite emotions crashing at the shore of my conscious – ecstasy and melancholy; sukoon and tadap. Ecstasy to have seen him and heard his voice; melancholy that the whole event was over and he had physically departed; sukoon at having being invaluably blessed and deeply grateful for it too; tadap because when will such a Divine Deedar happen again?
Naseeb pachha kyare khulse? (When will good fortune strike again?)
It’s just never, ever enough.
The ginans speak of it and I now live it.
Eji Jiska re ma-e-bap gam sadharya re piya Uska farzand kiyu kar raheve re, Maherban mere, Saheb mere, dayavant mere maherban Ya Shah tuj bina so din javega kese piyaji – excerpt of Ginan “Tumko Sadhaare” by Pir Sadardin
Children whose beloved parent is physically leaving town How can they stay here happily? O my Merciful, O my Lord, How will I stay without you in these times?
Date posted: April 17, 2018.
Zafeera Kassam is a high-school teacher of English Language, Literature and Psychology, residing in Nairobi, Kenya. She spends her free time in creative writing and poetry, and has had her short stories and poems published in various media around the world. As a devotee of Mowlana Hazar Imam, her greatest joy is in penning verse and poems in praise of Hazar Imam. Her latest publication, Always and Forever, is a book of 60 poems dedicated especially to Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee (available on Amazon Kindle). She is also an amateur photographer who takes great interest in capturing nature. Currently, she is concentrating on developing her skills in graphic design and digital imagery. Most of all, she hopes to be continuously inspired to keep penning poems in praise of beloved Hazar Imam.
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President Firoz Rasul delivering his address in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan during the inauguration ceremony in Karachi, Pakistan, on December 15, 2017 of a new AKU Centre for Innovation in Medical Education (CIME), a state-of-the-art facility for technology-based learning for health professionals. Photo: The Ismaili/Rahil Imtiaz Ali.
Message from President Firoz Rasul of the Aga Khan University
January 11, 2018
Dear Friends, Alumni and Supporters,
2018 marks the 35th year since the founding of the Aga Khan University and we begin the year with the unveiling of a study completed last year on the economic impact of AKU in Pakistan.
The landmark study by Centennial Group International, a leading international strategy and policy consulting firm based in Washington DC and comprising former World Bank economists and executives, refers to AKU as “a national innovator and a powerhouse for quality; a nationwide role model for high-quality tertiary education and medical care,” and lauds the University for its role as the premier higher education institution in Pakistan. The study quantified AKU’s contribution as an educator, a pioneering healthcare provider, an employer, a research hub, an international gateway, and a compassionate supporter to those in need.
The report shows that in 2015 (the latest year data was available when Centennial began its work in 2016), the Aga Khan University generated more than US$1 billion or PKRs 103 billion in economic value for Pakistan. It notes that the University generates its economic impact in a variety of ways. By providing high-quality education, it increases the earning power of its alumni. By providing outstanding healthcare to 1.3 million individuals annually, it keeps people healthy and productive. And as a major purchaser of goods and services, it generates revenues for businesses and jobs for people across the country. AKU supports 42,000 jobs – both directly and indirectly – and its spending also has a multiplier effect: for every rupee of its direct value added, it generates 7.3 rupees in economic benefits.
The report clearly demonstrates that beyond the highly qualified graduates, the generation of new knowledge and the delivery of quality healthcare, AKU makes an enormous impact on the economic well-being of Pakistan. This contribution of AKU would not have been possible without the vision and guidance of our Founder and Chancellor, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the generosity of donors, partners, alumni, supporters and volunteers.
We express our deep gratitude to each of you for your commitment and unwavering support. I am sure you will read the report (available here) with great pride as you see evidence of how your University can not only address the the most vexing problems in our communities, but also add value to the economy.
Mr. Firoz Rasul has served as President of the Aga Khan University (AKU) since May 1, 2006. Prior to his engagement with AKU, President Rasul was involved in building several business enterprises and the development of social and community institutions. He served as Chief Executive Officer and then Chairman of Ballard Power Systems, a world leader in fuel cell technology from December 1988 until May 2004.
Between 2000 and 2006, he was President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, where he led the development of several large-scale projects for the Aga Khan Development Network, including The Global Centre of Pluralism in Ottawa and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
As a business leader, he was named the 2001 National Transportation Person of the Year by the Government of Canada, and Wilfred Laurier University’s School of Business and Economics recognized him with its Outstanding Business Leader award.
Mr Rasul received a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom and an MBA from McGill University in Montreal. Mr Rasul was conferred with the Degree of Doctors of Laws, honoris causa, by Simon Fraser University in 2001.
In 11 years as AKU’s president, Mr Rasul has been instrumental in developing a rich partnership with the University of Alberta that has created opportunities for exchange and collaboration for students, professors and researchers at both universities. On June 8, 2017, the University conferred on him an honorary Doctorate of Science.
We convey Salgirah* Mubarak to all Ismailis and friends of the Ismailis on the occasion of the 81st birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is currently visiting Pakistan for his Diamond Jubilee. At the age of 81, His Highness is the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). We are pleased to publish on http://www.barakah.com an account of the Darbar of the Aga Khan that took place on Sunday, December 10, 2017, in Aliabad, Hunza. The piece was specially contributed for Barakah by Faqir Ullah Khan of Hunza.