Book Review: “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” – Memoirs of Engagement with the Aga Khan Development Network

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Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible – Memoirs of Engagement With A Global Development Network by Azim H. Jiwani, MD
300 pp. FriesenPress,
US$ 30.99 (Hardback), US$ 24.99 (Paperback) and US$ 7.99 (eBook) as listed at FriesenPress; also available in all formats at Amazon.ca and Indigo.ca.
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BOOK REVIEW BY NIZAR MOTANI, PhD

Dr. Azim Jiwani’s book was a surprise gift from a dear friend. This unexpected gesture obligated me to read it, which I did with much gratitude, and it even inspired me to write this review. The author’s work is a “pandemic baby” born during the extended lockdown. This Kenya-born Makerere University Medical School (Kampala, Uganda) graduate acquired a broad further medical education in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. He subsequently established a thriving private medical practice in Calgary, Canada, enjoying affiliations with local universities and hospitals.

Dr. Jiwani’s breadth and depth of interests give his memoir a multidisciplinary flavour. The book draws upon insights from anthropology, architecture, civilizational history, natural sciences, moral philosophy, and restless global trotting. I might add that he carries some genes of a novelist and a travel guide.

The synopsis of his book reveals his most earnest and pressing concerns for the future of humanity and the planet, which he champions even after his partial retirement: “Rarely in recent times has the world found itself gripped in conditions that pose a substantial existential threat to lifeforms on earth, destabilize societies, impact health, quality of life, economic and cultural survival, and engender greater inequality and division between and within countries and regions.” Moreover, he continues: “The recent onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic and the accelerating but belatedly acknowledged climate crisis, and its devastating effects on human health, have laid bare the historical, political and policy and institutional deficiencies in health systems worldwide.”

Dr. Jiwani’s concerns about conflict and the global arms race and its devastating health, social and economic impacts, especially in the developing countries, serendipitously led to a life-changing meeting with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at the prince’s chateau in Geneva in 1983. This meeting deeply inspired him to further Prince Sadruddin’s tireless efforts to foster a more just, humane and equitable world. Coincidentally, and again serendipitously, in 1985, he found an excellent umbrella organization to join — the Aga Khan University (AKU), an apex agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which he describes at an enlightening length. “The Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Health Services and empowerment of civil society are an integral part of AKDN’s mission to anticipate and respond to foreseeable effects of unaddressed inequities, poverty, programs and leadership deficits in some of the most challenging regions of the developing world. AKDN also endeavours to enhance institutional capacities, establish collaborative networks and promote best practices and international standards of excellence.”

Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 largely focus on his multiple roles as physician, academic, strategic planner, administrator and occasionally as AKDN representative at various conferences. Dr. Jiwani took part in or led AKU teams involved in negotiating and finding common ground with private and public hospitals and universities and local, national and transnational organizations in Asia and Africa. He aimed to promote some of AKDN’s seemingly revolutionary vision and mission. These endeavours included strengthening institutional capacities to provide good quality, ethical, cost-effective and contextual care — especially for marginalized populations. He established and promoted continuing education of physicians widely and convinced urban specialists in lucrative private practices to incorporate practical primary care approaches for better patient and population outcomes. Also, he led the development of advanced formal education in family and community medicine and fostered comprehensive local, regional, and international partnerships in medical education.

Despite his demanding duties and schedules, he and his wife, Nilufa, squeezed in travels to many exotic places, leading to sundry and memorable encounters. For example, in Cambodia and Morocco, their tour guides requested Dr. Jiwani to examine and advise on their very sick family members, which he readily did. They got paid in the local “currency” – hospitality, home-cooked food, and prayers and blessings for the couple’s well-being!

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"Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible" Akdn, Azim Jiwani and book review by Nizar Motani, Simerg Insights from around the world
“Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” by Dr Azim H. Jiwani, 300 pp., Friesen Press, August 2021.

After more than three decades of enriching global engagement with AKDN and other institutions, he settled in Vancouver, Canada. His reputation derived primarily from his affiliation with AKDN as a worldwide healthcare expert and an advocate for compassionate and affordable care. His passion for linking critical primary and secondary care medicine and making medical education relevant to societies had preceded him. Soon he was fielding requests to help manage understaffed health clinics in the Vancouver area, especially for the marginalized people facing complex medical, mental health and drug addiction problems. Some of the most severe cases were noted in the First-Nations people, where his compassion, broad experience and cultural sensitivity were valued in an underdeveloped native health care system. He led crucial community and hospital programs as a physician leader while re-establishing his clinical and academic career in Canada. 

Similarly, his past engagement with AKDN and clinical reputation brought him seductive and lucrative offers. A former patient, a confidant of the ruling family of a fabulously wealthy country, had identified him as the ideal candidate to head the newly built hospital and serve as the Royal family’s personal physician. The chasm between the lives of the privileged elite and the neighbouring populations that seemed plagued with poverty and privations so disturbed him that he quickly left without meeting the prince. But the intrepid doctor accepted a much less lucrative, occasional position as the onboard physician for a luxury cruise line group! His wide travels whetted and rewarded his insatiable curiosity and interests in marine medicine, environment and culture. Besides attending to all types of routine and emergency cases, the couple was able to “sail on every river, sea, and ocean.” And his readers can vividly and vicariously enjoy these and other adventures.

Dr. Jiwani’s fascinating and instructive memoir raises critical questions about the historical, ethical and moral foundations of health and development. He concludes with an insightful epilogue in which he reflects on the necessary conditions for equity, justice, access and quality in health care and development and appeals for global cooperation for a sustainable future for shared humanity.

The book is available in hardcover, softcover and digital formats. Of note, the author has pledged all royalties from the book sales to the Aga Khan Foundation to support the patients’ welfare funds in Asia and Africa.

This captivating memoir would likely appeal to healthcare and other professionals or avid general readers interested in international organizations, career advancement, or simply expanding their knowledge about the interdependent planet we inhabit.

In conclusion, I am delighted to learn that this book is on the 2021 Finalist list of the prestigious Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) in the non-fiction long-form journalism and memoirs category, where outstanding books from many countries compete. The first prize will be announced at a ceremony and banquet in Washington in June. The beautiful finalist badge is shown along with the front cover of the book at top of this page.

Date posted: March 25, 2022.

[Dr. Azim Jiwani was featured recently in Simerg’s ongoing series on books by Ismaili authors. Please read our interview with Dr. Jiwani – Ed.]

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Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Letter from Afghanistan [6] – Simerg’s Special Correspondent Visits Ismaili Families in Sia Sang, a Remote Village in Wardak, Central Afghanistan

[This is our Kabul based special correspondent’s sixth report to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. His previous letters can be read by clicking on the following links 1. August 26 2021, 2. August 29 2021, 3. September 5 2021, 4. December 4 2021 and 5. December 5 2021 — Ed.]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

FEBRUARY 13, 2022

Ismailis in Remote Villages Face Hardships Due to Meagre Food Reserves and Difficult Health Conditions: Local Jamati Institutions Have Failed to Meet Their Needs Over the Years

Please click on photos for enlargement

Sia sang- Bai Qobi - houses were once inhabited by Ismailis,
These houses in Sia sang — Bai Qobi — were once inhabited by Ismailis. They left the country upon the first reign of the Taliban. The houses are now occupied by Twelver Hazaras who are involved in farming activities in this village. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.

BY SIMERG’S SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT IN KABUL

Dear Jamats:

In my effort to continue to provide the world wide Ismaili Jamat with updates and insights about the latest developments in Afghanistan, I took the initiative to visit small villages in the remotest corners of the country. This report is based on interviews I conducted with five Ismailis in Sia Sang village, a remote village located in mountainous areas of Hesa-e-Awal Behsood, a district in the central province of Wardak (see map, below). I visited this gregarious small village which is mainly inhabited by Hazara ethnic minority. According to my information, once over 80 Ismaili families lived in Sia Sang. Now, only a small fraction of Ismailis, six households, live altogether. The vast majority that remain in the village are Twelver Shiites (Ithnasharies). The people of Afghanistan face an uncertain future, unemployment, poverty, hunger and drought since the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021.

The Ismaili villagers I met are surrounded by high mountains and hills and have been adversely affected by the recent upheavals as well. They are struggling with the current financial and economic crisis looming across the country. Afghanistan’s economy was facing severe challenges, and the international support was starting to wane even before the collapse of former western-backed government. The US congressional research noted that this past year 90 percent of Afghanistan’s population lived on less than US$ 2.00 a day, and warned that the loss of American support would weaken one of the world’s smallest economy.

Concerns about food insecurity are mounting and a looming drought is expected to make matters worse. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared and even doubled after the regime change in the country.

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Wardak, Bamyan and Kabul Maps Simerg
Enlarged map of the Afghan provinces of Bamyan, Kabul and Wardak. The author of this piece visited the district of Hisah-ye Awal-e Bishud (circled) where the remote village of Sia Sang is located at an elevation of 3,117 meters (10226 ft) above sea level. The current daily minimum and maximum temperatures for the week of February 14, 2022 in Sia Sang will be in the range minus 17°C to minus 6°C. The map has been adapted from the provincial map of Afghanistan at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. For full provincial map of the country, click HERE – it will open in new tab.

MEALS HALVED, AND FARMERS LACK ACCESS TO MARKETS

According to the local Ismailis I met, they have to consume half of the food that they used to previously. For decades, these Ismaili farmers survived on stored wheat from their summer harvest and income from selling of farm animals and potato in the market. This year’s farming yielded good crops. However, with little access to the national market, they were unable to sell their agricultural products at a fair selling price. Unlike urban population, the farmers residing in rural areas of the country do not have a certain source of income other than agricultural production. There is no orderly and regular transportation system. Thus they are unable to take their family members in critical condition to a hospital. They have difficulty in purchasing food and other basic goods from the market.

Due to lack of access to a permanent and established market to procure food, and necessary goods and items, the local villagers in this part of the country have to take a trip to the neighboring province of Bamyan or the capital Kabul. Transportation fee, 3000 AFN (US$ 30.00), is high and the impoverished community settled here cannot afford paying such a high amount.

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A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.
A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.

INADEQUATE HEALTH CARE AND TRANSPORTATION

Lack of access to basic health care services has made the living condition challenging. The closest local health care centers are three to four hours away by foot from this village, making it impossible to take their patients on time. The services provided by the health care centers do not enjoy high quality. So, they have to take the critically ill patients to Kabul or neighbouring Bamyan (see map above).

One Jamati member, Ahamad, told me, “I am alone and live only with my wife, I have no other family member to take care of me and my house. God forbid that if one of us gets sick, we must travel to Bamyan for treatment. So, who will take care of my house and belongings?”

The main highway passing through this village connects the central provinces with the capital Kabul. This highway is blocked to the traffic every year in winter due to heavy snowfall and storms that makes travel very difficult or virtually non-existent for several days.

Access to basic education is limited for children in this community. The nearest high school is one hour away from this locality. The former western backed government were in favor of girls’ education and encouraged the local population to send their girls to school. Thus, even with the Taliban ruling the country, education is not barred for girls in this community. The social perception towards education in this community specifically for girls is viewed in a positive light.

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Sia Sang Ismaili Jamatkhana, Afghanistan.
The entrance of the local Jamatkhana in Sia Sang. A signboard hung above the main gate of the Jamatkhana reads as, Jamatkhana Shia Ismaili, Sia Sang village at the center, surrounded by Allah, Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussain. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.

PASSIONATE YOUTHS SEEK RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

This local Ismaili community deems religious education to be of the highest importance and absolutely necessary for their children. They have asked the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) and other responsible authorities in the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to open a Baitul Ilm center (BUI). There are more than 13 Ismaili teens who need to acquire religious education and the villagers had many times requested the local ITREB board based in Bamyan to open a BUI center for this community. The local Jamat was very keen and showed passion for starting such a center, but no one addressed this issue and showed interest in this regard, said Ali, one of the local Ismailis I interviewed.

NO DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS OVER THE YEARS

It is extremely sad to report that no development project has been undertaken by either the government or by other NGOs including the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) agencies within the course of the past twenty years in this village. “Only a power station project had been initiated by Ismaili local council based in Bamyan province,” said Muhammad, another Jamati member I interviewed.

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Snowfall in Sia sang - Dawlat murad -following a storm. Photo. Simerg Special Correspondent.
Snow in Sia Sang – Dawlat murad – following a snowstorm. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.

CONFLICTS WITH NEIGHBOURING NOMADS

Forty years of war and devastation have inflicted a major toll on infrastructure, economy and livelihood of its population. Civilians are the main victims and pay heavy price for instability and violence. Like other parts of the nation, this small Ismaili community is also concerned about insecurity and conflict in the future. Pashtun nomads used to come and graze their herds and camels on pastures in Hazarajat — the central parts of Afghanistan — during the summer. Many bloody conflicts had taken place between Hazara villagers and Pashtun nomads prior to collapse of US backed republic. “We are very worried about the future conflict and return of Pashtun nomads during the summer,” said Juma one of the local Ismaili interviewees. “They used to come and graze their flocks peacefully. But this year it is not clear what they will do to our farms,” he added.

A PLEA TO INSTITUTIONS AND JAMAT

The majority of interviewees agree that the economic catastrophe and collapse caused by the recent changes has negatively impacted their life and financial positions. They expect the AKDN and other aid organizations to help them and distribute food and other relief aid packages. They have enormous challenges and are very worried.

I again repeat my previous calls to Jamati institutions and the AKDN as well as Jamats around the world to go beyond their normal call of duty and involve themselves in action that will improve the situation of the Jamat and the citizens of Afghanistan. I am afraid the plight of Ismailis in some remote villages is not being addressed adequately, and I urge you not to be passive and indifferent to our well-being.

I look forward to submitting more letters to Simerg for everyone’s attention and consideration.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: February 13, 2022.

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

Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. The editor of the 3 websites, Malik, may be contacted at the email address mmerchant@barakah.com.

Letter from Afghanistan [5] – In Meeting with AKDN Representative, Governor of Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province Encourages Network to Continue its Socio-Economic Contributions in the Province

[This is our special correspondent’s fifth report from Kabul to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first four letters HERE – August 26, HERE – August 29, HERE – September 5, 2021 and HERE – December 4, 2021 — Ed.]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

Monday, December 5, 2021

Click on images for enlargements

Map of Afghanistan with provinces, Simerg
Provincial map of Afghanistan. The Bamyan province where the meeting between the province’s governor and AKDN representative took place is highlighted in red. Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces The provinces of Afghanistan are the primary administrative divisions. Each province encompasses a number of districts or usually over 1,000 villages. Credit: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

I am pleased to report that Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani, the special envoy of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to Afghanistan, met with the governor for Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady on December 5, 2021. Mr. Sarhady thanked the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and its agencies for their contribution and service in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan, and asked AKDN to continue its services in education, health care, agriculture and microfinance in the province. Additionally, he pleaded to the envoy to extend its assistance on poverty alleviation, higher education and infrastructure. This meeting was reported by official media sources.

Afghanistan Bamyan Province governor with AKDN rep, Simerg
AKDN’s representative in Afghanistan, Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani (left), meets with the governor of the province of Bamyan, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady. Bamyan Province is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the central highlands of the country (see map above). Photo: Facebook page of governor’s media office.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pesnani thanked the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for its collaborations with the AKDN agencies and reaffirmed his commitment on continuing and furthering the agency’s efforts on health care, education, habitation and infrastructure. 

The aim of his visit was to visit the Bamyan provincial hospital, and meet with AKDN agency’s local representatives, Ismaili elders and leaders as well as members of the project teams responsible for the projects undertaken by the agency.

Afghanistan Bamyan province governor with AKDN
AKDN’s representative in Afghanistan, Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani (left), meets with the governor of the province of Bamyan, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady. Bamyan Province is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the central highlands of the country (see map above). Photo: Facebook page of governor’s media office.

The governor asked the AKDN agencies to extend its contribution and efforts on increasing the capacity of provincial hospital, providing health care in local clinics, supporting the educational sector, implementing of development projects and investments on key infrastructure of the province. 

As a member of the Ismaili Jamat in Afghanistan, this meeting highlights the importance the Islamic Emirate attaches to the work that has been carried out by the Ismaili Imamat over the past several decades in Afghanistan, and look forward to the progress of all peoples of Afghanistan and our Jamat under the new Taliban regime in the months and years to come. I offer my congratulations to the Jamat in Afghanistan and around the world on this happy occasion.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: December 5, 2021.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Letter from Afghanistan [4] – Young Ismaili Activist Shares Her Hopes and Concerns About the Future in Afghanistan

[This is our special correspondent’s fourth letter from Kabul to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first three letters HERE – August 26, HERE – August 29 and HERE – September 5, 2021. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed. ]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Afghanistan map annotated
Map of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The major international border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Turkham (Tor Kham) border, mentioned by our correspondent in his post, below, is circled in red. Known as the Grand Trunk Road, the road connects Nangarhar province of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Please click on map for enlargement. Credit: Map adapted and annotated by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

Recently, I met a well-known young Ismaili civil society activist based in Kabul, and conducted a short interview with her that focused on her life experiences, opportunities, achievements and her views on the political future and social life under the new regime. She concluded the interview by asking Jamati institutions for an action plan about the future direction of the Jamat. In my third report I had noted that, by their own admission, the Jamati institutions do not have surveys and locations of the Jamat in Afghanistan. Members of the Jamat were advised to take care of their own safety and security. This situation in Afghanistan is unfortunate and unacceptable in the present time. I am sad to note that this lack of Jamati statistics and demographic information, which prevents an effective action plan to help the Jamat, is apparently not unique to Afghanistan.

Please note that the editor of Simerg, Malik Merchant, has verified the authenticity of the person I interviewed and has decided to keep both my name as well the name of the interviewee anonymous for our well-being, safety and protection. I shall simply refer to her as Roshan which is not her real first name.

Women walking on a street in Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood.
Kabul’s residents walk along a street in the city’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

After the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021, Roshan became terrified and locked herself at home, thinking that her normal life had come to an end, and that the Taliban would return to the mid 1990s, when they rigidly governed the country with harsh rules and restrictions particularly for women. People were initially terrified and fearful of the new regime, as women were prevented from serving in public institutions. Roshan and many girls like her felt that they would never be able to continue their studies and work. However schooling for girls is increasingly available, albeit separately for men and women, and this has affected the higher education in the country.

Given the international community’s oversight over the behavior of Taliban towards upholding of human and women rights, and their urgent need for international recognition and legitimacy, Roshan believes that, for now, the new Taliban regime might not reimpose the same rules that were in place in the 1990’s.  However, she is not sure whether Taliban will keep their word after the world has granted it the recognition it is seeking. She feels that they might then reimpose the harsher rules of the past. For Roshan, it is most critical for the Taliban to win the hearts and trust of the youth and professionals of the country by keeping their promises as well as allowing some freedom of expression. 

Roshan says the vast majority of the women and women like her benefited from the opportunities like going to school, studying in Universities and Colleges, and having an independent career that the international community and previously US-backed government facilitated. Now, she is wondering whether they will be able to explore the same opportunities that they previously enjoyed under the old regime. She holds out any hope that women like her, who received a quality education and were able to serve their country well for many years, will ever be able to engage and play an active role in either political or social affairs of the country as they previously did. She thinks that under the Taliban, women involvement in the political and social affairs will be restricted and vastly curtailed.

Roshan views the recent meeting between Mawlana Hazar Imam’s special envoy for Afghanistan and the Taliban leadership as positive step towards trust building, but she is neither convinced nor confident that the Taliban would deliver on any commitment that they may have made to the Jamat in Afghanistan as well as other minority groups. Roshan sincerely hopes her pessimism is misplaced, and that things will work out well for the Jamat in the critical period of stabilization ahead. She is pleased to note that AKDN activities continue uninterrupted in the country.

Finally, Roshan would wish the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to design an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. There is rampant unemployment and poverty in the Afghan Jamat, and she asks the Ismailis around the globe to support Afghan Jamats through whatever means they can at this time of their need.

A view of Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.
A view of Kabul’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

On a personal note, I would like to say that all ethnicities and religious minorities are being treated well in Kabul. This is indeed good news. There may be some problems in the suburbs or rural areas but the overall attitude of the Taliban regime towards the minorities is good. I am also pleased to say that we can attend Jamatkhanas for our daily prayers and worship, and that in Kabul the Jamatkhanas are open to both men and women. Additionally, there are no restrictions on religious or social activities in other provinces where there is a larger presence of the Jamat or the Jamat is in a majority.

Before the Taliban takeover, a wide range of Ismaili girls would attend their university classes especially in private universities. But, unfortunately, after the Taliban takeover, girls in general are reluctant to attend the university out of concern for their own safety and well-being. The dire economic situation has further eroded the capacity of families to send their daughters to universities. The educational centers and universities have resumed their activities, but only a small number of female students attend their daily classes.

As far as I know, a number of Jamati members have left the country through the Turkham border crossing with Pakistan (see map above). Others may leave when the passport offices officially start distributing the documents necessary to travel abroad.

One great challenge we have is that a large number of Jamats are unemployed and are using up their savings to survive this uncertain period in their lives. Winters are harsh, and until recently no practical steps had been taken by Jamati institutions to come up with a plan and mitigate the crisis that poor and impoverished Ismaili families are having to deal with. Lately, Jamati institutions have begun distributing flour, oil and beans to a small number of impoverished Ismaili families in Kabul. However a large number of Jamati members have not yet received this much needed relief. Of course, the situation in the country generally is pretty alarming.

As already noted the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan must come up with an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. I once again sincerely appeal to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), the AKDN agencies and Ismaili Council leadership to be forward thinking, closely monitor the situation and adopt an effective strategy for addressing all the issues that will continue to emerge in the foreseeable future.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: December 4, 2021.

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Simerg urges the international Jamat to lend their support to Focus Humanitarian in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new Taliban leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Mr. Sneaky Peeky and the Two Red-Tailed Monkeys

Mr. Sneaky Peeky and the Two Red Tailed Monkeys Illustration by Lee Mathison, Simerg Farah Tejani

A Short Story by FARAH TEJANI
Illustration by LEE MATHISON

Mr. Sneaky Peeky was an elephant-like no other,
For he wore a dark black mask unlike his mom and dad or brother,
And when he wore this super mask it made him feel so invincible,
But his father was not at all impressed, because he was the school’s principal

At recess time the kids would laugh and say, “Who Do You Think You Are?”
And Mr. Sneaky Peeky always said, “I am further than the farthest star!
For I believe In my mind that there is nothing I can’t do!
And that is what makes me, ME and what makes you, you!”

Mr. Sneaky Peeky’s father would warn him all the time, 
“These Super Hero fantasies won’t solve any REAL crimes!”
But his mother loved him so tenderly, she knit him a multicolored cape,
And with it he could run so very fast, no criminal could try to escape!

Sneaky’s older brother sold vacuums door to door,
He was proud of Mr. Sneaky for always wanting more, 
“Don’t mind what other people say, just keep on believing in you!
And just watch how far you will go to make all your dreams come true!”

It just so happened that the day did come that Sneaky would have to test,
Just what kind of superpowers he truly did possess,
A robbery had taken place at the local jewelry store,
The cops arrived but the bad guys escaped but Sneaky Peeky knew more!

He saw two red-tailed monkeys with heavy knapsacks on their backs,
Looking very suspicious, looking through some magazine racks,
With no basket, buggy, or pull cart, Mr. Peeky was not dumb,
The jewelry shop was just next door, they stood out like sour thumbs!

Their sacks looked heavy, so Sneaky used his superpowered mask,
To solve this crime and to return the jewels, so he set down to the task
To see right through the bags they held,
He pushed buttons on each side,
“Freeze, gentlemen, and drop your sacks, you boys are going for a ride!”

They looked and tried to run and make a quick escape,
But these bad guys were just no match for Mr. Sneaky and his special cape!
The red-tailed monkeys were very good at swinging branch to branch,
But Sneaky Peeky tore those trees down to the ground, alas they had NO CHANCE!

“Oh, if only my dad could see me now, I know I would make him proud, 
“No time to think, I’ve got a job to do,” Sneaky spoke out loud.
And with his trunk, he grabbed their tails and tied them in a knot,
And all the jewels fell to the ground, but the mischievous monkeys were caught!

The Chief of Police, Erma Glendale, was happy that all the jewels were returned,
“All the officers on my watch were very impressed and said they had a lot to learn
Like how on earth did you know, Mr. Sneaky, that the criminals were hiding next door?”
“Some things I have been blessed with, these are my superpowers for sure.”

“Criminals that flee any normal crime scene, usually do so in a getaway car,
Something told me these robbers were smart and were not going to be very far,
And these red-tailed monkeys with their heavy knapsacks,
Were not shopping for groceries, and these are just the facts!

“Dear Chief of Police, please do not mind, the rest I cannot tell…
For these are my super powers and they are quite personal.
So now I must be on my way for it is time for me to go,
Because I still have school to go to, and as they say on with the show!”

“Oh, but Mr. Sneaky Peeky, please accept one final thing,
The jewelry store has rewarded you with this 5 point diamond ring!
And furthermore, Mr. Sneaky, can you please untie their tails?
None of us down here can do it, and we need to put them in different cells!”

Date posted: September 23, 2021.

______________________

Farah Tejani

Farah Tejani is a creative writer based in Vancouver. This is her second story for Simerg, following the recently published heart-warming story Elizabeth the Ladybug and the Lonely Rose. Farah is currently working on childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called “Elastic Embrace” to be published later this year. She has contributed numerous poems for Simerg and its sister website Barakah in the past year including The Fragrance of SpringElastic Embrace; and The Great Sacrifice.

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

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

________________

Mr. Sneaky Peeky and the Two Red Tailed Monkeys Illustration by Lee Mathison, author Farah Tejani published in simerg

A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul simerg

Sunday, September 5, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [3] – Leadership Urges Jamati Members Not to Cross Border into Pakistan

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

This is the third in our series of on-going reports from our special correspondent in Afghanistan who is covering for us the developments in his country that are impacting the lives of the Ismaili Jamat. The first two reports can be read HERE – August 26 and HERE – August 29.

We urge all members of the Jamat to support institutions worldwide, such as Focus Humanitarian, in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new Taliban leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

_____________________

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: DANGEROUS AND RISKY BORDER CROSSING, CURRENT GROUND SITUATION AND AN APPEAL TO THE ISMAILI LEADERSHIP

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[REPORT #3]. SUNDAY, SPETEMBER 5, 2021

[This is our Ismaili correspondent’s third letter to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first two letters HERE – August 26 and HERE – August 29. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed.]

Please click on map for enlargement

Afghanistan Map, Spin Boldak
Map of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The area, Spin Boldak, in the southern Kandahar province of Afghanistan, and the border town of Chaman in Pakistan where many Afghans seek refuge, are circled in red. Please click on map for enlargement. Credit: Map adapted and annotated by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

First of all, a special thanks to the Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Afghanistan for staying alongside the Jamats in such a critical time in the country, and for apprising the Jamats about the overall measures we need to take for our well being and safety.

A vast majority of members of the Jamat are concerned regarding the recent upheavals and there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding their future, especially of their children. Many have therefore decided to embark on a journey to neighboring countries through whatever available means. I have learnt that recently several left the country through the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan, without proper and legal documentation (see map above). This is a very risky and dangerous proposition. Those crossing the border face risks from smugglers who are notorious in their dealings with innocent people, and the Jamat has been specifically requested not to put their life in jeopardy and avoid using illegal ways to reach their destination. Social media reports suggest that some Jamati members were successfully able to cross the border into Pakistan, while some other Ismaili families have gone missing and there is no clue about their fate. Those who have legal documents to travel or leave the country have been advised that they should wait until the opening of passport offices, the Hamid Karzai international airport, as well as other border crossings so they can travel out of the country safely.

Following the official departure of US troops from Afghanistan, the political future and formation of new government have remained uncertain. The Taliban, the only ruling party, was scheduled to announce the new government on Friday, September 3, but this has not yet happened. Another concern is related to the inclusive nature of the new government. We anxiously await the announcement.

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A man on motorcycle carries a delivery in Kabul. August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

Most public institutions particularly key functional ministries have remained closed. The nation is suffering from lack of fuel and food. According to the United Nations, about a third of Afghan citizens are struggling to survive in the face of the crisis and insecurity, with the prospect that the country could functionally be out of food within a month. Drought, conflict, Covid-19, unemployment and drain of international aids have contributed to escalating of this crisis. It is therefore gratifying to read that yesterday, Saturday, September 4, 2021, the UN Secretary General António Guterres announced that the United Nations will hold an international conference to raise humanitarian funds for the Afghan people on September 13.

Following the Taliban takeover, the security situation in almost all parts of the nation has relatively improved. But, ISIS-K is considered a potential threat to the new government led by the Taliban. Clarissa Ward, CNN International chief correspondent had twitted recently that the Taliban sources told CNN they were concerned ISIS-K had melted with Taliban in Kabul and it was challenging to distinguish them from legitimate Taliban fighters. The emergence of ISIS-K, an affiliated group with ISIS mainstream based in the Middle East, has raised concerns among all people and specially in the Shite minority groups consisting of Twelvers and Ismailis. 

Given the recent developments and new the unfolding realities, all Jamat members have to be vigilant and act cautiously in such a dire situation. The Ismaili Council for Afghanistan had issued an announcement last week that require all the Jamat members to observe the following points: (1) No definitive surveys of the Jamat in Afghanistan is available, and members of the Jamat who need help for their safety and security, are required to take personal measures; and (2) the Jamats have been asked to avoid illegal immigrations without visas and passports, since no country has officially announced its cooperation for accepting refugees.

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A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul.
A woman shops at the Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood in Kabul. August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

A further announcement made in the last 24-48 hours has instructed the Jamat not to try and cross the border into Pakistan illegally, as those who do cross the border at Spin Boldak will be hosted in refugee camps in nearby Chaman (see map shown above). The camps are under full control of the Pakistani military and they will not permit the refugee arrivals from Afghanistan to leave the camps. Thus, the Jamats have been requested not to travel to Pakistan without having legal documents.

In short, the Ismaili Afghan Jamats need to demonstrate resilience and vigilance in the face of unfolding challenges and crises, and follow the instructions and guidance provided by AKDN agencies and the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan. However, I continue to express my concern about there not being a plan on the part of AKDN and the Ismaili Council for Afghanistan to overcome the crisis that Ismailis are encountering throughout the nation, particularly in the economic spheres in the life of the Jamat.

I therefore sincerely appeal to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), the AKDN agencies and Ismaili Council leadership to be forward thinking, closely monitor the situation and adopt an effective strategy for addressing all the issues that will continue to emerge in the foreseeable future.

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A man waits for a minibus at a traffic square in Kabul. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

I will, as mentioned previously, continue to provide updates on the situation in Afghanistan and will also report about whether the Jamati institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the Jamat. As you know, email addresses have been provided (click HERE) whom we can write to. I again assure readers around the world that the information I have provided is as accurate and reliable as can be.

I do appreciate that my Ismaili brothers and sisters in Afghanistan may have a different perspective of issues affecting the Jamat, and the editor and I invite them to provide their honest and sincere feedback in the comments box below. Opinions should be expressed in a constructive manner as that would be for the betterment of the Jamat. I also believe we can individually act as guides to our institutions who are working in extremely difficult circumstances. We also have to remember that we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic which complicates things even further. The editor will publish your feedback anonymously.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: September 5, 2021.
Last updated: September 5, 2021 (18:10 – the original version had a few typos that have now been corrected).

________________

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Kabul residents walking on the street at Taimany Square.

Sunday, August 29, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [2]

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

This is the second in our series of on-going reports from our special correspondent in Afghanistan who is covering for us the developments in his country that are impacting the lives of the Ismaili Jamat. Our first report dated Thursday, August 26, 2021 can be read HERE.

We urge all members of the Jamat to support institutions worldwide, such as Focus Humanitarian, in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

_____________________

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: THE REALITIES ON THE GROUND AND AN APPEAL TO THE ISMAILI LEADERSHIP

A man uses a makeshift carrier for providing tea drinking service at Kabul's Kote Sangi commercial hub sector of the city
A man uses a makeshift carrier for providing tea drinking service at Kabul’s Kote Sangi commercial hub sector of the city. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.


[REPORT #2]. SUNDAY, AUGUST 29, 2021

[This is our Ismaili correspondent’s second letter to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first letter HERE. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed.]

Dear Jamats:

I am aware about your anxiety and concerns regarding the new developments unfolding in recent days throughout my country and in particular the capital “Kabul”. Many of you also have families and friends in Afghanistan. Others who have visited from outside the country or worked here have built strong bonds with the country as well as members of the Jamat. Generally though, as brothers and sisters living in any part of the world, we think of one another, especially in times of difficulties such as the one the Afghan Jamat is facing at the moment. Hence, I am compelled to provide the global Jamats with some insights pertaining to the Afghan Jamats, who are experiencing difficulties and uncertainties in their life at the present time. In my continuing reports I will endeavour to cover all aspects of our concerns as well as our appeals to the Ismaili leadership in Afghanistan, and how they are responding to our needs. I will seek to be sincere and honest.

As readers are aware the people of Afghanistan and of course the Ismailis have been adversely impacted by recent political changes. We are concerned and anxious about our safety, wellbeing and fate. When it comes to safety of our Jamati members, no party involved in affairs of the country can assure us of our absolute security. In this case, no entity — even the Jamati leadership — in the country can guarantee that all Ismailis living across the country are secure and that are exposed to no threat at the moment. 

Generally, all communities including Ismaili community are concerned about the political future of the country. Thus, many have been desperately trying to leave the country, abandoning their homes and belongings.

The emergence of ISIS-K (Islamic States of Iraq and Syria, Khorasan Branch) that claimed the responsibility for the suicide attack near Kabul airport killing more than 170 people has left us deeply worried. The incident is of particular and real concern to the ethnic Hazara Shia Muslims and indeed all Shia Muslims, who are regarded as heretics by the group. However as we have seen, ISIS-K doesn’t distinguish as they even consider the Taliban as their enemy. They are indiscriminate. However, it is important to note that ISIS-K have previously targeted civilian masses belonging to Hazara Shite minority, which resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties including women and children. In such a situation, as you can imagine, the Jamats living in the region which is predominantly Hazara see no other option but to flee to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan, or Western nations. [Read Hazara Shias flee Afghanistan” in The Guardian — Ed.]

Fortunately, members of the Jamat who had worked with foreign nationals and entities have either already left or waiting to be evacuated from the country before August 31. No doubt, many will be left behind with the deadline that all countries are trying to meet. Most of the countries say they have now stopped the evacuation process. The members of the Jamat who are able to afford ticket payments and have some sort of overseas family sponsorship are determined to embark on a journey intended to those nations as well as Afghanistan’s neighboring countries.

The Jamats living in poverty are deeply worried about feeding their families, and are expecting and hoping that the leadership in Afghanistan, namely the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan, will come to their rescue and provide emergency assistance of food and medicine. In this regard the Jamats around the world can be of great material assistance through institutions such as Focus. [To make on-line contributions please visit Focus Canada; Focus Europe; and Focus USA — Ed.]

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Students seen entering the grounds of Kabul's Polytechnique University
Students seen entering the grounds of Kabul’s Polytechnique University, founded in 1963. It is the second largest university in Kabul. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

One piece of good news is that the Taliban has recently announced that all female employees working in health sector can attend their duties on a regular basis. However, given the uncertainty and deteriorated security situation, some parents are reluctant to allow their daughters to resume their career or attend their daily university classes. 

Under all these circumstances, we are hoping that the Ismaili leadership in Afghanistan including the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan and AKDN agencies will design a plan and take measures in order to overcome the crisis that we are facing at the moment. I had raised this matter in my first letter. Also, I am hoping that the Ismaili leadership will be able to specifically guide and advise parents and their daughters on how they can carry on with their careers and studies — hopefully some guarantees can be secured from the Taliban about the safety of female members in the Jamat who lead professional lives in health care and education.

We are also appealing to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum to closely monitor the developments unfolding in Afghanistan and extend its necessary aid for Jamats in need, and adopt a proper strategy that can address the problems confronting Afghan Ismailis at the current time. Communication with the Jamat is very important. So far, as I note, one advisory has been put out on August 20 (Read English and Farsi), with a brief follow-up by AKDN on August 25 (Read English, Arabic, Farsi and Russian).

I would like to express my gratitude and thankfulness for giving me the opportunity to provide a forum so that I am able to share the Afghan Jamat’s concerns and living conditions with your readers around the world. To summarize the above points, I request that the following be done:

(1) Understand the ground realities in different parts of the country, and specifically prepare, plan and take steps to remedy the situation as necessary. For example, the Hazara Jamat may require special guidance and instructions with regard to their well-being and safety;

(2) Address the poverty issue where families are economically deprived and ensure that they receive material assistance, food and proper health care; and

(3) Advise students, the youth and professionals of the Jamat about their studies and careers. The council should seek to get guarantees from the Taliban that ladies who are in the health and education sectors will be well-treated and respected when they report for their duties. Otherwise, parents will be reluctant to send their daughters for their duties.

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Kabul residents walking on the street at Taimany Square.
Kabul residents walking on street at the city’s Taimany Square. Sunday, August 29, 2021. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

I will continue to provide updates on the situation in Afghanistan and will also report about whether the Jamati institutions are meeting their responsibilities to the Jamat. As you know, email addresses have been provided (click HERE) whom we can write to. I again assure readers around the world that the information I have provided is as accurate and reliable as can be.

I do appreciate that my Ismaili brothers and sisters in Afghanistan may have a different perspective of issues affecting the Jamat, and the editor and I invite them to provide their honest and sincere feedback in the comments box below. Opinions should be expressed in a constructive manner. It would be for the betterment of the Jamat, and we can actually act as a guide to our institutions who are working in extremely difficult circumstances. We also have to remember that we are living in a Covid-19 pandemic which complicates things even further. The editor will publish all feedback anonymously.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: August 29, 2021.

________________

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

Recent pieces on Afghanistan in Simerg:

[1]. Letter from Afghanistan (1);

[2]. Aga Khan Development Network’s Commitment to Afghanistan and Its People; and Overview of AKDN’s Work in the Country for the Last 25 Years;

[3]. To the Women of Afghanistan: Let Your Story and that of Bibi Khadijah (a.s.) Be a Powerful Trampoline of Progress for the People of Afghanistan and Around the Muslim World;

[4]. Flowers – with Love – for the Children, Girls, Sisters and Mothers of Afghanistan;

[5]. Ismaili Institutions Says Majority of Jamati Members in Afghanistan Safe and Continuing with Normal Life; and

[6]. Ismailis in Afghanistan Asked to Stay Home and Not Panic

street scene kabul after taliban takeover august 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021: Letter from Afghanistan [1]

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

We have received a very reliable report by an Ismaili individual (name withheld) of the ground realities in Afghanistan following the recent swift and generally peaceful takeover of the country by the Taliban. The author is in contact with numerous Ismaili individuals in Kabul and around the country, and will be sending regular updates to Simerg. The editor is directly in contact with the individual, and will consolidate the reports received as “Letter from Afghanistan” until normality returns to the country.

The recent institutional announcement (read it HERE) as well as the AKDN press release of August 25, 2021 (read it HERE) has no doubt helped the spirit of the Jamat in Afghanistan during these extremely difficult days. However, there are difficulties being faced in the capital and elsewhere in the country, and many members of the Jamat are deeply apprehensive about what the future holds for them. This concern is noted in the letter below. Generally, we are pleased with the announcements that the Taliban has made regarding the safety and well being of every citizen of Afghanistan, including minority communities as well as the children and women of the country. However, there may be elements within the Taliban that are not abiding by the instructions of their Taliban leadership, bringing fear to many of the country’s citizens, especially those living outside the capital, Kabul.

We pray for safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan, and the members of the Ismaili Jamat.

_____________________

Note: This report was submitted hours before the tragic suicide bombing near Kabul airport that resulted in dozens of death and injuries to Afghan civilians and US military personnel.

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN: REALITIES ON THE GROUND


[REPORT #1]. THURSDAY, AUGUST 26, 2021

street scene in Kabul following Taliban takeover
A street scene in Kabul following the Taliban takeover. Photo: Special to Simerg.

August 26, 2021: I am writing this letter to provide authentic information based on the ground realities and feedback from Jamats living in Afghanistan. 

Afghan Ismaili Jamats are grateful to Ismaili Council for Afghanistan that has stayed beside the Jamat in this critical moment, and for providing instructions on how to deal with day to day challenges. It is a great honor for us as Ismailis who are able to continue practicing their faith without any fear and disruption after the entire country came under the control of Taliban. We appreciate the global Jamats’ sharing the same concern regarding their Ismaili brethren and sisters, offering their help and support for Afghan Ismailis in such a dire and critical moment. 

street scene kabul after taliban takeover august 2021
A street scene in Kabul following the Taliban takeover. Photo: Special to Simerg.

As readers may be aware, the Taliban declared general amnesty for all public service employees, military and security members and even those who worked with foreign nationals. But practically, they are on the look out for those who had any ties with the former government or were associated with Western military or Western NGOS. Therefore, the Jamati members who worked with the Afghan Government or western organizations are concerned about their fate along with many youth members of the Jamat who joined the military post-Taliban in the early 2000’s.

The majority of the people, including members of the Afghan Ismaili Jamat living in the capital Kabul are afraid, unemployed and locked at home. The women and girls worry about their education, returning to their work, or even leaving home without a male companion. A vast percentage of the Jamat is unemployed in the cities governed by the Taliban militants. The remittance sent by family members living abroad to their immediate families in the country has been blocked, since Money Gram and Western Union Transfer are not available.

Generally, the people of Afghanistan and of course the Ismailis are concerned about the gains achieved and preserved during past two decades in human rights, freedom of speech, respect for the rights of women and minorities. Now, there is an element of uncertainty, and we are concerned about feeding our families and fulfilling our daily requirements. The education of the youth and and children in the upcoming future is also uncertain.

Local residents and members of the Taliban army seen at Kabul’s Babur Gardens shortly after the city was captured by the Taliban in mid August. The Gardens were restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, providing much needed green space for Kabul’s residents after years of war and destruction. Photo: Special to Simerg.

We are all hoping that the Ismaili National Council for Afghanistan, Jamati and Imamat institutions such as the Aga Khan Development Network will respond to this crisis we are facing in the best possible way. 

The devotion, dedication and steadfastness shown by leadership in Afghanistan is highly appreciated. But, the leadership only assures them of their relative safety, issuing statements that ignores the concerns and anxieties of Afghan Jamats. We sincerely hope that the leadership in Afghanistan will share with the Jamats their plans and the measures they are taking on how they plan to overcome the confusion, crisis and chaos, and thus ease the burden that is in our hearts and minds with regard to our present situation as well as our future.

At last, I would like to express my gratitude and thankfulness for giving me the opportunity to provide a forum so that I am able to share the Afghan Jamat’s concerns and living conditions with your readers around the world.

I would like to assure the Jamats around the world that we are generally fine, and there is no threat to us. I wish to assure you that the information provided by me is authentic and reliable. Thank you.

Date posted: August 26, 2021.

________________

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

Essays and Letters simerg 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible

Essays and Letters: The Black Pearl!

By KARIM LADHA

It was the summer of ’77: hot, humid days and nights in Hogtown! Hit tunes on the radio were “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart and “(The) Best of My Love” by The Emotions.

I saw an ad in our apartment building’s laundry room for a Dodge Challenger R/T (denotes Road/Track, a performance marker used on Dodge vehicles since the 1960’s).

It was a polo green colour with a white vinyl roof, a 4-speed manual transmission with a cue-ball shifter, white vinyl bucket seats, a V-8 426 HEMI engine, generating 425 HP of pure adrenaline power in the iconic 1970 model year!

Rewind to May 1, 1973 when our family landed in Toronto from Tanzania. I was completely fascinated by the American ‘Muscle Cars’ – the Pontiac Trans Am, Firebird, GTO, the Chevy Corvette, Camaro, the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Charger, the AMC Javelin, but the car that caught my imagination and fascination was the Dodge Challenger! (and its sister car – the Plymouth Barracuda, affectionately called the ‘CUDA! – there was even a hit song about the car!). There was something about the Challenger – its front muscular stance, the contour lines sloping to the rear bumpers, the cut air vents in the hood, the growl of its engine; just the feeling of immense power and invincibility it conveyed! I knew the specs of all the muscle cars from my subscription to Hemmings Magazine, and then there was the famous 1971 movie featuring a 1970 Challenger R/T as the star, called “Vanishing Point”, with Barry Newman (and then a made for TV copycat, which also was a hit).

Back to the Challenger for sale via the ad in the laundry room of 20 Edgecliffe Golfway in Don Mills. I was so excited and ripped off the ad from the notice board, so no one else would see it!

2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, with V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque simerg, essays and letters Karim Ladha.
Karim Ladha (right) with son, Raheem, pictured by The Black Pearl, a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible with a V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque. A rocket indeed, as noted on the vehicle plate! Photo: Shereen Ladha.

I excitedly ran home and called the number. The car was in the underground parking and could be had for a mere $3K! Now, in 1977, $3K was like $13K in today’s dollars! Still, I felt it was a great deal and asked to see the car. It belonged to an elderly couple who were the original owners and were only selling it as they rarely used the car anymore. We struck up a great relationship and they were really keen on selling it to me, especially after hearing about my passion for Challengers! They reduced the price to $2,500.00 only for me, and let me drive it multiple times! I remember it being all the feeling of power and invincibility I had dreamed of and more!

However, reality quickly set in and for a 19 year old in my 2nd year of University, it was virtually  impossible for me come up with that kind of money in such a short time. I even asked my uncle for a loan, who thought it was the dumbest idea I had ever come up with (reflecting back on it, I can’t say I disagree!). Alas, I had to let it go, but I promised myself I would buy a beautiful Challenger one day! Dodge discontinued the Challenger in 1974, a victim of the Petro Crisis of the 70s!   

Fast forward to the Fall of 2020, in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns. I saw an ad in the Hemmings magazine (now online), for a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, pearl black colour, with a V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque! A real beast!

2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible Simerg Essays and Letters Karim Ladha
The well laid out and beautiful interior of Karim Ladha’s The Black Pearl, a 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Convertible. Photo: Shereen Ladha.
Essays and Letters simerg 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible
Karim Ladha leans against his dream car, The Black Pearl, a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, outside the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Photo: Shereen Ladha.

Dodge had brought back the Challenger in 2008 as a ‘retro’ model, but never made a convertible. The owner in New Brunswick had purchased the car new and had it shipped in a closed container to a custom car shop in Florida called DropTop Customs. They transformed the car into a convertible!

I called immediately and after a few weeks of back and forth haggling on the hefty price, I finally purchased my Challenger – after 43 long years!

I call the car “The Black Pearl” after the namesake ship in one of my favourite movie series – “The Pirates of the Caribbean”!

Date posted: August 19, 2021.

_______________________

Simerg invites Essays and Letters from Ismaili writers who have established themselves in literary circles as well as anyone who has a love and passion for writing. Please submit your piece for consideration and possible publication on this website to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com.

Karim Ladha
Karim Ladha

About the author: Originally form Dar es Salaam and Iringa, Tanzania, Karim Ladha settled in Toronto, Canada, where he embarked on a long career in IT with the Bank of Montreal, and ran a used clothing export business for several years. Now retired, he lives in Toronto with his wife Shahiroz. They have two beautiful children, Shereen and Raheem.

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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

SALT LAKE CITY SIMERG

A Personal Reflection on the 2020 USA Election: How the People of the Beautiful State of Utah Let Me Down

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

In the summer of 2011, I finally fulfilled a pledge I had made to my 19-year old daughter, an animal and nature lover, who was aspiring to become a veterinarian; her dream finally fulfilled in 2019.

The promise I had made to her when she was in her early teens was that I would take her to see two of my favourite places in the world, that I had either lived in or visited as a tourist. In my mind, they were not going to be Lourenço Marques, (now Maputo) in Mozambique, Dar es Salaam, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro, all in Tanzania, nor to the majestic mountains and national parks in Canada and the USA such as the Blue Ridge Mountains, Glacier National Park, the Rockies in Alberta and Colorado and the Grand Canyon. She wondered what those two places might be, and my reply to her was, “I will take you to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park”. (Since then, as it will be obvious to my regular readers, I have added to my favourite list His Highness the Aga Khan’s magnificent projects in Toronto — namely the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, all three located at one site).

Yellowstone National Park, Minerva Terrace
Minerva Terrace at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: © Simerg.

I will not say much about Yellowstone, except that I found it to be the most thrilling of all the parks in North America I have visited. It is a 5-in-1 park with its incredible geysers, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, rivers and lakes, forests as well as superb and varied wildlife, including grizzly bears and wolves. It is truly rich and diverse! I had stopped there some 22 years ago during my 4,500 km road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver via the USA, and vowed to one day return with my daughter and share with her the beauty I experienced.

But what about Salt Lake City, and why?

In 1979, while in London, I was recruited by a New York software firm to work as a trainee computer programmer in the USA under the H3 visa program. Upon my arrival at the company’s headquarters in the Big Apple, I began to familiarize myself with the IBM JCL (Job Control Language), a suite of steps that are necessary to execute computer and related utility programs. My experience in the UK had primarily been on ICL (International Computers Limited) computers.

Then after about a week, as I was taking some in-house JCL tests I was summoned into the director’s office late in the afternoon. He told me that one of company’s two clients in Salt Lake City had dismissed two consultants due to poor representation and performance, and the company was in danger of losing the project altogether. He handed me $300.00 in cash, an airline ticket to fly to Salt Lake City the following day, and firmly asked me to do well and salvage the highly profitable project for the company!

That evening I went to the Jamatkhana in New York only to learn from the Mukhisaheb that there were no Ismailis that he knew lived in Salt Lake City. I nervously travelled to Salt Lake City and was greeted at the airport by the consulting company’s project team lead, an Irish Catholic. He calmed my fears down at the hotel, where he dropped me off.

Within 24 hours I was on the client’s site. I was assigned to an in-house systems analyst, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who presented me with specifications to develop an intricate file manipulation program that in his view “was the most complex program on their new payroll-personnel system”.

I was a Muslim of South Asian descent, who had grown up in Africa and then completed my college computer degree in the UK. My heart was that of an African, and I loved Africans. In Sandy in the outskirts of Salt Lake City, and then closer to work in Salt Lake City, I shared a home and apartments with Catholics and Protestants. On the project, I worked with members of numerous Christian denominations, Mormons in particular. As a non-smoker, I loved the smokeless office environment; in London I’d shared a small office on Tottenham Court Road with 2 chain smokers! 7-Up had become my favourite drink in the UK, and that became a daily treat for me in the cafeteria in Salt Lake. In the mid 1960’s Sprite had been introduced in Tanzania, close enough.

Project team members showed me immense courtesy and respect, and the country’s ethic of hard work and motto that anything is possible in the USA was true. I myself experienced it. Americans were fantastic people. Everyone who passed me at Salt Lake’s Main Street would give a friendly nod. Yes, America had that ability to inspire, instill confidence and make one courageous! I became self-confident and fearless. My new friends took me to Park City, Snowbird and Utah Jazz basketball games the franchise was quite new. Adrian Dantley became my favourite player. Mormon missionaries, in pairs, came to places where I resided to indoctrinate me with the faith’s teachings, and I respectfully discussed faith matters with them, and in turn told them about Islam. We realized how common our ethics were. It was wonderful. I can honestly say that Salt Lake City made me a strong and confident person.

Moreover, Salt Lake City was surrounded by the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. It is where I also deeply started appreciating nature. The night sky, as I watched the stars and the full and new moons, inspired me. Surely, this would be a place I would like to one day return. My daughter made that wish happen.

Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Simerg, Malik Merchant. ©
The spiritual centre of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormons, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: © Simerg.

When I returned with my daughter to Salt Lake City some 32 years later, I had already approached a Mormon missionary I knew to give us an extended tour of the Mormon Temple. He drove from Provo and spent hours with us. My daughter was impressed with the ethic of teachings of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) that he shared with us, including the faith’s tithing principle as well as the honorary time members devote to the dissemination of LDS Christian teachings around the world.

In 2008, 3 years before our trip to Utah and Yellowstone, Barack Obama became the 44th USA president, and extended his term in 2012. Hillary Clinton, in 2016, lost to Donald Trump. Utah in large numbers gave him the Presidential vote. That, I said to myself, was fine as it was Trump’s first time!

Then, throughout his 4-year tenure as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world as well as the period following the recent 2020 election, President Trump insulted decent hard working human beings, accused them of cheating and corruption, made condescending remarks to loyal and patriotic citizens of the USA including iconic leaders such as the late Republican Senator John McCain, told lies, divided children from their parents, insulted Muslims and immigrants, backed out of important world treaties, instigated seeds of division and hatred, stopped distinguishing good people from bad, undermined science and scientists, and couldn’t bother to care about American lives being taken due to Covid-19; these were only some of his character traits besides being selfish, insultingly prideful, and profoundly arrogant! He did not accept his defeat in the US elections, and never conceded to President-elect Joe Biden. On November 5th, upon hearing his speech after he knew he was losing the election, I had tears in my eyes and sought solace from my mum thousands of miles away in Vancouver. She too was deeply hurt.

And yet Utah’s citizens, who having heard and read the sickening Trump for a 4 full years, still went and voted for him in 2020, in even larger proportion than in 2016 (from 45.5% in 2016, increasing it to 58.4% in 2020 vs Biden at 37.7%).

Has a faith that I have been raised to respect by my own parents, who were both teachers and missionaries, lost its moorings or have the people of Utah stopped recognizing worthy and perennial Christian and LDS values? I note that the LDS church is in an expansion mode as it has been for decades   around the world, and yet by voting for Trump the citizens of Utah forgot some cherished and revered perennial values that all GOOD global citizens must have, such as (1) the necessity of an abundant capacity for compromise; (2) more than a little sense of patience; (3) an appropriate degree of personal humility and honesty; (4) a respect for others; (5) having a good measure of forgiveness; as well as (6) genuinely welcoming human differences. Many of these values that I have noted were shortlisted by His Highness the Aga Khan when he was presented with the Adrienne Clarkson Global Citizenship Award in September 2016. They are also values common to all faiths and I would therefore expect religious minded people to be championing and upholding these values and behaving in accordance with them.

As a Muslim, I hold some conservative values too, but my expressions of them would be for support of the rule of law through the members of the Congress, the House and the Senate, and not by blindly handing over my votes and voice to a divisive leader like President Trump. Let a better Republican candidate show-up, and vote for the person then.

Being a Muslim I have to state that the Holy Qur’an makes it very clear on the unity of mankind, beautifully articulated by His Highness the Aga Khan in an address he delivered to both the Houses of the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. He said:

“As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Qur’an which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says: ‘Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.’ I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.”

Utahns voted ignoring key ethical values which I thought were dear to the hearts of those I came to know and cast their voices in support of a divisive president.

So now I carry with me only distant memories of the great city and people I came to know in 1979-1980, where my experiences were such that I promised to take my daughter to Salt Lake City in 2011, to meet people I thought I knew and trusted. I will not make that same promise to anyone else again!

As a footnote let me say there are three Mormons I deeply respect today: My Mormon missionary friend, Andrew Kosorok, who was our tour guide at the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah for seeking to speak out honestly and asking his fellow Republican colleagues to be truthful and, last but no means the least, former Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona for standing up to the president of the USA, who has completely relinquished his duties to his country and the revered Constitution of the USA that has been an inspiration to Americans and the world for 233 years. On January 6, 2021 the outgoing president clearly incited his supporters to a destructive march on the citadel of democracy, the Capitol of the USA, to prevent President-elect Biden’s confirmation as president. How could the people of Utah have voted for such a person?

Date posted: January 12, 2021.
Last updated: January 19. 2021.

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