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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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Reproduction of material posted on this website without the expressed written permission of the publisher is prohibited. For permission to reproduce in full or part, please write to Simerg@aol.com.

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.

Simerg invites (1) Ismaili artists to provide submissions/updates for revised edition of its compendium; and (2) Ismaili authors to submit synopsis of their books for listing on the website

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

Talented Ismaili Artists

The Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, revealed and showcased the amazing  talent of the artists in the Ismaili community. Hundreds of young children and youth as well as elderly members of the Jamat participated in locally held programs during the Golden Jubilee. Ten years later, the Diamond Jubilee became truly international in scope, and the final celebrations in July 2018 in Lisbon brought together a large gathering of a variety of artists including film makers, singers, dancers as well as fine art and visual artists to perform in front of large crowds and display works of art at an international gallery. Their high quality performances captivated audiences daily throughout the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations.

compendium of Ismaili artists simerg
Please click on image to download 2014 edition of compendium. We invite new entries and updates from Ismaili visual artists for the revised edition to be published in 2021.

Some years ago, Simerg produced a highly acclaimed Compendium of Ismaili Artists dedicated to the visual arts. It requires a major and long overdue update! Simerg sincerely hopes that Ismaili visual artists from around the world will go through the compendium and submit their profiles as illustrated in the compendium. Simerg plans to update the compendium and produce a new edition by spring 2021. Please submit your profile and a work of art to Malik Merchant at his email address Simerg@aol.com.

The institutional support for the arts has been truly commendable, and we hope that such support will continue.

The Ismaili literary scene had been somewhat dormant for quite some time until the emergence of Moez Vassanji who is one of Canada’s most celebrated writers. He is a prolific writer whose published work include novels, short story collections and non-fiction collections. Moez is a two time Giller Prize winner and has received numerous other awards and recognitions. In February 2005, he was made the Member of the Order of Canada for contribution to arts/writing.

Talented Ismaili Writers

Ismaili authors
Cover pages of a few of the dozens of books authored by Ismailis.

But what about other fine Ismaili authors who have appeared in the writing scene over the past two decades? They have remained virtually unknown to the community at large. Personally, I would have liked to have seen their works to have been sold through the Jamatkhana literature counters around the world, and for the authors to be given an opportunity to do readings in front of audiences, at least at their local Jamatkhana setting. We hope that when the pandemic is over this suggestion will be taken up by our institutions and that Ismaili authors who feel they have written a book that is worthy of reading because of its overall publication quality and literary merit will be able to present themselves to the Jamat, sell their books and sign them for Jamati members who wish to purchase their works. Many authors market and sell their books via on-line sellers such as Amazon, but institutional support and encouragement is vital for their exposure to a world wide Jamat.

Simerg invites Ismaili writers to come forward and submit a synopsis of their book for publication on this website. In addition, we want each writer to respond to the following questions in no more than 50 words per question:

(1) What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

(2) Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it? 

(3) What inspired you to write the book? 

(4) How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats (ebook, kindle, hardback, paperback?) 

Response to the following questions are optional:

(5) How did you find a publisher for the book? 

(6) Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself? 

(7) Which was your first book and how many have you written? 

(8) How long did it take you to write the book – from start to finish and to begin marketing it? 

(9) Tell us something more about your book (and its primary character).

Categories for inclusion in our listing: Novels, short stories, inspirational books, biographies, poetry, jigsaw puzzles as well as all non-fiction on diverse subjects (except religious and literary works published by the Institute of Ismaili Studies).

Languages: We will list books published in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Kiswahili, but the synopsis must be submitted in English. Books in other languages will be considered for listing at a later date.

Your response: Authors should submit their responses to the 9 questions accompanied by the book’s synopsis in English (preferably in no more than 100 words maximum) and an image of the cover page to the attention of Malik Merchant at simerg@aol.com. If your book has been reviewed or is available for on-line purchase, you may provide link(s) to the book reviews and where the book is available for purchase. If you have a website dedicated to your literary work(s), please provide the address of your website.

Simerg looks forward to a fantastic response from Ismaili artists and writers on these two projects dedicated to them.

Date posted: December 3, 2020.
Last updated: April 8, 2021. (Remove STRICT word count restriction of 100 words for responses by Ismaili authors to Simerg questions).

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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

Malik Merchant Simerg
Simerg’s Malik Merchant at the courtyard of the Aga Khan Museum.

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

An Ethereal Journey to a Sacred Space in the Pandemic

(Editor’s note: As of November 20, 2020, Jamatkhanas in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) are once again temporarily closed due to orders issued by the provincial government that impact all places of worship. The BC Jamatkhanas had re-opened at the beginning of August with limited attendance capacity both in the evenings and mornings. Zaher Ahamed’s excellent piece is an attempt to convey his joyful experience of attending a Jamatkhana in Canada in the midst of Covid-19. On new developments about Jamatkhana openings and closures in Canada, please subscribe to the official Al-Akhbar electronic bulletins distributed by Ismaili institutions in Canada).

“Maybe….because of this pandemic, I have experienced the true nature of our faith and gained a new insight into one of our central religious practices of our tariqah: the remembrance of Him in His house during the hour of Baitul Khayal” — Zaher Ahamed

By ZAHER MEGHJI AHAMED

Headquarters Jamatkhana Vancouver. Photo: FNDA.

It was our first journey to the re-opened Headquarters Jamatkhana in Vancouver during a pandemic: it was for the early morning contemplation and prayers or Baitul Khayal during the earlier part of August, and it turned out to be a  total ethereal, peaceful and powerful experience, the closest I have ever felt to the presence of the Nur (Light) of Imam in a what had become  a truly perfect sacred spiritual space.

There was pin drop silence! The pandemic protocol put in place, after going through a painless computerized registration system as you entered, did not permit for social chit-chat, small talk and worldly conversations over a cup of chai before entering the sacred space.

We were swept with only the thought of Him silently with dignity into the Jamatkhana prayer hall. We were in a peaceful dignified space, where there was not a word between the murids, each masked, each enclosed in his or her own socially distanced bubble. The conversation was only with Him, just as it was meant to be. We felt ourselves immersed in the cosmic quiet and stillness, focusing now only on  seeking out moments of happiness through the Divine Word, knowing that, with the Imam’s presence in this space, He was with us blessings us on our own individual journey to seek to come nearer to Allah through the Nur of Hazrat Ali.

With a silent and reflective utterance of “Haizanda” (He is ever living) we stepped into this sacred space and right into his presence! With closed eyes, a quiet mind and an open heart we slipped into the rhythm of silently uttering the Divine Word, first with our lips and then in our hearts, feeling it flow through, ever so slowly, into the depth of our soul, awakening it: and over a period of time, the word now deeply embedded released moments of energy, awareness, joy and happiness…. all in a timeless moment, the soul wanting to stay for ever and then…. the hour was over in what seemed like a second…. with the promise of another day to be again in His presence in this sacred space.

Jamatkhana prayer hall, Ismaili Centre Vancouver. Photo: Bruno Freschi Collection, 1985.
“Sacred Space” – the Jamatkhana prayer hall, Ismaili Centre Vancouver. Photo: Bruno Freschi Collection, 1985.

This is what the house of the Lord was meant to be like!

Then, without a word with anyone, we stepped straight outside into our car, carrying the peace that was in our hearts. And on our way home, we saw the light of the waning moon with Venus ablaze shining on us, leaving us speechless in the cosmic balance of His creation.

The calmness that we had felt in the Jamatkhana continued on our journey home. It was then that I remembered Hunza, where I had felt that same pin drop silence with no words in calm and quiet in a Jamatkhana with a dimly lit hall, “a sacred space,” in Karimabad. And now, I had once again experienced that in my own Jamatkhana in Vancouver — and that too in a global pandemic or maybe because of a global pandemic!

Maybe, ironically, because of this pandemic, I have experienced the true nature of our faith and gained a new insight into one of our central religious practices of our tariqah: the remembrance of Him in His house during the hour of Baitul Khayal.

Going for Ibadat in the morning, in its truest sense, should be an act filled with a simplicity and a reverence  of the highest kind for this sacred space devoid of any refreshments, hanging around the chai table and having meaningless conversations that last until almost 5 a.m!

Spaces created in Jamatkhanas for prayer are sacred spaces!

It was truly a unique experience and in terms of the logistics, the whole process of going to the Jamatkhana, from the time of arrival until departure, was very well organized, with an army of well trained volunteers directing your every move: Your car on arrival is directed into a pre-planned space; if you have not brought your mask one is provided to you; next you confirm your spot and answer standard Covid-19 protocol questions and have your temperature taken; you then get directed into the shoe/coat area, have your hands sanitized and then are led finally into your own space.

When the limited rites and ceremonies, tailored to keep murids safe, are completed, you are led out to your car in an orderly manner. Fifty pre-allocated murids who have come to the Jamatkhana for the morning Ibadat and prayers each, I believe, leaves with a unique experience.

What else are we witnessing during the pandemic?

I believe, we are seeing the birth of a “global Ismaili renaissance” showcased and driven by a digital platform of webinars, zoom sessions and the Ismaili TV. We are seeing the fruition of the coming together of Ismaili talent in all its forms: academic scholars and waezins, health care professionals, dancers, musicians, singers, consultants, counselors, journalists, Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) executives and staff, and Jamati leaders, all the result of our Imam’s extraordinary vision and its execution over the last 60 years.

It is like seeing a period of our rich Fatimid heritage in a digital mirror!

Seniors are zooming… the youth are dancing, men are cooking… women are leading and “dadimas” (grandmothers) are “face timing… and all this within just the last 7 months.

Learning, Mawlana Hazar Imam has often said, should continue throughout our lives. Age should not be a constraint, and this is precisely what we are witnessing. We are exploring with full confidence, and thousands of voices from around the world and from our global Jamat are now being heard directly. This is the commencement of a new digital communications era, and the challenge now will be to stay truly connected and to manage this era carefully with awareness and sensitivity so that it does not stifle in its own success.

As for me and my family, this pandemic has brought us even closer and it feels good to be in the centre of “This Ismaili Renaissance”.… a truly humbling experience!

Date posted: November 20, 2020.

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Zaher Ahamed

Zaher Ahamed is an internationally recognized expert in Strategic Marketing, Multicultural Communications, Diversity & Human Resources Development, Strategic Planning, Design &  Project Management. His over 40 years of Business & Consulting experience includes working with Expo 86, the Royal Bank of Canada, Life Care International, Terry Fox Foundation, WIOMSA (Zanzibar), Governments of Canada & British Columbia as well as holding teaching positions with the University of Stockholm, Red Deer University and BCIT in Europe and in Canada.

He has had extensive experience working for corporate and not-for-profit organizations in the Middle East and Africa. In Nairobi, Kenya, he worked with the Aga Khan University Hospital, as a project manager for the establishment of turnkey state-of-the-art digitally connected Pilot Primary Health care and diagnostic Aga Khan Medical centres in East Africa. His volunteer experience includes working in Syria, Zanzibar, East Africa, Sweden. USA and Canada. He is multilingual and has a deep interest in Ismaili history and Ginanic and Sufi traditions. Now retired in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Zaher continues to perform voluntary work with Ismaili and non-Ismaili institutions around the world.

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

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

Exclusive: A Truly Inspiring Narrative with Historical Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1966 Visit to Iringa, Tanzania

“On November 4, 1966, as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s plane circled the Iringa airport, there was palpable excitement as the leaders of the Jamat anxiously awaited the arrival of our beloved Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam had taken a break on his extended tour of East Africa to return to Europe to attend to some personal matter. Iringa was the second stop on his return visit from Europe. As the ebullient Imam emerged from his plane, without regard to his evident infirmary, with plastered foot and a walking cane, Jamati leaders’ ecstatic emotions turned to one of unexpected concern. But the Imam was quick to calm the leaders’ fears about his infirmed foot.” — PLEASE CLICK TO READ COMPLETE ARTICLE

His Highness the Aga Khan in Iringa Tanzania
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with a plastered foot, lays the foundation stone of the Iringa Sports Complex during his extensive visit to East African countries in 1966. Please click on photo for an exceptional narrative of the visit as well as more photos.

Date posted: September 21, 2020.

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Former Daily Nation Chief Reporter Produces a Special Souvenir to Commemorate 60th Anniversary of Paper founded by His Highness the Aga Khan

Reviewed by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

(Special Edition Yesterday at the Nation by Cyprian Fernandes, published by Cyprian Fernandes, Pendle Hill NSW Australia, printed and produced by Australian Trade Printers, April 2020. 132 pp.)

The Daily Nation was my favourite newspaper in Dar es Salaam, along with the Tanganyika Standard (later the Standard and then the Daily News). The popular Kenyan newspaper founded by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, first rolled off at the press as a Sunday newspaper on March 20, 1960, and then as a daily on October 3 of the same year.

The paper would arrive in Dar es Salaam from Nairobi in an afternoon flight. At around 6 PM, our 2nd floor neighbour at Islamabad Flats on United Nations Road, (Late) Akbar Ladha, would knock on my door on his way up and hand me a copy of the paper. He and Sherali Bhai owned a prestigious camera shop on Dar es Salaam’s Independence Avenue, and received letters and packages from all over the world from their clients and suppliers. Akber Bhai knew I was an avid stamp collector, and he would pass all foreign envelopes to me.

On Saturday afternoon, I would cycle to downtown to get my own copy of the early editions of the Sunday Nation and the Sunday Post — without the English premier league results! I became conversant with many of the Nation’s columnists, writers and photographers as well as editors. Among them were Philip Ochieng (who would later join the Tanzania’s Daily News for a brief period), Kul Bhushan who reviewed Indian films, sports writer and editor Norman da Costa, chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, Ismaili reporter Sultan Jessa and photographer Azhar Chaudary, among several others.

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
Front cover of special souvenir edition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nation. The portraits are of Nation journalists, deceased as well as living. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Many years later, I had the fortune of meeting the Nation’s Bill Fairbain in Ottawa. Author of a number of books in recent years, he contributed a special piece for Simerg. Then, I connected with Sultan Jessa who invited me to his home in Montreal and handed me a collection of photos taken by Azhar Chaudary, which were reproduced in Barakah and Simerg. Sultan passed away in 2019. I prepared a tribute to him and linked it to a much longer piece I had written earlier in Simerg.

Cyprian Fernandes Daily Nation Chief Reporter Simerg
The many faces of Cyprian Fernandes through the years as they appear in his souvenir publication, “Yesterday at the Nation.” Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Last December, I received a note from the Nation’s former chief reporter Cyprian Fernandes, who has made his home in New South Wales, Australia. He wanted to reproduce my article on Sultan Jessa in a special “not for sale” souvenir to mark the 60th birthday of the paper that he stated in his email to me was “my other mother, The Nation.” I was glad to oblige. When the publication was ready in April 2020, Cyprian mailed two copies to me by Australia’s Post Express — including one to give to Sultan Jessa’s widow, Rosila. I kept on tracking the package for weeks. Due to Covid-19, it never left Australia by air. Instead, I would learn several weeks later, that it was sent by surface. I received “Yesterday at the Nation” just last week!

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
“Once when they were young,” from left Nation’s Polycarp Fernandes, Fibi Munene, Norman da Coata, Alfred Araujo and Sultan Jessa. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Cyprian commences his souvenir book by producing the introductory note that appeared on the front page of the Nation on the first day of its publication, March 20, 1960. He then says that the souvenir “was made possible by the articles provided by former Nation colleagues and the writings and obituaries of colleagues who have gone before us.”

In his preface “Once Upon a Time” Cyprian notes the brilliant work that Gerry Loughran did chronicling the first 50 years in “Birth of a Nation, The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya” (available in paperback or kindle edition at Amazon).

But for this 60th anniversary souvenir produced completely independently, Cyprian wanted to go further and he therefore dug deep to find more stories about the paper and from the paper. One thing he has done most admirably is to recognize the surviving and deceased journalists who worked at the Nation as well as those whom he tried hard to locate but was unsuccessful to get in touch with. His focus is on the period 1960-1975, a little over the time he himself spent at the paper.

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes
Back cover of a special souvenir edition to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nation. The portraits are of Nation journalists, deceased as well as living. Photo: Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

The 132 page souvenir contains previous articles by Michael Curtis (1920-2004) who Mawlana Hazar Imam first recruited as a speech writer and publicity organizer when he became Imam in 1957; experiences at the Nation by numerous editors such as Jack Beverley (Sunday Nation editor from 1962-64), Jon Bierman (Daily Nation, 1960-63), Joe Rodriques, Boaz Omori and Hilary Ng’weno among others. In reading their stories, one learns about the challenges the editors and journalists faced when they were bold in their opinions about heads of state or on local and international political issues. As we find out from Cyprian’s book many were fired or forced to resign or even ended up in jails. One, a news editor by the name of Mike Chester, was expelled from Kenya due to mistaken identity!

One particular event that was reported well, and has been reproduced in the Souvenir, is when Kenya successfully launched the San Marco’s satellite into equatorial orbit from Malindi. Adrian Grimwood’s column in the Sunday Nation of November 12, 1972 explains what would likely take place on the day of the launch. The launch itself was reported on the front page of the Daily Nation’s coast edition with the headline “Kenya in the Space Age.”

A tragic story that Cyprian includes in his souvenir is that of the extraordinary photographer and front line cameraman Mohamed “MO” Amin who was at the right place at the right time when Kenyan cabinet minister Tom Mboya was assassinated. Within a couple of minutes of being shot, Mo Amin was there to record on still and movie cameras, like the photo that is shown below. The souvenir also notes Mo Amin’s coverage of the 1984 Ethiopian famine in that it proved to be so compelling that it inspired a collective global conscience and became the catalyst for the greatest-ever act of giving. “Unquestionably,” the souvenir notes, “it also saved the lives of millions of men, women, and children.”

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes Tom Mboya assassination
Within a couple of minute’s of the Kenyan Minister Tom Mboya being shot on Nairobi’s main street, Mo Amin was there to record on still and movie cameras, like the photo shown here. Photo via Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.
The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes Mo Amin Photo
Mo Amin in Ethiopia at the height of drought crisis. Photo via Cyprian Fernandes / Yesterday at the Nation.

Mo Amin died in a hijacked Ethiopian Airlines plane that crash landed in November 1996 in the Comoros Islands. It is said that he died standing while still negotiating with the hijackers until the moment of the crash.

A great piece in the souvenir is about Joe Rodriques, who spent 18 years at the Nation, the final few as the paper’s Editor-in- Chief. During his tenure, The Daily Nation was accused by President Moi’s government of assuming the role of an opposition party and selecting news on a sectarian and tribally motivated basis. Rodriques had written an editorial against the Government when the long time Kenyan politician and opposition leader Oginga Odinga was banned from standing in a by-election. Rodriques was arrested and interrogated. The souvenir notes that “The Nation published an apology of sorts, assuring the government of its support, but actually without using the word apology. This was the beginning of the end of Joe Rodriques, as Editor-in-Chief and his own 18 year association with the paper.”

The Daily Nation 60th anniversary souvenir edition by Cyprian Fernandes profile of Sultan Jessa
A page from Simerg’s 4 page piece on Sultan Jessa from “Yesterday at the Nation” by Cyprian Fernandes.

Writing for himself, Cyprian Fernandes observes, “I owe the Nation — everyone who worked in editorial, photographic, proofreading, the compositors, advertising, Karo and Kano the drivers — and everyone else at Nation House the greatest debt of my life. Thanks for giving me a journalistic life that has spanned nearly 60 years and like Johnny Walker still keeps on walking — for the moment at least.”

He ends his detailed narrative about his days at the Nation with the following anecdote:

“I was travelling with the then Vice President Daniel arap Moi and his wife to Botswana. All went well, except for two things: The VP’s security kept his spare bullets by a candle in his bedroom…there was a lot of bang bang. When I tried to phone my story in via Johannesburg, the operator at the other end let loose a torrent of racist abuse including telling me to ask my wife and taste the real thing….and lots more. Unfortunately for him, the President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, was in the room and listened in. A few weeks later I received an official apology from the South African government and an invitation to visit South Africa as (an honorary white man).”

Cyprian’s love for “my other mother, The Nation” is deep and sincere. The souvenir edition has been prepared, printed and mailed out from his own personal resources. I was delighted to receive a personalized signed copy and thank him for a volume that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It is one of very few copies that has been produced, and I am indeed lucky to be among the recipients. I hope a demand for the souvenir will prompt Cyprian to come up with a larger printer run for interested readers to purchase. The Daily Nation’s 60th anniversary falls on October 3, 2020.

Date posted: August 27, 2020.

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