A photo taken at a UN concert celebrating Nowruz (also Novruz, Navruz, Nooroz, Nevruz, Nauryz). In 2010 the UN General Assembly proclaimed International Nowruz Day at the initiative of several countries that share this holiday — Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan. Inscribed in 2009 — and renewed in 2016 — on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition. Observed by over 300 million people, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider
(In the following story, Sarkari Dawlatamamad from Siponj, Bartang, describes the beauty of the celebration that heralds the New Year in the Pamirs. The story will be familiar to many Pamiris, even if in other villages the tradition is different, or only exists now in stories told by their parents and grandparents. The inspiration of the story was drawn from the beautiful documentary film SHOGUN, made by Pamiri filmaker Tolik Gadomamadov. The story has been adapted below from the highly acclaimed award winning book “With Our Own Hands” authored by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Haider.
BY FREDERIK VAN OUDENHOVEN AND JAMILA HAIDER
WITH SARKORI DOWLATAMAMAD
To understand how we celebrate Nawruz in the Pamirs and how important the holiday is to us, it is necessary first to tell you about time as we experience it in the Pamirs. Our time is different from time elsewhere; it differs even from valley to valley. Our experience of time is conditioned by our dependence on our lands, and our need to predict seasonal changes to coordinate our work in the fields. This is why our ancestors developed special calendars that follow the changes in the land: the passage of the sun through the villages and valleys; the behaviour of plants, animals and spirits; and the influences of these changes on the human body. The body and time are inseparable: you might say that our calendar records the procession of life rather than time, and individual days take meaning from their place in that procession. So, Nawruz, our New Year, is not simply a day of celebration, but the culmination of all the days leading up to it.
Preparations begin already on the darkest day of the year, the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of a period of intense cold in the Pamirs. This period is called chilla and lasts for forty days. When, towards the end of January, the sun shining through the skylight, or roetz, reaches the first mark on the wall, the chilla ends. This is the first sign that spring is coming and we celebrate Khir-pichor.
On the first day of Khir-pichor no guests are allowed to enter the house. Only on the second day, early in the morning, a cousin or niece can visit the house, bringing two kulcha (wedding bread), which they place next to the kitsor (traditional oven). We prepare his or her favourite food — kamoch-tarit (butter bread), khomnigul, baht (sweet festive porridge), boj (celebratory soup with meat, if we have meat) — and offer a present as well. Afterwards, more people come and bring kulcha. We call this custom salom-salom. Later in the day, the community comes together to eat lunch and the khalifa (religious leader) performs du’a (act of worship for the fulfillment of specific needs, forgiveness or protection).
The Pamiri calendar begins on the second day of Khir-pichor, which literally means ‘sun-in-man’. From now on, the sun will slowly begin to gain in strength, marked by the symbolic passage of the sun‘s rays through the human body. It starts with the sole of the foot or the toenails and gradually climbs up towards the top of the head, before moving down again. The toenails, the top of the foot, the ankles, the shin, the calves of the legs…each part of the body indicates a period of three days. After approximately three weeks, when the sun reaches the knee and the next marking on the wall, we celebrate the second sign of the arrival of Nawruz, Khir-chizon (‘sun-in-knee’).
During Khir-chizon, we put a handful of seeds into the fire of the kitsor and after the fire has finished burning, we look for any remaining seeds in the ashes. These surviving seeds tell us our fortune; they help us know which crops to sow in the New Year. Afterwards we take the ashes and seeds outside and scatter them over the snow.
“Like the majority of the inhabitants of the Western Pamirs, the Bartangi also speak dialects of the family of the Indo-European, non-written Pamir languages. Religiously, they belong to the denomination of the Nizari-Ismailis, a sub-confession of Shia Islam. Nizari-Ismailis consider Aga Khan IV as the closest male descendent alive of the prophet Muhammad and as ephiphany of the divine light. His orders are absolutely binding. The Aga Khan propagates a version of Islam open to progress and to intellectual discourse with the west. His faith is practised even in the remote Bartang valley, enriched with some locally specific practices.” — Excerpt from the website http://www.bartang-has-future.com.
On the first day of Khir-chizon, we prepare boj, and share it with our neighbours. On the second day, we prepare baht. That is why, in our village in Bartang, we also refer to this holiday as Baht ayom.
When, finally, the snow begins to melt and the sun rises over the point on the mountain which we call amalkhana, it is time to celebrate Nawruz in our calendar, the Sun has reached the Heart.
We celebrate Nawruz with great happiness and intensity; Nawruz is the end of a long and difficult winter and the beginning of a new cycle of growth. It reminds us of our great dependence on the Earth, the Sun and Water, and each celebration is an occasion to ask God and the angels to grant us good harvests and healthy, productive animals.
The women and girls will clean every corner of the house and use brooms blessed with wheat flour to chase away the bad spirits that have taken shelter in the nooks and crannies of the wood. Flour is also used to decorate the beams of the ceilings which have been blackened by smoke over time: simple hand prints, old Zoroastrian patterns whose meaning has often been forgotten, or drawings of sheep and shepherds so that the house will not be without shepherd and a flock of sheep this year. Juniper twigs adorn the pillars of the houses, they bring fertility and blessings.
The men cut the bark of willow branches and weave them into flowers which, once the cleaning is finished and they are allowed back into the house, they offer to the women, with the traditional New Year greeting. The willow is associated with the productivity while the flower is the symbol of joy, abundance and people’s harmony with nature. In every household in the village women will prepare sumanak (pudding made from germinated wheat). It is one of the most well-known new year dishes in Central Asia.
Report compiled by Abdulmalik Merchant
Poem by Shariffa Keshavjee
In a special talika (written message) read out in Ismaili jamatkhanas on Friday, January 13, 2017, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, informed his world-wide community that Princess Salwa gave birth to a baby boy named Sinan in London, England, on January 2, 2017. The Princess is married to Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the 49th Ismaili Imam’s oldest son. The couple was married in a nikah ceremony in September 2013, and their first child Prince Irfan was born in Geneva, Switzerland, on 11 April, 2015.
Prince Rahim has an older sister, Princess Zahra, and two brothers younger than him, Prince Hussain and Prince Aly Muhammad.
Princess Salwa and Prince Rahim, who is holding Prince Irfan, pictured recently during the 80th birthday celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan (right) held in Aiglemont. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
“Prince Sinan’s birth has brought immense joy to our family,” wrote Mawlana Hazar Imam in the talika, and added that “We are most touched by your kind thoughts and prayers over the period leading to Sinan’s birth.” In the talika, he conveyed his affectionate loving blessings to his followers, whom he addresses as his spiritual children.
Hello magazine reported the birth of Prince Sinan as the world’s first royal baby of 2017!
We rejoice with our thousands of readers around the world on the wonderful news of the birth of Prince Sinan, and join with jamats around the world to congratulate Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa as well as their son Prince Irfan, and all the members of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s and Princess Salwa’s families.
We sincerely hope and pray that the birth of Prince Sinan may bring immense barakah to jamats worldwide. We also pray for Prince Sinan’s long life and wellbeing.
The Meaning of Sinan
Sinan is an Arabic name for boys meaning spearhead. It is derived from the root word S-N-N which is used in the Qur’an. Sinan is pronounced [(SI)mple] + [(NA)p + (N)ew] with emphasis on the second syllable. Wikipedia mentions that the name might also be related to the Ancient Greek name Sinon.
In Ismaili history, the name Sinan is associated with the revered personality of Rashid al-din Sinan, one of the greatest and most valiant of the Syrian Isma’ili da’is of the thirteenth century A.C.
By Shariffa Keshavjee
A miracle, a gift today a child that comes to us
Our bending is of gladness in the archers hand to us
He loves the arrow that flies, the bow so stable for us
The archer sees the mark upon the path for us
Bends it with his might, the arrow goes far for us
The name of Sinan brings the memory of
Aleppo and Masyaf to us
His philosophy as dai forever imprinted on us
The balance of the zahir and batin as it come to us
A reciprocal social relationship of balance within us
Weaving a tapestry of din-dunia
In this our Diamond Jubilee year, your birth bring to us
Great tidings of gladness and joy within us
Our many faceted diamond is aglow for us.
Date posted: Saturday, January 14, 2017.
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This compiled piece contains material from the following sources:
It is said that Avicenna, the famed Muslim philosopher, medical expert and scientist, whom Ismailis like to claim as their own, created the first ever recipe for the Pilaf (Pilau, Plov, Palov, Oshi Palav etc.). He was born in Bukhara in modern day Uzbekistan. Now more than a 1000 years later, the much beloved Central Asian dish has been recognized by UNESCO as part of Tajikistan’s and Uzbekistan’s intangible cultural heritage. Read this story and also try out a pilaf recipe from Khorog, Tajikistan, which is provided below.
Osh, generically known as plov (pilaf),is a rice dish made with shredded yellow turnip or carrot, and pieces of meat, all fried together in vegetable oil or mutton fat in a special qazan (a wok-shaped cauldron) over an open flame. The meat is cubed, the carrots are chopped finely into long strips, and the rice is colored yellow or orange by the frying carrots and the oil. The dish is eaten communally, often with one’s hands in the traditional way from a single large plate placed at the center of the table. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
Material for this piece was compiled and adapted
by Abdulmalik Merchant, Editor, Simerg.
UNESCO’s Plov Inscription
Tajikistan’s “Oshi Palav” and Uzbekistan’s “Palov” (versions of the dish commonly called Plov in Central Asia) were both inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity when UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage met at its 11th annual session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Conference held from 28 November to 2 December 2016.
Both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan had separately applied to UNESCO in 2015 — within a few weeks of each other — to have the plov recognized as part of their nation’s intangible cultural heritage. Readers will be interested to learn that UNESCO has inscribed numerous foods, including beverages such as coffee, as well as festivals such as Nauroz in its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Across Central Asia, the deceptively simple plov dish is based around lamb, rice, onions and carrots simmered in broth, and accompanies every meaningful life-cycle event. Food historians have noted that versions of plov are spread across Asia. The Turkish pilav, Persian polow and Indian pilau –- and even Spanish paella — are all related, with versions including dried fruit, paprika, garlic, tomato, beans and spices.
Preparations for Plov (pilaf)…cleaning and cutting carrots. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
With regard to Tajikistan’s application for inscription of the Palav as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, the UNESCO committee noted that the ‘Oshi Palav’ is a traditional dish of communities in Tajikistan and recognized it as a part of their cultural heritage and practice that aims to bring people of different backgrounds together. The dish is prepared to be enjoyed at regular mealtimes as well as social gatherings, celebrations and rituals. Known as the ‘King of Meals’, the Palav is based on a recipe using vegetables, rice, meat and spices but up to 200 varieties of the dish exist.
The importance of the dish to communities in Tajikistan is indicative in sayings such as “No Oshi Palav, no acquaintance” or “If you have eaten Oshi Palav from somebody, you must respect them for 40 years”!
Groups of men or women prepare the dish either in their homes or at tea houses while socializing or playing music and singing. Knowledge and skills associated with the practice is transmitted on an inter-generational basis in families, in addition to cooking schools from master to apprentice. Once an apprentice masters Oshi Palav, the apprentice hosts a dinner for the trainer and guests during which the trainer receives a skull-cap and traditional dress while the apprentice receives a skimmer (a tool for cooking Oshi Palav) symbolizing the apprentice’s independence.
Frederik van Oudenhoven happily displaying “With Our Own Hands” that he co-authored with Jamila Haider. Photo: Facebook page, PamirFoodandLife. The magnificent volume is now out of print, but may be obtained through resellers at Amazon.
Readers of this website may recall an award winning book called “With Our Own Hands – A Celebration of Food and Life in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan” which we featured and also offered for sale last spring. It quickly sold out and the book is now out of print. A recipe from the book for the Plov that is prepared in Khorog, Tajikistan, is reproduced below. The Pamiri people living to the south of the Panj River in neighbouring Afghanistan use a slightly different recipe for their Palao, as it is known there, and making a good Palao is considered the most essential culinary skill a woman should possess to be a good wife!
A Note on Rice
“Rice was, and in some places still is, a food reserved still reserved for the most esteemed guests. No matter how many other dishes are prepared for the guests, if there is no rice the meal will still be considered poor…..Like salt, rice could not be produced from the soils of Western Pamirs…Shali was the name of the rice that was most commonly brought, a delicious variety that was exchanged for large quantities of Pamiri wool. It was so valuable that in the Wakhan valley, dropping even a single grain of rice was likened to dropping the relic of a saint.” — excerpt from With Our Own Hands, p. 287.
Plov – How it is Prepared in Khorog
(Material and recipe adapted from “With Our Own Hands,” pp. 607-609)
Plov in the Tajik Pamirs is a much loved rice dish for celebrations and offering to guests. Good quality rice that doesn’t absorb too much moisture is an important part of this dish. The plov cooked with ozgensky rice (from the city of Uzgen in the Fergana Valley of Southern Kyrgyzstan) is truly delicious. Orgencky rice is sometimes available in the Khorog market but more common, due to its affordability, is the poorer quality Chinese rice.
Plov is one of the most popular dishes at the bazaar in Khorog, the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region in Tajikistan. Khorog, with a population of approximately 32,000, is mostly inhabited by Ismailis. Photo: “With Our Own Hands,” page 607.
4 cups rice; 1 cup chickpeas; 1 small cup vegetable oil; 2 onions; 1-1.5 tbsp. cumin; 6 carrots; 2–3 cups mutton; 8 cups water; 1 head of garlic; and salt to taste.
MAKING THE KHOROG PLOV
Soak the chickpeas overnight;
wash and drain the rice, chop onions, cut the carrot into strips and the meat into bite sized pieces (meat is often left in the bone);
Heat the oil in a kazan (or large cooking pot, something like a wok, see photo) and cook the meat for 20-30 minutes with the lid closed then add the onions and salt towards the end;
Add the carrots, chickpeas and sprinkle cumin over the top. DO NOT STIR;
Cover the pan and cook for another 7-10 minutes;
Add 8 cups of water (less if rice needs less water to cook) and then pour in the rice;
Make sure the rice is spread evenly over the other ingredients, but STILL DO NOT STIR;
Place the unpeeled head of garlic on top of the rice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes;
Now heap up the rice towards the centre of the pot (that is, it is still on top of the other ingredients);
Make several holes through the (heaped) rice down to the bottom to allow the steam and flavours from the meat and vegetables to circulate through the pan;
Keep the garlic head on top of the rice;
Put the lid on and seal well, with a cloth if necessary. Simmer for another 20 minutes, without opening the lid; and
Finally, mix all the ingredients and serve on a large plate with the garlic, accompanied by a fresh salad of spring onions, tomatoes, green chili and salt.
Plov in Uzbekistan
The finest Plov in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.
There is a saying in Uzbekistan that guests can only leave their host’s house after palov has been offered. Palov is a traditional dish made and shared throughout rural and urban communities of Uzbekistan. It is prepared with ingredients such as rice, meat, spices and vegetables and in addition to be enjoyed as a regular meal, is served as a gesture of hospitality, to celebrate special occasions like weddings and new year, to help those in need who are underprivileged, or to honour loved ones who have passed away. Palov may also feature at events alongside other rituals taking place such as prayer and performances of traditional music. It is a dish that is cooked by men and women regardless of age or social status. Knowledge and skills associated with the practice are handed down from older to younger generations formally and informally using a master-apprentice model or by demonstration and participation within families, peer groups, community-based establishments, religious organizations and vocational educational institutions. The making and sharing of the traditional dish acts to strengthen social ties, promote values including solidarity and unity and assist in the continuity of local traditions that form a part of the community’s cultural identity.
Date posted: Saturday, January 7, 2017. Last updated: January 8, 2017 (9:15 EST).
FORTHCOMING (week of January 9, 2017): Shariffa Keshavjee of Nairobi, Kenya, reflects on the highly acclaimed and award winning book “With Our Own Hands.”
Material for the post was compiled from numerous sources including:
INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT (with material from The Ismaili website)
A mosaic of colourful Salgirah cards prepared by children of Burnaby Lake jamatkhana on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
“No ocean, no mountain, and no desert can keep the Imam from his murids,” was the caring message that Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, delivered to his spiritual children, the Ismailis, during one of the many visits which he undertook to his global community during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. The Jubilee began on July 11, 2007, when he completed 50 years of his reign as the 49th hereditary Imam, directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.), and ended on December 13, 2008, on the exact day of his 72nd birthday. He was born in Geneva in 1936.
Eight years on, on Saturday December 17, 2016, the harsh elements of nature — snow, freezing rain, and cold — did not subdue or keep tens of thousands of Ismailis in Canada, from attending the video showing of their beloved Imam’s 80th birthday celebration that had taken place just a day earlier at his estate and the Imamat headquarters in Aiglemont, France.
Malik Talib, President of the Ismaili Council for Canada, makes a point during a conversation with other Ismaili leaders at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Ismaili leaders from around the world, including President Malik Talib of Canada, travelled to France on behalf of their constituents to personally offer congratulations, express shukrana (thanks), and to reaffirm the Jamat’s bayyah (oath of allegiance) to the 49th Ismaili Imam. Also attending the birthday celebration, were members of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family – Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and his wife Princess Salwa along with their son Prince Irfan, Prince Hussain, Prince Aly Muhammad and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan.
Earlier during the week, on December 13, the actual day of his birthday, Ismailis had gathered in their local jamatkhanas for special prayers and ceremonies to affirm their loyalty and love for their Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam, in becoming 80, has established himself as the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history!
Designed specially for the celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday, this centre piece of the venue comprised a geodesic dome. Neither of the East nor of the West, the dome is an ancient symbol of Divine shelter, care and guidance. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.
The celebration in Aiglemont was housed in specially designed marquee, with a protective dome that signified the guidance and shelter that Hazar Imam constantly provides. The dome itself was inspired by an icosahedron — a geometric structure composed of 20 triangles. Each triangle symbolised one of the 20 national Ismaili Councils appointed by the Imam to oversee the community’s well-being.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family in attendance at his 80th birthday celebration held at his home in Aiglemont on Friday, December 16, 2016. From left to right: Prince Hussain, Princess Salwa and her husband Prince Rahim, MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Ali Muhammad, and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
The President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Syria, Muhammad Wardeh, recites the Tilawat-e-Qur’an at the start of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses Jamati and institutional leaders, who gathered at his home on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji
Prince Amyn Muhammad and Princess Zahra applaud as the birthday cake is presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam cuts his birthday cake, as Princess Salwa and Prince Hussain look on. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.
Mawlana Hazar Imam is presented with a birthday gift on behalf of the global Jamat. Titled “Horses”, this lapis lazuli mosaic was commissioned from the late Ismail Gulgee in 1989. Looking on are the Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum, Mahmoud Eboo (right), and Vazir Shafik Sachedina. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Salim Ahmed, a Canadian jamati leader and a former Darkhana Mukhi, and his wife, are greeted by Prince Hussain at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam meets with the musicians and singers who performed at the celebration of his 80th birthday. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Rahim with Prince Irfan, and Princess Salwa at the 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Reflecting on the progress of the Jamat over the past several decades, Hazar Imam said, “I think we can conclude today that the Jamat is a strong community. It is a global community. It is a community with strong institutions, with strong ethics and it is respected around the world. This evening is an extraordinarily special occasion for the global Jamat and for the leaders who are here present tonight who are representing them.”
He said that his wish for the decades ahead was that “you stand firmly by the principles and ethics of our faith. Wherever you are, whatever age you are, whatever you do in your lives, it is essentially important to me that the principles of our faith should be respected everyday of your lives.”
When Mawlana Hazar Imam cut a birthday cake presented on behalf of the global Jamat, he was serenaded by all those gathered with Happy Birthday sung in two languages. Hazar Imam was also presented with a gift of art — a mosaic of horses by the late Ismail Gulgee that was commissioned in 1989. It was selected “because of Hazar Imam’s passion for horses, the history of horses within Islamic civilisation and the history even within Mawlana Hazar Imam’s own family,” explained Chairman Eboo.
Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed great happiness at the celebration of his 80th birthday. “If I had known it was going to be so wonderful, I would have tried to bring it forward,” he joked, “and I would have tried to multiply it!” He said, “I hope that in the decades ahead, you will remember this occasion as one of special happiness, as I do.”
CELEBRATION AT THE ISMAILI CENTRE, BURNABY, DARKHANA OF CANADA
Jamati members enjoying the jaman at darkhana jamatkhana following the 80th birthday video presentation from Aiglemont, France. Photo: Simerg.
The jamat at the Darkhana, where I was present for the showing, watched the entire program with awe and absolute discipline.We then proceeded in an orderly fashion to a specially constructed tent in the parking lot to partake of the feast (jaman) prepared by a team of special volunteers of the jamat – the randhan committee. It consisted of fresh lettuce, vegetable and chicken biryanis with kachumber (diced tomatoes and onions), a dessert (barfi), soft drinks and chai! The tent was heated and very comfortable, protecting everyone from the freezing temperatures. The senior citizens of the jamat were served their dinner at the jamatkhana’s social hall on the second floor. After the feast, members of the jamat joined for a dandhia raas (stick dancing and hand clapping) program!
Senior citizens wait for the commencement of the dandhia raas program in the social hall of the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, after completing their meal. Photo: Simerg.
The 80th birthday celebration has generated the momentum for yet another significant milestone in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life – the celebration of his Diamond Jubilee beginning July 11, 2017, which will take place as Canada begins celebrating its 150th birthday on July 1, 2017.
For a video of the 80th birthday celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan held in Aiglemont, France, on December 16, 2016, please visit http://www.theismaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili community. Readers will also find there a gallery of more than 30 photographs of the celebration.
Mr. Malik Talib, the President of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada, along with the Chairmen of the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (Dr. Kabir Jivraj), Grants and Review Board (Mr. Amir Lakhani), and Conciliation and Arbitration Board (Mr. Karim Sunderji), and the Mukhi of Darkhana Jamatkhana (Mr. Zahir Bhatia) issued the following message through the Canadian Ismaili community’s special newsletter edition of “Al-Akhbar,” as tens of thousands of Ismailis gathered in jamatkhanas across the country to observe the historic 80th birthday or Salgirah of Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan on December 13. The celebrations will continue late into the week with special cultural events, voices from the jamat and video presentations.
COMMON ALLEGIANCE TO MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM UNITES ISMAILI MUSLIMS IN PURPOSE AND VISION
Mawlana Hazar Imam pictured at the 1998 darbar held in Lisbon, Portugal.
Institutional Message to the Canadian Jamat
This is a historic event for our Jamat. No part of our lives has been untouched by the work and dedication of Mawlana Hazar Imam. For the Jamat in Canada, our very presence here and all of the opportunities afforded to us, have been made possible by the singular concern of our Imam for our material and spiritual well-being.
The spirit of frontierless brotherhood and sisterhood that has helped the community weather many storms springs from a common allegiance to our Imam, uniting us in purpose and vision.
The volume and quality of initiatives established and sustained by the office of the Imamat are staggering. More importantly, these have improved the well-being of millions.
In light of all with which we have been blessed, what can we give back? Perhaps the most powerful form of gratitude would be a re-commitment to the principles of our faith and many of the efforts to which they give rise:
Attending to our spiritual lives in a world increasing concerned with material well-being as the sole objective of life;
Improving the quality of life of the Jamat and the communities in which we live;
Strengthening community and family ties amidst the challenges of modern living;
Enhancing our understanding of our faith and our ability to articulate the peaceful, compassionate message of Islam;
Promoting pluralism in a world that seems ever more fragmented.
As we approach Canada’s 150th birthday and look forward to commemorating the Diamond Jubilee, it is our hope and prayer that the coming months will be a time of excitement, fulfillment, renewal and happiness.
To all our volunteers and donors who unconditionally and generously commit their time and resources, we sincerely express our special thanks and gratitude.
We offer our humble shukrana to our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam for his continued guidance, and pray for peace and stability for the Jamats living in difficult circumstances and for our collective good health, faith, prosperity, success and unity. Ameen.
A portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.
Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant (Editor: Simerg, Simergphotos and barakah)
Spread in various countries around the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis have their own innumerable ways for celebrating important religious occasions according to their various cultural, social and religious traditions and backgrounds. One very important occasion in the annual calendar of the Ismailis is the Salgirah, or the birthday of their Imam. His Highness the Aga Khan is their present Imam, and Ismailis around the world are marking his 80th Salgirah on December 13, 2016.
His 80th birthday makes Mawlana Hazar Imam’s lifespan the longest in the chain of forty-nine Imams who have succeeded as hereditary Imams after Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). The previous Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan III, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah (November 2, 1877 – July 11, 1957), lived almost 80 years! Combined, the reigns of the successive 48th and 49th Imams have lasted and incredible 131 years! Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah became Imam at the age of 7, and reigned for 72 years while Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini became Imam on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, and has already reigned for 59 years. Simerg has dedicated a special website, http://www.barakah.com, to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee, and extensive material will be added to barakah during the next several months leading to the Diamond Jubilee next July.
For this historical and singularly auspicious Salgirah, we extend our heartiest congratulation to Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Noorani family as well as to all Ismailis around the world. We join with all our readers to offer prayers for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s long life and good health and pray that every Ismaili may have barakah and spiritual peace through his blessings. We also pray for jamati members who are facing hardships and difficulties in many parts of the world, such as in Syria, with hope that peace and security may return to their homelands.
The following excerpts from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s farmans and articles will enhance the readers’ understanding about the occasion as well as the special relationship that binds the Imam of the Time with his spiritual children.
Hazar Imam’s Profound Birthday Wish
“I would like my Jamat to think what is the meaning of a birthday in an individual’s life and what is is the meaning of a birthday in Imam’s life. What can a jamat give to Imam on his birthday and what would really make him happy, and, after all, this, in an individual’s life and in Imam’s life, should and must be a day of happiness.
“Jamat can give me one happiness; that is that they should be united, that they should be regular in all jamat work and that they should live in the best tradition of my spiritual children. My East Pakistan [now Bangladesh – ed.] jamats have given me this gift for nine days and I want you to know that today is not only a symbolic birthday but it is a real birthday, it is a day of real happiness for me.”
“….My jamat should accept in all matters nothing but the best; this means that you should seek to improve your worldly conditions by every means possible so long as you remain within our faith. Spiritually this means that you have to be regular in prayer, regular in service, regular in attendance in jamatkhana.” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Dacca, December 9, 1964.
Imam’s Guidance and Love Through Noor (Light) of Imamat Guides His Community to Worldly and Spiritual Satisfaction
“You have gathered here today to wish me a happy birthday and to reaffirm your loyalty and love to your Imam. My happiness at being with you on this occasion is deep and pure; all my thoughts, all my hopes and all my prayers are for you.
“Since the 11th of July 1957, all my aims and ambitions have been devoted to help and guide my spiritual children in spiritual and worldly matters. The happiness which I have gained from my work, the encouragement to carry more and more responsibility and undertake more and more projects, the continuous search for truth in all matters, all this has been due to you.
“For hundreds of years, my spiritual children have been guided by the rope of Imamat; you have looked to the Imam of the Age for advice and help in all matters and through your Imam’s immense love and affection for his spiritual children, his Noor has indicated to you where and in which direction you must turn, so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964 
Faith and Spiritual Humility in a Rapidly Advancing Material World
“During the next generations, you will be living in a world of increasing material plenty, of voluminous material activity, and where a large part of man’s intelligence and thought will be devoted to providing material benefits to you.
“In the minds of some, there may be one day, some confusion as to the meaning and necessity for faith and if my spiritual children were ever to manage their lives in such a way as to come to believe that their minds create rather than having been created and that their material comfort is such that spiritual humility is no longer warranted, I can tell you now that the true and real happiness, which I pray it should be your blessing to experience will never touch your hearts.
“Any rapid change in your material surroundings will impose upon you immense unhappiness, immense worry and frustration. You will fall to understand that the material benefits will have produced in your hearts only dissatisfaction and disillusionment, when in fact you have in front of you every day from sunrise to sunset, from this world to all the others, from the smallest material particle to the creation of life itself, a visual and intellectual proof that as yet man has succeeded only in a minute manner to influence the world in which he lives and that this influence has been exercised only on what some misguided believe to be the significant aspect of human life on earth and that is the material one. Our concept has always maintained worldly matters where they belong and I am convinced that as a whole my jamat is a great deal happier than many others who have unlimited material wealth but who know not from where this wealth comes, what is its value, and why it is, even in practical terms, tending to become more and more of a burden rather than a blessing.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964. 
“On this happy day I rejoice in being with my spiritual children and in the knowledge that their spiritual and moral strength is such as to allow them to benefit from many more worldly goods without forsaking the remembrance of, and the submission to, ‘He from whom we have come and to whom we will return’.
“I give on this occasion to each and every spiritual child here and every spiritual child today living in this world, my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings: Khanavadan, Khanavadan.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964. 
. Hikmat, His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Canada [now Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ed.], Salgirah issue, December 13, 1986, Vol. II, No. VIII, p. 3. . Ismaili Mirror, Pak Ismailia Publication, Garden Jamatkhana, 13 December 1974, Karachi, Pakistan, p. 5. Also see Hikmat, Vol II, No. VI, February/March 1986, p. 1.
The term Salgirah is of Persian origin. Sal means anniversary and girah means knot and hence Salgirah literally means ‘an anniversary knot added on to a string kept for the purpose’. This article approaches the subject of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday in terms of the Imam’s love for his murids and the love and devotion of the murids for their Imam.
Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano has attained a very special status because it is primarily recited during the festivities marking the birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The appropriateness of reciting the ginan during Salgirah will become apparent as we try to understand the ginan and its underlying spiritual teachings. To listen to various renditions of Eji Dhan Dhan (#160), as well as over 760 other ginans please click http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/ginans.php?id=0.
The new Ismaili Constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by His Highness the Aga Khan on December 13th, 1986, his 50th birthday. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework for his Ismaili community to contribute meaningfully to the societies among whom they live.
On the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 75th birthday on December 13, 2011, Simerg published a three-part photo essay tribute to the 49th Ismaili Imam. For those who may have missed, the series has been consolidated into a captivating one piece photo essay, which can be read by clicking on the above link.
Editor’s note: The following piece on Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) has been adapted from Dr. Amir Gulamhussein’s article, “Significance of the Celebration of the Birthday of Prophet Muhammad,” which appeared in Ilm, volume 12, Number 2, December 1989, on pages 15-21. The flagship Ismaili magazine was published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the United Kingdom from 1975 until 1992. Dr. Gulamhussein served as ITREB’s chairman for a number of years, and was also on the editorial board of the magazine during its later stages.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTHDAY OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (S.A.S.), WITH AUDIO RECORDING OF SPEECH BY MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM
Prophet Muhammad’s name, followed by his title “Apostle of God”(left centre), inscribed on the gates of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. Photo: Wikipedia.
“In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim society is to be in times to come? And if, as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search than in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?” — His Highness the Aga Khan, March 12, 1976, Karachi, Pakistan.
PROPHET’S BIRTHDAY THROUGH THE CENTURIES
The above quotation of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is from a speech that he delivered to eminent scholars from around the world who had gathered in Karachi to present their research findings and reflect upon various aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). The conference was part of a series of events that were organized to mark the birthday anniversary of the beloved Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca on the night of 12 Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic lunar calendar, in 570 AC. The birthday of the Prophet is called maulid which denotes the festivities organized on this happy and auspicious day. The alternative term miladun-nabi, which means birth anniversary, is also very commonly used.
The commemoration of miladun-nabi on a grand and festive scale emerged first in Egypt during the Fatimid era (969 – 1171 AC). This is not surprising because the Fatimid Caliphs were descendants of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) through his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.), who was married to the Prophet’s cousin, Hazrat Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.). The Egyptian historian Maqrizi (d. 1442 AC) describes a Fatimid celebration held in 1122 AC in which the gathering included prominent scholars and officials of the religious hierarchy. They listened to sermons (khutba) and were given sweets, particularly honey, the favourite of the Prophet. On that occasion, the poor received alms. The tradition of miladun-nabi in Egypt was continued from the Fatimid days by all subsequent Muslim dynasties.
The way in which the birthday anniversary was celebrated varied in different countries. In Turkey, the mosques were decorated with lights, whereas in other Islamic lands, the occasion was marked by recitations of na’ats (devotional songs) in praise of the Prophet. In Iraq, the birthday came to be considered in the hierarchy of festive days second only to ‘Id al-fitr and ‘Id al-adha. It was also lavishly celebrated during the Middle Ages in Mecca, the city of his birth. In India, celebrations included large exhibitions of paintings, lectures and a funfair of activities ending with lavish feasts in which everybody participated. More recently in this century, 12 Rabi al-awwal was declared a public holiday in the Ottoman Empire.
A ‘BEAUTIFUL MODEL’
The Prophet’s life and his conduct should become a model on which every Muslim should aspire to build one’s life according to the situation facing the person. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“Verily, in the apostle of God you have a good example for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to God and the Last Day and remembers God unceasingly.” — 33:21.
The prophet (nabi) of Allah, Muhammad, never claimed to possess any superhuman qualities. He maintained that he was a mortal and a servant (‘abd) of Allah to whom revelation (wahi) came. He knew that his role was to be the messenger (rasul) and mediator of Allah in guiding mankind. The Prophet preached that the revelation that he received was by Allah’s unbounded grace, and through this act of mercy and kindness, he was appointed to be a guide amongst the people.
He never claimed vanity inspite of his exalted position as indicated in the Holy Qur’an. As Allah ‘taught Adam the names of all things’, (2:31) so did He teach Muhammad the Qur’an; with the first revelation coming to him on the Night of Qadr. (96:3) The designation of the Prophet as being ‘Mercy for the mankind’, rahmat lil-alamin (21:107), is another example of his lofty post. He saw his role amongst his people as their guide and teacher, and by his example he was to steer them to salvation. Whosoever followed him and his way understood their purpose and meaning of their existence in the world.  In this context, the chosen (al-mustafa) prophet became the prototype (uswa hasana), a ‘beautiful model’.
The function of the Prophet has been misunderstood by non-Muslims. His function was not only to be a spiritual guide, but also the organiser of the new social order which came as a result of the last of the revealed books, the Holy Qur’an. Outsiders have understood his role, for example, as a political figure of high distinction and great statesmanship. However, his role as a religious and spiritual guide and how his life could be emulated by those who are aspiring sanctity and piety is still misunderstood.
With regard to this misunderstanding Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the eminent contemporary Muslim scholar, says: “This is particularly true in the modern world in which religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imagine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activity.”  The integration of the material and spiritual aspect of one’s life was the hallmark of the lifestyle of the Prophet, and how he managed to fulfil this dual role should become an example for Muslims, who today face immense challenges and difficulties in trying to live in societies which have become increasingly material.
BALANCE BETWEEN DIN AND DUNYA
Prophet Muhammad participated fully in social life. He married and had a household. He was a ruler, a judge and a soldier who fought many battles in which he underwent painful ordeals. In his personal life, both as an orphan and adult, he underwent many hardships. In spite of this, he always exhibited humbleness and tolerance. He also made time to detach himself from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and indulged in contemplation and meditation. By this practice, he integrated the worldly aspect of his life with spiritual activities.
In his daily life, he exercised utmost kindness and showed concern for the weak. His loving kindness extended over all beings. He was noted for his love of children and used to greet them and play with them. He was also known for his love of animals. 
He lived simply and his saying faqri fakhri (‘my poverty is my pride’) became a motto for the many. Every phase of his work and action became an ideal model of moral perfection. Whatever he did remains exemplary for his followers and thus his actions and sayings were recorded and preserved in the famous hadith literature.
The nobility and generosity of the Prophet was best exemplified in his triumphant entry into Mecca. The very people who had caused untold hardships to him were forgiven instead of him taking revenge and punishing them. This act of generosity was to become a source of immense joy and pride to his followers, who understood that the Message of Allah in the practice of their faith preached tolerance and forgiveness.
The Prophet’s love and compassion for his fellow beings and his concern for their welfare in all spheres of human endeavours are exemplified and recorded. He was their uncrowned king, ruler and father who was concerned with the welfare of his subjects. His total involvement in social welfare matters of the community (ummah) earned him high praises and respect. He continually sought better relationship between the members of the ummah and those of other faiths (Christians and Jews). In this manner he preached brotherhood, tolerance and patience (sabr) as qualities that would ensure peace and harmony. He sought to make the practice of religion an integral part of life so that there was peace and equilibrium between all forces that confront humankind.
The Prophet’s quality of magnanimity, that is the nobility of his soul and his quality to be above petty feelings, exhibited itself most of all in charity towards men and women and all other beings. There was no narrowness or pettiness in the soul of the Prophet, no limitation in giving of himself to others, both in terms of time and resources. The saying that ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’  was characteristic of his life until his demise in 632 AC at the age of 62.
SMALLER AND GREATER JIHADS
Anything that sought to destroy this equilibrium was counteracted. For example, the many wars that were fought, whether for political or social reasons, were for preserving the Faith (din) and social justice. In this manner, war had a positive meaning as an activity to establish peace and harmony. It is also interesting to note that apart from the outward war (jihad of combativeness), the Prophet also advocated inward combativeness which was necessary for maintaining the inner equilibrium. This battle was called the ‘great holy war’ (al-jihad al-akbar) and is fought within ourselves against forces that tend to negate AlIah’s Will. Interestingly, the outward war was designated by the Prophet as the ‘small holy war’ (al-jihad al-asghar).
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
In the brief account of the qualities of Prophet Muhammad presented here, one of the key features that emerges is that his lifestyle highlights the fact that in order to achieve harmony, peace and tranquillity within the society at large and within the self, we have to live in this world and not reject it. It is through constant struggle in this world, that we will be in a position to transcend the human state and achieve the realisation of the Absolute which is the true destiny for all of us. The life of the Prophet is looked upon as a prototype by the believers in their quest to achieve this lofty status.
Prophet Muhammad’s meritocratic principles and ethic have been beautifully summarized in the concluding paragraph of the Presidential Address given by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Seerat Conference in Pakistan. He said:
“The Holy Prophet‘s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead.” 
Date posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2016.
. The Muslim World: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by H.R.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan, Aga Khan Ismailia Federal Council for Pakistan, 1977, p. 23-28. . And Muhammad is His Messenger by Annemarie Schimmel, University of North Carolina Press, London, 1985, p. 144. The book also provides insights into the manner in which this auspicious occasion was observed and celebrated in various countries in which Islam flourished, p. 144 – 158. . Dalail an-nubuwwa, Abu Nu’aim, p. 110. . The Faith of Shia Islam by Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar, The Muhammad Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1982, p. 61. . Kitab al-mawa’iz……al khitat, Maqrizi, 1:433, 466. . Manqib al-‘arifin, Aflaki, p. 242, Chapter 3, para. 152, quotes Rumi: “To follow the messenger of God, belongs to the duties of the ahl-i ma’na” (those who have reached the inner meaning of life). . Ideals and Realities of Islam, by S.H. Nasr, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1966, p. 68. . And Muhammad is His Messenger, by Annemarie Schimmel, p. 49. . Ideals and Realities of Islam, by S.H. Nasr, p. 75. . The Muslim World: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by H.R.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan, p. 28.
LISTEN TO SEERAT CONFERENCE PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BY HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN