Fallen Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

The Ismaili community tends to shy away from controversies. However, lately, we have seen the engagement of Ismaili activists and youth with Black Lives Matter and the US elections. In response, we have given fora to the Ismaili youth to talk about racial injustice and discuss issues raised by challenged members, such as the deaf within the Jamat (community).

Over the past day, I received several links carrying damaging reports about Ms. Yasmin Ratansi, an iconic member of the Liberal Party of Canada for decades and the Federal MP for the Don Valley East riding since 2014. She has resigned from the Liberal caucus over allegations that she employed her sister at her constituency office. She has decided to represent herself in her riding as an Independent. The opposition party, however, is calling for her immediate resignation. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a statement made to the journalists on Tuesday, November 10, said that he was deeply disappointed by the news that he had learned from Ms. Ratansi about how she handled the office. He added that it was unacceptable and expects there will be a thorough follow up by [House of Commons] administration on the matter.

Yasmin Ratansi is very well known among her constituents and within the Ismaili Muslim community, where she has been an active member since her childhood years in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She has also served in Jamati institutions in numerous capacities.

We feel proud when Ismailis are elected or appointed to high positions at the provincial or federal level. Over the years, Simerg has proudly shown Yasmin’s pictures and presented pertinent articles that were brought to our attention.

Now the long admired Yasmin has let her own community down, with this latest revelation. While she has apologized for her actions, she owes an apology particularly to the Ismaili community for her mistake.

We have numerous other Ismailis working at Federal level as MPs and in the Senate. Over the years, I have been disappointed with all of them for not even having the courtesy to respond to important matters that I had brought to their attention.

The friend who first sent me a link through Whatsapp on Yasmin Ratansi was deeply hurt by what he had read on CBC. He was particularly concerned that repeated guidance on ethics by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, had been ignored.

During his 2017-2018 Diamond Jubilee visits to Ismailis around the world, Mawlana Hazar Imam urged them to think about the foundations of their work, noting that this had its basis on the faith and its ethics. That ethic, he said, entailed integrity, humility and honesty, and the rigor of behaving in a manner that would be beneficial to the current and future generations of the Jamat as well as to the country and society at large.

This brings me to the important point that Ismailis who are serving or wish to serve within the Jamati institutional structure, or public office should be cognizant of this advice from Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Date posted: November 11, 2020.

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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.

With resurgence of Covid-19, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, asks his spiritual children to avoid complacency, as he conveys his blessings for their protection from difficulties

The following message from Mawlana Hazar Imam is reproduced from the The Ismaili, the official website of the community. Following the message, please read our supplication to Mawlana Hazar Imam as well as listen to the Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea, beautifully recited by the late Shamshu Bandali Haji.

2 November 2020

My beloved spiritual children,

My Jamat is aware that the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose challenges to the health and quality of life of societies around the world, including the Jamat. This situation remains of deep concern and, as Imam-of-the-Time, I receive regular updates from the Jamati and AKDN institutions and agencies about the impact on my Jamat, and also the mitigation measures being undertaken.

I am pleased that, in many countries, we have been able to re-open our Jamatkhanas in compliance with government and public health guidelines, but my Jamat should remain aware that there is no room for complacency over the risks posed by the highly contagious coronavirus. The need for wearing masks, observing physical distancing and adhering to all the required hygiene protocols remains paramount, and should be treated as part of normal life for some time to come. Many countries are now seeing a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, which demands that my murids should take personal responsibility to protect themselves, their families, and their communities by carefully following the guidelines of the government and public health authorities.

The work on producing vaccines and other forms of therapies is advancing at a rapid pace and, Insha’Allah, over the coming months, we will see positive results which, in due course, will be beneficial to the Jamat and the population at large.

I send my most affectionate paternal, maternal loving blessings for the good health, happiness, safety and well-being of all my murids, with best loving blessings for mushkil-asan.

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

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Supplication to Mawlana Hazar Imam, with recitation of Ginan

We submit our humble gratitude to our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam for his blessings to the world wide Jamat on November 2, 2020.

We submit the following supplications from verse 1 of Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea:

“O brother! Listen, My Lord Ali has written and sent a Farman. The beloved Lord has remembered this servant today with kindness in his heart”

Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea sung by Late Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/507030

For a complete version of this post with translations in Arabic, French, Farsi, Gujarati, Portuguese, Russian, Tajiki and Urdu please click Barakah.

Date posted: November 3, 2020.

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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.

Caricatures, Killings in France, Canadian PM Trudeau Pleads for Careful Use of Free Speech, and the Aga Khan’s 2006 Response to the Original Publication of the Danish Cartoons

“I am suggesting that freedom of expression is an incomplete value unless it is used honorably, and that the obligations of citizenship in any society should include a commitment to informed and responsible expression.” His Highness the Aga Khan, February 2006

We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet…..In a pluralist, diverse and respectful society like ours, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience a great deal of discrimination” — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, October 30, 2020 in response to a question from a journalist

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Two weeks ago, French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded after showing his class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a civics class about freedom of expression. The cartoons had first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005, and were reproduced in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which then led to killing of several of its journalists some years ago. The newspaper’s many critics worldwide said that the editorial staff was attacking Islam itself.

In response to the killing of the teacher recently, French President Emmanuel Macron defended the cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad in the name of free speech, and said France would not “give up cartoons”, pledging that Islamists “will never have” his country’s future. This sparked protests and boycotts in a number of Muslim countries. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused French President Emmanuel Macron of “attacking Islam” by defending the publication of the caricatures. 
 
“Sadly, President Macron has chosen to deliberately provoke Muslims, including his own citizens, through encouraging the display of blasphemous cartoons targeting Islam & our Prophet PBUH (peace be upon him),” Khan said in a series of tweets. “It is unfortunate that he has chosen to encourage Islamophobia by attacking Islam rather than the terrorists who carry out violence, be it Muslims, White Supremacists or Nazi ideologists,” Khan wrote.

This week, three more people were in killed near a a church in Nice, in southern France, by a young Tunisian man. President Macron’s defiant statements may have triggered the brutal stabbings.

Canada’s parliament observed a moment of silence on Thursday, October 29. As he had done the day before with the leaders of the European Union, Prime Minister Trudeau condemned the “awful and appalling” extremist attacks in France.

Justin Trudeau with wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau just as results from polling stations across the country confirmed a Liberal majority government in the Federal election held on October 19, 2015 . Photo: © Jean-Marc Carisse.

However, in response to a newspaper’s question a day later, while defending free speech, Prime Minister Trudeau distanced himself from the position of French President Macron and pleaded for a careful use of free speech, He stated that freedom of speech was “not without limits” and it should not “arbitrarily and needlessly hurt” certain communities.

“We owe it to ourselves to act with respect for others and to seek not to arbitrarily or unnecessarily injure those with whom we are sharing a society and a planet. We do not have the right for example to shout fire in a movie theatre crowded with people, there are always limits,” the Prime Minister argued.

“In a pluralist, diverse and respectful society like ours, we owe it to ourselves to be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience a great deal of discrimination,” he said.

The Aga Khan on “The Great Conversation” of Our Times — Being Unafraid of Controversy but Also Being Sensitive to Others

His Highness the Aga Khan arrives at the University of Évora , Portugal and is greeted by Professor Adriano Moreira, Manuel Ferreira Patricio, Rector of the University, Portuguese Foreign Minister, Freitas do Amaral and José Ernesto Oliveira, Mayor of the city of Évora. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, touched on the controversy soon after the cartoons first appeared in the Danish journal during a speech that he delivered at the University of Evora in Portugal. His remarks are as follows:

“An important goal of quality education is to equip each generation to participate effectively in what has been called “the great conversation” of our times. This means, on one hand, being unafraid of controversy. But it also means being sensitive to the values and outlooks of others.

“This brings me back to the current headlines. For I must believe that it is ignorance which explains the publishing of those caricatures which have brought such pain to Islamic peoples. I note that the Danish journal where the controversy originated acknowledged, in a recent letter of apology, that it had never realized the sensitivities involved.

“In this light, perhaps, the controversy can be described less as a clash of civilizations and more as a clash of ignorance. The alternative explanation would be that the offense was intended — in which case we would be confronted with evil of a different sort. But even to attribute the problem to ignorance is in no way to minimize its importance. In a pluralistic world, the consequences of ignorance can be profoundly damaging.

“Perhaps, too, it is ignorance which has allowed so many participants in this discussion to confuse liberty with license — implying that the sheer absence of restraint on human impulse can constitute a sufficient moral framework. This is not to say that governments should censor offensive speech. Nor does the answer lie in violent words or violent actions. But I am suggesting that freedom of expression is an incomplete value unless it is used honorably, and that the obligations of citizenship in any society should include a commitment to informed and responsible expression.

“If we can commit ourselves, on all sides, to that objective, then the current crisis could become an educational opportunity—an occasion for enhanced awareness and broadened perspectives.

“Ignorance, arrogance, insensitivity—these attitudes rank high among the great public enemies of our time. And the educational enterprise, at its best, can be an effective antidote to all of them.” — Read Full Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan, Evora University Symposium, Lisbon, Portugal, February 12, 2006. We also invite you to read Gems from the 49th Ismaili Imam’s 21st century speeches.

Date posted: October 30, 2020.

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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.

Idd-e-Milad: A Documentary on Prophet Muhammad and Islam’s Rise, the Aga Khan on Allah’s Last Messenger, and “I Wish I’d Been There” by Astrophysicist Farzana Meru

"Muhammad" written in Thuluth script,  a work by Morgan Phoenix, CC by SA 3.0.
“Muhammad” written in Thuluth script, a work by Morgan Phoenix, CC by SA 3.0.

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Editor/Publisher SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

The Milad or Mawlid of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) falls on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal. In 2020, Muslims in different countries around the world will be observing the birth anniversary between October 28-30. This post has a number of pieces on the Prophet that will be of interest to everyone.

We invite our readers to view the first episode of a 3-part series that covers the Prophet’s birth, the first revelation and early writing of the Qur’an, the creation of the first mosque, the persecution suffered by the first Muslims and the major battles fought by the Prophet and his followers to establish the new religion. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley, and directed and produced by Robert Gardner, the captivating episode which first aired on PBS in 2001, has been highly recommended over the years for its educational value.

Watch video.

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Readers who have just seen the documentary will be able to relate numerous segments in it to the following excerpt from the Presidential address made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the Seerat Conference in Pakistan in 1976. They will next appreciate Ismaili astrophysicist Farzana Meru’s reflection on a moment in Ismaili history that she would have loved to experience.

The Prophet Muhammad

By MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

Mawlana Hazar Imam

“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.” — Read full speech and listen to audio HERE.

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A Moment in Ismaili history I Would Have Loved to Experience: The Time of Prophet Muhammad

By FARZANA MERU

I am struggling to narrow down all the moments in Ismaili history that I would love to have experienced. As I journey through the modern day trying to understand the past, I often ponder what it would be like to rewind time and experience a number of occasions in Ismaili history. But if I could only choose one of the vast number of spectacular incidents, I would go back and experience the beginning of Ismaili history, the key events that sparked the origin of our religion, the dawn of a new era: the time of our Prophet Muhammed (S.A.S.) in seventh century Arabia.

I would love to have experienced first-hand the living conditions and lifestyles of the people in those times. I would want to understand the culture, the tribal systems, the harsh desert conditions that people had to move through on camels. I would want to see how the Prophet himself dealt with the pressures of leading a community which started off very small but grew rapidly and flourished. I want to understand how people transitioned from the way of life in pre-Islamic Arabia into the new times. As a fly on the wall, I could watch the seventh century Arabian world go by, in awe. I would want to experience “where it all began”, an era that would mark the beginning of Ismaili history.

Astrophysicist Farzana Meru
Astrophysicist Farzana Meru

The piece you just read was contributed by astrophysicist Farzana Meru for our first and original series I Wish I’d Been There series some ten years ago. On October 26, 2020, Dr. Meru and NASA’s aerospace engineer, Dr. Farah Alibay, were on the air on Ismaili.TV and reflected on their respective career paths as well as offered some outstanding words of wisdom to Ismaili youth during their schooling years, and for them to be passionate about their chosen area of interest, whatever that may be. Please watch Ismaili.TV’s excellent program by clicking HERE or below.

Date posted: October 27, 2020.
Last updated: October 29, 2020.

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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.

“Largesse” of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and Photos of Fall Colours and Waxing Moon at 3 Unique Aga Khan Projects in Toronto

Watch a short 90 second interview in which a non-Ismaili speaks about Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and then view a collection of superb photos of the waxing moon rising above the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana as well as a display of autumn colours at Aga Khan Park…MORE AT SIMERGPHOTOS

Click on image for interview, story and more photos

Date posted: September 26, 2020.

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Poem by Farah Tejani Celebrating the Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum’s 6th Anniversary, and the LAPIS Event

Note: The Lapis event is now over

The Aga Khan Museum has been hosting the annual fund raising LAPIS event for the past few years, with Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan honouring the event by personally attending it. Now due to Covid-19, the signature event has been reinvented with a broadcast from the Aga Khan Museum that everyone is invited to register for free.

The program on Thursday September 24, 2020 will be live streamed at 8 PM ET, and include remarks from Prince Amyn, Chairman of the Aga Khan Museum Board, meaningful conversations with acclaimed international artists on art in a changing world and four breathtaking performances with diverse talent from around the world.

The Aga Khan Museum invites you to join with friends and family from around the world as together it shares a unique message of hope, resilience and light. Please click HERE TO REGISTER.

Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre 6th Anniversary

And while we are on the subject of the Aga Khan Museum, let us remind our readers that September 12, 2020 marked the 6th anniversary of the inauguration of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the then Prime Minister of Canada the Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper. The Museum officially opened to the public on September 18, 2014, with the Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana (known as the Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana) opening to Ismaili community for prayers on Friday, September 19, 2014.

To commemorate the openings of the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre as well as the annual Lapis event, we are delighted to present this thoughtful poem by Farah Tejani of Vancouver.

Celebrating the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto

Ismaili Imamat Projects on Wynford Drive, Toronto, Canada. The Ismaili Centre (with glass dome), the Aga Khan Museum and the Aga Khan Park.

By FARAH TEJANI

Two complementary sister structures of architectural elegance and splendor
Jut out and pierce the heart of Toronto’s sky.
The Aga Khan Museum and
The Ismaili Centre.

United are they for the beneficial purpose of extending a hand
Of Everlasting Friendship,
Between Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.
Uniting the Muslim Ummah,
The World Ummah,
With Cultural and Religious Tolerance and Respect…

Dispelling all deplorable depictions of Islam in the Media,
By propagating the Truth:

Peace, Love, Brotherhood, Compassion, Spirituality and Prayer.

Yes, we extend a hospitable, gracious, loving hand of friendship,
Celebrating Cultural Diversity,
Historical Traditions,
Arts and Artifacts,
Awe-inspiring Calligraphic Designs and Structures,
Tours, Recitals, Exhibitions, Theatre, Films and
Educational and Cultural Activities.

The Ismaili Centre has unique and grand tiled floors
Laced with elaborate, poignant calligraphy,
Upon entering the prayer hall
We begin every act beseeching God to
Bless and Accept
All Our Endeavours.

The Prayer Hall’s distinctive
And elegant Crystalline dome,
Illuminates the night sky,
Reflecting itself into the pond,
While angels come together to lift and carry,
Each and every Murid’s,
Most Earnest and Heartfelt Prayer
To the stars:
Just Outside Allah’s Door.

Comprising one fifth of the world,
We are Muslims…
Yet there is little known of our faith and traditions.
These two buildings will stand side by side like Doves of Peace,
Aiming to bridge the gap and promote Compassion and Understanding,
Welcome, one and all.

Housing Well-Preserved Priceless Works of Art:
Objects and Artifacts,
From the Aga Khan and his Family’s Personal Collection,
The Aga Khan Museum’s Relics will tell of themselves,
For countless years to come.

Tradition and Modernity,
Come and join together to create these Majestic Timeless Landmarks,
For people from all parts of the world to enjoy.

As His Highness the Aga Khan said at the Opening Ceremony:
“We are, after all, a community that WELCOMES THE SMILE!”
With His Grace, many outdated notions of what Islam is
Will be Demystified,
And the Exemplary Fundamental Truths Unveiled
For all to see.

So again we say Welcome…
We extend a hand of Loyal and Loving Friendship,
With Peace, Brotherhood, Unity and Prayer at the Core of Our Existence.
And from the Heart of each and every individual Ismaili,
We welcome you to
Our Wonderful Universal and Timeless Tradition.
Come discover, share and learn.

Date posted: September 29, 2020.

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

Farah graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in May of 1997 and earned top Honors for her Thesis on Short Fiction. With the help of her agent Barbara Graham she then went on to publish a collection of short stories published by Trafford, called, “Make Your Own Chai, Mama’s Boy!” — ten short stories dealing with different dilemmas South Asians face. Farah also wrote and co-directed her stage play, “Safeway Samosas,” which won “The Best of Brave New Playwrights Award” in July 1995. Her short story , “Too Hot” won third place in the “Canada-Wide Best Short Fiction Award.” and was read at The Vancouver Writers Festival. Currently, Farah is working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called, “Elastic Embrace” to be published in 2021. Her most recent poetic pieces are Behold the Light of Ali and The Great Sacrifice.

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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A Brief History of the Ismaili Jamat of Jinja

By SALIM AND SULTAN SOMANI

The authors, Salim and Sultan Somani, acknowledge with thanks Nizar Adatia and Sultan Allidina for their valuable feedback and contribution to this article.

Introduction

This brief essay on the history of the Jamat of Jinja was prompted largely by some historical photos found in our family album and also by other photos that we encountered on the internet. Over the years we have shared these photos with friends and family from Jinja. But there are many others with whom we never had the chance to meet in person or through social media to share these remembrances. As we grow older, memories fade and people pass away, carrying with them some of the past history that the young and upcoming generation never get a chance to know about and appreciate. There are many who have no inkling of what their parents and grandparents went through, growing up in Africa, the trials and tribulations they encountered and the challenges they faced.

Rather than let these photos sleep in our albums, we have decided to give them exposure through this website, Simerg, and talk a little bit about them in the hope that they will trigger some memories and invite contributions to make this essay more complete. This essay has some gaps and missing information and is, by no means, exhaustive. Simerg, which is the repository of historical facts, findings and accounts, is, we believe, the right forum for this exposé.

These photos belonged to our beloved father, Gulamali Kara Somani, who was a great teacher and a volunteer. It is to him that we dedicate this essay and honor his memory. Towards the end of this essay, we have paid him a tribute for his outstanding and exemplary contributions to the Jinja Jamat and the role that he played in shaping and impacting the lives of all those whom he taught and worked with.

Jinja in Brief

Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.
Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.

Situated on the shores of Lake Victoria (the third largest lake in the world), where the River Nile (the longest river in the world) leaves the lake to make its long, meandering 4000 mile journey up north to the Mediterranean Sea, Jinja had the second largest Jamat in Uganda, after the Jamat of Kampala, some 50 miles away. This is going back some 70 years, to the fifties and sixties before the 1972 crisis when the dictator Idi Amin expelled everybody of Asian origin as well as many expatriates.

 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls.
 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls. Photo taken in 1936 on a flight with Imperial Airways on a World Trunk route following the Nile from the Delta to the Victoria Nile and the Victoria Lake. Photo: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection / US Library of Congress.

On the banks of the River Nile in Rippon Village was a huge rock which was a drop off or pick up point for travellers crossing the Nile. Jinja literally means a stone or rock and this is how the city derived its name. John Hanning Speke, a British explorer, discovered Jinja as the source of the River Nile in 1858.


First Indian Settlers in Jinja

The early 1900s saw the arrival of the first Indian settlers to Jinja. This is best described in the facebook post by Jinja City:

“Indians first settled in Jinja in the early 1900s. During the late 19th century, Indians of mostly Sikh descent were brought to Uganda on three-year contracts, with the aid of Imperial British contractor Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, to build the Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kisumu by 1901, to Jinja by 1920 and to Kampala by 1931. Some died, others returned to India after the end of their contracts, and others chose to settle.

“Hajji Tamachi was the first Indian settler in Jinja. He set up Jinja’s first shop and Post Office. Hajji Tamachi played a vital role in encouraging other Indians to settle and do business in Jinja. Other Indians followed suite, with Alidina Visram, Vithaldas and Kalidas also setting up shop. Vithaldas and Kalidas, Madhvani’s uncles, helped to tutor Madhvani in business. Madhavani would later single handedly transform Jinja.”

With the building of the railway and much later in 1954, the Owen Falls Dam for generation of hydro-electric power, the Indian population grew with more of them setting up shop. Different communities lived side by side in peace and harmony, doing business and providing services in their respective fields of expertise and professions. Schools were built and so were places of prayer and worship. The Hindus had their temple, the Sikhs their Gurudhwara, the Ithnasharis their Masjid and, in 1937, the Ismaili Jamatkhana was built.

Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja

In 1937, on March 01, thanks to the generosity of Varasianima Virbai, widow of late Mr. Ali Bandali, the Jamatkhana, school, library, traveller’s residence (or musafar khana) etc. were constructed at a cost of 25,000 shillings, for the benefit of Ismailis of Jinja. The project was dedicated to Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan (A.S.).

Jinja Jamatkhana opening photos from Fidai magazine, Simerg
In the top photo, younger and older members of the Jamat are seen gathered at the entrance to the Jamatkhana building at the time of the opening, a proud moment indeed for the Jamat of Jinja. The second photo shows antique cars parked in the front of the Jamatkhana building, indicating that even at that time there were affluent members in the Jamat. Photos: Fidai Magazine, 1885-1936 Golden Jubilee Number.
Jinja Jamatkhana, Simerg
A photo of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja taken in 2008. Note the presence of a wall around the building which was missing when the Jamatkhana was first built. See preceding image. Photo: © Nazlin Rahemtulla.

A photo of the Jamatkhana taken much later shows a wall built around the perimeter of the building to make it more secure and private. Land was also acquired for sports activities and to hold Imamat Day, Salgirah and Navroz festivities (generally referred to as Khushialis), as well as other special events.

Another new building was built to house the Council Chamber and the Council Office with some space allocated for activities such as baby shows, cooking demonstrations, exhibitions and other social events etc. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Mukhi Gulamhussein Karim. Mukhi Karim was a prominent and affluent member of the Jamat who served in key leadership positions and commanded lot of respect from members of the Jamat.


Religious Education Classes in Jinja

Jinja Jamatkhana building, Simerg
Shams Somani, who was on an assignment as a volunteer teacher with Aga Khan Schools Uganda during the year 1999-2000, is seen standing in front of the building adjacent to the Jamatkhana building where religious education classes were held. Next to the classrooms was the musafar khana (or traveller’s residence) and a residence for the Jamatbhai (caretaker of the Jamatkhana). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Adjacent to the Jamatkhana building, was the building where there were spaces allocated for conducting religious education classes, a musafar khana and a residence for the caretaker of the Jamatkhana known as the Jamatbhai.

One of the principal mandates of the Ismailia Association, precursor to the present day Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB), was to run a religious education school. This school comprised of classes for students of all age groups, from lower primary to senior secondary level students. Popularly referred to as dharmic (religious) classes (the equivalent of today’s Baitul Ilm or BUI religious education program), they were held in the evenings during Jamatkhana time. After recitation of the two Du’as, subjects such as Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of our Holy Imams, and General Knowledge etc. were all taught. Our father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was the sole senior teacher and was assisted by other student teachers (e.g. Sultan Allidina, Rosy Kassamali) to teach the lower primary students. He was addressed to as ‘Sir’, a title that stuck with him for many years, even after he settled in Canada.

Much later on, there were other teachers who taught, namely, Gulamhussein Alibhai Pradhan (popularly referred to as GAP) and Yusufali K. Adatia (popularly referred to as YK).

‘Sir’ was a disciplinarian. Like it or not, all students were expected to go to the classes and parents made sure they did. In the evenings, there were those who played cricket and when it was time for classes, they would come carrying their cricket gear and place it at the back of the classroom. Before commencing the class, ‘Sir’ would take a cricket stump and place it on the teacher’s table in front. If anybody did not learn properly or misbehave, they would get the stump on the palms of their hands. Those were the days of corporal punishment. Generally, girls were better students than boys. But everybody learnt, whether out of fear or personal motivation and went on to progress in life. There were competitions held, such as waez (sermon) competitions, which brought out the best in the students.

It was customary to have a visiting Alwaez meet and address the students of the dharmic classes. Such was the case when Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma visited Jinja. An opportunity was taken to take group pictures of the different classes of students on the steps of the Council Chamber and Office building.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back centre, with hands folded. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger as well as some older students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back, second from left, with glasses. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The three historic photos that are presented here may have volumes to speak about the individuals, with their own personal stories and experiences. Unfortunately, some may have passed away. Of course, individuals who can identify themselves or whose friends can identify for them are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com so that the captions may be updated. For now the captions in all the three photos only include the names of the office bearers seated on the front row with Alwaez Juma.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
All girls! Students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma and members of the Ismailia Association. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Via author contacts.

Dhanjibhai – Jinja’s Jamatbhai

Dhanjibhai
Dhanjibhai – see previous group photos

A unique individual in two of the photographs shown above, is the unmistakable figure of Dhanjibhai, bespectacled standing behind the group. He was the Jamatbhai, the caretaker for the Jinja Jamat who took care of the day-to-day operation of the Jamatkhana: opening and closing the Jamatkhana, cleaning, making all the necessary arrangements, preparing tea on a sigri (charcoal burning stove) etc. He was the point man for getting anything done on the Jamatkhana premises and had the keys to all the rooms. He was also responsible for collecting Jamatkhana empty plates, bowls etc. from Ismaili households, going from house to house and putting them in a big raffia basket carried by an assistant. Dhanjibhai also delivered notifications to all those who had been given waras (assignments) to recite Du’a, Tasbih, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana. The response for the acceptance or non-acceptance of the wara had to be given immediately and indicated on the wara card.

Dhanjibhai lived in a residence just next to the musafar khana with his wife, popularly known as maasi (aunty). In the evenings, maasi would prepare fried mogo (cassava) on a makaara (charcoal) burning sigri (stove) and was stationed near the back exit door. She would sell these mogo pieces inexpensively to supplement their meager income. There was chili, salt and a ambli (tamarind) sauce to go with the mogo which was a real treat. As youths, we would always look forward to this mouth-watering mogo after Jamatkhana, huddling near the parked cars on the street and socializing as we waited for our parents to come out of Jamatkhana.

Ismaili Institutions in Jinja

Ismailia Association members Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Jinja Ismailia Association members. Sitting left to right: Mrs. Shirin Haji Bachu, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Jamal (Chairman) and Mrs. Noorbanu Mohamed Mitha; and standing are Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (our father: ‘sir’) and Ms. Malek Alarakhia, who was a secular school teacher. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Inspite of the relative small size of the Jamat, Jinja was very well organized with a functioning Provincial Council, an Ismailia Association as well as numerous sub-committees to cater to the needs of different segments of the Jamat including women and youth. The Ismailia Association was primarily responsible for imparting religious education to members of the Jamat, arranging waezeen tours from time to time, selling religious books, making Farmans available, as well as ensuring that rites, rituals and religious ceremonies were being followed.

Aga Khan Proivincial Council Jinja Uganda, Simerg
The Jinja Aga Khan Provincial Council in session. Sitting clockwise from left are Mr. Sadru Mitha, Mr. Abdul Ramji, Mr. Haji Bachu, Mr. Abdul Devji, Mr. Badru Gulamhussein Adatia (Secretary), Mr. Haroon R. Khamis (Council President), Mrs. Gulshan Adatia, Mr. Madat Hemani, and Mr. Sadru Walji Adatia. Photo: Via author contacts.
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Jamat Entertainment Committee, Simerg
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Entertainment Committee. Seated left to right: Sadrudin V. Virani (Hon. Treasurer), Sadrudin Mitha (Ismaili Youth Organization, IYO, member), Madat Shariff (Chairman), Parin Jamani (Hon. Secretary); standing left to right: Zebun Mitha, Nizar Shariff, Zebun Khamis, Bahadur Shamji, Gulzar J. Karim and Amirali A. Lalani. Photo: Via author contacts.

In sports, the youths of Jinja were very active in practically every sport, be it badminton, table tennis, volleyball and netball (equivalent to today’s basketball). Soccer and cricket were also played, though the playground was not large enough. Volleyball, traditional style, was played regularly, usually over the weekends. Of particular interest was the volleyball match played between married vs bachelors that took place once a year during one of the Khushialis. The match created quite a rivalry and was talked about for weeks afterwards.

At Khushialis, the whole playground was taken over with various activities, both for youths and adults. Starting with the flag raising ceremony, there were games and matches played. Usually the finals in sports such as table tennis were played on that day and trophies awarded to the winners. At lunch time there was sagridaam jaman (communal feast) when pillau (rice), cooked in a deg (large pot) was served in thalaas (large round trays) by the dynamic volunteer corps in full uniform. The Khushiali was a two-day weekend event with dandiya raas (Indian folk stick dance) and raas garba (circular folk dance) being played on Saturday until late at night with music provided by the Ismaili band.

Ismaili Business and Professional Activities in Jinja

Ismaili entrepreneurs were active in all spheres of business; Taxi & Car Rental (Hadi Jamal), Bus Company (Mohamed Mitha, Ibrahim Mohamed, Kassam Haji), Watches & Jewellery (Charanias), Insurance (Hussein Velji), Hotel Blue Cat (Abdul Devji), Restaurant & Bar (Sadru Hussein Rashid Khamis), Wholesale Clothing (Jeraj Sheriff), Portello Soda (Mohamed Remtulla), Pharmacy Retail (Jamal Govindji – Musa Diamond), Gifts (Madatali Hemani), Shoes (Sadru Bata), Molasses (Madatali Moolji), Bakery (Rahim Rajan), Butchery (Alaudin Kara) etc. to name just a few. There were also professionals such as Dr. Abdul Kassam Adatia, first Dean of Faculty of Dentistry at Bristol University (U.K) and visiting professor at Makerere University (Kampala), Yusuf Adatia (Architect) and secular school teachers, Ms. Malek Alarakhia, Ms. Gulzar Allidina and Ms. Gulshan Allidina, who appears in a very rare secondary school staff photo shown below. Indeed, generations of Ismaili students who attended the school will be able to relate to the photo, by recognizing some of their teachers.

Photo of Staff at Senior Secondary School in Jinja

Secondary School Jinja teachers Uganda Simerg
Back row, left to right: R. L. Avasthi, Bahal Singh, L. A. Gomes, B. S. Bhabuta, C. M. Bashir, R. C. Saksena, S. V. Ayyar, P. S. Nayar, Jaswant Singh, A. D. Oza and C. P. Bhabuta; Middle row, left to right: D. B. Deshpande, Beant Singh (Sr. Master Eng.) K. M. Chakravartty, R. S. Aggarwal, J. C. Aggarwalla, Sheikh M. Hussain, B. S. Batra, S. Chakraborti (Sr. Master Hist.), A. A. Khan (Sr. Master Urdu), and H. P. Joshi; and Seated left to right: Miss J. K. Sandhu, Mrs. J. K. Sangha, Mrs. P. Dass, R. N. Banernjee (Headmaster), N. R. Metha (Chief Asstt,), Miss G. Allidina, Mrs. M. Saxana, and Mrs. S. Desai. Photo: Via author contacts.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1957

The Jinja Jamat was blessed with two visits by Mawlana Hazar Imam. The first one was in 1957, shortly after the Takhtnashini (ceremonial installation) on October 25, 1957 in Kampala, and the second took place in 1966, when Mawlana Hazar Imam made an extensive visit to East Africa.

Aga Khan in Jinja
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Jinja airfield, and is received by the Jamati leadership. Here he is seen blessing Kamadia Haji Bachu with Kamadiani Shirin standing next to him. Immediately behind Hazar Imam is Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (with hat). Leaning on the car is Alwaez Jaffererali Sufi. On the extreme right is our father (‘Sir’) in full uniform, standing behind Mr. Haji Molu, his colleague. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam blesses Mrs. Jenabai Karim after being garlanded by her upon his arrival at the Jinja airfield. In the foreground, dressed in white with a hat is Mr. Sadruddin Karim, who was designated to drive Mawlana Hazar Imam’s car in Jinja. In volunteer uniform, at far left, are (left to right): Mr. Amin Alarakhia, Mr. Haji Molu and our father, Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (‘Sir’). The two persons shown immediately to the left of the policeman (in shorts) are President Mr. Haji Rashid Khamis (in a light colored suit and dark glasses) and Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji (light suit). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam paid a visit to the Jinja Provincial Council Chamber during his 1957 visit. In this photograph, he is seen conferring with the leaders of the Jamat. Seen from left to right are President Haji Rashid Khamis, person standing (not visible), Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji, Kamadia Haji Bachu, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Mrs. Zohrakhanu Allidina (seated), who held the portfolio of Member for Women and Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (standing). Photo: Allidina Family Collection.
Jinja Ismaili volunteers
The Jinja Ismaili volunteers in full uniform on duty in 1957 during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival at the Jinja airfied. Standing from right to left: Our father Gulamali Kara Somani (Lieutenant), Haji Molu (Lieutenant), Amin Alarakhia, Bahadur Fazal, Hassam Mawji, Ahmed Jamal, Madat Khamis, Feroz Khamis, Sultan Allidina and Nizar Sheriff. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1966

Mawlana Hazar Imam graced the Jinja Jamat with a second visit in 1966. The photos shown are also from our album. The first photo, though, where Hazar Imam is seen stepping down, is of his arrival at Entebbe Airport.

Aga Khan arrives in Entebbe, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Entebbe Airport for his visit to Uganda in 1966. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja leaving Counci Chambers Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam leaving the Ismaili Council Chamber building surrounded by his murids, trying to get a last glimpse before his departure. From left to right are Amir Madhavji, Zulfikar Devji, Abdul Alarakhia, Mehboob Charania, Malik Kassim-Lakha, Salim Somani, Nizar Sheriff and Sadruddin Karim. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

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Conclusion

We trust that this short essay has served to provide some history of the Jinja Jamat from our perspective and in so doing, we have honored the memory of our beloved father. But by no means is it complete. There may be some minor errors that need to be corrected and some omissions and information gaps that need to be filled. We are sure that there is much more that others can contribute, and readers can do that by completing the comments box below.

After the 1972 Uganda crisis, when there was a mass exodus, the economy went down tremendously. But since then things have picked up particularly in Kampala, the capital, where there is lot of construction going on. A number of ex-Ugandans have returned and there is new immigration, mostly from India. There is lot of outside investment including by Hazar Imam, e.g Serena Hotel, Bujagali Falls Hydro-electric power station (in partnership between Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development or AKFED, Sithe Global Power of USA, Government of Uganda, Industrial Promotion Services, IPS, and Jubilee Investment Company).

Photo taken in 2000 on the steps of previously used Jinja Council Chamber/Office building, which is now used as a Jamatkhana by the Jinja Jamat. Among those pictured in the front row are Mukhiani Saheba of Jinja (3rd from left), originally from Northern Pakistan, ITREB Uganda Chairman Anil Samji, Religious Education Coordinator Karim Jiwani, and Kamadia Saheb of Jinja Jamat; in middle row at left is Shams Somani of Montreal who was on voluntary assignment in Uganda with Aga Khan Schools during 1999-2000; and in back row are Council Secretary Shellina Hasham with her husband Salim Hasham, ITREB District Member. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The economy in Jinja is still depressed with abandoned buildings and buildings in a state of disrepair. The historic Jamatkhana building still stands but there is now a clinic there. The small Jamat that is there, mostly from India, meets for Jamatkhana in the Council Chamber/Office building (see photo, above).

Let us hope and pray that the beautiful city of Jinja, once the industrial hub of Uganda, prospers and blossoms to its days of past glory and become the dynamic and vibrant city that it once was.

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A Tribute to Our Late Father, Gulamali Kara Somani

Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 - 2010) of Jinja, Uganda, Montreal Canada, Simerg tribute Ismaili and Aga Khan
Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 – 2010).

The history of Jinja Jamat and the pictures that we have shared with readers with Simerg are a testimony of our father’s love for Mawlana Hazar Imam and his Jamat. He preserved these photos in our family album for more than 62 years. We wish to pay him our humble tribute.

Our loving father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was born in 1924 in Jinja, He lost both his parents when he was just 8 years old. He was brought up by his uncle and, like many from his generation, he set up shop and started to do business after finishing school. He was always mechanically inclined, fixing things, be it cars, bicycles etc. and was always very creative. For example, he could take a black & white picture and color it using photo tints. (There were no colored pictures at the time). He also developed his own pictures at home. Music was his passion. He started writing and composing songs and played them on a musical stringed instrument of Japanese origin called Taishokoto.

Then he got into repairing watches and got very good at it, a skill that he practiced till his last days. He could pull apart a watch completely, clean the parts, oil them and put them back together for perfect timing. It was this skill that landed him a job in Montreal when he applied to come to Canada. His mind worked on small, intricate details which is why he was very successful in fixing things or creating works of art. At Jamatkhana, when they needed something decorative to be prepared, they knew that they could count on him for something original and he never let them down.

In the 50s and 60s his services were called upon to teach in the religious night school at Jinja to students from junior level to senior secondary level covering all subjects: Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of the Imams, Farmans etc. We remember that at one time during a wa’ez competition he wrote a wa’ez in English for us on the subject of: “Education”.

He also served as a senior volunteer (Lieutenant: the highest ranking officer) rendering exceptional services along with other volunteers particularly during Hazar Imam’s two visits to Jinja. We remember seeing him with burn-bubbles on his hands from serving hot, steaming pillau (rice) from the deg (large pot). When he presented himself for Mehmani to Hazar Imam, Hazar Imam blessed him and mentioned: “Good service!”

He was also a member of the Ismaili Band that provided music for dandiya  raas and garba during the Khushiali celebrations.

In 1966 when Hazar Imam visited Uganda, there was a small town named Mbale in Eastern Uganda, on his itinerary (see Uganda map on top of page). Mr. Hadi Jamal of Jinja provided a fleet of cars for Hazar Imam’s staff to travel to Mbale. Our father volunteered to drive one of the cars and was assigned Hazar Imam’s photographer, which was great because he could go everywhere where Hazar Imam went. At one point, Hazar Imam was at a reception and was drinking Coca-Cola from a glass. Our father did not take his eyes off this glass. As soon as Hazar Imam kept his glass on the table and started to leave, our father made a beeline for the glass, picked it up, and then took the glass with him. We still have this glass in our possession which our father preciously guarded and brought it with him to Canada.

A teacher, a volunteer par excellence and above all, a humanitarian, our father served with utmost distinction and dedication, never seeking recognition. His outstanding and exemplary services are truly worthy of admiration and emulation and rubbed off on of us, his children, who have served in various capacities over the years in Jamati institutions.

Our younger sister, Shams, a secular teacher, took one year out of her teaching profession to work as a volunteer with Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) in Kampala from 1999 to 2000. Both our sisters, Layla and Shams were also heavily involved in BUI (Bait-ul Ilm) and have continued to play a role in imparting religious education for many years now. I, Salim Somani, served in various Majalis as Mukhi and Kamadia, in committees (audio visual, catering etc.) and also as a volunteer. My brother Sultan Somani, the co-author with me on this Jinja piece, served as Chairman of Ismailia Association (6 years), as Hon. Secretary on the Aga Khan Council for  Quebec & The Maritime Provinces (6 years), Member and Chairman, Conciliation and Arbitration Board (6 years), and as Majlis Mukhi (3 years), among other duties etc.

Never missing a day, except for health reasons, our father attended Jamatkhana everyday in the morning and evening, no matter what the weather was like. We have seen him bundle up and walk to Jamatkhana when it was extremely cold.

Our beloved father passed away in April 2010 at the age of 86.

We pray that may Allah in His Infinite Grace and Mercy forgive all his sins and rest his soul in eternal peace – Amen.

Story Copyright: © Salim and Sultan Somani.

Date posted: July 31, 2020.
Last updated: August 12, 2020 (caption updates with name of person(s) as they become available, and typos).

CORRECTIONS:

(1) In the original version of this piece, the year 1958 was mentioned as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Jinja, Uganda. Actually, the visit took place in 1957, shortly after Mawlana Hazar Imam’s enthronement (Takhtnashini) ceremony in Kampala on October 25, 1957. The article has been updated with the correct year (correction made on August 9, 2020).

(2) Earlier versions of this piece mentioned that Mawlana Hazar Imam travelled by car to towns outside Kampala, such as Jinja and Mbale. Our attention has been drawn to the fact that in 1957, Mawlana Hazar arrived in Jinja by plane, where there was an airfield available for the landing of military aircraft as well as some civilian planes. We have updated our captions of the 1957 visit to reflect this (correction made on August 10, 2020).

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

Please report typo or error in story to Simerg@aol.com.

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We welcome your feedback/letters on this special piece on Jinja by clicking on Leave a comment or writing to the editor, Malik Merchant, at Simerg@aol.com. If you were a Jinja resident, your reminiscences about life in Jinja, your participation as a student, a volunteer, a leader or a member of the Jinja Jamat, as well your surprising anecdotes will uncover a wealth of information about Jinja. We also welcome historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Jinja. Kindly note that your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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About the Authors

Salim, in volunteers uniform, 1966

The authors of this article, Salim and Sultan Somani, were both born in Jinja, Uganda and now reside in Montreal, Quebec.

Salim immigrated to Canada in 1974 from England where he pursued his studies in Hotel Management & Catering at Huddersfield Polytechnic and specialized in cuisine. Unable to return to Uganda, following the 1972 expulsion of Asians, Salim moved to join his parents in Montreal where over the years he applied his culinary skills at a number of prestigious places, including the Ritz Carlton, Bonaventure Hilton and Montreal Casino in different cuisines. Most recently he worked at the renowned catering company, La Maison Carrier-Besson.

He is married to Rashida and has a son, Hussein, a National Account Executive with RGIS and a daughter, Aliya, Educational Consultant with EMSB (English Montreal School Board). Salim is now retired.

In recent years, Salim has started carving fruits, particularly watermelons, and his impressive work has resulted in him being invited to carve fruits for several important festivals and ceremonial occasions.

Sultan Somani portrait Jinja article simerg
Sultan Somani with his daughter, Sarah

Salim’s brother, Sultan, immigrated to Canada in 1973. He was studying Physics/Mathematics at Makerere University, and 3 months before writing his final exams, he was in the unfortunate position of having to leave Uganda due to Idi Amin’s expulsion orders. He proceeded to Nairobi, Kenya, and with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, under the leadership of late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was moved to a refugee camp in Italy where he stayed for 5 months. He then joined his parents in Montreal, where he studied computer science in a university before commencing a career as a systems analyst and programmer at Bell Canada’s Behavioural Sciences Group, Comptrollers Results Department and Corporate Systems Organization (CSO).

Sultan later diversified into a number of businesses in partnership. He has for years dedicated his time to serving Ismaili Institutions in numerous capacities and the Ismaili community in general, for which the title of Rai was bestowed on him. He is now retired, and at the age of 70 is a father of 6 year old daughter, Sarah, whom he takes care of on a full-time basis with his wife, Shainaze.

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The authors recommend the website Sikh Heritage for more information and photos of Jinja.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Talika Mubarak, and Imamat – a Hereditary Divine Institution that has spanned 1388 years from the time Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) passed away in 632 C.E.

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergSimergphotos  and Barakah

From the day our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) passed away on June 8, 632, and Hazrat Ali (a.s.) became the first Imam on the Divine Commandment that the Prophet had earlier received at Ghadir Khumm, there have been forty-nine Ismaili Imams, spanning a period of 1388 years in human history.

Top: Imam Shah Hassanali Shah and Imam Shah Ali Shah; Bottom: Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Sha Karim Hazar Imam ( both Gulgee lapis portraits).

Mawlana Hazar Imam and his immediate 3 predecessors have reigned the Jamat for a total of 202 years — 14.6 % of the 1388 years of Imamat to date — as follows: Mawlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini Hazar Imam (His Highness the Aga Khan IV, Imam from 1957 — 2020 and continuing, 63 years, he became the 49th Imam at the age of 20); Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (His Highness the Aga Khan III, Imam from 1885 – 1957, 71 years, he became the 48th Imam at age 7 years), Imam Shah Ali Shah (Aga Khan II, 1881 – 1885, 4 years, he became the 47th Imam at the age of 51 years), and Imam Shah Hassanali Shah (Aga Khan I, 1817 – 1881, 64 years, he became the 46th Imam at the age of 13 years).

This 203 year period accounts for more time than does the entire Fatimid period, reigned by 8 Imams from Imam Mehdi (11th Imam to Imam Mustansir bi Allah (18th Imam)!

Art work Nurin Merchant, Credit: Infinity design povray.org

Some of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad on the Imamat are follows: “I leave among you two weighty things: The Book of Allah and my Progeny. If you keep attached to these two never, never will you go astray. Both are tied with a long Rope and cannot be separated until the Day of Judgment.”

I recollect a Farman made by Mawlana Hazar Imam during his Silver Jubilee (1982) in Nairobi, Kenya, where he said that he was the 49th Imam and that there would always be Imams in the future, whether it is the space age or even beyond that! That Allah’s guidance is ever present on this earth through the manifest Imam is reaffirmed in another tradition of the Prophet that says that if the world were to remain without an Imam for one moment, the whole world with everything in it would perish instantaneously.

A Ginanic verse that correlates to the Hadith is:

Purush shan matra pag dharani na dharante,
Sansaar, chandra, suraj na dhrashtante,
Kuchh na dhrashtante,
Bhom kar, megh, dharti na aakaash bhave 

Translation:

If the Imam did not have his feet on this earth for even a moment,
then the world, moon, sun would vanish
and nothing would exist,
neither the heaven nor the earth.

On those affirmations from the Prophet Muhammad, our Ginans and Mawlana Hazar Imam, let us therefore truly rejoice that we have a living Imam and that our future generations will also continue to always live under the loving care guidance and protection of the Imam of the Time.

Let us on this auspicious 63rd Imamat Day offer our heartful thanks to Mawlana Hazar Imam for the following Talika that we have received yesterday, July 10, 2020. It was also read out to us last night by ever inspiring President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, Ameerally Kassim-Lakha, in the weekly reflections program.

We convey Imamat Day Mubarak to our readers and Jamats around the world.

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Talika Mubarak from Mawlana Hazar Imam (English)

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam

My beloved spiritual children,

On the occasion of Imamat day, the 11th of July 2020, I send my warmest and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children throughout the world.

I send my best loving blessings for the souls of all my ruhani spiritual children, and I pray that their souls may rest in eternal peace.

While the Covid-19 pandemic continues to pose a challenge globally, I have agreed to the re-opening of Jamatkhanas in areas where the health authorities allow gatherings in spaces of prayer.

As Imam-of-the-Time, I have authorised modifications to the conduct of ceremonies in our Jamatkhanas, to ensure compliance with present health and safety requirements. This matter is constantly under my review, and I will make appropriate decisions on when to return to normal practice.

It is my wish that, in attending Jamatkhana, as indeed at all other times, my Jamat should continue to exercise utmost care and rigour in observing the measures recommended by the public health authorities.

On this happy occasion, I send my most affectionate loving blessings to all my spiritual children who have submitted services and sent messages of congratulations and good wishes.

I send my most affectionate special loving blessings for mushkil-asan, good health, safety and security for all my Jamats, and the restoration of peace and stability, with best loving blessings for your spiritual happiness, worldly progress, strength of faith, and for unity in the Jamat.

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

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Message from Mawlana Hazar Imam (French)

A l’occasion de l’Imamat Day, Mawlana Hazar Imam nous a gracieusement béni d’un Saint Talika pour son Jamat global qui est partagé sur le site The Ismaili.

Mes Chers Enfants Spirituels,

A l’occasion de l’Imamat day, le 11 juillet 2020, j’envoie mes plus chaleureuses et mes plus affectueuses tendres bénédictions paternelles et maternelles à tous mes enfants spirituels bien-aimés à travers le monde.

J’envoie mes meilleures bénédictions affectueuses pour les âmes de mes enfants spirituels ruhani, et prie pour que leurs âmes reposent dans la paix éternelle.

Alors que la pandémie Covid-19 continue à poser un défi au niveau mondial, j’ai donné mon accord pour la réouverture des Jamatkhanas dans les zones où les autorités sanitaires autorisent les rassemblements dans les espaces de prière.

En tant qu’Imam-du-Temps, j’ai autorisé des modifications dans la conduite des cérémonies dans nos Jamatkhanas, afin de garantir leur conformité avec les exigences actuelles en matière de santé et de sécurité. C’est un sujet que je suis constamment, et je prendrai les décisions appropriées quant au moment de revenir à une pratique normale.

C’est mon souhait qu’en venant au Jamatkhana, comme en toutes circonstances, mon Jamat continue à faire preuve du plus grand soin et de la plus grande rigueur dans le respect des mesures recommandées par les autorités de santé publique.

En cette heureuse occasion, j’envoie mes plus affectueuses tendres bénédictions à tous mes enfants spirituels qui ont soumis des services et envoyé des messages de félicitations et de bons vœux.

J’envoie mes plus affectueuses tendres bénédictions spéciales pour mushkil-asan, une bonne santé, la sûreté et la sécurité de tout mon Jamat, et le retour de la paix et de la stabilité, avec mes meilleures bénédictions affectueuses pour votre bonheur spirituel, le progrès matériel, la force de la foi, et pour l’unité dans le Jamat.

Affectueusement,

Aga Khan

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Portuguese)

Por ocasião do Imamat Day, Mawlana Hazar Imam graciosamente enviou um Talika Mubarak para o Jamat global e que partilhamos pelo The Ismaili.

Meus amados filhos espirituais,

Por ocasião do Imamat Day, 11 de julho de 2020, envio as minhas mais calorosas e mais afetuosas bênçãos paternais e maternais a todos os meus filhos espirituais por todo o mundo.

Envio as minhas melhores bênçãos de amor para as almas de todos os meus filhos espirituais ruhani, e oro para que as suas almas descansem em paz eterna.

Apesar da pandemia de Covid-19 continuar a representar um desafio global, concordei com a reabertura de Jamatkhanas nas áreas onde as autoridades de saúde permitem encontros em locais de oração. 

Como Imam do Tempo, autorizei modificações na realização de cerimónias nos nossos Jamatkhanas, de forma a assegurar o cumprimento dos atuais requisitos de saúde e segurança. Este assunto está constantemente sob a minha análise, e tomarei as decisões apropriadas acerca de quando se poderá regressar à prática normal.

É meu desejo que, tanto ao frequentar o Jamatkhana, como também em todos os outros momentos, o meu Jamat continue a exercer o máximo cuidado e rigor no cumprimento das medidas recomendadas pelas autoridades de saúde pública. 

Nesta feliz ocasião, envio minhas mais afetuosas bênçãos de amor a todos os meus filhos espirituais que submeteram serviços e enviaram mensagens de felicitações e votos de felicidades.

Envio minhas mais afetuosas e especiais bênçãos de amor para mushkil-asan, boa saúde, segurança e proteção, para todos os meus Jamats, e restauração da paz e estabilidade, com as melhores bênçãos de amor para a vossa felicidade espiritual, progresso material, força de fé e para união no Jamat. 

Afetuosamente

Aga Khan

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Farsi)

Talika in Farsi

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Arabic)

Imamat Day Talika, Aga Khan, Hazar Imam, Simerg
Talika in Arabic

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Gujarati)

Imamat Day Talika, Aga Khan, Hazar Imam, Simerg
Talika in Gujarati

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Russian)

Imamat Day Talika, Aga Khan, Hazar Imam, Simerg
Talika in Russian

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Urdu)

Imamat Day Talika, Aga Khan, Hazar Imam, Simerg
Talika in Urdu

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Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam (Tajik)

Imamat Day Talika, Aga Khan, Hazar Imam, Simerg
Talika in Tajik

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Shukrana and Supplication

We submit our humble gratitude to our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam for his blessings to the world wide Jamat on the occasion of his 63rd Imamat Day.

We submit the following supplications from verse 1 of Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea:

“O brother! Listen, My Lord Ali has written and sent a Farman. The beloved Lord has remembered this servant today with kindness in his heart”

Date posted: July 11, 2020.
Last updated: July 12, 2020.

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

CORRECTION: When the post was initially published, the Arabic translation was loaded into the Farsi Talika block, and appeared twice. The post now stands corrected, and we regret the confusion it caused.

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Recollecting a beautiful Canada Day moment in Winnipeg, and the Aga Khan’s message of 1978 that inspired thousands to make Canada their permanent home

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergSimergphotos  and Barakah (2017)

July 1, 2017 was 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding. I had planned to be in Ottawa for the greatest Canada Day celebration in the country. However, my 45000 km road trip that began in Vancouver was delayed, and I arrived in Winnipeg on June 30th after having driven 2600 kms (including the detours I had taken to see sites in Alberta and Saskatchewan)! Ottawa was a further 2200 kms away, and the forecast there called for rainy weather.

Winnipeg was basking in sunshine when I woke up! At the hotel, I had learned about Winnipeg’s 11 year old tradition of forming a living Canadian flag in various parts of the city. For the 150th anniversary, the largest living Maple Leaf formation was going to be at the city’s downtown intersection at Portage Avenue and Main Street.

Canada Day Living Maple Leaf in Winnipeg Simerg
Canada’s Largest Living Maple Leaf formed with the participation of thousands of individuals in Winnipeg on July 1, 2017, to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday. Photo: Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

2,500 red T-shirts were handed out at 8:30 AM, and Canadians of all backgrounds were asked to position themselves in the square. Nigerian born Ismaila Alfa, host of Up To Speed on CBC Radio One in Winnipeg, led the sea of reds through a couple of practice sessions to get everything right. Then, he asked the crowd to look up at the camera hosted in a high rise office tower for two photos — the first with a smile and the second one with the cheerful singing of “Canada” . This was a truly memorable moment for me as I have never witnessed anything like this before, and have only attended Canada Day Celebrations in Ottawa! I share the photographs from that happy day 3 years later, while we are all stuck at home watching the 153rd Canada Day virtually due to Covid-19.

Canada Day Living Maple Leaf in Winnipeg Simerg
Canada’s Largest Living Maple Leaf formed with the participation of thousands of individuals in Winnipeg on July 1, 2017, to celebrate the country’s 150th birthday. Photo: Downtown Winnipeg Biz.

As an Ismaili Muslim, my first impressions of Canada were formed in November 1978 when I travelled to Toronto from the UK for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s, His Highness the Aga Khan, first ever visit to his newly settled Ismaili followers. When he repeatedly called on the Ismailis in Canada to “Make Canada your home” I reflected on that message and decided to make Canada my home some 2 years later.

This unique and historical photo signed by the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, was taken in the Prime Minister’s Office during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Canada in April 1983. (l to r) – Hon. Secretary Farouk Verjee (Aga Khan Council for Canada), Mr. Gerry Wilkinson (His Highness the Aga Khan’s Secretariat, Aiglemont, France), Hon. Secretary Mohamed Manji (Aga Khan Ontario Council), President Amirali Rhemtulla (Aga Khan Grants Council), Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan, President Mehboob Dhanani (Aga Khan Ontario Council) and President Zulficar Lalji (Aga Khan Council for Canada). The full signature line note from the Prime Minister read: To Farouk with the best of Memories. Trudeau. 1983. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s profound affinity and respect for Canada has been explained in a very thoughtful piece by Mohib Ebrahim. I urge everyone to read it. I take a number of quotations from Mohib’s article which reflect the Imam’s confidence in Canada as a force of good:

“Canada [is] an international power who takes her responsibilities seriously and whose policies have never in her history been tainted by the cruder forms of colonialism, racialism or isolationism.” — Diplomatic Banquet, Toronto, November 1978.

“Successful experience with democracy, civil society and pluralism are the national genius of Canada of which much of the developing world is in dire need.” — Ottawa, June 2005

“[A]s you continue your search for the best constitutional solution to your future, … let me emphasise that Canada remains for the rest of the world an enviable haven. A haven of peace, and of immense natural beauty and wealth. The wealth I speak of, is not merely its natural resources but the peoples of Canada, steeped in your tradition of tolerance, generosity and compassion in alleviating human suffering and respect for diversity of thought and culture.” — Diplomatic Corps Banquet Toronto, August 1992.

On this 153rd anniversary marking the birth of Canada, my 89 year old beautiful mother Maleksultan and my lovely daughter Nurin join me in wishing all Canadians and everyone living in this great country a very Happy Canada Day.

Ismaili Muslim is appointed as the new Lieutenant Governor of Alberta

We are particularly proud and joyous that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday, June 30, the appointment of Salma Lakhani, a proud Ismaili Muslim, as the new Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Ms. Lakhani will be the first Muslim Lieutenant Governor in Canadian history.

Salma Lakhani

A long time resident of Edmonton, Ms. Lakhani has dedicated her life to helping people in need and those who face obstacles to success in our society. Through her work to advance education, health care, women’s empowerment, human rights, and support for new immigrants, she continues to be a champion of diversity, pluralism, and inclusion.

Born in Uganda, her home country from which her family was expelled in 1972, Ms. Lakhani completed an honours degree in Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Manchester. She moved to Edmonton with her husband, Dr. Zaheer Lakhani, in 1977. The couple has two daughters. I recollect Dr. Zaheer as the Aga Khan Council Chairman for Edmonton during the early 1980’s. He mingled with everyone in the Jamat, and as a leader consulted with Jamati members regularly. He was always supported by his wife Salma during his term.

The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community, has published a special article about her appointment.

We congratulate Ms. Lakhani and her family on her appointment, and wish her happiness and success in the role she will play for all Albertans.

As we all celebrate Canada Day, we sincerely hope that this great nation of 37.6 millions people will come out even stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic that we are living through today with the rest of humanity.

Date posted: July 1, 2020.

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

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Malik with his mother Maleksultan
Merchant at the Vancouver Ismaili
Centre.

Malik Merchant is the editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and the publication his websites. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

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