Canada Post issues Eid stamp graced with image of a beautiful Iranian artifact crafted 700 years ago

“It may seem unusual that an ancient artifact from medieval Iran would make its way onto a Canadian stamp, but it’s really not at all. This is a wonderful reflection of who we are as Canadians and how diverse our country is. We celebrate cultures from across the world here.” — Dr. Fahmida Suleman, curator of the Islamic World collections, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, as quoted in Canada Post Magazine article.

Crafted nearly 700 years ago in medieval Iran, the elegant, hand-painted ceramic bowl on this year’s Eid stamp was made during Ramadan — one of the holiest months in the Islamic calendar, when Muslims in Canada and around the world fast as an act of worship, self-purification and spiritual growth. This is Canada Post’s fifth Eid issue. The 2023 stamp also features, in calligraphy, the words Eid Mubarak, a traditional Arabic greeting that means “have a blessed Eid”. Its issue date is April 3, in advance of both Eid al-Fitr which is expected to be observed on Friday, April 21, and Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage to the Kaaba in Mecca. The 2023 Hajj is scheduled to take place between June 26 and July 1…. PLEASE READ MORE IN CANADA POST MAGAZINE.

To buy stamp (in booklet of 6), please click Eid (2023): Permanent domestic rate stamps. The link includes an image of the stamps booklet and describes the two Islamic Eid festivals in more detail. The booklets should be available at Canada Post locations around the country. The specifications for the stamp are as follows:

Designer: Subplot Design Inc; Issue date: April 3, 2023; and Quantity produced: 55,000.

Date posted: April 14, 2023.


Please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents as well as visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos. The editor Malik Merchant may be reached via email at

977 years ago, in March 1046, a dream took Ismaili poet Nasir Khusraw on a 19,000 km journey – read Rachael Kohn’s interview with Alice Hunsberger on the poet and watch video

Editor’s note: Rachael Kohn, a broadcaster, author, and speaker on religion and spirituality, conducted an interview with Alice Hunsberger on her former Australian program, “The Ark”, on the occasion of the millennium birth anniversary of Nasir Khusraw. A shorter version of the interview was prepared and presented by Mashal Ali (acting as Rachael) and Nurin Merchant (acting as Alice) at a literary night event hosted in Ottawa to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan. Their presentation is produced below with the kind consent of Ms. Kohn. It is followed by a brief History Pod video presentation on Nasir Khusraw and his travelogue Safarnama.


Hello, this is “The Ark”, and I am Rachael Kohn.

A thousand years ago a Persian poet defied the conventions of the day. His name was Nasir Khusraw, an Ismaili Muslim, a branch of Shi’a Islam.

Instead of lavishing praise on the sultan or his horse, he praised learning and spiritual purity. For example he beautifully wrote:

The world is a deep ocean
Its water is time.
Your body is like a shell, Your soul the pearl.
If you wish to have the value of a pearl,
Raise up the pearl of your soul with learning.

Rachael Kohn: Unlike Rumi or Omar Khayyam, Nasir Khusraw isn’t well-known in the West. Yet! But New Yorker Alice Hunsberger may change that, with her book on his life and work. She was particularly interested in how different Khusraw’s poetry was at the time.

Alice, when one thinks about the period, the Persian poet that comes to mind is Omar Khayyam who was almost a contemporary of Khusraw, I guess he was about a generation later. Now he is much more well known in the West; how would you compare Omar Khayyam and Khusraw?

Alice Hunsberger: Yes, Omar Khayyam is best known because of the wonderful and inspired translation a century and a half ago by Edward Fitzgerald, and one of the tricks to becoming well-known, is finding a good translator.

Right now for example, Omar Khayyam is best known as a poet to the West but in the East he was primarily known as a brilliant mathematician and astronomer. Nasir Khusraw on the other hand is one of the best, highest ranking poets in the Persian speaking world.

Nasir Khusraw really is not a love poet, so you will not find mystical expressions of love. What he calls for is the use of intellect in religion in one’s life; and in contrast to Omar Khayyam, who was, we could say, cynical toward religious people.

Rachael Kohn: Well, Khusraw himself was something of a religious seeker. He seems to have even read about other religions as well as philosophy. What faction or what tradition of Islam did he align himself with?

Alice Hunsberger: He was very well educated and did look at lots of different religions. At some point in his life, he had a spiritual awakening, and in one place he tells it as a dream, and in another its a more journey-like kind of story.

He finally found the truth and the peace in faith that he was seeking in the Ismaili faith, that is a branch of the Shi’ites. He believes that what God sent down is the external, and that the internal meaning is what needs to be brought out and that needs an Imam, an interpreter.


A statue of the famous Ismaili philosopher, poet and missionary Nasir Khusraw in Badakhshan.
A statue of the famous Ismaili philosopher, poet and missionary Nasir Khusraw in Badakhshan.

Rachael Kohn: Well, Nasir Khushraw, I think was referred to as ‘the real wisdom of the East’; how did he earn that accolade?

Alice Hunsberger: Well I would think that would refer to this inner wisdom which beyond the scientific knowledge, beyond external religious practices, there’s an inner truth that underlies the teachings. This is what he was preaching. So we have to get to the inner truth.

Rachael Kohn: What sort of personality or character comes through in his writing?

Alice Hunsberger: When you read his works you feel right away, ‘Here’s a strong person, a strong, definite individual’. You feel him in many emotions; he opens up some of his poems with sadness, other ones he begins with beautiful springtime visions of trees and flowers so that you see a person in all his complexity.

Rachael Kohn: Is there a strong ethical sense that comes through in his poetry? Is he a critic, a sharp observer of the religious life around?

Alice Hunsberger: Absolutely. As a member, as a leading intellectual of the Ismaili faith, he came under the criticism and enmity of the other schools of the Sunnis and others, so he used his pen very forcefully to defend the faith and to defend his actions.

Rachael Kohn: Alice, are Nasir Khusraw’s poems used today as an inspiration for progressive thought in Islam?

Alice Hunsberger: I think so. I haven’t been back to Iran for a while but they’re having conferences about him now and, even though he is from another branch of Shi’ism, they certainly respect his ethics and his strong personality.

Rachael Kohn: Well Nasir Khusraw ended his days rather sadly, exiled. Why was he exiled?

Alice Hunsberger: After his journey which he undertook as a result of the spiritual awakening, he stayed in Cairo because it was a very powerful Ismaili seat; for about 200 years there was an Ismaili caliph in Cairo, and so he studied there. He left to become a preacher back in his homeland of Khurasan and converted many people.

His success brought enmity and danger to his life, so he fled into a region of Badakhshan where he lived out his life under the protection of a local prince and he wrote much of his sad poetry of his exile from there. Here is a short verse of one of these poems:

But it doesn’t matter where we are,
Sometimes we’re in bad places;
But no-one values a ruby less for coming out of dirty soil
And no-one criticises roses for coming out of manure.
So we all are like a ruby and like a rose.
We need to blossom and shine wherever we are.

Rachael Kohn: Wise words a thousand years ago and today. That was Alice Hunsberger speaking about the poetry of Nasir Khusraw, who’s been the subject of celebrations by Ismaili communities around the world.


YouTube Video

Date posted: March 5, 2023.
Last updated: March 25, 2023.


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

Two Must-Watch Short Videos: Why is Ghadir Khumm in Arabia Important; and Why Do Ismailis Address their Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Khudavind

[This post includes material from The.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community – Ed. ]

Map and Video: Ghadir Khumm

According to Shia belief, by declaring Hazrat Ali as Mawla after him at Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) transferred his own spiritual authority bestowed upon him by Allah to Hazrat Ali, making him — and all the Imams that follow — the Amirul Mu’minin, or Master of the Believers. Please see map for location of Ghadir Khumm and watch the short video on the importance of Ghadir Khumm.

Click on map for enlargement

Saudi Arabia Map with location of Ghadir Khumm where the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor
Political map of Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. The approximate location of Ghadir Khumm near the modern day town of Ragibh (known in the past as Al-Juhfah) has been highlighted in red. Driving distances: Mecca to Ghadir Khumm (location where Prophet Muhammad appointed Hazrat Ali as his successor) appx. 208 Kms; and distance from Ghadir Khumm to Medina, appx. 300 kms. Credit: Map adapted by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries.



Video: Khudavind

The Persian word khudavind or khudawand means, “a king, prince, lord, master; or man of great authority.” Many Persian and Central Asian empires used this term throughout history to refer to people of high standing, including, at times, the sultan (ruler), wazir, government officials, and patrons. The Ismaili Imams lived in Persia (modern-day Iran) from the 12th to the 19th centuries. During this period, the community adopted the term khudawand to refer to the Imam. Its meaning is similar to the Arabic term mawla, which also means “master” or “lord.” (for more see the.Ismaili).

Date posted: July 18, 2022.




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

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, skied for Iran in the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria

As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing come to a close, Zahir Dharsee and Malik Merchant reminisce about Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s passion for skiing and sports in general. The piece appears on Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. The piece also includes an excerpt from an excellent narrative on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Iringa that mentions a skiing accident that had taken place earlier. Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived in Iringa with a cast on his foot. Please click MEMORIES or on photo below.

Aga Khan playing ice hockey in Switzerland, Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam playing ice hockey. Please click on photo for article.

Date posted: February 19, 2021.


Sun’s Crossing of Equator at 5:37 A.M. EDT on March 20, 2021 Heralds Start of Spring in Northern Hemisphere, and Celebration of Navroz, the Iranian New Year

“Awaken, the morning Nowruz breeze is showering the garden with flowers” — Saadi

According to the popular reference book The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Saturday, March 20 marked the start of the spring season in 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun crossed the equator line heading north at 5:37 A.M. EDT. This event is referred to as the spring equinox or the vernal equinox when the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. The Southern Hemisphere is exactly the opposite, as it marked the start of its autumn season.

The spring equinox can occur as early as March 19 or as late as March 21 at Greenwich. For hundreds of millions of people living in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, and throughout Central Asia, in many parts of Pakistan and India, as well as among diasporic communities living around the world. the spring equinox is celebrated as Navroz or New Year. This is the second consecutive year when Navroz celebrations are going to be restrained due to travel restrictions and other measures that have been put in place to halt the spread of coronavirus or Covid-19.

Spring Equinox Earth on March 20, 2011 at 6:12 a.m. local time. NASA
The Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) on EUMETSAT’s Meteosat-9 captured this view of Earth from geosynchronous orbit. The image shows how sunlight fell on the Earth on March 20, 2011 at 6:12 a.m. local time. Photo: NASA image by Robert Simmon

In Iran, the festivities end 13 days after March 21 with Sizdeh Bedar when people head for open fields, plains, parks and riversides to picnic, taking with them the sabzeh they had meticulously grown. There, they throw the sabzeh into the river or the fields, to symbolise giving back to nature (please read Scheherezade Faramarzi’s excellent article in Middeast Eye).


Navroz Mubarak

“Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz, Nevruz, Nooruz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowruz – this celebration of the arrival of spring is as rich in names as it is in traditions. No matter what name you call it by, this shared festivity has brought communities together across countries and regions for more than 3,000 years” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

Navroz Mubarak calligraphy Persian New Year by Karim Ismail
Navroz Mubarak in Eastern Kufi, © Karim Ismail, Toronto.

My daughter Nurin joins me in wishing all our readers as well as everyone around the world NAVROZ MUBARAK. In a sense, we convey this greeting through the beautiful calligraphic rendition shown above that was designed for 2021 by Toronto’s artist Karim Ismail. We thank him for his permission to reproduce his designs on Simerg and its sister websites.

We sincerely hope and pray that the crushing burden of the pandemic that we have lived through for the past 12 months eases, and that life begins to return to normal in the coming weeks and months, as more and more people around the world are vaccinated against Covid-19. However, we must continue to remain alert, and follow the guidelines given by our respective health authorities to avoid spikes in the number of coronavirus illnesses.

Navroz, Nawruz, Norooz, Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz Mubarak!

Nevruz, Noroz, Nooruz, Novruz, Nowrouz Mubarak!

Date posted: March 20, 2021.


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

The Magnificent Shahnameh, “The Book of Kings,” and a Note on Aga Khan Museum’s New Exhibit REMASTERED

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

“I would take my students on a field trip to Toronto to see this miracle of miniature painting, one that continues to fascinate when greatly magnified. It features extraordinary details of flora and fauna, as well as a rainbow coalition of human beings from every continent and culture, much as one sees on the streets of Toronto.” — Gary Tinterow, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on the Shahnameh Folio ‘Court of Gayumars’ at the Aga Khan Museum

When I first started learning English upon my arrival in the early 1960’s in Dar es Salaam from Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, where I had received instructions in Portuguese at my primary school, in Gujarati at today’s equivalent of Baitul Ilm classes, and spoke Hindi at home, my dad presented me with a hardback version of the story of Rustum (or Rustam) and Sohrab (Suhrab). It was a large print book with beautiful illustrations. However, it was also story of tragedy. Rustum had been separated from his princess (Tahmina) for a long time, and did not know that he had a son named Sohrab from her. Several years later, the father and his son met on one to one combat on opposing sides, where Rustum wrestled Sohrab to the ground and fatally injured him. Rustum, to his horror, realised the truth when he saw his own arm bracelet on Sohrab, which he had given to Tahmina many years before and which she had in turn given to Sohrab before the battle, in the hope that it might protect him.

Little did I know then, that this was a story from Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, written by Ferdowsi, now some 1030 years ago.

Rustam and Shorab, Shahnameh,
The hero Rustam was unaware that he had a son, Suhrab, by Princess Tahmina. It came to pass that the two met in battle, fighting on opposing sides. They struggled in single combat until Rustum stabbed Suhrab fatally. Rustum realized that he had slain his own son when he saw Suhrab’s arm bracelet, which he himself had given to Tahmina many years before. Tahmina had given it to Suhrab before the battle, hoping it would protect him. Photo: Wikipedia, CCO 1.0 Public Domain.

The illustration from the book, which my beloved late father Jehangir Merchant had given me, of a father standing above his son, whom he has just mistakenly killed in a combat, is one of the most powerful and saddest images I have seen in storytelling. The folio of the father and son in tragic combat that is shown above is from the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Aga Khan Museum Remastered Exhibition Shahnameh and more
Remastered at Aga Khan Museum until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant /Simerg

The Aga Khan Museum does not have any folios from the Shahnameh depicting this specific battle scene, but some other outstanding loose folios from the Shahnameh form part of a new exhibition under the theme REMASTERED in the museum’s upper gallery (running until March 21, 2021). In addition, the permanent collection on the main floor of the museum contains other magnificent folios from a number of illustrated manuscripts of the Shahnameh that were produced during the 13th-16th centuries. These folios are located just at the right of the Wagner carpet exhibit.

Missing from display, at the moment, is what is considered to be one of the finest folios from the Shahnameh, called The Court of Gayumars. Apollo Magazine, in its issue dated August 29, 2018 recommended the Gayumars as “one of the pieces that every school kid in the USA needs to see.” Writing for the issue, Gary Tinterow, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, stated:

“I would take my students on a field trip to Toronto to see this miracle of miniature painting, one that continues to fascinate when greatly magnified. It features extraordinary details of flora and fauna, as well as a rainbow coalition of human beings from every continent and culture, much as one sees on the streets of Toronto.” He has also recommended that when the folio is exhibited, it should contain a little bit of commentary.

And speaking of the new REMASTERED exhibition itself, Ulrike al-Khamis, the acting Director and CEO of the Aga Khan Museum, in a recent press release stated: “We have created one of the most innovative showcases of Islamic manuscript paintings ever to have been assembled. Remastered invites viewers to immerse themselves in the beauty of some of the most impressive masterpieces in the Islamic tradition and find new meaning in centuries-old stories of heroism, love and principled living.”

Remastered at Aga Khan Museum
Aga Khan Museum’s introduction to the new Remastered Exhibition, on until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A view of the Remastered Exhibition that runs on the second floor of the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto until March 21, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A display at the Remastered exhibition which was launched recently at the Aga Khan Museum, and continues to March 21, 2021. Here the jackal Dimneh is brought before the Lion-King and his mother. Illustration from a manuscript of Anvar-i Suhaili, Iran 1593. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Over the coming weeks, we plan to publish special features on the folios in the Remastered exhibition that powerfully present tales of courage, stories of the heart, and exemplary living or model life, along with their corresponding digitally engaging panels prepared by Ryerson University library that offer new ways of understanding the manuscripts.

Ferdowsi is everything we expect of a great poet…, for he teaches us both what people are and what they should become” — Federico Mayor

The focus of this post is on the Shahnameh, which forms an integral and important component of Remastered. What is the Shahnameh and who was Ferdowsi? Of course, readers will find many resources on the internet but I have come across a fantastic address delivered by UNESCOS’s former Director General, Federico Mayor in 1990 on the 1000th anniversary of the completion of the Book of Kings. His piece, below, is a must read.

Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh: The Book of Kings

Court of Gayumars, Shahnameh, Aga Khan Museum, Firdawsi Book of Kings, Persian Poet
An image of folio Court of Gayumar from Firdawsi’s Book of Kings. This page is considered as one of the most exquisite pieces in the Aga Khan Museum collection, and has been recommended as one that every student must be taken to see. Photo: The Aga Khan Museum.

“The ‘intellect’, which Ferdowsi calls Kherad, demands more than ‘intelligence’ in the common meaning of the term: it includes the ability to perceive good, a deep-seated and generous wisdom and a serenity that comes from balance and self-control. The concept of Kherad runs through the entire book, being at one and the same time its dominant theme, the spirit that animates it and the good it extols” — Federico Mayor


The following article has been adapted from an address delivered in Tehran on December 22, 1990 by Mr Federico Mayor, to mark the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript of the Book of Kings (the Shanameh by Firdausi). At the time, Mr. Mayor was the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Mr. Mayor’s complete address can be read at the organization’s website HERE.

‘Be Name Khodavande Jano Kherad’ (‘In the name of the Lord of the soul and of wisdom’). These majestic words open the Shahnameh, The Book of Kings, that monument of universal literature. And as I read on I discover, immediately after the glorification of the Creator, a passage on this second page that forces me to stop, taken aback with amazement, wonder and near disbelief: the words before me sing the praises of intelligence!

Can it really be that a thousand years ago, an Iranian poet was exalting above all else the process of thought based on knowledge? And he did it with such conviction and felicitous expression that he cannot fail to convince:

‘The intellect is the greatest of all the gifts of God…It is the source of your joys and your sorrows, of ‘your profits and your losses…It is the guardian of the soul, and to it is thanksgiving due’. “

At that instant, I knew I had come across a work and a man of exceptional qualities. This ‘intellect’, which Ferdowsi calls Kherad, demands more than ‘intelligence’ in the common meaning of the term: it includes the ability to perceive good, a deep-seated and generous wisdom and a serenity that comes from balance and self-control. The concept of Kherad runs through the entire book, being at one and the same time its dominant theme, the spirit that animates it and the good it extols.

“Can it really be that a thousand years ago, an Iranian poet was exalting above all else the process of thought based on knowledge? And he did it with such conviction and felicitous expression that he cannot fail to convince” — Federico Mayor

There are few books in the world and in history that have become, like The Book of Kings, an expression of national identity. Ferdowsi’s poem is both the reflection and the leaven of a culture that is in many respects reconciled with itself.

In terms of language, it forms a reservoir, an encyclopaedia of inexhaustible wealth. In terms of historical perspective, it reconciles past and present. In terms of historical perspective, reconciles past and present, integrating in a unified culture the pre-Islamic tradition and the contributions of Islam; that is an achievement whose importance is not perhaps sufficiently appreciated, for the resulting fusion, with its creative repercussions, was to prove most prolific.

Lastly, in terms of literary genre, it is an epic that blends in a single creation the true and the legendary, the observable and the imaginary. Ferdowsi reconciles history and myth, resembling at one moment Herodotus and at the next Homer. As a historian, he relates an episode with the same fervour and magical inspiration as if it were a tale; as a mythologist, he describes an adventure with the same precision and concern for details as if it were drawn from real life.

Ferdowsi thus bequeathed to his country a heritage that has been transmitted from one generation to the next in all its vitality. There are few civilizations in which a poetic work has become so ‘popular’, that is to say both widely known and deeply loved.

Let me say how much I regret that my ignorance of your language prevents me from savouring in full the subtlety of these lines, their majesty and their secret music.

“The 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript continues a long-standing tradition whereby, ever since the death of the poet, scholars have attempted to make amends for the ingratitude of the Sultan to whom Ferdowsi offered this treasure and who failed to appreciate its true value” — Federico Mayor

But even when translated Ferdowsi’s poetry preserves an inimitable charm. The Book of Kings, which was translated into Arabic in the 12th century of the Christian Era, has been avidly read, studied and commented on. Historians, linguists, poets, writers, painters and miniaturists have used it as the source material for the work of several lifetimes. Jules Mohl translated it in its entirety into French in the 19th century, and thanks should be rendered to him for devoting 30 years of his life to the translation of the 60,000 verses that Ferdowsi had spent 30 years perfecting 800 years before.

The task was so tremendous that not all the volumes were published until two years after the translator’s death. Mohl has been the benefactor of countless scholars in Western Europe — he has enabled them to discover one of the summits of world literature.

0n 11 February 1850 the French writer, Sainte-Beuve, in one of his Causeries du lundi (Monday conversations), urged the resumption of publication by the Imprimerie rationale (national publishing house) of what he called ‘the magnificent book’. Stressing the popularity of the work in Iran, he enthusiastically presented the author, his themes and a few episodes, based on his reading of Jules Mohl. His enthusiasm proved to be contagious: the English poet, critic and essayist, Matthew Arnold, became immersed in all the available historical and geographical works on Persia, reread the Iliad, and in 1853 published a splendid poem entitled Sohrab and Rustum, relating the tragic episode of the hero’s killing of his son on the field of battle. A complete translation into English of The Book of Kings was published in 1925; the translation was an enormous task that had been carried out by two brothers, Arthur and Edmund Warner.

Shahnameh Book of Kings Gallery Aga Khan Museum near Wagner Garden
A view of the Aga Khan Museum’s folios from manuscripts of Shahnameh, The Books of Kings, that were produced between 13th-16h centuries. At the near end is the famous Wagner Carpet depicting “Islamic Garden of Eternal Bliss.” Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

In Germany, the great lyrical poet and orientalist Friedrich Rückert translated the tragedy of Rustum and Sohrab, at the beginning of the 19th century. Another German poet, Schack, translated the entire epic part of the work, the translation being published in 1853. Complete translations of The Book of Kings exist today in all the widely spoken languages, and numerous translations of extracts exist in some 40 languages.

The 1000th anniversary of the completion of the manuscript continues a long-standing tradition whereby, ever since the death of the poet, scholars have attempted to make amends for the ingratitude of the Sultan to whom Ferdowsi offered this treasure and who failed to appreciate its true value.

And today here, in this hall that bears the poet’s name, we ourselves have now come together from the four corners of the world, to carry on and give new impetus to that tradition. But what is it in The Book of Kings that draws us together, captivates our hearts and enables its author to triumph over both time and place?

0f many outstanding passages in the work, one might mention the meeting of the hero Rustum and his son Sohrab, a beautiful and poignant story of two beings related by blood and brought by destiny to a fatal confrontation. Following in the footsteps of Sophocles, who gave voice to the sufferings experienced by Oedipus when he had murdered his father and then married his mother, Ferdowsi paints the picture of Rustum discovering that he has just killed his own son. This is a perfect example of what Aristotle meant by ‘tragedy’: it is a story that arouses in us feelings of both pity and horror, for Rustum, during the three days of the duel between them, has come to admire the qualities of his adversary — agility, intelligence in combat, nobility and chivalry.

On several occasions, father and son are on the point of recognizing one another; their speeches are tinged with admiration and tenderness, but Fate will not be cheated. When Sohrab dies under Rustum’s blows and Rustum discovers the identity of his victim all Ferdowsi’s readers shudder; all are fathers who have just killed their sons. We can see why this great tragic theme has attracted the attention of poets of all periods and civilizations: the feelings to which it gives rise are common to all times and all countries.

In celebration of the millennium of Ferdowsi’s birth a solemn tribute was paid to him at the Sorbonne, where French poets emphasized the lesson of wisdom he dispensed:

‘This poet is not only an enchanter: he is a scholar; he is not only a scholar: he is a sage. While our heads are still humming with all the wonders he has filled them with our spirits retain the lessons he has given us. Even when the enchantment of his tale fades and we fall back into the normal world from the fairyland into which he had carried us we are not disoriented: on the contrary, the poet deposits us on a well-marked road with a sturdy staff in our hand. Ferdowsi is everything we expect of a great poet…, for he teaches us both what people are and what they should become’.

The Book of Kings is indeed studded with precepts, and it is not uncommon for an episode to be accompanied, in the same enchanting style, by a moral for the reader’s edification.

“the characteristic of Ferdowsi by which he appears eminently modern to us is without doubt, first of all, his faith in the ability of people to rise above hostility, contempt, suspicion and hatred by an impulse of fellow feeling and compassion” — Federico Mayor

Statue of Ferdowsi in Tus,_Iran
Statue of Ferdowsi in Tus, Iran. Photo: Wikipidea / CC by 4.0.

Princes, for example, are exhorted to be humble, in a concept of power in which the notion of ‘service’ predominates. ‘When you become a sovereign,’ says Ferdowsi, ‘behave as a humble servant’. Addressing the mighty, the poet reminds them of the ephemeral nature of all things, like the slave who, in ancient Rome, had to accompany the victor on his triumphal chariot and whisper to him from time to time: Memento quia pulvis es (‘Remember that thou art but dust’). Nevertheless, the characteristic of Ferdowsi by which he appears eminently modern to us is without doubt, first of all, his faith in the ability of people to rise above hostility, contempt, suspicion and hatred by an impulse of fellow feeling and compassion. The French poet Lamartine, moved by the moral qualities with which Ferdowsi endows his heroes, wrote of them: ‘They are more than kings, for kings reign only for a time — and these heroes reign over the future’.

In The Book of Kings there are many colourful battle scenes, but they never glorify vanity nor the thirst for violence. On the contrary, Ferdowsi depicts in them the absurdity of conflict and struggle. We have seen the pain in which the duel between Rustum and Sohrab ends. Elsewhere, Alexander the Great goes to the bedside of his mortally wounded enemy, Darius III. Moved by compassion, he swears to the dying man that he will re-establish peace between the Persians and the Greeks, and when Darius is dead, he organizes his funeral with great ceremonial. In another scene Isfendyar, mortally wounded by Rustum, sees in a flash that his killer is only the instrument of fate and is not truly responsible for his death. Before dying therefore, he entrusts to him the education of his son, Bahman.

Ferdowsi shows his respect for and appreciation of others, with their different religious, ethnic and social backgrounds. Would it not be worth while to relay and amplify this message Asia has passed on to the world down the centuries?

Shahnameh gallery Aga Khan Museum, Simerg
Another view of the Shahnameh folios on the main floor of the Aga Khan Museum. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

I personally think that The Book of Kings should be distributed as widely as possible. This work is not only part of the human heritage but can also help men and women of the 20th century — what am I saying, the 21st century — to improve and to live in greater peace with themselves and with others. I would in particular want to see it brought to the knowledge of young people throughout  the world.  By exposing young people to the humanism  of Ferdowsi we sow the seeds of wisdom in the minds of those who will forge the future.

‘It is through peace that men achieve happiness’, said Ferdowsi, ‘may those who preach war vanish from our midst’.

Peace, not violence. Temperance, not excess. Mercy, not cruelty. Remember the passage in which the young Iredj sets out in a spirit of peace and wisdom to find his brothers, whose evil designs are known to him. When one of them hits him in anger and is about to kill him Iredj says to him gently ‘Have you no fear of God or pity for our father?…What? You are alive and you want to take the life of another? How can you reconcile these two things? Harm not an ant that is dragging a grain of wheat, for it is alive, and life is sweet and good’ .

This love of life is love of one’s fellow, of all others. Ferdawsi, the Persian national poet, is not a chauvinistic poet. This is why the Arabs, the Turks and the Indians have adopted Ferdawsi, translating him into their languages. He is becoming universal, he belongs to everyone. That is what makes Ferdowsi an inspired forerunner of today’s world, in which the spirit of war may be vanquished only by the spirit of tolerance and in which it is UNESCO’s task to ensure that peoples achieve a better understanding of each other through an ever-deeper knowledge of their respective cultures, which represent their most precious heritage.

Indeed, it was with lines by Ferdowsi that Mr Golan Ali Raadi, the then Chairman of the Executive Board, welcomed the ceremonial inauguration of UNESCO Headquarters on 3 November, 1958:

‘The best-constructed buildings crumble under
the action of the rain and burning sun,
But neither wind nor rain shall have any hold
on the monument my verse has built.’

Just as Ferdowsi’s words are in striking accord with the intention of UNESCO’s founders, so I hope that the Organization will pursue its action in accordance with the ideals that inspired the poet: a sense of honour and human dignity, a demand for justice in the exercise of power, tolerance, compassion for the weak and the vanquished, serenity and wisdom — in a word, Kherad.

Date posted: November 15, 2020.


Federico Mayor Zaragoza
Federico Mayor. Wikipedia CC BY 2.0

Federico Mayor Zaragoza (born 27 January 1934 in Barcelona) is a Spanish scientist, scholar, politician, diplomat, and poet. He served as director-general of UNESCO from 1987 to 1999. He is currently the chairman of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and member of the Honorary Board of the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World as well as the honorary chairman of the Académie de la Paix. According to 1995 issue of the Ismaili magazine, during his tenure as UNESCO’s Director General, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was invited to address a full session of its Executive Board, which met at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Mr. Mayor paid tribute to the Aga Khan Development Network’s success in building capacity and empowering people — especially women — to manage their own development according to local models that respect the diversity of needs and resources. (Profile excerpted from Wikipedia and the Ismaili, 1995).

Please click on and Toronto Star to read reviews of Aga Khan Museum’s new exhibition Remastered (on until March 21, 2021). Please also visit the Aga Khan Museum website for the latest information and details about visiting the museum — it is open Thursday-Sunday, with a pay as you wish entrance.

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.

Beautiful recitations of the 16th century Ginan "Navroz na din Sohamna," and composer Sayyid Fatehali Shah's fervent search and illuminating meeting with his Spiritual Master, the Imam of the Time

Conceived and created by Ottawa’s Dr. Nurin Merchant, this Navroz greeting incorporates the rose and jasmine flowers which are extremely popular in Iran during the celebration of Navroz. The base of the picture shows shoots of wheat grass signifying robust evergreen health throughout the year.

Abstract: Two beautiful recitations of the Navroz Ginan by Shamshudin Bandali Haji and Mumtaz Bhulji followed by an explanation by Sadruddin Hassam. In the Ginan, Sayyid Fatehali Shah relates the combined experience of the zahiri deedar (exoteric or physical glimpse or meeting) that he was granted by the 45th Ismaili Imam, Shah Khalilullah (peace be on him), and the inner joy of contentment and ecstasy that he experienced with the bestowal of Noorani (spiritual or esoteric) grace.

Were it not for the shutting down of Jamatkhanas because of the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of thousands of Ismailis around the world would be making their preparations for the Navroz celebrations in their respective Jamatkhanas on Saturday, March 21, 2020. The beautiful occasion of Navroz generates immense happiness and makes our hearts jump with joy as we receive blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam together with roji and Ab-e-Shifa.

Included in the Navroz Jamatkhana ceremonies, is the recitation of selected verses of the traditional Navroz Ginan and verses from Qasidas.

We once again provide an explanation of the Ginan that many readers have read over and over again but still like to return to it because of its significance in the context of a murid’s yearning to be close to the Imam of the Time. We are pleased to include a full recitation of the Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji of Edmonton as well as a shorter recitation by Mumtaz Bhulji. At the beginning of his powerful recitation, Alwaez Shamshu Haji has incorrectly attributed the Ginan to Pir Shams. This misunderstanding is clarified in the piece on Navroz by Sadruddin Hassam that is produced below.

Navroz Ginan recitation by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Recitation of Navroz Ginan by Late Shamshudin Bandali Haji


Navroz Ginan recitation of selected verses by Mumtaz Bhulji

Recitation of selected verses of Navroz Ginan by Mumtaz Bhulji

These 2 recitations have been retrieved from University of Saskatchwan’s Library webportal Ginan Central. Click on the link, and you will be able to hear many more recitations of the same Ginan by other Ismaili members of the Jamat.


Explanation of Navroz Ginan



An attempt is made in this article to give an interpretation of the devotional Ginan Navroz na din Sohamna, which is recited by Ismaili Jamats in many parts of the world on the occasion of the celebration of the Persian New Year which falls on March 21st. In this ginan the composer, Sayyid Fatehali Shah, relates the combined experience of the zahiri deedar (exoteric or physical glimpse or meeting) that he was granted by the 45th Ismaili Imam, Shah Khalilullah (peace be on him), and the inner joy of contentment and ecstasy that he experienced with the bestowal of Noorani (spiritual or esoteric) grace. At the same time, he gently persuades the mu’min (a believer) to always strive for esoteric understanding as well as to develop a lasting spiritual relationship with the Imam of the Time. It may be noted that in Shia Imami Ismaili theology each Imam is the bearer of the same Divine Light (Noor). The Divine Institution of Imamat has its origins in the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Ali (peace be on him), who was declared as the successor to Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) at the famous historical event at Ghadir-e-Khumm.

As the composer has to narrate the exoteric experience as well as the ineffable esoteric relationship, the ginanic diction that he uses has to resort to the traditional and familiar imagery and symbolic expressions in order to convey his message. The words, the imagery and the symbolic expressions, however, blend beautifully in this ginan. This beauty, unfortunately, cannot be recreated in this prosaic interpretation. Nor can we go into the prosody of the ginan.

In this reading we shall first address a common held misunderstanding about the identity of the composer. We shall then make an attempt to describe the exoteric experience of the composer’s meeting with the Imam, as so wonderfully narrated in the ginan, and finally we shall examine and interpret some of the key words and expressions to convey the ineffable spiritual experience as well as the composer’s gentle persuasion to the mu’mins. One hopes that this brief reading will heighten the reader’s appreciation and understanding of this ginan.


A clarification about the composer and the period of composition

The composition of this ginan is sometimes wrongly attributed to Pir Shams al-Din who lived more than four centuries before the actual composer of this ginan, Sayyid Fatehali Shah. This mistake may have arisen because of the pen-name he has used in the second line of the last verse which reads:

Bhane Shamsi tamme sambhro rookhi.

It was a normal practice for the composer to mention his own name in the concluding verses of the ginan. But Shamsi here does not refer to Pir Shams al-Din  – rather it was the pen-name of  Sayyid Fatehali Shah.

He, like a number of other Sayyids, who did the work of da’wa (propagation and teaching) in India, may have been a descendant of Pir Hassan Kabirdin. Sayyid Fatehali Shah himself preached among the communities in Sind. He eventually died there and was buried near Jerruk which is south of Hyderabad in Pakistan.

The first two lines in verse seven give us the clues as to the period when this ginan was composed as well as validate the real name of the composer. These lines read:

Eji gaddh Chakwa ne kille Shah Khalilullah ramme
Tiyaan Fatehali ne mayya karine bolaawiyya

Shah Khalilullah here refers to the forty-fifth Ismaili Imam, whose Imamat was from 1780 to 1817 A.C. He lived in Iran in the town of Mahallat, which is located approximately 362 kilometers from Tehran. The town is situated on the slope of a mountain. Mahallat is also amongst the most ancient residential areas in Iran and was an important base of the Ismailis; hence the many references to the 46th and 47th Imams (Aga Khan I and II) as Aga Khan Mahallati. Sayyids and murids of the Imam from various parts used to come to Mahallat to pay their respects. This ginan is therefore fairly recent, having been composed either towards the end of eighteenth century or early in the nineteenth century.

It appears that like many other murids, Sayyid Fatehali Shah travelled from Sind to Iran to meet Hazrat Imam Shah Khalilullah.

On arriving in Mahallat on the day of Navroz, he learns that the Imam has gone to the woods on a hunting expedition. The Sayyid naturally feels disappointed that having come all the way, he did not have the opportunity for the deedar. This feeling of sadness is lamented in the first stanza of the ginan. Despite this, there is an undercurrent of inner hope at the prospect of having the deedar by the mercy of the Imam.

The pangs of separation from the beloved and the yearning for reunion are a recurrent theme in Ismaili ginans and also in Sufi mystical poetry. In this ginan, there is the lament of this separation, but in keeping with the traditional ginanic function, there is also gentle persuasion and hope of spiritual union.

We shall now examine how Sayyid Fatehali Shah relates his zaheri deedar of the Imam and how this blends with his esoteric experience.


The meeting with the Imam of the Time in the woods and at the fort 

In the following four verses (1, 2, 3 and 7), Sayyid Shamsi relates his quest for the Master which leads to his meeting with Imam Shah Khalilullah. The meetings (deedar) fulfilled his intense yearning.


Eji Navroz na din sohamna,
Shah Ali Qayam shikaar ramwa vann gaya,
Sevak na mann thaya oodassi,
Praan Ali charne rahiya…..1

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

On a beautiful day of Navroz,
Imam-e-Zaman had gone to the woods to hunt.
(I) His murid (disciple) became sad at heart (for missing my Master),
as my soul was yearning to be at the feet of the Imam. (An expression of respect and – obedience to the Imam)….1

Navruz (Navroz – Gujrati variation) is a Persian word meaning ‘New Year’s Day’ (twenty-first March). This is the first day of spring, hence the day is beautiful (sohamna).
Shah Ali Qayam refers to Imam-e-Zaman (Imam of the Time) because Noor-e-Imama is everpresent (qayam).
Shikaar ramwa gaya  means ‘went hunting’ and vann means ‘woods.’
Sevak is ‘one who is ready to serve or obey,’ in this case a ‘disciple’ or a ‘murid.’
Praan means ‘inner life’ or ‘soul.’



Eji Shah Qayam preete jo chint baandhi
Nar ne preete amme vann gaya
Eva vann sohamna Nar Qayam ditha,
Dela dai devanta rahiya …..2

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Impatient because of my ardent and deep loving desire to meet the Imam,
I also went into the woods,
which in the presence of the Imam
unfolded like heavenly gates looking angelically beautiful….2

The expression preete jo chint baandhi literally means ‘with love when (one) focuses on the remembrance (dhikr).’
Dela dai devanta rahiya is an idiomatic expression implying ‘the unveiling of angelic (devanta) beauty with the opening of gates (dela).’ When the murid (devotee) searches inwards  for the murshid (master), spiritual insight keeps on unveiling the gates with ever-increasing beauty.



Eji bhalu thayu Saahebe soomat aali,
Shah Ali Qayam saathe ramwa amme vann gaya.
Anant aasha poori amaari
Shah dil bhaave gamya….3

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

It was a blessing that the Master inspired in me the wisdom
so that I went into the woods.
My intense yearning was fulfilled
because  true bliss had blossomed in my heart…..3

Saahebe soomat aali means ‘the Master inspired in me the wisdom.’
Anant asha poori amaari
means ‘my intense yearning (for deedar, both zahiri and batini) was fulfilled.’



Eji gaddh Chakwa ne kille Shah Khalilullah ramme,
Tiyaan Fatehaline mayya kari ne bolaawiya,
Anant aasha poori amaari
Neet Ali Noore oothiya….7

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Shah Khalilullah, pleasantly relaxing at the fortress in Chakwa,
graciously summoned me (Fatehali) in his presence;
then with the constant overflowing of His Noor,
fulfilled my many ardent wishes (for spiritual growth)….7

The expression Neet Ali Noore oothiya implies ‘the mystical experience of the overflowing of the Noorani Deedar of Ali (The Imam Eternal) which was granted (to him).’


The inner search and experience

In the remaining four verses (4, 5, 6 and 8 ) of the ginan, Sayyid Shamsi, touches upon his own inner yearnings and gently persuades the listener to seek out the spiritual vision through the love and grace of the spiritual lord.



Eji hette Alisu hirakh baandho,
Avichal ranga Sahebse girahiya,
Evi chint baandhi Nar Qayam saathe,
Sat bhandaar motiye bhariya….4

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

Be joyfully bound in the love of Ali
And attain the unfading spiritual color (the state of bliss) from the Master;
When my mind was bound to the Ever-Living Lord in contemplation
Reality adorned (the Soul) with priceless treasure of (Noorani) pearls….4

Avichal ranga Sahebse girahiya means ‘the permanent state of bliss from the Lord’ and refers to the nafs-i-mutmainna or ‘the contented self’ (Holy Qur’an, 89:27). It is a state of mind which is serene because the self has understood the Reality. The verse of the Holy Qur’an reads: But ah! thou soul at peace! (translated M. Pickthall).



Eji amme Saheb saathe sahel kidha,
Riddh siddhaj paamiya,
Ek mann ginan je saambhre
Aa jeev tena odhariya….5

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

I (Fatehali) relished the spiritual journey with the Master (the Imam),
and (as a result) I was blessed with spiritual elevation and gnosis (spiritual insight).
He who listens to the Ginans attentively (and strives for the contemplative knowledge),
his soul finds the path to salvation….5

Here the Sayyid implies that a mu’min should strive for the batini deedar (spiritual reality of the Imam). One may achieve this with the blessing of the Imam.



Eji jeev jiyaare joogat paame,
Praan popey ramm rahiya,
Agar chandan prem rasiya,
Hette hans sarowar zeeliya…..6

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

When the self understands reality,
the soul blends beautifully like a flower
and experiences musk and sandalwood-like fragrance.
The self floats in ecstasy of love as a swan swims in a lake….6

This verse contains symbolic expressions and imagery to convey the ineffable serenity and the inner joy of the fortunate one who has been graced with the the batini (esoteric) experience. The life of such a person becomes beautiful like a flower.

The fragrance of musk (agar) and sandalwood (chandan) symbolizes good behavior of the gifted one through speech and good deeds.

The swan (hans) represents the soul that is pure. Through esoteric and ecstatic experiences it remains liberated and is in abiding love for the beloved.



Eji bhai re moman tamey bhaave araadho,
Bhane Shamsi tamey saambhro rookhi,
Saaheb na goon nahi wisaare,
Tena praan nahi thashe dookhi….8

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

O momin brothers! With deep affection remember the Lord.
Take heed and listen to what Shamsi says:
“They who do not forget the batin of the Imam (realizable through Imam’s grace),
their souls will never ever be miserable or unhappy”…..8

Sayyid Shamsi gently reminds his momin brothers (rookhi) always to remember the Lord with affection. Here, rookhi is probably the intimate form of the word rikhisar which is used in the ginans to refer to mu’min brothers. The word has been used thus to rhyme with the last word of the stanza dookhi (miserable).

The last two lines are to remind us not to forget the batin of the Imam but to strive towards it through regular prayers. Those who carry out these responsibilities with dedication and devotion can never  be unhappy whatever the worldly life might impose upon them. Thus the souls of the true mu’mins will always be at peace within themselves, knowing that they are under the protection and guidance of a living manifest Imam.

“Remember the Day when we will summon all human beings with their Imam. …” – The Holy Qur’an 17:71

From the above discourse, we can see why the ginan is appropriate for the occasion of  Navroz, which marks the commencement of a new year. The glorious transformation of nature in spring reminds us of the creative power of Allah, who continually showers His bounties for us. Thus, the festival of Navroz should effect a spiritual renewal in each one of us. It should inspire greater love for Imam-e-Zaman as is enjoined upon us by Allah and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).

This Navroz ginan by Sayyid Fatehali Shah reminds us of our spiritual obligations for continuous search for enlightenment through the Ta’alim (teachings and guidance) of the Imam of the time.

Date posted: March 19, 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.


This reading has been adapted by Simerg from the original article, “Eji Navroz Na Din Sohamna – An Interpretation,” by Sadrudin K. Hassam, which appeared in Ilm, Volume 9, Number 2, (March 1985).

The Avicenna Fragment: Translation of Parts of Canon of Medicine is Found in 16th Century Irish Book Binding

Finding Reveals Connection Between Gaelic Ireland and Islamic Worlds

The Avicenna Fragment is an Irish translation of parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back in the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sina (980–1037), better known as Avicenna, who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland. University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of a small Latin manual printed in London in 1534/1536. However it was not the book’s content that Professor Macháin was interested in but the binding which contained the fragment. The above image is a digitised version of the binding that was opened out after the binding was removed from the manuscript with the permission of the owners.


The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure” — Professor Macháin

A previously undiscovered 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, reveals an enchanting connection between Gaelic Ireland and the Islamic world, and illustrates how medieval Ireland was once at the centre of medical scholarship in the world.  University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of an early printed book, with an exciting connection to medieval Irish learning.

A 15th-century discovery in a 16th-century book

The book, a pocket-sized Latin manual of local administration, was printed in London in 1534/1536 and had been in the family’s possession since that time. What was of interest to Prof. Ó Macháin was the binding of the book. This consisted of a sheet, full of text in Irish, cut from a 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, that had been trimmed and folded and stitched to the spine of the printed book to form a sturdy binding.

“The use of parchment cut from old manuscripts as a binding for later books is not unusual in the European tradition,” says Ó Macháin, “but this is the first time that a case has come to light of such a clear example of the practice in a Gaelic context.” From photographs of the binding supplied by the owners, Prof. Ó Macháin established that the Irish text was a medical one. “A quarter of what survives of late-medieval manuscripts in the Irish language is medical in content,” says Ó Macháin, ‘an indication of the practical purpose of these books in Ireland of the time.”

The identity of the text was established immediately by Ó Macháin’s collaborator of many years, Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the only living expert on medieval Irish medicine. It is a fragment of a translation into Irish — previously unrecorded — of the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sena (980–1037), also known as Avicenna, considered one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age.

The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland

The ‘Canon of Medicine’ was a great medical encyclopedia which, through translation into Latin (from which the Irish text itself is translated), achieved great popularity in Europe, where state-of-the-art medical theory and practice in medieval times had their origins in the Muslim world. The Irish fragment contains parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland.

Medical scholarship in medieval Gaelic Ireland was on a par with that practised on the Continent and was the most outward-looking of all the native branches of learning. There is evidence of Irish scholars travelling to European medical schools, and bringing their learning back to the medical schools of Ireland.

Because of the importance of the manuscript fragment to the history of Irish learning and medicine, the owners agreed that the binding should be removed from the book by John Gillis of TCD, opened out and digitised under the supervision of Prof. Ó Macháin to whom they entrusted the book, and a new binding provided. This was completed and ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ is now available for viewing on the Irish Script on Screen website. 

The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure,” says Ó Macháin, “one of those occasions when many people, not least the owners of the book, were working together towards a common purpose for the cause of pure learning. It was a pleasure to have been able to make it happen and to have been part of it.”

Following the discovery, a public seminar on ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ and on aspects of Gaelic medieval medicine was hosted by University College Cork on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

Date posted: April 23, 2019.


CREDIT: This piece was reproduced from the website of the University of Cork, Ireland, with the University’s permission. The original piece can be read by clicking on

NASA’s OPPORTUNITY Rover Mission Studied Martian Surface and Named a Few Targets to Honour Navroz

The following piece has been adapted from the NASA website; see notes [1] and [2] for links

One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s OPPORTUNITY rover mission came to an end in February 2019 after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The OPPORTUNITY rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive OPPORTUNITY in February 2019, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as OPPORTUNITY that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.” And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of OPPORTUNITY, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), the rover vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

This image taken by the panoramic camera aboard the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows the rover’s empty lander, the Challenger Memorial Station, at Meridiani Planum, Mars. The image was acquired on the rover’s 24 sol, or Martian day. Time. This mosaic image consists of 12 color images acquired with the camera’s red, green and blue filters. The color balance has been set to approximate the colors that a human eye would see. Opportunity is celebrating its seventh anniversary on the Red Planet, having landed on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (Jan. 24, Pacific Time), for what was to be a 90-day mission. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

During one of its drives on the surface,  the rover examined  soil targets that were designated as “Mobarak” in honor of Persian New Year for a period of 3 sols between March 25 – March 27, 2005. (The term sol is used by planetary astronomers to refer to the duration of a solar day on Mars. A mean Martian solar day, or “sol”, is 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.244 seconds).

OPPORTUNITY had its head down in a trough trying to figure out what the trough soil is made of. Two days later, the rover studied two other targets, “Norooz” and “Mayberooz,” again studying the soil properties. 

It may be of interest to note that several craters on the moon are named after famous Muslim scientists including  Fatimid astronomers Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) and Ibn Yunus, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and the Alamut scholar Nasir al-Din al-Tusi.

Excerpts from NASA

Sol-by-sol summaries: Sols 415 to 417 (March 25-27, 2005):

Zeroing in on a soil target called “Mobarak” in honor of Persian New Year, Opportunity has had its head down in a trough for three sols trying to figure out what the trough soil is made of. During an observation like this, it uses all of its in-situ instruments taking microscopic images, alpha particle X-ray spectrometer readings and Moessbauer spectrometer readings. 

Sol 418:

After Opportunity had looked at the soil in the trough, it was time to examine the soil at the top of the ripple. The rover planners perfectly executed a 7-meter (23-foot) drive that placed the rover right at the top of the ripple. Opportunity deployed its arm once again and inspected the soil. 

Sols 419 and 420:

Here, Opportunity has the chance to look at two targets, “Norooz” and “Mayberooz,” again studying the soil properties.

Date posted: March 21, 2019.




The Inferno of Alamut in the year 1256

A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: © Copyright Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada..

The recent CNN photo piece On the trail of Iran’s ‘Assassins’ in the Alborz Mountains has stirred an immense amount of interest on the subject of Alamut and the Ismaili community that for more than 150 years protected itself from its enemies by securing fortresses like Alamut in Iran and Syria.

In a high powered and moving poem penned originally for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There, Shariffa Keshavjee reminds all our readers about the tragedy that took place in Alamut nearly 800 years ago when the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan had declared his intention to destroy the Ismailis with the following chilling words, “None of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.”

The context of Shariffa’s poem can further be appreciated through the following 2 excerpts taken from recent non-Ismaili sources.

1. In his extraordinary historical fictional book Samarkand relating to the turbulent history of Iran from the 11th to the 20th century, which was partially inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubayat, the award winning French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf writes:

“He [the Mongol officer] was carrying a torch in his hand and to show [the historian – Juvayni] just how much in a hurry he was, he placed it next to a pile of dusty scrolls. The historian gave in and gathered into his hands and upto his armpits as many [manuscripts] as he could grab and when a manuscript entitled Eternal Secrets of Stars and Numbers fell to the ground, he did not bend over to pick it up again.

“Thus it was that the Assassins’ library burnt for seven days and seven nights causing the loss of innumerable works, of which there was no copy remaining, and which are supposed to contain the best guarded secrets of the universe.”

2. The online website offers the following description:

“The Mongol leader [Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan] journeyed himself to the citadel in 1256 and ordered everything to be destroyed, including the famous library. Among the precious writings that disappeared were the works of Hasan himself and the complete history of the Assassins and their doctrines. But just before the burning he allowed his historian Juvainy (who was writing a biography of the Mongol prince) to enter the library and bring out a few of the books, enough as would fit into a small wheelbarrow. No time was allowed to consider the matter.

“Juvainy hurriedly saved a few Qurans, a chronicle of Alamut and a biography of Hasan Sabbah. Everything else perished in the flames. The vast library filled with….hundreds of thousands of manuscripts burned for seven days and seven nights bringing to an end the history of the Ismailis of Alamut. Over the years, knowledge of the Ismailis degenerated into misunderstandings, romances and other fanciful nonsenses such as those popularised by the explorer Marco Polo.”


Inferno of Alamut


I often go back in my mind
To a time when giant forts dwarfed
Our human form
But great minds soared
Soared about the forts of Alamut
Where great minds thought
The scribes told wonders
Of the worlds of new continent
New passages in the oceans
Of search for truth.

I often go back in my mind
To the pain of persecution
The fear of the self
Above all the anguish
The anguish of lost knowledge
Beautifully bound skillfully crafted
Books of great knowledge
Of mathematics and cartography
Of mystical passion for the divine
The deep yearning

I often go back in my mind to the
Night the books were burnt
The pages curled in fires of doom
The ink evaporates
Loving  thoughts of seers  up in smoke
Parchments and tomes flung into
Feeding the bonfire of lost knowledge
What the mind perceived
What the pen had scribed
Was gone for ever

The smoke rises over
Over the fort
The charred air rises
The effort to stop in vain
The scream of anguish
Stuck in the throat
As the gaze falls upon
The lost knowledge of Alamut
The human form dwarfed

In its inability to act.

This however is renaissance
Where time and knowledge
Laid at the feet of the Master
Not sepulchered in the fort
But given birth by the vision
No longer subjugated
Free to search  into cyberspace
Following vision without boundaries
Reaching over mountains across seas
Reaching heights

Unthought of in the sojourn in Alamut.

Date posted: February 8, 2019.


Shariffa Keshavjee is a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. She is the founding member and director of the Hawkers Market School and the Kigera Girl Guides Centre which provide educational opportunities for destitute girls in the country’s slums. Her Hawkers Market Girls Centre has been the recipient of the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2004 in which the centre was given $85,000. In addition, she is also the founding member of FONA (Friends of the Nairobi Arboretum) which is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s forest and preserved arboreta. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.