An Ethereal Journey to a Sacred Space in the Pandemic

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

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

By ZAHER MEGHJI AHAMED

Headquarters Jamatkhana Vancouver. Photo: FNDA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spaces created in Jamatkhanas for prayer are sacred spaces!

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

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

What else are we witnessing during the pandemic?

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: November 20, 2020.

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Zaher Ahamed

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

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

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

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

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

By 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.

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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 Toronto.com 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.

His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah: Download Our Book and Listen to an Audio

November 2, 2020 marks the 143rd birth anniversary of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, the 48th hereditary Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. We invite you to download our marvellous publication “The Imam of the Socio-Economic Revolution” which is bundled with plenty of inspiring and informative stories, articles and unique points of view. Please click HERE to download the book, and listen to the following presentation of a small piece from the book.

Audio Reading: The Face of Imamat

A short reading on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan

For the full version of this post, including a transcript of the audio, please click on Barakah.

Date posted: November 2, 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.

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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.

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Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad on the Pumpkin, as the Aga Khan Museum Uses it to Decorate its Courtyard

By MALIK MERCHANT
Editor/Publisher SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

The Aga Khan Museum is one of the few museums in Toronto that has been able to implement Covid-19 protocols and make the museum safe for its visitors. The visiting times were revised this past week, and it is now open from Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

In recent weeks, Simerg and its sister websites have produced a superb collection of photos of the Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, which divides the two magnificent buildings. Readers have been uplifted to see the photos of the 3 magnificent projects, built by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, under the full moon, crescent moon, as well as at the peak of the autumn foliage season.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard Pumpkin Decoration Simerg Malik Merchant
Aga Khan Museum Toronto Courtyard decorated with pumpkins. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

On a fine day, there is no better place in the museum than to be sitting in its open air courtyard, while enjoying a delicious cup of latte.

October 23, 2020 was one such day. It actually felt like summer, with blue skies and very warm temperatures. The magnificent courtyard was a perfect place for my morning coffee as well as a late breakfast — an egg salad croissant, slightly grilled. I was thrilled to enter the courtyard, and noticed pumpkin decorations in one corner of the courtyard. Of course, pumpkins are to be seen everywhere at this time of the year. It is one of the most popular desserts served during Thanksgiving holidays in Canada (October 12, 2020) and the USA (November 26, 2020), and I wondered how the food was viewed in Islam. My little bit of research led me to numerous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) on the pumpkin, and I am delighted to post adaptations of some that I read.

“I saw the Prophet being served with soup and containing gourd (pumpkin or squash) and cured meat, and I saw him picking and eating the pieces of gourd.” — Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Number 348.

It is related that a sailor once invited Prophet Muhammad to eat some food that he had prepared. Anas bin Malik who accompanied the Prophet, noted that the Prophet was served barley bread and a soup with pumpkin in it. The Prophet keenly ate the pumpkin around the dish, and from that day Anas made it his favourite food. Traditions also note that whenever a a dish of bread, meat and broth was presented to the Prophet and it contained pumpkin, the Prophet would pick up the pumpkin because he really liked it, and made the heart strong. Other Muslim traditions note that the pumpkin increases brain function and brain strength.

Ibn Ridwan, in a medical treatise written during the Fatimid period, recommended the pumpkin as a diet for healthy living along with several other fruits and vegetables such as celery, carrots, lentils and cucumbers.

Interestingly, there is also a general consensus among scholars about the Arabic word yaqteen that is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. They say that it refers to the pumpkin — a food that nourished and helped heal Prophet Yunus (A.S.), after he was cast into the wilderness while he was sick (see Qur’an, 37:144-146, at Corpus Quran English Translation).

The website healthline mentions that pumpkin is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is incredibly healthy. Moreover its low calorie content makes it a weight-loss-friendly food. It goes on to add that “its nutrients and antioxidants may boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, lower your risk of certain cancers and promote heart and skin health.”

After about an hour at the museum’s courtyard, I could not return home without walking around the Aga Khan Park. As I looked up in the blue sky above the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome, I saw two birds beautifully gliding at the dome’s left. I was left wondering: Were they turkey vultures, eagles or hawks? Alas, I wasn’t carrying a powerful lens to get a better and sharper close-up.

Please click on photo for enlargement

Headquarters Jamatkhana Toronto at the Ismaili Centre, with birds overhead.
Two birds seen gliding at left of the dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana, part of the Ismaili Centre. Click on image for enlargement. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Returning to the museum’s courtyard on Sunday October 25, offered a much different kind of experience, as the temperature had dropped from Friday’s 22°C to only 8°C. But the museum had that in mind too! Blue lounge blue chairs had been placed in the courtyard, with portable fireplaces where visitors mingled with their family members over light refreshments.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard
Visitors keep warm at a portable fireplace at the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard as temperatures take a dip on Sunday, October 25. 2020. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

The overall experience at the three Aga Khan projects during recent weeks has been overwhelming.

As we all seek good health, I dedicate this post to the humble pumpkin which supports heart and eye health, and boosts immunity, among other benefits.

And, without the pumpkin’s presence in the museum’s courtyard, it may have never occurred to me to search out the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) that have showed that he really liked the pumpkin. For 2020, Muslims around the world will celebrate his birth anniversary — the Milad un Nabi — between October 28-30. It is an appropriate time to learn more about his inspiring life and leadership as well as his faith in God whom he served as the last messenger for 23 long and devoted years, bringing to Muslims the blessing of the Holy Qur’an.

Date posted: October 24, 2020.
Last updated: October 25, 2020 (new photo/information added)

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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.

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“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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Recitations of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan Eji Anand Anand, with a note on Eid al-Ghadir

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

If there is one Ginan that gets an entire Jamatkhana congregation immediately connected and singing in unison with joy and unbounded happiness, it has to be Pir Sadardin’s Ginanic composition of 7 verses, Eji Anand Anand Kariyo.

Eji Anand Anand is one of the first Ginans every Ismaili child learns at home and memorizes. You can sing it on any occasion or on any day, and if you have arrived in the Jamatkhana with a feeling of sadness or worry, then those worries and apprehension disappear on hearing the first line! It is arguably the most inspiring Ginan, and I personally crave for its recitation. It is good for me, any day any time. Here two beautiful recitations of the Ginan:

Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by BUI Ginans 1. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

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Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by Shamshu Bandali Haji. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

Though short, Eji Anand Anand incorporates key messages: the recognition of the Imam of the Time, the importance of unity, that good actions and deeds reap rewards, and the importance of service to the Imam of the Time. The Ginan reminds its listeners about the physical presence of the Imam of the Time, who at the time it was written, was located very far away in Iran. Therefore it has a congratulatory undertone to it. In other Ginans, the Pirs promised their listeners that the Imam would one day arrive at their doorstep in India, referred to as Jampu Dipma. It took several hundred years for that promise to be fulfilled, but it did happen in the 19th century when the 46th Imam, Mawlana Shah Hassanali Shah (a.s.), Aga Khan I, set both feet on Indian soil.

Commemorating Aga Khan's first visit to Badakhshan in 1995
Young Ismaili ladies proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The was was taken in Alichur , a village at an altitude of 4000 metres which is comprised mainly of Ismailis. The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to Badakhshan. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these ladies, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: © Matthieu Paley.

The same could be said for the Central Asian Jamats in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan, who physically had the mulaqat of the Imam of the Time centuries after they accepted the teachings of the revered Ismaili Da’i Pir Nasir Khushraw and other dais of his tradition, and became Ismailis. Mawlana Shah Karim was the first Imam to have visited Central Asia in centuries. His historical visit took place in 1995, and was commemorated with joy and happiness, as shown in the photo of young Ismaili ladies holding a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

History in Quotations by Cohen and Major
With 9,000 chronological quotations arranged in 90 thematic chapters, this huge treasury of quotations is bursting with historical gems, including a reference to the famous tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, “He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is his Mawla.”

However, the recognition of the Imam goes back hundreds of years before the time of Pir Sadardin and Nasir Khushraw. The era of the Divine Institution of Imamat began with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir-Khumm when he declared, by Divine Commandment, that Hazrat Ali was to be his successor. In the book “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: “Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ This became the proof text for the Shia, who claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” The authors sum up by stating that, through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Iran Stamps and coins Ghadir Khumm Eid Simerg and Barakah
Images of some stamps and coins issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1990 and 2010 commemorating the Eid-e-Ghadir. The inscriptions include the Shahada, Qur’anic ayats and the declaration made by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm, “Mun Koontu Mawla, Fa Hada, Aliyun Mawla” meaning “He of whom I am the Mawla Ali is also the Mawla.”

Coming back to the present time, the affirmation of the Institution of Imamat to the world at large has been made by Mawlana Hazar Imam on numerous occasions but none as succintly as in the following two remarks made by him at the Parliament of Canada in 2014 and in an interview in 2010 with the French journal Politique Internationale:

“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet Muhammad” — Parliament, 2014

and

“The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself.” — Politique, 2010

Aga Khan Parliament of Canada Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, seen addressing at the House of Commons Chambers to both the houses of Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

On this auspicious occasion of Eid al-Ghadir falling on August 7, 2020, let us rejoice in the knowledge that for 1388 years, Ismailis in a multitude of settings and practicing different traditions, have been guided by the Rope of Imamat, and that the Noor of Imamat, through the physical manifestation of the Imam of the Time, has lit our path to clarity so that we may obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.

Date posted: August 6, 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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An expanded version of this post can be read at Barakah.

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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.

The Great Sacrifice

By FARAH TEJANI

Omnipotent and Merciful is He,
Allah knows what is best,
At certain times He chooses
To put us through certain tests

He observes our response
To His Rightful Command,
And on this He Judges,
Just exactly where we stand.

It is not meant to be easy,
What would be the purpose,
So we are challenged in truth,
Our response to Him defines us.

Reflect and recall a time when,
We chose not to obey His Laws,
He being of course, All-Forgiving,
No doubt, forgave us our flaws.

But what is to be said,
Of Hazrat Ibrahim, The One,
On the day he was commanded,
To take the life of his own son!

Put yourself in his place,
Could you do the same,
Take the life of who you hold most dear,
The ultimate sacrifice in Allah’s name.

Eid al-Adha celebrates Ibrahim’s loyalty,
To The Great and Loving Wise One,
Though surely riddled with fear and pain,
He placed Ismail, his most precious son,

In front of him, and said a prayer,
In the Name of Allah, Lord of All Things,
He swang the knife and opened his eyes,
And “Oh, But what Mercy God Brings.”

In the place of his very own son’s head
A miraculous goat’s head had fallen,
Allah rewarded Ibrahim’s obedience,
Without even a moment of stalling.

Try to imagine the emotions he went through,
Ibrahim was elated and held Ismail near,
Most Merciful is Our Most Gracious Creator,
Humbled by Allah’s Grace he held back a tear.

Abraham would we if we could,
Be as loyal as you are to Allah’s Laws,
You stand as a testimony of Great Faith,
Without even a moment to pause.

Let it be our endeavour, to faithfully honor,
The Words from Above they are in our best interest,
Take a moment to reflect this Eid al-Adha,
And we, too, will surely be at our best.

(The poem was composed on July 30, 2020).

Date posted: July 30, 2020.

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Farah Tejani Simerg Ismaili poet and writer
Farah Tejani

“Heavy topics painted beautifully with her word,” was how one reader responded to Farah Tejani’s recent contribution Elastic Embrace: A Collection of Poems. 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.

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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/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