Ismaili Heritage and Traditions: Fascinating Insights into Early Recordings of Ginans and Geets

By ALNOOR JEHANGIR MERCHANT

Simerg’s recent post titled Awesome and Rare Collection of Ismaili Ginans with Music at the British Library and a number of related online contributions, especially Aly Sunderji’s sharing of the equally rare and exceptional audio recordings of devotional songs produced in Tanganyika in 1946 commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III (link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqxUDlY_pis&index=1&list=PL8-KGtAvEpq5s1nBIplLQA3j1RDptQ5GJ) is an opportune moment to add some further remarks on the recordings of ginans and geets* produced during the first half of the 20th century. It is hoped that these remarks and, more particularly, the recordings themselves, will provide an impetus in documenting and preserving the diversity of the Ismaili community’s musical heritage and traditions.

Original disc labels of four ginan recordings that are part of a digitization project being carried out by the British Library (clockwise from top left): Satgur miliya mune aje composed by Bibi Imam Begum and sung by Rama and Rahim Ali; Ho jire mara hansa composed by Pir Sadardin; Ab teri mohobat lagi composed by Pir Shams; and Marna hai zarur composed by Pir Imam Shah and all sung by Master Juma Kakali. Images: The British Library (collage by Simerg).

It is difficult to give a precise dating as to when the ginans digitised by The British Library as part of their Endangered Archives Programme (EPA) Project were originally recorded. The ‘Young India’ record label which, according to the British Library catalogue, published these recordings was established around 1935 and continued for approximately 20 years; thus, the recordings should be dated to the period 1935-1955. An examination of the images of the disc labels, however, provides additional information that seems to have been overlooked in the cataloguing process.

On three of the ginan recordings, the disc label states ‘Ismailia Record’, along with the following: Manufactured by National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company, Bombay, India [and] Sole Distributers [sic], The King Record Company, Kalbadevi, Bombay. The ‘Ismailia Record’ ginan recordings are in the voice of Master Jumma Kakali. On the fourth ginan recording, the disc label states ‘Best Ismaili Record’, along with the following: Manufactured for the Bombay Record Company by the National Gramophone Record Company Limited, Bombay.

As all four ginan recordings do not mention ‘Young India’ on the disc label, it may be that ‘Ismailia Record’ and ‘Best Ismaili Record’ were independent record producers. Unfortunately, the disc labels do not contain any information on the date of production of the records. However, according to Hussain Jasani, who has undertaken some research, there is evidence to suggest that these recordings were produced during 1938. According to Jasani, one of the volumes of the community’s magazine, Ismaili, published during that year, refers to these recordings. [Paper presented by Hussain Jasani, “Preserving Community Heritage; The Oldest-known Ginan (Audio) Recordings”, IIS Alumni Association, European Chapter Group, Annual Meeting, London, 29th September 2017].

Are these the earliest recordings, musical or otherwise, of ginans? In her essay titled “Sacred Songs of Khoja Muslims: Sounded and Embodied Liturgy and Devotion”, (published in: Ethnomusicology, 48, 2 [Spring/Summer 2004]: 251-270), Amy Catlin-Jairazbhoy suggests that a number of ginan recordings made by the Dutch ethnomusicologist and pioneer in the study of South Asian music, Arnold Adriaan Bake, are the earliest. She states (p. 256):

“Probably the earliest ginan recordings were made by Arnold Bake in Karachi in 1939. These as yet unpublished field recordings were sung individually by teenaged boys, presumably found at the Karachi jama‘at (community) school.”

Three of Bake’s Karachi recordings dated 11 March 1939, which he catalogued as ‘Khoja devotional song’ have been identified as:

  • Satgur avya kai apne dwar, sung by a 14-year old boy, Karim Ali Muhammad
  • Hamdil khaleq, sung by a 14-year old boy, Rahim Ali Muhammad
  • Haq tu pak tu, sung by Sadulli M. Abdulla.

Jasani’s research suggests that the Bombay recordings, and not the Karachi ones, are the earliest. While the ginan recordings produced (most likely in 1938) as part of the ‘Ismailia Record’ and ‘Best Ismaili Record’ labels or those in the Bake collection (recorded in March 1939) may be among the earliest, it would not be out-of-place to suggest that there could be earlier recordings of ginans, musical or otherwise, which remain to be ‘discovered’.

It is known that sound recordings from South Asia began to be produced at the turn of the 20th century, with the earliest known dating to around 1899. The foremost researcher of early Indian sound recordings is Michael Kinnear. His two books, The Gramophone Company’s First Indian Recordings 1899-1907 (Bombay, 1994) and The Gramophone Company’s Indian Recordings 1908-1910 (London, 2000) document not only the history of the Gramophone Company and its successor companies’ activities in India, as well as the recording expeditions it undertook in the country, but the two volumes also provide complete listings of all known and traceable recordings taken on those expeditions. In one of his other encyclopaedic works titled The 78 RPM Record Labels of India (Apollo Bay, 2016), Kinnear covers all known record labels and histories of the companies from 1899 to the late 1960s. Perhaps, an analysis of the listings contained in Kinnear’s works will lead to the identification of ginan recordings from the first decades of the 20th century. Another important resource could be the various magazines published within the Ismaili community at the time. The Society of Indian Record Collectors may also be an avenue worth exploring. Indeed, it is from the collection of one of the members of the Society of Indian Record Collectors, Suresh Chandvakar, that some of The British Library’s ginan recordings have been digitised.

With respect to the recordings of geets, little research has been carried out. Ali Asani, in the chapter ‘The Git Tradition: A Testimony of Love’ in his work titled Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia (London, 2002) writes (p. 71):

“The tradition of composing gits, as we know in its present form, has been associated particularly with Nizari Ismaili communities of South Asian origin….Unfortunately, we know precious little about its development. As is the case with many folk traditions that have been orally transmitted, its historical origins are quite obscure. Moreover, the gits themselves have never been systematically collected and documented.”

In his essay, Asani predominantly refers to geet recordings from the 1980s onwards. And, Amy Catlin Jairazbhoy, states that the Khoja geet emerged “at some uncertain time in the twentieth century” (p. 262). In her essay titled “Songs of Praise: the Git Tradition of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims”, in Gujarati Communities Across the Globe: Memory, Identity and Continuity, ed. by Sharmina Mawani and Anjoom A. Mukaddam (Stoke-on-Trent, 2012), pages 59-78, Sharmina Mawani writes that “few authors have focused on gits…. and the way in which this creative form of expression has flourished from one generation to another” (p. 59). Although her discussion focuses on post-1960 geets, Mawani does refer to a geet by Fateh Ali Ismail Ibrahim titled Aayi Aayi re Sakhi written specifically for the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in 1946, the original lyrics and tune of which “were inspired by the joyous and celebratory nature of the occasion” (pp. 71-72). Indeed, one of the recordings placed online by Aly Sunderji is of this geet (please click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-GnZn4UC7A&index=5&list=PL8-KGtAvEpq5s1nBIplLQA3j1RDptQ5GJ)

The audio recordings shared by Aly Sunderji of devotional songs produced in Tanganyika in 1946 commemorating the Diamond Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah provide us with important information on the geet tradition. And, significantly, in Suresh Chandvakar’s collection, there are a number of recordings that are also most certainly part of this tradition, but which are slightly earlier date-wise.

Original disc labels of geet recordings that are part of a digitization project being carried out by the British Library. Images: The British Library (collage by Simerg).

An examination of the listing of the individual recordings from Chandvakar’s collection identifies five enigmatic entries: Aavo Sultan Raj, Golden Jubilee Part 01, Golden Jubilee Part 02, and two listed as Captain Lakhpati. Further, the disc labels on these recordings provide some fascinating information. The disc label for Aavo Sultan Raj states: Compiled by ‘Best Ismaili Record’; the disc labels for Golden Jubilee and Captain Lakhpati state: Compiled by ‘Captain Lakhpaty’. This, undoubtedly, refers to Abdullah Jaffer Lakhpati, who is considered among the founders of the H. H. the Aga Khan Bombay Volunteer Corps, and who was also a versatile poet and artist. It is known that Lakhpati was appointed as Captain of the Volunteer Corps in February 1936. With this reference date, as well as upon listening to the recordings, it is clear that these geets were most likely composed to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, in 1935-36. To date, therefore, these are the earliest musical recordings of geets.

As to the performers, Ahmed Dilawar and Prabhakar, it has not been possible, as yet, to locate any further information on these individuals. It is likely that the various publications issued by the community, such as Ismaili and Fidai, could shed more light on these specific compositions and the performer(s), as well as on the tradition and history of geets.

One final point: All the disc labels of the ginan and geet recordings identified in this article and that posted previously share a common feature. What may be considered as the ‘Headline’ banner in the top half of the disc label is either an illustration depicting an image of Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah in the centre with the red and green Ismaili standard on either side, or the Imamat Crest in the centre, again with the Ismaili standard on either side. Does this not suggest that the recordings were officially produced for circulation?

All the ginan and geet recordings, (links to the geets are provided hereunder), along with Aly Sunderji’s sharing of the Diamond Jubilee geets, provide a fascinating insight into the historical development of this tradition, and allow us to reflect anew on this musical heritage.

Link to Aavo Sultan Raj

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X07-008ZV0

Link to Golden Jubilee Part 01

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-001ZV0

Link to Golden Jubilee Part 02

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-002ZV0

Link to Captain Lakhpati

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-003ZV0

Link to Captain Lakhpati

http://sounds.bl.uk/World-and-traditional-music/Young-India-record-label-collection/025M-CEAP190X7X06-004ZV0

Date posted: October 1, 2017.
Last updated: October 5, 2017 (additional source(s) added by the author, Alnoor Merchant, in paragraph referencing Sharmina Mawani’s essay).

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*The term used to describe a devotional ‘folk song’ is git; however, the more commoner spelling form, geet, is used in this article.

About the author: Alnoor Jehangir Merchant is an independent researcher on Ismaili studies, and a specialist advisor on rare books, coins, photographs and objets d’art relating to the worlds of Islam.

We welcome your feedback. To leave a comment please click LEAVE A COMMENT. If you encounter a technical issue, send your comment to Simerg@aol.com, Subject: Ginans and Geets.

 

 

Passings: Izzat Muneyb remembered through her poetic reflections on Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah and the London Ismaili Centre

Izzat Muneyb (d. May 20, 2017)

By Abdulmalik Merchant

(NOTE: You may submit a condolence by clicking the COMMENTS box shown above left, beside the title — thank you, ed.).

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Izzat Muneyb on May 20th, 2017 in London, England, at the age of 75. Izzat was buried at the Ismaili cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey immediately following a funeral ceremony held at the West London Jamatkhana on Saturday, May 27th at 10:45 a.m.

We convey our heartfelt condolences to Izzat’s surviving sisters Zarin and Gulzar and their families, as well as all who knew her in the U.K. and many other parts of the world. We pray for the eternal peace and rest of Izzat’s soul.

Izzat Muneyb was raised in Mombasa, Kenya, and then pursued her further studies in the UK where she obtained an Honours degree in English from Birmingham University, a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education from Kings College, London and a Masters in Curriculum Studies from London University, England. She had a varied career, working in the fields of education, health, commerce and public order. She served on various Ismaili community institutions, including the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah Board, Mombasa, His Highness the Aga Khan Provincial Tribunal and His Highness Aga Khan Education Board in Nairobi. As an Education Board member, she originated the concept of, and edited, the Commemorative Issue 1977-78, to celebrate sixty years of Ismaili education in Kenya. From 1983–1994, she worked at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London as a Member of the Education Unit and contributed to the Ta’lim Curriculum which is used throughout the Ismaili world to impart religious education  Over the last few years, she focused on her own creative writing in London.

Izzat contributed numerous pieces for this website, and we are pleased to re-publish her thoughtful reflections on the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.), the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah and the first purpose built Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana in the Western World that is located in London.

WE  WELCOME READERS’ TRIBUTES IN MEMORY OF IZZAT MUNEYB

We invite your tributes and messages of condolences in memory of Izzat Muneyb. You may do that by clicking on LEAVE A COMMENT (that is also shown at left of the title of this post, at top). Should you run into issues while submitting your comment, then please send it via email to simerg@aol.com, Subject: Izzat Muneyb.

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1. In Praise of Prophet Muhammad
(May Peace Be Upon Him)

BY IZZAT MUNEYB

Author’s note: This song introduces us to some of the titles by which Prophet Muhammad came to be known. They are: ‘Ahmad’, ‘Mustafa’, ‘Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen and ‘King of law laak’. The words ‘law laak’ in Arabic mean, “Were it not for…” There is a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, where Allah speaking to His prophet, says, “Were it not for you, I would not have created the universe – law laaka lamaa khalaqtu’l-aflaaka.” [1]

N.B: The lines marked * are sung twice.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Ahmad?*
He who is praised in heaven
Shall be praised here on earth.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Mustafa?*
The Chosen of God on earth,
You have brought us the Qur’an.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen?*
God sent you as a Mercy
To the whole of creation.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you the ‘King of law laak’?*
Even God says He created
The universe for you.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

© Copyright: Izzat Muneyb.

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Notes:

[1] Source: Sukheel Sharif, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006

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2. Building the Prophet’s Mosque — Masjeedun Nabee — in Madinah

An Islamic miniature from Siyer-i Nebi (16th century, Turkey), depicting Bilal giving the call to prayer. Photo: Wikipedia.

BY IZZAT MUNEYB

Author’s Note: This ballad tells the story of how the first mosque in Islam, the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, Masjeedun-Nabee, was built and how the first Muslims were called to prayer, with Bilal, a black Muslim, reciting the first adhaan. [1] The Prophet (Peace be upon Him) let his she-camel, Qaswaa’, who was “under the command of God”, choose the site. This allowed him to not have to accept land from, and thus show partiality to, any of the influential clans in Madinah.

N.B: The first line of each verse is sung twice. The ballad should ideally be sung to the accompaniment of a guitar.

Qaswaa’ the camel has chosen the ground,
Dig here, O Muslims and level the ground.        Qaswaa’.…….1

Muhammad has said, “O, here will I stay,
Here build my mosque and here shall I die”.         ..…….………2

Cut down the trees and make the pillars,
Lay down the bricks and cement with mortar.      ……………….3

The Muhaajiroon [2] and the Ansaar [3]
Work with a will in the spirit of Islam.                   ……………….4

Aly then asks how to ‘complete’ the mosque,
“How shall we call the believers to prayer?”          ..…………….5

The Muslims think hard, “O shall we use bells [4]
If not a Jewish horn, then a trumpet perhaps.”     ………………6

Then, humble and meek, Abdallah did speak,
“I dreamt, Ya Rasool, a human voice, I pray.”       ..…………….7

Muhammad then said: “O my faithful Bilal,
It is you who must say the very first Adhaan.”      ..………….…8

And so did Bilal God’s praises sing
And his powerful voice in Madinah did ring.          ..……………9

Here endeth my tale of Masjeedun-Nabee,
It still stands today in Madinah city.                       …………….10

© Copyright: Izzat Muneyb
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[1] Adhaan is the Muslim call to prayer. Bilal climbed up a palm tree, to recite the first adhaan, because he wanted his voice to carry far and wide. Minarets appeared around eighty years after the Prophet’s death, to call the faithful to prayer.
[2] Muhaajiroon– The Emigrants, Muslims who made the hijrah or migrated from Makkah to Madinah, because of the persecution of the Makkan Quraysh. The Prophet finally made the hijrah during September 622 A.C., after all the Muslims, except Imam Ali, had left Makkah.
[3] Ansaar – The Helpers, Madinan Muslims, who helped the Makkan Muslims settle in Madinah.
[4] Ringing church bells is a Christian practice – the Muslim call to prayer had to be unique to Islam.

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3. At the Ismaili Centre

Ismaili centre bismillah Entrance

The Entrance Hall of the London Ismaili Centre.

BY IZZAT MUNEYB

As soon as I enter the Ismaili Centre,
What do I see in Arabic calligraphy?

Bismi’llaahir-Rahmaanir-Raheem
Is what I see. ”In the name of Allah
Most Kind, Most Merciful.”

In the name of Allah I begin all things,
In the name of Allah I conceive all thoughts;
In the name of Allah I complete all deeds.

As soon as I enter the Ismaili Centre,
What do I see in shining marble
And white plaster?

I see a star-shaped fountain, pouring out water.

The fountain is so clear,
And the water so pure…

We too must be pure in body and soul
And polish the mirror of our hearts!

Why is the fountain seven-sided?
What does it mean?

Seven is the number of perfection
And seven times seven gives us
Our forty-ninth Imam.

The guidance of the Imam of the time –
And his portrait in mosaic, crafted from lapis,
Glowing with gentle radiance reminds us –
Helps us to grow closer to Allah.

But, have you seen the grey interlace design
Around the fountain?

Yes, it is a flower of beauty.

Al-kathratu fi’l wahdati,
Wa’l wahdatu fi’l kathrati
Is what it means.

The One has originated
The multiplicity of creation;
Now, from that multiplicity we move
Towards the Unity of the One.

And as I climb the stairs of the Ismaili Centre,
What do I see hanging from the ceiling?

I see lamps luminous and gleaming,
Full of light and full of meaning.

By the light of the lamp
We read the Qur’an.
With the light of the Lamp
We begin to know.
The light of the Lamp
Leads us to the Light of God

As I climb to the next level,
What do I see?

I see a painting, vibrant,
Swirling in colour.

It tells of the Verse of Light,
The Aayat’un Noor,
It hints at the mystery of
Noorun ‘alaa Noor.

As I enter the prayer hall
What do I see on the qiblah wall
In dark columns tall?

Carved in wood and written in space,
The panels say, Allah, Muhammad and Ali,
Allah, Muhammad and Ali.

These Beautiful Names invite me
To take my place with the Jamat,
They become my rosary.

As I sit down, as I close my eyes,
What do I do? What do I say?

I remember Allah.
I say,“Ya Muhammad”, “Ya Ali”,
I say, Salawaatu’llaahi alayhumaa
Salawaatu’llaahi alayhumaa.

The Grace of God fills the hall,
The Light of God bathes us all.

Cleansed in thought and spirit,
I feel the presence of God
And am filled with His peace.

© Copyright: Izzat Muneyb.

Date posted: May 27, 2017.
Last updated: May 30, 2017 (formatting and new comments).

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Editorial Note: The poem was first published in July 1987 in Ilm, Volume 11, No. 2, p. 39-41. It was originally written for the younger members of the Jamat, to be recited either by an individual, or as a choric or part poem. Readers might find the movement of the poem interesting. As the individual climbs higher through the various levels of the London Ismaili Centre to the Jamatkhana hall, so also the poem marks an inner journey from a physical to a devotional and then to a spiritual plane of being.

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Your tribute to Izzat Muneyb

We invite your tributes and messages of condolences in memory of Izzat Muneyb whose funeral took place on Saturday, May 27, 2017 in London, England. Readers may do so by clicking on LEAVE A COMMENT. If you encounter problems in submitting your comment, then please send it to simerg@aol.com, Subject Izzat Muneyb.

An Exploration of Eight Ismaili Ginans on Science, Spirituality and Pluralism

Note from the Publisher/Editor (August 28, 2016): Lately, it has not been possible for Simerg to publish new articles that have been submitted by numerous authors, and for this we offer our sincerest apologies to our contributors and readers around the world. Normal publication on this website and Simerg’s two sister websites, simergphotos.com and barakah.com authors will resume  during the latter half of October. In the meantime, we invite you to click on Table of Contents for links to over 900 timeless articles and photo essays.

ARTICLES BY SHIRAZ PRADHAN

Mawlana Hazar Imam on Ginans

SPIRITUALITY

Many Ismaili ginans relate the spiritual experiences of Ismaili Pirs and describe the meditative techniques used as an aid in the spiritual journey, and also the important milestones and inner cosmology corresponding to the different stages (maqamat). However, the Pirs emphatically have stated that the experiences of higher spiritual stations are not describable in rational language to people who are not initiated in the tariqa (path) and who have not experienced the different stations themselves. Pradhan uses two ginans by Pir Shams and Pir Sadardin to develop this theme.

PLEASE CLICK: The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada”

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Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957), had once said that “In your heart is a heap of fireworks, if you do not light it, how will you get Light (Roshni) in your heart?” The theme of the re-orientation of the soul and its migration towards the “Country of the Beloved” is captured beautifully in “Ek Shabda suno mere bhai….”

PLEASE CLICK: Ismaili Spirituality in Pir Shams Shabzwari’s Ginan “Ek Shabada Suno Mere Bhai”, accompanied with recitation

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Continuing on the theme of spirituality and self-understanding in Ismaili Ginans, Pradhan  uses a parable from a Ginan of a young lion cub who grows up in the flock of sheep, and starts behaving like a sheep until it sees its own reflection in a pool to know its true identity.

PLEASE CLICK: An Explanation of the Ismaili Ginan “Kesri Sinha Sarup Bhulayo”

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COSMOLOGY AND SCIENCE

Are the answers to secrets that Hadron Collider will reveal already in the Ginans? Pradhan’s study focuses on a granth composed by Syad Imam Shah around 1400 CE that he regards as one of the most scientifically advanced and compact ancient document, besides the Ikhwa-al safa.

PLEASE CLICK: Cutting-Edge Science in Syad Imam Shah’s Naklanki Geeta — Are the answers to secrets that Hadron Collider will reveal already in the Ginan?

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Based on the acceptance by modern science of the Big Bang origin of our universe, Pradhan proceeds to analyse two Ismaili Ginans that have striking parallels of modern cosmology and astrophysics in them.

PLEASE CLICK: Concepts of Modern Cosmology and Astrophysics in Two Ismaili Ginans, Choghadia and Mul Gayatri

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PLURALISM AND UNITY OF MANKIND

Our happiness and satisfaction must be anchored on pluralism and the underlying unity of faiths of mankind. Pradhan explores two different old traditions which echo these messages. One is from the Shia Ismaili Ginanic tradition and the other is from the Hindu Gujarati tradition.

PLEASE CLICK: Ideas of One Humanity, Love and Peace in World Religions: Comparative Study of Ginan “Hum dil Khalak Allah Sohi Vase” with a Hindu Bhajan

Date posted: August 15, 2016.
Date updated: August 28, 2016 (please see editor’s note at top of page).

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Intezaar, 11th July 2016 Leading to 11th July 2017: The Guiding Light of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Diamonds Faceted Jubilee_s

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

This Imamat Day
O Mawla

Is a promise for a thirsty heart
Innumerable will be the facets of the Diamond Jubilee
As we in anticipation await humble of heart
Make us worthy of this blessing
O Mawla a prayer rises from my heart

At the feet of Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah
An innocent babe in naive anticipation
Your guiding light has lit the path
Path eased with access to health education
Let knowledge lead us to sat bhudhi
O Mawla a prayer emanates from my heart

Your protective shade sent light
Throughly the windows of our schools
Your wisdom in wise words led every step
Your vision sent us succour with words of hope
Your guiding hand gave hope after Uganda
A prayer of gratitude leaves my heart

Still you guide us through the bridge of River Panj
Through Syria to the Hindu Kush
From East To the West in every direction
Your helping hand O Mawla opens our heart
This four day life journey is so ephemeral
It is enriched by the Light of
Your Ever-present Noor- e-Ali

Oh Mawla we look towards thee
With empathetic hearts our face turns
To the Alfa and Omega of our life
Your ishara with vision and ‘aql
Enables door upon door to open up for us
To guide us into that which is the qalb
To beckon a prayer from our heart

O Mawla make us worthy of the trust you place
In our actions which often trip
In our words which wisdom oft lack
Keep us balanced in din and dunya
We pray from our heart

O Mawla our hands are raised
All ready to receive the pearls
Of wisdom, vision , love and ever caring hand
We are in intezaar of your
Diamond Faceted Jubilee
A prayer of gratitude leaves my heart

As we await let our zikr lead to fikr
Cleanse our hearts so it may sing
The praise of all human and sentient beings
Our life will be the lighter for
The aid you have given in years before
We beseech in prayer from
Our heart

Let our intellect understand unity
That we are all from One Soul
Let us internalise this oneness
So that our heart is prepared
In joyful presence to celebrate the Jubillee
A prayer from each heart

Lead us to fana through forgiveness to transcend
So we stand worthy of the many faceted diamond
In word and in deed in intention and action
O Mawla all this so we can raise
Our hands with a prayer from the heart

Our heads are held up high for you are our pride
As we are yours to fly your flag
Up high in all direction proud the world over
O Alfa O Omega the Ever-present
O Mawla we beseech that this
Diamond Faceted Jubillee
Be a diamond of Almas
Is our prayer rendered from the heart

Date posted: July 9, 2016.

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Diamond Photo: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Glossary of terms used in the poem:

  • Almas – Muslim baby name, also means diamond.
  • Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
  • din and dunya – sacred and profane, religion and world.
  • fana – annihilation of the self.
  • fikr -contemplation, deep thought and reflection.
  • Imamat Day – the day an Ismaili Imam succeeds as his community’s spiritual leader by the designation (nass) of his predecessor.
  • ishara – sign, gesture.
  • Mawla – Master. Here the reference is to the current 49th Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, whose 60 years of reign will be celebrated on July 11, 2017.
  • Noor-e-Ali – Light of Ali (or the Light of Imamat).
  • qalb – heart
  • sat budh – pure knowledge or understanding of true essence or true nature of things.
  • Shah Sultan Mahomed Shah (d. 1957) – the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis.
  • zikr – remembrance of Allah, form of special devotion.

This is a Video Not to be Missed! Incredible Outpouring of Joy in Pakistan for the Ismaili Jubilee Games Lantern

INTRODUCED BY SULTAN JESSA

From some of the densest urban areas to the remotest corners of this earth, the fanous or lantern of the second Ismaili Jubilee Games has been welcomed worldwide by hundreds of thousands of Ismailis with deep joy, and has generated an immense amount of interest for the  games that will commence in Dubai on July 22, 2016.

One of the most astonishing receptions for the lantern, as it travelled around the globe, was in Pakistan. The short video clip (please click above) is a testimony to how a symbol from Ismaili history dating back a 1,000 years has played such a significant role in heightening an awareness and interest for the games that in turn will deeply inspire the athletes to be the best they can at the week long Ismaili Jubilee Games.

To read complete article, please visit http://www.simergphotos.com.

Date posted: July 2, 2016.

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The Long-Long Awaited Book, “The Children of Time: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” by Malise Ruthven and Gerard Wilkinson

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Cover page, Children of Time - the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

Cover page, Children of Time – the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

For almost 8 years now, I have been awaiting the release of “Children of Time” which was scheduled to be published by I.B. Tauris, on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 50th Imamat Anniversary held during  2007-2008. Tauris is the familiar publisher of many of the scholarly publications of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England.

The  publisher had first announced the publication of the book with the following review, which continues to appear on its website:

“From highland peasant farmers in Central Asia to Canadian industrialists, South Asian businessmen and Europe-based scholars, the Nizari Ismailis are one of the Muslim world’s most diverse Shi’a communities. With adherents living in more than twenty-five countries in Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America, they embrace peoples of widely different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The spiritual leadership of this highly dynamic community has in recent generations come to be known as the ‘Aga Khan’.This book, which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the present Aga Khan’s succession as Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Ismailis, assesses the achievements of his ‘Imamat’ in modernising the communities’ institutions and creating one of the world’s leading development agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network. In the process the book explores how the present Harvard-educated Aga Khan has attempted to preserve and build on a religious tradition rooted in medieval theology while at the same time embracing the modern world without loss of faith or cultural identity.”

Originally, if memory serves me right, the book was going to be authored by Malise Ruthven, who is noted by the publisher as “one of the leading writers on Islam in English and is the author of ‘Islam in the World’, ‘A Fury for God: the Islamist Attack on America’, ‘Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction’ and several other highly praised books.” Then, Gerard Wilkinson, who has had  a  distinguished thirty-year career with the Aga Khan in Kenya, Italy and latterly with his secretariat in France, was added as the co-author.

I have been tracking the publication of this title on Amazon since it was first announced, and I have noted that the publication date has been changing ever since. As of today, I note that the Amazon gives the publication date as May 30, 2015, while the I.B. Tauris website gives the book’s release date as September 30, 2015,* with the hardback selling price of $45.00 (£24.50). The Canadian Amazon site lists one hardback copy as being available at C$58.95 but when you click on the link to purchase the book, it is listed as being temporarily out of stock. Perhaps! May 30 has passed, September 30 is 8 weeks in the distant, so it is all rather confusing!

Under the circumstances, Vali Jamal can be forgiven for the delay in publishing his long-awaited wrist-breaking 1600 page plus book “Uganda Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute” which I had first announced on this website sometime in 2012, with a publication date of October 2012. It is now scheduled to be released in November of this year.

Hopefully, both the books, Children of Time by Ruthven and Uganda Asians by Jamal will be perfectly timed for autumn of this year for fantastic reading for the holiday season!

Date posted: July 8, 2015.
Date updated: July 12, 2015 (typo and revised publication date).

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*I have noted as of July 12, 2015, that the September 30, 2015 publication date was removed from the book’s primary page. However the bibliographical info cites the publication date as December 18, 2015. The IB Tauris “Religion New and Recent Books 2015” catalogue mentions March 2015 as the publication date.

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Triumphal Moments in Ismaili History: Jawhar’s Conquest of Egypt and Imam al-Muizz’s Resplendent Darbar in Cairo

“I WISH I’D BEEN THERE”

1970: Mansoor Ladha, veteran award winning journalist, writer and author, interviewing His Highness the Aga Khan for Tanzania’s daily, The Standard (now Daily News). Photo: Mansoor Ladha Collection. Copyright.

BY MANSOOR LADHA

As a journalist, a writer and an author, what better time to be than reporting milestones and significant events during the Fatimid Period or the “Golden Age” of Ismailism, when Ismaili Imams ruled over a vast empire and when Ismaili literature, philosophy and law flourished. It was during the Fatimid Period that the Ismaili scholars and authors produced what were to become the classic texts of Ismaili literature dealing with a multitude of exoteric and esoteric subjects. I think I might have made Ismaili fiqh (jurisprudence) my area of specialization, because it had not existed during the pre-Fatimid period. It was codified and became catalogued during the early Fatimid period. It was during the Fatimid period that Ismailis made their important contributions to Islamic theology and philosophy in general and to Shia thought in particular. Modern recovery of Ismaili literature clearly attests to the richness and diversity of the literary and intellectual traditions of the Ismailis.

Egypt became the center of the Fatimid empire that included at its peak North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the Red Sea coast of Africa, Yemen and the Hejaz. Egypt flourished as the Fatimids developed an extensive trade and diplomatic network and ties which extended all the way to China. Map: Wikipedia; click to enlarge

But, I think, for me of all the events that I would have reported, there are a number of related incidents that stand out, and which I would have liked to witness in the company of Imam Muizz’s trusted commander, Jawhar al-Siqilli. He was of Sicilian descent.

He had been entrusted by the Imam to conquer Egypt. With a 100,000 men assembled and equipped at a cost of 24 million dinars, he set out for Egypt on February 5th, 969.

Embedded I would be, like the modern journalists in this vast army, alongside my hero! The road to Egypt had been well ascertained, forts had been built through the route at specific places. Jawhar was carrying with him a thousand caskets filled with silver. Camels carried gold ingots in plain sight, cast in the shape of millstones, to impress the crowds and the local peoples through which the army passed. Then four months later, in June of the same year, I would arrive with Jawhar in Egypt, and hardly witness any resistance!

As the first measures after the conquest, I see him issue a proclamation promising financial reforms and an end to injustice. He reached out to Sunnis, Jews and Christians and offered them protection.

Then I had been with him as he crossed the Nile, and on July 6 of the same year, he marched through Fustat, and established himself north of the city in the plain that would become his new capital – a capital that Imam Muizz had expressed a wish would rule the world.

Fatimid Cairo with an outline of Jawhar’s wall shown by dashes (Please click to enlarge)

This site was empty except for a monastery and a castle. On the very night of Jawhar’s arrival in this empty spot, I would have seen the Sicilian mark the perimeter of the city with wooden stakes strung together with belled ropes. A crow would land on the rope and set the bells jingling. The ground breaking work would commence at that spot for what would eventually become known as al-Qahira (“The Triumphant”). I would see the birth of what is now modern Cairo!

But the epochal incident, the Grand Darbar, would come four years later. During this interim time I would see Jawhar establish the new capital, pacify the provinces, institute financial reform, defeat the Qarmats in December 971, and introduce new religious observances in conformity with the Shia Ismaili faith. This would include a call to prayers containing the Shiite invitation to “come to the best prayer.”

Now that all had been done, no further time would be spent. There was nothing left to do but to invite Imam al-Muizz.

In 973, the Imam leaves the Maghreb on his way to Egypt with his sons and relatives with him, along with coffins of his ancestors. One of his stops is Alexandria, where the Imam resolves to dedicate his life in the exercise of good works. He then preaches to them in a manner which draws tears from many who are present.

He departs after spending three days in Alexandria, and on June 6, 973, he reaches a place known as Mina. Jawhar is there to receive him. I see him go forth to meet his master and I witness him drawing near the Imam, dismounting from his horse and kissing the ground before the Imam in a show of loyalty, humility and submission to the Amirul Muminin. This is affection and love for the Imam I see at the highest and deepest level. It is a profound experience and a joy to behold, which I would report.

The Imam would then cross the Nile on the Rawdah bridge, bypass Fustat, and proceed straight to Cairo and take possession of the palace or fort that Jawhar had constructed for the Imam.

It is Ramadhan – year AH 362. The feast marking its end is underway. I’d see Imam Muizz conduct his prayers at the new mosque in Cairo, and then ascend the pulpit to give his sermon, with Jawhar on the steps of the pulpit. I would feel the emotions as the crowds weep and sob at hearing the Imam’s sermon.

Outside, the Imam would then mount his horse surrounded by his four armoured and helmeted sons, while two elephants led the procession. Destination – the fort, and I on my heels to get there for the Darbar!

Then, at the fort, all the citizens eagerly await to pay their allegiance to the new Caliph. Jawhar would be within my sight, and very close to the Imam, to his right.

I would witness the Imam majestically seated on his golden throne as he received all the nobles, Qadis, Vazirs and Ulemas of his city. They would present the Imam with their beautiful gifts as well as a robe made from a rare yarn that is known to grow only in Tunis. The material has a special shine and is gilded with gold and silver. The Imam would then be presented a Turban of a similar material and he would adorn the robe and the Turban. A resplendent Darbar for me to record and report as a journalist!

My friend, Jawhar, would get his turn. I would see him present the Imam, al-Muizz, with the best breed of 150 horses gilded with saddles and bridles of gold and diamonds as well as camels and ponies, saddled with boxes filled with all rare items in Egypt.

Then the Imam Muizz in a remarkable gesture of magnanimity and forgiveness would announce the release of about 1000 of his prisoners and present robes and Khalat to all his nobles and officers.

Would Jawhar be forgotten in the sight of the Imam? No. I would be exuberant to see my beloved Imam’s immense love for someone responsible for conquering Egypt some four years earlier. Jawhar would be honoured as he is presented with a golden Khalat and a turban. Imam Muizz then would tie a sword on Jawhar’s waist and present him with 20 horses with golden saddles, 50 thousand dinars and 200,000 dirhams.

With this Darbar, Egypt and Cairo enter a new era that would last almost two centuries and constitute one of the most brilliant periods in Ismaili history and Islamic Civilization.

Indeed a monumental and epochal event to witness and report! What a story and I Wish I’d Been There with Jawhar.

© Simerg.com

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Front cover of Ladha’s work

About the Writer: Mansoor Ladha is an award-winning journalist based in Calgary, Canada. He has held several senior editorial positions with daily and weekly newspapers in Canada, Kenya and Tanzania, which included the Edmonton Journal, Morinville Mirror, Redwater Tribune, Daily Nation, Kenya, and Daily News, Tanzania. Currently, he freelances for the Calgary Herald, the Vancouver Sun, and the Calgary Senior newspapers and travel magazines. He has also published a book entitled A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims and is currently working on memoirs on his life in East Africa and in Canada. Last year, he was one of the several writers, scholars and journalists invited to contribute a chapter in the book called, The Story That Brought Me Here. He has served on several public and voluntary bodies in Canada. His complete profile can be viewed on his Web site www.mansoorladha.ca.

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This piece by Mansoor Ladha is one of 32 succinct pieces on Ismaili history that appeared in this blog’s highly acclaimed first anniversary special series, I Wish I’d Been There.

2. We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click Leave a comment, or email it to simerg@aol.com. 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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Narrative references:

1. Cairo by Andre Raymond, translated by Willard Wood, published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000.

Also note: Cairo map shown is from this book

2. Jawhar as-Siqilli by Zawahir Nooraly in book Great Ismaili Heroes, Pakistan. The complete article is also available on-line at:  http://www.amaana.org/heroes/note010.htm

@Simergphotos – An Ismaili Wedding in Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

Muslim and Nevin Harji have just returned from a remarkable trip to Badakhshan, which is located in one of the most remote corners of the earth, in the midst of the magnificent Pamir mountains. The Harjis were fortunate to be invited to an Ismaili wedding in the small village of Namadgut (near Ishkashim). The whole village consisting of forty Ismaili families was involved in the preparation and celebration of the wedding. We continue our special series on Badakhshan with this special photo essay An Ismaili Wedding in the Pamirs Through My Lens by Muslim Harji.  

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs.   Please click on image for Muslim Harji's photo essay.

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs. Please click on image for Muslim Harji’s photo essay.

     

Reflections on the Opening of the New Aga Khan Park: “Where Nature Gifts the Outdoors” by Navyn Naran and “Trinity” by Ikhwan Allani

WHERE NATURE GIFTS THE OUTDOORS

The Aga Khan Park. Photo: AKDN/Moez Visram. Copyright.

The Aga Khan Park. Photo: AKDN/Moez Visram. Copyright.

BY NAVYN NARAN

Its a place for contemplation,
for enjoyment,
for reflection,
In quiet pools with glimmering surfaces,
and bubbling of laughter.
In the presence of oneself or a group of others,
Welcome to the garden.

For nightime quiet,
For morning awakening,
And daytime walks
For enjoying the green earth,
the fresh smell of shrubs,
A place to sit
Where God is.
Where Nature gifts the outdoors.
Where my mind is at ease
and the murmur of the water,
the ripples from the raindrops
remind me how connected everything is.
How a central rhythm reverberates
twanging like a musical chord
in our individual auras…
Where does that send us?
I like the feeling that silhouettes these buildings
and transmits an energy reflected inside.
We are divine,
We are respectful,
We are compassionate,
We are all beautiful,
if we are only aware of who we are.

If sadness comes over you,
Come to the park.
And to the one side rises a spiritual space,
And to the other, a creative one.
Even in a busy place.
there is space.

Lines and curves, patios and earth.
It is,
My Park.
My museum.
A gift .
I too can enjoy the beauty and awakening.

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TRINITY

An aerial view of the Aga Khan Museum (left), the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre. Photo: AKDN/Geoff Grenville. Copyright.

An aerial view of the Aga Khan Museum (left), the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre. Photo: AKDN/Geoff Grenville. Copyright.

BY IKHWAN ALLANI

Bismillah-ir Rahman-ir Rahim

Alas,
Three spaces that lift the spirit,
Have come to life.
Ah, how my soul has been eager,
For this blessed day to arrive.

Masha’Allah

The Museum stands as a symbol
Of culture and knowledge,

A beautiful expression of the Islamic heritage.
Every art piece reflects our wonderful tradition,
Cherishing poets, scientists and mathematicians.
1400 years of Islamic history,
coming together as one,

Step by step, piece by piece,
what a collection this has become.

Blessed I am, to witness the past in the present,
O soul, breathe, Be one with this moment!

Subhan’Allah

The Park is majestic, a sight of pure aesthetic beauty,
Humbly sowing the seeds of brotherhood and unity.
Every blade of grass promises a new conversation,
As fresh gusts of wind whisper new information.
Flowing water pledges
a cleansing of the mind and spirit,

Every thought, every action, one with the universe,
no limits.

Blessed I am, to experience this natural ornament,
O soul, breathe, Be one with this moment!

Al-hamdulillah

The Ismaili Centre is the abode of the soul, paradise,
Where the Lord and His believer
become one, synchronize.

The flawless rock crystal
is the epitome of perfection above,

Where light and shadow blissfully coexist,
intoxicated in love.

Ya Allah, Ya Ali, Ya Muhammad,
resonate with every heartbeat,

Humbled, I prostrate before The One,
I am now complete!

Blessed I am, to free my mind
From worldly involvement,

O soul, breathe, Be one with this moment!

Shukran’Allah

May the Museum inspire the mind,
May the Park energize the body,
And may the Prayer hall purify the soul.

Ameen!

Date posted: May 26, 2015.
Last updated: May 31, 2015 (formatting)

Copyright.

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About the writers: A regular contributor to this website, Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar and Badrudin Naran. After beginning her high school in the UK, her family immigrated to the USA where she has lived since. Dr. Naran went to medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. She currently works in the Paediatric field.

Ikhwan Allani graduated from the University of Toronto, with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Mental Health Studies. He currently works as a Medical Assistant at Appletree Medical Group, and has previously worked as a Research Consultant for The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, and as a Research Assistant at the University of Toronto.

A Welcome Poem for Mawlana Hazar Imam for the Opening of the Aga Khan Park

REFLECTIVE POOLS IN THE GARDEN,
WELCOME TO THE PARK

IMG_1815 Aga Khan Museum ParkBy Navyn Naran

The park has been busy with many preparations,
t’was a sunny bright day and the place was a-buzz,
No honey bees in sight, trees, crisp in their posture
Readying for the performance, the opening of the park.

Excitement and interest, can be seen and be heard
At the museum and center, delightful and clean
The beauty and grace and calculated thought
In art, materials sustainable, masterpieces sought.
Today clouds flirt in our skies, but hearts are filled,
the sun is watching, the ground freshly tilled.
Welcome my Mawla, welcome to your park!

Welcome, my Mawla
Welcome to this garden.
The outdoors “where God IS”,
as you, hidden in my heart.
The green is yet young,
as is my soul’s quiet space,
the roots stretching free,
a new baby unfurling in perfect place.

Water pools, invite clarity and clear thought,
peace, contemplation facing east, west, south and north,
in this space, feeling happy, your Love’s blessing, you are near,
there is pleasure, here is Grace,
we come to play, pray, see and hear.
in ice cold, and thunderstorm, we are healed in this space,
i come here seeking freshness, spaciousness from the “rat-race”,
i have danced, skipped and run across the green grass, and the paths,
we are awed at the care and beauty shared,
marble, light, skill and art.

a haven of peace, in the contours of this garden
now thawed in the sunlight, now moist earth, not hardened.
These young shrubs, balanced sensually
‘twixt museum and spiritual center,
like twine intermingling, as we exit and enter.
As the double-stranded DNA bonded by electronic attraction,
magnetic forces of creation spiral energies, radiant interaction

Welcome your Highness, Prince Amyn, Prince Hussain
Welcome to your park, again and again,
Your gait and your mission, your arms lifted as your greet
your smile brings barakah,
and our hearts feel complete.
What have you not given, not improved which lives?
all cultures, all peoples, one earth, many tribes
in such  gardens we seek time, a place to unwind
a reflection, and rest enjoying the child in our mind.

As santoor plucks a melody, expressive, a lilt,
And rabab strums a movement, brown-orange bridging rifts,
An edge igniting spirit, mysteries of the mind
so the garden offers expansion and life of a necessary kind.

It is in this I the garden gives to life,
Welcome to your Park,
It is in this eye, the garden lifts my heart
Welcome to my Park
Every eye wishes to meet your eye.
Welcome to Our Park
Welcome your Highness, welcome to our hearts.

Date posted: May 25, 2015.

Copyright: Navyn Naran/Simerg. 2015.

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Navyn Naran

Navyn Naran

About the writer: Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar and Badrudin Naran. After beginning her high school in the UK, her family immigrated to the USA where she has lived since. Dr. Naran went to medical school at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. She currently works in the Paediatric field.