The Nur (Light) of Imamat

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

The doctrine of Imamat has been central in Shia Islam since the designation by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) as his successor at Ghadir-Khumm. Among the various interpretations in Shia Islam, the Ismaili Muslims believe in the continuity of the Imamat through a living hereditary Imam descended from Hazrat Ali, through the prophet’s daughter Bibi Fatima (a.s). The current Imam of the Ismailis is His Highness the Aga Khan, who completes his 59th Imamat anniversary as the Ismaili community’s 49th Imam on July 11, 2016. To mark this occasion, we are pleased to provide short selections on the Imamat drawn from numerous writings of historians, theologians, philosophers and poets, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. But we begin, on this page, with a short piece prepared for younger readers, followed by a link to other pieces that includes the transliteration and translation of the Munajaat which is recited in many parts of the world specifically for the Imamat Day celebration.  

We wish Ismailis around the world Imamat Day Mubarak, and pray that the Imamat of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, may continue for several more years beyond the celebration of his Diamond Jubilee on July 11, 2017, which is now exactly 52 weeks away.

The Nur (Light) of Imamat

The sun is extremely important for all life on earth. It gives us light, warmth and energy. The sun however is not the final source of life. It is Allah who gives life to all living things. It is God who has created the sun and the stars and everything that is in the universe.

The Quran teaches that Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Allah guides mankind towards Him through His light. While Allah has created the physical light, He has also provided mankind another kind of light.

Allah says in the Quran:

“O Mankind! Truly there has come to you a proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear Light.” (Chapter 4, Verse 174)

What is this special light that Allah refers to, which guides and makes things clear? For Shia Muslims, this light is the Light of Imamat. The Shias refer to it as the Nur of Imamat. Nur means light. The Nur of Imamat is a spiritual light.

This spiritual light is with the Ahl al-bayt, the Imams from the Prophet Muhammad’s family. This light was with the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Murtaza Ali and, for Shia Imami Ismailis, it is now with their present 49th Imam, Shah Karim al-Husayni, His Highness the Aga Khan IV. The Imam guides his murids (followers) with his Nur.

The Imam’s Nur is not like ordinary light. It is a different light altogether. It is a spiritual light. Physical light, such as sunlight, helps everyone see things in the physical world. The Imam’s Nur guides his murids both in the spiritual and worldly aspects of their lives. Above all, the Imam’s Nur leads his followers towards inner peace and happiness.

Ever since the time of Hazrat Ali, the Ismaili Imams have guided their followers in succession, one after another. There have been forty-nine Imams up to the present time, but the Nur of Imamat is one, and it remains the same.

The Nur of Imamat is always there to guide through the physical presence of the Imam. The Imam holds his followers hands and leads them through both difficult and good times. He gives them guidance about how they should live in a particular time and place.

Just as the water of a river continues to flow, the line of Imamat never stops. That is, the Nur of Imamat is there to stay eternally.

One of the goals of the murid of the Imam should be to strive to come closer to the spiritual light of the Imam. This, one can do by fulfilling one’s material and spiritual responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. Praying regularly, living by the ethics of Islam, following the Imam’s guidance and thinking about Allah constantly can bring us closer and closer to the Nur of Imamat.

Source: Article adapted from multiple literary sources including the Ta’lim curriculum published by Islamic Publications, London.

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PLEASE CLICK: The Munajaat and Imamat As Depicted Through the Ages in Ismaili and non-Ismaili Writings

IMAMS ARE SHIPS OF SALVATION

Feluccas on the Nile in Aswan. The ship occupies a unique position in the Islamic tradition. The Qur’an counts it among the ayat (miracles) of God and devotes twenty-eight verses enumerating its benefits to mankind. For Shaykh Khudr, a contemporary of the Ismaili Imam Nizar, Imams are the Ships of Salvation. Please click on image for numerous selections on Imamat.

Date posted: July 10, 2016.

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A Spiritual Father’s Love for His Community: The 79th Salgirah (Birthday) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

“When I leave this evening I would like that you should remember two things. One, that I will take with me in my heart the remembrance of each and everyone of you, the face of each and everyone of you. Secondly, that my love for my Jamat is a lot stronger than yours can ever be for me and I would like you to remember this…you must remember that Imam loves you more, much more than you can ever love him and you must be strong in this knowledge.” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, December 26, 1964.

Photo_AKDN_Anya Campbell

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims directly descended from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). Photo: AKDN/Anya Campbell. Copyright.

Spread in various countries around the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis have their own innumerable ways for celebrating important religious occasions according to their various cultural, social and religious traditions and backgrounds. One very important occasion in the annual calendar of the Ismailis is the Salgirah, or the birthday of their spiritual leader (Imam). His Highness the Aga Khan is their present Imam, and Ismailis around the world will be marking his 79th Salgirah on December 13, 2015. The following readings will enhance the readers’ understanding about the occasion as well as the special relationship that binds the Imam of the Time with his spiritual children.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Salgirah and the Depth of His Love for the Jamat

The term Salgirah is of Persian origin. Sal means anniversary and girah means knot and hence Salgirah literally means ‘an anniversary knot added on to a string kept for the purpose’. This article approaches the subject of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday in terms of the Imam’s love for his murids and the love and devotion of the murids for their Imam.

In Salgirah Ginan Pir Sadr al-Din Asks Mu’mins to Act Righteously and Gain Spiritual Recognition of Imam-e-Zaman

+ Listen to ginan at Ginan Central

Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano has attained a very special status because it is primarily recited during the festivities marking the birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The appropriateness of reciting the ginan during Salgirah will become apparent as we try to understand the ginan and its underlying spiritual teachings. To listen to various renditions of Eji Dhan Dhan (#160),  as well as over 760 other ginans please click http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/ginans.php?id=0.

The Preamble Of “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims”

The new Ismaili Constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by His Highness the Aga Khan on December 13th, 1986, his 50th birthday. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework for his Ismaili community to contribute meaningfully to the societies among whom they live.

His Highness the Aga Khan and the Ismailis

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On the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 75th birthday on December 13, 2011, Simerg published a three-part photo essay tribute to the 49th Ismaili Imam. For those who may have missed, the series has been consolidated into a captivating one piece photo essay, which can be read by clicking on the above link.

Date posted: November 28, 2015.

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Archives: Please click Table of Contents for links to all articles published on this blog since March 2009. Subscribe to this Website via the box near the top right of this page.

Prophet Muhammad in Ismaili Ginans

BY HAKIM VALI MOHAMMAD SURANI

A folio from a manuscript of Ginan Vaek Moto of Pir Shams. Ms. KM 125, 463 folios, 200 x 160 mm; Copied in 1897 Samvat/1841 by Dahio Surijiani. Credit: The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, http://www.iis.ac.uk

  1. INTRODUCTION

The ginanic literature of the Ismailis emerged when Ismaili Pirs (missionaries) came to India to spread the teachings of Islam and the Shia Ismaili Tariqah. The task which lay before the Pirs was to introduce the teachings of their faith in a form which would not be completely alien to the people to whom they were preaching. The ginans were therefore composed on a ‘synthetic pattern’ of the prevalent religious poetry. The Pirs took the local religious terms as conceptual tools to introduce Ismaili and Islamic teachings to the masses and, in so doing, they achieved good results. The method they adopted was most logical and quite in the spirit of the universal nature of Islam. The Holy Qur’an says:

“Call unto the Way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching; and reason with them in ways that are best.” — Holy Qur’an, 16:125

Thus the Ismaili Pirs brought the Hindu mind to a logical understanding of the fundamental concepts of Islam. Professor Ivanow makes the following observation on the approach taken by the Ismaili Pirs:

“Either by intuition, or sound and clever reasoning, the Nizari Ismaili missionaries devised some methods which helped them to overcome such local obstacles…One was their bold tactics in separating the meaning and spirit of Islam from its hard Arab shell…They explained the high ideals of Islam in the familiar terms of ancestral religion, Hinduism….They brought the matter a step further by proclaiming Islam the crowning phase of the whole development of Hinduism. According to them, the Qur’an (together with the ta’wil system) was the last and final Ved, completing the earlier revelations. Thus, from a purely Islamic view point, the method of bridging the difference between Islam and Hinduism adopted by Ismaili missionaries was perfectly correct, in no way conflicting with orthodox ideas.” — quote excerpts from Ismaili Da’wa in India, by W. Ivanow, Ilm, Volume 4, Number 2

In this brief article, we will present only a few of the several verses that reference Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) in the ginanic literature of the Ismailis. Links to recitations of some of the ginans mentioned in this piece are provided below.

2. NUBUWWAH

Among the concepts presented by Ismaili Pirs in the ginans was the concept of Nubuwwah (Prophethood).

In the Holy Qur’an this concept is explained with reference to the last Prophet, Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (may peace be upon him). By giving an analogy of Sirajum-Munira to the Nabi (Prophet) as in the following verse, the Holy Qur’an relates the concept of Nubuwwah with the symbol of Noor (light):

“And as one who invites unto Allah by His permission, and as a lamp that gives light (Sirajum-Munira).” — Holy Qur’an, 33:46

While the Holy Qur’an describes the Nabi as ‘Bright Lamp’, the ginans use the symbol of ‘Chandni’ (Moon Light) for the Prophet. Both in the Holy Qur’an and the ginans, the Prophet is seen as a Rahemat (Mercy) to mankind. The Qur’an says:

“And We have not sent you but as a mercy to all the nations.” — Holy Qur’an, 21:107

Obedience to the Prophet is obedience to God and it is also made a necessary condition for the love for God. Those who disobey the Prophet are called the ignorant ones. The ginans also speak in the same vein. The similarities show that the teachings of Ismaili Pirs had their foundations in the Holy Qur’an.

3. THE PROPHET AS MERCY TO MANKIND AND LIGHT

“An Apostle who rehearses to you the Signs of God containing clear explanations, that he may lead forth those who believe and do good works from darkness unto light.” — Holy Qur’an, 65:11

In the verse quoted above, the Prophet is the source of guidance for mankind. He shows them the right path, removes the veil of ignorance and brings them to Light. In the ginan Satveni Moti, Syed Imam Shah says:

“Nabi Muhammad iis joog mahe aviyaa, tis-thi chand-roona marag paya”

Translation:

“Prophet Muhammad has come in this period, and through this moon-like Light, the Way has been made bright.”

The Pir says that the Institution of Nubuwwah, through the last of the Prophets, is like a moon which expels darkness and shows the way to the travellers. It determines a way of action for salvation, because we are liable to errors and may go astray in this world of many complexities.

The Prophet’s manifestation as God’s Bounty and Mercy is shown by the following verse of the ginan Alaf Nirale Khalaq Raja by Pir Sadr al-Din:

“Bujo-re bhai chhatra kon tana, Chhatra Nabi Muhammad Mustafa tana”

Translation:

“Through whom is the care and protection? Know, O Brothers! The care and protection is through Nabi Muhammad Mustafa (the Chosen).”

This clearly resonates with the Qur’anic verse:

“Allah verily has shown grace to the believers by sending unto them a messenger of their own who recites unto them His revelations, and causes them to grow, and teaches them the Scripture and wisdom.” — Holy Qur’an, 3:164

And Pir Hasan Kabiruddin in his monumental composition, Anant Akhado, says:

“Ashaji Nabi chale Nooraj warsey, Rikhisar ne sir chhai(n)-ji”

Translation:

“There are showers of Noor where Nabi walks and the believers have his protection over them.”

Thus the ginans describe the Prophet’s care and protection as chhatra and chhai(n) respectively. His guidance is Noor (Light), which helps to dispel darkness and makes visible the path leading to reunion with God.

4. THE PROPHET AS INTERCESSOR AND REDEEMER OF SOULS

“And those whom they invoke besides God have no power of intercession save he who bears witness to the Truth and they know (him).” — Holy Qur’an, 43:86

“O Muhammad! Raise your head and speak, and you shall be granted your desire, and intercede and your intercession shall be accepted.” — Hadith, Bukhari, 81:51

Since the Institution of Nubuwwah is a Blessing given by Allah, believers will have the intercession of the Prophet on the Day of Judgement. This (intercession) will bring them spiritual bounties in the life hereafter. In the Ginan Yara Shafayat Muhammad Karshe , Pir Sadr al-Din says:

“Yara shafayat Muhammad karsey, Mu’min bahest lahenga.”

Translation:

“O friends! Muhammad will intercede (on the Day of Judgement), and the mu’min (believer) will earn the abode in heaven.”

In Buj Niranjan, the Pir says:

“Jo Nabi Muhammad karey shafayat, Ja(n)ko hai ummat ki riayat” — verse 6, lines 9-10

Translation:

“If Prophet Muhammad intercedes then his followers will find ease (on the Day of Judgement).”

However, a pre-condition of earning the intercession of the Prophet Muhammad is for one to accept his Prophetic role and to follow his guidance. This is beautifully explained in Kalma Kahore Momano by Pir Satgur Noor:

“Eji Nam Nabi-ka mitha hai, jaisa sakar dudh, Kalma kaho dil saach soo(n), to bando shafayat mool”

Translation:

“O mumin! the name of our Nabi is as sweet as sugar and milk. Recite the Kalma with a true and sincere heart. This, indeed, will provide for you the intercession of the Prophet.”

and,

“Eji Nabi to jeevo(n) ka datar hai, Jene Kalma sunaya sar; Je momin manshe to beheshti howenga, Baki gafil bhula gemar”

Translation:

“Nabi is the redeemer of all the souls and he has taught the kalma to you. A mumin who declares his faith in the kalma will earn the heavenly abode but the rest, who ignore the kalma, will be lost and, indeed, they are the foolish ones.”

The consequences of not obeying the Prophet Muhammad to those who have paid allegiance to Islam is provided in the following verse of Syed Imam Shah:

“Nabi Muhammad kahya jeene na kiya, dozakh-ma(n) darwaza une liya”

Translation:

“He who does not obey the teachings of Prophet Muhammad has taken for himself the path towards the gates of hell.”

And, in this vein, the Qur’an declares:

“Establish worship and pay the poor-due and obey the messenger, that you may find mercy. Think not that the unbelievers, are going to frustrate (God’s plan) on earth. Fire will be their home – and it is indeed an evil refuge.” — Holy Qur’an, 24: 56-57

Folio of Pir Sadr al-Din’s Ginan, Saloko Nano. 492 pages, 200 x 160 mm. Copied between 1924 Samvat/1867 and 1942 Samvat/1885 by various scribes including Khoaja Jafar Khiate Dhalani. Credit: http://www.iis.ac.uk

5. BELIEF IN PRE-ISLAMIC REVELATIONS AND PROPHETS

(a) Earlier Revelations

“Say (O Muslims): We believe in Allah and that which has been revealed to us and in that which was revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Issac and Jacob and the tribes, and in what that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the Prophets from their Lord; we do not make any distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:136

Belief in Prophet Muhammad as the last of Allah’s Messenger renders it necessary for a believer to accept all the earlier prophets, as shown in the above verse. This essential principle as well as some of the references that the Qur’an makes about the earlier prophets is also found in ginans as shown in the following compositions:

In the Ginan Virabhai Saheb Kero Bhed Na Bujere Koi, Pir Sadr al-Din observes:

“Eji ek lakh-ne chovis hazaar-mahe paigumbar sardar”

Translation:

“Amongst the 124,000 (Prophets), the Prophet (Hazrat Nabi Muhammad Mustafa) is the chief.”

This is in accordance with a well known tradition of the Prophet Muhammad which states that there were 124,000 prophets; the Holy Qur’an mentions only about twenty-five prophets.

(b) Hazrat Adam (a.s.)

“They (Adam and his wife) said: ‘Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If Thou forgive us not and have not mercy on us, surely we are of the lost’.” — Holy Qur’an, 7: 23

A corresponding verse is found in Pir Hasan Kabiruddin’s Eji Sarve Jivu-na Lekha Leshey:

“Eji Dada Adam mota barvant kahiye, Tap mota tena kahiye.”

Translation:

“Hazrat Adam was indeed very strong (spiritually), and his penance was complete.”

(c) Hazrat Musa (a.s.)

“And when Moses came to Our appointed tryst and his Lord had spoken unto him, he said: ‘My Lord! Show me (Thyself) that I may gaze upon Thee.” — Holy Qur’an, 7:143

Pir Hasan Kabiruddin, speaking about Hazrat Musa, says:

“Eji Musa Nabi Shah-ku bahot pyara, Niti nit darshan karna”

Translation:

“Prophet Musa was the beloved of the Lord. He always sought and prayed for the vision of Allah.”

(d) Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.)

“Say: Allah speaketh truth. So follow the religion of Abraham, the upright.” — Holy Qur’an, 3:95

And about Hazrat Ibrahim, Pir Hasan Kabiruddin says:

“Eji Ibrahim Nabiji-ki bataj suniye, Karna aiysa kaam”

Translation:

“Listen to the story of Prophet Ibrahim and do such deeds as he did.”

6. FROM NUBUWWAH TO IMAMAT

“Behold, your Lord said to the angels: ‘I will create a Vicegerent on earth’.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:30

“O mankind! Verily there has come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: for We have sent unto you a light that is manifest.” — Holy Qur’an, 4:174

“He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla.” — Hadith

Finally, it would be appropriate to add a few ginanic verses which speak about the continuity of the Divine Guidance through the Institution of Imamat after the demise of Allah’s last Prophet, Hazrat Nabi Muhammad Mustafa (may peace be upon him). True, there would be no Prophet after Prophet Muhammad, but God’s guidance for mankind had to continue, or else how could God’s Infinite Mercy and Absolute Justice be explained?

The continuous and perpetual guidance mentioned in the Qur’anic verse:

“O mankind! Verily there has come to you a convincing proof from your Lord: for we have sent you a light that is manifest” — Holy Qur’an, 4:74

is stated by Pir Hasan Kabiruddin as follows:

“Noore-Khalifa iis joog-ma(n)hey awiya, Ta(n)ki amar jyot likhai ji”

Translation:

“Vicegerent of God (Imam) has come in this period and His Light is Eternal.”

However, the belief in and the recognition of  Prophet Muhammad is a pre-requisite for a belief in the Imamat and this is reinforced in Pir Hasan Kabiruddin’s Allah Ek Khasam Sabuka:

“Nabi Muhammad bujo bhai, to tamey pamo Imam.”

Translation:

“O brothers! know Nabi Muhammad, i.e. know the teachings of Nabi Muhammad, for it is then that you will gain the recognition of the Imam of the time.”

Date posted: November 25, 2015.

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GINAN RECITATIONS AT GINAN CENTRAL: A PORTAL OF THE ISMAILI COMMUNITY’S GINANIC LITERATURE

To listen to some of the ginans mentioned in the above piece, and to more than 700 other ginans by multiple reciters from around the world, please click on http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/ginans.php?id=0

This is a unique resource that should be of interest to everyone researching or studying ginans, as well as everyone who is inspired by ginans composed by Ismaili Pirs and Syads.

Notes:

1. This reading has been adapted from Hakim Vali Mohammad Surani’s piece Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) in the Light of Ginans, which was originally published in Ilm, March 1980, Volume 5, Number 4, by the Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom.

2. Further references to all the ginans quoted in this reading are provided in the original Ilm article.

Syad Imam Shah’s Ginan Naklanki Geeta, the Hadron Collider and Modern Scientific Ideas by Shiraz Pradhan

In this in-depth study of  Syad Imam Shah’s ancient ginan, Naklanki Geeta (generally referred to as granth because of its voluminous size), Shiraz Pradhan explores its much advanced scientific ideas compared to the contemporary knowledge of the era. Pradhan seeks to explain how the composition’s numerous verses might relate to cutting-edge scientific developments taking place today. Pradhan further explores the concept of Nur (Light), and  proposes bold and possible scientific explanations for this mystical concept….Click to read complete article

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world. Published on the NASA website on February 25, 2008 as its image of the day. Image Credit & Copyright: Maximilien Brice, CERN

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider, the largest, most complex experimental facility ever built, and the largest single machine in the world. Published on the NASA website on February 25, 2008 as its image of the day. Image Credit & Copyright: Maximilien Brice, CERN. Please click on image to read Pradhan’s in-depth study.

 

Ginan Central: A Portal to the Ismaili Community’s Ginanic Literature

BY KARIM THARANI
University of Saskatchewan Library
Special to Simerg

Ginan Central is a web portal developed at the University of Saskatchewan Library with the goal of digitally preserving and providing access to ginanic literature in order to promote research and education. The projects undertaken and shared on Ginan Central are diverse and ongoing. For example, the Ginan Index and Search Tool or GIST initiative is a web-based application developed for researchers and scholars to locate and digitally access textual sources such as manuscripts and lithographs of ginans. The Ginan Recitals project, on the other hand, focuses on making oral sources of ginans available to students and researchers. Work is also underway to bring together these textual and oral sources to create an evidence-based master list of ginans in order to ascertain how many unique ginans and granths (titled ginans) are available and accessible today. In addition to these projects, the Ginanic Studies section on Ginan Central is dedicated to compiling and maintaining an online bibliography of research outcomes pertaining to ginans. In terms of education and outreach, the Ginan Central portal also hosts a multimedia Khojki Guide for those who are interested in learning the Khojki script to decipher ginan manuscripts.

Please click on image for enlargement

Ginan Central CEM

The Ginan Central portal uses the University of Saskatchewan Library’s Community Engagement Model (CEM), which was recently presented at the Ismaili Studies Conference, held at the University of Chicago in 2014. The CEM model uses the roles of protector and promoter as two contrasting endpoints to illustrate various possibilities and levels of individual and institutional collaboration to digitally share sacred traditions and literature. At one end of the CEM continuum is the role of an idealistic protector, whose basic instinct is to protect the sanctity of knowledge by limiting access as a security measure against real and imaginary threats. On the opposite end of this continuum is the role of an optimistic promoter who is driven by the sentiment of sharing literature to advance human knowledge.

At Ginan Central, we recognize and appreciate this paradoxical dynamic amongst community individuals and institutions. This is why collaborating and sharing collections with Ginan Central does not require our partners to forgo their identity or control over their collections. Our goal is not to appropriate collections or build massive repositories, instead we strive to build partnerships and processes that can unify and link disparate collections and repositories by leveraging work of our partners to advance study of ginans.

Aga Khan Quote

Collaboration, respect, and trust remain the guiding principles for Ginan Central to be able to carry out its purpose of preserving and providing access to ginanic literature. Libraries have been involved in digitally harvesting community knowledge for decades. At the University of Saskatchewan Library as well, we are capable of utilizing modern day technologies in responsible and respectful ways to balance the need of protecting the sanctity of sacred traditions and providing the necessary access to students and researchers to advance the study of ginans.

 Date posted: September 21, 2015.

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Please visit Ginan Central, and for more information on Ginan Central, please contact ginans@library.usask.ca.

Reminiscences of Two Great Ismaili Missionaries of the 20th Century – Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary

“[Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary] drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them.”

A youthful portrait of the Ismaili missionary, Meghji Maherali (1881 – 1941), of Mombasa, Kenya. Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

BY IZAT VELJI

My profound gratitude and thanks [to the late Ameer Janmohamed] for sharing so much about Pir Sabzali – it is indeed a living history. The personal comments and recollections made his Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali all the more interesting and real. The group picture shown below of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah with Ismaili missionaries astonished me because there in the photo staring back at me is my nanabapa [maternal grandfather]. I happen to be the proud grand-daughter of Missionary Meghji Maherali, seated at the extreme left in the centre row. In the same row, third from right, is Pir Sabzali.

Every time missionary Pir Sabzali came into Mombasa, he never left without visiting nanabapa. The two had ever so much to share. There was no rivalry, competition or one-upmanship between them. This was very evident from everything that my mother, Noorbanu, shared with us kids.

Mum said that at the dining table, Pir Sabzali and nanabapa shared stories about their travels and advised and helped each other on how to improve each other’s skills in establishing the various jamats they visited. They also discussed ways of improving their waezes [sermons] and participation in discussions so as to become more effective. Apparently, there was a lot of gentleness and warmth as well as mutual respect between them, and they had a soft sense of humour when they recounted personal anecdotes. It seems like they really fed off each other. Pir Sabzali would relay messages of blessings to nanabapa’s family from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Please click to enlarge and read caption. Photo: (Late) Ameer Janmohamed Collection. UK.

Later, they would retire to the front room where nanima would send a tray of chai and ‘goodies’ via my mum, who was then seven or eight years old. She remembered all this with so much pride and joy. My mum passed away in 2000. She said that the two missionaries would sit for hours apparently discussing all matters Ibadat (special worship prayers).

They drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them. With missionary Sabzali’s encouragement and help, nanabapa established a school of waezins in Mombasa, one of his recruits being my father, Noordin Koorjee. Even back then, our missionary leaders practised ‘succession planning’ so that Imam’s work would not come to a standstill after they passed on.

These two ashaqs [devotees] were very sincere in their service to Mawla, and deeply loyal to their Mashuq (the lord of the devotee).

STANDING BACK ROW- l to r: Missionary’s sons Gulamhussein, Fatehali, Sherali, Hussein; 2nd child Mehdi Gulamali is not in picture; SITTING ON CHAIRS – l to r: Daughters Khatija, Fatma, Missionary Meghji Maherali, wife Zainub with Hussein’s 3rd child Shirin, Hussein’s wife, Sikina; SITTING ON FLOOR – l to r: Dolat – Hussein’s 1st child, daughter Noorbanu (mother of Izat Velji, author of this article). Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

When Pir Sabzali’s health deteriorated and he was in his last days, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent him a message saying that he still wished to send Sabzali to Africa. Missionary Sabzali died a few days later. This came verbally from my parents, not once but several times. I have no way of authenticating this statement, but if it’s true then only Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Shah Karim, the present Imam, would know the true import and reach of this message to Pir Sabzali.

When nanabapa died, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent a telegram to the Mombasa Council that “Missionary Meghji’s funeral be held with a lot of pomp because of Meghji’s long and wonderful service to the Mombasa jamat.” So, out came the Scouts Band, all spit and polish followed by the cubs and scouts troops followed by the jamat giving kandh to nanabapa all the way from Chief jamat khana to the cemetery. That’s a long distance.

Today, almost eighty years later, I stand head bowed, in sheer admiration for nanabapa and Missionary Sabzali, whose soul was granted Piratan by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. Incidents and events like these are simply overwhelming and sometimes difficult to grasp and comprehend. It is their spirit and devotion which keep the Jamat inspired.

Copyright: Izat Velji/Simerg.

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Editor’s note: Izat Velji’s piece originally appeared on this website in response to Ameer Janmohamed’s Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali and the Ismaili Pirs of the Ginanic Tradition, which was  published as part of this website’s highly acclaimed third anniversary series on thanking Ismaili historical figures.

We welcome your feedback – please click Leave a comment.

About the writer: Izat Velji spent her early childhood years in Kenya and Tanzania. After completing her secondary schooling in Kenya, she pursued a degree in education and teaching at the University of Nairobi. She then settled in Canada where she completed her degree in Medical Lab Sciences. Later, she was recruited into the faculty of the Aga Khan School of Nursing in Karachi where she taught a number of science subjects including Clinical Microbiology and Basic Immunology. During her tenure in Karachi, she was very fortunate to have met His Highness the Aga Khan who visited her lab and class, once with the late Pakistani President Zia ul-Haqq, and on another occasion with his brother Prince Amyn. Encouraged by her husband, Izat also undertook voluntary assignments with the Aga Khan Health Board for Karachi to develop, conduct feasibilities as well as implement Health Education materials for the province of Sindh and the Northern Areas of Pakistan including Hunza and Chitral. The material that she helped prepare continues to be used today by AKDN Agencies such as Focus in their teaching modules. Since returning to Canada, Izat has been very active with the Ismaili community as a volunteer and especially with the Duke of Edinburgh’s program for youth aged 14 to 25. Most recently in 2011, she was acknowledged by the Governor General at the Gold Award Ceremony.

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Navroz Mubarak: The Beautiful Navroz Tradition of Haft Sin + Links to Great Navroz Readings

To celebrate Navroz, families in Iran gather around a specially prepared holiday table to make wishes for the coming months. Items on the table refer to new life and renewal, and they are based around the number seven….Read more

Please click: The Beautiful Nowruz (Navroz) Tradition of Haft Sin

Conceived and created by Nurin Merchant of Ottawa, this Navroz greeting incorporates the rose and jasmine flowers which are extremely popular in Iran during the celebration of Navroz. The base of the picture shows shoots of wheat grass signifying robust evergreen health throughout the year. Image: Nurin Merchant. Copyright. Please click on image for Haft Sin.

Conceived and created by Nurin Merchant of Ottawa, this Navroz greeting incorporates the rose and jasmine flowers which are extremely popular in Iran during the celebration of Navroz. The base of the picture shows shoots of wheat grass signifying robust evergreen health throughout the year. Image: Nurin Merchant. Copyright. Please click on image for Haft Sin.

Date posted: Friday, March 20, 2015.

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Please also click Simerg’s New Downloadable Publication: Nawruz Literary Readings, Poetry and Ginan

Varas Ismaili Gangji: The Turning Point by Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant

Editor’s note: While I constantly think of my mum, Alwaeza Maleksultan J. Merchant, as she continues her recovery at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, near Vancouver, from an open heart surgery some 5 weeks ago, I felt I should re-post her excellent piece on Varas Ismail Gangji that she contributed as part of Simerg’s highly acclaimed “I Wish I’d Been There” series. Her photo, left at image below, was taken by my brother, Alnoor, when he visited her at the RCH a few days ago. To read her inspiring piece, please click on the photo or on Varas Ismail Gangji: The Turning Point

Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, 83, shown at left in image above seen recovering at the Royal Columbian Hospital following her triple bypass surgery. Please click on photo for her article on the great Ismaili hero Varas Ismail Gangji. Photo/image: Alnoor Merchant/Nurin Merchant.

Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, 83, shown at left in this image, is seen recovering at the Royal Columbian Hospital following her triple bypass surgery. Please click on image for her article on the great Ismaili hero Varas Ismail Gangji. Photo/image: Alnoor Merchant/Nurin Merchant.

Ideas of One Humanity in World Religions: Comparative Study of Ginan “Hum dil Khalak Allah Sohi Vase” by Shiraz Pradhan, With a Recitation

Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul….” – Holy Qur’an, 4:1

Instability is infectious, but so is hope. And that it is why it is so important for us to carry the torch of hope as we seek to share the gift of pluralism….Profound expressions about our common humanity are embedded in the world’s great religious traditions, including my own…” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Lisbon, June 12, 2014.

Credit: Istockphoto.com. Please click on image for "One Humanity"

Image Credit: Istockphoto.com. Copyright. Please click on image for “One Humanity”

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

The Holy Qur’an: An Anecdote from His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to an Ismaili Religious Night School

In this piece Kamaluddin Mohammed, a prominent and highly respected Ismaili scholar and missionary explains the importance of studying the Holy Qur’an, and gives an anecdote from a religious night school visit made by the current 49th Imam of the Ismailis, His Highness the Aga Khan, during his visit to India in 1967.

PLEASE CLICK:  Ismaili Children’s Understanding of the Holy Qur’an Gives Immense Happiness to Mawlana Hazar Imam

Calligraphy writing has been a preeminent Islamic art since the seventh century when the Qur'an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Arabic language. Controlled, angular lettering called Kufic script was commonly employed in the writing of early Qurans. This folio from the Qur'an, is Sura 9, "Repentance" (al-Tauba), verses 31-32, Near East or North Africa, ca. 900. Photo:  Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Please click on image for article.

Calligraphy writing has been a preeminent Islamic art since the seventh century when the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad and recorded in the Arabic language. Controlled, angular lettering called Kufic script was commonly employed in the writing of early Qurans. This folio from the Qur’an, is Sura 9, “Repentance” (al-Tauba), verses 31-32, Near East or North Africa, ca. 900. Photo: Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Please click on image for article.