Timeless and Inspirational Pieces on Imam Ali: Essays, Art, Ginans, Songs, Stories and Quotes

Over the years, Simerg and its sister websites have published numerous enlightening and reflective pieces on Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him), the first Imam of Shia Muslims, whose birth anniversary falls on the 13th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle and this translates to February 3, 2023 in the Gregorian calendar. We are pleased to provide the following links to a selection of timeless pieces on the Imam:

Date posted: February 3, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

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

The editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com. 

Ethics in Hazrat Ali’s Kalam-i Mawla

Editor’s note: Like all Shia Muslims across the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis will be observing with deep reverence the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali on the 13th of Rajab, corresponding to February 3, 2023, in Canada and many other parts of the world. The Ismailis are led by His Highness the Aga Khan who is the 49th Hereditary Imam in the succession of Imams from Ali, who was appointed by Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him and his family — to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. Today, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan, and hence the Ismailis refer to him as Hazar Imam (the Imam-of-the-Time or the Present/Living Imam.). The Kalam-i Mawla article by Dr Farouk Topan first appeared in printed form in Vol 13, Number 1, July 1990, of Ilm, the flagship Ismaili religious periodical published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the UK — or ITREB — between 1975 and 1992. This second reproduction of the article on SIMERG has an improved format for ease of reading. Readers should take note that the images shown in this post are not part of the original article published in Ilm magazine.

By FAROUK M. TOPAN

Introduction

The relationship between man and God forms the focus of most religious literature. Of paramount importance to the relationship is the conduct, behaviour and action of man during his sojourn on earth. What he says and does is deemed to affect that relationship: good deeds strengthen it, bad deeds impair it. It is thus considered crucial that man be made aware of what he may and may not do, that he be made to understand the limitations of his actions beyond which he may not transgress without placing in jeopardy the health of that relationship. Such awareness is made explicit not only in scriptures and holy texts but also in books, epistles, treatises and poems composed by men of faith and learning. The Kalam-i Mawla falls under the latter category.

The Kalam-i Mawla (hence referred to as Kalam) is a poem of 327 verses, composed in Hindi, whose content draws inspiration from the sayings, speeches and sermons of Mawlana Ali (may peace be upon him.) The actual composer of the verse is not known. Unlike the practice followed in some compositions, — for example, in the Ginans — where the composer mentions his name within the body of the text, the composer of Kalam has refrained from doing so. His action may have been dictated by modesty, or even piety, in not wishing his personal attribution to impinge upon the considered authorship of the first Imam. Thus the authoritative status of the verses, as expressing the Kalami (speech/sayings) of the Lord, Mawla, has been preserved.

The predominant message conveyed in Kalam is ethical. One could say that the text is a manual of ethics for a believer, stating the virtues to be cultivated and the vices to be shunned. The ethical emphasis is brought into an even sharper focus in the printed editions of Kalam-i Mawla. A comparison, for instance, between the earlier manuscript of the Kalam dated 1801, and the latest printed version published in Karachi in 1984 by Ismailia Association for Pakistan shows a re-arrangement of the verses in the latter to reflect an ethical direction of the message.

The Karachi edition, which is itself the latest in a long chain of printed versions dating from 1873, divides the text into 23 chapters, each with its own title. The first chapter is on truth, the second on brotherhood, the third on the virtues of good manners or discipline, the fourth on generosity, the fifth on miserliness, the sixth on greed and so on. Among the subjects included are the way of the heart (ch.7); the beauty and marvel of knowledge (ch.10); the path of injustice (ch.11) and of justice (ch.12); prayers (ch.14) patience and gratitude (ch.16); jealousy (ch.22) and courage (ch.23).

The Kalam-i Mawla, however, does not confine itself simply to conveying the ethical message. If it did, it would have been incomplete in a fundamental way for ethical injunctions derive their meaning from the assumptions and pre-suppositions of belief. To state what man ought to do and not do, without placing these imperatives within the parameters of belief would be to deprive them of their rationale and justification. They would lack conviction. The composer of the Kalam has avoided such a pitfall and has created a vibrant text by focusing, not on one, but on three interlinked dimensions, each supporting the others. These dimensions are  (1) the Doctrinal (2) the Esoteric and (3) the Ethical.

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The Doctrinal and Esoteric Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla

The first dimension may be termed doctrinal; its expression is interspersed throughout the poem as the basis for man’s action. Two examples may suffice for our purpose here. The opening verse of Kalam-i Mawla sets out a theological hierarchy. The first remembrance (Zikr), it says, is of Allah; the second profession (kalma) is of Muhammad and the third is of the Mawla who narrates “his kalam, a treasure of jewels revealed to us.” Thus God, the Prophet and the Imam are mentioned from the beginning. In verse 5 the concepts of Tawhid, Nabuwwa and Imamah are expressed explicitly: “Know that Allah, the Sustainer is One; that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah; after the Prophet (comes) the Lord of the Imamat, Murtaza Ali; believe in him with truth.”

The second dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the esoteric. One finds verses of deep mystical meaning in the poem which encourage the reader to aspire to a higher spiritual reality. The emphasis is again on action: through prayer, bandagi and acquisition of knowledge. Prayers undertaken at (or after) midnight are given a special mention (verse 168) as they bring ‘light’ to the very being of a person, a light reflected on one’s face; then, on the Day of Judgement, one will be counted among those whose faces are white (of. Qur’an 3:105-106). A believer who is regular in his prayers and bandagi will be graced with the vision of his Lord (verse 170). If such a mu’min is a true beloved of the Lord, then he too will be granted the spiritual bliss of the mi’raj experienced by the Prophet (verses 170/171).

But a believer who wishes to attain such spiritual bliss must first have a guide, a murshid, to open the gates of esoteric knowledge for him. Even a tiny and minute amount of such knowledge — “mere dot (nukta) of marifah” as it is stated in verse 101 — is enough, if given by the murshid himself, to lead a mu’min back to his origin, to the essence of Truth (haqq). Only then will he be able to transcend the state of duality (“The duality of You and me” and merge into a state of Unity and become One with Him who is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, He who will continue to exist when all else perishes (verse 327).

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The Ethical Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla: Theme of Charity and Generosity

The third, and predominant, dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the ethical one, which is expressed in the poem in a number of ways. The most common way is by injunctions stated in the name of Mawlana Ali (a.s) whose status is sometimes further explained through the use of particular titles such as:

Shah-e Awliya (verses 2 & 182) — the Lord of the friends (of God)

Sahib-e Zulfiqar (verse 15) — Master of (the sword) Dhulfiqar

Wali Maqbul (verse 34) — the accepted friend (of God)

Sahib-e Israr (verse 98) — Master of the (spiritual) mysteries or secrets

Kawsar-e Saqi (verses 102 & 107) — the pourer (of water) at the Pond of Kawthar (in Paradise)

Shah-e Dul Dul Sawar (verses 113 & 130) — the rider of (the horse) Dul Dul; etc.

Such titles are almost always given in the last or penultimate line of the verse as a forceful culmination to the advice given in the previous lines; they are thus introduced by phrases such as “and so has spoken….” or “So commands….”

The (ethical) injunctions themselves vary in content and even in the style in which they are expressed. In terms of content, almost every major aspect of a Muslim’s way of life has been covered. The headings of some of the chapters cited in the previous reading, give an indication of the variety of the themes: the sub-themes are even more pervasive.

Let us take chapter four as an example and consider its contents which deal with the theme of charity and generosity (sakhawat). While each of its seventeen verses is pertinent to that theme, its exposition relates to different aspects of the subject.

Man is placed — as indeed he must — at the centre of the injunctions. But around him are constructed premises or arguments to help him see the benefits of being generous, benefits to be gained both in this world and the next, benefits both material and spiritual. Thus, generosity expressed also as acts of charity and philanthropy, is made a cornerstone of the relationship not only between man and God but also between man and man. The two are interlinked, the one expressed in terms of the other, as we shall see below.

In so doing, the verses (18 to 34) also address themselves to fundamental questions of the theme: what is charity; to whom should one be charitable; in what way; and, perhaps most important, why.

The arguments setting out the rationale for the act of charity or generosity — the ‘why’ — may be summarised as follows:

Since God has given wealth to a person through His bounty, His barakah, one should not hide or gourd that wealth but spend from it ‘in the way of God’; for, vast amounts of wealth which are either concealed from others or spent entirely on oneself eventually turn to dust and do not benefit other human beings. If, on the other hand, one gives generously in charity or is philanthropic in action, one is rewarded both in this world and the next. The act of giving is compared to ‘the philosopher’s stone’ (paras): just as the latter turns to gold what is rubbed against it, so does the generous character of a person bring him the good things of life.

People come to respect and love such a person and accord him a high position in this world and offer prayers for his well-being. And God — as the Razzaq, the Provider — grants him prosperity in wealth, family, household and rank in society. A philanthropist is the beloved (habib) of God who will grant him a rank close to Himself in the abode of the Hereafter and whose name will not perish in this world.

How should one give? A short answer from the verses is that charity ought to be given with a smile, with a feeling of happiness. The aim is to make the recipient happy. It is stated repeatedly in these verses that a donor must not make the recipient feel obligated to the giver nor should he hurt his feelings in any way. If these injunctions are violated, his charity will be considered “lost”, that is nullified in the eyes of God. Such a way of giving requires a disciplined heart, a heart that is under control from pride and arrogance. Feelings of kindness in the heart of the donor are gradually accompanied by respect and love for the recipients.

And who are the recipients? Although the verses do not give details of their identity, two broad categories are mentioned: the orphans and the weak who should be approached ‘by the strong’ with a view to aiding them in whatever ails them.

The onus of taking the initiative is placed on the strong. It is interesting to note that charity is conceived, not only in terms of the giving of material wealth to those who are poor, but also in helping to redress the wrongs committed against the weak, to bring justice to those whose rights have been infringed.

Verse 28 states pithily: “The weapon of the weak is to grieve, and to shout out laments to all” but, it goes on to ask: if the grieving do not possess the wealth or the strength to defend themselves, and they continue to be oppressed with suffering and pain, what can be done about it? The implication is clear: the weak need those with a sense of fair play to stand up for them. That too, would be an act of charity.

Article continues below

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Imam Ali Kalam-i Mawla IIS
A page from a Kalam-i Mawla manuscript in the collection of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

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Shi`ite Prayer Manual LOC
Shi`ite Prayer Manual – One of the most revered religious and holy figures of Islam is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ca. 601–661), whose honorary name, Amīr al-Mu‘minīn, translates into Persian as the “prince of the believers.” Written works by ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib and sayings attributed to him are sacred to the Shi`ite faithful, particularly among Persian-speakers. This hand-written prayer manual displays the words of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib in the original Arabic in the Naskh calligraphic style and in a smaller-font Persian translation in red in the Nasta‘liq calligraphic style by Abū al-Qāsim Shīrāzī. Credit: Library of Congress.

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The Stylistic Features Employed in the Kalam-i Mawla

We said earlier that the ethical injunctions in the Kalam-i Mawla are presented in varied styles. Three such stylistic features may be mentioned as illustrations. The first is definitional. A subject, or a moral premise, is defined in a way that includes the type of action one ought to pursue. The following are some examples:

Chapter 1, Verse 3 (1:3) — “He is a true friend who truly keeps his promise”

2:9 — “He is your brother who remains with you during times of hardship”

and, conversely,

2:10 — “He is not a brother to you who brings shame on you, though you belong to the same (father’s) progeny”

4:22 — “The best of wealth is that which is spent in the Name and way of the Lord”

The second feature employs the conditional as a literary device in the construction of a moral premise along the lines “if this…..then this ……” or “if this..then do this ……”. Some examples on different topics are given below.

The first depicts a person who listens more to his ‘heart’, here meaning his baser instincts, than to what has been taught to him. Note, incidentally, the use of the word ‘heart’ in these examples and the variations of meaning given to it, from a place of lower instincts to a noble residence of the Lord in the human body:

7:5 — “If you are blind to knowledge
and your heart becomes your guide
(then) your conduct will be dictated by its desires
and you will be driven into a deep well.”

Thinking about death is the subject of the second example:

17:238: “If you want advice for your heart think of death —
remembrance of death is splendid advice:
remember that you will die and make the grave your
home and none of your friends will accompany you”

On the protection generated by a person’s attitude towards his friends and towards God:

8:248 —“The evil deeds of your enemies will not reach you
if you are sincere and good to your friends:
the wicked world, with its calamities, will avoid you
if you let Allah, the One, reside in your heart.”

The third stylistic feature employed in the Kalam is a common literary tool of using particular images to convey certain meanings and messages. The images themselves may be ordinary ones drawn from nature and daily human activities, or else special ones located in the poet’s culture. The examples given below, as indeed those cited above, represent but a small portion of the spectrum available in the Kalam-i Mawla.

We may take the ‘ordinary’ examples first where the poet uses stone, grass, trees, river, boat, gold, silver, silk and dust to convey his ideas. (The translation given here, as elsewhere in this article, is not a literal one):

3:15 — “Good conduct adorns a person as gold and silver adorn a woman…”

3:16 — “Gold remains in this world but right conduct (adab) enable you to meet your lord…”

4:22 — “Wealth (misspent in this world) turns to dust…” (cf. 6:40)

5:36: “The wealth of a miser is like a stone…”

5:47 — “When the boat of the heart comes upon a storm,
change direction, and lead it to the shore”

8:16 — “Be as soft as silk…”

8:67 — “Have a tender heart,
as tender as a fistful of green grass;
be not arrogant and stiff as a tree
upright in a forest;

tree is toppled in a storm,
but grass bends and sways happily with the wind.”

7:234 — “The waters of a river do not turn back; neither does one’s age…”

Examples of ‘cultural’ images need an explanation. The first is drawn from 4:32 where we are advised to partake of our food with others. The way the meal is served forms the theme for the poet’s injunction in this verse, for he sees people sitting around a single large plate or vessel and eating together from it, as was — and in parts still is — the custom in the East. The custom, we are told, has two benefits. People eating together are blessed with the bounty of God, barakah and, secondly, the food itself can be made to be sufficient for an additional person; for example, four people could eat with satisfaction the food meant for three.

Other examples may be drawn from one verse: 12:129. The verse begins with advice on eating ‘lawful’ food, lawful not only in the sense of halal (in the spirit of the verses of the Qur’an 2:172 and 2:173) but also in relation to one’s income and earning. A free translation of the verse, 12:129, may be rendered as follows:

“Be cautious, brother, and make your meals lawful
for the light of the heart comes through lawful eating

Darkness enters the heart and faith
when forbidden wealth is consumed;

The heart is the lamp in the temple of the body:
where there is darkness, there is loss of faith

None is conscious of the activities
perpetrated in a village enveloped in darkness:
five thieves together could rob it completely.”

A translation is generally but a poor substitute for the original. That would certainly be the case in the rendition of 12:129 given above, particularly as, on its own, it does not reflect the tight metrical borders and the rhyme scheme within which the poet functions in the original language. And yet — however defective the transfer of the linguistic medium — the poet’s skill of combining different idioms is self-evident.

Three sets of ideas are employed: the notions of right and wrong, of light and darkness, and of the gradual loss of faith. The paradigms drawn from the notions are arranged symmetrically: indulgence in that which is prohibited leads to darkness in the heart which, in turn, leads to a loss of faith (Iman): conversely, deeds undertaken within the boundaries of what is permitted lead to enlightenment in the heart and security of faith.

The paradigms are expressed in the cultural images familiar to the audience of the poet. The body as a temple is one example. Just as a lamp (diwo) is an important ingredient in the temple, investing it with a symbolic (and functional) light, so does the heart perform that function symbolically in the body. But the lamp is not safe. It is threatened by the actions of the person himself: the more he flouts the ethical injunctions taught to him, the dimmer becomes the light in his heart.

This vulnerability is expressed in the metaphor of the body as a village where darkness enables five thieves to combine in a stealthy incursion to steal its valuables, the most worthy of which is faith (Iman).The five ‘thieves’ are mentioned elsewhere — that is in the Ginans — as personifying five vices, panj bhu: of lust (kam); anger (krodh); greed (labh); temptation or single minded attachment to the material aspects of the world (moh) and pride (madh).

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Conclusion

The ethical dimension in the Kalam-i Mawla is expressed at three interlinked levels. The first level situates the ethics of the faith within the doctrines and beliefs of Shi’a Islam. These form the foundation upon which the ethics are based, an embodiment of the ‘charter’ that provides the rationale for the ethical development of a Shi’a Muslim. And, perhaps more important, the beliefs and doctrines also reveal — indeed, proclaim — the sanctions that await the transgression of the enunciated ethical injunctions and the reward for their observance.

The second level involves the pronouncement of the moral injunctions themselves. In a work of prose, the pronouncement could perhaps be made at length, with explanatory notes and cross-references to weightier texts, including the Qur’an itself. In poetry, however, an exposition of the theme is governed by such literary constraints as the rhyming scheme and control of the required number of metres per line. The poet has thus to be economical with his choice of words which in turn, ‘forces’ him to make a selection of the themes of priority. What we thus have in the Kalam-i Mawla is the poet’s own choice of what he considers to be important injunctions to be conveyed to a Muslim.

The third level is the literary. We have referred above to the constraint — and challenge — imposed on the poet by the prosodic tradition and convention prevalent in his culture. The poet functions within the prosodic framework to convey his message and ideas. But the framework, at best, is no more than a skeleton in need of flesh and blood to give it form and meaning. And the poet provides this drawing on the idioms of his culture, society and everyday expressions of daily living. The choice of vocabulary, images and metaphors combined with the poet’s own skill of wielding them into verses meant to be read and intoned make the Kalam-i Mawla a truly enjoyable poem to be read for pleasure, instruction and inspiration.

The presentation given in these readings, in relation to the ethical injunctions in the poem, represents but a tiny sample of a vast corpus.

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A note of acknowledgement by Dr. Farouk M. Topan:

I am grateful to Mr Akbar Rupani of the ITREB for India, to Mr Hoosain Khan Mohamed, formerly of Karachi, and to a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous, for their kindness in checking the translation of the Kalam-i Mawla that I had undertaken a few years ago. Their help, given with unstinted generosity, was most encouraging; but may I also state that it does not associate them in any way with any errors of translation that may arise out of my choice of meaning. I am also grateful to Izzat Muneyb (d. May 20, 2017) for her comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Date posted: February 2, 2023.

Featured image at top of post: Panel presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community on the auspicious occasions of his Golden Jubilee visit to Canada in 2008. Please see a brief note about the panel HERE. The panel contains an inscription of Hadith Qudsi, whose translation is shown in the featured image.

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Dr. Farouk M. Topan is pictured at left being awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his contribution to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). We recommend our readers to read Dr. Topan’s recent interview with the Ismaili in which he reflects on his life in teaching, academia, and service to the Jamat. We also invite readers to read Simerg’s brief feature piece on Dr Topan, following UNESCO’s designation of July 7 as Kiswahili Day. Dr. Topan contributed significantly to the study of Kiswahili language and its literature.

Other articles by Dr. Topan in Simerg:

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

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

Artistic Greeting Cards in Arabic Scripts for His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day Revolve Around a Phrase from the Qur’an

By KARIM ISMAIL
with MALIK MERCHANT

Simerg and its sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos, convey heartiest felicitations to Ismailis and friends of the Ismaili community in Canada and around the world on the auspicious occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day anniversary (July 11, 2022). He succeeded to the Throne of Imamat on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20 upon the death of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III, whose Imamat (spiritual leadership) of 71 years is the longest in the 1400 year history of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.

According to well-known Muslim traditions, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) said:

“I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement.” (Muslim, Vol. II, pg. 279).

The Prophet appointed Hazrat Ali (A.S.) to be his successor as the Imam, and His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam, is the 49th Hereditary Imam in direct succession of Imams since Imam Ali.

In the Ismaili Ginan (hymn) Girbah Vali, attributed to the Ismaili missionary Pir Sadr al-Din, the Pir says:

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

The notion of the cosmic necessity of an Imam, expressed by the Pir, is also found in famous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (cited in “The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism,”  pp 125-131):

“The earth cannot be devoid of an Imam; without him, it could not last an hour” and also “If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the Imam.” 

The two calligraphies that Karim Ismail has created express another important notion of the Imam based on the Qur’anic phrase: Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (those firmly rooted in knowledge). According to the Ismaili Baitul Ilm Secondary Curriculum, Volume 1, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, the phrase, in the Shia tradition, is understood to be referring to the Imam descended from the Prophet’s family.

The first calligraphy has the Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm in Fatimid Kufi script on all the 4 sides of Karim Ismail’s artwork. The Fatimids were rulers of Egypt and North Africa in the 10th through the 12th centuries. The Fatimid Imams or Caliphs were ancestors of the current Aga Khan.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on all 4 sides of the art work. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail. Toronto.

The second calligraphy, shown below, has the same phrase on the top and bottom borders in Fatimid Kufi script, as above. The centre has the same phrase in Thuluth script. We sincerely thank Karim Ismail for conceiving these pieces of art for Imamat Day.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on top and bottom of the art work in Fatimid Kufi script; the centre of the art work has the same phrase in Thuluth script. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail, Toronto.

We wish all our readers a very Happy Imamat Day, with prayers for everyone’s good health, strength in Iman (faith), family unity and the fulfillment of all our wishes. May we fulfill the aspirations that Mawlana Hazar Imam has of each one of us of staying on the path of Sirat al Mustaqim (the Straight Path), excelling in our studies and endeavours, and keeping the right balance between our material and spiritual lives.

As we celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 65th Imamat Day, may we always remain under his guidance, loving care and protection. Ameen.

Date posted: July 11, 2022.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Karim Ismail portrait for Barakah
Karim Ismail

Originally from Uganda, Karim Ismail lived in England before settling in Canada. By profession, he is a Pharmacist (retired).  It was in England, in 1986, that he came across the artwork of a German Muslim, Karl Schlamminger (1935-2017), at the Ismaili Centre London. Karl’s artwork on calligraphy and geometrics, had a profound effect on Karim. He is frequently seen conducting calligraphy workshops for children at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Karim is also active on the literature counter at the Ismaili Centre Toronto.

Malik Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher and editor of Barakah (2017) as well as its two sister websites Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). His interest for literature and community publications began in his childhood years in Tanzania through the work of his late parents Jehangir (d. May 2017, aged 89) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021, also 89), who both devoted their lives to the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, His Highness the Aga Khan, as missionaries and religious education teachers. In the UK, Malik edited the flagship Ismaili magazine, ILM, with his father. A resident of Ontario since 1983, he relocated to Alberta in January 2022. He has an animal loving daughter Dr. Nurin Merchant; she is a vet and practices in Ontario. Malik can be contacted by email at mmerchant@simerg.com. He can also be reached — and followed — @twitter and @facebook.

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

Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Ooncha Re Kot: Explanation and Recitation, with Metaphoric Video Footages from Toronto’s Amazing Salmon Run

Chinook salmon leap  Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a 6 foot dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, see video of leap below.

By (LATE) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

The transliteration and meaning of the popular Ismaili Ginan Ooncha (or Uncha) Re Kotfirst appeared on this website in 2009, accompanied by an image of a salmon swimming upstream and trying to jump over a steep rapid. The “borrowed” image was a metaphor for the first verse of the Ginan, where the “fish of the briny deep” seeks to overcome an obstacle — a high cliff — to return to its original abode — in the case of the salmon, the place where the mother had first brought it into the world by releasing the egg a few years earlier (a salmon lays between 1,000 to 17,000 eggs out of which only a few survive). It may be noted that certain species of salmon e.g. the Pacific Chinook, die after spawning, and the salmon that it has given birth to, swim to the lake or the ocean, where they reach maturity in about two to three years. After mating, the adult returns to its place of birth to spawn.

I have lived in Canada since the 1980’s and have on three occasions visited Hell’s Gate in British Columbia, a very popular spot to observe salmon going upstream to spawn. Unfortunately, however, I never got to witness this amazing phenomenon there.

A Chinook salmon swimmin g in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
A Chinook salmon swimming in the shallow waters of Don River, at Don Trail East, September 30, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I was not aware that Toronto rivers had salmon as well. Indeed, the Don River, only a few hundred metres from where I live, is active with Chinook Pacific salmon moving upstream in autumn. The Chinook were introduced into Lake Ontario in the mid 1960’s because the native Atlantic salmon had virtually vanished. Their introduction was an immediate boon to the province’s fishing industry. The Don River flows into Lake Ontario, and at the park close to me it does not have high rapids, so you don’t get to see salmon jumping that high.

An amazing video by a visitor to Etienne Brulé Park on October 7, 2021 of a salmon trying to leap unsuccessfully over a dam on Humber River, near the 13 Crosby Avenue entrance. Please watch upper section of the film for the salmon leap. Video provided to Simerg by Ms. Sze Thang of Toronto.

Google search located a great spot in Toronto where I could view the incredible show, referred to as the Salmon Run. I went to the recommended Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto’s west end, where the Humber River flows. A regular visitor here told me that the salmon activity was low on that day (October 5). I reached the man made dam on the Humber River. The crowd was very small. I began my video taking at one end of the river and was able to see the entire breadth of the river. I would keep my video on for around 30 seconds, turn it off and turn it on again within a second or two. I took about 70 videos, and seven of those provided me the images that I wanted. Some salmon repeatedly kept on hitting the cliff rock and falling back. A few nearly made it but fell back. It was painful to see that! But then a couple managed to leap high enough and continue its spawning journey. Wow! What an exciting and thrilling moment. I visited the site again a couple of times, and was able to capture more failures as well as two successful leaps with reactions from the crowd of hurrays and hand-clapping. The happy crowd apologized to me for making so much noise, but I was very happy they were cheering with every successful leap, and would have joined them in the celebration. For visitors who missed the successful jumps, my cameras became the centre of attraction, and numerous individuals asked me to forward them the videos so that they could show them to their children!

The effort that the salmon were making was painful to witness especially when they hit the wall of the dam, but they would not give up despite the setbacks. They had a set goal and objective: to reach the spawning location. And they had more rapids to overcome in their long journey.

This extraordinary effort by the fish reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan’s advice to his Jamat (community) in Congo in the early 1960’s that if we have faith it will give us the strength to start life all over again (naveen sharuat in the gujarati translated Farman), even a hundred times if necessary. There are two principles in life that Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to be guided by: To work hard and to have faith. Let us work hard, be strong and as eager as the salmon, in our life’s material and spiritual journey. As Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah said, “Struggle is the meaning of life; defeat or victory is in the hands of God. But struggle itself is man’s duty and should be his joy.” These notions of hard work and struggle, and then accepting success or failure define Islam: Submission to the Will of God.

Please enjoy the videos, the explanation of the Ginan by Esmail Thawerbhoy and the recitation by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji. And those who live in Toronto or close to rivers where there are salmon, please go and see the fascinating show called the Salmon Run.

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Eji Ooncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen

Freely rendered in English verse
By (Late) ESMAIL THAWERBHOY
(iambic tetrameter, rhyme scheme abab)

Verse 1

So high the fort and climbing steep,
And surging round its base the sea;
I am a fish of the briny deep,
Ah Love, haste Thou to succour me.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion,
Beloved come home, my Love return;
Forgive Thy slave his scant devotion,
Show me Thy face, to Thee I turn.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion.

Verse 2

This sweet-scented sandalwood home,
Enclosed with beauteous acts galore;
‘Tis Love that locks me in my tomb,
Beloved I pray Thee ope the door.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 3

Enmeshed in ties of kith and kind,
How few realize its fatal art!
My soul’s torment, my body’s grind,
Beloved come soothe my aching heart.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

Verse 4

Be not so wroth, O Darling mine,
And deign to grant Thy Sight sublime;
Pir Hasan Shah entreats divine
Redemption from the sea (of time).
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion…

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Must Watch Video 1: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Transliteration of Ginan

Verse 1

Eji Ooncha re kot bahoo vech-na,
Neeche vahe dariya;
Hoon-re dariya vandi maachhli,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri,
Baalam ghare aav, Saajan ghare aav;
Bando bhooli-yo taari bandagi,
Sa-yan soorat bataav,
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri.

Verse 2

Eji Agar chandan-ni kota-di,
Soofal rachi-ya kamaad;
Taara deedha chhe premana,
Sa-yan kholan aav
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 3

Eji Pinjar padi-yo pari-vaar no,
Koik boojat jann;
Merre tann-ki vedana,
Sa-yan tapat boojaav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

Verse 4

Eji Itana kop na keeji-ye,
Sa-yan deeje didaar,
Pir Hasan Shah-ni venati,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri…

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Must Watch Video 2: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5 and 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Commentary of the Ginan

In this Ginan Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-deen speaks of the soul’s yearning for the Beatific Vision (Noorani Didar). The imagery employed by the Pir is the familiar mystical vehicle of human love and the pangs of separation. In mysticism human love is ennobled and elevated to symbolize divine Love.

The word ‘religion’ comes etymologically from the two roots ‘re,’ again, and ‘ligare,’ to bind. It thus implies a former union from which the soul was separated and seeks to be reunited again.

The Holy Qur’an has the Verse with the same signification:
Inna li-llahi wa inna ilayhi raaji’oon which means
“From Allah we come and to Him is our return.”

A famous Hadith of Prophet Muhammad says:
“Between Him and me there are seventy thousand Veils of Light.”

By ‘Veils of Light’ are meant the entanglements of the flesh which hinder the Soul from its meeting the Noor. It is in transcending the limitations of the flesh and establishing rapport with the Noor that the soul finds its ultimate fulfilment.

But this is no easy matter. Family ties, material gains, power and pelf distract man from his duty.

How difficult the task is, is allegorized by the Pir as the effort of the fish (soul) to swim to the edge of the sea, and then climb up a stiff and fortified fort. The soul is also symbolized as a bird in its cage which is enamoured of its cage, and is loth to leave it to find its true place.

Beatific Vision can only be an act of Grace; and no soul, however much it strives, can claim to be entitled to it. If and when Grace comes, it comes from above. It is transcendent, not immanent. That is to say, it must come from outside of our sense-perception, and cannot be induced from within our consciousness. If we can, in Ibadat, eliminate all consciousness of Space and Time, the soul untrammelled by ‘mortal coil’ could, with Divine Grace, hope for a glimpse of the Beatific Vision—Noorani Didar. But it is always an act of Grace, and man cannot claim to merit it on the strength of his effort.

To use the terminology of photography, a sensitized plate kept in a darkroom will not take an impression however long it remains in the darkroom. But if light from an object falls upon it, it immediately takes an impression. The soul, freed from its entanglements, is like a sensitized plate. It is ready to receive Noorani Didar. But this Light must come from outside. It may come in a few days, a few weeks, or months, or years. It may not come at all. Man’s volition cannot accelerate or ensure the moment. He must strive patiently, and hope for Divine Grace.

Redemption is a common motif in many philosophies. In Eastern philosophy the sea is the symbol of the cycle of life (bhava saagar). To be saved from the sea means release from the flux of life. In Neo-Platonic philosophy it stands for the Individual Soul’s relation to the Universal Soul. In Sufism it is fanna fillah baqa hillah (annihilation in God and then everlasting existence in God). In Ismaili philosophy it stands for the absorption of the individual soul into the Noor of Imamat.

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Must Watch Video 3: Salmon Leap — Successful…The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021 Please see near end for leap. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Must Watch Video 4: Salmon Leap — Successful… The Journey Continues

Salmon Run on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 7, 2021. Video: Malik Merchant/Simerg

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Recitation of Ginan by (Late) Alwaez Rai Shamshu Bandali Haji

Ginan Uncha Re Kot Bahoo Vech-Na sung by (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Credit: Ginans Central

Date posted: October 8, 2021.

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Editor’s Note:

This article by the (Late) Esmail Thawerbhoy was published in the July 1977 issue (Volume 3, Number 1) of Ilm magazine, London under the title Ginan Sharif of Pir Hasan Kabiru’d-Deen.

The late Esmail Thawerbhoy, originally from Mumbai, India, was a lawyer by profession and lived in Bangladesh before making London, England, his home in the 1970’s. He participated actively in numerous research and study groups while he was in Mumbai and Dacca. The editor remembers him fondly for his immense interest and support for Ilm magazine, published by the Ismailia Association for the U.K, (now the Ismaili Tariqah an Religious Education Board) and for contributing an extensive article “The Concept of  Imamat in Ismailism and Other Schools in Islam” which appeared in the March, 1977 issue of the magazine (Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4).

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

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Chinook salmon leap Étienne Brûlé Park, Toronto in October 2021.
Chinook salmon successfully leaps over a dam on Humber River at Etienne Brulé Park in Toronto, October 5, 2021. Image clipped from video. Malik Merchant/Simerg.

May 4, 2021, the 23rd Night of Ramadhan: Laylat al-Qadr Program for Jamats in North America

Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadhan, which falls on Tuesday, May 4, in 2021. Jamati members across North America are cordially invited to participate in a special Laylat al-Qadr program that will be held in three sessions as highlighted in the poster below (click on image for enlargement).

Please also click HERE for the institutional events page, and click on Laylat al-Qadr to read Simerg’s piece on the Night of the First Revelation of the Holy Qur’an.

Laylat al-Qadr programming poster for 2021, May 4, 23rd of Ramadhan
Please click on image for enlargement

Date posted: May 4, 2021.

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

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

Date posted: August 6, 2020.

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

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An expanded version of this post can be read at Barakah.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Shariff Alladina, Ismaili Ginana Reciter, Tanga, Tanzania, Simerg

1960s musical renditions by Shariff Alladina of 4 popular Ismaili Ginans including the Chhogaḍio, Bhāī Tīnī Vireṅ Jīuṅ Umeduṅ

By SAFDER ALLADINA

In my recent piece about my paternal grandparents Alladin and Prembai (see The Story of Tanga’s Alladin Bapu Family) I briefly noted that one of their sons Shariff Alladina (1910-1976), who happened to be my father, had a fine singing voice. I provided links to his Ginans that I had loaded into Soundcloud sometime ago (please click Shariff Alladina’s 4 Ginans, titled as Bapaji 1 thru 4 on Soundcloud). Ever since, I have been pressed for more information about my father as well as his interest in music and Ginans.

Story continues after photo

Shariff Alladina’s parents, Alladin and Prembai. Photo: Safder Alladina.

My late father — shown at top of this post — was a business man of Tanga, Tanzania. He came from a musical family. Born in Kathiawar, India, Shariff was brought to Tanganyika in a dhow as a toddler of about two by his parents Alladin and Prembai. In 1930 Shariff married Zera, a Kachhi girl from Zanzibar. It was not very usual for Kathiawari and Kachhi to inter-marry but Saleh Harji, a close friend of Shariff, was able to negotiate the marriage with his niece Zera. She came from well-established families in Zanzibar. Her paternal and maternal grandparents were Mukhi and Kamadia of Zanzibar jamat on multiple times. Zera’s family story is documented in Zahir Dhalla’s piece A rare 100 year old family photo fills in a few blanks of Ismaili Khoja history in East Africa.

Story continues after photo

Shariff and Zera Alladina Patney, Tanga Ginan Reciter Ismaili Simerg
Shariff and Zera Alladina Patney, 1930. Photo: Safder Alladina Collection.

There were many singers and musicians in the family. My father taught me to sing Jeere waala Paat madaviney chok puravo (a Ginan which is often recited on days when Ab-e-Shifa is partaken) when I was about 10 years old. Mukhi Habib Kassam, who sang the Ginans early in the evening, was so pleased with my singing that he gave me one shilling!

Every Sunday morning, there was a gathering in my house where musicians and music lovers would gather to listen to the singers and instrumentalists. Ustad Ismail Ragi was a local music master who attended these morning sessions of riyaz until he fell ill and the local businessmen got together to raise money to send him with his wife to India for medical attention.

In the 1960s the sessions were attended by Gangu, a harmonium player and Batuk, a young tabla player. The recordings of my father’s songs, including the four Ginans in Souncloud, came out of these sessions of riyaz on Sunday mornings. I was in the UK at the time.

Shariff Alladina recited the Ginans many times in the Jamatkhana. He also gave lectures in the Jamatkhana where he would introduce pieces of Ginans, Bhajans and Sufi poetry in between his speech. He tutored many young people in Tanga to sing Ginans including his daughters Malek, Shirin and Khatun. Khatun’s rendition of Hazrat Ali’s Mowlana Kalam was enjoyed by many.

With these few remarks contextualizing my father’s interest in the wonderful tradition of Ginans and music, I once again invite readers to click on Soundcloud for Shariff Alladina’s recitation of 4 Ginans as well as a Thumri.

The Ginans in Soundcloud, named as Bapaji 1, 2, 3, and 4, are as follows:

1. Bhāī tīnī vireṅ jīuṅ umeduṅ āsuṅ puṇīuṅ or sānjno chhogaḍio;

2. Sabhāgā is dhunīāṅdhe vich kiyā gin āve;

3. Sāmī rājo more manthī na vīsarejī; and

4. Moman man em jāṇjojī.

Ginans Central at the University Saskatchewan is an excellent resource for Ginans and Ginanic research, and I would suggest you visit the website and see items #140, #614, #751, and #464 corresponding to each of the 4 Ginans listed above that are in Soundcloud.

Date posted: July 20, 2020.

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

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

Safder Alladina has taught English as a Foreign Language in England, Japan and Portugal and English as a Second Language in England and Canada. In his 35 years of teaching, he has taught Early Years, Primary, Secondary and Adult classes; and developed and taught Teacher Education programmes at graduate and post-graduate levels at the University of North London, UK, and the University of British Columbia, BC. His research work is in Sociolinguistics. He has retired to a hobby farm in the interior of British Columbia where he does his writing under the pen name of S. Giga Patney.

Brief notes on 3 books by Ismaili poet Ayaz Pirani, inspired by the oral tradition of Ginans

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor Simerg (2009), Simergphotos (2012) and Barakah (2017)

When Ayaz Pirani is in your neighbourhood doing a reading from one of his books, please attend the event. You will become utterly relaxed listening to his beautiful poetry reading in a calm, gentle and soothing voice. He was in Toronto last year and I attended his reading at Knife Fork Books on 244 Augusta Avenue in the vibrant Kensington Market Area. I couldn’t locate the place easily, and even the NU Bügel staff did not know there was beautiful poetry being served upstairs on a regular basis. After a few more inquiries, I climbed a few set of stairs, excused myself for arriving a little bit late and sat to listen to Ayaz! The small crowd, mainly a gathering of Ismaili youth and professionals, kept urging Ayaz to continue with his reading, and he graciously complied. Meeting him later, I came away even more convinced of the nobility of his heart and soul. I acquired Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets but had to put it away in storage with my other books, as I was preparing to leave for Vancouver to be with my mum. I never got to reading the book nor interviewing this highly gifted literary personality in the Ismaili community. Recently, I asked him to present a short overview of his titles. I am delighted to present his piece below. Links to some on-line stores selling Ayaz’s books are provided at the end of the piece. I look forward to interviewing this literary jewel in the coming months, once my nomadic life style comes to an end!

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“My love of ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition” — Ayaz Pirani

Ayaz Pirani author of Happy you are here and Kabir has a thousand Pockets
Ayaz Pirani reading from “Happy You Are Here” at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, California. Photo: Ayaz Pirani.

By AYAZ PIRANI

With my first book, Happy You Are Here, I began to wrestle with geography and humanness in my poems. Canadian poet Suzanne Buffam called Happy You Are Here “tender and intimate” and Heather Birrell said “Ayaz Pirani positions himself as a kind of plainspoken anti-prophet, bringing human nosiness and gratitude to a number of subjects—displacement and immigration, the oak woods of the Arroyo Seco, a mother’s love, a pub in Toronto…—as well as the more mysterious geographies of the soul.”

My second book, Kabir’s Jacket Has a Thousand Pockets, was described as “wisdom poetry” that was “surprising and sly” by New England poet David Rivard. All of my work, including my new chapbook, Bachelor of Art, is informed by my affection for Ginans. Perhaps for this reason Rivard felt they were tinged with perennial truths.

My love of Ginans is various and unending. They have the charms and rhetorical force of written language as well as the emotional and nourishing elements of oral tradition. When a Ginan is experienced in situ, that is, in a Jamatkhana, there is further the resonances that come from a living heritage.

Happy You Are Here was reviewed in The Dalhousie Review and Qwerty Magazine and my individual poems have recently appeared in The Malahat Review, ARC Poetry Magazine, and The Antigonish Review.

Bachelor of Art by Ayaz Pirani
Cover of Bachelor of Art features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the Tiger of God

My new work, Bachelor of Art, is a chapbook of poems. Individual poems include “Ali’s Tiger,” “Nutshells,” and “Sat Panth.” It’s a bit hard to talk about my own work without sounding pretentious, especially when it’s a genre like poetry which has so many romantic associations. In my work I’m trying to describe a particular diaspora experience by finding resources in various treasuries: ginans, divans (of Kabir, Ghalib, et al.), and English literature. I suppose I’m conscious of trying to situate my poems as a Canadian experience as well. I’m drawn to subjects like loneliness, immigration, faith, human awkwardness, love.

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Ayaz Pirani’s books are available in local bookstores and online at Amazon and Chapters-Indigo. His new book, Bachelor of Art, is currently available from Anstruther Press for $10. The cover features a calligram of Hazrat Ali as the tiger of God.

Date posted: June 30, 2020.

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

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

Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Dr. Allaudin Daya, and Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Simerg Featured Image

The 3 Unforgettable Ginan Singers in My Life: A Tribute to Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji

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

I consider Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji to be among the list of my heroes for their inspiring and uplifting recitations of Ginans in East Africa and Canada. My first hero, in chonological sequence, was Alidina Jamal of Upanga Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I still recall the day when I brought home miserable results from my Form 1 final term exams. While I had stood 2nd in the class during the first two terms, my indulgence in cricket had set me back a few dozen places and I was at the bottom of the class – 42 out of 44! I had never seen my late dad, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018), as mad as he was on that day, but he was a loving dad too. After all the scolding — and more — that I received, there was one piece of advice he gave me that held true throughout my life.

He asked me to be in attendance in the Jamatkhana well before the first Dua was recited, so that I would avail myself of the truth and beauty of the holy Ginans composed by Ismaili Pirs centuries earlier. My dad desired that I should carry in my heart Muslim values that the Pirs taught, as well as gain an understanding of the Shia Ismaili faith, which are articulated well in the Ismaili Pirs’ compositions.

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Upanga Jamatkhana Dar es Salaam Simerg, Barakah
Upanga Jamatkhana, Dar es Salaam. Photo: Alkarim Pirmohamed

I followed the advice he gave me and started arriving at the Upanga Jamatkhana several minutes before the dusk Dua, as often as I could. This is how I was introduced to Alidina Jamal — and later to Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji — through his almost daily routine of singing numerous verses from Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s monumental composition, Anant Akhado. The recitation brought me an awareness of the magnificent Ismaili tradition of Ginans. I was then in my teen years. The importance of Ginans has been emphatically made in the following quote by Mawlana Hazar Imam at an evening of Ginan recitations or concert (mehfil) held in Karachi in December 1964.

“I would be surprised if ever such a big Mehfil-e-Ginan has ever been held…many times I have recommended to my spiritual children that they should remember ginans, that they should understand the meanings of these ginans and they should carry these meanings in their hearts. It is most important that my spiritual children…hold to this tradition which is so special, so unique and so important to my Jamat…I have been deeply happy tonight, deeply happy because I have seen the happiness in the hearts of my Jamat and this is what makes Imam happy” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, December 16, 1964, published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan.

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Mukhi Alidina Jamal Ismaili Ginan reciter Simerg
Mukhi Alidina and Mukhiani Roshankhanu Jamal. Photo: Amin Jamal Collection, Calgary.

I could see the joy on the late Mukhi Alidina’s face as he would seat himself comfortably on the floor in front of the main podium for a series of selections that covered numerous themes. His commencement of the Ginan with “Ashaji…” had the power to lift the spirit of this rather young and indifferent teenage boy, and take it to a higher plateau. The entire Jamat would join Alidina, as he gained strength, verse after verse, until he would finally come to a stop a minute or two before the first Dua. In the ten to fifteen minutes of a highly charged performance, our temporal and mundane mind-set was transformed to a spiritual plane. I should say the same for Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji. Through their passion for the Ginanic tradition, all three of these individuals brought the Jamat to the realization of life’s basic principles of patience, tolerance, honesty, avoiding ninda (backbiting) and good ethics (such as in Eji namata, khamta gurji sun rakho), the importance of morning and evening prayers (Eji sandhya veda, biji sandhya and triji sandhya), the Ismaili principles of service (Eji panch mi bari dasondh…) and of course, the obedience to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) and the guidance of the Imam of the Time. Their great recitations would prepare us for the prayers that would follow.

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Dr. Allaudin Daya
Dr. Allaudin Daya.

How did Allaudin Daya become my hero? When Karimabad Jamatkhana opened, it became my primary Jamatkhana, as it was a lot closer to our flat on United Nations Road than Upanga Jamatkhana was. The congregation was much smaller than Upanga’s, as was the Jamatkhana building itself, and I wondered if anyone would ever be able to come close to Mukhi Alidina Jamal’s recitations. A young medical student at the nearby Muhimbili Hospital by the name of Allaudin Daya stepped in to fill the void that I was beginning to feel. Dr. Daya’s recitations were superb, and he was a blessing for the new Karimabad Jamat. His eloquent recitations of the same Anant Akhado that I had heard from Mukhi Jamal, sent chills down my spine, gave me goose bumps and uplifted my spirit. I never dared ask him whether Mukhi Alidina had ever been his coach. I didn’t think so. He resided at the hospital quarters, and I would often meet up with him on the way to the Jamatkhana.

Once I was inside the prayer hall and seated, my eyes wandered to the centre podium area, hoping and wishing to see Dr. Daya rise from his place, and go to the stage to start the recitation like his senior and older compatriot Alidina Jamal, who by now had assumed the role of Mukhisaheb at Upanga Jamatkhana. On most days, Dr. Daya would be called up by the Mukhi, showing the respect the youth commanded in the new Karimabad Jamat. Once I left Dar es Salaam for London, England, the opportunities to attend Jamatkhana became scarcer, as Jamatkhana was a long (and expensive) tube ride away from where I was staying, and I was very busy with my studies. However, Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Dr. Daya had firmly instilled in me a deep love for Ginans. The tradition was solid in my heart.

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A portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji in his early days.
A rare portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji from his early years. Photo: Shamshu Bandali Haji Family Collection

Then several years later, upon my arrival in Canada and initial settlement in Edmonton, I wondered who would assume the roles of my two East African ‘Ashaji’ icons. To my absolute happiness and delight, the role was filled by none other than the late Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji, who sang Anant Akhado in a truly masterful fashion. I might add that during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee year (1982-1983), the pleasant and cheerful Alwaez Bandali Haji, completed the entire Anant Akhado of several hundred verses by picking new verses, each time he got the opportunity to sing before the first Dua at Edmonton’s South Side Jamatkhana. In addition to Anant Akhado, Alwaez Haji’s singing of the Chogadiya made the Ginan an instant hit for me, so much so that one day, not having heard the Chogadiya for some time, I went to the Mukhisaheb and requested that Alwaez be invited to recite it. Alwaez, alas, was late that evening but there were numerous future opportunities that came along. 

These are the three individuals I shall never forget during my lifetime for their outstanding contribution to the Ginanic tradition.

“Meritocracy” Mawlana Hazar Imam once observed, “is not only limited to intellectual endeavours.” Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Alwaez Shamshuddin Bandali Haji and Dr. Allaudin Daya were meritocratic individuals in their own right who, through their inspiring singing raised the spirit of the Jamat, and have immensely contributed to the Jamats’ increased love for the Imam of the Time. To these three, I would like to add the name of Dr. Hafiz Jamal whom I used to hear reciting the verses of Anant Akhado in Ottawa. He is an outstanding Ginan reciter and an absolute joy to listen to.

I have been able to access the recitations of Anant Akhado by Shamshuddin Bandali Haji on the website of Ginan Central. Here are two tracks consisting of several verses from the Ginan:

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Please listen to more recitations at http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/recitals.php?type=album&id=104274

May the souls of Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Alwaez Shamshuddin Haji rest in peace and as for Dr. Allaudin Daya, I sincerely hope to hear him at least once during the coming years. I also look forward to listening to Dr. Hafiz Jamal.

We invite you to share your thoughts about Alidina Jamal, Shamshu Bandali Haji and Allaudin Daya as well as many others like them whom you know for their outstanding Ginan recitations.

I end this piece with a verse of supplication by Pir Hasan Kabirdin from his Anant Akhado to the Imam of his Time, Mawlana Islam Shah. For Ismailis, each Imam is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in, as he is the bearer of the same Noor (Light) of Imamat.

Ashaji jugpati jugnath Sri Islam Shah
ham man tere umayoji
kayam svami ha(n)sajina raja
ja(m)pudipme shah avo
Ali ana(n)t ana(n)t
Ali anatejo svami shah
anata jo a(n)t tuhi jane ji

Oh Lord Islam Shah, the Lord and the Master of the Age;
My mind (and heart) supplicates to you;
You are the eternal Lord and the King of the soul;
Come to the Indian subcontinent;
Ali You are eternal and unlimited, Ali You are the
Lord of unlimited souls or eternity;
You are the only Knower of the limits of the unlimited.

Date posted: June 7, 2020.
Last updated: July 1, 2020 (photo of Allaudin Daya added)

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

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

Malik Merchant Publisher Editor Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos

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

His Highness the Aga Khan and Jehangir Merchant in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique

Ismaili doctrines of faith: Short lessons from the writings of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant: (1) Tawhid or Unity of God

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor,  Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

Alwaez Rai Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) — picture above with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan — is fondly remembered everyday single day by his beloved wife of 66 years, Alwaeza Raisaheba Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant, and all her family members.

He passed away 2 years ago on May 27, 2018 at approximately 1:15 AM. We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Jehangir  and Maleksultan Merchant
Jehangir and Maleksultan in front of a large
portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

My dad was a prolific writer. In England, he edited the flagship Ismaili religious magazine, Ilm, for several years while he served with my mother with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB). His articles related to the faith, history, principles and doctrines of the Ismaili faith, along with insightful interpretations of Qur’anic verses, as well as moving narratives of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Mubarak visits to different parts of the world, richly contributed to the Jamats’ understanding of the faith. The closure of Ismaili religious magazines in the very early 1990’s created a significant void in the dissemination of religious material that was deemed to be “official.” I am referring here to insightful articles in monthly or quarterly magazines published by ITREBs around the world, and not to literary and scholarly books, which the Institute of Ismaili Studies has done a fantastic job of publishing over the past 30 years.

From the time this website, Simerg.com, was launched in 2009, Alwaez Merchant was able to devote time to editing and adapting his Ilm pieces for publication on this website for the benefit of readers on the World Wide Web. Links to those pieces are provided at the end of this article. Ill-health prevailed, and he was no longer able to fully complete the remainder of his Ilm pieces for publication on Simerg.

Ilm Ismaili religious magazine edited by Jehangir Merchant
Ilm magazine – one of Alwaez Jehangir’s magnificent contributions to the Ismaili literary scene. Jehangir edited and wrote extensively for the journal.

Now, I am going to take his unpublished essays from Ilm — many of which were quite lengthy — and share them as short pieces of learning over the coming weeks and months. We begin the Jehangir Merchant series, if I may call it that, with the Concept of Tawhid, which forms the first component in his essay entitled “Fundamental Aspects of Ismaili Doctrine.” It appeared in Ilm, Volume 7, Number 1 & 2, July-November 1981, pp. 2-12.

Tawhid

By (LATE) JEHANGIR A MERCHANT

Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant, Ismaili missionaries
Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant served the Imam of the Time and Ismaili institutions for more than 60 years.

In all Shi‘a tariqahs of Islam, Tawhid (belief in the Unity of God), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), Imamah (the Institution of the Divine Guide) and Qiyamah (Day of Judgement), are considered as the doctrines of the faith. My brief explanation of each of these 4 doctrines of faith for publication on Simerg are based on a much broader discussion that I provided on these subjects in my original article published in Ilm magazine, which also included a detailed historical background on the subject of Imamat.

The belief in the Unity of God (Tawhid) is the cornerstone of faith (Iman) for all Muslims.

It is articulated in the pronouncement: La ilaha ill-Allah: “There is no god but Allah.”

This doctrine of Unity of God is beautifully summarised in Sura Tauhid, popularly known as Suratul Ikhlas (112:1-4), which says: “Say, He Allah is One; Allah is Absolute, Independent. He did not beget nor He was begotten and there is none like unto Him.”

We know, however, that the Holy Qur’an, ascribes a number of attributes to Allah. God is spoken of as ar-Rahim (The Merciful), al-Wadud (The Loving), al-Sami (The Hearing), al-Barir (The Seeing) etc. The Qur’an also talks about Wajahullah (the Face of God), Yadullah (the Hand of God), and so on.

While there are numerous references which attribute human qualities to God in the Holy Qur’an, the scripture states in very plain words that Allah is above all material conceptions.

For example, the Qur’an says: “Vision comprehends Him not and He comprehends all vision.” (6:104) and “Nothing is like a likeness of Him.” (42:11)

The Unity of God (Tawhid) implies that God is One in His Dhat (essence) and One in His Sifat (attributes).

The concept of Tawhid appears in the works of many Ismaili dais (missionaries) and philosophers. Their works on the subject place an emphasis against anthropomorphising God, that is, giving human attributes to God.

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Fatimid coin Imam al-Zahir
The inscription in the inner margin of this Fatimid coin minted during the reign of Imam al-Zahir reads: la ilah illa / allah wahdahu / la sharik lahu; “no god but God, unique, He has no associate.” Photo: David Museum, Copenhagen.

God is declared in their works as One, Absolutely Transcendent, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Incomprehensible and a Quality-less Being. A Ginanic verse makes this clear:

La thi un dhat kahave, tanki baat kahi nav jai; Dubki le le gotha khave, Pir Paighambar tai na pavey

Translation:

The Dhat [essence] is from nothingness and nothing can be said about it. Pirs and Prophets delve deep in this knowledge but in vain.

The concept that God has no qualities difficult to grasp, because the human mind cannot comprehend a total lack of qualities, a concept which it has not experienced before. We cannot imagine a man, if we can for the moment call such a being a man, who has no colour, no shape, no size, no special existence, who is neither alive nor dead.

Hence, the notion that God is quality-less becomes unintelligible and the Qur’an, therefore, attributes a number of qualities to God. If we consider the qualities applied to God and examine them carefully we find that the grounds for all of these attributes lie in our own experience of this material world.

Pir Shiahbu’d-din Shah writes in his work Risala dar Haqiqati Din (True Meaning of Religion):

“…people speaking about God (Haqq) attribute to Him any such (perfections) as they can imagine. For instance, regarding blindness as a defect, they say about God that He sees everything. They regard ignorance as a defect, and thus say that God is All-Knowing. Thus, whatever they find in themselves as a vice and defect they attribute to God a perfection opposite to that. Most probably, even animals create their own God free from their own defects, ascribing to Him (the opposite) perfections. Imam Muhammad Baqir says that the tiny ant probably imagines his god as having two stings, because it regards the possession of only one sting as a defect.”

So, when the Qur’an attributes qualities to God, it is to help convey to man the idea of God and not that these terms express the true nature of God, or that they are perfect indicators to His Being.

Ismaili doctrine upholds the belief in a single transcendent Being, whose nature is beyond the comprehension of the human mind and who is inexplicable. This is because our definitions are based on our experiences of the material world, and these definitions cannot be applied to this Being.

Pir Shihabu’d-din Shah, again in his previously cited book, says:

“All that is beyond thy imagination, Is merely the limit of thy fantasy, not God. Wisdom can attain a knowledge of His Substance Only in the case if a piece of straw can sink to the bottom of the sea. And Imam Ja’far-as-Sadiq said: “What God is, Man cannot think: and what Man thinks God is not. Yet man lives by God, and God is nearer to him than himself.”

Thus, in the Doctrine of Tawhid, lsmailism completely avoids any form of anthropomorphism and remains purely monotheistic.

We will continue our next discussion on another Shia doctrine of faith, namely, Nubuwwah or Prophethood which will then be followed by Qiyama (the Day of Judgement) and Imamah (the hereditary leadership in Islam).

Date posted: May 27, 2020.

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

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The following are links to Alwaez Jehangir Merchant’s articles that have been published on this website:

  1. Ghadir-Khumm and the Two Weighty Matters (a Simerg original, I Wish I’d Been There Series)
  2. An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  3. The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  4. The Parable of Moses and Khidr in the Holy Qur’an (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  5. Jehangir Merchant’s Thank You Letter to Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi (a Simerg original, Thank You Series)
  6. Text and Explanation of “Eji Shah Islamshah Amne Maliya” (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  7. The Story of Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’an (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  8. A Translation and Brief Commentary of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan “Jem Jem Jugatsu Preet Kareva” (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  9. The Frontispiece of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Mashhad, Iran (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  10. “One Jamat” (proposal, with Malik Merchant)
  11. The 1979 London Didar: The Experience (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  12. Imams Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja’far as-Sadiq on Love for the Imam (with Alnoor Bhatia, adapted from Ilm magazine)

Also see:

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