A Brief History of the Ismaili Jamat of Jinja

By SALIM AND SULTAN SOMANI

The authors, Salim and Sultan Somani, acknowledge with thanks Nizar Adatia and Sultan Allidina for their valuable feedback and contribution to this article.

Introduction

This brief essay on the history of the Jamat of Jinja was prompted largely by some historical photos found in our family album and also by other photos that we encountered on the internet. Over the years we have shared these photos with friends and family from Jinja. But there are many others with whom we never had the chance to meet in person or through social media to share these remembrances. As we grow older, memories fade and people pass away, carrying with them some of the past history that the young and upcoming generation never get a chance to know about and appreciate. There are many who have no inkling of what their parents and grandparents went through, growing up in Africa, the trials and tribulations they encountered and the challenges they faced.

Rather than let these photos sleep in our albums, we have decided to give them exposure through this website, Simerg, and talk a little bit about them in the hope that they will trigger some memories and invite contributions to make this essay more complete. This essay has some gaps and missing information and is, by no means, exhaustive. Simerg, which is the repository of historical facts, findings and accounts, is, we believe, the right forum for this exposé.

These photos belonged to our beloved father, Gulamali Kara Somani, who was a great teacher and a volunteer. It is to him that we dedicate this essay and honor his memory. Towards the end of this essay, we have paid him a tribute for his outstanding and exemplary contributions to the Jinja Jamat and the role that he played in shaping and impacting the lives of all those whom he taught and worked with.

Jinja in Brief

Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.
Map of Uganda. Image credit: Perry-Castañeda Collection / University of Texas.

Situated on the shores of Lake Victoria (the third largest lake in the world), where the River Nile (the longest river in the world) leaves the lake to make its long, meandering 4000 mile journey up north to the Mediterranean Sea, Jinja had the second largest Jamat in Uganda, after the Jamat of Kampala, some 50 miles away. This is going back some 70 years, to the fifties and sixties before the 1972 crisis when the dictator Idi Amin expelled everybody of Asian origin as well as many expatriates.

 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls.
 Jinja. Victoria Nile above the Rippon Falls. Photo taken in 1936 on a flight with Imperial Airways on a World Trunk route following the Nile from the Delta to the Victoria Nile and the Victoria Lake. Photo: G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection / US Library of Congress.

On the banks of the River Nile in Rippon Village was a huge rock which was a drop off or pick up point for travellers crossing the Nile. Jinja literally means a stone or rock and this is how the city derived its name. John Hanning Speke, a British explorer, discovered Jinja as the source of the River Nile in 1858.


First Indian Settlers in Jinja

The early 1900s saw the arrival of the first Indian settlers to Jinja. This is best described in the facebook post by Jinja City:

“Indians first settled in Jinja in the early 1900s. During the late 19th century, Indians of mostly Sikh descent were brought to Uganda on three-year contracts, with the aid of Imperial British contractor Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, to build the Uganda Railway from Mombasa to Kisumu by 1901, to Jinja by 1920 and to Kampala by 1931. Some died, others returned to India after the end of their contracts, and others chose to settle.

“Hajji Tamachi was the first Indian settler in Jinja. He set up Jinja’s first shop and Post Office. Hajji Tamachi played a vital role in encouraging other Indians to settle and do business in Jinja. Other Indians followed suite, with Alidina Visram, Vithaldas and Kalidas also setting up shop. Vithaldas and Kalidas, Madhvani’s uncles, helped to tutor Madhvani in business. Madhavani would later single handedly transform Jinja.”

With the building of the railway and much later in 1954, the Owen Falls Dam for generation of hydro-electric power, the Indian population grew with more of them setting up shop. Different communities lived side by side in peace and harmony, doing business and providing services in their respective fields of expertise and professions. Schools were built and so were places of prayer and worship. The Hindus had their temple, the Sikhs their Gurudhwara, the Ithnasharis their Masjid and, in 1937, the Ismaili Jamatkhana was built.

Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja

In 1937, on March 01, thanks to the generosity of Varasianima Virbai, widow of late Mr. Ali Bandali, the Jamatkhana, school, library, traveller’s residence (or musafar khana) etc. were constructed at a cost of 25,000 shillings, for the benefit of Ismailis of Jinja. The project was dedicated to Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan (A.S.).

Jinja Jamatkhana opening photos from Fidai magazine, Simerg
In the top photo, younger and older members of the Jamat are seen gathered at the entrance to the Jamatkhana building at the time of the opening, a proud moment indeed for the Jamat of Jinja. The second photo shows antique cars parked in the front of the Jamatkhana building, indicating that even at that time there were affluent members in the Jamat. Photos: Fidai Magazine, 1885-1936 Golden Jubilee Number.
Jinja Jamatkhana, Simerg
A photo of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Jinja taken in 2008. Note the presence of a wall around the building which was missing when the Jamatkhana was first built. See preceding image. Photo: © Nazlin Rahemtulla.

A photo of the Jamatkhana taken much later shows a wall built around the perimeter of the building to make it more secure and private. Land was also acquired for sports activities and to hold Imamat Day, Salgirah and Navroz festivities (generally referred to as Khushialis), as well as other special events.

Another new building was built to house the Council Chamber and the Council Office with some space allocated for activities such as baby shows, cooking demonstrations, exhibitions and other social events etc. The foundation stone of the building was laid by Mukhi Gulamhussein Karim. Mukhi Karim was a prominent and affluent member of the Jamat who served in key leadership positions and commanded lot of respect from members of the Jamat.


Religious Education Classes in Jinja

Jinja Jamatkhana building, Simerg
Shams Somani, who was on an assignment as a volunteer teacher with Aga Khan Schools Uganda during the year 1999-2000, is seen standing in front of the building adjacent to the Jamatkhana building where religious education classes were held. Next to the classrooms was the musafar khana (or traveller’s residence) and a residence for the Jamatbhai (caretaker of the Jamatkhana). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Adjacent to the Jamatkhana building, was the building where there were spaces allocated for conducting religious education classes, a musafar khana and a residence for the caretaker of the Jamatkhana known as the Jamatbhai.

One of the principal mandates of the Ismailia Association, precursor to the present day Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB), was to run a religious education school. This school comprised of classes for students of all age groups, from lower primary to senior secondary level students. Popularly referred to as dharmic (religious) classes (the equivalent of today’s Baitul Ilm or BUI religious education program), they were held in the evenings during Jamatkhana time. After recitation of the two Du’as, subjects such as Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of our Holy Imams, and General Knowledge etc. were all taught. Our father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was the sole senior teacher and was assisted by other student teachers (e.g. Sultan Allidina, Rosy Kassamali) to teach the lower primary students. He was addressed to as ‘Sir’, a title that stuck with him for many years, even after he settled in Canada.

Much later on, there were other teachers who taught, namely, Gulamhussein Alibhai Pradhan (popularly referred to as GAP) and Yusufali K. Adatia (popularly referred to as YK).

‘Sir’ was a disciplinarian. Like it or not, all students were expected to go to the classes and parents made sure they did. In the evenings, there were those who played cricket and when it was time for classes, they would come carrying their cricket gear and place it at the back of the classroom. Before commencing the class, ‘Sir’ would take a cricket stump and place it on the teacher’s table in front. If anybody did not learn properly or misbehave, they would get the stump on the palms of their hands. Those were the days of corporal punishment. Generally, girls were better students than boys. But everybody learnt, whether out of fear or personal motivation and went on to progress in life. There were competitions held, such as waez (sermon) competitions, which brought out the best in the students.

It was customary to have a visiting Alwaez meet and address the students of the dharmic classes. Such was the case when Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma visited Jinja. An opportunity was taken to take group pictures of the different classes of students on the steps of the Council Chamber and Office building.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back centre, with hands folded. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
Younger as well as some older students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma, members of the Ismailia Association and the Jamatbhai, Dhanjibhai, standing at back, second from left, with glasses. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The three historic photos that are presented here may have volumes to speak about the individuals, with their own personal stories and experiences. Unfortunately, some may have passed away. Of course, individuals who can identify themselves or whose friends can identify for them are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com so that the captions may be updated. For now the captions in all the three photos only include the names of the office bearers seated on the front row with Alwaez Juma.

Ismaili religious education students Jinja, Uganda Simerg.
All girls! Students of Jinja’s Ismaili religious education classes pictured with visiting Alwaez Juma and members of the Ismailia Association. Seated front row left to right: Mr. Sadru Jiwani, Mr. Fazal Gulamhussein, Alwaez Gulamhussein Juma, Mrs. Maleksultan Hemani, Mr. Yusuf Adatia and Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani, our father (popularly called ‘Sir’). Individuals who can identify themselves or can be identified through their friends and colleagues are invited to present their names to Simerg@aol.com for a caption update. Photo: Via author contacts.

Dhanjibhai – Jinja’s Jamatbhai

Dhanjibhai
Dhanjibhai – see previous group photos

A unique individual in two of the photographs shown above, is the unmistakable figure of Dhanjibhai, bespectacled standing behind the group. He was the Jamatbhai, the caretaker for the Jinja Jamat who took care of the day-to-day operation of the Jamatkhana: opening and closing the Jamatkhana, cleaning, making all the necessary arrangements, preparing tea on a sigri (charcoal burning stove) etc. He was the point man for getting anything done on the Jamatkhana premises and had the keys to all the rooms. He was also responsible for collecting Jamatkhana empty plates, bowls etc. from Ismaili households, going from house to house and putting them in a big raffia basket carried by an assistant. Dhanjibhai also delivered notifications to all those who had been given waras (assignments) to recite Du’a, Tasbih, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana. The response for the acceptance or non-acceptance of the wara had to be given immediately and indicated on the wara card.

Dhanjibhai lived in a residence just next to the musafar khana with his wife, popularly known as maasi (aunty). In the evenings, maasi would prepare fried mogo (cassava) on a makaara (charcoal) burning sigri (stove) and was stationed near the back exit door. She would sell these mogo pieces inexpensively to supplement their meager income. There was chili, salt and a ambli (tamarind) sauce to go with the mogo which was a real treat. As youths, we would always look forward to this mouth-watering mogo after Jamatkhana, huddling near the parked cars on the street and socializing as we waited for our parents to come out of Jamatkhana.

Ismaili Institutions in Jinja

Ismailia Association members Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Jinja Ismailia Association members. Sitting left to right: Mrs. Shirin Haji Bachu, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Jamal (Chairman) and Mrs. Noorbanu Mohamed Mitha; and standing are Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (our father: ‘sir’) and Ms. Malek Alarakhia, who was a secular school teacher. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Inspite of the relative small size of the Jamat, Jinja was very well organized with a functioning Provincial Council, an Ismailia Association as well as numerous sub-committees to cater to the needs of different segments of the Jamat including women and youth. The Ismailia Association was primarily responsible for imparting religious education to members of the Jamat, arranging waezeen tours from time to time, selling religious books, making Farmans available, as well as ensuring that rites, rituals and religious ceremonies were being followed.

Aga Khan Proivincial Council Jinja Uganda, Simerg
The Jinja Aga Khan Provincial Council in session. Sitting clockwise from left are Mr. Sadru Mitha, Mr. Abdul Ramji, Mr. Haji Bachu, Mr. Abdul Devji, Mr. Badru Gulamhussein Adatia (Secretary), Mr. Haroon R. Khamis (Council President), Mrs. Gulshan Adatia, Mr. Madat Hemani, and Mr. Sadru Walji Adatia. Photo: Via author contacts.
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Jamat Entertainment Committee, Simerg
Members of the Jinja Ismaili Entertainment Committee. Seated left to right: Sadrudin V. Virani (Hon. Treasurer), Sadrudin Mitha (Ismaili Youth Organization, IYO, member), Madat Shariff (Chairman), Parin Jamani (Hon. Secretary); standing left to right: Zebun Mitha, Nizar Shariff, Zebun Khamis, Bahadur Shamji, Gulzar J. Karim and Amirali A. Lalani. Photo: Via author contacts.

In sports, the youths of Jinja were very active in practically every sport, be it badminton, table tennis, volleyball and netball (equivalent to today’s basketball). Soccer and cricket were also played, though the playground was not large enough. Volleyball, traditional style, was played regularly, usually over the weekends. Of particular interest was the volleyball match played between married vs bachelors that took place once a year during one of the Khushialis. The match created quite a rivalry and was talked about for weeks afterwards.

At Khushialis, the whole playground was taken over with various activities, both for youths and adults. Starting with the flag raising ceremony, there were games and matches played. Usually the finals in sports such as table tennis were played on that day and trophies awarded to the winners. At lunch time there was sagridaam jaman (communal feast) when pillau (rice), cooked in a deg (large pot) was served in thalaas (large round trays) by the dynamic volunteer corps in full uniform. The Khushiali was a two-day weekend event with dandiya raas (Indian folk stick dance) and raas garba (circular folk dance) being played on Saturday until late at night with music provided by the Ismaili band.

Ismaili Business and Professional Activities in Jinja

Ismaili entrepreneurs were active in all spheres of business; Taxi & Car Rental (Hadi Jamal), Bus Company (Mohamed Mitha, Ibrahim Mohamed, Kassam Haji), Watches & Jewellery (Charanias), Insurance (Hussein Velji), Hotel Blue Cat (Abdul Devji), Restaurant & Bar (Sadru Hussein Rashid Khamis), Wholesale Clothing (Jeraj Sheriff), Portello Soda (Mohamed Remtulla), Pharmacy Retail (Jamal Govindji – Musa Diamond), Gifts (Madatali Hemani), Shoes (Sadru Bata), Molasses (Madatali Moolji), Bakery (Rahim Rajan), Butchery (Alaudin Kara) etc. to name just a few. There were also professionals such as Dr. Abdul Kassam Adatia, first Dean of Faculty of Dentistry at Bristol University (U.K) and visiting professor at Makerere University (Kampala), Yusuf Adatia (Architect) and secular school teachers, Ms. Malek Alarakhia, Ms. Gulzar Allidina and Ms. Gulshan Allidina, who appears in a very rare secondary school staff photo shown below. Indeed, generations of Ismaili students who attended the school will be able to relate to the photo, by recognizing some of their teachers.

Photo of Staff at Senior Secondary School in Jinja

Secondary School Jinja teachers Uganda Simerg
Back row, left to right: R. L. Avasthi, Bahal Singh, L. A. Gomes, B. S. Bhabuta, C. M. Bashir, R. C. Saksena, S. V. Ayyar, P. S. Nayar, Jaswant Singh, A. D. Oza and C. P. Bhabuta; Middle row, left to right: D. B. Deshpande, Beant Singh (Sr. Master Eng.) K. M. Chakravartty, R. S. Aggarwal, J. C. Aggarwalla, Sheikh M. Hussain, B. S. Batra, S. Chakraborti (Sr. Master Hist.), A. A. Khan (Sr. Master Urdu), and H. P. Joshi; and Seated left to right: Miss J. K. Sandhu, Mrs. J. K. Sangha, Mrs. P. Dass, R. N. Banernjee (Headmaster), N. R. Metha (Chief Asstt,), Miss G. Allidina, Mrs. M. Saxana, and Mrs. S. Desai. Photo: Via author contacts.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1957

The Jinja Jamat was blessed with two visits by Mawlana Hazar Imam. The first one was in 1957, shortly after the Takhtnashini (ceremonial installation) on October 25, 1957 in Kampala, and the second took place in 1966, when Mawlana Hazar Imam made an extensive visit to East Africa.

Aga Khan in Jinja
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Jinja airfield, and is received by the Jamati leadership. Here he is seen blessing Kamadia Haji Bachu with Kamadiani Shirin standing next to him. Immediately behind Hazar Imam is Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (with hat). Leaning on the car is Alwaez Jaffererali Sufi. On the extreme right is our father (‘Sir’) in full uniform, standing behind Mr. Haji Molu, his colleague. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam blesses Mrs. Jenabai Karim after being garlanded by her upon his arrival at the Jinja airfield. In the foreground, dressed in white with a hat is Mr. Sadruddin Karim, who was designated to drive Mawlana Hazar Imam’s car in Jinja. In volunteer uniform, at far left, are (left to right): Mr. Amin Alarakhia, Mr. Haji Molu and our father, Mr. Gulamali Kara Somani (‘Sir’). The two persons shown immediately to the left of the policeman (in shorts) are President Mr. Haji Rashid Khamis (in a light colored suit and dark glasses) and Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji (light suit). Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan Jinja, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam paid a visit to the Jinja Provincial Council Chamber during his 1957 visit. In this photograph, he is seen conferring with the leaders of the Jamat. Seen from left to right are President Haji Rashid Khamis, person standing (not visible), Mr. Abdulla Hassam Gangji, Kamadia Haji Bachu, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Mrs. Zohrakhanu Allidina (seated), who held the portfolio of Member for Women and Mukhi Shamsudin Mohamed (standing). Photo: Allidina Family Collection.
Jinja Ismaili volunteers
The Jinja Ismaili volunteers in full uniform on duty in 1957 during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival at the Jinja airfied. Standing from right to left: Our father Gulamali Kara Somani (Lieutenant), Haji Molu (Lieutenant), Amin Alarakhia, Bahadur Fazal, Hassam Mawji, Ahmed Jamal, Madat Khamis, Feroz Khamis, Sultan Allidina and Nizar Sheriff. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

Visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Jinja in 1966

Mawlana Hazar Imam graced the Jinja Jamat with a second visit in 1966. The photos shown are also from our album. The first photo, though, where Hazar Imam is seen stepping down, is of his arrival at Entebbe Airport.

Aga Khan arrives in Entebbe, Uganda, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam arrives at Entebbe Airport for his visit to Uganda in 1966. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.
Aga Khan in Jinja leaving Counci Chambers Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam leaving the Ismaili Council Chamber building surrounded by his murids, trying to get a last glimpse before his departure. From left to right are Amir Madhavji, Zulfikar Devji, Abdul Alarakhia, Mehboob Charania, Malik Kassim-Lakha, Salim Somani, Nizar Sheriff and Sadruddin Karim. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

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Conclusion

We trust that this short essay has served to provide some history of the Jinja Jamat from our perspective and in so doing, we have honored the memory of our beloved father. But by no means is it complete. There may be some minor errors that need to be corrected and some omissions and information gaps that need to be filled. We are sure that there is much more that others can contribute, and readers can do that by completing the comments box below.

After the 1972 Uganda crisis, when there was a mass exodus, the economy went down tremendously. But since then things have picked up particularly in Kampala, the capital, where there is lot of construction going on. A number of ex-Ugandans have returned and there is new immigration, mostly from India. There is lot of outside investment including by Hazar Imam, e.g Serena Hotel, Bujagali Falls Hydro-electric power station (in partnership between Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development or AKFED, Sithe Global Power of USA, Government of Uganda, Industrial Promotion Services, IPS, and Jubilee Investment Company).

Photo taken in 2000 on the steps of previously used Jinja Council Chamber/Office building, which is now used as a Jamatkhana by the Jinja Jamat. Among those pictured in the front row are Mukhiani Saheba of Jinja (3rd from left), originally from Northern Pakistan, ITREB Uganda Chairman Anil Samji, Religious Education Coordinator Karim Jiwani, and Kamadia Saheb of Jinja Jamat; in middle row at left is Shams Somani of Montreal who was on voluntary assignment in Uganda with Aga Khan Schools during 1999-2000; and in back row are Council Secretary Shellina Hasham with her husband Salim Hasham, ITREB District Member. Photo: Gulamali Kara Somani Family Collection.

The economy in Jinja is still depressed with abandoned buildings and buildings in a state of disrepair. The historic Jamatkhana building still stands but there is now a clinic there. The small Jamat that is there, mostly from India, meets for Jamatkhana in the Council Chamber/Office building (see photo, above).

Let us hope and pray that the beautiful city of Jinja, once the industrial hub of Uganda, prospers and blossoms to its days of past glory and become the dynamic and vibrant city that it once was.

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A Tribute to Our Late Father, Gulamali Kara Somani

Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 - 2010) of Jinja, Uganda, Montreal Canada, Simerg tribute Ismaili and Aga Khan
Gulamali Kara Somani (1924 – 2010).

The history of Jinja Jamat and the pictures that we have shared with readers with Simerg are a testimony of our father’s love for Mawlana Hazar Imam and his Jamat. He preserved these photos in our family album for more than 62 years. We wish to pay him our humble tribute.

Our loving father, Gulamali Kara Somani, was born in 1924 in Jinja, He lost both his parents when he was just 8 years old. He was brought up by his uncle and, like many from his generation, he set up shop and started to do business after finishing school. He was always mechanically inclined, fixing things, be it cars, bicycles etc. and was always very creative. For example, he could take a black & white picture and color it using photo tints. (There were no colored pictures at the time). He also developed his own pictures at home. Music was his passion. He started writing and composing songs and played them on a musical stringed instrument of Japanese origin called Taishokoto.

Then he got into repairing watches and got very good at it, a skill that he practiced till his last days. He could pull apart a watch completely, clean the parts, oil them and put them back together for perfect timing. It was this skill that landed him a job in Montreal when he applied to come to Canada. His mind worked on small, intricate details which is why he was very successful in fixing things or creating works of art. At Jamatkhana, when they needed something decorative to be prepared, they knew that they could count on him for something original and he never let them down.

In the 50s and 60s his services were called upon to teach in the religious night school at Jinja to students from junior level to senior secondary level covering all subjects: Du’a and its meanings, Ginans, History of the Imams, Farmans etc. We remember that at one time during a wa’ez competition he wrote a wa’ez in English for us on the subject of: “Education”.

He also served as a senior volunteer (Lieutenant: the highest ranking officer) rendering exceptional services along with other volunteers particularly during Hazar Imam’s two visits to Jinja. We remember seeing him with burn-bubbles on his hands from serving hot, steaming pillau (rice) from the deg (large pot). When he presented himself for Mehmani to Hazar Imam, Hazar Imam blessed him and mentioned: “Good service!”

He was also a member of the Ismaili Band that provided music for dandiya  raas and garba during the Khushiali celebrations.

In 1966 when Hazar Imam visited Uganda, there was a small town named Mbale in Eastern Uganda, on his itinerary (see Uganda map on top of page). Mr. Hadi Jamal of Jinja provided a fleet of cars for Hazar Imam’s staff to travel to Mbale. Our father volunteered to drive one of the cars and was assigned Hazar Imam’s photographer, which was great because he could go everywhere where Hazar Imam went. At one point, Hazar Imam was at a reception and was drinking Coca-Cola from a glass. Our father did not take his eyes off this glass. As soon as Hazar Imam kept his glass on the table and started to leave, our father made a beeline for the glass, picked it up, and then took the glass with him. We still have this glass in our possession which our father preciously guarded and brought it with him to Canada.

A teacher, a volunteer par excellence and above all, a humanitarian, our father served with utmost distinction and dedication, never seeking recognition. His outstanding and exemplary services are truly worthy of admiration and emulation and rubbed off on of us, his children, who have served in various capacities over the years in Jamati institutions.

Our younger sister, Shams, a secular teacher, took one year out of her teaching profession to work as a volunteer with Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) in Kampala from 1999 to 2000. Both our sisters, Layla and Shams were also heavily involved in BUI (Bait-ul Ilm) and have continued to play a role in imparting religious education for many years now. I, Salim Somani, served in various Majalis as Mukhi and Kamadia, in committees (audio visual, catering etc.) and also as a volunteer. My brother Sultan Somani, the co-author with me on this Jinja piece, served as Chairman of Ismailia Association (6 years), as Hon. Secretary on the Aga Khan Council for  Quebec & The Maritime Provinces (6 years), Member and Chairman, Conciliation and Arbitration Board (6 years), and as Majlis Mukhi (3 years), among other duties etc.

Never missing a day, except for health reasons, our father attended Jamatkhana everyday in the morning and evening, no matter what the weather was like. We have seen him bundle up and walk to Jamatkhana when it was extremely cold.

Our beloved father passed away in April 2010 at the age of 86.

We pray that may Allah in His Infinite Grace and Mercy forgive all his sins and rest his soul in eternal peace – Amen.

Story Copyright: © Salim and Sultan Somani.

Date posted: July 31, 2020.
Last updated: August 12, 2020 (caption updates with name of person(s) as they become available, and typos).

CORRECTIONS:

(1) In the original version of this piece, the year 1958 was mentioned as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Jinja, Uganda. Actually, the visit took place in 1957, shortly after Mawlana Hazar Imam’s enthronement (Takhtnashini) ceremony in Kampala on October 25, 1957. The article has been updated with the correct year (correction made on August 9, 2020).

(2) Earlier versions of this piece mentioned that Mawlana Hazar Imam travelled by car to towns outside Kampala, such as Jinja and Mbale. Our attention has been drawn to the fact that in 1957, Mawlana Hazar arrived in Jinja by plane, where there was an airfield available for the landing of military aircraft as well as some civilian planes. We have updated our captions of the 1957 visit to reflect this (correction made on August 10, 2020).

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Please report typo or error in story to Simerg@aol.com.

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We welcome your feedback/letters on this special piece on Jinja by clicking on Leave a comment or writing to the editor, Malik Merchant, at Simerg@aol.com. If you were a Jinja resident, your reminiscences about life in Jinja, your participation as a student, a volunteer, a leader or a member of the Jinja Jamat, as well your surprising anecdotes will uncover a wealth of information about Jinja. We also welcome historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Jinja. Kindly note that your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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About the Authors

Salim, in volunteers uniform, 1966

The authors of this article, Salim and Sultan Somani, were both born in Jinja, Uganda and now reside in Montreal, Quebec.

Salim immigrated to Canada in 1974 from England where he pursued his studies in Hotel Management & Catering at Huddersfield Polytechnic and specialized in cuisine. Unable to return to Uganda, following the 1972 expulsion of Asians, Salim moved to join his parents in Montreal where over the years he applied his culinary skills at a number of prestigious places, including the Ritz Carlton, Bonaventure Hilton and Montreal Casino in different cuisines. Most recently he worked at the renowned catering company, La Maison Carrier-Besson.

He is married to Rashida and has a son, Hussein, a National Account Executive with RGIS and a daughter, Aliya, Educational Consultant with EMSB (English Montreal School Board). Salim is now retired.

In recent years, Salim has started carving fruits, particularly watermelons, and his impressive work has resulted in him being invited to carve fruits for several important festivals and ceremonial occasions.

Sultan Somani portrait Jinja article simerg
Sultan Somani with his daughter, Sarah

Salim’s brother, Sultan, immigrated to Canada in 1973. He was studying Physics/Mathematics at Makerere University, and 3 months before writing his final exams, he was in the unfortunate position of having to leave Uganda due to Idi Amin’s expulsion orders. He proceeded to Nairobi, Kenya, and with the assistance of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, under the leadership of late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was moved to a refugee camp in Italy where he stayed for 5 months. He then joined his parents in Montreal, where he studied computer science in a university before commencing a career as a systems analyst and programmer at Bell Canada’s Behavioural Sciences Group, Comptrollers Results Department and Corporate Systems Organization (CSO).

Sultan later diversified into a number of businesses in partnership. He has for years dedicated his time to serving Ismaili Institutions in numerous capacities and the Ismaili community in general, for which the title of Rai was bestowed on him. He is now retired, and at the age of 70 is a father of 6 year old daughter, Sarah, whom he takes care of on a full-time basis with his wife, Shainaze.

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The authors recommend the website Sikh Heritage for more information and photos of Jinja.

An extraordinary short film on the first Ismaili settlement in Europe – Sí, es España!

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor SimergSimergphotos  and Barakah

My Spanish cousins, Yasmin and Shamsah, recently reminded me to watch a special program on Ismaili TV which among other things portrayed their grandfather’s arrival in Spain in 1914, and how he raised a beautiful family that has now lived in Spain for more than 106 years!

The 20-minute Spanish historical segment of the program is presented in the Youtube link below, and we sincerely thank the Aga Khan Development Network’s communication department for arranging to send us the clip. It will familiarize our viewers about an important phase in the Ismaili settlement in Europe, a narrative that been missing when discussing recent Ismaili migrations to Europe.

My aunt Sakina, who is 93, introduces the film with great insight, wisdom and passion, and one quickly realizes her immense faith and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

story continues after video link

Youtube Video on Jamat in Spain

As the story goes, Sakina aunty accompanied her father, Ashad Ali Haji, to India in 1947. The trip lasted 3 months and during this time she met my father Jehangir’s older brother, Abdulmahomed, whom she would marry 3 years later. They would spend the next 10 years in India, mainly in Calcutta.

The couple then lived in London, England, until the mid 1960’s before settling down with their four children — Abdulsultan Yasmin, Gulammahomed and Shamsah — in Madrid.

While in London, Abdulmahomed uncle served as Kamadiasaheb and Mukhisaheb of the Jamat during the early 1960’s. He and my father both passed away six months apart, less than 3 years ago. Apparently, because they used different surnames, many Jamati members do not know the family link — my uncle used the surname Allibhoy Mahomed and my father used Merchant. Their father manufactured leather goods and traded as a leather merchant, and I suspect that’s how I have Merchant as my surname.

story continues after photo

Abdulmahomed and Jehangir
Photo taken in Madrid at wedding of Gulammahomed (missing in photo). From left to right: Maria Jose, Abdulsultan, Yasmin, Jehangir Alibhai Merchant, Shamsah, Abdulmahomed Allibhoy Mahomed, Sakina, Gulbanu and Felipe. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Over the past 43 years, I have had the privilege of meeting Abdulmahomed uncle, Sakina aunty, and my four cousins as well as their families several times. Our most recent get together was in Lisbon in July 2018, during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee visit. Abdulmahomed uncle is buried in Lisbon, and we all went to his burial site to pay homage to him and pray for his soul. He is seen in the film, walking by his beloved wife of more than 70 years, Sakina (see featured photo at top of this post).

Sakina aunty has a photographic memory, whereby she can recount with precise detail every important incident from the 1940’s onwards. Once she starts telling stories, you want keep on hearing. She accompanied her father and siblings to a number of mulaqats with Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. This blessing of mulaqats continued after Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam succeeded to the throne of Imamat in 1957. Incidents from the mulaqats are in themselves deeply touching, and some that were articulated to me related to the continuity of the Imamat from Hazrat Ali, and attested to the fact that the Imams are bearers of the same Noor (Light). The Spanish Jamat exhibition that was held in Lisbon 4 years ago included some rare photographs of those mulaqats.

Hopefully, Sakinas aunty’s rich and detailed accounts of memorable moments will be captured by her family members in the coming months, and we sincerely hope that other families around the world have started documenting stories of their parents and grandparents, before they leave this earth. The younger generation can draw immense wisdom from the faith of their forefathers.

The Jamat in Spain has grown to several hundred in the past 30 years, and live in different cities, and the film highlights this. If you visit Spain, please obtain the contact information of my aunt and her family as well as other Mukhisahebs or institutional representatives in Spain from the Ismaili council in your jurisdiction. Note that due to Covid-19, Jamatkhanas in Spain may be closed, as is the case in many other parts of the world. Gradual reopening of Jamatkhanas is taking place, as in Portugal.

Youtube Video on Jamat in Spain

Watch this amazing Youtube presentation by The Ismaili.

Date posted: July 5, 2020.
Last updated: July 6, 2020 (clarity to story as per feedback).

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.

Simerg’s Merchant

Malik Merchant is the 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 based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s humble entreaty to Ali, or the Imam of the Time: Beautiful recitation and translation of Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea

(Note: The following recitation by Late Shamshu Bandali Haji includes a few verses at the end, which may not be part of the same Ginan. We will try and identify the source of the verses. When you start playing the recording, please scroll down to follow the transliteration and meaning of the Ginan. The recitation is from the superb and must visit Ginan Portal website at the University of Saskatchewan containing hundreds of recitations by Shamshu Bandali Haji and other members of the Ismaili community.

Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea by Pir Hasan Kabirdin; recitation by Late Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji

Transliteration and Translation of Ginan Eji Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea

Transliteration source: PYARALI JIWA; English translation by ZARINA KAMALUDDIN and KAMALUDDIN ALI MUHAMMAD

Editor’s note: Ismaili Pirs, Dai’s and poets in their Ginans and Qasidas referred to the Imam of their era as Ali (a.s.), the first Imam who succeeded the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.), thus emphaszing the principle of the Unity of Imamat. For Shia 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).

VERSE 1

Eji Saahebe faramaan lakhi mokaleaa suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali; sevak sa(m)bhaa aa vaale aajman maa(n)he mayaa dhari ya Ali

O brother! Listen, My Lord Ali has written and sent a Farman. The beloved Lord has remembered this servant today with kindness in his heart

VERSE 2

Eji Mananaa manorath purajo suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali deshe vaalo ati sukh raaj siri-a saara(n)g dhani yaa Ali

O my Lord Ali! Listen! Fulfill the hopes of my heart. The beloved Lord will grant much happiness and kingdom

VERSE 3

Eji Ame umaayo tere darage suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali mayaaa karo maahaaraaj vaiku(n)th naath dhani yaa Ali

O my Lord Ali! Listen! We beseech hopefully at your door. O Lord of paradise! O Ali the great king! Have mercy

VERSE 4

Eji Charan te aapanaa bhetaadajo suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali najar karo moraa shaam akhiyu(n) amia bhari yaa Ali

O my Lord Ali! Listen! Grant (me) the favor of expressing obeisance to you. O my Lord Ali! Look at me with eyes full of love

VERSE 5

Eji Dukh doyaalaa sarave taalajo suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali puri karo maahaaraaj aparam paar dhani yaa Ali

O my Lord Ali! Listen! Remove all my sorrows and troubles. O Lord Ali, the great king! O Lord of infinity! Fulfill all my wishes.

VERSE 6

Eji Bahu aparaadh kari jivaddo aavyo tere darage suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali mayaa karo mahaaraaj vaiku(n)th naath dhani yaa Ali

O my Lord Ali! Listen! After committing many sins this servant has come to your door. O Lord of paradise! O Ali the great king! Have mercy

VERSE 7

Eji Pir Hasan Kabirdin boleaa venati suno maaraa nar hari yaa Ali chade tu(n) tribhovar shaam parane visav ku(n) vaari yaa Ali.

O my Lord Ali! Listen! Pir Hasan Kabirdin (r.a.) has made this entreaty. O Ali! O king of the three worlds! Manifest yourself and marry the virgin earth

Date posted: April 1, 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 your feedback. Please complete the form below or click on Leave a comment if the form is not displayed. Comments are published at the discretion of the editor. and may be subject to moderation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Navroz Ginan recitation by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Recitation of Navroz Ginan by Late Shamshudin Bandali Haji

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Navroz Ginan recitation of selected verses by Mumtaz Bhulji

Recitation of selected verses of Navroz Ginan by Mumtaz Bhulji

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

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Explanation of Navroz Ginan

By SADRUDIN K. HASSAM

Introduction

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

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

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

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A clarification about the composer and the period of composition

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

Bhane Shamsi tamme sambhro rookhi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transliteration:

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

VERSE 2

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

VERSE 3

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

VERSE 7

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

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The inner search and experience

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

VERSE 4

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

VERSE 5

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

VERSE 6

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

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

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

VERSE 8

Transliteration

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

Interpretive Translation and Explanation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: March 19, 2020.

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

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

The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow: Splendid new book on the Fatimids looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation; + 2 videos

The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow
The Lost Archive by Marina Rustow, published on January 14, 2020 by the Princeton University Press; Pages: 624; Size: 7 x 10 in. Illus: 83 color + 17 b/w illus. 4 maps. 4c throughout. To purchase hardcover, Kindle or Kobo versions see links at bottom of this page.

Very recently this website reproduced An interview with authors of Lost Maps of the Caliphs: A meticulous book about an extraordinary Fatimid manuscript illustrating the heavens and the earth as was known in 11th century Cairo.

Grabbing our attention now is a splendid new book on the Fatimids that looks at the caliphate’s robust culture of documentation. In an editorial review of the book, Konrad Hirschler of the Freie Universität Berlin describes Marina Rustow’s work “as a veritable magnum opus that will remain a point of reference for decades to come.” He also notes that “there are few books like this one that take the reader on such a long-distance journey across centuries and writing systems.”

The Lost Archive: Traces of a Caliphate in a Cairo Synagogue is Marina Rustow’s second work on the Fatimids. Her first one was entitled Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate. She is the Khedouri A. Zilkha Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East and professor of Near Eastern studies and history at Princeton University. She is director of the Princeton Geniza Lab and a MacArthur fellow. Her latest work is also praised by Geoffrey Khan, University of Cambridge, who states that “with great historiographical skill, Rustow brings new insights into the history of the medieval Middle East through a holistic analysis of the surviving state documents of the Fatimid dynasty. This is a splendid book.”

Marina Rustow has made very interesting and informative presentations of her research and work at the American Philosophical Society and the University of New Mexico. Links to both the videos are provided at the end of this piece.

The lost archive of the Fatimid caliphate survived in an unexpected place: the storage room, or geniza, of a synagogue in Cairo, recycled as scrap paper and deposited there by medieval Jews. In the book Marina Rustow tells the story of this extraordinary find, inviting readers to reconsider the longstanding but mistaken consensus that before 1500 the dynasties of the Islamic Middle East produced few documents, and preserved even fewer.

Beginning with government documents before the Fatimids and paper’s westward spread across Asia, Rustow reveals a millennial tradition of state record keeping whose very continuities suggest the strength of Middle Eastern institutions, not their weakness. Tracing the complex routes by which Arabic documents made their way from Fatimid palace officials to Jewish scribes, the book provides a rare window onto a robust culture of documentation and archiving not only comparable to that of medieval Europe, but, in many cases, surpassing it. Above all, Rustow argues that the problem of archives in the medieval Middle East lies not with the region’s administrative culture, but with our failure to understand preindustrial documentary ecology.

Illustrated with stunning examples from the Cairo Geniza, this compelling book advances our understanding of documents as physical artifacts, showing how the records of the Fatimid caliphate, once recovered, deciphered, and studied, can help change our thinking about the medieval Islamicate world and about premodern polities more broadly.

The hard copy or electronic Kindle version of “The Lost Archive” may be purchased at the following websites:
Princeton
Amazon & Amazon Canada
Indigo

Date posted: March 8, 2020.

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American Philosophical Society presentation by Marina Rustow (34 minutes)

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University of New Mexico presentation by Marina Rustow (1 hour 35 minutes)

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The publication of authorized Farman Mubarak books brings joy to Murids: In reading Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Farmans, we must be conscious of his enduring blessings and seek to apply his perfect guidance for our well-being

His Highness the Aga Khan, Simerg, Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: The Ismaili.

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

I was in Ottawa when a set of two Farman books first went on sale recently. I was glad when the literature counter officer told me 300 sets had been received for sale in Ottawa. There was no reason to panic — everyone who was in the queue that began forming immediately upon the completion of Jamati announcements was able to obtain copies for themselves and their families. My daughter and I had a deep sense of joy as we acquired our copies, and we also saw everyone’s faces lighted up with joy — it was the fulfillment of a wish of many many years. For the first time in more than 40 years, the guidance given by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to his spiritual children had been authorized by him for publication in printed form.

The last such volume was published in 1976-77 when the Ismailia Association for the UK (now known as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or simply ITREB) and other Associations published Farmans that Mawlana Hazar Imam had made in Mumbai, India, and Kenya in 1973 and 1976 respectively. The writer of this piece was very much involved with his late father, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant, in that exquisite publication in London.

The new set of two books ($10.00 per set) contains Farmans made by Mawlana Hazar Imam from 2011 to 2018. The first book (116 pages) contains a total of 24 Farmans made by Mawlana Hazar Imam during his mulaqats with the Jamats in Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Singapore, Bangladesh and India between July 5, 2011 and September 27, 2013. The second book (236 pages) consists of 45 Farmans starting with the Farman made on the inauguration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee in Aiglemont France on July 11, 2017 — the 60th anniversary of his Imamat — and concludes with the Farman Mubarak made on July 11, 2018 at the Darbar in Lisbon, Portugal, which was attended by more than 40,000 murids from around the world (seated in 3 separate halls). During his Diamond Jubilee year, Mawlana Hazar Imam visited Uganda, Tanzania, Eastern Canada, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, India, USA, Kenya, Western Canada, France, the UK and Portugal.

The Farmans in both the books are published in chronological sequence and there is a table of contents at the beginning of the book. However, there is no index in the two books and we hope that it will be incorporated in future volumes that are expected to be published in the foreseeable future. We are here referring to Farmans made before 2011 that have been authorized and are read out in Jamatkhanas. Among those are Farmans made (1) during the Golden Jubilee in 2007-2008; (2) Farmans made in Pakistan in 2000; (3) Farmans made during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visits to Moscow and the Central Asian Jamats in 1995 and later; and (4) Farmans made during his Silver Jubilee in 1982-83 as well as other selected Farmans during the course of the Imamat from 1957 onwards.

The latest Farman books have been published by Islamic Publications Limited which is based at the new Aga Khan Centre in London. A note has been made that the Farmans are published under exclusive licence from Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Many of us will recall our childhood years during the 1960’s, when our parents would advise us to read a Farman every night before going to bed. At that time we had the benefit of short excerpted Farmans by subject category in tiny books such as Precious Pearls and Precious Gems. In the absence of such books, parents can utilize the newly released Farman books by reading out short excerpts to their babies and young children on a regular basis. The Australian website raising children mentions that reading to babies and children help them to get to know sounds, words and language, and they develop early literacy skills. The website reading rockets states that when the rhythm and melody of language become a part of a child’s life, learning to read will be as natural as learning to walk and talk. It has been recommended that reading should take place at least once everyday at a scheduled time and if this cannot be done, then read to your child as often as you possibly can.

In our particular case of reading out Farmans to children, we are also building the young murids’ attachment, affection and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam. The typeset in the Farman books is large enough for grown up children to comfortably read the Farmans by themselves. Parents and older siblings must encourage and motivate them to do so.

In addition, we urge every member of the Jamat and especially the youth and professionals to devote a few moments on a regular basis to the reading of Farmans, reflecting on them, applying Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance in our lives as well as seeking out the blessings that the Imam is conveying. Encouraging friends and family members to do likewise is a very important step in fulfilling our role as a dai, that is, a communicator of matters of faith.

The obedience to the Imam-of-the-Time is a time honoured Ismaili tradition, and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah had once observed that heaps of pearls are scattered when Imams give Farmans. When a murid of the Imam consciously listens to Farmans in Jamatkhana or reads them in the books such as the ones that have just been published, the listener or reader should treat the blessings conveyed by Mawlana Hazar Imam for all times, and not treat the blessings as if they were for the occasion when the Farman was delivered. Indeed, as we read through the two Farman books, we will come across references to the enduring nature of the Imam’s blessings in his own words.

In her wonderful piece published in Ilm in 1979 and reproduced on this website, Nadya Kassam contextualized the importance of Farmans through a verse of the following ginan by Pir Shams:

Satagur kahere amara vachan je manshe,
Te chhe amare galeka har.
Tene galeka har kari rakhasu,
Tis momanke sukhaka anta na par-re.

The Pir in the verse says that a murid who obeys the Imam’s Farmans is like a garland (around the neck of the Imam). Hazar Imam keeps such a person very near to him, and that the mu’min will be very happy in this world and the next.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has always spoken to his spiritual children in plain language, always maintaining a joyful and warm demeanor. As we read through Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Farmans, his inspiring and perfect guidance as well as munificent blessings will touch our hearts, and raise and renew our hopes and spirits every single day.

It is thus with immense joy and unbounded happiness that we welcome the publication of the Farman set, and express our profound and humble shukhrana to Mawlana Hazar Imam for his constant guidance and blessings for our spiritual and material well-being and advancement.

Finally, in the context of the relationship of the Imam with his murids and the guidance that the Imam gives to his spiritual children, it is appropriate to quote a clause from the preamble of the Ismaili constitution which was ordained on December 13, 1986 by Mawlana Hazar Imam on the occasion of his 50th Salgirah (birthday). It states: “Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam-of-the-Time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The Imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential.”

Date posted: February 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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The traditional Ismaili Motto “Work No Words” needs a revision to “Work and Many Words” in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Farman

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

“Today my Farman is ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy…” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Calgary, May 10, 2018.

The volunteer's traditional motto given by the late Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, "Work No Words" needs a revision to "Work and Many Words" in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee Farman made in Calgary in 2018. Malik Merchant, publisher and editor of Simerg and Barakah, provides his insight on the mottos.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets representatives of the Jamat on his arrival in Calgary, Alberta, for his Diamond Jubilee visit in May 2018.

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

The Ismaili community is a dynamic community with the Imam-of-the-Time guiding his followers according to the time. The essence of the faith remains the same but the form may change over time in cognizance of differences in traditions, cultural, social or other factors. Similarly, there could be changes over time in the manner in which voluntary services may be rendered. Paraphrasing the 48th Imam’s Farman, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah had once said that we should follow the Farmans of the Imam-of-the-Time, noting that as the world changes, even his Farmans would change as time progressed.

Ismaili Volunteers Bage
The volunteer’s badge with the motto “Work No Words” is based on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s message, “Today I will give you  a small motto and that is ‘Work No Words’.” The motto needs to be revised to reflect Mawlana Shah Karim’s Diamond Jubilee Farman in Calgary “Work and Many Words.”

One of the best known motto given by the late Imam in the 20th century to the volunteers of the Ismaili community was “Work No Words.” It is inscribed on every badge that an Ismaili volunteer wears today. It is also something that many honorary workers serving in institutions in various capacities constantly bear in mind.

What do these words actually mean for any volunteer, badged or otherwise?

I think the motto carries several meanings. Perhaps it is an expression of humility — that one does the work without seeking recognition.

It can be perceived to mean that you serve without question and not react to any attitude that may be shown to you while you are doing your work. 

Other volunteers may have their own personal interpretations of the motto during the performance of their duties, and apply it during their service.

Remarkably, that motto was mentioned in the Farman Mawlana Hazar Imam made in Canada during the Diamond Jubilee. At the second Calgary mulaqat, on May 10th, 2018, while mentioning and praising the work of the volunteers, he made a reference to his grandfather’s motto “Work No Words” and declared that “Today my Farman is, ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy….” 

Eighteen months have since passed but still there seems to be no discussion on this matter. The old motto “Work No Words” appears everywhere in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the volunteers including a new video “All Work, No Words” that has just been released at The Ismaili website. There is absolutely no reference to the most recent Farman and the new motto. For example, I was quite surprised that the President of the National Council for Tanzania, Amin Lakhani, speaking as recently as July 19, 2019, used the motto that Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah gave in one of his speeches, but did not make any reference to the new motto given by Mawlana Hazar Imam. When I raised the issue with a long serving Jamati member, the volunteer became very defensive saying that he would like to see the old motto remain on his badge.

I beg to differ, I believe that we now have to adopt to a new paradigm based on the most recent Farman, “Work, and Many Words.”

How then is this to be interpreted?

Firstly, the volunteers badged and non-badged should not feel fearful to speak up and express their views on matters that concern them on services that they are performing and how they can become more effective, rather than simply taking orders as subordinates. The superiors in the volunteer leadership and heads of various institutions should make their teams more engaged in decision making and seek out creative thoughts, ideas as well as best practices. Quite so often when suggestions are made to institutional heads about new approaches, one is often made to feel that they already knew about the idea that has been brought up. A case in point was when a suggestion was made to make Jamati members more engaged in meetings that the Aga Khan Council and national institutional boards hold on a quarterly basis. The reply was, “We are thinking about it.” For how long?

Many serving in institutions who speak out are left marginalized for speaking out boldly, even when they have done so sincerely and from the heart. This should no longer be the norm. I have personally experienced such treatment.

The old motto “Work No Words” on the badge that volunteers have been wearing for some 70 years is in need of a change. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” should resonate with everyone. We should communicate openly and sincerely and the office bearers should listen respectfully. One area that should require particular attention is legitimate concerns of volunteers in doing their work.

There is one other aspect where the motto “Work, and Many Words” may be applied very effectively. Volunteers of the Jamat participate in many outreach programs outside the community. We have each been considered by the Imam to be his Da’is — a very important term in Ismaili history where only a select few were known as Da’is. Now, remarkably, Mawlana Hazar Imam has told everyone that he or she is a Da’i! The Diamond Jubilee Farmans made at various locations attest to this role we have been asked to play. I think another way of looking at the Farman “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” is in the context of the volunteer who as a Da’i would be a great communicator to others about the ideals, principles and ethos of the Ismaili community. The following Farman made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in 2002 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, gives us a clear direction on the role the volunteers as well as the youth and professionals in the Jamat can play:

“…It is important, I think, today, that my Jamat worldwide, not just here in Tanzania, my Jamat worldwide, should reaffirm the traditions that we have, the rectitude and correctitude of our interpretation of Islam, of the role, within Shia Islam, of the intellect, of the human intellect, so that the young, the less young, the old, all of you, wherever you are, are ambassadors of Islam — the Islam that we believe in, that we practice, and that guides us in our lives. So I say to you today, whether you are in Tanzania or whether you are in any other part of the world, stand up, do not run away. Speak openly and frankly about what is our interpretation of Islam.”

Interestingly, in his Diamond Jubilee Farman in Atlanta, USA, Mawlana Hazar Imam asked the Jamat if they knew the meaning of the word Qul (from Sura Ikhlas, which is recited by Ismailis in their Du’a multiple times everyday). One person out of thousands raised a hand! Was that a hint from the Imam to us to seek to understand our faith better? To be effective communicators, requires that we have good knowledge of the faith, its ideals and the work of the Imamat, including for example the AKDN agencies.

So my notion of the work of the volunteers — and indeed each one of us — is to work, and with “many words” express kindness to others, convey good ideas and best practices and pass on the ethos of Islamic and Ismaili principles to everyone we come across.

What should the new badge say? Totally opposite of “Work No Words.” Indeed, the badge should now say “Work and Many Words.” However those “many words” should be spoken with humility, sincerity and thoughtfulness.

I welcome your feedback. Please click LEAVE A COMMENT or send your comment in an email to Simerg@aol.com. You may remain anonymous. Your email address will never be shared.

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.

Date posted: December 7, 2019.

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We welcome your feedback. Please click on LEAVE A COMMENT.

Malik Merchant is founding publisher/editor of 3 websites, Barakah (2017), Simerg (2009), and Simergphotos (2012). They are works of passion influenced by his parents involvement with literary pursuits and community publications, as well as his childhood dream of becoming a journalist. However, he spent almost 4 decades working as an IT consultant in both the public and private sectors in the UK, USA and Canada. He has volunteered in the Ismaili community as a teacher and librarian and was co-editor with his late father, Jehangir Merchant, of the flagship UK Ismaili publication Ilm. He has also held numerous institutional and Jamati portfolios, including being the Member for Religious Education and Chairman of the Ottawa Tariqah Committee. He is currently based in Ottawa and Toronto. He welcomes your feedback on this piece by completing LEAVE A REPLY or by sending him an email at Simerg@aol.com.

Imam Hussein (A.S.) was martyred 1339 years ago

Imam Hussein Mosque Karbala, Library of Congress Photo
General view of the Imam Hussein Mosque in Karbala, Iraq. The photo was taken between September 26 and October 12, 1932. Photo: Matson (G. Eric and Edith) Photograph Collection / Library of Congress, Washingon D.C.

Imam Hussein (A.S.)

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

Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, is the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, and directly descended from Hazrat Ali (A.S.) and Imam Hussein (A.S.).

Imam Hussein began his reign as the 2nd Ismaili Imam* on the death of his father, Hazrat Ali (A.S.), on January 27, 661 CE who, 29 years earlier in 632 CE, had been publicly proclaimed by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) to be his successor at the famous event that took place at Ghadir Khumm.

The succession ended the cycle of the Divine Institution of Nubuwwah and ushered the world into a new era of the Divine Institution of Imamat. Thus, the Imams directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad, from Hazrat Ali to Mawlana Shah Karim, have continued to guide their murids (followers) in the ta’wil (interpretation) and talim (teaching) of the Holy Qur’an for the last 1387 years.

Imam Hussein was martyred in the Battle of Karbala on the 10th day of the Muslim month of Muharram, or October 10, 680, at the age of 54, and was succeeded to the Hereditary throne of Imamat by Imam Zainul Abideen (A.S.).

The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and thus shorter than the 365 day solar calendar by roughly 11 days. This year (2019), the 10th day of Muharram falls on or around September 9/10, almost 1339 years since the Imam’s tragic death at the hands of Yazid’s army. Please click to read more about Imam Hussein and Karbala from Muslim and non-Muslim historians and scholars.

Date posted: September 9, 2019.

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*Note: In the Shia Imami Nizari Ismaili tradition Imam Hussein’s brother, Hazrat Hassan (A.S.), is not counted as an Imam, whereas in other Shia Muslims he is considered as the second Imam which then makes Imam Hussein the 3rd Imam.

The Da‘i and His Invitation to the Truth

“The ethics of a Da’i are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. The Da’i constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.”

By KARIM H. KARIM

Many people have heard the position of Da‘i but are unfamiliar with its unique character. Historically, a Da‘i was a member of the Da‘wa, which was a pivotal institution of the Imamat. The word Da‘wa has sometimes been translated as a preaching mission and Da‘i as missionary. However, the precise meaning of Da‘wa is a call or an invitation, and therefore a Da‘i is someone who issues a call or invitation.

What was the nature of the Da‘i’sinvitation? The answer is to be found in the full name of the institution to which he belonged: Da‘wat al-Haqq (Invitation to the Truth). The Holy Qur’an says that “His [God’s] is the Da‘wa of the Truth” (13:14). Da‘is referred to their disciples as People of the Truth (Ahl al-Haqq or Al-Muhiqqin). (It was only in the early 20th century, after the Aga Khan Case of 1866, that the name Ismaili came to be formally adopted in reference to the Imam’s followers.) Da‘is (Pirs and Sayyids) in India, used Indian terminology to call the community Satpanth (Path of Truth).

The Concept of Truth

Truth is the core of the faith and appears repeatedly in its discourses. Imam Mustansir bi’llah II’s book Pandiyat-i Javanmardi declares that “The (real) believer is one who always, permanently, thinks of the Truth, and always intends to act righteously.” One of God’s names is Al-Haqq (the Truth). The third part of the Ismaili Du‘a affirms:

La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul mubin
(There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Manifest)

La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul yaqin
(There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Certainty)

Tasbihs in Gujarati ask for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth). When delivering sermons, Khoja preachers in the 20th century called their congregations “haqiqat-i momino” (believers of truth) and “haqiqati-dindaro” (followers of the religion of truth). Imam Mustansir bi’llah II and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah referred to the progression of the believer from shari‘a (“law”) to tariqa (path) to haqiqa (truth) and to ma‘rifa (wisdom; gnosis), as does Bhamar Ghufaa Upar Dekhantaa, a ginan attributed to Sayyid Nur Muhammad Shah.

The truth to which a Da‘i issues his invitation is embedded in the knowledge that the Imam imparts to his followers through a particular mode of instruction (ta‘lim). A hadith (saying) of the Prophet declared: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gateway; so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.”

Hazrat Ali and his designated successors in the lineage of Imamat provide unique access to knowledge about truth. Imams conduct interpretations (ta’wil) of the inner meaning of the Qur’an which they impart to their adherents through ta‘lim. Only the rightfully appointed Imams have this unique ability: “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] esoteric interpretationsave Allah and those who are of sound instruction” (Holy Qur’an, 3:7); Shia Muslims believe that the phrase “those who are of sound instruction” refers to the lineage of Imamat.

The concept of truth here is not limited to the practice of truth-telling and being honest, which are important in themselves, but to the deeper truth that is the inner reality of existence. This reality lies behind the illusion that constantly misleads the mind. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah wrote in his Memoirs that Islam’s “basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism.” The enlightened soul experiences the reality of fundamental truth on which rest all other aspects of faith (such as prayer, devotion, values, and ethics). It is to such ultimate and unique spiritual enlightenment (ma‘rifa, gnosis) that the Da ‘wa offers its invitation. The identity of a Da‘i is integrally related to the essence of eternal truth. He seeks to live the truth. Nasir-i Khusraw, Hujja of Khurasan, referred to the members of the Da‘wa as “Scholars of the Religion of Truth” (ulama-yi din-i haqq). This is a position of profound depth and significance that requires understanding of the process of spiritual advancement as well as knowledge of the material world.

The Da‘wa in History

The pre-Fatimid Da‘wa emerged in the first Period of Concealment (Dawr al-Satr) that began during Imam Ismail’s time. This was a period of great danger because the Abbasid Caliphate was determined to destroy the Imamat and its followers. Therefore, the Imams in this time were in hiding and their identities and locations were known only to their closest followers. Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi brought the Dawr al-Satr to a close when he established the Fatimid state in North Africa. 

It was the Da‘wa that had laid the groundwork for the Imam’s rule. Da‘is functioned largely in secret due to widespread persecution. Their institution, which operated transregionally, had a hierarchical structural model. At the head was the Chief Da‘i (Da‘i al-Du‘at), who was in close touch with the Imam. Under him operated a number of Hujjas (Proofs), the leaders of the Da‘wa in specific regions. Each Hujja supervised several Da‘is, who in turn had assistants called Ma’dhuns. Ordinary members of the community whom Da‘is taught were Mustajibs. Whereas this was an ideal model of the organization, the actual operations were more fluid especially in places where Da‘is worked in relative isolation.

The da‘wa produced a unique body of writings, some of which are described below. Da‘i Ja‘far bin Mansur al-Yaman’s Book of the Master and the Disciple (Kitab al-‘Alim wa’l-Ghulam) addresses the search for truth and the meaning of life in a series of religious dialogues between a Da‘i and his disciple. This sophisticated composition creatively uses form and language to express a complex narrative. It is a rare and valuable artifact that provides insight into the Da‘wa’s erudition and refined pedagogy.

Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, the Hujja in Iraq, was a noted philosopher. His major work, Rahat al-‘Aql (Repose of the Intellect), presents contemporary science, philosophy, and theology in an integral manner. Its objective was to enable the believer to attain a paradisiacal state through reason. Kirmani’s book imaginatively maps out a journey in which the soul escapes the troubling state of the physical world and attains freedom in the City of God by gaining a comprehensive sense of God, angelic beings, and the realm of minerals, plants and animals.

Nasir-i Khusraw, who was Hujja of Khurasan, is acknowledged as the founder of Ismaili communities in the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush in Pakistan as well as Xinjiang in China. He was a foremost exponent of philosophical poetry and his poems are an essential part of Persian-speaking countries’ educational curriculum today. Khusraw’s poetry is also sung at religious gatherings in the Badakshan Jamat and its diasporic locations. Among his philosophical treatises is The Book of Two Wisdoms Reconciled (Kitab-i Jami’ al-Hikmatayn), which endeavours to bridge Aristotelian and haqa’iq philosophies.

The Satpanth branch of the Da‘wa in India produced a unique literary tradition of around one thousand ginans, many of which hold profound insight and wisdom. Like the Sufis in the subcontinent who used the region’s cultural heritage to preach their beliefs, Ismaili Pirs, notably Shams, Sadruddin, and Hasan Kabirdin, also drew from Indic mythology and symbolism to teach the message of universal truth. Major compositions like Brahm Prakash and Bhuj Nirinjan guide adherents in their spiritual journeys. The ginan tradition, which is attributed to a number of Pirs and Sayyids, speaks of sat (truth) in various South Asian languages including Gujarati, Khari Boli (proto Hindi-Urdu), Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki/Multani. South Asian Khoja Jamats and their diaspora find inspiration in the hymns, which are sung every day at religious gatherings.

The Da‘wa’s Pluralist Search for Truth

The quest for truth is a consistent theme that runs through the centuries-long history of Da‘wat al-Haqq and Satpanth. Da‘is drew on knowledge from a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim sources in a pluralist pursuit of universal truth. According to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, studying other religions is integral to spiritual search because God’s revelation has appeared among different peoples through history.

All Islamic schools of thought accept it as a fundamental principle that, for centuries, for thousands of years before the advent of Mohammed, there arose from time to time messengers, illumined by Divine grace, for and amongst those races of the earth which had sufficiently advanced intellectually to comprehend such a message. Thus Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the Prophets of Israel are universally accepted by Islam. Muslims indeed know no limitation merely to the Prophets of Israel; they are ready to admit that there were similar Divinely-inspired messengers in other countries – Gautama Buddha, Shri Krishna, and Shri Ram in India, Socrates in Greece, the wise men of China, and many other sages and saints among peoples and civilizations of which we have now lost trace.

This pluralist attitude was present in the earliest Ismaili writings such as the encyclopedia of Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), whose sources included Islamic, Greek, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, and Christian knowledge.  Da‘is Al-Nasafi and Al-Sijistani adapted Neoplatonist thought to indicate the cosmological place of the Imam. As the Da‘wa moved into South Asia, Pirs and Sayyids drew from Indic mythology and cosmology for a similar purpose.

Such pluralist approaches to knowledge were not uncommon in the history of Islam. Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers in Arabia to seek knowledge even as far as China. The receptivity of Muslims to other cultures in the Hellenic intellectual environment of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran provided for their own religion’s intellectual flowering. They came upon renowned academies like those of Jondishapur, where Persian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scholars trained in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. A major translation movement rendered numerous manuscripts written in various languages into Arabic. Muslims scholars drew on the knowledge, philosophical reasoning and analytical tools produced by other civilizations for developing Islamic philosophy (falsafa), theology (kalam), and law (fiqh). Even the modes of Islamic preaching borrowed from indigenous practices; for example, Sufi teachers adopted the bhakti mode of devotion in India.

Whereas it was commonplace for Muslim intellectuals to learn from neighbouring civilizations, Ismaili thinkers embraced the most openly pluralist Islamic approach to other cultural and religious sources. They had a cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth. Da‘is examined the ancient world’s wisdom including that of Greeks, Babylonians, and Sabaeans as well as writings of contemporaries such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists.

The Da‘wat al-Haqq’s cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth enabled them to see spiritual value in their symbols and practices. Al-Sijistani interpreted the Christian cross’s four points as representing the roots of truth. Badakshan Jamats observe Chirag-i Rawshan (Luminous Lamp), a funerary rite that has Islamic features along with characteristics of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religions. Oral tradition attributes the establishment of this ritual to Nasir-i Khusraw. The Zoroastrian spring festival of Navroz, which is commemorated by Shia and Sunni Muslims in Persianate regions, has been embraced by all Ismailis as a major celebration of spiritual renewal. Farsi-speaking Jamats have been drawn to some of the poems of the great Sunni mystics Attar and Rumi, which are recited in religious gatherings. The Garbi category of ginan compositions bear a Hindu communal dance’s rhythm. Da ‘is were generally less concerned about exoteric differences between religious perspectives than in pursuing the greater spiritual truth.

Conclusion

Whereas Da‘is have consistently been engaged in a search for truth, this endeavor has been fraught with physical, intellectual, as well as personal spiritual dangers. These hazards led some members of the Da‘wa to turn away from the Imamat’s guidance. For example, Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii, who prepared the ground for Imam Al-Mahdi to establish the Fatimid state, later conspired against him. In the time of Imam Al-Hakim, a number of Da‘is broke from the Fatimid Da‘wa to establish what came to be known as the Druze movement. Another major division took place in the Da‘wa upon the death of Imam Al-Mustansir I, when most of the Da‘is in Cairo followed Al-Musta‘li and those in the east, like Hassan-i Sabbah and Rashid al-Din Sinan, adhered to Imam Nizar. Later in India, a grandson of Pir Hasan Kabirdin, Nar Muhammad, founded a break-way religious group called the Imamshahis.

The Da‘i Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-Naysaburi wrote a treatise on the comportment expected of the members of the Da‘wa. It laid out in some detail the qualifications and behavior that a Da‘i should have. Al-Naysaburi stated that the Da‘wa is built on knowledge, piety, and good governance. A Da’i maintains a noble character and upholds the truth to which he invites believers. His ethics are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. He constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.

Life may appear more complex than in previous periods but the struggle to remain faithful to eternal truth, which has been a constant religious quest since the dawn of time, remains relevant to this day. This endeavour was represented in previous centuries by the institution of Da‘wat al-Haqq, Invitation to the Truth. As in the past, a Da‘i’s life today would be difficult as it would involve dealing with intricate material, intellectual and spiritual challenges. The person who responds to the Call to the Truth accepts the undertaking of a demanding but ultimately rewarding enterprise. He/she can be seriously misled in this journey by others and even by the illusions of his/her own mind.

Adherence to Din al-Haqq demands a keen dedication to the Imamat and to the Truth. Followers of the Imam believe that he is the unique source of the knowledge that leads to comprehension of the Truth. However, history has shown that even the Imamat’s highly placed officials like the intelligent and heroic Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii have wavered from such a conviction. Living the faith of Al-Haqq clearly requires an absolutely unrelenting commitment to and love for the Truth. Those who sincerely seek to maintain such personal steadfastness humbly ask in daily prayers for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth) and “iman-ji salamati” (security of faith).

Date posted: July 7, 2019.

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Karim H. Karim

About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Study for the Study of Islam. He has previously been Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and Director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. Dr. Karim has also been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. He is an award-winning author who has published extensively. Professor Karim has also delivered distinguished lectures at venues in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2017, he organized the international conference on Mapping a Pluralist Space in Ismaili Studies, which was the largest ever gathering of scholars working in this field. A forthcoming publication of his is titled “Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth.”

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The Imam is Always Present and Obedience to Him Makes Our Faith Complete

Recognition of the Imam

By FIDAI KHURASANI

He is always present
a witness with his followers;
but who has seen his beauty
except the blessed?

He who is the cupbearer of
the fount of paradise
is aware altogether of
the hearts of his followers

He is the Imam of the Time
the guide and comforter
the protector of his followers
whether young or old

Like the sun in the sky
he is manifest in the world
but the blind bat cannot see
his luminous face

Source: Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poems, ed. Faquir M. Hunzai and Kutub Kassam, pub. I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1997. 

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Making Our Faith Complete

By IMAM MUSTANSIR BI’LLAH 

Pandiyat-i- Jawanmardi or Counsels of Chivalry is a compilation of the guidance of the 32nd Ismaili Imam, Mustansir bi’llah, who lived in the 15th century. The book contains exhortations to the faithful on the necessity of recognising and obeying the Imam of the Time and on how to live a truly ethical life. The circumstances that led to the compilation of the work are intriguing, and are alluded to in many of the manuscripts copies as follows:

When Pir Taj al-Din passed away, a number of people from the Sindhi Ismaili Community went to the Imam. Upon arrival they pleaded: “Our Pir Taj al-Din has passed away. Now we are in need of a Pir.” The Imam then had the Counsels of Chivalry compiled and gave it to them saying: “This is your Pir.  Act according to its dictates.”

In the following piece from one of the chapters, the Imam enumerates on how murids (those who have pledged their allegiance to the Imam) can make their faith complete. Says the Imam:

“O, believers, O, pious ones!

“Now is the time when you should strengthen religion (din), by helping each other, by trying to gain knowledge, by advancing the religious cause, and striving to make your faith complete.

“Gain safety by obeying the Imam of the time, and become completely obedient to his orders.

“Do unhesitatingly what you are told by the blessed word of the Imam, –- then you will attain (real) salvation.

“Follow the Imam of your time strictly, so that he may take you under his protection, helping you, granting you victory and relief.

“And obedience to the Imam, attention to his word, will bring about the healing of spiritual ailments and lead to soundness and clarity of the heart.”

Reading adapted from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, Hardcover – May 3, 2007

Date posted: May 2, 2019.

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