Media Coverage: Ismaili Ethos of Volunteerism is Reflected in Ismaili Civic Day Held Around the World to Improve Quality of Life of Communities

Simerg proudly recognizes the hundreds of Ismaili volunteers who participated in the Ismaili Civic Day that was held in numerous countries around the world on September 26, 2021 to improve the quality of life of the communities in which they live, regardless of faith, gender and background. We are pleased to share with our readers links to a selection of news reports that appeared in the local and national media. They reflect the significance of this day within the Ismaili community. Among the hundreds of different activities that Ismaili volunteers participated in, one of the most heart-warming and touching contributions was the clean-up and beautification of the Woodland Cemetery in Henrico County, Virginia, USA.

NBC News, USA: Ismaili Civic volunteers help with Woodland Cemetery beautification work

Ismaili Civic -- NBC News Report
Please click on photo for NBC News Report – Woodland Cemetery Cleanup

____________________

CTV News, Richmond, Canada: Photos: Volunteers clean-up Richmond park in celebration of Ismaili CIVIC Day

A youth volunteer during Richmond's first Global Ismaili CIVIC Day activity in B.C.
Please click on photo for CTV News Park Cleanup Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

____________________

CTV News Edmonton, Canada: Ismaili community celebrates civic day by tidying local park

Please click on photo for CTV News Edmonton Park Cleanup, Alberta, Canada

A SELECTION OF LINKS TO OTHER ARTICLES:

Date posted: September 28, 2021.

___________________

Essays and Letters simerg 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible

Essays and Letters: The Black Pearl!

By KARIM LADHA

It was the summer of ’77: hot, humid days and nights in Hogtown! Hit tunes on the radio were “Tonight’s the Night” by Rod Stewart and “(The) Best of My Love” by The Emotions.

I saw an ad in our apartment building’s laundry room for a Dodge Challenger R/T (denotes Road/Track, a performance marker used on Dodge vehicles since the 1960’s).

It was a polo green colour with a white vinyl roof, a 4-speed manual transmission with a cue-ball shifter, white vinyl bucket seats, a V-8 426 HEMI engine, generating 425 HP of pure adrenaline power in the iconic 1970 model year!

Rewind to May 1, 1973 when our family landed in Toronto from Tanzania. I was completely fascinated by the American ‘Muscle Cars’ – the Pontiac Trans Am, Firebird, GTO, the Chevy Corvette, Camaro, the Ford Mustang, the Dodge Charger, the AMC Javelin, but the car that caught my imagination and fascination was the Dodge Challenger! (and its sister car – the Plymouth Barracuda, affectionately called the ‘CUDA! – there was even a hit song about the car!). There was something about the Challenger – its front muscular stance, the contour lines sloping to the rear bumpers, the cut air vents in the hood, the growl of its engine; just the feeling of immense power and invincibility it conveyed! I knew the specs of all the muscle cars from my subscription to Hemmings Magazine, and then there was the famous 1971 movie featuring a 1970 Challenger R/T as the star, called “Vanishing Point”, with Barry Newman (and then a made for TV copycat, which also was a hit).

Back to the Challenger for sale via the ad in the laundry room of 20 Edgecliffe Golfway in Don Mills. I was so excited and ripped off the ad from the notice board, so no one else would see it!

2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, with V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque simerg, essays and letters Karim Ladha.
Karim Ladha (right) with son, Raheem, pictured by The Black Pearl, a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible with a V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque. A rocket indeed, as noted on the vehicle plate! Photo: Shereen Ladha.

I excitedly ran home and called the number. The car was in the underground parking and could be had for a mere $3K! Now, in 1977, $3K was like $13K in today’s dollars! Still, I felt it was a great deal and asked to see the car. It belonged to an elderly couple who were the original owners and were only selling it as they rarely used the car anymore. We struck up a great relationship and they were really keen on selling it to me, especially after hearing about my passion for Challengers! They reduced the price to $2,500.00 only for me, and let me drive it multiple times! I remember it being all the feeling of power and invincibility I had dreamed of and more!

However, reality quickly set in and for a 19 year old in my 2nd year of University, it was virtually  impossible for me come up with that kind of money in such a short time. I even asked my uncle for a loan, who thought it was the dumbest idea I had ever come up with (reflecting back on it, I can’t say I disagree!). Alas, I had to let it go, but I promised myself I would buy a beautiful Challenger one day! Dodge discontinued the Challenger in 1974, a victim of the Petro Crisis of the 70s!   

Fast forward to the Fall of 2020, in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns. I saw an ad in the Hemmings magazine (now online), for a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, pearl black colour, with a V-8 392 HEMI 6.4 Litre engine delivering 485 HP with 475 lb-ft of torque! A real beast!

2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible Simerg Essays and Letters Karim Ladha
The well laid out and beautiful interior of Karim Ladha’s The Black Pearl, a 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT8 Convertible. Photo: Shereen Ladha.
Essays and Letters simerg 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible
Karim Ladha leans against his dream car, The Black Pearl, a 2016 Challenger SRT8 Convertible, outside the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Photo: Shereen Ladha.

Dodge had brought back the Challenger in 2008 as a ‘retro’ model, but never made a convertible. The owner in New Brunswick had purchased the car new and had it shipped in a closed container to a custom car shop in Florida called DropTop Customs. They transformed the car into a convertible!

I called immediately and after a few weeks of back and forth haggling on the hefty price, I finally purchased my Challenger – after 43 long years!

I call the car “The Black Pearl” after the namesake ship in one of my favourite movie series – “The Pirates of the Caribbean”!

Date posted: August 19, 2021.

_______________________

Simerg invites Essays and Letters from Ismaili writers who have established themselves in literary circles as well as anyone who has a love and passion for writing. Please submit your piece for consideration and possible publication on this website to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com.

Karim Ladha
Karim Ladha

About the author: Originally form Dar es Salaam and Iringa, Tanzania, Karim Ladha settled in Toronto, Canada, where he embarked on a long career in IT with the Bank of Montreal, and ran a used clothing export business for several years. Now retired, he lives in Toronto with his wife Shahiroz. They have two beautiful children, Shereen and Raheem.

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

Elizabeth the Ladybug and the Lonely Rose: A Heart-Warming Story for Eid al-Adha

[We begin story telling in Simerg with stories exclusively written for this website by Vancouver based creative writer Farah Tejani, who has contributed inspiring poems for Simerg, including one last year on the occasion of Eid al-Adha titled The Great Sacrifice. This beautiful story of the Ladybug is being presented to our readers at a time when Muslims will be celebrating the Eid over the coming days. There are numerous lessons to be learnt from the story including patience, courage, and giving hope to others who need it the most. The Ladybird’s journey to locate a new friend in need is also one of great sacrifice, as danger is ever present on the road she travels to fulfill her noble mission! We encourage parents to read this story to their young children, and also print the story so that older children may read it. We are sure, however, that the story will be enjoyed by readers of any age, young and old.

Elizabeth the Ladybug and the Lonely Rose

Ladybug. Photo: DM (dmott9) on Flickr

By FARAH TEJANI

Elizabeth the ladybug prided herself on being a very adventurous and curious little insect. Oh, life was simply so magnificent and extraordinary, and she remembered to thank God every single second. There was so much to learn and do, and this day was a very special day. Somehow inside she knew this was going to be a day she would never forget.

There was just something about the way the sun burst out of the sky just like a clown out of a wind-up music box. Today was just after a summer rain which made a double rainbow in the clouds. Elizabeth’s grandpa used to say that this meant there was a pot of gold at the end, but Elizabeth was not interested in gold today. Her grandfather always told her, “Always remember, Lizzie,” because that is what her family called her, “There are always many, many more important things in this world than gold.”

When Elizabeth was very young, her mother asked her, “Lizzie, honey, if you could do anything you want, what would you like to do more than anything in this world?” and Elizabeth kicked her little black foot in the blades of grass, “I don’t know…anything?” “Yes,” her mother smiled, not having a clue what her daughter would say. “I guess I would like to get to know everybody in the whole wide world!” 

“Oh my!” she exclaimed, “This world is a pretty big place, and how would such a little ladybug like you do that?”

Elizabeth looked at her very seriously, “That’s easy. One at a time!”

Her mother laughed and gave her daughter a big hug! She knew if any ladybug could do it, Lizzie would! She would fly as far as her little wings would take her. There was nothing more fun than making new friends. And Lizzie had lots of them.

And this day was special. Elizabeth was on a mission to make a new friend at her favorite park in Richmond, British Columbia. Slowly she made small steps which gave her more time to see more things. Her mother used to tell her, “Lizzie, remember not to run through life too quickly; you might miss out on the good stuff…which was true indeed. So there were times when she would use her wings, but times when she would take slow meticulous steps and enjoy it like a hot cup of chocolate when it’s snowing.

Swan. Photo: Malik Merchant

Minoru Park was so special because it had squirrels and rabbits and ducks and swans and all types of plants and flowers. Elizabeth had many friends here already but today she was on a special mission to meet a new friend she just knew needed her help. You know how you just know things sometimes?…Yeah, like that.

Elizabeth passed all the friends she knew already because she was so tiny, and it was hard for them to see her. So she made her way across the step bridge and smiled at the mating swans which were making a heart shape with their necks. CLICK. She took a photo with her mind because she didn’t have a camera. This is how you make memories. Elizabeth had taken many photos in her mind. Sunsets, spider webs, flowers, squirrels, rabbits, frogs, butterflies and especially family. Photos that she could remember whenever she wanted to.

Suddenly, Elizabeth smelled a beautiful fragrance coming from the flowers on the other side of the bridge.  She tiptoed on the dew on the grass so as not to disturb them and watched in wonder as they went about their day.

She was quite surprised to find some yellow sunlit dandelions doing the tango and dancing in the breeze. They were not aware that she was nearby and so they just laughed and giggled and enjoyed the warmth on their petals. Elizabeth called up from below, “Hey, my name is Elizabeth…do you want to be my friend?” But they were not able to hear her, so she just kept going, sure she would find that special friend.

Tulips. Photo: Nurin Merchant

 And then Elizabeth went to the next bush and she couldn’t believe what she saw! Believe it or not Elizabeth saw some tulips holding briefcases, pens and pencils and charts and diagrams! They seemed to be talking and holding some kind of very important business meeting. Just like humans! “Oh, if only humans only knew what animals and nature do when they are asleep or not paying attention!” Elizabeth decided it was probably best not to disturb them. She carried on her very important adventure.

Elizabeth went a bit further and came across some lilacs singing in a choir! A choir! Oh, they sure sounded as pretty as they looked. It was the end of summer and they were already practicing Christmas carols. Elizabeth sat and listened to their songs for a bit. She was quite amazed at how gifted and talented they were. Elizabeth was going to stop and ask if she could sing with them, but she was determined to make a new friend today, and this would just delay her.

Elizabeth went a little further to a bush with no flowers, just bulbs that had not bloomed just yet. But there right in front of her lying in the grass was a single long stem rose that had been plucked and thrown away! This rose did not look happy just drying up and withering in the sun.

Wilting rose. Photo: Rashida Tejani for Farah's story Elizabeth
Wilting rose. Photo: Rashida Tejani

“Are you okay?” Elizabeth asked her sincerely.

 No answer.

 Elizabeth asked again and moved closer in case she couldn’t hear her. 

“Hey, my name is Elizabeth…do you want to be my friend?”

But there was no response. 

Elizabeth began to worry and she tried again, really anxious on becoming this rose’s friend… she just knew this was the special reason for today’s adventure and she was not going to give up.

“Excuse me, can you hear me? Are you okay? I would like to be your friend.”

Suddenly a small soft voice uttered very slowly and with much effort, “Oh, can’t you see? There’s no time for friends. Can’t you see that a human has plucked me from my bush and cast me to the ground. I was up there in my bush and I was the first one to bloom, so some human thought I was pretty and smelled me and then just decided to throw me away like an old newspaper that has already been read!”

Elizabeth knew this was her special friend and she knew she would do anything to help her.

“What do you mean?” Elizabeth was genuinely concerned. “How can I help you?”

“Put me back in my rose bush with my friends!”

Elizabeth  knew she had to do something.

“Just like you need the plants and the dew on grass I need water and the sun and the soil to LIVE!” The rose craned her neck up with much effort to look Elizabeth in the eyes. “The sun is so hot and blazing on me that I am drying up and withering away! I don’t have too many words left but I hope you will hear me and share this message. I wish human beings would be more careful. LIVE AND LET LIVE!” 

With one of her thorns she pointed at the puddle just next to them.

“You look like a very brave, strong and determined little lady bug. I have faith in you, my new friend. Do you have the strength to roll my stem in there, just so I can live just a little bit longer?”

Elizabeth had tears in her eyes, and looked sadly at the dying rose. But she was so happy she called her her new friend. “I know I can!” She knew there was a reason for her going on her adventure.

And with that, Elizabeth dug her heels in the ground and rolled the end of the flower’s stem into the puddle that she was so happy was there.    

“LIVE AND LIVE!” The rose was fading now. With whatever strength she could gather from the water in the puddle she managed to say some very important things!  

“Don’t put lions in cages, don’t put elephants in cages, don’t put gorillas and monkeys in cages, don’t put killer whales and dolphins in aquariums, don’t put fish and snakes and lizards in tanks…and for God’s sake don’t pluck flowers because they are pretty and they smell nice! LIVE AND LET LIVE! We last a lot longer in the bush and animals last a lot longer in their natural habitat!”

Ladybug. Photo: DM (dmott9) on Flickr

Elizabeth flew up to her petals and closed her eyelids and with that the rose slowly faded away leaving three or four dried red rose petals that looked like tears. Elizabeth took a very sad but meaningful snapshot in her mind and felt very sad that she only had this friend for a matter of minutes. But she was grateful for the lesson that would last a lifetime!

Tears were flowing from her eyes as she sat with the rose while the sun was setting in the distance. She had never thought about how important life was. No one had ever tried to take hers except for that young girl on the farm who put her under a glass where she was held prisoner for hours, but fortunately one of the adults used the glass to get some orange juice and she managed to get away. God knows what the young child would have done with her if the grown up didn’t come in time!

Elizabeth did not even know the rose’s name. “LIVE AND LET LIVE” indeed. Elizabeth said a small prayer of gratitude to God. “Thank you, for this GIFT OF LIFE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME, MY GIFT BACK TO YOU IS WHAT I DO WITH IT.” Amen.

Date posted: July 20, 2021.

_______________________

Featured image at top of post: A Ladybird (Coccinellidae) on the leaf of a blackberry bush located on Church Road in the parish of Trimingham, Norfolk, England. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Farah Tejani

Farah Tejani is a creative writer based in Vancouver. She is currently working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called “Elastic Embrace” to be published later this year. She has contributed numerous poems for Simerg and its sister website Barakah in recent months. Here are links to some of Farah’s poems: The Fragrance of SpringElastic Embrace; and The Great Sacrifice.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

_______________

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

An Ethereal Journey to a Sacred Space in the Pandemic

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

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

By ZAHER MEGHJI AHAMED

Headquarters Jamatkhana Vancouver. Photo: FNDA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spaces created in Jamatkhanas for prayer are sacred spaces!

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

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

What else are we witnessing during the pandemic?

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: November 20, 2020.

________________________

Zaher Ahamed

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

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

________________________

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

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

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

The Drape, and an Invitation to Singers to Set up a Geet

By S. GIGA PATNEY
Special to Simerg  

A hundred years ago Katchhi and Kathiawadi Ismaili Khoja Muslims sailed to Africa and Zanzibar to make a living. Today, they have prospered in America, Canada and Europe. They wear western clothes, live in palatial homes and drive expensive cars but in the homes they still speak their rustic dialect and they remember the ‘pacchedi’ (Khoja Muslim head drape) their mothers wore.

The ‘Pacchedi Geet’ in a folk song form, is written in Gujarati, ‘transcreated’ in English, and transliterated in Roman script. The song is composed to remember and celebrate the pioneers who left India a century ago but kept memories of their homeland alive.

My thanks to Sultan Somjee for permission to use the bandhani image, and Zahir Dhalla for transcribing in Gujarati script.

I welcome singers to set up a geet with the lyrics that have been provided below. Recordings or questions regarding the geet may be sent directly to me at safder8@gmail.com or to the editor of Simerg at simerg@aol.com.

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Drape
(Khoja Pacched̨̨i)

Kohl-grey silk
Studded with white stars
A border of a thousand flowers.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Milk, oudh and attar
Strands of jasmine hanging,
Underneath, I sleep in deep slumber.
Mother, these are the colours under your drape.

Ghee, molasses,
Apricots and raisins.
Mother, your bread tastes so sweet.
Mother, what colours under your drape?

Storms, thunder
And lightening!
Frightened, I hide under your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

Witches, warlocks
Ghosts and giants
Scare me not under the shade of your drape.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

With tables and chairs
We built boats
And flew sails made out of your drape.
Mother, how many colours under your drape?

Leaving home
We crossed the seas.
We spread Giga Patney’s patola.
Mother, how can I break from the ties of your drape?

Your eyes closed,
Your soul departed.
We draped you in rosy pink.
Mother, colours like these under your drape.

_________________

પછેડી
(Gujarati)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

સુરમય રેશમ
માથે ધોળા તારા
ચારે કોર હજાર ફૂલ ની પટ્ટી …..૧
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ કેટલા રંગ ?

દૂધ ઊધ ને અંતર
માથે ટાંક્યા મોતિયા
છાયેં હું સુવું ઊંડી નીંદરે …..૨
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ઘી ગોળ અને
સૂકો મેવો
મા, મને મીઠી લાગે તારી રોટલી …..૩
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે કેવા રંગ ?

વાયુ વીજળી
મેધા ઘરજે
હું ડરી સંતાઉ પછેડી ની નીચે …..૪
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ એવા રંગ!

ડાકણ દઈંત
ભૂત રાક્ષસ
મને ન ડરાવે પછેડી ના છાયેં …..૫
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પાછળ તેવા રંગ.

મેજ ખુરસી ના
વાણ બનાવયા
ઊપર ઊડાડીયા પછેડી ના સઢ …..૬
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે તેવા રંગ.

દેસ છોડી
દરિયા તરીયા
ગીગા પટણી ના પટોળા પાથરીયા …..૭
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની પછળ કેમ છોળું ?

આંખ મીચાણી
જીવ ઊડયાં
ઓઢાળી તને ગુલાબી પછેડી…..૮
માઈં તારી પછેડી ની નીચે એવા રંગ.

_________________

Pached̨i
(Gujarati transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Mathé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ni putti
Maai tari pacched̨I ni pacchad̨ ketla rung

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Mathé tankya motia
Cchayeñ huñ suwuuñ oondi ninderé
Maai tari pacched̨i ni pacchad ewa rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
Ané sooko mewo
Ma mané mith̨I lagé tari rotli
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Huñ santauñ durri pacched̨I ni niché
Maai tari pached̨i ni niché kewa rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Mané na darawé pachced̨I na cchayeñ
Maai tari pacched̨̨i ni pacchad̨ tewa rung

Mej khud̨si na
Waan̨ banawya
Ooper oodad̨̨iya pacched̨̨I na suddh
Maai tari pacched̨i ni niché kewa rung

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariya tariyañ
Giga Patney na patol̨a pathariyañ
Ma tari pacched̨i ni pucchud̨ kem cchod̨uñ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i tunné gulabi pacched̨̨i
Ma tari pacched̨i ni niché ewa rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

_________________

Pached̨i
(Kachchhi transliteration)

Drape Pacchedi Simerg

Surmai resham
Muthé d̨̨hod̨a tara
Chąré kor hajjar ful ji putti
Maai toji pacched̨I ji pudthia kitra rung?

Dooth, oodh ne antar
Muthé tungya motia
Cchayeñ niche awuñ suwañ oondi ninder mé
Maai tojii pacched̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Ghee, ghor̨̨
né sooko mewo
Ma muké mith̨i lagé tojii mani
Maai tojii pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Wayuñ, wijad̨i
Megha gharajé
Awuñ dhirji santayañ pacched̨I ji niché
Maai toji pached̨i ji niché heda rung

Dakan̨, dayint
Bhoot, rakshas
Muké na dhirjai pachced̨I ja cchayeñ
Maai tojii pacched̨̨i ji pudthia heda rung

Mej khud̨si ja
Waan̨ banayasi
Ooper oodariasi pacched̨̨I ja suddh
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché keda rung?

Des cchod̨̨i
Dariyo tariyasi
Giga Patney ja patol̨a pathariyañsi
Maai toii pacched̨i ji pucchud̨ kiñ cchod̨yañ?

Aankhyuñ michan̨̨i
Jeev oodiyañ
Odh̨ad̨̨i toké gulabi pacched̨̨i
Maai toji pacched̨i ji niché heda rung

Retroflex d̨, n̨ as in fud̨ (fruit) and pan̨i (water)
Nasal ñ as in French ‘pain’ and Portuguese ‘paű’ (bread)
Dental t as in tű (you) and d as in diwas (day)

Date posted: August 15, 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.

____________________

This piece is also available as a PDF File, and may be downloaded by clicking on The Drape PDF.

S. Giga Patney, Simerg The Drape Pacchedi
S. Giga Patney

S. Giga Patney has taught English as a Foreign Language in Japan, Portugal and England; and English as a Second Language in England and Canada. He won the Teacher Fellowship at the University of London Institute of Education when he was a teacher with the Inner London Education Authority. He was Head of Language Service In Berkshire, UK and Principal Lecturer in the Department of Teaching Studies at The University of North London. He joined the Department of Language Education at the University of British Columbia, Canada to teach on their post-graduate program. He has now retired and lives in the interior of British Columbia where he does his creative writing.

Books by the author:

Literary Fiction:
The Shiv-Shivani Trilogy:
Book 1: Shiva – Lord of Dance – A Novel in Raga Bhairava
Book 2: Shivani’s Story – A Novel in Raga Bhairavi
Book 3: Shivani’s Dance of Destruction – A Novel in Four Movements.

Fact-fiction:
Ties of Bandhana- The Story of Alladin Bapu

Facetiae:
The Alchemist Quartet
Book 1: The Alchemist and the Prince – A Story of the Prince With a Nut in His Navel
Book 2: The Alchemist’s Manuscript – Of the Travels of the Merchant of Yemen & His servant in the Erythrean Sea as Related to the Alchemist of Gozo, the Younger
Book 3: The Alchemist and the Empire of Evil
Book 4 (Forthcoming): The Alchemist and the Indian Boy

_________________________

If you wish to leave a comment, please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click on Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Iringa Jamatkhana, Mohamed Hamir, Ismaili, Simerg

Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Inspiration Behind the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Iringa, Tanzania

By MOHAMED HAMIR

[This special piece for Simerg is a revised version of the original article by the author that was published in Khojawiki in July 2020 — Ed.]

In 1933, in the midst of a global recession, a landmark building, a prayer house, arose in the center of a small provincial town in the interior highlands of Africa. The story of this remarkable building had its genesis in Kutch based family patriarch by the name of Hamir Pradhan, my great grandfather.

The Hamir family of Sinogra/ Nagarpur districts of Kutch was remembered as a reasonably prosperous and enterprising family in the latter half of 1800s. Hamir Pradhan had sired eight sons and one daughter. He was also a person of deep faith and community service. He had built and donated a small Jamatkhana in Sinogra. There is evidence that Hamir Pradhan had created a legacy of community service and sacrifice that left deep impression on his children and the community in Kutch. 

During early part of 1900s, six of the Hamir male siblings had joined the large scale migration of peoples from Kutch, Kathiawaar and other parts of Gujarat plagued by large scale famine, to the colonized countries of eastern and southern Africa. One of the young men among these siblings to migrate was Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, my grandfather. He was married to Bachibai, my grandmother. She and their first born daughter Fatma, who was around 3 years at the time, were to join my grandfather in Africa several years later.

Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 - 1943) of Iringa, Tanzania Simerg
Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 – 1943). Photo: Hamir Collection.

My grandfather, Mohamed Hamir (Pradhan) was born in Sinogra, Kutch in 1880. Following his siblings, in 1902, he arrived in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), a German colony at the time. After a short stint in Kilosa with one of his brothers, Haji Hamir, he followed another brother, Satchu Hamir, to Iringa, a quintessential German/British colonial outpost town in the Southern Highlands, where he went to work for him in his retail (duka) shop. He helped his brother expand his business to inland villages, often traveling for weeks with a caravan of porters carrying merchandise. In 1905, three years after his arrival in Tanganyika, he formed his own business.

Benefiting from his trading experience and extensive contacts with both the German and later British colonialist, he was able to capitalize and benefit from the war economy of the First World War (1914-1918). Over the next three decades he became a successful entrepreneur in retail and residential real estate development. Also over the next several years he and my grandmother Bachibai who had joined him from Kutch, expanded the family to include three more daughters and a son. This expanded, and eventually extended family through marriages, was to play a large role in my grandfather’s business successes, and more importantly in helping him achieve his ultimate legacy. Since his son, my father was only 12 or 13 years of age, his daughters played a key role in running his retail business and were deeply involved on his legacy project.

Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Ismaili Iringa simerg photos
Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Hamir Collection.

The names of my grandfather’s children and their marital families are (chronologically): daughters Fatma Mahamed Ladha, Sikina Bhimji Asser Sachedina, Jena Ramzan Parpia, and Rehmat Fazal Manji; and son and daughter-in law Akbar and Kulsum Mohamed Hamir.

In early 1930’s and in the midst of The Great Global  Economic Depression, our grandfather embarked on a project that would become a matter of pride and an important legacy for our family and the Ismaili community of Iringa. Inspired by his father Hamir Pradhan’s generosity and community service, as well as his own deep faith, he proposed to the community that he wanted to build a Jamatkhana complex and donate it to the Imam for benefit of the Ismaili community in Iringa. My grandfather’s proposal called for a two story Jamatkhana building with a capacity for 600 people, four times the Jamat size at the time. The complex was to include primary school facilities, a social hall, a guest house (dharmshara) and a recreation compound. The building was to be located right in the middle of the main street, which later was named as Jamat Street, a tribute to the Ismaili community of Iringa for the Jamatkhana building that manifested prominently on the street.

With perseverance and after several design changes, he was able to get an agreement on his plan and approval for the project from the appropriate jurisdictional leadership as well as our Imam. The construction was commenced in 1931 and completed in 1933. Due to drastic economic conditions, my grandfather had to resort to borrow money to complete the project. Several prominent families had stepped up to lend him the money. Our family folklore describes his obsession with the project that was of legendary proportion. At times, things got so desperate that he personally and physically toiled on the projects along with our family members to help the project move along to completion.

Iringa KIsmaili Jamatkhana, landmark street scene, Simerg.
Street scene with Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana standing out prominently with its high tower and clock. The Jamatkhana was completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

At the time of the completion of the Jamatkhana in 1933, it was reported to be one of the best in Tanganyika, and architecturally one of the most beautiful in the whole of East Africa. Over the next twenty-five years the Ismaili Jamat in Iringa grew five-fold, exceeding the original capacity of 600. The Jamatkhana complex was not only the anchor of the community, but also a major catalyst for the growth of the Ismaili community in Iringa. Later in the 1960s, my father, Alijah Akbar Mohamed Hamir, expanded the capacity of the Jamatkhana to accommodate the growing Khoja Ismaili community in Iringa.

At the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in Nairobi 1936, our grandparents were scheduled for special audience with the Hazar Imam in order to formally present the gift of the Iringa Jamatkhana. However due to the last minute illness of my grandmother they were not able to make the long journey to Nairobi. Our Imam accepted their gift in their absence, and conveyed much appreciation and blessings to them and to their family. This was the happiest moment in our grandfather’s life! The Imam also bestowed on him an honorific title of Alijah.

Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana Tnazania Simerg article
A close up view of Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana, completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.
Aga Khan Ismaili Iringa Jamatkhana close-up of bell clock, Simerg
An enlarged view of the prominent bell clock of the Iringa Jamatkhana. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

Since its manifestation almost 90 years ago, the Iringa Jamatkhana  continues to stand as symbol of the town’s identity. Located in the heart of the town, the high and prominent clock tower, adoring the architecturally beautiful building, remains the emblem and inspiration to the local and diasporic community of Iringa. Its large bell clock and high visibility reminds people to the calling of the time, and the out-of-town visitors to their bearings.

It is a source of pride for our community and our family to have the Jamatkhana be such an iconic monument of the town. It is also a tribute to my grandfather’s foresight, faith, leadership and perseverance. His generosity and service to the community is a remarkable legacy and an inspiration for our family and for the future generations.

Date posted: August 2, 2020.

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

___________________

Mohamed Hamir

About the author: Mohamed Hamir, originally from Tanzania, has lived in numerous locations throughout USA since 1969. He is a retired financial services executive including a 20 year career with Citibank in the USA. He has an undergraduate degree in science from London University, UK and an MBA in finance from Indiana University. His work experience and extensive travel included both USA domestic and international markets.

Since his retirement in 2001, he has been passionate about causes involving female infanticide and education of marginalized children. He is on the Advisory Board and member of the LEADers Circle of PRATHAM USA, a prominent global educational NGO. He is also the Executive Producer of “Petals in the Dust”, an award winning documentary exposing gender discrimination, girl killing and violence against women in India.

Among his numerous services to the Ismaili community, he has served as both Mukhi and Kamadia of the Jamats in the USA. From 1988 to 1991 he served as a member of the National Council for USA with a portfolio of fund raising for Jamatkhanas. In 1968, when he was a student in London, he co-founded and was the first president of the inaugural Aga Khan Sports Club of U.K. He currently resides with his family in Southern California.

___________________

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.

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.

____________________

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.

_____________________

A Tribute to Our Late Father, Gulamali Kara Somani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Copyright: © Salim and Sultan Somani.

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

CORRECTIONS:

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

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

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

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

___________________

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.

____________________

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.

________________________

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

The melodious life and legacy of Shamshu Jamal (1936 – 2019)

Shamshu Jamal (1936-2019), Ismaili singer, simerg photo
Shamshu Jamal (1936-2019). Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

By KARIM H. KARIM
(with contributions from Dolatkhanu Jamal, Rosemin Karim, Riyaz Jamal, Imran Karim and Irshad Karim)

Shamshu Jamal has left a profound impression on the global Ismaili jamat. His music was “magical,” declared a poem written in honour of his 80th birthday in 2016. The singer, musician, lyricist, composer, and music teacher had innumerable admirers in the countries across North America Europe, Africa and Asia where he performed in a tenure of over 60 years. Shamshudin Noordin Jamal was the unofficial poet laureate and bard of Canada’s Satpanthi Khoja Ismailis. His musical legacy has been passed on to a multitude of students and to his children and grandchildren, with whom he produced several recordings.

It was not only Shamshu’s music but his personal affability, generosity and humility that touched people’s hearts. Despite achieving success and fame, he remained grounded in family and community.

Shamshu was a loving son, husband, father and grandfather as well as a devoted friend. He and his wife lived simply in the same home in Vancouver for the last four decades. It was where he received prominent musicians and legions of admirers. It was also where he taught music and even repaired colleagues’ harmoniums.

Participating actively in the life of the neighbourhood, he stayed in touch with people who left and made new acquaintances. The many close friends and fans around the world are a testament to his compassion and graciousness. His humour was legendary – he seemed to have a joke for every occasion. Shamshu is remembered as having a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. These features of his personality shone through in his singing and compositions.

Shamshu Jamal was born in a home whose air was filled with music. His father performed at gatherings and held sessions at the family’s residence. He taught the young Shamshu about the basics of Indian ragas and how to sing and play instruments during the 1940s. This early introduction to music stirred an irrepressible desire to learn more.

Formal Indian musical training was not available in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, so Shamshu began teaching himself through research, careful listening and constant practice. He instinctively understood rhythm, melody and vocal expression. As a young teenager, he would sneak into the concerts of prominent artists visiting from India. Performing at private musical gatherings and then on the stage before turning twenty, he soon emerged as a virtuoso both within and outside the Khoja Ismaili community.

story continues after photo

Shamshu Jamal performing in the 1960's. Photo for Simerg
Shamshu Jamal and colleagues performing in Dar es Salaam in the 1960’s. Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

Shamshu’s attention to linguistic detail and diction drew him into the hearts of ghazal lovers who marvelled at his knowledgeable and precise enunciation of Urdu, which was not his mother language. He performed with a circle of fellow singers and musicians who were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other members of the diaspora that had crossed the Indian Ocean to settle in Africa.

In 1973, Shamshu Jamal and his family moved to Vancouver as part of the East African Ismaili migration to western countries. He re-established old musical contacts and made new ones. The larger South Asian community of Vancouver responded enthusiastically to Shamshu’s talented renderings of ghazals and bhajans. He performed with singers and musicians from various cultures and religions. As an accomplished harmonium player, he also shared the stage with renowned artistes from India, such as the classical vocalists Pandit Jasraj and Shrimati Shweta Jhaveri and the master tabla players Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

Shamshu generously gave of his musical self to his own and other communities for all of his adult life. He became a much sought-after teacher of Indian music, sharing his time and knowledge with students from various communities. Notwithstanding his success, he continued his own journey of studying music.

In 2000, the Government of Canada recognized his accomplishments and awarded him a prestigious grant to pursue advanced musical studies in India. It was in that year that he retired from his job as an accountant to devote himself more fully to music.

story continues after photo

Shamshu Jamal and fellow musicians performing in Vancouver. Photo for Simerg
Shamshu Jamal and fellow musicians performing in Vancouver in the 2010s. Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

Shamshu’s live concerts were much celebrated events even when he was in his eighties. He performed at public venues, at Ginan mushairas in Jamatkhana social halls and at private music parties in homes. His particularly distinctive vocal style had been developed over many decades. Quite apart from his mastery of the technical aspects of music, the real excitement of Shamshu’s performances lay in the enthralling manner in which he engaged and connected with the audience. The mischievous smile, the impromptu alaaps and variations, and the ability to draw out deeply embedded emotions will be remembered long into the future.

His delivery remained at a sophisticated level even as age modulated the timbre of his voice. He practiced extensively before each performance. Audiences were delighted at the way that Shamshu maintained his vocal range and high notes of alaaps even as evening concerts flowed into the early morning. Apart from devotional material and heart-rending ghazals, Shamshu’s repertoire also regaled his audiences with playful songs like “Aavata Jata Jara” in Gujarati and “Nazar Se Milaa Kar” in Hindi.

From time to time, there arise individuals whose voices capture a community’s most profound feelings. For Canada’s immigrant Khoja Ismailis, one of those powerful voices has been Shamshu Jamal. His musical creativity has vocalized some of the deepest emotions of the community. Various versions of his original composition in Gujarati of “Mara Mowla Canada Padharshe” (1978) continue to be sung to this day. The word “Canada” is changed in different parts of the global diaspora to “London,” “Kenya,” “America” etc. when anticipating Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival in particular locations. It is viewed as Shamshu Jamal’s signature song which Malik Talib, former president of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, termed as “iconic” for the community. This geet’s literal English translation, “My lord shall make a visitation to Canada” does not do justice to the deeply-felt range of sentiments that it expresses.

When Shamshu composed it in 1978, he creatively captured an immigrant community yearning for its spiritual leader’s first visitation in the autumn of that year. Its members were in a western country, far away from their eastern roots and were uncertain of their future. The Imam had been a constant guide when they had lived in Africa. There was eager anticipation of his advice on how to deal with the difficult situation in which they found themselves. With his finger on the pulse of the community, Shamshu Jamal gave voice to what it was feeling in its heart. The lyricist compassionately articulated the anxiety of uprootedness as well as the aspirations for renewal.

The same padhramni’s book-end composition of “Mowla Sidhaavi Gya” by Shamshu is a profoundly sad geet of the Imam leaving the community at the end of his visit. It vocalizes the bitter-sweet feelings of the Jamat at the end of the mulaqaat and to this day produces streams of tears from listeners’ eyes. This song has also become an iconic expression of similar departures of Mawlana Hazar Imam over many years since 1978.

Jamal went on to produce many other geets in praise of the Imam, particularly commemorating his various jubilees. Ever the perfectionist, he enlisted the participation of professional musicians in London, England for the Silver Jubilee album Jubilee Ke Naghme (1983) and in Mumbai, India, for the Golden Jubilee’s Jashne Jubilee (2008).

One of Shamshu Jamal’s major achievements was to enable Canadian Khoja Ismailis, who have been cut off from their cultural roots, to appreciate the profound depth of their Indian musical heritage. He enabled the Jamat to understand the musical culture and classical ragas on which the ginans are based. Shamshu recorded “Tran Tran Ved Na Dhyaavo” in Raag Malkauns, Joothi Re Duniya in Raag Bairagi Bhairav, Dur Desh Thi Aayo Vañjhaaro in Raag Jaijaiwanti and many others. These are masterful renditions that have now become integral to the treasury of the recorded Satpanth heritage, one of whose founders was Pir Shams (12th-13th century).

Shamshudin Noordin Jamal’s star shines brightly in the firmament of music. He lived a full and accomplished life. His legacy was visible at his funeral at which his grandchildren soulfully sang ginans that he had taught them. Shamshu Jamal’s final farewell is expressed in Shakeel Badayuni’s ghazal, Aakhri Waqt Hai Saans Hai Aakhri, which he used to sing at his concerts:

“Duniya walo mubarak ho duniya tumhe,
Kar chale hum salaam akhri.”

Translation

“This world is yours now, o people of the world,
I have done my final farewell.”

Date posted: July 16, 2020.

________________________

We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Shamshu Jamal by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on LEAVE A COMMENT. Should you have difficulty in submitting your comment through the feedback form, please email it to simerg@aol.com; Subject: Shamshu Jamal.

________________________

Karim H. Karim

About the author: Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam and a Professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

_____________________

To submit an obituary or tribute to a deceased member of your family, please see our post Simerg Invites Obituaries / Tributes to Honour Past / Recent Deceased Ismailis

Challenges facing Deaf Ismailis around the world, and what the Jamat can do to support them

This special article for Simerg was written jointly by SALMA KHANJI, IMRAN HAKAMAILI, FARAH LADHA, RAMZAN SOMANI and SHAIZA JETHA, and edited by NURIN MERCHANT

Picture yourself sitting in Jamatkhana on a Friday evening, listening to a Ginan or Qasida. Voices of fellow Jamati members resonate within the prayer hall, as they sing along in unison or chit chat amongst themselves. Mukhisaheb’s voice can then be heard, announcing the commencement of Du’a, and subsequent prayers, ginans, readings and announcements. You listen to the words being spoken, thinking about their meaning, as your mind subconsciously perceives the tone and pitch of the presenter’s voices.

Now, picture yourself sitting in Jamatkhana on a Friday evening, unable to hear a single sound. Wanting desperately to be able to participate in and understand the prayers and ceremonies, just as your spiritual brothers and sisters do, but unable to easily do so. This is the challenge Deaf Ismailis face not only here in North America, but all around the world.

Our Deaf Ismaili brothers and sisters can be found across the globe, from small villages and towns across India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, to larger cities across Canada, Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Just as our Hearing brothers and sisters living in various parts of the world speak different languages, so do the Deaf murids.

However, there are only two Ismaili sign language interpreters in North America, where American Sign Language (ASL) is used and globally only seven Ismaili sign language interpreters are known.

Sign language is not an international language -– every country and language has its own form. Each one is just as beautiful, unique, and cultural as spoken languages. For example, there is a sign for “jambo” (meaning “hello” in Swahili) in East African sign languages, such as Kenyan and Tanzanian. There is also a sign for “bon appétit” (meaning “enjoy your meal” in French) in French Sign language. However, neither of these signs are used or recognized by individuals who communicate in American Sign Language, which is largely used in Canada and the United States, nor in British Sign Language, which is used throughout the United Kingdom.

story continues after photo

Ismaili Sign Interpreter
President Ameerally Kassim-Lakha of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada gives his weekly address to the Canadian Jamat during the Friday Night Reflections program, while Safina Heneisen, a US based sign interpreter shown at bottom left of the photo, conveys the President’s message to Deaf Ismailis. In the top featured photo, the sign interpreter conveying Mawlana Hazar Imam’s speech is Vancouver’s Farah Ladha. Both photos have been extracted from the weekly Reflections program.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, all gatherings have become virtual. It was nice to see that the Canadian institutions had recruited sign language interpreters for the Friday Night Reflections series, a weekly webinar that airs on the Ismaili Canada website every Friday. This is a step in the right direction in terms of engaging and involving the Deaf Ismaili community. But that is not all that we can do! We are One Jamat -– what more can we do to include our Deaf brothers and sisters?

When Deaf murids are asked for their thoughts, many say they want to go to Jamatkhana to participate in and learn about our rituals, our history, our traditions, and our culture. But, without the presence of someone who can interpret this information to them in sign language, they are unable to learn and participate in a way that Hearing Ismailis can, which sadly but understandably, causes many to stop coming to Jamatkhana altogether.

YOUNG DEAF ISMAILI CHILDREN

There are also many young Deaf Ismaili children within our community, who do not have access to the Ta’lim Curriculum or teachings at Bait-ul-ilm (BUI) in sign language. Parents have expressed much sadness in seeing their children being unable to participate in these teachings. If you find yourself thinking, “why don’t parents of Deaf children just teach them our faith in sign language themselves at home?”, please consider this: do you (or any parent) have the same level of knowledge as a trained Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) BUI teacher, or an Alwaez? Furthermore, this type of thinking does not consider the experience of attending BUI, of interacting with other Ismaili children, and of feeling like a part of the community.

Deaf children and adults experience many challenges just in the process of seeking to understand and be understood.  Imagine being in a country where you do not understand the language but still need to ask for directions. That would be a challenge.  Now imagine you are in that same country; you have learned a little bit of the language and are required to give a fluent presentation. Imagine being judged on your performance, on the errors in vocabulary choice and grammar that cause misunderstanding or confusion.  That is the challenge that Deaf children and adults face daily.

For Deaf people to have full communication access, they need communication partners that share the same language that they use.  For learning and participating fully in the BUI and in the Jamatkhana there needs to be access in sign language. This can be provided by a teacher who is proficient in sign language. If there is no teacher who is skilled with sign language, the services of a professional sign language interpreter can be used. Such professionals will have completed many years of specialized training and are able to interpret in a variety of situations from business meetings to conferences, medical appointments to classrooms, and even in Jamatkhana.

Not only are professional sign language interpreters trained in a variety of settings, they are also ethically bound to a strict code of confidentially set by their local and national associations.  Some interpreters even work internationally.

Interpreters play key roles in this process of learning and belonging. When Deaf murids receive information in sign language, they thrive in our community. By learning the meanings of Firmans and of our various prayers using sign language, they have said that they feel more connected to our faith –- not only physically to the space of Jamatkhana, but spiritually as well. We would like to share a few examples of how interpreters can be key contributors in building bridges and connections between Deaf and Hearing Jamati members.

story continues after photo

Ismailis taking the American Sign Language Class in a Jamatkhana
A group photo of students attending American Sign Language (ASL) class in a Jamatkhana. Photo credit: Farah Ladha.

EXAMPLES: THE JOY OF FEELING CONNECTED

A Deaf man in his 40s was interested in learning about mehmani that is brought to Jamatkhana, which is then sold as nandi. The question was why is it brought to Jamatkhana as a mehmani? And how its auctioned off after? The presence of an interpreter encouraged this murid to buy nandi in Jamatkhana for the first time. The custom was interpreted for the Deaf murid in sign language, including the description of the item, and the entire bidding process. When he wanted something, he would raise his hand. A Jamati member next to him informed him when his upper price limit had been reached by tapping him on the shoulder, causing him to lower his hand if the price exceeded his set amount. This not only helped him to participate in and understand the tradition of nandi, it also helped him to feel connected and interact with other Jamati members and allowed them to learn how to communicate with a Deaf murid.

Another example: For many years, a well-known Deaf murid attended Jamatkhana regularly. Every day, he would be greeted with a handshake to say hello. Nothing more was conveyed between himself and other Jamati members, as a communication barrier existed between them. One day, the Deaf murid, through a sign language interpreter, was able to present to the Jamat about his life. Audience members wept at having seen him for many years but never truly knowing him or his story. They also didn’t know that as a child, Hazar Imam had put his hand on his shoulder during a mulaqat while at the same time telling his father not to worry, his Deaf son would be ok. Nor were they aware that he had gone on to have a very successful business. His story would never have come to light if it were not for the presence of an interpreter, who facilitated the communication and understanding using sign language and the audience’s spoken language.

DIAMOND JUBILEE AND RECENT SUCCESS STORIES

A final example outlining a recent success story is one from the Diamond Jubilee. After tireless work and education about the inclusion of the Deaf Jamat, sign language interpretation was provided live for the first time for the Mulaqats in Karachi, Paris, and Lisbon, as well as across Canada and in Atlanta Georgia, USA. Over 250 Deaf murids were able to understand Hazar Imam’s Firmans for the first time.

However, there were still hundreds more that were not able to reap the benefit of the live interpretation either due to lack of professional Ismaili sign language interpreters in their area, or due to lack of education and knowledge of the presence of Deaf Ismaili murids, as well as the provision of adequate supports for them. Inshallah as more education is disseminated and awareness is raised, Deaf Ismailis will start to see a change, and more steps will be made towards their inclusion.

GOOD NEWS

The good news is that there is inclusive change happening. Gatherings for Deaf Ismailis have been organized, which have proven to be great opportunities for Deaf murids to meet and greet one another, as well as to teach, learn, and share knowledge. Watching elderly Deaf Jamati members interacting with younger members is a beautiful sight to see and reflect upon. Just as we reminisce about how our grandparents explained concepts to us in their mother tongue, when we were younger, the elder Deaf Ismailis are teaching the younger generations in their shared sign language.

Some Jamats have gone a step further and have hosted sign language 101 workshops for their members, where professional sign language instructors (some from outside of our community) come to teach basic sign language. The workshops have been very successful, and some Jamats have decided to pursue additional workshops so that they can advance their knowledge. All Jamats could host these types of workshops in order to promote communication between Deaf and Hearing murids.

EXCEPTIONAL AND INSPIRING STORIES, AND STIGMAS

In addition to allowing Hearing and Deaf Jamati members to communicate, these workshops also allow individuals with hearing loss to learn sign language and thus have seamless communication as hearing deteriorates with age. For example, there was a woman who brought her elderly mother, who was profoundly deaf in one ear and losing hearing in the other, to one of these organized workshops. Both wanted to learn sign language so that they could continue to communicate once her mom had fully lost her hearing. Both mum and daughter were very touched and emotional when they witnessed firsthand how sign language is possible to learn and assists in communication between the Hard of Hearing and the Hearing. These workshops again were facilitated by professional sign language interpreters, some from within the community and some from outside of it.

These are good news stories, yes. But negative stigmas are still attached with Deafness, mainly the myth that Deaf are unable to be educated or taught or even work to make a living. This is entirely untrue, and an example given by Habiba Teja at a woman’s gala presentation highlights this fact.

Habiba is a well-known nutritionist and was talking about her experience with improving food quality through Aga Khan University (AKU) in Pakistan and Eastern Africa. Through this endeavor, she was able to help many impoverished people find work. One example she gave was about how she learned of a young Deaf man in his 20’s who sat in his room all day and stared at a wall. She visited with him and taught him job skills by communicating with him visually by hand gesturing, and by physically showing him what to do. He was quick to learn and was able to find full time paid work. This turned his entire life around and he began earning an income. He has since gotten married and has a family of his own. The stigma associated with him being Deaf had prevented anyone from trying to support his learning; believing he couldn’t learn, no one bothered taking the time to teach him anything. Habiba’s story touched many and shattered the notions that the Deaf people are unable to be educated or work.

This is not the only stigma we need to face as a community. We need to work together as a community to squash the stigmas associated with Deafness, Blindness, and Disabilities in general. Unfortunately, these stigmas are still very prevalent in the Ismaili Community today. We need to educate ourselves and to reach out to those who feel left out in our community due to situations beyond their control. We need to inspire one another and learn from one another. And perhaps for some of you reading this, it may seem like a lot to take in. Maybe trying to learn a bit of sign language feels overwhelming. For those people, we offer this one quote from a Deaf person:

“Hearing people can learn sign language. Deaf people cannot learn to hear.”

ISMAILI DEAF WEBSITE

Try to learn even just a little bit of sign language to be able to communicate with your Deaf brothers and sisters. If you know of any Deaf Jamati members wanting to participate in activities within our community, but not being able to do so due to the reasons outlined in this article or others, encourage your local or national council to provide a professional sign language interpreter. If they are unsure about how to do this, we invite them to visit the Ismaili Deaf Website and fill out the contact form – information will then be provided to them.

The website also contains lots of information for the general public about the terminology that you have read within this article, such as Deaf, Hearing, Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind. Furthermore, it has many articles about sign language, and about the achievements and successes of some of our Deaf Ismailis and interpreters. If you are curious about where you can learn sign language in your area, and/or how to have access to professional sign language interpreters, you can fill out the online contact form.

A FINAL NOTE FROM A DEAF ISMAILI MURID

“Without interpreters, our lives would be completely lost. We would feel helpless and struggle in our daily lives because we would not understand what is happening around the world.  We use sign language every day of our lives; a rich visual language which includes the use of facial expression, body language and gestures. Without sign language, we cannot function and participate fully in society as it is our means to communicate in all settings: educational, medical, workplace and at Jamatkhana. Sign language interpreters help us to better understand our faith and religion and in Jamatkhana especially if possible, Ismaili interpreters are so helpful to help us growing in our faith with Allah. Life is about learning and participating in a fully accessible society.”

If you are interested in learning sign language to make friends, to help one another, or to become a certified interpreter, we encourage you to contact your local Deaf and Hard of Hearing service organization as well as local colleges and universities who offer sign language courses. They will be happy to provide you with more information. Of course, you may reach out to us at the Ismaili Deaf Website, and complete the CONTACT US form

Date posted: July 7, 2020.
Last updated: July 9, 2020 (photo caption update with names of sign interpreters).

__________________

FEEDBACK FROM READERS: We welcome feedback/letters on this very important subject from Deaf Ismailis, their families and friends as well as everyone who is concerned about the difficulties Deaf people around the world face every single day of their lives. Stories of inspirational Deaf Ismailis are also welcome. Please use the feedback box which appears below (you may remain anonymous, if you wish). 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 editor, Malik Merchant, may be reached at Simerg@aol.com. Feel free to write to him – he will only respond to verifiable individuals!

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.

____________________