(1) “What Ismailis Believe”; and (2) “Ask Me Anything” – A Special Program by Ismaili Institutions to Respond to Questions on Faith from Community Members

Special Series: “What Ismailis Believe”

The.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community, recently started a series on the beliefs and practices of the Ismailis. We invite all our readers, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, to read the following articles published in the series so far:

(1) Article: Why Do Ismailis Recite Salawat for the Family of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
(2) Video: The Exalted Status of the Ahl al-Bayt
(3) Video: Imam Ali in Islamic Traditions: No Hero Like Ali
(4) Video and article: Why do Ismailis Call Their Imam Khudavind


“…if there are any questions do not hesitate to ask. It is much better to ask and receive an answer than to have a feeling of frustration inside you”

— Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

“Ask Me Anything”

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

If I am not mistaken, the Ask Me Anything (AMA) program has been active in Canada for quite some time — I have heard announcements in Jamatkhanas going back to pre-Covid-19 times — and I wonder how many Jamati members with questions pertaining to faith, beliefs and traditions have sought to seek answers to questions that have been or are on their minds. How much interaction, if any, is there between Jamati members today, and especially the youth, and those who are best equipped to answer their questions?

As a son of an Alwaez (Jehangir Merchant, d. 2018), who was also a religious education teacher, I recollect the frequency with which he was approached by members of the Jamat with questions, whether it was in Mozambique, Tanzania, Canada, the UK and in countries where he went for sermon duties. Often individuals would approach him in the Jamatkhana as he was about to depart but he patiently took his time to respond to the question. Both he and my mum (Mrs. Merchant, d. 2021) considered their students and members of the Jamat at the centre of their lives.

Of course, as a secondary school teacher, my dad would always engage in Q/A discussions with his students. If he did not have an answer, he would tell the students so and seek out a good and satisfactory response by conducting his own research or consulting with one of his learned colleagues. A leader of an Ismaili institution in Canada, in his tribute to my dad, wrote: “In the passing away of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant I have lost a confidant, a friend and a source of knowledge and wisdom that I will greatly miss. He was my Go-to person for Tariqah matters and was always willing to share.”

Often my parents would welcome Jamati members, young and old alike, to our homes to discuss religious issues and other personal and family matters that often required more time.

In my humble opinion, one of the most brilliant minds in my dad’s friend circle in Dar es Salaam was no other than Hassanali Bhaloo from Zanzibar, whose nickname was Din. A regular visitor to our home, he was an intellectual of the highest caliber, and although not a missionary, could take on any question on faith, science or ethic and answer it satisfactorily. He was also an outstanding Ginan reciter and watching him recite one in Jamatkhana would leave one with the impression he was in a heavenly realm.

On many occasions, the tone of questioning, especially on the part of youth, was harsh and while that would raise my dad’s eyebrows, Din would always respond with calmness and thoughtfulness that left the questioning student(s) with wonder and amazement. A very humble man, Din’s intellectual brilliance was recognized at a young age, and he was offered to study in one of America’s top schools upon completing his high school education. Alas, he had to forego the opportunity due to an untimely death in his family that forced him to attend to family matters for a number of years. He eventually joined the services of the Ismailia Association in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after the mid 1960’s and worked with my dad on many projects. My dad even placed me in his good hands to strengthen my religious knowledge, a few months before I departed Dar es Salaam.

Article continues below

Ask Me Anything image in the Al-Akhbar newsletter. Simerg, News
Ask Me Anything image in the Al-Akhbar newsletter published in Canada.

Like Din in Dar es Salaam, we have many brilliant minds in the Ismaili Muslim community (Jamat) today who are highly qualified as ethicists, scientists as well as in Islamic and Ismaili studies as missionaries and scholars. I sincerely hope that the AMA team will revert to the right individuals to give direction to individuals who come forward with their questions or concerns, and not necessarily restrict the asking of questions only to the Waezeen, as the Al-Akhbar announcement reads.

The announcement about the Ask Me Anything program, dated November 6, 2022, appears in the latest two issues of the Al-Akhbar newsletter which is distributed among subscribers to announce local as well as national programs and events organized by Ismaili institutions which are of benefit to the Jamat. The announcement in Al-Akhbar is reproduced below and reads as follows: (please also read it at SOURCE)

“Have a question on faith that you need clarity on? The Ask Me Anything program is here to help. Do you need more guidance or resources on questions about the faith? The Ask Me Anything (AMA) program provides an accessible and virtual medium to ask a Waezeen for perspectives or resources on faith-based questions. Book a session either one-on-one or as a group (up to 5) to address questions on faith in a non-judgmental and safe space. Sign-up for spots are available for Saturday, November 26 or Sunday, November 27.”

My inspiration for writing this post comes from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance that he gave to the students during his visit to Mombasa, Kenya, on October 4, 1959. Referring to the memorization of the Qur’an and Ginans, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

“These pieces of memorization are good, and they are necessary in practice, but at the same time I want you to be able to understand your religion. And if there are any questions do not hesitate to ask. It is much better to ask and receive an answer than to have a feeling of frustration inside you.”

Thus, in keeping with Mawalana Hazar Imam’s wish, please do not feel reluctant to approach the Ask Me Anything program with your question. Please visit Al-Akhbar for further information and to register or click REGISTER for the next Ask Me Anything session go be held on November 25/26, 2022.

Date posted: November 13, 2022.
Last updated: November 15, 2022 (reformatting and link error.)


If you are a Canadian resident and have a question, please click REGISTER for a follow-up meeting with an Alwaez as mentioned in the announcement. The Ask Me Anything program is an Ismaili institution initiative, and NOT a Simerg project. If you live outside Canada, please consult your local Ismaili newsletter to find out if a program such as the one offered in Canada is available in your country.

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

“Memories of a Ugandan Refugee: Encounters of Hope from Kampala to Vancouver” by Jalal Jaffer; Reviewed by Atlanta’s Nizar Motani


Memories of a Ugandan Refugee: Encounters of Hope from Kampala to Vancouver By Jalal Jaffer, Q.C.
336 pp. FriesenPress, 2022
US$ 29.99 (Hardcover), US$ 19.99 (Paperback) and US$ 6.99 (eBook) as listed on the publisher’s website FriesenPress; also available at Amazon.ca (Hardcover, C$ 33.70; Paperback, C$ 26.57; Kindle C$ 8.91); and at Indigo.ca (as a Kobo Ebook for C$ 8.99). Note: Various formats of the book may sell for less. Please also see Jalal Jaffer’s website for more options to purchase.

[Nizar Motani’s review of Jalal Jaffer’s Memoirs comes to us for publication close to the 50th anniversary of the announcement on August 4, 1972 by Idi Amin to expel Asians from Uganda; the decree took effect on August 9th. The early major settlement of the first group of Ugandan Asians in Canada has been listed by Carleton University’s special Uganda Asian’s project as follows: Vancouver (1,034); Montreal (480); Toronto (440); Winnipeg (205); and Ottawa (124) — Ed.]


Being a diarist since his schooldays; a gifted writer and a poet; a voracious reader; a disciplined life of service, gratitude and contentment with its rewards; and a firm belief that the Divine hand has always been on his shoulder, Jalal Jaffer would be expected to chronicle an exceptional memoir. And he has done it splendidly!

His life story is centered on three overlapping, intertwining, love stories, which beautify and fortify each other. The first love story is about the wonderful family he was born into and his abiding deeply reciprocal love for his parents and eight siblings.

Besides his biological family, he developed a special bond with his spiritual father, the present 49th hereditary Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan IV. However, its foundation was serendipitously laid in his predecessor’s spiritual rein, when the 48th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan III, named him Jalaluddin, at age sixteen days, during his visit to Kisumu, Kenya, in 1945!

The final love story is about his own biological family, in Vancouver, Canada, after his marriage with Shamshad P.K. Pirani, which remarkably was performed by the 49th Imam, in February 1972, at Kampala, Uganda, Jamatkhana — just six months before Idi Amin’s mass Asian Expulsion order of August 4.

Jalaluddin’s name got shortened to Jalal, who has “tried to traverse through life with prayers and conviction that the Divine hand is, and has always been, on my shoulders to help me, guide me and protect me” (p. 1X). The Divine hand can be seen throughout his autobiography. It came to his rescue when he seriously injured his left hand in an accident, at age six, helping to turn this tragedy into a lifelong triumph, which enabled him to excel at everything; it was at the hotel in Bangkok where two young students he kindly invited into his hotel room to learn about their lives and dreams for the future,  instead they drugged and robbed him but could not kidnap or kill him; it was evident at the beach in Karachi where he and his young son, Jamil, could have drowned; and throughout his and his family’s lives.

The Foreword by Dr. Farouk Mitha and The Prologue by the author whet the readers’ appetite for the thirty-three chapters that follow. In the interest of brevity this review will highlight only the most salient aspects of the three love stories, mentioned earlier.

His abiding love for his families (parents’ and his own) is poetically portrayed in Chapter 29: Loving Family and Friends, and Chapter 32: Encounters. ”My encounter with my parents must rank as the most impactful experience and the highest form of learning in my life” (p 299). His biological father passed away at the age of 96. At the lunch after the funeral, Alwaez Sultanali Nazerali delivered a poignant eulogy describing Ali Jaffer Esmail as a saintly person: “an angel in human form”. Jalal has beautifully translated and summarized it in English (p. 297).

Memoirs of a Ugandan Refugee Jalal Jaffer
“Memories of a Ugandan Refugee” by Jalal Jaffer, 336 pp., FriesenPress, First Edition 2022. Amazon.ca (Hardcover, C$33.70; Paperback, C$ 26.57, Kindle C$ 8.91); and at Indigo.ca (as a Kobo Ebook for C$ 8.99); book may sell for less. Also, visit the website of Jalal Jaffer.

Since their auspicious February 20, 1972 marriage, Shamshad, his beloved “Sham”, and the author, Jalal, have been on many adventurous honeymoons. In a poem titled The Lioness’ Journey, he shares his special love and appreciation for Sham, his bride, wife and partner (p.178-180). Such poetic expressions of his love, for all, appear frequently enhancing the value of this alluring autobiography.

An equivalent of a professional knighthood, Queen’s Counsel (Q.C.), was conferred on him in 2016. It was a great honor and he can and does proudly exhibit it. However, his heart was given to seva (service), in any capacity, at any level, to his murshid (his spiritual leader, the Aga Khan) and to his fellow murids (devotees).

To his amazement, he was blessed with eighteen years of seva at local, national, and international levels (1987-2005). “I was far from exhausted, but my cup was full. I had been blessed to have had these enormously important leadership positions for such a long period…shukar” (p. 210).

For his seva in “these enormously important leadership positions,” which were Imamat-appointed, he reaped enormous “once in a lifetime” meva (reward/blessing, recognition): an invitation to the majestic Diamond Jubilee Homage Ceremony at Aiglemont, France, on July 11, 2017, followed by special seating at the Darbar in Lisbon, Portugal, on July 11, 2018. Both these historic events inevitably moved Jalal to capture his feelings and thoughts in two trademark poems.

Chapter 24: Politics, describes his “insatiable appetite for world affairs and politics” from his childhood days. Of all the conflicts and turmoil engulfing the world, he was sufficiently outraged by the Israeli brutality and inhumanity towards the defenseless Palestinians in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip. This led him to chide the “chosen people’ in a “short poem” called I Wonder (p. 220-221). It is a subtle  poem but readers will judge its “length” as Jalal’s concept of “short” and “a few words” is uniquely his own!

Two paragraphs to indicate his and his bride’s love, friendship, and respect for their friends will end this not-so-short a review. Chapter 31 captures the astonishing natural beauty of Khorog, Tajikistan, and the surrounding Pamir Mountains and some of its inhabitants. They were guests of Shamim and Iqbal Talib who for almost a decade were engaged in boosting the local economy and had established a spacious second home with ideal accommodation for the rare guests who venture out to Khorog. The Talibs’ unforgettable hospitality competed with the high mountains, and the Jaffers left with fabulous memories and new knowledge of this exotic Ismaili enclave.

However, on another occasion of honoring friendships, he was distinctly derailed when some friends asked him to emcee the wedding of their children. He remembers saying “a few words” that he has recounted over seven meandering pages (271-278)! His captive audience may have endured or even enjoyed his “few words” but his readers could skim through this aberration and enjoy the rest of this memorable memoir.

Date posted: July 30, 2022.
Last updated: July 31, 2022.

Correction: In our earlier version of this post, the title of the book was incorrectly referred to as “Memoirs of a Ugandan Refugee….”; the correct title is “Memories of a Ugandan Refugee….” which is now reflected in this latest update of the post.



Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 



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


Please visit Simerg’s Table of Contents and its Sister Websites

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

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Freely rendered in English verse
(iambic tetrameter, rhyme scheme abab)

Verse 1

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

Verse 2

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

Verse 3

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

Verse 4

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


Must Watch Video 1: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

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


Transliteration of Ginan

Verse 1

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

Verse 2

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

Verse 3

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

Verse 4

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


Must Watch Video 2: Salmon Leaps — Unsuccessful Attempts

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


Commentary of the Ginan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Date posted: October 8, 2021.


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.

Editor’s Note:

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

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

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


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

Transforming Rare and Endangered Ismaili Texts Into Accessible Digital Resources: Projects at British Library and Princeton University Library

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

This is the first in a two-part series on projects that are underway to preserve and digitize Ismaili texts that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration. We begin the short series with initiatives undertaken by Endangered Archives Programme with respect to rare Ismaili and other Central Asian texts at Semyonov’s Memorial Library in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where the material is “becoming progressively worse because of inadequate care.”

Our second part will focus on documents from Badakhshan in Tajikistan and Afghanistan dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries that relate to Ismaili Imams, Nasir Khusraw and others, as well as property documents. They are being digitized through a National Endowment for the Humanities Collaborative Research Grant, with the support of Princeton University Library.

Endangered Archives Programme: Preserving Endangered Archives on Ismailism and Central Asian Cultural Heritage at Semyonov’s Library in Tajikistan

NOTE: The material published in this post is taken from the website of Endangered Archives Programme. We would like to credit the British Library Board for the copyright material; it is reproduced under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

The Endangered Archives Programme captures forgotten and still not written histories, often suppressed or marginalised. It gives voice to the voiceless: it opens a dialogue with global humanity’s multiple pasts. It is a library of history still waiting to be written. — Lisbet Rausing, Co-founder of the Programme


The British Library is the national library of the United Kingdom and gives access to the world’s most comprehensive research collection. It provides information services to academic, business, research and scientific communities. The Library has a collection of over 170 million items includes artefacts from every age of written civilisation. The Library keeps the nation’s archive of printed and digital publications, adding around three million new items to its collection every year.

The British Library administers the Endangered Archive Program (EAP), whose key objective since 2004 has been to facilitate the digitisation of archives around the world that are in danger of destruction, neglect or physical deterioration, and make it available to as wide an audience as possible. The British Library is responsible for managing and monitoring the research grant scheme, and ensuring the material digitised through the programme is consistently catalogued and discoverable online.

Archive types digitised so far through EAP include rare printed sources, manuscripts, visual materials, audio recordings running into more than 10 million images as well as 35,000 sound tracks. The continually expanding online collection is available freely through local archival partners, the EAP website and it is discoverable via the British Library catalogue, for research, inspiration and enjoyment. Generous funding from Arcadia, a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, has enabled the British Library to provide grants to more than 400 projects in 90 countries worldwide, in over 100 languages and scripts.

One such very important project relates to the preservation of rare collection of materials on the Ismailis at Semyonov’s Memorial Library in Tajikistan.


While travelling across Near East and Central Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Professor Semyonov and other Russian Oriental scholars collected valuable materials about the history and culture of the Ismaili people and, therefore, made a significant contribution to the study of Islamic philosophy, theology, and anthropology. The Ismaili people were not well known to many researchers and wider audiences and continue to be often misunderstood both in terms of their religious tenets and historical background.

Semyonov’s Library has not received sufficient funding to modernize its facilities….A large number of materials are in exceptionally vulnerable conditions and in danger of perishing if not digitised and properly cared for

The rare collections at Semyonov’s Memorial Library, which has been operating since 1958, sheds light on the rich culture and history of the Ismaili people, including their early stages of development in the pre-industrial periods, and provides invaluable materials for scholars and students of Ismailism, Islam, and Muslim cultures.

Physical conditions of the materials differ according to their age but overall, the physical condition of the whole collection of Semyonov’s Library is becoming progressively worse because of inadequate care.

Since the independence of Tajikistan from the Soviet Union in 1991, Semyonov’s Library has not received sufficient funding to modernize its facilities (e.g. to change window frames to prevent accumulation of dust and dirt inside the building). Manuscript cleaning and treatment technologies are outdated. None of the materials at the library have been properly digitised; the staff scanned some materials using regular office scanners, but the scanned copies are of poor quality. Moreover, some manuscripts have been badly eaten by insects and are damaged around the edges because the library cannot afford to buy special insect repellents.

In addition to insufficient government funding, less attention was paid to the rare collections at Semyonov’s Library by donor agencies despite the fact that the collections are an important cultural, historical, and intellectual heritage. Manuscripts located at the library are mainly from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. Newsletters, periodicals, and other publications are from the early 20th century. A large number of materials are in exceptionally vulnerable conditions and in danger of perishing if not digitised and properly cared for.

In 2014, a grant was given to Dr Sunatullo Jonboboev to investigate the potential to digitise the endangered archives at Semyonov’s Memorial Library for a future major project. This was in alignment with the University of Central Asia’s mission to help the different peoples of Central Asia to preserve and draw upon their rich cultural traditions and heritages as assets for the future.


An outcome of this project was that the University of Central Asia and Semyonov’s Memorial Library within the Institute of History and Ethnography of the Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Tajikistan, signed an agreement to work together to preserve the endangered archives of the library.

Over the course of the project, the team developed an electronic catalogue for the library, which comprises of 8611 library holdings — valuable books, manuscripts, guides, dictionaries, encyclopaedias on Central Asian cultures and languages, articles and monographs. From the total holdings of the library, 396 books are in Arabic and Persian; 112 manuscripts; 284 lithograph; 413 books in English; French and German. The holdings in Russian, 7802 items, have been also catalogued, which consist of 6021 reference books, dictionaries and brochures; and 1781 journals. The team also organised the library’s holdings, re-shelving, labelling, cleaning and in addition partly repaired 2170 books.

It has become possible, for the first time, to develop an electronic catalogue for the full collection of the library, many of which are rare and valuable books and manuscripts, due to the support of the project. The catalogue is divided into three separate catalogues: in Russian, Persian and English. The links to the PDF catalogue files are provided below:

(1) Catalogue translated from Persian and Tajik (PDF document 613KB); and

(2) Russian catalogue (PDF document 7,871KB)

Date posted: September 14, 2021.


Next: Badakhshan Collection, Princeton University Library.

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

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

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

(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: February 6, 2020.

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


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


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

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

(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How then is this to be interpreted?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: December 7, 2019.


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