An Unforgettable Thanksgiving Weekend: A Great BBQ, Historical Photos and a Rejuvenating Holy Message of Blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam

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

For the first time in more than 19 months, I accepted an invitation to visit friends who were hosting a BBQ for their family. They regard me as one of their family members. I am fully vaccinated against Covid-19. I have known Salim and Nevin Kanji for decades. Salim’s older brother, Mohamed Amersi, was one of Tanzania’s top table tennis players, and he spent time with me and improved my game at the Diamond Jubilee Hall in Dar es Salaam in the late 1960’s. Mohamed passed away at the age of 51! It was shocking when I got the news some 20-25 years ago. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

Salim’s grandfather was the well known Late Count Amersi Kanji of Zanzibar, who served the Ismaili Imamat for decades. A couple of stories that Sikandar, Salim’s younger brother, told everyone yesterday about their grandfather, deserve a special post. Hopefully, we can prepare a special piece about Count Amersi’s contribution to the Jamat and the Imamat, often in extremely dangerous circumstances. The photos of the late count that are featured in this post are in Salim and Nevin’s home.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Salim Kanji’s grandfather Count Amersi Kanji. Photo: Salim Kanji Family Collection.

The BBQ was absolutely delicious and Nevin kindly filled up containers for me to take home. I left their place after about 4 hours, planning to return home and retire early. It was exactly 6:25 PM as I turned left onto Wynford Drive from Don Mills Road. The Ismaili Centre/Headquarters Jamatkhana was 300 metres away. On weekends, the Headquarters Jamatkhana Dua time is 6:30 PM. It was not my scheduled day to attend but deep down something told me to try my luck as a walk-in. I followed my instincts and luckily got a space. I saw the Ab-e-Shifa table set up, and wondered why. Was I wrong about the Milad-un-Nabi date? The mystery was solved when the President of the Aga Khan Council stood up and read the Talika from our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam, which was followed by the recitation of the Talika Ginan. Everyone’s heart was touched, and there was unbounded joy and happiness on everyone’s face.

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A personal Thanksgiving weekend experience, as Ismailis receive a Talika - a holy message - from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, with the family of (Late) Count Amersi Kanji (seated left with robe). Photo: Salim Kanji Family Collection.

Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude, and families get together for meals. It was a great afternoon being with a loving family, and I made new friends at Salim’s home with other members of his family that I had never met before. The invitation was a blessing indeed, and the kindness shown to me by Salim, Nevin, their son Hafez (a die-hard Liverpool fan, yes Salah is the best in the world) and all those who were present led me to the Jamatkhana. For me, this Thanksgiving was the happiest one in my 40 years in North America (the USA Thanksgiving comes later in November).

Barakah wishes Ismailis around the world Mubaraki on the auspicious occasion of the Talika. Let us earnestly continue to follow Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance, and always keep his blessings in our hearts.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Mubarak Talika

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

7th October 2021

My dear spiritual children,

On the occasion of a recent mulaqat with my senior Jamati leaders to review their reports on current Jamati work and activities, I send my warmest and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children throughout the world.

I send my best loving blessings for the souls of all my ruhani spiritual children, and I pray that their souls may rest in eternal peace.

I am happy that, in the face of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, my Jamat is continuing to undertake the measures recommended by the health authorities to mitigate the risks, particularly by accepting to be vaccinated as soon as the opportunity becomes available. I wish all my spiritual children to remain constantly mindful of the importance of maintaining good health in all aspects of human life.   

At this time my Jamat in some parts of the world is witnessing political transformation. I remind my spiritual children of our tradition to contribute positively for the growth of a healthy civil society, which I believe will enable the improvement of the quality of life of all peoples and will therefore underpin the restoration of peace and stability.

I send my most affectionate loving blessings for your spiritual wellbeing, worldly success, good health, happiness and progress, with best blessings for my Jamat’s strength of faith and unity. 

I send my special loving blessings for mushkil-asan, and for the safety and security of all my Jamat. You are all particularly in my heart, in my thoughts and in my prayers.

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

Date posted: October 11, 2021.

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TALIKA TRANSLATIONS: Please click on the following links for translations of the above Talika in French; Portuguese; Farsi; Arabic; Gujarati; Russian; Urdu; Tajik; and Spanish.

Please visit our sister website Barakah’s Talika page for links to all the Talikas that Mawlana Hazar Imam has sent to the Jamats since the beginning of Covid-19.

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.

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.

The above post is also published in Barakah, a website dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please visit www.barakah.com.

Must See Video: Bruno Freschi Provides Great Insights Into the Making of the First Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Canada, and Reflects on His Highness the Aga Khan

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simerg Photos

I first met met Bruno Freschi, the architect of the Ismaili Centre Vancouver, in Washington D.C., when Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was awarded the Vincent Scully Prize in January 2005 at the National Building Museum. After meeting him at the door, I politely intruded into a conversation the Aga Khan Council Canada President, Firoz Rasul, was having with Fumihiko Maki, the Japanese architect of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building in Ottawa (December 2008), and the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto (September 2014), and introduced Bruno to the President. So for the first time two great architects from different ends of the world met each other. We are truly proud of what both have done for the Ismaili Imamat and the Ismaili community.

Aga Khan at the National Building Museum Washington DC
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Charles Correa, Robert Ivy and Martin Filler in a panel discussion on “Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond”, on January 25, 2008 at the National Building Museum, Washington, D.C. Photo: © Nicky Lubis. Special to Simerg.
Bruno Freschi, OC
Bruno Freschi, OC
Aga Khan at National Building Museum seminar
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan pictured during a panel discussion at the seminar “Design in the Islamic World and Its Impact Beyond” held at the National Museum Building in Washington, D.C., January 25, 2005. Bruno Freschi in an interview with Simerg noted as follows about Mawlana Hazar Imam: “An excellent design critic and intellectually generous in the pursuit of design ideas”. Photo: © Special to Simerg.

Later that evening before the ceremonies were over — and also later in my interview with him — Bruno told me that he met Mawlana Hazar Imam who thanked him for building the Jamatkhana in Vancouver which he said was one of his most favoured buildings. At the time, Bruno was based in the US capital.

Aga Khan message to Bruno Freschi
His Highness the Aga Khan’s appreciative note to Mr. Bruno Freschi for his “remarkable achievement”. Message written in the architect’s personal volume of the Ismaili Centre Souvenir publication. Image: Bruno Freschi Collection, 1985.

A few years later when Bruno was back in Vancouver but still travelling, I met him for the second time shortly after launching Simerg in the spring of 2009. My daughter had travelled with me to visit my parents in Vancouver. Bruno happened to be in town and was available one evening for dinner at the famous VJ’s restaurant.

VJs Vancouver Bruno Freschi and the Merchants
(From left, anti-clockwise) Bruno Freschi, Jehangir Merchant (d. May 2018), Nurin Merchant and Malik Merchant at the famous VJs in Vancouver, March 2009.

My dad joined us for a fantastic meal with Bruno, and what an evening it turned out to be. Among other matters, and in a setting of a great ambience, our conversation also centered around the magnificent Jamatkhana building that he had designed. That evening’s conversation along with subsequent text exchanges then became part of Simerg’s though provoking interview with Bruno Freschi, that includes several unique photos.

Jehangir Merchant, Ismaili teacher, writer and missionary at Ismaili Centre Vancouver
Jehangir Merchant pictured in front of the fountain in the beautiful courtyard of the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, Vancouver, designed by Bruno Freschi. It was designated as the Darkhana Jamatkhana by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Both Jehangir and his wife, Maleksultan, attended the Darkhana Jamatkhana every single day, and found immense comfort and happiness within the Jamatkhana space and the building’s overall interior and exterior environment. This photo was taken a few months before Alwaez died in May 2018 at the age of 89. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Mohib Ebrahim, Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre
A beautiful night view of the courtyard of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre, Vancouver, with the fountain in the foreground and the Jamatkhana entrance forming the backdrop. The Jamatkhana was designed by Vancouver’s Bruno Freschi and opened in 1985 by Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: © Mohib Ebrahim. 2014. For a superb collection of photos of the Ismaili Centre by Mohib, please click HERE
Mrs. Merchant at Ismaili Centre Vancouver with neighbour Nazim Rawji
Mrs. Merchant (d. January 2021) pictured with Nazim Rawji, her former 1960/1970’s neighbour from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, outside the courtyard of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Vancouver during an event marking the 59th Imamat Day of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The building was designed by architect Bruno Freschi, and opened in 1985 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Malik Merchant. July 2016.

I invite readers to read Simerg’s insightful interview with Bruno, and to also watch a fantastic program hosted by journalist Zahra Premji in Ismaili Canada’s series Summer Reflections. The video, below, must not be missed as it provides Bruno Freschi’s rare and unique glimpses into the making of this absolutely beautiful building which was opened in September 1985. His admiration and respect for Mawlana Hazar Imam is deeply touching.

I have always enjoyed being around Bruno because of his humble qualities and for sharing inspiring insights into the work of the Ismaili Imamat. I was delighted to meet him again at a much different VJ’s some years later just before the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam. He then contributed a thought provoking article The architecture of empathic pluralism: His Highness the Aga Khan, an inspired vision of architecture for Barakah, a website dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family. Then, after my dad passed away, I met him once more when my mum was with me at a daytime event at the Ismaili Centre. She was very happy that she had finally met the person who designed the Jamatkhana that both she and my dad had visited every single day for years and years. The Jamatkhana had provided them with spiritual happiness and comfort as well as strength in their daily lives, like it has for thousands and thousands of Ismailis living in Vancouver as well as visitors from around the world.

We thank you Bruno for creating a beautiful space to which we all enter (go in) with anticipation and leave (go out) with an immense amount of happiness and hope. We return to it over and over again. Your insight into the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre will make us think more about the building you painstakingly designed for us, working together side by side with our beloved Imam to see its total and full completion.

The Ismaili Canada Conversation with Bruno Freschi

Note: To skip the pre-show of songs and music, please start the video at approximately the 13 minute mark to watch Zahra Premji’s excellent and extensive interview with Bruno Freschi, the architect of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Vancouver.

To skip songs and watch Ismaili Centre program and interview with Bruno Freschi, please begin at 13 minute mark.

Date posted: August 14, 2021.

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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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg – 2020 in Pictures and Words: Blessings from His Highness the Aga Khan; Photos from Private Collections; and Tributes to Deceased

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

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, Talikas 2020, Simerg and Barakh
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, pictured at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Kenya. Photo: The Ismaili

TALIKAS AND BLESSINGS FROM MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM

March 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam sends Talika on the occasion of Navroz with special blessings for mushkil asan, and prayers for the Jamat’s health and well-being

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, showers his paternal and maternal blessings on his spiritual children around the world in light of the present crisis 

April 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends message to his spiritual children around the world on Covid-19, with blessings for their protection from difficulty; multiple translations including Farsi, Dari, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati and Russian

May 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s loving and inspiring Talika on the occasion of Eid ul-Fitr shows his concern for his spiritual children in all facets of their lives 

July 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends Talika Mubarak to Ismailis around the world on the occasion of his 63rd Imamat Day

November 2020

Please click: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his message on November 2, 2020, tells his spiritual children “there is no room for complacency” over the risks posed by the coronavirus “for sometime to come” and send his blessings for mushkil-asan

December 2020

Please click: In Talika Mubarak on the occasion of his 84th birthday, Mawlana Hazar Imam asks us to draw comfort from the practice of our faith, appreciates the excellent work of volunteers, and conveys his paternal maternal blessings to the world wide Jamat

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PASSINGS

The following tributes/obituaries appeared in Simerg in 2020. Some of the deceased may have died before 2020.

Passings Simerg 2020 Year in Review
Top row (left to right): Mahebub Rupani, Nazeer Ladhani, Amirali Gillani, Salima Arthurs, Sultan Methanwalla, Goulzare Foui, Amirali Nagji; bottom row (left to right): Alnoor Ramji, Shamshu Jamal, Zubeda Jamal, Sultanali Mohamed, Razia Jamal, James Wolfensohn and Madatali Jamal. Image collage: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Please click: Mahebub Mohamed Juma Rupani

Please click: Nazeer Ladhani

Please click: Shamshu Jamal

Please click: Missionary Amirali Gillani

Please click: Alnoor Ramji, Goulzare Foui, Amirali S. Nagji, Sultan Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala, Salima Wanda Arthurs

Please click: Madatali Merali Jamal, Razia Jamal, Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal

Please click: James D. Wolfensohn

Please click: Alwaez Sultanali Mohamed

Please also click: Benjamin Mkapa (d. July 2020. As Tanzania’s President from 1995-2005, the late Benjamin Mkapa strongly supported the work of the Ismaili Imamat in his country as well as abroad. The support that he gave is clearly illustrated in a special piece about him in Barakah, a blog dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan)

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HISTORICAL PHOTOS OF MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM AND HIS FAMILY, IMAMAT PROJECTS AND OTHER EVENTS

2020 Year Simerg photos Aga Khan and Projects
Please click on image for 2020 stories and accompanying photos

Please click: Top photo selections from our 2020 stories: Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family, Covid-19 impact, Aga Khan projects, the four seasons, and other events

Date posted: December 27, 2020.
Last updated: December 28, 2020.

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Rays of Hope: Greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Blessings from the Aga Khan, the Covid-19 Vaccine and the Inspiring Crescent Moon

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

Prime Minister’s Greetings

I am among the millions of Canadian who have received “Season’s Greetings” from the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Their message in a card filled with family photos reads: “Let’s cherish the bonds of love, family and friendship, near or far. We are one big Canadian family. We will have each other’s backs and hearts in the moments when it’s needed the most. We will pull through together!”

Click on photos for enlargements

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with members of his family. Credit: Greeting card
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with members of his family. Credit: Greeting card issued by Justin Trudeau; collage prepared by Simerg / Malik Merchant.

I thank the Prime Minster for the greetings as well as for seeking to ease the burden for millions of Canadians who are living through one of the most challenging periods in the nation’s history. He has tried to work across party lines both federally and provincially as well as with mayors around the country to bring relief and hope during the Covid-19 pandemic. Through his spontaneous briefings, he has kept the country united. He has recognized the work of the front-end workers, whose spirit and dedication for our well-being during the pandemic will remain in our hearts forever.

The Aga Khan’s Messages

In addition to the Prime Minister’s message, within my own Ismaili community, His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam as we affectionately and respectfully address him, has sent us messages also known as Talikas, throughout the pandemic year. He has given is guidance, blessed us with his prayers and singled out volunteers for their extraordinary work, offering them his “best affectionate blessings.” In the latest message on the occasion of his 84th birthday which was celebrated on December 13, 2020 by millions of Ismailis, either remotely or in person in Jamatkhanas that were open, His Highness referred to the encouraging development of vaccines and asked his community members to “be guided by the advice and directives of their health authorities to benefit from the protection these vaccines will provide.” I am confident that the Ismaili community will seriously participate in the vaccination program. It was gratifying to watch the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, created by the husband-and-wife team of Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, being administered to long-term care workers at the Ottawa Hospital’s civic campus on the morning of Tuesday, December 15, an occasion which prompted a visit from the Prime Minister.

Mawlana Hazar Imam Online?

In addition to the Talika’s that are now being read by Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, my hope is that we will soon be able to hear and see the Imam speaking and addressing about the challenges that we have gone through, and on “building for the future from a position of strength and wisdom.” With Jamati visits now possibly a thing of the past for sometime to come, the digital media offers us the opportunity to see and hear the Imam at opportune times to make that connection even stronger. My own daughter, when she was a student some years ago, and other youth recognizing that Mawlana Hazar Imam cannot be travelling to every Jamat in the world on a regular basis, raised the possibility of the youth of the Jamat being particularly singled out and being spoken to by the Imam for his guidance on numerous aspects of their lives on an annual basis via an online platform. This interaction with their beloved Imam would help increase their awareness about their future responsibilities and paths to success, as well as their greater and more meaningful involvement with the Jamat and its institutions.

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A view of the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome across the ponds of the Aga Khan Park, with the sun setting in the west end of Toronto. A jet plane leaves a white trail in the sky and, in this photo, cloud cover does not provide a clear view of the crescent moon. See next photo.Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

A Walk for Inspiration and Hope

Buoyed by the message of hope in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s most recent Talika and the Prime Minister’s greeting, I decided to walk over to my favourite place in the world — none other than the site of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park that has added value to my life over the past several months of the pandemic. The grounds were empty of people. There was a dusting of snow on the ground, while some parts of the USA had already seen several inches of snow. Armed with a compass, I knew the 3 day old new moon, still in its beautiful crescent state, was exactly above me but cloud cover prevented me from seeing it clearly. Patience is a good virtue to have, and we have all built that over the pandemic months.

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Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana Dome Simerg
The crescent moon emerges from the clouds over the dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana located at 49 Wynford Drive. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

The Crescent Moon and Covid-19 Impacts

After about 30 minutes, as the clouds drifted away, the crescent moon came to my full view. Being in the earlier stages of development, the crescent moon reminded me of the blessed night of Chandraat (new moon night) that fell on Monday, December 14th, and which Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, the 48th Imam, had told us would bring us spiritual peace and happiness. Some prayers on the blessed night of Chandraat are also dedicated to the souls of the deceased. That reminded me of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Talika of December 11 for the occasion of his birthday in which he gave his best loving blessings for the souls of all his ruhani (deceased) spiritual children, and his prayers for the eternal peace and rest of their souls. My thoughts turned to the thousands of souls who have departed this world during the pandemic, most often without the presence of their families around them or not having ceremonies that they would normally have had.

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Scotiabnak Wynford Drive and Aga Khan Museum Simerg
Scotia Bank building, at left of Aga Khan Museum, with Aga Khan Park ponds at foreground. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

Then, as I walked away from the Ismaili Centre towards the Aga Khan Museum, the Scotia Bank building with its red logo at the top came to my view. It raised my consciousness of the financial impact Covid-19 has had on the livelihood of millions of individuals and their families, as well as businesses.

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Aga Khan Museum, the Park, Ismaili Centre, Flags and the crescent moon, Simerg
The Aga Khan Museum (left), the Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana dome, the crescent moon over highrises, and the flags of Canada, Ontario, Toronto and the Ismaili Imamat. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

As I began my homeward walk, I turned around and in a single shot captured the glory of nature, the iconic spaces that the Aga Khan has built in a country that values and respects diversity and pluralism, and the flags of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto flying in unison, alongside the flag of the Ismaili Imamat.

And Greetings from Simerg

Big Heech, Ismaili Centre, Aga Khan Park, Jamatkhana dome, Simerg Malik Merchant
The Big Heech sculpture outside the Aga Khan Museum and the Toronto Headquarters Jamatkhana dome on the night of December 18, 2020. Photo: Simerg / Malik Merchant.

Thus with this small collection of photographs and messages of hope from the Aga Khan and the Prime Minister, the ingenuity of the human mind in developing a vaccine in record time, the dedication of front-line workers in alleviating the sufferings of millions upon millions of people, I send my SEASONS GREETINGS filled with hope to all Canadians as well as friends subscribers and supporters of Simerg and its sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos. My family joins me in wishing everyone happiness.

Date posted: December 18, 2020.
Last updated: December 19, 2020 (new photo added).

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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.

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.

Malik Merchant of Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos
Simerg’s Malik at Aga Khan Museum courtyard.

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of this website, Simerg (2009), as well as two other blogs Simergphotos (2012) and Barakah (2017). Formerly an IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to family projects and his 3 websites. He is the eldest son of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions for several decades in Mozambique, Tanzania, Pakistan, the UK and Canada in both professional and honorary capacities as teachers and missionaries. Malik’s daughter, Dr. Nurin Merchant, assists him as an honorary editor of the three websites. She received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (2019, University of Guelph) and now works as a veterinarian.

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.

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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.

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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.

“Largesse” of Mawlana Hazar Imam, and Photos of Fall Colours and Waxing Moon at 3 Unique Aga Khan Projects in Toronto

Watch a short 90 second interview in which a non-Ismaili speaks about Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and then view a collection of superb photos of the waxing moon rising above the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana as well as a display of autumn colours at Aga Khan Park…MORE AT SIMERGPHOTOS

Click on image for interview, story and more photos

Date posted: September 26, 2020.

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Jamatkhana Ismaili Centre Toronto and Aga Khan Park, Simerg, Photo Malik Merchant

A Poem Inspired by the Reopening of Jamatkhanas

As We Reopen

By Parin Verjee

Approaching the doors of the Jamatkhana
Heads bowed in all humility
Lower your gaze
Pause a moment
Softly say a heartfelt prayer
Shukhrana, Al Hamdu’lillah
The blessed day has arrived
Quieten your thoughts
Touch your heart
Hand on your heart
Smile with your eyes
Greet gently
Gracious to one and all
Carry your mehmani in your heart
Let Allah’s light guide you
To His threshold
Let divine grace
Touch your praying hands
Embrace the silence
Be at peace
The sacred space
Awaits your soulful zikr

Date posted: August 16, 2020.

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About the author: Parin’s love of books, music, theatre, and travel sometimes leads her to writing about her experiences, and the reopening of Jamatkhanas inspired her to pen a few lines here. Originally from Kenya, she studied at Makerere University, Kampala, and at the University of Dijon, France, and lived in Oxford, England, before moving to Canada. She has been in Doha, Qatar, for the last 12 years and living in the Middle East has enhanced her appreciation of Islamic art and culture. She is presently back in Calgary.

We welcome feedback from our readers. 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.

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The featured photo shown at the top of this post was taken on the night of Friday August 14, 2020, when the Headquarters Jamatkhana dome at the Ismaili Centre Toronto was lit up for the first time since mid-March when Jamatkhanas across Canada closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The spectacular lit up dome is visible from the busy Don Valley Parkway, and is much admired by pedestrians and drivers alike as they drive through the Parkway or walk along Eglinton Avenue and Wynford Drive. The photo and the beautiful poem penned by Parin Verjee celebrate the opening of the Headquarters Jamatkahana on Monday August 17, as well as other Jamatkhanas that have opened in recent days or will be opening in the coming days.

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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.

Ismaili Jamatkhanas in Canada and Around the World Begin to Reopen with Covid-19 Precautions in Place

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

Here are quick links to:

(1) Registration and News about Jamatkhana Openings in Canada;
(2) Subscription to Canadian Ismaili Institution Newsletters, eg. Al-Akhbar; and
(3) Instructions for downloading Apps for Global and Country Wide Official Ismaili Institution News, TV programming etc.

The Ismaili Canada’s iicanada.org portal proudly announces, “Jamatkhana Reopening Welcome Back,” and goes on to state, “As Jamatkhana capacity is limited due to COVID-19 regulations, and to enable contact tracing in the event of a potential infection event, all individuals will need to register online to gain access to Jamatkhana. Pre-registration allows Jamati members to indicate their preferred dates and times of Jamatkhana attendance (including Jamatkhanas not yet open), and be allocated a confirmed spot ahead of time.”

The Ismaili Centre Jamatkhana, known as Toronto’s Headquarters Jamatkhana, shown above as a featured photo, opens on August 17.

Speaking to a close friend in Ottawa, I am told that yesterday’s (Tuesday, August 12, 2020) opening of the Jamatkhana filled it up to the maximum persons permitted in the prayer hall. It felt like a commemorative occasion with the announcement of appointments of new Majlis Mukhi and Kamadia Sahebs as well as Mukhiani and Kamadiani Sahebas. From Vancouver, I get a video from a friend who attends his local Jamatkhana after more than 150 days, since the Jamatkhana closures in mid-March, and he watches the sky with the moon illuminated at 42%. His face glows, and as he reaches his Jamatkhana his heart is filled with joy.

Narratives circulate on the social media and Whatsapp about 1st day experiences in the Jamatkhana after a long long lay-over, especially from Portugal, where Jamatkhanas first opened a few weeks ago.

A comprehensive list of Jamatkhana opening days, registration details etc. for Canada is available at iicanada.org.

Canada Jamatkhana Reopenings Simerg
The.Ismaili image on Jamatkhana reopenings in Canada

For openings and latest announcements of Jamatkhana openings in some other parts of the world please click FRANCE and PORTUGAL. A few USA Jamatkhanas in small centres were scheduled to open several days ago but the openings have been delayed due to a surge of coronavirus infections in numerous states.

Regrettably, the country portals available through the.ismaili community website are not updated with the status of Jamatkhana openings — except for Canada and France, and local Jamati members in various countries are often informed through their respective Jamati institutions newsletters or Apps. For example in Canada the link iicanada provides a list of Jamati newsletters that you may subscribe to. Of particular importance on the list would be the weekly Al-Akhbar for different regions, BC, Alberta, Ontario etc.

It is advisable that readers download their respective country wide institutional Jamati Apps available in their regions or subscribe to the weekly newsletters for the latest information. However, not everyone is familiar about downloading and using apps, and users accessing the internet via notebooks and desktops are put at a disadvantage.

It is important that there is some consistency about how information for different countries is available through the different portal Ismaili websites for non App users. I was personally confused, and would be happy to stand corrected if others don’t find that to be the case.

For everyone totally comfortable about downloading and using Apps, as we live in an App driven world, I would request readers to visit the official Ismaili community page where instructions are provided for downloading the.Ismaili app onto your hand held device. The Ismaili states that “with the app, which is available to download for free from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, users can stay up-to-date on global and national news, receive official messages from Jamati institutions, and watch The Ismaili TV live.”

Among other things, the App will “allow you to receive notifications, including breaking news and official messages from Jamati Institutions.” It will also allow you to see news from other countries around the world by toggling to as many countries as the readers wishes to. Again, please visit the page the.Ismaili app.

Date posted: August 13, 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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Jamatkhana

Ismaili Centre Toronto Prayer Hall Simerg

By NAVYN NARAN

They entered the Jamatkhana prayer hall,
Sat on the patterned carpet or the seniors on chairs
Closed their eyes.
So some chatted to acquaintances
Ya Ali Madad “ki ayon?”
“Did you hear? Did you go…? Shukr
Mawla…”
Mukhi-Kamadiasaheban enter, we start.
Every day, 365.

A pandemic, unprecedented.
A change.
The place of prayer remained.
And was attended, at set time and others,
“All day, all night, every day, every night”
Outdoors and in, on screen and off,
They looked toward the esoteric qibla,
breathed the esoteric Qur’an.

The Jamatkhana holds a special place
and cannot be replaced
The place of prayer remains within
The soul is not erased.
“There are those I see with my eyes”….
Yes, there is that we see with our eyes,
And then, there is that we may feel in the heart.

Will the space of gathering open?
A sanctuary for so many,
A familiar space of belonging,
Connection, hope and light.
When will it open?
No one can speculate.
For it is, when the Imam decides.

“Remember, remember, remember,
And never forget
“Take your tasbirh, take your tasbirh”
Like your breath, in and out.
Only you can decide.
The exoteric and the esoteric

The Jamatkhana is a physical space
A sanctuary, a place of peace.

Date posted: June 22, 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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About the author: A regular contributor to this website, Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar (1936-2017) and Badrudin Naran (1930-1979). She is currently in Toronto working in pediatrics and volunteering at the Aga Khan Museum.

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Translucent Night

 

 

By NAVYN NARAN

A grain of sand,
Held in its shell.
A pearl is born, hidden from sight
These are reflective within the whole
Under the opaque crystal
Of the peaked Ismaili Centre dome
Here grains of sand
transform into pearls.
A mountain peak risen
From circular white granite
The translucent glass faces
His one time home.

The moon is peeking out
As it waxes on a journey
The clearest night paves the way
towards a seventh heaven
No clouds to deter the clarity and blessings
of quanta and waves.
Piercingly clear, nothing interferes.
The dome sits majestically, still as thin air
In the bright night lit of stars
Where all souls pray.

Those who eat of the fruits of that which is within
In the peace of the night
Light enters through the transparent glass
You search for the spiritual nature of being
Between the opaque and the transparent.

Peace tonight as Shawwal arrives
Then dawn will break clearly
And rustle of wings and hymns of birds will be heard,
As buds have been born
Tulip has bloomed
Russian sage is waking
Cherry blossoms are done
Serviceberry smart in rows, salutes
Infinity pools await water,
Thoughts take root.

And so we wonder,
What is under this dome?

Ismaili Centre Toronto Dome
The dome of the Ismaili Centre Toronto

Date posted: May 25, 2020.

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About the author: A regular contributor to this website, Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar (1936-2017) and Badrudin Naran (1930-1979). She is currently in Toronto working in pediatrics and volunteering at the Aga Khan Museum.

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

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.