The Youtube link to the Diamond Jubilee Tribute Song to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is one you can play repeatedly and keep on enjoying forever. The expression of love for Mawlana Hazar Imam is visible on each musician’s face, and this is what is most inspiring about this video. What we might say is our “unmeasurable love” for Hazar Imam becomes even more unfathomable to grasp when we read what Hazar Imam said to his jamat (community) during his visit in 1964 to Pakistan that “my love for my Jamat is a lot stronger than yours can ever be for me and I would like you to remember this….When I leave, each and everyone of you will be in my heart, in my prayers, in my thoughts and you must remember that Imam loves you more, much more than you can ever love him and you must be strong in this knowledge.” Unmeasurable unmeasurable love indeed! We are all recipients of his care and barakah, 1000fold, nay a million fold….Happiness forever to all Ismailis.
Malek Merchant, 85, with her former student and Dar es Salaam neighbour Nazim Rawjee pictured outside the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
My mum is an avid reader. She is 85 but doesn’t look her age when you see her glowing face; she is often interrupted with “he is your brother” before she gets a chance to introduce me to anyone as her son! I feel embarrassed but it also makes me proud for her! Her facial skin is soft and supple; “Oil of Olay,” I tell all my friends as her secret to a good skin! She spends a lot of time everyday on her Ipad. I go to her aid mostly when she wants to visit my website — otherwise she is okay!
Today, for a change, I gave her my copy of Africa Renewal, a UN magazine that I have been receiving for the past few years on a regular basis and that I collected from my mailbox during my recent trip to Ottawa. She read the two issues I gave her cover to cover in a span of a few hours, and while on the story about Mohamed Sidibay, a former child soldier who attributes his success to education, she started reading it loudly because she was so inspired by it. She wanted me to hear it. It was distracting for me, but her reading the story aloud intrigued me and grabbed my attention. Here it is, below. It is “MY MUM’S PICK” and everyone, young and old alike, must read it! Don’t I wish she owned Chapter’s Indigo! “Heather’s Pick” would then become “Malek’s Pick” and she would even offer bigger discounts on her top picks! And she would personally be at different stores telling the visitors what to read!
REMINISCENCES OF A FORMER CHILD SOLDIER
“My biggest fear was children, high on drugs, wielding AK-47 rifles…The war stole my childhood and left me orphaned and homeless. In Sierra Leone, children barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces committed most of the atrocities. I was one of those children. I learned to refill a bullet chamber instead of an ink cartridge, and I mastered the “skill” of spraying a wall with lead before I could write 1, 2, and 3.”
BY MOHAMED SIDIBAY
Mohamed Sidibay. Photo: Africa Renewal.
My name is Mohamed Sidibay and I was born in Sierra Leone, a beautiful country on the coast of West Africa.
When I had barely reached five years of age, we were engulfed in a civil war. Kidnapped by rebels, I lived in a world where my captors made me fear not God but children, high on drugs, wielding AK-47 rifles taller than them, and forced to kill or be killed.
I was one of those child soldiers and I lived in a world where your best friend could kill you because his own life depended on it.
I witnessed murder for the first time when I was only five years old. In 1997 the civil war had reached my village. It was only after I was forcibly taken away from our house that I got a sense of the evil that would befall me. The man I would later come to call General took my parents’ lives before my eyes. That was the beginning of my encounter with war.
Years passed and one night I fled to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. It was one of the longest nights of my life. I slept on a wooden bench too small for my tall frame. I spent most of the night fighting off mosquitoes and trying to stay warm. When I woke up, I had white, salty residue on my face as a result of hours of crying. I wished things were different.
Shunned by community
Sierra Leone, University of Texas Map, 2016.
An Italian priest gave me shelter and connected me to an NGO that links students and teachers worldwide through technology. This is where I started my education and was soon sponsored to join a primary school in Sierra Leone.
The war stole my childhood and left me orphaned and homeless. In Sierra Leone, children barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces committed most of the atrocities. I was one of those children. I learned to refill a bullet chamber instead of an ink cartridge, and I mastered the “skill” of spraying a wall with lead before I could write 1, 2, and 3. At the time, the more youthful we appeared, the more gruesome the carnage we inflicted.
Although the civil war eventually ended in 2002, a new struggle for reintegration had just begun for me. My former community shunned me, the worst punishment a close-knit community could exact on a repentant child soldier. Elders derided me for my shamelessness, and my peers were vicious towards me.
One day something unexpected happened. A complete stranger told me the truth I did not want to hear: I had the power to create my own destiny if I could get education. But how could I do that when at the age of ten I could not read or write? Where would I begin? I wondered whether education would help me forget my experience with killing in war. Would it end my nightmares?
We know all wars eventually end, but the scars and burden may last forever. But that’s life, right? Things do not always turn out the way we wish.
In 2007, at the age of 14, I was invited to talk about my experience as a child soldier at two American universities. What was meant to be a short trip became a permanent stay after I refused to board my plane home. I ran away from the airport in New York with only $40 in my pocket, an iPod Nano, my passport, a white-dotted pair of jeans and an orange shirt.
I stayed because America had given me hope. I lived in Maplewood, New Jersey, where I enrolled in high school. At the age of 14, I was preparing to attend high school for the first time in a community that was completely different from the one I had known. Reconciling the new life with the past continued to be a challenge.
I never imagined graduating from high school, let alone becoming a university graduate. Education has offered me choices, chances and challenges.
Education can enable the unfortunate to rise up and know the world. I am now dedicating my life to advocacy and service through my work with the Education Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and the My Hero Project.
I appreciate the gift of education. I believe that even if we give people the whole world, that world could crumble. But if we give them an education, they can rebuild their world.
Date posted: June 2, 2017.
Note: Mohamed Sidibay has since graduated from George Washington University.
Mohamed Sidibay, “United Nations Africa Renewal.” The complete story with the photo of Mohamed Sidibay is reproduced from Africa Renewal, Special Edition 2017, page 30. Please visithttp://www.un.org/africarenewal.
“THE ISMAILI IMAMAT REPRESENTS THE SUCCESSION OF IMAMS SINCE THE PROPHET MUHAMMAD” — HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN, 2014
INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES
Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan (pictured above), in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. From the time of the first Imam Ali, who was designated and appointed as such by the Holy Prophet, the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history in accordance with the Islamic precepts and ethics of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill. The Ismaili Imam is therefore not only concerned with the material advancement and the improvement of the quality of life of his Ismaili followers, but also that of other Muslim communities and societies at large in which they live.
In accordance with historical and theological works and the teachings of their Imams, the Ismailis believe that each Imam is the bearer of the Light of Imamat (or Nur). This (spiritual) Light is with the Ahl al-bayt (i.e. the Imams from the Prophet Muhammad’s family). This Nur was with the first Shia Imam Ali and, for Shia Ismailis, is now with their present 49th Imam. Every Imam guides his followers during his time through the Nur of Imamat.
The Nur of Imamat is always there to guide through the physical presence of the Imam. The Imam holds his followers hands and leads and protects them in both difficult and good times. He shows them how they should live in a particular time and place. Just as the water of a river continues to flow, the Hereditary line of Imamat from Hazrat Ali never stops. That is, the Imam is always physically present and manifest on this earth. According to Shia tradition, the Imam is the threshold through which God and the creatures communicate. He is thus a cosmic necessity, the key and the center of the universal economy of the sacred: “The earth cannot be devoid of an Imam; without him, it could not last an hour. If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the Imam.”
One of the goals of each Ismaili is to strive to come closer to the spiritual light of the Imam. One can do so by fulfilling one’s material and spiritual responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. Praying regularly, living by the ethics of Islam, following the Imam’s guidance strengthens the Ismailis’ spiritual bond with their Imam, and through his Light, brings them closer to Allah.
In the coming days, weeks and months Simerg will endeavour to provide different perspectives on the Imamat and Ismaili contributions to Islamic culture and thought from various literary works on Ismaili philosophy, theology and history.
Beatific Vision of the Imam
The [Imam’s] beatific vision is of two kinds: one a physical meeting with the Imam and the other a spiritual recognition of his essence [Nur], through which God is recognized.
Speaking of the second of these, Pir Sadr al-Din, in his ginan [religious hymn] “Sakhi māhā pad keri vāt koek jānere”, writes:
Friend! None but a few know of the exalted station. Indeed, they alone recognize it who have found the true guide.
Friend! Within the heart, at the confluence of the three spiritual rivers, there is an imperishable light. There – a shimmering effulgence, pearls are showered.
Friend! I completely lost consciousness of my physical self when my meditation mounted the empyrean, bursting forth.
Friend! I beheld the place of the lofty throne, I saw the seven islands, the nine continents.
Friend! The religious scriptures and books cannot fathom this, for there is neither day there, nor night, neither sun, nor shade.
Friend! My Lord is not such that He can be spoken of. He is to be seen – for He is indescribable, and nameless.
Friend! How sweet is that Lord, indescribable, nameless. Says Pir Sadr al-Din, truly, with my own eyes, I have seen Him!
Dazzled by the Light of Imamat
When Ismaili missionary al-Mu’ayyad-din Shirazi had left Shiraz in Persia for Fatimid Egypt, he was very hopeful that he would get the opportunity to see the Imam-Caliph Mustansir-bi-Allah, but at the same time he had also feared the intrigues of the ministers who did not permit any man of learning to see the Imam personally, unless he complied with their dictates and acknowledged their superiority.
On reaching Egypt he experienced all that he had feared. He was lodged in a small house and his visits to the court were short and limited to prevent him from seeing the Imam.
Disappointed, he finally decided to leave Egypt and wrote as follows to Tastari, one of the most powerful persons in the Fatimid State:
“I have not come to Egypt to seek wealth or gain any position. The promptings of my faith have brought me here. I have come to visit the Imam and not the Vaziers and their officials. Unfortunately, these people stop me from having a look at my Imam and now I am returning disappointed.”
The sudden death of Tastari gave al-Mu’ayyad another opportunity to renew his efforts to get some time to be in the holy presence of the Imam and with some help was finally able to pay respects to the Imam. Describing his experience, he writes:
I was taken near the place where from I saw the bright Light of the Prophethood. My eyes were dazzled by the Light. I shed tears of joy and felt as if I was looking at the face of the Prophet of Allah and of the Commander of the Faithful, Hazrat Ali. I prostrated myself before the one who is the fittest person to bow to. I wanted to say something, but I was awe-struck.
I tried to speak but my tongue refused to move. People asked me to say what I wished to say. I could say nothing. The Imam said, ‘Leave him. Let his fear and awe subside’.
After this, I rose. I took the holy hand of the Imam, placed it on my eyes and on my chest and then kissed it. I left the place with immense joy.
Imam Mu’izz’s Arrival in Cairo
In 969 CE, Imam al-Mu‘izz, “an excellent planner, an efficient organiser and a statesman amply talented in diplomacy,” with the help of his general Jawhar Siqilli, acquired Egypt peacefully.
During this time the building of the new city of Cairo began and in 970 CE the foundation for the al-Azhar mosque was laid. The Imam himself arrived in Cairo in 973 CE in a very touching ceremony. His sons, brothers and uncles, and other descendants of Imam al-Mahdi, the first Fatimid caliph, made their entrance with him. Imam Mu’izz brought with him the coffins of his ancestors Imams al-Mahdi, al-Qa‘im and al-Mansur.
Stanley Lane-Poole’s description of Imam al-Mu‘izz may aid one to understand his successful reign:
He was a born statesman, able to grasp the conditions of success and to take advantage of every point in his favour. He was also highly educated, and not only wrote Arabic poetry and delighted in its literature, but studied Greek, mastered Berber and Sudani dialects, and is even said to have taught himself Salvonic … His eloquence was such as to move his audience to tears. To prudent statesmanship he added a large generosity, and his love of justice was among his noble qualities.
Cairo’s location between Africa and the Mediterranean ensured that it became a large, thriving commercial centre.
The greatness of the Fatimid Capital is described in the following words by Al-Muqaddassi, a notable medieval Arab geographer who lived in the tenth century.
Know that Baghdad was great in the past, but is now falling in ruins. It is full of troubles, and its glory is gone. I neither approve it nor admire it, and if I praise it, it is a mere convention. Fustat (today, part of old Cairo) is today where Baghdad was in the past, and I do not know of any greater city in all of Islam.
Imams are our Spiritual Parents
In the Shia tradition, the teaching of the Imam (also referred to as the Ta’lim of the Imam) lights his follower’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision.
The spiritual enlightenment or the elevation of the soul gained by following the Imam’s guidance is described in many works by Shia theologians, and is particularly evident in the Ginans, Qasidas and narrative accounts written by Ismaili Pirs and missionaries.
The following excerpt is from a work by the Ismaili missionary, Muayyad-din-Shirazi:
Look at the trouble your parents have taken from the days of your childhood in the growth of your bodies and in the improvement of your physical life on earth. But for the interest they took in you, you would not have been what you are.
Your souls are thousand times more important than your bodies. The Imams are your spiritual parents.
Avail yourselves of a few days of life which are at your disposal here and look after your spiritual elevation under the care of your spiritual parents.
Once you miss this opportunity, you will repent forever. You will not be given a second chance to set things right.
Imam’s Favours Cannot be Counted
From a work by renowned Fatimid scholar and jurist, Qadi Numan.
Let us make a short survey of their favours on us. We were ignorant of everything and were spiritually dead. They brought us back to life and showed us the path of wisdom. We were blind, they gave us the eyes to see for ourselves what is right and what is wrong.
We were groping in the dark, they showed us the light. We had lost the track, they showed us the way to salvation. We were lacking in knowledge, they gave us knowledge. We were falling in hell-fire, they picked us up and put us in the middle of righteous.
In short, they have done us the favours which we cannot count.
They have given us all that is good in this world and the world to come.
Date posted:May 1, 2017.
The material for this post was compiled and adapted from the following sources:
“The colossal work which you achieve day after day towards a better living standard in the most deprived countries is not unknown to us. The spirit on which this action is based is amongst the purest expressions of human fraternity.” —READ RENE LEVESQUE’S TRIBUTE TO THE AGA KHAN
Prince Karim Aga Khan: “Just as we need food and water, so do the plants. Near our vegetable garden there are many large trees. The wind blows many leaves onto our crops. Young plants would get buried under the weight of these leaves, so every morning both of us collect all the leaves and burn them.” —READ SWEET AND ENDEARING CHILDHOOD STORIES OF PRINCE KARIM AGA KHAN
“[the Ismailis] represent in Islamic Ummah a very exceptional community. The reason is that you have since 1957, His Highness the Aga Khan as a spiritual guide, as an intellectual guide” — READ MOHAMMED ARKOUN’S ESSAY ON THE AGA KHAN
Gulnar Saratbekova: “Time went and we reached the most momentous day in our life: May 25, 1995, a historical date that no Badakhshani will ever forget. We were blessed with Mawla’s didar for the very first time. That is when we really knew that we would never be alone, ever again. This was the day for which all our elderly and ancestors were longing, for centuries. — READ THE AGA KHAN’S FIRST VISIT TO BADAKHSHAN
“We are receiving you here officially and not just as a friend because you are an important leader of the Muslim religion…What we admire in you is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us.” —READ LEOPOLD SENGHOR’S TRIBUTE TO THE AGA KHAN
Prince Sinan Aga Khan was born in London, England, on January 2, 2017. Sinan is an Arabic name for boys meaning spearhead and is derived from the root word S-N-N which is used in the Qur’an. Sinan is pronounced [(SI)mple] + [(NA)p + (N)ew] with emphasis on the second syllable. —READ PRINCE SINAN AGA KHAN OFFICIAL PHOTOS
“Through his inspiring words and innovative programs, the Aga Khan has meticulously laid the foundation of the seemingly insurmountable task of re-connecting Islam to its two elder Abrahamic siblings: Judaisim and Christianity, from which it has sadly become separated in the past decades. Clearly, if any person or entity can restore Islam to its rightful place, it would be AKDN under the enlightened, visionary, and revolutionary leadership of the 49th Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and his successors.” —READ NIZAR MOTANI’S ESSAY: THE AGA KHAN – FROM AN ISMAILI MUSLIM IMAM TO A GLOBAL CITIZEN
His Highness the Aga Khan pictured during his Golden Jubilee visit to Vancouver, Canada, on November 25, 2008. Photo: The Ismaili Canada, Golden Jubilee 1957 – 2007, Canada Visit. Please click on photo for essay.
Simerg launches its latest new blog, barakah, with Nizar Motani’s piece in which he portrays the Aga Khan as one of the principal actors on the world stage. A towering international figure, the Aga Khan has been a “Person of the Year”, almost year after year, in the eyes of a vast universe of prestigious private and public organizations.
As the Diamond Jubilee of this remarkably energetic, visionary and revolutionary hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims approaches, this article is intended to further acquaint readers, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, with the Aga Khan’s dizzying range of astonishing accomplishments. It is also very relevant for readers who may not know who this Global Citizen, and a “head of many states”, is!
In this concise essay, Nizar Motani has made a compelling case for the Aga Khan to be the foremost candidate for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize….READ MORE
Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at King’s College London, highlights in his latest book Philosophy in the Islamic World just how influential certain theologians and mystics from this milieu have been. Asked to single out one thinker, he names the Persian polymath Avicenna (980-1037) who invented “probably the most influential and interesting medieval attempt to show that God exists”…. Read More
To mark the 1,000th birth anniversary of the most influential of Islam’s philosopher-scientists, UNESCO minted this commemorative medal in 1980. Designed by sculptor-medallist Victor Douek, the obverse depicts a scene showing Avicenna surrounded by his disciples. Please click on image for article in Irish Times.
On an occasional basis, Simerg will be drawing its readers’ attention to popular pieces published on this website over the past almost eight years. Likewise, in the course of this series I shall be informing readers about many extraordinary pieces that have not received the readership they deserve. For now, here are links to 7 pieces with more than 9,000 views each. Other popular articles will be mentioned, 7 at a time, in the coming year.
We wish to record our deep appreciation to thousands of readers who visit Simerg and its sister websites regularly and send us feedback, and to all our contributors for the great articles and photo essays that they have submitted for publication for the reading pleasure and enjoyment of our readers around the world — we have gained richly from their knowledge and the fresh insights they have provided.
We wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year.
At the same time we pray for peace in lands where there are brutal conflicts resulting in loss of life and unimaginable injuries, and where people, especially children, have to endure pain and sorrow everyday.
Date posted: Friday, December 30, 2016. Last updated: December 31, 2016 (2:35 am EST, corrected stats).
INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT (with material from The Ismaili website)
A mosaic of colourful Salgirah cards prepared by children of Burnaby Lake jamatkhana on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg
“No ocean, no mountain, and no desert can keep the Imam from his murids,” was the caring message that Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, delivered to his spiritual children, the Ismailis, during one of the many visits which he undertook to his global community during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. The Jubilee began on July 11, 2007, when he completed 50 years of his reign as the 49th hereditary Imam, directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.), and ended on December 13, 2008, on the exact day of his 72nd birthday. He was born in Geneva in 1936.
Eight years on, on Saturday December 17, 2016, the harsh elements of nature — snow, freezing rain, and cold — did not subdue or keep tens of thousands of Ismailis in Canada, from attending the video showing of their beloved Imam’s 80th birthday celebration that had taken place just a day earlier at his estate and the Imamat headquarters in Aiglemont, France.
Malik Talib, President of the Ismaili Council for Canada, makes a point during a conversation with other Ismaili leaders at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Ismaili leaders from around the world, including President Malik Talib of Canada, travelled to France on behalf of their constituents to personally offer congratulations, express shukrana (thanks), and to reaffirm the Jamat’s bayyah (oath of allegiance) to the 49th Ismaili Imam. Also attending the birthday celebration, were members of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family – Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and his wife Princess Salwa along with their son Prince Irfan, Prince Hussain, Prince Aly Muhammad and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan.
Earlier during the week, on December 13, the actual day of his birthday, Ismailis had gathered in their local jamatkhanas for special prayers and ceremonies to affirm their loyalty and love for their Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam, in becoming 80, has established himself as the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history!
Designed specially for the celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday, this centre piece of the venue comprised a geodesic dome. Neither of the East nor of the West, the dome is an ancient symbol of Divine shelter, care and guidance. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.
The celebration in Aiglemont was housed in specially designed marquee, with a protective dome that signified the guidance and shelter that Hazar Imam constantly provides. The dome itself was inspired by an icosahedron — a geometric structure composed of 20 triangles. Each triangle symbolised one of the 20 national Ismaili Councils appointed by the Imam to oversee the community’s well-being.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family in attendance at his 80th birthday celebration held at his home in Aiglemont on Friday, December 16, 2016. From left to right: Prince Hussain, Princess Salwa and her husband Prince Rahim, MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Ali Muhammad, and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
The President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Syria, Muhammad Wardeh, recites the Tilawat-e-Qur’an at the start of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses Jamati and institutional leaders, who gathered at his home on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji
Prince Amyn Muhammad and Princess Zahra applaud as the birthday cake is presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam cuts his birthday cake, as Princess Salwa and Prince Hussain look on. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.
Mawlana Hazar Imam is presented with a birthday gift on behalf of the global Jamat. Titled “Horses”, this lapis lazuli mosaic was commissioned from the late Ismail Gulgee in 1989. Looking on are the Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum, Mahmoud Eboo (right), and Vazir Shafik Sachedina. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Salim Ahmed, a Canadian jamati leader and a former Darkhana Mukhi, and his wife, are greeted by Prince Hussain at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam meets with the musicians and singers who performed at the celebration of his 80th birthday. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Rahim with Prince Irfan, and Princess Salwa at the 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.
Reflecting on the progress of the Jamat over the past several decades, Hazar Imam said, “I think we can conclude today that the Jamat is a strong community. It is a global community. It is a community with strong institutions, with strong ethics and it is respected around the world. This evening is an extraordinarily special occasion for the global Jamat and for the leaders who are here present tonight who are representing them.”
He said that his wish for the decades ahead was that “you stand firmly by the principles and ethics of our faith. Wherever you are, whatever age you are, whatever you do in your lives, it is essentially important to me that the principles of our faith should be respected everyday of your lives.”
When Mawlana Hazar Imam cut a birthday cake presented on behalf of the global Jamat, he was serenaded by all those gathered with Happy Birthday sung in two languages. Hazar Imam was also presented with a gift of art — a mosaic of horses by the late Ismail Gulgee that was commissioned in 1989. It was selected “because of Hazar Imam’s passion for horses, the history of horses within Islamic civilisation and the history even within Mawlana Hazar Imam’s own family,” explained Chairman Eboo.
Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed great happiness at the celebration of his 80th birthday. “If I had known it was going to be so wonderful, I would have tried to bring it forward,” he joked, “and I would have tried to multiply it!” He said, “I hope that in the decades ahead, you will remember this occasion as one of special happiness, as I do.”
CELEBRATION AT THE ISMAILI CENTRE, BURNABY, DARKHANA OF CANADA
Jamati members enjoying the jaman at darkhana jamatkhana following the 80th birthday video presentation from Aiglemont, France. Photo: Simerg.
The jamat at the Darkhana, where I was present for the showing, watched the entire program with awe and absolute discipline.We then proceeded in an orderly fashion to a specially constructed tent in the parking lot to partake of the feast (jaman) prepared by a team of special volunteers of the jamat – the randhan committee. It consisted of fresh lettuce, vegetable and chicken biryanis with kachumber (diced tomatoes and onions), a dessert (barfi), soft drinks and chai! The tent was heated and very comfortable, protecting everyone from the freezing temperatures. The senior citizens of the jamat were served their dinner at the jamatkhana’s social hall on the second floor. After the feast, members of the jamat joined for a dandhia raas (stick dancing and hand clapping) program!
Senior citizens wait for the commencement of the dandhia raas program in the social hall of the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, after completing their meal. Photo: Simerg.
The 80th birthday celebration has generated the momentum for yet another significant milestone in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life – the celebration of his Diamond Jubilee beginning July 11, 2017, which will take place as Canada begins celebrating its 150th birthday on July 1, 2017.
For a video of the 80th birthday celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan held in Aiglemont, France, on December 16, 2016, please visit http://www.theismaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili community. Readers will also find there a gallery of more than 30 photographs of the celebration.
A portrait of His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.
Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant (Editor: Simerg, Simergphotos and barakah)
Spread in various countries around the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis have their own innumerable ways for celebrating important religious occasions according to their various cultural, social and religious traditions and backgrounds. One very important occasion in the annual calendar of the Ismailis is the Salgirah, or the birthday of their Imam. His Highness the Aga Khan is their present Imam, and Ismailis around the world are marking his 80th Salgirah on December 13, 2016.
His 80th birthday makes Mawlana Hazar Imam’s lifespan the longest in the chain of forty-nine Imams who have succeeded as hereditary Imams after Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). The previous Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan III, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah (November 2, 1877 – July 11, 1957), lived almost 80 years! Combined, the reigns of the successive 48th and 49th Imams have lasted and incredible 131 years! Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah became Imam at the age of 7, and reigned for 72 years while Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini became Imam on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, and has already reigned for 59 years. Simerg has dedicated a special website, http://www.barakah.com, to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee, and extensive material will be added to barakah during the next several months leading to the Diamond Jubilee next July.
For this historical and singularly auspicious Salgirah, we extend our heartiest congratulation to Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Noorani family as well as to all Ismailis around the world. We join with all our readers to offer prayers for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s long life and good health and pray that every Ismaili may have barakah and spiritual peace through his blessings. We also pray for jamati members who are facing hardships and difficulties in many parts of the world, such as in Syria, with hope that peace and security may return to their homelands.
The following excerpts from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s farmans and articles will enhance the readers’ understanding about the occasion as well as the special relationship that binds the Imam of the Time with his spiritual children.
Hazar Imam’s Profound Birthday Wish
“I would like my Jamat to think what is the meaning of a birthday in an individual’s life and what is is the meaning of a birthday in Imam’s life. What can a jamat give to Imam on his birthday and what would really make him happy, and, after all, this, in an individual’s life and in Imam’s life, should and must be a day of happiness.
“Jamat can give me one happiness; that is that they should be united, that they should be regular in all jamat work and that they should live in the best tradition of my spiritual children. My East Pakistan [now Bangladesh – ed.] jamats have given me this gift for nine days and I want you to know that today is not only a symbolic birthday but it is a real birthday, it is a day of real happiness for me.”
“….My jamat should accept in all matters nothing but the best; this means that you should seek to improve your worldly conditions by every means possible so long as you remain within our faith. Spiritually this means that you have to be regular in prayer, regular in service, regular in attendance in jamatkhana.” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Dacca, December 9, 1964.
Imam’s Guidance and Love Through Noor (Light) of Imamat Guides His Community to Worldly and Spiritual Satisfaction
“You have gathered here today to wish me a happy birthday and to reaffirm your loyalty and love to your Imam. My happiness at being with you on this occasion is deep and pure; all my thoughts, all my hopes and all my prayers are for you.
“Since the 11th of July 1957, all my aims and ambitions have been devoted to help and guide my spiritual children in spiritual and worldly matters. The happiness which I have gained from my work, the encouragement to carry more and more responsibility and undertake more and more projects, the continuous search for truth in all matters, all this has been due to you.
“For hundreds of years, my spiritual children have been guided by the rope of Imamat; you have looked to the Imam of the Age for advice and help in all matters and through your Imam’s immense love and affection for his spiritual children, his Noor has indicated to you where and in which direction you must turn, so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964 
Faith and Spiritual Humility in a Rapidly Advancing Material World
“During the next generations, you will be living in a world of increasing material plenty, of voluminous material activity, and where a large part of man’s intelligence and thought will be devoted to providing material benefits to you.
“In the minds of some, there may be one day, some confusion as to the meaning and necessity for faith and if my spiritual children were ever to manage their lives in such a way as to come to believe that their minds create rather than having been created and that their material comfort is such that spiritual humility is no longer warranted, I can tell you now that the true and real happiness, which I pray it should be your blessing to experience will never touch your hearts.
“Any rapid change in your material surroundings will impose upon you immense unhappiness, immense worry and frustration. You will fall to understand that the material benefits will have produced in your hearts only dissatisfaction and disillusionment, when in fact you have in front of you every day from sunrise to sunset, from this world to all the others, from the smallest material particle to the creation of life itself, a visual and intellectual proof that as yet man has succeeded only in a minute manner to influence the world in which he lives and that this influence has been exercised only on what some misguided believe to be the significant aspect of human life on earth and that is the material one. Our concept has always maintained worldly matters where they belong and I am convinced that as a whole my jamat is a great deal happier than many others who have unlimited material wealth but who know not from where this wealth comes, what is its value, and why it is, even in practical terms, tending to become more and more of a burden rather than a blessing.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964. 
“On this happy day I rejoice in being with my spiritual children and in the knowledge that their spiritual and moral strength is such as to allow them to benefit from many more worldly goods without forsaking the remembrance of, and the submission to, ‘He from whom we have come and to whom we will return’.
“I give on this occasion to each and every spiritual child here and every spiritual child today living in this world, my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings: Khanavadan, Khanavadan.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Karachi, December 13, 1964. 
. Hikmat, His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Canada [now Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ed.], Salgirah issue, December 13, 1986, Vol. II, No. VIII, p. 3. . Ismaili Mirror, Pak Ismailia Publication, Garden Jamatkhana, 13 December 1974, Karachi, Pakistan, p. 5. Also see Hikmat, Vol II, No. VI, February/March 1986, p. 1.
The term Salgirah is of Persian origin. Sal means anniversary and girah means knot and hence Salgirah literally means ‘an anniversary knot added on to a string kept for the purpose’. This article approaches the subject of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday in terms of the Imam’s love for his murids and the love and devotion of the murids for their Imam.
Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano has attained a very special status because it is primarily recited during the festivities marking the birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The appropriateness of reciting the ginan during Salgirah will become apparent as we try to understand the ginan and its underlying spiritual teachings. To listen to various renditions of Eji Dhan Dhan (#160), as well as over 760 other ginans please click http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/ginans.php?id=0.
The new Ismaili Constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by His Highness the Aga Khan on December 13th, 1986, his 50th birthday. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework for his Ismaili community to contribute meaningfully to the societies among whom they live.
On the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 75th birthday on December 13, 2011, Simerg published a three-part photo essay tribute to the 49th Ismaili Imam. For those who may have missed, the series has been consolidated into a captivating one piece photo essay, which can be read by clicking on the above link.
Editor’s note: The following piece on Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) has been adapted from Dr. Amir Gulamhussein’s article, “Significance of the Celebration of the Birthday of Prophet Muhammad,” which appeared in Ilm, volume 12, Number 2, December 1989, on pages 15-21. The flagship Ismaili magazine was published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the United Kingdom from 1975 until 1992. Dr. Gulamhussein served as ITREB’s chairman for a number of years, and was also on the editorial board of the magazine during its later stages.
THE CELEBRATION OF THE BIRTHDAY OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD (S.A.S.), WITH AUDIO RECORDING OF SPEECH BY MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM
Prophet Muhammad’s name, followed by his title “Apostle of God”(left centre), inscribed on the gates of the Prophet’s mosque in Medina. Photo: Wikipedia.
“In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim society is to be in times to come? And if, as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search than in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?” — His Highness the Aga Khan, March 12, 1976, Karachi, Pakistan.
PROPHET’S BIRTHDAY THROUGH THE CENTURIES
The above quotation of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is from a speech that he delivered to eminent scholars from around the world who had gathered in Karachi to present their research findings and reflect upon various aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). The conference was part of a series of events that were organized to mark the birthday anniversary of the beloved Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad was born in Mecca on the night of 12 Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic lunar calendar, in 570 AC. The birthday of the Prophet is called maulid which denotes the festivities organized on this happy and auspicious day. The alternative term miladun-nabi, which means birth anniversary, is also very commonly used.
The commemoration of miladun-nabi on a grand and festive scale emerged first in Egypt during the Fatimid era (969 – 1171 AC). This is not surprising because the Fatimid Caliphs were descendants of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) through his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.), who was married to the Prophet’s cousin, Hazrat Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.). The Egyptian historian Maqrizi (d. 1442 AC) describes a Fatimid celebration held in 1122 AC in which the gathering included prominent scholars and officials of the religious hierarchy. They listened to sermons (khutba) and were given sweets, particularly honey, the favourite of the Prophet. On that occasion, the poor received alms. The tradition of miladun-nabi in Egypt was continued from the Fatimid days by all subsequent Muslim dynasties.
The way in which the birthday anniversary was celebrated varied in different countries. In Turkey, the mosques were decorated with lights, whereas in other Islamic lands, the occasion was marked by recitations of na’ats (devotional songs) in praise of the Prophet. In Iraq, the birthday came to be considered in the hierarchy of festive days second only to ‘Id al-fitr and ‘Id al-adha. It was also lavishly celebrated during the Middle Ages in Mecca, the city of his birth. In India, celebrations included large exhibitions of paintings, lectures and a funfair of activities ending with lavish feasts in which everybody participated. More recently in this century, 12 Rabi al-awwal was declared a public holiday in the Ottoman Empire.
A ‘BEAUTIFUL MODEL’
The Prophet’s life and his conduct should become a model on which every Muslim should aspire to build one’s life according to the situation facing the person. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“Verily, in the apostle of God you have a good example for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to God and the Last Day and remembers God unceasingly.” — 33:21.
The prophet (nabi) of Allah, Muhammad, never claimed to possess any superhuman qualities. He maintained that he was a mortal and a servant (‘abd) of Allah to whom revelation (wahi) came. He knew that his role was to be the messenger (rasul) and mediator of Allah in guiding mankind. The Prophet preached that the revelation that he received was by Allah’s unbounded grace, and through this act of mercy and kindness, he was appointed to be a guide amongst the people.
He never claimed vanity inspite of his exalted position as indicated in the Holy Qur’an. As Allah ‘taught Adam the names of all things’, (2:31) so did He teach Muhammad the Qur’an; with the first revelation coming to him on the Night of Qadr. (96:3) The designation of the Prophet as being ‘Mercy for the mankind’, rahmat lil-alamin (21:107), is another example of his lofty post. He saw his role amongst his people as their guide and teacher, and by his example he was to steer them to salvation. Whosoever followed him and his way understood their purpose and meaning of their existence in the world.  In this context, the chosen (al-mustafa) prophet became the prototype (uswa hasana), a ‘beautiful model’.
The function of the Prophet has been misunderstood by non-Muslims. His function was not only to be a spiritual guide, but also the organiser of the new social order which came as a result of the last of the revealed books, the Holy Qur’an. Outsiders have understood his role, for example, as a political figure of high distinction and great statesmanship. However, his role as a religious and spiritual guide and how his life could be emulated by those who are aspiring sanctity and piety is still misunderstood.
With regard to this misunderstanding Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the eminent contemporary Muslim scholar, says: “This is particularly true in the modern world in which religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imagine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activity.”  The integration of the material and spiritual aspect of one’s life was the hallmark of the lifestyle of the Prophet, and how he managed to fulfil this dual role should become an example for Muslims, who today face immense challenges and difficulties in trying to live in societies which have become increasingly material.
BALANCE BETWEEN DIN AND DUNYA
Prophet Muhammad participated fully in social life. He married and had a household. He was a ruler, a judge and a soldier who fought many battles in which he underwent painful ordeals. In his personal life, both as an orphan and adult, he underwent many hardships. In spite of this, he always exhibited humbleness and tolerance. He also made time to detach himself from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and indulged in contemplation and meditation. By this practice, he integrated the worldly aspect of his life with spiritual activities.
In his daily life, he exercised utmost kindness and showed concern for the weak. His loving kindness extended over all beings. He was noted for his love of children and used to greet them and play with them. He was also known for his love of animals. 
He lived simply and his saying faqri fakhri (‘my poverty is my pride’) became a motto for the many. Every phase of his work and action became an ideal model of moral perfection. Whatever he did remains exemplary for his followers and thus his actions and sayings were recorded and preserved in the famous hadith literature.
The nobility and generosity of the Prophet was best exemplified in his triumphant entry into Mecca. The very people who had caused untold hardships to him were forgiven instead of him taking revenge and punishing them. This act of generosity was to become a source of immense joy and pride to his followers, who understood that the Message of Allah in the practice of their faith preached tolerance and forgiveness.
The Prophet’s love and compassion for his fellow beings and his concern for their welfare in all spheres of human endeavours are exemplified and recorded. He was their uncrowned king, ruler and father who was concerned with the welfare of his subjects. His total involvement in social welfare matters of the community (ummah) earned him high praises and respect. He continually sought better relationship between the members of the ummah and those of other faiths (Christians and Jews). In this manner he preached brotherhood, tolerance and patience (sabr) as qualities that would ensure peace and harmony. He sought to make the practice of religion an integral part of life so that there was peace and equilibrium between all forces that confront humankind.
The Prophet’s quality of magnanimity, that is the nobility of his soul and his quality to be above petty feelings, exhibited itself most of all in charity towards men and women and all other beings. There was no narrowness or pettiness in the soul of the Prophet, no limitation in giving of himself to others, both in terms of time and resources. The saying that ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’  was characteristic of his life until his demise in 632 AC at the age of 62.
SMALLER AND GREATER JIHADS
Anything that sought to destroy this equilibrium was counteracted. For example, the many wars that were fought, whether for political or social reasons, were for preserving the Faith (din) and social justice. In this manner, war had a positive meaning as an activity to establish peace and harmony. It is also interesting to note that apart from the outward war (jihad of combativeness), the Prophet also advocated inward combativeness which was necessary for maintaining the inner equilibrium. This battle was called the ‘great holy war’ (al-jihad al-akbar) and is fought within ourselves against forces that tend to negate AlIah’s Will. Interestingly, the outward war was designated by the Prophet as the ‘small holy war’ (al-jihad al-asghar).
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
In the brief account of the qualities of Prophet Muhammad presented here, one of the key features that emerges is that his lifestyle highlights the fact that in order to achieve harmony, peace and tranquillity within the society at large and within the self, we have to live in this world and not reject it. It is through constant struggle in this world, that we will be in a position to transcend the human state and achieve the realisation of the Absolute which is the true destiny for all of us. The life of the Prophet is looked upon as a prototype by the believers in their quest to achieve this lofty status.
Prophet Muhammad’s meritocratic principles and ethic have been beautifully summarized in the concluding paragraph of the Presidential Address given by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Seerat Conference in Pakistan. He said:
“The Holy Prophet‘s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead.” 
Date posted: Wednesday, December 7, 2016.
. The Muslim World: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by H.R.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan, Aga Khan Ismailia Federal Council for Pakistan, 1977, p. 23-28. . And Muhammad is His Messenger by Annemarie Schimmel, University of North Carolina Press, London, 1985, p. 144. The book also provides insights into the manner in which this auspicious occasion was observed and celebrated in various countries in which Islam flourished, p. 144 – 158. . Dalail an-nubuwwa, Abu Nu’aim, p. 110. . The Faith of Shia Islam by Muhammad Rida al-Muzaffar, The Muhammad Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1982, p. 61. . Kitab al-mawa’iz……al khitat, Maqrizi, 1:433, 466. . Manqib al-‘arifin, Aflaki, p. 242, Chapter 3, para. 152, quotes Rumi: “To follow the messenger of God, belongs to the duties of the ahl-i ma’na” (those who have reached the inner meaning of life). . Ideals and Realities of Islam, by S.H. Nasr, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London, 1966, p. 68. . And Muhammad is His Messenger, by Annemarie Schimmel, p. 49. . Ideals and Realities of Islam, by S.H. Nasr, p. 75. . The Muslim World: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by H.R.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan, p. 28.
LISTEN TO SEERAT CONFERENCE PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS BY HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN