Two Insightful and Profound Interviews of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the other branch being the Sunnis who form the Muslim majority. His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Hereditary spiritual leader or Imam of the Ismailis and is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) through his son-in-law, Ali (A.S.), who was married to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (A.S.). Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali were also first cousins — their respective fathers Abd al-Muttalib and  Abu Talib were brothers.

According to Shia Muslims, the Prophet had designated Ali to succeed him as the Imam. The Sunnis dispute this, and Muslims have remained divided over this contentious matter for centuries. However, in their book, “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: 

“Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ 

“This became the proof text for the Shia claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” 

The authors, Cohen and Major, sum up by stating that through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Over the course of history, the Shia Muslims split into a number of branches over the succession of Imams descended from Ali. The first major split occurred during the 8th century, two centuries after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, following the reign of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, when one group considered his son Musa Kazim as the rightful Imam. The other group regarded Imam Ja’far’s elder son, Ismail, as the rightful successor. Musa Kazim’s successors continued until the 12th Imam, who is then said to have gone into hiding. This group of Shia Muslims, awaiting the re-appearance of the hidden 12th Imam to take part in the final judgement, forms the Shia majority in Iran and Iraq. They are known as the Twelver Shias or Ithnashries.

The group that held to Imam Ismail became known as the Ismailis and continue to thrive today under the Hereditary leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim followers as Hazar Imam (the present living Imam). Thus, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan.

Naheed Nenshi Mayor Calgary Simerg
Naheed Nenshi, left, at an event in Ottawa.

Having recently re-established myself as a resident of Alberta after 40 years, and to put the Ismailis and their Hereditary 49th Imam, the Aga Khan, into an Albertan perspective, I should like to mention that Naheed Nenshi, who served as Calgary’s mayor for three terms from 2010 until 2021 is an Ismaili Muslim. Readers are invited to read his piece in the Globe and Mail, Why I’m grateful for the Aga Khan’s extraordinary service to humanity (a subscription or registration may be required to read the article).

Salma Lakhani, 19th Lieutenant Governor Alberta, Simerg
The Honourable Salma Lakhani

It is noteworthy that Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, who was installed as the 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, is also an Ismaili Muslim, and her profile can be read on this website by clicking HERE. The piece also has a link to an interview that Canadian Geographic conducted with her.

In Edmonton, the spectacular 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden within the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden was gifted by the Aga Khan as “a symbol of the continued intellectual, educational and cultural collaboration between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan Development Network.” The Botanic Garden will open for the 2022 season on May 7th, and is a MUST visit site, according to Hundreds of Google and Tripadvisor reviews. I look forward to publishing a special photo essay in the near future on the Botanic Garden, with a focus on the Aga Khan Garden.

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Aga Khan Garden Edmonton, part of Aga Khan interviews piece in Simerg
Views of the beautiful Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton. The Garden is scheduled to open for the 2022 season on May 7. Photos: Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

And elsewhere in Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan’s projects include the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, both located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa; the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive in Toronto; and the Ismaili Centre Vancouver on Canada Way in Burnaby.

Canada is home to more than 100,000 Ismailis, with around 12,000 in Calgary.

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Aga Khan Projects Canada Simerg
Clockwise from top left: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, both in Toronto (ponds in foreground in both photos are part of the Aga Khan Park); Ismaili Centre Vancouver, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Global Centre for Pluralism, Ottawa, and Aga Khan Park Toronto. Collage: Simerg.

With these preliminary remarks on the Aga Khan and his Ismaili Muslim followers, I now invite you to read two excellent interviews that France’s Politique International and Canada’s Peter Mansbridge conducted with the Aga Khan. Both the interviews have appeared on this website with the publishers’ permission.

The Aga Khan’s Absorbing Interview with Politique International

Aga Khan, Politique Internationale, Simerg
Click on image for “Power of Wisdom”

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms” — To read full interview, click Politique Internationale: The Power of Wisdom

The Aga Khan’s One on One Interview with Peter Mansbridge

Aga Khan University of Alberta, Simerg
Click on image for “One on One”

Peter Mansbridge: What is the quality that you most admire about this country?

The Aga Khan: I think a number of qualities. First of all, it’s a pluralist society that has invested in building pluralism, where communities from all different backgrounds and faiths are happy. It’s a modern country that deals with modern issues, not running away from the tough ones. And a global commitment to values, to Canadian values, which I think are very important. — To read the interview and the story behind the interview, please click Peter Mansbridge: One on One.

Date posted: May 6, 2022.
Last updated: May 9, 2022 (caption updates and typos).


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

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at

This Week: Birthdays of 2 Princes in Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s Family

Please click Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Cover Page of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Diving Into Wildlife. Please click on image for article celebrating Prince Hussain’s 48th birthday, April 10 2022.

Please click Prince Irfan Aga Khan

Prince Rahim and his son Prince Irfan, 7 years old on April 11, 2012, at Prince Hussain’s photo exhibition in Lisbon, Portugal, during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Please click on photo for article on Prince Irfan and meaning of his name.

Date posted: April 11, 2022.


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

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at, and also @Twitter and @Facebook.

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan and her determination for a world without Alzheimer’s

Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, Alzheimer's Association, Rita Hayworth Gala, Simerg and Barakah
Please click on image for article “Yasmin Aga Khan: A Princess with a Mission.”

For four decades, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, younger sister of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Prince Amyn Mohamed Aga Khan, has worked with the Alzheimer’s Association to fight the disease that contributed to the death of her mother, Ms. Rita Hayworth, at the age of 68. Princess Yasmin was compelled to turn her personal pain into a positive force and she founded the Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Galas to fulfill the Association’s Vision, “A world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia®”. The work of the Association is accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, brings to its readers a special piece highlighting the life of Princess Yasmin and the forthcoming Rita Hayworth Gala on April 23, 2022 at the Hilton Chicago, an event that is being held in person and that will be attended by Princess Yasmin. Please read Barakah’s special piece Yasmin Aga Khan, a Princess with a Mission and learn how you can become an active force in Princess Yasmin’s fight to end Alzheimer’s.

Date posted: April 2, 2022.


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.

Book Review: “Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” – Memoirs of Engagement with the Aga Khan Development Network


Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible – Memoirs of Engagement With A Global Development Network by Azim H. Jiwani, MD
300 pp. FriesenPress,
US$ 30.99 (Hardback), US$ 24.99 (Paperback) and US$ 7.99 (eBook) as listed at FriesenPress; also available in all formats at and


Dr. Azim Jiwani’s book was a surprise gift from a dear friend. This unexpected gesture obligated me to read it, which I did with much gratitude, and it even inspired me to write this review. The author’s work is a “pandemic baby” born during the extended lockdown. This Kenya-born Makerere University Medical School (Kampala, Uganda) graduate acquired a broad further medical education in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada. He subsequently established a thriving private medical practice in Calgary, Canada, enjoying affiliations with local universities and hospitals.

Dr. Jiwani’s breadth and depth of interests give his memoir a multidisciplinary flavour. The book draws upon insights from anthropology, architecture, civilizational history, natural sciences, moral philosophy, and restless global trotting. I might add that he carries some genes of a novelist and a travel guide.

The synopsis of his book reveals his most earnest and pressing concerns for the future of humanity and the planet, which he champions even after his partial retirement: “Rarely in recent times has the world found itself gripped in conditions that pose a substantial existential threat to lifeforms on earth, destabilize societies, impact health, quality of life, economic and cultural survival, and engender greater inequality and division between and within countries and regions.” Moreover, he continues: “The recent onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic and the accelerating but belatedly acknowledged climate crisis, and its devastating effects on human health, have laid bare the historical, political and policy and institutional deficiencies in health systems worldwide.”

Dr. Jiwani’s concerns about conflict and the global arms race and its devastating health, social and economic impacts, especially in the developing countries, serendipitously led to a life-changing meeting with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan at the prince’s chateau in Geneva in 1983. This meeting deeply inspired him to further Prince Sadruddin’s tireless efforts to foster a more just, humane and equitable world. Coincidentally, and again serendipitously, in 1985, he found an excellent umbrella organization to join — the Aga Khan University (AKU), an apex agency of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which he describes at an enlightening length. “The Aga Khan University, the Aga Khan Health Services and empowerment of civil society are an integral part of AKDN’s mission to anticipate and respond to foreseeable effects of unaddressed inequities, poverty, programs and leadership deficits in some of the most challenging regions of the developing world. AKDN also endeavours to enhance institutional capacities, establish collaborative networks and promote best practices and international standards of excellence.”

Chapters 8, 9, 10 and 11 largely focus on his multiple roles as physician, academic, strategic planner, administrator and occasionally as AKDN representative at various conferences. Dr. Jiwani took part in or led AKU teams involved in negotiating and finding common ground with private and public hospitals and universities and local, national and transnational organizations in Asia and Africa. He aimed to promote some of AKDN’s seemingly revolutionary vision and mission. These endeavours included strengthening institutional capacities to provide good quality, ethical, cost-effective and contextual care — especially for marginalized populations. He established and promoted continuing education of physicians widely and convinced urban specialists in lucrative private practices to incorporate practical primary care approaches for better patient and population outcomes. Also, he led the development of advanced formal education in family and community medicine and fostered comprehensive local, regional, and international partnerships in medical education.

Despite his demanding duties and schedules, he and his wife, Nilufa, squeezed in travels to many exotic places, leading to sundry and memorable encounters. For example, in Cambodia and Morocco, their tour guides requested Dr. Jiwani to examine and advise on their very sick family members, which he readily did. They got paid in the local “currency” – hospitality, home-cooked food, and prayers and blessings for the couple’s well-being!

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"Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible" Akdn, Azim Jiwani and book review by Nizar Motani, Simerg Insights from around the world
“Humanizing Medicine: Making Health Tangible” by Dr Azim H. Jiwani, 300 pp., Friesen Press, August 2021.

After more than three decades of enriching global engagement with AKDN and other institutions, he settled in Vancouver, Canada. His reputation derived primarily from his affiliation with AKDN as a worldwide healthcare expert and an advocate for compassionate and affordable care. His passion for linking critical primary and secondary care medicine and making medical education relevant to societies had preceded him. Soon he was fielding requests to help manage understaffed health clinics in the Vancouver area, especially for the marginalized people facing complex medical, mental health and drug addiction problems. Some of the most severe cases were noted in the First-Nations people, where his compassion, broad experience and cultural sensitivity were valued in an underdeveloped native health care system. He led crucial community and hospital programs as a physician leader while re-establishing his clinical and academic career in Canada. 

Similarly, his past engagement with AKDN and clinical reputation brought him seductive and lucrative offers. A former patient, a confidant of the ruling family of a fabulously wealthy country, had identified him as the ideal candidate to head the newly built hospital and serve as the Royal family’s personal physician. The chasm between the lives of the privileged elite and the neighbouring populations that seemed plagued with poverty and privations so disturbed him that he quickly left without meeting the prince. But the intrepid doctor accepted a much less lucrative, occasional position as the onboard physician for a luxury cruise line group! His wide travels whetted and rewarded his insatiable curiosity and interests in marine medicine, environment and culture. Besides attending to all types of routine and emergency cases, the couple was able to “sail on every river, sea, and ocean.” And his readers can vividly and vicariously enjoy these and other adventures.

Dr. Jiwani’s fascinating and instructive memoir raises critical questions about the historical, ethical and moral foundations of health and development. He concludes with an insightful epilogue in which he reflects on the necessary conditions for equity, justice, access and quality in health care and development and appeals for global cooperation for a sustainable future for shared humanity.

The book is available in hardcover, softcover and digital formats. Of note, the author has pledged all royalties from the book sales to the Aga Khan Foundation to support the patients’ welfare funds in Asia and Africa.

This captivating memoir would likely appeal to healthcare and other professionals or avid general readers interested in international organizations, career advancement, or simply expanding their knowledge about the interdependent planet we inhabit.

In conclusion, I am delighted to learn that this book is on the 2021 Finalist list of the prestigious Chanticleer International Book Awards (CIBA) in the non-fiction long-form journalism and memoirs category, where outstanding books from many countries compete. The first prize will be announced at a ceremony and banquet in Washington in June. The beautiful finalist badge is shown along with the front cover of the book at top of this page.

Date posted: March 25, 2022.

[Dr. Azim Jiwani was featured recently in Simerg’s ongoing series on books by Ismaili authors. Please read our interview with Dr. Jiwani – Ed.]


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

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


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

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at

Why is His Highness the Aga Khan’s Navroz Encounter on March 21, 1960 With the Ismailis in Burma a Historic Day in His Imamat?

Our sister website Barakah is pleased to launch a new series entitled “Historic days in the life of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan”. We commence the series with his visit to Burma (now Myanmar) sixty-two years ago when he celebrated the Iranian New Year or Navroz with his community on March 21, 1960. Why does Barakah consider it to be a historic day? To find out, please CLICK HERE or on the image below, and feel free to submit your feedback through Barakah’s comment box.

The Aga Khan in a traditional Burmese dress during his visit to Burma in 1960.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam, pictured in a Burmese traditional dress during his visit to Burma in March 1960. Please click on photo for article.

Date posted: March 20, 2022.


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

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.

David Rumsey Map Collection: Historical Map Showing 600 Years of Islamic Monuments in Cairo from the Rise of the Fatimid Empire in North Africa in 909

Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection focuses on 16th through 21st century maps of North and and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Atlases, globes, school geographies, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps including pocket, wall, children’s and manuscript maps are present on the website. The depth and breath of the digital collection is impressive, and is continuously growing. The website notes that the actual physical map collection is housed at the David Rumsey Map Center at the Stanford University Library.

My search on the website using the term “Fatimid” yielded one result. It is a map produced in 1924 by the Survey of Egypt, which was once regarded as “one of the most professional mapping agencies in the World, predicated upon the synergy of the most authoritative topographical and urban mapping combined with the latest archaeological surveys.”

Simerg is pleased to reproduce the map, along with an interesting narrative that accompanies the map on the David Rumsey Map Center website. We also invite readers to click on the link to enrich their viewing experience of the map, download the map (by using the Export Function) as well as to explore other maps that may be of interest to readers or to provide them with further information in their specific area of research.

Cairo During the Islamic Golden Age

Please click on image for enlargement

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.
Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments, with the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue. Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Cairo was the greatest centre of culture, learning and commerce during the ‘Islamic Golden age’. Commencing in the early 20th Century professional archaeologists as well as art and architectural historians became interested in scientifically recording Cairo’s sensational Islamic buildings and monuments.

The map employs colours to denote sites built across the city during the eras of the three great Islamic empires that controlled Cairo prior to the arrival of the Ottomans in 1517: the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue.

These mosques, palaces, madrassas, and fortifications appear amidst the otherwise buff-coloured city which generally consisted of buildings built during the subsequent Ottoman and British Protectorate periods.

The map shows that many of the greatest edifices from the periods of the three great Islamic empires have survived, although only traces of the vast Fatimid Place can be found amongst the foundations of newer buildings. Each of the historical sites is named in Gothic script and features a corresponding numeral which refers to that which appears upon the plaques affixed to each building by the civic authorities. The two insets on the left-hand side showcase sites in areas outside of the city proper. We understand that the first edition the map was issued in 1924, while an Arabic language version was published in 1948. The present revised, official edition was issued in 1950-1 (correction, this copy is the first edition, issued in 1924), while several facsimile (unofficial) versions have been issued since then. The Survey of Egypt followed the initial production of the present issue of the map with a small booklet, Index to Mohammedan monuments appearing on the special 1:5000 scale maps of Cairo (Cairo, 1951), that is not present here, but seems to have been issued with the latter-releases of the map.

Cairo during the ‘Islamic Golden Age’ Cairo was traditionally the largest and most culturally and economically important city in the Islamic world. The Muslim conquest of Byzantine Egypt occurred between 639 and 646 AD. While the Cairo area has been settled for thousands of years, with the key Ancient Egyptian cities of Giza and Memphis located nearby, the city proper was not founded until 969, when it became the principal city, and sometimes capital, of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia Muslim empire which controlled much of North Africa, the Levant and Hejaz between 909 and 1171.

Cairo rapidly rose to become a centre of great wealth, at the nexus of global trade routes as well as home to some of the world’s foremost centres of education and the arts. Befitting its importance, great monuments of Islamic architecture were built across the city.

The Al-Azhar Madrassa (no. 97 on the map), which later grew into a university, was founded in 970-2 and today remains the world’s most prestigious institute of Islamic learning. The map notes some Islamic monuments made before 969, as the pre-Cairo rural landscape featured some small mosques, houses and fortifications.

The Fatimids were replaced by the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171 – 1260), a regime of Kurdish origin, founded by the legendary conqueror Saladin, whereupon Cairo remained the prosperous centre of an empire spanning much of the Middle East.

The Mamelukes were an elite class of soldier-bureaucrats descended from former Christian slaves. In 1250, they took over Egypt, the Levant and Hejaz, forming the Mameluke Sultanate, with its capital in Cairo. It was during the early part of their regime that Cairo reached its zenith as the principal centre of the Islamic Golden Age.

The epicentre of a global trading network that spanned from India to Spain, Cairo far surpassed all European cities in wealth and cultural sophistication, and many exquisite works of architecture were built to reflect this glorious state. The Mameluke Sultanate was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517 and Cairo ceased to be an imperial capital. However, while technically subject to the Sublime Porte, Egypt maintained a high degree of autonomy and was the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the Ottoman Empire; Cairo remained a highly important centre.

Fortunately, as the repent map reveals, the survival rate of Cairo’s great works of Islamic architecture from the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke periods is impressively high, and many sites can be visited today. References: OCLC: 17543226. (Alexander Johnson, 2020).

Date posted: February 22, 2022.


Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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 that features photos and videos from around the world.

Malik, the founding publisher and editor of the 3 websites, may be reached at his email address,

“Hidden Stories: Books Along the Silk Roads” – Visit the Aga Khan Museum’s Marquee Exhibition Before it Closes on Sunday, February 27, 2022


The Aga Khan Museum will be open between February 18 and February 27, 2022 as follows:

OPEN: February 18, 19, 20 as well as Monday 21 (Family Day) from 10 am–5:30 pm;
CLOSED: February 22, and 23 ; and
OPEN: February 24, 25, 26 and 27th from 10 am-5:30pm

Torontonians as well as visitors to the city have their last opportunity to visit the Aga Khan Museum to see a very informative exhibition entitled “Hidden Stories: Books along the Silk Roads” before its final day, Sunday, February 27. The exhibition opened on October 9, 2021 but Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the province forced the museum’s closure for the month of January 2022. The museum has reopened once again. During one of its opening windows, I made it a point to spend some time to see and learn about the Silk Road, with a view to putting together a review of the exhibition for Simerg. I was lucky with my timing, as the co-curator, Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip, accompanied me to see the exhibition. She kindly provided me with links to materials which gave me interesting insights into specific objects.

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The Aga Khan Museum Exhibition Hidden Stories – Books Along the Silk Roads concludes its Toronto run on Sunday, February 27, 2022. Photo: Simerg

I would urge members of the Islamic community as well as all other communities living in and around Toronto to visit this all inclusive marquee exhibition which is housed on the 2nd floor of the Aga Khan Museum. Children and youth will gain rich perspectives about the Silk Roads, a 6,400 km path that has for thousands of years covered a vast area that comprised the Old World of Europe, North and East and West Africa and the Middle East into Persia, Central Asia and the Indian sub- continent and China.

The term Silk Road was coined by a German geographer and traveler Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877 C.E. It has been explained by the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative as “not simply a network of transportation routes. It is not only a geographical space. It is also a concept that illustrates the way that commodities, empires, religions, and even music, have traveled throughout Eurasia for thousands of years. The Silk Road is the idea that there is not a divide between “West” and “East” but an ongoing historical exchange of human experience.”

This vision of the Silk Road is clearly illustrated in the exhibition through the richness and diversity of the objects that are on display representing different cultures, faith and communities. The curators — Dr. Filiz Çakır Phillip (in-house curator) and Dr. Suzanne Conklin Akbari — have achieved a remarkable balance in this regard by treating and honouring different traditions and cultures respectfully and in a dignified manner.

A visitor to the exhibition will see on display an excellent collection of the various texts and books, prepared by the cultures that highlight the “Hidden Stories” along the Silk Roads. These works are handwritten in the many languages and scripts of the Far East, the Indian sub-continent, the Middle East and Europe that evolved along the Silk Roads. The scribes of the different religions and cultures along the Silk Roads also used various writing instruments and inks that were displayed to write their various “Hidden Stories”. To illustrate the power of these scribes, there is an interesting 1492 quote by Jami displayed in the exhibition: “The Pen is a key that opens the Door to the necessities of Life” below which is a glass case containing a few of the writing materials.

As one enters the exhibition, the first text on display is an Islamic Prayer Book (Dala’il al – Khayrat) originating from India, probably Kashmir, around 1818 CE. Co-curator Dr. Çakır Phillip notes: “This is the first object you see in the exhibition. With its fusion of Iranian and Indian influences, the prayer book embodies the powerfully creative cultural connections that formed across the Silk Roads over the centuries. Its patterned textile-inspired cover celebrates the intersection of textiles and text, two of the most important commodities to be transported across the Silk Roads network.”

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Prayer Book (Dala’il al – Khayrat). Photo: © Aga Khan Museum. Reproduced under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 2.5 CA.

Other faiths are also well represented in the exhibition. A Burmese book of Buddhist scriptures (Kamawa-sa) includes selections written in Pali from the Tipitaka (literally, ‘three baskets’) of Therevada, the most ancient form of Buddhism. Costly and ornate Kamawa-sa were written on cloth or palm leaves in chunky, square tamarind seed script, and offered as gifts to a monastery to commemorate the taking of religious vows. Reflects co-curator Dr. Suzanne Conklin Akbari, “I’m struck by the individual human experience and the materials that would have been on the human body, passing through time, actually becoming part of the book. Another aspect I’m charmed by is the beautiful script it’s written in. I point this out because Hidden Stories features a wide range of scripts but also many different script formats. This one is a striking example of a graphic format that contrasts with others you see in the exhibition.”

An example of a devotional anthology, featuring carbon black ink and pigments on paper with a textile covering, includes the Song of the Lord (Bhagavad Gita) and other works, produced in Kashmir in the 17th–19th century CE. The contents (Sanskrit text and Hindu iconography), materials (Islamic burnished paper and Indian textiles), and format (Islamic-style binding) of this manuscript containing the Hindu, Bhagavad Gita, all illuminate the fecund encounter of Persian and South Asian cultures in the valley of Kashmir. This manuscript also tells a complex story of book technology and cultural entanglement. Micro-CT (Computed Tomography) analysis confirms that its exquisite Indian mashru fabric, imported from Gujarat, extends around the whole cover, beneath the plain overlayer. The book has an Islamic-style pentagonal flap binding, but because Sanskrit is read in the opposite direction from Arabic and Persian, the flap wraps around on the right rather than the left. “Like so many of the objects in Hidden Stories, this beautiful volume takes us back to a particular time and place — in this case, to Kashmir in Mughal India, where we have whole range of traditions bumping up against each other. In this book format, we see Muslim and Hindu devotional practices and Sanskrit and Persian languages interacting with each other in a highly creative way,” noted Dr. Akbari.

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Islamic prayer mat Aga Khan Museum Silk Road, Simerg
Islamic prayer rug from the M. M. Wolf Collection. Photo: Aga Khan Museum.

Among the rare manuscripts on display, is a Prayer Sheet (Avalokiteśvara) from Dunhuang, China, dated August 4, 947 CE. This is a woodblock print on paper. This Buddhist prayer sheet was produced to celebrate the annual Ghost Festival and is a rare survivor among hundreds of identical prints featuring Avalokiteśvara, a form of the Boddhisatva of compassion. In the early 11thh century, this print was enclosed behind a wall along with over 60,000 books and documents from the 5th to the 11th centuries in the Mogao Caves, in the western Chinese city of Dunhuang. The so-called ‘library cave,’ containing manuscripts and printed works in languages ranging from Judeo-Persian to Sanskrit to Tibetan, was rediscovered only in 1900. “This sheet is remarkable because, along with the pages of the Mishnah Torah it will be displayed alongside, it is one of the oldest objects in the exhibition. It’s beautiful how they function together in the sense that, while they’re from very different places and very different confessional traditions, they both date from so long ago. Because an exact date is printed on the sheet, it connects us through time to the people who printed it, as well as the people who saw it and who celebrated the festival,” writes Dr. Akbari.

Among the Christian works, is a Choir Book of ink and paint on parchment, wood cover with metal from Spain, 16th century CE. This choir book or ‘antiphoner’ includes chants for the Christian Holy Week of Easter. It is so heavy that it must be moved by two people. The enormous book would have been displayed open so that its monumental notation could be seen by all singers. This copy, animated in the micro-CT display in the exhibition, features wheel-shaped bosses on its cover, protecting against damage and perhaps evoking the emblematic wheel of St. Catherine. “The choir book is such an enchanting object to see in person because it’s incredibly large,” says Dr. Akbari. She further states that “unlike a small prayer book, a large volume like this one wasn’t intended for an individual’s private contemplation. The reason why it’s so big is precisely so multiple people could read and sing the notes at the same time. So when we think about the book, the book is a private space, but it’s also a shared space. And the choir book emphasizes that shared quality very effectively.”

Another unique item is a marriage contract (Hebrew, Ketubah) of David ben Shabettov and Serula bat Samuel, who were married in 1797 in Greece when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. This Jewish marriage contract details the groom’s financial obligations to the bride in the event of divorce or widowhood, and was designed to be displayed in the couple’s home. “This object represents so many cultures and traditions in a harmonious way. It is a Jewish marriage contract, it originates in Greece, and it showcases a luxurious Ottoman style. It is also very interesting because it speaks to relationships between men and women, and in particular, the roles and rights of women in the society,” noted Dr. Çakır Phillip.

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Robe from Central Asia. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection. Photo: Simerg

The exhibition also includes a display of the textiles that also travelled along the Silk Road. The curators selected a wool, woven, felted, and embroidered Robe from Central Asia. The luxurious robe tells four different stories. It shows the court of wise King Solomon, illustrating his marvellous ability to understand the languages of all creatures, followed by that of the Abbasid caliph Haroun al-Rashid, offering a 9th century model for exemplary rule. “With this piece, we wanted to emphasize the oral tradition and how knowledge and stories that were recorded in books were also implemented in other media such as paintings, mosaics, and embroidery. This piece is also fascinating because it consists of four stories from four different geographies and time periods, demonstrating wonderful connections between cultures and artistic traditions,” explains Dr. Çakır Phillip.

The Silk Road was also a major source of Eastern carpets. These were in great demand in other parts of the Middle East and Europe. The curators selected a wool, pile woven carpet from Azerbaijan, dated to the 19th century CE. The carpet illustrates the “inner workings” of the Silk Road. The lustrous wool carpet design seen in the exhibition is called shadda, a very ancient form with many different styles keyed to function, whether celebrating a holiday or wedding, or simply defining household space. Here, 22 Bactrian camels appear at the carpet’s centre, while 33 more run around its border. Almost 100 small animals — Siberian tigers, deer, dogs — draw the viewer’s eye from left to right in this striking design, creating a sense of energetic movement. “When we began talking about books and the Silk Roads network, my immediate question was about how trade happened over the centuries. On the Silk Roads, luxury goods, books, and other materials were most often carried on camelback. So I was fascinated to find this beautiful 19th century carpet from the Marshall and Marilyn R. Wolf Collection. It is very rich and it manifests the importance of the camel to this entire vast geography,” noted co-curator Dr. Çakır Phillip.

The Silk Road was also a major source of valuable personal items. An example is the Ethiopian Amulet Scroll. This item was used for protection against illness, difficult childbirth, and the evil eye.  This Ethiopian amulet scroll (Amharic, kitab; Arabic for ‘book’) was created by an ordained minister (Amharic, debtara) from pieces of parchment tailored to the height of the owner’s body. Inscribed with healing prayers, talismans, and images of armed angels, amulet scrolls like this one might be placed in a leather case to be worn or hung on a wall, and could also be wrapped around the body of the deceased as a form of prayer.

As co-curator Dr. Akbari explains, “An amulet scroll in this tradition brings out the way that books can be extremely personal. It was meant to bring health and wellbeing to the person who owned it. Their name appears on the scroll along with individually selected prayers and invocations, and the scroll would often be made to the length of the owner’s body as a way of creating a stronger correspondence between the sacred object and the person it was designed for. It’s a fascinating example of the book both as text and as an object imbued with a very particular kind of power.”

Jewellery was another important item traded along the Silk Road. The exhibition displays a silver, fire-gilded and cased, with niello inlay, decorative wire, and table-cut carnelians, cordiform (heartshaped) pendant, from Turkmenistan, Teke, mid-to-late 19th century CE.  Inner Asia is famous for the jewelry of its more than 30 Turkmen tribes, produced in silver, decorated with talismanic inscriptions, and adorned with carnelian or turquoise. Each element — metal, writing, and precious stones — is carefully chosen to offer protection and healing. Writes Dr. Çakır Phillip, “When we think of books, we think of reading in libraries or offices or while we are sitting on the subway. This piece, however, speaks to the practice of carrying a text on your body for protection from evil and misfortune. The cordiform’s tubes would have contained scrolls with verses from the Qur’an or other holy texts. I was fascinated by the fact that it would have been carried not on a person’s chest but on their back, where they are more vulnerable.”

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An informative and educational timeline of the Silk Road spread out on a wall at the Aga Khan Museum’s “Hidden Stories: Books along the Silk Road.” Photo: Clip from Aga Khan Museum’s virtual gallery exhibition.

There are also other educational items of interest for benefit of visitors. For the Book and the Body theme, there is displayed a green wrapping shawl, titled “the Quran in the Cloth” dated 1718 CE, originating from Mughal India. Similarly there are examples of Amulet holders from Central Asia where written inscriptions of verses on paper parchment from various Holy Scriptures can be inserted for protection and healing purposes.

As one departs the exhibition, there is a video display entitled Seeing Ghosts: Computed Tomography (CT) and the Study of Historical Books. This section represents an interesting aspect at the exhibition as it underscores the utilization and interaction of new modern 21st Century X-ray scanning technology to read and analyse the collection of books and manuscripts that were written or printed along the Silk Road over 1000 or more years ago. In this section, the visitor is familiarized as to how Micro-CT, a technology similar to the X-ray scans, used for looking at the internal structures of the human body, is used to examine the structures and pages of centuries old manuscripts and texts. Among the texts reviewed using this technology were the Canon Grandels’s Prayer Book, the Choir Book, the Bhagavad Gita as well as a manuscript of Rumi.

In conclusion, I wish to make a few personal observations. The founder of the museum himself, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has visited many places along the Silk Road. The first important visit was in 1981 when he attended a seminar on the Changing Rural Habitat in Beijing, China, organized by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. During this visit he also visited the Silk Road cities of Xian, Urumchi and Kashgar where he was warmly greeted by the local communities. In subsequent years, the 49th Ismaili Imam has made numerous visits to the regions of the Silk Road including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Indeed in 2000, His Highness founded the University of Central Asia through an International Treaty signed by him and the Presidents of Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Kazakhstan. It was ratified by their respective parliaments and registered with the United Nations.

And in 2002, for the first time in its 36 year history, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC had a single and remarkably ambitious theme: The Silk Road. The festival was in large part supported by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and turned the National Mall into a mammoth visual representation of the Silk Road.

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Aga Khan in China at Great Mosque of Xian.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the Great Mosque of Xian with the Imam of the Mosque Mr. Mohamed Yunis during his visit to China in October 1981. Xian was an ancient imperial capital and an eastern departure point of the Silk Road. Formerly Chang’an, Xian has long been an important crossroads for people from throughout China, Central Asia, and the Middle East, and thus a hub of diverse ethnic identities and religious beliefs. Photo: Alnoor Magazine, December 1981, published by the Aga Khan Ismaili Council and Association for Portugal.
Large crowds at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held along the National Mall in Washington DC during the summer of 2002. The festival was dedicated to the The Silk Road and was inaugurated in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: The Smithsonian Institution.
Aga Khan discusses Nasir Khusraw's work by Alice Hunsberger's with Tajikistan's President Rahmon
Tajikistan’s President Rahmon and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pause in the library of the new Ismaili Centre in Dushanbe during its opening on October 12, 2009. They engage over Alice Hunsberger’s book “Nasir Khusraw: The Ruby of Badakhshan.” Nasir Khusraw lived over a thousand years ago in the region that is modern Tajikistan.

More than a 1000 years ago during the reign of the Aga Khan’s ancestors, the Fatimids in Egypt, a Persian Ismaili traveller, Nasir Khushraw, made a voyage to Cairo between 1046 and 1052 AC. He documented his journey in a book called Safarnama which was first translated into English in the mid 1980’s by Wheeler Thackston under the title “Naser-e Khosraw’s Book of Travels.” A multi-part series of Nasir Khusraw’s travels focusing on his Hajj to Mecca by Michael Wolfe was also published on this website. Being fascinated with the translated works of Nasir Khushraw by Thackston, Wolfe and Alice Hunsberger over the past several decades, I had hoped that I would be able to view a manuscript of one of his works at the Aga Khan Museum’s exhibition.

I came out of “Hidden Stories” richly informed about the diverse and pluralistic nature of the Silk Road by seeing the display of books/texts, textiles, carpets, ornaments, clothing, writing material and many other objects. They provide a unique glimpse of the knowledge and technological contributions of the many peoples, cultures and religions that comprised the Silk Roads.

I highly recommend that you to visit this extraordinary exhibition. I would also suggest that during your visit to the Museum, you step out and walk through the Aga Khan Park to see the large sized photographic panels by a British photographer’s 2019 journey from Venice to Beijing.

Date posted: February 17, 2022.
Last updated: February 18, 2022 (see corrections below).

CORRECTIONS: The original version of this piece contained (1) typo errors, (2) incorrect dates on the closure and re-opening of museum; and (3) the map of the Silk Roads that was shown depicted the journey of the British photographer whose works are displayed at the Aga Khan Park. Simerg apologizes for these errors.


Zahir Dharsee

About the author: Zahir Dharsee came to Toronto, Ontario, Canada from East Africa in 1974. Zahir is a retiree from the Federal Public Service. He is currently pursing a Masters of Arts degree in History, at York University in Toronto. His area of specialization is researching the British Empire and its Colonization and Immigration policies and objectives. He lives in Mississauga, Ontario.

Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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.

Malik, the publisher/editor of the 3 websites may be contacted at

Afghanistan: A Nation Rife With Drug Addiction – Sad and Shameful Deaths in a Nation Where Nothing is More Important than Family, Honour and Tradition

“At Kabul’s Pul-e-Sokhta bridge, the health workers face the grim, and heavy chore of removing the bodies, hauling them up to the street and away for burial. If no family can be located, they will be laid in an unmarked grave, with no one to mourn their loss. It is the mark of shame to be buried alone in Afghanistan.”

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

The following documentary and the accompanying transcript are reproduced from Voice of America (VOA). The documentary was aired on October 21, 2021 (and also on November 25, 2021). In a subsequent report by Roshan Noorzai dated December 10, 2021, VOA notes that farmers in Afghanistan say that they will continue to grow poppy amid uncertainty over the Taliban’s poppy eradication policy. “We have no choice but to cultivate opium poppy,” said Noor, 52, a farmer living in a remote village in the western Farah province. A father of 10 children, Noor said his family will go hungry without the opium poppy crop. “I am not sure how I will be able to provide food to my children until the harvest. We do not have food for a month, even. The prices have skyrocketed, and people cannot afford buying food”

The editor wishes to warn viewers that some scenes in the film may be disturbing, and viewer discretion is advised.

WARNING: The following film contains scenes and statements that some readers may find disturbing

A Voice of America Documentary



Excerpts from transcript of the documentary “The Inside Story: Afghanistan Addiction Crisis” shown on VOA on October 21, 2021.

Hi. I’m Katherine Gypson, VOA’s Congressional Correspondent.

While members of Congress and others debate the tactics of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the strategies of 20 years of war, there is one issue that has constantly plagued that country: Drugs. Narcotics. Specifically, opium.

According to the U.N., Afghanistan produces 80 percent of the world’s opium.

While the rest of the world tries to deal with the trafficking of the drug, millions of people are addicted inside Afghanistan.

Before the U.S. withdrawal, VOA’s Afghan Service traveled through the country to document the extent of Afghanistan’s Addiction Crisis.

Our grim trip begins in the capital, Kabul.

Voice of narrator (Annie Ball):

In Afghanistan, this is where, and how, it sometimes ends. A drug addict’s life.

Health workers came to round-up the addicts and take them to addiction treatment centers. But today they encounter the lifeless bodies of three addicts.

Here, at Kabul’s “Pul-e-Sokhta” bridge, the health workers face the grim, and heavy chore of removing the bodies, hauling them up to the street and away for burial. If no family can be located, they will be laid in an unmarked grave, with no one to mourn their loss. It is the mark of shame to be buried alone in Afghanistan.

For the workers and government officials, it reminds them they cannot help everyone.

Dr. Aref Wafa was working with addicts.

Dr. Aref Wafa, Department of Drug Demand Reduction:

Especially when we come here in the winter, our goal is to save their lives. They may increase the dose due to cold or chills. When they overdose, they do not feel it, therefore, this causes their death.


Doctors say, these addicts are consuming heroin, morphine, opium and increasingly, crystal meth. The cause of death is usually a drug overdose. They are taken to a Kabul cemetery for burial. How many bodies are buried there? No one knows. Officials don’t track the numbers.

Gholam Yahya’s brother lost his life to addiction under the bridge. Yahya, an addict like his brother, still lives under this bridge. Now, he describes the sadness — and shame — and how addicts’ deaths are treated by religious leaders.

Gholam Yahya, Drug Addict:

They said those who use drugs, commit suicide. Since they commit suicide, their funeral prayers are forbidden. They cannot be washed. His mother did not bring her child to this world to end up under Pull-e-Sokhta bridge. He did not wish this for himself., but I could not bury him in any cemetery.


In Kabul’s ‘Pul-e-Sokhta area, this is not just the story of Gholam Yahya’s life.

Throughout Afghanistan, it is known as a drug addiction center. The bridge in western Kabul has become a major hub for drug users for the past two decades. An iconic symbol of drug abuse in a nation rife with addiction.

The addicts don’t come just from Kabul, but many from the provinces, too. Hundreds of them share this grimy space, spending their days and nights getting high amidst the waste and debris. Most of them have been evicted by their families and have no shelter.

They live in squalor, surrounded by filth, black walls, and dirty water.

Over the years there have been several unsuccessful attempts to close the area. But it remains a popular gathering place for addicts.

Nazo is one of many looking for loved ones. Her husband and brother are addicted to drugs. Nazo’s husband uses opium and is remarried. He left her with the responsibility of taking care of their six boys. In Afghanistan, single mothers with no men in the house face a particularly difficult life, especially when the single mother is the only breadwinner. This is why Nazo hopes to find her brother, who is a heroin addict.

“I weave carpets to earn money. I use opium, that’s not cheap. I was on my way to collect waste when a car stopped, and the driver told me to get in the car. And he told me I will take you home and help you. Then I got in the car. The driver showed me the suicide jacket and asked me, ‘Do you want to do this? I will give you money.’ I said ‘No, I will not do it.’ And I jumped out of the car.”

Nazo, Sister of a Drug Addict:

It has been five months since I went to Kart-e-now, Arzan Qemat, Jada, and Cinema-e-Pamir to Shama-li so that anyone could tell me his whereabouts. I don’t know the area. I went to ask. I got home about ten o’clock at night. I am a woman. I cannot bear this grief, if God forbid. someone touches me or someone talks dirty behind my back.


In addition to her six children, Nazo also has been taking care of her mother and her brother’s wife. She washes dishes and cleans people’s laundry, making about $2.60 a day.

Nazo, Sister of a Drug Addict:

I suffered for him so much. The other day, I told my mother. ‘Mother!’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said ‘it’s a pain, we can get over it. I will find a poison tablet and we will end everything together.


Stories like Nazo’s are becoming more commonplace because of the drug trade’s grip on Afghanistan’s economy.

2017 was the peak, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

Nearly 10-thousand tons of opium brought in one-point-four billion dollars — seven percent of Afghanistan’s GDP.

And now the opium produced from the poppy plant has a rival that also grows wild in Afghanistan.


As a country, Afghanistan deals with insecurity, endless wars, corruption, poverty, a weak economy, high unemployment, and other challenges. But it also faces the problem of home-grown addiction and drug use. Some describe drug addiction in this country as a hidden tsunami; a large wave ready to crush what is in its wake.

Despite billions of dollars in international aid, government projects and efforts, Afghanistan remains the world’s top cultivator of poppy — the plant used to make opium and heroin.

The country is the world’s largest narcotics producer. A joint survey by the Afghan government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, shows they are losing the war to eradicate the crop.

It says in 2020, poppy cultivation was up 37% in Afghanistan.

The report found that last year poppy was cultivated on nearly a quarter of a million hectares of land in 22 of the 34 provinces.

Most of the opium is smuggled abroad, but what remains is a problem at home.

“Most people here use drugs together, in groups, and out in the open. The lives of the villagers revolve around smoking drugs. When they have it, they use it.”

Mark Colhoun, Former UNODC Representative in Afghanistan:

We are seeing high level of opioid use in the country. We are seeing high level of cannabis use in the country and an emerging threat that we have been noticing for the last number of years is definitely methamphetamine and other amphetamine type stimulants in the country. So, these are all increasing the threats to the population exponentially, so we have drug production and then rising drug use in the country which is a severe threat to the people of the country.


Drug production and addiction go hand-in-hand, and both are on the rise.

User statistics are hard to come by. The most recent numbers are from a 2015 survey. It was conducted by INL, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the Afghan government. It found that 2.5 to 3.5 million Afghans are directly or indirectly addicted to drugs. At that time, one in three families tested positive for drugs. And the rural areas were three times worse than in the cities.

Dr. Ahmad Jawad Osmani, Former Afghanistan Minister of Public Health:

Unfortunately, drug addiction is not diminishing. It is increasing. And that’s why, we think that the number that was estimated in the past has increased even more.


Meanwhile, a recent report shows crystal methamphetamine — also called crystal or meth — is a growing problem in Afghanistan. Last November, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reported that the country is becoming a significant global producer of meth.

One reason is drug traffickers discovered that the ephedra plant, which commonly grows wild in parts of Afghanistan, can be used to make meth. The report focused on the production of meth in Bakwa district. It called the preliminary findings “worrying,” adding there is potential for meth to rival the country’s production of opiates.


Concern over the rapid increase in meth production is its relative low cost to make.

And for many of Afghanistan’s addicts, low cost is what they are looking for.

And it is not limited to the cities.

VOA’s Afghan Service went about 180 kilometers west of Kabul — to Bamyan province — for a ground-level view of addiction’s reach into rural villages.


Bamyan is known for its beautiful landscapes. It is where, nearly 20 years ago (March 2001) the Taliban destroyed two ancient statues of Buddha, which had been the largest in the world.

Here, people in the cities and villages suffer from drug addiction.

Local officials say there are about 50,000 addicts, and people affected by addiction.

Head west, into more rural areas, and you find drugs even more prevalent than in central Bamyan province.

The Waras district is where most of the villagers use drugs.

The long drive to get there winds through scenic landscapes and rutted roads.

Waras district is surrounded by green hills and valleys.

People in this remote area live in poverty. They lack the benefits of modern society, like good schools, clinics or hospitals, and technology.

The sun shines brightly this morning in Bazobala village. Here, everyone, young and old, including the men, women and children are drug addicts.

Eighty families live in Bazobala.

Most people here use drugs together, in groups, and out in the open. The lives of the villagers revolve around smoking drugs. When they have it, they use it.

When asked why, they mention many reasons. Like this 18-year-old man:

Drug Addict, Bazobala Shuqol village:

The reason I became addicted to drugs was unemployment and poverty. I went to Iran, far away from home. I was unemployed and the situation was bad, so I got addicted to drugs. So, when I return here, I thought that the situation will be better. The situation is bad here as well.

Ali Yawar, Bazobala Shuqol village:

I have been using drugs for almost fifteen years. First, I used heroin, now I’m using in crystal.


It affects the children too. Parents not only use themselves, but also give drugs to their children. In addition to heroin, opium and crystal meth, the addicts of Bazobala are also familiar with other drug options, like tramadol tablets. It is a cheap alternative to heroin and opium.

Drug Addict, Bazobala Shugol village:

Those whose consumption is high, like myself, my spending is also high. I use may be one or one and half packet. A packet is 25 (32 cents) to 50 Afghanis. You can’t even purchase this tramadol 500 for 100 Afghanis.

“My older son is not here. It has been three years since he is missing. I don’t know if he is alive or dead. There are four of us, and all four of us are addicts. Yes, we sold everything. We sold bedsheets and everything that we had. And with the money, we bought drugs and used it.”


In Pezhandur village, women are also drug addicts.

In many families in the area, they use drugs with their husbands and children

This is Fatima. She has been addicted to drugs for 30 years. Fatima, her husband and her sons use drugs together.

Fatima, Pashandur Village:

I have asthma. I’m sick as well. I’m 65 years old. I go to work in the desert and mountains until late. I’m weak and my husband is also sick.


Villagers here work in farming and raising animals. Young people go to the mountains to collect grass for the animals, and the children are shepherds.

The idyllic life of these villages is disrupted by narcotics, brought in from neighboring provinces. Residents say they have repeatedly informed security agencies about the smugglers, but no action is taken.

The villagers want the government’s attention. They want help, and they want an addiction treatment center.

There is only one 20-bed clinic in Waras, which clearly lacks the ability to treat all the addicts in an area of tens of thousands of people. Local officials want more.

Qasim Ali, Chairman, People’s Council of the Peshandur & Bazobala Area:

Everyone is addicted to drugs. These people are all unfortunate. The reason is unemployment and poverty. The government does not care about these people. I request from the government, the international community, and human rights to build a hospital in the Shiwqol area. The hospital should be 100 beds or so so these people can be treated.


Addiction treatment is undergoing a change now that the Taliban are running Afghanistan.

Police have been recently rounding up addicts in Kabul, giving them a choice to either sober up or face beatings.

They are stripped, bathed and shaved before going into a 45-day treatment program.

But as one Taliban officer put it: “It’s not important if some of them will die. Others will be cured. After they are cured, they can be free.”

The addicts rounded up in these raids have been men. But women fall victim to drug addiction, too. Before the Taliban took over, our VOA Afghan Service team went to Balk province in northern Afghanistan and discovered the disturbing way women addicts can be preyed upon.


The yellow morning sun shines on Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh’s capital.

This is one of the most populous provinces in northern Afghanistan, and Mazar-e-Sharif is the fourth largest city in the country.

The Blue Mosque, dating back to the 15th century, has made this city famous.

Mazar-e-Sharif hosts internally displaced people, IDPs, from nearby provinces. Security in the city brings people to come live here.

The city suffers from a large presence of drug addicts. Local officials say more than 300,000 people in Balkh province, including women and children, use drugs.

Easy access to drugs has led to more addicts. In the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, some women addicts are homeless, and some seek shelter in the cemetery at night.

This area is called Dasht-e-Shoor. These are the tents of internally displaced families.

This woman lives in the camp. She is an addict with a difficult story.

“Well, it’s narcotics, it gets you high. When we collect, we sniff, and it made us dizzy. Made us high, then we would sit down or go home with an excuse to relax and then go out. It had a bad effect. I had a headache when I went to school.”

Zohra, Homeless Drug Addict:

I was 13 years old, and my father was not there when my brother and mother married me. Now I am 31 years old, and I am lost. My mother-in-law was beating me. My father-in-law was beating me. I was smoking opium. I used to drink opium and that’s why they were beating me and telling me not to eat it. My husband left me and said “I don’t want a wife like you. You are free.” I have my two children with me. My husband hates me and doesn’t allow me to go home. I live in a tent. I have relatives, but they don’t care about me.


But Zohra says she is not addicted to drugs by her own free will. She says her family got her hooked. They used drugs in groups, she explains, to lessen the intense pain caused by their work as carpet weavers.

Zohra uses marijuana and opium. She has tried to quit several times but concerns about being homeless led her to relapse..

She walks the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif at night, begging and collecting usable garbage. This is NOT normal practice for women — because generally, it is not safe here for a woman to be out alone at night.

VOA went with her one night to see how she fares alone.

Zohra told us about how she pays for her habit. And in this harrowing story, she shared about someone giving her a ride, and the offer he made her:

Zohra/Homeless Drug Addict:

I weave carpets to earn money. I use opium, that’s not cheap. I was on my way to collect waste when a car stopped, and the driver told me to get in the car. And he told me I will take you home and help you. Then I got in the car. The driver showed me the suicide jacket and asked me, ‘Do you want to do this? I will give you money.’ I said ‘No, I will not do it.’ And I jumped out of the car.


The United States spent more than eight-and-a-half billion dollars between 2002 and 2017 battling Afghanistan’s drug trade — That, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In May, the Special Inspector General said the Taliban gets an estimated 60 percent of its income from illegal drugs — About 400-million dollars between 2018 and 2019 according to the U.N.

And in Afghanistan’s easternmost province, VOA’s Afghan service found out that addiction knows no age — old or young.


Here in Badakhshan province, there are an estimated 25 to 30,000 addicts. Like elsewhere, addiction tends to run in families.

Jan Begum’s family is one of them. They live in the city of Faizabad. Her two sons and husband are addicted. They use crystal meth and heroin.

Jan Begum, Drug Addict:

We don’t have anything. They are both unemployed, this one is an addict, that one is an addict, too. My older son is not here. It has been three years since he is missing. I don’t know if he is alive or dead. There are four of us, and all four of us are addicts. Yes, we sold everything. We sold bedsheets and everything that we had. And with the money, we bought drugs and used it.


Jan Begum’s family used to live in a house in Faizabad. When the homeowner found out the family was using drugs, he kicked them out.

Now, they beg, take in laundry, and spend most of their income on drugs. Some of them have been treated several times for their addiction, but relapsed.

Samiullah is 18 years old. He uses drugs together with his mother, father, and brother.

Samiullah, Drug Addict:

I have been taking drugs from a young age. I take it with my parents. I go out to find then I take it. I wish the government would come and treat us and I would work as a server in a hotel.


Afghanistan remains the world’s largest opium producer.

Here in Nangahar province, children and teenagers work in the poppy fields collecting the gum with the elders in their family. They’re helping with opium production.

Mustafa is one of the teenagers working the poppy fields. Now,16 years old, Mustafa says he has been moving towards addiction for a long time, just because he works with poppies and opium.

Mustafa, 16-Year Old Poppy Field Worker:

Well, it’s narcotics, it gets you high. When we collect, we sniff, and it made us dizzy. Made us high, then we would sit down or go home with an excuse to relax and then go out. It had a bad effect. I had a headache when I went to school. I got permission to leave. It had a very bad effect because our heads were spinning, we were high. Drugs must cause this condition to our body.


This is some of Mustafa’s poppy harvest for the year. A few kilograms of opium have been harvested from the fields. He says that after collecting, he sold the opium and kept two more kilograms to sell later.

When the poppy season is over, he works in fields tending other crops like onions.

Mustafa says he has seen many people, including women, become addicted to drugs after working in poppy fields. He does not want to become an addict himself.

Mustafa, Poppy Field Worker:

If no narcotics were planted here, maybe no one would be addicted to drugs. Poppy made many people addicted to heroin. We want the government to stop the poppy cultivation. They should cultivate for us good, good fruit trees.


Less poppy production would mean less drug addiction, and fewer drug addicts ending up here, in this cemetery, in an unmarked grave. A sad and shameful death, in a nation where nothing is more important than family, honor and tradition.

Date posted: February 1, 2022.

The featured photo at top of this post is from the documentary.


Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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.

Gulshan-i rāz or The Garden of Mystery: A Rare 20th Century Ismaili Work at the US Library of Congress; Downloadable

Article reproduced and adapted from the website of the US LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (LOC)

Gulshan-i rāz (The garden of mystery) is a 20th century text on the Nizari Ismaʻili belief system, written by Nadir Shah Kayani (circa 1897 – circa 1971), a leader of the Ismaʻili community in Afghanistan.

Article continues below

Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz, Library of Congress LOC, Simerg
Page 1 of 42 of the Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz. Photo: LOC.

The title of this work deliberately echoes a celebrated Ismaʻili book of verse of the same name composed by Mahmud Shabistari in 1317. Nadir Shah’s work is organized in 14 sections, each of which discusses a philosophical or religious topic such as nafs (the soul) or namaz (prayer). The first section, on tafakkur (the faculty of thought), is written as a commentary on a verse from the original Gulshan-i rāz.

Article continues below, click image to download PDF

Ismaili work Gulshan i Raz at LOC, Simerg
Page 12 of 42 of the Ismaili work Gulshan-i rāz. Photo: LOC; please click on image to download the work in PDF format.

Much remains to be discovered about the Ismaʻili community of Afghanistan during this period. What is known is that Nadir Shah belonged to a family of Ismaʻili leaders based in the Kayan valley in northern Afghanistan. He was a prolific author who wrote both poetry and philosophical texts. The present work is a manuscript, most likely produced in Afghanistan.

Aga Khan III, Library of Congress LOC, Simerg
Aga Khan III. Photo: LOC.

Kayani’s leadership of the Ismaʻili community coincided with the reign of the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957; Imam from 1885-1957).

The script is nastaʻliq, written in black ink, 11 lines to the page, on a light-cream paper. The “third” in the title probably refers to Shabistari’s original work as the first Gulshan-i rāz. The identity of the second Gulshan-i rāz is not clear; it could be a reference to the well-known commentary by Shams al-Din Lahiji, written in 1472-73.

Please download Nadir Shah’s work in PDF format by clicking HERE.

Summary of Work

Contributor Names: Kiyānī, Nādir Shāh.
Created/Published: Between 1900 and 1999?
Notes: Manuscript; Nastalīq script; 11 lines in written area 21.5 x 14 cm; Paper is light cream; black ink; Probably written in Afghanistan; Also available in digital form (PDF and JPEG, click HERE for PDF); In Persian; Acquired for LC only.

Date posted: January 18, 2022.

(Read the article at source by clicking HERE)


Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the Bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; and a Beautiful Calligraphy for His Auspicious 85th Birthday

Simerg’s sister website Barakah which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, is pleased to present a profound reading on the subject of Imamat along with a special piece of art by Karim Ismail on the auspicious occasion of Hazar Imam’s 85th Salgirah. The post includes the singing of the Ginan (Hymn) Dhan Dhan Aajno by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji, and also has links to its explanation as well as 25 other recitations of the same Ginan by Ismaili singers from around the world. Please click 85th Salgirah Mubarak or on the image below.

Aga Khan 85th birthday Salgirah of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Simer
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is in his 65th year of Imamat and celebrates his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Please click on image for Imamat reading.

Date posted: December 11, 2021.


Featured image at top of post: In centre, a calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail and on either side of the art work two paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam by Vancouver based artist Azeez Khanbhai, who was featured recently in Barakah.

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