A Tribute to a Great and Long-Serving Ismaili Missionary, Alwaeza Gulshan S. Alidina, As She Passes Away in Toronto at the Age of 93

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

“Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

By KAMRUDIN A. RASHID

Practically every morning after saying our prayers, I spend some time reminiscing about services that are rendered by tens of thousands of murids (one who has given allegiance and pledged loyalty to the Ismaili Imam, namely His Highness the Aga Khan) around the world to the jamat (community), its institutions and to the Imam-of-the-Time. Over the past 60 years of my services to the jamat in East Africa and Canada, I have been fortunate to encounter and develop special bonds of friendships with countless such individuals serving the Imamat in both honorary and professional capacities.

Ismaili missionary Gulshan Alidina passes away at the age of 93, Simerg tribute by Rashid
The Ismaili jamat in Canada will miss the beautiful and cheerful smiling face of Alwaeza Raisaheba Gulshan S. Alidina (December 20, 1928 – May 11, 2022). Photo: Samsoudine and Gulshan Alidina Family Collection.

One group of people that has constantly amazed me and has been in my heart and thoughts are the missionaries (waezin) of the past and present eras who have been responsible for molding the lives of millions of murids throughout our Ismaili history, by imparting religious knowledge and understanding as well as inculcating the ethic of the Islamic faith. Referred to in contemporary times as Alwaez or Alwaeza, historically the missionaries were often designated titles such as Dai, Hujjat or Pirs in the Ismaili Tariqah (path) of Islam. Several individuals who held such positions were also given the mandate and responsibility of disseminating the faith among non-Ismailis, especially in the Middle East, Central and South Asia. In the last two years, during the Covid-19 pandemic we have seen Ismaili missionaries and scholars appearing in weekly online Jamati programs, and talking openly about the Ismaili Tariqah in the context of the Islamic faith, and also articulating the ethic of maintaining a strong balance between our spiritual and material lives, an emphasis that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has laid on his community throughout the past 64 years of his Imamat.

Over the last few decades, the Ismaili community has seen numerous outstanding Ismaili missionaries pass away. Their rich and inspiring lives have not been told and their works are awaiting proper documentation for future research. It was for this reason that my suggestion to the editor of this website, Malik, to launch a series on Ismaili missionaries was welcomed by him with gratitude and enthusiasm. In recent years, we have seen brief tributes and articles on some of the deceased missionaries such as Abualy Alibhai (d. 2008, age 89), Amirali Gillani (d. 2020, age 75), Sultanali Mohamed (d. 2020, age 93), Nizar Chunara (d. 2021, age 81), and Malik’s own parents Jehangir (d. 2018, age 89) and Malek Merchant (d. 2021, age 89). I wanted to launch the series with an Alwaez or Alwaeza who was still alive. There are many, but I could think of no one to begin the series with other than Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina who, with her husband Alwaez Samsoudine, has served the jamats around the world for 60 years.

Alas, while Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina’s piece was awaiting publication on this website, I learnt with deep sadness that she was unwell and in hospital. Then, with profound grief, I received the news that she passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at the age of 93. She is survived by her beloved husband, Alwaez Rai Samsoudine Alidina, daughters Khatidja Mohammed and Fatima Alidina, and grandchildren Shamsa Alidina, Tanwir and Sohail Alidina.

Ismaili missionaries Gulshan and Samsoudine passings simerg
Alwaeza Raisaheba Gulshan Alidina (d. May 11, 2022) and her husband Alwaez Rai Samsoudine pictured in Toronto with their daughters, Khatidja and Fatima (extreme left), and grandchildren Shamsa, Tanwir and Sohail. Photo: Samsoudine and Gulshan Alidina Family Collection.

Alwaeza Gulshan’s funeral ceremonies took place on Saturday, May 14th at Toronto’s Scarborough Jamatkhana — where all Ismaili funeral ceremonies in the Metro Toronto are held. The funeral and burial ceremonies were followed by special prayers (known as samar and zyarat) for the departed soul at Richmond Hill Jamatkhana during evening prayers. Alwaeza was very well known and popular in many parts of the world, and it it is expected that many of her colleagues, friends and family members will hold samars in their respective Jamatkhanas.

Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina and her beloved husband Alwaez Samsoudine Alidina had an amazingly long track record of services to the Jamat, and over the past sixty years, like their late friends Jehangir and Malesultan Merchant, served the Jamat unitedly with the goal to teach the Ismaili tariqah and its essence to murids of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Gulshan and Samsoudine’s inspiring waezes (sermons) were very well attended wherever they preached. They were known as the missionaries from Madagascar. Often the person reading an announcement about their forthcoming sermon, would refer to them as Madagascarwala (i.e. of or belonging to Madagascar). That was in a sense part of their identity, and the community members would show up in very large numbers to listen to them and benefit from their knowledge and wisdom.

Gulshan and her future husband, Samsoudine, both joined the waezin training programme that was offered in Karachi in 1958. Gulshan had travelled from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) for the extensive 2 year programme that was conducted by the outstanding scholar (Late) Professor Javad Muscati. He trained the new students on all aspects of Islam and Ismailism, and the recitation of the Holy Qur’an. Gulshan and Samsoudine both said that they could not have studied under a more knowledgeable person than Professor Javad.

On completing the waezin program, the qualifying students were presented with certificates by none other than Mawlana Hazar Imam, who bestowed the new waezin with many blessings for their success. It was during that precious moment in Karachi that Gulshan delivered a waez in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Gulshan found it unthinkable that her very first waez to the Jamat would be in front of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Aga Khan listening to sermon Simerg
Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina presenting a waez (sermon) in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, folloing her graduation from the Karachi waezin training program, September 27, 1960. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid Collection.

Indeed, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s remarks on the waez that she delivered on September 27, 1960 deeply inspired and motivated Alwaeza Gulshan in her career goals. Mawlana Hazar Imam said after the waez that it was one of the most impressive waez he had yet heard, and that Alwaeza in delivering the waez had done well.

After completing her waezin training program in Karachi, Gulshan returned to Tanzania. A proposal of marriage from Samsoudine, who had studied with her in Karachi, was accepted and she commenced her journey of service to the Jamat as a waezin and teacher with the Ismailia Association in Madagascar, her husband’s home. She served in Madagascar from 1960 until 1974, after which the couple settled in Paris for a brief period. The family then made their home in Canada, first in Montreal and then in Toronto. She served with the Ismailia Association, that later came to be known as ITREB (the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) from 1978 until the mid 1990’s. Upon her retirement, she continued to give waezes and serve the jamat in an honorary capacity. This she continued to do until the last stages of her life.

Throughout her waezin career, and because of her excellent knowledge and oratory, she received invitations to deliver waezes in many parts of Africa including Mozambique, South Africa, and East Africa. Following her highly successful waez tour to East Africa in 1968, Mawlana Hazar Imam sent a message to the president of the Ismailia Association for Tanzania, Rai Shamshudin Tejpar, in which he expressed his deep happiness and pleasure with Alwaeza’s excellent work. He sent her his affectionate paternal and maternal loving blessings for the good work that she had done and for her devoted services. Later in life, Alwaeza also travelled to many European countries, where Ismailis had made new homes, and also travelled to deliver sermons in distant Australia and New Zealand. She was successful and popular because she worked hard and was skillful with the Jamat, and always carried with her the blessings of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Alwaeza Gulshan’s death lives a big vacuum in the jamat and in her family. She was 93 and lived a rich and purposeful life, sharing her wisdom into her late age and inspiring the jamat, both young and old alike.

We convey our sincere and deep condolences to Alwaez Samsoudine and all the members of her family, and pray that Alwaeza’s soul may rest in ternal peace. We wish everyone in her family the courage and fortitude to face her immense loss.

The services rendered by Alwaeza Gulshan will always be remembered by Ismailis around the world. We sincerely hope that everything possible will be done to preserve the written and oral legacy that she has left behind, so that future generations of the jamat are inspired by a great dai of the contemporary era, who served her 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Aga Khan, with love and devotion.

Date posted: May 19, 2022.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Alwaeza Gulshan Alidina by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

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Kamrudin Rashid
Kamrudin Rashid

About the writer: Born in Zanzibar, Kamrudin Rashid lived in both Zanzibar as well as in Pemba from 1946 until after 1964 Zanzibar Revolution that saw the island merge with mainland Tanganyika into a unified country called Tanzania. He then settled in Dar es Salaam, before making Canada his home in early 1975. Kamru was in Pemba during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s historic visit on November 18th, 1957. Kamru has served the Ismaili community in honorary and professional positions for over six decades, and today continues to serve and contribute to the Ismaili institutions. Please also read his co-authored piece with Shahbanu Abdulla by clicking on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Pemba visit.

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Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings.

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

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

John Halani, a Prominent Figure in the Ismaili Muslim Community Passes Away in Vancouver at the age of 85

John Halani, titanic Ismaili leader, passings, tribute Simerg
John Halani

As thousands of Ugandan-Asian refugees prepare to mark the 50th anniversary of their arrival in Canada later this year after being ousted from Uganda, John Halani will be remembered as the man who helped scores of them resettle in Greater Vancouver, writes award winning journalist and acclaimed author Fabian Dawson in a special column published on May 9, 2022 in the New Canadian Media.

Bestowed the title of Rai by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, during the Golden Jubilee Year for his devoted services to the Ismaili community, Halani passed away on May 2 at the age of 85, as his fellow Muslims, were celebrating the Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

A leader in Canada’s Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim community, Halani, was the Honorary Consul for Uganda in British Columbia for more than two decades. “He built bridges with his passion for helping others,” said Sam Hirji, a Vancouver-based printer, who was part of the exodus from Uganda, some 50 years ago. “For us Ismailis’ he was the go-to-guy for any and all community projects,” Hirji told New Canadian Media.

Farouk Verjee, a past president of His Highness the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, said, ““He lived to help others and was a consummate community volunteer from his early days in Uganda and later here in Vancouver with the Immigrant Services Society.”

John Halani’s funeral ceremonies will take place at the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana on Tuesday, May 10, at 11:45 AM.

Please click He built bridges with his passion for helping others for Fabian Dawson’s tribute to John Halani.

Date posted: May 10, 2022.

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Readers are invited to submit condolences and tributes to John Halani in the comments box below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes to deceased members of their families, whether they passed away recently or in the past. Please review PASSINGS on how to prepare and submit your tribute.

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 mmerchant@simerg.com.

A Tribute to My Beloved Papa, Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji (1935 – 2022)

By ANIZA MEGHANI

Its just over three months since my papa, Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji, passed away on 14th January 2022. I was aware that Simerg had a Passings category to which one can contribute obituaries or tributes for one’s deceased family members, but my emotions had been all over the place and I could not put pen to paper. How could I best write about my dad’s life and my 56 beautiful years with him? I felt the best was to write as though I were writing a letter to him. This, then, are some of my fond memories of my dad, my beloved papa.

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
A beautiful portrait of Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji taken in November 2021. He passed away two months later on January 14, 2022. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

Dear Papa,

Thank you for the fabulous 56 years of having been blessed as my father. As I sit and write about your life span of 86 years, I feel immensely proud that your journey began on 13th May 1935, in Masaka, Uganda.

Often, when we would drive around London, you would recall your history, and never once did you complain about how difficult it had been, and then you would tell me “I worked hard and I don’t think I have done badly,” with a slight smile.

Although you did well at maths, unlike me who still uses a calculator, it amazed me, that in your time, you had no calculators and your generation of mental maths was as good as today’s technology.

You never completed school or even had a degree to your name. However, having been gifted with a business acumen, and the experience you got through the family business, gave you a sense of a worldly certificate in how to survive and be successful in your own right.

Your father made you join the family business which, due to competition, was difficult to run and you ended up working in Jinja in a shop/bar/restaurant. For four years you slogged 7 days a week and managed to save 13,700 shillings. At that point, you decided to take a break and travel to Tanzania (then Tanganyika). During this short vacation, you met many people who inspired you, and the trip gave you a taste of wanting to travel more and have a better life.

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Kurbanali Mulji pictured during his youthful days, undated photo. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

You made your way to Kampala and came across “GOPE (Zulfikar, Suleiman Kanji, with whom you became best friends. He advised you not to start a business as yet, but perhaps take a course in hairdressing for men as there was only one shop in Kampala at the time, which was Madat’s Hairstyle.

So off you went to the UK with all your savings and reached 5 Palace Gate, which for years remained the focal point and headquarters of the Jamat as well as London’s main Jamatkhana, before the Ismaili Centre was opened in 1985. This property was bought by Prince Aly Khan. When you arrived there, they guided you on how to go about in London. You joined Bogins London School of Hairdressing, on Margaret Street, behind Oxford Circus Station. There you learned the art of trendy haircuts (college boy style) for six months. Mindful of struggles you had undergone, your teacher took sympathy for you as to how you had saved all your life’s earnings for this course. He kindly gave you extra lessons for free and helped you develop more skills. You studied during the day and worked at night at restaurants washing dishes to earn your keep. In those days, you barely made a pound a week. 

After 6 months, you had mastered hairdressing and decided to return home. You purchased all the equipment required to start your business in Kampala. There was only one problem, while you were left with only 1000 shillings, your budget had exceeded by 3000 shillings. Although the goods would take a month or so to reach Africa you were worried how you would be able to raise the 3000 shillings needed to clear customs upon arrival. With panic in your heart, as to who you could ask help from, luck came to your rescue when you entered Salim’s Sweetmart and filled in the football pools lottery. You won £370! You had covered your expenditure and were left with enough to open a shop and name it “HairCo”.

Success followed rapidly and then another family encounter took place. Your brother Mohammed’s health was not so good and he asked you to help run his business that included selling anything from groceries to household goods to textiles imported from abroad. 

In between working, you fell in love and married Nargis Rashid Ladha. Mum decided to work from home selling fabrics that were imported from the UK via Mohammed uncle’s business. Both of you then decided to set up a shop called Nargis Stores. 

It was this trade of textiles that became your passion for fashion. You understood from nylons to chiffons and your taste in buying was simply outstanding. There would be queues for the next delivery. You were blessed with immense barakah and good wisdom. 

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Kurbanali Mulji holding his daughter Aniza, in a photo taken in Uganda in 1967. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

However, in 1972 East Africa faced the biggest shake-up of the mass exodus of Ugandan Asians. With three daughters, myself, Ashifa, Azmina and mum expecting a fourth child,(Rahim born in London) you took us to the UK. I remember landing at Heathrow airport. The weather was dull and gloomy. Perhaps the signs of how times would be changing from sunny Africa to hard times ahead.

You rented a room in Kensington for a few months. A one bedroom, with five of us sharing it. You worked in a laundry, a perfume factory and eventually becoming a bus conductor for a few years. Never did you complain or compare the good times or the “struggle” that you had experienced in Africa and the UK, for it was the “meaning of life”. You worked, took all the shifts you could to make ends meet. Simultaneously from home, you set up a business selling washing up liquids, whilst mum babysat 4 children plus 3 others and catered for homemade takeaways.

This would carry on for 8 years, until one fateful day, while on duty as a bus conductor, you noticed a shop called Classic Textiles on Goldhawk Road, a fabric shop, with a “For Sale” signboard. History was in the making once again. In July 1981, you and mum embarked on making Classic Textiles a thriving business. From royalties, television, catwalk, to the future designers, word of mouth was the best form of advertising. We didn’t have social media but yellow pages phone books. Even though you both had retired, your blood, sweat, tears, and most of all your soul vibrated onto the shelves full of beauty, textures, and colors of rolls of fabrics.

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Kurbanali Mulji in front of his thriving shop, Classic Textiles, on Goldhawk Road in west London, September 2020. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

You still came to overlook the shop during the pandemic to make sure all was well. However, in the late summer of 2021, the benign tumor, which you had for 15 years, suddenly erupted. I can still remember that cold month of November 2021. Both Azmina and I took you to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. You could barely walk but managed to make it to the consultant’s office for your biopsy results.

Consultant: Mr. Mulji, for a man of your age, to undergo a biopsy you did very well. But I am afraid, I don’t have good news. It’s cancer you have. I can’t tell you what stage, for that the oncologist will tell you more next week and what therapy can be recommended. Mr. Mulji, do you understand what I am saying?

Papa, when you heard this your face went white and blank. You held onto the stick. I don’t know what thoughts went through you, but tears just flowed from my eyes. 

Papa: Well, I have no regrets. I have lived a good life.

Papa, you still had hope. All the previous years, you would ask me in “Do you think I will live to make it to the Golden Jubilee?”

When you made it through that, you dreamt of the Olympics in a similar tone.

Me: Of course, you will. Look Papa, all your wishes have been fulfilled. You saw the Golden Jubilee, the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and you saw Serena Williams on the opening day of Wimbledon on court 1!

Papa: I hope I live 5 more years, then I can see Platinum Jubilee too. I will be happy for just five more years.

Me: Inshallah you will see that too.

A week later we went to Charing Cross and met the oncologist. By then you struggled to make it to the lift and did not want a wheelchair. You were quiet all the way. We entered the room and you looked at the oncologist, wishing or hoping for some good news.

Oncologist: Mr. Mulji, as you know that the biopsy report, showed that you have cancer. It’s stage 4. Do you know what stage 4 cancer is?

Papa: No.

Oncologist: Let me explain. It’s a severe form of cancer of the lungs you have and it’s spreading to other parts of your body. Mr. Mulji, a man of your age will find chemotherapy or radiation treatment at this stage too invasive to handle. You are 86 years old. We stop treatment at age 80, that’s the cut-off point in the hospital. You were wise in all these years not to have it investigated as you saw fit that it had done no harm to you. We believe the quality of life is better than the quantity of life. Mr. Mulji is there anything else you would like to ask….

Papa: No. I have had a good life and I have no regrets. I had never been in hospital till recently. So I can say, I am blessed.

Oncologist: That’s very rare for a man of 86 years to have never been in hospital till now. Go home Mr. Mulji and enjoy the remainder of your life. We are still here for you.

We reached home in silence. You were very brave and dignified to have not asked the oncologist the time left. You took it in your stride that whatever time you had remaining you were going to embrace it with peace. When we went upstairs to your bedroom, it was at that point, that the full impact of what the oncologist had told you, really hit you. You burst into tears, you fell onto the bed with great shock and cried and said: “Forgive me if I was a bad father, but I only told you off because I love you all and wanted nothing but the best and to make sure you were all doing the right things in life. 

Me: Papa there is nothing to forgive. Forgive me too if I have done anything to hurt or upset you.

I hugged him. I vowed then, that I would not cry in front of him as the doctors had given him less than a month to live. That evening, all the grandchildren, Alykhan, Jina, Amara and Alim came round to comfort him. He gave them sound advice for the future.

As I write this saddest moment we shared together, my tears are overflowing. I moved into my parent’s place.

Papa, you slept in the hospital bed and I slept on your side of the bed with mum. On that first night, all three of us were in one room. Papa had become the child and I became the parent.

Papa: I am so overjoyed/ happy that you are sharing this room with us.

I was overwhelmed by his sweet words that despite the seriousness of his ill health, he made me feel comfortable that his journey would be of no pain to me.

He was truly blessed, and the doctors were surprised that his level of pain was sustained by paracetamols. He had no morphine. I remember his own GP coming that first night and telling my sister Azmina and I: “We are doctors, scientifically we give time, dates, etc. But remember, it is the Creator, who only knows the time. Don’t think of days or times, just put that at the back of your mind, carry on as normal, spend time with him, and make it comfortable for him. If you worry about what time he has left, you will not be able to help him without constant pain on your face. Believe me, I have seen many miracles in my life when you expect death to happen, the living then somehow lives… so please don’t think of time, none of us know.”

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji and his wife Nargis, both seated at left, are pictured with their family members during a family gathering in December 2021. A beautiful photo of a painting of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by the late Pakistani Ismaili artist Gulgee (d. 2007) at the Ismaili Centre London and framed sports memorabilia adorn the dining room walls of Aniza’s home. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

With such words, we both forgot and carried on as normal. He made sure he spoke to everyone who called him. His days flew with many phone calls from his beloved friends and family around the world. The Zoom calls gave him great joy. The relatives, due to Covid-19, came by to see him in small groups. We were happy to see him talk in great depth about his history.

Five days before he passed away, I had cooked him kalio, rice and a dessert. We were so happy that he ate a full meal. He walked normal. For that whole day, I felt a miracle had taken place. I just couldn’t believe he got out of bed normal, without any walking aid. Little did I know that this would be his ‘Last Supper’. I have been told that just before anyone passes away, God kindly allows us to see few moments of happiness with loved ones. I truly have come to conclusion, that this indicates that life with the Creator gives us a foresight that their journey will be a happy one. The following day, Papa, called Altaaf (my husband) and I: “Altaaf, I want you to know, I am going very soon”.

Altaaf: No, you are not going yet. You are going to live still.

As for the shop, not a day goes by, when customers ask: “How are papa and mama?” At that point, I sit them down.

Me: Papa passed away three months ago.

Customer: “No way! My Lord! Papa Gone! Papa Gone. Good man papa was. He helped me you know. He guided me you know. Always honest in advice. Gave me credit you know. Papa gone, I can’t believe it! Am so sad…. papa you know is in heaven. Am telling you. He was such a good man. My papa gone…”

You taught me about how to run a business. How to be kind and respectable to customers. How to help them.

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Kurbanali Mulji pictured in August 2020 with (l to r) daughter Azmina, wife Nargis, daughter Ashifa and granddaughter Jina. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.
Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
(L to R) Alim, Alykhan, Jina and Amar pictured during Eid 2021 with their nana (maternal grandfather) Kurbanali Mulji, centre. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.
Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Aniza, author of this tribute, pictured with her beloved papa Kurbanali Mulji, September 2016. Photo: Aniza Meghani Collection.

Papa: if any new customer/ designer comes in, give them discount. Let them make a bit of money Give them a helping hand to move up in life. If you help them, they will come back again. Customers are our bread and butter. I don’t mean customers are always right, but a little help to them goes a long way. Don’t overprice fabrics for more money. Its greed. A little profit is halal (permissible). God does not like greed. There will always be stock. Be honest in your transactions.

In the early hours of Friday 14th January 2022, I witnessed him call out to late Mohammed Uncle:

Mohamed, come back, Mohamed …

I knew then this would be his day to return to His Creator. This journey of time is really short. There were no tears, but thankfulness, laughter, conversations and prayers for 11 hours before the undertakers came. 

As another dear friend quoted yesterday: Dream until its reality. MAN GIVES YOU REPUTATION, CHARACTER IS WHO YOU ARE…

Papa was a firm believer on these quotes. May his soul rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: April 28, 2022.

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We invite you to submit your condolences and tributes to Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji in the comments box below or by clicking on Leave a comment. Should you encounter issues in completing the comment box, please email your tribute to mmerchant@simerg.com; subject Kurbanali K. Mulji.

Aniza Meghani Letter to Dad Kurbanali Kassamali Mulji Passings Simerg Insights from around the world
Aniza Meghani

About the writer: Originally from Uganda, Aniza Meghani lives in London, England, and is an entrepreneur of classic textiles fabrics.

We invite you to read Aniza’s highly acclaimed piece Ismailis on Social Media: You Need to Take Care and STOP Indiscriminate Likes, Follows and Forwards!

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes to deceased members of their families, whether they passed away recently or in the past. Please review PASSINGS on how to prepare and submit your tribute.

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 mmerchant@simerg.com

In Memoriam: Vazir Hon. Al Noor (Nick) Kassum (1924-2021) – One of Tanzania’s Earliest Voices for the Global South at the United Nations

By NAVROZ LAKHANI

Vazir Hon. Al Noor Kassum, popularly known as Nick Kassum, a retired Tanzanian politician passed away peacefully in Dar es Salaam on Thursday, November 18, 2021. His three sons, Saleem, Diamond and Jemal-ud-Din (Jamil) all flew to the Tanzanian capital from North America to be with their father at his bedside in the last few hours of his life.

Educated in Tanzania, India and the United Kingdom where he was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1954, Al Noor Kassum was a prominent figure in Tanzanian politics as well as in the Ismaili Muslim community (Jamat) where he served initially as an Education Administrator in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, and later towards the end of his life as the first Personal Representative of His Highness the Aga Khan in Tanzania.

Born as Noordin (‘Light of the Faith’) into the well-known Ismaili family of Count Kassum Sunderji, known for his years of dedicated service to the Imamat and at whose residence, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1885-1957), stayed during his Diamond Jubilee in 1945.

Nick grew up in a family where service to the Jamat and the Imam-of-the-Time was a natural part of life. Nick was raised in colonial Tanganyika, as Tanzania was known before independence, where access to education was not available to the largest segment of society. Colonial society being highly stratified, opportunities for both basic and higher education were allocated strictly on racial lines. However, Nick was fortunate. By dint of family circumstances, for his further education he was able to go first to Britain and then to India. His early education was disrupted by the Second World War which was raging while he was still a teenager, and in 1950, Nick found himself back in Tanganyika working in his father’s business.

In 1950, at the suggestion of the British Governor in Tanganyika, Sir Edward Twining, Nick decided to go to England to study for the Bar. His father was not keen on Nick leaving his young family and going away for studies. Nick wrote to Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah for advice and the Imam blessed his endeavour, highlighting that people like him would be needed in public life in the years to come. Consequently, in 1951 Nick left for the United Kingdom with his wife Shirin and their three infant sons. Meanwhile, as Nick’s professional career unfolded, Shirin dedicated her life to the family, the Jamat and the Ismaili Imamat.

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Prince Aly Khan with London Ismaili Jamat
1952: The late Prince Aly Khan (seated, centre) with the London Jamat at a gathering at the Javeri residence in Hampstead, London. Shortly after this event, Hon. Al Noor Kassum (shown standing next to his wife Shirin, extreme left) was appointed by Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, as the first President of the Ismaili Council of the United Kingdom. Photo: (Late) Ameer Janmohamed family collection. Click on photo for enlargement.
Al Noor Kassum and Aga Khan III
Hon. Al Noor Kassum looks on as Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, signs documents for the purchase of the building at 51 Kensington Court in London that became the first centre of the Ismaili community in the United Kingdom. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection.
Begum Aga Khan and Al Noor Kassum at opening of Knesington Court Jamatkhana.
Mata Salamat, Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, cuts the ribbon during the opening ceremony of the Ismailia Social and Residential Club at 51 Kensington Court on May 17, 1953. The building also included a Jamatkhana prayer room. Looking on are Ismaili Council President Al Noor Kassum (left) and the Mukhi of the London Jamat, Tajdin Jiwan Hirji, on right. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection.

In London while studying for his law qualification, Nick played an important role in serving the Ismaili Jamat (community). He was appointed by the Imam to be the first President of the Ismaili Council of the United Kingdom, in a Jamat that was mainly made up of students from East Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. It was during Nick’s tenure as President that 51 Kensington Court was purchased under guidance from Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. This address became the first centre for the Ismaili community in the UK. This was soon followed by 5 Palace Gate in South Kensington which remained the centre until 1985 when the newly purpose-built Ismail Centre in South Kensington was inaugurated as a special Silver Jubilee Project of the 49th Imam, Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan IV (henceforth referred to as the Aga Khan).

The years Nick studied in England were momentous ones for the decolonisation of Africa, with leading Africans such as Hastings Banda, Seretse Khama, Kwame Nkrumah, and others studying in the country and aspiring to go back to Africa someday to lead the campaign for political freedom. Little did Nick realise then that he too, one day, would become part of this movement, if not at the grassroots level, then certainly as its spokesperson at the highest fora in the world. After qualifying as a barrister, Nick went back to Tanganyika in 1954 where he enrolled as an Advocate of the High Court of Tanganyika and entered into legal practice, first with an established firm, Dharsee and Mc Roberts, and soon thereafter, on his own.

In 1954, Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan appointed Nick as the Administrator of the Aga Khan Schools in Tanganyika — a position he held for the next 10 years. The Imam also bestowed upon him the title of “Vazir” for his many years of meritorious service. These ten years were crucial in the history of Tanganyika as the country attained its independence in 1961.

Aga Khan with Al Noor Kassum
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured in 1959 with the three East African Aga Khan Education Board territorial administrators. Standing (from left to right), Count Madatali A. Shariff, Kenya; Vazir Al Noor Kassum, Tanganyika (now Tanzania); and Vazir Jimmy R.K.S Verji, Uganda. Photo: Commemorative Issue 1977-1978, Sixty Years of Ismaili Education in Kenya, page 28.

Immediately prior to independence, the new Aga Khan, Prince Karim Aga Khan, on assuming his role as the 49th Imam of the Ismailis decided to realign the education institutions pioneered in his grandfather’s time under the old colonial system of government to the dynamics of new modern African states with their own needs for nation building. Nick was allocated this task in Tanganyika, which entailed upgrading existing schools and building new ones. Many students of both genders at the Aga Khan schools now sought scholarships to pursue higher education both in East Africa and overseas, a facility that was made possible by the Aga Khan. Consequently, a large number of men and women gained admission to institutions of higher learning in East Africa and some went to the United Kingdom, the USA, and elsewhere.

It was in early 1961, just after the country attained self-rule, that Nick was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Education and Information, Oscar Kambona. Within months, Kambona was appointed Tanganyika’s first Foreign Minister and was succeeded by Solomon Eliufoo. Nick was asked by Eliufoo to join Tanganyika’s delegation to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in France. It was during UNESCO’s General Conference that Eliufoo suddenly fell ill, and Nick found himself heading the delegation. At the General Conference, Nick was appointed as Rapporteur to the one of the two commissions set up by the General Conference, called the Administrative Commission. Soon thereafter, he was appointed as a co-Chair of this Commission. One of the tasks of the Commission then was to preserve the monuments of Nubia (The Temples of Abu Simbel) in the face of the ecological threat posed by the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt. Nick worked very closely with Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan who was appointed by UNESCO to be the Executive Secretary of the International Action Committee for the Preservation of Nubia. According to Prince Sadruddin, the campaign to save the monuments of Nubia, was one of UNESCO’s great achievements. 

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Nubia monuments Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Al Noor Kassum Simerg tribute
The Nubian Monuments are in an archaeological zone of primary importance which extends from Aswan to the Sudanese border. It includes magnificent monuments as the Temples of Ramses II at Abu Simbel and the Sanctuary of Isis at Philae, which were saved from the rising waters of the Nile thanks to the International Campaign launched by UNESCO, in 1960 to 1980. Photo: UNESCO.

With a background in, and a passion for, education, Nick spent his early years after the country’s independence (late 1961) with educational issues, the main national objective being to enhance opportunities in primary education and to promote adult literacy. The building of a national university was very high on the priority list of the new country. Nick devoted his time mainly to the educational priorities of the country. This was not his only preoccupation, for he was also instrumental in setting up the Mwananchi Development Corporation that became the primary agency for the Tanzanian Government to ensure that it was able to govern the country’s resources more effectively and equitably for national development. In 1964 after the revolution in Zanzibar, when Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form the new Republic of Tanzania, Nick was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Industries, Natural Resources, and Power.

These early days of his political career were momentous for various developments that were taking place in Africa where Tanzania under the stewardship of Julius Nyerere was beginning to play an important international role. These developments included the advent of independence in Uganda and Kenya in 1962 and 1963 respectively, the founding of the Organization for African Unity in Addis Ababa in 1963 and the mobilisation of major freedom movements in Southern Africa. The banning of political parties in South Africa and Mozambique led to thousands of political refugees seeking asylum in Tanzania. President Nyerere, a Pan Africanist par excellence, played a major supportive role in all these freedom movements.

In early 1965, at the behest of then then Director General of UNESCO, Rene Maheu, and with the approval of President Nyerere, Nick was appointed as Senior Liaison Officer, Bureau of Relations with International Organizations and Programmes at UNESCO in Paris — a position he held for two years. His work entailed coordinating UNESCO’s activities in the field of education with various international agencies such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in Rome and the ILO (International Labour Organization) in Geneva. It also included persuading the UNDP (United Nationals Development Programme) in New York and the World Bank in Washington DC to finance various UNESCO projects.

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Al Noor Kassam with UNSG U Thant
Hon. Al Noor Kassum with UN Secretary-General U Thant at a meeting in Rome of the UN Administrative Committee on Coordination, May 1969. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection. Click on photo for enlargement.

Among other duties Nick performed was participating in international conferences of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN’s Administrative Committee on Coordination in both Geneva and New York. At the end of 1966, Rene Maheu asked Nick if he would be happy to head UNESCO’s Liaison Office at the UN in New York. Nick once again sought Nyerere’s approval, took up the offer and moved to New York in 1967. It was at the end of his two-year assignment in New York that C.V. Narasimhan of India, Chef de Cabinet to the UN Secretary General U Thant, invited Nick to join the UN Secretariat as assistant Secretary General at which time Nick again sought Nyerere’s approval only to be told that Tanzania needed his services more than the UN. Nick placed service to his country before service to his international career and came back to Tanzania to take on some pivotal national positions offered to him by the president.

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Al Noor Nick Kassum UNSG Waldheim and Sen Kennedy, Tribute Simerg
Hon. Al Noor Kassum, with UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, Richard Gardner and US Senator Edward Kennedy at a UN workshop to discuss the report on how the United Nations system could be restructured. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection. Click on photo for enlargement.

For the next 50 years, Nick made Tanzania his principal residence and served in a number of capacities. We will just make brief mention of these in order to show the energy he brought to the positions he was asked to head and the innovations he made. On his return to Tanzania in 1969, he was appointed as Deputy General Manager of Williamson Diamond Mines in Mwadui near Shinyanga in which the Government of Tanzania was a shareholder but was often kept in the dark with regard to major decision making. Nick went down Shinyanga to the mine and spent the next few years studying the operational dynamics and suggesting significant changes in management. He commissioned a report called the Mwadui Report that showed the workings on the ground to the chagrin of the administration. This led to the appointment of the first Black African, Matthew Luhanga, as the General Manager of Williamson Diamond Mines.

In 1972, President Nyerere once again called upon Nick to play an important role in the country, this time as the East African Community (EAC) Minister of Finance and Administration. The appointment had to be endorsed by the Presidents of the three East African countries that made up the EAC which are Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Nick feared that Idi Amin, who had constantly been attacking the Asians in Uganda, would withhold his ratification but surprisingly Idi Amin added his signature without demure six months before he expelled all the Asians from Uganda. Even so, Amin always treated Nick with courtesy and respect. During Nick’s tenure as East African Minister for Finance and Administration, the United Nations invited him to chair a group of 25 experts evaluating how the United Nations system could be restructured, following a UN resolution on the New World Economic Order. After the report was submitted to the UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim, a workshop was held where the panelists included Kurt Waldheim, and US Senator Edward Kennedy. The report was then placed before the UN General Assembly.

In March 1977, anticipating the impending demise of the EAC, President Nyerere invited Nick to head the Ministry of Water, Energy and Minerals. This was a few years after the price of petroleum soared as a result of the 1973 Arab-Israel war. The government established the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) as the chief purchasing agency, and the task of obtaining oil for the country on the world market for the very little foreign exchange that Tanzania had at that time devolved on Nick’s shoulders. Nick led ministerial delegations to places as diverse as Angola, Libya, Iran and Algeria, and his basic message was: “We are having temporary problems and so cannot pay immediately for the oil we need. However, we do have natural resources and so can pay you in the longer term. Could you please let us have oil on credit? And they did so.” (Al Noor Kassum, Africa’s Winds of Change: Memoirs of an International Tanzanian, p. 123, see book highlight below).

In 1991, after retiring from politics, His Highness the Aga Khan appointed Nick as his Personal Representative in Tanzania in which capacity Nick helped with the establishment of projects undertaken by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Tanzania. These ranged from healthcare and education to culture and tourism. Nick also helped in negotiating the Protocol of Cooperation between the Government of Tanzania and the AKDN, which facilitated the AKDN’s contribution to Tanzania’s social and economic development. Nick held this position till 2002.

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Aga Khan, Benjamin Mkapa, Kikwete and Al Noor Nick Kassum protocol signing Tanzania
His Highness the Aga Khan and (then) Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa exchange copies of a protocol for development cooperation, with Jakaya Kikwete (future and fourth President of Tanzania) and Hon. Al Noor Kassum in attendance, August 2001. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection.

In 1993, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi appointed Nick as the Chancellor of Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, and also bestowed on Nick the title of ‘Honourable’ for life. On November 28 1997, as Chancellor of the University, it fell upon Nick to award an honorary degree in philosophy to Nyerere in recognition of his lifelong service to humanity and his support to African countries struggling for their independence (see photo at the beginning of this post). To come back full circle, a year earlier Nyerere had appointed Nick as a trustee of a new foundation bearing his name called the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation, established to promote peace, unity and people-centred development in Africa. On January 10 2000, after President Nyerere’s death, the Board of Trustees appointed Nick as interim Chairman for one year. Hon. Salim Ahmed Salim, a former Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity and former President of the UN General Assembly then succeeded Nick to this position.

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l Noor Kassum confers an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree on the first Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, on 28 November 1997
As Chancellor of Sokoine University of Agriculture, Hon. Al Noor Kassum confers an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree on the first Tanzanian President, Julius Nyerere, on November 28, 1997. Photo: Al Noor Kassum’s family collection. Click on photo for enlargement.

Nick’s funeral at the Karimjee Hall in Dar es Salaam on November 20, 2021 was attended by leading members of the Tanzanian Government. The venue, where some sixty years earlier he had crossed the floor to join the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), was dignified but not sad because it celebrated a life well lived in the service of the country and community. His funeral was attended by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, ex-President Jakaya Kikwete, ex-President Amani Karume, ex-Prime Minister Joseph Warioba and many prominent Government officials and dignitaries who paid their respect.

Conveying condolence on behalf of President Mama Samia Suluhu Hassan to the Kassum family, the Tanzanian nation, the Aga Khan and the Ismaili community, the Prime Minister recollected the years of dedicated service Vazir Hon. Al Noor Kassum had rendered to the country, highlighting Nick’s mentorship to so many individuals who would become leaders of Tanzania. The Prime Minister also mentioned the deep friendship that Nick had enjoyed with President Nyerere and the bond of trust they shared in the service of the country, which he referred to as unique and very special. During the dignified funeral, Nick’s eldest son Saleem, on behalf of the Kassum family, thanked the past and present leaders of Tanzania, the leaders of the Ismaili Jamat and the AKDN for their presence, and for their kind words of tribute to Nick’s life .

Portrait of Vazir Hon. Al Noor (Nick) Kassum (1924-2021), Tanzania politician, Ismaili leader
Vazir Hon. Al Noor Kassum (1924-2021)

According to Mohamed M. Keshavjee, an international specialist on cross cultural mediation: “Nick Kassum was a very special individual of prodigious diplomatic capability whose multiple talents were underpinned by sound administrative competence and hard work. Nick served Tanzania as a diplomat in the formative years of its evolution. He served the UN at a critical time of decolonisation. He enjoyed President Nyerere’s full confidence and was asked to come back to serve the country in a number of critical portfolios. Nick acquitted himself with great aplomb and assiduity of purpose. He excelled in whatever was assigned to him but, in the process, he never lost his humility and compassionate disposition which allowed others to shine when he found them capable of serving the country he so dearly loved.”

Rest in Peace dear Nick. What you had; you gave. What you could, you did.

Date posted: February 15, 2022.
Last updated: February 24, 2022 (new photo, Mawlana Hazar Imam with East African Ismaili education administrators)

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Vazir Hon. Al Noor (Nick) Kassum by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Navroz Lakhani
Navroz Lakhani

About the writer: Navroz Lakhani (B.Sc Special Mathematics, London University, 1970), worked as a Software Engineer at major corporations, British Gas, Bell Canada and Saudi Arabian Airlines. From 2011-2016, he served as Management & Program Liaison Officer (MPLO) at the AKDN Diplomatic Office in Tanzania. Currently he is conducting research on the history of Ismaili Muslims in Africa and the contribution of AKDN in several countries in a rising Africa.

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Africa's Winds of Change by Al Noor Kassum

Al Noor Kassum’s Africa’s Winds of Change — Memoirs of an International Tanzanian documents the changes that took place in Tanzania from the middle of the 20th century to around the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, through the prism of an East African Asian experience. The author sheds new light on the character and legacy of Julius Nyerere, who emerges as radically different from the stereotypical anti-Western firebrand which became his image in the West. Africa’s Winds of Change offers a fascinating personal history of a unique African nation at a critical stage in its development. Africa’s Winds of Change, hardback, 256 pages, was first published by I.B Tauris in October 2007. It is currently unavailable at new and used booksellers as well as other online sources that we checked out, including Amazon, AbeBooks and eBay.

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More tributes to Al Noor Kassam (external links):

1. Daily News (Tanzania) — Reflections on Contributions, Legacy of Al Noor Kassum
2. The Citizen (Tanzania) — The Life and Times of Nick Kassum

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Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings. 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.

The editor of the 3 websites, Malik, may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com.

Mrs. Merchant with senior students of Central London BUI

To Mrs. Merchant: “With Love to the Best Ever” – Memories from Her Students in London, England

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Simergphotos and Barakah

Exactly a year ago, on Thursday, January 21, 2021, my beloved mum “Mrs. Merchant” (Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant) passed away peacefully at the age of 89. Tributes and condolences poured from all over the world, which deeply touched the entire family. The family also received a Talika of blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as well as a message of condolence from Prince Rahim Aga Khan, both of which deeply inspired and gave courage to the family during their period of bereavement. My dad, Jehangir, her loving husband of 66 years, had died three years earlier on May 27, 2018. They both served Imamat institutions on a professional and voluntary basis as missionaries and religious education teachers for more than 60 years.

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mr and mrs merchant
This July 1992 photo of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant is from the first page of the tribute album prepared by the BUI students of Central London, England on their retirement from the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the UK. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

I was unable attend the funeral because of Covid-19, and other challenges. Knowing my situation, my mum told me on Facetime on the morning of her admission to the hospital, “Malik, tereku nai aneka hai” (you are not going to travel). She passed away 12 hours later.

Three months later, I travelled to close her rented home and spent three weeks packing my parents belongings. As mentioned earlier my beloved father, had died 3 years earlier. As I went through thousands of pieces of objects that included their beautifully handwritten waezes (sermons) I came across a priceless album of tributes prepared by Baitul Ilm (BUI) students of Central London, England, for her retirement. All these objects, including the album, were packed and shipped to Ottawa, numbering some 86 boxes. The major categories of the contents were identified on a spreadsheet.

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Mrs. Merchant Tribute
Title page of tribute album prepared for Mrs. Merchant. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection,
Ismaili teacher and missionary Mrs. Merchant retirement bouquet of flowers
A young girl presents a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Merchant on her retirement as teacher and waezin with ITREB for the UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

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The Untiring Efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant

Ismaili religious education teacher and missionary Mrs. Merchant
An absolutely beautiful Mrs. Merchant helped by Tasneem Virani cuts a cake at the tribute party held on the occasion of her retirement from ITREB UK. She and her husband were recognized for their services to the UK Jamat in a speech delivered by Ms. Virani (see excerpts below). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

By TASNEEM VIRANI

Let us take our minds back in the 1970’s when they [Mr. and Mrs. Merchant] worked seven days and evenings, spreading their knowledge to not only the children, but the leaders, the Mukhisahebs and Kamdiasahebs, as well as all the members of the Jamat. They would be in London one morning, then Brighton later in the afternoon, then back to another centre in London, then off again — all by British Rail.

They continued to be extremely involved with teaching, preparing teaching notes, training Mukhisahebs and Kamadiasahebs, perfecting varas [recitations] for children, training the teachers, training and supporting those coming into our Tariqua and so on. This is a real backbone of our strength in our institution as we see today and will never be forgotten. Our gratitude for those untiring efforts have no bounds.

I remember the long hours we all spent together in the stages when we we were planning to formalize the structure of religious education as we know it today. This format of Bait-al-Ilm is the culmination of the untiring and continued support and input from you both, Mr. and Mrs. Merchant.

Mrs. Merchant, you have taught us to follow, in spirit and in action, the most important Farman of Mawlana Hazar Imam of not accepting mediocrity but always aiming at the highest level and not compromising on quality. The time you spent on an individual child and the patience you show all make you a role model for those left now to do the job you started so long ago and continue to do.

We pray to Mawlana Hazar Imam to shower you with blessings that you will have happiness, long life, strength and courage to continue your hard work and give to others what what you have given to us. Ameen, Tasneem Virani, Administrator.

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Tribute to Mrs. Merchant
A tribute by a BUI student to Mrs. Merchant from the tribute album presented to her by the London BUI students, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

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With some help from members of the Jamat, I began unpacking a few of the boxes that I had carefully labelled at the time of packing. JAM #55 (Jehangir Alibhai Merchant, everyone wondered why they were labelled JAM, but my dad had a sweet tooth, anyway) had been assigned to the box containing the album. I am deeply happy to post a few images from the voluminous album of tributes to my mum by the London students. I hope to be able to scan as well as OCR a few more pages from the album highlighting the impact of her contribution to religious education in the UK, and to publish another post sometime in the near future.

Mrs Merchant retirement card from students and teachers of BUI London England
Mrs. Merchant admires a beautiful card presented to her during her retirement from ITREB for the UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Tribute to Mrs. Merchant by Ismaili students in the UK on retirement from ITREB
A tribute by a BUI student to Mrs. Merchant, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Mr and Mrs Merchant farewell party.
Mr. Merchant makes a point during his address at the farewell party honouring him and Mrs. Merchant (left) for the services they rendered as religious education teachers and Waezin with ITREB, UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

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The Gentle Mrs. Merchant: A Letter from a Student

Mrs. Merchant with senior students of Central London BUI
Mr. and Mrs Merchant with the Darkhana Jamatkhana and ITREB UK leadership, and teachers and senior students of BUI Central London, UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

By SHAHEEN AND BUI STUDENTS

…..We are all gathered here today to say Good-Bye to our dear Mrs. Merchant, What I would really like to do is to share with you a letter which I have written to Mrs. Merchant.

Dear Mrs. Merchant,

I am going back a good number of years when I recall that when I started religious training at [5] Palace Gate you were my first teacher and you have continued to be the gentle but strong influence in my life, for religious training does not end at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday but continues to be an integral part of our lives. I have spent many Saturdays listening and discussing in your classes and these are the roots of my understanding of my beautiful religion. Your constant guidance and willingness to answer the questions, however bizarre, never once a harsh word, or a change in the pitch of your voice, however much we tried your patience, makes you a role model for us. Yes, believe or not Mrs. M. I now come in to teach the little children and I will try and use the same gentle but impossible to say No! manner when asking a child to take a vara [recitation of Dua, Farman, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana]…. It is thanks to personal touches and willingness to do anything for your students that makes you that special person that you are….

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BUI students at Mr and Mrs Merchant retirement party
A group of BUI students perform a recitation at the retirement party in honour of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant who served as missionaries and religious education teachers with ITREB UK. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

If we have a vara we can be sure a day or so before the phone would ring and the familiar voice would say, “Beta, you were not in Jamatkhana today, why? How are you doing in your exams? I will pray for you. Are you ready for your vara? Can I hear it over the phone?”

This kind of dedication is rare and we are the lucky few who received it. Well Mrs. Merchant, today we pray for you, that you will always find peace and satisfaction and find more children to benefit from your softly softly approach so that they can become staunch Ismailis and may they also experience the love and confidence we have enjoyed.

We love you and we will miss you. Don’t forget us for we will never forget you. Love from Shaheen and all the others in London.

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You Will Be in Our Hearts and Prayers Forever

Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant (June 9, 1931 – January 21, 2021), pictured in Lisbon, Portugal, in July 2018, during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Mrs. Merchant was a truly beautiful soul, a deeply caring mother and grandmother as well as a fantastic teacher and an Alwaeza (missionary) loved by thousands around the world.

I humbly and sincerely ask everyone to join the family in praying that Alwaeza Malek Merchant’s soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: January 21, 2022.

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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.

Short Video: A Powerful and Inspiring Plea to all Ismailis by (Late) Alwaez Abualy Alibhai Aziz

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

One of the most well known and travelled missionaries of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in the past century has to be Alwaez Rai Abualy Alibhai. He passed away in May 2008, before this website was inaugurated, and I have often thought of him several times over the past decade. A mentally and physically strong person all his life, he continued until his very last years to sit on the floor in Jamatkhana, without twitching. He was always fully focused in his prayers.

Ismaili missionaries
Clockwise from left: Ismaili missionaries Sadru Pradhan (deceased), Abualy Aziz (deceased), Amirali Amlani (deceased), Jehangir Merchant ( deceased), Sultanali Mohamed (deceased), Fateh Damji and Ali Rajabali. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Missionary Abualy gives remarks at the 50th wedding anniversary party for Jehangir (right) and Maleksultan Merchant (not shown). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Alwaez Abualy delivers a short speech at the 50th wedding anniversary party for Alwaez Jehangir (right) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant (not shown). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

I remember him fondly calling my late mum as “meri beti” (my daughter), especially after she had delivered a waez (sermon). My parents knew him from India, but I first met the beloved missionary in the late 1950’s when he made two visits to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). Now, in Mozambique there was no guarantee about when a specific visitor would arrive in the country — as travel via South Africa was sometimes tricky, with possible delays — and I would remember my dad walking up to all the boys who were playing football in the Jamatkhana field and telling us that when we got back home we should tell our parents that a missionary had arrived in the city and that he would be delivering a waez that evening. This may not have been the case with missionary Abualy but it was definitely the case with missionary Salim Issa Moosa. I was in the group of footballers when my dad introduced Salim missionary to all of us, and asked us to attend Jamatkhana with our parents to listen to his waez. We not only spoke Portuguese but spoke and wrote in Gujarati quite well. My parents had taught us Dua meanings of all six parts in Gujarati by the time we were 8!

During his lifetime, Alwaez Abualy delivered thousands of waezes around the world, and one thing that he did which my parents never did was that he always carried a portable tape recorder to the stage to tape his own waez. Thus, the collection of waezes that have been gathered for the late missionary is phenomenal.

I propose to publish a longer piece about the missionary one day, but for today I am putting out this short piece because Toronto’s Kamru Rashid, an avid reader and also a contributor of articles on this website, sent me a forward of an excerpt from a talk that Alwaez Abualy had delivered a few years before he passed away. The video clip has been circulating on the social media recently.

In the video, the missionary gives a powerful message to all Ismailis. Speaking in Urdu, Alwaez mentions about the difficulties mankind will face in the 21st century, and then he makes a passionate plea to all Ismailis to keep the remembrance of Allah constantly in their hearts. He asks the Jamat to recite Ya Allah, Ya Muhammad, Ya Ali, or the names of the Imams including Mawlana Shah Karim for protection from difficulties and for strength in adversity.

Then, finally, as the clip nears the end, he asks each and everyone to attend Jamatkhana at least once a day to avail ourselves of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s bountiful grace and blessings.

I urge you to listen to missionary Abualy’s message in the video recording below, and explain it to non-Urdu listeners.

(Late) Alwaez Abualy A. Alibhai speaking at an Ismaili gathering.

Date posted: December 16, 2021.

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

Alwaez Nizar Chunara with his wife and children. Passings Simerg

Passings: Alwaez Nizar Chunara (1940 – 2021)

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

“Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021), Simerg passings
Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021)

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

[In writing this tribute, I am deeply indebted to the family of Alwaez Nizar Chunara for supplying me with important information related to his life].

It is with the utmost sadness that I record the recent demise of the much beloved missionary of the Ismaili world, Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara, who passed away in Vancouver on September 8, 2021 at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife Fariyal and their three children Fayaz (Shirzad), Arif (spouse Amynah) and Fazillah (spouse Alim) as well as grandchildren Raeesa, Raian, Mikayla, Alayna, Kayden, Alyssa and Mila and two younger brothers, Alnoor (Remtulla) in Edmonton and Azeem in Australia. Alwaez was laid to rest in Vancouver on September 14, 2021.

Born on October 29, 1940 in Manyoni, a small town near Dodoma, Tanzania, Nizar Chunara did his early schooling in Tabora and completed his secondary education at Dar es Salaam’s Aga Khan Secondary School. He then joined his father’s business in Manyoni and shortly thereafter went to Pakistan to pursue his dream of becoming a missionary (or Alwaez). 

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Aga Khan  Mawlana Hazar Imam with Nizar Chunara waezin program student in Pakistan, photo for Simerg
During his visit to Pakistan in the early 1960’s Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets young East African waezin student Nizar Chunara in Karachi. Having learnt from Nizar about his interest in the comparative study of religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam then wrote down the title of a dissertation that would be of interest to the future waezin (see inset image). This note was preserved by Alwaez, and attached to the bottom of the photo shown above, and the blessed moment stayed with him all his life. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

During his studies in Pakistan in the early 1960’s, he was blessed with an opportunity to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam, who inquired what subject interested him the most. When he said he was keen on studying comparative religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam referred Alwaez to Professor Louis Massignon’s dissertation on Al-Hallaj by writing the information down on a piece of paper (see photo, above). This was an unforgettable incident in Nizar’s life at a very young age. It is a well known fact that Massignon (d. 1962), besides being an authority on the life of the legendary Muslim mystic Al-Hallaj, wrote and spoke on interfaith dialogue and was particularly interested in the relationship of the three Abrahamic faith traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For Alwaez, this was the first of several opportunities in his life to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam.

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Aga Khan group photo Nairobi Kenya with Nizar Chunara
This group photo was taken in 1982 in the course of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Kenya, when the leadership and spouses of every Jamati institution had the opportunity of a group photograph with Hazar Imam, Begum Salimah and Prince Amyn Mohamed. This particular group was the Ismailia Association, the precursor of the present-day ITREB. Alwaez Nizar Chunara is seen standing in back row (5th from left), immediately behind Hazar Imam, and his wife Fariyal is seated on floor, 5th from left. The then Chairman of the Ismailia Association, Rai Ameerally Kassim-Lakha, is on Begum Salimah’s right. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1964, following the completion of the waezin training program in Pakistan, he joined the Ismailia Association (now known as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB) in Tanzania as a full-time Alwaez. He dedicated the rest of his life to the service of Ismaili institutions, the community and the Imam-of-the-Time both in full-time and honorary capacities. His sermons were enjoyed by Jamats wherever he preached.

The most profound memory in his life was of him accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his fifty-four day visit to East Africa and Madagascar in 1966, as the official missionary. The memories of this visit stayed with Alwaez Nizar and inspired him throughout his life.

As a son of one of his best waezin friend, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (d. 2018), whom he would visit every single day as they were neighbours in the same apartment building on United Nations Road, I can say that Alwaez Nizar’s recollection of this extraordinary visit were absolutely remarkable and truly inspiring. I sincerely hope that the recorded written details of this visit have been carefully preserved.

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Jehangir Merchant, Nizar and Fariyal Chunara in Dar es Salaam Tanzania United Nations Road, Simerg, Passings
Nizar Chunara (left), his wife Fariyal and Jehangir Merchant pictured outside their apartment building – Islamabad Flats – located on United Nations Road in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection, photo taken in late 1960’s.

I vividly recall the day when my mum, Alwaeza Malek (d. 2021), was preparing her material for a waez on social habits. Having just returned from the tour, Alwaez Nizar mentioned a Farman that Mawlana Hazar Imam had made in Mbale during a Jamati mulaqat. Hazar Imam warned the jamat about social habits in very strong terms. He also said that some  members of the jamat who had these habits had said to their friends that they were not socially advanced if they did not smoke and drink. Mawlana Hazar said that this was complete and absolute nonsense. That recollection by Alwaez Nizar set the groundwork for my mum’s waez material. The three missionaries shared their hopes and aspirations for the Jamat without any form of rivalry between them. Indeed, they were most respectful and helpful to each other in their common objective to serve the jamat and Mawlana Hazar Imam. That bond of friendship and affection remained throughout their lives until their deaths.

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Nizar Chunara Notes
A page from a waez notebook of Alwaez Nizar Chunara. Photo: Late Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his 1966 visit as well as serving the jamat and its institutions, Alwaez Nizar was following in the footsteps of his forefathers who had served the Imam-of the-Time with love and devotion. Indeed, the voluminous history of Ismaili Imams in Gujarati written in 1936 known as Nurun Mubin was authored by AJ (Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad) Chunara, who is among those who has been profiled in 101 Ismaili Heroes.

Nizar was also a superb volleyball player as well as a fantastic football (soccer) goalkeeper. But of course his service to the Jamat was most profoundly felt as an Alwaez.

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Nizar Chunara Ismaili missionary or Alwaez Simerg Passings
Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara with his wife Fariyal. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1972, as he was set to depart for Canada from Tanzania, he was summoned to Kenya for full time service there. By this time he had been married to Fariyal for a few years, and they had two boys, Fayaz and Arif, who were both born in Dar es Salaam. Their third child, Fazillah was born in Nairobi. He served in Kenya until 1988, and then settled in Canada. During his tenure in Kenya he went on several official waezin duties around the world, and one of the most significant ones was visiting refugee camps in Europe where many Ugandan Ismailis had been housed after their expulsion in late 1972.

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Nizar Chunara with his family, Simerg passings
Alwaez Nizar Chunara and his wife Fariyal pictured in group photos with their grandchildren (top photo), and their children with their respective spouses and children, bottom photo. Photos: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

As children, what do we most remember of our parents and grandparents? Of course, their unbounded love for us and their devotion to us by giving us the best education possible. Alwaez Nizar and his wife Fariyal gave their children the best they could in every way. Alwaez Nizar’s children and grandchildren also have other fond memories of their beloved dad and grandfather. They simply could not wait for their loving papa to return home from his waez tours, bringing for them heaps of chocolates. To see his children filled with happiness, was Nizar’s greatest joy. He would visit them everyday, play with them and take them for drives. All the grandchildren absolutely loved their Dada and Nana banana!! 

Alwaez Nizar led his life to the fullest, and serving as an Alwaez gave him the greatest happiness. He was fortunate to have the support of his wife and his entire family.

Although he struggled with Parkinson’s for about 15 years, he was not deterred in his determination for service to the Jamat, and continued to be a valuable source of information and inspiration to many in the Jamat. 

Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara will be sorely missed by jamats around the world and we pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: October 02, 2021.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Alwaez Nizar Chunara by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings.

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

A Tribute to Late Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid (1923-2019) of Zanzibar and Toronto

Passings and Tributes Simerg Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid
Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid (1923-2019) celebrating her 95th birthday in Toronto. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection.

Submitted by KAMRUDIN RASHID & FAMILY

Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid, our dearest mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great-grandmother and an extremely respected elder in the entire family passed away on July 15, 2019 at the age of 96. She enjoyed a wonderful life with her entire family, including all the extended family members, without any major ailment for which we offer our humble Shukhrana.

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simerg passings and tributes Nurbanu Abdulraul Rashid
Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid and husband Abdulrasul Rashid pictured in 1939 at their wedding. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection.

Born on June 3, 1923 in Zanzibar, she witnessed many milestone events in the family. During her lifetime she was also fortunate to celebrate the Golden and Diamond Jubilees of both the 48th and 49th Ismaili Imams, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan (d. July 11, 1957) and Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Aga Khan. Her first Deedar (lit. glimpse) with Mawlana Hazar Imam was on November 18, 1957 in the Island of Pemba, and her last mulaqat took place when Mawlana Hazar Imam was in Toronto on November 18, 2018 for the first-leg of his Diamond Jubilee visit to Canada.

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simerg tributes and obituaries passings Nurbanu Rashid
Seated left and right respectively are Sherbanu Haji Abdulla Dewsi and her husband Haji Abdulla Dewsi. The young boy in centre is Akbarali Haji Abdulla Dewsi. Standing are Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid (left), the subject of this tribute, and Abdulrasul Rashid whom Nurbanu would marry in later years. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection.
Aga Khan III, Wete, Simerg
A historical photo of Ismaili ladies and Ismaili youth volunteers outside Wete Pemba Jamatkhana with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan. Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid was an active volunteer and is pictured seated 4th from left, just in front of the framed photo. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection, Toronto.

We would like to recount a sad incident that took place in her lifetime when her own mother, Sherbanu Haji Abdulla Dewsi, who lived in Wete-Pemba and had travelled to Zanzibar for Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s visit in 1945, passed away during the Imam’s visit to Zanzibar. The visit took place before the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Dar es Salaam the following year, in August 1946. Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah happened to be at an event when Sherbanu’s funeral procession to the cemetery was underway and was passing along the narrow street outside. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah asked everyone in attendance to observe a moment of silence and pray for the departed soul.

During Nurbanu’s lifetime dozens of her birthdays were celebrated in a formal setting with many family members in attendance, including her 90th and 95th birthdays in Toronto which were organized and celebrated in style by all her grand and great-grandkids.

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Simerg, Passings and Tribute Nurbanu Rashid
Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid (front row, centre) pictured with her immediate and extended family members in 2008 in Toronto. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection. Please clik on photo for enlargement.

The greatest strength of the families that we all grew up in was living as united families. That ethical aspect of our faith has remained with us along with the ideals of faith, devotion, love and service to Mawlana Hazar Imam that our mother Nurbanu and all the elder members of our family imparted to us during their rich and noble lives. They led the family successfully through three generations.

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Passings and Tributes Simerg Nurbanu Rashid
Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid celebrating her 90th birthday with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection.

We are deeply happy to share a few memories from our photo albums. We humbly request members of the Jamat to join with us in praying for the peace and rest of the soul of Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid, as well as other deceased members of our family and the Jamats in Canada and around the world. Ameen.

Date posted: August 10, 2021.

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Tributes and condolences: We invite our readers to submit their memories and tributes to Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Simerg welcomes obituaries/tributes to honour past and recently deceased members of Ismaili families. Please see our guidelines for submission by clicking on PASSINGS.

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Passings and Tributes Simerg Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid
Nurbanu Abdulrasul Rashid (1923-2019) celebrating her 95th birthday in Toronto. Photo: Kamrudin Rashid & Family Collection.

Zarina Bhatia (d. July 2021): A Tribute to a Noble Ismaili Social Anthropologist from Birmingham, UK, Who Became One of My Truest Friends

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

“Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th Ismaili Imam

Zarina Bhatia (d. July 2021)

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

“Mowla is with us day and night in our heart, thought and prayer. We as Ismailis are most fortunate with Allah’s mercy” — Zarina Bhatia

It is with utmost sadness that I share with you the demise of Zarina Bhatia of Birmingham, England, originally of Kampala, Uganda, at the age of 82. Her funeral ceremony took place on Friday July 30, 2021, at Birmingham Jamatkhana, and she was later buried at the city’s Handsworth Cemetery. She had been unwell for some time and of late wasn’t able to communicate as frequently as was her wish.

Since the launching of Simerg some 12 years ago, Zarina became one of its most ardent supporters. She would comment frequently on articles that were posted in Simerg as well as its sister website Barakah, and would write personal inspirational notes to encourage me in my endeavours. She would always remember my late parents, Jehangir (d. May 2018) and Maleksultan Merchant (Mrs. Merchant, d. January 2021), whom she came to know during their waez and teaching visits to Birmingham during their tenure with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom (ITREB).

I would like to share a couple of important comments that she made on the websites showing her affection for Ismailis around the world. In response to the post titled 1995 Flashback: The Aga Khan’s first visit to Badakhshan, a historic day the Ismailis will never forget, Zarina wrote:

“This article brings tears of joy and spirit of true brotherhood for the Ismaili Jamats of Badakhshan. While we have been so fortunate to have visits, never enough from our Beloved Imams of the Age over decades, these brethren are meeting our Imam-e-Zaman Mowlana Shah Karim al-Husseini for the first time!

My own late Father who was born in a village of Jamnagar in Gujerat in India had described to me his journey as a child of about 8 years old, to the city of Baroda, partly by foot, that took him a few days with his two older and one younger brother along with some Jamati members (his father had already passed away by then) to meet Mowlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, with similar zeal and sentiment. He recalled the Farman Imam made then about importance of educating a daughter, emphasising that with choice between a son if resources were limited, the future was in doing so. With physical health, the son could use his labour and feed the family, but daughter should not be kept at home in illiteracy. We see the significance of this Farman today in Shia Imami Ismailis the world over. Please overlook errors I have made, I am overwhelmed by reading the whole article. May Allah bless you for compiling such moving articles about our Global Jamat scattered across this world we share. Ameen.”

In another letter, in response to Simerg’s article Prayers for Syria, Zarina poignantly wrote:

“Ignorant as I am in Arabic, the English version you have given out of this Prayer (Naad-e-Ali) with beautiful Arabic script that sadly I cannot read, but can hear it and share it with our afflicted brethren not just in Syria but also in Bahrain, Iran and more currently with Shia in Sana’a in Yemen. This, the most powerful prayer of Nade Ali in its entirety rings in my ears and jogs my memory of times when I have addressed it to Mowla.

“Since our young days our parents taught us lovingly while comforting us. When any of us face tribulations, for Mushkeel Asaan we privately recite it [Nade Ali] connecting as if on a direct line, a personal phone call to Ali. He is engraved in our hearts; this supplication is embossed deep down in our soul as the SOS, ultimate call out to help us, to our Mowla Ali present our ‘ghat’ closer than our jugular vein, for example in Ginanic verses: ‘Rome rome maaro Shah vase, jem champa phul manhe vaas…avun Janine bhagatai kijiye …’

“Enough. Words fail me as I bow down my head in Sujjud with all His created human kind. Thank you for the beautiful gift of ‘Nade Ali’ to us, the victims of atrocities, pain and suffering. Ameen.”

Zarina became an elder sister to me, and she promised me that if she ever visited Canada from the UK she would make a special trip to Ottawa. She kept her promise by making that trip in 2015. She travelled on the bus to Ottawa, accompanied by her gracious Toronto host Nadira Lakhani. I was indeed honoured and privileged to receive her and to spend time showing her and Nadira the key tourist points in Ottawa. Before their departure for Toronto, we visited the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building on Sussex Drive.

Zarina Bhatia PhD Social Changes in the Ismaili Society of East Africa with Reference to the Imamat of Four Successive Aga Khans
Zarina Bhatia of Birmingham, England, visits the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa in 2015 with her Toronto friend and host Nadira Lakhani. Photo: Malik Merchant.

Zarina was adorned with beautiful virtues, and her motives were pure and upright. She was never afraid to voice her opinion whenever she felt she had to. Throughout her life she remained dedicated to the Palestinian cause, freely discussing their plight and right to statehood. She was also a peace activist and campaigned for nuclear disarmament voicing her strong opposition on the development and distribution of the Trident nuclear programme. She wrote, “Wars cause destruction not only of lives but natural resources. That is why I am an adamant follower of Global Peace and am without reservation a Peace Activist. As a citizen of the world I would like every human being to refrain from wars.”

As a devout Ismaili, she sought to share the Ismaili Tariqah and the work of Mawlana Hazar Imam with her non-Ismaili friends, and encouraged them to learn about the Ismaili faith by sending them pertinent links.

During her trip to Ottawa she shared with me some momentous and unforgettable events in her life, including the blessings that she received from Mawlana Hazar Imam as she embarked on her Ph.D studies in Social Anthropology at Oxford University in 1969.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s letter of August 16, 1969, sent directly to her Oxford address said: “I send you my best loving blessings in your studies at Oxford” — and then in his own handwriting Mawlana Hazar Imam added — “, and for spiritual happiness and for worldly achievement.”

Later, in 1987, several years after completing her Ph.D, she sent a copy of her thesis entitled “Social Changes in the Ismaili Society of East Africa with Reference to the Imamat of Four Successive Aga Khans” to Mawlana Hazar Imam. He responded with blessings for her success in her career in the UK. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s letter of July 21, 1987 also included prayers and blessings for the souls of her two brothers, Mohamed and Nizar, who had died a few years earlier.

However, she went largely unrecognized by Ismaili institutions, considering her background and achievements dating back to the 1960’s. Despite the indifference shown to her, as well as other personal grief and challenges that she had to deal with during her lifetime, Zarina always remained staunchly devoted to Mawlana Hazar Imam. She wrote to me in an email:

“Mowla is with us day and night in our heart, thought and prayer. We as Ismailis are most fortunate with Allah’s mercy.”

Indeed, as she told me, she kept Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings constantly in her heart throughout her life. They were keys to her courage and strength. During her visit to Ottawa, she also presented me with a photocopy of her photograph taken with Mawlana Hazar Imam when he visited her classroom in Kampala in 1959.

On a final note, readers may not be aware that when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited Oxford in 1968, Susan Mollar, the renowned feminist and campaigner for multi-cultural feminism, introduced Zarina to the Queen in the Common Room of Sommerville College as an African student from Uganda. A photo of the introduction was taken by the then Central Office of Information in London which ceased to exist in 2012.

This is an insufficient tribute to a true, sincere, honest, simple, straightforward and a highly educated Ismaili murid of Mawlana Hazar Imam. I humbly ask all readers to join me in offering prayers that Zarina’s beautiful and pure soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: July 30, 2021.
Last updated: August 5, 2021 (Photo added of Zarina Bhatia’s visit to Ottawa in 2015).

Tributes and condolences: We invite our readers to submit their condolences, memories and tributes to Zarina Bhatia. To pen your reflection please complete the feedback form below or click on Leave a comment.

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

Passings: Dr. Vali Jamal (d. July 11, 2021)

A Personal Reflection by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

Vali Jamal
Dr. Vali Jamal

I have learnt with deep sadness that Dr. Vali Jamal, a noted economist at the United Nations from the 1970’s to 1990’s, an author and a valuable contributor to Simerg’s acclaimed series on Ismaili Jamatkhanas and Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures, passed away in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11, 2021, at the age of 80.

In 2011, when we published his pieces on 5 Palace Gate, the iconic address in London’s South Kensington that was the centre of Ismaili culture and spiritual life in the UK, and the Kampala Darkhana Jamatkhana, Vali was in the midst of completing a book on Ugandan Asians that was scheduled to be published later that year. Vali was deeply devoted to the book, and very passionate about the subject of the history of Asians and their rich contributions to Uganda. He kept on expanding the book in the ensuing years with the result that the book reached a page count of almost 3000, containing thousands of images.

A version of the cover page of Vali Jamal’s painstaking work on the Ugandan Asians

He jokingly remarked it was a fist breaker because of its size and weight. The dream of launching the book in Uganda and elsewhere was never realized during his lifetime.

I sincerely hope that the book is ultimately published for the amount of authentic and important visual and textual information that Vali painstakingly gathered over the years from primary and first hand sources as well as from individual Asian families he connected with and wrote to him.

Vali Jamal and friends outside Uganda House, London, summer 1962. Clockwise from standing: Amin Chatur, Mansur Lalani, Vali Jamal, Zuli Rajan, Nurdin Juma Jutha and Sikander (aka Pyaralli) Ismail. Photo: Vali Jamal.

Vali, a devoted murid of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, never failed to appreciate and recognize the contribution of the Ismaili Imam’s uncle, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, in the resettlement of the Ugandan refugees, and wrote a touching tribute piece to the Prince in Simerg’s Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures. In his email exchanges he would often also quote how Mawlana Hazar Imam was personally involved in the resettlement of thousands of Ugandan Asians in Canada through the Government of Canada and Canada’s Prime Minister at the time, the Late Pierre Trudeau, father of the present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about whom he sent us a special piece when he was elected as the Prime Minister for the first time in 2015.

Dr. Vali Jamal was a Senior Economist at the International Labour Organization of the United Nations from 1976 to 2001. He completed his BA at Cambridge University and PhD at Stanford University, California. He then began working on his book and participated in discussions on the Ugandan Asians through email exchanges as well in the social media.

Images that Simerg created linking them to Vali Jamal’s 3 pieces for the website. See links below.

We would like to remember and recollect Dr. Vali Jamal through the wonderful pieces he contributed to this website. Please read the following pieces:

We pray that Dr. Vali Jamal’s soul may rest in eternal peace. We convey our sincere condolences to all his family members, friends and supporters around the world. We welcome tributes and messages of condolences to Dr. Jamal in our feedback form below.

Date posted: July 12, 2021.

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We invite our readers to submit their condolences, memories and tributes to Dr. Vali Jamal. To pen your reflection please complete the feedback form below or click on Leave a comment.

Links to article(s) by Vali Jamal on external websites:

Kibedi: Story of a man who was misunderstood

Links to his other pieces will be added as received.

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