Sir James D. Wolfensohn (1933-2020): Led the World Bank, Chaired the IAS Board and Was Deeply Reverential of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Calling Him an Icon of Action

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the death of James D. Wolfensohn on Wednesday, November 25 2020 at his home in Manhattan at the age of 86.

I reached out to the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), where Mr. Wolfensohn served as the past chair of the board, to allow Simerg to reproduce the obituary that has been posted on its website. We sincerely thank Lee Sandberg the press contact at IAS for the permission. For the information of our readers, The Institute for Advanced Study is one of the world’s foremost centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry. Located in Princeton, N.J., the IAS is dedicated to independent study across the sciences and humanities. Founded ninety years ago, the Institute is devoted to advancing the frontiers of knowledge without concern for immediate application. From founding IAS Professor Albert Einstein to the foremost thinkers of today, the IAS enables bold, curiosity-driven innovation to enrich society in unexpected ways.

His Highness the Aga Khan at a Press Conference announcing the launch of the new Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) in the company of James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (3rd left) and John Fergusson, AKDN Head of the Department of Public Affairs (2nd left). AKDN / Jean-Luc Ray
His Highness the Aga Khan (left) at a Press Conference on February 22, 2005 in Geneva, Switzerland, announcing the launch of the new Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance (AKAM) to help some of the world’s most vulnerable populations through innovative services including micro-insurance, small housing loans, savings, education and health accounts, and support for small entrepreneurs seeking to develop businesses related to restored cultural assets. The Aga Khan was joined at the news conference by Jim Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (right) and John Fergusson, AKDN Head of the Department of Public Affairs. Photo: AKDN/Jean-Luc Ray.

On a personal note, I was present on January 25, 2005 at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. when Mr. Wolfensohn introduced Mawlana Hazar Imam as the recipient of the Vincent Scully Prize. As an Ismaili, the tribute I heard is perhaps one of the finest and most touching I have ever heard or read during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s entire Imamat. Here is an excerpt from the tribute. The link to the complete tribute follows the obituary.

“In my 10 years at the bank, I’ve had the opportunity of meeting many people in the so-called development business. People that are concerned with the issues of poverty, people that in various ways display their interest in humanity, their concern for history, their concern for hope and for the future. And in that 10 years, I can tell you that there is one person who stands out in my mind as an icon of not only thought and philosophy but of action. And I have to say this in front of His Highness, that I don’t say this about everybody in the development business. He has truly done the most amazing job not only for the Ismaili community throughout the world, but really for all the communities that he serves.”

SIR JAMES D. WOLFENSOHN

The following obituary and accompanying portrait photograph is reproduced with the permission of the Institute of Advanced Studies where Mr. Wolfensohn had served as the chair of the Board. Please click James D. Wolfensohn to read the obituary at source, and to learn more about the work of the organization.

JDW portrait
James D. Wolfensohn (December 1, 1933 – November 25, 2020)

Sir James D. Wolfensohn, Chairman of Wolfensohn & Company, L.L.C. and a global champion of human rights, economic justice, scholarship, and the arts, died on Wednesday, November 25 at his home in Manhattan at the age of 86.

Wolfensohn was the ninth president of the World Bank, sworn into office on June 1, 1995, after being nominated by President Bill Clinton. A transformative and hands-on leader, Wolfensohn re-envisioned the Bank’s commitment to alleviating poverty, investing in sustainable development, and promoting social justice globally.

In 1979, Wolfensohn joined the Institute for Advanced Study’s Board of Trustees and became the Board’s longest-serving Chair (1986–2007). Wolfensohn had a passionate commitment to the Institute’s mission of enabling the world’s foremost scholars to conduct breakthrough research at the highest levels of academia.

“Jim embraced the world and everything in it—its challenges, the arts, science, politics, and people most of all,” stated Robbert Dijkgraaf, IAS Director and Leon Levy Professor. “A man of no excuses and a boundless diversity of interests, Jim believed in and harnessed the enormous potential of the human spirit for the common good. We are eternally grateful for the wisdom and generosity he brought to the Institute and world for which he cared so deeply.”

James David Wolfensohn was born on December 1, 1933, in Sydney, Australia. He was a veteran of the Royal Australian Air Force and a member of the 1956 Australian Olympic fencing team. Educated at the University of Sydney, he received a B.A. and LL.B. in 1954 and 1957, respectively. He worked as a lawyer at an Australian law firm and went on to earn an M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1959.

“Jim was larger than life, hard-working, and compassionate,” stated Charles Simonyi, IAS Board Chair. “His moral vision spanned the globe, complemented by a gift for connecting with individuals. Passionate about music and sciences, he was an inspiration to all who knew him. The Institute for Advanced Study will always treasure the memory of his extraordinary leadership.”

After launching his career as an investment banker, Wolfensohn worked for several different institutions in Australia, including Darling & Co., before joining the London-based investment bank J. Henry Schroder & Co. This position led Wolfensohn to return to the U.S. to become the managing director of the bank’s New York City office from 1970 to ’76. In 1979, as a senior executive at Salomon Brothers, he oversaw the emergency restructuring of Chrysler Corporation, working with then CEO Lee Iacocca and then President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank Paul A. Volcker. Wolfensohn spent another fourteen years in investment banking as President and CEO of James D. Wolfensohn, Inc. Wolfensohn became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1980.

As the longest-serving Chair in the Institute’s history, Wolfensohn stewarded the growth of the Institute’s endowment, which more than doubled in real terms under his leadership. His many accomplishments as Chair included overseeing the endowment of six Professorships across the Institute’s four Schools. Wolfensohn also took a particularly active interest in extending the global impact and profile of the Institute, reaffirming and strengthening its reputation as an international center for scholarship.

Having served as Chairman of the Boards of Carnegie Hall (1980–91) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1990–95), Wolfensohn, who was an accomplished cellist himself, encouraged musical performance at the Institute, contributing to the establishment of the Artist-in-Residence program and regular concerts. Reflecting Wolfensohn’s long-standing commitment to the Institute and his dedication to the arts, the Institute named its lecture and performance hall, Wolfensohn Hall, in his honor in 1993.

Wolfensohn was the third World Bank president to serve more than one five-year term. During his tenure, which extended from 1995 to 2005, Wolfensohn visited more than 120 countries, often accompanied by his wife and partner Elaine. Wolfensohn implemented an agenda to fight corruption, fund education, and support global health and HIV/AIDS programs. His efforts were also transformative in bringing more transparency to the organization.

In 2005, Wolfensohn’s experience as an investment banker and international advocate for human rights led him to found Wolfensohn & Company, LLC. The firm provides strategic consulting advice to governments and large corporations doing business in emerging market economies.

Among his numerous awards, Wolfensohn was made an honorary officer of the Order of Australia (1987), received an honorary knighthood of the Order of the British Empire (1995) for his service to the arts and the Leo Baeck Medal (2006) for his humanitarian work promoting tolerance and social justice. In 2020, Wolfensohn was recognized with the IAS Bamberger Medal for his extraordinary service in fortifying IAS for the twenty-first century and his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of new knowledge.

Wolfensohn was a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Wolfensohn was predeceased by his beloved wife Elaine, and is survived by children Sara, Naomi, and Adam; and seven grandchildren.

Date posted: November 26, 2020.

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To read James Wolfensohn’s tribute to His Highness the Aga Khan, please click The Aga Khan stands out as an icon of action

Featured photo at top of post: James Wolfensohn speaking on January 25, 2005 in Washington DC when the National Building Museum presented its sixth prestigious Vincent Scully Prize to His Highness the Aga Khan in recognition of his contributions to promoting design excellence and improving the built environment in the Muslim world.

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We welcome tributes and condolences in honour of Sir James David Wolfensohn. Please complete the feedback form below or click on Leave a comment.

Tributes to Ismailis who have passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic: Issue no. 2 of a multipart series

Share memories of members of your family who you have lost during the Coronavirus pandemic, either due to Covid-19 or any other cause. Please write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; you must include your full name and contact information. Please read earlier tributes in Issue # 1.

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

Huzurmukhi Madatali Merali Jamal
(Canada)

Madatali Jamal, age 89 (d. .April 2020)

Submitted by Shahida Mamdani-Sunderji, daughter of Madatali Jamal

Huzurmukhi Madatali Merali Jamal (April 30, 1930 – April 13, 2020), husband of Dilshad Jamal for 66 years, father of Shahida Mamdani-Sunderji and Amin Jamal, father-in-law of Begum Jamal, and grandfather of Shelina, Shairoz, Rahim and Aminmohamed, passed away in Ottawa during the spring of 2020, just over two weeks short of his 90th birthday. He was surrounded by his family in volunteers uniform at his funeral.

For the past several years, Mr. Jamal had dedicated his service to the Ottawa Jamat, at both the old and new Jamatkhana locations on Carling Avenue and Conroy Road, respectively. For years he lovingly tendered the Jamatkhana garden on 991 Carling Avenue. In the evenings, Mr. Jamal would present himself regularly as a volunteer at both the Jamatkhanas. His record of Jamatkhana attendance and services as volunteer was impeccable. He was accompanied and supported in his service and Jamatkhana attendance by his loving wife of 66 years, Dislshad. He served the Ottawa Jamat enthusiastically until the very last months of his life, when dementia took over.

Born and raised in Kakumiro, Uganda, he and his family settled in Scotland in October 1972 following the expulsion of Asians from Uganda, decreed by dictator Idi Amin. Huzurmukhi Jamal held positions of Mukhisaheb and Kamdiasaheb during his years in Uganda and Scotland. In 1985, he migrated with his family to Ottawa.

His dedication to the house of Imamat inspired his children to serve in numerous positions in the Jamat. His son Amin and wife Begum served as the Kamadia and Kamadiani of Ottawa Jamat for 4 years, which included the Golden Jubilee period of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat from July 11, 2007 until December 13, 2008. This service of his children filled Mr. Jamal with immense joy and happiness.

He was very fond of Ginanic literature, and instilled the wonderful tradition in his children. His daughter Shahida recites Ginans in Ottawa Jamatkhana regularly. Ambitious for his family, Mr. Jamal always asked them to take on life’s challenges and meet them with courage, hard work and wisdom.

He is deeply missed by all his family members in Canada and around the world, as well as his friends and the entire Ottawa Jamat.

We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

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Huzur Mukhiani Razia Jamal
(United Kingdom)

Razia Jamal, Stoke on Trent, Tribute Simerg
Razia Jamal, age 73 (d. May 3, 2020)

Submitted by Navrose Chappell, daughter of Razia Jamal

Razia Jamal, born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1947, passed away peacefully in hospital on Sunday, May 3, 2020 with her three children by her side, her family including her much loved grandchildren, brothers and sisters holding her hand virtually, whilst her favourite Zikr tasbih played in the room.

Before she passed away, she spoke with all of her family, received Chanta (sprinkling of water on face), and the Stoke-on-Trent Mukhisaheb bestowed Dua upon her and the family via a conference call.

Razia served Stoke-on-Trent Jamati Institutions for over 40 years.  She held the position of Jamati Kamadia Saheba for six years and supported her late husband Huzur Mukhisaheb Shiraz Jamal as he undertook the role of Jamati Mukhisaheb.

She was a dedicated volunteer who also undertook the role of Vice Captain and Captain at Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana during her service. Razia was an integral part of the Team in securing a permanent building for Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana which was founded in 2000.

As the Central Property Management (CPM) Lead for Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana for 14 years, Razia was also the first female CPM Lead in Europe.

Since her passing, the family have received many touching tributes conveying how much of an inspiration she was regarding her voluntary work, remarking on her wonderful services, writing how she was a real example of how voluntary service (seva) should be conducted, describing her as a legend, and commenting on her immense dedication to Stoke-on-Trent Jamatkhana.

Razia was a strong, classy, beautiful, thoughtful and humble lady, who loved her children, grandchildren and family immensely. 

She will be fondly remembered by all of her family, friends, Stoke-on-Trent Jamati members, and all the other Ismaili brothers and sisters who she has worked with during her lifetime of seva.   

Razia will be deeply missed every day, and we pray for her soul to rest in eternal peace. Ameen. 

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Alijah Saheba Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal (Canada)

Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal, d. age 83.

Submitted by Shariffa Keshavjee, friend and colleague of Zubeda Jamal

Alijah Saheba Zubeda Ebrahim Jamal’s funeral took place at Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana, in Burnaby, British Columbia, on August 6, 2020. Originally from Kisumu Kenya, she settled in Vancouver, and attended the Darkhana Jamatkhana.

Zubeda and I became friends as she encouraged me to take an active role in the Guiding Movement. In 1959, when I was in Kisumu, Zubeda was a Commissioner of the Girl Guides. I led the Brownies from the Siriguru Singh Saba School. We took the Brownies and Girl Guides camping.

I am grateful to Zubeda for her encouragement because it led me to serve as a girl guide to date.  I remain a Trustee with the Kenya Girl Guides Association and an Honorary Associate with the World Association.

Rest in peace dear Zubeda. Ameen.

Date posted: August 12, 2020.

We welcome tributes from our readers to individuals portrayed in this piece. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment. Please also see our earlier tributes by clicking  Issue # 1.

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To submit a tribute to your family member who has passed away due to Covid-19 or any other cause, please read TRIBUTES and write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; please include your full name and contact information.

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.

Iringa Jamatkhana, Mohamed Hamir, Ismaili, Simerg

Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Inspiration Behind the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Iringa, Tanzania

By MOHAMED HAMIR

[This special piece for Simerg is a revised version of the original article by the author that was published in Khojawiki in July 2020 — Ed.]

In 1933, in the midst of a global recession, a landmark building, a prayer house, arose in the center of a small provincial town in the interior highlands of Africa. The story of this remarkable building had its genesis in Kutch based family patriarch by the name of Hamir Pradhan, my great grandfather.

The Hamir family of Sinogra/ Nagarpur districts of Kutch was remembered as a reasonably prosperous and enterprising family in the latter half of 1800s. Hamir Pradhan had sired eight sons and one daughter. He was also a person of deep faith and community service. He had built and donated a small Jamatkhana in Sinogra. There is evidence that Hamir Pradhan had created a legacy of community service and sacrifice that left deep impression on his children and the community in Kutch. 

During early part of 1900s, six of the Hamir male siblings had joined the large scale migration of peoples from Kutch, Kathiawaar and other parts of Gujarat plagued by large scale famine, to the colonized countries of eastern and southern Africa. One of the young men among these siblings to migrate was Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, my grandfather. He was married to Bachibai, my grandmother. She and their first born daughter Fatma, who was around 3 years at the time, were to join my grandfather in Africa several years later.

Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 - 1943) of Iringa, Tanzania Simerg
Mohamed Hamir Pradhan (1880 – 1943). Photo: Hamir Collection.

My grandfather, Mohamed Hamir (Pradhan) was born in Sinogra, Kutch in 1880. Following his siblings, in 1902, he arrived in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), a German colony at the time. After a short stint in Kilosa with one of his brothers, Haji Hamir, he followed another brother, Satchu Hamir, to Iringa, a quintessential German/British colonial outpost town in the Southern Highlands, where he went to work for him in his retail (duka) shop. He helped his brother expand his business to inland villages, often traveling for weeks with a caravan of porters carrying merchandise. In 1905, three years after his arrival in Tanganyika, he formed his own business.

Benefiting from his trading experience and extensive contacts with both the German and later British colonialist, he was able to capitalize and benefit from the war economy of the First World War (1914-1918). Over the next three decades he became a successful entrepreneur in retail and residential real estate development. Also over the next several years he and my grandmother Bachibai who had joined him from Kutch, expanded the family to include three more daughters and a son. This expanded, and eventually extended family through marriages, was to play a large role in my grandfather’s business successes, and more importantly in helping him achieve his ultimate legacy. Since his son, my father was only 12 or 13 years of age, his daughters played a key role in running his retail business and were deeply involved on his legacy project.

Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, Ismaili Iringa simerg photos
Bachibai Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Hamir Collection.

The names of my grandfather’s children and their marital families are (chronologically): daughters Fatma Mahamed Ladha, Sikina Bhimji Asser Sachedina, Jena Ramzan Parpia, and Rehmat Fazal Manji; and son and daughter-in law Akbar and Kulsum Mohamed Hamir.

In early 1930’s and in the midst of The Great Global  Economic Depression, our grandfather embarked on a project that would become a matter of pride and an important legacy for our family and the Ismaili community of Iringa. Inspired by his father Hamir Pradhan’s generosity and community service, as well as his own deep faith, he proposed to the community that he wanted to build a Jamatkhana complex and donate it to the Imam for benefit of the Ismaili community in Iringa. My grandfather’s proposal called for a two story Jamatkhana building with a capacity for 600 people, four times the Jamat size at the time. The complex was to include primary school facilities, a social hall, a guest house (dharmshara) and a recreation compound. The building was to be located right in the middle of the main street, which later was named as Jamat Street, a tribute to the Ismaili community of Iringa for the Jamatkhana building that manifested prominently on the street.

With perseverance and after several design changes, he was able to get an agreement on his plan and approval for the project from the appropriate jurisdictional leadership as well as our Imam. The construction was commenced in 1931 and completed in 1933. Due to drastic economic conditions, my grandfather had to resort to borrow money to complete the project. Several prominent families had stepped up to lend him the money. Our family folklore describes his obsession with the project that was of legendary proportion. At times, things got so desperate that he personally and physically toiled on the projects along with our family members to help the project move along to completion.

Iringa KIsmaili Jamatkhana, landmark street scene, Simerg.
Street scene with Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana standing out prominently with its high tower and clock. The Jamatkhana was completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

At the time of the completion of the Jamatkhana in 1933, it was reported to be one of the best in Tanganyika, and architecturally one of the most beautiful in the whole of East Africa. Over the next twenty-five years the Ismaili Jamat in Iringa grew five-fold, exceeding the original capacity of 600. The Jamatkhana complex was not only the anchor of the community, but also a major catalyst for the growth of the Ismaili community in Iringa. Later in the 1960s, my father, Alijah Akbar Mohamed Hamir, expanded the capacity of the Jamatkhana to accommodate the growing Khoja Ismaili community in Iringa.

At the Golden Jubilee of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in Nairobi 1936, our grandparents were scheduled for special audience with the Hazar Imam in order to formally present the gift of the Iringa Jamatkhana. However due to the last minute illness of my grandmother they were not able to make the long journey to Nairobi. Our Imam accepted their gift in their absence, and conveyed much appreciation and blessings to them and to their family. This was the happiest moment in our grandfather’s life! The Imam also bestowed on him an honorific title of Alijah.

Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana Tnazania Simerg article
A close up view of Iringa Ismaili Jamatkhana, completed in 1933 with the support and initiative taken by Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.
Aga Khan Ismaili Iringa Jamatkhana close-up of bell clock, Simerg
An enlarged view of the prominent bell clock of the Iringa Jamatkhana. Photo: Courtesy Shafin Haji.

Since its manifestation almost 90 years ago, the Iringa Jamatkhana  continues to stand as symbol of the town’s identity. Located in the heart of the town, the high and prominent clock tower, adoring the architecturally beautiful building, remains the emblem and inspiration to the local and diasporic community of Iringa. Its large bell clock and high visibility reminds people to the calling of the time, and the out-of-town visitors to their bearings.

It is a source of pride for our community and our family to have the Jamatkhana be such an iconic monument of the town. It is also a tribute to my grandfather’s foresight, faith, leadership and perseverance. His generosity and service to the community is a remarkable legacy and an inspiration for our family and for the future generations.

Date posted: August 2, 2020.

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Mohamed Hamir

About the author: Mohamed Hamir, originally from Tanzania, has lived in numerous locations throughout USA since 1969. He is a retired financial services executive including a 20 year career with Citibank in the USA. He has an undergraduate degree in science from London University, UK and an MBA in finance from Indiana University. His work experience and extensive travel included both USA domestic and international markets.

Since his retirement in 2001, he has been passionate about causes involving female infanticide and education of marginalized children. He is on the Advisory Board and member of the LEADers Circle of PRATHAM USA, a prominent global educational NGO. He is also the Executive Producer of “Petals in the Dust”, an award winning documentary exposing gender discrimination, girl killing and violence against women in India.

Among his numerous services to the Ismaili community, he has served as both Mukhi and Kamadia of the Jamats in the USA. From 1988 to 1991 he served as a member of the National Council for USA with a portfolio of fund raising for Jamatkhanas. In 1968, when he was a student in London, he co-founded and was the first president of the inaugural Aga Khan Sports Club of U.K. He currently resides with his family in Southern California.

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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.

The melodious life and legacy of Shamshu Jamal (1936 – 2019)

Shamshu Jamal (1936-2019), Ismaili singer, simerg photo
Shamshu Jamal (1936-2019). Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

By KARIM H. KARIM
(with contributions from Dolatkhanu Jamal, Rosemin Karim, Riyaz Jamal, Imran Karim and Irshad Karim)

Shamshu Jamal has left a profound impression on the global Ismaili jamat. His music was “magical,” declared a poem written in honour of his 80th birthday in 2016. The singer, musician, lyricist, composer, and music teacher had innumerable admirers in the countries across North America Europe, Africa and Asia where he performed in a tenure of over 60 years. Shamshudin Noordin Jamal was the unofficial poet laureate and bard of Canada’s Satpanthi Khoja Ismailis. His musical legacy has been passed on to a multitude of students and to his children and grandchildren, with whom he produced several recordings.

It was not only Shamshu’s music but his personal affability, generosity and humility that touched people’s hearts. Despite achieving success and fame, he remained grounded in family and community.

Shamshu was a loving son, husband, father and grandfather as well as a devoted friend. He and his wife lived simply in the same home in Vancouver for the last four decades. It was where he received prominent musicians and legions of admirers. It was also where he taught music and even repaired colleagues’ harmoniums.

Participating actively in the life of the neighbourhood, he stayed in touch with people who left and made new acquaintances. The many close friends and fans around the world are a testament to his compassion and graciousness. His humour was legendary – he seemed to have a joke for every occasion. Shamshu is remembered as having a smile on his lips and a twinkle in his eye. These features of his personality shone through in his singing and compositions.

Shamshu Jamal was born in a home whose air was filled with music. His father performed at gatherings and held sessions at the family’s residence. He taught the young Shamshu about the basics of Indian ragas and how to sing and play instruments during the 1940s. This early introduction to music stirred an irrepressible desire to learn more.

Formal Indian musical training was not available in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, so Shamshu began teaching himself through research, careful listening and constant practice. He instinctively understood rhythm, melody and vocal expression. As a young teenager, he would sneak into the concerts of prominent artists visiting from India. Performing at private musical gatherings and then on the stage before turning twenty, he soon emerged as a virtuoso both within and outside the Khoja Ismaili community.

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Shamshu Jamal performing in the 1960's. Photo for Simerg
Shamshu Jamal and colleagues performing in Dar es Salaam in the 1960’s. Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

Shamshu’s attention to linguistic detail and diction drew him into the hearts of ghazal lovers who marvelled at his knowledgeable and precise enunciation of Urdu, which was not his mother language. He performed with a circle of fellow singers and musicians who were Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and other members of the diaspora that had crossed the Indian Ocean to settle in Africa.

In 1973, Shamshu Jamal and his family moved to Vancouver as part of the East African Ismaili migration to western countries. He re-established old musical contacts and made new ones. The larger South Asian community of Vancouver responded enthusiastically to Shamshu’s talented renderings of ghazals and bhajans. He performed with singers and musicians from various cultures and religions. As an accomplished harmonium player, he also shared the stage with renowned artistes from India, such as the classical vocalists Pandit Jasraj and Shrimati Shweta Jhaveri and the master tabla players Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri.

Shamshu generously gave of his musical self to his own and other communities for all of his adult life. He became a much sought-after teacher of Indian music, sharing his time and knowledge with students from various communities. Notwithstanding his success, he continued his own journey of studying music.

In 2000, the Government of Canada recognized his accomplishments and awarded him a prestigious grant to pursue advanced musical studies in India. It was in that year that he retired from his job as an accountant to devote himself more fully to music.

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Shamshu Jamal and fellow musicians performing in Vancouver. Photo for Simerg
Shamshu Jamal and fellow musicians performing in Vancouver in the 2010s. Photo: Shamshu Jamal family archives.

Shamshu’s live concerts were much celebrated events even when he was in his eighties. He performed at public venues, at Ginan mushairas in Jamatkhana social halls and at private music parties in homes. His particularly distinctive vocal style had been developed over many decades. Quite apart from his mastery of the technical aspects of music, the real excitement of Shamshu’s performances lay in the enthralling manner in which he engaged and connected with the audience. The mischievous smile, the impromptu alaaps and variations, and the ability to draw out deeply embedded emotions will be remembered long into the future.

His delivery remained at a sophisticated level even as age modulated the timbre of his voice. He practiced extensively before each performance. Audiences were delighted at the way that Shamshu maintained his vocal range and high notes of alaaps even as evening concerts flowed into the early morning. Apart from devotional material and heart-rending ghazals, Shamshu’s repertoire also regaled his audiences with playful songs like “Aavata Jata Jara” in Gujarati and “Nazar Se Milaa Kar” in Hindi.

From time to time, there arise individuals whose voices capture a community’s most profound feelings. For Canada’s immigrant Khoja Ismailis, one of those powerful voices has been Shamshu Jamal. His musical creativity has vocalized some of the deepest emotions of the community. Various versions of his original composition in Gujarati of “Mara Mowla Canada Padharshe” (1978) continue to be sung to this day. The word “Canada” is changed in different parts of the global diaspora to “London,” “Kenya,” “America” etc. when anticipating Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival in particular locations. It is viewed as Shamshu Jamal’s signature song which Malik Talib, former president of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, termed as “iconic” for the community. This geet’s literal English translation, “My lord shall make a visitation to Canada” does not do justice to the deeply-felt range of sentiments that it expresses.

When Shamshu composed it in 1978, he creatively captured an immigrant community yearning for its spiritual leader’s first visitation in the autumn of that year. Its members were in a western country, far away from their eastern roots and were uncertain of their future. The Imam had been a constant guide when they had lived in Africa. There was eager anticipation of his advice on how to deal with the difficult situation in which they found themselves. With his finger on the pulse of the community, Shamshu Jamal gave voice to what it was feeling in its heart. The lyricist compassionately articulated the anxiety of uprootedness as well as the aspirations for renewal.

The same padhramni’s book-end composition of “Mowla Sidhaavi Gya” by Shamshu is a profoundly sad geet of the Imam leaving the community at the end of his visit. It vocalizes the bitter-sweet feelings of the Jamat at the end of the mulaqaat and to this day produces streams of tears from listeners’ eyes. This song has also become an iconic expression of similar departures of Mawlana Hazar Imam over many years since 1978.

Jamal went on to produce many other geets in praise of the Imam, particularly commemorating his various jubilees. Ever the perfectionist, he enlisted the participation of professional musicians in London, England for the Silver Jubilee album Jubilee Ke Naghme (1983) and in Mumbai, India, for the Golden Jubilee’s Jashne Jubilee (2008).

One of Shamshu Jamal’s major achievements was to enable Canadian Khoja Ismailis, who have been cut off from their cultural roots, to appreciate the profound depth of their Indian musical heritage. He enabled the Jamat to understand the musical culture and classical ragas on which the ginans are based. Shamshu recorded “Tran Tran Ved Na Dhyaavo” in Raag Malkauns, Joothi Re Duniya in Raag Bairagi Bhairav, Dur Desh Thi Aayo Vañjhaaro in Raag Jaijaiwanti and many others. These are masterful renditions that have now become integral to the treasury of the recorded Satpanth heritage, one of whose founders was Pir Shams (12th-13th century).

Shamshudin Noordin Jamal’s star shines brightly in the firmament of music. He lived a full and accomplished life. His legacy was visible at his funeral at which his grandchildren soulfully sang ginans that he had taught them. Shamshu Jamal’s final farewell is expressed in Shakeel Badayuni’s ghazal, Aakhri Waqt Hai Saans Hai Aakhri, which he used to sing at his concerts:

“Duniya walo mubarak ho duniya tumhe,
Kar chale hum salaam akhri.”

Translation

“This world is yours now, o people of the world,
I have done my final farewell.”

Date posted: July 16, 2020.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Shamshu Jamal by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on LEAVE A COMMENT. Should you have difficulty in submitting your comment through the feedback form, please email it to simerg@aol.com; Subject: Shamshu Jamal.

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Karim H. Karim

About the author: Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam and a Professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

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To submit an obituary or tribute to a deceased member of your family, please see our post Simerg Invites Obituaries / Tributes to Honour Past / Recent Deceased Ismailis

Remembering Ismailis we have lost since Jamatkhana closures and during the coronavirus pandemic

Simerg invites Ismaili families around the world to submit short obituaries or tributes to members of their families who have passed away during the Coronavirus pandemic, either due to Covid-19 OR any other cause. Please read the first part of tributes by clicking here or on the photo below. Submit the tribute to the editor, Malik Merchant, at simerg@aol.com. The tributes we have published are good examples for a tribute you may wish to write for your family member.

Date posted: June 8, 2020.

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“The Last Anointing” – an amazing must read piece in the New York Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ismaili Muslim families whose family members are seriously ill or are in the last stages of their lives seek out their Jamatkhana leaders — the Mukhis and Kamadias — to offer some specific prayers, blessings and rites on the sick members of the family, who may never recover from the illness. Many of us familiar with our sacred and age old traditional ceremonies will be able to relate to this remarkable piece that I have just finished reading in the print edition of the Sunday New York Times (June 7, 2020). Because the piece relates to Covid-19, the newspaper offers it as a free-read on its on-line edition, without having to subscribe. Please read it!

Tributes to Ismailis who have passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic: Issue no. 1 of a multipart series

As announced a few days ago, we commence a special series of tributes to Ismailis as well as non-Ismaili members of Ismaili families who have passed away during the Coronavirus pandemic, either due to Covid-19 or any other cause. For details on submitting your tribute to a deceased family member or a very close friend, please read TRIBUTES and write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; you must include your full name and contact information.

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

Alnoor Ramji
(Canada)

Submitted by Abdulrasul Allibhai Ramji and Lilly Ramji

Alnoor Ramji, Simerg
Alnoor Ramji, age 62 (d. April 14, 2020)

It was the beginning of March 2020. Alnoor’s 62nd birthday was just 3 weeks away. But he had cancer, and was in the last stages of his life. He did not let it control him. Rather, he coped with it, accepted it and carried on with his passion of raising funds for the Aga Khan Foundation’s annual World Partnership Walk (WPW). In each of the previous years, he had raised between $13,000 to $15,000. With all the passion that he had developed over the years for the work of the Imamat around the world, he started sending out a message that simply said, “Donate to WPW [World Partnership Walk].” For him, that would be the most cherished birthday gift anyone could ever give him. In a little more than 3 weeks, Alnoor raised $18,000.

He passed away on April 14, 2020, but not before the Mukhi and Kamadiasahebs of Toronto’s Headquarters Jamatkhana at the Ismaili Centre, made a conference call to him. He answered them with the greeting Ya Ali Madad. They bestowed Dua (prayers) on him, and Alnoor responded with the word “Amen” each time – a total of four times.

His funeral was held in Toronto on April 17, 2020. He leaves behind his parents, Abdulrasul Allibhai Ramji and Lilly Ramji. His two sisters, Nilam (Naushadaly) in Edmonton, Alberta, and Rubina (Craig) in Sydney, Nova Scotia, were both unable to attend the funeral.

Editor’s note: An obituary for Alnoor Ramji was published in The Toronto Star on April 17, 2020. Please click HERE to read the detailed piece.

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Goulzare Foui
(France)

Submitted by Nigar Ribault

Goulzare, France, Simerg
Goulzare Foui

« Ma chère Goulzare Foui, 

Vous m’aviez dit de ne pas m’inquiéter parce que vous aviez juste la grippe. Vous connaissiez si bien mon caractère angoissé : « mais qu’est ce qu’on va faire de toi avec ces angoisses mon petit ? ».

Et soudain, en quelques jours, vous avez été emportée par ce virus. 

Je vous appelle et je vous cherche depuis 40 jours que vous êtes partie … 

Et vous êtes là ! : 

Les roses ont fleuri et me font signe. Je vous vois Goulzare (Jardin fleuri) dans ces fleurs. Je vois votre beau sourire lumineux. J’entends votre voix dans le chant des oiseaux du printemps. Vous chantez comme un rossignol dans le grand jardin de Mowla Bapa.

Vous ne m’avez pas quittée : vous êtes dans mon cœur pour toujours et dans ce que vous m’avez transmis. Je vous aime ma Goulzare Foui. La petite sœur de mon papa. 

Votre Nigar »

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Translation by Dr. Nurin Merchant

My dear Goulzare Foui,

You told me not to worry, that it was just the flu. You knew my anxious character well — “what are we going to do with you and all of your anxieties my little one?”

And suddenly, in just a few days, this virus had taken you from us.

I call you, I seek you ever since the day you left us 40 days ago.

And there you are!

The roses have bloomed, giving me a sign. I see you Goulzare (flowery garden). I see your beautiful and radiant smile. I hear your voice in the song of the spring birds. You are singing like a nightingale in Mowla Bapa’s big garden.

You have not left me: you are here. Here in what you shared with and passed down to me, and forever in my heart. I love you my Goulzare Foui. My dad’s little sister. 

Your Nigar.

Translators note: In the translation, I have tried to keep the meaning of Nigar’s beautiful tribute to her aunt as best as I could.

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Amirali S. Nagji
(USA)

Submitted by Akberali Nagji

Tribute to Amir Nagji, Simerg
Amirali Nagji, age 78 (d. April 2, 2020)

Amirali Nagji passed away of natural causes on April 2, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexio, USA. He was 78. Originally from Mtwara, Tanzania, Amirali was very hardworking and generous; he was known for helping many people by giving free accommodation in his motel.

He served Jamati institutions for twenty years, and had also held the position of Mukhisaheb of Albuquerque Jamat.

Outside Ismaili institutions, he served seniors at a local hospital. His ever-smiling face and friendly demeanor provided comfort to many.

Amirali loved to travel and was fond of Bolywood music. As well as being a good dancer, he had a wonderful sense of humour, for which he was greatly admired.

He is survived by his wife Nurjehan, daughter Alia and her husband Shafin, and two grandchildren.

We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Amen.

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Sultan Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala
(India)

Submitted by the families of Nazarali Kasamali Momin and Akbarali Kasamali Momin

Sultan Methanwalla, Simerg
Sultan P. M. Methanwala (d. May 16, 2020)

Sultan Bhai Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala passed away on May 16, 2020 in Vaishali Nagar Jogeshwari West, Mumbai.

He was a prominent leader both within and outside the Ismaili Jamat. He had served as the Mukhisaheb of the Jamat with great distinction, and was deeply loved by members of the Jamat.

He was also a life long social worker, and reached out to all communities to provide care and assistance.

He will be deeply remembered and missed by his family, the Vaishali Nagar Jamat and other communities whom he served selflessly.

May Mawla rest his soul in eternal peace and may Mawla give strength to his family members and the Jamat to bear the loss of a commendable leader of the Jamat. Amen.

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Salima Wanda Arthurs
(Canada)

Submitted by Shaida Hussein

Salima Wandra Arthurs, Simerg
Salima Wanda Arthurs, age 64 (d. April 24, 2020)

Salima Wanda Arthurs, 64 years old, passed away in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on Friday April 24, 2020, the first day of Ramadhan, from cancer.

Her mum, Margaret, sister Linda, some friends and myself, Shaida Hussein, attended the funeral ceremony. Like other Ismaili funerals that take place during the current pandemic, the funeral and post burial ceremonies such as chaanta, last respects, samar and zyarat were conducted according to physical distancing and other guidelines that have been established by each province.

Salima  embraced the Ismaili Muslim faith in 1985, and was a committed volunteer in jamati (community) services. She contributed to the work of Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board on the literature counter and served in the admissions committee, as well as participated in other institutional projects and programs. She was a humble and a compassionate person, and will be fondly remembered and missed by the Calgary Jamat as well as her family and friends.

We pray for her soul to rest in eternal peace. We also pray that Almighty God grants her family and friends the strength and courage to bear this loss.

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To submit a tribute to your family member who has passed away due to Covid-19 or any other cause, please read TRIBUTES and write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com; please include your full name and contact information.

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

We welcome tributes from our readers to individuals portrayed in this piece. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment.

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit tributes to their family members who have passed away during the Covid-19 pandemic

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

The tributes may be submitted for passings due to Covid-19 or any other cause

Some years ago, Simerg launched PASSINGS where Ismailis around the world were invited to submit obituaries or tributes to honour members of their families who had passed away, irrespective of the time frame. Over the past few years, we have seen a trickle of these obituaries and tributes flowing in, and we have graciously published them to the comfort of several family members.

Today, the coronavirus pandemic has brought great sadness to families who have lost family members during the past two months. Like other places of worship, Jamatkhanas in North America, the UK, Europe and many other parts of the world, have remained closed since around the middle of March. Whether the death has been due to Covid-19 or other illnesses, funeral, burial and post-burial ceremonies and rites have been vastly compromised, with limited number of family members and friends being permitted to attend the mourning ceremonies, both before and immediately after the person has been buried.

Restrictions have even prevented family members from being close to their loved ones during their times of illness and during the final moments of their lives. Often, the death of the individual is unknown to many due to Jamatkhana closures, as special prayers for the soul of the deceased (known as samar, which takes place in many parts of the world where the deceased is known through family and friends) can no longer be conducted. With all of these elements missing, many families who have lost their beloved have not experienced a sense of closure with respect to the loved ones that have left them.

Most recently, as readers might be aware, Simerg paid a loving tribute to Missionary Amirali Gillani. His closest family members were deeply comforted by the condolences that they were offered by friends, relatives as well as well-wishers from around the world, who made contact by phone and emails. Many submitted tributes to Missionary Amirali Gillani in the comments section of this website. We went on to report about the extraordinary funeral and burial ceremonies that took place in Toronto for the long serving and well-known Ismaili missionary.

Today, we announce a special weekly series in which we will publish tributes to deceased Ismailis or individuals who are members of Ismaili families who have passed away during the coronavirus pandemic.

The tribute that you pen is not restricted to deaths caused by Covid-19. It will be to anyone who is part of an Ismaili family and who has died from any cause – Covid-19 or otherwise – during the coronavirus pandemic. This opportunity to submit tributes is being offered to Ismaili families around the world in the spirit of the ONE JAMAT that we are, under the leadership and loving care of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Please email the tribute (preferably 75-100 words in length), along with the deceased family member’s portrait photo (if available, in jpeg format), to Malik Merchant at simerg@aol.com. You MUST include your full name and phone number where you can be reached. Anonymous tributes will not be accepted.

The Toronto Star article The Lives They Lived will help you in developing a comprehensive tribute, and Simerg’s editor will always be available to provide his assistance in formulating a good tribute, so long as you provide good information about the deceased.

Kindly note that Simerg’s tribute will be for ALL deceased Ismailis and members of Ismaili families who have passed away during the pandemic due to Covid-19 and other causes. Again, please send your tribute to Simerg@aol.com.

We hope to commence the series of tributes on Friday, May 22, 2020. In addition to English, we will also accept tributes written in French, Portuguese and Spanish with their corresponding English translations, provided by you (you may use Google translate, if you wish).

Date posted: May 17, 2020.
Last updated: May 18, 2020 (added note about submitting tributes in French, Spanish, and Portuguese).

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

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Malik Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian. He may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

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

The Funeral of Missionary Amirali Gillani in the Midst of Covid-19 Restrictions

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

Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani Simerg tribute
Missionary Amirali Gillani passed away on April 8, 2020, and was buried in Toronto on April 14. Photo: Family Collection.

A Safe and Dignified Funeral

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

On Tuesday April 14, 2020, Missionary Amirali Gillani’s shrouded body rested inside a grey coloured coffin in the funeral hall of the Scarborough Jamatkhana. He had passed away from cancer on April 8 at the age of 75.

Only the missionary’s peaceful face was in view. The rest of his body which was covered in the white shroud, was under the coffin cover. The coffin did not rest on the floor. It had been placed on a strong roll away frame. Volunteers recited the Salwat in unison continuously, and gave comfort to the small size of mourners, a limit imposed by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

There were a total of 16 mourners in attendance for the funeral’s two separate viewing opportunities and the funeral rites. One viewing, including the funeral rites, was for immediate family members, and the second viewing was for other family members and friends. In both the viewings the mourners sat in groups of 4 in two rows in front of the body, keeping the required physical distance. At a normal funeral, there would have been several hundred in attendance. A dilsoji — a condolence gathering a day or two ahead of the funeral — would have attracted a large Ismaili crowd from across Toronto.

Missionary Gillani’s funeral became the first funeral to be made available for online viewing via a dedicated Youtube channel. The viewing was offered, following a trial period, to very close family members who could not physically be at the funeral due to provincial restrictions limiting gatherings to 5 or 10.

Wearing a face mask and gloves on their hands, each of the persons who had come to missionary Gillani’s funeral presented himself or herself beside the coffin, a meter or two away. In solitude, the mourner would spend between 60 to 80 seconds in contemplation, before giving way to the next person. Other Jamati funerals taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic have similar rules and restrictions in place.

Once the viewing and giving of last respects had ended, and the funeral rites were completed, the Muslim funeral procession prayer La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah commenced. In a normal funeral, men line up in the large foyer of the Jamatkhana to touch or momentarily hold the coffin on their shoulders, uttering prayers for the soul of the deceased before it is transferred to a hearse. However, here there was no one in the foyer of the Jamatkhana. It was empty. The body was wheeled by the Mukhi, volunteers and male mourners into the hearse parked outside, for its 22 km journey to its final resting place — the picturesque Elgin Mills Cemetery.

A view of Elgin Mills Cemetery. Photo: Mount Plesant Group

At the gate of the cemetery, a guard verified each arriving guest against the list of names that he had been given by the Ismaili funeral committee. He guided the arriving mourners to Section 16 of the cemetery. At the site, there were only a few scattered cars, no more than eight. The hearse carrying the body then arrived. This time, instead of wheeling the coffin, as the ground gradient and conditions presented challenges, the volunteers carefully carried it to the grave. Mourners followed and gathered around the coffin, keeping a safe physical distance between one another. The Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana and a family member then each took a heap of soil in a spade, and spread it across the coffin. The Surah Ikhlas was recited (Ch. 112; Translation: “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Say: He is God, the One. God, the Absolute. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is nothing comparable to Him”).

Normally the crowd would wait to see the body lowered into the grave, while continuing to recite Salwats and other prayers. Two volunteers would then descend into the grave to ensure its proper placement, stability and also conduct some last rites.

Physical distancing prevented that from occurring and the mourners returned to their cars. Using the same soil that had been been dug up to create the 6 foot deep grave, a tractor arrived to fill it. Once the on-site staff had completed their task of filling the grave and removing wooden planks and other objects around it, we were each handed incense sticks as we walked back to the burial site. Water was then poured on top of the freshly replaced soil by a family member and the Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana. We then honoured and paid respect to the missionary by placing the lit incense sticks we had been given over the top of the missionary’s final resting place.

All ten of us stepped back about 40 metres, and a Fateha for the deceased was then recited. We were standing in rows and kept our safe 2 metre distance from one another. During the recitation of the Fateha, my attention was suddenly drawn to two doves that landed 25 metres to my left. Their sounds in the midst of the Fateha being recited were beautiful and joyous to hear. Only Allah understands the language of birds, animals and insects, as well as everything that has life on this earth. A second Fateha was then recited for all of the deceased members of the Jamat. By then, the birds had flown away.

Mukhisaheb then gave everyone special blessings for attending the burial, and also prayed for the soul of the deceased. As much as we would have loved to, we left the site without shaking hands of the family and embracing them. We consoled them by placing our hands on our hearts, befitting the Islamic ethics of gratitude, humility and affection.

It was a different kind of a funeral to attend. However the dignity of the entire funeral ceremony was preserved. The Jamat has to thank the burial committee for the professionalism with which they are carrying out this extraordinary and noble service to bring comfort and peace to the mourning families and their friends, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Their communication in every respect was outstanding, and emails and telephone calls received prompt attention.

As I headed back home, I thought of the two birds that had landed nearby as the Fateha for Missionary Gillani was being recited. They conveyed to me a profound message: Missionary Amirali Gillani had been ushered into the abode of peace.

Date posted: April 15, 2020.
Last updated: April 15, 2020 (10 AM ET: additional material added; factual corrections; typos).

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We received several tributes to Amirali Gillani when we first announced his death. They may be read by clicking HERE. Further tributes as well as your reactions with regard to recent passings during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how you and your family members dealt with the situation amid the challenges you faced, may be submitted by completing the feedback form below. If the form does not show, please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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

Passings: Missionary Amirali Gillani (1944 – 2020)

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.

Portrait Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani of Arusha and Toronto
Missionary Amirali Gillani (July 15, 1944 – April 8, 2020). Photo: Family Collection

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

It is with deep sadness that I inform readers of the passing away of Missionary Amirali Gillani on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at Toronto’s North York Hospital after a brave and long battle with cancer. He was 75. I learnt of his death from a family member earlier this morning through a text message.

Born in Arusha, Tanzania, he served Jamati institutions in both professional and honorary capacities for several decades, contributing his wisdom until the very last moments of his life. He travelled widely, and finally made his home in Toronto, Canada. Missionary Saheb is survived by four children and five grandchildren.

On April 1, 2020, exactly a week ago, he texted me from the hospital: “Ya Ali Madad. Hope you are well. I am in North York Hospital and my health has deteriorated. With affection, Missionary.” I wanted to visit him but the current state of restrictions in place prevented me from going to the hospital. I responded with a prayer for his strength and courage, and with the hope that I would see him out of the hospital soon. He replied: “Ya Ali Madad. Deeply touched by your prayers. I need His compassion to accept His Will with ease and pleasure. Ya Moula. Affectionately Missionary.” They were profound words.

An articulate missionary with a superb command of the English language, Amirali Gillani was always far ahead of his time in his vision of providing religious education to the Jamat. His ideas more than 50 years ago — and I am referring to the late 1960’s — of utilizing multi media and other technological trends of the day, including the power of TV as well as audio visual concepts, were highly impressive. My late dad, Jehangir Merchant, admired him for his brilliant mind as well as incredible foresight and ingenuity. Alas, we were simply not prepared or ready, even to think about his ideas!

As a close family friend, he would visit my parents whenever institutional duties or personal projects brought him to Dar es Salaam. His contemporaries with whom he graduated in the Waezin program in Pakistan in the 1960’s were Alwaez Nizar Chunara and Alwaez Amirally Mawji, and they would often accompany him.

My most recent — and unforgettable — memory of him was when I spent a couple of hours at his humble apartment in Toronto. A very large portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam adorned one of the walls, and he had told me a few days earlier before I went to his home, that I would feel the Imam’s presence in his apartment. That I certainly did, not only because of the portrait but also by Missionary Saheb’s overpowering faith, love and affection for Mawlana Hazar Imam. This pulled him through some of the most difficult times in the past few years.

This is a sad moment for the family, especially coming at a time when many of us want to pay our personal respects and be at his funeral, and simply can’t because of the restrictions that are in place due to the novel coronavirus. We convey our deepest heartfelt condolences to members of Missionary Gillani’s family for strength and courage to face his great loss. Our prayers are with them at this time of bereavement.

We pray that Missionary Amirali Gillani rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Date posted: April 8, 2020.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Amirali Gillani 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.