The traditional Ismaili Motto “Work No Words” needs a revision to “Work and Many Words” in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Farman

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

“Today my Farman is ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy…” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Calgary, May 10, 2018.

The volunteer's traditional motto given by the late Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, "Work No Words" needs a revision to "Work and Many Words" in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee Farman made in Calgary in 2018. Malik Merchant, publisher and editor of Simerg and Barakah, provides his insight on the mottos.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets representatives of the Jamat on his arrival in Calgary, Alberta, for his Diamond Jubilee visit in May 2018.

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

The Ismaili community is a dynamic community with the Imam-of-the-Time guiding his followers according to the time. The essence of the faith remains the same but the form may change over time in cognizance of differences in traditions, cultural, social or other factors. Similarly, there could be changes over time in the manner in which voluntary services may be rendered. Paraphrasing the 48th Imam’s Farman, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah had once said that we should follow the Farmans of the Imam-of-the-Time, noting that as the world changes, even his Farmans would change as time progressed.

Ismaili Volunteers Bage
The volunteer’s badge with the motto “Work No Words” is based on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s message, “Today I will give you  a small motto and that is ‘Work No Words’.” The motto needs to be revised to reflect Mawlana Shah Karim’s Diamond Jubilee Farman in Calgary “Work and Many Words.”

One of the best known motto given by the late Imam in the 20th century to the volunteers of the Ismaili community was “Work No Words.” It is inscribed on every badge that an Ismaili volunteer wears today. It is also something that many honorary workers serving in institutions in various capacities constantly bear in mind.

What do these words actually mean for any volunteer, badged or otherwise?

I think the motto carries several meanings. Perhaps it is an expression of humility — that one does the work without seeking recognition.

It can be perceived to mean that you serve without question and not react to any attitude that may be shown to you while you are doing your work. 

Other volunteers may have their own personal interpretations of the motto during the performance of their duties, and apply it during their service.

Remarkably, that motto was mentioned in the Farman Mawlana Hazar Imam made in Canada during the Diamond Jubilee. At the second Calgary mulaqat, on May 10th, 2018, while mentioning and praising the work of the volunteers, he made a reference to his grandfather’s motto “Work No Words” and declared that “Today my Farman is, ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy….” 

Eighteen months have since passed but still there seems to be no discussion on this matter. The old motto “Work No Words” appears everywhere in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the volunteers including a new video “All Work, No Words” that has just been released at The Ismaili website. There is absolutely no reference to the most recent Farman and the new motto. For example, I was quite surprised that the President of the National Council for Tanzania, Amin Lakhani, speaking as recently as July 19, 2019, used the motto that Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah gave in one of his speeches, but did not make any reference to the new motto given by Mawlana Hazar Imam. When I raised the issue with a long serving Jamati member, the volunteer became very defensive saying that he would like to see the old motto remain on his badge.

I beg to differ, I believe that we now have to adopt to a new paradigm based on the most recent Farman, “Work, and Many Words.”

How then is this to be interpreted?

Firstly, the volunteers badged and non-badged should not feel fearful to speak up and express their views on matters that concern them on services that they are performing and how they can become more effective, rather than simply taking orders as subordinates. The superiors in the volunteer leadership and heads of various institutions should make their teams more engaged in decision making and seek out creative thoughts, ideas as well as best practices. Quite so often when suggestions are made to institutional heads about new approaches, one is often made to feel that they already knew about the idea that has been brought up. A case in point was when a suggestion was made to make Jamati members more engaged in meetings that the Aga Khan Council and national institutional boards hold on a quarterly basis. The reply was, “We are thinking about it.” For how long?

Many serving in institutions who speak out are left marginalized for speaking out boldly, even when they have done so sincerely and from the heart. This should no longer be the norm. I have personally experienced such treatment.

The old motto “Work No Words” on the badge that volunteers have been wearing for some 70 years is in need of a change. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” should resonate with everyone. We should communicate openly and sincerely and the office bearers should listen respectfully. One area that should require particular attention is legitimate concerns of volunteers in doing their work.

There is one other aspect where the motto “Work, and Many Words” may be applied very effectively. Volunteers of the Jamat participate in many outreach programs outside the community. We have each been considered by the Imam to be his Da’is — a very important term in Ismaili history where only a select few were known as Da’is. Now, remarkably, Mawlana Hazar Imam has told everyone that he or she is a Da’i! The Diamond Jubilee Farmans made at various locations attest to this role we have been asked to play. I think another way of looking at the Farman “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” is in the context of the volunteer who as a Da’i would be a great communicator to others about the ideals, principles and ethos of the Ismaili community. The following Farman made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in 2002 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, gives us a clear direction on the role the volunteers as well as the youth and professionals in the Jamat can play:

“…It is important, I think, today, that my Jamat worldwide, not just here in Tanzania, my Jamat worldwide, should reaffirm the traditions that we have, the rectitude and correctitude of our interpretation of Islam, of the role, within Shia Islam, of the intellect, of the human intellect, so that the young, the less young, the old, all of you, wherever you are, are ambassadors of Islam — the Islam that we believe in, that we practice, and that guides us in our lives. So I say to you today, whether you are in Tanzania or whether you are in any other part of the world, stand up, do not run away. Speak openly and frankly about what is our interpretation of Islam.”

Interestingly, in his Diamond Jubilee Farman in Atlanta, USA, Mawlana Hazar Imam asked the Jamat if they knew the meaning of the word Qul (from Sura Ikhlas, which is recited by Ismailis in their Du’a multiple times everyday). One person out of thousands raised a hand! Was that a hint from the Imam to us to seek to understand our faith better? To be effective communicators, requires that we have good knowledge of the faith, its ideals and the work of the Imamat, including for example the AKDN agencies.

So my notion of the work of the volunteers — and indeed each one of us — is to work, and with “many words” express kindness to others, convey good ideas and best practices and pass on the ethos of Islamic and Ismaili principles to everyone we come across.

What should the new badge say? Totally opposite of “Work No Words.” Indeed, the badge should now say “Work and Many Words.” However those “many words” should be spoken with humility, sincerity and thoughtfulness.

I welcome your feedback. Please click LEAVE A COMMENT or send your comment in an email to Simerg@aol.com. You may remain anonymous. Your email address will never be shared.

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.

Date posted: December 7, 2019.

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We welcome your feedback. Please click on LEAVE A COMMENT.

Malik Merchant is founding publisher/editor of 3 websites, Barakah (2017), Simerg (2009), and Simergphotos (2012). They are works of passion influenced by his parents involvement with literary pursuits and community publications, as well as his childhood dream of becoming a journalist. However, he spent almost 4 decades working as an IT consultant in both the public and private sectors in the UK, USA and Canada. He has volunteered in the Ismaili community as a teacher and librarian and was co-editor with his late father, Jehangir Merchant, of the flagship UK Ismaili publication Ilm. He has also held numerous institutional and Jamati portfolios, including being the Member for Religious Education and Chairman of the Ottawa Tariqah Committee. He is currently based in Ottawa and Toronto. He welcomes your feedback on this piece by completing LEAVE A REPLY or by sending him an email at Simerg@aol.com.

Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat — (IV) Contemporary Poetry and a Thank You Letter to the Person of the Institution of Imamat

His Highness the Aga Khan: Ceremonial installation, Kampala, Uganda

His Highness the Aga Khan: Ceremonial installation, Kampala, Uganda

On July 11, 2015, which coincides with the 25th day of Ramadan, Ismailis around the world are celebrating the 58th Imamat Anniversary of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

The poetry and thank you letter produced in this post are expressions of gratitude and love the Ismailis carry in their hearts for their Imam of the Time. Such expressions have resonated throughout Ismaili history, because Ismailis affirm the Principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the belief and understanding that each Imam, from the time of Hazrat Ali (a.s.), is the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; he is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in.

On this happy and momentous day, we convey Imamat Day Mubarak to all our readers, and wish everyone barakah (happiness) and success in all aspects of life.

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MY ULTIMATE DESIRE

عندما تأتي يأتي النور

Victoria Niema Alhaj

Victoria Niema Alhaj

عندما تأتي يأتي النور
إمامي أنت مولانا
معك نشعر بالسعادة والامان
أنت إمامي
أنت حبيبي
أحب أن أراك دائما
لك حبي ياشاه كريم

By Niema Victoria Alhaj

O my Imam
when you come
comes the Nur.

You’re our Mawla,
and you give us
happiness and protection.

O Shah Karim,
you are my beloved Imam,
and to see you
is my ultimate desire.

Niema was born in Stockholm, to Syrian parents. Niema knows many Arabic qasidas and Qur’anic surahs by heart. She also has many talents including composing poetry, writing short stories, painting, and sports.

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KALEIDOSCOPE OF FAITH

By Zainul Nasser

Takhtnashini in Nairobi
An event so momentous,
So significant
My heart is filled with wonder
And childish piety

Giving Bay’ah in Mombasa
Hazar Imam’s gentle hand
On my bowed shoulder
Benign, protective

The kaleidoscope is set
In simple, comforting patterns
Glowing brightly throughout childhood

Religion is woven
Through our lives
Jamatkhana as familiar
As our homes
Pictures of Hazar Imam
Surround us
A constant, reassuring presence

Childhood ends
And with it certainty
New ideas, new experiences
Overwhelm me
For a while, my inattentive soul
Loses its way
The familiar patterns
Seem blurred and distorted

But I am blessed
At Palace Gate we students
Sit at Hazar Imam’s feet
So fortunate
In this small, intimate setting
Hazar Imam’s gaze
Seems to rest on me
Infinitely understanding, infinitely merciful

My struggling soul is rewarded
Focus is restored
The patterns in the kaleidoscope
Acquire coherence, depth and sparkle

And over the years
The colours dim or brighten
But the patterns remain steady
And my hopeful soul
Journeys on
Towards
Imamat day

We come together
In joyous anticipation
Our hearts beguiled
By fervent Zikr tasbis, qasidah
And the rousing ‘Munajat’

We are shown
Hazar Imam’s untiring efforts
To help the needy
To bring hope and harmony and beauty
Everywhere
A shining beacon in a time of darkness
Our hearts sing with pride
We are inspired
We are humbled

And we are blessed
With the Irshad
So caring and compassionate
So full of love, wisdom and goodness

The kaleidoscope clicks
Into perfect symmetry
The colours polished to a lustrous luminescence
The child in me
Exults in the jewelled splendour
My imperfect soul
Is filled with gratitude
At this gift, this grace
And prays for it to last.

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Zainul Nasser (nee Karmali ) was born in Mombasa and grew up there. She came to the U.K. as an undergraduate and has lived here ever since. Zainul has an Honours degree in English from Bristol University and a Postgraduate Degree in Education. She taught English in secondary schools in Birmingham for several years. She also served on various committees including Education and Women’s activities. Zainul is married with three grown up children. She now lives in Sutton Coldfield, indulging her passion for reading and

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THE SPIRIT WITHIN

Ayat and Rope

By Moez Mitha

To the Rope of Imamat,
we must remember to hold strong,
With this Rope as our guide,
we will never go wrong.

From our spiritual responsibilities,
we must never go astray,
The balance between din and duniya
we should uphold everyday.

We love our Hazar Imam and in our hearts
he is always near,
Magnificent are the works of our Imam
and to him we must show
That with our time and knowledge
the further we will be able to go.

We live in a world where we sometimes forget
how fortunate we really are,
And even the smallest of contributions
can help people go so far.

Moez Mitha

Moez Mitha

Our Mawla, he guides, he leads the way
and to us he always says,
“Remember your prayers and
take your
tasbih any time during the day.”

In this year some of us may see
that it’s time to make a new start,
But in doing so we must show
that our allegiance is from the heart.

When it’s time for the Day of Judgment,
there’s something we all know,
Physically we will cease to exist
and to Him our spirit we must bestow.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has often reminded
us of our key role:
“In the practice of your faith,
you should seek to enlighten your soul.”

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THANK YOU LETTER TO THE PERSON OF THE INSTITUTION OF IMAMAT

INTRODUCTION: The following traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) speak about the Person of the Institution of Imamat: “I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement,” and, “He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is also the Mawla.”

Thus, the Person of the Institution of Imamat is the direct descendant of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The preamble of the Shia Imami Ismaili Constitution states: “Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.”

In Simerg’s special series dedicated to Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures, Dr. Aziz Kurwa, a retired medical practitioner and a long serving member of the Ismaili community in the United Kingdom, gives his “heartfelt thanks” to the Person of the Institution of Imamat who is responsible for guiding the Ismaili community through the ages, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The wisdom of the Imam has inspired and motivated individuals such as Pir Sadardin, Pir Nasir Khusraw and Hasan bin Sabah, and continues to nourish the present-day Jamat.

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Wa Kulla Shay’in Ahsayanhu Fi Imamim-Mubin

(Holy Qur’an, Sura Yaseen, 36:12)

May it Please the Person of the Institution of Imamat,

Thank you for blessing us with an understanding of the miracle and gift of the Person of Imamat, that we may more fully appreciate the miracles of Allah, and our place in His creation. The Person of Imamat is endowed with Knowledge and Wisdom that Allah has bestowed through centuries and the Imam-e-Zaman guides those who believe in Him with the benefit of this wisdom and knowledge .

This wisdom is for the benefit of the murids of the Imam and the Ummah; it is for the individual to access this wisdom and knowledge, and he who uses this wisdom benefits himself as well. Any person can access this but it is according to his or her understanding and ability to use that knowledge for good deeds to be achieved.

I am particularly conscious of this and whenever possible I give shukhrana to Allah for allowing me to learn and to implement the Imam’s guidance. The Imam carries the wisdom and knowledge of the ages and allows us to access this knowledge. It is our duty to acknowledge this and be thankful for the inspiration to act according to the wisdom and knowledge we acquire. As a humble servant of the Imam, I am most grateful for this barakah and constantly pray that I am inspired by it.

Throughout the ages there have been Ismaili Heroes who had the good fortune to access this wisdom and if they were alive today, they would also sing their thanks.

Thus, Pir Nasir Khusraw would be thanking the Fatimid Imams for the esoteric knowledge that led him to Central Asia, to train the murids in Ismaili gnosis, and to write literature and poetry filled with a deep understanding of the Imamat—from which, even today, we draw our inspiration.

Dai Hasan ibn Sabah would have been thankful to the Imam of the time for the initiative to establish the kingdom of Alamut, to train a group of fidai to protect the Ismaili dawa, to establish the programme of talim from which we are benefitting even now—and many such innovations.

Pir Sadardin and other Nizari Pirs, leaders of all those who are now Ismailis of Satpanth tradition in the Indian sub-continent—they would be thanking Imam Islam Shah and other Imams for inspiring them and sending them on such a marvellous journey.

In these modern times, all those who have led the whole Ismaili Jamat with their selfless service must express deep gratitude for the guidance and inspiration from Hazrat Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah and Imam-e-Zaman. These good works and service have been extended through National Councils, Tariqah Boards and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, AKDN Hospitals, Universities, academies and Financial Institutions, all primarily led by honorary members who have been blessed by Imamat inspiration.

By this inspiration, and with hard intellectual effort, we, the Jamat, have come into the most ambitious and envious position in the World to benefit peoples in all countries in the developing world—with no discrimination. All such excellent volunteers are thankful for the guidance from the Imamat and its Institutions. They are the heroes for whom we are thankful, and the heroes in their turn thank the ultimate source of knowledge that is the Divine Institution of Imamat.

The list goes on and will continue to be extended as long as there is an Ismaili Imam to guide the murids. The uniqueness of Ismaili tariqah comes from its thriving on centuries of cumulative knowledge and wisdom, through which all of mankind may be blessed—because of the guidance of the Imams.

Thank you, with all my heart,

Dr. Aziz Kurwa,
London, England.

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Dr. Aziz Kurwa

About the writer: Aitmadi Dr. Aziz Rajabali Kurwa has served the Ismaili jamat in numerous capacities. In brief, he was appointed in 1979 by Mawlana Hazar Imam as the President of the Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom. A true visionary, as Ismailia Association’s chief, Dr. Kurwa developed the concept of Baitul Ilm during the Silver Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, which to this day continues to have a tremendous impact on the U.K. Jamat. Dr. Kurwa and his wife, Aitmadibanu Shirin Aziz Kurwa, reside in London.

Fascinating Midwife and Nursing Stories from East Africa, as Mawlana Hazar Imam Arrives for Aga Khan University Convocation Ceremonies

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
Special to Simerg

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities.Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Midwives are frontline health care providers playing a vital role in reducing maternal mortality. The Aga Khan Hospital’s Nursing and Midwifery Service is committed to providing effective and efficient care to meet the needs of its patients. The Service delivers a high standard of patient care that is intended to exceed expectations of patients, families and the local community. Nurses are trained on a regular basis to cope with technological advances and societal complexities. Photo: The Aga Khan Hospital for Women, Karimabad

Editor’s note: In a recent piece for Simerg, Shariffa Keshavhejee enlightened our readers with The Amazing Story of Kundan Paatni: A Graduate of the Aga Khan Nursing School in Nairobi in the 1960s which included rare pictures of His Highness the Aga Khan. In this new exclusive essay, which coincides with the arrival of Mawlana Hazar Imam to East Africa to preside over the Aga Khan University Convocation in Dar-es-Salaam (February 24, 2015), Kampala (February 26), and Nairobi (March 2), Shariffa tells us contrasting tales of midwifery and nursing from decades earlier, including that of her own birth.

Midwife Noor Banu

My friend Mala Pandurang told me of an Ismaili Khoja midwife who delivered three of her children at home in Bukoba. She was called Noor Banu, the only Asian midwife in the locality. Mala’s search to get more information about Noorbanu at the British colonial office drew a blank. She is now looking at links from India to see if any of the midwives came from the  nursing institutions started by the British early 20th century. Child birthing was associated as unclean, and hence the Hindu women who joined these professions were of the lower castes. Mala also wants to know if any of the midwives were spinsters/widows.

Zarin Jivanjee and Midwife Asbaimasi

Zarin Jivanjee was born at home in 1943 in Nagara. Her house was a traditional Indian home with a fario (deck) in the center where all activities happened — drying clothes, lentils and making large amounts of food.  Midwife Asbaimasi came home. She was old, and well known even by prominent families such as Sir Eboo Pirbhai. Asbaimasi also prescribed herbal medicines for aches, pains, colds, digestive problems, rashes. In her window there was black thread. For each complaint. she would give a thread and a powder. She lived in River Road and had to be summoned at birth. There was a Dr.Anderson but the treatment given by Asbaimasi was more effective and preferred.

Shirinbai, Fatmabai, Roshankhanu and Khatibai

Shirinbai Juma born in 1934 in Jugu Lane. The midwife came home.

Fatmabai was born in Kathiawar, her family came from Harravad.  There was a bai who came to deliver at home. She was given five and a half rupees for delivery.

Roshankhanu Jiwa Nathoo was born in 1935 in Kisii. In Kisii too children were born at home The midwife was an old Nubian lady who was very well versed.

Khatibai Mohamed was born in Jugu Lane in the centre of Nairobi. She would go home and the staff would help with the hot water and cleaning up. If there was a miscarriage, she could not remember what would happen.

The Impact of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Farmans

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

Portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah. Photo: US Library of Congress.

I was told by Dr. Sultan Somjee, the author of Bead Bai, that there was a farman (guidance) of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957) telling the Ismaili community to take up nursing and not to look down on the profession. Thereafter many Ismaili women trained as nurses that included midwifery. We called them collectively as naaras and not nurse. Fatma naaras was well known in Nairobi. Indeed Somji’s book begins with Birth Stories (Chapter II) told by midwife of old Nairobi, Jugu Bazaar. Now, the Aga Khan Hospitals/University have nursing as priority programmes.

The Story of Shirin

Shirin Cassam Keshavjee was inspired by the 48th Imam’s farman. She joined Witwatersrand University (Whits), South Africa, to train as a nurse and then as a midwife. However she could not practice nursing near her home, being a person of colour.

Fortunately for Shirin, she heard an announcement in the Pretoria Jamatkhana that they were looking to employ a nurse in the Aga Khan Clinic in Kisumu. Lucky for Shirin, her uncle, Habib Keshavjee, was off to East Africa with his family.

So Shirin joined Habib Keshavjee’s family for the trip. She came to Nairobi and proceeded to Kisumu to live with the family of my grandfather, Count Hasham Jamal. Here Shirin was to change the face of midwifery in the Nyanza District. She was the first ever qualified midwife.

She was appalled at the state of the women and the new born child. Her kind hearted and soft spoken manner brought mothers from all over the district of Nyanza, Homa Bay, Kindu Bay, Kissii, Kimlili, and all the way from Kampala too!

She explained early care of the child, sanitation, breast feeding, sterilization, diet of mother and child. Shirin then married my cousin, Amir Shamji. Thus began the liaison. Now there are five Keshavjees, married to five Jamals!! Shirin Shamji (nee Keshavjee) lives in Toronto.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

A midwife in Upper Egypt holding a kulleh pot. Also known as the goollah, it is a porous water-jar of sun-dried Nile mud. Photo Credit: Winifred S. Blackman/ Wellcome Library Image, London.

‘Laxmi’ Jenab Nanjee

The following story was narrated by Jenab Nanjee to her daughter-in-law, Nuri Abdul, daughter of Madatali Suleiman Verjee

“I was born in Jugu Lane now called Gulzar Street on Sunday, August 20, 1930. It was my grandfather’s house, Madatali Suleiman Verjee. It  was customary to go to your parents house at the time of birth.

“My mother was in her final days of pregnancy. She was ready now to go to her parental home for Khoro Bharavo. Khoro is the lap. Bharavo is to make full. This is a ceremony filled with abundance on the lap of the new mother. A special prayer is recited and the expectant mother’s mother prepares a coconut and some sweet meats to take to Jamatkhana to make sacred this time of birth. The new mother usually wears green as a symbol of plenty and of happiness.

“A European nurse, a qualified midwife was asked to come home for delivery. This was a privilege of the wealthy. ( I wonder what happened to the not so wealthy)

“I was born on a Sunday. My grandfather was very happy and pleased that a ‘laxmi’, a daughter was born to his daughter. Sometimes a daughter was a bad omen. Suleiman Verjee saw this as a sign of prosperity. He gave me the first gursurdhi  jaggery mixed with water. A sweet drink to  bring sweetness into my life. He gave me the name of Jenab, a name of one of the wives of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (s.a.s).

“My mother and I stayed at my grandfathers house for a month. This was so that my mother could be helped with my first initial upbringing and that my mother would regain her strength. At this time the family visited my mother and she was given many gifts called ‘chati’.

“Customarily it was significant that Mrs Suleiman Verjee was given such good care, received many gifts and that she had the care of a qualified midwife. Jenub, now 82  lives in Nairobi.

“Now the course offered by Aga Khan University in East Africa is call Nursing and Midwifery. It leads the way in East Africa. It offers undergraduate, and graduate programmes as well as conversion and professional and continuing education courses.

“The nurses can achieve international standard, even when they are studying and are mothers. They study as they work.”

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured  some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics.  Photo: AKDN

During his visit to East Africa in 2009, Mawlana Hazar Imam toured some of the Hospital’s diagnostic services and specialist clinics. Photo: AKDN

The Story of My Own Birth

I now share the story about my birth in Kisumu on June 1, 1946. We lived in Jamal Building facing Lake Victoria. The building was constructed on Main Street Station Road in 1945.

Now that she was full term, my mother Khatija had to move to the downstairs room. She could not deliver her baby in the upstairs room, where there was a great deal of traffic of the extended family. Besides older children Zeenat and Amina, she had a brother-in-law Amirkaka, sister-in-law Nasirbanu and of course her in-laws, Bapaji and Ma. The downstairs room was called ‘Nichlo room’.

It was already embarrassing moving down. In 1945, women or men never talked about pregnancy, welfare of the mother and so on. Expectant mothers were covered by a long dress and a pachedi (shawl) would be drawn over the head in the presence of Bapaji or any male relative.

So Khatija, my mum, was all prepared with clean sheets and extra americani sheeting for the baby. No early preparation was made for the baby. It was a bad omen to do so. No layette, no baby showers!!!

It was before 4 a.m on 1st June. Khatija hoped that Bapaji would go for his early morning prayers, so that she could ask my dad to get Sherabai Hirji, the midwife.

Sherabai was smart. She was also cheerful and kind. In her white uniform, she inspired confidence. She was very good at delivering but she did not keep medical notes such as the baby’s weight, height, and temperature. However, my mum was relieved to see the arrival of Sherabai, who was a friend and well known to the family. Seeing my mother out of bed she admonished,  “What are you doing out of bed? You are so close now, get into bed!”

As if to help, my mother said “Let me get the hot water and the sagri….open brazier, jiko.” She got another reprimand, “You are doing no such thing.” Sherabai organised the water, sheeting and towels. She was familiar with the household having brought into the world Amina and Nasirbanu just a few years earlier.

Thus I was born in the presence of midwife and nurse. Sherabai then organized a brick, which would be heated on the jiko and placed on the mother’s stomach to keep it in shape.

Sadly, I was yet another female child. This did not auger well for my mother, nor for the family. Nevertheless, there I was, plump and full of life, to be loved by all the family in Kisumu till a year later we moved to Mombasa.

Date posted: Saturday, February 21, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee. 2015.

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Shariffa KeshavjeeAbout the writer: Shariffa Keshavjee is  a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.

Feedback: We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click Leave a comment or submit your letter to simerg@aol.com. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Links to a selection of articles by Shariffa Keshavjee on simerg and simergphotos:

  1. Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose
  2. Inferno of Alamut
  3. The Jamatkhana in Toronto — “A Seed of Faith Planted…” by Shariffa Keshavjee
  4. My Fascination with the Once “Exotic” World of Paan

Simerg’s Jamatkhana Series and the new Ismaili Centre in Toronto

As part of one of our previous annual anniversary series, we had asked our readers to tell us how a particular Jamatkahana has impacted their lives. Links to some of the reflections that we published are provided below. Ismailis and Toronto residents alike eagerly await and are excited about the opening of the new Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre in Toronto, along with the Aga Khan Museum and the Park, all located at one site. Thousands walk or drive by the magnificent buildings, and Simerg welcomes your thoughts and reflections on these projects which, Inshallah, will be opening soon. In this regard, readers will also wish to read Jim Bowie’s superb piece of the photos he had been taking of the construction site since its inception. Please click In the Making: The Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park. Alternatively, to download a PDF file (5mb) please click on the image below.

A MYSTICAL HALO (AND A GLITTERING STAR) AT THE SITE OF
THE NEW TORONTO ISMAILI CENTRE AND JAMATKHANA

PDF Photo essay: Click on image

Flashback - a  night scene at the Aga Khan Museum project site on November 29, 2010. Photo: Jim Bowie.

Flashback – a night scene at the Aga Khan Museum project site on November 29, 2010. Photo: Jim Bowie.

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 SIMERG’S JAMATKHANA SERIES

Learning and Sharing Knowledge About Ismaili Jamatkhanas Through Imamat Day Greeting Cards

Please click for post

Please click for post

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Dubai’s Jewel: The Ismaili Community’s Congregational Space

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Bagamoyo’s Historic Ismaili Jamatkhana Through Pictures, Poetry and Prose

Fond Memories of Salamieh, 51 Kensington Court, and Yakymour

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1953-1957: Ismailia Social and Residential Club and Jamatkhana
at 51 Kensington Court, London W8

Please click for article and photos

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At the Ismaili Centre

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"Happy Days in Hasanabad" by Dr. Aziz Kurwa. Simerg Special Series: Jamatkhana - A Place of Spiritual and Social Convergence.

Please click for article and photos

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Memories of Nairobi’s Majestic ‘Town Jamatkhana’,
formerly the ‘Darkhana’ of Kenya

Please click for article and photos.

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5 Palace Gate when it was a privilege to be in England

Please click on image for article.

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The Darkhana, Canada: A Building of Graceful Architecture and Spiritual Nobility

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 5 Palace Gate

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Remembering Kampala Jamatkhana: Special in so many ways

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A Jamatkhana in Tashkorgan, China

The Jamatkhana in Tashkorgan in Xinjiang Province, China. Please click for story and photographs.

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Serenity in Central London: The Ismaili Centre

The Prince of Wales is greeted by the Aga Khan during a visit to the Ismaili Centre to join a reception to help celebrate its 25th anniversary. Photo: Press Association, Nottingham, UK. Please click for article

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Date posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click on Leave a comment.

“Work No Words” by His Highness the Aga Khan, and Other Rare Ismaili Historical Quotes on Service

Compiled and prepared by Abdulmalik J. Merchant Publisher-Editor, Simerg.com

As Canada pays its respect to the volunteers by marking the week of April 6, 2014, as Volunteer Week, we bring you some very rare historical quotations on service and voluntary work which appeared in a special Ismaili Volunteers, Scouts and Guides Souvenir published in 1954 to jointly commemorate the 48th Ismaili Imam’s Platinum Jubilee and the 35th anniversary of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Bombay Volunteer Corps.

WORK NO WORDS

His Highness the Aga Khan III, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (1877 - 1957)

“Today I will give you  a small motto and that is “Work No Words”. Labour for the welfare of others  is the best way of improving ourselves, because results are sure and certain. If you work for yourselves, you are never happy. This is not a new idea, but this is an outcome of the experience of thousands of years of history.” —  48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan (1877-1957)

DISCIPLINE AND SERVICE

My dear Hazar Imam’s Spiritual Child,

I enclose the photo which you ask for the Souvenir Number of the Ismaili Volunteers, Scouts and Guides.

My message to the Volunteers, Scouts and Guides is:

“I ask you all to remember the great opportunities you have for discipline and service in your organization. Discipline is very important in life, and by making good use of the training you now have, you are laying the foundations for useful and happy lives. I send my loving thoughts and best wishes to you all.”

Yours affectionately, Om Habibeh, Mata Salamat The Begum Aga Khan (1906-2000)

NOBLE WORK

The New Prince Karim Aga Khan IV in Switzerland after the passing away of  the Aga Khan III.

“Your patriotism and loyalty must be sincere, active, and productive. Please follow this advice, be industrious and hardworking. The work done for the good of the community is always noble and verily we are taught that all good deeds shall be compensated four-fold.” — His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan (the present 49th Ismaili Imam)

PIR SABZALI

Pir Sabzali (1871 - 1938) - bestowed with the title of a Pir by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan.

“Itmadi Sabzali has revealed his spiritual power to thousands of people. He was the standard-bearer of the devotees. He passed away leaving a permanent void in this world but his soul has attained salvation.

“Itmadi Sabzali has rendered such service to us that after his death we have given him the status of Pir.  If others also render like service, they too shall attain such a status. During the period of 54 years of my Imamat,  to only one person have I given this status.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan

ONE BIG FAMILY

Aga Khan III Platinum Jubilee in India, officiated by son Prince Aly Khan

“Every Ismaili, man and woman, and child should grow up with the feeling and certain knowledge that they are a member of one great family, powerful and respected throughout the world, beyond the hills and across the seas…If each person is aware of this fact, it will give them extra courage and self-assurance.” — Prince Aly S. Khan (1911-1960)

RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE RICH

“I would suggest that the richer and more fortunate a man is, the more he should be thinking of others and not himself. It is the duty of rich Ismailis to think of their poor brethren and give them a much-needed lift in life.”  — Prince Aly S. Khan

EXCELLENT SERVICE

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

“I have great pleasure in enclosing my photograph and congratulate Pirmahomed V. Madhani and the various members of the Volunteer Corps for the excellent services they have rendered to their Imam and their brother Ismailis.” — Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933-2003)

RAISING THE BANNER OF FAITH

“The future of Ismailism depends on those of your age and mine. Are we to follow the example of those who in Egypt, in Iran and in Sind, on different occasions by their faith and devotion, raised the banner of the Hazar Imam till the whole world saw its light? I say, Yes. For we young men must not fail where our fathers succeeded so gloriously.” — Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

LESSONS FROM HISTORY

This thoughtful study of the late Aga Khan was done in clay by his late wife, the Begum Aga Khan. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

“Ismailis under Imams did great things in past. With same devotion, unity, obedience and discipline – and no jealousy – similar occasions will arise for greater deeds.”  — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan

PERFORM YOUR BEST

“Everyone must follow the ideal of performing the greatest amount of work and service to the Ismaili faith. I, therefore, expect every Ismaili to consider the work allotted to him his sacred duty to perform to the best of his abilities, and to do utmost. He who serves me most becomes nearer to me.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan

YOUTH RESPONSIBILITIES

“Young people ought to be explained that besides lucrative jobs, there should be aim of service to the community.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan

TIME

A man’s chief capital is time and that if he wastes time, he wastes his greatest asset which can never be recouped.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan

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PLEDGE

Front Cover of 1954 Souvenir

Front Cover of 1954 Souvenir. Photo: Noordin Babul

THE FOLLOWING IS THE 1954 VOLUNTEER PLEDGE OF LOYALTY TAKEN BEFORE A CANDIDATE WAS ADMITTED AS AN ISMAILI VOLUNTEER

“Believing in the Omnipresence of God, I hereby solemnly give this pledge To ever remain faithful And leave no stone unturned to serve Mawlana Hazar Imam, our community, our country, and our volunteer corps.”

Date posted: Friday, April 11, 2014.

Note: With the exception of the image of the cover page, the last photo shown, none of the portrait thumbnail photos shown in the piece belong to the souvenir.

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All quotations taken from “Ismaili Volunteers , Scouts and Guides Souvenir in Commemoration of His Royal Highness Prince Aga Khan’s Platinum Jubilee and Completion of 35 Years of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Bombay Volunteers Corps” published by Lt. Col. Pirmohamed Madhani, 1954. The rare copy of the souvenir was submitted to Simerg by Mr. Noordin Babul and family, originally of Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique, and now residing in Texas.

For Canada’s Volunteer Week, Aga Khan Council President Malik Talib Tells Ismaili Volunteers, “You Are a Beacon of Islamic Ethics”

We wish you a lifetime of “enlightened self-fulfillment”

Malik Talib

Malik Talib

The President of His Highness the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Malik Talib, issued the following message through the community’s weekly newsletter “Al-Akhbar” as the country marks the National Volunteer Week from April 6-12:

“On behalf of the Canadian institutions and the entire Jamat, I wish to express our deepest appreciation and gratitude for the voluntary service rendered by Ismaili volunteers across Canada.  Whether you are an Ismaili Volunteer who wears a uniform with pride, an individual who quietly takes care of our Jamatkhana spaces, a non-badged volunteer like myself serving within our institutions, a volunteer who has gifted a Time and Knowledge Nazrana (TKN) during Golden Jubilee, or you volunteer externally in civil society, you are a beacon of Islamic ethics, values, and a shared humanity.

The badge of the Ismaili Volunteer Coorps with the slogan "Work No Words". Photo: Abdul Shivji, Ottawa.

The badge of the Ismaili Volunteer Coorps with the slogan “Work No Words”.  Photo: Abdul Shivji, Ottawa.

 
“In today’s age of social technology and digital connection, knowledge is more abundant and time feels increasingly scarce, making voluntary service in Canada particularly challenging.  Yet, as we seek to balance our material and spiritual obligations under the pressures of modern-day life, we create space in our lives to serve across many boundaries and frontiers. We do this as Canadian Ismailis living the values of Islam and those of Canada.  The Governor General of Canada, The Right Honourable David Johnston calls Canada “a smart and caring nation.” Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke with pride about this in Parliament:

His Highness the Aga Khan at the Parliament of Canada

His Highness the Aga Khan at the Parliament of Canada

“The Canadian spirit resonates with a cherished principle in Shia Ismaili culture – the importance of contributing one’s individual energies on a voluntary basis to improving the lives of others. This is not a matter of philanthropy, but rather of self-fulfillment – ‘enlightened self-fulfillment’.”

“As Canada celebrates National Volunteer Week from April 6-12, it is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge the value and contribution of all volunteers who give of their precious time, talent or material resources day after day to improve people’s lives. In the days ahead, we will celebrate this beautiful tradition of leadership and service. To the countless people who volunteer, both visibly and silently, we wish you a lifetime of “enlightened self-fulfillment”. 

“Once again to all Ismaili Volunteers in Canada, thank you for helping to improve the quality of life for Jamati members everywhere and make Canada a better place for all.  I encourage everyone in the Jamat to join me in expressing respect and appreciation to our volunteers for all they do to make a positive impact in our lives.”

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Please also click on the following links to read stories about Ismaili volunteers in Canada and around the world:

Special Series — Ismaili Oral Testimonies from the Mountains of Northern Pakistan: (I) A Mountaineer’s Adventures

“…In the Diamir Face, Nanga Parbat is one of the most difficult and technical mountain to climb. Where there is 100 metres of negative incline climbing, and in that wall there are stairs in four places and one has to hang on those places….You cannot rest freely on the climbing route of Nanga Parbat, if you walk for eight hours then you have to stay on the rope for eight hours for having rest. It is not like G-2 and Broad Peak where you can rest, you can sit and then continue your climbing. But in Nanga Parbat you have to stay bent on the rope continuously for eight hours with no possibility of sitting down…”

PLEASE CLICK: Mountain Voices —  Ismaili Testimonies of Life in the Remote Mountains of Pakistan: (I) A Mountaineer’s Adventure

The road to school is full of potential dangers for Shimshal children. Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

The road to school is full of potential dangers for Shimshal children. Photo: Pam Henson. Copyright.

Lessons from Ismaili History

LETTER FROM THE PUBLISHER

Abdulmalik Merchant,  Publisher-Editor, Simerg. Click photo for profile.

Abdulmalik Merchant, Publisher-Editor, Simerg. Click photo for profile.

To mark Simerg’s 3rd anniversary, a special series “Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures” was launched  because I have felt that learning about outstanding Ismaili figures can help us to make better decisions as members or leaders of the community to which we belong, and instill in us greater sense of responsibility when dealing with community success stories, issues and challenges as well as personal disappointments and setbacks. Fourteen different individuals have contributed to the series so far and their thank you letters to numerous individuals covering 1400 years of history are a must read. Please click on 14 Inspirational Thank You Letters to Remarkable Ismaili Historical Figures and take your time to read each thank you letter over the next few days or weeks. I am sure you will be enlightened by these letters to Prince Amyn, Prince Sadruddin, Pir Sabzali, Ismaili philosophers and other historical figures.

Please click on image to download series "I Wish I'd Been There"

Please click on image to download series “I Wish I’d Been There”

In the same vein as “Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures”, Simerg had earlier presented a series called “I Wish I’d Been There” in which 31 writers from different backgrounds took an incident in Ismaili History and briefly described why they would have liked to have been a witness to an iconic moment of their choice.

From the historical period of Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali and Imam Hussein to Imam Mahdi’s unveiling at Sijilmasa in today’s Morocco to the burning of the library in Alamut as well as the more recent history covering the periods of Tharia Topan and Ismail Gangji, this rich series deserves to be read. The 121 page PDF publication can be quickly downloaded by clicking on I Wish I’d Been There Series – PDF or the series articles can be  individually accessed by clicking on I Wish I’d Been There.

Both the series are engaging, informative as well as inspiring, and we are sure readers will wish to share them with their family members and friends.

Date posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014.

Photo Essay: Karim Master’s Original Copy of “Fidai” Magazine Published in 1936 to Commemorate the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

Karim Master’s Original Copy of “Fidai” Magazine Published in 1936 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

Please click on image for photo essay on Fidai magazine

Please click on image for photo essay on Fidai magazine

The Story of an Ismaili Farmer Who Has Served the Mahuva Jamat All His Life by Salman Bheriyani

“The jamatbhai…was blind and for ‘wudu’ he used to draw water from a nearby well.  Gulamhusen made sure that he was there to help the jamatbhai in the daily ritual. Through acts such as this, Gulamhusen began to serve the jamat of the town”….Read More

Long serving Ismaili, 77 year old farmer Gulamhusen Alibhai Jamani of Mahuva, India, with a  medal that was presented him during Volunteer Day. Please click on image for story.

Long serving Ismaili, 77-year-old farmer Gulamhusen Alibhai Jamani of Mahuva, India, with a medal that was presented to him to recognise volunteers. Please click on image for story.

Simerg’s Volunteer Series (previous stories):

We invite contributions for the series. Please click STORIES OF ISMAILI VOLUNTEERS.