“Wadima” Raibanu Sikina Kanji Lalji, the Grandma of Mbeya, Tanzania


PRELUDE: Thirty years ago, Mbeya Town, situated in the Southern Highland region of Tanzania lost Raibanu Sikina Kanji Lalji. She and her husband Rai Kanji Lalji were one of the pioneers of Mbeya. She was a dedicated person not only to her Lalji Bharmal family by marriage but to all communities of the town. Being her grand nephew, I am humbled to write about her so that she is not forgotten and thus will belong to the pages of history of the Indian contribution in the development of East African countries.

It is a misconception that the people of Indian origin in East Africa are descendants of the labourers who built Kenya-Uganda railway. Almost 32,000 workers from Kutch and Punjab were involved in laying a railway line from Mombasa to Kampala. Between 1896 and 1901, 2,493 workers died and 6,454 became invalid while laying the tracks. After the completions, only about 7,000 workers chose to stay back; the rest of them returned to India.

History indicates that there were trade links between Kutch, Gujarat and African coast for centuries. Modern day migration of Indians (or Asians as they were called in East Africa) to East Africa started in early and middle part 19th century. It was estimated that the number of Indians living in Zanzibar in 1859 was around 2,000.

Before, during and after the completion of laying of railway tracks in East African countries, Indian traders, mostly in the beginning from Kutch and then Kathiawar, had migrated to establish trading posts, called “dukas” along the railway routes. There were however others who were brave enough to venture out and establish trading posts in unexplored and dangerous regions of these countries. This was to provide the needs of indigenous populations and also of German and British administrators, living in the towns where they had established administration centers called “Bomas”. One such part was Southern Highland region of German East Africa (Tanganyika) and one such family was of my great grandfather Lalji Bharmal Rana’s children and grandchildren.

Initially, the Indian settlers in East African countries were male Indians. These men came alone without their spouses, as either they felt that the move to East Africa would be temporary and short lived or would send for their wives later on, when financial means permitted. The other group was young single men.

Women, following their migration to East Africa, either to join their husbands or after becoming  brides of young single men who had gone back to get married, have played a very major and important role in the success of Indian settlement in Africa in general and East Africa in particular. They not only minded their homes and looked after the children but they were pillars of support for Indian men. They helped their husbands in the “dukas”, looked after the extended family and also helped other women in the community they were living in.

Mbeya and Tukuyu regions of the Southern Highland Province of Tanganyika was blessed with arrival in the early part of 1923 — after her marriage to Wadabapa Kanji Lalji Bharmal — of a lady, who would play a major role not only in the settlement of Lalji Bharmal family and Indian community of various backgrounds and religion but also the betterment of the general population of Mbeya.

Her name was Sikinabai Kanji Lalji — our Wadima, The Grandma of Mbeya.

Wadima Raibanu Sikina Kanji Lalji, Simerg, Ismaili history and personalities
Wadima Raibanu Sikina Kanji Lalji. Photograph: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection.

Wadima Sikina was the daughter of Hirji Rajpar Kalyan from Nagalpur, Kutch. She was a sister of five brothers who all migrated to Tanganyika. The oldest brother, Jaffer, settled in Zanzibar and the rest, Mollo, Merali, Bandali and Suleman settled in Tukuyu. Wadabapa Kanji Lalji was the second son of Lalji Bharmal and being single, immigrated first in early second decade of 20th century. His older brother, Manji, was a family man and a breadwinner for the Lalji Bharmal family, farming on their small piece of land called “Kundhi Wadi”. Thus he was not able to go first to Tanganyika. Wadabapa Kanji Lalji after succeeding in his business, returned to Kutch in 1922 to get married.

Mr & Mrs Hirji Bhaloo. Photograph. Dr, Mohamed Manji collection. Simerg Ismaili history and leaders
Wadima’s parents, Mr & Mrs Hirji Rajpar Kalyan. Photograph: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection.

The 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan lll, had instructed the Kutch Kathiawar Ismaili Jamats to go to East Africa for economical betterment. So this newly married couple was given a big task to take some of Wadabapa’s brothers and nephews with them on their trip back to East Africa to settle them and help them to earn their living there.  At a young age of seventeen and as a newly married bride, she took this responsibility with her husband and became the “mother” of the family.

The new home of Wadima, as Mrs Sikinabai Kanji Lalji, will be addressed from now on, was in New-Langenburg (presently known as Tukuyu), a small hillside town in the Southern Highland region of Tanganyika (now known as Tanzania).This was the place the German administration, before 1st World War, had established a center called “Boma”. Mr Kanji Lalji had moved to this place from a close by village of Masoko where he had initially settled in 1911.

 Mr & Mrs Kanji Lalji. Photograph: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection. Ismaili leaders, Mbeya
 Mr & Mrs Kanji Lalji. Photograph: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection.

In those days, these small villages in East Africa did not have any hotels or restaurants. There were only few Indian families of different backgrounds, i.e. Hindus, Sunni Muslims and Khoja Muslims (mostly Ismailis).They thus had no choice but to look after each other in all ways of life. Any new arrival or visitor would just have to go to any “duka” of an Indian person and he and his family would be taken care of. They would be fed, housed and also would get help so to open their own “dukas” or find them employment, regardless of religious background. This was an old Sindhi, Kutchi and Khatiawadi tradition for generations, practised in India and outside India.

Click on map for enlargement

Tanzania map
Shaded relief map of Tanzania. Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. This is an annotated version prepared by Simerg and locations mentioned in the article have been circled in red.

As very few of the Indian man-folk had wives, Wadimaa played major role in this aspect in Tukuyu, during that time. One such example was an arrival of a Sunni Muslim family of Haji Yusufmia in Tukuyu in late 1920’s or early 1930’s; they had arrived in Tukuyu after crossing Lake Nyassa (Malawi) in a small canoe from Nyasaland. They were on their way to Mbeya region to settle. They stayed with them and Haji Yusufmia made Wadimaa  his blood sister. From then on that relationship between these two families continues to exist until the present day and has remained strong among their children and grandchildren. Haji Yusufmia became a prosperous businessman in Mbeya and a respected Muslim community leader in the Southern Highland region. He and his family were officially invited to attend the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan in 1946 in Dar es Salaam.

Wadima Sikinabai and Wadabapa Kanji Lalji were matriarch of the Lalji Bharmal family in the settlement of Wadabapa’s older brother Manji’s sons and daughters, his younger brothers Hussein and Karim Lalji. They helped them settle, marry and establish themselves in Tanganyika and some of them became quite successful economically.

In spite of being young, Wadima had an inborn mature quality and accepted a major role in the social aspect of the communities. She learned Swahili language and also local tribal language of Nyakyusa. As there were no doctors or official midwives, women helped each other during deliveries. She was one of the main women involved as a “midwife”. She was self-taught by observing and also from a midwifery medical book for women; she told me that she bought this book in Mumbai for 3 rupees during her first return visit to Kutch after her marriage. She also told me (being an MD myself) during our fireplace talks in her later years, while visiting Vancouver, that she still wanted to learn more. She wanted to know about new procedures involved during deliveries in the present  modern day.

In 1935, Wadima and her family relocated to Mbeya. They became one of the pioneers of Mbeya. She continued her involvement in Mbeya community in the same way, and in some respect in more involved way. She was the main lady player in establishment of the Ismaili community of Mbeya. She, with her husband served as Mukhiani and Mukhi of Mbeya Ismaili Jamat in 1938. Their names are embedded on the plaque shown below. She also was instrumental in the establishment of other Ismaili majalis gatherings in Mbeya. In early 1950’s, as per Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s instructions, she was one of the first ladies in Mbeya, to adopt the simple western dress and gave up her Indian attire of “pacheri” and saris. She also was instrumental in getting other reluctant Ismaili ladies to do the same.

 List of Mukhis and Kamadias of Mbeya Jamat Photo: Dr Moh'd Manji collection, Simerg Ismaili history, Aga Khan community
 List of Mukhis and Kamadias of Mbeya Jamat Photograph: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection.

Wadima established the Ismaili Ladies Voluntary corps in Mbeya. The following pictures show her involvement over the decades. She also participated in preparing food during Ismaili functions as part of “Jaman” committee. In spite of her age, she also participated in one of the early Vancouver Partnership Walk during her visit to Vancouver, BC.


Mbeya Aga Khan Women's Voluntary Corp early 1950s. Photograph: Dr Mohamed Manji collection     
Mbeya Aga Khan Women’s Voluntary Corp early 1950s. Photograph: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.     
Mbeya Aga Khan Women's Voluntary Corp late 1950s. Photograph:: Dr Mohamed Manji collection. 
Mbeya Aga Khan Women’s Voluntary Corp late 1950s. Photograph: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.
 Mbeya Aga Khan Women's Voluntary Corp late 1980s. Photograph: Dr Moh'd Manji collection. 
Mbeya Aga Khan Women’s Voluntary Corp late 1980s. Photograph: Dr Mohamed Manji collection. 

Over the years, she earned the respect of all communities of Mbeya, whether they were of native African population or of Indian and European background and came to be known as WADIMA (Grandma). She had a persona of being confidant and in expressing authority. Families would get her involved in settlement of family, marital and financial issues of the community. After Tanganyika’s independence on December 9, 1961, local native political leader would come and greet her as she had known them since they were young. At any Indian wedding, she would be consulted and invited. I remember that my father did consult and inform her about weddings in our family.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, members of the Lalji family in Mbeya would visit Wadima’s  place once or twice a week after Jamatkhana, for chit-chat. I was very young and my young cousins and young uncles would gather around  a “sigree” (charcoal heating utensil), as Mbeya at an altitude of 1,758 metres (5,500 ft) was quite a cold place. The rooms were lit by lanterns; in that period there was no electricity in Mbeya. We would listen to the elders talking about local news, news from Kutch and other family news. Wadima was  a very good storyteller. The young ones would sit with her and she would tell to us about our ancestry, about Kutch and their early hard days they went through when she came to Tanganyika and other interesting stories. This was kind of passing on to all of us, our history and informing us, who we were and where we came from. 

Her legacy is being remembered and talked about, up to now, by all Lalji Bharmal youngsters, who were sitting around the “sigree” in those early days and also the new Lalji Bharmal generations in the latter days. When we get together here in Canada and talk about Mbeya, we remember her by saying to each other that “Wadima was saying so”.

Wadima during one of her visit to Vancouver in early 1990’s fell sick. Her wish always was to be buried in the African soil. She returned to Mbeya, Tanzania, her “home”. She passed away in Mbeya, surrounded by family, at the age of 88 years, on February 8th, 1994, and she is buried in Mbeya, Tanzania  —  the place she was a part of in building. 

As I reflect on her magnificent life, I pray for the peace of her soul as well as the souls of all the departed members of my family.

Acknowledgements: I would like to first acknowledge my late Wadima Raibanu Sikina Kanji Lalji herself. She over the years provided me her history, which enabled me to pen down the above write up.  I would also like to acknowledge my father’s first cousin and Wadimaa’s son Mr Badrudin Kanji Lalji, his daughter Al-Shamsh (Shamshi) Ladha and Wadimaa’s blood bother’s son Haji Satarmia Haji Yusufmia for providing information for this write up.

Date posted: March 16, 2023.
Last updated: March 18, 2023 (names, typo corrections.)


Dr. Mohamed Manji cancer specialist special article for Simerg
Dr. Mohamed Fazal Manji

Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji, a cancer special and recipient of the 2022 Royal College of Canada M. Andrew Padmos International Collaboration Award, is originally from Mbeya, Tanzania. He is a Consultant Radiation Oncologist at BC Cancer Agency of British Columbia, Canada, and Clinical Associate Professor, University of British Columbia.He graduated in medicine from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda and immigrated to Canada in 1972. Dr. Manji specialised in radiation cancer treatments at Princess Margaret Hospital (Cancer Center as it is called now) in Toronto. He  obtained the Canadian Fellowship (FRCPC) and American Board Specialist Certification (DABRT) in Radiation Oncology. He also undertook special courses in Nuclear Medicine and Endocrinology at Harvard Medical School, Boston USA. He became the first Canadian trained Ismaili Radiation Oncologist in Canada and probably in North America.

A plaque from Aga Khan University in appreciation of Dr. Manji’s services and at right Dr. Manji received the 2022 Royal College of Canada M. Andrew Padmos International Collaboration Award

He has been working at BC Cancer agency since 1977. He spent time abroad, working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to help modernize the Radiation Department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center. He spent 12 years at this tertiary hospital for cancer and other diseases. He was also involved in the planning and development of Radiation Oncology Departments at the Aga Khan University Hospitals in Karachi and Nairobi and spent some time working at both places. He has contributed to many peer review publications, abstracts, book chapters and also lecture presentations nationally and internationally. He is the son of Rai Fazal Manji of Mbeya Tanzania, who served as a member of Aga Khan Supreme Council of Tanganyika in 1950’s and Raibanu Rehmat Fazal Manji, daughter of  Alijah Mohamed Hamir who, in early 1930’s, built an iconic Jamatkhana in Iringa, Tanzania, and donated it to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah unconditionally. Dr Manji served as first Member for Health on the first Aga Khan Ismaili Regional Council of Ontario and Quebec in 1973. He has previously contributed an informative piece on Prince Amyn Aga Khan’s visit to Toronto in 1973 on Simerg’s sister website Barakah.


Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Media Coverage: Ismaili Ethos of Volunteerism is Reflected in Ismaili Civic Day Held Around the World to Improve Quality of Life of Communities

Simerg proudly recognizes the hundreds of Ismaili volunteers who participated in the Ismaili Civic Day that was held in numerous countries around the world on September 26, 2021 to improve the quality of life of the communities in which they live, regardless of faith, gender and background. We are pleased to share with our readers links to a selection of news reports that appeared in the local and national media. They reflect the significance of this day within the Ismaili community. Among the hundreds of different activities that Ismaili volunteers participated in, one of the most heart-warming and touching contributions was the clean-up and beautification of the Woodland Cemetery in Henrico County, Virginia, USA.

NBC News, USA: Ismaili Civic volunteers help with Woodland Cemetery beautification work

Ismaili Civic -- NBC News Report
Please click on photo for NBC News Report – Woodland Cemetery Cleanup


CTV News, Richmond, Canada: Photos: Volunteers clean-up Richmond park in celebration of Ismaili CIVIC Day

A youth volunteer during Richmond's first Global Ismaili CIVIC Day activity in B.C.
Please click on photo for CTV News Park Cleanup Richmond, British Columbia, Canada


CTV News Edmonton, Canada: Ismaili community celebrates civic day by tidying local park

Please click on photo for CTV News Edmonton Park Cleanup, Alberta, Canada


Date posted: September 28, 2021.


Challenges facing Deaf Ismailis around the world, and what the Jamat can do to support them

This special article for Simerg was written jointly by SALMA KHANJI, IMRAN HAKAMAILI, FARAH LADHA, RAMZAN SOMANI and SHAIZA JETHA, and edited by NURIN MERCHANT

Picture yourself sitting in Jamatkhana on a Friday evening, listening to a Ginan or Qasida. Voices of fellow Jamati members resonate within the prayer hall, as they sing along in unison or chit chat amongst themselves. Mukhisaheb’s voice can then be heard, announcing the commencement of Du’a, and subsequent prayers, ginans, readings and announcements. You listen to the words being spoken, thinking about their meaning, as your mind subconsciously perceives the tone and pitch of the presenter’s voices.

Now, picture yourself sitting in Jamatkhana on a Friday evening, unable to hear a single sound. Wanting desperately to be able to participate in and understand the prayers and ceremonies, just as your spiritual brothers and sisters do, but unable to easily do so. This is the challenge Deaf Ismailis face not only here in North America, but all around the world.

Our Deaf Ismaili brothers and sisters can be found across the globe, from small villages and towns across India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, to larger cities across Canada, Europe, the United States, and elsewhere. Just as our Hearing brothers and sisters living in various parts of the world speak different languages, so do the Deaf murids.

However, there are only two Ismaili sign language interpreters in North America, where American Sign Language (ASL) is used and globally only seven Ismaili sign language interpreters are known.

Sign language is not an international language -– every country and language has its own form. Each one is just as beautiful, unique, and cultural as spoken languages. For example, there is a sign for “jambo” (meaning “hello” in Swahili) in East African sign languages, such as Kenyan and Tanzanian. There is also a sign for “bon appétit” (meaning “enjoy your meal” in French) in French Sign language. However, neither of these signs are used or recognized by individuals who communicate in American Sign Language, which is largely used in Canada and the United States, nor in British Sign Language, which is used throughout the United Kingdom.

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Ismaili Sign Interpreter
President Ameerally Kassim-Lakha of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada gives his weekly address to the Canadian Jamat during the Friday Night Reflections program, while Safina Heneisen, a US based sign interpreter shown at bottom left of the photo, conveys the President’s message to Deaf Ismailis. In the top featured photo, the sign interpreter conveying Mawlana Hazar Imam’s speech is Vancouver’s Farah Ladha. Both photos have been extracted from the weekly Reflections program.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, all gatherings have become virtual. It was nice to see that the Canadian institutions had recruited sign language interpreters for the Friday Night Reflections series, a weekly webinar that airs on the Ismaili Canada website every Friday. This is a step in the right direction in terms of engaging and involving the Deaf Ismaili community. But that is not all that we can do! We are One Jamat -– what more can we do to include our Deaf brothers and sisters?

When Deaf murids are asked for their thoughts, many say they want to go to Jamatkhana to participate in and learn about our rituals, our history, our traditions, and our culture. But, without the presence of someone who can interpret this information to them in sign language, they are unable to learn and participate in a way that Hearing Ismailis can, which sadly but understandably, causes many to stop coming to Jamatkhana altogether.


There are also many young Deaf Ismaili children within our community, who do not have access to the Ta’lim Curriculum or teachings at Bait-ul-ilm (BUI) in sign language. Parents have expressed much sadness in seeing their children being unable to participate in these teachings. If you find yourself thinking, “why don’t parents of Deaf children just teach them our faith in sign language themselves at home?”, please consider this: do you (or any parent) have the same level of knowledge as a trained Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP) BUI teacher, or an Alwaez? Furthermore, this type of thinking does not consider the experience of attending BUI, of interacting with other Ismaili children, and of feeling like a part of the community.

Deaf children and adults experience many challenges just in the process of seeking to understand and be understood.  Imagine being in a country where you do not understand the language but still need to ask for directions. That would be a challenge.  Now imagine you are in that same country; you have learned a little bit of the language and are required to give a fluent presentation. Imagine being judged on your performance, on the errors in vocabulary choice and grammar that cause misunderstanding or confusion.  That is the challenge that Deaf children and adults face daily.

For Deaf people to have full communication access, they need communication partners that share the same language that they use.  For learning and participating fully in the BUI and in the Jamatkhana there needs to be access in sign language. This can be provided by a teacher who is proficient in sign language. If there is no teacher who is skilled with sign language, the services of a professional sign language interpreter can be used. Such professionals will have completed many years of specialized training and are able to interpret in a variety of situations from business meetings to conferences, medical appointments to classrooms, and even in Jamatkhana.

Not only are professional sign language interpreters trained in a variety of settings, they are also ethically bound to a strict code of confidentially set by their local and national associations.  Some interpreters even work internationally.

Interpreters play key roles in this process of learning and belonging. When Deaf murids receive information in sign language, they thrive in our community. By learning the meanings of Firmans and of our various prayers using sign language, they have said that they feel more connected to our faith –- not only physically to the space of Jamatkhana, but spiritually as well. We would like to share a few examples of how interpreters can be key contributors in building bridges and connections between Deaf and Hearing Jamati members.

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Ismailis taking the American Sign Language Class in a Jamatkhana
A group photo of students attending American Sign Language (ASL) class in a Jamatkhana. Photo credit: Farah Ladha.


A Deaf man in his 40s was interested in learning about mehmani that is brought to Jamatkhana, which is then sold as nandi. The question was why is it brought to Jamatkhana as a mehmani? And how its auctioned off after? The presence of an interpreter encouraged this murid to buy nandi in Jamatkhana for the first time. The custom was interpreted for the Deaf murid in sign language, including the description of the item, and the entire bidding process. When he wanted something, he would raise his hand. A Jamati member next to him informed him when his upper price limit had been reached by tapping him on the shoulder, causing him to lower his hand if the price exceeded his set amount. This not only helped him to participate in and understand the tradition of nandi, it also helped him to feel connected and interact with other Jamati members and allowed them to learn how to communicate with a Deaf murid.

Another example: For many years, a well-known Deaf murid attended Jamatkhana regularly. Every day, he would be greeted with a handshake to say hello. Nothing more was conveyed between himself and other Jamati members, as a communication barrier existed between them. One day, the Deaf murid, through a sign language interpreter, was able to present to the Jamat about his life. Audience members wept at having seen him for many years but never truly knowing him or his story. They also didn’t know that as a child, Hazar Imam had put his hand on his shoulder during a mulaqat while at the same time telling his father not to worry, his Deaf son would be ok. Nor were they aware that he had gone on to have a very successful business. His story would never have come to light if it were not for the presence of an interpreter, who facilitated the communication and understanding using sign language and the audience’s spoken language.


A final example outlining a recent success story is one from the Diamond Jubilee. After tireless work and education about the inclusion of the Deaf Jamat, sign language interpretation was provided live for the first time for the Mulaqats in Karachi, Paris, and Lisbon, as well as across Canada and in Atlanta Georgia, USA. Over 250 Deaf murids were able to understand Hazar Imam’s Firmans for the first time.

However, there were still hundreds more that were not able to reap the benefit of the live interpretation either due to lack of professional Ismaili sign language interpreters in their area, or due to lack of education and knowledge of the presence of Deaf Ismaili murids, as well as the provision of adequate supports for them. Inshallah as more education is disseminated and awareness is raised, Deaf Ismailis will start to see a change, and more steps will be made towards their inclusion.


The good news is that there is inclusive change happening. Gatherings for Deaf Ismailis have been organized, which have proven to be great opportunities for Deaf murids to meet and greet one another, as well as to teach, learn, and share knowledge. Watching elderly Deaf Jamati members interacting with younger members is a beautiful sight to see and reflect upon. Just as we reminisce about how our grandparents explained concepts to us in their mother tongue, when we were younger, the elder Deaf Ismailis are teaching the younger generations in their shared sign language.

Some Jamats have gone a step further and have hosted sign language 101 workshops for their members, where professional sign language instructors (some from outside of our community) come to teach basic sign language. The workshops have been very successful, and some Jamats have decided to pursue additional workshops so that they can advance their knowledge. All Jamats could host these types of workshops in order to promote communication between Deaf and Hearing murids.


In addition to allowing Hearing and Deaf Jamati members to communicate, these workshops also allow individuals with hearing loss to learn sign language and thus have seamless communication as hearing deteriorates with age. For example, there was a woman who brought her elderly mother, who was profoundly deaf in one ear and losing hearing in the other, to one of these organized workshops. Both wanted to learn sign language so that they could continue to communicate once her mom had fully lost her hearing. Both mum and daughter were very touched and emotional when they witnessed firsthand how sign language is possible to learn and assists in communication between the Hard of Hearing and the Hearing. These workshops again were facilitated by professional sign language interpreters, some from within the community and some from outside of it.

These are good news stories, yes. But negative stigmas are still attached with Deafness, mainly the myth that Deaf are unable to be educated or taught or even work to make a living. This is entirely untrue, and an example given by Habiba Teja at a woman’s gala presentation highlights this fact.

Habiba is a well-known nutritionist and was talking about her experience with improving food quality through Aga Khan University (AKU) in Pakistan and Eastern Africa. Through this endeavor, she was able to help many impoverished people find work. One example she gave was about how she learned of a young Deaf man in his 20’s who sat in his room all day and stared at a wall. She visited with him and taught him job skills by communicating with him visually by hand gesturing, and by physically showing him what to do. He was quick to learn and was able to find full time paid work. This turned his entire life around and he began earning an income. He has since gotten married and has a family of his own. The stigma associated with him being Deaf had prevented anyone from trying to support his learning; believing he couldn’t learn, no one bothered taking the time to teach him anything. Habiba’s story touched many and shattered the notions that the Deaf people are unable to be educated or work.

This is not the only stigma we need to face as a community. We need to work together as a community to squash the stigmas associated with Deafness, Blindness, and Disabilities in general. Unfortunately, these stigmas are still very prevalent in the Ismaili Community today. We need to educate ourselves and to reach out to those who feel left out in our community due to situations beyond their control. We need to inspire one another and learn from one another. And perhaps for some of you reading this, it may seem like a lot to take in. Maybe trying to learn a bit of sign language feels overwhelming. For those people, we offer this one quote from a Deaf person:

“Hearing people can learn sign language. Deaf people cannot learn to hear.”


Try to learn even just a little bit of sign language to be able to communicate with your Deaf brothers and sisters. If you know of any Deaf Jamati members wanting to participate in activities within our community, but not being able to do so due to the reasons outlined in this article or others, encourage your local or national council to provide a professional sign language interpreter. If they are unsure about how to do this, we invite them to visit the Ismaili Deaf Website and fill out the contact form – information will then be provided to them.

The website also contains lots of information for the general public about the terminology that you have read within this article, such as Deaf, Hearing, Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind. Furthermore, it has many articles about sign language, and about the achievements and successes of some of our Deaf Ismailis and interpreters. If you are curious about where you can learn sign language in your area, and/or how to have access to professional sign language interpreters, you can fill out the online contact form.


“Without interpreters, our lives would be completely lost. We would feel helpless and struggle in our daily lives because we would not understand what is happening around the world.  We use sign language every day of our lives; a rich visual language which includes the use of facial expression, body language and gestures. Without sign language, we cannot function and participate fully in society as it is our means to communicate in all settings: educational, medical, workplace and at Jamatkhana. Sign language interpreters help us to better understand our faith and religion and in Jamatkhana especially if possible, Ismaili interpreters are so helpful to help us growing in our faith with Allah. Life is about learning and participating in a fully accessible society.”

If you are interested in learning sign language to make friends, to help one another, or to become a certified interpreter, we encourage you to contact your local Deaf and Hard of Hearing service organization as well as local colleges and universities who offer sign language courses. They will be happy to provide you with more information. Of course, you may reach out to us at the Ismaili Deaf Website, and complete the CONTACT US form

Date posted: July 7, 2020.
Last updated: July 9, 2020 (photo caption update with names of sign interpreters).


FEEDBACK FROM READERS: We welcome feedback/letters on this very important subject from Deaf Ismailis, their families and friends as well as everyone who is concerned about the difficulties Deaf people around the world face every single day of their lives. Stories of inspirational Deaf Ismailis are also welcome. Please use the feedback box which appears below (you may remain anonymous, if you wish). 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. Simerg’s editor, Malik Merchant, may be reached at Simerg@aol.com. Feel free to write to him – he will only respond to verifiable individuals!

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.


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.


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

Alnoor Ramji

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.


Goulzare Foui

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 »


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.


Amirali S. Nagji

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.


Sultan Piroj Maknojiya Methanwala

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.


Salima Wanda Arthurs

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.


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.

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


“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.

(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.


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.



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.



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
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
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.


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




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.


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.

Last updated: October 15, 2020.


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

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.


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.


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.



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

Please click for post

Please click for post


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


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

Fond Memories of Salamieh, 51 Kensington Court, and Yakymour


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

Please click for article and photos


At the Ismaili Centre


"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


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

Please click for article and photos.


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

Please click on image for article.


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


 5 Palace Gate


Remembering Kampala Jamatkhana: Special in so many ways


A Jamatkhana in Tashkorgan, China

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


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

* * *

Date posted: Thursday, July 31, 2014.


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.


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)


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)


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 (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


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)


“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


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)


“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


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


“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


“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


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



Front Cover of 1954 Souvenir

Front Cover of 1954 Souvenir. Photo: Noordin Babul


“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.


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.”


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