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.

story continues after photo

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.

YOUNG DEAF ISMAILI CHILDREN

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.

story continues after photo

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.

EXAMPLES: THE JOY OF FEELING CONNECTED

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.

DIAMOND JUBILEE AND RECENT SUCCESS STORIES

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.

GOOD NEWS

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.

EXCEPTIONAL AND INSPIRING STORIES, AND STIGMAS

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.”

ISMAILI DEAF WEBSITE

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.

A FINAL NOTE FROM A DEAF ISMAILI MURID

“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.

____________________

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.

_____________________

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.

____________

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.

~~~~~~

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.

_____________

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

~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~

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.

“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

~~~~~~~~

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.

______________________

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:

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.

An Account of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Recent Visit to India: For Ismaili Followers and Volunteers, “An Experience of Being Lifted Away to Another World” by Toral Pradhan

“The car door was left open waiting for him to sit in, but Hazar Imam was instead moving around the compound as if unwilling to leave the premises…..This is a sight that is difficult to erase from the mind” — Toral Pradhan

PLEASE CLICK: His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to India: For His Ismaili Followers and Volunteers, “A Dream Come True” and “An Experience of Being Lifted Away to Another World”

Please click on image for article by Toral Pradhan.

Please click on image for article by Toral Pradhan.

Stories of Ismaili Volunteers: Badrudin Kurwa’s Courageous Journey to Chitral for His Nazrana (Gift) of Time and Knowledge to Mawlana Hazar Imam

This is a fascinating story of faith and courage by an eye-surgeon who decided to travel to Chitral, Pakistan, and give the precious gift of an eyesight to individuals who thought they would never see again. Simerg invites individuals to come forward and share their stories as part of its 4th anniversary series dedicated to Ismaili volunteers, badged as well as non-badged.

PLEASE CLICK: An Ismaili Eye Surgeon’s Courageous Journey to Chitral

Badrudin Kurwa, right, performing a cataract surgery in Chitral, Pakistan. Please click on image to read article.

Badrudin Kurwa, right, performing a cataract surgery in Chitral, Pakistan. Please click on image to read article. Photo: Badrudin Kurwa Collection.

__________

Post of patients following cataract surgery by Dr. Badrudin Kurwa in Chitral, Pakistan. Please click for article.

Post op patients following cataract surgery by Dr. Badrudin Kurwa in Chitral, Pakistan. Please click on image for article. Photo: Badrudin Kurwa Collection.

To contribute to series, please click STORIES OF ISMAILI VOLUNTEERS

______________

Stories of Ismaili Volunteers from Around the World: Spirit at Darkhana by Jalal Jaffer

A spontaneously written piece in recognition of the enormous amount of work the Ismaili volunteers do, day in day out.  Please click The Spirit of the Ismaili Volunteers at an Extraordinary Place

Simerg Special Series - Stories of Ismaili Volunteers. Piece by Jalal Jaffer

Previous in the series: