Karim Master’s Legacy Lives on Through Students He Taught…and a Beautifully Illustrated Journal, "Rahe Rast"

Karim Master – Teacher and Alwaez – Inspired Ismaili Youth and Adults to Better Understanding of their Faith

“…Your gift of this unique volume, which was prepared by your father, Alwaez Karim Pirani, and which contains articles and drawings by numerous Ismaili individuals as well as messages of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and Mata Salamat is a veritable treasure…” (message to Mr. Sadru Pirani from the  Institute of Ismaili Studies)

The late Karim Master, in scouts uniform, in a serious conversation with 48th Ismaili Imam, Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, in 1945. Photo: Sadru Pirani Collection, Ottawa

by Abdulmalik J. Merchant, Editor, Simerg.com

Ask any middle aged Jamati member  who he remembers as  his religious education teachers in Dar-es-Salaam. A few names will certainly pop-up  but one  person who had been active from the 1940’s until the 1970’s teaching religious education at Aga Khan schools and at the special night classes was the iconic Karim Moledina Pirani, known as Karim Master (25 December 1909 – 28 June 1985).

His disciplinarian approach ensured that his students knew Ginans (religious poetry) and their meanings as well as recited  the Dua (obligatory prayers) properly and understood its meanings. He would take a keen interest in their Jamatkhana attendance also. “You were not present in the students Majlis yesterday” he would confidently observe, as if he kept track of hundreds who were in attendance at the monthly student gatherings (Majlis) held on the top floor of the Darkhana Jamatkhana, located  in Dar-es-Salaam’s  city centre.

Cover page of the third issue of “Rahe Rast” (True Path), published in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in 1948

Floral title page of “Rahe Rast”. SRS is the acronym for Students Religious Society which published this 1948 volume.

During the course of his life, Karim Master served the Ismaili community for over 40 years in various capacities. He was a keen volunteer and also a scout master before he assumed the position of the Religious Head Instructor of the Aga Khan Schools in Dar-es-Salaam in 1947. He was also an Honorary Missionary (Alwaez). One of  the tasks that was assigned to him was to prepare the publication of the third issue of the journal “Rahe Rast” under the auspices of the  Aga Khan Boys School’s Students Religious Society (SRS), of which he was the founder. This journal was brought to my attention by his son, Sadru Pirani of Ottawa.  That this 1948/1949 publication, which has traveled thousands of miles across numerous continents over a period of several decades, has remained in a good condition is a tribute to Sadru Pirani and his family. Simerg is delighted to bring to its readers some of the highlights of this truly historical and unique piece of journalism, and wishes to  thank Mr. Pirani for his enthusiasm and support in facilitating this article.

Handwritten introduction by the late Karim Master who was assigned the task of producing the 1948 issue of “Rahe Rast”

Most of the paintings in “Rahe Rast” were done by the artist Shamsh M. Kanji as the illustrated credit shows.

An illustration showing the names of editors of  “Rahe Rast” – Madat Panju and Shamsh M. Kanji

“Rahe Rast” was prepared and typed by K.K. Sajan and M.E.E. Kah’n. The Gujarati section of this rich journal is handwritten.

Autographed message of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. “In 1945, when the Imam autographed the first number of Rahe Rast, he gave it its meaning: ‘The Straight Path of Union in Spirit of Imam and Momen’.” Quote from article by R.H. Bhanji in “Rahe Rast”.

A painting of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah in “Rahe Rast”, done by N.B. Dewji

An Illlustration of Prince Aly Khan in “Rahe Rast”

An Illustration of Begum Om Habiba, in “Rahe Rast”

The “Rahe Tast” (True Path) as it is known is a magnificent original volume of messages, articles,  paintings and illustrations. Many of the pages of the  volume  are bordered with red and green colours, and contain other embellishments such as flowers and butterflies – these are certain to bring a smile  and joy to anyone’s face. One can lightly stroke a page and feel the texture of the colours. The volume is absolutely vibrant.  The English text was done using a typewriter, while the entire Gujarati section has been neatly hand written. Corrections to the English and Gujarati texts are in handwritten form, and are very well done.

The first 47 pages of “Rahe Rast” contain typed English articles on a variety of subjects

A foreword contributed by the late Alwaez Abu Aly Alibhai  Aziz (1919 – 2008)

This particular (3rd) issue in Mr. Pirani’s possession was produced to commemorate three birthdays of the late Imam’s family, though the birthdays  were several weeks or months apart – those of the 48th Imam himself (November 2), the present Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim (December 13), and the late Prince Aly Khan (June 13).

An illustration in “Rahe Rast” of a youth grieving by a fresh burial site. Note the incense sticks (agharbati) on the graves.

Index of Gujarati articles, which are all neatly and flawlessly handwritten.

A sample from a Gujarati article entitled “Rahe Rast”. 60 pages of the journal are in Gujarati

In his introduction, Karim Master expresses admiration for those who contributed toward the 130 page,  appx. 14″ length x 11″ width, hard bound journal. In particular, he has praise for Shamsh Kanji who appears to have done most of the illustrations and paintings in the book. The journal, as Mr. Pirani notes, was published as a beacon of hope and to establish a glorious tradition. Mr. Pirani recognizes the sacrifices of the students during the war and says that these students who surmounted the ravages of war “have something to boast about.” He adds,  “Rahe Rast has been a kindling flame of honesty and self-sacrifice, as it befits a Momen whose Iman is never shaky.”

A photo of the 48th Imam, Aga Khan III, inset within a colorful border of flowers and butterflies

Africa map includes an image of Aga Khan III whose ancestors, the Fatimids, were  rulers in Egypt and founded Cairo and Al-Azhar   

In one of the chapters, a 1947 report of the Student Religious Society highlights some of the goals and activities of the society. Their duties included:

1. To look after the students in Jamatkhana and keep them silent.

2. To stop the boys wandering outside and going to cinemas at the Jamatkhana time.

3. To look after the characters of the boys and to help improve them.

4. To give turns for Jamatkhana prayers.

5. To keep up with literary activities such as the publication of “Rahe Rast.”

The report further notes that the average daily Jamatkhana attendance for the 5 months preceding the 1947 report  was  65.37 per cent.

An enchanting illustration in “Rahe Rast”. The volume contains several such full page illustrations.

Another painting, this time of  a boat, by artist Shamsh in the richly illustrated “Rahe Rast”

Images of the index pages in English and Gujarati are shown on this page, and as can be noted the volume consisted of articles on a wide range of subjects. The widely popular Alwaez Abu Aly Alibhai, who passed away in Vancouver in 2008,  also contributed an article in English in the form of a foreword to the volume.

The volume contains a number of paintings of the Noorani family and also messages from Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and the Begum, Om Habibah Mata Salamat. The 48th Imam’s message was sent for the first issue of the magazine published in 1945. Interestingly the whole concept of “Rahe Rast” (True Path) has been encapsulated in Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah’s autographed message about which an article notes:

“In 1945, when the Imam autographed the first number of Rahe Rast, he gave its meaning: ‘The Straight Path of Union in Spirit of Imam and Momen.'”

A 1948 message from Mata Salamat produced in "Rahe Rast

A 1948 message from Mata Salamat produced in “Rahe Rast”

Mr. Sadru Pirani  decided to gift the volume to the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, as he felt the Institute’s library would preserve this historical memory in its collection of Ismaili heritage. In a message to Mr. Pirani, the Institute wrote:

“Your gift of this unique volume, which was prepared by your father, Alwaez Karim Pirani, and which contains articles and drawings by numerous Ismaili individuals as well as messages of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and Mata Salamat is a veritable treasure… through this generous gift you are playing a pivotal role in ensuring that historical materials – be they textual, photographic or audio visual – relating to Ismailism are preserved; it is our legacy for the future.”


Please click on images for enlargement. If you have interesting stories and recollections about Karim Master, please submit your feedback in the reply form below.

This piece has also been published at www.simergphotos.com.

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27 thoughts on “Karim Master’s Legacy Lives on Through Students He Taught…and a Beautifully Illustrated Journal, "Rahe Rast"

  1. Who doesn’t know Late Karim Master? He was the pillar of religious education during his time. Whatever ‘Dharmik’ education we all got during his time, was because of him and we are really very grateful to Karim Master that what we are today is because of his teaching and the pain he took to teach us. We pray for his soul to rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

  2. Yes, the late Karim Master was able to teach ginans in such a way that one never forgot once learnt. I met with him in 1977 and said: “Karim master I still remember your ginans,” and he replied, “and also the soti (cain).”

  3. I clearly remember Karim Master and ginans recited by him in Jamat Khana and also his involvement in all Religious activities. He has enriched all his students’ mind and up to today all those who knew him and his teachings must be remembering their time and praying for his soul when they hear the ginans taught by him. May Allah Rest His Soul in eternal peace. Thank you Sadru for sharing your invaluable collection with us and refreshing our memories of the glorious life we had in East Africa.

  4. I just came across this piece on Karim Master today, May 26,2012. Wonderful to celebrate the life and work of a great human being who inculcated religious thoughts to his students, perhaps thousands. To me personally he was a mentor who taught me Ginans with great love and in 1957 gave me the opportunity to recite Suras from the Qur’an in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam at the opening of Aga Khan Primary School.

  5. This is great, brought back memories from past. Have talked to my kids and grandkids about Karim Master on many occassions and I can still hear him in my mind singing Amar te ayo.

  6. Karim Master had a very powerful voice – particularly his recitation of “Eji Amar te ayo more shahji jo” which was usually led/recited by him in a Dar-es-Salaam Jamatkhna following new appointments. I have never heard anyone recite as well as he did – and whenever I hear this ginan, I remember him.

  7. Karim Master was my religion teacher in my school days in Dar-es-Salaam at The Agakhan Boys School. I vividly remember his strict ways of teaching ginans. I still remember many ginans by heart because of his teaching. I salute him. May Mawla rest his soul in eternal peace. May his progeny always be on Siratul Mustaqeem.

  8. Among some other very good teachers elsewhere in Tanzania were Mr. Manji and Mr. Nathoo who taught in Mwanza. I wonder if anyone knows where they are. Thank you in anticipation.

  9. I was also one of his students in the fifties and appreciate his techniques though rudimentry but effective which ingrained the religious knowledge, especially ‘GINANS’ in me.

  10. I recall Karim Master vividly and his teaching methods. Once I told him that I know the words of the ginan but cannot sing in the tune he wanted. He replied “Soo tamara ghalama instrument nakhye jethi tame ginan raag thi boli sako?” I had to write that ginan 100 times because I could not recite it with the “raag”. I salute him and his hard work to teach us religion in the school.

    A rough translation of Karim Master’s reply is as follows (ed.):

    “So do you need a (musical) instrument installed into your vocals for you to be able to sing a Ginan with its proper tune?”

  11. The reasons why I remember the ginans today are because of Karim master. While driving in rush hour, I come across rude drivers and say to myself “If you don’t like my driving, leave the road”. This is because Karim master once told us in class: “If you don’t like it, leave the class” in his unique style of English.

  12. Ya Ali Madad Abdulmalik,

    Simerg.com is a very inspiring website and I really do enjoy reading all the updates. Keep up the good job and may Almighty grant you and your family good health, happiness, peace and unity.

  13. Thank you, Malik, for bringing us this treasure. Karim Master was the Religious Education teacher for Aga Khan boys school and my brothers enjoyed his instruction. He was our neighbor and we enjoyed the Sarghas on Khushiyalis when Karim Master would lead all of us in the parade and sing “Shobha thai chhe saari daan daan daan, Dar es Salaam saari…”

    And for girls school, your parents Mr. and Mrs. Merchant were our teachers who I had the pleasure of meeting last summer after many years when I visited Vancouver.

    Keep up the good work with your website. Mubarak!

  14. Ya Ali Madad

    I am presently Baitul Khayal Mukhi at Don Mills Jamatkhana, Toronto. We remember Karim Master frequently and talk a lot about him. He was a wonderful men (just like our dai and fidai).

    Your website is very good too.


    Anwar Allahwala
    Toronto, CANADA.

  15. Karim Master was an outstanding Ismaili Religious Teacher. I had the honor of being one of the students of this very talented gentleman who recited the Holy Ginans with deep feeling.

  16. Karim Master was my mentor in more ways than one in school. I also attended his night classes and was awarded Junior Al Waezeen status during the late 50’s. As Chairman of SRS I was fortunate under Karim Master’s guidance to present Mehmani during Hazar Imam’s two visits to Dar-es-Salaam. His voice was pure when he sang and taught the ginans. He taught Ismaili history, ginans and farmans with equal gusto as he did the “haajri” of students in jamatkhana and the students’ majalis on the second floor of Dar-es-Salaam Darkhana. And yes, his “soti wage cham cham ne vidhya ave jam jam” makes us all realise after so many years what we miss these days!!!

  17. So very nostalgic……still remember Karim Master. He used to make us stand on the chair if we could not memorize ginans or would make us write 100 times the lines, ” I will remember my ginans” !

    Abdul H. Jiwani, Toronto

  18. This is truly nostalgic. This brings back fond memories for those of us who were there in that golden era.

  19. I wish you get more and more readers from the UK and around the world. Your website provides an opportunity for all of us to enhance our understanding and knowledge of our remarkable Tariqah. Globally and rapidly we are being better recognized as a community under the leadership of our ever-present Imam-e-Zaman.

  20. Good compilations of all the material you have provided shows your love and dedication in this path, and I am sure this will help the readers and especially our youth who need to know about our historical events and the past.

    Continue with the good work may you be Blessed with Barakah.

  21. Dear Malik,

    Your wonderful parents have given their unflinching service to our Tariqah and the Imam of the Time. Their involvement with the publication ILM published from London is very well known.

    To know that you have continued the family tradition is very touching and inspiring. Your `electronic ILM`, the magazine which you rightly have chosen to call ‘Simerg’ is an inspiring tribute to your parents Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant. It is also in its own right a brilliant (light-giving) contribution to our tradition and heritage.

    I wish you and your family fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction through your work. Please continue the brilliant work.

    Bashir Ladha

  22. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

    In fact, all your readings have been enlightening, a learning process and visually easy and pleasant.

    Well done: keep the momentum going. And continue with the Literary Readings. Parables and Voices would be much appreciated as well….

  23. Quality of Religious Education in Dar-es-Salam has been well known in the Jamat. It is very commendable that you have started to put this history to the modern times for all to know how important this matter is for us.

    There are many others scholars who dedicated their lives for this and we need to honour them.

    Well Done.

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