By Sadru Meghji
(Special to Simerg)
This short piece provides a perspective on the immigration and settlement of Tanzanian (and Ugandan) Ismailis in Canada, and to recognize the significant role of various individuals in enabling and facilitating this migration.
The general perception is that Ismaili settlement in Canada took place after the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. However, this impression is not entirely accurate as many hundreds – if not a couple of thousand — of Ismailis from Tanzania had already arrived and settled in Canada well before the Ugandan exodus in October 1972. The immigration of the Tanzanian Ismailis was precipitated by Tanzania’s aggressive implementation of nationalization policies espoused in the Arusha Declaration of 1967. In fact, Tanzanians were among the pioneering Ismailis in Canada, and played a significant role in the establishment of the first Jamatkhanas in Canada. Notwithstanding, that the first Ismaili in Canada was from Pakistan – Safarali Ismaily, arrived in Canada in 1952. He was joined four years later by his younger brother, Guljee Ismaily. The extended Ismaily family currently lives in Ottawa. Another early Ismaili pioneer was Rai Nayaz Jethwani of India who settled in Canada during the 1960’s. He was the first Mukhisaheb of the first Ismaili jamatkhana in Toronto.
In April of 1971, the Tanzanian Government as part of its policy of African socialism pursuant to the Arusha Declaration, announced the nationalization of Banks, Insurance Companies, major business enterprises, farms, and even schools. The announcement that the government had also nationalized homes and other buildings was particularly worrisome. The list of nationalized buildings started appearing in the Tanzanian daily, The Standard (later the Daily News) on a regular basis. The initial list also included the newly opened IPS building, which had been opened months earlier by President Nyerere in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan. A retraction statement was issued a few days later stating that the building would not be affected. In addition, a deadline also was established for everyone who had foreign assets to declare such assets and to repatriate liquid assets to Tanzania.
It was the extent of nationalization, especially the take-over of homes and buildings that caused panic in the Asian community. Ismailis were particularly concerned as most of them adopted Tanzanian citizenship after the country, then Tanganyika, became independent in 1961.
The Aga Khan Schools, which provided a very high quality of education were also affected by the government policies. The nationalization of schools, the banning of foreign examinations like the widely known and recognized British Cambridge Certificate “O” and “A” levels, and the deterioration in educational standards meant that parents started sending their children abroad, particularly to the United Kingdom.
It is during these early months of 1971 that I became involved in facilitating the migration of Tanzania Ismailis to Canada.
At the outset, I would like to single out my friend Mr. T. J. Arcand, then a diplomat with the Canadian High Commission in Tanzania, for his invaluable and incredible assistance to settle the Tanzanian, and later the Ugandan Ismailis in Canada.
Numerous individuals, including some of our Jamati leaders, who had foreign assets left Tanzania immediately following the government’s nationalization measures. Those who had foreign passports also left for Britain, India, Pakistan etc. A few of our jamati members also proceeded to Canada and the USA where they were allowed to apply for Immigrant Status from there. The Indian Government had publicly announced that it would only allow Indian Nationals into the country, whereas the Pakistani Government heartily welcomed any Muslim who wished to settle there.
During this tense initial period, I decided to migrate to Canada, and filed an application at the Canadian High Commission. After a successful interview , I asked the officer if there was a way to assist other Ismailis to migrate to Canada. It is at this time that Mr. Arcand came into the picture.
Mr. Arcand immediately handed me with a pile of application forms for immigration to Canada. I did not hold any positions in our community or institutions, so I approached the Chairman of the Ismaili Provincial Council, Mr. Amirali H. Rehmtulla, and briefed him on developments at the Canadian High Commission. Mr. Rehmtulla applauded and appreciated my initiative but advised me that the Council could not directly be involved in this matter. But with his encouragement, as an individual I started distributing the application forms for Canadian immigration. Mr Rehmtulla, introduced me to Mr. Sadrudin Esmail (“Sadru Super”) who assisted me with the distribution of the forms and where necessary helped the members of the jamat in completing the applications.
In March, 1972, when Mawlana Hazar Imam visited Kenya, a large contingent of the Tanzanian jamat went Kenya for the Holy Didar. Mawlana Hazar Imam during his firman said: “For my Tanzanian Jamat, diversification, yes, yes, yes; exodus, no, no, no.”
This assuaged the fears of the jamat and the migration process continued smoothly and in an orderly manner. Then a few months later in August 1972, Idi Amin gave 90 days to all Asians in Uganda to leave the country. By this time, Ismailis from Tanzania had already started arriving and establishing themselves in Canada. Jamatkhanas were established in homes and rented halls.
When Idi Amin issued the expulsion order, we approached the Canadian Immigration authorities to take in our Ugandan jamat that numbered around 12,000. At the request of Mr. Arcand, a group of Canadian Senators, led by Senator Benedickson, came to visit East Africa and obtain first-hand information about the plight of the Asian community in Uganda. I was in direct consultation with the late Diwan Sir Eboo, who asked me to continue efforts and use my contacts to ensure maximum possible admission for our jamati members into Canada. After the conclusion of these consultations, Canada agreed to take in 6,000 members of the jamat immediately. Later, a family re-unification process was begun for those who had to go to refugee camps in numerous countries around the world, especially in Europe.
Simultaneously, again with the help of Mr. Arcand, a temporary Canadian Immigration Centre was established in Kampala to facilitate and expedite the process of migration, with a similar more permanent facility set up in Nairobi. Until then, the nearest Canadian Immigration Center was in Beirut, and the medical check centre was located in Rome.
While all this was taking place, the Tanzanian Jamat’s migration to Canada continued expeditiously, but my personal involvement ceased when I myself moved to Canada with my family in May 1973.
Date posted: Saturday, February 16, 2014.
Last updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014, 11:25 EST.
Copyright. Sadru Meghji.
About the author: Sadruddin Rajabali Meghji, pictured above with his wife Yasmin, migrated to Canada in 1973, and currently lives in Toronto, Canada. Son of the late Vazier Rajabali and Khatija Meghji Visram, Sadru was born in Kilosa, Tanzania, in 1938, and served the Jamat in numerous capacities. As noted in his piece, between 1971 and 1973 he was involved in assisting members of the Tanzanian Ismaili Jamat in moving to Canada. He attributes this service to a family tradition going back to 1899, when his grandfather, Meghji Visram, at the age of 14 was asked by the 48th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957) to migrate to Africa from Kutch in India. Meghji Visram subsequently helped many more Indian Ismailis to migrate to Africa, and aided the new arrivals to establish themselves in small centres along the railway line that was being built. Sadru’s late father, Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram, continued with the service to the Ismaili jamat and was gifted with a ring by the new Ismaili Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan IV at a darbar held at the Upanga jamatkhana grounds in October 1957 during the 49th Imam’s takhtnashini (enthronement) visit.
Profile continues after photo – click for enlargement
Sadru with his wife Yasmin also played leadership roles in Ismaili jamatkhanas in Tanzania and Canada, and has also contributed as a member on the Regional Council and the National Conciliation and Arbitration Board. Between 1992 and 1997, Mr. Meghji set up English and computer classes at some jamatkhanas in Kutch and Kathiawad areas of India.
A significant moment in their lives took place when they were assigned the responsibility of having a chain made for presentation to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, at the 1983 Silver Jubilee darbar in Toronto. The chain represented the lineage of Mawlana Hazar Imam from Hazrat Ali (a.s), and also depicted the concept of Panj Tan Pak (the five Holy or Pure ones, that is, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), Hazrat Ali (a.s.), Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.), Hazrat Hasan (a.s.) and Imam Hussein (a.s.).
They have two children — son and daughter named Ashrafali and Faryal. Their third child, son Raziyudin, passed away in January 2001.
Share this article with others via the share option below. Please visit the Simerg Home page for links to articles posted most recently. For links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click Table of Contents. Sign-up for blog subscription at top right of this page.
We welcome feedback/letters from our readers on the essay. Please use the LEAVE A REPLY box which appears below. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.