I. THE SETTING
By Jehangir A. Merchant
July 7th, 1979 was a day of immense joy and special happiness for the Ismailis of the United Kingdom as they gathered in London and other parts of the country to celebrate the 22nd Imamat Day anniversary of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Thousands of hearts and souls pierced the atmosphere with spiritual energy as President Amir Bhatia of the Ismaili Council for the United Kingdom read a message from Mawlana Hazar Imam informing the Jamat that he would be visiting from September 1 until September 7. Echoing in the joyous hearts was Pir Sadr al-Din’s ginanic verse:
Anand anand kariyo rikhisaro,
Awwal Shah tamey paya
Rejoice! O Believers, rejoice!
For you have gained the recognition of the Supreme Master
Indeed, the Supreme Master, Mawlana Hazar Imam, was going to be in the Jamat’s presence for a week in less than two months – to be exact in 54 days. No time was wasted as the UK leadership set up committees to organize the visit. Volunteers and Jamati members from around the country started organizing for the visit, with the Jamat’s cooperation exceeding expectations. Nothing seemed to matter to anyone except the thought that their Mawla was soon going to be in their midst, and everyone had to do the very best to make the preparations smooth and the visit a unique and memorable one.
Minka quwati (from Thee is my strength) became an experienced reality as the dedicated and ever hard-working volunteers as well as Jamati members realized that their strength was indeed from their ever-present Imam. The staff and members of the Ismailia Association (now known as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board), under the dynamic and able leadership of President Aziz Kurwa, started their own preparations by articulating to the Jamat the importance of the visit and the didar through waez programmes, preparing appropriate reading materials and cassettes and distributing them to the dispersed UK Jamat as well as hosting inspiring programs for all age groups.
The famous Olympia Hall in London was transformed for the visit with wonderful decorations. Red and green carpets lay stretched out on the floor from one end of the hall to another. The iron panels were covered with magnificent tapestries, and floral decorations with large baskets of fresh plants and flowers hung from the ceiling. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s crest adorned the centre stage, with “My Flag” and “Muhammad” and “Ali” in Arabic calligraphy on either side of it – all made from fresh flowers and leaves. Across from the centre stage was another feast for the eyes – an Islamic structure which housed the literature counter of the Tariqah Board. Volumes of books on Islamic subjects, acquired from oriental booksellers around the British Museum, stocked the shelves and the front of the counter.
For one and all, Olympia Hall became “heaven on earth,” and more so when Mawlana Hazar Imam stepped amongst his murids to grace them with his didar (literally “a glimpse”) on September 1. For seven wonderful and unforgettable days, the United Kingdom Jamat and all those who had come from outside experienced nothing but spiritual happiness and joy. Following the visit, the Ismaila Association’s outreach programs for the youth resulted in the submission of numerous essays about the visit and its impact. One reflection by Farah Ramzan of her experience is published below from the March 1980 issue of the Association’s flagship magazine Ilm.
Date posted: January 8, 2012
Date updated: January 10, 2012
The above is an edited version of the author’s original piece, “Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Memorable Visit” which appeared in Ilm, December 1979.
II. THE EXPERIENCE
By Farah Ramzan
The preceding months had gradually and subtly been working up to a highly crested climax. It was only to be realized, to be fully understood, on that chilly, somewhat dull Saturday morning of September 1st. This breathing period was given to us, apart, of course, to make necessary preparations, in order that we might accustom ourselves to the idea that something unfamiliar, something that we were completely unaware of was soon to befall us. This was the time to sort out priorities, secret beliefs and aspirations.
The days became numbered, universal tension mounted inexhaustibly to an intense pitch. Now the festivities, the meetings, the discussions, the planning, the speeches, all were forgotten in a dense cloud of expectancy.
That Saturday morning heralded a distinct ring of excitement in the air. Everybody had arrived punctiliously, groomed with the greatest of care, they simply overflowed with congeniality. Moments before the arrival, the Jamat was ready. Volunteers and leaders stood alert and orderly, touched with traces of nervous anxiety. Seconds and minutes hung suspended in time and everywhere there was an undescribably illuminated feeling. So eyes and ears strained, necks craned and twisted towards the entrance, towards the line of volunteers that paved the way, now fidgety and uncertain, towards the Mukhi and Kamadia, very dignified and grand in their red coats and golden turbans.
At last, when inevitable explosion threatened, he appeared, walking out of the imagination, straight into reality Then, the hearts of man, woman and child alike, began to melt.
The ensuing week is so difficult to categorize, tiny details, important occurances evade the memory. That recollection is like a tiny candle, once lit, the flame of which may stand tall and straight or waver and dwindle, spluttering and choking as it decreases only to suddenly stand tall again. It must continue to burn and may never be blown out of existence.
That week was a moment, a day, a year, a century all drawn up together into one instant and suspended in a timeless sphere. There also remains a vague and confused impression of time-tables, schedules and instructions revolving in the mind. Occasionally fatigue made its presence felt and intensified the advantages and disadvantages of being with friends and family for such long hours.
Only he detaches himself from the haziness. In the calm tranquility that descended and reigned in his presence, one finds his image always definite and unblurred, his voice that of extreme clarity and concise precision. Quite contrary to all our contemplative imaginings, which had fancifully dwelt upon his person, he turned out to be completely so….so natural.
There was such obvious nobility indented on his face, influencing his slow, unhurried movements and gestures. He had a commanding height, – he walked with natural ease, with masterly strides, steering his gaze over thousands of people. In the mind’s eye one sees him seated in his chair, or standing on the platform addressing the Jamat. One sees the movement of his hands in emphasis, the slight smile that touched his lips, often to relieve the gravity and depth of seriousness of his orations.
More than this, it was his voice that pierced the unbreathable air that hung in silvery cascades around him, a powerful penetrating voice, that contained such affinity, such warmth that the human ear was not always capable of interpretation. Sometimes one drifted away from the actual words being spoken, but simply listened, enraptured, to this beautiful voice which caused a spark, a flicker of response from each individual.
We all looked towards him, perhaps with different attitudes and varying emotions, but we all gazed in the same direction. Some considered him with awe and humble reverance, others with frankness and sincere curiosity, some looked for the fulfilment of aspirations and dreams, others simply looked. Some could not comprehend, others had no inclination to comprehend and yet we all directed our gaze towards that same figure, who looked upon us collectively as His children and then with untiring enthusiasm to give individual blessings. Even the people that were made of harder materials, those not easily moved to expression of sentiments, those who regarded with slightly ironic sarcasm, the spiritual elevation they were ‘supposed’ to experience, even they were really touched by the rays that he radiated. Just as the first rays of the golden sun touch the pale morning sky, tentatively spreading over the vast horizon, so, the rays that he emmitted full of spiritual love, touched the outskirts of one’s being and gradually diffused inwardly to take over the heart with such elusive colour and bearing that one simply submitted.
All too soon the time arrived for his departure. It made a sudden impact upon us which shattered the foundations of security we had been lulled into, the eager acceptance of his presence, the confidence of seeing him every day and hearing his addresses to us. Shocked and stung we realized that we would not see him tomorrow and follow the now normal routine. He was leaving, he was saying his last farewells, he was blessing us for the last time, he was standing up before us for the last time. Panic-stricken and trembling we started to grieve that our familiarity with him must be discontinued and adhered ourselves to the idealistic hope that perhaps he would return tomorrow after all. Some, more realistic, hastened to savour these last eternal minutes.
But every step he trod on that red carpet carried him further and further from view, and people gave vent to their feelings. Mentally they clung to him and hearts cried out. As he paused to make his last gesture of farewell, his hands almost seemed to gather up our chanting prayers, which flowed from our very depths, and it was as though he was trying to make us understand that he knew….
As he walked through the door, a tiny corner of each person’s heart went with him, he carried them away and left behind the seed that he had planted entrusting us to allow it to grow and nourish.
He was an experience, a glimpse into a sphere far beyond our comprehension. Is it not breathtaking to realise that one so obviously superior, the one that bears the glowing truth, the guiding light of Almighty Allah within Himself, has stood among our very midst?
Date posted: January 8, 2012.
A note about the venue of the 1979 didar: Olympia dates back to the Victorian era and was opened in 1884. The Olympia Grand Hall is noted for its beautiful architecture and distinctive appearance, with its beautiful barreled roof being one of West London’s best-known landmarks.
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