The 1979 London Didar: The Setting and The Experience


Mawlana Hazar Imam amongst the UK Jamat in London Olympia in 1979. Photo: Jehangir Merchant collection.

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. 

Mawlana Hazar Imam passing in front of the Ismailia Association literature counter as he walks around the Olympia visit during his final mulaqat with the UK Jamat just before his departure on September 7, 1979. Begum Salimah is also seen in the picture, walking behind Mukhi Noordin Jivraj and Kamadia Nizar Dhanani, with the Mukhiani and Kamadiani alongside her. Photo: Sarfaraz Sadruddin, published in Ilm, December 1979.

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. 



Mawlana Hazar Imam amidst his murids at the Olympia Hall during his visit to the United Kingdom jamat in September 1979. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.

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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18 thoughts on “The 1979 London Didar: The Setting and The Experience

  1. Indeed, it was an unforgettable experience. I can comment on behalf of all the volunteers involved, volunteers who had worked day and night to complete the arrangements. Mowlana Hazar Imam, gave a special mulaqat to the volunteers and recalled what His grandfather would have said, using the words ‘Bravo’. That was a special moments for all volunteers.

  2. I am moved as always but specially by this article as it reminds us how fortunate we are to have our Spiritual Father and Mother to take care of us both in Din and Duniya so many millions of us living in vast states where our well-being is due to His Grace. He is so global that many benefit with His Humanitarian task and tireless concern for anyone suffering anywhere, becomes his goal. His emphasis is on Education and Health primarily and all the Institutions he sets up take up His goals. May He continue to remain as our Imam for many more years to come, Ameen.

  3. What an unforgettable experience we all had that week in 1979. The late Kassamali missionary was also present – reciting and translating the farmans throughout. I also cherish my memory of meeting Gulgee during the week’s event and much much more…….

  4. Thank you Farah for evoking the beautiful memories which I have held onto for 33 years. It was seven days of spiritual bliss.

  5. In N. America our hearts are already racing to gather our emotions to replecate the experience of the London Jamaat in 1979, at Olympia; in order to welcome our Mursid Qameel to the doors of our hearts. Farah, has been so poignant and precise in dealing with the cresendo of perepations leading to the actual presence Mawla in the midst of jamaat then; and it is a classic experience which can never go out of style ever.

    Now it is our duty to see how we are living up to the ethics of our faith to please him in any which way he has prescribed for us. Just stop to ask ourselves how we plan to measue up to be deserving his grace and blessings and joy in order to present to him a bouquet of our spiritual performances; our daily attendance in Jamatkhana, as well as our moral obligations in dealing with the other members of our Jamaat. Our bandagi is fundamental, necessary and cumpulsory. How can we incorporate all this in making our existence on this planet the way he wants us. Let us make a resolution to climb the ladder of his expectations. No matter how many steps we succeed in climbing, he will push us to achieve the rest. We will be here with him soon and may we all be with him on the other side too!!! ameen….

    • Very well articulated Hamida. These are the roots of our allegiance pledged to our Mawla – The manifestation of the Noor of Allah – the light of the heavans and the earth.

      • Then you could say the same thing with other forms of media – why photos, why narratives, why anything? Videos and movies are highly inspiring. It is another facet of the media. Historical events should be appropriately recorded and available in all its forms for the present and future generations.

  6. This is very well written essay of the experience of London didar. Mawla eva eva lad ladava for our upcoming visits to the global jamat. It is with His grace, mercy, and guidance both spiritually and materially that have made Ismailis so fortunate. He blessed us with such love in 2007/8 for golden jubilee and now he wants to meet with the jamat again worldwide. There is no love that we can show would even come close to His love for the jamat. We all need to take our own tasbih so that we can be blessed with his didar.

  7. Thanks for sharing this beautiful essay by Farah and for Alwaez Merchant’s introduction! My heart was filled with tears as the announcement was read out on Friday for the preparedness for Mawla’s visit. Humble prayers that he may visit us soon, and that Mawla may grant us his mercy!

  8. Mr. Jehangir’s sheer joy at the Padhramni announcement is so palpable; makes your pulse race. Farah has captured the myriad of emotions a murid goes through so beautifully – leaves you with a wet face! Thanks for the reprint.

  9. Congratulations Farah. You captured the whole week’s experience of the Jamat in a short essay. It brought back a lot of memories. Since that event the Jamat has been living with renewd vigour and your article revives the beautiful experience of each and every murid who came to Olympia.

    Alwaez Merchant should be congratulated to have got this re-published in Simerg.

  10. There really are no words to describe the relationship between murid and Murshid are there? Beautiful piece as we yearn for the experience all day and night. Shukar for His Rehemat

  11. My eyes filled with tears as I just finished reading this article. My humble prayers to Mawla that he grant each and everyone of us this spiritual experience again and again to all his mutids in every part of the world where his murids live. Ameen.

  12. The Lord of Universe will Inshallah soon be stepping on the soil of North America. The anticipation of the auspicious announcement has raised the spirit of every Murid and the Giryazari yearning has commenced in Murid’s hearts and minds. Soon the Ziqar Tashbihs will commensurate at every Jamatkhana. The registration and revision of Jamath’s data will soon commence. Planning to welcome our Mursheed will get into high gear. May the wind of prosperity and peace overcome the present volatile recessionary environment.

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