Photo of the Day: Plastic and Garbage on the Grounds of Aga Khan Park

Many parks are littered with objects such as styrofoam containers, cigarette butts, plastic bags and other material that spoil the enjoyment of visiting the natural habitat. Malik Merchant visits the Aga Khan Park on Wynford Drive in Toronto, and reports on similar objects left behind by visitors that are not worthy of the beautiful park built by His Highness the Aga Khan. He has chosen the photos in the report as Photo of the Day to bring attention to visitors who are indifferent to the notion that a park with its gardens offers rejuvenation to its visitors. Please read Malik’s ARTICLE.

Aga Khan Park plastics
Iron fence where objects left behind by visitors including Pizza boxes, plastic bottles and bags from Aga Khan Park end up on a windy day. Please click on image for more photos and story. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Date posted: March 30, 2021.

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Photo of the Day: Birds Vying for Pole Position on Flag of the Ismaili Imamat

At least twice a week, starting Saturday March 27, 2021, our sister website Simergphotos will publish a photo — or photos — of the day that we think our readers will find interesting and even inspiring. Our focus will be on photos related to the work and projects of the Ismaili Imamat and the Ismaili community, in any part of the world, as well as nature and people photos. Please see our featured photos for March 27, 2021 by clicking BIRDS VYING ISMAILI IMAMAT FLAG POLE POSITION

Photo of the Day Simerg Malik Merchant
Please click on image for “Photo(s) of the Day.”

Date posted: March 27, 2021

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Important Article on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine and Autoimmune and Liver Diseases; Please Get Vaccinated!

Editor’s note: Simerg does not generally publish or encourage anonymous articles on any of its websites but in this particular case we have decided to protect the author’s identity, as it concerns a health matter. The editor has verified the content of the article, and wishes to assure readers that the facts that are noted by the author are correct. Any oversight or error is unintentional and is deeply regretted.

Ontario began rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in select pharmacies and doctor offices across the province to people over the age of 60 on Monday, March 22, 2021. Yesterday, a mass vaccination clinic was opened in Thorncliffe Park at the the East York Town Centre on Overlea Blvd, and I decided to visit the location. It was jam packed with cars as hundreds of seniors who qualify under Phase One showed up to get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, after registering through the website of Michael Garron Hospital. I did not qualify under the Phase 1 criteria and would have to wait my turn at East York Town Centre and other mass vaccination sites.

However, another avenue had opened up to acquire the vaccine in Toronto, and that was through one of the designated pharmacies. There was one near the place where I stay that was offering the AstraZeneca vaccine. As I began completing the registration form, I wondered whether my responses to questions concerning my health, for example whether I had a chronic health condition, would disqualify me from getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. I completed the form and submitted it, hoping for the best.

I then followed my application with a phone call to the pharmacist offering the vaccine, and informed the pharmacist about my Autoimmune Hepatitis condition or AIH (this occurs when your body’s infection-fighting system, or the immune system, attacks your liver cells and causes permanent and irreversible liver damage. In acute cases, the liver may heal itself as a regenerating organ).

The cause of AIH has not yet been determined but from what I am learning more and more people, including very young people, are acquiring AIH. The pharmacist had a long list of autoimmune conditions that would still qualify individuals getting AstraZeneca vaccine, but AIH was not among the ones listed. He declined my request, based on the guidelines he had in front of him and suggested that I should go with Pfizer-BioNTech when it became available to me. However the eligibility criteria meant that I would have to wait for a few to several weeks based on the phase 2 or 3 roll-out.

On the weekend of Navroz, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his Talika or written message to the Ismailis, clearly stated that “my Jamat should not give credence to any misinformation regarding the vaccination process, and comparisons between the different officially sanctioned vaccines that are now available.” He also said, “I recommend that all my murids should accept to be vaccinated in accordance with the directives of their respective health authorities as soon as the vaccines are offered — as indeed I have done already.”

In view of Canada’s approval of AstraZeneca vaccine, I then met my local doctor, as my pharmacist had declined the vaccine to me because of my AIH condition. My doctor was convinced from the research that she had carried out that I was perfectly OK to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. I even read out what Mawlana Hazar Imam had said, and she agreed with him. She said she would be writing to the pharmacist to give me the vaccine, but recommended I also speak to my hepatologist.

Earlier that morning I had actually called and left a message with the offices of the liver clinic, AIH section, at the Toronto General Hospital concerning AstraZeneca. Some hours later I got a phone call from the liver clinic encouraging me to take AstraZeneca when it was made available to me. I was also provided with a link to a letter the liver clinic had issued on its website (read LETTER). Subsequently my doctor forwarded an email to the pharmacist requesting the AstraZeneca vaccine to me.

There had been a cancellation, and I willingly took up the spot that was offered to me on the following day. When I arrived at the pharmacy, I was asked a few questions including any chronic condition. I also read the list of autoimmune diseases at the reception table that qualified for the vaccine. Of course, AIH was not on the list, but the pharmacist had already received my doctor’s approval for the AstraZeneca jab. There was a little bit of a wait but the jab that I got on my left arm took less than 3 seconds to administer. I was asked to hang around in the pharmacy for 15 minutes, in case of any reaction. I was then provided with a letter, as a kind of a receipt, in which I noted that the vaccine was listed as COVISHIELD, which is another name used by AstraZeneca. I reminded myself about adhering to the guidelines about social distancing, washing hands and wearing a mask, even though I had been vaccinated.

I did not know how long a wait it would be for the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vacciness, and am glad I went for the AstraZeneca shot after my reluctance for several days. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Talika with precise guidelines was the determining factor. The Government of Canada had already sanctioned AstraZeneca but, until I read the Talika, there was doubt in my mind over getting the vaccine.

For individuals facing autoimmune hepatitis or other serious liver issues, please be advised that the liver clinic at the Toronto General Hospital recommends that you get vaccinated. I conclude this piece with the following 5 important points from their document (and this applies to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna as well as AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines):

• Having liver disease does not increase your risk of experiencing a side effect;
• The medications you take for your liver disease, including any immunosuppression [Prednisone, Azathioprine — author], should not be a reason to decline a vaccine, but may have a small effect on how well the vaccine protects you;
• People with liver disease, especially cirrhosis and possibly fatty liver, are at higher risk of getting very sick if they get COVID-19 infection, making it even more important to be vaccinated and be protected;
• The vaccines are over 90% protective against symptomatic COVID-19; and
• The vaccines have been studied in people with liver disease with no safety concerns identified.

I once again remind readers of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s messages: “…..my Jamat should not give credence to any misinformation regarding the vaccination process, and comparisons between the different officially sanctioned vaccines that are now available”, and “I recommend that all my murids should accept to be vaccinated in accordance with the directives of their respective health authorities as soon as the vaccines are offered — as indeed I have done already.”

Date posted: March 25, 2021.

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Have you had your Covid-19 vaccine shot? Tell us how you feel? Are you still reluctant about being vaccinated for Covid-19? We welcome your feedback. Please complete the feedback form below or click on Leave a comment.

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “To Be One With God – Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali of the USA

by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with USA based Shafeen Ali’s acclaimed book “To be One with God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life,” in the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We encourage Ismaili authors to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to the editor of Simerg, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.

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Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

Shafeen Ali: Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s following quote was my inspiration: “A man must be at one with God. … how we stand this instant and every instant toward Him matters to us more than anything else in the universe.  That is the fundamental question:- Are you in harmony with God? If you are – you are happy.” [1]

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Ali: It is my aspiration that anyone who sincerely gives themselves to this book will find oneness with God, for a moment, if not a lifetime. This has been the experience of many of the book’s reviewers. I myself read the book when I feel despair or distant from God.

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Ali: I had been married for 18 months and happy materially. But one evening, late at night, I was awakened with a feeling that I was not fulfilling my purpose in life. That night began an inner search which reached one milestone in the publishing of this book, six years later.

Article continues below

Cover of “To Be One with God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali, 254 pp, available in paperback and digital formats.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Ali: The book is available in Paperback and Digital formats (epub, kindle, etc.). One can find all the different channels to buy the book as well as preview sample readings from each of the seven journeys on my website home page at: https://shafeenali.com/. [Readers will appreciate the options Shafeen has provided on his website; please visit it. To purchase the book at Amazon please click Paperback/Digital — Ed.]

it will be very difficult to put this book down as you will keep expecting something more meaningful and deeper to unravel”

“… appealed to my heart and soul and provided me with an unforgettably transformational experience“

Review quotes from the author’s website

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Ali: I published the book myself through Createspace (currently Kindle Direct Publishing for Amazon, paperback and kindle ebooks) and Smashwords (for other ebook formats).

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Ali: My book cover designer was Shaila Abdullah (please see her website My House of Design), an award winning Ismaili Muslim designer and author, and my editors were two other Ismaili Muslim sisters, Rozi Banani and Sonia Nur Mohammed (email scholastic.sessions@gmail.com).

Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?

Ali: This has been my only book. I have aspirations to develop more means, including books, for people to be one with God. I have recently published a 3-Part Mini Video Series on Realizing the Inner Imam For One Humanity on my website and on Youtube.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write To Be One With God — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Ali: Active research, writing, editing, and publishing took around 2 years including building a website on my own to market the book.  It has now been 4 years since the book was published.

Simerg: Tell us something more about the book.

Ali: This book explores seven different journeys for man to seek oneness with God, all inspired by the inner being of the author, his “Inner Imam.” While on these journeys, readers will encounter many voices: man, God, teachers of God, and the author himself. The purpose of these voices is to harmonize the reader’s understanding and experiences of oneness with God. The teachers of God include Shri Rama, Shri Krishna, Jesus Christ, Moshe Rabbeinu, Gautama Buddha, Muhammad Rasulullah, Shri Hanuman, and the great philosopher Socrates, all of whom witnessed these journeys unfold in their own lives. 

Date posted: March 25, 2021.

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Shafeen Ali author of To be One with God
Shafeen Ali

Shafeen Ali is a Shia Ismaili Muslim who has been a faith-based teacher and speaker for the last 10+ years. He has delivered more than 150 presentations and workshops throughout the world on faith and religious education. Shafeen also has a Masters in Business Administration and has spent more than 13 years managing and executing business and technology projects and teams in the United States. The source of strength and guidance in Shafeen’s life has always been the spirit of God within, his Inner Imam. Through his book, To Be One with God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life, Shafeen is externalizing that innermost part of him with the hope and prayer that this spirit will provide strength and guidance to others just as it has done for him.

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Footnotes:

[1] Read Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s full quote

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CALLING ALL ISMAILI AUTHORS

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji have done in their respective interviews. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo. The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji; (article published on February 10, 2021)
2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff; (February 25, 2021)
3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha; (March 6, 2021) and
4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)

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We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Made Navroz March 21, 2021, the Most Joyous Navroz in My Life, and I Will Tell You Why

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

Along with photos captured on Navroz, March 21, 2021, the founding editor and publisher of this website and two sister websites simergphotos and barakah, shares his feelings about the second consecutive Navroz celebrated in isolation, and provides his perspective and feelings on why he felt the 2021 Navroz became the most joyous Navroz in his life. Please click MORE or on photo below for his reflective piece and beautiful photos published in Simergphotos.

Birds fly past the Ismaili Jamatkhana on Navroz, March 21, 2021. Please click on photo for reflective article and more photos.

Please read ARTICLE.

Date posted: March 22, 2021.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam in His Navroz Talika Emphasizes Covid-19 Vaccination, Prays that the New Year will Herald a New Beginning and Gives Blessings for Fulfilment of All Our Wishes

The following Talika Mubarak from Mawlana Hazar Imam in English is reproduced from The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community. Official translations in French, Portuguese, Farsi, Arabic, Urdu, Gujarati, Tajik, and Russian can be read at our sister website Barakah. The Talika is followed by recitations of Ginans Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea and Navrozna din Sohaamna.

Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s Talika Mubarak to Ismailis

18th March 2021

My dear spiritual children,

On the occasion of Navroz, the 21st of March 2021, I send my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children of my worldwide Jamat.

My family joins me in wishing you all Navroz Mubarak. 

I send my most affectionate loving blessings to all the spiritual children who have submitted services and sent messages of congratulations and good wishes on this occasion.

With the success in producing effective vaccines and other forms of treatment, human societies around the world are looking with a sense of hope and optimism to emerging from the current Covid-19 pandemic.

At this time, I recommend that all my murids should accept to be vaccinated in accordance with the directives of their respective health authorities as soon as the vaccines are offered — as indeed I have done already. It is also my wish that my Jamat should avoid any complacency, and that every murid should continue exercising personal responsibility to ensure protection from the virus.  

In particular, my Jamat should not give credence to any misinformation regarding the vaccination process, and comparisons between the different officially sanctioned vaccines that are now available.

I have requested the AKDN health care facilities to extend maximum support and assistance to the government authorities in the effective roll-out of the vaccination programme. 

In these troubled times, it is my prayer that Navroz will herald a new beginning, with greater resilience, strength and unity in my Jamat to overcome all forms of difficulty. While the Jamatkhanas will continue to be re-opened as the situation improves, I wish my Jamat to keep in mind the importance I attach to our historic tradition of personal, private prayer.

I send my most affectionate loving blessings for mushkil-asan, and for my Jamat’s wellbeing, good health, safety and security. I also give my best loving blessings for barakah in your spiritual and material lives, and for the fulfilment of all your wishes.

You are all particularly in my heart, in my thoughts, and in my prayers at this time.

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

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Shukrana and Supplication

We submit our humble gratitude to our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam for his Talika Mubarak to the world wide Jamat on the occasion of Navroz, March 21, 2021, and submit the following supplications from verse 1 of Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea:

“O brother! Listen, My Lord Ali has written and sent a Farman. The beloved Lord has remembered this servant today with kindness in his heart”

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Ginan Recitation

Ginan Sahebe Farman Lakhi Mokalea sung Shamshu Bandali Haji. Credit: Ginan Recitals (usask.ca)

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Navroz Ginan Recitation and Link to Explanation

Ginan Navrozna din Sohaamna sung by Mumtaz Bhulji. Credit: Ginan Recitals (usask.ca)

Read Ginan article HERE.

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Navroz Mubarak

Conceived and created by Toronto artist Karim Ismail, this calligraphy represents the greeting Navroz Mubarak in Eastern Kufi. Image: © Karim Ismail.

Date posted: March 21, 2021.

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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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Sun’s Crossing of Equator at 5:37 A.M. EDT on March 20, 2021 Heralds Start of Spring in Northern Hemisphere, and Celebration of Navroz, the Iranian New Year

“Awaken, the morning Nowruz breeze is showering the garden with flowers” — Saadi

According to the popular reference book The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Saturday, March 20 marked the start of the spring season in 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun crossed the equator line heading north at 5:37 A.M. EDT. This event is referred to as the spring equinox or the vernal equinox when the length of day and night is nearly equal in all parts of the world. The Southern Hemisphere is exactly the opposite, as it marked the start of its autumn season.

The spring equinox can occur as early as March 19 or as late as March 21 at Greenwich. For hundreds of millions of people living in Iran, Afghanistan, and the Kurdish regions of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, and throughout Central Asia, in many parts of Pakistan and India, as well as among diasporic communities living around the world. the spring equinox is celebrated as Navroz or New Year. This is the second consecutive year when Navroz celebrations are going to be restrained due to travel restrictions and other measures that have been put in place to halt the spread of coronavirus or Covid-19.

Spring Equinox Earth on March 20, 2011 at 6:12 a.m. local time. NASA
The Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (SEVIRI) on EUMETSAT’s Meteosat-9 captured this view of Earth from geosynchronous orbit. The image shows how sunlight fell on the Earth on March 20, 2011 at 6:12 a.m. local time. Photo: NASA image by Robert Simmon

In Iran, the festivities end 13 days after March 21 with Sizdeh Bedar when people head for open fields, plains, parks and riversides to picnic, taking with them the sabzeh they had meticulously grown. There, they throw the sabzeh into the river or the fields, to symbolise giving back to nature (please read Scheherezade Faramarzi’s excellent article in Middeast Eye).

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Navroz Mubarak

“Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz, Nevruz, Nooruz, Novruz, Nowrouz, Nowruz – this celebration of the arrival of spring is as rich in names as it is in traditions. No matter what name you call it by, this shared festivity has brought communities together across countries and regions for more than 3,000 years” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO

Navroz Mubarak calligraphy Persian New Year by Karim Ismail Simerg.com
Navroz Mubarak in Eastern Kufi, © Karim Ismail, Toronto.

My daughter Nurin joins me in wishing all our readers as well as everyone around the world NAVROZ MUBARAK. In a sense, we convey this greeting through the beautiful calligraphic rendition shown above that was designed for 2021 by Toronto’s artist Karim Ismail. We thank him for his permission to reproduce his designs on Simerg and its sister websites.

We sincerely hope and pray that the crushing burden of the pandemic that we have lived through for the past 12 months eases, and that life begins to return to normal in the coming weeks and months, as more and more people around the world are vaccinated against Covid-19. However, we must continue to remain alert, and follow the guidelines given by our respective health authorities to avoid spikes in the number of coronavirus illnesses.

Navroz, Nawruz, Norooz, Nauryz, Navruz, Nawrouz Mubarak!

Nevruz, Noroz, Nooruz, Novruz, Nowrouz Mubarak!

Date posted: March 20, 2021.

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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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

The Fragrance of Spring

By FARAH TEJANI

Open your doors and let the honeyed fragrance of Spring,
Enter your household while the seraphic birds sweetly sing,
All life is born again now that the gruelling winter is done,
Raise hands and praise Allah under the melting rays of the sun.

Navroz Mubarak, the New Year begins,
We welcome it with wonder and repent for our sins,
Three hundred million of us over three thousand years,
Jubilantly celebrate with sacred songs and with cheers.

A new chapter to read, a new seed to plant,
For abundance and prosperity a sacred prayer we chant.
On Navroz we strengthen bonds and our families unite,
Exchanging human values, our wishes with foresight.

Envisioning the New Year to bring with it Peace,
And for all calamities and ill health to immediately cease.
We dance and we sing sacred Ginans from our Pirs
Qasidas and Garbis unite and cohere.

In harmony with Nature we must strive to exist,
If not pandemics like COVID-19 will sadly persist,
But if we take it in stride as a hard lesson learned
We will appreciate the respect that Nature truly yearned.

We all share a common fate and must aim to erase,
All discrimination and hatred and truly embrace,
Love, tolerance and respect for all of mankind,
So that cultural diversity will not be undermined.

We pray for global peace and international cooperation
For we are all in the Ummah from nation to nation.
Let nothing divide us and bring us to fight,
Let us instead hold and value for tomorrow is in sight.

What was dead becomes alive, let the festivities begin,
Intricate henna designs are dyed on our skin,
We receive our roji and take our Navroz wishes,
For barakat and abundance and we enjoy festive dishes.

It is that time of year, tulips spring out from the soil
A hearty true effort from a burdensome winter’s toil,
Shadowed they waited for this day to emerge,
Colors in splendour they burst and they surge.

Spring blossoms are shedding their soft petals in few,
The buds are just opening thinly covered in dew,
Moist raindrops with sunlight the perfect combination,
To bring creation forth in a renewing sensation.

Take notice of Kudrat and all the miracles of Mawla,
His Bounty is Ever-Present, Al-Hamdu l’illah.
The Spring breeze whispers through the meadows and the trees,
And there is flitting and buzzing of butterflies and bees.

The animals all awaken from a dazed winter’s sleep,
The goats, the chickens and the sheep,
The horses, the donkeys, the rabbits, and the squirrels,
All the animals arise for the Navroz’ precious pearls.

So arise and awaken to the Navroz, our New Year,
And welcome all customs with good heart and good cheer,
United we stand and divided we fall,
The Ummah prevails and respectfully unites us all.

Date posted: March 18, 2021.

Copyright © Farah Tejani, Vancouver.

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Farah Tejani graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in May of 1997 and earned top Honors for her Thesis on Short Fiction. She has published a collection of short stories “Make Your Own Chai, Mama’s Boy!” dealing with different dilemmas South Asians face. Farah also wrote and co-directed her stage play, “Safeway Samosas,” which won “The Best of Brave New Playwrights Award” in July 1995. Her short story , “Too Hot” won third place in the “Canada-Wide Best Short Fiction Award” and was read at The Vancouver Writers Festival. Currently, Farah is working on Childrens’ stories and a collection of poetry called, “Elastic Embrace” to be published in 2021.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Please also read Farah’s previous contributions to Simerg and its sister website Barakah by clicking on the following links:

Mrs. Merchant;
The Light of Ali (in Barakah.com)
The Great Sacrifice
In Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Eyes (in Barakah.com);
Celebrating the Aga Khan Museum;
Mystic Moon; and
A Mother’s Plea, Forest Cries, and Heaven’s Curtain

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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Aga Khan Museum, Ismaili Jamatkhana, spectacular spring beauty Simergphotos Malik Merchant

Photos: Spring Energy at Aga Khan Park, Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum

Please click HERE or on image below for spectacular photos of the sky and the Aga Khan Park grounds as captured by Malik Merchant during his recent walk through his favourite space in Toronto

Aga Khan Park sunset sky Simerg Malik Merchant
All ablaze as the sinking sun lights up the horizon and the sky west of Aga Khan Park and Ismaili Centre. Click on image for more photos. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg. Camera: Olympus E-M10, 14-42mm.

Date posted: March 15, 2021.

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Installing Solar Panels on the World’s Rooftop: USAID and Pamir Energy are Lighting Up Remote Villages in Tajikistan

Murghab’s installation represents a 50 percent increase in daytime electricity – meaning communities are now able to pursue activities throughout the day, children can attend heated schools, and homes have power and heat during the long and bitterly cold winter months.

Most of the material for this post has been obtained from an article prepared by USAID, with additional material and photographs from AKDN and AKF USA

Arriving in the Murghab district of Tajikistan’s Pamir region feels like one may have landed on the far side of the moon. The Pamir Mountains are among the highest in the world, and home to remote villages and communities living above 3,600 meters/11,800 feet. The area is dry, arid, and bitterly cold. Temperatures between November and March regularly plummet to -50 degrees Celsius/-58 degrees Fahrenheit.

Due to the topography, communities and villages are not connected to a national electricity grid and for decades lived without a reliable or secure power supply. In Murghab, communities relied on subsistence farming and households had almost no ability to cook, see at night, read, study, or pursue commerce and industry.

During the Soviet era, over 70 percent of the region’s energy was provided by dirty diesel generators fueled by Russian-controlled imports. After the fall of the Soviet Union, not a single diesel-operated power plant remained in operation. In 2002, only 13 percent of Murghab households had access to electricity – those that did experienced frequent interruptions. 

Pamir Energy Tajikistan, AKFED
By implementing hydropower plant projects and reducing transmission losses from 39 percent in 2006 to 10 percent (in 2018), Pamir Energy supplies reliable, clean, affordable electricity to 96 percent of the population of Badakhshoni Kuhi in Eastern Tajikistan. Photo: AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer

That same year, The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), formed Pamir Energy in a public-private partnership that included the Government of Tajikistan. Pamir Energy has invested around $37 million to repair and rehabilitate the electrical infrastructure of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO) and expand capacity. In the wake of these efforts, over 86 percent of the region’s inhabitants and 96% of households in Eastern Tajikistan now have access to electricity. Subsidies ensure that even the poorest households can access power. 

Murghab’s harsh climate makes water-powered generation challenging. During the winter months the rivers freeze, consequently hydro-power plants are unable to provide power to Murghab communities. To meet this challenge, USAID supported a pilot project to build a solar power plant that can provide Murghab’s communities with electricity during the winter.

USAID’s Power the Future project partnered with the Government of Tajikistan and Pamir Energy to install the 200 kilowatt (kW) Murghab solar power plant – the country’s largest utility-operated solar power plant and the highest in Central Asia.

Most importantly, the Murghab solar power plant operates in parallel with another renewable energy source, the existing Tajikistan hydro-power plant. These two clean energy plants will ensure that nearby villages and communities have access to regular electricity supply all year round. 

Aga Khan in Murghab
Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan visits Murghab, Badakhshan, on May 26, 1995. Photo: The Ismaili.

When the Murghab project kicked-off in January 2020, COVID-19 was reportedly contained in China and had not reached the scale of a global pandemic. As the project began ramping up in March, the world turned upside down as states of emergency and lockdowns were ordered all around the world.

“It seemed like anything that could have gone wrong, went wrong,” remembers Markus Straslicka, a project manager with USAID’s Power the Future project who oversaw installation of the Murghab solar power plant.

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption to manufacturing and supply lines and closure of international borders, Markus faced a unique challenge: his team didn’t know what the Murghab site looked like. Due to its incredibly remote location, Murghab has limited internet – inhabitants rely on SMS messages to communicate with the outside world. Since Markus had almost no eyes on the ground, he had to plan for every eventuality and trust the Pamir Energy team waiting for him at the site. 

As it turns out, USAID’s Power the Future had the perfect partner. “The Pamir Energy team were extremely competent, hardworking and supportive, despite this being their first experience with solar technology. We were lucky to have them,” says Markus.

To guarantee the project’s success, USAID’s Power the Future team worked hand-in-hand with the Pamir Energy team to install and commission the Murghab solar power plant. Through this unique partnership, Pamir Energy learned how to independently operate the Murghab plant. They also gained the skills, know-how, and capability to build solar power plants throughout the region – helping Tajikistan meets it commitment to providing its citizens with reliable clean energy.

“This is a very special day for us to run the first solar power plant in the country as a utility! The USAID team has done an outstanding job,” said Daler Jumaev, recently appointed Minister of Energy and Water Resources of the Republic of Tajikistan and outgoing CEO of Pamir Energy.

Pamir Mountains
The Pamir Energy company is based in the high mountains of eastern Tajikistan, where it is common to have bitter winters and, increasingly, earthquakes, avalanches and mudslides. The area is also socially complex, bordering China, the Kyrgyz Republic and Afghanistan. Photo: AKDN/Christopher Wilton-Steer

The USAID Power the Future and Pamir Energy team commissioned the Murghab solar power plant on October 28, 2020, and the plant began providing electricity to the region’s communities the same day.

The regional government of the GBAO celebrated this landmark achievement at an opening ceremony on November 11 with representatives from the Tajik central and regional governments, USAID, the Aga Khan Foundation, and Pamir Energy. As noted by the Governor of GBAO, Yogdor Fayzov, Murghab signifies the first of many solar power plants that will be built to electrify remote areas of Tajikistan. 

“The construction of a solar power plant in the remote Murghab region with USAID’s support is a significant step in providing electricity to the residents of this mountainous region,” said Yodgor Fayzov, Chairman of the regional GBAO government.

The positive impacts of access to regular power for the people of Murghab cannot be underestimated. Before Murghab’s installation, businesses could not fully operate during the winter due to power interruptions. Murghab’s installation represents a 50 percent increase in daytime electricity – meaning communities are now able to pursue activities throughout the day, children can attend heated schools, and homes have power and heat during the long and bitterly cold winter months.

Additionally, households no longer need to spend long hours finding firewood to cook meals. USAID’s partnership with the Government of Tajikistan brought stability and prosperity to Murghab and paved the way for full electrification of the Pamir region.

In 2017, Pamir Energy won the 2017 International Ashden Award for Increasing Energy Access for its work bringing hydro power to 220,000 people in East Tajikistan and 35,000 people in North Afghanistan, as well as to many businesses, schools, and health centres.

Date posted: March 15, 2021.

Featured image at top of post: The Murghab solar power plant is now entirely operational. Photo: Markus Straslicka for USAID.

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Further notes:

In 2012 with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Aga Khan Foundation USA started the Cross-Border Energy project to expand Pamir Energy’s reach across the border to Afghanistan’s remote Shugnan District. This program has helped to multiply electricity use thereby nearly eightfold and helps establish infrastructure for regional growth. Communities that never have had access to electricity before are now able to experience an improved quality of life and in turn, regional trade and cooperation have increased.