Swahili – “Tanzania’s Gift to the World:” UN Designates July 7 as Kiswahili Day; and a Brief Note on Ismaili Swahili Scholar Farouk Topan

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Dr. Farouk Topan was very well known to my parents Jehangir and Malek Merchant, and as a teenager it was always a privilege to meet him when he visited my dad at the Ismailia Association offices located on the ground floor of Dar es Salaam’s Darkhana Jamatkhana. His discussions with my dad and “Din” who was also from Dr. Topan’s home town, Zanzibar, were illuminating and thoughtful. Some years later when I embarked on my computer career in the UK, and travelled to Southampton twice a week for an assignment, Dr. Topan and his family hosted me for dinner each Tuesday or Wednesday for several months. That was truly heartwarming.

Farouk Topan, Swahili literature expert
Late Jehangir and Late Maleksultan Merchant with Farouk Topan (left) and Late Gowar Bhatia (right). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Who would have thought that an Ismaili would become a specialist in the language and literature of the Swahili people? Indeed, Dr. Topan was that outstanding Ismaili individual. He is a renowned expert on Swahili literature, religion, spirit possession, and identity in East Africa and has extensively published on these subjects. He pioneered the study and teaching of Swahili literature in Kiswahili at the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Nairobi. Dr. Topan also taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and was one of the founder editors of the departmental Journal of African Cultural Studies. Columnist Freddy Macha recently celebrated the life of Dr. Topan in an op ed piece for the Tanzanian daily, The Citizen. The piece was in response to an event organized by the Aga Khan University in London in October 2021 honouring Dr. Topan.

I have introduced a beloved friend of my family in this piece because I think no one would be more happier than Dr. Topan on the news that the United Nations has designated 7th July of each year as the World Kiswahili Day.

Tanzania’s Late President Julius K. Nyerere had once envisioned a Swahili-speaking utopia. While that didn’t work out, it is interesting to note that Swahili is becoming popular in many parts of the world, and becomes the first African language to be honoured by UNESCO. With regard to this announcement, Vivian Lisanza of Africa Renewal has written a fine report in the December issue of the monthly magazine. Please read Lisanza’s complete article here or listen to the audio version of the article below. The news will be welcomed by Kiswahili speakers around the world, and bring them immense pride and happiness.

Featured image at top of this post: Ohio University students write a welcoming message in Swahili. It is one of the universities in the United States that teaches Swahili. Photo: Ohio University.

Date posted: December 16, 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.

Short Video: A Powerful and Inspiring Plea to all Ismailis by (Late) Alwaez Abualy Alibhai Aziz

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

One of the most well known and travelled missionaries of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in the past century has to be Alwaez Rai Abualy Alibhai. He passed away in May 2008, before this website was inaugurated, and I have often thought of him several times over the past decade. A mentally and physically strong person all his life, he continued until his very last years to sit on the floor in Jamatkhana, without twitching. He was always fully focused in his prayers.

Ismaili missionaries
Clockwise from left: Ismaili missionaries Sadru Pradhan (deceased), Abualy Aziz (deceased), Amirali Amlani (deceased), Jehangir Merchant ( deceased), Sultanali Mohamed (deceased), Fateh Damji and Ali Rajabali. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Missionary Abualy gives remarks at the 50th wedding anniversary party for Jehangir (right) and Maleksultan Merchant (not shown). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Alwaez Abualy delivers a short speech at the 50th wedding anniversary party for Alwaez Jehangir (right) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant (not shown). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

I remember him fondly calling my late mum as “meri beti” (my daughter), especially after she had delivered a waez (sermon). My parents knew him from India, but I first met the beloved missionary in the late 1950’s when he made two visits to Lourenço Marques (now Maputo). Now, in Mozambique there was no guarantee about when a specific visitor would arrive in the country — as travel via South Africa was sometimes tricky, with possible delays — and I would remember my dad walking up to all the boys who were playing football in the Jamatkhana field and telling us that when we got back home we should tell our parents that a missionary had arrived in the city and that he would be delivering a waez that evening. This may not have been the case with missionary Abualy but it was definitely the case with missionary Salim Issa Moosa. I was in the group of footballers when my dad introduced Salim missionary to all of us, and asked us to attend Jamatkhana with our parents to listen to his waez. We not only spoke Portuguese but spoke and wrote in Gujarati quite well. My parents had taught us Dua meanings of all six parts in Gujarati by the time we were 8!

During his lifetime, Alwaez Abualy delivered thousands of waezes around the world, and one thing that he did which my parents never did was that he always carried a portable tape recorder to the stage to tape his own waez. Thus, the collection of waezes that have been gathered for the late missionary is phenomenal.

I propose to publish a longer piece about the missionary one day, but for today I am putting out this short piece because Toronto’s Kamru Rashid, an avid reader and also a contributor of articles on this website, sent me a forward of an excerpt from a talk that Alwaez Abualy had delivered a few years before he passed away. The video clip has been circulating on the social media recently.

In the video, the missionary gives a powerful message to all Ismailis. Speaking in Urdu, Alwaez mentions about the difficulties mankind will face in the 21st century, and then he makes a passionate plea to all Ismailis to keep the remembrance of Allah constantly in their hearts. He asks the Jamat to recite Ya Allah, Ya Muhammad, Ya Ali, or the names of the Imams including Mawlana Shah Karim for protection from difficulties and for strength in adversity.

Then, finally, as the clip nears the end, he asks each and everyone to attend Jamatkhana at least once a day to avail ourselves of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s bountiful grace and blessings.

I urge you to listen to missionary Abualy’s message in the video recording below, and explain it to non-Urdu listeners.

(Late) Alwaez Abualy A. Alibhai speaking at an Ismaili gathering.

Date posted: December 16, 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.

The Beautiful Gift Presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, and a Reflection for His 85th Birthday on a Gorgeous Blue Sky Morning

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

I went to bed late last night and my eyes did not open for me to be able to attend this morning’s (December 13, 2021) Baitul Khayal Salgirah Majlis for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 85th birthday. When I woke up at 5:45 am and looked out, the skies in Toronto were covered with clouds, except in the horizon where it was clear. The weather forecast had called for a clear sunny day, and trusting it I set forth in my car for the Port Union Waterfront Park. When I reached there, the sky situation was reversed. The horizon was cloudy but the skies above me were clear. Really, nothing can beat the twilight when there are some clouds in the horizon.

Sunrise Port Union Waterfront Park
Shortly after sunrise, Lake Ontario, Port Union Waterfront Park, Toronto, 7:51 AM, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I reached the Park 45 minutes before sunrise. The clear waters of Lake Ontario and strong waves added to my excitement and anticipation of the sunrise. When the sun rose at exactly 7:42 AM, 147 million kilometres from earth, it created a beautiful streak on the clouds that were in the horizon. Birds flew around joyfully.

Porcelain vases Aga Khan birthday present Simerg Malik Merchant
Porcelain vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: The Ismaili.

Before I had left home, I had read the Ismaili piece about the world wide Jamat presenting Mawlana Hazar Imam with the 85th birthday gift consisting of a pair of porcelain vases made in the nineteenth century in Paris. The article mentions that the vases “are decorated with elaborate Islamic Persian motifs of gilt scrollwork, arabesques, and stylised flowers in heightened relief against a pale lavender background.”  It further says: “The lavender colour of the vases is extremely unusual — changing according to the light under which it is placed, from purple/grey in daylight to pale pink in artificial light.” I thought about this gift and wondered as I was taking photos of the twilight and the sunrise, how the vases might look if they were placed on a piece of rock near where I was standing, with the morning sunlight shining on them.

Ismaili Flag at Aga Khan Park. Play video and also listen to Nashid al Imamah. Video by Malik Merchant/Simerg, December 13, 2021. The Nashid played by the 116th Army Band during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s arrival in Atlanta, USA, 2018, for his Diamond Jubilee.
The crystalline dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana, Toronto, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
The crystalline dome of the Ismaili Headquarters Jamatkhana under blue skies, Toronto, December 13, 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Driving back home, the sun was now higher up, and the sky was blue everywhere without a cloud in sight. How could I not stop at the Aga Khan Park to see my favourite objects — the Ismaili Flag and the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome? The flag was shining under the sunlight, and the dome was particularly inspiring under blue skies. Seeing the flag, I felt particularly proud and recollected the recording of the Nashid al Imamah played by the USA 116th Army Band when Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived in Atlanta for his Diamond Jubilee visit in 2018. I took a video of the Ismaili flag and incorporated the recording of the Nashid into the video (watch video above).

Lourenço Marques, 1958: Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and current 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims is seen taking a keen interest as Alwaez Jehangir explains the Gujarati history texts that were used to impart religious education to Ismaili youth in Mozambique. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Today, as Mawlana Hazar Imam celebrates his 85th birthday, my beloved late papa Jehangir would have turned 93. He died in May 2018 at the age of 89. And of course I remembered my late mum Malek (Mrs. Merchant), who would write loving cards for him on his birthday. Together, they had served the Imam of the Time, the Jamat and its institutions for more than 60 years. I did one thing at Port Union Waterfront Park. I walked an extra 174 steps, the sum of the two birthdays my family is celebrating today. Fortunately, I have good recollections of my childhood. When I was very little, aged less than 5 years and in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), I one day asked my dad very innocently, how come Mawlana Hazar Imam was much younger than him. And his reply was that the age of the Imam was immaterial because he is the bearer of the Noor of Imamat, and all the Imams are the same because they have the same Light. He also gave me a little history lesson that Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was only 7 when he became the Imam in August 1885. That faith and belief have been with me ever since, and you can read more about the philosophical and historical perspective on the Noor of Imamat HERE.

Happy Salgirah Mubarak to Ismailis around the world.

Date posted: December 13, 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.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the Bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; and a Beautiful Calligraphy for His Auspicious 85th Birthday

Simerg’s sister website Barakah which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, is pleased to present a profound reading on the subject of Imamat along with a special piece of art by Karim Ismail on the auspicious occasion of Hazar Imam’s 85th Salgirah. The post includes the singing of the Ginan (Hymn) Dhan Dhan Aajno by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji, and also has links to its explanation as well as 25 other recitations of the same Ginan by Ismaili singers from around the world. Please click 85th Salgirah Mubarak or on the image below.

Aga Khan 85th birthday Salgirah of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Simer
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is in his 65th year of Imamat and celebrates his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Please click on image for Imamat reading.

Date posted: December 11, 2021.

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Featured image at top of post: In centre, a calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail and on either side of the art work two paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam by Vancouver based artist Azeez Khanbhai, who was featured recently in Barakah.

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.

Ismaili author series shine brighter by Shairoz Lakhani, Simerg Ismaili author series.

Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “Shine Brighter” by Shairoz Lakhani of London, England

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with UK teacher and writer Shairoz Lakhani’s book “Shine Brighter”. We follow the same Q/A format as our presentations of books written by Shelina Shariff Zia, Ali Lakhani, Nizar Sultan, Nargis Fazal, Nazlin Rahemtulla, Azmina Suleman, Alnasir Rajan, Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We invite Ismaili authors around the world to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to Simerg’s editor, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.

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

Shairoz Lakhani: “Shine Brighter” is the title of my book. We all originate from one source; we are born with a soul when we come into the physical world. It is important while we are in this physical world to learn the lessons life is giving us. As we learn these lessons — and with Allah’s blessings –we all “Shine Brighter.”

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

Shairoz: Shine Brighter is a children’s book with 6 stories that teach children and adults the simple but important values we need in our life. For example some of the stories I have written relate to the importance of peace and joy in life, that sharing is fun, and that we should be positive in life.

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Shairoz: I have been a volunteer teacher for over 10 years and I really enjoy teaching children. Thus, I have been inspired to write stories that will help the children grow with good values. I have noted in my life that many of my ideas come after I have meditated. So this spiritual aspect of my life has inspired me in my work. I would note that Mawlana Hazar Imam talks about good values and ethics, and I also draw my inspiration from him.

Article continues below

Shine Brighter by Shairoz Lakhani
Front cover of Shairoz Lakhani’s story book for children “Shine Brighter.” 40 pp., Balboa Press, May 2018. Click on image for enlarged version.

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

Shairoz: I have my own website where Shine Brighter’s price is reduced from £14.99 to £9.99 plus £1 postage. The book is available in bookstores and may also be ordered through Amazon websites; for example Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon UK etc. It is also available as a Kindle edition. I will be happy to sign the book when the book is purchased from me, or if it is brought to me if it was purchased somewhere else.

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

Shairoz: I did a lot of research and found there were some who were taking manuscripts and some were not.

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

Shairoz: Yes, I have an excellent animator artist. He has done many animations for the cartoon Mr Bean.

Simerg: How long did it take you to write Shine Brighter — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Shairoz: It took me about 6-10 months.

Simerg: Tell us something more about your book.

Shairoz: As I have already noted, Shine Brighter is a compilation of 6 stories. There are animal characters in the stories. Children can easily relate to the amazing characters. Each story has valuable lessons that children (and adults) can learn and relate to experiences in their lives.

Date posted: December 8, 2021.

[Parents may wish to buy Shairoz’s beautiful book as a gift for their children or their friends for the auspicious occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 85th birthday or for the coming holiday season. Please visit her website, www.shairozlakhani.com, to place an order. She will send you a signed copy — Ed.]

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Ismaili author series Shairoz Lakhani Simerg
Shairoz Lakhani

Shairoz has served as a Baitul Ilm (BUI) teacher with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the UK (ITREB) for close to 15 years, and has taught across London, Leicester and France. Her ambition in religious education teaching started at the young age of 17 in Leicester, and she along with other teachers specifically taught nursery students on Friday evenings in Leicester.

On a day-to-day basis, Shairoz describes herself as “an author and a mum.” In 2019, she launched her first children’s book called “Shine Brighter.” She notes that the book can equally be a good read for the older age group and even parents who are working towards embedding and nurturing good values in their children.

“Shine Brighter” is all about life lessons — it is about trust, being true to yourself, nurturing friendship and brotherhood as well as helping each other and making the world a happy place for everyone. Shairoz believes these core values are incredibly important in today’s world.

Shairoz uses stories as a tool to invite a dialogue between children, parents and the wider community. She believes stories provide the best medium to share knowledge and wisdom with children. Her book is not just for Ismaili Muslim children. She wants to reach out to the children globally to collectively make the world prosperous for everyone.

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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.

Calling all Ismaili Authors

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. 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 (series start, 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)
  4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
  5. “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
  6. “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)
  7. “RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty” by Nazlin Rahemtulla (May 28, 2021)
  8. “Coughdrops” by Nargis Fazal (June 12, 2021)
  9. “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan (June 25, 2021)
  10. “Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat” by M. Ali Lakhani (July 4, 2021)
  11. “Nairobi Days by Shelina_Shariff Zia (July 21, 2021)
  12. “Shine Brighter” by Shairoz Lakhani (December 8, 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.

Available for Purchase: Very Limited Quantities of “Diving Into Wildlife” Signed by Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Diving into Wildlife by Hussain Aga Khan
Cover Page of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Diving Into Wildlife.

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Diving Into Wildlife comprises a collection of extraordinary underwater sea animal photographs taken by the Prince over the past decade. A collection of seven of his sea animal photos were displayed in Lisbon in July 2018 during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

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SIGNED COPIES ARE MUCH DESIRED

Signed copies are much desired by book lovers and collectors, and, in this particular instance, the signature of Prince Hussain Aga Khan makes his work “Diving Into Wildlife” a truly unique and treasured item for any book collector, or for anyone receiving the book as a gift. Viewers of this website will recall that some 12 years ago, we offered both signed and unsigned copies of Prince Hussain’s book of animal photos entitled Animal Voyage. Prince Hussain had dedicated Animal Voyage to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933-2003), and the proceeds from the sale of the book went to the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment.

Prince Hussain’s “Diving Into Wildlife” is published under the auspices of his organization called “Focused on Nature” (FON, www.focusedonnature.org), whose mission is to “assist in the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered species, as well as habitat conservation efforts when and where possible.” Simerg is thus delighted to support the work of FON by offering readers signed copies of “Diving Into Wildlife.”

As of the posting of this announcement on December 7, 2021, we have exactly 9 signed copies, and each is being offered at $US125.00 plus $US25.00 to cover expedited shipping and postage across Canada and the USA. The initiative to ask a premium for signed copies and to submit the premium to FON has not been requested by the author or the publisher, but is a Simerg’s. The signed copies are only available for shipping within North America. Each shipment will be trackable via the website of Canada Post.

HOW TO PURCHASE THE BOOK

Payment Methods:

  1. Paypal: Simergbooks has been verified by Paypal. To purchase a copy, please send a request to Simergbooks@aol.com or simerg@aol.com, and an invoice will be generated from Paypal provided we have the book in stock. In view of the limited quantities payment should then be received within 24 hours after the invoice. Canadian orders will be invoiced in Canadian dollars based on an exchange rate of $US 1.00 = $C 1.30.
  2. Email Transfer (for Canadian orders only): Once we have confirmed that a book is available, we will request you to submit a payment via email transfer. In view of the limited quantities payment should then be received within 24 hours after the invoice.

SIMERG’S EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE

My son was delighted with the excellent photography by Prince Hussain. We as a family will cherish this volume (Animal Voyage) for a long time. Once again, thank you http://www.simerg.com  for making this book available in North America and your outstanding customer service and support. Shamim Rajan, Richmond Hill, Ontario

his is a beautiful piece of work!! The service was excellent. Very quick, safe and efficient turnaround and follow up. I recommend everyone to have a copy. Nazir Alibhai, Markham, Ontario.

“Outstanding customer service, superfast delivery, and the book is great addition to any library.” Yaar, Toronto.

Date posted: December 7, 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. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites  Barakah and Simergphotos.

Letter from Afghanistan [5] – In Meeting with AKDN Representative, Governor of Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province Encourages Network to Continue its Socio-Economic Contributions in the Province

[This is our special correspondent’s fifth report from Kabul to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first four letters HERE – August 26, HERE – August 29, HERE – September 5, 2021 and HERE – December 4, 2021 — Ed.]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

Monday, December 5, 2021

Click on images for enlargements

Map of Afghanistan with provinces, Simerg
Provincial map of Afghanistan. The Bamyan province where the meeting between the province’s governor and AKDN representative took place is highlighted in red. Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces The provinces of Afghanistan are the primary administrative divisions. Each province encompasses a number of districts or usually over 1,000 villages. Credit: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

I am pleased to report that Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani, the special envoy of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to Afghanistan, met with the governor for Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady on December 5, 2021. Mr. Sarhady thanked the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and its agencies for their contribution and service in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan, and asked AKDN to continue its services in education, health care, agriculture and microfinance in the province. Additionally, he pleaded to the envoy to extend its assistance on poverty alleviation, higher education and infrastructure. This meeting was reported by official media sources.

Afghanistan Bamyan Province governor with AKDN rep, Simerg
AKDN’s representative in Afghanistan, Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani (left), meets with the governor of the province of Bamyan, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady. Bamyan Province is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the central highlands of the country (see map above). Photo: Facebook page of governor’s media office.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pesnani thanked the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan for its collaborations with the AKDN agencies and reaffirmed his commitment on continuing and furthering the agency’s efforts on health care, education, habitation and infrastructure. 

The aim of his visit was to visit the Bamyan provincial hospital, and meet with AKDN agency’s local representatives, Ismaili elders and leaders as well as members of the project teams responsible for the projects undertaken by the agency.

Afghanistan Bamyan province governor with AKDN
AKDN’s representative in Afghanistan, Mr. Akbar Ali Pesnani (left), meets with the governor of the province of Bamyan, Mr. Abdullah Sarhady. Bamyan Province is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan, located in the central highlands of the country (see map above). Photo: Facebook page of governor’s media office.

The governor asked the AKDN agencies to extend its contribution and efforts on increasing the capacity of provincial hospital, providing health care in local clinics, supporting the educational sector, implementing of development projects and investments on key infrastructure of the province. 

As a member of the Ismaili Jamat in Afghanistan, this meeting highlights the importance the Islamic Emirate attaches to the work that has been carried out by the Ismaili Imamat over the past several decades in Afghanistan, and look forward to the progress of all peoples of Afghanistan and our Jamat under the new Taliban regime in the months and years to come. I offer my congratulations to the Jamat in Afghanistan and around the world on this happy occasion.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: December 5, 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. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Letter from Afghanistan [4] – Young Ismaili Activist Shares Her Hopes and Concerns About the Future in Afghanistan

[This is our special correspondent’s fourth letter from Kabul to provide the global Ismaili Jamat with reliable information regarding recent development of the living conditions of the Jamat in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Read the first three letters HERE – August 26, HERE – August 29 and HERE – September 5, 2021. We advise readers to note that in some cases the same information may be repeated in multiple reports — Ed. ]

LETTER FROM AFGHANISTAN

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Afghanistan map annotated
Map of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The major international border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Turkham (Tor Kham) border, mentioned by our correspondent in his post, below, is circled in red. Known as the Grand Trunk Road, the road connects Nangarhar province of Afghanistan with Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Please click on map for enlargement. Credit: Map adapted and annotated by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

Dear Jamats:

Recently, I met a well-known young Ismaili civil society activist based in Kabul, and conducted a short interview with her that focused on her life experiences, opportunities, achievements and her views on the political future and social life under the new regime. She concluded the interview by asking Jamati institutions for an action plan about the future direction of the Jamat. In my third report I had noted that, by their own admission, the Jamati institutions do not have surveys and locations of the Jamat in Afghanistan. Members of the Jamat were advised to take care of their own safety and security. This situation in Afghanistan is unfortunate and unacceptable in the present time. I am sad to note that this lack of Jamati statistics and demographic information, which prevents an effective action plan to help the Jamat, is apparently not unique to Afghanistan.

Please note that the editor of Simerg, Malik Merchant, has verified the authenticity of the person I interviewed and has decided to keep both my name as well the name of the interviewee anonymous for our well-being, safety and protection. I shall simply refer to her as Roshan which is not her real first name.

Women walking on a street in Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood.
Kabul’s residents walk along a street in the city’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

After the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021, Roshan became terrified and locked herself at home, thinking that her normal life had come to an end, and that the Taliban would return to the mid 1990s, when they rigidly governed the country with harsh rules and restrictions particularly for women. People were initially terrified and fearful of the new regime, as women were prevented from serving in public institutions. Roshan and many girls like her felt that they would never be able to continue their studies and work. However schooling for girls is increasingly available, albeit separately for men and women, and this has affected the higher education in the country.

Given the international community’s oversight over the behavior of Taliban towards upholding of human and women rights, and their urgent need for international recognition and legitimacy, Roshan believes that, for now, the new Taliban regime might not reimpose the same rules that were in place in the 1990’s.  However, she is not sure whether Taliban will keep their word after the world has granted it the recognition it is seeking. She feels that they might then reimpose the harsher rules of the past. For Roshan, it is most critical for the Taliban to win the hearts and trust of the youth and professionals of the country by keeping their promises as well as allowing some freedom of expression. 

Roshan says the vast majority of the women and women like her benefited from the opportunities like going to school, studying in Universities and Colleges, and having an independent career that the international community and previously US-backed government facilitated. Now, she is wondering whether they will be able to explore the same opportunities that they previously enjoyed under the old regime. She holds out any hope that women like her, who received a quality education and were able to serve their country well for many years, will ever be able to engage and play an active role in either political or social affairs of the country as they previously did. She thinks that under the Taliban, women involvement in the political and social affairs will be restricted and vastly curtailed.

Roshan views the recent meeting between Mawlana Hazar Imam’s special envoy for Afghanistan and the Taliban leadership as positive step towards trust building, but she is neither convinced nor confident that the Taliban would deliver on any commitment that they may have made to the Jamat in Afghanistan as well as other minority groups. Roshan sincerely hopes her pessimism is misplaced, and that things will work out well for the Jamat in the critical period of stabilization ahead. She is pleased to note that AKDN activities continue uninterrupted in the country.

Finally, Roshan would wish the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to design an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. There is rampant unemployment and poverty in the Afghan Jamat, and she asks the Ismailis around the globe to support Afghan Jamats through whatever means they can at this time of their need.

A view of Kabul's Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.
A view of Kabul’s Qala-e-Fathullah neighbourhood. Photo: Simerg correspondent, Kabul.

On a personal note, I would like to say that all ethnicities and religious minorities are being treated well in Kabul. This is indeed good news. There may be some problems in the suburbs or rural areas but the overall attitude of the Taliban regime towards the minorities is good. I am also pleased to say that we can attend Jamatkhanas for our daily prayers and worship, and that in Kabul the Jamatkhanas are open to both men and women. Additionally, there are no restrictions on religious or social activities in other provinces where there is a larger presence of the Jamat or the Jamat is in a majority.

Before the Taliban takeover, a wide range of Ismaili girls would attend their university classes especially in private universities. But, unfortunately, after the Taliban takeover, girls in general are reluctant to attend the university out of concern for their own safety and well-being. The dire economic situation has further eroded the capacity of families to send their daughters to universities. The educational centers and universities have resumed their activities, but only a small number of female students attend their daily classes.

As far as I know, a number of Jamati members have left the country through the Turkham border crossing with Pakistan (see map above). Others may leave when the passport offices officially start distributing the documents necessary to travel abroad.

One great challenge we have is that a large number of Jamats are unemployed and are using up their savings to survive this uncertain period in their lives. Winters are harsh, and until recently no practical steps had been taken by Jamati institutions to come up with a plan and mitigate the crisis that poor and impoverished Ismaili families are having to deal with. Lately, Jamati institutions have begun distributing flour, oil and beans to a small number of impoverished Ismaili families in Kabul. However a large number of Jamati members have not yet received this much needed relief. Of course, the situation in the country generally is pretty alarming.

As already noted the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan must come up with an effective plan and strategy for overcoming the crisis precipitated by the Taliban takeover. I once again sincerely appeal to the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), the AKDN agencies and Ismaili Council leadership to be forward thinking, closely monitor the situation and adopt an effective strategy for addressing all the issues that will continue to emerge in the foreseeable future.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: December 4, 2021.

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Simerg urges the international Jamat to lend their support to Focus Humanitarian in their on-going efforts to assist the Jamat in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. We sincerely hope the youth and professionals in the Jamat will join in this extremely worthy and noble cause. On-line contributions can be made at the Focus Humanitarian websites for Canada, Europe, and the USA by clicking on FOCUS CANADA; FOCUS EUROPE; and FOCUS USA.

We pray for the safety and well-being of all the people of Afghanistan as well as the members of the Ismaili Jamat. We further hope that the new Taliban leadership in Afghanistan will work toward a common goal — that of stabilizing, uniting and bringing peace to the country that will enable every citizen to contribute to the progress and development of the country.

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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. Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

Ismaili Jamtkhana and Center Houston, Simerg

Reflections on the Design of the Ismaili Center Houston

By KARIM H. KARIM

The Ismaili Center Houston (ICH) promises to be an architecturally innovative building. It draws inspiration from several design traditions and will likely generate discussion and debate about present-day Muslim architecture. The confluence of Muslim and non-Muslim motifs in the Center very much reflects the centuries-long Ismaili openness to diverse cultures (e.g. see my article Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth). It is fascinating how the building’s architect, Farshid Moussavi, has intermingled features from the Zoroastrian Sassanid, Christian Byzantine, Muslim Isfahani and secular Western societies in a contemporary Ismaili American edifice.

However, some vital considerations seem to be missing from the building that aspires to stand as “a symbol of dialogue” in responding to its “geographies and contexts.”

  • An architectural conversation with the first peoples of Texas would have been far-sighted, especially at a time when indigeneity is of rising importance in North American contexts. For example, the challenge of dealing with Houston’s heat and humidity could have turned to the history of the local Akokisa people who built airy beehive-shaped structures to cope with the climate.

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The prominent "chorkhona" skylight in the Ismaili Centre Dushanbe. The chorkhana is the main defining symbol of the traditional structure of the Pamiri House
The prominent “chorkhona” skylight in the Ismaili Centre Dushanbe. The chorkhona is the defining symbol of the traditional structure of the Pamiri House, whose design principles reflect pre-Islamic philosophical symbols of the Central Asian region. Photo: Karim H. Karim.
  • A vital principle of architectural practice is attention to the cultural heritage of the proposed building’s daily users. The vast majority of Houston’s Jamat are families that have either arrived directly from India and Pakistan or from the South Asian Ismaili diaspora in Africa. But South Asian architecture appears to have been downplayed in ICH. On the other hand, conscious efforts were made to reflect Pamiri design in Dushanbe’s Ismaili Centre. The databases of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Aga Khan Program in Architecture are rich with information about Muslim architecture in India and Pakistan. Given that the cupola is celebrated in ICH’s design, a nod to the innovative and distinctive chattri in the Indo-Muslim style of Gujarat would have been particularly apropos.
  • The American Ismaili Jamat’s dominantly South Asian provenance holds other potential that could have been explored through ICH’s architecture. Among the possible partners for dialogue in local and global contexts for Muslims in the USA are diverse Indian American associations. They have strong presence in the American political establishment and are also key players on the transnational scene, including the ties of some with India’s ruling Hindu nationalists. A truly path-breaking pluralist dialogue in the United States holds far-reaching potential for transforming the two diasporic communities’ engagement with each other and charting steps that address the concerns of India’s Muslims with integrity. The AKDN’s calibrated engagement with Afghanistan’s Taliban government is instructive in this regard. One can only imagine the profound diplomatic symbolism of an Islamic architectural pluralism that incorporates design from ancient Indian civilization, as ICH’s architect has creatively done with pre-Islamic Persepolis of her native Iran.

Date posted: November 26, 2021.

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Karim H. Karim
Karim H. Karim

About the author:  Karim H. Karim is Chancellor’s Professor and Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam where he held an International Ismaili Studies Conference. He previously served as Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism & Communication. Dr. Karim has held visiting scholarly appointments at Harvard University, Aga Khan University/Simon Fraser University, and the IIS. He has also been an advisor for the AKU and the Central Asian University and has served as a member of the AKDN’s Higher Education Forum. Professor Karim is an award-winning author, whose globally-cited writings include publications on culture, architectural design and pluralism as well as on Ismaili communitiesinstitutions, and leadership. He and his wife have established The Karim and Rosemin Karim Prize that recognizes research excellence in understudied areas of Ismaili Studies.

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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. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites  Barakah and Simergphotos.

Ismaili Center Houston Featured Image

Video, Report and Photos: A Preview of the 7th Ismaili Center in the World to Be Built in Houston

What made the project especially rewarding was the close alignment between the client and the architect’s aspirations. What made it very challenging was my knowledge of the high standards that His Highness has set for architecture for many many years — Architect Farshid Moussavi, text transcription from video shown below

Presentation by Farshid Moussavi on the Ismaili Centre Houston, November 15, 2021

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, SimergBarakah, and Simergphotos)

After many years of anticipation, designs of the forthcoming Ismaili Center in Houston were presented on Monday, November 15, 2021 by design architect Farshid Moussavi at a special event hosted in Houston, TX, and streamed live around the world on Ismaili TV.

The caption for the brief video shown above on Youtube notes that a full event video will be made available on Ismaili TV. We sincerely hope that the full video is also made available on the Ismaili’s Youtube video channel.

The following text is adapted from the press release issued by His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for the USA. (Read original press release HERE).

Ismaili Center to be Houston’s Newest Cultural Asset

Note: All images may be clicked on for enlargements

Ismaili Centre Houston Simerg
At left, aerial view of the empty site of the Ismaili Center Houston, and at right an aerial view of the Ismaili Center and its gardens as it will look when it is completed in three years time. The center’s site is in the heart of the City of Houston across from Buffalo Bayou Park to the left. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The design for the Ismaili Center to be built in Houston’s Buffalo Bayou watershed was presented to the public on November 15, 2021 at a gathering of government and civic officials, community representatives and leaders from civil society organizations. Situated on Allen Parkway and Montrose Boulevard, the Ismaili Center is commissioned by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and founder and Chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

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Ismaili Centres around the world Simerg
Top row (from left): Ismaili Centre London (Opened April 24, 1985), Ismaili Centre Vancouver (August 23, 1985), and Ismaili Centre Lisbon (July 11, 1998); Centre row: Ismaili Centre Dubai (March 26, 2008), Ismaili Centre Dushanbe (October 12, 2009), and Ismaili Centre Toronto (September 12, 2014); Bottom row: The 7th Ismaili Centre Houston (future date). Collage: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

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Dedicated to advancing pluralism, public understanding and civic outreach, the Center in Houston joins its counterparts established in London, (UK), Lisbon (Portugal), Dubai (UAE), Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Vancouver and Toronto (both in Canada). Each of these buildings — designed by architects of international standing and multi-cultural sensitivity — is reflective of their own geographies and contexts. As ambassadorial buildings around the world, they are symbolic of the Ismaili community’s presence, pluralistic outlook and ethos of volunteering. The Ismaili Center Houston, with its openness of both purpose and structure, will seek to express these values. Speaking in Sugar Land, Texas in 2002, Mawlana Hazar Imam observed that “since all that we see and do resonates on the faith, the aesthetics of the environments we build and the quality of the interactions that take place within them reverberate on our spiritual lives.”

The Ismaili Center Houston will be a venue for educational, cultural and social events, to encourage understanding and facilitate the sharing of perspectives across peoples of diverse backgrounds, faiths and traditions. It will aim to build bridges through intellectual exchange by hosting concerts, recitals, plays, performances, exhibitions, conferences, seminars, conversations, book launches and community gatherings. The building will also provide space for quiet contemplation and for prayer, as well as serve as the administrative headquarters of the Ismaili community in the USA.

In presenting the design, Iranian born Farshid Moussavi, an internationally acclaimed architect, who also designed the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland, observed: “What made this project especially rewarding was the close alignment between the aspirations of the client and architect. What made it especially challenging was my awareness of the rigorous standards that His Highness the Aga Khan has established for architecture! We have tried to work with Islamic design philosophy, and celebrate its singularity and unique qualities as well as the features it has in common with Western design, so that the building, both through its fabric and through the way it is used, would act as a symbol of dialogue.”

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Ismaili Jamtkhana and Center Houston, Simerg
The Ismaili Center Houston will serve as both a Jamatkhana for the Ismaili community to come together for prayers, spiritual search, and contemplation; as well as an ambassadorial cultural center. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The building is designed with a compact footprint, leaving large portions of the site to be used as gardens. Given the frequently hot and humid climate of Houston and the prominence of the site in the city, it is designed with a tripartite form with each of its volumes hosting a soaring eivan (veranda) to enable social and cultural gatherings to occur outdoors throughout the year. The eivans are supported by forty-nine slender columns reminiscent of those used in Persepolis and seventeenth century palaces in Isfahan, Persia. In being open on all sides and visible from all approaches to the site, the eivans will make the Ismaili Center open and inviting in every direction. At night, they will transform it to a beacon of light along Montrose Boulevard and Allen Parkway.

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Ismaili Center Centre Houston Simerg
The forecourt garden with its reflecting pool at the entrance of the building creates a contemplative atmosphere. The new Center will feature beautiful spaces, intricate geometry, and highly crafted work. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The Center’s design, contemporary in its expression, is reflective of a historically rooted, rich architectural heritage. It combines contemporary architectural technology — its light steel structure — with traditional Persian forms and ornament, including ceramic mosaics and screens drawn from Islamicate traditions around the world. Its design for sustainability includes assuring enhanced energy performance and longevity and durability of materials, by encasing exposed steel with concrete for a 100-year lifecycle, and using stone for the building’s exterior walls.

Conceived as a tapestry in stone, the exterior walls will transition from solid areas to porous screens that will provide shade and privacy, and from flat surfaces to deep alcoves to permit shady repose fronting the gardens. The building exterior will therefore be defined by simplicity of form, openness, and an abstract decorative character.

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Ismaili Center Houston
Central atrium and staircase at the Ismaili Center Houston. Each atrium is designed in such a way as to fill the heart of the building with natural light. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The building interior will include three atriums that will act as common, non-exclusive flexible spaces between rooms dedicated to specific events. Each is located adjacent to an eivan to bring in natural light and views of the sky to the heart of the building. The central atrium’s stepped structure clad in ceramic screens, celebrates the heritage of the cupola dating back to 3000 BCE, dominant in both the architecture of the Sasanian period in Persia and the Christian buildings of the Byzantine empire. The west and east atriums will give access to a theater, a large hall and learning spaces.

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Ismaili Center Centre Houston Simerg Imara
From wherever one enters the site, visitors will be welcomed by garden spaces. The Center’s landscaped gardens will provide a sense of serenity and peace, offering a respite from its urban surroundings. IMAGE: IMARA HOUSTON INC. / IPL via The Ismaili.

The Center’s landscaped gardens will provide a sense of serenity and peace, offering a respite from its urban surroundings. The gardens will include tree canopies, fountains, shaded footpaths, flowerbeds, lawns and walkways. These will be spaces of solace, providing for the rejuvenation of the mind and the spirit.

In his remarks, Houston Mayor Turner reflected, “The Center will elevate, yet again, Houston on the world map as a global city where people of all backgrounds can come together. This notion of learning about and accepting differences amongst peoples and communities, what we call pluralism, is central to the Aga Khan’s vision for the survival of an increasingly interconnected world. The Ismaili Muslim community in Houston and the United States continues to actualize the values that these Centers aim to promote – friendship, service, and mutual understanding.”

Speaking at the ceremony, President Al-Karim Alidina of the Ismaili Council for the USA acknowledged the role of the various teams: “This project, would not be possible without the dedicated efforts of Farshid Moussavi Architecture, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, AKT II – Structural Engineer and DLR Group the architect and engineers of record. We also look forward to working with the construction manager McCarthy Builders and the numerous local contractors who will build and craft this building over the next three years.”

The Ismaili Center Houston will offer a new dimension to the cultural life of the city and a place of gathering for the Ismaili community where visitors will be welcome.

Date posted: November 19, 2021.

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Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or, if you don’t see it, click Leave a comment.

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. Please also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos.