Aga Khan Museum

Wow! The Aga Khan Museum Reopens to the Public on Saturday, June 27, 2020

by MALIK MERCHANT

When I am in Toronto, I walk through the Aga Khan Park virtually every day. I take the east entrance, and first walk around to the Ismaili Centre, sit on a bench by tree number 49, and if it’s evening time I contemplate. Often, I read newspapers. The other day I read my month’s supply of the Toronto Star and the Sunday New York Times — 4 hours under glorious sunshine, but protected by the shade of trees.

Ismaili Centre Toronto Dome
Ismaili Centre, Jamatkhana dome. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Then, as I cross a small pathway by the majestic dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana, I see the Museum 200 metres away, where a lone guard stands by the main entrance. Is he bored? I wonder. Thousands have been, for many many weeks. The Museum’s on-line programming has kept us going. But we miss the inside — the actual exhibits, the shop, the samosas at the café, the Diwan restaurant, the courtyard with its many performances, the design, colours and architecture of the building, the Bellerive Room, and the tunnel entrance downstairs that we walk through when we are parked underground! Yes, we do miss so many things, inside and outside the museum building, beautifully thought out by His Highness the Aga Khan and his younger brother Prince Amyn. The children especially love water, and the 5 ponds are empty. The geese who used to fly into the ponds in glorious harmony at around 6:00 AM have to take their bathing somewhere else — it’s truly a joy to watch them bathing in an acrobatic manner! Absolutely magical! For the rest of us, who walk by the 5 ponds or sit on the benches, there is no running water to soothe our senses! But all this changes on Friday, June 26!

Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park
Aga Khan Museum and Aga Khan Park. Photo: Aga Khan Museum.

Museum supporters have just received an email from the Aga Khan Museum’s Development Manager, Caroline Chan, inviting them to a special Friends and Patrons day on Friday, June 26, 2020, before it opens to the general public on Saturday June 27!

The supporters will be the first to see the Museum’s Sanctuary and Chrysalis exhibitions, which both explore the many dimensions of sanctuary, immigration, and migration. The guests have been invited to enjoy a complimentary beverage and cookies at the Courtyard Café and take in the summer blooms at the Aga Khan Park!

Aga Khan Museum, Sanctuary exhibition.
Sanctuary exhibition hall. Photo: Aga Khan Museum.

In line with provincial health directives, the visit will be a little different from what we have been accustomed to in the past. Special health and safety protocols have been put in place including a tool to conduct self-assessment for coronavirus, wearing of face masks, availability of hand sanitization stations and social distancing.

Carolin’es invitation ends with the slogan “Welcome back to where we all belong!”

In addition, the Aga Khan Museum’s CEO, Henry Kim, issued a statement on the reopening. Here are excerpts from his statement:

Dear friends, 

I would like to thank you for your patience and ongoing support during these challenging times. With restrictions on gatherings gradually easing, I am pleased to let you know that the Museum will reopen on June 27, 2020. As we rebuild our lives and livelihoods over the next few months, I do hope you can look to the Museum as a source of hope and inspiration. 

The safety of our visitors is our primary focus, and our intention is to make your return a safe and enjoyable experience. We have instituted a number of measures designed to protect you and our staff, so that during your visit, you can see beautiful art, be moved by learning, and enjoy live performances worry-free. 

As your hosts, we have a duty to ensure your health and safety — it is our highest priority……

The world has changed, and so have we. Reflecting what we have gone through together over the last few months, we have redrawn our programs for the remainder of the year and created Rebuild 2020, our commitment to reconnect and reinvigorate communities through the arts. Please do visit our website for more information on the many programs we have created to reignite your curiosity and spark your imagination. 

Whether you explore online or plan to visit in-person, you are welcome at the Aga Khan Museum. We cannot wait for your return.  

With gratitude, 

Henry S. Kim
Director and CEO, 
Aga Khan Museum 

Mr. Kim, I can assure you we have missed you more than you have missed us! It is us who can’t wait to get into the beautiful and inspiring space, which His Highness the Aga Khan created for millions to enjoy some 6 years ago!

Date posted: June 23, 2020.

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.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment . Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Malik Merchant Publisher Editor Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/ editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian based in Ottawa. Malik may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

Jamatkhana

Ismaili Centre Toronto Prayer Hall Simerg

By NAVYN NARAN

They entered the Jamatkhana prayer hall,
Sat on the patterned carpet or the seniors on chairs
Closed their eyes.
So some chatted to acquaintances
Ya Ali Madad “ki ayon?”
“Did you hear? Did you go…? Shukr
Mawla…”
Mukhi-Kamadiasaheban enter, we start.
Every day, 365.

A pandemic, unprecedented.
A change.
The place of prayer remained.
And was attended, at set time and others,
“All day, all night, every day, every night”
Outdoors and in, on screen and off,
They looked toward the esoteric qibla,
breathed the esoteric Qur’an.

The Jamatkhana holds a special place
and cannot be replaced
The place of prayer remains within
The soul is not erased.
“There are those I see with my eyes”….
Yes, there is that we see with our eyes,
And then, there is that we may feel in the heart.

Will the space of gathering open?
A sanctuary for so many,
A familiar space of belonging,
Connection, hope and light.
When will it open?
No one can speculate.
For it is, when the Imam decides.

“Remember, remember, remember,
And never forget
“Take your tasbirh, take your tasbirh”
Like your breath, in and out.
Only you can decide.
The exoteric and the esoteric

The Jamatkhana is a physical space
A sanctuary, a place of peace.

Date posted: June 22, 2020.

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.

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About the author: A regular contributor to this website, Dr. Navyn Naran was born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Anaar (1936-2017) and Badrudin Naran (1930-1979). She is currently in Toronto working in pediatrics and volunteering at the Aga Khan Museum.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click Leave a comment . Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Ismaili Youth Perspectives on Black Lives Matter and Social Justice Issues

By ALYNA NOREEN DADA
(Special contribution to Simerg)

Pluralism

We hear this word constantly and are reminded of the ethics of pluralism in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s, His Highness the Aga Khan, Farmans and speeches how we can integrate this in our everyday lives. What does pluralism mean and how can we, as Ismaili Muslims, understand our role in the Black Lives Matter movement and apply the tenets of our faith to make a meaningful contribution to improving the quality of life for our African-American community?

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Aga Khan address Global Centre for Pluralism Jean-Marc Carisse Barakah and Simerg
Guests listen as His Highness the Aga Khan delivers his remarks on May 16, 2017 at the inauguration of the international headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Photo: ©Jean-Marc Carisse.

His Highness stated in his speech on May 16, 2017 at the opening ceremony of the new headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, “Pluralism does not mean the elimination of difference, but the embrace of difference. Genuine pluralism understands that diversity does not weaken a society, it strengthens it. In an ever-shrinking, ever more diverse world, a genuine sense of pluralism is the indispensable foundation for human peace and progress.” [Bold emphasis added here, and in remainder of article]

We are grateful to be a part of a religious ummah which prides on serving others and the societies in which we live and also allows us to build upon our moral compass by leveraging our intelligence, experience and humility with guidance from the Imam. In order to create a pluralistic society, our duty as Ismailis must be to support the movement and black-led organizations, particularly when we see African-Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many others murdered unjustly when fighting for their own human rights.

However, this begs the question, why is anti-blackness so prevalent in the South Asian including our own Ismaili Khoja community and why do older generations continue to question the purpose of Black protests and police brutality that we see on a plethora of news channels every second of every day?

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President Kennedy with Civil Rights Leaders after March on Washington on August 28, 2963. Simerg,Library of Congress
Civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King (3rd from left), meet with President John F. Kennedy in the oval office of the White House after the March on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963. Photo: Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection /
US Library of Congress.

This is a turning point in history that should serve as an awakening: our presence in the United States is as a result of work of Black activists who often sacrificed their lives to achieve equal rights.  During the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, African Americans led by the notable Dr. Martin Luther King used protests and civil disobedience to help abolish some of the most racist laws in the US not only for themselves, but for all communities of color like South Asians. Ultimately, this led to the US government implementing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated the racist quotas and allowed South Asian communities to emigrate to the US. We should be indebted to the civil rights movement and black activists who eliminated major barriers that allowed us as a community to settle and thrive in various parts of the United States and beyond.

I believe that the youth in our community have an obligation to educate our first-generation immigrants on their microaggressions and inherent biases pertaining to Black people.

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Fortunately, many Ismaili youth activists from all over the world have come together to vocalize racial injustices, particularly in light of recent killings of Black men and women due to police brutality in the United States.

They have been doing a wonderful job mobilizing resources (that I will discuss in greater detail later in this article). The goal of these coalesced resources is to target larger audiences initially at a local level, ultimately expanding this to a national platform to highlight this systemic issue.

South Asian/East African youth who are typically first or second younger generation Americans can begin to have these conversations, starting with their families and escalating it to a wide scale audience. Citing guidance from Mawlana Hazar Imam is paramount as this will quickly resonate with the older members of our community. Given that we’re a group of multicultural individuals with distinctive backgrounds should serve as a great example of strength in diversity and solidarity. Islamic principles of inclusion, peace and generosity should be used as our guiding principles when engaging various constituents of the Ismaili Jamat.

(Please note, these activists’ groups are not associated with the official Jamati institutions. They are Ismailis who have a passion for social justice issues and grassroots organization and want to create a forum for discussion to help implement change within our community)

Ismaili Activists 

An Instagram Account was created to underscore social justice issues that exist in USA and bridge the gap with what Ismailis should be addressing within our community. The purpose of this social media platform is to provide an open forum to for members to have honest discussions about topics that are seldom talked about within Ismailis due to either lack of knowledge, awareness or inability to vocalize these issues. Please click on Ismaili Activists Instagram Platform.

Ismaili activists Instagram Simerg
Please click for Ismaili Activists on Instagram

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Ismailis for Black Lives Matter

A group of Ismaili youths from USA & Canada created a GoFundMe campaign, Ismailis for Black Lives Matter, an independent fundraiser set up with the purpose of involving the Ismaili Community in the discussion around racial injustices pertaining to African Americans.

This initiative symbolizes ally hood to the Black Lives Matter Movement and helps to educate members of the Jamat as well as mobilize the financial resources of the Ismaili community in accordance with the faith’s core principles. The campaign raised over $20,000 and was supported by platforms like Twitter and Ismaili Mail.

Please click on Ismailis for Black Lives Matter GoFund Me Website (all proceeds will go directly to Black Lives Matter Movement).

The team also created a library with talking points and helpful resources to further education on the Black Lives Matter Movement.

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Ismailis for Change

This Slack group is focused on taking action based off an open letter addressed to the Jamat written by Alia Jeraj, a Minnesotan Ismaili. The Slack work group, created by Zahir Surmawala, is comprised of Ismailis from a variety of professional backgrounds including: product managers, tech entrepreneurs, attorneys, diversity and inclusion educators, healthcare professionals, artists, interfaith preachers etc. These individuals have all been brought together with one common goal of educating the Jamat on social justice issues to build solidarity for the African-American Community. Please click Open Letter Resource Guide.

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Additional Resources Created by Ismaili Youth

1. Combating Implicit Racial Biases in the Education System

2. How to talk to your Ismaili Family About Black Lives Matter

3. The Model Minority Myth

4. Defunding the Police

I, along with my Ismaili brothers and sisters, hope you find these resources helpful and we continue to make the voices of our Black community heard.  

Date posted: June 18, 2020.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Alyna Noreen Dada portrait for Simerg

Alyna Noreen Dada is a healthcare professional working for a national physician organization that transforms the healthcare delivery experience for providers and consumers.

Originally from the New Jersey area, she is a graduate of The George Washington University in Washington, DC with a degree in public policy and public health and has been living in the District for a decade.

Alyna’s family hails from Kenya and South Africa by way of the UK and settled in the United States in the early 1980’s.

Living in DC for the last few years has certainly piqued Alyna’s interest in social justice and policy issues, particularly around racial injustice and the Black Lives Matter Movement. After all, she lives blocks away from the White House!

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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.

Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. LOC photo reproduced in Simerg

A lesson in Black history in a classroom in Jinja, Uganda: The case of Mississippi’s African-American James Meredith

Editor’s note: The following special piece for Simerg by UK’s Shiraz Pradhan is the second in Simerg’s series of articles on the subject of race, inequality, cultural diversity and pluralism. The first article in the series was President Kennedy’s address on June 13, 1963 to the Americans on the subject of Civil Rights. Shiraz’s piece has been adapted from a chapter in his latest novel “Michelangelo in Jinja” and contains illustrations that do not form part of his novel. Following the article, we have a video of a fascinating talk delivered at the US Library of Congress by Henry T. Gallagher that details the events, including the riot, that took place during the admission of the first black American student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. Mr. Gallagher was among the 20,000 troops that were dispatched by President Kennedy to restore law and order in Mississippi during the riot. He was also personally responsible for looking after the safety of Mr. Meredith.

Stranglehold on Neck of Black People

A frontispiece illustration in "The Child's Anti-Slavery Book…, New York, [1860], showing an African-American slave father leaving his family as he is sold away from his family. Photo: US Library of Congress. Reproduced in Simerg.
A frontispiece illustration in “The Child’s Anti-Slavery Book…, New York, [1860], showing an African-American slave father leaving his family as he is sold away from his family. Photo: US Library of Congress.

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

When James Meredith was being admitted to the segregated University of Mississippi as its first African-American student, the Uganda Argus carried a cryptic headline “Segregation Defeated”. This simple headline, in the months and years that followed, would change the history of Uganda and rest of Africa.

This event caused great joy in our part of the world and fueled the Ugandan ambition for independence. But in the next several weeks the story turned ugly as many white people of Mississippi and other southern states of the USA reacted violently to black encroachment on the white domain of university education and other civil privileges, forcing President John F. Kennedy to send troops in order to restore law and order.

Yes, it was that stark – blatant denial of black rights! The Meredith saga acted as a catalyst for the re-emergence of the Civil Rights Movement in the US originally started by Martin Luther King in 1954.

Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. LOC photo reproduced in Simerg
Photograph shows James Meredith walking on the campus of the University of Mississippi, accompanied by U.S. marshals. Photo: Marion S. Trikosko / US Library of Congress via U.S. News & World Report Magazine Photograph Collection.

Mr Batra, our history teacher. seized on the Meredith story to shift his focus from Western and Eastern philosophies to philosophy of action and human rights. He said that philosophy, search for God and reaching nirvana were only words if they did not improve human condition. “As important as God is,” he said, “concern for human condition is no less. We have a duty to our fellow beings. God would wish for that. Today, I will talk about people whose philosophies were based on actions to improve the conditions of their people. More importantly, I will speak about the struggles of black people of America.”

Our teacher electrified the class. Jinja Secondary School in those days was called Indian Secondary School. William Wilberforce and Joseph Bufumbiro where the first native Ugandans who had joined our class. We had become aware of black aspirations. Africa in the 1960s was a smoldering tinder, ready to burst into flames at the slightest wind. The apartheid in South Africa was a stranglehold on the neck of Black People of South Africa. The Sharpeville massacre of innocent blacks in South Africa was fresh in our minds. Ian Smith of South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) was ready to crush the hopes of black people for an equitable independence with one-man-one-vote and was conniving with the British to declare a minority White Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI), which he did in 1965.

The Mau Mau Insurgency for independence that lasted from 1952-1960 in our neighboring Kenya and the subsequent killings of the innocent Kikuyu people by the British was a pink-elephant in the room that no one wanted to mention.

Rolling a chalk-stick in his hand, Mr. Batra sensed our mood and continued. “We will shift our attention to that part of American history that was saddening. In the 1900s, the freed African-American slaves, still called by the derogatory term ‘negroes’, were struggling to gain equality.

Booker T Washington, Library of Congress Photo, reproduced in Simerg
Booker T. Washington, three-quarter length portrait, seated, facing front; created / published between 1880 and 1890. Photograph possibly by Harry Shepherd. Photo: Booker T. Washington Collection, US Library of Congress.

Booker T. Washington was the first freed slave who had gained high prominence in politics in Washington, DC in the early 1900s. He was an advocate for building African-American economic strength, which he argued would give them the desired freedoms and equality. At this date, although freed, the African-American had no voting rights and no protection under the law. The lynching of black people for petty crimes or in some cases no crimes had accelerated. The whites made sure that black enterprises failed.

Booker T. Washington revolted against this white tyranny and sought to protect the senseless lynching of black people. The constitution drawn-up by the founding fathers of US recognized equal rights but in reality the rights of the black people were ignored. With no legal avenues at his disposal Booker T. Washington agreed to the only compromise solution to protect the rights of black people and save them from murder and lynching. This solution came to be known as the Atlanta Convention.

Agreed in 1905, this illegal convention was never written down. In it, the white establishment demanded that black people forego voting rights, agree only to basic education with no right to university education and no equality in law. The last dehumanizing demand of white people was for a forced segregation of black people in return for limited safety in law and basic freedom.

A poster in the collection of US Library of Congress condemning the South African apartheid policies, reproduced in Simerg
A poster designed and created in 1976 by Wilfred Owen Brigade condemning the South African apartheid regime, and showing support of the international boycott. Photo: US Library of Congress.

The white people of South Africa learned apartheid from this page of US history. Although not fully satisfactory, the Atlanta Convention stopped the senseless lynching and persecution of the black people. This was the singular achievement of Booker T. Washington.

As an afterthought, Mr Batra added, “The importance of James Meredith story that you read in Uganda Argus is that it has taken fifty years for one black student to challenge the unwritten, unlawful Atlanta Convention. The reaction of the white people of the south US demonstrates that white attitude towards the black people has not changed since the abolition of slavery.”

In his characteristic fashion, Mr Batra had not finished jarring our senses with impactful and unjust events from history. He had saved the most powerful of these for the last. He concluded his lesson by saying, “You will study the life of Abraham Lincoln in your literature class next year. He was the 35th president of the US. He abolished slavery in the US and restored human dignity. You would think that this would be a joyful achievement for the US and for Mr Lincoln. Unfortunately, he was silenced like Mahatma Gandhi by an assassin’s bullet soon after proclamation of the abolition of slavery.”

Caption in this illustration by Udo J. Keppler reads: "President Roosevelt: Lincoln emancipated you, the people gave you citizenship and I'll protect your rights."
Caption in this illustration by Udo J. Keppler reads: “President Roosevelt: Lincoln emancipated you, the people gave you citizenship and I’ll protect your rights.” The illustration shows President Theodore Roosevelt, standing with right hand on the left shoulder of an African American man, standing to the left, and his left hand on a paper labeled “15th Amendment”; behind them is a statue labeled “Lincoln – With Malice Toward None With Charity Toward all” showing Abraham Lincoln standing at the top with freed African American slaves. Section 1 of the 15th Amendment of the American Constitution reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Section 2 then goes on to declare, “The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Photo: US Library of Congress.

I asked. “Sir, why does every great life end in a tragedy?” Mr Batra thought for a while, before he answered: “Historically the human was a hunter-gatherer. His survival depended on defending his territory and maintaining superiority over others by dehumanizing and enslaving the enemy. The ancient humans hunted in bands. Anyone not belonging to the band was an enemy. This is the human instinct. In this sense a band can be any group with common interest and common characteristics such as race, color or religion. Anyone that challenges this convention is an enemy who needs to be dealt with.”

African-Americans with wagon pointing guns at slave-catchers, Library of Congress photo reproduced in Simerg
An illustration entitled ‘A bold stroke for freedom in “William Still, The Underground Railroad” 1872, p. 125, depicting African-Americans with wagon pointing guns at slave-catchers. Photo: US Library of Congress.

In the coming years the situation in Africa became grim as the apartheid grip on South Africa became stronger, Southern Rhodesia sunk in to a quagmire and Algeria began a war for independence from its French master. It was this one lesson with Mr Batra that gave us the motivation to pick up banners to end tyranny in Africa and to fight for justice for Nelson Mandela when the illegal South African regime tried him for treason.

Watch an important webcast presented by the US Library of Congress

SUMMARY: In September 1962, James Meredith became the first African American admitted to the University of Mississippi. A milestone in the civil rights movement, his admission triggered a riot spurred by a mob of 3,000 whites from across the South and all-but-officially stoked by the state’s segregationist authorities. The escalating conflict prompted President John F. Kennedy to send in 20,000 regular Army troops, in addition to federalized Mississippi National Guard soldiers, to restore law and order. “James Meredith and the Ole Miss Riot” is the memoir of one of the participants, a young Army second lieutenant named Henry T. Gallagher, born and raised in Minnesota.

VIDEO: James Meredith & the Ole Miss Riot

Date posted: June 12, 2020.

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.

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About the author: Shiraz Pradhan is a professional engineer, writer and philosopher. He grew up in Uganda and attended universities in Kenya and Pennsylvania, USA, and graduated with advanced degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics. As part of his involvement in several mega-project across the world, he has lived and worked in several countries in North and South America, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Europe. This has given him a globalist world-view which flavours his writings. His first novel Dancing with Shadows was published in 2015. Michelangelo in Jinja is his second book. Summing his writing, Pacific Book Review said: “Pradhan’s work is the first one I’m aware that is actively Globalist.” Shiraz has a keen interest in Judaeo-Christian History, Islamic Studies, Sufism and philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads. With his interest and familiarity with several languages and dialects, Shiraz has specialized in the study of ancient and medieval devotional traditions of South Asia including the Nizari Ismail Ginans. He has published several essays and articles on these subjects, many of which have been published on this website. He is currently completing a book titles Amarapuri, the Abode of Eternity for publication in late 2020.  He is the Chairman of the Association of the Study of Ginans which specializes in the preservation, study and research of the ancient Ginans. Shiraz currently lives in the UK with his family.

June 11, 1963: President John Kennedy on Civil Rights, as 2 black students are admitted to University of Alabama after Governor Wallace initially blocks them

Compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

In a tweet last week, Calgary’s Mayor Nahid Nenshi said, “Like many of you, I have been profoundly disturbed by, well, everything this past week. We’ve been reminded of the reality of racism, here and everywhere.” It was in reference to George Floyd, the black American who died after a police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for 9 minutes. Calgarians turned out by their thousands to speak out against racism, as shown in the incredible photograph that was captured by Jon Yee.

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Calgary anti-racism rally. Photo: Jon Yee,
Calgary anti-racism rally. Photo: Jon Yee, who noted about the photo in his tweet, “I point at things and push a button. Sometimes I get lucky.”

On Friday, June 5, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a knee at an anti-racism protest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

With the hearts of hundreds of millions of people around the world still in grief over what happened to Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis on May 24, 2020, we start a series of posts on the subject of race, equality and cultural diversity with President John F. Kennedy’s address to the American people on civil rights. We are deeply indebted to the textual and audio-visual divisions of the Presidential Library and Museum of John F. Kennedy for providing us with links from which we have been able to draw some of the material that is posted below.

Events at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963

Federalized National Guard troops on the campus of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963 when African Americans Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for classes. Simerg photo via LOC.
Federalized National Guard troops on the campus of the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963 when African Americans Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for classes. Photo: Warren K Leffler / US Library of Congress.

At 8:00 p.m., on June 11, 1963, Americans watching TV and listening to the radio heard President John F. Kennedy say things about civil rights that no American president had said before.

He began the speech citing events that had taken place at the University of Alabama that afternoon when George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and stop the desegregation of schools, stood at the Schoolhouse Door of the University’s Foster Auditorium to try to block the entry of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, who had applied for admission to the University. The Governor specifically proclaimed at the door, “I stand here today as governor of this sovereign state and refuse to willingly submit to illegal usurpation of power by the central government.” At the time, Alabama was the only remaining state with no integrated public schools.

The two students were accompanied by Nicholas Katzenbach, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, who would keep president Kennedy and attorney general informed by phone.

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Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Photo: Warren K Leffler /US Library of Congress. reproduced in Simerg
Vivian Malone entering Foster Auditorium to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Photo: Warren K Leffler / US Library of Congress.

Katzenbach confronted the governor and handed him the president’s orders to step aside. When Wallace refused, the president was informed, and he signed Executive Order 11111 federalizing the Alabama National Guard. The commander of the Guard, General Henry V. Graham, politely asked the governor to move. Wallace then spoke further, but eventually moved, and Malone and Hood completed their registration, but Wallace believed he had won because America had witnessed his stand. That night, President Kennedy addressed the nation on television and radio.

He explained what happened in Alabama that day, and announced his commitment to a far-reaching civil rights bill. Please read the transcript below, followed by a link to the speech by President Kennedy. Teachers — and parents who have assumed the role of teachers during Covid-19 — will find the page curricular resources useful for further learning and education.

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Transcript and Video of President John F. Kennedy’s Address to the American People on June 11, 1963

23 August 1962: President Kennedy addresses the AMVETS convention in New York City by telephone. White House, Oval Office. Photo: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

By PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY

Good evening, my fellow citizens:

This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.

That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.

I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.

Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Viet-Nam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.

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President Kennedy and Julius Nyerere
17 July, 1961: President John F. Kennedy is seen with Prime Minister Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika at the West Wing Colonnade, White House, Washington, D.C. Also in picture is Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs G. Mennen “Soapy” Williams. Photo credit: Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.

It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.

The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing a high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one¬seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.

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This photograph was given to President John F. Kennedy by Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada (1963-1968), during his state visit to the White House on May 11, 1963.
This photograph was given to President John F. Kennedy by Lester B. Pearson, Prime Minister of Canada (1963-1968), during his state visit to the White House on May 11, 1963, exactly a month before the President addressed the Americans on Civil Rights.

The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?

One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.

We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or caste system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?

Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or State or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.

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President Kennedy reaches out to crowd in Texas, photo reproduced in Simerg
22 November 1963 President Kennedy reaches out to the crowd gathered at the Hotel Texas Parking Lot Rally in Fort Worth, TX, 22 November 1963. Photo: Cecil Stoughton / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Re-dress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives.

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.

Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.

But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.

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July 12, 1961: President John F. Kennedy meets with representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. photo reproduced in Simerg
July 12, 1961: President John F. Kennedy meets with representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public-hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.

This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do.

I have recently met with scores of business leaders urging them to take voluntary action to end this discrimination and I have been encouraged by their response, and in the last 2 weeks over 75 cities have seen progress made in desegregating these kinds of facilities. But many are unwilling to act alone, and for this reason, nationwide legislation is needed if we are to move this problem from the streets to the courts.

I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a State-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow.

Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court’s decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored. The lack of an adequate education denies the Negro a chance to get a decent job.

The orderly implementation of the Supreme Court decision, therefore, cannot be left solely to those who may not have the economic resources to carry the legal action or who may be subject to harassment.

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President Kennedy photo reproduced in Simerg
President John F. Kennedy meets with representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). President Kennedy; Ted Berry, member of NAACP Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation (later Mayor of Cincinnati) (second from right); others unidentified. Lincoln Bedroom, White House, Washington, D.C. Photo: Robert Knudsen, White House / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.

In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.

Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world they are meeting freedom’s challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.

My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all – in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a State university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.

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23 November, 1963 : President Kennedy’s wife and daughter kneel at the casket as the President’s body lies in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building. Photo: Abbie Rowe, National Park Service / John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Boston.

This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents.

We cannot say to 10 percent of the population that you can’t have that right; that your children can’t have the chance to develop whatever talents they have; that the only way that they are going to get their rights is to go into the streets and demonstrate. I think we owe them and we owe ourselves a better country than that.

Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.

As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.

We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.

This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.

Thank you very much.

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Video of President John F. Kennedy’s Address to the American People on June 11, 1963

Please click on image for speech.

Date posted: June 11, 2020.

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.

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Please also see our sister website’s Photo Essay: Remembering President John F. Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

Remembering Ismailis we have lost since Jamatkhana closures and during the coronavirus pandemic

Simerg invites Ismaili families around the world to submit short obituaries or tributes to members of their families who have passed away during the Coronavirus pandemic, either due to Covid-19 OR any other cause. Please read the first part of tributes by clicking here or on the photo below. Submit the tribute to the editor, Malik Merchant, at simerg@aol.com. The tributes we have published are good examples for a tribute you may wish to write for your family member.

Date posted: June 8, 2020.

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“The Last Anointing” – an amazing must read piece in the New York Times

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ismaili Muslim families whose family members are seriously ill or are in the last stages of their lives seek out their Jamatkhana leaders — the Mukhis and Kamadias — to offer some specific prayers, blessings and rites on the sick members of the family, who may never recover from the illness. Many of us familiar with our sacred and age old traditional ceremonies will be able to relate to this remarkable piece that I have just finished reading in the print edition of the Sunday New York Times (June 7, 2020). Because the piece relates to Covid-19, the newspaper offers it as a free-read on its on-line edition, without having to subscribe. Please read it!

Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Dr. Allaudin Daya, and Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji Simerg Featured Image

The 3 Unforgettable Ginan Singers in My Life: A Tribute to Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor,  Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

I consider Alidina Jamal, Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji to be among the list of my heroes for their inspiring and uplifting recitations of Ginans in East Africa and Canada. My first hero, in chonological sequence, was Alidina Jamal of Upanga Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I still recall the day when I brought home miserable results from my Form 1 final term exams. While I had stood 2nd in the class during the first two terms, my indulgence in cricket had set me back a few dozen places and I was at the bottom of the class – 42 out of 44! I had never seen my late dad, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018), as mad as he was on that day, but he was a loving dad too. After all the scolding — and more — that I received, there was one piece of advice he gave me that held true throughout my life.

He asked me to be in attendance in the Jamatkhana well before the first Dua was recited, so that I would avail myself of the truth and beauty of the holy Ginans composed by Ismaili Pirs centuries earlier. My dad desired that I should carry in my heart Muslim values that the Pirs taught, as well as gain an understanding of the Shia Ismaili faith, which are articulated well in the Ismaili Pirs’ compositions.

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Upanga Jamatkhana Dar es Salaam Simerg, Barakah
Upanga Jamatkhana, Dar es Salaam. Photo: Alkarim Pirmohamed

I followed the advice he gave me and started arriving at the Upanga Jamatkhana several minutes before the dusk Dua, as often as I could. This is how I was introduced to Alidina Jamal — and later to Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji — through his almost daily routine of singing numerous verses from Pir Hasan Kabirdin’s monumental composition, Anant Akhado. The recitation brought me an awareness of the magnificent Ismaili tradition of Ginans. I was then in my teen years. The importance of Ginans has been emphatically made in the following quote by Mawlana Hazar Imam at an evening of Ginan recitations or concert (mehfil) held in Karachi in December 1964.

“I would be surprised if ever such a big Mehfil-e-Ginan has ever been held…many times I have recommended to my spiritual children that they should remember ginans, that they should understand the meanings of these ginans and they should carry these meanings in their hearts. It is most important that my spiritual children…hold to this tradition which is so special, so unique and so important to my Jamat…I have been deeply happy tonight, deeply happy because I have seen the happiness in the hearts of my Jamat and this is what makes Imam happy” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Karachi, December 16, 1964, published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan.

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Mukhi Alidina Jamal Ismaili Ginan reciter Simerg
Mukhi Alidina and Mukhiani Roshankhanu Jamal. Photo: Amin Jamal Collection, Calgary.

I could see the joy on the late Mukhi Alidina’s face as he would seat himself comfortably on the floor in front of the main podium for a series of selections that covered numerous themes. His commencement of the Ginan with “Ashaji…” had the power to lift the spirit of this rather young and indifferent teenage boy, and take it to a higher plateau. The entire Jamat would join Alidina, as he gained strength, verse after verse, until he would finally come to a stop a minute or two before the first Dua. In the ten to fifteen minutes of a highly charged performance, our temporal and mundane mind-set was transformed to a spiritual plane. I should say the same for Allaudin Daya and Shamshu Bandali Haji. Through their passion for the Ginanic tradition, all three of these individuals brought the Jamat to the realization of life’s basic principles of patience, tolerance, honesty, avoiding ninda (backbiting) and good ethics (such as in Eji namata, khamta gurji sun rakho), the importance of morning and evening prayers (Eji sandhya veda, biji sandhya and triji sandhya), the Ismaili principles of service (Eji panch mi bari dasondh…) and of course, the obedience to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) and the guidance of the Imam of the Time. Their great recitations would prepare us for the prayers that would follow.

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Dr. Allaudin Daya
Dr. Allaudin Daya.

How did Allaudin Daya become my hero? When Karimabad Jamatkhana opened, it became my primary Jamatkhana, as it was a lot closer to our flat on United Nations Road than Upanga Jamatkhana was. The congregation was much smaller than Upanga’s, as was the Jamatkhana building itself, and I wondered if anyone would ever be able to come close to Mukhi Alidina Jamal’s recitations. A young medical student at the nearby Muhimbili Hospital by the name of Allaudin Daya stepped in to fill the void that I was beginning to feel. Dr. Daya’s recitations were superb, and he was a blessing for the new Karimabad Jamat. His eloquent recitations of the same Anant Akhado that I had heard from Mukhi Jamal, sent chills down my spine, gave me goose bumps and uplifted my spirit. I never dared ask him whether Mukhi Alidina had ever been his coach. I didn’t think so. He resided at the hospital quarters, and I would often meet up with him on the way to the Jamatkhana.

Once I was inside the prayer hall and seated, my eyes wandered to the centre podium area, hoping and wishing to see Dr. Daya rise from his place, and go to the stage to start the recitation like his senior and older compatriot Alidina Jamal, who by now had assumed the role of Mukhisaheb at Upanga Jamatkhana. On most days, Dr. Daya would be called up by the Mukhi, showing the respect the youth commanded in the new Karimabad Jamat. Once I left Dar es Salaam for London, England, the opportunities to attend Jamatkhana became scarcer, as Jamatkhana was a long (and expensive) tube ride away from where I was staying, and I was very busy with my studies. However, Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Dr. Daya had firmly instilled in me a deep love for Ginans. The tradition was solid in my heart.

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A portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji in his early days.
A rare portrait of Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji from his early years. Photo: Shamshu Bandali Haji Family Collection

Then several years later, upon my arrival in Canada and initial settlement in Edmonton, I wondered who would assume the roles of my two East African ‘Ashaji’ icons. To my absolute happiness and delight, the role was filled by none other than the late Alwaez Shamshudin Bandali Haji, who sang Anant Akhado in a truly masterful fashion. I might add that during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee year (1982-1983), the pleasant and cheerful Alwaez Bandali Haji, completed the entire Anant Akhado of several hundred verses by picking new verses, each time he got the opportunity to sing before the first Dua at Edmonton’s South Side Jamatkhana. In addition to Anant Akhado, Alwaez Haji’s singing of the Chogadiya made the Ginan an instant hit for me, so much so that one day, not having heard the Chogadiya for some time, I went to the Mukhisaheb and requested that Alwaez be invited to recite it. Alwaez, alas, was late that evening but there were numerous future opportunities that came along. 

These are the three individuals I shall never forget during my lifetime for their outstanding contribution to the Ginanic tradition.

“Meritocracy” Mawlana Hazar Imam once observed, “is not only limited to intellectual endeavours.” Mukhi Alidina Jamal, Alwaez Shamshuddin Bandali Haji and Dr. Allaudin Daya were meritocratic individuals in their own right who, through their inspiring singing raised the spirit of the Jamat, and have immensely contributed to the Jamats’ increased love for the Imam of the Time. To these three, I would like to add the name of Dr. Hafiz Jamal whom I used to hear reciting the verses of Anant Akhado in Ottawa. He is an outstanding Ginan reciter and an absolute joy to listen to.

I have been able to access the recitations of Anant Akhado by Shamshuddin Bandali Haji on the website of Ginan Central. Here are two tracks consisting of several verses from the Ginan:

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Please listen to more recitations at http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/recitals.php?type=album&id=104274

May the souls of Mukhi Alidina Jamal and Alwaez Shamshuddin Haji rest in peace and as for Dr. Allaudin Daya, I sincerely hope hear him at least once during the coming years. I also look forward to listening to Dr. Hafiz Jamal.

We invite you to share your thoughts about Alidina Jamal, Shamshu Bandali Haji and Allaudin Daya as well as many others like them whom you know for their outstanding Ginan recitations.

I end this piece with a verse of supplication by Pir Hasan Kabirdin from his Anant Akhado to the Imam of his Time, Mawlana Islam Shah. For Ismailis, each Imam is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in, as he is the bearer of the same Noor (Light) of Imamat.

Ashaji jugpati jugnath Sri Islam Shah
ham man tere umayoji
kayam svami ha(n)sajina raja
ja(m)pudipme shah avo
Ali ana(n)t ana(n)t
Ali anatejo svami shah
anata jo a(n)t tuhi jane ji

Oh Lord Islam Shah, the Lord and the Master of the Age;
My mind (and heart) supplicates to you;
You are the eternal Lord and the King of the soul;
Come to the Indian subcontinent;
Ali You are eternal and unlimited, Ali You are the
Lord of unlimited souls or eternity;
You are the only Knower of the limits of the unlimited.

Date posted: June 7, 2020.
Last updated: July 1, 2020 (photo of Allaudin Daya added)

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.

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We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Malik Merchant Publisher Editor Simerg Barakah and Simergphotos

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of Simerg (2009), Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). A former IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to small family projects and other passionate endeavours such as the publication of this website. He is the eldest son of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions together for several decades in professional and honorary capacities. His daughter, Nurin Merchant, is a veterinarian. He may be contacted at Simerg@aol.com.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Jehangir Merchant in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique

Ismaili doctrines of faith: Short lessons from the writings of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant: (1) Tawhid or Unity of God

Introduced by Malik Merchant
(Publisher-Editor,  Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

Alwaez Rai Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) — picture above with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan — is fondly remembered everyday single day by his beloved wife of 66 years, Alwaeza Raisaheba Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant, and all her family members.

He passed away 2 years ago on May 27, 2018 at approximately 1:15 AM. We pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Jehangir  and Maleksultan Merchant
Jehangir and Maleksultan in front of a large
portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

My dad was a prolific writer. In England, he edited the flagship Ismaili religious magazine, Ilm, for several years while he served with my mother with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB). His articles related to the faith, history, principles and doctrines of the Ismaili faith, along with insightful interpretations of Qur’anic verses, as well as moving narratives of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Mubarak visits to different parts of the world, richly contributed to the Jamats’ understanding of the faith. The closure of Ismaili religious magazines in the very early 1990’s created a significant void in the dissemination of religious material that was deemed to be “official.” I am referring here to insightful articles in monthly or quarterly magazines published by ITREBs around the world, and not to literary and scholarly books, which the Institute of Ismaili Studies has done a fantastic job of publishing over the past 30 years.

From the time this website, Simerg.com, was launched in 2009, Alwaez Merchant was able to devote time to editing and adapting his Ilm pieces for publication on this website for the benefit of readers on the World Wide Web. Links to those pieces are provided at the end of this article. Ill-health prevailed, and he was no longer able to fully complete the remainder of his Ilm pieces for publication on Simerg.

Ilm Ismaili religious magazine edited by Jehangir Merchant
Ilm magazine – one of Alwaez Jehangir’s magnificent contributions to the Ismaili literary scene. Jehangir edited and wrote extensively for the journal.

Now, I am going to take his unpublished essays from Ilm — many of which were quite lengthy — and share them as short pieces of learning over the coming weeks and months. We begin the Jehangir Merchant series, if I may call it that, with the Concept of Tawhid, which forms the first component in his essay entitled “Fundamental Aspects of Ismaili Doctrine.” It appeared in Ilm, Volume 7, Number 1 & 2, July-November 1981, pp. 2-12.

Tawhid

By (LATE) JEHANGIR A MERCHANT

Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant, Ismaili missionaries
Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant served the Imam of the Time and Ismaili institutions for more than 60 years.

In all Shi‘a tariqahs of Islam, Tawhid (belief in the Unity of God), Nubuwwah (Prophethood), Imamah (the Institution of the Divine Guide) and Qiyamah (Day of Judgement), are considered as the doctrines of the faith. My brief explanation of each of these 4 doctrines of faith for publication on Simerg are based on a much broader discussion that I provided on these subjects in my original article published in Ilm magazine, which also included a detailed historical background on the subject of Imamat.

The belief in the Unity of God (Tawhid) is the cornerstone of faith (Iman) for all Muslims.

It is articulated in the pronouncement: La ilaha ill-Allah: “There is no god but Allah.”

This doctrine of Unity of God is beautifully summarised in Sura Tauhid, popularly known as Suratul Ikhlas (112:1-4), which says: “Say, He Allah is One; Allah is Absolute, Independent. He did not beget nor He was begotten and there is none like unto Him.”

We know, however, that the Holy Qur’an, ascribes a number of attributes to Allah. God is spoken of as ar-Rahim (The Merciful), al-Wadud (The Loving), al-Sami (The Hearing), al-Barir (The Seeing) etc. The Qur’an also talks about Wajahullah (the Face of God), Yadullah (the Hand of God), and so on.

While there are numerous references which attribute human qualities to God in the Holy Qur’an, the scripture states in very plain words that Allah is above all material conceptions.

For example, the Qur’an says: “Vision comprehends Him not and He comprehends all vision.” (6:104) and “Nothing is like a likeness of Him.” (42:11)

The Unity of God (Tawhid) implies that God is One in His Dhat (essence) and One in His Sifat (attributes).

The concept of Tawhid appears in the works of many Ismaili dais (missionaries) and philosophers. Their works on the subject place an emphasis against anthropomorphising God, that is, giving human attributes to God.

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Fatimid coin Imam al-Zahir
The inscription in the inner margin of this Fatimid coin minted during the reign of Imam al-Zahir reads: la ilah illa / allah wahdahu / la sharik lahu; “no god but God, unique, He has no associate.” Photo: David Museum, Copenhagen.

God is declared in their works as One, Absolutely Transcendent, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Incomprehensible and a Quality-less Being. A Ginanic verse makes this clear:

La thi un dhat kahave, tanki baat kahi nav jai; Dubki le le gotha khave, Pir Paighambar tai na pavey

Translation:

The Dhat [essence] is from nothingness and nothing can be said about it. Pirs and Prophets delve deep in this knowledge but in vain.

The concept that God has no qualities difficult to grasp, because the human mind cannot comprehend a total lack of qualities, a concept which it has not experienced before. We cannot imagine a man, if we can for the moment call such a being a man, who has no colour, no shape, no size, no special existence, who is neither alive nor dead.

Hence, the notion that God is quality-less becomes unintelligible and the Qur’an, therefore, attributes a number of qualities to God. If we consider the qualities applied to God and examine them carefully we find that the grounds for all of these attributes lie in our own experience of this material world.

Pir Shiahbu’d-din Shah writes in his work Risala dar Haqiqati Din (True Meaning of Religion):

“…people speaking about God (Haqq) attribute to Him any such (perfections) as they can imagine. For instance, regarding blindness as a defect, they say about God that He sees everything. They regard ignorance as a defect, and thus say that God is All-Knowing. Thus, whatever they find in themselves as a vice and defect they attribute to God a perfection opposite to that. Most probably, even animals create their own God free from their own defects, ascribing to Him (the opposite) perfections. Imam Muhammad Baqir says that the tiny ant probably imagines his god as having two stings, because it regards the possession of only one sting as a defect.”

So, when the Qur’an attributes qualities to God, it is to help convey to man the idea of God and not that these terms express the true nature of God, or that they are perfect indicators to His Being.

Ismaili doctrine upholds the belief in a single transcendent Being, whose nature is beyond the comprehension of the human mind and who is inexplicable. This is because our definitions are based on our experiences of the material world, and these definitions cannot be applied to this Being.

Pir Shihabu’d-din Shah, again in his previously cited book, says:

“All that is beyond thy imagination, Is merely the limit of thy fantasy, not God. Wisdom can attain a knowledge of His Substance Only in the case if a piece of straw can sink to the bottom of the sea. And Imam Ja’far-as-Sadiq said: “What God is, Man cannot think: and what Man thinks God is not. Yet man lives by God, and God is nearer to him than himself.”

Thus, in the Doctrine of Tawhid, lsmailism completely avoids any form of anthropomorphism and remains purely monotheistic.

We will continue our next discussion on another Shia doctrine of faith, namely, Nubuwwah or Prophethood which will then be followed by Qiyama (the Day of Judgement) and Imamah (the hereditary leadership in Islam).

Date posted: May 27, 2020.

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.

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The following are links to Alwaez Jehangir Merchant’s articles that have been published on this website:

  1. Ghadir-Khumm and the Two Weighty Matters (a Simerg original, I Wish I’d Been There Series)
  2. An Esoteric Interpretation of the Mi’raj (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  3. The Establishment of the Fatimid Caliphate (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  4. The Parable of Moses and Khidr in the Holy Qur’an (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  5. Jehangir Merchant’s Thank You Letter to Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi (a Simerg original, Thank You Series)
  6. Text and Explanation of “Eji Shah Islamshah Amne Maliya” (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  7. The Story of Noah’s Ark in the Holy Qur’an (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  8. A Translation and Brief Commentary of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan “Jem Jem Jugatsu Preet Kareva” (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  9. The Frontispiece of the Ismaili Jamatkhana in Mashhad, Iran (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  10. “One Jamat” (proposal, with Malik Merchant)
  11. The 1979 London Didar: The Experience (adapted from Ilm magazine)
  12. Imams Muhammad al-Baqir and Ja’far as-Sadiq on Love for the Imam (with Alnoor Bhatia, adapted from Ilm magazine)

Also see:

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Well I Never….

 

By ROXANA JAFFER

Well I Never …

Order of the day: “Stay at home”
An opportunity to relax n catch up with sleep

COVID 19, you came to destruct,
And Lockdown 20, you came to obstruct

Or a chance to question His existence deep
No resistance now in the discovery of NUR?

An – NUR the sacred sound of the universe
Found in every nook and cranny like a poetic verse

Well I Never …

To the garden perambulating the home
Round and Round; looking for the Unknown

As Adam found Eve in His Garden of Eden
Many jewels in my garden; blatant to my Oblivion

All speaking in color and shape, flower bush and tree
Iqra – Read, Read what you know not, come set yourself free

Learn the sound of NUR through the birds of the sky
Recite with the mind; find the power of the butterfly

Well I Never …

NUR exists; in the many shades of red and pink
Juxtaposed with variegated greens all in sync

Green berries flowering to pink; Honey bees in search of nectar
Confused with beautiful butterflies on their path as protector

Cant but just appreciate what I never saw before
Blessings manifold of the birds in their original couture

The Neem, the Lime, the Chikoo & Moringa opening their boughs
Guests invited to perch are the parrot, the dove and the crows

Well I Never …

Look everywhere and there is diversity in total harmony
Not castles in the air, but the moon dancing round the planets

Under the moonlight am I, a whirling dervish on the lawn
Moving to the rhythm of NUR, not aware when night becomes dawn

Twirling in happiness becoming submerged in His current
He who is above all else, only His cell is totally apparent

COVID 19, did you really come to destruct?
Really you helped to right the wrongs and reconstruct

Date posted: May 26, 2020.

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.

______________________

Roxana Jaffer, Simerg

Kenyan born Roxana Jaffer, is an accountant by profession, and currently lives in the UAE. She is striving to make the world a better place, and is the founder of the NGO -– ‘abc: an Advent for Building human Capital’ (see www.myabcfoundation.org) which accords English to the unemployed in Hunza and Delhi, resulting in a 70% impact as youth get growth.

Her creativity is taking a different turn as she expresses spirituality through poetry she pens. We were delighted to welcome her into the Simerg fold with her recent composition Devotion Through Dhikr.

______________________

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please use the feedback box which appears below. If you don’t see the box please click please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.