BY HASAN ESSA
It is with deep sadness that I wish to record the death of a personal friend and mentor, Rai Hussein Khanmohammed, who passed away peacefully on September 23, 2013, at the age of 80 at his residence in Los Angeles, California. He was born in Rangoon, Burma, on September 20, 1932. He is survived by his wife, Sakerkhanoo, sons Amjad and Imtiaz, and daughter Shirin Malik, as well as their respective families including grandchildren Shayan Malik, Anisa, Kayle, Zayaan and Zaanir. They all reside in North America.
Rai Hussein Khanmohammed’s significant contribution to the jamat was recognized in a well-organized condolence and memorial meeting in his loving memory arranged by the ITREB (Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) of Pakistan on Tuesday, October 8, 2013. The meeting was attended by members of his family as well as ITREB, waezeen, scholars and leaders of the jamat.
Numerous leaders and colleagues recalled his magnificent services to the jamat, which began in Burma when he was appointed as the youngest serving honorary secretary of the Aga Khan Council of Burma during the troubled times of nationalization of private trade in 1963 by military junta. This government measure resulted in the Burmese jamat of about 1500 members being uprooted, and seeking shelter in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). He assisted the jamat by ensuring that the numerous communiques issued by the Burmese Government were well understood within the jamat, and he also helped them to obtain the necessary visas for the jamat to safely exit the country. He was instrumental in conveying guidance of the Mawlana Hazar Imam to the members of jamat, which protected the jamat and saved them from further hardships and loss of capital funds. Rai Hussein’s leadership left him in a dangerous situation but despite threats, he did not leave the country until most of the jamat had already left. Once in Bangladesh, Rai Hussein Khanmohammed played a prominent role in resettling the hundreds of Burmese Ismaili families who had settled in Dacca and other cities. Later, he became chairman of the Al-Matin study circle to promote literary pursuits within the jamat.
Rai Hussein was perhaps one of the least well-known Ismailis who ever lived as he never sought the spot light for himself. He was the epitome of Imam Sultan Mahomed’s well-known motto, “Work, No Words.” In a silent manner he played a pioneering role in many of the Jamat’s activities in the religious sphere. His passion and thirst for knowledge of Islam and the Ismaili faith was enormous, and individuals who came to know him dubbed him as the “Encyclopedia of Ismailism.” In a tribute, Professor Ali Asani of Harvard University, author of the Ismaili devotional literary work “Ecstasy and Enlightenment,” said that he had known Rai Hussein Khanmohammed for over 30 years, and found him to be remarkable man of his time. Asani added that Rai Hussein was well-read, learned, and passionate about knowledge, and that he also served the Imam and the jamat with unusual dedication and integrity.
After settling in Pakistan in 1971, Rai Hussein Khanmohammed played a pioneering role as a member of Ismailia Association (now ITREB) and helped to develop the feasibility for the Manpower Training Project (MTP) as well as assisted in the preparation of its 5 year plan for submission to Mawlana Hazar Imam. The MTP created a batch of waezeen and scholars, most of whom continue to serve the cause of the tariqah to this day. He participated in organizing a major ginan conference and also led numerous important institutional activities. When Mawlana Hazar Imam delivered the Presidential Address at the Seerat Conference during his visit to Pakistan in 1976, he gave a singular honour to the Ismailia Association by presiding over its meeting in Karachi. Rai Hussein participated in this meeting which resulted in specific guidance to the institution during a question-answer session.
Rai Hussein Khanmohammed migrated to the USA in 1987 and continued with his exceptional services by visiting numerous jamatkhanas and enlightening the jamat with the essence of the faith. Despite his ill-health over the past few years, which left him partially blind, his enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge and sharing it with others never faded. He would help members of the jamat who approached him for references and religious material by doing his utmost to locate and provide the sought after material. Despite his busy schedule, he ensured that his involvement with his family members continued to receive the highest priority. He took a keen interest in the affairs and welfare of his family. It is gratifying to note that his family members are continuing the legacy of the late Rai, and provide services to the jamat in numerous forms.
Rai Saheb and I grew up together in Burma and his loss as a friend and mentor has deeply touched me. One memory that stands out for me is his great motivational spirit. He would often quote Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s guidance to the Ismailia Association that it was the true successor of former dais and fidais, and the late Rai would fervently ask everyone to follow in the foot-steps of the great Ismaili dais and fidais such as Nasir Khusraw, Hasan bin Sabah and many others.
We pray for the eternal peace of departed soul of late Rai Hussein Khanmohammed and end this brief tribute to the life of Rai with the Qur’anic verse:
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un — “Surely we belong to Allah, and to Him shall we return.” — Holy Qur’an, Sura al-Baqara, 2:156.
Date posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014.
Copyright: Hasan Essa/Simerg.
About the writer: Like many other members of the Ismaili jamat in Burma, Hasan Essa left Burma during the extreme measures that were introduced by the Burmese regime in 1963, and settled in Bangladesh where he started an import-export business. He then migrated to the USA with the help of family sponsorship, and worked in a supervisory role in a mortgage company for many years. Within the Ismaili community, he served on the Social and Welfare Board of the Los Angeles Aga Khan Ismaili Council, and helped with the early settlement of the jamat from Africa and the Indian sub-continent. He was the founding member of the Los Angeles Aga Khan Orchestra, and also served the seniors of the community by organizing trips to Canada and Europe. Currently he operates a small family business in Santa Monica, California. He also actively engages himself on the internet, and contributes as a writer and moderator of newsgroups.
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No amount of short comment would ever be suffice to describe the towering personality of Rai Hussain Khanmohammed, my beloved father-in-law. After losing my father, immediately after getting married, daddy, that is what I used to call him, left no stone unturned to ensure that I never felt the loss of my real father. Talk about knowledge, more specifically Islam and Ismailism, he was a walking library. Whenever his beloved daughter and my lovely wife, Shirin, would recite any ginan in Jamatkhana, daddy would always pick holes in the way Shirin would pronounce some of the verses of the ginans. I would end by stating that daddy was a true follower of the Arabic Quranic Verse ربِّ زِدْنِي عِلْماً Rabbi Zidni Ilma (Allah Increase me in Knowledge).
May Almighty keep him in His close proximity..aamin. I was very fortunate to be his student when he was board member of the ITREB, Pakistan and responsible for academic dept. of Joint Waezeen Prog. I was proud to call him my godfather and mentor. Not only he was well read, but was able to explain what he read in his talks without notes, so fluently. Hussainbhai,you will be missed by many.