Farouk Verjee, Former President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Remembers Baroness Margaret Thatcher

By Malik Merchant, Editor

Recently, I had the immense pleasure of meeting and having a delightful lunch at Vancouver’s well-known Jambo Grill with (Itmadi) Farouk B.K.S. Verjee who was the President of His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Council for Canada during the 1980’s. During his term of office, he witnessed the opening of two major Ismaili Centres in the Western World, including one in his own jurisdiction in Canada, the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre located in Burnaby, British Columbia. He was, as Canada’s President, very much involved in every phase of the planning, construction, completion and opening of the magnificent Burnaby icon which was designed by Canadian architect Bruno Freschi.

Presidents of National Ismaili Councils around the globe are often invited to major functions and projects related to the Ismailis and the Ismaili Imamat, as community representatives for their respective countries, and Farouk Verjee was present for the historic opening of the London Ismaili Centre from which the following anecdote, with photo,  is published.

Farouk Verjee, left, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925 - 2013) at the opening of the iconic Ismaili Centre in London, England, on April 24, 1985. Looking on in the centre is Anil Ishani, then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

Farouk Verjee, left, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher (1925 – 2013) at the opening of the iconic Ismaili Centre in London, England, on April 24, 1985. Looking on in the centre is Anil Ishani, then President of the Ismaili Council for the UK. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver, Canada.

After being introduced to the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher by His Highness the Aga Khan, Verjee told her that the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby was nearing completion and that it would be opening in the coming summer, and he hoped she would visit it on her next visit to British Columbia. She asked,  “Which is the better building?” Farouk replied that one was a Cadillac and the other a Rolls! In a typical British fashion, the Baroness quickly responded, “I hope this one is the Rolls!.” Verjee found the Baroness to be a very amicable person.

The Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana  in Burnaby was opened a few months later in the same year on August 23 by the then Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the presence of His Highness, Premier Bill Bennett of the Province of British Columbia and other dignitaries including members of the Aga Khan’s family. Mawlana Hazar Imam, as His Highness is addressed by members of his community, designated the new Ismaili Jamatkhana as the Darkhana of Canada at a gathering of some 20,000 Ismailis on the same day at BC Place.

It may be of interest to note that Itmadi Farouk Verjee’s father was Kamadia of the London Jamat with Janmohamed Verjee as Mukhi. They were appointed to their positions in a talika (a written message) from Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877 – 1957), the 48th Imam of Ismaili Muslims, which is dated April 10, 1936. The newly appointed Mukhi and Kamadia were law students in the U.K. at that time. Janmohamed Verjee was the father of Amir Bhurio a well-known personality in the UK Ismaili community.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher (13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013) Performed the Opening of the First High Profile Ismaili Centre in the Western World

BARONESS MARGARET THATCHER AND HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

JULY 2008

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, warmly greeting Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the banquet hosted by His Highness in London on July 3, 2008 during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Photo: Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim Al Hussani Aga Khan, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, published by Islamic Publications Limited. 2012. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, warmly greeting Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the banquet hosted by His Highness in London on July 3, 2008 during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Photo: Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, published by Islamic Publications Limited. 2012. Copyright.

“…In 1957, there was only one Ismaili space here for congregational prayer – and that was on leased premises! Creating places of prayer as centres for community life was fundamental to ensuring the cohesion of the community, and there are now over 40 such places. Among them, of course, a central focal point is The Ismaili Centre, located in South Kensington. Having Baroness Thatcher with us tonight is particularly significant because The Ismaili Centre was opened by her in 1985…” –His Highness the Aga Khan, London, July 3, 2008.

JULY 2008

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the banquet hosted by His Highness in London on July 3, 2008 during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Photo: Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, published by Islamic Publications Limited. 2012. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam and direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, with Baroness Margaret Thatcher at the banquet hosted by His Highness in London on July 3, 2008 during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Photo: Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan, Golden Jubilee Souvenir, published by Islamic Publications Limited. 2012. Copyright.

Baroness Margaret Thatcher, who died on Monday, April 8, 2013 at the age of 87, was the  first woman to become U.K. prime minister and Britain’s only prime minister of the 20th century to win three consecutive terms. She was prime minister from May 4, 1979 until November 28, 1990. During her leadership, His Highness the Aga Khan had invited her to open the first high-profile Ismaili Centre built in the Western World.

APRIL 1985

His Highness the Aga Khan and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, arriving at the newly constructed Ismaili Centre in London’s South Kensington which was officially opened by her on April 24, 1985. Photo: Derek Rowe, Roshni Magazine, USA.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, arriving at the newly constructed Ismaili Centre in London’s South Kensington which was officially opened by her on April 24, 1985. Photo: Derek Rowe, Roshni Magazine, USA.

The following are excerpts from Baroness Thatcher’s speech made during the Centre’s opening in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan on April 24, 1985, almost 28 years ago.

“Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen, It gives me great pleasure to be here today for the official opening of this new Ismaili Centre in London and I am most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan for the honour he has done me in inviting me to perform the opening ceremony.

(….)

A sketch of the modern Ismaili Centre at Cromwell Gardens in South Kensingon, London, as depicted on invitation cards distributed in 1985. The Centre is the focal point of the Ismaili community in the UK  and was opened on April 24, 1985 Baroness Margaret in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan.

A sketch of the modern Ismaili Centre located at Cromwell Gardens in South Kensingon, London, as depicted on invitation cards distributed in 1985. The Centre is the focal point of the Ismaili community in the UK and was opened on April 24, 1985 by Britain’s then prime minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Jehangir Merchant collection, Vancouver, Canada.

“The building of this splendid new Centre, which will provide facilities for religious observance and for social functions within the Ismaili community, must reflect a sense of stability and confidence in the future.

“Although there has been an Ismaili community in this country for very many years, I know that many members came here comparatively recently, having been uprooted from settled and successful lives in East Africa: and for them, leaving East Africa must have been a sad, deeply disturbing and in some cases, terrible experience.

“But clearly the Ismaili community who made Britain their new home triumphed over these adversities and have found here a new sense of security and belonging. This Centre is a powerful symbol of that feeling of belonging. And in return Britain, like so many other parts of the world where there are Ismaili communities, benefits from the contributions that Ismailis make to society.

“It is a very great pleasure for us to welcome you, Madam Prime Minister, and so distinguished a gathering for a ceremony which is a most significant one for the Ismaili community: significant because this is the first cultural and religious center in the Western world to have been built specifically for the community’s requirements.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, London, April 24, 1985.

APRIL 1985

His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the opening of the newly constructed Ismaili Centre. Seated are  Briitish Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the President of the UK Ismaili Council, Anil Ishani. Photo: Derek Rowe, Roshni Magazine, USA.

His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the opening of the newly constructed Ismaili Centre. Seated are British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the President of the UK Ismaili Council, Anil Ishani. Photo: Derek Rowe, Roshni Magazine, USA.

“The Ismaili community in London is self-sufficient and independent, energetic and highly talented, contributing to society in every sort of way: and at the same time its powerful sense of community, both spiritual and cultural, provides a firm and unchanging basis for living.

“This stability and coherence of the Ismaili community is a valuable example.

(….)

“Britain certainly gains in many ways from the presence of the Ismaili community here, and London itself is enhanced by the construction of the new Centre, for which we are all most grateful to His Highness the Aga Khan. It is a magnificent contribution to the architecture of London.

“It fits in easily with the other fine buildings of South Kensington, yet it has its own distinctive character too.

“It seems to encapsulate the determination of your community to integrate your citizens into the society in which we all live, while at the same time retaining their own identity and independence.

“This Centre is a most attractive and beautifully designed structure and a welcome newcomer to the Royal Borough.

“It is a splendid testament to the vitality of the Ismaili community here, and it is with great pleasure that I now formally declare the Ismaili Centre open.” — Prime Minister Margaret  Thatcher, April 24, 1985.

“We are all greatly honoured at your being with us, Madam Prime Minister. It is a source of pleasure and pride to the Ismaili community that this Center should be situated in the heart of London, and we now look forward to its becoming a valuable addition to the distinguished neighbourhood.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, April 24, 1985.

APRIL 1985

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unveiling the opening foundation plaque of the London Ismaili Centre in April 1985 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, with President Anil Ishani of the Ismaili Council for the UK looking on. Photo: Ismaili Forum

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher unveiling the opening foundation plaque of the London Ismaili Centre on April 24, 1985 in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan, with President Anil Ishani of the Ismaili Council for the UK looking on. Photo: Ismaili Forum

Date posted: Monday, April 8, 2013.

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