Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1983 and 2014 Visits to the Parliament of Canada by Farouk B.K.S. Verjee

A QUANTUM LEAP

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Imam and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.), at the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Simerg Exclusive Photo: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) and 49th hereditary Imam at the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Simerg Exclusive Photo: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse. Please click on photo for enlargement.

By Farouk B.K.S. Verjee

Parliament Hill

27th February, 2014 will be etched as a momentous day in Ismaili history with Mawlana Hazar Imam becoming the first faith leader in 75 years to address the Joint Session of the Parliament of Canada, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. Our group of invitees who travelled to Parliament in a coach proudly sang “O Canada,” and as we reached the snow-covered lawns of the Parliament Building we saw the Imamat flag flying on the hill. We had truly arrived!

The Chamber of the House of Commons was filled to capacity. Shortly after 11 a.m as Mawlana Hazar Imam entered the House to rousing applause from both sides of the House, my eyes welled up in tears as I travelled back in time to the Silver Jubilee.

 Mawlana Hazar Imam signs the distinguished visitors books for the House of Commons and the Senate in the Canadian Parliament Rotunda as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen Harper, The Honourable Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons and the Honourable Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate, and other individuals look on. Photo: Post Media Clip


Mawlana Hazar Imam signs the distinguished visitors books for the House of Commons and the Senate in the Canadian Parliament Rotunda as Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his wife Laureen Harper, The Honourable Andrew Scheer, Speaker of the House of Commons and the Honourable Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate, and other individuals look on. Photo: Post Media Clip. See video link below.

I had been the Hon. Secretary of the Ismaili Council for Canada during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit, and was thinking back to how far we had come since his first visit to the House during the Jubilee in April, 1983. Pierre Trudeau was the Prime Minister, and Zulficar Lalji our National President. During that visit, Mawlana Hazar Imam was recognised from the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery by the speaker of the House, Madame Jeanne Sauve.

A unique and historical photo signed by the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, which was taken in the Prime Minister's Office during Mawlana Hazar Imam's Silver Jubilee visit to Canada in April 1983.  (l to r) -  Hon. Sec Farouk Verjee (National Council), Mr. Gerry Wilkinson (His Highness the Aga Khan's Secretariat, Aiglemont, France), Hon. Sec Mohamed Manji (Ontario Council), President Amirali Rhemtulla (Grants Council), Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan, President Mehboob Dhanani (Ontario Council) and President Zulficar Lalji(National Council). Canada. The full signature line note from the Prime Minister read:  To Farouk with the best of Memories . Trudeau. 1983. Photo: Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver,

This unique and historical photo signed by the late Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, was taken in the Prime Minister’s Office during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Canada in April 1983. (l to r) – Hon. Secretary Farouk Verjee (Aga Khan Council for Canada), Mr. Gerry Wilkinson (His Highness the Aga Khan’s Secretariat, Aiglemont, France), Hon. Secretary Mohamed Manji (Aga Khan Ontario Council), President Amirali Rhemtulla (Aga Khan Grants Council), Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Prince Amyn Muhammad Aga Khan, President Mehboob Dhanani (Aga Khan Ontario Council) and President Zulficar Lalji (Aga Khan Council for Canada). The full signature line note from the Prime Minister read: To Farouk with the best of Memories. Trudeau. 1983. Photo: Farouk Verjee Collection, Vancouver. Please click for enlargement.

After a raucous question period relating to a budget leak, the late Prime Minister invited Hazar Imam, Prince Amyn Muhammad and the accompanying Ismaili leaders to his office. He immediately asked if we would like to have a picture taken (see photo above). It was like being in seventh heaven! Prime Minister Trudeau praised our jamats’ engagement in all aspects of National Life, having arrived here only a decade earlier. It is a well know-historical fact that the Prime Minister facilitated the settlement of thousands of stateless Asians, including Ismailis, after they were forced to leave Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972. Referring to the rowdy question period earlier, the Prime Minister jokingly said it was like going to the dentist every day! The charismatic Mr. Trudeau with his usual panache was always at his very best with his sharp wit.

At one point I quipped that hopefully by the next Jubilee we would have Ismailis in the House. The Prime Minister with his typical shrug said, “Why not earlier?” Until recently we had Yasmin Rattansi (Liberal — Toronto) and Rahim Jaffer (Conservative — Edmonton) as Federal MP’s. Mobina Jaffer sits in the Senate.

Mawlana Hazar Imam's signature in the Visitor's Book from the signing ceremony shown in a previous photo. Credit: Post Media Clip.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s signature in the Visitor’s Book from the signing ceremony shown in a previous photo. Credit: Post Media Clip. See video link below.

Last week’s address by Mawlana Hazar Imam to both houses was extensive, and was punctuated by numerous applauses. It ended beautifully with the following quote from the Holy Qur’an:

“Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.”

Following the joint session of Parliament, Prime Minister Harper and Mawlana Hazar Imam signed an important Protocol of Understanding with the Government of Canada and the Ismaili Imamat in the Hallway of Honour, which was draped with our National flag and the Imamat flag. As part of this historical visit Mawlana Hazar Imam also signed the distinguished Visitors Books of the House of Commons and the Senate.

Massey Hall

On the following day, a very large gathering of some 2500 people from all walks of life attended Massey Hall in Toronto to hear both the Prime Minister and Mawlana Hazar Imam.

More than 2500 people from all walks of life and from different communities lined up on Friday February 28, 2014, in frigid temperatures outside Toronto's iconic Massey Hall Theatre to attend an event hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in honour of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

More than 2500 people from all walks of life and from different communities lined up on Friday February 28, 2014, in frigid temperatures outside Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall Theatre to attend an event hosted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in honour of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Nurin Merchant. Copyright.

As we huddled outside the iconic 120 year old building in extreme weather with a temperature of around -28c with windshield, to go through the security checks, I was impressed by the number of non-Ismailis who were lining up in good cheer to hear our Imam. One individual got a large canister of Starbucks coffee and handed it out freely to the freezing crowd!

Our jamat can be truly proud of the events at the Parliament and Massey Hall and we can now all look forward to the opening this year in Toronto of the magnificent Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and the Park.

Date posted: Friday, March 7, 2014.

Copyright: Farouk Verjee/Simerg. 2014.

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Click on  Aga Khan Signs Visitors Books to watch a brief 1 minute video of the signing ceremony.

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About the writer: Farouk B.K.S. Verjee served as the Honorary Secretary of His Highness the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada for a period of 5 years from 1979-1984, following which he became its President until 1987. His terms of office saw the foundation laying ceremony of the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre (a Silver Jubilee Project) by the Honourable Henry Bell-Irving, Lieutenant-Governor General of British Columbia, as well as its opening in 1985 by Canada’s Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney. Both the ceremonies took place in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of the Noorani family. In a farman made to the jamat on the opening day, Mawlana Hazar Imam declared the jamatkhana as Canada’s darkhana. 

Watch short 1 minute video of the signing ceremony, please click on story:  Conservatives Harvested Emails

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.