Editor’s note: In Part II of a special series on the 49th Ismaili Imam’s visits to numerous countries that he undertook during 2015, we cover India (April), Canada (May) and Greece (September). Please click A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece.
Letter From Publisher
By Abdulmalik J. Merchant
Simerg’s new feature Short Historical Insights is intended to make history educational, interesting and stimulating for readers through anecdotes, facts, stories as well as images related to Ismailis and their Imams, in no more than 500 words. Information in the series will be unearthed from a maze of documents, including those that are not easily accessible due to their sheer size or location, or material which, in the broader scope, would be of interest for research on specific themes. Of course, we will also rely on other well-known (or lesser-known) treatises and texts as well as libraries and museums for this new feature.
For the first episode, we go to a massive work called The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi and reveal a story that appears in Volume 33, which is dedicated to the period from September 1925 to February 1926 in Gandhi’s life. During his visit to Mundra in Gujarat, the father of India, is frustrated with members of his own faith with respect to their treatment of the Untouchables* and, somewhat grudgingly, praises the work of one Khoja (Ismaili) named Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb, who has unselfishly built a school for the outcast children.
This anecdote, by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, is an excellent example of the Ismaili spirit of loyalty to their countries of birth or adoption, a matter which Ismaili Imams have placed on their followers as one of their two principal obligations during their lifetime, the other being their loyalty to the Ismaili Muslim faith. Ibrahim Pradhan was an exemplary Ismaili in this regard, and we are pleased to provide a short account of his contribution from Mahatma’s own two speeches made in 1925.
Readers are invited to contribute to this new feature by submitting their pieces to Simerg@aol.com. We always acknowledges letters and submissions from non-anonymous sources.
Ibrahim Pradhan’s Meritorious Deed As Recorded By Mahatma Gandhi
102 – Gandhi’s Speech at Mundra, November 1, 1925, page 177 – 181
(It is noted by Mahadev Desai that Mahatma Gandhi began his speech with “Antyaja brothers and sisters, their sympathizers, and other Hindu brothers and sisters”)
” ….It is wrong to invite me to a place where the entire public believes in untouchability. It is an insult to invite me to a place where the untouchables are treated with nothing but contempt. After having come here, I heard of the school for the untouchables. I felt that at such a place the Antyajas [lit. the last born – ed] would receive service. I would congratulate Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb on the school but the Hindu public deserves no such congratulations. Its existence puts the Hindus to shame. It is a matter of shame for me if a Muslim builds a Siva temple for my benefit. I was pleased to see the school’s activity of spinning and weaving; however, I immediately felt that neither I nor the Hindus could take credit for this meritorious deed. I can have no sense of satisfaction if a Muslim recites the Gayatri mantra instead of me. I can only feel satisfied when a Brahmin comes along and offers to recite the Gayatri for me. However, in this case, the Khojas are doing the work that should be done by Hindus. Here, no one is bothered in the least about the Antyajas. I do not see any non-Antyajas except the guests sitting among the Antyajas here before me. Even those who go around with me during the day have abandoned them and are seated in the enclosure for high-caste gentlemen. If you could rip open my heart today, you would find it crying — ‘O Lord! Could this be the Hindu dharma, where no one cares for the Antyajas? Is there not a single person in the town who will come to their rescue’?…
103 – Gandhi’s Reminiscences of Kutch, November 1, 1925, pages 181-187
I had my bitterest experience in Mundra. I found only hypocrisy, insincerity and play-acting there. Even Muslims were made to sit in the enclosure for those who supported untouchability as if they too believed in it. Hence, only my companions and the Muslim volunteers remained in the section reserved for Antyajas. Many among the Hindu volunteers, though they claimed that they did not believe in untouchability at all, were nevertheless kept in the enclosure meant for those who did believe in it.
There is a school for the Antyajas in Mundra but it is a philanthropic Muslim gentleman, Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, who runs it at his own expense. The school may be regarded as good up to a point. The children are kept very clean. The building is in the centre of the city. The children had even been taught Sanskrit verses, [which they recited] in a broken accent. Spinning, carding, ginning and weaving were taught in the school itself. Only children’s clothes were not made of khadi [handspun and hand-woven cloth – ed.]; however, the organizers had gone in for the cloth believing it to be pure khadi. The reader might perhaps conclude that this school would give me some satisfaction. It gave me no satisfaction but caused me grief, rather, as the credit for it would not go to a Hindu. I have already mentioned the name of the gentleman who finances it.
The gentleman in charge of this school is the heir of the Aga Khan in Mundra. Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan deserves all praise for his charity, as I was informed that this school is not being run for the purpose of converting the untouchables or schoolchildren to Islam, but in order to enable them to make progress as Hindus. The people of Mundra also informed me that the gentleman in charge, Mauledina Meghji was a Vedantin [belonging to a school of Indian philosophy – ed.] and a learned person. All this must be regarded as satisfactory. However, what is the contribution of the Hindus? Untouchability is an ugly blot on the Hindu religion, it is a sin. The Hindus alone can do prayaschitta [atonement for sins] for it. The dirt on my body will go only when I myself remove it.
This institution adds to the prestige of Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, and to that extent to the shame of the Hindus.
Date posted: July 26, 2015, word count, appx. 400 words.
Notes and references:
*Untouchables are outcasts—people considered too impure, too polluted, to rank as worthy beings. Prejudice defines their lives, particularly in the rural areas, where nearly three-quarters of India’s people live….Although the Indian constitution makes caste discrimination illegal, Untouchables living at the bottom of society are subjected to indignities” — from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0306/feature1/
See complete volume 33 at http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL033.PDF.
The year is 1936, and the setting for a serious dialogue between a brother and his sister is Mumbai’s famous Chawpati on Marine Drive – with the continent of Africa in the distant horizon, thousands of miles away….
“To Africa,” she said.
She looked at his startled face and continued, “That’s your future. So many of my friends have gone and bought shops or farms, or found work on the railways…You know for many years our Imam, Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah, has been issuing firmans to us Ismailis to migrate to Africa. Now the Ismailis have built large jamatkhanas in Africa where people can pray and meet freely every day. You won’t be alone. When I heard one of his firmans…I knew it was a message meant for you. It’s your way out.”
PLEASE CLICK: “Conversations on Three Continents”
To acquire a Kindle version ($9.11) or a paperback copy ($11.66) at Amazon please click on Conversations on Three Continents.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela
By Zulfikarali M. Khoja
(special to Simerg)
My diverse background has provided me with three world-class heroes. As a Gujarati speaking Canadian, Ghandi stands out as my hero. The Mahatma found the roots of his policy of non-violence in South Africa where he experienced racism in its extreme form. There is a saying that India gave South Africa Ghandi and in return South Africa gave India the Mahatma.
As a proud Canadian I found my hero in Lester Pearson, Nobel Prize winner for Peace. It is while sitting in a geography class in a segregated school in Pretoria that I was introduced to this figure who originated the Blue Helmeted Peace Keepers to the world. At that time I dreamt of going to Canada. My dream came true!!
As a South African born Canadian there is so much one could write about Madiba, My Hero! I shall restrict myself to two things.
His capacity for forgiveness was so deep and pure that it is difficult to imagine. I was fortunate enough to visit Robben Island. The small cell he spent 27 years and the conditions under which he had spent day after day breaking rocks was heart breaking. Tears rolled down my face as I stood in the middle of the quarry. Yet under these awful conditions he stood as a role model for his fellow prisoners, he studied at night, including Afrikaans, the language of his oppressors. How else would he be able to communicate with his prison guards and understand his enemy? How else would be able to negotiate without knowing his enemy. He believed very strongly that forgiveness does not change the past but opens the future. A future for all South Africans and for the world where is civil strife.
In one of the interviews he was asked what did you miss the most while in prison. His response was the interaction with children. Soon after he became the President of new South Africa he established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF). Fifty percent of his salary was donated to establish this fund. With headquarters in Johannesburg the NMCF has affiliates in various parts of the world, including Canada.
I was fortunate to be the NMCF Chapter Chair for Ottawa. This opportunity to share the ideals and vision of Madiba to the youth of Ottawa through Youth Conferences on the Hill and extra-curricular activities in school was an enriching experience beyond measure. The Brookfield High School Choir sang South African songs throughout the city and at a variety of public events. This was only one of the ways in which Madiba’s vision was shared with Ottawa citizens.
As an educator and mediator I have been fortunate to have had these lifetime enriching experiences which I share with my children and especially my grandchildren. They are already following in their grandfather’s footsteps.
Date posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013.
Copyright: Zulfikarali M. Khoja.
Please click: RENEWAL AND RENAISSANCE – TOWARDS A NEW WORLD ORDER
“The jamatbhai…was blind and for ‘wudu’ he used to draw water from a nearby well. Gulamhusen made sure that he was there to help the jamatbhai in the daily ritual. Through acts such as this, Gulamhusen began to serve the jamat of the town”….Read More
Simerg’s Volunteer Series (previous stories):
- His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to India: For His Ismaili Followers and Volunteers, “A Dream Come True” and “An Experience of Being Lifted Away to Another World”
- Stories of Ismaili Volunteers: An Eye Surgeon’s Courageous Journey to Chitral for His Nazrana of Time and Knowledge to Mawlana Hazar Imam
- The Spirit of the Ismaili Volunteers at an Extraordinary Place
- Volunteers, the Unsung Heroes of the World-Class 2008 Ismaili Golden Jubilee Games Celebrating the 50th Imamat Anniversary of His Highness the Aga Khan
- Rajabali Mecklai, 85, Serves the Vancouver Ismailis and Community at Large with Dedication and Distinction
We invite contributions for the series. Please click STORIES OF ISMAILI VOLUNTEERS.
PLEASE CLICK: Simerg’s Imamat and Didar Series
INTRODUCTION: His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam as he is affectionately and respectfully addressed by his Ismaili followers, will be visiting Bangladesh and India during the coming month. In July 2011, the 49th Ismaili Imam who is the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) made a highly successful visit to East Africa and Simerg provided a religious context of the visit by publishing a seven-part series on Imamat and what didar (lit. glimpse of the Imam of the Time) represents to an Ismaili.
We are pleased to provide the entire series which consists of thirty-five brief readings such as “Didar: Life’s Ultimate Purpose” by Imam Mustansir-Billah in PDF format. To download this highly educational and inspiring series, please click Simerg’s Imamat and Didar Series. We invite you to share this post with your contacts around the world.
A Note to Readers: Please scroll down or click Home page for other recent posts and click What’s New for links to all articles published on this blog since March 2009. Subscribe to this Website via the box near the top right of this page.
Simerphotos, the companion photo blog for this literary website, launches a series about India through the lens of Muslim Harji of Montreal, PQ, Canada. His previous photo essays on Iran, Syria and Jerusalem have been widely acclaimed by readers of Simerg and Simergphotos. The India series commences with a splendid photo essay about its street foods.
PLEASE CLICK: India’s Street Foods