Simerg’s Special Series on Books by Ismaili Authors: “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan of Toronto Seeks to Bring to the Fore the Islamic Values that His Highness the Aga Khan Enjoins Upon His Followers

by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Simerg’s series entitled “Books by Ismaili Authors” continues with Canadian writer Nizar Sultan’s book “The Roots and the Trees”. We follow the same Q/A format as our recent presentations of books written by Nargis Fazal, Nazlin Rahemtulla, Azmina Suleman, Alnasir Rajan, Shafeen Ali, Mansoor Ladha, Zeni Shariff and Shamas Nanji. We invite Ismaili authors around the world to participate in this series, regardless of when their books were published. See details of the series HERE and submit your responses to Simerg’s editor, Malik, at Simerg@aol.com.

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Simerg: What is behind the naming of the title of the book? 

Nizar Sultan: The book seeks to bring to the fore the Islamic ethics and values that Mawlana Hazar Imam enjoins us to live by in his Farman. The book portrays how one Ismaili couple living in a small town in Tanzania in 1957 seeks to bring up their son (who becomes the principal character in the book), essentially acting as roots, to support and nourish a strong tree (the son).

Simerg: Why would you want me or my family members to read the book, and what will we all learn from it?

Sultan: The Roots and the Trees is a work of fiction built around landmark events that shaped the life of South Asian communities in East Africa, with a focus on the Ismaili Muslim community. It tells the story of two Ismaili boys, Rafiq Abdulla and Anil Damji, starting with their high school years in Dodoma (then a small town in Tanzania) in 1957, and follows them and their families ultimately to Canada as they navigate the political turmoil in East Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.

The book chronicles the Ismaili exodus from Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda in the 1970s and the community’s early settlement challenges in Canada.  It describes the social governance institutions and economic support programs His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan — the Ismaili community’s 49th Hereditary Imam — established, and which Rafiq and Anil got appointed to serve on, to facilitate the community’s settlement in Canada. It then goes on to relate how, guided and supported by their Imam, within five years of its arrival in Canada, the Canadian Ismaili community came to be well settled and respected, from coast to coast, for its organization, self-reliance, voluntarism, professionalism, business enterprise and philanthropy. 

Simerg: What inspired you to write the book?

Sultan: First, it was my desire to document 21 years (1957-1978) of history of Canadian Ismailis of East African origin. I served as a Council member in Tanzania during the residential and commercial property nationalization and the start of Ismaili exodus from East Africa. After arriving in Canada, I served on “Immigration Committee” established to respond to the Uganda crisis. This was followed by my fifteen years of work as manager of a business consulting and loan guarantee program which Mawlana Hazar Imam established in 1975 to help Ismailis establish in business. After this, I worked for 20 years as Council for Canada CEO. My work with the Jamat and Jamati institutions has given me a perspective on the Ismaili move to and settlement in Canada that I wanted to share with my readers.

Next, I wanted to re-enforce the ethics of peace, integrity, generosity, compassion, humility and pluralism we are enjoined to live by. It is my perception (which may not be correct) that our ethics and values have eroded as we have become Occidentalised living in the West.

The third objective was to communicate to the non-Muslim audiences the foundational ethics of Islam and diversity of the Muslim people and practices, and present a counter-narrative to the monolithic image of Islam that is often portrayed in the non-Muslim parts of the world.

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The Roots and the Trees by Nizar Sultan, Ismaili author series, simerg, Fiction
Back and front covers of Nizar Sultan’s “The Roots and the Trees.” 712 pp. August 2020. Click on image to enlarge.

Simerg: How can I purchase the book and what are its available formats?

Sultan: The book is available on Amazon Canada in Paperback and on Amazon.com in both Paperback and Kindle formats.

Simerg: How did you find a publisher for the book?

Sultan: The book is self-published.

Simerg: Did you hire an editor, an illustrator or did you do all the work by yourself?

Sultan: I engaged a book cover designer in Hungary to design the cover and the back page. I engaged a professional formatter to format the book. My daughter Roxana Sultan, who is a brilliant writer, edited the book.

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Praise for Nizar Sultan’s Book

The Roots and the Trees hits all the right notes in a bittersweet melody of nostalgia, childhood innocence, built-in societal bigotry, colonial and post-colonial history, strong family ties, community solidarity and, of course, some Bollywood-type drama….The journey of the two principal characters in the book – Rafiq and Anil – is a familiar one to many in the East African Ismaili diaspora. The author’s keen eye for detail evokes long-forgotten memories and repressed emotions of one’s own journey, at times almost verbatim and interspersed with laugh-out-loud moments…. Through thoughtful prose and lively dialogue, it broaches sensitive societal and cultural issues of the day in all the three countries where Rafiq and Anil lived.  All in all, it is a delightful, breezy read – Dr. Feroz Kassam

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The Roots and the Trees is a fascinating narrative that provides an evocative history for many Ismailis, their children, and grandchildren. For the wider community, the book is a poignant account of one refugee and immigrant community’s arrival, challenges, and effective adaptation to life in Canada – Professor Dr. Fariyal Ross-Sheriff

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Simerg: Which was your first book and how many have you written?

Sultan: The Roots and the Trees is my first book which I wrote for the reasons I stated. I have no desire to become an “author”. I am working on a sequel to document my perception of our history in Canada from 1979 to 1992 (1992 marked the 20th anniversary of our settlement in Canada in large numbers).

Simerg: How long did it take you to write The Roots and the Trees — from start to finish and to begin marketing it?

Sultan: It took me two years — working two hours/day, five days a week to produce the first draft and another six months to have the book edited and formatted for printing, after sending out ~200 Advance Reader’s Copies for reviews, and getting it launched on Amazon.

Simerg: Tell us something more about the book and its main character.

Sultan: Although presented as a fictional narrative, the book is more of a case study of an uprooted community’s experience settling in a new land, and the possible impact of its success in settling here on Canada’s immigration policy. The protagonists and other characters in my book are composites of real people, and their stories draw upon the real experiences of members of the East African Ismaili community that came to Canada, some as dispossessed immigrants, others as refugees.

Date posted: June 25, 2021.

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Nizar Sultan author The Roots and the Trees, Ismaili authors series by Simerg
Nizar Sultan

Nizar Sultan was born and raised in British-ruled Tanganyika (now the Republic of Tanzania). After completing high school and a two-year teaching program, Nizar studied in England for five years and graduated with a degree in Economics.  He returned to Tanzania in 1967, where he worked for five years in tourism infrastructure and project development.  He and his wife migrated to Canada in 1972. 

In Canada, Nizar has worked for 45 years in paid and voluntary capacities for the institutions of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan for socio-economic development of the Shia Ismaili Muslim community in Canada, of which His Highness is the spiritual leader. This included 15 years as manager of a business consulting and financing program for Ismailis in Eastern Canada and 20 years as CEO of the Aga Khan Council for Canada.

Nizar’s early life and work experience in Tanzania followed by his work for the Ismaili institutions in Canada and beyond, have provided him with a deep and unique insight into the Ismaili community’s historical background in East Africa, the events leading up to the community’s departure from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and its settlement in a new land. THE ROOTS AND THE TREES is Nizar’s first novel. It is a real-life study of an uprooted community’s migration and early establishment in Canada, set in a fictional narrative.

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Calling all Ismaili Authors

We encourage Ismaili writers to introduce their books in a similar format as has been done in the post above. Please also see the series launch article and submit your responses to Malik at Simerg@aol.com. All submissions will be acknowledged. If a writer has published multiple books, each book will be highlighted in a separate article, and not combined with other books into one post. All writers should include a brief profile with a portrait photo.

The Ismaili Authors’ Series so far (in chronological sequence, oldest article first):

  1. “Justice Bertha Wilson Pushes the Boundaries of Humanity” by Shamas Nanji (series start, February 10, 2021)
  2. “Little One, You Are The Universe” by Zeni Shariff (February 25, 2021)
  3. “Memoirs of a Muhindi” by Mansoor Ladha (March 6, 2021)
  4. “To Be One With God: Seven Journeys to the Meaning of Life” by Shafeen Ali (March 25, 2021)
  5. “Invisible Birthmarks” by Alnasir Rajan (April 13, 2021)
  6. “IN THE NAME OF JUSTICE – Portrait of a ‘Cowboy’ Judge” by Azmina Suleman (April 28, 2021)
  7. “RSVP Rice and Stew Very Plenty” by Nazlin Rahemtulla (May 28, 2021)
  8. “Coughdrops” by Nargis Fazal (June 12, 2021)
  9. “The Roots and the Trees” by Nizar Sultan (June 25, 2021)

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