The Funeral of Missionary Amirali Gillani in the Midst of Covid-19 Restrictions

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani Simerg tribute
Missionary Amirali Gillani passed away on April 8, 2020, and was buried in Toronto on April 14. Photo: Family Collection.

A Safe and Dignified Funeral

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

On Tuesday April 14, 2020, Missionary Amirali Gillani’s shrouded body rested inside a grey coloured coffin in the funeral hall of the Scarborough Jamatkhana. He had passed away from cancer on April 8 at the age of 75.

Only the missionary’s peaceful face was in view. The rest of his body which was covered in the white shroud, was under the coffin cover. The coffin did not rest on the floor. It had been placed on a strong roll away frame. Volunteers recited the Salwat in unison continuously, and gave comfort to the small size of mourners, a limit imposed by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

There were a total of 16 mourners in attendance for the funeral’s two separate viewing opportunities and the funeral rites. One viewing, including the funeral rites, was for immediate family members, and the second viewing was for other family members and friends. In both the viewings the mourners sat in groups of 4 in two rows in front of the body, keeping the required physical distance. At a normal funeral, there would have been several hundred in attendance. A dilsoji — a condolence gathering a day or two ahead of the funeral — would have attracted a large Ismaili crowd from across Toronto.

Missionary Gillani’s funeral became the first funeral to be made available for online viewing via a dedicated Youtube channel. The viewing was offered, following a trial period, to very close family members who could not physically be at the funeral due to provincial restrictions limiting gatherings to 5 or 10.

Wearing a face mask and gloves on their hands, each of the persons who had come to missionary Gillani’s funeral presented himself or herself beside the coffin, a meter or two away. In solitude, the mourner would spend between 60 to 80 seconds in contemplation, before giving way to the next person. Other Jamati funerals taking place during the Covid-19 pandemic have similar rules and restrictions in place.

Once the viewing and giving of last respects had ended, and the funeral rites were completed, the Muslim funeral procession prayer La Ilaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah commenced. In a normal funeral, men line up in the large foyer of the Jamatkhana to touch or momentarily hold the coffin on their shoulders, uttering prayers for the soul of the deceased before it is transferred to a hearse. However, here there was no one in the foyer of the Jamatkhana. It was empty. The body was wheeled by the Mukhi, volunteers and male mourners into the hearse parked outside, for its 22 km journey to its final resting place — the picturesque Elgin Mills Cemetery.

A view of Elgin Mills Cemetery. Photo: Mount Plesant Group

At the gate of the cemetery, a guard verified each arriving guest against the list of names that he had been given by the Ismaili funeral committee. He guided the arriving mourners to Section 16 of the cemetery. At the site, there were only a few scattered cars, no more than eight. The hearse carrying the body then arrived. This time, instead of wheeling the coffin, as the ground gradient and conditions presented challenges, the volunteers carefully carried it to the grave. Mourners followed and gathered around the coffin, keeping a safe physical distance between one another. The Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana and a family member then each took a heap of soil in a spade, and spread it across the coffin. The Surah Ikhlas was recited (Ch. 112; Translation: “In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful. Say: He is God, the One. God, the Absolute. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is nothing comparable to Him”).

Normally the crowd would wait to see the body lowered into the grave, while continuing to recite Salwats and other prayers. Two volunteers would then descend into the grave to ensure its proper placement, stability and also conduct some last rites.

Physical distancing prevented that from occurring and the mourners returned to their cars. Using the same soil that had been been dug up to create the 6 foot deep grave, a tractor arrived to fill it. Once the on-site staff had completed their task of filling the grave and removing wooden planks and other objects around it, we were each handed incense sticks as we walked back to the burial site. Water was then poured on top of the freshly replaced soil by a family member and the Mukhisaheb of Scarborough Jamatkhana. We then honoured and paid respect to the missionary by placing the lit incense sticks we had been given over the top of the missionary’s final resting place.

All ten of us stepped back about 40 metres, and a Fateha for the deceased was then recited. We were standing in rows and kept our safe 2 metre distance from one another. During the recitation of the Fateha, my attention was suddenly drawn to two doves that landed 25 metres to my left. Their sounds in the midst of the Fateha being recited were beautiful and joyous to hear. Only Allah understands the language of birds, animals and insects, as well as everything that has life on this earth. A second Fateha was then recited for all of the deceased members of the Jamat. By then, the birds had flown away.

Mukhisaheb then gave everyone special blessings for attending the burial, and also prayed for the soul of the deceased. As much as we would have loved to, we left the site without shaking hands of the family and embracing them. We consoled them by placing our hands on our hearts, befitting the Islamic ethics of gratitude, humility and affection.

It was a different kind of a funeral to attend. However the dignity of the entire funeral ceremony was preserved. The Jamat has to thank the burial committee for the professionalism with which they are carrying out this extraordinary and noble service to bring comfort and peace to the mourning families and their friends, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Their communication in every respect was outstanding, and emails and telephone calls received prompt attention.

As I headed back home, I thought of the two birds that had landed nearby as the Fateha for Missionary Gillani was being recited. They conveyed to me a profound message: Missionary Amirali Gillani had been ushered into the abode of peace.

Date posted: April 15, 2020.
Last updated: April 15, 2020 (10 AM ET: additional material added; factual corrections; typos).

____________________________

We received several tributes to Amirali Gillani when we first announced his death. They may be read by clicking HERE. Further tributes as well as your reactions with regard to recent passings during the Covid-19 pandemic, and how you and your family members dealt with the situation amid the challenges you faced, may be submitted by completing the feedback form below. If the form does not show, please click Leave a comment. Your comment may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

Passings: Missionary Amirali Gillani (1944 – 2020)

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un
“Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156

“Life is a great and noble calling, not a mean and grovelling thing to be shuffled through as best as we can but a lofty and exalted destiny.” — Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Portrait Ismaili Missionary Amirali Gillani of Arusha and Toronto
Missionary Amirali Gillani (July 15, 1944 – April 8, 2020). Photo: Family Collection

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

It is with deep sadness that I inform readers of the passing away of Missionary Amirali Gillani on Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at Toronto’s North York Hospital after a brave and long battle with cancer. He was 75. I learnt of his death from a family member earlier this morning through a text message.

Born in Arusha, Tanzania, he served Jamati institutions in both professional and honorary capacities for several decades, contributing his wisdom until the very last moments of his life. He travelled widely, and finally made his home in Toronto, Canada. Missionary Saheb is survived by four children and five grandchildren.

On April 1, 2020, exactly a week ago, he texted me from the hospital: “Ya Ali Madad. Hope you are well. I am in North York Hospital and my health has deteriorated. With affection, Missionary.” I wanted to visit him but the current state of restrictions in place prevented me from going to the hospital. I responded with a prayer for his strength and courage, and with the hope that I would see him out of the hospital soon. He replied: “Ya Ali Madad. Deeply touched by your prayers. I need His compassion to accept His Will with ease and pleasure. Ya Moula. Affectionately Missionary.” They were profound words.

An articulate missionary with a superb command of the English language, Amirali Gillani was always far ahead of his time in his vision of providing religious education to the Jamat. His ideas more than 50 years ago — and I am referring to the late 1960’s — of utilizing multi media and other technological trends of the day, including the power of TV as well as audio visual concepts, were highly impressive. My late dad, Jehangir Merchant, admired him for his brilliant mind as well as incredible foresight and ingenuity. Alas, we were simply not prepared or ready, even to think about his ideas!

As a close family friend, he would visit my parents whenever institutional duties or personal projects brought him to Dar es Salaam. His contemporaries with whom he graduated in the Waezin program in Pakistan in the 1960’s were Alwaez Nizar Chunara and Alwaez Amirally Mawji, and they would often accompany him.

My most recent — and unforgettable — memory of him was when I spent a couple of hours at his humble apartment in Toronto. A very large portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam adorned one of the walls, and he had told me a few days earlier before I went to his home, that I would feel the Imam’s presence in his apartment. That I certainly did, not only because of the portrait but also by Missionary Saheb’s overpowering faith, love and affection for Mawlana Hazar Imam. This pulled him through some of the most difficult times in the past few years.

This is a sad moment for the family, especially coming at a time when many of us want to pay our personal respects and be at his funeral, and simply can’t because of the restrictions that are in place due to the novel coronavirus. We convey our deepest heartfelt condolences to members of Missionary Gillani’s family for strength and courage to face his great loss. Our prayers are with them at this time of bereavement.

We pray that Missionary Amirali Gillani rest in eternal peace. Amen.

Date posted: April 8, 2020.

____________________

We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Amirali Gillani by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

The Life of Jehangir Merchant: Ismaili missionary who rendered long and dedicated services to the Jamat and the Imam-of-the-Time

PLEASE CLICK: “Life of Jehangir” – includes historical photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam

Please click on image for “Life of Jehangir” in photos.

Date posted: September 11, 2018.

_________________

Chapter Five of Nasir-i Khusraw’s Wajh-i Din: The Gateway and Key to Paradise by Rukhsana Ali

“By the generosity of the Imam of the time, we say that Paradise in truth is the Intellect, and the Gateway of paradise is the Prophet (peace and salutation be upon him) during his time, and his wasi, his rank, and the Imam of the time during his age. The Key to the gateway of paradise is the utterance of the phrase, La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammadan rasul Allah.”

Please click:  Pir Nasir-i Khusraw on the Gateway and Key to Paradise

This statue of the Ismaili da’i and intellectual giant Nasir Khusraw stands in his memory in Badakhshan. Please click for article.