Farida Hassam Passings Simerg

Farida Shahsultan Hassam: A Multi-Talented, Courageous and Devoted Murid of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Passes Away in Toronto After Prolonged Illness

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.

By RASHIDA TEJANI
with MALIK MERCHANT

For many many months, my sister Farida had been gravely ill. On days when she felt better there was hope of recovery, but then after a few days it seemed she would be gone any second. I was thousands of kilometres away from her living on the west coast in Vancouver; she was in Toronto. She was being well looked after in her nursing home, but the feeling of not being with her everyday made me very uneasy.

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Farida Hassam with sister Rashida Tejani, Simerg passings
Farida Hassam, left, pictured with her younger sister Rashida during her visit to Richmond, BC, in 2021. Rashida was present in Toronto when Farida passed away on April 29, 2022 at the age of 78. Photo: Rashida Tejani Collection.

Should I arrange for her to be moved to Vancouver? But, then, would she be able to handle a new home in the condition she was in? All these questions bothered my mind everyday while she courageously struggled to live on and cope with her health problems, which were many, due to a weak heart. Every living thing has an instinct to survive. Human beings are blessed with minds to distinguish between right and wrong, they have a heart and they have a soul. For Farida, the remembrance of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Farman, “whether you are young or old, every day is a day that must be lived, and during that day you must fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability” (1976, Mumbai, India) became Farida’s motto to live to the best of her ability. Honestly, when the co-author of this piece and our family friend, Malik, visited Farida in Toronto before his departure for Calgary, he was amazed to see her in high spirits as well as be a witness to her brilliant mind and remarkable memory. When it seemed that she wasn’t listening, because her eyes were closed, she was in fact FULLY alert! She would often correct me, narrate an incident or add detail to a story that I was telling about her, and respond with an astonishing feedback. Yes, that was my beloved sister Farida, who made us cheerful when we felt sad. She was bright as well as intellectually stimulating.

I consider myself truly lucky that during the past several months I was able to visit her multiple times and spend quality time with her during each of my visit. The last visit was in April when she died a few days after the Ismaili Centre Headquarters Mukhisaheb and Kamadiasaheb along with their female counterparts — their spouses — Mukhianisaheba and Kamadianisaheba came to visit Farida at the North York General Hospital to give her their blessings. It was a moment that truly uplifted me, but at the same time some kind of an indicator to me that Farida was probably in her final days. Their timing to visit Farida and bless her was perfect.

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Farida Hassam with Malik Merchant of Simerg and nephew Karim Dhanani. Passings
Top: Nephew Karim Dhanani visited Farida regularly at her nursing home in North York; Malik Merchant visits Farida before his departure for Alberta; Farida enjoying her favourite meal — Swiss Chalet chicken and fries with the restaurant’s special gravy. Photos: Rashida Tejani Collection.

Farida had been admitted to the hospital at the beginning of April because of water retention. Her organs had started to fail and the heart had been weak for several years. At the hospital, she underwent a procedure to drain out fluid from her body. While this gave me signs of hope, the recovery was not to be. Finally, she was transferred to the North York Senior Health Centre Palliative Care, and she finally succumbed on April 29, shortly after the Ismaili leadership’s blessed visit.

Her funeral ceremony took place at Scarborough Jamatkhana on May 3, 2022. The samar and zyarat (ceremonies and prayers for the departed soul) were held later on the same day at the Headquarters Jamatkhana at the Ismaili Centre Toronto.

My dearest sister Farida was born on November 20, 1943 in Mityana, a small town located about 70 kilometres west of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. She did her primary education at the Aga Khan School in Mityana and then moved to Kampala for her secondary education at the Old Kampala Government School. She then joined our sister, Laila, in London to qualify as a hairdresser. She migrated to Canada in the 1970’s, and made Toronto her home.

As a qualified hairdresser, she worked in the field for several years, but was unable to continue with hairdressing on a permanent basis because she underwent three open heart surgeries to replace her heart valves. With her worsening health, she then decided to work as a secretary and also took training to pursue a career in computing. Unfortunately her weakened heart, that was also supported by a pacemaker, made it impossible for her to lead a normal professional life as much as she wanted to. However, Farida continued to remain active in her life through her interest and passion for crocheting and knitting. She made and donated baby outfits and shawls to local hospitals and Ismaili Jamatkhanas so that they would be distributed to young parents. She loved to make “prayer beads” (tasbihs) and supplied them to Ismaili children and youth attending Baitul-Ilm classes as well as to Ismaili community members across Canada. She also arranged to send some tasbihs to Ismailis in Tajikistan.

Farida was a multi-talented individual, full of life and vigour. She loved art and painting. She was also a true lover of nature, and got immense happiness and pleasure out of gardening and growing plants in her apartment. When she was finally moved to the Seniors’ Health Centre in October 2019, her social worker set up a garden on the rooftop of the building for Farida to continue with her hobby. She received excellent care at the Seniors’ Health Centre, a hub of innovative care facilities for the elderly provided by the North York General Hospital.

However, there was one person who had come into her life as an angel when she was still living in her apartment. She is Tarina Barter. Tarina continued visiting her at the Seniors’ Health Centre on a regular basis. She became a constant companion to Farida, spending many hours with her and often took Farida out for coffee and meals whenever Covid-19 protocols permitted. My sister’s favourite dish was the famous Swiss Chalet chicken that came with fries and a delicious bowl of gravy! Tarina’s constant updates on Farida provided me with much needed comfort. It was a blessing for the family that Tarina had appeared in our lives at such a critical and crucial moment, relieving us of constantly worrying about Farida’s health and condition. We cannot thank Tarina enough for her unconditional love, care and affection for Farida for 4 continuous years. Her final visit to Farida was on April 27, two days before Farida passed away (see photo, below).

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Tarina Barter and Farida Hassam, North York Health Centre, Simerg passings
Tarina Barter is seen visiting Farida on April 27, 2022 at the North York Senior Health Palliative Care Centre just two days before she passed away. Tarina came as an angel to Farida and her family. She visited Farida on a regular basis over the last four years at her apartment as well as at the Seniors’ Centre. Photo: Rashida Tejani Collection.

Farida was a very kind and compassionate person. Her spirituality, faith and devotion to Mawlana Hazar Imam was exemplary, and set an example to all in her family to remain hopeful and courageous, whatever one’s circumstances.

In Farida’s passing, we have lost a great family member and we pray for her soul to Rest in Eternal Peace. Ameen.

As I complete this short tribute to my beloved sister Farida, I want to mention that our dad, Esmail Dhanani, and mom, Shirin Dhanani, and older brothers Noorali and Ramzan as well as older sisters Dolat Wadhwani, Roshan Lakhani and Zareen Dhamani have all passed away. May their souls also Rest In Eternal Peace. Ameen. 

Farida is survived by her daughter Fauzia Moorani and siblings Laila Pirani and of course myself, Rashida Tejani. I also take this opportunity to mention that my older brother Noorali Dhanani (popularly known as Noora of Sapra Studio) was one of the photographers selected to take pictures of Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam when he recited the Eid ul-Fitr Namaz in Nairobi at the age of 7. Noora also travelled as a photographer with Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah on one of his trips by ship from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar. I myself was fortunate to have a photo taken with Mata Salamat, Om Habibeh Aga Khan, in Karachi during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit in March 1983.

For the countless blessings that my family has received of serving the Imam-of-the-Time throughout our lives, we submit our humble shukhrana to Mawlana Hazar Imam.

While I was able to see my beloved sister before she passed away and was present for her funeral in Toronto, my daughter Farah could not travel with me and see her beloved aunt. The least she could do was to pen a tribute poem to her beloved Farida aunty that follows below. As readers may be aware, Farah has contributed beautiful poems and stories to this website.

Finally, I ask all readers to once again join with me in praying for the eternal peace of the soul of my beloved sister Farida, who endured her difficulties gracefully and courageously with the continuous blessings of Mawlana Hazar Imam that each of us, as his murids, are bestowed with every second, and every single day of our precious lives.

“Life”, as Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah wrote in his Memoirs, “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.” Farida lived by the tenets of her Ismaili Muslim faith, and has returned to the abode of heavenly peace. “Surely we belong to God and to Him we return” — Holy Qur’an, 2:156.

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In Memory of Our Dearest Farida Hassam

Farida Hassam (d. April 29, 2022). Photo: Farah Tejani. Passings Simerg
Farida Hassam (d. April 29, 2022, age 78). Photo: Farah Tejani. Click on image for enlargement.

By FARAH TEJANI

Letting you go was not easy,
Very painful and difficult to endure…
However, watching you suffer with such immense pain,
Was even harder for us to bear.

You were a pillar of strength and dignity,
Even through trials and tribulations,
Like a mountain piercing the sky,
Nothing would shake you…

Nothing could break you.

You were never one to complain,
You faced every battle for your life,
Head on,
Using your faith,
And your strong desire to live,
And your love for your family and friends.

While we watched on,
Nervously,
Anxiously,
Praying for the best outcome.

You would always assure us,
“I am in God’s hands.”

And against all odds
You would always prevail.

Not many could go through,
What you did…
Your faith was tested time and again,
But you never let go of Mawla’s Hands.

Your beauty and sophistication
And your Pure heart,
And unconditional compassion,
Touched all of us, who knew you…
And even those of us who didn’t,
But wanted to.

You always kept busy with hobbies and interests,
You’d even sew some of your own outfits,
Always vibrant colors and flowers so real
You could almost smell them.

You also enjoyed making
Hundreds and hundreds of prayer beads,
That were then Blessed and given out.

You were the prettiest flower,
Who enjoyed growing a garden of sunflowers and tulips,
And then painting them so vividly
Your palette bursting with hues.

And then, just when we thought the worst was over,
You would be hit by another serious health crisis.

But you would be so brave and assure us,
“What doesn’t kill you, Makes you stronger.”
And stronger she was.

But this time, sadly, was your time to go,
But we know that we can be assured,
We know in our hearts,
That you will always be watching from Above.

Date posted: May 29, 2022.

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We invite you to submit your condolences and tributes to Farida Hassam in the comments box below or by clicking on LEAVE A COMMENT.

About the writers: Farah Tejani is a creative writer based in Vancouver. She has become a regular contributor of poems and stories to this website, and readers are invited to click HERE for a summary of her beautiful writings. Her incredible mother, Rashida, now retired, lives in Richmond, BC, and has encouraged her daughter in all her literary pursuits over the past 30 years. Both mother and daughter continue to inspire each other as they go through life’s challenges. Malik Merchant, co-author with Rashida to the tribute to Farida, is the founding publisher and editor of Simerg (2009) and its two sister blogs, Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012).

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes to deceased members of their families, whether they passed away recently or in the past. Please review PASSINGS on how to prepare and submit your tribute.

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. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com

Salma Lakhani, Alberta’s First Muslim Lieutenant Governor, Speaks to Canadian Geographic on Building a More Inclusive Canada

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: As Simerg completes its 13 years of continuous publication, we launch a special series profiling Ismaili leaders of distinction over the past 125 years. The series will be dedicated to Ismaili institutional leaders as well as individuals who have achieved distinction and recognition working outside the Ismaili community, yet continuing to support the work of the Ismaili Imamat through its Jamati institutions and the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies. We welcome articles from all over the world for this new initiative. Please write in confidence to the editor at mmerchant@barakah.com.

Map of Canada
Map of Canada, world’s 2nd largest country (9,984,670 sq kms, 6.1% of world landmass) after Russia (17,098,242 sq kms, 11% of world landmass). The map represents Canada’s Political Divisions, and shows boundaries, capitals, selected place names, selected drainage and names, the Arctic Circle and adjacent foreign areas. Photo: Natural Resources Canada.

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

My first home in Canada was in Edmonton. I left London, England, in late December 1980, with the blessings of my mother, Malek (“Mrs. Merchant”), and arrived several hours later to my new home in the thick of winter. It was a clear day, and from the plane I only saw snow as it flew over Canada to my destination. My dad, who had arrived in the city a few days earlier from London to give talks on science and faith as well as other religious topics at the invitation of the local Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB (then known as the Ismailia Association) was there to receive me.

Malik Merchant with Jehangir and Malek Merchant, Simerg
The editor of Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos, Malik Merchant, is pictured with his beloved late parents, Jehangir (d. May 2018) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021), at the Gatineau Park in the Canada’s National Capital Region during their visit to Ottawa in 2007. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

That weeklong presence of my beloved dad was inspirational, and filled me with immense courage during my first phase of settling down in a new country. Earlier during the year, I had successfully completed an IT assignment in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Edmonton was my home for just under 3 years, before my consulting firm, Cognos, relocated me to Ottawa, Ontario, in late 1983, due to branch closure. I am happy to say that, as of January 2022, Alberta has once again become my home. It will give me an opportunity to reconnect with my boyhood friends, the Jamat as well as many friends with whom I played sports in the past. The Jamat has grown significantly, and the opportunity of seeing thousands of Ismaili faces from Afghanistan excites me.

During my time in Edmonton in the early 1980’s, Dr. Zaheer Lakhani, was the Chairman of the Aga Khan Edmonton Council (or the Administrative Committee, as it was then known, I think), and I came to know him as an open-minded leader who reached out to the Jamat seeking out their suggestions, opinions and ideas. I have not met Zaheer for almost 40 years now, but I was extremely pleased to learn about his wife Salma’s appointment as the 19th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

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Dr. Zaheer Lakhani accompanies his wife, Her Honour Salma Lakhani AOE, at her Lt. Gov of Alberta installation ceremony, Simerg and Malik Merchant; Al Karim Walli twitter photo
Dr. Zaheer Lakhani accompanies his wife Salma Lakhani at her installation ceremony as the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta on August 26, 2020. Photo: Via Al-Karim Walli’s Twitter page.

Salma’s appointment was announced on June 30, 2020 by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She became the first-ever Muslim to hold the ceremonial position in Canadian history. In a written statement on her appointment the Prime Minister said: “Ms. Lakhani is devoted to supporting people in her community, from new immigrants and young people, to women and families. As Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, I know she will serve the people of her province and our country well, and continue to be a source of inspiration for all Canadians.”

Profile of Honourable Salama Lakhani

The following biographical sketch of Honourable Salma Lakhani has been compiled from the websites of the Prime Minister of Canada and the Government of Alberta. Readers may also wish to access the website of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta to read more about Honourable Salma Lakhani.

Lieutenant Governor Lakhani tours new Stanley A. Milner Downtown Branch of the Edmonton Public Library
Lieutenant Governor Salma Lakhani is seen touring the new Stanley A. Milner Downtown Branch of the Edmonton Public Library, September 13, 2021. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

Salma Lakhani is a long-time resident of Edmonton, and a distinguished community advocate with a passion for education, health care, human rights, and support for new immigrants. A proud Ismaili Muslim, her longstanding service as a community leader and volunteer has been guided by her deep commitment to the values of pluralism and inclusion and her dedication to championing those who face barriers in life. Salma inherited her devotion to giving back from her parents, Abdul and Malek Rajabali, who were active members of the Ismaili community.

Salma was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda. A keen student with a deep seeded love of education, Salma attended the Aga Khan School in Kampala before pursuing post-secondary studies at the University of Manchester in England. Her life took an unforeseen and dramatic turn during a summer visit home to Kampala in 1972, when it was announced that the country’s entire Asian minority population was to be expelled. Salma’s parents pressed her to return immediately to England, travelling on her Ugandan passport. Within three months, her family would be stripped of virtually everything and she would be stranded in England with no funds to continue her education and no valid passport.

She had become a stateless person. Salma had two saving graces that sustained through this challenging time. First, she had the love and support of her fellow exile and future husband, Zaheer Lakhani. The couple also learned that their tuition would be covered by the British government, allowing Salma to complete her Honours degree in Clinical Biochemistry and Zaheer to graduate in Medicine from the University of Leeds. The couple married in Leeds in 1977. That year, the University of Alberta accepted Zaheer’s application to continue his postgraduate studies in Edmonton and the Lakhanis began writing a new chapter in Canada.

Dr. Lakhani went on to establish himself as a cardiologist while Salma helped to manage his practice and operated a business focused on early childhood education, which developed out of her innate affinity for teaching. She also began looking for opportunities to give back and to help those in need to thrive.

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Salma Lakhani tours Aga Khan Gardens
Her Honour Salma Lakhani (centre of photo) toured the Aga Khan Garden at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden located near Devon, Alberta, on September 23, 2020. She was joined by Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women Leela Aheer and University of Alberta Chancellor Peggy Garritty. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta.

Salma was one of the first mentors in NorQuest College’s Youth in Transition program, providing valuable guidance for students with English as a second language. She was a founding member of the College’s 1000Women: A Million Possibilities movement, and served on its advisory committee for ten years. In addition she also shared her skills, energy and passion for service with the Lois Hole Hospital for Women, Kids Kottage, Sorrentino’s Compassion House, the Alberta Cancer Board, the Zebra Foundation and Aga Khan Foundation Canada. She received the NorQuest College Honorary Diploma in Community Services Leadership in 2019. In recognition of her services to the community and civil society, Ms. Lakhani was awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal in 2005 and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Upon her installation as Alberta’s vice-regal representative, she became a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence and Chancellor of the Order. Her Honour is Vice-Prior of the St. John Council for Alberta and a Dame of the Order of St. John. She received an Honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta in 2021. Their Honours Salama and Zaheer Lakhani make their home in Edmonton. Their family includes daughter Safia Lakhani, daughter Soraya Lakhani and son-in-law Zain Velji.

The Honourable Salama Lakhani’s Interview with Canadian Geographic

In August 2021, one year into her term as Lieutenant Governor, the Canadian Geographic magazine, which is dedicated to uncovering and communicating the stories about Canadian people, places, frontiers and issues (past and present) spoke with the Honourable Salma Lakhani. In the interview with Kate Helmore she reflected on her journey, and her hopes for her province and country. Please read the full interview on the Canadian Geographic website by clicking HERE or on the photo below.

“…after the discovery of the mass graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School, I had a meeting with a First Nations Elder, Roy Lewis. And he said to me that while this is extremely sad for all Indigenous people, and it’s sad for all Canadians, it is an amazing opportunity to learn and to understand. This is where I hope to be able to play a role” — Honourable Salma Lakhani in interview with Canadian Geographic magazine

the Honourable Salma Lakhani, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Canadian Geographical, Simerg, Malik Merchant
Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Photo: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. Please click on photo for Canadian Geographic interview

Date posted: February 7, 2022.

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Before leaving this website please take a moment to visit 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. Also, visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor, Malik, may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com.