Letter from Afghanistan [6] – Simerg’s Special Correspondent Visits Ismaili Families in Sia Sang, a Remote Village in Wardak, Central Afghanistan

[This is our Kabul based special correspondent’s sixth report to provide the global Ismaili Jamat and our readers with reliable information regarding recent development in Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. His previous letters can be read by clicking on the following links 1. August 26 2021, 2. August 29 2021, 3. September 5 2021, 4. December 4 2021 and 5. December 5 2021 — Ed.]


FEBRUARY 13, 2022

Ismailis in Remote Villages Face Hardships Due to Meagre Food Reserves and Difficult Health Conditions: Local Jamati Institutions Have Failed to Meet Their Needs Over the Years

Please click on photos for enlargement

Sia sang- Bai Qobi - houses were once inhabited by Ismailis,
These houses in Sia sang — Bai Qobi — were once inhabited by Ismailis. They left the country upon the first reign of the Taliban. The houses are now occupied by Twelver Hazaras who are involved in farming activities in this village. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Dear Jamats:

In my effort to continue to provide the world wide Ismaili Jamat with updates and insights about the latest developments in Afghanistan, I took the initiative to visit small villages in the remotest corners of the country. This report is based on interviews I conducted with five Ismailis in Sia Sang village, a remote village located in mountainous areas of Hesa-e-Awal Behsood, a district in the central province of Wardak (see map, below). I visited this gregarious small village which is mainly inhabited by Hazara ethnic minority. According to my information, once over 80 Ismaili families lived in Sia Sang. Now, only a small fraction of Ismailis, six households, live altogether. The vast majority that remain in the village are Twelver Shiites (Ithnasharies). The people of Afghanistan face an uncertain future, unemployment, poverty, hunger and drought since the Taliban takeover of the country on August 15, 2021.

The Ismaili villagers I met are surrounded by high mountains and hills and have been adversely affected by the recent upheavals as well. They are struggling with the current financial and economic crisis looming across the country. Afghanistan’s economy was facing severe challenges, and the international support was starting to wane even before the collapse of former western-backed government. The US congressional research noted that this past year 90 percent of Afghanistan’s population lived on less than US$ 2.00 a day, and warned that the loss of American support would weaken one of the world’s smallest economy.

Concerns about food insecurity are mounting and a looming drought is expected to make matters worse. The prices of food and other basic goods have soared and even doubled after the regime change in the country.

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Wardak, Bamyan and Kabul Maps Simerg
Enlarged map of the Afghan provinces of Bamyan, Kabul and Wardak. The author of this piece visited the district of Hisah-ye Awal-e Bishud (circled) where the remote village of Sia Sang is located at an elevation of 3,117 meters (10226 ft) above sea level. The current daily minimum and maximum temperatures for the week of February 14, 2022 in Sia Sang will be in the range minus 17°C to minus 6°C. The map has been adapted from the provincial map of Afghanistan at the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas. For full provincial map of the country, click HERE – it will open in new tab.


According to the local Ismailis I met, they have to consume half of the food that they used to previously. For decades, these Ismaili farmers survived on stored wheat from their summer harvest and income from selling of farm animals and potato in the market. This year’s farming yielded good crops. However, with little access to the national market, they were unable to sell their agricultural products at a fair selling price. Unlike urban population, the farmers residing in rural areas of the country do not have a certain source of income other than agricultural production. There is no orderly and regular transportation system. Thus they are unable to take their family members in critical condition to a hospital. They have difficulty in purchasing food and other basic goods from the market.

Due to lack of access to a permanent and established market to procure food, and necessary goods and items, the local villagers in this part of the country have to take a trip to the neighboring province of Bamyan or the capital Kabul. Transportation fee, 3000 AFN (US$ 30.00), is high and the impoverished community settled here cannot afford paying such a high amount.

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A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.
A boy standing in front of mud houses in Sia Sang Dasht- e- Rashak. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Lack of access to basic health care services has made the living condition challenging. The closest local health care centers are three to four hours away by foot from this village, making it impossible to take their patients on time. The services provided by the health care centers do not enjoy high quality. So, they have to take the critically ill patients to Kabul or neighbouring Bamyan (see map above).

One Jamati member, Ahamad, told me, “I am alone and live only with my wife, I have no other family member to take care of me and my house. God forbid that if one of us gets sick, we must travel to Bamyan for treatment. So, who will take care of my house and belongings?”

The main highway passing through this village connects the central provinces with the capital Kabul. This highway is blocked to the traffic every year in winter due to heavy snowfall and storms that makes travel very difficult or virtually non-existent for several days.

Access to basic education is limited for children in this community. The nearest high school is one hour away from this locality. The former western backed government were in favor of girls’ education and encouraged the local population to send their girls to school. Thus, even with the Taliban ruling the country, education is not barred for girls in this community. The social perception towards education in this community specifically for girls is viewed in a positive light.

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Sia Sang Ismaili Jamatkhana, Afghanistan.
The entrance of the local Jamatkhana in Sia Sang. A signboard hung above the main gate of the Jamatkhana reads as, Jamatkhana Shia Ismaili, Sia Sang village at the center, surrounded by Allah, Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan and Hussain. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


This local Ismaili community deems religious education to be of the highest importance and absolutely necessary for their children. They have asked the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) and other responsible authorities in the Aga Khan National Council for Afghanistan to open a Baitul Ilm center (BUI). There are more than 13 Ismaili teens who need to acquire religious education and the villagers had many times requested the local ITREB board based in Bamyan to open a BUI center for this community. The local Jamat was very keen and showed passion for starting such a center, but no one addressed this issue and showed interest in this regard, said Ali, one of the local Ismailis I interviewed.


It is extremely sad to report that no development project has been undertaken by either the government or by other NGOs including the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) agencies within the course of the past twenty years in this village. “Only a power station project had been initiated by Ismaili local council based in Bamyan province,” said Muhammad, another Jamati member I interviewed.

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Snowfall in Sia sang - Dawlat murad -following a storm. Photo. Simerg Special Correspondent.
Snow in Sia Sang – Dawlat murad – following a snowstorm. Photo: Simerg Special Correspondent.


Forty years of war and devastation have inflicted a major toll on infrastructure, economy and livelihood of its population. Civilians are the main victims and pay heavy price for instability and violence. Like other parts of the nation, this small Ismaili community is also concerned about insecurity and conflict in the future. Pashtun nomads used to come and graze their herds and camels on pastures in Hazarajat — the central parts of Afghanistan — during the summer. Many bloody conflicts had taken place between Hazara villagers and Pashtun nomads prior to collapse of US backed republic. “We are very worried about the future conflict and return of Pashtun nomads during the summer,” said Juma one of the local Ismaili interviewees. “They used to come and graze their flocks peacefully. But this year it is not clear what they will do to our farms,” he added.


The majority of interviewees agree that the economic catastrophe and collapse caused by the recent changes has negatively impacted their life and financial positions. They expect the AKDN and other aid organizations to help them and distribute food and other relief aid packages. They have enormous challenges and are very worried.

I again repeat my previous calls to Jamati institutions and the AKDN as well as Jamats around the world to go beyond their normal call of duty and involve themselves in action that will improve the situation of the Jamat and the citizens of Afghanistan. I am afraid the plight of Ismailis in some remote villages is not being addressed adequately, and I urge you not to be passive and indifferent to our well-being.

I look forward to submitting more letters to Simerg for everyone’s attention and consideration.

Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.
(Name withheld)

Date posted: February 13, 2022.


We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below OR click Leave a Comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Please note that Simerg has created a special page on Afghanistan where you will find links to all our posts published on Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. Please click AFGHANISTAN.

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. The editor of the 3 websites, Malik, may be contacted at the email address mmerchant@barakah.com.

May 4, 2021, the 23rd Night of Ramadhan: Laylat al-Qadr Program for Jamats in North America

Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadhan, which falls on Tuesday, May 4, in 2021. Jamati members across North America are cordially invited to participate in a special Laylat al-Qadr program that will be held in three sessions as highlighted in the poster below (click on image for enlargement).

Please also click HERE for the institutional events page, and click on Laylat al-Qadr to read Simerg’s piece on the Night of the First Revelation of the Holy Qur’an.

Laylat al-Qadr programming poster for 2021, May 4, 23rd of Ramadhan
Please click on image for enlargement

Date posted: May 4, 2021.


The world woke up to books during the pandemic and book sales even went up, but ITREB did not empower the Jamat to read by offering curbside pick up and online ordering of important books

This matter has been on my mind for 12 months, and this piece was prepared some 3 months ago. I have now decided to post it after patiently waiting for Jamati institutions, and specifically ITREB, to provide an absolutely essential service to the Jamat — availability of Farman books, important objects (eg. tasbihs) as well as Dua recordings with meanings, and copies of the Qur’an.

Publisher/Editor  SimergphotosBarakah and Simerg

ITREB Curbside pickup
If booksellers and communities can arrange for curbside pickup, the best volunteers in the world can offer this service to the Jamat. Image — imaginary but all is doable — Malik Merchant/Simerg.

Millions of Americans and Canadians turn to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Newshour every evening for solid and reliable reporting, insightful analysis as well as highly informative interviews that are conducted by the network’s team of outstanding reporters. PBS and its member stations across the USA lay claim to being “America’s largest classroom, the nation’s largest stage for the arts and a trusted window to the world.”

For some time now the Newshour program, which is anchored by Judy Woodruff, has been running special regular episodes under the banner “CANVAS, PBS’s Newshour art hub.” In a broadcast in late December, PBS reporter Amna Nawaz turned her attention to two American booksellers for their look at the year in books and the public response to books during the Covid-19 year of isolation and pain (read article).

Janet Webster Jones of Source Booksellers in Detroit told Nawaz, “We have been so busy…. that we can hardly answer the phone. We have had a very busy, busy season. We have been frantically doing our fulfillment orders, as well as greeting people by twos and threes as they come to the store.” Ann Patchett co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville added, “People have stepped up to help us out, ordering books online, ordering curbside. We have been running books out to people’s car. And now we’re letting a few people into the store at a time. We take everybody’s temperature. Everybody wears masks, hand sanitizer. And people have been really kind and compliant and supportive. It’s been a very heartwarming Christmastime.”

Thus, as we abide by social distancing guidelines to stay home, books suddenly have become more vital than ever! It is interesting to note that all across North America many religious organizations as well as bookstores have facilitated curbside pick-ups or ramped up their online platforms to service members of their communities (read article).

Shortly after the first shutdown of Jamatkhanas in mid-March (2020), following provincial or federal restrictions recommendations, I had proposed to the national leadership of ITREB (Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board) to facilitate curbside pickup of a selection of books and objects that are close to the heart of Jamat. I had personally offered my assistance to volunteer curbside pickup at the Ismaili Centre in Toronto. Remember, that after more than 40 years of waiting, the Jamat was finally presented with a 2-volume set of Farman books sometime in the middle of January 2020. By the time of Jamatkhana closures in mid March (2020), thousands had already acquired their copies of the Farman books. Yet there were an equal number who never acquired the set. Those who missed the opportunity during the 6-8 week between January and March would have hardly thought that the Jamatkhanas would remain closed for such a lengthy period, or that they would open with limited capacity. I was told that an online order processing system was being seriously considered to fulfill an important and vital need for the Jamat. It hasn’t materialized. I quote, “Do not let time pass….once it has passed it has gone forever.” (Mawlana Hazar Imam, India, 1973).

In addition to the Farman books, Jamati members would want Tasbihs, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s photographs, Du’a and Ginan books and audios, copies of the Holy Qur’an as well as a few other texts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies that are within the grasp of the Jamat’s understanding (Eagle’s Nest?). The pandemic would have provided the opportunity for the Jamat of all ages to begin to become more literary oriented at home. Also, parents would have been able to spend some time teaching their children to recite Du’a properly, and to request them to learn the meaning of the Du’a (“How many amongst you can tell me what the word qul is?” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, Atlanta March 17, 2018. One hand went up!). Memorization by phrases would be excellent, for starters.

Indigo (Chapters-Indigo), the largest bookseller chain in Canada, offering curbside pick-up and even in-store purchase when provinces were not in total shutdown.

Yes, the curbside pickup would have required devotion of time by Jamati members and volunteers of a few hours every week, say at parking lots of selected Jamatkhanas across Canada or in large spaces within the Jamatkhana premises. But where there is a will there is a way, just as our institutions and volunteers around the world organized food and water distributions for their respective communities, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, during the pandemic. Their efforts were highly appreciated in the communities they served.

The sad part is that once Jamatkhanas re-opened in Canada last summer with limited capacity, the literature counters continued to remain closed. Social distancing could have been instituted at Jamatkhana literature counters or at appropriate larger areas (such as social halls) during this window that was available. Curbside pick-up should have been facilitated for those unable to attend Jamatkhanas. The summertime window closed! Autumn once saw Jamatkhana closures due to the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Then, last month we saw the re-opening of some Jamatkhanas in Ontario, which are now once again closed down, as of the week of April 5th due to lockdown measures. So when windows of opportunities are available, however brief, we have to take advantage of them. And friends can purchase for their family members who might not attend Jamatkhanas for sometime.

In addition, an online shop should be strongly considered where authenticated Jamati members, who are in the Jamati data base, may be able to order books and then do curbside collections at selected hours. This is not rocket science, just as registration for Jamatkhana attendance is not. If other communities and institutions can take appropriate measures to serve their constituents with energy and some creativity, there is no reason why we can’t equal their enthusiasm, with the best volunteers in the world we have.

Can we be prepared for such eventualities, as well as opportunities that come our way, and not let time pass without being aware that once it has passed, it has gone forever?

Date posted: April 9, 2021.


We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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.

Must Participate: Links to live streams to Laylat al-Qadr programs organized by ITREBs of UK, France, Portugal, Canada and USA

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

Jamats around the world must participate in this unique venture undertaken by Ismaili Institutions for this most extraordinary night commemorating the revelation of the Holy Qur’an

There is a very impressive array of programming organized for the night of Laylat al-Qadr by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards in the UK, Canada and the USA. Each jurisdiction has its own set of presentations and Simerg urges everyone — wherever they be — to avail themselves of outstanding recitations, sermons, interviews and stories as well as participate in quiet reflective moments that have been designated at specific times. A lot of effort has been put into this programming catered to every member of the Jamat, young and old alike.

Since this is an on-line presentation, viewers will be able to toggle to watch specific programs offered outside their own regions. Please click on the following images or links to see what the ITREBs in North America, the UK and Europe are offering on this truly auspicious and holy night of Laylat al-Qadr. The program can also be seen — for all jurisdictions — on a staggered basis on the website Ismaili TV, where time-zones are common, for example Canada and USA.


Laylat al-Qadr UK Simerg
Please click on image for link to Laylat al-Qadr UK., France and Portugal



Laylat al-Qadr Canada Simerg
Please click on image for link to Laylat al-Qadr Canada



Laylat al-Qadr USA Simerg
Please click on image for link to Laylat al-Qadr USA

Date posted: May 15, 2020.


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.

Ottawa Bait ul-Ilm Students Share a Journey Through Encounters with the Jamat

The recent Encounters showcase by Ismaili students of Ottawa generated great feedback from members of the Jamat. One visitor commented:

“Congratulations to every single member of the BUI team. It is wonderful to conceptualize the brand of AKDN and other Imamat Institutions right at the youngest stage of  Ismaili kids. Well done!”

PLEASE CLICK: Sharing a journey through Encounters with the Jamat

Please click to read the Encounters Showcase article.

A section of the exhibit which was held at the beautiful Ottawa jamatkhana. Please click on image to read the  article.

A Thank You Letter to the Institute of Ismaili Studies by Dr. Hatim Mahamid

Hatim Mahamid’s Thank You Letter to the IIS

Please click on image to read complete "Thank You" letter.

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