Kutub Kassam served Ismaili Imamat Institutions as curriculum developer, editor, writer and researcher for 40 years

“It is my sad duty to inform you of the passing away of our colleague Kutub Kassam. He served IIS [Institute of Ismaili Studies] and the Jamat most faithfully for more than thirty years. May his soul rest in peace” — Dr. Farhad Daftary, Director, IIS, London, England, March 25, 2019.

Kutub Kassam (1944-2019)

Kutub Kassam (1944-2019)

By ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
Publisher-Editor, Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

It is with deep sadness that Simerg records the passing away of Kutubdin (Kutub) Aladin Kassam, on March 24, 2019 in London, England, at the age of 75 after serving Ismaili Imamat institutions for 40 years. Of these, he spent 35 years at the Institute of Ismaili Studies for which he was congratulated and recognized by Prince Rahim Aga Khan during the Institute’s 40th anniversary celebration held in London in November 2017.

Kutub’s funeral services were held on Tuesday, March 26, 2019, at the West London Jamatkhana. He was then buried at Brookwood cemetery in Surrey, following which post burial ceremonies of samar and zyarat were conducted for his departed soul at London’s North West Jamatkhana.

Kutub Kassam was born on January 21, 1944 in Mombasa, Kenya, and received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of East Africa at a ceremony held at the University College Nairobi in 1967.  

In Kenya, he contributed in developing an international curriculum on religious education for the global Ismaili community. He wrote an insightful piece about the challenges of creating the new International Religious Education Program (IREP) in a special commemorative issue celebrating sixty years of Ismaili education in Kenya.

In 1982, Kutub commenced his long tenure with the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, where his first task was to coordinate the activities of the newly established Education Unit (later Department of Education). In that capacity, Kutub was responsible for overseeing the development of the Primary Talim materials.

From 1993 onwards, until his retirement in 2018, Kutub played the role of a researcher and senior editor where he provided invaluable input to scholars who were completing their books. He left his imprint in almost every publication that the IIS published during the past 25 years.

The pivotal role that Kutub played at the IIS as a senior editor was noted with affection by several authors in their book forewords or prefaces, showing how much they respected him for his analysis and insightful suggestions for improving their works before they got published.  

For example, Dr. Aziz Esmail, author of A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics wrote: “Kutub Kassam helped the work through, in the final stage, by applying his meticulous regard for the conventions of language, his feel for poetry, and his fine appreciation of the subject, to the text of the work. My thanks are due to him for the sustained effort he put in, and the suggestions he made for the improvement, in several places, of the penultimate text.”

Reza Shah-Kazemi, author of Justice and Remembrance: the Spirituality of Imam Ali thanked Kutub for going beyond the normal editing of the text by contributing to its intellectual content which resulted in a significantly improved text. Mohamed Keshavjee, a member of the Board of the IIS and author of Islam, Sharia and Alternative Dispute Resolution praised Kutub for meticulously reading his manuscript and suggesting extra sources for the book.

The late Peter Willey, one of the earliest contemporary scholars on the Alamut period and author of the highly readable work Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castle in Iran and Syria complimented by noting that Kutub was his “ever-patient and judicious editor at The Institute of Ismaili Studies who has always been a tower of strength.” The Vancouver based Amyn Sajoo, author of  Civil Society in the Muslim World: Comparative Perspectives, said he had benefited from Kutub Kassam’s “pragmatic insights and encouragement, which on more than one occasion helped keep the project on track.”

In addition to leaving his imprint in almost every IIS publication,  Kutub himself co-authored and edited Shimmering Light (1996) and An Anthology of Ismaili Literature (2008). 

Kutub’s influence was felt beyond the confines of the IIS. Al Noor Kassum, a prominent Ismaili leader in Tanzania, recognized Kutub’s contribution to his memoirs Africa’s Winds of Change: Memoirs of an International Tanzanian in the following terms: “….I am heavily indebted to Kutub Kassam for the highly professional input that he has provided in every chapter of the book with in-depth analysis that could only have been done by someone of his calibre. I am truly, truly grateful to him because, as a result, I have learnt a great deal, too.”

Aside from providing editorial expertise to authors, Kutub was himself a prolific writer and contributed rich literary articles and poems that appeared in numerous Ismaili publications around the world.

As our tribute to an inspiring and illuminating Ismaili individual of the modern times who served the Imamat for four decades, we bring you this beautiful poem by Kutub that we discovered in the Commemorative Issue 1977-1978: Celebrating Sixty Years of Ismaili Education in Kenya. 

Come, who will walk with me?

By KUTUB KASSAM
(1944-2019)

Come, who will walk with me?
A path there is over hills and dales,
Through avenues of purple, green and gold;
It pauses not where the thickets press,
Nor hesitates
To plunge into the forest gloom.

A place there is concealed
Of leaf and bough and tender grass,
Where the enraptured birds sing and dance;
In the still waters of pool appears
The sky inverted,
That conceals deeper depths.

Come, will you walk with me?
Leave all cares and sorrows behind;
All ambition, ornament and pride renounce;
Property, wealth, work, all abandon:
Come companion,
Put on your wings and let us fly.

Away from this world of
Fever and fret and fear of death,
This wretched city where men toil oppressed
And the memories of innocence drown
Where even the best
Lack compassion or conviction;

To another world where
Man and bird and beast dwell free
In accordance with love, beauty and truth,
Where birth and death, sun and moon
Declare the life
A continuous spiritual ecstasy.

Kutub Kassam’s impact on Ismaili Jamats through his work at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London will last for generations and he will be deeply missed.

We join the Director and staff of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in praying for the eternal peace of the soul of Kutub Kassam. We convey our heartfelt  condolences to Kutub’s family members, colleagues and friends around the world.

Date posted: March 25, 2019.
Last updated: April 1, 2019 (updated portrait photo of the Late Kutub Kassam).

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