“Mrs. Merchant” – Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir – Passes Away at 89

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 Ismaili Imam

Mrs Merchantt - Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant
Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant (June 9, 1931 – January 21, 2021)
Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant (June 9, 1931 – January 21, 2021). Photo: Shellina Karmali.

By MALIK MERCHANT

It is with deep sadness that I am informing readers that Alwaeza Raisaheba Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant passed away peacefully at around 11:30 pm on Thursday, January 21, 2021, at the age of 89 from COVID-19 and pneumonia. She was predeceased by her late husband Alwaez Rai Jehangir Merchant on May 27, 2018.  Alwaeza is survived by her sons Malik (publisher and editor of this website), Fahar and his wife Nina, Alnoor and his fiance Shellina; grandchildren Naim and Nurin, and sisters Shahsultan Bana and Shakerkhanu (Sakuma) Vazir Ghulam Hussain Alinani.

Aga Khan in Mozambique Simerg
 Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with leaders and teachers of the Lourenço Marques Jamat during his visit in 1958. Maleksultan is at left on second row, and Jehangir behind Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

With her husband of 66 years, Alwaeza Merchant devoted her life to the service of the Imam of the Time and the Jamat as a religious education teacher to the youth of the Jamats in Mozambique, Tanzania and the UK. She was a truly exceptional teacher and she treated each student as her own child. Her co-teachers in London would recall that during a single weekend she would take the underground to visit seven Ismaili religious education centres across London. In both her hands she would be carrying bags of religious education notes and material for distribution to students. At home, she would spend hours on the phone listening to the students’ rehearsing of Dua, Quranic verses, Ginans and Waezes before their recitations in Jamatkhana.

Maleksultan Merchant with Begum Salimah Aga Khan Simerg
Gulzar (centre) introduces Maleksultan Merchant to Begum Salimah Aga Khan at a function held in London during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s week long visit to the Jamat of the United Kingdom in September 1979. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

Her oratory as a missionary (waezin) inspired Jamats around the world, enhancing  their understanding of the ethics and principles of Islam and the Ismaili Tariqah.  A particularly memorable period in her lifetime was when she and her husband undertook a year long Waez tour of the newly settled Jamats in the UK, Europe and North America at the behest of the Supreme Council under Diwan Sir Eboo’s leadership.

Outside her religious duties, her honorary work with the social welfare board in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, uplifted and transformed the lives of many in the Ismaili community who were facing poverty, unemployment and other challenging family circumstances.

Jehangir and Maleksultan Mrs Merchant Simerg
Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant (1931-2021) with Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018). They served the Imam of the Time and Ismaili institutions for more than 60 years.

Alwaeza and Alwaez were remarkable partners who worked hand in hand and supported each other throughout their years of service.  The president of the then Ismaili Association for the UK (now ITREB) Dr. Aziz Kurwa remarked  “…..with you Malekbai, I had a formidable team. Both of you supported my work and guided me all the time. The knowledge that Alwaez and Malekbai spread amongst young students in UK and abroad lives in the heart of thousands. There was not a situation where Malekbai and Jehangirbhai did not have the right guidance to offer. Diwan Sir Eboo always admired their devotion and knowledge.”

Alwaeza Maleksultan had remarkable strength of faith and always sought inspiration and strength from her beloved Imam throughout her life, and especially during the 30 month period since the passing of Alwaez in May 2018. Not a moment passed by in her life without acknowledging that Mawlana Hazar Imam was always by her side.

Mrs. Merchant and Jehangir Merchant pictured at BC Place, Vancouver, prior to the Diamond Jubilee Mulaqat with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Photo: Raiya Suleman/Simerg.

Like her husband, whose mentor was the great Fatimid da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi, Alwaeza’s mentor was Varas Ismail Gangji. As a teacher of Ginanic literature, she would often recount his life and works. In a piece dedicated to Ismaili Gangji she noted: “I have had the immense happiness of teaching and explaining Ginans to my students and members of the Jamat alike. With zeal, enthusiasm and conviction we acknowledged the profound ethical and spiritual truths contained in Ginans, which provide guidance and inspiration in our daily lives. I would like to share one incident that I have narrated frequently during the course of my career. It was an evening that became a turning point in the life of Varas Ismailbhai Gangji.” (Read article)

The passing away of Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant is a difficult moment for the family. Today, the family would like to celebrate an outstanding murid of the Imam who most nobly and sincerely dedicated her life to the Imamat and the Ismaili Jamats worldwide, and we express our shukrana to Mawlana Hazar Imam for the special opportunity given to her to serve the House of the Imam in a special and unique way.

Date posted: January 22, 2021.
Last updated: December 28, 2021 (typo(s) and new links added, see below).

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Mrs. Merchant’s funeral will be held on Thursday, February 4 (see new post Mrs. Merchant’s Tribute Excerpts and The Ismaili iiCanada announcement).

Condolences: We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Mrs. Merchant by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment. Your comment may also be submitted to simerg@aol.com. Here is a tribute from several we have so far received.

‘Mrs. Merchant’ has passed? I am ever so sad!

Aga Khan Lourenco Marques Simerg Malik Merchant
1966: Dar es Salaam Aga Khan Girls Secondary School visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam, with Mr. and Mrs. Merchant seen in the photo.

By IZAT VELJI

No matter which way you cut the pie, whenever parents pass on, they leave such a huge void in our hearts that all you can possibly do is pray for their souls’ freedom in Mowla’s Light. May Mowla shower His Noor ke barish (showers of Light) on her and give her soul eternal peace and rest – Ameen.

I have such fond memories of her in my upper primary at Aga Khan Girls School in Dar es Salaam. Her trademark warm and affectionate smile coupled with the sparkle in her eyes endeared her to every student who had the good fortune to be in her class. She taught in an unconventional but a very effective way. She told enthralling stories. The dates and facts were picked up from a vast plethora of books and Quran and her favourite ginans. It was like a beautiful tapestry being woven with reds and greens and golds and silvers! It was done with such joy and passion that we remembered them like children’s stories. It was Mrs. Merchant who introduced us to figures in our history like Gazi Jawhar, Hasan bin Sabah, the development and spread of the Fatimid Empire, the establishment of Alamut – o boy, did the Ismaili history ever come to life when she handled it – hats off to her!

Her own affection and love for her Mowla became very evident in one class when she started her lesson on Hazrat Aly and by the time she came to Mowla Aly’s assassination, she could not control her tears. The pain and hurt were so real for both her and ‘her kids’ that when the bell rang, not one kid twitched. There was pindrop silence in class. Not a single other teacher could command that kind of control over a class like ours – rambunctious and high achievers. But she loved each and every one of us.

She became a pivot in our young lives because she took RI teaching and learning to a whole new level. It was a class you really looked forward to. Bravo and merci beaucoup, Madame Merchant! You have left warm and fond memories behind. With your passionate and selfless seva, I daresay, you will soar like a falcon and rest on Mowla’s glove!

Shukhar! Thanks.

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You may leave a tribute to Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment. Your comment may also be submitted to simerg@aol.com.

A more detailed tribute to Alwaeza will appear in the coming weeks.

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