Mrs. Merchant with senior students of Central London BUI

To Mrs. Merchant: “With Love to the Best Ever” – Memories from Her Students in London, England

Publisher/Editor Simerg, Simergphotos and Barakah

Exactly a year ago, on Thursday, January 21, 2021, my beloved mum “Mrs. Merchant” (Alwaeza Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant) passed away peacefully at the age of 89. Tributes and condolences poured from all over the world, which deeply touched the entire family. The family also received a Talika of blessings from Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as well as a message of condolence from Prince Rahim Aga Khan, both of which deeply inspired and gave courage to the family during their period of bereavement. My dad, Jehangir, her loving husband of 66 years, had died three years earlier on May 27, 2018. They both served Imamat institutions on a professional and voluntary basis as missionaries and religious education teachers for more than 60 years.

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mr and mrs merchant
This July 1992 photo of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant is from the first page of the tribute album prepared by the BUI students of Central London, England on their retirement from the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the UK. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

I was unable attend the funeral because of Covid-19, and other challenges. Knowing my situation, my mum told me on Facetime on the morning of her admission to the hospital, “Malik, tereku nai aneka hai” (you are not going to travel). She passed away 12 hours later.

Three months later, I travelled to close her rented home and spent three weeks packing my parents belongings. As mentioned earlier my beloved father, had died 3 years earlier. As I went through thousands of pieces of objects that included their beautifully handwritten waezes (sermons) I came across a priceless album of tributes prepared by Baitul Ilm (BUI) students of Central London, England, for her retirement. All these objects, including the album, were packed and shipped to Ottawa, numbering some 86 boxes. The major categories of the contents were identified on a spreadsheet.

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Mrs. Merchant Tribute
Title page of tribute album prepared for Mrs. Merchant. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection,
Ismaili teacher and missionary Mrs. Merchant retirement bouquet of flowers
A young girl presents a bouquet of flowers to Mrs. Merchant on her retirement as teacher and waezin with ITREB for the UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.


The Untiring Efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant

Ismaili religious education teacher and missionary Mrs. Merchant
An absolutely beautiful Mrs. Merchant helped by Tasneem Virani cuts a cake at the tribute party held on the occasion of her retirement from ITREB UK. She and her husband were recognized for their services to the UK Jamat in a speech delivered by Ms. Virani (see excerpts below). Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.


Let us take our minds back in the 1970’s when they [Mr. and Mrs. Merchant] worked seven days and evenings, spreading their knowledge to not only the children, but the leaders, the Mukhisahebs and Kamdiasahebs, as well as all the members of the Jamat. They would be in London one morning, then Brighton later in the afternoon, then back to another centre in London, then off again — all by British Rail.

They continued to be extremely involved with teaching, preparing teaching notes, training Mukhisahebs and Kamadiasahebs, perfecting varas [recitations] for children, training the teachers, training and supporting those coming into our Tariqua and so on. This is a real backbone of our strength in our institution as we see today and will never be forgotten. Our gratitude for those untiring efforts have no bounds.

I remember the long hours we all spent together in the stages when we we were planning to formalize the structure of religious education as we know it today. This format of Bait-al-Ilm is the culmination of the untiring and continued support and input from you both, Mr. and Mrs. Merchant.

Mrs. Merchant, you have taught us to follow, in spirit and in action, the most important Farman of Mawlana Hazar Imam of not accepting mediocrity but always aiming at the highest level and not compromising on quality. The time you spent on an individual child and the patience you show all make you a role model for those left now to do the job you started so long ago and continue to do.

We pray to Mawlana Hazar Imam to shower you with blessings that you will have happiness, long life, strength and courage to continue your hard work and give to others what what you have given to us. Ameen, Tasneem Virani, Administrator.


Tribute to Mrs. Merchant
A tribute by a BUI student to Mrs. Merchant from the tribute album presented to her by the London BUI students, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

.…Story continued

With some help from members of the Jamat, I began unpacking a few of the boxes that I had carefully labelled at the time of packing. JAM #55 (Jehangir Alibhai Merchant, everyone wondered why they were labelled JAM, but my dad had a sweet tooth, anyway) had been assigned to the box containing the album. I am deeply happy to post a few images from the voluminous album of tributes to my mum by the London students. I hope to be able to scan as well as OCR a few more pages from the album highlighting the impact of her contribution to religious education in the UK, and to publish another post sometime in the near future.

Mrs Merchant retirement card from students and teachers of BUI London England
Mrs. Merchant admires a beautiful card presented to her during her retirement from ITREB for the UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Tribute to Mrs. Merchant by Ismaili students in the UK on retirement from ITREB
A tribute by a BUI student to Mrs. Merchant, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.
Mr and Mrs Merchant farewell party.
Mr. Merchant makes a point during his address at the farewell party honouring him and Mrs. Merchant (left) for the services they rendered as religious education teachers and Waezin with ITREB, UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.


The Gentle Mrs. Merchant: A Letter from a Student

Mrs. Merchant with senior students of Central London BUI
Mr. and Mrs Merchant with the Darkhana Jamatkhana and ITREB UK leadership, and teachers and senior students of BUI Central London, UK, July 1992. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.


…..We are all gathered here today to say Good-Bye to our dear Mrs. Merchant, What I would really like to do is to share with you a letter which I have written to Mrs. Merchant.

Dear Mrs. Merchant,

I am going back a good number of years when I recall that when I started religious training at [5] Palace Gate you were my first teacher and you have continued to be the gentle but strong influence in my life, for religious training does not end at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday but continues to be an integral part of our lives. I have spent many Saturdays listening and discussing in your classes and these are the roots of my understanding of my beautiful religion. Your constant guidance and willingness to answer the questions, however bizarre, never once a harsh word, or a change in the pitch of your voice, however much we tried your patience, makes you a role model for us. Yes, believe or not Mrs. M. I now come in to teach the little children and I will try and use the same gentle but impossible to say No! manner when asking a child to take a vara [recitation of Dua, Farman, Ginan etc. in Jamatkhana]…. It is thanks to personal touches and willingness to do anything for your students that makes you that special person that you are….

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BUI students at Mr and Mrs Merchant retirement party
A group of BUI students perform a recitation at the retirement party in honour of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant who served as missionaries and religious education teachers with ITREB UK. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

If we have a vara we can be sure a day or so before the phone would ring and the familiar voice would say, “Beta, you were not in Jamatkhana today, why? How are you doing in your exams? I will pray for you. Are you ready for your vara? Can I hear it over the phone?”

This kind of dedication is rare and we are the lucky few who received it. Well Mrs. Merchant, today we pray for you, that you will always find peace and satisfaction and find more children to benefit from your softly softly approach so that they can become staunch Ismailis and may they also experience the love and confidence we have enjoyed.

We love you and we will miss you. Don’t forget us for we will never forget you. Love from Shaheen and all the others in London.


You Will Be in Our Hearts and Prayers Forever

Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant (June 9, 1931 – January 21, 2021), pictured in Lisbon, Portugal, in July 2018, during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Mrs. Merchant was a truly beautiful soul, a deeply caring mother and grandmother as well as a fantastic teacher and an Alwaeza (missionary) loved by thousands around the world.

I humbly and sincerely ask everyone to join the family in praying that Alwaeza Malek Merchant’s soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: January 21, 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.

Mrs. Merchant (d. January 21, 2021): Reflections on a Funeral During the Year of Covid-19 as Ismaili Community Bids Goodbye to a Very Popular Teacher and Missionary

Mrs. Malek Jehangir Merchant at Jehangir's grave
Alwaeza Raisaheba Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant, or Mrs. Merchant as she was known among her students in Africa and the UK, was buried Thursday February 4, 2021, at the same cemetery as her husband Jehangir. Here she is seen visiting his grave shortly after he passed away May 27, 2018. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.


Many thoughts come to mind as I attend Mrs. Merchant’s funeral online from the UK. She passed away on January 21, 2021, at the age of 89, on the same day she was admitted to the hospital.

I have fond memories of the time I had spent working with her at 3-5 Palace Gate in London. While teaching Bait-ul-Ilm classes, I benefited immensely from her knowledge and wisdom. 

The Covid-19 pandemic, which also took Mrs. Merchant’s life, is unprecedented and is having a profound impact on our lives. One such impact is that we cannot attend or participate in funerals in the customary way at this time. However, technology has allowed us to participate in the funeral ceremonies from anywhere in the world, albeit in a different manner.  

Mrs. Merchant’s face was visible to all of us who were watching throughout the 30-minute ceremony that included Salwats, the recitation of the prayer Astaghfirullahi Rabbi Wa Atubu Ilaiyhi (Verily, I seek the forgiveness of Allah, who is my Lord and Sustainer, and I turn to Him in repentance) as well as verses from Ginans and profound quotes of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III (d. July 11, 1957).

There are guidelines, which vary from one province to another, about the number of people who can be present for the funeral (in Vancouver, the limit is 6 family members) and burial ceremonies at the cemetery (4 family members), masks are mandatory as is social distancing, and if a person had died of Covid-19 the casket must remain closed unless the body has been embalmed.

The six individuals from the family who were present at the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana were Mrs. Merchant’s son Fahar and his wife Nina, Shellina (fiancé of youngest son Alnoor, who could not attend from the UK), nieces Habiba and Sherezad, and Nasreen, daughter of the family’s extremely close friend Mrs. Sakerkhanu Velji whose husband, Mr. Sadru Velji, was buried just 48 hours earlier on February 2. Due to extraordinary circumstances as well as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance expressing his desire for his Murids to follow public health guidelines, Mrs. Merchant’s eldest son Abdulmalik (Malik) and his daughter Nurin were not able to travel for the funeral.

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Malik and Nurin Merchant on Mrs. Maleksultan Merchant, Ismaili Jamatkhana Toronto
A reflection by Malik and Nurin Merchant on their mum/grandmother . Please click on image for enlargement.

Following the completion of the funeral ceremonies, which has been dubbed as Rites of Passage, volunteers wheeled the casket across the Jamatkhana Hall into the waiting hearse to the calling of the Muslim Shahadah Lailaha illallah Muhammad ur Rasulullah (I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God) recited by one person, and repeated by the same person as there was no one lined up to carry or touch the coffin (Janazah) due to Covid-19. The live streaming stopped once the coffin left the building into the waiting car. This was truly an emotional send-off for us watching from other parts of the world. 

After the four male members returned from the cemetery, Zyarat and Samar ceremonies were performed. Normally, these would be held during the evening Jamatkhana ceremonies where hundreds of people would be able to participate and recite special prayers for the soul of the deceased. Jamatkhanas have been closed across Canada for the last several weeks, as is the case in many parts of the world.

Jamatkhanas in Canada have never before been closed for such an extended period of time. This past year has been particularly difficult for all of us everywhere, and one can imagine its impact on those who attended Jamatkhana regularly. 

However, there are some collateral benefits of the pandemic. With the blessings of Mawlana Hazar Imam, our faith has been strengthened. Jamats have come together across the world, helping one another. The magnificent work done by the volunteers has impacted every institution within the Jamat — from arts and culture to economic to health to religious education to social welfare boards and the youth. The undertaking has been enormous. The organization of funerals and the work of the funeral, or the  mayat/ghusal committee is simply incredible. Keeping everyone safe under our current circumstance where a virus can spread rapidly is demanding and requires additional hours of care, diligence, organization and work to meet strict protocols and provincial guidelines. 

At the onset of Covid-19 pandemic 2020, things looked bleak and hopeless. But, human ingenuity was at work. Scientists all across the world set to work to come-up with vaccines in record time in the fight against the Covid-19. We saw as we entered 2021 that highly effective vaccines have been formulated, and with proper and fair distribution will give hope to humanity in the coming months.

I am grateful that I have been able to participate in Malekbai’s funeral from the UK and I pray that Hazar Imam bless her with Noorani Deedar and grant the family the strength to bear this loss. Ameen and Ya Ali Madad.

A Dignified and Safe Rites of Passage for Mrs. Merchant 

Alwaeza Raisaheba Maleksultan Jehangir Merchant (June 9, 1931 – January 21, 2021), age 89. Photo: Shellina Karmali.


Feriyal Merchant (USA): Ya Ali Madad, Dear family. My sister Kulsum Laiwalla  and myself from Silicon Valley CA watched the blessed last rites and ceremonies of  our beloved Malek Sultan Aunty who was  lying so peacefully in the prayer hall as the heartfelt spiritual paragraph  from our Beloved Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s memoirs was read by her son Fahar, souful ginans and powerful Salwats recited. Though the hall had a few family physical  presence but it was filled with spiritual connections and prayers from all over the world.

Dear Malek Aunty today your earthly body said goodbye, your soul on speedy wings have taken flight to Heavenly  abode. You will be missed by many but always fondly remember. As I saw you lie you left me with thoughts of wisdom as you always do. This is a journey all must take alone so be prepared  so there is after glow of smile and peace on your face as I saw on yours. Shukar Mowla Alhamdullilah.

Salim and Nevyn Kanji (Toronto): Today, we participated in a beautiful and simple funeral service for our teacher. Thank you for giving us this opportunity. May your mom’s soul rest in eternal peace. May Hazar Imam give you lots of strength and courage to face this great loss. Remember, we are always here for you and your family.

Amin Hooda (Ottawa): Thanks for your efforts at the time when there is a huge personal and family`s loss. Humbled to have attended the live video stream, that was completed in less than half hour, through the recitation of tasbihs and ginans; it was an opportunity for me to benefit from this spiritual connection that you mum, alongside your dad, as a lifelong teacher selflessly nurtured for so many individuals and jamat at large, through their friendship and students. Shukar.

(Nahid) Begum Nurmohamed Shariff and family: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sending me the invite as I was very fond of both mum and dad. They were wonderful people and will live on through you all but also their wider family — those that they taught selflessly over the years with love and compassion. Your mum and I had a bond and I loved and respected her dearly. She is in a wonderful place. Mawla grant her his noorani didar and rest her soul in eternal peace. Ameen. Sending your whole family lots of love and prayers.

Julián Arturo Zapata (Colombia, South America): Querido Hermano Abdulmalik, muy linda la ceremonia del funeral de tu noble Madre Maliksultan. Abrazos Fraternales desde Colombia el Alamut latinoamericano

Translation: Dear Brother Abdulmalik, the funeral ceremony of your noble Mother Maleksultan is very nice. Fraternal hugs from Colombia, the Latin American Alamut.

Shiraz Nasser: Thank you 🙏for inviting us to participate in funeral ceremony. Her soul has merged with the Noor. It is time for spiritual happiness. May Mawla accept all your wonderful sewa. Stay safe, healthy, happy, united and continue your wonderful family tradition of spiritually intellect sewa in humility. Love to all.

Malek Merchant family at her funeral
Mrs. Merchant’s family members pictured on February 4, 2021 in the courtyard of the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana during the funeral ceremonies held for her at the Jamatkhana. Left to right: Nina and Fahar Merchant, Shellina Karmali, Habiba and Alnashir Rashid, and Sherezad Zinna.

Shariffa Keshavjee (Kenya): Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un “Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.” Thank you for inviting me to join in on your mum’s farewell. May her soul go with the light into Asal Makan. May you get peace and sabar, patience. I once read that sabar is illumination from within, where experiencing patience gives birth to a space. In that space Rab is present.

Alnoor Abdulla (Vancouver): I appreciate and feel privileged to participate. It was a spiritual ceremony. She will always remain special and everlasting in my mind.

Rozmin Fazal (UK): Thank you for sharing the live link to mum’s Mayyat ceremony. It was such a dignified ceremony. May Mowla rest her soul in eternal peace and grant you and the family strength to be able to cope with the loss. Amen.

Anonymous (England): May Mawlana Hazar Imam bless your mum’s soul and may she rest in eternal peace. Ameen. She looked good and at peace. Lovely that everyone there participated individually. I am praying for your mum’s soul and dad. I’m praying for you and the family to have peace in your heart and in your lives.

Abdul Remtulla (Edmonton): Thank you for your invitation to attend on line ceremony. We did and bid her goodbyes. May her soul rest in eternal Peace, Ameen, Warm wishes and Ya Ali Madad.

Azy or Yasmin (Toronto): Thank you for inviting me to participate in the ceremony. I feel honoured indeed. She looked very very peaceful. We lost a great person from the earth but Mowla welcomed her home. Mowla bless her soul with Noorani Didar and bless you and the entire family with strength to face this tremendous loss. Amen.

Muslim Harji (Montreal): Thank you for considering us as a part of your family. Both Nevin and myself attended Maa’s Mayat ceremony and were very impressed with the way it was conducted. We pray for her soul to rest in eternal peace. Ameen Love, Light & Cheers

Nizar Motani (USA): I was able to join the livestream from the beginning. From all the tributes to mourn and celebrate your mother’s amazing service, her  endearing  personality, and her kind nature — she was  clearly  an ANGELIC  SOUL and is resting in the ABODE of PEACE  next to her beloved husband.

Zarina Moosa (Toronto): Thank you for letting me participate in the funeral ceremony of your beloved mother. It was such a dignified and beautiful ceremony fit for an equally dignified and beautiful lady. Shukhar. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. With prayers in my heart for all of you.

Karima, Nasim, Shamshad and Nuryn (Vancouver): Thank you letting us watch, Malekabai’s funeral today. She is at peace, and may Mowla rests her soul in eternal peace, Amen.

Date posted: February 5, 2021.
Last updated: February 6, 2021 (Jamatkhana photo added with a reflection by Malik and Nurin).

Also see two related pieces Mrs. Merchant passes away at 89 and Tributes celebrating her life.


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.

Shiraz Pradhan

About the author: Shiraz Pradhan is a professional engineer, writer and philosopher. A regular contributor to this website, Shiraz has a keen interest in Judaeo-Christian History, Islamic Studies, Sufism and philosophies of the Vedas and Upanishads. He is currently completing a book titles Amarapuri, the Abode of Eternity. He is the Chairman of the Association of the Study of Ginans which specializes in the preservation, study and research of the ancient Ismaili Ginans (hymns). Shiraz currently lives in the UK with his family.

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.


Mrs Merchant at grave of husband Jehangir

Photo Essay: Karim Master’s Original Copy of “Fidai” Magazine Published in 1936 to Commemorate the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

Karim Master’s Original Copy of “Fidai” Magazine Published in 1936 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

Please click on image for photo essay on Fidai magazine

Please click on image for photo essay on Fidai magazine