Maleksultan and Jehangir Merchant’s Contribution to the IIS: Cataloguing Khojki Manuscripts and Gujarati Translation of Farhad Daftary’s Short History of the Ismailis


January 21, 2023, marks the 2nd anniversary of the death of my beloved mother, “Mrs. Merchant“. She and my late dad, Jehangir, who passed away in May 2018, worked hand in hand for over 60 years in the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. In their service, they also contributed to the work of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS.)

My mum could read the Khojki script, and she and my dad undertook the task of cataloguing the Khojki manuscripts at the IIS. As the manuscripts had been transferred onto microfiche, the IIS provided my parents with a microfiche reader which enabled them to catalogue the manuscripts.

mr and mrs merchant
Photograph: Tribute album prepared by the BUI students of London, England, on the retirement of Mr. and Mrs. Merchant. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection.

On January 20, Simerg’s sister website produced a piece about the honour that was given to Dr. Farhad Daftary on January 18, 2023, for his devoted services to the Institute of Ismaili Studies, which he joined in 1988.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan was present at the event and expressed everyone’s gratitude to Dr. Daftary for his lifetime of work to the field of Ismaili studies. During his long tenure at the IIS, Dr. Daftary authored or edited 23 books and oversaw the publication of 150 books as well as contributed countless articles in scholarly journals and encyclopedias.

Most recently, in 2020, Dr. Daftary published a much anticipated volume entitled The Ismaili Imams: A Biographical History. The much sought book, unfortunately, has been a hard find at literature counters in Calgary and in other parts of Canada. I think very little effort has been made to restock the title, as I get a blank stare from literature counter members when I ask about the availability of the book and when they are expected to receive more stock! Perhaps, this important book is out of print and if that be the case then the IIS should certainly reprint it. This is one work that the Jamat had waited for more than 40 years since the IIS was established on December 13, 1977.

However, of all the books that Daftary published over the past 30 years, there is one that will always remain his seminal contribution to Ismaili studies. Entitled The Ismalis: Their History and Doctrines, the first edition was published in the early 1990’s and the 2nd edition came out in 2007. The voluminous 800 page book was more suited to scholars, researchers and keen readers of history. A few years later, in 1998, Dr. Daftary published a shorter version of the volume under the title A Short History of the Ismailis. Translations were done in numerous European languages.

Front and back cover flap of the Gujarati translation of Dr. Farhad Daftary’s work A Short History of the Ismailis. The translation was done under the title Ismailiono Toonk Itihas by Ismaili missionaries Jehangir Merchant and Sultanali Mohamed.

My dad was approached and whole heartedly accepted the challenge to do the Gujarati translation of the work. His Gujarati was very good but he was a very humble man. He sought the help of his missionary colleague Sultanali Mohamed to assist him and improve the translation even further.

Until the commencement of this project, my dad had looked after himself well physically. Such was his stamina that my daughter, Nurin, who went to visit him before he began the translation told me that during her morning walks with her grandad, he would outpace her leaving her metres behind. All this physical activity that he had conducted for years, came to a standstill once he undertook the Gujarati translation. He devoted day and night to the translation. He wanted the translation to be as perfect as possible and ensure that it adhered to Dr. Daftary’s style of writing. It wasn’t easy but he did it sincerely and from the bottom of his heart.

Missionary Sultanali Mohamed (1927-2020), co-translator with Jehangir Merchant of Farhad Daftary’s Short History of the Ismailis.

Sultanali missionary and my mum were very closely involved in the translation. The book went to India for printing and my dad insisted that he should see the proofs before the book was published.

What a shock when the proofs came back! The translation had been altered in many parts of the book and mistakes had been introduced. He decided to withdraw his name as the translator if the book was to be published in its sub-standard revised form without his approval He was deeply hurt, and responded to Dr. Daftary citing examples of the alterations that had been made in many parts of the book that were not acceptable to him. Moreover, numerous errors had been introduced. He found it hard to understand why the changes were made. He and Sultanali would have accepted the proof if it was better than the translation they had submitted for publication.

Dr. Daftary respectfully requested my dad to do the needful to bring the translation to its original form. My dad spent the next several weeks and reworked on the proofs that he had been provided. Throughout his dedicated time, he would have in front of him Gujarati-English dictionaries to ensure the best possible translation. He and my mum were thorough in all the services they rendered to Jamati institutions which they had begun in the early 1950’s after qualifying as missionaries and religious education teachers. Their first professional job was as teachers in Lourenço Marques (now Maputo), Mozambique.

Finally, after weeks of additional hard work, my dad and Sultanali’s translation was published and I have published, above, an image of the cover of the book. It doesn’t carry their names on the cover flap. However, they are listed in the inside title page of the book, shown below.

A cropped image of the inside title page of the Gujarati translation of Dr. Farhad Daftary's book A Short History of the Ismailis. The names of translators, Jehangir Alibhai Merchant and Sultanali Mohamed, appear on the last two lines of the page. Simerg
A cropped image of the inside title page of the Gujarati translation of Dr. Farhad Daftary’s book A Short History of the Ismailis. The names of translators, Jehangir Alibhai Merchant and Sultanali Mohamed, appear on the last two lines of the page.

I vividly recollect his dedication to Dr. Daftary’s book. Even I was ignored during my visits to Vancouver. Such was his love and dedication during his service to institutions. We were their “secondary children”, their students always receiving the highest priority but we accepted that throughout our lives. They sought and did everything for our education and to raise us to be good murids of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

On this day, we as a family pray for the rest of their souls in eternal peace. Their contribution to the Jamat was sincere. They worked hard for Jamati institutions and did the very best to set the best possible standards for themselves and their students. My mum is still fondly remembered by her students for the number of times she would call them when they had recitation duties in Jamatkhana — whether it was delivering prayers, ginans, waeze’s (sermons) or any other literary or religious recital. She wanted to ensure they were well prepared and fully ready for their recitations.

My parents had aspirations for their children and grandchildren as well as the youth of the Jamat, and I sincerely hope that we are able to fulfill their hopes and expectations of being good Ismaili Muslims, following its ethics and maintaining our devotion and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Date posted: January 20, 2023.
Last updated: January 21, 2023 (see correction note below.)

Correction: An earlier version of the post stated that Mrs. Merchant was involved in the transliteration of titles of Khojki manuscripts at the IIS. She was actually involved in cataloguing the manuscripts with her husband, Jehangir. The oversight is regretted and the post has been revised.



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 SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at

Passings: Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed (1927 – 2020)

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.

(Publisher-Editor Simerg, Barakah, and Simergphotos)

Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed Ismaili missionary and alwaez, tribute in Simerg passings
Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed (March 17, 1927 – November 28, 2020). Photo: Family collection.

It is with deep sadness that I inform readers of the passing away of a great and learned missionary in the Ismaili community, Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed, on November 28, 2020 in Vancouver at the age of 93.

Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed, also known as Missionary Saheb, was born in Mumbai on March 17, 1927, and became an Alwaez in Mumbai studying under very prominent professors and Waezein with a group of other new missionaries that included the Late Alwaez Rai Jehangir Merchant and Alwaeza Raisaheba Malek Merchant. His wife Alwaeza Raibanu Rahematkhanu joined the Waezin training program a year later.

Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed, like his wife Missinarybanu Rahematkhanu, was a deeply religious man with an extraordinarily strong belief in the Ismaili faith, and a profound devotion and love for Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Missionarybanu predeceased him, passing away in Vancouver in October 2010 at the age of 77. 

Alwaez Sultanali Mohamed (standing 4th from left) with fellow students, including Maleksultan and Jehangir Merchant (seated 3rd and 5th from left) and lecturers of a waezin training program that was established in the early 1950’s to train new Ismaili missionaries. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.

Alwaez and Alwaez initially began their service in Mumbai, and soon after their wedding the young couple emigrated to Kisumu, Kenya, in 1957. Whilst continuing in their respective professions in Kisumu, they rendered voluntary service with dedication and devotion as Alwaezein for many years, in various cities in Kenya and to the jamats of other countries.

Alwaez Sultanali had a deep-rooted love for knowledge and spent many hours in research, which furthered his deep knowledge of Islam and the Ismaili Tariqah. He wrote a Ginan book called Wonderful Tradition, and a book on the Ismailis in Gujarat called Heroes of Surat. He also curated the content of the monthly Chandraat Bulletin in Kisumu. The books and the bulletin were published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for Kenya (ITREB), which was was then known as the Ismailia Association.

Alwaez was an authority in the field of the esoteric meaning of our Ginans and was a mentor to many on this subject. Until recent years, he conducted special Ginan talks on a weekly basis, and through his easy teaching style and kind and friendly nature, he touched the hearts of all who attended his sessions as well as everyone who knew him or met him. His departure is a great loss to his family, friends and the Jamat.

On a personal note, the late Alwaez was a great family friend and I vividly recall the few days we spent with his loving family in Kisumu. He made it a point to take us to the shores of Lake Victoria every evening until we would be able to sight a hippo. He fulfilled that promise, and one can imagine our delight at seeing the animal as young kids. That was my first memory of Alwaez and Alwaeza, who as I found out through the course of my life were always intimately connected with my parents.

Gujarati translation of Short History of Ismailis by Farhad Daftary. Translation by Sultanali Mohamed and Jehangir Merchant, and published by IIS. Simerg passings
The cover page of the Gujarati translation of Farhad Daftary’s book A Short History of the Ismailis. Entitled Ismailio-no Tunk Ittihaas, the translation was done by missionaries Sultanali Mohamed and Jehangir Merchant.

Indeed, my late dad Alwaez Jehangir sought his constant advice on various terms in the Gujarati language, and was proud to have him as co-translator of Farhad Daftary’s book A Short History of the Ismailis. Alwaez Sultanali was also well known for his expert knowledge of the Khojki script. His contributions to the Institute of Ismaili Studies includes the translation of some Khojki literature into English.

Missionarysaheb and Missionarybanu will be remembered fondly by the Jamat for enhancing their spiritual knowledge and by the young students that stayed in the Aga Khan Hostel in Kisumu where they were wardens for a few yew years as their beloved Sir and Bai.

Alwaez and Alwaeza are survived by their three children: daughter Dr. Nevins married to Dr. Zuheir Saeed; son Akber married to Nasira Lakha and son Amanullah married to Nimet Babul, together with five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. This is a sad moment for the family, especially with his passing coming at a time when many of us want to pay our personal respects and be at his funeral, and simply can’t because of the restrictions that are in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

His funeral will take place in Vancouver on Wednesday, December 9. Relatives, friends and well wishers of the missionary may contact Alwaez’s daughter at We also invite our readers to submit their condolences, memories and tributes to the late missionary Sultanali Mohamed by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

We pray for the peace and eternal rest of the soul of Alwaez Rai Sultanali Mohamed. Amen. We also convey our deepest heartfelt condolences to members of his family for strength and courage to face his great loss. Our prayers are with them at this time of bereavement.

Date posted: December 6 , 2020.


We invite our readers to submit their condolences, memories and tributes to the late missionary Sultanali Mohamed by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment. The family of late Sultanali missionary welcomes your emails regarding any questions you might have on the funeral ceremony or other related matters. Please address your email to

Simerg invites Ismaili families to submit obituaries and tributes for deceased members of their families. For guidelines, please click Passings.

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.