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.

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

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.

MOSTLY UNEDITED – ED.

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.

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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.

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Mrs Merchant at grave of husband Jehangir

Exclusive: A Truly Inspiring Narrative with Historical Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1966 Visit to Iringa, Tanzania

“On November 4, 1966, as Mawlana Hazar Imam’s plane circled the Iringa airport, there was palpable excitement as the leaders of the Jamat anxiously awaited the arrival of our beloved Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam had taken a break on his extended tour of East Africa to return to Europe to attend to some personal matter. Iringa was the second stop on his return visit from Europe. As the ebullient Imam emerged from his plane, without regard to his evident infirmary, with plastered foot and a walking cane, Jamati leaders’ ecstatic emotions turned to one of unexpected concern. But the Imam was quick to calm the leaders’ fears about his infirmed foot.” — PLEASE CLICK TO READ COMPLETE ARTICLE

His Highness the Aga Khan in Iringa Tanzania
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with a plastered foot, lays the foundation stone of the Iringa Sports Complex during his extensive visit to East African countries in 1966. Please click on photo for an exceptional narrative of the visit as well as more photos.

Date posted: September 21, 2020.

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Brushing off the “Weeping Walls” of the Historic Bagamoyo Ismaili Jamatkhana

…Now no one cares, no paint on the walls. Who can save this lovely heritage? So sad to see the weeping walls — Shariffa Keshavjee in a piece for Simerg

Bagamoyo Jamatkhana
A view of the Indian Ocean from the balcony of the Jamatkhana, overlooking the building’s rooftop. Photo: Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.

Taking Example of Pakistan’s Baltit Fort, the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana Can be Converted to a Museum Chronicling Ismaili Settlement in Tanzania

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

In the wake of the partial collapse of the roof the historic Darkhana Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Tuesday September 3, 2019, we felt it important to highlight an incredible photo story that Shariffa Keshavjee of Nairobi contributed to Simerg some seven years ago. She had then lamented the sorry state of the historic Bagamoyo Jamatkhana through prose, pictures and thoughtful poetry in a highly acclaimed must read piece. Another very interesting piece on Bagamoyo was by Zahir Dhalla with photos of the Bagamoyo beach area where Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah set foot on East African soil for the first time in 1899 when he arrived in a yacht from Zanzibar. Zahir’s exterior photos of the Jamatkhana highlighted the building’s poor state.

A passage from the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana leading upto the sea front. Photo: © Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.
Bagamoyo Jamatkhana interior
The tejori (left) and the flag of the Ismaili Imamat resting against one of Bagamoyo Jamatkhana’s “weeping walls.” Photo: © Shariffa Keshavjee, Nairobi, Kenya.

The questions we would now ask of Ismaili residents of Dar es Salaam, Bagamoyo or anyone who has visited Bagamoyo recently as well as our Tanzanian Jamati institutions are: How are the “weeping walls” of the Jamatkhana doing today? What about the passageway leading to the ocean? How about the tejori (chest) in the Jamatkhana, and what is the state of the Ismaili Flag and sadri (floor mats)? And, finally, how is the Jamatkhana being utilized today, and can the Ismaili community feel proud about its current state and usage?

We look forward to an update on the state of the Jamatkhana with the sincere hope that what was once an eyesore, both outside and inside, has been restored to its former glory. If that has not been done yet, which is what we suspect, and the building is simply languishing and not used as a Jamatkhana anymore, we humbly bring forward the idea to convert the historic building to a museum that will hold important relics as well as portray the history of early Ismaili settlement in Bagamoyo and other parts of Tanzania (then Tanganyika). Many little towns that I have visited during my drives across North America have small museums housed in heritage buildings that wonderfully tell stories about their origins and the people who first occupied them. Of course, the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana building has to be be properly restored for any such project to develop, and this should quickly become a work in progress.

As a Jamat, we have to be mindful of historical buildings and places of worship like the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana, and do everything possible to revive and revitalize our cultural and spiritual heritage before they are forgotten or lost forever due to neglect, lack of interest or apathy.

Ismaili Jamat Khana and Cemetery, as seen from the Bagamoyo beach. Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

Time and Knowledge Nazrana: A Major Resource for Creative Projects

Institutions must lead and inspire the Jamat, and the Jamat must in turn respond with zeal and interest. It is a 2-way effort. Perhaps, there is an opportunity for hundreds of Ismaili architects, artists, planners and engineers who pledged their Time and Knowledge Nazrana (TKN) to Mawlana Hazar Imam to take a lead to improve the condition of our historic buildings that are in disarray for good and purposeful use.

Bagamoyo Jamatkhana
Ismaili Cemetery, at the Beach and the Indian Ocean, seen from the balacony of the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana.  Photo: © Copyright Zahir K. Dhalla 2017.

That can be properly and effectively facilitated by the TKN leadership team that is based in Toronto, in consultation with Ismaili institutions and local TKN bodies around the world. The transformation of the Baltit Fort in Pakistan that was undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture is an example of what can be accomplished with the Bagamoyo Jamatkhana and other heritage buildings of historical importance. There is immense talent and creativity in the Jamat as well as material resources that can be utilized for well planned little museum projects that would not only enrich local history, but also help boost the tourism industry. After all Bagamoyo, with its world class historical sites, has been proposed as a World Heritage Site.

Date posted: September 5, 2019.

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Anaar Naran (1936-2017): A Teacher Par Excellence at the Aga Khan Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

BY MALIK MERCHANT

Anaar Naran (1936 – 2017) pictured at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now known as the Canadian Museum of History) during her visit to Ottawa, Canada, in 2011. Photo: Simerg/Malik Merchant.

It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of a beloved family friend, educator and teacher par excellence, Anaar Naran, at the age of 81. She passed away peacefully in Richmond, Virginia, USA, on the morning of Thursday, September 14, 2017. Her funeral ceremonies will be held on Monday, September 18, 2017 at 2 pm in Richmond.

She leaves behind her children Amyn, Navyn and Naaznyn. She was predeceased by her husband Mr. Badrudin Naran in 1979 at the age of 48, and brother Zafar. She also leaves behind her brother Fazli and sister Farida.

Anaar Naran will be remembered by her students, their parents and her colleagues as a fine and inspiring teacher during her tenure at the Aga Khan Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, during the 1960’s. Her friends and family members will remember her as a committed and hard-working educator throughout her lifetime. She always carried a beautiful smile and exuded warmth and happiness. Anaar was absolutely dedicated to her faith as an Ismaili Muslim, and her love for Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was immense that when she talked about him, her face glowed with happiness. She remained an avid reader of literature until the last days of her life, encouraging even her daughter Navyn to produce poems.

At this sad time, our thoughts go to Mrs. Naran’s children and grandchildren, and we convey our condolences to the family of the deceased.

We pray for the eternal peace of the soul of Mrs. Anaar Naran, and for the strength of her family members at this difficult time.

Date posted: September 18, 2017.

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We invite your tributes and messages of condolences in memory of Anaar Naran by clicking on Leave a comment. Should you encounter technical or other difficulties submitting your feedback, please email your message of condolence to Simerg@aol.com under the subject heading Anaar Naran

A First-Hand Account of the Migration of Tanzanian Ismailis to Canada by Sadru Meghji

 “FOR MY TANZANIAN JAMAT, DIVERSIFICATION, YES, YES, YES; EXODUS, NO, NO, NO” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Kenya, 1972.

Sadru Meghji originally of Kilosa, Tanzania, tells the story of his 1971 visit to the Canadian High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam and how he became involved in assisting the migration of Tanzanian Ismailis to Canada. Meghji says that this form of assistance has been part of his family tradition from the time of his grandfather in 1899. Sadru’s father, Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram, also continued similar service to the Ismaili community and, in the photo below, is seen receiving a ring and blessings from His Highness the Aga Khan during the 49th Ismaili Imam’s takhtnashini (enthronement) visit to Dar-es-Salaam in 1957.  Please click on the following link or photo for Sadru Meghji’s informative “lost history” piece.

PLEASE CLICK: Rediscovering a Lost Piece of Ismaili History — First Steps in the Migration of Tanzanian Ismailis to Canada

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, blessing Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganiika) in October 1957. Phooto: Sadru Meghji Collection, Toronto.  Please click on photo for article.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, blessing Vazier Rajabali Meghji Visram during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika) in October 1957. Photo: Sadru Meghji Collection, Toronto. Please click on photo for article.