Alwaez Nizar Chunara with his wife and children. Passings Simerg

Passings: Alwaez Nizar Chunara (1940 – 2021)

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.

Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021), Simerg passings
Ismaili missionary Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara (1940-2021)

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

[In writing this tribute, I am deeply indebted to the family of Alwaez Nizar Chunara for supplying me with important information related to his life].

It is with the utmost sadness that I record the recent demise of the much beloved missionary of the Ismaili world, Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara, who passed away in Vancouver on September 8, 2021 at the age of 81. He is survived by his wife Fariyal and their three children Fayaz (Shirzad), Arif (spouse Amynah) and Fazillah (spouse Alim) as well as grandchildren Raeesa, Raian, Mikayla, Alayna, Kayden, Alyssa and Mila and two younger brothers, Alnoor (Remtulla) in Edmonton and Azeem in Australia. Alwaez was laid to rest in Vancouver on September 14, 2021.

Born on October 29, 1940 in Manyoni, a small town near Dodoma, Tanzania, Nizar Chunara did his early schooling in Tabora and completed his secondary education at Dar es Salaam’s Aga Khan Secondary School. He then joined his father’s business in Manyoni and shortly thereafter went to Pakistan to pursue his dream of becoming a missionary (or Alwaez). 

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Aga Khan  Mawlana Hazar Imam with Nizar Chunara waezin program student in Pakistan, photo for Simerg
During his visit to Pakistan in the early 1960’s Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, meets young East African waezin student Nizar Chunara in Karachi. Having learnt from Nizar about his interest in the comparative study of religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam then wrote down the title of a dissertation that would be of interest to the future waezin (see inset image). This note was preserved by Alwaez, and attached to the bottom of the photo shown above, and the blessed moment stayed with him all his life. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

During his studies in Pakistan in the early 1960’s, he was blessed with an opportunity to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam, who inquired what subject interested him the most. When he said he was keen on studying comparative religions, Mawlana Hazar Imam referred Alwaez to Professor Louis Massignon’s dissertation on Al-Hallaj by writing the information down on a piece of paper (see photo, above). This was an unforgettable incident in Nizar’s life at a very young age. It is a well known fact that Massignon (d. 1962), besides being an authority on the life of the legendary Muslim mystic Al-Hallaj, wrote and spoke on interfaith dialogue and was particularly interested in the relationship of the three Abrahamic faith traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

For Alwaez, this was the first of several opportunities in his life to meet Mawlana Hazar Imam.

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Aga Khan group photo Nairobi Kenya with Nizar Chunara
This group photo was taken in 1982 in the course of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Silver Jubilee visit to Kenya, when the leadership and spouses of every Jamati institution had the opportunity of a group photograph with Hazar Imam, Begum Salimah and Prince Amyn Mohamed. This particular group was the Ismailia Association, the precursor of the present-day ITREB. Alwaez Nizar Chunara is seen standing in back row (5th from left), immediately behind Hazar Imam, and his wife Fariyal is seated on floor, 5th from left. The then Chairman of the Ismailia Association, Rai Ameerally Kassim-Lakha, is on Begum Salimah’s right. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1964, following the completion of the waezin training program in Pakistan, he joined the Ismailia Association (now known as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB) in Tanzania as a full-time Alwaez. He dedicated the rest of his life to the service of Ismaili institutions, the community and the Imam-of-the-Time both in full-time and honorary capacities. His sermons were enjoyed by Jamats wherever he preached.

The most profound memory in his life was of him accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his fifty-four day visit to East Africa and Madagascar in 1966, as the official missionary. The memories of this visit stayed with Alwaez Nizar and inspired him throughout his life.

As a son of one of his best waezin friend, Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (d. 2018), whom he would visit every single day as they were neighbours in the same apartment building on United Nations Road, I can say that Alwaez Nizar’s recollection of this extraordinary visit were absolutely remarkable and truly inspiring. I sincerely hope that the recorded written details of this visit have been carefully preserved.

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Jehangir Merchant, Nizar and Fariyal Chunara in Dar es Salaam Tanzania United Nations Road, Simerg, Passings
Nizar Chunara (left), his wife Fariyal and Jehangir Merchant pictured outside their apartment building – Islamabad Flats – located on United Nations Road in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Family Collection, photo taken in late 1960’s.

I vividly recall the day when my mum, Alwaeza Malek (d. 2021), was preparing her material for a waez on social habits. Having just returned from the tour, Alwaez Nizar mentioned a Farman that Mawlana Hazar Imam had made in Mbale during a Jamati mulaqat. Hazar Imam warned the jamat about social habits in very strong terms. He also said that some  members of the jamat who had these habits had said to their friends that they were not socially advanced if they did not smoke and drink. Mawlana Hazar said that this was complete and absolute nonsense. That recollection by Alwaez Nizar set the groundwork for my mum’s waez material. The three missionaries shared their hopes and aspirations for the Jamat without any form of rivalry between them. Indeed, they were most respectful and helpful to each other in their common objective to serve the jamat and Mawlana Hazar Imam. That bond of friendship and affection remained throughout their lives until their deaths.

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Nizar Chunara Notes
A page from a waez notebook of Alwaez Nizar Chunara. Photo: Late Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In accompanying Mawlana Hazar Imam on his 1966 visit as well as serving the jamat and its institutions, Alwaez Nizar was following in the footsteps of his forefathers who had served the Imam-of the-Time with love and devotion. Indeed, the voluminous history of Ismaili Imams in Gujarati written in 1936 known as Nurun Mubin was authored by AJ (Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad) Chunara, who is among those who has been profiled in 101 Ismaili Heroes.

Nizar was also a superb volleyball player as well as a fantastic football (soccer) goalkeeper. But of course his service to the Jamat was most profoundly felt as an Alwaez.

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Nizar Chunara Ismaili missionary or Alwaez Simerg Passings
Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara with his wife Fariyal. Photo: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

In 1972, as he was set to depart for Canada from Tanzania, he was summoned to Kenya for full time service there. By this time he had been married to Fariyal for a few years, and they had two boys, Fayaz and Arif, who were both born in Dar es Salaam. Their third child, Fazillah was born in Nairobi. He served in Kenya until 1988, and then settled in Canada. During his tenure in Kenya he went on several official waezin duties around the world, and one of the most significant ones was visiting refugee camps in Europe where many Ugandan Ismailis had been housed after their expulsion in late 1972.

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Nizar Chunara with his family, Simerg passings
Alwaez Nizar Chunara and his wife Fariyal pictured in group photos with their grandchildren (top photo), and their children with their respective spouses and children, bottom photo. Photos: (Late) Nizar Chunara Family Collection.

As children, what do we most remember of our parents and grandparents? Of course, their unbounded love for us and their devotion to us by giving us the best education possible. Alwaez Nizar and his wife Fariyal gave their children the best they could in every way. Alwaez Nizar’s children and grandchildren also have other fond memories of their beloved dad and grandfather. They simply could not wait for their loving papa to return home from his waez tours, bringing for them heaps of chocolates. To see his children filled with happiness, was Nizar’s greatest joy. He would visit them everyday, play with them and take them for drives. All the grandchildren absolutely loved their Dada and Nana banana!! 

Alwaez Nizar led his life to the fullest, and serving as an Alwaez gave him the greatest happiness. He was fortunate to have the support of his wife and his entire family.

Although he struggled with Parkinson’s for about 15 years, he was not deterred in his determination for service to the Jamat, and continued to be a valuable source of information and inspiration to many in the Jamat. 

Alwaez Rai Nizar Chunara will be sorely missed by jamats around the world and we pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Ameen.

Date posted: October 02, 2021.

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We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Alwaez Nizar Chunara by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on Leave a comment.

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.

DOORS By Shiraz Bandali, Simergphotos

“DOORS” of Morocco, Spain and Portugal Through the Lens of Late Shiraz Bandali: A Tribute to an Ismaili Photographer

Shiraz Bandali (1959-2016)
Shiraz Bandali (1959-2016)

Shiraz Bandali of Edmonton, Canada, passed away at the age of 56. A passionate photographer, he captured “DOORS” during a family trip to Morocco, Portugal and Spain, and shared them with Simergphotos. We pay a tribute to Shiraz through his beautiful collection. Please click DOORS or on the image below.

"DOORS" by Shiraz Bandali Simerg
“DOORS” by Shiraz Bandali. Please click on image to see collection.

Date posted: April 2, 2021.

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The Aga Khan: Prince with a Smile Who Fulfills True Role of Religion, A Tribute by Léopold Senghor

“What we admire in you above all is that you have been able to integrate a modern outlook with religion so that religion has been allowed its true role which is not merely to provide an all-embracing explanation of the universe but also to furnish the fundamental solutions of the problems which life poses us” — READ MORE @ Barakah His Highness the Aga Khan a Visual and Textual Celebration

Please click on image for article.

 Date posted: March 18, 2017.

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The Aga Khan: An Icon of Thought, Philosophy and Action – A Tribute by James Wolfensohn

HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

“It is the extraordinary sense of humanity that he has. The great depth of real feeling for real people wherever they find themselves in society. He is a holy man. He is the leader of his faith. He’s a man who represents the very best in Islam.” — READ MORE

PLEASE CLICK: The Aga Khan Stands Out as an Icon of Action
by James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (1995-2005)

Photo: Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

Photo: Vivian Rozsa. Copyright. Please click on image for tribute.

Passings: Rai Hussein Khanmohammed of Burma (1932 – 2013) – A Tribute by Hasan Essa

Hasan Essa pays a tribute to his close friend and mentor, Rai Hussein Khanmohammed, who passed away peacefully in Los Angeles on September 23, 2013 just as he was about to turn 81. Ismaili institutions in Pakistan recognized his contributions to the community in a well-organized condolence and memorial meeting.

Please click: Remembering Rai Hussein Khanmohammed of Burma

Rai Hussein Khanmohamed (1932 - 2013)

Rai Hussein Khanmohamed (1932 – 2013)

Remembering Laila Lokhandwalla Through Her Loving Golden Jubilee Tribute to Mawlana Hazar Imam

LAILA LOKHANDWALLA

It is with deep regret and sorrow that we announce the passing of Laila Lokhandwalla in Toronto, Canada, on Sunday May 5, 2013 at the age of 55. Our heartfelt condolences go to Ms. Lokhandwalla’s family and friends, and we pray for the eternal peace and rest of Laila’s soul. Her funeral ceremonies took place at the Scarborough Jamatkhana on Thursday, May 9th, with special religious ceremonies for the departed soul later during the evening at the Headquarters Jamatkhana.

Laila Lokhandwalla was born and raised in India. Following her graduation in the early 1980’s from the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England, Laila moved to Canada where she served with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for a number of years. She obtained her B.A. in Sociology from York University, Toronto, and thereafter, her graduate level Certificate in Teaching ESL, from George Brown College, Toronto. Professionally she was a teacher of ESL (English as a Second Language).

An articulate and engaging teacher as well as an Alwaeza (missionary), Laila also wrote beautiful and stirring poetry. Several of her poems and writings were published in Ismaili literary magazines around the world, including the flagship quarterly periodical Ilm published by the UK Ismaili Tariqah Board. In many of her poems, she sought to capture her immense love, affection and devotion to Mawlana Hazar Imam (His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims).

Following the completion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee, Laila penned a special poem “Reflections of the Golden Jubilee” which was published on this website, along with a personal statement expressing her fondness for writing.

We pay our respect and tribute to Laila Lokhandwalla by re-publishing some of her pieces below, and invite the readers to also click on A Spring Poem for Shah Karim. We begin though with reflections about Laila from her former colleagues at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

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Tributes to Laila from Her Colleagues

From Mumtaz Virani, Toronto

Further to the above sad announcement about Laila, I would like to inform readers that a collection of Laila’s poems that has been published is available on-line at the following link: http://thewisdomofourhearts.com/.

Laila had been a bright student during her school career. She had inherited melodious voice from her mother who used to sing at the radio station in 1960’s in India. Laila had a special flair for arts and culture and had a strong command on English language because of her convent education.

She loved music and dancing. We witnessed her Kathak dance presentations at the parties during our student days at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in early 80’s. When in good spirit she was a well rounded person and it was easy to fall in love with her.

We pray that her soul may rest in peace. Ameen.

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From Alnoor B. Kassam

At heart, Laila was one of a kind… a flower ripe for He Who Is, departed at our loss, well before her time…  Her effervescence of mind was known only to those who’d sat with her during sessions of learning.  How she challenged anyone shy of intellectual rigour, and yet was always keen to adapt to innovative trends of thought!  Hers was a life we may thus celebrate.

Sure, there were challenges.  She bore them with grace.  And we know that Allah SubhaanaHu wa Ta’ala is Gracious, and He has now bestowed her with liberation of spirit.  As it says in the Qur’an ash-Sharif, those who have passed on are even more alive than we are in this world, only we lack capacity in that we neither sense nor fathom it…

Her zeal each time we had an IIS alumni conference will be held in fond memory.  Her intellectual honesty coupled with dedication to her vocation, was just as remarkable as it was sincere.

May she have well earned rest, in eternal peace, grace and blessing…

Please also see comments.

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My Interest and Love for Poetry

By Laila Lokhandwalla

I have been writing poetry in English since childhood. I started out with writing devotional poems in praise of Mawlana Hazar Imam (His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims), but I now have a collection of more than forty poems on various subjects, including politics, women’s and social issues as well as inspirational poems and poems celebrating nature. Besides poems, I have also written some geets (devotional songs set to music), in praise of Hazar Imam, in Gujarati and Urdu. I sometimes also write poetry in Gujarati and Urdu. However, most of my literary work is in the English language.

The love of religion, philosophy and social work, besides of course the pure love of language, especially the English language, have resulted in the poetry that has literally poured out of my soul. I have never really had to make an effort to write poetry. It has always automatically poured forth from my very being whenever I have been moved by anything in life. My poetry is the result of my life experiences and my feelings and thoughts on whatever I have experienced and lived.

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Reflections on the Golden Jubilee

By Laila Lokhandwalla

The sun dawned in the East and slowly but surely,

Lighted up every corner of the globe, in stages, successively,

The earth looked like a newly wedded bride in its enlightened décor,

Even as my Mawla was visiting Jamats, scattered across the globe, one after another,

Illuminating hearts and sparking minds, spreading joy and enlightenment,

Bringing prosperity and progress, breeding hope and encouragement…

This was indeed a special dawn…the dawn of a golden era,

The celebration of the Golden Jubilee of my beloved Mawla!

Excitement within, the tempo building,

Hearts in unison, merrily dancing…

Celebrating in a multitude of ways,

These unique, precious, historic days!

Canada launches several projects new,

To commemorate and celebrate this event…

And to their Imam, their vows they renew,

Pledging love and loyalty with this golden advent!

The Aga Khan Museum and for Pluralism – The Global Centre,

The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat and The Ismaili Centre,

In their wake, planning a renewal,

A renaissance: cultural, social, intellectual and spiritual!

What exciting times, the future seems bright in prospect,

How immense the bounties, the blessings of the Imamat!

Could this be real, I am moved,

May I help build this future, as I am encouraged?

For that’s not all, there’s more to come…

My Imam directs, these things must be done:

Poverty must be eliminated,

Seniors must be supported,

Education and Religious Education, quality should reflect,

And walls that divide, must be replaced with bridges that unite…

Witnessing these times, I am blessed, I am thinking…

Even as I see the sun setting,

Slowly also setting upon this golden time…

Yet, the hope, the courage, the happiness, does not seem to dim!

The impact was so strong,

The memory shall linger on…

Forever more, to fuel energies and to inspire,

As to accomplish tasks and resolutions pledged, we thus aspire.

Spiritually renewed, yet humbled by all these graces,

I fall into a prayerful ecstasy, my heart races…

“Shukran, shukran, shukran”, repeats my inner soul’s voice,

In a rhythm that is endless and continuous…

For I envisage my Mawla, you’ve opened up the doors graciously,

To ever-increasing happiness and prosperity, endlessly…

Shukranalhamdulillah!

Date posted: Tuesday May 7, 2013
Date updated: Saturday, May 11, 2013.

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