A Visit to the Ismaili Cemetery at the Victory Memorial Park: I Bid Farewell to My Mum, “Mrs. Merchant,” and Pay My Deep Respects to My Beloved Dad and Other Deceased Members of the Jamat

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Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant pictured in Lisbon, Portugal, in July 2018 during the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

As I reached the burial sites of my parents on Thursday, April 29, 2021, I was deeply gratified when a Bangladeshi woman walked over to me and offered me two stems of roses that were part of a large bouquet of flowers that she had brought to lay on the grave of her beloved 31 year old son who passed away 3 years ago following a bone marrow transplant. She was in a state of grief as the loss of a child to any parent is the greatest sorrow that can occur. She prayed fervently by her son’s graveyard, and before departing came to me once again to offer her sincere and heartful condolences for the recent loss of my mum, and my dad three years ago. She told me she would think of them during her future visits.

Mrs. Merchant grave Victory Memorial Park
Grave of Alwaeza Malek Merchant (June 9, 1931 — Jan 21, 2021) bearing a temporary plaque with her name. She was buried at Victory Memorial Park, a few metres from my dad’s grave. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Grave of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (December 13, 1928 — May 27, 2018) at Victory Memorial Park, with a permanent marker bearing his name and the Qur’anic verse “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un” (Surely we belong to God, and to Him we return, 2:156). Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

My visit to the burial grounds was on my 17th day in Vancouver. I had missed my mum’s funeral that took place almost 3 months ago. I had come to close up on her matters and to pay my respects to both her as well my father who had died 3 years ago on May 27, 2018 shortly after he and my mum were blessed with the Diamond Jubilee Deedar (glimpse) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

Victory Memorial Park Aga Khan Ismaili Cemetery, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada Simerg
A layout of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery grounds, with the Ismaili section indicated by the word “Aga Khan” at top left section. Image: Brochure, Victory Memorial Park.

The Victory Memorial Park burial site has been in use by the Ismaili Jamat (community) since 2017. Located in Surrey, it is at a fair distance from the Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana, where all the funeral rites and ceremonies take place. However, the previous cemetery, Forest Lawn that is just minutes away from the Burnaby Jamatkhana, continues to administer matters such as the transfer and storage of bodies until the funeral actually takes place as well as the issuance of death certificates.

Modern technology brought me to Victory Memorial Park without any hitch whatsoever. Once at the cemetery, which has a picturesque view of the mountains, the site of Ismaili burials was easily located. The graves are arranged chronologically by year.

The Ismaili cemetery section at Victory Memorial Park.
The Ismaili cemetery section at Victory Memorial Park in foreground, with the main funeral home building seen in the upper centre of the photo. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I spent a considerable amount of time, offering the Fateha and Salwats, for my parents as well as other deceased members of the Jamat, including family friends who were well known to us. I also connected via Facetime with my brother Alnoor in the UK, and my relatives in Canada and Spain who, like me, were unable to attend the funeral because of Covid-19. We all participated in the recitation of the Fateha, and I was deeply inspired that they were able to join me while I was at the cemetery. It was a lovely day, and the beautiful sunshine warmed my heart.

Victory Memorial Park Cemetery, Simerg
A view of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery from the main funeral home building. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I then proceeded to the cemetery’s main building where the director of the funeral home kindly gave me a quick tour of the building and provided me with a map of the cemetery site.

A view of the Victory Memorial Park Cemetery from a section of the burial grounds. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

I left the picturesque cemetery knowing that the deceased souls are in a world filled with light, peace and happiness. I recollected an excerpt of the Talika Mubarak of Mawlana Hazar Imam that was sent to the Jamats worldwide on the occasion of his 84th birthday. It read:

Mr and Mrs Merchant in fromt of Aga Khan Hazar Imam portrait.
Jehangir and Maleksultan Merchant in front of a large portrait photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

11th December 2020

My beloved spiritual children,

On the occasion of my birthday, the 13th of December 2020, I send my warmest and most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children throughout the world.

I give my best loving blessings for the souls of all my ruhani spiritual children, and I pray for the eternal peace and rest of their souls….

Yours affectionately,

Aga Khan

During my return drive to my hotel, as my mum’s unit where I had stayed for a fortnight was now empty, I suddenly thought of Tessie, an elderly lady from the Philippines whom my mum deeply adored. Tessie would come by to help my mum on a regular basis, except from November to February when she would go away to the Philippines to spend time with her family. She was still abroad when my mum passed away on January 21, 2021. When Tessie opened the door to me, she was obviously surprised to see me and her first question was, “How is Mrs. Merchant? I miss her a lot.” She broke down when I told her that my mum had passed away, She was in utter shock. She tearfully offered me her condolences and prayers. I then left her home peacefully, knowing that the person my mum would have liked to be informed about her passing had been told about it by a family member.

As I reflected on my parents deaths, I remembered all the members of the Ismaili mayat (funeral) committee for the wonderful work they do to alleviate our pain and sadness, and keep us at peace during a grieving time. They are amazing, as are the Mukhis and Kamadias of the Jamat with their inspiring prayers that provide the Jamat with immense comfort and strength. And, not to be forgotten, are the hundreds of friends, relatives and colleagues around the world who write and telephone to express their feelings, condolences and prayers for the deceased.

Jehangir and Malek Merchant books, waezes, sermons, Simerg
My parents collections of waezes (sermons), religious texts and other material, all carefully packed and ready for shipment. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.
Mrs. Merchant alwaeza malek jehangir merchant waving goodbye
My mum waves goodbye to my younger brother Alnoor’s fiancé, Shellina, as she departs for the airport after a recent stay with my mum. Photo: Shellina Karmali.

As I prepare to return to Ontario after spending 3 weeks in Vancouver, I do so with immense satisfaction that I was also able to stay with them for long periods of time before both of them passed away.

Finally as we prepare to observe Laylat al-Qadr (Read Institution Program Details), the holiest of all the nights, on the 23rd night of Ramadhan (Tuesday May 4, 2021), my family and I once again draw comfort from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings and his prayers for the eternal peace and rest of all his ruhani spiritual children.

Date posted: May 2, 2021.
Last updated: May 4, 2021 (added link to Laylat al-Qadr program)


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