The Ismaili Muslim Greeting Ya Ali Madad, Mawla Ali Madad: A Dialogue with Two Inspiring and Beautiful Songs by Ismaili Children and Artists from the Pamirs

By (Late) Malek J. Merchant
Adapted and edited by Malik and Nurin Merchant

This religious dialogue on Ya Ali Madad is adapted and edited from the original piece by Mrs. Merchant (1931-2021). It was presented by her students at their respective religious education centres and Jamatkhanas in London, England, and also appeared in the 1977 Navroz issue of UK ITREB’S prestigious Ilm magazine. An adapted version of the original piece was later published on this websiste HERE. The piece below was revised recently by her son Malik and granddaughter Nurin who both edit and publish this website, Simerg, and its sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos

Following the dialogue, we present two beautiful Ya Ali Madad songs. The first one by Ismaili children was presented on The.Ismaili website in October 2020, and the second one is a song that was popularized by a team of Ismaili artists from Tajikistan’s Pamir regions when they performed to full houses in cities across Canada in 1999/2000. The Ya Ali Madad song brought the Jamat to their feet, and continues to remain popular in the Ismaili world – Ed.

Dialogue: Ya Ali Madad…. Mawla Ali Madad

AyazHi, Naguib. How’re you?

NaguibYa Ali Madad Ayaz; I’m fine thank you.

Ayaz: You greeted me somewhat differently!

Naguib: Yes, Ayaz, I said Ya Ali Madad, our traditional Ismaili greeting! Just as ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ and others are greetings in the English culture, Ya Ali Madad is a greeting in our Ismaili tradition and culture. I have been using that to greet all my friends and family members.

Ayaz: That’s interesting — I am glad you greeted me as such.

Naguib: Actually, there is also a Muslim greeting in Arabic, which goes ‘As-salaam-alaykum’. The reply to that is ‘Wa-alaykum-salaam’.

Ayaz:  I guess all that has a special meaning as well?

Naguib: Yes. As-salaam-alaykum means ‘May peace be upon you!’ The reply to this is Wa-alaykum-salaam, which means ‘And may peace be upon you, too’.

Ayaz: That’s really great! Tell me, what does Ya Ali Madad mean?

Naguib: Ya Ali Madad is a phrase very rich in meaning. Firstly, Ali is one of the Names of Allah. It means ‘The Exalted’ or ‘The Most High.’

Ali, of course, is also the name of our first Imam. Thus, from an Ismaili context, Ya Ali Madad means ‘May Mawla Ali, our Hazar Imam, help you’.

I should just like to add that Mawlana Hazar Imam, like his grandfather and our 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, and all Hereditary Imams going back to the first Imam Hazrat Ali, are the Bearers of the Same Light or Noor of Imamat. So, when we say Ya Ali Madad we are seeking help from the Imam of the Time.

Ayaz: I certainly have to read up and become familiar with the concept of Imamat. What is the reply to Ya Ali Madad?

Nuguib: It’s Mawla Ali Madad, which means ‘May Mawla Ali, our Hazar Imam, help you, too’.

Ayaz: I think that’s a very beautiful greeting!

Naguib: It sure is, because Ya Ali Madad, unlike greetings like hi, good morning, etc. is not merely a polite and courteous way to acknowledge another Ismaili’s presence. It is a Tasbih and a prayer.

It’s a Tasbih because we remember Allah and we also remember Hazar Imam. At the same time, it is also a prayer seeking the help of Mawlana Hazar Imam. I remember instances when Hazar Imam has often asked us to call on the name of Allah, the Prophet, Hazrat Ali or even the names of the Imams at any moment during the day as a form prayer. That moment can be as little as a second.

Ayaz: It’s amazing and almost embarrassing to admit hat I’ve never used this beautiful traditional greeting before.

Naguib: But haven’t your parents ever greeted you with Ya Ali Madad?

Ayaz: No. All mum says is, ‘Bye, take care’ when I go out and ‘Hello’ when I come in. When I go to bed, it’s ‘Goodnight’ with a kiss. Come to think of it, mum never says Ya Ali Madad to her friends either. It’s always ‘Hi Jenny’ and ‘Hi Sakar’.

Naguib: It’s very sad to hear that we ignore our traditions. Don’t you think it would be nice to say Ya Ali Madad before leaving for school, then again on returning from school, and finally when going to bed? And parents could reply with Mawla Ali Madad, along with ‘Sleep well’ or ‘Take care of yourself’.

Ayaz: Yes it would, because then we know that Hazar Imam’s help and protection is always available to us. I now can relate to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings during the past year when we have been living through this Covid-19 pandemic. He has conveyed to each one of us his most affectionate loving blessings for protection from difficulties, for our well being, good health, safety and security. And he has also constantly reminded us that he is always with us.

Mum and dad will be really surprised tonight when I say Ya Ali Madad instead of ‘Goodnight’.

Naguib: I bet they’ll be amazed! It is always very inspiring when I hear the exchange of Ya Ali Madad and Mawla Ali Madad greetings between members of the Jamat and especially the youth. They do so with so much affection for each other, and with immense faith in Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Also, Ayaz, you might hear people simply say Ya Ali, and miss out on the final word Madad. Unfortunately, this has become very common. Of course, it is always good to remember our Mawla, but when we are greeting it is good to greet with the full phrase Ya Ali Madad which has a specific meaning.

Ayaz: As a matter of interest, are there greetings similar to Ya Ali Madad among other traditions and cultures?

Naguib: You will be interested to know in Iran the greeting Daste Ali Beh Hamrat is often exchanged, meaning “Ali’s blessing be with you.”

Ayaz: I’m glad I met you today and you said Ya Ali Madad. I wouldn’t have learnt all this if you’d just wished me ‘Hi’. I also thank you for your observation that the greeting should be said in full as Ya Ali Madad and not simply Ya Ali.

Naguib: Well, I’m glad you see the beauty and importance of our tradition.

Ayaz: Thank you very much for being so patient and explaining all this to me.

Naguib: Not a problem at all – I’m glad I could be of help.

Ayaz: I’m glad too that I’ve learnt something about our traditions today. Well, I guess I’d better go now.  Thank you Naguib, and Ya Ali Madad – ‘May our Hazar Imam help you’, is that right?

Naguib: Yes, that’s right. Mawla Ali Madad, Ayaz.

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Two Ya Ali Madad Songs to Enjoy

1. Ya Ali Madad by Ismaili Children

Ya Ali Madad song by Ismaili children.

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2. Audio: The Iconic Ya Ali Madad – Mawla Ali Madad Song by the Ismaili Ensemble from the Pamirs

Ismaili artist with song Ya Ali Madad, Moscow performance, simerg Insights from around the world
The unforgettable Ismaili singer who enchanted and brought the Ismaili Jamats to their feet with his iconic song Ya Ali Madad during a visit by Ismaili artists from Gorno-Badakhshan to Canada in1999/2000. Photo: The singer performing at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam in Moscow, Russia, in December 2016.

The following rendition of the Ya Ali Madad song is from the DVD “Expressions from the Pamirs” produced in 2000 following a highly successful tour of Ismailis artists from Tajikistan who performed in major centres across Canada in 1999/2000. The Canadian Jamat was introduced for the first time to the Ismaili culture of their brothers and sisters in Badakhshan through a 2 hour stage performance of dance, drama, music and songs, along with an informative exhibition containing cultural artefacts related to the Jamats of Central Asia. The editor of this website, Malik Merchant, acted as a guide at the exhibition that was hosted in Vancouver in the latter half of 1999.

Ya Ali Madad, Mawla Ali Madad. Credit: Expressions of the Pamirs, 2000.

Date posted: July 1, 2021.

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Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Mrs. Malek Merchant (1931-2021)

Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant (1931-2021), popularly known as Mrs. Merchant, rendered services to the Jamat, its institutions and the Imam-of-the Time for several decades as a missionary and religious education teacher in Africa, Pakistan, Canada and the UK. She passed away on January 21, 2021 at the age of 89. This piece has been adapted and re-written from her original dialogue on Ya Ali Madad by her son, Malik, and granddaughter Nurin. Alwaeza contributed a great piece for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There (downloadable as a PDF file). Her article may be independently read by clicking on Varas Ismail Gangji: The Turning Point.

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