Reminiscences of Two Great Ismaili Missionaries, Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary

By Izat Velji

A youthful portrait of the Ismaili missionary, Meghji Maherali (1881 – 1941), of Mombasa, Kenya. Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

My profound gratitude and thanks [to Ameer Janmohamed] for sharing so much about Pir Sabzali – it is indeed a living history. The personal comments and recollections made his Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali  all the more interesting and real. The group picture shown below of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah with Ismaili missionaries astonished me because there in the photo staring back at me is my nanabapa [maternal grandfather]. I happen to be the proud grand-daughter of Missionary Meghji Maherali, seated  at the extreme left in the centre row. In the same row, third from right, is Pir Sabzali.

Every time missionary Pir Sabzali came into Mombasa, he never left without visiting nanabapa. The two had ever so much to share. There was no rivalry, competition or one-upmanship between them. This was very evident from everything that my mother, Noorbanu, shared with us kids.

Mum said that at the dining table, Pir Sabzali and nanabapa shared stories about their travels and advised and helped each other on how to improve each other’s skills in establishing the various jamats they visited. They also discussed ways of improving their waezes [sermons] and participation in discussions so as to become more effective. Apparently, there was a lot of gentleness and warmth as well as mutual respect between them, and they had a soft sense of humour when they recounted personal anecdotes. It seems like they really fed off each other. Pir Sabzali would relay messages of blessings to nanabapa’s family from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Please click to enlarge and read caption. Photo: Ammer Janmohamed Collection. UK.

Later, they would retire to the front room where nanima would send a tray of chai and ‘goodies’ via my mum, who was then seven or eight years old. She remembered all this with so much pride and joy. My mum passed away in 2000. She said that the two missionaries would sit for hours apparently discussing all matters Ibadat (special worship prayers).

They drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them. With missionary Sabzali’s encouragement and help, nanabapa established a school of waezins in Mombasa, one of his recruits being my father, Noordin Koorjee. Even back then, our missionary leaders practised ‘succession planning’ so that Imam’s work would not come to a standstill after they passed on.

These two ashaqs [devotees] were very sincere in their service to Mawla, and  deeply loyal to their Mashuq (the lord of the devotee).

STANDING BACK ROW- l to r: Missionary’s sons Gulamhussein, Fatehali, Sherali, Hussein; 2nd child Mehdi Gulamali is not in picture; SITTING ON CHAIRS – l to r: Daughters Khatija, Fatma, Missionary Meghji Maherali, wife Zainub with Hussein’s 3rd child Shirin, Hussein’s wife, Sikina; SITTING ON FLOOR – l to r: Dolat – Hussein’s 1st child, daughter Noorbanu (mother of Izat Velji, author of this article). Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

When Pir Sabzali’s health deteriorated and he was in his last days, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent him a message saying that he still wished to send Sabzali to Africa. Missionary Sabzali died a few days later. This came verbally from my parents, not once but several times. I have no way of authenticating this statement, but if it’s true then only Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Shah Karim, the present Imam, would know the true import and reach of this message to Pir Sabzali.

When nanabapa died, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent a telegram to the Mombasa Council that “Missionary Meghji’s funeral be held with a lot of pomp because of Meghji’s long and wonderful service to the Mombasa jamat.” So, out came the Scouts Band, all spit and polish followed by the cubs and scouts troops followed by the jamat giving kandh to nanabapa all the way from Chief jamat khana to the cemetery. That’s a long distance.

Today, more than 75 years later, I stand head bowed, in sheer admiration for nanabapa and Missionary Sabzali, whose soul was granted Piratan by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. Incidents and events like these are simply overwhelming and sometimes difficult to grasp and comprehend. It is their spirit and devotion which keep the Jamat inspired.

Date posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012.
Date updated: Friday, May 11, 2012.

Copyright: Izat Velji/Simerg. May 2012.

Please also see: Ameer Janmohamed’s Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali and the Ismaili Pirs of the Ginanic Tradition


About the writer: Izat Velji spent her early childhood years in Kenya and Tanzania. After completing her secondary schooling in Kenya, she pursued a degree in education and teaching at the University of Nairobi. She then settled in Canada where she completed her degree in Medical Lab Sciences. Later, she was recruited into the faculty of the Aga Khan School of Nursing in Karachi where she taught a number of science subjects including Clinical Microbiology and Basic Immunology. During her tenure in Karachi, she was very fortunate to have met His Highness the Aga Khan who visited her lab and class, once with the late Pakistani President Zia ul-Haqq, and on another occasion with his brother Prince Amyn. Encouraged by her husband, Izat also undertook voluntary assignments with the Aga Khan Health Board for Karachi to develop, conduct feasibilities as well as implement Health Education materials for the province of Sindh and the Northern Areas of Pakistan including Hunza and Chitral. The material that she helped prepare continues to be used today by AKDN Agencies such as Focus in their teaching modules. Since returning to Canada, Izat has been very active with the Ismaili community as a volunteer and especially with the Duke of Edinburgh’s program for youth aged 14 to 25. Most recently in 2011, she was acknowledged by the Governor General at the Gold Award Ceremony.


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14 thoughts on “Reminiscences of Two Great Ismaili Missionaries, Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary

  1. The Pir Sabzali was indeed a most fortunate missionary. In His memoirs, the great Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan did mention about Pir Sabzali in that the Pir had his “moment” when he made his choice to become devoted and offer his life and work of a missionary for the sole sake of the Imamat.

    Everyone has the moment in his life and lucky is the person who makes the sacrifice. God knows whether a person is going to obey and sacrifice or not but a person has a choice to do it or not. Bravo Pir Sabzali! The missionary was a rich businessman yet he laid his life for the Ahle ‘albeit. Truly a lucky man indeed.

    I wish more like him come along . Ameen. Yaalimadad.

  2. It indeed is admirable to learn about great men like Meghji Maherali and Pir Subzali for their contribution to the Ismaili community and sewa to Mowlana Sultan Mohamed Shah. They are our jewels and leaders whose foot steps we can follow. More admiring is that Meghji Maherali’s descendents are alive to admire the noble lives led by their Nanabapa. Shukran, Shukran and May Allah Bless their family and inspire them to follow their nanabapa and to contribute to the Imam and the Ismaili community. Such Ismailis make us proud and keep our My Flag flying.

  3. Could anyone please tell me where I can get more information about missionary Sayed Muhammad Shah, standing 3rd from left in the last row in the missionaries photo. Thanks.

  4. Ya Ali madad! К большому сожалению я не владею английским.Но про Пир Сабзали я много слышал.В Бадахшане Он известен по имени Машнари,это значит ( missioner).Бадахшан,где распространен исмаилизм,Пир Сабзали посетил где-то в 1923 году.Тогда Бадахшан-это часть Советского союза,где была однопартийная система,-коммунистическая партия,в которой религия была под запретой.И вот это был последний его визит,где Пир разъяснил людям,что:”Делайте то ,что власть вам говорит! Нынешний власть проявит о вас заботу! Вы будете жить лучше ,чем жили до этого!…..Но эта власть не вечна,ей тоже постигнет конец,исчезнет”.И до сих пор многие помнят и удивляются,что как всё точно он предувидел и все его высказывания нашли своё подтверждение.Все то ,что он прогнозировал материзовалось.

  5. Izat, a wonderful article and I think you are the Izat who was in Kenya High School with me. Jenny d’Souza.

  6. Beautiful ! MashaAllah, Izat. Well, again, I am humled and fortunate to be part of this family as Meghji missionary’s great grand daughter (by babajaan (maternal grandfather) Gulamali Meghji is the one missing in the portrait). It is very significant to be reading our history on Simerg!
    Izat, you have stunningly penned your offerings here. Thank you for sharing.
    May Allah bless all. Ameen.

  7. Truly a weighty, lofty legacy and bequest from Missionarysaheb to posterity (us!), embedding profound, important messages. Such as the gift of conversation, debate, discourse, reflection and dialogue on “everything Ibadat ” – may Allah crown their tireless, dedicated, staunch, undeterred and unbending efforts with success through future generations and changing times. Subhanaallah wabihamdillah !

  8. Thank you for showing us Pir Sabzali. I have a book in Gujarati, and read it admiring his spirit of travelling in such arduous lands up the mountains, down the valleys received cordially by the residents in Hunza. I remember as later in 1993 I went there for some 5 months in the Karakorum mountains in Northern area of Pakistan with the grace of Al-Waiz Ghulam Abbas Hunzai in London whose course I attended as a pioneer of Misbah-al-Ilm. Dr Ali Mohamed Rajput wanted me to translate it to him in English so we shared several sessions at his home until the whole book was completed. Pir Sabzali is truly a historical figure to be proud of for all who care to find out about him.

  9. WOW, what a wonderful stroll dowm memory lane. Best, best wishes.
    Mohamoud Mehdi Husein Meghji Merali

  10. Izat. congratulations on this article; like you, I too am so proud of sharing our nanabapa with you. The family photo is of course so precious, with our nanima, mothers, uncles and some of the cousins.

  11. What a wonderful article. The family photograph is a wonderful reminder of the era of the black and white photos. What a keepsake for Izat and her family. Also a very good legend to be passed to future generations.

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