[If you have not yet read the stirring first part of Zafeera Kassam’s account of the Darbar in Lisbon, please do so before you read this final piece. Also, re-reading Part 1 may engage you even more deeply with what you are about to read — a fascinating journey into the Darbar of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) and 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims — Ed.]
By ZAFEERA KASSAM
So, here is Mawla, dressed down in his white Sherwani. A car has pulled up to him. Our hearts in our mouths, terrified at the prospect of him leaving.
To our utter relief, out stepped someone familiar though, in our cloud of confusion, it took a few minutes of murmuring within the Jamat to confirm the visitor’s identity — His Excellency Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of Portugal — had come to pay Mawlana Hazar Imam a surprise visit!
Mawlana Hazar Imam receives President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa upon his arrival to the Darbar hall in Lisbon. Photo: The Ismaili/Vazir Karsan.
Again, I was dimly aware of the Alwaezin requesting the Jamat to stay seated because Mawla would be bringing his guest back into the hall. At this point, that sounded like malarkey; just something the Alwaezin would say to keep the Jamat sequestered in Hall 1 and prevent the congregation from dispersing.
We watched, with piqued interest, as Mawla embraced the President warmly and introduced him to the Leadership as well as the Noorani Family, who had conspicuously divested their ceremonial jubas. Mawla led the President towards the lounge, at which point the President made as if to take off his shoes but was quickly dissuaded from doing so by Mawla. The screens faded to the DJ logo again and we were again instructed to sit in contemplative silence, which was something of a challenge given the excitement and palpable confusion. I can’t imagine what the Jamats in Halls 2 and 3 were experiencing — perhaps trepidation? Had they too been brought up to speed? Had they been told that Hazar Imam would be making an unplanned return to Hall 1?
Mawlana Hazar Imam introduces President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to the members of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum. Photo: The Ismaili/Nayyir Damani
Just as the bumbling mix-match emotions and thoughts were beginning to take shape, the screens came alive to show Mawlana Hazar Imam, in his full regalia, escorting the President of Portugal, whose shoes were noticeably missing, from the lounge. Simultaneously, the doors of Hall 1 swung open and it was then that the truth registered and the fantastical dawned upon us. Mawla was actually returning to Hall 1!
That has never happened in the 30 years of my existence. Mawla was bringing with him a non-Ismaili into the Darbar Hall! Again, never in my 30 years have I seen that (though I later came to learn he brought the Honourable Njoroge Mungai into one in Nairobi in the early 80’s and, in Pakistan, President Bhutto was present at a mulaqat, together with many non-Ismaili dignitaries in Chitral).
My astonishment quickly evaporated into unbridled, quintessential euphoria. Hazar Imam was granting us another audience! Together with the Noorani Family again! Together with the President of Portugal! Unbelievable! What had we done to have the heavens open up and grant us such a unique and invaluable boon? Yet again, Hazar Imam fulfilled a whimsical wish many had nurtured in their hearts — that, once, just once, he chooses to return to his Jamat instead of departing. Alhamdulillah!
The salwats picked up fervour, indeed in the presence of a non-Ismaili. Not a single murid balked at this because Hazar Imam himself had invited the President inside. How many analyses can be drawn from this gesture? Mawlana Hazar Imam bridged the secular with the spiritual with this one magnanimous gesture. He made it obvious that he wanted the President to know who he is and what the Darbar entailed. And I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I described his appearance now as ‘majestic’. Incredibly majestic. Swelled with pride and glory. Mashallah!
As he had done before, he did so again — walking along the red carpet throughout the hall – with the President of Portugal at his side, both acknowledging jamati members. The procession made its way to the stage and Mawlana Hazar Imam gestured to the President to take a seat. Because I was sitting at the side of the stage, it appeared as though the Imam was offering the President his own takht. I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging open until the screen closest to me displayed that, in fact, there was an extra chair on stage now — the work of quick-footed volunteers, no doubt.
Once the Noorani Family had taken their seats, the President of the Council of Portugal claimed the mic to profess: “On behalf of all the Jamat that is present here, I welcome his Excellency the President of the Republic of Portugal, Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, to this Darbar.”
And the Imam clapped. The Noorani Family clapped. So how could the Jamat not clap? As mentioned in Part 1, though the Alwaezin cautioned the Jamat not to engage in applause, applause became very much part of this Darbar. As it should be. Happiness and love should never be restricted in expression. The Jamat applauded most heartily, using this opportunity to convey their immense thrill to have the Imam in their midst again as well as his guest as well as his family.
The chit of paper, which had been discreetly placed in the Imam’s hand when he sat down, was now unfolded as Mawlana Hazar Imam came to the mic — for the third time! With glee iridescent on his countenance, he opened with: “this was an unexpected blessing” which earned a roar of laughter and thunderous applause that faded into a ripple of amusement once he thanked the President for sharing his time with us and wore his glasses, confessing: “I’m reading now.”
He repeated his speech of earlier that morning, about having signed the Instrument designating the Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat, here in Lisbon.
He spoke about strengthening the institutions to better serve the needs of the Jamat and thanked the government and people of Portugal for inviting him to establish the Seat here; committed to working together to enhance understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims and contribute to peace and stability around the world.
“We now have — Alhamdulillah — Portugal as our partner.”
The hall was ringing with ovation and Hazar Imam was positively beaming when he took his seat again.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal addresses the Darbar gathering in Lisbon on July 11, 2018, in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam.
The President of Portugal was invited to address the congregation: “Few words, very much felt in this historical moment of the Diamond Jubilee of Your Highness and Spiritual Leader of this so meaningful Community and millions and millions spread across all continents. Portugal, home of peace and universal understanding congratulates Your Highness for the Jubilee and also for the constant contribution to peace, tolerance, dialogue, social commitment, plus building a better world.” Once again, applause blossomed in the halls, expressing pride at the laudatory remarks.
“Portugal, always a grateful nation, marks Your Highness’ choice to host the Seat of the Imamat Ismaili Mendoça; Your Highness’ support, among us and all over the world, to development, to justice, to the fight against poverty and inequality.”
“Portugal welcomes, with open arms, those who arrive, greets the dear thousands of believers of the Ismaili Community, including the 7000 Portuguese, that day after day, endlessly work with competence and social solidarity.”
“All of this, much in line with a verse of the Qu’ran, namely ‘Righteousness is not that you turn your faces to the east or the west, but is in one’s faithful God, the prophets and the book; despite love for it, righteousness is in giving wealth to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveller, those who ask for help.’” — Surah Al-Baqarah, if I’m not mistaken — “May all of you as well as all of us pay tribute to Your Highness and your family on this historic day and be welcome to Portugal.”
“I’m sure that Portugal will become your home forever.”
If it were at all permissible, this was a standing-ovation moment. Nonetheless, enthusiastic applause erupted throughout the hall, echoing the sincere sentiment.
The President of the Portuguese Aga Khan Council then announced: “Hazar Imam and the President of Portugal will now take your leave.”
But nor Hazar Imam neither the President wanted to leave! They looked at each other and this embarrassing moment (for the President of the Portuguese Council) dissolved into a comical contradiction and the Jamat looked on fondly at their quizzical expressions, putting their hands together for the Imam and the President of Portugal one last time.
It was obvious that they had been expecting some ceremonies to take place, but what to do? The President of the Council had already announced their departure. Mawlana Hazar Imam and Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa started laughing and just before they descended, Mawla sidled up to the mic to quip: “I am missing instructions from my Mukhi.” Cue more laughter, which petered away as they came down the steps.
Mawlana Hazar Imam bidding farewell to the President of Portugal.
The procession left the hall buoyed by salwats once more and, eventually, the coverage cut to Hazar Imam bidding the President of Portugal goodbye. Mawla retired to the lounge and the period of quiet contemplation resumed.
However, we were hardly able to indulge in any kind of quietude. Hall 1 was wide-eyed with jubilation, agog with astonishment and restless with need to discuss and dissect the momentous and monumental event that had just unfolded before our eyes.
Distant salwats broke the enchantment and we joined in as the screens filled with the view of Mawlana Hazar Imam and Noorani Family entering Hall 2, walking along the red carpet and taking their places on the identical stage there.
‘Dhan Dhan Aaj No’ was belted out in all sincerity and it really was a ‘het no melavado’ (gathering of love). Hazar Imam came to the mic, his own jubilation unconfined and his humour at its pinnacle in this hall:
“My beloved spiritual children are in front of me; my family are behind me,” he joked and his spiritual children and his family chuckled indulgently.
“I want my Jamat to know how happy I am, that on this occasion my family have been able to accompany me for this Mulaqat.”
How blessed we were to have them all seated in front of us and doubly blessed we were to bear witness to the Imam’s sublime joy.
“It is a source of great happiness for me; certain amount of humour; occasional questions” — cue chuckles all around “which you never experience. But it is a moment of great happiness for me to have my family with me, for this Mulaqat, with my Jamat.”
As the saying goes, the cup runneth over, with happiness, boundless happiness. The heart and the soul were in seventh heaven.
Hazar Imam moved on to speak about the future, telling us to ask ourselves: how to build the future; where to build the future; what are the foundations upon which to build a solid future.
“And I say to my Jamat who speak Urdu, Gujarati, Arabic, other languages – learn English. Be bilingual, trilingual, quadralingual…quintiwingual?” Hazar Imam wiggled his eyebrows mischievously and I could see Princess Zahra, by virtue of the angle of the camera, sharing in the laughter.
He reiterated the need to know more than one language, emphasizing the necessity of being able to read English and to speak in English, in order to have greater access to global knowledge.
“You don’t need to pretend you’re Shakespeare,” Imam mocked. “He’s long gone.” Imam waved his hands to emphasize this, to which the Jamat roared with laughter. He grinned widely and the camera panned to reveal the whole Noorani Family was unabashedly amused too.
Following this, Mawla spoke of serious issues such as coming together in our professional lives, mentioning jamati institutions, other associations, even informal collaborations, because “you’re stronger when you come together.”
He further advised the Jamat to prepare for the future, stating that the Jamat is currently living in a context whereby we can create small amounts of wealth for future generations. He directed this point to Jamat of Western nations: “Create small amounts of wealth to protect future generations in the years ahead. Just be careful. Live within your means. Set aside what you can and prepare for future generations. What I’m seeking from my Jamat is strength from generation to generation. Look past your generation to look to the second, to the fourth, to create capacity.”
Without taking a breath, Imam segued straight into ethics and spoke of integrity in our activities and the imperativeness of Best Practice.
Hazar Imam concluded this farman with: “I give to each and every one of you individually, and to your families, my warmest and my most best best loving blessings. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. I want you to know that my family behind me rejoices with you. So you should have a good time. You probably know that a Darbar is an occasion of fun, of humour, of dancing, of music. So go ahead.”
If it were at all permissible, we could have just leapt up and start dancing immediately. The effervescence of the Imam in this hall was just magical. And he wasn’t done with the Jamat yet. He still had a humorous anecdote to share:
“Many years ago, when I was much younger, I used to participate with the Jamat in these events in the evening. And there was a terrible dance called the stick dance. And if you weren’t careful, you’d get hit on the hand!”
The Jamat was in fits.
“So I say to my Jamat, beware of the stick dance.”
Hazar Imam was on a roll. Ever charming, ever suave.
A rare photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam playing dandhia, the stick-dance, with Jamati members during his visit to Tananarive, Madagascar, in September 1956. Photo: Jamica Andani Family Archives.
He took his seat only to briefly consult with the Mukhi Saheb and reclaim the mic to joke: “Mukhi has given me geographic guidance.” Bursts of giggles punctuated every sentence here. “That is to go straight to the next hall. And I hope he will guide me there. If he gets lost, come and help me.”
Our attention rapt on the live-action feeds, we followed Hazar Imam and the Noorani Family retrace their way from the stage, along the runners, and out into the foyer where Mawla declined heading into the lounge and promptly entered the third hall. The procession moved through Hall 3 with equal adoration, bolstered through with fervent salwats until they came to the stage, again identical in form to the previous two.
Mawlana Hazar Imam walks through the Jamat at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Lisbon, followed by the Mukhi and Kamadia Sahebs of the Libon Drakhana Jamatkhana, Prince Amyn, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa, Prince Hussain, Prince Aly Muhammad, Miss Sara Boyden, and Master Iliyan Boyden. Photo: The Ismaili/Zafarani Mansurali.
I recognised the rendition of Goyum Ali but the Ginan sung in this hall is one of my favourites and I witnessed something I’ve never seen before. Hazar Imam was actually smiling, knowingly, at the outpouring of ‘je je maangu, te tuhi deve’. Indeed, Mawlana Hazar Imam is the fulfiller of all wishes and countless desires of the heart had been fulfilled during this monumental Darbar and, I’m confident, countless more would be. That is one of the invaluable boons of such an intimate Mulaqat with the Lord of Light, Age and Time. An even more invaluable boon was the dazzling sight of our beloved Imam so relaxed and cheerful. Words don’t converge to explain what it feels like to look upon this aspect of the Imam. He seemed most at ease in this hall and, in turn, our hearts were swirling, with contentment, as if Sufi dancers lost in this personal paradise.
He began this farman with blessings. First to individuals present, their families and Jamat and then for the eternal peace and rest of all the Ruhani members of the Jamat. He followed this up with blessings to those who served the Jamat — the volunteers — and he made it a point to say that he has great gratitude and respect for their wonderful work.
Hazar Imam reiterated the need to think of the future, to think beyond one generation, and addressing this point particularly to those with young children, he said: “Be careful. Protect them. Save. Put assets aside.” He stressed to the Jamat to “be thoughtful, be prudent, competent…and very competent.” Smiling, he continued by expressing his gratitude to the government of Portugal for all the kindnesses and courtesies extended, not only to his family, but to the whole of the Jamat.
Mawla, once again, imparted special blessings for mushkil aasan. “Whatever problems you may have, let them go away. I give special blessings. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. I give special blessings. For mushkil aasan,” he repeated and made his spiritual children giggle with affection when he flapped his hands, mimicking birds in flights, and joked, “away, away, away!”
Salwats escorted him back to the takht where he exchanged a few words with the Mukhisaheb before returning to the mic to say: “in many circumstances, the Jamat is extended amongst different halls so I had to ask Mukhi, is there anooother Hall?” Hazar Imam beamed as his Jamat laughed at this. It was quite the unusual circumstance. I don’t think such an arrangement has ever been done before, but that’s one of the facets that made this Darbar that much more special. Though people see it as a segregation of three, I see it as a triple opportunity. Seeing and hearing the Imam on live action feeds — being able to witness what was happening at the exact time it was happening — is what made this a three-in-one jewel in the crown of the Diamond Jubilee Year.
“Do I have the whole of my Jamat in front of me? And he said yes. So I give to each and every one of you individually, and to your families and to your Jamats, my best, best affectionate blessings. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. I also want to tell you how happy my family is to be with my Jamat. And how happy I am that they’ve accompanied me. So I give best blessings for happiness, for longevity, and mushkil aasan in whatever issues you may be facing. Khanavadan. Khanavadan. Khanavadan.”
And with that, some three hours after he had arrived for this historic Darbar, beloved and munificent Mawlana Hazar Imam and his Noorani Family departed from the Darbar, leaving us in a daze of mixed emotions — that of gratitude, of exhilaration, of spiritual invigoration intermingled with the nostalgic awareness that the moment we had all been looking forward to for months was now over. He had given us a plethora of gems to treasure, including a cherished Mulaqat with Himself and His Noorani Family as well as something special in every hall: a double-audience in Hall 1; his most endearing effervescence and humorous quips in Hall 2; the maximum amount of duas and blessings in Hall 3.
Additionally, this was the longest period of time spent with his Jamat, making this the most memorable deedar of our lives, making this the most outstanding and choicest blessing to receive. Subhanallah!
Like a loving parent, he declared the jubilation ongoing and left us to continue the Darbar into the evening with music and dance, Biryani and the dangerous Stick-Dance, weightless souls, singing hearts and unburdened feet, and a splendorous display of fireworks.
Fireworks conclude the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal.
What words, what actions, what can express
the hearts’, the souls’ the beings’ appreciation?
What can be said of the ineffability of our Imam,
of the way he opens his arms and we are spiritually
and wholly embraced in a cocoon we despise leaving;
of the way he ensures our happiness is paramount;
of all he has done to make this world a better place?
What calibre of thanks can we verbalise, or display, for decades
he has tirelessly, selflessly dedicated for ubiquitous upliftment?
And we have no gifts, no diamonds, no gems, no wealth,
no tangible or intangible thing of real, comparable value
to offer in return. So, humbly, we extend something small.
Ya Shah Karim, you choose to not rule over lands or people,
but, please, accept our hearts as a tiny piece of your kingdom.
DIAMOND JUBILEE MUBARAK!
Date posted: July 25, 2018
Zafeera Kassam is a high-school teacher of English Language, Literature and Psychology, residing in Nairobi, Kenya. She spends her free time in creative writing and poetry, and has had her short stories and poems published in various media around the world. As a devotee of Mowlana Hazar Imam, her greatest joy is in penning verse and poems in praise of Hazar Imam. Her latest publication, Always and Forever, is a book of 60 poems dedicated especially to Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee (available on Amazon Kindle). She is also an amateur photographer who takes great interest in capturing nature. Currently, she is concentrating on developing her skills in graphic design and digital imagery. Most of all, she hopes to be continuously inspired to keep penning poems in praise of beloved Hazar Imam.
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