Letter from Publisher
By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, Barakah, Simerg and Simergphotos)
The Ismaili community is a dynamic community with the Imam-of-the-Time guiding his followers according to the time. The essence of the faith remains the same but the form may change over time in cognizance of differences in traditions, cultural, social or other factors. Similarly, there could be changes over time in the manner in which voluntary services may be rendered. Paraphrasing the 48th Imam’s Farman, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah had once said that we should follow the Farmans of the Imam-of-the-Time, noting that as the world changes, even his Farmans would change as time progressed.
One of the best known motto given by the late Imam in the 20th century to the volunteers of the Ismaili community was “Work No Words.” It is inscribed on every badge that an Ismaili volunteer wears today. It is also something that many honorary workers serving in institutions in various capacities constantly bear in mind.
What do these words actually mean for any volunteer, badged or otherwise?
I think the motto carries several meanings. Perhaps it is an expression of humility — that one does the work without seeking recognition.
It can be perceived to mean that you serve without question and not react to any attitude that may be shown to you while you are doing your work.
Other volunteers may have their own personal interpretations of the motto during the performance of their duties, and apply it during their service.
Remarkably, that motto was mentioned in the Farman Mawlana Hazar Imam made in Canada during the Diamond Jubilee. At the second Calgary mulaqat, on May 10th, 2018, while mentioning and praising the work of the volunteers, he made a reference to his grandfather’s motto “Work No Words” and declared that “Today my Farman is, ‘Work and Many Words’. Communicate, enjoy life, be happy….”
Eighteen months have since passed but still there seems to be no discussion on this matter. The old motto “Work No Words” appears everywhere in the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the volunteers including a new video “All Work, No Words” that has just been released at The Ismaili website. There is absolutely no reference to the most recent Farman and the new motto. For example, I was quite surprised that the President of the National Council for Tanzania, Amin Lakhani, speaking as recently as July 19, 2019, used the motto that Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah gave in one of his speeches, but did not make any reference to the new motto given by Mawlana Hazar Imam. When I raised the issue with a long serving Jamati member, the volunteer became very defensive saying that he would like to see the old motto remain on his badge.
I beg to differ, I believe that we now have to adopt to a new paradigm based on the most recent Farman, “Work, and Many Words.”
How then is this to be interpreted?
Firstly, the volunteers badged and non-badged should not feel fearful to speak up and express their views on matters that concern them on services that they are performing and how they can become more effective, rather than simply taking orders as subordinates. The superiors in the volunteer leadership and heads of various institutions should make the entire team more engaged in decision making and seek out creative thoughts, ideas as well as best practices. Quite so often when suggestions are made to institutional heads about new approaches, one is often made to feel that they already knew about the idea that has been brought up. A case in point was when a suggestion was made to make Jamati members more engaged in meetings that the Aga Khan Council and national institutional boards hold on a quarterly basis. The reply was, “We are thinking about it.” For how long?
Many serving in institutions who speak out are left marginalized for speaking out boldly, even when they have done so sincerely and from the heart. This should no longer be the norm. I have personally experienced such treatment.
The old motto “Work No Words” on the badge that volunteers have been wearing for some 70 years is in need of a change. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” should resonate with everyone. We should communicate openly and sincerely and the office bearers should listen respectfully. One area that should require particular attention is legitimate concerns of volunteers in doing their work.
There is one other aspect where the motto “Work, and Many Words” may be applied very effectively. Volunteers of the Jamat participate in many outreach programs outside the community. We have each been considered by the Imam to be his Da’is — a very important term in Ismaili history where only a select few were known as Da’is. Now, remarkably, Mawlana Hazar Imam has told everyone that he or she is a Da’i! The Diamond Jubilee Farmans made at various locations attest to this role we have been asked to play. I think another way of looking at the Farman “Work and Many Words. Communicate…” is in the context of the volunteer who as a Da’i would be a great communicator to others about the ideals, principles and ethos of the Ismaili community. The following Farman made by Mawlana Hazar Imam in 2002 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, gives us a clear direction on the role the volunteers as well as the youth and professionals in the Jamat can play:
“…It is important, I think, today, that my Jamat worldwide, not just here in Tanzania, my Jamat worldwide, should reaffirm the traditions that we have, the rectitude and correctitude of our interpretation of Islam, of the role, within Shia Islam, of the intellect, of the human intellect, so that the young, the less young, the old, all of you, wherever you are, are ambassadors of Islam — the Islam that we believe in, that we practice, and that guides us in our lives. So I say to you today, whether you are in Tanzania or whether you are in any other part of the world, stand up, do not run away. Speak openly and frankly about what is our interpretation of Islam.”
Interestingly, in his Diamond Jubilee Farman in Atlanta, USA, Mawlana Hazar Imam asked the Jamat if they knew the meaning of the word Qul (from Sura Ikhlas, which is recited by Ismailis in their Du’a multiple times everyday). One person out of thousands raised a hand! Was that a hint from the Imam to us to seek to understand our faith better? To be effective communicators, requires that we have good knowledge of the faith, its ideals and the work of the Imamat, including for example the AKDN agencies.
So my notion of the work of the volunteers — and indeed each one of us — is to work, and with “many words” express kindness to others, convey good ideas and best practices and pass on the ethos of Islamic and Ismaili principles to everyone we come across.
What should the new badge say? Totally opposite of “Work No Words.” Indeed, the badge should now say “Work and Many Words.” However those “many words” should be spoken with humility, sincerity and thoughtfulness.
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Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 190 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, his family and the Ismaili Imamat.
Date posted: December 6, 2019.
Malik Merchant is founding publisher/editor of 3 websites, Barakah (2017), Simerg (2009), and Simergphotos (2012). They are works of passion influenced by his parents involvement with literary pursuits and community publications, as well as his childhood dream of becoming a journalist. However, he spent almost 4 decades working as an IT consultant in both the public and private sectors in the UK, USA and Canada. He has volunteered in the Ismaili community as a teacher and librarian and was co-editor with his late father, Jehangir Merchant, of the flagship UK Ismaili publication Ilm. He has also held numerous institutional and Jamati portfolios, including being the Member for Religious Education and Chairman of the Ottawa Tariqah Committee. He is currently based in Ottawa and Toronto. He invites your feedback on this piece by completing LEAVE A REPLY box at foot of THIS PAGE or by sending him an email at Simerg@aol.com.
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Thanks Malik, great article. The IVC is an institution worth defending, celebrating and promoting.
Thank you Mr. Malik,the Editor for highlighting this very pertinent issue. Reading through this article Mr Editor, and the comments made by the contributors clearly point out that this needs to be looked at seriously.
Over and above the interpretations given above you and others, I would like to share with readers the explanation my late father gave to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s motto ”Work No Words.”
Our history do point out there were times when there was PERSECUTION of our IMAMS and Murids. During that time of “TAKIA” it was always thought to be prudent and do the service to the Imam of the time and the community without any Words.
Even today we find that this aspect of persecution of people practicing their faith has not entirely disappeared.This I say after watching a recent Programme Panorama aired by BBC . On this instant, I would say that our recent Firman of Mawlana Hazar Imam ”Work And Many Words” is very relevant . Unless we communicate and raise awareness to the world at large, this ugly act will perpetuate.
So obviously we serve selflessly but we use the Power of Words to Speak up and Explain not by our action of Volunteerism only but Communication as well – The Ethos Of Islam. By doing so we try to show the True Face Of Islam, other than the way Islam is portrayed by the adversaries of Faith and thus destroy World Peace.This is exactly our Imam wants to avoid and is working tirelessly and wants us to do as well.
But we can only use Many Words if we ourselves have the proper knowledge of our Faith . So I would agree with Editor that Hazar Imam by asking whether anyone knows the meaning of word “QUL” perhaps was indicating that The Way The ILM that we are parting to our growing JAMAT has to be revisited. So when we use “Many Words” we use with accuracy and hence authority to stand up to challenges of adversaries.
Thank you again for this topic and I am sure this is just the beginning of conversation on this and we would hear again on this in your esteemed one-line magazine Barakah.com.
Thank you Barakah for doing a marvellous job of keeping us continually abreast of events. On the subject of ‘Work and many words’ uttered by our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam, the volunteers’ badges should be replaced with the words WORK AND MANY WORDS. Thank you.
Thank you Malik for this thought-provoking piece. I recall hearing this Farman from the Calgary Mulaqat. I appreciate your sentiments and the interpretations you shared. I think we also need to be careful not to take things out of context. If the Imam says the Volunteer’s badge/motto should change, that is something we should follow. Mawla’s Farman did not state that he wants the Volunteer’s badge/motto changed. Ultimately our obedience and allegiance is to Mawlana Hazar Imam.
Ali thank you for your feedback.
I don’t know if there was indeed a Farman that was made during the time of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah that the volunteers should adopt the motto “Work No Words” on their badges. His message during his Imamat sometime in 1924 (according to Mumtaz Tajdin – see http://www.ismaili.net/heritage/node/10467) was “Today, I will give you a small motto and that is ‘work no words.’ Labour for the welfare of other is the best way of improving oneself, because its results are sure and certain. If you work for yourself, you are never happy. This is not a new idea, but an outcome of the experience of thousand years of history.”
It would be interesting to get details about the evolution and history of the volunteer’s badge. That may reveal whether there was a specific direction from the Imam or the Imam’s family members (for example Prince Aly Khan) to put the motto on the badge. Perhaps it was an arbitrary decision – and a sensible and wise one too – by the leadership to apply it on the badge at some point in time when the badge was actually created or subsequently modified. May be they had the Imam’s consent too. That’s why digging into history is important, because things get clearer.
The fact is that Mawlana Hazar Imam referred to his grandfather’s motto “Work No Words” in the 2018 Farman in Calgary after which he specifically said “Today my Farman is Work and Many Words.” My piece suggests that this new motto should be reflected on the badge, even though Mawlana Hazar Imam did not underline what was obvious to me through the Farman. I have provided other perspectives as well on “Work and Many Words” even if the old motto continues to be retained in the badge, if Mawlana Hazar Imam so chooses. However, it is important that we keep Hazar Imam’s Farman uppermost in our thoughts.
Of course we should always obey the Farmans of the Imam of the Time. I concur, like all Ismailis, when you say “Ultimately our obedience and allegiance is to Mawlana Hazar Imam.”
Thank you Malik Merchant….Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Farman was very nicely interpreted by you….and you are right….Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah has said in his Farman to always follow the Farman of the Imam of the Time…..today it is different and tomorrow the guidance of the Imam could change according to the time.
Why is this farman not released by Tariqah board? I have never heard this in Jamatkhana and I regularly go there.
I suggest you ask the Mukhi at your Jamatkhana to let you read the Calgary Diamond Jubilee Farmans. Hazar Imam has made hundreds of Farmans over the past 60 years and even Farmans such as the one made in Calgary probably gets read once every 2 or 3 months! I haven’t heard the Farman and many other DJ Farmans myself for several months in Jamatkhanas I frequent in Toronto and Ottawa. Jamati members who do not attend Jamatkhana everyday – and mind you in some Jamatkhanas the attendance is 5% on a daily basis – are missing out on many Farmans. Recently when I went to the Ismaili Centre in Toronto I heard for the first time in 19 years a very important Farman that Mawlana Hazar Imam made in Karachi in 2000.
This is a brilliant article, specially where you have quoted the Dar es Salaam Farman. Obviously, the problem is that the Tariqah board have not released the Farmans.
The full Tanzanian Farman may be read in the Jamatkhana with a request to the Mukhi. He may not be carrying the complete Farmans’ binder with him everyday, so request him in advance.
Brilliant and well presented article. Totally agree. ‘Work no words’ appropriate at that time at some levels now sounds disempowering and restrictive. It doesn’t allow sevadaris to question/challenge or explore in a constructive way the way we do things thus stifling growth and progress. Thank you for raising this question.
There are perhaps many meanings of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Farman for those in service when they recall “Work, No Words”. One of the meanings, it carries is there is no need of verbalizing the good deed that has been performed, this fruit of the spirit of selflessness. This spirit of selflessness can take us from humility to self-sacrifice.
Mawlana Hazar Imam has always in his Farmans emphasized the time honoured tradition of serving others by all means; therefore “Work, Many Words”, is not about loosing selflessness or service to others. Selflessness in service to others will remain a core principle; in that we are following truly the faith of Islam. Perhaps, Hazar Imam in Farman “Work, Many Words” is ensuring that those in service don’t give up their good ideas even in the face of the resistance when “Work, No Words” is hurled onto them.
It is may be a question that deserves attention on how theMawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Farman have been used so far; that is “Work, No Words”, has it been used to suppress and/or subordinate or stifle our ability to contribute to our jamat? If this is a concern, then should our formal badges be upgraded right away and/or should we work in our jamat for a more reflective mindset generally, and particularly for those individuals that tend to the positions of authority and trust of Imam?
Our guide, Mawlana Hazar Imam, is living and present with us; therefore, we must not falter but act in the best manner so to live up to ALL the Farmans that we have been asked to follow and we know as Ismailis none of our traditions expect that we publicly display the Farmans we follow. As well, we know that Mawlana Hazar Imam does expect from each of his murids to live by and grow ourselves in humility and selflessness through the activities we perform every day. So may in His Infinite Mercy, we remain guided at all times and may we fulfill the Farmans in the best manner. Ameen
My sentiments exactly on the dot. I have been debating how to bring this issue ever since the new appointments last July 2019. I hope this gets the institutional leadership’s attention to the paradigm shift that needs to be addressed specially in light of the youths getting involved.
Thank you very much for this article. It reflects the changes that are necessary to produce quality work, to use best practices. Hazrat Ali has said collaboration and consultation is very important to make decisions, to make changes. People need to feel like they have been heard. This new motto is very relevant to our time when there is so much knowledge at our fingertips, and so many opinions and thoughts. Leaders need to listen emphatically to the Jamat; as Hazar Imam has said nobody has a monopoly on knowledge. We must listen to each other respectfully, and work together to get done what he asks of us.
Thank you for another excellent article. More communication, engagement and discussion can only result in the development of better and, certainly, newer ideas. Any progressive and dynamic organisation would, and should, embrace and encourage the idea.
This is a wonderful article and thought-provoking with beautiful interpretations. I fully agree with the paradigm shift, a necessary part of our ever dynamic tariqah, moving with times giving a fresh outlook.