Editor’s note: We are deeply indebted to Kamrudin A. Rashid and Shahbanu Shiraz Abdulla, both originally from Pemba and now residing in Toronto and Ottawa respectively, for this special article featuring photographs from their albums of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Chake Chake and Wete in the island of Pemba (see map, above). Efforts were also made to gather digitized copies of photos from other sources, and in this regard we are thankful for the contribution made by Amin Mohammedali Ismail Hirji of Edmonton. We invite other individuals and families to come forward with their collections for publication in Barakah, a site dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, his family and the Ismaili Imamat. We consider photos posted below as khajanas (gems), and look forward to an even greater response from our worldwide readers, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, for the benefit of all Jamats everywhere — Malik Merchant, Publisher/Editor, Barakah
Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Shah Karim: Bearers of the Same Noor of Imamat
By KAMRUDIN RASHID and SHAHBANU SHIRAZ ABDULLA
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s reign of 72 years was the longest in Ismaili history. The Jamats in many parts around the world had participated in three of his monumental Jubilees — Golden, Diamond and Platinum as well received mulaqats by the Imam several times. The long reign made the Jamats particularly attached to him. When he passed away on July 11, 1957 the Jamats were overcome with deep emotion and sadness. The official will of the late Imam was then read out in Geneva, and Mawlana Shah Karim al Husseini was recognized the world over on July 13 as the 49th Imam. However, Mawlana Hazar Imam in an interview, just before his first Takhtnashini in Dar es Salaam, had this to say:
“Officially as one Imam passes away, his successor takes on from the very minute that the Imam has passed away.”
While the Jamat was struck with grief, the announcement of Mawlana Shah Karim becoming the “Imam of the Atomic Age” brought a sense of immense relief and hope. Grief and sorrow mingled with joy and gladness. Mawlana Shah Karim was now the bearer of the same Noor of Imamat that was with Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, and was indeed before with each of the Hereditary Imams going back 1400 years in history to Hazrat Ali (A.S.), the first Shia Imam. As we pondered on the transition from one Imam to the next, we remembered the Hadith, “The earth cannot be devoid of an Imam; without him, it could not last an hour,” and “If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the Imam.” This concept of the ever present, living and manifest Imam is also explained in the Ginan Girbah Vali composed by Pir Sadr al-Din, which says:
“If the Imam did not have his feet on this earth for even a moment, then the world, moon, sun would vanish and nothing would exist, neither the heaven nor the earth.”
Thus, while many of us and especially the elderly felt sad for some days, the announcement of the new Imam was transformative and inspiring. There was happiness and joy in everyone’s hearts.
We also learnt that the 49th Imam would soon be coming to Pemba. Noordin Versi, in responding to Kamrudin Rashid’s original piece, had said this about the 1957 Pemba visit:
“It was a proud moment when our present Imam visited Pemba soon after becoming the Imam and kept the promise of our late Imam who had told Pemba Jamat that he would definitely visit Pemba.”
Yes the Imam was coming! He was going to be in Pemba and visit the towns of Chake Chake and Wete, 28 kms apart, on November 18, 1957. Chake Chake is where the Imam would land; it had the only airport in the entire Pemba Island.
As soon as the Jamats of Chake Chake and Wete heard that Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam would be visiting Pemba, they started planning and preparing for this auspicious day. The entire street outside of the Chake Chake Jamatkhana was decorated with an Arc, flags of the Ismaili Imamat (then referred to as “My Flag”), Ismaili crests and sparkling lightings.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Visit to Pemba
By KAMRUDIN RASHID and SHAHBANU SHIRAZ ABDULLA
We feel privileged and honoured to dedicate this post to Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (d. May 2018) and his wife Alwaeza Maleksultan J. Merchant who passed away four weeks ago on January 21, 2021 at the age of 89. The tributes that the couple have received from around the world attest to their outstanding services to the Jamat, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time. They will always be remembered with fondness and admiration for their contribution as waezin and religious education teachers as well as for their devotion to Mawlana Hazar Imam. They were personally very well known to us, with Kamru having participated in Ismailia Association activities with Alwaez Jehangir in Dar es Salaam during the 1960’s and the early 1970’s, while Shah and some of her sisters were students of Mrs. Merchant in Dar es Salaam. Alwaez and Alwaeza Merchant were also close friends of Shah’s parents, Master Abdul Jaffer Devani and Sakarkhanu Devani. We pray their souls as well as the souls of all ruhani (deceased) members of the Jamat rest in eternal peace. Ameen.
Introduction and Background
An earlier version of this post contributed by Kamrudin Rashid — one of two co-authors of this piece — was first published in Simerg nearly 10 years ago, on February 20, 2011 to be exact. With the exception of the arrival photos at Chake Chake, the post carried pictures of Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s visit to Wete. Then, quite recently Shah Abdulla of Ottawa unearthed photos related to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Chake Chake. Kamru also discovered new photos in his archives. We decided to collaborate and submit this exclusive piece with photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to the two towns for publication in Barakah — a website that is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. The single day visit to the two towns on November 18, 1957 in Pemba took place just over four months after Mawlana Hazar Imam became the 49th Imam on July 11, 1957.
Mawlana Hazar Imam Arrives at Chake Chake Airport
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Gives Mulaqat to Chake Chake Jamat
As soon as the Jamats of Chake Chake and Wete heard that Mawlana Shah Karim Hazar Imam would be visiting Pemba, they started planning and preparing for this auspicious day. The entire street outside of the Chake Chake Jamatkhana was decorated with an Arc, flags of the Ismaili Imamat (then referred to as “My Flag”), Ismaili crests and sparkling lightings. Mawlana Hazar Imam arrived at Chake Chake airport on the morning of November 18, 1957 and proceeded to the Chake Chake Jamat to bless the Jamat with his mulaqat.
The Jamat in Chake Chake was very small, some 30-40 families (approximately 150 members). Most of them had come from Zanzibar. They were managing small farms and businesses. After the guidance of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed on education for all, the Aga Khan Primary School was established in mid-1930’s. There were no secondary schools on the island until 1961. After the 1964 Revolution in Zanzibar and Pemba, most of the Ismailis left the island and re-settled in other parts of East Africa. Later in 1971, after the nationalization of personal properties in Tanzania and the 1972 exodus of Ugandan Asians, many Ismailis from Tanzania also immigrated to Europe, America and Canada. Most of the Chake Chake families currently live in Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
Mawlana Hazar Imam Visits Wete, Attends Public Functions, and Gives Mulaqat to the Jamats of Wete and Chake Chake
After giving a mulaqat to the Chake Chake Jamat, Mawlana Hazar Imam travelled to Wete, some 28 kms away where he attended public functions as well as performed religious work at the Wete Jamatkhana. The Jamat from Chake Chake, who had earlier been granted a mulaqat, also joined the Wete Jamat for religious ceremonies.
In one of the public functions, Sheikh Sir Said bin Ali al-Mugheri presented Mawlana Hazar Imma a casket, bearing the words:
“THESE HISTORICAL LANDMARKS SHALL FOR EVER REMAIN AS FOUNTAINS OF SPIRITUAL AND SECULAR ENLIGHTENMENT.”
Our desires are fulfilled at the glory of your sight
The stars retreat because you shine so bright
You raise our souls to the uppermost height
— NADIM PABANI —
Date posted: February 18, 2021.
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Born in Zanzibar, Kamrudin Rashid lived in both Zanzibar as well in Pemba from 1946 until after 1964 Zanzibar Revolution that saw the island merge with mainland Tanganyika into a unified country called Tanzania. He then settled in Dar es Salaam, before making Canada his home in early 1975. Kamru was in Pemba during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s historic visit on November 18th, 1957. Kamru has served the Ismaili community in honorary and professional positions for over six decades, and today continues to serve and contribute to the Ismaili institutions.
Born in India, Shahbanu Shiraz Abdulla, daughter of the wellknown Master Devani, grew up in Pemba and Zanzibar. She lived in Pemba during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s historic visit to the island on November 18, 1957. After successfully completing her post secondary education in Nairobi, she was offered an opportunity to work with the Canadian organization CUSO in Dar es Salaam. In 1972 she welcomed a transfer to CUSO’s offices in Ottawa, Canada, and then became involved with the Immigration and Refugees Department in the settlement of new comers from Uganda. Over the next five decades, she worked in international development and now holds a position with Global Affairs Canada. Within the Ismaili community, Shah has held numerous positions in Ismaili institutions such as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board. She was also the Chair of the Settlement Portfolio in the Ottawa Aga Khan Council during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee era. She finds happiness in service to others and hopes to continue serving her community for many more years.
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