Prince Amyn Aga Khan’s 1973 visit to the Ismaili Jamat in Toronto, Canada

Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan with members of the Economic Committee of Ontario & Quebec. 1973. Photo: Dr. Mohamed Manji collection.

By DR MOHAMED FAZAL MANJI
(Vancouver, Canada)

On September 12, 2021, Prince Amyn Mohamed Aga Khan will be celebrating his 84th birthday. It is also a date when The Ismail Center and the Aga Khan Museum celebrate the 7th anniversary of their opening as well. Prince Amyn has played a major role, with Mawlana Hazar Imam, in the construction of these iconic buildings for Canada. In was in 1973, Prince Amyn paid us, the new Ismaili immigrants to Canada, a visit with a message from Hazar Imam. I would like to commemorate that visit and pay tribute to Prince Amyn with the following article on his 84th birthday.

The East African countries of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya got their independence starting in the early 1960’s. Subsequently, there was the emergence of economic nationalism which had a major impact on the Asian community which had been living in these countries for generations.

In 1967, the Tanzanian government passed a bill which was referred to as “mopping up” bill. In early part of 1971, there was take-over of properties including homes, in most cases without compensation. Then, in the latter part of 1972, came the expulsion of the Ugandan Asians by Idi Amin. These events led to the migration of Ismailis to the West. (Please read Simerg write up by Late Mr Sadru Meghji).

In early summer of 1972, Toronto had less than a hundred Ismailis, mostly from Tanzania, but by the year end there was large scale arrival of Ismailis from Tanzania and Uganda, and the Ismaili population in the province of Ontario had increased to over four thousand.

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973. The First Aga Khan Regional Council of Ontario & Quebec 1973.
The First Aga Khan Regional Council of Ontario & Quebec, 1973. Back row (from left): Iqbal Nurali, Madat Lalani, Gulshan Lalani (Assistant Secretarial staff), Dr Abdul Datoo, Mr Karmali Satani (Head Secretarial Staff), Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji, Kamadia Fateh Virji (Eglinton Jamatkhana), and Mr Sultan Ajani. Sitting Front row: Mukhi Haider Kessavji (Willowdale Jamatkhana), Mukhi Hassanali Dharsee (Chief Jamatkhana at that time, now Headquarters Jamatkhana), Mr Aziz Hasham (Council Hon. Secretary), President Riaz Jethwani, Mrs Amina Vellani, Mr. Dean Tejpar, Kamadia Amir Lalani, Mukhi Sadru (Super) Ismail (Don Mills Jamatkhana). Absent: Sadru Visram, Amin Karmali, Zul Khoja (Ottawa Member), Sadru Pirbhai (Montreal Member). Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.

In the summer of 1973, Mawlana Hazar Imam established the first National, Grants and Regional Councils in Canada. The first Aga Khan National Council was set up in Vancouver BC, with Mr Zeenat Virani as its first president, and the Aga Khan Grants Council was set up in Toronto with Mr Mohamedali Lalani as its first president. There was also the creation of two Regional Councils, one for Western Canada and one for Eastern Canada. The first Western Canada Regional Council was headed by Mr Amir Haji and the first Aga Khan Regional Council of Ontario and Quebec was headed by Mr Riaz Jethwani.

I was humbled with my appointment as Member for Health in the first Regional Council of Ontario and Quebec. The newly established council with the help of appointed Mukhis/Mukhianis and Kamadia/Kamadianis was able to initiate, in a reasonably short period of time, the establishment of Jamatkhanas in various part of Toronto and in other cities of Ontario and Quebec. Various majalis were set up and the Council also managed to work out an agreement with various funeral homes of an Ismaili area for burials. It was a mammoth task in those early days in Canada.

Being a member in the Regional Council at that time, allows me to document a very important visit of Prince Amyn Mohamed to Toronto in 1973 for the settlement of displaced East African Ismailis in Canada.

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan joking with the author’s wife, Anar Manji, asking her where her husband [Dr Mohamed Manji] was as President Riaz Jethwani introduces them.1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan chatting with Regional Council member Iqbal Nurali, with President Jethwani at right. 1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.

1972 and 1973 was the period in time, the new Ismaili immigrants to Canada faced a lot of challenges of  settling in a new country — finding employment or establishing businesses as well as adjusting to the Canadian weather etc. The Toronto Jamat was doing its best but there was a lot of uncertainty over leaving East Africa where they and their families had been living for generations. Then in late October 1973 we heard the good news that Prince Amyn Mohamed was coming to Toronto. The Council was informed that Mawlana Hazar Imam was sending Prince Amyn, accompanied by well known economic adviser Dr Engle, on a fact finding visit of our Jamat.

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan and Dr Engle meeting with members of the Aga Khan Regional Council of Ontario & Quebec. 1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.

On Thursday, November 8 1973, a cold day, Prince Amyn Mohamed landed at the Toronto International Airport for a 3 day visit. To receive him at the airport were Presidents Jethwani and Lalani. According to President Lalani, a limousine was parked on the runway and its lustre and beauty reflected prestige and dignity which clearly indicated that a man of respect and dignity was about to arrive. At 5.20 pm Prince Amyn, brother of our beloved Hazar Imam, stepped down from the aircraft. In spite of being a chilly evening, this first visit to the Jamat in Canada by a member of the Noorani Family, brought lots of warmth to both the Presidents, who had come to receive him, and also to the Toronto Jamat as a whole.

The next day, Friday November 9, 1973, Prince Amyn was in meetings with the economic committee and also with Canadian financial institutions with the objective of guiding and settling of Ismailis who were interested in going into business. Following the day program, Prince Amyn and Dr Engle met with the members of the Aga Khan Regional Council of Ontario and Quebec for further discussion about the Jamat’s settlement at the Inn on the Park Hotel in Don Mills. They also met members of the Grants Council, Economic as well as other Ismaili committee members and Jamati leaders.

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan meeting the Aga Khan Grant Council of Canada President Mohamed Lalani. 1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan meeting members of the Aga Khan Grants Council of Canada. 1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.

On Saturday, November 10, 1973, Prince Amyn attended a Jamati gathering of more than 4000 Ismailis, who had come from various parts of Ontario. The gathering was held in Elizabethan Hall of the CNE. On Prince Amyn’s arrival in the Hall at approximately 4:15 pm, the Jamat received him with applause and tears of joy. President Riaz Jethwani addressed the gathering and welcomed the Prince. He expressed his appreciation to the Prince for his visit and for bringing Mawlana Hazar Imam’s message. This was followed by Prince Amyn’s address in which he thanked the newly appointed council members and the Jamat for organising the Jamati gathering. He expressed his satisfaction of his visit to Toronto. Then, Prince Amyn delivered the message he had brought from Hazar Imam; which was as follows: (confirmed by Mukhi Sadru (Super) Ismail as well)

(1) The Jamat should try to settle in Canada;
(2) They should seek to help and assist each other for the settlement and finding of jobs;
(3) Continue to gather for prayers in the school halls which were being used as Jamatkhanas; permanent Jamatkhanas would be established in future, Inshallah; and
(4) Prince Amyn and Dr Engle had been sent to have meetings with Canadian Banks and financial institutions to help accommodate new Ismaili immigrants who were considering going in business.

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Prince Amyn Aga Khan visit to Canada 1973.
Prince Amyn Aga Khan addressing the Jamati gathering at Elizabethan Hall CNE, Toronto 1973. Photo: Dr Mohamed Manji collection.

Following the mulaqat with the Jamat, the Prince then met the Mukhis, Mukhianis, Kamadias and Kamadianis of various Ontario Jamathanas and majlasis. He left at about 6:15 pm. The Jamat was sad at seeing him leaving but were very happy that he had visited. Prince Amyn’s visit resulted in a positive outcome for the Jamat, with a change in their outlook and attitude about their new country. They felt calm and relieved. There was confidence once more and their uncertainty and anxiety had been abated. The Jamat concluded this memorable visit by playing rasras till midnight.

The following day, on Sunday November 11, 1973, Prince Amyn Mohamed and Dr Engle departed Toronto to travel to Vancouver taking Mawlana Hazar Imam’s message there and bringing, like he did to Ontario Jamat, happiness, joy and confidence to the displaced Ismailis of the Western Canada as well.

Date posted: September 8, 2021.

____________________

Dr Mohamed Manji
Dr Mohamed Manji

Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji, who is originally from Mbeya Tanzania, is a cancer specialist. He is a Consultant Radiation Oncologist at BC Cancer Agency of British Columbia, Canada and  Clinical Associate Professor, University of British Columbia. He graduated in medicine from Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda. and immigrated to Canada in 1972. He specialised in radiation cancer treatments at Princess Margaret Hospital (Cancer Center as it is called now) in Toronto. He  obtained the Canadian Fellowship (FRCPC) and American Board Specialist Certification (DABRT) in Radiation Oncology. He also undertook special courses in Nuclear Medicine and Endocrinology at Harvard Medical School, Boston USA. He became the first Canadian trained Ismaili Radiation Oncologist in Canada and probably in North America.

Aga Khan University plaque
A plaque of appreciation presented to Dr Mohamed Manji.

He has been working at BC Cancer agency since 1977. He spent time abroad, working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to help modernize the Radiation Department at King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center. He spent 12 years at this tertiary hospital for cancer and other diseases. He was also involved in the planning and development of Radiation Oncology Departments at the Aga Khan University Hospitals in Karachi and Nairobi and spent some time working at both places. He has contributed to many peer review publications, abstracts, book chapters and also lecture presentations nationally and internationally.

He is the son of Rai Fazal Manji of Mbeya Tanzania, who served as a member of Aga Khan Supreme Council of Tanganyika in 1950’s and Raibanu Rehmat Fazal Manji, daughter of  Alijah Mohamed Hamir who, in early 1930’s, built an iconic Jamatkhana in Iringa, Tanzania, and donated to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah unconditionally. Dr Manji served as first Member for Health on the first Aga Khan Ismaili Regional Council of Ontario and Quebec in 1973.

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4 comments

  1. This is an important addition to the scarce literature on the 1970s period of the Jamat in Canada. Unfortunately, my forthcoming article on Khoja Ismailis in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia on Muslims in North America is in the final stages of publication and cannot add the historical information in Dr Manji’s valuable piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Dr Manji for this excellent article. This has triggered many memories of the East African political situation of the 1960’s and 1 1970’s. When this visit occurred in 1973, I was still in Nairobi, Kenya, waiting the processing of our immigration application to come to Canada. I vividly recall a letter from my Aunty that described this visit almost verbatim as written in this article. My Aunty had written about many of the points noted at the CNE hall meeting. Thank you Dr Manji for this excellent article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Zaheer. I wanted that this important visit be documented and it was very tough during the first few years trying to find your own footing yourself in this country and also committed to your community duties. This visit was a catalyst for the displaced Ismaili community’s settlement in Canada. Moh’d F Manji MD

      Liked by 1 person

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