During my first meeting with Mata Salamat, Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, in Aswan in 1982, she asked me, “Do you know what is the greatest gift of Allah to humankind?” I pleaded ignorance and humbly asked her if she would enlighten me. Her response was, “Yes, the greatest gift of Allah to humankind is intelligence.” — Nizar Harji
By NIZAR HARJI
As regular readers might recall, my family’s first contribution to this website, Barakah, was about my grandfather Gulamhusein Harji who had the great fortune and blessing to serve our beloved late 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the earlier part of the 20th century. My father too served Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, and also went on to serve the present Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam. I invite you to read their stories by clicking on Noorali Harji collection of rare photos of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, Prince Aly Khan and Mawlana Hazar Imam in Zanzibar and Mombasa.
It is with immense happiness and with deep humility that I submit this new post related to my meeting (mulaqat) in 1982 with Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan (February 15, 1906 – July 1, 2000). Ismailis fondly remember her as Mata Salamat. In the post, I am pleased to also include a brief overview of the services rendered by my two daughters, Shahalini and Naila, on a special computer project visioned by Mata Salamat for the women living in Aswan.
As is well known Aswan was the favourite wintering place of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mata Salamat, and they lived at their white villa known as Noor al Salaam. Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah passed away on July 11, 1957, and was later laid to rest in a specially built mausoleum in Aswan overlooking the River Nile. Mata Salamat, who passed way on July 1, 2000, was also laid to rest in the same mausoleum, next to the late Imam’s tomb.
The two hour mulaqat with Mata Salamat in 1982 will remain etched in my heart forever. I was deeply touched and inspired by the affection and warmth that was shown to me by Mata Salamat. She continued communicating with me via telephone calls in the ensuing years that led to other significant events in my family’s life .
During the mulaqat, Mata Salamat recounted wonderful memories of her life and travels with Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. She particularly remembered her visits to the ruins in Petra, Jordan, to Karachi, soon after the creation of Pakistan, and to Mashad in Iran’s Kerman Province (see photo above) which was governed and was the stronghold of our 46th Imam Mawlana Shah Hassanali Shah, Aga Khan I. She also remembered a safari trip she had made to Kenya’s game parks.
Of course, she mentioned her frequent visits to Cairo and Aswan with Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, whom she married in 1944. Writing in the Memoirs of Aga Khan about their marriage, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah observed: “I can only say that if a perfectly happy marriage be one in which there is a genuine and complete union and understanding, on the spiritual, mental, and emotional planes, ours is such.”
During the mulaqat, Mata Salamat took keen interest in my family, and asked questions about my grandfather, where he originated from and what the family and community situation was in India at that time. She elaborated that it was the 48th Imam who sent the community to Zanzibar 1889 and that in 1905 during the Imam’s second visit to Zanzibar, the first Ismaili Constitution and Ismaili Council were established, and Jamati Mukhi and Kamadia Sahebs were appointed.
When I conveyed to Mata Salamat that I had a group photo of the late Imam from 1905 taken with Zanzibar’s Aga Khan Council members, the Mukhi and Kamadia Sahebs as well as my grandfather, who served as a Kamadia of the Zanzibar Jamatkhana as well as a member of island’s Aga Khan Council, Mata Salamat immediately asked that the photo be sent to her at Villa Yakimour in Cannes, France. Once she had received the photo, she acknowledged not having seen it before. The photo which is reproduced above was included in my first piece for Barakah, and also appeared in the Illustrated History of the Ismailis, published by the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS).
Then, with a smile and expression of joy on her face, and raising her hand and motioning forward, Mata Salamat said: “See where you are today, in Canada. Now tell me about the Jamat in Canada. Are our young boys and girls in universities? And is the Jamat making progress?”
At that point, I conveyed to Mata Salamat that the Jamat in Canada was waiting for her visit. Her response was, “Inshallah, if Hazar Imam wants it to be.”
During the mulaqat, Mata Salamat would often pause, reflect, and impart wisdom. At one point, she asked an insightful question, “Do you know what is the greatest gift of Allah to humankind?” I pleaded ignorance and humbly asked her if she would enlighten me. Her response was, “Yes, the greatest gift of Allah to humankind is intelligence.”
Mata Salamat then expressed worries about the heavy aerial bombing that was taking place during the war between Iran and Iraq that had started in 1980. She was extremely concerned about the tomb of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali, in Najf, Iraq. She elaborated that she had contacted Prince Sadruddin to investigate the status and give her a report. She added that through his diplomatic channels, Prince Sadruddin was able to ascertain that, although some of the surrounding fixtures were destroyed, the tomb of Hazrat Ali was completely safe and intact. Mata Salamat ended with the word “Alhamdullilah” (all praise is due to Allah).
At one point during the conversation, Mata Salamat summoned one of the Arab employees of the villa and instructed him to take me to the mausoleum of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, where verses from Holy Qur’an are recited continually, and where a fresh cut rose was placed on the tomb daily. She requested him to remove the barrier that keeps visitors at a distance from the tomb, so that I would be able approach and touch the tomb.
Upon my return from the tomb, Mata Salamat immediately asked how I felt. I was still very shaken and replied that I felt overwhelmed and deeply inspired, and that we had also recited the Fateha prayers. After pausing momentarily, Mata Salamat asked the Arab employee to return to the mausoleum and bring the rose that was placed on the tomb that day. Mata Salamat handed the rose to me and said it was her gift to me on the occasion of the mulaqat.
Towards the end of the mulaquat, Mata Salamat became overwhelmed with emotion. She said: “I am tired of life now, without your Imam. He is calling me”. I responded that the Jamat needs Mata Salamat. In that moment, her mood brightened, and she led the way to the balcony where a felucca was waiting to take me to the other side of the River Nile. She waited and waved her hand in farewell until the felucca was out of sight. This was a defining moment and an unforgettable experience in my life. Mata Salamat passed away on July 1, 2000 at the age of 94. Her tomb lies next to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in the mausoleum in Aswan.
The Om Habibeh Computer Lab Project in Aswan
As mentioned earlier, I remained in contact with Mata Salamat after my first meeting with her in 1982. During one of those conversations, sometime during the mid 1990’s, Mata Salamat found out that my daughter Shahalini was running a computer education school. She then invited Shahalini to visit her at her Villa in Yakimour in Cannes, France, to discuss the logistics of implementing a computer lab with computer training in Aswan. The computer lab was Mata Salamat’s personal vision. It was going to be an extension to the existing School of Languages in Aswan. Mata Salamat wanted the project to improve the education of the people of Aswan, specifically the women, enabling them to be gainfully employed. She felt that with more females in the workforce, family income would increase leading to better living conditions, improved health, and a trend of ensuring their younger children remained in school. During the meeting with Shahalini, Mata Salamat elaborated on her vision of the lab. Shahalini, an educator with a solid background in intercultural adult studies, was entrusted with the project and its implementation.
I travelled to Aswan with Shahalini to drop her off. She then stayed with Mata Salamat for 4 months to coordinate and manage every aspect of the project. The project included a rigorous, yet simplified, course in computer learning. The female teachers in the school of languages, were the first cohort to go through the computer training at the Om Habibeh (Habibah) Computer Lab. This group and others that followed started using computers as a teaching tool in the class rooms.
Shahalini also worked with local residents to put a basic IT maintenance team in place, teaching and coordination in Aswan, Egypt. While Shahalini was running the project in Aswan, her younger sister, Naila, worked remotely in Vancouver to devise the curriculum and address technical issues of the project out of British Columbia. Mata Salamat’s Foundation, known as the Om Habibeh Foundation, funded the computer lab and it came to be known as the Om Habibah Computer Lab. The hardware and software for the lab were shipped from British Columbia to Aswan.
After four months, Shahalini was given leave by Mata Salamat to return to Vancouver and oversee the program from her home base and report to Mata Salamat at Villa Yakimour. The Om Habibah Computer Lab continues to function after 25 years of its establishment and today women of Aswan are more empowered. The project that my daughters helped to implement was lauded by the local government authorities in Aswan and the authorities deeply appreciated Mata Salamat’s concern for the well-being of the population of Aswan. This was widely published in the local media.
A few months later, after Mata Salamat had returned to France, she telephoned me inviting Naila to Villa Yakimour in appreciation of the part she had played in curriculum development and in monitoring the Om Habibah Computer Lab. It may be noted that Naila’s work was done entirely from her base in Vancouver and she had never travelled to Aswan or met Mata Salamat.
I accompanied Naila with a bouquet of fresh flowers and arrived at the appointed time at Villa Yakimour. It was a very deep, emotional and gratifying experience for me and Naila to be in the presence of Mata Salamat for about 20 minutes. We were awed by her warmth, affection and smiles, and were served coffee and cake. Mata Salamat did not partake of anything.
Mata Salamat then called her villa’s security staff stationed outside the residence to take us to the gardens and let Naila pick any ripe fruits and flowers she wanted including the famous Aga Khan rose. The sight of the huge land was ever so beautiful with fruit trees, flowers and a large number of birds. When we returned to the Villa, Mata Salamat appeared very pleased to see the fruits Naila had picked up, and said that this was the gift from her to take back home to Canada.
Finally, Mata Salamat then led the way to the door and we respectfully bid farewell to her. This was a memorable experience to cherish for ever. Naila brought the fruits with her to Richmond, and made bottles of delicious jam that she shared with her relatives to their delight.
In 1996, Shahlini once again returned to Yakimour for what would the final meeting with Mata Salamat to discuss the progress of the lab. Mata Salamat expressed satisfaction that the lab was greatly benefitting the women of Aswan.
These were cherishable moments in my life and members of my family. Beginning in the 20th century, as early as 1905, my forefathers have been involved in numerous forms of service to the Imam-of-the-Time. This tradition of family continued to the modern times with the contribution of my two daughters.
Thousands upon thousands of Jamati members around the world render honorary and voluntary services to the Jamat, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, a tradition that spans centuries.
I would be remiss if I did not mention a special message that Mata Salamat personally sent on volunteerism for a special souvenir edition commemorating Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah’s Platinum Jubilee, and the completion of 35 years of the Aga Khan Bombay Volunteer Corps. The following is the image of the message, followed by the transcript.
“My dear Hazar Imam’s Spiritual Child,
I enclose the photo which you ask for the Souvenir Number of the Ismaili Volunteers, Scouts and Guides. My message to the Volunteers, Scouts and Guides os: I ask you all to remember the great opportunities you have for discipline and service in your organization. Discipline is very important in life, and by making good use of the training you now have, you are laying the foundations for useful and happy lives. I send my loving thoughts and best wishes to you all. Yours affectionately, Om Habibeh Mata Salamat.”
In conclusion, I am delighted to have shared this story and photographs with readers of Barakah, and I sincerely hope that more families will come forward to present their historical memories with Mawlana Hazar Imam and members of his family through this unique internet forum.
Date posted: March 8, 2022.
Last updated: March 11, 2022.
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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS
Born in Mombasa, Kenya, Shahalini Nizar began her schooling at the Aga Khan Schools located in Mombasa and Moshi, Tanzania, before settling in Canada in 1973 with her parents, Nizar and Mumtazbegum. She continued with her primary and secondary education in Vancouver at the York House Private Girls School. She then specialized in adult education and computer studies at the University of Victoria. This qualification led her to establish her own computer learning centres for corporate clients in Vancouver and Calgary. She played a very important role in the creation of the Om Habibah Computer Lab in Aswan, Egypt. Shahalini is currently a computer instructor at the Langara University College in Vancouver, and lives in Richmond, BC.
Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Naila Nizar began her primary education at the Aga Khan Schools in Dar es Salaam and Moshi before migrating to Canada in 1973 with her parents, Nizar and Mumtazbegum. She continued with her primary and secondary education in Vancouver at the York House Private Girls School. Interested in flying, she went to the Mount Royal Air Academy in Calgary and became a pilot to fly propeller airplanes before embarking on a Masters of Education (M.Ed.) degree in Computer Technology at the University of British Columbia. For the last 30 years she has been an instructor at Langara University College, School of Business in Vancouver, BC. Naila developed training material and curriculum for the Om Habibah Computer Lab in Aswan, Egypt. She lives in Richmond, BC.
Born in Zanzibar, Nizar Harji, father of Shahalini and Naila, was raised in Mombasa where he completed his secondary education at the Aga Khan High School. He then pursued business management studies and is an Associate Member of the British Institute of Management, UK. Married to Mumtazbegum, the couple migrated to Canada in 1973 with their two daughters. Nizar owned and ran a business in Richmond, BC. His business and family interests have taken him to more than 70 countries around the world. He is now retired and lives with his wife Mumtazbegum in Richmond, BC. Please read his earlier piece HERE.
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The editor invites members of the Ismaili community and friends of the community to submit stories and photos related to His Highness the Aga Khan and members of his family from their personal private collection for publication in Barakah. Please click on Photo Collections for links to photographs and narratives published since the blog was established in 2017. Write in confidence to firstname.lastname@example.org, and you will be contacted without delay.
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