Ebrahim Husein Sheriff Dewji
Birth & Death
Birthdate: April 10, 1923
Deathdate: January 9, 1964
A tribute to Ebrahimbhai by Alhaj Anwarali Dharamsi, Chairman of AFED
A Leader of Great Wisdom, Intellect and of farsighted Vision, he was a Devoted, Selfless and Sincere Social Worker of the Community.
The sadness of the news of the sudden passing away of Al Hajj Ebrahim Hussein Sheriff Dewji on 9th January, 1964 in Zanzibar at a young age while in the position of the Chairmanship of AFED still echoes up to this day in the minds of many who knew him, it was a moment of great sadness and shock across the Shia Ithna-Asheri community in Africa, and beyond its borders. As I read through in the Africa Federation Samachar of May, 1964, the accolades and tributes written by various leaders, friends and others from within and outside our community following his sudden death, I realize how great, humble and eminent this young devotee of the community was. He lived a short life but left magnificent and indelible footprints on the path of the history of our community in Africa and in the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa.
Ebrahimbhai was a unique and great leader, a visionary, a champion of unity and deeply mindful of the welfare of the community. “Ek Bano, Nek Bano” was his slogan. When he took over the helm of the Federation in 1958, he visited each and every Jamaat in East Africa; he also visited Madagascar, Mauritius, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and several other countries. He always left favourable and lasting impression over those with whom he came across in contact; his logical and unique approach to problem solving was remarkable, he always strived for well-balanced elucidation with his dissecting and philosophical mind and intellect.
With his services within and outside the community in his short life span, he left behind an exemplary model of leadership to emulate. Truly, only few are blessed with the opportunity to leave such an imprint in life. Marhum Ebrahimbhai was one of such few.
Ebrahimbhai was born on 10th April 1923 in Zanzibar, in a renowned family of Shariff Dewji Jamal, his grandparent. Haji Dewji Jamal first came to Zanzibar from India in 1860 and soon settled on the Island of Zanzibar. Haji Dewji Jamal was one of the founders of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in Zanzibar in 1881.
The family sacrifices and their devotion towards imparting religious teachings and social services remains enshrined in the history of our community, going back to several generations.
Extracts (only parts) from the letters and articles in the Federation Samachar of May, 1964 contributed by various personalities.
- Alhaj Mohamed A. Khalfan
Mohamedbhai wrote his glowing tribute in Gujarati. In his long tribute he recalled an extra-ordinary commitment demonstrated by Marhoom Ebrahimbhai as personally experienced by Mohamedbhai.
“After assuming the first term Chairmanship of the Africa Federation, one of the projects embarked upon by Ebrahimbhai was carrying out a Census of the population of all the Jamaats which had already federated with the Africa Federation. He gave great importance to completion of the census and set a time frame for it.
As the Dar es Salaam had the largest Jamaat and the City was spread out into suburbs, the whereabouts of some very few families could not be established and visited. Ebrahimbhai volunteered to come down to Dar es Salaam from Arusha and assist me in tracing these few families because he wanted the work completed sooner. I was the Hon. Secretary General of the Jamaat then.
In the case of one family which I had traced in a suburb of the City, we were informed that the head of the family would be late in returning home that evening. Mobile phones were unknown then.
At the request of Ebrahimbhai, we both waited in the car and later when the brother arrived, and as some time was already lost, Ebrahimbhai spread out the census form across the bonnet of the car and filled the form under a municipal street light. He thanked the brother profusely for his co-operation.”
- Abbas S. Alloo - Dar es Salaam
“The impression of personality of Al Hajj Ebrahim Hussein Shariff remains vivid upon the minds of his friends and the sense of his loss is in no way dimmed among the community. All feel poorer that he has gone from us. In these days of greater social and economical problems gathering upon the community, we are conscious of a lack of outstanding figures with which to overcome them. He was a man in whom there existed not only an immense capacity for service but a touch of genius that made everything he touched successful. He always left a favourable impression over those with whom he came in contact. They felt themselves in presence of an active being . . . they felt that his latent reserves of force and willpower were beyond measurement. His influence upon the community has been remarkable and it will continue to be felt still many more years to come.
By the end o his first term of Presidency he had already put the Federation on solid footing and made it financially independent. The second term is marked by the developments on the economical side in the formation of the limited liability companies, for the welfare of the community in view. The companies are:-
1. The Ithna-asheri Investments Ltd.
2. The Jamhuri Sisal Estates Ltd.
3. The First Tanganyika Safety Matches Mfg. Co. Ltd.
The above companies have no direct affiliation with the Federation except that Al Hajj Ebrahim was the spear-head of the companies as well as the Head of the Federation. All the companies have thrived well under him.”
He possessed and practiced the art of always appearing interested in any subject that was raised or in any person with whom he was talking. He allowed the talk to flow as his companion wished, appreciating in the most complimentary manner anything that was said in good will. All who met him come away with a feeling that they had been at their very best, and they found someone who, whether he agreed or differed, understood their point of view. Very often they remembered the things they had said to him, which he had welcomed or seemed to agree with, better than he had said to them. He loved general conversation and knew exactly how to rule it, so none was left out.
He has gone, and gone when sorely needed. His records remain. He seemed to have a double dose of human nature. He burned all is candles at both ends. His physique and constitution seemed to be capable of supporting indefinitely every form of mental and physical exertion. When they broke the end was swift.
Al Hajj Ebrahim Shariff banked his treasures in the hearts of his friends and they will cherish his memory till their time to come. His message to the community is ………….. “Ek Bano, Nek Bano”
- Hussein A. Rahim – Zanzibar
“Throughout East Africa and throughout the Ithna-asheri world, the community mourns the passing of a great leader, a unique personality, a champion of the rights of orphans and widows and a fighter to eradicate ignorance, poverty and suffering within the community, Al Hajj Ebrahim Hussein Shariff was man of warmth and passion, of vitality and conviction, of independent and forthright opinions, and of towering personality. All these qualities were magnificently displayed during his term of office as the President of the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-asheri Jamaats of Africa.
He assumed office as President at a time when the fortunes of the Federation were at their lowest ebb. By his qualities of unflinching moral courage, deep sincerity and complete selflessness, he raised the Federation to a pinnacle of power and influence and, vigour, goodwill and bounty. He imbued and inspired the spirit of love, sympathy and sacrifice amongst the members of the community and attained a position of influence amongst the rich and the poor alike unequalled by anyone else in the community in East Africa. Perhaps he was the first East African Ithna-asheri to have had the honour of presiding over a session of the Imamia Mission Conference in Pakistan where he was also held in high esteem.
In carrying out the duties of his great office as the President of the Federation, there was nothing mean and petty about Al Hajj Ebrahim. He was upright, he was downright, he was forthright. As a highly religious and devoted Muslim, he led the community onto the path of progress and advancement within the bound of the Holy Sheria.
In private life, he was true, sincere and lovable friend of great natural charm and gentleness whose memory every one of us will long cherish.
Before the tears shed for Al Hajj Ebrahim had ceased to trickle, the community had the second misfortune of losing also his devoted lieutenant in the person of Haji Mohamed Taki Remtulla Pirbhai, the Honorary Treasurer of the Federation. As a son of a distinguished Philanthropist, Haji Mohamed Taki had dedicated himself to the service of the community and died a martyr in harness.
We, the Ithna-asheris of East Africa, are the poorer by the deaths of these two leaders. May they both be accorded the companionship of Ahlulbayt (AS) whom they so dearly loved!”
- J. A. Green
TOWN CLERK – Arusha.
An extremely keen and conscientious Social Worker
“The death of Ebrahim Hussein Shariff has meant not only a great loss to his family and community, but to Tanganyika and in particular to the Northern Region. It was a great privilege for me to have known and worked with him for a period of nine years, and I was proud to be able to call him a friend. He was indeed, a friend to everyone he met, an honourable man of business, an extremely keen and conscientious social worker, and one, who spent an incredible part of his time in public service.
He was particularly interested in the town of Arusha, where he had been engaged in establishing his family business, and where he did a great deal for the Seed Bean Industry. He also gave a great deal of his time to the Arusha Town Council, and it was on this body, where he served as Councillor, as Chairman of a number of Committees, and as Chairman of the Council that I had the privilege of working with him and getting to know him so well.
I think it can be truly said of Ebrahim Hussein Shariff that his life was an example and an inspiration to others.”
- Hajee Dawood Nasser – Karachi, Pakistan.
“Our heart bleeds on this great loss at this young and premature age at a time when we needed him the most, when especially the complicated and serious problems are facing the country. Alas, Haji Ebrahimbhai is no more with us. There may hardly be any man in the country whose heart has not been wounded and I go further that outside the community also, Africans, Hindus, Moslems and Europeans have been moved greatly on the permanent departure of this young but gallant hero.
I visited Arusha at his home where I stayed for 2 days only, during most of which time he explained to me the Commercial, Religious, Social and Economic problems of the Community and his efforts towards improving them and his marvelous plans for the future. I was wonderstruck at his extreme keenness to work for the betterment of the Community at the cost of his own business and health and alas! the latter took the toll. I cannot describe what marvelous deeds he would have achieved if he was alive for only a few years more.”
His life was studded with exemplary, unsurpassable achievements for the betterment of the community. May he live forever in our hearts, Ameen.”
- Ebrahim and Taki – As I saw them
- Seyed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi - Arusha
“Ebrahimbhai left us on 9th January, 1964. Takibhai followed him within one month. Sorrow, grief and shock are inadequate words to express the profound feeling which has penetrated the very heart of the Shia world. Well-wishers of the Community they were from the start; leaders they became in 1958. They had zeal; they had courage. Sincere and selfless servants of Allah (SWT) who found a way to please Him through the services of his chosen religion.
Ebrahimbhai took the leadership of the Federation; and accompanied seemingly impossible tasks during the short period of five years.
First he was lucky enough to get a team of office-bearers, superbly efficient, deeply sincere, and highly prestigious. They invested not only their time and money but their zeal and prestige also. And they got the dividend in the shape of highly organized Community, stretching from Somalia in the North upto Mauritius in the South, and from Zanzibar in the East upto Congo in the West. What was formerly, ‘The Federation of the East African Jamaats’ is now ‘The Federation of the African Jamaats’. They found Shias in Africa like scattered beads; they transformed them in a TASBIH, using the Federation as the unifying cord. This was their foremost achievement.”
Ebrahimbhai and Takibhai have died; but they made the Federation so strong that it will live for ever.
- Bashirali Habib Peera – Zanzibar
“The economic position of East Africa and in particular of the working class people of our community including retail traders had always been a big concern to Hajji Ebrahimbhai. He tried to find ways and means to solve this acute problem facing the community and at last resulted in the launching by him a number of projects, among them being the First East Africa Match Factory, the Ithna-Asheri Investment Ltd. and the Jamhuri Sisal Estate Ltd. There is no shadow of doubt that the speed with which he was working would have enabled him to embark upon other major projects if only time and health permitted him to do so.
One of the major contributions which the late Haji Ebrahimbhai made towards the development of the community was the raising of the Foundation Fund to the extent of eight hundred thousand shillings. He managed to collect this huge amount by visiting all the constituent Jamaats in East Africa. His interest in the expansion of the education and in particular higher education resulted in the formation of the Education Board. The community is rightly proud to see that today there are nearly 80 students from the various Jamaats in East Africa taking up degree courses in different fields of education.
The thirteen Jamaats of the Malagasy and Mauritius which were functioning as individual Jamaats were welded together into a Federation as a result of a visit to these places by a delegation from the Africa Federation headed by the late Haji Ebrahimbhai. Thus our brethren there were brought into closer contact with East Africa than ever before. Not only did he strengthen the ties of brotherly relations among these thirteen Jamaats but he even went so far as to help them in raising funds for them in order to establish their own Territorial Council building, Imamwadas and rest houses.
His untimely death has marked the end of the career of a devoted leader and a great personality who had the welfare of his community at heart.”
- May Allah (SWT) grant Marhum Ebrahimbhai, maghferat, by His infinite mercy place Marhum in the proximity of Aeema-e-Tahireen (AS). Let us remember all the past leaders, past office bearers and workers of the Africa Federation, the World Federation, the Regional Federations, and from all our Jamaats throughout the world and all Marhumeens – Al Fateha.
BY:ARCHIVES SECTION OF AFED