Hassan Ali M Jaffer
Born in Mombassa
The Endangered Species (Toronto, 2012, p. 514)
Message to Milton Keynes 25th Anniversary Celebration
Brothers and sisters gathered in Milton Keynes, Salaams and dua.
As Milton Keynes Jamaat celebrates 25th anniversary of the opening of the Zainabiyya Islamic Centre, it is only befitting that the organisers have displayed vision in organising an ‘Ancestors Day Exhibition’ to recall:
Where, when, why and how we emerged as a distinct Community to be known as the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim community?
How long and arduous has been our journey of survival to date?
In that spirit we need to ask: Where we stand today and under the fast changing world, what future do we envisage for ourselves and for our progeny for the next 25 years?
How well equipped we are to manage the envisaged change?
The first exhibition of this nature in Britain was held in Leicester on 19th January, 2014, which was well received. Glad to learn that Mr. Burket Walji will make similar presentation in Milton Keynes.
Why this Exhibition called Ancestors Day?
There is nothing special in belonging to any community, race or tribe. It is purely a matter of coincidence of birth, or shall we say, accident of birth!
What matters most is how righteous and virtuous life one lives in the sight of Allah Almighty.
Khalaqallahul Jannata leman Ata’ahu wa ahsana wa lav kana abdan Habashiyya,
Wa khalaqannara leman asahu wa lav kana Qurashiyya.
Allah swt has created heaven for those who obey Him and do good deeds, even if he be a bondage slave from Habasha (Ethiopia); And has created hell for those who disobey him, even if he be from the (renowned) tribe of Quresih.
- Imam Sajjad (A.S.) to Tavuse Yamani. -Masnaqib Aale Abdi Talib by ibne Shahr Aashub.(Vol.4, Page 151.)
Allah in His Mercy decided that we should be born in a certain community. Are we going to question that divine choice?
Can we run shy of having been born in any particular race or community? Or for that matter, can we be arrogant for being what we happen to be? What, if we were instead born as Eskimo or Aborigine?
Ladies and gentlemen, it is worth recognising here that the Cutchi and Gujarati speaking Khoja are not the only Khoja on this planet earth! There are also Sindhi, Punjabi and Kashmiri Khoja from the Indian sub-continent. Besides, there are also others known as Khoja in different parts of the world, about which I have made references in my book: “The Endangered Species.”
In Milton Keynes we have several families who are known as Khoja of Narwhal from the Punjab or from Kashmir.
We have had several such families in Nairobi, Kenya. I know of a good friend in Milton Keynes, Syed Nayab Haider who is a non Gujarati Khoja and a respected member of the community. I hope he is present in this gathering and I would like to greet him with: Ki Galla, changa? To Gujarati and Cutchi speaking participants I would say: Kee.n Ayo.n and Kem Cho!
I know also know of a well-known Punjabi Khoja who became a leading member of the Ismaili Khoja Jamaat and its leading Waez and Missionary. The environment and the dynamics at play for the Punjabi and Kashmiri Khoja have been somewhat different to that of the Sindhi, Cutchi and Gujarati Khoja.
For the converts in Gujarat and Sindh, considering their background and the particular environment they were living in, plus the multiple challenges posed to them as a result, retention of the Khoja identity and development of the structured community set up became crucial for their survival and for the preservation and promotion of their faith as Shia Ithna- Asheri. Besides, because of the split from the main body of the Khoja community on doctrinal grounds, social and economic boycott was practiced against them by their cousins. There were also incidence of physical threats against certain individuals and also some cases of assassinations are recorded.
All this provided added challenge for them to get better organised. This identity and the community structures put in place as a result have played crucial role in their emergence as a Shia Ithna-Asheri community in India and in their settlement and growth in Africa. Later on, this identity played no less crucial role, especially after the Uganda Exodus in 1972, in their rehabilitation as a cohesive religious community in Europe, North America and in the rest of the world.
Today, the world wide Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community numbering less than 150,000 are nationals of almost two dozen different states and settled in over forty countries. Despite their widespread dispersal, they are linked with each other – thanks to their organisations. In moments of crisis such as the Zanzibar revolution 1964, Uganda exodus 1972, unrest in parts of Madagascar in 1987 and evacuation of an entire community of 1,100 from Somalia in 1991, when no help or even message of sympathy and support was forthcoming from any quarters, the unity and the spirited outlook of the community provided a ray of hope, where, otherwise, everything looked bleak.
In the aftermath of the massive earthquake in Cutch (India) in 2001 that severely affected our small community of around 700 heads remaining in Cutch in different locations, it was the unity and the organisational structures of the community that promptly responded to the immediate needs of the affected people and at the same time generated global support for commendable rehabilitation and reconstruction work.
Historically, but for this identity and the organizational structures under which the Khoja community operated, their fate following their migration from India to Africa in the latter half of the nineteenth century and in their subsequent migration from Africa and from the Indo-Pak sub-continent for resettlement in the West during the latter half of the twentieth century would have been difficult to visualise. A look at what befell other migrant communities that lacked such identities and organisational structures will be revealing.
In my book “The Endangered Species” I have reviewed related developments at some length. There are a number of youngsters from within the Khoja community, including some who have acquired some religious education in Iran or Iraq who tend to question the need for retaining our Khoja identity and for operating as an organised cohesive society.
When individuals view issues from narrow personal socio economic angles only or simplistic emotionalism, they often tend to project themselves as a self-serving elitist group and miss out on the overall holistic perspectives.
To all youngsters, community leaders and the religious scholars, Mulla Saheban, Maulanas and Zakirs who ascend the Minber, I would respectfully suggest that they read the autobiography of Mulla Qader Husein Naif – Karbalai, first published in 1900, in order to understand and appreciate the trials and tribulations of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community as they emerged as a distinct community some 150 years ago.
In this context, they can also read about the guidance given to Mulla Qader Husein by Ayatullah Sheikh Zainul Abedin Mazindarani. Readers would then be able to understand and appreciate what proactive role a Muballigh can play in reforming a society and the way Mulla Qader Husein dedicated over three decades of his life with missionary zeal, driven by a sense of caring concern, love and compassion at much personal deprivation and risk to his own life.
Apart from running traditional Madressa for children, Mulla Qader Husein effectively applied the institution of Minber and Majlis as an extended form of Madressa to cater for the specific needs of the adults. A noble soul, Mulla Qader Husein was undoubtedly a great benefactor of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community to whom we owe an eternal debt of gratitude. He lies buried in the courtyard of the shrine of Imam Husein in Karbala.
I will respectfully recommend to all Zuwwar going to Karbala that after doing the first ‘izne dukhul’ as they enter the main gate of the Haram of Imam Husein, they need to recognise that they may possibly be walking over the grave of Mulla Qader Husein buried somewhere underneath. Please pause for a moment then to offer fateha for this great benefactor of the Khoja community.
The question we are now faced with is: But for this unity and the structured set up of our community, where would we have been today? Demolish these structures and the identity that go with it, and then try to visualise where we and our successive generations will end up in the next few decades?
A million dollar question is: What positive, passive or negative role each one of us is playing in this context in our daily lives Congratulations to Milton Keynes Jamaat for organising this Heritage Exhibition named as ‘Ancestors Day’.
Over the years I had the opportunity of visiting Milton Keynes several times with late Mulla Asghar and I recall the early formative stages of the Milton Keynes Jamaat and developments taking place for building the Zainabyya Islamic Centre. It is gratifying to observe that in Milton Keynes much importance has been given to local Madarassa. Here I fondly recall numerous discussions I used to have with late Bahadur Dallal and was always impressed with his enthusiasm to promote the activities of Milton Keynes Madrassah on modern lines and also for initiatives in interfaith activities. In the spirit of ‘let the light shine’, we have to reach out with goodwill, with love for all and malice towards none, and strive work to a culture of harmony all round.
There is a permanent Exhibition on Khoja Heritage in Toronto. You may like to visit the website of the Mulla Asghar Memorial Library and Research Centre, Toronto. http://marcresource.org/
Khoja History – Documentary Film You may also be interested to learn that a professionally produced documentary film by MARC on the evolution of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community commissioned by the World Federation is to be released on 18th May, 2014 in Daressalaam. You can preview a trailer of this documentary film on Www.khojajourneyoffaith.org
It will be worth for parents to sit with their children and watch this film. This documentary will help in understanding where we originated from; account of the long journey to reach where we are today; how our predecessors struggled in India and in Africa. Recalling our roots may also provide moments for reflection as to what challenges we are now facing and what we can do for our progeny? I wish your endeavours every success.