Mulla Asgar - An obituary by TheGuardian.com
Mulla Asgharali Jaffer
When Uganda's Asian community was expelled by Idi Amin in 1972, 5000 Khoja Shia Muslims were among the arrivals in England. It was the beginning of the presence of the Khojas in the west. Within four years, Mulla Asgharali Jaffer, who has died aged 62, had become the driving force in setting up the headquarters in London of the World Federation of Khoja Shia Muslim communities, of which he was the first president. The Khoja Shia exemplify the dynamic diversity of the Shia tradition, often seen in the west as simply Iranian. Largely self-taught, Mulla Asghar, as everyone knew him, was renowned in the Muslim world for his learning, piety and charitable work.
The Khoja are concentrated in Pakistan, India and East Africa, but there are now sizeable communities in Britain and the United States. Converts from Hinduism in medieval Gujerat, they first embraced the local Ismaeli Muslim tradition, then in the late 19th century acknowledged - with steadfast loyalty - the authority of the senior Shia cleric in the sacred city of Najaf, in Iraq.
As federation president, Mulla Asghar harnessed the community's entrepreneurial spirit, working particularly on charitable projects, including educational schemes in Africa, and medical and housing projects in Bombay. In Britain, a main centre was built at Stanmore, Middlesex, and there were many others. Money was raised for disaster relief.
Mulla Asghar was born and educated in Kenya, and ran his father's optician's shop in the old town of Mombasa. By the late 1960s he had set up a large and famous optics factory in Nairobi, meanwhile becoming head, first of the Mombasa Shia community, then of the African Federation of Khoja Muslims.
Plain-spoken, courageous and sincere, Mulla Asghar was formidably learned, and he was fluent in six languages - English, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Kiswahili, and his native Gujerati. In 1983, he visited his friend and mentor, the spiritual head of the Shia, Grand Ayatollah Al-Khoei, in Iraq. Preparing to leave the country, he was arrested and spent three months in a Baghdad jail, where he was tortured before international pressure forced his release.
He is survived by his wife, Sakina, and four children.
Mulla Asgharali M M Jaffer, religious and community leader, born April 14 1937; died March 21 2000