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A Century of Engagement of the Khoja Community with the Maraje by Hasnain Walji

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The Origin of Relationship between KSI Community & Maraje

The relationship of the KSI Community with the maraje goes as far back as the period of early conversion of the Community to the faith. Soon after the arrival of the Aga Khan 1 in India, when greater control and interference was exercised by the Aga Khan in the affairs of the community, led to certain groups to dissent which resulted in a number of prominent Khoja families to be ousted from the Jamaat Khaana. In the early 1800s some of these ‘outcast Khojas’ went for Ziyarat and while in Najaf they met the Mujtahid of the time, Sheikh Zainul Aabedeen Mazandarani. During their discussions Ayatullah Mazandarani recognized that there was a need for a muballigh to teach them the aqa’ed of the Shia IthnaAsheri faith. Soon after, at the behest of Ayatullah Mazandarani, a muballigh, from South India studying in the hawza, called Mulla Kader Hussein arrived in India. His efforts resulted in more and more Khoja families leaving the Ismaili sect and accepting the Shia IthnaAsheri faith. From these few dissenting families, who had to undergo considerable hardship (four of them gave their lives) the community has now grown to nearly 150,000 Khoja Shia IthnaAsheris. The overall number is miniscule when considering that there are an estimated 300 million Shia IthnaAsheris in the world today.

It must be acknowledged, that since those days, the KSI Community has been blessed with the support and patronage of the Maraje, by way of religious guidance as well as the mujtahedin allowing the use of hukook funds for establishing imambargas and tabligh projects. At the same time, the KSI leaders endeavored to educate the Community not only to pay its hukook funds but also to centralize its activities and projects. The leadership has always been proactive in communicating 2 the Communities’ challenges to the Maraje and seeking guidance, which it always conveys to the mumineen through its network of Jamaats around the world.

Ijazat or Wakalat for the use of Khums

It is understood that in these days of Imam’s (a.s.) concealment, the Sehme Imam (a.s.), it is the prerogative of the Marja to grant an ijazat or a wakalat for the use of hukook. When a payer is allowed to use certain percentage of Sehme Imam from his own liability to Khums, for the prescribed purposes means that he has an ijazat and when a person is appointed to collect Khums from the believers and then dispense with it, partly or fully in the manner prescribed by the Marja, means that he has a wakalat.

In the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Community, individuals holding Ijazat are ‘known to have existed since the times of Marhum Ayatullah Syed Abul Hasan Isfehani (d. 1945) and Marhum Ayatullah Syed Husain Burujardi (d. 1960). In fact, the latter had sent his Wakils from Iraq to East Africa, and had also appointed certain reliable pious Momineen locally to perform the work.”

At an organizational level, for the very first time in the history of the Community, the then President of the Federation of Africa, Marhum Haji Ebrahim H. Sheriff (d. 1960) was granted a wakalat by Marhum Ayatullah Syed Muhsin El Hakim, (d. 1970). Marhum Ayatullah El-Hakim granted him permission to spend 66% of the Sehme Imam (a.s.) for Tabligh and other associated religious purposes, and appointed him as an authorized Wakil.

This was a turning point in terms of centralizations as well as a structured relationship with the Marja. ‘ Thus, a new era in our Community had dawned. Individuals, families and traders who were hitherto averse to paying Khums, became conscious and Subsequently, Marhum Hassanalibhai M. Ladak (d. 1967) followed by Marhum Haji Mohamedali Meghji (d. 1973) served as Wakils of Ayatullah Hakim and since then all the Chairmen of the Africa Federation have served as wakils of the Marja of the time.

Acknowledgement & Support of Maraje

This is a demonstration of utmost respect and an unquestioning approach, reciprocated by an acknowledgement by the Maraje of the religiosity and compliance of the Khoja Community. The maraje have nurtured and supported the leaders elected by our Community demonstrating that they understand that a leadership emerging from within a Community is best placed to understand and address challenges. This aspect has been one of the key factors that has resulted in the institutions of the Khoja Community as some of the best organized and well run in the entire Shia World.

From the preceding historical review, it is explicit that KSI Community has benefited tremendously by way of its contacts with and support of the Maraje. From the time of Ayatullah Zainul Abedin Mazandarani in the 1800s, to the present Marja, Ayatullah Sistani (may Allah Keep him) , The progress of the KSI Community today, the very existence of the WF is a living testimony of the impact of Marjaiyyat upon the stability and unity of the Community. With help and guidance of these very maraje, the World Federation, in its 30 years of multifarious services has been a major player in the affairs of the Ummah at large. The legacy of serving Community and Humanity has been acknowledged and praised by all the maraje.

At the same time, It must be recognized that the founders of the WF began with clear vision, to cater to religious and consequently to the social needs of the community, in order to fulfill our 'collective obligations' (wajibe Kifai). In 1990, defining this vision the Founding President of the WF, Mulla Asgher stated: “A united community where every act of good will is propelled and driven by sincere intention to please Allah and none else. We need a society where Taqwa is way of life, where Amrbil Maruf and Nahi Anil Munkar is the norm and practice. We need a society where the youths are saved from the rising tide of Kufr and its influence, where our men and women follow Shariah with pride and without apology. And rise above the mean and the mediocre to that which is high and sublime”

While, the majority of the KSI Community is compliant and derives its guidance from the marja`al-taqlid, it is important to recognize that, there are voices of dissent and an apparent disconnect with the Maraje, particularly among the intellectuals and our youth, and need to be addressed now. To that end Community leaders will do well to familiarize themselves with the deliberations of scholars like Ayatollah Talegani and Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari for the optimization of 5 marja`iyya (published in Marja`iyyat va Ruhaniyyat almost 40 years ago). It was their unique foresight which led them to address the challenges faced today by the institution of marja`iyya. Of particular relevance is, Shahid Mutahhari’s concept of a collective leadership to address new challenges and issues facing the Community. This concept included the desirability of input from specialists to offer guidance in matters related to the societal issues of the modern era.

We owe it to the future generations to no longer remain parochial nor be inattentive to the needs of modern society. To survive as a vibrant living entity, the Community has no choice but to keep abreast of the changes around it, understand the impact of the modern era and adapt to the changing world The diverse problems faced by the Shi`ite communities around the globe, mean that we must be think out of the box to help us respond to the dichotomy of our religious and secular existence, especially in the West.

I reiterate my words which are on record at the 2000 WF Triennial Conference Presidential address: "We need to meet the challenges of the day, not with a unquestioning observance to convention nor with the fascination of the novel - but with a spirit of revitalizing pristine Islamic values and traditions. We must seek to enhance this institution (WF) through concepts that derive their nourishment from the spirit of Islam which are at the same time fitting to the needs of time." Today, over a decade later, I still have a firm conviction that, Inshallah, this can be done, if we continue to strive. Almighty Allah in Surah Al-Ankabut (69):Wallazina Jaahadu Fiina Lanahdiyannhum Subulana;And as for those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in Our ways.