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An Outline History of Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri in Eastern Africa

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A book by Mulla Asgherali M.M. Jaffer


In the name of Allah, the Merciful. Salawat upon the Prophet, Hadhrat Muhammad and his progeny, the pure and immaculate. And upon his companions who were faithfully by his side. And upon all Muslims who believed in him without ever having sight of him.

Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi, in his capacity as a Director of the Preparatory Committee of the first Conference of World Ahlulbayt League (held in London on 5th August 1983), requested me to prepare an outline of the role of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in East Africa.Brief excerpts from this paper were read before the Conference. Full text was later submitted to the Secretariat of the League. As this paper was being sent to Press for publication, additions were made, and some notes were annexed. This is an outline, which can be given a detailed treatment later. It is hoped that it will enlighten many who are interested in the history of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris who lived in Africa.

This work is dedicated to –

a. All the Arab and Irani Missionaries who set foot on the soil of India, and converted many Indians to ISLAM.

b. All the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris who suffered banishment, deprivation, injuries and death, in India and East Africa, for the sake of their Faith. They became a part of ISLAM and its history, "but most of the people do not comprehend",

Asgharali M. M. Jaffer (London)

Arabs, African & Islam

The role of Shia Ithna-Asheris in Eastern Africa is both impressive and interesting. But since it is a part of the major role played by Islam in Africa, it is imperative that we study the history of the first contact of Islam with this very important continent. There can be no doubt that the Arabs were the torch bearers of Islamic propagation, and therefore, the first Arab contact with Africa is a subject of our prime attention. It is commonly assumed that Arabs were drawn to Africa after the advent of Islam. Records reveal, however, that Arab influence can be traced as back in time as 84 A.D. There is an early guide to trade and navigation called the "Periplus" compiled by a Greek merchant seaman, which describes in detail the voyage down the Red Sea and the African coast of the Indian Ocean. From this 'Periplus' we learn that the people inhabiting the coast were of negroid stock, ruled by chiefs. But it also appears that these chiefs had long been under some kind of Arab suzerainty and there was already a well-established trade carried by Arab and Indian ships between Africa, Arabia and India. The book says: "The people of Muza (in Southern Arabia) sent thither many large ships, using Arab captains and agents, who are familiar with the natives and inter-marry with them."

(1) Africa saw the first light of Islam in the days of the Prophet himself, when a group of eleven men and four women took refuge in Abyssinia, escaping the rampant persecution in Mecca. As they explained their faith to the King and the priests, reciting Ayahs from the Surah of Maryam, tears rolled down the cheeks of all who listened, shaking their heads in awe and reverence. Muslim historians have recorded how the King of Abyssinia decided to send a delegation to Mecca, so as to prepare a first-hand report on the personality and the message of the Prophet. The description of their first encounter with the Prophet is inspiring and moving. The Holy Qur'an, in its unique rendering, describes how the delegation from Negasus responded to the message of Allah. In Suratul Maeda, Verse 83, Allah says: " And when they hear what has been revealed to the Prophet, you will see their eyes overflowing with tears on account of the Truth that they recognize."

It is interesting to note that while the people near and around the Prophet rallied against him, meting out ill-treatment and persecuting his followers, a group of people from across the sea, with a different ethnic origin, belief and persuasion, should be so receptive and responsive. Here, I wish to make a pertinent observation on this historical event. This brief encounter of Islam and Africa, in Abyssinia and later in Mecca, is a significant pointer to the African affinity to Islam. The point I wish to stress is that Africa today is still responsive and receptive to the great message of Islam, in that it has a better appeal to the African mind and spirit than any other religion known to them. The relevance of Islam in Africa endures, but, it requires a healthy, fresh impetus and stimulus.The penetration of Islam in African society continued after the Prophet. The early record of Islamic impact upon this important content has been meticulously preserved in the books of history, ethnography and sociology. The interesting admixture of social traditions, the emergence of new races by interbreeding among Arabs and Africans, the effect of Arabic upon the local African language, the birth of new Arabic dialects in Africa- all bear testimony to the great work completed by the Muslim Arabs. The spread of Islam in Africa is one of the most captivating chapters in the history of that continent. It begins in the seventh century with the conquest of North Africa, onwards to northeast Africa, the Red Sea islands and the coast of Eritrea. From the eleventh to the eighteenth century, Islam spread through the Sahara Desert to West Africa, and via the Nile to the Sudanese belt and along the coast of East Africa. Northern Sudan IS an example of total cultural assimilation by the Arabs. Ibn Khaldun, visiting North and West Africa in the 14th c.describes Mali as the centre of Almoravid Berber empire established in the 11th c. Many rulers of Mali made a pilgrimage to Mecca, maintaining diplomatic, scholarly and commercial relations with the Islamic world.

The earliest known Arab settlement on the East African coast is Pate, said to have been founded in 689 A.D. During the next 600 years, other cities such as Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa and Kilwa were founded and reached a high level of civilization; until eclipsed by the Portuguese conquests in the early 16th c. But the Arabs returned and ousted the Portuguese in the early 18th c to commence a new era of Islamic influence.

(2) Zanzibar's Kizimkazi mosque dates from 1107 A.D. and the ruins of the 14th-15th c A.D., Mosques, houses and palaces show that Arab influence was paramount. The Arabs in East Africa spread Islam, introduced coconut palms, casuarinas and bougainvillaea; they planted mango trees in their scattered trading stations providing shade to many a village in the Tanzanian interior. More important, they intermarried with African people, the outcome being the Afro-Arab race and its famous "Swahili" language. "Swahili", a loan word from Arabic Sawahil, means coastal; it is basically Bantu, with many borrowings from Arabic. They taught the Africans how to read and write, a gift which antedates in origin the English roman script. They taught them the Holy Quran and encouraged them to memorize smaller chapters first. In an interesting account of such one attempt described by Arye Oded in his book 'Islam In Uganda', we find a certain Ahmad Bin Ebrahim teaching small suras to the ruler of Baganda in Uganda. The local historians describe how the King was taught "Kulauzu", "Birabinasi" and "Kuluwalulamo", evidently referring to the chapters of AI-Falaq, An-Nas, and AI-Ikhlas.

The Christian evangelists in parts of East Africa made extensive use of Arabic for their propagation work. There was a time when they wrote the Ten Commandments in Arabic for Africans to read, and the Catholic missionaries wrote their sacraments and prayers in Arabic. In their letters to their headquarters, they pressed for books in Arabic as there was a big demand for them among the African chiefs. It was in the latter half of the 19th c that they began to apply the roman script to Swahili. The oldest preserved Swahili literature is in Arabic script, dating from the early 18th c. Among the most important Swahili epic poems preserved is the one called "Huseni", containing 1209 stanzas, about the life and martyrdom of Imam Husein. Its representation in Swahili literature is of particular interest for the study of a Shi'ite school in East Africa.

(3) It must be noted that Arabs did not spread Islam in East Africa by use of force or by colonization. They were traders, and along their trading routes, they performed their religious rituals regularly. To an inquisitive African, they inculcated Islam; and with their own actions and deeds, their civility, their polite demeanour, and with their amazing adaptability to the local culture, they invited Africans to the new fold. This was conversion without coercion. The coast people, known as Waswahili,- and also called Wangwana by Christian missionaries, were taught by Arabs various crafts. They became able artisans, masons, carpenters, gardeners and boat builders. But most important of all, they became zealous and enthusiastic propagators of Islam.

The Christian missionaries also depended on these coastal people for their services. But they were especially angry when they discovered that the Wangwana were usually very fanatical in their Islamic faith much more so than the Arab traders and that some of them were even trying to convert their fellow Africans. D.P. Jones of the London Missionary Society, who worked in the interior of East Africa, wrote to his headquarters on this subject. He said, "You will agree that however useful they may have been or may be in assisting us to build our houses etc., the harm they do in propagating their Moslem ideas and customs more than counterbalances the more effective assistance they can render us."

(4) The early influence of the Post-Islamic Persia has also been traced. It may well be true that the town of Kilwa on the coast of Tanzania was founded by migrants from Shiraz in Persia; during the 10 c A.D.

(5) A political party in Zanzibar formed under the name and style of Afro-Shirazi Party was suggestive. Further, a new year day is traditionally celebrated by Swahili Community with great fanfare. This day is termed "Niruz", a Persian word meaning "a new day." This 'Niruz' was celebrated last month (July-1983) in Mombasa, Kenya, as usual. The name of the head of the Community was given as Sheikh Mohamed Salim Shirazi. Besides, inspirations drawn from Persian Islamic literature can easily be traced from the early Swahili poetry.

Arrival & Settlement of Khojas in East Africa

The arrival of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris and other Shias coincides with the resurgence of Islamic influence In the early nineteenth century. Although Arabs had regained their rule in E. Africa by driving out the Portuguese in the late 17th c their ties with the coast of Africa were weak and nominal. It was only in the reign of Sayyid Said Bin Sultan who transferred his permanent residence from Oman to Zanzibar 1n 1840, that the control became strong and complete. The importance of Sayyid Said to the history of East Africa hinges on his energetic development of trade between the coastal towns and the interior. In the wake of Muslim traders came Islam to the interior, followed in turn by the Christian missionaries and the pioneers of the colonial powers. The death of Sayyid Said in 1856 signified the beginning of the decline in Arab influence, a decline which continued until the colonial conquest of the region by the British. The colonial period created conditions which generally were supportive of the Islamic influence in East Africa, such as the opening of communications, the establishment of order and security along the transportation routes, and the employment of Muslim clerks and functionaries by the government.

(6) The circumstances in which the Shia settlement began and took roots in E. Africa are indicative of their courage and enterprising spirit - their ability to make the most of the opportunities and to adopt and assimilate the varying trends. The Shia Ithna-Asheri population of East Africa comprises chiefly of the Khojas. In a census carried out by the Community in the late fifties and then repeated during sixties, the Khoja Shias in E. Africa, Somalia, Zaire, (then Congo), Mauritius, Reunion Island, and Madagascar numbered around 20,000. Besides, there were Shia Ithna-Asheris from Punjab, who were located in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya; numbering at one time, around 300. In Zanzibar, a small community of Bahraini Shias, consisting of Sadaat and others existed; and there were Iranian Sadaat of Shushter extract- commonly- knows as Shushtaries, and few other -all totalling around 500.

According to the research paper written by Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi, in collaboration with Professor King of Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, the Khojas arrived on the coast of E. Africa in 1840.

(7) The Shia Ithna-Asheris from Punjab were chiefly those recruited in the labour force for the railway project in E. Africa, and Bahrainis and Iranians came to serve the Sultans of Zanzibar after they had made that island their headquarters from 1832 onwards. But the growing number of Sadaat was mainly comprised of the descendants and relatives of the resident Aalim of Zanzibar, Syed Husain Shushtari. The early Khojas came from Cutch and Kathiawad. Their appearance in the East African coast is attributed to several developments back at home in India. It is said that these parts of India were stricken with long years of famine, and families lived below the subsistence level. Due to unemployment and scarcity, many a young man left this part of India in quest of new opportunities in Bombay. For hundreds of years, Indians sailed down to the East African Coast in their sailships during the North Eastern Monsoon. The young, adventurous Khojas were probably among these Indians, who stayed behind in Africa to explore new opportunities and possibilities for their livelihood.

Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi in his paper referred to earlier, gives a somewhat detailed chronological and topographical order in which the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris moved for settlement to every nook and corner of E. Africa, and farther still to Zaire, Mauritius and Madagascar. I quote: "There appears to be a set pattern to their movements. When any enthusiastic pioneer went into a new place, other newcomers followed him so that they might benefit from his experience and acquaintance with the local people. It appears that there was no jealousy among them, and well-established persons helped the inexperienced to stand on their feet. New arrivals from India usually came to Zanzibar and after acquiring some information, ventured out to other places. Sometimes, however, they disembarked at Lamu, Mombasa or Dar-es-Salaam, and went from there to the interior."

(8) While the new lands offered limitless opportunities to the Khojas, the new environment and prevailing influences called for an orientation. First, Zanzibar was then ruled by the Sultans of Oman who followed Ibadiyya sect; but the majority of the people at the coast remained under the influence of Shafei Arab merchants who had migrated from Hadramut. Second, undeveloped Eastern Africa was totally foreign to the Khojas - they did not know the language, nor did they have any previous cultural contact with the indigenous African. Before them lay the vast, unexplored but inaccessible tracts of lands into which even the adventurous Arabs did not venture. Thirdly, it is a known fact that a number of Khojas converted from Ismailis to Shia Ithna-Asheri faith after their arrival in East Africa. These were perhaps among the few pioneer Shia Ithna-Asheris present in East Africa.

(9) Thus, one can safely conclude that most of these Khojas were novices incomplete sense of the term: new to the place, and new to the faith. The atmosphere was undoubtedly conducive to speculative and progressive Khoja society, and it is in this light and vein that an inquiry into their history must be made. Wherever the Khojas settled, they soon formed themselves into a Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community, commonly known as the Jamaat, guarded by an understandable sense of territorial jealousy. They advised and assisted each other, and invited their families, friends and fellow men from India to join the venture. They engaged in religious activities, first with modesty appropriate to their means; but as their fortune grew, they became vigorously activated. They built Mosques, Imambadas, Madrassas, Schools for secular education and created several trusts for charity.

(10) Under the subsequent German rule in Tanganyika, British rule in other parts of E. Africa, French rule in Madagascar, Italian rule in Somalia, Belgium rule in the Congo and Portuguese rule in Mozambique, the Khojas were subjected to a variety of influences and experience. To an inquisitive and objective investigator, it is not difficult to trace a blend of Arab, African, Persian, Indian and European cultures in the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Society in Eastern Africa. The thrust of these influence was great, engendering fear in the minds of the Khoja of losing their identity. It served to drive them farther inwards into the precincts of their society, instead of mobilizing any worthwhile change. Hence the persistent perseverance by the Khojas to remain within a well-knit framework of the Jamaat allowing no intrusion. During their stay in Africa South of Sahara, now spanning out over nearly two centuries, the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris have produced a number of men of note and repute. In the earlier days, when modern modes of transportation were practically non-existent, they travelled on foot or on donkeys, far and wide -establishing business centres, and encouraging distributive trade. Due to their probity and reliability, they were appointed as Agents for various government services during the early period of British rule.

(11) They were among the importers of commodities, exporters of products and promoters of agriculture. In short, their contribution to the development of the economy and the country at large has been substantial. In the fields of politics, social and cultural services, various professions, and religion, the community produced men of great abilities, whose services are on record, forming an inalienable part of history. The Jamaats functioned with a set of laws and bye-laws drawn on democratic principles; It used to be a democracy which would put the British system to shame. For while it provided rights and assigned duties to all, it never had a penal code nor a clause of punishment for the digression or dissenters. In a later development, one can see a punishment clause in their constitution, but in actual practice, this was ineffectual because of the intricate family ties and filial bonds which had developed within the Community. While the services offered by such Jamaats were multiple and multifarious, they were predominantly religious in nature. And it was in this sphere, that the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris were able to produce men of considerable talents and outstanding abilities. In the early days when the Khojas were indeed novices, the influence of Allama Haji Gulamali Haji Ismail of Bhavnagar, India, was great. He authored nearly 300 books, chiefly on the theme of Islamic liturgy and ethics. His translation of "Meraju Ssa'dah", for example, is known to have revolutionized and transformed many a life in Africa. His book of prayers, "Dua no Majmuo" runs parallel in importance and utility to "Mafatihul Jinan" by Sh. Abbas Qummi. That his services promoted and preserved the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith and knowledge in the Khoja society of Africa is an undeniable fact. From among the local people, Mullas of considerable abilities arose to teach and preach. Prolific writers like Gulamhusein Mohamed Vali Dharsi and MohamedJaffer Sheriff Dewji were acknowledged for their religious scholarship and erudition even in India.

The great Mujtahid of Lucknow, Syed Aqa Hasan Taba Sarah conferred the title of ‘Hami-e-lslam' upon Gulamhusein Mohamed Valli Dharsi in 1910. Along with the symbolic endowment of a turban and a shawl, he wrote: "In these days of the so-called enlightenment, and in the face of the Western inculcations, it is most gratifying to find men like you who protect and defend the Faith in the most appropriate manner."

(12) MohamedJaffer Sheriff Dewji wrote on diverse themes. He covered religious as well as social subjects. He has about twenty books to his credit, some of which have been acclaimed as his masterpieces. He was better known for his preaching which was in simple Gujarati. In a style peculiarly his own, he held his audience spellbound and fully engrossed during his discourses. Two books by Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji – “Ruyate Hilal" and "Imam e Zaman" were translated into Urdu - the first example of Gujarati work to be rendered into a language which was a principal source of reference by Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris. These locally produced Mullas, because of their voluntary undertakings to travel far and wide on preaching missions, and also because of their common ethnic origin, were able to render unique services. Having grown up in Arab and African atmosphere at the coast, and under the influence of Iraqi and Indian Ulema, most of these Mullas spoke Arabic, Persian, Urdu, Kiswahili - apart from their own mother tongues, with great ease, facility and fluency.

Influence of early Khojas from India

The earliest attention paid to the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris dates back to the days, of Sheikh Zainul Abedeen Mazandarani in Iraq. Those were the formative years when certain Khojas had broken away from the Aga Khan after realizing that their beliefs and practices were not in accordance with Islamic tenets. It is related that a group of Khojas led by Dewjibhai Jamal came to Iraq to pay their homage to the shrines of Imam Ali and Imam Hussain. While in the presence of Sheikh Zainul Abedeen Mazandarani, they were asked if they had already performed Haj. In an answer which displays the then prevalent attitude, and which remains characteristic of the followers of the Aga Khan even today, they said that they believed that the Ziyarats of Imams took precedence over Haj. A gentle admonition from the Ulama of Iraq awakened the Khojas to the Truth they did not know, with the result that they made a vehement appeal to Sheikh Zainul Abedeen Mazandarani for a tutor to be sent to Bombay. A certain Indian student, Mulla Qadir Husein, was sent by the Sheikh to India in 1873 for the purpose of teaching the Khojas the fundamentals and the obligatory rituals of Islam according to the Shia Ithna-Asheri school. This Mulla stayed in Bombay and remained in service for 27 years, a period which is historically important, though tumultuous, in the development of Shia Ithna-Asheri faith among the Khojas. Some of the students of Mulla Qadir Husein then travelled to Zanzibar and were responsible for the propagation of faith among the Khojas in East Africa.

The Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in Eastern Africa will ever remain indebted to the constant attention of Ulema of Iraq and India for their religious training. The Maraje' of Taqleed sent their representatives to East Africa with a mission to teach Fiqh, to publish the Amaliyyah in local languages, to write religious tracts and treatises, and to preach from Mimber. The speed with which these representatives adapted themselves to the local surroundings is amazing. Some of the Ulema from Iraq are known to have learnt Gujarati and Urdu so as to enable them to communicate with the masses with ease and facility. Their command over these languages, though not very impressive, was tolerable. A group from amongst the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris, who formed the majority of the Shi'ite population in Eastern Africa, soon became able to preach and teach religion to the members of the community, and to write scholarly works on various religious topics in their own language. Apart from this tangible result, there is another influence of this earlier Ulema, which is subtle and tenuous. They were men of piety, probity and virtue. Their simple living, zeal and dedication and their clean, immaculate and distinctive record of services to Islam, all had a tremendous impact upon the minds of the Shias. In this implicit manner, these Ulemas provided a lifestyle and ethical rigorism agreeable to Islamic code of conduct and behaviour.

Earlier in this century, beginning from the later part of the second decade onwards, the Madrasatul Waezeen of India started sending their missionaries to East Africa. These missionaries were men of profound learning, specially trained for preaching and propagating the faith. They toured East Africa, visiting various Jamaats of Shia Ithna-Asheris and prepared a comprehensive report of their own activities. But the nature of these visits was expeditious, protracted for a few months during which time some of them extended their visits to as far south as Madagascar, and northwards to Somalia. In the early thirties, the need for resident Ulema was felt, and Jamaats of East Africa, Madagascar and Somalia decided to have such services on a permanent basis. The great learning institutions of India, like Nazmia Arabic College and Madaris of Lucknow, Jawadia Arabic College of Benaras and others came to their rescue. The sympathetic and patronizing regard by the great divines of India, Aqa-e-Najmul Millat Syed Najmul Hasan Saheb, Taba Sarah, Aqa-e-Nasirul Millat Syed Nasir Husein Saheb, Taba Sarah, Aqa-e-Baqirul Millat Syed Mohamed Baqir Saheb, Taba Sarah, and later on, Aqa-e-Syed Zafarul Hasan Saheb Taba Sarah, Mufti Syed Ahmad Ali Taba Sarah and Aqa-e-Syed Muhammed Taba Sarah, has left an indelible imprint upon the developments of Shia Ithna-Asheri school in these parts of Africa. The earliest record of services by a resident Aalim is to be found in Zanzibar where Agha Syed Abdulhusein and Agha Syed Husein Shushtari were sent by Agha-e-Yazdi and Agha Syed Abul Hasan Isfehani from Iraq. Later on, we find Ulema from India serving as resident Molvis in centres like Mombasa in Kenya, Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Mogadishu in Somalia and Morondava in Madagascar. Other smaller Jamaats followed in the wake, and by 1958, there were more than 25 Ulema stationed in East Africa, Somalia, Mauritius and Madagascar. Needless to say that these men of learning from India and now also from Pakistan, gifted with fluency of Urdu and an eloquent style, equipped with enough of what one might call ‘a Khoja experience' gained from Bombay and at times Gujarat, enjoyed great popularity. Thus, one can safely infer that Shi'ite practice and piety in Africa was a strategy carefully and lovingly managed by Iraq and India, gradually turning it into the spontaneous movements of the masses.

It is not my intention to pronounce any judgment on the role played by these later Ulemas; nor do I feel qualified. In the course of time, however, as the Molvis grew familiar with the local environment and attitudes, as their recruitment became centrally controlled, governed by a unified contract, and also due to the human element involved on either side, the Molvis and the laity, a set, a rigid and defined pattern of their role emerged. This was restricted to leading daily prayers, occasional preaching, solemnizing marriages and divorces, last rituals for the dying or the dead, exorcising those overtaken by the evil spirits, amulets and divining. The brunt lay squarely on the shoulders of the Khoja Shias who expected nothing more, and upon those Molvis who found this a comfortable and convenient vocation. With the passage of time, some thinking Khoja Shias became aware and conscious of this dismally monotonous role played by the Ulema and were rudely awakened to the need for change. This progressive element began to express itself articulately and persuasively. The sudden shift of attention occurred chiefly because of two reasons. First, a wind of change had started to blow across the continent of Africa; the indigenous Africans demanding freedom from the inhuman yoke of colonization. To a casual observer, this may be just another political movement. But this was, in fact, a stage set to change the very fabric, structure and attitudes of the society, - especially that of non-African origin - and Khoja Shias were no exception. The narrow vision of the world, engendered by the jealously guarded bounds of communal entities, must change to a wider and broader ' perspective. Secondly, and more important, was the dichotomy caused by the limited role of the Ulema. People were religious if they attended the daily prayers - the preachings during Ramadhan and Moharram, paid handsome donations to one or another religious cause; but beyond the precincts of the Mosque and the Imambada, there was a territory foreign to the Ulema; which by mutual understanding was not to be invaded or trespassed. Discussing the second reason that I have advanced, mention must be made of the effects of the modern world. And when I refer to the modern world, I speak of the revolution in thought, politics and economics which radically altered the material and social conditions and the consciousness of people whose way of life was structured by them. The picture of the world presented in contrast with the influential development all around, was neither relevant nor recognizable. The dichotomy, therefore, was a dichotomy by contradiction; a disjunction had been created, and people were no longer living their beliefs.

The demands made upon the Ulema and the Community at large were very clear. The handful thinkers of reform wanted them to recognize that Religion and social order were interwoven, to an extent that it was not clear where one ended and the other began; that modernity had come in a package, not available in its separate components and therefore it called for an appraisal and adoption within the limits of Shariah; that a detached existence of Ulema among the people they supposedly served was outmoded; that the proper response for any behaviour considered to be irreligious and undesirable was not for merely impute moral responsibility to the doer, but to locate the cause of action by empirical investigation of the social and psychological circumstances of the individuals; that the message of Ahlul Bayt was not an exclusive preserve of any one community, group or class. As these novel ideas suffered the pangs of labour, a young Aalim from India set his feet on land in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. With an analytic bent and genius, vast knowledge and readiness to meet with the new challenges, this young Aalim was destined to set the wheels of change moving. He was Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi. Whether he himself was aware of the new directions to which the Shia Ithna-Asheri Community of Eastern Africa was being led by his efforts, and, whether his efforts were intentional and thus motivated, is difficult to ascertain. But that his arrival heralded a new era in the Shi'ite Society of East Africa is indisputable. Among the Ulema who now remained to discharge their set role, he was perhaps the first to walk down briskly from the elevated pedestal of mere adoration. Maulana set himself to learning Kiswahili, the lingua franca of Tanzania and Kenya, and language of adoption in Uganda, Zaire, Coastal parts of Madagascar, Comore Islands and boundaries of Somalia. With great diligence, he perfected his English. He was now equipped and prepared to meet with the new demands in which he himself was a fervent and ardent believer. This was indeed very important; for the new venue of service was not imposed upon him; it was charted by himself. The impressive performance by Maulana Razavi received a great impetus from the society which was now becoming fully aware of the creeping changes all around. Whether the East African Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris contributed to the making of Maulana what he became is a matter of meticulous study. One thing is certain. No great and substantial change is wrought in a vacuum. While some of the members of the Khoja Shia society remained wary and scrupulous about the missionary undertakings beyond the community, the impact of the protagonists and their influence had a distinct effect on the majority. From this group of thinkers and enthused men, Maulana gleaned enough support to proceed. It is safe, perhaps, to assume that the exercise was reciprocal. Society was preparing to countenance the demands of the changing times, viewing the role of Ulema in a different perspective and becoming alive to its responsibilities towards Allah and His message. This was undoubtedly conducive to an unforeseen situation. Maulana Razavi set out to meet the challenge, and in so doing, demonstrated his talent and genius which made him famous throughout the Shia world as a dedicated missionary and a scholar of great repute. It is for this reason that in certain thinking quarters of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris of East Africa, it is firmly held that they must be given the due credit for having discovered Maulana Razavi.

The Federation

As the community grew in size and number, at the East African Coast, and at the remote interior, a need to obviate the difficulties caused by dispersion became a focus of attention. From the early thirties of this century and onwards, writers and thinkers began to promulgate an idea of forming a central organisation to which these Jamaats would be affiliated, thus instilling a sense of common belonging and creating a social interaction. Among the first thinkers who wrote about the need of a common platform was Marhum Abdulhusein Sachedina "AZAD" , editor of the Gujarati monthly, "MUNADEE". "MUNADEE" means 'a herald'. In 1932, this reticent but profound thinker wrote an editorial in his monthly, appealing to leaders of major Jamaats to awaken and rise to the changing times. He can be safely called the first visionary who saw the ailing society and suggested a remedy with clarity. His powerful pen heralded a new era.

(14) Marhum Azad had a style which was quite appealing. With almost complete command over his subject, he wrote poetically, gracefully and with enviable coherence. In this editorial which he penned in 1932, he says: "lthna-Asheri Society today is overwhelmed by layers of backwardness and retrogression. These layers have been building up for the last several years and continue even today. The horizon is bleak and dark, and nowhere is a ray of light to be seen. The ship of our community is drifting aimlessly and helplessly in a vast ocean, and none can predict when it will perish against the rocks. This is not a figment of imagination by a poet, or empty, fictional verbiage by a writer. Those who care to spare a moment or two to make an appraisal will agree that our words portray an exact and accurate picture of the prevailing situation." And then he proceeded to enumerate the ills of our society, condemning the time-worn, sometimes outlandish, traditions and social norms which he believed must be shunned. He described how the community was scattered in the remote parts of East Africa, gradually becoming disorganized, losing contact with the mainstream of the Ithna-Asheri society. Mincing no words, he held the leaders of the major Jamaats responsible for the pathetic state of affairs, "Progress without reform and organization is difficult. We need a strong, fortified set of laws which should bring about order and discipline in all our Jamaats, big and small, and should open up the stifled path of progress and advancement. This has got to be our goal, and the easiest way to achieve this is to form a Central Council of the Shia Ithna-Asheri Community in East Africa", he wrote. In response to this editorial, Marhum Abdulhusein Nurmohamed wrote a letter which was published in "MUNADEE" in January 1933. He supported the editorial, and gave a detailed programme for such a Central Council, should it ever be established. The letter shows that he clearly saw the use of such an organized, central body and that he was gifted with a sense of direction to which, he thought, the community could be led. No wonder he was elected the first President of the Central Council when it was finally formed twelve years later.

Marhum A. H. Nurmohamed was a public figure, his services extending beyond the precincts of our community. Amiable, soft-spoken, polite and affable, he was a master of his temperament, in every sense a gentleman, who could keep his head while others around him lost theirs. He laid the foundation masterfully and left his marks as a farsighted and dedicated leader. Tribute must be paid to his able Honorary Secretary, Marhum Haji Gulamhusein Nasser Lakha who stood by his side through all the teething troubles of the early days. Marhum G. N. Lakha, despite his tendency to act as one in a secondary position, was the hub of the wheel.

In 1945, the leaders of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of East Africa met In Dar-es-Salaam to approve the idea, and form an Adhoc committee for a Constitutional Conference which was convened in the ensuing year, again at Dar-es-Salaam. In 1961, Jamaats in Somalia, Madagascar, Mauritius, Zaire and Mozambique were brought under the wings of this Federation, and the central organization, metamorphosed from East African into African Federation. The second President of the Federation was Marhum Haji Abdulrasul Haji Nasser Virjee. Though he hailed from a pioneer family which had once established its trade branches all over East Africa, he was little known outside Mwanza where he lived. Behind the veil of reticence and aloofness, was a man gifted with the philosophical attitude, staid habits and clear, incisive thinking. He was a man of few words. In his inaugural Presidential address delivered at the second Conference held in Mombasa in 1949, the values in his life emerge clearly defined and his words show him as a figure towering high, a lone traveller, a detached spectator. His term of office was short and uneventful. History may judge him as the right man in the wrong place.

The most vigorous and active President of the Federation was Marhum Haji Ebrahim Husein Sheriff Dewji. He hailed from a family which is known for its religious services, and for its devotion as well as brilliance. At the end of 1958, the Federation needed a redeemer. Marhum Haji Ebrahim then provided leadership which has remained unequalled till today. Unfortunately, he was also one of the most misunderstood leaders of our community. Or was it all because of envy which he evoked? There was hardly any challenge he could not meet, hardly any hostile stratagem he could not surround, hardly any difficulty he could not surmount. He died in 1964 at the age of 41, while still in office. The path blazed by Haji Ebrahim needed a sustainer. Marhum Haji Mohamedali Meghji, who succeeded Haji Ebrahim as a President, was a man of matchless calm and composure. Despite his advancing age and frail health, he proceeded to work for the Community with devotion and diligence. He jealously guarded the seeds sown by his predecessors, nursed them and saw them bloom before he died in 1973 while still in office.

The ability to create an effective unified organization of nearly 72 Jamaats, further enabled the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris of Africa to grow from a conceptually static and arid society into the one more vigorous and discursive. Anew hierarchy placed greater responsibilities upon the leaders, giving them a wider perspective. New paths were blazed, and new venues of services were explored and adopted. Among the pronounced features is the centralization of Funds, controlled movements of Molvis, unified syllabus for all Madrassas, providing assistance to the needy, planning economic upliftment of the less fortunate members, and giving educational aid to those intending to go overseas for religious as well as secular higher studies. The growth of closer ties between the individual members of the constituent Jamaats, commercial as well as social, was, of course, a natural outcome of the increasing interaction, acquaintance and contact brought about by frequent meeting of the Federation. The Federation works through the instrumentality of the Supreme Council which meets every year and the tri-annual Conference. The administrative ability and discipline generally displayed by this community have been looked upon with great admiration by the sister communities in Africa. Of particular interest is the appreciation shown by the Maraje' Taqleed like Ayatullah Syed Muhsin Et-Hakirn Taba Sarah, and Ayatullah Syed Abut Qasim El-Khui in diverse manners. The Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris were frequent visitors to the holy shrines in Iraq and Iran, and to the great Mujtahedeen there. However, it was quite apparent that this acquaintance was peripheral and very formal. The first intimate relationship between the Marja' of Taqleed and the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community of Africa and their recognition as an active and united Shia people were visible during the times of Ayatullah El-Hakim, when the then President of the Federation, Late Haji Ebrahim Husein Sheriff Dewji made a detailed representation. The Community will ever remain grateful to Ayatullah El-Hakim and Ayatullah El-Khui for their spiritual guidance and for their continued care and concern.

Whether the establishment of the Federation was a sign of far-sightedness of the leaders or a mere fear of decadence, or result of a sense of insecurity felt in an adopted land, is a very fine point of scholastic sociology; especially so, one would think, in contrast with the parent Jamaats. of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in the sub-continent of India who, in spite of their greater number and dispersal, never federated. One thing, however, is certain. The Federation prepared, inadvertently though, the Khoja Shias of Africa to find a new role in the World which was rapidly changing with the technological advance, scientific outlook, and political upheavals.

Beginning from 1964 with the revolution in Zanzibar, the demands upon the Federation became greater. It had to undertake the unprecedented task of rehabilitating the displaced and uprooted members, caused by political changes. And so, in 1972, when Asians in Uganda were asked to leave the country for good, the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri settlement in Uganda disappeared. This dismemberment, besides causing untold miseries to the affected families, placed the Federation face to face with a hitherto unconceived situation. The great one-third limb was now amputated, and while World agencies and governments came to the rescue of the Ugandan refugees on a humanitarian basis, the Federation set itself busily to assist its Community members dutifully. Needless to say that Shia people from Africa thought of migration. This time the reasons were political rather than economical. In the wake of Uganda exodus, Khoja Shias from other parts of Africa girded up their loins to pre-empt anything similar happening to them. Within a space of four years after 1972, many Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris of Africa found their new homes in England, the U.S.A., Canada, other European countries, the Middle East- with a section of them back home in India or Pakistan. Their ties with the Federation of Africa gradually became weaker, despite being constantly haunted by the memory of the Sweet and happy days in Africa.

The Exodus & After

The dislocation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris from Uganda, coupled with a steady migration from other parts of Eastern Africa, and Madagascar, had a traumatic effect on the Community. Within the society, the tremors were unmistakably felt, and the psychological effects upon the minds and morals of the people were great and telling. The most remarkable feature of these new settlements, however, is that no sooner did they settle down in the new lands, than they began organizing themselves in the same old fashion as that of Eastern Africa. Here again, there were Jamaats, based on nearly the same type of constitution, and religious projects receiving the same attention as before. Within a very short period, buildings for Mosques, Imambadas and Alim quarters were either purchased or built. The cost of such undertakings had risen inexorably, and the capital investments in Eastern Africa stood in no comparison. Yet, the projects were completed successfully. In order to recompense the terrible loss sustained as a result of the expulsion and forced migration, it was absolutely necessary to re-enact an external surrounding compatible with the acquired living habits. Mosques and Imambades served to mitigate the distress, gave a feeling of having partly recovered what had been lost, and, of course, provided a spiritual comfort so necessary for the depressed souls. To this end, money poured in copiously. Was it an urge to pay any price for spiritual comfort? Or was it a religious zeal whipped up by frenzy? Or both, or perhaps neither? Perhaps it was only a pure intention to remember Allah and submit to His will and pleasure against all odds and adversities.

In 1975, a meeting was convened in London to discuss the need of a central organization, this time not only for the Community in the West but for the entire Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri population of the World. In exactly the same fashion as it was done thirty years ago, an ad hoc committee prepared a draft Constitution for approval and adoption by the Conference convened for the purpose in the ensuing year, and thus the World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities was born. Compared to the Federation of Africa, the World Federation is still in its infancy. But the contributions made by the experienced leaders from East Africa has enabled it to acquire stability earlier than expected. Jamaats in the proximity of each other and in close regional locations were advised to form their own Federations so that the World Federation could be promoted to a status of Confederation. At present, there are three Federations who enjoy representative memberships on the World Federation. First, of course, is the Federation of Africa, and next in line is the Federation of the Jamaats in North America. The third Federation is of the Jamaats in Cutch and Kathiawad, known as the Gujarat Federation. Where there are no such Federations, the Jamaats and other constituted Shia organizations have been granted memberships. The services of the World Federation are currently streamlined to the projects, as and when they are brought for consideration. But there are a few original projects like the group marriages in India among Sadaat and the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris, rehabilitation of Shia people in India, their economic upliftment, grants towards capital funds needed for religious buildings, in the East and in the West, housing schemes, and above all, planning and financing such projects which are meant for maintaining and disseminating religious practices and knowledge with a special emphasis upon the Jamaats in the West. In these days of turmoil and upheavals, the World Federation has kept itself abreast of the developments in the Muslim world. Though not politically attuned, it has remained alive to the needs of the Ummah at large and has contributed whatever it could to the brothers in need and distress. There have been instances when this World Federation has raised voice of protest against the oppressors on behalf of Mustadhafeen from various countries.

(15) The World Federation is currently based in London. There is a much advertised moral question facing this organization, mention of which is now absolutely necessary. Should the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris remain conscious of their own ethnic origin, faithfully and jealously guarding their bounds against all encroachments? Is it not high time for them to forget their nomenclature, and join the mainstream Islamic organizations? Better still, if they have the fund of experience in organizational work, would it not serve the Shia Ummah better if they opened their doors to all regardless of their ethnic origin? Is it morally justifiable to remain detached and self-complacent, looking at the suffering outsiders with a passive condescension? To all this, the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris are repeatedly invited to answer. They are not more than 100,000 people all the world over. However, the demands made upon them by the majority of the Shiah brothers to assimilate and accept all into their organizational fold is a pointer to their organizational ability and their achievements, if nothing else. The patronizing regard by the present Majia'e Taqleed Ayatullah Syed Abul Qasim El-Khui towards the World Federation is a matter of great pride and satisfaction. The preservation and promulgation of Islam according to the teachings of Ahlul Bayt had become a matter of prime concern for the Maraje' since the times of Ayatullah Syed Husein Burujardi, and Ayatullah Syed Muhsin El-Hakim, and continues to be so in the present times. The World Federation is among those agencies which fulfil desires of the Marja' in this respect. The services of the World Federation are by no means restricted the Khoja Shias. And yet, the field of service to its own member immeasurably vast. It has just begun to touch the fringes. Let us hope that in the course of time, after attending to the urgent needs, this organization is able to participate meaningfully in the mainstream Shia organizations and maintain a vocal as well as a reciprocal relationship.

Bilal of Africa

With the passage of time, the emergence of new patterns, tendencies and values brought about by the new social environment, the Federation became gradually aware of its responsibility towards the propagation of Faith outside the Khoja Community. This awareness was not prompted by any selfish motive. The urge for spreading the mission was now genuinely believed to be their burden. But at least a decade before the Federation ever thought in this direction, that is in the mid-fifties, Mulla Husein Alarakhya Rahim wrote in the Zanzibar-based, religious, Gujarati periodical 'SALSABIL' about the need to spread the message of Ahlul Bayyt among the indigenous inhabitants of the Continent. In 1964, Ayatullah Syed Muhsin EI-Hakim Taba Sarah gently admonished the leaders of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris for their self-centred, proprietory and possessive frame of mind. He directed them to preach the Truth to the African masses, and thus to absolve themselves of their sacred responsibility to Allah Almighty. In the year 1962, and later in 1964, Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi submitted a pilot scheme and a detailed memorandum on the missionary activities before the Conference of the Federation convened at Tanga, Tanzania. The 1964 memorandum was received with mixed feelings but was ultimately adopted as a policy by an appreciable majority. This is how a new field of activity appropriately named BILAL MUSLIM MISSION, after the great African companion of the Prophet, and first Muazzin of Islam, HAZRAT BILAL, may Allah bestow upon him His pleasure, was begun.

Studying the African response to the Shi'ite propagation and its evaluation is a subject requiring extensive research. But it will not be out of place to record that the previously prevailing impression that Shi'ite faith was exclusively Indian has now been eradicated. The bias and prejudice with which the Shias were held have now been replaced with a fair and balanced attitude. The scope of the Bilal Muslim Mission is vast and has many facets. It must be graciously admitted that the people with whom it deals need religious as well as temporal care and attention. In the wake of spreading the teachings of the 'THAQALAIN', the Holy Qur'an and the: Ahlul Bayt, the need for social, educational and economic services could not escape our perception, and Islam is a complete code of life, demanded explicitly that such a comprehensive programme be instituted. To this end, the late Professor Khwaja Mohamed Latif Ansari of Pakistan had drawn the attention of the Community in his memorable address delivered at Arusha Conference in December 1958.

The Africans have their own rich cultural traditions and ancient history of which they are rightly proud. At the same time in their search for the Truth, and in their efforts to identify themselves with the modern world, they are keen and least resistant. When an African embraces a new faith, he generally does so with absolute conviction and with no ulterior motives. Therefore, when I speak of the scope of the Bilal Muslim Mission, I do not merely speak of their expectations; I speak also of our responsibilities. An African is an avid and voracious reader. He reads whatever comes in his way, so as to learn and know more and more.

The Bilal Muslim Mission started its first Swahili Publication "Sauti Ya Bilal" (The Voice of Bilal) to cater for the Swahili readers. And then there was an English periodical, 'The Light' which now enjoys global readership. To its credit, the Mission has several Kiswahili and English books written on a wide range of Islamic topics. Apart from two centres in Tanzania and Kenya, it has nearly 25 Madrassas in East Africa, which are managed by the Shia African Muballegheen originally trained in the centres. The number of African converts in Tanzania. Kenya, Burundi and Madagascar may safely be estimated at 40,000. Both the centres run a successful correspondence course which has a substantial enrolment of African students come from as far as West Africa. At least one Primary School for secular education of. African boys and girls are known to have been built by the Bilal Muslim Mission. This school in Kenya is classed among the best primary schools at the Coast. Many African converts were given employment and some of them were trained for various vocations enabling them to become self-employed. However, the efforts in this sphere cannot be termed satisfactorily.

The Maraje' Taqleed, Ayatullah Syed El-Hakim and Ayatullah, Syed El-Khui have attached great importance to the activities of the Mission, and have expressed their full support; blessing the Federation with their earnest prayers. In 1968, Ayatullah El-Hakim graciously admitted African students from East Africa to the Hawza in Najaf but due to the fast deteriorating conditions, they were transferred to Lebanon - some of them under the care of Syed Mohamedhusein Fazlullah -and later on to Qom, Iran. Among the African students in Iran; we have some who are from Burundi, Uganda, Madagascar and Comore Islands. It is not possible, within the limited time at my disposal, to enumerate all the activities of the Bilal Muslim Mission in detail. Among the great changes, it has wrought in the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community is a fact that it spurred and prompted the Khoja boys and girls to engage in advanced religious studies. With the African boys and girls in Iran today, we have a number of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri students - all busily pursuing higher religious education. As I have mentioned earlier, the incessant and untiring efforts and contributions by Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi in this direction have been decisive and of great import. His knowledge of Swahili and English enabled him to offer his services without any undue hesitation. He was appointed Chief Missionary of Bilal Muslim Mission - an appellation signifying the new role of an Aalim among the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris. For the first time in its history, the Community lent its credence to this new appointment and realized that the function of an Aalim could be much more beneficial, varied and discursive.

(16) To this August Conference attended by the Ulema and intellectuals of ISLAM, I venture two submissions. First, that the Shia Ithna-Asheri Community of Africa has undergone a dispersal, and is now widely scattered in the West. The influence of Islam has got to be compatible with the inroads of anti-ISLAMIC influence, and the pace has got to be equal if not greater. I hope and earnestly pray that this Ahlul Bayt League, with its high aims and noble objects will, with the aid of modern amenities and new approach, attend to this dire need, giving it a preferential dispensation. The programme need not be for Shias of Africa alone, for the problem faces all Muslims, and is expected to endure if not remedied in time. The idea of leadership by Ulema is not a novel one. One can see such leadership provided by them in the history of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and India. In modern times, we have seen it function in the Islamic Republic of Iran. With the establishment of this League, a new era has dawned, with our expectations running high. I hope that this leadership will not be restricted to leading of the daily prayers, occasional preaching, solemnizing marriages and divorce, last rituals for the dying or the dead, exorcising of those overtaken by the so-called evil spirits, amulets and divining. We hope that this leadership will conjoin the Islamic hope of heaven with justice on earth. Secondly, please do not forget Africa. Africa needs your prime attention. The faint but resonant recitation from the Holy Our'an in the court of Negasus reverberates even today. Every African can become a replica of BILAL who once told the Prophet: "And when virtue is mentioned in our mids, we cite you as an example" And the Ayah of Our'an, I recited earlier, “And when they hear what has been revealed to the apostle, you will see their eyes overflowing with teachers on account of the truth that they recognize” Al-Maedah (5:83) holds good even today.


Notes & References

(1) Encyclopaedia Britannica1972. Vol. I P.300 (a!so Vol. 21 p.476)

(2) Ibid 1972 Vol. 21 p.476

(3) Dr Jan Knappert's article "AL-HUSAIN IBN ALl IN THE EPIC TRADITION OF THE SWAHILI" published among the selected articles in "ALSERAT" (1975-83) by the Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, London. It discusses Hemedi b. Abdallah al-BUHRY'S UTENZI wa Sayyidna HUSENI bin ALl, (edited and translated by J.W. T. Allen) Dar es Salaam, 1965. Relying upon the information on names and dates given by Mr J.W. T. Allen, Dr Knappert says: "The poet of the Swahili epic about al-Husain's tragic death was called Hemedi (the Swahili form of Ahmad) bin Abdallah al-BUHRY whose family settled in Tanga in the 1820s … Some of these epics were in fact actually composed by his grandfather, Sai'd b. Abdallah who died c.1875. The al-Buhry family is known throughout Tanzania for their scholarship and saintly lives."

Quoting from the epic, which seems to be a different composition from the one referred to as 'HUSENI', Dr Knappert provides examples of the Swahili Utenzi. Describing the lax morals of Ibn Ziyad, the poet says:- "Mwenye mke si mkewe mwenye mwana si mwanawe ni kama kuku na mwewe." (He that has a wife- not his wife, he that has a daughter- not his daughter -it is like the chicken and the kite). Dr Knappert explains: "This is a perfect example of classical Swahili style: compact and expressive. The poet means that anyone in the city who has a beautiful wife and daughter is in danger of seeing her raped by the tyrant, who will behave just as the kite behaves with the chicken. The kite is a common image in Swahili for the adulterer, the rapist; the chicken is the metaphor for a virtuous woman, full of fear of being attacked."

On Muslim b. Aqeel when he was deserted by the people of Kufa: "Akatizama yamini asimuone awini akiola shimalini asione nusurani. " (When he looked South he saw no helper; when he looked North he saw no rescue).

Imam Husein (A.S.) bidding farewell to the ladies of the family: "Kamkalia Farasi Kinga umeme wa Kusi, na wingu kubwa jeusi , lenye kiza na baridi. " (He sat on his horse, like the lightning that accompanies the South wind with a big black cloud, dark and cool) . "Akasimama Huseni Kawaaga nisiwani kwa herini, kwa herini, nenda zangu sitarudi. " (Husein stopped and said goodbye to the women “Adieu, adieu, I go and shall not return) "Wakalia na majini na nyama wote yakini wa bara na baharini hata ndege na asadi. " (Even the jinn cried and all the animals indeed, of the land and (the fish) of the sea, even the birds and the lions).

(4) Islam in Uganda by Arye Oded. Printed by Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem, 1974. (Page 232).

(5) Encyclopaedia Britannica 1972 Vol. I p. 301.

(6) Islam in Uganda by Arye Oded.

(7) A footnote from this paper reads as follows:- " White Noel King was Professor of Religious studies at Makerere University College, Kampala, they (Razavi and King) met at Bukoba in 1963, and collaborated in a study through correspondence with yearly meetings at Kampala. The earlier limit (1840) relates to the commencement of new Indian activity in East Africa with the settling of Sultan Seyyid Said at Zanzibar. The authors gratefully acknowledge assistance in gathering material from Ahmad Jetha and Mohsin M.R. Alidina."

(8) After describing further inroads of the Community into the interiors of Tanganyika and Uganda Maulana Razavi adds the following at the footnote:- "The topographical details given are mainly based on visits to many of the places mentioned and the Ithna-Asheri Trade Directory (in Gujarati) (Arusha and Dar es Salaam: Shia Ithna- Asheri Supreme Council, 1960)".

(9) Some Iranian individuals ventured into Uganda from as early as the dawn of this century. The Directory and History published by the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa (1960) give this interesting account as narrated by Marhum Laljibhai Rawji of MBALE: "in those days (i.e. 1922) there was an Iranian gentleman named Muhammed Baqir living here. He was a good hunter, and he traded in ivory and other produce. He built two rooms annexed to his house, where majlises were held regularly. He died in 1925. Mr Muhammed Baqir Irani was truly a religious person and had infused profound religious fervour into our brothers. He was also a great social worker. In 1919, during the famous epidemic of Influenza, people were very much frightened. But Muhammed Baqir continued to serve bravely, and distributed free medicines to all." (Directory and History referred to earlier -p.75) Another reference to the presence of an Irani in Uganda is found in the article by Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi published in the 'LIGHT' magazine, (BILAL MUSLIM MISSION, TANZANIA) Vol. VII Nos. 5-6 1973, under the title: " A Chapter Closed - Shia Ithna-Asheriya of Uganda." He says:- "In those early days (the year 1900) there came (to Kampala) Irani Mirza Asadullah Khan whose name was still remembered by the Community for his valuable social services and good nature. He started a transport business using ox carts in partnership with an African chief. He was very popular among African and married a Muganda lady with all due tribal ceremonies."

(10) Various waqfs and endowments by the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris of East Africa reveal their prime concern about the perpetuation of their faith. They also show that enough importance was attached to the secular needs of the Community. Many Trusts and Awqaf were made possible by general gifts and donation received from the members. In certain cases, the Trusts and endowments have been given the names in memory of those who gave a generous measure of their wealth. The Alibhai Panju Jaffery Primary School in Mombasa, Kenya, is an example. Here I give the names of those benefactors who gave away their wealth in the name of Allah, at the time when the Shia settlement in East Africa had just begun.

(i) Dewjibhai Jamal. The tracts of land given away as WAQF for Mosques, Imambadas and Qabrastan (Mombasa, Nairobi, Lamu) and some investment properties for related Trusts bear the name of Dewjibhai Jamal, and his illustrious sons, Sheriff Dewji, Jaffer Dewji, Nazerali Dewji, Nasser Dewji and others. In fact, there is hardly a name among his descendants who has not made a minor or major contribution to one or the other religious cause. This can rightly be called a family of benefactors. Their contributions can be seen in India as well. In East Africa, they also attended to the religious needs of the Community in Zanzibar, and in what is today Tanzania.

(ii) Satchu Peera: A great benefactor of Dar es Salaam who tried his best to secure a piece of land for the Mosques arid then personally supervised its construction. He gave away his land for the Qabrastan.

(iii) Jaffer Khimji: He was one of the donors of the plots for Mosque and Imambada in Tanga. The others were his brother Haji Abdulla Khimji and Haji Nasser Virji. Jaffer Khimji built the Mosque in Tanga in 1925. He had a famous MEHMAN KHANA (guest house) where visitors could come at any time for respite. It was a common sight to witness several guests at his dinner table, most of whom were not even acquainted with him.

(iv) Ladhabhai Meghji: He gave his plot for the Mosque in MWANZA.

(v) Datu Hemani: He left enough money for a Girls' school in Zanzibar. It was known as Datu Hemani KANYA SHARA.

(vi) Nasser Nurmohamed: He left a legacy to be utilized for a charitable Dispensary in Zanzibar.

(vii) Haji Mohamed Jaffer of Lindi: whose name is foremost among the great philanthropists of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community. The great Boarding House for students, built-in Dar es Salaam, stands as a monument to his generosity.

(viii) Haji Jeevrajbhai Meghji: whose outstanding religious charities stand till today in Mombasa and Lamu. Together with Haji Jeevrajbhai Khatau and Haji Dharamsibhai Khatau, they settled substantial endowments for Mosques, Imambadas and Qabrastans.

(ix) Haji Abdulla Kanji and Fazal Ladak Sivji waqfed a Musafirkhana in Mombasa.

(x) Khimji Bhanji: who gave the first Imambada to Kampala Jamaat. In the interiors of Uganda, names like Kassam Mohamed (Hoima), Ahmad Bhimji (Fort Portal), G.R. Hansraj (Soroti), Allarakhya Kassam, Jamal Ramji, Karabhai Valli (Kampala), Haji Gulamhusein Ladha and Hasanali Salemohamed (Kaberamaedo), Haji Merali, H.K. Jaffer and Suleman Esmail (Jinja) and many others rank among the selfless and dedicated benefactors.

This list is not in any way exhaustive. Many great names can be added to it. However, this is sufficient to give a fair idea of how the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris of East Africa adhered to their faith and practice, how they sacrificed for upholding what they believed in and how they walked across the borders into the remotest part of the Continent as torchbearers of their religion and culture.

(11) Haji Karim Alarakhya, a senior member of Khoja Shia IthnaAsheri Community in Zanzibar, in his statement to the editor of the 'Trade Directory and History of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in East Africa and Congo' gave an interesting account of one such incident which took place during the Arab Sultanate in Zanzibar. He said: "In the days of Seyyid Majid, the Sultan of Zanzibar, the Customs Authority was controlled by Jeraj Shivji and Tharia Topan. After his death, Syed Barghash ascended the throne. Syed 8arghash sent for Lakhabhai Kanji and asked him to take over the management of Customs, but Lakhabhai politely declined. The Sultan insisted, but Lakhabhai remained adamant. Then the ruler asked him to recommend someone reliable and experienced who would accept the responsibilities. Lakhabhai recommended Haji Nasser Lilani, who was then entrusted with the management of both the Zanzibar Customs and other Government services. When Syed Barghash died, Haji Nasser Lilani himself organized the Coronation ceremony of the Sultan's brother, Syed Khalid" (See Federation Directory or History - page 187)

(12) 'Salsabil' (Memorial issue for Hami-e-Islam, Marhum Gulamhusein MohamedVali Dharsi). Issue 3-4 {of the 19th year of publication) Zilqad, Zilhaj, 1380, April-May, 1961).

The late Mulla Husein A Rahim then first-class Magistrate, High Court Zanzibar) in his glowing tribute to Marhum Gulamhusein M.V. Dharsi said: "If religious propensities, deep love for Ahlul Bayt, propagation of the teaching of Imam Husain {A.S.) coupled with humility, generosity, fear of God, profound religious knowledge and whole-hearted adoption of its principles can bestow any greatness on a man, then one must acknowledge that Gulamhuseinbhai was a great Shiah of this era." Gulamhuseinbhai died on 11th March 1961 {23rd Ramadhan 1380 Hijri) at Zanzibar.

(13) 'Salsabil' (Conference Issue) February 1946 (Rabi-ul-AwwaI 1365). Further acknowledgement of Marhum Abdulhusein Sachedina (AZAD) as the first visionary of a united and central organization can be found in the Trade Directory and History of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in East Africa and the Congo, published by the Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa in 1960. In a separate article under the title "Federation na Sacha Pita" (The true patriarch of Federation), the editors write "When the Community lay scattered and disunited, with grudges being nursed in practically every bosom, this young mind passionately and articulately spoke of the 'Conference'. He gave y this dream to the Community and left no stone unturned to see that the dream was realized. His name will ever remain glitteringly m engraved on the pages of the history of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris in East Africa. "This famous pen and lucid mind went into oblivion while still on the ascendant. Before the world could truly recognise and acknowledge his worth, 'AZAD' was gone while still in the prime of his life The impact and effect of his thoughts will remain forever. "It is difficult for one to forget this composed, reticent but brilliant personality. O 'Azad', like 'ASEER ' of India, you are a source of perennial inspiration for this Community. Our Myriad Salutations!" (Page 166. Trade Directory and History of the Community published by the Federation of K.S.I. Jamaats of Africa, ARUSHA 30th December 1960).

(14) The institution of MAJLIS of Imam Husain (A.S.) created several Zakirs. These were ordinarily known as the Mullas. In earlier days, these Mullas read from the books specially compiled for the MAJLIS. Some of them had the ability to prepare their own discourses by selecting passages from various reliable sources. Here again, .the books of MAJALIS published by Marhum Allama Haji Gulamali Haji Esmail of Bhavnagar, India, had proved of considerable assistance. In Uganda, for example, his regular monthly “Rahe Najat” provided enough material to a Mulla for preparing an occasional sermon. Among these Mullas, there were some who knew Urdu. For them, magazines like "AL BURHAN " from Ludhiana, Punjab, India, was a rich source of reference. And then there were Mullas who knew Persian as well. In Zanzibar, because of steady but constant contact with IRANI SADAT and the Ulema from IRAQ, Mullas were able to read and speak Persian with considerable ease. In fact, there was a group of men who, despite not being Mullas themselves, knew this language extremely well. Persian helped the Mullas to delve deeper into the original works of our great Ulema.

Here, I give names of few Mullas whose contribution cannot be ignored. Again, it must be observed that this list iS in no way a complete one. Exhaustive research is indeed necessary for preparing a full list of the Mullas who rendered the sacred services, most of the time on a voluntary and honorary basis.

1. Mulla Abdulrasul Dewji. He lived in Zanzibar, and later on, migrated to Mombasa where he died at an advanced age in 1976. A man of profound erudition, he can be singled out as a Mulla who, besides his knowledge of Urdu and Persian, studied the Arabic language as well. His Majlises were highly successful. People hastened to hear his erudite discourses which he wrote himself. His principle subjects were Islamic History, Tafsir of Qur'an, Irfan and Fadhail of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all). A voracious reader, he had numerous original books in his personal library. Mulla Saheb was also extremely helpful to the budding Zakirs. His written tracts are in the hands of many new Mullas who use them till today. In the late fifties, Mulla Abdulrasul Dewji began oral Majlises. In these later years, despite his infirm state of health, he travelled to Nairobi, and Jinja (Uganda) during the first ten days of Muharram to give the benefit of his orations.
2. Mulla Kassamali Ladha. He lived in Mombasa. In an effort to reach the members of the community, he decided to give discourses in Cutchi language. No doubt, this was a correct decision he had taken, for people flocked to hear him whenever he went on Mimber. Ladies and children enjoyed his preachings better because they could understand him thoroughly. He spoke their own language. And Mulla Saheb took the maximum advantage of this language through which he had become so lovingly accessible. He chose community welfare, reform and strong bond of fraternity as his principle themes of MAJLISES. His conversational and modest style of rendering is still being remembered.
3. Mulla Moledina Jaffer. He delivered his sermons in Cutchi and travelled far and wide to remote Jamaats during Muharram. He also authored a handbook for Zakirs, known as "NASIRU ZZAKIREEN" (The Helper of Zakirs). This book is in Urdu, using the Gujarati script. Perhaps he chose to do this because Urdu was the commonly adopted medium in majlis. He lived in Tanga.
4. Mulla Ahmad A. Lakha Kanji. A great orator of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community, well known for his lucidity, and masterful style of delivery. He is, in fact, a linguist. Apart from English and Gujarati, Mulla Saheb speaks Urdu and Persian with great ease and facility. He is among the best Zakirs. The contents of his MAJAliS have always emphasized the moral values in human life, Fadhail of Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and social reform. He travelled far and wide, sometimes up to Madagascar, to give the benefit of his useful sermons. A man of impeccable manners and modest disposition, Mulla Ahmad lakha evokes affection and reverence together at the very first contact. As I write, he is in the decline of his life, ailing because of infirmities brought about by the advanced age. So is the divine design for every mortal. May Allah keep him.
5. Mulla Husein A. Rahim. He read his Urdu discourses prepared and written by himself. In spite of his multifarious social and professional duties, he always found time to serve the cause of Islam and Imam Husein (peace be upon him). Mulla Saheb was also a prolific writer. Several tracts, essays and commentaries of DUAS, written in English, exist to his credit. Principal among these is the commentary and apt translation of DUA-E-KUMAIL. He used to be invited by various Jamaats for delivering speeches on the occasion of Husein Day. Because of his modern approach to religious topics, especially when he made a comparative study of various ideologies and Islam, Mulla Saheb was extremely popular as a Zakir. He died in London at an advanced age. He is remembered as a Zakir of great repute, and also as a great social worker who served the Community in various capacities for years on end.
6. Mulla Mohamed Mulla Jaffer. Born in Zanzibar, he migrated to Mombasa after his brief stay in Lucknow, India. He was a preacher and a teacher as well. In fact, in the latter field, he remains a Mulla of unsurpassed excellence. like his father Mulla Jaffer, he taught FIQH and Urdu language. An appreciable section of the Community in Mombasa, most of them in their middle ages, would remember Mulla Mohamed as a beloved religious tutor. He spoke Urdu and Persian with considerable fluency. In his earlier days, he read from the books when on Mimber. later, he developed his singular style for orations. He will a1so be remembered as the one who promoted AZADARI of Imam Husein (peace be upon him) among the youths who had steadily' begun to show signs of indifference. He died in Mombasa at the age of 52, in 1960.

As mentioned earlier, extensive research is necessary for treating the subject justifiably. Names like Mulla Nanji Bhanji, Mulla Faateh Ali, Mulla Jaffer Pardhan, Mulla Ali Mohamed Nanji, Mulla Mohamedjaffer Nazerali, Mulla Rashid Nurmohamed, Mulla Gulamhusein A.D. Musa, Mulla Ali Khaku Rajpar, Mulla Hasanali Rashid Kermalf, Mulla H.M. Rashid, Mulla H.M. Nasser, Mulla Gulamlhusein Kanji, Mulla Abdulrasul Hassanali G. Khaki and many others will ever remain glittering in the history of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community. I hope to carry out this exercise at a later date, compiling a full list of the Mullas, giving detailed accounts of their contributions which form an inalienable part of Khoja Shia history in East Africa.

(15) The following excerpt from Mr U Maung Maung Ta's speech is sugges1tive: "This Conference is being held at a time when sad accounts of our Ulama is emerging daily, at the hands of an adamant despot I am aware that the events I am referring to have not been given the publicity it deserves -Silence maintained by the news media is amazing. I wish to quote an extract from a circular issued recently by the World Federation of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheria Muslim Communities in London. I quote: 'There comes in peoples' lives when we can no longer sit on the fence or in a corner. This is the time of action so that we may be successful in stopping the spilling of the blood of Aal-e-Rasool. A concerted effort is required by each one of us.’ The World Federation has done a commendable job during this crisis. As a matter of fact, we were in the dark and we would not have known about the persecution of our Ulama had it not been for one such circular of the World Khojas." (U Maung Maung Ta, President, The All Burma Shia Muslim Organization, Rangoon - at the Inaugural Conference of World Ahlul Bayt (A.S.) League held in London on 5th August 1983. He was referring to the persecution of El-Hakim family in Iraq, and the execution of six among them.)

(16) The World Ahlul Bayt (A.S.) League convened its first conference in London from 5th to 7th August 1983. Among the participants were renowned Shia scholars from nearly every country; prominent among them were the following:

(1) Syed Mahdi El-Hakim, son of Ayatullah Syed Muhsin El-Hakim Taba Sarah.
(2) Syed Muhammad Bahrul Uloom, a scholar of high repute, an author of several tracts of high learning.
(3) Syed Muhammad Husain Fadhlullah, the great advocate of Islamic unity in Lebanon.
(4) Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi Shamsuddeen, the second in command of Shia affairs in Lebanon after Imam Musa Sadr. His masterly works on various religious topics are read throughout the Arabic speaking world.
(5) Syed Jawad Gulpaygani, son of the great Mujtahed of our times, Ayatullah Syed Mohammad Redha Gulpaygani. ,
(6) Syed Saeed Akhtar Razavi, whose contributions have been adequately discussed in this book.
(7) Syed Muhammad El-Musavi, the Wakil of Ayatullah El-Khui in India. He is a devoted Aalim, renowned for his learning and piety.
(8) Dr Saeed Rajai, Ambassador of Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.
(9) Ayatullah Sheikh Jawad Al-Ameli, representing Islamic Republic of Iran. A man of great erudition and piety.
(10) Syed Safdar Husein, Principal of Jameul Muntazar, Lahore, Pakistan.
(11) Syed Hameedul Hasan, Principal of Nazmia Arabic College, Lucknow. He is the grandson of Aqa-e-Najmul Millat Syed Najmul Hasan Saheb, Taba Sarah.
(12) Hujjatul Islam Sheikh Muhammad Ali Taskheeri from Qum, Iran.
Abyssinia 2
Africa 2
Afro Shirazi 5
Agha Khan 11
Ahmad b. Ebrahim 4
Allama Haji Gulamali 9, 34
Al-Falaq 4
America, North 22
Ansari, Khwaja Muhammad Latif 25
Arabia 2
Arusha 25
Arye Oded 4
Azad, Abdulhusein Sachedina 16
Baganda 4
Bantu 4
Bilal 24
Burujardi, Syed Husein 23
Chief Missionary 26
Christian 4, 5
Cutch 7
Dar es Salaam 17
Dharsi, Gulamhusein M.V. 9, 10, 23
Dichotomy 14
Ebrahim H. Sheriff 18
Epic 5, 28
Fazlullah, Syed Muhammad Husein 26
Federation 16
Gujarat Federation 22
Hadramut 8
Hakim, Syed Muhsin 19, 23
Hami-e-IslaIm 10, 33
Hasan, Syed Aqa 10
Husein, Imam 5, 29
Ibn Khaldun 3
ImameZaman 10
Isfehani, Syed Abul Hasan 12
Jamal, Dewjibhai 11, 31
Jones, D.P. 5
Kathiawad 7
Khoja 6
Khui, Syed Abul Qasim 19, 23, 26
Kilwa 4, 5
Lakha, G.N. 17
'Light', The 25, 31
Madrasatul Waezeen 12
Meghji, Mohamedali 18
Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji 9, 10
Munadee 16
Nazmia Arabic College 12
Negasus 3, 27
Niruz 5
Nurmohamed, A.H. 17
Periplus 2
Persian 5, 10, 34
Qadir Husein, Mulla 11
Qummi, Sh. Abbas 9
Rahim, Husein A. 24, 33, 36
Razavi, Syed Saeed Akhtar 1, 7, 14, 26
Sauti ya Bilal 25
Sayyid Said B. Sultan 6
Shushtari, Syed Husein 7, 12
Sultanul Madaris 12
Swahili 4, 5, 28
Tanzania 14. 28, 31
Ten Commandments 4
Uganda 4
Virjee, Abdulrasul Nasser 18
Wangwana 5
World Federation 21, 22. 23. 37
Zanzibar 4. 6. 7. 8, 31.32