Mulla Asgharali remembered

March 21st 2017 marks the 17th death anniversary
of Mulla Asgharali M.M. Jaffer

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“Live amongst people in such a manner that if you die they weep over you and if you are alive they crave for your company" - Imam Ali (A.S)
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Last farewell to Mulla Saheb. The first Salatul Mayyit at Stanmore Centre was led by Syed Bahrul Uloom.  And to cater for the overflowing crowd, second Salatul Mayyit was led by Syed Kalbe Abbas at Carpenters Park Cemetery.
 

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Last moments of his life

On 21st March, 2000, Mulla Asgharali was sitting in the London Office of the World Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Communities talking to Maulana Kalbe Abbas, resident Alim of London Jamaat.

Maulana Kalbe Abbas had just returned from Hajj and was planning to travel to Mombasa for the forthcoming period of Muharram.

Although he was residing in London since mid I980’s, Mulla Asgharali had a longing for his hometown, Mombasa.

Maulana Kalbe Abbas recalls that Mulla Asgharali was talking to him about Mombasa and giving him some personal introductions on local individuals when he suffered a massive heart attack. He turned his swivel chair and as it went round a full circle, Mulla Asgharali passed away while still sitting in his chair.

Muhsin Dharamsi and others rushed in to give first aid, but all to no avail.
 

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Outlining his approach to life, Mulla Asgharali had once said in an interview:
“I do not pray for His acceptance of my a’maal as much as I pray for the opportunity to serve. And the day He grants me a new opportunity to serve. I believe the previous ones have been accepted. And I hope till my last breath the opportunities are there and when the Almighty calls me back I will be able to tell my Lord: Thank you for giving me life. Thank you for giving me life.”

It is in recognition of this outlook to life that the motto of the World Federation today is:   
We live to serve with simplicity and in sincerity.”  

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With a traditional Khoja elders golden turban, a cheerful looking Mulla Asgharali on the happy occasion of the unification of the two Mombasa Jamaats, on 17th October, 1970. 

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A Challenge to the youths and elders of the Community!

“Unless the youths of this community are prepared to girdle their loins to serve the community to the best of their abilities, this community left in the hands of hard core traditionalists will not be able to take strides ahead. But at the same time a question arises before me, what class of youth we would like to take over such responsibilities?” 

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In a wide ranging review on the state of the community, quoted below is a talk delivered by

Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer
at the second Golden Crescent Group Seminar
held at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania, on 15-16 December, 1973.

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(Quoted from “Relentless Endeavours” – Reflections on Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer, 1936-2000 - by Hassan AIi M. Jaffer and published by Tehrike Tarsile Quran, New York, 2009)

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An Obsessed Reader

A voracious reader with a sharp memory, in his early days, Mulla Asgharali was a regular visitor to the Social Service League Library operating from the Vasco da Gama Street, currently known as Mbarak Hinawy Road, near Mombasa’s Old Port. He was also a frequent visitor to what was then known as the Seif Bin Salim Library and Reading Room, Digo Road or what was then known as Salim Road. This library has since been incorporated into the Kenya National Library and is now located in a purpose built accommodation off Haile Selassie Road, Mombasa.

In later life, when addressing youths he would always urge them to develop interest in reading books on serious subjects by good authors. ‘Do not restrict your literary taste to browsing through your local newspapers only and do not confine your serious reading to “Readers Digest” and the Gujarati publications of “Be Ghadi Moj” and “Chakram” only,’ he would say.

The passion of reading drove him to novel experiments. After he settled in London, he converted his garage into a library. Later, he moved his bed from the master bedroom upstairs and turned the library into his bedroom: a large room furnished with a double bed placed in the middle and bookshelves with books decorating all the wall spaces around.

Intellectual, spiritual and overall educational welfare of the youths concerned him most. He yearned to see well-informed, educated, intellectually and religiously enlightened youths coming forward to serve the Community.

“Unless the youths of this community are prepared to girdle their loins to serve the community to the best of their abilities, this community left in the hands of hard core traditionalists will not be able to take strides ahead. But at the same time a question arises before me what class of youth we would like to take over such responsibilities?”
 

Common tendency

On the common tendency among people who recall the days gone by as the glorious period in the history of the community, he deflated the myth with a candid observation:

“I would like to tell you that I do not very much conform to the subject as it is framed – ‘Let us revive our Community’. The insinuation is that our community has had a glorious past. Suddenly we have come upon a period of stagnation. We would like to revive the glorious period. I believe that there was no glorious past for this community and therefore the question of revival does not arise.”

Alluding to such common tendencies prevalent among the wider Muslim societies, Dr. Pirzada Qasim, Vice Chancellor of the Karachi University and an accomplished Urdu poet has highlighted the issue in these words.
 

Asre hazir dhundhta raha hai mujhko,  aur  mai.N
Magan hu.N  ahde  raftaga.N  ki  azamato.N  ke  darmiyan!

  • Realities of the current times require of me to come forward and accept the challenges of the time;
  • But here I am, lost in my thoughts, content only in recalling past achievements of the days gone by!

In his address, Mulla Asgharali lamented the poor intellectual state of the youths of the Community and made some hard-hitting observations.

“I said it very clearly in Dar-es-salaam and I repeat. If such youngsters, who are ignorant of the present state of affairs in the world and are simply not concerned about it; who have not been able to keep pace with the rest of the world; who are mainly concerned with their personal well-being only, interested in seeing what they are able to get out of their jobs and in the evenings for a happy stride in their well ironed clothes with ‘panpatti’ in their mouths frequenting the best restaurants, (if such youths) are handed over the reins of our community, it is going to be suicidal!”

“But rather than blame the youths and only complain about their attitudes we should try and take some creative steps. We must not have the tendency of shunning the problem by shifting the problem. We must solve the problem, and therefore the youngsters will have to be mobilized.

“How? We must see that intelligence of our average youth is up to the mark or perhaps above average.

“By cultivating (practice of) serious readership. I want the youngsters to read. I am told frequently by those who are concerned that we do not have a single journal in our community today. We used to have ‘SALSABIL’ ‘REHBAR’ ‘ALAMDAR’ and many other Gujarat journals. Also ‘INQILAB’ if I may not forget Mr. Satchu and ‘MANZIL’ from Kampala. Today, we do not have a single journal from East Africa. I am told that we need a journal.”

“But what type of a JOURNAL?” “If I have an editorial board compiling serious of subject beneficial to the community I am positive - and you will forgive me for the assumption that I shall not get a readership of 15% in the community.”

 “They are not prepared to read anything that is serious. As I have said it frequently from the Minber and also when I addressed my friends in Dar last week, when I visit my friends at their homes and have a glance at their bookshelves, the best thing that I can sometimes pick up are volumes of ‘Readers Digest’ otherwise it is normally ‘Chakram’, ‘Begum’ etc. Or I am ashamed to say, things like ‘Topper’ & ‘Beezer’ etc. Or if a person is slightly interested in English literature, I might see something by Earle Stanley Gardner.”

“But if you are concerned with philosophy, history, geography, economics or religion for that matter, you can hardly find a book worth its name in that bookshelf. As a matter of fact, one can hardly find a young man telling you that he is a visitor to a particular library, borrowing books that are worth their name.”

 “Most of our youngsters are not aware of the names of the renowned authors in the world, leave aside their work!”

“The result is this (my dears) that when we have an article published in any one journal, our youngsters are simply unaware of it.”

“As this is the state of affairs prevailing at the moment, we cannot have a good class of youngsters on whom we can pin some hopes. Consequently, even when we have youngsters working in the Jamaat and Unions, they are normally pushed by the elders. The result is that they immediately start accepting and receiving influence from their own elders. You will not be surprised to hear of a young man voting for a particular resolution only because his father in law has voted for it! He will only speak in favour of those items when he has already been assured of his family’s conformity. Now this being the case (gentlemen) original thinking does not appear to be there at any level.”

Reactionary tendencies among elders

On the question of the reactionary tendencies prevalent among the elders and the leaders of the Jamaats who show considerable intolerance to new ideas presented by well-meaning youths, Mulla Asgharali had strong words for those at the helm of the Community affairs.

“When you find a young man coming up with something revolutionary, you find elements that are known as reactionary elements, who always try to brand the youngsters as rebellious. They try to resist any suggestion emanating from the youths, with the result that the young man who has come up with fresh ideas will withdraw to his well-cushioned obscurity forever wondering: ‘why should I bother myself with the community affairs when people are not prepared to understand or even listen. Why should I burn my fingers when I am otherwise better off in my own house?”

“Therefore unless we raise the intellectual level of our community to meet the challenges of the times, I do not see any hope of reformation anywhere.”

 “Now to the elders I have nothing to say because I know that they have blazed a track and do not want to get out of the rut.”

“But to the young men I appeal that whenever you are told something that is generally unacceptable to you why don’t you argue and discuss?”

 “The normal reaction to this would be that how can we argue when we do not have the knowledge and experience that the older person has?”

“So gentlemen, there can only be two things - if you cannot understand a thing, either accept it or reject it.”

 “My community has chosen to reject it whether there is reason behind it or not.”

 

Feeling of despair among youths

On the current intellectual state of the Community as he saw in 1973 and the feelings of the youths towards the Community, he said:

“The tragedy is that we have met with despair from the young people. The world is going ahead at such a tremendous pace that I am inclined to feel that living in the 20th century, we are 50 or perhaps 100 years behind times in our deliberations, reasoning, wisdom and intellect.”

“Now when I talk of intellect gentlemen, I am not talking of degrees and diplomas, I am talking in terms of wisdom. What I am talking of is that stage and stratum of vision and wisdom where from we get the best of deliberations for the interest of the community without sentiments and emotionalism. And if that comes, only then can we have a forum where we can suggest radical changes.”

“I am not a pessimist gentlemen, but quite hopeful and optimistic and have pledged to serve my community to the last minute. But - nothing can come out of such meetings if there is no change in our own vision and that is the basic thing”.

“After having thought of this subject again and again I have come across only one point and that is: SOME RADICAL CHANGES HAVE TO COME BEFORE ANYTHING IS ACHIEVED”.

“Change the people. Have discussion groups and debates.”

“Pour into them some inclination and propensities towards going to like reading serious subjects. Deliberate on these subjects and leave aside your petty talks about your material life only.”

“At the moment there is not a single forum whereby a person who has decided to give an impetus to his intellect can take part. If a youth today wishes to discuss his own faith, which is the only vehicle of his survival here and hereinafter according to our faith, there is nowhere he can turn to. And if he happens to put an intellectual question he is immediately branded as a ‘KAFIR’.”

“Therefore intellect and vision have a direct bearing on all we want to learn.”

“But is our community conscious of this? Is the level of our intellect up to standard?”

“When one tries to talk about the abstract world from the platforms such as Minber, one finds that people are lost. When one talks about reason or philosophy, and other aspects of human life that are not tangible and visible, people merely start staring, because they are not used to these ideas.”

Good and bad Jamaat – prevalent yardstick

“For instance, a Jamaat is a good Jamaat and the chairman a good chairman, if we have our Muharram feasts and majalises in time - this is a tangible result of his organization. But, that chairman and Jamaat who comes out with a program to effect some basic changes in our lives telling you that look: - (I am only giving an example) - “Instead of spending unnecessarily during the marriage ceremonies, give us that amount so that we can aid the boy who wants to go for further education or to someone who wants to start earning his living.”

“The reaction is: “Ah! That Jamaat is trying to break from convention. That Jamaat is trying to strike at the very roots of our customs! And there is uproar.”

 “Ah! Who are you to tell us that?!”

“And therefore that Jamaat becomes a bad Jamaat and that chairman need to be removed overnight!”

“This is the condition prevailing in our community today because our intellect (pardon me for the word) is below level.”
 
On the question of the challenge facing the community and how to go about facing that challenge, Mulla Asgharali had following concluding observations to make.

“Gentlemen, you and I have all a duty to perform - we need to start immediately what was started in the age of renaissance in the European Countries. When the first thing they did was to awaken the masses from deep slumber to the values of literature, art, philosophy, science, thus producing original thinkers most of them coming out with flying colours in their chosen fields.”

“We do not have a country to rule; we have a society so we should become people who have qualifications in order to bring us on that border of wisdom from which we can talk effectively.”

As we reflect on these comments, the question that comes to mind here is that in our thinking, have we changed much since 1973?

How does an average youth of today feel towards the Community?

How do the little tin gods at the helm of the various Jamaats, the power barons, warlords and influence peddlers who like to call the tunes in local Jamaat affairs lead or stifle independent intellectual thinking of our youths today?

Is the situation in North America, Europe any better than Africa and the Indo-Pak sub-Continent?

In order to encourage and give recognition to the intellectually inclined youths of the Community, at one stage after this event, Mulla Asgharali floated an idea of granting special associate membership status in the Federation of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats of Africa to organizations like the Golden Crescent group. The idea was dropped in the face of opposition from the wider membership who feared that in so doing the organization would run the risk of creating an elitist group and as a result undermine cohesive working of the local Jamaats.

 

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