Dharamsi Khatau: A Pioneer and Merchant Prince

From interviews with Akberali A. Khatau

Dharamsi Khatau
(from A.A. Khatau)

My grandfather Dharamsi Khatau was born in Nagalpur, Kutch in 1865. He had four brothers Jivraj Khatau, Manji Khatau, Kassim Khatau and Killu Khatau. Yes it’s the same “shaheed” Killu Khatau, the student of Mulla Qader Husayn Saheb who was martyred in Bombay. After the death of Killu in 1878, my grandfather left Bombay in 1880 with his father and mother along with the wife of Killu Khatau and Killu’s daughters. The journey to Mombasa by dhow took about a month. On the way Khatau Nanjani, my great-grandfather saddened by the death of Killu passed away. He was lowered into the sea with full honours.

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CIRCULAR NO: JMT/122/18                                              

The annual Africa Federation Solidarity Day marked on 15th Sha’ban every year will this year fall on Wednesday 2nd May 2018.
As in the past years, the activities to promote greater awareness and to solicit funds for the Solidarity Day within our constituent member Jamaats in Africa will Inshaállah start from 1st to 25th Sha’ban 1439 (18th April to 12th May 2018).
We request all Jamaats in Africa and the Territorial Councils in Madagascar and Reunion to organize special events like, Table Collections, Charity Walk, Bake Sale, Sports and other activities for all – gents, ladies and children for this special occasion to raise funds and which also provides an opportunity to bring together our community members from different age groups on a common platform under one banner of Solidarity to celebrate the auspicious occasion of the birth anniversary of our 12th Imam, Al Hujjah Al Mahdi (ATFS).

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The AFED Economic and Housing Development Board is pleased to inform that the construction works at the Al Asghary Housing Project in Dar-es-Salaam is progressing on schedule.
The construction work of the three shops on the ground floor and 18 apartments (9 of three and 9 of two-bedroom apartments) spread over nine (9) floors on Plot No. 1701/208 on Band Street (corner of Libya Street) in Dar es Salaam is nearing its completion and the Opening Ceremony will be held Insha’allah during the 80th Supreme Council Session of the Africa Federation to be held in Dar-es-Salaam from 27th to 29th April 2018.

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Hanging on a wall at the entrance of the Mombasa Club there used to be a superb black and white photograph of a sailing dhow. On the dhow’s stern, you could read the legend “W. RAMJI & SONS, LAMU, L.58”. The dhow belonged to old Walji Ramji a leading Ithna-Asheri piece-cloth merchant of Lamu. He arrived on the island in 1885 along with his brothers Molu Ramji and Damji Ramji.
The three brothers built up a flourishing business retailing and wholesaling cotton cloth. When they were tired of sitting in their shops they used to go door to door to make deliveries. They became famous under the name “chittilesso”, a name which is still remembered by old residents of Lamu to this day. (Chit is the Gujarati word for cotton and lesso is a type of cloth wrap around worn by Swahili women)

Life in Lamu
From Interviews with Hussein Abdalla Jaffer Pardhan (AP)
Life in Lamu in the 1930’s was very simple. People would wake up in the morning and go for prayers. They would open their shops from 8:00-12:00pm and then go home for lunch and to sleep. The shops would re-open again at 3:00pm until 6:00pm when people would go for maghrib prayers. After dinner some people would open their shops at half past eight to do book keeping until around 10:00pm when they would go to bed. The chairmen of the Jamaat in those days were Jaffer Panju, Hassan Walji, Molu Ramji and his brother Walji Ramji. Molu Ramji used to bring grain and other cargo from Mombasa and would export boriti (mangrove poles).
Yes I remember Daya Kanji. He had a big shop in Lamu and was also into bringing cargo from Mombasa and shipping boriti and copra. Daya Kanji’s agent Abdulrasul Hirji Walji stayed in Faza where he would buy boriti. The Bohra Adamali Nurbhai and the Parsi Cowasjee were also in Faza. They used to come to Lamu once every six months for a haircut.
There was no electricity in the mosque; we had to use kerosene lamps. The imambara was upstairs. There were two ways of going up to the imambara; one way was from the bazaar and this was used by the ladies and the other was from the sea shore which was used by gents. Two staircases were built on either side. The local mullas were Mulla Jafferali Alibhai, Mulla Vallimohamed Merali Dewji, Mulla Mohammedali Nanji and Mulla Nanji Bhanji, who was a very old man at the time. The mullas would give waez and majlis in the imambara upstairs from the wooden minbar. Later on we used to have alims coming from outside Lamu. They would stay in the madrassa at the top which was converted into a guesthouse when there weren’t any children left.
The purdah was strictly enforced in those days in Lamu. There was a wall with a wooden door in the middle of the imambara that was always closed. Next to the door was a window like the one in our mosque in Zanzibar. During niyyaz which was always at lunch time if the ladies needed anything extra they used to tap the window’s sill. Mwalimu Yusufu and Mwalimu Faraj used to teach the students Qur’an in the madrassa. On Thursday nights we would all go to the Chungani. Majlises were held there in the small building (now in ruins) with barazas outside. This building was built during the time of Molu Ramji. The oldest graves you can see in the Lamu Chungani today are of Daya Kanji, Damji Ramji, Molu Ramji, Walji Ramji, Alibhai Panju and Jaffer Panju.



Waljee Hirjee
(from C. Salvadori)

Mombasa - Khoja settlement in Mombasa dates to 1867 when Waljee Hirjee a prominent Khoja Ismaili merchant of Zanzibar opened a shop at the Old Port. The first Ithna-Asheri to settle in Mombasa was Abdalla Datoo Hirjee. He arrived on the island from Zanzibar in 1882. In 1887 Nazerali Dewji left Lamu and moved to Mombasa to manage a branch of Dewji Jamal & Co. and in 1896 he was followed by his brother Jaffer Dewji.
The numbers of Khojas on the island at the time was small. In 1887 the combined Khoja population (both Ismailis and Ithna-Asheris) on the island was estimated at only twenty five compared to around 1,900 in Zanzibar and 385 in Bagamoyo. With the establishment of the Imperial British East African Company (IBEA) in 1888, Mombasa became the chief commercial entrepôt of East Africa. Large numbers of Khojas began to arrive from the old mercantile centres of Zanzibar, Bagamoyo, Lamu and Kilwa; others came directly from India. Khojas who had already established firms in Zanzibar, Bagamoyo or Lamu decided to open branches or shift altogether to Mombasa.
For example, in 1893 Dharamsi Khatau called his brother Jivraj Khatau from India to manage a branch of Dharamsi Khatau & Co in Mombasa. Also at this time two famous Bagamoyo merchant princes, Allidina Visram and his Ithna-Asheri nephew Nasser Virji decided to shift their businesses to Mombasa and opened branches in 1895 and 1900 respectively.
As Edward Rodwell notes Mombasa was not much of a place in those days. Ndia Kuu and Vasco Da Gama Str. (now Mbarak Hinaway Str.) comprised the main streets. The town boasted few stone buildings. Most of the island was covered by jungle, infested with puff-adders, and leopards roamed about the town at night. Every now and then lions would walk over the ford at Makupa when the tide was low. In 1892 Mombasa was the scene of a celebrated lion hunt in the area where Mombasa Sports Club is now situated. The business of the town was in the hands of a small group of Bhattias, Bohras, Memons and Khojas.

Mombasa, Ndia Kuu, 1895



The Africa Federation Education Board (EB) had the privilege of welcoming Br. Murtaza Somji, Chairman of Nairobi Jaffery Education Board (NJEB), to Dar es Salaam.  As part of the regional effort by the Education Board to facilitate inter-school engagement and collaboration, the Central Board of Education (CBE) and Al-Muntazir Schools hosted Br. Murtaza Somji (Chairman – NJEB) and Br. Tehsin Takim (Chairman – EB) on an in-depth familiarization tour of all the campuses.

The tour of facilities commenced at the Nursery School, followed by Boys Primary School, Girls Primary School, Girls Seminary, Boys Seminary and ending with the Special Needs Centre (AMSEN). The tour was led by Br. Imtiaz Lalji (Chairman – CBE), Br. Shakil Dharamsi (Vice Chairman – CBE) and Br. Mahmood Ladak (CEO – Al Muntazir Schools).  At each campus, a detailed meeting was held with the respective Principal, providing a unique opportunity to share cross-cutting challenges, solutions and best practices.

The Education Board wishes to extend its sincere appreciation to the Management, Board of Directors, Teachers and Administrative staff of Al Muntazir Schools for their hospitality, and for spending many hours offering insight as well as sharing current and future plans with the Chairman of NJEB and Chairman of EB.  We look forward to more such visits between our Community schools.

EB Secretariat


After completing my A Levels at Isamilo International School Mwanza, I decided to pursue my higher education in the United Kingdom at the University of Hertfordshire, graduating in 2015 with a BA in Economics. Thereafter I decided to take a gap year and went back to Tanzania, where I travelled and explored different regions of the country that I had not visited before. I returned to the UK to pursue my MSc in Economics at City, University of London, graduating in January of 2018.

For me, the biggest challenge in pursuing higher education was in fact my move to the UK, and transitioning to life as an international student. Leaving behind my biggest support system - my parents, the comfort zone that I called home and the familiarity of life that I was accustomed to, was a difficult yet necessary step to take. Lifestyle, culture and aspects such as the transportation system were not familiar and it was the first time I was really independent and living out on my own. Despite all the changes that were going on, two things that greatly helped me along the way were keeping steadfast to my religious beliefs and having some family in the UK. I also found it important to keep good friends that were also facing the same challenges as myself, and made sure to research ahead of my move so that I had some prior knowledge and was not walking into my new surrounding blindly.

I am resilient and I believe that self-improvement and evolution happen through life experiences, but that you have to reflect and try your hardest to tackle them in a practical manner. I have an inquisitive nature and I like to critically analyse every situation. It is important to understand why you believe in the things you do and to question the status quo, but to do so in a respectable and civilised manner involving discussion and debate. 

For me, to accomplish your goals it is central to keep your focus on what you want, then find ways and take small steps to help you achieve them. Making use of the student union, career advice, networking and holiday internships were ways that I kept myself driven by setting smaller milestones to carry on working hard. Basically, do the things your future-self will thank your current self-sacrifices for, which will make your life simpler in the long run.

For the challenges that I initially faced, I was rewarded for my efforts. Walking across the stage at my graduation for my master’s degree made everything worthwhile – so always keep the end goal in sight.But as important as it is to work hard and make full use of every opportunity open to you, it is equally, if not more important to cherish every moment and experience. Through all of it, the ups and downs, working those student jobs, writing late night reports, all of these things, make up university life and have so much to teach us about ourselves – enjoy the journey and don’t try to acquire instant gratification!

Having said this, it would not have been possible to get to where I am and be the person I am today without the prayers, duas and unwavering support of my parents. Through their own example and sacrifice, they not only taught me the value of academics but also everything outside it, such as sports, drama and travel that opened my mind up to so much more, and has ultimately shaped the person I am today.

Mehdi Karim 
Mwanza Jamat
AFED Post Graduate Loan Recipient



Part one of four parts 

Author’s Note:
A chance meeting outside Fort Jesus, Mombasa, with Cynthia Salvadori, author of the remarkable three volumes We Came in Dhows, was what first inspired me to record stories and anecdotes about Ithna-Asheri pioneers at the turn of the century. Cynthia was fortunate enough to interview late Hussein Abdalla Jaffer and late Gulamali G.A. Datoo; scions of two pioneer Ithna-Asheri families of Mombasa. I decided to carry on where she left off and began to interview as many old members of the community as I could. Of course I never intended to nor indeed was it possible to record every story. The few I did are published here along with historical notes, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Ramadan 1429/September 2008

 Mombasa, Kenya

Lamu- In about 1870, Dewji Jamal, a rich Ithna-Asheri merchant of Bombay and Zanzibar established a branch of his company Dewji Jamal & Co in Lamu which was then the chief port of Kenya. Besides this solitary venture there is no record of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris on the island until 1880. The period 1880-1890 witnessed a large number of Ithna-asheri arrivals in Lamu. Most of the new arrivals came from Kutch or Kathiawad but some also came from older Khoja settlements along the East African coast like Bagamoyo, Zanzibar and Kilwa.
When they arrived most were already “Ithna-Asheri” and it is likely that only a very small number of Khojas actually seceded in Lamu. Late Hussein Abdalla Jaffer, a great-grandson of Dewji Jamal remembers that while his grandfather Jaffer Dewji was in Lamu he often used to help Ismaili Khojas and invite them for religious majlises (discourses). After sometime a number of them left the Jamatkhana and joined the Ithna-Asheris. (From an interview with Hassan Ali M. Jaffer.)



Remembering a community stalwart who reinvigorated pride and enthusiasm within the Khoja community. 

Hassanbhai Ali Mohamed M Jaffer
1932 - 2018
Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilyahi Rajeoon 

Marhum Hassanbhai Ali Mohamed M Jaffer

The World Federation expresses its deep sorrow at the passing of Hassan Ali Mohammed Jaffer. Sadly, this marks an end of the era of towering leaders with whom Hassanbhai served for almost seven decades. He was amongst the last of the illustrious figures such as Marhum Mohamedali Meghji, Marhum Abdulrasul Lakha, Marhum Mulla Asgher not to mention his own father Alibhai Mohamed Jaffer amongst others, who were instrumental in shaping the modern KSI Community. As their close confidant, they sought his wise counsel then and over more than half a century he continued to remain the most sought-after sage and savant for many succeeding leaders until today.


"Marhum Hassan Jaffer has been a tower of strength for this community and its leaders. I fondly recall his detailed and often quite direct advice. He was always on hand to provide frank, clear and honest feedback with a unique level of incisiveness. His work the Endangered Species book has set alight a reinvigoration of Khoja pride and cultural enthusiasm.” - Shan E Abbas Hassam, Secretary General of The World Federation


Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Rajeeun

A Quintessential Khoja Personality who Exemplified the KSI Community

The Africa Federation mourns the passing away of Murabbi Hassan Bhai Ali Mohamed Jaffer and conveys its heartfelt condolences to his wife, sons, daughters, siblings and his many grandchildren. 
Generally, people are known by the community they belong to. And then there are those inspiring individuals through whom a community is recognized. Hassan Bhai Ali Mohamed Jaffer Shariff Devji Jamal was that quintessential Khoja personality who personified the KSI Community. Through his words and deeds, he reminded us all of who we were and should be. His thoughts and words, always inspiring, were direct and to the point, as he did not pull any punches reminding us all of some bitter truths. His passion for the betterment of the Khoja Community matched his candor, to make us self-reflect on our follies and foibles as a people. Above all, his thought leadership has had a major impact on shaping our Community. 
As a thinker, writer, historian, scholar, he straddled several generations, both in his span of Community service as well as his unique ability to engage young and old alike. In the sea of service, he stood shoulder to shoulder with towering figures like Alhaj Mohamedali Meghji, Mulla Asgherali M. M. Jaffer, Hajji Abdulrasul Ahmed Lakha to mention just a few. 
As a historian, his own history is quite remarkable. Having the erstwhile ancestor like Alhaj Devji Jamal, Hassan Bhai himself was part of our history.   Hassan Bhai was born in Zanzibar in 1932 and spent his life in Mombasa from an early age. After completing his secondary school education in Mombasa, he undertook a practical course in agriculture at the Indian school of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. His journey of community service commenced in 1953 when he was elected Hon. General Secretary of the Jaffery Sports Club, Mombasa. Ever since then his services remained unabated.  He was Secretary and Chairman of the Debate and Education Section of the Ithna-Asheri young Men’s Union, Honorary Secretary and the later Chairman of the Ithna-Asheri Education Board of the Alibhai Panju Jaffery Primary school. He was also Vice Chairman of the Mombasa Jamaat.  In the Supreme Council, he served on as Executive Councilor from 1965 and was its Hon. Treasurer during 1965/67, under the chairmanship of late Alhaj Mohamedali Meghji and served with Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer who was then the Hon. Secretary of Africa Federation.
“His death is a truly irreplaceable loss not only for his entire family but also for the entire global Khoja Community. His death does lead me to reflect on what makes someone an exceptional person, because to me, Alhaj Hassan Bhai that is what he was. It is difficult to describe him in mere words; he was an exceptional Mentor to me, a man with exceptional qualities and immense knowledge very rare in our Community. He enlightened the Community all along in the last several decades on our history, our roots and championing the Khoja heritage. The legacy of his devotion and gracious service to the Community shall be eminently enshrined in the history of the Khoja Community globally, and particularly in Africa”      

Shabir Najafi – Chairman, Africa Federation


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