An Exemplary Icon – A Renowned Visionary and A Religious Scholar


The settlement of Indians in Zanzibar gained momentum between 1840 and 1860’s when Sultan Seyyid Said transferred his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.  This was further assisted by improved travelling facilities between India and East Africa.  Apart from Khojas, Bohra, Memon, Kumbhar, Cutchi Bhadala, Bhatia, Lohana, Shah and various other Muslim and Hindu communities made their way to Zanzibar.  They also included a small segment of Parsi.  By the 1870’s there was at least one Hindu temple in Zanzibar with its characteristic pointed tower and various Mosques built by Indian Muslims of Sunni and Shia sects.

Dewji Jamal, the grandfather of Alhaj Mulla Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji, was a leader of a group of Khoja community who openly disassociated themselves from the mainstream of the Ismaili Khoja Muslims during the reign of the Aga Khan, the First, as a result of which the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri community came distinctly into being in Kutch, Kathiawad, Mumbai, Karachi and also in East Africa, mainly Zanzibar, Lamu and Kilwa.  

Alhaj Mulla Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji:
When Dewji Jamal landed in Zanzibar in 1878, he was the only well known merchant of a Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri faith. Through his dedication, strong resolve and full faith in his beliefs, won over more people to embrace Shia Ithna Asheri faith.  In the beginning he experienced some incidents of open hostility in the streets from certain individuals but this did not deter him from spreading the Madh’ab of Ahlul Bayt (AS).  The first Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Mosque and Imambara were built in Kiponda area of Zanzibar in 1881.  It was registered as Khoja Ithna Asheri Kuwwatul Islam Mosque, Dewji Jamal being one of the signatories to the documentation.
Sheriff Dewji, a son of Dewji Jamal, gave full backing to his father in spreading the Madh’ab.  He had three sons; Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji, Husein Sheriff Dewji and Mohamedali Sheriff Dewji – who were residing in Zanzibar.  In 1922, when Madrassa-tul-Waizeen was established in Lucknow, India, and Preachers were being sent to Africa, these brothers undertook to look after the allocation, accommodation, preaching programs and welfare of these preachers. 
Among those who have served the cause of Islam according to the Madh’ab of Ahlul Bayt (AS), the name of Marhum Haji Mohammed Jaffer Sheriff Dewji stands prominent.  Born in 1889 in Zanzibar, he migrated to Mombasa where he established a successful business under the name of Sheriff Dewji & Sons.
On his own volition, Haji Mohamedjaffer learnt the languages of Urdu, Farsi and Arabic (later on English also).  Marhum was a lucid and fluent Zakir who delivered his majlises in Gujarati – and Masaeb in Urdu.  His lectures were thus very effective and well grasped especially by ladies and children. Taking into consideration the mission of Tabligh in the community, several times he traveled at his own expense throughout East Africa and visited the community in Madagascar also.    
The process of reformation was however not restricted by him to delivering lectures only.  Taking into consideration the needs and requirements of the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri community, he wrote and published 26 books in Gujarati of which 4 were in the form of Madressa Text books namely: ‘Sham-e-Hidayat’ and ‘Diniyat parts 1, 2 and 3’ - which by the year 1976 were used in almost all the Gujarati Madrassahs as a guide books.   In addition to the above,  publications titled: ‘Al-Musawat’, ‘Tohfah-e-Rizviyyah’, ‘Tohfah-e-Jafferiyah’, ‘Rooyat-e-Hilal’,  ‘Al-Mahasin’  and ‘Imam-e-Zamana’ are noteworthy. 
The book ‘Imam-e-Zamana’ has been translated into Urdu and published by Al-Jawad Book Depot, Banaras, India.  The book Ímam-e-Zamana was later also translated in English by Barrister, Alhaj Murtaza Ahmed Lakha, then of Dar es Salaam.
In 1928 he wrote “Shaheed-e-Islam’, in which he submitted a strong rebuttal to the opposing school of thought which ridiculed Azadari of Imam Hussein (AS) and also reinforced the institution of the commemoration of the martyrdom.  Other important books written and published by him are: ‘Yadgar-e-Husein’, ‘Dalil-ul-Zaireen’, ‘Najasat-ul-Mushrikeen’, ‘Rooh (Aatma)’ and ‘Kamli – Waale’. 
He resided in Mombasa, Kenya, for quite some time where he carried out his business.  In 1940, he established the Husayni Night School, also known as Madrasah-tul-Faiz-e-Husayni (now known as Husayni Madrassah).
In December 1959, Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi happened to meet Mulla Mohamedjaffer for few hours on board the ship ‘State of Bombay’ on his way from Mombasa to Zanzibar.  View of the fact that he had read Syed’s articles published in ‘Al-Jawad’ magazine, he remembered him the moment Syed introduced himself to him Thereafter they remained in touch by correspondence.  
Mulla Mohamedjaffer died in 1961, aged 72 years and was buried in Zanzibar where he had lived his last 15 years. 
Mulla Mohamedjaffer left behind two notable children – a daughter who was the mother of Marhum Mulla Asgharali M. M. Jaffer and a son Haji Ali Mohamedjaffer Sheriff who was an ardent supporter of Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania, and, while living in Mombasa, Kenya   he served Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya with utmost dedication.  

Extracted from:  Africa Federation Samachar April 1999 Vol 31, Issue No. 3, Article by Allamah Syed Saeed Akhter Rizvi and from ‘The Endangered Species’ by Hassan Ali M Jaffer.

Allah (SWT) blessed the community with Mulla Mohamedjaffer. He was a religious Icon, a captivating orator and a brilliant communicator; he eloquently presented Islam and its history and the teachings of Ahlul Bayt (AS) in Gujarati to the members of our community and registered great impact in the faith (imaan) of the community in general.

He earned the title of “Fakhre Qawm” and more for his dedication to the mission of Tabligh.

May Allah (SWT) grant Marhum Mulla Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji a high status amongst His chosen ones, grant him maghferát and reward him abundantly for his sacrifices, dedication and selfless services in the mission of Islam and in spreading the message of Ahlul Bayt (AS) to the masses, Ameen.  Please remember Marhum Mulla Mohamedjaffer and all Marhumeens with Sura-e-Fateha.
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