MEHFILE MUHIBBANE HUSSEIN (A.S.) IN ZANZIBAR,
ALSO KNOWN AS ‘MEHFILE PRIVATE”

A common feature among many of the early Khoja community members has been their love of Imam Hussein (AS). Khoja would travel from India and Zanzibar to Iraq for pilgrimage to Najaf and Karbala. While in India and in Africa, they would also organise and participate in the Majlis commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Husein.
 
It is recorded that after their settlement in Mumbai in 1842, Aga Khan I and Aga Khan II would arrange Majlis of Imam Husein at their Mumbai residence “with great pomp."
(++1)
 
Until the latter half of the nineteenth century, members of the Khoja community, despite their diverse leanings towards the Satpanthi, Nizari Ismail, Sunni and Shia Ithna-Asheri beliefs functioned as one united Khoja community - operating from a common Jamaat Khana.
 
The three-way split among the once united Khoja community took place in 1862 when the first group professing to be Sunni separated. From 1873 onwards, another group professing to practice the Shia Ithna-Asheri faith separated. Thus three distinct Khoja communities to be known as Khoja Ismaili, Khoja Sunni and Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Jamaats emerged. 

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, as the practice of commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussein was discontinued in the Jamaat Khana, there were many Ismaili who continued to privately organise and participate in the Majlis of Imam Hussein (AS)
 
Thus ‘Mehefile Muhibbane Hussein’, otherwise known as "Mehfile Private,” (initially known as Mehfil of Abdulrasool Peera Dewji) was established in Zanzibar. There were similar activities in Mombasa also.
 

A brief history of Mehfile Muhibanne Hussein
 
In Zanzibar, until 1905, it has been a common practice to organize Majlis of Imam Hussein (AS) in the Jamaat Khana. Besides, at these Majlis, ‘Mukhtar Nama’ would also be read out. Varas Kassam Damani, Mukhi Jetha Valliani, Bhagat Dhalla Virji and Gulamhussein Jamal Teja were among individuals who would read out the ‘Mukhtar Nama'.
 
Sometime later in the year 1899, when Agakhan III visited Zanzibar, an order was issued to close Mehfile Private but the majlises in Jamaat Khana continued. The majlises also continued privately at the farm houses of Mukhi Gangji Dawood, Mukhi Bhalloo Valli and at the residence of Mohamed Mussa Rajan. Starting 1905 the Muharram majlises at the Jamaat Khana in Zanzibar stopped. 
(++2)
 
In the year 1907, Brother Janmohamed Master filed a case in the court against the decision of stopping the majlises in the Jamaat Khana. The whole proceedings and cross examination details were published in Gujarati magazine Noore Hidayat in India of 24th Zilhajj 1350.
 
A group of youth continued performing Majlises of Imam Hussein (A.S.) on rotation basis. In 1920 some Ithna-Asheri youths rented a place in Empire Club building and the majlises once again continued jointly with Ismaili youths up to the year 1927.
 
In 1927, the building was sold and the majlises continued at Haji Sheriff Dewji’s Bustani (still exists in Zanzibar). Later, the house of M. D. Kermali was rented and majlises continued there up to the year 1930. Abdulrasul Peera Dewji and some members continued Muharram majlises despite Ismailia Council’s order to stop the majlises.  Their group later joined the Ithna-Asheries.
(++3)
 
An Ismaili brother by the name of Gulamali Murji Kanji donated a house for the purpose of azadari of Imam Hussein (A.S.) in Zanzibar. This Mehfil was formally opened by Maulana Agha Najafi Shushtari in 1929 (24th Zilhajj 1350 AH).
 
The following mullas (zakirs) fully supported Mehfile Private by reciting majlises:
 
1) Mulla Hassanali Noormohamed Dhanji
2) Mulla Abdulrasool Haji Dewji
3) Mulla Ahmed Mulla Abdulrasool Datoo Mussa
4) Mulla Ahmed Mulla Haji Abdulrasul 
5) Mulla Haji Mohamed Haji Lakha Kanji
 
Mehfile Private's Venues Summary 

  • Started in Kiponda in 1920, in Empire building.
  • From 1-3-1927 shifted to  Bustani
  • From 1-7-1928 rented house of M.D. Kermalli till 30-6-1930
  • From 30-6-1930 the house of Ebrahim Janmohamed Shivji was rented in Mtendeni upto 30-4-1932
  • After 1932, an Ismaili brother by the name of Gulamali Murjji Kanji donated the house for Mehfil and the majlises continued in the building upto 1937.

In Mombasa the situation was the same, the Ismailis were facilitated to commemorate the tragedy of Kerbala and perform azadari of Imam Hussein (A.S.) at the residence of Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Mulla G. A. D. Mussa popularly known as Mulla Bishon. 
 
In Mombasa among the local Zakirs attending this Private Mehfil were:
 
Mulla Mohamedjaffer Sheriff Dewji.
Mulla Abdul Rasul Dewji who migrated from Zanzibar to settle in Mombasa.
Mulla Gulamhusein A.D. Musa. (Bishon)


Above: Mehfil-e-Muhibbane Hussein (AS) in Zanzibar also known as Mehfile-e-Private


Above: The building in Mombasa, Kenya, of Shia Ithnashery Mulla G. A . D. Mussa popularly known as Mulla Bishon served as Private Mehfil for the Ismaili brothers.

++1 - The Endangered Species, 2nd Edition Page 501/506
 
++2/++3 - Booklet published by Alhaj Abdulrasul Peera Dewji in 1940 and printed by Z.P. & P Works Zanzibar).
 
 
Prepared by: Murtaza R. Jivraj (Kerbala),

Photographs courtesy: The Endangered Species, 2nd Edition by Hassan Ali M Jaffer of Mombasa, Kenya
 
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23rd September 2016 (21st Zilhajj 1437 AH)

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