The Genesis of World Federation – Part 1
A Personal Reflection of an Inspiring Journey


By: Hasnain Walji (Former Secretary General, Vice President and President 1978 – 2003)
The official date of the establishment of the World Federation is October 15 1976. However, the genesis is almost a year prior when In October 1975, a delegation from Africa sat down with some elders from Uganda and a group of young Khoja accountants and lawyers on the red carpet of the Hammersmith Imambargah in London.
As the Assistant Secretary of London Jamaat, along with the then Mukhi Saheb Anverbhai Jagani and Anverbhai Pirbhai, our duty, on that dull and damp October day, was to ensure that the delegation were suitably nourished, Khoja style, with steaming hot chai and samosas. As we poured them endless cups of tea, amidst the smoke from Rothmans Cigarettes, I overheard this motley group ponderously reflecting on the predicaments our Community had found itself in the wake of the 1972 Uganda Exodus. Over a thousand souls had now scattered across the globe trying to make a new life in these faraway places. Apart for London and Peterborough, most communities in UK and North America were yet to establish Jamaats and Imambargahs. Yet the Community spirit was strong as mumineen roiled out carpets from the trunks of their cars to sit in rented warehouses, basements or any place that would give them an opportunity and be spiritually uplifted through the recital of Dua e Kumail on Thursday nights. For living in city or town without a Jamaat, a Khoja individual was like a fish out of water and these small gatherings became the oasis of spirituality in the new land we found ourselves.

As I caught snippets of their conversations, an example that has stuck in my mind almost 40 years on, was how Mulla Asgher, then based in Kenya, had to coach volunteers over a crackly landline (No Skype in those days) phone in USA as they attempted to give Ghusle mayyit to a Community member who had the misfortune to die in that remote corner of the world.
Little did I realize then, that history was being repeated. It was just hundred or so years ago when the first lonely migrants had arrived in Lamu and Zanzibar and grappled with similar challenges of making a new life in foreign lands. This time round, the Khojas were once again struggling to settle in Europe and Americas. The challenges were similar as were some occupations. In the UK, the East African ‘dukawalla’ had a new name: “tobacconist”, but the game was the same.

The decades old London based “Ithnaasheri Young Men’s Union” which used to hold Majalis at the East Africa House (Cumberland Place in Marble Arch), had morphed into what we now know as London Jamaat. At the Hammersmith Imambargah, bought with meagre resources, laboriously garnered by elders, championed with extraordinary zeal by the Late Haji Habibbhai Walji, creative tension soon manifested itself between the newly qualified London based young professionals as they engaged with the older and experienced leadership of Uganda Jamaats who longed to recreate the Uganda Experience. But all of us agreed that the sweetest part of it all was the rich condensed milk pink sherbet on Ashura Day after the spicy Khichdo, (Daal Chawal on Ashura came later) as the young and the not so young Jamaat members learnt to accommodate each other. We would still have continued the Khichdo if we knew the egalitarian history of khichdo! It may surprise you to note, that Its origins come from the practice of Jamaats in Kutch and Kathiawad, (in the pre Khoja Pilau era) where Khichdo was a communal meal cooked in the Khoja Dheg. The rich brought the meat and the poor brought the grain. This way everyone felt that they had contributed to Niyaz. It is a vagary of history that the khichdo was elevated to a celebratory meal. But then I could write a ton on the vagaries of Khoja History!

The leaders form Africa, Late Mulla Asgher, Late Abdulrasul Lakha. Murabbi Hassan Bhai Jaffer amongst others impressed upon the UK based leaders in attendance like Late Hasni Bhai Dharamsi, Habib M Habib, Late Husein Nathoo and Nazir Jessa, amongst others, to help replicate the structure of Africa Federation formed in 1946, to form a World body to address the needs and growth of Khoja Shia communities in the USA, Canada, UK, UAE, Far East and elsewhere. The action point that resulted was to form a small team to begin to write a Constitution and then call a constitutional Conference within a year. Soon the London based team led by Habib M Habib in consultation with some leaders in Africa got to work. Of course, armchair critics got to work too. They gingerly opined that Mulla Asgher, the then Chairman of the Africa Federation wanted a bigger ‘Chair’ for himself.
Fast Forward to a year later October 15 1976 - about 40 years ago today - the group met again at the Hammersmith Imambargah. Except this time, they were joined by delegates from Africa Federation and the newly formed Jamaats of Peterborough, Birmingham, Leicester, Toronto Los Angeles and New York. The Vision was lofty. Boldly the 60 dedicated delegates took upon themselves to help and serve this nascent organisation attend to the community’s financial, spiritual and educational needs globally.
Coming up next week 16th June 2017 - The Genesis of World Federation – Part 2

9th June 2017 (14th Ramadhan 1438 AH)

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