29. Chunara, Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad, Wazir - page 99
Dhamu Chunara also known as Dharamsi Panjuani was an eminent trader in Bhuj, Kutchh. He visited Iran with his wife Mulibai to behold Imam Shah Khalilullah in Yazd in the beginning of 1817. The Imam granted him a sealed letter of patent in Khojki script and also bestowed upon him the title of Dharas. He had two sons, Sumar and Virji. The son of Virji was Rahimtullah, whose son was Ghulam Hussain. The son of Sumar was Premji, whose son was Jan Muhammad, the father of Ali Muhammad.
Ali Muhammad, the son of Jan Muhammad, known as A.J. Chunara was born in Bhuj in 1881, where he acquired his formal education. He sprang from family well known for their piety, and himself had great enthusiasm, courage and zeal to serve the community. In 1892, he came to Bombay and worked in a shop of hats. Soon afterwards, he started his own shop, which became known as Karim Jamal Topiwala. He attended Jamatkhana regularly and heard waez attentively, inducing him to study Ismailism. His first debut in community service was when he joined the Kandi Mola Shukarvari Brotherhood in Bombay, and came into the contact of many eminent individuals.
It must be known that he had also acted as a Social Secretary of the Imam in 1904 and took visit of Dacca with the Imam during the early meetings of the Muslim leaders for the formation of the Muslim League in 1906.
His first poem into Gujrati appeared in the 'Ismaili Sitaro' in September 1910. It was admired in the community, inspiring him to make further study. In 1910, he entered the arena of journalism and started a fortnightly paper, Khoja Mitr and then Khoja Hitvardak. These papers did not last for a long time.
The newly formed Ismaili Sahitiya Utejak Mandal confided him the compilation of the Ismaili history in 1916, and his 'Fatimi Khilafat ane Imamo'ni Badshahi'ma Ismaili'ni Jahojalali' (The Fatimid Caliphate and the Glory of the Ismailis during Imam's Sovereignty), published in 1918, which provided him a scope and opportunity for display of his literary skills.
In February, 1919, when the Imam was in Europe, a false rumour spread that he would become the king of Mesopotamia. The Imam sent following cable on February 25, 1919 to a correspondent in Bombay, insisting that it might be given publicity: -
'Please deny as never true my candidature for Mesopotamian throne. Whole thing false rumor and no foundation.'
The Imam strongly refuted that he never advanced his candidature for the throne of Iraq. This news also reached the Ismailis. On March 13, 1919, a grand gathering was arranged by V.V. Club, in which A.J. Chunara delivered an impressive speech and condemned the report of the newspapers. On behalf of The Young Ismaili Vidhiya Vinod Club, A.J. Chunara, A.J. Lakhpati, Honorary Secretary and R.V. Charnia, the Honorary Joint Secretary published a gist of the speech of A.J. Chunara, entitled 'Iman-ni Roshani' in May, 1919, and its 4000 copies were distributed in all parts of India.
In 1922, he cherished a desire to publish a weekly paper to the Recreation Club, Bombay. His proposal was submitted to the Imam, who gave quick approval. Thus, the first weekly Anglo-Gujrati paper, 'Ismaili' was published on Sunday, October 7, 1923 under his editorship.
He was also appointed a member of the Panjibhai Club, Bombay on September 23, 1923. The Recreation Club Institute organized a grand Missionary Conference between September 28, 1923 and September 30, 1923. In its opening session, a Subject Committee was formed with 20 members, and A. J. Chunara was appointed its Chairman, which passed four important resolutions to enhance the standard of the Ismaili mission. He was also the member of the central board of the Recreation Club. It is to be recorded that the resignations of the officers in the Bombay jamat were forwarded to the Imam for new appointments. He was consigned to sign each resignation letter before forwarding it to the Imam.
He was not a missionary, but a journalist. Nevertheless, he was gifted with oratorical skill and lectured on different occasions. During the 47th Salgirah of the Imam, the Merchant Club of Bombay organized a lecture programme at Fazal Ladha Building on June 1, 1924, where he gave a lecture on 'Islam and Shariah.'
He visited Karachi for the first time on October 12, 1924 and delivered an attractive lecture on 'Islam and Shariah' on October 26, 1924 in the Ismaili Library, Kharadhar, Karachi. On next day, he also gave a lecture in the Lassi Jamatkhana and in Ranchhorline Jamatkhana on October 29, 1924. On the same day at evening, he performed a waez in Kharadhar Jamatkhana on the night of Chand Raat. On October 30, 1924, he also lectured in Garden Jamatkhana. He left Karachi on October 31, 1924 for Hyderabad, Sind, where he lectured thrice during his two days' visit and returned to Bombay.
In 1924, he wished he could compile a comprehensive volume on the history of the Ismaili Imams. He however could not centre his attention in the study due to the strain of works of the weekly 'Ismaili'.
He also made a trip of East African countries during the gracious visit of the Imam and left Bombay on January 21, 1925. He returned to Bombay on April 9, 1925.
During the 50th Salgirah of the Imam, the Merchant Club of Bombay organized a lecture programme at the same premises on May 22, 1927. He spoke effectively on 'Imam and Mankind' for 75 minutes and moved the audience to great extent.
He visited Calcutta in 1927 and went to Vardha on May 29, 1927. He lectured for 90 minutes in the Jamatkhana, and encouraged the Ismailis to adopt one orphan to upbring and educate him, which would be considered as an act of a true fidai.
In 1928, he embarked on the study of the Ismaili history once again. Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad Macklai (1894-1971), the President of Recreation Club advanced his support in this project. The staff of 'Ismaili', namely Hussain Sharif Bharmal, Alijah Hasan Ali Rahim Nathani, whose poetic name was Asmat at first, then Nasim and Alijah Abdullah Bible, also assisted him. Alijah Hasan Ali Rahim Nathani (d. 1962), well rooted in Arabic, Persian and English; visited several libraries and brought rare informations for the Nurun Mubin of A.J. Chunara. Hussain Sharif Bharmal was another essential individual, who wandered to probe historical informations. He was employed with the periodical, 'Nizari' and knew Arabic well, and also compiled the Gujrati commentary of ten chapters of the Holy Koran with translation and transliteration and was published by the Ismaili Printing Press in 1940.
In reply to the letter of the Religious Study Group of Mombasa, Kenya, Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad Rahmatullah Macklai wrote on November 22, 1957 that, 'Ali Mahomed Janmohamed Chunara assisted by Husein Shariff Bharmal and Hasanali Rahim, spent most laborious eight years in researches and preparation of above book (Nurun Mubin), which was published first in Gujrati in January, 1936.' (Vide 'Private and Confidential Subjects Discussed', 1953-1959, p. 76)
It is well on record that Rai A.M. Sadruddin (1906-1980) had compiled 'Shajra' in Urdu in 1922, containing the biographies of the Ismaili Imams. Pir Sabzali (1884-1938) showed it to the Imam, who was very pleased and ordered to publish it with his own expenses. Rai Sadruddin visited Bombay in 1923, where he was asked to see Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad Macklai, and the latter directed him to A.J. Chunara for its publication. His book 'Shajra' remained unpublished. It was however thoroughly studied by Rai Hasan Ali Rahim Nathani, who drawn it up on the plan of 'Nurun Mubin.' This is the only reason that Rai A.M. Sadruddin proudly claimed that, 'The Nurun Mubin was born out of his unpublished Shajra.' A.J. Chunara did not mention the name of the persons without whose contributions, the completion of 'Nurun Mubin' would not have been possible.
The first edition of 'Nurun Mubin' got published in January 1936, containing the history upto 1934-35. Its 180 pages were reprinted in 1950. Its Urdu edition also published in 1940, wherein the name of the translator was not mentioned. Its second edition came out in 1950, containing history upto 1949 in the time of Wazir Ghulam Hussain S. Thavar (1907-1963), the President of the Ismailia Association for India, which was edited by Missionary Jaffer Ali Mohammed Sufi (1908-1963). The third edition published in 1951.
On April 17, 1959, the President of the Ismaili Association for India wrote a letter to the Imam about the next edition of Nurun Mubin. The Imam sent following message on April 22, 1959: -
My dear President & Members,
I have received your letter of April 17th.
It is in order for you to republish the Gujrati edition of Nurun-Mubin.
Hence, its fourth edition published in 1961 in the time of Jusab Ali Ismail Ukka, the President of the Association. Itmadi Sultan V. Nur Mohammed edited it. Its dummy copies were also sent to A.J. Chunara in Karachi for necessary verification.
It appears that Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah recommended twice to read Nurun Mubin. The Imam said, 'Read Nurun Mubin, Haft Bab, the book of Pir Shihabuddin Shah and the Fatimid Caliphate.' (Bombay: 3/12/1950), and also said, 'Read Nurun Mubin and the book of Maulana Rumi in education. Learn the history of the Imams and study it.' (Nagpur: 17/1/1951). With the passage of time, new historical documents and original source materials have been discovered, revealing important historical facts. In sum, A.J. Chunara was destined to write a volume, and deserves appreciation for the historical work he produced almost 65 years ago when it was the crying need of time for a major historical volume in India.
In 1929, he participated in the All-India Muslim League Conference as a journalist in Delhi and took that opportunity to visit the Aligarh University.
The Kandi Mola Ismaili Students' Library arranged a flag hoisting ceremony on December 10, 1933 at the premises of The Fidai Boarding & Orphanage in Andheri, Bombay, presided by Haji Muhammad Juma Jan Muhammad, the Vice-President of the Recreation Club Institute. On that occasion, A.J. Chunara made a moving speech and said, 'The flag reflects glory of our past history of Egypt and Alamut. The Ismailis must individually remain united while knowing its importance. To retain its glory, one should respect it, needing unwavering unity. It also needs sympathy and love, and these qualities, if developed; we will be able to revive our past glory under the umbrella of the Imam. The Ismailis led prosperity in past, and there are even many Ismaili states today out of India; on the mountains, which are called 'roof of the world'.
In 1935, the 'Ismaili' published a Golden Jubilee Edition, and when he presented its copies to the Imam, the Imam said; 'Now you have become a great journalist. The whole world praises this Edition.'
He started publication of 'Nizari' and 'Al-Islah' and merited the grade of the first Ismaili editor to handle the three periodicals at a time.
He made extensive trips of Gujrat, Kathiawar, Sind, Punjab and Bengal, and also Burma. After the death of Pir Sabzali in 1938, the Imam deputed him as a Commissioner for Sind and Punjab, which he carried out with dedication till 1945. He also served as a member of the Supreme Council for Punjab.
Two years before the Diamond Jubilee in Africa during the world war, a deputation from India visited East Africa. It included Chief Wazir Kassim Ali Hasan Ali Javeri, Joint Mukhi Kassim Ali Manji and Missionary Hamir Lakha. A.J. Chunara was in Poona under treatment. He was also invited to join, but he could not. Meanwhile, Captain Majid Khan wrote him a letter, which reads:
Under the instructions from Mawlana Hazar Imam H.H. The Aga Khan, I have to inform you as under: -
Inform Chunara visit Africa most important. The Indian work can live on assistant. African climate gives strength and change.
Despite his impairing condition, he readily accepted to make tour of Africa, where he recovered his health and propagated with Missionary Hamir Lakha in different villages to celebrate the Imam's Diamond Jubilee with great pomp.
He continued to serve as an honorary editor of the 'Ismaili' in Bombay for about 23 years, and retired in 1946. The 'Ismaili' weekly however continued to be published by Fateh Aly Ibrahim Merchant.
In 1946, he started an independent Anglo-Urdu paper, and the Imam is reported to have named it, 'Al-Islah.' He came to settle in Karachi with his family in June 1948, and continued to publish Al-Islah, which was named later on as 'Al-Islam'. He was also appointed an executive member of the Ismailia Association for Pakistan (1948-1949).
Another instance of Chunara's inter-communal popularity was his election as a Treasurer of the Gujrati Writers' Association, which was formed by writers of all Muslim communities. He was also appointed an office-bearer of the Committee of the Muslim Gujrati Journalists' Association in Karachi.
In 1950, he visited Europe, and after his return, he planned to publish a journal from Karachi during the preparations of the Imam's Platinum Jubilee. He published 'Platinum Jubilee Review' on August 17, 1952, which sprang from 'Al-Islam.' It continued to be published till February 7, 1954 when his age at that time was about 72 years.
On July 23, 1952, the Imam sent a letter through Ismailia Supreme Council that, 'Alijah Chunara should be asked to publish a special Platinum Jubilee Review, showing the advantages of funds which will be entirely for the welfare of the community, and generally explaining the meaning of Platinum Jubilee and my Imamate. Alijah Chunara is a very able man and he should not be kept silent.'
He did not receive any titles until 1952. When the leaders of Pakistan submitted a request, the Imam said, 'He is my servant, needing no title'. Nevertheless, he was honored with the title of Alijah in 1952.
He had also made a long tour of Europe and Middle East with Rahim Ali Muhammad in 1955. The weekly 'Ismaili' covered its details on October 2, 1955 and October 9, 1955. He narrated that he left Karachi by Air France on July 14, 1955 and reached London on the next day and earned the didar of the Imam on July 16, 1955 in the Jamatkhana. The London jamat celebrated the Platinum Jubilee Day on July 19, 1955 in Sevoi Hotel in presence of the Imam, Mata Salamat, Prince Aly Khan, Prince Karim and Prince Amyn. Vijia Lakashami Pandit, the Indian High Commissioner, Ikramullah, the High Commissioner of Pakistan, and the Governor of Kenya, Uganda and other ambassadors, including 550 Ismailis. The Imam graced the second didar on July 21, 1955. A.J. Chunara left London on July 22, 1955 for Paris, where he stayed for four days. He left Paris on July 26, 1955 for Frankfurt, and on the same evening, he left for Stockholm. He left for Denmark and came in Copenhagen on July 30, 1955. He arrived in Hamburg on the next day and then Amsterdam. He also visited Brussels and then proceeded to Geneva and contacted the Imam's Secretary for getting an audience with the Imam. The Imam sent him a message that he would see him personally on next day at the Royal Hotel. At length, he saw the Imam on August 7, 1955. He again met the Imam on the next day and had a photograph with the Imam. The Imam asked him the reason of his European tour. To this, he said, 'I came here to earn money.' The Imam said, 'You thought about earning money after services at reaching to the age of 80 years; while other prefer first to earning money and then for the services.'
He left Geneva for Cairo on August 9, 1955 and visited the historical places. He left Cairo for Beirut on August 13, 1955 and then arrived at Damascus on August 16, 1955. He also visited Salamia, Syria and found that there lived almost 40,000 Ismailis in Syria with 53 Jamatkhanas. He left Beirut and returned to Karachi by Air France on August 21, 1955. In sum, he toured for about 20,000 miles.
In 1956, he visited Bombay and Poona, where he was given befitting honour. On May 11, 1956, the Council of Poona and the jamat hosted him a grand reception at Narangi Bagh, Poona. The function was presided by Wazir Daud Suleman Sajan. On that occasion, the meritorious services of Wazir A.J.Chunara were highlighted before the audience.
His untiring and phenomenal services for over 50 years, were acknowledged with the title of Wazir in 1960. During his last visit to Karachi, Prince Aly S. Khan called for him and talked with him. In 1960, he virtually retired from the jamati activities.
In 1964, his health deteriorated, he submitted a mehmani through Captain Varas Amir Ali Karim (1910-1978), the estate agent of the Imam in Pakistan. The Imam sent following message for him: -
October 6, 1964:
I have received your letter of 7th September, and I give my best paternal maternal loving blessings to Vazir Alimohamed J. Chunara and his wife Jenabai for service with best loving blessings for their health.
Kindly convey my best loving blessings to Vazir Chunara for his past devoted services and good work for my jamats in Pakistan.
Wazir Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad Chunara died in Karachi after a long span of 85 years on March 23, 1966. The Imam sent following message on April 7, 1966: -
'I send my best paternal maternal loving blessings for the soul of late Vazir Chunara, and I pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace. Late Vazir Chunara's devoted services to my jamats of Bombay and Karachi will always be remembered by all. He was an example and a pillar of strength for so many years of fruitful service.
I give my best paternal maternal loving blessings to all the members of late Vazir Chunara's family for courage and fortitude in their great loss. I am sure that they will continue in the footsteps of the late Vazir, and that they will find great happiness and satisfaction in doing so.'
Wazir Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad Chunara was a versatile litterateur and journalist. He was frank, impartial, far-sighted, balanced, warm-hearted, thoughtful, dedicated to the service of the community. He possessed superior abilities and was well informed in literature. He had few encounters with the Arya Samaj and sustained literally contests with them on several occasions. His memory being so tenacious that he had only to read once, in order to learn it by heart.
He was a frequent contributor to the periodicals, and also produced a galaxy of books, such as 'Elahi Mat,' 'Khat Nirinjan' of Pir Sadruddin, 'Chunara'no Chabuk (1920), 'Khuli Chithi'nu Bhoparu' (Bombay, 1917), 'Fatimite Khilafat' (Bombay, 1918), 'Isha'at-i Islam etal-i Shu?' (1923), 'Alamut'no Yodho' (Bombay, 1924), 'Arabia ane Imamate' (Bombay, 1919), 'Adam thi Ali' (Bombay, 1920), 'Haqiqi Ismaili Aino' (Bombay, 1917), etc. He also published following books after joining the Recreation Club Institute: - 'Ilahi Mat,' 'Ismaili Nar Ratano' (1931), 'Ismaili Virlao' (1932), 'Nurun Mubin' (1936), etc.