44. Hassan Kassim Lakha, Count - page 184
The renowned Lakha family traces their descent back to their forebear, named Surji. His son was Jairaj, and whose son was Manji. The son of Manji was Lalji, who had four sons, Punja, Virji, Lakha and Kalyan. They dwelt in the village, called Berberaja, about 12 miles from Jamnagar, Kutchh.
Lakho, or better known as Lakha was an origin of Jamnagar, Kutchh. He was an ordinary businessman. He unfortunately lost his house during the famine in Kutchh. Reduced to extreme poverty, he wandered from village to village in search of means of subsistence. His son Kassim, who was born in 1854, also passed a destitute life. Nothing is known of his early life except that he worked in a grocery shop on daily wages. The constant famines in Kutchh had almost swept away the economical resources of the people, who began to move elsewhere to sustain their lives. Kassim, the son of Lakha migrated with few Ismailis towards East Africa. Dressed in rags, he landed in Zanzibar in 1871. He called his mother and wife, Ratan Pradhan whom he had married in 1870, just before he left India. Kursha was their first child and she was born in 1880. The family grew with the birth of Fatima, Alibhai, Hassan, Sikina, Rehmatullah and Jena. Later on, he came in Lamu in 1877 to try his fortune. He was the first among his family members to venture into the business field. Kassim Lakha was also a devoted social worker and helped the Ismailis who came from India. He died in 1926 at Kampala, Uganda. He left behind four sons, Rehmatullah, Hassan, Mohammad and Alibhai.
Hassan, known as Hassan Kassim Lakha was born in Lamu in 1892. His father employed a Hindu teacher, called Raval, a Brahmin from Zanzibar, and brought him to Lamu to teach reading and writing to the children. The secular education did not go beyond 3rd or 4th Standard. They also attended the local madressa to learn Holy Koran, and the Ismaili Religious School, where they learned the ginans. In 1898, his father moved from Lamu to Mombasa. But it was only for a few years, for in 1903, soon after the railway line reached Kisumu, Hassan Kassim Lakha moved to Kisumu with his family. His sons joined the firm of Varas Alidina Visram. In 1907, Hassan, although he was only 15 years old, was recruited by an English firm, called Bousted & Clark Ltd., and taken to Jinja.
Hassan left Bousted & Clark Ltd. in 1915 and expanded the family business by going in cotton business. In 1918, his family had ginneries at Mbale, Kwapa and Butiru.
In 1933, Hassan contracted blackwater in Kampala. His brother Mohammad and Rehmatullah reached there. The critical moment came, and all hope was lost. But the gift of life was given at the last instant and Hassan survived.
As a businessman, he was engaged in multifarious activities. Together with his brothers, he founded extensive business and industrial interests in projects, such as a hotel chain in Uganda, coffee curing works, coffee plantations, hides and skins and sisal. In Kenya, he was one of the early pioneers in cotton ginning and was the founding Chairman of the Oceanic Hotel Group of Companies in Mombasa. With Count Abdullah Hashim Gangji, he pioneered the jute interest of the community in Bangladesh.
In 1926, Hassan Kassim Lakha was appointed an Hon. Secretary of the Ismailia Council in Uganda with Valibhai Jamal as its President. On April 30, 1933, the Ismailia Council for Kampala visited Bukoba, where they found the worst condition of the Jamatkhana premises. Merali Jiva, the President created a donation with his Hon. Secretary, Count Hassan Kassim Lakha. Mukhi Hashim Rajab Ali and Hirji Sharif also shared in it. Count Hassan K. Lakha played key role in the construction of the new Jamatkhana, whose foundation stone was laid by H.H. Alshop, the District Officer on December 22, 1933 in presence of 500 guests.
On June 16, 1937, Mr. Fraser, the President of the Chamber of Commerce for Uganda performed an opening ceremony of the new building of the Merchant Bank of Uganda Ltd. with Count Hassan Kassim Lakha in Kampala.
Hassan Kassim Lakha had a most colorful life. His community services were diverse and distinguished. His services during the Golden Jubilee were manifold. He had an honour to host the Imam and Mata Salamat with distinguished leaders in Kampala on March 15, 1937 in the Imperial Hotel. The dignitaries also attended it, notably the governor of Uganda. He made a welcome address and said, 'It is not necessary to introduce an international personality of the Aga Khan as he is direct descendant of Holy Prophet and Hazrat Ali. His words are considered as rules by million of Muslims in Africa and Asia. He holds an important office and authority of a religious leader that none equals him in the world. He is famous for his close alliance and loyalty with the British empire. He has warded off many complicated issues by his brilliant calibre and diplomacy. His services are spread in the spheres of religion, politics, social and humanity. He is eminent saviour to rescue the world in many terrible calamities soon after the first world war. He is noted for a patron of sports and learning. He has attracted the Indian communities in Africa for his outstanding services regardless of cast and creed.'
On the following day, i.e. March 16, 1937, Imam Sultan Mohammed Shah presented him a diamond pin in the Jamatkhana in appreciation of his valuable services.
Hassan Kassim Lakha served as a Hon. Secretary in the Council for 14 years (1926-1940). In 1940, he was appointed its President. He also served as the member of the Federal and Supreme Councils for Africa. He was also a Director of the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust Ltd., and Jubilee Insurance Co. Ltd.
Hassan Kassim Lakha was one of the trustees of the East African Muslim Welfare Society since 1945. His material and financial cooperation to the cause of Islam were inestimable. He went to West Africa in the Society's goodwill mission in 1954 at his own expenses. He also initiated several welfare projects for the Muslims in East Africa.
He also toured with Prince Aly Khan with other Kenya leaders from Nairobi to Cairo, Alexandria, Syria, Palestine, etc. in 1944
Hassan Kassim Lakha's family was endowed with great riches of heart, and stood second highest donor to weigh Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah against diamonds in 1946. Innumerable schools, social halls, community institutions and clock towers bear testimony of his generosity.
The Imam is reported to have once asked him, 'What have you done for me so far?' He was surprised and summed up what he had done. The Imam said, 'These can be done easily by an old lady. I am asking what you have done for me?' He remained silent for a moment. The Imam said, 'You must do the foundling home, which is the work for me.' He started the movement of adoption of the orphan and destitute children in Africa and gave them education.
Hassan Kassim Lakha was invested the title of Wazir in 1937 and Count in 1954 in appreciation of his valuable services.
The Imam summoned a conference of the Ismaili delegates in Cairo to review the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee upon the completion of 70 years of his Imamate. Count Hassan Kassim Lakha represented the jamats of Uganda. The delegates discussed mutually in the morning and met the Imam at evening on March 15, 1951 in Hotel Semiramese. The Imam emphasized that the programme should be worked out on the pattern of Golden and Diamond Jubilees to improve the social and economical conditions of the Ismailis. The Imam, Mata Salamat and Prince Aly Khan invited them on next day for a lunch at Mohamedali Club and graced them with a photograph. The Imam left Cairo for France with Mata Salamat on March 17, 1951. Prince Aly Khan offered the delegates to join him on his visit to Syria on March 18, 1951. Count Hassan Kassim Lakha accepted with other 11 leaders and made a flying visit of Salamia.
Prince Aly Khan performed an opening ceremony of the Kibuli Mosque in Kampala in March, 1951, whose foundation stone he had in 1941. Count Hassan Kassim, the President of the Provincial Council of the East African Muslim Welfare Society presented a welcome address in presence of 2000 guests. He said, 'We have collected donation of 35,00,000/- shillings, in which the Imam shared for 16,72000/- shillings. The funds of the Society are utilized for new schools, mosques, dispensaries, etc. for the welfare of the Muslims of Africa.' The Kibuli Mosque covered an area of 82 acres, consisted of primary and secondary schools. Prince Badru donated it in loving memory of his father, Sultan Mulu Mbogo. It cost 400,000/- shillings, and half of it was donated by the Imam.
In 1953, Hassan Kassim Lakha visited Salamia, Syria with Varas Chhotubhai (1904-1978). The Jews purchased raw cotton around Salamia from the Ismaili farmers at a lower price. Count Hassan Kassim Lakha and Varas Chhotubhai raised a cotton ginnery for them according to the guidance of the Imam, which still exists in Salamia.
Hassan Kassim Lakha had an honour to perform an opening ceremony of the new Jamatkhana in Fortportal, Uganda on December 27, 1960.
He spent almost 20 years of his eventful life in Mombasa, where he died in 1982 at the age of 90 years and left behind his widow and ten daughters.
In his message of condolence, the Imam acknowledged his services and paid a glowing tribute that, 'It is a singular honour for any family to have had amongst it such a remarkable spiritual child as my late Count.'