November 1970

Islam, The Most Multi-Racial Faith

The first question Mansoor asked Mowlana Hazar Imam was how had His Highness met the Begum.

A. I have to say that I never discuss my private life with the Press. I feel that any man in a public position has to be able to retire to his privacy because it is a matter which is important to him. However, I can tell you that when I met my wife, and we decided that we wanted to get married, the decision was relatively rapid. We kept the decision absolutely quiet because I wanted the Jamat (the Ismailia community) to know first, and I think I succeeded in having the Jamat know it before anyone else.

Q. How was the Begum taken her increased responsibilities?

A. She made her first journey with me to Pakistan at the beginning of last year. Before then she had met a number of Islaimi leaders and she I think is absolutely thrilled to be in a position where she can serve people.

When the Jamats in East Africa meet her, you will find that she is an extremely open outgoing person and she is interested in everything. She spent many years of childhood in India and therefore, let's say the psychological differences which we have with Western Europeans or with Americans, etc. are by no means unknown to her.

I can simply say this that I have been amazed by the ease with which she has understood the way of the Jamat.

Q. Do you hope to give the Begum any specific work on the communal level or anything of the sort?

A. I would like my wife to be aware of problems which she can follow, where the ability which she may have in a given field can be put to use in the Jamat. She has only made one extensive tour of the Jamat so far.

I feel that before giving her a specific task she should know more about the Jamat, more about the problems and at that time I am sure that she will express as she has in a limited way already areas of work which she would like to follow, but at this particular time she is in the process of giving me a family obviously this takes time also in creating a home we want. So within that context I think she will certainly be taking up responsibility in the Jamat.

But I think her first duty of this time is to give the Imam a family and a home.

Q. You don't think she will be concerned directly in communal affairs of any sort?

A. I would like by no means exclude that. I would simply say that at this time I cannot say definitely this is what it will be but I think that there is every chance that she will get involved in Jamat work.

What was your reaction when you were told that Begum Salima had delivered a baby girl?

A. You know, I have been brought up as a believing Muslim. And if that is the way you have been brought up and that is what you practise, you accept that there are certain things in life which are given to you by Allah; it is His decision and no one else's.

I wouldn't want you to think however, that I am unaware of my hereditary responsibilities.

I would be absolutely thrilled to have a son.

Q. Is it possible for your daughter Princess Zahra to succeed you if you don't have a male heir?

A. No. It is not.

Q. You obviously are a very busy personality being a religious as well as a secular leader. How do you find the time to devote to your married life?

A. These are very personal questions. The question of time is a very delicate one --I do not have much time but I think two things do arise -- Any mature woman who marries a man in a public position is aware, before she marries him, that she is marrying a person who has responsibilities and therefore she may not have much of his time as a normal wife would have. I think perhaps more important is what you do with the time you have. In other words, if I get away from the office then the office is away completely, and it becomes time I give to my family exclusively. So many men go home and, although they may give more time to their families, their minds are on what is left at the office.

Q. Your Highness, how do you look at your office of Imamat now that you have been Imam, Spiritual Leader of the Ismailis for about 13 years or so. Are there any specific achievements that you would like to quote?

A. It is really a question which you should ask the Jamat because they would be better judges than I. I have always understood the duties of the Imam to be in a modern world fulfilment of the Imamat in the sphere of religion and wherever possible assistance in worldly matters including involvement in secular enterprises, but for the community's, not my own personal benefit.

This is a very important thing. For the last thirteen years I can think of only one activity which I have got involved in which was of my own doing and which was a personal venture. For example, I.P.S. or my work for educational or financial institutions for the Jamat.

The race horses I inherited, I didn't create them -- it was in my father's estate -- the only thing which I have launched personally was Sardinia and that was entirely by chance.

Q. Is it true that you will be visiting East Africa early next year?

A. Within the forthcoming twelve months Inshallah I certainly intend to return with my wife

Q. What form of further help do you propose to give to Tanzania? Are there any specific plans for this?

A. Well, the next major project which is under study now is this tourist scheme of creating a number of hotels, game lodges, throughout Tanzania as well as Uganda and Kenya. I think that we have succeeded in mobilising a group of major international companies which could have a very substantial effect on tourism in Tanzania as well as in Uganda and Kenya.

This, let us say; is project number one. There are other areas on which I am working on but they are not really mature yet.

Q. There is quite a sizeable Ismaili population in South Africa and Mozambique. What advice or guidance do you have for them?

A. Well, I think I have to firstly qualify this. I am not a politician. On the other hand, I am a Muslim and Muslims believe that all men are equal no matter what the colour of their skin and I am therefore fundamentally opposed to apartheid in any form. I would wish to emphasize that Islam is probably the most multi-racial faith existing. Within this context, I think it is known that I do not believe it is in the interest of the Jamat to live in a society where multi-racialism is unacceptable.

You said that there was a sizeable Jamat (Ismailia community) in South Africa and Mozambique. That may have been true when my grandfather was living, but actually it isn't true any more. There may be a few families in South Africa and presumably they have their own personal reasons for not being able to leave. But I would say that they are very few.

Insofar as Mozambique is concerned, I have tried to give general guidance to the Jamat but never get involved in their individual family decisions.

Q. Recently the World Council of Churches pledged support to African liberation movements. Don't you think it is high time the Muslims took a stand on this issue?

A. I think it would be extremely difficult to get a united front of all Muslim countries on a policy issue such as this. I can understand and sympathise with your question by if anything ought to have created a united front among Muslims, it should have been Israel. But even that did not create a united front. So I question whether any other issue will succeed. The dictates of politics are not always co-incidental with emotional or moral issues.

Q. Very few Ismailis were affected in the so-called Asian exodus from E.A. What reasons would you attribute to this situation?

A. Well, I think as a community, we probably have a very high percentage of people who took citizenship of the countries, where they lived.

This being the case, they are not affected by laws which differentiate between what a citizen can do and what a non-citizen can do. I think this is the first point.

And the second point is an emotional one. The Jamat has been living in Eastern Africa for four, five or even six generations. And whether this is commonly understood outside or not, the Jamats are deeply, emotionally and psychologically attached to East Africa. They may be of a different ethnic origin, but this does not mean that their psychological involvement is any less. If they leave, they depart from an area where they were born, educated and brought up with their families, where they have got a deep involvement which is profoundly personal.

In view of this, I do not consider it surprising that only very few Ismailis indeed have left Tanzania.

Source: Africa Ismaili

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