POLITICAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC GUIDANCE
What about political guidance? It has been the practice of my ancestors, to which I have strictly adhered, always to advise Ismailis to be absolutely loyal and devoted subjects of the State - whatever its constitution, monarchial or republican - of which they are citizens. Neither my ancestors nor I have ever tried to influence our followers one way or another but we have told them that the constituted legal authority of any country in which they abide must have their full and absolute loyalty. Similarly if any government approaches me and asks me for my help and my advice to its subjects, this advice is invariably - as was my father’s and my grandfather’s - that they must be loyal and law abiding, and if they have any political grievances they must approach their government as legally constituted, and in loyalty and fidelity to it, All my teaching and my guidance for my followers has been in fulfillment of this principle render unto God the things which are God’s and to Caesar those which are Caesar’s.
In matters of social reform I have tried to exert my influence and authority sensibly and progressively. I have always sought to encourage the emancipation and education of women. In my grandfather’s and my father’s time the Ismailis were far ahead of any other Muslim sect in the matter of abolition of the strict veil, even in extremely conservative countries. I have absolutely abolished I; nowadays you will never find an Ismaili woman wearing the veil. Everywhere I have always encourage girls’ schools, even in regions where otherwise they were completely unknown. I say with pride that my Ismaili followers are, in this matter of social welfare, far in advance of any other Muslim sect. No doubt it is possible to find individuals equally advanced, but I am convinced that our social conditions as a body - education for both boys an girls, marriage and domestic outlook and customs, the control over divorce, the provision for children in the event of divorce, and so forth - are far ahead. We were pioneers in the introduction of midwifery, and long before any other Muslim community in the Middle East, we had trained nurses for childbirth. With the support and help of Lady Dufferin's nursing association in India, I was able at a time when normal conditions in these matters were terribly unsanitary - to introduce a modern outlook on childbirth with trained midwives, not only in India and Burma but in Africa and (so far as general conditions permitted) in Syria and Iraq.
In Africa, where I have been able to give active help a well as advice, we have put the finances of individuals and of the various communities on a thoroughly safe basis. We established an insurance company - the Jubilee Insurance - whose shares have greatly increased in value. We also set up what we called an investment trust, which is really a vast association for receiving money and then putting it out o loan at a low rate of interest, to Ismaili traders and to people who want to buy or build their own houses.
So far as their way of life is concerned, I have tried to vary the advice which I have given to my followers in accordance with the country or state in which they live. Thus in the British Colony of East Africa I strongly urge them to make English their first language, to found their family and domestic lives along English lives and in general to adopt British and European customs - except in the matter of alcohol and slavery to tobacco. I am convinced that living as they must in a multiracial society, the kind of social life and its organization which gives them the greatest opportunities to develop their personalities and is the most practically useful is the one which they ought to follow. On the other hand, to those who live in Burma I have the same sort of advice - but that they should follow a Burman way of life rather than any other. In Muslim countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Iran of course there are no difficulties at all.
My mother was herself a genuine mystic in the Muslim tradition (as were most of her closest companions); and she habitually spent a great deal of time in prayer for spiritual enlightenment and for union with God. In such a spirit there was no room for bigotry. Like many other mystics my mother had a profound poetic understanding. I have, in something near ecstasy, heard her read perhaps some verses by Roumi or Hafiz, with their exquisite analogies between man's beatific vision of the Divine and the temporal beauty and colours of flowers, the music and magic of the night, and the transient splendors of the Persian dawn.
The home in which I was brought up was a literary one. I have referred to my mother’s poetic sense. She was deeply versed in Persian and Arabic literature, as were several of her ladies-in-waiting and closest women friends. My mother knew a great deal of poetry by heart and she had a flair for the appropriate classical quotation - a flair which, I may say, she never lost throughout her long life. Even when she was nearly ninety she was never at a loss for the right and apt quotation, not merely from one of the great poets such as Hafiz and Firdausi or Roumi but from many a minor or little known writer.
One little anecdote may explain it. Shortly before she died a cousin, of mine quoted one night at dinner a verse of Persian poetry which is rarely heard. In order not to bother my mother or worry her, I attributed it to Hafiz. Not at all, said my mother, that is not by Hafiz, and she gave the name of the poem and the name of the rather obscure poet who had written it.
A consequence of this characteristic was that mealtimes at my mother's table were no occasions of idle gossip or title-tattle. Our conversation was of literature, or poetry; or perhaps one of the elderly ladies who traveled to and from Tehran a great deal would talk about her experiences at the Court of the Shah.
My work in international field, and its crown and climax in my year as President of the League, had especially delighted my beloved mother. When I first went to Geneva she was over eighty, and she followed my work there with unflagging interest. Each year that I went to India we talked together as fully and as frankly about this as we had, throughout my life, shared our interests, our joys and our sorrows. For a very long time she retained her health, all her faculties, her keen zest for life and all its concerns, whether public and political or family and domestic. When the 1937 session of the Assembly ended, I went to my home in the South of France, with no reason to believe that my mother’s health - she was by then in her eighty-eighth year - was causing any serious anxiety. Nor indeed was it for she was maintaining her accustomed tranquil and happy way of life.
She had seen both my sons, Aly and Sadruddin, the latter of whom, as a little boy, was a special joy and comfort to her, both when she came to Europe and during a summer which he and his mother spent with her in Lebanon. He bore, too, the name of my elder brother who had died in infancy, and this particularly rejoiced my mother's heart.
She did not see her great-grand-children, Aly's two boys, Karim and Amyn, but she knew all about them and she chose both their names, the younger bearing that of her brother who died as a young man in the 1880’s. She had, as I have recorded, been present at my first Jubilee, and had been made especially happy by the congratulatory telegram sent by Lord Wigram, on behalf of King George V, just before the news of the King's death cut short our celebrations. Eager, affectionate, pious, alert to every new happening and new interest, my mother in her last years was someone who radiated a sense of joy and goodness among all who knew her.
It was at the end of 1937 that I had a cable from India saying that she had been taken seriously ill and bidding me hasten to come to see her. I flew to India at once, in the fastest aircraft of those times, which took three and a half days to reach Bombay.
All her life my mother had retained the habit of a Turkish bath. In each of our houses in India we had a regularly equipped Turkish bath, with dry, properly heated alcoves, the correct water system, and as its climax, a hot pool and a small and very cold pool. My mother had a regular bath once a week, with all its traditional accompaniments of Turkish and Persian massage; she had a manicure and a pedicure, and in the Eastern fashion she had her hair dyed with henna. Coming from her bath one day in November she had a stroke; she recovered consciousness but thereafter her mental faculties were impaired and her memory was gone, except for brief periods of clarity and vision.
She was at our house at Malabar Hill. Her doctor incidentally a descendant of one of my grandfather’s original followers from Iran who had become a member of the Indian Medical Service - warned me that I must expect to find a great change in her. I was surprised to find that her physical health seemed excellent, but the mental breakdown except for the moments of lucidity which I have just mentioned - was almost complete. I spent most of my time with her; and it was a great joy when occasionally she fully recognized me and talked to me.
All her long life my mother had been animated by one simple, sincere desire: that when the time came, she should die and be buried on Muslim soil, by which she meant a land ruled by a free, independent and sovereign Muslim government. To this was knit one more longing: that in death she should lie beside my father, whom she had dearly and deeply loved, and for whom her mourning from the moment of his death more than fifty years before had been as profound, as durable and as touching as Queen Victoria's for her beloved Prince Albert.
As soon as I could, therefore, I made preparations to have my mother taken to Iraq, where an independent Muslim government ruled, and where my father's body rested at Nejef near Kerbela. There were, obviously considerable difficulties and problems about her journey thither. Medical advice ruled out air travel though I have always believed that my mother, in spite of the various stops that the two-day journey to Baghdad would have involved, would have stood it better than the sea trip. However, it was by boat that she went to Basra and thence by train to Baghdad. I had been to Cairo in the meantime, and I flew back to Baghdad to find her at the house of a cousin of mine, Aga Mustafa Khan, close by the holy shrine of Kadhamin.
A few minutes after I reached her bedside, her eyes opened, and she recognized me. Then in the way that all true Muslims would ask, who seek to follow the Prophet’s example and attain a safe and quiet journey from the midst of the living, she achieved peace and happiness and that final “Companionship on High” for which all yearn. In accordance with Ismaili tradition I did not accompany her body to its last resting place, but certain nephews and cousins laid her lovingly beside my father, and they were - as she had long and ardently desired - finally reunited.
ISLAM'S TOLERANCE AND CHARITY
Reaction against hatred, intolerance and bigotry has, I know, coloured my whole life, and I have found my answer in the simple prayer that God in His Infinite mercy will forgive the sins of all Muslims, the slayer and the slain, and that all may be reconciled in Heaven in a final total absolution. And I further pray that all who truly and sincerely believe in God, be they Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Brahmin, who strive to do good and avoid evil, who are gentle and kind, will be joined in Heaven and be granted final pardon and peace.
MY DIAMOND JUBILEE - FOR ISMAILI ECONOMIC UPLIFTMENT AND OPPORTUNITY
The sixtieth anniversary of my inheriting my Imamat and ascending the “Gadi” fell in 1945. But in the troubled conditions at the end of the Second World War it was neither possible nor suitable to arrange any elaborate celebrations of my Diamond Jubilee. We decided to have two ceremonies: one, including the weighing against Diamonds, in Bombay in March 1946, and another five months later, in Dar-es-Salaam, using the same diamonds.
When the time came, world conditions were only just beginning to improve and travel becoming a little less difficult than it had been in the last months of the war. However, a magnificently representative assemblage of my followers gathered for a wonderful and to me at least - quite unforgettable occasion. There were Ismailis present from all over the Near and Middle East, from Central Asia and China; from Syria and Egypt; and from Burma and Malaya, as well as thousands of my Indian followers. Many of the Ruling Princes of India honoured me with their presence, as did senior British officials in this stormy twilight of the Raj. Telegrams and letters of congratulation showered in on me from all over the Islamic world, from the heads of all the independent Muslim nations, and from the viceroy; I was proud and happy man to be thus reunited with those for whom across the years my affection and my responsibility have been so deep and so constant.
To the celebrations in India there as an extremely serious side. An amount equal to the value of the diamonds more than half a million pounds - had been collected and was offered to me as an unconditional gift. I wanted this enormous amount to be used for the welfare of the Ismaili community throughout what was then undivided India. The specific scheme which I had in mind was a trust, along the lines which Ismailis have built up in Africa, which is in essence not unlike the Friendly Societies that have made so valuable a contribution to British life. I hold that for a trading and agricultural community such as the great majority of Ismalis are, an organization of this character, combining welfare with prudent financial advice, assistance, loans, mortgages and so forth, is much more important and much more suitable that an ordinary charity fund.
However, other opinions prevailed in India. Having handed back the money, with my advice as to its disposal, to the representatives of those who had subscribed it, I did not like to use my authority as Imam to make my advice mandatory. It was decided to set up a conventional charitable trust a decision, I must emphasize, in which I had no share and no responsibility - and there was the outcome which I had feared and foreseen, for it is not unfamiliar in the East. Before the trust could get into its stride there was protracted and disastrously costly litigation between various parties among the Ismailis in Bombay. I still hope, however, that when the suits are settled, at least half the original sum subscribed will not have been spent on costs and will be available for charity among the Ismailis.
I myself have sometimes - been criticized for not supporting and encouraging ordinary charities on a large scale hospitals and dispensaries, schools and scholarships, and the usual run of charitable institutions and organizations. I am convinced that the Ismaili communities compose a special case. Many Ismailis are traders and middlemen; others are yeomen farmers, of the order of society known in Russian history as kulaks. There is an intensely individualist outlook, acquired and fostered over many centuries. Welfare imposed from without is not in the patter. of their society. I am convinced that their first need is to learn to co-operate in their thrift and self-help, to extend what they practise in their families and as individuals to the community as a whole. This will not be achieved by the ordinary so-called charitable and welfare systems that are part of the fabric of existence in many European countries. Co-operation in banking and commerce, in the raising and lending of money, in building and in farming is, I sincerely believe, their path towards economic, social and cultural uplift, toward that better life for themselves and for their children which their talents and their virtues can secure.
PERPETUAL SOURCE OF TRUE HAPPINESS
Never, in my life - I may say with complete honesty - have I for an instant been bored. Every day has been so short, every hour so fleeting, every minute so filled with the life I love that time for me has fled on far too swift a wing. A mind that is occupied, in health or in sickness, with things outside itself and its own concerns is, I believe, a perpetual source of true happiness. In ordinary prayer, as we in Islam conceive it, adoration of the beloved fills up every nook and cranny of the human consciousness; and in the rare, supreme moments of spiritual ecstasy, the light of Heaven blinds mind and spirit to all other lights and blots out every other, sense and perception.
ISLAM'S MORAL AND SPIRITUAL FORCE
Wherever the indigenous population is Muslim, there is remarkably little racial antagonism or sense of bitterness against the European, in spite of the European's obvious economic superiority. Islam, after all, is a soil in which sentiments of this sort do not take root or flourish easily. This is not a shallow and fatalistic resignation; it is something much more profound in the essence of the teaching of Islam - a basic conviction that in the eyes of God all men, regardless of colour or class or economic condition, are equal. From this belief there springs an unshakable self-respect, whose deepest efforts are in the subconscious, preventing the growth of bitterness or any sense of inferiority of jealousy by one man of another’s economic advantage.
Islam in all these countries has within it, I earnestly believe, the capacity to be a moral and spiritual force of energizing enormous significance, both stabilizing and energizing the communities among whom it is preached and practiced. To ignore Islam’s potential influence for good, Islam’s healing and creative power for societies as for individuals, is to ignore one of the most genuinely hopeful factors that exist in the world today.
LIFE'S ENDURING LESSON
I can only say to everyone who reads this book that it is my profound conviction that man must never ignore and leave untended and undeveloped that spark of the Divine which is in him. The way to personal fulfillment, to individual reconciliation with the Universe that is about us, is comparatively easy for anyone who firmly and sincerely believe, as I do, that Divine Grace has given man in his own heart the possibilities of illumination and of union with Reality. It is, however, far more important to attempt to offer some hope of spiritual sustenance to those many who, in this age in which the capacity of faith is non-existent if the majority, long for something beyond themselves, even if it seems second-best. For them there is the possibility of finding strength of the spirit, comfort and happiness in contemplation of the infinite variety and beauty of the Universe.
Life in the ultimate analysis has taught me one enduring lesson. The subject should always disappear in the object. In our ordinary affections one for another, in our daily work the hand or brain, most, of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, of merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit. And in the highest realms of consciousness all who believe in a Higher Being are liberated from all the clogging and hampering bonds of the subjective self in prayer, in rapt mediation upon and in the face of the glorious radiance of eternity, in which all temporal and earthly consciousness is swallowed up and itself becomes the eternal.
TRUE ISLAMIC CHARITY IN THOUGHT & PRAYER FOR BROTHERHOOD OF BELIEVERS
"Though Ismailis have been always staunch and firm believers in the truth of their own faith in the Imamat Holy Succession, they have never, like some other sects, gone to the other extreme of condemning brother Muslims who have other interpretations of the Divine Message of our Holy Prophet (S.A.S.).
Ismailis have always believed and have been taught in each generation by their Imams that they hold the rightful interpretation of the succession to the Holy Prophet, but that is no reason why other Muslims, who believe differently, should not be accepted as brothers in Islam and dear in person and prayed for and never publicly or privately condemned, leave alone abused.
"I hope that in these days when the Muslims have to hold together in view of all the dangers, external and internal, from all quarters, I hope and believe and pray that Ismailis may show their true Islamic charity in thought and prayer for the benefit and happiness of all Muslims, men, women and children of all sects." (Cairo, 1955)
I was a pioneer of another sport in India - hockey, which now-a-days is one of the main national games of both India and Pakistan. I began to play it with my cousin and other companions of my own age in the early nineties. I encouraged interest in the game, I gave the cups, I got the Indian Army to play. Teams were built up among the various communities in Bombay, and competitions extended steadily all over India. Hockey and cricket developed at much the same time in India, cricket fostered and encouraged by the then Governor of Bombay, Lord Harris; young Indians who had been to England for some part of their education continued the game when they came home, and it exerted an appeal which it has never lost and which has extended to wider and wider circles in India and Pakistan, both of which now produce teams of Test Match caliber and quality.