Ya Ali Madad Karim,

It's been three days since I came back from London and I thought I better write down some notes on the extraordinary opportunity I got for the Holy Deedar recently. I guess I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to be invited to participate in the IIS 25th anniversary celebrations. On Sunday, 19th October, Hazar Imam attended five functions in total (not counting any meetings with the Institute leadership that he might have had) and I was fortunate to be present at three of them.

(1) The Quran Conference

Sunday turned out to be a bright sunny day, although earlier forecast of cloudy and chilly morning. The first event of the day, which Hazar Imam was going to grace with his presence, was the opening session of the international colloquium, "Word of God, Art of Man" organized by the IIS at the Ismaili Center London. Although the official brochure did not mention who was going to present the opening remarks, word was already out the previous day that Hazar Imam was going to speak at this event. If there were any doubts, they vanished at the sight of several London "Bobbies" on duty near the Ismaili Center.

The doors opened at 9.15 a m. Although we got there about fifteen minutes later, there were already 30 - 40 people there. By around 10.00 a.m. most of the invited guests had arrived. There was ample coffee and other goodies in the room across the hall. By about 10.20 am most of the people were seated. The audience consisted of about 300 invited attendees. This was made up of about 150 alumni, students, & graduates, about 100 or so scholars and students of Quranic studies and the rest dignitaries and officials. Among the dignitaries there were the Lord Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington, at least two High Commissioners (from African countries) and one high ranking Bohra community leader.

About fifteen minutes before Hazar Imam arrived, the volunteers (about a dozen officers) stopped serving beverages and lined up respectfully in the gallery across the stairs. With every passing minute the crowed became quiet. Most of us were saying Salwats and counting the minutes in anticipation. Even before I saw Him physically, I could feel a special joy in my heart from the moment he entered the building and I am sure other Murids felt the same.

Hazar Imam walked in the room smiling. He was wearing a light grayish suit. To me it looked like as if He has aged a lot in the last year or so. He looked a lot older than when I last saw Him in Houston. Dr. Nanji made the welcoming remarks and also introduced Professor Graber in glowing terms. During this time Hazar Imam constantly looked around the room, as if He was trying to see each and every face. From time to time He would make eye contact with somebody and smile or nod. At one point I felt as if He looked at me and smiled and nodded…but then it must have been to someone around me for what have I done in my life to deserve such a blessing! [Tuj truthe nav nandaj pamu(n) jo hove Shah najar tamari…]

Hazar Imam then spoke. I will not repeat the speech here as it is available from IIS website. After Hazar Imam had finished his speech, Professor Oleg Grabar gave a thirty-minute discourse on "The Quran as a Source of Artistic Inspiration". Hazar Imam listened attentively. At the conclusion Hazar Imam shook hands with Prof. Gabar and then departed at around 11.45 am.

(2) Graduation Ceremony

A few minutes after His departure, the attendees were invited, once again to coffee and goodies. We had a little bit of refreshment but our hearts and minds were already focused on the next event. Special buses were arranged to transport alumni, students and graduates to the Le Meridien Grosvenor House hotel in the posh district of Park Lane. The scholars would continue with the conference after lunch.

By the time we arrived, there was already a long line up of donors and other invited guests outside the Grand (Great?) Room. The doors were going to open at 12.45 p.m. We were taken to a special (much shorter) line and ushered inside after a few minutes. Inside we were led into a room where instructions (a lot of them) were given about seating arrangements, division of alumni into various groups (e.g. McGill group, Education group, Iran group…etc.) and given yellow flowers (probably British equivalent of carnations). Finally we were led to especially reserved seating in the front rows.

The hall was spacious and very elegant with large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. As one approached one of the two stairs to descend in the hall, a group of musicians played a curious melody of Indian (tabla) and western music. Many volunteers (officers) were there to direct people to their seating areas. I was told that the hall had a capacity of 1500 and about an hour before Hazar Imams arrival it was full. The MC told us that this was the largest crowd this hall had accommodated in its entire history. The stage was simple but elegant with large plants forming part of the décor. In the backdrop was a large screen on which names of "Ismaili Heroes" were projected. To my dismay, none of our Holy Pirs were included.

Hazar Imam arrived on time. He was wearing a somewhat darker suit and looked a bit more refreshed. He sat on one of the two chairs and Professor Nanji on the other. Senior faculty members took their position on a bench on the right hand side of the stage. The program began with the recitation of verses of Holy Quran by Bul Bul Shah (one of the early alumni). This was followed by an address by Professor Nanji. Thereafter Hazar Imam delivered his address. Again I will not repeat the contents as they are available from various websites.

After the address, Dr. Nanji requested Hazar Imam to present the certificates to the graduating class. There were 15 students in the graduating class ( Canada 2, China 1, India 1, Iran 2, Pakistan 1, Portugal 2, Tajikistan 6). Each graduate was introduced by name, by country he/she came from and what he/she was studying now. It was a sight to behold. As each student ascended the stage Hazar Imam would clap (crowd would follow), then Hazar Imam would give him the certificate and shake his hand. Then Hazar Imam would continue clapping and looking at the graduate and following him with his eyes, as he would walk down the stage. He did that for all 15 graduates. One could only wonder what must be going through His mind as he looked at each graduate?

After the presentation of certificates, the alumni were recognized. As the names of the groups were called out (e.g. McGill group) all the alumni from that group would rise and Hazar Imam, faculty and guests would give them a round of applause. The last part of the ceremony was the Valedictory Speech by Sabrina Amirali Datoo of Canada. Hazar Imam laughed several times during the speech.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Hazar Imam departed from the hall. After His departure, as per our instructions the graduating class followed by alumni departed from the hall by walking all the way to the back and up the stairs. The guests cheered as the 130 or so alumni walked past them. Many shook hands with the alumni or said "Mubarak". We were lead to a special room (I think two floors up) where we were divided into our respective groups and awaited Hazar Imam for a special Mulaqaat with the graduates and alumni. The guests were offered tea, sandwiches and pastries.

(3) Special Mulaqaat

After only a few minutes, but what seemed like an eternity, Hazar Imam entered the room through a side door accompanied by several IIS leaders. Hazar Imam was in a very happy and joyous mood. He was constantly smiling and laughing. Selina Kassam introduced each group to Hazar Imam. Hazar Imam would then draw the group members to come close to him. Some groups had only 8 to 12 members while other group (e.g. India - Pakistan group) was somewhat larger. There were two Farsi groups (Iran and Afghanistan-Tajikistan). Hazar Imam would then talk to each group, perhaps give hidayat, ask questions or respond to questions.

In one group He said that (and I am paraphrasing from memory. May Hazar Imam forgive my errors and omissions), referring to image of Islam in the west, that one had to be careful (or choose wisely) whom one voted for. In another group referring to the education needs He said that in western countries only about 30% of students go to universities. We need to touch the remaining 70% as in a democracy they control the votes. In the group of alumni from Syria he started asking where each came from. As each alumni replied with the name of their town or village Hazar Imam would acknowledge it. When the turn came of a rather tall guy, he said he came from Turkey. Hazar Imam looked surprised and asked him how did he get here (IIS)? To which this person promptly replied, "I said Ya Ali Madad". Hazar Imam was very happy and laughed a lot. While meeting the Arabic group, it was pointed out to Hazar Imam that Prof. Schimmel had left her collection (of books?) to Dr. Asani (who was present there). To which Hazar Imam said (turning to IIS leaders): "We must find a way to recognize her". Then he turned to the group and repeated twice "You heard me…you all are my witness". One person said to Hazar Imam about the difficulties of teaching Islamics at universities after 9/11. Hazar Imam replied quite at length. When he met with the India group he was presented with a gift on behalf of all alumni. The gift consisted; I believe a pen and case from Ottoman period and a cash sum (for Focus), which had been raised the previous day. Hazar Imam said something to the effect that I will write you back.

After meeting with all the groups Hazar Imam departed. We all were so overwhelmed by his presence amongst us (such a small group) and by the proximity that most of us encountered for the first time in our life. Everyone had tears of joy in their eyes. Everyone was hugging everyone else. Some compared notes of what Hazar Imam said with other groups, others tried to reflect on what Hazar Imam had said in their group, yet others went around sharing their joy.

After a long time we slowly made our way out of the room and out of the hotel and waited for the buses to take us to Jamat Khana where we could kneel down in Shukhrana and thank HIM a million times for granting us this good fortune…the memory of which will stay with us for our lifetime.

In the evening I believe there were two other events, a private mulaqaat with a few high donors and a banquet with about 500 or so donors. I was not part of those events so we will have to wait for someone from those events to write their eyewitness accounts.

With Ya Ali Madaad