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Why is Mulla Asgher (RA) as Relevant Today as He was 20 Years Ago.
AME SHU NE AMARI VAAT SHU - TYAREJ SAMJASHE.
UTHI CHALYA JAASHU' TAMARI ANJUMAN MA' THI.
What we were and what we said will then be understood
When no longer, we will grace your sittings and assemblies
Written by: Dr HASNAIN WALJI
Today March 21, 2020, twenty years after his passing, Mulla Asgharali M M Jaffer’s thoughts and words remain timeless: " What do we need?” he asked. “We need a society where every act of good-will is propelled and driven by the sincere intention to please Allah and none else.”
Two decades on, he is all the more relevant, as his ‘relentless endeavors’ continue beyond the grave. Be they through the hundreds of volunteers who were inspired by his example of serving the community through The World Federation, or through the many Zakireen, who were encouraged, inspired and some even trained by him, or through his own majalis and lectures, which are still being avidly listened to around the world today.
More than most, it’s his legacy, The World Federation, which not only continues to serve community and humanity but is a symbol of Khoja unity and strength. Sadly, often mired in bureaucratic complexities of our procedures, we tend to overlook (Gharki murgi daal barabar*) the bigger picture: that it is the very existence of the WF that gives the Khoja Community not only a unique identity to remain connected, but also a stature of the Khoja in the wider Shia Community far beyond our small numbers.
His relevance is illustrated further that skipping a generation when choosing his leadership team in the early years of the WF was an inspired strategy to nurture a passionate cadre of young leaders that would help him firmly establish the nascent organization. Now in hindsight, I believe this was also a subtle succession plan to ensure the continuity of his vision and deal with the challenges to come, after him. In the process, he may well have displeased the existing senior leadership of the community at that time. But his farsightedness ensured that over the years, he was able to cultivate a cadre of leaders who, in their own way were instrumental in the continuous development of the Khoja Shia IthnaAsheris Community.
Unquestionably Mulla Asghar's determination has made The World Federation a leading institution in the Shia world, with unrivalled vision and an impeccable consistent record of implementation, through succeeding leadership teams over that past two decades with the same ethos and spirit.
That ethos and spirit were exhibited in his expectation of excellence in the Community he stated that "……. we (must)rise above the mean and the mediocre to that which is high and sublime." In order to achieve this, he boldly opined very early in the life of the WF that "Unless the youth of this community are prepared and have girdled their loins to serve the community to the best of their abilities, this community, left in the hands of the hardcore traditionalists will not be able to take any strides ahead." Such forthrightness, direly needed today, is precisely why he is even more relevant than ever before.
Though he is no longer with us, his guiding spirit has never left those of us who had the opportunity to have worked with him. I am sure many of my former colleagues ask, as I do “What would Mulla have done in such a circumstance?” when faced with an issue that vexed the Community. More often than not, the answer lay in the core principles he exhibited in the face of many an adversity we faced during his tenure.
Mulla always held tenaciously to his principles, which, on occasion, led to decisions, which seemed out of step with prevailing trends. That meant he pleased many and displeased some, or sometimes pleased a few and displeased many. But then who said Mulla was a fair-weather leader - he never feared to risk the ire of the community if he thought it was the right thing to do. Always espousing the unity of the community, more than most, he unequivocally emphasized that principles could never be sacrificed at the altar of unity. I recall his words that “Compromising on the basic fundamentals will benefit nobody." These words continue to reverberate reminding of our core values as a Community.
For example, though he well knew that in 1990, his quest to introduce a Code of Leadership, by formally introducing the qualifications of taqwa and adalah in the WF Constitution would be defeated, he did not back down. Perhaps shrewdly calculating that the spirit of this endeavor remains embedded in the collective consciousness of the community. True to his extraordinary prescience, today, each time the Community is occasioned with choosing its leaders, that subtle fragrance of the 1990 Conference deliberations on the values of taqwa and adalah linger on in our community to help us make the right choices. Decades on, today we see how Marhum Mulla forged the path and that the baton can be passed on from generation to generation as long he is remembered.
As a brilliant communicator, he eloquently presented the teachings of Ahlul Bait (as) to the masses at large in a refreshingly contemporary context. Emulated (but never equaled) by many today, his religious impact on our society is nothing short of phenomenal, through hundreds of his speeches, ever so popular on YouTube today. He once wrote: “Literature is an integral part of every civilization and its legacy to posterity. To my mind, a community devoid of propensity for literature is never a normally constituted community”
For those of us with a taste for literary gems, his offerings continue to whet our appetites. Despite his busy schedule, he had a habit of writing some real nuggets early in the morning and mailing them to me in Milton Keynes. It is these pieces that gave me an insight into the intensity and the powerful words to express his feelings for the very community, which sometimes misunderstood his foresight because they could not see as far as he could.
One fine morning I received in the mail, a beautifully crafted prose in Gujarati, called Agni-e Nivruti Lidhi meaning - “Fire Has Retired.” This was during rather turbulent times in the affairs of the Community, which had very much disturbed Mulla Saheb. It inspired me to translate it in English in free verse form. Here are just a few verses to show his deeply hurt feelings in the allegorical words of lament of the much-maligned fire:
How long can I forebear the maligning?
Wherever I turn, nothing but criticizing
No mouth a loss for words of blaming
Surely there must be a limit or an ending
Being of service is what I aspired for
Such ungratefulness I did not bargain for
Hardly did I sow to reap thus
Acts of mine to burden the heart thus**
His deep insight into the subject of Fiqh and Usule Fiqh, theology, philosophy, theosophy as well as current affairs, his ability to define Islamic concepts from a contemporary perspective was insightful and enlightening. With his mastery of Arabic, Farsi, English, Kiswahili, Urdu, Kutchee and Gujarati, his articles and books have inspired some, but have largely remained between the covers, undiscovered, except by the connoisseurs, of good literature. In this day an age of fast foods and slow digestion such connoisseurs of gourmet literature, are a rare breed indeed. All in all, countless minds have been enlightened and his words still continue to touch may. A multifaceted person of this caliber, with such an impact, emerges but once in a lifetime. I pray his timeless words continue to remain relevant and guide generations to come.
I can do no better than conclude with the words of another savant, his friend and biographer Marhum Hassan A M Jaffer in ‘Relentless Endevours”
“By the Will of Allah, if Mulla Asghar were to be resurrected today for a moment and called upon to address the Community, what is he likely to say? .. I can only visualise him uttering the following words:
Kab tak sunate rahe' rudade chaman,
Zamana bare shauk se sun raha tha,
Ham hi so gaye dastan kehte kehte!
Let us remember this great soul with a sur-e-fateha on his 20th death anniversary.
* Lit: Chicken cooked at home is equal to lentils –the tendency undervalues what we have.
** Verses to show his feelings in the words of lament by Mulla Asghar of the much-maligned fire translated by Hasnain Walji from Gujarati.