Golden Jubilee Imamat Day in Asia

Asia is a continent spread across great distances, represented by diverse food, saree colours, culture, tradition and a dynamic blend of ethnicities. However, these physical distinctions played a secondary role when Jamats across the Central, South, Southeast Asia and the Far East came together for one purpose recently – to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Asia is a continent spread across great distances, represented by diverse foods, colours, cultures, traditions and a dynamic blend of ethnicities. However, these physical distinctions played a secondary role when Jamats across the Central, South, Southeast Asia and the Far East came together for one purpose recently – to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Old and young gathering to celebrate Imamat Day in Kabul. Photo: Karim Thomas
Old and young gathering to celebrate Imamat Day in Kabul. Karim Thomas

The Afghans celebrated the momentous occasion with Qu'ranic recitations and message from the President of the National Council Shir Baaz Hakemi. Officials, Jamati institutions, community leaders and young volunteers took the opportunity to reflect and commemorate the achievements and contributions by Mawlana Hazar Imam to Islam and mankind. An Afghan government delegation, religious leaders, Jamati members, National Council members, intellectuals, poets and scholars attended the ceremony on 11 July 2007.

Light decorations in Bangladesh. Photo: Ismaili Council for Bangladesh
Light decorations in Bangladesh. Ismaili Council for Bangladesh

“This Imamat Day far superseded my expectations. The programme had everything - from religious and traditional geets, to an amazing barbeque dinner to dandia (traditional Gujarati dance played with sticks) and rasra. It was great to see the whole Jamat together. And when I say the whole Jamat, I actually mean the whole Bangladesh Jamat … the atmosphere felt so complete,” said Fareed Huda, 19. Besides the celebration activities, the Jamat took the opportunity to reflect on the significance of the jubilee year, and work towards the goals and objectives set by Mawlana Hazar Imam.

The South East Asian Jamats from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia came together on a rare occasion in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the occasion. The two-day celebration allowed the Jamat from different cultures to present their tradition in the form of a song, a dance or a short play. The Singaporeans performed qawwalis (Sufi devotional music) and geets. The Malaysians performed songs, dances and a short play conveying the message of unity. A highlight of the night was a presentation by South East Asian children joined by kids visiting from the USA, who recited qasidas (form of Persian Poetry) and sang in admiration of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Many of the seniors present had also witnessed the Silver Jubilee celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. B J Keshvani (Singapore), 75 and Roshan Badruddin (Malaysia), 75 noted that: “For us, this is an unforgettable, auspicious event and a rare opportunity for the Jamat from the region to meet. We were at the Silver Jubilee, and today here at the Golden – it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Choir in Malaysia dressed in batik (traditional Malaysian attire). Photo: Inayat Ali Ladhani
Choir in Malaysia dressed in batik (traditional Malaysian attire). Inayat Ali Ladhani

For the first time, the small Bangkok Jamat joined in the celebrations, Naila Gilani, rejoiced saying: "It was wonderful to see everyone, the children, the youth and the elderly, in high spirits and contributing their culture through performances. This truly was a memorable occasion.”

Volunteers for the event who worked days and nights to make the event as enjoyable as possible also drew praise from the regional Jamats. “I could see in the eyes of all the volunteers the deep sense of responsibility to this occasion. Each visitor was most warmly welcomed by the Malaysian Jamat. I experienced a sense of unity and warmth among the large diverse Jamat, said Parvis Bhatia, an IIS graduate currently on a teaching stint in South Korea.

Elsewhere in South East Asia, celebrations were also held by the Jamats of Hong Kong, Colombo, Manila and also Japan. “I must say this has been one of the best Imamat Day's of my life,” said a youth in Hong Kong.

In India, there were a series of events and activities leading up to Imamat Day. These included a mehndi (henna) ceremony, raas-garba (traditional Gujurati dance) and dandia. It was heartening to see hands adorned with mehendi in various Arabic, Khoja, Gujarati styles and designs. The Jamat participated in large numbers appearing in traditional costumes like chaniya-choli (traditional costume worn particularly during festive occasions) and kediya (waist cloth). In rural regions, many enjoyed garba with thalis (steel plates) and handas (pots) balanced on their heads while dancing to the beats of dhol (drum) and notes of shehnai (clarinet).
Imamat Day began with special prayers, followed by flag hoisting. The Ismaili bands led the march past of Ismaili Scouts and Guides and various volunteer groups in uniform, giving salutations to the Ismaili flag. Later, mameras (festive processions) were organised in some places. These processions were led by the Ismaili bands, while ladies dressed in colourful bandhani (intricate Indian tie-and-dye) sarees sang geets (folk songs) in praise of our beloved Hazar Imam. Young girls and women carried ghadis (pots decorated with beads) on their heads, while others carried thalis filled with mehendi and adorned with flowers. Local Jamat showered rose petals and grains of rice on the procession. The afternoon and evening celebrations included mehendi, raas-garba, dandia, a quiz on Ismaili history and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), antakshari (a musical game), a fancy dress competition and role playing for kids. An AKDN and Imamati institutions exhibition was organised, with prominent government delegates, individuals from the neighbourhood and communities invited to participate in the festivities.

Throughout the region, the Asian Jamat watched the global telecast of the inaugural ceremony held in Aiglemont, France, earlier that day. The message addressed the matters such as democracy, poverty and the wonderful contribution of the Ismailis to the society and the work ahead. “The organisation for the telecast was superb! The memory of that event will never fade away as it generated a spirit of increased love for the Imam,” Parvis Bhatia currently living in South Korea. It was a day to remember for many things: the celebrations and festivities, the films, the arrangements, the joy and happiness of all Jamats, the spirit of volunteerism, the strong sense of brotherhood, special attention paid to the infants and toddlers, seniors and those with special needs.

Jamat playing Rasra in Platinum Jamatkhana compound. Photo: Ismaili Council for Pakistan
Jamat playing Rasra in Platinum Jamatkhana compound. Ismaili Council for Pakistan

All over Pakistan, a flag hoisting ceremony was held in Jamatkhanas on the morning of 11 July 2007. A pipe band and orchestra brightened the morning playing the Ismaili anthem as the flag was raised. Members of the Council, Jamati leaders, Head of Scouts, Rovers, Volunteers and Band observed the March Past as the pipe band played and the groups marched to the tune, a sense of excitement and joy overcame members of the Jamat present. An eagerly awaited event during the celebration was the traditional dandia raas. The event was very successful as all members of the Jamat, young and old, participated and rejoiced.

For the grand sagridham (feast for all), after hours of planning, preparations, and effort, the experience was truly memorable. Special arrangements were made for seniors and small children. The local administration including the town Mayor, Head of Municipality, City Nazim and other heads of the local Government Administration were also invited to attend the dinner. This helped in raising Jubilee awareness and the work of the Imamat, with support from the local and regional Government.

The Jamat carried fond memories of the day long celebration, which they shall cherish for life. This was not the end, but the beginning of a year of renewed commitment to society and celebration of life.