The entrepreneurial spirit is used to improve the lives of communities in need, from the USA to India, Dar es Salaam, and Tajikistan.

Everyone’s journey to serve begins at a pivotal point in their life, and their conscious awareness and ability, guided with opportunity, plays a part in how much time, energy, and resources they can contribute towards humanity.

Nizar Gulamhussein Kassam was reluctant to be interviewed as he remarked that what we do for humanity is between us and our Creator.  He prefers to be under the radar, and only after explaining the knowledge value to others, did he feel comfortable sharing a little. “So many have done so much,” said Nizar, “and my late wife, Mehrun, and my children are honored we had the ability and opportunity to do what we can, during this lifetime.”

Nizar and Mehrun taught their children the value of service at a young age, and each of their three children, Zeenat Kassam Mitha, Al-Karim Kassam and Rahim Kassam, have continued that legacy, most of it done very quietly, as their father reminded them of the Volunteer Corps motto of “Work no Words.”  Nizar’s guidance for their secular lives is with a single ethical moral compass: “Mawla’s guidance will take you to the next realm, in the way you are supposed to go, once you have served your purpose in life.”

After serving in various Jamati capacities at the Karioko Jamatkhana in Dar es Salaam in 1967, including Jamati Kamadia/Kamadiani, while in their 20’s, Nizar was active as a Welfare Committee member. He and his wife then moved to Kinshasa, Zaire, and they continued serving in the Jamat.  They moved again to Canada in 1974 where they became Mukhi/Mukhiani in Franklin Jamatkhana in Calgary, Alberta. Nizar was in real estate and Mehrun was working in an office, while taking college courses. They decided the following year to take a chance and purchased their first hotel in Tucson. A year later they sold it and bought the Sundowner hotel in Albuquerque, with other partners, and moved there. There was opportunity in the United States, and Nizar knew what hard work could accomplish, so he was ready to assist in building a community there.

An interesting tidbit is that Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen had been staying at the hotel, working as young programmers across the street. They left for Seattle when they received funding for what was to become Microsoft.

Kanalus Jamatkhana and Religious Education Center, India

Kanalus Jamatkhana and Religious Education Center, India
Kanalus Jamatkhana and Religious Education Center, India

Over the next two decades, Nizar and Mehrun assisted in settling over 50 families, and provided their time, knowledge, jobs, finances, and whatever else was needed to start their new lives.  Their hotel, also donated a large space to be converted to a Jamatkhana, from 1977 to 1986. New families were welcomed and provided room and board for many, until they were settled. 

During this time, as personal businesses and opportunities increased, Nizar and Mehrun’s financial support grew for the Institute of Ismaili Studies, as founding members, and other AKDN institutions. 

In 2001, Nizar and Mehrun went to visit Kanalus, Gujarat, India, where Nizar’s father was born.   The town is 25 minutes away, by car, from the city of Jamnagar. They saw their father’s and extended family’s former living quarters and the lovely, quaint community. The Jamati leaders there asked for assistance to update and build an extension for the Kanalus Jamatkhana, recreation area, and courtyard. Nizar and Mehrun, and their cousins, Sadru and Shirin Allana, funded an updated purpose-built Jamatkhana, and other requested spaces. For local residents with limited means of support, a Jamatkhana offers a community a space for a place of worship and social interaction, reaffirming their identity and culture.

Jamnagar Jamatkhana, Gujarat, India.

Jamnagar Jamatkhana, Gujarat, India.
Jamnagar Jamatkhana, Gujarat, India.

Travelling to Jamnagar, Gujarat, the family was asked for financial assistance as the Jamatkhana was in a small, rented space that accommodated 120 people. Nizar and his cousin, Mirza Lakha, discussed the request. The following year, Mirza went to Jamnagar to start several projects.  He remained there for six months to make sure the projects happened appropriately, including building a new Jamatkhana for 450 people, plus a social area, religious education classrooms, a kitchen, and courtyard. There were 20 different extended families involved in the projects. Mirza then flew back and forth for over a decade. In 2003, the entire extended family opened a health clinic in Jamnagar. It began as a free service, but increased to two rupees (equivalent to US 10 cents) after a few years, when lines formed beyond what they could handle in a day, as many came even though they were not ill.

In 2005, they supported a mobile health clinic that went to rural villages and offered the same health care as at Jamnagar, and to patients who couldn’t travel. In the same year, they opened an English and Computer class for students that wanted to apply for college and learn advanced skills, but did not have the means.

In addition to the Jamnagar Jamatkhana, the families also purchased housing for several needy Ismaili families so they could have a jump start in their life. Any extra funding collected from the families went to Aga Khan Foundation for development purposes.

Along with Nizar’s brother and his wife, Badru and Munira Kassam and other family members, Nizar and Mehrun also saw a need at a non-denominational children’s orphanage in Dar es Salaam, and have offered the children and staff twice- weekly meals, and weekly meals for the Ismaili senior community in need.

While in communication with Zarina Kheraj of AKDN in Tajikistan, Badru and Nizar learned of  20 students needing assistance to attend university for five years. The brothers supported the students for their university education, and cousins, extended family and friends were able to support even more students.

Thereafter, Zarina mentioned electricity was desperately needed in a rural village a few hours from Khorog.  Badru visited the village and saw the difficulty people were having in surviving the winter. They did what was necessary for electricity to be brought in, changing the lives of the community. Today, others have assisted more villages in a similar fashion.

Nizar  has also given of their time to many Jamati institutions, and their children continue the example of service in several capacities. The family exemplifies the ethic of service and one’s responsibility to help others improve their lives, wherever, and whenever possible.