Missionary Alibhai Nanji

Period: (1893-1978)

Bhagat Walji Velji was one of the most dedicated persons in Mekhandi, Porebandar, having four sons, Nanji, Premji, Jivraj, and Ali. The elder son, Nanji, had a son Hussain and a daughter Jetbai with his first wife. He had three daughters, Manbai, Nurbai and Hirbai and a son Alibhai with his second wife.

Alibhai, the son of Nanji was born in Mekhandi on Sunday, June 10, 1893. His father Nanji Walji owned a small fertile land at the end of the village. He was a devoted person and very knowledgeable of ginans; therefore, his son Alibhai acquired his formal religious education at home.

Jivraj, the younger brother of Nanji lived in Porebandar. He suggested his elder brother to export onion and garlic in Bombay and Karachi in order to maximize the profits. Accordingly, Nanji consolidated funds arising from his fertile land and obtained a loan from local merchants. He purchased a large quantity of onion and garlic and shipped it to Karachi for sale. Unfortunately, the ship had an accident due to fierce sea storms, ruining his entire enterprise. Out of frustration, he sold out his garden to pay his debt. Soon afterwards, he came to live in Madhupur with his family in 1897 and started a small shop of grams to ensure his livelihood. Time is a great healer and with the passage of years, the wound of his big loss had cured. Equipped with abundant stamina and vitality, he worked and made progress. He then proceeded to Porebandar with his family.

His son Alibhai took his formal education in Porebandar. He passed the 7th class of Gujrati and got admitted in the Middle, where he learnt English upto 4th class. He also learnt to master Urdu and Arabic. His father was his religious tutor, but he deepened his knowledge by chatting with the elders of Junagadh. He enhanced his erudition in Islamic history and philosophy from reading books. In the meantime, he married in 1910 to Rahmat Banu, the daughter of Ismail Jamal in Porebandar. Unfortunately, Nanji died on the same day in the evening, at about 5.00 p.m. Nanji is said to have summoned the Mukhi and Kamadia few hours before his death and said, “I will leave the world in the evening. Don’t mourn. Perform the marriage of my son without any delay.” Hence, the marriage of Alibhai Nanji was solemnized simply on the same day after prayers.

When the Imam visited Kutchh on February 20, 1910, Varas Moledina Megji (1854-1926) implored for three expert teachers for the schools of Sinugara, Badalpur and Nagalpur (Kutchh). The Imam ordered Varas Kassim to make its arrangements. Meanwhile, Varas Habib, the son of Varas Kassim visited Porebandar, where Mawji Ramji, who lived across from Alibhai Nanji, hosted him. By talking with Alibhai Nanji, he thought this man was an ideal teacher for Kutchh. He approached his mother Kaisarbai, who agreed to let her son go. Thus, Varas Habib deputed Alibhai Nanji, Hashim Jamal and Hirji Haji towards Kutchh to convert them into secular and religious teachers.

Varas Moledina Megji posted Alibhai Nanji in Sinugara, Hashim Jamal in Nagalpur and Hirji Haji at Badalpur. Alibhai Nanji reached Sinugara, about two miles from Nagalpur where 400 Ismaili families resided. He did not found a single chair for the teacher or benches for the students in the old school, which was built by Rajab Ali Jagasi of Bombay. The students used wooden slates, on which they spread dust and wrote with inkless wooden pens. Alibhai Nanji possessed a rare ability to focus his mind steadily on the distance horizon and at the same time concentrated his whole effort on what was practically possible: he was very perseverant. He did not care about the poor condition of the school and continued his teaching. Meanwhile, his students demonstrated an excellent performance during the annual majalis in Nigar, Kutchh in 1912. It deeply struck the audience, notably some Ismaili wool-traders, such as Bandali Nathu Dhiraniwala, Dhanji Bandali, Manji Bandali, Kassim Bandali, etc., who offered donations for the school. The premises of the Jamatkhana consisted of a big room in the compound was renovated and equipped with furniture, where he started the school. Later on, Rajab Ali Jagasi donated Rs. 5000/-, meanwhile other generous persons shared the cost of the erection of a new building for a school. He managed to spot a plot near Jamatkhana on the main road, where school was going to be built. With untiring efforts, he brought the school from primary level to secondary level. Varas Moledina awarded him the certificate of appreciation for his invaluable services in the domain of education.

After being settled in Sinugara, he called his wife and his mother. He devoted most of his time at the school. Varas Moledina promoted him as the Head Master and the Supervisor of all the Ismaili schools running in Kutchh.

In 1918, influenza broke out in Kutchh, resulting in the demise of his wife and of an infant son, Mitha. His sister Nurbai and her husband Kara Kanji wrote him several letters, insisting upon him to come to Veraval. Soon after his arrival, he delivered some impressive waez in the Jamatkhana, and conquered the hearts of the jamat. His sister arranged his marriage in 1919 with Fatima, the daughter of Musa Kamal. Meanwhile, he received a telegram from Sinugara on the third day of his marriage that his other son, Bachu passed away. He returned to Sinugara with his wife and resumed his usual service.

The Ismailis in Kutchh were the victims of old customs and did not permit the education of females. For many centuries, the Ismailis bred in the shadow of illiteracy. He concentrated his attention on the healthy growth of the community through the channel of education. Alibhai Nanji first gained the confidence of the jamat and then laid great stress on the education of girls. The welfare of future generations and the healthy progress of the community, he pointed out, depended upon the education of women and mothers. He also propagated that no community could rise to the height of glory unless women were side by side to men. In conclusion, he succeeded as a realist and a true social worker.

In 1920, the Imam visited Kutchh, where no missionary was present in the pendol. Alibhai Nanji was asked to give a waez. He delivered a touching waez before a massive congregation of people, and a moment had scarcely elapsed when Imam’s arrival took place, thus he curtailed his waez. The Imam entered the pendol, sat on the chair, and asked Varas Moledina, “Who was performing waez? Tell him to continue it.” Thus, Alibhai picked up the thread of his waez and impressed the audience. The Imam told to Varas Moledina to bring Alibhai Nanji to Bombay for leisure purposes. Henceforward, a new chapter in his life was added. When he came to Bombay with Varas Moledina, the Imam told him to join the Recreation Club Institute as a regular missionary in 1920. He accepted the offer and took necessary training from the Chief Missionary Hussaini Pir Muhammad (1878-1951) for a period of six months.

The Ismaili mission of conversion was brisk in those days around Hyderabad, Sind among the depressed class. The new converts needed proper religious understandings. Mukhi Itmadi Ghulam Hussain Varu, the President of the Supreme Council for Karachi (1929-1937) wrote a letter to the Recreation Club Institute in 1922 to provide an expert missionary. Alibhai Nanji was commissioned to this task in Sind. With the help of Varas Karim Kassim (1878-1958), he lived six months with the new converts in Hyderabad and gave them the necessary understanding on Ismailism. In 1923, the Imam also sent him in Poona for the same purpose.

Alibhai Nanji sailed for East Africa with Missionary Sayed Munir (1882-1957) on September 1925 and delivered waez in Zanzibar, Uganda and Kenya under the guidance of the Supreme Council for Africa. In 1926, the Imam visited East Africa for 43 days and Alibhai Nanji, who was yet in East Africa, was included in the Imam’s staff. Meanwhile, he learnt from Pir Sabzali (1884-1938) the sudden death of Varas Moledina Megji on February 7, 1926. In summary, Alibhai Nanji was the head of the didar and mehmani programmes, as well as gave waez in Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Mombasa and finally returned to Bombay in April 1926.

The Imam enjoined upon him to deliver a waez in Burhanpur and Ahmadabad amongst the new converts. He worked hard and made the gupti Ismailis exposed, who subscribed to their faith openly in Burhanpur with new Islamic names. These Ismailis declared their faith publicly as Muslims, and performed a demonstration in a procession in the village. Alibhai Nanji also arranged majalis for three days, where he conveyed waez. He also moved for some time in Bhavnagar and publicly exposed the Kachhia caste as the Ismaili Muslims. By virtue of his deep knowledge, he also debated on several occasions with the great renowned persons of other communities but he always succeeded in the deliberation. In fact, he proved himself creative, bold, courageous, patient, and dedicated.

In May 1928, he left Mundra, Kutchh and came to live in Manavadar in Junagadh with his family. His second trip to East Africa started on December 18, 1929. His tour covered Dar-es-Salaam, Zanzibar, Nairobi, Kampala, Mozambique, and the districts of Tanganyika. He had the knack of appeasing quarrels, and dispelled the differences between the members of the Dar-es-Salaam Council with the other jamats. He also visited Tabora, Ujiji, Belgium Congo and Lisbon with four members of the Council and returned to Bombay in September 1931.

He was an orator of a high order with impressive and persuasive styles. He gained immense fame in Bombay, where he was invited several times in different Jamatkhanas. He wielded great influence over the entire community so much that the Jamatkhanas were always full when he delivered a waez. Once he went to the main Jamatkhana of Bombay to perform a waez, where it bewildered him to see a heavy rush of the people. When he reached the stairs, the volunteers on duty who did not know him, stopped him and said, “You cannot go up because the house is full.” The volunteers regretted and saluted him when someone pointed out that he himself was Missionary Alibhai Nanji.

Alibhai Nanji came to Manavadar in October 1931, where his second wife died in 1932. His mother also passed away three months after his wife’s demise on March 28, 1932. His third marriage with Sonbai alias Shireenbai, the daughter of Rawjibhai Hashim was solemnized on February 22, 1933.

The Imam deputed Pir Sabzali several times to reconcile the internal problems of the jamats in Punjab and in the Frontier. Since Pir Sabzali was touring East Africa, the Imam sent Alibhai Nanji to Punjab and to the Frontier as his Special Commissioner. He debuted his visit on July 11, 1937 with his assistant, Missionary Amir Ali Khuda Baksh Talib. He conveyed the Imam’s message, warded off differences, and restored peace. He sent its report to the Imam, who graciously graced him his best loving blessings through a message to the Recreation Club Institute. Pir Sabzali was so pleased with his noble work that he sent him special words of compliment from Zanzibar.

Meanwhile, the health of his third wife Shireenbai deteriorated due to stomach pains. She was taken to Rajkot for treatment, where she died on January 3, 1946.

During the partition of India in August 1947, he was on duty in Karachi, hence decided to settle down in Pakistan. He was appointed in the newly formed Ismailia Association for Pakistan in 1948. He made extensive trips to Sind and Punjab to perform waez.

He also started Mission Classes in Karachi, Hyderabad, Tando Muhammad Khan, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Larkhana, Sultanabad, and Dadu. His contribution was significant in training new missionaries in Pakistan. The Ismailia Association for Pakistan sent its report to the Imam, to which he responded:

June 2, 1955
My dear President & Members:

I send my best paternal maternal blessings to all my beloved spiritual children who attended the Mission Assembly for their service, and to all teachers and students, assembled on this occasion.

I give my best loving blessings to the following missionaries for their devoted services:

Missionary Alibhai Nanji
Alijah Mukhi Ghulamhoosain Hashim
Missionary Rahimtullah
Missionary Jan Mahomed
Missionary Mohomed Jagan

Alibhai Nanji was also deputed in Goa, Bombay, Calcutta, Colombo, etc. He visited Dacca on October 19, 1955 on waez duty. He also traveled to Narayanganj, Barisal, Khulna, Jessore, and Chittagong. In conclusion, it was an informative tour, which was covered in “Paigham” on December 15, 1955, pp. 14-16.

Alibhai Nanji was also deputed in Goa, Bombay, Calcutta, Colombo, etc. He visited Dacca on October 19, 1955 on waez duty. He also traveled to Narayanganj, Barisal, Khulna, Jessore, and Chittagong. In conclusion, it was an informative tour, which was covered in on December 15, 1955, pp. 14-16.

Due to his talent, ability, and invaluable services, he was granted the title of Alijah. He possessed not only oratorical skill, but was also an adroit writer, and compiled many useful write-up and books. His famous book is “Chirag-i Siratal Mustaqim.” (1947). With the help of Missionary Hamir Lakha, he also published the biography of Varas Moledina Megji (1854-1926) of Kutchh, entitled “Smurti Zankar” in Karachi in 1961. He also compiled four books, which remained unpublished. He is ranked amongst the men of most deep knowledge, quality that was demonstrated through his literary works.

He submitted his retirement letter to the Ismailia Association for Pakistan on February 16, 1965 due a decrease in his vision and hearing, and assured his co-members to continue to concentrate his efforts in the study of ginans at home. Wazir Ghulam Hyder Bandali (1905-1986), the President sent a report on February 26, 1965 to the Imam including his letter explaining his reasons for retiring.

He passed the rest of his life in Hyderabad. The Imam made a gracious visit of Hyderabad on December 21, 1964. While the mehmani ceremony, he drenched in thoughts, “The Imam is now young. Will he recognize me?” When his turn came, the Imam said to Mukhi Hasan Ali Varas Karim, “Look Mukhi that old man is my Missionary. He has served my grandfather for many years.” The Imam also blessed him and said, “Your material world and your world hereafter have been prospered. I am the Lord of hereafter.”

Missionary Alijah Alibhai Nanji rose to the summit of greatness due to his missionary skills. An eloquent speaker and a trenchant writer, gentle and alert in appearance, thoughtful and cultured, known equally for his devotion, service, courage, sympathy, and insight, he enjoyed the immense love and affection of the Ismaili world.

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