Missionary Ibrahim Jusab Varteji

Period: (1878-1953)

Mukhi Muhammad, surnamed Bhojani was famous for his piety and generosity in Kathiawar and was the head of the Vartej village, about 5 miles from Bhavnagar on behalf of the Bhavanagar State. He was also the Mukhi of Vartej Jamatkhana and played significant role in its construction. He and his family members are also known as the Bhojani family. Imam Hasan Ali Shah had visited Bhavnagar and was highly impressed with his devoted services. His son Jusab also served the Vartej jamat and donated a piece of land to extend the premises of the Jamatkhana.

Jusab had a son, called Ibrahim, known as Ibrahim Jusab Varteji. He was born in 1878 in Vartej, where he took his formal education. He would be unwilling to go to school. When he was in the third class, he once hid himself in the Jamatkhana instead of going to the school. When it was complained to his family, he tried to run away, but tumbled down at first floor, resulting an injury in his head. Between the year 1886 and 1892, when he was in the 7th class, he found the rousing influence of the Twelvers tenaciously in his village. He liked to read their periodicals, especially the monthly paper, “Raha-i Najat” edited by Haji Ghulam Ismail. He also learnt the Koran from Maulvi Najaf Ali of Bombay. He was so impressed with the creed of the Twelvers that he began to attend their majalis with his friends. He would often play truant in company with others of same mind, laughing and teasing when they saw Bhagat Devraj, Kamadia Nasir or Kamadia Jethabhai, who visited Vartej.

Ibrahim Jusab Varteji learnt Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Gujrati and devoted his services for the Twelvers. He started to write different articles in “Raha-i Najat” and “Rafiq al-Mominin.” He was also blessed with poetic faculty, and composed many poems, which appeared in the monthly “Bahar-i Majalis” edited by Munshi Masum Ali in Mahuwa.

In 1893, Ibrahim Jusab Varteji joined a local school as a teacher for Rs. 5/- per month. He also started to learn English for two years. Then, he was employed as a mu’allim in the Shiite school for two months and earned much reputation. In 1895, he married a lady of the Twelvers. In the meantime, he came into the contact of a police superintendent, called Temulji, who appointed him in a police department.

Once he was invited in Chamardi to inaugurate the first mosque in the village, where he presented his poem before the audience and won the hearts of the Twelvers. In 1899, he visited Bombay with Ghulam Hussain Pirbhai and met a certain Kassim Nanji, who employed him in The Padamabai School with the salary of Rs. 20/- per month when he was 21 years old.

He had been in Bombay between 1899 and 1906. He came into the contact of Nazar Ali Hasan, the elder son of his uncle, Hasan Muhammad, known as Mukhi Hasan. Nazar Ali had also a leaning towards the Twelvers, then abandoned it, and studied the vedic literature. On the other hand, Varteji became the head master of the school, and tried to attract the Ismaili students towards the creeds of the Twelvers. He was known here as a Qavi Master (poet teacher) for composing many poems.

Seth Vali Muhammad Pir Muhammad, the famous merchant of glassware, invited him in the Mulbai Pirbhai Haji Charitable Dispensary, built in the memory of his sister, called Mulbai at Pala Gali, Khadak, Bombay, which was visited by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. Varteji was offered to present his poem on May 29, 1900. Varteji was facing a delimma, since he did not like to displease the Twelvers, and also wanted to glorify the Imam through his poem. He, therefore composed his poem into Persian, not in Gujrati. When the Imam arrived in the dispensary, he lyrically expressed following quatrain, and none in the audience could understand except Imam Sultan Mohammed Shah :-

Imruz khurshid azkuja tuluashud,
ajugast dil’e gul afzud khushnud.
Rawnaq-i haza shafakhana i’n sabab ast,
ke amdast chu’n shah sultan Muhammad.
Where did the sun (of happiness) rise today, drenching our flowery hearts with treasure of joy? Yes, the beauty of this dispensary is an advent of Shah Sultan Muhammad.” The Imam asked, “Who composed it?” To this, Seth Ahmad Devji (1859-1925) introduced him as a school teacher. The Imam told to bring him at his bungalow. Varteji found a harsh agitation in the circle of the Twelvers when the meaning of above quatrain was revealed to them. The negative reaction was so violent that he could not go to see the Imam as per the advice of Kassim Nanji.

Where did the sun (of happiness) rise today, drenching our flowery hearts with treasure of joy? Yes, the beauty of this dispensary is an advent of Shah Sultan Muhammad.” The Imam asked, “Who composed it?” To this, Seth Ahmad Devji (1859-1925) introduced him as a school teacher. The Imam told to bring him at his bungalow. Varteji found a harsh agitation in the circle of the Twelvers when the meaning of above quatrain was revealed to them. The negative reaction was so violent that he could not go to see the Imam as per the advice of Kassim Nanji.

Imam Sultan Mohammed Shah departed for Burma on June 1, 1900. The Ismaili leaders came at the Bori Bunder Station to bid farewell to the Imam. Seth Vali Muhammad Pir Muhammad transcribed the above Persian quatrain in Urdu letters with golden ink, and decorated into a frame, desiring to present it to the Imam at the station, and also took Varteji with him. Seth Vali Muhammad managed to present Varteji before the Imam, who was with the leaders out of his saloon. Varteji took the frame with its front side facing his breast and before he spoke anything, the Imam said, “Is it the same quatrain you have recited in the dispensary?” He replied affirmatively with utter surprise. He presented and lowered down and touched the feet of the Imam. The Imam said, “Put it into the saloon.” Varteji placed it and came out in twinkle of eyes. He once again bowed his head in reverence, wondering, how the Imam traced the Persian quatrain without looking its front side? This was the first occasion that cultivated a revolution in his mind.

Ibrahim Jusab Varteji frequented his meeting on every evening with Seth Vali Muhammad and discussed on Vedic and Sufic teachings. With the desire of Kassim Nanji, he began to compile his poetic work, “Hyder Hullas,” based simply on religious thoughts. He also quoted some Sufic verses and resolved to publish as “Vali Villas.” Meanwhile, he contacted to Wazir Mukhi Virji Premji Parpiya (1881-1946), who was well rooted in Sufism. This was his historical meeting and in its memory, he advertised in his book, “Hyder Hullas” that he would soon publish verses relating to the Vedic and Sufic thoughts with the pen-name, Prem Vali.

Seth Jan Muhammad Devji also arranged his meeting with Sir Karim Ibrahim (1840-1924), who offered to purchase 100 copies of “Hyder Hullas” and he also met Fazal Visram, who assured to extend his cooperation.

In Bombay, Varteji had an opportunity to see many eminent individuals -. Alarakhia Shivji Manek, Vali Muhammad, Jaffer Ranmal and Nawab Mosin al-Mulk etc. He also met the followers of Bahai religion, notably Mirza Maheram.

In 1907, he returned to his village, Vartej and joined Harji Jamal School as a head master for Rs. 14/- per month. He also repaired for Ahmadabad and came into the contact of Sayed Bakir Mihan, Jilani Mihan, Nizamuddin A. Quraishi, Maulvi Nizamuddin, Nanamihan Rasul, Sayed Sajjad Hussain, the friend of Moloo Kanji and Haji Naji. He stayed two months in Ahmadabad with his elder brother, Nazar Ali Jusab. When he returned to Vartej, a change further twisted in his religious thought and began to avoid the majalis of the Twelvers. He joined as a head master in Harjibhai Jamal Charitable School at Bhavnagar with a salary of Rs. 20/- per month. He however continued to generate his contact with the Twelvers and the Hindus and participated in their deliberations.

Henceforth, his mind crowded on the issues of the doctrine of the hidden Imam and the practice of tabara, and the pendulum began to swing on the reverse side. Meanwhile, a certain tourist, called Fariduddin offered to convince him on the tabara system. He discussed with him for three hours and came to the conclusion that, “No religion exhorts to revile a person. Islam holds superiority over all the religions. How Islam will allow it?” He began to be hated among the Twelvers by now onwards.

On one day he passed through a road, facing the shrine of Shela Shah Pir and accidentally collided with a galloping horse. He tumbled down and his head collided with the stones and fainted. It caused a bleeding in his left ear. The people took him to the state hospital. On third day, he found a police constable with a boy, his parents and brothers around his bed. He was asked, “Did this boy collide you with his horse?” He thought that he was on the verge of death, he refrained from making the boy responsible. He was forced to recognize the boy, but he said that he knew nothing. The police relieved the boy, and he recovered his heath within 15 days.

Eventually, in pursuit of a true path, Varteji came to a final conclusion that the Ismailism was the true path of Islam. He repented for reviling the Ismaili faith in past. Meanwhile, an Ismaili of Bhavnagar, called Daud came from Zanzibar. Whirled in worries, he revealed his desire to embrace Ismailism and asked, whether the Ismailis would accept him. Daud assured him, “It is the special farman of the Aga Khan that his doors are open for all. One who intends to enter, he can do. One who wants to get out, he can do so.”

It was however decided to keep this matter a secret, and Daud assured him to find a best solution. In Bhavnagar, his request to join Ismailism was declined. Daud also could not gain favour from the Ismaili leaders, and on the contrary, a certain Ismaili beat him. Daud feared too much, and returned back to Zanzibar before schedule.

In 1914, Varteji came to Bombay at the age of 35 years. With the assistance of Balubhai, the manager of the Bombay Provincial Bank, he joined the bank as a clerk. He tried his approaches to embrace Ismailism, but failed. At length, he wrote an application and mailed it to the Ismaili Council with following opening verse:-

Dhayo sagala dharam’ma guru’ni karva got,
Ismaili’ma akhar’e jadi khudai jayot.
“Roamed in all religions in search of Lord.
Ultimately found Divine Light in Ismailism”

Haji Ahmad Devaji, the President of the Ismaili Council accepted his application at the end of 1914. Varteji writes in his “Vedic Islam” (p. 4) that, “In my Mukhi family, my grandfather Mukhi Muhammad had an opportunity to serve Imam Hasan Ali Shah when he visited Bhavnagar, and used his influences exceedingly for the service and earned blessings. As a significant mark, I now inherited alone the service of the Ahl al- Bayt from my Bhojani family and the family of the Mukhi.”

“Roamed in all religions in search of Lord.Ultimately found Divine Light in Ismailism”
His father’s sister, Ladubai of Vartej, residing in Kandi Mola, Bombay, rejoiced immensely for his reverting to the Ismaili fold. She invited him at her house and congratulated with sweets and said, “Son, you have received the rewards of the services rendered by your grandfather, Mukhi Muhammad to Imam Hasan Ali Shah.”

He joined Khoja Panjibhai Club in Kandi Mola Jamatkhana at first, where Kamadia Manjibhai Ghulam Hussain hailed him. It was a major decision in his life, but he cared for nothing. The leaders of the Twelvers offered him all means and materials he needed, which he declined.

On the next week, he met the Ismaili writers like Wazir Mukhi Virji Premji Parpiya, Kassim Ali Ladha Lakhamsi, Suleman Ibrahim, etc. He was offered to become the editor of “Ismaili Sitaro,” but he showed his unability and continued to work in the bank.

Seth Manji Ghulam Hussain Padamsi presented him the Ismaili literature. He also met Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, who applauded his bold decision. Kassim Ali Ladha gave him a copy of the farman, “Bahr-i Rahmat” into Khojki.

On the auspicious occasion of the Salgirah of the Imam, the Khoja Panjibhai Club celebrated a dinner party under the Presidentship of Alijah Juma Sharif (d. 1919) at Chopati on September 19, 1914. Ibrahim Jusab Varteji was also given a special invitation, where he presented his first poem oriented in Ismailism and won admirations in the audience.

Soon afterwards, he left his job with the Bombay Provincial Bank and worked with Ismail Jivraj of Mombasa in a shop which he left within a year. With the kind cooperation of Ismail Ibrahim Ukka (d. 1927) and the humble offer of President Haji Ahmad Devaji and Hon. Secretary Dr. Rajab Ali Ramji Lakhdhir and Manji Ghulam Hussain Padamsi, he was employed in the Shia Imami Ismailia Council in Bombay as a clerk.

He was gifted with vivid intellect with conspicuous literary talent. His literary career emerged when he became an honorary editor of the “Ismaili Sitaro” in November 9, 1914. He published the transliteration and translation of the mathnawi of Maulana Rumi in Gujrati in “Ismaili Sitaro” in 1915. He also gave his services as an honorary editor of the fortnightly paper, “Khoja Reformer”. He was the editor of two journals at a time, and became a popular figure among the Ismailis. He also became an Hon. Secretary of The Ismaili Literature Society in 1915 with Ali Muhammad Nassurbhoy as the President.

On Friday, January 22, 1915, Imam Sultan Mohammed Shah arrived in Bombay from Europe, and took a visit of the Ismaili library on March 24, 1915, where Varteji presented a Persian poem before the Imam and earned best loving blessings. He also joined the Recreation Club Institute as a missionary.

Pandit Radhakrishna, the ring leader of the Arya Samaj asked 25 questions to the Ismailis and circulated them through pamphlets in English and Gujrati in the year 1913. These questions were not responded by any Ismaili writer. In 1916, Varteji replied him with irrefutable arguments in his book, entitled “Aftab-i Haqiqat.” Seth Jaffer Sher Muhammad assisted him in its publication. The Ismailia Sahitiya Utejak Mandal honoured him a reception and awarded a gold ring and watch.

He also maintained close contact with Mukhtar Nanji, A.J. Chunara, Mirza Muhammad Jairaj, Rajab Ali Kassim Mevawala, Rajab Ali Khimji, Juma Muhammad Damania, Kurban Alibhai Jivraj, etc.

On January 4, 1917, Varteji was to have a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) at Bombay, in which he boldly told that he was on the right path. According to the reports of the newspapers, he produced evidences to Gandhi, who said,

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