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A two-part series by Shan E Abbas Hassam on The World Federation Office Bearer trip to Iraq in July 2017.
Read his reflections on visiting the shrines of our beloved Ahlul Bayt, meeting our Marjae in Najaf al Ashraf and seeing up close the wonderful work of the organisation.
Najaf: A place of inner peace
We checked into the Musafarkhana in Najaf and were warmly welcome by Abul Fazal Najafi, the manager. His warm smile coupled with the awesome food made us feel right at home. I would really recommend it to all Zawar. Visiting the Haram in Najaf has a really special feeling. A feeling of calm, happiness and being at home entered my heart. I had a big smile as I entered the Haram!
Mahmood and I then set off for the Khoja Hawza, which is sponsored by a Khoja family from Madagascar. I was taken aback by the different nationalities: students from Thailand, India, Madagascar, Congo, Comoros, Indonesia, Vietnam, Seychelles etc. and each could speak Arabic well after their first year. It dawned upon me that the Tableegh potential would be immense. Imagine if they went back from Najaf and propagated the Shia Mahab – the effect would be incredible.
Mahmood and I talked about working together in Haiti and other parts of the world, and in the evening spent time at the shrine. Some team members visited Masjid Kufa for Namaze Shab and Fajr.
Najaf: Visiting 4 Marjae in 24 hours
Ayatollah spoke in Urdu so we had no need for translation and we updated him on The World Federation’s work. For a report on this meeting please click here .
He focussed heavily on instilling Tarbiyah in our children and spoke generally about character development and the importance this would have for all our communities and society. He was very pleased by the work of the Khoja community and discussed some of the challenges we face. As he spoke passionately, tears welled up in our eyes.
Next morning we met Marja Taqleed – Ayatollah Sayyid Sistani – may Allah (swt) grant him greater Tawfeeq and lengthen his life. It was my fifth meeting with Ayatollah Sistani and my second as Secretary General. We were all very excited: this was to be the highlight of our trip.
We were shown into the room where the blessed Ayatollah was waiting for us. As people sat down, it just happened that I was seated directly on his right and it was a huge honour to be only inches away from him. Our discussions covered many topics: leadership, social vices, the ability to work with other communities and faiths, and WF’s leadership role in the Shia world.
For a report on our visit to Sayyid Sistani please click here .
Within minutes he impressed upon us that the values set out by the founder of The World Federation – Marhum Mulla Asghar MM Jaffer – were critical for the longevity of our community. He (and every Marja we met) praised the wonderful, progressive role played by the Khoja community in the Shia world – not only through financial support but also through our activities, our organisational skills and the benefit we add to humanity at large.
When the Marja who has hundreds of millions of Muqalids singles out the work of our community and the work of The World Federation as being of great calibre, we feel a sense of immense pride! It is also a reminder of the immense responsibility we have. Being Secretary General of this organisation is a huge obligation – and one I never take lightly.
Ayatollah Sistani was aware of the recent spread of messages within the Khoja Community and was at pains to explain the wrongs of character assassinations and “tomah” on individuals.
Back at the hotel we asked Sheikh Safder for a de-brief. We were very eager to understand the detail of Agha’s responses and his guidance to us on several “burning” issues. His responses amazed us. His detailed understanding of our community, of our challenges (especially in the West) and his advice to us as leaders was simply stunning. He spoke about the importance of discussing issues and condemned any character assassinations and unnecessary controversial messages. What amazed me most was the detail he went into on each topic and the clarity of his comments.
After Zohr we met Ayatollah Ishaq Fayyadh. Sitting comfortably at his desk, he discussed issues including important advice to parents in bringing up their children, avoidance of hypocrisy in the community (Nifaq) and his humanitarian work worldwide, including in Afghanistan (where we have had some joint projects). In particular, he discussed the importance of the Hawza in Najaf – a Hawza established by Sheik Tusi (circa 1,000 years ago). He recalled how this Hawza has produced some of our greatest scholars – Sheikh Ansari, Ayatollah Mohsin Al Hakim, Ayatollah Khoei and Ayatollah Mohamed Baqir As Sadr to name just a few! I myself recall how much systematic oppression was placed on the Hawza in Najaf from the time of British rule to the time of Saddam.
You can read my talk on this subject at KSIMC of Birmingham here.
Ayatollah said it would be wonderful if the Khoja community could send more students to Najaf, and the Islamic Education team has taken some steps to encourage this (including beginning Shahriya support for students in Najaf). He also mentioned that he had gifted The World Federation a lot of land in Najaf to help the Hawza. As we had just taken the helm, we asked for some time to review.
This was my first meeting with Ayatollah Saeed Al Hakim but I had read a lot about him and his family’s immense contribution to the Shia world and in particular to Iraq. He is the grand-nephew of Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al Hakim. A large number of the Hakim family were killed by Saddam and have been through unimaginable oppression.
Ayatollah praised the work of the Khoja community and remembered the role in Basra of Marhum Jetha, a well-liked and strong representative of the acumen of our community. It was remarkable to see how strong (despite his age) his memory was and how incisive his points were – so much so that he asked for a particular footnote in a particular volume of a particular book to be translated to us in support of his comments.
This was a very interactive session and I not only asked questions but thanked him for the excellent support given to The World Federation by Hakim Foundation. I briefed him on our recent visit to Lebanon where we met his son Sayyid Haider Al Hakim and other Foundation leaders in Beirut. His Eminence was clear on the need for humanitarian co-operation in the critical situation in Syria. He ended by commenting on the dynamism of our youth leadership team and prayed for our Tawfeeq.
In short, the trip to Iraq was wonderful – we visited 6 Imams in 72 hours and had 4 tremendous meetings with Marjae in 24 hours!
Without exaggeration, entering into dialogue with them even via translators and to receive precise, clear answers and guidance as well as observe their unbelievable humility was overwhelming.
His Eminence Saeed Al Hakim spoke about the importance of humility in leaders in detail (citing the example of Imam Raza (AS)). Furthermore, all the Marjae explained that the work of our community was of great importance to the Shia community and humanity. It drove home how important our institutions are and the huge responsibility we have as leaders to maintain this excellent reputation and to take forward our organisations whilst maintaining their values.
We managed to view much of the aid work we are doing in Iraq and Lebanon, as well as have time for spiritual upliftment through the important Ziyarats of Karbala, Samarra, Kadhmain and Najaf.
We thank all those who made this trip possible and we hope to organise more trips where we can invite more volunteers to see the benefit of their hard work!