How important is our “Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Muslim” identity to us?

By Dr Sibtain Panjwani

For me it is important to maintain our identity and develop it further. Today, we live in a diverse world with multiple identities and our personality emerges from these identities. We are enriched by it. Diversity in creation and in every aspect of our existence is a fact; it provides richness and movement towards progress. Diversity also brings conflict but we have to accept that conflict is not the destiny as all conflicts eventually end. They end either by way of exhaustion or the costs become too high to bear. The biggest challenge, however, for any human society is to manage this diversity for a greater common good through multiple identities.

For their time, our grandfathers and great grandfathers were more far sighted than we give them credit for when they gave us our identity. They understood the concept of multiple identities so well and gave it to us as “Khoja Shi’a Ithna Ashari Muslims.” “Khoja” is our cultural identity. “Shi’a Ithna Ashari” is also our identity because we follow the values and practices of the Twelve Shi’a Imams. Finally, we have an overall “Muslim” Identity because we are fundamentally submitters to His will and united with the rest of the Muslim ummah. We have lived with this core tripartite identity for more then 100 years and developed it further as the world became more globalised and pluralised. Perhaps the best example currently is our acceptance of being another nationality such as being British, American or so on but without being totally subservient to it.

It is worthwhile to remind ourselves of the following three points by Marhum Mulla Asgherali M M Jaffer which elucidate the philosophy behind our identity (World Federation Concept Paper 1990):

  1. In our globalised world, Muslims of Shi’a Faith have no alternative but to organise themselves into small groups based on their ethnicity or geographic origins for the sake of good understanding, peaceful co-existence and efficiency.
  1. In our globalised world, it is impossible for any one person or institutions to serve the whole Ummah. To volunteer to serve part of the Ummah based on a group carved out of the Ummah of a certain specification is a viable and effective solution.
  1. The only un-Islamic or anti-Islamic action would be to consider oneself superior to others. What is condemned is the feeling of superiority or of being more honourable than the others. It is in that context that the verse from Surat al-Hujurat declared, “O you men! surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honourable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful (of his duty); surely Allah is Knowing, Aware” (49.13).

By providing this tripartite core identity to each one of us, it has also given meaning and purpose far greater than to only serve our own community. One may also refer to the words spoken by Mullah Hussein Alarakhia Rahim (M.B.E.), then a senior councillor of the Africa Federation, when welcoming the delegates to the World Federation Constitutional Conference on 15thOctober 1976: “…let everyone be assured that the services of this Federation shall remain open to every individual adherents to the Shia Ithna asheri Faith without distinction of race, colour or nationality.”

As Mulla Asgherali M M Jaffer so aptly puts it: “…our tryst with destiny seem to be that of service in all relevant field – not only to members of our community alone but also to the general and wider Islamic cause.” (‘His reflection on the community’ published in 2006)

Personalities such as Mulla Asgherlai M M Jaffer and others like Mohammedali Jinnah who was instrumental in the creation of Pakistan and Haji Naji who produced one of the first translations of the Noble Qur’an in Gujarati are primary pioneers amongst many who changed human society in their time for the better. They were “Khoja Shi’a Ithna Ashari Muslims.”

I want to make this fundamental point that in our community, these basic points of identity have contributed to our growth and continue to do so. However, when we are faced with internal and external social and moral challenges as we face today, then we must redefine our basic foundations which underpin our tripartite identity. What are these enduring foundations and how can they help us evolve our identity to meet such challenges? In my humble estimation, there are three:MadrasahMimbar & Family.

It seems to me that when internal or external challenges face the KSIM community, these three institutions are evoked with a view of either saving them, helping them or simply thinking about them. I wonder though, have we gone so far as to redefining them for the next generation? And why should these three institutions be cited as the enduring foundations for the KSIM community? (for detailed analysis please refer to my paper titled ‘Awakening the Spirit of Enquiry: The Future of the Khoja Shi’a Ithna Asheri Muslim Community’ – A Discussion Paper .

With this view in mind, I started ‘The Awakening Project’ in 2011. Can I encourage you to view the following short video entitled:  Awakening Project: How about giving a helping hand?

The video is only 6 minutes long and outlines the progress of the Awakening Project so far. If you believe that this is the right foundational project for the community then please do assist by sending this link to your family members, colleagues and friends in our community and begin the discussion amongst yourselves so as to raise awareness of the challenges we face and what we as a community can do to overcome these challenges!

About the author

Dr. Sibtain Panjwani is a Dental Surgeon by Profession with a special interest in Medical Law and Ethics having obtained an MA from King’s College London and a PhD in Law at the University of Essex.

He regularly gives lectures at various institutes and takes interest in writing articles and conference papers on subjects ranging from law and religion to ethics and community affairs.

He held the position of the Secretary General of The World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities from 1996 – 2003.

The Awakening Project was created by Dr. Sibtain Panjwani, a project that seeks participation and reform from community members themselves – madrasah teachers, professionals, volunteers, scholars, laymen and laywomen, youths, the elderly and all those interested in meeting current and future social, spiritual, ethical and cultural challenges.

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