Maalim Kassamali Abdulrasul Chandoo
Obituary Marhum Hassan Ali M Jaffer of Mombasa (Kenya)
A teacher is known for the footprint left behind. This extraordinary footprint is sometimes in the mind. Rarely is it made on the soul. I had the privilege to know Marhum Maalim Kassamali Chandoo. As a tribute to his memory, I wish to recall two incidents.
In 1997, while on a visit to Qom with my four grandchildren from the USA and Canada, we went over to see Maalim at his residence in Qom. When he learned that we had earlier been for Umrah before coming to Iran, he asked the boys to explain what ‘Saee’ – running between Safa and Marva seven times – was about. The boys explained that it was in remembrance of Bibi Hajrah as she ran around in search of water for her son Ismail that the ritual of ‘Saee’ has become an obligatory part of the Haj and Umrah ritual. The word ‘Saee’ in Arabic means to strive. “So what is so great about it?” asked Maalim. “As kids, have you never woken up your mothers in the middle of the night asking for water? And have not your mothers patiently got out of their beds to fetch water for you? Is it not natural for any mother to comfort her child? Confronted with a similar situation like that of Bibi Hajrah, would not your mothers have also gone through a similar experience? What is the difference? Why has Allah immortalized only the act of the mother of Hazrat Ismail as part of the Hajj ritual?” As we stared at Maalim looking perplexed at this line of questioning, he proceeded to unravel the puzzle. ‘When Hazrat Ebrahim told Bibi Hajrah that he had to go, leaving her and the baby Ismail in Mecca, as a mother, she naturally remonstrated. She asked Hazrat Ebrahim whether the decision to leave them alone in Mecca, a barren place with no vegetation, was his own or was it in response to the command from Allah [SWT]. When told that he was following Allah’s command, Bibi Hajrah gracefully accepted the verdict, reposing full faith in Allah.
‘It was in recognition of her trust in Allah in the spirit of tawakkal ‘alallah and her graceful acceptance of the decision of Hazrat Ebrahim to depart from Mecca leaving them behind that her subsequent struggle in search of water has been immortalized as part of the Haj ritual.’ Maalim Kassamali then went on to elaborate on aspects of our belief in Tawhid and engaged the children in a healthy interactive discussion on a variety of subjects. After about two hour of sitting, when we started departing from the place, one of the boys whispered into my ears: “Bapa, can you ask him to come to New York and be our Madrassa teacher?” I conveyed the sentiments to Maalim. His response was: ‘Al insanu yudabbiru, wallahu yuqaddiru’ – Man proposes, Allah disposes.
Another incident I vividly recall was in June 1993 / Muharram 1413 A.H., when Maalim Kassamali was invited by the Mombasa Jamaat to deliver Majlis in English. He was allotted 20 minutes for his talk in English, followed by Majlis in Urdu by the local resident Alim. According to Sheikh Fazleabbas Datoo, then CEO of the Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya and now Resident Alim of Portsmouth Jamaat in Britain, Maalim Kassamali would come to Bilal Muslim Mission Office in day time. He would engage in conversation with local Bilal Muballighs and others coming from Bilal Centers in rural areas. He was keen to hear about their personal experiences in their fieldwork. As a Zanzibari, Maalim Kassamali was fluent in Kiswahili. With his characteristic warmth and motivating words of encouragement conveyed in classic Zanzibari-style politeness, Maalim Kassamali became very popular with local workers. He also visited the Alibhai Panju Jaffery Primary School where he addressed students in a special assembly.
On Saturdays and Sundays, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon, he would conduct classes at the Bilal Assembly Hall for the Primary and Secondary class students. His theme for discussions with the students would be “lessons from Quran” – focusing on moral lessons and good manners. As a teacher, he believed in practising what he taught. According to reports from Dar es Salaam, when he was teaching at the Al Muntazir School, he was often seen picking up pieces of paper and wrappings thrown around and depositing them in the litter bins. In the spirit of actions speaking louder than words; he was thus imparting subtle lessons to students without uttering a word.
Word of Caution
Someone from outside Mombasa wrote to my late father cautioning him about the beliefs of Maalim Kassamali. My father listened to all his English Majlis and wrote back to the erstwhile gentleman advising him that he found nothing objectionable in the beliefs and teachings of Maalim Kassamali since all through he espoused the understanding in Tawhid and the need for living a model life as a truly practising Muslim. Reproduced below are notes of one of his Majlis in English targeting especially the younger generation which will help provide some flavour of his approach.
Before his departure from Mombasa after the twelve days of Muharram, my father invited Maalim Kassamali to settle in Mombasa and join the Bilal Muslim Mission team. “To do what?” asked Maalim. “No fixed duty for you. Just to be part of the team. Meet visitors coming to Bilal Office. Help answer questions from students undertaking Islamic correspondence courses. Visit Bilal Centers in the outlying area and interact with local people.” My father felt that his basic humility and the husne akhlaq refinement with which he interacted with people would be an asset to the Mission for effective Tabligh work.
Here one is reminded of a historic anecdote when an individual approached Imam Jaffer Sadiq A.S., to ask: ‘Who is a true Shia, a true muhib and follower of the Ahlul Bait?’ The answer given by the Imam was unique. ‘One,’ responded the Imam, ‘when he walks in the streets, his sworn enemy would point a finger at him and say: ‘There goes a perfect gentleman with no fault whatsoever, except one. He is not one of us but he is a true Shia and follower of the Imam.’ As individuals the challenge for every believer is to strive to elevate to a level where one becomes the object of envy by others for his/her good conduct and noble character.
Late Maalim Kassamali Chandoo epitomized such a noble soul. He left an indelible footprint on many souls he came across. May Allah in His mercy rest the departed soul in peace and place marhum in a high abode in jaware Ahlul Bait A.S.
May Allah SWT repose the departed soul in the abundance of His mercy and rest him amongst the chosen ones – Ameen. We request our readers to remember marhum and all the Marhumeen with Sura-e-Fateha.