A Discussion Forum themed The Evolution of Mindset was held on Sunday 3rd May 2015, on the following day after the conclusion of the 76th AFED Supreme Council Session in Mombasa, Kenya. The Speakers at the Forum were Alhaj Hassan Jaffer of Mombasa who presented a paper on “Case for Survival – Reality Check. Due to time constraint, the second paper titled “AFED’s Strategic Development & Sustainability” by Alhaj Shabir Najafi, Vice Chairman of Africa Federation could not be presented for discussion. The Forum was moderated ably by Br. Tehsin Takim of Dar-es-Salaam.
Alhaj Shabir Najafi in his Paper was to cover on the rationale in regards to the establishment of Africa Federation in 1946 and its evolution. The paper would delve on various crisis that had unfolded in several countries in Africa, and how Africa Federation and the community collectively faced the challenges, trials and tribulation caused by these upheavals. The paper highlights on the need to bring about changes to our Institutions to be well prepared to face the current and future challenges which are becoming more complex in their nature. This paper was distributed to the audience for their information.
Alhaj Hassan Jaffer’s presentation touched on the issue of the growing interest in the Khoja Community and the increasing focus by western scholars on the KSI Community. He also talked on the challenges that our Community faces and how important it is for us to change our mindset. He said that the way forward is to identify issues that call for attention and appoint independent “Think Tank Groups” to review and make recommendations.
Discussion Paper by Alhaj Hassan Jaffer:
The Evolution of Mindset
Case for Survival – A Reality check
Presented by: Hassan Ali M. Jaffer
AFED discussion forum, May 03, 2015
Theme for this discussion forum today, as outlined by the Secretariat is: “The Evolution of Mindset”
It has been left to the presenters to pick on the specifics and generate discussions on related issues.
I have therefore chosen to make some observations on: “Case for Survival – A Reality check.”
In the spirit of ‘Bainal ahbab, taskutul aadaab’ – between brothers there is no need for false modesty or politics – I will make some introductory comments to help generate candid and open conversation where all those present here can join in with their input with equal openness.
While primary objective of this forum is to focus our immediate attention on issues affecting the community in Africa and in the Indian Ocean Islands of Madagascar, Mauritius and Re-Union, we all recognize that we are part of an extended global family numbering less than 150,000 heads dispersed in 40+ countries as nationals of 20+ States. In our approach, our outlook therefore will have to be correspondingly global.
To carry this conversation forward, let us first try to establish some basic ground realities.
Looking at the theme of this forum, would it be appropriate to say that in our outlook and approach we are in many ways still operating with a mindset that has hardly changed? Dare I presume that the need for change is now recognized?
Current combined community population in Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands is estimated at 23,000 scattered in 9 countries and functioning in 43 Jamaats.
In addition to this there are several individuals domiciled in other African countries where they are not in good number to establish local Jamaats. Latest estimates indicate a decline of 6,000 from earlier estimates some ten years back.
Let us have a look at the areas under AFED and ask ourselves: what are the demographic structures and the age wise breakdown of the individual Jamaats?
Twenty years from today, what is likely to be the remaining community population in Africa in say, 2035 and again in 2050?
Have individual Jamaat carried out any proper analytical census, survey and projections in this respect?
How do the leaderships at local Jamaat levels and at the regional and global levels base their assessments to form opinions and formulate plans? Without basic facts at our finger tips, how do we develop vision?
What are the priorities issues confronting us today that call for attention?
- To answer this, we first need to recognize: How and why we emerged as a distinct community some 150 years ago?
- Essentially it was for the freedom to practice the faith of our choice.
- To achieve this objective, the community therefore was obliged to evolve as an alternative KSI Muslim community.
- It will be recognized that prior to the emergence of the Gujarati and Cutchi speaking Khoja community, there have been Kashmiri, Punjabi and Sindi Khoja. While the Kashmiri and the Punjabi Khoja could assimilate with the larger Shia communities in their environs, the Sindi and Gujarati/Cutchi speaking Khoja had no relative supportive environments to be absorbed in. By the very nature of the cultural taboos and the developments taking place then that led to split in families on doctrinal grounds, they were obliged to emerge as a distinct alternative community in order to survive as practicing Shia Ithna-Asheri community.
- Preservation of our distinct ethnic identity as Khoja and development of structured societies around this identity have been crucial for the survival of our faith and consequently our growth as a community to date.
- But for the retention of this identity, our fate, as we migrated:
- ONE: In 19th century, from the Indian sub-continent to settle in Africa and in the Indian Ocean Islands;
- TWO: to the Arabian coast ( Muscat/Oman, Yemen), to the Persian Gulf coast (Basrah, (Iraq) and Khurramshahr (Iran) and to Rangoon (Burma) and later on,
- THREE: In the latter half of the twentieth century, to be scattered from Gujarat in India to present day Pakistan and later, from Africa and the Indo-Pak subcontinent to be dispersed in the four corners of the globe – (our fate) is not too difficult to imagine.
- Without this alternative cohesive society and the structured community set up that we were able to develop, initially in Africa and in the Indo-Pak sub-continent and later on replicated as we moved over to settle in Europe, North America and the Far East, we would have been virtually lost as drifters – as many societies fractured under similar circumstances have been.
- But for this alternative cohesive society, many of us would not have been here today. We would have probably been back in the Jamat Khana!
- Besides, developments in the post Zanzibar revolution and the forced marriage saga; Uganda exodus, Madagascar turmoil, Somalia evacuation, Cutch earthquake, India educational and welfare assistance, Pakistan disaster assistance, and now Yemen exercise, are all testimony to what role our unity and organization could play.
- As people gain economic and social security, especially after their resettlement in the West and to a variable degree, even while still remaining in Africa and in the Indo-Pak sub-continent, there is growing tendency among factions to develop individualistic outlook, gradually reducing their attachments to the community.
- In several cases, this identity has been put to question by some internal and external forces. Wittingly or otherwise, efforts are at hand by various factions to wreck our unity as a cohesive structured society. Driven by simplistic outlook and reactionary emotionalism, many well-meaning individuals from within the community fall easy prey to such machinations.
- What is so unique about being a Khoja that we wish to retain this identity? Do we in any way consider ourselves different, superior or inferior to any one?
- There is nothing great in belonging to any race or to a particular ethnic society. What really matters is how as humans we strive to be good humans, worthy of the divine creation.
- The Holy Quran is explicit on this score.
Al Hujarat – Ch.49: Verse:13
O mankind! We created you of a single (pair) of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other; (not that you may despise (each other).
Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
In this spirit, there is therefore nothing special in belonging to the Khoja community – except for one thing!
- At one stage in their history, they had put on their thinking caps.
- They took an introspective look at themselves, reviewed their belief system and practices. Where they found confusion and contradictions, they reached out to seek expert advice.
- Having recognized their shortcomings, they were ready to make amends, move towards a change and reorganize themselves.
This is how the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Muslim Community came into being one and a half century ago.
150 years later, where do we stand today?
Is the flame of this spirit of inquiry and willingness to reach out to seek expertise still alive? Or has complacency set in with a sense of achievement that we have fully acquired our goal?
- (1) – A serious question that needs to occupy our minds is how relevant and effective are we today in enshrining Islamic values in our progeny for which we emerged as a distinct community in the first place?
- (2) – The second question we need to ask is, in running our organizations, from Jamaat upwards, how do we make decisions for developments?
Based on systematic study, surveys and investigations? Or more often than not, we continue to re live our past and decisions are made on ad hoc basis, propelled more by euphoria and emotionalism and inclinations of powers that be, than meticulous analytical reviews?
Are we still operating with certain psychosis that we only need charismatic leaders to lead us? Or do we recognize that we have to first crystallize vision and operate with pragmatic approach?
- (3) – The third question we need to reflect upon is that for various reasons, we are under microscope of some sort.
There is growing interest from various quarters as people are closely looking at the working of our community and in our naiveté, we at times tend to undermine our own future. This reality has to be driven home and I crave the indulgence of the participants for open discussion on these three points.
The Africa Federation Secretariat is thankful to the KSI Jamaat of Mombasa for hosting the 76th Supreme Council Session and the Forum at the Best Western Creekside Hotel in Mombasa, a pleasant and serene surrounding created a comfortable and relaxing environment for the participants having had to spend long hours in the meetings.
We wish to record our sincere appreciations to the members of the organizing Committee, the volunteers, and to everyone who assisted in making a success the two Sessions.
We are grateful to Alhaj Hassan Jaffer for presenting an important and enlightening Paper at the Forum and to Brother Tehsin Takim for moderating the Session commendably and for steering the lively discussion session with much understanding.
Our thanks to the ladies, gents, and the youth participants from the Territorial Councils of Madagascar and Reunion, Councillors from the constituent Jamaats, AFED Nominated Councillors and Trustees, Invitees from various local and overseas institutions. Their participation in the deliberations with their input, sharing their experiences and ideas helped liven up the Sessions.