Varas Amir Chand (1837-1911) sprang from a noble family of gupti Ismailis in Punjab. He was employed in a governmental department in Amritsar and retired in 1880. He inherited land from his forefathers, and became one of the most famous landlords in Punjab. In 1882, Imam Aga Ali Shah appointed him Kul Kamadia for Punjab, Frontiers and few regions near Afghanistan. He performed his duties with such marked distinction that during his first visit to Amritsar in 1897, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah appointed him Mukhi on January 1, 1897 with a title of Varas for Punjab and Frontier province, including the regions lying on the borders of Afghanistan. He also travelled with the Imam in Sialkot between January 2, 1897 and January 11, 1897. Varas Amir Chand visited Bombay several times. His last visit took place in the middle of 1908 and gave valuable and informative statements twice in court during the Haji Bibi Case on July 28 and July 29, 1908. He is also credited to have converted a portion of the depressed class to Ismailism, as well as helping them financially to run their cottage industry.
In 1911, he died at the age of 74 years. Varas Amir Chand was also consigned to collect the tithe from village to village. His task pushed him to indulge in a daily meticulous procedure, which consisted of washing his hands and fingers. And one meritorious illustration, whose equal seems to have not yet came on record, was that he made a secret will to a certain person that after the ritual bath of his dead body, he must wash his hands and fingers at least thrice with soap, so that no smell emaning from the Imams coins remained before interment.
Varas Amir Chands son Bhagvandas mostly served the local jamat in Amritsar. His son Panalal was however much active, who kept the torch of service burning.
On January 20, 1914, the Imam summoned about eight prominent leaders of the gupti jamats of Punjab at his residence in Poona, in which Panalal, the father of Abu Aly was also included to discuss the revelation of the gupti Ismailis as Muslims in Punjab.
There was a minor group of Hindus in Kabul, headed by Bairam Diyal, who professed the Ismaili faith secretly. The local Ismailis in Afghanistan, however, knew them well and deposited their tithe to them, who in turn remitted it to the Imam in Iran, then in Bombay. In 1915, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah sent a special message through Panalal, asking them to wear Muslim costumes and assume Islamic names. The Imams call created a salutary effect upon the people and Mukhi Fakir Chand in Kabul was the first one to apply the Imams recommendations. With the efforts of Panalal, the Ismailis in Kabul received a new lease of life and immersed themselves into Islamic traditions through Ismailism.
On November 18, 1916, the Imam commanded them once again to submit to their faith publicly and to abandon the Hindu customs by assuming Muslim names. On that juncture, the Imam gave new names to these eight leaders, including the names of their fathers and children. Abu Alys father, Panalal was named as Ali and his grandfather, Bhagvandas became known as Aziz. Alibhai Aziz also dedicated all of his time to serve the community. He was selected as a member of The Aga Khan Golden Jubilee Celebration Committee from Punjab, whose first meeting was held on October 12, 1935 in Aga Hall, Nesbit Road, Bombay.
Abu Aly, the son of Alibhai Aziz, the world-renowned senior missionary was born in Amritsar, India on August 21, 1919. His early education started at the age of 4 years at a Hindu private nursery school, conducted by a Brahmin pandit. He then attended a private Primary School located in the Government High School in Amritsar, and finally followed the science stream in Saint-Xavier College, Bombay. He also attended a Madressa to study the Koran and Hadith at the age of 7 years as an extra-curricular activity. He also studied architecture, agriculture and law, notably the Islamic jurisprudence.
His religious education started the moment he could sit in his grandfathers lap, the sage Kamadia Aziz Ali. In Bombay, he had the opportunity to expand his knowledge by interaction with missionaries, such as Pir Sabzali (1884-1938), who was his mentor from childhood, Chief Missionary Hussaini Pir Muhammad Asani (1878-1951), Ibrahim Jusab Varteji (1878-1953), Alibhai Nanji 893-1978), Sayed Muhammad Shah (d. 1945), Sayed Munir (1882-1957), Sayed Mustaq Ali Didar Ali and many others.
Due to his linguistic skills, he was called upon to serve in the civil and military censor office. Incidentally, W. Ivanow (1886-1970) recommended his name to handle the task of scanning the public mail. Thus, he had the privilege of having worked across the table with W. Ivanow for five years during the Second World War (1939-1945).
In 1938, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah commanded him to join the Ismaili Mission at the Recreation Club Institute, Bombay, and within a short time, he acquired the necessary skills and attained great proficiency in mission field.
He played a key role in the arrangement of the Diamond Jubilee of the Imam in 1946 and participated in different committees. The Imam selected him to recite the ginan after the recitation of a Koranic verse by a Syrian Ismaili on March 10, 1946 in Bombay. The Imam graciously graced him with a special robe of honour and a golden turban.
The first Ismaili Mission Conference was held in the auditorium of the Aga Khan High School, Dar-es-Salaam to discuss the religious education and the training of the missionaries and teachers. The Imam inaugurated the Conference on July 20, 1945 and told the delegates that the Africans should no longer rely on missionaries from abroad, but produce its own manpower in their Mission Centre.
Soon after the Diamond Jubilee, the Imam ordered Abu Aly in Bombay to take over the charge of the Mission Centre as its Principal. He came to East Africa in July, 1946 and was destined to attend the Diamond Jubilee Celebration on August 10, 1946 in Dar-es-Salaam. According to the wish of the Imam, the Mission Centre was opened on May 10, 1947 at Dar-es-Salaam under the administration of the Ismailia Association for Africa, Mombasa. Alijah A.G. Abdul Hussain, the President of the Ismailia Provincial Council, Dar-es-Salaam, performed its inauguration ceremony. This Mission Centre took the standing of a college, producing several trained missionaries and religious teachers.
*)He was the President of the Muslim Association for Tanganyika for 3 years (1950-1953). When Tanganyika liberated on December 9, 1961, the Prime Minister Rashidi Kawawa invited the Muslim ulema and scholars to assist the government in including the Muslim law to the New Constitution of Tanganyika. One of them was Abu Aly in Dar-es-Salaam, known as Shaykh Abualy A. Aziz. He also exhorted Islamic education for two years (1962-63) in the course for Adults Programme under the University of Dar-es-Salaam.
The first Conference for reviewing the rites and ceremonies with the members of the Executive Council for Africa was held on January 10, 1964 in Mombasa at Count Fateh Ali Dhallas residence. Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, Count Ghulam Hussain Ismail, Wazir Madatali Count Mulji Nazarali and Wazir Abdul Malek R. Kassim Lakha attended it. Missionary Abu Aly was also invited, including Missionary Ghulam Ali Shah, Alijah Ghulam Hussain Juma Haji, Jaffer Ali R. Budhwani and Noor Mohammad Rehmatullah. It was followed by another Conference on September 24, 1964.
During the gracious visit of Hazar Imam in India at the end of 1967, he was requested to deliver waez to the jamats, who were extremely touched by his words. The Mukhi and Kamadia of Darkhana jamat, Bombay sent their report to the Imam on December 27, 1967, to which he replied:
January 6th, 1968
My dear Mukhi and Kamadia:
I have received your letter of 27th December, and I give my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children of the Bombay Darkhana Jamat.
I am very happy to hear that my jamats of Bombay and Suburbs took a keen interest in the waez given by Missionary Abooali in various Jamatkhanas.
Kindly convey my best paternal maternal loving blessings to Missionary Abooali for his devoted services during his visit to India.
You should find out from the Ismailia Association of Tanzania whether Missionary Abooali could tour to India every year for at least a month, if not two months, and then communicate the Associations answer to me.
He also attended the grand Waezeen Assembly in Bombay inaugurated on December 10, 1967, and presided by Itmadi Ghulam Ali S. Morani, the then President of the Ismailia Association for India. He delivered informative lectures and dealt with the question/answer session on December 16, 1967. The President prepared the report of the assembly and sent it to the Imam on January 10, 1968. The Imam replied as follows:
He also attended the grand Waezeen Assembly in Bombay inaugurated on December 10, 1967, and presided by Itmadi Ghulam Ali S. Morani, the then President of the Ismailia Association for India. He delivered informative lectures and dealt with the question/answer session on December 16, 1967. The President prepared the report of the assembly and sent it to the Imam on January 10, 1968. The Imam replied as follows: January 29th, 1968
My dear President:
I have received your letter of January 10th, and I have read your report with much interest.
I am happy to hear that the Waezeen Assembly held on the 10th December at the Dharkhana Jamatkhana was well attended by my spiritual children and I give my best loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children who participated in the Waezeen Assembly.
I give my best paternal maternal loving blessings to the following missionaries for their devoted services to my India jamat:
Missionary Kassim Ali M.J.
Missionary Noormohomed Rahimtullah
Missionary Noordin Amlani.
Missionary Abu Aly A. Aziz is a global itinerant and has travelled extensively. He visited Tajikistan in 1995, where 72 years before him, the famous Missionary Pir Sabzali (1884-1938) had set foot in 1923. There is perhaps not a single Jamatkhana in the world where he has not delivered a waez. Behind all his success is his personality, so attractive that he won the hearts of millions who have never even seen him, but have only known his incomparable services for the Imam and jamats. In his missionary framework, he is seen as a creative, courageous, and patient. He is ambitious, but does not let himself be blinded by his personal interest. He labours for his faith not for own sake. With his talent and invaluable services, he was blessed with the titles of Alijah, then Rai.
Missionary Abu Aly A. Aziz is a global itinerant and has travelled extensively. He visited Tajikistan in 1995, where 72 years before him, the famous Missionary Pir Sabzali (1884-1938) had set foot in 1923. There is perhaps not a single Jamatkhana in the world where he has not delivered a waez. Behind all his success is his personality, so attractive that he won the hearts of millions who have never even seen him, but have only known his incomparable services for the Imam and jamats. In his missionary framework, he is seen as a creative, courageous, and patient. He is ambitious, but does not let himself be blinded by his personal interest. He labours for his faith not for own sake. With his talent and invaluable services, he was blessed with the titles of , then .
He started his mission career at the age of 11 years. His life now bridges a long span of 83 years, in which more than ten thousand lectures, speeches, and deliveries are on record to his credit. Ever since the taperecorder appeared commercially at the beginning of 1950, his lectures and speeches have been preserved which are in tune of about 3000 audiocassettes, circulating around the world among the Ismaili jamats and to some extent among other communities.
He also uses his poetic skills to lyrically express in Urdu his ardent love for the Imam. He is gifted with a vivid intellect, with a conspicuous literary talent. Being a man of literary genius, he gained the opportunity to carry on his literary pursuits and became a frequent contributor to different periodicals. No less than a trenchant writer, he published 19 books and booklets and some more are forthcoming. He is well versed in English, Urdu, Persian, Arabic, Gujrati, Punjabi, Kutchhi, Hindi, and Swahili. His famous works are Jashan-i Golden Jubilee (Urdu, 1936), Radde Batil (Gujrati, 1947), Anant Akhado (Gujrati tr.1947), Zahoor-i Haq (Gujrati, 1948), Mazhab-i Ismailia (Gujrati, 1948), Religious Correspondence Course – three volumes (Gujrati, 1948), Divine Gems (English and Kiswahili, 1955), Fuhari Ya Islam (Kiswahili, 1956), Ismaili Dharmic Course (Gujrati, 1957), Christianity from its own Sources (English, 1961), Pork-Its Prohibition in Islam (English, 1961), Ghadir-i Khum (Gujrati, 1969), A Brief History of Ismailism (English, 1974), etc.
He is well versed in the literature of the ginans and steeped in the Ismaili philosophy and history. The most significant feature of his waez delivery is that he provides the materials to the jamat in accordance with the demand of the time and is so lucid that the listeners remain attentive for many hours. Those who have heard him on a platform are aware of the brilliance of his unmatched oratory.
After spending almost 40 years in East Africa, he now lives in Vancouver, Canada. His mission, which he has started at the age of eleven years, still continues. He also spends time replying to his many well-wishers letters.
Missionary Abu Aly believes that a man is never too old to learn. It is good news to know that he obtained his doctorate degree of Ph.D. on April 30, 2001 from the Senior University International, Wyoming, U.S.A. after studying for 29 months. His thesis, Miracles and Gnosis, described the life and work of Pir Satgur Nur in 200 pages.
It is through his own effort that he rose from a very humble position in life to the summit of greatness. May Mawlana Hazar Imam grant him a long life, health and courage to serve the world Ismaili community more and more till his last breath, Amen.