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01 May 2017 / 4. Shabaan 1438

A Revolutionary I-Opener by Mahdi Abbas Juma

Posted on Mon, 2017-03-27 12:13

The Madinah and Bab al-Ilm Iran programme marked its 14th consecutive anniversary in the summer of 2016, with this being the first time that I decided to embark upon the course following my university education. This was also the first ever year in the programme that participants were bestowed the honour of being guests in the holy city of Qom for the birth anniversary of Sayeda Masouma (sa), as well as being in Mashhad for the corresponding celebrations for Imam Ridha (as). I was indeed fortunate to be granted this opportunity during my transitional phase to employment and further studies, and would describe the entirety of the experience as a revolutionary journey that opened several gateways to a spiritual, personal and intellectual inspiration – directly impacting upon my daily lived realities. The agenda particularly focused upon the perceptions of the self, moral duties as a Muslim in the social world and our individual connections to God – hence the frequently used phrase of ‘I-opener’ which I unequivocally attest to! The journey not only enabled me to fulfil my longstanding intention of performing the ziyarah (visitation) of the Holy Personalities in Iran to pay homage upon graduation, but enabled me to experience a flavour of the Hawza environment of Qom that I had aspired to from a young age. I had previously been for ziyarah across Iran, Iraq, Syria and in the Hijaz numerous times, yet this trip transpired as one that is unequalled due to the multi-faceted essence of the programme.
The focal hub of the programme each year takes place in the spiritually charged city of Qom, where the brothers this year were endowed with having their living and study quarters in a facility that was within close vicinity to the Mosque of Jamkaran. The residence not only became our ‘Hawza Home’ for 2 weeks, but the diverse composition of individuals on the course from across the world turned into one of brotherhood in an expeditious manner, as participants shared their life experiences, took part in sporting activities, exchanged in pleasantries and feasted on delicious Iranian foods! The friendships that I formed on the programme with the organisers, leaders, mentors and fellow students are those that you could expect to last a lifetime, with the mutual and binding element being the love of the AhlulBayt (as). The essence of the course itself took both an academic and practical approach on the implementation and profound understanding of Islam for the youth of today, presenting an arena to facilitate and yield discourses of choice that centred on specific issues. These involved workshops, lectures and enjoyable talks on certain topics within a classroom environment which were carefully selected by both the organisers and participants, who were given an opportunity to list aspects they most wished to explore ranging from: the spiritual ascension of the soul; Islamic and political ideology and the belief system in practice; the philosophy of ziyarah; as well as an abundance of youth issues (such as hijab in Islam, social media and its impacts, pre-marital issues, and preserving identity whilst living in the West). Informal discussions outside the classroom also heavily featured and took place at every possibility – whether that being on the coach & train journeys, whilst having our meals or middle-of-the-night conversations on non-human entities in the world! Furthermore, participants testified that the reflective sessions such as twilight sessions at the mountain of Khidr (as) and the martyr’s graveyards were exceedingly valuable to put our everyday occurrences into perspective, enhancing our outlook on life. In this manner, personal development was a key cornerstone of the programme.
The ziyarah of the various sanctuaries also featured as a fundamental characteristic of the programme to establish a connection with the Holy Personalities and derive lessons that we could implement in our lives, presenting an emotional-moral dimension to the visitation. It felt an immense pleasure to be students of the Islamic seminary whilst visiting the sacred shrines, notably that of Sayeda Masouma (sa) whilst residing in Qom – seeking knowledge that would be beneficial for this world and the hereafter in her presence. A significant highlight of our visits to the sanctuaries (such as Masjid Jamkaran on Tuesday’s) was the phenomenal Du’a recitations that I would recount as heart-touching, particularly as we were given a background exegesis prior to the recitations as well as a running commentary by our esteemed Agha Amin. The visits to the sanctuaries provided an opportunity to seek quiet contemplation, connecting with our Living Imam (atfs) and a time for reflecting upon what we learnt earlier in the day, whilst also supplicating for the fulfilments of our heartfelt requests. Participants visited numerous sites in both Qom and Mashhad that are often missed out on “normal” ziyarah trips, culminating at the sacred shrine of Imam Ridha (as), where tens of thousands had gathered to celebrate the birth anniversary of the 8th flower of Fatimah al-Zahra (sa). We were also honoured to be invited for lunch at the holy shrine – an aspect that is unobtainable for many people, including Iranians residing in Mashhad itself.
Amongst our spiritual endeavours, we also naturally had time for sports and fun, which – aside from the daily volleyball sessions in our residence – included waterpark swimming, playing football and best of all, an entertaining paintballing game! In addition to the sporting activities, participants embarked upon various adventures, such as an unforgettable field trip to Hamadan which included the Ali-Sadr caves, Ganjnameh inscriptions & waterfalls and Baba Taher, amidst other locations. Participants also had the opportunity of visiting the beautiful city of Nishapur, as well as a one-of-a-kind exhibition in Qom that displays a variety of permissible and impermissible objects and foodstuffs, such as clothing, animals and lawful conduct, all of which was amusing to many of the participants. On top of this, we explored museums, shopping bazaars (markets) and the famous Ansariyan Publications library, all in which participants made several purchases such as books, saffron and pistachios to fill their luggage! The last destination we visited before returning to our individual countries was Tehran’s Milad Tower, a fitting tribute to the journey as participants stood at one of the highest point in Iran’s capital, reflecting upon our achievements over the previous 3 emotionally charged weeks as well as beginning our transition back to our busy lifestyles – mindful of the lessons that we had acquired. 
Our entire journey would not have possible had it not been for the logistics conducted by the World Federation of KSIMC, the meticulous efforts of Sheikh Nadir Jaffer, Head of Madinah & Bab programmes, Project Manager Sister Jerrmein Abu Shahba, our instructor Agha Amin Afshar, as well as to all the course coordinators – of whom are too many to name individually. Furthermore, the mentors on the programme not only diligently carried out their roles, but went above and beyond to ensure that the participants’ experiences were comfortable and problem-free. Insha’Allah, I intend to give back to the programme by becoming a mentor for the upcoming course and beyond by featuring as a volunteer for the coordination efforts. Upon returning to the UK, I took the initiative of building upon my conversing skills in Farsi so that I could become an effective asset for the programme, with the guidance of God. Of course, the ultimate gratitude belongs to the Almighty (swt) and the Holy Personalities for overseeing our stay in the blessed lands and granting us the opportunity to experience this revolutionary journey. I would not hesitate to recommend this programme for any youth wishing to discover and develop themselves and their relationship to the universal institution that is Islam. This article only reflects a glimpse of what participants encountered, as one needs to experience the journey themselves to be cognisant of the personal enhancements.
Mahdi Abbas Juma
Madinah al-Ilm Participant

Director Dr Hasnain Walji, a past president of The World Federation has been researching into the history of the Khoja community for over 10 years.  In producing this 120 minute long film, he has spent a year travelling around the world.  In the documentary, he meets individuals from different backgrounds who provide an insight into the journey of the Khoja community.

This is the first-ever documentary film exploring the 700-year history of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community.  For so long, many of the elders in our community had expressed a wish that the story, of who the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris are, must be told for future generations to glean an understanding and appreciation of their ancestors’ struggles, trials, tribulations as well as triumphs as they spread across the globe.  

Hassanbhai Jaffer, the author of the seminal work on KHOJA History "The Endangered Species" says:“  A must see documentary for all family members where elders could sit with their progeny to explain where we started from and where we are today and the sacrifices made by many in the evolution of this community. To the  jet setting Khojas of this age,  the sight of bullock carts in  which their elders used to travel while India, the type of sailing crafts and the hardships of sailors and passengers as they sailed out from western shores of India to settle in East Africa and Madgascar is a reality check of their origins. The  month long journey by sea, firsthand account of early sailors recalling that for the month long sea journey, supply of fresh water would often be restricted to one cup a day come a shock to viewers."

The trailer for the documentary can be viewed below:

Hidirjee Loan Zakutul Fitr

Director Dr Hasnain Walji, a past president of The World Federation has been researching into the history of the Khoja community for over 10 years.  In producing this 120 minute long film, he has spent a year travelling around the world.  In the documentary, he meets individuals from different backgrounds who provide an insight into the journey of the Khoja community.

This is the first-ever documentary film exploring the 700-year history of the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri Community.  For so long, many of the elders in our community had expressed a wish that the story, of who the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheris are, must be told for future generations to glean an understanding and appreciation of their ancestors’ struggles, trials, tribulations as well as triumphs as they spread across the globe.  

Hassanbhai Jaffer, the author of the seminal work on KHOJA History "The Endangered Species" says:“  A must see documentary for all family members where elders could sit with their progeny to explain where we started from and where we are today and the sacrifices made by many in the evolution of this community. To the  jet setting Khojas of this age,  the sight of bullock carts in  which their elders used to travel while India, the type of sailing crafts and the hardships of sailors and passengers as they sailed out from western shores of India to settle in East Africa and Madgascar is a reality check of their origins. The  month long journey by sea, firsthand account of early sailors recalling that for the month long sea journey, supply of fresh water would often be restricted to one cup a day come a shock to viewers."

The trailer for the documentary can be viewed below:


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