Excerpt from the Memoirs of Al Noor Kassum: Africa’s Winds of Change

Al Noor Kassum (born 11 January 1924) is retired Tanzanian politician. Educated in Tanzania and the UK, where he was called to the Bar at the Inns of Court in London, Al Noor Kassum was a prominent figure in Tanzanian politics and the Ismaili Muslim community after the country’s independence.

Ismailimail has featured Al Noor Kassum’s memoirs earlier. Here, we are sharing an interesting extract from the book as Al Noor was quite close to the 48th and 49th Imams.

Excerpt from the Memoirs of Al Noor Kassum: Africa's Winds of ChangeOn the day of the Diamond Jubilee ceremony, wearing a red fez, I was seated on the steps of the dais, next to Ibrahim Nathoo, one of the most senior community members, who lived in Nairobi. I watched as the Aga Khan sat on one side of a giant pair of scales and raw, uncut diamonds were placed on the other side until the scales balanced. The diamonds had been purchased from De Beers of South Africa on the understanding that they would be used for the weighing ceremony and then resold to De Beers for the same purchase price. The deal was negotiated by Count Abdullah Hasham Gangji of Zanzibar. Money for the purchase of the diamonds was donated by the Ismaili community. People contributed what they could. There were, of course, some rich families who contributed large sums. Among those in Tanganyika were the families of Habib Punja; Hussein Nasser Shariff; Jaffer Haji, who owned a jeweller’s shop and also sold ivory and carpets; and, of course, my father. In Zanzibar the wealthy families included those of Count Abdullah Shariff, Count Abdullah Hasham Gangji and Count Jindani. The wealthy Kenyan families included those of Count Fatehali Dhala; Sir Eboo Pirbhai; Ahamad Mahommed; Hasham Jamal; and Suleman Virjee.

The money raised during the Diamond Jubilee provided the core capital to set up institutions such as the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust, which then provided low-interest loans to enable members of the community to build or purchase their own homes. Thus, there was no question of the money being given for the Aga Khan’s personal use. It came back to the Ismailis and was utilized for their social and economic progress.

[…] I remember one day as we were driving through the city, the Aga Khan told me that he was going to advise the women in our community to adopt western clothing. He explained that once the women began wearing European-type clothes, which included the colonial frock, they would have an incentive to improve their health through exercise and better food. And so it happened: The Aga Khan issued a Firman and over the years the result was as he had predicted. The women began to lose some weight and their health, too, improved immensely.”

[…] “The Diamond Jubilee was also when the Aga Khan changed my name from Noordin (meaning ‘light of religion’) to Al Noor (‘the light’). He kept referring to Noor around the house and people asked him, ‘Who is Noor?’ He replied, ‘Noordin. His name is Al Noor now.’ And the Begum Aga Khan, Mata Salamat, told me, ‘Don’t forget now, your name is Al Noor.’ So I changed my name by deed poll. My second son was born on 9 August, the day before the Diamond Jubilee celebration and the Aga Khan named him Diamond. My third son was born in 1948 and the Aga Khan named him Jemal-ud-din, after the great Afghan leader Jamaldin Alafghan. Later, I accompanied the Aga Khan to Madagascar as his aide-decamp in an entourage that included Sir Eboo Pirbhai, Abdullah Hasham Gangji, Fatehali Dhala and Ibrahim Nathoo, as well as a member of the Javeri family from Bombay. I was the only young man to be included in that august company.”

The next watershed in my life came in 1950, when the British Governor, Sir Edward Twining, suggested to me that I would make better use of my capacities by going back to England to study law. However, my father did not like the idea. He could see no reason for my abandoning a business in which I was doing so well, to go and study abroad. He also thought that, as a married man, I had an obligation to continue earning an income to maintain my family. Besides, my brother was not interested in the shop and my father had hoped that I would continue the business tradition he had started. He warned me that if I decided to go, he would not pay the costs. After several acrimonious discussions, I told him that I intended to consult the late Aga Khan for his advice. I therefore wrote to His Highness, explaining my situation, and I received a reply in a letter dated 13 September 1950. He wrote:

“I have carefully thought over your letter about your proposal to go and study for the Bar and to take up a political and public career later.

We very badly need men like you in public life. I have been worrying that my [spiritual] children out there have not got the proper kind of spokesmen in sufficiently large numbers to help in the stormy times that will come in the next few years and that will be of long duration. For these reasons I cannot but feel that it is a blessing that you should have had these ideas.

On the other hand, he pointed out that my personal life and future financial security should also be taken into consideration in making the decision.”

With this encouragement, I reviewed my financial situation. I had saved money that I had earned in the business and also had shares in various enterprises. My wife thought it would be a good career move and that I had the brains and the capacity to do it. Her father, Count V.M. Nazerally, also thought it would be a good idea. In 1951 I told my father that I was going. Looking back, I think that had it not been for the Aga Khan’s reply, I would not have had the courage to do so.

As a result of this advice, my father reluctantly accepted my decision. So, I flew to England with my wife and three children to start a new phase in my life.

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