The beginnings of Australia’s Jamat
By Mallee Stanley, for Ismailimail.
We drove from Brisbane, Australia, driving along the winding highway bordering the scenic New South Wales coastline until we arrived in Sydney. The following day, Hazar Imam arrived in Australia for a historic visit. This was the first time ever an Ismaili Imam had visited our island nation.
In the 1970s, only about one hundred Ismailies lived in Australia. I remember one family came from New Zealand, another from South Australia; most lived in Sydney; a few in Melbourne while we were the lone family from Brisbane.
The memories are hazy from the events of that special occasion except for everyone standing in a circle in anticipation as Hazar Imam and Begam Salimah entered the room. They stopped to speak with every fourth or fifth person while the rest of us held our breathe hoping we would be among the lucky ones.
After we returned to Brisbane, my father-in-law in Dar es Salaam sent me his now faded dua book. My brother-in-law in London sent religious curriculums used at that time. These were our only links to our isolated Ismaili life except for the thousand-kilometre journey I took each year to celebrate at least one annual khushali in Sydney. My girls loved these events. After dua, they raced around the hall while the rest of us played dandia.
When one of my brother-in-laws with his family immigrated to Brisbane from Kenya, we held what felt like our first real jamat khana in their house every weekend. We now had a jamat of eleven! With so few members, we all became proficient at reciting dua, the standing tasbih and singing ginans. However, within a few years, my brother-in-law and his family moved to Sydney to the bigger jamat while another family from Sydney moved to Brisbane. We had dropped to seven!
Because our two families lived at opposite ends of one of the world’s largest cities (in area only), we decided to rent a room near the city half way between our two homes. That became our new jamat. Whenever we knew a visitor was coming to Brisbane, we roped them in, begging them to come to khane; eager to hear someone else’s dua or ginan.
In 1987, Hazar Imam arrived in Australia again. By this time, there were around three hundred Ismailis in the country. My memory is a little better on this occasion.
We were instructed to address Hazar Imam as Moulana, but when I came before Hazar Imam, I forgot everything. Beside me was my youngest daughter and Hazar Imam asked if she was my daughter. I could only answer yes because I found myself crying. Later, when I spoke to my nephew about this, he said the same happened to him. Neither of us could explain why we were so upset before our Imam.
On that occasion, Hazar Imam not only gave a firman to the whole jamat, he also wanted to speak with students. Luckily at that time, I was in the midst of my teaching degree and was able to sit just a few rows back amongst about fifty other students to listen to his advice that had already influenced me. It was why I had decided to go back and further my education once my children started school.
Back in Brisbane, the jamat remained small. One year I was fortunate enough to be Mukhi Saheba. During that time, I performed two chantas.
As 1990s began, I started thinking about moving to Canada where I live today along with two of my three daughters who both live in different Canadian cities.
Mallee Stanley is a retired teacher who has been writing adult fiction for nearly two decades. She is currently working on her third novel set in Uganda and editing her second novel set in Tanzania with a critique group. She has lived in Tanzania, Australia and now Canada. For more information, her website is malleestanley.com