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Published on 29th June, 2002

Passing Away of Alama as-Sayyid Akhtar al-Rizvi

By Munir Daya, Editor, Federation Samachar

Funeral Procession in the streets of Dar es Salaam


Salat al-Mayyit lead by the son, Hujjatul Islam as-Sayyid Muhammad RizviThe sudden and sad demise of Allamah Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi in Dar es Salaam on Thursday 20th June 2002 (8th Rabi-ul-Aakhar 1423) came as a shock to the community and Muslims at large, around the world.  Marhum Maulana Rizvi was more like an institution rather than an individual considering his intense involvement in propagating the Shia faith around the world.

He was a scholar, a preacher and a writer. He acquired deep knowledge of religion as well as of secular subjects and his books have been used by children learning Islam, adults wanting to know further about our religion and by new converts and outsiders for who Marhum spent many hours enlightening them on the true concepts of the Shia faith.

A Prolific Writer 


As a prolific writer he has over 140 titles to his credit some of these have been translated into twenty two languages. His books and correspondence have been instrumental in spreading the true Islam from Philippines to Guyana and around the world. His books on the Elements of Islamic Studies, harmful effects of music, the ill effects of pork and many others are a household name because they provide simple and crucial explanations on many issues pertaining to Islam. He also wrote numerous articles while excerpts from his 'Your Questions Answered' editions have been regularly carried in the Federation Samachar. His writing erudition also extends to the English translation of the profound Tafsir Al Mizan of Ayatullah Tabatabai.

A faqih and a muhaddith in his own right, he was also an expert in tafseer and scholastic theology, a rijali and historian, a poet and a linguist that all made him one of the greatest Muballighs the Shia World has ever known. A multitalented communicator, he spoke and wrote in Urdu, English, Arabic, Persian and Kiswahili while also knowing Hindi and Gujarati.

History of The Shia Communities


As a historian, his last mammoth work, on the History of The Shia Communities, is in the process of being published. In his tribute, the World Federation President, Hasnainbhai Walji points out that Allama Rizvi authored the very first monograph he ever read on the history of the Khoja Shia Ithnaasheris. This was authored in conjunction with Professor Noel King of Makerere University about a quarter of a century ago. 

The World Federation Secretary General, Sibtain Panjwani in his condolence message says," ....I am reflecting on those momentous and far sighted decisions made by the Supreme Council of the Africa Federation in 1964 to create the Bilal Muslim Mission with the support of Allama Syed Akhter Rizvi and others who remained committed to this substantial task during their lifetime ..." He adds, "...History will record the work of the Bilal Muslim Mission as a legacy from our community to the indigenous people of Africa."

Born in Ushri Bihar, India on 5th January 1927 (Ist Rajab, 1345) Maulana was first appointed as a resident Alim in Lindi after coming to Tanzania in 1959. Realising that he could only propagate the true faith by understanding and speaking the local language he was quick to learn Kiswahili and improved his English as a result of which he could write the many books that he authored.

Bilal Muslim Mission in Africa


As a man with vision he was thus involved in the establishment of the Bilal Muslim Mission in Africa. In 1962 he prepared a scheme for tabligh and sent it to Haji Ebrahim H. Sheriff in Arusha. He then amended and improved the first plan and when Allama was transferred to Arusha in 1963 a pilot scheme was put into effect.

Before the triennial Conference of the Africa Federation in Tanga in 1964, Allamah Rizvi's recommendations were circulated as a Secretariat paper and this got a boost following a resolution of Hussein Nasser Walji (approved in the general meeting of Dar es Salaam Jamaat) that called upon the Federation to become involved in tabligh activities among African people.  In his booklet, 'Outline of Shi'a Ithna-ashari History in East Africa', Marhum Mulla Asgharali M.M. Jaffer states, "...the 1964 memorandum was received with mixed feelings but it got a boost from a resolution sent by Dar es Salaam Jamaat to do something in this (tabligh) connection." An appreciative majority ultimately adopted this scheme as a policy and this is how a new field of activity appropriately called the Bilal Muslim Mission came into being.

Aalim Among the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheris


In his same book, Marhum Mulla Asghar mentions, "...the incessant and untiring efforts and contributions by Maulana Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi in this direction have been decisive and of great importance. His knowledge of Kiswahili and English enabled him to offer his service without any undue hesitation. He was appointed Chief Missionary of the Bilal Muslim Mission - an appellation signifying the new role of an Aalim among the Khoja Shia Ithna Asheris. For the first time in its history, the community lent its credence to this new appointment and realised that the function of an Aalim could be much more beneficial, varied and discursive."

From Arusha, Marhum Allamah Rizvi was transferred to Dar es Salaam Jamaat. The expansion of the Mission's activities in Dar es Salaam necessitated the formation of an autonomous body and in July 1967 Allamah Rizvi went to Mombasa and had a meeting with the office-bearers of the Supreme Council in which it was decided to establish two institutions, the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania and the Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya. The former was registered on 16th April 1968 and the latter in 1971 with Marhum Maulana Rizvi being one of the founder members and the Chief Missionary. He was also the Tableegh Advisor of the Late Chairman of the Africa Federation, Late Mohamedali Meghji and to Marhum Mulla Asghar M.M. Jaffer, Alhaj Mohamed Dhirani and Alhaj Habibbhai Mulji.

East Africa


Thereafter with his enthusiastic missionary activities into the interior regions of East Africa his name became synonymous with the word Tabligh among the indigenous people of East Africa. In his endeavour to spread Islam, Marhum introduced correspondence courses in Islamic studies in English and Kiswahili besides several other courses for Shia students through the Bilal Muslim Mission. These courses are not only pursued in Africa but throughout the world. He also travelled widely in Africa, Europe, Canada and the USA where he recited thought provoking majlises and lectured University students and various other audiences. While his audiences at some gatherings were intellectuals he always reached out to new converts and those wishing to know more about religion.



Another photo of the Funeral ProcessionThe funeral took place on Saturday 22nd June 2002 (10th Rabi-ulAakhar 1423) with a very large attendance at the Dar es Salaam Jamaat Imambara and also at the graveyard. Many indigenous Shia brothers attended and walked on foot covering the route of the funeral Cortege from the Imambara to the cemetery in more than half an hour. Normally coffins are taken by a special van to the graveyard. Two scouts holding two large black flags led the cortege to the burial site while traffic police stopped the busy Saturday morning traffic in Dar es Salaam to make way for the cortege.

The Dar-es-Salaam Jamaat Imambara was thronged with Mumineen, who included the Africa Federation Chairman Alhaj Zulfikar Khimji, Hon Secretary Alhaj Barkat Rajani, the Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Tanzania, Representatives from Muslim Communities in Dar-e-Salaam, Sayyid Murtadha Murtadha from Madrastul Akram Nairobi, Alhaj Abbas Nasser Chairman and Alhaj Fazleabbas Datoo, Hon Secretary of Bilal Muslim Mission Mombasa, the Dar es Salaam Jamaat Chairman, Asgharbhai Bharwani and the two immediate Past Chairmen of the Africa Federation, Mohamedbhai Dhirani and Habibbhai Mulji. Alims from Dar es Salaam, Arusha, Tanga and Zanzibar were also present together with officials from various regions of Tanzania. 

Namaz-e-Mayyat was led by Hujjatul Islam Syed Mohamed Rizvi the son of the Marhum. Sheikh Musi Ridha Resident Alim of Dar-es-Salaam Jamaat gave a brief history of the Allama followed by a short majlis.

Ziyarat (FatihaKhwani)


During the Ziyarat (FatihaKhwani) ceremony held on Sunday 23rd June 2002 (11th Rabi-ul-Aakhar 1423) five speakers paid tribute to Marhum for his great contribution towards Islamic enlightenment around the world. The Chairman of the Africa Federation, Zulfikarbhai Khimji highlighted some of his achievements ever since the formation of the Bilal Muslim Mission and launched a Memorial Fund in the name of the Late Allama Syed Saeed Akhtar Rizvi and requested all Jamaats to keep a desk for collection of funds that would be spent towards tabligh.

The Chairman of Bilal Muslim Mission of Kenya, Abbasbhai Nasser said that Marhum Maulana Rizvi had played a crucial role in initiating tabligh activities and said that his first impact on the local community was when he obtained a distinction pass in Kiswahili that he learnt after arriving in Tanzania. He said publications like the Light (since March, 1963) and Sauti ya Bilal (since 1965) are now read throughout the world while some books of Maulana Rizvi have had to be reprinted because of great public demand. He said Maulana was also involved in reforming imprisoned convicts and said that few knew the fact that he was also a good poet.

100,000 Shia Africans 


On behalf of the African population in Tanzania, Sheikh Ramadhani Kwezi of Bilal Muslim Mission paid tribute to Maulana who he defined as a great religious advisor to the local population. He said that prior to Maulana's arrival in the country there was not a single African Shia but today there are over 100,000 Shia Africans whose lives have not only been uplifted religiously but also economically. He said Marhum Rizvi has travelled to over 45 countries for tabligh and that the local African Shias have been orphaned by his death. He also referred to the Bilal Charitable Trust opened in India by Marhum.

The Chairman of the Bilal Muslim Mission of Tanzania, Pyaralibhai Shivji outlined the historical involvement of Marhum in tabligh activities since he came to Tanzania. He said his involvement in rehabilitation of prisoners had led to an improvement in the moral values of inmates who were reached out to. He also said that all the community's Marjas beginning from Ayatullah al-Uzama Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakeem, Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Abul Qassim Al-Khoui, Ayatullah al-Uzama Gulapaygani and Ayatullah al-Uzma Seestani entrusted Marhum Maulana Rizvi as being capable of answering questions on fiqh.

The Past Chairman of the Africa Federation, Mohamedbhai Dhirani said that in 1959, when he was the Dar es Salaam Jamaat Honorary Secretary, the Jamaat, then consisting of about 1800 members, was in need of a resident Maulana. He said that Maulana Rizvi arrived in a steamer from India at the age of thirty to fill this position but because Lindi Jamaat also urgently needed a Maulana, Marhum was instead sent there as a resident Alim. He said Marhum Maulana Rizvi quickly blended with the local population and learnt Kiswahili fast following which he addressed gatherings in Kiswahili.

Mohamedbhai said that the then Chairman of the Africa Federation, Ebrahimbhai Sheriff asked him to handle tabligh secretariat affairs as a result of which he was transferred to Arusha. In Arusha he also undertook Islamic propagation at Jamaat level. In 1964, he said, a resolution was passed to begin tabligh activities when the Chairmanship was under Marhum Mohamedali Meghji who superseded Ebrahimbhai Sheriff who passed away.

Mohamedbhai said that Marhum Maulana Rizvi faced difficulty in tabligh activities sometimes from members of our own community who blamed him of initiating a situation conducive to inter-racial marriages. He said that some even complained that it would be difficult to control our occasions when niaz is served in the presence of non-Khojas. He said that such complaints proved unrealistic and today the Bilal Muslim Mission has many Shia Centres, some in very remote areas, where converts congregate and mark the Shia faith.  He said the fact that today the Bilal Muslim Mission's activities have spread far and wide to places as far as Madagascar, Mozambique and South Africa and other places worldwide including the United States is a testimony of how the will to spread Islam can prosper if done with a sincere motive.

He said Marhum has 146 book titles to his credit with 85 of these being in English and the others in different languages including Kiswahili. He said that Marhum previously also penned a weekly column in the local Tanganyika Standard newspaper called 'Thought of the Week' which dealt with inter-faith issues and that he wrote many articles for local newspapers.  He also referred to the 'Question and Answer' series carried in the Federation Samachar.

Mohamedbhai said that Marhum Maulana Rizvi was a bridge between conservative and modern Islamic thinking and called on the community to have a constructive vision following his death. He said it is high time that we focused on individuals to take further Islamic training so that we have enough manpower to run the affairs of our institutions, Jamaats and the Bilal Muslim Mission.

A Branch with Fruits


On a personal note I greatly cherish the fact that Marhum allowed us to carry excerpts from his book 'Your Questions Answered' in the Federation Samachar. I also recollect the time when he penned a special article for the Federation Samachar special edition marking the 52nd anniversary of the Africa Federation. He wrote an article on the codification of Shi'a personal law in Tanzania and Kenya and when he had a few amendments to the article, he personally visited me in my office despite his very busy schedules. I was indeed touched by his humility and modesty because he could have simply called me to his office to collect the amendments. His modest behaviour reminded me of a parable that my late father taught us about humility saying that when a branch is full of fruits it bows down but when it has no fruits it remains erect. Marhum Maulana Rizvi was a perfect example of a branch with fruits on it.

We offer condolences to his bereaved family and pray to Allah (swt) to give the departed soul a high place in "jawar" of the fourteen Ma'sumeen ('a) and to give his family fortitude to bear his sad demise with patience. May Allah (swt) also grant us all solace to sustain this loss.

With great sorrow.

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