8. Modern period
Imam Hasan Ali Shah (1817-1881) arrived in India in 1842. He died and buried in Hasanabad, Bombay in 1881. He was succeeded by his son Imam Aga Ali Shah (1881-1885), who also died in Poona on August 17, 1885. His body in a bier was brought to Bombay, where it was temporarily enshrined in Hasanabad, Bombay for 64 days, and shipped for interment in Najaf. Mukhi Kassim Musa (d. 1896), the then estate agent was entrusted to carry the Imam's bier from Bombay to Najaf. He left behind a very important narrative of the journey of 25 days. He relates that the procession carrying the bier to the sea-port was started from Hasanabad on October 25, 1885. Describing the scene of the grand procession of ten thousand persons, he writes that, "Many persons, numbering 125 had lifted the plates of fruits and sweetmeats on heads in the procession. They were followed by another 125 Ismaili believers, carrying banners and muttering salwat with tears in eyes. They were followed by the special horses of Imam Aga Ali Shah, caparisoned in golden and silver. Behind them were six horses loaded with swords, and another six with that of the shields. Next followed five riders, and three among them held three big banners of Ali bin Abu Talib. These banners are taken out on special occasions." (p. 7)
It should be known that the economical condition of the Ismailis was deplorable to its extreme. Most of them were poor with no significant tradition of education. In sum, the Ismailis had been bred and brought up in the shadow of illitracy for many centuries. Necessary attention was paid to improve their condition in all walks of life in the time of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (1885-1957). He guided their destinies and knitted into a progressive community, and took them to enviable heights of moral and material glory. The very administrative organisation of the Imam was the proud legacy of the Ismailis. Under his auspicious leadership, the Ismailis reached the pinnacle of glory.
Bombay in India was a centre and a fertile venue to inaugurate the new institutions in the community. Most of the institutions and organisations existed firstly in Bombay and then were opened in other places. The Ismaili local, zonal, supreme and federal councils and other major institutions were established at first in Bombay. Besides, innumerable social and multipurpose institutions were formed in different spheres, such as health, education, economics, mission and religion, etc. with laudable objects. In sum, these were but the signs of the advancing tide of civilization, finding expression in the new thoughts of freedom.
The Ismailis also formed different semi-military organisations in Bombay, such as the Kandi Mola Scout Troops came into existence at Bombay in 1915. The H.H. The Aga Khan Volunteer Corps existed in 1919. The volunteer corps in Hasanabad, Bombay was formed in 1920. Ladies volunteer corps was raised in Kandi Mola, Bombay in 1921 and at Khadak, Bombay in 1922. The scout group at Hasanabad also started in 1922. The first Ismaili Band was formed in 1926 and the Girl Guides Company also was erected in Khadak, Bombay in 1927. In sum, the community added certain tinge of bravery and manliness to its activities. These semi-military organisations were first in the community of their kind and proved highly beneficial. The foremost need of these institutions was to hoist and salute their own banner on the occasions of jubilations and festivity.
It will be very interesting to learn that when Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah made his first visit of East African countries in 1899, it appeared that the Ismailis mostly in the villages used the banners, having complete red ground, whereon the name of the Imam was written in white letters in English. The followers also decorated the steamer and the boat of the Imam with these banners. When the boat landed ashore, the news of the Imam's arrival was announced through the signals of the banners. The tradition of red banner was so popular among the Ismailis in East Africa, that they hoisted it on every occasion and festival on the Jamatkhanas. It cannot be ascertained by any source how the tradition of red banner came to be introduced in East Africa? The Ismailis who emigrated to East Africa mostly belonged to Kutchh, India, and we have a reason to believe that the tradition of red banner must have been originated in Kutchh and introduced in East Africa. While inspecting both oral and written sources available at our disposal, it however appears that there existed no such tradition in Kutchh. The question arises, how the Ismailis in East Africa started the tradition of red banner? It is however seen that when Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah visited East Africa for the first time in 1899, he was warmly welcomed, and the principal items or the decorations in the cities was the red banners of the Sultanate of Oman and Britain. When the Imam launched his next tour in 1902 and 1905, the Ismailis living in the villages used red banners with the name of the Imam on it instead of the banners of the ruling authorities. It became a normal practice to hoist red banners on the jamatkhana during the festive occasions as well as on the arrival of the Imam.
Wazir Kassim Ali Fateh Ali, the then Kamadia of the Thana Jamatkhana in India had heard the tradition of the red banner in East Africa through different channels. It struck an idea in his mind that a similar tradition should be introduced in India. He consulted with different persons, who appreciated his noble idea. He however found different views to determine the colours of the flag. When no one came to a conclusion, it was finally resolved to refer the matter to the Imam in Europe.
On Thursday, April 28, 1927, the Thana Jamat commemorated the 50th Birthday of the Imam. On that occasion, the leaders and the members of the jamat held a grand assembly in the Jamatkhana and passed a historic resolution, which was also read in the Jamatkhana. Mukhi Itmadi Nazar Ali Hashim and Kamadia Kassim Ali Fateh Ali of Thana Jamatkhana sent the copy of the resolution through a telegram to the Imam in Europe. The Imam was highly delighted with the idea of introducing an Ismaili flag and approved green colour with a cross red stripe in it.
The above report was published in the weekly "Ismaili" (Bombay, 1927,p. 7) through an announcement on Sunday, June 19, 1927 that:-
THE THANA JAMAT PASSED A RESOLUTION TO CELEBRATE THE DAY AS AN EID WHEN OUR BELOVED IMAM SIR SULTAN MUHAMMAD SHAH MAY GRACIOUSLY BESTOW WITH THE TALIKA MUBARAK OR A TELEGRAM UPON THE JAMAT. THE WHOLE JAMAT SHOULD ATTEND WITH FULL STRENGTH WHEN THE TALIKA MUBARAK IS READ IN THE JAMATKHANA. IT SHOULD BE READ BEFORE THE JAMAT WITH DUE RESPECT. (FURTHER) ON THE DAY WHEN THE TALIKA MUBARAK OF HAZAR IMAM IS CONFERRED, THE BIRTHDAY OF THE IMAM AND ON OTHER FESTIVE OCCASIONS, OUR FLAG SHOULD BE HOISTED ON THE JAMATKHANA.
WHEN THE MUKHI & KAMADIA OF THANA JAMATKHANA REVERENTLY ASKED FOR THE ABOVE FLAG TO THE IMAM IN THEIR TELEGRAM OF CONGRATULATION DURING BIRTHDAY, THE IMAM APPROVED IT WITH HAPPINESS, SAYING "THE THANA JAMAT CAN USE MY GREEN COLOUR IN THE FLAG, WITH A RED CROSSING STRIPE.
Thus, a flag dressing in green and red colours was designed within a short span of time. Its ground or field contained rich green colour with a red diagonal gushing out from left of the top-corner near staff down to the bottom-corner of the right side, making a red stripe crossing in the green flag.
On Sunday, the 18th Zilhaja, 1345/June 19, 1927 during the historic occasion of Eid-i Ghadir, the unfurling ceremony of the Ismaili flag had been performed for the first time on the Indian soil in the compound of the Thana Jamatkhana. On that occasion, H.H. The Aga Khan Volunteers Corps and the Ismaili Band also participated. Among the eminent persons who attended the ceremony were Mukhi Itmadi Nazar Ali Hasham, Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, Hasan Lalji Devraj, Kassim Visram Allana, Pir Muhammad Hashim, Mukhi Kanji Wali, Ismail Rehmatullah, Muhammad Ismail Jafar, Ramzan Ali Ibrahim, Kadar Ali Fazal, Haji Muhammad Rahim Zain al-Abidin, Missionary Muhammad Abdullah, Missionary A.S. Sadruddin, etc. The ceremony began at 4.30 p.m. with an inauguration speech of Wazir Kassim Ali Fateh Ali, the then Kamadia, vide the gist of his historical speech in Appendix I.
I am deeply thankful to all of you for extending an invitation to me for presiding over this ceremony, which is due to the religious fervour and progressive thoughts of the Thana jamat. Each member of your jamat deserves congratulation on this joyous occasion of hoisting the Ismaili flag in honour of our revered Imam-e-Zaman Mawlana Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan.
Gentlemen, the flag represents an invaluable symbol of the citizens, high or low, are bound to sacrifice for it even at the cost of their lives, because the flag is an emblem of great aspirations and mass sacrifice incurred by human beings for procuring human progress. The Ismaili flag withstood firmly to protect the freedom of thoughts and religious beliefs to each and every one without discrimination during the past glorious epoch of the Ismailis.
It consumed almost ages in promulgation of the religious and spiritual enlightenment. The material progress resulted in the scientific inventions in the human relationship and encouraging them for human progress for the great aspirations and to attract all of them from diverse sectors of the world to a centre during the magnificient period was that very memorable flag.
Time : 10.50 a.m.
CONVEY PATERNAL LOVE AND BLESSINGS THANA, AS NO ADDRESS ON THEIR CABLE.
SEND THIS THROUGH YOU.
Time : 10.00 a.m.
CHILDREN. PATERNAL LOVE AND BEST BLESSINGS HAPPY OCCASION. MY TREASURER OPENED FLAG AT BOMBAY AND MY OFFICERS AT ANDHERI. VERY PLEASED HEAR THIS GOOD NEWS.
The third ceremony in succession was performed in Khadak Jamatkhana, Bombay on Monday, June 27, 1927 at 3.30 p.m. by the hands of Mukhi Megji Mulji (1861-1932). Unfortunately, the Mukhi could not attend it, therefore, Kamadia Kassim Ali Hasan Ali had an honour to unfurl the flag.
The Imam sent the following message on that auspicious occasion:-
Time : 9.45 a.m.
CONVEY BEST BLESSINGS FOR SEVERAL ENTERTAINMENTS SENT BY MY TREASURER ON HAPPY OCCASION OF MY FLAG INSTALLATION.
On Sunday, July 3rd, 1927, the weekly "Ismaili" published the following appeal to the Ismaili readers that:-
Likewise, it is rich with dark colours, whether it may be designed on the cloths of silk, cotton or flannel. It must however be remembered that no changes should be made in its colours. It is hoped that all the jamats of the nation will also join in (hoisting the) flag, indicating the glorious signs of the Ismailis. Besides, it is requested that the African jamats will also make necessary changes in the colour of the flag."
Soon afterwards, the unfurling ceremony had also taken place in Talaja Jamatkhana in Kathiawar on July 11, 1927 by Nazar Ali Dhanji Gheewala. It was performed at Dharka Jamatkhana on July 14, 1927 by Mukhi Alibhai Sunderji, in Dhoraji Jamatkhana on July 29, 1927 by the hands of Mukhi Pirbhai and Kamadia Mawji. It was also unfurled in Karachi on August 17, 1927 by Rai Alidina Ali Muhammad (1884-1952). The Panderkawda Jamatkhana performed unfurling ceremony on August 24, 1927 by the hands of President Khalfan Lalji. In Sind, it was unfurled at Hyderabad by Varas Karim Kassim (1878-1958) on November 24, 1927. The ceremony was also performed in Nairobi, Dar-es-Salam, Kampala, Rangoon, etc.
Gwadar was under control of Muscat, where no other flag except the Sultanate of Muscat was officially permitted to hoist on the Jamatkhana. When Sultan Taimur of Muscat made a marine voyage for Karachi via Gwadar in 1928, the Ismaili leaders went to see him in his ship anchored at Gwadar, and sought permission of hoisting the Ismaili flag on the Jamatkhana. Thus, the first hoisting ceremony in Gwadar Jamatkhana took place on April 12, 1928 with the hands of Mukhi Muhammad Abdullah Bachani (1927-1932). The ceremony inaugurated with the sound of bugals, and it was followed by mustket-shots for 11 times. The ceremony was performed with the loud voice of Allaho-Akbar.
The Ismailis flag or My-Flag became so popular in India that it became a fashion among the Ismaili merchants to give their commodities the name of My-Flag, such as My-Flag Sari, My-Flag Soap, My-Flag Tie, My-Flag Biscuits, etc. Soon afterwards, an Ismaili journal, called "My-Flag" also began to be published in Hyderabad, Sind by Muhib Ali Mitha,
It will be interesting to note that Prince Aly Khan had visited Thana for the second time on December 21, 1934 and gave an audience to about 300 Ismailis at Wadi on Agra Road. The compound was well decorated with the Ismaili flags. Mukhi Karim Nazar Ali, Kamadia Musa Jafar, Wazir Kassim Ali Fateh Ali, the then President of the Ismaili Council and Ali Muhammad Ghulam Hussain Lakadawala warmly greeted Prince Aly Khan at the entrance. The Shahzada Scout Group accorded guard of honour. When Prince Aly Khan entered the main entrance, he stopped for a while and looked at the Ismaili flags with immense surprise. On that juncture, Wazir Kassim Ali Fateh Ali related the event of June 19, 1927 when the Thana jamat got a unique chance to unfurl it for the first time in India. Prince Aly Khan became delighted and congratulated the leaders.