Foundation of Recreation Club Institute

In 1330/1912, an enthusiastic group of the young Ismailis had formed The Young Ismaili Vidhya Vinod Club (or V.V. Club) at Bombay for literary, missionary and other communal activities. In 1337/1919, it wanted to add certain tinge of manliness to its activities. Thus, Lt. Col. Itmadi Pirmahomed V. Madhani (1916-1919), Major Abdullah Jafar Lakhpati, Major Alijah Rehmatullah V. Charnia, Abdullah Ismail Modi and Kassim Ali Muhammad Dawoodani, alongwith four other prominent members held a meeting and had thought of adding the aspect of heroism and bravery, and as a result, the V.V. Club inaugurated an organisation of disciplined Volunteer Corps from among the youths of the community, known as The Young Ismaili Vidhya Vinod Corps under the presidentship of Lt. Col. Itmadi Pirmahomed V. Madhani. The Aga Khan III changed its name as H.H. The Aga Khan's Young Volunteer Corps in 1920. With these changes, the literary activities of V.V. Club were also handed over to the newly formed The Recreation Club in 1919-20 under the headship of Huzur Wazir Ali Muhammad Rehmatullah Mecklai (1894-1971).

In its embryonic stage, the activities of the Recreation Club were carried on in a house at Dhupelia Building, near Bhindi Bazar, Bombay. The Khoja Ismaili Missionary Mandal established in 1910 under the headship of Bhagat Juma Bhai Ismail of Karachi was also merged with it. They were asked to discuss such subjects as religion, history, education, social and cultural affairs of the community. With this new mandate, the name of the Recreation Club was changed to the The Recreation Club Institute on February 10, 1921 under the Presidentship of H.W. Ali Muhammad (1922-1935), with the Chief Secretary Alijah Hasan Lalji Devraj (1922-1934). It was given the name of Recreation Club Institute, said the Aga Khan to the members, "so that you can work for the world at day time, and for the religious at night honour." Later, they were authorized to train regular missionaries, waezeens and religion teachers. Many eminent missionaries joined the Institute, some as paid, and some as honorary, such as the Chief Missionary Hussain Pir Mohammad, Pir Sabzali Ramzan Ali, Ibrahim Jusab Varteji, Alidina Mamoo, Muhammad Murad Ali Juma, Ali Bhai Nanji, Jamal Virji, Manji Bhai Lalji Nayani, Muhammad Abdullah, Abdul Hussain Bachal, Khuda Bakhsh Talib, Hakam Ali Ishaq Ali, Jafar Ali Gokal, Haji Muhammad Fazal, Muhammad Jamal Babwani, Ghulam Hussain Gulu and many others.

The Aga Khan III took his first visit in the Recreation Club Institute on August 5, 1923 and inspected its activities. He also wrote a Persian verse in the diary of Ali Muhammad Mecklai with his own hand, the only known verse written by the Aga Khan III, which is as under:-

Aatish bejan afrokhtan, az bahree jaanan sukhtan, Az man baist amukhtan, en karha karee man ast.

means, "How to kindle a fire in the soul and burn oneself for one's beloved, should be learnt from me as this is one of my jobs."

The Aga Khan III also visited the Institute on November 24, 1923 and February 23, 1924 and was satisfied while inspecting its working and donated one lac rupees. During his next visit on March 12, 1924, he said in presence of about 900 members as under:-


I spoke here last year when I had given as a motto a well known Persian verse which I am sure you have not forgotten. Today I will give you a small motto and that is "work no words." Labour for the welfare of other is the best way of improving oneself, because its results are sure and certain. If you work for yourself, you are never happy. This is not the new idea but this is an outcome of the experience of thousand years of history. Gentlemen, come and take interest in this Institute; give your ideas, advice, and help to this Institute more especially to its Industrial Department which will bring bread and butter and happiness to many and will be an enjoy big many of you. With these few words, I will ask the President to announce the gifts made by different persons to this Institute."

The Recreation Club Institute launched a Subjects Committee during a grand missionary conference on September 28, 1923 and passed a resolution that the missionaries should be taught the doctrines of world religions. It also framed a syllabus to this effect. It was also resolved that the test of the missionaries would be taken in every year and then their grade would be fixed. In its 7th resolution, it was decided to give training to the young boys of 14 years.

The Recreation Club Institute also started the publication of the well-known weekly magazine, "Ismaili." The first issue of the "Ismaili" came out on Sunday, the 25th Safar, 1342/October 7, 1923 both in English and Gujrati into 12 pages. Valibhai Nanji Hooda was appointed as its organiser and Wazir Ali Mahomed Jan Mahomed Chunara as the editor under its Educational Department. The Institute also started its own printing press on January 1, 1924 under Hussain Sharif, Rehmatullah Virji and Abdullah Kassim Mewawala of the Press Department. The Institute provided the missionaries in different quarters of India, and helped the new converts under its Industrial Department, and gradually became a leading institution in the community. On November 22, 1923, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and Maulavi Hakim Sayed Abul Yousuf Ispahani took visit of the Recreation Club, and it was followed by the visits of Maulana Muhammad Ali on November 24, 1923, Maulana Azid Subhani on April 21, 1924, the Palestinian Delegation on May 1, 1924, Maulvi Muhammad Abdul Bari Firangi Mahl Lucknowi on May 21, 1924, etc.

The old records reveal that the well-known paid missionaries in 1923 in the Institute Club were Hussain Pir Muhammad and Alidina Mamu (for Bombay district), Jamal Virji (for Bhalzalavad district), Khuda Bakash Taleb (for Burma), Hamir Lakha (for Sind division), Hakim Ali Ismail and Ghulam Hussain Hashim (for Punjab and North-west Frontier), Ibrahim Yousuf Varteji (for Kathiawar), Din Muhammad Dayal (for Gujrat district), and Thavar Ghulam Hussain, Abdul Hussain Bachal, Nur Muhammad Javair, Hyder Kassim Ali etc. Besides, Pir Sabzali Ramzan Ali (Karachi), Moloo Kanji (Jamnagar) and Bande Ali Juma Bhagat (Bombay) were prominent honorary missionaries.

During the new appointments on April 1, 1924, the Institute created new cells, such as Mission, Finance, Foreign, Provincial, Home, Publicity and Literature, Indurstrial and Commerce, General, Press, Audit, Educational, Ginan Mandal, Suburb, Helping, Hall and Office, Cloth Sales, Library, Employment and Refreshment departments. Each department was looked after by an Incharge, secretary and members. Besides, Ghulam Ali G. Merchant was made the legal advisor, Abdullah B. Pir Muhammad as honorary engineer and Ali Muhammad Juma Jan Muhammad as honorary doctor.

In sum, the Institute Club covered major fields in the orbit of the then available resources.

In 1936, Rai Ismail Muhammad Jafar as a President and Itmadi Rehmatullah Virji as Chief Secretary rendered their services for one year in the Recreation Club. H.W. Ali Muhammad Mecklai was appointed once again as the President in 1938 until 1946, with Itmadi Rehmatullah Virji (1935-37), Alijah Ghulam Hussain Virji (1937-1941), Alijah Rajab Ali Muhammad Dandawala (1941-42), Itmadi Rehmatullah Virji (1943-45), Kassim Ali F. Thanawala (1945) and H.M. Yousuf Ali E. Dossa (1946-48) and Rai Abbas Ali Muhammad as Chief Secretaries. In view of his long selfless services, the Aga Khan III granted the titles of Huzur Wazir (minister in attendence) and Commander in Chief to H.W. Ali Muhammad Rehmatullah Mecklai, who was followed by Itmadi Abdullah Sumar Shivji as the President from 1946 to 1948.

In 1940, the Recreation Club Institute was given a new name of the Ismailia Association. During the Mission Conference in Dar-es-Salaam on July 21, 1945, the Aga Khan III had said that, "You must establish an Ismailia Association that of Bombay. Mr. Mecklai, the President of Ismailia Association in Bombay has too much served the community, and spread the light of the Ismaili faith. His name shall be ever remembered in history on account of his services." In the following year, the Ismailia Association came into existence in Nairobi.

During his visit to the African countries in 1948, the Aga Khan III declared a new constitution of the Ismailia Association, and accordingly, H.W. Ali Muhammad Rehmatullah Macklai was appointed as World Head of the Ismailia Association for India, Pakistan, Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda. Huzur Wazir Mecklai died at the age of 77 years on Wednesday, the July 21, 1971 at Bombay. In appreciation to his long and illustrious services, the Aga Khan IV had sent a telegram to the Ismailia Federal Council for India, in which, after bestowing blessings for his soul and prayer for his eternal peace and sympathy to his family in their great loss, said: "Wazir Mecklai's devoted service to the jamat will always be remembered by my jamat and by myself and he will be deeply missed by all."

Speaking at the audience to the Ismailia Association for Pakistan at Karachi on January 25, 1958, the Aga Khan IV said: "You as my chief spiritual children should go through your own history and try to understand the development which has happened, so that you can explain to your children what is the meaning of Imam and what is the meaning of Faith." In a message to the Ismailia Association for Madagascar on May 28, 1958, he said: "Remember that you have most heavy duties - duties that must be fulfilled intelligently and carefully." In a letter to the President of the Ismailia Association for India on September 25, 1964, the Aga Khan IV said: "I am sure you will never forget that our faith is based on thousands of years of history, and that we should learn from history and not to think that our past is of no use to us now and that it can therefore be rejected, abbreviated or altered."In a special message sent to the Ismailia Association for Pakistan at Dacca on December 5, 1964, the Aga Khan IV said: "I do not want my spiritual children to have faith against logic. Islam is the only religion where there is reconcilable."

Finally, the name of the Ismailia Association had been changed to The Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board in accordance with the new Constitution effective from July 11, 1986, whose primary architect was the Recreation Club Institute.

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