The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through My Lens by Muslim Harji

The First Part in a Special Series on Badakhshan and Central Asia

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MUSLIM HARJI
(Special to Simerg and Simergphotos)

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An eighteen hour ride from Dushanbe to Khorog needs a well maintained 4 wheel drive. This drive is not for weak at heart, but a dream ride for an intrepid traveller. The rough road ( I would call it a path) is barely wide enough for one car, but the drivers are skilled enough to squeeze in two cars with both drivers on mobiles, and often texting!

The Pamirs are a mountainous area located in Gorno-Badakhshan with a reputation for having some of the world’s most inaccessible mountains, unparalleled beauty and a kindness so warm and inviting from the inhabitants that even the harshest winters seem not too bad. The majority of the inhabitants of this area are Ismailis, followers of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. I visited this absolutely beautiful part of the world with my wife, Nevin, recently – twenty years after Mawlana Hazar Imam made his first historic visit to Tajikistan in May 1995. This was a thrilling visit — the best journey I’ve ever undertaken in my life — and I am delighted to share the photos I captured with readers of Simerg and Simergphotos. This is the first in a special  series on Badakhshan and Central Asia that the two blogs will be featuring in the coming weeks.

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Amazing – the drive from Dushanbe to Khorog, Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

I wish to record my sincere thanks to our gracious hosts Dr. Ali Rajput, Shireenjan, Said Aziz, Zuibeda and family. They made our stay most enjoyable and made it possible for us to see parts of Badakhshan that we would have otherwise not seen. We shall always be grateful to them for their kindness.

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THE WELCOME

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Upon arriving at the village of Rushan, we were greeted by children singing the welcome song “Khushamudin”. We were then escorted into the home of the Ismaili village elder. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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KHOROG AND THE FUTURE SITE OF THE ISMAILI CENTRE

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Khorog has one of the best educated populations of any town in Central Asia. English seems much more widely spoken here than in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital. The open space in the image is the future site of “The Ismaili Centre Khorog,” next to the beautiful botanical garden built my Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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THE MOUNTAINS OF BADAKHSHAN AND THE MYSTERY OF MOUNT NASIR KHUSRAW? 

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The Mountains leading in and out of Khorog. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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ANECDOTE

As told by Alice Hunsberger

Nasir Khusraw holds a special place in the hearts of the Tajiks, not only because they consider him a Tajik poet, since Tajik is the name of their language, which is really Persian. But also because he spent his last years there, in exile mostly in the eastern region called Badakhshan.

Today, Badakhshan (which straddles both Tajikistan and Afghanistan and Pakistan) nearly completely professes the Ismaili faith, a fact the Badakhshanis reverentially attribute to Nasir Khusraw’s beautiful preaching and poetry.

The story is this: During Soviet times, when Tajikistan was one of the republics, an officer came from Moscow to Tajikistan to make an inspection. He was shown around the schools, hospitals, power plants and other places that would display progress in general. One of the things sagaciously pointed out were the soaring mountain peaks: Mount Lenin, Mount Communism, Mount Fifth of May, and so on.

This fellow from Moscow, who was not only sensitive but informed of local enthusiasms, said:

 “Aren’t you upset that there is no Mount Nasir Khusraw?”

To which his Tajik host replied:

 “There is no mountain high enough.”

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KHOROG’S MULTI-PURPOSE HOME

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Dr. Ali M. Rajput of Birmingham, England, has made Khorog his place of residence during the summer months. He has made this place available for people to come to socialize and also pray. Now in his Ninety’s, Dr. Rajput serves the jamat in his own capacity and is deeply loved by the people of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Members of the Khorog  jamat are seen practicing for the annual “Noor Day Celebration” which commemorates Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit to Badakhshan on May 25th, 1995. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Young Volunteers distributing Tasbhis (prayer beads) before prayers. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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IN RUSHAN

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Muslim Harji and Dr. Ali Rajput, at far right corner, breaking bread with the village elders of Rushan. Photo: Muslim Harji.

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The jamat meets, greets and socializes. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Enjoying Pamiri hospitality: Our host Shireenjan, Zubeida and family. Almost everyone we met along the way happily invited us to their place for tea and other Tajik delights. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Meeting Ismailis  in the mountainous region of Rushan, Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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THE ISMAILIS OF THE WAKHAN CORRIDOR

The Wakhan Corridor is the narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. The corridor, wedged between the Pamirs to the north and the Karakoram range to the south, is about 350 km (220 mi) long and 13–65 kilometres (8.1–40.4 mi) wide (Wikipedia excerpt).

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Little Suranoor having breakfast before getting ready for school in the village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright

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Geema tending to family animals after coming home from school.

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Ismaili schoolgirls amidst a fantastic setting in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright

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Young girls helping out with household chores. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Young Ismaili boy helping sow seeds on the family farm after school. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Incredible beauty, where eagles fly over the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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“ALLAH IS SMILING UPON YOU” 

Mawlana Hazar Imam, Badakhshan, May 1995. Photo: The Ismaili, special edition.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Badakhshan, May 1995. Photo: The Ismaili, special edition.

“The Qur’an refers very often to nature as a reflection of Allah’s power of creation, and it says, look at the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the flowers, as evidence of Allah’s love for the people whom He has created. Today, I look at the environment and I say to you, I believe Allah is smiling upon you, and may His smile always be upon you.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, Badakhshan, May 27, 1995.

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The joy of being a grandfather….in the Village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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and equally…the joy of being a grandfather….in the Village of Namadgut. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Nevin’s roadside lunch break with our Ismaili driver Zakir. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Ismaili boys at the family barn. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Young Ismaili Girl tending to village cattle after school. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright

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An Ismaili Herder in the Wakhan Valley. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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A close up of the Ismaili herder. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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Our host Aga Yodgar in Langar, Wakhan Valley, entertains us with rubaab after dinner. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

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A communal tandoor in an Ismaili village, where the entire village gets its bread baked. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

Date posted: Friday, June 12, 2015.
Last updated:
Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Copyright: Muslim Harji. Montreal. 2015

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