11 July 2007 marked the unison of Ismailis of different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds gathered in various regional venues in the Middle East to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of their Imam. Irrespective of the geographical settings, whether it be Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria or the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the celebrations were memorable.
With anticipation at its peak, spirits were high and the excitement that had built in the days prior to the Imamat Day was palpable. Kuwait commenced the Golden Jubilee with the hoisting of the Ismaili flag in the morning. Syria began with a Qur'anic recital followed by a performance by the youth choir. UAE too commenced with flag hoisting ceremony.
In Syria, poetic recitals, readings from the Qur'an, and various speeches by leaders of the Jamat reminiscing the 50 years of Imamat formed part of the days of festivities. Recitations of devotional literature continued through the weekend with local variations at the Jamatkhana venues. In keeping with the traditional style of celebrating the Imamat Day in Syria, several outdoor festivals were organised throughout the country. Speeches by the leaders of the Jamat and Resident Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network were interspersed amongst interludes of devotional literature, poems and qasidas performed by several poets and youth choir. Variations on this theme were observed at festivals hosted by the local councils in their respective regions. In Barri, the service of past local council Presidents was acknowledged with tokens of appreciation. In Talaldara, dinner was served and some traditional dancing, dabkeh, took place after Jamati ceremonies.
A film called “Our Imam, Our Times”, a retrospective on the history and achievements of the 50 years of the Imamat of Mawlana Hazar Imam was shown to members of the Jamat in all regions. The Middle East Jamat was especially proud to see the contribution to the Muslim Ummah of this region in the form of the Ismaili Centre Dubai which is now in its final phases of completion.
In all regions, the Jamati members adorned in clothing from various cultural origins, the colourful mélange evoked a sense of belonging, a sense of pride in being together, rejoicing in the commemoration of our beloved Imam.
It was these colours that transformed the days into a palette of melodic celebrations. Once such festivity included the dabkeh accompanied with traditional Syrian music. The literal meaning of Arabic work dabkeh "stomping of the feet” Thus stomping, as well as jumping and kicking, are moves that characterise this dance in a unique manner. The leader, called raas (head) or lawwih (waver), is allowed to improvise on the type of dabkeh being danced, and he or she would also be twirling a handkerchief or string of beads known as a masbha, while the rest of the dancers keep the rhythm. One could sense the happiness and elation amongst the dancers as they displayed their culture. Others watched with awe, but not for long. The Syrian Jamat were quick to expand their dabkeh circle, to include other members of the Jamat and patiently taught them how to perform the traditional dance.
Young adults from the UAE Jamat performing in the Cultural Walk depict traditional Eid celebrations in Syria. Ally`s studio on wheels
Drum beats typical to that of music from the Indian subcontinent also resonated, with garba and dandia raas played by Ismailis represented from the Indian subcontinent. Dandia raas is performed using a pair of colourfully decorated sticks, with the players moving in a choreographed manner to the tune of the music. During this dance the South Asians reciprocated and taught the Syrians to dance to the traditional music. Hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder the dabkeh the garba and the dandia raas became a metaphor for unity, brotherhood and solidarity.
Another aspect of the celebrations included the presentation of a Culture Walk put together by the youth of the UAE Jamat. The culture walk took viewers on a historic journey through Syria, Iran, Central Asia (comprising of Gorno Badhakshan, Wakhan, Hunza and Chitral) and the India / Pakistan region. The walk began in the India / Pakistan region, describing how Ismailis practiced their faith there and showcased the traditional garments worn in the region. Moving north, the focus was on Gorno Badhakshan, Wakhan and Hunza. Pictures of the Pamir mountain range that dominates Gorno Badhakshan and Wakhan were displayed and described as Bam-i-Dunya or Roof of the World. The walk progressed to a performance by Chitrali musicians and traditional dances performed by the locals from this region. This part then set the stage for a play which detailed a day in the life of a Syrian Ismaili in the time leading up to Eid ul-Fitr and the cake making activities that are common during that occasion. The walk finished in Iran with a skit showing the celebrations of Navroz along with the rites and rituals performed such as the tying of two blades of grass to signify a matrimonial engagement and a traditional Iranian dance.
The Golden Jubilee celebration reflected diversity in language, in music, in dance and in atire, and yet we felt connected on this auspicious event.