The lion of reform in East Africa
by Fazlehusein Kapasi
The following obituary was read out by Mr. Fazlehusein Kapasi in rememberance of one of our great Reformists, Mr Husseinbhai Hamdani, on 13 July 2008.
Abdalla bin Abdalla, Husseinbhai Hamdani’s father, came to Zanzibar from Yemen in 1918 as a stowaway. From there he came to Mombasa in a dhow and gradually in 1919 made his way to Kampala. In 1928 the first constitution for the Kampala Jamaat was formulated and Abdalla bin Abdalla was one of the founder trustees of Kampala jamaat.
Husseinbhai was borne in Kampala in 1922. His father died in 1939 and so the family responsibility fell on his shoulders at the tender age of 17. The family went through hard times and Husseinbhai lost out on formal education. He got married to Aruaben in 1943.
Although he could not read or write any language he was self taught in English, Swahili, Nubian, Gujarati and Luganda. Arabic was his mother tongue and those who knew him will remember his command of Gujarati. His lack of formal English did not stop him becoming a very successful businessman in Uganda and Canada. His Lugandi was so good that recently in the Ugandan court where he used Lugandi to give evidence; the Judge commented that he was a true Mugandi and whished that Husseinbhai would stay over in Uganda. In his youth, Husseinbhai had tried his hand at several businesses in Uganda and his success came with Poultry farming. Even in this he once lost all his stock in an epidemic that affected poultry he bounced back and became number one in Uganda for poultry supplies.
In Kampala, any public event and Husseinbhai would surely be there and no cricket match was worth watching if Husseinbhai and Late Hassnibhai were not there. The players and spectators would be sure to get loud proclamations of ‘Shabas’ or ‘Labbal’ from the pair for every bit of good or bad play. Husseinbhai loved his tombolla and his, and Hassnibhai’s membership of Indian Recreation Club added flavour to the sports and the evenings at the club.
Like his father Husseinbhai was always interested and took active part in Jamaat matters. He was a fervent devotee of the Dai until his trip to India in early 1960’s. While in Bombay he witnessed the lavish lifestyle of the Shezadas and Shezadis (so called princes and princesses of Syedna's families). To his horror, he also found out how Kothar was making it easy for young Bohri girls to get into legal prostitution. It was the visit to Kampala of the late Syedna Taher Saifuddin that did the ultimate and permanent damage to his devotion. He witnessed at first hand the true colours of Kothar. The exploitation of the community and the sheer contempt with which the Kotharis treated community members shocked him to the core.
It was after the death of Syedna Taher Saifuddin, when the present Dai came to power, that things went from bad to worse. The first act of the present Dai was to declare that his father, the 51st Dai, did not know his own faith and nullified the jamaat constitution which his father had sanctioned after four years of negotiations with East Africa Jamaats. He formulated a new constitution and sent it to the East Africa Jamaats as a directive. When Mr. Kurban Kachi who was then the secretary of Kampala Jamaat , brought it to me, (I was then the joint secretary) I was shocked by it. We both felt that we had to move to halt this constitution from becoming a reality. We went straight to Late Abbasbhai Rajbhai (who was the Jammat president) whose reaction was similar to ours. At that time Abbasbhai and Husseinbhai were not on talking terms and without Husseinbhai’s support there was no hope of succeeding in opposing the new constitution. Mr Kachi and I went to Husseinbhai’s house and read out and translated some of the important clauses to him. His immediate reaction was "Aa Haram che" (“This is unholy”). He not only pledged his full support but also agreed to make up with Abbasbhai in the interest of the community.
A general meeting of the Jammat was called in our workshop where a public reconciliation of Husseinbhai and Abbasbhai took place and all present signed a memorandum opposing the new constitution. Husseinbhai, from there on, became one of the leading figures in the fight against the new constitution. The fight lead to several court cases , some ending in the highest court of the land. The fight cost dearly in time and resources. The financial burden of the cost was not borne by the Jammat but by individuals among whom Husseinbhai was a generous contributor. His office, his time and his children’s time were all applied to our cause. A number of episodes happened during these years of our struggle, which I can not go into, as time does not permit.
When Iddi Amin expelled us from Uganda, Husseinbhai first took his family to Yemen. This did not work out for them and he decided to move to Canada. Fortunately, and partly because of his personality and his frankness, the immigration officers allowed him and his family stay in Canada. He rose to the challenges of a new life in a new country and proved his acumen by becoming one of the well-to-do families in Canada. His passion for reformist activities remained high. He contributed the largest amount (Dollars 100,000) to the 1986 Bohra Reformist Trust which was founded at the 1986 at the All World Conference in Leicester. He helped establish the Association of Progressive Dawoodi Bohras (APDBO) in Canada making a very handsome contribution towards the acquisition of the Reformist centre there. In Kampala, after the family of Late Taherbhai Malkan repossessed Jamaat properties, disputes arose between the The Muslim Supreme Council and the Malkans. Husseinbhai, as a trustee of Kampala Jamaat, was called upon to give evidence in the cases that followed. Husseinbhai , despite his age and ailing health, made several trips to Uganda, gave evidence in the courts and helped resolve the case by arriving at a consensus judgement. In terms of the judgement, for his efforts, he was awarded the value of a property.
Husseinbhai passed on the proceeds of this value to the 1986 Bohra Reformist Trust. We all know, much has been made of this donation. Husseinbhai, till his last day believed that he had acted in the best interest of the Reform Movement and had made the right decisions in this matter. I agree with him.
Husseinbhai has not only done his best for the Ugandan Reformists but has made contributions to the global Reformist activities. Amongst the beneficiaries are: the Malegaon Kabrastan, prayer hall and library; help in Aurangabad and project to help the poor and countless others.
Husseinbhai’s philanthropy has reached beyond the Reform Movement. He contributed handsomely to non-Bohri Muslim organizations. He built a splendid masjid in St. Catherine, right next to his house. A significant landmark, the masjid is the pride and joy of the Muslim community in St. Catharine. It has a lot of facilities which are used on a daily basis by the community. It must be Allah’s reward that his Ghusal took place in the same masjid, his janaza namaaz was offered in the same masjid and his janaza left for his final journey from the same masjid. The attendance of over 1000 people at his funeral is a testimony of the respect and love he earned during his life. On the day of the funeral the Mayor and the police helped by closing some of the roads to allow the mourners easy access to the cemetery.
Husseinbhai’s life can not be summarised in the short time available today. He had the ability to communicate with and win over adults, children, ladies, dignitaries and ordinary folks. His friends will remember him for his story telling skills, his love for fun, the late nights with him, his appetite for good food, and for his support in crises . His family will remember him as a loving caring and larger than life Dad ,Grandad, Great Grandad and husband. I will remember him for being my best friend, being my elder brother, for understanding and trusting me and for being my partner in our common cause and for his support till the very last.
May Almighty Allah bestow upon him the choicest place in Jannat and may He give Sabar and strength to his family to bear this heavy loss. May Allah be Rahim and Karim to Aruaben and give solace to her in her time of grief. Amen.