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Book Review

Tajddin, Mumtaz Ali: ' 101 Ismaili Heroes' Vol.1, Islamic Book Publisher, Karachi, January 2003. Hard cover, colour cover, colour box. 440 pp, numerous photos. [email: alymumtaz@yahoo.com]
This book represents the first known attempt to prepare a comprehensive and well-researched collection of biographies of one hundred and one eminent individuals who have helped to shape the Ismaili Community during the last two centuries. The table of contents, which lists the names of these individuals in alphabetical order, includes such giants as Alidina Visram, Laljibhai Devraj, Major Lakhpati, Fidai Khorassani. The author has also included many less well-known individuals, whose contributions have not been widely recognised, but are as important if not more so. These biographies are preceded by a foreword and preface.

The author has undertaken a mammoth task, uncovering the important information about each of the individuals whose biographies are presented in this book. In a society where the pace of change is brutal, and where it is easy to forget one's roots, this book comes as a surprise in both content and it's sheer existence. While it was known that a few prominent individuals have done a great deal for the progress of the Ismaili Community over the last two centuries, it is hard to imagine that so many people have participated actively in the process to shape the community, with much of their work unheralded. It is a testament to the author's dedication and focus that he was able to perform such a comprehensive task, which would normally require several people to complete.

The author presents the life of these Heroes who, under the guidance of the Imam and with the strength of their faith, have moved mountains, often travelling great distances in difficult circumstances to aid various Ismaili Communities. Some of the Heroes wrote books which have influenced generations, some have opened schools, hospitals, built printing presses, established important institutions, and some have selflessly helped Ismailis to settle in various parts of the world. The author writes of Heroes who have brought innovation into the Ismaili Community, who organized Volunteer Corps for the Community, and those who encouraged our intellectual tradition to thrive in the midst of a changing world. While the label Hero is normally designated to history, individuals who lived in the distant past, the author has shown in this book that heroes are a part of everyday life, they are the parents and grandparents of this generation. One does not need to go back centuries to find role models, they are part of the Ismaili Heritage and can be found amongst friends and family. The author describes these heroes, sharing their photos, their lives, and the historical perspective on each of them. This lively book will reveal a strong sense of identity within the Ismaili Community, yielding so many Heroes that the author is already preparing a second volume.

This book is a pleasure to read, written in a straightforward language with Mr. Tajddin's well-known, down to earth approach. The book provides a breath of fresh air in the midst of the cacophony created by the numerous books written by scholars who write on subjects of remote interest, in a language understood only in the ivory towers of academia. This book shows a strong sense of direction and ethics in the Ismaili Community. Though some typos and unavoidable mistakes may have slipped past the proofreaders, they do not take away from the merits of this book. There is however a lack of biographies of prominent women heroines, though their contribution is noted at several points in the book. The second volume will undoubtedly correct this shortcoming by bringing these important Heroines to the forefront.

It should be noted that the author himself is a modern day Hero. While he does not ride on a white horse in shining armour to save the day, he is a Hero because of his dedication to bringing forth the unknown and forgotten history of the Ismailis, taking the time and effort away from his busy life and contributing his knowledge to help build the future of the Ismaili Community, akin to the individuals described in this book. It is hoped that many will follow in his footsteps, as he himself has followed those of his predecessors.

The book can be ordered from P.O. Box 5315 Karachi or directly from the author at alymumtaz@yahoo.com

Feb. 10 2003

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