Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.

33. Eboo Pirbhai, Dewan - page 127

Eboo Pirbhai, Dewan

Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, the first Chairman of the Leaders' International Forum, was born at Bombay on May 27, 1905. His father, Pirbhai Gangji belonged to a noble family.
He came in Nairobi in 1910 with his family, where he took his early education at the Duke of Gloucester School. Without much formal education, he became a taxi owner-driver in 1926.

Based on hard work from this beginning, he built up a vast fleet of vehicles and diversified into servicing the needs of the growing East African safari industry. He married to Kulsoom, the daughter of Karamali Nathoo. She was educated at Seaforth College and Cambridge, and Cheltenhem Ladies College in England.

His first debut in community service was when he joined the Volunteer Corps in 1923 at Nairobi at the age of 17 years. In 1937, he was destined to drive the Imam's car. In 1944, he became the Private Secretary of Prince Aly Khan and his wife.

During the Diamond jubilee in Dar-es-Salaam on August 10, 1946, he performed his duties efficiently. The Imam blessed him for his dedicated services and said, 'Mr. Eboo's name is sure to remain in the history of Islam.' The Imam also told him to start his own petrol pump station. He ventured into the field and became one of the leading car dealers in East Africa.

Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai rose gradually to prominence, first in Municipal affairs of Nairobi on whose City Council he sat from 1938 to 1943 as a President, and then in national politics as a member of Kenya's Legislative Council from 1948 to 1960. He was also a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. These were the formative years of Kenya's freedom movement, culminating in the Lancaster House Conference, which eventually led to the country's independence under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, whose close friend Sir Eboo cherished with affection. He was also a close friend of Daniel Arap Moi, the President of the Republic of Kenya.

In recognition of his national services, King George VI awarded him the OBE (Order of British Empire) in 1946 and in 1952 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a Knighthood and the Coronation Medal. He also served as the President of the Central Muslim Association of Kenya from 1938 to 1958. In recognition of his services to the Muslim community, he was awarded the title of Brilliant Star of Zanzibar in 1956, and The Commander of the Green Crescent Cross of the Comores in 1966.

He was appointed member of the Nairobi Council from 1938 to 1943, and also became the President of H.R.H. The Aga Khan Supreme Council and Executive Councils for Africa. He was also a member of the Aga Khan Legion in 1946 and during the Diamond jubilee in Africa; he became Imam's private secretary during the tour and was awarded gold moon, diamond ring and a watch.

During the first Ismaili Mission Conference held in Dar-es-Salaam on July 20, 1945, he was specially invited to participate in it.

The Imam summoned a conference of the Ismaili delegates in Cairo to review the occasion of the Platinum Jubilee upon the completion of 70 years of his Imamate. Dewan Eboo Pirbhai attended the conference. The delegates mutually discussed in the morning and met the Imam at evening on March 15, 1951 in Hotel Semiramese. The Imam emphasized that the programme should be worked out on the pattern of Golden and Diamond Jubilees to improve the social and economical conditions of the Ismailis. The Imam, Mata Salamat and Prince Aly Khan invited them on next day for a lunch at Mohamedali Club and graced them with a photograph.

The Imam deputed him to Aden as his High Commissioner with Missionary Jaffer Ali Muhammad Sufi (1908-1963) on December 12, 1955. In Aden, there were hardly 20 to 25 Ismailis. Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai held a meeting with the governor and solved the problems faced by the Ismailis. With his efforts, the sites for the Jamatkhana and a graveyard could be arranged for the first time in Aden.

He was in a long line of community leaders in Africa, Asia and Middle East and devoted lifetime services for the progress of the jamat worldwide. This encompassed lying sound institutional foundations for the upliftment of the jamat with a network of schools, hospitals, health clinics, business cooperatives, housing societies, investment trusts and an insurance company.

He was among the group of supporters of the efforts initiated by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, and since continued by Hazar Imam, for the educational advancement of the indigenous East African Muslims as the most effective way of ensuring their full participation in the national life of their countries.

During the Takhat Nashini programme of the Imam in East Africa in 1957, he rendered excellent services in Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. He also accompanied the Imam in 1958 on the visit of Europe, Canada and United State. He was made the Vice-Chairman of the first World Ismailia Socio-Economic Conference held in Karachi on December 15, 1964 and also addressed on behalf of the 54 delegates from African countries like Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Republic of Malagasy, Republic of Congo, Rawandi, Burundi, South Africa, Portuguese East Africa, Aden, etc.

In 1972, the Ismailis were expelled from Uganda. On that juncture, he is credited to have settled most of the Ismailis in Canada according to the guidance of the Imam.

He also served as Chairman of the Jubilee Insurance Co. since 1953, a Senior Director of the IPS and TPS and the Diamond Jubilee Trust, Chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation (Kenya) since 1980, Chairman of H.H. The Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismaili Supreme Councils for Africa, Canada, United States and Western Europe since 1973, the member of the Board of Governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, and the Chairman of the Ismaili International Leaders' Forum since 1977.

He attended the fourth International Review Meeting of the world Ismailia Associations in Bombay as its Chairman on January 13, 1982.

On Sunday, July 11, 1982, the world leaders visited Aiglemont to tender cheerful felicitations on behalf of millions of Ismailis to their beloved Hazar Imam. It was on this day exactly 25 years ago, that the Imam acceded to the throne of Imamate in Geneva. Leaders of jamats represented Africa, Bangladesh, Canada, Europe, India, Kuwait, Kenya, Malagasy, the Middle East, Malaysia, Pakistan, Portugal, Rwanda, Burundi, Syria, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Zaire and more countries that any other previous jubilees. The Imam made his gracious arrival in a big hall with Begum Salimah, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim, Prince Husayn, Princess Tajuddawlah, Mata Salamat, Princess Yasmin and Prince Amyn Muhammad.

The scene was picturesque, the atmosphere was charged and the exuberance and boundless. Dewan Sir Eboo Pirbhai had the honour to address on behalf of the world jamats and said, 'It feels as though it was only yesterday that the young Prince Karim became our 49th Imam. On the other hand the sheer scope and weight of your achievements in this brief time-span makes us feel as impossible for so much to be achieved in so brief a time-span. For him, this day constituted as milestone in the continuation of the vast work done by Mawlana Hazar Imam's grandfather. The sheer magnitude of the achievements that were to come could not then be comprehended by the jamat. For, as the 49th Ismaili Imam, you have given unstintedly of your time and energy in guiding us on the Siratul Mustaqim. You are doing so with the paternal, maternal concern and benevolence, and with indulgence that have been the foundation of the unique link between the Imam and the jamat since time immemorial.'

The Imam referred to that day as a 'historical occasion' and prayed the worldwide Ismailis with best loving blessings.

By his talent and invaluable services, he merited the titles of Alijah andRai before 1946. He was bestowed the title of Wazir in 1946 and Count in 1954. During the grand occasion of the Silver Jubilee Darbar in London in July 7, 1983, the Imam conferred upon him the title of Dewan for his over 50 years invaluable services. In his farman, the Imam said, 'What I wish to do today is to recognize in an exceptional manner in front of the jamat, the services of a member of the jamat who has served my grandfather, who has served me, and who has served the jamat consistently for more than 50 years, taking even personal risks at times of crisis in the developing world, extending to the jamat all the benefit of his time and wisdom, and I have decided to give the title of Dewan to Count Sir Eboo Pirbhai. This is also a symbol, because the Imam is saying to the jamat that the Imam wishes to recognize publicly, exceptional service by a very young man.'

Sir Eboo Pirbhai was present on that occasion and his eyes were moisted with tears when he heard the Imam's farman. With the help of Wazir Amir Bhatia, he climbed on the stage with his wife and submissively bowed his head, uttering 'amen.'

The last few days of his life were marred by illness and physical affliction, which he bore with the same tranquility and peace of mind, which marked his whole path through life. He breathed his last in London on Thursday, January 4, 1990 at the age of 85 years.

His funeral service held at the Parkland's Ismaili Cultural Centre Hall, attended by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Kenya the Hon. Daniel Arap Moi, the Vice President and Minister for Finance Prof. George Saitloti and a host of Cabinet Ministers, the Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, members of Parliament, the Nairobi Provincial Commissioner and the British High Commissioner to Kenya, members of the leaders International Forum, office bearers of the Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, the staff from the Imam's Secretariat and office bearers of Imamate Institutions in Kenya and overseas, etc.

In a message, the Imam said, 'Sir Eboo's leadership has been a major source of inspiration to members of my community in volunteering their services in various capacities to assist in improving the quality of life of all those among whom they live. Sir Eboo's life and work spanned the critical years of Kenya's recent history and the country's emergence to nationhood in which, as a member of the country's Legislative Council and a leader of the wider Muslim community, he played a significant role. His quiet and gentle manner, his humility and above all his thoughtfulness and wisdom earned him the esteem and affection of all those, regardless of rank or position, who came in contact with him.'

In his message, Daniel Arap Moi, the President of Kenya paid a glowing tribute to him that, 'The late Sir Eboo was a friend of many and he passionately believed in the development and welfare of others. One of his outstanding qualities was his service to the people irrespective of their nationalities. He will always be remembered for spearheading various development projects in this 50 years at the helm of the Ismaili community; he promoted the development and expansion of the community's institutions. He was respected and admired by all in the Ismaili community and indeed by all Kenyans, the cruel hand of death has taken away an irreplaceable personality from amongst us all. At this time of grief and sorrow, I convey to his bereaved family, His Highness the Aga Khan, the Ismaili community, relatives and friends, my heartfelt sympathies and condolences. May the Good Lord grant them strength and courage to bear the loss.' Sir Michael Blundell, the veteran European leader in Kenya said, 'Sir Eboo was indeed the forerunner and later a leader in the great contribution to the development of Kenya, which has been made by the Ismaili community.

Back to top