Between 3rd and 7th September, the Asian Chapter Group of the IIS Alumni Association convened at the Ismaili Centre, Dubai, for their annual reunion, and a lively exploration of the poetry of the Persian Ismaili poet-philosopher, Nasir-i Khusraw.
A highlight of the seminar was the presence of Dr Alice Hunsberger, an expert on Persian literature and author of Nasir-i Khusraw: the Ruby of Badakshan. Dr Hunsberger led the first two sessions and held her audience mesmerised with her deep understanding of Nasir-i Khusraw’s poetry and context.
During the remaining two days, experts such as Dr Daniel Beben, Dr Abdulmamad Iloliev and Dr Yahia Baiza explored other aspects of Nasir-i Khusraw’s poetry. They linked his poetry to historical and political developments in Central Asia and discussed the circumstances of his death. According to them, Nasir-i Khusraw’s poetry was not only a reflection of the politics and religious elements of his time: in his poetry lie the seeds of change and the future stories of several significant parts of Asia.
Nasir-i Khusraw was a key figure in Ismaili and Central Asian history. As a da‘i, pir and hujjat, he contributed to the spread of the Ismaili mission in Central Asia, especially in Tajik and Afghan Badakshan, Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan) and Xinjiang (China) provinces. His powerful poetry reflects his devotion to the Ismaili Imams and his ability to spread the message or da‘wa. His use of words and images also convey his appreciation for beauty and the majesty of the Divine, which was enhanced further for the participants by the beautiful setting of the Ismaili Centre.
Speaking about his experience, Al Noor Daod Nathoo (GPISH 2013) said:
“The chapter group meetings are great opportunities for the alumni to reconnect with former classmates, meet people from other programmes and learn about topics that we don't always have time to explore due to our professional and day to day commitments. This meeting in Dubai has allowed me to learn more about the life and work of Nasir-i Khusraw and his legacy in the rites and ceremonies of Central Asia, Afghanistan and Iran.”
Firuza Gulayozova (STEP 2015) noted:
“The seminar that we had in Dubai was very useful. As I am living in a context where Nasir-i Khusraw is appreciated as a great philosopher and poet, I was eager to learn more about his life and work. Nasir-i Khusraw has had a great impact on Asian culture, identity and literature. The articles provided by ACG were inspiring with interesting analyses of his philosophical poetry which speak to universal truths. I enjoyed our ACG meeting and am looking forward to the next seminar.”
The annual meeting also allowed participants to enjoy the ambiance of Dubai. A visit to the Sharjah Museum of Islamic Art provided a glimpse into the diversity of Muslim cultures across the Middle East, and their scientific contributions to human civilisation. A visit to the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi showed how craftsmen and material from around Asia and Europe can be brought together to develop a large scale, modern and picturesque mosque.
According to Dr Perwaiz Hayat (McGill 1987):
“The lenses which the seminar provided will help participants to understand various perspectives of Nasir-i Khusraw's life and the Ismaili da‘wa in Central Asia. In short, this Chapter Group meeting was a beautiful package of knowledge, fun and friendship. It was an amazing and memorable four day voyage.”
Soha Jabr (STEP 2014) summed up her experience of the chapter group meeting by saying:
“The ACG meeting was a great platform to develop meaningful relationships with other graduates and professionals working in different fields and contexts, after graduating from the same Institute. It was indeed an invaluable experience to take part in the academic sessions and learning about topics through specialist professors and engaging discussions. I look forward to more fulfilling and rewarding meetings.”