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The life story of Mohamed Hamir
"a small man from Kutch with giant dreams for his community."


A Quintessential Kutchi Jamatkhana

(completed 1933)

Top : The Jamatkhana lit up for a festival

When one visits the Khoja Ismaili Jamatkhana in Iringa, there is a picture hanging on the wall as you go up the stairs. It is a picture of my maternal grandfather, Mohamed Hamir and my maternal grandmother, Bachibai Mohamed Hamir.

T op: The back, with additions done by Akber Mohamed Hamir.

The writing states:
“In 1933, Alijah Mohamed Hamir Pradhan, on behalf of Hamir Family, unconditionally gifted the Iringa Jamatkhana to the Imam of the time Aga Khan III, Sultan Mohamed Shah. Also included in the building structure were the facilities for a primary school for use by the community."
The city of Iringa in the Southern Highland region of Tanzania, is 500 kilometres from the capital Dar es Salaam and sits along a hilltop overlooking the great Ruaha River, close to the Ruaha National Park , the country's second largest wildlife park.

"Iringa" means "fort" in the local Hehe language and is named for a German colonial centre built in 1900. (Left)
Dukawalla to Wealthy Businessman

Mohamed Hamir Pradhan came from Kutch India around 1905-1906 to join his brothers, Haji and Sachedina (Satchu) Hamir, who had settled there towards the end of 19th century.

It is said that to earn his travel-fare, Mohamedbha worked as a masonry labourer in Bombay , the main British Indian steamship port of embarkation for Khoja migrants to Africa.
In Tanganyika, after working initially for his brothers and after learning to speak Kiswahili, he went deep into the Southern Highland region to start a small retail clothing duka-shop.

Many Khojas traders had settled in Iringa after 1896, when the German Captain Tom Prince, a soldier-farmer opened the region for European farming (see The Intrepid East African Dukawalla. Ed.)
Over the next two decades, his business became very successful. During and after the First World War, he established good relationships with the German and later British administrators in Iringa and benefited from the war economy.

Left: Mohamed Hamir was mentioned as a prominent merchant in German Colonial Book of 1908 .

Mohamed Hamir was a person with strong religious beliefs and community commitment. Towards the of 1929, he expressed to the small Khoja Ismaili Community of Iringa, his desire to build a new Jamatkhana- community center and he personally pledged Shs 40,000/= towards the projected total cost of Shs 60,000 - 65,000. He proposed an ambitious plan to accommodate future settlement in the area, with the new building to seat between 500 to 600 members (the Ismaili population in Iringa at that time, was quite small) and to have primary school as well as sport facilities on the same premises within the compound.

Following the presentation of the proposal to the Ismaili members, Nasser Dossa & Somji Pradhan pledged to donate the land and he personally pledged shs. 40,000 towards the projected total building cost of 60,000 - 65,000 shs. He proposed an ambitious plan to accommodate future settlement in the area, with the new building to seat between 500 to 600 members (the Ismaili population in Iringa at that time was quite small) and to have a primary school as well as sport facilities on the same premises within a compound area.
Because of his previous experience in building work, Mohamedbha had all the design plans ready and he also personally volunteered to be its supervisor, choosing to work with two Hindu "mistrys" named Dewji and Nagji. After many political battles with regards to design and funding, other prominent Ismailis finally pledged the rest of the money for the building, to be paid after the sum of Mohamedbha's initial contribution was spent.

The plan was for a beautiful three-level building with a ground floor and two upper stories halls. The first story to be the main prayer-hall and the second floor to be for a meditation hall baitulkhayal for the intense prayer group. The design was based on the Jamatkhana in Bhuj, in his native Kutch.

After completion of the first floor, Mohamedbha's funds were used up and when he requested the others for their pledged contributions, for various reasons, they were not able to fulfill their commitments. So he had to modify the building plans, deleting the third floor and also having to complete the whole project on his own. He was forced to borrow money from other families he knew outside Iringa who had also come from Kutch.

As per my mother and his daughter, Rehmat Fazal Manji (nee Hamir), and information from my cousin, Diamond Akber Mohamed Hamir (his grandson) and Sikinabai Kanji Lalji, the families who helped him at this time were Kanji Lalji of Mbeya (my father, Fazal Manji Lalji’s uncle) and Dhalla Bhimji of Dar es Salaam.
He also requested a Hindu merchant to supply the building cement on credit with a verbal promise to pay him whenever he could. He pledged to this merchant by "submitting" his pagri (headgear) to the merchant - an Indian custom when one has to borrow money on their "word" and without collateral. For this good cause,the merchant promised to supply as much building materials as needed on credit and respectfully requested Mohamedbha to take back his “pagri”.

In Dar es Salaam, the Darkhana Jamatkhana was also being built around the same time and it too had plans to install a clock tower. Mohamedbha had placed an order for the clock at the same time as the Dar es Salaam order, as they were similar clocks and were being bought from a London company. It so happened that the clock for Dar es Salaam was delayed in manufacturing but the Iringa clock had arrived. Since the Dar es Salaam was scheduled to be opened earlier then Iringa, so following a request from the Dar es Salaam building committee, Mohamedbha generously offered his clock and thus it was installed for the Dar es Salaam Jamatkhana to be ready for the opening ceremony in the early 1930’s. It took about another 6 months for the Iringa clock to arrive

With his a masonry experience and to save labour cost, Mohamedbha did the masonry work himself (as seen in the front part of the building in the photos above and the photo on the right) .

His home and duka was next door to Jamatkhana construction site and he used to do work there with the help of his wife, Bachibai after evening prayers and dinner until late in the night. The lighting was provided by kerosene lanterns.

In 1933, with help of Bachibai, the help of Khoja Ismaili families who lent him the extra money and that his Hindu merchant supplier, Mohamed Hamir was able to finish the iconic building, including a large clock tower, at a total cost of Shs 63,000 plus (which equals to approximately US $250,00 in current value), a princely sum during The Great Depression !

Mohamedbha not only paid all the lenders and merchants fully in following few years but he also added another Shs 9,000 donation towards the building of the school to provide access to education to the children of the community as there was no government or community school at that time and so a primary school was established on the ground floor of the building.

In 1933, on behalf of the Hamir family, he unconditionally gifted the Iringa Jamatkhana to the Ismaili Imam of the time, Aga Khan lll. The Imam bestowed him with title of Alijah, granted him an audience and formally accepted the gift during his Golden Jubilee celebrations in Dar es Salaam in 1936.


Mohamed Hamir was a bold, forward-thinking and dedicated gentleman. He also had the fore-sight to build a Jamatkhana larger than needed at that time. Some 25 years later, the building was modified to accommodate a larger jamaat of Iringa (community had grown five-folds) and it was his only son, Alijah Akber Mohamed Hamir who assisted in the expansion project.

Alijah Mohamed Hamir, who passed away in 1943 and was buried in Iringa, left us an iconic Kutchi landmark in a small town in Tanganyika, a clock for all the town-people to keep time, a a school, community centre and meditation hall for his jamaat to benefit, a beautiful architectural structure for the country and one of the more beautiful jamatkhanas in the world - a very proud legacy for the entire Hamir family and a humbling experience for his grandson to write about it.
By Dr Mohamed Fazal Manji. MD, DMRT, DABRT, FRCPC.
Clinical Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, Canada
Ties of Bandhana by Safder Giga Patney

This book sets out the history of the Alladina Giga Patney family, detailing their travel and travails from Kathiawar,India to Tanga, Tanzania. It is remarkable for the detailed context it adds to the history of the Khoja migrations to Africa - India under the British Raaj and Tanzania under the German Empire - and the resilience of the Indians as forced subjects of first and expendable objects of the second.

"A must-read for all East African Khojas." Editor:"
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