34 THE ADVOCATE
VOL. 79 PART 1 JANUARY 2021
I was forced to leave my place of birth or risk losing my life. Arriving at a
safe haven has profoundly influenced my views on the ethics of immigration.
It is a part not only of my life but also of the lives of my ancestors, and
that too has made an impression on how I think about this issue.
I am born as a Shi’a Ismaili Muslim. The Shi’a and the Sunni Muslims
divide themselves on the question of succession to Prophet Muhammad.
Ismailis are one of the many Shi’a sects worldwide. By the ninth century,
Ismailis occupied Syria and were known as the Fatimid. In the tenth century,
the Fatimids conquered a stretch of North Africa that included a part
of Egypt. However, by the 11th century, Saladin, the Muslim leader who led
successful campaigns against the Crusaders, conquered most of the Middle
East, and the Fatimid Empire crumbled.
Upon the collapse of the Fatimid Empire, one sect, the Nizari, moved to
Persia and established themselves there. The Nizari became the modern
Ismailis. In approximately 1251, the Mongols invaded Persia, and many
Muslims, including the Nizaris, were killed. As a result, the Nizaris fled and,
for years, travelled through northern Persia, Afghanistan. They eventually
settled in western India—in particular, the state of Gujarat. Along the way,
they converted many into the Nizari Ismaili faith.
On my father’s side, we are a mix of Afghan, Persian and Indian. On my
mother’s side, we are Indian for many generations—likely Indians who
were converted after the Nizari Ismailis reached India. My paternal grandfather,
Ibrahim Mitha, was born in 1905 in the small farming town of Bhanvad,
India. Growing up, he worked on his father’s farm and went to school,
where he learned to speak English. By 1917, there was great suffering due
to shortages from the First World War and severe droughts affecting the
Indian farming communities, including in Bhanvad.
As a result, my great-grandfather sold a piece of his land for 25 rupees to
pay for his son Ibrahim to move to Africa for a better life. Thus, at the age
of 12, my grandfather set out alone on his 14-day voyage on a ship called
the Pandwa from India to the shores of Mombasa, Kenya. There he found
work with an Indian merchant. He was paid the annual wage of 150 rupees
plus room and board.
Ibrahim saved what he could and eventually made his way to a small village
in eastern Uganda called Mbale. There he started a family, made a
home and over about six decades built an impressive financial empire. By
1972, his net worth exceeded US$10 million, equivalent to more than US$70
My father was born in Mbale. He married my mother, who was born in
Moshi, a small town at the foothills of the Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. My