27 Ramadhan 1441
20 May 2020
In the still of the Ramadhan night amid these trying times I reminisce the
serene Zanzibar evenings of more than 60 years back and my thoughts turn to
Mu’allim Abdulrasul Bandali.
In Zanzibar Ramadhan had an aura of its own. After the earlier lull the evenings
heading for the 'iftaar time' livened up. The old man Hassanalibhai Juma (Mze
Juma) holding those bulging 'mkate wa mofa' (baked mill flour) made his way
towards the mosque and striding along there passed the tall figure in long
overcoat and red turboosh hat of Mu’allim Bandali heralding the ' maghrib adhan'
My dad with a pinch of salt immediately turned into his 'namaaz' while the rest
of us would be seated at the 'iftaar table' awaiting 'adhan'. The melodious
proclamation of Mu’allim Bandali's 'Allahuakbar....' on the loudspeaker from the
opposite Junni mosque ascending the openness of Zanzibar skies and its gullies
re-echoing his adhan. Personally it was my first experience of melody at its
best. Mu’allim Bandali's strikingly simple and solemn chanting melody that to
this very day etches on my mind.
Of all the East African nations ZANZIBAR was a different domain. Its language,
people, culture, religiosity, food, habits, ethnicity and norms differed
considerably from the rest of the East African nations. The Kutchis had dwelt on
the tiny ZANZIBAR (JANGBAR in their lingo) as far back as eighteenth century and
attributing their distinct status to the influence of Waswahilis, Omani Arabs,
Yemeni Arabs, Comorians,(Wangazijas), Bahrainis, Persians and such other groups,
and hence people of mixed race among us. We had undergone an era of the Omanis’
Sultanate and the British Protectorate rule. Most of their accent was noticeable
unlike the thick vernacular of those who moved much later.
One of these rare Jamnagri species was the Zanzibar born Khoja Mu'allim Bandali
who with his accented vowels had evolved himself into a linguist of a sort. 'SAUTI
YA UNGUJA' (Voice of Zanzibar) at Raha Leo was launched around 1951 and Mu'allim
Bandali, the only Indian along with Amirali Abdulrasul , an obvious choice for
reciting the Quran in its melodious form. In fact the older timer Zanzibaris
would remember that during Ramadhan 'Sauti Ya Unguja' program used to be relayed
live from Bayt Al Ajaib (House of Wonders) and Mu'allim's rendition featuring
prominently. Interestingly the son Murtazabhai following in the footsteps of his
father also started reciting Quran at the tender age of 16. The Sauti Ya Unguja
program presenter in his humorous tone referred to the reciter as Master Murtaza
Bandali. Also it must be noted here that among the Asians Mu'allim Bandali and
Murtazabhai were the only father & son pair to have recited BARZANJI in Maulidi
at Mnazimoja, Zanzibar.
My father had very high regard for Mu’allim. He himself was a voracious reciter
of Quran and early in the morning after opening the shop his first task would be
to recite a 'juz' of Quran. I could sense the mutual respect they had for each
What comes to mind is Mu’allim's majestic figure occasionally emerging at the
'Sheriff Dewji Darsakhana' and momentarily there would be a pin drop silence.
Mu’allim Agha Sayyid Mehdi Shushtari under whose guidance the 'darsa' was
conducted would then draw everyone's attention by requesting Mu’allim "Tafazzal
Maalim" and there followed melody at its best.
Mu’allim was a devout Muslim . Personally I’d grown up listening to his dua e
Kumail, Iftittah, Ziyarat e Waritha , Ziyarat e Arbaeen and innumerable other
recitals like Ramadhan A’maal and Duae Nudba. Typical of Zanzibar in those days
was the brilliance of Mu’allim's duas that had the Community members attending
the School Fez portion (over the top of the mosque) overwhelmed with emotions.
On Ashura Day majlis he would get up to call Shahzada Ali Akbar's last 'adhan'
that moved the entire 'imambara'. Mu’allim was also an avid 'nauha reciter', in
particular I remember the Persian version ‘Ay Kushtae Rahe Khuda binawaa Husayna’
and 'Zuljanah Akbal Minal Maidan Khali...' chant when Imam's laash made its
appearance created overwhelming scenes.
Mu’allim Bandali was compassionate and caring. Never one to turn his back he
would not only provide ghusl to the'mayyit’ but recite 'kalima’ along the way,
‘talqeen’ in the qabr and then followed the bereaved family, a good example of
Maula Ali (a.s) type idealism that is lacking in today's world.
Born in Zanzibar in 1912 , he was educated at Government Central School,
Zanzibar whose Principal was Mr. Hollingsworth. In 1931 he was awarded Teaching
Certificate and from 1932-37 taught in Govt. School, Zanzibar. He was then
transferred to teach in a Pemba School where he was highly acclaimed by his
students. His stay there was suddenly called off as the British Government,
sensing his expertise in mathematics seconded him to Zanzibar to work in Debts
Settlement Dept., Food Control Office and then Economic Control Board 1939-1944.
Being a man of principles Mu’allim was averse to any form of corruption in those
days of strict rationing during the 2nd World War and implied "regardless of the
status or vocation of a person if a pishi of rice for a local African then all
the rest receive the same." He then served in various capacities in the
Secretariat Office in Bait al Ajaib until he was promoted as Office
Superintendent and Estimates Officer 1953-59. Mu’allim's noble deeds became
further evident when working at the Secretariat. He fought for the 'pension
rights' of the messengers. As Office Superintendent he was well conversant with
the rules and basing his arguments plausibly the Financial Secretary eventually
gave his approval that meant 'Pension for the Messengers'. Coincidentally both
Mu’allim as well as Murtazabhai had worked for the Passport and Immigration
section in the British High Commission in Dar es Salaam after the Zanzibar
Revolution and again subjected to bribery attempts but they vehemently declined
Mu’allim and the Zanzibar Sultan Sayed Khalifa shared a special bond.
Murtazabhai also vividly recalls accompanying his father to the Palace on the
occasion of Eid Baraza. Mu’allim used to be entrusted with organizing the BARAZA
on Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Murtaza, then a kid, was presented with the task
of placing stickers of the invited guests on their respective chairs. Eventually
after years when Mu’allim retired the Chief Secretary PAP
Robertson hosted a party in Mu’allim's honour at Bayt al Ajaib acclaiming
Mu’alllim's proficiency and indefatigable services. In his typical British
humour Mr. Robertson summed up his speech saying thenceforth any shortcoming in
such a function meant conspicuousness of Mu’allim's absence.
Mu’allim Bandali went on to receive the 'Coronation Medal' in 1953 awarded by
the British Government in recognition of his services. He was also a recipient
of the Order of Brilliant Star (Wisam al-Kawkab al-Durri) by the Sultan of
Zanzibar, Sayyid Sir Abdullah bin Khalifa bin Harub for his sterling services to
Sadly, Mu’allim passed away about half a century back in Dar es Salaam on 27
November 1972. It is not surprising that his funeral was attended by a large
number of people. When a Hindu person inquired of such a large attendance in the
funeral he was replied that had he died in Zanzibar a considerably larger number
of people of all races would have gathered for his funeral. Mu'allim was quite
popular among the Waswahilis, Arabs and Wangazijas.
Rightly it is said that 'like father like son'. Today Mu’allim’s sons
Murtazabhai and Husainbhai, both in the UK, have a great following. Even aged
over 80 & 70 their lilting melody has an overwhelming effect on the listeners.
We pray to the Almighty to grant them good health and long life. Their
tapes/CDs/ of du’as , marsia and nauha rendering in the Zanzibar of 50s & 60s
are most sought after. In fact Murtazabhai's 'Maula Ya Maula' recitation to this
day remains unmatched and is becoming a universal feature of the Ramadhan