Imam Hussain was martyred in Muharram, which begins on Wednesday, and Dhalla has flown in to hold a series of Muharram majlises. “I speak about the actual tragedy just for 10 minutes in my hour-long recitation. The rest is about what we can learn from it and why humanity owes a lot to the Imam who refused to bow down to a tyrannical king and upheld peace, justice and truth,” says Dhalla, a popular face on the global Muharram majlis reciters’ list. She has been invited to Mumbai by Khoja Shia Isna Ashari Jamat.
Growing up in the West though her grandfather migrated to Tanzania from Gujarat and his parents moved to Canada from Dar es Salam, Dhalla speaks fluent English, Urdu and Gujarati. Besides Muharram lectures, she also speaks on Islam at mosques, churches and synagogues.
Though in Mumbai her audience is women, she says men have played a big role in making her into a globe-trotting zakira. “First, it was my father who backed me and then my husband,” says the mother of three. Her doctor husband was initially reluctant to allow her to be so frequently out of home delivering lectures. “Then, I told him how the Prophet encouraged his daughter Fatima to get empowered with knowledge. Now, from booking my flight tickets to finalizing my itinerary, he does everything for me,” she smiles. “He is happy when strangers tell him they are happy with my work.”
Mumbai’s multiculturalism fascinates the preacher. “It is so nice to see Hindus preparing to celebrate Ganpati festival, Christians the Mount Mary Fair and Muslims commemorating the Karbala trag-edy in Muharram. India is a co-nfluence of so many cultures, religions and languages,” she says. “I am pleased to hear the azaan in mosques and see aarti in temples. Our Prophet emphasised the idea of co-existence and tolerance when he signed the Medina covenant with non-Muslims. Which is why I am dismayed that the new government in Pakistan has dropped an economist as its advisor because he happens to be an Ahmadia. They have confused culture with religion.”