While the fear of the Mau Mau gripped the land, it became evident that change in governance in British East Africa was coming as it happened in India, Ghana and Nigeria. At this time there came a wave of modernization sweeping through the Satpanth Ismaili Khoja community. Through dramatic moves that included a shift of worship rituals to Arabic forms and vocabulary, the community began displaying a character identified by a lifestyle thought to be modern and adjusting to change. All this happened within a decade of the 1950s that ended with the end of Mau Mau.
The Imam encouraged the women to adopt European dress style. He found a way around those who were reluctant at first because short dresses exposed their legs and they felt it was not just immoral but also embarrassing to walk around the town with ‘naked legs’ as they put it, and without a pachedi shawl over their chests and heads that they were used to as Gujarati and Kuchi Khojas. The Imam decided to give his signed picture mounted on a board to those women who would wear the European dress. It was a special photo in colour of the Imam and his begum not seen anywhere before. Moreover, it carried blessings written in the Imam’s own handwriting.
It was like a benediction certificate that the women craved to possess and show off on sideboards and shelves in their living rooms. Some had it even framed. It read just one line, as the Imam’s blessings usually do, and that was enough:
I GIVE MY BEST PATERNAL BLESSINGS TO ALL WHO ADOPT SIMPLE COLONIAL DRESS.
A large majority of women, including many in their senior years, put on what the Imam called a ‘simple colonial dress’. There were a few, however, who were unable to abandon their traditional dressing and they continued to wear a long frock or adopted sari as their regular dress.
Conversely, the Ithna Asheri Khoja women’s ethnic Indic dress segued into full length veiling testifying sturdier adherence to the Twelver Shia faith and Middle Eastern religious identity.