"Ismā‘īlīsm…pioneered the most daring metaphysical thought in Islam. Its voice, at once original and traditional, should be heard again today—a task of which it seems that the young Ismā‘īlīs are aware." (Henry Corbin)
Our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Isma‘il, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis.
(Forty-Ninth Hereditary Imam of the Shi‘i Isma‘ili Muslims)
Dedication: This article is dedicated to the loving memory of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hakeem Seth Carney (1979-2007) whose hidden services and loving devotion to the Isma‘ili Imamat shall always be remembered. He will forever be a spiritual (ruhani) presence in the Isma‘ili Muslim Jamat.
The Isma‘ili Muslims take their name from the fact that they affirm the Imamat of Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far as the hereditary Imām after the Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq – as opposed to the Twelvers who believe that Musa al-Kāẓim was the Imām after Imām al-Sadiq. The issue became complicated because most historical sources confirm that the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq publically designated his son Isma‘il as his successor. But most sources also say that Ismā‘īl died before his father. Therefore, at the death of the Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, the Shi‘ah community split into a number of factions – each following a different Imam. Many who followed Isma‘il and upheld his Imamat did not believe that Ismā‘īl had actually died, while others affirmed Isma‘il’s death and followed his son Muhammad ib. Ismā‘īl as the Imam. The group of Shi‘ah known as the Isma‘ilis trace the line of Imamat through the direct descendants of Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far and his son Muhammad ibn Isma‘il and today recognize their lineal descendant, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, as the Present, Living and Manifest Imam of Shi‘i Islam.
North America’s first Ismaili Studies Conference will take place on October 16 and 17 at the University of Chicago. Organized by University of Chicago Doctoral Candidates Shiraz Hajiani and Michael J. Bechtel, the Ismaili Studies Conference features Five Panels and a concluding Roundtable Discussion.
“The Imam’s word on the Faith is taken as an absolute rule. Every Ismaili is expected to accept it.” - Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
“The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen – I have not the least hesitation in saying it – is alcohol.”
– Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III
“Our belief is that the thing which separates man from the animals is his power of thought. Anything that impedes this process is wrong. Therefore alcohol is forbidden. I have never touched alcohol.”
– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
“Great architecture, like great art, captures esoteric thought in physical form.” - Imam Shah Karīm al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
In May 2010, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shī‘ī Ismaili Muslims and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, presided over the foundation ceremony for the Aga Khan Museum, Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, and Aga Khan Park being built in Toronto. The entire site – known as the Aga Khan Campus – is described by the Imam as follows:
According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muḥammad received the first revelations of the Holy Qur’ān on the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr) which is vividly described in the sūrahs below:
Verily, We sent it down in the Night of Power And how can we tell you what is the Night of Power? The Night of Power is greater than a thousand months. The Angels and the Spirit descend in it by the permission of their Lord for every affair. Peace it is, until the rising of the dawn. (Sūrah al-Qadr – 97:1-5)
Ha-Mim. By the Manifest Book Verily, We sent it down in a Blessed Night. Verily, We are ever warning. In it every wise affair is made clear. A Command from our Presence. Verily, We are ever sending. A Mercy from your Lord. Verily, He is the Hearer, the Knower. (Sūrah al-Dukhān – 44:1-6)
The traditional interpretation holds that on the Night of Power, the entirety of the Holy Qur’ān as a Scripture including all of its chapters and verses were ‘sent down’ to the lowest heaven and that the Angel Gabriel then began dictating this ‘text’ to the Prophet Muḥammad over twenty-three years. But this is merely the exoteric interpretation which is based on subjective assumptions and not actually supported by the Qur’ān itself.
“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet.” - Imam Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV
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“In the early hours of July 11, the Aga’s heart-beat weakened. Aly and Sadruddin were summoned to the Barakat but their dying father could no longer speak. Karim came and the Begum was still keeping up her vigil. Four doctors were in attendance and nurses left the sick-room only to change their clothes or take a bite. At midday, the Aga Khan was sleeping peacefully. Forty minutes later his life slipped quietly away… The curtains were drawn and darkness fell over a great figure of the age.” (Willi Frischauer, The Aga Khans, 1970, p. 206)