Common Questions/Answers about Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Islam

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The views expressed herein are based on the academic research of the Ismaili Gnosis blog and do not purport to represent any institution or community as a whole.

Q. Why do Ismā‘īlī Muslims seek the blessings and forgiveness of the Imām in the course of their prayers?

A. See the following two-part article on seeking forgiveness of the Imām:

Seeking the Forgiveness of the Imam Part 1 Click Here to Read

Seeking the Forgiveness of the Imam Part 2 Click Here to Read

Q. Why do Ismā‘īlī Muslims pray three times per day and not five times?

A. The five prayer times are not explicitly mentioned in the Holy Qur’ān and are derived via interpretation.  The Qur’ān only mentions three specific prayer times (11:114). As there are several possible interpretations, the Ismā‘īlī Muslims follow the guidance of Mawlānā Ḥāḍir Imām who, as the legitimate authority and interpreter of the Qur’ān, has specified the number of prayers for his community to perform in the current times and contexts.

Click Here to Read an article Three Times Salat or Du’a by Mumtaz Tajddin Sadik Ali about the number of prayer times in the Qur’ān.

Q. Why don’t Ismā‘īlī Muslim women observe pardah?

A. Pardah is not Islamic concept.  Click Here to Read a post by NanoWisdoms where the contemporary Ismā‘īlī Imāms explain their views on the matter:

“But purdah, as now known, itself did not exist till long after the Prophet’s death and is no part of Islam. The part played by Muslim women at Kardesiah and Yarmuk the two most momentous battles of Islam next to Badr and Honein, and their splendid nursing of the wounded after those battles, is of itself a proof to any reasonable person that purdah, as now understood, has never been conceived by the companions of the Prophet. That we Muslims should saddle ourselves with this excretion of Persian custom, borrowed by the Abbassides, is due to that ignorance of early Islam which is one of the most extraordinary of modern conditions.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III

Q. Why does Mawlānā Ḥāḍir Imām sometimes participate in Sunni Namaz?

A. The Imām does not actually practice the Sunni Namaz. On occasion, the Imām is invited to a prominent maṣjid to offer prayers with a Muslim political leader or figure, and the Imām graciously accepts the invitation. Anyone may do this with their Muslim brethren – and Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh once encouraged Ismā‘īlī leaders in Pakistan to join their Muslim brothers for Friday afternoon prayers as a sign of Muslim unity. Otherwise, Mawlānā Ḥāḍir Imām, by virtue of his pure soul, is always in a state of continuous prayer and remembrance (dhikr) of God which is the very essence of prayer. This is why the Qur’an refers to the Imams as the Ahl al-Dhikr (People of Remembrance – 16:43, 21:7), and Mawlānā ‘Alī tells us that this group never ceases from remembering God:

“Indeed, there is a special People (ahl) who belong to the dhikr; they have adopted it in place of the world, such that ‘neither trade nor merchandise’ distracts them from it. They spend the days of their life in it.”
 – Imam ‘Alī ibn Abi Ṭālib,
(Reza Shah-Kazemi, Justice and Remembrance, 142)

Q. Why is the Ismā‘īlī Jamā‘atkhāna not open to non-Ismā‘īlī Muslims?

A. The Jamā‘atkhāna is only open to those who have given their bāy‘ah to the Ismā‘īlī Imām. The word bāy‘ah, in its root, means ‘buying/selling’ and the bāy‘ah is a spiritual contract or transaction between the murīd and the Imam – where each party makes a pledge to the other. The Jamā‘atkhāna hosts the rites, rituals and ceremonies which form part of the esoteric or Ṭarīqah practice of Islam as opposed to the exoteric or Sharī‘ah practice.  The Jamā‘atkhāna is made open to the murīd as a part of the Imam’s pledge to the murīd and can only be legitimately accessed if the murīd has made a corresponding pledge to the Imām. In the material world of goods and services, it is true that a business transaction requires both parties to exchange something – and it is similar in the spiritual world of knowledge and guidance.  For a non-murīd to have access to the Jamā‘atkhāna without the Imām’s permission would be akin to stealing or theft.

Click Here to Read an article on this subject by the Institute of Ismaili Studies Website – Muslim Spaces of Piety and Worship by Karim Jiwani – which explains that even Ṣūfī prayer houses such as ribatzāwīyyahkhānaqah, etc. do not allow admission to Muslims who have not given bāy‘ah to the Shaykh or Pīr of that particular Sufi Brotherhood. Ismā‘īlī policies are not too different from this.

“For instance, khanaqahs of the Suhrawardi Order in India are known to restrict participation to those who have given their bay‘ah, pledge of allegiance, to the pir or shaykh of the Sufi Order. With regard to the issue of the exclusivity of such spaces, Sunni jurists have viewed it to be a matter dependent on custom.”

“The custom of meeting in closed sessions, at specially designated places, to learn about and practice their own interpretations of faith, has been part of the Ismaili tradition from pre-Fatimid times. During the Fatimid period, the Ismailis used to participate in majalis al-hikma (sessions of wisdom), which were accessible only to those who had pledged their allegiance to the Imam-of-the-time.”

Click Here to Watch a public lecture – “Shia Ismaili Islam” – where it is articulated to a University audience of mainly Sunni Muslims as to why the Ismā‘īlī Jamā‘atkhāna is not open to non-Ismā‘īlīs:

Q. What are some Ismā‘īlī Muslim teachings on fasting?

A. The Ismā‘īlī Imāms have emphasized fasting in all of its aspects, not only its ẓāhirī or physical dimension. Click Here to Read a full exposition of fasting and its significance in Ismā‘īlī thought.

11 thoughts on “Common Questions/Answers about Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Islam

  1. Dear friend,

    Salam wa Rahmah. Thank you for sharing so many profound reflections and sources on this site. I have heard that the venerable Ismai’ii Imam, the Aga Khan, recently re-instituted the formal five daily Islamic prayers (salat) and recommended this rite for all Isma’ilis. Is this the case?

    Also, is it possible to discuss the relationship between Ithna ‘ashari and Isma’ili Shi’ism beyond their shared descent from Imam Ja’far (as). Do any Isma’ilis recognize the line of the Twelve Imams next to or parallel to their own lineage and understanding of Imamate? In other words, is it possible to see both lineages as valid much like different Sufi turuq? Not unrelated, who manifests the function of the Mahdi according to Isma’ilis? Has the current Isma’ili Imam or any earlier Imams spoken about this matter in relation to the Twelfth Imam?

    Thank you for any light you may be able to shed on these questions.


  2. Thank you for taking the time & enlightening an Ismaili who has been struggling with his faith for the last few years along with many of my Ismaili friends.

    However, you indicated that the Imam does not practise the Sunni Namaz, is this an actual fact or an opinion? I have seen many pictures of the Imam praying along with Sunnis, not to mention he recited Idd Namaz in Nairobi at such a young age?

    If he does not practise Namaz, unlike his forefathers, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Imam Ali (PBUH), etc then what does he practise? And if he is the manifest or Mazhar of Allah, then I assume he does not have to pray, as he would be praying to himself?

    Please elaborate. Thank you Brother!

    1. The purpose of formal prayer (salah) according to the Qur’an is to establish the Remembrance (dhikr) of God in the human soul:

      “Then worship Me (fa‘abudnee), and establish the prayer (al-salata) for the sake of My Remembrance (li-dhikree).”
      – Holy Quran 20:14

      In this sense, the Dhikru’llah is a state of awareness or consciousness as opposed to a formal act of ritual worship. Indeed, Dhikru’llah in this sense underlies all states of formal worship – whether it be formal prayer (salah), informal prayer (du’a), glorification (tasbih), etc.

      Ontologically speaking, the spiritual state of awareness or consciousness that is Dhikru’llah is “greather” than the specific acts of ritual prayer – as the Qur’an states:

      “Verily, the prayer (al-salata) keeps one away from minor sins and major sins, but the remembrance of God (al-dhikru Allahi) is greater (akbar).”
      – Holy Quran 29:45

      The most elevated and purified human souls – the Prophets, the Imams, and the saints (awliya) have attained the continuous station of Dhikru’llah – such that their souls never depart from remembering God even though they may live in the physical world. The Qur’an refers to them collectively as the “Ahl al-Dhikr”, and in the same sense, Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib explains that the Ahl al-Dhikr are never distracted from the Dhikru’llah.

      The Imams, always being in the station of Dhikru’llah, do not actually need to perform any kind of formal prayer (whether it be namaz, du’a, etc.) – since their souls are always in a state of continuous prayer.

      1. Your website brings a lot of context, literature, and contentment to Shia Ismailis from across the globe, something that has been lacking in our religious community as we have great literature, but very we lack in communicators unlike our brothers from other sects.

        Your explanation above, while absolutely spot on, fails to answer the basic question that the user asked as Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), Imam Ali (AH) and other Imams who since followed did – our beloved Imam Zayn al-Abidin was also know as al-Sajjad because he was always found prostrating.

        There is no evidence to prove that our present Imam does NOT offer prayers. It can be hard to keep track of him as he spends over a fourth of his time on an airplane dedicated to uplift the ummah and broader communities with all of his resources.

  3. Mashallah !! i’m proud to be an Ismaili murid of the present Imam!!
    many of my questions are being answered over here in quite depth !!
    Thanks Admin may Mowla show his mercy to you !!

  4. Excellent. It gives so much substance to our convictions. It also makes us aware of how profound and full of contents are the ayats of Quran and Hadith. One has to engage in its continual study and reading to discover its richness of contents. Your articles are instrumental to generate this awareness. And it is heartening to know that some of our personal views and understandings are confirmed by these thematic papers.
    IsmailiGnosis is to be congratulated for the magnificent service you are providing not only to Ismailis but to Islam at large

  5. personally for me as an ismaili, there is no problem to say my pray with sunniz or other mathahib in islam. Ofcourse i accept for myself ismaili interpretation much better than other mathahibs interp in islam. its much intresting and in depth. Great respect to all of those who are working for this site.

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