Esoteric Apocalypse (Qiyamah): Isma‘ilī Muslim Perspectives on the “End of the World” (Part 2)

“All of these changes suggest that we are moving into a new epoch of history, a new condition of human life.”

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV

“We, the Imāms in descent from Imām Husayn, are present until today and we shall remain until the Qiyāmah and even after the Qiyāmah.”

– Imam Āgā Shāh ‘Alī Shāh Āgā Khān II

This post continues from Part 1 – Esoteric Apocalypse (Qiyāmah): Ismā‘īlī Muslim Perspectives on the “End of the World”.  In Part 1, we explained and outlined the concept of Qiyāmah in Ismā‘īlī gnosis, and the various signs which would accompany the beginning of the Cycle of Qiyāmah and the advent of the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah. (We advise all readers to go through Part 1 before reading this post).

Part 1 left off by showing how two prominent Ismā‘īlī dā‘īs – Hamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī and Muḥammad al-Ṣūrī – prophecized that the Seventh Cycle – the Cycle of Qiyāmah – would commence after the coming of 49 Imāms of the Cycle of Prophet Muḥammad:

The ceiling of Glenview Jama tkhana features a pattern of seven concentric septagons. Each septagon stands for a Minor Cycle of Seven Imams. The Center of the Seven Heptagons represents the Qa’im al-Qiyamah who appears after the Cycle of 49 (7×7) Imams.

“Kirmānī firmly rejected Druze statements about the imminent advent of the Qā’im by reiterating that the Qiyāma was not near, but was to take place in the distant future when the long cycle of forty-nine Imāms was concluded. Only then would the Qā’im remove all the ranks of the world of dīn [‘ālam ad-dīn], which would no longer be necessary as intermediaries for the knowledge of the divine knowledge would become pure, actual, and no longer mediated.”

– Simonetta Calderini, (“‘Ālam al-dīn in Ismā‘īlīsm: World of Obedience or World of Immobility?”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. 56, No. 3 1993, 467)

“Muḥammad b. ‘Alī al-Ṣūrī, a Fatimid dā‘ī in Syria who died around 487/1094, enumerates the imāms of the era of Islam in a long poem.  According to him, the seventh heptad of imāms in the era of Muḥammad is the most eminent one, because it precedes the coming of the Qā’im.”

– Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 208)

At this point it must be remembered that Qiyāmah is a spiritual event and recognizing Qiyāmah requires one to perceive the “spiritual history” of humanity.  Spiritual history is the inner meaning (ta’wīl) of external or recorded history.  Thus, one cannot expect the history books to “record” the event of Qiyāmah in the same way that they record external world events.  Instead, one must contemplate the spiritual significance of such events.  The late Henry Corbin explains this as follows:

“Now the succession of the epochs of a spiritual world does not consist of a history which one can perceive and demonstrate in the way in which documents permit us to speak of the campaigns of Julias Caesar or of Napoleon.  The epochs of the spiritual world are totally different from the epochs of the exterior world of geology or of sociopolitical history.  The epochs of the spiritual world make up a history sui generis, which is in its very essence imaginal history … We have already said that this history is neither myth nor history as understood in current parlance, but that it does not involve any the less a history of real events, or a reality proper to these events, a reality situated at a level other than that of the exterior world, which esoteric hermeneutic considers as being the metaphor of true events.

– Henry Corbin, (Celestial Body and Spiritual Earth, Prelude)

When interpreting the prophecy about the 49 Imāms, it must be remembered that all Shī‘ī groups including the Ismā‘īlī da‘wah of the Fatimid period considered Imām ‘Alī ibn Abi Ṭālib as the first Imām, his elder son Imām al-Hasan ibn ‘Alī as the second Imām, and his younger son Imām al-Husayn ibn ‘Alī as the third Imām.  The Ismā‘īlī thinkers do differentiate al-Hasan from the rest of the Imāms because he was an Entrusted Imām (imām mustawda) while Imām al-Husayn and the Imāms succeeding him in his lineage are Permanent Imāms (imām mustaqarr). For this reason, the Present Imām – Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āga Khān IV – is today reckoned as the forty-ninth Imām in the chain of Permanent Imāms when al-Hasan is not counted in the list.

However, when Imām al-Hasan is counted as the second Imām (as the Fatimid Ismā‘īlī dā‘īs had reckoned), then the forty-ninth Imām is Imām Sulṭan Muḥammad Shāh Āga Khan III.  This is directly related to the Qiyāmah prophecies made one thousand years ago – because it means that the Cycle of Qiyāmah begins in the period of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh who is the forty-ninth Imām of the Cycle of Prophet Muḥammad and the seventh Imām of the seventh heptad.  According to the information provided by the Ismā‘īlī chief dā‘ī al-Malījī, the seventh Imām of the seventh heptad would also be the Ḥujjat of the Qā’im:

“Such tendencies are also distinctly embodied in al-Majalis al-Mustansiriyya, a collection of lectures by al-Maliji, one of the chief qadis in al-Mustansir’s imamate.  According to this source, the heptads of imāms will succeed one another until the arrival of the Qa’im of the Resurrection, whose Hujja will be the seventh imām contiguous to his era.

– Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 218)

When one interprets all of the above in the light of recent history, it amounts to only one thing – the renowned Ḥujjat of the Qā’im is none other than Imām Sulṭan Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III – the eminent grandfather and predecessor of the present Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV.

1. The Night of Power = The Ḥujjat of the Qā’im: The Sultan of the World

LQ Post

And verily, We revealed him in the Night of Power
And how can We convey to 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 upon all decrees by the permission of their Lord.
Peace it is, until the rising of the Dawn.

– Holy Qur’ān 97:1-5


“Name him Muḥammad Sulṭān. He would be a Sulṭān in the world. His period would see wonderful events, and would earn distinguished position in the world.

– Imām Āgā  Shāh Hasan ‘Alī Shāh Āgā Khān I,
(Mumtaz Ali Tajddin Sadik Ali, Ismailis through History, 1995)

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was named by his grandfather on the day of his birth on November 2, 1877 at the Honeymoon Lodge in Karachi.  The very name sulṭān is of immense significance because this word means “proof”, “argument” or even a “miracle” by which God demonstrates the truth of His Messengers.  In many ways, the word sulṭān is synonymous with the word ḥujjat (“proof”, “argument”, “evidence”).  Throughout the Qur’ān, the miracles of the different Prophets are referred to as sulṭan by which they effectively “prove” their veracity and divine mandate.

The naming of this Imām as Sulṭān Muḥammad indicates that his holy and august personality serves as the sulṭan (proof) or ḥujjat (proof, argument) of the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah – in the same way that the miracles served as proofs for the previous Messengers of God.

An examination of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s life shows that he was the most publicly renowned and prominent Imām in all of world history.  An abbreviated timeline of some of his great accomplishments is given below:

1897 – Knight Commander of the Indian Empire by Queen Victoria
1899 – Star of Persia by the Shah of Persia
1907-1914 – Founding Member and President of the All-India Muslim League
1921 – Founding Member and Vice Chancellor of Aligarh University
1923 – Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order by King George
1924-25 – Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
1930 – Chairman of the British-Indian section to the Round Table Conference
1932 – Delegate of India to the League of Nations
1937-38 – President of the League of Nations

The worldly career of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh culminated in his role as President of the League of Nations.  This effectively meant that the Imām, the direct descendent of the Prophet Muḥammad, sat as the “leader of the nations of the world”.


The publicity of the Imāmat of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh is a direct fulfillment of the prophecies about the Ḥujjat or Asās of the Qā’im made by Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw over one thousand years ago when he wrote that:


“The status of the Asās will be manifest at the time of the advent of the Seventh Rank (hadd), namely, the Qā’im, to the people of the exoteric (ẓāhir) and the esoteric (bāṭin), as the rank of the Nāṭiq has become completely manifest to the people of the exoteric and the esoteric prior to the [advent of] the Seventh Rank (the Qā’im).

– Sayyidna Nasir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 19, Section 7)

Furthermore, both Sayyidnā al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzīand Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw had foretold that the Ḥujjat of the Qā’im would be greater than all of the Imāms who came before him – in the same way that the Night of Power is greater than a thousand months:

“His saying, ‘The Night of Power is better than one thousand months’, alludes to the Bāb of the Qā’im, peace be on his mention, [who is] greater than all of what is established by the manifestation of the grades of the intellects, from the legatees of the possessors of the religious laws and their most radiant degree.

– Sayyidnā al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Dīn al-Shirāzī, (Majālis al-Mu’ayyadāyyah, Volume III, 8)

“The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.”  That is, the Ḥujjat of the Qā’im is superior in knowledge to a thousand Imams, although collectively their ranks are one.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 33)

These prophecies were also fulfilled by the august personality of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh.  Accordingly the present Imām, Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV, made the below remarks after the death of his grandfather:


“You have lost the finest Imām we have had and I have lost a grandfather who was more devoted than any grandfather a man has ever had. I hope you do not think that because he is not physically with us, that he won’t watch over you.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV

Another distinguishing feature of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was the way in which he elucidated the esoteric and spiritual meaning of Islam in an open and clear way.  He gave spiritual guidance to both the Ismā‘īlī community through his farmāns and to the general public through his numerous speeches and interviews. In many ways, the wisdom of the previous Islamic philosophers and poets are summarized in his teachings. A few extracts of his practical spiritual guidance to the later public are as follows:

“A man must be at one with God.  This may sound old-fashioned to some people… it is surely strange that a believer in an omnipotent and ever-present Deity should fail to realize that how we stand this instant and every instant toward Him matters to us more than anything else in the universe.  That is the fundamental question:- Are you in harmony with God?  If you are – you are happy.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(My Personal Life, London, November 2, 1931)

“I should, first of all, advise my heirs to learn to desire the thing that happens, and not try to mould events to their desires… I would advise my heirs to seek satisfaction, not in the flux of circumstances, but within themselves… Let them seek communion with that Eternal Reality which I call Allah and you call God!  For that is the twin problem of existence – to be at once entirely yourself and altogether at one with the Eternal.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(My Philosophy of Happiness)

“A mind that is occupied, in health or in sickness, with things outside itself and its own concerns is, I believe, a perpetual source of true happiness. In ordinary prayer, as we in Islam conceive it, adoration of the beloved fills up every nook and cranny of the human consciousness; and in the rare, supreme moments of spiritual ecstasy, the light of Heaven blinds mind and spirit to all other lights and blots out every other, sense and perception.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan)

“Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allah-o-Akbar”. What does that mean? There can be no doubt that the second word of the declaration likens the character of Allah to a matrix which contains all and gives existence to the infinite, to space, to time, to the Universe, to all active and passive forces imaginable, to life and to the soul.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan)

 “Life in the ultimate analysis has taught me one enduring lesson. The subject should always disappear in the object. In our ordinary affections one for another, in our daily work with hand or brain, we most of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, or merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit. 

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan)

Over one thousand years ago, Sayyidnā al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī wrote that “the Bāb of the Qā’im is the lord of universal explanation (ṣāhib al-bayān al-kull) and the true unveiling (kashf al-ḥaqīqī) and these qualities were fulfilled in Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh.  In reference to the clarity and lucidity of this Imām’s teachings, Allāmah Hunzā’ī wrote that:

“Hazrat Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, salawātullāhi ‘alayhi wa-salāmuhu, was the sovereign of the wonders and marvels of knowledge and recognition both externally and internally, as well as the exalted and august Imām of the age of spirituality and ta’wil.  There are very few people who are aware of how immensely useful, meaningful, revolutionary and resurrecting his teachings are.  His unique spiritual and luminous characteristics were prophesied by Pīr Nāsir-i Khusraw around a thousand years ago and are preserved in his Wajh-i Dīn.

– Allāmah Naṣīr al-Dīn Nāsir Hunzā’ī, (A Thousand Wisdoms: An Enclyclopedia of Ta’wīl, 470)

2. The Dawn of Qiyāmah – The Beginning of the New Age

A portrait of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah at the age of seven on the day of his ascension to the office of Imamat.

“And listen for the Day when the Caller will call out from a place quite near. The Day when they will hear a Blast in Truth: That will be the Day of Resurrection.”

– Holy Qur’ān 50:42

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, the glorious Bāb and Ḥujjat of the Qā’im, made numerous allusions and announcements that humanity was entering into the Cycle of Qiyāmah.  The first such indication was given in his first address on September 1, 1885 at the beginning of his Imāmat:

“The Light (nūr) of ‘Alī is always established in the world.  These are the ‘End Times’ (aakhar zamaano) and whosoever has true faith will see the Imam’s powers (qudrat) and miraculous events (karamāt) in his time. But those who have half hearted faith they will witness the miraculous events but will not understand them.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III

The words “End Times” (Arabic: akhir al-zamān) are extremely significant and indicate the “Last Days” or period of Qiyāmah in Islamic terminology.  The Imām went on to announce the coming of Qiyāmah in the language of his contemporaries throughout his lifetime.  For example, in the speech called Muslims Awake on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee, the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh declared:

The world of Islam today is at a turning point of its history.  The middle-ages are over and either Islam must now go forward or be added to the other might-have-beens of History… Today we are in our middle-ages.  We must get out of it, and begin our new era with strength and with will power for the coming development of our people.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Muslims Awake, London, March 14, 1934)

Ten years later, the Imām commemorated his Diamond Jubilee.  On this occasion, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh sent the following message to the Steering Committee:

“Sixty years have passed since the enthronement of the Imāmat, which is a unique occasion. It is an incomparable occasion in the world. No occasion ever occurred in the world history like it.”

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Message to Steering Commitee, December 31, 1945)

The above words testify to the unprecedented period of Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s Imāmat.  In his public Diamond Jubilee message, the Imām described how this event constituted a “new age” among the epochs of Ismā‘īlī history:

The Ismā‘īlīa History has passed through several stages of development. My Diamond Jubilee marks such a stage in the present times…. With Diamond Jubilee dawns a new era, full of hopes and opportunities for economic, educational, social and religious uplift of my beloved Spiritual Children all over the world. It is a time to go ahead and leave a mark on the world history like the glorious Ismailis of the past.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Diamond Jubilee Address, Nairobi, July 22, 1946)

Finally, at the approach of his Platinum Jubilee, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh, offered a most explicit affirmation of the Cycle of Qiyāmah with special emphasis upon its impact on the Muslim world.

“Today the Muslim world is almost at the last stage, almost at the last hour between a final collapse and revival.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Platinum Jubilee Message, Karachi, February 3, 1954)

At the end of his long and illustrious Imāmat – the longest Imāmat in the history of the Imāms – Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh also described and detailed the unprecedented changes and revolutions which took place in the world.  In his Platinum Jubilee message, the Imām went so far to say that his exceptionally long Imamāt had begun in “another world” and marked the transition to a new world:

“You referred to my seventy years Imamat which, indeed, is unique in the history of 48 Ismā‘īlī Imāms by its long duration, but also it began in another world, the world of horse carriages and candle lights, and today we are in the world of nuclear power, physics, jet air travel and serious discussion amongst the most learned as to how and when we can visit the stars and the moon.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Platinum Jubilee Address, Cairo, February 20, 1955)

The above words must be viewed in light of how the Ismā‘īlī philosophers such as Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī understood the term “world” (‘ālam).  Every prophetic cycle (dawr) is a “world” and the transition from one “world” to another “world” refers to the movement from the Cycle of Sharī‘ah or Concealment (satr) to the Cycle of Qiyāmah and Unveiling (kashf):

“Amongst these is the revolution that takes place when one cycle changes to another, when one prophetic tradition and custom changes to another, and one religion (millat) changes to another.  Each one of these is a world, each of these is a separate world, and when each changes, one may say that such and such a cycle, a prophetic tradition and a religion, which did not exist and then came into existence, was a separate world which underwent non-existence and then existence.

– Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 68)

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was not the only person to observe that the first half of the twentieth century marked the end of one “world” and the beginning of a new “world”.  Such an observation was also shared by other commentators, among whom was Rene Guenon (d. 1951) – one of the founders of the Perennialist or Traditionalist School.  In his famous work, The Crisis of the Modern World, Guenon remarked that:

As we have said, there are those who have a vague feeling that something is approaching its end, without being able to define exactly the nature or extent of the change they forsee…We really do seem to be approaching the end of a world, in other words, the end of an epoch or a historical cycle, which may also correspond to the end of a cosmic cycle, in accordance with the teaching of all traditional doctrines on the subject.

– Rene Guenon, (The Crisis of the Modern World, 5)

The period of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh thus marked the conclusion of the Sixth Prophetic Cycle of Muḥammad and the dawn of the Seventh Prophetic Cycle of Qiyāmah.  Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh is the Bāb or Ḥujjat of the Qā’im and the living meaning of the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr).  Accordingly, Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah began his great work through the exalted personality and deeds of his Ḥujjat.  As such Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh is the most glorious Imām, in both knowledge and virtue, of the entire Great Cycle of history that began with the Prophet Adam. His unique status is conveyed by Allāmah Nāsir al-Dīn Hunzā’ī as follows:

“The unprecedented personality of Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Sulṭān, peace and salutation of God be upon him, possessed the spiritual kingdom.  Although every Imām in his time is the spiritual king, but according to the great programme of God, all times are not alike.  Thus the time of Ḥaḍrat Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shah was extremely important and very special, in fact, it was the greatest of all.  For, in the language of the ta’wīl of the Qur’ān, his exalted personality was the ‘Night of Power’ (shab-i qadr), in which the angels, the supreme soul and other souls of the world of command descend [to the physical world].Thus, in the time of this living ‘Night of Power’ that promise of God, which is mentioned in (97:1-5) has been fulfilled… All this is according to that great programme of God, which is mentioned in the Qur’ān time and time again, which is related to the Night of Power and Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah, the most excellence greeting and peace be upon him.”

– Allāmah Nasīr al-Dīn Nāsir Hunzā’ī, (Du’a: Essence of Ibadat, 90)

3. The Abolishment of the Ranks of Faith (Ḥudūd al-Dīn)

When the Sun is shining, the Moon and the Stars are present but not visible.  This symbolizes the state of the Imam and the Ranks of Faith in the Cycle of Qiyamah.
When the Sun is shining, the Moon and the Stars are present but not visible. This symbolizes the state of the Imam and the Ranks of Faith (hudud al-din)  in the Cycle of Qiyamah.

“At the time of the Great Resurrection (qiyāmat-i qiyāmat), when everything will be revealed, there will be no hindrance, either belonging to the physical world, the ẓāhir, or to the spiritual sphere, the bāṭin, before the eyes of the people; then neither the ḥujjat, nor other dignitaries (ḥudūd) will be manifest.

– Khayrkwah-i Harāti, (Kalām-i Pīr, tr. Ivanow, 41)

The Sun (shams) stands for the Imām and the Moon (qamar) stands for the Pīr or Supreme Hujjat (Bāb).  The union of the Sun and the Moon at the time of Qiyāmah means that the institution of Imāmah and Piratan will be united in the person of the Imām during the Cycle of Qiyāmah.

Lunar-Eclipse-Gemini (1)
A visual depiction of a lunar eclipse. The lunar eclipse is a symbol of the union of the offices of Imamah and Piratan during the Cycle of Qiyamah.

“And when the Moon is eclipsed, and the Sun and Moon are united,

–  Holy Qur’ān 75:8-9

This came to pass during the Imamāt of Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh.  He was the first Imām in many hundreds of years to exclusively hold both the offices of Imām and Bāb (Pīr).  For this reason, this Imām would bless his murīds with “paternal maternal loving blessings”.  In a letter dated January 11, 1953, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh confirmed that “at this time there is no independent Pīr – I am myself holding this position.”  In another letter dated October 16, 1954, the Imām explained the meaning of the Red and Green colours of the Ismā‘īlī flag:

“…the colours of our family are, as you know, red and green, the reason being that we represent both (offices of) the Shāh and the Pīr.”

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh

In the World of Nature, the Imām is symbolized by the Sun, his Bābs by the Moon, and the rest of the ḥudūd by the Stars.  The darkening of the stars at the time of Qiyāmah means that the formal functions of the hujjats, the dā‘īs, and ma’dhūns are abolished when the Cycle of Qiyāmah begins.

“And when the stars darken”

– Holy Qur’ān 81:2

“And when the stars are obliterated.”

– Holy Qur’ān 77:8

Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw also explains the same concepts in relation to a saying of the Prophet:

“The Prophet, God’s blessings and peace be upon him and his progeny, has said: ‘Goodness is knotted up in the forelocks of horses till the Day of Resurrection.’ The ta’wīl of this is that the da’wat will not be severed from the ḥujjats till the time of the manifestation of the Lord of Resurrection (Qā’im-i Qiyāmat), the best salutations and peace be upon him. That is, the horses signify the ḥujjats and their forelocks are the dā‘īs.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 35)

The abolishing of the functions of these Ranks of Faith (ḥudūd al-dīn) actually took place at the beginning of Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s Imāmat.  This is summarized as follows:

“Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, who assumed his responsibilities at a young age in 1885, decisively began to re-establish contact with his community living in the moutain areas of Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere.  He abolished the spiritual hierarchy of ḥujjats, which had a dramatic effect on the organization of the community.

-Rafiq Keshavjee, (Mysticism and the Plurality of Meaning, 6)

The fact that the Imām abolished the hierarchy of the ḥujjats serves as a clear and irrefutable sign for the onset of the Cycle of Qiyāmah.

4. The Abrogation of the Sharī‘ah

“Ye are in an age in which, if ye abandon one-tenth of what is ordered, ye will be ruined. After this a time will come when he who shall observe one-tenth of what is now ordered will be redeemed.

Prophet Muḥammad

The Ismā‘īlīs had foretold that the sharī‘ah in its exoteric form would be abrogated and transformed at the arrival of the Cycle of Qiyāmah.  This is allegorically described in the Qur’ān as the “rolling up” or the “splitting” of the Heavens:

heavens scroll
A visual depiction of the heavens being rolled up into a scroll. The imagery of a scroll serves to symbolize the “scroll of the shari’ah” which is abrogated in the Cycle of Qiyamah.

The Day that We roll up the Heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed),- even as We produced the first creation, so shall We produce a new one: a promise We have undertaken: truly shall We fulfill it. Before this We wrote in the Psalms, after the message (given to Moses): ‘My servants, the righteous, should inherit the Earth.

– Holy Qur’ān 21:104

The inner meaning of “heavens” is the exoteric (ẓāhir) and the sharī‘ah, and the inner meaning of “earth” is the esoteric (bāṭin) and the ṭarīqah.  Just as the physical heavens surround and protect the physical earth, the ẓāhir protects and envelopes the bāṭin.  The “rolling up” of the “heavens” means that the sharī‘ah will be abolished when the Cycle of Qiyāmah begins and the quaking of the “earth” means that the esoteric sciences will become revealed in a sudden way – in the manner of earthquakes – even though people may not be prepared for it:

The cycle of sharī‘at is a time in which worship is ordained at specific times, when the practice of external, physical behaviour is dictated, and when all acts of worship are completely absorbed in their specific temporal moments… The cycle of qiyāmat is when specific times of worship are abrogated, when people are summoned unto God for His own sake, and when all the moments [of life] are completely absorbed in the practice of devotion.  This age is called the Cycle of Unveiling (dawr-i kashf).

– Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 110)

The sharī‘ah of Prophet Muḥammad has two dimensions – the specified (waḍ‘ī) sharī‘ah and the intellectual (‘aqlī) sharī‘ah.  The specificed sharī‘ah refers to specific formal or ritual practices as Ṣalāh (ritual prayer), Ṣawm (ritual fasting), Wudū (ablution), Hajj (pilgrimage), etc. in their exoteric forms – without which mankind can still survive and function.  The intellectual sharī‘ah refers to moral and ethical laws such as the laws against murder, stealing, and unethical behaviour – without which humanity would plunge into chaos.  Only the specified sharī‘ah is abrogated, while the intellectual sharī‘ah always remains in existence for the survival of humanity.

These conditions were fulfilled when Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh made major changes in the ritual practices of the Ismā‘īlī communities.  He effectively modified and discontinued the exoteric or sharī‘ah forms of worship and instituted the esoteric or ṭarīqah forms of worship.  These changes are described as follows:

It may be noted that Aga Khan III from around 1910 also introduced certain changes in the religious rituals and practices of his followers, emphasising their spirituality and esoteric significance.  These changes also served to distinguish further the Nizari Ismailis from the Twelver Shi’is, especially in Persia and the subcontinent where the Ismailis had either dissimulated as Twelvers or had interfaced with them for extended periods.  These measures also safeguarded the separate identity of the Nizari Ismailis who were at the same time experiencing modernisation.

– Farhad Daftary, (A Short History of the Ismailis, 201)

“Around 1910, in line with the directives issued to the Qāsim-Shāhī Nizārīs of other countries, Āghā Khan III began to introduce certain changes in the religious practices and rituals of his Persian followers. In particular, he changed or simplified some of those religious rituals that the Persian Shi`is, like other Muslims, had categorized as the furū‘-i dīn, comprising the positive rules of the Islamic law, such as the rituals of praying, ablution, fasting, the hajj pilgrimage, and so forth. The Persian Nizaris had hitherto observed these rituals mainly in the fashion of the Twelver Shī‘īs, perhaps for the sake of taqāyyah.   But now they were required to set themselves drastically apart from the Twelvers, asserting their own identity as a religious community… Indeed, they were now required to observe only those religious prescriptions that were directly endorsed or issued by their living imam.

– Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 537)

It must be remembered that the abrogation of the specified sharī‘ah does not amount to the abrogation of worship (‘ibādah) altogether.  The abrogation of the specified sharī‘ahi refers to its transformation and its evolution into a higher and more subtler form by means of ta’wīl.  In this sense, the Ismā‘īlī Dū‘ā’ and the other contemporary Ismā‘īlī ṭarīqah practices are a practical ta’wīl of the classical sharī‘ah practices including Salāh, Wudū, Hajj, Ṣawm and others.  In reality, this constitutes the perfection and fulfillment of the sharī‘ah – although outwardly it may appear like an abrogation.  Nevertheless, even the Prophet Muḥammad had foretold about the future time when the rules of his sharī‘ah would be relaxed or discontinued:

“Ye are in an age in which, if ye abandon one-tenth of what is ordered, ye will be ruined. After this a time will come when he who shall observe one-tenth of what is now ordered will be redeemed.

– Prophet Muḥammad,
(Seyyed Ameer Ali, The Spirit of Islam, 183)

On the same lines, Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh asserted and affirmed his authority to modify and adjust the forms of rituals such as prayer and fasting in a public document:

“If, rightly, the Muslims have kept till now to the forms of prayer and fasting at the time of the Prophet, it should not be forgotten that it is not the forms of prayer and fasting that have been commanded, but the facts, and we are entitled to adjust the forms to the facts of life as circumstances changed.”

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Foreword to Muhammad: A Mercy To all the Nations by Al-Hajji Qassim Jairazbhoy)

5. Intellectual Da‘wah: The Knowledge Society


“My life in many ways has been a bridge across vastly different epochs…The extent of the revolution which I have witnessed is not yet to be measured, but we can see manifestations of it at many levels of human experience… I have witnessed this rapid and all-developing process of change in every domain of human interest and experience.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan, 1-2)

The Cycle of Qiyāmah is characterized by great physical, spiritual, and intellectual changes in the state of human life.  The above quote of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh testifies to the unprecedented conditions that the world experienced during the course of his Imāmat.  The Imām confirms that his very life constitutes “the bridge across vastly different epochs”, consisting of a revolution in “in every domain of human interest and experience”.  These words are a testament to the conditions of Qiyāmah that began during the Imāmat of Mawlānā Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh.  This was perhaps most evident in the Imām’s designation of his grandson Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī as his successor to the Imāmat.  The Last Will of Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh clearly attributes this form of succession to the great changes taking place in the world:

And in these circumstances and in view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science I am convinced that it is in the best interest of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of a new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.  For these reasons and although he is not now one  of my heirs, I APPOINT my grandson KARIM, the son of my son, ALY SALOMONE KHAN to succeed to the title of AGA KHAN and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.

– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Last Will, Willi Frischauer, The Aga Khans, 208)

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was the Bāb and Ḥujjat of the Qā’im and the mission and Cycle of Qiyāmah began with him.  Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī, as the successor and grandson of the Ḥujjat of the Qā’im, continues the work of Qiyāmah and is the first Imām of the Seventh Cycle.  In terms of cosmic function, Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī and his successor are the Khulafā’ (Vicegerents, Deputies) of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah. The Khulafā of the Qā’im are his exalted progeny and who represent the Qā’im in the physical world and carry out his mission.

The following is an explanation of the role of the Khulafā of the Qā’im:

“…al-Nu‘mān explains that the Qā’im essentially has three degrees (ḥudūd): the degree of the corporeal world, the degree of resurrection in the spiritual world, and finally, the degree of reckoning (the last judgment).  More specifically, he mentions two corporeal degrees for the Qā’im, namely, the degree of speaker-prophet (nātiq) and that of the rightly guided deputies or lieutenants (al-khulafā’ al-rāshidūn)… The Qā’im, according to [Imām] al-Mu‘īzz and al-Nu‘mān, does not announce a new sharia, but merely reveals the inner meaning of the previous laws.  Al-Mu‘īzz also speaks of the khulafā’ who act righteously and represent the doctrine and deeds of the Qā’im.  He further adds that there is no Qā’im and Lord of the Time (ṣāḥib al-zamān) besides the Imām of the time, who interprets the inner meaning of the laws.

– Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 164-165)

“It seems that Nāsir [Khusraw] considers the successors of the Qā’im to be his khalīfas, and he assigns a special rank to this function. Thus, he explains that the current cycle of Muḥammad is composed of two parts – that of the awliyā’, or the imāms, and that of the khalīfas.

– Shafique Virani, (The Days of Creation in the Thought of Nasir Khusraw)

The earthly mission of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyamah, undertaken by his Vicegerents (khulafā’), is to begin the “Intellectual Summons” (da‘wat ‘ilmiyya) and inaugurate the Epoch of Knowledge (dawr al-‘ilm).

Since the Qā’im’s call is intellectual (da‘wah is ‘ilmīyyah) the Qā’im’s knowledge is not visible; whereas the Prophet’s call (da‘wah) is ‘amalīyah.  Therefore, while hypocrites may enter the da‘wah of a prophet, only the sincere can enter the da‘wah of the Qā’im; and their souls will be recompensed according to that effort of sincerity.  Sijistani holds that God has ordained the da‘wah of the Qā’im as intellectual, not ritualistic.  It is intellectual because it cannot be operative through force since force would make its followers hypocrites, not true believers. Therefore, the believer must possess knowledge (‘ilm), and the ṣāhib al-‘ilm is he who deals with those who profess a belief without the use of force, i.e. without an externally motivating factor. Therefore, a believer is defined as the one who is intellectually convinced of the truth of revelation and accepts this as an intellectual conviction and not as a mere acceptance and observance of the law.

– Boustan Hirji, (A Study of Risalah al-Bahira, PhD Thesis, McGill University, Montreal, October 1994, 155)

The dawr al-‘ilm (Epoch of Knowledge) is the time of the Qā’im, and associated with this is tayid, purity, and more significantly, “pure knowledge” (al-‘ilm al-maḥd)…. Because the Qa’im is established at the end of the dawr al-‘amāl, the epoch of the Qā’im is the epoch of purity (safa), ta’yīd and ‘ilm, without religious obligation in terms of practice (taklīf).

– Elizabeth R. Alexandrin, (The Sphere of Walayah: Ismalii Ta’wīl in Practice according to al-Mu’ayyad, PhD Thesis, McGillUniversity, 2006, 322-334)

In the Epoch of Knowledge, the esoteric knowledge of all religions is unveiled and made accessible to humanity at large.  This process is evident throughout the contemporary world.  The rise of modern technology, the information age, the internet, and the academic publishing sector has allowed esoteric material from multiple traditions to be published out in the open.  Such a feat is unprecedented in world history and would have been inconceivable in the past.  Seyyed Hossein Nasr describes how the unveiling of the inner meaning of various religions is an event of great cyclic importance:

“The full application of scientia sacra to the study of religions on a worldwide scale had to be preserved for modern times as both a compensation from Heaven for the secularization of human life and a cyclic event of the greatest importance, which signified the unraveling and explaining of the inner meaning of not one but all the living traditions of mankind in the light of tradition itself before the present human cycle terminates.

– Seyyed Hossein Nasr, (Knowledge and the Sacred, 245)

The beginning of this Epoch of Knowledge is confirmed by the present Imām, Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī, in a recent speech made at the Aga Khan University.  In the below quote, the Imām speaks of the onset of the Knowledge Society in very apocalyptic or qiyamatī terms:

All of these changes suggest that we are moving into a new epoch of history, a new condition of human life. Many observers describe this new world as the “Knowledge Society — contrasting it with the Industrial Societies or the Agricultural Societies of the past. In this new era, the predominant source of influence will stem from information, intelligence and insight rather than physical power or natural resources. This Knowledge Society will confront people everywhere with new challenges — and new opportunities.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī  Āgā Khān IV, (Aga Khan University Convocation Speech, 2006)

In the above quote, the Imām of the Time, refers to the Knowledge Society as “a new epoch of history”, “a new condition of human life”, a “new world”, and a “new era”.  Such words must be weighed and assessed carefully in light of the descriptions of Qiyāmah given by the Ismā‘īlī da‘wah over one thousand years ago.  The concept of the Knowledge Society explained by the present Imām directly tallies with the “Epoch of Knowledge” (dawr al-‘ilm) described by the Ismā‘īlī ḥujjat al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī.  The fact that the Imām uses the terms “new epoch”, “new world”, “new era”, and “new condition of human life” confirm that the age of the Knowledge Society is none other than the Cycle of Qiyāmah.

The emphasis of the present Imām, Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī, on the importance of knowledge and all of his work in establishing institutions of knowledge and research such as the Aga Khan University and the Institiute of Ismaili Studies speak to his special role in the present Cycle of Qiyāmah.  One thousand years ago, numerous Ismā‘īlī ḥujjats such as Sayyidnā Abū Ya‘qūb al-Sijistānī, Sayyidnā Qāḍī al-Nu‘mān, and Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, described the special function of the Vicegerents of the Qā’im (khulafā’tu’l-qā’im al-qiyāmat):

“The prayer of seeking rain symbolizes the Khalīfah (vicegerent) of the Qā’im, who delivers us from the famine of knowledge, just as rain delivers us from physical famine.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 19)


The special work of Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī in the present age is related to his role as the first Khalīfāh (Vicegerent) of the Qā’im.  According to the ḥadīths, the Qā’im is supposed to judge each religious community by its own scriptures and tradition:

“He [the Qā’im] will take the Torah and the other holy Books from the case and will judge the faithful of the Torah from the Torah, and the faithful of the Gospels from the Gospels, the faithful of the Psalms according to the Psalms, and the faithful of the Qur’ān according to the Qur’ān.

– Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, (Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shiism, 225)

The above ḥadīth is fulfilled by Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī’s mission to promote pluralism, tolerance and religious diversity.  Religious pluralism means affirming and upholding the right of all religious communities to practice their faith and embracing religious diversity as a gift from the Divine.  In this sense, the Imām has remarked that:

“Pluralism is no longer simply an asset or a prerequisite for progress and development. It is vital to our existence.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Speech at Humayun’s Tomb, New Dehli, April 15, 2003)

The spirit of the Knowledge Society is the spirit of Pluralism—a readiness to accept the Other, indeed to learn from him, to see difference as an opportunity rather than a threat.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Aga Khan University Convocation Speech, 2006)

“Instead, seen not as a pallid religious compromise but as a sacred religious imperative, tolerance can become a powerful, positive force, one which allows all of us to expand our horizons — and enrich our lives.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Address at Tutzing Evangelical Academy, May 20, 2006)

The ḥadīths about the Qā’im-i Āl-i Muḥammad describe his purifying the world from injustice and oppression.  The below ḥadīth is often cited in both Sunni and Shī‘ī texts:

“Even if there remains (in the life of the world) only a single day, God will prolong it until there comes a man of my progeny who will fill the earth with equity and justice even as it has been filled with oppression and injustice.

– Prophet Muhammad,
(Sunān Abū Dawūd, Kitab al-Mahdi, Hadith No. 4270)

The reference to a “single day” remaining in the world refers to the Seventh Day of the Week of Religion, which is the Cycle of Qiyāmah.  The descendant of the Prophet Muḥammad who will “fill the earth with equity and justice” is the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah who accomplishes this mission through his Khulafā’ (Vicegerents) that come from his progeny.  This mission of restoring “equity and justice” to the world is currently being undertaken by Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī by means of the Aga Khan Development Network.  The mission of the Aga Khan Development Netowrk is to raise the “quality of life” of all human beings.  In one of his speeches, the Imām reminded his audience that such work is part of his mission and should not be seen as simple philanthropy:

“I am fascinated and somewhat frustrated when representatives of the Western world — especially the Western media — try to describe the work of our Aga Khan Development Network in fields like education, health, the economy, media, and the building of social infrastructure. Reflecting a certain historical tendency of the West to separate the secular from the religious, they often describe it either as philanthropy or entrepreneurship. What is not understood is that this work is for us a part of our institutional responsibility — it flows from the mandate of the office of Imām to improve the quality of worldly life for the concerned communities.

– Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī Āgā Khān IV,
(Address at Tutzing Evangelical Academy, May 20, 2006)

The present work of Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī through the AKDN was, therefore, prophecized and foretold by the Prophet Muḥammad himself.  Even the Imām al-Mu‘īzz, the fourth khalīfah of the Fatimid empire, had referred to the exalted mission of the Qā’im in one of his confidential prayers addressed to God over a thousand years ago:

“He [the Qā’im] is the one You (God) have elevated, honored, and glorified, through whom You  have sealed the world of nature, and through whom You have abrogated the ẓāhir of Muḥammad’s sharī‘ah and through whom You are filling the earth with justice and equity as it was filled with injustice and oppression.

– Imām al-Mu‘īzz li-Dīn Allāh,
(Ivanow, Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, 245)

6. Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah: Lord of the Resurrection


“Indeed, Islam began as a Stranger (gharīban) and it will return as a Stranger.  Blessed are the strangers.

– Prophet Muhammad

The advent of the Cycle of Qiyāmah and the appearance of the Qā’im are indicated by a series of signs or portents including the appearance of the Ḥujjat of the Qā’im who is the greatest of Imāms, the abolishment of the da‘wah and the ḥudūd al-dīn (Ranks of Faith), the abrogation and transformation of the sharī‘ah, and the unprecedented changes in human life leading to beginning of the Epoch of Knowledge.  As demonstrated in this study, all these signs have come to pass in the last one hundred years.  The cause of the Qiyāmah and its signs in the physical world is the exalted person of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyamah.  Since all of the signs of Qiyāmah have occurred in both the physical world and the World of Faith, it suffices to say that Ḥaḍrat Qā’im has already appeared in the physical world.  The Qiyāmah, as a spiritual event in the soul-world, is hidden and concealed by definition as stated in the Qur’ān:

“Do they only wait for the Hour – that it should come on them all of a sudden, whilethey are unaware?

– Holy Qur’an 43:66

“Verily the Hour is coming – My design is to keep it hidden for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its effort.

– Holy Qur’an 20:15

The above verses, speaking of “the Hour”, also describe how Haḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah is likewise hidden and veiled.  Many people expect Haḍrat Qā’im to be a famous personality whom the entire world will glorify and pay homage to.  However, the truth is quite the opposite. This is indicated by the Prophet Muḥammad when he described the state of the Qā’im as follows:

“Indeed, Islam began as a Stranger (gharīban) and it will return as a Stranger.  Blessed are the strangers.

– Prophet Muhammad,
(Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shiism, 225)

This ḥadīth describes how Haḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah will appear as a “stranger” when he manifests in the physical world.  It indicates that most people will not be able to fathom, understand, or rationalize his actions and behaviour.  This is because Ḥaḍrat Qā’im is the judge and reckoner of all actions and therefore his own acts and appearance defy all attempts of judgment, assessment or rationalization.  On this point, William Quinn remarks that all great prophets, avataras, or bringers of Truth in the world have been perceived as “strange” and “unusual” – and this will specifically apply to the messianic figure.

“At this point it is necessary to digress for a moment to observe a remarkable feature of the major revelations of God’s Word to the world at large.  That is, seldom did the bearer of the Word, typically an Avatar, or his harbinger arrive or operate in any conventional way in the contemporaneous culture. They were iconoclasts in contrast to those entrenched in the established and normative ways of the time and place in which they came.  They were the least expected, and were often the source of dissension in their society.  These great beings were, in that society’s view, rough, not part of the establishment, and so were the various harbingers of the coming….In the eyes of those witnessing, but not accepting, the advent of the sacred in their time and place, seldom do the revelation and its bearer or their harbinger appear proper or acceptable.  They are strange, different, unacceptable, rough, if not entirely implausible as harbingers or bringers of Light.  Yet they are such, even if but a few can see them for what they are.

– William W. Quinn Jr, (“Slouching Toward Bethlehmen: Notes on the First Days after the End of the Kali Yuga”, Sacred Web Volume 3, 1999)

The real identity of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im is “veiled” by his own spiritual intensity.  The Qur’ān describes the veiled appearance of the Qā’im and the events of his time in the following verses:

“And your Lord shall come, with the angels, rank on rank.”

– Holy Qur’ān 89:22

“Do they wait until God comes to them in shades of clouds, with the angels and the question is (thus) settled? but to God do all questions go back.

– Holy Qur’ān 2:210

These verses describe the coming of the “Lord” (rabb) or God (Allāh)  However, God Himself – transcending time and space – is above the process of “coming” or “going”.  This verse refers to the coming of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im and the events of Qiyāmah – indicated by the words “do they wait” (hal yanẓurūna).  The “Lord” refers to the Qā’im and the “Angels who accompany him refer to the Khulafā’ (Vicegerents) of the Qā’im who represent him and carry out his mission on earth.  The description of “God comes to them in shades of clouds” means that Ḥaḍrat Qā’im comes to the physical world in a way that is “veiled” from people’s recognition – just as clouds conceal the Sun.  In a similar way Sayyidnā Abū Ya‘qūb al-Sijistānī explains that the rank and knowledge of the Qā’im is hidden from the people:

“Sijistānī writes that God states in the Qur’ān that ‘the Hour’ cannot be understood as temporal time (Iftikhār, p. 76); so also the traces of the Qā’im may not be physical.  For the Qā’im is veiled because his da‘wah is not of a practical (‘amaliyah) nature, but is a call to knowledge (da‘wah al-‘ilmiyyah).  Participation in this da‘wah can be achieved only through effort in the search for it.  Here Sijistani identified ‘hiddenness’ as the mark of the Qā’im.

– Boustan Hirji, (A Study of al-Risalah al-Bahira, PhD Thesis, McGill University, 1994, 122)

According to Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, when Ḥaḍrat Qā’im appears, he will not actually engage in any da‘wah or declare his real identity:

“The Qā’im prevents the community from the exoteric dawat and at the time of his appearance he does not do the da‘wat.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 18)

This raises the question of how one can ever recognize the person of the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah?  Ultimlately, Ḥaḍrat Qā’im will not be directly recognized by anyone in the physical world except the five highest ranks (ḥudūd) in World of Faith:

The Qā’im cannot be recognised except through the five ranks (ḥudūd): the Asās, the Imām, the Bāb, the Ḥujjat and the Dā‘ī.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Din, Chapter 33)

The essential mission of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah pertains to the spiritual world of human souls and not the physical world.  All knowledge, blessings, and benefits of the physical world are rooted in the spiritual world.  Accordingly, all of the special conditions of the Cycle of Qiyāmah in the physical world are caused by the Qiyāmah in the spiritual world.  Thus, the Qā’im’s essential mission is actualized only after he dies and leaves the physical world and ascends to the spiritual world:

“Al-Nu‘mān explains that the Qā’im essentially has three degrees (ḥudūd): the degree of the corporeal world, the degree of resurrection in the spiritual world, and finally, the degree of reckoning (the last judgment).

– Farhad Daftary, (The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, 164-165)

“The proverb, ‘First is thought and last is action’, has bearing upon the Qā’im and the loftiness of his degree [rank] (darajah), in particular reference to when the Qā’im leaves the corporeal world (al-‘ālam al-jismāni) for the spiritual world (al-ālam al-ruhānī).

– Elizabeth R. Alexandrin, (The Sphere of Walayah: Ismalii Ta’wīl in Practice according to al-Mu’ayyad, PhD Thesis, McGillUniversity, 2006, 333)

Upon leaving the physical world, Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah ascends to the Universal Soul where he performs his greatest task – uniting the Universal Soul with the Universal Intellect at the highest level of the spiritual world.  In Ismā‘īlī philosophy, the Universal Intellect is the first and most perfect being in existence.  The Universal Soul emanated from the Universal Intellect and created the Cosmos as a whole in order to achieve and actualize its perfection so it can return to the Universal Intellect.  The Universal Soul accomplishes this task by means of creating perfect souls including the souls of the Prophets, Imāms, and the Ḥudūd al-Dīn (Ranks of Faith), up to the person of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah who is the most perfect human soul that the Universal Soul has ever created.  When Ḥaḍrat Qā’im leaves the physical world, he returns to the spiritual world of the Universal Soul and passes judgment over all human souls:

“The Qā’im, may his prayers be upon us – being the ultimate highest point (ghayatu’l-ghayata) of the Creation, for whose sake the Universal Soul (nafs-i kull) has produced this world, has the most perfect share in that [higher] world.  It may even be said that the perfection (tamāmi) of the Universal Soul depends on him.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Shish Fasl or Six Chapters, tr. Ivanow, 78-79)

“The Qā’im will depart from this [physical] world, and go to the higher world (‘ālam-i uluwi), where the Universal Soul through him will attain the position of the Universal Intellect, while every soul, those of the believers and the sinners, will receive from the Qā’im the reward or punishment which they deserve.

– Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, (Shish Fasl or Six Chapters, tr. Ivanow, Chapter 6)

In uniting the Universal Intellect and the Universal Soul, Ḥaḍrat Qāim al-Qiyāmah unveils the ta’wīl of all religions and revelations. This act does not take place in the physical world – in the form of speech or writing – but can only occur in a subtle or spiritual form.  In the physical world, the ta’wīl is taught in the form of verbal instruction (ta‘lim).  In the spiritual world, the ta’wīl is unveiled by the Qā’im in the form of spiritual inspiration (ta’yīd).  Sayyidnā Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī explains how the Qā’im carries the ta’wīl in the physical world “in potentia” and then actualizes it as spiritual forms in “simple world”:

“Just as ether encircles the three elements, while being a grasper of them, likewise the Master of the Seventh Cycle encircles the six [prophets], namely, the masters of the three pairs of sacred laws, while he carries them in this world in potentia, his potentiality being in the esoteric interpretation (al-ta’wīl), in which there is found the basis of the sacred laws, and the final point of esoteric interpretation (nihayat al-ta’wīl) belongs to him, and through him there will emerge their forms (ẓuhūr ṣuwārihim) in the Simple World [spiritual world].

– Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī, (Kitāb al-Iṣlāh, tr. Shin Nomoto, Early Isma‘ili Thought on Prophecy, Ph.D. Dissertation, 118)

Ḥaḍrat Qā’im’s actualization of the ta’wīl and the spiritual forms in the “simple world” had immediate consequences in the physical world.  These effects began in the decade of the 1960s and saw several unprecedented developments in the political, social, and spiritual life of humanity.  William Quinn describes this as follows:

“Lustrum is a Latin word meaning a period of five years.  The five-year period of which we speak is 1965 to 1970, during which a window was opened long enough to complete, inter alia, a culture-wide or mass infusion of esoterism and first principles mainly into the West, but to some extent into the modern East as well as in the form of reaffirmation of Traditional principles… In this lies the true significant of the period from 1965 to 1970 – the illustrious lustrum.  It was as if, within that brief period, the concentrated attention of some great being released a torrent of spiritual energy not unlike that of the similarly tumultuous times and milieus of the world’s great avatars.  It was not only unpreceded in recorded history; it was not only a grand marshaling of primoridial esoteric truths; it was also a wholly new expression of those truths as found in the arts of the spiritual element of the lustrum.

– William W. Quinn Jr, (“Slouching Toward Bethlehmen: Notes on the First Days after the End of the Kali Yuga”, Sacred Web Volume 3, 1999)

The spiritual resurrection (qiyāmah) accomplished by Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah results in the “spiritualization” of the world.  This does not mean that the physical world is literally destroyed, but rather, the various phenomena of the physical world become more “transparent” and “immaterial” – less constrained by the perceived limits of physical matter.  The recent technological breakthroughs, the availability of knowledge in the digital age, and the exponential increase and expansion of human knowledge in every moment are a testament to this process of “spiritualization”.  Ultimately, all human technological advances and accomplishments are manifestations of the subtle powers of the human soul. All of mankind’s creations are rooted in conceptions (taṣawwur) of the human intellect and soul – and all such conceptions and discoveries are due to the ta’yīd of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im.  The Qā’im’s act of ta’wīl unveils and unearths knowledge from matter – effectively abstracting and unearthing spiritual knowledge out of the physical form.  In this act, the Qā’im’s perfect soul and subtle body encompass and integrate the souls of all the Prophets, Imāms and the ḥudūd al-Din (Ranks of Faith) of all the previous cycles – as explained by Henry Corbin and Allāmah Hunzā’ī below:

“The Qā’im is the “coalescence” (majma), the corpus mysticum of all the ḥudūd; each of the Imāms has his own corpus mysticum (mystical body), his Temple of Light, and all are gathered together and integrated in the Sublime Temple of the Resurrector (Qā’im).

– Henry Corbin, (Cyclical Times and Ismaili Gnosis, 99)

This Qā’im strings the persons of Imāmat before and behind him in the thread of the Divine light… And the Qā’im has comprised all that was with them and has encompassed everything in a number. That is, he has caused the subtle form of the whole world or the universal body to reach the higher world in a spiritual state, which is without matter. This is the meaning of the end or disappearance of this world. The point which demands enquiry here is that mu’mins cannot reach the higher world by themselves, but only by their being attached to the Imam or the ḥudūd. The Qā’im, due to the ascription of the acts of the Prophets and Imams of the entire cycle and due to the absence of the past and the future in the higher world, strings the chain or the persons of the Imāmat, prior to and after him, in the hearts of the Prophets with the thread of the Divine Light… From this ta’wīlī proof it is clear that the final act of the major cycle is called “hasiya” (encompassing), which is the act of Haḍrat Qā’im, in which he encompasses all states events, the entire history of the universe and all sciences, arts and impressions and marks of the creatures of the earth and heaven and rarefies them from matter.

– Allāmah Naṣīr al-Dīn Nāsir Hunzā’ī, (Chain of the Light of Imāmat, 86-87)

Through Ḥaḍrat Qā’im’s Resurrection in the spiritual world and union of the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul, the channel of ta’yīd or the Holy Spirit (rūḥ al-qudus) opens for all human souls – both in the spiritual world and the physical world.  Furthermore, all human souls that have not yet attained salvation and await judgment in the imaginal world or barzakh are allowed to ascend to the level of Paradise of the Universal Soul through the intercession of the Qā’im.  This is described in an academic study as follows:

“The Resurrection (qiyāma/ba‘th) follows the consummation of cycles at the coming of the leader of the seventh and final cycle (āḥib al-dawr al-sābi‘), that is, the Qā’im or the Pure Soul (al-nafs alzakiyya), with whom all knowledge contained in the previous cycles will come into open both in its exoteric and esoteric form. Then as people will be illuminated by his knowledge, knowledge and happiness will prevail due to the great number of its possessors, while ignorance will nearly pass away completely…the souls dying before resurrection will have to wait for the completion of cycles in an “isthmus” (barzakh), knowing in their essence, however, whether they belong among the saved or lost ones…It is then that the Holy Spirit (rūḥ al-qudus) will flow from the Qā’im to the souls enabling them to pass to the spiritual sphere, and all virtuous souls will share the same form as if together forming one single soul.

– Janne Mattila, (Philosophy as a Path to Happiness, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2011, 84)

This post intended to demonstrate how the signs, conditions, and events of Qiyāmah and the advent of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah were fulfilled in human history over the last century. The major events and signs of Qiyāmah, in their esoteric meaning, are as follows:

  • The Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr): The Ḥujjat (proof) and Bāb (gate) of the Qā’im
  • The union of the Sun and the Moon: The union of the Imam and the Pir
  • The darkening of the Stars: The abolishment of the Ranks of Faith (ḥudūd al-dīn)
  • The folding of the Heavens: The abrogation of the sharī‘ah
  • The Epoch of Knowledge (dawr al-‘ilm): The Knowledge Society

It must be remembered that the Yawm al-Qiyāmah (Day of Resurrection) – according to Ismā‘īlī ta’wīl – is a a thousand year long cycle of human history and not literally a day in which the physical world comes to a literal end.

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was the Ḥujjat (proof) and Bāb (gate) of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah and the most glorious Imām in the history of the Imāmat. It is he who concluded the Cycle of Muḥammad and began the Cycle of Qiyāmah.  His illustrious grandson, the present Imām, Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī, is the Khalīfah of the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah and first Imām of the Seventh Cycle. Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Husaynī and the Imāms following him are the Khulafā’ of the Qā’im and carry out the special mission of Qiyāmah in the physical world.

The great Cycle of Qiyāmah has just begun and the conditions and events of Qiyāmah will continue to intensify as human history moves forward.  As the Cycle of Qiyamah progresses, human beings will be more receptive to spirituality and esoteric wisdom.  The world’s spiritual traditions will undergo a renewal.  The Imamat will remain present throughout the Cycle of Qiyāmah to carry out the sacred mission of the Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah – to unveil knowledge, safeguard pluralism, restore justice to the world, and reveal tawhid – the absolute unity of God, the oneness of humanity and the spiritual integration of the human soul.

In the spiritual world of the Resurrection , the light (nur) and inspiration (ta’yid) of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah illumines all the seekers of enlightenment – uplifting every human soul in the journey towards its own qiyāmah.  Sayyidnā al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzī’s depiction of the power of the Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah is summarized below:

“The Qā’im overflows over all of created beings (alkhala’iq), from state (hal) to state, and from degree to degree, whether concerning the uppermost ranks or those below him.  The grace (barakah) of the Qā’im and his maddah (spiritual matter) overflow in such a manner that the maddah is connected to him.  The grace of the Qā’im’s maddah (spiritual matter) is synonymous with the knowledge of religious instruction (‘ilm al-talim).  This connection is possible, as the author explains further, only by means of the walāyah of the Imāms, for every true Imām, in every period, and more specifically, in his own time, is linked to the Qa’im.

– Elizabeth R. Alexandrin, (The Sphere of Walayah: Ismalii Tawil in Practice According to al-Muayyad, PhD Thesis, McGill University, April 2006, 334)

God continues to manifest His Signs to humankind in both the physical world and the spiritual world until all souls come to recognize the truth (ḥaqq) of Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah – as stated in the Qu’rān:

“Soon We shall show them our Signs on the horizons and within their own souls, until it is manifest to them that he (Ḥaḍrat Qā’im al-Qiyāmah) is the Truth (al-ḥaqq).

– Holy Qur’ān 41:53

“We, the Imāms in descent from Imām Husayn, are present until today and we shall remain until the Qiyāmah and even after the Qiyāmah.

– Imam Āgā ‘Alī Shāh, (Bombay, 1878)

3 thoughts on “Esoteric Apocalypse (Qiyamah): Isma‘ilī Muslim Perspectives on the “End of the World” (Part 2)

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