The Concept of God in the Teachings of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III

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Ismā‘īlī Gnosis presents Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s teachings on the concept of God as found in his public speeches, interviews and writings. 

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III (1877-1957) was the forty-eighth hereditary Imām of the Shi‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims and the predecessor of the present Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husayni Āgā Khān IV.  Within the chain of hereditary Imāms in the Cycle of Prophet Muḥammad, the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh occupies an exalted degree as the Ḥujjat al-Qā’im (Proof of the Qā’im) and the living Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power).  According to prophecies made by al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzi and Nāṣir-i Khusraw, the Ḥujjat al-Qā’im would be the “master of universal explanation and true unveiling” (ṣāḥib al-bayān al-kull wa’l-kashf al-ḥaqīqī) and greater than a thousand Imāms in knowledge. With respect to his pre-eminent position over all the Imāms, Mawlānā Hazar Imām has referred to Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh as “the finest Imām we have had”. [Click Here to Read about the exalted spiritual status of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah]

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Since Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh was the Ḥujjat al-Qā’im (Proof of the Qā’im), it is no surprise that his public teachings and writings contain some of the most lucid and accessible explanations of gnosis and spirituality.

In the below selections, Ismā‘īlī Gnosis presents the teachings of Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III on the concept of God as found in his public speeches, interviews and writings.  These teachings are extremely important in an age where believers, agnostics and atheists harbour misunderstandings concerning the nature of God and His relationship to the Cosmos.  These errors include things like “deism” (that God simply creates the Universe and leaves it to its own existence without any involvement), “theistic personalism” (that God is merely an immaterial disembodied “person” that watches over human beings), “pantheism” (that the physical Universe is God), “abstract monotheism” (that God’s personality is entirely separate and disjoint from the Cosmos), atheism (that there is no God whatsoever), etc.  The below statements of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah present a conception of God that harmonizes both “classical theism” (upheld by Christian and Islamic philosophers including Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Ibn Sina, al-Farabi, etc) and “mono-realism” (upheld by Christian and Muslim mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Ibn al-Arabi, Mulla Sadra, etc): the concept of God as the Absolute, Infinite and Sole Reality – the continuous Creator and Sustainer of all existence at every waking moment, the Absolute Being whose intrinsic and infinite qualities of Knowledge, Power, Justice, and Mercy are revealed throughout vastness of the Cosmos and in the souls of human beings, and the Eternal Reality through whom human beings may attain spiritual vision and mystical union. (In a subsequent post, we will contextualize the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s teachings on the concept of God with the classical Ismā‘īlī doctrines of God).

 

God is the Absolute Infinite Reality embracing all realities:

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“Take the central principle of “Allāhu Akbar”.  Here we find on one side divinity, on the other side infinity.  For what is the greater – time, space, the starry heavens, intelligence, knowledge? – wherever existence goes, there His greatness extends. Greaterness here, to anyone who understands the implications of the Arabic language, does not mean “greaterness” as literally translated into English.  It means that everything else is within the womb of the greater – everything else is maintained and sustained by Divine Power, including the furthest spaces of imagination.  Muhammad told mankind first that the Infinite Sustainer and Container of all existence had justice, mercy, and love as well; secondly, that man through these qualities and through gentleness and kindness, prayer, awe or wonder could get – howsoever infinitesimal proportion – direct communion with the All-Embracing Power in which he lived and moved and had his being.  I submit that this doctrine will have a universality that can be accepted as long as man is man and as long as intelligence as we understand it surives on earth.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Foreword, Al-Hajj Qassim Ali Jairazbhoy, Muhammad: A Mercy to All Nations, 12-13) 

Read the Full Source Here: http://www.monoreality.org/isw/msms/onululamr.pdf


“It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’an, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely… Thus Islam’s basic principle can only be defined as monorealism and not as monotheism. Consider, for example, the opening declaration of every Islamic prayer: “Allāhu-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,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/ 

God is the continuous creator/sustainer of all things and His creative act is perpetual:

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“The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allāh alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine will.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/ 

“Now Islam holds that religion should be an affair of everyday minute — like breathing. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” Allāh is the Sustainer. He sustains us always and everywhere. The Faithful son of Islam is ever conscious of that fact, and in the ordinary course of business will pause or go aside to get into direct touch with the Almighty, the Sustainer…I have, anyhow, met many persons nominally Christian who seem to think that in the beginning God created the world and then left it to its own devices. They seem to regard Him as a Being infinitely removed from them and their affairs. Whereas my Faith is, as you say yours is, that God is ever present, ever creative, and that His Providence sustains us in the smallest detail of our daily life. And He watches while we sleep.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“Is Religion something special?”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz., Vol II, 1410)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10121/

The Cosmos contains the reflections/manifestations (signs) of God:

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“Imam Hasan has explained the Islamic doctrine of God and the Universe by analogy with the Sun and its reflection in the pool of a fountain; there is certainly a reflection or image of the Sun, but with what poverty and with what little reality; how small and pale is the likeness between this impalpable image and the immense, blazing, white-hot glory of the celestial sphere itself. Allāh is the Sun; and the Universe, as we know it in all its magnitude, and time, with its power, are nothing more than the reflection of the Absolute in the mirror of the fountain.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

“Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence — in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Souce Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

“Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the Qur’ān God’s signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon, earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of Divine power, Divine law and Divine order. Even in the Ayah of Nūr, [the] Divine is referred to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit of the earth… Islam is a natural religion of which the Ayats are the universe in which we live and move and have our being.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“What have we forgotten in Islam”, Aga Khan III: Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz., Vol II, 1290)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1253/

“First of all as regards to the idea of divinity of God: a great deal of the Qur’ān is taken up with God’s intimate presence in the world, with the importance of each human being’s relations with the Creator; but only in one chapter-the chapter on Light – is the nature of the divinity referred to in a very clear form. Although, of course, we do not believe that the person of the Creator is a form of light, either in waves or in the minutest association of myriads of points, yet the consequence of the light as seen in the universe, is the nearest we can imagine or hope to believe about the person of our Creator.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Reincarnation or Companionship on High? Africa Ismaili Kisumu Supplement, March 28, 1969)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.amaana.org/sultweb/companion.htm

Human beings carry the Divine Spark:

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“The healthy human body is the temple in which the flame of the Holy Spirit burns, and thus it deserves the respect of scrupulous cleanliness and personal hygiene. Prayer is a daily necessity, a direct communication of the spark with the universal flame… All are the sons of Adam in the flesh and all carry in them a spark of the Divine Light. Everyone should strive his best to see that this spark be not extinguished but rather developed to that full “Companionship-on-High” which was the vision expressed in the last words of the Prophet on his deathbed, the vision of that blessed state which he saw clearly awaiting him.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

“I can only say to everyone who reads this book that it is my profound conviction that man must never ignore and leave untended and undeveloped that spark of the Divine which is in him.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time, Concluding Paragraphs)

Human beings may attain spiritual vision/communion with God:

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“It is said that we live, move and have our being in God. We find this concept expressed often in the Qur’ān, not in those words of course, but just as beautifully and more tersely. But when we realise the meaning of this saying, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct experience. Rūmī and Hāfiz, the great Persian poets, have told us, each in his different way, that some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development that they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all-consuming love, which direct contact with Reality gives to the human soul. Hafiz indeed has said that men like Jesus Christ and Muslim mystics like Mansūr and Bayezid and others have possessed that spiritual power of the greater love; that any of us, if the Holy Spirit ever present grants us that enlightenment, can, being thus blessed, have the power which Christ had, but that to the overwhelming majority of men this greater love is not a practical possibility… But as the joys of human love surpass all that riches and power may bring a man, so does that greater spiritual love and enlightenment, the fruit of that sublime experience of the direct vision of Reality which is God’s gift and grace, surpass all that the finest, truest human love can offer. For that gift we must ever pray.  Now I am convinced that through Islam, through the idea of Allāh, as presented by Muslims, man can attain this direct experience which no words can explain but which for him are absolute certainties. I have not discussed experience of this order with non-Muslims, but I have been told that Buddhists, Brahmins, Zoroastrians and Christians — I have not often heard it of Jews, except perhaps Spinoza — have also attained this direct, mystical vision. I am certain that many Muslims, and I am convinced that I myself, have had moments of enlightenment and of knowledge of a kind which we cannot communicate because it is something given and not something acquired.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors, extract from The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/1225/

“Muhammad told mankind first that the Infinite Sustainer and Container of all existence had justice, mercy, and love as well; secondly, that man through these qualities and through gentlelness and kindness, prayer, awe or wonder could get – howsoever infinitesimal proportion – direct communion with the All-Embracing Power in which he lived and moved and had his being.  I submit that this doctrine will have a universality that can be accepted as long as man is man and as long as intelligence as we understand it surives on earth.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(Foreword, Al-Hajj Qassim Ali, Muhammad: A Mercy to All Nations
12-13)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.monoreality.org/isw/msms/onululamr.pdf

“It is a Muslim’s highest duty, by intensive prayer and spiritual abandonment of self to the great Universal Soul of the Universe, to get the supreme blessing of direct communion with Absolute Reality.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(“Reincarnation or Companionship on High?”, Africa Ismaili Kisumu Supplement, March 28, 1969)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.amaana.org/sultweb/companion.htm

“A man must be at one with God. This may sound old-fashioned to some people. A few may think that they do not believe in God, and some others that it matters little to the individual in his daily life how he stands with regard to Him. Ruling out the atheist, with whom a believer can no more argue than he can discuss colour with a blind man, it is surely strange that a believer in an omnipotent and ever-present Deity should fail to realise 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”, Aga Khan III, Selected Speeches and Writings of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Edited by K.K. Aziz, 866)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10471/

 I would counsel my heirs to seek satisfaction, not in the flux of circumstances, but within themselves; I would have them resolute, self-controlled, independent, but not rebellious. Let them seek communion with that Eternal Reality which I call Allāh 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 – Interview with Mr. W. R. Titterton)
Read the Full Source Here: http://www.nanowisdoms.org/nwblog/10494/

“The way to personal fulfillment, to individual reconciliation with the Universe that is about us, is comparatively easy for anyone who firmly and sincerely believes, as I do, that Divine Grace has given man in his own heart the possibilities of illumination and of union with Reality. It is, however, far more important to attempt to offer some hope of spiritual sustenance to those many who, in this age in which the capacity of faith is nonexistent in the majority, long for something beyond themselves, even if it seems second-best. For them there is the possibility of finding strength of the spirit, comfort and happiness in contemplation of the infinite variety and beauty of the Universe.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time, Concluding Paragraphs)

“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, most of us discover soon enough that any lasting satisfaction, any contentment that we can achieve, is the result of forgetting self, of merging subject with object in a harmony that is of body, mind and spirit. And in the highest realms of consciousness all who believe in a Higher Being are liberated from all the clogging and hampering bonds of the subjective self in prayer, in rapt meditation upon and in the face of the glorious radiance of eternity, in which all temporal and earthly consciousness is swallowed up and itself becomes the eternal.”
– Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III,
(The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time, Concluding Paragraphs)

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6 thoughts on “The Concept of God in the Teachings of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III

  1. Pingback: The Concept of God in the Teachings of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah | Ismailimail

  2. Pingback: Original Articles published by Ismaili Gnosis | Ismailimail

  3. Ya Ali Madad.Dear bro, Thx for the great service you ppl are doing.I have a query.pls help me to understand, about being Hazrat Immam Hassan as trusty Immam.what was the back ground, and why he was entrusted this status temporarily whereas the actual Immam Hussain was in place.Thx

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