Esoteric Hajj: From the Physical Ka’bah to the Living Imam

Come, I will show you that which is truly the House of God,
Not what you imagine to be the House of God.

Is a House of stone more sacred than the chosen guide
[Muhammad] who established the House?

Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi
(Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence , 189)


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This article will explain the exoteric (ẓāhir), the esoteric (bāṭin), and ḥaqīqī (real) dimensions of the ḥajj (pilgrimage), the Ka‘ba (House of God, the Sacred Masjid) and the qiblah (direction of prayer). The ẓāhir belongs to domain of the sharī‘ah, the bāṭin is the path of the ṭarīqah, and the bāṭin al-bāṭin are the realities of the ḥaqīqah. Thus, there is a specific ḥajj, Ka‘bah, and qiblah for each of these three domains: each level serves as the symbol (mithāl) for the higher level and the inner meaning (ta’wīl) of the lower level. The ẓahir is a symbol of the bāṭin and the bāṭin is the esoteric meaning of the ẓāhir. It is likewise for the bāṭin and the bāṭin al-bāṭin.

The Arabic root of the word ḥajj, means “to overcome with argument, to convince, to advance, to betake oneself with a purpose.” The word ḥujjah (proof, argument) is derived from the same root letters. The word Ka‘bah means “cube” and also carries the meaning of being “full” or “honoured”. The Arabic root of the word qiblah means “to be face to face”.

We will first explain the historical context and the exoteric (ẓāhirī) dimensions of the ḥajj, the Ka‘bah, and the qiblah in great detail. Each of these details has a specific ta’wīl (esoteric interpretation) in the realm of the bāṭinī ṭarīqah, which cannot be fully appreciated unless one first understands the ẓāhirī sharī‘ah dimensions. The five sections of this comprehensive article on Hajj are as follows:

The Exoteric Hajj to the Physical House of God

The Exoteric Qiblah of the Physical Body

The Esoteric Hajj to the Living House of God

The Esoteric Qiblah of the Rational Soul

The Ḥaqīqī House of God and the Ḥaqīqī Qiblah

The Exoteric Ḥajj to the Physical House of God

Hajj Pilgrims circumambulating the Ka'bah

Hajj Pilgrims circumambulating the Ka’bah

And pilgrimage to the House (al-bayt) is a duty [from] God for mankind, for him who has the means todo so. As for him who disbelieveth, (let him know that) lo! Allah is Independent of (all) creatures.

– Holy Qur’ān 3:97

The exoteric meaning of the House of God (bayt Allāh), according to the Qur’ān, is the Ka‘bah in Makkah. In several Qur’ānic verses, the Ka‘bah is called “the House” (al-bayt) [Qur’ān 2:125], “the ancient House” (al-bayt al-‘atīq) [Qur’ān 22:29], “My House” (baytī) [Qur’ān 2:215], a “House established for mankind” (baytin wudi‘a li’n-nas) [3:96], “the Sacred House” (al-bayt al-ḥarām) [Qur’ān 5:97], “the Sacred Place of Prostration” (al-masjid al-ḥarām) [Qur’ān 2:144].

But one must ask – from what or whom does the Ka‘bah derive its sacred and exalted status? For a House merely made of stone cannot possess any inherent holiness as it is composed of the same matter in all physical things. According to the Qur’ān, the Ka‘bah was established by Prophet Abraham and his son Mawlānā Ismā‘īl by the command of God.

And when We made the House (al-bayt) a resort for mankind and sanctuary, (saying): Take as your place of worship the place where Abraham stood (to pray). And We imposed a duty upon Abraham and Ismā‘īl, (saying): Purify My house (ṭahirā baytī) for those who go around and those who meditate therein and those who bow down and prostrate themselves.

– Holy Qur’ān 2:125

And when Abraham and Ismā‘īl were raising the foundations (yarfa‘u al-qawā‘id) of the House, [Abraham prayed]: Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! Make us submitters (muslimīn) unto Thee and of our descendants (dhurriyyatinā) a nation submissive (ummatan muslimah) unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful.

– Holy Qur’ān 2:127-28

The above verses reveal two important points about the status of the Ka‘bah as the House of God:

  • Firstly: Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl purified the Ka‘bah. Whoever purifies something, in the context of the Qur’ān, must himself already be pure. The Qur’ān reveals in 33:33 that God has purified the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet from all impurity and also states in 9:102 that the Prophet Muhammad purifies the believers of their sins and shortcomings through his blessings. Similarly, in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, it was Prophet Muhammad and Mawlānā ‘Alī who purified the Ka‘bah from the 360 idols that dwelled within it. Thus, the purity of the Ka‘bah is derived from and dependent upon the purity of the Prophet and Imam, i.e. Abraham and Ismā‘īl and later Muhammad and ‘Alī.
  • Secondly: Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl raised the foundations of the Ka‘bah. This connects to Qur’ān 24:36 which speaks of the “Houses (buyūt) that God has permitted to be raised up” (turfi‘i) and His Name remembered therein.” This means the role of the Prophet or Imam is to “raise up” (yarfa‘u) the House of God, by God’s permission (idhn Allāh).

According to the Holy Qur’ān, the origin and establishment of ḥajj was by the command of God revealed to the Prophet Abraham:

And proclaim the ḥajj among mankind: they will come to you (yatūka) on foot and (mounted) on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways.

– Holy Qur’ān 22:27

In the above verse, we see that the original command for the people to perform ḥajj specified that the pilgrims would visit Prophet Abraham himself as part of the ḥajj. This is indicated by the words “they will come to you” (yatūka) where the second person singular pronoun “you” (ka) is clearly mentioned. Similarly, in the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, the ḥajj undertaken by the early community of believers was in the presence of the Prophet Muhammad. This is why the farewell pilgrimage in the year 632 AD was important – because the Prophet Muhammad came before his entire community in Makkah to give them guidance and blessings. In other words, the Prophet Muhammad restored the ḥajj initially established by the Prophet Abraham. Therefore, the original Ḥajj – in the case of Abraham and Muhammad – was a pilgrimage to both the Ka‘bah and the Prophet or Guide of the time.

The ḥajj during the time of Prophet Muhammad included a number of rituals which the Qur’ān calls the “symbols” of God. Some of these are listed below:

  • The pilgrim passes through various stations to reach Makkah.
  • The pilgrim enters the Sacred Masjid through one of the four mīqāts (stopping places).
  • When he reaches the mīqāt, the pilgrim enters into iḥrām – meaning he removes his clothing and wraps white cloths around his body. He washes himself with water and then performs two ra‘kats of ṣalāh.
  • The pilgrim then utters the talbiya, which means to say “Here I am, at your service” (labbayka).
  • The pilgrim then circumambulates the Ka‘bah seven times and kisses the Black Stone.
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    The above analysis of the exoteric ḥajj to the physical House of God, i.e. Ka‘bah shows that:
    First: The purity of the physical House of God is derived from and dependent upon the purity of the Prophet and Imam, i.e. Abraham and Ismā‘īl and later Muhammad and ‘Alī.
    Second: The role of the Prophet or Imam is to “raise up” (yarfa‘u) the physical House of God, by God’s permission (idhn Allāh).
    Third: The original exoteric ḥajj, in the time of Abraham and Muhammad, was a pilgrimage to both the physical Ka‘bah and the Prophet of the time.

    In conclusion, when the Exoteric Ḥajj is examined in detail, the physical House of God – the Ka‘bah – and the holy personality of the Prophet or Imam of the Time are intertwined and cannot be separated. The Imams are the designed spiritual heirs and successors of the Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Abraham, and thus the spiritual purity and authority of the Prophets continues in the Isma‘ili Imamat until the end of time. The Fatimid poet Ibn Hani al-Andalusi addresses the Imam of his time, the Fatimid Imam-Caliph Mawlana Ma‘add al-Mu‘izz li-Din Allah, with the following verses in which he describes how the Ka‘bah itself longs to behold the Imam of the Time from whom it derives its holiness.

    Hajj Pilgrims circumambulate the Ka'bah and seek to physically touch it.

    Hajj Pilgrims circumambulate the Ka’bah and seek to physically touch it.

    Is the House, the House of God, anything but his sanctuary (ḥarīmuhu)?
    Can the one exiled from [his] abode bear to be away from his abode?
    If it yearns with longing for you, verily [that is because],
    its atmosphere is perfumed from your sweet fragrance.
    Are you not the son of its builder?
    If you come to it, its covers will be removed, and its dusky sites will shine white.
    The vale of Makkah would adore a season
    in which Makkah and [its holy site of the] Ḥijr greet Ma‘add [Imam al-Muʿizz]

    Ibn Hani al-Andalusi,
    (Tahera Qutbuddin, “Fatimid Aspirations of Conquest and Doctrinal Underpinnings in the Poetry of al-Qā’im bi-Amr Allah, Ibn Hani’ al-Andalusi, Amir Tamim b. al-Mu‘izz, and al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi”, in Poetry and History, ed. Ballbaki, Agha, Khalidi, 216)

    The Exoteric Qiblah of the Physical Body

    Muslim worshippers standing in prayer towards the Ka'bah from all directions.

    Muslim worshippers standing in prayer towards the Ka’bah from all directions.

    And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:143

    The qiblah refers to the direction one faces and prostrates towards in prayer. In the Qur’an’s narrative, the earliest reference to the word qiblah is in the story of Moses, where God tells Moses and Aaron – the Prophet and Imam of their time – to make their houses as the qiblah for the believers:

    And We inspired to Moses and his brother, “Settle your people in Egypt in houses (buyūt) and appoint your houses as qiblahs (wa-ij‘alū buyūtakum qiblatan) and establish prayer and give good tidings to the believers.”

    – Holy Qur’ān 10:87

    Historically speaking, the Prophet Muhammad used to turn toward the Ka‘bah as his qiblah when he began his mission in Makkah. This is indicated by the earliest Muslim sources. When the early community of Muhammad migrated to Madinah, there are reports that Muhammad and other members of the community would face either the Ka‘bah in Makkah or Jerusalem as their qiblah. Certain sources state that even Muhammad’s masjid in Madinah faced the direction of Jerusalem. Later on, during the period in Madinah, the Qur’ān ordered the community of Muhammad to exclusively take the Ka‘bah, the Sacred Masjid (al-masjid al-ḥarām) as its qiblah. This represented a separation from the some of the People of the Book, Jews and Christians, with respect to the religious identity of the early community of Muhammad.

    We see the turning of thy face to the heavens: now We shall turn thee to a qiblah that shall please thee. Turn then Thy face in the direction of the Sacred Masjid (al-masjid al-ḥarām): Wherever ye are, turn your faces in that direction. The people of the Book know well that that is the truth from their Lord. Nor is God unmindful of what they do.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:144

    It must be stressed that the historical occasion when the qiblah of the early community of Muhammad was switched from the direction of Jerusalem to the exclusive direction of the Ka‘bah in Makkah, had the express purpose of “testing” the believers to see who was truly loyal to the Messenger of God:

    And We did not make the qiblah which you used to face except that We might make evident who would follow the Messenger from who would turn back on his heels. And indeed, it is difficult except for those whom God has guided. And never would God have caused you to lose your faith. Indeed God is, to the people, Kind and Merciful.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:143

    In response to those who criticized the changing of the qiblah from Jerusalem to Makkah, the Qur’ān reminds them that all directions, whether East or West, belong to God:

    The foolish among the people will say, “What has turned them away from their qiblah, which they used to face?” Say, “To Allah belongs the east and the west. He guides whom He wills to a straight path.”

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:142

    Therefore, the historical purpose of establishing the qiblah was not merely for the direction itself but rather, the qiblah is established for the sake of manifesting the authority of the Prophet Muhammad and thereby distinguishing the true believers from the hypocrites. Interestingly, the Qur’ān also commands the believers to face toward the Sacred Masjid whenever they “embark” on any kind of activity:

    So from wherever you embark (min haythu kharajat) turn your face (wajh) toward the Sacred Masjid (al-masjid al-ḥarām), and indeed, it is the truth from your Lord. And Allah is not unaware of what you do. And from wherever you embark, turn your face toward Sacred Masjid (al-masjid al-ḥarām). And wherever you [believers] may be, turn your faces toward it in order that the people will not have any argument against you, except for those of them who commit wrong; so fear them not but fear Me. And [it is] so I may complete My favor upon you and that you may be guided.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:149-150

    In the realm of the sharī‘ah, one must face the direction of the exoteric qiblah – the Sacred Masjid or Ka‘bah – whenever one performs the exoteric ṣalāh mandated by the sharī‘ah. If one is in the vicinity of Ka‘bah, then one must pray and prostrate towards it. When the Sacred Masjid is not visible to one’s eyes, then one must turn toward its spatial direction as indicated by the miḥrāb (prayer-niche). The miḥrāb is a marker or niche on the specific wall of a masjid that is in the direction of the qiblah. Thus, the miḥrab is an indicator, pointer or sign of the qiblah direction. Therefore, when one cannot perceive the Sacred Masjid directly, one turns toward the miḥrāb.

    Muslim praying in the masjid while facing the mihrab.

    Muslim praying in the masjid while facing the mihrab.

    Finally, it must be noted that although Muslims turn their bodies and face, bow, and prostrate towards the Ka‘bah when performing the exoteric ṣalāh mandated by the sharī‘ah, this does not mean one is actually worshiping the Ka‘bah. Rather, one is worshiping God through orientating oneself towards the Ka‘bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim praying and supplicating towards the Ka'bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim praying and supplicating towards the Ka’bah.

    A pilgrim touches and bows before the Ka'bah during the Hajj.

    A pilgrim touches and bows before the Ka’bah during the Hajj.

    Having explained the exoteric dimensions of the Ḥajj to the House of God and the qiblah, we will now proceed to explain their esoteric dimensions. For the House of God (bayt Allah), in the true sense, is not only a structure of composed of stone and physical matter, but also includes living entities composed of soul and intellect.

    Come, I will show you that which is truly the House of God,
    Not what you imagine to be the House of God.

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence, 189)

    The Esoteric Ḥajj to the Living House of God

    The Ismaili Imam, Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, gives didar to his murids in Tajikistan 1995.

    The Ismaili Imam, Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, gives didar to his murids in Tajikistan 1995.

    O most glorious Qiblah of Truth
    And most sublime Ka‘bah of the Living
    If the Ḥajj is undertaken to the inanimate House (in Makkah)
    So much more fitting, so much more worthy, that we betake ourselves unto you!

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Diwān al-Mu’ayyad, in Virani, The Ismailis in the Middles Ages, 132)

    In addition to the Ka‘bah, the exoteric House of God, there is also exists an esoteric (bāṭinī) House of God (Bayt Allāh). According to the Qur’ān, everything in the physical world and the realm of sharī‘ah is an exoteric symbol for a spiritual counterpart or symbolic meaning (mamthūl) in the spiritual world of the ṭarīqah. This is the meaning of the “pairs” that God has created out of all things:

    And of all things We have created in pairs, so that you may reflect.

    – Holy Qur’ān 51:49

    Glory be to Him who created all things in pairs – from what the earth grows, from their own souls, and from that which they do not know.

    – Holy Qur’ān 36:36

    Each ẓāhirī symbol and bāṭinī meaning form a pair (zawjayn ). Thus, the physical Ka‘bah has an esoteric (bāṭinī) counterpart without which it possesses no true meaning and for whose sake the Ka‘bah itself is established. The physical Ka‘bah, the physical House of God, is not an immutable structure; it has been demolished, damaged and rebuilt several times throughout history. The physical Ka‘bah is not inherently pure; it has been the site of idol worship for generations and only regained its purity due to the intervention of a Prophet or Imam. Thus, the Ka‘bah cannot be the House of God in the fullest sense because it is inanimate and suffers from both decay and corruption. The Prophet Muhammad, according to several Sunni hadiths, admitted that the physical Ka‘bah is not even built on the original pattern and foundations of Abraham and that he would have demolished and rebuilt it had he not feared the reaction of the Quraysh who were still attached to the customs of jahilliyyah.

    Narrated by ‘A’isha: (the wife of the Prophet) that God’s Messenger said to her, “Do you know that when your people (Quraish) rebuilt the Ka‘bah, they decreased it from its original foundation laid by Abraham?” I said, “O God’s Messenger! Why don’t you rebuild it on its original foundation laid by Abraham?” He replied, “Were it not for the fact that your people are close to the pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance I would have done so.”

    Narrated by ‘A’isha: I asked the Prophet whether the round wall (near the Ka‘bah) was part of the Ka‘bah. The Prophet replied in the affirmative. I further said, “What is wrong with them, why have they not included it in the building of the Ka‘bah?” He said, “Don’t you see that your people (Quraysh) ran short of money?” I asked, “What about its gate? Why is it so high?” He replied, “Your people did this so as to admit into it whomever they liked and prevent whomever they liked. Were your people not close to the pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance and were I not afraid that they would dislike it, surely I would have included the wall inside the building of the Ka‘bah and I would have lowered its gate to the level of the ground.”

    Narrated by ‘A’isha: God’s Messenger said to me, “Were your people not close to the pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance, I would have demolished the Ka‘bah and would have rebuilt it on its original foundations laid by Abraham, and I would have built a back door (too).”

    ‘A’isha said that the Prophet said to her, “O ‘A’isha! Were your nation not close to the Pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance, I would have had the Ka‘bah demolished and would have included in it the portion which had been left, and would have made it at a level with the ground and would have made two doors for it, one towards the East and the other towards the West, and then by doing this it would have been built on the foundations laid by Abraham.”

    Sahih Bukhari, Chapter 26, Hadith No. 653, 654, 655, 656

    The true House of God must be a House which is living, speaking, intellectual and conscious whose essence remains free from decay and impurity. Unlike the realm of ẓāhir which includes corruptible inanimate objects, the realm of bāṭin consists of living realities possessing the fullness of intellect and soul. One can recognize the bāṭinī House of God or the spiritual Ka‘bah by recalling the three major Qur’ānic facts about the establishment of the physical Ka‘bah:

  • The purity and sanctity of the physical House of God (purified by Abraham and Isma‘il and later by Muhammad and ‘Ali) depends upon the purity of the Prophet and Imam of the time, who are the People of the House (ahl al-bayt – declared to be purified by God in Qur’ān 33:33).
  • The Prophet or Imam are those who “raise up” the physical House of God, by God’s permission (iḍn Allāh).
  • The exoteric Ḥajj, in its Qur’ānic origins, is a pilgrimage to both the physical Ka‘bah and the Prophet of the time and his family.
  • In light of the above facts, it is not surprising that Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi penned the below verses:

    Come, I will show you that which is truly the House of God,
    Not what you imagine to be the House of God.

    Is a House of stone more sacred
    than the chosen guide who established the House?

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence, 189)

    Since the very status and existence of the physical House of God is derived from, connected to, and dependent upon the Prophet and Imam, it follows that the Imam of the Time is the esoteric House of God and the Living Ka‘bah. The Imam himself is the inner meaning (bāṭin; ta’wīl) of the physical or ẓāhirī Ka‘bah. In this sense, the Shi’i Imams have declared:

    We are the Ka‘bah of God (ka‘batullāh), Exalted is He, and we are the Qiblah of God (qiblatullāh). We are the Sacred Sanctuary of God (ḥarāmullah)”

    Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq,
    (Bihār al-Anwār, 24:211/1, in Muhammad Ali Sabzvari, Tuhfa Yi-‘Abbasi: The Golden Chain of Sufism in Shi‘ite Islam, 68)

    The Sufis of Sunni Islam, including Hazrat Jalal al-Din Rumi, professed the very same teaching that the Prophet or Imam of the Time is the living House of God and the spiritual Ka‘bah. Rumi himself writes that the physical Ka‘bah in Makkah is but a branch of the spiritual Ka‘bah – the Prophet and the Friends of God.

    The meaning of the Ka‘bah is the heart of the Prophets and the Friends of God (awliyā’) and the dwelling place of God’s revelation. The [physical] Ka‘bah is a branch of that. If it were not for the heart [of the Prophets and Friends of God] what use would the Ka‘bah be? The Prophets and Friends of God who have totally abandoned their own desires and are following the desire of God. So whatever He commands, they do it.

    Hazrat Jalal al-Din Rumi,
    (Fihi Ma Fihi, in Arthur F. Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh, 43)

    A Sufi saint of sixteenth century India, Qasim Kahi, proclaims that the Prophet Muhammad himself is the Ka‘bah:

    Ahmad, that is the Ka‘bah toward which we strive,
    The Black Stone is certainly his black mole

    Qasim Kahi, (Quoted in Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger, 204)

    The proofs and arguments for the Imam of the Time as the spiritual Ka‘bah and the living House of God are numerous. Firstly, the Qur’ān mentions in the famous ayat al-nūr that the Lamp of God’s Light (nūr) is found: “in Houses (buyūt) which God has ordered to be exalted and that His name is remembered therein; exalting Him in the morning and the evening.” (Holy Qur’ān 24:36). The Imam of the Time is the locus of manifestation (mazhar) of the Light of God and therefore the “Houses” (buyūt) that contain the Light mentioned in this verse refer to the Imams, not to physical houses. This is because only the souls of the Prophets and Imams are pure like the glass of the lamp described in ayat al-nūr and this is why the Prophet himself is called both Light (5:15) and a light-emanating lamp elsewhere in the Qur’ān (33:47). The Imam of the time is the true House of God because the recognition (ma‘rifah) of God is attained through him:

    Imam al-Husayn called out to his companions: “God – may His Mention be glorified – did not create the servants except to know Him, and by knowing Him to worship him, and by worshipping Him to be satisfied only by His worship, and to never find satisfaction in worshipping other than Him.” And a man said to him: “O Son of the Prophet, may my father and mother be sacrificed for you. What is this Recognition (ma‘rifah) of God?” The Imam said: “The recognition (ma‘rifah) every people have of the Imam of their Time to whom obedience is due.”

    (Shaykh Saduq, Ilal al-Sharā‘i’, Vol. 1, 19)

    Everyone must know God through knowing me, since a person becomes a knower (‘ārif) through my knowledge and becomes a unifier (muwaḥḥid) through my tawḥīd. Then the reality of ma‘rifat, union (ittiḥād), and unity (waḥdat) comes completely into existence, and the reality of worship becomes evident.

    Imam Hasan ‘ala-dhikrihi al-salām,
    (Nasīr al-Din al-Tusi, Contemplation and Action, 44)

    Secondly, the Qur’ānic verses that mention Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl’s establishment of the foundations of the Ka‘bah also mention the lineage of Imams in connection to that very act.

    And when Abraham and Ismā‘īl were raising the foundations (yarfa‘u al-qawā‘id) of the House, (Abraham prayed): Our Lord! Accept from us (this duty). Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Hearer, the Knower. Our Lord! Make us submitters (muslimīn) unto Thee and of our descendants (dhurriyyatinā) a submitting nation (ummatan muslimah) unto Thee, and show us our ways of worship, and relent toward us. Lo! Thou, only Thou, art the Relenting, the Merciful.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:127-28

    In the above verse, reference is made to Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl raising the foundations (qawā’id) of the House as well as their special prayer. The Ka‘bah has four corners (arkān) and these are its four foundations (qawā’id). According to ta’wīl (esoteric interpretation) explained by the Qadi al-Nu‘mān (Asās al-Ta’wīl, ed. Arif Tamir, 116), the four foundations refer to the three great Speaker-Prophets after Abraham and the Lord of Resurrection (qā’im al-qiyāmah): Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, and the Qā’im. Moses and Jesus are from the progeny of Isaac, the younger son of Abraham while Muhammad and the Qā’im are from the progeny of Ismā‘īl, the older son of Abraham. The Ḥajj pilgrims do not recite takbīr when they pass the northern and western corners of the Ka‘bah – because they represent Moses and Jesus from the line of Isaac. But when the pilgrims pass by the southern and eastern corners of the Ka‘bah, they kiss the Ka‘bah and recite takbir because the Imamat continues in the progeny of Ismā‘īl through Muhammad and the Qā’im whom these corners symbolize. In this prayer mentioned in the above verse, Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl ask God to make them “submitters” (muslim) to Him and also pray for God to raise up a “submitting nation” (ummatan muslimah). This “submitting nation” (ummatan muslimah) from the progeny of Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl refers to the lineage of Imams from the progeny of Muhammad. Thus, the very act of purifying and raising the physical House of God was an indication (mithāl) toward the Imamat of the progeny of Mawlānā Ismā‘īl:

    Then Abraham and Ismāʿīl, peace be upon them, built the House (the Kaʿbah), commanding the people to glorify it, this being an indication that the Imamat was to be in Abraham’s house and progeny. He urged the people to glorify the Imamat and venerate and obey [the Imams of] his family.

    Sayyidna Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi,
    (Degrees of Excellence, tr. Lalani, 79)

    The Imam of the Time from the progeny of Prophet Abraham and Mawlānā Ismā‘īl is the esoteric House of God and the Living Ka‘bah. All of the attributes and great merits connected to the Ka‘bah in the Qur’ān and ḥadīth are allusions (amthāl) for the virtues, merits, and qualities of the Imam of the Time. The esoteric pilgrimage, the inner Ḥajj of the human rational soul is undertaken toward the Imam, just as the exoteric Ḥajj is to the physical Ka‘bah in Makkah. In fact, the physical Ḥajj to the inanimate Ka‘bah is but a symbol (mithāl) for the esoteric Ḥajj to the living Imam, who is the indicated meaning (mamthūl) of the Ka‘bah:

    The Kaʿbah, in some esoteric interpretations, is a proof for the Imam. Its being placed in a desert with no civilization around it so that it can only be reached with great difficulty, and its location in a place that has no planting or trees deprived of worldly benefit are such so that the worshipers should know that what is symbolized by it (mamthūl) also can be attained only by great effort and difficulty as well as injury from enemies. They should also know that aiming for the Imam and seeking him must not be for worldly purpose, greed, pleasure or worldly dignity but visiting the Imam must only be out of pure faith. If he faces hardship, tiredness, attacks from enemies, fatigue or other such things, then his heart must not constrict but he must patiently endure. Then he will see and recognize as such in its symbol (mathal), which is the pilgrimage (ḥajj). Then its circumambulation, touching or accepting i, the indication of it, the running to it, the throwing of stones, the wearing of white garments (iḥrām) and giving up of perfume and sex, all that is an indication for the affirmation of the Imamat and obedience to him in all different conditions, seeking guidance and protection of their souls while discarding reprehensible doctrines and corrupt beliefs.

    Sayyidna Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi,
    (Degrees of Excellence, tr. Lalani, 79)

    Since the Living Imam of the Time is the spiritual Ka‘bah and the esoteric House of God, it follows that all of the exoteric Ḥajj rituals and rites also have an esoteric meaning or ta’wīl in relation to the recognition of the Imam of the Time. We will now provide the ta’wīl of the Ḥajj rituals as per the teachings of Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw:

    The pilgrim passes through various stations to reach Makkah:

    The Sacred Masjid in Makkah during the Hajj season.

    The Sacred Masjid in Makkah during the Hajj season.

    The stations of the way to Makkah symbolize the stages of knowledge, in each of which the believer tarries in order to act and acquire knowledge. The passing of the pilgrim from these stations signifies the initiates (mustajībs) abandoning the different schools of thought (maḍhabs) to reach the true path, which is the Imam of the Time, who is God’s House of Knowledge (khāna-yi ‘ilm-i khudāy).

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 264, Avaani Edition)

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV addressing his murids and people of other faiths in Syria 2008.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV addressing his murids and people of other faiths in Syria 2008.

    The pilgrim enters the Sacred Masjid around the Ka‘bah through one of the mīqāts (stopping places):

    One of the Miqats (stopping places) where Hajj pilgrims enter ihram.

    One of the Miqats (stopping places) where Hajj pilgrims enter ihram.

    When the pilgrims reach the stopping place (mīqāt), they take iḥrām. There are four mīqāts for the pilgrims, which signify the four ḥujjats who are never separate from the presence of Imam (ḥaḍrat-i Imām). They take knowledge from him and give it to the people. People cannot reach a rank in which they can receive a word from the Imam without the intermediary of one of those four ḥujjats, just as those who want to reach the Ka‘bah must pass through one of its four mīqāts.”

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 264, Avaani Edition)

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni sits on the Dais, accompanied by the Mukhi-Kamadias of his Syrian Jamat.

    When the pilgrim reaches the mīqāt, he enters into iḥrām (to bare their heads and refrain from sexual activity):

    Hajj pilgrims wearing the white cloths in the state of ihram.

    Hajj pilgrims wearing the white cloths in the state of ihram.

    [Iḥrām] signifies that when the believers reach the Imam of the time, they should not talk to anyone, which is signified by coition. To bare the head means that the believers should not hide their belief from the ḥujjat before reaching the Imam, so that nothing should remain hidden from him, just as those who are in the state of iḥrām take off their [sewn] clothes.”

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 264, Avaani Edition)

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni walks among his murids in Pakistan (2000).

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni walks among his murids in Pakistan (2000).

    The pilgrim in iḥrām washes with water and then performs two ra‘kats of ṣalāh, and utters the talbiya:

    Hajj pilgrims offer prayers before the Ka'bah.

    Hajj pilgrims offer prayers before the Ka’bah.

    Those in iḥrām pour water on themselves, that is, they accept the knowledge of bayān (ta’wīl) and thereby wash their souls. Then they perform ṣalāt of two rak‘ats. That symbolises the believers’ affirmation of the ḥadds of the Imam and the ḥujjat. Then they utter labbayka (“Here I am! at your service”), which is called talbiya. That is, they respond to their guide [the dā‘ī] in whatever way he invites them towards the Imam.”

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 264, Avaani Edition)

    The Mukhi and Kamadia Sahib of the Pakistan Jamat humbly greet Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV.

    The Mukhi and Kamadia Sahib of the Pakistan Jamat humbly greet Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV.

    The pilgrim enters the Sacred Masjid through the Gate of the Prophet:

    To enter the masjid through the gate of the Prophet symbolizes the affirmation that it is not possible to reach the Imam except through obedience to the ḥujjat.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw, (Wajh-i Dīn, 265, Avaani Edition)

    The pilgrim circumambulates the Ka‘bah seven times and sees all four of its corners:

    Hajj pilgrims circumambulate the Ka'bah.

    Hajj pilgrims circumambulate the Ka’bah.

    To circumambulate the Ka‘ba seven times signifies that the believers affirm the rank of the seven Imams. When the believers circumambulate it they see the entire House, the four corners of which signify their seeing the four ḥujjats of the Imam through whom they reach his recognition.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 265, Avaani Edition)

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni gives didar to his murids in Toronto at the Rogers Centre.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni gives didar to his murids in Toronto at the Rogers Centre.

    In summary, all of the exoteric ḥajj rituals relating to the Ka‘bah symbolize the path toward the true recognition of the Imam. The Ka‘bah is the exoteric and inanimate House of God while the Imam of the Time is the esoteric and living House of God. The ẓāhirī ḥajj is undertaken to visit the Ka‘bah in Makkah while the bāṭinī ḥajj is undertaken to seek the vision (liqā; dīdar) of the Imam of the Time. While the physical bodies may circumambulate the inanimate Ka‘bah, the rational souls circumambulate the living Imam, which means to seek the spiritual recognition (ma‘rifah) of the Imam.

    The journey to the House of Ka‘bah according to the tanzīl, signifies the quest for the Imam, and reaching the House of the Ka‘bah, according to ta’wīl, is the recognition of the Imam.

    Nasir al-Din Tusi,
    (The Paradise of Submission, 151)

    The performance of the bāṭinī ḥajj to the Imam of the Time includes all the merits, virtues, and spiritual rewards associated with the ẓāhirī ḥajj to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. In fact, the bāṭinī ḥajj to the Imam of the Time out of sincere love and desire for his beatific vision is greater than the ẓāhirī ḥajj to the Ka‘bah in Makkah. This is because the Ka‘bah is only the outward symbol (mithāl) while the Imam is the symbolized meaning (mamthūl). The rank of the symbolized meaning outweighs that of the symbol, since the latter only exists to point toward the former. The Ka‘bah in its physical form is perishable and corruptible while the pure soul of the Imam is eternal land everlasting and is more deserving of the status of the House of God than the inanimate building.

    In a similar way, the Sufis regard the Prophet Muhammad’s tomb more appropriate for ḥajj than the exoteric Ka‘bah. For example Ahmad Rida states in his poem about the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad:

    O pilgrims! Come to the tomb of the king of kings
    You have seen the Ka‘bah, now see the Ka‘bah of the Ka‘bah.

    Ahmad Rida,
    (Arthur F. Buehler, Sufi Heirs of the Prophet: The Indian Naqshbandiyya and the Rise of the Mediating Sufi Shaykh, 177)

    Describing the august status of the Imam as the Living House of God and the spiritual Ka‘bah of human souls, the great Ismā‘īlī bāb and ḥujjat, al-Mu’ayyad al-Din al-Shirazi addresses the Imam of his time in the below poem. In these lines, Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad refers to the Imam of the Time as “the Ka‘bah of the Living” who is more worthy of being visited than the inanimate and lifeless Ka‘bah made of stone.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni gives didar to his murids in Tajikistan (1998).

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni gives didar to his murids in Tajikistan (1998).

    O most glorious Qiblah of Truth
    And most sublime Ka‘bah of the Living
    If the Ḥajj is undertaken to the Inanimate House [in Makkah]
    So much more fitting, so much more worthy, that we betake ourselves unto you!

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Diwān al-Mu’ayyad, in Virani, The Ismailis in the Middles Ages, 132)

    The Esoteric Qiblah of the Rational Soul

    Muslim worshippers standing in prayer towards the Ka'bah from all directions.

    Muslim worshippers standing in prayer towards the Ka’bah from all directions.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni among his murids in Tajikistan.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni among his murids in Tajikistan.

    The ẓāhirī meaning of the ṣalāh is the worship of God with the physical body by turning towards the Qiblah of physical bodies which is the Ka‘bah, the House of God, the Exalted, in Makkah. And the bāṭinī meaning (ta’wīl) of the salāh is the worship of God with the rational soul by seeking the [inner] knowledge of the Book and the sharī‘at by turning towards the Qiblah of Spirits who is the [living] House of God.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Jāmi‘ al-ḥikmatayn, 308, ed. Corbin and Mu‘in)

    Just as there is an esoteric House of God that is symbolized by the exoteric House of God, there is likewise an esoteric qiblah that corresponds to the exoteric qiblah. To understand the purpose of the qiblah in general, one should first reflect: Why has the Qur’ān commanded human beings who possess life, intellect, and speech to prostrate in the direction of the Ka‘bah – an inanimate structure made of stone? The great Isma‘ili ḥujjat al-Mu’ayyad explains in his majālis:

    The House towards which the Ḥajj is performed is the qiblah of those who perform ṣalāh. God exalted its dignity and commanded [those who pray] to face towards it during their ritual prayer (ṣalāh). He – may He be exalted! – said: “Wherever you may be, turn your faces towards it,” (Qur’ān 2:144). But the facing of the human being — who has life and speech — towards an inanimate house — that neither senses nor thinks — is indeed a calamity! It is a reminder “for one who has a heart” (Qur’ān 50:37). That [reminder] is that the person who performs the ritual prayer, with respect to his body, is dust that will dissolve into dust. So this requires that [the physical body’s] qiblah be that into which it will dissolve, and that [Ka‘bah] is dust. With regard to his soul, he is a substance (jawhar) that can accept (qābil) the traces of Prophethood and the Book. So this requires that [the soul’s] qiblah be that into which it will dissolve, and that is Prophethood and the Book. Consequently, when [the human being] faces the qiblah, it is as though he faces the corporeal (kathif) with his corporeal [body], and the sublime (latif) with his sublime [soul]; he faces with his corporeal [body] that into which it will dissolve, and with his sublime [soul] that towards which is its return. Whosoever prays the ritual prayer with this belief, the arrow of his endeavour hits the mark and the star of his felicity shines.”

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. 1, Majlis No. 4, 19, ed. Mustafa Ghalib)

    According to Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad the real reason why the Qur’ān commands the believers to physically turn towards the Sacred Masjid – the Ka‘bah – as their exoteric qiblah when they pray is that this inanimate Ka‘bah is the qiblah of the physical body only. The proper qiblah for any existent is that reality to which it ultimately returns. The physical body is made of dust and the elements of the earth, and this body eventually returns to and becomes dust. However, the exoteric qiblah, which is the inanimate Ka‘bah, is NOT the qiblah of the human rational soul which is spiritual and immaterial. The human soul has its own qiblah which is a subtle (latif) being and not an inanimate object.

    While the human body is created from dust and matter, the human soul is created and given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit (al-ruh al-quddus). This is mentioned in numerous Qur’ānic verses according to which God completes the creation of the human being by breathing into him of His Spirit. Thus, the origin and basis of all human souls is this Spirit – called the “Holy Spirit”, “the Trusted Spirit”, “the Spirit, “My Spirit”, “Our Spirit”, “His Spirit”, and “a Spirit of Our Command” in various Qur’ānic verses. The Spirit is also the source of the revelation of the Qur’ān and all divine inspiration that reaches human beings. Most importantly, the presence of the Holy Spirit is the reason for the Angels prostration (sujūd) to Hazrat Adam:

    When your Lord said to the angels, “Indeed, I am going to create a human being from clay. So when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit (ruhi), then fall down to him in prostration (sajidīn).” So the angels prostrated (fa-sajada) – all of them entirely.

    – Holy Qur’ān 38:71-73 (see also 15:28-31)

    The Angels were ordered make prostration (sujūd) to Hazrat Adam because the pure soul of Adam was the receptacle of the Holy Spirit (al-ruh al-quddus). This effectively means that Prophet Adam himself was the very first qiblah from the viewpoint of the Qur’ān:

    The first qiblah that God, may He be praised, commanded to turn towards is Adam, the Living Qiblah (ḥayy qiblah).

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. 2, Majlis No. 57, 350, ed. Hatim Hamid al-Din)

    The Holy Spirit that was manifest in the pure soul of Hazrat Adam is transmitted and inherted through the succession of Prophets and Imams. The Qur’ān refers to the Prophet Muhammad being inspired by the same Spirit in 42:52, in which the Spirit is also called the Light (nūr) by which Muhammad guides to the Straight Path. The Holy Spirit is also the source and reality (ḥaqīqah) of the Holy Qur’ān and continues in the lineage of Imams from the progeny of Muhammad. In this respect, the Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq explains how the Holy Spirit is always present in the Prophets and Imams at all times:

    Gabriel is the one who came down with revelation to the prophets, while the Holy Spirit (al-ruh al-quddus is with them and with the Successors [Imāms], never departing from them, strengthening them and guiding them on behalf of God.

    Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, (al-Qummi, Basā’ir al-Dajarat, 463, No. 1)

    The divinely-inspired knowledge and pure soul of the Imam of the Time due to the Holy Spirit that permanently illuminates his human soul at all times. As Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad explains:

    The spiritual faculty is called the Holy Spirit, through which [the Imam] speaks, thinks, hears, apprehends, and expounds from the above of the Hereafter.

    Sayidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. 2, Majlis No. 35, 199, ed. Hatim Hamid al-Din)

    Since the Imam of the Time is the bearer of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the origin and place of return for all human souls, it follows that the Imam of the Time is the esoteric qiblah of the rational soul just as the Ka‘bah is the exoteric qiblah for the physical body. For this reason, the Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq has declared:

    Imam Muhammad al-Baqir teaching in Medina. Painting by Qasim Ali, ca. 1525

    Imam Muhammad al-Baqir teaching in Medina. Painting by Qasim Ali, ca. 1525

    We are the Ka‘bah of God (ka‘batullāh), Exalted is He, and we are the Qiblah of God (qiblatullāh). We are the Sacred Sanctuary of God (ḥarāmullah).

    Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, (Bihār al-Anwār, 24:211/1, quoted in Muhammad Ali Sabzvari, Tuhfa Yi-‘Abbasi: The Golden Chain of Sufism in Shi‘ite Islam, 68)

    Even the root meaning of the word qiblahis related to the root meaning of the word imām. The word qabāla means “face to face” and so the qiblah is that which one is face to face with. Now the word imām comes from the word amāma which means “to be in front” or “to come before”. Just as the qiblah comes in front of the worshippers, likewise the Imam is the leader and guide who comes in front of the believers and they follow his direction. Thus, even linguistically, the qiblah alludes to the Imam:

    The Prophet may God bless him, first ordered [the Muslims] to face the qiblah. The qiblah is derived from qabāla, which means ‘face to face’ and whoever faces it, points his face directly to it, and that is the Imam. It is said that to be before (amāma – root word of imām) something means [being] in front of it and, [therefore], preceding it. That is the opposite of back, behind and after. The word imām derives from [this] one meaning and the imam of the prayer is thus called an imam for this reason because he precedes the worshippers. The indication to the qiblah is an indication for the Imam, and [the Prophet] commanded people to follow and obey him in all [forms] of worship and to accept his direction.

    Sayyidna Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi,
    (Degrees of Excellence, tr. Lalani, 65)

    While the human body faces and prostrates towards the inanimate Ka‘bah in the exoteric ṣalāh in the realm of sharī‘ah, the human soul focuses its thoughts and intentions and spiritual prostrations (meaning obedience) towards the living Imam of the Time, who is the esoteric qiblah with whom the human soul must unite in order to realize the tawḥīd of God. Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw summarizes this as follows:

    The exoteric meaning of the ṣalāh is the worship of God with the physical body by turning towards the Qiblah of physical bodies which is the Ka‘bah, the House of God, the Exalted, in Makkah. And the esoteric meaning (ta’wīl) of the salāh is the worship of God with the rational soul by seeking the [inner] knowledge of the Book and the sharī‘at by turning towards the Qiblah of Spirits who is the [living] House of God – that House in whom the Divine Knowledge dwells – and that is the true Imam, may peace be upon him.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Jāmi‘ al-ḥikmatayn, 308, ed. Corbin and Mu‘in)

    Since the Imam is the esoteric qiblah, the exoteric qiblah direction is a symbolic indication (mithāl) for the Imam and his spiritual rank. Prior to the mission of Muhammad, the progeny of Isaac son of Abraham, served as Trustee Imams and executed the authority of Imamat on behalf of the Permanent Imams from the line of Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrahim who operated secretly. However, during Muhammad’s childhood, the last Trustee Imam from Isaac’s lineage returned the Imamat in trust over to the then Imam of the line of Ismā‘īl, who was Mawlānā Imran Abū Ṭālib – the father of Imam ‘Alī. The inner meaning (ta’wīl) of the occasion when the Prophet Muhammad, by God’s command, switched the exoteric qiblah from Jerusalem to the Ka‘bah is to indicate that the authority of the Imamat had been returned from Isaac’s progeny (signified by Jerusalem) to the progeny of Mawlānā Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrahim, represented by Imam ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (signified by the Ka‘bah). This becomes more obvious when it is remembered that Imam ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib was born in the Ka‘bah. Thus, the Ka‘bah from the time of Prophet Muhammad onward symbolizes the Imams of the progeny of Imam ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib.

    When the Prophet [Muḥammad], the seal of the prophets, may God bless him and his family, appeared, he ordered people to turn their faces from Jerusalem to the Kaʿbah as the qiblah for Muslims. The Kaʿbah was built by Abraham and Ismāʿīl, peace be upon them. The Prophet ordered this as an indication that the direction had returned to the house of Abraham, which is the family of Ismāʿīl. This means that the Imamat had returned to the children of Ismāʿīl who are the children of the Prophet Muḥammad, may God bless him. He ordered people to glorify the House and perform the pilgrimage to it, which no other prophet had ordered, as an exhortation to the people about the superior excellence of the Imams from the family of Muḥammad above all other Imams in past cycles.

    Sayyidna Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi,
    (Degrees of Excellence, tr. Lalani, 65)

    The Isma‘ili Jamatkhana

    In contemporary Ismā‘īlī praxis which is the domain of the ṭarīqah, the Imam of the Time has established the Jamatkhana as his House (bayt) for the religious practices of his murids. The Imam of the Time is the living House of God and the esoteric qiblah and the Jamatkhana is established by the Imam as a spatial representation and embodiment of his own holy personality in a local context. This is in accordance with the Qur’ānic verses where God commands Moses and Aaron to make their Houses (buyūt) as qiblah for the believers.

    And We inspired to Moses and his brother, “Settle your people in Egypt in houses (buyūt) and appoint your houses as qiblahs (wa-ij‘alū buyūtakum qiblatan) and establish prayer and give good tidings to the believers.”

    – Holy Qur’ān 10:87

    Since the Jamatkhana is the physical representation of the Imam of the Time, the Living House of God and spiritual Qiblah, it follows that undertaking the journey to the Jamatkhana, House of the Imam, is the performance of the esoteric ḥajj. This is why Sayyidna Pir Sadr al-Din declares in his ginan that the Jamatkhana has the status of the sixty-eight pilgrimage sites recognized in the Indic religious traditions:

    Āvo mārā bhāiḍā gatmā
    Aḍasaṭha tīrathano chhe malvā

    Come, o my brothers in the congregation of the Jamat
    Therein is the confluence of the sixty-eight pilgrimage shrines

    Sayyidna Pir Sadr al-Din,
    Āvo mārā bhāiḍā gatmā, Verse 1, (100 Ginan-ni chopadi bhaag trijo Khojki 3rd edition, 1922, Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, Ginan #100, transl. al-Wa‘z Ashraf Ladha)

    While the non-denominational masjids in Islam are public places for the rituals of the sharī‘ah such as the exoteric ṣalāh, the Jamatkhana is a private space reserved for the rituals of the Isma‘ili ṭarīqah such as the esoteric Dū‘ā (which is the embodied ta’wil of the ṣalāh) and therefore only accessible to murids who have given bay‘ah to the Imam of the Isma‘ili ṭarīqah of Islam. The Arabic word bay‘ah means buying or selling and appears in several Qur’ānic verses (48:10, 48:18, 60:12) in which the believers give bay‘ah to the Prophet Muhammad when they become his followers or reaffirm their loyalty to him. The bay‘ah between the murid and the Isma‘ili Imam is a spiritual “transaction” or “contract” in which the murid pledges his allegiance, devotion, and obedience in exchange for the Imam’s spiritual guidance, intercession, blessings, and purification. Since the Jamatkhana is a primary expression of the Isma‘ili Imam’s spiritual guidance and blessings, its being accessible to the murid forms part of the spiritual transaction of the bay‘ah. Those who have not given this bay‘ah are not murids of the Imam and are not participants in this spiritual transaction; therefore, they have no rights to participate in Isma‘ili ṭarīqah rituals that take place in the Jamatkhana. To do so would be akin to stealing – partaking in benefits that one has not transacted for. The exclusive nature of the Jamatkhana space during prayer times is consistent with many Sufi ṭarīqahs who also have private spaces of religious practice such as khanaqas, ribats, zawiyahs and tekkes.

    In the context of the Jamatkhana, the performance all the ṭarīqah prayers, supplications, and ceremonies is actually the function of the bāb or greatest ḥujjat of the Imam, today known as the Pir. Isma‘ili tradition holds that the first Isma‘ili Jamatkhanas were established by the Pirs in South Asia. In this context, Al-Wa‘z Abualy Aziz reports from Sayyid Mushtaqali Didarali that when Mawlānā Aga ‘Ali Shah was the Pīr of the Isma‘ilis during the Imamat of his father, Mawlānā Aga Hasan ‘Ali Shah, the Pīr would perform all Jamatkhana ceremonies (such as Dū‘ā’) while the Imam of the Time would be present. Similarly, Pir Shihab al-Din Shah would lead the Jamat in the performance of Dū‘ā’ whenever he visited the Jamatkhana. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III was the first Imam of the modern era to function as both Imam and Pir. From June to September 1899, in his capacity as Pir, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah visited the Isma‘ili Jamat of Zanzibar and personally witnessed and performed all of the Jamatkhana rituals and ceremonies. (See Abualy A. Aziz, Ismaili Tariqah Part 2, 25).

    Imam Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan I next to Imam Aqa 'Ali Shah Aga Khan II when he was the Pir.

    Imam Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan I next to Imam Aga ‘Ali Shah Aga Khan II when he was the Pir.

    In the realm of ṭarīqah praxis, the Imam is the esoteric qiblah toward which all ṭarīqah worship is oriented in form and meaning. The Pir of the time is the esotericmiḥrāb, since the Pir is the supreme Dā‘ī who summons to the recognition of the Imam, as Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw explains:

    The Sacred Masjid is the Imam himself and the Dā‘ī is the miḥrāb, which faces the Sacred Masjid. The Dā‘ī turns his face towards the Imam and receives benefit from him, just as the miḥrāb faces the Ka‘bah, that is to say, the Sacred Masjid. The mustajībs receive benefit from the Dā‘ī from what he receives from the Imam, like the performers of ṣalāt face the miḥrāb, which faces the Ka‘bah.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 263-64, Avaani Edition)

    Within the contemporary Jamatkhana setting, the mukhi sahib represents the Imam of the Time in the context of ṭarīqah rituals and ceremonies. The murid who leads the Jamat in the prayers (Dū‘ā, tasbih, dhikr, etc.) represents the Pīr and performs these prayers on the Pīr’s behalf. The congregation as a whole faces towards the direction of the mukhi sahib and the prayer-leader – who represent the Imam and the Pīr respectively. Thus, in the context of the ṭarīqah ritual, the Isma‘ili Jamat is oriented in external posture and inward remembrance toward the esoteric qiblah who is the Imam by means of the esoteric miḥrāb who is the Pīr.

    The prayer hall of the Ottawa Jamatkhana. Source: SIMERG

    The prayer hall of the Ottawa Jamatkhana. Source: SIMERG

    The prayer hall of Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana. Source: IsmailiMail

    The prayer hall of Burnaby Lake Jamatkhana. Source: IsmailiMail

    While Ismā‘īlī ṭarīqah praxis in contemporary times is esoteric and therefore oriented toward the esoteric qiblah who is the Imam of the Time, the high-profile Ismaili Centres around the world externally face toward the exoteric qiblah– the Ka‘bah in Makkah. This is most evident in the case of the Toronto Ismaili Center which features both a distinctive qiblah wall facing Makkah and a miḥrāb in the prayer hall that indicates the Qiblah Wall. When the Ismā‘īlī Jamat congregates for its ṭarīqah practices in such spaces, they face both the exoteric qiblah and the esoteric qiblah simultaneously. While the congregants face the exoteric qiblah that is the Ka‘bah with respect to their physical bodies, their souls, by the performance of the ṭarīqah rituals, continue to be oriented toward the esoteric qiblah who is the Imam of the Time.

    The exterior of the Toronto Ismaili Centre with its distinctive Qiblah Wall.

    The exterior of the Toronto Ismaili Centre with its distinctive Qiblah Wall.

    The interior of the prayer hall of the Toronto Ismaili Centre, with the Mihrab and the Qiblah Wall at the front.

    The interior of the prayer hall of the Toronto Ismaili Centre, with the Mihrab and the Qiblah Wall at the front.

    Facing the Esoteric Qiblah

    Since the Imam of the Time is the esoteric qiblah, the Isma‘ili murids can at all times turn toward the Imam in the esoteric sense by always remembering the Imam and face him by means of their inner thoughts and intentions. This is the real meaning of the Qur’ānic command:

    So from wherever you embark (min haythu kharajat) turn your face (wajh) toward the Sacred Masjid (al-masjid al-ḥarām), and indeed, it is the truth from your Lord.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:149

    This verse instructs the believers to turn their faces towards the Sacred Masjid whenever they engage in any kind of activity. With respect to the exoteric meaning, it is physically impossible to turn toward the exoteric qiblah – the Ka‘bah – at all times. Therefore, this verse applies in its entirety only with respect to its esoteric meaning and ta’wīl. The believers are being commanded to turn their soul’s thoughts and attention in the direction of the esoteric qiblah – the Imam of the Time – and continuously follow his guidance and direction. Interpreting Qur’ān 2:125 – “And when We made the House a place of reward and peace for mankind”, Allamah Hunzai explains:

    The first ta’wil of this verse is that just as, by His command the Ka‘bah, the House of God, is the place of reward and peace externally, so internally the Imam of the time as the House of God, the means of every kind of reward and peace. The Imam is the spiritual Qiblah, towards whom the attention of the heart is necessary in every good deed and that this is the way of attaining reward. You can see that the reward is mentioned first and then comes peace. The wisdom in this is that, the mu’mins cross the stages of reward and good first, by obeying the Holy Imam and then, as a result, they enter into the light of his spirituality.

    Allamah Nasir al-Din Nasir Hunzai,
    (Jamatkhana, 3-14)

    A Hajj pilgrim praying and supplicating towards the Ka'bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim praying and supplicating towards the Ka’bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim supplicates and prays before the Black Stone.

    A Hajj pilgrim supplicates and prays before the Black Stone.

    During the ḥajj, pilgrims circumambulate the Ka‘bah and salute, touch, or kiss the [Black] stone, considered variously a symbol of the hereafter and divine presence… Many pilgrims approach the corner of the Ka‘bah that holds the Black Stone, saluting, touching, or kissing it as a gesture of their renewed covenant with God and for purification from sin.”

    John L. Esposito,
    (The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, 103)

    A pilgrim touches and prostrates toward the Ka'bah during the Hajj.

    A pilgrim touches and prostrates toward the Ka’bah during the Hajj.

    A Hajj pilgrim kisses the Ka'bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim kisses the Ka’bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim touches and prostrates towards the Black Stone at the corner of the Ka'bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim touches and prostrates towards the Black Stone at the corner of the Ka’bah.

    The Muslims of the ẓāhir and sharī‘ah show reverence for the physical Ka‘bah by bowing and prostrating towards it, and striving to kiss the Ka‘bah. Meanwhile, the Muslims of the bāṭin and the ṭarīqah, show this reference for the Imam of the Time because he is the esoteric qiblah and the spiritual Ka‘bah. While the exoteric Muslims seek purification and closeness to God through the physical Ka‘bah, the spiritual Ka‘bah is the Imam of the Time – the vicegerent of God (khalifah) of God on earth, the purifier of the believers, and the intercessor and medium (waṣīlah) by which the human soul recognizes tawḥīd. Since the physical Ka‘bah is the exoteric symbol (mithāl) of the Imam, and the living Imam is the esoteric meaning (ta’wīl) of the inanimate Ka‘bah, it logically follows that all the appropriate gestures (bowing, prostration, obeisance, adoration) in the physical presence of the Ka‘bah are actually and truly intended towards the Imam of the Time when one enters the Imam’s presence.

    An Ismaili murid makes obeisance before Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni.  Such gestures parallel those of the Hajj pilgrims when in front of the physical Ka'bah.

    An Ismaili murid makes obeisance before Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni. Such gestures parallel those of the Hajj pilgrims when in front of the physical Ka’bah.

    Indeed, the Qur’ān contains two famous examples where the Prophet or spiritual Guide of the age is the object of prostration (sujūd). In addition to the example of Hazrat Adam mentioned early, the Qur’ān confirms that the parents and brothers of Hazrat Yusuf fell down and prostrated themselves to him when he had rescued them in Egypt.

    Portrait of the Angels bowing to Hazrat Adam. Illustration to a now dispersed manuscript of the “Whiffs of Intimacy”, a collection of lives of the Sufi saints by Jâmî of Herât. Painting attributed to the artist Farhâd, Bukhârâ (Uzbekistan), c.1650.

    Portrait of the Angels bowing to Hazrat Adam.
    Illustration to a now dispersed manuscript of the “Whiffs of Intimacy”, a collection of lives of the Sufi saints by Jâmî of Herât.
    Painting attributed to the artist Farhâd, Bukhârâ (Uzbekistan), c.1650.

    When Joseph said to his father, “O my father, indeed I have seen [in a dream] eleven stars and the sun and the moon; I saw them prostrating to me (lī sajjidīna).

    – Holy Qur’ān 12:4

    And when they entered upon Joseph, he took his parents to himself and said, “Enter Egypt, God willing, safe [and secure].” And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration (kharū lahu sujjadan). And he said, “O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality.”

    – Holy Qur’ān 12:99-100

    Since the Qur’ān allows angels and human beings to prostrate themselves before Hazrat Adam and Hazrat Yusuf, it is equally appropriate for the murids to prostrate themselves before the Imam of the Time who is the spiritual inheritor of the Light and Holy Spirit of the Prophets.

    A murid greets and makes obeisance to Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni.

    A murid greets and makes obeisance to Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni.

    Jason Kenny, Minister with the Government of Canada, greets Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni upon his arrival in Canada on December 5, 2008.

    Jason Kenny, Minister with the Government of Canada, greets Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni upon his arrival in Canada on December 5, 2008.

    It is reported that the Imam of the Time, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Husayni once visited the house of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah in Karachi with some leaders. From the top, he asked them “where is the Qiblah”? The leaders started looking East and West, searching for the exoteric qiblah direction of Makkah but could not reply. One of the caretakers [from Hunza] was summoned and he was asked the same question. He felt at the feet of the Imam of the Time and kissed them. Crying loudly, he said: “Khudavind, here is the Qiblah!” The Imam said, “You are right.”

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni blesses a murid who makes obeisance  before the Imam after his arrival in Cairo on July 18, 1957.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni blesses a murid who makes obeisance before the Imam after his arrival in Cairo on July 18, 1957.

    Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Rajashekar Reddy greets Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni.

    Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Rajashekar Reddy greets Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni.

    Indeed, the Imam of the Time is the qiblah of all the qiblahs and Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad addresses him as follows:

    GJ_Rogers_Centre_Toronto

    O Qiblah of the spiritual world! Towards you turn
    All the qiblahs themselves, from the East to the West.

    You are my hope when I have lost all hope in people;
    Yes, you are my accomplishment when the Hour comes.

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi
    (Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence, 73)

    The Ḥaqīqī House of God and the Ḥaqīqī Qiblah

    O pilgrims to the Ḥaqīqī House of God (khāna-yi Khudā), strive today, which is the day of Qiyāmat. Strive to attain the greatest benefit that you can.

    Imam Ḥasan ‘alā dhikrihi al-salām,
    (quoted in Hasan-i Mahmud, Haft Bab-i Baba-yi Sayyidna, Chapter 6)

    The Real House of God (baytullāh al-ḥaqīqī) is the station in which God is truly worshipped and the level (ḥadd) in which God manifests Himself in the highest degree. According to various ḥadīth, in both Sunni and Shi‘a sources, the first being originated by God is the Universal Intellect (‘aql al-kull) and it is this Intellect that worships and recognizes God in the most perfect manner. The famous ḥadīth is as follows:

    God – may He be glorified and exalted – created Intellect (‘aql) first among the spiritual entities (ruhaniyyin); He drew it forth from the right of His Throne, making it proceed from His own Light. Then He commanded it to retreat, and it retreated, to advance, and it advanced; then God proclaimed: “I created you glorious, and I gave you pre-eminence over all my creatures.

    Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq,
    (Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi‘ism, 8)

    The Universal Intellect is the first originated being and the noblest of all existents. Intellect is spiritual being of light (nur) – it is therefore called the Muhammadan Light, the Light of Imamat, the Throne, the Sun, etc.

    The first being in the higher universe to emanate from the supreme Principle is a Light which contains all light (because all light is created from it). This Light of lights is described as the Throne (‘Arsh), the Intelligence (‘Aql, Nous), Muhammadan Light (Nur Muhammadi).

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 200)

    The Intellect is perfect, living, knowing, eternal, powerful, and all other perfections. The Intellect is the first being to recognize tawḥīd and thereby worship God, its Originator. The esoteric meaning of God’s commands for the Intellect to “retreat” and “advance” is that “retreat” refers to “descent”, i.e. the Intellect’s self-manifestation in creating the Cosmos and the “advance” refers to the return of all created manifestation to the Intellect. Thus, the Universal Intellect is the origin of all created beings and also the place of return. In a longer version of the above ḥadith of Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, the Intellect recognizes tawḥīd and God praises the Intellect for doing so:

    Then He [God] said: “Speak”, so [Intellect] said: “Praise be to God for Whom there is no opponent nor peer, no likeness, nor resemblance. (He has no) equal nor match, no similitude nor analogy; whom everything to His Sublimity is submissive and abject. Then the Lord, Blessed and Exalted said: “By My Power and My Glory! I did not create a creature better than thee, nor more obedient or higher or more illustrious, or more cherished than thee! By means of thee I am declared to be One (bi-ka uwahhadu), and through thee I am worshipped (bi-ka u‘badu) and by means of thee I am called upon (bi-ka ud‘a)… Thereupon the Intellect fell down prostrate and remained in prostration one thousand years. After that the Lord, Blessed and Exalted, said: “Lift thy head! Ask! And it shall be granted thee. Intercede thou! Thou shalt have thine intercession accepted.”

    Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq,
    (Quoted in Karim Douglas Crow, The Role of Al-‘Aql in Early Islamic Wisdom with Reference to Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University, 1996, 262-264)

    Therefore, Universal Intellect is the ḥaqīqī House of God because it is the exalted being through whom God is recognized, praised, and worshipped. The Universal Intellect is also the ḥaqīqī Qiblah because all creatures return to the Intellect. Regarding the Prophet Muhammad and his celestial journey, the Qur’ān states:

    Glorified is He who took his Servant from the Sacred Place of Prostration to the Furthest Place of Prostration.

    – Holy Qur’ān 17:1

    The ta’wīl of this verse on mi‘raj is that the Prophet Muhammad spiritually ascended from the Universal Soul (called masjid al-ḥarām, the sacred place of prostration) to the Universal Intellect (called masjid al-aqṣā, the furthest place of prostration). This is because masjid means “place of prostration” and sujūd (prostration) means the effacement of the soul. The Universal Intellect is the highest being in the spiritual hierarchy and therefore, it is called masjid al-aqṣā – the furthest place of prostration, i.e. annihilation. Therefore, the Universal Intellect is the masjid al-aqṣā and the ḥaqīqī House of God in which God is worshipped and recognized.

    The ḥaqīqī qiblah is that to which all things are metaphysically turned toward and to which they are returning. Just as the exoteric qiblah of the body is the Ka‘bah made of stone – because the body returns to dust, and the esoteric qiblah of the rational soul is the Imam because the human soul is spiritually born from the Imam and will return to him, the Universal Intellect is the ḥaqīqī qiblah because all existents are from it and are returning to it. Therefore, every existent is turned toward the Intellect. This is why the Qur’ān states that:

    And to Allah belong the East and the West: therefore, wherever you turn, there is the Face of Allah.

    – Holy Qur’ān 2:115

    The circular wall of the Toronto Ismaili Centre are adorned with the name "Allah" - such that one sees the name "Allah" in every direction. This alludes to the Qur'anic verse "Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of Allah." In esoteric and metaphysical meaning, the Face of Allah is the ever-present Universal Intellect.

    The circular wall of the Toronto Ismaili Centre are adorned with the name “Allah” – such that one sees the name “Allah” in every direction one faces. This alludes to the Qur’anic verse “Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of Allah.” In esoteric and metaphysical meaning, the Face of Allah is the ever-present Universal Intellect.

    God Himself is too exalted and transcendent to possess an actual “face”. The “face” refers to that by which the recognition of something is obtained. Since God is recognized only by means of the Universal Intellect, it follows that the Universal Intellect is the “Face of God”. The Face of God is the ḥaqīqi qiblah because it is present “wherever one turns.” Regardless of the physical direction one faces, one is always gazing toward the Face of God because each and everything in the Cosmos is a locus of manifestation (mazhar) of the Universal Intellect. Everything is transient and returning to the Intellect, as the Qur’ān also says:

    Everything is perishing, but there remains forever the Face of your Lord, the Glorious, the Bounteous.

    – Holy Qur’ān 55:26-27

    The ḥaqīqī ḥajj is for the human intellect and soul to return to the Universal Intellect from which it is created and to face the ḥaqīqī qiblah is to direct one’s purpose toward this return by remembering the Names of God at all moments and thereby envision the Intellect in its various loci of manifestation.

    In summary, the exoteric ḥajj is made to the exoteric House of God – the Ka‘bah in Makkah – and the exoteric prayer, the ṣalāh, is performed facing the direction of this exoteric qiblah. The esoteric ḥajj is made to the esoteric House of God – the living Imam of the Time – and the esoteric prayers, the Dū‘ā and other ṭarīqah rituals, are undertaken by orienting the rational soul in the direction of the esoteric qiblah. Finally, the ḥaqīqī ḥajj is made to the ḥaqīqī House of God – the Universal Intellect, and the real prayer – which is a thing’s very existence – inclines towards the Universal Intellect to which all things are returning.

    The Ka‘bah, the Imam of the Time, and the Universal Intellect symbolize and represent one another in a hierarchy. Each of these is the House of God, the Throne of God, the Face of God, and the Temple of God in its respective realm – the sharī’ah, the ṭarīqah, and the ḥaqīqah. We will now illustrate the metaphysical and geometric basis for this esoteric symbolism of the House of God in relation to the Universal Intellect, the Imam of the Time, and the Ka‘bah.

    The Metaphysical and Esoteric Symbolism of the Ka‘bah

    The Universal Intellect comes into existence by means of God’s Command, “Be and it is.” The Universal Intellect, at the very instant it comes into being, contemplates its own essence [which contains the Forms-Archetypes of all things] and bears witness to tawḥid by recognizing the absolute transcendence of God. This contemplation of the Universal Intellect produces the Universal Soul – a second spiritual being of light. The Universal Soul is passive in relation to the Intellect – like a mirror upon which the light and intelligible forms of the Intellect are reflected and delimited. The Universal Soul creates the entire Cosmos including the spiritual worlds and physical worlds.

    This metaphysical process can be visualized geometrically. The Command of God is like a point – which itself takes up no space but is nevertheless present. Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib alludes to this point (nuktah) when he says: “All of the Qur’ān is contained in the bismillāh; and all of the bismillāh is contained in the letter ba’. All of the letter ba’ is contained in the point (nuktah); and I am the nuktah under the letter ba’.” This point, representing the Command of God or Absolute Being (al-wujūd al-muṭlaq), expands in all directions through radius lines and manifests as a Circle.

    The immutable Centre Point represents the Command of God and each radius represents a facet of the Universal Intellect. In this way, the Command of  God manifests as the Universal Intellect.

    The immutable Centre Point represents the Command of God and each radius represents a facet of the Universal Intellect. In this way, the Command of God manifests as the Universal Intellect.

    The Universal Intellect is like this Circle formed by all the radii, and each radius line segment symbolizes one of the Forms or Attributes of the Intellect. This is why the Arabic letter Alif – which is a straight line (like a radius line) – also symbolizes the Universal Intellect.

    Command-Circle

    Alif signifies the Intellect, which is separate from all letters. When a writer reaches it, [the continuity of] his writing breaks, because nothing is prior to Alif and it is the beginning of [written] things. Other letters join Alif, but it does not join any other letters, just as all things are linked to the Intellect from above, but the Intellect is not linked to any other thing from above.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (>Wajh-i Dīn, 108, Avaani Edition)

    The Circle as a whole symbolizes the Universal Intellect which is virtually infinite but not actually infinite due to its being originated by God. The circumference manifests infinity because it turns in on itself while its radius manifests finitude. The Circle is the most primordial and most perfect of geometric shapes and from it all other shapes can be derived.

    The end among the geometric shapes such as Squares, Triangles, arcs and all other shapes is the Circle. The Circle is the best and most perfect of them all. It is the foundation of all shapes from which it is possible to form the Square, the Triangle and the arc. When the Circle is divided, a Square emerges and arcs remain on the edges.

    Sayyidna Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi
    (

    Degrees of Excellence, tr. Lalani, 63)

    By joining together four equidistant points on the circumference of the Circle, a Square is formed within the Circle. This geometrical process of inscribing a Square by drawing lines from its Centre symbolizes how the Universal Soul comes forth from the Intellect through the Command of God.

    The Square inscribed in the Circle as a representation of the Universal Soul emanated from the Universal Intellect.

    The Square inscribed in the Circle as a representation of the Universal Soul emanated from the Universal Intellect.

    The Square symbolizes the Universal Soul which emanates from the Intellect. Just as the Square is more limited than a Circle – due to its four sides, the Universal Soul is limited and passive compared to the Universal Intellect – thus, the Square is inscribed within the Circle. A square is formed by joining both vertical and horizontal lines. The vertical line represents the Intellect while the joining of the vertical line with a horizontal line represents the Universal Soul. This is why the letter Alif ( ا ) in Arabic represents the Intellect and the letter Lam (ل ) represents the Soul.

    As has already been explained in this book, Alif signifies the Universal Intellect. It is the first letter, just as the Intellect is the First (Being), which came into existence ex nihilo. Lam is like Alif but is the compound of two lines – ل while Alif is a single line: ا. Lam signifies the Universal Soul, which came into existence through the mediation of the Universal Intellect and is the second existent, just as Lam is two lines, thus ل. Recognition of all things is through the Soul and the Intellect and it is because of this that these two letters are prefixed to all letters occurring frequently in speech.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 108, Avaani Edition)

    The Qur’ān refers to the Universal Intellect as the Throne of God. It also says that “His Throne was on Water.” (Qur’ān 11:7). The esoteric meaning of Water is the Universal Soul which reflects the “Forms” of the Universal Intellect – in the same way that Water reflects the light of the Sun. The Universal Intellect and Universal Soul together are called the “Throne on the Water.”

    The Intelligence is the Light (nūr), the Throne (‘arsh), the centre, knowledge as a unique, unquantifiable point, and at the same time it is also Water, the peripheral whole of all the objects of its intellection. The relationship of the Intelligence, as centre, with itself as the periphery surrounding and enveloping all the objects of its intellection, is expressed in the phrase “the Throne rests on the Water.”

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 200)

    The relationship between the Universal Soul and the Universal Intellect manifests the first “limits” in the spiritual world. These limits are represented geometrically by drawing lines within the Square that join to the center of the Circle. These four limits or divisions symbolize the four Divine Names – the First, the Last, the Manifest, the Hidden.

    Four Limits

    The Throne is surrounded in this way by four limits that face each other, since it has a beginning (awwal) and an end (ākhir), an inner or esoteric aspect (bāṭin) and an external or exoteric aspect (ẓāhir). The first two limits are understood from the extension of its total time (the Aeon, dahr, “time of times”), and the second two from the extension of its total space (“space of spaces”). Thus the original point of Knowledge, of the Throne, ends in four points which are designated as the supports of the Throne.

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 202)

    The Universal Soul creates the physical world and the intermediary worlds of the Cosmos by a process of self-manifestation – in which the Forms of the Universal Intellect are reflected in the Cosmos in the form of individual creatures. The creative activity of the Universal Soul is represented geometrically by extending the lines of this two-dimensional inscribed square into a three dimensional cube.

    Cosmos-Cube

    The Cube is a geometric symbol of the structure of the Universal Intellect, Universal Soul, and the Cosmos that they create and sustain. The highest plane of the Cube represents the originated world (‘ālam al-ibdā‘i) of the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul and the lowest plane of the Cube symbolizes the physical world – the world of creation (‘ālam al-khalq). The various planes between the highest and lowest stand for the intermediary worlds: the world of celestial intellects, the world of subtle souls, the world of imagination, etc.

    At the same time, this Cube structure also symbolizes the spiritual and terrestrial ranks of the World of Religion (‘alām al-dīn). Notice how the Cube structure contains the following:

    3 Dimensions – Length, Width, Depth
    6 Faces/Directions – Top, Bottom, Left, Right, Front Back, and the hidden Center
    8 Angular Points
    12 Lines that join all the Angular Points together

    Cube - Dimensions

    The 3 Dimensions of the Cubic Form symbolize the three Archangelic Hypostases – Jadd, Fatḥ, and Khayāl also called Israfil, Michael, and Gabriel in the exoteric terminology. These three Archangels mediate between the Universal Soul and the human souls of the World of Religion.

    Kaba-3angels

    One and two produce the number three, which is compound and odd, and which corresponds to the three branches in the World of Religion, namely, Jadd, Fatḥ and Khayāl, and the three dimensions in the physical world, namely length, width and depth.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 108, Avaani Edition)

    The 6 Faces of the Cubic Form – the 6 spatial directions – symbolize the 6 Speaker-Prophets (nāṭiqs) – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad. Each of these Speaker-Prophets revealed a Book and a religious law to humankind and inaugurated a Major Cycle of religious history.

    Kaba-6 prophets

    Since the human body, which is the worker, has six sides, i.e. front, back, right, left, above and beneath, God, may He be exalted, sent six commanding messengers. They are: Adam, came to mankind from above; Noah, came to them from the left; Abraham, came to them from the back; Moses, came to them from beneath, opposite to Adam; Jesus, came to them from the right, opposite to Noah;, and Muhammad, may peace be upon him and his progeny, came to them from the front, opposite to Abraham. We say that, since man has six sides with respect to the body and it is the body which is the worker and since from each side of it an instructor came (to instruct man to work), then, according to intellectual judgment, it follows that no other instructor will come to mankind. Therefore, the decisive proof which we have shown according to intellectual judgment, establishes that after Muhammad, may peace be upon him and his progeny, there will not come any other Prophet in the future.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Din, Chapter VII, transl. Al-Wa’z Dr. Faquir Muhammad Hunzai, Ilm Magazine, Vol. 11, No. 4/3, December 1987 / March 1988, 34- 35)

    The centre of the six spatial directions (which symbolize the six Speaker-Prophets) represents the Lord of the Resurrection (Qā’im al-Qiyāmah). While the Six Speaker-Prophets came into this world to command people to perform physical actions (which is why they are represented by the six directions of space), the Lord of the Resurrection reveals the esoteric meaning behind all the religious laws and scriptures and recompenses people for all their deeds.

    Since it is the habit of people to perform acts and receive the wages from the commander, it follows that after this, by the Command of God, may He be exalted, someone will come who will give wages to each of these workers according to his actions. This is the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah, peace be upon him, who is not the lord of the sharī‘at, but he is the lord of the reckoning. He will reckon all the deeds that have been done and will reward the workers. Since a commander (prophet) has come from every side of the body of human beings already, logically it is necessary that this person will come, as it is no longer possible for any other commander to come.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Din, Chapter VII, transl. Al-Wa’z Dr. Faquir Muhammad Hunzai, Ilm Magazine, Vol. 11, No. 4/3, December 1987 / March 1988, 34- 35)

    Thus, the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah is represented by the motionless Centre of the six spatial directions which stand for the six great Prophets. With respect to the central position of the Qa’im, Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi refers to his perfect soul as the qiblah of the souls of the six Prophets:

    The Master of the Seventh Cycle [the Qa’im] is the perfection of the Prophets, and the Qiblah of their souls and intellects.

    Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi,
    (Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. 3, Majlis No. 1, 8)

    The 8 Angular Points symbolize the 7 Imams of the Minor Cycle and the Hujjat of the Qā’im al-Qiyāmah whose coming in the world immediately precedes that of the Qā’im. The Universal Intellect is the Throne and these 8 Angular Points refer to the “Bearers of the Throne” mentioned in the Qur’ānic verse:

    And Eight will uphold the Throne of their Lord on that day, above them.

    – Holy Qur’ān 69:17

    Kaba-8 imams

    The bottom corner of the Ka‘bah is where the Black Stone is located which the pilgrims kiss. This Black Stone represents the Asas or Ḥujjat of the Qā’im. The Ḥujjat of the Qā’im is the greatest among all the Imams from the Cycle of Adam to the Cycle of Muhammad. This is why the Isma‘ili ḥujjats such as Abu Hatim al-Razi, Qadi al-Nu‘man, al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi, and Nāṣir-i Khusraw refer to this Ḥujjat of the Qā’im as “the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr) greater than a thousand months” – meaning that he is greater than a thousand Imams in unveiling knowledge. Thus, al-Mu’ayyad writes that: “the Bāb of the Qā’im is the lord of universal explanation and the true unveiling.” (Majalis al-Mu’ayyadiyyah, Vol. 2, 612).

    Virtual image of the Black Stone at the southeast corner of the Ka'bah.

    Virtual image of the Black Stone at the southeast corner of the Ka’bah.

    The greatness of the Black Stone is evident by the tradition of the exoteric ḥajj where pilgrims kiss the Stone while performing seven circumambulations. This is an allusion or symbol for the Asas or Ḥujjat of the Qā’im who is greater than the Seven Imams of the Minor Cycles, as Nāṣir-i Khusraw explains:

    To come to the Black Stone signifies that the believers affirm the rank of the Asās. The three corners (rukns) of the House are hidden but the Black Stone is not hidden, which signifies that the Asās is the one who explains on behalf of the three ranks and he himself is the fourth of them. To circumambulate the Ka‘bah seven times signifies that the believers affirm the rank of the Seven Imams.

    Sayyidna Nāṣir-i Khusraw,
    (Wajh-i Dīn, 265, Avaani Edition)

    A Hajj pilgrim touches and prostrates towards the Black Stone at the corner of the Ka'bah.

    A Hajj pilgrim touches and prostrates towards the Black Stone at the corner of the Ka’bah.

    Just as the pilgrim glorifies the Black Stone in the exoteric Hajj, the murid recognizes the rank of the Asas (Hujjat) of the Qa'im in the esoteric Hajj.

    Just as the pilgrim glorifies the Black Stone in the exoteric Hajj, the murid recognizes the rank of the Asas (Hujjat) of the Qa’im in the esoteric Hajj.

    The 12 Lines symbolize the 12 pairs of ḥujjats (proofs) of the Imam who exist in every age, receiving his ta’yīd (spiritual inspiration) and conveying it to the people in the form of ta‘līm (instruction). Human beings are divided into twelve groups; each group is sent one ḥujjat of the day and one ḥujjat of the night, who are responsible for guiding them on behalf of the Imam.

    kaba-12 hujjats

    Understand that for each Imam there are twelve visible diurnal ḥujjats and twelve concealed and hidden nocturnal ḥujjats…they are the veil of the Imam and are his mouthpieces and gateways, his deputies and the messengers from him to the da‘is, who in turn convey the message to the believers.

    Sayyidna Ibn al-Haytham,
    (The Advent of the Fatimids, tr. Madelung, 97)

    In summary, the Cubic Form of the physical Ka’bah is a visual symbol of the Ranks of the World of Religion. Collectively, the Ranks of Religion consisting of the Prophets, the Imams and their deputies serve to manifest the Throne of God (Universal Intellect, Muhammadan Light) to human beings.

    Kaba-religion

    So, just as earlier we had the eight angles of the cubic form designated as the “supports” of the cosmic Throne or Temple, here we have the eight supports of the Throne of the Muhammadan Light, the permanent prophetic religion of humanity. And as the inner cohesion of the higher level, then that of the lower level, and lastly the interconnection between them, were seen to be assured by the twelve straight lines and six surfaces that engender the cubic form, by means of the Imamate, which is the esoteric aspect of prophecy and its heart, the Throne or Muhammadan Light is “stabilized upon the Water.”

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 208)

    The Ka‘bah’s physical form as a Cube – consisting of the vertical and horizontal lines that form the square, 3 spatial dimensions, 6 spatial directions, 8 angular points, and 12 lines – is a symbolic manifestation of the Universal Intellect and Universal Soul (the attributes First, Last, Manifest, Hidden), the spiritual ranks of Jadd, Fatḥ and Khayāl, and the World of Religion – the 6 Six Speaker-Prophets and the =”iglanguage”>Qā’im, the 7 Imams and the Asas of the Qā’im, and the 12 pairs of ḥujjats of night and day. This is the reason why the Ka‘bah was constructed in Makkah as a physical representation of the Ḥaqīqī House of God – otherwise called the Throne of God, the Muhammadan Light or the Eternal Imam.

    We can now anticipate the esoteric significance of the pilgrimage to the Temple of the Ka‘bah as the centre of the terrestrial world, containing, homologically, all of creation. The form of the Ka‘bah is the very form of the cosmic Throne or Temple, as it is also the form of the Imamate or malakut of this world, of its esoteric or suprasensible aspect.

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 208)

    The material centre — the site of the Temple of the Ka‘bah as centre of the terrestrial world and of the geocentric universe of the Spheres—by virtue of its homology with the centre of the intelligible Spheres, has the privilege of manifesting the Temple (Bayt Allāh, the “House of God”) in correspondence with the Throne of the Sovereign Unity (‘arsh al-waḥdāniyyah al-kubra). This latter is the pure intelligible Temple (al-Bayt al-‘Aqli) around which the pure sacrosanct angelic Intelligences proceed (the Angeli intellectuals).

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 219)

    Let us now summarize: the exoteric House of God and the physical qiblah is the Ka‘bah in Makkah; the Esoteric House of God and the spiritual qiblah is the living Imam of the Time; the ḥaqīqī (real) House of God and the ḥaqīqī qiblah is the Universal Intellect (the Throne of God) which encompasses all of the spiritual ranks and physical ranks of the World of Religion – as represented in the geometric figure of the Cube. Thus, the exoteric, esoteric and real Houses of God are symbols of each other and in reality they constitute the single House of God. The perfect human being who manifests all of these realities – the Intellect, the Soul, and the World of Religion – at any given period of humanity is the Imam of the Time, the “Vicar” of God on earth. In this respect, the Imam of the Time is the physical manifestation of both the Celestial House of God (Universal Intellect) and the physical Ka‘bah.

    IG Title Image

    Consider the cubic form of the Temple, which totalizes and interconnects spiritual and material realities, as a unique Emanation proceeding from the supreme Principle; that is to say, as a human person, as the Anthropos who is God’s Vicar with regard to what he envelops and contains eminently within himself. In other words, the figuration of the Temple of the Ka‘bah is likewise the figuration of Shiite prophetology and Imamology, because in both cases the same functional relationships are preserved.

    Henry Corbin,
    (Temple and Contemplation, 219)

    Whereas the people of the ẓāhir turn their physical bodies toward the physical Ka‘bah and make the exoteric ḥajj to this inanimate House of God, the people of the bāṭin and ṭarīqah turn their rational souls toward the spiritual Ka‘bah, the Imam of the Time and undertake the esoteric ḥajj toward the living House of God; and the people of the ḥaqīqah also turn their intellects toward the Universal Intellect and undertake the celestial ḥajj toward the ḥaqīqī House of God.

    O pilgrims to the Ḥaqīqī House of God (khāna-yi Khudā), strive today, which is the day of Qiyāmat. Strive to attain the greatest benefit that you can.

    Imam Ḥasan ‘alā dhikrihi al-salām,
    (Quoted in Hasan-i Mahmud, Haft Bab-i Baba-yi Sayyidna, Chapter 6)

    It must be remembered that the Imam of the Time – the esoteric qiblah – is the locus of manifestation (mazhar) or the mirror of the Universal Intellect – the ḥaqīqī qiblah. Thus, when the murids are in need of assistance in any matter, they turn towards the esoteric qiblah – the Imam of the Time, and by means of the Imam’s boundless love for his spiritual children, the Nūr of Imamat (Universal Intellect – ḥaqīqī qiblah) inspires their souls and shows them “where and in which direction” they must turn:

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV visiting his Ismaili followers in Tajikistan, 2008

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV visiting his Ismaili followers in Tajikistan, 2008

    For hundreds of years, my spiritual children have been guided by the Rope of Imamat. You have looked to the Imam of the Age for advice and help in all matters and through your Imam’s immense love and affection for his spiritual children, his Nūr has indicated to you where and in which direction you must turn so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.

    Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
    (Karachi, December 13, 1964, in Ilm Magazine, July 1975, Vol. 1, No. 1, 7)

    9 thoughts on “Esoteric Hajj: From the Physical Ka’bah to the Living Imam

    1. Pingback: Esoteric Hajj: From the Physical Ka’bah to the Living Imam | Ismaili Gnosis | Ismailimail

    2. Shukar alahamdulilah it was a blessing to read this beautiful,very well thoughtful article on the esoteric meaning of kaba,one more observation I would like to share here about the duality Allah speaks in the Quran,about making everything in pairs,and every thing Allah says has a zahir and a batin.The building of kaba by Hazrat Ibrahim and Hazrat ismail on the command of Allah symbolizes creation of Adam by his own hands,Hazrat Ali’s birth in the kaba symbolizes Allahs blowing his spirit in Adam,together Ali and kaba symbolizes,universal soul and universal body,and every human and it’s soul are the representation of both.(I could be wrong)I would ask the author of this article to shed some light on this observation.

    3. Pingback: The Seven Pillars of Islam: The Esoterics of Walāyah | Ismaili Gnosis

    4. Pingback: 10 Ismaili Muslim Poets Everyone Should Know About | Ismaili Gnosis

    5. Pingback: Ten Arguments for the Necessity of the Esoteric Interpretation (Ta’wil) of the Qur’an:By Ismaili Gnosis – Ismaili Wellsprings

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