Stories: Youth Find Answers to Questions, Strength of Faith through Ismaili Gnosis

Ismaili Gnosis shares two testimonials from two Ismaili Muslims youth who are regular readers of the blog. Like many young people in the modern world, both readers had many questions about their faith and found answers to such questions through Ismaili Gnosis.

“I finally came upon a website called Ismaili Gnosis and I began to read the various articles about topics I previously had questions about. I also joined the Ismaili Gnosis discussion group on Facebook, and I realized that I had finally found what I was looking for.”

“Ismaili Gnosis has unceasingly provided nourishment for my soul. The content on their website, when followed in its logical progression, rebuilds one’s faith and religious convictions.”

MHI on questioning faith

Ismaili Gnosis: Securing the Fort of Ismailism for Future Generations – Navid Amiri

“I finally came upon a website called Ismaili Gnosis and I began to read the various articles about topics I previously had questions about. I also joined the Ismaili Gnosis discussion group on Facebook, and I realized that I had finally found what I was looking for. I realized that the sort of questions that used to be met with fear and trepidation in REC were perfectly normal in the discussion group and one could actually have these addressed in a way that left people feeling that they were learning and growing.”

When I think back to childhood going to REC and being in Jamatkhanna, the thing I remember best is a sense, a feeling, that we were under siege. Ismailism felt like a cloister, a fortress which we occupied kind of like the old fort of Alamut and the rest of the world represented the Mongols, invaders knocking on our door and trying to get us to come out. As society was entering the 21st century, the pressure began to build as the Jamat began to open up to Western society and find themselves confronted by non Ismaili Muslims and those outside Islam. The youth of the Jamat began to feel challenged by their experiences and peers in high school and in college and found themselves vastly ill equipped to face it all. It began to seem to us youth that the walls of the fort of Ismailism were insecure and flimsy and people were lost and unsure why they were in the fort at all while second-guessing their trust in the Master of the fort, the Imam of the time. They began to see the fort not as a fort, but as a possible prison, as something designed not to keep the Mongols out, but to keep us locked in. My personal faith was held together by the unwavering confidence I had in certain key adults in my life and also the experience I had gazing upon our beloved Imam’s face in 2002.

I knew however that more was needed and that even if I could be sustained by these forces, it would not be enough for many of those around me and certainly not for my future kids. I knew I had to gain more knowledge for their sake if not my own because simple emotion and experience are not a substitute for holistic knowledge and intellectual engagement. Beyond perhaps a single solid teacher in 10th grade REC, I had nothing to draw on besides having discussions with my friends, parents and various uncles and aunts in my family. REC sorely lacked the answers people were looking for as did the many articles read in Jamatkhana and the many Ismaili religious education programs and camps. Students in REC especially in 12th grade were presenting questions and findings that, to my surprise, put the teacher and students on the defensive and rendered them helpless. The situation seemed dire and I was concerned for the future of the Ismaili Jamat.

On February 14, 2015 I finally came upon a website called Ismaili Gnosis and I began to read the various articles about topics I previously had questions on. I also joined the Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Discussion Forum, and I realized that I had finally found what I was looking for. I realized that the sort of questions that used to be met with fear and trepidation in REC were perfectly normal in the discussion group and one could actually have these addressed in a way that left people feeling that they were learning and growing. The Ismaili Gnosis website brings together the various writings of our Ismaili Imams, members of the Ismaili Dawah officially recognized by the institutions such as Nasir Khusraw and Nasir al-Din Tusi, and many IIS publications, presenting them in simple, lucid and easy to read articles about various topics such as the Ismaili understanding of the existence of God and the purpose of human life on Earth, understanding the role and validity of the Imamat, and the meaning of Ismaili rituals. It also provides a route for Ismailis to do their own personal search and interpretation of our faith and history.

I am convinced that reviving these teachings and presenting them the way Ismaili Gnosis has done so is the key to securing the fort of Ismailism for generations to come and I am very grateful for the efforts taken by its administrators. I was severely uneducated in my faith but because of the constant prayer and seeking I had done trying to find signs and ayats in the world around me, when I came upon Ismaili Gnosis, my soul recognized what it was and I knew this was what I was seeking. I hope many more will stand up to support causes like this and also conduct their own independent efforts to strengthen our cause so that future generations can benefit from the intellectual richness of Ismailism and its Master, Imam-e-Zaman.

Ismaili Gnosis: Rebuilding Fortresses of Faith – Ali Badruddin

“Only through reading the articles that Ismaili Gnosis offers and through discussing with other Ismailis in the Ismaili Gnosis forum did I come to realize that there were so many things that I never learned after 12 years of REC, so many concepts that were never properly explained… Ismaili Gnosis has unceasingly provided nourishment for my soul. The content on their website, when followed in its logical progression, rebuilds one’s faith and religious convictions from a creaky shack, which can crumble at the slightest prod, to an impregnable fortress.”

It’s difficult to express my deep gratitude and affection for Ismaili Gnosis because it has done for me what cannot be easily described in words, and when I stumbled upon it on social media almost two years ago, I had no idea how much closer it would bring me to a clearer understanding of my faith. A hundred testimonials would not be enough to do full justice to my experience with Ismaili Gnosis.

At first I wondered why an outfit such as Ismaili Gnosis was necessary in the first place because most Ismaili youth in the West complete 12 years of REC/BUI curriculum so they should have a thorough understanding of their faith. Only through reading the articles that Ismaili Gnosis offers and through discussing with other Ismailis in the Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Forum did I come to realize that there were so many things that I never learned after 12 years of REC, so many concepts that were never properly explained, and so many questions and concerns that I didn’t even realize I had. Unbeknownst to me was that Mawlana Hazar Imam had said that you must have a logical concept in all aspects of life, and that according to Islam faith is logical:

You must have in every walk of your life a logical concept. This does not mean to wipe away faith, but the real principle of Islam is that faith is logicalBecause the very heart of Islam is logical. There is no hocus-pocus. There is no nonsense. It is clear and it is lucid and it is understandable.

Imam Shah Karim al-Ḥusayni Aga Khan IV,
(Speech to Students, Karachi, September 27, 1960)

My intention is not to place blame on the teachers because I am extremely grateful to all of them for their dedicated voluntary time and effort in service to the youth of the Jamat. They each did the best they could within their capabilities and with the tools they had, and I do not mean to imply that I never learned anything from them at all. Such an assessment would not be truthful because REC was beneficial in many ways. However, I can honestly say that a firm foundation for a clear understanding of Ismailism was never laid, and I believe this is what was and continues to be extremely necessary.

My story with REC came full circle when I became a voluntary teacher for 10th grade after moving to another city. I realized that although there was some decent content sparsely sprinkled throughout the curriculum, the material that was needed to lay a solid foundation was notably missing. Naturally, the knowledge I began to gain from Ismaili Gnosis started to seep into my lessons and I found that my students were drawn much more to the Ismaili Gnosis material than the material from their actual curriculum.

In the year after, when I became Principal as well as a teacher, a student stopped attending class in part because she did not find the actual REC curriculum to be satisfying. From that moment onwards, I begin to integrate Ismaili Gnosis material more and more into my lessons so as to not lose any more students, and I found this change to be very well received by them. One day I combined my classes with another grade and included Ismaili Gnosis content in the lesson. The student from the other grade was so captured and satisfied by the content that his mother came to me in Jamatkhana and asked me to be his teacher next year. I was left wondering why this type of content was not part of the actual curriculum in the first place. This was an absolute tragedy because the students were clearly missing out on some very beneficial material. I thank Ismaili Gnosis for being attuned to the issues that today’s Ismaili youth face with regard to their faith and for stepping up to the plate to perform this extremely vital role that the community truly requires.

Islam enjoins upon an individual the maintaining of a balance between spiritual life and material well-being, and to ensure that his or her material endeavors are underpinned by the ethical principles of Islam. This balance between din and dunya entails not only the fulfillment of the individual’s spiritual obligation but also of the obligation to acquire knowledge and to use it for the benefit of others.

Imam Shah Karim al-Ḥusayni Aga Khan IV,
(Public Address, Al-Khawabi, Syria, 9 November 2001)

The great Ismaili thinker Nasir Khusraw has said that knowledge is the food of the soul, and in keeping with this notion, Ismaili Gnosis has unceasingly provided nourishment for my soul. The content on their website, when followed in its logical progression, rebuilds one’s faith and religious convictions from a creaky shack, which can crumble at the slightest prod, to an impregnable fortress. Naturally, the shack creaks because it lies on top of a shaky foundation so both unlearning and new learning must first take place in order for a stronger foundation to be laid.

One example of this is to be found in their article, He who is above all else: The Strongest Argument for the Existence of God. This article first explains how many of us today think about God along the wrong lines and actually hold to an erroneous concept of God.

The most pervasive error one encounters in contemporary arguments about belief in God – especially, but not exclusively, on the atheist side – is the habit of conceiving of God simply as some very large object or agency within the universe, or perhaps alongside the universe, a being among other beings, who differs from all other beings in magnitude, power, and duration, but not ontologically, and who is related to the world more or less as a craftsman is related to an artifact.

David Bentley Hart,
(The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 32)

This article changed my conception of God by providing a comprehensive and lucid argument for God as ultimate, unconditioned reality, which is “the Source or Ground for all of the powers or qualities found in conditioned realities such as existence, power, life, will, knowledge, beauty, compassion etc. This Unconditioned Reality – the Creator and Sustainer of all existing things at all times – is what we call ‘God’ or ‘He who is above all else’.” I was amazed at how the concept of God which this Ismaili Gnosis article explained and established using logic and philosophy matched exactly with what our Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah taught in his Memoirs:

It is said that we live, move and have our being in God… God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His will and His thought. Outside His will, outside His thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time.

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III,
(Memoirs of the Aga Khan: World Enough and Time)

Another article which has helped me immensely is The Prophet Unveiled: What the Qur’an says about Muhammad. It outlines all of the spiritual functions and roles of Prophet Muhammad as they are found in the Qur’an. Some of them are:

  • The Prophet Muḥammad forgives the Believers (5:13; 3:159; 7:199)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad guides the Believers to the Straight Path (45:25)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad is the judge of the believers (4:65; 4:105; 24:51; 33:36)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad makes things clear to the Believers (5:15; 5:19; 16:44; 16:64; 14:4)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad purifies and sanctifies the believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad holds authority (awla) over the Believers (33:6)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad recites the Signs of God (2:151)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad sends ṣalawāt (blessings, prayers) upon the Believers (9:103)
  • The Prophet Muḥammad receives offerings (ṣadaqa) from the Believers (9:103; 58:12)
  • A reading of this entire piece changed my perception of the Holy Prophet Muhammad from simply being a “revealer of a message” to the central and august person around which Islam revolved. The existence of these roles and functions also explain why a successor to Prophet Muhammad was absolutely necessary, which in turn led me to understand how these roles and functions continue to be fulfilled and performed today by our Imam of the Time, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Husayni.

    These are just two examples of many, through which Ismaili Gnosis has helped me to achieve a clearer understanding of Ismailism. It also helps that there is an Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Forum for Ismailis where certain individuals make themselves available night and day to answer any questions and discuss topics relevant to various aspects of faith. Ismaili Gnosis even operates on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat through which it shares snippets of informational Ismaili content throughout the day. This is especially wonderful because now we are reminded of our faith at various moments throughout our busy daily lives. I truly believe that this growing pillar of our community is providing a great service to the Jamat and especially to the youth, and it is my hope and prayer that many creaky shacks of childhood belief will continue to be rebuilt into unshakable fortresses of faith through Ismaili Gnosis.

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