The Seats of the Ismaili Imamat: From Medina to Lisbon (632-2018)

Through the centuries, the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat has been formally designated in one or more locations by the Imam-of-the-Time, depending on the requirements of the day. It has known many homes over the years – throughout the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, in South Asia, and in North Africa. It moved to Cairo in the tenth century, when my ancestors founded that city. The decision to establish a new Seat here in Portugal, at the gracious invitation of your Government, is one that has been taken after much reflection and consultation. It represents a true milestone moment in the long history of the Imamat.

– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Address to the Parliament of Portugal, July 10, 2018)

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Today – July 11, 2018 – marks the official opening of the first Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Lisbon, Portugal. The establishment of the Global Seat is an unprecedented and milestone event in the history of the Ismaili Muslims. Having endured centuries of persecution and attempted genocides (read about them here), the fact that the Ismaili Imamat enjoys a safe environment to conduct its work is an immense blessing and a unique situation in its 1,400 year history.

As recent as 150 years ago, the living situation of the Ismaili Imams was not so fortunate – the Imams had no permanent residence and were constantly wandering from place to place in search of a safe haven. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah described his own childhood lifestyle as “the life of gypsies”:

My first recollection is of camping in tents and of travelling with my father. We went through Kutchh, Kathiawar and Sind, and I can never forget the memories of those days when we had to halt every two or three hours in order not to tire the horses and mules and donkeys and camels that carried our luggage. Now, looking back, it seems to me that we led the life of gypsies; we were almost a gypsy family. We carried our food about, as very often we could not get it at the places through which we passed. Even water for drinking was brought, sometimes from Bombay or Karachi, in the form of soda water.

– Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III,
(quoted in Naoroji M. Dumasia, The Aga Khan and His Ancestors, 76)

In his historic address to the Portugese Parliament yesterday, Mawlana Hazar Imam referred to fifteen centuries of Ismaili Imamat history and mentioned the existence of prior Seats of the Ismaili Imamat in various parts of the world:

The Ismaili Imamat itself, as you may know, is an international institution that goes back some 15 centuries, to the time of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon Him and his Family). This means that when I inherited my role just 61 years ago, I became the 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. Through the centuries, the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat has been formally designated in one or more locations by the Imam-of-the-Time, depending on the requirements of the day. It has known many homes over the years – throughout the Arabian Peninsula, in the Middle East, in South Asia, and in North Africa. It moved to Cairo in the tenth century, when my ancestors founded that city. The decision to establish a new Seat here in Portugal, at the gracious invitation of your Government, is one that has been taken after much reflection and consultation. It represents a true milestone moment in the long history of the Imamat.

– Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Address to the Parliament of Portugal, July 10, 2018)

Ismaili Gnosis, drawing on historical academic research on the history of the Ismaili Imams, has compiled the following list of Ismaili Imamat Seats and Residences since the time of Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib.

Note: Only certain residences of the Ismaili Imams were formally declared by the Imam as a “Seats” of the Imamat. However, there is not enough historical information available to know precisely which villages and cities were officially designated “Seats”. Thus, the below compilation lists the names of the places where the Imams resided generally and holds off specifying which residences were official Seats. Readers may click on an Imam’s name to read a short biography.

Summary History of Ismaili Imamat Seats and Residences

O King, certainly, in the way of the path
The threshold of your court became the Qibla of the world

(Inscription on the Casket of Imam Mustansir billah III (Shah Gharib Mirza) in Anjudan)

The Countless Imams before Prophet Muhammad’s Mission (first human being to 632)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Most of the Imams in the lineage of Ishmael from Prophet Abraham to Prophet Muhammad lived in Arabia; the whereabouts of the Imams before Prophet Abraham are not precisely known and may have included Mesopotamia, Arabia, and even India.

1. Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (632-661)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina, Kufa

2. Imam al-Husayn (661-680)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina

3. Imam ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin (680-713)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina

4. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (713-743)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina

5. Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq (743-765)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina

6. Imam Isma‘il b. Ja‘far (765-ca. 775)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina

The Jannat al-Baqi Cemetery in Medina before the Saudis demolished it. This Cemetery contained the graves of the early Imams.

7. Imam Muhammad b. Isma‘il (775-ca.806)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Medina, Khuzistan (Southwestern Persia)

8. Imam ‘Abdullah b. Muhammad al-Wafi (ca. 806-828)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Khuzistan (Southwestern Persia), Basra (Iraq), Salamiyya (Syria)

9. Imam Ahmad b. ‘Abdullah al-Taqi (828-ca. 870)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Salamiyya (Syria)

10. Imam al-Husayn b. ‘Ahmad al-Radi (ca. 870-ca. 880-81)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Salamiyya (Syria)

Jabal Mashad in Masyaf, Syria. Jabal Mashad is believed to hold the tombs of Imam Muhammad ibn Isma’il and the three Isma’ili Imams who succeeded him : Imam ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Radi [Imam Wafi Ahmad], Imam Ahmad ibn ‘Abdullah al-Wafi [Imam Taqi Muhammad], and Imam al-Husayn ibn Ahmad al-Taqi [Imam Radi al-Din ‘Abdullah].
11. Imam al-Mahdi bi’llah (881-934)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Salamiyya (Syria) until 899, Raqqada (Tunisia) from 909 to 918, Mahdiyya (Tunisia) from 918

12. Imam al-Qa’im bi-amr Allah (934-946)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Mahdiyya (Tunisia)

The Grand Mosque of Mahdiyya

More Photos of al-Mahdiyya are published on Simerg

13. Imam al-Mansur bi’llah (946-953)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Mahdiyya (Tunisia) until 949, al-Mansuriyya (Tunisia) from 949

14. Imam al-Mu‘izz li-Din Allah (953-975)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Mansuriyya (Tunisia) until 973, al-Qahira (Cairo) from 973

Al-Azhar Mosque in Fatimid Cairo

15. Imam al-‘Aziz bi’llah (975-996)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Qahira (Cairo)

16. Imam al-Hakim bi-amr Allah (996-1021)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Qahira (Cairo)

17. Imam al-Zahir li-‘izaz Din Allah (1021-1036)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Qahira (Cairo)

18. Imam al-Mustansir bi’llah (1036-1094)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Qahira (Cairo)

19. Imam Nizar al-Mustafa Din Allah (1094-1095)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: al-Qahira (Cairo), Alexandria

20. Imam al-Hadi (1095 – ca. 1132)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Maghrib (Tunisia)

21. Imam Muhammad al-Muhtadi (ca. 1132-ca. 1161-62)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Maghrib (North Africa), Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

22. Imam al-Qahir (ca. 1161–ca. 1164)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

The Valley of Alamut

23. Imam Hasan ‘ala-dhikrihi al-salam (1164-1166)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

24. Imam ‘Ala Muhammad (1166-1210)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

25. Imam Jalal al-Din Hasan (1210-1221)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

26. Imam ‘Ala’ al-Din Muhammad (1221-1255)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

27. Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah (1255-1257)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Alamut (Fortress States in Persia, Syria, and Lebanon)

28. Imam Shams al-Din Muhammad (1257-1310)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Tabriz (Azerbaijan, Persia); the Imam reportedly travelled throughout the Middle East and even India to visit the Ismaili communities in the wake of the Mongol invasions.

29. Imam Qasimshah (1310-1368)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Tabriz (Azerbaijan, Persia)

30. Imam Islamshah (1368-1424)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Tabriz (Azerbaijan, Persia), Alamut (Daylam, Persia), Kahek (Central Persia)

31. Imam Muhammad b. Islamshah (1424-1464)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Kahek (Central Persia), possibly Shahr-i Babak (Kirman, Persia)

32. Imam Mustansir bi’llah II (1464-1480)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

“This is the purified, hallowed and luminous grave of the noble Shah Mustansir bi’llah, [erected] by the command and direction of the noble Shah ‘Abd al-Salam.”
(Inscription of the Gravestone of Imam Mustansir bi’llah II)
33. Imam ‘Abd al-Salam Shah (1480-1494)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

34. Imam Gharib Mirza Mustansir bi’llah III (1494-1498)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

35. Imam Abu Dharr ‘Ali (1498 – ca. 1509)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

36. Imam Murad Mirza (ca. 1509-1574)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

37. Imam Dhu’l-Faqar ‘Ali Khalil Allah I (1574-1634)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

“According to this edict, originally installed in the main mosque of Anjudan and addressed to Amir Khalil Allah Anjudani, the current Qasim-Shahi Imam, the Shi‘is of Anjudan, named as a dependency of the dar al-mu’minın of Qumm, were exempted, like other Shi‘is around Qumm, from paying certain taxes. ” (Daftary)

38. Imam Nur al-Din ‘Ali (1634-1671)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

39. Imam Khalil Allah II (1671-1680)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia)

40. Imam Shah Nizar II (1680-1722)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Anjudan (Central Persia), Kahek (Central Persia)

41. Imam Sayyid ‘Ali (1722-1736)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Kahek (Central Persia)

42. Imam Hasan ‘Ali (ca. 1736-ca. 1747)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Kahek (Central Persia), Shahr-i Babak (Kirman, Persia)

43. Imam Qasim ‘Ali (ca. 1747-ca. 1756)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Shahr-i Babak (Kirman, Persia)

44. Imam Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali (ca. 1756-1792)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Shahr-i Babak (Kirman, Persia)

45. Imam Khalil Allah III (1792-1817)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Shahr-i Babak (Kirman, Persia), Yazd (Central Persia)

46. Imam Hasan ‘Ali Shah Aga Khan I (1817-1881)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Yazd (Central Persia), Qumm (Persia), Mahallat, Kirman, Jerruk (India), Bombay (India), Mausoleum in Hasanabad (India)

Shrine of Imam Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan I in Hasanabad

47. Imam Aqa ‘Ali Shah Aga Khan II (1881-1885)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Bombay (India)

48. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III (1885-1957)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Bombay (India), London, Cannes (France), Geneva, Mausoleum in Aswan (Egypt)

Mausoleum of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III in Aswan

49. Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV (1957-present)
Seat or Residence of Imamat: Geneva, Aiglemont (France), Lisbon

Henrique Mendonça Palace, which will host the Imam’s residence and the offices of the Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat including the Department of Jamati Affairs and the Diplomatic Corps. Photo courtesy of Simerg/Barakah

Lisbon now hosts the Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat, the first institution of its kind in modern Ismaili history. According to the Official Agreement between Portugal and the Ismaili Imamat:

  • The Ismaili Imamat is recognized as “a legal entity, [which] means the institution or office of the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims [is] established in accordance with the applicable customary law.”
  • “The Portuguese Republic acknowledges the legal personality and capacity of the Ismaili Imamat to act in international relations.”
  • The Seat of the Ismaili Imamat serves as the global head office of the Ismaili Imamat with the following mandate:
    a) Facilitating the spiritual and secular guidance of the Imam to the Ismaili Community globally;
    b) Promoting the quality of life of the Ismaili Community globally and more generally of the people of the countries where the Ismaili Imamat or its Dependent Institutions are active;
    c) Enhancing international relations and co-operation with States, International Organisations and other entities.
Officers of the Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat:
Nazim Ahmad, Head of the Department of Portugal and other Lusophone Countries; Ambassador Arif Lalani, Head of the Department of Diplomatic Affairs; Dr Shafik Sachedina, Head of Community Affairs; Jane Piacentini- Moore, Head of the Department for International Financial Affairs; Maitre Laurent Chambaz, Head of the Department for International Legal Affairs;

A Final Note:
In terms of Ismaili history and theology, the Global Seat of the Ismaili Imamat means that the spiritual-religious office of the Ismaili Imamat now has a “legal manifestation” in the exoteric (zahir) or worldly (dunya) realm of public international affairs – this manifestation being the “legal entity of the Ismaili Imamat” now recognized by Portugal. Just as in past eras, the Ismaili Imams publicly presented themselves and acted as Fatimid Caliphs (the Fatimid Caliphate), Sufi Shaykhs, or Persian governors in the public-exoteric (zahir) and socio-public realm, today, the Ismaili Imams are engaging in the public realm through a formal legal-institutional structure with the formal name “Ismaili Imamat.”

Nevertheless, it must be remembered that the spiritual-religious office of the Imamat truly belongs to the esoteric (batin) realm, the World of Faith (din) – regardless of whether there exists a legal institution of the Imamat in the public exoteric realm (dunya) or not. Finally, the cosmic, eternal, and spiritual Light (nur) of Imamat that transcends time and space emanates from the highest spiritual world (al-‘alam al-ruhani) and always manifests in the person of each individual Ismaili Imam who occupies the spiritual-religious office of Imamat in the World of Faith (din).

14 thoughts on “The Seats of the Ismaili Imamat: From Medina to Lisbon (632-2018)

  1. I believe that Imam Hasan Ali Shah Aga Khan‘s seat/residence between 1843 and 1846 was in Jerruk, Sindh Pakistan, which was also named at that time as the first Darkhana in (undivided) India.

  2. We Ismailis are hungry for compendium such as this one. Congratulation to the author for well researched information.
    Noore

  3. Thank you very much for your research and for sharing this valuable information with the Jamat worldwide.
    The photo selection was excellent

  4. Very informative piece of history.
    I have a few collections of Waez by different missionaries.
    Unfortunately, the recordings are usually incomplete.
    if I were to send you one, would you be able to get the complete and a full version of it please?
    Hamida Currim from Bombay, India.

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