What is Ismaili Gnosis?
Ismaili Gnosis is a private organization dedicated to reviving Ismaili Muslim esoteric thought and intellectual discussion for today’s audiences. Ismaili Gnosis does not represent nor is related to any community, organization or institution or school of thought. Just like the Institute of Ismaili Studies publications, the content published by Ismaili Gnosis reflects the individual research, opinions, and perspectives of Ismaili Gnosis authors only. The over-arching inspiration, motivation and vision behind the Ismaili Gnosis project are:
- Mawlana Hazar Imam’s critical guidance that we understand the faith within the context of our time.
- The need for an intellectually satisfying, philosophically rich, and spiritually penetrating Ismaili theological discourse for contemporary sensibilities.
- A thorough engagement with teachings of the intellectual Ismaili works composed by the contemporary and past Ismaili Imams, hujjats and Da‘is.
- Henry Corbin’s pioneering research into Ismaili Muslim esoteric thought. Corbin once wrote, astutely: “To know the Imam of the Time and to recognize him through his disguise … is the great concern and preoccupation which mobilizes all the spiritual energies of a devout Ismaili.”
The Ismaili Gnosis website is focused on the study of classical Shī‘ī Ismā‘īli Muslim philosophy and other esoteric traditions (Sufism, Kabbalah, Christian mysticism, Vedanta, etc.) including metaphysics, philosophy, history, theology, cosmology, esoteric interpretation (ta’wīl), spirituality, comparative studies and eschatology. This body of sacred knowledge is designated by the term gnosis (Arabic: ma‘rifah; Persian: shinākht) – a direct, innate knowledge of spiritual truths (haqā’iq). The posts featured on this blog are individual reflections and perspectives which are informed by and rooted in traditional texts, commentaries and sources.
The website is dedicated to explaining, illustrating and presenting the rational demonstration (burhan) of Ismaili Muslim beliefs, practices, theology and philosophy with well researched and sourced articles for the lay reader that appeal to logic and reason, supported by academic and scholarly sources of Ismaili history and thought. The editorial agenda for the website is driven by the editors’ research and engagement with youth and young adults whose questions and curiosities are addressed in the various published articles. To date over 50 feature length articles published on topics such as:
- The spiritual functions of the Prophet Muhammad as laid out in the Holy Qur’an.
- The Qur’anic validation for the concept of Imamat.
- The historical evidence for the Ismaili Imamat.
- Esoteric symbolism and historical basis of Ismaili practices like prayer (salah; du’a) and fasting (sawm).
- Esoteric and mystical ideas of the Imamat.
- Contemporary discussions about creation, evolution, science and religion.
- Socialhabits (i.e. alcohol) in Islam.
Who runs Ismaili Gnosis?
Ismaili Gnosis is run by a group of Ismaili scholars with academic training and graduate degrees in religion, philosophy, and Islamic studies. The website articles draw upon much of the Ismaili intellectual tradition of the past, including the writings of the Ismaili Imams, historians, philosophers, and poets such as the pirs, hujjahs, and da‘is. Ismaili Gnosis does not represent nor is related to any community, organization or institution or school of thought. Just like the Institute of Ismaili Studies publications, the content published by Ismaili Gnosis reflects the individual research, opinions, and perspectives of Ismaili Gnosis authors only. You can contact Ismaili Gnosis to submit questions, feedback, etc. at email@example.com
Like other non-institutional Ismaili websites such as Simerg, IsmailiMail, NanoWisdoms and Amaana, Ismaili Gnosis is a private civil-society initiative inspired by Shi‘i Islam’s emphasis on role of the intellect (‘aql) and personal search for knowledge.
The Faith urges freedom of intellectual enquiry and this freedom does not mean that knowledge will lose its spiritual dimension. That dimension is indeed itself a field for intellectual inquiry. I can not illustrate this interdependence of spiritual inspiration and learning better than by recounting a dialogue between Ibn Sina, the philosopher, and Abu said Abul-Khayr, the Sufi mystic. Ibn Sina remarked, “Whatever I know, he sees.” To which Abu Said replied, “Whatever I see, he knows.”
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
(Inauguration Ceremony Aga Khan University, November 11, 1985)
Since its founding, hundreds have praised the IG Website and Facebook Groups for helping them better understand their faith in deeper terms:
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 Guest
>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.
— Ismaili Gnosis Guest
Some moving stories, by young Ismailis, highlighting the positive impact the IG website and Facebook group has had on them, may be found here. Today, a small team of passionate, dedicated, unfunded volunteers manage and contribute to IG’s on-line assets listed below:
Ismaili Gnosis Website: ismailignosis.com
Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Page: facebook.com/IsmailiGnosis
Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Discussion Forum: facebook.com/groups/ismailignosis
Ismaili Gnosis FB Book Club: facebook.com/groups/igbookclub
Ismaili Gnosis Twitter: twitter.com/ismailignosis
Ismaili Gnosis Instagram: instagram.com/ismailignosis
Ismaili Gnosis Tumblr: ismailignosis.tumblr.com
Shi‘i Isma‘ili Islam: Background Information
Shī‘ī Ismā‘īli Islam is a branch of Shī‘ī Islam which holds that the Prophet Muḥammad – the final Prophet and Messenger of God – appointed and designated his cousin and son-in-law Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib as his successor in spiritual and temporal matters and as the first Imām (spiritual leader) to continue the ta‘līm (instruction) and ta’wīl (interpretation) of the God’s final message to community of believers; that the office of Imāmat (spiritual leadership) continues amongst the designated descendents of Imam ‘Alī; each Imām designates his successor (via nass) from amongst his male descendents; Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husayni (His Highness Āga Khān IV), is the present (ḥaḍir) and forty-ninth hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īli Muslims in direct lineal descent from the Prophet Muhammad through Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib and Hazrat Fātimah al-Zahra, the Prophet’s daughter.
Shī‘ī Ismā‘īli Islam is an esoteric tradition of Islam which possesses vast intellectual history in which spiritual and metaphysical knowledge was expressed as doctrine and embodied in ritual practice and ethical action. The goal of this esoteric learning and praxis is the transformation and actualization of the human soul through the tawhid (absolute oneness) of God as recognized through the Ismaili Imam of the Time. Henry Corbin describes this body of esoteric knowledge as follows:
The fact remains, however, that here we are indeed in the presence of a gnosis – that is, of a teaching which does not aim at some pure theoretical knowledge – [but] of a mode of understanding which is not a simple act of knowing. It is not a teaching for the masses, but an initiatory teaching passed on to each specially chosen disciple. It is an esoteric knowledge (‘al-ilm al-bāṭin), a knowledge of the Truth ( ‘ilm al-haqīqah) that, as such, gives rise to a new birth, a metamorphosis, the salvation of the soul. ‘This spiritual birth (wilāda ruhāniya) takes place in the world of ta’wīl, while physical birth takes place in the world of tanzīl.’ External religion or the literal form (tanzīl) and spiritual exegesis (ta’wīl) are the two poles. Etymologically, ta’wīl means ‘to bring back or lead back to…’, i.e., to bring the literal forms (ẓāhir, sharī‘ah) back to the plane of spiritual Truth (haqīqah). By this exegesis, Ismā‘īlīsm transforms the literal forms of the Qur’ānic Revelation…it performs a transformation of all these forms, events, and persons into symbols. In so doing, it realizes a transmutation of the soul, its resurrection (qiyāmah).
Henry Corbin, (Cyclical Times and Ismaili Gnosis, 153)