One of the ways in which Ismailis have expressed their identity wherever they have lived is through their places of prayer, known today as the Jamatkhana. Other Muslim communities give their religious buildings different names: from ribat and zawiyya to khanaqa. And, in addition, there are other places where Muslims of all interpretations can come together, such as non-denominational mosques.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Toronto Ismaili Centre Opening Ceremony, Toronto, September 12, 2014, Read at NanoWisdoms)
Certain Muslim groups in present times have publicly monopolized and “normalized” an image of Islam where Islam equals the so-called “Five Pillars”: the Shahadah, ritual prayer (salah, namaz), pilgrimage (hajj) to Makkah, alms-giving (zakah), and fasting (sawm) from dawn to dusk in Ramadan. However, the idea of Islam = Five Pillars is a historical construct. The Qur’an never defines Islam as “five pillars” and hadiths where the Prophet Muhammad defines Islam as “Five Pillars” only start circulating at 200 years after the Prophet Muhammad’s death. When one sees how Islam has been practiced through 1,400 years of history and continues to be practiced today, the equation of Islam with “five pillars” simply does not hold up to reality.
Harvard University is offering a brand new course by Professor Ali Asani on Muslim Devotional Literature in South Asia, featuring the study of the Ismaili Ginans in their historical, cultural, and devotional contexts. The Ginans stem from the Satpanth Ismaili tradition of South Asia and Ismaili tradition attributes the authorship of the Ginans to the Pirs (the babs or supreme hujjats of the Imam) and Sayyids descended from the family of the Ismaili Imams and who were active from the 12th century to the 19th century.
The discourse of the Qur’an-e-Sharif, rich in parable and allegory, metaphor and symbol, has been an inexhaustible well-spring of inspiration, lending itself to a wide spectrum of interpretations.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
You see, my mission is situated on three levels. Firstly, religious: it concerns a symbolic exegesis of the Qur’an…Our religion is esoteric, you understand. It is a perpetual initiation.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
We are the Gates of God. We are the medium for His people. He who approaches Him through us is brought near Him. He who seeks our intercession is interceded for. He who seeks His favours through us is favoured by Him. He who turns away from us goes astray.
– Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq
The purpose of this article is two-fold: first, to explain the metaphysics and philosophy of praying to God through supplication or petitionary prayer (du‘a’) and secondly, to explain the metaphysical and Qur’anic basis for seeking the help and blessings of the Imam of the Time and intercessors in general – the Prophets, the Shi‘i Imams, the Sufi saints (awliya’) etc.
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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The Imam’s word on the Faith is taken as an absolute rule. Every Ismaili is expected to accept it.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan
The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen – I have not the least hesitation in saying it – is alcohol.
Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan
Our belief is that the thing which separates man from the animals is his power of thought. Anything that impedes this process is wrong. Therefore alcohol is forbidden. I have never touched alcohol.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan
Abstract: According to traditional interpretations, the first verse of the Qur’ān (iqra bi-smi rabbika) merely commands the Prophet Muhammad to read aloud the verses of the Qur’ān. But based on early Muslim tradition and the rules of Arabic grammar, the Qur’an’s earliest verses actually show that Muhammad was engaged in a form of mystical meditation, consisting of repeating and reciting a special Name of God, when the Qur’an was revealed to him. This interpretation has profound implications on how Muslims should understand the spirituality of a prophet: every prophet undergoes a spiritual initiation which includes rigorous spiritual training, the performance of mystical practices like meditation using a special Name of God.
Shahru ramaḍāna alladhī unzila fīhi’l-qur’ānu hudan lilnasi wabayyinātin mina’l-hudā wa’l-furqāni fa-man shahida minkumu’l-shahra falyaṣumhu
“The Month of Ramaḍān in which was sent down the Qur’ān a guidance for mankind, and manifest proofs of the guidance and the criterion (between truth and falsehood). So whomever among you witnesses the Month, let him fast it.” (Holy Qur’ān 2:185)
Fasting (ṣawm) is among the seven pillars (arkān) of classical Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Islām and the five pillars of classical Sunnī Islām. For Ismā‘īlī gnosis as taught by the Ismā‘īlī Muslim theosophers , each pillar (rukn) of Islām has an exoteric form (ẓāhir), an esoteric meaning (bāṭin), and a spiritual reality which is the esoteric beyond the esoteric (bāṭin al-bāṭin).
On Thursday, February 27, 2014, the Aga Khan IV – the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismaili Muslims is scheduled to deliver a speech at a joint session of the Canadian Parliament and Senate.
As this is a time when many people will be asking questions about the history, beliefs and practices of the Ismaiili Muslims and the role of the Aga Khan as their 49th hereditary Imam, we invite our readers to watch this November 2011 academic lecture at the University of Toronto – presented by Khalil Andani (Master’s Candidate at Harvard Divinity School).
“The Imām knows from which drop of sperm the Imām after him will come”
“His sperm was kneaded along with his intellect.”
“And we come from the Light of God.”
(Imām Ḥasan ‘alā dhikrihi al-salām)
December 13 marks the 77th birthday of Mawlānā Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī (Aga Khan IV), the HaḍirImām (Present Imām) of the Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims. Imām Shāh Karīm is the forty-ninth hereditary Imām in direct lineal descent from Ḥaḍrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Ṭālib, the first of the Imāms in the Cycle of the Prophet Muḥammad.
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This post will address the exoteric (ẓāhir), the esoteric (bāṭin), and the reality (ḥaqīqah) of prayer (ṣalāh) and their relationship to the rituals of the sharī‘ah, the practices of the ṭarīqah, and the realities (ḥaqā’iq) of universal spirituality. In specific, the esoteric relationship between the formal Ṣalāh and the Ismā‘īlī Du‘ā’ will be addressed in great detail.
“Islam is based upon seven pillars: walayah – and this is the most excellent; through it and through the walī (the Imām), the true knowledge of the pillars can be obtained: ṭaharah (purification), ṣalah (prayer), zakah (purifying dues), ṣawm (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage), and jihād (striving).”
– Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir,
(Qādi al-Nu‘man, Da‘ā’im al-Islām, Prologue, 2)
In the present time, many people have sought to reduce the entire meaning of Islam to the practice of the so-called ‘Five Pillars of Islam’. In doing so, they flatten and hollow out the theological and intellectual depth of the faith. As Islam has developed historically, the Pillars have never constituted the entirety of religion. The Pillars ( belong to a grander and more comprehensive religious framework which includes both theological truths and ritual practices. This framework traditionally consists of the Roots of Religion (Uṣūl al-Dīn) and the Branches of Religion (Furū‘ al-Dīn) and is articulated using the Qur’ānic metaphor of a tree:
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The views expressed herein are based on the academic research of the Ismaili Gnosis blog and do not purport to represent any institution or community as a whole.
Q. Why do Ismā‘īlī Muslims seek the blessings and forgiveness of the Imām in the course of their prayers?
Gnosis – Arabic: ma‘rifah, Persian: shinākht, Sanskrit: jnāna, Hebrew: hokmah
Gnosis is that ‘supreme knowledge’ ‘which unifies and sanctifies’ the human being. (Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred, 41)
Gnosis is not acquired by discursive learning, but it is innate to the human soul and intellect. Gnosis is ‘the basis of the intellect (‘aql)’ and is ‘unwavering in man’. Gnosis is not merely a discursive or rational (fikrī) knowing, but rather, it is direct awareness or recognition. (Sayyidnā Nāsir-i Khusraw, Jami‘ al-Hikmatayn, Chapter 22)