Ramadan Fasting in Shia Ismaili Islam: A Historical Overview

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.

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10 Ismaili Muslim Poets Everyone Should Know About

Poetry is the voice of God speaking through the lips of man. If great painting puts you in touch with nature, great poetry puts you in direct touch with God. It is not a soft indulgence, you need to be wide awake, with all your wits about you, to share the poet’s joys. And, indeed, happiness is never a negative affair; it is to be won by men who are fully alive, full of the joy of living.

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III,
(Interview with The Daily Sketch November 2, 1931)

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Ya Ali Madad: The Rationale for Praying to God and Calling upon the Imams in Prayer

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.

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Survey: Ismailism Topics of Interest

Ismaili Gnosis has created a short survey to determine the sort of topics, subjects and issues most relevant to those wishing to learn more about Ismailism. Please take one minute to fill out the survey as this information will allow Ismaili Gnosis to gear its future articles to your needs. The survey is completely anonymous. Please note that this survey is not related to any Ismaili community institutions.

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Mourning for Ma‘rifah: Ismaili Interpretations of Ashura

“We are the House of Muhammad and as such are more entitled to the authority (walāyah) of this affair over you than these pretenders who claim what does not belong to them… By God there is no son of a Prophet other than me among you and among the peoples from East to West.

Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī

The tenth day of Muḥarram, known as the Day of ‘Āshūra’ is when the Battle of Karbala took place – in which Imām al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī, the second hereditary Imām of the Shī‘ī Muslims, along with his family and supporters, was brutally massacred by the armies of Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān.

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Ten Reasons why Human Consciousness or Mind is not Physical

Arguments for the Immateriality of the Human Mind or Consciousness:

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“Mechanists consider mind to be a part of the body, but this is a mistake. The brain is a part of the body, but mind and brain are not identical. The brain breathes mind like the lungs breathe air.”
– Huston Smith

Certain people today hold to a belief that the human mind or consciousness is nothing more than physical brain activity, and that such brain activity occurs deterministically – in which mechanistic particles and neural firings in the brain are solely responsible for human thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and behaviors. In such a worldview, free will is nothing but an illusion and human beings are nothing more than automatons controlled  by the determinstic laws of classical physics. However, this belief in the material determinism and the denial of the substance of human consciousness can be defeated by a number of arguments – one of which is the immateriality of human consciousness.

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The Ismaili Imamat’s Guidance against Drinking Alcohol

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

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Esoteric Thought in Physical Form: The Aga Khan Campus in Toronto

Great architecture, like great art, captures esoteric thought in physical form.

Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV

In May 2010, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shī‘ī Ismaili Muslims and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and Imam Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, presided over the foundation ceremony for the Aga Khan Museum, Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, and Aga Khan Park being built in Toronto. The entire site – known as the Aga Khan Campus – is described by the Imam as follows:

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Night of Power: How the Qur’an was Revealed in Human Language

According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muḥammad received the first revelations of the Holy Qur’ān on the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr) which is vividly described in the sūrahs below:

Verily, We sent it down in the Night of Power
And how can we tell you what is the Night of Power?
The Night of Power is greater than a thousand months.
The Angels and the Spirit descend in it by the permission of their Lord for every affair.
Peace it is, until the rising of the dawn.

Surah al-Qadr – 97:1-5

Ha-Mim. By the Manifest Book
Verily, We sent it down in a Blessed Night. Verily, We are ever warning.
In it every wise affair is made clear.
A Command from our Presence. Verily, We are ever sending.
A Mercy from your Lord. Verily, He is the Hearer, the Knower.

al-Dukhan – 44:1-6

The traditional interpretation holds that on the Night of Power, the entirety of the Holy Qur’ān as a Scripture including all of its chapters and verses were ‘sent down’ to the lowest heaven and that the Angel Gabriel then began dictating this ‘text’ to the Prophet Muḥammad over twenty-three years. But this is merely the exoteric interpretation which is based on subjective assumptions and not actually supported by the Qur’ān itself.

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Light upon Light: Glimpses into the Succession of the Shia Ismaili Imams

“In the early hours of July 11, the Aga’s heart-beat weakened.  Aly and Sadruddin were summoned to the Barakat but their dying father could no longer speak.  Karim came and the Begum was still keeping up her vigil.  Four doctors were in attendance and nurses left the sick-room only to change their clothes or take a bite.  At midday, the Aga Khan was sleeping peacefully. Forty minutes later his life slipped quietly away… The curtains were drawn and darkness fell over a great figure of the age.”
Willi Frischauer, (The Aga Khans, 1970, p. 206)

The above narrative describes one of the most difficult moments faced by every generation of Isma‘ili Muslim communities: the death of the Imam. This moment is immediately followed by another of equal intensity: the succession of the next Imam.

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Validating the Shia Imamat – Part 3: The Qur’an on the Purified Descendants of the Prophets

By Mohib Ebrahim

Editor’s Note: Mohib Ebrahim’s article How to Validate the Shia Imamat from the Holy Qur’an presents a novel validation for the manfiest Imamat of the Ismailis based on three facets of the notion of Qur’anic notion of “rightly guided, qualified leadership”. In this we provide excerpts related to the third of the three aspects: the Purified.

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Iqra: Muhammad meditated upon the Name of God as the Qur’an was revealed

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.

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Ramadan: From Physical Fasting to Spiritual Fasting

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).

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Does the Soul Exist? Consciousness, Brain and Quantum Physics

“Whatever may or may not be the soul’s future, there is one impregnable central fact in existence: that here and now, in this world, we have a soul which has a life of its own in its appreciation of truth, beauty, harmony and good against evil.”
– Imam Sultan Muḥammad Shah Aga Khan III

“The structure of quantum theory opens the door to the possibility that all causes and reasons need not be purely mechanical. Thoughts and intentions are themselves actual realities, and as such they ought to be able to have, in their own right, real actual consequences. Quantum theory allows this, and in actual scientific practice demands it.”
– Henry Stapp

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The Prophet Unveiled: What the Qur’an says about Muhammad

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Contemporary discussions about the Prophet Muḥammad’s spiritual function, due to exoteric and literalist influences (such as Wahhabism or the Ahl al-Qur’ān school), have degenerated into a farce in which the Prophet is demoted to a mouthpiece or transmitter of the Qur’ān and nothing more. This conception reduces the august person of the Prophet Muḥammad to a ‘fax-machine’ and fails to appreciate the spiritual depth of his status as Rasūl Allāh (Messenger of God). This important article, published on the Milād al-Nabī – the birthday of the Prophet Muḥammad first commemorated by his spiritual heirs and progeny known as the Fatimid Imām-Caliphs) – seeks to unveil the metaphysical, spiritual, and religious status of the Prophet Muḥammad – based on a simple and straightforward analysis of the verses of the Holy Qur’ān. The article is divided into two sections – the Prophet-Believer Relationship and the God-Prophet Relationship. It will be shown that the Prophet Muḥammad is the “Messenger” (rasūl) of God who reveals not only the Qur’ān but God’s very “Personality” – His Names, Attributes and Qualities – to the Believers. This article assumes that Muhammad is a true Prophet and that the Qur’an is divinely-revealed – see our article Proof of Prophecy for the logical and historical evidence for Muhammad’s prophethood.

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Ibn al-‘Arabi and Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah on Continual Creation and Escaping from Boredom

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“God does not become bored that you should become bored.”
– Prophet Muḥammad 

“Never in my long life – I may say with complete honesty – have  I for an instant been bored…”
 – Imām Sultān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III

Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn al-‘Arabī, the great Sufi mystic and theosopher, explains how getting “bored” is the symptom of the person who fails to realize that God’s creative act is perpetual and renewed at every instant and that therefore, no moment or experience of the Cosmos is identical to another. If one realized that all things are anew at every instant, one would never experience boredom.

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The Concept of God in the Teachings of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III

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Ismā‘īlī Gnosis presents Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh’s teachings on the concept of God as found in his public speeches, interviews and writings. 

Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh Āgā Khān III (1877-1957) was the forty-eighth hereditary Imām of the Shi‘ī Ismā‘īlī Muslims and the predecessor of the present Imām Shāh Karīm al-Husayni Āgā Khān IV.  Within the chain of hereditary Imāms in the Cycle of Prophet Muḥammad, the Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh occupies an exalted degree as the Ḥujjat al-Qā’im (Proof of the Qā’im) and the living Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Power).  According to prophecies made by al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirāzi and Nāṣir-i Khusraw, the Ḥujjat al-Qā’im would be the “master of universal explanation and true unveiling” (ṣāḥib al-bayān al-kull wa’l-kashf al-ḥaqīqī) and greater than a thousand Imāms in knowledge. With respect to his pre-eminent position over all the Imāms, Mawlānā Hazar Imām has referred to Imām Sulṭān Muḥammad Shāh as “the finest Imām we have had”. [Click Here to Read about the exalted spiritual status of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah]

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The Esoterics (Batin) of Prayer: From Salah to Du‘a’

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This post will address the exoteric (āhir), the esoteric (in), and the reality (aqīqah) of prayer (alāh) and their relationship to the rituals of the sharī‘ah, the practices of the arīqah, and the realities (aqā’iq) of universal spirituality.  In specific, the esoteric relationship between the formal alāh and the Ismā‘īlī Du‘ā’ will be addressed in great detail.

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