"Ismailism pioneered the most daring metaphysical thought in Islam. Its voice, at once original and traditional, should be heard again today — a task of which it seems that the young Ismā‘īlīs are aware." (Henry Corbin)
Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661) was the first cousin of the Prophet Muhammad with whom he shared the same paternal grandfather, the son-in-law of the Prophet as the husband of his only surviving daughter, and the most important personality in early Islam after the Prophet himself. As noted in Sunni Muslim historical chronicles, when Imam ‘Ali was just ten years old, the Prophet Muhammad invited his close family to Islam and asked them:
Which of you, then, will help me in this, and be my brother, mine executor and my successor amongst you?’ All remained silent, except for the youthful ʿAlī who spoke up: ‘O Prophet of God, I will be thy helper in this.’ The Prophet then placed his hand on ʿAlī’s neck and said, ‘This is my brother, mine executor and my successor amongst you. Hearken unto him and obey him.’
(Ibn Ishaq, Sirat Rasul Allah, tr. A Guilaume, The Life of Muhammad, 118)
In honour of the Aga Khan’s upcoming Jodidi Lecture at Harvard University, Ismaili Gnosis presents the following primer on the Aga Khan and the Shia Ismaili Muslims. We encourage our readers to share this article widely.