"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)
I am the 49th hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the first Shia Imam, Hazrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib through his marriage to Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, our beloved Prophet’s daughter.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Letter to International Islamic Conference, Amman, July 2005, Read at NanoWisdoms)
The purpose of this article is to present the independent historical documentation that proves (as far as the historical method can show) that Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni is the direct lineal descendant of Prophet Muhammad and Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in an unbroken line of descent.
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)
As members of a rich and vibrant esoteric tradition of Islam, Ismaili Muslims has always emphasized intellectual exploration in matters of faith. The present and hereditary Imam of the Ismailis, Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, has often discussed the “interdependence of spiritual inspiration and learning” and said that “the widening of man’s intellectual horizons [is] essentially (an) Islamic [concept]” (Mawlana Hazar Imam, Aga Khan University Speech, November 11, 1985). Throughout history, the Ismaili Imams and their murids have extended this intellectual search to the spiritual realm and the esoteric knowledge emanating from this search has been expressed in mystical, intellectual and doctrinal poetry.
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.
Ismaili Gnosis conveys Khushali Mubarak on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s birthday. As December 13 is a time when Ismailis all around the world reflect upon the occasion of the birth of the Imam of the Time, Ismaili Gnosis offers a selection of readings on the intellectual validation and esoteric understanding of the Ismaili Imamat.
MESA’s 48th annual meeting will commence in Washington, DC at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on November 22-25, 2014. This year’s panel presentations feature several scholars from the IIS, Harvard and Indiana including Nadia E. Jamal, Shainool Jiwa, Paul E. Walker, Khalil Andani, Daniel Beben and others. Both Ismailism panels take place on Sunday, November 23 at 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM respectively.
1. Discovering and Reinterpreting Key Sources of Ismaili Thought and History
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.
From that early division, a host of further distinctions grew up, but the question of rightful leadership remains central. In time, the Shia were also sub-divided over this question, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.
“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.
Our branch of Shia Islam, in that particular generation of the family, accepted the legitimacy of the eldest son, Isma‘il, as being the appointed Imam to succeed and that is why they are known as Ismailis.
Forty-Ninth Hereditary Imam of the Shi‘i Isma‘ili Muslims
Dedication: This article is dedicated to the loving memory of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hakeem Seth Carney (1979-2007) whose hidden services and loving devotion to the Isma‘ili Imamat shall always be remembered. He will forever be a spiritual (ruhani) presence in the Isma‘ili Muslim Jamat.
The Isma‘ili Muslims take their name from the fact that they affirm the Imamat of Mawlana Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far as the hereditary Imām after the Imām Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq – as opposed to the Twelvers who believe that Musa al-Kāẓim was the Imām after Imām al-Sadiq. The issue became complicated because most historical sources confirm that the Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq publically designated his son Isma‘il as his successor. But most sources also say that Ismā‘īl died before his father. Therefore, at the death of the Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, the Shi‘ah community split into a number of factions – each following a different Imam. Many who followed Isma‘il and upheld his Imamat did not believe that Ismā‘īl had actually died, while others affirmed Isma‘il’s death and followed his son Muhammad ib. Ismā‘īl as the Imam. The group of Shi‘ah known as the Isma‘ilis trace the line of Imamat through the direct descendants of Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far and his son Muhammad ibn Isma‘il and today recognize their lineal descendant, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, as the Present, Living and Manifest Imam of Shi‘i Islam.
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.
It is important, therefore, for non-Muslims who are dealing with the Ummah to communicate with both Sunni and Shia voices. To be oblivious to this reality would be like ignoring over many centuries that there were differences between Catholics and Protestants, or trying to resolve the civil war in Northern Ireland without engaging both Christian communities.
Imam Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī Āgā Khān IV
This short article features a visual chart outlining the major differences between Shia and Sunni Muslims and further depicting the major divisions and branches within Shia Islam pertaining to the succession of the Shia Imamat.
Editor’s Note: On August 5th, 1923, a young 16 year old boy — the youngest honorary missionary and member of the Bombay Recreation Club, now the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) — delivered a two hour lecture to “prove the significance and the need of Imamat from the Holy Qur’an and the Hadith.” That boy was Rai. A. M. Sadaruddin, who went on to devote the rest of his life in service to the Imamat and to Ismaili studies and history, culminating in his appointment, personally by Mawlana Hazar Imam, as a member of the first Review Board of the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Learn more about that 1923 event here.
Ninety years later, to the month, we are pleased to bring to you a groundbreaking and compelling piece by Rai Sadaruddin’s grandson, Mohib Ebrahim (founder and publisher of the NanoWisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews and Writings), in which he, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, also validates Manifest Imamat and its necessity but this time from the Holy Qur’an alone. Remarkably, his fresh perspective and innovative method avoids the usual technical debates over the Arabic language and the historical record which this subject never fails to instigate.
“…the conditions of the dialogue between Christianity and Islam change completely as soon as the interlocutor represents not legalistic Islam but this spiritual Islam, whether it be that of Sufism or of Shi‘ite gnosis.” (Henry Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Prologue)
Click Here to Readthe full article at The Matheson Trust: The Crucifixion in Shi‘a Isma‘ili Islam by Khalil Andani (MTS – Islamic Studies – Harvard, 2014)
Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib once proclaimed this soul-quaking utterance in his “Sermon of the Great Explanation”:
“I am the Sign of the All-Powerful. I am the Gnosis of the Mysteries. I am the Threshold of Thresholds. I am the companion of the radiance of the divine Majesty. I am the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden. I am the Face of God. I am the mirror of God, the supreme Pen, the Tabula secreta.” – Imām ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib, (Khuṭbah al-Bayān, Shah-Kazemi, Justice and Remembrance, 187)
“God created my spirit and the spirit of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib two thousand years before He created humankind. He sent ‘Alī secretly with every prophet and openly with me.” – Prophet Muhammad
The Imāmat is the office of spiritual and religious leadership recognized in Shī‘ī Islam according to which the Imām is the spiritual and religious successor (waṣī) of the Prophet Muḥammad. While prophetic revelation ended with the Prophet Muḥammad, divine inspiration, spiritual authority, religious guidance, and mystical gnosis continued in the institution of Imāmat.