As 2016 comes to a close, Ismaili Gnosis presents the website’s 7 most popular articles in 2016 based on the number of views from our readership.
This article presents ten little-known all-important facts about the Holy Qur’an (the scripture of Islam), which both Muslims and non-Muslims remain generally unaware of. For those who remain skeptical about the historical existence of Prophet Muhammad and the dating/transmission of the Qur’anic Text, we first present historical evidence that Prophet Muhammad lived and preached in Arabia in the first half of the seventh century and then show manuscript evidence and academic scholarship that shows the present day Qur’anic Text dates from around 650 CE. Following this, we present ten all-important facts about the Qur’an that have been uncovered by historical scholarship, which change the way one approaches and reads the scripture of Islam.
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.
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
I think that monotheistic religions, having a common reference to One God, should and must dialogue. The three religions which Abraham inspired have many more common facets than those which divide them. Religion must be the means by which to affirm the ethical significance of existence, regardless of one’s profession of faith.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Interview with Correre della Sera, Massimo Nava, October 22, 2001)
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.
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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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.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV
Address to both Houses of the Canadian Parliament and Senate, February 27, 2014
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
“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.