Professor Jeremy Johns of Oxford on “The Magnificent Seven”: The Great Fatimid Rock Crystal Ewers Carved for the Fatimid Imams

Introduced by Abdulmalik J. Merchant
(Publisher/Editor Simerg)

'The Magnificent Seven'

‘The Magnificent Seven’

In 2008, the same year that the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building was opened by Canada’s Prime Minister Harper in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, a rediscovery of a spectacular medieval Islamic rock crystal ewer, forgotten since the mid-19th century, provided the catalyst for the re-examination of all of the surviving rock crystal ewers — the “Magnificent Seven”— carved for the Fatimid caliphs of Cairo in about the year 1000.

 Jeremy Johns, and his colleague Elise Morero, are on the verge of completing a new multidisciplinary study of the Magnificent Seven and related artefacts, which is intended to be the first phase of a much wider project to examine the medieval Islamic carved rock crystal “industry”.

Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is home to the majestic Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat which was opened on December 8, 2008, at the end of the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan. The building is inspired by the mysteries of  rock crystal. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

Ottawa, Canada’s capital, is home to the majestic Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat which was opened on December 8, 2008, at the end of the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan. The building is inspired by the mysteries of rock crystal. Photo: Maki and Associates/Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

The Fatimid Imams-Caliphs of Egypt who founded the city of Cairo in 969 and also the Al-Azhar University, are ancestors of His Highness the Aga Khan. They prized the qualities of  the rock crystal and carved them into vessels of different forms. In seeking to conceive a design for the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, His Highness wanted to connect the new building symbolically to the faith of Islam. The suggestion he made to the renowned Japanese architect, Professor Maki, focused on creating a certain mystique, centred around the beautiful mysteries of rock crystal.

In answering, “Why rock crystal?” the 49th Ismaili Imam explained:

“Because of its translucency, its multiple planes, and the fascination of its colours – all of which present themselves differently as light moves around them. The hues of rock crystal are subtle, striking and widely varied – for they can be clear or milky, white, or rose coloured, or smoky, or golden, or black.

“It is because of these qualities that rock crystal seems to be such an appropriate symbol of the profound beauty and the ever-unfolding mystery of Creation itself – and the Creator. As the Holy Qur’an so powerfully affirms, ‘Allah is the Creator and the Master of the heavens and the earth.’ And then it continues: ‘Everything in the heavens and on earth, and everything between them, and everything beneath the soil, belongs to Him’.”

We divide this post into two parts. We begin with an introductory piece on Fatimid ewers by Aliza Moledina, which is followed by a link to an extraordinary video presentation by Jeremy Johns, who with his colleague has used the traditional techniques of stylistic analysis and has returned to the written sources for the production and life histories of the ewers. Both the researchers have also subjected all seven ewers for the first time to detailed archaeometrical and tribological analyses, and have drawn upon ethnographical studies, archaeological excavation, and experimental archaeology to interpret their new findings.

The lecture gives a concise overview of their progress to date, and attempts to replace the ewers back into the socio-economic context from which they were produced. It is copiously illustrated with new images of these extraordinary artefacts, revealing hidden detail that puts us in touch with the hands of the craftsmen that made them.

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1. A BRIEF NOTE ON FATIMID ROCK CRYSTAL EWERS

Rock crystal translucency seemed so remarkable a property that the stone was sometimes known as Busaq al-qamar, or ‘Spirit of the Moon’  — Alnoor J. Merchant

This rock crystal ewer exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK,  is one of a series that survives in collections across Europe. Such high-quality rock crystal vessels were made for the rulers of Cairo during the Fatimid period (969-1171). This is confirmed by inscriptions on several of them which name specific rulers. Great skill was required to hollow out the raw rock crystal without breaking it and to carve the delicate, often very shallow, decoration.

This rock crystal ewer is at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. It is one of a series that survives in collections across Europe. Such high-quality rock crystal vessels were made for the rulers of Cairo during the Fatimid period (969-1171) as confirmed by inscriptions on several crystal ewers naming specific rulers. Great skill was required to hollow out the raw rock crystal without breaking it and to carve the delicate, and often very shallow decoration. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Copyright.

COMPILED BY ALIZA MOLEDINA

Introduction:

The Fatimid Period in Islamic History (909–1171 C.E.) is characterized by the Imam-Caliphs’ emphasis on the search for knowledge and religious tolerance. Artwork thus gained importance and flourished. The Fatimids were able to draw upon diverse skills and knowledge from many sources to develop new techniques and styles for their artwork.

The Fatimids produced a wide variety of very beautiful and skilfully crafted works of art in textiles, ceramics, woodwork, metalwork, jewellery and rock-crystal. However, only a limited number of examples are available today, and it is by sheer chance that some happen to have a name or signature which links them to the Fatimids. The main reason why our knowledge of Fatimid objets d’art is so limited is that the great Treasury in which the Fatimids stored all their riches was looted between the years 1067 and 1072. They were then sold, melted down and minted into coins to be dispersed amongst the population of Fustat, or carried by merchants to other countries.

Rock Crystal

As a rare medium of art, rock crystal is made of pure quartz crystal and was only shaped by masterful craftsmen which made it highly valued by the Fatimids. The purest crystals were imported from Basra, Yemen and the islands around the East African Coast.

This piece was made between 1000 and 1050. This fine rock crystal piece appears to have been a container. Its complex shape can be seen as the body of a fish. Two convex faces are joined at an angle along the sides, which taper gently towards the base, or tail. However, the fish shape does not continue at the top, where the angled sides broaden out into shoulders. At the centre, these form a collar around the mouth of the hollowed out interior. Another hole was later drilled into the bottom to allow for a mount.

This piece was made between 1000 and 1050. This fine rock crystal piece appears to have been a container. Its complex shape can be seen as the body of a fish. Two convex faces are joined at an angle along the sides, which taper gently towards the base, or tail. However, the fish shape does not continue at the top, where the angled sides broaden out into shoulders. At the centre, these form a collar around the mouth of the hollowed out interior. Another hole was later drilled into the bottom to allow for a mount. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Copyright,

Of all the rock crystal objects manufactured by Fatimid artisans, the Fatimid rock crystal ewers, such as the one shown at the top of this page, are considered among the rarest and most valuable objects in the entire sphere of Islamic art. Only five were known to exist before the extraordinary appearance of an ewer in a provincial British auction in 2008 which was later sold at Christie’s last October. It was the first time one has ever known to have appeared at auction. The last one to surface on the market was purchased by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1862.

Of the very few rock crystal objects extant today (180 in total), only a few can be securely dated back to the Fatimid period. The treasury of the Basilica of San Marco in Venice has two ewers, one of which bears an inscription to the Fatimid Imam al-Aziz (975-996). Another rock crystal ewer holding an inscription to his son, Imam al-Hakim, is in the Cathedral of Fermo in Italy. An additonal rock crystal ewer was in the treasury of the Abbey of Saint Denis in Paris and is now in the Louvre. The one in the Museum of Limoges in France was stolen in 1980. Disaster also befell the final known ewer which was from the Pitti Palace collection in Florence and had an inscription to Husain ibn Jawhar. It had been on display in the Museo degli Argenti, and it was accidentally dropped by a museum employee in 1998, shattering it irreparably. Finally, a rock crystal crescent in the Museum in Nuremberg, which may have been mounted on a horse’s bridle as a royal emblem, bears the name of the Imam al-Zahir (1021-36).

In addition to the five (and now six) ewers, three or four smaller oval flasks are known to exist including one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (located just across from the Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre), one in the Freer Gallery in Washington DC, and one in the Keir Collection, London. The oval flask in the Freer Gallery has a 17th century gold and enamel setting and is described by the museum as dating from the reign of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II.

“The opulence of the Fatimid court fueled a renaissance in the decorative arts, which made Cairo the most important cultural center in the Islamic world. Nearby, Old Cairo, known as al-Fustat, became a major center for the production of pottery, glass, and metalwork, and rock-crystal, ivory, and wood carving; textile factories run by government officials created tiraz fabrics in the name of the caliph elsewhere in the Egyptian region, especially the Nile Delta. A novel, more refined style developed in pottery; bands with small animals and inscriptions now formed the major decoration in textiles; and rock-crystal carvers demonstrated great skill in works created for and treasured by the caliphs themselves.” — Excerpt from “The Art of the Fatimid Period,” Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Kitab al-Hadaya wa’l-Tuhaf (The Book of Gifts and Rarities, selections published by Harvard University Press; Cambridge, Mass., 1996) says that when Imam al-Mustansir was forced to open his treasury in 1068, the looters of the Palace “brought out of the Treasury of Precious Objects 36,000 pieces of rock crystal”.

Fatimid Rock Crystal Ewer, shown above and here as seen from the front, is regarded as the most valuable object in Islamic Art

A front view of a Fatimid Rock Crystal Ewer, as shown above , is regarded as the most valuable object in Islamic Art. The ewer was carved from a single piece of very pure, very thin crystal. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Copyright.

The extant rock crystal objects with no identifying inscription on them appear to be types of containers, either goblets for drinking or ewers and basins for holding liquids, perhaps for washing the hands of the guests after a meal. Over the centuries, many magical properties or benefits were deemed to be associated with objects made using rock crystal.

For example, by simply procuring a vessel made of rock crystal, an individual’s craving for water was considerably reduced. It was said that rock crystal glasses were supposed to shatter on contact with poisoned liquids, or the liquid changed colour, which is perhaps why they were so popular with rulers.

Cups of crystal are also mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an as one of the many items the Believer has to look forward to in Paradise; for example in Sura 37 (Al-Saffat, The Arrangers, Verses 45-47, tr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali):

“Round will be passed to them a cup from a clear-flowing fountain, crystal-white, of a taste delicious to those who drink (thereof), free from headiness; nor will they suffer intoxication therefrom.”

This Qur’anic reference may suggest another reason why rock crystal drinking vessels were so popular in the Muslim world.

Small rock crystals like this bottle could not have held much, but their contents must have been very precious indeed to deserve such containers. They were most probably used for storing perfumes, which were among the most luxurious items of any Islamic court. They often survive in cathedral treasuries, where they were rededicated after being captured from their original Islamic settings. This bottle was purchased with the assistance of Messrs Henry Oppenheimer, Oscar Raphael and John Hugh Smith

Small rock crystals like this bottle could not have held much, but their contents must have been very precious indeed to deserve such containers. They were most probably used for storing perfumes, which were among the most luxurious items of any Islamic court. They often survive in cathedral treasuries, where they were rededicated after being captured from their original Islamic settings. This bottle was purchased with the assistance of Messrs Henry Oppenheimer, Oscar Raphael and John Hugh Smith. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Copyright,

The skill required to hollow out a piece of crystal without blemishing it meant that relief decoration was often kept to a minimum, unlike other media in Islamic art where the surfaces were covered with decoration, to ensure that the viewer could appreciate the craftsmanship of the object. When adorned with relief carving, this usually depicted floral or animal themes, especially lions and birds amongst palmettes. Occasionally gold or precious stones were added on the handle, or to hide a cloud or knot in the crystal; however generally the purity of the crystal was judged sufficient in itself.

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Aliza MoledinaAbout the author: This piece is an expansion of a special Powerpoint presentation made by Aliza Moledina for a special Literary Night event held in Ottawa, Canada, in 2008 to commemorate His Highness the Aga Khan’s Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Aliza was at that time completing her Grade 12 studies at the Colonel By Secondary School, in Ottawa, Canada, after which she proceeded to the University of Western Ontario, in London, Ontario, Canada from where she recently graduated in medicine.

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2. ‘THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN’ A VIDEO PRESENTATION BY JEREMY JOHNS

Date posted: July 30, 2015.

We thank Alnoor Merchant for bringing this extensive and unique presentation by Professor Johns to our notice. Alnoor is an aficionado of Islamic art, and an avid collector of printed materials, photographs, textiles and contemporary art from different parts of the Muslim world.

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Professor Jeremy Johns, Oxford University

Professor Jeremy Johns, Oxford University

About Jeremy Johns: Professor Johns is Professor of the Art and Archaeology of the Islamic Mediterranean and Director of the Khalili Research Centre (KRC) for the Art and Material Culture of the Middle East in the University of Oxford. He is principally interested in relations between Muslim and Christian societies in the medieval Mediterranean as manifested in material and visual culture. His research has focused upon the archaeology of the transition from late antiquity to early Islam in the Levant and, especially, upon the archaeology, history and art history of Sicily under Islamic and Norman rule, from the Muslims’ conquest of the island in the 9th century to the destruction of the Islamic community of Sicily by Frederick II. His recent and forthcoming publications include the first comprehensive study of the Islamic painted ceilings of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo, and editions and studies of Arabic and bilingual documents from Norman Sicily. Amongst other projects, with Dr Elise Morero (KRC), he is currently engaged on a multidisciplinary study of the medieval Islamic carved rock crystal “industry”.

Ismaili Historical Insights: (I) 1925: Mahatma Gandhi on the Meritorious Deed of a Khoja Ismaili

Letter From Publisher

Simerg's Merchant

Simerg’s Merchant

By Abdulmalik J. Merchant

Simerg’s new feature Short Historical Insights is intended to make history educational, interesting and stimulating for readers through anecdotes, facts, stories as well as images related to Ismailis and their Imams, in no more than  500 words. Information in the series will be unearthed from a maze of documents, including those that are not easily accessible due to their sheer size or location, or material which, in the broader scope, would be of interest for research on specific themes. Of course, we will also rely on other well-known (or lesser-known) treatises and texts as well as libraries and museums for this new feature.

For the first episode, we go to a massive work called The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi and reveal a story that appears in Volume 33, which is dedicated to the period from September 1925 to February 1926 in Gandhi’s life. During his visit to Mundra in Gujarat, the father of India, is frustrated with members of his own faith with respect to their treatment of the Untouchables* and, somewhat grudgingly, praises the work of one Khoja (Ismaili) named Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb, who has unselfishly built a school for the outcast children.

This anecdote, by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, is an excellent example of the Ismaili spirit of loyalty to their countries of birth or adoption, a matter which Ismaili Imams have placed on their followers as one of their two principal obligations during their lifetime, the other being their loyalty to the Ismaili Muslim faith. Ibrahim Pradhan was an exemplary Ismaili in this regard, and we are pleased to provide a short account of his contribution from Mahatma’s own two speeches made in 1925.

Readers are invited to contribute to this new feature by submitting their pieces to  Simerg@aol.com. We always acknowledges letters and submissions from non-anonymous sources.

Ibrahim Pradhan’s Meritorious Deed As Recorded By Mahatma Gandhi

102 – Gandhi’s Speech at Mundra, November 1, 1925, page 177 – 181

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the 1920's. Photo: Wikipedia.

Mahatma Gandhi spinning yarn in the 1920’s. Photo: Wikipedia.

(It is noted by Mahadev Desai that Mahatma Gandhi began his speech with “Antyaja brothers and sisters, their sympathizers, and other Hindu brothers and sisters”)

” ….It is wrong to invite me to a place where the entire public believes in untouchability. It is an insult to invite me to a place where the untouchables are treated with nothing but contempt. After having come here, I heard of the school for the untouchables. I felt that at such a place the Antyajas [lit. the last born – ed] would receive service. I would congratulate Ibrahim Pradhan Saheb on the school but the Hindu public deserves no such congratulations. Its existence puts the Hindus to shame. It is a matter of shame for me if a Muslim builds a Siva temple for my benefit. I was pleased to see the school’s activity of spinning and weaving; however, I immediately felt that neither I nor the Hindus could take credit for this meritorious deed. I can have no sense of satisfaction if a Muslim recites the Gayatri mantra instead of me. I can only feel satisfied when a Brahmin comes along and offers to recite the  Gayatri for me. However, in this case, the Khojas are doing the work that should be done by Hindus. Here, no one is bothered in the least about the Antyajas. I do not see any non-Antyajas except the guests sitting among the  Antyajas here before me. Even those who go around with me during the day have abandoned them and are seated in the enclosure for high-caste gentlemen. If you could rip open my heart today, you would find it crying — ‘O Lord! Could this be the Hindu dharma, where no one cares for the Antyajas? Is there not a single person in the town who will come to their rescue’?…

103 – Gandhi’s Reminiscences of Kutch, November 1, 1925, pages 181-187

Location of Mundra in the Kutch district of  India's Gujarat State. Image: Wikipedia.

Location of Mundra in the Kutch district of India’s Gujarat State. Image: Wikipedia.

I had my bitterest experience in Mundra. I found only hypocrisy, insincerity and play-acting there. Even Muslims were made to sit in the enclosure for those who supported untouchability as if they too believed in it. Hence, only my companions and the Muslim volunteers remained in the section reserved for Antyajas. Many among the Hindu volunteers, though they claimed that they did not believe in untouchability at all, were nevertheless kept in the enclosure meant for those who did believe in it.

There is a school for the Antyajas in Mundra but it is a philanthropic Muslim gentleman, Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, who runs it at his own expense. The school may be regarded as good up to a point. The children are kept very clean. The building is in the centre of the city. The children had even been taught Sanskrit verses, [which they recited] in a broken accent. Spinning, carding, ginning and weaving were taught in the school itself. Only children’s clothes were not made of khadi [handspun and hand-woven cloth – ed.]; however, the organizers had gone in for the cloth believing it to be pure khadi. The reader might perhaps conclude that this school would give me some satisfaction. It gave me no satisfaction but caused me grief, rather, as the credit for it would not go to a Hindu. I have already mentioned the name of the gentleman who finances it.

Yerawada (or Aga Khan) Palace, now the Gandhi Memorial, was built by the 48th Ismaili Imam to provide a means of livelihood to the famine stricken people in Pune. Historically, the palace holds great significance. Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi and his secretary Mahadev Desai were interned in the palace from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944.  In 1969, the current 49th Ismaili Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan, donated the Palace to the Indian people as a mark of respect to Gandhi and his philosophy. Today, the palace houses a memorial on Gandhi where his ashes were kept.

Yerawada (or Aga Khan) Palace, now the Gandhi Memorial, was built by the 48th Ismaili Imam to provide a means of livelihood to the famine stricken people in Pune. Historically, the palace holds great significance. Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi and his secretary Mahadev Desai were interned in the palace from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944. In 1969, the current 49th Ismaili Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan, donated the Palace to the Indian people as a mark of respect to Gandhi and his philosophy. Today, the palace houses a memorial on Gandhi where his ashes were kept.

The gentleman in charge of this school is the heir of the Aga Khan in Mundra. Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan deserves all praise for his charity, as I was informed that this school is not being run for the purpose of converting the untouchables or schoolchildren to Islam, but in order to enable them to make progress as Hindus. The people of Mundra also informed me that the gentleman in charge, Mauledina Meghji was a Vedantin [belonging to a school of Indian philosophy – ed.] and a learned person. All this must be regarded as satisfactory. However, what is the contribution of the Hindus? Untouchability is an ugly blot on the Hindu religion, it is a sin. The Hindus alone can do prayaschitta [atonement for sins] for it. The dirt on my body will go only when I myself remove it.

This institution adds to the prestige of Sheth Ibrahim Pradhan, and to that extent to the shame of the Hindus.

Date posted: July 26, 2015, word count, appx. 400 words.

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Notes and references:

*Untouchables are outcasts—people considered too impure, too polluted, to rank as worthy beings. Prejudice defines their lives, particularly in the rural areas, where nearly three-quarters of India’s people live….Although the Indian constitution makes caste discrimination illegal, Untouchables living at the bottom of society are subjected to indignities” — from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0306/feature1/

See complete volume 33 at http://www.gandhiserve.org/cwmg/VOL033.PDF.

Listen to the Inspiring Song Album “Thank You Allah” by Iconic Muslim Singer Maher Zain

Editor’s note: I have immensely enjoyed the diverse range of songs in this magnificent album by Maher Zain, a Muslim Swedish Rythm and Blues (R&B) singer, songwriter and music producer of Lebanese origin. With more Facebook fans than any other Muslim artist, Zain has attained stardom status among Muslims around the world and has become an icon of modern Islamic music. “Thank You Allah” is his debut album and was released internationally in 2009 by Awakening Records.

Among my favourites in the playlist below are Inshallah (#3) and The Chosen One (#7), which I found to be highly touching as it is reflective of examples from the life of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s), as well as Palestine Will Be Free (#4), Awaken (#11) and Zain’s own version of  the highly popular Allahi Allah Kiya Karo (#6). He sings in Arabic, Urdu and English as well as other languages. Indeed, I would recommend that you listen to this entire Youtube album. The lyrics are moving and heart-rendering, and poignantly remind us of the state of our attitude and being on this planet earth! I am sure listeners will enjoy the songs in this album, many with video.

Date posted: July 24, 2015.

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Do you have a comment on Maher Zain’s album? What was your favourite song? We welcome your feedback. See the comment box on this page or click Leave a comment.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Letter to Kofi Annan: “The World’s Drug Problem Must Remain a Matter of Permanent Concern”

“…For all clear thinking individuals, wherever they may be, the world’s drug problem must remain a matter of permanent concern. With the density of the Ismaili population in Gorno-Badakhshan, in Afghan Badakshan, in Chitral and Hunza and elsewhere in South West Asia and Africa, the leaders of the Ismaili Community, its institutions and I, as the Imam, must be particularly concerned with this aggressive and damaging problem…” — Excerpt from Aga Khan’s letter to Kofi Annan. Please download complete letter in PDF format below.

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has throughout his 58 years of Imamat urged his followers not to indulge in dangerous and unhealthy social habits such as alcohol, drugs and smoking. In the eyes of the Imam, all his followers are his spiritual children and, like all parents, the 49th Ismaili Imam desires nothing but the best for his community in both spiritual and temporal matters.

There is one farman on alcohol and smoking that has particularly reverberated in my heart and memory for many decades. I remember it well because Alwaez Nizar Chunara, who was our neighbour in Dar-es-Salaam, had conveyed it to us well before it got read out in jamatkhanas across East Africa. It was made in Mbale, Uganda, sometime in the 1960’s, and Mawlana Hazar Imam said in the farman that some of his spiritual children had the impression and told others in the jamat that they were not socially advanced if they did not drink and smoke. This he said, “is absolute and complete nonsense,” (repeating it), and further stated that if we really wanted to be socially distinguished we should not drink and smoke.

During the same East African visit Mawlana Hazar Imam described alcohol as not being for his jamat because it led to losing our honour and creating a bad impression, especially when one went around being drunk. A few years later in London he mentioned that alcohol was a bringer of spiritual sorrow. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s beloved grandfather when addressing Muslims in South Africa warned about alcohol as follows:

“The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen – I have not the least hesitation in saying it – is alcohol. Time has shown that it is an injury to you; an injury to your person; an injury to your health. It is forbidden because it carries greater evil than good. Believe me, in a community like yours, alcohol is a very grave danger. Once you got into the alcohol habit, I do not know where it would lead you. A handful, here and there, of the weak, or of the unhappy, find their way to this terrible poison. Avoid it at all costs. Avoid it, I say, for in this country you cannot afford to lose one man.”

KOFI ANNAN’S LETTER TO THE LATE PRINCE SADRUDDIN AGA KHAN

Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00008

7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Kofi Annan, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Then, another farman on social habits that immediately comes to mind, because I was present to hear it as a youth  and as a volunteer standing close to the stage, was the one that he made during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam in 1970 for the opening of the IPS building by President Julius Nyerere. The newly established Karimabad Jamat and the Changombe Jamat located in Dar-es-Salaam’s outskirts were brought together for the mulaqat with Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Diamond Jubilee Hall.

The farman dealt substantially on economic matters; Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke about him being happy if families could afford one car and very happy if they could afford two cars, but he went on to say that he did not want to see that second car. Turning to the subject of health and social habits, he made a plea to the jamat not to be wasteful on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. This mention of drugs was one of the earliest references to drugs in any farman that Hazar Imam had made from 1957 until 1970.

In this connection, it may be mentioned that the use of drugs, particularly of heroin in the USA, was rising at alarming rates in the 1960’s. The Reader’s Digest had even published an incredible heart wrenching essay, “We are All Animals,” about chilling stories of being a drug addict. My mum, I recall, read the entire article out to her students at the Aga Khan Girls Secondary School. Her students literally had tears in their eyes, hearing the sad stories.

HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN’S LETTER TO KOFI ANNAN

Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00005

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam.

So, when I ran into this letter that Mawlana Hazar Imam sent to Kofi Annan, which had been preceded by the Secretary General’s letter to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s late uncle Prince Sadruddin (and perhaps to Mawlana Hazar Imam too, judging by the acknowledgement given), I thought I had also bring to light the general concern about social habits and their absolute wastefulness, and indignity they bring on the community. In making choices between good and bad habits, Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to adopt those that would enable the jamat to live happily, leaving aside alcohol, drugs and other social habits that would compromise the well-being of the jamat.

A key point that emerges from Hazar Imam’s letter to Mr. Annan is the damaging and aggressive problem of drugs not merely in the regions of Central Asia, where poppy plants are being grown in abundance, but elsewhere in the world where his community resides. The growth of poppy is destroying the physical and mental lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Others profit from its growth and illegal trade, as the resin from the plants is extracted and refined into morphine, with further refinements yielding different forms and grades of heroin.

Mawlana Hazar Imam is continuously concerned for the well-being of his jamat, and nothing is more important to him than the strength of our mental health and capacity, which he has said must be preserved and enhanced rather than being destroyed through the use of drugs. The Ismaili community can certainly set a true example of  social distinction and wisdom by avoiding all forms of social habits that do not contribute to any form of advancement. As a small community, our resolve to abstain from detrimental social habits would help us to serve our families, our communities and countries more effectively and purposefully in the coming years and decades.

Date posted: July 23, 2015.
Last updated: July 25, 2015 (updated with additional material from the personal notes of my mother, Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, on smoking, drinking and drugs).

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Ottawa Bait ul-Ilm Students Share a Journey Through Encounters with the Jamat

The recent Encounters showcase by Ismaili students of Ottawa generated great feedback from members of the Jamat. One visitor commented:

“Congratulations to every single member of the BUI team. It is wonderful to conceptualize the brand of AKDN and other Imamat Institutions right at the youngest stage of  Ismaili kids. Well done!”

PLEASE CLICK: Sharing a journey through Encounters with the Jamat

Please click to read the Encounters Showcase article.

A section of the exhibit which was held at the beautiful Ottawa jamatkhana. Please click on image to read the  article.

@Simergphotos: The Silk Road Through the Lens of Muslim Harji and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Simergphotos presents An Anthology of the Silk Road Through the Lens of Muslim Harji and Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival with magnificent photos taken by Harji during his recent visits to the iconic Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bokhara in Uzbekistan. Then the post steps back in time and brings you wonderful memories from the Smithsonian Institution’s Annual Folklife Festival held in Washington D.C. in 2002, which was entirely dedicated to one single subject: The Silk Road. The post contains photos from the opening day, which was attended by His Highness the Aga Khan, as well as an excellent thematic anthology covering many aspects of the exciting Silk Road!…More at Simergphotos.

Please click on image for Silk Roads Photo Essay.

Please click on image for Silk Roads Photo Essay.

PLEASE CLICK: An Anthology of the Silk Road Through the Lens of Muslim Harji and Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival

Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Silk Roads Festival in Washington D.C. IN 2002. Please click for more photos.

Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Silk Roads Festival in Washington D.C. IN 2002. Please click for more photos.

Eid ul-Fitr Should Provide Spark of Hope For the Less Privileged, and Foster Brotherhood, Forgiveness and Generosity in the Muslim Umma

“The poor are not mere inanimate, unmotivated, units of deprivation. They are living, thinking people like the rest of us.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam 

EID MUBARAK

Historical photo: Muslims offering the Eid ul Fitr prayers at  the Sheikhantaur Mosque in Tashkent. Photo created/ published between 1865 and 1872. Credit: The US Library of Congress.

Historical photo: Muslims offering the Eid ul Fitr prayers at the Sheikhantaur Mosque in Tashkent. Photo created/published between 1865 and 1872. Credit: The US Library of Congress.

The festival of Eid, also known as Bairam or Eid Ramadan is one of the most joyous days in the Islamic calendar. It is an occasion for celebration and rejoicing for Allah’s Bounty upon mankind for His revelation of the Holy Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. It is also a time for individuals to express their gratitude to Allah for having given them the strength, courage and resilience to complete the fast, and thus fulfilling the duty enjoined upon them by Allah.

On this joyous occasion, we convey our heartiest felicitations and Eid Mubarak to all our readers as well as Muslims around the world, with the fervent hope and prayer that peace and harmony should prevail over many areas of the Muslim world afflicted by horrible conflicts, which are resulting in the loss of lives and contributing to unbearable hardships and struggles. The Islamic ethic of forgiveness, generosity, and peaceful co-existence and unity through dialogue are keys by which conflicts can be resolved, whereby every Muslim can aspire for a life of material and spiritual well-being and happiness.

The excerpts produced in this post from the Holy Qur’an and the hadith as well as from the farmans, writings and speeches of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and Mawlana Hazar Imam (His Highness the Aga Khan) are foundation blocks for building harmonious societies around the world. The acts of charity and generosity mentioned in the quotes will facilitate those who are underprivileged to manage their own destinies, thereby leading them to a life of dignity, befitting Allah’s greatest creation.

PROFOUND TEACHINGS OF ISLAM

(Selections from the Holy Qur’an, the hadith and teachings of Shia Ismaili Imams)

Conceptual image for the holy month of Ramadan and Eid al Fitr. Photo: Istockphoto

Conceptual image for the holy month of Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr. Photo: Istockphoto. Copyright.

“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the angels and the Books and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and set slaves free.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:177

“And whatever good you may spend on others is for your own good, provided that you spend only out of a longing for God’s countenance.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:272

“You will not enter paradise till you believe, and you will not believe till you love one another. Let me guide you to something by doing which you will love one another: Salute and sundry among you.”  — Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.)

“Have a tender heart, as tender as a fistful of green grass; be not arrogant and stiff as a tree upright in a forest. A tree is toppled in a storm, but grass bends and sways happily with the wind.” Hazrat Ali (a.s.), Kalam-e-Mawla, 8:67

“A great river is not made turbid by a stone. A religious man who takes to heart an injury is as yet, but shallow water. If any misfortune befalls you, bear with it, that by forgiving others you may yourself obtain pardon. O my brother! seeing that we are at last to return to earth, let us humble ourselves in ashes before we are changed into dust.” — Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.). [1]

“…As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges. Do not turn around and say, ‘he hurt me yesterday, so I will hurt him today’. This is not the spirit of Islam…” His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Mumbai, 1969, Precious Gems.

“Islam is not passive. It does not admit that man’s spiritual needs should be isolated from his material daily activities. A Muslim must play an active role in helping his family and the brotherhood of believers. The object is not to achieve status, wealth and power, but to contribute to society’s overall development. This implies moral responsibility to help the weaker, less fortunate members.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Toronto, May 14, 1987. [2]

“…when you are studying the Qur’an, when you are studying the history of Imams, when you are studying the history of pre-Islamic Arabia, I would like you to take from this history that which will help you to live within the spirit of Islam. This means to live honestly, to live purely, to know that you are brothers and sisters, to be available at all times when one or the other needs help, to be generous, to be honest. These are the qualities which you can trace throughout Qur’an-e Shariff, throughout the life of the Prophet, throughout the lives of the Imams. And this is something which I would like you to follow, not only in letter but also in spirit, because it is this spirit which cannot be changed, and which I would like my spiritual children to understand fully…” Farman Mubarak, His Highness the Aga Khan, Karachi, November 29, 1964. [3]

“There are those who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless these unfortunate ones can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.” —  His Highness the Aga Khan, speech, Housing and Development, Mumbai, January 17, 1983.

“The poor are not mere inanimate, unmotivated, units of deprivation. They are living, thinking people like the rest of us.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Aiglemont, March 16, 1983.

“On the occasion of my Silver Jubilee, I would be deeply happy if the members of my jamat, wherever they are and whatever their age, would reaffirm in a visible and united manner their commitment to the principles of Islam which bind all Muslims together, and which are unique example to all mankind: Belief in Allah, the fulfillment of His message to man, respect and support for His greatest creation, man himself. In this way let us establish even sounder foundations for a good and proper life and let us extend our support to those living in the developing areas of the world.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, 1982. [4]

A new moon at Mackerricher State Park, California, USA. Photo: Istockphoto. Copyright.

A new moon at Mackerricher State Park, California, USA. Photo: Istockphoto. Copyright.

Date posted: Friday, July 17, 2015.

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References:

[1] Quoted in Ilm, July 1986, page 17.

[2] Ilm, Volume 13, Number 1, July 1990, page 45-46.

[3] Farman Mubarak Pakistan Visit 1964, published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan, quoted also in Ilm, Volume 13, Number 1, July 1990, page 38.

[4] Talika Mubarak of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Silver Jubilee, July 11, 1982, quoted in Ilm, July 1990, page 55.

Iran Nuclear Deal Sealed: Prayers Answered in Holy Month of Ramadan, Says President Hassan Rouhani

1. MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM HAD ADVOCATED THE PRINCIPLE OF “YES TO ENERGY, NO TO ARMS” SEVERAL YEARS AGO

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims  directly descended from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). Photo: AKDN/Anya Campbell. Copyright.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims  Photo: AKDN/Anya Campbell. Copyright.

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms….Iran could even contribute to the worldwide removal of nuclear energy for military use. That is what I told the Iranians several years ago: “Your history is that of an intellectual nation several thousand years old which has brought to Islam all the richness of its culture and its philosophical thought. Keep following the path that is truly your own and the world will thank you for it.” — His Highness the Aga Khan. Please read complete interview by clicking on The Power of Wisdom.

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2. TRIUMPH IN DIPLOMACY

President Hassan Rouhani

 I. President Hassan Rouhani

“Today is a new chapter to work towards growth and development of our dear Iran; a day for our youth to dream again for a brighter future. Many people prayed for the negotiating team during the holy month of Ramadan; I’m privileged to announce their prayers have been answered…This agreement goes both ways. The successful implements of IranDeal can dismantle the wall of mistrust brick by brick.” — Tweets by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

I am happy that with the 23-month nuclear talks of Iran with the world six major powers, we have today been able to reach a new point; of course the month of Ramadan has always been source of blessing and destiny making for the 11th Government…The 25th of the month of Ramadhan in the year 1392 [A.H.] was the year of taking presidential oath; the 26th of the month of Ramadhan that year was the swearing-in ceremony and today, it is the day of Iran’s success to bring the six world powers to the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action.” — Speech Excerpt, President Rouhani, http://www.president.ir/en/

II. The Guardian, UK

“This accord, so long in the making, offers the hope that one of the world’s great civilisations might be drawn back into the international community, with untold benefits not only for Iranians but for its conflict-ravaged neighbours. The opportunity should be seized.” —  Editorial excerpt, http://www.theguardian.com, UK Edition

3. THE NEGOTIATIONS

Secretary of State John Kerry

US Secretary of State

“And I finally want to express my deep respect for the serious and constructive approach that Iran’s representatives brought to our deliberations. The president of Iran, President Rouhani, had to make a difficult decision. We all know the tensions that exist. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a tough, capable negotiator, and patriot, a man who fought every inch of the way for the things he believed, and sometimes these were heated and passionate exchanges. But he and his team, while tough, always professional, always dedicated to finding solutions to difficult problems. And we were, both of us, able to approach these negotiations with mutual respect, even when there were times of a heated discussion, I think he would agree with me at the end of every meeting we left with a smile and with a conviction that we were going to come back and continue the process. We never lost sight of the goal that an agreement could bring and the best long-term interests of all concerned” — US Secretary of State, John Kerry

4. IRANIANS CELEBRATE HISTORIC DEAL

Horns honked and flags waved here as darkness fell Tuesday and the Ramadan fast was broken as Iranians marked the nuclear deal reached between Iran and the six world powers led by the US. For the first time in years, they relished the prospect of an improved economy and reengagement with the West.

Narjes Sedaghatfar, a math teacher who voted for Rouhani but has kept expectations in check until now said, “The button has been pressed, we are beginning anew. I will be at home, and just be happy and plan for a happy future. When hope rises, that is celebration in itself.” — From reports in the Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com.

Date posted: July 15, 2015

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Condensed Explanation of the Ismaili Munajat, “Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas”

Editor’s note: This is a very condensed, yet comprehensive, post on the munajat, Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas. For the complete version, which offers much more in terms of the ginan’s history, composition, style, and explanation with a glossary, please click Original article.

By Sadrudin K. Hassam

INTRODUCTION

Popular tradition has it that the munajat, Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas, was first recited during the enthronement ceremony of the 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, which took place at Aga Hall at Mazagon Road in Mumbai in September 1885. Another tradition says that the recitation first took place when the young Imam met his followers at the main Ismaili Jamatkhana in Mumbai, known as the Darkhana. In any case, the munajat became very much part of the Ismaili tradition in many parts of the world to recite it in jamati gatherings (mijalas) to commemorate the enthronement of their 48th Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, the late Aga Khan III (1877 – 1957). Continuing with this tradition, this Munajat, with slight variations, is now recited on the occasion of the anniversary of the ascension of Mawlana Shah Karim al-Husseini (His Highness the Aga Khan IV) as the 49th Ismaili Imam.  July 11th, 2015 marks his 58th Imamat anniversary.

The Arabic word munajat is formed from the root word na-ja-wa which means ‘to converse secretly’ or ‘confidentially’. From the context of the ginanic literature of the Ismailis, the term munajat would be equivalent to venti (supplication). Apart from conveying this basic idea of venti, the term munajat also has the connotation of conveying mubaraki (greetings) and adoration or reverence to a holy person, in this case the Ismaili Imam.

The complete munajat has eight stanzas of four lines each, the chopai. At the end of each stanza there is a warani (refrain) of four lines which ends with the words ‘Mubarak hove’. This refrain is repeated at the end of each stanza for collective recitation and participation of the Jamat.

EXPLANATION

It is not an easy task to explain and translate a Ginan or Qasida from one language to another. For this munajat which is a blend of several languages and is suffused with deep feelings and sublime supplication, the task becomes even more daunting. A conscious effort has been made to be as close to the original as possible and we hope that this explanation will impart our readers with some understanding about Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas.

Each of the transliterated verse (no accents) is accompanied with its translation. [Key glossary terms are included in the detailed Original article — ed.].

VERSE ONE

Transliteration

Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas Zinat Karake
Farasha Bichhai Gali,
Aan Baithe Hay Takht-Ke Upar
Shah Karim Shah Vali

Refrain

Aaj Raj Mubarak Hove,
Noor Ain Alikun Raj Mubarak Hove,
Shah Aal-e Nabi Kun Raaj Mubarak Hove,
Hove Hove Aaj Raj Mubarak Hove.

Explanation

O Ali! In the fair assembly,
gloriously adorned with carpets spread on the floor,
Our Lord Shah Karim sits on the takht,
our Lord Shah Karim our Guardian.

Refrain

Today blessed be your rule
Oh the light of Ali’s eye,
Blessed be your rule
Shah, the descendant of the Holy Prophet,
Blessed be your rule today
Blessed be your rule today.

VERSE TWO

Transliteration

Ya Ali Didar Lenekun Aye Shah Teri,
Hindi Jama-et Sari,
Sijada Baja Kar Najaran Deve
Jan Apniku Vari…. Aaj.

Explanation

O Ali! To be blessed with didar (glimpse of the Imam)
your whole Indian jamat have assembled.
They prostrate and they offer nazrana (homage)
devoting their lives to you.

VERSE THREE

Transliteration

Ya Ali Tera Nasiba Roje Awal-Se,
Deta Haire Kamali,
Shah Sultan Shah Ke Mukhamen Se Nikala,
Shah Karim Shah Vali….Aaj

Explanation

O Ali! Your fortune from the very first day (right from the beginning)
has bestowed perfection upon you,
Hazrat Imam Shah Sultan Muhammad Shah declared that
Mawlana Shah Karim is the Lord and the Guardian.

VERSE FOUR

Transliteration

Ya Ali Shah Kahun To Tujakun Baja Hay,
Bakhta Bulanda Peshani,
Chhoti Umarmen Aali Marataba,
Taluki Hay Nishani….Aaj

Explanation

O Ali! To call you Lord is your due.
Your fortune and greatness is evident on your forehead.
Your exalted status at the young age
is a sign of greatness.

VERSE FIVE

Transliteration

Ya Ali Takhta Ne Chhatra Tujakun Mubarak,
Zaheraji-Ke Piyare,
Abul Hasan Shah Karani So Teri
Jannat Aap Sanvare….Aaj

Explanation

O Ali! May your throne and canopy (exalted position) be blessed,
the dear one of Fatimatuz Zahra.
O Mawla Ali! All this is because of your glorious deeds.
Paradise is embellished by your presence.

VERSE SIX

Transliteration

Ya Ali Takht ne Chhatra sunake tere
Falakase Barase Nooran,
Moti Tabaka Hathunmen Lekar,
Shah KunVadhave Huran….Aaj

Explanation

O Ali! At the news of your Takht Nashini (Takhta ne Chhatra)
the heavens shower Light,
with trays of pearls in their hands,
the houris (chaste heavenly maidens) greet the Lord.

VERSE SEVEN

Transliteration

Ya Ali Maheman Khanemen Momankun Jab
La-i ‘Id Musal-le
Shamsi Jo Salavat Pada Kar
Marafat-Ki Khushiyali….Aaj

Explanation

In the guest-house when the celebration
of your Takht Nashini takes place,

the momins celebrate like ‘Id.
They recite the Shamsi prayer, the salwat,
and they experience the ecstasy of spiritual enlightenment.

VERSE EIGHT

Transliteration

Ya Ali Teri Mubarak Badike Khatar,
Sayyad Karte Munajat,
Shah Najaf Tere Pushta Panah
Tere Dushman Hove Fanah….Aaj

Explanation

O Ali! To offer greetings,
the Sayyads make their humble supplication (munajat)
O Ali, the Lord of Najaf, may your progeny be protected
and your enemies be destroyed.

Date posted: July 11, 2015.

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Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat — (IV) Contemporary Poetry and a Thank You Letter to the Person of the Institution of Imamat

His Highness the Aga Khan: Ceremonial installation, Kampala, Uganda

His Highness the Aga Khan: Ceremonial installation, Kampala, Uganda

On July 11, 2015, which coincides with the 25th day of Ramadan, Ismailis around the world are celebrating the 58th Imamat Anniversary of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

The poetry and thank you letter produced in this post are expressions of gratitude and love the Ismailis carry in their hearts for their Imam of the Time. Such expressions have resonated throughout Ismaili history, because Ismailis affirm the Principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the belief and understanding that each Imam, from the time of Hazrat Ali (a.s.), is the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; he is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in.

On this happy and momentous day, we convey Imamat Day Mubarak to all our readers, and wish everyone barakah (happiness) and success in all aspects of life.

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MY ULTIMATE DESIRE

عندما تأتي يأتي النور

Victoria Niema Alhaj

Victoria Niema Alhaj

عندما تأتي يأتي النور
إمامي أنت مولانا
معك نشعر بالسعادة والامان
أنت إمامي
أنت حبيبي
أحب أن أراك دائما
لك حبي ياشاه كريم

By Niema Victoria Alhaj

O my Imam
when you come
comes the Nur.

You’re our Mawla,
and you give us
happiness and protection.

O Shah Karim,
you are my beloved Imam,
and to see you
is my ultimate desire.

Niema was born in Stockholm, to Syrian parents. Niema knows many Arabic qasidas and Qur’anic surahs by heart. She also has many talents including composing poetry, writing short stories, painting, and sports.

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KALEIDOSCOPE OF FAITH

By Zainul Nasser

Takhtnashini in Nairobi
An event so momentous,
So significant
My heart is filled with wonder
And childish piety

Giving Bay’ah in Mombasa
Hazar Imam’s gentle hand
On my bowed shoulder
Benign, protective

The kaleidoscope is set
In simple, comforting patterns
Glowing brightly throughout childhood

Religion is woven
Through our lives
Jamatkhana as familiar
As our homes
Pictures of Hazar Imam
Surround us
A constant, reassuring presence

Childhood ends
And with it certainty
New ideas, new experiences
Overwhelm me
For a while, my inattentive soul
Loses its way
The familiar patterns
Seem blurred and distorted

But I am blessed
At Palace Gate we students
Sit at Hazar Imam’s feet
So fortunate
In this small, intimate setting
Hazar Imam’s gaze
Seems to rest on me
Infinitely understanding, infinitely merciful

My struggling soul is rewarded
Focus is restored
The patterns in the kaleidoscope
Acquire coherence, depth and sparkle

And over the years
The colours dim or brighten
But the patterns remain steady
And my hopeful soul
Journeys on
Towards
Imamat day

We come together
In joyous anticipation
Our hearts beguiled
By fervent Zikr tasbis, qasidah
And the rousing ‘Munajat’

We are shown
Hazar Imam’s untiring efforts
To help the needy
To bring hope and harmony and beauty
Everywhere
A shining beacon in a time of darkness
Our hearts sing with pride
We are inspired
We are humbled

And we are blessed
With the Irshad
So caring and compassionate
So full of love, wisdom and goodness

The kaleidoscope clicks
Into perfect symmetry
The colours polished to a lustrous luminescence
The child in me
Exults in the jewelled splendour
My imperfect soul
Is filled with gratitude
At this gift, this grace
And prays for it to last.

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Zainul Nasser (nee Karmali ) was born in Mombasa and grew up there. She came to the U.K. as an undergraduate and has lived here ever since. Zainul has an Honours degree in English from Bristol University and a Postgraduate Degree in Education. She taught English in secondary schools in Birmingham for several years. She also served on various committees including Education and Women’s activities. Zainul is married with three grown up children. She now lives in Sutton Coldfield, indulging her passion for reading and

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THE SPIRIT WITHIN

Ayat and Rope

By Moez Mitha

To the Rope of Imamat,
we must remember to hold strong,
With this Rope as our guide,
we will never go wrong.

From our spiritual responsibilities,
we must never go astray,
The balance between din and duniya
we should uphold everyday.

We love our Hazar Imam and in our hearts
he is always near,
Magnificent are the works of our Imam
and to him we must show
That with our time and knowledge
the further we will be able to go.

We live in a world where we sometimes forget
how fortunate we really are,
And even the smallest of contributions
can help people go so far.

Moez Mitha

Moez Mitha

Our Mawla, he guides, he leads the way
and to us he always says,
“Remember your prayers and
take your
tasbih any time during the day.”

In this year some of us may see
that it’s time to make a new start,
But in doing so we must show
that our allegiance is from the heart.

When it’s time for the Day of Judgment,
there’s something we all know,
Physically we will cease to exist
and to Him our spirit we must bestow.

Mawlana Hazar Imam has often reminded
us of our key role:
“In the practice of your faith,
you should seek to enlighten your soul.”

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THANK YOU LETTER TO THE PERSON OF THE INSTITUTION OF IMAMAT

INTRODUCTION: The following traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) speak about the Person of the Institution of Imamat: “I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement,” and, “He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is also the Mawla.”

Thus, the Person of the Institution of Imamat is the direct descendant of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The preamble of the Shia Imami Ismaili Constitution states: “Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.”

In Simerg’s special series dedicated to Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures, Dr. Aziz Kurwa, a retired medical practitioner and a long serving member of the Ismaili community in the United Kingdom, gives his “heartfelt thanks” to the Person of the Institution of Imamat who is responsible for guiding the Ismaili community through the ages, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The wisdom of the Imam has inspired and motivated individuals such as Pir Sadardin, Pir Nasir Khusraw and Hasan bin Sabah, and continues to nourish the present-day Jamat.

~~~

Wa Kulla Shay’in Ahsayanhu Fi Imamim-Mubin

(Holy Qur’an, Sura Yaseen, 36:12)

May it Please the Person of the Institution of Imamat,

Thank you for blessing us with an understanding of the miracle and gift of the Person of Imamat, that we may more fully appreciate the miracles of Allah, and our place in His creation. The Person of Imamat is endowed with Knowledge and Wisdom that Allah has bestowed through centuries and the Imam-e-Zaman guides those who believe in Him with the benefit of this wisdom and knowledge .

This wisdom is for the benefit of the murids of the Imam and the Ummah; it is for the individual to access this wisdom and knowledge, and he who uses this wisdom benefits himself as well. Any person can access this but it is according to his or her understanding and ability to use that knowledge for good deeds to be achieved.

I am particularly conscious of this and whenever possible I give shukhrana to Allah for allowing me to learn and to implement the Imam’s guidance. The Imam carries the wisdom and knowledge of the ages and allows us to access this knowledge. It is our duty to acknowledge this and be thankful for the inspiration to act according to the wisdom and knowledge we acquire. As a humble servant of the Imam, I am most grateful for this barakah and constantly pray that I am inspired by it.

Throughout the ages there have been Ismaili Heroes who had the good fortune to access this wisdom and if they were alive today, they would also sing their thanks.

Thus, Pir Nasir Khusraw would be thanking the Fatimid Imams for the esoteric knowledge that led him to Central Asia, to train the murids in Ismaili gnosis, and to write literature and poetry filled with a deep understanding of the Imamat—from which, even today, we draw our inspiration.

Dai Hasan ibn Sabah would have been thankful to the Imam of the time for the initiative to establish the kingdom of Alamut, to train a group of fidai to protect the Ismaili dawa, to establish the programme of talim from which we are benefitting even now—and many such innovations.

Pir Sadardin and other Nizari Pirs, leaders of all those who are now Ismailis of Satpanth tradition in the Indian sub-continent—they would be thanking Imam Islam Shah and other Imams for inspiring them and sending them on such a marvellous journey.

In these modern times, all those who have led the whole Ismaili Jamat with their selfless service must express deep gratitude for the guidance and inspiration from Hazrat Imam Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah and Imam-e-Zaman. These good works and service have been extended through National Councils, Tariqah Boards and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, AKDN Hospitals, Universities, academies and Financial Institutions, all primarily led by honorary members who have been blessed by Imamat inspiration.

By this inspiration, and with hard intellectual effort, we, the Jamat, have come into the most ambitious and envious position in the World to benefit peoples in all countries in the developing world—with no discrimination. All such excellent volunteers are thankful for the guidance from the Imamat and its Institutions. They are the heroes for whom we are thankful, and the heroes in their turn thank the ultimate source of knowledge that is the Divine Institution of Imamat.

The list goes on and will continue to be extended as long as there is an Ismaili Imam to guide the murids. The uniqueness of Ismaili tariqah comes from its thriving on centuries of cumulative knowledge and wisdom, through which all of mankind may be blessed—because of the guidance of the Imams.

Thank you, with all my heart,

Dr. Aziz Kurwa,
London, England.

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Dr. Aziz Kurwa

About the writer: Aitmadi Dr. Aziz Rajabali Kurwa has served the Ismaili jamat in numerous capacities. In brief, he was appointed in 1979 by Mawlana Hazar Imam as the President of the Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom. A true visionary, as Ismailia Association’s chief, Dr. Kurwa developed the concept of Baitul Ilm during the Silver Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, which to this day continues to have a tremendous impact on the U.K. Jamat. Dr. Kurwa and his wife, Aitmadibanu Shirin Aziz Kurwa, reside in London.