Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat and Imam of the Time — (I) The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Canada’s Confederation Day, the American Independence Day, Tanzania’s Saba Saba celebrations and the Imamat Day of His Highness the Aga Khan, all fall in the month of July.

Canada is already preparing for its 150th birthday two years hence when Ismailis around the world will, inshallah, celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of their beloved 49th Imam, whom they respectfully address as Mawlana Hazar Imam.

 A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan succeeded to the 49th hereditary throne of Imamat at the age of twenty by the will of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, who served as the 48th Ismaili Imam for a record 71 years (August 17, 1885 – July 11, 1957).

Over the next week, Simerg will provide an insight into the principles of Imamat through short readings. We begin the series by posting the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution, which is an introductory succinct statement giving the historical roots of the Ismaili Imamat, the principle of Imamat succession, and the permanency of the spiritual bond that exists between the Imam and his followers.

Another theme that will be explored in the coming few days through the writings of Ismaili Pirs, missionaries and philosophers is the principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the Ismaili belief and understanding that each Imam, being the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat, is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in.

Finally, another aspect that will become apparent from the readings to follow is that the hereditary institution of Imamat can never become extinct. This is in accordance with the well known Muslim prophetic tradition, hadith thaqalain, which says, “I leave behind me two weighty things: The Book of Allah and my Progeny. If you keep yourselves attached to these two, never, never will you go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated until the Day of Judgement.”

The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Please click on photo for enlargement

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

“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.”

BACKGROUND

In 1905, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, issued a written set of ‘Rules and Regulations’ for the Ismailis of East Africa which effectively served as their communal constitution. This constitution re-affirmed the centrality of the Imam’s authority over the affairs of his community and also articulated the distinctive religious identity of the Ismailis. This document was revised and published several times until 1954, and was made available to Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. Similar rules were given to the Ismaili community in British India.

During the 1960’s, the 48th Imam’s grandson and successor, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan IV, gave Constitutions to his followers in Africa and Pakistan in 1962, and to the Jamat in India in 1967.

A constitution review committee was then formed in the early 1980’s, and after exhaustive review, Mawlana Hazar Imam, in 1986, ordained a new Ismaili Constitution known as “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.”

The Ismaili Constitution became applicable throughout the world, linking all Ismailis to the Imamat. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework through which his community would be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Muslim Ummah and of the societies in which his followers lived. He expressed confidence that the Ismaili Constitution would give a stronger integrated identity to his community, and that in abiding by it in letter and spirit, the Ismailis would achieve greater peace, unity, happiness, security and wellbeing. He futher hoped that the Constitution would become an enabling document for all his murids (followers) for an active role in institution building, for creative application of their abilities, for personal development and for intellectual and spiritual satisfaction.

The new constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by Mawlana Hazar Imam on December 13th, 1986, his fiftieth Salgirah (birthday) and thirtieth year of Imamat. The Constitution was revised by Mawlana Hazar Imam on July 11, 1998, when he completed forty one years of his spiritual leadership.

THE PREAMBLE

(A) The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims affirm the shahādah lā ilāha illa-llāh, Muhammadur rasulu-llāh, the Tawhid therein and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) is the last and final Prophet of Allah. Islam, as revealed in the Holy Quran, is the final message of Allah to mankind, and is universal and eternal. The Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through the divine revelation from Allah prescribed rules governing spiritual and temporal matters.

(B) In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (a.s), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wīl and Ta‘līm of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khātun-i-Jannat (a.s).

(C) Succession of Imamat is by way of Nass, it being the absolute prerogative of the Imam of the time to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendents whether they be sons or remoter issue.

(D) The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay‘ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode.

(E) From the time of the Imamat of Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s), the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitution in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.

(F) Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential.

(G) 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.

(H) By virtue of his office and in accordance with the faith and belief of the Ismaili Muslims, the Imam enjoys full authority of governance over and in respect of all religious and Jamati matters of the Ismaili Muslims.

(I) It is the desire and Hidāyat of Mawlana Hazar Imam that the constitutions presently applicable to the Ismaili Muslims in different countries be superseded and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live.

Date posted: Saturday, July 4, 2015.

© Simerg.com

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References for this post:

(1) The Ismailis: An Illustrated History by Farhad Daftary and Zulfikar Hirji, published by Azimuth editions in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies (2008).

(2) Wikipedia article on Imamah, with link to website, http://www.salmanspiritual.com/

(3) http://www.kamalzar.com, website of Alwaez Kamaluddin Muhammad and Alwaeza Zarina Kamaludin.

Reminiscences of Two Great Ismaili Missionaries of the 20th Century – Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary

“[Pir Sabzali and Meghji Missionary] drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them.”

A youthful portrait of the Ismaili missionary, Meghji Maherali (1881 – 1941), of Mombasa, Kenya. Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

BY IZAT VELJI

My profound gratitude and thanks [to the late Ameer Janmohamed] for sharing so much about Pir Sabzali – it is indeed a living history. The personal comments and recollections made his Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali all the more interesting and real. The group picture shown below of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah with Ismaili missionaries astonished me because there in the photo staring back at me is my nanabapa [maternal grandfather]. I happen to be the proud grand-daughter of Missionary Meghji Maherali, seated at the extreme left in the centre row. In the same row, third from right, is Pir Sabzali.

Every time missionary Pir Sabzali came into Mombasa, he never left without visiting nanabapa. The two had ever so much to share. There was no rivalry, competition or one-upmanship between them. This was very evident from everything that my mother, Noorbanu, shared with us kids.

Mum said that at the dining table, Pir Sabzali and nanabapa shared stories about their travels and advised and helped each other on how to improve each other’s skills in establishing the various jamats they visited. They also discussed ways of improving their waezes [sermons] and participation in discussions so as to become more effective. Apparently, there was a lot of gentleness and warmth as well as mutual respect between them, and they had a soft sense of humour when they recounted personal anecdotes. It seems like they really fed off each other. Pir Sabzali would relay messages of blessings to nanabapa’s family from Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Please click to enlarge and read caption. Photo: (Late) Ameer Janmohamed Collection. UK.

Later, they would retire to the front room where nanima would send a tray of chai and ‘goodies’ via my mum, who was then seven or eight years old. She remembered all this with so much pride and joy. My mum passed away in 2000. She said that the two missionaries would sit for hours apparently discussing all matters Ibadat (special worship prayers).

They drew all their courage and strength from their intense and ardent practice of Ibadat and went out to accomplish their missions with intelligence and knowledge, and with the firm belief that the help of Hazar Imam was always with them. With missionary Sabzali’s encouragement and help, nanabapa established a school of waezins in Mombasa, one of his recruits being my father, Noordin Koorjee. Even back then, our missionary leaders practised ‘succession planning’ so that Imam’s work would not come to a standstill after they passed on.

These two ashaqs [devotees] were very sincere in their service to Mawla, and deeply loyal to their Mashuq (the lord of the devotee).

STANDING BACK ROW- l to r: Missionary’s sons Gulamhussein, Fatehali, Sherali, Hussein; 2nd child Mehdi Gulamali is not in picture; SITTING ON CHAIRS – l to r: Daughters Khatija, Fatma, Missionary Meghji Maherali, wife Zainub with Hussein’s 3rd child Shirin, Hussein’s wife, Sikina; SITTING ON FLOOR – l to r: Dolat – Hussein’s 1st child, daughter Noorbanu (mother of Izat Velji, author of this article). Photo Credit: Archives of the family of Meghji Missionary. Copyright.

When Pir Sabzali’s health deteriorated and he was in his last days, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent him a message saying that he still wished to send Sabzali to Africa. Missionary Sabzali died a few days later. This came verbally from my parents, not once but several times. I have no way of authenticating this statement, but if it’s true then only Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah and Mawlana Shah Karim, the present Imam, would know the true import and reach of this message to Pir Sabzali.

When nanabapa died, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah sent a telegram to the Mombasa Council that “Missionary Meghji’s funeral be held with a lot of pomp because of Meghji’s long and wonderful service to the Mombasa jamat.” So, out came the Scouts Band, all spit and polish followed by the cubs and scouts troops followed by the jamat giving kandh to nanabapa all the way from Chief jamat khana to the cemetery. That’s a long distance.

Today, almost eighty years later, I stand head bowed, in sheer admiration for nanabapa and Missionary Sabzali, whose soul was granted Piratan by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah. Incidents and events like these are simply overwhelming and sometimes difficult to grasp and comprehend. It is their spirit and devotion which keep the Jamat inspired.

Copyright: Izat Velji/Simerg.

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Editor’s note: Izat Velji’s piece originally appeared on this website in response to Ameer Janmohamed’s Thank You Letter to Pir Sabzali and the Ismaili Pirs of the Ginanic Tradition, which was  published as part of this website’s highly acclaimed third anniversary series on thanking Ismaili historical figures.

We welcome your feedback – please click Leave a comment.

About the writer: Izat Velji spent her early childhood years in Kenya and Tanzania. After completing her secondary schooling in Kenya, she pursued a degree in education and teaching at the University of Nairobi. She then settled in Canada where she completed her degree in Medical Lab Sciences. Later, she was recruited into the faculty of the Aga Khan School of Nursing in Karachi where she taught a number of science subjects including Clinical Microbiology and Basic Immunology. During her tenure in Karachi, she was very fortunate to have met His Highness the Aga Khan who visited her lab and class, once with the late Pakistani President Zia ul-Haqq, and on another occasion with his brother Prince Amyn. Encouraged by her husband, Izat also undertook voluntary assignments with the Aga Khan Health Board for Karachi to develop, conduct feasibilities as well as implement Health Education materials for the province of Sindh and the Northern Areas of Pakistan including Hunza and Chitral. The material that she helped prepare continues to be used today by AKDN Agencies such as Focus in their teaching modules. Since returning to Canada, Izat has been very active with the Ismaili community as a volunteer and especially with the Duke of Edinburgh’s program for youth aged 14 to 25. Most recently in 2011, she was acknowledged by the Governor General at the Gold Award Ceremony.

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Watch Video: President Obama Recognizes Muslim Youth at White House Ramadan Dinner

“….It [Ramadan] is a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of one’s duty to our fellow man — to serve one another and lift up the less fortunate. The Qur’an teaches that God’s children should tread gently upon the earth and, when confronted by ignorance, reply ‘peace.’ In honoring these familiar values together — of peace and charity and forgiveness — we affirm that, whatever our faith, we’re all one family — President Barack Obama, White House, June 22, 2015.

President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

President Barack Obama hosts an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the East Room of the White House, June 22, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson).

“…..So, Ziad, Munira, Batoul — they all talk about how much they value the opportunities they’ve had to succeed here in the United States. And they also remind us that our obligations to care for one another extend beyond our immediate communities, beyond our borders.” — President Barack Obama, White House, June 22, 21015.

Triumphal Moments in Ismaili History: Jawhar’s Conquest of Egypt and Imam al-Muizz’s Resplendent Darbar in Cairo

“I WISH I’D BEEN THERE”

1970: Mansoor Ladha, veteran award winning journalist, writer and author, interviewing His Highness the Aga Khan for Tanzania’s daily, The Standard (now Daily News). Photo: Mansoor Ladha Collection. Copyright.

BY MANSOOR LADHA

As a journalist, a writer and an author, what better time to be than reporting milestones and significant events during the Fatimid Period or the “Golden Age” of Ismailism, when Ismaili Imams ruled over a vast empire and when Ismaili literature, philosophy and law flourished. It was during the Fatimid Period that the Ismaili scholars and authors produced what were to become the classic texts of Ismaili literature dealing with a multitude of exoteric and esoteric subjects. I think I might have made Ismaili fiqh (jurisprudence) my area of specialization, because it had not existed during the pre-Fatimid period. It was codified and became catalogued during the early Fatimid period. It was during the Fatimid period that Ismailis made their important contributions to Islamic theology and philosophy in general and to Shia thought in particular. Modern recovery of Ismaili literature clearly attests to the richness and diversity of the literary and intellectual traditions of the Ismailis.

Egypt became the center of the Fatimid empire that included at its peak North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the Red Sea coast of Africa, Yemen and the Hejaz. Egypt flourished as the Fatimids developed an extensive trade and diplomatic network and ties which extended all the way to China. Map: Wikipedia; click to enlarge

But, I think, for me of all the events that I would have reported, there are a number of related incidents that stand out, and which I would have liked to witness in the company of Imam Muizz’s trusted commander, Jawhar al-Siqilli. He was of Sicilian descent.

He had been entrusted by the Imam to conquer Egypt. With a 100,000 men assembled and equipped at a cost of 24 million dinars, he set out for Egypt on February 5th, 969.

Embedded I would be, like the modern journalists in this vast army, alongside my hero! The road to Egypt had been well ascertained, forts had been built through the route at specific places. Jawhar was carrying with him a thousand caskets filled with silver. Camels carried gold ingots in plain sight, cast in the shape of millstones, to impress the crowds and the local peoples through which the army passed. Then four months later, in June of the same year, I would arrive with Jawhar in Egypt, and hardly witness any resistance!

As the first measures after the conquest, I see him issue a proclamation promising financial reforms and an end to injustice. He reached out to Sunnis, Jews and Christians and offered them protection.

Then I had been with him as he crossed the Nile, and on July 6 of the same year, he marched through Fustat, and established himself north of the city in the plain that would become his new capital – a capital that Imam Muizz had expressed a wish would rule the world.

Fatimid Cairo with an outline of Jawhar’s wall shown by dashes (Please click to enlarge)

This site was empty except for a monastery and a castle. On the very night of Jawhar’s arrival in this empty spot, I would have seen the Sicilian mark the perimeter of the city with wooden stakes strung together with belled ropes. A crow would land on the rope and set the bells jingling. The ground breaking work would commence at that spot for what would eventually become known as al-Qahira (“The Triumphant”). I would see the birth of what is now modern Cairo!

But the epochal incident, the Grand Darbar, would come four years later. During this interim time I would see Jawhar establish the new capital, pacify the provinces, institute financial reform, defeat the Qarmats in December 971, and introduce new religious observances in conformity with the Shia Ismaili faith. This would include a call to prayers containing the Shiite invitation to “come to the best prayer.”

Now that all had been done, no further time would be spent. There was nothing left to do but to invite Imam al-Muizz.

In 973, the Imam leaves the Maghreb on his way to Egypt with his sons and relatives with him, along with coffins of his ancestors. One of his stops is Alexandria, where the Imam resolves to dedicate his life in the exercise of good works. He then preaches to them in a manner which draws tears from many who are present.

He departs after spending three days in Alexandria, and on June 6, 973, he reaches a place known as Mina. Jawhar is there to receive him. I see him go forth to meet his master and I witness him drawing near the Imam, dismounting from his horse and kissing the ground before the Imam in a show of loyalty, humility and submission to the Amirul Muminin. This is affection and love for the Imam I see at the highest and deepest level. It is a profound experience and a joy to behold, which I would report.

The Imam would then cross the Nile on the Rawdah bridge, bypass Fustat, and proceed straight to Cairo and take possession of the palace or fort that Jawhar had constructed for the Imam.

It is Ramadhan – year AH 362. The feast marking its end is underway. I’d see Imam Muizz conduct his prayers at the new mosque in Cairo, and then ascend the pulpit to give his sermon, with Jawhar on the steps of the pulpit. I would feel the emotions as the crowds weep and sob at hearing the Imam’s sermon.

Outside, the Imam would then mount his horse surrounded by his four armoured and helmeted sons, while two elephants led the procession. Destination – the fort, and I on my heels to get there for the Darbar!

Then, at the fort, all the citizens eagerly await to pay their allegiance to the new Caliph. Jawhar would be within my sight, and very close to the Imam, to his right.

I would witness the Imam majestically seated on his golden throne as he received all the nobles, Qadis, Vazirs and Ulemas of his city. They would present the Imam with their beautiful gifts as well as a robe made from a rare yarn that is known to grow only in Tunis. The material has a special shine and is gilded with gold and silver. The Imam would then be presented a Turban of a similar material and he would adorn the robe and the Turban. A resplendent Darbar for me to record and report as a journalist!

My friend, Jawhar, would get his turn. I would see him present the Imam, al-Muizz, with the best breed of 150 horses gilded with saddles and bridles of gold and diamonds as well as camels and ponies, saddled with boxes filled with all rare items in Egypt.

Then the Imam Muizz in a remarkable gesture of magnanimity and forgiveness would announce the release of about 1000 of his prisoners and present robes and Khalat to all his nobles and officers.

Would Jawhar be forgotten in the sight of the Imam? No. I would be exuberant to see my beloved Imam’s immense love for someone responsible for conquering Egypt some four years earlier. Jawhar would be honoured as he is presented with a golden Khalat and a turban. Imam Muizz then would tie a sword on Jawhar’s waist and present him with 20 horses with golden saddles, 50 thousand dinars and 200,000 dirhams.

With this Darbar, Egypt and Cairo enter a new era that would last almost two centuries and constitute one of the most brilliant periods in Ismaili history and Islamic Civilization.

Indeed a monumental and epochal event to witness and report! What a story and I Wish I’d Been There with Jawhar.

© Simerg.com

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Front cover of Ladha’s work

About the Writer: Mansoor Ladha is an award-winning journalist based in Calgary, Canada. He has held several senior editorial positions with daily and weekly newspapers in Canada, Kenya and Tanzania, which included the Edmonton Journal, Morinville Mirror, Redwater Tribune, Daily Nation, Kenya, and Daily News, Tanzania. Currently, he freelances for the Calgary Herald, the Vancouver Sun, and the Calgary Senior newspapers and travel magazines. He has also published a book entitled A Portrait in Pluralism: Aga Khan’s Shia Ismaili Muslims and is currently working on memoirs on his life in East Africa and in Canada. Last year, he was one of the several writers, scholars and journalists invited to contribute a chapter in the book called, The Story That Brought Me Here. He has served on several public and voluntary bodies in Canada. His complete profile can be viewed on his Web site www.mansoorladha.ca.

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This piece by Mansoor Ladha is one of 32 succinct pieces on Ismaili history that appeared in this blog’s highly acclaimed first anniversary special series, I Wish I’d Been There.

2. We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click Leave a comment, or email it to simerg@aol.com. Your feedback may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. We are unable to acknowledge unpublished letters.

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Narrative references:

1. Cairo by Andre Raymond, translated by Willard Wood, published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2000.

Also note: Cairo map shown is from this book

2. Jawhar as-Siqilli by Zawahir Nooraly in book Great Ismaili Heroes, Pakistan. The complete article is also available on-line at:  http://www.amaana.org/heroes/note010.htm

@Simergphotos – An Ismaili Wedding in Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

Muslim and Nevin Harji have just returned from a remarkable trip to Badakhshan, which is located in one of the most remote corners of the earth, in the midst of the magnificent Pamir mountains. The Harjis were fortunate to be invited to an Ismaili wedding in the small village of Namadgut (near Ishkashim). The whole village consisting of forty Ismaili families was involved in the preparation and celebration of the wedding. We continue our special series on Badakhshan with this special photo essay An Ismaili Wedding in the Pamirs Through My Lens by Muslim Harji.  

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs.   Please click on image for Muslim Harji's photo essay.

A bride-to-be is pampered with a manicure and pedicure before her wedding in a small village in the Pamirs. Please click on image for Muslim Harji’s photo essay.

     

Triumphal Moments in Ismaili History: The Unveiling of the 11th Imam, al-Mahdi, in North Africa — the Realization of a Dream 1100 Hundred Years Ago that Became the Fatimid Caliphate

“I WISH I’D BEEN THERE”

To witness that moment of unveiling when Imam al-Mahdi rode out to meet his followers stands for me above all the other moments of glory, intrigue and devastation  throughout Ismaili history….
And those followers at Sijilmasa fell at his feet in the most sincere devotion to their spiritual guide.”

Sijilmasa was a mediaeval trade entrepôt at the Western edge of the Maghreb in what is now Morocco

BY ALEEM KARMALI

Standing out in the heat of the desert, a group of conquering Berber tribesmen waited anxiously for their Imam to emerge from the city of Sijilmasa in North Africa. The year was 909 and they had successfully overthrown the Aghlabid rulers at Raqqada. Now was the moment they had longed for – they had come to retrieve their Imam from Sijilmasa, where he had been under arrest, and install him as their new Caliph. They dreamt and prayed that the world would finally achieve peace and justice under the rule of a divinely-guided descendant of the Prophet.

Until that moment, the Ismaili Imams had been in hiding for four generations, so few people could recognize them. In order to identify him at Sijilmasa, it was agreed that if someone rode out into the desert, the tribesmen would dismount from their horses. If that person did not respond by also dismounting, they would know it was their Imam.

To witness that moment of unveiling when Imam al-Mahdi rode out to meet his followers stands for me above all the other moments of glory, intrigue and devastation throughout Ismaili history. The image of a long-hidden Imam remaining atop his mount when all his awestruck followers dismounted is among the most powerful symbols of the authority of the Shi‘a Imams. In that instant, over a century of hiding and persecution was cast aside, and a new era would begin for the Ismailis. For most, the Imam had long been an idea rather than a living person, but now he was real and right in front of them. He was present and living. And those followers at Sijilmasa fell at his feet in the most sincere devotion to their spiritual guide.

This moment was the culmination of over a century of work by the Imams and the Ismaili da‘wa. In the aftermath of the succession dispute following Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq’s death in 765, there was disarray amongst the Shi‘a. But that moment in the desert was proof that they had succeeded in carving from that disarray a distinct Ismaili doctrine and identity.

To use an analogy of the theatre, they had prepared and rehearsed for this play for over a hundred years, and this was the moment when the curtains were drawn on opening night. This was the first unveiling of the Ismailis to the world, and the realization of a dream that became the Fatimid Caliphate.

© Simerg.com

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This piece by Aleem Karmaili is one of 32 succinct pieces on Ismaili history that appeared in this blog’s highly acclaimed first anniversary special series, “I Wish I’d Been There.”

Aleem Karmali - I Wish I'd Been There - The Unveiling at SijilmasaAbout the writer: Mr. Aleem Karmali, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Crescent Productions, completed the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London and has an MA in Visual Anthropology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He also has a BA Honours in Communication Studies and Sociology from Wilfrid Laurier University, and has been working in audio and video production since 1997.

Visions of Badakhshan on Simerg

Letter from Publisher

Muslim Harji's portrait of an Ismaili girl in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. She is seen Little Suranoor having breakfast before getting ready for school in the Village of Namadgut.

Muslim Harji’s portrait of an Ismaili girl in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan. Little Suranoor is seen having her breakfast before getting ready for school in the Village of Namadgut.

By Abdulmalik Merchant

When my parents visited me in Voorhees, New Jersey, during the spring of 1995, we would together walk to the main library twice a week. The short walk passed by scenic ponds and streams. There was a scary component to it though — encounters with scattered groups of unfriendly geese.

Once in the library, our focus was to read the Sunday newspapers from nearby cities that made their way into the magazine and newspaper section by Monday.

During one such visit, my dad found himself staring at the Baltimore Sun’s wonderful two page spread of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first historic visit to Tajikistan, that had taken place a few days earlier. The June 4, 1995, story gave a moving account of the visit by the paper’s correspondent Kathy Lally. It was obvious that she was well acquainted with the Ismailis, and also understood the emotions of the Ismaili people, who had greeted their Imam for the first time in centuries. To my delight, an on-line version of the report did become available, and I reproduced it on Simerg, with the Sun’s permission, some 5 years ago under the title A Western Correspondent’s Account of the Aga Khan’s Historic First Visit to His Followers in Gorno-Badakhshan.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

Two decades are not long in the life of a community, and for each of these past twenty years, since Mawlana Hazar Imam’s first visit in May 1995, the Ismaili community of Gorno-Badakhshan has commemorated the historic visit with a celebration known as “Didar” (a Glimpse, of the Imam) or “Noor” (the Light, that the Imam represents). The happiness of this annual event was captured by world-renowned photographer Matthieu Paley in the picture above where Ismaili girls are proudly displaying a framed decorated photo of their beloved Imam.

Subsequently, in addition to many other Badakhshan pieces, we published Ismaili Portraits From Tajikistan, by Khorog’s most distinguished and beloved ‘foreign’ permanent resident, Dr. Ali Rajput of Birmingham, England who in his personal capacity has served the jamat in Badakhshan in numerous ways.

Another piece that we were fortunate to publish was a personal account from Gulnor Saratbekova entitled  “Shukr Mawlo, Shukr Mawlo” – When Hope is All You Have Left, describing the dangerous and nervous state of affairs during the prolonged period of civil strife and unrest in Tajikistan in the early 1990’s. Her gratitude, shukr, in this piece is of course to Mawlana Hazar Imam who through the work of his Imamat institutions averted a serious famine that the jamat and other countrymen faced during the Civil War. I would strongly recommend that readers visit the links mentioned for some historical memories.

…..AND NOW MUSLIM HARJI’S SUPERB BADAKHSHAN SERIES

Scenic Badakhshan. Please click on photo for an incredible collection of photos of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji.

Scenic Badakhshan. Please click on photo for an incredible collection of photos of Badakhshan. Photo: Muslim Harji.

Now, Simerg is happy to present a photographic series dedicated to Badakhshan and Central Asia by none other than Canadian photographer Muslim Harji of Montreal. While he admires and cherishes the memories of the beautiful landscapes of Badakhshan that he captured with his lens, what he has come away most from this visit is the hospitality and warmth of the Ismaili people of Badakhshan. Harji’s incredible photo essays about his journeys to Jerusalem, Dubai, Iran, Turkey, South and South East Asia, have been seen by thousands on this blog, and we are delighted to add this new one to Simerg’s superb photo collection. Please click The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through My Lens by Muslim Harji.

With Tajikistan and Badakhshan now more accessible than ever before, and with so many exciting Imamat projects underway in that part of the world, we hope that Harji’s story will inspire the professional and youth of the jamat to visit this remote and beautiful region. By the way, there is an incredible array of well-organized professional tours to the region that are led by highly experienced non-Jamati operators in North America and Europe.

Coming Soon: Priceless Memories of Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

Simerg's Merchant

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Muslim Harji, a regular contributor to this website and its sister blog, Simergphotos, says that his recent visit to Central Asia with his wife Nevin was the best trip of his life, surpassing the jouney he had made to Iran some time ago. His visit to Badakhshan, in particular, has resulted in a perfect blend of  photos which capture the region’s extraordinary landscapes as well as the wonderful spirit of the Ismailis, who have inhabited the Pamirs for centuries.

Upon arriving at the village of Rushan, we were greeted by children singing the

Upon arriving at the village of Rushan, we were greeted by children singing the “Khushamudin song” — a welcome song. We were then escorted into the home of the Ismaili village elder. Photo: Muslim Harji. Copyright.

The inspiring life moments that Muslim and Nevin experienced in Badakhshan will be treasured by them for their entire lives, because the “priceless memories will never come again.”

While we prepare Harji’s Badakhshan photo essay for publication later this week, we invite you to review Through the Lens of Muslim Harji, a page specifically dedicated to Muslim. It gives the links to his pieces published on Simerg/Simergphotos.

Muslim has established himself as a powerful photographer. The hundreds of complimentary letters that readers have submitted in response to his photo essays as well as the many thousands who have visited Simerg to view his photographs bear a true testimony to Harji’s extraordinary talents with his lens.

We look forward to continuing the remarkable friendship that we have forged with Muslim Harji, and thank him for his support.

____________

Update June 13, 2015: Please see Muslim Harji’s piece via The Ismailis of Badakhshan Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

@Simergphotos: Ottawa Doors Open Leads Simerg to Muslim Cultural Centres, the Algerian Embassy and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat

PLEASE CLICK: For 2015 Ottawa Doors Open, Simerg Visits 2 Muslim Centres, the Algerian Embassy and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat

Visitors pay close attention as they receive an overview of the key features of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat during the 2015 Ottawa Doors Open event. Phooto: Simerg/Malik Merchant.

Visitors pay close attention as they receive an overview of the key features of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat during the 2015 Ottawa Doors Open event. Photo: Simerg/Malik Merchant.

History in the Making: Establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal

COMPILED BY SIMERG

Please click on photo for enlargement

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.

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

In an unprecedented historical event, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs, Rui Machete, came together at the historic Necessidades Palace in Lisbon on Wednesday June 3, 2015, to sign a landmark agreement to establish the Seat of the Imamat in Portugal. The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s).

The Agreement marks the first such accord in the Ismaili Imamat’s modern history. It will come into effect once it has been approved by Portugal’s Parliament and ratified by the President of the Portuguese Republic. Present at the signing ceremony was Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho and other senior government officials.

Thanking the government for inviting the Ismaili Imamat to establish its permanent seat in Portugal, His Highness the Aga Khan (known to his 15 millions Ismaili followers as Mawlana Hazar Imam), hailed the agreement as a historic milestone in the Imamat’s history and said:

“Today is a unique and important occasion, where for the first time in our history we will have the opportunity to work with a partner with whom we share so many values, so many hopes and so many desires.”

He expressed the hope that the agreement would be approved by the Portuguese Parliament  through the democratic process, and that once it was ratified both the Imamat and Portugal could work together to achieve results that could not be achieved by working alone. His Highness also mentioned his community’s great respect and admiration for Portugal, a country where faith is integrated with civil society, a country where all people are happy, or at least the majority are happy, in a world where happiness is unusual.

The agreement establishing Portugal as the seat of Imamat took place at the Palace of Necessidades. It  is a historical building in the Largo do Rilvas, a public square in Lisbon, Portugal. It serves as headquarters of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry. Palace Photo Photo: Wikipedia.

The agreement establishing Portugal as the seat of Imamat took place at the Palace of Necessidades. It is a historical building in the Largo do Rilvas, a public square in Lisbon, Portugal. It serves as headquarters of the Portuguese Foreign Ministry. Palace Photo: Wikipedia.

The Institution of the Ismaili Imamat goes back 1400 years when, according to Shia Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Ali Ibn Talib (a.s.) to be the first Imam, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Imam Ali and his daughter Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra (a.s).

The Ismailis are the only Shia Muslim community led by a living Imam who is vested with global religious authority and has the responsibility for the community’s spiritual and material well-being.

The succession of Imamat is by way of Nass [designation], it being the absolute prerogative of the current Imam to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendants whether they be sons or remoter issue.

The present 49th Imam, Prince Karim, succeeded to the throne of Imamat at the age of twenty on July 11, 1957 upon the demise of his late grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, who  served the community for 72 years, beginning in 1885 when he was only seven years old.

The historical accord will result in intensified cooperation between Portugal and the Ismaili Imamat in supporting research and the knowledge society and in improving the quality of life of Portugal’s inhabitants.

Responding to the historic signing, the Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said at Wednesday’s ceremony:

“The decisive step taken today will enable the deepening of cooperation, until today essential focused on the social area, with the Imamat Ismaili community beginning to support Portuguese institutions dedicated to excellent research on a wide variety of fields of knowledge.

“I am present here today due to it being a historic moment which brings a long and intense relation existing between Portugal and the Ismaili community to a new level, reflecting particularly the importance of the Ismaili community that resides in our country and Portuguese speaking African countries.”

The Prime Minister also pointed out Mawlana Hazar Imam’s role in “promoting a more tolerant world,” and also said that the choice of Portugal as the seat of the Ismaili Imamat was an acknowledgment of the Portuguese community’s ability to promote dialogue and tolerance between peoples, cultures and beliefs.