The reference by the Persian Ismaili Missionary, Fida’i Khurasani, of the distribution of healing water by Imam Islamshah (a.s.), the 30th Ismaili Imam, is significant, as the practice of drinking water blessed by the Imam is frequently attested in Ismaili Ginans and continues to form part of the Ismaili tradition to this day.
The use of such consecrated water is widely practiced in several religious traditions. Many Twelver Shi’a, for example, dissolve the dust of Karbala where Imam Husayn (a.s.) is buried, or that of Najaf, the resting place of the Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), and drink the resulting healing water (Aab-i Shifaa) as a cure for illness, both spiritual and physical.
In India, an offering (Nyaz) is conducted at many Muslim homes with great respect and devotion. Verses of the Holy Qur’an are recited on the death of Muslim saints in whose name the Nyaz is held, and the person who performs the ritual of Nyaz keeps some water and food aside while reciting the Qur’anic verses. By association with the recitation of the holy verses, the food is considered to become sacred and is shared with those present and even sent to friends and relatives. Whoever partakes of the Nyaz is considered fortunate since Nyaz is associated with barakat or blessing.
The Well of Zamzam is a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 20 m (66 ft) east of the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam. According to Islamic belief, it is a miraculously-generated source of water from God, which began thousands of years ago when Prophet Abraham’s infant son Ismail was thirsty and kept crying for water. Millions of pilgrims visit the well each year while performing the Hajj or Umrah pilgrimages, in order to drink its water. The Zamzam well was excavated by hand, and is about 30 m (98 ft) deep and 1.08 to 2.66 m (3 ft 7 in to 8 ft 9 in) in diameter. It taps groundwater from the wadi alluvium and some from the bedrock. Originally water from the well was drawn via ropes and buckets, but today the well itself is in a basement room where it can be seen behind glass panels (visitors are not allowed to enter). Electric pumps draw the water, which is available throughout the Masjid al-Haram via water fountains and dispensing containers near the Tawaf area. Photo and caption credit: Wikipedia.
The Ismaili emphasis on the spiritual aspect of this healing is clear from the names used to designate the water, which include Light (Nur) and ambrosia (Amiiras, Aamiijal) and Nyaz. Their use of the blessed water is also distinctive in another regard. It is taken in the name of the Imam of the Time (Imam-e-Zaman), who is always physically present on earth.
In the old prayer associated with this ritual, preserved in many of the manuscripts, the water is sanctified with the following formula when poured into the vessel:
Pure is the water, pure is the wind
Pure is the earth, pure is the sky
Pure is the moon, pure is the sun
Pure is the Lord’s vessel, pure is the Lord’s name
By the name of the Lord, pure becomes the Lord’s congregation
In the remainder of this long prayer, the primordial existence of a manifest divine authority is repeatedly evoked. The lineage of this authority is traced through the cosmic ages and is ultimately affirmed to be vested in the living Imam of the age. The sections of the prayer end with a declaration that the Imam is alive and eternally present.
At this point the reciter of the prayer would announce the word farman, to which those in attendance would reply Shah-Pir-a reaffirmation of their allegiance to the command (Farman) of the reigning Imam (Shah) and his representative (Pir).
The current practice is similar, but the expression Shah-Pir has been replaced by Ya Ali-Ya Muhammad.
In this manner, the community members voiced their allegiance, in the words of Nasir al-Din Tusi, not solely to the command, but to the Commander of their time, the Possessor of the Command.
Date posted: January 11, 2015.
(An earlier version of this reading was posted on this website in 2009. It was adapted from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, 2007, and Wikipedia’s article on Holy Water. This revised piece includes material from Frontiers of Embedded Muslim Communities in India, edited by Vinod K. Jairath).