Ottawa’s Iconic Magazine Stores, and Specialty Print Magazines, “Azure” and “Arts of Asia”, on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

Simerg's Merchant

Simerg’s Merchant

By Abdulmalik Merchant

I have lived in Ottawa for almost thirty years, and as a lover of magazines and newspapers I have been a weekly visitor to two great and noteworthy magazine stores in the downtown area, “The Globe” in the Byward Market area and “Mags & Fags” on Elgin Street, as well as “Brittons” located in the dynamic and eclectic shopping district in the Glebe neighbourhood. Brittons  abruptly closed its doors earlier this year, with a notice posted on the door that stated, “Due to changing times our business is no longer economically viable.” Mathematically, these stores have been visited by me alone approximately 1300 times! I have seen Prime Ministers, Bank of Canada Governors, ambassadors, politicians of every party and famous writers at these stores. Also, I may add that the idea for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There was conceived from a special issue of American Heritage magazine that I had acquired at Mags & Fags during the 1980’s.

Mags & Fags on Elgin was my favourite all along, not because of (Cuban) cigars or anything like that, but for the sheer number of magazines and newspapers that it carried from around the world. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s the magazine store even kept provincial and regional newspapers from around Canada, various USA States, as well from Africa (Al-Ahram, Egypt), the Middle East (Kayhan, Iran) and South East Asia. Gradually, over the years with the advent of the internet, the demand for newspapers declined, as did their availability at Mags & Fags. However, it remained the preeminent magazine store in Ottawa.

Mags & Fags before the recent transformation. Now the magazine section is confined to the shelf area shown at left. Photo: Mags & Fags.

Mags & Fags before the recent transformation. Now the magazine section is confined to the shelf area shown at left. Photo: Mags & Fags.

The store has undergone a major transformation, and the entire magazine holding is now on one side of the wall, and not as dominant as it once was. Almost 80% of the shop is now dedicated to specialty cards and gift items. I lamented this change to one of the store managers on duty recently, who told me that sales of magazines and newspapers have declined substantially because of their on-line availability. The exceptions, though, are luxury and specialty magazines covering travel, fashion, history, as well as arts, culture and science. Some of these magazines are incredibly beautiful and bold and, because of demand, continue to generate adequate revenues, keeping the magazine section robust.

The Saturday Evening Post, one of my regular monthly investments for its great features as well as wonderful health gems.

The Saturday Evening Post, one of my regular monthly investments for its great features as well as wonderful health gems.

Among the specialty or luxury print magazines that I came across this weekend at Mags & Fags, is the current July-August issue of Hong Kong’s “Arts of Asia” which carries an elaborate piece on the Aga Khan Museum with a collection of fantastic photos from the museum’s Islamic Art collection (for on-line piece, please click on first image shown below, but note that the downloadable PDF file available via the second column of the “editorial” page is huge at 15MB).

Earlier, I had purchased the May 2015 issue of the Canadian “Azure” magazine dedicated to the City of Toronto, with a nice piece on the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre (for on-line article, please click on second image below).

While I am happy to provide readers with links to the on-line articles, on a personal note I would say that the on-line versions do not do justice to their print counterparts which are alluring, and a joy to turn and read from page to page, and cover to cover. The magazines I have listed should be available at good magazine stores or newsagents in your area, and I might add that Chapters-Indigo has expanded its magazine section considerably in the last few years. The cover price of Arts of Asia is US$20.00 (selling in Ottawa for C$21.00), and Azure is under $10.00.

My weekly rendezvous with magazines and newspapers at Mags & Fags, the Globe and Chapters-Indigo will continue, and I hope to provide readers with information on outstanding print magazines that carry fine pieces on the Aga Khan Development Network and its agencies, as well as the Ismaili Imamat and the admirable Ismaili community, of which I am a proud member. To familiarize yourself with the Ismailis and His Highness the Aga Khan, please visit the websites http://www.theismaili.org, http://www.akdn.org and http://www.iis.ac.uk. An outstanding resource and referral blog for all things Ismaili is http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com, a private initiative.

Please click on image to visit Arts of Asia. Then click on link

Please click on image to visit Arts of Asia website. Then click on link July-August 2015 article “THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM OPENS IN TORONTO” on second column of Editorial section to download complete PDF article (15mb).

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Please click on image for the Spectacular Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre

Please click on image for article “The Spectacular Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre.”

Date posted: August 8, 2015.
Last updated: August 9, 2015.

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We welcome your feedback. Please click on Leave a comment. For articles posted on this blog since its founding, please click on Table of Contents (2009–2015).

A Unique Video of the Signing Ceremony Establishing “Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” in Portugal

Editor’s note: We are pleased to offer our readers a link to an extraordinary footage shown on Portuguese Cable News Channel, SIC Noticias,  of the signing ceremony that took place in Lisbon establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. We also include two other short clips of remarks made by the Foreign Minister of Portugal and the Prime Minister of Portugal. The event in Lisbon on June 3, 2015 was a truly historic moment in the modern history of the Ismaili Imamat, and earlier this week we brought you the complete English text of the Agreement. Readers who haven’t read the text are invited to click on “Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement.

I. FANTASTIC VIDEO OF THE HISTORIC SIGNING ESTABLISHING THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL

Please click on image below or “Video of the Signing of the Historic Agreement Establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal

His Highness the Aga Khan signing the historic document establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view the video.

His Highness the Aga Khan signing the historic document establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view the video.

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II. REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, RUI MACHETE

Portugal's Minister of Foreign Affairs speaking at the signing of the Agreement  establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view a video clip of the remarks.

Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs speaking at the signing of the Agreement establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view a video clip of the remarks.

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III. REMARKS BY THE PRIME MINISTER OF PORTUGAL, PEDRO PASSOS COELHO

Portugal's Prime Minister speaking at the signing of the Agreement establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view a video clip of the remarks.

Portugal’s Prime Minister speaking at the signing of the Agreement establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view a video clip of the remarks.

Date posted: August 6, 2015.

Full English text of agreement at “Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement Between the Ismaili Imamat and the Portuguese Republic.

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This post is also reproduced at http://www.simergphotos.com, Simerg’s photo blog.

“Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement Between the Ismaili Imamat and the Portuguese Republic

Introduced by Abdulmalik Merchant
Publisher-Editor, Simerg.com

Mawlana Hazar Imam thanking the government for inviting the Ismaili Imamat to establish its permanent Seat in Portugal. TheIsmaili/Gary Otte

June 3, 2015: Mawlana Hazar Imam thanking the government for inviting the Ismaili Imamat to establish its permanent Seat in Portugal. TheIsmaili/Gary Otte

On Thursday June 4, 2015, in a piece entitled History in the Making: Establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal, we informed our readers about a landmark agreement that was signed a day earlier by 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, at the historic Necessidades Palace in Lisbon. The Agreement marked the first such accord in the Ismaili Imamat’s modern history.

We are pleased to inform our readers that we now have access to this milestone agreement which is being reproduced in full below based on the text of the original English version of the document, which appears on the website of the Portuguese Parliament. [1]

The Agreement is divided into 5 chapters dealing with (1) General Provision; (2) The Seat of Imamat; (3) Prerogatives of the Imam and the Members of the Seat; (4) Cooperation; and (5) Final Provisions, and consists of  21 articles. The Agreement, reflecting the mutual trust and esteem which has traditionally characterised the relationship between the Republic of Portugal and Mawlana Hazar Imam, affirms the recognition of the legal personality of the Ismaili Imamat.

During the signing on June 3, His Highness the Aga Khan 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.”

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AGREEMENT BETWEEN
THE PORTUGUESE REPUBLIC
AND
THE ISMAILI IMAMAT
FOR
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL

Mawlana Hazar Imam and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete sign a landmark agreement establishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. TheIsmaili/Gary Otte

Mawlana Hazar Imam and Portugal’s Minister of State and Foreign Affairs Rui Machete sign a landmark agreement on June 3, 2015, establishing a formal Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. TheIsmaili/Gary Otte

The Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, hereinafter referred to as “Parties”,

Considering the Protocol of Co-operation between the Government of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, signed in Lisbon on 19 December 2005 and considering further the Protocol of International Co-operation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat signed on 11 July 2008;

Recalling the Agreement between the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat, signed in Lisbon, on 8 May 2009, whereby the legal personality of the Ismaili Imamat is recognised;

Having in mind the common purpose of strengthening the historical ties uniting both Parties, as well as of promoting enhanced enabling conditions for the activities of the Ismaili Imamat, its governance bodies and its dependent institutions, in particular the member entities of the Aga Khan Development Network;

Furthermore having in mind the promotion of the quality of life of the global Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim Community and more generally of the people of the countries where the Ismaili Imamat or its dependent institutions are or may become active, including Portugal and the Portuguese people in particular;

Considering that both Parties assume, as common objectives, the defence of human dignity, economic and social development, interfaith dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, as ways of achieving justice and peace;

Affirming the interest of both Parties in the establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in the territory of the Portuguese Republic and their common will mutually to respect each other’s autonomy in the context of the mutual trust and esteem which has traditionally characterised their relationship;

Believing in the historic significance of such a decision for both Parties and fully appreciating the long term implications and complexities that such a decision entails;

Considering that the privileges, immunities and facilities recognised are not granted for the personal benefit of their holders, but merely in order to contribute to the effective and independent performance of their official and institutional functions on Portuguese territory;

Agree as follows:

Chapter I: General Provisions

ARTICLE 1

Definitions

For the purposes of this Agreement, the following terms shall have the meaning set forth below:

a) “Ismaili Imamat”, a legal entity, means the institution or office of the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims established in accordance with the applicable customary law;

b) “Imam” means the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, embodying the Ismaili Imamat at any given time in history, designated in accordance with the said customary law;

c) “Dependent Institutions” means the instrumentalities of the Ismaili Imamat, in particular the member entities of the Aga Khan Development Network around the world, more particularly Fundação Aga Khan, a Portuguese foundation created by decree-law in 1996;

d) “Seat” means the global head office of the Ismaili Imamat, as further defined in the present Agreement;

e) “Members of the Seat” means the Senior Officials and the Staff Members of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat;

f) “Senior Officials” means the Heads of the Ismaili Imamat Departments;

g) “Staff Members” means the Members of the Seat employed in the administrative and technical service of the Seat;

h) “Premises of the Seat” means the buildings or parts of buildings and the land ancillary thereto used exclusively for carrying out the official mission and performing the official functions of the Ismaili Imamat, including the central Seat premises, the premises of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Lisbon and the official residence of the Imam.

ARTICLE 2

Object

1. The Portuguese Republic acknowledges the legal personality and capacity of the Ismaili Imamat to act in international relations and welcomes the decision of the Imam to establish the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal.

2. This Agreement establishes the privileges, immunities and facilities extended by the Portuguese Republic to the Ismaili Imamat, the Imam, the Senior Officials and the Staff Members, as well as to its Seat and assets, with a view to ensuring the performance of their official functions in Portugal and facilitating the same internationally.

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Chapter II: Seat of the Ismaili Imamat

ARTICLE 3

Seat

1. The Portuguese Republic shall ensure the conditions for the establishment of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat within its territory as well as for the exercise of its functions, in accordance with the present agreement.

2. The location of the Premises of the Seat shall be subject to mutual agreement between the Parties. Pending the construction or acquisition of the central Premises of the Seat, and within a period of five (5) years, the Seat may be established in Lisbon, in the existing premises of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat. The Imam shall notify his decision in this respect to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

ARTICLE 4

Function of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat

The function of the Seat is to serve as the global head office of the Ismaili Imamat with a view to:

a) Facilitating the spiritual and secular guidance of the Imam to the Ismaili Community globally;

b) Promoting the quality of life of the Ismaili Community globally and more generally of the people of the countries where the Ismaili Imamat or its Dependent Institutions are active;

c) Enhancing international relations and co-operation with States, International Organisations and other entities.

ARTICLE 5

Appointment of the Members of the Seat

1. The appointment of the Senior Officials of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat by the Imam shall be preceded by a consultation with the Portuguese Government and shall be notified to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to the procedures applicable to members of diplomatic missions accredited in the Portuguese Republic.

2. The number of Members of the Seat shall be determined by the Imam as may be necessary to enable the Ismaili Imamat to carry out its functions. The Ismaili Imamat will review such number with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs shall issue diplomatic identity cards to the Members of the Seat, according to the functions they perform, the highest level being attributed to Senior Officials and the other levels to the other Members of the Seat as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Imam shall establish.

ARTICLE 6

Inviolability of the Premises of the Seat

1. The Portuguese authorities shall take all appropriate steps to protect the Premises of the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat against any intrusion, threats or damage.

2. The Premises of the Seat, as well as the Ismaili Imamat land, air or sea vehicles used for its official functions, are inviolable, except in emergency situations that endanger public order and security, in case of a serious incident or any other event requiring immediate protective measures.

3. The Premises of the Seat cannot be used as a place of refuge for any individual prosecuted for a crime or flagrante delicto or subject to a court warrant, criminal conviction or a deportation order issued by the Portuguese authorities.

ARTICLE 7

Inviolability of files and correspondence

The files and documents as well as the official correspondence of the Ismaili Imamat are inviolable at any time and wherever located within Portuguese territory.

ARTICLE 8

Use of distinctive signs

The Ismaili Imamat shall be entitled to use distinctive signs, flags and emblems, in the Premises of the Seat as well as on any of the said official vehicles, which shall enjoy a registration status no less favourable than that accorded by the Portuguese Republic to diplomatic missions.

ARTICLE 9

Facilities in respect of communications

The Ismaili Imamat shall enjoy on the territory of the Portuguese Republic, for the purposes of its official communications and correspondence, treatment no less favourable than that accorded by the Portuguese Republic to diplomatic missions.

ARTICLE 10

Immunity from jurisdiction and from execution

The Ismaili Imamat and its assets shall enjoy immunity from jurisdiction and execution within the scope of its official activities, except:

a) When the Ismaili Imamat expressly waives those immunities;

b) In the context of cases related to employment contracts;

c) In a lawsuit brought by a third party with a view to obtaining financial compensation for death and injuries suffered as a result of an accident caused by vehicles owned or used by the Seat, or in case of any offence involving one of those vehicles.

ARTICLE 11

Fiscal exemptions

1. Gifts and bequests made by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam within the context of their official functions or received by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam, as well as income received by them, including capital gains, as well as the assets held by the Ismaili Imamat or the Imam, shall not be subject to any tax, including income or wealth tax.

2. Without prejudice to the application of more favourable provisions, granted by the Portuguese Republic to any other religious institution, the provisions of paragraph 1 shall not extend to:

a) Income deriving from any business activity directly exercised in Portugal neither to the assets connected to such activity;

b) Interest and other investment income, either due or paid by any resident in Portugal or effectively connected with the activity of a permanent establishment or fixed base in Portugal, as foreseen in the Portuguese corporate income tax code.

3. The income referred to in paragraph 2 (b) shall be subject to withholding tax, of a final character, in accordance with the corporate income tax legislation of the Portuguese Republic.

4. The Ismaili Imamat shall be exempt from any national or local tax on immovable property as regards the Premises of the Seat.

5. The Ismaili Imamat and the Imam shall be exempt from stamp duty, as well as from any other transfer tax, on the acquisition or sale of movable or immovable properties used or to be used for their official functions.

6. The Ismaili Imamat and the Imam shall be exempt from any taxes or duties on the purchase, ownership, registration, use or sale of land, air or sea vehicles, including spare parts and consumables, used for its official functions.

7. The Ismaili Imamat shall be entitled to a refund of the amounts corresponding to VAT paid on goods, including the vehicles above-mentioned, and services purchased or imported for its official use. The Portuguese Republic will establish the conditions and procedures for the application of such refund.

8. Gifts made to the Ismaili Imamat shall be tax deductible according to the Portuguese legislation applicable to gifts made to religious institutions.

ARTICLE 12

Funds, foreign currency and assets

1. Subject always to the laws and regulations of the Portuguese Republic and of the European Union, namely those regarding the fight against money laundering and terrorism, the Ismaili Imamat may hold funds, securities, gold and other precious metals, or foreign currencies.

2. The Ismaili Imamat shall be free to receive any such values from within or from outside Portugal and hold and transfer the same within Portugal or from Portugal to any country and to convert any currency held or bought into any other currency.

3. This does not preclude the Portuguese Republic from adopting any requirements resulting from its membership of the European Union, including measures prohibiting, restricting or limiting the movement of capital to or from any third country.

Continued after photo below

The agreement establishing Portugal as the seat of the Ismaili 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 the Ismaili 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.

Chapter III: Prerogatives of the Imam and the Members of the Seat

ARTICLE 13

Prerogatives of the Imam

1. The Imam shall be granted the following prerogatives:

a) Ceremonial diplomatic treatment accorded in Portugal to foreign High Entities;

b) His official residence shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the premises of the Seat;

c) Inviolability of any type of papers, documents or materials as well as of any communications;

d) Immunity from any judicial action and legal proceedings in respect of acts done in the performance of his functions for the Ismaili Imamat, including immunity from any measures of execution;

2. The direct family members of the Imam shall be accorded the appropriate facilities and courtesy treatment.

ARTICLE 14

Prerogatives of the Senior Officials

The Senior Officials of the Seat shall enjoy such privileges, immunities and facilities as are necessary for the performance of their functions, such as:

a) Ceremonial treatment accorded to diplomatic representatives of equivalent level and in the same circumstances;

b) Their residence shall enjoy the same inviolability and protection as the Premises of the Seat;

c) Inviolability of any type of papers, documents or materials relating to the functions of the Ismaili Imamat, as well as of any communications;

d) Immunity from any judicial action and legal proceedings, including immunity from any measures of execution, in respect of acts done by them in the performance of their functions for the Ismaili Imamat;

e) Exemption from all direct taxes and social charges on salaries, wages and other similar remuneration paid to them in their capacity as Senior Officials by the Ismaili Imamat or its Dependent Institutions;

f) When required by Portuguese or European legislation, facilitation of issuance of visas and residence permits, extended to direct family members.

ARTICLE 15

Prerogatives of the Staff Members

The Portuguese authorities guarantee the protection and necessary assistance to the Staff Members of the Seat with a view to securing the efficient performance of their official functions, including, when required by Portuguese or European legislation, facilitation of issuance of visas and residence permits.

Chapter IV: Cooperation

ARTICLE 16

Support for scientific and economic development

1. The Ismaili Imamat shall actively support the efforts of the Portuguese Republic to improve the quality of life of all those living in Portugal, particularly through the development in Portugal of world-class research projects in the said area, but more generally on subjects of common interest to the Portuguese Republic and the Ismaili Imamat.

2. In view of the above, the Ismaili Imamat shall cause its highest level Dependent Institutions to create a special window devoted to achieving the objectives set out above in cooperation with the relevant Ministries or other entities of the Portuguese Government.

Chapter V: Final Provisions

ARTICLE 17

Joint Committee and Settlement of disputes

The Parties shall establish a Joint Committee composed of six (6) members, three (3) appointed by the Portuguese Republic and three (3) by the Ismaili Imamat, for the following purposes:

a) Aiming to guarantee the implementation of the present Agreement;

b) Settling any differences or disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the present Agreement, with the understanding that, if an agreed solution cannot be found in the context of the Joint Committee, the matter shall be brought to direct negotiation between the Parties.

ARTICLE 18

Amendments

1. The present Agreement may be amended by the Parties by written mutual consent.

2. The amendments shall enter into force in accordance with the terms specified in Article 21 of the present Agreement.

ARTICLE 19

Duration and termination

1. The present Agreement shall remain in force for an unlimited period of time.

2. Either Party may, after an initial period of twenty-five (25) years, terminate the present Agreement upon prior written notice of four (4) years, to be communicated through diplomatic channels. The Parties may by written agreement, modify the length of the said notice time.

ARTICLE 20

Cooperation with competent authorities

The Ismaili Imamat shall fully co-operate with the competent Portuguese authorities, without prejudice to this Agreement, with a view to complying with Portuguese legislation and preventing abuse of the privileges, immunities and facilities granted under the present Agreement.

ARTICLE 21

Entry into force

The present Agreement shall enter into force thirty (30) days after the date of notification in writing by the Portuguese Republic to the Ismaili Imamat, conveying the completion of the constitutional procedures of the Portuguese Republic required for that purpose.

Done in Portuguese and English, in Lisbon, on the 3rd day of June 2015.

For the Portuguese Republic

His Excellency Rui Chancerelle de Machete
Ministry of State and Foreign Affairs

For the Ismaili Imamat

His Highness Shah Karim al-Hussaini Prince Aga Khan, Forty-Ninth Hereditary Imam
of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Date posted: August 3, 2015.
Last updated: August 6, 2015 (Video link of the signing ceremony added, see below).

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EXTRAORDINARY VIDEO: THE SEAT OF THE ISMAILI IMAMAT IN PORTUGAL

Please click on image below or “Video of the Signing of the Historic Agreement Establishing the Seat of the smaili Imamat in Portugugal

His Highness the Aga Khan signing the historic document establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view the video.

His Highness the Aga Khan signing the historic document establishing the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Please click on image to view the video.

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[1] The PDF version of the June 3, 2015 Agreement is in the public domain, and may be viewed by clicking on English Text of the Agreement, PDF File, website of the Government of Portugal.

We welcome feedback/letters from our readers. Please click Leave a comment. For links to articles posted on this Web site since its launch in March 2009, please click Table of Contents.

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

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.

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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”.

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.

Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat — (III) Ismaili Imams on Succession, the Noor of Imamat, and Imam’s True Reality

“The Imam’s true face is to be perceived with the eyes of the heart.
He has thousands of physical habitations, but his true home is traceless;
He has had a thousand names, but all of them refer to one reality.”
33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al-Salam, 15th Century

1. SUCCESSION

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III. Photo Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London by Elliott & Fry photograph.

Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III. Photo Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London
by Elliott & Fry photograph.

 By Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah,
His Highness the Aga Khan III

“Ever since the time of my first ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.

“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.

“I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.”

2. THE MOMENT OF SUCCESSION, THE HEREDITARY INSTITUTION AND THE NOOR OF IMAMAT

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

By Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

“The [installation] ceremony is a public installation of the Imam. The Ismailis pay homage to the Imam and that is when you are recognised by the world at large as the Imam.

“Officially as soon as one Imam passes away, his successor takes on from the very minute the Imam has passed away .” [1]

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“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet….today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.

“…As the 49th Imam, I have for the past 50 years, looked after two inseparable responsibilities: overseeing the spiritual wellbeing of Ismailis, as well, at the same time, as focusing on improving their quality of life and that of the people with whom they live.” [2]

~~~

“For hundreds of years, my spiritual children have been guided by the Rope of Imamat; you have looked to the Imam of the Age for advice and help in all matters and through your Imam’s immense love and affection for his spiritual children, his Noor has indicated to you where and in which direction you must turn so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction. [3]

3. TWO 15TH CENTURY ISMAILIS IMAMS ON ZAHERI AND BATINI DIDAR, AND IMAM’S ESSENCE

(a) Imam Mustansir bi’llah

Pandiyat-i- Jawanmardi or Counsels of Chivalry is a compilation of the guidance of the 32nd Ismaili Imam, Mustansir bi’llah, who lived in the 15th century. This book contains exhortations to the faithful on the necessity of recognising and obeying the current Imam and on how to live a truly ethical life. The circumstances that led to the compilation of the work are intriguing, and are alluded to in many of the manuscripts copies as follows:

When Pir Taj al-Din passed away, a number of people from the Sindhi Ismaili Community went to the Imam. Upon arrival they pleaded: “Our Pir Taj al-Din has passed away. Now we are in need of a Pir.” The Imam then had the Counsels of Chivalry compiled and gave it to them saying: “This is your Pir. Act according to its dictates.”

In one of the chapters, the Imam enumerates the importance of both the Zaheri and Batini aspects of the Imam’s Didar. He recognizes and acknowledges the sacrificing spirit of the Jamat, in serving him and in observing religious duties.

He says:

“They (the Jamat, the community) have given up their property, and even their lives. All of them have faithfully submitted their religious dues. Others have travelled long distances through arduous conditions by land and sea, braving storms and incurring great expense.

“Some attend religious assemblies to increase their knowledge while others, without any worldly motive, perform acts of charity to benefit the poor.

“Some have acted with noble actions in the cause of faith, including special devotions, worship and especially remembrance (zikr), continually invoking the Lord throughout the night, never neglecting God for even a moment, and worshipping him out of passionate devotion.

“All believers are urged to come into the presence of the Imam and to see him with their own eyes.

“Thus, the esoteric (batini) vision, realized through pious works and the constant remembrance of God during the nightly vigil, as well as the exoteric (zaheri) vision, achieved by travelling to the Imam’s residence and beholding the gateway of God’s mercy, become the ultimate purpose of human life.

“Piety should be for the purpose of recognizing and beholding God, which is achieved through the recognition and vision of the Imam of one’s time.”

(b) Imam ‘Abd al-Salam

There is an ode of the 33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al-Salam in which he says that the talisman (anything that has magical powers) that can open the treasure trove of spiritual meaning of the Holy Qur’an is the Imam. This ode is lucidly explained by Dr. Shafique Virani in his path breaking book, “The Ismailis in the Middle Ages.”

In the ode the Imam observes that the true essence of the Imam cannot be recognized with earthly, fleshly eyes, for these can only see his physical form, perishing like all else with the passage of time. His true face is to be perceived with the eyes of the heart. He has thousands of physical habitations, but his true home is traceless; he has had a thousand names, but all of them refer to one reality.

The Imam continues by saying that today he is known as ‘Abd al-Salam, but tomorrow the physical body will be gone and the name will change, yet the essence will remain in the next Imam of the lineage. Those who look at the Imam as they squint will consider him like any other human being, but as soon as the eyes of the heart perceive correctly, his true status is discovered. In form the Imams change, but in meaning and substance they are changeless. Human language cannot attain to the majesty of the Imams.

The Imam is the most precious ingredient in the supreme elixir (miraculous substance) of eternal life-red sulfur. He is not simply a pearl, but the ocean that gives birth to pearls. The existence of the Imam, who leads humankind to a recognition of God, is the very pinnacle of creation.

Date posted: July 10, 2015.

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Previous posts in this special series:

References:

[1] Click http://www.nanowisdoms.org

[2] Click In a Dynamic and Stirring Address to Members of the Canadian Parliament, His Highness the Aga Khan Shares His Faith Perspectives on the Imamat, Collaboration with Canada, the Muslim World Community (the Ummah), the Nurturing of Civil Society, Early Childhood Education, Voluntary Work, and the Unity of the Human Race

[3] Farman Mubarak Pakistan Visit 1964, published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan. Quoted also in Ilm magazine,  July 1975, Volume 1, Number 1, page 27, published by the Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom (known since 1986 as the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board or ITREB)

Note: Reading 3 compiled from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, by Shafique N. Virani, and Pandiyat-i Jawanmardi, translated by Professor Vladimir Ivanow). Image courtesy of roseannapiter.com

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The Long-Long Awaited Book, “The Children of Time: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” by Malise Ruthven and Gerard Wilkinson

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Cover page, Children of Time - the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

Cover page, Children of Time – the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

For almost 8 years now, I have been awaiting the release of “Children of Time” which was scheduled to be published by I.B. Tauris, on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 50th Imamat Anniversary held during  2007-2008. Tauris is the familiar publisher of many of the scholarly publications of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England.

The  publisher had first announced the publication of the book with the following review, which continues to appear on its website:

“From highland peasant farmers in Central Asia to Canadian industrialists, South Asian businessmen and Europe-based scholars, the Nizari Ismailis are one of the Muslim world’s most diverse Shi’a communities. With adherents living in more than twenty-five countries in Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America, they embrace peoples of widely different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The spiritual leadership of this highly dynamic community has in recent generations come to be known as the ‘Aga Khan’.This book, which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the present Aga Khan’s succession as Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Ismailis, assesses the achievements of his ‘Imamat’ in modernising the communities’ institutions and creating one of the world’s leading development agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network. In the process the book explores how the present Harvard-educated Aga Khan has attempted to preserve and build on a religious tradition rooted in medieval theology while at the same time embracing the modern world without loss of faith or cultural identity.”

Originally, if memory serves me right, the book was going to be authored by Malise Ruthven, who is noted by the publisher as “one of the leading writers on Islam in English and is the author of ‘Islam in the World’, ‘A Fury for God: the Islamist Attack on America’, ‘Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction’ and several other highly praised books.” Then, Gerard Wilkinson, who has had  a  distinguished thirty-year career with the Aga Khan in Kenya, Italy and latterly with his secretariat in France, was added as the co-author.

I have been tracking the publication of this title on Amazon since it was first announced, and I have noted that the publication date has been changing ever since. As of today, I note that the Amazon gives the publication date as May 30, 2015, while the I.B. Tauris website gives the book’s release date as September 30, 2015,* with the hardback selling price of $45.00 (£24.50). The Canadian Amazon site lists one hardback copy as being available at C$58.95 but when you click on the link to purchase the book, it is listed as being temporarily out of stock. Perhaps! May 30 has passed, September 30 is 8 weeks in the distant, so it is all rather confusing!

Under the circumstances, Vali Jamal can be forgiven for the delay in publishing his long-awaited wrist-breaking 1600 page plus book “Uganda Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute” which I had first announced on this website sometime in 2012, with a publication date of October 2012. It is now scheduled to be released in November of this year.

Hopefully, both the books, Children of Time by Ruthven and Uganda Asians by Jamal will be perfectly timed for autumn of this year for fantastic reading for the holiday season!

Date posted: July 8, 2015.
Date updated: July 12, 2015 (typo and revised publication date).

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*I have noted as of July 12, 2015, that the September 30, 2015 publication date was removed from the book’s primary page. However the bibliographical info cites the publication date as December 18, 2015. The IB Tauris “Religion New and Recent Books 2015” catalogue mentions March 2015 as the publication date.

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Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat — (II) The Beatific Vision of the Imam of the Time

INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT

A very happy moment in my life when I visited Brown University in 1996. I snapped this picture of my beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and only realized that he was looking straight at my disposable nine dollar camera after I got the film processed in Philadelphia.  Photo by Abdulmalik Merchant

A very happy moment in my life when I travelled to Brown University from Philadelphia in 1996. I snapped this picture of my beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and only realized that he was looking straight at my camera after I got the film processed in Philadelphia a couple of days later. Photo by Abdulmalik Merchant

Every Ismaili yearns to see the Imam of the Time. It’s a dream of a lifetime. Throughout history, past and present, Ismailis have travelled far and wide to earn this special moment of grace and barakah (happiness) in their lives. Since the advent of the 20th century, the 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, and the current 49th Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim (His Highness the Aga Khan), have graciously travelled to lands around the world to give their beloved murids (followers) this blessed opportunity. Scientific and technological advancements have speeded up and shortened the time-gap between visits of Mawlana Hazar Imam with his jamats, though even in these situations, some jamats  such as those living in Central Asia, did not have the opportunity of a meeting with the present Imam and his predecessors for decades and centuries. What sustained their faith, sometimes under extremely difficult and extra ordinary circumstances, was their spiritual bond with the Imam of the Time.  

His Highness the Aga Khan pictured amongst his followers in Badakhshan in May 1995.

His Highness the Aga Khan pictured amongst his followers in Badakhshan in May 1995.

A cornerstone of Ismaili doctrines has been 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. Thus in Ismaili writings, in addition to the importance of the physical didar (or glimpse) of the Imam, a strong emphasis has been laid on the followers to seek to attain the Beatific Vision of the Imam of the Time through special prayers, in addition to the ritual prayers. This idea is also conveyed in the sixth article of the Preamble of the Constitution of the Ismailis, which states:

“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…”

The following collection  of writings from Ismaili history articulates the importance of both the  physical as well as the spiritual glimpse of the Imam of the Time. Our next reading in this short four-part series to commemorate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 58th Imamat Day will consist of excerpts from the writings of Ismaili Imams on the subject of Imamat. This will be followed by contemporary voices on Imamat by members of the jamat.

1. An Inspiring Anecdote: Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi ‘s Mulaqat  with  the 18th Ismaili Imam (or 8th Fatimid Caliph), Imam al-Mustansir Billah

A folio from the manuscript of al-Shirazi's Sirat. Credit: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

A folio from the manuscript of al-Shirazi’s Sirat. Credit: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

“I was taken near the place where from I saw the bright Light of the Prophethood.  My eyes were dazzled by the Light. I shed tears of joy and felt as if I was looking at the face of the Prophet of Allah and of the Commander of the Faithful, Hazrat Ali. I prostrated myself before the one who is the fittest person to bow to. I wanted to say something, but I was awe-struck.

“I tried to speak but my tongue refused to move. People asked me to say what I wished to say. I could say nothing. The Imam said, ‘Leave him. Let his fear and awe subside’.

“After this, I rose. I took the holy hand of the Imam, placed it on my eyes and on my chest and then kissed it. I left the place with immense joy.”

The same dai,  in the following entreaty to Imam Mustansir, typifies an Ismaili’s impatience to behold the face of the Imam of one’s time, and the urgency of this beyond any possible worldly consideration. He states: 

“I swear, were you to crown me, and were you to grant me dominion over the world entire and say to me ‘Let our meeting be postponed but an hour’, I would reply: ‘O my Mawla, let us meet instead!  For your delay of but an hour has turned my hair gray’.”

2. A Pilgrim’s Experience

During the reign of the 34th Ismaili Imam Gharib Mirza, a pilgrim tracked his way to Anjudan to see the Imam on behalf of the jamats in Khurasan. The identity of the pilgrim is not very clear due to the poor quality of the manuscript but the ode to the Imam reads as follows:

“Greetings! O Emperor of the Realm of Faith and World; I come from Khurasan to behold your face. All I have is a soul imperfect, sins and transgressions galore.

“Despite such worthless goods, I long for your grace, hoping that through me you may forgive the trespasses of your servants-one and all.

“As you are the sovereign and governor of all creation, this being testified to by the Qur’an itself, your proper name has been made manifest to all the faithful.

“You are Shah Gharib and Mustansir, the inheritor of Shah Salam!”

3. Pir Sadr al-Din on the True Guide, the Beatific Vision of the Imam, and the Alchemy of Transformation from Contact with the Imam

Folio of Pir Sadr al-Din's Saloko Nano at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Folio of Pir Sadr al-Din’s Saloko Nano at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

The following is a translation of Pir Sadr al-Din’s ginanic compositiom “Sakhi māhā pad keri vāt koek jānere.”

“Friend! None but a few know of the exalted station. Indeed, they alone recognize it who have found the true guide.

“Friend! Within the heart, at the confluence of the three spiritual rivers, there is an imperishable light. There – a shimmering effulgence, pearls are showered.

“Friend! I completely lost consciousness of my physical self when my meditation mounted the empyrean, bursting forth.

“Friend! I beheld the place of the lofty throne, I saw the seven islands, the nine continents.

“Friend! The religious scriptures and books cannot fathom this, for there is neither day there, nor night, neither sun, nor shade.

“Friend! My Lord is not such that He can be spoken of. He is to be seen – for He is indescribable, and nameless.

“Friend! How sweet is that Lord, indescribable, nameless. Says Pir Sadr al-Din, truly, with my own eyes, I have seen Him!”

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And the following is a translation of a verse from Sab Ghat Sami Maaro Bharpur Betha on spiritual transformation:

“O Brother, The True Preceptor is like the philosopher’s stone and the followers are like copper.

“When the copper comes in contact with the philosopher’s stone it becomes gold.

“The followers gain spiritual enlightenment from the contact of the Imam. He is the only Glorious, O brother.”

4. Nizar Quhistani on the Imam of the Time As the Source of Salvation, and on the Continuity of Imamat

“Salvation is to be found in the Imam of the Time.

“Ever since I found the Imamate, permanently in human form, I have known no other guide than the living, everlasting Imam.

“For in his command, I have found peace in both the worlds.

“My lover appears in different forms,

“Because for each period there comes a new guidance;

“One after the other, there  follows another Qaim  Imam Ali.

“I have given up everything except that contained in the Qur’anic verse ‘offspring, one of the other’.”

Date posted: July 8, 2015.

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Readings adapted from The Life and Lectures of the Grand Missionary al-Muayyad-fid-Din al-Shirazi and The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, Hardcover, May 3, 2007.

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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.

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