(Absolutely) Simerg’s Photos of the Day: Ottawa on December 24, 2015

Considered the 5th coldest capital city in the world, with winter temperatures dipping to -25C and below, Ottawa’s honourable spot can be cast aside for a while with Canada’s capital seeing temperatures climbing to an amazing (+)16°C at 1:00 pm on December 24, 2015. Please click Photos of the Day: One of World’s Coldest Capitals, Ottawa eh, on Christmas Eve 2015.

 Please click on photo

Please click on image for story and more photos.

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Please see our Ottawa related posts by clicking on the following:

A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece

Editor’s note: In Part II of a special series on the 49th Ismaili Imam’s visits to numerous countries that he undertook during 2015, we cover India (April), Canada (May) and Greece (September). Please click A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece.

Please click on photo for complete story and more pictures. Photo: Ontario Liberal Part. Copyright. Published with permission.

Please click on photo for complete story and more pictures. Photo: Ontario Liberal Part. Copyright. Published with permission.

Readings for the Mawlid of Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him)

Mawlid or Miladun Nabi is the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, and is celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. With the Islamic lunar calendar consisting of 354 days over a 12 month period, this celebration occurred earlier in 2015 during the first week in January, and will be commemorated once again on December 22 or 23.

The twelve months of the Muslim calendar and major Muslim festivals. Image by Simerg.

The twelve months of the Muslim calendar and major Muslim festivals. Image by Simerg.

To mark the Mawlid, we present you pieces by two fine writers, Michael Wolfe of the USA, who produced the highly acclaimed documentary Muhammad Legacy of the Prophet,  and Izzat Muneyb of England, who contributed to the Ta’lim curriculum developed at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

As we remember our beloved Prophet, the Khatim an-Nabiyin (the seal of the Prophets) and the Al-Amin (the Trustworthy), we wish everyone a very happy and joyful Milad. The readings commence with a very pertinent message on the Prophet Muhammad by none other than His Highness the Aga Khan, the present 49th hereditary Imam of the Ismailis, who is lineally descended  from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and Hazrat Ali (a.s.), the first Imam.

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THE HOLY PROPHET

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

By His Highness the Aga Khan

I have observed in the Western world a deeply changing pattern of human relations. The anchors of moral behaviour appear to have dragged to such depths that they no longer hold firm the ship of life: what was once wrong is now simply unconventional, and for the sake of individual freedom must be tolerated. What is tolerated soon becomes accepted. Contrarily, what was once right is now viewed as outdated, old-fashioned and is often the target of ridicule.

In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, “Do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim Society is to be in times to come?” And if as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search then in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?

There is no justification for delaying the search for the answer to this question by the Muslims of the world, because we have the knowledge that Islam is Allah’s final message, the Qur’an His final book and Muhammad His last Prophet. We are blessed that the answers drawn from these sources guarantee that neither now, nor at any time in the future will we be going astray.

The Holy Prophet’s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty, honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead….Excerpt from Presidential Address by His Highness the Aga Khan, Seerat Conference, Pakistan, 1976.

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HOW A MUSLIM SEES MUHAMMAD

Michael Wolfe - author, poet and producer of award winning books and documentaries. Photo and profile credit: Wikipedia.

By Michael Wolfe

A lot of non-Muslims who know something about Islam as a religious practice are nonetheless in the dark when it comes to real knowledge of Muhammad. This, despite the fact that Muhammad is the guiding, human spirit of the religion.

Muslims see Muhammad as a human being who became a prophet and yet remained human all his life. He had a special access to God’s words, but he also worked for a living, married, and had children, led his people out of oppression and died at the age of 63 with his family at his side. They see him, that is, not the way Christians view Jesus but rather in the tradition of prophets like Abraham and Moses.

Muhammad never claimed to be divine, and he never attributed supernatural powers to himself. From the age of forty until his death, his mission was simply to convey a message, contained in the Qur’an, and to illustrate its spirit in his daily life. Muhammad received the Qur’an a few verses at a time, intermittently, over this long, eventful period, and he rendered it into language people could understand. That, he said, was his only miracle. He did not defy gravity or return the dead to life. He rebuked anyone who suggested otherwise.

Muslims have no pictures to suggest what he may have looked like. Their focus is on his message, not his face. If you spend any time at all with Muslims, you soon begin to see that they know Muhammad’s words and actions and quote them frequently.

This quotable aspect of the tradition is seemingly inexhaustible, running to thousands of pages. Together with the Qur’an, they form a cannon on which Islamic Law is based. In a less formal way, these reports of what Muhammad said and did are put to use daily as a yardstick against which people measure their actions and intentions.

Just as the words of Jesus are woven into the fabric of every European language so that, believer or not, most everyone knows who to credit with phrases like “Turn the other cheek,” “the meek shall inherit the earth,” and “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” so too for many Muslims the words of Muhammad are on the tips of their tongues and easily recognized.

In the published collections, these reports are often grouped by category, in sections with titles like “The Book Of Knowledge,” or “The Book of Prayer.”

“The Book of Knowledge” is both instructive and occasionally wry. What better sentence to write on the black board, for instance, than “Asking good questions is half of learning.” A page or two later, the value of knowledge is summed up in these terms: “People with knowledge and those who seek it are the only two groups of any use to humanity.” While truth’s poor keepers are succinctly dismissed, as in this gem: “Three agents destroy religion: an ill-tempered scholar, a tyrannical leader, and an ignorant theologian.”

“The Book of Charity” contains this unexpected advice: “Happy are those who find fault with themselves instead of finding fault with others.”

Morality is often expressed in terms so simple they arrest you, as in this maxim: “Avoid anything that requires an excuse.” At other times, the terms are earthy and even humorous: “If people had been forbidden to make porridge of camel dung, they would do it, saying that it wouldn’t be forbidden unless there was some good in it.”

And here is Muhammad on Humility: “Strength does not lie in carrying heavy loads: a camel can do that. The essence of strength lies in taming your temper and your anger.”

These statements full of wisdom were mostly coined on the spot, in response to particular situations, by a man aware of the limits of his knowledge. He only knew, he said, what God would show him.

Here is what God showed Muhammad about prayer: “During prayer, God lifts the veils and opens the gates of the invisible, so that His servant is standing in front of Him. Prayer creates a secret connection between the one praying and the One prayed to – Prayer is a threshold at the entrance to God’s reality.”

And what does the great Hindu sage Mahatma Gandhi say about Muhammad’s words? “They are among the treasures of Mankind, not merely Muslims…. A reverent study of the sayings of the different teachers of mankind is a step in the direction of… mutual respect.”

© Copyright: Michael Wolfe.  Reproduced with the kind permission of Michael Wolfe.

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IN PRAISE OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD
(May Peace Be Upon Him)

By Izzat Muneyb

Author’s note: This song introduces us to some of the titles by which Prophet Muhammad came to be known. They are: ‘Ahmad’, ‘Mustafa’, ‘Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen and ‘King of law laak’. The words ‘law laak’ in Arabic mean, “Were it not for…” There is a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, where Allah speaking to His prophet, says, “Were it not for you, I would not have created the universe – law laaka lamaa khalaqtu’l-aflaaka.” [1]

N.B: The lines marked * are sung twice.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Ahmad?*
He who is praised in heaven
Shall be praised here on earth.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Mustafa?*
The Chosen of God on earth,
You have brought us the Qur’an.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen?*
God sent you as a Mercy
To the whole of creation.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you the ‘King of law laak’?*
Even God says He created
The universe for you.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

© Copyright: Izzat Muneyb.

Date posted: December 20, 2015.

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[1] Source: Sukheel Sharif, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006

We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

RELATED: Please also click Nativity of the Prophet Muhammad: The Mevlud/Mawlid Tradition to read an excellent piece contributed by Omid Safi.

A Reflection on the Land Grant Ceremony of the New World Class Aga Khan University Hospital to be Built in Uganda

Partnership for Change

Aga Khan and Musoveni at the Land Grant CeremonyBY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

The sacred space is set
The energy is invoked
The earth’s ochre red
Makes a path through the green.
Reflected in the Ismaili and Uganda flag
The logo of the university
Radiating, rippling outwards

Our world of rapid change
Meets in Uganda to break the ground
Nakawa is chosen to propel
the University Hospital

To reach beyond its borders
The frontiers of Science
Radiation ever outwards

Decades of decay at Mulago
A new seed of hope is planted
Pioneering pluralism
In Uganda’s rich soil
Revitalizing the land
For life long learning
Radiating ever outwards

Coat of Arms Uganda, AKU Logo, Flags Uganada and Ismaili ImamatThe President and Imam’s vision
Bringing to the region
Appropriate advanced Health Care
The people can access
Here at home the very best
The youth empowered to remain
Here at home to give their best practices
Expanding ever outwards

The people rejoice with lush voices
Their partners join hands to celebrate
This great milestone laid by the red bricks
That fulfills the words of the anthem
That ever propel outwards

Aga Khan Musoveni Kampala

Salute to the President and Imam for
Their vision, their respect
For national progress
Global standards of excellence
To be in the frontier of scientific
and humanistic knowledge

The best in the world
Propelling expanding ever outward
An emblematic crown over Uganda

Date posted: December 18, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg

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Nakawa – an area in the city of Kampala.
Mulago – The hospital located on Mulago Hill in Kampala.

Links to stories and videos of the Land Grant Ceremony of the new Aga Khan University Teaching Hospital to be built in Uganada:

Please also visit:
http://www.theismaili.org
http://www.akdn.org
http://www.ismailimail.wordpress.com.

Also, http://www.nanowisdoms.org is an excellent resource for speeches of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Poems “Anand” and “Intezaar” in Joyous Anticipation of the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on July 11, 2017

Anand

The Imam Blessing with Hand on Shoulder

BY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

Oft I sing Anand Anand
Lip service alone stirs
Not the heart to joy
Enshrined in us all
Is the primordial joy
Who will awaken it ?

Come ye Gardner of
The soul awaken in me
Open the door of joy
Lift the veil so I may see
The joy of perfection
In each cell the miracle

I am not so worthy
I need not strive
I live in the perfection
Of your creation
For you have laid
Your hand upon
My shoulder bowed

This Jubilee I await
To feel at depth
That resonance
That symphony
Come together in
Perfect harmony
Sat chit Anand

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Jubilee Intezaar

A prayer left my lip

Being asked
Is your heart jumping with joy?
My heart in reflective pause
Shed a tear of inquiry
Nay! where is joy I asked
It is in your visage?
A prayer left my lip

I asked
Is joy a heart searching seed
Is it locked in the bud of the rose
In the first ray of sunlight
In the rising companion star
Counting hues of green in nature
A prayer left my lip

I asked
Will it grow for me?
Experience a petal of the rose
The hint of morning light
A naked sight the first star
In ever surrounding verdure
A prayer left my lip

The answer came
There it ever is
In the heart of man
In every sinew and pore
In every breath
In every smiling blink

The prayer left my lip
Travelling heavenward
Ricocheting resounding
Hymnal songs of yore
It came back
To settle in my heart
Poured forth in song

In joy is enshrined
A dance of creation
A harmonious rhythm
A fine tuned fork
A Resonating universe
Is my Gods love
Is in my prayer

Life no Ponderous task
For in its joy of being
The incredible lightness
Leads moment to moment
To the Sirat of sat chit anand
The prayer left my lip
The answer is yout Jubilee

Date posted: December 15, 2015.

Copyright: Farida Keshavjee/Simerg.

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Sat – Truth; pure and eternal that never changes.
Chit –
Vision, knowledge.
Anand – Ecstasy, bliss, happiness.

Shariffa KeshavjeeEditor’s note:  Shariffa Keshavjee of Kenya, a regular contributor to Simerg, recently heard a tape of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee Farman that was made in Kenya in which he asked “Are your hearts jumping with joy?” Tears flowed and the intezaar of the coming Diamond Jubilee came to her mind, inspiring Shariffa to pen the two poems. The Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, inshallah, will be celebrated on July 11, 2017, when he will complete 60 years as the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, in direct lineal descent of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and Mawlana Ali (a.s.), the first Imam. Co-incidentally, on July 1, 2017, Canadians will begin celebrating the 150th anniversary of their country with major events, festivities and programs around the country.

Simerg welcome’s your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Ismaili History: The Marco Polo Myth of the Assassins

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Major excavation activities have been underway for the past few years resulting in interesting archaeological discoveries. Here we see the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

PULLING BACK THE SILK CURTAIN

“The Nizari [Ismailis] excelled in the fields of theology, philosophy, architecture and science, but their opponents demonized them as bloodthirsty extremist religious murderers…The returning Crusaders brought back the legend of the pothead assassins, partly because they loved to believe imaginative romantic tales of the East…In 1256, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu, destroyed the Nizali mountain castles, one at a time. Their political and military power was permanently broken (although today, some several million Nizalis still survive in some 25 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America).

Timeline

Timeline by Dr. Ali M. Rajput, Birmingham, England.

“In 1273, Marco Polo visited Alamut, and brought back the story of how hashish was used to attract potential killers…After, Dante was the first to use the word “assassin” in the 19th Canto of The Inferno in his Divine Comedy. The word “assassin” remained in various European languages, right through to Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, who mentions the Assassins in his book, Angels and Demons. But there are a few reasons why the hashish-assassin myth is almost certainly wrong….If hashish is given in a large enough dose to cause unconsciousness, it will first cause nausea and hallucinations – which are usually very scary and unpleasant to the unsuspecting user.” — Excerpts from  Dr. Karl  S. Kruszelnicki’s “Hashish Assassin – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain”, broadcast on ABC Science Australia. Dr. Karl is Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney. 

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Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

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ETYMOLOGY

Nevertheless, the most acceptable etymology of the word assassin is the simple one: it comes from Hassan (Hassan ibn al-Sabbah) and his followers, and so had it been for centuries. The noise around the hashish version was invented in 1809, in Paris, by the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, whom on July the 7th of that year, presented a lecture at the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters (Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres) – part of the Institute of France – in which he retook the Marco Polo chronicle concerning drugs and this sect of murderers, and associated it with the word. Curiously his theory had great success and apparently still has…Jacques Boudet, in Les mots de l’histoire, Ed. Larousse-Bordas, Paris, 1998

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THE TRUTH IS DIFFERENT

[…] their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some Orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin,” which in many European languages was more terrifying yet….the truth is different. According to texts Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to “hashish” — Amin Maalouf, in Samarkand, Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 1998

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Editor’s note: The following piece by Valerie Gonzalez has been adapted from her review of the book Eagle’s Nest – Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria by the late Professor Peter Peter Wiley, who had spent nearly a lifetime discovering and investigating the Ismaili castles of Iran and Syria. Professor Wiley passed away on April 23, 2009, at the age 86. Valerie’s copyright piece originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008)  and was reproduced on this blog in full (see link below) with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée.

DECONSTRUCTION OF THE MYTH

The Rock of Alamut.

The Castle of Alamut, nested on the top of the colossal mass of granite rock, became the centre of Nizari Ismaili activity after the fall of the Fatimid Empire. It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright. Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

By Valerie Gonzalez

Old myths are very difficult to deconstruct, even when historical evidence reveals the absurdity of their foundations. The infamous “assassin” legend that from the Middle Ages soils the memory of the Nizari Ismaili community is an example of this incorrigible defect of the collective consciousnesses. The image presented by both Christian and Muslim chroniclers of the Ismailis as unscrupulous terrorists is unfortunate if their sole fault lay in surviving as a distinct political and religious community within a hostile and troubled environment. The Crusaders, Sunnis and Seldjuk Turks naturally saw in this Shi’ite minority a threat to their establishment and expended great efforts in eliminating the Ismaili State from Iran and Syria. In addition to the pressures exerted by the great powers holding sway over the Middle East, in the 13th century, the Ismailis had to confront the Mongol threat which finally overwhelmed them. It is not wonder that in such a context they deployed the most efficient means of defense available to maintain not only the network of their strongholds and basis of their State, but also their faith and culture, the very sense of existence. In practice however, they were no more immoral or cruel than their contemporaries. They simply proved tremendously clever and obstinate in facing adversity and in struggling against forces vastly more powerful than their own. And it is probably for this reason that the Nizari Ismaili community were subject to demonization.

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Attaining the summit at Alamut is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife. The above is an open passage through the mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Much scholarship was required to unravel the dark mystery of the medieval Ismaili community. Numerous historical essays and archeological reports, among them Fahrad Daftari’s extensive works, have provided an accurate view of the Ismailis within the Islamic tradition. But assuredly the latest release on the subject, Peter Willey’s book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, brings invaluable new insights by accurately portraying the environment in which the life and struggles of the Ismaili faithful took place. There is no question but that this book offers a convincing tool for the deconstruction of the false myths which surround the cult of the Assassins.

Far from being the addicts of hashish (the word assassin is believed widely, but incorrectly, to derive from the word hashishin) and a band of murderous brigands, the Ismailis were highly intelligent and devout Muslims serving their own Imam or spiritual leader (the present Imam is the Aga Khan) and attempting to build a new and vigorous Islamic state independent of the Seljuqs who had conquered Iran in 1038 – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

More than a mere treatise on the archaeology of the Ismaili castles in Iran and Syria, Willey’s book shows multiple qualities. As an academic work, it fulfills its main objective which is to present the results of a meticulous description and observation of these fortified sites. The considerable amount of information contained in the volume reflects a near life-time of research devoted to the subject. Not a single pile of stones or rubble has escaped Willey’s acute attention, or skillful restoration in clear prose of the forbidding grandeur of the Ismaili military architecture. Each remaining element of structure is analyzed and appropriately re-situated in the initial order both of the architectural organization of the building itself and of its broader setting within the coherent chain of fortresses spread over Ismaili territories. The material and documentation at the author’s disposal, including building scale, purpose, population levels and strategic importance have been patiently collected in order to present a reliable picture of the complex network of Ismaili strongholds. Maps, ground plans, photographs and even artists’ impressions and drawings complete the written work together with four appendices which include the castles’ inventory, a list of Willey’s expeditions and two catalogues of the ceramic and coin artifacts dating from the Alamut Period found at the site.

As seen on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News a meteor's streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

As seen on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News, a meteor’s streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

Beyond the high quality scientific report based on the archaeological record, Eagle’s Nest offers a brilliant reconstitution of Ismaili material culture from an historical, intellectual and sociological point of view, from the 11th century through the Mongol destructions of the mid 13th century. Willey restitutes the very meaning of the architecture he studies through the history of its builders and inhabitants, pointing out the most significant events of their lifetimes and portraying the great spiritual and political leaders of the Ismaili community. Methodically and surely, Willey describes the intricate historical background of the Ismaili State in which multiple powers confronted or fought each other, including Seljuk Turks, ambitious Sunni and Shii’a rulers, Crusaders on the Mediterranean coast, to propose his own interpretation of the historical evidence. Where evidence lacks or where persistent misconceptions require redress, the author proposes and defends critical hypotheses. The historical and cultural dimension of Willey’ archaeological investigation is particularly enhanced by the presentation of certain situations and events as literary narratives, as he does in the beginning of chapter 2, “Hasan Sabbah and the Ismailis of Iran”. The passage in question relates the capture without bloodshed of the Alamut fortress under Seljuk authority and begins thus: “It was nearly noon on a hot day in the early summer of 1090. Mahdi, the lord of the castle of Alamut, was beginning to sweat a little” (p. 21). In this way, the author makes us relive the extraordinary event in a human atmosphere that is quite uncommon in scholarly works.

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A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Willey’s sensitivity to humanistic values is perceptible throughout the book, not only through the telling of the past but also in the lively narration of the research trips themselves. First, he pays considerable attention to the actual environment of the castles he visits, their awesome natural frame and the rural or urban settings of the surroundings that are presented with delight and consideration. Although most of the time the Ismaili vestiges are ghost constructions in remote, isolated regions, they are not at all presented by Willey as still life portraits. Rather, each fortress is an element in a busy, human landscape. As an example, where appropriate Willey writes about agriculture and local conditions in the surrounding villages for fortresses located in rural areas. Also, the local population and individuals involved in Willey’s expeditions frequently are mentioned as actors in the archaeological narrative. In this way, Willey underscores the support of both his team and the local community in contributing to the success of his research. Particularly moving is his attitude toward the people who help him visit inaccessible locations under difficult conditions and various orders, especially his work partner Adrianne Woodfine. More broadly, the practical aspects of each journey, the general organization and unexpected situations and encounters are meticulously recounted so that the book offers the live texture of a human adventure together with its purely scholarly content.

It is often difficult to describe to friends the problems which the investigation of Ismaili castles present. They are built on the top of high mountains, covering the entire summit, and are normally surrounded by three defensive walls with numerous outworks. Most of the castles were destroyed by the Mongols and the ruins are dangerous and infested with snakes and scorpions on or under the stones or in the cracks of walls. The steep scree and sharp rocks are formidable, especially in the intense heat and altitude of over 2000 metres – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

Chapters 7 through 12 cover the various areas of the Iranian Ismaili strongholds. Willey naturally begins with the fortresses in the famous Alamut Valley of the Alborz Mountains, the fortress in which the infamous legend of the “Assassins” took place. Alamut fortress constituted the very heart of the Nizari State in Iran and was the seat of Hasan Sabbah. Alamut and its sister fortresses represented the epitome of Ismaili military science. Willey presents it with a rigorous method of sketching, measuring and enumeration of the construction’s features and structures, topography, architectural configuration, water equipment, cisterns, underground storage, garrison quarters and so on.

Alamut Potter Kilns

The pottery kilns in the valley of Andij in the Alamut valley. Some 15 kilns were discovered including good examples of contemporary ceramics. Photo: http://www.iis.ac.uk

The Alamut castle like many of the Ismaili strongholds contained facilities for religious activities and higher learning such as libraries. To support his observations, Willey quotes several times the Mongol historian, Juwayni, who witnessed the surrender of the Alamut fortress among other similar events. Although this chronicler was hostile to the Ismailis, his detailed reports offer an invaluable source of information. In particular he inspected the Alamut fortress’ interior prior to destruction and mentions, not without admiration, its remarkable facilities (p.100). Indeed, the sophistication of their architecture allowed the Ismailis to resist the fiercest attacks while ultimately succumbing to the formidable Mongol war machinery. Willey relates with great empathy for the desperate inhabitants the dramatic capture and systematic destruction of Alamut and other Ismaili strongholds. After Alamut, Willey investigates the other Iranian Ismaili castles of the regions of Qumes, Khorassan, Qohistan and in the surroundings of the Seldjuk capital Isfahan.

Willey terminates his book with a moving epilogue in which he shares a few of the thoughts, feelings and questions raised in his heart and mind by the exceptional fate of the Ismailis. He naturally mentions the remarkable endeavor of the Aga Khan’s organization for the development of both Ismaili and Islamic culture in continuation with the educational tradition of the community since the Middle Ages.

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Nevin Harji stands by an official road sign when she visited Alamut with husband Muslim. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

If, through such personal treatment, Willey hoped to clarify the historical issues surrounding Ismaili culture through the ages, he most assuredly succeeded. Eagle’s Nest unveils the extraordinary reality and humanity of the medieval Ismaili civilization, often hidden behind romantic images of remote ruins and the dark secrets contained behind crumbling walls. Finally, that Willey should communicate his deep affection for the countries he explored, particularly Iran, and the Ismaili themselves, is not the least quality of this book.

Date posted: December 14, 2015.

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Credits and notes:

1. The book review originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008) and was reproduced on this web site with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée under the title Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community

2. Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, by Peter Willey, published by I.B. Tauris, 2005, London – New York, 321 pages, hard back. Approximate prices in Canada, USA and the UK (at Chapters.ca $45.00 – $61.00; at Amazon.com $37.00 – $58.00; new at Borders.com $58.00, at Amazon.co.uk Pounds 9.95 – 21.25, note price range based on used – new book)

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His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam, is a Champion of Diversity and Compassion and Inspires Millions, Says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

His Highness the Aga Khan is greeted by Justin Trudeau as he arrives in Ottawa, Canada, to celebrate his Golden Jubilee in 2008. At that time, Mr. Trudeau was a Member of Parliament in his riding in the Province of Quebec. He won the Liberal leadership in 2011, and after winning the recent Federal Elections held in October, he was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Canada on November 4th 2015. A day earlier he visited the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa - see photo below. Photo: The Ismaili.

His Highness the Aga Khan is greeted by Justin Trudeau as he arrives in Ottawa, Canada, to celebrate his Golden Jubilee in 2008. At that time, Mr. Trudeau was a Member of Parliament in his riding in the Province of Quebec. He won the Liberal leadership in 2011, and after winning the recent Federal Elections held in October, he was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Canada on November 4th 2015. A day earlier he visited the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building on Sussex Drive in Ottawa – see photo below. Photo: The Ismaili.

The Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, issued the following statement on December 13, 2015, on the 79th birthday of His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan:

“Today, we celebrate the birthday of His Highness the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, who has dedicated his life to the promotion of peace, pluralism, and compassion around the world.

“For over fifty years, the Aga Khan has been an inspiration to millions, working tirelessly to improve the health and education of those living in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries. As a global humanitarian leader, he has worked with many partners – including Canada – to implement vital programs that advance long-term solutions to poverty, illiteracy, and disease.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with AKDN Representative Dr. Mahmoud Eboo (left) and the President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Malik Talib, at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa on November 3, 2015, the day before he was sworn in as the Prime Minister. Photo: The Ismaili.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Aga Khan Development Netork (AKDN) Representative Dr. Mahmoud Eboo (left) and the President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Canada, Malik Talib, at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa on November 3, 2015, a day before he was sworn in as Prime Minister. Photo: The Ismaili.

“I have seen first-hand the Aga Khan’s commitment to the ideals of diversity and inclusion. As a nation, we are proud His Highness was granted honourary Canadian citizenship for the leadership he has shown to advance development, pluralism, and tolerance – values that are at the core of our national identity.

“The world needs champions of diversity and compassion. Today, we are delighted to thank our good friend, the Aga Khan, for all that he has done to help those in need, and wish him good health, happiness, and peace on this special day.”

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“Happy Birthday to the Hazar Imam” – Yasmin Rattansi, MP Don Valley E.

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His Highness the Aga Khan, MP Yasmin Ratansi and External Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew (July 2004 – February 2006). Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

“Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank the constituents of Don Valley East for re- electing me to Parliament.

“My riding is proud to house three architectural jewels of Toronto: the Aga Khan Museum, the lsmaili Centre, and the Aga Khan Park built in Canada by His Highness the Aga Khan with his own funds.

“On December 13, His Highness will be celebrating his 79th birthday. I rise today in the House to pay a special tribute to a remarkable human being. His tireless efforts in building bridges across the globe, his commitment to eradicating poverty and ignorance for millions of people, irrespective of race or religion, through the AKDN network are unparalleled.

“I was fortunate to have worked with His Highness in establishing the Global Centre for Pluralism here in Ottawa.

“Happy birthday to the Hazar Imam. May all who come in touch with him benefit from his integrity, humility, honesty, and courage to do good.”

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A Message and Tweets from the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, and Arif Virani, MP Parkdale–High Park.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam graciously accepts the standing ovation he receives after completing his speech at the opening of the Aga Khan Park in Toronto on May 25, 2015. With him is the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne. Photo: Simerg/Malik Merchant. Copyright.

Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne Aga Khan Message

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….and a Tweet from the 2 Ismaili Mountaineers, Mirza Ali and Samina Baig, who conquered the “Seven Summits”, i.e. the highest mountain in each of the 7 continents

Date posted: December 13, 2015.
Last updated: December 14, 2015 (Message from Ontario Premier)

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Glimpses of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Global Travels and Work in 2015

PLEASE CLICK: The 2015 Travels and Accomplishments of the Global Humanitarian and Spiritual Leader, His Highness the Aga Khan

Please click on image for the first part of a special 3-part series on His Highness the Aga Khan's Work and Travels in 2015.

Please click on image for the first part of a special 3-part series on His Highness the Aga Khan’s Work and Travels in 2015.

The Aga Khan’s “Cosmopolitan Ethic in a Fragmented World” a worthy read for all

Aga Khan IV, 49th Ismaili Imam, at Harvard

June 5, 2008: His Highness the Aga Khan received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is seen speaking to fellow honorary degree recipient British author J.K. Rowling who received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree. Photo Credit: Akdn.org

His Highness the Aga Khan shared his decades long experience as the 49th hereditary Imam of Shia Ismaili Muslims in an address he delivered at Harvard University on November 12, 2015 in which he focused on building a better world through the notion of the Cosmopolitan Ethic. In an analysis of  the term and what it means to him, he also emphasized that it resonates with the world’s great ethical and religious traditions. The address that he delivered is one which every Muslim and non-Muslim should reflect on and hold true to their hearts because, as His Highness said, each one of us is born of a single soul.

The following are concluding remarks from the address, but we recommend that  readers click on http://www.akdn.org/Content/1368 to read the complete speech. Also, Simerg prepared and published a thematic version of the speech at Two Absolutely Essential Messages in His Highness the Aga Khan’s Harvard Lecture: “The Cosmopolitan Ethic” and the Timeless Truth that “Humanity is Born of a Single Soul”

THE HEART OF THE ISLAMIC MESSAGE: COMMON HUMANITY

Aga Khan Jodi Lecture Harvard

His Highness the Aga Khan spoke at Harvard on November 12, 2015 as part of the Samuel L. and Elizabeth Jodidi Lecture series, which provides for “the delivery of lectures by eminent and well-qualified persons for the promotion of tolerance, understanding and good will among nations, and the peace of the world. Photo: AKDN

“…I would emphasise that a cosmopolitan ethic is one that resonates with the world’s great ethical and religious traditions.

“A passage from the Holy Qur’an that has been central to my life is addressed to the whole of humanity. It says: “Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women…”

“At the very heart of the Islamic faith is a conviction that we are all born “of a single soul.” We are “spread abroad” to be sure in all of our diversity, but we share, in a most profound sense, a common humanity.

“This outlook has been central to the history of Islam. For many hundreds of years, the greatest Islamic societies were decidedly pluralistic, drawing strength from people of many religions and cultural backgrounds. My own ancestors, the Fatimid Caliphs, founded the city of Cairo, and the great Al Azhar University there, a thousand years ago in this same spirit.

“That pluralistic outlook remains a central ideal for most Muslims today. There are many, of course, some non-Muslims and some Muslims alike, who have perpetrated different impressions.

“At the same time, institutions such as those that have welcomed me here today, have eloquently addressed these misimpressions. My hope is that the voices of Islam itself will continue to remind the world of a tradition that, over so many centuries, has so often advanced pluralistic outlooks and built some of the most remarkable societies in human history.

CENTRAL LESSON FROM A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF 58 YEARS

“Let me repeat, in conclusion, that a cosmopolitan ethic is one that will honour both our common humanity and our distinctive Identities — each reinforcing the other as part of the same high moral calling.

“The central lesson of my own personal journey — over many miles and many years — is the indispensability of such an ethic in our changing world, based on the timeless truth that we are — each of us and all of us — “born of a single soul.”

Date posted: December 7, 2015.

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Who is His Highness the Aga Khan? Learn more about him and the Ismailis at The Preamble Of “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims”