Prince Rahim Aga Khan On How Muslims Can Harness the Creativity of Our Knowledge Society to Impact Humanity

On the occasion of Prince Rahim Aga Khan’s 44th birthday on Monday, October 12, 2015, we are pleased to produce excerpts from his commencement address that he delivered at the Graduation Ceremony of the Institute of the Ismaili Studies held in London, England, in September 2007.

Prince Rahim and Princess Salwa on their wedding day on August 31, 2013. Photo: TheIsmaili / Gary Otte.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan and Princess Salwa on their wedding day on August 31, 2013. They have one child, son Prince Irfan, who was born on April 11, 2015. Photo Credit: TheIsmaili /Gary Otte. Copyright.

Prince Rahim is the eldest son of the 49th hereditary Ismaili Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and Begum Salimah Aga Khan. Prince Rahim graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, in 1990, and from Brown University in the United States in 1995. Based at the Secretariat of His Highness at Aiglemont, north of Paris, France, Prince Rahim is an executive Director of the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development — the economic development arm of the Aga Khan Development Network.

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Islam Enjoins Us To Make a Positive and Visible Impact on the World

“…Absolutist, exclusivist, and rejectionist claims to the truth, especially to religious truth, are increasingly heard from all quarters. Rather than seeing religion as a humble process of growth in faith, some people presume to claim that they have arrived at the end of that journey and can therefore speak with near-divine authority…”

Prince Rahim Aga Khan delivering his commencement address for the Graduation Ceremony of the Institute of Ismaili Studies held at the Ismaili Centre in London in 2007.

Prince Rahim Aga Khan delivering his commencement address at the Graduation Ceremony of the Institute of Ismaili Studies held in London in 2007 at the Ismaili Centre.

BY PRINCE RAHIM AGA KHAN

I am thrilled to join the graduation ceremony in honour of those completing the IIS [Institute of Ismaili Studies] Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities. To you, to your families and to all those who have helped you in this achievement, I say mash’Allah.

I am convinced that the institutions of the Imamat and of the Jamat could benefit directly from the contribution of each of you, either in a professional or a voluntary capacity. Such a contribution would certainly be in keeping with the ethic of our faith that makes it incumbent upon each of us to use our blessings –- be they material or intellectual –- to assist our families, to serve the Jamat and the Ummah, and to help improve society, and indeed, all of humanity. The Jamat and its institutions need young and dynamic women and men like you, who are able to draw on the rich heritage of our past, and on the best educations of the present, to address the challenges of the future.

Education, international studies and diplomacy, non-profit leadership, media, development, law, and regional studies will all be among the most relevant fields of expertise in the decades ahead. This will be particularly true in the developing world.

I was impressed to learn that amongst you are represented five different nationalities, as are several diverse cultural traditions of our Jamat. I am certain that this diversity has enhanced your classroom experience, and I am confident that it will have given you a deeper appreciation of the meaning and value of diversity itself.

We are all aware that we live in a world where diversity is often evoked as a threat and, more particularly, where diversity in the interpretation of a faith can be seen as a sign of disloyalty. This phenomenon is sometimes perceived to apply principally to Muslims, but it also exists in other societies. Absolutist, exclusivist, and rejectionist claims to the truth, especially to religious truth, are increasingly heard from all quarters. Rather than seeing religion as a humble process of growth in faith, some people presume to claim that they have arrived at the end of that journey and can therefore speak with near-divine authority.

Unfortunately, in some parts of the Muslim world today, hostility to diverse interpretations of Islam, and lack of religious tolerance, have become chronic, and worsening, problems. Sometimes these attitudes have led to hatred and violence. At the root of the problem is an artificial notion amongst some Muslims, and other people, that there is, or could ever be, a restricted, monolithic reality called Islam.

Our Ismaili tradition, however, has always accepted the spirit of pluralism among schools of interpretation of the faith, and seen this not as a negative value, but as a true reflection of divine plenitude. Indeed, pluralism is seen as essential to the very survival of humanity. Through your studies you have known the many Qur’anic verses and hadiths of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that acknowledge and extol the value of diversity within human societies. You all know, I am sure, the hadith to the effect that differences of interpretation between Muslim traditions should be seen as a sign of the mercy of Allah.

It should also be clear to anyone who has studied Islamic history or literature, that Islam is, and has always been, a quest that has taken many forms. It has manifested itself in many ways — in different times, amongst different peoples, with changing and evolving emphases, responding to changing human needs, preoccupations, and aspirations.

Even during the early centuries of Islam, there was diversity of intellectual approaches among Muslims. Today, however — both outside the Islamic world and inside it — many people have lost sight of, or wish to be blind to, Islam’s diversity, and to its historical evolution in time and place along a multitude of paths. It befalls us, then, to help those outside the Muslim World to understand Islamic diversity, even as we provide an intellectual counterpoint to those within Islam who would reject it.

I hope that you, as graduates of this programme, will include this message in your own ways in the years ahead, through your work and your words, by your attitudes, by your actions, and by example.

The untrue and unfair, but increasingly widespread equating of the words “Islam” and “Muslim” with “intolerance”, sometimes even with the word “terrorism”, could lead some Muslims to feel despair, indignation, or even shame. To me, however, the current global focus on the Muslim world, and on Islam itself, presents a golden opportunity for us to educate and enlighten, while actively exemplifying the counterpoint I mentioned before. To my eyes, it creates an opportunity, and an even-greater obligation for us to make a positive and visible impact on the world – on culture and art, science and philosophy, politics and ecology, among others.

In order to respond to this opportunity, it will be crucial to reverse another damaging consequence of intolerance, which has been the dissuasion of many Muslim populations from seeking access to what has been called the Knowledge Society. Without an acceptance of diversity, without the ability to harness the creativity that stems from pluralism, the very spirit of the Knowledge Society is stifled. We must encourage, I believe, that Muslims of all communities come together, working collaboratively to tap into the vast endowment of knowledge available today, and without which progress is, if not halted, at least deferred. This cannot be done in the absence of open-mindedness and tolerance.

Implicit in this approach is the need for humility, which is also a central Muslim value. We must all search for the answers to the challenges of our generation, within the ethical framework of our faith, and without pre-judging one another or arbitrarily limiting the scope of that search. Like the great Muslim artists, philosophers and scientists of centuries past, we must enthusiastically pursue knowledge on every hand, always ready to embrace a better understanding of Allah’s creation, and always ready to harness this knowledge in improving the quality of life of all peoples.

As you look towards the future, I hope that you will remember that intellectual pursuits should, wherever possible, seek to address the universal aspirations of humankind, both spiritual and concrete. Those aspirations, for our generation more than for any before, are intertwined in a single global community.

It can be overwhelming at times to ponder the vast array of new problems which seem to multiply in this globalised world.

These include the implications of new technologies and new scientific insights, raising new ethical and legal questions. They include delicate and complex ecological issues, such as the great challenge of climate change. They include matters ranging from the widening gap between rich and poor, to issues of proper governance and effective, fair, and representative government, and to the spread of rampant consumerism and greed, at the expense of others, or of our environment. In some communities, illiteracy and innumeracy are not only continuing problems but are even growing problems. And our challenges also include the increasing difficulty of nurturing pluralism in the face of strong normative trends – finding ways to accommodate our differences – even as hugely differing peoples find themselves in much closer contact with one another.

You have been engaged in studies, some of which analysed the achievements of past Muslim civilisations. What I hope you have come to see is that understanding past Muslim achievements, traditions, values, and ethics should also have equipped you exceptionally well to address the great emerging issues of our own times.

As you now graduate into this challenging world, you will be taking with you the hopes of those who founded, and of those who now drive this study programme. Their central hope is that you will become global leaders in a variety of fields, bearing with you as you go, and applying always, the open-mindedness of our tradition, and the ethics of our faith.

Date posted: Monday, October 12, 2015.

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His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to Los Alamos Lab On Thanksgiving Day 56 Years Ago Impressed Scientific Hosts, and Revealed He Was In Top Physical Condition

The 49th Ismaili Imam

“Friendly, smiling and interested in everything he saw, the Aga Khan impressed his scientific hosts on every phase of the medical research. He manifested particular interest in the Laboratory’s work in tissue culture and its potential for cancer research, in the genetic effects of both radiation and inbreeding in mouse colonies, the use of radioactive isotopes in diagnostic medicine, and the possibilities of using whole body counters for studying the problems of aging.

“The Moslem leader eagerly donned the required surgeon’s scrub suit to be measured in the Laboratory’s whole body counter and appeared gratified to learn that his high potassium content indicated top physical condition.” — Excerpt from “NASL Community News”

aga-khan-iv-in-surprise-visit1

The Aga Khan, seen with Dr. Thomas Shipman, showing immense delight of gift of trinite presented to him during his visit to the Health Research Laboratory in Las Alamos, California, in November 1959

Official News Release of the Aga Khan's Visit to the Lab

OFFICIAL NEWS RELEASE OF THE AGA KHAN’S VISIT TO THE LAB ON THANKSGIVING DAY, NOVEMBER 27, 1959

The following is the transcript:

Los Alamo, New Mexico, November 27, 1959: A surprise Thanksgiving Day visit was paid to the health research center of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL) by Aga Khan IV, youthful spiritual leader of 20,000,000 Moslems in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The 23-year-old Imam of the Shiah Moslem Ismalli sect is currently touring medical institutions throughout the United States with the purpose of raising money to support a surgical wing in a hospital which he established in Nairobi, Kenya, Africa last year. His trip to Los Alamos was an offshoot of a two-day visit to Dr. Randolph Lovelace, head of the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque.

Hosts of the Moslem dignitary for the Laboratory were Dr. Thomas L. Shipman and Dr. Wright Langham of the LASL health division. They greeted the Aga Khan at 9:20 am at the Los Alamos airstrip and spent two hours demonstrating to him the cancer research facilities of the biomedical building. The visitors returned by plane to Albuquerque at 11:00 am.

Accompanying the Aga Khan to Los Alamos were Dr. Lovelace; Dr. Thomas Rees, plastic surgeon associated with Cornell Medical School; Michael Curtis, a traveling companion; and Madame Buguel, private secretary.

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A report of the visit appeared in “NASL Community News” on December 3, 1959, Volume 1 Number 24, under the heading “YOUNG AGA KHAN TOURS HEALTH LAB ON SURPRISE THANKSGIVING VISIT.” See below for images of the report, and click each image on this page for enlargement.

Aga Khan IV Los Alamos Lab Visit News Report page 1

continuation of above news report

Last updated: September 25, 2015.

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NOTES

1. About Los Alamos (from Wikipedia)

In a study conducted by American City Business Journals in 2004, Los Alamos County topped the list as the best place to live in America in terms of quality of life. This was attributed to the high levels of job stability, income and education of Los Alamos residents, many of whom are employed as scientists and engineers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The county has one of the highest number of PhDs per capita and the median household income of $78,993 per year is the fourth highest among all the counties in the US. In per capita income, Los Alamos County ranks 1st in New Mexico and 18th in the United States. Other factors contributing to Los Alamos’s high quality-of-life index were the access to affordable housing and short commuting times.

2. Source of article of the Aga Khan’s Visit:

http://www.lanl.gov/

(This piece had appeared on this website earlier – ed.)

The Hajj by Naser-e Khosraw, from Michael Wolfe’s “One Thousand Roads to Mecca”

“….The tallest mountain near Mecca is Abu Qubays, which is round like a dome, so that if you shoot an arrow from the foot of the mountain it reaches its top.…Having come into the city, you enter the Haram Mosque, approach the Ka’ba, and circumambulate….. always keeping the Ka‘ba to your left [shoulder]. Then you go to the corner containing the Black Stone, kiss it, and pass on….”

PLEASE CLICK: Naser-e Khosraw’s Pilgrimages to Mecca

A bird’s-eye view of the Ka’ba crowded with pilgrims. The photo is from the archives of the US Library of Congress and was created by American Colony (Jerusalem), Photo Dept., in 1910. Please click for article by Naser-e Khosraw.

Date posted: September 17, 2015.

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An Englishman Reflects on the Nature of Imam Ali by Barnaby Rogerson @Simerg

Editor’s note: For the month of September 2015, Simerg will be publishing new posts on a less frequent basis. Normal publication of 6 – 8 new posts per month will resume in October. The following piece by Barnaby Rogerson first appeared on this website in 2012.

PLEASE CLICK: An Englishman Reflects on the Nature of Imam Ali

“….No one could ever doubt the devotion with which Ali held Muhammad and the many bonds that connected them: Ali was the Prophet’s cousin, the Prophet’s son-in-law, the Prophet’s first male believer, the father of the Prophet’s only male grandchildren, the Prophet’s most intimate disciple and the first heroic warrior champion of Islam. Ali had also served the Prophet as an army commander, missionary, diplomat and administrative secretary…..”

This is an image of Nurin Merchant’s mixed media canvas painting titled “Nature of Prayer.” Secured on the 14″ x 10″ canvas with strong glue are a handmade Tasbih (prayer beads), and 3 dried leaves bearing the Arabic inscriptions of Allah, Ali, and Muhammad. The whole piece represents prayer through the invocation of these names. Copyright: Nurin Merchant. Please click for Barnaby Rogerson’s article.

Previous post: Readings for the Birth Anniversary of Hazrat Ali (a.s.): Kalam-i Mawla, Nahj al-Balaghah for Young People, and more @Simerg

The Muslim World at the USA Library of Congress: An Interesting Collection of Images at Simergphotos

Below, Battle tunic with Qur’anic Verse and Inscriptions in Praise of Muhammad and Ali….More Photos

Inscribed with much of the text of the Koran, this eighteenth-century linen Shiite Muslim battle tunic, most probably from Iran or southern Iraq, also bears inscriptions in praise of the prophet Muhammad and of his son-in-law, Ali. It is eloquent testimony to the place of religious commitment in all aspects of life in the Islamic world. Across the shoulders is inscribed verse 13 of Surah 61 (“al Saff,” or Battle array): “Help from God and a speedy Victory. Photo: Library of Congress, USA. Please click on image for more photos.

Inscribed with much of the text of the Koran, this eighteenth-century linen Shiite Muslim battle tunic, most probably from Iran or southern Iraq, also bears inscriptions in praise of the prophet Muhammad and of his son-in-law, Ali. It is eloquent testimony to the place of religious commitment in all aspects of life in the Islamic world. Across the shoulders is inscribed verse 13 of Surah 61 (“al Saff,” or Battle array): “Help from God and a speedy Victory. Photo: Library of Congress, USA. Please click on image for more photos.

“Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” – A Film Created and Produced by Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe

Originally aired on PBS to a word-wide audience exceeding 150 million people

“CANDID, THOUGHTFUL AND VISUALLY STUNNING” – Los Angeles Times

Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) changed world history in 23 years and continues to shape and inspire the lives of more than 1.4 billion Muslims around the world.

Simerg is pleased to make available for its readers around the world a link to the film, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, that was originally aired on PBS to a world-wide audience exceeding 150 million people.  The internet age is a blessing of our time that, through outstanding movies such as this, we are able to learn more about the wonderful and noble qualities of  Prophet Muhammad. In his Presidential Address to the Seerat Conference in 1976, His Highness the Aga Khan had asked:

“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?”

 His Highness continued:

“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.”

Some of these examples from the Prophet’s life come alive through this ground-breaking PBS film, which takes the viewers from the ancient Arabian sites where Prophet Muhammad’s story unfolded to the homes, mosques, and workplaces of some of America’s estimated seven million Muslims. The Los Angeles Times called the film “a candid, thoughtful, flowing, visually stunning film,” while The Catholic News Service commented that the Prophet’s biography offers viewers fresh insights into the spiritual foundations of Islam.

Readers can watch a preview of the film as well as the the full-length movie by clicking  on the following image:

Please click for links to full length movie and excerpts

Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.) to Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini Hazar Imam – The People of the House of the Prophet and His Progeny or Ahl al-Bayt

The excerpts shown below from the Holy Qur’an, the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and speeches of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, are quite clear about who the term Ahl al-Bayt refers to. However, Farhad Husseinali Patni gives further light on the subject by providing examples and references from early Islamic History, going back to the life of the Prophet and Qur’anic revelation. Please read this important article by clicking on “Ahl al-Bayt” – An Understanding Based on the Holy Qur’an, Hadith and Historical Events or on the image below.

Please click on image for article

Please click on image for article

The Modern Pace of Life and the Place of Faith and Religion – A Reflection by Farouk Topan

Simerg Post Pace of Life

THE FUNDAMENTAL MESSAGE OF RELIGION

By Dr. Farouk Topan

The pace of life today is said to be much faster than it was just a few decades ago. This is an axiom of our times. What, however, is not axiomatic is the corollary that is often assumed to stem from it, namely that spiritual value and worth get diminished in proportion to the increase of pace. It is not uncommon to hear the lament that nowadays people have no time for religion. Many people actually believe this, and that is a great pity. For religion is not a ‘thing’ one ‘does’ if one has time. Religion is a commitment, an involvement of one’s being and personality, utterly, totally and completely.

Human nature, however, accepts few commitments gladly and it abhors those which are seen as imposed externally. Some people consider religion as a process forced upon them from outside themselves. To view religion as an imposition is to misunderstand its message and its function.

The fundamental message of religion to Man is to be at peace — at peace with himself, with his fellow human beings, and at peace with his Creator; the fundamental function of religion is to enable a person to understand and to know his own nature, his environment and to begin to recognise and to know his Creator. Knowledge and peace are interlinked. One makes the attainment of the other possible and a person who attains a degree of both becomes a potential recipient of God’s most valuable gifts to Man: wisdom. Tranquility is a reflection of wisdom.

Photo: John Macdonald.

Photo: John Macdonald.

“I do not believe that we should fear material progress, nor should we condemn it. The danger is that it could become an obsession in our lives and that it could dominate our way of thinking” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [1]

“The day we no longer know how, nor have the time nor the faith to bow in prayer to Allah because the human soul that He has told us is eternal is no longer of sufficient importance to us to be worthy of an hour of our daily working, profit-seeking time, will be a sunless day of despair” — Mawlana Hazar Imam [2]

An essential aspect of knowledge is the understanding that even a tiny part of our lives cannot be isolated from what is termed ‘religion’; for religion properly understood, is nothing less – and even more –  than life itself. We, as Muslims, are not and cannot be ‘outside’ of Islam. Islam involves us completely; that, indeed, is the essence of our existence.

The realization of this simple fact is the basis for experiencing an inner calm and tranquility. Then the pace of life around a person becomes largely immaterial, and its varied speed becomes a matter of petty insignificance. This is not to underestimate the powerful attractions of the style of life prevalent in many parts of the world; it is simply to point out that, if one wants to stop oneself from being drifted away aimlessly by the currents of materialism, one can stabilize oneself through the teachings and practices of Islam.

Date posted: Thursday, November 6, 2014.

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The essay has been adapted from Ilm, Volume 2, Number 1, published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for the United Kingdom, where it appeared under the title “Islam and the Modern Pace of Life.” Excerpts from the speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan were not part of the original piece by Dr. Topan.

[1] His Highness the Aga Khan, Takht Nashini (ceremonial installation), Karachi, Pakistan, January 23, 2958.
[2] His Highness the Aga Khan, Convocation Address, Peshawar University, Pakistan, November 30, 1967.

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Links for speeches of His Highness the Aga Khan:

Imam Hussein (a.s.): “The Chief of the Youth of Paradise”

Please click: Muslim and non-Muslim Expressions on Imam Hussein (a.s.)

Processional standards (‘alams) are used in Shia processions, particularly on the day of ‘Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, al-Hosayn, the son of ‘Ali, in the seventh century in Karbala’, Iraq. In this openwork ‘alam, the form, decorative elements, and function are closely intertwined. The bifurcated blades on the top of the pear-shaped body of this beautifully carved ‘alam are a symbolic reference to the first Shia imam, ‘Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, who is known by the epithet dhu’l-fiqar in reference to his bifurcated sword. ‘Ali is also referred to by name in the mirror-image inscription on the central field of this ‘alam: ya Allah ya Muhammad ya ‘Ali, calling upon God, Muhammad, and ‘Ali for support. The symmetrical formation of the invocation ya ‘Ali in the inscription is usually seen as depicting the stylized face of a lion, another symbolic reference to the first imam. Photo and caption: Aga Khan Museum. Accession Number: AKM679, 82cm x 32.5 sm, Iran or India,16th Century, Pierced Steel.

Processional standards (‘alams) are used in Shia processions, particularly on the day of ‘Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, al-Hosayn, the son of ‘Ali, in the seventh century in Karbala’, Iraq. In this openwork ‘alam, the form, decorative elements, and function are closely intertwined. The bifurcated blades on the top of the pear-shaped body of this beautifully carved ‘alam are a symbolic reference to the first Shia imam, ‘Ali, the Prophet’s son-in-law, who is known by the epithet dhu’l-fiqar in reference to his bifurcated sword. ‘Ali is also referred to by name in the mirror-image inscription on the central field of this ‘alam: ya Allah ya Muhammad ya ‘Ali, calling upon God, Muhammad, and ‘Ali for support. The symmetrical formation of the invocation ya ‘Ali in the inscription is usually seen as depicting the stylized face of a lion, another symbolic reference to the first imam. Photo and caption: Aga Khan Museum. Accession Number: AKM679, 82cm x 32.5 sm, Iran or India,16th Century, Pierced Steel.

The emigration (Hijrah) of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 AC was a significant event and later adopted to mark the beginning of the Muslim Era. The Muslim New Year begins with the month of Muharram (In 2014, October 24). Amongst the Shi’a Muslims, the first part of the month of Muharram is an occasion which is marked with a sense of sorrow and solemnity. The 10th of Muharram was the day when Hazrat Imam Hussein (a.s.) together with most of the members of his family and close companions were martyred on the fields of Karbala….Read more

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.

Orations of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq: Outstanding Merits of the Prophet and Imams

“Allah chose him, was pleased with him, and selected him. Allah gave him keys of knowledge and sent him as mercy for people and as spring for the country…..Allah, the Exalted, crowned him with solemnity, covered him with the Light of His might. He made a rope to stretch up to heaven. Nothing can be obtained from what is with Allah but through the Imam.”

PLEASE CLICK: Orations of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (a.s.)

Please click for Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq's Orations.

Please click for Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq’s Orations.