Don Mills Jamatkhana in Thorncliffe Park, Simerg via Urban Toronto via ImaraImara

Latest News: Major Proposal for Redevelopment of Don Mills Ismaili Jamatkhana in Thorncliffe Park

“Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood has long been a welcoming starting point for immigrants to Canada. Now, IMARA National, on behalf of the city’s Ismaili community, is proposing to replace their existing facilities on Overlea Boulevard with an architecturally adventurous redevelopment that better suits the growing community’s needs” — Anthony Teles writing for Urban Toronto, February 2, 2023.

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

In a post dated January 21, 2023, Simerg reported about a new Ismaili Cultural Centre housing and Jamatkhana that is being proposed in Port Moody, British Columbia. In the introductory piece we also provided a link to an excellent piece on the website of Anthem Properties containing renditions of the building and other pertinent details.

Now, two weeks after the Port Moody article and as Toronto along with the rest of Ontario is gripped with some of the coldest temperatures recorded, we are pleased to provide a link to a report by Anthony Teles in Urban Toronto under the heading Ismaili Community Centre and Jamatkhana Proposed for Redevelopment in Thorncliffe Park (please click on the link to read Anthony’s report that includes more renditions of the Jamatkhana building as well as other important details.)

Ismaili Cultural Centre Thorncliffe Jamatkhana
Looking southeast from William Morgan Drive to the Don Mills, Ismaili Community Centre and Jamatkhana, as designed by architects-Alliance for IMARA National, an Ismaili institution that oversees the development of Ismaili Jamatkhanas in Canada. Click on photo for full report in Urban Toronto

In its coverage, Urban Toronto notes that the site is where the Don Mills Jamatkhana is currently located in a one-storey building, in a vibrant multi-cultural neighbourhood, Thorncliffe Park, north of the Don Valley Parkway and south of Eglinton Avenue. The author of this post, Malik, is familiar with the location. It is a 7-10 minute drive to the Ontario Science on Don Mills Road and then another 3-5 drive to the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Museum on Wynford Drive, the block now ceremoniously called the Aga Khan Boulevard. These locations will be served by a new Light Rail Transit (LRT) railway line later this year. The LRT station near the Museum is aptly named Aga Khan Park & Museum (see photograph, below.)

Aga Khan Park and Museum LRT STATION, SIMERG NEWS
The new Aga Khan Park & Museum station on Toronto’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) on Eglington Line, as pictured during its contruction phase; September 2020. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

The Don Mills and the York Mills areas of Toronto have the highest concentration of Ismailis in Canada. Within a radius of 5-10 kms from the Ismaili Centre on 49 Wynford Drive or Aga Khan Boulevard, there are currently three Jamatkhanas — the Don Mills, which would be replaced with the new project, East York and Willowdale. Of course there are several other Jamatkhanas in the Greater Toronto region including Richmond Hill in the north, Scarborough in the east and Etobicoke, Brampton and Mississauga in the west. There is also a Jamatkhana catering to the Ismaili community in the downtown area.

Date posted: February 4, 2023.
Last updated: February 6, 2023 (formatting and typos.)

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Related: Please click Anthem Properties: Rental housing tower with Jamatkhana cultural hub proposed for Port Moody

REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Timeless and Inspirational Pieces on Imam Ali: Essays, Art, Ginans, Songs, Stories and Quotes

Over the years, Simerg and its sister websites have published numerous enlightening and reflective pieces on Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him), the first Imam of Shia Muslims, whose birth anniversary falls on the 13th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle and this translates to February 3, 2023 in the Gregorian calendar. We are pleased to provide the following links to a selection of timeless pieces on the Imam:

Date posted: February 3, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos

The editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com. 

Ethics in Hazrat Ali’s Kalam-i Mawla

Editor’s note: Like all Shia Muslims across the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis will be observing with deep reverence the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali on the 13th of Rajab, corresponding to February 3, 2023, in Canada and many other parts of the world. The Ismailis are led by His Highness the Aga Khan who is the 49th Hereditary Imam in the succession of Imams from Ali, who was appointed by Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him and his family — to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. Today, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan, and hence the Ismailis refer to him as Hazar Imam (the Imam-of-the-Time or the Present/Living Imam.). The Kalam-i Mawla article by Dr Farouk Topan first appeared in printed form in Vol 13, Number 1, July 1990, of Ilm, the flagship Ismaili religious periodical published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the UK — or ITREB — between 1975 and 1992. This second reproduction of the article on SIMERG has an improved format for ease of reading. Readers should take note that the images shown in this post are not part of the original article published in Ilm magazine.

By FAROUK M. TOPAN

Introduction

The relationship between man and God forms the focus of most religious literature. Of paramount importance to the relationship is the conduct, behaviour and action of man during his sojourn on earth. What he says and does is deemed to affect that relationship: good deeds strengthen it, bad deeds impair it. It is thus considered crucial that man be made aware of what he may and may not do, that he be made to understand the limitations of his actions beyond which he may not transgress without placing in jeopardy the health of that relationship. Such awareness is made explicit not only in scriptures and holy texts but also in books, epistles, treatises and poems composed by men of faith and learning. The Kalam-i Mawla falls under the latter category.

The Kalam-i Mawla (hence referred to as Kalam) is a poem of 327 verses, composed in Hindi, whose content draws inspiration from the sayings, speeches and sermons of Mawlana Ali (may peace be upon him.) The actual composer of the verse is not known. Unlike the practice followed in some compositions, — for example, in the Ginans — where the composer mentions his name within the body of the text, the composer of Kalam has refrained from doing so. His action may have been dictated by modesty, or even piety, in not wishing his personal attribution to impinge upon the considered authorship of the first Imam. Thus the authoritative status of the verses, as expressing the Kalami (speech/sayings) of the Lord, Mawla, has been preserved.

The predominant message conveyed in Kalam is ethical. One could say that the text is a manual of ethics for a believer, stating the virtues to be cultivated and the vices to be shunned. The ethical emphasis is brought into an even sharper focus in the printed editions of Kalam-i Mawla. A comparison, for instance, between the earlier manuscript of the Kalam dated 1801, and the latest printed version published in Karachi in 1984 by Ismailia Association for Pakistan shows a re-arrangement of the verses in the latter to reflect an ethical direction of the message.

The Karachi edition, which is itself the latest in a long chain of printed versions dating from 1873, divides the text into 23 chapters, each with its own title. The first chapter is on truth, the second on brotherhood, the third on the virtues of good manners or discipline, the fourth on generosity, the fifth on miserliness, the sixth on greed and so on. Among the subjects included are the way of the heart (ch.7); the beauty and marvel of knowledge (ch.10); the path of injustice (ch.11) and of justice (ch.12); prayers (ch.14) patience and gratitude (ch.16); jealousy (ch.22) and courage (ch.23).

The Kalam-i Mawla, however, does not confine itself simply to conveying the ethical message. If it did, it would have been incomplete in a fundamental way for ethical injunctions derive their meaning from the assumptions and pre-suppositions of belief. To state what man ought to do and not do, without placing these imperatives within the parameters of belief would be to deprive them of their rationale and justification. They would lack conviction. The composer of the Kalam has avoided such a pitfall and has created a vibrant text by focusing, not on one, but on three interlinked dimensions, each supporting the others. These dimensions are  (1) the Doctrinal (2) the Esoteric and (3) the Ethical.

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The Doctrinal and Esoteric Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla

The first dimension may be termed doctrinal; its expression is interspersed throughout the poem as the basis for man’s action. Two examples may suffice for our purpose here. The opening verse of Kalam-i Mawla sets out a theological hierarchy. The first remembrance (Zikr), it says, is of Allah; the second profession (kalma) is of Muhammad and the third is of the Mawla who narrates “his kalam, a treasure of jewels revealed to us.” Thus God, the Prophet and the Imam are mentioned from the beginning. In verse 5 the concepts of Tawhid, Nabuwwa and Imamah are expressed explicitly: “Know that Allah, the Sustainer is One; that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah; after the Prophet (comes) the Lord of the Imamat, Murtaza Ali; believe in him with truth.”

The second dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the esoteric. One finds verses of deep mystical meaning in the poem which encourage the reader to aspire to a higher spiritual reality. The emphasis is again on action: through prayer, bandagi and acquisition of knowledge. Prayers undertaken at (or after) midnight are given a special mention (verse 168) as they bring ‘light’ to the very being of a person, a light reflected on one’s face; then, on the Day of Judgement, one will be counted among those whose faces are white (of. Qur’an 3:105-106). A believer who is regular in his prayers and bandagi will be graced with the vision of his Lord (verse 170). If such a mu’min is a true beloved of the Lord, then he too will be granted the spiritual bliss of the mi’raj experienced by the Prophet (verses 170/171).

But a believer who wishes to attain such spiritual bliss must first have a guide, a murshid, to open the gates of esoteric knowledge for him. Even a tiny and minute amount of such knowledge — “mere dot (nukta) of marifah” as it is stated in verse 101 — is enough, if given by the murshid himself, to lead a mu’min back to his origin, to the essence of Truth (haqq). Only then will he be able to transcend the state of duality (“The duality of You and me” and merge into a state of Unity and become One with Him who is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, He who will continue to exist when all else perishes (verse 327).

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The Ethical Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla: Theme of Charity and Generosity

The third, and predominant, dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the ethical one, which is expressed in the poem in a number of ways. The most common way is by injunctions stated in the name of Mawlana Ali (a.s) whose status is sometimes further explained through the use of particular titles such as:

Shah-e Awliya (verses 2 & 182) — the Lord of the friends (of God)

Sahib-e Zulfiqar (verse 15) — Master of (the sword) Dhulfiqar

Wali Maqbul (verse 34) — the accepted friend (of God)

Sahib-e Israr (verse 98) — Master of the (spiritual) mysteries or secrets

Kawsar-e Saqi (verses 102 & 107) — the pourer (of water) at the Pond of Kawthar (in Paradise)

Shah-e Dul Dul Sawar (verses 113 & 130) — the rider of (the horse) Dul Dul; etc.

Such titles are almost always given in the last or penultimate line of the verse as a forceful culmination to the advice given in the previous lines; they are thus introduced by phrases such as “and so has spoken….” or “So commands….”

The (ethical) injunctions themselves vary in content and even in the style in which they are expressed. In terms of content, almost every major aspect of a Muslim’s way of life has been covered. The headings of some of the chapters cited in the previous reading, give an indication of the variety of the themes: the sub-themes are even more pervasive.

Let us take chapter four as an example and consider its contents which deal with the theme of charity and generosity (sakhawat). While each of its seventeen verses is pertinent to that theme, its exposition relates to different aspects of the subject.

Man is placed — as indeed he must — at the centre of the injunctions. But around him are constructed premises or arguments to help him see the benefits of being generous, benefits to be gained both in this world and the next, benefits both material and spiritual. Thus, generosity expressed also as acts of charity and philanthropy, is made a cornerstone of the relationship not only between man and God but also between man and man. The two are interlinked, the one expressed in terms of the other, as we shall see below.

In so doing, the verses (18 to 34) also address themselves to fundamental questions of the theme: what is charity; to whom should one be charitable; in what way; and, perhaps most important, why.

The arguments setting out the rationale for the act of charity or generosity — the ‘why’ — may be summarised as follows:

Since God has given wealth to a person through His bounty, His barakah, one should not hide or gourd that wealth but spend from it ‘in the way of God’; for, vast amounts of wealth which are either concealed from others or spent entirely on oneself eventually turn to dust and do not benefit other human beings. If, on the other hand, one gives generously in charity or is philanthropic in action, one is rewarded both in this world and the next. The act of giving is compared to ‘the philosopher’s stone’ (paras): just as the latter turns to gold what is rubbed against it, so does the generous character of a person bring him the good things of life.

People come to respect and love such a person and accord him a high position in this world and offer prayers for his well-being. And God — as the Razzaq, the Provider — grants him prosperity in wealth, family, household and rank in society. A philanthropist is the beloved (habib) of God who will grant him a rank close to Himself in the abode of the Hereafter and whose name will not perish in this world.

How should one give? A short answer from the verses is that charity ought to be given with a smile, with a feeling of happiness. The aim is to make the recipient happy. It is stated repeatedly in these verses that a donor must not make the recipient feel obligated to the giver nor should he hurt his feelings in any way. If these injunctions are violated, his charity will be considered “lost”, that is nullified in the eyes of God. Such a way of giving requires a disciplined heart, a heart that is under control from pride and arrogance. Feelings of kindness in the heart of the donor are gradually accompanied by respect and love for the recipients.

And who are the recipients? Although the verses do not give details of their identity, two broad categories are mentioned: the orphans and the weak who should be approached ‘by the strong’ with a view to aiding them in whatever ails them.

The onus of taking the initiative is placed on the strong. It is interesting to note that charity is conceived, not only in terms of the giving of material wealth to those who are poor, but also in helping to redress the wrongs committed against the weak, to bring justice to those whose rights have been infringed.

Verse 28 states pithily: “The weapon of the weak is to grieve, and to shout out laments to all” but, it goes on to ask: if the grieving do not possess the wealth or the strength to defend themselves, and they continue to be oppressed with suffering and pain, what can be done about it? The implication is clear: the weak need those with a sense of fair play to stand up for them. That too, would be an act of charity.

Article continues below

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Imam Ali Kalam-i Mawla IIS
A page from a Kalam-i Mawla manuscript in the collection of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

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Shi`ite Prayer Manual LOC
Shi`ite Prayer Manual – One of the most revered religious and holy figures of Islam is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ca. 601–661), whose honorary name, Amīr al-Mu‘minīn, translates into Persian as the “prince of the believers.” Written works by ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib and sayings attributed to him are sacred to the Shi`ite faithful, particularly among Persian-speakers. This hand-written prayer manual displays the words of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib in the original Arabic in the Naskh calligraphic style and in a smaller-font Persian translation in red in the Nasta‘liq calligraphic style by Abū al-Qāsim Shīrāzī. Credit: Library of Congress.

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The Stylistic Features Employed in the Kalam-i Mawla

We said earlier that the ethical injunctions in the Kalam-i Mawla are presented in varied styles. Three such stylistic features may be mentioned as illustrations. The first is definitional. A subject, or a moral premise, is defined in a way that includes the type of action one ought to pursue. The following are some examples:

Chapter 1, Verse 3 (1:3) — “He is a true friend who truly keeps his promise”

2:9 — “He is your brother who remains with you during times of hardship”

and, conversely,

2:10 — “He is not a brother to you who brings shame on you, though you belong to the same (father’s) progeny”

4:22 — “The best of wealth is that which is spent in the Name and way of the Lord”

The second feature employs the conditional as a literary device in the construction of a moral premise along the lines “if this…..then this ……” or “if this..then do this ……”. Some examples on different topics are given below.

The first depicts a person who listens more to his ‘heart’, here meaning his baser instincts, than to what has been taught to him. Note, incidentally, the use of the word ‘heart’ in these examples and the variations of meaning given to it, from a place of lower instincts to a noble residence of the Lord in the human body:

7:5 — “If you are blind to knowledge
and your heart becomes your guide
(then) your conduct will be dictated by its desires
and you will be driven into a deep well.”

Thinking about death is the subject of the second example:

17:238: “If you want advice for your heart think of death —
remembrance of death is splendid advice:
remember that you will die and make the grave your
home and none of your friends will accompany you”

On the protection generated by a person’s attitude towards his friends and towards God:

8:248 —“The evil deeds of your enemies will not reach you
if you are sincere and good to your friends:
the wicked world, with its calamities, will avoid you
if you let Allah, the One, reside in your heart.”

The third stylistic feature employed in the Kalam is a common literary tool of using particular images to convey certain meanings and messages. The images themselves may be ordinary ones drawn from nature and daily human activities, or else special ones located in the poet’s culture. The examples given below, as indeed those cited above, represent but a small portion of the spectrum available in the Kalam-i Mawla.

We may take the ‘ordinary’ examples first where the poet uses stone, grass, trees, river, boat, gold, silver, silk and dust to convey his ideas. (The translation given here, as elsewhere in this article, is not a literal one):

3:15 — “Good conduct adorns a person as gold and silver adorn a woman…”

3:16 — “Gold remains in this world but right conduct (adab) enable you to meet your lord…”

4:22 — “Wealth (misspent in this world) turns to dust…” (cf. 6:40)

5:36: “The wealth of a miser is like a stone…”

5:47 — “When the boat of the heart comes upon a storm,
change direction, and lead it to the shore”

8:16 — “Be as soft as silk…”

8:67 — “Have a tender heart,
as tender as a fistful of green grass;
be not arrogant and stiff as a tree
upright in a forest;

tree is toppled in a storm,
but grass bends and sways happily with the wind.”

7:234 — “The waters of a river do not turn back; neither does one’s age…”

Examples of ‘cultural’ images need an explanation. The first is drawn from 4:32 where we are advised to partake of our food with others. The way the meal is served forms the theme for the poet’s injunction in this verse, for he sees people sitting around a single large plate or vessel and eating together from it, as was — and in parts still is — the custom in the East. The custom, we are told, has two benefits. People eating together are blessed with the bounty of God, barakah and, secondly, the food itself can be made to be sufficient for an additional person; for example, four people could eat with satisfaction the food meant for three.

Other examples may be drawn from one verse: 12:129. The verse begins with advice on eating ‘lawful’ food, lawful not only in the sense of halal (in the spirit of the verses of the Qur’an 2:172 and 2:173) but also in relation to one’s income and earning. A free translation of the verse, 12:129, may be rendered as follows:

“Be cautious, brother, and make your meals lawful
for the light of the heart comes through lawful eating

Darkness enters the heart and faith
when forbidden wealth is consumed;

The heart is the lamp in the temple of the body:
where there is darkness, there is loss of faith

None is conscious of the activities
perpetrated in a village enveloped in darkness:
five thieves together could rob it completely.”

A translation is generally but a poor substitute for the original. That would certainly be the case in the rendition of 12:129 given above, particularly as, on its own, it does not reflect the tight metrical borders and the rhyme scheme within which the poet functions in the original language. And yet — however defective the transfer of the linguistic medium — the poet’s skill of combining different idioms is self-evident.

Three sets of ideas are employed: the notions of right and wrong, of light and darkness, and of the gradual loss of faith. The paradigms drawn from the notions are arranged symmetrically: indulgence in that which is prohibited leads to darkness in the heart which, in turn, leads to a loss of faith (Iman): conversely, deeds undertaken within the boundaries of what is permitted lead to enlightenment in the heart and security of faith.

The paradigms are expressed in the cultural images familiar to the audience of the poet. The body as a temple is one example. Just as a lamp (diwo) is an important ingredient in the temple, investing it with a symbolic (and functional) light, so does the heart perform that function symbolically in the body. But the lamp is not safe. It is threatened by the actions of the person himself: the more he flouts the ethical injunctions taught to him, the dimmer becomes the light in his heart.

This vulnerability is expressed in the metaphor of the body as a village where darkness enables five thieves to combine in a stealthy incursion to steal its valuables, the most worthy of which is faith (Iman).The five ‘thieves’ are mentioned elsewhere — that is in the Ginans — as personifying five vices, panj bhu: of lust (kam); anger (krodh); greed (labh); temptation or single minded attachment to the material aspects of the world (moh) and pride (madh).

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Conclusion

The ethical dimension in the Kalam-i Mawla is expressed at three interlinked levels. The first level situates the ethics of the faith within the doctrines and beliefs of Shi’a Islam. These form the foundation upon which the ethics are based, an embodiment of the ‘charter’ that provides the rationale for the ethical development of a Shi’a Muslim. And, perhaps more important, the beliefs and doctrines also reveal — indeed, proclaim — the sanctions that await the transgression of the enunciated ethical injunctions and the reward for their observance.

The second level involves the pronouncement of the moral injunctions themselves. In a work of prose, the pronouncement could perhaps be made at length, with explanatory notes and cross-references to weightier texts, including the Qur’an itself. In poetry, however, an exposition of the theme is governed by such literary constraints as the rhyming scheme and control of the required number of metres per line. The poet has thus to be economical with his choice of words which in turn, ‘forces’ him to make a selection of the themes of priority. What we thus have in the Kalam-i Mawla is the poet’s own choice of what he considers to be important injunctions to be conveyed to a Muslim.

The third level is the literary. We have referred above to the constraint — and challenge — imposed on the poet by the prosodic tradition and convention prevalent in his culture. The poet functions within the prosodic framework to convey his message and ideas. But the framework, at best, is no more than a skeleton in need of flesh and blood to give it form and meaning. And the poet provides this drawing on the idioms of his culture, society and everyday expressions of daily living. The choice of vocabulary, images and metaphors combined with the poet’s own skill of wielding them into verses meant to be read and intoned make the Kalam-i Mawla a truly enjoyable poem to be read for pleasure, instruction and inspiration.

The presentation given in these readings, in relation to the ethical injunctions in the poem, represents but a tiny sample of a vast corpus.

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A note of acknowledgement by Dr. Farouk M. Topan:

I am grateful to Mr Akbar Rupani of the ITREB for India, to Mr Hoosain Khan Mohamed, formerly of Karachi, and to a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous, for their kindness in checking the translation of the Kalam-i Mawla that I had undertaken a few years ago. Their help, given with unstinted generosity, was most encouraging; but may I also state that it does not associate them in any way with any errors of translation that may arise out of my choice of meaning. I am also grateful to Izzat Muneyb (d. May 20, 2017) for her comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Date posted: February 2, 2023.

Featured image at top of post: Panel presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community on the auspicious occasions of his Golden Jubilee visit to Canada in 2008. Please see a brief note about the panel HERE. The panel contains an inscription of Hadith Qudsi, whose translation is shown in the featured image.

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Dr. Farouk M. Topan is pictured at left being awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his contribution to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). We recommend our readers to read Dr. Topan’s recent interview with the Ismaili in which he reflects on his life in teaching, academia, and service to the Jamat. We also invite readers to read Simerg’s brief feature piece on Dr Topan, following UNESCO’s designation of July 7 as Kiswahili Day. Dr. Topan contributed significantly to the study of Kiswahili language and its literature.

Other articles by Dr. Topan in Simerg:

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

“Ya Ali To Rahem Kar, Ya Mawla Tu Fazal Kar” and “Cry Aloud to Ali”: Beautiful and Inspiring Songs to Mark the Birth Anniversary of Imam Ali

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

In both the beautiful songs presented below, there are prayers, supplications and references to Ali, the first Shia Imam whose birth anniversary will be observed with reverence on the 13th of Rajab (on or around February 3, 2023).

However, in Ismaili theology, the Imams descended from Imam Ali are the bearers of the same Light (Noor) of Imamat. Thus, an Ismaili living during the period of any Imam, when uttering the name of Ali, has in his heart and mind the presence of the Imam-of-the-Time. Currently, the holder of the Divine Authority of the Imamat is Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam (Our Lord, the Present Imam). He is the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismailis and the Ismailis are the only Shia community to have a Living Imam.

The lyrics in the first video song entitled “Ameen — A Global Prayer of Hope” are in multiple languages including the sign language, and the expressions by musicians and singers, young and old alike, show the love that each participant in the video has for his or her Imam. Listeners will feel totally immersed as they watch and listen to the song. Please watch the entire video (10:32 minutes), because the different components carry their own special messages. We then present another song “Cry Aloud to Ali.”

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Song: A Global Prayer of Hope

(excerpts from lyric)

…. We are never alone
Never have been
Never will be
Ameen …..

…. Khudawanda tu Sultane Karimi ….
(Lord: You are the King of Generosity)

…. I look to you, I pray to you for hope, I love you ….

…. Ya Ali tu Rahem Kar, Ya Mawla tu Fazal Kar ….
(O Ali, shower us with your mercy, O Mawla, shower us with your grace)

Ya Ale Nabi, Aulad-e-Nabi, Ya Mushkil Kusha, Ya Hazar Imam
(O Progeny of the Prophet, O the Progeny of Ali, O reliever of difficulties, O Hazar Imam)

Ameen

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Ali’s love for his spiritual children is constant, and we are in his prayers and heart every moment. This has been articulated by Mawlana Shah Karim throughout his Imamat and I quote from a message that Malik Talib, the Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), was asked to convey to the Jamat. Hazar Imam said:

Please convey my best paternal and my best maternal loving blessings to my worldwide Jamat, and tell them that I think of them every minute of the day, each day, and I pray for Mushkil Asan and for their peace and happiness.

On another occasion, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

“My spiritual children should always remain mindful that it is the principles of our faith that will bring peace and solace in these times of uncertainty. I am with my Jamat at all times, and each of you, individually, is always in my heart, in my thoughts and in my prayers. I send my most affectionate paternal, maternal loving blessings to all my Jamat – for happiness, good health, confidence and security in your lives ahead, and for mushkil-asan.”

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Song: Naad e Ali

[Note: The lyrics in the song in both Arabic and English are slightly different from the transliteration and translation published below – Ed.]

Nade Ali, Nade Ali, Nade Ali
Nade Aliyyan mazhar al-ajaib
Tajidahu awnan lakafin-nawaib
Kullu hammin wa ghammin
sayanj-i Ali Bi wilayatika,
Ya Ali! Ya Ali! Ya Ali!

Translation

Call Ali call Ali call Ali,
the manifestation of marvels
He will be your helper in difficulty
Every anxiety and sorrow will end
Through your friendship.
O Ali, O Ali, O Ali.

Date posted: February 1, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Surrender and Realization: Imam Ali on the conditions for true religious understanding

Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail
Calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail to commemorate the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali on February 3, 2023 (13th Rajab)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Like all Shia Muslims across the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis will be observing with deep reverence the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him) on or around Friday February 3, 2023 (13th day of Rajab — the 7th month in the Muslim calendar.) This insightful essay by Professor James W. Morris was first published on this website in 2010, with his permission. We now present it in a greatly improved format with larger fonts and better spacing. The piece is Copyright © James W. Morris.]

By JAMES WINSTON MORRIS

“Do not seek to know the Truth (al-Haqq) according to other people. Rather first come to know the Truth — and only then will you recognize Its people.” — Imam ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib [1]

One of the most striking characteristics about those surviving oral traditions that have come down to us from the earliest periods of each of the world-religions — as with the Gospels, the earliest Buddhist teachings, or the Prophetic hadith — is the distinctive directness, simplicity, and extreme concision of those original oral teachings. It is as though everything else that follows is only a kind of endlessly extended commentary on those few simple words. Certainly this is true of many of the surviving sayings attributed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/660) — including the short, but highly memorable passage that is the subject of this study, which has inspired repeated commentaries and elaborate theological and even dramatic interpretations down through the centuries. [2]

The wider significance of this particular passage is that it illustrates so perfectly Ali’s emblematic role as the fountainhead of virtually all the esoteric traditions of Islamic spirituality, both among the many branches of Shiite Islam (which revere him as their first Imam) and throughout the even more numerous Sufi paths, where his name is almost always included as the initial transmitter of the Prophetic baraka in each order’s chain of transmission. That central initiatic role is beautifully summarized in the famous Prophetic saying:

‘I am the City of (divine) knowing, and Ali is its doorway.’ 

And perhaps the most important literary vehicle in the wider transmission of Ali’s teachings, since it has been equally revered by both Sunni and Shiite audiences down to our own time, is the Nahj al-Balāgha (‘Pathway of Eloquence’), a wide-ranging collection of various sermons, letters, and wise sayings attributed to Ali, that was assembled several centuries later by the famous scholar and poet al-Sharíf al-Rādí (d. 406/1016). [3]

The famous saying of Ali placed as the epigraph for this study, with which al-Ghazālí begins his own spiritual autobiography, highlights the indispensable — if somewhat paradoxical — starting point for any well-grounded discussion of religious and spiritual understanding. For all problems of inter-religious understanding — and perhaps even more important, of that initial ‘intra-religious’ understanding on which all further dialogue depends — necessarily come back to this fundamental question: What is the ultimate divine Reality (al-Haqq), and how we can come to know and properly conform to what It requires of us (‘the Right’, which in Arabic is also an inseparable dimension of the divine Haqq)? Almost all the extensive sermons and teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha are devoted to one or another of the equally essential dimensions of this question — to that ongoing interaction between our purified actions and intentions (‘amal), and our maturing spiritual understanding (‘ilm), which together constitute each person’s uniquely individual, spiralling process of spiritual realization (tahqíq).

Now one of the most important keys to approaching this primordial question in the Nahj al-Balāgha is the famous passage (translated in full in the Appendix at the end of this study) describing Ali’s intimate advice to one of his closest companions and disciples, Kumayl ibn Ziyād al-Nakhā’ī. [4] The difficulty and intrinsic dangers of that unique lesson are emphasized already in its dramatic setting.  Kumayl, who recounts the story, stresses the great pains Ali takes to assure his privacy and solitude, leading his disciple out to the cemetery beyond the city wall of Kufa: that is, to the symbolic home of those who — like those rare true Knowers of God described in the rest of Ali’s saying — are spiritually already at once ‘alone with God’ and ‘dead to this world.’ In addition, the wider historical setting at that particular moment in time — so full of religious intrigues, claims, betrayals, and prolonged bloody civil wars among the triumphant Arabs — only highlights the profound wealth of concrete earthly experience which underlies the Imam’s conclusions and intimate teachings summarized in this saying.

No other text of the Nahj al-Balāgha is so pointedly set in the same kind of strictest privacy and intimacy. As a result, this famous testament to Kumayl constitutes the indispensable link between the more public, relatively exoteric teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha and the wealth of more intimate, often esoteric spiritual teachings of  Ali that were eventually preserved — at first orally, and eventually often in writing — in both Shiite and Sufi Islamic traditions.

The contents of  Ali’s lesson to Kumayl are all presented as a clarification of his opening statement that:

There are three sorts of people (with regard to Religion, al-Dīn). A divinely inspired Knower (‘ālim rabbānī); the person who is seeking (that true spiritual) Knowing (muta‘allim) along the path of salvation; and the riffraff and rabble, the followers of every screaming voice, those who bend with every wind, who have not sought to be illuminated by the Light of (divine) Knowing and who have not had recourse to a solid support.

In the remainder of his lesson, Imam Ali goes on to explain some of the basic conditions for these three radically different levels of (and potentials for) true religious understanding. Each of his points here — as throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha — is of course profoundly rooted in the central teachings of the Qur’an. However here we can only summarize his most essential observations in the simplest possible terms.

First, and most importantly, it is human Hearts (the Qur’anic qalb al-insān) that are the locus of true spiritual ‘Knowing’ (‘ilm) and of our awareness of God and Truth: that is, it is not simply our mind or intellect or passion. Hence the decisive practical importance, throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha, of Ali’s constant stress on the purification of our hearts, through inner surrender to the divine Will (taslīm), as the underlying spiritual purpose of the many divine commandments. Divine, inspired ‘Knowing,’ however it is outwardly acquired, can only be perceived as such by the Heart that has been ‘polished,’ emptied of this world’s distractions and attachments, and thereby opened up to the full significance and reality of the divine Word — and to the further rights and obligations (another dimension of the Arabic al-Haqq) flowing from that opening.

Second, the practically indispensable key to this human potential for religious Knowing is the real existence and efforts of a limited number of divinely guided individuals — again, not of particular books, rituals, doctrines or worldly institutions, none of which are even mentioned in this intimate, highly personal lesson.  Ali refers here to those very special human doorways to true religious understanding by several profoundly significant Qur’anic expressions: the ‘divine Knowers’; the ‘Friends of God’ (awliyā’ Allāh); God’s ‘Proofs’ or ‘Clear Signs’ on Earth (hujja, bayyina); God’s ‘True Servants’ (‘ibād Allāh); and finally as God’s true earthly ‘stand-ins’ or ‘Stewards’ (khalīfat Allāh).

The Imam tells us several other very important things in his description of these true ‘Friends of God:’

  • They are always present on earth, ‘whether openly or in secret.’ [5]
  • They are directly inspired by the divine ‘Spirit of Certainty’ (rūh al-yaqīn).
  • Therefore they pre-eminently possess true spiritual Insight (haqīqat al-basīra) into the deeper spiritual realities underlying earthly events and experiences, into the actual meanings of the infinite divine ‘Signs’ constituting our existence.
  • Their spiritual task and mission on earth is to pass on this divine Knowing to those properly qualified souls who are truly ready for and receptive to their divinely inspired teachings.

In contrast to these particular points of Alī’s teaching here, it is surely essential to recall all those manifold dimensions of what we ordinarily, unthinkingly call or presume to be ‘religion’ which in fact are not central to the particular divine mission of these inspired individuals as it is described in this lesson.

Third, Ali describes the divine ‘Knowing’ that can be conveyed uniquely by these specially missioned individuals as having the following qualities:

  • It is the ‘Dīn (true Religion/true Justice) by which God is truly worshipped and served.’
  • It is the indispensable key to realising what the Qur’an constantly describes as our ultimate human purpose: i.e., to transforming the mortal biped or ‘human-animal’ (bashar) into the theomorphic, truly human being (insān), who alone can freely follow and truly obey God (the inner state of itā‘a), eventually becoming a pure manifestation of the divine Will.
  • Their divinely inspired Knowing is the true ‘Judge’ or Criterion for rightly perceiving and employing all the illusory possessions (māl) of this world .

Fourth, the ‘true Seekers’ (muta‘allimūn) of that divine Knowing have at least the following basic pre-requisites, each of which distinguishes them from the large majority of ordinary souls (al-nās). One might therefore say that each of these following five points mentioned by Ali here is in itself an essential pre-condition for acquiring true religious understanding:

  • Those true religious Seekers have a rare natural spiritual capacity to recognize, absorb, and actualize the inspired teachings of the Friends of God.
  • They know that they need the indispensable guidance of God’s Friends (the awliyā’), and therefore actively seek it out.  That is to say, they actually realize that they are spiritually ‘ignorant’ and needy.
  • They are willing and able to submit to the guidance of those divine Knowers and Bearers of Truth, especially with regard to acknowledging the true, ultimate aims of this inspired spiritual Knowing.  In other words, they have the indispensable humility to recognize their inner ignorance and to overcome the central spiritual obstacle of pride.
  • They have the practical insight and active spiritual perspicacity (basīra) to ‘see though’ the ongoing divine ‘private lessons’, the most essential divine ‘Signs’ (āyāt) of each soul’s life.  (This particular point is one that  Ali especially stresses throughout all the sermons and teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha.)
  • They are not secretly governed by their desires for power and domination, qualities which  Ali stresses (along with pride) as the particular psychic passions most likely to trip up the otherwise apt potential spiritual seekers of this group.

Finally, the rest of humanity are clearly — indeed even vehemently — said to lack, for the time being, the above-mentioned prerequisites for realized spiritual learning and illumination, because of the current domination of their hearts by their psychic passions of the nafs: for power, pleasure, possessions, and the attractions ‘this lower world’ (al-dunyā) in general. In this particular context,  Ali does not openly clarify whether or not ‘purification’ of our hearts from such worldly passions is in itself the only obstacle to deeper spiritual and religious realization, or whether some individuals are simply born with dramatically greater, relatively unique spiritual capacities and potential. However, his recurrent and insistent practical stress on the ethically purifying dimensions of Islamic ritual and devotional practice throughout much of the rest of the Nahj al-Balāgha is a strong indication that revealed prescriptions for religious teaching and practice can and should be understood as well as an indispensable preparatory discipline that can be used to move at least some individuals toward the receptive inner state of these true ‘seekers.’

Now the practical consequences of all of  Ali’s observations briefly enumerated here are quite visible in the particular structure and emphases of almost all his longer sermons and discourses throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha. To put it in the simplest possible form, each longer text in that work typically stresses the dual religious dimensions of both taslīm (‘surrender’) and tahqīq (‘realization’). [6] That is, almost all of Imam Ali’s teachings are directed at the same time toward both (1) the essential purification of our own will — i.e., the discovery and gradual distillation of the true human/divine irāda from the endless promptings of our domineering ego-self or nafs — through true inner conformity and surrender (taslīm) to the authentic divine commandments; and (2) the subsequent stage of more active ‘realization’ (tahqīq) of the divinely inspired teachings that can only come about when an individual has developed enough humility and inner awareness of their spiritual ignorance to recognize their unavoidable need for a divine Guide and Knower, along with the many other essential qualities of the ‘seeker on the path of salvation’ that have just been summarized above.  From this perspective, all of the Nahj al-Balāgha constitutes an extended, lifelong example of the sort of essential spiritual teaching and guidance (ta‘līm) alluded to here in Ali’s private advice to his close disciple.

In conclusion, we cannot help but notice that Ali’s remarks to Kumayl ibn Ziyād here provide a radical contrast to many prevailing modern-day assumptions about ‘religious understanding’ and religious teaching, whether our focus happens to be on ‘inter-’ or ‘intra-’religious concerns. Here I can mention only a few of the most salient points of contrast between popular contemporary conceptions of inter-religious understanding and Ali’s own teachings on this subject, without entering into a more detailed discussion of the deeper philosophic underpinnings and presuppositions on either side.

To begin with, the primary focus of most modern attempts at inter-religious understanding is either intellectual and theological, where formal doctrines and religious symbols are concerned; or else on ‘social ethics,’ where certain historically accumulated external practical precepts and rituals of two religious traditions are being compared. In either case, the particular comparison (or ‘understanding’) of the religious traditions concerned is typically carried out in an external, reductive social, historical or political way that supposedly reveals the ‘real,’ common meanings and functions of the religious phenomena in question. In this widespread approach, the aims of those particular practical or theological dimensions of a given religion are usually reduced, explicitly or implicitly, to a given, presumably familiar and universally accessible set of historical, this-worldly (dunyawī) social, political, or even psychic ends.

What is key in each such case, of course, is the reductive, socio-political emphasis and assumptions shared by virtually all such modern approaches. Now no rational observer would deny that every historical religion does indeed ‘function’ in such ways in this world — in ways that are in fact so poignantly illustrated by the endless ‘religious’ polemics, strife, and open civil warfare of early Islamic history during Ali’s own lifetime, seminal events that are recorded in such thorough detail throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha. But modern writers unfortunately too often tend to ignore the equally obvious limits of such reductive forms of interpretation and understanding: what is it, one might ask all the same, that also differentiates, for example, a genuine Sufi tarīqa from a social club, real spiritual guidance from psychotherapy, or transformative spiritual music (dhikr and samā‘ in their primordial sense) from any other concert performance?

In dramatic contrast to such popular contemporary approaches to ‘religious understanding’, Ali’s remarks in this passage focus on radically different, spiritually distinctive and difficultly attainable — but nonetheless fundamental — aspects of religious life and understanding, whatever the particular historical traditions in question:

First, for Ali, true inter-religious understanding — at any of the three levels he distinguishes here — is always between individuals, growing out of each soul’s individual encounter with the ‘other’ and their common spiritual reality and relationship with al-Haqq (God, Reality, and Truth). From this perspective, therefore, true religious understanding is always the ultimate fruit of a sort of ‘tri-alogue’ — not a worldly dialogue — in which both the human parties, the Knower and the properly prepared disciple, share and gradually discover their common divine Ground of reality and true being.

Secondly, the possibilities of religious understanding (again whether inter- or intra-religious) are essentially limited above all by the intrinsic barrier of the specific spiritual capacities, shortcomings and level of realization of each individual. As in the familiar imagery of so many hadith and later Islamic writings, souls here are indeed revealed as mirrors, who can only see in the ‘other’ — whether that be a religious phenomenon or anything else — their own reflection.  Therefore the basharic ‘rabble’ of whom  Ali speaks so painfully here — whatever their particular religion or historical situation — are necessarily and unavoidably in the position so aptly described in Rumi’s famous tale of the blind men and the elephant.

Thirdly, for Ali, even the first beginnings of our approach to a true, immediate awareness of God and the divine Religion (dīn) are necessarily grounded above all in humility, in an awareness of one’s own essential spiritual ignorance and limitations — and therefore not in the acquisition of some further external form of knowledge, ritual, or belief. In other words, the greatest, primordial obstacle to any serious religious understanding — as Socrates and so many other inspired teachers have repeatedly reminded us down through the ages — is our own ‘compound ignorance’ (jahl murakkab), our own illusion that we truly ‘know’ so much that we in fact only believe or imagine.

Finally, if  Ali teaches us — as this story itself so dramatically illustrates — that the keys to the deepest and most profound forms of religious understanding are to be found in seeking out God’s true ‘Knowers’ and Guides and our own intimate spiritual relation to them, then the corresponding area of human religious life and experience most likely to lead to genuine inter-religious understanding is that of our particular individual devotional life and prayer, of each soul’s unique, ongoing inner relationship with its Guide and source of Light, in what has traditionally been termed ‘practical spirituality’ (‘irfān-i ‘amalī). Not surprisingly, this domain of our personal spiritual experience and practice, where God is so obviously and unavoidably the ultimate ‘Actor’ and Creator, in reality exhibits an extraordinary phenomenological similarity across all external historical and credal boundaries and socio-political divisions….

These brief reflections on some of the central teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha cannot help but remind us of one of the most remarkable Qur’anic verses on the subject of humankind’s recurrent religious misunderstandings and their ultimate resolution in and by the Truly Real (al-Haqq). Not surprisingly, this verse also serves well as a remarkable symbolic allusion to the strife-torn historical events and conflicts among the early Muslims, those critical, paradigmatic ‘tests’ (fitan) that are so vividly illustrated and evoked throughout the remainder of the Nahj al-Balāgha — and which continue to recur, with such poignancy, in our own and every age.

The verse in question (al-Baqara, 2:213) begins with the reminder that ‘all people were one religious community,’ but then:

God sent prophets bearing good news and warning, and He revealed through them the Scripture with Truth (Haqq), so that He might judge among the people concerning that about which they differed. And only those differed concerning It to whom (the Scripture) was brought, after the Clear Proofs came to them, out of strife and rebellion among themselves. But then God guided those who had faith to the Truth about which they had differed, through His permission. For God guides whoever He wishes to a Straight Path!

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Appendix: Ali’s Speech to Kumayl ibn Ziyād al-Nakhā’ī [7]

Kumayl ibn Ziyād said: The Commander of the Faithful — Peace be upon him! — took my hand and brought me out to the cemetery (beyond the city walls).  So when he had entered the desert he let out a great sigh, and then he said:

O Kumayl ibn Ziyād, these Hearts are containers: the best of them is the one that holds the most. So remember well what I am going to say to you!

The people are (divided into) three groups: a lordly (divinely inspired) Knower [8]; one seeking Knowing along the path of salvation; and the riffraff and rabble, the followers of every screaming voice, those who bend with every wind, who have not sought to be illuminated by the Light of Knowing and who have not had recourse to a solid Support.

O Kumayl, Knowing is better than possessions: Knowing protects you, but you must guard possessions.  Possessions are diminished as they’re spent, but Knowing multiplies (or ‘purifies’) as it is shared. But whoever makes the possessions disappears as they do!

O Kumayl ibn Ziyād, the awareness/recognition (ma‘rifa) of Knowing is a Religion (dīn) by which (God) is worshipped and served: through it the truly human being (insān) acquires willing obedience (to God) during their life (here), and a beautiful, wonderful state after their passing away. For Knowing is the Judge, and possessions are what is adjudged!

O Kumayl, those who accumulate possessions have perished, even while they are still alive.  But the Knowers endure for all eternity: their particular-instances [9] are lost, but their likenesses are found in the Hearts. O what Knowledge abounding there is right here! — and he pointed with his hand to his breast [10] — if only I could reach those who are its (rightful) bearers.

True, I’ve reached a quick-learner who couldn’t be trusted with It, who would seek to use the instrument of Religion for this world — who would try to use God’s blessings to dominate His (true) servants and His proofs to overcome His Friends. [11] Or someone submissive to the bearers of the divine Truth (al-Haqq), but without any true Insight (basīra) into Its twists and curves, whose Heart is consumed by doubt at the first onset of some difficulty.  But alas, neither this one nor that (can truly bear the Truth)! Or someone greedy for pleasures, easily led by their passions? Or someone engrossed in acquiring and accumulating (worldly possessions)? Those two are not among the guardians [12] of Religion in any respect — the closest semblance to that sort are the grazing cattle! Thus Knowing dies with the death of those who bear it.

Yet indeed, O my God, the world is never without one upholding the Evidence [13] for God, either outwardly and known to all, or secretly and in obscurity, [14] so that God’s Evidences and His illuminating-manifestations may not come to nought. But how many are these, and where are they!?

By God, these (true Knowers) are the fewest in number, but the greatest of all in their rank with God!  Through them God preserves His Evidences and His Illuminating-manifestations, so that these (Knowers) may entrust them to their (true) peers and sow them in the Hearts of those like them. Through (those Knowers) Knowing penetrates to the inner reality of true Insight (haqīqat al-basīra). They are in touch with the Spirit of Certainty (rūh al-yaqīn). They make clear what the lovers of comfort had obscured. They are at home with what distresses the ignorant. And their bodies keep company with this world, while their spirits are connected to the Loftiest Station.

Those are the ones who are (truly) God’s Stewards [15] on the earth, who are calling (the people) to His Religion. Oh, how I long to see them! Go on now, Kumayl, if you want.


[1] A well-known saying commonly attributed to Imam ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib, quoted here as it is cited by al-Ghazālī at the beginning of his famous spiritual autobiography, the Munqidh min al-Dalāl.

[2] Many of these same points were later developed by the famous religious author Ghazālí (Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī) in the influential closing section of his Mīzān al-‘Amal (‘The Scale of [Right] Action’). Already a century before the actual collection of Nahj al-Balāgha, this same story of Ali and Kumayl provided the architectonic framework for a highly creative dramatic reworking of these spiritual lessons in Ja‘far ibn Mansūr’s Kitāb al-‘Alim wa’l-ghulām (see our translation and Arabic edition, The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue, London, I. B. Tauris, 2001).

[3] To give some idea of the ongoing popular importance and relative familiarity of that text even today, one finds beautifully calligraphed Arabic proverbs and epigrams drawn from the Nahj al-Balāgha on the walls of homes in every part of the Muslim world, framed for sale in suqs and bazaars, and even being sold as postcards. Even more tellingly, the owners (or sellers) of that calligraphy will often explain that this or that saying is simply ‘a hadith’.

[4] Saying number 147 in the final section of short maxims, corresponding to pages 600-601 in the complete English translation by Sayed Ali Reza (Peak of Eloquence, NY, 1978). (Details on the Arabic text in the Appendix below.)

[5] It is perhaps important to note that this last qualification (sirran, ‘secretly’) can be understood to refer not simply to the outward modesty and relative social and historical ‘invisibility’ of the vast majority of the true ‘Friends of God’ — a point also strongly emphasised in the famous Prophetic hadith about the qualities of the walí — but also to their ongoing spiritual presence, actions and effects, even more visible and widespread long after their bodily sojourn on earth, which is of course central to the manifest spiritual role of the prophets and ‘Friends’ (awliyā’ Allâh) throughout every authentic religious tradition.

[6] See the more adequate discussion of this key polyvalent term in our Introduction to Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilisation (London, Archetype, 2004).

[7] This particular well-known passage from Nahj al-Balāgha, the famous later compilation (by al-Sharīf al-Rādī, 359/970-406/1016) of the many letters, teachings, sermons and proverbs attributed to Alī ibn Abī Tālib, is also included in almost identical form in a number of earlier extant Shiite works, in both the Imami and the Ismaili traditions. The text translated here is from a popular Beirut edition of Nahj al-Balāgha (Dār al-Andalus, 1980), pp. 593-595, numbered 147 in the long later section of ‘Wise Sayings’ (hikam). The setting of this particular lesson is apparently outside the new Arab settlement of Kufa (on the edge of the desert in southern Iraq), during one of the drawn-out, bloody civil wars that divided the nascent Muslim community throughout the period of Ali’s official Imamate.

[8] ‘Alim rabbānī: ‘Knower’ here is used in the strong and inclusive Qur’anic sense, to refer to profound, God-given spiritual Knowing (‘ilm). The qualifier recalls the Qur’anic term rabbānīyūn and apparently is related both to the Arabic root referring to God as ‘Lord’ (rabb, hence ‘divine’ or ‘god-like’), and to another Arabic root referring to spiritual teaching and education in the very broadest sense (r-b-y). The latter meaning is emphasized at Qur’ān 3:79, which probably underlies the special usage here: …Be rabbānīyūn through your teaching the Book and through your studying (It).

[9] A‘yān (pl. of ‘ayn): that is, their individual, temporal earthly manifestation, as opposed to their ‘images’ or ‘likenesses’ (amthāl, or ‘symbols’) in the Hearts of other human individuals after them. Here we can see how Alí’s perspective parallels — and at the same time embodies — the Qur’anic understanding of the relationship between the archetypal divine ‘Names’ (which ultimately constitute this Knowing) and their infinitely re-created individual manifestations.

[10] Here, as in the Qur’an, the term ‘breast’ or ‘chest’ (sadr) is virtually synonymous with the ‘Heart’ (qalb) as the locus of all true perception, selfhood, etc.

[11] Awliyā Allāh: see the Qur’anic use of this key term (10:62).

[12] Or ‘shepherds’, ‘pastors’: ru‘āt.

[13] Or ‘Proof’ (al-Hujja) — but in the sense of the indisputable living human Manifestation, not any sort of logical or rhetorical ‘argument’; this is another central Qur’anic concept (4:165, 6:149) frequently alluded to in other teachings of Imam Ali in the Nahj al-Balāgha. The Qur’anic expression bayyināt (‘Illuminating-manifestations’) used several times in the immediately following passage seems to refer to the same key spiritual figures in this context.

[14] Literally, ‘in fear’ (used in the Qur’an, for example, of the young Moses fleeing Egypt for Midian) and ‘submerged’ (by the power of earthly tyranny).

[15] This famous Qur’anic phrase (khalīfat Allāh) is variously applied to prophets (Adam, at 2:30; David, at 38:27) and to ‘you-all’ (= all of humanity), at 6:165, 10:14 and 73; 35:39; 27:62; etc.  Within a short time after the death of the Prophet — and certainly by the time of this story — it had taken on a highly charged and disputed political significance in the long and violent decades of protracted civil wars over the worldly leadership of the nascent Arab-Muslim political community.

Date posted: January 30, 2023.

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James Morris, Islamic Studies Professor, Institute of Ismaili Studies, essay on Imam Ali, Simerg

About the writer: Dr. James Morris is Professor of Islamic Studies at Boston University’s Theology department and Islamic Civilization and Societies program. Prior to that he held the Sharjah Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. He has also taught at Princeton University, Oberlin College, Temple University, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in Paris and London. He has served as visiting professor at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris), University of Malaya, and University of Sarajevo, and he lectures and gives workshops widely throughout Europe and the Muslim world. Professor Morris serves on numerous international editorial, consulting, and examining boards in his fields. Professor Morris‘ interests in Islamic thought and religious studies date from his BA work at the University of Chicago. After further studies in Morocco, Egypt and France, he completed his PhD work at Harvard University and did advanced research at the Academy of Islamic Philosophy in Tehran.

Professor Morris is a prolific author, having written dozens of journal articles along with thirteen books, including most recently, The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabī’s Meccan Illuminations’; Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilization; and The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue. He has often interviewed on current issues for the BBC and international journals and newspapers dealing with the Middle East. 

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail
Calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail to on the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali. Please click on image for reading.

Photo Essay: ‘The Queen of the Skies’ – the Beautiful Boeing 747

After more than 50 years in the air, the last Boeing 747 left its assembly line in December 2022 for delivery to Atlas Air. Malik Merchant honours the Boeing 747 with a special collection of official images as well as textual material from Boeing Images. Feel the grandeur of the iconic 747 by clicking on BOEING 747 or on the image below.

Boeing 747 photo essay honoring the, Jumbo,  Malik Merchant, Simerg, News of Beings last plane.
Boeing 747 over Mt. Rainier in Washington State, US. Please click on image for article honouring the Jumbo. Photographs: Copyright © Boeing.

Date posted: January 30, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Flashback 2016, Photograph and Video: Tears of Joy in Kyrgyzstan as His Highness the Aga Khan Blesses Ismailis

In a spontaneous moment, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims and the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him and his family — walks towards his Ismaili followers and gives them blessings for everything they wish for. Please click MORE or on photo below to read stories and photographs from 1979 (London, England) and 2016 (Naryn, Kyrgyzstan.)

Aga Khan Kyrgyzstan blessings simerg and barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, blesses a crowd during his visit to Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, in October 2016. Please click on photo for inspiring stories from 1979 and 2016

Featured image at top of post: A snapshot from a digital portrait rendition of His Highness the Aga Khan by Toronto’s Ismaili artist Akbar Kanji that, through hundreds of thumbnails, features the Ismaili Imam’s contribution to his community and the world at large. The work is dated 2011. For the artist, the concept is to “portray our Imam’s entire life and his dedications at a glance which we cannot imagine until we come closer to him.”

Date posted: January 27, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Report & Tweet: AKDN Representative Meets With Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, January 19, 2023

The Khaama Press News Agency, the largest online news service for Afghanistan, reports in a dispatch dated January 19, 2023, that Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, met with Akbar Ali Pasnani, Special Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to Afghanistan on Thursday, January 19, 2023.

AKDN Afghanistan update, Simerg, Aga Khan Development
Afghanistan’s Acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi meets with Akbar Ali Pasnani Special Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to Afghanistan on Thursday, January 19, 2023.

AKDN has been functioning in most parts of Afghanistan with a wide range of services aimed at improving the living conditions of people in the rural and urban parts of the country. It is one of the few international organizations which maintained its agencies operational in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power in August 2021. The aid organization’s continued support has been of paramount importance for the lives of thousands of vulnerable families across the country… READ MORE ON KHAAMA.

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Date posted: January 26, 2023.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Taniya Dharani, founder Artany Art Gallery and Advisory, Simerg, Ismaili artisitic expressions, Malik Merchant

Taniya Dharani Creates an Inspirational Platform for Ismaili as Well as Emerging Global Artists from Around the World

“Supporting the Ismaili Artist Community is enormously valuable to me. I wanted to create a platform that I wish I had when I was an aspiring artist…Students in high school and college who are interested in the arts can also apply for internships at Artany within the department of graphic design, marketing, content creation, website management, and business development. In order to provide internships, we have now collaborated with the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad” — Taniya Dharani, Founder, Artany Art Gallery and Advisory

Taniya Dharani, founder Artany Art Gallery and Advisory. Ismaili artistic expressions, Simerg, Insights from Around the world
Taniya Dharani, founder of Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

By ARTANY ART GALLERY AND ADVISORY
(Special to Simerg)

“Supporting the Ismaili Artist Community is enormously valuable to me. I wanted to create a platform that I wish I had when I was an aspiring artist,” says Taniya Dharani, founder of Artany Art Gallery and Advisory (AAGA).

A digital gallery space and art consultancy, AAGA focuses on emerging Ismaili artists with a global audience and specializes in contemporary art. The artistic narratives and skills of up-and-coming artists from various multicultural origins are artistically rendered by Artany. Along with supporting the Ismaili artistic community, we mentor them and aim to elucidate their work on a global scale.

How did she find her way into the artistic world?

Taniya explains: “Without the support of their family, friends, and loved ones, I don’t believe anyone can become a practicing professional artist. I consider myself fortunate to have a family who supports what I do, has faith in my artistic and entrepreneurial approach, and is very understanding of my development.”

Having thus found a way to build a solid platform, AAGA now seeks to encourage both the global emerging artist community and the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.

Taniya obtained a Master’s degree in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London with an emphasis on establishing a platform for commercial as well as aesthetic promotion, encouragement, and instruction of up-and-coming artists. Having come from a diverse and cosmopolitan background, Taniya seeks to use her vast knowledge and professional experience to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cultures. She is able to interact effectively and appropriately with a wide range of stakeholders due to her bilingual skills and understanding of both Far Eastern and Western cultures, including those of India, Namibia, and England.

Aga Khan by Taniya Dharani, Ismaili artistic expressions simerg insights from around the world
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by Taniya Dharani, UK. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

Taniya grew aware of the necessity for a mentor and a platform for the encouragement of artists. After identifying a market gap, she made the decision to further her education by enrolling in the “Fundamentals of the Gallery Business” programme at the Sotheby’s Institute in Manhattan, New York, followed by a Masters in Art Business from the same Institute in London, England.

Her goal and objective is to make sure Artany’s team is in tune with both the contemporary and diverse Ismaili community and the larger world of artists.

Taniya Dharani, Ismaili artistic expressions simerg insights from around the world
Portrait by Taniya Dharani, UK. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

Today, Artany offers a portfolio of art investment collections that include original works by Ismail Gulgee, limited-edition “Ashtavinayak” serigraphs by Maqbool Fida Husain, and authentic Vaikuntham Thota.

The gallery continues to expand with works by Aquil Virani of Toronto, up-and-coming artists Zainab Khuwaja and Nizar Macojia from Texas, Dr. Mubarak Muhammad Ali from Pakistan, and Rukshana Hooda from India, to name a few. Their artistic styles of Islamic calligraphy, Sufi art, geometric patterns, realism, and contemporary are just a few of the several artistic genres they work in.

Ismaili artistic expressions simerg, insights from around the world
Painting by Rukshana Hooda, India. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

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Ismaili artistic expressions simerg, pakistani decorated bus, insights from around the world
Painting by Dr. Mubarak Muhammad Ali, Pakistan. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

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Ismaili artistic expressions simerg, insights from around the world
Calligraphy by Zainab Khuwaja. Texas, USA. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

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Nizar Macojia, Texas, USA, Ismaili artists, Simerg, insights from around the world
Nizar Macojia, Texas, USA. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

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Aquil Virani, Ismaili artists and designer, artistic expressions, Simerg Insights from around the world
Aquil Virani, Toronto. Credit: Artany Art Gallery and Advisory.

Students in high school and college who are interested in the arts can also apply for internships within Artany in the departments of graphic design, marketing, content creation, website management, and business development. In order to provide internships, we have now collaborated with the Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad. We encourage Ismaili artists at all levels and of all ages to collaborate with Artany by either contacting Taniya Dharani or registering as an artist.

Date posted: January 24, 2023.

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Taniya Dharani is founder of Artany Art Gallery and Advisory, Ismaili artistic expressions, Simerg Insights from Around the world
Taniya Dharani

Taniya Dharani is founder of Artany Art Gallery and Advisory. She has worked as a contemporary artist, curator, and mentor for up-and-coming artists. She is a member of the associate team for the International Art Gallery at Global Encounters and is presently studying at the Bares Atelier in London to become a traditional classical realist artist. You can collaborate or sign up as an Artany artist, by clicking HERE. Please also visit Artany’s Gallery on Instagram.

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REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Ismaili Cultural Centre, Port Moddy, News, Simerg

New Ismaili Cultural Centre Being Proposed for Port Moody, British Columbia – Details and Excellent Artistic Renderings

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

According to Wikipedia, “Port Moody is a city in British Columbia, Canada, and a member municipality of the Metro Vancouver Regional District. It envelops the east end of Burrard Inlet and is the smallest of the Tri-Cities, bordered by Coquitlam on the east and south and by Burnaby on the west.”

A new Ismaili Cultural Centre housing a Jamatkhana is being proposed in the city to replace the one further to the west that had to close down due to structural problems. Veteran journalist Mario Bartel presents a report dated January 18, 2023 in TRICITY News about the proposed cultural centre that would also include a 12-sorey residential rental tower. Please read Bartel’s report by clicking HERE or on image below.

Also, click on Anthem Properties: Rental housing tower with Jamatkhana cultural hub proposed for Port Moody for an excellent presentation of the proposed Ismaili Cultural Centre, including maps, street views and a number of artistic renderings.

Ismaili Cultural Centre, Port Moddy, News, Simerg
Artistic rendering of the proposed Ismaili Cultural Centre to be located at 3180 St. Johns Street, Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada. Photograph: IBI Group/Anthem Properties.

Date posted: January 21, 2023.

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Related: Please click Anthem Properties: Rental housing tower with Jamatkhana cultural hub proposed for Port Moody

REVIEW SIMERG’S TABLE OF CONTENTS AND VISIT ITS SISTER WEBSITES

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.