The following piece has been compiled and adapted from material supplied by the Aga Khan Museum; it incorporates notes by Dr. Ulrike al-Khamis, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Public Programs.
From Mecca to Toronto
On display for the first time in Toronto is a 100-year-old silk fragment from a hizam — part of a ceremonial draping that covers the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest site to which millions of Muslims made the annual pilgrimage on Friday August 9, 2019.
The Ka’ba is draped in a black ceremonial covering known as the kiswa, and around the upper part of the kiswa runs the hizam — an ornamented belt embroidered in silver and silver-gilt thread with Qur’anic verses relating to the pilgrimage.
This hizam is one of the Aga Khan Museum’s most significant textiles and is on special display until September 9, 2019. Measuring eight metres long and nearly one metre tall, it once belonged to a kiswa that measured 47 meters and was made in Cairo around the early 20th century.
As one of the most prominent kiswa ornaments, the hizam traditionally runs the length of the Ka‘ba’s upper perimeter. The inscription here contains verses 27-29 from chapter 22 (Al-Hajj) of the Qur’an:
“And proclaim to mankind the hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days, over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor who have a very hard time. Then let them complete their prescribed duties and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House.”
The roundels contain further Qur’anic references that mention ‘God the Eternal’ as well as the Prophet Muhammad.
The Ka‘ba receives a new drape every year during the pilgrimage season. After it ends, the kiswa is taken down, divided and either gifted to dignitaries or sold to raise money for charity.
Note: The museum is open everyday from 10 am to 6 pm (8 pm on Wednesdays). It is closed on Mondays, except holiday Mondays.
19th/20th Century Views of Ka’ba
Date posted: August 7, 2019. Last updated: August 15, 2019.
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…Whereas Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, is an Islamic holiday which honors Abraham’s symbolic sacrifice of his son to God, as referenced in the Quran, Old Testament, and New Testament…Whereas Islam is one of the world’s major religions, sharing the belief in one God and one humanity….
For 2019, Muslims will perform the annual pilgrimage to the Kaaba starting August 9. This will culminate with the celebration of the Eid al-Adha on August 11. We would like to wish all our readers a joyous Eid, with prayers that the holy occasion will foster greater unity and understanding among all Muslims and that Muslim communities everywhere, keeping in mind that Muslims practice a universal faith, will seek to end conflicts, strive for peace and assist in the progress and development of humankind wherever they live.
Many of our readers in North America and around the world may not be aware that in 2010, as Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha from November 16 until November 20, the House of Representatives of the US Congress passed the following resolution recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha.
111TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION
H. RES. 1719
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
NOVEMBER 16, 2010
Mr. HONDA (for himself, Mr. CARSON of Indiana, and Mr. ELLISON) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha and wishing Muslim-Americans and Muslims around the world a prosperous holiday.
Whereas Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, is an Islamic holiday which honors Abraham’s symbolic sacrifice of his son to God, as referenced in the Quran, Old Testament, and New Testament;
Whereas Abraham is a respected figure in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam;
Whereas for more than 14 centuries, Eid al-Adha has been observed;
Whereas Eid al-Adha is a holiday of great importance to millions of Muslim-Americans and approximately 1,500,000,000 Muslims around the world;
Whereas during Eid al-Adha, Muslim-Americans recognize the importance of sacrifice, freedom, and justice;
Whereas Eid al-Adha is celebrated around the world with prayers, charity and social events;
Whereas many communities across the United States hold day-long festivals in observance of Eid al-Adha;
Whereas Islam is one of the world’s major religions, sharing the belief in one God and one humanity;
Whereas Muslim-Americans have made significant contributions to the flourishing of the United States, including as ambassadors to foreign nations, award winning scientists, doctors, and engineers, and athletes;
Whereas Muslim-Americans have contributed to the defense of the United States with an estimated 10,000 Muslim-Americans serving in the United States Armed Forces;
Whereas Muslim-Americans contribute to the success and pluralism of the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) recognizes the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha;
(2) expresses its appreciation and respect for the contributions of Muslim-Americans to the United States; and
(3) wishes Muslim-Americans and Muslims around the world who observe Eid al-Adha a prosperous holiday.
Date posted: August 6, 2019.
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During the year long celebration of his Diamond Jubilee or 60 years of Imamat from July 11, 2017 to July 11, 2018, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the official invitation of various governments travelled to 11 countries. In 3 countries that he visited – Tanzania, Pakistan and Portugal – he was presented with official stamps, first day covers as well as related philatelic objects to honour him on his Diamond Jubilee.
“I have just opened the frame package and I am immensely impressed, the framing is beautifully done.”
Portugal, in particular, released some extraordinary and unique philatelic objects that included a stunning souvenir sheet embedded with a genuine 1.25 mm diamond, two first day covers, a stamp and a comprehensive profile of Mawlana Hazar Imam in English and Portuguese.
“Thank you. The frame is so beautiful and will be a wonderful memory for us.”
Simerg and its sister website Barakah have captured this momentous Portuguese collection in a beautiful frame that brings alive one of the most historical events in modern Ismaili history – the celebration of the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan. The philatelic objects have been mounted onto a high quality frame by one of Canada’s leading framers. It has a unique permanence, and is an enduring record of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat which will be cherished by present and future generations of Ismailis as well as friends of the community. The frame details follow.
Frame Contents: Souvenir sheet embedded with a genuine 1.25 mm Diamond; Official First Day Covers, a Mint Stamp, Stamp features including a profile of His Highness the Aga Khan in Portuguese and English. All objects original and issued by the Portugal Postal Service, CTT.
Frame Size: Appx. 26.5″ by 20″ (or appx. 67.3 cms by 50.8 cms). See photo above.
Frame Features: A high quality and durable pewter toned metallic frame; Made in the USA; protected with UV glass to prevent fading and mounted on acid-free board. Frame supplied with a wall hanging kit. Mounting done in Canada by Malen Framing, a distinguished framer in Ottawa, the nation’s capital.
Frame Inscription: The frame will come with a loose plate inscribed with the purchaser’s name (or, optionally, if it is a gift, the gift recipient’s name).
HOW TO PURCHASE THE FRAME
Availability: At the present time the frame is only available for shipment within Canada. All shipment will be done via UPS Courier Service. We welcome inquiries from the USA and overseas. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call/text 1-613-799-5663.
Price: The purchase price of the frame is US $500.00 or C $660.00 (this includes delivery in Toronto and Ottawa). For all other locations in Canada the cost including packaging/shipping/insurance will be US $625.00 C $825.00. The frame will be expertly packaged by UPS. Prices include HST.
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Viewing the Frame: If you are in Ottawa or Toronto, we can arrange for you a personal viewing of the frame. It is truly impressive; photos will not capture the real beauty and elegance of the frame.
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OUR COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE
Over the years, Simerg, has offered numerous collection items including signed copies of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s “Animal Voyage” and “Diving Into Wildlife,” the award winning Central Asian book “With Our Own Hands” as well as beautiful frames of Golden Jubilee Stamps (sold out). We have attained a high degree and level of customer satisfaction.
“My son was delighted with the excellent photography by Prince Hussain. We as a family will cherish this volume for a long time. Once again, thank you Simerg for making this book available in North America and your outstanding customer service and support.” Shamim Rajan, Richmond Hill, Ontario
“This is a beautiful piece of work!! The service was excellent. Very quick, safe and efficient turnaround and follow up. I recommend everyone to have a copy.” Nazir Alibhai, Markham, Ontario
“Thank you so much for the shipment – I received it today! I am impressed at how quickly the transaction went from the time of my order to the delivery. Great job!!” Zarah K.
By THE GLOBAL CENTRE FOR PLURALISM (Press Release, August 1, 2019)
The Board of Directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism is pleased to confirm that Meredith Preston McGhie will take over as Secretary General, replacing John McNee on his retirement from the position. She will assume her new role on October 1st.
In announcing the selection, The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, Chair of the Search Committee, cited Ms. Preston McGhie’s frontline negotiating efforts towards building peace and good governance in diverse societies.
“Meredith stood out for the depth of her lived experience in parts of the world where conflict and exclusions are widespread,” said Madame Clarkson. “Her understanding of the value of pluralism is grounded in this extensive practical experience. After searching the world for a leader to continue the Centre’s vital work, I am delighted we convinced this outstanding Canadian to come home.”
Ms. Preston McGhie studied military and international history at the University of British Columbia before pursuing graduate studies in global security in the United Kingdom. She has since devoted more than 20 years to addressing conflict and instability in Africa and Asia in some of the most troubled situations. From working with the Naga in Northeast India and indigenous communities on the Thai-Myanmar border, to supporting UN efforts in Kosovo, Northern Iraq and several African countries, her work has straddled frontline negotiation, policy and diplomacy.
Most recently, as Africa Regional Director with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, she oversaw the HD Centre’s complex mediation and dialogue efforts in Nigeria, the Gambia, Kenya, Mozambique, Sudan, Somalia and South Sudan, among other places. In the Kenyan National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process in 2007-08, she advised a panel of eminent Africans led by the late Kofi Annan. She has contributed annually to the Oslo Forum, a gathering of the world’s leading experts and policymakers in conflict resolution, and teaches mediation practice internationally.
Ms. Preston McGhie replaces John McNee, who has served as the Centre’s first Secretary General since 2011, and who presided over the restoration of 330 Sussex Drive, an Ottawa heritage landmark, as the Centre’s global headquarters.
“The Centre’s Directors look forward to working closely with Meredith to advance our agenda of building more peaceful and inclusive societies,” said Madame Clarkson. “At the same time, we are enormously grateful to her predecessor. John quite literally put the Centre on the map, and leaves a strong foundation for its future.”
Date posted: August 1, 2019.
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To meet the challenge that the global ecological crisis presents today, there is an urgent need to draw on humanity’s philosophical and spiritual repertoire – because it teaches us valuable lessons on the importance of taking care of life in all its forms. Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne draws on this source here, by blending the philosophical novel of a twelfth-century Andalusian Muslim scholar, African words of wisdom and thoughts from Western philosophers. We are not nature’s masters and owners, the Senegalese philosopher warns us.
By SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE
My intention is to think about a major crisis – the ecological crisis, which we agree, defines the era we are living in − by showing how the history of philosophy can shed light on it and give us guidance on the actions we must take to deal with it. More precisely, I would like to show how there is continuity between the way philosophy helps us to consider a policy of humanity and the way it illuminates a policy of the “humanization of the Earth”, in the words of the French philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).
I use this expression as signifying the duty and the responsibility that the human has to act accordingly, from the moment he understands that nature is entrusted to him and to humanity in the future. It forbids me to consider myself as “nature’s master and owner”, to cite the well-known phrase by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, René Descartes. On this point, regarding a philosophy that is simultaneously spiritual and ecological, I would like to evoke the ideas of the Andalusian scholar Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185). They are masterfully expressed in his magnum opus, the philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzān.
He presents the idea that humans realize their humanity fully only when they reach ecological consciousness − which allows them to simultaneously understand the evolution of their own becoming and the responsibility which is incumbent on them to protect life on earth.
The Arabic philosophical fable, after its translation into Latin in 1671, under the title Philosophus autodidactus, and later into English, was a source of inspiration for many writers, including the English writer, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe.
Indeed, the Andalusian philosopher’s novel is the story of the survival of Hayy, a child abandoned on an island that has never known a human presence, and who is rescued, protected and fed by a doe. When the animal dies, Hayy learns to use his hands, his practical and then theoretical intelligence, in an ontogeny (the origin and development of the individual organism, from conception to death) that recapitulates phylogeny (evolution of the species over the ages): the child develops into homo perfectus, the insānkāmil of Islamic mysticism. In other words, he becomes an accomplished human who rediscovers not only the essence of civilization (and especially fire), but also the sense of transcendence that leads him to the idea, and then to the experience of the divine. We find an echo of the Philosophus autodidactus in the philosophical debate about the tabula rasa, the clean slate that represents our ability to know before experience begins to record our knowledge on it.
Thus we have underlined the continuity between the idea illustrated by the novel about Hayy and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. We should note, in passing, that the teaching of the history of philosophy as it is presented in most textbooks leaves little room for a work as important as Ibn Tufayl’s, or for the intellectual tradition to which it belongs − this calls for another way of teaching the history of philosophy, which does not make it a purely European matter.
The caliph of God on Earth
The first shock that sets in motion the practical and theoretical intelligence of the child is the question that confronts him, plunging him into suffering and incomprehension, at the moment his mother, the doe, dies − what is this thing, life, which has left the body of the mother and made her forever deaf to her child’s calls? To answer this question, Hayy devotes himself to the practice of dissecting dead animals, and then attempts to surprise the vital principle in living animals by performing vivisections on them − not seeing, in his ignorance and his innocence, the cruelty of his actions. He abandons this research, again because of failure. Later, when he attains full awareness of self, God, Creation and his own place within it and responsibility for it, Hayy will understand his responsibility to be the guardian of life, in all its forms. He will take from nature only what is necessary for his sustenance, ensuring that the capacity for renewal of life is perfectly preserved, and that nature reconstitutes what it gives him.
Ibn Tufayl’s insistence on Hayy’s ecological consciousness is a philosophical illustration of Koranic anthropology that defines the human as “the caliph of God on Earth”. The word caliph, which means substitute, and the best translation for which is no doubt lieutenant – or more precisely lieu-tenant, place-holder, in French etymology – teaches humans what they have to be and defines their responsibility to watch over their environment, namely the Earth. Moreover, this word caliph, inspite of what we hear today, has in the Koran only this meaning, denoting the destination of the human. An important message from Ibn Tufayl’s book is, therefore, that the human is guardian of the Earth for itself and for the generations to come, because the human is originally the depository of what makes him the placeholder of God on Earth. Today, we need more than ever to heed this responsibility, without it being necessarily linked to a religious meaning.
Making humanity together
I’ll sum up my point in one word: ubuntu. This Bantu word gained worldwide fame when it was used by South Africans Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. It literally means “to make humanity together” − to create, thanks to other people, the human that I have to become, and at the same time, create “one humanity” with others.
To be the receptacle of what makes me a placeholder of God on Earth makes me understand that “making humanity together” is the opposite of depredation. It gives me the duty to look after life in general − to think that although animals, for instance, do not themselves formulate rights that must be recognized as declared, these are not any less real to me, because my humanity obligates me to them.
In my opinion, I am not one of those people who go overboard in their efforts to bring down anthropocentrism – and for whom the different kingdoms should be self-represented in a sort of “natural contract” replacing the social contract. It is not necessary to dissolve humanity to forbid it to behave, as another seventeenth-century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote, “like an empire in an empire” − to make humans understand that they are not free nor separate from natural necessities. On the contrary, we must affirm our humanity, but affirm it as ubuntu. Ubuntu is a philosophical concept with universal scope and it seems to me that it encompasses the meaning and the role of the humanities − in particular, the philosophical humanities. By showing how these can enlighten us, I want to emphasize their contribution, even their “utility”. But it is not a matter of exaggerating what philosophy can do, nor of giving in to the imperative of the profitability of knowledge, considered solely from the point of view of its technical implementation – by insisting on the use to be made of it.
Instead, when it comes to the thought and action required by the major crises of our time, I want to show that we can, we must, rely just as much on a philosophical novel written in the twelfth century in Muslim Spain as on Western philosophical thought, or African words of wisdom. To meet the challenges of changing times, we need to revitalize ourselves by delving into what humans have thought all around the world and at different times.
In other words, I want to recall that philosophy, and the humanities in general, are what give meaning to an education aimed towards the total, complete human − the homo perfectus – who is able to use the knowledge of history to invent a future we must build all together.
Date posted: July 29, 2019.
[The article is reproduced from The UNESCO Courier, April-June 2018, under IGO Creative Commons Licence type: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, that has been adopted by UNESCO to give the public the right to re-use a work as freely as possible – Ed.]
Before departing this website, please take a moment to visit the Table of Contents for links to a vast collection of articles published on this blog as well as its two sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos.
About the author: Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, currently Chair in the Department of French & Romance Philology at Columbia University (New York), was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal. He received his academic training in France. An alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he took his Ph.D (Doctorat d’État) in philosophy at the Sorbonne (1988) where he also took his BA (1977). His field of research includes Boolean algebra of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy and literature. Author of numerous books, his work, Bergson postcolonial: L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 2011) is forthcoming in an English version to be published by Fordham University Press. That book was awarded the Dagnan-Bouveret prize by the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for 2011 and on that same year professor Diagne received the Edouard Glissant Prize for his work. Professor Diagne’s current teaching interests include history of early modern philosophy, philosophy and Sufism in the Islamic world, African philosophy and literature, and twentieth century French philosophy.
Those who did their primary education in the mid 1960’s at Dar es Salaam’s Aga Khan Boys Primary School would remember Mr. Salim Dawood along with other teachers such as the late Mrs. Parin Shariff, Mr. Allana, Mr. Gulamhussein, Ms. Allibhai and others. I’ve specifically mentioned those who taught me in both Standard 6 and 7 from 1964-66. Sadly, Mr. Dawood passed away over the weekend in Toronto at the age of 74.
His funeral ceremonies were held at Scarborough Jamatkhana on Tuesday, July 23, at 12:30 PM and he was then buried at Elgin Mills Cemetery. There were two other Ismaili burials at the same time. Samar and ziarat prayers followed in the evening at Headquarters Jamatkhana (ICT). Earlier, a dilsoji (condolence) gathering took place at the ICT on Monday, July 22 with hundreds in attendance.
Mr. Dawood was a brilliant and dedicated Maths teacher who taught us with passion and instilled in us a great deal of confidence in the subject. He often spent hours after school to help students who were struggling with the subject — and really Maths has always been a challenge for thousands of young people.
Mr. Dawood was also a great sportsman. As a cricketer, he also captained the Young Ismailis (later Young Cricketers), the sister team of Aga Khan Club (later Dar Cricketers). My late dad, Alwaez Jehangir, enjoyed playing under Salim’s captainship. They both also played under Firoz Kassam, Dinno Bhatia and Shiraz Abdulla. Mr. Dawood bowled medium pace and scored freely as a batsman.
I have a fond recollection. One day after a school recess game (with a tennis ball), when I was in Standard 7, he asked how the game against Standard 8 went and someone told him I scored 50 (over 2 days of recess time). He called me to the front of the packed class and handed me a 10 shilling note! I was gratified. He jokingly remarked that had he been bowling I wouldn’t have managed the 50. Agree!
Above all, Mr. Dawood was a magnificent Math teacher who instilled in us a love for the subject and gave us a solid foundation to build on.
Mr. Salim Kassamali Dawood will remain in my heart and thoughts forever. My thoughts are with everyone in his family as well as his students, fellow teachers, and members of the Jamat wherever he served after leaving Tanzania.
I pray that his soul may rest in eternal peace.
(We invite you to submit your condolences, memories and tributes to Salim Dawood by completing the feedback form below or by clicking on COMMENT. Should you encounter difficulties submitting your feedback below, please email it for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date posted: July 22, 2019. Last updated: July 24, 2019.
Two magnificent buildings, the Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre, and their adjoining Aga Khan Park on Wynford Drive in Toronto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of man’s first landing on the moon with an extraordinary two-day festival on July 20-21, 2019 featuring live music, food fair, artisan market and family friendly activities. Here is a summary of what has been planned.
Moon Landing Festival
Date: Saturday, July 20 (12-10pm) & Sunday, July 21 (12-6pm), RAIN OR SHINE, Price: FREE
Sonic Orbiter by System Sounds: Make your own tunes by ‘playing’ the craters of the moon (Sat. 12–7:30 pm & Sun. 12–6 pm)
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were strapped into their Apollo spacecraft on top of the vast Saturn V rocket and were propelled into orbit in just over 11 minutes. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the lunar surface. We have for our readers a magnificent collection of photos from humankind’s single greatest technological achievement…PHOTO ESSAY
“The ethics of a Da’i are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. The Da’i constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.”
By KARIM H. KARIM
Many people have heard the position of Da‘i but are unfamiliar with its unique character. Historically, a Da‘i was a member of the Da‘wa, which was a pivotal institution of the Imamat. The word Da‘wa has sometimes been translated as a preaching mission and Da‘i as missionary. However, the precise meaning of Da‘wa is a call or an invitation, and therefore a Da‘i is someone who issues a call or invitation.
What was the nature of the Da‘i’sinvitation? The answer is to be found in the full name of the institution to which he belonged: Da‘wat al-Haqq (Invitation to the Truth). The Holy Qur’an says that “His [God’s] is the Da‘wa of the Truth” (13:14). Da‘is referred to their disciples as People of the Truth (Ahl al-Haqq or Al-Muhiqqin). (It was only in the early 20th century, after the Aga Khan Case of 1866, that the name Ismaili came to be formally adopted in reference to the Imam’s followers.) Da‘is (Pirs and Sayyids) in India, used Indian terminology to call the community Satpanth (Path of Truth).
The Concept of Truth
Truth is the core of the faith and appears repeatedly in its discourses. Imam Mustansir bi’llah II’s book Pandiyat-i Javanmardi declares that “The (real) believer is one who always, permanently, thinks of the Truth, and always intends to act righteously.” One of God’s names is Al-Haqq (the Truth). The third part of the Ismaili Du‘a affirms:
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul mubin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Manifest)
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul yaqin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Certainty)
Tasbihs in Gujarati ask for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth). When delivering sermons, Khoja preachers in the 20th century called their congregations “haqiqat-i momino” (believers of truth) and “haqiqati-dindaro” (followers of the religion of truth). Imam Mustansir bi’llah II and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah referred to the progression of the believer from shari‘a (“law”) to tariqa (path) to haqiqa (truth) and to ma‘rifa (wisdom; gnosis), as does Bhamar Ghufaa Upar Dekhantaa, a ginan attributed to Sayyid Nur Muhammad Shah.
The truth to which a Da‘i issues his invitation is embedded in the knowledge that the Imam imparts to his followers through a particular mode of instruction (ta‘lim). A hadith (saying) of the Prophet declared: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gateway; so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.”
Hazrat Ali and his designated successors in the lineage of Imamat provide unique access to knowledge about truth. Imams conduct interpretations (ta’wil) of the inner meaning of the Qur’an which they impart to their adherents through ta‘lim. Only the rightfully appointed Imams have this unique ability: “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] esoteric interpretationsave Allah and those who are of sound instruction” (Holy Qur’an, 3:7); Shia Muslims believe that the phrase “those who are of sound instruction” refers to the lineage of Imamat.
The concept of truth here is not limited to the practice of truth-telling and being honest, which are important in themselves, but to the deeper truth that is the inner reality of existence. This reality lies behind the illusion that constantly misleads the mind. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah wrote in his Memoirs that Islam’s “basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism.” The enlightened soul experiences the reality of fundamental truth on which rest all other aspects of faith (such as prayer, devotion, values, and ethics). It is to such ultimate and unique spiritual enlightenment (ma‘rifa, gnosis) that the Da ‘wa offers its invitation. The identity of a Da‘i is integrally related to the essence of eternal truth. He seeks to live the truth. Nasir-i Khusraw, Hujja of Khurasan, referred to the members of the Da‘wa as “Scholars of the Religion of Truth” (ulama-yi din-i haqq). This is a position of profound depth and significance that requires understanding of the process of spiritual advancement as well as knowledge of the material world.
The Da‘wa in History
The pre-Fatimid Da‘wa emerged in the first Period of Concealment (Dawr al-Satr) that began during Imam Ismail’s time. This was a period of great danger because the Abbasid Caliphate was determined to destroy the Imamat and its followers. Therefore, the Imams in this time were in hiding and their identities and locations were known only to their closest followers. Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi brought the Dawr al-Satr to a close when he established the Fatimid state in North Africa.
It was the Da‘wa that had laid the groundwork for the Imam’s rule. Da‘is functioned largely in secret due to widespread persecution. Their institution, which operated transregionally, had a hierarchical structural model. At the head was the Chief Da‘i (Da‘i al-Du‘at), who was in close touch with the Imam. Under him operated a number of Hujjas (Proofs), the leaders of the Da‘wa in specific regions. Each Hujja supervised several Da‘is, who in turn had assistants called Ma’dhuns. Ordinary members of the community whom Da‘is taught were Mustajibs. Whereas this was an ideal model of the organization, the actual operations were more fluid especially in places where Da‘is worked in relative isolation.
The da‘wa produced a unique body of writings, some of which are described below. Da‘i Ja‘far bin Mansur al-Yaman’s Book of the Master and the Disciple (Kitab al-‘Alim wa’l-Ghulam) addresses the search for truth and the meaning of life in a series of religious dialogues between a Da‘i and his disciple. This sophisticated composition creatively uses form and language to express a complex narrative. It is a rare and valuable artifact that provides insight into the Da‘wa’s erudition and refined pedagogy.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, the Hujja in Iraq, was a noted philosopher. His major work, Rahat al-‘Aql (Repose of the Intellect), presents contemporary science, philosophy, and theology in an integral manner. Its objective was to enable the believer to attain a paradisiacal state through reason. Kirmani’s book imaginatively maps out a journey in which the soul escapes the troubling state of the physical world and attains freedom in the City of God by gaining a comprehensive sense of God, angelic beings, and the realm of minerals, plants and animals.
Nasir-i Khusraw, who was Hujja of Khurasan, is acknowledged as the founder of Ismaili communities in the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush in Pakistan as well as Xinjiang in China. He was a foremost exponent of philosophical poetry and his poems are an essential part of Persian-speaking countries’ educational curriculum today. Khusraw’s poetry is also sung at religious gatherings in the Badakshan Jamat and its diasporic locations. Among his philosophical treatises is The Book of Two Wisdoms Reconciled (Kitab-i Jami’ al-Hikmatayn), which endeavours to bridge Aristotelian and haqa’iq philosophies.
The Satpanth branch of the Da‘wa in India produced a unique literary tradition of around one thousand ginans, many of which hold profound insight and wisdom. Like the Sufis in the subcontinent who used the region’s cultural heritage to preach their beliefs, Ismaili Pirs, notably Shams, Sadruddin, and Hasan Kabirdin, also drew from Indic mythology and symbolism to teach the message of universal truth. Major compositions like Brahm Prakash and Bhuj Nirinjan guide adherents in their spiritual journeys. The ginan tradition, which is attributed to a number of Pirs and Sayyids, speaks of sat (truth) in various South Asian languages including Gujarati, Khari Boli (proto Hindi-Urdu), Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki/Multani. South Asian Khoja Jamats and their diaspora find inspiration in the hymns, which are sung every day at religious gatherings.
The Da‘wa’s Pluralist Search for Truth
The quest for truth is a consistent theme that runs through the centuries-long history of Da‘wat al-Haqq and Satpanth. Da‘is drew on knowledge from a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim sources in a pluralist pursuit of universal truth. According to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, studying other religions is integral to spiritual search because God’s revelation has appeared among different peoples through history.
“All Islamic schools of thought accept it as a fundamental principle that, for centuries, for thousands of years before the advent of Mohammed, there arose from time to time messengers, illumined by Divine grace, for and amongst those races of the earth which had sufficiently advanced intellectually to comprehend such a message. Thus Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the Prophets of Israel are universally accepted by Islam. Muslims indeed know no limitation merely to the Prophets of Israel; they are ready to admit that there were similar Divinely-inspired messengers in other countries – Gautama Buddha, Shri Krishna, and Shri Ram in India, Socrates in Greece, the wise men of China, and many other sages and saints among peoples and civilizations of which we have now lost trace.“
This pluralist attitude was present in the earliest Ismaili writings such as the encyclopedia of Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), whose sources included Islamic, Greek, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, and Christian knowledge. Da‘is Al-Nasafi and Al-Sijistani adapted Neoplatonist thought to indicate the cosmological place of the Imam. As the Da‘wa moved into South Asia, Pirs and Sayyids drew from Indic mythology and cosmology for a similar purpose.
Such pluralist approaches to knowledge were not uncommon in the history of Islam. Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers in Arabia to seek knowledge even as far as China. The receptivity of Muslims to other cultures in the Hellenic intellectual environment of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran provided for their own religion’s intellectual flowering. They came upon renowned academies like those of Jondishapur, where Persian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scholars trained in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. A major translation movement rendered numerous manuscripts written in various languages into Arabic. Muslims scholars drew on the knowledge, philosophical reasoning and analytical tools produced by other civilizations for developing Islamic philosophy (falsafa), theology (kalam), and law (fiqh). Even the modes of Islamic preaching borrowed from indigenous practices; for example, Sufi teachers adopted the bhakti mode of devotion in India.
Whereas it was commonplace for Muslim intellectuals to learn from neighbouring civilizations, Ismaili thinkers embraced the most openly pluralist Islamic approach to other cultural and religious sources. They had a cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth. Da‘is examined the ancient world’s wisdom including that of Greeks, Babylonians, and Sabaeans as well as writings of contemporaries such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Da‘wat al-Haqq’s cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth enabled them to see spiritual value in their symbols and practices. Al-Sijistani interpreted the Christian cross’s four points as representing the roots of truth. Badakshan Jamats observe Chirag-i Rawshan (Luminous Lamp), a funerary rite that has Islamic features along with characteristics of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religions. Oral tradition attributes the establishment of this ritual to Nasir-i Khusraw. The Zoroastrian spring festival of Navroz, which is commemorated by Shia and Sunni Muslims in Persianate regions, has been embraced by all Ismailis as a major celebration of spiritual renewal. Farsi-speaking Jamats have been drawn to some of the poems of the great Sunni mystics Attar and Rumi, which are recited in religious gatherings. The Garbi category of ginan compositions bear a Hindu communal dance’s rhythm. Da ‘is were generally less concerned about exoteric differences between religious perspectives than in pursuing the greater spiritual truth.
Whereas Da‘is have consistently been engaged in a search for truth, this endeavor has been fraught with physical, intellectual, as well as personal spiritual dangers. These hazards led some members of the Da‘wa to turn away from the Imamat’s guidance. For example, Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii, who prepared the ground for Imam Al-Mahdi to establish the Fatimid state, later conspired against him. In the time of Imam Al-Hakim, a number of Da‘is broke from the Fatimid Da‘wa to establish what came to be known as the Druze movement. Another major division took place in the Da‘wa upon the death of Imam Al-Mustansir I, when most of the Da‘is in Cairo followed Al-Musta‘li and those in the east, like Hassan-i Sabbah and Rashid al-Din Sinan, adhered to Imam Nizar. Later in India, a grandson of Pir Hasan Kabirdin, Nar Muhammad, founded a break-way religious group called the Imamshahis.
The Da‘i Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-Naysaburi wrote a treatise on the comportment expected of the members of the Da‘wa. It laid out in some detail the qualifications and behavior that a Da‘i should have. Al-Naysaburi stated that the Da‘wa is built on knowledge, piety, and good governance. A Da’i maintains a noble character and upholds the truth to which he invites believers. His ethics are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. He constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.
Life may appear more complex than in previous periods but the struggle to remain faithful to eternal truth, which has been a constant religious quest since the dawn of time, remains relevant to this day. This endeavour was represented in previous centuries by the institution of Da‘wat al-Haqq, Invitation to the Truth. As in the past, a Da‘i’s life today would be difficult as it would involve dealing with intricate material, intellectual and spiritual challenges. The person who responds to the Call to the Truth accepts the undertaking of a demanding but ultimately rewarding enterprise. He/she can be seriously misled in this journey by others and even by the illusions of his/her own mind.
Adherence to Din al-Haqq demands a keen dedication to the Imamat and to the Truth. Followers of the Imam believe that he is the unique source of the knowledge that leads to comprehension of the Truth. However, history has shown that even the Imamat’s highly placed officials like the intelligent and heroic Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii have wavered from such a conviction. Living the faith of Al-Haqq clearly requires an absolutely unrelenting commitment to and love for the Truth. Those who sincerely seek to maintain such personal steadfastness humbly ask in daily prayers for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth) and “iman-ji salamati” (security of faith).
Date posted: July 7, 2019.
About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Study for the Study of Islam. He has previously been Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and Director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. Dr. Karim has also been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. He is an award-winning author who has published extensively. Professor Karim has also delivered distinguished lectures at venues in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2017, he organized the international conference on Mapping a Pluralist Space in Ismaili Studies, which was the largest ever gathering of scholars working in this field. A forthcoming publication of his is titled “Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth.”