Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat and Imam of the Time — (I) The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Canada’s Confederation Day, the American Independence Day, Tanzania’s Saba Saba celebrations and the Imamat Day of His Highness the Aga Khan, all fall in the month of July.

Canada is already preparing for its 150th birthday two years hence when Ismailis around the world will, inshallah, celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of their beloved 49th Imam, whom they respectfully address as Mawlana Hazar Imam.

 A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan succeeded to the 49th hereditary throne of Imamat at the age of twenty by the will of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, who served as the 48th Ismaili Imam for a record 71 years (August 17, 1885 – July 11, 1957).

Over the next week, Simerg will provide an insight into the principles of Imamat through short readings. We begin the series by posting the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution, which is an introductory succinct statement giving the historical roots of the Ismaili Imamat, the principle of Imamat succession, and the permanency of the spiritual bond that exists between the Imam and his followers.

Another theme that will be explored in the coming few days through the writings of Ismaili Pirs, missionaries and philosophers is the principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the Ismaili belief and understanding that each Imam, being the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat, is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in.

Finally, another aspect that will become apparent from the readings to follow is that the hereditary institution of Imamat can never become extinct. This is in accordance with the well known Muslim prophetic tradition, hadith thaqalain, which says, “I leave behind me two weighty things: The Book of Allah and my Progeny. If you keep yourselves attached to these two, never, never will you go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated until the Day of Judgement.”

The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Please click on photo for enlargement

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

“Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.”

BACKGROUND

In 1905, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, issued a written set of ‘Rules and Regulations’ for the Ismailis of East Africa which effectively served as their communal constitution. This constitution re-affirmed the centrality of the Imam’s authority over the affairs of his community and also articulated the distinctive religious identity of the Ismailis. This document was revised and published several times until 1954, and was made available to Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. Similar rules were given to the Ismaili community in British India.

During the 1960’s, the 48th Imam’s grandson and successor, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan IV, gave Constitutions to his followers in Africa and Pakistan in 1962, and to the Jamat in India in 1967.

A constitution review committee was then formed in the early 1980’s, and after exhaustive review, Mawlana Hazar Imam, in 1986, ordained a new Ismaili Constitution known as “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.”

The Ismaili Constitution became applicable throughout the world, linking all Ismailis to the Imamat. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework through which his community would be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Muslim Ummah and of the societies in which his followers lived. He expressed confidence that the Ismaili Constitution would give a stronger integrated identity to his community, and that in abiding by it in letter and spirit, the Ismailis would achieve greater peace, unity, happiness, security and wellbeing. He futher hoped that the Constitution would become an enabling document for all his murids (followers) for an active role in institution building, for creative application of their abilities, for personal development and for intellectual and spiritual satisfaction.

The new constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by Mawlana Hazar Imam on December 13th, 1986, his fiftieth Salgirah (birthday) and thirtieth year of Imamat. The Constitution was revised by Mawlana Hazar Imam on July 11, 1998, when he completed forty one years of his spiritual leadership.

THE PREAMBLE

(A) The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims affirm the shahādah lā ilāha illa-llāh, Muhammadur rasulu-llāh, the Tawhid therein and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) is the last and final Prophet of Allah. Islam, as revealed in the Holy Quran, is the final message of Allah to mankind, and is universal and eternal. The Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through the divine revelation from Allah prescribed rules governing spiritual and temporal matters.

(B) In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (a.s), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wīl and Ta‘līm of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khātun-i-Jannat (a.s).

(C) Succession of Imamat is by way of Nass, it being the absolute prerogative of the Imam of the time to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendents whether they be sons or remoter issue.

(D) The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay‘ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode.

(E) From the time of the Imamat of Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s), the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitution in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.

(F) Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential.

(G) Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

(H) By virtue of his office and in accordance with the faith and belief of the Ismaili Muslims, the Imam enjoys full authority of governance over and in respect of all religious and Jamati matters of the Ismaili Muslims.

(I) It is the desire and Hidāyat of Mawlana Hazar Imam that the constitutions presently applicable to the Ismaili Muslims in different countries be superseded and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live.

Date posted: Saturday, July 4, 2015.

© Simerg.com

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References for this post:

(1) The Ismailis: An Illustrated History by Farhad Daftary and Zulfikar Hirji, published by Azimuth editions in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies (2008).

(2) Wikipedia article on Imamah, with link to website, http://www.salmanspiritual.com/

(3) http://www.kamalzar.com, website of Alwaez Kamaluddin Muhammad and Alwaeza Zarina Kamaludin.

6 thoughts on “Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat and Imam of the Time — (I) The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

  1. I enjoyed reading the synopsis on how the constitution development evolved over time. I also read the comments made by readers, which were also very interesting. As a student of religious studies, I would suggest Farhad Daftary’s A Modern History of the Ismailis where he has dedicated an entire chapter in this connection. In contemporary times, it helps to articulate your self identity in the words which can be understood by everyone. The preamble does this well.

    Finally, I just wish to add that this document is easily availble in Pakistan in our libraries and in our institutions.

  2. Nice reading. By definition Shia are friends and follower of Imam Ali (a.s.), meaning we are followers of Prophet Muhammad (saww, pbuh). I am a Shia but Athene’asheri, we believe in 12 Imams but both tariqahs have a common heritage and tradition in the the belief in all Imams upto Imam Jaffer Sadiq from where we diverge.It is the twelver understanding that Ismail, older brother of Musa Kazim, expired during the life time of the living 6th Imam ,Jaffer Sadiq.

    We know that the Holy Qur’an is quite clear about Immamat and Risalat, yet the Shia remain a minority.

    In any case I respect Prince Karim Agha Khan your 49th Imam, and fortunately my late father’s visitor book shows Prince Karim’s comment with his signature which in all likelihood means that he visited our house.

  3. The first constitution within the Ismaili saga was written by Qazi Numan. The present one was prepared by a committee and finally reviewed by Imam of the Time Mawlana Shah Karim. Some other treatises were also written by Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah but in respect of the African Jamats.

  4. Thank you for this article. Ismaili constitutions are foundational to Ismailism for every Ismaili Muslim and for an understanding by communities where Ismailis reside.

    I would like to share the following 2 matters regarding your article on the preamble.

    1. There have been constitutions in the past. H. H. The Aga khan confirms this in the preamble (E) “…and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitution in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.”

    Therefore the 1905 constitution was not the first Ismaili constitution.

    2. The Ismaili constitutions are to be given to every member of the community. This is confirmed by the Aga Khan in the preamble. (I) “…and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution..”

    The constitution is a declaration in the public domain by Ismaili Imams in this case by His Highnesses the Aga Khan III and IV.

    The constitution will have greater publicity and significance now that the seat of Imamat is moving to Portugal.

    There have been such moves by Ismaili Imams in the past from Middle East to North Africa, to Middle East to Central Asia, India, France and now Portugal.

    • As mentioned herewith in no. 2, what has the Ismaili leadership done so far to have a copy of constitution given to every member of the community if it is a wish of the Imam. Where can I, as an Ismaili, get a copy for myself. Is it purchaseable, and if so from where? Please advice.

      • I had obtained my personal copy from the literature desk in Ottawa sometime back. I had inquired at the literature counter in Vancouver and was advised they had run out of copies and were awaiting a new consignment. It would be best to contact the Jamati leadership and try and borrow a copy while we all await the reprint. Every Ismaili family should possess a copy of the constitution and I hope they are made available without further delay.

        Considering its significance and importance, I would recommend that the primary document which includes the Preamble and the Articles, be distributed among all Ismaili households, just like the print edition of “The Ismaili” magazine is sent out to all families – at least here in Canada.

        Copies of specific Rules and Regulations applicable to each country should be made available for reference purposes in Jamatkhana libraries.

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