The Long-Long Awaited Book, “The Children of Time: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” by Malise Ruthven and Gerard Wilkinson


By Abdulmalik Merchant

Cover page, Children of Time - the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

Cover page, Children of Time – the Aga Khan and the Ismailis. originally scheduled for publication during the Golden Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan, is 8 years overdue.

For almost 8 years now, I have been awaiting the release of “Children of Time” which was scheduled to be published by I.B. Tauris, on the occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 50th Imamat Anniversary held during  2007-2008. Tauris is the familiar publisher of many of the scholarly publications of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England.

The  publisher had first announced the publication of the book with the following review, which continues to appear on its website:

“From highland peasant farmers in Central Asia to Canadian industrialists, South Asian businessmen and Europe-based scholars, the Nizari Ismailis are one of the Muslim world’s most diverse Shi’a communities. With adherents living in more than twenty-five countries in Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and North America, they embrace peoples of widely different ethnic and linguistic backgrounds. The spiritual leadership of this highly dynamic community has in recent generations come to be known as the ‘Aga Khan’.This book, which coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the present Aga Khan’s succession as Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Ismailis, assesses the achievements of his ‘Imamat’ in modernising the communities’ institutions and creating one of the world’s leading development agencies, the Aga Khan Development Network. In the process the book explores how the present Harvard-educated Aga Khan has attempted to preserve and build on a religious tradition rooted in medieval theology while at the same time embracing the modern world without loss of faith or cultural identity.”

Originally, if memory serves me right, the book was going to be authored by Malise Ruthven, who is noted by the publisher as “one of the leading writers on Islam in English and is the author of ‘Islam in the World’, ‘A Fury for God: the Islamist Attack on America’, ‘Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction’ and several other highly praised books.” Then, Gerard Wilkinson, who has had  a  distinguished thirty-year career with the Aga Khan in Kenya, Italy and latterly with his secretariat in France, was added as the co-author.

I have been tracking the publication of this title on Amazon since it was first announced, and I have noted that the publication date has been changing ever since. As of today, I note that the Amazon gives the publication date as May 30, 2015, while the I.B. Tauris website gives the book’s release date as September 30, 2015,* with the hardback selling price of $45.00 (£24.50). The Canadian Amazon site lists one hardback copy as being available at C$58.95 but when you click on the link to purchase the book, it is listed as being temporarily out of stock. Perhaps! May 30 has passed, September 30 is 8 weeks in the distant, so it is all rather confusing!

Under the circumstances, Vali Jamal can be forgiven for the delay in publishing his long-awaited wrist-breaking 1600 page plus book “Uganda Asians: Then and Now, Here and There, We Contributed, We Contribute” which I had first announced on this website sometime in 2012, with a publication date of October 2012. It is now scheduled to be released in November of this year.

Hopefully, both the books, Children of Time by Ruthven and Uganda Asians by Jamal will be perfectly timed for autumn of this year for fantastic reading for the holiday season!

Date posted: July 8, 2015.
Date updated: July 12, 2015 (typo and revised publication date).


*I have noted as of July 12, 2015, that the September 30, 2015 publication date was removed from the book’s primary page. However the bibliographical info cites the publication date as December 18, 2015. The IB Tauris “Religion New and Recent Books 2015” catalogue mentions March 2015 as the publication date.

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5 thoughts on “The Long-Long Awaited Book, “The Children of Time: The Aga Khan and the Ismailis” by Malise Ruthven and Gerard Wilkinson

  1. Have you gotten any updates recently? I’m writing this comment in late 2018 and information on the book has yet to be found. At this point I don’t believe the book will ever be published, sadly. Another commenter has pointed out the book’s blurbs leaving out East Africa. Sounds like a missed chance for the publisher but they also left out the Tajiks in China who are also Nizari Ismails. I hope this book comes out or if not then at least more books on the Ismailis do especially about the Tajiks of China who are a extremely fascinating people.

  2. The date of publication of The Children of Time appears to recede like a mirage every time you get close to it. Hopefully it will not meet the same fate as Hella Pick’s book which was commissioned for the Silver Jubilee, but never saw the light of day.

  3. This sounds like an interesting book, if nothing else from the fact that it has been eight years in the writing and had to incorporate a second author to complete it. Till I came to your last paragraph, I was ready to retort to you that you got fed up with my book too – 8.4 years in the writing, but I did it all alone and it went beyond 1.2 million words and 9,000 images – and most people’s patience.
    I’d be very interested to read what the authors have to say about the Aga Khan’s role during the expulsion crisis, the raison-d’être of my book. I was dismayed that in the blurb they miss out “East Africa” from the regions where Ismailis live. Of course we are parochial but without any doubt it is the East African Ismailis who have the greatest standing among the Ismaili ummaa, first in East Africa itself and now in the diaspora countries. Ismailis pioneered in East Africa from the time of Aga Khan I, the 46th Imam, with names like Sewa Haji Paroo, Tharia Topan and Allidina Visram all of whom came over over the great Indian Ocean at the instigation of the Imam who had built up special relationship with the British. Imam Sultan Mohamed Shah came to Zanzibar already in 1900. The present Aga Khan has truly cemented the Aga Khan-East Africa ties, with his investments in all sectors of the regional countries, highlighted by the Kampala Serena Hotel and the Bujagali hydroelectric scheme. It fell on him to play major roles in the settlement of Uganda Asians in Canada in 1972 at the expulsion. Great drama was being enacted on the world stage and Aga Khan and Prince Sadruddin were at the centre of this in the second half of the expulsion deadline, the latter as head of the UN High Commission for Refugees. I have been lucky that I managed to capture some of the acts of that drama through the diary of the chief of the Canadian mission that came to pick us up and through the internal documents of the UNHCR. I very much doubt any of that drama comes through in this book. From the fact that a co-author had to be co-opted from Aiglemont I think the book will be a rendition of the projects carried out by AKDN. The drama book only we can write. Today Uganda Asian Ismailis are among the richest Ismailis in the world, the richest being the richest Ismaili in the whole world.
    The book took a while. One reason was that I had to be inclusive of all Asian communities in Uganda, and so while the above paragraph might signal to some that the book is AAI (All About Ismailis) in point of fact the Ismaili content is proportionate to their numbers in Uganda. It is just that the Imam and his uncle played such huge roles at the expulsion. For this they have been called “heroes” by all Uganda Asian communities and a commensurate number of pages has been devoted to them.
    My book should come out in November – 2015, I should add cognizant of all the deadlines I missed. Truth to tell this is exactly how I saw my book in terms of its design and content. And it couldn’t have been done any faster by anybody. The President of Uganda will do the launch in Uganda and then there should be significant launches in India, UK and Canada. The prime ministers of the first two countries are sending endorsement messages and should go beyond that when the launch time comes for their countries.

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