Please click: ISMAILIS WELCOME AGA KHAN TO LISBON
Date posted: July 7, 2018.
Please click: ISMAILIS WELCOME AGA KHAN TO LISBON
Date posted: July 7, 2018.
FRIDAY, JULY 6: After his arrival in Lisbon, Mawlana Hazar Imam’s motorcade will drive past Jardim Amália Rodrigues. Arrangements have been made for Ismailis to safely gather and welcome him to Portugal for his Diamond Jubilee.
Date posted: July 5, 2018
Last updated: July 6, 2018, 12:28 A.M, Lisbon time (venue change)
PLEASE CLICK: TAKE A MAJESTIC TOUR OF LISBON ON A VINTAGE MOTO-SIDECAR
Date posted: July 5, 2018
His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Ismaili Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, frequently delivers speeches in “post-secular” contexts on topics that include architecture, civil society, democracy, development, good governance, meritocracy, pluralism, public ethics, and Western-Muslim relations. Karim H. Karim of Carleton University examines how the Muslim leader, engages discursively with the public sphere…READ FULL PIECE
Date posted: June 9, 2018
VISIT SIMERG’S NEW EXCITING BLOG “ALL THINGS LISBOA”
Date posted: May 8, 2018.
Finally, the REGISTRATION DAY is here and the President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Portugal has sent a warm and special message of welcome to the worldwide Jamats! Thousands of Ismailis around the world who have already made arrangements to travel to Lisbon or have been anxiously waiting for the registration to commence before finalizing their air and hotel bookings, can now begin to REGISTER at the official website of the Ismaili community. The Darbar and Diamond Jubilee events will take place in Lisbon between July 5th and 11th, 2018. We recommend that you visit FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS first for answers to numerous questions about the visit, the registration process and how to complete the registration form. If you encounter technical or other issues, please click on CONTACT US hyperlink at bottom of FAQ page. Here is the link: CONTACT US.
Simerg, together with its sister website Barakah, has launched a special blog All Things Lisboa that will be a point of reference for Ismailis travelling to Lisbon to celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee. It will offer comprehensive information about the events planned in Lisbon as well as provide links to the official website of the Ismaili community, http://theismaili.org.
All Things Lisboa will help you enjoy the best of Portuguese culture and will seek to provide ideas to enhance your experience of the historic city — its sights, sounds and tastes. While the focus of attention for tens of thousands of Ismailis of Portugal and around the world will be on the Diamond Jubilee events from July 5th until July 11th, 2018, including a grand Darbar, we think that you can take advantage of your stay to explore Lisbon by bus, foot, tram or with guided tours. All Things Lisboa also provides a listing of Ismailis offering professional travelling services as well as a list of other reliable options for reserving accommodation etc..
We will provide you good information about Lisbon in the coming weeks!
Date posted: May 7, 2018.
Last updated: May 8, 2018.
In the Ismaili tradition, the Imam has a central and indispensable role in helping the believer mediate the outer and inner aspects of life
By KARIM H. KARIM
(This is an abridged and revised version of the article “A Semiotics of Infinite Translucence: The Exoteric and Esoteric in Ismaili Muslim Hermeneutics,” which was published in the special issue on “Visible/Invisible: Religion, Media, and the Public Sphere” of the Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 40 No.1, 2015)
Shia Ismaili Muslim theology is shaped by the relationship between the zahiri (outer, exoteric) and the batini (inner, esoteric) dimensions of life. The two concepts are not set against each other in an oppositional manner but are complimentary ways of perceiving truth. This relates to a fundamental religious quest: to know the mysterium tremendum — “that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar” (Otto, 1958, p. 13). The relationship between the zahir and the batin points toward a notion of gradual perception through the metaphor of translucence, which symbolizes “the constant search for answers that leads inevitably to more questions” (Aga Khan IV, 2005b). Translucence permits partial illumination, but not complete enlightenment. Spiritual insight unfolds serially in an infinite journey. It is the Imam who, in the Ismaili tradition, has a central and indispensable role in helping the believer mediate the zahiri and batini aspects of life.
READING GOD’S SIGNS
The American social theorist John Durham Peters has dwelled on the imperfection of human communication that leads to misinterpretations. On the other hand, he notes that angels are viewed in some religions as “pure bodies of meaning” who understand each other without any distortion (Peters, 2000, pp. 74–75). Muslims believe the Qur’an to have resulted from communication of this kind. They hold the Qur’anic revelation to have been received from God, who relayed it to Prophet Muhammad through the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). The Qur’an itself describes the revelation as imparted to Muhammad through spiritual inspiration (wahi) (Qur’an 53:4). The Prophet expressed the spiritual messages in human language. Divine communication is materially manifested in the text that constitutes the Qur’an. The words of the holy book provide access to God; however, they can only be understood according to the intellectual and spiritual capacity of individual believers. They are simultaneously translucent veils and windows of the revelation’s ultimate truth.
Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet and his companions memorized and wrote down the series of revelations that were received over a period of 22 years. The material was collected in the form of a book after the Prophet’s death. Although the Qur’an has been rendered into numerous other languages, the original revelation in Arabic is considered to be technically untranslatable as no translation – no matter how rigorous – can replicate the specific discourse transmitted by divine inspiration (Pickthall, 1977). The nuances of the layered meanings embedded in the unique revelation would be lost through translation. Replacing the specific verbal signifiers spoken by Muhammad upon receiving the revelation would break the link with its unique spiritual content.
The adherents of Islam contemplate upon the pristine words of the revelation that was bestowed upon the Prophet 14 centuries ago. However, this poses substantial difficulty for the vast majority of the world’s Muslims who do not speak Arabic. It is not a simple task even for Arabs as language changes over time. Contemporary forms of Arabic are quite different from that of the Qur’an. Given the divine nature of this scripture, translation into another language or even modern Arabic would break the link to the particular denotations and connotations of the uniquely inspired speech.
The Qur’an frequently refers to itself and expresses a self-reflexiveness about its transmission, its language, its nature, and its meaning (e.g., 16:103, 4:82, 39:23). The word it uses to refer to its verses is ayat: “These are the ayat of God that We recite to you in truth” (2:252). It is noteworthy that the same term is also utilized for God’s signs. Several Qur’anic passages encourage the believer to ponder upon them. For example:
“And of His ayat [signs] is this that He created you from dust,
And behold, ye are human beings ranging widely!
And among His ayat is this,
That He created for you mates from among yourselves,
That ye may dwell in tranquility with them.
And He has put between you love and mercy.
Verily in that are ayat for those who reflect.
And of His ayat is the creation of the heavens and the earth,
And the difference of your languages and colours.
Herein indeed are ayat for those who know.” (Qur’an 30:20–21)
Kenneth Cragg notes that “This confluence of terms is interesting and suggestive, allowing as it does the conviction that the external world is a kind of ‘scripture’ … [which] speaks Quranically to mankind…” (1973, p. 148). The material universe as well as its historical unfolding, like the revelation, constitute God’s signs and texts that are to be read semiotically to understand the meanings of the messages to humankind.
It is “those who reflect” (Qur’an 13:3) who are able to comprehend the signification of the signs that God has embedded in the revelation and the Creation. Numerous parts of the Islamic revelation exhort the believer to reflect (tafakkur), to ponder (tadabbur), to learn (ta‘allum), to comprehend (tafaqquh), and to use one’s intellect (aqila) (Shah-Kazemi, 2011). Apprehending the divine through intellectual endeavour is a primary motif in the Qur’an. It is significant that the very first verses of revelation to be received by Muhammad began with the instruction to “read” :
“Read in the name of thy Lord who created
Created the human being from a clot
Read, and thy Lord is the Most Bounteous
Who taught by the pen,
Taught the human being that which s/he knew not” (Qur’an 96:1–5)
What is meant exactly by “read” has been a matter of much discussion and debate for centuries among Muslim scholars. The Qur’an’s emphasis on knowledge encouraged its acquisition to become a major endeavour among Muslims. The Arabic word ilm, usually translated as “knowledge,” is one of the most frequently appearing terms in the holy book. 
An enormous amount of effort has been devoted over the past 14 centuries to study and understand the Qur’an. The meanings of its numerous metaphors, allegories, and parables have been sought over the ages. Philology, grammar, history, the Prophet’s biography, eyewitness accounts etc. have been brought to bear to know the meaning of the more than 6,000 verses of the revelation. Established Muslim traditions of exegesis (tafsir) based on various explanatory frameworks support specific interpretations. In some cases, the differences in interpreting certain key phrases, words, and even punctuation have reflected significant doctrinal divergences among groups such as the Sunni and the Shia as well as among their subgroupings. Whereas Muslims generally agree that Qur’anic verses have surface, exoteric (zahiri) and deeper, esoteric (batini) meanings, the Sufis and the Shia generally lay greater emphasis on the latter. This tendency is not unique to Islam, since anagogic interpretations of scripture are also conducted by other religious believers, such as those engaged in the study of the Kabbalah in the Jewish faith and the Gnostic tradition in Christianity.
Among the Shia, the Ismailis have come to be known as the group that has most consistently explored the inner aspects of the Qur’an through tawil, the esoteric Islamic hermeneutics (i.e. modes of interpretation). Commenting on the work of Nasir-i Khusraw, a prominent eleventh-century Ismaili philosopher, the former Institute of Ismaili Studies scholar Eric Ormsby notes that
“philosophy and science apply in the realm of the zahir, the exoteric aspect of things, while tawil addresses the privileged realm of the batin, the esoteric understanding of revelation. Neither realm is essentially separable from the other; they are complementary and constitute a whole. They are as interdependent as the bodily senses and the soul, each of which plays a fundamental role in the constitution of the human being and of the cosmos.” (Ormsby, 2012, p. 8)
Human bodies have to engage physically with the material world and the exoteric stipulations of religion belong to the dimension of the zahir. The “human soul, however, needs to know the inner meanings and significance of these acts and scriptures on which they are based” (Hunsberger, 2000, pp. 75–76). It is imperative in the context of Ismaili cosmology for the soul to become enlightened by these higher truths that only exist in the batin (Hunzai, 2005).
Tawil is viewed as an interpretive method which discloses the inner meanings of the Qur’anic revelation that would otherwise remain invisible to those conducting exegesis only by means of tafsir. Whereas the word tafsir comes from the sense “to comment,” tawil involves the quest for original meanings or, more precisely, originary significance. Ismaili hermeneutics seek to reveal to the believer the Qur’anic signifiers (mathal) that are “incomprehensible to an ordinary mind because of their complex implications and extraordinarily profound meanings” (Shah, 2005, p. 119). Becoming knowledgeable of the mathal’s originary signified sense (mamthul) involves spiritual and intellectual exertion of a high order. Tawil opens the way for comprehending the “ultimate implications and aims” (ibid) of God’s signs.
Who, then, can carry out tawil? Whereas tafsir of the Qur’an is performed by knowledgeable members of the religious classes (ulama) among Sunnis and the non-Ismaili Shia, tawil, according to Ismaili tradition, can only be conducted by the hereditary Imam and, to a lesser extent, by members of the Imam’s mission (dawa) (Steigerwald, 2006). Authority for this is based on the Qur’an, which states that “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] tawil save Allah and those who are well-grounded in knowledge (ilm)” (Qur’an 3:7). The Shia, including Ismailis, understand “those who are well-grounded in knowledge (ilm)” in this verse to be the hereditary Imams descended from Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima, the first Shia Imam and the Prophet’s daughter, respectively. (Sunnis disagree with this reading.) The status of Imams with respect to the conduct of tawil is also supported by the Shia with certain sayings (hadiths) of the Prophet Muhammd referring to Hazrat Ali (Shah, 2005). Whereas the revelation (tanzil) denotes the descent of the divine message to humanity, the Imam enables his followers, through the tawil of this message, to attain spiritual ascent by enabling them to comprehend the original senses of its signified meanings.
According to Qadi al-Nu’man, a prominent tenth-century Ismaili scholar and close confidant of the fourteenth Imam, al-Muiz, Hazrat Ali’s outstanding qualities were his knowledge, nobility, and aptitude for providing proofs. As successors of Ali, the Ismaili Imams are viewed by their followers as having the ability to provide esoteric explanations of Qur’anic passages. Al-Nu’man also describes the Imams “as the bearers of the Divine illuminating substance (nur), and the ones who receive Divine help (tayid), and inspiration (ilham)” (quoted in Shah, 2005, p. 121).
“The traits also denote that an Imam does not require any teacher other than the preceding Imam from whom he imbibes the particular knowledge. The preceding Imam entrusts the Imama to him and thus teaches him. On the basis of all this, al-Numan refers to the knowledge of Imams as the real and true knowledge (al-ilm al-haqiqi) and the one which is transmitted from one Imam to another Imam (al-ilm al-mathur).” (Ibid)
Contemporary Nizari Ismailis hold that their present Imam, Aga Khan IV, who is forty-ninth in lineage since Hazrat Ali, has the authority and the ability to guide them according to the exoteric and esoteric teachings of Islam. Allegiance to the Imam of the time (Imam al-zaman) and membership in the Ismaili religious community are prerequisites for receiving knowledge of the batin from him (Carney, 2009).
EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC
A book by the tenth-century Ismaili scholar Jafar bin Mansur al-Yaman narrates a series of dialogues that narrate the initiation of an adept into the esoteric teachings of the faith (Morris, 2001). It relates the need for careful intellectual and spiritual preparation and the deeply private nature of the communication between master and disciple. The knowledge of the batin received in this manner is to be kept within the community. Only those who have received Ismaili teachings and comprehend the significance of esoteric knowledge can understand its value. However, the disciple’s understanding of the batin is limited by his/her spiritual capacity; each person can only see the esoteric truth as far as is permitted by her hermeneutic horizon’s current limit (Corbin, 1954). The truth is learnt in stages, and remains a continuing process.
Not only will outsiders not be able to make any sense of the batin, it will also be harmful to them. An explication is to be found in an Indian Ismaili hymn (ginan) which relates several miracles of Pir Shams, a legendary thirteenth to fourteenth-century saint. One story tells of his banishment from a city whose inhabitants did not understand the true nature of spirituality. The turn of events brought him to a situation where he and his disciple had only raw meat for food and no means to cook it. In this difficult state, he asked the sun to descend in order to cook the meat. When the sun came down it did not harm the Pir and his disciple, but its proximity set the city and its people on fire (Hooda, 1948). The account is seen as making a symbolic statement about the power of esoteric knowledge, represented by the sun : it nourishes those who have been initiated into the understanding of the batin by enabling them to gain knowledge of its true nature, but can destroy those who have not. The Imam and appointed members his dawah are the only ones who can provide such knowledge.
Since approaching the essence of the batin is not possible without the guidance of the Imam it is imperative, according to Ismaili belief, that there should always be a living Imam among humanity. The lineage, starting from Hazrat Ali, is expected to continue to the Day of Judgment. However, there have been periods in Ismaili history when the Imam was in mortal danger and had to go into concealment (satr). The Imams under threat from the mid-eighth to early tenth centuries and from the mid-thirteenth to late eighteenth centuries were in concealment, according to Ismaili historiography. Following the first period of satr, the community entered a period of kashf (unveiling) and rose to political power. Ismailis established the Fatimid Empire (909–1171 CE) in North Africa and built Cairo as its capital. Their leaders ruled as Imam-Caliphs over a vast realm that stretched at various times from Morocco to Arabia and also included principalities in Italy, Yemen, and India. However, even at this time, the religious followers of the Ismaili Imam were a minority among a population that included a majority of Sunnis as well as Christians, Jews, and others.
The Fatimids founded institutions of learning in their empire that catered to general instruction on religious and non-religious matters. These included Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which, a thousand years later, is still operating; it is now a global centre of learning for Sunni Islam. The Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge) dealt with philosophy and the sciences, and was a model for similar institutions that were established in other Muslim lands (Halm, 1997). Fatimid Imam-Caliphs delivered public sermons at mosques on major festivals (Walker, 2009). However, private gatherings known as majalis al-hikma (sessions of wisdom) were held to provide Ismaili teachings to the Imam’s religious adherents. The Imam personally authorized the materials read out at these gatherings (Halm, 1997). A document from the period provides the following directions to the instructor:
“Read the majalis al-hikam, which were handed to you at the court, to the faithful (i.e. the Ismailis), male and female, and to the adepts, male and female, in the brilliant palaces of the caliphs and in the Friday mosque in al-Muiziyya al-Qahira (the Azhar Mosque of Cairo). But keep the secrets of the wisdom from the unauthorized, and distribute them only to those who are entitled to them! Do not reveal to the weak what they are unable to grasp, but at the same time do not look upon their understanding as too poor to absorb it!” (Parentheses in the original.) (1997, pp. 47–48)
These sessions of wisdom regarding the exoteric and esoteric aspects of faith conducted teaching according to the respective levels of understanding of the various congregations among the religious followers of the Imam-Caliph.
MEANING IN MATERIAL CULTURE
Whereas present-day Nizari Ismailis do not subscribe to the particular cosmological structures that underpinned Fatimid philosophy, they continue to adhere to beliefs relating to the concepts such as zahir and batin. Their communities (jamats) hold private religious gatherings in Jamatkhanas (congregational houses), which non-Ismailis are not permitted to attend. All those present will have given allegiance to the Imam of the time. The Jamatkhana is the preserve of the Ismaili private sphere. The Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto are located on a 17-acre landscaped site that is publicly accessible. The juxtaposition of these two buildings, separated by some 80 metres, is particularly noteworthy. The former has an active engagement with the public while the latter contains a religious space that is kept private, in accordance with the community’s esoteric traditions. Over the contemporary prayer hall is a prominent glass dome that is postmodernist in design. At its foundation ceremony, the Aga Khan noted that the “building will feature a crystalline frosted glass dome—standing like a great beacon on top of a building that is itself at the highest point of the site—and illuminating the Prayer Hall and its Qibla wall” (Aga Khan IV, 2010). The current Imam makes an intriguing statement about the relationship between Ismaili public and private spaces and also that between the visible and the invisible as well as between zahir and batin. Not only is the Jamatkhana placed on the most elevated spot in the area, its pyramid-shaped translucent cover lights up for the surrounding region, including the arterial Don Valley Parkway, along which thousands of vehicles travel daily.
Esotericism is generally conceptualized in the contexts of closed groups. Esoteric discourse and meanings tend not to be shared with the public. Ismaili hermeneutics seek to bring back potent words to their hidden original meanings, which have spiritual resonance for all human beings. Whereas this cannot be done without initiation into the privacy of the Ismaili fold, the community seeks alternatively to articulate its worldview publicly through institutional work and through appeals to universal values and symbolic discourses using material culture such as architecture and design. The Imam commissions some of the world’s leading architects to design the buildings that house his institutions. The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat’s building in Ottawa is illustrative of the Aga Khan’s expression of Ismaili perspectives in architecture, even that meant for secular purposes. This is what he stated at its inauguration:
“It will be a site for robust dialogue, intellectual exchange, and the forging of new partnerships—with government, and with the institutions of civil society and the private sector of Canada and so many other countries. To be able to site this building on Confederation Boulevard, in close proximity to your major national institutions as well as representations from abroad, is itself a symbol of the outgoing, interactive spirit which must guide our response to global challenges.” (Aga Khan IV, 2008)
While referring to the “outgoing, interactive spirit” in the secular engagement with the public sphere, the Aga Khan was keen to embed the building, which is representative of the Ismaili Imamat, with symbols that speak to the interaction between the zahir and the batin.  In a letter to the building’s Japanese architect, Fumihiko Maki, he indicated that it had to reflect metaphorically the properties of rock crystal, in which “the cuts and angles permit both transparency as well as translucency…It pleases and confuses the eye by its internal planes running at different angles, creating a sense of visual mystery” (quoted in Cook, 2008).
The Aga Khan said that the challenges facing the architect called for
“translating concepts that have a context in our faith and our history, yet stride boldly and confidently ahead, into modernity; for expressing both the exoteric and the esoteric, and our awe and humility towards the mysteries of Nature, Time and beyond. The outcome is an inter-play of multiple facets, like rock crystal. In it are platforms of pure but translucent horizontality. Light’s full spectrum comes alive and disappears as the eye moves. In Islam the divine is reflected in Nature’s creation.” (Aga Khan IV, 2005)
Rock crystal was also prized by the current Imam’s Fatimid ancestors, whose craftsmen carved beautiful objets d’art from this material (Bloom, 2007). Aga Khan IV finds in this pure quartz crystal a symbolic expression of the mysteries of the esoteric, which he asked his architect to explore. “What we observed is complete transparency in some areas and complete opacity in others. Then there are infinite numbers of translucency” (quoted in Cook, 2008), said an associate of Fumihiko. In alternating of transparency, translucency and opacity, rock crystal seems materially to mimic glimpses of the mystery of the batin — which is usually invisible, unclear, or confusing but begins to become more visible and clearer when the disciple learns to orient herself toward it. However, this remains a never-ending process that involves a continuing search through multiple levels of truth in accordance with one’s growing spiritual horizon (Corbin, 1954). The hermeneutic unveiling of religious signifiers is not direct but mediated through infinite gradations of translucence, which appears to symbolize “the constant search for answers that leads inevitably to more questions” (Aga Khan IV, 2005).
The term esoteric sometimes connotes a tendency to withdraw from public life, as was the case with the Gnostic tradition in the Christian faith. Whereas Ismailis went into concealment in certain periods to continue practising their esoteric faith in safety, they are vigorously interacting with the public sphere in contemporary times. The community is engaging with a world where secular norms have lessened the value of religious perspectives in shaping public worldviews. However, this relatively small group appears to be working to develop a common discourse based on the broader values it shares with other people. Issues such as ethics, education, good governance, quality of life, pluralism, service etc. have provided for productive communicative bridges with others. The success of Ismaili institutions has also enhanced external confidence in them.
While seeking to ensure privacy about his community’s religious practice, the Imam appears to be engaging in a symbolic discourse through the media of design and architecture to express exoteric and esoteric concepts publicly. Placing an Ismaili Jamatkhana on an elevated location and designing its dome as a bright lamp in the Toronto cityscape appears to draw aesthetically from a sense of mystery reminiscent of the highly symbolic Qur’anic verse of light (24:35) and a ginan’s metaphoric reference to “When the Lord’s light shines in the north[ern] continent” (Peer Sadardeen, n.d.). Outsiders can see the brightly illuminated translucent shell of the pyramidal dome but its inner realm remains invisible and private. Symbolism using material culture is here an intriguing means to communicate with the public about the community’s most deeply held values.
Date posted: May 2, 2018.
Last updated: May 3, 2018 (minor typos).
. The first word was iqra; it is interpreted variantly as both “read” and “recite.”
. It occurs 856 times (Shah-Kazemi, 2011, p. 4).
. The sun has symbolized the Imam in Nizari Ismaili literature (e.g., Ivanow, 1947, p. 18).
. Valérie Gonzalez discusses “a double semiotic structure signifying at both the manifest and the hidden level” (2001, p. 33) in the context of a relationship between Qur’anic text and Muslim architectural aesthetics.
About the author: Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam and a Professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. He has also served as Director of the School and of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England, and has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. Earlier in his career, he worked as a journalist and as a senior policy analyst in the Canadian Government. Professor Karim has been a distinguished lecturer at venues in North America, Europe, and Asia. He won the inaugural Robinson Prize for his book Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence. His most recent publications are Diaspora and Media in Europe: Migration, Identity, and Integration; Re-Imagining the Other: Culture, Media and Western-Muslim Intersections and Engaging the Other: Public Policy and Western-Muslim Intersections. One of Dr. Karim’s articles is “Clash of Ignorance” and he is currently writing a book on this topic.
A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..”
By ZAFEERA KASSAM
(This piece originally appeared on Simerg’s sister blog http://www.barakah.com. It is reproduced, with minor layout changes).
I don’t think I can ever understand the human capacity to experience two polar opposite emotions simultaneously: indescribable happiness and also deep sadness, a profound sense of soulful quietude and also a rippling feeling of restlessness.
As I sat there in the hall, participating in intezari program, I was a column of conflict: Ecstatic to finally be here, excited over the joy of the possibility of seeing my Imam in all his grandeur. But also concerned that time was going by too quickly, that all of this would end too soon. Time always moves like rapids whenever he is physically present and when he isn’t, time is a meandering snail.
It was endearing listening to the children singing ginans like ‘Eji Anand Anand’ and ‘Kalapat Jalapat’ as well as qasidas like ‘Dam Hamma Dam Ali Ali’, ‘Ya Imami Ya Imami’ and ‘Goyum Ali Joyum Ali’. The ventis, zikr and renditions of ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ were well received. And the Al-Waez who came on periodically to explain the procedures that take place during the Darbar and the significance of these gestures made an emphatic point to revel in the moment, to use the silences that would lapse between one ginan and another to reflect on various facets of the Darbar, including who our beloved Imam is, what he has done for the world at large in the past 60 years and our own relationship with the Imam of the time.
The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.
The gentleman next to me found it curious that I kept checking my watch but how could I explain to him my contention with time – it was moving too swiftly: 7am had become 9am all too soon, and yet it wasn’t moving swiftly at all. When would 11am arrive and bring with it our Lord and Murshid, our beloved Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam?
Amidst the hustle of standing up for the zikr and inching forward to make space to accommodate the large numbers filing in, I was able to glance around at the hall decorated by volunteers who worked day and night to create a simple yet alluring ambience. White festooning hung from the ceiling in circular formations and delicate floral arrangements adorned diamond-shaped hangings. The stage itself was classy too with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s chair appearing majestic in the centre. The Diamond Jubilee motif dominated the hall, reminding us of what the occasion represented – not that we needed the reminder but their striking colour and form captured the eye frequently.
In what felt like no time at all, it was five minutes to 11am. The ginan that was going on ended abruptly as the screens lit up with Mawla’s motorcade rounding the corner at Darkhana. Mawla’s green Audi slowed down at the entrance. The door opened. Breathing halted. Mawla alighted and salwats swelled in the hall. That jovial countenance filled the screen and it felt like he too was in a hurry to enter as he gestured to the Mukhi Kamadia and Mukhiani Kamadiani and swept into the foyer. The screens went blank and the heart started racing. He was here! The Lord of Light and love was but a glance away. It felt like the soul itself was eager to leap out and embrace him as soon as he appeared in sight. All the conflicting emotions converged into one geyser of ardour. And then time slowed to a standstill – waiting, waiting, waiting for him to emerge from the Green Room and step into the hall.
I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap.
The salwats started up again, somewhere near the entrance and picked up fervour as if a wave of emotion flowed through the whole gathering. And then Mawlana Hazar Imam came into sight! And what a sight to behold. Awash with gratitude, awash with adoration, awash with immense joy and humility, there I sat.
Ishq pe ho gayi meher khuda ki,
Rab ne soon li araz hamari,
Rabba tera lakh lakh shukrana — excerpt of poem by Ravindran Jain
Lord has shone His mercy on my love
And has fulfilled my yearning
Gratitude to you, O my Lord
Hundreds and thousands of thank you, O my Lord
The only feeling that comes the slightest bit close to this feeling is the one you get when standing at the shore and seeing the sun rise at the brink of the ocean. The Light had appeared before me and finally I saw him dressed in his Diamond Jubilee Khil’at. What I thought I would feel seeing this was nothing like what I truly felt. But the visceral thirst was momentarily quenched and I watched the screen as the camera followed his walk along the red carpet. I saw a lady thrust a letter to the Imam, which he graciously accepted then handed over to the Mukhisaheb.
I saw a little boy take a few steps forward, innocently holding out a two-finger Kit Kat to the Imam, who at first held his hand out to say, thank you but you have it, then graciously accepted the chocolate and handed it over to Mukhisaheb. It seemed like the Imam paused to say something to him, beaming at him, as the boy took his place on his mother’s lap. A ripple of amusement spread through the jamat at that moment. Hazar Imam continued along the red carpet, showering generous blessings upon individuals, and finally ascended the steps to take his place on the stage.
He gave his permission for the ceremonies to take place. The 49-link gold chain was garlanded around his neck, and from the point where the Tilawat-e-Qur’an was recited along with its translation, the Venti Ginan and Zikr, Hazar Imam’s expression was a serious and sombre one. But when those who recited the prayers went to him to get blessings, his face lit up with beguiling beams. The President of the Council, respected Mr Nawaz Gulam, gave his pledge of allegiance on behalf of the jamats present and that was indeed a solemn moment. I thank him for including the plea for forgiveness of any shortcomings or transgressions.
[Mawlana Hazar Imam] directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”
And then came the moment we were all earnestly awaiting, the moment when Hazar Imam came to the microphone and his enchanting voice resonated throughout the hall. How we thirsted to hear his “My beloved spiritual children” and the warmth that cocooned us with those special words was indescribable. Glee thrummed through my veins to hear him extended his “warmest and best, best, BEST, loving blessings” and the heart swelled to enormity to hear: “I hope this will be a day of happiness in the Jamat as it is a day of happiness for me. That there will be lots of joy. I think you call it Dandia Raas and so there will be plenty of dancing.”
The heart was already dancing. He went on to joke, “I suspect a little bit of biryani from here or there.” And then He shared something that was truly touching and poignant, “And I will participate with you in your rejoicing for it is a day of immense happiness for me.” Imagine that. The Imam rejoicing with you, dancing with you, savouring the yummy biryani with you. Wow.
He went on to thank the government for extending kindnesses and courtesies to him and he mentioned this thrice. The second time round He added, “I am grateful to the government on your behalf and on my behalf”. He instructed the jamat to take back to their countries, families and friends, his best, affectionate blessings.
He said, “tell your Jamat that I am thinking of them, that I send them blessings for mushkil aasaan in their lives, not only here in Kenya but around the world.” He further said he looks forward for strong work, for the unity of the jamat, for the strength of our institutions and for success of our younger generation in their education.
He emphasized on this and directed the younger generation to “Learn. And learn more. And continue to learn all your lives so that you may serve your families, your jamat, strongly and successfully. To work hard from early childhood development until post-graduate university studies. This is an opportunity to gain capabilities which will serve you all your lifetime. So do not miss this opportunity, do not treat it lightly.”
He gave special blessings for the younger generation to succeed in their educational endeavours.
A point of real wonder during this historic Farman was when Hazar Imam talked about how we are a global brotherhood so we should work together, come together to try and achieve good goals across frontiers, across oceans so that the brotherhood can be a solid sustenance to all, for us and for future generations. At that moment, I remembered the Ayat of the Holy Quran which Hazar Imam has shared many times with us: “Oh Mankind! Fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul..” and it felt like an important reminder that we are all one universal brotherhood and it is high time we put aside our hang-ups with status and position, we dissolve our discriminations and biases, and begin acting in the manner that Mowla sees us: brothers and sisters; one jamat; one family.
He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent!
Hazar Imam further emphasized that our tradition is an intellectual tradition: “Invest in your intellect. Learn. Use learning for the benefit of yourselves, your families and your jamat. Acquire knowledge throughout your lifetime, not just during academic years.” He urged us to keep knowledge part of the way we think and develop our activities, to bring into these activities competence, wisdom and ‘Best Practice’. He specified, “I would be so happy if all my jamat was part of Best Practice worldwide. This is what I hope for my jamat.”
It was extraordinarily touching when Mawlana Hazar Imam shared a childhood memory. He and his brother, Prince Amyn, used to collect rabbits and every morning, they would go out to say ‘good morning’ to the rabbits. One morning they had a terrible surprise. The rabbits were all gone! He held out his hands and we aww-ed when He said, “they had been eaten.” We were all smiles to hear him end this anecdote with: “Lots of fun, a few heartaches, and, above all, happiness of being here in Kenya.”
Immense, immense happiness and gratitude is what I felt for being part of this Darbar.
He gave special blessings for happiness, long life, good health and mushkil aasan again, emphatically adding, “may all your problems disappear as though they didn’t exist. That’s what I wish for you.” He spoke so lovingly and so soothingly, it really did feel like all and any material problems were nonexistent! With an Imam like that, whose love knows no bounds and crosses all barriers, who is the epitome of all facets good and positive, what are problems and what tenacity do they even have?
Mawlana Hazar Imam took his seat and the Mukhi Kamadia Sahebs Mukhiani Kamadiani Sahebas of the Kenyan Jurisdiction, Congo Jamat and Malagasy Jamat, respectively, presented mehmanis to the Imam, which were graciously blessed. This was promptly followed by the Imam divinely blessing the Aab-e-Shafa. Next, the Nazranas were humbly offered to the Imam. Earlier, during the intezari programme, these nazranas were shared with the jamat, photographs of which were shown on the screens. The Kenyan jurisdiction’s nazrana was a pair of high back wooden armchairs from Lamu; the Democratic Republic of Congo unearthed a water sprinkler that had six tubes extending from the bottom bowl to the top bowl and it was shared that the six tubes each represent 10 years of Hazar Imam’s Imamat, totalling to 60 glorious years; the Malagasy jamat found a ewer and plate from a rare collection made in France with Islamic engravings on it.
He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.
The nazranas were presented in forms of photo catalogues to the Imam. He showed keen interest in these and when He came to the mic the second time around, he expressed genuine pleasure at having received these nazranas and wished that the gifts be returned to the jamat – each and every individual – a thousand times over. Such a generous Imam, truly!
He confided that Mukhisaheb has reminded him – though he did not need to – that the volunteers had done good work and Mawla gave special blessings for all the hard work they had put in to make this visit a happy one for him. He gave further blessings to the jamat for fulfilment of good wishes, for good health, long life, unity in families, that we may live in peace wherever we are and for strength on Sirat-al-Mustaqeem, at which point he made the gesture of moving along a straight path.
And then came the moment we didn’t look forward to – Mawlana Hazar Imam descending the stage to leave the hall. Oh, if only we had the capability to make him stay with us longer. But he didn’t leave straight away. He walked along the red carpet and made his way to where the senior citizens were sitting on the chairs, passing by the hospital beds, walking – it seemed – slowly and swiftly (if that is even possible) until he loomed into sight where I was seated. It’s not possible to put into words what kind of transformation takes place when “naino se nain mila” but the ginan ‘Ab Teri Mohabbat Lagi’ captures the essence of deeply coveting this phenomenon. I don’t think it’s meant to be expressed in words as it is a highly personal and ‘anmol’ occurrence.
He turned the corner and reached the exit, pausing briefly to acknowledge, with a smile, some jamati members waving at him.
We were informed that he would spend some time with the leaders of the jamat to discuss important issues, that he had spent 45 minutes in Dubai and 40 minutes in Mumbai doing so, and the jamat was requested to stay put and participate in the post-darbar programme of zikr, ginans and tasbihs.
Mawlana Hazar Imam left after one whole hour (60 minutes) and was sent off by the Ismaili Youth Band and Volunteers Corp who held up placards stating “We love you, Hazar Imam.” That was a touching sight to behold.
But the mixed emotions came flooding back – the same incomprehensible polar-opposite emotions crashing at the shore of my conscious – ecstasy and melancholy; sukoon and tadap. Ecstasy to have seen him and heard his voice; melancholy that the whole event was over and he had physically departed; sukoon at having being invaluably blessed and deeply grateful for it too; tadap because when will such a Divine Deedar happen again?
Naseeb pachha kyare khulse? (When will good fortune strike again?)
It’s just never, ever enough.
The ginans speak of it and I now live it.
Eji Jiska re ma-e-bap gam sadharya re piya
Uska farzand kiyu kar raheve re,
Maherban mere, Saheb mere, dayavant mere maherban
Ya Shah tuj bina so din javega kese piyaji – excerpt of Ginan “Tumko Sadhaare” by Pir Sadardin
Children whose beloved parent is physically leaving town
How can they stay here happily?
O my Merciful, O my Lord,
How will I stay without you in these times?
Date posted: April 17, 2018.
Zafeera Kassam is a high-school teacher of English Language, Literature and Psychology, residing in Nairobi, Kenya. She spends her free time in creative writing and poetry, and has had her short stories and poems published in various media around the world. As a devotee of Mowlana Hazar Imam, her greatest joy is in penning verse and poems in praise of Hazar Imam. Her latest publication, Always and Forever, is a book of 60 poems dedicated especially to Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee (available on Amazon Kindle). She is also an amateur photographer who takes great interest in capturing nature. Currently, she is concentrating on developing her skills in graphic design and digital imagery. Most of all, she hopes to be continuously inspired to keep penning poems in praise of beloved Hazar Imam.
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Note: This post will be updated at regular intervals as more information become available.
Flights to Lisbon are becoming harder to find on specific travelling dates in early July, and hotels are now quickly filling up as Jamati members respond to the official LIF (Ismaili Leaders International Forum) announcement made on Navroz, March 21, 2018 that, with Mawlana Hazar Imam’s approval, the Jamats around the world would be welcome to join the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Lisbon. Some weeks earlier, Nazim Ahmed, the AKDN representative to Portugal and one of the 5 senior officials of the Imamat to Portugal, made a statement to Portugal’s Ministry of External Affairs that the celebrations in Lisbon would be the highest point of the celebrations of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Diamond Jubilee. This set off a flood inquiries about what form the celebration would take, and many even started preparing for the trip then.
We want to tell you not to despair about flight and hotel bookings yet, but urge you NOT TO DELAY despite the fact that registration details for the Portugal Darbar have not yet been announced on the official Ismaili community website. The Ismaili, however, has launched a special website that presently informs the Jamat about events that are planned in Lisbon. There are seats available on some of Air Canada’s return flights from Toronto; and TAP, the Portuguese airline flies directly from Boston. Please get in touch with your airlines or travel agents, many of whom are offering complete packages from various cities around North America. Of course if you are in Europe, distances are shorter and many residing there may drive or take the train, as alternatives to flying!
My recent searches at some of the hotel booking sites that I have provided below — and that I have used many times — show that there are rooms available in Lisbon’s downtown at varying prices — from as low as CAD $55.00 per night to a high of CAD $1700.00 per night.
(Note: There may be visa requirements to travel to Portugal from your country, so you have to resolve that before making any kind of booking).
From the Jamat’s perspective, while the Darbar would undoubtedly be the high point of the visit, we want to say that there are plenty of interesting activities such as the Diamond Jubilee Festival that will be staged in Lisbon during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s presence in Lisbon. The official community website, the Ismaili, mentions that the Festival will include concerts featuring world-renowned performers; an international Jamati Talent Showcase; an Art Gallery; a Film Festival; and a general Imamat Day celebration. Also, a carry forward from the Golden Jubilee is the Rays of Light exhibition depicting Mawlana Hazar Imam’s commitment to improve the human condition during his 60 years of Imamat. A Mela (get together space) for friends and family to meet, relax, and share experiences will be the central hub of the Diamond Jubilee Celebration.
The Portuguese Jamat, as we learn, are very excited about welcoming the world wide Jamat for the “high point of the Diamond Jubilee celebration.”
Over the weekend of March 24-25, 2018, I attended in Toronto the Canadian Jubilee arts festival and was impressed with stage performances and visual art exhibits. Now, that talent will converge in Lisbon from Ismaili Jamats who held local and national Jubilee events in their respective countries.
Lisbon hosts the third high profile Ismaili Jamatkhana and Centre to be built after the London and Burnaby Ismaili Centres. So visiting the Festival and seeing the Ismaili Centre during Hazar Imam’s presence, meeting thousands at the Festival grounds, enjoying Portuguese delicacies at the site and Lisbon restaurants, visiting historic sites in and around Lisbon as well as shopping are some of the wonderful memories that you will take back with you, Darbar aside.
Moreover, the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat is being established in Lisbon, and we would all be very excited to visit its location in the heart of Lisbon.
The city of Lisbon itself is enchanting and has a lot to offer. Not far from Lisbon, approximately 300 kms away, is Portugal’s Algarve, one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world. Spain’s Cordoba is 500 kms from Lisbon. Then, from there it is another 2 hours to the architectural wonder of Alhambra, in Granada.
Lisbon has been at the centre of my heart for almost 56 years and it all started with Eusébio (1942-2014), the football player, who was essentially “kidnapped” from Mozambique by the great Portuguese team of the time, Benfica. Soon after joining Benfica he led the team to a 5-3 win over Real Madrid in the finals of the European Cup (now known as the UEFA Champions Cup) on May 2, 1962 in Amsterdam. As an 8 year old, I stayed awake to listen to the live commentary in Lourenço Marques (LM) at my friend Aziz Noorali’s place at the other end of the apartment complex where we stayed. “Golo de Benfica” – yes that was when I first fell in love with Lisboa! Eusébio broke the 3-3 tie, scoring the last 2 goals that made Benfica victorious, and a side to be reckoned with for the next few years with him as its superstar, like today’s Portuguese Ronaldo who plays for Real Madrid.
A few years later in the 1970’s the small Ismaili Jamat started leaving Mozambique for settlement in Portugal, and my first glimpse of Lisbon was in 1977 when I travelled there from London. The Keshavjee family hosted me, and Lutafbhai spent hours showing me the city, taking me to its most historical and charming sites. His older brother, the late Madatbhai, took me to other points of interest as well as to a coastal restaurant, where I enjoyed the tiger prawns that I had missed in Tanzania and London since leaving Mozambique.
I vividly remember one night during that first trip to Lisbon when more than a dozen family members from the Keshavjee clan took me to a very traditional Portuguese restaurant where I experienced a wide variety of local delicacies. The weight gain from that meal has not been lost to this day! During my subsequent visits, I was welcomed to Lisbon with hugs and kisses, because my parents had served the LM Jamat admirably and with distinction during their 8 year tenure there in the 1950’s! Then, in 2008, I took my daughter with me to Lisbon for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee.
What about today’s Mozambique and Portugal Jamats? I am happy to share a warm invitational letter from Aly Faruque in response to an earlier version of this post published on Barakah. He writes:
“As a Portuguese citizen currently residing in Mozambique, I would like to, in the first instance to welcome you to Portugal. We all look forward to receiving our brothers and sisters, and to experience together this incredible moment of history that our Community is celebrating.
“Your words, comments, and memories deeply touched us [referring to my Barakah post], by your humility and availability to share precious and valuable information. The history and the past that you shared from our Countries bring us nostalgia and willingness to remember even further our great memories from the past, as well as when looking at pictures that connect us back to our roots and traditions. This is indeed very heartwarming.
“But our history and tradition did not stop in the second half of the 20th century. Mozambique currently has a vibrant Ismaili community spread across the country, that includes 7 (and growing) Jamatkhanas, and, Portugal, where our community has prospered, is now the home of many brothers and sisters that are well integrated and without any doubt a part of the socio-economic fabric of the Portuguese society.
“In addition, and although Eusebio is still well respected, we are currently living the most glorious years of our football history. Portugal is the current holder of the European Cup and the best player in the world, perhaps of all times, is named Cristiano Ronaldo and started his career in Sporting Clube of Portugal, probably the best school of football talents in the world.
“As for the city of Lisbon, the highlights you mentioned are brilliant and definitely a must-see during a visit to our beautiful country and city. There are other places, those that are not on the itinerary of tour guides, and that could be a more genuine view of the Lisbon vibrant hospitality. Some of these places would be the Mercado de Campo de Ourique, where you can have a gourmet experience in an informal environment, the LX Factory, where you can visit some of the trendiest restaurants in Lisbon, and the Bairro Alto, Principe Real, Chiado and Cais do Sodre neighborhoods, suitable for both day and night experience.
“We look forward to receiving you all.”
Aly would like readers to note that his views about sightseeing and places to visit in Lisbon are personal. Readers who want more information about the city, from his perspective, may contact him at email@example.com.
Today the city’s (and the country’s) institutions have recognized Hazar Imam’s contribution and have bestowed him with honours. The Ismaili Imamat and the Portugese government signed a historical agreement to establish the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat in Portugal. Long before that, Lisbon already had established the third high profile Ismaili Centre in the world.
There are plenty of things to do in and around Lisbon, and I would suggest that anyone travelling to the city experience its history and architecture by taking day tours or simply jumping on Tram 28 to see the best of Lisbon! Hop on and off buses are available! Aly Faruque has also provided unique insights in his letter, above.
Amin Jiná has sent me a link to the exclusive ground transportation that he offers through http://www.amiroad.pt. I normally don’t endorse services that I have not utilized myself but I would be inclined to use his services due to the extremely positive reviews and high ratings he has received at https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g189158-d7134166-Reviews-Amiroad_Luxury_Transports-Lisbon_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html.
Lisbon’s subway system is great (see map, below). With regard to accommodations do not necessarily look for one closest to the Ismaili Centre. There are lovely hotels and charming Airbnb rooms and apartments available in centre city and other historical areas of the city such as Alfama. Taking a cab to the Ismaili Centre or the site of the Darbar from downtown Lisbon (or Baixa) will not take you more than 20 minutes! So be an intrepid traveller – not a boring one! Kids love excitement, remember that, if you are travelling with children and youth. And of course staying in the more traditional and popular areas of the city will allow you to walk to nearby restaurants for great coffees and pastries, and make sightseeing and shopping exciting as well as easier.
I have made bookings over the past several years through all the websites listed below, with a very high level (95%) of satisfaction. Where a hotel has not met the expected star level or service as indicated at the site where the reservation was made, their customer service representatives have been extremely considerate in fixing the problem or applying credits for subsequent stays. I have also stayed at many Airbnb accommodations over the past 2 years that have been positively reviewed and I don’t have anything to complain about. With the oncoming rush many new properties will be listed that do not yet carry reviews. If they look good in photos and the person you communicate with is responsive, go for it. Here are the sites I have made bookings through. Note that many properties offer cancellations!
Tip: Use filters (eg. price range, dates of stay, star rating, location from city centre or major attractions etc.) to narrow down search
Note: This is an updated version of a piece that was first published at http://www.barakah.com. Both the pieces now contain almost identical information.
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Since the commencement of his Diamond Jubilee on July 11, 2017, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, has visited 9 countries and flown more than 90,000 kilometres. At the age of 81, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismailis is the oldest reigning Imam in Ismaili history. We invite our readers to read and learn about his life through a treasury of insightful essays, memorable quotes, narratives, beautiful songs and stunning photographs, including rare and historical images, on our sister website Barakah. The following is Barakah’s table of contents as of March 26, 2018.
Date posted: February 25, 2018.
Last updated: February 27, 2018.