“Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” a Once-in-a-Lifetime Book that Brings the 49th Ismaili Imam’s History and Spiritual Leadership to Life

“As he says in his own introduction to the book, Otte engaged in a deep research of the photo archives of the Aga Khan, finding images chosen for their quality but also for the fascinating story they tell. The result is a unique collection of photos, many of which have not been published before, but which, taken together, form a visual biography. It is a book about His Highness the Aga Khan, but it is also a portrait in time and space of the world seen from a different perspective, one of endless change and movement, but also one of hope” — Philip Jodidio, Preface, p. ix, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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DEPTH OF FIELD: THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS, edited by Gary Otte with texts by Bruno Freschi, Philip Jodidio, Don Cayo and Gary Otte
Hardcover 260 pp. Published by Prestel, February 2022; 220 colour illustrations. To purchase the book, please see links provided immediately after the article.

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Reflections

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
Cover jacket of Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

By NIZAR A MOTANI, PhD

I have used the Aga Khan and Hazar Imam interchangeably in my reflections about this visual biography of him, by Gary Otte  

When I finally received the long-awaited book about Hazar Imam, I gleefully looked at the cover, actually the “jacket,” with his picture. It was intriguing that this photograph portraying Hazar Imam had part of his shoulder hidden: it was found in the inside “folding”, which also has an extract from the Preface. The complete photograph appears on page 121. Then, I instinctively and happily thumbed through this delightful “coffee table” edition, as if it was just an album, though about a familiar figure, without much thought and not reading most of the captions. It soon became apparent that the three essays preceding the photographs must have a purpose and should be read before taking a second closer look at them. In my humble opinion, this is what every viewer should do since these textual and contextual commentaries guide the viewer to not only how to view the images, but also, and more importantly, to ponder over them to see beyond these images, which collectively constitute a pictorial biography of the Aga Khan.

The editor of this milestone photographic record, Gary Otte, explains in the Introduction, that as the Aga Khan’s principal photographer for some thirty years, he had ample, varied and exhausting opportunities to capture a lot of “interesting stuff.” He witnessed happenings at “exotic and iconic locations; global leaders and ordinary folks”; — and events of great historical, cultural, religious and economic significance (p. xi).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“In an age dominated by moving images, still photographs continue to carry remarkable power. Nothing captures a moment as memorably. There is no movement to miss, no soundtrack to distract. It is the still photograph that becomes iconic – a fraction of a second with great impact that people can readily call to mind. Few moments in film or video imprint themselves so clearly. It is that single frame from a vivid scene that we carry with us… Like all the photographers who covered the life of the Aga Khan, I benefitted from his acceptance of us as chroniclers of history” — Gary Otte, Introduction, p. xiii, “Depth of Field, The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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The two hundred twenty meticulously selected photographs — ninety by him and 130 taken by some fifty other photographers — take the viewers on a panoramic tour of all aspects of the Aga Khan’s amazing life. They are not chronologically presented but were chosen because they were deemed “technically, compositionally, and editorially excellent” and were “more representative of geography, subject area and decades.” (p. xi).

Otte recommends viewers to inspect and revisit all the photographs because “every long look can reveal something new as you discover or imagine, what is happening.” (p. xi).

Philip Jodidio, a prolific author and an expert on contemporary art and architecture, has written a glowing Preface in which he comprehensively and chronologically portrays the major initiatives of Hazar Imam, who is described as “one of the most fascinating personalities in the world….he is a spiritual leader, the driving force behind numerous humanitarian and cultural organizations” as well as “one of the most important figures who has sought to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West” (p. v).

By reading this essay, themes and patterns will emerge in the two hundred twenty otherwise randomly presented photographs. The renowned Bruno Freschi’s brief but telling Foreword is centered on his deep respect for Otte’s superb photographic skills as well as his profound admiration of Otte’s extraordinary subject’s (The Aga Khan’s) ambitious, multidimensional, multifaceted mission, which has been so diligently and visually portrayed.

The Aga Khan’s mission, or more appropriately, his mandate as the Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, has been succinctly conveyed in excerpts from one of his numerous speeches (p. xvii) and from his historic address to the special joint session of the Canadian Parliament, on February 27, 2014. Thankfully, Jodidio has excerpted the essence of this speech in his Preface (p. v).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“Gary’s photography and his curation have produced a collection with a magical quality. The reader/viewer is transported into the event-image reality. The photography is the doorway into the spirit of the frozen moment. These event-moments are the curtain in the great theatre of life. Once the curtain is raised it reveals the compelling life story of the Aga Khan, an elegant portrait of his historic mission” — Bruno Freschi, Foreword, p. xv, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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In my reflections on just a few of the photographs in this non-chronological historical biography, I hope to be faithful to the sound, revealing guidance on how to embrace each image. Evidently, beyond and behind the photographs, there must be careful and plentiful preparation and coordination, prior to, during, and even after each different event: airport arrivals and departures; protocols; media liaison; motorcade escorts; security arrangements; translators, meetings with heads of state and other leaders; banquets and speeches — to think of just a few. The photograph on page 212 shows Dr. Shafik Sachedina, Head of the Department of Jamati Institutions at the Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat, and Dr. Mohammed Khesavjee, who served as the Information Officer at Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Secretariat at Aiglemont for many years, playing complementary roles behind and at the scene. Most photographs do not show such senior and other personnel in the Aga Khan’s entourage doing the critical groundwork.

The photograph on page 163 shows Hazar Imam thanking the police escort for his motorcade. He is always mindful of the very many individuals, institutions and organizations involved during his official visits as the state guest of the host governments, and he is known to unfailingly acknowledge his gratitude to all of them. Only some of them can be seen in some of the photographs, but they were there and we have to imagine them, as explained by the editor.

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Jacket, "Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens," 220 photographs, pictorial biography, Barakah, Nizar Motani reflection
Jacket, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” 220 photographs

In 1983 and 2008, the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader paid official visits as the guest of the ruling Sunni family of the emirate of Dubai (pp. 134 and 135). Significantly, the 2008 occasion was the opening ceremony of the new Ismaili Centre. We can only imagine the elaborate preparations and protocols for this historic event. Being invited as a virtual head of state by governments across the world is an unmistakable theme of this fascinating volume. So much planning and coordination by so many unseen volunteers and paid staff within and outside the Ismaili jamat is always the case.

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READERS SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS ON “THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS”

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

This fabulous book with its layout, font, selection of photos and essays is extraordinary — Moez Murji 

The photographs chosen are not only beautiful but were also very carefully selected, and each carries a deeper message of the Aga Khan’s incredible — and farsighted — vision. It’s indeed remarkable and an occasion of immense happiness for the Ismailis that the unbelievable results that have been achieved by Mawlana Hazar Imam in so many countries around the world are finally covered in such a well condensed pictorial book — Amin Jaffer

In this 280-page bumper pictorial biography of Mawlana Hazar Imam, which I ordered and have already received it as one of my living room’s table top collections, some of the pictures will bring alive our individual and family memories — Kamruddin Rashid

Beautiful! Now [after reading Nizar Motani’s reflections] I have to go back to the Visual Biography (love that!!) and look at it differently! Different viewers may have different meanings to different pictures. Great job Mr Gary Otte for the book and Nizar Motani for his reflections on the book — Mirza Smile 

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Gary Otte’s very first illustration is a two-page panoramic view of the October 1957 Dar es Salaam Takht Nashini. It requires deep individual contemplation to merely “digest” the thousands in attendance. And much more imagining of the hundreds more involved in numerous aspects of staging this majestic enthronement ceremony, in a British colonial African country, with several non-African immigrant minorities among the heterogeneous African populations, can be a challenging mental exercise!

It is almost on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the August 4th 1972 mass Asian Expulsion by Uganda’s mercurial megalomaniac military dictator, Idi Amin Dada, that I am encountering Hazar Imam’s somber photograph with Amin. It was taken during Hazar Imam’s critical February 1972 visit to Kampala (p. 59). I was still in London completing my doctoral dissertation on the topic of Uganda’s African Civil Service, hoping to teach African History at Makerere. It so happened that I returned on that fateful day — August 4th 1972, not to a much anticipated warmest welcome at the Entebbe Airport, but to most somber news, from my parents, about the expulsion order issued just prior to my arrival!

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

Such an epic volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. Gary Otte has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection…and has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text. Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes — Dr Nizar Motani, author of this post

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Therefore being absent from Uganda during Hazar Imam’s February visit, I can only imagine the challenging task of the local Ismaili entourage and leadership on how to brief Hazar Imam for any meeting with such a vainglorious man controlling the destiny of all Ugandans. Could Amin have given any clear signal about what was brewing in his mind prior to the alleged dream to ethnically cleanse Uganda of its much maligned Asian minorities? Could Hazar Imam have sensed any forebodings in order to prepare for all eventualities — since the expulsion order’s short deadline was met with fairly well-organized and timely evacuation under the most harrowing circumstances? I was one of the lucky ones who chose to and could leave, within a week, for the USA, but remained tormented and concerned about the rest of the family’s fate who had to plan their escape. This image on page 59 may linger for a long while but with deep gratitude that almost all Asians escaped relatively physically unscathed.

I will conclude my brief reflections about this unique official  pictorial biography of the Aga  Khan, our beloved Hazar Imam, by simply stating that such an epic  volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. The editor, Gary Otte, has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection of mostly previously unpublished photographs, from his childhood in Kenya to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in various parts of the world, where he was welcomed by the host countries’ Heads of State as a virtual visiting head of state.

Gary Otte has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text.

Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes. It also makes a wonderful gift to give to  thoughtfully selected non-Ismaili friends and colleagues to increase their awareness of the Aga Khan which Jodidio has stated may be  lacking in the general public. But even we, his murids, will be be astonished and overjoyed to learn so much that we cannot possibly already know about or have seen images of his multifarious undertaking, as well as his personal life.

One final thought, as I take the elderly members of the Jamat into consideration. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life, through the photographs in this book, spans three generations. How exciting and inspiring might it be for the elders, were their children and grandchildren to sit alongside them and leaf through all the beautiful photographs of their beloved Imam, not once but on multiple occasions. Old memories would be revived and new stories, narratives, anecdotes, and perspectives would emerge, individually and collectively, adding to our knowledge of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s glorious life and Imamat. This book MUST occupy a place in all Ismaili homes.

Date posted: June 18, 2022.

A slightly different version of this piece appeared recently on Simerg’s sister website Barakah under the title Reflections on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Pictorial Biography, “Depth of Field – The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens” by Nizar Motani.

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PURCHASING THE AGA KHAN’S BEAUTIFUL PICTORIAL BIOGRAPHY

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

The publisher’s recommended retail price for Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens is US $ 60.00; £ 45.00 but retailers and on-line book sellers may sell it for less. To purchase the book in Canada, click Aga Khan Museum Shop, Amazon.ca or Indigo.ca; in the USA, click Amazon.com; in the UK and other European countries, click Amazon.co.uk; and in Spain and Portugal click Amazon.es. Elsewhere, see if there is a local Amazon chapter serving your location or visit Amazon’s global page. Note that the book is also available for members of the Ismaili community at Jamatkhana literature counters around the world or through the local Jamatkhana leadership.

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Simerg welcomes your feedback, review and reflections on The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nizar Motani, Barakah, Dedicated to the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam
Nizar Motani

Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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A SHORT Youtube Presentation: Gary Otte on the Making of the Book

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

Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to more than 1500 pieces posted since the website was founded in the spring of 2009. Also visit our two sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos.

Simerg’s editor Malik Merchant may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com. Please follow Malik @Facebook and @Twitter.

Two Insightful and Profound Interviews of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the other branch being the Sunnis who form the Muslim majority. His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Hereditary spiritual leader or Imam of the Ismailis and is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) through his son-in-law, Ali (A.S.), who was married to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (A.S.). Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali were also first cousins — their respective fathers Abd al-Muttalib and  Abu Talib were brothers.

According to Shia Muslims, the Prophet had designated Ali to succeed him as the Imam. The Sunnis dispute this, and Muslims have remained divided over this contentious matter for centuries. However, in their book, “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: 

“Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ 

“This became the proof text for the Shia claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” 

The authors, Cohen and Major, sum up by stating that through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Over the course of history, the Shia Muslims split into a number of branches over the succession of Imams descended from Ali. The first major split occurred during the 8th century, two centuries after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, following the reign of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, when one group considered his son Musa Kazim as the rightful Imam. The other group regarded Imam Ja’far’s elder son, Ismail, as the rightful successor. Musa Kazim’s successors continued until the 12th Imam, who is then said to have gone into hiding. This group of Shia Muslims, awaiting the re-appearance of the hidden 12th Imam to take part in the final judgement, forms the Shia majority in Iran and Iraq. They are known as the Twelver Shias or Ithnashries.

The group that held to Imam Ismail became known as the Ismailis and continue to thrive today under the Hereditary leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim followers as Hazar Imam (the present living Imam). Thus, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan.

Naheed Nenshi Mayor Calgary Simerg
Naheed Nenshi, left, at an event in Ottawa.

Having recently re-established myself as a resident of Alberta after 40 years, and to put the Ismailis and their Hereditary 49th Imam, the Aga Khan, into an Albertan perspective, I should like to mention that Naheed Nenshi, who served as Calgary’s mayor for three terms from 2010 until 2021 is an Ismaili Muslim. Readers are invited to read his piece in the Globe and Mail, Why I’m grateful for the Aga Khan’s extraordinary service to humanity (a subscription or registration may be required to read the article).

Salma Lakhani, 19th Lieutenant Governor Alberta, Simerg
The Honourable Salma Lakhani

It is noteworthy that Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, who was installed as the 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, is also an Ismaili Muslim, and her profile can be read on this website by clicking HERE. The piece also has a link to an interview that Canadian Geographic conducted with her.

In Edmonton, the spectacular 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden within the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden was gifted by the Aga Khan as “a symbol of the continued intellectual, educational and cultural collaboration between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan Development Network.” The Botanic Garden will open for the 2022 season on May 7th, and is a MUST visit site, according to Hundreds of Google and Tripadvisor reviews. I look forward to publishing a special photo essay in the near future on the Botanic Garden, with a focus on the Aga Khan Garden.

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Aga Khan Garden Edmonton, part of Aga Khan interviews piece in Simerg
Views of the beautiful Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton. The Garden is scheduled to open for the 2022 season on May 7. Photos: Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

And elsewhere in Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan’s projects include the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, both located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa; the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive in Toronto; and the Ismaili Centre Vancouver on Canada Way in Burnaby.

Canada is home to more than 100,000 Ismailis, with around 12,000 in Calgary.

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Aga Khan Projects Canada Simerg
Clockwise from top left: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, both in Toronto (ponds in foreground in both photos are part of the Aga Khan Park); Ismaili Centre Vancouver, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Global Centre for Pluralism, Ottawa, and Aga Khan Park Toronto. Collage: Simerg.

With these preliminary remarks on the Aga Khan and his Ismaili Muslim followers, I now invite you to read two excellent interviews that France’s Politique International and Canada’s Peter Mansbridge conducted with the Aga Khan. Both the interviews have appeared on this website with the publishers’ permission.

The Aga Khan’s Absorbing Interview with Politique International

Aga Khan, Politique Internationale, Simerg
Click on image for “Power of Wisdom”

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms” — To read full interview, click Politique Internationale: The Power of Wisdom

The Aga Khan’s One on One Interview with Peter Mansbridge

Aga Khan University of Alberta, Simerg
Click on image for “One on One”

Peter Mansbridge: What is the quality that you most admire about this country?

The Aga Khan: I think a number of qualities. First of all, it’s a pluralist society that has invested in building pluralism, where communities from all different backgrounds and faiths are happy. It’s a modern country that deals with modern issues, not running away from the tough ones. And a global commitment to values, to Canadian values, which I think are very important. — To read the interview and the story behind the interview, please click Peter Mansbridge: One on One.

Date posted: May 6, 2022.
Last updated: May 9, 2022 (caption updates and typos).

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

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Why is His Highness the Aga Khan’s Navroz Encounter on March 21, 1960 With the Ismailis in Burma a Historic Day in His Imamat?

Our sister website Barakah is pleased to launch a new series entitled “Historic days in the life of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan”. We commence the series with his visit to Burma (now Myanmar) sixty-two years ago when he celebrated the Iranian New Year or Navroz with his community on March 21, 1960. Why does Barakah consider it to be a historic day? To find out, please CLICK HERE or on the image below, and feel free to submit your feedback through Barakah’s comment box.

The Aga Khan in a traditional Burmese dress during his visit to Burma in 1960.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Ismaili Imam, pictured in a Burmese traditional dress during his visit to Burma in March 1960. Please click on photo for article.

Date posted: March 20, 2022.

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

Simerg’s editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Photographs and Description of the 85th Birthday Gift Presented to His Highness the Aga Khan by His Worldwide Ismaili Community

[A similar version of this piece also appears on Simerg’s sister website Barakah that was inaugurated in 2017 to celebrate the Hereditary Leadership (or Imamat) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The origins of the Divine Institution of Imamat that His Highness leads go back to the time of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) who designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali (a.s.), to continue to govern the Muslim community in spiritual and temporal matters. His Highness is the 49th Imam in this succession of Hereditary Imams — Ed.]

Compiled and Prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergphotosSimerg and Barakah

In the Talika Mubarak (holy written message) of December 10, 2021 that was sent to the world-wide Jamat on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday on December 13, Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, said: “I am most touched that on the occasion of my birthday, senior Jamati leaders have presented a beautiful gift on behalf of my global Jamat, which I accept with appreciation and gratitude.” 

Porcelain vases Aga Khan birthday present Simerg Malik Merchant
Porcelain vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: The Ismaili.

The ‘beautiful gift’ referred to by the Imam was a pair of porcelain vases, and The Ismaili provided a brief description and photograph of the two vases in a post dated December 12, 2021.

However, the happiest moment was for the Jamats worldwide to see Mawlana Hazar Imam himself holding one of the two vases in a garden setting at his Lisbon residence, with what appears to be an orange or clementine tree in the background. What a beautiful photo Fernando Costa captured for all of us to see, and give us so much joy.

Aga Khan holding gift of porcelain vase presented to him on his 85th birthday
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, is seen holding one of the two 19th century porcelain vases that was presented to him by leading Ismaili leaders on behalf of the global Ismaili community on the occasion of his 85th auspicious birthday on December 13, 2021. Photo: Fernando Costa / IPL via The Ismaili.

This pair of porcelain lavender-ground vases were made in 1874 at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, which became the preeminent porcelain manufacturer in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 19th century, the Sèvres factory’s output reflected an ongoing desire for technical innovation as well as a wide embrace of diverse decorative and historical styles. The shape and design of these vases is based on a Persian metal prototype and, as such, they are recorded in the Sèvres Archives as ‘Vase Bouteille Persane’. Eighteen similar vases were entered for sale in January 1874 and described as ‘fond sous couverte et décor en or’ (under cover and gold decoration) at a cost of 95 francs each. [1]

Gift to Aga Khan from Ismailis on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

Of Islamic shape, the ovoid body of each vase continues in a long narrow elongated tapered neck, all made in three sections and each joined with two slender fillets of ormolu. The vases are decorated with elaborate Persian gold-powder motifs  in the form of interlacing scrollwork and arabesques on the body and ornamented fillets on the neck in heightened relief against a pale lavender or ‘fond changeant’ ground. Designed by the important Parisian sculptor, Albert Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), the vases exist in several versions that differ according to their colour and decoration.

The lavender colour of the vases presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam is very unusual — it changes according to the light under which it is placed, from purple/grey in daylight to pale pink in artificial light. This change of colour according to its exposure to light is due to a mixture of vanadium oxide and cerium oxide. This use of the ‘chameleon’ paste was invented in 1848 by the Sèvres factory chemist Alphonse Louis Salvetat for the 1862 Universal Exhibition held in London to promote the savoir-faire (know how) of the world’s rapidly expanding industries.

Close up of the vase presented by the world wide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.
Detail of vase presented by the worldwide Ismaili community to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the auspicious occasion of his 85th birthday, December 13, 2021.

While similar vases in blue and white are to be found in private and museum collections, vases in this pale lavender colour are exceptionally rare. The vases bear, on the underside, green printed lozenge and iron-red decore marks, as well as various incised potters inscriptions, of the Sèvres factory. The vases, each of which is 55 cm in height, are in extremely fine condition. Using the same techniques pioneered during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres continues to produce some of the most high quality works of porcelain art — vases, painted plaques, dinner services, figures — to this day, and it is therefore not surprising that Sèvres is such an integral part of the landscape of the decorative arts today.

Date posted: December 25, 2021.

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[1] Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres Archive, Registre Vr, 1 iere serie, vol.2, fol. 247.17.

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Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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

His Highness the Aga Khan is the Bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat; and a Beautiful Calligraphy for His Auspicious 85th Birthday

Simerg’s sister website Barakah which is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat, is pleased to present a profound reading on the subject of Imamat along with a special piece of art by Karim Ismail on the auspicious occasion of Hazar Imam’s 85th Salgirah. The post includes the singing of the Ginan (Hymn) Dhan Dhan Aajno by the (Late) Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji, and also has links to its explanation as well as 25 other recitations of the same Ginan by Ismaili singers from around the world. Please click 85th Salgirah Mubarak or on the image below.

Aga Khan 85th birthday Salgirah of Mawlana Hazar Imam, Simer
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is in his 65th year of Imamat and celebrates his 85th birthday on December 13, 2021. Please click on image for Imamat reading.

Date posted: December 11, 2021.

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Featured image at top of post: In centre, a calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail and on either side of the art work two paintings of Mawlana Hazar Imam by Vancouver based artist Azeez Khanbhai, who was featured recently in Barakah.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Photo Essay: Celebrating the Ismaili Flag and the Personal Standard of His Highness the Aga Khan Through 70+ Historical and Memorable Photos from Around the World

An artistic rendition of the Ismaili Flag. Please click on image for photo essay.

Under the new Ismaili Constitution that was ordained by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in 1986 — and revised in 1998 — the popular flag of the Ismailis that had been referred to by many Ismaili Jamats around the world for decades as the “My Flag” officially acquired a new name, “The Ismaili Flag.” There was no specific Imamat flag before 1986 — the “My Flag” with its red and green colours was used during ceremonial and other events where Hazar Imam was present. But with the new constitution, the crest (or taj) of Mawlana Hazar Imam was incorporated into the “The Ismaili Flag” and this flag with the crest is referred to as the “Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam.” Barakah’s photo essay seeks to explain the colours red and green in “The Ismaili Flag” and, through dozens of photos from around the world, illustrates the usage of the “Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam.”

Read and share Barakah’s post by clicking on Celebrating the Ismaili Flag and the Beautiful Personal Standard of Mawlana Hazar Imam; the Ismaili Ethos of Valour and Peace Are Representative of the Flag’s Red and Green Colours.

Flag of the Ismaili Imamat Aga Khan portrait by Jean-Marc Carisse
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, poses in front of his Personal Standard bearing the gold crest of the Imam. Photo: © Jean-Marc Carisse, Ottawa. Please click on photo for photo essay

Date posted: August 7, 2021.

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

The 62nd Year of the Imamat of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan:(I) Lisbon’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar

Barakah’s multi-part pictorial series on the 61st thru 64th years of Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s reign as the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims continues with a new post highlighting his Diamond Jubilee Celebrations in Lisbon, Portugal, that culminated with a Grand Darbar on July 11, 2018 in the presence of more than 40,000 Ismailis from around the world. Earlier on the same day, the Henrique Mendonça Palace, acquired by the Ismaili Imam a few years earlier, was ordained as the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat, and designated by His Highness as the Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat. Please click HERE or on image below for exceptional photos as well as excerpts from 3 exclusive eyewitness accounts of the Lisbon Jubilee celebrations.

Aga Khan on steps of Henrique Mendonça Palace
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, pictured on his 61st Imamat Day anniversary, July 11, 2018, with members of his family and leaders of the Ismaili community on the steps of Henrique Mendonça Palace, which was ordained as the Seat of the Ismaili Imamat and at the same time designated as The Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat by Mawlana Hazar Imam. Please click on image for a fantastic pictorial post of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Lisbon.

Date posted: August 2, 2021.

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

From 1998 to 2021: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Vision of a New University for Mountainous Populations, and a Live Broadcast of His Speech at University of Central Asia’s 1st Convocation on June 19

Simerg’s sister website Barakah presents an excellent backgrounder on the University of Central Asia through a series of excerpts from speeches made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, dating back to the late 1990’s when the Aga Khan Lycee (High School) in Khorog, Badakhshan, was inaugurated. Indeed, that may have planted the first seeds for what is now the University of Central Asia. Read Barakah’s post by clicking HERE or on image below. Barakah was founded in 2017 and is dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat. Please also visit the Barakah Home Page or Table of Contents, both of which contain links to all the posts.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, escorted by Naryn Governor Amanbay Kayipov, arrives to the UCA Naryn Campus. Please click on image for Barakah article and photos.

Date posted: June 17, 2021.

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His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah: Download Our Book and Listen to an Audio

November 2, 2020 marks the 143rd birth anniversary of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, the 48th hereditary Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims. We invite you to download our marvellous publication “The Imam of the Socio-Economic Revolution” which is bundled with plenty of inspiring and informative stories, articles and unique points of view. Please click HERE to download the book, and listen to the following presentation of a small piece from the book.

Audio Reading: The Face of Imamat

A short reading on Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan

For the full version of this post, including a transcript of the audio, please click on Barakah.

Date posted: November 2, 2020.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or, if you don’t see the box, please click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

Recitations of Pir Sadardin’s Ginan Eji Anand Anand, with a note on Eid al-Ghadir

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

If there is one Ginan that gets an entire Jamatkhana congregation immediately connected and singing in unison with joy and unbounded happiness, it has to be Pir Sadardin’s Ginanic composition of 7 verses, Eji Anand Anand Kariyo.

Eji Anand Anand is one of the first Ginans every Ismaili child learns at home and memorizes. You can sing it on any occasion or on any day, and if you have arrived in the Jamatkhana with a feeling of sadness or worry, then those worries and apprehension disappear on hearing the first line! It is arguably the most inspiring Ginan, and I personally crave for its recitation. It is good for me, any day any time. Here two beautiful recitations of the Ginan:

Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by BUI Ginans 1. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

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Eji Anand Anand Kariyo by Shamshu Bandali Haji. Credit: http://ginans.usask.ca/recitals/500370.

Though short, Eji Anand Anand incorporates key messages: the recognition of the Imam of the Time, the importance of unity, that good actions and deeds reap rewards, and the importance of service to the Imam of the Time. The Ginan reminds its listeners about the physical presence of the Imam of the Time, who at the time it was written, was located very far away in Iran. Therefore it has a congratulatory undertone to it. In other Ginans, the Pirs promised their listeners that the Imam would one day arrive at their doorstep in India, referred to as Jampu Dipma. It took several hundred years for that promise to be fulfilled, but it did happen in the 19th century when the 46th Imam, Mawlana Shah Hassanali Shah (a.s.), Aga Khan I, set both feet on Indian soil.

Commemorating Aga Khan's first visit to Badakhshan in 1995
Young Ismaili ladies proudly display a decorated frame holding a photo of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The was was taken in Alichur , a village at an altitude of 4000 metres which is comprised mainly of Ismailis. The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to Badakhshan. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these ladies, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: © Matthieu Paley.

The same could be said for the Central Asian Jamats in the autonomous region of Gorno-Badakhshan, who physically had the mulaqat of the Imam of the Time centuries after they accepted the teachings of the revered Ismaili Da’i Pir Nasir Khushraw and other dais of his tradition, and became Ismailis. Mawlana Shah Karim was the first Imam to have visited Central Asia in centuries. His historical visit took place in 1995, and was commemorated with joy and happiness, as shown in the photo of young Ismaili ladies holding a photo of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

History in Quotations by Cohen and Major
With 9,000 chronological quotations arranged in 90 thematic chapters, this huge treasury of quotations is bursting with historical gems, including a reference to the famous tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, “He of whom I am the Mawla, Ali is his Mawla.”

However, the recognition of the Imam goes back hundreds of years before the time of Pir Sadardin and Nasir Khushraw. The era of the Divine Institution of Imamat began with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir-Khumm when he declared, by Divine Commandment, that Hazrat Ali was to be his successor. In the book “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: “Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ This became the proof text for the Shia, who claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” The authors sum up by stating that, through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Iran Stamps and coins Ghadir Khumm Eid Simerg and Barakah
Images of some stamps and coins issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1990 and 2010 commemorating the Eid-e-Ghadir. The inscriptions include the Shahada, Qur’anic ayats and the declaration made by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm, “Mun Koontu Mawla, Fa Hada, Aliyun Mawla” meaning “He of whom I am the Mawla Ali is also the Mawla.”

Coming back to the present time, the affirmation of the Institution of Imamat to the world at large has been made by Mawlana Hazar Imam on numerous occasions but none as succintly as in the following two remarks made by him at the Parliament of Canada in 2014 and in an interview in 2010 with the French journal Politique Internationale:

“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet Muhammad” — Parliament, 2014

and

“The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself.” — Politique, 2010

Aga Khan Parliament of Canada Simerg and Barakah
Mawlana Hazar imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, seen addressing at the House of Commons Chambers to both the houses of Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. Photo: The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

On this auspicious occasion of Eid al-Ghadir falling on August 7, 2020, let us rejoice in the knowledge that for 1388 years, Ismailis in a multitude of settings and practicing different traditions, have been guided by the Rope of Imamat, and that the Noor of Imamat, through the physical manifestation of the Imam of the Time, has lit our path to clarity so that we may obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction.

Date posted: August 6, 2020.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

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An expanded version of this post can be read at Barakah.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.