Supreme Knowledge: A Sublime Gift of Ismaili Ginans – A Commentary on Pir Sadardin’s Ginan Karshanaji Bhanare Arjun Sambharo by Shiraz Pradhan

The True Guide is the Sustainer of the Universe
Channel your devotion to this (True) Guide
And you shall attain to the Eternal Station….translation, verse 8

PLEASE CLICK: Supreme Knowledge: A Sublime Gift of Ismaili Ginans

Gujarati text of ginan Karsanaji Bhanare Arjun Sambharo composed by Pir Sadardin. Photo: Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Gujarati text of ginan Karsanaji Bhanare Arjun Sambharo composed by Pir Sadardin. Image: Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan, Canada. Please click on image for commentary and link to recitation.

Date posted: Friday, October 21, 2016.


Forthcoming: Silk Road Travelogue by Ali Karim


Ali (right) and Dilshad at a Pakistani restaurant in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China. Ali’s travelogue on the couple’s trip to China and Northern Pakistan will be seriaized in Simergphotos commencing week of October 24, 2016. Photo: Ali Karim. Copyright.

My wife Dilshad and I had been dreaming about travelling along the Silk Road in China and Pakistan for years, and so when we had an Expo we needed to attend in Shanghai, and since the season was right, we decided to make this trip happen in May/June this year. Since Western China and Northern Pakistan are remote and non-touristy places, we had to spend several months researching and planning the trip; what to see and what to do.

The trip was absolutely worth it and we highly recommend that everyone do this trip if they can. I hope you enjoy my trip blog and pictures which will be serialized in commencing week of October 24, 2016.


The Nur (Light) of Imamat

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

A portrait of Prince Karim Aga Khan IV during his enthronement in Geneva, Switzerland after his grandfather, His Highness the Aga Khan III, passed away on July 11, 1957. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images.

The doctrine of Imamat has been central in Shia Islam since the designation by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) as his successor at Ghadir-Khumm. Among the various interpretations in Shia Islam, the Ismaili Muslims believe in the continuity of the Imamat through a living hereditary Imam descended from Hazrat Ali, through the prophet’s daughter Bibi Fatima (a.s). The current Imam of the Ismailis is His Highness the Aga Khan, who completes his 59th Imamat anniversary as the Ismaili community’s 49th Imam on July 11, 2016. To mark this occasion, we are pleased to provide short selections on the Imamat drawn from numerous writings of historians, theologians, philosophers and poets, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. But we begin, on this page, with a short piece prepared for younger readers, followed by a link to other pieces that includes the transliteration and translation of the Munajaat which is recited in many parts of the world specifically for the Imamat Day celebration.  

We wish Ismailis around the world Imamat Day Mubarak, and pray that the Imamat of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, may continue for several more years beyond the celebration of his Diamond Jubilee on July 11, 2017, which is now exactly 52 weeks away.

The Nur (Light) of Imamat

The sun is extremely important for all life on earth. It gives us light, warmth and energy. The sun however is not the final source of life. It is Allah who gives life to all living things. It is God who has created the sun and the stars and everything that is in the universe.

The Quran teaches that Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Allah guides mankind towards Him through His light. While Allah has created the physical light, He has also provided mankind another kind of light.

Allah says in the Quran:

“O Mankind! Truly there has come to you a proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear Light.” (Chapter 4, Verse 174)

What is this special light that Allah refers to, which guides and makes things clear? For Shia Muslims, this light is the Light of Imamat. The Shias refer to it as the Nur of Imamat. Nur means light. The Nur of Imamat is a spiritual light.

This spiritual light is with the Ahl al-bayt, the Imams from the Prophet Muhammad’s family. This light was with the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Murtaza Ali and, for Shia Imami Ismailis, it is now with their present 49th Imam, Shah Karim al-Husayni, His Highness the Aga Khan IV. The Imam guides his murids (followers) with his Nur.

The Imam’s Nur is not like ordinary light. It is a different light altogether. It is a spiritual light. Physical light, such as sunlight, helps everyone see things in the physical world. The Imam’s Nur guides his murids both in the spiritual and worldly aspects of their lives. Above all, the Imam’s Nur leads his followers towards inner peace and happiness.

Ever since the time of Hazrat Ali, the Ismaili Imams have guided their followers in succession, one after another. There have been forty-nine Imams up to the present time, but the Nur of Imamat is one, and it remains the same.

The Nur of Imamat is always there to guide through the physical presence of the Imam. The Imam holds his followers hands and leads them through both difficult and good times. He gives them guidance about how they should live in a particular time and place.

Just as the water of a river continues to flow, the line of Imamat never stops. That is, the Nur of Imamat is there to stay eternally.

One of the goals of the murid of the Imam should be to strive to come closer to the spiritual light of the Imam. This, one can do by fulfilling one’s material and spiritual responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. Praying regularly, living by the ethics of Islam, following the Imam’s guidance and thinking about Allah constantly can bring us closer and closer to the Nur of Imamat.

Source: Article adapted from multiple literary sources including the Ta’lim curriculum published by Islamic Publications, London.


PLEASE CLICK: The Munajaat and Imamat As Depicted Through the Ages in Ismaili and non-Ismaili Writings


Feluccas on the Nile in Aswan. The ship occupies a unique position in the Islamic tradition. The Qur’an counts it among the ayat (miracles) of God and devotes twenty-eight verses enumerating its benefits to mankind. For Shaykh Khudr, a contemporary of the Ismaili Imam Nizar, Imams are the Ships of Salvation. Please click on image for numerous selections on Imamat.

Date posted: July 10, 2016.


Simerg Special Photo Feature: His Highness the Aga Khan Meets Prime Minister Trudeau at Parliament Hill by Award Winning Photographer Jean-Marc Carisse

Photographs: Jean-Marc Carisse,
Text compilation: Abdulmalik Merchant, Editor, Simerg

Please click on photos for enlargement


His Highness the Aga Khan looks straight at the camera as he greets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at the Office of the Prime Minister located at the Centre Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisee. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan looks straight at the camera as he greets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, at the Office of the Prime Minister located at the Centre Block of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisee. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, was warmly received by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, with the words “It’s always a pleasure to welcome a dear friend to Canada, a dear friend to my family as well.” The Prime Minister added that they would discuss “pluralism, diversity and all the things that Canada can contribute to offering more peace and stability in the world.”

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Trudeau are seen engaged in a warm conversation during their meeting at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Trudeau are seen engaged in a warm conversation during their meeting at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. In the background are the flags of the Ismaili Imamat with the gold Imamat crest in the centre, and the iconic Maple Leaf of Canada.  Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

Award winning photographer Jean-Marc Carisse, who took the pictures shown on this page, noted in his email to Simerg that His Highness the Aga Khan’s greeting with the Prime Minister started at approximately 4:13/4:14 pm ET. At 5:05, His Highness walked in the South corridor of Centre Block and observed the portraits of former Prime Ministers Paul Martin and then Jean Chrétien (see photo, below). At 5:07, he entered his car. According to Mr. Carisse, “the Aga Khan was his usual charming personae and pleasantly smiled throughout his Parliamentary visit.”

Over the next few days, Simerg will be presenting more photos as well as reports relating to His Highness the Aga Khan’s current visit to Canada, which began with his arrival in Ottawa on Monday May 16, 2016. He was accompanied by his younger brother, Prince Amyn Aga Khan. His itinerary for the current visit includes delivering the opening remarks at the Global Centre for Pluralism’s Annual Lecture and being awarded with an honorary degree by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. Both these events will take place in Toronto this week.

We express our deep gratitude to Jean-Marc Carisse for sharing the wonderful photos with readers of Simerg.

His Highness the Aga Khan glances with interest at an oil painting by Christan Nicholson of former Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien as he walks past it with leaders of the Ismaili community in the South corridor of Centre Block shortly after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan glances with interest at an oil painting of former Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, shortly after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  Accompanying him are Kate Bourke, the protocol coordinator, and leaders of the Ismaili community. Photo: Jean Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan walks happily in the corridor of the Parliament Building following his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday May 17, 2016. He is accompanied, among others, by Ismaili leaders Shafik Sachedina and the President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, Malik Talib. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan walks happily in the corridor of the Parliament Building following his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday May 17, 2016. He is accompanied, among others, by protocol coordinator, Kate Bourke and Ismaili leaders Shafik Sachedina and President Malik Talib of the Aga Khan Council for Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan has a broad smile as he prepares to leave the Parliament Building after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. In the picture with him are Ismaili leaders Shafik Sachedina, based at the Ismaili Imam’s headquarters in Aiglemont, France, President Malik Talib of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, and Mahmoud Eboo, the Aga Khan Development Network's Resident Representative to Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan has a broad smile as he prepares to leave the Parliament Building after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. With him in the picture are protocol coordinator, Kate Bourke (left), Shafik Sachedina (right), based at the Ismaili Imam’s headquarters in Aiglemont, France, President Malik Talib (top left) of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, and Mahmoud Eboo (centre), the Aga Khan Development Network’s Resident Representative to Canada. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.


His Highness the Aga Khan outside the Parliament Building just before his departure after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan outside the Parliament Building just before his departure after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan returns a farewell wave to well-wishers, as his car departs Parliament Hill following his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright

His Highness the Aga Khan returns a farewell wave to well-wishers, as his car departs Parliament Hill following his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, May 17, 2016. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright

Date posted: May 17, 2016.
Last updated: May 18, 2016 (15:51 EST)

Photos: Copyright Jean-Marc Carisse,


We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment

Related Video of the welcome by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

Also see: Exclusive Photos by Jean-Marc Carisse: “Victorious Trudeau”, His Highness the Aga Khan and Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi

The Text of Resolution by Portugal’s Council of Ministers Authorizing the Sale of Palácio Henrique de Mendonça to the Ismaili Imamat

Lisbon’s Palácio Henrique de Mendonçae is a historical building located in an extremely exclusive neighbourhood, and is part of a panoramic green area of three hectares in the heart of the city. The turn-of-the-century palace combines stunning architecture and traditional Portuguese interiors. It was designed between 1900 and 1902 by Ventura Terra and completed in 1909, when it was awarded the Valmor Prize. The prize is named after the Viscount of Valmor, Fausto Queirós Guedes (1837-1898), who was a protector of the arts. The prize is one of the most prestigious national awards in Portugal for architecture and distinguishes reputable works and projects.


Bird’s eyeview, Palácio Henrique de Mendonça, Lisbon, Portugal. Photo Credit:


The Official Gazette of Portugal contains all up-to-date enacted laws, decree-laws and ministerial orders. The following is a resolution by Portugal’s Council of Ministers published in the Gazette that authorizes the sale of the palace to the Ismaili Imamat. We hope to provide our readers with an accurate English translation of the Portuguese text in the near future. Readers may wish to utilize Google translate to obtain a free translation in English or other languages.

Resolução do Conselho de Ministros n.º 27/2016 – Diário da República n.º 89/2016, Série I de 2016-05-09. Presidência do Conselho de Ministros

Determina como de excecional interesse público e autoriza a venda do imóvel denominado Palácio Henrique de Mendonça, ou Ventura Terra ao Imamat Ismaili, com vista ao estabelecimento da sua sede em Portugal.


Resolução do Conselho de Ministros n.º 27/2016

O Palácio Henrique de Mendonça/Casa Ventura Terra, situado na Rua Marquês da Fronteira, em Lisboa, é um edi-fício de características únicas, tendo sido galardoado como Prémio Valmor e Arquitetura e classificado como Imóvel de Interesse Público, em 1982. Neste Palácio, encontra -se instalada parte da Faculdade de Economia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

O Imamat Ismaili, que a Fundação Aga Khan tem representado, celebrou, com a República Portuguesa, o «Protocolo de Cooperação entre o Governo da República Portuguesa e o Imamat Ismaili», assinado em Lisboa, em 19 de dezembro de 2005, aprovado pelo Decreto n.º 11/2006, de 15 de março.

Adicionalmente, foi celebrado o «Protocolo de Cooperação Internacional entre o Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros da República Portuguesa e o Imamat Ismaili», assinado em 11 de julho de 2008.

Em 8 de maio de 2009, foi assinado, em Lisboa, o «Acordo entre a República Portuguesa e o Imamat Ismaili», que foi aprovado pela Resolução da Assembleia da República n.º 109/2010, de 24 de setembro, e ratificado pelo Decreto do Presidente da República n.º 94/2010, de 24 de setembro.

Posteriormente, a 3 de junho de 2015, foi assinado o «Acordo entre a República Portuguesa e o lmamat Ismaili para o Estabelecimento da Sede do Imamat lsmaili em Portugal», aprovado pela Resolução da Assembleia da República n.º 135/2015, de 27 de outubro, e ratificado pelo Decreto do Presidente da República n.º 124/2015, de 27 de outubro.

O artigo 3.º do mesmo Acordo refere que «[a] República Portuguesa assegurará as condições para o estabelecimento da Sede do Imamat Ismaili no seu território assim como para o exercício das suas funções». Já o artigo 16.º do citado Acordo prevê, expressamente, como compromisso do Imamat Ismaili, que este «[…] apoiará ativamente os esforços da República Portuguesa para melhorar a qualidade de vida de todos aqueles que vivem em Portugal, nomeadamente através do desenvolvimento em Portugal de projetos de investigação de nível mundial naquela área e, em termos mais gerais, em matérias de interesse comum da República Portuguesa e do Imamat Ismaili», providenciando este «[…] que as suas Instituições Dependentes de mais elevado nível criem as condições destinadas a atingir os objetivos definidos acima, em cooperação com os ministérios relevantes ou outras entidades do Governo Português».


Palace interior. Photo credit:

Considerando que a Universidade Nova de Lisboa pretende alienar o Palácio Henrique de Mendonça/Casa Ventura Terra e que o Imamat Ismaili ali pretende instalar a Sede.

Considerando que, no âmbito da «Iniciativa Conhecimento para o Desenvolvimento», o Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Ensino Superior e o Imamat Ismaili se encontram a estabelecer os termos de referência para a celebração de um «Protocolo de Cooperação em Ciênciae Tecnologia».

Considerando, também, que a venda por ajuste direto do imóvel supra descrito ao Imamat Ismaili em Portugal reveste-se de excecional interesse público, que decorre da natureza e das finalidades da parte interessada na aquisição e dos compromissos bilaterais assumidos, podendo o respetivo procedimento de alienação ser autorizado por Resolução do Conselho de Ministros, como resulta da conjugação da alínea l) do n.º 2 e do n.º 3 do artigo 81.º do Decreto -Lei n.º 280/2007, de 7 de agosto.

Considerando, finalmente, que o imóvel se encontra classificado como de interesse público pelo Decreto n.º 28/82, de 26 de fevereiro, pelo que o Estado e o Município de Lisboa gozam do direito de preferência na sua alienação, nos termos do artigo 37.º da Lei n.º 107/2001, de 8 de setembro, e que o Município de Lisboa declarou que não o pretende exercer.


Nos termos da alínea l) do n.º 2 e do n.º 3 do artigo 81.º do Decreto-Lei n.º 280/2007, de 7 de agosto, e da alínea g) do artigo 199.º da Constituição, o Conselho de Ministros resolve:

1 — Reconhecer o excecional interesse público da venda, por ajuste direto, ao Imamat Ismaili em Portugal do imóvel denominado Palácio Henrique de Mendonça/Casa Ventura Terra, sito na Rua Marquês da Fronteira, n.ºs 18 a 28, em Lisboa, inscrito na matriz predial urbana sob o artigo 2415, da freguesia de Avenidas Novas (anterior artigo urbano 754 da extinta freguesia de São Sebastião da Pedreira), descrito na Conservatória do Registo Predial de Lisboa sob o n.º 1407 da freguesia de São Sebastião da Pedreira.

2 — Autorizar a venda, mediante ajuste direto, do imóvel identificado no número anterior ao Imamat Ismaili em Portugal, pelo preço de € 12 000 000,00, correspondente ao valor base homologado pela Direção-Geral do Tesouro e Finanças.

3 — Determinar que o produto da alienação reverte, na sua totalidade, para a Universidade Nova de Lisboa, nos termos do disposto no n.º 1 e na alínea a) do n.º 4 do artigo 13.º da Lei n.º 82 -B/2014, de 31 de dezembro, alterada pela Lei n.º 159-E/2015, de 30 de dezembro, e na alínea c) do n.º 9 do artigo 109.º da Lei n.º 62/2007, de 10 de setembro, o qual deve ser integralmente destinado a despesas de investimento no património próprio da Universidade, para reforço das instalações.

4 — Determinar que o Estado não exerce o direito de preferência previsto no artigo 37.º da Lei n.º 107/2001, de 8 de setembro.

Presidência do Conselho de Ministros, 17 de março de 2016. — Pelo Primeiro-Ministro, Maria Manuel de Lemos Leitão Marques, Ministra da Presidência e da Modernização Administrativa.

Date posted: May 12, 2016.
Last updated: May 14, 2016.


To view the original text of the resolution in the official Portuguese Gazette, please click


“Seat of the Ismaili Imamat” — Text of the Historic Agreement Between the Ismaili Imamat and the Portuguese Republic



3 Rare and Memorable Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 1966 Nairobi Primary School Visit @Simergphotos


Do your family albums or archives contain historic photos, documents, letters or other pieces of information that offer insights on recent and past Ismaili history? Many readers have found gems looking through old photo albums and their unique contributions can be viewed at our photoblog, We encourage you to do the same, and share your discoveries with readers of this website. Please write in confidence to with details of the hidden gem you found or had forgotten about, and we will reply within 24 hours.

PLEASE CLICK: A Former Standard 3 Ismaili Student of Aga Khan Primary School, Nairobi, Shares Memorable Photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1966 Visit to School

Aga Khan Primary School Nairobi Visit 1Please click on photo for story. Photo: Juby Sprake Collection, Vancouver, Canada. Special to Simergphotos.

Date posted: April 16, 2016.


On Legal Debates, Ismaili Hermeneutics and the Etiquette of Borrowing in the Fatimid Empire: An Interview with Devin Stewart on al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān

“…In the Ismaili tradition, al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān is the most famous author…He debated this Ḥanafī jurist about ijtihād and thought that he’d won, and then he heard afterwards that the man had written a fascicle still arguing his point against al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān. So then he thought: I really need to write a serious refutation to put an end to this…” — Professor Stewart, Emory College, Atlanta, USA.

PLEASE CLICK: An Interview with Dr. Devin Stewart of Emory College on Translating the Fatimid Ismaili Jurist al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān

Qadi Numan's Disagreements of the Jurists by Devin StewartM. Lynx Qualey, an Arabic literature blogger based in Egypt, conducted an interview with Professor Devin Stewart of Emory College on the Fatimid jurist Qadi al-Nu’mān, who served four Ismaili Imams for more than sixty years. The interview is based on Disagreements of the Jurists, one of the foundational legal texts of Ismaili Islam, which was translated recently by Dr. Stewart. Among other interesting matters, Qualey asks Professor Stewart about why al-Nu’mān’s book is important in understanding Islamic legal traditions and the Fatimid Empire, why medieval scholars thought it was classier not to cite their sources, and why a minority tradition would feel the need to conform to the shape of the majority….Read the interview.

Date posted: March 26, 2016.

Sea of Gold: An Exhibit of Newfound Fatimid Treasures in Caesarea

In February 2015, divers off the coast of Caesarea spotted by chance a group of gold coins lying on the seabed. They immediately alerted marine archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who conducted a salvage excavation at the site and recovered more than 2,580 Fatimid coins of pure (24 karat) gold weighing a total of 7.5 kg.

Please click on the image to view an on-line exhibit of the discovery.

Please click on the image to view an on-line exhibit of the discovery.

The coins date from the mid-9th to the early 11th century CE. They were minted by the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt, and include dinars minted in al-Qayrawan, on the Tunisian coast, by Imam al-Mahdi (AH 297–322 = 910–934 CE), the founder of the Fatimid caliphate as well as a much larger collection belonging to the Fatimid caliphs Imam Al-Hakim (AH 386–411 = 996–1021 CE) and his successor Imam Al-Zahir (AH 411–427 = 1021–1036 CE).

Following the discovery, an exhibition was held from June to December 2015 at the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Some very interesting data and information about the Fatimid coins was also posted on the Museum’s website, which includes topics such as the inscription on the coins, the coin’s purchasing power, the script, and the purity of the coins. We invite our readers to visit the website by clicking on or on the image shown above.

Date posted: March 4, 2016.


Al-Qaeda, IS and drawing unfortunate parallels with the “so-called Assassins” or Ismailis of the 12th and 13th centuries

Editor’s note: Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the USA in 2001 which killed almost 3000 people in an instant, numerous articles began to appear in the media around the world that drew parallels between the actions of Al-Qaeda and the warfare activity of the Ismailis during the 12th and 13th centuries that over time grew into fantastic legendary tales. In response to one such column that appeared in the October 8 edition of Canada’s National Post newspaper, Professor Azim Nanji and Dr. Farhad Daftary of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London contributed the following letter in the newspaper:

“It is unfortunate that the search for historical connections in the aftermath of the terrible events of Sept. 11 has made historical truth itself a casualty. George Jonas’s column, Mortal Enemies Are to be Destroyed (Oct. 8) attempts to draw parallels between the ancient history of the Ismaili Muslims and the actions of these terrorists. In the last 25 years, scholarship, Muslim and Western, has shown the legend about the Assassins to be a fabrication concocted by contemporary enemies of the Ismailis. The Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims organized a state in Iran and Syria in the 12th and 13th centuries. It flourished for almost two centuries, as a place of learning, scholarship and international influence, in spite of adverse circumstances and militant hostility from its neighbours. These Ismailis were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded Cairo and established the University of Al‑Azhar, acts which represented a truly brilliant epoch in medieval Muslim history However, due to hostility prevailing in political and military spheres, the Ismailis became the object of theological and intellectual attacks, as their society attracted many scholars and scientists to their libraries and observatories. This climate of threat was accentuated by direct military attempts to destroy their centres and communities. It is in this context that their attempts at self‑defence need to be understood. These were directed at political and military figures and never against the general populace: a fact recognized by their enemies. Reporters obsessed with tracing tenuous historical links to current episodes of violence can learn much from history about the rich intellectual and cultural interactions among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others.”

Sporadic responses like the letter above, academic books by Dr. Daftary and the late Dr Peter Willey and many others as well as scholarly articles in journals do not appear to have made any impact in demystifying and debunking the myth of the assassins. Furthermore, the non-availability and non-distribution of important historical and theological works on Ismailis,  in giant brick and mortar stores like Chapters and Indigo in Canada haven’t helped the cause either. There are a number of enjoyable, accessible and easy to comprehend books, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies and other academic and non-academic publishers, that should be on bookstore shelves alongside numerous Sunni, Shia and general works on Islam and other religions to counter misperceptions and negative stereotyping about the Ismailis as well as to impart an understanding of the community’s religious doctrines from Ismaili sources.

The plot of the highly popular video game “Assassins’ Creed” which is now available on almost all computer platforms revolves around the legendary “assassins” of the 12th and 13th centuries. The video game, which was created in 2007, was inspired by the 1930’s novel Alamut by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol. New versions of the game have appeared annually since but the 2016 edition has been bypassed to prepare for a greatly enhanced 2017 version. However, a movie version of the video game is planned for release at the end of this year under the title “Assassin’s Creed: The Movie.”

Now, in response to the idea that ISIS or IS (Islamic State) is based on the Assassins, Dr. Farhad Daftary has contributed the following piece for the February 21, 2016, (USA) edition of The Conversation, which has a mission to provide readers with a reliable source of high quality, evidence based information.

Islamic State and the Assassins: reviving fanciful tales of the medieval Orient

By Farhad Daftary, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Article reproduced from The Conversation

(How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of Islamic State? Our series on the jihadist group’s origins tries to address this question by looking at the interplay of historical and social forces that led to its advent.

Today, historian Farhad Daftary debunks the idea that Islamic State is based on the so-called Assassins or hashishin, the fighting corps of the fledgling medieval Nizari Ismaili state).

Many Western commentators have tried to trace the ideological roots of Islamic State (IS) to earlier Islamic movements. Occasionally, they’ve associated them with the medieval Ismailis, a Shiʿite Muslim community made famous in Europe by returning Crusaders as the Assassins.

But any serious inquiry shows the teachings and practices of medieval Ismailis, who had a state of their own in parts of Iran from 1090 to 1256, had nothing in common with the senseless terrorist ideology and ruthless destruction of IS and its supporters.

Attacks on civilians, including women and children, and engaging in the mass destruction of property are forbidden both by Prophet Muhammad and in the tenets of Islamic law. Needless to say, the Ismailis never descended to such terrorist activities, even under highly adversarial circumstances.

Significant discordance exists between the medieval Ismailis and contemporary terrorists, who – quite inappropriately – identify themselves as members of an Islamic polity.

Fanciful Oriental tales

The Ismailis, or more specifically the Nizari Ismailis, founded a precarious state in 1090 under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah. As a minority Shi’ite Muslim community, they faced hostility from the Sunni-Abbasid establishment (the third caliphate after the death of the Prophet Muhammed) and their political overlords, the Seljuq Turks, from very early on.

Struggling to survive in their network of defensive mountain fortresses remained the primary objective of the Ismaili leadership, centred on the castle of Alamut (in the north of modern-day Iran). Their state survived against all odds until it was destroyed by the all-conquering Mongols in 1256.

During the course of the 12th century, the Ismailis were incessantly attacked by the armies of the Sunni Seljuq sultans, who were intensely anti-Shiʿite. As they couldn’t match their enemies’ superior military power, the Ismailis resorted to the warfare tactic of selectively removing Seljuq military commanders and other prominent adversaries who posed serious existential threats to them in particular localities.

An agent (fida’i) of the Ismailis (left, in white turban) fatally stabs Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier, in 1092. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

These daring missions were carried out by the Ismaili fidaʾis, who were deeply devoted to their community. The fidaʾis comprised the fighting corps of the Ismaili state.

But the Ismailis didn’t invent the policy of assassinating enemies. It was a practice employed by many Muslim groups at the time, as well as by the Crusaders and many others throughout history.

Unfortunately, almost all assassinations of any significance occurring in the central lands of Islam became automatically attributed to the Ismaili fidaʾis. And a series of fanciful tales were fabricated around their recruitment and training.

These tales, rooted in the “imaginative ignorance” of the Crusaders, were concocted and put into circulation by them and their occidental observers; they’re not found in contemporary Muslim sources.

The so-called Assassin legends, which culminated in Marco Polo’s synthesis, were meant to provide satisfactory explanations for the fearless behaviour of the fidaʾis, which seemed otherwise irrational to medieval Europeans.

The very term Assassin, which appears in medieval European literature in a variety of forms, such as Assassini, was based on variants of the Arabic word hashish (plural, hashishin) and applied to the Nizari Ismailis of Syria and Iran by other Muslims.

In all the Muslim sources where the Ismailis are referred to as hashishis, the term is used in its pejorative sense of “people of lax morality”. There’s no suggestion that they were actually using hashish. There’s no evidence that hashish, or any other drug, was administered to the fida’is, as alleged by Marco Polo.

The literal interpretation of the term for the Ismailis as an “order of crazed hashish-using Assassins” is rooted entirely in the fantasies of medieval Europeans.

Modern scholarship in Ismaili studies, based on the recovery and study of numerous Ismaili textual sources, has now begun to dispel many misconceptions regarding the Ismailis, including the myths surrounding their cadre of fidaʾis.

And the medieval Assassin legends, arising from the hostility of the Sunni Muslims to the Shiʿite Ismailis as well as the medieval Europeans’ fanciful impressions of the Orient, have been recounted and deconstructed.

A culture of learning and tolerance

Living in adverse circumstances, the Ismailis of Iran and Syria were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded the city of Cairo and established al-Azhar, perhaps the earliest university of the world. Although preoccupied with survival, the Ismailis of the Alamut period maintained a sophisticated outlook and a literary tradition, elaborating their teachings within a Shiʿite theological framework.

An entirely fictional illustration from The Travels of Marco Polo showing the Nizari imam Alâ al Dîn Muhammad (1221-1255) drugging his disciples. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Their leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, was a learned theologian. And the Ismaili fortresses of the period, displaying magnificent military architecture and irrigation skills, were equipped with libraries holding significant collections of manuscripts, documents and scientific instruments.

The Ismailis also extended their patronage of learning to outside scholars, including Sunnis, and even non-Muslims. They were very tolerant towards other religious communities.

In the last decades of their state, in the 13th century, even waves of Sunni Muslims found refuge in the Ismaili fortress communities of eastern Iran. These refugees were running from the Mongol hordes who were then establishing their hegemony over Central Asia.

All this stands in sharp contrast to the destructive policies of IS, which persecutes religious and ethnic minorities and enslaves women.

The medieval Ismailis embodied qualities of piety, learning and community life in line with established Islamic teachings. These traditions continue in the modern-day Ismaili ethos. And the present-day global Ismaili community represents one of the most progressive and enlightened communities of the Muslim world.

The Ismailis have never had anything in common with the terrorists of IS, who murder innocent civilians at random and en masse, and destroy monuments of humankind’s shared cultural heritage.

Global terrorism in any form under the banner of Islam is a new phenomenon without historical antecedents in either classical Islamic or any other tradition. IS’s ideology reflects a crude version of the intolerant Wahhabi theology expounded by the Sunni religious establishment of Saudi Arabia, which is itself a narrow perspective that fails to recognise any pluralism or diversity of interpretations in Islam.

Date posted on Simerg: Monday, February 29, 2016.
Last updated: March 1, 2016 (12:50 EST).


This is the fifth article in The Conversation website’s series on the historical roots of Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days on The Conversation website.

This article by Dr. Farhad Daftary was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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A Reflection on the Land Grant Ceremony of the New World Class Aga Khan University Hospital to be Built in Uganda

Partnership for Change

Aga Khan and Musoveni at the Land Grant CeremonyBY SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE

The sacred space is set
The energy is invoked
The earth’s ochre red
Makes a path through the green.
Reflected in the Ismaili and Uganda flag
The logo of the university
Radiating, rippling outwards

Our world of rapid change
Meets in Uganda to break the ground
Nakawa is chosen to propel
the University Hospital

To reach beyond its borders
The frontiers of Science
Radiation ever outwards

Decades of decay at Mulago
A new seed of hope is planted
Pioneering pluralism
In Uganda’s rich soil
Revitalizing the land
For life long learning
Radiating ever outwards

Coat of Arms Uganda, AKU Logo, Flags Uganada and Ismaili ImamatThe President and Imam’s vision
Bringing to the region
Appropriate advanced Health Care
The people can access
Here at home the very best
The youth empowered to remain
Here at home to give their best practices
Expanding ever outwards

The people rejoice with lush voices
Their partners join hands to celebrate
This great milestone laid by the red bricks
That fulfills the words of the anthem
That ever propel outwards

Aga Khan Musoveni Kampala

Salute to the President and Imam for
Their vision, their respect
For national progress
Global standards of excellence
To be in the frontier of scientific
and humanistic knowledge

The best in the world
Propelling expanding ever outward
An emblematic crown over Uganda

Date posted: December 18, 2015.

Copyright: Shariffa Keshavjee/Simerg


Nakawa – an area in the city of Kampala.
Mulago – The hospital located on Mulago Hill in Kampala.

Links to stories and videos of the Land Grant Ceremony of the new Aga Khan University Teaching Hospital to be built in Uganada:

Please also visit:

Also, is an excellent resource for speeches of Mawlana Hazar Imam.

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Ismaili History: The Marco Polo Myth of the Assassins


Major excavation activities have been underway for the past few years resulting in interesting archaeological discoveries. Here we see the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.


“The Nizari [Ismailis] excelled in the fields of theology, philosophy, architecture and science, but their opponents demonized them as bloodthirsty extremist religious murderers…The returning Crusaders brought back the legend of the pothead assassins, partly because they loved to believe imaginative romantic tales of the East…In 1256, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu, destroyed the Nizali mountain castles, one at a time. Their political and military power was permanently broken (although today, some several million Nizalis still survive in some 25 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America).


Timeline by Dr. Ali M. Rajput, Birmingham, England.

“In 1273, Marco Polo visited Alamut, and brought back the story of how hashish was used to attract potential killers…After, Dante was the first to use the word “assassin” in the 19th Canto of The Inferno in his Divine Comedy. The word “assassin” remained in various European languages, right through to Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, who mentions the Assassins in his book, Angels and Demons. But there are a few reasons why the hashish-assassin myth is almost certainly wrong….If hashish is given in a large enough dose to cause unconsciousness, it will first cause nausea and hallucinations – which are usually very scary and unpleasant to the unsuspecting user.” — Excerpts from  Dr. Karl  S. Kruszelnicki’s “Hashish Assassin – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain”, broadcast on ABC Science Australia. Dr. Karl is Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney. 


Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.



Nevertheless, the most acceptable etymology of the word assassin is the simple one: it comes from Hassan (Hassan ibn al-Sabbah) and his followers, and so had it been for centuries. The noise around the hashish version was invented in 1809, in Paris, by the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, whom on July the 7th of that year, presented a lecture at the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters (Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres) – part of the Institute of France – in which he retook the Marco Polo chronicle concerning drugs and this sect of murderers, and associated it with the word. Curiously his theory had great success and apparently still has…Jacques Boudet, in Les mots de l’histoire, Ed. Larousse-Bordas, Paris, 1998



[…] their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some Orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin,” which in many European languages was more terrifying yet….the truth is different. According to texts Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to “hashish” — Amin Maalouf, in Samarkand, Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 1998


Editor’s note: The following piece by Valerie Gonzalez has been adapted from her review of the book Eagle’s Nest – Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria by the late Professor Peter Peter Wiley, who had spent nearly a lifetime discovering and investigating the Ismaili castles of Iran and Syria. Professor Wiley passed away on April 23, 2009, at the age 86. Valerie’s copyright piece originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008)  and was reproduced on this blog in full (see link below) with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée.


The Rock of Alamut.

The Castle of Alamut, nested on the top of the colossal mass of granite rock, became the centre of Nizari Ismaili activity after the fall of the Fatimid Empire. It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright. Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

By Valerie Gonzalez

Old myths are very difficult to deconstruct, even when historical evidence reveals the absurdity of their foundations. The infamous “assassin” legend that from the Middle Ages soils the memory of the Nizari Ismaili community is an example of this incorrigible defect of the collective consciousnesses. The image presented by both Christian and Muslim chroniclers of the Ismailis as unscrupulous terrorists is unfortunate if their sole fault lay in surviving as a distinct political and religious community within a hostile and troubled environment. The Crusaders, Sunnis and Seldjuk Turks naturally saw in this Shi’ite minority a threat to their establishment and expended great efforts in eliminating the Ismaili State from Iran and Syria. In addition to the pressures exerted by the great powers holding sway over the Middle East, in the 13th century, the Ismailis had to confront the Mongol threat which finally overwhelmed them. It is not wonder that in such a context they deployed the most efficient means of defense available to maintain not only the network of their strongholds and basis of their State, but also their faith and culture, the very sense of existence. In practice however, they were no more immoral or cruel than their contemporaries. They simply proved tremendously clever and obstinate in facing adversity and in struggling against forces vastly more powerful than their own. And it is probably for this reason that the Nizari Ismaili community were subject to demonization.


Attaining the summit at Alamut is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife. The above is an open passage through the mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Much scholarship was required to unravel the dark mystery of the medieval Ismaili community. Numerous historical essays and archeological reports, among them Fahrad Daftari’s extensive works, have provided an accurate view of the Ismailis within the Islamic tradition. But assuredly the latest release on the subject, Peter Willey’s book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, brings invaluable new insights by accurately portraying the environment in which the life and struggles of the Ismaili faithful took place. There is no question but that this book offers a convincing tool for the deconstruction of the false myths which surround the cult of the Assassins.

Far from being the addicts of hashish (the word assassin is believed widely, but incorrectly, to derive from the word hashishin) and a band of murderous brigands, the Ismailis were highly intelligent and devout Muslims serving their own Imam or spiritual leader (the present Imam is the Aga Khan) and attempting to build a new and vigorous Islamic state independent of the Seljuqs who had conquered Iran in 1038 – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

More than a mere treatise on the archaeology of the Ismaili castles in Iran and Syria, Willey’s book shows multiple qualities. As an academic work, it fulfills its main objective which is to present the results of a meticulous description and observation of these fortified sites. The considerable amount of information contained in the volume reflects a near life-time of research devoted to the subject. Not a single pile of stones or rubble has escaped Willey’s acute attention, or skillful restoration in clear prose of the forbidding grandeur of the Ismaili military architecture. Each remaining element of structure is analyzed and appropriately re-situated in the initial order both of the architectural organization of the building itself and of its broader setting within the coherent chain of fortresses spread over Ismaili territories. The material and documentation at the author’s disposal, including building scale, purpose, population levels and strategic importance have been patiently collected in order to present a reliable picture of the complex network of Ismaili strongholds. Maps, ground plans, photographs and even artists’ impressions and drawings complete the written work together with four appendices which include the castles’ inventory, a list of Willey’s expeditions and two catalogues of the ceramic and coin artifacts dating from the Alamut Period found at the site.

As seen on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News a meteor's streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/ . Copyright.

As seen on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News, a meteor’s streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/ . Copyright.

Beyond the high quality scientific report based on the archaeological record, Eagle’s Nest offers a brilliant reconstitution of Ismaili material culture from an historical, intellectual and sociological point of view, from the 11th century through the Mongol destructions of the mid 13th century. Willey restitutes the very meaning of the architecture he studies through the history of its builders and inhabitants, pointing out the most significant events of their lifetimes and portraying the great spiritual and political leaders of the Ismaili community. Methodically and surely, Willey describes the intricate historical background of the Ismaili State in which multiple powers confronted or fought each other, including Seljuk Turks, ambitious Sunni and Shii’a rulers, Crusaders on the Mediterranean coast, to propose his own interpretation of the historical evidence. Where evidence lacks or where persistent misconceptions require redress, the author proposes and defends critical hypotheses. The historical and cultural dimension of Willey’ archaeological investigation is particularly enhanced by the presentation of certain situations and events as literary narratives, as he does in the beginning of chapter 2, “Hasan Sabbah and the Ismailis of Iran”. The passage in question relates the capture without bloodshed of the Alamut fortress under Seljuk authority and begins thus: “It was nearly noon on a hot day in the early summer of 1090. Mahdi, the lord of the castle of Alamut, was beginning to sweat a little” (p. 21). In this way, the author makes us relive the extraordinary event in a human atmosphere that is quite uncommon in scholarly works.


A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Willey’s sensitivity to humanistic values is perceptible throughout the book, not only through the telling of the past but also in the lively narration of the research trips themselves. First, he pays considerable attention to the actual environment of the castles he visits, their awesome natural frame and the rural or urban settings of the surroundings that are presented with delight and consideration. Although most of the time the Ismaili vestiges are ghost constructions in remote, isolated regions, they are not at all presented by Willey as still life portraits. Rather, each fortress is an element in a busy, human landscape. As an example, where appropriate Willey writes about agriculture and local conditions in the surrounding villages for fortresses located in rural areas. Also, the local population and individuals involved in Willey’s expeditions frequently are mentioned as actors in the archaeological narrative. In this way, Willey underscores the support of both his team and the local community in contributing to the success of his research. Particularly moving is his attitude toward the people who help him visit inaccessible locations under difficult conditions and various orders, especially his work partner Adrianne Woodfine. More broadly, the practical aspects of each journey, the general organization and unexpected situations and encounters are meticulously recounted so that the book offers the live texture of a human adventure together with its purely scholarly content.

It is often difficult to describe to friends the problems which the investigation of Ismaili castles present. They are built on the top of high mountains, covering the entire summit, and are normally surrounded by three defensive walls with numerous outworks. Most of the castles were destroyed by the Mongols and the ruins are dangerous and infested with snakes and scorpions on or under the stones or in the cracks of walls. The steep scree and sharp rocks are formidable, especially in the intense heat and altitude of over 2000 metres – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

Chapters 7 through 12 cover the various areas of the Iranian Ismaili strongholds. Willey naturally begins with the fortresses in the famous Alamut Valley of the Alborz Mountains, the fortress in which the infamous legend of the “Assassins” took place. Alamut fortress constituted the very heart of the Nizari State in Iran and was the seat of Hasan Sabbah. Alamut and its sister fortresses represented the epitome of Ismaili military science. Willey presents it with a rigorous method of sketching, measuring and enumeration of the construction’s features and structures, topography, architectural configuration, water equipment, cisterns, underground storage, garrison quarters and so on.

Alamut Potter Kilns

The pottery kilns in the valley of Andij in the Alamut valley. Some 15 kilns were discovered including good examples of contemporary ceramics. Photo:

The Alamut castle like many of the Ismaili strongholds contained facilities for religious activities and higher learning such as libraries. To support his observations, Willey quotes several times the Mongol historian, Juwayni, who witnessed the surrender of the Alamut fortress among other similar events. Although this chronicler was hostile to the Ismailis, his detailed reports offer an invaluable source of information. In particular he inspected the Alamut fortress’ interior prior to destruction and mentions, not without admiration, its remarkable facilities (p.100). Indeed, the sophistication of their architecture allowed the Ismailis to resist the fiercest attacks while ultimately succumbing to the formidable Mongol war machinery. Willey relates with great empathy for the desperate inhabitants the dramatic capture and systematic destruction of Alamut and other Ismaili strongholds. After Alamut, Willey investigates the other Iranian Ismaili castles of the regions of Qumes, Khorassan, Qohistan and in the surroundings of the Seldjuk capital Isfahan.

Willey terminates his book with a moving epilogue in which he shares a few of the thoughts, feelings and questions raised in his heart and mind by the exceptional fate of the Ismailis. He naturally mentions the remarkable endeavor of the Aga Khan’s organization for the development of both Ismaili and Islamic culture in continuation with the educational tradition of the community since the Middle Ages.


Nevin Harji stands by an official road sign when she visited Alamut with husband Muslim. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

If, through such personal treatment, Willey hoped to clarify the historical issues surrounding Ismaili culture through the ages, he most assuredly succeeded. Eagle’s Nest unveils the extraordinary reality and humanity of the medieval Ismaili civilization, often hidden behind romantic images of remote ruins and the dark secrets contained behind crumbling walls. Finally, that Willey should communicate his deep affection for the countries he explored, particularly Iran, and the Ismaili themselves, is not the least quality of this book.

Date posted: December 14, 2015.


Credits and notes:

1. The book review originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008) and was reproduced on this web site with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée under the title Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community

2. Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, by Peter Willey, published by I.B. Tauris, 2005, London – New York, 321 pages, hard back. Approximate prices in Canada, USA and the UK (at $45.00 – $61.00; at $37.00 – $58.00; new at $58.00, at Pounds 9.95 – 21.25, note price range based on used – new book)

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