Nasir Khusraw, a giant in Ismaili history, who showed that “knowledge is a shield against the blows of time”

To commemorate the Diamond Jubilee visit to Canada, the Jamat of Canada presented Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, a very rare version of a manuscript of Nasir Khusraw’s Divan. The presentation was made on behalf of the Jamat by Karima Karmali, the Vice President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, on May 11, 2018 during the final Mulaqat in Calgary.

In response, Mawlana Hazar Imam said that the gift of the manuscript was a “beautifully wise” choice. It is therefore befitting that we celebrate the extraordinary life of Nasir Khusraw through this special tribute prepared by Sujjawal Ahmad of Pakistan.

An Introduction and Tribute to Nasir Khusraw

By SUJJAWAL AHMAD

Nasir Khusrau Portrait_n

A depiction of  Nasir Khusraw. Photo: AkimArt

A Persian poet, philosopher, Ismaili scholar, theologian, traveler and one of the greatest writers in Persian literature, Nasir Khusraw has befittingly been called a Ruby.  He was a jewel, a jewel that has to pass through many tribulations until it is able to give its own light to others.  My admiration for Nasir Khusraw started when I was a teen at a high school, and I began reading about his life and teachings.

I was most impressed by his story which has left an indelible mark on me. It tells of a life that was transformed from that of worldly possessions and luxury to an exemplary life of ethic, self-discipline, courage and dedication in the path of faith. Nasir Khusraw epitomises the Prophet’s saying: ‘Seek knowledge even unto China’ by setting off on a journey of seven years which he calls a ‘Journey to the Seventh Sphere’.

The Safarnama, an account of his travels, and his other works like the Divan enable one to get a picture of  key events that  led to the development of his thoughts that finally made him embrace the Ismaili faith.

A brief  article such as the one I have attempted here cannot do justice to the incredible life of Nasir Khusraw, and I hope this endeavour captures the salient points of his life and will also inspire readers to learn more about the sage from recent new works that have been published.

Early Life

Nāsir Khusraw was born in Qabodiyon, Khorasan (present day Tajikistan) in the year 1004 AC. He belonged to a family of government officials in Qabadiyan and spent his early years travelling and studying. Following family tradition, he joined government  service where he earned a reputation of a high achiever. He demonstrated remarkable ability in all pursuits of knowledge of religion, philosophy, literature, science and mathematics. Nasir Khusraw was a prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects, including a book on mathematics Gahra’ib al-hisab which has now been lost. 

Turning Point

One night while he was on an official trip outside the city of Marv, he had a dream that was to change course of his life. In his vision a wise man appeared before him, calling him to forsake the life of drunkenness. In reply he told the wise man there was no better thing than wine to lessen his sorrow. The wise man told him to seek out what increased reason and wisdom instead of seeking that which lessened wisdom. ‘Where can I find such a thing?’ he asked.

Pointing towards the Qibla, the wise man said: ‘Search and ye shall find’.

On awakening, with the vision still vivid in his mind, he lamented to himself: ‘I have woken up from last night’s dream. But now I must awaken from a dream that has lasted forty years’.

He was determined to change his life accordingly, interpreting the dream as a sign from God. A month later, on December 19th, 1045, Nasir Khusraw went to mosque, fell to his knees and bowed his forehead to the ground, asking help from God in guiding him to accomplish what he had to do in his life.

He took leave from his job, and announced that he was going for a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Thus, began his seven year journey of a wayfarer in search of true spiritual wealth,

Nasir Khusraw in Cairo

He travelled westward through northern Iran passing Nishapur, Tabriz, Aleppo, and then across the Mediterranean coast until he reached Jerusalem. During his three months stay here, he visited the holy shrines in Jerusalem and then set out for his first pilgrimage to Mecca. From Mecca by the way of Damascus to Jerusalem, he proceeded by land to Egypt. The oracle in his dream had pointed him in the direction of the Qibla, which was also the direction of Cairo, the capital of the Fatimid Caliphate, which was then under the reign of Imam  al-Mustansir billah.

In July, 1047 AC standing in the city of Cairo, his face full of radiance and grace, and heart enlightened, he was now voicing his thanks to the Divine, saying:

“Praise to the Lord that nothing burdens my back. Thanks to the generosity of His favor and grace, that I have come to know the truth of the true Imam, his certainty and justice of his cause; that he is that matchless king whose domain of all the earth is free of devilery. O Lord help me to spend days and nights in devotion to him to string together from time to time a few pious verses based on his knowledge and wisdom.”

This was the city that was blessed with the presence of Imam of Time, as he rightfully said: “to which the heavenly bodies and spheres themselves were subservient”. Upon his arrival in the city he felt a voice instructing him, “Go no further! Seek here what you need.”

He had arrived to embrace his dream! He had reached the true House of Knowledge of which the Prophet had said, Ali was the gate. Now he would spend days and nights benefiting as much as he could from that sacred House. His soul was illuminated with the radiance of the light of Imam of Time. So profound was the effulgence of Imam’s Glory to him that he extolled every sign of his gratitude, praise and admiration. 

“Wherever I may be, so long as I live, time and again,
My pen, ink pot and parchment will speak
my gratitude to you (O Imam of Time).”

Nasir Khusraw and the grand Ismaili missionary al-Shirazi

He had started his journey from his hometown with a burning desire to seek answers to the questions of existence and purpose in the world; and now he had to stay for the  next two to three years, in the companionship of the great Ismaili intellectuals. In Cairo he met with many Ismaili dais including Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi, who later became his mentor and teacher. Nasir’s conversation with al-Shirazi  struck him with amazement. Upon his first meeting, he told al-Shirazi about his soul’s grief and frailty and al-Shirazi gazed intently upon his face for a while and then said, “Fear not, for your mine has now transformed into gems.” These words were no less than but of a soothsayer to him that served to fortify his hopes and confidence. Al-Shirazi expounded on Nāsir’s questions in terms he neither had read nor heard before. He spoke with Nasir with such a knowledge and fluency that the sweetness of his discourse finally impelled Nasir to accept him as his teacher and call him ‘Ridwan’ — the one who is Warden of Paradise.

During his stay in the Fatimid capital he engaged in deep study of all branches of religion such as theology, philosophy, metaphysics and ethics.

Nasir Khusraw’s Departure from Cairo

Nasir Khusraw

A statue of the Ismaili dai, philosopher, poet and seasoned traveller Nasir Khusraw in Badakhshan.

Sparkling with light and enthusiasm, he was now ready to start the next part of his journey  back to his home with a spirit full of courage and determination. From the moment he left Cairo, he was now heading his mission as a Hujjat, the supreme office in Dawa, for the spread of his new Ismaili faith to new territories, including Khurasan and Badakhshan.  His life was now to be committed with ceaseless activity, promoting Ismaili teachings to all people.

Nasir Khusraw returned to Persia in the year 1052 AC, and stayed at Balkh, his hometown, and started preaching his new faith in the surrounding areas. Envious of Nasir Khusraw’s influence, the exoteric clerics of his town tried to poison the minds of the already hostile Seljuq authorities resulting in attacks that caused great distress to him.  He had to flee from his hometown to the high mountains of Yumgan, living in a period of exile in the last years of his life. Throughout this period of exile, he continued to struggle conversing with the wise and learned on themes and topics that occupied their minds. He breathed his last in the mountains of Yumgan in the upper reaches of Oxus river. His body lies under the earth, but his spirit lives on, in hearts of his people calling:

“That strength of youth that heavenly face —
O mindless body of mine, why did you ever leave them behind?
When your body was beautiful, you acted pretty ugly,
Now that you are ugly, you  should beautify your actions.
Time has made your torso feeble:
Yesterday a peacock, today a porcupine.”

Nasir Khusraw’s Teachings

Nasir Khusraw along with other Ismaili preachers of his time, offer such an understanding of religion where intellectual investigation of faith is the supreme virtue of a believer. He never promoted dogmatic attitudes of thought and belief. The path that he calls for considers intellect (aql ) as the primary tool in the soul’s endeavor to cleanse itself and for its salvation. Intellect is always predominant, as an essential criterion, for individual’s search for truth. He gives us an intellectual and logical understanding of spirituality. There exists, at microcosmic level, for each individual being, a spiritual dimension of existence which is the most fundamental and the most important aspect of his reality. While physical bodies reside at the material world of zahir, the soul exists at spiritual world of batin. Ultimate journey is the journey of the batin, that is, of soul, so that it may find the presence in higher spheres of the world of ‘Amr’. He tells us how to elevate our souls so as to make them receptive to the Divine emanations:

“Kindle the candle of intellect in thy heart and hasten with it to the world of brightness.”

His views conceives of man to be essentially a rational being, superior to the physical creation, possessing a ‘rational soul’. God provides man with tools such as consciousness, discursive reasoning, and the power of intellect. From his perspective, intellect is the most crucial gift bestowed from God to mankind, that enables man to gain wisdom (hikmat), true understanding of God’s plan and will.

It is only through a conscious and repeated use of reason and intelligence that man can achieve that wisdom. Food for man to achieve this is knowledge. But man’s knowledge is incomplete like his intellect, so there must be a person always present on earth, with Perfect Knowledge and Intellect, whom people can approach to seek guidance. Pearl of knowledge, he says, is Intellect, and pearl of Intellect, he says, is God’s Command, Be!

God’s gift for mankind through his Divine Will  thus includes wellsprings of Divine guidance, that are Prophets and Imams. They are the true House of Knowledge.  But it is incumbent upon man to search for his Imam of Age. His whole story revolves around his quest to identify such a pinnacle of Divine Guidance. His quest is fulfilled when he finds this pinnacle in the person of Imam Mustansir-i billah in Cairo.

One distinguishing character that makes him unique is that Nasir Khusraw was not a sage. He never aspired to seek monastic withdrawal from the world. The path that he preached never lead one away from the worldly life. Even though he warns against being seduced by the attractions of this world,  he also exhorts his readers to actively engage with the world and make use of it for their own perfection and become the best human beings they can. For him, the physical world holds clues to the next world as well as tools to make the journey possible.

Nasir Khusraw’s Poetry and Works

Nasir Khusraw remains one of the most fascinating figures in Islamic history. Despite diverse themes and styles of his writings, one finds them imbued with his primary and consistent concern for Ismaili faith. His poetry not only reflects his inspiration and expression but also, as a paragon of distinctive style and eloquence, it combines philosophy and theology to the mould of Persian literary tradition and attracts a passionate attention of any aspiring reader. He often makes use of poetic imagery and the basic ingredients of rhyme and rhythm in order to illustrate his practical wisdom of a virtuous life, as in the following example:

Have you heard? A squash vine grew beneath a towering tree.
In only twenty days it grew and spread and put forth fruit.
Of the tree it asked: ‘How old are you? How many years?’
Replied the tree: ‘Two hundred it would be, and surely more.’
The squash laughed and said: ‘Look, in twenty days, I’ve done more than
you; tell me, why are you so slow?’
The tree responded: ‘O little squash, today is not the day of reckoning
between the two of us.’
‘Tomorrow, when winds of autumn howl down on you and me, then shall it be
known for sure which one of us is the real man!’

He is known not only for his prose and poetry but also in his unique capacity as the only eminent philosopher of his era to have composed all his works in Persian.

He has several works to his credit, revealing the exemplary perfection of his intellectual personality. It would be no exaggeration to say that his works are invaluable to the philosophical curriculum of medieval Muslim thought. Most of his writings range from responses to the personal requests of his followers or correspondents to profound elaborations, elucidations and interpretations of Ismaili theology and philosophy. These include Jami‘ al-hikmatayn, Gushayish va Rahayish, Zad al-Musafirin (or Travelling Provisions of Pilgrims), Wajh-i-Din (or The Face of Religion), and many others.

A series of excellent teachings of his philosophy are found in his Jami‘ al-hikmatayn and Gushayish va Rahayish. It is here that he addresses and expounds a wide range of various questions: How did we come to be? What is Soul? What is meant by time and space? and so on. It is also here that he applies rational tools to explain and expound his theology, allowing us to capture and understand not only the significance of his own thought, but also the beliefs of his age.

Today as I pause, his life and his story renders me to reflect on how his journey that started with a dream led him to the highest rank in the Ismaili Dawa among Ismaili intellectuals of his time. We may conclude by reading his story from his own writings that the foundation of his life and journey was to learn enough to be worthy of teaching to others. He never considered it either sufficient or ethical to acquire knowledge first and then hold that knowledge to his own self. He considered it imperative to disseminate the knowledge that he acquired to others, and to call others to the truth that he had found in the Ismaili faith.

Aga Khan at opening of Ismaili Centre Dushanbe

Tajikistan’s President Rahmon and Mawlana Hazar Imam, pause in the library of the new Ismaili Centre in Dushanbe during its opening on October 12, 2009. They engage over a book about renowned poet and Ismaili philosopher, Nasir Khusraw, who lived over a thousand years ago in the region that is modern Tajikistan.

Nasir Khusraw shines, today, in the learned world like a lamp of knowledge, and his voice of  wisdom shimmers the minds of the world’s most wise. To me, his message seems perfectly compatible with modern ethos of intellectual change. I conclude my article with following remarks of Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al-Hussaini, made on 30th August 2003 during the foundation ceremony of the Dushanbe Ismaili Centre:

The passage of a millennium has not diminished Nasir Khusraw’s relevance nor dulled the lustre of his poetry. It continues to uplift and inspire, reminding us that we are the authors of our own destiny. As he has said, we can be like a poplar tree which chooses to remain barren, or we can let our path be lit by the candle of wisdom, for only “with intellect, we can seek out all the hows and whys. Without it, we are but trees without fruit.” Another lesson that we learn from this great philosopher is that, in the ebb and flow of history, “knowledge is a shield against the blows of time.” It dispels “the torment of ignorance” and nourishes “peace to blossom forth in the soul.”

Date posted: June 16, 2018.

_____________________

All Nasir Khusraw quotations are from Nasir Khusraw: The Ruby of Badakhshan by Alice C. Hunsberger.

Sujjawal Ahmad smallSujjawal Ahmad holds a Masters degree in Molecular Biology from Quaid-i Azam University, Pakistan, where his work and research focused on targeted molecular therapeutics. He has a passion for philosophy, and has written several articles on classical philosophy and comparative religions.

 

Selected readings on Nasir Khusraw:

Some English translations of Nasir Khusraw's writings

Some of the works of Nasir-i Khusraw now available in English.

 

The Ismaili Imamat and Spiritual Meaning: Communicating the Zahir and the Batin

In the Ismaili tradition, the Imam has a central and indispensable role in helping the believer mediate the outer and inner aspects of life

By KARIM H. KARIM

(This is an abridged and revised version of the article “A Semiotics of Infinite Translucence: The Exoteric and Esoteric in Ismaili Muslim Hermeneutics,” which was published in the special issue on “Visible/Invisible: Religion, Media, and the Public Sphere” of the Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol. 40 No.1, 2015)

Shia Ismaili Muslim theology is shaped by the relationship between the zahiri (outer, exoteric) and the batini (inner, esoteric) dimensions of life. The two concepts are not set against each other in an oppositional manner but are complimentary ways of perceiving truth. This relates to a fundamental religious quest: to know the mysterium tremendum — “that which is hidden and esoteric, that which is beyond conception or understanding, extraordinary and unfamiliar” (Otto, 1958, p. 13). The relationship between the zahir and the batin points toward a notion of gradual perception through the metaphor of translucence, which symbolizes “the constant search for answers that leads inevitably to more questions” (Aga Khan IV, 2005b). Translucence permits partial illumination, but not complete enlightenment. Spiritual insight unfolds serially in an infinite journey. It is the Imam who, in the Ismaili tradition, has a central and indispensable role in helping the believer mediate the zahiri and batini aspects of life.

READING GOD’S SIGNS

The American social theorist John Durham Peters has dwelled on the imperfection of human communication that leads to misinterpretations. On the other hand, he notes that angels are viewed in some religions as “pure bodies of meaning” who understand each other without any distortion (Peters, 2000, pp. 74–75). Muslims believe the Qur’an to have resulted from communication of this kind. They hold the Qur’anic revelation to have been received from God, who relayed it to Prophet Muhammad through the archangel Jibril (Gabriel). The Qur’an itself describes the revelation as imparted to Muhammad through spiritual inspiration (wahi) (Qur’an 53:4). The Prophet expressed the spiritual messages in human language. Divine communication is materially manifested in the text that constitutes the Qur’an. The words of the holy book provide access to God; however, they can only be understood according to the intellectual and spiritual capacity of individual believers. They are simultaneously translucent veils and windows of the revelation’s ultimate truth.

Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet and his companions memorized and wrote down the series of revelations that were received over a period of 22 years. The material was collected in the form of a book after the Prophet’s death. Although the Qur’an has been rendered into numerous other languages, the original revelation in Arabic is considered to be technically untranslatable as no translation – no matter how rigorous – can replicate the specific discourse transmitted by divine inspiration (Pickthall, 1977). The nuances of the layered meanings embedded in the unique revelation would be lost through translation. Replacing the specific verbal signifiers spoken by Muhammad upon receiving the revelation would break the link with its unique spiritual content.

The adherents of Islam contemplate upon the pristine words of the revelation that was bestowed upon the Prophet 14 centuries ago. However, this poses substantial difficulty for the vast majority of the world’s Muslims who do not speak Arabic. It is not a simple task even for Arabs as language changes over time. Contemporary forms of Arabic are quite different from that of the Qur’an. Given the divine nature of this scripture, translation into another language or even modern Arabic would break the link to the particular denotations and connotations of the uniquely inspired speech.

The Qur’an frequently refers to itself and expresses a self-reflexiveness about its transmission, its language, its nature, and its meaning (e.g., 16:103, 4:82, 39:23). The word it uses to refer to its verses is ayat: “These are the ayat of God that We recite to you in truth” (2:252). It is noteworthy that the same term is also utilized for God’s signs. Several Qur’anic passages encourage the believer to ponder upon them. For example:

“And of His ayat [signs] is this that He created you from dust,
And behold, ye are human beings ranging widely!
And among His ayat is this,
That He created for you mates from among yourselves,
That ye may dwell in tranquility with them.
And He has put between you love and mercy.
Verily in that are ayat for those who reflect.
And of His ayat is the creation of the heavens and the earth,
And the difference of your languages and colours.
Herein indeed are ayat for those who know.” (Qur’an 30:20–21)

Kenneth Cragg notes that “This confluence of terms is interesting and suggestive, allowing as it does the conviction that the external world is a kind of ‘scripture’ … [which] speaks Quranically to mankind…” (1973, p. 148). The material universe as well as its historical unfolding, like the revelation, constitute God’s signs and texts that are to be read semiotically to understand the meanings of the messages to humankind.

It is “those who reflect” (Qur’an 13:3) who are able to comprehend the signification of the signs that God has embedded in the revelation and the Creation. Numerous parts of the Islamic revelation exhort the believer to reflect (tafakkur), to ponder (tadabbur), to learn (ta‘allum), to comprehend (tafaqquh), and to use one’s intellect (aqila) (Shah-Kazemi, 2011). Apprehending the divine through intellectual endeavour is a primary motif in the Qur’an. It is significant that the very first verses of revelation to be received by Muhammad began with the instruction to “read” [1]:

“Read in the name of thy Lord who created
Created the human being from a clot
Read, and thy Lord is the Most Bounteous
Who taught by the pen,
Taught the human being that which s/he knew not” (Qur’an 96:1–5)

What is meant exactly by “read” has been a matter of much discussion and debate for centuries among Muslim scholars. The Qur’an’s emphasis on knowledge encouraged its acquisition to become a major endeavour among Muslims. The Arabic word ilm, usually translated as “knowledge,” is one of the most frequently appearing terms in the holy book. [2]

An enormous amount of effort has been devoted over the past 14 centuries to study and understand the Qur’an. The meanings of its numerous metaphors, allegories, and parables have been sought over the ages. Philology, grammar, history, the Prophet’s biography, eyewitness accounts etc. have been brought to bear to know the meaning of the more than 6,000 verses of the revelation. Established Muslim traditions of exegesis (tafsir) based on various explanatory frameworks support specific interpretations. In some cases, the differences in interpreting certain key phrases, words, and even punctuation have reflected significant doctrinal divergences among groups such as the Sunni and the Shia as well as among their subgroupings. Whereas Muslims generally agree that Qur’anic verses have surface, exoteric (zahiri) and deeper, esoteric (batini) meanings, the Sufis and the Shia generally lay greater emphasis on the latter. This tendency is not unique to Islam, since anagogic interpretations of scripture are also conducted by other religious believers, such as those engaged in the study of the Kabbalah in the Jewish faith and the Gnostic tradition in Christianity.

ISMAILI TAWIL

Among the Shia, the Ismailis have come to be known as the group that has most consistently explored the inner aspects of the Qur’an through tawil, the esoteric Islamic hermeneutics (i.e. modes of interpretation). Commenting on the work of Nasir-i Khusraw, a prominent eleventh-century Ismaili philosopher, the former Institute of Ismaili Studies scholar Eric Ormsby notes that

“philosophy and science apply in the realm of the zahir, the exoteric aspect of things, while tawil addresses the privileged realm of the batin, the esoteric understanding of revelation. Neither realm is essentially separable from the other; they are complementary and constitute a whole. They are as interdependent as the bodily senses and the soul, each of which plays a fundamental role in the constitution of the human being and of the cosmos.” (Ormsby, 2012, p. 8)

Human bodies have to engage physically with the material world and the exoteric stipulations of religion belong to the dimension of the zahir. The “human soul, however, needs to know the inner meanings and significance of these acts and scriptures on which they are based” (Hunsberger, 2000, pp. 75–76). It is imperative in the context of Ismaili cosmology for the soul to become enlightened by these higher truths that only exist in the batin (Hunzai, 2005).

Tawil is viewed as an interpretive method which discloses the inner meanings of the Qur’anic revelation that would otherwise remain invisible to those conducting exegesis only by means of tafsir. Whereas the word tafsir comes from the sense “to comment,” tawil involves the quest for original meanings or, more precisely, originary significance. Ismaili hermeneutics seek to reveal to the believer the Qur’anic signifiers (mathal) that are “incomprehensible to an ordinary mind because of their complex implications and extraordinarily profound meanings” (Shah, 2005, p. 119). Becoming knowledgeable of the mathal’s originary signified sense (mamthul) involves spiritual and intellectual exertion of a high order. Tawil opens the way for comprehending the “ultimate implications and aims” (ibid) of God’s signs.

Who, then, can carry out tawil? Whereas tafsir of the Qur’an is performed by knowledgeable members of the religious classes (ulama) among Sunnis and the non-Ismaili Shia, tawil, according to Ismaili tradition, can only be conducted by the hereditary Imam and, to a lesser extent, by members of the Imam’s mission (dawa) (Steigerwald, 2006). Authority for this is based on the Qur’an, which states that “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] tawil save Allah and those who are well-grounded in knowledge (ilm)” (Qur’an 3:7). The Shia, including Ismailis, understand “those who are well-grounded in knowledge (ilm)” in this verse to be the hereditary Imams descended from Ali ibn Abi Talib and Fatima, the first Shia Imam and the Prophet’s daughter, respectively. (Sunnis disagree with this reading.) The status of Imams with respect to the conduct of tawil is also supported by the Shia with certain sayings (hadiths) of the Prophet Muhammd referring to Hazrat Ali (Shah, 2005). Whereas the revelation (tanzil) denotes the descent of the divine message to humanity, the Imam enables his followers, through the tawil of this message, to attain spiritual ascent by enabling them to comprehend the original senses of its signified meanings.

According to Qadi al-Nu’man, a prominent tenth-century Ismaili scholar and close confidant of the fourteenth Imam, al-Muiz, Hazrat Ali’s outstanding qualities were his knowledge, nobility, and aptitude for providing proofs. As successors of Ali, the Ismaili Imams are viewed by their followers as having the ability to provide esoteric explanations of Qur’anic passages. Al-Nu’man also describes the Imams “as the bearers of the Divine illuminating substance (nur), and the ones who receive Divine help (tayid), and inspiration (ilham)” (quoted in Shah, 2005, p. 121).

“The traits also denote that an Imam does not require any teacher other than the preceding Imam from whom he imbibes the particular knowledge. The preceding Imam entrusts the Imama to him and thus teaches him. On the basis of all this, al-Numan refers to the knowledge of Imams as the real and true knowledge (al-ilm al-haqiqi) and the one which is transmitted from one Imam to another Imam (al-ilm al-mathur).” (Ibid)

Contemporary Nizari Ismailis hold that their present Imam, Aga Khan IV, who is forty-ninth in lineage since Hazrat Ali, has the authority and the ability to guide them according to the exoteric and esoteric teachings of Islam. Allegiance to the Imam of the time (Imam al-zaman) and membership in the Ismaili religious community are prerequisites for receiving knowledge of the batin from him (Carney, 2009).

EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC

A book by the tenth-century Ismaili scholar Jafar bin Mansur al-Yaman narrates a series of dialogues that narrate the initiation of an adept into the esoteric teachings of the faith (Morris, 2001). It relates the need for careful intellectual and spiritual preparation and the deeply private nature of the communication between master and disciple. The knowledge of the batin received in this manner is to be kept within the community. Only those who have received Ismaili teachings and comprehend the significance of esoteric knowledge can understand its value. However, the disciple’s understanding of the batin is limited by his/her spiritual capacity; each person can only see the esoteric truth as far as is permitted by her hermeneutic horizon’s current limit (Corbin, 1954). The truth is learnt in stages, and remains a continuing process.

Not only will outsiders not be able to make any sense of the batin, it will also be harmful to them. An explication is to be found in an Indian Ismaili hymn (ginan) which relates several miracles of Pir Shams, a legendary thirteenth to fourteenth-century saint. One story tells of his banishment from a city whose inhabitants did not understand the true nature of spirituality. The turn of events brought him to a situation where he and his disciple had only raw meat for food and no means to cook it. In this difficult state, he asked the sun to descend in order to cook the meat. When the sun came down it did not harm the Pir and his disciple, but its proximity set the city and its people on fire (Hooda, 1948). The account is seen as making a symbolic statement about the power of esoteric knowledge, represented by the sun [3]: it nourishes those who have been initiated into the understanding of the batin by enabling them to gain knowledge of its true nature, but can destroy those who have not. The Imam and appointed members his dawah are the only ones who can provide such knowledge.

Since approaching the essence of the batin is not possible without the guidance of the Imam it is imperative, according to Ismaili belief, that there should always be a living Imam among humanity. The lineage, starting from Hazrat Ali, is expected to continue to the Day of Judgment. However, there have been periods in Ismaili history when the Imam was in mortal danger and had to go into concealment (satr). The Imams under threat from the mid-eighth to early tenth centuries and from the mid-thirteenth to late eighteenth centuries were in concealment, according to Ismaili historiography. Following the first period of satr, the community entered a period of kashf (unveiling) and rose to political power. Ismailis established the Fatimid Empire (909–1171 CE) in North Africa and built Cairo as its capital. Their leaders ruled as Imam-Caliphs over a vast realm that stretched at various times from Morocco to Arabia and also included principalities in Italy, Yemen, and India. However, even at this time, the religious followers of the Ismaili Imam were a minority among a population that included a majority of Sunnis as well as Christians, Jews, and others.

The Fatimids founded institutions of learning in their empire that catered to general instruction on religious and non-religious matters. These included Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, which, a thousand years later, is still operating; it is now a global centre of learning for Sunni Islam. The Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge) dealt with philosophy and the sciences, and was a model for similar institutions that were established in other Muslim lands (Halm, 1997). Fatimid Imam-Caliphs delivered public sermons at mosques on major festivals (Walker, 2009). However, private gatherings known as majalis al-hikma (sessions of wisdom) were held to provide Ismaili teachings to the Imam’s religious adherents. The Imam personally authorized the materials read out at these gatherings (Halm, 1997). A document from the period provides the following directions to the instructor:

“Read the majalis al-hikam, which were handed to you at the court, to the faithful (i.e. the Ismailis), male and female, and to the adepts, male and female, in the brilliant palaces of the caliphs and in the Friday mosque in al-Muiziyya al-Qahira (the Azhar Mosque of Cairo). But keep the secrets of the wisdom from the unauthorized, and distribute them only to those who are entitled to them! Do not reveal to the weak what they are unable to grasp, but at the same time do not look upon their understanding as too poor to absorb it!” (Parentheses in the original.) (1997, pp. 47–48)

These sessions of wisdom regarding the exoteric and esoteric aspects of faith conducted teaching according to the respective levels of understanding of the various congregations among the religious followers of the Imam-Caliph.

MEANING IN MATERIAL CULTURE

IsmailiCentre toronto for Karim's article

Ismaili Centre, Toronto

Whereas present-day Nizari Ismailis do not subscribe to the particular cosmological structures that underpinned Fatimid philosophy, they continue to adhere to beliefs relating to the concepts such as zahir and batin. Their communities (jamats) hold private religious gatherings in Jamatkhanas (congregational houses), which non-Ismailis are not permitted to attend. All those present will have given allegiance to the Imam of the time. The Jamatkhana is the preserve of the Ismaili private sphere. The Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre in Toronto are located on a 17-acre landscaped site that is publicly accessible. The juxtaposition of these two buildings, separated by some 80 metres, is particularly noteworthy. The former has an active engagement with the public while the latter contains a religious space that is kept private, in accordance with the community’s esoteric traditions. Over the contemporary prayer hall is a prominent glass dome that is postmodernist in design. At its foundation ceremony, the Aga Khan noted that the “building will feature a crystalline frosted glass dome—standing like a great beacon on top of a building that is itself at the highest point of the site—and illuminating the Prayer Hall and its Qibla wall” (Aga Khan IV, 2010). The current Imam makes an intriguing statement about the relationship between Ismaili public and private spaces and also that between the visible and the invisible as well as between zahir and batin. Not only is the Jamatkhana placed on the most elevated spot in the area, its pyramid-shaped translucent cover lights up for the surrounding region, including the arterial Don Valley Parkway, along which thousands of vehicles travel daily.

Esotericism is generally conceptualized in the contexts of closed groups. Esoteric discourse and meanings tend not to be shared with the public. Ismaili hermeneutics seek to bring back potent words to their hidden original meanings, which have spiritual resonance for all human beings. Whereas this cannot be done without initiation into the privacy of the Ismaili fold, the community seeks alternatively to articulate its worldview publicly through institutional work and through appeals to universal values and symbolic discourses using material culture such as architecture and design. The Imam commissions some of the world’s leading architects to design the buildings that house his institutions. The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat’s building in Ottawa is illustrative of the Aga Khan’s expression of Ismaili perspectives in architecture, even that meant for secular purposes. This is what he stated at its inauguration:

“It will be a site for robust dialogue, intellectual exchange, and the forging of new partnerships—with government, and with the institutions of civil society and the private sector of Canada and so many other countries. To be able to site this building on Confederation Boulevard, in close proximity to your major national institutions as well as representations from abroad, is itself a symbol of the outgoing, interactive spirit which must guide our response to global challenges.” (Aga Khan IV, 2008)

Delegation-of-the-Ismaili-Imamat-by-Maki-and-Associates-04 for Karim's article

Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa

While referring to the “outgoing, interactive spirit” in the secular engagement with the public sphere, the Aga Khan was keen to embed the building, which is representative of the Ismaili Imamat, with symbols that speak to the interaction between the zahir and the batin. [4] In a letter to the building’s Japanese architect, Fumihiko Maki, he indicated that it had to reflect metaphorically the properties of rock crystal, in which “the cuts and angles permit both transparency as well as translucency…It pleases and confuses the eye by its internal planes running at different angles, creating a sense of visual mystery” (quoted in Cook, 2008).

The Aga Khan said that the challenges facing the architect called for

“translating concepts that have a context in our faith and our history, yet stride boldly and confidently ahead, into modernity; for expressing both the exoteric and the esoteric, and our awe and humility towards the mysteries of Nature, Time and beyond. The outcome is an inter-play of multiple facets, like rock crystal. In it are platforms of pure but translucent horizontality. Light’s full spectrum comes alive and disappears as the eye moves. In Islam the divine is reflected in Nature’s creation.” (Aga Khan IV, 2005)

Rock crystal was also prized by the current Imam’s Fatimid ancestors, whose craftsmen carved beautiful objets d’art from this material (Bloom, 2007). Aga Khan IV finds in this pure quartz crystal a symbolic expression of the mysteries of the esoteric, which he asked his architect to explore. “What we observed is complete transparency in some areas and complete opacity in others. Then there are infinite numbers of translucency” (quoted in Cook, 2008), said an associate of Fumihiko. In alternating of transparency, translucency and opacity, rock crystal seems materially to mimic glimpses of the mystery of the batin — which is usually invisible, unclear, or confusing but begins to become more visible and clearer when the disciple learns to orient herself toward it. However, this remains a never-ending process that involves a continuing search through multiple levels of truth in accordance with one’s growing spiritual horizon (Corbin, 1954). The hermeneutic unveiling of religious signifiers is not direct but mediated through infinite gradations of translucence, which appears to symbolize “the constant search for answers that leads inevitably to more questions” (Aga Khan IV, 2005).

CONCLUSION

The term esoteric sometimes connotes a tendency to withdraw from public life, as was the case with the Gnostic tradition in the Christian faith. Whereas Ismailis went into concealment in certain periods to continue practising their esoteric faith in safety, they are vigorously interacting with the public sphere in contemporary times. The community is engaging with a world where secular norms have lessened the value of religious perspectives in shaping public worldviews. However, this relatively small group appears to be working to develop a common discourse based on the broader values it shares with other people. Issues such as ethics, education, good governance, quality of life, pluralism, service etc. have provided for productive communicative bridges with others. The success of Ismaili institutions has also enhanced external confidence in them.

While seeking to ensure privacy about his community’s religious practice, the Imam appears to be engaging in a symbolic discourse through the media of design and architecture to express exoteric and esoteric concepts publicly. Placing an Ismaili Jamatkhana on an elevated location and designing its dome as a bright lamp in the Toronto cityscape appears to draw aesthetically from a sense of mystery reminiscent of the highly symbolic Qur’anic verse of light (24:35) and a ginan’s metaphoric reference to “When the Lord’s light shines in the north[ern] continent” (Peer Sadardeen, n.d.). Outsiders can see the brightly illuminated translucent shell of the pyramidal dome but its inner realm remains invisible and private. Symbolism using material culture is here an intriguing means to communicate with the public about the community’s most deeply held values.

Date posted: May 2, 2018.
Last updated: May 3, 2018 (minor typos).

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NOTES

[1]. The first word was iqra; it is interpreted variantly as both “read” and “recite.”
[2]. It occurs 856 times (Shah-Kazemi, 2011, p. 4).
[3]. The sun has symbolized the Imam in Nizari Ismaili literature (e.g., Ivanow, 1947, p. 18).
[4]. Valérie Gonzalez discusses “a double semiotic structure signifying at both the manifest and the hidden level” (2001, p. 33) in the context of a relationship between Qur’anic text and Muslim architectural aesthetics.

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Karim H. Karim

Karim H. Karim

About the author: Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam and a Professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. He has also served as Director of the School and of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, England, and has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. Earlier in his career, he worked as a journalist and as a senior policy analyst in the Canadian Government. Professor Karim has been a distinguished lecturer at venues in North America, Europe, and Asia. He won the inaugural Robinson Prize for his book Islamic Peril: Media and Global Violence. His most recent publications are Diaspora and Media in Europe: Migration, Identity, and Integration; Re-Imagining the Other: Culture, Media and Western-Muslim Intersections and Engaging the Other: Public Policy and Western-Muslim Intersections. One of Dr. Karim’s articles is “Clash of Ignorance” and he is currently writing a book on this topic.

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CITATIONS

  • Aga Khan IV. (2005, June 6). Address by His Highness the Aga Khan at the foundation ceremony of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat (Ottawa, Canada). URL: http://www.akdn.org/Content/121 [February 12, 2014].
  • Aga Khan IV. (2008). Where hope takes root: Democracy and pluralism in an interdependent world. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.
  • Aga Khan IV. (2010, May 28). Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the foundation ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Toronto, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park. URL: http://www.akdn.org/Content/993 [February 9, 2014].
  • Bloom, Jonathan M. (2007). Arts of the city victorious: Islamic art and architecture in Fatimid North Africa and Egypt. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Carney, Abd al-Hakeem. (2009). Esoteric interpretation in Ismailism. Sacred Web, 22, 119–133.
  • Cook, Maria. (2008, December 6). An essay in glass. The Ottawa Citizen. URL: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/observer/story.html?id=62eba74e-c926-4291-9d69-a863f011e5ae [February 11, 2014].
  • Corbin, Henry. (1954). Divine epiphany and spiritual birth in Ismailian gnosis. In Joseph Campbell (Ed.), Man and transformation: Papers from the Eranos yearbooks (pp. 69–160). Princeton, NJ: Bollingen.
  • Cragg, Kenneth. (1973). The mind of the Qur’an. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  • Gonzalez, Valérie. (2001). Beauty and Islam: Aesthetics in Islamic art and architecture. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Halm, Heinz. (1997). The Fatimids and their traditions of learning. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Hooda, Vali Mohamed. (1948). Some specimens of Satpanth literature. In W. Ivanow (Ed.). Collectanea (pp. 55–145). Leiden, Netherlands: Brill.
  • Hunsberger, Alice C. (2003). Nasir Khusraw, the ruby of Badakhshan: A portrait of the Persian poet, traveller and philosopher. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Hunzai, Faquir Muhammad. (2005). The concept of knowledge according to al-Kirmani. In T. Lawson (Ed.), Reason and inspiration in Islam: Theology, philosophy and mysticism in Muslim thought—Essays in honour of Hermann Landolt (pp. 127–141). London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Ivanow, Wladamir. (1947). On the recognition of the Imam. Bombay: Thacker & Co.
  • Morris, James. (2001). The master and the disciple: An early Islamic spiritual dialogue. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Ormsby, Eric. (2012). Between reason and revelation: Twin wisdoms reconciled. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Otto, Rudolph. (1958). The idea of the holy (John W. Harvey, Trans.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Peer Sadardeen. (N.d.). Utar kha(n)dd maa(n)he shah nee [Webpage]. Ismaili.net—Heritage FIELD [First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database]. URL: http://ismaili.net/heritage/node/23196 [November 16, 2014].
  • Peters, John Durham. (2000). Speaking into the air: A history of the idea of communication. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pickthall, Muhammad Marmaduke. (1977). The glorious Qur’an. New York, NY: Muslim World League.
  • Shah, Bulbul. (2005). Al-Qadi a-Numan and the concept of batin. In T. Lawson (Ed.), Reason and inspiration in Islam: Theology, philosophy and mysticism in Muslim thought—Essays in honour of Hermann Landolt (pp. 117–126). London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Shah-Kazemi, Reza. (2011). Spiritual quest: Reflections on Quranic prayer according to the teachings of Imam Ali. London: I. B. Tauris.
  • Steigerwald, D. (2006). Ismaili tawil. In A. Rippin (Ed.). The Blackwell companion to the Qur’an (pp. 386-400). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Walker, Paul E. (2009). Orations of the Fatimid caliphs: Festival sermons of the Ismaili Imams. London: I. B. Tauris.

 

Visit new blog “All things Lisboa:” The city hosting the Diamond Jubilee visit of His Highness the Aga Khan in July 2018

A point of of reference for everyone travelling to Lisbon to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan

PLEASE CLICK: http://www.allthingslisboa.wordpress.com

Please click on image to visit new blog

All Things Lisboa (http://www.allthingslisboa.wordpress.com), is a new blog by Barakah.com and Simerg.com to help you enjoy Portuguese culture during your visit to the city in July for what has been termed as the “highest point” of the Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. In the course of the coming few weeks, we will try to be your “humble guide” to Lisbon. Allthingslisboa will seek to provide ideas to enhance your experience of the historic city’s culture, sights and sounds as well as its tastes.

Through Allthingslisboa, we want to also keep you informed about what we officially hear from Ismaili Institutions about the on going developments, preparations and planned events for Lisbon.

For providers of tourism services and products for the Lisbon Diamond Jubilee, we welcome you to enjoy a FREE listing on the new blog! Details are provided on the blog.

Welcome to http://www.allthingslisboa.wordpress.com.

Date posted: Monday, April 23, 2018.

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Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Hunza: An Eyewitness Account

We convey Salgirah* Mubarak to all Ismailis and friends of the Ismailis on the occasion of the 81st birthday of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is currently visiting Pakistan for his Diamond Jubilee. At the age of 81, His Highness is the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history, since the time of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali (a.s.). We are pleased to publish on http://www.barakah.com an account of the Darbar of the Aga Khan that took place on Sunday, December 10, 2017, in Aliabad, Hunza. The piece was specially contributed for Barakah by Faqir Ullah Khan of Hunza.

PLEASE CLICK: His Highness the Aga Khan in Pakistan: Zahiri-u-Noorani didar – A personal reflection of the darbar in Hunza

A panoramic view of the Didargah or the Darbar grounds in Aliabad Hunza where the Aga Khan graced his followers with his Didar (lit. glimpse) on December 10, 2017.

Date posted: December 13, 2017.

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* In Urdu, Salgirah is used for the occasion of someone’s birthday.

 

Ismailis in Hunza prepare in earnest for the Aga Khan: Photos & Videos @Barakah

The excitement for the didar has spilled into every corner of Hunza. There will be more Jamati members participating in this Darbar than ever before. The entire registration process began some months ago and this has proceeded very well. The spirit of the Jamat and volunteers particularly in central Hunza is extremely high. The darbar task force members are active at each of the villages. Transportation, crowd control, accommodation and lodging have become major challenges. Jamats living in remoter areas will start moving to Aliabad at least 4 days before darbar…..MORE

PLEASE CLICK: Ismailis on the roof of the world make incredible preparations for Diamond Jubilee Darbars of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Please click on photo for story, videos and more pictures.

Date posted: December 5, 2017.

His Highness the Aga Khan on the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) – with audio

INTRODUCTION: On February 18, 1976, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, accompanied by Begum Salimah Aga arrived in Pakistan for a month long visit that included several mulaqats with Ismailis around the country. During the visit they both attended numerous public and private events and engagements and Mawlana Hazar Imam announced the creation of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The first cycle of the award ceremony was held at the beautiful Shalimar Gardens in Lahore in 1980.

The extended 1976 visit also co-incided with Pakistan hosting the Seerat Conference over a 10 day period at which eminent scholars from around the world spoke in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi on various aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). When the Aga Khan was invited by Mowlana Kausar Niazi, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, to preside over the Seerat gathering that took place in Karachi on March 12, 1976, he noted at the beginning of his presidential that he felt both trepidation and joy at the opportunity, “trepidation because few subjects could be more awe inspiring for any Muslim to speak on, joy as few subjects could give greater happiness to be involved with.”

As hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world prepare to celebrate the life of the Prophet on the occasion of his birth anniversary that falls on the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal — between November 29 and December 3, 2017 — no piece would be more befitting for the auspicious anniversary than the inspiring and insightful words spoken at the Seerat Conference by the direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad himself. We are pleased to present the following excerpts from 49th Ismaili Imam’s Seerat speech, following which we have included the audio of the speech.

The Aga Khan on Allah’s Last Messenger

Aga Khan speaking at Seerat Conference

His Highness the Aga Khan giving his Presidential Address at the Seerat Conference in Karachi on March 12, 1976. Photo: The Ismaili.

A request to the conference

“Few conferences can have gathered so many men of outstanding intellect, who have devoted so much time and wisdom to the study of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him….I will begin by making a request: One hundred and seventy two eminent scholars from forty-eight countries have gathered in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi to present the results of their research and reflection on various aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet. From all these exchanges, from all the private debates which have preceded and succeeded the presentation of each paper, will have come an immense range of new thoughts, new ideas and new understanding of the Prophet’s life. I sincerely request that you have available to all Muslims a complete printed record of these papers and the subsequent debates.”

Responsibilities of rich Muslim countries

“The poorer countries of Islam have ahead of them years of increasingly hard work if they wish to progress materially to acceptable standards of every day life. The richer countries, especially those that have new means, will rapidly find that this wealth, blessing that it is, will impose upon them heavy new responsibilities. They will have to administrate this wealth wisely, in the best interest of their citizens, but also keeping in mind that they have a heavy responsibility to their less well endowed brother Muslim countries, and indeed to the human race at large. Thus it is my profound conviction that Islamic Society in the years ahead will find that our traditional concept of time, a limitless mirror in which to reflect on the eternal, will become a shrinking cage, an invisible trap from which fewer and fewer will escape.”

Holding firm the ship of life: Answers in the Qur’an and the Prophet

“I have observed in the Western world a deeply changing pattern of human relations. The anchors of moral behaviour appear to have dragged to such depths that they no longer hold firm the ship of life: what was once wrong is now simply unconventional, and for the sake of individual freedom must be tolerated. What is tolerated soon becomes accepted. Contrarily, what was once right is now viewed as outdated, old fashioned and is often the target of ridicule.”

“In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, “Do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim Society is to be in times to come?” And if as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search then in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?

“There is no justification for delaying the search for the answer to this question by the Muslims of the world, because we have the knowledge that Islam is Allah’s final message, the Qur’an His final book and Muhammed His last Prophet. We are blessed that the answers drawn from these sources guarantee that neither now, nor at any time in the future will we be going astray. As the demands on his time increase, every Muslim will find it more and more difficult to seek for himself the answer to the fundamental question of how he should live his life for it to be truly Muslim. It is men such as you who will have to bring forth the answers, answers which will have to be practical and realistic in the world of today and tomorrow. Rather than let force of circumstance impose upon us through our default in not having suitably prepared ourselves for the future, ways of life which are not or should not be ours, we must ourselves design the path we should tread.”

Bearing fruits in the diverse Muslim world

“In seeking to define what our Islamic Society should be in times ahead, 50 and 100 and 200 years hence we should, I believe, be aware that the Muslims of this world cover such an amazing range of historical, ethnic and cultural backgrounds that a completely monolithic answer may not be found. I am convinced on the other hand, that we do want to avoid so much diversity that our Muslim countries are in conflict amongst themselves or that they are so divided that they are incapable successfully of facing common enemies, be they cultural, religious, national or otherwise. This is why I so applaud Pakistan for having organized the first Muslim Summit Conference, and now this Seerat Conference, for it is only through dialogue, personal contacts and continuous exchanges that the great diversity of cultures, knowledge, outlook and resources can be co-ordinated and brought to bear fruit for the Muslim world.”

Greatest opportunity for Muslim unity is now

“Let me return, now, to the question of what Muslim Society should seek to be in the years ahead. Islam, as even non-Muslims have observed, is a way of life. This means that every aspect of the individual’s daily existence is guided by Islam: his family relations, his business relations, his education, his health, the means and manner by which he gains his livelihood, his philanthropy, what he sees and hears around him, what he reads, the way he regulates his time, the buildings in which he lives, learns and earns.

“I cannot think of any time in Islamic history when Muslims have had a greater opportunity to unite, and to ensure that the society in which they live is that which they have defined and chosen for themselves.

“Not only are all forms of human communication easier than ever before in history, but rarely, if ever has the Muslim world had such means to ensure its future. Conferences such as this seeking inspiration from the life of the Holy Prophet could render no greater service to Islam than to assist in defining what steps can be taken, where, and how, to ensure that our people can live in the years ahead in greater peace, greater prosperity and in an Islamic Society which will not be overrun or simply taken by surprise, by forces, pressures or concepts which are totally alien and may damage us irretrievably.”

Searching for a solution through eminent men and women

“In our search for a solution, I am convinced that we must call upon our own men and women, who have achieved positions of eminence anywhere in the world, and persuade them to return, for us to benefit from their knowledge, their learning and their work. All too often in my journeys I have met or learnt of outstanding Muslim scholars, doctors, scientists, and architects who have remained abroad, or who, when they do come home, have failed to receive the support and encouragement necessary for them to bring to their nations’ benefit their Muslim outlook on key areas of modern progress.

“Any meaningful human endeavour, any original thinking, any authentic research, will require moral encouragement and material support. This we must provide, not only during the individual’s initial years of learning, but equally when he leaves the restricted life of his academic centre to enter into the wider world of national or international activity.”

The inspiring life of the Holy Prophet

“The Holy Prophet’s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty, honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead.”

Audio of the Aga Khan speech made at the Seerat Conference

Date posted: November 30, 2017.

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Note: This article also appears on http://www.barakah.com, a special Simerg project to celebrate 60 years or the Diamond Jubilee of His Highness the Aga Khan.

 

Aga Khan arrives, a photo tour of the Global Centre for Pluralism and more

Aga Khan Ottawa Arrival

Aga Khan arrival 2017-11-14-moez_visram_moe2382Mawlana Hazar Imam is received at Ottawa International Airport by the Aga Khan Development Network Representative for Canada, Mahmood Eboo (left), the President of the Aga Khan Council for Canada, Malik Talib, centre with Hazar Imam, and Karima Karmali, the Council’s Vice President. Photo: Moez Visram/The Ismaili.

By ABDULMALIK MERCHANT

His Highness the Aga Khan arrived in Ottawa Tuesday, November 14, to begin his week long trip to Canada during which he will meet with his Ismaili followers in Eastern Canada for religious meetings in Toronto and Montreal.

He will however first preside over the inaugural Pluralism Award ceremony at the iconic Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building located on Sussex Drive. Readers will be able to watch the ceremony live on Wednesday, November 15, starting at 6 P.M. EST.

A short photographic tour of the Global Centre for Pluralism

His Highness the Aga Khan and His Excellency David Johnston in a jovial mood joke as they unveil the commemorative plaque of the official opening of the International Headquarters of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse. Copyright.Flashback: The unveiling of the plaque by His Highness the Aga Khan and the former Governor General of Canada, David Johnston, during the inauguration ceremony of the building on May 16, 2017. The plaque is now embedded in the right wall, just inside the main entrance to the building. Photo: Jean-Marc Carisse.

In preparation for the press conference that was held yesterday (Tuesday, November 14), and this evening’s award ceremony, I decided to visit the Global Centre for Pluralism on Saturday, November 11, the last day the interior of the building was open for viewing by the public (it will reopen again next spring).

A short video presentation highlighting the purpose of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Above Princess Zahra Aga Khan. Note: Light streak is camera reflection. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

An immense transformation has taken place, while still preserving the historic features of the building. The Aga Khan during the official opening of the building on May 16, 2017, noted: “The architects, designers, engineers and so many others who have rehabilitated this wonderful Tudor Gothic building have taken enormous care to respect its distinctive historic character.”

A plaque highlighting the Global Centres connection to the Ottawa River, see following two photos. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

One of the major features that you are drawn to as you enter the building and climb its few steps is the large window that overlooks the Ottawa River. And the Aga Khan provided an insight on the topic too. In the same speech, he said:

“When I first visited this site, I went across the Ottawa River, to see things from the opposite side. From that perspective, I noticed that many buildings on the Ontario side had, over the years, turned their backs to the river. But as we began to plan, another possibility became evident. It seemed increasingly significant to open the site to the water.” This is precisely what the building offers every day to each person who walks in, perhaps with the thought: “Let me see the Ottawa River first.”

Visitors at the Global Centre on Saturday, November 11, 2017. One, far right end, is standing a few metres from the full-height window, and pointing to the Ottawa River, see next photo. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

A beautiful view of the Ottawa River from the Global Centre’s full height window.See photo of plaque, above. Photo: Barakah/Simerg.

pb112064-global-centre-plaque.jpgGlobal Centre for Pluralism was designated as one of 10 CONFEDERATION PAVILIONS, for 2017, the 150th anniversary of Canada. This plaque stands outside the building on Sussex Drive. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

The Global Centre for Pluralism was designated as one of the 10 Confederation Pavilions in the National Capital Region for the year 2017. The Commission identified buildings that had been dormant and then brought back to life. A passport booklet highlighting all  the 10 buildings has been published, as shown in the next image. It encourages everyone to visit the buildings and experience them for their architectural heritage.

Bilingual front cover of the passport booklet, with an insert (English shown) on the Global Centre for Pluralism. Photo: Barakah/Simerg.

The Global Centre has been a National Historic Site since 1990, at which time it was the home of the Canadian War Museum. The PASSPORT booklet explains: “Today a $35 million investment from His Highness the Aga Khan has brought the building back to life as the new home of the Global Centre for Pluralism. This independent research and education centre, created in partnership with the Government of Canada, advances respect for diversity around the world. Become a pluralism champion; visit this heritage landmark, and explore the mission and work of the Centre.”

The historic Sir Arthur Doughty’s fireplace inside the Global Centre’s presentation room. See plaque, next photo, explaining the significance of the fireplace. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Fireplace plaque. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Chandelier in the hall by the main entrance. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

A segment of a drawing, “Invincible before daybreak”, by Edward Pien (2007). Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Ceiling in seminar room, with all the high tech gadgets seamlessly incorporated. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

A segment of a painting symbolizing past indigenous injustices. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Decorative designs on walls and windows symbolizing plurarity. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Painting (details soon). Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

Contemplative garden. The Aga Khan in referring to this exterior space said, “a new garden in the forecourt, a tranquil space for contemplating the past and thinking about the future.” Background building is the Royal Canadian Mint. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

A colourful plaque on wall explaining pluralism in all its aspects. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakah/Simerg.

The last of the beautiful fall colours shading the Global Centre for Pluralism on November 11, in a delayed autumn foliage. Photo: Malik Merchant/Barakh/Simerg.

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Press Conference with winners of the 2017 Pluralism Award

Pluralism Award Winners with Mcnee and Clarke at press conference(l to r): Daniel Webb of Australia, Alice Wairimu Nderitu of Kenya, Leyner Palacios Asprilla of Colombia – all three are Pluralism Award Winners – Rt. Hon. Joe Clarke and John McNee.

Members of the media were invited on Tuesday morning for an hour long press conference at the Global Centre for Pluralism to meet with the winners of the first Pluralism Award. The opening remarks by the Centre’s Secretary General John McNee were followed by the introduction of each of the 3 winners by the Rt. Hon. Joe Clark, Canada’s former Prime Minister. Mr. Clarke headed the jury that selected the 3 winners and 7 other honourable mentions from over 200 nominations that were submitted in 43 different countries.

Leyner Palacios Asprilla: The humble and courageous activist Leyner Asprilla of Colombia spoke about the the terrible massacre in May 2002 when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the guerilla movement known with the Spanish acronym FARC, launched gas cylinder bombs at a church in Bojayá full of civilians that was being used as a human shield by a paramilitary group. The bombs bursted the church killing 79 people including 48 infants and children. Asprilla survived the massacre but he emerged to find that 32 of his family members had been killed. Instead of becoming despondent over this cruel tragedy, Asprilla went on to found the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá, giving voice to over 11,000 victims of the conflict that live in the municipality of Bojayá, Chocó. As a result of his fight for social justice, Leyner was asked to represent Bojayá massacre victims during peace negotiations between guerilla forces and the government. One of the results was that FARC publicly acknowledged their role in the 2002 tragedy and, in a private ceremony in a Bojayá church, requested forgiveness.

leyner-palacios-asprilla-1-feature.jpgLeyner Palacios Asprilla. Photo: Barakah/Simerg.

Asprilla organized assemblies with representatives from every community in Bojayá, even the most remote, and encouraged each community to include a female representative. Now, these remote communities have a united voice that takes their demand for human rights to the highest levels of government, and around the world. By bringing communities together in the fight for social justice, Leyner realized how powerful a chorus of diverse voices can be. Today, he continues to demand that Colombia embrace diversity by respecting the rights of all its citizens, particularly its most marginalized.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlice Wairimu Nderitu. Photo:Barakah/Simerg.

Alice Wairimu Nderitu: The graceful Alice Nderitu of Kenya has been a tireless peacemaker, conflict mediator and gender equality advocate who believes that differences can be strengths, not weaknesses. She took a seat at the peace table with 100 elders from ten ethnic communities who had never negotiated peace with each other before. This was 18 months after violence erupted in Kenya’s Rift Valley when results of a flawed election were announced which ignited historic grievances over land and deep-seated ethnic tensions. As a child eavesdropping in a tree, Alice was told that as a woman she could not participate in the work of making peace. But Alice took her place at the table with male mediators and led the elders in a dialogue that resulted in the region’s first peaceful elections in 20 years Today, as a lead mediator brokering peace throughout Africa, she has proven again and again that making peace is very much women’s business; however she explained that she found it necessary to integrate attitudes generally reserved for man!

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Daniel WebbDaniel Webb. Photo: Barakah/Simerg.

Daniel Webb: The narrative by the articulate Australian Daniel Webb, a lawyer by training, was forceful. He was severely critical of the Australian Government for its decision to place every refugee arriving in boat in Australia’s offshore detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The conditions in these detention centres are inhumane and demoralizing, with numerous reports of violence, medical neglect, suicide, self-harm. When Daniel visited the island he met many refugees and found out that they were inspiring people who could make great contributions to Australian society, if only given the chance to live on the mainland.

To tackle the offshore detention issue in Australia, Daniel has developed an innovative approach that combines legal action, media advocacy, public campaigns and United Nations engagement. Daniel’s work has helped to hold the Australian government accountable for breaches in international law. His work has not stopped there. He realized he needed to change the public perception of people seeking asylum. Australians had to understand that the people detained offshore were not threats, but rather human beings with their own stories, talents and families.

In addition to hearing stories of Leyner, Alice and Daniel, the media was also briefed about seven other individuals and corporations who received honourable mentions.

Press Conference Video

To access press conference, click on image below and then click again where its says “Watch this video on Youtube”

Date posted: November 15, 2017.

Note: Another version of this post, with enlarged photos, can be read at http://www.barakah.com

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Ismailis of Eastern Canada and their upcoming holy encounter with their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan: The importance of Salawat

Salawat Calligraphy

Salawat written in Nast’aliq calligraphy. Credit: Wikishia.

Allahumm-a Sall-i ‘Ala Muhammad-in Wa Al-i Muhammad

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

(The author would like readers to note that this short piece was prepared from Khayal Aly’s excellent and elaborate essay on the Salawat titled “Realities of the Salawat.” We are also pleased to include with this piece a musical rendering of the Salawat composed by Fez Meghani, and sung by numerous Ismaili artists. The full composition is about 14 minutes long, and we are including only the first 5:31 minutes – ed.).

Whenever Mawlana Hazar Imam graces us with didar, his arrival and his presence are greeted with the soul-soothing hum of the recitation of the Salawaat:

“Allahumm-a Sall-i ‘Ala Muhammad-in Wa Al-i Muhammad,” meaning “O, Allah shower thy choicest blessings upon Muhammad and the progeny of Muhammad.”

This has been our tradition for centuries. The question arises: Why do we seek blessings upon the Prophet and his progeny?

When the verse of the Holy Qur’an (33:56)  “Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings upon (salloona ‘ala) the Prophet. O you who believe! Ask blessings upon him (salloo ‘alayhi) and salute him with a worthy salutation,” was revealed some of the companions of the Prophet asked him about it: “O Messenger of God, we know already how to greet you; but how should we invoke blessings upon you?”

The Prophet replied:

“You should say, ‘O God, bless Muhammad and his progeny (aal), even as you blessed Abraham and his progeny [O God], you are truly praiseworthy, great in glory’.” [1]

Further reinforcement of this invocation of blessing upon the Prophet and his progeny comes in the verse “Say: I ask you no reward (arjan) except love of the ‘near of kin (al-qurba)’. ” — 42:23

The key concept that emerges here is that of reward (arjan).

To understand this, we have to look at the fact that the Prophet was sent as a mercy to mankind  as attested in the verse:

“And we have sent you not, except as mercy to the world.” — 21:107

What then is the reason for asking the ummah to seek blessing upon the Prophet and his progeny? And what is the reason for the expectation of a reward?

In reality the reward that the Prophet is asking, namely the love for the Prophet and his progeny, is not for his own benefit, but rather, for the benefit of the ummah (Muslim community) itself. And here in lies the elegance and efficacy of the Salawat that we recite. Imam Al-Baqir explains this by citing a verse in which Allah tells the Prophet:

“Say, whatever I ask you with regard to my reward, it is [actually] for you. I rely for my reward on no one except God and He is witness to everything.” — 34:47

Several ginans sing about the joys and delights when the Imam graces his murids with his physical didar. In one of these ginans we come across this concept of “reward”. A verse in Pir Sadardin’s ginan Aji Sham kun avanta jo kahe reads:

Sami ke gale me haar hai, heera manek jaddi ya,
Jis re bhave tan ku dete hai,
Saheb hai dil daariya…

Translation:

The beloved has a necklace of diamonds and pearls,
He showers these on who so ever he chooses
The beloved’s generosity knows no bounds.

In the joyful assemblage of Imam’s holy presence and didar, not only does the Imam shower the “reward” of jewels of blessings upon the murids, but the recitation of the Salawat opens the gate of mercy and every recitation of the Salawat multiplies these blessings many many many fold. A tradition from Shia sources refers to the blessings of reciting Salawat as follows:

“Whoever sends ten salawats upon Muhammad and his family, God and His angels will send him a hundred salutations, and whoever sends a hundred salawats upon Muhammad and his family, God and His angels will send him a thousand.

The promise of reward goes even further. When a murid places his hands under the hand of the appointed spiritual authority of the time, Imam-e-Zaman, in an act of allegiance (bay‘at), “he indeed pledge his allegiance to Allah” (innama yubayi‘auna’lla). And thus, fulfilment of this bay’at merits nothing less than a great reward as promised by the verse 48:10 of the Qur’an that whosoever fulfils his bay’at with Allah shall merit a greater reward (arjan azim).

The first act of fulfilment of the bay’at is the declaration of the love for the Prophet and his progeny which is affirmed by the recitation of the Salawat. And its continuous recitation is a demonstration of this love between the murid and the Imam and the continuous shower of the jewels that Ginan Aji Sham kun avaanta jo kahe alludes to.

Date posted: November 11, 2017.

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Reference:

[1]. Fatimid-Isma‘ili book of law, Da‘a’im al-Islam (Pillars of Islam) by Qadi Nu’man.

Shiraz Pradhan

Shiraz Pradhan

Shiraz Pradhan, in parallel with his work as an international engineering consultant, has contributed for several years to furthering religious education among the Ismaili community in the UK, Canada, USA and Japan. He is the author of several articles published on this website and was a regular contributor to UK’s flagship Ismaili magazine, Ilm. Currently he is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts.

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Important Notes on Baitul Khayal, Bol, the Soul and Imam’s Status as Ismailis around the world continue to receive Hazar Imam’s Didar and Blessings

“The esoteric (batini) vision, realized through pious works and the constant remembrance of God during the nightly vigil, as well as the exoteric (zaheri) vision, and beholding the gateway of God’s mercy, becomes the ultimate purpose of human life….Piety should be for the purpose of recognizing and beholding God, which is achieved through the recognition and vision of the Imam of one’s time.” — Imam Mustansir-Billah, 32nd Ismaili Imam

1. Ism’ul Azam and Baitul Khayal

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

In the Memoirs of Aga Khan, our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah outlines the distinction between two human experiences as categorized by the Muslim philosopher Ibn-Rushd (Averroes):

“On the one hand, our experience of nature as we recognize it through our senses…and on the other hand, our immediate and imminent experience of something more real, less dependent on thought or on the processes of the mind, but directly given to us, which I believe to be religious experience.”

The craving for this direct experience is innate in all of us. Depth psychology which recognizes this craving in a totally different form states that human psyche has great capacity and an insatiable desire for love. The quest for this love molds human actions. In some it takes the form of material pursuits, in others it takes the form of religious and mystical pursuits. And in some souls’ this quest for divine love finds satisfaction in devotion and love for another human being.

Further in his Memoirs, the Imam expounds on this very theme and says:

 “We live, move and have our being in God…when we realize this, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct (mystical) experience…some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development that they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all-consuming love which direct contact with reality gives to human soul.”

A question naturally arises in the mind: What about people who are not so gifted and not born with the natural capacity of development for spiritual experience?

Allah is mindful of this innate human desire for love and direct vision. Allah grants a gift and a means for this direct experience to all: “And to Allah belong the best names, so call on Him by them.” — Holy Qur’an, 7:180

The invocation of best names (Ism’ul-Azam) referred to in the above Sura are the most beautiful names of Allah, invocation of which provides the path to his mercy and direct experience. The Qur’an also enjoins constant remembrance of Allah:

“O you have faith, remember Allah with frequent remembrance and glorify him morning and evening.” — 33:41-42.

Bol is a Gujarati word for Ism’ul-Azam. In Ismailism, the path to direct experience of the divine reality of Allah through the Noor (Light) of Imamat becomes a very personal and private affair. Each murid has his personal connection with the Imam. The personal spiritual bond of bayah (allegiance) between the Imam and the murid is the cornerstone of this bond.

Every murid has a desire for this vision of Noor. This desire is weak in some and strong in others. The real quest for the vision of the Noor begins when a murid fights the buffeting currents and vicissitudes of daily life and begins to hear the call of the divine and the desire for vision of Noor possesses his heart. The thirst for love that philosophers had talked about becomes a reality. The most enchanting verses of a Ginan of Pir Sadardin which describe the agony of a love-thirsty soul resonate in his heart:

Sajan per hun sada balihari
Ke jine Sajan mohe nipat bhisari
Ab ko je me Sajan pau
Haide under Sej bichau
Milu usinku Noor sangath
Phir nav jalu duje ka haath.

TRANSLATION

(Sajan=Beloved)
I am forever ready to sacrifice my life for the Beloved,
That beloved who has so forgotten and forsaken me
If perchance I attain to the Beloved
I will spread a silk carpet in my heart
And meet him in a shower of Noor
Never again to thirst for aught.

When a soul become thus love-stricken, the path to enlightenment become visible to him and he seeks the Imam’s guidance. The Imam in his benevolence and love for the murid grants him a personal key to the spiritual universe and the possibility to ascend to that peak from whence he has potential of vision of Noor of Imamat and the quenching of that insatiable thirst for love. The key to this spiritual universe is Bol.

The remembrance (dhikr) of this Bol at prescribed time when the world rests is the essence of Baitul Khayal. “The honor and greatness of a believer lies in his praying at night,” said Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq. A number of verses in the Holy Qur’an attest to the importance of the night worship. Allah says, “and part of the night; bow down before Him and magnify Him through the long night. — 76:26 (tr. Arberry). This verse of the Holy Qur’an tells us to remember Allah at such a time when others are asleep.

The Holy Qur’an tells us:

“You have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern of conduct.” –33:21.

Thus, as an example to be followed, the Prophet’s escape to Mount Hira for extended hours of contemplation as well as his experiences during the night journey, miraj, are indicative of the rise of the soul from the plane of material existence to the proximity of God. The night journey  emphatically proclaimed that if God has placed man on this earth, He has also set up a ladder for man to climb up to Him. Baitul Khayal accords us this opportunity.

Thus, the practice of Baitul Khyal sits at the crest of spiritual practice of Ismailism and is also referred to as Motu Kam (Big Work). As the prescribed practice becomes a routine, the spiritual universe begins to unfold and the bond between the Imam and murid becomes stronger, and the link that binds the murid to the Imam becomes shorter and shorter. It is a process of divine alchemy which is sung in the Ginan Jire vala, dhan re ghadi:

Paras perse to Loha raang pelte
To jagmag jyote jagaye.

TRANSLATION

That which was base metal
Transforms to gold and begins to shine
by divine alchemy

The experience of this transformation and the uplifment of the soul through the constant meditative practice of the Ism’ul-Azam is articulated in some of the verses of the Ginan Brahm Prakash composed by Pir Shamsh: 

“True Word” (or Ism’ul-Azam, Bol) is my Guide,
to which the world gives no recognition….1

Do meditate on the Word,
and recite Pirshah as often as possible…..2

And upon utterance of the Word,
the light of love shall be kindled,

and in the heart, great “Faith” will be generated….5

Where the Love flows so incessantly,
the devotee drinks of it and
becomes love-intoxicated….9

How shall I extol (for you) this divine ecstasy!
Its status is so great, that it defies all speech….11

No amount of literature read or listened to,
Could help to attain this experience of happiness….12

The skies in the West glow
and one witnesses a unique and
unparalled show (of “Light” – “Noor”)

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2. The Imam’s True Status

Imam to be perceived with true heart cropped

Image credit: roseannapiter.com.

(Adapted from an ode by 33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al Salam)

The talisman that can open the treasure trove of spiritual meaning of the Holy Qur’an is the Imam. The true essence of the Imam cannot be recognized with earthly, fleshly eyes, for these can only see his physical form, perishing like all else with the passage of time.

His true face is to be perceived with the eyes of the heart. He has thousands of physical habitations, but his true home is traceless; he has had a thousand names, but all of them refer to one reality.

Today he is known as ‘Abd al-Salam, but tomorrow the physical body will be gone and the name will change, yet the essence will remain in the next Imam of the lineage.

Those who look at the Imam as they squint will consider him like any other human being, but as soon as the eyes of the heart perceive correctly, his true status is discovered. In form the Imams change, but in meaning and substance they are changeless. Human language cannot attain to the majesty of the Imams. The Imam is the most precious ingredient in the supreme elixir (miraculous substance) of eternal life-red sulphur. He is not simply a pearl, but the ocean that gives birth to pearls. The existence of the Imam, who leads humankind to a recognition of God, is the very pinnacle of creation. — Adapted from Ismaili in the Middle Ages by Shafique Virani.

3. The Importance of the Soul

By AL-MU’AYYAD AL-SHIRAZI

“Look at the trouble your parents have taken from the days of your childhood in the growth of your bodies and in the improvement of your physical life on earth. But for the interest they took in you, you would not have been what you are. Your souls are thousand times more important than your bodies. The Imams are your spiritual parents. Avail yourselves of a few days of life which are at your disposal here and look after your spiritual elevation under the care of your spiritual parents. “Once you miss this opportunity, you will repent forever. You will not be given a second chance to set things right.”

Date posted: November 9, 2017.

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Note: This piece also appears on simerg’s special project http://www.barakah.com which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan.

Shiraz Pradhan PortraitShiraz Pradhan, in parallel with his work as an international engineering consultant, has contributed for several years to furthering religious education among the Ismaili community in the UK, Canada, USA and Japan. He is the author of several articles published on this website and was a regular contributor to UK’s flagship Ismaili magazine, Ilm. Currently he is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts.

Ismailis of Eastern Canada and their upcoming holy encounter with their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan: #2 – Go, run to the ‘Manifest Light’ and ‘Ship of Salvation’ with joy and hope

This is the second article in a special series that we hope will contribute to making the forthcoming mulaqat with Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam more meaningful and purposeful. If you missed any of the previous post(s), here are the links:

  1. Ismailis of Eastern Canada and their upcoming holy encounter with their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan: #1 – FORGIVENESS
Aga Khan Eastern Canada Upcoming Visit

Eastern Canada shown in green on map (left) consists of the provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec. The total population is 23,946,177 (2016), and approximately 40-45,000 Ismailis live in these provinces, with the largest concentration in Ontario and Quebec. Credits: Map (left) yy Connormah – Wikipedia, CC BY 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19857457, and (right) Department of Natural Resources.

1. By Shaykh Khudr, contemporary of 40th Ismaili Imam, Mawlana Nizar

The people of the House of Prophethood
are the Manifestations of Light;

They are that which exists forever
and in what has already elapsed;

They are the ships of salvation for those
who come running to them with hope;

They are the rain abundant in moisture
and their grace is the best of springs;

The essence of their souls is knowledge
from a world beyond the intellects;

Indeed, it is their invitation which rescues
souls from the pit of destruction.

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2. By Muayyad Al-Shirazi, Fatimid period

“I was taken near the place where from I saw the bright Light of the Prophethood. My eyes were dazzled by the Light. I shed tears of joy and felt as if I was looking at the face of the Prophet of Allah and of the Commander of the Faithful, Hazrat Ali. I prostrated myself before the one who is the fittest person to bow to. I wanted to say something, but I was awe-struck.

“I tried to speak but my tongue refused to move. People asked me to say what I wished to say. I could say nothing. The Imam said, ‘Leave him. Let his fear and awe subside’. After this, I rose. I took the holy hand of the Imam [Mustansir-billah], placed it on my eyes and on my chest and then kissed it. I left the place with immense joy.”

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3. By Fidai Khurasani

He is always present
a witness with his followers;

but who has seen his beauty
except the blessed?

He who is the cupbearer of
the fount of paradise

is aware altogether of
the hearts of his followers

He is the Imam of the time
the guide and comforter

the protector of his followers
whether young or old

Like the sun in the sky
he is manifest in the world

but the blind bat cannot see
his luminous face

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4. By Imam Mustansir-Billah, 32nd Ismaili Imam

“All believers are urged to come into the presence of the Imam and to see him with their own eyes. Thus, the esoteric (batini) vision, realized through pious works and the constant remembrance of God during the nightly vigil, as well as the exoteric (zaheri) vision, achieved by travelling to the Imam’s residence and beholding the gateway of God’s mercy, becomes the ultimate purpose of human life.

“Piety should be for the purpose of recognizing and beholding God, which is achieved through the recognition and vision of the Imam of one’s time.”

Date posted: November 6, 2017.

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Related: Ismailis of Eastern Canada and their upcoming holy encounter with their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan: #1 – Forgiveness

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