Editor’s Note:An earlier version of this post implied that repairs to the roof of the Dar es Salaam Darkhana Jamatkhana were well underway and that the Jamatkhana may open later this year. Actually, the green segment of the roof shown in the photo at the bottom of this post is a temporary cover over the section that collapsed (see photo above), to prevent water and other debris from getting into the interior of the Jamatkhana building. We apologize for our oversight on the repairs that have taken place so far which led to some confusion. We sincerely hope that the Jamatkhana will be only opened after all the interior and exterior repairs have been fully completed so that the Jamat may feel fully comfortable and safe in a new setting. We urge the Tanzanian leadership to provide regular updates on the state of the repairs. The Darkhana in Dar es Salaam was a beloved Jamatkhana to thousands of Ismailis around the world, and the status of repairs that are being carried out is of interest to everyone.Our original story, below, has been revised accordingly.
In September, 2019, we showed some horrific photos of the collapsed roof at Dar es Salaam’s Ismaili Darkhana Jamatkhana (see photos, above). Luckily, there was no congregational prayer underway at the time the incident took place; three individuals who were present at the site were treated for minor injuries. We are pleased to report that repairs are now underway and our source in Tanzania has sent us the photo shown below showing the green cover that has been temporarily installed to prevent water from getting into the interior of the building. Of course, much work remains to be done, as there was significant damage to the interior of the Jamatkhana when the roof fell.
The Dar es Salaam Darkhana was built in 1930 and is considered one of several heritage buildings of architectural interest. It is not exactly known when the Jamatkhana repairs will be fully completed for regular congregational prayers. We once again submit our humble shukhrana that the incident in September took place without loss of lives or serious injuries.
Mawlid or Miladun Nabi is the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (May peace be upon him). It is celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar (see image, above). In 2019, the Mawlid will be commemorated by Muslims around the world between November 8-10.
The following quotations of Prophet Muhammad are taken from Michael Wolfe’s excellent article How a Muslim Sees Muhammad. He notes that these statements full of wisdom were mostly coined on the spot by the Prophet, in response to particular situations, by a man aware of the limits of his knowledge. The Prophet said that he only knew what God would show him. Here are nine quotations:
“Asking good questions is half of learning.”
“People with knowledge and those who seek it are the only two groups of any use to humanity.”
“Three agents destroy religion: an ill-tempered scholar, a tyrannical leader, and an ignorant theologian.”
“Happy are those who find fault with themselves instead of finding fault with others.”
“Avoid anything that requires an excuse.”
“Strength does not lie in carrying heavy loads: a camel can do that. The essence of strength lies in taming your temper and your anger.”
“During prayer, God lifts the veils and opens the gates of the invisible, so that His servant is standing in front of Him.”
“Prayer creates a secret connection between the one praying and the One prayed to.”
“Prayer is a threshold at the entrance to God’s reality.”
…Whereas Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, is an Islamic holiday which honors Abraham’s symbolic sacrifice of his son to God, as referenced in the Quran, Old Testament, and New Testament…Whereas Islam is one of the world’s major religions, sharing the belief in one God and one humanity….
For 2019, Muslims will perform the annual pilgrimage to the Kaaba starting August 9. This will culminate with the celebration of the Eid al-Adha on August 11. We would like to wish all our readers a joyous Eid, with prayers that the holy occasion will foster greater unity and understanding among all Muslims and that Muslim communities everywhere, keeping in mind that Muslims practice a universal faith, will seek to end conflicts, strive for peace and assist in the progress and development of humankind wherever they live.
Many of our readers in North America and around the world may not be aware that in 2010, as Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha from November 16 until November 20, the House of Representatives of the US Congress passed the following resolution recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha.
111TH CONGRESS 2D SESSION
H. RES. 1719
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
NOVEMBER 16, 2010
Mr. HONDA (for himself, Mr. CARSON of Indiana, and Mr. ELLISON) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Recognizing the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha and wishing Muslim-Americans and Muslims around the world a prosperous holiday.
Whereas Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of the Sacrifice, is an Islamic holiday which honors Abraham’s symbolic sacrifice of his son to God, as referenced in the Quran, Old Testament, and New Testament;
Whereas Abraham is a respected figure in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam;
Whereas for more than 14 centuries, Eid al-Adha has been observed;
Whereas Eid al-Adha is a holiday of great importance to millions of Muslim-Americans and approximately 1,500,000,000 Muslims around the world;
Whereas during Eid al-Adha, Muslim-Americans recognize the importance of sacrifice, freedom, and justice;
Whereas Eid al-Adha is celebrated around the world with prayers, charity and social events;
Whereas many communities across the United States hold day-long festivals in observance of Eid al-Adha;
Whereas Islam is one of the world’s major religions, sharing the belief in one God and one humanity;
Whereas Muslim-Americans have made significant contributions to the flourishing of the United States, including as ambassadors to foreign nations, award winning scientists, doctors, and engineers, and athletes;
Whereas Muslim-Americans have contributed to the defense of the United States with an estimated 10,000 Muslim-Americans serving in the United States Armed Forces;
Whereas Muslim-Americans contribute to the success and pluralism of the United States: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives—
(1) recognizes the cultural and religious significance of Eid al-Adha;
(2) expresses its appreciation and respect for the contributions of Muslim-Americans to the United States; and
(3) wishes Muslim-Americans and Muslims around the world who observe Eid al-Adha a prosperous holiday.
Date posted: August 6, 2019.
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“The ethics of a Da’i are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. The Da’i constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.”
By KARIM H. KARIM
Many people have heard the position of Da‘i but are unfamiliar with its unique character. Historically, a Da‘i was a member of the Da‘wa, which was a pivotal institution of the Imamat. The word Da‘wa has sometimes been translated as a preaching mission and Da‘i as missionary. However, the precise meaning of Da‘wa is a call or an invitation, and therefore a Da‘i is someone who issues a call or invitation.
What was the nature of the Da‘i’sinvitation? The answer is to be found in the full name of the institution to which he belonged: Da‘wat al-Haqq (Invitation to the Truth). The Holy Qur’an says that “His [God’s] is the Da‘wa of the Truth” (13:14). Da‘is referred to their disciples as People of the Truth (Ahl al-Haqq or Al-Muhiqqin). (It was only in the early 20th century, after the Aga Khan Case of 1866, that the name Ismaili came to be formally adopted in reference to the Imam’s followers.) Da‘is (Pirs and Sayyids) in India, used Indian terminology to call the community Satpanth (Path of Truth).
The Concept of Truth
Truth is the core of the faith and appears repeatedly in its discourses. Imam Mustansir bi’llah II’s book Pandiyat-i Javanmardi declares that “The (real) believer is one who always, permanently, thinks of the Truth, and always intends to act righteously.” One of God’s names is Al-Haqq (the Truth). The third part of the Ismaili Du‘a affirms:
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul mubin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Manifest)
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul yaqin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Certainty)
Tasbihs in Gujarati ask for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth). When delivering sermons, Khoja preachers in the 20th century called their congregations “haqiqat-i momino” (believers of truth) and “haqiqati-dindaro” (followers of the religion of truth). Imam Mustansir bi’llah II and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah referred to the progression of the believer from shari‘a (“law”) to tariqa (path) to haqiqa (truth) and to ma‘rifa (wisdom; gnosis), as does Bhamar Ghufaa Upar Dekhantaa, a ginan attributed to Sayyid Nur Muhammad Shah.
The truth to which a Da‘i issues his invitation is embedded in the knowledge that the Imam imparts to his followers through a particular mode of instruction (ta‘lim). A hadith (saying) of the Prophet declared: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gateway; so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.”
Hazrat Ali and his designated successors in the lineage of Imamat provide unique access to knowledge about truth. Imams conduct interpretations (ta’wil) of the inner meaning of the Qur’an which they impart to their adherents through ta‘lim. Only the rightfully appointed Imams have this unique ability: “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] esoteric interpretationsave Allah and those who are of sound instruction” (Holy Qur’an, 3:7); Shia Muslims believe that the phrase “those who are of sound instruction” refers to the lineage of Imamat.
The concept of truth here is not limited to the practice of truth-telling and being honest, which are important in themselves, but to the deeper truth that is the inner reality of existence. This reality lies behind the illusion that constantly misleads the mind. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah wrote in his Memoirs that Islam’s “basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism.” The enlightened soul experiences the reality of fundamental truth on which rest all other aspects of faith (such as prayer, devotion, values, and ethics). It is to such ultimate and unique spiritual enlightenment (ma‘rifa, gnosis) that the Da ‘wa offers its invitation. The identity of a Da‘i is integrally related to the essence of eternal truth. He seeks to live the truth. Nasir-i Khusraw, Hujja of Khurasan, referred to the members of the Da‘wa as “Scholars of the Religion of Truth” (ulama-yi din-i haqq). This is a position of profound depth and significance that requires understanding of the process of spiritual advancement as well as knowledge of the material world.
The Da‘wa in History
The pre-Fatimid Da‘wa emerged in the first Period of Concealment (Dawr al-Satr) that began during Imam Ismail’s time. This was a period of great danger because the Abbasid Caliphate was determined to destroy the Imamat and its followers. Therefore, the Imams in this time were in hiding and their identities and locations were known only to their closest followers. Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi brought the Dawr al-Satr to a close when he established the Fatimid state in North Africa.
It was the Da‘wa that had laid the groundwork for the Imam’s rule. Da‘is functioned largely in secret due to widespread persecution. Their institution, which operated transregionally, had a hierarchical structural model. At the head was the Chief Da‘i (Da‘i al-Du‘at), who was in close touch with the Imam. Under him operated a number of Hujjas (Proofs), the leaders of the Da‘wa in specific regions. Each Hujja supervised several Da‘is, who in turn had assistants called Ma’dhuns. Ordinary members of the community whom Da‘is taught were Mustajibs. Whereas this was an ideal model of the organization, the actual operations were more fluid especially in places where Da‘is worked in relative isolation.
The da‘wa produced a unique body of writings, some of which are described below. Da‘i Ja‘far bin Mansur al-Yaman’s Book of the Master and the Disciple (Kitab al-‘Alim wa’l-Ghulam) addresses the search for truth and the meaning of life in a series of religious dialogues between a Da‘i and his disciple. This sophisticated composition creatively uses form and language to express a complex narrative. It is a rare and valuable artifact that provides insight into the Da‘wa’s erudition and refined pedagogy.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, the Hujja in Iraq, was a noted philosopher. His major work, Rahat al-‘Aql (Repose of the Intellect), presents contemporary science, philosophy, and theology in an integral manner. Its objective was to enable the believer to attain a paradisiacal state through reason. Kirmani’s book imaginatively maps out a journey in which the soul escapes the troubling state of the physical world and attains freedom in the City of God by gaining a comprehensive sense of God, angelic beings, and the realm of minerals, plants and animals.
Nasir-i Khusraw, who was Hujja of Khurasan, is acknowledged as the founder of Ismaili communities in the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush in Pakistan as well as Xinjiang in China. He was a foremost exponent of philosophical poetry and his poems are an essential part of Persian-speaking countries’ educational curriculum today. Khusraw’s poetry is also sung at religious gatherings in the Badakshan Jamat and its diasporic locations. Among his philosophical treatises is The Book of Two Wisdoms Reconciled (Kitab-i Jami’ al-Hikmatayn), which endeavours to bridge Aristotelian and haqa’iq philosophies.
The Satpanth branch of the Da‘wa in India produced a unique literary tradition of around one thousand ginans, many of which hold profound insight and wisdom. Like the Sufis in the subcontinent who used the region’s cultural heritage to preach their beliefs, Ismaili Pirs, notably Shams, Sadruddin, and Hasan Kabirdin, also drew from Indic mythology and symbolism to teach the message of universal truth. Major compositions like Brahm Prakash and Bhuj Nirinjan guide adherents in their spiritual journeys. The ginan tradition, which is attributed to a number of Pirs and Sayyids, speaks of sat (truth) in various South Asian languages including Gujarati, Khari Boli (proto Hindi-Urdu), Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki/Multani. South Asian Khoja Jamats and their diaspora find inspiration in the hymns, which are sung every day at religious gatherings.
The Da‘wa’s Pluralist Search for Truth
The quest for truth is a consistent theme that runs through the centuries-long history of Da‘wat al-Haqq and Satpanth. Da‘is drew on knowledge from a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim sources in a pluralist pursuit of universal truth. According to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, studying other religions is integral to spiritual search because God’s revelation has appeared among different peoples through history.
“All Islamic schools of thought accept it as a fundamental principle that, for centuries, for thousands of years before the advent of Mohammed, there arose from time to time messengers, illumined by Divine grace, for and amongst those races of the earth which had sufficiently advanced intellectually to comprehend such a message. Thus Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the Prophets of Israel are universally accepted by Islam. Muslims indeed know no limitation merely to the Prophets of Israel; they are ready to admit that there were similar Divinely-inspired messengers in other countries – Gautama Buddha, Shri Krishna, and Shri Ram in India, Socrates in Greece, the wise men of China, and many other sages and saints among peoples and civilizations of which we have now lost trace.“
This pluralist attitude was present in the earliest Ismaili writings such as the encyclopedia of Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), whose sources included Islamic, Greek, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, and Christian knowledge. Da‘is Al-Nasafi and Al-Sijistani adapted Neoplatonist thought to indicate the cosmological place of the Imam. As the Da‘wa moved into South Asia, Pirs and Sayyids drew from Indic mythology and cosmology for a similar purpose.
Such pluralist approaches to knowledge were not uncommon in the history of Islam. Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers in Arabia to seek knowledge even as far as China. The receptivity of Muslims to other cultures in the Hellenic intellectual environment of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran provided for their own religion’s intellectual flowering. They came upon renowned academies like those of Jondishapur, where Persian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scholars trained in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. A major translation movement rendered numerous manuscripts written in various languages into Arabic. Muslims scholars drew on the knowledge, philosophical reasoning and analytical tools produced by other civilizations for developing Islamic philosophy (falsafa), theology (kalam), and law (fiqh). Even the modes of Islamic preaching borrowed from indigenous practices; for example, Sufi teachers adopted the bhakti mode of devotion in India.
Whereas it was commonplace for Muslim intellectuals to learn from neighbouring civilizations, Ismaili thinkers embraced the most openly pluralist Islamic approach to other cultural and religious sources. They had a cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth. Da‘is examined the ancient world’s wisdom including that of Greeks, Babylonians, and Sabaeans as well as writings of contemporaries such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Da‘wat al-Haqq’s cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth enabled them to see spiritual value in their symbols and practices. Al-Sijistani interpreted the Christian cross’s four points as representing the roots of truth. Badakshan Jamats observe Chirag-i Rawshan (Luminous Lamp), a funerary rite that has Islamic features along with characteristics of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religions. Oral tradition attributes the establishment of this ritual to Nasir-i Khusraw. The Zoroastrian spring festival of Navroz, which is commemorated by Shia and Sunni Muslims in Persianate regions, has been embraced by all Ismailis as a major celebration of spiritual renewal. Farsi-speaking Jamats have been drawn to some of the poems of the great Sunni mystics Attar and Rumi, which are recited in religious gatherings. The Garbi category of ginan compositions bear a Hindu communal dance’s rhythm. Da ‘is were generally less concerned about exoteric differences between religious perspectives than in pursuing the greater spiritual truth.
Whereas Da‘is have consistently been engaged in a search for truth, this endeavor has been fraught with physical, intellectual, as well as personal spiritual dangers. These hazards led some members of the Da‘wa to turn away from the Imamat’s guidance. For example, Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii, who prepared the ground for Imam Al-Mahdi to establish the Fatimid state, later conspired against him. In the time of Imam Al-Hakim, a number of Da‘is broke from the Fatimid Da‘wa to establish what came to be known as the Druze movement. Another major division took place in the Da‘wa upon the death of Imam Al-Mustansir I, when most of the Da‘is in Cairo followed Al-Musta‘li and those in the east, like Hassan-i Sabbah and Rashid al-Din Sinan, adhered to Imam Nizar. Later in India, a grandson of Pir Hasan Kabirdin, Nar Muhammad, founded a break-way religious group called the Imamshahis.
The Da‘i Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-Naysaburi wrote a treatise on the comportment expected of the members of the Da‘wa. It laid out in some detail the qualifications and behavior that a Da‘i should have. Al-Naysaburi stated that the Da‘wa is built on knowledge, piety, and good governance. A Da’i maintains a noble character and upholds the truth to which he invites believers. His ethics are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. He constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.
Life may appear more complex than in previous periods but the struggle to remain faithful to eternal truth, which has been a constant religious quest since the dawn of time, remains relevant to this day. This endeavour was represented in previous centuries by the institution of Da‘wat al-Haqq, Invitation to the Truth. As in the past, a Da‘i’s life today would be difficult as it would involve dealing with intricate material, intellectual and spiritual challenges. The person who responds to the Call to the Truth accepts the undertaking of a demanding but ultimately rewarding enterprise. He/she can be seriously misled in this journey by others and even by the illusions of his/her own mind.
Adherence to Din al-Haqq demands a keen dedication to the Imamat and to the Truth. Followers of the Imam believe that he is the unique source of the knowledge that leads to comprehension of the Truth. However, history has shown that even the Imamat’s highly placed officials like the intelligent and heroic Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii have wavered from such a conviction. Living the faith of Al-Haqq clearly requires an absolutely unrelenting commitment to and love for the Truth. Those who sincerely seek to maintain such personal steadfastness humbly ask in daily prayers for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth) and “iman-ji salamati” (security of faith).
Date posted: July 7, 2019.
About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Study for the Study of Islam. He has previously been Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and Director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. Dr. Karim has also been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. He is an award-winning author who has published extensively. Professor Karim has also delivered distinguished lectures at venues in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2017, he organized the international conference on Mapping a Pluralist Space in Ismaili Studies, which was the largest ever gathering of scholars working in this field. A forthcoming publication of his is titled “Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth.”
Free Festivals at Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum in summer 2019. The festival series kicks off with Rhythms of Canada on June 30 (2-11 PM) and July 1 (2-6 PM). The museum’s address is 77 Wynford Drive. Photo: Simerg/Malik Merchant.
I had hoped to celebrate July 1, Canada Day, for the first time in Toronto on the lawn of Ontario’s provincial parliament buildings or Queen’s Park. But Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party has just announced the cancellation of the traditional celebrations at Queen’s Park due to dwindling attendance over the years. Last year, only 5,000 people attended the celebration which cost $400,000 to host! Compare that to tens of thousands who show up at Ottawa’s Parliament Building and its surrounding streets and parks. Instead, the Ford Government will be offering free admission to 10 attractions which will cost the government $80,000.00.
I know where I will celebrate Canada Day 2019 — at the magnificent Aga Khan Museum and adjacent Aga Khan Park for “Rhythms of Canada” which will take place on June 30 (2-11 PM) and July 1 (2-6 PM). It is absolutely free and — to clarify — not part of the 10 free admissions venues offered by the Provincial Government.
The festivities at the Aga Khan Museum have been in the planning phase for some time now. In its brochure detailing 3 free summers festivals, the Museum is asking families to attend “Rhythms” to “celebrate Canada’s contemporary fabric — a dynamic mix of cultures, stories, and tythms.” It further states that “kids and adults alike will enjoy strolling through our market of artisan wares and artisanal food, inspired by the souk markets of the Middle East.”
There will be special musical performances by Cris Derksen and Asiko Afrobeat.
Derksen is known for her unique musical sound which blends classical music with traditional Indigenous music. Her music is often described as electronic cello or classical traditional fusion and has captured the attention of local and international audiences.
Asiko Afrobeat is an all-original contemporary band led by a master of the craft, Nigerian Foly Kolade. According to NowToronto, the members of the ensemble play horns, sax, keys, bass, guitars, drums, percussion and backup vocals, while Kolade handles lead vocals and the double-headed talking drum. Here is a sampling of his music.
ASIKO AFROBEAT AT THE AGA KHAN MUSEUM
Plan to be at the Aga Khan Museum for two invigorating and fun-filled days. The Museum and the Aga Khan Park are located on 77 Wynford Drive.
Date posted: June 26, 2019.
Other Forthcoming Free Festivals at Aga Khan Museum:
Moon Landing Festival (July 20-21, 2019, 2-6 PM)
First Five Fest August 31, 2-11 PM; September 1, 2-6 PM
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
Source: Shimmering Light: An Anthology of Ismaili Poems, ed. Faquir M. Hunzai and Kutub Kassam, pub. I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1997.
Making Our Faith Complete
By IMAM MUSTANSIR BI’LLAH
Pandiyat-i- Jawanmardi or Counsels of Chivalry is a compilation of the guidance of the 32nd Ismaili Imam, Mustansir bi’llah, who lived in the 15th century. The book contains exhortations to the faithful on the necessity of recognising and obeying the Imam of the Time and on how to live a truly ethical life. The circumstances that led to the compilation of the work are intriguing, and are alluded to in many of the manuscripts copies as follows:
When Pir Taj al-Din passed away, a number of people from the Sindhi Ismaili Community went to the Imam. Upon arrival they pleaded: “Our Pir Taj al-Din has passed away. Now we are in need of a Pir.” The Imam then had the Counsels of Chivalry compiled and gave it to them saying: “This is your Pir. Act according to its dictates.”
In the following piece from one of the chapters, the Imam enumerates on how murids (those who have pledged their allegiance to the Imam) can make their faith complete. Says the Imam:
“O, believers, O, pious ones!
“Now is the time when you should strengthen religion (din), by helping each other, by trying to gain knowledge, by advancing the religious cause, and striving to make your faith complete.
“Gain safety by obeying the Imam of the time, and become completely obedient to his orders.
“Do unhesitatingly what you are told by the blessed word of the Imam, –- then you will attain (real) salvation.
“Follow the Imam of your time strictly, so that he may take you under his protection, helping you, granting you victory and relief.
“And obedience to the Imam, attention to his word, will bring about the healing of spiritual ailments and lead to soundness and clarity of the heart.”
Reading adapted from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, Hardcover – May 3, 2007
Finding Reveals Connection Between Gaelic Ireland and Islamic Worlds
The Avicenna Fragment is an Irish translation of parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back in the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sina (980–1037), better known as Avicenna, who is regarded as one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland. University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of a small Latin manual printed in London in 1534/1536. However it was not the book’s content that Professor Macháin was interested in but the binding which contained the fragment. The above image is a digitised version of the binding that was opened out after the binding was removed from the manuscript with the permission of the owners.
ByNEWS AND VIEWS, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE CORK, IRELAND
“The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure” — Professor Macháin
A previously undiscovered 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, reveals an enchanting connection between Gaelic Ireland and the Islamic world, and illustrates how medieval Ireland was once at the centre of medical scholarship in the world. University College Cork (UCC) Professor of Modern Irish, Pádraig Ó Macháin, was made aware of a family in Cornwall in possession of an early printed book, with an exciting connection to medieval Irish learning.
A 15th-century discovery in a 16th-century book
The book, a pocket-sized Latin manual of local administration, was printed in London in 1534/1536 and had been in the family’s possession since that time. What was of interest to Prof. Ó Macháin was the binding of the book. This consisted of a sheet, full of text in Irish, cut from a 15th-century Irish vellum manuscript, that had been trimmed and folded and stitched to the spine of the printed book to form a sturdy binding.
“The use of parchment cut from old manuscripts as a binding for later books is not unusual in the European tradition,” says Ó Macháin, “but this is the first time that a case has come to light of such a clear example of the practice in a Gaelic context.” From photographs of the binding supplied by the owners, Prof. Ó Macháin established that the Irish text was a medical one. “A quarter of what survives of late-medieval manuscripts in the Irish language is medical in content,” says Ó Macháin, ‘an indication of the practical purpose of these books in Ireland of the time.”
The identity of the text was established immediately by Ó Macháin’s collaborator of many years, Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, the only living expert on medieval Irish medicine. It is a fragment of a translation into Irish — previously unrecorded — of the ‘Canon of Medicine’ by the Persian physician Ibn Sena (980–1037), also known as Avicenna, considered one of the most significant physicians in the Islamic Golden Age.
The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland
The ‘Canon of Medicine’ was a great medical encyclopedia which, through translation into Latin (from which the Irish text itself is translated), achieved great popularity in Europe, where state-of-the-art medical theory and practice in medieval times had their origins in the Muslim world. The Irish fragment contains parts of the opening chapters on the physiology of the jaws, the nose and the back. The existence of this text was not hitherto known in Ireland.
Medical scholarship in medieval Gaelic Ireland was on a par with that practised on the Continent and was the most outward-looking of all the native branches of learning. There is evidence of Irish scholars travelling to European medical schools, and bringing their learning back to the medical schools of Ireland.
Because of the importance of the manuscript fragment to the history of Irish learning and medicine, the owners agreed that the binding should be removed from the book by John Gillis of TCD, opened out and digitised under the supervision of Prof. Ó Macháin to whom they entrusted the book, and a new binding provided. This was completed and ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ is now available for viewing on the Irish Script on Screen website.
“The discovery and digitisation of the text was a scholarly adventure,” says Ó Macháin, “one of those occasions when many people, not least the owners of the book, were working together towards a common purpose for the cause of pure learning. It was a pleasure to have been able to make it happen and to have been part of it.”
Following the discovery, a public seminar on ‘The Avicenna Fragment’ and on aspects of Gaelic medieval medicine was hosted by University College Cork on Thursday, March 7, 2019.
This is a story of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) and Hazrat Ali (a.s.) from the earliest days of Islam. I have been telling the story to my children, nieces and nephews for the past several years.
When Prophet Muhammad first received his calling from Allah via Angel Gabriel in the cave of Mount Hira, he came home shaking and was comforted by his beloved wife Khadija, who validated his experience.
Now, with Khadija’s support, the Prophet of Islam had to convey Allah’s message to the people of Mecca. He invited the important men of Mecca, including those of his prominent Quraish tribe. The guests came and ate the meal and were expecting an announcement, as was customary. None came, so they duly departed for their homes.
The Holy Prophet’s nerves, knowing the revolutionary nature of the idea about to be unleashed upon the pagan Meccan society, had at the last minute failed him.
But at the urging and support of Bibi Khadija, Prophet Muhammad again invited the same men over for another feast. After the meal, the men waited expectantly again.
This time the Prophet did speak. He spoke of his vision, the message and the mission he wanted to convey to the people: that of one God. He then asked:
“And who among you will champion my cause and work by my side?”
None answered. People put their heads down and avoided eye contact.
Prophet Muhammad asked again, “Who is willing to help shoulder my burden and to work by my side and to be my champ?”
Foreseeing the magnitude of such an undertaking, none answered. Then, from the midst of the crowd, an 11 year old boy jumped up.
He was Hazrat Ali, the Prophet’s young cousin and future son-in-law. “I will champion your cause, O Muhammad! I shall work by your side,” spoke up Ali.
At this, there was a wave of derisive laughter from the crowd of wealthy and influential Meccans as they contemplated the outcome and struggles of this ‘visionary’ with his little sidekick.
But Prophet Muhammad’s face broke into a smile as he opened his arms and hugged the boy, his brother, really, for had they not both been raised by the same Abu Talib and Fatima binti Asad?
This expression of endearment and confidence in Hazrat Ali is one incident I Wish I’d Been There to witness.
I link this inspiring story to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 1992 visit to Vancouver, when he addressed the jamat and, smiling from ear to ear, he gestured with his hand and said, “I think of you as working by my side.”
Mawlana Hazar Imam was asking us to champion him in his cause against poverty in this troubled world. His vision is to include us, his lashkar (symbolic army) of men and women, in this endeavor.
Date posted: February 22, 2019.
(This is a slightly revised version of the author’s piece that originally appeared in Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There).
About the writer: Born in colonial Uganda, Pervis Rawji (née Patni) went to Aga Khan Nursery and Primary schools before immigrating to Canada with her parents and siblings in 1969. Graduating from New Westminster Secondary School, she went for a BA and Teacher Training (PDP) at Simon Fraser University.
Pervis taught elementary school in greater Vancouver, got married, had two children. During this time she got a Montessori diploma as well as an MSc in International Policy from the University of Bristol, UK. Pervis also teaches ESL and yoga. Pervis Rawji has taught English to Ismailis in Iran, India and Syria, and has worked one autumn at the Roshan Clinic in Kabul. Her hobbies are skiing, logic puzzles, badminton and gardening.
The recent CNN photo piece On the trail of Iran’s ‘Assassins’ in the Alborz Mountains has stirred an immense amount of interest on the subject of Alamut and the Ismaili community that for more than 150 years protected itself from its enemies by securing fortresses like Alamut in Iran and Syria.
In a high powered and moving poem penned originally for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There, Shariffa Keshavjee reminds all our readers about the tragedy that took place in Alamut nearly 800 years ago when the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan had declared his intention to destroy the Ismailis with the following chilling words, “None of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.”
The context of Shariffa’s poem can further be appreciated through the following 2 excerpts taken from recent non-Ismaili sources.
1. In his extraordinary historical fictional book Samarkand relating to the turbulent history of Iran from the 11th to the 20th century, which was partially inspired by Omar Khayyam’s Rubayat, the award winning French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf writes:
“He [the Mongol officer] was carrying a torch in his hand and to show [the historian – Juvayni] just how much in a hurry he was, he placed it next to a pile of dusty scrolls. The historian gave in and gathered into his hands and upto his armpits as many [manuscripts] as he could grab and when a manuscript entitled Eternal Secrets of Stars and Numbers fell to the ground, he did not bend over to pick it up again.
“Thus it was that the Assassins’ library burnt for seven days and seven nights causing the loss of innumerable works, of which there was no copy remaining, and which are supposed to contain the best guarded secrets of the universe.”
2. The online website Iran.com offers the following description:
“The Mongol leader [Hulagu, grandson of Genghis Khan] journeyed himself to the citadel in 1256 and ordered everything to be destroyed, including the famous library. Among the precious writings that disappeared were the works of Hasan himself and the complete history of the Assassins and their doctrines. But just before the burning he allowed his historian Juvainy (who was writing a biography of the Mongol prince) to enter the library and bring out a few of the books, enough as would fit into a small wheelbarrow. No time was allowed to consider the matter.
“Juvainy hurriedly saved a few Qurans, a chronicle of Alamut and a biography of Hasan Sabbah. Everything else perished in the flames. The vast library filled with….hundreds of thousands of manuscripts burned for seven days and seven nights bringing to an end the history of the Ismailis of Alamut. Over the years, knowledge of the Ismailis degenerated into misunderstandings, romances and other fanciful nonsenses such as those popularised by the explorer Marco Polo.”
Inferno of Alamut
By SHARIFFA KESHAVJEE
I often go back in my mind To a time when giant forts dwarfed Our human form But great minds soared Soared about the forts of Alamut Where great minds thought The scribes told wonders Of the worlds of new continent New passages in the oceans Of search for truth.
I often go back in my mind To the pain of persecution The fear of the self Above all the anguish The anguish of lost knowledge Beautifully bound skillfully crafted Books of great knowledge Of mathematics and cartography Of mystical passion for the divine The deep yearning
I often go back in my mind to the Night the books were burnt The pages curled in fires of doom The ink evaporates Loving thoughts of seers up in smoke Parchments and tomes flung into Feeding the bonfire of lost knowledge What the mind perceived What the pen had scribed Was gone for ever
The smoke rises over Over the fort The charred air rises The effort to stop in vain The scream of anguish Stuck in the throat As the gaze falls upon The lost knowledge of Alamut The human form dwarfed Dwarfed
Gagged In its inability to act.
This however is renaissance Where time and knowledge Laid at the feet of the Master Not sepulchered in the fort But given birth by the vision No longer subjugated Free to search into cyberspace Following vision without boundaries Reaching over mountains across seas Reaching heights
Unthought of in the sojourn in Alamut.
Date posted: February 8, 2019.
Shariffa Keshavjee is a philanthropist and an entrepreneur with an objective to help women empower themselves. Raised in Kisumu, she considers herself a “pakaa” Kenyan. She is now based in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. She is the founding member and director of the Hawkers Market School and the Kigera Girl Guides Centre which provide educational opportunities for destitute girls in the country’s slums. Her Hawkers Market Girls Centre has been the recipient of the World Bank Development Marketplace Award in 2004 in which the centre was given $85,000. In addition, she is also the founding member of FONA (Friends of the Nairobi Arboretum) which is dedicated to preserving Kenya’s forest and preserved arboreta. Her other interest is in visual arts where she delights in painting on wood, silk and porcelain using water colours, oils and acrylics. She also likes writing, especially for children, and bird watching.