Khyber, a Remote Ismaili Village in Hunza, is Also Home to Magnificent Wildlife: Watch Rare WWF-Pakistan Footage of Himalayan Ibex

In a fascinating 5 part travelogue of his trip to China and Pakistan, Ali Karim dedicated an entire post to the Ismailis of Northern Hunza. His visits to the villages of Passu and Khyber left Ali and his wife Dilshad speechless. They noted, “The experience was overwhelming, as were the sights! The Ismailis of Khyber village and Passu showed us that you can symbolically scale and even climb above the highest of peaks through goodness, warmth and generosity.” Please read Ali’s piece Ismailis of Remote Northern Hunza Rise High Above the Tallest Peaks.

Interestingly, just this past week, the media in Pakistan reported a story about Nyal Mueenuddin, wildlife filmmaker for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Pakistan and Imtiaz Ahmed, a local photographer, spotting a herd of about 50 Himalayan ibex including females along with their yearlings near Khyber village. We located the beautiful short film on Youtube, which every member of your family, young and old alike, will love watching. The short film follows photos of Khyber Village and Passu from Ali Karim’s must read article.

Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
A view of the Khyber village, home to Ismaili families in Northern Hunza. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
The local jamatkhana in Khyber village is nested on top of a hill, and is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world. There is an archway entrance at the foot of the hill beyond which several stairs lead upto to the jamatkhana building. Photo: © Ali Karim. 
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos
The main jamatkhana at Passu. Photo: © Ali Karim. 
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier
A view of the lower-end or terminus of the 20.5 km Passu Glacier from the Sarai Lodge. The glacier covers an area of 115 sq km. The Passu Peak in the back of the Glacier is not visible in this photo because of clouds. Passu Peak, which rises to 7,478 m (or 24,534 ft), was first climbed by Captain Sher Khan (later Colonel) who was part of joint Pakistan-Japan army expedition in 1978. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier, Photo: © Ali Karim.
Writing etched into the mountainside in Passu commemorating Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit in November 1987. The cathedral peaks are at the left. Photo: © Ali Karim.
Khyber Village and Passu, Hunza, Ali Karim Simergphotos, Glacier
A close up view of the writing on the mountain. Photo: © Ali Karim.

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WWF-Pakistan Film

Date posted: January 16, 2021.

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A version of this post also appears at Simergphotos.

We welcome feedback from our readers. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below or click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation. Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few.

Institute of Ismaili Studies: Historical Aspirations, Contemporary Possibilities

By KARIM  H. KARIM
(The author is Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam and former Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies)

“… we find ourselves in the moment of transit, where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion.” Professor Homi K. Bhabha, former Master Jurist, Aga Khan Award for Architecture

Abstract: A former Co-Director of the IIS considers this key Ismaili institution’s way forward, following its Board of Governors’ recent reconstitution. Although substantial changes have been made, certain features regarding the diversity of office holders remain. The IIS’s past performance is briefly examined in the article, with respect to academic metrics as well as Ismaili history and values. There have been several achievements in last four decades but also some unexpected outcomes. The author discusses the importance of ethics and clarity in chains of authority. IIS’s reconstituted governance structure has the opportunity to put it on a path to globally-recognized excellence and long-lasting impact.

A New Phase

Recent appointments to the governance structures of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) present an opportunity to consider its way forwards. The substantial reconstitution of the Board of Governors appears to initiate a new phase for this key Imamat institution, which occupies a unique place in-between Jamati and Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) organizations. This is a time of particular significance as the Governors are tasked with guiding the IIS towards its 50th anniversary in 2027.

1975 Ismailia Association Conference Aga Khan Establish Institute of Ismaili Studies, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam met with leaders of the Ismailia Association and Ismaili scholars in April 1975 in Paris. A decision was taken at the world conference to establish the Institute of Ismaili Studies. Photo: Ilm magazine, October 1975.

The concept of the Institute was formally discussed in 1975 in the historic Paris Conference of the Ismaili Associations, at which Mawlana Hazar Imam presided. He announced the IIS’s establishment in a Talika to the international Jamat on December 13, 1977. The institution began with a very small staff occupying one floor of a London building. Growing and traversing the city for four decades, the IIS settled into its purpose-built home at the Aga Khan Centre in 2018. It currently has research, teaching and support staff of over a hundred and has seen some 650 graduate students pass through its doors. Scores of publications and several sets of curricular materials have been produced. Alumni work around the world in a variety of professions and have particularly enriched the knowledge base of the worldwide Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs).

Unintended Consequences

The Institute, which has a very distinct institutional character, operates in an organizationally and intellectually liminal space. Governors have played an unusual hands-on role in the operation of this academic organization. Although the IIS’s educational endeavours are limited to the community, it positions itself in the public sphere. Unlike similar scholarly bodies, it does not identify as a theological seminary or a divinity school. It is a post-graduate institution whose students receive degrees from various universities, including the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

IIS publishes materials on Ismaili, Shia, Quranic and Central Asian studies authored by its own researchers and external scholars. Islamic Publications Limited (IPL), an affiliate, produces them with the imprimaturs of presses such as I.B. Tauris and Oxford University Press. Whereas substantial work has been carried out in examining Arabic and Persian documents, the study of Indic manuscripts (bearing content such as Ginans) has been miniscule in the last four decades. Research is also conducted on the transnational Ismaili community’s living traditions, but it is not published for the most part. The Institute prioritizes a rationalistic and civilization-centred approach over faith perspectives in its course instruction and religious education curricula for the global Jamat.

These characteristics, viewed as appropriate for the IIS’s particular mandate, have, however, raised an air of ambivalence that has apparently produced unintended consequences. A number of students in the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH), who arrive at the Institute of Ismaili Studies expecting a faith-friendly academic approach undergo cognitive dissonance (Magout, 2020, chapter 6). Most alumni do not list the Institute on their CVs or LinkedIn profiles; faculty members have been leaving for university positions as soon as they secure them; and one of the two Co-Directors’ posts has remained unfilled for almost a decade. Furthermore, donors who have contributed substantially to the endowment are perplexed by the asymmetry in Ismaili areas of research.

Aspirations for Excellence

At its founding, the IIS was compared to learned institutions like the Dar al-Ilm and Al-Azhar University, which were established a thousand years ago under the aegis of Fatimid Imam-Caliphs. Al-Azhar survived the fall of the Fatimids and flourishes today as a prominent centre of Muslim learning. Can one expect that the IIS will also function for hundreds of years? Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether it will make a lasting impact. What will the role of the governance structure be in helping it achieve this?

Although the Institute is a globally-recognized hub of Ismaili Studies, it has some ways to travel before being acknowledged as a centre of scholarly excellence. It recently made a selection of books available electronically, but many important IIS contributions remain absent in cyberspace and from most bookstores as well as university and public libraries. It is also unfortunate that only a handful of its more than 120 books have done well in academic citation indices.

One could argue that standard scholarly metrics are inappropriate for an institution whose aspirations are drawn from millennial-long history. Is it more apt then to measure the Institute’s performance in terms of the Ismaili past? Of the many luminaries in previous eras, the most well-known outside the community are the Ikhwan al-Safa (circa 10th century), Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 1088) and Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274). Satpanthi Pirs conducted ingenious syntheses of Indic and Islamic traditions that stand as major human achievements of pluralist engagement. These intellectuals are exemplars of excellence whose contributions have been of universal significance. They maintained a rigorous independence of thought within parameters of the Ismaili movement and its intellectual universe. Given the aspirations for the IIS, should we expect it to provide the conditions for nurturing scholars of similar calibre in our time?

Contemporary Values as Metrics

Contrarily, one can contend that it is not right to apply historical standards to 21st century contexts. Perhaps the benchmarks for success are to be drawn from the community’s current emphases on ethics, meritocracy, and pluralism. This topic is addressed here only with reference to IIS’s Boards.

IIS Institute of Ismaili Studies London Board of Governor Members
New Board of Governors of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, appointed by Mawlana Hazar Imam effective December 13, 2020. Top row (from left): Professor Ali Asani, Dr Nadia Eboo Jamal, Mrs Karina Govindji, Dr Arif Jamal, Mr Rahim Karim, Mr Alykhan Kassam, and Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz. Bottom row (from left): Mr Amyn Kassim-Lakha, Professor Tashmin Khamis, Mr Naguib Kheraj, Dr Sharofat Mamadambarova, Dr Shogufa Mir Maleky, Mr Habib Motani, and Professor Farid F. Panjwani. Collage by Barakah from IIS profile photos

The new Governors are drawn from commercial and academic sectors, and they include some IIS alumni. Mawlana Hazar Imam continues as Chairman. Membership of the current Board of Governors (BoG), which began its term on December 13, 2020, is remarkably different from earlier ones in size, gender, age, ethnicity, geographic scope, and outlook. Although the IIS has been an international institution since inception, preceding Boards consisted almost entirely of middle aged men of British residence, with the balance tilting towards commercial worldviews. The incoming BoG’s average age has dropped considerably in comparison to the preceding one. There are now six women and eight men, and half of the Governors are currently located outside the UK. Eight newcomers are academics, most of whom have taught at universities. Several individuals have had experience in Jamati institutions, including ITREB, which is a major partner of the IIS. It is also noteworthy one Governor has professional expertise in diversity and inclusion.

There has been some non-Ismaili presence previously; however, this BoG’s members are all Ismaili. When Professor Mohammed Arkoun passed away in 2010, the remaining six Governors were all South Asian men of East African provenance. Whereas the new BoG is enriched by the presence of other ethnicities, all three members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), the IIS’s primary governing body and of which the BoG is a sub-committee, are UK residents of South Asian background, as are all four Board members of Islamic Publications Limited. Full time academics are absent from the BoT and IPL. The former does, however, have a female Trustee. There is much more pluralist inclusion than in earlier manifestations of the institution’s governance structures, but they have considerable room for improvement.

IIS Board Institute of Ismaili Studies
The IIS Board of Governors (1995-2020). From left to right: Mr Naguib Kheraj (who remains on the new board appointed on December 13, 2020), Dr Mohamed Keshavjee, Dr Shafik Sachedina, Dr Aziz Esmail, Mr Zauhar Meghji and Professor Afzal Ahmed. Missing in the photo is the Late Professor Mohammed Arkoun who was also a member on the Board. He passed away on September 14, 2010 at the age of 82. Photo: The IIS

A truly unique characteristic of the previous BoG was not identity but longevity. Its more than 25-year term was one of the lengthiest in the world. Whereas this provided continuity and familiarity with the work at hand, shorter tenures usually mitigate detrimental tendencies in such organizations. Stretches that are longer than seven years seem inadvisable.

The presence of new university-linked Governors should help to assert academic norms in matters such as standardized merit-based pay scales rather than particular arrangements for some employees; remuneration for performance adjudicated according to published benchmarks instead of bonuses based on ambiguous criteria; and discontinuation of consulting contracts with Governors. Notably, the current separation of Board members from IIS’s remunerated staff makes the organizational chart look less like the M.C. Escher lithograph “Relativity”.

Ethics, Ambiguity, and Credibility

Ismaili history has seen the development of ethical codes in the works of Qadi Nu’man (d. 974), dai Ahmad al-Naysaburi (d. circa 11th century), Pir Sadardin (d. circa 14th century), and Imam Mustansirbillah II (d. 1475). Writing at a time of deep corruption in the Fatimid state, al-Naysaburi warned that “chaos will reign” with the failure of integrity among the Imam’s leaders (Klemm and Walker, 2011, p. 75). The IIS developed an AKDN “ethical framework” two decades ago; however, this theoretical document does not provide guidance for actual deontological practice. There remains ambiguity about the pragmatics of ethics in contemporary Ismaili institutions. Narratives on this subject have sometimes drifted towards trivialization; for example, one Jamati periodical’s feature on an “Ethic of the Month” seemed to reduce long-term values to fleeting tastes (The Ismaili Bulletin, Issue 54, March 2018). Given the importance that the community gives to the subject of ethics, serious issues like conflicts of interest, cronyism, nepotism, harassment, and bullying, which unfortunately appear over time in most human organizations, will need to be dealt with effectively and coherently. These issues must be an integral part of a 21st century code of conduct that provides clear guidance for everyone involved with the work of Jamati as well as AKDN institutions.

Systemic deficiencies in institutional procedures have unpredictable outcomes and can be factors for reputational loss. Incoming academic Governors will know that ambiguous chains of authority in scholarly institutions lead to the unchecked promotion of pet projects with dubious merit. A book published in 2018 by the Institute (but not initiated by its Department of Academic Research and Publications) was reviewed in a recent issue of the journal Arabica. The reviewer, who is the Director of the University of Lausanne’s Institute of the History and Anthropology of Religions, assessed it to be “a book of propaganda … without method and completely devoid of critical analysis” (Halawi, 2020, 315). Such unfortunate situations can be avoided by instituting an academic editorial board that oversees IIS’s scholarly publications to replace largely ambiguous practices of vetting manuscripts for “sensitivities.” (Such an editorial board already exists for the Quranic Studies Series.) The new Governors will also be aware of the importance of ensuring that the institution’s faculty, students and academic visitors have ready access to library materials that reflect a plurality of views, including those that are considered to be “sensitive.” Such efforts will assist in enhancing the IIS’s scholarly credibility in academic circles.

Transparency and Demarcations of Authority

Despite the noblest of intentions, the tendency in human organizations is for power to accumulate in a few persons. Whereas the doubling of the number of Governors to 14 offers advantages, it may also produce the conditions for the emergence of a hierarchy and the marginalization of some individuals. A horizontal relationship and equitable sharing of information in the globally-constituted BoG is important. Fair and optimal participation by Governors can be ensured by upholding transparency. Transparency and disclosure will not only strengthen the corporate governance framework but also provide Mawlana Hazar Imam with all the pertinent information.  

It is expected that Hazar Imam will meet with the Governors and Directors once a year, with respective Board committees working on specific policy issues in the interim. The transnational BoG has the challenge of working efficiently across continents. Given these circumstances, safeguarding the greatest possible diversity in every committee will help ensure the pluralist expression of views. This should help to mitigate the influence of cliques and undue bias for or against specific issues and employees.

A key consideration facing the new Governors is the extent of the BoG’s involvement in operational matters. Healthy, well-functioning institutions are characterized by clear demarcations of authority and function, with Boards having confidence in duly-appointed Directors to take charge of administration. Clear protocols regarding Governors’ communications with employees, which rarely occur in universities, ensure that administrative authority is not undermined. Scholarly conventions should also determine the leadership of various organizational committees (academic, curricular, and community relations as well as finance and human resources).

 A Potential Turning Point

The strong presence of university-based academics in the Institute’s new BoG signals that scholarly priorities will be paramount in the years to come. This Board’s tenure has the potential for being a turning point. It has the opportunity to put the IIS on the path to globally-recognized excellence by moving closer to academic norms of organization and outlook. Professor Mohammed Arkoun used to speak of intellectual modernity in contemporary Muslim contexts. Such a disposition requires not only scholarly rigour but the confidence to conduct critical introspection. There are important discussions to be had about the adoption of greater academic freedom, critical inquiry, and the broaching of “sensitive” topics as well as about effective ways to engage with the transnational Jamat, with which the Institute has an integral relationship. Governors will constantly have to account for the dual contexts of community and public scholarship. This calls for skillful and conscientious navigation between the shores of the parochial and the universal. The likes of the Ikhwan al-Safa, Nasir-i Khusraw, Nasir al-Din Tusi and Pir Sadardin have shown us that this is eminently possible.

Date posted: January 10, 2021.
Last updated: January 11, 2021 (typos).

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Karim H. Karim

About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of Carleton University’s Centre for the Study of Islam where he has held the International Ismaili Studies Conference. He previously served as Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) and Director of Carleton’s School of Journalism & Communication. Dr. Karim has had visiting scholarly appointments at Harvard University, Aga Khan University/Simon Fraser University, and the IIS. He has also been an advisor for AKU and the Central Asian University and has been a member of the AKDN’s Higher Education Forum. Additionally, he has served in Kenyan, American, and Canadian Jamati institutions (Education, Ismaili Association, and Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ITREB). Professor Karim is an award-winning author, whose globally-cited writings include publications on Ismaili communities, institutions, and leadership. He has delivered distinguished lectures at venues around the world and has been honoured by the Government of Canada for promoting co-operation among faith communities. He studied at Aga Khan schools in East Africa and at the IIS, and holds degrees from Columbia and McGill universities in Islamic and Communication Studies.

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

1975 Ismailia Association Conference Aga Khan Establish Institute of Ismaili Studies, Simerg

Discovery of Abbasid and Fatimid gold coins in jug in Old Jerusalem reflect shifting political power of the 2 dynasties

“The profile of the coins found in the juglet are a near perfect reflection of the historical events. This is a time of great political change as control of Israel shifts from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, which sits in Baghdad, Iraq, to ​​its Shiite rivals, the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa.” — Robert Cole

[The following compiled piece includes material released by the Israel Antiques Authority. Also, the website livescience has prepared a short video highlighting the discovery of the Abbasid and Fatimid coins. Please watch the video HERE — Ed.]

In 2015, in a post entitled Sea of Gold, Simerg provided a link to a special on-line exhibit about the discovery by a group of divers of a hoard of Fatimid gold dinars lying on the seabed in the ancient harbor in Caesarea National Park. The divers alerted marine archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who conducted a salvage excavation at the site and recovered more than 2,580 Fatimid coins of pure (24 karat) gold weighing a total of 7.5 kg.

The IAA then noted as follows: “The coins are of the finest 24-karat gold (96-99% pure gold). They lay on the sea-bed for a 1000 years but required almost no cleaning, as pure gold cannot corrode. Particularly important for the Fatimid rulers, who were Shi’ites, is the mention of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law considered by the Shi’a as the first Imam after Muhammad, as ‘God’s intimate’. Also, the name of the mint and the date of issue appear on these coins, making them extremely important historical documents.”

Just over a month ago, on November 9 2020, IAA archaeologists reported another very significant find at a site where an elevator is being built at the Old City of Jerusalem in the Jewish quarter to make the Western Wall more accessible.

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Excavation of a jug containing 4 coins from the Abbasid and Fatimid periods
The juglet and the four gold coins found recently in Old Jerusalem. Photo: Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority.

David Gellman, the director of the excavation observed, “We seem to have found an ancient savings bank!” He was actually referring to a small pottery urn containing four pure gold coins more than a thousand years old that was found by the inspector of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Yevgenia Kapil, during preliminary work that was carried out at the site during the holidays. Gellman says that when he emptied the jug a few weeks later, the four glittering gold coins along with sand were washed into his hands. This was the first time that Gellman, as an archaeologist, had discovered gold and he was immensely excited by the discovery.

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spot where the gold-filled jug was found opposite the Western Wall Plaza. Photo: Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority.
Excavation director David Gellman with the Israel Antiquities Authority points to the spot where the gold-filled jug was found opposite the Western Wall Plaza in Old Jerusalem. Photo: Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority.

Dr. Robert Cole, an expert on coins at the IAA, noted as follows about the four coins: “The coins were preserved in excellent condition and could be read immediately even without being cleaned. The profile of the coins found in the juglet are a near perfect reflection of the historical events. The coins date to a relatively brief period, from the late 940s to the 970s CE.  This is a time of great political change as control of Israel shifts from the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, which sits in Baghdad, Iraq, to ​​its Shiite rivals, the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa, which in those days conquered Egypt, Syria and Israel. These historical events are reflected almost perfectly in the distribution of the coins discovered in the jug: two gold dinars were minted in Ramla, under the rule of the Caliph Matia (946 – 974 CE) and the governor on his behalf, Abu al-Qassem ibn al-Ihshid Onuhar (946 – 961 CE). The other two gold coins were minted in Cairo, by the Fatimid rulers al-Mu’iz (953 – 975 CE), and his successor — al-Aziz (975 – 996 CE).”

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Examination of coins unearthed in Jerusalem
IAA coin expert Robert Kool examines one of the gold coins found in a small pottery urn. The coins were preserved in excellent condition and could be read immediately even without being cleaned. Photo: Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority.

He also explained that “the four gold dinars was a considerable sum of money for most of the population, who lived under difficult conditions at the time. It was equal to the monthly salary of a minor official, or four months’ salary for a common laborer.” This is the first time in fifty years that gold coins from the Fatimid period have been discovered in Jerusalem’s Old City. The previous find of 5 coins and jewellery hoards from the Fatimid period took place after the Six Day War south of the Temple Mount, not far from the recent new discovery.

Date posted: December 22, 2020.

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

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A Special Birthday Message from His Highness the Aga Khan, and the Significance of His Birthday for Ismailis

On the occasion of his 84th birthday or Salgirah on December 13, 2020, His Highness the Aga Khan has sent a special message, traditionally referred to as a Talika, to his followers around the world. The Talika is published HERE in English, French, Portuguese, Farsi, Arabic, Gujarati, Tajik, Urdu and Russian.

We have an insightful article for our readers on the significance of the Aga Khan’s birthday. To read it, please click HERE or on the Salgirah Mubarak greeting shown below.

We convey Salgirah greetings to our readers, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, and wish everyone and their families happiness and success as well as courage, strength and good health — especially in the present time of a global pandemic. We further hope and pray for the fulfillment of all your wishes. Ameen.

Salgirah Aga Khan Birthday, 13 December 2020, Simerg
The calligraphy in this beautiful Salgirah Mubarak greeting celebrating the 84th birthday (Salgirah) of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, was created by Karim Ismail of Toronto, and represents the Aga Khan’s name “Nur Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini” in Fatimid Kufi script. Please click on image to read article on significance of Salgirah.

Date posted: December 12, 2020.

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November 9, 2020: Just for a Day, Aga Khan Museum Assumes a New Identity — D.C. Art Museum!

By MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher/Editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

When I left home (Monday, November 9) to run an errand, I went northbound on the Don Valley Parkway (DVP), and had planned to drive back south along the same route, and take the Wynford Drive exit that brings you to a T-junction, 200 metres east of the Aga Khan Museum entrance. But instead of taking the DVP, I decided to drive on Don Mills Road, and then turn left into Wynford Drive, and drive past the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Park and the Aga Khan Museum before getting home. The Museum now opens from Thursday through Sunday, and the full parking lots at both the Ismaili Centre and the Museum made me wonder what was going on — perhaps a community event I wasn’t aware of.

The Man from Toronto shooting Aga Khan Museum, DC Museum of Art
The Aga Khan Museum outdoor parking area was packed with cars, as it hosted the shooting of a feature film The Man from Toronto on Monday, November 9, 2020. This photo was taken after the event was over. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
Aga Khan Park The Man from Toronto film shooting simerg malik merchant
A (possible) police officer on horse at Aga Khan Park during the shooting on Monday, November 9, 2020 of the film The Man from Toronto that will be released sometime later in 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

That hyped me up, and I drove into the Aga Khan Museum Parking lot, and managed to find a tight spot to squeeze into near a huge truck. Many vehicles carried US license plates. A gentleman politely asked me to walk on the pedestrian pathway on Wynford Drive. A volunteer I met on the way refused to answer my simple question, “What is going on?” citing a non-disclosure agreement! Such secrets make me really really mad!

The Man from Toronto film shooting Aga Khan Park
A scene being shot at the Aga Khan Park on Monday, November 9, 2020 for the film The Man from Toronto to be released later in 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
The Man from Toronto
A transportation truck and filming equipment at Aga Khan Park during the shooting on Monday, November 9, 2020 of a new film The Man from Toronto. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Then a few metres away, I met another gentleman who told me that the shooting of the action comedy film, “The Man from Toronto,” was underway, starring Woody Harrelson, a Primetime Emmy Award winner who has been nominated for three Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards! After about a minute, as I got closer to the Ismaili Centre, I watched and photographed a scene being completed, which had to be retaken. It was a 45 second event!

Aga Khan Museum November 8, 2020
Visitors taking photos against the front wall of the Aga Khan Museum Building on November 8, 2020, a day before the shooting of the movie “The Man from Toronto” that saw the museum name replaced with “D.C. Art Museum” in its place (see photos below). Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
A temporary D.C. Art Museum banner covers the bilingual Aga Khan Museum sign for the shooting on November 9, 2020, of the film The Man from Toronto to be released in 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.
The Man from Toronto, D.C. Artt Museum, Aga Khan Museum, Simerg
A man, with his shadows, walk past the “temporary” D.C. Art Museum on the day of the shooting of the film The Man from Toronto on Monday, November 9, 2020. The film will be released later in 2021. Malik Merchant / Simerg.

An Ismaili standing outside the guardrails alongside me explained that earlier when he was taking his daily routine Aga Khan Park walk, he was asked to remain away from specific areas. Then he told me that as he glanced up at the museum wall, he was bewildered to see the original bilingual “Aga Khan Museum” sign in English and French now reading “D.C. Art Museum.” He said that for a moment he was in a state of shock. He saw people walk in and out of the museum doors, and only got a sigh of relief when he was informed that the new sign was for the movie shooting!

The Man from Toronto, Ismaili Jamatkhana, Simerg, Aga Khan Park
US registered cars in front of the dome of the Ismaili Jamatkhana during the shooting on November 9, 2020, of the film The Man from Toronto to be released later in 2021. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

After taking photos of the “new” looking wall, I walked across the Aga Khan Park to the Ismaili Centre, and met an American alongside some cars that I think included, a vintage Mustang. I learnt from him and others I talked to that the preparations for the shooting event had begun 10 hours earlier, and everything went according to plans. The date of the release of “The Man from Toronto” has not been finalized but it will be interesting to see the scene(s) when the movie is released. The Aga Khan Museum security guard who kept on following me from the Museum building onwards, as if I was a security threat, marred my otherwise enjoyable few moments at the Aga Khan Park under clear and beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures!

Coronavirus, you may try to deter us, but we have our winning ways!

Date posted: December 9, 2020.

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

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

Malik Merchant Simerg Aga Khan Museum
Simerg’s Malik at Aga Khan Museum courtyard.

About the author: Malik Merchant is the founding publisher/editor of this website, Simerg (2009), as well as two other blogs Barakah (2017) and Simergphotos (2012). Formerly an IT consultant, he now dedicates his time to family projects and his 3 websites. He is the eldest son of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) and Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant who both served Ismaili Jamati institutions for several decades in Mozambique, Tanzania, Pakistan, the UK and Canada in both professional and honorary capacities as teachers and missionaries. Malik’s daughter, Dr. Nurin Merchant, assists him as an honorary co-editor of the three websites. She received her veterinary medicine degree with distinction from the Ontario Veterinary College (2019, University of Guelph) and now works as a veterinarian.

Idd-e-Milad: A Documentary on Prophet Muhammad and Islam’s Rise, the Aga Khan on Allah’s Last Messenger, and “I Wish I’d Been There” by Astrophysicist Farzana Meru

"Muhammad" written in Thuluth script,  a work by Morgan Phoenix, CC by SA 3.0.
“Muhammad” written in Thuluth script, a work by Morgan Phoenix, CC by SA 3.0.

Prepared and compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Editor/Publisher SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

The Milad or Mawlid of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) falls on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal. In 2020, Muslims in different countries around the world will be observing the birth anniversary between October 28-30. This post has a number of pieces on the Prophet that will be of interest to everyone.

We invite our readers to view the first episode of a 3-part series that covers the Prophet’s birth, the first revelation and early writing of the Qur’an, the creation of the first mosque, the persecution suffered by the first Muslims and the major battles fought by the Prophet and his followers to establish the new religion. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Ben Kingsley, and directed and produced by Robert Gardner, the captivating episode which first aired on PBS in 2001, has been highly recommended over the years for its educational value.

Watch video.

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Readers who have just seen the documentary will be able to relate numerous segments in it to the following excerpt from the Presidential address made by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at the Seerat Conference in Pakistan in 1976. They will next appreciate Ismaili astrophysicist Farzana Meru’s reflection on a moment in Ismaili history that she would have loved to experience.

The Prophet Muhammad

By MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN

Mawlana Hazar Imam

“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.” — Read full speech and listen to audio HERE.

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A Moment in Ismaili history I Would Have Loved to Experience: The Time of Prophet Muhammad

By FARZANA MERU

I am struggling to narrow down all the moments in Ismaili history that I would love to have experienced. As I journey through the modern day trying to understand the past, I often ponder what it would be like to rewind time and experience a number of occasions in Ismaili history. But if I could only choose one of the vast number of spectacular incidents, I would go back and experience the beginning of Ismaili history, the key events that sparked the origin of our religion, the dawn of a new era: the time of our Prophet Muhammed (S.A.S.) in seventh century Arabia.

I would love to have experienced first-hand the living conditions and lifestyles of the people in those times. I would want to understand the culture, the tribal systems, the harsh desert conditions that people had to move through on camels. I would want to see how the Prophet himself dealt with the pressures of leading a community which started off very small but grew rapidly and flourished. I want to understand how people transitioned from the way of life in pre-Islamic Arabia into the new times. As a fly on the wall, I could watch the seventh century Arabian world go by, in awe. I would want to experience “where it all began”, an era that would mark the beginning of Ismaili history.

Astrophysicist Farzana Meru
Astrophysicist Farzana Meru

The piece you just read was contributed by astrophysicist Farzana Meru for our first and original series I Wish I’d Been There series some ten years ago. On October 26, 2020, Dr. Meru and NASA’s aerospace engineer, Dr. Farah Alibay, were on the air on Ismaili.TV and reflected on their respective career paths as well as offered some outstanding words of wisdom to Ismaili youth during their schooling years, and for them to be passionate about their chosen area of interest, whatever that may be. Please watch Ismaili.TV’s excellent program by clicking HERE or below.

Date posted: October 27, 2020.
Last updated: October 29, 2020.

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

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

Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad on the Pumpkin, as the Aga Khan Museum Uses it to Decorate its Courtyard

By MALIK MERCHANT
Editor/Publisher SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

The Aga Khan Museum is one of the few museums in Toronto that has been able to implement Covid-19 protocols and make the museum safe for its visitors. The visiting times were revised this past week, and it is now open from Thursdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

In recent weeks, Simerg and its sister websites have produced a superb collection of photos of the Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, which divides the two magnificent buildings. Readers have been uplifted to see the photos of the 3 magnificent projects, built by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, under the full moon, crescent moon, as well as at the peak of the autumn foliage season.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard Pumpkin Decoration Simerg Malik Merchant
Aga Khan Museum Toronto Courtyard decorated with pumpkins. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

On a fine day, there is no better place in the museum than to be sitting in its open air courtyard, while enjoying a delicious cup of latte.

October 23, 2020 was one such day. It actually felt like summer, with blue skies and very warm temperatures. The magnificent courtyard was a perfect place for my morning coffee as well as a late breakfast — an egg salad croissant, slightly grilled. I was thrilled to enter the courtyard, and noticed pumpkin decorations in one corner of the courtyard. Of course, pumpkins are to be seen everywhere at this time of the year. It is one of the most popular desserts served during Thanksgiving holidays in Canada (October 12, 2020) and the USA (November 26, 2020), and I wondered how the food was viewed in Islam. My little bit of research led me to numerous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) on the pumpkin, and I am delighted to post adaptations of some that I read.

“I saw the Prophet being served with soup and containing gourd (pumpkin or squash) and cured meat, and I saw him picking and eating the pieces of gourd.” — Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Number 348.

It is related that a sailor once invited Prophet Muhammad to eat some food that he had prepared. Anas bin Malik who accompanied the Prophet, noted that the Prophet was served barley bread and a soup with pumpkin in it. The Prophet keenly ate the pumpkin around the dish, and from that day Anas made it his favourite food. Traditions also note that whenever a a dish of bread, meat and broth was presented to the Prophet and it contained pumpkin, the Prophet would pick up the pumpkin because he really liked it, and made the heart strong. Other Muslim traditions note that the pumpkin increases brain function and brain strength.

Ibn Ridwan, in a medical treatise written during the Fatimid period, recommended the pumpkin as a diet for healthy living along with several other fruits and vegetables such as celery, carrots, lentils and cucumbers.

Interestingly, there is also a general consensus among scholars about the Arabic word yaqteen that is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. They say that it refers to the pumpkin — a food that nourished and helped heal Prophet Yunus (A.S.), after he was cast into the wilderness while he was sick (see Qur’an, 37:144-146, at Corpus Quran English Translation).

The website healthline mentions that pumpkin is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is incredibly healthy. Moreover its low calorie content makes it a weight-loss-friendly food. It goes on to add that “its nutrients and antioxidants may boost your immune system, protect your eyesight, lower your risk of certain cancers and promote heart and skin health.”

After about an hour at the museum’s courtyard, I could not return home without walking around the Aga Khan Park. As I looked up in the blue sky above the Ismaili Jamatkhana dome, I saw two birds beautifully gliding at the dome’s left. I was left wondering: Were they turkey vultures, eagles or hawks? Alas, I wasn’t carrying a powerful lens to get a better and sharper close-up.

Please click on photo for enlargement

Headquarters Jamatkhana Toronto at the Ismaili Centre, with birds overhead.
Two birds seen gliding at left of the dome of the Toronto Headquarters Ismaili Jamatkhana, part of the Ismaili Centre. Click on image for enlargement. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

Returning to the museum’s courtyard on Sunday October 25, offered a much different kind of experience, as the temperature had dropped from Friday’s 22°C to only 8°C. But the museum had that in mind too! Blue lounge blue chairs had been placed in the courtyard, with portable fireplaces where visitors mingled with their family members over light refreshments.

Aga Khan Museum Courtyard
Visitors keep warm at a portable fireplace at the Aga Khan Museum’s courtyard as temperatures take a dip on Sunday, October 25. 2020. Photo: Malik Merchant / Simerg.

The overall experience at the three Aga Khan projects during recent weeks has been overwhelming.

As we all seek good health, I dedicate this post to the humble pumpkin which supports heart and eye health, and boosts immunity, among other benefits.

And, without the pumpkin’s presence in the museum’s courtyard, it may have never occurred to me to search out the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) that have showed that he really liked the pumpkin. For 2020, Muslims around the world will celebrate his birth anniversary — the Milad un Nabi — between October 28-30. It is an appropriate time to learn more about his inspiring life and leadership as well as his faith in God whom he served as the last messenger for 23 long and devoted years, bringing to Muslims the blessing of the Holy Qur’an.

Date posted: October 24, 2020.
Last updated: October 25, 2020 (new photo/information added)

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

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

Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s signed copies of “Diving Into Wildlife” and exclusive scarves inspired by his beautiful photography are available for viewing – and purchase – in Toronto

Hussain Aga Khan
Prince Hussain

For a decade, Simerg has officially supported the initiatives of Prince Hussain Aga Khan to his satisfaction. When we received his signed book “Animal Voyage” ten years ago, they were snapped up within a few days. Then, more recently, his signed copies of “Diving Into Wildlife” containing sea animal photos were also sold out shortly after they were made available to Simerg. We have now received very limited quantities of his signed as well as unsigned copies of “Diving Into Wildlife” for sale in Canada.

Diving Into Wildlife by Hussain Aga Khan
Cover Page of Prince Hussain Aga Khan’s Diving Into Wildlife.

In addition, we have also received for sale in Canada an entire collection of Italian made scarves inspired by Prince Hussain’s photography.

The beautiful STENNELA produced scarves were conceived by Valérie Maurice and designed by Kirsten Synge, exclusively for the Prince’s organization Focused on Nature (abbr. FON). Simerg can arrange to show you the entire collection in person in Toronto. You may then purchase them. Please contact Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com to arrange a viewing in Toronto (or in Ottawa, when he travels to Ottawa). All social distancing rules will be adhered to. As in the past, the entire proceeds from the sales of scarves and books will be submitted to FON, which assists in the conservation and protection of threatened and endangered species, as well as habitat conservation efforts.

Focused on Nature Scarves
200×140 cm – 85% modal – 15% silk 250 € or appx. $US 290.00; Italian made and produced by STENELLA brand for Prince Hussain’s organization FON. Other sizes are also available and priced from $US 90.00. Please contact Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com to view – and purchase – the scarves in person in Toronto.

Once again, to view and purchase the books or the scarves, please write to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com. Signed and unsigned copies of Diving Into Wildlife are priced at $US 125.00 and $US 25.00, respectively. Payments can be made by cheques, e-transfers or via Paypal (Simerg is Paypal verified). The prices of scarves range from approximately $US 95.00 – $US 295.00, depending on material (silk or silk/cotton) and size. The entire collection can be viewed online at the Prince’s FON website by clicking HERE. As mentioned, you can try the scarves in Toronto – and buy them in person in Toronto from the complete range we are carrying. We can also ship the books and scarves across Canada, and shipping charges will apply. Please write to Malik at Simerg@aol.com.

Date posted: September 26, 2020.

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

For objects shown in this post and to purchase them please write in confidence to Malik Merchant at Simerg@aol.com.

The Three Shams in Ismaili History: Imam Shamsuddin, Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz

Editor’s Note: Malik Mirza’s recent piece, Exclusive Photo Essay: The Mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, resulted in comments from our readers concerning the status of the shrine today, its role within the Ismaili community, the miracles attributed to Pir Shams, as well as confusion over the identities of Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz. Simerg turned to Mumtaz Ali Tajddin for some answers, and we are pleased to publish his piece that sheds light on the subject.

By RAI MUMTAZ ALI TAJDDIN S. ALI
Special to Simerg

In the contemporary period of 13th century, there is a confusion on the name “Shams” as there were three personalities existing at the same time. These were Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, Pir Sham Sebzewari and Shams Tabriz, which is discussed in this paper. 

1. IMAM SHAMSUDDIN MUHAMMAD

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad (1257-1310), the 28th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis is said to have been born in 646/1230 in the fortress of Maimundiz. He was known as Agha Shams in Syria and Shah Shams in India. He is also known as Shamsu’l Haq in a few Iranian poems. Poet Nizari Kohistani (d. 1320) called him Shamsuddin Shah Nimroz Ali and Shah Shams. He was also known as Shams Zardozi due to residing in a village called Zardoz in Azerbaijan, but another tradition suggests that he had adopted the profession of embroidery, and as such the term zardoz (embroiderer) became his epithet. 

JUVAINI AND MODERN HISTORIANS’ VIEWS ON ISMAILIS AND THE IMAMAT

Ata Malik Juvaini, the Persian historian who wrote an account of the Mongol Empire, wrongly considers the butchery of the Ismailis conducted by the Mongols in Qazwin and Rudhbar following the reduction of Alamut in 1256, as an end of the Ismailis and unbroken line of the Imamate as well. It is however, ascertained from reliable sources that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad had left the fortress of Maimundiz probably on 11th Shawal, 654/November 1, 1256; the Mongols reached there on 17th Shawal, 654/November 7, 1256.

Ata Malik Juvaini joined the Mongols after 12th Zilkada, 654/December 2, 1256, and as is well known entered the library at Alamut, and upon the orders of Mongol leader burnt the entire library, sparing only a few copies of the Qur’an and some other works, just enough to fit into a small wheelbarrow.

According to Bernard Lewis in The Assassins (London, 1967, p. 63), “The extirpation of the Ismailis in Persia was not quite as thorough as Juvaini suggests. In the eyes of the sectarians, Rukn al-Din’s small son succeeded him as Imam on his death and lived to sire a line of Imams.” Marshall Hodgson also writes in The Order of Assassins (Netherland, 1955. pp. 270 and 275) that, “Juvaini assures himself that every Ismaili was killed; yet even if all the members of garrison were in fact killed, a great many other will have escaped.”  He further adds, “but their spirit was more nearly indomitable; as it is from among them that the great future of Nizari Ismailism sprouted again. It is said the child Imam was carried to Adharbayjan, where the Imams lived for some time.” According to W. Montgomery Watt in Islam and the Integration of Society (London, 1961, p. 77), “In 1256, Alamut was surrounded, and was destroyed and in the following year the Imam met his death and there was a widespread massacre of the Nizaris. It may be further mentioned that, despite this catastrophe and the fact that it has never since had a territory of its own, the community was not exterminated and the line of Imams was maintained unbroken.” 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad went to Daylam, and thence moved to Ardabil. It is said that he also lived in Ahar, about 150 miles west of Ardabil. He had been also in Tabriz, which he most possibly evacuated in the early months of 1257 as Halagu invaded Tabriz on July 26, 1257. It seems that he became known as Shams Tabriz in the Sufic circle in Tabriz. Pir Shihabuddin Shah (d. 1884) writes in Khitabat-i Alliya (Tehran, 1963, p. 42) that, “Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad who lived in Tabriz, was compared by the local people to the sun, because of his handsome countenance, and thus he came to be called Shams (the sun) of Tabriz. This gave rise to the confusion between him and Shams Tabrizi, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but they were always in reality two different persons.” 

The tradition has it that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad most probably lived from one to another place under different mantles in the province of Azerbaijan. The veritable locality of his residence, however, has not been substantiated. Azerbaijan was an ideal land for the growing Sufi circles, and the Imam had settled in northern region with his family, where he professed in the embroidery works. 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad is reported to have betrothed to a Sufi lady at Daylam in 1276, or in the next year. His sons, Momin Shah and Kiya Shah operated Ismaili mission as far as Gilan. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310 in Azerbaijan after vesting the office of Imamate to his son, Kassim Shah.

2. PIR SHAMS

The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza. Simerg.
The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza.

Pir Shams was born most probably in Sebzewar, a town in Khorasan, lying 64 miles west of Nishapur. His father Syed Salauddin had been deputed in Baltistan by Imam Kassim Shah, who most probably came into the contact of Taj Mughal in Badakhshan. Kamaluddin Mujahri of Sebzewar writes in Malfuz-i Kamalia that Pir Syed Muinuddin Hasan of Sebzewar of Ajmer had a meeting with Syed Salauddin in Sebzewar in 1165. It is recounted that Pir Shams had gone to Badakhshan with his father at the age of 19 years, and thence he proceeded to Tibet and returned back to Sebzewar.

It is said that after the death of Syed Salauddin, Imam Kassim Shah commissioned Pir Shams as the hujjat of Sind and Hind at Daylam. In referencing the Imam, Pir Shams says: “Adore sincerely the true guiding light manifested in the person of Kassim Shah, the Lord of the Time.” (vide, Garbi, 5:17).

The earliest description of Pir Shams is found in the treatise of the biographies of Sufis, entitled Nafahat al-Uns (comp. 1478) by Nuruddin Abdur Rahman Jami (1414-1492), the last classic poet of Iran. Nurullah bin Sharif Shushtari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (comp. 1604) traces his ancestry back to the Ismaili root. Some details are also found in Tarikh-i Firishta (comp. 1606). The great Sufi saint Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) also referred to Pir Shams in his poetry.

It is indeterminable point in the modern sources as to when Pir Shams was born? The extant materials however don’t afford one to draw a safe conclusion. His death in 1356 however is indisputable, based on the plaque at the mausoleum in Multan. The most confusing and unsolved point is to locate his date of birth. Most of the scholars concur in his age for 115 years, but it however seems that Pir Shams had lived to an advanced age beyond 115 years. Syed Bawa Ahmad Ali Khaki writes in his Dar-i Khuld-i Bari (Ahmadabad, 1905, p. 123) on the basis of an old manuscript that the span of Pir Shams’s life was for 171 years. If the date of his demise in 1356 may be considered genuine, it means that his birth would have been taken place around 1175 during the period of Imam Ala Muhammad (1166-1210). The genealogy of Pir Shams given in the Shajara, preserved in the shrine at Multan, indicates the birth of Pir Shams in 1165, which is also corroborative.

Pir Shams arrived from Daylam to Badakhshan, where he is said to have brought many followers of Momin Shahi sect into the Ismaili fold. He visited Gilgit and proceeded to Tibet and as far as the ranges of the Himalayas. He came back to Ghazna, where he deputed the local converted prince to Badakhshan on mission work. Pir Shams also converted a bulk of the Hindus during their dasera festival after singing garbis (songs) in a temple for ten consecutive nights in the village called Analvad. W. Ivanow places its location in Gujrat, called Anilvad, not far from Ahmadabad. Pir Shams also visited Kashmir in 1316 and converted the Chak and Changad tribes, thence he proceeded to Multan in 1326 for the first time.

Pir Shams Mausoleum in Multan Pakistan, Simerg
A board on a wall of the mausoleum of Pir Shams which briefly describes short incidents from the life of Pir Shams. He is referred to him as ‘Hazrat Shamshuddin Tabrizi Sabzwari’ which has resulted in confusion over his identity Photo: © Malik Mirza.

In Multan, many miracles of Pir Shams are reported, but not potential for historical value. It needs interpretation to translate the miracles. It is therefore difficult to penetrate through the mist of legends, which formed even during the lifetime of Pir Shams and thickened rapidly after his death. The most popular miracle was the bringing down of the sun on earth, which earned him an epithet of taparez (burning) in Punjab. The word taparez is so coherent with that of Tabriz that it began to be pronounced as Tabriz, contriving a wrong theory to merge these two into one. Since Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz were proximate to each other in time, it is probable that Pir Shams, also known as Shams Taprez was confused with that of Shams Tabriz. It is believed that Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, left Konya and then died in in Khoy, where he was buried. A false tradition arose that he moved from Konya to Multan, thus charactering Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz as the same and one, which is absolutely untrue.

Among the Sufis, there existed four principal orders in India, viz. Chisti, Qadari, Suharwardi and Naqashbandi. The period of Pir Shams was thus noted for the several skilled exponents of Sufi thought. He therefore launched his brisk and pervasive mission during the eve of the growing Sufi circles in Punjab. In the villages of Punjab, he mostly converted the Aror or Rohra, a leading caste in south-western part of the Punjab, i.e., of the lower reaches of the five rivers and below their junction, extending through Bahawalpur into Sind. They were mostly cultivators, and their large portion on the lower Chinab were purely agricultures, while in the western Punjab, they were mostly tailors, weavers of mats and baskets, makers of vessels of brass and copper and goldsmiths. Pir Shams appointed musafir (one who travels) in different regions to collect the religious dues, and also built prayer-halls (khana) and appointed their Mukhis. He also introduced the daily prayer in Sairaki dilect, which continued to be recited till the period of his son, Pir Sadarddin. Pir Shams expired in 1356 and was buried at Multan.

MAUSOLEUM OF PIR SHAMS AND ITS RECONSTRUCTION

The mausoleum of Pir Shams is located on the high bank of the old bed of the river Ravi. The tomb is square, 300 feet in height surmounted by a hemispherical dome. It is decorated with ornamental glazed tiles.

Seth Mehr Ali was a prominent person in Sind. His later life was quite different from his early life, which sounds his great leaning towards the doctrine of the Kaysania sect. In spite of the diversity in the oral traditions, there is a common story that Seth Mehr Ali had visited Bombay and then proceeded to Pirana, and came into the contact of the Kaka (headman) of the Imam Shahi sect, named Syed Sharif (d. 1795). This contact would have created his strong disposition towards the veneration of the shrines. Soon after his return, he visited Multan and became the disciple of Makhdum Safdar Ali alias Jiwan Shah, the custodian of the mausoleum of Pir Shams. This contact prompted Seth Mehr Ali to rebuild the mausoleum of Pir Shams. A sum of Rs. 75,000 was spent in its renovation, which he procured through donation in Sind in 1779. He posed himself as a Syed to win the hearts of the people. This is the reason that he is called Syed Mehr Ali in Tawarikh-i Zila’e Multan (Lahore, 1884, p. 85) by Munshi Hukam Chand and Multan: History and Architecture (Islamabad, 1983, p. 206) by Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan.

CULTURE OF VENERATNG SHRINES AND ISMAILI RESPONSE

Syed Mehr Ali intended that the mausoleum should be crowded on the first Friday after 15th Shaban. He therefore he invited the local Shi’ites and the Ismailis of Sadiqabad, Uchh Sharif and Sind, but his objective was foiled. The Shi’ites venerated it and took its possession, but few Ismailis responded.

The culture of veneration and vows gradually continued to thicken. The custodian of the shrine gave thread and so called sacred water. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah visited Multan on February 16, 1950, the Mukhi humbly requested the Imam that some local Ismaili attended the shrine of Pir Shams, claiming that there was power, which fulfilled the vows. The Imam asked the Mukhi to make an announcement in the Jamatkhana that he would visit the shrine of Pir Shams, and the Jamat was also invited to be there

On the next day, before noon, Ismailis gathered outside the mausoleum. The Imam also came and entered alone, while the Ismailis were outside. It is said that the Imam made seven rounds around the grave of Pir Shams, and came out and said to the Ismailis, “You claim that there is power in the shrine.” Then the Imam raised his right hand and put inside his pocket and said, “I have picked up all the power. Hence, there is nothing in the shrine, therefore, don’t come here and make your vows in the Jamatkhana.” Since then, the Ismailis didn’t go to make the vows at the shrine of Pir Shams as well as other shrines of Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin in Uchh.

The shrines of Pir Shams, Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin are under control of the local Muslims.

3. SHAMS TABRIZ OR SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI, MASTER OF JALALUDDIN RUMI

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Tomb of Shams Tabriz in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Shams Tabriz was born either in Daylam or Tabriz in 1165. He was called Parinda (flying bird), because he was always traveling from place to place.

In 1244, while Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was teaching his pupils in an open courtyard next to a fountain in Konya, a shabbily externally dressed but perfectly internally adorned Sufi Shams Tabriz came to their assembly and watched them. He saw Maulana Rumi was referring to a large stack of handwritten books in the course of his teaching. Shams Tabriz asked him as to what was in the books. Rumi scoffed and replied, “O! Sufi. This contains knowledge that is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to recite your rosary.” Unnoticed by Rumi, Shams Tabriz threw the stack of books into a nearby pond of water. When Rumi’s students saw what had occurred they began beating Shams Tabriz. Rumi complained that all his valuable knowledge had been destroyed. Shams Tabriz said, “I will give back your books.”

A visibly dejected Rumi conceded to the request thinking that this was impossible. He was surprised to see that Shams Tabriz lifted the drenched books from the pond, blew dust of them and returned the books intact. He asked Shams Tabriz as to how he did this. Shams Tabriz replied, “This knowledge is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to teach your pupils.” Rumi fell at his feet and was swept into the currents of love. The presence of this ragged Sufi, Shams Tabriz, changed Rumi from a respected professor of theology into a lover of God. This event made Rumi to become a disciple of Shams Tabriz.

Hence, Rumi left orthodox teaching of his disciples, and learnt esoteric treasure from Shams Tabriz. One day, Shams Tabriz mysteriously disappeared, and was never seen again. Some say that he was killed by close disciples of Rumi, who were jealous of the close relation between Rumi and Shams. Other also assert that in the plot of his murder, Sultan Walad, the son of Rumi was involved. Shams Tabriz the master of Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), was not traceable after 1247 in Konya. Shamsuddin Aflaki, who wrote in 1353, stated that the death of Shams Tabriz took place in Konya in 1247.

However a group of Sufis maintained that after leaving Konya, Shams Tabriz travelled to Tabriz, about 900 miles to the east. Interestingly, a tomb of Shams Tabriz that had remained obscure for many centuries was discovered in Khoy in the Western Azerbaijan Province in Iran. It has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The distance from Khoy to Tabriz is approximately 100 miles.

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Bust, monument tower, and Tomb of Shams Tabrizi — in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

As we have noted previously, Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310. When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was in Tabriz, he became known as Shams Tabriz.

Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872), a 19th century poet, scholar and literary historian in the service of Qajar kings, writes in Majmau’l Fusaha that, “Shaikh Abu Hamid Awhadu’ddin Kirmani had seen and met Shams Tabriz in Tabriz.”

It is therefore quite likely that Shaikh Abu Hamid had actually seen Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad in the mantle of Shams Tabriz, and that the Imam’s identity began to be equated with that of Shams Tabriz. Henceforward, the presence of two Shams Tabriz during the same period became perplexing and puzzling. 

When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was identified as the “son of the last ruler of Alamut”, he was made the “son of Alauddin Muhammad,” incorporating him in the above report. 

The scrutiny of the sources indicates that a bulk of the frightened Muslims began to evacuate the vicinity of Rudhbar and Kohistan during the period of Imam Alauddin Muhammad (1221-1255) to escape the main brunt of the Mongols.

The stampede of the Muslims also carried away with them, the then latest report that, “Alauddin Muhammad is the ruler of Alamut, and the Mongols are about to come to reduce Alamut.”

These Muslims ultimately settled down in Qazwin, Daylam and Tabriz, where they came to know the fall of Alamut by the Mongols in 1256. They seem to have generalized an image in mind that the Alamut’s fall would have taken place in the time of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, and this story continued to prevail for many years in Qazwin, Rudhbar and Tabriz, making Imam Alauddin Muhammad as the last ruler of Alamut.

Marco Polo (1254-1324) passed by these regions in 1272, and heard these fantastic stories from these orbits, which he noted in his diary as follows, “I will tell you his story just as I Messer Marco, have heard it told by many people…The Shaikh was called in their language Alaodin…So they were taken, and the Shaikh, Alaodin, was put to death with all his men.” (vide, The Travels of Marco Polo (London, 1958, pp.40-42) by Ronald Latham. 

When the people conclusively identified Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah as the last ruler of Alamut, most probably after 1272, one other tradition seems to have originated to distinguish these two characters. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was deleted from that story from being the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, but Shams Tabriz was made known as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad instead. Being influenced with this tradition, Daulatshah (d. 1494) was the first to show Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, in his Tazkertu’sh Shu’ara.

A question then arises, who was Shams Tabriz?  He indeed was an Ismaili, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but not the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. As to the early life of Shams Tabriz, we are yet in dark. Shamsuddin Aflaki (1310-1354) in Manaqibu’l Arifin and Abdur Rahman Jami (d. 1493) in Nafhatu’l Uns concur that Shams Tabriz was the son of a certain Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad. Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872) in his Majmau’l Fusaha also relied on Aflaki and Jami. According to Silsilatu’ad-Dhahab, it is wrong to allege Shams Tabriz to have been the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. It was only Daulatshah, who made him the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad.

Prof. Muhammad Iqbal of Punjab University, who prepared the Lahore edition of Daulatshah’s work, makes his remarks that: “It is evident that Daulatshah has not written historical facts carefully in his book. He has accepted all sorts of traditions, right or wrong, owing to which several errors have crept into his work.” The British orientalist Edward G. Browne writes in A Literary History of Persia (3:436) that “This is an entertaining but inaccurate work, containing a good selection of historical errors.” 

It is also curious that Daulatshah quoted another tradition of parentage of Shams Tabriz that, “Some people say that he was originally a native of Khorasan and belonged to the town of Bazar. His father had settled in Tabriz for the purpose of doing business in cloth.” It is probable that Shams Tabriz was the son of Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad according to Aflaki and Jami, and he seems to be a native of Khorasan as per another tradition cited by Daulatshah.

Nurullah Shustari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (6:291) states that Shams Tabriz descended from “Ismaili headman” (da’iyani Ismailiyya budand). His father had settled in Tabriz, and was a cloth merchant. Shams Tabriz was indeed an Ismaili like his father. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah delivered a historical speech on 20th July, 1945 at Dar es Salam during the Ismaili Mission Conference in which he said, “Jalaluddin Rumi himself was not an Ismaili, but a murid (disciple) of an Ismaili (Shams Tabriz)”. It clearly means that Shams Tabriz was the master of Jalaluddin Rumi.

There is also a reason to believe that Jalaluddin Rumi must have known both Shams Tabriz and Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, but did not describe that palpably in his Diwan. He however addresses Shams as the heir of the Prophet (verse no. 2473) and compares him to Ali (verse no. 1944), which seems to have been referred only to the Imam. 

Rumi has repeatedly said in his Mathnawi and Diwan that it was not him but Shams talking through him. That is why he did not use his name in any of the verses out of more than 50,000 verses that he left behind. Rumi ends most of his poems with the name of Shams of Tabriz.

Finally, I may humbly note that the above write-up is not conclusive; it still needs further research.

Date posted: September 23, 2020.
Last updated: September 25, 2020 (typo, wrong birthdate was given for Shams Tabriz).

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Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

About the author: Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali is a prolific writer based in Pakistan. He majored in Islamic history with a Masters degree. Over the past several decades, he has contributed numerous articles to Ismaili literary journals, and is also the author of several books including 101-Ismailis Heroes, Encyclopaedia of Ismailism, and Ismaili Pirs,  Sayeds, Vakils of South Asian Region. Most recently his Brief History of Ismaili Imams was serialized on the website Ismaili Digest. Within Ismaili institutions, he has served as a religious education teacher at the Karachi Religious Centre in Kharadar as well as an Honorary Lecturer/Waezeen with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for Pakistan. In addition, he is a curator of Hashoo Museum in Karachi which is dedicated to memorabilia from recent Ismaili history. For his long and devoted services to the Ismaili community, he has been bestowed with the titles of Huzur Mukhi (1986), Alijah (1996) and Rai (2010) by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

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Pir Shams Mausoleum

Exclusive Photo Essay @Simergphotos: The Mausoleum of Pir Shams

A few years ago, Malik Mirza contributed a great piece on the mausoleums of Pir Sadardin and his son Pir Hasan Kabirdin, who are among the architects of Ismaili Dawa in the Indian sub-continent through the wonderful tradition and teachings of Ginans. Mirza’s wish to visit the mausoleum of Pir Shams, father of Pir Sadardin, was fulfilled recently, and he has contributed a fantastic and informative photo essay on the mausoleum. Click on EXCLUSIVE PHOTO ESSAY: THE MAUSOLEUM OF PIR SHAMS or image below to read the essay.

Depictions of Pir Shams at his mausoleum in Multan ,Pakistan
Depictions of Pir Shams in posters and cards sold at his mausoleum in Multan. Pakistan.

Date posted: August 29, 2020.

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