Surrender and Realization: Imam Ali on the conditions for true religious understanding

Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail
Calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail to commemorate the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali on February 3, 2023 (13th Rajab)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Like all Shia Muslims across the world, the Shia Imami Ismailis will be observing with deep reverence the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him) on or around Friday February 3, 2023 (13th day of Rajab — the 7th month in the Muslim calendar.) This insightful essay by Professor James W. Morris was first published on this website in 2010, with his permission. We now present it in a greatly improved format with larger fonts and better spacing. The piece is Copyright © James W. Morris.]

By JAMES WINSTON MORRIS

“Do not seek to know the Truth (al-Haqq) according to other people. Rather first come to know the Truth — and only then will you recognize Its people.” — Imam ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib [1]

One of the most striking characteristics about those surviving oral traditions that have come down to us from the earliest periods of each of the world-religions — as with the Gospels, the earliest Buddhist teachings, or the Prophetic hadith — is the distinctive directness, simplicity, and extreme concision of those original oral teachings. It is as though everything else that follows is only a kind of endlessly extended commentary on those few simple words. Certainly this is true of many of the surviving sayings attributed to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40/660) — including the short, but highly memorable passage that is the subject of this study, which has inspired repeated commentaries and elaborate theological and even dramatic interpretations down through the centuries. [2]

The wider significance of this particular passage is that it illustrates so perfectly Ali’s emblematic role as the fountainhead of virtually all the esoteric traditions of Islamic spirituality, both among the many branches of Shiite Islam (which revere him as their first Imam) and throughout the even more numerous Sufi paths, where his name is almost always included as the initial transmitter of the Prophetic baraka in each order’s chain of transmission. That central initiatic role is beautifully summarized in the famous Prophetic saying:

‘I am the City of (divine) knowing, and Ali is its doorway.’ 

And perhaps the most important literary vehicle in the wider transmission of Ali’s teachings, since it has been equally revered by both Sunni and Shiite audiences down to our own time, is the Nahj al-Balāgha (‘Pathway of Eloquence’), a wide-ranging collection of various sermons, letters, and wise sayings attributed to Ali, that was assembled several centuries later by the famous scholar and poet al-Sharíf al-Rādí (d. 406/1016). [3]

The famous saying of Ali placed as the epigraph for this study, with which al-Ghazālí begins his own spiritual autobiography, highlights the indispensable — if somewhat paradoxical — starting point for any well-grounded discussion of religious and spiritual understanding. For all problems of inter-religious understanding — and perhaps even more important, of that initial ‘intra-religious’ understanding on which all further dialogue depends — necessarily come back to this fundamental question: What is the ultimate divine Reality (al-Haqq), and how we can come to know and properly conform to what It requires of us (‘the Right’, which in Arabic is also an inseparable dimension of the divine Haqq)? Almost all the extensive sermons and teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha are devoted to one or another of the equally essential dimensions of this question — to that ongoing interaction between our purified actions and intentions (‘amal), and our maturing spiritual understanding (‘ilm), which together constitute each person’s uniquely individual, spiralling process of spiritual realization (tahqíq).

Now one of the most important keys to approaching this primordial question in the Nahj al-Balāgha is the famous passage (translated in full in the Appendix at the end of this study) describing Ali’s intimate advice to one of his closest companions and disciples, Kumayl ibn Ziyād al-Nakhā’ī. [4] The difficulty and intrinsic dangers of that unique lesson are emphasized already in its dramatic setting.  Kumayl, who recounts the story, stresses the great pains Ali takes to assure his privacy and solitude, leading his disciple out to the cemetery beyond the city wall of Kufa: that is, to the symbolic home of those who — like those rare true Knowers of God described in the rest of Ali’s saying — are spiritually already at once ‘alone with God’ and ‘dead to this world.’ In addition, the wider historical setting at that particular moment in time — so full of religious intrigues, claims, betrayals, and prolonged bloody civil wars among the triumphant Arabs — only highlights the profound wealth of concrete earthly experience which underlies the Imam’s conclusions and intimate teachings summarized in this saying.

No other text of the Nahj al-Balāgha is so pointedly set in the same kind of strictest privacy and intimacy. As a result, this famous testament to Kumayl constitutes the indispensable link between the more public, relatively exoteric teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha and the wealth of more intimate, often esoteric spiritual teachings of  Ali that were eventually preserved — at first orally, and eventually often in writing — in both Shiite and Sufi Islamic traditions.

The contents of  Ali’s lesson to Kumayl are all presented as a clarification of his opening statement that:

There are three sorts of people (with regard to Religion, al-Dīn). A divinely inspired Knower (‘ālim rabbānī); the person who is seeking (that true spiritual) Knowing (muta‘allim) along the path of salvation; and the riffraff and rabble, the followers of every screaming voice, those who bend with every wind, who have not sought to be illuminated by the Light of (divine) Knowing and who have not had recourse to a solid support.

In the remainder of his lesson, Imam Ali goes on to explain some of the basic conditions for these three radically different levels of (and potentials for) true religious understanding. Each of his points here — as throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha — is of course profoundly rooted in the central teachings of the Qur’an. However here we can only summarize his most essential observations in the simplest possible terms.

First, and most importantly, it is human Hearts (the Qur’anic qalb al-insān) that are the locus of true spiritual ‘Knowing’ (‘ilm) and of our awareness of God and Truth: that is, it is not simply our mind or intellect or passion. Hence the decisive practical importance, throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha, of Ali’s constant stress on the purification of our hearts, through inner surrender to the divine Will (taslīm), as the underlying spiritual purpose of the many divine commandments. Divine, inspired ‘Knowing,’ however it is outwardly acquired, can only be perceived as such by the Heart that has been ‘polished,’ emptied of this world’s distractions and attachments, and thereby opened up to the full significance and reality of the divine Word — and to the further rights and obligations (another dimension of the Arabic al-Haqq) flowing from that opening.

Second, the practically indispensable key to this human potential for religious Knowing is the real existence and efforts of a limited number of divinely guided individuals — again, not of particular books, rituals, doctrines or worldly institutions, none of which are even mentioned in this intimate, highly personal lesson.  Ali refers here to those very special human doorways to true religious understanding by several profoundly significant Qur’anic expressions: the ‘divine Knowers’; the ‘Friends of God’ (awliyā’ Allāh); God’s ‘Proofs’ or ‘Clear Signs’ on Earth (hujja, bayyina); God’s ‘True Servants’ (‘ibād Allāh); and finally as God’s true earthly ‘stand-ins’ or ‘Stewards’ (khalīfat Allāh).

The Imam tells us several other very important things in his description of these true ‘Friends of God:’

  • They are always present on earth, ‘whether openly or in secret.’ [5]
  • They are directly inspired by the divine ‘Spirit of Certainty’ (rūh al-yaqīn).
  • Therefore they pre-eminently possess true spiritual Insight (haqīqat al-basīra) into the deeper spiritual realities underlying earthly events and experiences, into the actual meanings of the infinite divine ‘Signs’ constituting our existence.
  • Their spiritual task and mission on earth is to pass on this divine Knowing to those properly qualified souls who are truly ready for and receptive to their divinely inspired teachings.

In contrast to these particular points of Alī’s teaching here, it is surely essential to recall all those manifold dimensions of what we ordinarily, unthinkingly call or presume to be ‘religion’ which in fact are not central to the particular divine mission of these inspired individuals as it is described in this lesson.

Third, Ali describes the divine ‘Knowing’ that can be conveyed uniquely by these specially missioned individuals as having the following qualities:

  • It is the ‘Dīn (true Religion/true Justice) by which God is truly worshipped and served.’
  • It is the indispensable key to realising what the Qur’an constantly describes as our ultimate human purpose: i.e., to transforming the mortal biped or ‘human-animal’ (bashar) into the theomorphic, truly human being (insān), who alone can freely follow and truly obey God (the inner state of itā‘a), eventually becoming a pure manifestation of the divine Will.
  • Their divinely inspired Knowing is the true ‘Judge’ or Criterion for rightly perceiving and employing all the illusory possessions (māl) of this world .

Fourth, the ‘true Seekers’ (muta‘allimūn) of that divine Knowing have at least the following basic pre-requisites, each of which distinguishes them from the large majority of ordinary souls (al-nās). One might therefore say that each of these following five points mentioned by Ali here is in itself an essential pre-condition for acquiring true religious understanding:

  • Those true religious Seekers have a rare natural spiritual capacity to recognize, absorb, and actualize the inspired teachings of the Friends of God.
  • They know that they need the indispensable guidance of God’s Friends (the awliyā’), and therefore actively seek it out.  That is to say, they actually realize that they are spiritually ‘ignorant’ and needy.
  • They are willing and able to submit to the guidance of those divine Knowers and Bearers of Truth, especially with regard to acknowledging the true, ultimate aims of this inspired spiritual Knowing.  In other words, they have the indispensable humility to recognize their inner ignorance and to overcome the central spiritual obstacle of pride.
  • They have the practical insight and active spiritual perspicacity (basīra) to ‘see though’ the ongoing divine ‘private lessons’, the most essential divine ‘Signs’ (āyāt) of each soul’s life.  (This particular point is one that  Ali especially stresses throughout all the sermons and teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha.)
  • They are not secretly governed by their desires for power and domination, qualities which  Ali stresses (along with pride) as the particular psychic passions most likely to trip up the otherwise apt potential spiritual seekers of this group.

Finally, the rest of humanity are clearly — indeed even vehemently — said to lack, for the time being, the above-mentioned prerequisites for realized spiritual learning and illumination, because of the current domination of their hearts by their psychic passions of the nafs: for power, pleasure, possessions, and the attractions ‘this lower world’ (al-dunyā) in general. In this particular context,  Ali does not openly clarify whether or not ‘purification’ of our hearts from such worldly passions is in itself the only obstacle to deeper spiritual and religious realization, or whether some individuals are simply born with dramatically greater, relatively unique spiritual capacities and potential. However, his recurrent and insistent practical stress on the ethically purifying dimensions of Islamic ritual and devotional practice throughout much of the rest of the Nahj al-Balāgha is a strong indication that revealed prescriptions for religious teaching and practice can and should be understood as well as an indispensable preparatory discipline that can be used to move at least some individuals toward the receptive inner state of these true ‘seekers.’

Now the practical consequences of all of  Ali’s observations briefly enumerated here are quite visible in the particular structure and emphases of almost all his longer sermons and discourses throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha. To put it in the simplest possible form, each longer text in that work typically stresses the dual religious dimensions of both taslīm (‘surrender’) and tahqīq (‘realization’). [6] That is, almost all of Imam Ali’s teachings are directed at the same time toward both (1) the essential purification of our own will — i.e., the discovery and gradual distillation of the true human/divine irāda from the endless promptings of our domineering ego-self or nafs — through true inner conformity and surrender (taslīm) to the authentic divine commandments; and (2) the subsequent stage of more active ‘realization’ (tahqīq) of the divinely inspired teachings that can only come about when an individual has developed enough humility and inner awareness of their spiritual ignorance to recognize their unavoidable need for a divine Guide and Knower, along with the many other essential qualities of the ‘seeker on the path of salvation’ that have just been summarized above.  From this perspective, all of the Nahj al-Balāgha constitutes an extended, lifelong example of the sort of essential spiritual teaching and guidance (ta‘līm) alluded to here in Ali’s private advice to his close disciple.

In conclusion, we cannot help but notice that Ali’s remarks to Kumayl ibn Ziyād here provide a radical contrast to many prevailing modern-day assumptions about ‘religious understanding’ and religious teaching, whether our focus happens to be on ‘inter-’ or ‘intra-’religious concerns. Here I can mention only a few of the most salient points of contrast between popular contemporary conceptions of inter-religious understanding and Ali’s own teachings on this subject, without entering into a more detailed discussion of the deeper philosophic underpinnings and presuppositions on either side.

To begin with, the primary focus of most modern attempts at inter-religious understanding is either intellectual and theological, where formal doctrines and religious symbols are concerned; or else on ‘social ethics,’ where certain historically accumulated external practical precepts and rituals of two religious traditions are being compared. In either case, the particular comparison (or ‘understanding’) of the religious traditions concerned is typically carried out in an external, reductive social, historical or political way that supposedly reveals the ‘real,’ common meanings and functions of the religious phenomena in question. In this widespread approach, the aims of those particular practical or theological dimensions of a given religion are usually reduced, explicitly or implicitly, to a given, presumably familiar and universally accessible set of historical, this-worldly (dunyawī) social, political, or even psychic ends.

What is key in each such case, of course, is the reductive, socio-political emphasis and assumptions shared by virtually all such modern approaches. Now no rational observer would deny that every historical religion does indeed ‘function’ in such ways in this world — in ways that are in fact so poignantly illustrated by the endless ‘religious’ polemics, strife, and open civil warfare of early Islamic history during Ali’s own lifetime, seminal events that are recorded in such thorough detail throughout the Nahj al-Balāgha. But modern writers unfortunately too often tend to ignore the equally obvious limits of such reductive forms of interpretation and understanding: what is it, one might ask all the same, that also differentiates, for example, a genuine Sufi tarīqa from a social club, real spiritual guidance from psychotherapy, or transformative spiritual music (dhikr and samā‘ in their primordial sense) from any other concert performance?

In dramatic contrast to such popular contemporary approaches to ‘religious understanding’, Ali’s remarks in this passage focus on radically different, spiritually distinctive and difficultly attainable — but nonetheless fundamental — aspects of religious life and understanding, whatever the particular historical traditions in question:

First, for Ali, true inter-religious understanding — at any of the three levels he distinguishes here — is always between individuals, growing out of each soul’s individual encounter with the ‘other’ and their common spiritual reality and relationship with al-Haqq (God, Reality, and Truth). From this perspective, therefore, true religious understanding is always the ultimate fruit of a sort of ‘tri-alogue’ — not a worldly dialogue — in which both the human parties, the Knower and the properly prepared disciple, share and gradually discover their common divine Ground of reality and true being.

Secondly, the possibilities of religious understanding (again whether inter- or intra-religious) are essentially limited above all by the intrinsic barrier of the specific spiritual capacities, shortcomings and level of realization of each individual. As in the familiar imagery of so many hadith and later Islamic writings, souls here are indeed revealed as mirrors, who can only see in the ‘other’ — whether that be a religious phenomenon or anything else — their own reflection.  Therefore the basharic ‘rabble’ of whom  Ali speaks so painfully here — whatever their particular religion or historical situation — are necessarily and unavoidably in the position so aptly described in Rumi’s famous tale of the blind men and the elephant.

Thirdly, for Ali, even the first beginnings of our approach to a true, immediate awareness of God and the divine Religion (dīn) are necessarily grounded above all in humility, in an awareness of one’s own essential spiritual ignorance and limitations — and therefore not in the acquisition of some further external form of knowledge, ritual, or belief. In other words, the greatest, primordial obstacle to any serious religious understanding — as Socrates and so many other inspired teachers have repeatedly reminded us down through the ages — is our own ‘compound ignorance’ (jahl murakkab), our own illusion that we truly ‘know’ so much that we in fact only believe or imagine.

Finally, if  Ali teaches us — as this story itself so dramatically illustrates — that the keys to the deepest and most profound forms of religious understanding are to be found in seeking out God’s true ‘Knowers’ and Guides and our own intimate spiritual relation to them, then the corresponding area of human religious life and experience most likely to lead to genuine inter-religious understanding is that of our particular individual devotional life and prayer, of each soul’s unique, ongoing inner relationship with its Guide and source of Light, in what has traditionally been termed ‘practical spirituality’ (‘irfān-i ‘amalī). Not surprisingly, this domain of our personal spiritual experience and practice, where God is so obviously and unavoidably the ultimate ‘Actor’ and Creator, in reality exhibits an extraordinary phenomenological similarity across all external historical and credal boundaries and socio-political divisions….

These brief reflections on some of the central teachings of the Nahj al-Balāgha cannot help but remind us of one of the most remarkable Qur’anic verses on the subject of humankind’s recurrent religious misunderstandings and their ultimate resolution in and by the Truly Real (al-Haqq). Not surprisingly, this verse also serves well as a remarkable symbolic allusion to the strife-torn historical events and conflicts among the early Muslims, those critical, paradigmatic ‘tests’ (fitan) that are so vividly illustrated and evoked throughout the remainder of the Nahj al-Balāgha — and which continue to recur, with such poignancy, in our own and every age.

The verse in question (al-Baqara, 2:213) begins with the reminder that ‘all people were one religious community,’ but then:

God sent prophets bearing good news and warning, and He revealed through them the Scripture with Truth (Haqq), so that He might judge among the people concerning that about which they differed. And only those differed concerning It to whom (the Scripture) was brought, after the Clear Proofs came to them, out of strife and rebellion among themselves. But then God guided those who had faith to the Truth about which they had differed, through His permission. For God guides whoever He wishes to a Straight Path!

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Appendix: Ali’s Speech to Kumayl ibn Ziyād al-Nakhā’ī [7]

Kumayl ibn Ziyād said: The Commander of the Faithful — Peace be upon him! — took my hand and brought me out to the cemetery (beyond the city walls).  So when he had entered the desert he let out a great sigh, and then he said:

O Kumayl ibn Ziyād, these Hearts are containers: the best of them is the one that holds the most. So remember well what I am going to say to you!

The people are (divided into) three groups: a lordly (divinely inspired) Knower [8]; one seeking Knowing along the path of salvation; and the riffraff and rabble, the followers of every screaming voice, those who bend with every wind, who have not sought to be illuminated by the Light of Knowing and who have not had recourse to a solid Support.

O Kumayl, Knowing is better than possessions: Knowing protects you, but you must guard possessions.  Possessions are diminished as they’re spent, but Knowing multiplies (or ‘purifies’) as it is shared. But whoever makes the possessions disappears as they do!

O Kumayl ibn Ziyād, the awareness/recognition (ma‘rifa) of Knowing is a Religion (dīn) by which (God) is worshipped and served: through it the truly human being (insān) acquires willing obedience (to God) during their life (here), and a beautiful, wonderful state after their passing away. For Knowing is the Judge, and possessions are what is adjudged!

O Kumayl, those who accumulate possessions have perished, even while they are still alive.  But the Knowers endure for all eternity: their particular-instances [9] are lost, but their likenesses are found in the Hearts. O what Knowledge abounding there is right here! — and he pointed with his hand to his breast [10] — if only I could reach those who are its (rightful) bearers.

True, I’ve reached a quick-learner who couldn’t be trusted with It, who would seek to use the instrument of Religion for this world — who would try to use God’s blessings to dominate His (true) servants and His proofs to overcome His Friends. [11] Or someone submissive to the bearers of the divine Truth (al-Haqq), but without any true Insight (basīra) into Its twists and curves, whose Heart is consumed by doubt at the first onset of some difficulty.  But alas, neither this one nor that (can truly bear the Truth)! Or someone greedy for pleasures, easily led by their passions? Or someone engrossed in acquiring and accumulating (worldly possessions)? Those two are not among the guardians [12] of Religion in any respect — the closest semblance to that sort are the grazing cattle! Thus Knowing dies with the death of those who bear it.

Yet indeed, O my God, the world is never without one upholding the Evidence [13] for God, either outwardly and known to all, or secretly and in obscurity, [14] so that God’s Evidences and His illuminating-manifestations may not come to nought. But how many are these, and where are they!?

By God, these (true Knowers) are the fewest in number, but the greatest of all in their rank with God!  Through them God preserves His Evidences and His Illuminating-manifestations, so that these (Knowers) may entrust them to their (true) peers and sow them in the Hearts of those like them. Through (those Knowers) Knowing penetrates to the inner reality of true Insight (haqīqat al-basīra). They are in touch with the Spirit of Certainty (rūh al-yaqīn). They make clear what the lovers of comfort had obscured. They are at home with what distresses the ignorant. And their bodies keep company with this world, while their spirits are connected to the Loftiest Station.

Those are the ones who are (truly) God’s Stewards [15] on the earth, who are calling (the people) to His Religion. Oh, how I long to see them! Go on now, Kumayl, if you want.


[1] A well-known saying commonly attributed to Imam ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib, quoted here as it is cited by al-Ghazālī at the beginning of his famous spiritual autobiography, the Munqidh min al-Dalāl.

[2] Many of these same points were later developed by the famous religious author Ghazālí (Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī) in the influential closing section of his Mīzān al-‘Amal (‘The Scale of [Right] Action’). Already a century before the actual collection of Nahj al-Balāgha, this same story of Ali and Kumayl provided the architectonic framework for a highly creative dramatic reworking of these spiritual lessons in Ja‘far ibn Mansūr’s Kitāb al-‘Alim wa’l-ghulām (see our translation and Arabic edition, The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue, London, I. B. Tauris, 2001).

[3] To give some idea of the ongoing popular importance and relative familiarity of that text even today, one finds beautifully calligraphed Arabic proverbs and epigrams drawn from the Nahj al-Balāgha on the walls of homes in every part of the Muslim world, framed for sale in suqs and bazaars, and even being sold as postcards. Even more tellingly, the owners (or sellers) of that calligraphy will often explain that this or that saying is simply ‘a hadith’.

[4] Saying number 147 in the final section of short maxims, corresponding to pages 600-601 in the complete English translation by Sayed Ali Reza (Peak of Eloquence, NY, 1978). (Details on the Arabic text in the Appendix below.)

[5] It is perhaps important to note that this last qualification (sirran, ‘secretly’) can be understood to refer not simply to the outward modesty and relative social and historical ‘invisibility’ of the vast majority of the true ‘Friends of God’ — a point also strongly emphasised in the famous Prophetic hadith about the qualities of the walí — but also to their ongoing spiritual presence, actions and effects, even more visible and widespread long after their bodily sojourn on earth, which is of course central to the manifest spiritual role of the prophets and ‘Friends’ (awliyā’ Allâh) throughout every authentic religious tradition.

[6] See the more adequate discussion of this key polyvalent term in our Introduction to Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilisation (London, Archetype, 2004).

[7] This particular well-known passage from Nahj al-Balāgha, the famous later compilation (by al-Sharīf al-Rādī, 359/970-406/1016) of the many letters, teachings, sermons and proverbs attributed to Alī ibn Abī Tālib, is also included in almost identical form in a number of earlier extant Shiite works, in both the Imami and the Ismaili traditions. The text translated here is from a popular Beirut edition of Nahj al-Balāgha (Dār al-Andalus, 1980), pp. 593-595, numbered 147 in the long later section of ‘Wise Sayings’ (hikam). The setting of this particular lesson is apparently outside the new Arab settlement of Kufa (on the edge of the desert in southern Iraq), during one of the drawn-out, bloody civil wars that divided the nascent Muslim community throughout the period of Ali’s official Imamate.

[8] ‘Alim rabbānī: ‘Knower’ here is used in the strong and inclusive Qur’anic sense, to refer to profound, God-given spiritual Knowing (‘ilm). The qualifier recalls the Qur’anic term rabbānīyūn and apparently is related both to the Arabic root referring to God as ‘Lord’ (rabb, hence ‘divine’ or ‘god-like’), and to another Arabic root referring to spiritual teaching and education in the very broadest sense (r-b-y). The latter meaning is emphasized at Qur’ān 3:79, which probably underlies the special usage here: …Be rabbānīyūn through your teaching the Book and through your studying (It).

[9] A‘yān (pl. of ‘ayn): that is, their individual, temporal earthly manifestation, as opposed to their ‘images’ or ‘likenesses’ (amthāl, or ‘symbols’) in the Hearts of other human individuals after them. Here we can see how Alí’s perspective parallels — and at the same time embodies — the Qur’anic understanding of the relationship between the archetypal divine ‘Names’ (which ultimately constitute this Knowing) and their infinitely re-created individual manifestations.

[10] Here, as in the Qur’an, the term ‘breast’ or ‘chest’ (sadr) is virtually synonymous with the ‘Heart’ (qalb) as the locus of all true perception, selfhood, etc.

[11] Awliyā Allāh: see the Qur’anic use of this key term (10:62).

[12] Or ‘shepherds’, ‘pastors’: ru‘āt.

[13] Or ‘Proof’ (al-Hujja) — but in the sense of the indisputable living human Manifestation, not any sort of logical or rhetorical ‘argument’; this is another central Qur’anic concept (4:165, 6:149) frequently alluded to in other teachings of Imam Ali in the Nahj al-Balāgha. The Qur’anic expression bayyināt (‘Illuminating-manifestations’) used several times in the immediately following passage seems to refer to the same key spiritual figures in this context.

[14] Literally, ‘in fear’ (used in the Qur’an, for example, of the young Moses fleeing Egypt for Midian) and ‘submerged’ (by the power of earthly tyranny).

[15] This famous Qur’anic phrase (khalīfat Allāh) is variously applied to prophets (Adam, at 2:30; David, at 38:27) and to ‘you-all’ (= all of humanity), at 6:165, 10:14 and 73; 35:39; 27:62; etc.  Within a short time after the death of the Prophet — and certainly by the time of this story — it had taken on a highly charged and disputed political significance in the long and violent decades of protracted civil wars over the worldly leadership of the nascent Arab-Muslim political community.

Date posted: January 30, 2023.

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James Morris, Islamic Studies Professor, Institute of Ismaili Studies, essay on Imam Ali, Simerg

About the writer: Dr. James Morris is Professor of Islamic Studies at Boston University’s Theology department and Islamic Civilization and Societies program. Prior to that he held the Sharjah Chair of Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. He has also taught at Princeton University, Oberlin College, Temple University, and the Institute of Ismaili Studies in Paris and London. He has served as visiting professor at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (Paris), University of Malaya, and University of Sarajevo, and he lectures and gives workshops widely throughout Europe and the Muslim world. Professor Morris serves on numerous international editorial, consulting, and examining boards in his fields. Professor Morris‘ interests in Islamic thought and religious studies date from his BA work at the University of Chicago. After further studies in Morocco, Egypt and France, he completed his PhD work at Harvard University and did advanced research at the Academy of Islamic Philosophy in Tehran.

Professor Morris is a prolific author, having written dozens of journal articles along with thirteen books, including most recently, The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn Arabī’s Meccan Illuminations’; Orientations: Islamic Thought in a World Civilization; and The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue. He has often interviewed on current issues for the BBC and international journals and newspapers dealing with the Middle East. 

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Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail
Calligraphy by Toronto’s Karim Ismail to on the birth anniversary of Hazrat Ali. Please click on image for reading.

Photo of the Day: The Birthplace of Jesus, and the Depiction of Jesus in Islam including His Immaculate Conception

Why Do Muslims Revere Jesus?

His name is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an twenty-five times, often in the form ‘Isa ibn Maryam, meaning “Jesus, son of Mary.” In the Qur’an, he is referred to by the unique title of “Messiah” (al-masih in Arabic), meaning “anointed one.” Descriptions of Jesus in the Qur’an include many aspects of the narrative found in the Gospels about the life of Jesus, including his virgin birth, the signs given to him by God, that he was raised by God into His presence, and it also suggests his future return. Jesus is also referred to in the Qur’an as the “Word” and the “Spirit” of God, a special honour. READ MORE

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Photo of the Day: Birthplace

Click on photo for enlargement

Photo of the Day: The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star marking the spot where tradition says the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal.

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Muslims Articulate the Immaculate Conception of Jesus in the Presence of a Christian Emperor

To read Barnaby Rogerson’s article, please click HERE or on image below

Left: Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree in a Turkish miniature, as described in the Qur'an; right: Mary and Jesus in a Persian miniature. Please click on image for Michael Wolfe's article "Jesus Through a Muslim Lens." Images: Wikipedia.
Left: Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree in a Turkish miniature, as described in the Qur’an; right: Mary and Jesus in a Persian miniature. Please click on image for Barnaby Rogerson’s article. Images: Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Date posted: December 25, 2022.

Featured photo at top of post: Festive season decorations at CrossIron Mills, Calgary, December 24, 2022. Photograph: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

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

Before departing this website, please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and SimergphotosThe editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

The Mawlid of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.)

Muslim Festivals Simerg
The twelve months of the Muslim calendar and major Muslim festivals. Image: Simerg.

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 2022, the Mawlid will be commemorated by Muslims around the world on October 7/8.

The following quotations of Prophet Muhammad are taken from Michael Wolfe’s excellent article How a Muslim Sees Muhammad. He notes that these statements are full of wisdom and 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, which are then followed with a song on the Prophet by the Late Izzat Muneyb.

“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.”

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IN PRAISE OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD
(May Peace Be Upon Him)

By IZZAT MUNEYB
(d. May 20, 2017)

Author’s note: This song introduces us to some of the titles by which Prophet Muhammad came to be known. They are: ‘Ahmad’, ‘Mustafa’, ‘Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen and ‘King of law laak’. The words ‘law laak’ in Arabic mean, “Were it not for…” There is a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, where Allah speaking to His prophet, says, “Were it not for you, I would not have created the universe – law laaka lamaa khalaqtu’l-aflaaka.” [1]

N.B: The lines marked * are sung twice.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Ahmad?*
He who is praised in heaven
Shall be praised here on earth.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Mustafa?*
The Chosen of God on earth,
You have brought us the Qur’an.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you Rahmatan li’l-‘aalameen?*
God sent you as a Mercy
To the whole of creation.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Shall we call you the ‘King of law laak’?*
Even God says He created
The universe for you.

Muhammad, Muhammad,
How shall we praise you, Muhammad?*

Date posted: October 7, 2022.

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[1] Source: Sukheel Sharif, The Jawziyyah Institute, 2006.

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Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to almost 2000 pieces published since the website was created in 2009. Also visit Simerg’s two sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. Barakah’s editor may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.

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Two Must-Watch Short Videos: Why is Ghadir Khumm in Arabia Important; and Why Do Ismailis Address their Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Khudavind

[This post includes material from The.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili community – Ed. ]

Map and Video: Ghadir Khumm

According to Shia belief, by declaring Hazrat Ali as Mawla after him at Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) transferred his own spiritual authority bestowed upon him by Allah to Hazrat Ali, making him — and all the Imams that follow — the Amirul Mu’minin, or Master of the Believers. Please see map for location of Ghadir Khumm and watch the short video on the importance of Ghadir Khumm.

Click on map for enlargement

Saudi Arabia Map with location of Ghadir Khumm where the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor
Political map of Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. The approximate location of Ghadir Khumm near the modern day town of Ragibh (known in the past as Al-Juhfah) has been highlighted in red. Driving distances: Mecca to Ghadir Khumm (location where Prophet Muhammad appointed Hazrat Ali as his successor) appx. 208 Kms; and distance from Ghadir Khumm to Medina, appx. 300 kms. Credit: Map adapted by Simerg from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas Libraries.

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Video: Khudavind

The Persian word khudavind or khudawand means, “a king, prince, lord, master; or man of great authority.” Many Persian and Central Asian empires used this term throughout history to refer to people of high standing, including, at times, the sultan (ruler), wazir, government officials, and patrons. The Ismaili Imams lived in Persia (modern-day Iran) from the 12th to the 19th centuries. During this period, the community adopted the term khudawand to refer to the Imam. Its meaning is similar to the Arabic term mawla, which also means “master” or “lord.” (for more see the.Ismaili).

Date posted: July 18, 2022.

Related:

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

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

Description and Photographs of the Magnificent 17th Century Standard Presented to the Aga Khan: The ‘Alam is Symbolic of the Foundational Principles of the Shia Ismaili Muslim Faith

By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos

In the space of seven days, Ismaili Muslims around the world have come together in their respective Jamatkhana prayer and social halls as well as outdoors to celebrate three historic festivals and events. Last Saturday, Ismailis joined other Muslim communities in Canada and around the world to celebrate Eid al-Adha, to commemorate the historic event thousands of years ago when Prophet Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail, to test his faith and loyalty to God. In Calgary, the Ismailis hosted the wider Canadian community to a Stampede/Eid al-Adha breakfast at its Headquarters Jamatkhana.

Then, on Monday July 11, Ismailis celebrated the 65th anniversary of the spiritual leadership (Imamat) of their 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully and lovingly addressed by the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam (our lord, present/living Imam). Indeed, the appellation of “Hazar Imam” is so appropriate, because the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family). On behalf of the world wide Ismaili community, the Ismaili leadership presented a beautiful ‘Alam to their Imam in Lisbon.

The Prophet Muhammad's proclamation Man kuntu mawlahu fa aliyyun mawlahu (He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla) in square Kufi. Design by Karim Ismaili, Toronto.
The Prophet Muhammad’s proclamation “Man kuntu mawlahu fa aliyyun mawlahu” (He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla) in square Kufi. Design by Karim Ismail, Toronto.

Coincidentally, this week, and specifically on Saturday July 16th, marks the historic day when the Prophet designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. Hazrat Ali became the first Imam, and the continuity of the Imamat is reflected in the present manifest Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The historic event is known as Eid e-Ghadir, when the Prophet proclaimed “Man kuntu mawlahu fa aliyyun mawlahu” meaning: “He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla.” The Prophet then prayed: “O Allah, be a friend of whoever is his friend and extend your support to those who support him.” A very famous tradition of the Prophet says:

“I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement.” (Muslim, Vol. II, pg. 279).

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The ‘Alam Presented to His Highness the Aga Khan on His 65th Anniversary of Imamat

Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Steel Processional Standard (‘Alam) on stand presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on the occasion of his 65th anniversary of accession to the Imamat of the Ismaili Muslims. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.

The steel processional standard (‘Alam) presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam by the Ismaili leadership on behalf of the worldwide Ismaili Muslims on the 65th anniversary of his Imamat comprises a central drop-shaped panel decorated with a calligraphic inscription in elegant thuluth on a scrolling vine background. The inscription reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali”, with the hijri date 1061 (equivalent to 1651 of the Common Era) inscribed below. A smaller cartouche at the top of the ‘Alam also reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali”. A panel at the base is inscribed with the name of the maker, Muhammad Ardabili. The inner framing and outer band has foliate patterned openwork, and each side of the standard has a dragon-headed cast steel terminal facing outwards.

Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Bespoke presentation case. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
The ‘Alam placed inside the presentation case. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Title of gift on lower part of right side of the presentation case. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.

The inscriptions on this standard — Allah, Muhammad, Ali — symbolise the foundational principles of the Shia Ismaili Muslim tariqah: the concepts of tawhidnubuwwa and imama.

Another important Shia aspect that is reflected in the inscriptions on this ‘Alam is the concept of a single, pre-eternal spiritual light, the Nur Muhammad. According to this concept, Allah created a light from His Divine Light. When the angels asked about this light, Allah answered: “This is a light out of My Light; its main part is prophethood, and its ray is the imamate. The nubuwwa is for Muhammad, My servant and messenger, and the imama is for Ali, My hujja and My wali. Were it not for them, I would not have created My creation.” [1] This notion of light is beautifully represented on the ‘Alam by the dragon heads flanking each side of the standard. For, in Islamic art, one of the primary meanings of the dragon is as a producer and a symbol of light and protection.

Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
The central drop-shaped panel decorated with a calligraphic inscription in elegant thuluth on a scrolling vine background. The inscription reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali” with the hijri date inscribed below (see detail, next photo). Photograph: © Steve Wakeham
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
The detail of the hijri date 1061 (equivalent to 1651 of the Common Era) inscribed in the ‘Alam. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
A smaller cartouche at the top of the ‘Alam also reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali”. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Detail of the top of the ‘Alam which is also inscribed with the names of Allah, Muhammad and Ali. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Each side of the ‘Alam has a dragon-headed cast steel terminal facing outwards. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.
Alam or standard presented to the Aga Khan, Imamat Day July 11 2022 Barakah and Simerg
Detail of dragon head. Photograph: © Steve Wakeham.

We also invite you to view a video of the ‘Alam on the.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community.

Date posted: July 16, 2022.

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Footnote(s):

[1] For this Hadith and the concept of Nur Muhammad, see Uri Rubin, “Pre-existence and light. Aspects of the Concept of Nur Muhammad“, Israel Oriental Studies, 5 (1975), pages 62-119, especially 112-113.

Note: A slightly different version of this post also appears on our sister blog, Barakah, which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.

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Simerg’s editor Malik can be contacted by email at mmerchant@simerg.com

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

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

Artistic Greeting Cards in Arabic Scripts for His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day Revolve Around a Phrase from the Qur’an

By KARIM ISMAIL
with MALIK MERCHANT

Simerg and its sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos, convey heartiest felicitations to Ismailis and friends of the Ismaili community in Canada and around the world on the auspicious occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 65th Imamat Day anniversary (July 11, 2022). He succeeded to the Throne of Imamat on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20 upon the death of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III, whose Imamat (spiritual leadership) of 71 years is the longest in the 1400 year history of the Shia Ismaili Muslims.

According to well-known Muslim traditions, the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) said:

“I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement.” (Muslim, Vol. II, pg. 279).

The Prophet appointed Hazrat Ali (A.S.) to be his successor as the Imam, and His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam, is the 49th Hereditary Imam in direct succession of Imams since Imam Ali.

In the Ismaili Ginan (hymn) Girbah Vali, attributed to the Ismaili missionary Pir Sadr al-Din, the Pir says:

“If the Imam did not have his feet on this earth for even a moment, then the world, moon, sun would vanish and nothing would exist, neither the heaven nor the earth.”

The notion of the cosmic necessity of an Imam, expressed by the Pir, is also found in famous traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (cited in “The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism,”  pp 125-131):

“The earth cannot be devoid of an Imam; without him, it could not last an hour” and also “If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the Imam.” 

The two calligraphies that Karim Ismail has created express another important notion of the Imam based on the Qur’anic phrase: Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (those firmly rooted in knowledge). According to the Ismaili Baitul Ilm Secondary Curriculum, Volume 1, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, the phrase, in the Shia tradition, is understood to be referring to the Imam descended from the Prophet’s family.

The first calligraphy has the Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm in Fatimid Kufi script on all the 4 sides of Karim Ismail’s artwork. The Fatimids were rulers of Egypt and North Africa in the 10th through the 12th centuries. The Fatimid Imams or Caliphs were ancestors of the current Aga Khan.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on all 4 sides of the art work. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail. Toronto.

The second calligraphy, shown below, has the same phrase on the top and bottom borders in Fatimid Kufi script, as above. The centre has the same phrase in Thuluth script. We sincerely thank Karim Ismail for conceiving these pieces of art for Imamat Day.

Calligraphy with the Qur'anic phrase Al-rasikhul fi'l-ilm (Those well grounded in knowledge); by Karim Ismail Toronto.
The Qur’anic phrase Al-rasikhun fi’l-ilm (Those firmly rooted in knowledge) on top and bottom of the art work in Fatimid Kufi script; the centre of the art work has the same phrase in Thuluth script. Calligraphy and design by Karim Ismail, Toronto.

We wish all our readers a very Happy Imamat Day, with prayers for everyone’s good health, strength in Iman (faith), family unity and the fulfillment of all our wishes. May we fulfill the aspirations that Mawlana Hazar Imam has of each one of us of staying on the path of Sirat al Mustaqim (the Straight Path), excelling in our studies and endeavours, and keeping the right balance between our material and spiritual lives.

As we celebrate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 65th Imamat Day, may we always remain under his guidance, loving care and protection. Ameen.

Date posted: July 11, 2022.

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CONTRIBUTORS

Karim Ismail portrait for Barakah
Karim Ismail

Originally from Uganda, Karim Ismail lived in England before settling in Canada. By profession, he is a Pharmacist (retired).  It was in England, in 1986, that he came across the artwork of a German Muslim, Karl Schlamminger (1935-2017), at the Ismaili Centre London. Karl’s artwork on calligraphy and geometrics, had a profound effect on Karim. He is frequently seen conducting calligraphy workshops for children at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. Karim is also active on the literature counter at the Ismaili Centre Toronto.

Malik Merchant

Malik Merchant is the founding publisher and editor of Barakah (2017) as well as its two sister websites Simerg (2009) and Simergphotos (2012). His interest for literature and community publications began in his childhood years in Tanzania through the work of his late parents Jehangir (d. May 2017, aged 89) and Malek Merchant (d. January 2021, also 89), who both devoted their lives to the service of the Ismaili community, its institutions and the Imam-of-the-Time, His Highness the Aga Khan, as missionaries and religious education teachers. In the UK, Malik edited the flagship Ismaili magazine, ILM, with his father. A resident of Ontario since 1983, he relocated to Alberta in January 2022. He has an animal loving daughter Dr. Nurin Merchant; she is a vet and practices in Ontario. Malik can be contacted by email at mmerchant@simerg.com. He can also be reached — and followed — @twitter and @facebook.

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

(1) The Immaculate Conception of Jesus in the Qura’n and its Impact on a Christian Emperor by Barnaby Rogerson; and (2) Jesus Through a Muslim Lens by Michael Wolfe

“Muhammad, who could do nothing to alleviate the suffering of his small embattled community of believers, at last advised some of his followers to leave sacred Mecca and take refuge elsewhere”…. Read Barnaby Rogerson’s Piece

The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star marking the spot where tradition says the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ. Copyright. Please click on image for Barnaby Rogerson's piece.
The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star marking the spot where tradition says the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Photo: Copyright Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ. Please click on image for Barnaby Rogerson’s piece.

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“Christians may be surprised to learn that Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth and Jesus’ miracles”….. Read Michael Wolfe’s Piece

Left: Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree in a Turkish miniature, as described in the Qur'an; right: Mary and Jesus in a Persian miniature. Please click on image for Michael Wolfe's article "Jesus Through a Muslim Lens." Images: Wikipedia.
Left: Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree in a Turkish miniature, as described in the Qur’an; right: Mary and Jesus in a Persian miniature. Please click on image for Michael Wolfe’s article “Jesus Through a Muslim Lens.” Images: Wikipedia.

Date posted: May 23, 2022.

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Laylat al-Qadr: The Night of Power

BY KARIMA MAGHRABY
(Additional material compiled by Simerg)

In his Khamsa, Shab-i Qadr (the Night of Power), the renowned Persian poet Amir Khusraw Dihlavi (d. 1325 CE) tells the story of a saint who made a failed attempt to stay awake until the Laylat al-Qadr. This image is taken from a folio in the Aga Khan Museum collection; the Toronto museum is due to open in 2014. Photo: Courtesy of the Aga Khan Museum
In his Khamsa, Shab-i Qadr (the Night of Power), the renowned Persian poet Amir Khusraw Dihlavi (d. 1325 CE) tells the story of a saint who made a failed attempt to stay awake until the Laylat al-Qadr. This image is taken from a folio in the Aga Khan Museum collection.

Laylat al-Qadr is the auspicious night when the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) first received the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, thereby conferring upon him the mantle of prophethood at the age of forty.

The Shia Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadan, in keeping with traditions received through Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and his wife Hazrat Bibi Fatimah (a.s.), and the Imams of the Fatimid dynasty. It is a night of special prayer, reflection and remembrance of Allah. In 2022, this falls on Saturday, April 23.

When Prophet Muhammad was 40 years old, he received his first divine revelation from Allah through Angel Jibreel. When Angel Jibreel appeared to him, he said:

“Recite: In the Name of thy Lord who created,
created, Man of a blood-clot.

Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous,
who taught by the Pen,
taught Man that he knew not” — Holy Qur’an, Al-Alaq, 96:1-5

The first revelation
Part of Al-Alaq (The Clot) – 96th sura of the Holy Qur’an – the first revelation received by Prophet Muhammad

The night of this first revelation is celebrated as Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power). The following verses from the Holy Qur’an describe the loftiness of this night and articulate the importance of the final revealed scripture to mankind:

“Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Power. What will convey unto you what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.” — 94:5

Cave of Hira
A photo of Cave of Hira in the Mount of Light, near Mecca, where the Prophet would come for his devotions and meditations, and the sacred spot where the Holy Quran began to be revealed. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) had just stepped into the forty-first year of his life, when during the 23rd night in the month of Ramadan the first 5 verses of the Surah Al-Alaq (96) were revealed to him. The small cave is about 3.5 meters long and 2 meters wide. Hira was the Prophet Muhammad’s most adorable place for meditation.

“(This is) a Scripture which We have revealed unto you (Muhammad) that thereby you may bring forth mankind from darkness unto light, by the permission of their Lord, unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise.” — 14:01

“And celebrate the name of thy Lord morning and evening. And part of the night, prostrate thyself to Him; and glorify Him a long night through. As to these, they love the fleeting life, and put away behind them a Day (that will be) hard.” — 76:25-27

Mountain of Light
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) received his first revelation from Allah through Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in the Hira cave which is on Jabl al Nur (Mount of Light) shown in this photo. The peak is visible from a great distance. The Prophet used to climb this mountain often even before receiving his fist revelation from Allah.

“We sent it down during a Blessed Night” — 44:3

“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong)” — 2:185

Hazrat Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.) the successor of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) to the throne of Imamat is quoted as having said:

“Do not remember God absent-mindedly, nor forget Him in distraction; rather, remember Him with perfect remembrance (dhikran kamilan), a remembrance in which your heart and tongue are in harmony, and what you conceal conforms with what you reveal.” — quoted in Justice and Remembrance, Introducing the Spirituality of Imam Ali, by Reza Shah Kazemi, p. 162.

Date first posted: July 18, 2014.
Last updated: April 23, 2022.

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Credits:
1. Wikipedia.org

2. Mecca.net
3. English Translation of the Qur’anic verses by Arthur John Arberry.

LINKS TO A SELECTION OF ADDITIONAL ARTICLES ON THE HOLY QUR’AN

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Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail

Yawm-e Ali: Quotes and Recitation of Ginanic Verses on the Anniversary of Hazrat Ali’s Birth

The Imams

We are the tree of Prophethood,
the place of descent
of Divine revelation,
the place of frequenting
of the angels,
and the mainsprings of knowledge.
Those who help us and love us
await (God’s) mercy…..Hazrat Ali

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The Tradition of the Ismaili Tariqah is the Tradition of Hazrat Ali

Aga Khan Digital Portrait, Simerg by Akbar Kanji
“The closer you come, the more you will see him.” A digital portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali, by Toronto’s Akber Kanji. The portrait is composed of several hundred thumbnails representing a cross-section of events during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat. Photo: Copyright: Akber Kanji.

“This is a time of new freedoms, but it is also one in which new choices must be made wisely. In exercising freedom and making choices, our institutions must be guided, as they have been in the past, by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace of Allah be upon him), and the tradition of our tariqah, which is the tradition of Hazrat Ali: A thinking Islam and a spiritual Islam — an Islam that teaches compassion, tolerance and the dignity of man — Allah’s noblest creation.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, May 14, 1992, Aga Khan Foundation 25th anniversary.

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The Ant

By God,
were I given all the seven heavens
with all they contain
in order that
I may disobey God
by depriving an ant
from the husk of a grain of barley,
I would not do it…..Hazrat Ali

The Prophet’s Household

To them (the Household of the Prophet)
pertain the noblest of human virtues described in the Qur’an,
and they are the treasures of the Beneficent Allah.
When they speak, they speak the truth,
but when they keep quiet, no one can out strip them…..Hazrat Ali

Patience

One who perseveres patiently
will not be without success,
even if it takes a long time…..Hazrat Ali

The Headstrong

One who is headstrong and opinionated perishes,
while one who seeks the advice of others
becomes a partner in their understanding…..Hazrat Ali

The Blessed

Blessed is one
who is humble regarding himself,

whose livelihood is good,
whose inner thoughts are virtuous,
whose character is good,
who spends the surplus from his wealth
and removes superfluity from his speech,
who keeps his evil away from people…Hazrat Ali

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Recitations of Ginanic Verses by Late Shamshu Bandali Haji

Iconic Ismaili Ginan reciter - Shamshu Bandali Haji
Iconic Ismaili Ginan reciter, the Late Shamshu Bandali Haji of Nairobi and Edmonton.

Simerg is pleased to present a selection of verses from the Ginan Muman Chetamni composed by Syed Imam Shah that relate to the birth of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). The recitations are taken from Ginans Central, a truly exceptional website which curates Ginans for “long-term access and preservation to foster research and learning in the digital era.” The inspiration behind this unique project is Karim Tharani (read ARTICLE). Here are recitations of three verses followed by a link to the page containing many more Ginan recitations by Alwaez Shamshu Bandali Haji as well as other reciters from around the world.

Verse Eji te Murtaza Ali….recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji
Verse Eji Mataji Gayata Bait…recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji
Verse Eji Tare Salaam Kidha…..recited by Shamshu Bandali Haji

Please click HERE for beautiful recitations by Alwaez Shamshu and other great Ismaili reciters from around the world. Also, please visit  Ginans Central Home Page, then scroll down the page and see links to Ginan collections as well as tools and resources.

Date Posted: February 11, 2022.

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

The editor of the 3 websites, Malik, may be reached at mmerchant@barakah.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date posted: December 25, 2021.

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

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