Timeless and Inspirational Pieces on Imam Ali: Essays, Art, Ginans, Songs, Stories and Quotes

Over the years, Simerg and its sister websites have published numerous enlightening and reflective pieces on Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him), the first Imam of Shia Muslims, whose birth anniversary falls on the 13th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle and this translates to February 3, 2023 in the Gregorian calendar. We are pleased to provide the following links to a selection of timeless pieces on the Imam:

Date posted: February 3, 2023.

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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

The editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com. 

Ethics in Hazrat Ali’s Kalam-i Mawla

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 on the 13th of Rajab, corresponding to February 3, 2023, in Canada and many other parts of the world. The Ismailis are led by His Highness the Aga Khan who is the 49th Hereditary Imam in the succession of Imams from Ali, who was appointed by Prophet Muhammad — may peace be upon him and his family — to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. Today, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan, and hence the Ismailis refer to him as Hazar Imam (the Imam-of-the-Time or the Present/Living Imam.). The Kalam-i Mawla article by Dr Farouk Topan first appeared in printed form in Vol 13, Number 1, July 1990, of Ilm, the flagship Ismaili religious periodical published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the UK — or ITREB — between 1975 and 1992. This second reproduction of the article on SIMERG has an improved format for ease of reading. Readers should take note that the images shown in this post are not part of the original article published in Ilm magazine.

By FAROUK M. TOPAN

Introduction

The relationship between man and God forms the focus of most religious literature. Of paramount importance to the relationship is the conduct, behaviour and action of man during his sojourn on earth. What he says and does is deemed to affect that relationship: good deeds strengthen it, bad deeds impair it. It is thus considered crucial that man be made aware of what he may and may not do, that he be made to understand the limitations of his actions beyond which he may not transgress without placing in jeopardy the health of that relationship. Such awareness is made explicit not only in scriptures and holy texts but also in books, epistles, treatises and poems composed by men of faith and learning. The Kalam-i Mawla falls under the latter category.

The Kalam-i Mawla (hence referred to as Kalam) is a poem of 327 verses, composed in Hindi, whose content draws inspiration from the sayings, speeches and sermons of Mawlana Ali (may peace be upon him.) The actual composer of the verse is not known. Unlike the practice followed in some compositions, — for example, in the Ginans — where the composer mentions his name within the body of the text, the composer of Kalam has refrained from doing so. His action may have been dictated by modesty, or even piety, in not wishing his personal attribution to impinge upon the considered authorship of the first Imam. Thus the authoritative status of the verses, as expressing the Kalami (speech/sayings) of the Lord, Mawla, has been preserved.

The predominant message conveyed in Kalam is ethical. One could say that the text is a manual of ethics for a believer, stating the virtues to be cultivated and the vices to be shunned. The ethical emphasis is brought into an even sharper focus in the printed editions of Kalam-i Mawla. A comparison, for instance, between the earlier manuscript of the Kalam dated 1801, and the latest printed version published in Karachi in 1984 by Ismailia Association for Pakistan shows a re-arrangement of the verses in the latter to reflect an ethical direction of the message.

The Karachi edition, which is itself the latest in a long chain of printed versions dating from 1873, divides the text into 23 chapters, each with its own title. The first chapter is on truth, the second on brotherhood, the third on the virtues of good manners or discipline, the fourth on generosity, the fifth on miserliness, the sixth on greed and so on. Among the subjects included are the way of the heart (ch.7); the beauty and marvel of knowledge (ch.10); the path of injustice (ch.11) and of justice (ch.12); prayers (ch.14) patience and gratitude (ch.16); jealousy (ch.22) and courage (ch.23).

The Kalam-i Mawla, however, does not confine itself simply to conveying the ethical message. If it did, it would have been incomplete in a fundamental way for ethical injunctions derive their meaning from the assumptions and pre-suppositions of belief. To state what man ought to do and not do, without placing these imperatives within the parameters of belief would be to deprive them of their rationale and justification. They would lack conviction. The composer of the Kalam has avoided such a pitfall and has created a vibrant text by focusing, not on one, but on three interlinked dimensions, each supporting the others. These dimensions are  (1) the Doctrinal (2) the Esoteric and (3) the Ethical.

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The Doctrinal and Esoteric Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla

The first dimension may be termed doctrinal; its expression is interspersed throughout the poem as the basis for man’s action. Two examples may suffice for our purpose here. The opening verse of Kalam-i Mawla sets out a theological hierarchy. The first remembrance (Zikr), it says, is of Allah; the second profession (kalma) is of Muhammad and the third is of the Mawla who narrates “his kalam, a treasure of jewels revealed to us.” Thus God, the Prophet and the Imam are mentioned from the beginning. In verse 5 the concepts of Tawhid, Nabuwwa and Imamah are expressed explicitly: “Know that Allah, the Sustainer is One; that Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah; after the Prophet (comes) the Lord of the Imamat, Murtaza Ali; believe in him with truth.”

The second dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the esoteric. One finds verses of deep mystical meaning in the poem which encourage the reader to aspire to a higher spiritual reality. The emphasis is again on action: through prayer, bandagi and acquisition of knowledge. Prayers undertaken at (or after) midnight are given a special mention (verse 168) as they bring ‘light’ to the very being of a person, a light reflected on one’s face; then, on the Day of Judgement, one will be counted among those whose faces are white (of. Qur’an 3:105-106). A believer who is regular in his prayers and bandagi will be graced with the vision of his Lord (verse 170). If such a mu’min is a true beloved of the Lord, then he too will be granted the spiritual bliss of the mi’raj experienced by the Prophet (verses 170/171).

But a believer who wishes to attain such spiritual bliss must first have a guide, a murshid, to open the gates of esoteric knowledge for him. Even a tiny and minute amount of such knowledge — “mere dot (nukta) of marifah” as it is stated in verse 101 — is enough, if given by the murshid himself, to lead a mu’min back to his origin, to the essence of Truth (haqq). Only then will he be able to transcend the state of duality (“The duality of You and me” and merge into a state of Unity and become One with Him who is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, He who will continue to exist when all else perishes (verse 327).

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The Ethical Dimensions in the Kalam-i Mawla: Theme of Charity and Generosity

The third, and predominant, dimension in Kalam-i Mawla is the ethical one, which is expressed in the poem in a number of ways. The most common way is by injunctions stated in the name of Mawlana Ali (a.s) whose status is sometimes further explained through the use of particular titles such as:

Shah-e Awliya (verses 2 & 182) — the Lord of the friends (of God)

Sahib-e Zulfiqar (verse 15) — Master of (the sword) Dhulfiqar

Wali Maqbul (verse 34) — the accepted friend (of God)

Sahib-e Israr (verse 98) — Master of the (spiritual) mysteries or secrets

Kawsar-e Saqi (verses 102 & 107) — the pourer (of water) at the Pond of Kawthar (in Paradise)

Shah-e Dul Dul Sawar (verses 113 & 130) — the rider of (the horse) Dul Dul; etc.

Such titles are almost always given in the last or penultimate line of the verse as a forceful culmination to the advice given in the previous lines; they are thus introduced by phrases such as “and so has spoken….” or “So commands….”

The (ethical) injunctions themselves vary in content and even in the style in which they are expressed. In terms of content, almost every major aspect of a Muslim’s way of life has been covered. The headings of some of the chapters cited in the previous reading, give an indication of the variety of the themes: the sub-themes are even more pervasive.

Let us take chapter four as an example and consider its contents which deal with the theme of charity and generosity (sakhawat). While each of its seventeen verses is pertinent to that theme, its exposition relates to different aspects of the subject.

Man is placed — as indeed he must — at the centre of the injunctions. But around him are constructed premises or arguments to help him see the benefits of being generous, benefits to be gained both in this world and the next, benefits both material and spiritual. Thus, generosity expressed also as acts of charity and philanthropy, is made a cornerstone of the relationship not only between man and God but also between man and man. The two are interlinked, the one expressed in terms of the other, as we shall see below.

In so doing, the verses (18 to 34) also address themselves to fundamental questions of the theme: what is charity; to whom should one be charitable; in what way; and, perhaps most important, why.

The arguments setting out the rationale for the act of charity or generosity — the ‘why’ — may be summarised as follows:

Since God has given wealth to a person through His bounty, His barakah, one should not hide or gourd that wealth but spend from it ‘in the way of God’; for, vast amounts of wealth which are either concealed from others or spent entirely on oneself eventually turn to dust and do not benefit other human beings. If, on the other hand, one gives generously in charity or is philanthropic in action, one is rewarded both in this world and the next. The act of giving is compared to ‘the philosopher’s stone’ (paras): just as the latter turns to gold what is rubbed against it, so does the generous character of a person bring him the good things of life.

People come to respect and love such a person and accord him a high position in this world and offer prayers for his well-being. And God — as the Razzaq, the Provider — grants him prosperity in wealth, family, household and rank in society. A philanthropist is the beloved (habib) of God who will grant him a rank close to Himself in the abode of the Hereafter and whose name will not perish in this world.

How should one give? A short answer from the verses is that charity ought to be given with a smile, with a feeling of happiness. The aim is to make the recipient happy. It is stated repeatedly in these verses that a donor must not make the recipient feel obligated to the giver nor should he hurt his feelings in any way. If these injunctions are violated, his charity will be considered “lost”, that is nullified in the eyes of God. Such a way of giving requires a disciplined heart, a heart that is under control from pride and arrogance. Feelings of kindness in the heart of the donor are gradually accompanied by respect and love for the recipients.

And who are the recipients? Although the verses do not give details of their identity, two broad categories are mentioned: the orphans and the weak who should be approached ‘by the strong’ with a view to aiding them in whatever ails them.

The onus of taking the initiative is placed on the strong. It is interesting to note that charity is conceived, not only in terms of the giving of material wealth to those who are poor, but also in helping to redress the wrongs committed against the weak, to bring justice to those whose rights have been infringed.

Verse 28 states pithily: “The weapon of the weak is to grieve, and to shout out laments to all” but, it goes on to ask: if the grieving do not possess the wealth or the strength to defend themselves, and they continue to be oppressed with suffering and pain, what can be done about it? The implication is clear: the weak need those with a sense of fair play to stand up for them. That too, would be an act of charity.

Article continues below

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Imam Ali Kalam-i Mawla IIS
A page from a Kalam-i Mawla manuscript in the collection of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.

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Shi`ite Prayer Manual LOC
Shi`ite Prayer Manual – One of the most revered religious and holy figures of Islam is ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ca. 601–661), whose honorary name, Amīr al-Mu‘minīn, translates into Persian as the “prince of the believers.” Written works by ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib and sayings attributed to him are sacred to the Shi`ite faithful, particularly among Persian-speakers. This hand-written prayer manual displays the words of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib in the original Arabic in the Naskh calligraphic style and in a smaller-font Persian translation in red in the Nasta‘liq calligraphic style by Abū al-Qāsim Shīrāzī. Credit: Library of Congress.

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The Stylistic Features Employed in the Kalam-i Mawla

We said earlier that the ethical injunctions in the Kalam-i Mawla are presented in varied styles. Three such stylistic features may be mentioned as illustrations. The first is definitional. A subject, or a moral premise, is defined in a way that includes the type of action one ought to pursue. The following are some examples:

Chapter 1, Verse 3 (1:3) — “He is a true friend who truly keeps his promise”

2:9 — “He is your brother who remains with you during times of hardship”

and, conversely,

2:10 — “He is not a brother to you who brings shame on you, though you belong to the same (father’s) progeny”

4:22 — “The best of wealth is that which is spent in the Name and way of the Lord”

The second feature employs the conditional as a literary device in the construction of a moral premise along the lines “if this…..then this ……” or “if this..then do this ……”. Some examples on different topics are given below.

The first depicts a person who listens more to his ‘heart’, here meaning his baser instincts, than to what has been taught to him. Note, incidentally, the use of the word ‘heart’ in these examples and the variations of meaning given to it, from a place of lower instincts to a noble residence of the Lord in the human body:

7:5 — “If you are blind to knowledge
and your heart becomes your guide
(then) your conduct will be dictated by its desires
and you will be driven into a deep well.”

Thinking about death is the subject of the second example:

17:238: “If you want advice for your heart think of death —
remembrance of death is splendid advice:
remember that you will die and make the grave your
home and none of your friends will accompany you”

On the protection generated by a person’s attitude towards his friends and towards God:

8:248 —“The evil deeds of your enemies will not reach you
if you are sincere and good to your friends:
the wicked world, with its calamities, will avoid you
if you let Allah, the One, reside in your heart.”

The third stylistic feature employed in the Kalam is a common literary tool of using particular images to convey certain meanings and messages. The images themselves may be ordinary ones drawn from nature and daily human activities, or else special ones located in the poet’s culture. The examples given below, as indeed those cited above, represent but a small portion of the spectrum available in the Kalam-i Mawla.

We may take the ‘ordinary’ examples first where the poet uses stone, grass, trees, river, boat, gold, silver, silk and dust to convey his ideas. (The translation given here, as elsewhere in this article, is not a literal one):

3:15 — “Good conduct adorns a person as gold and silver adorn a woman…”

3:16 — “Gold remains in this world but right conduct (adab) enable you to meet your lord…”

4:22 — “Wealth (misspent in this world) turns to dust…” (cf. 6:40)

5:36: “The wealth of a miser is like a stone…”

5:47 — “When the boat of the heart comes upon a storm,
change direction, and lead it to the shore”

8:16 — “Be as soft as silk…”

8:67 — “Have a tender heart,
as tender as a fistful of green grass;
be not arrogant and stiff as a tree
upright in a forest;

tree is toppled in a storm,
but grass bends and sways happily with the wind.”

7:234 — “The waters of a river do not turn back; neither does one’s age…”

Examples of ‘cultural’ images need an explanation. The first is drawn from 4:32 where we are advised to partake of our food with others. The way the meal is served forms the theme for the poet’s injunction in this verse, for he sees people sitting around a single large plate or vessel and eating together from it, as was — and in parts still is — the custom in the East. The custom, we are told, has two benefits. People eating together are blessed with the bounty of God, barakah and, secondly, the food itself can be made to be sufficient for an additional person; for example, four people could eat with satisfaction the food meant for three.

Other examples may be drawn from one verse: 12:129. The verse begins with advice on eating ‘lawful’ food, lawful not only in the sense of halal (in the spirit of the verses of the Qur’an 2:172 and 2:173) but also in relation to one’s income and earning. A free translation of the verse, 12:129, may be rendered as follows:

“Be cautious, brother, and make your meals lawful
for the light of the heart comes through lawful eating

Darkness enters the heart and faith
when forbidden wealth is consumed;

The heart is the lamp in the temple of the body:
where there is darkness, there is loss of faith

None is conscious of the activities
perpetrated in a village enveloped in darkness:
five thieves together could rob it completely.”

A translation is generally but a poor substitute for the original. That would certainly be the case in the rendition of 12:129 given above, particularly as, on its own, it does not reflect the tight metrical borders and the rhyme scheme within which the poet functions in the original language. And yet — however defective the transfer of the linguistic medium — the poet’s skill of combining different idioms is self-evident.

Three sets of ideas are employed: the notions of right and wrong, of light and darkness, and of the gradual loss of faith. The paradigms drawn from the notions are arranged symmetrically: indulgence in that which is prohibited leads to darkness in the heart which, in turn, leads to a loss of faith (Iman): conversely, deeds undertaken within the boundaries of what is permitted lead to enlightenment in the heart and security of faith.

The paradigms are expressed in the cultural images familiar to the audience of the poet. The body as a temple is one example. Just as a lamp (diwo) is an important ingredient in the temple, investing it with a symbolic (and functional) light, so does the heart perform that function symbolically in the body. But the lamp is not safe. It is threatened by the actions of the person himself: the more he flouts the ethical injunctions taught to him, the dimmer becomes the light in his heart.

This vulnerability is expressed in the metaphor of the body as a village where darkness enables five thieves to combine in a stealthy incursion to steal its valuables, the most worthy of which is faith (Iman).The five ‘thieves’ are mentioned elsewhere — that is in the Ginans — as personifying five vices, panj bhu: of lust (kam); anger (krodh); greed (labh); temptation or single minded attachment to the material aspects of the world (moh) and pride (madh).

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Conclusion

The ethical dimension in the Kalam-i Mawla is expressed at three interlinked levels. The first level situates the ethics of the faith within the doctrines and beliefs of Shi’a Islam. These form the foundation upon which the ethics are based, an embodiment of the ‘charter’ that provides the rationale for the ethical development of a Shi’a Muslim. And, perhaps more important, the beliefs and doctrines also reveal — indeed, proclaim — the sanctions that await the transgression of the enunciated ethical injunctions and the reward for their observance.

The second level involves the pronouncement of the moral injunctions themselves. In a work of prose, the pronouncement could perhaps be made at length, with explanatory notes and cross-references to weightier texts, including the Qur’an itself. In poetry, however, an exposition of the theme is governed by such literary constraints as the rhyming scheme and control of the required number of metres per line. The poet has thus to be economical with his choice of words which in turn, ‘forces’ him to make a selection of the themes of priority. What we thus have in the Kalam-i Mawla is the poet’s own choice of what he considers to be important injunctions to be conveyed to a Muslim.

The third level is the literary. We have referred above to the constraint — and challenge — imposed on the poet by the prosodic tradition and convention prevalent in his culture. The poet functions within the prosodic framework to convey his message and ideas. But the framework, at best, is no more than a skeleton in need of flesh and blood to give it form and meaning. And the poet provides this drawing on the idioms of his culture, society and everyday expressions of daily living. The choice of vocabulary, images and metaphors combined with the poet’s own skill of wielding them into verses meant to be read and intoned make the Kalam-i Mawla a truly enjoyable poem to be read for pleasure, instruction and inspiration.

The presentation given in these readings, in relation to the ethical injunctions in the poem, represents but a tiny sample of a vast corpus.

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A note of acknowledgement by Dr. Farouk M. Topan:

I am grateful to Mr Akbar Rupani of the ITREB for India, to Mr Hoosain Khan Mohamed, formerly of Karachi, and to a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous, for their kindness in checking the translation of the Kalam-i Mawla that I had undertaken a few years ago. Their help, given with unstinted generosity, was most encouraging; but may I also state that it does not associate them in any way with any errors of translation that may arise out of my choice of meaning. I am also grateful to Izzat Muneyb (d. May 20, 2017) for her comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Date posted: February 2, 2023.

Featured image at top of post: Panel presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, by the Canadian Ismaili Muslim community on the auspicious occasions of his Golden Jubilee visit to Canada in 2008. Please see a brief note about the panel HERE. The panel contains an inscription of Hadith Qudsi, whose translation is shown in the featured image.

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Dr. Farouk M. Topan is pictured at left being awarded an Honorary Fellowship in recognition of his contribution to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). We recommend our readers to read Dr. Topan’s recent interview with the Ismaili in which he reflects on his life in teaching, academia, and service to the Jamat. We also invite readers to read Simerg’s brief feature piece on Dr Topan, following UNESCO’s designation of July 7 as Kiswahili Day. Dr. Topan contributed significantly to the study of Kiswahili language and its literature.

Other articles by Dr. Topan in 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.

“Ya Ali To Rahem Kar, Ya Mawla Tu Fazal Kar” and “Cry Aloud to Ali”: Beautiful and Inspiring Songs to Mark the Birth Anniversary of Imam Ali

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

In both the beautiful songs presented below, there are prayers, supplications and references to Ali, the first Shia Imam whose birth anniversary will be observed with reverence on the 13th of Rajab (on or around February 3, 2023).

However, in Ismaili theology, the Imams descended from Imam Ali are the bearers of the same Light (Noor) of Imamat. Thus, an Ismaili living during the period of any Imam, when uttering the name of Ali, has in his heart and mind the presence of the Imam-of-the-Time. Currently, the holder of the Divine Authority of the Imamat is Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, or Mawlana Hazar Imam (Our Lord, the Present Imam). He is the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Ismailis and the Ismailis are the only Shia community to have a Living Imam.

The lyrics in the first video song entitled “Ameen — A Global Prayer of Hope” are in multiple languages including the sign language, and the expressions by musicians and singers, young and old alike, show the love that each participant in the video has for his or her Imam. Listeners will feel totally immersed as they watch and listen to the song. Please watch the entire video (10:32 minutes), because the different components carry their own special messages. We then present another song “Cry Aloud to Ali.”

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Song: A Global Prayer of Hope

(excerpts from lyric)

…. We are never alone
Never have been
Never will be
Ameen …..

…. Khudawanda tu Sultane Karimi ….
(Lord: You are the King of Generosity)

…. I look to you, I pray to you for hope, I love you ….

…. Ya Ali tu Rahem Kar, Ya Mawla tu Fazal Kar ….
(O Ali, shower us with your mercy, O Mawla, shower us with your grace)

Ya Ale Nabi, Aulad-e-Nabi, Ya Mushkil Kusha, Ya Hazar Imam
(O Progeny of the Prophet, O the Progeny of Ali, O reliever of difficulties, O Hazar Imam)

Ameen

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Ali’s love for his spiritual children is constant, and we are in his prayers and heart every moment. This has been articulated by Mawlana Shah Karim throughout his Imamat and I quote from a message that Malik Talib, the Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum (LIF), was asked to convey to the Jamat. Hazar Imam said:

Please convey my best paternal and my best maternal loving blessings to my worldwide Jamat, and tell them that I think of them every minute of the day, each day, and I pray for Mushkil Asan and for their peace and happiness.

On another occasion, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

“My spiritual children should always remain mindful that it is the principles of our faith that will bring peace and solace in these times of uncertainty. I am with my Jamat at all times, and each of you, individually, is always in my heart, in my thoughts and in my prayers. I send my most affectionate paternal, maternal loving blessings to all my Jamat – for happiness, good health, confidence and security in your lives ahead, and for mushkil-asan.”

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Song: Naad e Ali

[Note: The lyrics in the song in both Arabic and English are slightly different from the transliteration and translation published below – Ed.]

Nade Ali, Nade Ali, Nade Ali
Nade Aliyyan mazhar al-ajaib
Tajidahu awnan lakafin-nawaib
Kullu hammin wa ghammin
sayanj-i Ali Bi wilayatika,
Ya Ali! Ya Ali! Ya Ali!

Translation

Call Ali call Ali call Ali,
the manifestation of marvels
He will be your helper in difficulty
Every anxiety and sorrow will end
Through your friendship.
O Ali, O Ali, O Ali.

Date posted: February 1, 2023.

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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.

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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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.

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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.
Aga Khan Cuts Birthday Cake on visit to Toronto in 1978, Simerg

Ismaili Muslims Celebrate 86th Birthday of Mawlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

Please click: Glimpses Into the Ismaili Imamat

On the auspicious occasion of His Highness the Aga Khan’s 86th birthday on December 13, 2022, we wish Ismailis around the world and friends of the Ismaili community Salgirah Mubarak.

Since the time of Hazrat ‘Ali, the first Shia Imam, the Light (Noor) of Imamat has illuminated the path of followers and guided their spiritual and intellectual understanding of Islam. His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan is the current bearer of the Light. He is the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) through his cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat ‘Ali, and his wife, Hazrat Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter. Ismailis affectionately address him as Mawlana Hazar Imam (meaning Our Lord, the Present Living Imam).

Article continues below; please click on calligraphy to read complete piece in Barakah, a website dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan

Calligraphy on the auspicious occasion of the Aga Khan's birthday, Simerg
Calligraphy: Border – Shah Karim in square Kufi; Central – Shah Karim Imam-e-Zaman in eastern Kufi. Artist: Karim Ismail, Toronto, Canada.

Upon acceding to the Imamat on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20, His Highness declared that he had dedicated his life to the uplift and progress of Ismailis worldwide. Few at that time could have imagined the scope and depth of this lifelong commitment, which today exceeds not only to the Ismaili Muslims, but also to the wider communities within which they live.

Continuing his forefathers’ long tradition of Muslim leadership and service to humanity, His Highness, has devoted more than 65 years of his life towards upholding the dignity of man, promoting peace and stability and working towards the common good of all peoples, regardless of their origin or religion.

As Ismailis around the world celebrate the 86th birthday of His Highness, they express their heartfelt gratitude to him for his love and guidance that has enriched their lives and enlightened their souls.

Please read the complete piece on our sister website Barakah.

Date posted: December 11, 2022.
Last updated: December 12, 2022.

Featured image at top of post: Mawlana Hazar Imam is presented with a birthday cake by Ismaili leaders in Toronto, Canada, November 1978. Photograph: Zinat Virani Family Collection, Vancouver.

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FEEDBACK

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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 Aga Khans, the Hereditary Imamat and the British Monarchy: A 150 Year Relationship of Respect, Cooperation and Friendship; Plus Rare Photos Featuring Prince of Wales, now King Charles III, with the Present 49th Ismaili Imam

[The original version of this piece by Rizwan Mawani was published on Simerg’s sister website Barakah. This reformatted version includes a number of licensed photographs of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Prince Charles that were not part of the Barakah article. We have also included excerpts from speeches made by Prince Charles at events where Mawlana Hazar Imam was also present, prior to the Prince of Wales becoming King Charles III upon the death of his mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on September 8, 2022 — Ed.]

The British Monarchy and the Ismaili Imamat – 19th Century to present day. Chart: © Rizwan Mawani. King Charles III Aga Khan, Simerg
The British Monarchy and the Ismaili Imamat – 19th Century to present day. Chart: © Rizwan Mawani. Please click on image for enlargement.

By RIZWAN MAWANI

In advance of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee commemorations in January 1887, a 10-year-old Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (1877-1957), accompanied by his uncle Aga Jungi Shah (d. 1896) addressed the jamat at Bombay’s Darkhana in Persian. His private secretary, Kurrim Khan, translated the speech for the jamat in their native tongue and its English translation was published in the local newspaper. The reign of the sovereign was commemorated across the Empire and a decade earlier, in the same year that Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was born in Karachi, the Queen was also proclaimed the Empress of India further cementing her relationship to the Subcontinent and its people.

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Aga Khan III with members of his family, Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah as a young boy (seated holding a book) with members of his family. His uncle, Aga Jungi Shah, the son of Imam Hassan Ali Shah and the brother of Imam Aga Ali Shah, is likely the person with the cane. Photograph: “H.R.H. Prince Aga Khan’s visit to Iran 1951,” published by the Ismailia Association for Pakistan.

The young Aga Khan III began his speech: “I have great pleasure to inform you, all members of the jamat in and out of Bombay, that her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen Empress of India’s subjects are about to show their loyalty in celebrating the Jubilee year of the reign of her Majesty…”

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Chromolithograph of Queen Victoria in state robes with the crown, sceptre and cushion, symbols of her reign.
Chromolithograph of Queen Victoria in state robes with the crown, sceptre and cushion, symbols of her reign. ©The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY_NC_SA 4.0. Reproduced from Wikipedia.

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In his heartfelt oration, the Imam spoke of his gratitude to the Crown. For under its rule, his community was able to practice its faith in relative peace and of the long-standing tradition of the Khoja Ismailis to offer their thanksgiving for this privilege. He continued: “On reference to your prayer books you will find that loyalty to rulers is directed from the foundation of your faith by one of my ancestors, Islam Shah, who instructed Pir Sadr al-Din, the great missionary to the Khojas to teach them to pray daily, ‘God preserve the Raj of the reigning king and grant prosperity to his subjects.’ There are also traditions from his Holiness the Prophet Muhammad to the same effect.”

“I further suppose,” he said, “that many of you present here this morning will remember that my grandfather, Sarkar Aga [Khan I, Imam Hassan Ali Shah], preached in this Jamatkhana to a large assembly of the jamat on the same subject to which I am this day drawing your special attention. I allude to the occasion when public prayer throughout Her Majesty’s dominions was offered up for the recovery of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales from a dangerous illness, and that my grandfather said that he knew of many traditions of his Holiness the Prophet Muhammad, to the effect that it is necessary for all to pray for the safety of the reigning king under whose protection they were living…”

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Aga Khan and the British Crown, Barakah, Rizwan Mawani
Painted photograph of Imam Hassan Ali Shah, Aga Khan I (1804–1881). Photograph: The Ismaili Bombay 1936, Golden Jubilee Number.

In this speech, the 48th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis alluded to the relationship of respect that his predecessor, Aga Khan I had with the monarchy, and in hindsight one that would, as we now know, be fostered and strengthened in the coming generations. The Ismaili Imamat, from its early days, has forged relationships with the leadership of international bodies, heads-of-state and religious representatives promoting peace, cooperation and hope. This happened at the state level at times when the Imams also were political rulers. In more recent generations, Ismaili Imams have been concertedly working towards improving the lives of some of the world’s most impoverished and at-risk populations, alongside the betterment of the global Ismaili community through these diplomatic relationships.

The Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy share a number of features. They are institutions anchored in history and tradition, both reaching back over a millennium, and yet through their holders-of-office engage with and respond to the challenges of the modern world. They are entrenched in an ethic of service and exemplify this through their many global endeavours aimed at reaching populations regardless of creed or background, despite being associated with Islam and Christianity respectively. Furthermore, they are guided and informed by a duty and responsibility inherent to the position.

The relationship between the Imams and the Queens and Kings of England began to take shape once Imam Hassanali Shah, Aga Khan I, left his native Persia and found himself in the territories under the rule of the British. The aftermath of a political power struggle in the Qajar ruling family, propelled the 46th Ismaili Imam to leave his native home — and the home of at least 25 Ismaili Imams before him. Before settling in Bombay in 1845, the Imam spent time in Afghanistan and Sindh, where he and his retinue rendered his services to the British Crown. In gratitude, Queen Victoria honoured the Aga Khan with the hereditary title of His Highness.

While Imam Hassanali Shah never traveled to London — the metropole and centre of the British Empire — nor spoke English, he was instrumental in forging an important relationship between two long-standing institutions that continues to this day. He regularly corresponded and visited with senior representatives of the monarchy in India, including a number of Viceroys. When the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, visited India in 1875, they visited Aga Khan I at his home, an honour usually only afforded to ruling princes within the Empire. The two leaders also bonded over their love of horses and this common interest and passion drew the two figures, and those of their descendants closer together.

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The SS Laos. The ocean liner taken by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan III on his first trip to Europe in 1898. Barakah, Rizwan Mawani, News
The SS Laos. The ocean liner taken by Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah on his first trip to Europe in 1898.

It was not until the time of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah that an Ismaili Imam would meet a British sovereign for the first time. In February 1898, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah left Bombay for Europe on the French Ocean Liner, the Messageries Maritimes SS Laos. [2] On the same trip, he visited London where he had an audience with Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and also with Edward VII, the future King of England, who became a close friend. In May of that year, as part of her birthday honours, the Queen conferred on the Ismaili Imam the title of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) for his valuable service in British India during times of riot, famine and plague. [3] A year earlier he worked with Professor Haffkine in developing an inoculation for the plague. In doing so, he helped break down barriers and fears about inoculation and establishing hospitals for the various communities in India to battle the disease.

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Aga Khan III sporting his decorations and honours from the British Government, Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III, sporting his decorations and honours from the British Monarchy. Photograph: The Ismaili Bombay. Birthday Number, 1932. Thursday 3rd March 1932 (25th Shawwal 1350/Mana Vad II Samvat 1988).

Until Queen Elizabeth II surpassed the milestone, Victoria was the longest reigning British monarch and the longest reigning queen in world history. She died in 1902 and was succeeded by her son, Edward VII. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was personally invited to attend the coronation of the new King Emperor and Queen Empress Alexandra. He was further honoured as a personal guest of the royal couple and visited Buckingham Palace and York House outside the formality of the official ceremonies taking place. [4] As a memento of the occasion, the King and Queen sent him two large photos with royal signatures as a souvenir of his visit to England.

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Aga Khan and the British Crown Simerg and Barakah
Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah in Garten Robes in London for the Coronation of King George VI, 1936. Photograph: Life Magazine, September 27, 1937 (also republished in Ismaili magazines)

In 1906, before he was King, George V came to India. During his tour, he visited Aligarh University, an institution which Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was instrumental in establishing with the intent to provide equal opportunities for quality education for Muslims of the Empire. The King was impressed with both the cause and vision of the fledgling institution, and he eulogized the university on his return to England at London’s Guildhall. To return his admiration, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah set on the process of naming the Academy of Sciences at the school after the then-Prince of Wales. [6]

In May 1910, news reached India of the King Emperor’s death. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah sent a telegram from Paris as did his mother, Lady Aly Shah, from Mahableshwar relaying the news to the jamat. As with monarchs past, the Jamat conveyed their condolences on behalf of the Ismaili community to the Royal Family and the new King. [7] The Imam, in addition to his condolences sent a wreath comprised of over a thousand lilies. [8] Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah attended the funeral at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor and was only one of three people representing India and its princes.

By this time, the Ismaili Imam had become an important figure not only within the British Empire, but also on the world stage. In addition to holding the office of the Ismaili Imam, he was now also representing and providing a voice for the concerns and priorities of a significant proportion of the world’s Muslim population and in particular was an advocate for their educational uplift. In his role as honorary president of a newly formed body whose seeds were sown at the Muhammadan Educational Conference a quarter-century earlier, he was a champion for the opportunities of Muslims across the Empire.

In the first decade of the new century, there had been an increasing volume in the sentiments against Empire and Empirical rule in various corners of the world. It is likely for this reason that the Reuter’s Agency interviewed Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah on the role and values of the monarchy in the changing world: “Speaking first for myself personally, secondly as president of the All-India Moslem League, representing seventy million Moslems; and thirdly on this question on behalf of all Indians, I gladly pay a tribute to King Edward and to his successor.” In the interview, Sultan Mahomed Shah spoke about the relationships that Britain’s Kings and Queens had with Indians, their values and their service. He also reflected upon the visits of India’s ruling princes to England and the Crown’s regal visits to India. He noted the complexities of rule and that varied sentiments did exist in some quarters and yet noted, “[t]he Thone is the only object in the Empire which unites us with white British fellow-subjects — a common centre of loyalty and love.” [9]

At the time of King George’s ascension to the throne, one half of the world’s Muslim population was still governed by the British monarchy. [10] Many states in which Ismaili Muslims lived were also under British governance, rule or influence. This remained the case for significant parts of the 20th century even as members of the community migrated and relocated from their ancestral lands. These countries where the community’s residence intersected with British rule included the now independent states of Afghanistan (1919), Australia (1901-1986), Bahrain (1971), Canada (1867-1982), Egypt (1922), India (1947), Iraq (1932), Kenya (1963), Kuwait (1961), Malaysia (1957), Myanmar/Burma, New Zealand (1948-1986), Pakistan (1947), Qatar (1971), South Africa (1910-1961), Sri Lanka (1948), Tanzania (1961), Uganda (1962), United Arab Emirates (1971), Yemen (1967), and of course the United Kingdom.

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Aga Khan, the Ismaili Imamat and the British Crown
King George V and Aga Khan III at the Armstice Day Memorial Service in London. Photograph: Souvenir of The All-Africa Celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of Hazar Imam, His Highness the Rt. Hon Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan, 1946.

In June 1911, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah was invited as a guest of the nation to attend the coronation of King Edward. On this occasion he also requested from the King a Charter for the Muslim university at Aligarh alongside other champions of Muslim education including the Begum of Bhopal. Later that year, the Aga Khan was decorated with the Star of India from the King during the Coronation Darbar. In 1916, he was further honoured with the status of Chief of the Bombay Presidency for Life which was accompanied by an 11-gun salute, a mark of respect and admiration for his service. From 1914 onwards during his trips to London, the Imam regularly lunched with the King and Queen and also had the opportunity to further their social bonds at Ascot and other racecourses.

In January 1936, due to the illness, and later death, of King George V, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah muted his own Golden Jubilee commemorations in Bombay and cancelled commemorations in other cities where Ismailis lived. The deep respect and depth of the sentiments of the Imamat to the British Monarchy echoed throughout the Jamat as a result of this gesture.

In 1937, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah attended the coronation of King George VI, father of Queen Elizabeth II, at Westminster Abbey. In his long illustrious career as Imam, Sultan Mahomed Shah was offered 5 titles by 4 different British monarchs: the Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire, KCIE by Queen Victoria, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire, GCIE by King Edward VII, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India, GCSI and Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, GCVO by King George V and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St George, GCMG by Queen Elizabeth II.

Upon Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah’s death in July 1957, Queen Elizabeth wrote a personal note of sympathy to Mata Salamat Om Habibeh, the Imam’s widow. It read:

“It is with deep sorry that I have learned of the death of His Highness, the Aga Khan. I and my predecessors on the Throne have for many years enjoyed the loyalty and devotion of His Highness, and we have been pleased to welcome him on many pleasant occasions when he has visited Britain.” [11]

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Memoirs of Aga Khan French edition Barakah and Simerg
A portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Mata Salamat Begum Om Habibeh Aga Khan, in the French edition of the Memoirs of Aga Khan.

Two weeks after the succession of the new Imam, Prince Karim Aga Khan in 1957, Queen Elizabeth bestowed the title of His Highness upon him in the tradition of her predecessors. Although the British Empire had irreparably eroded into an emerging world of nation-states, the reinvestment of the title underscored the continued importance of the Imam on the world stage. Aga Khan IV was to demonstrate over the decades of his Imamat, the office and institution he represented was able to transcend political and geographical ties in a constantly evolving world. This enviable position allowed him to play a unique role in the Muslim world and on the global stage. This was in addition to his transnational community, whose many members continued to live in the independent countries once part of British dominions.

While in the Western world, colonialism was simply an ideology, subjects who experienced this rule first-hand often had very mixed and sometimes devastating experiences. Despite this, one of the greatest legacies of Queen Elizabeth will be the creation of the Commonwealth and the facilitation of the various movements towards independence throughout Asia and Africa. Like the Imamat, the British monarch also was responsible for stewarding and bringing together diverse groups of people under a common cause.

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His Highness the Aga Khan's support enabled contingents from four Commonwealth countries to participate in a spectacular equestrian event honouring the Queen on her Golden Jubilee in May 2002. Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam His Highness the Aga Khan’s support enabled contingents from four Commonwealth countries to participate in a spectacular equestrian event honouring the Queen on her Golden Jubilee in May 2002.

In May 2002, Mawlana Hazar Imam joined ambassadors from Commonwealth nations as well as the United States and France to honour the Queen as part of her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Recognizing the shared history and traditions of these countries and the strength of diplomatic lineages that had been forged, His Highness the Aga Khan remarked, “This event serves to acknowledge the Commonwealth’s importance in maintaining good relations among countries through both good and less good times in their shared history.” He continued, “The event honours the personal attention that Her Majesty the Queen has accorded to that history and the admirable manner in which she has exercised, and continues to exercise, the challenging role of Head of the Commonwealth.” The culmination to her Golden Jubilee celebrations and the crown of this event was the “All the Queen’s Horses” event, the largest of its kind in the world.

In 2020, Mawlana Hazar Imam attended the Annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on special invitation by the Queen. He is currently the Vice-President of the Commonwealth Society which was under the patronage of the Queen until her death with the now-Queen Consort Camilla as its Vice Patron. In March 2022, Prince Rahim Aga Khan, the eldest son of the Ismaili Imam, attended the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey at the Queen’s invitation, representing Mawlana Hazar Imam. In Prince Rahim’s capacity as Vice-President Designate, he led the Loyal Societies and met with Charles, then Prince of Wales, who represented Her Majesty at the service as well as Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This year’s service had marked the beginning of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

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Commonwealth service to mark Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II
A section of page 3 of The Commonwealth Service held at Westminster Abbey on Monday March 14, 2022, at which Prince Rahim Aga Khan represented Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. Please click image to view the complete PDF file of the service.

The Queen, or her representative, were often seen along Mawlana Hazar Imam at events of mutual importance and international significance. These included independence events of a number of countries which were previously under British rule and where the Imam had communal representation or followers. At one of these occasions, on December 12, 1963, the Duke of Edinburgh and Mawlana Hazar Imam were both present in Nairobi, Kenya, to witness and participate in the handover of the instruments of independence to Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta. Representatives of 78 countries were in attendance along with those from the Vatican and the United Nations.

Like his predecessor, the Imam also received honours from the British Monarchy. In 2004, the Imam received the title of Knight Commander of the British Empire (KBE) from Queen Elizabeth II.

Mawlana Hazar Imam also had warm and friendly relations with the current King Charles III. They shared common interests and a commitment to bettering the world around them and met publicly on numerous occasions while Charles was still Prince of Wales. Their respect extended to each other’s responsibilities and many of these meetings allowed them to better understand the breadth and scope of each other’s work and how it improved the wellbeing of its beneficiaries. Aga Khan IV welcomed the then-Prince Charles to Al-Azhar Park in Egypt’s capital, Cairo in March 2006 and hosted him later that year in Pakistan as they toured development projects in the South Asian country.

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Special Presentation: His Highness the Aga Khan and King Charles III – An Album of Photographs and Speech Excerpts from the Last 30 Years

[IMPORTANT NOTE: A number of images in this section are reproduced under a licensing arrangement with Alamy photos, and may not be reproduced without Alamy’s written permission — Ed.]

OCTOBER 1993: Prince Charles and His Highness Aga Khan at Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

“I believe wholeheartedly that the links between these two worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and Western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater….

“It is odd, in many ways, that misunderstandings between Islam and the West should persist. For that which binds our two worlds together is so much more powerful than that which divides us. Muslims, Christians — and Jews — are all ‘peoples of the Book’. Islam and Christianity share a common monotheistic vision: a belief in one divine God, in the transience of our earthly life, in our accountability for our actions, and in the assurance of life to come.

“We share many key values in common: respect for knowledge, for justice, compassion towards the poor and underprivileged, the importance of family life, respect for parents. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother’ is a Quranic precept too. Our history has been closely bound up together” — Excerpts from speech Islam and the West by Prince Charles, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, October 27, 1993

Aga Khan and the Bitish Crown, Simerg and Barakah, King Charles speech Islam and the west
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with Prince Charles and the Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Dr. Farham Nizami, at a lecture presented by Prince Charles on “Islam and the West” at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre on October 27, 1993. Photograph: The Ismaili, Canada, March 1994.

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NOVEMBER 1993: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the University of Wales

The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Prince Charles, Chancellor of the University of Wales, and other members of the Chancellor’s procession “doff” their caps following the award of the honorary degree of the Doctor of Laws (LL. D) to Mawlana Hazar Imam on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Wales, November 30, 1993. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, March 1994.

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The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in conversation with Prince Charles as President Mary Robinson of Ireland signs the Visitors’ Book at a banquet held on November 30, 1993 at the Cardiff City Hall honouring recipients of Honorary Degrees earlier during the day on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Wales. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, March 1994.

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DECEMBER 1997: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Asia Society in London

Aga Khan and Charles at Asia House to celebrate 50th anniversary of independence Pakistan and India, Ismaili Imamat and British Crown
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, greets Prince Charles at a special banquet hosted in July 1997 by the Asia Society to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of India and Pakistan. Photograph: The Ismaili Canada, December 1997.

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MARCH 2006: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Al Azhar Park, Cairo

Aga Khan and King Charles III Al Azhar Park, Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, welcomes HRH The Prince of Wales (now King Charless III) and The Duchess of Cornwall (now Queen Consort) to Al-Azhar Park in March 2006 at the beginning of their official 2-week to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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NOVEMBER 2006: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan in Northern Pakistan

Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan visit a mountain village near Skardu in Northern Pakistan on November 3, 2006.
Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan visit a mountain village near Skardu in Northern Pakistan on November 3, 2006. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam on a tour of development projects in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Royal visitors viewed restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the traditional settlement of Altit, in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, and also visited the “organic village” of Nansoq, where a programme supported by the Aga Khan Foundation is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agricultural production. Photograph: © Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment via Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

“….. if I may say so, [the Ismaili Imamat] is that same leadership and vision which has enabled the Aga Khan Development Network to grow into an organization of international importance, addressing development needs in some thirty-five countries around the World, bridging boundaries of race and religion. My darling wife and I were privileged to see some of this work, towards the end of last year [November 2006], in Altit and Nansoq villages in Northern Pakistan — in fact I was devastated when I had to leave behind the gift I was given, in Altit: a very beautifully shampooed Yak! I got a crate to bring it back, and actually I think a Yak is the only rare breed I haven’t got” — Prince Charles’ reference to the yak (see photo below) was made during his speech at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition on July 12, 2007, at the Ismaili Centre London. Please read the full speech HERE

The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (right) admire a yak, during a walking tour of Altit Mountain village in northern Pakistan.
The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (right) admire a yak, during a walking tour of Altit Mountain village in northern Pakistan. The Prince and the Duchess were hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, on a tour of development projects in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. The Royal visitors viewed restoration work undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture in the traditional settlement of Altit, in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, and also visited the “organic village” of Nansoq, where a programme supported by the Aga Khan Foundation is designed to demonstrate the viability of organic agricultural production. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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JULY 2007: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Opening of Spirit and Life Exhibition, Ismaili Centre, London

Prince Charles (L), Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Duchess of Cornwall bow their heads as they listen to an Islamic prayer at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007.
Prince Charles (L), Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Duchess of Cornwall bow their heads as they listen to an Islamic prayer at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition at the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007. The exhibition showcased the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art, and was launched as His Highness the Aga Khan commenced his Golden Jubilee Year. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

“Your Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen. I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is for my wife and I to join you this afternoon in celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of His Highness the Aga Khan’s succession to the Imamat. It is, if I may say so, London’s great good fortune that His Highness has chosen to open his Golden Jubilee celebrations with the ‘Spirit and Life’ Exhibition which my wife and I have just seen – we had to drag ourselves away from it! I understand that this is the first time these masterpieces of Islamic art have been seen in London. They are of quite exceptional historical importance and beauty. But, perhaps still more importantly, they also convey the clearest possible message about the close ties between the Abrahamic Faiths. For example, the magnificent Eleventh Century Canon of Medicine, which originated in Iran, was equally indispensable to Western scholars for the better part of five hundred years.” — Excerpt from speech made by Prince Charles at the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition on July 12, 2007. Please read the full speech HERE.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall , attend the opening of the Islamic Art Exhibition hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (R) Aga Khan, at the Ismaili Centre in London on July 12, 2007, with co-curators Alnoor Merchant (L) and Sheila Canby (C) providing highlights of the artefacts
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall , attend the opening of the Spirit and Life Exhibition hosted by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan (R), at the Ismaili Centre in London on July 12, 2007, with co-curators Alnoor Merchant (L) and Sheila Canby (C) accompanying the party to provide details of the artefacts. The exhibition showcased the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art. Photo: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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NOVEMBER 2010: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Ismaili Centre London on its 25th Anniversary

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, receives Prince Charles at the Ismaili Centre, London, on November 18, 2010, to commemorate its 25th anniversary
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, receives Prince Charles at the Ismaili Centre, London, on November 18, 2010, to commemorate its 25th anniversary. Photograph: © Alamy. Please click on photo for enlargement.

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JUNE 2018: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at the Opening of the Aga Khan Centre, London

“Your Highness, the extraordinary work that you have done throughout your lifetime, in the service of humanity and in the name of Islam, is as remarkable as it is invaluable. For that, you are owed the greatest debt of gratitude and I did just want to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of us all, if I may.

“It is clear to me that in holding dear the values of humility, honour, magnanimity and hospitality, the Ismaili Community takes its inspiration from you, Your Highness, and from your extraordinary ‘Greatness of Soul’.” — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018. Please read the full speech HERE

On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, HRH The Prince of Wales opened The Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Situated at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, the Aga Khan Centre, designed by Maki and Associates, led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects, provides a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).
On Tuesday, June 26, 2018, King Charles III (then The Prince of Wales opened) The Aga Khan Centre in King’s Cross in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Situated at the heart of London’s Knowledge Quarter, the Aga Khan Centre, designed by Maki and Associates, led by Fumihiko Maki, one of Japan’s most distinguished contemporary architects, provides a new home for a number of UK based organisations founded by His Highness the Aga Khan: The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), the Aga Khan University Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and the Aga Khan Foundation UK (AKF UK).
Aga Khan and the British Monarchy, Prince Charles now King Charless III at Aga Khan Centre inauguration Barakah dedicated to Hazar Imam
Prince Charles and Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, discuss the features of the Garden of Life at the new Aga Khan Centre in London with garden designer Madison Coxon during the inauguration of the Centre on June 26, 2018. Photograph: AKDN/Nayyir Damani.

In similarly inspiring this Centre, you have set it on a path to serve the world with great distinction, just as Your Highness has yourself done throughout your remarkable life. My wife and I have been fortunate enough to see just what an inspiration you are to your community when we accompanied you to Altit years ago. Never will we forget that occasion nor, for that matter, the magnificently shampoo-ed bull yak with which I was presented and which, very sadly, I was unable to transport back to Highgrove to graze in my Islamic Garden! — Prince Charles, Aga Khan Centre Opening, June 26, 2018. Please read the full speech HERE.

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MARCH 2019: Prince Charles and His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace

 Prince Charles named Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work. They are pictured at a dinner at Buckingham Palace on March 12, 2019.
Prince Charles named Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, as Global Founding Patron of The Prince’s Trust’s work. They are pictured at a dinner at Buckingham Palace on March 12, 2019. Photograph: Ian Jones/AKDN.

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Rizwan Mawani’s article continues here

During the Imam’s Golden Jubilee, Mawlana Hazar Imam welcomed the Prince of Wales to the Ismaili Centre London on July 12, 2007, to view the Spirit and Life Exhibition showcasing the beauty, diversity and rich legacy of Islamic Art. Many of these artifacts are now on display at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. In June 2018, Prince Charles opened the Aga Khan Centre in London in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The Aga Khan Centre is the current home of the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilization, The Institute of Ismaili Studies as well as a research library and residences for students. In 2019, Mawlana Hazar Imam was appointed as a Global Founding Partner of the Prince’s Trust UK, then under the patronage of the future King Charles. There have been other occasions when the current King, His Majesty Charles III, as well as members of his family met or honoured Mawlana Hazar Imam that illustrate the bond between the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy.

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The Aga Khan and the British Crown, Princess Anne University of London, Barakah
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is conferred an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Literature in Education at the University of London by Princess Anne, Chancellor of the University, on October 12, 1989. Photograph: UK Ismaili Newsletter, November/December 1989.

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Doctor of Divinity degree to Aga Khan at Cambridge who is pictured with the Duke of Edinburgh; Barakah and Simerg
On June 12, 2009, the University of Cambridge, conferred Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan with a Doctor of Divinity, the first Muslim ever to have received this degree. The Late Duke of Edinburgh was the Chancellor of the University and he is seen in the front row with Mawana Hazar Imam and the University’s Vice Chancellor Professor Alison Richard. Also in the photograph are other Honorary degree recipients. Photograph: University of Cambridge via The Ismaili Canada, December 2009.

The relationship between the Imamat and the British Monarchy has also extended to members of each of the institutions’ families and their representatives. A result of their mutual interests and common dedication to the service of humanity has also meant celebrating milestones and achievements in addition to co-operation on programmes and projects.

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Lady Aly Shah Aga Khan, Barakah
Lady Aly Shah, mother of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah.

Aga Khan II’s wife and mother of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Shamsul Muluk, more commonly known as Lady Aly Shah, was an important contributor to welfare projects throughout the British Empire. She was a champion for women’s rights, a skilled fundraiser and a force of change for both the Ismaili community as well as for Muslim women in India. For many years she was president of the influential Mohammedan Purdah Ladies Committee which held its first major conference in 1911. As part of this work, she formed strong relationships with a number of the wives of the Viceroys, or Governors-General of India, including Lady Willingdon. For her dedication and service to humanity, she was honoured with the title of the Imperial Order of the Crown of India, membership which is normally reserved for Queens, ruling princesses and the Vicerenes. For the occasion, she travelled to London at the age of 86 where she was personally invested by King George V.

On the occasion of the funeral and Committal Ceremony of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on September 19, 2022, Mawlana Hazar Imam was represented by his son Prince Rahim at the service. Members of the Imam’s family were also present during a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on the occasion of Aga Khan IV’s Golden Jubilee in 2008 and at Windsor Castle in 2018 for his Diamond Jubilee.

Likewise, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, met with Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Aga Khan Centre in London on October 2, 2019, for an event that preceded their tour of Pakistan later that month.

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His Highness the Aga Khan together with Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, during a dinner hosted in honour of His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace to commemorate his Golden Jubilee, London, 7 July 2008. Photograph: AKDN / Gary Otte
Mawlana Hazar imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, together with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, during a dinner hosted in honour of His Highness the Aga Khan at Buckingham Palace to commemorate his Golden Jubilee, London, July 7, 2008. Photograph: AKDN/Gary Otte

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Aga Khan Golden Jubilee at Buckingham Palace
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, presents his second son, Prince Hussain, to Her Majesty the Queen. His brother, Prince Amyn, and his oldest son Prince Rahim prepare to be greeted by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and the Duchess of Cornwall, as Princess Yasmin, his sister, looks on. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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Court Circular

March 8

Buckingham Palace

8th March, 2018

The Queen gave a Dinner Party for The Aga Khan at Windsor Castle this evening to mark His Highness’s Diamond Jubilee at which The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke of York, The Princess Royal and Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, and Members of The Aga Khan’s Family were present.

The Duke of Edinburgh this morning received Mr Martin Palmer (Secretary General, Alliance of Religions and Conservation).

The Prince of Wales, on behalf of The Queen, held an Investiture at Buckingham Palace this morning.

[Note: The Court Circular is the official record of royal engagements and appears daily in the London Times — Ed.]

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The Aga Khan and the British Monarchy, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee at Windsor Castle Barakah
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in conversation with Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, at a dinner hosted on March 8, 2018 by Her Majesty at Windsor Castle on the occasion of his Diamond Jubilee. Photo: AKDN/Gary Otte.

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Aga Khan and the British Crown Prince William
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, welcomes Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge at the Aga Khan Centre in London on October 2, 2019. Photo: The Ismaili/Anya Campbell

The article has shown that the relationship of the Ismaili Imamat and the British Monarchy blossomed beginning in the 19th century. Through many monarchs and 4 Ismaili Imams, beginning with Aga Khan I, we have outlined their relationship of respect, cooperation and friendship over the last 150 years from Queen Victoria to King Charles. This relationship is illustrated in the chart shown above at the beginning of this article.

Date posted: October 6, 2022.
Last updated: October 7, 2022.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rizwan Mawani The Aga Khans, the Imamat and the British Crown, Barakah and Simerg, Queen Elizabth II, King Charles III
Rizwan Mawani

Rizwan Mawani has a background in Anthropology and Religious Studies and is the author of Beyond the Mosque: Diverse Places of Muslim Worship (I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2019). Rizwan has written for a wide variety of audiences and his work has appeared in academic publications, encyclopedias as well as the Wall Street Journal and The Huffington Post. Rizwan was previously Website Content Editor and Research Coordinator in the Department of Constituency Studies at The Institute of Ismaili Studies. His current research focuses on the past two centuries of global Ismaili history with a focus on the jamatkhana and its development during that period.

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

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.

Malik may be followed @Facebook and @Twitter.

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NOTES

[1] The Times of India, January 24, 1887, p. 7
[2] The Times of India, February 19, 1898, p. 5
[3] The Times of India, May 23, 1898, p. 4
[4] The Times of India, July 7, 1902, p. 6
[5] The Times of India, June 3, 1903, p. 5
[6] The Times of India, May 14, 1910, p. 9
[7] The Times of India, May 9, 1910, p. 5
[8] Rand Daily Mail (Johannesburg), May 16, 1910, p. 7
[9] The Times of India, May 28, 1910, p. 10
[10] The Times of India¸ May 30, 1910, p. 6
[11] Times of India, July 13, 1957.

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 welcomes your feedback. Please complete the LEAVE A REPLY form below. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity, and is subject to moderation.

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.

“Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” a Once-in-a-Lifetime Book that Brings the 49th Ismaili Imam’s History and Spiritual Leadership to Life

“As he says in his own introduction to the book, Otte engaged in a deep research of the photo archives of the Aga Khan, finding images chosen for their quality but also for the fascinating story they tell. The result is a unique collection of photos, many of which have not been published before, but which, taken together, form a visual biography. It is a book about His Highness the Aga Khan, but it is also a portrait in time and space of the world seen from a different perspective, one of endless change and movement, but also one of hope” — Philip Jodidio, Preface, p. ix, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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DEPTH OF FIELD: THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS, edited by Gary Otte with texts by Bruno Freschi, Philip Jodidio, Don Cayo and Gary Otte
Hardcover 260 pp. Published by Prestel, February 2022; 220 colour illustrations. To purchase the book, please see links provided immediately after the article.

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Reflections

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
Cover jacket of Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

By NIZAR A MOTANI, PhD

I have used the Aga Khan and Hazar Imam interchangeably in my reflections about this visual biography of him, by Gary Otte  

When I finally received the long-awaited book about Hazar Imam, I gleefully looked at the cover, actually the “jacket,” with his picture. It was intriguing that this photograph portraying Hazar Imam had part of his shoulder hidden: it was found in the inside “folding”, which also has an extract from the Preface. The complete photograph appears on page 121. Then, I instinctively and happily thumbed through this delightful “coffee table” edition, as if it was just an album, though about a familiar figure, without much thought and not reading most of the captions. It soon became apparent that the three essays preceding the photographs must have a purpose and should be read before taking a second closer look at them. In my humble opinion, this is what every viewer should do since these textual and contextual commentaries guide the viewer to not only how to view the images, but also, and more importantly, to ponder over them to see beyond these images, which collectively constitute a pictorial biography of the Aga Khan.

The editor of this milestone photographic record, Gary Otte, explains in the Introduction, that as the Aga Khan’s principal photographer for some thirty years, he had ample, varied and exhausting opportunities to capture a lot of “interesting stuff.” He witnessed happenings at “exotic and iconic locations; global leaders and ordinary folks”; — and events of great historical, cultural, religious and economic significance (p. xi).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“In an age dominated by moving images, still photographs continue to carry remarkable power. Nothing captures a moment as memorably. There is no movement to miss, no soundtrack to distract. It is the still photograph that becomes iconic – a fraction of a second with great impact that people can readily call to mind. Few moments in film or video imprint themselves so clearly. It is that single frame from a vivid scene that we carry with us… Like all the photographers who covered the life of the Aga Khan, I benefitted from his acceptance of us as chroniclers of history” — Gary Otte, Introduction, p. xiii, “Depth of Field, The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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The two hundred twenty meticulously selected photographs — ninety by him and 130 taken by some fifty other photographers — take the viewers on a panoramic tour of all aspects of the Aga Khan’s amazing life. They are not chronologically presented but were chosen because they were deemed “technically, compositionally, and editorially excellent” and were “more representative of geography, subject area and decades.” (p. xi).

Otte recommends viewers to inspect and revisit all the photographs because “every long look can reveal something new as you discover or imagine, what is happening.” (p. xi).

Philip Jodidio, a prolific author and an expert on contemporary art and architecture, has written a glowing Preface in which he comprehensively and chronologically portrays the major initiatives of Hazar Imam, who is described as “one of the most fascinating personalities in the world….he is a spiritual leader, the driving force behind numerous humanitarian and cultural organizations” as well as “one of the most important figures who has sought to bridge the divide between the Muslim world and the West” (p. v).

By reading this essay, themes and patterns will emerge in the two hundred twenty otherwise randomly presented photographs. The renowned Bruno Freschi’s brief but telling Foreword is centered on his deep respect for Otte’s superb photographic skills as well as his profound admiration of Otte’s extraordinary subject’s (The Aga Khan’s) ambitious, multidimensional, multifaceted mission, which has been so diligently and visually portrayed.

The Aga Khan’s mission, or more appropriately, his mandate as the Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, has been succinctly conveyed in excerpts from one of his numerous speeches (p. xvii) and from his historic address to the special joint session of the Canadian Parliament, on February 27, 2014. Thankfully, Jodidio has excerpted the essence of this speech in his Preface (p. v).

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

“Gary’s photography and his curation have produced a collection with a magical quality. The reader/viewer is transported into the event-image reality. The photography is the doorway into the spirit of the frozen moment. These event-moments are the curtain in the great theatre of life. Once the curtain is raised it reveals the compelling life story of the Aga Khan, an elegant portrait of his historic mission” — Bruno Freschi, Foreword, p. xv, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens”

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In my reflections on just a few of the photographs in this non-chronological historical biography, I hope to be faithful to the sound, revealing guidance on how to embrace each image. Evidently, beyond and behind the photographs, there must be careful and plentiful preparation and coordination, prior to, during, and even after each different event: airport arrivals and departures; protocols; media liaison; motorcade escorts; security arrangements; translators, meetings with heads of state and other leaders; banquets and speeches — to think of just a few. The photograph on page 212 shows Dr. Shafik Sachedina, Head of the Department of Jamati Institutions at the Diwan of the Ismaili Imamat, and Dr. Mohammed Khesavjee, who served as the Information Officer at Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Secretariat at Aiglemont for many years, playing complementary roles behind and at the scene. Most photographs do not show such senior and other personnel in the Aga Khan’s entourage doing the critical groundwork.

The photograph on page 163 shows Hazar Imam thanking the police escort for his motorcade. He is always mindful of the very many individuals, institutions and organizations involved during his official visits as the state guest of the host governments, and he is known to unfailingly acknowledge his gratitude to all of them. Only some of them can be seen in some of the photographs, but they were there and we have to imagine them, as explained by the editor.

Article continues below

Jacket, "Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens," 220 photographs, pictorial biography, Barakah, Nizar Motani reflection
Jacket, “Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens,” 220 photographs

In 1983 and 2008, the Aga Khan, the 49th hereditary Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader paid official visits as the guest of the ruling Sunni family of the emirate of Dubai (pp. 134 and 135). Significantly, the 2008 occasion was the opening ceremony of the new Ismaili Centre. We can only imagine the elaborate preparations and protocols for this historic event. Being invited as a virtual head of state by governments across the world is an unmistakable theme of this fascinating volume. So much planning and coordination by so many unseen volunteers and paid staff within and outside the Ismaili jamat is always the case.

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READERS SHARE THEIR THOUGHTS ON “THE AGA KHAN BEYOND THE LENS”

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

This fabulous book with its layout, font, selection of photos and essays is extraordinary — Moez Murji 

The photographs chosen are not only beautiful but were also very carefully selected, and each carries a deeper message of the Aga Khan’s incredible — and farsighted — vision. It’s indeed remarkable and an occasion of immense happiness for the Ismailis that the unbelievable results that have been achieved by Mawlana Hazar Imam in so many countries around the world are finally covered in such a well condensed pictorial book — Amin Jaffer

In this 280-page bumper pictorial biography of Mawlana Hazar Imam, which I ordered and have already received it as one of my living room’s table top collections, some of the pictures will bring alive our individual and family memories — Kamruddin Rashid

Beautiful! Now [after reading Nizar Motani’s reflections] I have to go back to the Visual Biography (love that!!) and look at it differently! Different viewers may have different meanings to different pictures. Great job Mr Gary Otte for the book and Nizar Motani for his reflections on the book — Mirza Smile 

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Gary Otte’s very first illustration is a two-page panoramic view of the October 1957 Dar es Salaam Takht Nashini. It requires deep individual contemplation to merely “digest” the thousands in attendance. And much more imagining of the hundreds more involved in numerous aspects of staging this majestic enthronement ceremony, in a British colonial African country, with several non-African immigrant minorities among the heterogeneous African populations, can be a challenging mental exercise!

It is almost on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the August 4th 1972 mass Asian Expulsion by Uganda’s mercurial megalomaniac military dictator, Idi Amin Dada, that I am encountering Hazar Imam’s somber photograph with Amin. It was taken during Hazar Imam’s critical February 1972 visit to Kampala (p. 59). I was still in London completing my doctoral dissertation on the topic of Uganda’s African Civil Service, hoping to teach African History at Makerere. It so happened that I returned on that fateful day — August 4th 1972, not to a much anticipated warmest welcome at the Entebbe Airport, but to most somber news, from my parents, about the expulsion order issued just prior to my arrival!

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Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg

Such an epic volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. Gary Otte has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection…and has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text. Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes — Dr Nizar Motani, author of this post

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Therefore being absent from Uganda during Hazar Imam’s February visit, I can only imagine the challenging task of the local Ismaili entourage and leadership on how to brief Hazar Imam for any meeting with such a vainglorious man controlling the destiny of all Ugandans. Could Amin have given any clear signal about what was brewing in his mind prior to the alleged dream to ethnically cleanse Uganda of its much maligned Asian minorities? Could Hazar Imam have sensed any forebodings in order to prepare for all eventualities — since the expulsion order’s short deadline was met with fairly well-organized and timely evacuation under the most harrowing circumstances? I was one of the lucky ones who chose to and could leave, within a week, for the USA, but remained tormented and concerned about the rest of the family’s fate who had to plan their escape. This image on page 59 may linger for a long while but with deep gratitude that almost all Asians escaped relatively physically unscathed.

I will conclude my brief reflections about this unique official  pictorial biography of the Aga  Khan, our beloved Hazar Imam, by simply stating that such an epic  volume should be an occasion of immense pride and happiness for every Ismaili murid. The editor, Gary Otte, has clearly acknowledged that Hazar Imam remained very accommodating and patient during the long period of compiling this unprecedented collection of mostly previously unpublished photographs, from his childhood in Kenya to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations in various parts of the world, where he was welcomed by the host countries’ Heads of State as a virtual visiting head of state.

Gary Otte has thanked Hazar Imam for taking the time to offer suggestions on choosing the photographs and the book’s design. Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and Prince Hussain gave their time and advice on selection of photographs and the final draft of images and the text.

Hence this official authorized visual biography of our 49th  Imam and a once in a life time publication, should belong in our homes. It also makes a wonderful gift to give to  thoughtfully selected non-Ismaili friends and colleagues to increase their awareness of the Aga Khan which Jodidio has stated may be  lacking in the general public. But even we, his murids, will be be astonished and overjoyed to learn so much that we cannot possibly already know about or have seen images of his multifarious undertaking, as well as his personal life.

One final thought, as I take the elderly members of the Jamat into consideration. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life, through the photographs in this book, spans three generations. How exciting and inspiring might it be for the elders, were their children and grandchildren to sit alongside them and leaf through all the beautiful photographs of their beloved Imam, not once but on multiple occasions. Old memories would be revived and new stories, narratives, anecdotes, and perspectives would emerge, individually and collectively, adding to our knowledge of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s glorious life and Imamat. This book MUST occupy a place in all Ismaili homes.

Date posted: June 18, 2022.

A slightly different version of this piece appeared recently on Simerg’s sister website Barakah under the title Reflections on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Pictorial Biography, “Depth of Field – The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens” by Nizar Motani.

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PURCHASING THE AGA KHAN’S BEAUTIFUL PICTORIAL BIOGRAPHY

Depth of field, Aga Khan Beyond the Lens, by Gary Otte, Ismaili Imam, Simerg
The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens; Hardcover, 260 pages, 25 x 30 cms, 220 colour illustrations; published by Prestel, February 2022.

The publisher’s recommended retail price for Depth of Field: The Aga Khan Beyond the Lens is US $ 60.00; £ 45.00 but retailers and on-line book sellers may sell it for less. To purchase the book in Canada, click Aga Khan Museum Shop, Amazon.ca or Indigo.ca; in the USA, click Amazon.com; in the UK and other European countries, click Amazon.co.uk; and in Spain and Portugal click Amazon.es. Elsewhere, see if there is a local Amazon chapter serving your location or visit Amazon’s global page. Note that the book is also available for members of the Ismaili community at Jamatkhana literature counters around the world or through the local Jamatkhana leadership.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nizar Motani, Barakah, Dedicated to the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam
Nizar Motani

Nizar A. Motani has a doctorate from the University of London (SOAS) in African history, specializing in British colonial rule in East Africa. He has been a college professor at Bowdoin College (Brunswick, ME) and Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, MI). He was the first Publication Officer at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, UK). He now lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Motani’s previous pieces on Simerg and its sister website Barakah are: 

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A SHORT Youtube Presentation: Gary Otte on the Making of the Book

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Before departing this website please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to more than 1500 pieces posted since the website was founded in the spring of 2009. Also visit our two sister websites, Barakah and Simergphotos.

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Two Insightful and Profound Interviews of His Highness the Aga Khan, the 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergBarakah and Simergphotos

Ismaili Muslims belong to the Shia branch of Islam, the other branch being the Sunnis who form the Muslim majority. His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Hereditary spiritual leader or Imam of the Ismailis and is directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) through his son-in-law, Ali (A.S.), who was married to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatima (A.S.). Prophet Muhammad and Hazrat Ali were also first cousins — their respective fathers Abd al-Muttalib and  Abu Talib were brothers.

According to Shia Muslims, the Prophet had designated Ali to succeed him as the Imam. The Sunnis dispute this, and Muslims have remained divided over this contentious matter for centuries. However, in their book, “History in Quotations”, which reflects five thousand years of World History, the authors M. J. Cohen and John Major write as follows: 

“Muhammad said: ‘He of whom I am the Mawla (patron), Ali is his Mawla. O God, be the friend of him who is his friend and be the enemy of his enemy.’ 

“This became the proof text for the Shia claim that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the Prophet’s rightful successor after the Prophet’s death in 632. The meaning of Mawla here probably implies the role of patron, lord or protector.” 

The authors, Cohen and Major, sum up by stating that through the use of the term Mawla, Muhammad was giving Ali the parity with himself in this function.

Over the course of history, the Shia Muslims split into a number of branches over the succession of Imams descended from Ali. The first major split occurred during the 8th century, two centuries after the passing of Prophet Muhammad, following the reign of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, when one group considered his son Musa Kazim as the rightful Imam. The other group regarded Imam Ja’far’s elder son, Ismail, as the rightful successor. Musa Kazim’s successors continued until the 12th Imam, who is then said to have gone into hiding. This group of Shia Muslims, awaiting the re-appearance of the hidden 12th Imam to take part in the final judgement, forms the Shia majority in Iran and Iraq. They are known as the Twelver Shias or Ithnashries.

The group that held to Imam Ismail became known as the Ismailis and continue to thrive today under the Hereditary leadership of His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully addressed by his Ismaili Muslim followers as Hazar Imam (the present living Imam). Thus, the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely the Aga Khan.

Naheed Nenshi Mayor Calgary Simerg
Naheed Nenshi, left, at an event in Ottawa.

Having recently re-established myself as a resident of Alberta after 40 years, and to put the Ismailis and their Hereditary 49th Imam, the Aga Khan, into an Albertan perspective, I should like to mention that Naheed Nenshi, who served as Calgary’s mayor for three terms from 2010 until 2021 is an Ismaili Muslim. Readers are invited to read his piece in the Globe and Mail, Why I’m grateful for the Aga Khan’s extraordinary service to humanity (a subscription or registration may be required to read the article).

Salma Lakhani, 19th Lieutenant Governor Alberta, Simerg
The Honourable Salma Lakhani

It is noteworthy that Her Honour, the Honourable Salma Lakhani, who was installed as the 19th Lieutenant Governor on August 26, 2020, is also an Ismaili Muslim, and her profile can be read on this website by clicking HERE. The piece also has a link to an interview that Canadian Geographic conducted with her.

In Edmonton, the spectacular 4.8-hectare Aga Khan Garden within the University of Alberta’s Botanic Garden was gifted by the Aga Khan as “a symbol of the continued intellectual, educational and cultural collaboration between the University of Alberta and the Aga Khan Development Network.” The Botanic Garden will open for the 2022 season on May 7th, and is a MUST visit site, according to Hundreds of Google and Tripadvisor reviews. I look forward to publishing a special photo essay in the near future on the Botanic Garden, with a focus on the Aga Khan Garden.

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Aga Khan Garden Edmonton, part of Aga Khan interviews piece in Simerg
Views of the beautiful Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton. The Garden is scheduled to open for the 2022 season on May 7. Photos: Aga Khan Trust for Culture.

And elsewhere in Canada, His Highness the Aga Khan’s projects include the Global Centre for Pluralism and the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat Building, both located on Sussex Drive in Ottawa; the Aga Khan Museum, the Aga Khan Park and the Ismaili Centre on Wynford Drive in Toronto; and the Ismaili Centre Vancouver on Canada Way in Burnaby.

Canada is home to more than 100,000 Ismailis, with around 12,000 in Calgary.

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Aga Khan Projects Canada Simerg
Clockwise from top left: Ismaili Centre and Aga Khan Museum, both in Toronto (ponds in foreground in both photos are part of the Aga Khan Park); Ismaili Centre Vancouver, Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, Global Centre for Pluralism, Ottawa, and Aga Khan Park Toronto. Collage: Simerg.

With these preliminary remarks on the Aga Khan and his Ismaili Muslim followers, I now invite you to read two excellent interviews that France’s Politique International and Canada’s Peter Mansbridge conducted with the Aga Khan. Both the interviews have appeared on this website with the publishers’ permission.

The Aga Khan’s Absorbing Interview with Politique International

Aga Khan, Politique Internationale, Simerg
Click on image for “Power of Wisdom”

“We are a long way from the democratization of nuclear energy. Maybe I’m naïve but I advocate another approach, which I call “positive proliferation.” The positive proliferation that I would dearly love to see happen is based on a simple principle: yes to energy, no to arms” — To read full interview, click Politique Internationale: The Power of Wisdom

The Aga Khan’s One on One Interview with Peter Mansbridge

Aga Khan University of Alberta, Simerg
Click on image for “One on One”

Peter Mansbridge: What is the quality that you most admire about this country?

The Aga Khan: I think a number of qualities. First of all, it’s a pluralist society that has invested in building pluralism, where communities from all different backgrounds and faiths are happy. It’s a modern country that deals with modern issues, not running away from the tough ones. And a global commitment to values, to Canadian values, which I think are very important. — To read the interview and the story behind the interview, please click Peter Mansbridge: One on One.

Date posted: May 6, 2022.
Last updated: May 9, 2022 (caption updates and typos).

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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 Simergphotos. 

Simerg’s editor Malik may be reached at mmerchant@simerg.com.