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.

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.

David Rumsey Map Collection: Historical Map Showing 600 Years of Islamic Monuments in Cairo from the Rise of the Fatimid Empire in North Africa in 909

Compiled by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor SimergSimergphotos and Barakah

The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection focuses on 16th through 21st century maps of North and and South America, as well as maps of the World, Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania. Atlases, globes, school geographies, maritime charts, and a variety of separate maps including pocket, wall, children’s and manuscript maps are present on the website. The depth and breath of the digital collection is impressive, and is continuously growing. The website notes that the actual physical map collection is housed at the David Rumsey Map Center at the Stanford University Library.

My search on the website using the term “Fatimid” yielded one result. It is a map produced in 1924 by the Survey of Egypt, which was once regarded as “one of the most professional mapping agencies in the World, predicated upon the synergy of the most authoritative topographical and urban mapping combined with the latest archaeological surveys.”

Simerg is pleased to reproduce the map, along with an interesting narrative that accompanies the map on the David Rumsey Map Center website. We also invite readers to click on the link to enrich their viewing experience of the map, download the map (by using the Export Function) as well as to explore other maps that may be of interest to readers or to provide them with further information in their specific area of research.

Cairo During the Islamic Golden Age

Please click on image for enlargement

Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments.
Map of Cairo showing Islamic monuments, with the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue. Credit: David Rumsey Map Collection, David Rumsey Map Center, Stanford Libraries. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Cairo was the greatest centre of culture, learning and commerce during the ‘Islamic Golden age’. Commencing in the early 20th Century professional archaeologists as well as art and architectural historians became interested in scientifically recording Cairo’s sensational Islamic buildings and monuments.

The map employs colours to denote sites built across the city during the eras of the three great Islamic empires that controlled Cairo prior to the arrival of the Ottomans in 1517: the ‘Fatimid and Pre-Fatimid Monuments’ (909 – 1171), shaded in Red; the ‘Aiyubid [Ayyubid] Monuments’ (1171 – 1260), shaded in Green; and the ‘Mameluke Monuments’ (1260 – 1517), shaded in Blue.

These mosques, palaces, madrassas, and fortifications appear amidst the otherwise buff-coloured city which generally consisted of buildings built during the subsequent Ottoman and British Protectorate periods.

The map shows that many of the greatest edifices from the periods of the three great Islamic empires have survived, although only traces of the vast Fatimid Place can be found amongst the foundations of newer buildings. Each of the historical sites is named in Gothic script and features a corresponding numeral which refers to that which appears upon the plaques affixed to each building by the civic authorities. The two insets on the left-hand side showcase sites in areas outside of the city proper. We understand that the first edition the map was issued in 1924, while an Arabic language version was published in 1948. The present revised, official edition was issued in 1950-1 (correction, this copy is the first edition, issued in 1924), while several facsimile (unofficial) versions have been issued since then. The Survey of Egypt followed the initial production of the present issue of the map with a small booklet, Index to Mohammedan monuments appearing on the special 1:5000 scale maps of Cairo (Cairo, 1951), that is not present here, but seems to have been issued with the latter-releases of the map.

Cairo during the ‘Islamic Golden Age’ Cairo was traditionally the largest and most culturally and economically important city in the Islamic world. The Muslim conquest of Byzantine Egypt occurred between 639 and 646 AD. While the Cairo area has been settled for thousands of years, with the key Ancient Egyptian cities of Giza and Memphis located nearby, the city proper was not founded until 969, when it became the principal city, and sometimes capital, of the Fatimid Caliphate, a Shia Muslim empire which controlled much of North Africa, the Levant and Hejaz between 909 and 1171.

Cairo rapidly rose to become a centre of great wealth, at the nexus of global trade routes as well as home to some of the world’s foremost centres of education and the arts. Befitting its importance, great monuments of Islamic architecture were built across the city.

The Al-Azhar Madrassa (no. 97 on the map), which later grew into a university, was founded in 970-2 and today remains the world’s most prestigious institute of Islamic learning. The map notes some Islamic monuments made before 969, as the pre-Cairo rural landscape featured some small mosques, houses and fortifications.

The Fatimids were replaced by the Ayyubid Dynasty (1171 – 1260), a regime of Kurdish origin, founded by the legendary conqueror Saladin, whereupon Cairo remained the prosperous centre of an empire spanning much of the Middle East.

The Mamelukes were an elite class of soldier-bureaucrats descended from former Christian slaves. In 1250, they took over Egypt, the Levant and Hejaz, forming the Mameluke Sultanate, with its capital in Cairo. It was during the early part of their regime that Cairo reached its zenith as the principal centre of the Islamic Golden Age.

The epicentre of a global trading network that spanned from India to Spain, Cairo far surpassed all European cities in wealth and cultural sophistication, and many exquisite works of architecture were built to reflect this glorious state. The Mameluke Sultanate was conquered by the Ottomans in 1517 and Cairo ceased to be an imperial capital. However, while technically subject to the Sublime Porte, Egypt maintained a high degree of autonomy and was the wealthiest and most prosperous part of the Ottoman Empire; Cairo remained a highly important centre.

Fortunately, as the repent map reveals, the survival rate of Cairo’s great works of Islamic architecture from the Fatimid, Ayyubid and Mameluke periods is impressively high, and many sites can be visited today. References: OCLC: 17543226. (Alexander Johnson, 2020).

Date posted: February 22, 2022.

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

Malik, the founding publisher and editor of the 3 websites, may be reached at his email address, mmerchant@barakah.com.

Hazrat Ali Calligraphy by Karim Ismail

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

The Imams

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

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

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

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

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The Ant

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

The Prophet’s Household

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

Patience

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

The Headstrong

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

The Blessed

Blessed is one
who is humble regarding himself,

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

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Recitations of Ginanic Verses by Late Shamshu Bandali Haji

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

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

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

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

Date Posted: February 11, 2022.

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

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

Readings on Imam Hussain (A.S.): “The Foremost Among the Youths of Paradise”

INTRODUCTION: The Muslim New Year begins with the month of Muharram. In most of the countries, the celebrations are not marked by a public holiday. However, the coming of the New Year is observed by offering of special prayers at night and reflection on the life and times of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.). His emigration (Hijrah) from Mecca to Medina in the year 622 AC was a significant event and later adopted to mark the beginning of the Muslim Era.

Amongst the Shi’a Muslims, the first part of the month of Muharram is also an occasion which is marked with a sense of sorrow and solemnity. The 10th of Muharram was the day when Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S.) together with most of the members of his family and close companions were martyred on the fields of Karbala.

For 2021, the month of Muharram commenced on Monday or Tuesday August 2 or 3. We provide below links to two articles posted in this website.

I

“I want to know how, after God says the Prophet is a beautiful role-model (33:21), that so many of the earliest Muslims turned against his family. To kill the family of the Prophet became a sport from within the community. I wish I had been there to understand that, because no historian will be able to answer the question.” — Hussein Rashid

Please click: Muslim and non-Muslim Expressions on Imam Hussain

Please click for “Muslim and non-Muslim Expressions on Imam Hussain” and also see below for link to second piece. Credit: “Ya Hussain” calligraphy from wallpaper designed by Mohammad Sajjad, Sajjadsgraphics.blogspot.com. Reproduced with permission.

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II

Ibn-e-Sa’d: If you pay homage to Yazid, everything will go well for you and whatever worldly comforts and priviliges you desire will be at your disposal

Imam Hussain: Tell Yazid to tempt with the worldly comforts those who are after this world. I am the Imam, the representative of the Apostle of God. Hussain will cheerfully meet any catastrophe but never surrender Truth to falsehood.

Please click: Karbala Tragedy

Last updated: August 12, 2021.

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Featured image at top of post: This image of an oil on canvas painting by Abbas Al-Musavi commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Hussein at the Battle of Karbala. Its focus is his half-brother Abbas ibn Ali on a white horse. This image was uploaded into Wikipedia Commons as a donation by the Brooklyn Museum and is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. The painting is a gift of K. Thomas Elghanayan in honor of Nourollah Elghanayan.

A Note to Readers: Please click Table of Contents for links to all articles published on this blog since March 2009. Subscribe to this Website via the box near the top right of this page.

Ghadir Khumm and the Designation of Hazrat Ali as the Successor of Prophet Muhammad

We have two short pieces on the festival of Eid-e Ghadir, which is commemorated on the 18th of the Islamic month Dhul Hijja (in 2021 falling on or around Tuesday July 27). The first piece, along with the ambigram at the top, is reproduced from The Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community. The ambigram, which is in the Arabic script, can be read as ‘Muhammad’ and, upside down, as ‘Ali’. The second piece, At the Ghadir Khumm Campsite, by British writer Barnaby Rogerson first appeared in Simerg’s acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been that can be downloaded as a PDF file. We have also embedded excerpts from the Ismaili Constitution as well as an Ismaili Ginan that are pertinent to the occasion.

Eid-e Ghadir Mubarak

Eid-e Ghadir calligraphy by Karim Ismaili
Outer border: The famous tradition of Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm — Mun Kuntu Mawlahu, Fa Aliyyun Mawlahu (He whose Mawla I am, Ali is his Mawla); Centre: The name Muhammad (in middle), and the name Ali repeated seven times in Eastern Kufi calligraphy. Calligraphy and design: © Karim Ismail, Toronto, Canada.

This week, Shia Muslims across the world observe Eid-e Ghadir, marking the anniversary of an important event in Muslim history. According to Shia belief, tradition, and interpretation of history, this occasion commemorates the pivotal gathering at Ghadir Khumm, when Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) — based on a divine command from Allah — designated Hazrat Ali as his successor and the first in the continuing line of hereditary Imams.

In historical sources, it is recorded that on the way back to Medina after performing a pilgrimage to Mecca, the Prophet received a revelation — Surah al-Ma’ida (sura 5 ayat 67) — that we recite in our daily prayers:

“O Messenger, deliver [to the people] what has been revealed to you from your Lord, and if you do not do so, then you will not have delivered His message …”

Numerous reliable hadith sources — both Shia and Sunni — record this event, which took place in the year 632 CE. Upon receiving this revelation, the Holy Prophet stopped at an oasis known as Ghadir Khumm, and addressed a large gathering of Muslims who had accompanied him. It is said that 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.”

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Ismaili Constitution Imamat Aga Khan, Simerg
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is seen signing a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community on his 50th birthday, December 13, 1986. The preamble excerpts produced in this post are from this constitution.

In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (a.s), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wīl and Ta‘līm of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khātun-i-Jannat (a.s).Preamble, Ismaili Constitution

According to Shia belief, by declaring Hazrat Ali as Mawla after him, the Prophet transferred his own spiritual authority bestowed upon him by Allah to Hazrat Ali, making him — and all the Imams that follow — the Amirul Mu’minin, or Master of the Believers.

On instruction from Prophet Muhammad, Hazrat Ali received baiyat (the oath of allegiance), from the Muslims assembled there. According to Shia traditions and sources, following the proclamation, the final verse of the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet:

“On this day, I have perfected for you your religion, completed my favours upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.”

This marks the end of the period of nabuwwa, or Prophethood, and the historical beginning of the Institution of Imamat. Eid-e Ghadir is an anniversary of special significance to all Shia Muslims, as it is also associated with the well-attested tradition in which the Prophet is said to have proclaimed:

“I am leaving among you two matters of great weight (al-thaqalayn), the Book of Allah and my kindred (itrati), the People of my House (Ahl al-Bayt), and these two shall never be separated until they return to me at the Pool [of Kawthar in Paradise on the Day of Judgement]…”

Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.Preamble, Ismaili Constitution

The Shia Ismaili tradition bears witness to the continuity of the authority vested at Ghadir Khumm. Today, this leadership and authority is vested in Mawlana Hazar Imam. The rope of Imamat has continued over 1,400 years, from Hazrat Ali, to the present 49th hereditary Imam and direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad through Hazrat Ali and Hazrat Bibi Fatima al-Zahra, Khatun-i Jannat.

In commemorating Eid-e Ghadir, the Jamat celebrates the seminal event of Ghadir Khumm, reaffirming our allegiance to the Imam-of-the-Time as the direct lineal successor and inheritor of the authority of Hazrat Ali.

Eid Mubarak!

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Ginan: Imam Must Be Present on Earth

Purush shan matra pag dharani na dharante,
Sansaar, chandra, suraj na dhrashtante,
Kuchh na dhrashtante,
Bhom kar, megh, dharti na aakaash bhave 

Translation:

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.

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Objects Commemorating the Idd-e Ghadir

Images of some stamps and coins issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1990 and 2010 commemorating the Idd-e-Ghadir. The inscriptions inlude the Shahada, Qur'anic ayats and the declaration made by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm, "Mun Koontu Mawla, Fa Hada, Aliyun Mawla" meaning "He of whom I am the Mawla Ali is also the Mawla." Simerg
Images of some stamps and coins issued by the Islamic Republic of Iran between 1990 and 2010 commemorating the Idd-e-Ghadir. The inscriptions inlude the Shahada, Qur’anic ayats and the declaration made by Prophet Muhammad at Ghadir Khumm, “Mun Koontu Mawla, Fa Hada, Aliyun Mawla” meaning “He of whom I am the Mawla Ali is also the Mawla.”

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At the Ghadir Khumm Campsite

By BARNABY ROGERSON

Barnaby Rogerson

What an offer! To travel back in time and return as a true witness to the history that I have so often thought and dreamed about. Perhaps I could travel in the habit of a Christian envoy from some Celtic island monastery off the west coast of the British Isles, sent east to seek advice from the wise holy man of whom we had heard, far off in Arabia. For in my homeland the light of civilization seems on the point of extinction, as Barbarian invaders appear like devils from out of the German sea.

I would arrive in the oasis of Medina at a time of peace, when all of Arabia was sending delegations to seek peace and instruction. Here, in my imagination, I would be befriended by Ali and taken back to his home, where I would witness how this battle-scarred warrior was also content in his role as a young father, playing with his boys Hussein and Hassan on the reed mats in his humble hut amongst the palm groves.

Then, in a flurry of energy, I receive a last-minute invitation to join the Prophet’s Last Pilgrimage to the holy shrine at Mecca. Although I am not permitted to approach the shrine itself and am left at a campsite just outside the pilgrimage city, I make certain to record the events as told by the eyewitnesses I travelled with.

On the journey back, I bear witness to the exact succession of events at the Ghadir Khumm campsite: the blessings, the sermon and the ritual actions of the Prophet ordaining Ali as his successor. These I faithfully record in the pages of my journal, before hurriedly departing and returning to my homeland. There, the account of my travels is neatly copied out onto vellum and placed in the monastery library. Years later, the monastery is sacked by raiders coming out of the sea, who in their fury destroyed even the walls of this holy place. But this was fortunate in a way, for the domed roof of the library collapsed preserving all the books, which lie there still…

Date posted: July 26, 2021.

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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.

His Highness the Aga Khan’s Messages to His Ismaili Muslim Spiritual Children Around the World Since March 2020

Simerg’s sister website, Barakah, has created a special new Talika page with links to all the Talikas (written messages) that Mawlana Hazar Imam has sent to his Jamats around the world since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Talika page will be updated whenever a new Talika is received from Mawlana Hazar Imam. However, for a start we are also providing the links to all the Talikas from March 2020 to Current (July 2021) hereunder; they are listed in reverse chronological order:

JULY 2021

In a Wide Ranging Imamat Day Talika, Mawlana Hazar Imam Sends Blessings for the Souls of His Deceased Spiritual Children, the Jamats Around the World as Well as Everyone Involved in Combatting Covid-19; Tells Jamats Not to Hesitate in Getting Vaccinated and Expresses Happiness At Two Recent Events in Universities That He Has Built – Barakah

MARCH 2021

In Navroz Talika, Mawlana Hazar Imam tells Jamats that he has been vaccinated against Covid-19, recommends that Jamats do the same without giving credence to comparisons between officially sanctioned vaccines, and gives blessings for barakah in our spiritual and material lives with prayers that Navroz will herald a new beginning – Barakah

DECEMBER 2020

In Talika Mubarak on the occasion of his 84th birthday, Mawlana Hazar Imam asks us to draw comfort from the practice of our faith, appreciates the excellent work of volunteers, and conveys his loving paternal maternal blessings to the world wide Jamat – Barakah

NOVEMBER 2020

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, in his message on November 2, 2020, tells his spiritual children “there is no room for complacency” over the risks posed by the coronavirus “for sometime to come” and send his blessings for mushkil-asan – Barakah

JULY 2020

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends Talika Mubarak to Ismailis around the world on the occasion of his 63rd Imamat Day – Barakah

MAY 2020

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s loving and inspiring Talika on the occasion of Eid ul-Fitr shows his concern for his spiritual children in all facets of their lives – Barakah

APRIL 2020

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, sends message to his spiritual children around the world on Covid-19, with blessings for their protection from difficulty; text in 10 languages – Barakah

MARCH 2020

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, showers his paternal and maternal blessings on his spiritual children around the world in light of the present crisis – Barakah; and

Mawlana Hazar Imam sends talika on the occasion of Navroz with special blessings for mushkil asan, and prayers for the Jamat’s health and well-being – Barakah

Date posted: July 21, 2021.

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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.

A Unique Imamat Day Card and a Pictorial Presentation of Years 61-64 of the Aga Khan’s Imamat, a Divine Institution that is Rooted in a Proclamation Made by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S) 1389 Years Ago

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT
(Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg and Simergphotos)

Shia Ismaili Muslims all over the world will commemorate the 64th Imamat Day anniversary of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, on Sunday July 11, 2021.

From the day our beloved Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) passed away on June 8, 632, and Hazrat Ali (A.S.) became the first Imam on the Divine Commandment that the Prophet had received at Ghadir Khumm, there have been forty-nine Ismaili Imams in continuous Hereditary Succession, spanning a period of 1389 years in Islamic history.

Upper row: Imam Shah Hassanali Shah (Aga Khan I) and Imam Shah Ali Shah (Aga Khan II). Lower row: Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (Aga Khan III) and Mawlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini (Aga Khan IV). Total reign of the four Imams 203 years from 1817 to current year (2021). Longest reign Aga Khan III, 71 years; followed by Aga Khan I and Aga Khan IV, each 64 years.

Mawlana Hazar Imam and his immediate three predecessors have reigned the Jamat for a total of 203 years or 14.6 % of the entire span as follows:

1. Mawlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini Hazar Imam (His Highness the Aga Khan IV, Imam from 1957 – Current, 64 years, he became the 49th Imam at the age of 20); 
2. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah (His Highness the Aga Khan III, Imam from 1885 – 1957, Imam for 71 years, he became the 48th Imam at the age of 7 years);
3. Imam Shah Ali Shah (Aga Khan II, 1881 – 1885, Imam for 4 years, he became the 47th Imam at the age of 51 years); and
4. Imam Shah Hassanali Shah (Aga Khan I, 1817 – 1881, Imam for 64 years, he became the 46th Imam at the age of 13 years).

This 203 year period of the reign of 4 successive Ismaili Imams accounts for more time than does the entire Fatimid period, reigned by 8 Imams from Imam Mehdi (11th Imam, North Africa) to Imam Mustansir bi Allah (18th Imam, Cairo)!

On that historical and interesting statistical fact, we convey to Ismaili Jamats around the world as well as friends and supporters of the community Imamat Day Mubarak through a beautifully designed card by Toronto’s Karim Ismail.

The design carries a rich and significant meaning for all Shia Ismaili Muslims as explained in Ismail’s brief note below. We sincerely thank him for sharing this very special and extraordinary work with us and our readers around the world.

We would be remiss if we did not mention the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on humanity at large. Many of us have lost four beloved friends and family members to Covid-19 or other illnesses and causes, and social distancing, travelling and restrictive gathering rules have prevented us from fully participating in funerals. We pray that the souls of the deceased may rest in eternal peace and that their family members may find strength and courage to overcome the grief over the loss.

On this 64th Imamat Day of Mawlana Hazar Imam, we also pray for the fulfillment of our readers’ wishes and that everyone’s lives are filled with barakah (happiness) and success. We particularly wish families with young children and youth success in their studies.

2021 Imamat Day Card

Click on image for enlargement

Imamat Day Card by Karim Ismail Simerg and Barakah His Highness the Aga Khan Mawlana Hazar Imam Prince Karim

Explanatory Note of the 2021 Imamat Day Card

By KARIM ISMAIL

In Shi’i tradition, “The Rope of Allah” (Qur’an 3:103) refers to the “Ahl al Bayt” — the Imams from the House of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S).

This important tradition appears in the card within heptagonal geometry (seven-sided polygon) about which the (Late) Karl Schlamminger, creator of extraordinary designs and distinctive calligraphies for the Ismaili Centres in London, Lisbon and Toronto, observed as follows in an essay for Arts & The Islamic World (volume 3, number 3, page 25-26):

“The floor of the outer entrance hall [of the Ismaili Centre London] has an open ended pattern in heptagonal form which rises at the focus of the room to create a fountain: such a pattern in such space is of course a completely classical Islamic response — but I have never heard of a heptagonal pattern anywhere in Islamic architecture.

“The number seven symbolizes for Ismailis the values of its essential philosophy — but has never been used in an architectural context. Here the sevenness of the design is no superficial effigy or naturalistic picture of an idea, but — as always in Islam — is expressed in geometry (literally: measurement of the earth).”

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Photo Essay: Years 61-64 of the Aga Khan’s Imamat

We now invite readers to visit Simerg’s sister website Barakah for a very special four-part pictorial series on years 61 to 64 of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat.

Date posted: July 10, 2021.

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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.

Karim Ismail Calligraphy, Ismaili artist simerg and 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 Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum, which is currently closed due to Covid-19. Karim was also active on the literature counter at the Ismaili Centre Toronto, before the closure of Jamatkhanas due to Covid-19.

His Highness the Aga Khan: The Revered Ismaili Imam Who Continues the Progressive Heritage of Classical Islam by Michael Hamilton Morgan

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Barakah, a website dedicated to the Aga Khan
His Highness the Aga Khan addressing the 2020 Aga Khan University Convocation. His 64th Imamat Day will be celebrated on July 11, 2021. He became the 49th Imam of the Ismaili Muslims at the age of 20 when he was still a student at Harvard University. Please click on photo for article by acclaimed American writer Michael Hamilton Morgan.

“Believe it or not — hard work in the areas of education, scientific research, medicine, public works, charity, economic development and entrepreneurship — are the behavioral pillars of historical Muslim culture that made Muslim culture the single most progressive force in the world from about 650 to 1500 of the current era…..This ancient Muslim religious devotion to science, ideas, openness and empirical evidence has indeed been obscured in the mainstream….in the Muslim world, incomplete popular understanding of the faith of Islam has weakened understanding of the importance of logic and reason to the Islamic tradition.

“In this vast tapestry of the interaction of Muslims with each other, and with other cultures and faiths, there is one tradition that unfailingly continues the progressive heritage of classical Islam — profoundly intellectual, open, tolerant, pacific — and in particular one leader who has made it especially attuned to the many difficulties of the world today. That would be Ismailism and its revered Imam, the current Aga Khan IV”….. READ FULL ARTICLE.

Michael Morgan is an international speaker and author of Lost History: the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists (National Geographic/Random House) which has reached thousands of readers around the world, and has been translated into several languages. Morgan received Egypt’s Presidential award for the Arts & Sciences in 2008. His insightful article on the Aga Khan is a must read!

Date posted: July 7, 2021.

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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.

The Ismaili Muslim Greeting Ya Ali Madad, Mawla Ali Madad: A Dialogue with Two Inspiring and Beautiful Songs by Ismaili Children and Artists from the Pamirs

By (Late) Malek J. Merchant
Adapted and edited by Malik and Nurin Merchant

This religious dialogue on Ya Ali Madad is adapted and edited from the original piece by Mrs. Merchant (1931-2021). It was presented by her students at their respective religious education centres and Jamatkhanas in London, England, and also appeared in the 1977 Navroz issue of UK ITREB’S prestigious Ilm magazine. An adapted version of the original piece was later published on this websiste HERE. The piece below was revised recently by her son Malik and granddaughter Nurin who both edit and publish this website, Simerg, and its sister websites Barakah and Simergphotos

Following the dialogue, we present two beautiful Ya Ali Madad songs. The first one by Ismaili children was presented on The.Ismaili website in October 2020, and the second one is a song that was popularized by a team of Ismaili artists from Tajikistan’s Pamir regions when they performed to full houses in cities across Canada in 1999/2000. The Ya Ali Madad song brought the Jamat to their feet, and continues to remain popular in the Ismaili world – Ed.

Dialogue: Ya Ali Madad…. Mawla Ali Madad

AyazHi, Naguib. How’re you?

NaguibYa Ali Madad Ayaz; I’m fine thank you.

Ayaz: You greeted me somewhat differently!

Naguib: Yes, Ayaz, I said Ya Ali Madad, our traditional Ismaili greeting! Just as ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ and others are greetings in the English culture, Ya Ali Madad is a greeting in our Ismaili tradition and culture. I have been using that to greet all my friends and family members.

Ayaz: That’s interesting — I am glad you greeted me as such.

Naguib: Actually, there is also a Muslim greeting in Arabic, which goes ‘As-salaam-alaykum’. The reply to that is ‘Wa-alaykum-salaam’.

Ayaz:  I guess all that has a special meaning as well?

Naguib: Yes. As-salaam-alaykum means ‘May peace be upon you!’ The reply to this is Wa-alaykum-salaam, which means ‘And may peace be upon you, too’.

Ayaz: That’s really great! Tell me, what does Ya Ali Madad mean?

Naguib: Ya Ali Madad is a phrase very rich in meaning. Firstly, Ali is one of the Names of Allah. It means ‘The Exalted’ or ‘The Most High.’

Ali, of course, is also the name of our first Imam. Thus, from an Ismaili context, Ya Ali Madad means ‘May Mawla Ali, our Hazar Imam, help you’.

I should just like to add that Mawlana Hazar Imam, like his grandfather and our 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, and all Hereditary Imams going back to the first Imam Hazrat Ali, are the Bearers of the Same Light or Noor of Imamat. So, when we say Ya Ali Madad we are seeking help from the Imam of the Time.

Ayaz: I certainly have to read up and become familiar with the concept of Imamat. What is the reply to Ya Ali Madad?

Nuguib: It’s Mawla Ali Madad, which means ‘May Mawla Ali, our Hazar Imam, help you, too’.

Ayaz: I think that’s a very beautiful greeting!

Naguib: It sure is, because Ya Ali Madad, unlike greetings like hi, good morning, etc. is not merely a polite and courteous way to acknowledge another Ismaili’s presence. It is a Tasbih and a prayer.

It’s a Tasbih because we remember Allah and we also remember Hazar Imam. At the same time, it is also a prayer seeking the help of Mawlana Hazar Imam. I remember instances when Hazar Imam has often asked us to call on the name of Allah, the Prophet, Hazrat Ali or even the names of the Imams at any moment during the day as a form prayer. That moment can be as little as a second.

Ayaz: It’s amazing and almost embarrassing to admit hat I’ve never used this beautiful traditional greeting before.

Naguib: But haven’t your parents ever greeted you with Ya Ali Madad?

Ayaz: No. All mum says is, ‘Bye, take care’ when I go out and ‘Hello’ when I come in. When I go to bed, it’s ‘Goodnight’ with a kiss. Come to think of it, mum never says Ya Ali Madad to her friends either. It’s always ‘Hi Jenny’ and ‘Hi Sakar’.

Naguib: It’s very sad to hear that we ignore our traditions. Don’t you think it would be nice to say Ya Ali Madad before leaving for school, then again on returning from school, and finally when going to bed? And parents could reply with Mawla Ali Madad, along with ‘Sleep well’ or ‘Take care of yourself’.

Ayaz: Yes it would, because then we know that Hazar Imam’s help and protection is always available to us. I now can relate to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings during the past year when we have been living through this Covid-19 pandemic. He has conveyed to each one of us his most affectionate loving blessings for protection from difficulties, for our well being, good health, safety and security. And he has also constantly reminded us that he is always with us.

Mum and dad will be really surprised tonight when I say Ya Ali Madad instead of ‘Goodnight’.

Naguib: I bet they’ll be amazed! It is always very inspiring when I hear the exchange of Ya Ali Madad and Mawla Ali Madad greetings between members of the Jamat and especially the youth. They do so with so much affection for each other, and with immense faith in Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Also, Ayaz, you might hear people simply say Ya Ali, and miss out on the final word Madad. Unfortunately, this has become very common. Of course, it is always good to remember our Mawla, but when we are greeting it is good to greet with the full phrase Ya Ali Madad which has a specific meaning.

Ayaz: As a matter of interest, are there greetings similar to Ya Ali Madad among other traditions and cultures?

Naguib: You will be interested to know in Iran the greeting Daste Ali Beh Hamrat is often exchanged, meaning “Ali’s blessing be with you.”

Ayaz: I’m glad I met you today and you said Ya Ali Madad. I wouldn’t have learnt all this if you’d just wished me ‘Hi’. I also thank you for your observation that the greeting should be said in full as Ya Ali Madad and not simply Ya Ali.

Naguib: Well, I’m glad you see the beauty and importance of our tradition.

Ayaz: Thank you very much for being so patient and explaining all this to me.

Naguib: Not a problem at all – I’m glad I could be of help.

Ayaz: I’m glad too that I’ve learnt something about our traditions today. Well, I guess I’d better go now.  Thank you Naguib, and Ya Ali Madad – ‘May our Hazar Imam help you’, is that right?

Naguib: Yes, that’s right. Mawla Ali Madad, Ayaz.

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Two Ya Ali Madad Songs to Enjoy

1. Ya Ali Madad by Ismaili Children

Ya Ali Madad song by Ismaili children.

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2. Audio: The Iconic Ya Ali Madad – Mawla Ali Madad Song by the Ismaili Ensemble from the Pamirs

Ismaili artist with song Ya Ali Madad, Moscow performance, simerg Insights from around the world
The unforgettable Ismaili singer who enchanted and brought the Ismaili Jamats to their feet with his iconic song Ya Ali Madad during a visit by Ismaili artists from Gorno-Badakhshan to Canada in1999/2000. Photo: The singer performing at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam in Moscow, Russia, in December 2016.

The following rendition of the Ya Ali Madad song is from the DVD “Expressions from the Pamirs” produced in 2000 following a highly successful tour of Ismailis artists from Tajikistan who performed in major centres across Canada in 1999/2000. The Canadian Jamat was introduced for the first time to the Ismaili culture of their brothers and sisters in Badakhshan through a 2 hour stage performance of dance, drama, music and songs, along with an informative exhibition containing cultural artefacts related to the Jamats of Central Asia. The editor of this website, Malik Merchant, acted as a guide at the exhibition that was hosted in Vancouver in the latter half of 1999.

Ya Ali Madad, Mawla Ali Madad. Credit: Expressions of the Pamirs, 2000.

Date posted: July 1, 2021.

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Mrs Merchant Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Simerg
Mrs. Malek Merchant (1931-2021)

Alwaeza Malek J. Merchant (1931-2021), popularly known as Mrs. Merchant, rendered services to the Jamat, its institutions and the Imam-of-the Time for several decades as a missionary and religious education teacher in Africa, Pakistan, Canada and the UK. She passed away on January 21, 2021 at the age of 89. This piece has been adapted and re-written from her original dialogue on Ya Ali Madad by her son, Malik, and granddaughter Nurin. Alwaeza contributed a great piece for Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There (downloadable as a PDF file). Her article may be independently read by clicking on Varas Ismail Gangji: The Turning Point.

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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.

An Ethereal Journey to a Sacred Space in the Pandemic

(Editor’s note: As of November 20, 2020, Jamatkhanas in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) are once again temporarily closed due to orders issued by the provincial government that impact all places of worship. The BC Jamatkhanas had re-opened at the beginning of August with limited attendance capacity both in the evenings and mornings. Zaher Ahamed’s excellent piece is an attempt to convey his joyful experience of attending a Jamatkhana in Canada in the midst of Covid-19. On new developments about Jamatkhana openings and closures in Canada, please subscribe to the official Al-Akhbar electronic bulletins distributed by Ismaili institutions in Canada).

“Maybe….because of this pandemic, I have experienced the true nature of our faith and gained a new insight into one of our central religious practices of our tariqah: the remembrance of Him in His house during the hour of Baitul Khayal” — Zaher Ahamed

By ZAHER MEGHJI AHAMED

Headquarters Jamatkhana Vancouver. Photo: FNDA.

It was our first journey to the re-opened Headquarters Jamatkhana in Vancouver during a pandemic: it was for the early morning contemplation and prayers or Baitul Khayal during the earlier part of August, and it turned out to be a  total ethereal, peaceful and powerful experience, the closest I have ever felt to the presence of the Nur (Light) of Imam in a what had become  a truly perfect sacred spiritual space.

There was pin drop silence! The pandemic protocol put in place, after going through a painless computerized registration system as you entered, did not permit for social chit-chat, small talk and worldly conversations over a cup of chai before entering the sacred space.

We were swept with only the thought of Him silently with dignity into the Jamatkhana prayer hall. We were in a peaceful dignified space, where there was not a word between the murids, each masked, each enclosed in his or her own socially distanced bubble. The conversation was only with Him, just as it was meant to be. We felt ourselves immersed in the cosmic quiet and stillness, focusing now only on  seeking out moments of happiness through the Divine Word, knowing that, with the Imam’s presence in this space, He was with us blessings us on our own individual journey to seek to come nearer to Allah through the Nur of Hazrat Ali.

With a silent and reflective utterance of “Haizanda” (He is ever living) we stepped into this sacred space and right into his presence! With closed eyes, a quiet mind and an open heart we slipped into the rhythm of silently uttering the Divine Word, first with our lips and then in our hearts, feeling it flow through, ever so slowly, into the depth of our soul, awakening it: and over a period of time, the word now deeply embedded released moments of energy, awareness, joy and happiness…. all in a timeless moment, the soul wanting to stay for ever and then…. the hour was over in what seemed like a second…. with the promise of another day to be again in His presence in this sacred space.

Jamatkhana prayer hall, Ismaili Centre Vancouver. Photo: Bruno Freschi Collection, 1985.
“Sacred Space” – the Jamatkhana prayer hall, Ismaili Centre Vancouver. Photo: Bruno Freschi Collection, 1985.

This is what the house of the Lord was meant to be like!

Then, without a word with anyone, we stepped straight outside into our car, carrying the peace that was in our hearts. And on our way home, we saw the light of the waning moon with Venus ablaze shining on us, leaving us speechless in the cosmic balance of His creation.

The calmness that we had felt in the Jamatkhana continued on our journey home. It was then that I remembered Hunza, where I had felt that same pin drop silence with no words in calm and quiet in a Jamatkhana with a dimly lit hall, “a sacred space,” in Karimabad. And now, I had once again experienced that in my own Jamatkhana in Vancouver — and that too in a global pandemic or maybe because of a global pandemic!

Maybe, ironically, because of this pandemic, I have experienced the true nature of our faith and gained a new insight into one of our central religious practices of our tariqah: the remembrance of Him in His house during the hour of Baitul Khayal.

Going for Ibadat in the morning, in its truest sense, should be an act filled with a simplicity and a reverence  of the highest kind for this sacred space devoid of any refreshments, hanging around the chai table and having meaningless conversations that last until almost 5 a.m!

Spaces created in Jamatkhanas for prayer are sacred spaces!

It was truly a unique experience and in terms of the logistics, the whole process of going to the Jamatkhana, from the time of arrival until departure, was very well organized, with an army of well trained volunteers directing your every move: Your car on arrival is directed into a pre-planned space; if you have not brought your mask one is provided to you; next you confirm your spot and answer standard Covid-19 protocol questions and have your temperature taken; you then get directed into the shoe/coat area, have your hands sanitized and then are led finally into your own space.

When the limited rites and ceremonies, tailored to keep murids safe, are completed, you are led out to your car in an orderly manner. Fifty pre-allocated murids who have come to the Jamatkhana for the morning Ibadat and prayers each, I believe, leaves with a unique experience.

What else are we witnessing during the pandemic?

I believe, we are seeing the birth of a “global Ismaili renaissance” showcased and driven by a digital platform of webinars, zoom sessions and the Ismaili TV. We are seeing the fruition of the coming together of Ismaili talent in all its forms: academic scholars and waezins, health care professionals, dancers, musicians, singers, consultants, counselors, journalists, Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) executives and staff, and Jamati leaders, all the result of our Imam’s extraordinary vision and its execution over the last 60 years.

It is like seeing a period of our rich Fatimid heritage in a digital mirror!

Seniors are zooming… the youth are dancing, men are cooking… women are leading and “dadimas” (grandmothers) are “face timing… and all this within just the last 7 months.

Learning, Mawlana Hazar Imam has often said, should continue throughout our lives. Age should not be a constraint, and this is precisely what we are witnessing. We are exploring with full confidence, and thousands of voices from around the world and from our global Jamat are now being heard directly. This is the commencement of a new digital communications era, and the challenge now will be to stay truly connected and to manage this era carefully with awareness and sensitivity so that it does not stifle in its own success.

As for me and my family, this pandemic has brought us even closer and it feels good to be in the centre of “This Ismaili Renaissance”.… a truly humbling experience!

Date posted: November 20, 2020.

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Zaher Ahamed

Zaher Ahamed is an internationally recognized expert in Strategic Marketing, Multicultural Communications, Diversity & Human Resources Development, Strategic Planning, Design &  Project Management. His over 40 years of Business & Consulting experience includes working with Expo 86, the Royal Bank of Canada, Life Care International, Terry Fox Foundation, WIOMSA (Zanzibar), Governments of Canada & British Columbia as well as holding teaching positions with the University of Stockholm, Red Deer University and BCIT in Europe and in Canada.

He has had extensive experience working for corporate and not-for-profit organizations in the Middle East and Africa. In Nairobi, Kenya, he worked with the Aga Khan University Hospital, as a project manager for the establishment of turnkey state-of-the-art digitally connected Pilot Primary Health care and diagnostic Aga Khan Medical centres in East Africa. His volunteer experience includes working in Syria, Zanzibar, East Africa, Sweden. USA and Canada. He is multilingual and has a deep interest in Ismaili history and Ginanic and Sufi traditions. Now retired in Vancouver, BC, Canada, Zaher continues to perform voluntary work with Ismaili and non-Ismaili institutions around the world.

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

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.