By DR. V. A. LALANI with additional material by MALIK MERCHANT
In response to a recent piece on the impact of Jamatkhana closures, we were pleased to receive a very inspiring recommendation from Omar Kassam of Vancouver who suggested that we slowly recite the Surah Al-Fatihah while we spend 20 seconds thoroughly washing our hands – the #1 health guideline during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Such is the nature of prayer –- that we can seek out small moments of 1 second, 5 seconds or 20 seconds to the remembrance of God, to exalt Him, and to seek His help. The Surah is regarded as one of greatest Surahs in the Holy Qur’an, along with Surah Al-Ikhlas. The wisdom and prayers contained in this small seven verse Surah are absolutely remarkable.
There are many other opportune moments that we have throughout the day, and Mawlana Hazar Imam has often recommended to us to carry the tasbih with us –- in our pockets or handbags –- and seek out moments of happiness by calling on the name of Allah, Hazrat Ali, Prophet Muhammad or the names of the Imams. He has also asked us to invoke these names during any difficulty we are facing.
What is tasbih and what are its origins in Islam?
The Arabic word tasbih means to exalt God, praise God or to pray to God. It is supererogatory prayer, that is, an act which is considered to be good and beyond the call of duty, and not something that is strictly required.
The word tasbih is also given to the beads strung together in the form of a circle which are used in the process of praying.
The tasbih consists of a string of beads that is looped into a circle. The two ends are passed through a larger, decorative bead where they are tied or woven into a knot. This is the starting point of a tasbih.
Almost all the religions in the world today possess some form of this object which differ a little in size, number and arrangement of beads. Calling it by different names (for example, rosary, in Christianity), they make use of it for the purpose of reciting the name of the deity in whom they believe.
Although tasbih is a constant companion and an object of daily use by the believers, its origin, development and purpose has remained so obscure to most of us that I shall discuss some of the details of this small, but important object.
“Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest!” — Holy Qur’an, 13:28
It is said that the first tasbih (supererogatory prayer) was given by the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.S.) to his beloved daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatima (A.S.), the wife of Hazrat Mawla Murtaza Ali (A.S.). This comprise of the praises of Allah, namely, Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great), Subhan Allah (Glory be to Allah) and Al-Hamdu-lillah (All praise is due to Allah). Each of these was to be recited thirty-three times in succession. This is known as Tasbih-e Bibi Fatima.
In the absence of any circular object like the present day tasbih, it is said that Bibi Fatima used to recite these praises taking help of thirty-three stones of dates or thirty-three pebbles.
Later on, as it was found to be very inconvenient to keep loose stones or pebbles, or have to collect them when needed, it was probably decided to string together thirty-three stones of dates or some such object to make a rosary giving it a circular appearance. At a later period, at the point where the knot was tied, a more decorative, larger bead was added, forming what we recognize as the tasbih today. Tasbih prayer beads are made of various materials, including different stones, sterling silver, wood, etc.
The larger bead at the tasbih’s crown is called imam which means ‘a leader’ and it is so called because all recitations start at this point. Imam leads and all the other small beads follow.
In the ordinary Islamic tasbih, the number of beads varies widely from 99 to 102. The 99 bead tasbih may have 2 extra small beads as dividers, after each group of 33 beads. The 102 bead tasbih used in some tariqahs is divided in parts of 12, 22, 34, 22 and 12. Then, of course, we have the commonly used smaller tasbih with 33 beads that is considered in conformity with our Holy Prophet Muhammad’s original conception of tasbih.
As in the 99 bead tasbih, the 33 bead also carries 2 extra beads after each 11 beads, as dividers. The extra small beads act as an informer when the required number of recitations are completed. These are called mui’zin in Arabic which means ‘an informer’ (like the informer who calls Muslims to prayer). In the Indian sub-continent, these two beads are called banga, bangi or bango which all mean ‘a caller’ or ‘an informer’.
Among the numerous memorabilia objects that were produced for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2007 and 2017, the tasbih was the most sought after item. The Diamond Jubilee tasbihs came with a finely-detailed floral pattern interwoven with intricate and diverging leaves inspired by a Fatimid wood carving. The 33 bead Golden Jubilee tasbihs came in twenty-three varieties of semi-precious stone with the top stem adapted from a 16th century alam (emblem or standard).
“O believers, remember God oft and give Him glory at the dawn and in the evening” — Holy Qur’an, 33:41-42
The last and most important point about tasbih is its purpose. The purpose of tasbih is quite evident and that is to remember Allah.
Over the past 35 years, Mawlana Hazar Imam has sought to encourage us to keep the remembrance of our faith as an integral part of our daily life, and to seek from this remembrance spiritual happiness on an ongoing basis. His most recent reference regarding using the tasbih for calling out the name of Allah, the name of Prophet Muhammad, or Hazrat Ali was in a Farman Mubarak that he made in India in 2018 (see page 144, para. 3, in Diamond Jubilee Farman Mubarak book)
While we all face and feel the effects of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic with the rest of humanity, let us all recall the message that Mawlana Hazar Imam conveyed to us at the commencement of the Diamond Jubilee year, when he said that the faith of our forefathers would help us to face life’s challenges in times of crisis and rapid changes (see page 12, para. 2, in Diamond Jubilee Farman Mubarak book).
“Sitting, sleeping, going about, take the Lord’s name, take the Lord’s name” — Ginan, Pir Hasan Kabirdin
An illustrious piece of advice regarding our faith comes from none other than our illustrious forefather Pir Hasan Kabirdin, composer of hundreds of Ginans that have illuminated millions of Ismailis over the past seven centuries. In the second verse of Dur Desh Thee Aayo Vannjaaro, he says: “Sitting, sleeping, going about, take the Lord’s name, take the Lord’s name.” (Translation, Aziz Esmail, in his Scent of Sandalwood)
Carrying the tasbih with us will act as reminder for us to contemplate on the names of Allah, the Prophet and the Imams during any moment in our lifetime. That is the nature of prayer.
Date posted: April 6, 2020.
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.
This piece contains material from the March 1986 issue of Al-Misbah magazine published by the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom (ITREB). The magazine, like all other religious magazines published by ITREB in numerous countries around the world, ceased publication in the early 1990’s.
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“On a frigid December morning in 1953, a policeman found a half-conscious old man slumped on a street bench in the Westminster area of London. That man was Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous 20th-century translator of the Quran. He died alone, homeless, and with no one by his side…Generations of Muslims in English-speaking countries have grown up reading Yusuf Ali’s interpretation of the Quran…Read Saad Hasan’s piece in TRTWORLD.
Multiple translations of the Qur’an line shelves at book stores. Because of the growing Muslim communities in English-speaking countries, as well as greater academic interest in Islam, there has been a blossoming in recent years of English translation. Since fewer than 20 percent of Muslims speak Arabic, this means that most Muslims study the text only in translation. So how accurate are the Qur’an’s renderings into English? The record is mixed…Read more of this informative piece in Simerg(includes a note on Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation).
TRT World Showcase Special with Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens – Why he picked up the guitar again.
“…When the people have nothing, that’s the moment when you have to sing…” — Yusuf Islam
Considered a legend in the music world, Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens opens up to TRT World about his spiritual journey, and shares his thoughts about the world. Please watch the interview, above.
The following piece has been compiled and adapted from material supplied by the Aga Khan Museum; it incorporates notes by Dr. Ulrike al-Khamis, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Public Programs.
From Mecca to Toronto
On display for the first time in Toronto is a 100-year-old silk fragment from a hizam — part of a ceremonial draping that covers the Ka’ba, Islam’s holiest site to which millions of Muslims made the annual pilgrimage on Friday August 9, 2019.
The Ka’ba is draped in a black ceremonial covering known as the kiswa, and around the upper part of the kiswa runs the hizam — an ornamented belt embroidered in silver and silver-gilt thread with Qur’anic verses relating to the pilgrimage.
This hizam is one of the Aga Khan Museum’s most significant textiles and is on special display until September 9, 2019. Measuring eight metres long and nearly one metre tall, it once belonged to a kiswa that measured 47 meters and was made in Cairo around the early 20th century.
As one of the most prominent kiswa ornaments, the hizam traditionally runs the length of the Ka‘ba’s upper perimeter. The inscription here contains verses 27-29 from chapter 22 (Al-Hajj) of the Qur’an:
“And proclaim to mankind the hajj. They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, they will come from every deep and distant mountain highway. That they may witness things that are of benefit to them, and mention the name of Allah on appointed days, over the beast of cattle that He has provided for them. Then eat thereof and feed therewith the poor who have a very hard time. Then let them complete their prescribed duties and perform their vows, and circumambulate the Ancient House.”
The roundels contain further Qur’anic references that mention ‘God the Eternal’ as well as the Prophet Muhammad.
The Ka‘ba receives a new drape every year during the pilgrimage season. After it ends, the kiswa is taken down, divided and either gifted to dignitaries or sold to raise money for charity.
Note: The museum is open everyday from 10 am to 6 pm (8 pm on Wednesdays). It is closed on Mondays, except holiday Mondays.
19th/20th Century Views of Ka’ba
Date posted: August 7, 2019. Last updated: August 15, 2019.
[Before leaving this page, please take a moment to visit Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to a vast and rich collection of articles and photographs published on this blog as well as its two sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos.]
To meet the challenge that the global ecological crisis presents today, there is an urgent need to draw on humanity’s philosophical and spiritual repertoire – because it teaches us valuable lessons on the importance of taking care of life in all its forms. Senegalese philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne draws on this source here, by blending the philosophical novel of a twelfth-century Andalusian Muslim scholar, African words of wisdom and thoughts from Western philosophers. We are not nature’s masters and owners, the Senegalese philosopher warns us.
By SOULEYMANE BACHIR DIAGNE
My intention is to think about a major crisis – the ecological crisis, which we agree, defines the era we are living in − by showing how the history of philosophy can shed light on it and give us guidance on the actions we must take to deal with it. More precisely, I would like to show how there is continuity between the way philosophy helps us to consider a policy of humanity and the way it illuminates a policy of the “humanization of the Earth”, in the words of the French philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).
I use this expression as signifying the duty and the responsibility that the human has to act accordingly, from the moment he understands that nature is entrusted to him and to humanity in the future. It forbids me to consider myself as “nature’s master and owner”, to cite the well-known phrase by the seventeenth-century French philosopher, René Descartes. On this point, regarding a philosophy that is simultaneously spiritual and ecological, I would like to evoke the ideas of the Andalusian scholar Abu Bakr Ibn Tufayl (1105-1185). They are masterfully expressed in his magnum opus, the philosophical novel Hayy ibn Yaqzān.
He presents the idea that humans realize their humanity fully only when they reach ecological consciousness − which allows them to simultaneously understand the evolution of their own becoming and the responsibility which is incumbent on them to protect life on earth.
The Arabic philosophical fable, after its translation into Latin in 1671, under the title Philosophus autodidactus, and later into English, was a source of inspiration for many writers, including the English writer, Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe.
Indeed, the Andalusian philosopher’s novel is the story of the survival of Hayy, a child abandoned on an island that has never known a human presence, and who is rescued, protected and fed by a doe. When the animal dies, Hayy learns to use his hands, his practical and then theoretical intelligence, in an ontogeny (the origin and development of the individual organism, from conception to death) that recapitulates phylogeny (evolution of the species over the ages): the child develops into homo perfectus, the insānkāmil of Islamic mysticism. In other words, he becomes an accomplished human who rediscovers not only the essence of civilization (and especially fire), but also the sense of transcendence that leads him to the idea, and then to the experience of the divine. We find an echo of the Philosophus autodidactus in the philosophical debate about the tabula rasa, the clean slate that represents our ability to know before experience begins to record our knowledge on it.
Thus we have underlined the continuity between the idea illustrated by the novel about Hayy and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by the seventeenth-century English philosopher John Locke. We should note, in passing, that the teaching of the history of philosophy as it is presented in most textbooks leaves little room for a work as important as Ibn Tufayl’s, or for the intellectual tradition to which it belongs − this calls for another way of teaching the history of philosophy, which does not make it a purely European matter.
The caliph of God on Earth
The first shock that sets in motion the practical and theoretical intelligence of the child is the question that confronts him, plunging him into suffering and incomprehension, at the moment his mother, the doe, dies − what is this thing, life, which has left the body of the mother and made her forever deaf to her child’s calls? To answer this question, Hayy devotes himself to the practice of dissecting dead animals, and then attempts to surprise the vital principle in living animals by performing vivisections on them − not seeing, in his ignorance and his innocence, the cruelty of his actions. He abandons this research, again because of failure. Later, when he attains full awareness of self, God, Creation and his own place within it and responsibility for it, Hayy will understand his responsibility to be the guardian of life, in all its forms. He will take from nature only what is necessary for his sustenance, ensuring that the capacity for renewal of life is perfectly preserved, and that nature reconstitutes what it gives him.
Ibn Tufayl’s insistence on Hayy’s ecological consciousness is a philosophical illustration of Koranic anthropology that defines the human as “the caliph of God on Earth”. The word caliph, which means substitute, and the best translation for which is no doubt lieutenant – or more precisely lieu-tenant, place-holder, in French etymology – teaches humans what they have to be and defines their responsibility to watch over their environment, namely the Earth. Moreover, this word caliph, inspite of what we hear today, has in the Koran only this meaning, denoting the destination of the human. An important message from Ibn Tufayl’s book is, therefore, that the human is guardian of the Earth for itself and for the generations to come, because the human is originally the depository of what makes him the placeholder of God on Earth. Today, we need more than ever to heed this responsibility, without it being necessarily linked to a religious meaning.
Making humanity together
I’ll sum up my point in one word: ubuntu. This Bantu word gained worldwide fame when it was used by South Africans Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. It literally means “to make humanity together” − to create, thanks to other people, the human that I have to become, and at the same time, create “one humanity” with others.
To be the receptacle of what makes me a placeholder of God on Earth makes me understand that “making humanity together” is the opposite of depredation. It gives me the duty to look after life in general − to think that although animals, for instance, do not themselves formulate rights that must be recognized as declared, these are not any less real to me, because my humanity obligates me to them.
In my opinion, I am not one of those people who go overboard in their efforts to bring down anthropocentrism – and for whom the different kingdoms should be self-represented in a sort of “natural contract” replacing the social contract. It is not necessary to dissolve humanity to forbid it to behave, as another seventeenth-century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, wrote, “like an empire in an empire” − to make humans understand that they are not free nor separate from natural necessities. On the contrary, we must affirm our humanity, but affirm it as ubuntu. Ubuntu is a philosophical concept with universal scope and it seems to me that it encompasses the meaning and the role of the humanities − in particular, the philosophical humanities. By showing how these can enlighten us, I want to emphasize their contribution, even their “utility”. But it is not a matter of exaggerating what philosophy can do, nor of giving in to the imperative of the profitability of knowledge, considered solely from the point of view of its technical implementation – by insisting on the use to be made of it.
Instead, when it comes to the thought and action required by the major crises of our time, I want to show that we can, we must, rely just as much on a philosophical novel written in the twelfth century in Muslim Spain as on Western philosophical thought, or African words of wisdom. To meet the challenges of changing times, we need to revitalize ourselves by delving into what humans have thought all around the world and at different times.
In other words, I want to recall that philosophy, and the humanities in general, are what give meaning to an education aimed towards the total, complete human − the homo perfectus – who is able to use the knowledge of history to invent a future we must build all together.
Date posted: July 29, 2019.
[The article is reproduced from The UNESCO Courier, April-June 2018, under IGO Creative Commons Licence type: CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, that has been adopted by UNESCO to give the public the right to re-use a work as freely as possible – Ed.]
Before departing this website, please take a moment to visit the Table of Contents for links to a vast collection of articles published on this blog as well as its two sister blogs Barakah and Simergphotos.
About the author: Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, currently Chair in the Department of French & Romance Philology at Columbia University (New York), was born in Saint-Louis, Senegal. He received his academic training in France. An alumnus of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he took his Ph.D (Doctorat d’État) in philosophy at the Sorbonne (1988) where he also took his BA (1977). His field of research includes Boolean algebra of logic, history of philosophy, Islamic philosophy, African philosophy and literature. Author of numerous books, his work, Bergson postcolonial: L’élan vital dans la pensée de Senghor et de Mohamed Iqbal (Paris: Editions du CNRS, 2011) is forthcoming in an English version to be published by Fordham University Press. That book was awarded the Dagnan-Bouveret prize by the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for 2011 and on that same year professor Diagne received the Edouard Glissant Prize for his work. Professor Diagne’s current teaching interests include history of early modern philosophy, philosophy and Sufism in the Islamic world, African philosophy and literature, and twentieth century French philosophy.
“The ethics of a Da’i are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. The Da’i constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.”
By KARIM H. KARIM
Many people have heard the position of Da‘i but are unfamiliar with its unique character. Historically, a Da‘i was a member of the Da‘wa, which was a pivotal institution of the Imamat. The word Da‘wa has sometimes been translated as a preaching mission and Da‘i as missionary. However, the precise meaning of Da‘wa is a call or an invitation, and therefore a Da‘i is someone who issues a call or invitation.
What was the nature of the Da‘i’sinvitation? The answer is to be found in the full name of the institution to which he belonged: Da‘wat al-Haqq (Invitation to the Truth). The Holy Qur’an says that “His [God’s] is the Da‘wa of the Truth” (13:14). Da‘is referred to their disciples as People of the Truth (Ahl al-Haqq or Al-Muhiqqin). (It was only in the early 20th century, after the Aga Khan Case of 1866, that the name Ismaili came to be formally adopted in reference to the Imam’s followers.) Da‘is (Pirs and Sayyids) in India, used Indian terminology to call the community Satpanth (Path of Truth).
The Concept of Truth
Truth is the core of the faith and appears repeatedly in its discourses. Imam Mustansir bi’llah II’s book Pandiyat-i Javanmardi declares that “The (real) believer is one who always, permanently, thinks of the Truth, and always intends to act righteously.” One of God’s names is Al-Haqq (the Truth). The third part of the Ismaili Du‘a affirms:
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul mubin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Manifest)
La illaha illallahul malikul haqqul yaqin (There is no deity except God, the Sovereign, the Truth, the Certainty)
Tasbihs in Gujarati ask for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth). When delivering sermons, Khoja preachers in the 20th century called their congregations “haqiqat-i momino” (believers of truth) and “haqiqati-dindaro” (followers of the religion of truth). Imam Mustansir bi’llah II and Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah referred to the progression of the believer from shari‘a (“law”) to tariqa (path) to haqiqa (truth) and to ma‘rifa (wisdom; gnosis), as does Bhamar Ghufaa Upar Dekhantaa, a ginan attributed to Sayyid Nur Muhammad Shah.
The truth to which a Da‘i issues his invitation is embedded in the knowledge that the Imam imparts to his followers through a particular mode of instruction (ta‘lim). A hadith (saying) of the Prophet declared: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gateway; so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.”
Hazrat Ali and his designated successors in the lineage of Imamat provide unique access to knowledge about truth. Imams conduct interpretations (ta’wil) of the inner meaning of the Qur’an which they impart to their adherents through ta‘lim. Only the rightfully appointed Imams have this unique ability: “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] esoteric interpretationsave Allah and those who are of sound instruction” (Holy Qur’an, 3:7); Shia Muslims believe that the phrase “those who are of sound instruction” refers to the lineage of Imamat.
The concept of truth here is not limited to the practice of truth-telling and being honest, which are important in themselves, but to the deeper truth that is the inner reality of existence. This reality lies behind the illusion that constantly misleads the mind. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah wrote in his Memoirs that Islam’s “basic principle can only be defined as mono-realism.” The enlightened soul experiences the reality of fundamental truth on which rest all other aspects of faith (such as prayer, devotion, values, and ethics). It is to such ultimate and unique spiritual enlightenment (ma‘rifa, gnosis) that the Da ‘wa offers its invitation. The identity of a Da‘i is integrally related to the essence of eternal truth. He seeks to live the truth. Nasir-i Khusraw, Hujja of Khurasan, referred to the members of the Da‘wa as “Scholars of the Religion of Truth” (ulama-yi din-i haqq). This is a position of profound depth and significance that requires understanding of the process of spiritual advancement as well as knowledge of the material world.
The Da‘wa in History
The pre-Fatimid Da‘wa emerged in the first Period of Concealment (Dawr al-Satr) that began during Imam Ismail’s time. This was a period of great danger because the Abbasid Caliphate was determined to destroy the Imamat and its followers. Therefore, the Imams in this time were in hiding and their identities and locations were known only to their closest followers. Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi brought the Dawr al-Satr to a close when he established the Fatimid state in North Africa.
It was the Da‘wa that had laid the groundwork for the Imam’s rule. Da‘is functioned largely in secret due to widespread persecution. Their institution, which operated transregionally, had a hierarchical structural model. At the head was the Chief Da‘i (Da‘i al-Du‘at), who was in close touch with the Imam. Under him operated a number of Hujjas (Proofs), the leaders of the Da‘wa in specific regions. Each Hujja supervised several Da‘is, who in turn had assistants called Ma’dhuns. Ordinary members of the community whom Da‘is taught were Mustajibs. Whereas this was an ideal model of the organization, the actual operations were more fluid especially in places where Da‘is worked in relative isolation.
The da‘wa produced a unique body of writings, some of which are described below. Da‘i Ja‘far bin Mansur al-Yaman’s Book of the Master and the Disciple (Kitab al-‘Alim wa’l-Ghulam) addresses the search for truth and the meaning of life in a series of religious dialogues between a Da‘i and his disciple. This sophisticated composition creatively uses form and language to express a complex narrative. It is a rare and valuable artifact that provides insight into the Da‘wa’s erudition and refined pedagogy.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, the Hujja in Iraq, was a noted philosopher. His major work, Rahat al-‘Aql (Repose of the Intellect), presents contemporary science, philosophy, and theology in an integral manner. Its objective was to enable the believer to attain a paradisiacal state through reason. Kirmani’s book imaginatively maps out a journey in which the soul escapes the troubling state of the physical world and attains freedom in the City of God by gaining a comprehensive sense of God, angelic beings, and the realm of minerals, plants and animals.
Nasir-i Khusraw, who was Hujja of Khurasan, is acknowledged as the founder of Ismaili communities in the mountainous regions of the Pamirs in Tajikistan and Afghanistan and the Hindu Kush in Pakistan as well as Xinjiang in China. He was a foremost exponent of philosophical poetry and his poems are an essential part of Persian-speaking countries’ educational curriculum today. Khusraw’s poetry is also sung at religious gatherings in the Badakshan Jamat and its diasporic locations. Among his philosophical treatises is The Book of Two Wisdoms Reconciled (Kitab-i Jami’ al-Hikmatayn), which endeavours to bridge Aristotelian and haqa’iq philosophies.
The Satpanth branch of the Da‘wa in India produced a unique literary tradition of around one thousand ginans, many of which hold profound insight and wisdom. Like the Sufis in the subcontinent who used the region’s cultural heritage to preach their beliefs, Ismaili Pirs, notably Shams, Sadruddin, and Hasan Kabirdin, also drew from Indic mythology and symbolism to teach the message of universal truth. Major compositions like Brahm Prakash and Bhuj Nirinjan guide adherents in their spiritual journeys. The ginan tradition, which is attributed to a number of Pirs and Sayyids, speaks of sat (truth) in various South Asian languages including Gujarati, Khari Boli (proto Hindi-Urdu), Punjabi, Sindhi and Siraiki/Multani. South Asian Khoja Jamats and their diaspora find inspiration in the hymns, which are sung every day at religious gatherings.
The Da‘wa’s Pluralist Search for Truth
The quest for truth is a consistent theme that runs through the centuries-long history of Da‘wat al-Haqq and Satpanth. Da‘is drew on knowledge from a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim sources in a pluralist pursuit of universal truth. According to Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, studying other religions is integral to spiritual search because God’s revelation has appeared among different peoples through history.
“All Islamic schools of thought accept it as a fundamental principle that, for centuries, for thousands of years before the advent of Mohammed, there arose from time to time messengers, illumined by Divine grace, for and amongst those races of the earth which had sufficiently advanced intellectually to comprehend such a message. Thus Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the Prophets of Israel are universally accepted by Islam. Muslims indeed know no limitation merely to the Prophets of Israel; they are ready to admit that there were similar Divinely-inspired messengers in other countries – Gautama Buddha, Shri Krishna, and Shri Ram in India, Socrates in Greece, the wise men of China, and many other sages and saints among peoples and civilizations of which we have now lost trace.“
This pluralist attitude was present in the earliest Ismaili writings such as the encyclopedia of Ikhwan al-Safa (Brethren of Purity), whose sources included Islamic, Greek, Babylonian, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Manichean, Jewish, and Christian knowledge. Da‘is Al-Nasafi and Al-Sijistani adapted Neoplatonist thought to indicate the cosmological place of the Imam. As the Da‘wa moved into South Asia, Pirs and Sayyids drew from Indic mythology and cosmology for a similar purpose.
Such pluralist approaches to knowledge were not uncommon in the history of Islam. Prophet Muhammad is said to have told his followers in Arabia to seek knowledge even as far as China. The receptivity of Muslims to other cultures in the Hellenic intellectual environment of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Iran provided for their own religion’s intellectual flowering. They came upon renowned academies like those of Jondishapur, where Persian, Greek, Indian, and Roman scholars trained in medicine, philosophy, theology, and science. A major translation movement rendered numerous manuscripts written in various languages into Arabic. Muslims scholars drew on the knowledge, philosophical reasoning and analytical tools produced by other civilizations for developing Islamic philosophy (falsafa), theology (kalam), and law (fiqh). Even the modes of Islamic preaching borrowed from indigenous practices; for example, Sufi teachers adopted the bhakti mode of devotion in India.
Whereas it was commonplace for Muslim intellectuals to learn from neighbouring civilizations, Ismaili thinkers embraced the most openly pluralist Islamic approach to other cultural and religious sources. They had a cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth. Da‘is examined the ancient world’s wisdom including that of Greeks, Babylonians, and Sabaeans as well as writings of contemporaries such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Buddhists.
The Da‘wat al-Haqq’s cosmopolitan outlook in studying others’ material and spiritual sciences in a sustained search for universal truth enabled them to see spiritual value in their symbols and practices. Al-Sijistani interpreted the Christian cross’s four points as representing the roots of truth. Badakshan Jamats observe Chirag-i Rawshan (Luminous Lamp), a funerary rite that has Islamic features along with characteristics of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religions. Oral tradition attributes the establishment of this ritual to Nasir-i Khusraw. The Zoroastrian spring festival of Navroz, which is commemorated by Shia and Sunni Muslims in Persianate regions, has been embraced by all Ismailis as a major celebration of spiritual renewal. Farsi-speaking Jamats have been drawn to some of the poems of the great Sunni mystics Attar and Rumi, which are recited in religious gatherings. The Garbi category of ginan compositions bear a Hindu communal dance’s rhythm. Da ‘is were generally less concerned about exoteric differences between religious perspectives than in pursuing the greater spiritual truth.
Whereas Da‘is have consistently been engaged in a search for truth, this endeavor has been fraught with physical, intellectual, as well as personal spiritual dangers. These hazards led some members of the Da‘wa to turn away from the Imamat’s guidance. For example, Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii, who prepared the ground for Imam Al-Mahdi to establish the Fatimid state, later conspired against him. In the time of Imam Al-Hakim, a number of Da‘is broke from the Fatimid Da‘wa to establish what came to be known as the Druze movement. Another major division took place in the Da‘wa upon the death of Imam Al-Mustansir I, when most of the Da‘is in Cairo followed Al-Musta‘li and those in the east, like Hassan-i Sabbah and Rashid al-Din Sinan, adhered to Imam Nizar. Later in India, a grandson of Pir Hasan Kabirdin, Nar Muhammad, founded a break-way religious group called the Imamshahis.
The Da‘i Ahmad bin Ibrahim al-Naysaburi wrote a treatise on the comportment expected of the members of the Da‘wa. It laid out in some detail the qualifications and behavior that a Da‘i should have. Al-Naysaburi stated that the Da‘wa is built on knowledge, piety, and good governance. A Da’i maintains a noble character and upholds the truth to which he invites believers. His ethics are unimpeachable and he practices what he preaches. He constantly pursues a better comprehension of universal truth by engaging with knowledgeable people, sharing knowledge with them and also learning from them. In our time, this would mean engaging with contemporary scientific, cultural, and religious understandings produced around the world.
Life may appear more complex than in previous periods but the struggle to remain faithful to eternal truth, which has been a constant religious quest since the dawn of time, remains relevant to this day. This endeavour was represented in previous centuries by the institution of Da‘wat al-Haqq, Invitation to the Truth. As in the past, a Da‘i’s life today would be difficult as it would involve dealing with intricate material, intellectual and spiritual challenges. The person who responds to the Call to the Truth accepts the undertaking of a demanding but ultimately rewarding enterprise. He/she can be seriously misled in this journey by others and even by the illusions of his/her own mind.
Adherence to Din al-Haqq demands a keen dedication to the Imamat and to the Truth. Followers of the Imam believe that he is the unique source of the knowledge that leads to comprehension of the Truth. However, history has shown that even the Imamat’s highly placed officials like the intelligent and heroic Da‘i Abu Abdullah al-Shii have wavered from such a conviction. Living the faith of Al-Haqq clearly requires an absolutely unrelenting commitment to and love for the Truth. Those who sincerely seek to maintain such personal steadfastness humbly ask in daily prayers for “haqiqat-i samaj” (understanding of truth) and “iman-ji salamati” (security of faith).
Date posted: July 7, 2019.
About the author: Professor Karim H. Karim is the Director of the Carleton Study for the Study of Islam. He has previously been Co-Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and Director of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication. Dr. Karim has also been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University. He is an award-winning author who has published extensively. Professor Karim has also delivered distinguished lectures at venues in North America, Europe and Asia. In 2017, he organized the international conference on Mapping a Pluralist Space in Ismaili Studies, which was the largest ever gathering of scholars working in this field. A forthcoming publication of his is titled “Ismailis: A Pluralist Search for Universal Truth.”
“A Muslim must play an active role in helping his family and the brotherhood of believers. The object is not to achieve status, wealth and power, but to contribute to society’s overall development. This implies moral responsibility to help the weaker, less fortunate members.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Toronto, May 14, 1987. 
The festival of Eid ul-Fitr, also known as Bairam or Eid Ramadan is one of the most joyous days in the Islamic calendar. It is an occasion for celebration and rejoicing for Allah’s Bounty upon mankind for His revelation of the Holy Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. It is also a time for individuals to express their gratitude to Allah for having given them the strength, courage and resilience to complete the fast, and thus fulfilling the duty enjoined upon them by Allah.
On this joyous occasion, we convey our heartiest felicitations and Eid Mubarak to all our readers as well as Muslims around the world, with the fervent hope and prayer that the current crisis humanity faces from the Covid-19 pandemic should end quickly, so that everyone’s lives may start returning to normal. Life after Covid-19 will never be the same as before due to the lifestyle changes we have gone through, and some measures such as physical distancing will probably remain with us for a long time.
We also pray that peace and harmony should prevail over many areas of the Muslim world afflicted by horrible conflicts, which are resulting in the loss of lives and contributing to unbearable hardships and struggles. The Islamic ethic of forgiveness, generosity, and peaceful co-existence and unity through dialogue are keys by which conflicts can be resolved, whereby every Muslim can aspire for a life of material and spiritual well-being and happiness.
The excerpts produced in this post from the Holy Qur’an and the hadith as well as from the farmans, writings and speeches of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and Mawlana Hazar Imam are foundation block for building harmonious societies around the world. The acts of charity and generosity mentioned in the quotes will facilitate those who are underprivileged to manage their own destinies, thereby leading them to a life of dignity, befitting Allah’s greatest creation.
PROFOUND TEACHINGS OF ISLAM
“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the angels and the Books and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and set slaves free.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:177
“And whatever good you may spend on others is for your own good, provided that you spend only out of a longing for God’s countenance.” — Holy Qur’an, 2:272
“You will not enter paradise till you believe, and you will not believe till you love one another. Let me guide you to something by doing which you will love one another: Salute and sundry among you.” — Tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.)
“A great river is not made turbid by a stone. A religious man who takes to heart an injury is as yet, but shallow water. If any misfortune befalls you, bear with it, that by forgiving others you may yourself obtain pardon. O my brother! seeing that we are at last to return to earth, let us humble ourselves in ashes before we are changed into dust.” — Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.). 
“…As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges. Do not turn around and say, ‘he hurt me yesterday, so I will hurt him today’. This is not the spirit of Islam…” His Highness the Aga Khan, Farman Mubarak, Mumbai, 1969, Precious Gems.
“…when you are studying the Qur’an, when you are studying the history of Imams, when you are studying the history of pre-Islamic Arabia, I would like you to take from this history that which will help you to live within the spirit of Islam. This means to live honestly, to live purely, to know that you are brothers and sisters, to be available at all times when one or the other needs help, to be generous, to be honest. These are the qualities which you can trace throughout Qur’an-e Shariff, throughout the life of the Prophet, throughout the lives of the Imams. And this is something which I would like you to follow, not only in letter but also in spirit, because it is this spirit which cannot be changed, and which I would like my spiritual children to understand fully…” Farman Mubarak, His Highness the Aga Khan, Karachi, November 29, 1964. 
“There are those who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their lot. Unless these unfortunate ones can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.” — His Highness the Aga Khan, speech, Housing and Development, Mumbai, January 17, 1983.
BY KARIMA MAGHRABY (Additional material compiled by Simerg)
Laylat al-Qadr is the auspicious night when the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) first received the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, thereby conferring upon him the mantle of prophethood at the age of forty.
The Shia Ismaili Muslims observe Laylat al-Qadr on the 23rd night of Ramadan, in keeping with traditions received through Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and his wife Hazrat Bibi Fatimah (a.s.), and the Imams of the Fatimid dynasty. It is a night of special prayer, reflection and remembrance of Allah. In 2020, this falls on May 15.
When Prophet Muhammad was 40 years old, he received his first divine revelation from Allah through Angel Jibreel. When Angel Jibreel appeared to him, he said:
“Recite: In the Name of thy Lord who created,
created, Man of a blood-clot. Recite: And thy Lord is the Most Generous, who taught by the Pen, taught Man that he knew not” — Holy Qur’an, Al-Alaq, 96:1-5
Part of Al-Alaq (The Clot) – 96th sura of the Holy Qur’an – the first revelation received by Prophet Muhammad
The night of this first revelation is celebrated as Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power). The following verses from the Holy Qur’an describe the loftiness of this night and articulate the importance of the final revealed scripture to mankind:
“Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Power. What will convey unto you what the Night of Power is! The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord, with all decrees. Peace it is until the rising of the dawn.” — 94:5
A photo of Cave of Hira in the Mount of Light, near Mecca, where the Prophet would come for his devotions and meditations, and the sacred spot where the Holy Quran began to be revealed. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) had just stepped into the forty-first year of his life, when during the 23rd night in the month of Ramadan the first 5 verses of the Surah Al-Alaq (96) were revealed to him. The small cave is about 3.5 meters long and 2 meters wide. Hira was the Prophet Muhammad’s most adorable place for meditation.
“(This is) a Scripture which We have revealed unto you (Muhammad) that thereby you may bring forth mankind from darkness unto light, by the permission of their Lord, unto the path of the Mighty, the Owner of Praise.” — 14:01
“And celebrate the name of thy Lord morning and evening. And part of the night, prostrate thyself to Him; and glorify Him a long night through. As to these, they love the fleeting life, and put away behind them a Day (that will be) hard.” — 76:25-27
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) received his first revelation from Allah through Angel Jibreel (Gabriel) in the Hira cave which is on Jabl al Nur (Mount of Light) shown in this photo. The peak is visible from a great distance. The Prophet used to climb this mountain often even before receiving his fist revelation from Allah.
“We sent it down during a Blessed Night” — 44:3
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong)” — 2:185
Hazrat Mawlana Murtaza Ali (a.s.) the successor of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s) to the throne of Imamat is quoted as having said:
“Do not remember God absent-mindedly, nor forget Him in distraction; rather, remember Him with perfect remembrance (dhikran kamilan), a remembrance in which your heart and tongue are in harmony, and what you conceal conforms with what you reveal.” — quoted in Justice and Remembrance, Introducing the Spirituality of Imam Ali, by Reza Shah Kazemi, p. 162.
Date posted: July 18, 2014. Last updated: May 14, 2020.
1. Wikipedia.org 2. Mecca.net 3. English Translation of the Qur’anic verses by Arthur John Arberry.
LINKS TO A SELECTION OF ADDITIONAL ARTICLES ON THE HOLY QUR’AN
“Christians may be surprised to learn that Muslims believe in the Virgin Birth and Jesus’ miracles”…..MORE BY MICHAEL WOLFE
Left: Virgin Mary nurtured by a palm tree in a Turkish miniature, as described in the Qur’an; right: Mary and Jesus in a Persian miniature. Please click on image for Michael Wolfe’s article “Jesus Through a Muslim Lens.” Images: Wikipedia.
“Muhammad, who could do nothing to alleviate the suffering of his small embattled community of believers, at last advised some of his followers to leave sacred Mecca and take refuge elsewhere”…..MORE BY BARNABY ROGERSON
The Altar of the Nativity, beneath which is the star marking the spot where tradition says the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ. Copyright. Please click on image for Barnaby Rogerson’s piece.
Handshake: Pope Benedict XVI and His Highness the Aga Khan
As part of his famous Apostolic Journey to France in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, on September 13, paid a visit to the “Institut De France” in Paris. The Pope, who had been elected as the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005, was presented with a gold medal by the Institut, and also unveiled a plaque commemorating his visit. During his very brief remarks to the audience, the Pope expressed his gratitude to the Institut “both personally and as the successor of [Simon] Peter.”
His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, was also in attendance at the Institut de France as the Associate Foreign Member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts (Academy of Fine Arts), one of five learned societies within the Institut which was founded in 1795.
Everyone’s attention in the hall was drawn to Mawlana Hazar Imam and the Pope, with an extraordinary sense of interest and keenness, as the two faith leaders greeted each other with a handshake.
A couple of years earlier in 2006, the Pope made some controversial remarks concerning Islam to which the Aga Khan responded inanInterview: Islam is a Faith of Reasonwhich appeared in Germany’s widely read Spiegel website.
In 2013, Pope Benedict dramatically resigned his position as the Head of the Catholic Church due to his deteriorating strength, advanced age and the heavy demands of being Pope, and retired at the Mater Ecclesiae, a small monastery located inside the Vatican State City. His present successor is Pope Francis I, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
Everyone’s attention is drawn to Pope Benedict XVI and His Highness the Aga Khan as they greet each other on September 13, at the Institut de France in Paris during an official visit by the Pope to France in 2008. Photo: Copyright. Getty Images. Published on Simerg/Simergphotos with a Licensing arrangement with Getty Images. Fench caption: Vue plongeante du pape BENOIT XVI serrant la main de l’AGA KHAN à son arrive sous la coupole de l’Institut de France à PARIS entouré de nombreux académiciens et autres personnalités dont Gabriel DE BROGLIE, Hélène CARRERE D’ENCAUSSE, Jean-François JARRIGE, Jean-François BACH, Arnaud D’HAUTERIVES, Michel ALBERT, Christian PONCELET président du Sénat, Jean TULARD, Alain DECAUX, Pierre-Jean REMY, Michel MOHRT, Max GALLO, le cardinal André VINGT-TROIS archevêque de Paris et le cardinal Paul POUPARD. (Photo by Philippe Petit/Paris Match via Getty Images).
SIMON PETER IN THE CHRISTIAN AND ISMAILI TRADITIONS
The Catholics adhere to the belief that the Pope is a successor of St. Peter or Simon Peter. The succession of the pope is determined by a college of cardinals who elect the pope, while the office of the Imam of the Ismailis is a hereditary position.
In a speech made at the Canadian Parliament in 2014, the Aga Khan declared that “the Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet.” And, in an interview with Politique International he said, “The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself.”
In the Catholic tradition, the foundation for the office of the Pope is found primarily in Matthew, where Jesus is quoted as telling Simon Peter:
“You are ‘Rock,’ and on this rock I will build My Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
This series of successions of the Pope is known as “Apostolic Succession,” with the line of Bishops stretching back to the apostles, who lived during the time of Jesus. Simon Peter is recognized as having been the first Pope. Early Christians however reserved the title of “Pope” for St. Peter’s successors.
In branches of Shia theology as well as Ismailism, Simon Peter’s role is seen as the direct parallel to that of Hazrat Ali as the first Imam. Ismailis along with some other Shia groups maintain that every major Prophet had a spiritual legatee (Waṣi) or successor called the Asas (foundation) who taught the inner meaning to those who had the capacity to understand it. In this regard, Adam had Seth; Noah had Shem; Moses had Aaron, and Jesus had Simon Peter. A well known sacred tradition of the Prophet Muhammad says that “Ali is to me as Aaron was to Moses,” confirming that Ali held the same level of authority as Aaron did.
Date posted: January 3, 2018
An earlier version of this post appeared on this website on December 31, 2015. _______________
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Here are links to 2 amazing stories about the discovery off the coast of Israel of 2580 dinars minted during the reigns of Fatimid Ismaili Imams Al-Hakim and Al-Zahir. The BBC story has just been posted on the BBC travel website. A link to an earlier story appears after the BBC link.
1. From the BBC: The city with a hoard of Fatimid gold
On an overcast morning in February 2015, Zvika Fayer was scuba diving off the ancient Israeli port town of Caesarea when he saw a glimmer on the sand. Fayer reasoned that the gleam must have been a discarded sweet wrapper….But as he swept the sand away and picked the item up, he saw that he was wrong. This wasn’t a piece of foil; it was a real gold coin with Arabic script on both sides. The dates minted on them show that they were manufactured during the reigns of Caliphs al-Hakim (996–1021AD) and his son al-Zahir (1021–1036AD) when Caesarea was part of the Islamic Fatimid Dynasty.
In February 2015, divers off the coast of Caesarea spotted by chance a group of gold coins lying on the seabed. They immediately alerted marine archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who conducted a salvage excavation at the site and recovered more than 2,580 Fatimid coins of pure (24 karat) gold weighing a total of 7.5 kg.
Please click on the image to view an on-line exhibit of the discovery.
The coins date from the mid-9th to the early 11th century CE. They were minted by the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt, and include dinars minted in al-Qayrawan, on the Tunisian coast, by Imam al-Mahdi (AH 297–322 = 910–934 CE), the founder of the Fatimid caliphate as well as a much larger collection belonging to the Fatimid caliphs Imam Al-Hakim (AH 386–411 = 996–1021 CE) and his successor Imam Al-Zahir (AH 411–427 = 1021–1036 CE).
Following the discovery, an exhibition was held from June to December 2015 at the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology Wing of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Some very interesting data and information about the Fatimid coins was also posted on the Museum’s website, which includes topics such as the inscription on the coins, the coin’s purchasing power, the script, and the purity of the coins. We invite our readers to visit the website by clicking on http://www.imj.org.il/exhibitions/2015/caesarea/ or on the image shown above.