Imam as Divine Guide, Proof of God and Source of Salvation in Ismaili Ginanic Literature

The term Ginan is derived from the Hindi root-word Januna meaning ‘contemplative or meditative knowledge’. It is the Ismaili view that Ginans are religious poetry pertaining to the spiritual and higher values of life. Ginanic literature emerged when Ismaili Missionaries, designated as Pirs, came to India to preach in accordance with the orders of their Imams who were centered in Iran. It was a period (thirteenth century) when Islam was being propagated through Sufism, and many Sufi groups (silsila) were established then. At the same time, Hinduism was passing through the strong current of the Bhakti movement, which emphasized on the devotional element in religious attitude.

Thus the task of the Ismaili Pirs was to introduce Ismaili teachings in a manner not alien to the people. Hence, Ginans were composed on a pattern corresponding to the prevalent religious poetry. In terms of introducing the Concept of Imamat, the Ismaili Pirs incorporated terms like Purush, Avatar, Nar Naklank, Hazar Jomo, and Guru* in their teachings. Furthermore, the emphasis was also on the personal devotional element, and the Imamat was described in the Ginans in terms of its underlying influence on each individual.

According to the Ginans, the Imam is the source of guidance for mankind. He shows the right path, saves his followers from ignorance and acts as a Divine Light in the darkness. Thus it is said:

Murshid diwa hai Joog-ma,
jo aan dikhave ser-re;
E baatt bahot rariyamani,
jiya(n) chorasi nahi(n) fer-re


In this world the Master is the Light
who enlightens the Spiritual Path;
the Way is most wonderful
on which there is no failure.


Nish andhari Gur chand-roora huwa;
Jot ahe Gur deevo, ho jire bhai


In the dark night of ignorance, the Master spreads the Light of Guidance like a moon;
Indeed, O brother! The Master is the Bright Lamp.

The verses quoted show that the Imam gives Divine Guidance. He is like a Light in the darkness and shows the travelers their way.

The absolute necessity for Divine Guidance through the Institution of Imamat is conveyed in the  following verses:

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


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

The above verse correlates to a well known Hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad in which he is reported to have said that if the world were to remain without an Imam for one moment, the whole world with everything in it would perish instantaneously.

At the same time,  the Pirs explain that the Imam is also the Vicegerent of God and Proof of God.

Noor Khalifa is joog mahe(n) aviya,
Ta(n)ki amar Jot likhani-ji


O brother! The Vicegerent of God has come in this world
and his Light has been made eternal.


Qudrat apni zahir kidhi,
Pragatiya deen ka Imam


God revealed His nature
and with it manifested the Imam of the Faith.

Since the Imam is manifest in the world,  it becomes necessary that he, as  Proof of God, is sought out as mentioned in the following verse:

Pir Hassan Shah Ginan sunaya,
Jene dhoondiya tene Shah paya


Pir Hassan Shah says in the Ginan:
‘He who seeks will find the Imam.’

Being a Proof (hujjat) of God, everything (all  knowledge) has been vouchsafed in the Imam as declared in the Qur’anic verse:

And we have vested the knowledge of everything in the Manifest Imam (Sura 36, Ayat 12).

The Pir speaks about this in the following verse:

Aashaji, Patal tani je soodhaj jane,
Sohi Dhani ya(n) aaya-ji;
Prathavi-na jene bandhaj bondhiya,
Sohi Nar avine betha


That Master, who even knows what is hidden in the depth of the earth
has come to you;
He who has the control of the world,
has come amidst you.

After the recognition of the Imam, obedience to him but follows naturally. This  is emphasised in the Ginan thus:

Eji karo jo Gur farmave
Ta thi darshan Piya ka paave


Do whatever the Master commands,
so that you could be blessed with the vision of your Beloved.


Eji Partak Patra-ne parkhi-ne,
Preme poojo ne pai,
Chaoud bhavan-no e dhani
Parghat chhe joog ma(n)he


Recognise and obey him (who is the Bearer of Divine Light)
Love and submit yourself to him,
who is the Sovereign of seven heavens and seven worlds,
he who is manifest on this earth.

Obedience to the Imam leads one to salvation. One who obeys devotedly succeeds in reaching the Divine, and one who turns away from the Imam goes astray as narrated in the following verse:

Hazar Jomo chhe jiwo no datar,
Tene tamey sahi kari manjo nar ne naar;
E Nur dekhi bhulshe je.
Ghor andhari ma(n) pursey te


The Imam is the Giver of salvation to the souls
so have true faith in him, 0 men and women!
He who turns away from His Light knowingly,
will find himself in total darkness.

The key points that emerge from this brief discussion are as follows:

(a)  Imam is the Source for Divine Guidance and the presence of an Imam on this earth is necessary for its existence.
(b) The Imam is to be sought for and obedience and submission to him is necessary for understanding true Divine Knowledge and Divine Mysteries.
(c) The guidance provided by the Imam in his capacity as the Vicegerent of God and Proof of God represents the True Guidance of Allah.
(d) Salvation lies in the hands of the Imam.



* Some of these terms will be explored in a future Literary Reading.

The references for the squared brackets are as follows:

1. Satveni Moti, Syed Muhammad Shah, published by Ismailia Association for India, 1949.

2. Pir Sadardin-na Ginano-no Sangrah, published by the Ismailia Association for India, 1952.

3. Girbah Vali, Pir Sadardin.

4.  See 2

5. Pir Hasan Kabirdin-na Ginano-no Sangrah, published by Ismailia Association for India.

6. Ibid.

7. Anant Akhado, Pir Hasan Kabiruddin

8. Buj Niranjan, Pir Sadardin.

9. Syed Imam Shah-na Ginano-no Sangrah, published by Ismailia Association for India.

10. See 2


Article adapted by Simerg from “Imamat – A Ginanic Perspective” by Hakimali V. Surani, Ilm, Volume 7, Number 3 (December 1981 – February 1982), published by His Highness Prince Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom (under the new Ismaili Constitution ordained in 1986 by the current 49th Imam of the Ismailis, His Highness the Aga Khan, this Ismaili institution has since been known as the Shia Imami Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board for the United Kingdom –  or as the case may apply for each individual country)


Further reading on Ginans (and related) in this website: 
Literary Reading: In Metaphoric Ginan “Eji Dhan Dhan Aajano” Pir Sadr al-Din Asks Mu’mins to Act Righteously and Gain Spiritual Recognition of Imam-e-Zaman
Literary Reading: Pir Sadr al-Din and the Da’wah in India – A Brief Note
Literary Reading: The Ginanic Literature of the Ismailis

Literary Reading: Text and Explanation of “Eji Shah Islamshah Amne Maliya”
Literary Reading: Ethics in the Kalam-i Mawla of Hazrat Ali, Part One
Literary Reading: The Munajat – Ya Ali Khuba Mijalas
Literary Reading: The Inward Odyssey in Two Key Ismaili Ginans, “Brahma Prakash” and “Sakhi Mahapada”
Literary Reading: Suddh-Buddh and Other Key Terms in Ginan “Bindrare Vann Manhe Sukh Charere Gavantri”
Parable Lesson: The Alchemy of Transformation, from Copper to Gold


6 thoughts on “Imam as Divine Guide, Proof of God and Source of Salvation in Ismaili Ginanic Literature

  1. A good article on the origin of Ginans and the collections of verses to present the role of Imam and His presence. However, the article implies that Ginans were the product of our Pirs and that Ismailis have the authority on it. Recent work seems to suggest that Ginans were recited and written by other groups in India as well. The interest in Ginan has been taken up by Gujerati University and Pyarali Jiwa knows about the conference organised in India on Ginans where other religious groups participated.

    Editor’s Note: See the following announcement about a forthcoming conference on Ginans to be held in London, UK.

    Association for the Study of Ginans

    The Association for the Study of Ginans is pleased to inform you that the next Ginan Conference will be held at the Holiday Inn, Brentford, London on the weekend of 24-25th October 2009. The event follows the very successful 2-day conference held in June 2007 at London. Further details regarding programme, location, transport, accommodation, and entry cards will be sent at a later date. Please book your diaries for this important conference.

    With best regards

    Islamshah Rahemtulla
    Pyarali Jiwa

    Association for the Study of Ginans
    Françoise Mallison -Chairperson
    Zawahir Moir -Vice Chairperson
    Tazim R Kassam – Academic Research
    Pyarali Jiwa -Treasurer
    Islamshah Rahemtulla – Secretary
    Laila Aziz
    Michel Boivin
    Balvant S Jani
    Aziz Kurwa
    Dominique Sila-Khan

  2. The article is very good. Indeed the “Imam” who is the successor of the Prophet Muhammad is a proof of God. The Qura’n says, “…The day when all men shall be brought with their Imam…”. The recognition of the “Imam-i-zamaan (may Allah hasten his request)” is a fundamental of faith. He is the intercessor, the source of justice and the just ruler being the most hoped one and the promised one, as well as the tranquility of our hearts. When the Shia Moslems believe in such doctrines, it must not be construed as extremism or innovation; it is indeed a Sunnah of Nabi-e-akram (saaw) itself. May Allah grant us to be the true followers of the Imam from the purified progeny, the most guided one. For praising Imam without following him is just like building a house amidst a sea.

  3. In which published book of English translation will I find the following translation? “And we have vested the knowledge of everything in the Manifest Imam” (Sura 36, Ayat 12).

    • Kindly refer to the following articles:


      and see the English commentary by Pooya/M.A. Ali on Sura 36, Ayat 12

      Extract from the commentary:

      Imam Muhammad bin Ali al Baqir said that when this verse (…wa kul la sai in ahsainaahu fi imaamim mubin…) was revealed, Abu Bakr and Umar asked the Holy Prophet: “Is imamum mubin the Tawrat given to Musa?” The answer was: “No”. Again they asked: “Is it Injil, given to Isa?” The answer was: “No”. Then they asked: “Is it the Holy Quran?” “No”, was the answer. Then turning towards Ali ibn abi Talib, the Holy Prophet said: “Verily this is the Imam in whom Allah has deposited the knowledge of everything.” Then, addressing the people present there, the Holy Prophet said: “O people, there is no branch of knowledge Allah did not teach me and I have not conveyed it to Ali. Verily Allah has given me wisdom and I have given it to Ali. I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gate.”

  4. I need a Ginanic dictionary. I understand one was prepared by (Alwaez) Bachal and if anyone knows where I might obtain it please do let me know through this forum.

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