Preparing for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Didar (III) – An Ode on Imam’s Essence and other readings


In Celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visit to East Africa

Mawlana Hazar Imam pictured at the Olympia Hall, London, during his weeklong visit to the United Kingdom Jamat in September 1979. With him on the stage are Mukhi Noordin Jivraj and Kamadia Nizar Dhanani. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.


Introduction: What does Ismaili and related Shia literature reveal about the doctrine of Imamat? What are the pre-requisites in our daily lives to maximize the benefits from the didar of the Imam of the Time? What should our attitudes be in the presence of Mawlana Hazar Imam? These are some of the themes which “Essential Readings” is covering through short excerpts. This is the third in a series that will continue into late July. We welcome contributions from our world-wide audience in the form of personal reflections, narratives and poetry relevant to the didar. Please submit your pieces to with appropriate references. For the previous posts, see links below.



by Imam ‘Abd al-Salam, 15th Century

Image courtesy of

There is an ode of the 33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al-Salam in which he says that the talisman (anything that has magical powers) that can open the treasure trove of spiritual meaning of the Holy Qur’an is the Imam. This ode is lucidly explained by Dr. Shafique Virani in his path breaking book The Ismailis in the Middle Ages.

In the ode the Imam observes that the true essence of the Imam cannot be recognized with earthly, fleshly eyes, for these can only see his physical form, perishing like all else with the passage of time. His true face is to be perceived with the eyes of the heart. He has thousands of physical habitations, but his true home is traceless; he has had a thousand names, but all of them refer to one reality.

The Imam continues by saying that today he is known as ‘Abd al-Salam, but tomorrow the physical body will be gone and the name will change, yet the essence will remain in the next Imam of the lineage. Those who look at the Imam as they squint will consider him like any other human being, but as soon as the eyes of the heart perceive correctly, his true status is discovered. In form the Imams change, but in meaning and substance they are changeless. Human language cannot attain to the majesty of the Imams.

The Imam is the most precious ingredient in the supreme elixir (miraculous substance) of eternal life-red sulfur. He is not simply a pearl, but the ocean that gives birth to pearls. The existence of the Imam, who leads humankind to a recognition of God, is the very pinnacle of creation.

Excerpt adalpted from: » Ismailis in the Middle Ages

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The concept of reality and knowledge together with its understanding of the meaning of human life upon earth is reflected in a general and diffused manner in a number of Ismaili ginans, including Pir Shamsh’s composition Brahm Prakash where this element is exhibited in a more consistent and elaborate fashion than in other ginans. The ginan consists of 150 couplets and sung in a raga which seeks to evoke and contribute to its overall significance for the singer or listener. The ginan begins with an emphatic assertion of the divine properties of the word, the Name among the names, the ism’ul-azam, around which the ultimate focus and energies of a murid have to be centred for the progress of the individual self towards God. Here are few selected words of the ginans:

“True Word” (or Ism’ul-Azam) is my Guide,
to which the world gives no recognition….1

Do meditate on the Word,
and recite Pirshah as often as possible…..2

And upon utterance of the Word, the light of love shall be kindled,
and in the heart, great “Faith” will be generated….5

Where the Love flows so incessantly,
the devotee drinks of it and becomes love-intoxicated….9

How shall I describe this Divine Ecstasy!
Short of words am I to describe its Glory…..11

No amount of literature read or listened to,
Could help to attain this experience of happiness….12

For a murid who is seeking to embark on the path to higher levels of consciouness as described by Pir Shams, a number of disciplines have to be observed including purity of thoughts and action, fulfilling all religious obligations and an implicit faith and trust as well as obedience to the Imam of the Time.


Brahm Prakash abstract compiled from Dr. Aziz Esmail’s “A Note on the Brahm Prakash,” Ilm, Volume 1, Number 2, October 1975 (pp 15-20). Translations are by Dr. Hassan E. Nathoo from the same issue (p. 21).

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(13-14th centuries)

Siege of Alamut. A depiction by Shazia’Ayn and Aliya-Nur Babul, Vancouver

In the 13th century, Genghis Khan, the Mongol Emperor, issued a decree against the Ismailis which stated: “None of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.” Thousands of Ismailis, including their 27th Imam Rukn al-Din Khurshah, lost their lives in the most brutal form. Ismailis who escaped the Mongol onslaught were able to keep and maintain the basic infrastructure of the religious organization (Dawa) of the Ismaili community (Jamat). The Ismaili Poet Nizar Quhistani was one such person who, despite persecution and constant attack from his enemies, reacted with courage. He faced false charges and allegations to which he responded:

“It does not worry me if all the Mullahs of the world declared in their edicts that among the chosen and the common the drunken Nizari is worst of them all. I have no fear of being killed by them, nor the vexations (anxiety or distress) of burning flesh; I care not what wounds they inflict on me, because they are all hypocrites and liars.”

In his Mathnawi Nizar Quhistani championed the principle of direct hereditary descent of the Imam from the Prophet, often with the support of the following Quranic verse: “Allah did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran above all people – offspring, one of the other, and Allah knows and hear all things” (Sura 3, Ayats 33-34). Quhistani went on to explain: “We search for a union with the family of the Chosen (Prophet Muhammad). We search for the truth of son after son. We are totally obedient to his offspring, one of the other. There is no other thing we can add to this but itself. We endeavour in our faith so that we do not turn out to be faithless.”


Excerpt adapted from The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, a Search for Salvation by Shafique N. Virani, Hardcover – May 3, 2007

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4. THE IMAM – A COSMIC NECESSITY“The People of my Family
are like Noah’s Ark;
Whoever boards the Ark is saved,
Whoever stays away
is carried off by the waves”….Hadith

“The Imam-Proof existed before the creatures, he exists with them, and he will exist after them.” [1] The Imam, the Divine Guide, in both his cosmic, ontological aspect and his historical aspect, dominates and determines the Imamite* “world vision.” Here, religious conscience perceives creation through the “filter” that the Imam is, in a dizzying vision that goes from a cosmogonic pre-existence to an eschatological superexistence. Without the Imam, the universe would crumble, since he is the Proof, the Manifestation, and the Organ of God, and he is the Means by which human beings can attain, if not knowledge of God, at least what is knowable in God. Without the Perfect Man, without a Sacred Guide the world could only be engulfed in darkness. The Imam is the Threshold through which God and the creatures communicate. He is thus a cosmic necessity, the key and the center of the universal economy of the sacred: “The earth cannot be devoid of an imam; without him, it could not last an hour. [2] If there were only two men left in the world, one of them would be the imam.” [3] The universal Order is maintained through the presence of the divine Man: “It is because of us,” say the imams, “that the heavens and the earth are maintained”; it is because of the imams “that God keeps the sky from crashing into the earth, and the earth from shaking up its inhabitants.” [4] Without an Imam, there is no religion; without esotericism, exotericism loses its direction, its purpose, its goal, as well as its meaning…


The above excerpt including the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad (sas) cited at the top is from the chapter “Conclusions” (pp. 125-131) of “The Divine Guide in Early Shi’ism” by Mohamad Ali Amir-Moezzi, published by the State University of New York, 1994. For a review of the book click Cambridge Journal Abstract. The book is available from SUNY Press, Amazon and other fine on-line stores. See 1-4 references after last excerpt.

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(14th century)

"I am a fish of the briny deep.."


Eji Ooncha re kot bahoo vech-na,
Neeche vahe dariya;
Hoon-re dariya vandi maachhli,
Sa-yan taaran aav.
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri,
Baalam ghare aav, Saajan ghare aav;
Bando bhooli-yo taari bandagi,
Sa-yan soorat bataav,
Hoon-re darshan vina baavri


So high the fort and climbing steep,
And surging round its base the sea;
I am a fish of the briny deep,
Ah Love, haste Thou to succour me.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion,
Beloved come home, my Love return;
Forgive Thy slave his scant devotion,
Show me Thy face, to Thee I turn.
Thy absence frets my heart’s commotion.

Please click Imagery in Ginan, “Ooncha re Kot…”, Underscores Soul’s Yearning for the Beloved

* * *

Date “Essential Readings (III)” posted: July 2, 2011


Please also read previous posts:
Short Essential Readings (I)
Short Essential Readings (II)


Notes for The Imam – A Cosmic Necessity:

The following is a summary of notes 1-4 for the third excerpt, The Imam – A Cosmic Necessity. Further references are provided in The Divine Guide…, pp 228-229, in notes 672-675.

[1] Al-hujja qabla l-khalq wa ma’a l-khalq wa ba’da l-khalq, the words of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, al-Kulayni, Usul, “kitab al-hujja,” vol 1, ch. 5, p251, num 4; etc.
[2] There are different versions of this sentence so ubiquitous in the teaching of the Imams, e.g al-Saffar, Basa’ir, section 10, ch. 10-22, pp 484-89; etc.
[3]Law lam yaqba fi’l-‘alam [al-ard] illa rajulan la-kana ahaduhuma l-imam [al-hujja]’; the word of several Imams, ibid, section 10, ch. 11; etc.
[4]Bina qamat al-samawat wa l-ard”/”Bihum yumsiku ‘llahu l-sama’ an taqaa’ala l-ard…bihim yahfazu’ llahu l-ard an tamida bi-ahliha”; Kamal al-din, vol. 2, ch. 37, p. 383, num. 9; etc.

* Imamite – The term is generally used for doctrines professed by early Shia Imams who were common to both the Ismaili and Twelver Shias, that is upto and including Imam Jafar al-Sadiq, and thereafter to the historical Imams of Twelver Shi’ism.


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