The Traditional Ismaili Greeting “Ya Ali Madad”

By Maleksultan J. Merchant

A hadith attributed to Prophet Muhammad (saws)

Ayaz — Hi, Naguib. How’re you?

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

Ayaz — What did you just say?

NaguibYa Ali Madad!

Ayaz — And what’s that?

Naguib — You mean you don’t know! That’s an Ismaili greeting.

Ayaz — How do you mean?

Naguib — Well just as ‘Goodmorning’, ‘Goodafternoon’ and others are greetings in the English culture, so Ya Ali Madad is a greeting in our Ismaili culture.

Ayaz — That’s interesting – no one’s ever told me that before!

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

Ayaz — I guess all that has a special meaning.

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

Ayaz — So I suppose it would be alright for me to use this greeting when I meet another Muslim.

Naguib — Yes, certainly. We should maintain this Muslim tradition.

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’.

Ali, of course, is also the name of our first Imam and Mawlana Hazar Imam is Mawla Ali himself because he is the bearer of the same Noor as Hazrat Ali, like all  Imams before him.

Thus, Ya Ali Madad means ‘May the Exalted Allah help you’ and it also means ‘May Mawla Ali, our Hazar Imam help you’.

Ayaz — What is the reply to Ya Ali Madad?

Nuguib — It’s Mawla Ali Madad, which means ‘May the Exalted Allah help you, too’, or ‘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 remember Hazar Imam. At the same time, it is also a prayer asking for the help of Allah and Mawlana Hazar Imam.

Ayaz — It’s amazing but I’ve never heard of these greetings before. It’s almost embarassing to admit that such beautiful traditions exist in our culture, and yet I’ve never heard of them.

Naguib — But haven’t your parents ever mentioned this to you?

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. I guess it’s alright to say ‘Hi’ and Hello’ to non-Ismaili and non-Muslim friends. But I do feel that we ought to use As-salaam-alaykum and Ya Ali Madad when greeting Muslim and Ismaili friends.

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 say Mawla Ali Madad, i.e. ‘May Mawla Ali help you’ rather than ‘Take care of yourself’.

Ayaz — Yes it would, because then we know that Hazar Imam’s help is always available to us. Mum and dad will be really surprised to night when I say Ya Ali Madad instead of ‘Goodnight’.

I’ll surprise Mahmud, my Muslim friend at school tomorrow, too.

Naguib — I bet they’ll be amazed!

Ayaz — How come you know all this. Did your parents tell you?

Naguib — Yes, and I also learn a great deal by attending religious classes which teach us about our ethics, faith and culture. I suggest you enrol at your nearest centre and benefit from the material that we learn there.

Ayaz — Great, I’ll get my mum to enrol me. 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’.

Naguib — Well, I’m glad you see the beauty and importance of our tradition. It’s also nice to know that you’ll start attending the classes.

Ayaz — Yes, I’ll make a point of attending the classes. Thank you very much for being so patient and explaining all this to me.

Naguib — Not 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 the Exalted Allah help you’ and ‘May our Hazar Imam help you’, is that right?

Naguib — Yes, that’s right. Mowla Ali Madad, Ayaz.

Date posted: Saturday, September 24, 2011.

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The above reading is a revised version of a religious dialogue prepared by Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant while she taught Baitul Ilm in London, England. The  dialogue was presented on numerous occasions by her students at their respective religious education centres and Jamatkhanas in the Greater London Area. The dialogue was first published in the 1977 Navroz  issue (Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4) of Ilm magazine – Ed


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26 thoughts on “The Traditional Ismaili Greeting “Ya Ali Madad”

  1. Reciting the Salwat, the Bibi Fatima Tasbih (Allahu Akber, Subbanallah, Alhamdulillah), Ya Rahman Ya Rahim, Naad e Ali (for serious problems), Ya Ali Ya Muhammad, Ya Allah are some of the remembrances that can help us uplift in our material and spiritual lives, and give us strength during difficult times.

  2. Excellent and very useful. There are so many things to learn about Islam. Thanks for this post.

  3. I just read this wonderful article. The meaning of YA ALI MADAD is not the only lesson that should be taught. When I recently gave some duashish to a young memeber of jamat, they replied ‘thank you’ instead of saying Amen.

    I think it is not only the responsibility of the teachers of bait-ul-ilm but also that of the parents to teach the correct responses.

  4. You’ll be surprised if I tell you that I greeted 5 children under the age of 8 yrs in Jamatkhana and after unsatisfactory responses, I asked them & surprisingly 4 of them told me that they have never been told about this greeting in the ITREB classes that they are attending every Saturday. Is it true?

  5. This is a very nice conversation that especially teaches the youth the worth of saying Ya Ali Madad. We are reminded about our brotherhood/sisterhood as a Jamat.

    Also, the shorter abbreviations such as YAM and so on should be avoided so that we give due respect to the salutations.

    Thank you and Ya Ali Madad.

  6. Ya Ali Madad to all Ismailis,
    I am not surprised that some of our Ismaili brothers and sisters do not know or use Ya Ali Madad. As for me I personally know that. I was born and grew up in Tajikistan, where religion was forbidden during the Soviet Times. It has only been 20 years now that everything is open for us. Thus we started using the salutation openly only recently. Many things were brought to our attention by Professor Ali Muhammad Rajput, one of the first representatives of Hazar Imam who told us in 1990s who we were. Though our grandparents knew a lot about our faith, we were afraid to talk about it openly.

  7. Al-Aliyy is one of the Names of Allah. It means ‘The Exalted’ and has other meanings such as ‘The Most High’, ‘The Sublime’, ‘The One who is clear from the attributes of the creatures’.

  8. Those of Arabic tradition will be heard responding “Mawlana Ali Madad” and NOT “Mawla Ali Madad”. The explanation is very straight forward. Mawlana means My Lord, rather than saying Mawla which just means Lord. In this respect, you acknowledge the recognition of Mawlana Ali as your Mawla.

  9. I found this article to be very enlightening – it helped me understand the real meaning of the greetings. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge. Best wishes.

  10. I realize sometimes we take things so lightly. We don’t pay attention whether our children are saying Ya Ali Madad or if they are replying properly. I will make a point to remind them.

  11. One thing which I detest these days is the short forms being used these days for Ya Ali Madad. YAM and Ya ali are not complete salutations.

  12. Alwaeza Mrs. MalekSultan has been teaching for many many years. She has not reduced her fervour to teach young Ismailis and may Mowla give her long life to continue her dedication. One point worth knowing for me would be when and how the Ismaili Greeting became established. A little history would make the teaching complete.

  13. Very good article indeed. It is to be noted that most of the programming in Eastern Countries is now influenced by Western culture and traditions. It becomes imperative for parents, especialy those with children, to implement in their homes traditions that have Muslim and Ismaili values. Considering that so much importance is now being placed on early childhood education, what children gain in their early years will be remembered by them in years to come. Congratulations for a fine piece.

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