In the space of seven days, Ismaili Muslims around the world have come together in their respective Jamatkhana prayer and social halls as well as outdoors to celebrate three historic festivals and events. Last Saturday, Ismailis joined other Muslim communities in Canada and around the world to celebrate Eid al-Adha, to commemorate the historic event thousands of years ago when Prophet Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Prophet Ismail, to test his faith and loyalty to God. In Calgary, the Ismailis hosted the wider Canadian community to a Stampede/Eid al-Adha breakfast at its Headquarters Jamatkhana.
Then, on Monday July 11, Ismailis celebrated the 65th anniversary of the spiritual leadership (Imamat) of their 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, who is respectfully and lovingly addressed by the Ismailis as Mawlana Hazar Imam (our lord, present/living Imam). Indeed, the appellation of “Hazar Imam” is so appropriate, because the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him and his family). On behalf of the world wide Ismaili community, the Ismaili leadership presented a beautiful ‘Alam to their Imam in Lisbon.
Coincidentally, this week, and specifically on Saturday July 16th, marks the historic day when the Prophet designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. Hazrat Ali became the first Imam, and the continuity of the Imamat is reflected in the present manifest Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The historic event is known as Eid e-Ghadir, when 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.” A very famous tradition of the Prophet says:
“I am leaving amongst you two weighty things after me, the Qur’an and my Progeny (ahl al-bayt). Verily, if you hold fast to them both you will never go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated till the Day of Judgement.” (Muslim, Vol. II, pg. 279).
The ‘Alam Presented to His Highness the Aga Khan on His 65th Anniversary of Imamat
The steel processional standard (‘Alam) presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam by the Ismaili leadership on behalf of the worldwide Ismaili Muslims on the 65th anniversary of his Imamat comprises a central drop-shaped panel decorated with a calligraphic inscription in elegant thuluth on a scrolling vine background. The inscription reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali”, with the hijri date 1061 (equivalent to 1651 of the Common Era) inscribed below. A smaller cartouche at the top of the ‘Alam also reads “Allah, Muhammad, Ali”. A panel at the base is inscribed with the name of the maker, Muhammad Ardabili. The inner framing and outer band has foliate patterned openwork, and each side of the standard has a dragon-headed cast steel terminal facing outwards.
The inscriptions on this standard — Allah, Muhammad, Ali — symbolise the foundational principles of the Shia Ismaili Muslim tariqah: the concepts of tawhid, nubuwwa and imama.
Another important Shia aspect that is reflected in the inscriptions on this ‘Alam is the concept of a single, pre-eternal spiritual light, the Nur Muhammad. According to this concept, Allah created a light from His Divine Light. When the angels asked about this light, Allah answered: “This is a light out of My Light; its main part is prophethood, and its ray is the imamate. The nubuwwa is for Muhammad, My servant and messenger, and the imama is for Ali, My hujja and My wali. Were it not for them, I would not have created My creation.”  This notion of light is beautifully represented on the ‘Alam by the dragon heads flanking each side of the standard. For, in Islamic art, one of the primary meanings of the dragon is as a producer and a symbol of light and protection.
We also invite you to view a video of the ‘Alam on the.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community.
Date posted: July 16, 2022.
 For this Hadith and the concept of Nur Muhammad, see Uri Rubin, “Pre-existence and light. Aspects of the Concept of Nur Muhammad“, Israel Oriental Studies, 5 (1975), pages 62-119, especially 112-113.
Note: A slightly different version of this post also appears on our sister blog, Barakah, which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, members of his family and the Ismaili Imamat.
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