As Canada legalizes recreational use of marijuana, the Ismaili Jamat and its youth must seek to apply principles of good health and good judgement as articulated by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Effective October 17, 2018, Canada is legalizing the recreational use of cannabis or marijuana. The current Federal Liberal Government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has justified legalization “to better protect the health and safety of Canadians, to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and to keep profits out of the hands of criminals and organized crime.” Canada is only the second nation in the world to implement legislation to permit a nationwide marijuana market.

This website is deeply concerned about the new law and what the health effects will mean in the years and decades to come. There has been a worrisome assumption that the recreational use of marijuana enjoys the same level of safety and oversight as the doctor-prescribed use of medical marijuana.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has been very clear that the overall principle of Islam of health and well-being must never be abandoned. He emphasized that in a Farman made on Sunday, August 3, 1969 in London, England:

“Do not abandon the overall principle of good health, of good morality which Islam has taught all the members of its faith. To the young, I say, remember that one day you will be parents, and ask yourselves if you will authorize your children to participate in certain habits which are prevalent in the Western World, and I am sure the answer will be in the vast majority, no. Because our Jamat is a strong Jamat, and I want you to be absolutely clear in your minds that when you come to another society, you must have the wisdom to absorb that which is good and to ignore or reject that which would be detrimental to you or to your family.”

On November 11, 1970, he made the following remarks at the Darkhana Jamatkhana, Dar es Salaam:

“In the past I have said to you, do not squander your money on social habits which are of no interest and which are harmful and I have mentioned smoking, I have mentioned drinking. I now add to the list drug-taking.

“I say to you today, and particularly the younger generation, use your energy, use your imagination, use your strength, but do not waste it. Do not waste it in drinking, in smoking cigarettes, in eating, in smoking drugs or whatever it may be. This is not for our Jamat. I say to you stay a healthy Jamat and face the problems without wasting your energy and time and money on these other habits. Remember this is a matter of importance, because these habits can weaken the Jamat.”

On November 13, 1985, Mawlana Hazar Imam laid out the following path for his Jamat around the world:

“The Imam-of-the-Time guides his spiritual children on matters of importance during their lifetime and in the past I have recommended to you to live a disciplined life. The Industrialized world and other parts of the world are beginning to suffer from an increasing production and consumption of drugs and I wish to recommend to my Jamat strongly today, most strongly, most vigorously, not to grow any form of agricultural product that can be transformed into drugs, not to trade in drugs, and not to consume drugs. It damages the individual, it damages his family, it damages society, it damages future generations. So I say to my spiritual children today in Pakistan and elsewhere, forego everything that has to do with drugs.” [*]

We publish below DrugFacts on marijuana from the website of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. The article neither condones nor attacks the recreational use of cannabis. However, we wish our readers to keep the above principles laid out by Mawlana Hazar Imam foremost in their minds before contemplating or engaging in any recreational use of marijuana.

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DrugFacts: Marijuana

By National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

What is marijuana?

Photo of marijuana leaves.

Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other similar compounds. Extracts can also be made from the cannabis plant (see Marijuana Extracts, below).

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. [1] Its use is widespread among young people. In 2015, more than 11 million young adults ages 18 to 25 used marijuana in the past year. [1] According to the Monitoring the Future survey, rates of marijuana use among middle and high school students have dropped or leveled off in the past few years after several years of increase. However, the number of young people who believe regular marijuana use is risky is decreasing. [2]

Legalization of marijuana for medical use or adult recreational use in a growing number of states may affect these views. Read more about marijuana as medicine in DrugFacts: Marijuana as Medicine.

How do people use marijuana?

People smoke marijuana in hand-rolled cigarettes (joints) or in pipes or water pipes (bongs). They also smoke it in blunts — emptied cigars that have been partly or completely refilled with marijuana. To avoid inhaling smoke, some people are using vaporizers. These devices pull the active ingredients (including THC) from the marijuana and collect their vapor in a storage unit. A person then inhales the vapor, not the smoke. Some vaporizers use a liquid marijuana extract.

People can mix marijuana in food (edibles), such as brownies, cookies, or candy, or brew it as a tea. A newly popular method of use is smoking or eating different forms of THC-rich resins (see Marijuana Extracts, below).

MARIJUANA EXTRACTS

Smoking THC-rich resins extracted from the marijuana plant is on the rise. People call this practice dabbing. These extracts come in various forms, such as:

  • hash oil or honey oil — a gooey liquid
  • wax or budder&mdsh; a soft solid with a texture like lip balm
  • shatter — a hard, amber-colored solid

These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to the body, and their use has sent some people to the emergency room. Another danger is in preparing these extracts, which usually involves butane (lighter fluid). A number of people have caused fires and explosions and have been seriously burned from using butane to make extracts at home. [3], [4]

How does marijuana affect the brain?

Marijuana has both short-and long-term effects on the brain.

Image of a cross section of the brain with marked areas that are affected by THC.THC acts on numerous areas in the brain (in yellow). Image by NIDA

Short-Term Effects

When a person smokes marijuana, THC quickly passes from the lungs into the bloodstream. The blood carries the chemical to the brain and other organs throughout the body. The body absorbs THC more slowly when the person eats or drinks it. In that case, they generally feel the effects after 30 minutes to 1 hour.

THC acts on specific brain cell receptors that ordinarily react to natural THC-like chemicals. These natural chemicals play a role in normal brain development and function.

Marijuana overactivates parts of the brain that contain the highest number of these receptors. This causes the “high” that people feel. Other effects include:

  • altered senses (for example, seeing brighter colors)
  • altered sense of time
  • changes in mood
  • impaired body movement
  • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • impaired memory
  • hallucinations (when taken in high doses)
  • delusions (when taken in high doses)
  • psychosis (when taken in high doses)

Long-Term Effects

Marijuana also affects brain development. When people begin using marijuana as teenagers, the drug may impair thinking, memory, and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Researchers are still studying how long marijuana’s effects last and whether some changes may be permanent.

For example, a study from New Zealand conducted in part by researchers at Duke University showed that people who started smoking marijuana heavily in their teens and had an ongoing marijuana use disorder lost an average of 8 IQ points between ages 13 and 38. The lost mental abilities didn’t fully return in those who quit marijuana as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana as adults didn’t show notable IQ declines. [5]

In another recent study on twins, those who used marijuana showed a significant decline in general knowledge and in verbal ability (equivalent to 4 IQ points) between the preteen years and early adulthood, but no predictable difference was found between twins when one used marijuana and the other didn’t. This suggests that the IQ decline in marijuana users may be caused by something other than marijuana, such as shared familial factors (e.g., genetics, family environment). [6] NIDA’s Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, a major longitudinal study, is tracking a large sample of young Americans from late childhood to early adulthood to help clarify how and to what extent marijuana and other substances, alone and in combination, affect adolescent brain development. Read more about the ABCD study on our  Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD Study) webpage.

A RISE IN MARIJUANA’S THC LEVELS

The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily over the past few decades. [7] For a person who’s new to marijuana use, this may mean exposure to higher THC levels with a greater chance of a harmful reaction. Higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits involving marijuana use.

The popularity of edibles also increases the chance of harmful reactions. Edibles take longer to digest and produce a high. Therefore, people may consume more to feel the effects faster, leading to dangerous results.

Higher THC levels may also mean a greater risk for addiction if people are regularly exposing themselves to high doses.

What are the other health effects of marijuana?

Marijuana use may have a wide range of effects, both physical and mental.

PHYSICAL EFFECTS

Breathing problems

Marijuana smoke irritates the lungs, and people who smoke marijuana frequently can have the same breathing problems as those who smoke tobacco. These problems include daily cough and phlegm, more frequent lung illness, and a higher risk of lung infections. Researchers so far haven’t found a higher risk for lung cancer in people who smoke marijuana. [8]

Increased heart rate

Marijuana raises heart rate for up to 3 hours after smoking. This effect may increase the chance of heart attack. Older people and those with heart problems may be at higher risk.

Problems with child development during and after pregnancy

One study found that about 20% of pregnant women 24-years-old and younger screened positive for marijuana. However, this study also found that women were about twice as likely to screen positive for marijuana use via a drug test than they state in self-reported measures. [9] This suggests that self-reported rates of marijuana use in pregnant females is not an accurate measure of marijuana use and may be underreporting their use. Additionally, in one study of dispensaries, nonmedical personnel at marijuana dispensaries were recommending marijuana to pregnant women for nausea, but medical experts warn against it. This concerns medical experts because marijuana use during pregnancy is linked to lower birth weight [10] and increased risk of both brain and behavioral problems in babies. If a pregnant woman uses marijuana, the drug may affect certain developing parts of the fetus’s brain. Children exposed to marijuana in the womb have an increased risk of problems with attention, [11] memory, and problem-solving compared to unexposed children. [12] Some research also suggests that moderate amounts of THC are excreted into the breast milk of nursing mothers. [13] With regular use, THC can reach amounts in breast milk that could affect the baby’s developing brain. More research is needed. Read our Marijuana Research Report for more information about marijuana and pregnancy.

Intense Nausea and Vomiting

Regular, long-term marijuana use can lead to some people to develop Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. This causes users to experience regular cycles of severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, sometimes requiring emergency medical attention. [14]

MENTAL EFFECTS

Long-term marijuana use has been linked to mental illness in some people, such as:

  • temporary hallucinations
  • temporary paranoia
  • worsening symptoms in patients with schizophrenia—a severe mental disorder with symptoms such as hallucinations, paranoia, and disorganized thinking

Marijuana use has also been linked to other mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among teens. However, study findings have been mixed.

Are there effects of inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke?

Failing a Drug Test?

While it’s possible to fail a drug test after inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke, it’s unlikely. Studies show that very little THC is released in the air when a person exhales. Research findings suggest that, unless people are in an enclosed room, breathing in lots of smoke for hours at close range, they aren’t likely to fail a drug test. [15], [16] Even if some THC was found in the blood, it wouldn’t be enough to fail a test.

Getting high from passive exposure?

Similarly, it’s unlikely that secondhand marijuana smoke would give nonsmoking people in a confined space a high from passive exposure. Studies have shown that people who don’t use marijuana report only mild effects of the drug from a nearby smoker, under extreme conditions (breathing in lots of marijuana smoke for hours in an enclosed room). [17]

Other Health Effects?

More research is needed to know if secondhand marijuana smoke has similar health risks as secondhand tobacco smoke. A recent study on rats suggests that secondhand marijuana smoke can do as much damage to the heart and blood vessels as secondhand tobacco smoke. [20] But researchers haven’t fully explored the effect of secondhand marijuana smoke on humans. What they do know is that the toxins and tar found in marijuana smoke could affect vulnerable people, such as children or people with asthma.

HOW DOES MARIJUANA AFFECT A PERSON’S LIFE?

Compared to those who don’t use marijuana, those who frequently use large amounts report the following:

  • lower life satisfaction
  • poorer mental health
  • poorer physical health
  • more relationship problems

People also report less academic and career success. For example, marijuana use is linked to a higher likelihood of dropping out of school. [18] It’s also linked to more job absences, accidents, and injuries. [19].

Is marijuana a gateway drug?

Use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are likely to come before use of other drugs. [21], [22] Animal studies have shown that early exposure to addictive substances, including THC, may change how the brain responds to other drugs. For example, when rodents are repeatedly exposed to THC when they’re young, they later show an enhanced response to other addictive substances—such as morphine or nicotine—in the areas of the brain that control reward, and they’re more likely to show addiction-like behaviors. [23], [24]

Although these findings support the idea of marijuana as a “gateway drug,” the majority of people who use marijuana don’t go on to use other “harder” drugs. It’s also important to note that other factors besides biological mechanisms, such as a person’s social environment, are also critical in a person’s risk for drug use and addiction. Read more about marijuana as a gateway drug in our Marijuana Research Report.

Can a person overdose on marijuana?

An overdose occurs when a person uses enough of the drug to produce life-threatening symptoms or death. There are no reports of teens or adults dying from marijuana alone. However, some people who use marijuana can feel some very uncomfortable side effects, especially when using marijuana products with high THC levels. People have reported symptoms such as anxiety and paranoia, and in rare cases, an extreme psychotic reaction (which can include delusions and hallucinations) that can lead them to seek treatment in an emergency room.

While a psychotic reaction can occur following any method of use, emergency room responders have seen an increasing number of cases involving marijuana edibles. Some people (especially preteens and teens) who know very little about edibles don’t realize that it takes longer for the body to feel marijuana’s effects when eaten rather than smoked. So they consume more of the edible, trying to get high faster or thinking they haven’t taken enough. In addition, some babies and toddlers have been seriously ill after ingesting marijuana or marijuana edibles left around the house.

Is marijuana addictive?

Marijuana use can lead to the development of a substance use disorder, a medical illness in which the person is unable to stop using even though it’s causing health and social problems in their life. Severe substance use disorders are also known as addiction. Research suggests that between 9 and 30 percent of those who use marijuana may develop some degree of marijuana use disorder. [25] People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.26

Many people who use marijuana long term and are trying to quit report mild withdrawal symptoms that make quitting difficult. These include:

  • grouchiness
  • sleeplessness
  • decreased appetite
  • anxiety
  • cravings

What treatments are available for marijuana use disorder?

No medications are currently available to treat marijuana use disorder, but behavioral support has been shown to be effective. Examples include therapy and motivational incentives (providing rewards to patients who remain drug-free). Continuing research may lead to new medications that help ease withdrawal symptoms, block the effects of marijuana, and prevent relapse.

POINTS TO REMEMBER

  • Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant.
  • The plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC and other related compounds.
  • People use marijuana by smoking, eating, drinking, or inhaling it.
  • Smoking and vaping THC-rich extracts from the marijuana plant (a practice called dabbing) is on the rise.
  • THC overactivates certain brain cell receptors, resulting in effects such as:
    • altered senses
    • changes in mood
    • impaired body movement
    • difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
    • impaired memory and learning
  • Marijuana use can have a wide range of health effects, including:
    • hallucinations and paranoia
    • breathing problems
    • possible harm to a fetus’s brain in pregnant women
  • The amount of THC in marijuana has been increasing steadily in recent decades, creating more harmful effects in some people.
  • It’s unlikely that a person will fail a drug test or get high from passive exposure by inhaling secondhand marijuana smoke.
  • There aren’t any reports of teens and adults dying from using marijuana alone, but marijuana use can cause some very uncomfortable side effects, such as anxiety and paranoia and, in rare cases, extreme psychotic reactions.
  • Marijuana use can lead to a substance use disorder, which can develop into an addiction in severe cases.
  • No medications are currently available to treat marijuana use disorder, but behavioral support can be effective.

Date posted: October 13, 2018

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LEARN MORE

For more information about marijuana and marijuana use, visit

REFERENCES

[*] Farman quotes from archives and notes of the Late Alwaez Jehangir Merchant (1928-2018) on social habits.

[1] Substance Abuse Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. SAMHSA. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf. Published September 8, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017.

[2] Johnston L, O’Malley P, Miech R, Bachman J, Schulenberg J. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use: 1975-2015: Overview: Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan; 2015.

[3] Bell C, Slim J, Flaten HK, Lindberg G, Arek W, Monte AA. Butane Hash Oil Burns Associated with Marijuana Liberalization in Colorado. J Med Toxicol Off J Am Coll Med Toxicol. 2015;11(4):422-425. doi:10.1007/s13181-015-0501-0.

[4] Romanowski KS, Barsun A, Kwan P, et al. Butane Hash Oil Burns: A 7-Year Perspective on a Growing Problem. J Burn Care Res Off Publ Am Burn Assoc. 2017;38(1):e165-e171. doi:10.1097/BCR.0000000000000334.

[5] Meier MH, Caspi A, Ambler A, et al. Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(40):E2657-E2664. doi:10.1073/pnas.1206820109.

[6] Jackson NJ, Isen JD, Khoddam R, et al. Impact of adolescent marijuana use on intelligence: Results from two longitudinal twin studies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(5):E500-E508. doi:10.1073/pnas.1516648113.

[7] Mehmedic Z, Chandra S, Slade D, et al. Potency trends of Δ9-THC and other cannabinoids in confiscated cannabis preparations from 1993 to 2008. J Forensic Sci. 2010;55(5):1209-1217. doi:10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01441.x.

[8] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2017.

[9] Young-Wolff KC, Tucker L-Y, Alexeeff S, et al. Trends in Self-reported and Biochemically Tested Marijuana Use Among Pregnant Females in California From 2009-2016. JAMA. 2017;318(24):2490. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.17225

[10] The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda. The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/Reports/2017/health-effects-of-cannabis-and-cannabinoids.aspx. Accessed January 19, 2017.

[11] Goldschmidt L, Day NL, Richardson GA. Effects of prenatal marijuana exposure on child behavior problems at age 10. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2000;22(3):325-336.

[12] Richardson GA, Ryan C, Willford J, Day NL, Goldschmidt L. Prenatal alcohol and marijuana exposure: effects on neuropsychological outcomes at 10 years. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2002;24(3):309-320.

[13] Perez-Reyes M, Wall ME. Presence of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol in human milk. N Engl J Med. 1982;307(13):819-820. doi:10.1056/NEJM198209233071311.

[14] Galli JA, Sawaya RA, Friedenberg FK. Cannabinoid Hyperemesis Syndrome. Curr Drug Abuse Rev. 2011;4(4):241-249.

[15] Röhrich J, Schimmel I, Zörntlein S, et al. Concentrations of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and 11-nor-9-carboxytetrahydrocannabinol in blood and urine after passive exposure to Cannabis smoke in a coffee shop. J Anal Toxicol. 2010;34(4):196-203.

[16] Cone EJ, Bigelow GE, Herrmann ES, et al. Non-smoker exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke. I. Urine screening and confirmation results. J Anal Toxicol. 2015;39(1):1-12. doi:10.1093/jat/bku116.

[17] Herrmann ES, Cone EJ, Mitchell JM, et al. Non-smoker exposure to secondhand cannabis smoke II: Effect of room ventilation on the physiological, subjective, and behavioral/cognitive effects. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2015;151:194-202. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.03.019.

[18] McCaffrey DF, Pacula RL, Han B, Ellickson P. Marijuana Use and High School Dropout: The Influence of Unobservables. Health Econ. 2010;19(11):1281-1299. doi:10.1002/hec.1561.

[19] Zwerling C, Ryan J, Orav EJ. The efficacy of preemployment drug screening for marijuana and cocaine in predicting employment outcome. JAMA. 1990;264(20):2639-2643.

[20] Wang X, Derakhshandeh R, Liu J, et al. One Minute of Marijuana Secondhand Smoke Exposure Substantially Impairs Vascular Endothelial Function. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016;5(8). doi:10.1161/JAHA.116.003858.

[21] Secades-Villa R, Garcia-Rodríguez O, Jin CJ, Wang S, Blanco C. Probability and predictors of the cannabis gateway effect: a national study. Int J Drug Policy. 2015;26(2):135-142. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.07.011.

[22] Levine A, Huang Y, Drisaldi B, et al. Molecular mechanism for a gateway drug: epigenetic changes initiated by nicotine prime gene expression by cocaine. Sci Transl Med. 2011;3(107):107ra109. doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.3003062.

[23] Panlilio LV, Zanettini C, Barnes C, Solinas M, Goldberg SR. Prior exposure to THC increases the addictive effects of nicotine in rats. Neuropsychopharmacol Off Publ Am Coll Neuropsychopharmacol. 2013;38(7):1198-1208. doi:10.1038/npp.2013.16.

[24] Cadoni C, Pisanu A, Solinas M, Acquas E, Di Chiara G. Behavioural sensitization after repeated exposure to Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cross-sensitization with morphine. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2001;158(3):259-266. doi:10.1007/s002130100875.

[25] Hasin DS, Saha TD, Kerridge BT, et al. Prevalence of Marijuana Use Disorders in the United States Between 2001-2002 and 2012-2013. JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(12):1235-1242. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.1858.

[26] Winters KC, Lee C-YS. Likelihood of developing an alcohol and cannabis use disorder during youth: association with recent use and age. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;92(1-3):239-247. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2007.08.005.

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The above piece on marijuana may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from the NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Important Notes on Baitul Khayal, Bol, the Soul and Imam’s Status as Ismailis around the world continue to receive Hazar Imam’s Didar and Blessings

“The esoteric (batini) vision, realized through pious works and the constant remembrance of God during the nightly vigil, as well as the exoteric (zaheri) vision, and beholding the gateway of God’s mercy, becomes the ultimate purpose of human life….Piety should be for the purpose of recognizing and beholding God, which is achieved through the recognition and vision of the Imam of one’s time.” — Imam Mustansir-Billah, 32nd Ismaili Imam

1. Ism’ul Azam and Baitul Khayal

By SHIRAZ PRADHAN

In the Memoirs of Aga Khan, our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah outlines the distinction between two human experiences as categorized by the Muslim philosopher Ibn-Rushd (Averroes):

“On the one hand, our experience of nature as we recognize it through our senses…and on the other hand, our immediate and imminent experience of something more real, less dependent on thought or on the processes of the mind, but directly given to us, which I believe to be religious experience.”

The craving for this direct experience is innate in all of us. Depth psychology which recognizes this craving in a totally different form states that human psyche has great capacity and an insatiable desire for love. The quest for this love molds human actions. In some it takes the form of material pursuits, in others it takes the form of religious and mystical pursuits. And in some souls’ this quest for divine love finds satisfaction in devotion and love for another human being.

Further in his Memoirs, the Imam expounds on this very theme and says:

 “We live, move and have our being in God…when we realize this, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct (mystical) experience…some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development that they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all-consuming love which direct contact with reality gives to human soul.”

A question naturally arises in the mind: What about people who are not so gifted and not born with the natural capacity of development for spiritual experience?

Allah is mindful of this innate human desire for love and direct vision. Allah grants a gift and a means for this direct experience to all: “And to Allah belong the best names, so call on Him by them.” — Holy Qur’an, 7:180

The invocation of best names (Ism’ul-Azam) referred to in the above Sura are the most beautiful names of Allah, invocation of which provides the path to his mercy and direct experience. The Qur’an also enjoins constant remembrance of Allah:

“O you have faith, remember Allah with frequent remembrance and glorify him morning and evening.” — 33:41-42.

Bol is a Gujarati word for Ism’ul-Azam. In Ismailism, the path to direct experience of the divine reality of Allah through the Noor (Light) of Imamat becomes a very personal and private affair. Each murid has his personal connection with the Imam. The personal spiritual bond of bayah (allegiance) between the Imam and the murid is the cornerstone of this bond.

Every murid has a desire for this vision of Noor. This desire is weak in some and strong in others. The real quest for the vision of the Noor begins when a murid fights the buffeting currents and vicissitudes of daily life and begins to hear the call of the divine and the desire for vision of Noor possesses his heart. The thirst for love that philosophers had talked about becomes a reality. The most enchanting verses of a Ginan of Pir Sadardin which describe the agony of a love-thirsty soul resonate in his heart:

Sajan per hun sada balihari
Ke jine Sajan mohe nipat bhisari
Ab ko je me Sajan pau
Haide under Sej bichau
Milu usinku Noor sangath
Phir nav jalu duje ka haath.

TRANSLATION

(Sajan=Beloved)
I am forever ready to sacrifice my life for the Beloved,
That beloved who has so forgotten and forsaken me
If perchance I attain to the Beloved
I will spread a silk carpet in my heart
And meet him in a shower of Noor
Never again to thirst for aught.

When a soul become thus love-stricken, the path to enlightenment become visible to him and he seeks the Imam’s guidance. The Imam in his benevolence and love for the murid grants him a personal key to the spiritual universe and the possibility to ascend to that peak from whence he has potential of vision of Noor of Imamat and the quenching of that insatiable thirst for love. The key to this spiritual universe is Bol.

The remembrance (dhikr) of this Bol at prescribed time when the world rests is the essence of Baitul Khayal. “The honor and greatness of a believer lies in his praying at night,” said Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq. A number of verses in the Holy Qur’an attest to the importance of the night worship. Allah says, “and part of the night; bow down before Him and magnify Him through the long night. — 76:26 (tr. Arberry). This verse of the Holy Qur’an tells us to remember Allah at such a time when others are asleep.

The Holy Qur’an tells us:

“You have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern of conduct.” –33:21.

Thus, as an example to be followed, the Prophet’s escape to Mount Hira for extended hours of contemplation as well as his experiences during the night journey, miraj, are indicative of the rise of the soul from the plane of material existence to the proximity of God. The night journey  emphatically proclaimed that if God has placed man on this earth, He has also set up a ladder for man to climb up to Him. Baitul Khayal accords us this opportunity.

Thus, the practice of Baitul Khyal sits at the crest of spiritual practice of Ismailism and is also referred to as Motu Kam (Big Work). As the prescribed practice becomes a routine, the spiritual universe begins to unfold and the bond between the Imam and murid becomes stronger, and the link that binds the murid to the Imam becomes shorter and shorter. It is a process of divine alchemy which is sung in the Ginan Jire vala, dhan re ghadi:

Paras perse to Loha raang pelte
To jagmag jyote jagaye.

TRANSLATION

That which was base metal
Transforms to gold and begins to shine
by divine alchemy

The experience of this transformation and the uplifment of the soul through the constant meditative practice of the Ism’ul-Azam is articulated in some of the verses of the Ginan Brahm Prakash composed by Pir Shamsh: 

“True Word” (or Ism’ul-Azam, Bol) 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 extol (for you) this divine ecstasy!
Its status is so great, that it defies all speech….11

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

The skies in the West glow
and one witnesses a unique and
unparalled show (of “Light” – “Noor”)

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2. The Imam’s True Status

Imam to be perceived with true heart cropped

Image credit: roseannapiter.com.

(Adapted from an ode by 33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al Salam)

The talisman that can open the treasure trove of spiritual meaning of the Holy Qur’an is the Imam. 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.

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 sulphur. 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. — Adapted from Ismaili in the Middle Ages by Shafique Virani.

3. The Importance of the Soul

By AL-MU’AYYAD AL-SHIRAZI

“Look at the trouble your parents have taken from the days of your childhood in the growth of your bodies and in the improvement of your physical life on earth. But for the interest they took in you, you would not have been what you are. Your souls are thousand times more important than your bodies. The Imams are your spiritual parents. Avail yourselves of a few days of life which are at your disposal here and look after your spiritual elevation under the care of your spiritual parents. “Once you miss this opportunity, you will repent forever. You will not be given a second chance to set things right.”

Date posted: November 9, 2017.

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Note: This piece also appears on simerg’s special project http://www.barakah.com which is dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan.

Shiraz Pradhan PortraitShiraz Pradhan, in parallel with his work as an international engineering consultant, has contributed for several years to furthering religious education among the Ismaili community in the UK, Canada, USA and Japan. He is the author of several articles published on this website and was a regular contributor to UK’s flagship Ismaili magazine, Ilm. Currently he is concluding the script of a full-length play of the 10th Century trial of the Sufi Saint Mansur al-Hallaj in Baghdad based on historical facts.

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to Bless Ismailis in Eastern Canada with Didar in November 2017

2017 Aga Khan Tanzania Darbar zr1_web_4823

His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, at the Dar es Salaam Darbar in October 2017. He will grace the Eastern Canadian Ismailis with his didar in November 2017.

Ismailis gasp in delight and shed tears of joy at announcement of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Canada in November 2017

By Malik Merchant, Editor

(Note: We will have regular updates leading upto the visit; here are the latest updates for this blog):

 

 

Ismailis in Eastern Canada will, inshallah, be graced with the holy visit of their beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, during the month of November 2017. The announcement of the visit by the Ismaili Leadership International Forum (LIF) came as a big surprise, and thousands who were present in Jamatkhanas across Canada on Friday, October 27,  gasped with delight when the news of the visit was read out. At the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, the Jamat was informed about the visit  by the Chairman of the LIF, Mahmoud Eboo, who is also the representative of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) in Canada.

The exact dates and details of the visit were not announced on Friday. However, an update on Saturday October 28th, stated that Mawlana Hazar Imam’s mulaqats with the Eastern Canada Jamat, which will include religious work, will take place in Toronto for the Ontario region and in Montreal for the Quebec and Maritime Provinces.  Although located in Ontario, the Jamat in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, will join hands with the Jamats of the Quebec and Maritime Provinces in Montreal.

This will be the third visit by the Aga Khan to his followers during his Diamond Jubilee year that commenced on July 11, 2017, when he completed 60 years of his reign. Earlier in October, he made official visits to Uganda and Tanzania at the invitation of the two governments. During the five day tour that began on October 8th, Mawlana Hazar Imam graced the Ismailis with momentous Darbars (lit. a court or audience chamber where kings had formal or informal meetings) in Kampala and Dar es Salaam.

On this most auspicious and joyous news of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s forthcoming visit to Canada, we convey our heartiest felicitations to Ismailis in Canada and around the world and offer a humble supplication with the following words taken from a Ginan by Pir Hasan Kabirdin (14th century).

Transliteration

Eji, Aash Karine Ya Ali* hun tere dar ubhi,
Kar jodine em mangu Ya Shah;
Dejo didar tusi mahavar datar Shah,
Hama tere charane lagu.

Translation

With hope O Ali I stand at Thy door,
With palms joined I sincerely beg of Thee;
Bless me with Thy Holy Didar, O Great Lord and Benefactor!
At Thy Feet I fall to prostrate.

*Ismaili doctrine emphasizes the principle of the Unity of Imamat under the superficial diversity exhibited by each Imam of the Time. It is in this sense that the Ismailis believe that Imam is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in. Thus, the name of the first Imam, Hazrat Ali, is commonly invoked for each Imam of the Time.

The proverbial valour and exemplary statesmanship of Imam Mawla Murtaza Ali, the encyclopaedic erudition of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq, the extraordinary intellectual brilliance of Imam al-Hakim bi Amrillah, the administrative ability of Imam Mustansir Billah (during the first half of his Khilafat), the political acumen of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III (he defied geography and created history), the organizing genius of the present Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Husayni, are only some of the more spectacular characteristics exhibited by the Imam of the Time in accordance with the exigencies of the situations facing him.

Date posted: October 27, 2017.
Last updated: October 29, 2017.

Related updated post: Ottawa Celebrates Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Forthcoming Visit to Canada, @Barakah.com

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We invite our readers to download Simerg’s special PDF publication Imamat and Didar Series.

We welcome your feedback. Please click LEAVE A COMMENT

A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece

Editor’s note: In Part II of a special series on the 49th Ismaili Imam’s visits to numerous countries that he undertook during 2015, we cover India (April), Canada (May) and Greece (September). Please click A Marvellous Collection of Photos of His Highness the Aga Khan’s Visits to Canada, India and Greece.

Please click on photo for complete story and more pictures. Photo: Ontario Liberal Part. Copyright. Published with permission.

Please click on photo for complete story and more pictures. Photo: Ontario Liberal Part. Copyright. Published with permission.

2014 Twelve Piece Collection from Simergphotos: Selected Photos Spanning the Reign of Two Ismaili Imams – Glimpses of 130 Years of Ismaili History

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Photo Essay: The Ismaili Centre – “Peace Through Prayer” and “A Splendid Reality”

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Photos and Videos: Simerg Captures the Spirit of the Jamat on the Opening Day of the Ismaili Centre in Toronto, Canada

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The message appeared in the Diamond Jubilee Yearbook published in Dar-es-Salaam on 10th August 1946. See cover of special issue following message transcript below.

Simerg Photo Contest Commemorates Opening of Magnificent New Aga Khan Museum

Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park Perfect Breeding Ground for superb photo taking and winning great prizes including free membership

By Malik Merchant, Editor

Te Aga Khan Museum Catalogue and special children's books at the Museum gift shop..

The Aga Khan Museum catalogue and special children’s books at the museum gift shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali.

Thursday, September 18, 2014, marked the public opening of the new Aga Khan Museum located on Wynford Drive in Toronto. Simerg marks the opening with a special photo contest in which a maximum of 25 prizes including youth and family memberships will to be given away to the top entries selected by a panel of three independent professional photographers, all from Ontario. The contest is open to all residents of Canada.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harpur at the opening ceremony of the Ismaili Centre on September 12, 2014. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

The Aga Khan Museum and the Ismaili Centre were officially on Friday, September 12, in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, members of the 49th Ismaili Imam’s family and invited guests.

A maximum of 10 annual memberships each for the YOUTH and OPEN  categories for the top photos selected by a team of three professional photographers will be given to the winning entries. The submission deadline will be December 31, 2014. The winning photos will be announced on this website and simergphotos.com on or around in late January, 2015. In addition to the annual memberships, the judges will pick up  5 photos deserving merit awards. The merit winners will each receive a $50.00 gift voucher,  entitling  them to make purchases from the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of items at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of items at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali

There will be two categories. The Youth Category will be open to anyone 19 and under. A maximum of 10 annual youth memberships to the Museum will be given to the winning entries.

The Open Category is for those over the age of 19. It will be for all amateur photographers and photography enthusiasts who like to shoot photographs, either using a camera or their smart hand-held devices and phones! For this category, each photo has to be accompanied by a 75 to 100 word narrative to encapsulate the photographer’s experience of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre or their Park. Only spaces where photos are allowed to be taken will be accepted for the contest.

Men's ties at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

A selection of  ties at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Shellina Karmali

The opening few weeks of the museum will be the perfect breeding ground for passionate picture taking and writing a brief narrative, and if you are selected as a winner in the Open Category you will be one of 10 to receive an annual family membership.

Here are some ideas for taking and submitting photos: artistic and architecture beauty and grandeur of the projects, interior spaces including art work (where permitted) , landscape, nature (as in the park), as well as spontaneous moments involving people!

Jewellery at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop.

Jewellery at the Aga Khan Museum Gift Shop. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg.

The prizes are as a result of  gracious donations by numerous individuals and families in Canada and abroad. Simerg is deeply grateful to the sponsors of the prizes.

Each individual may submit up to 3 photos for consideration for the contest, all in high resolution. They should be mailed to simerg@aol.com, and accompanied by the photographer’s full name and address as well as telephone number(s) where they may be contacted.

Every photograph received (maximum 3 per individual) will be published on a special gallery page on this website. The judges will select the winners from the photos published in the photo gallery. The judges decision will be final.

Museum GiftshpWe are thrilled to host this contest and look forward to a fantastic response from the public.

Post updated: October 1, 2014.

Simerg to Launch Photo Contest to Celebrate the Opening of the New Aga Khan Museum

An artistic rendering of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park. Photo: The Ismaili/Imara.

An artistic rendering of the Ismaili Centre, the Aga Khan Museum and their Park. Photo: The Ismaili/Imara.

Simerg is celebrating the public opening of the Aga Khan Museum on September 18, 2014, by launching a photography contest. A total of 25 photos, all related to the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and their Park taken from the time the grounds become open to the public through to September 25, 2014, will be selected by an independent panel of judges and posted on this website on or around 7th October, 2014. The prizes will consist of a total of 20 free annual youth and family memberships to the museum as well as 5 merit prizes from the museum’s shop.

There will be two categories. The Youth Category will be open to anyone 19 and under. A total of 10 annual youth memberships will be given to the winning entries and, in addition, the judges will select 5 merit entries who will be awarded with the Aga Khan Museum catalogue.

The Open Category is for anyone over the age of 19. It will be for all amateur photographers and photography enthusiasts as well as anyone who likes to shoot photographs, either using a camera or their smart hand-held devices and phones! For this category we will expect each photo to be accompanied with a 75 to 100 word narrative to encapsulate the photographer’s experience of the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre or their Park. Only spaces where photos are allowed to be taken will be accepted for the contest.

The opening days of the museum will be the perfect breeding ground for passionate picture taking and writing a brief narrative, and if you are selected as a winner in the Open Category you will be one of 10 to receive an annual family membership.

Here are some ideas for taking and submitting photos: artistic and architecture beauty and grandeur of the projects, interior spaces (where permitted), landscape, nature (as in the park), as well as spontaneous moments involving people!

The prizes that are to be given are from gracious donations by numerous individuals and families in Ontario. Further details of the contest, including the names of judges, will be published in the coming fortnight. Start preparing for this contest as communities in Ontario and Canada as well as around the world eagerly anticipate the opening of three unique cultural initiatives undertaken by His Highness the Aga Khan!

Ismaili Authors: Excerpt from M. H. Velshi’s “Conversation on Three Continents”

Toronto based Ismaili author, M..H. Velshi whose book excerpt can be read by clicking on the image or link below

Toronto based Ismaili author, M..H. Velshi whose book excerpt can be read by clicking on the image or link below

The year is 1936, and the setting for a serious dialogue between a brother and his sister is Mumbai’s famous Chawpati on Marine Drive – with the continent of Africa in the distant horizon, thousands of miles away….

“To Africa,” she said. 

She looked at his startled face and continued, “That’s your future. So many of my friends have gone and bought shops or farms, or found work on the railways…You know for many years our Imam, Mowlana Sultan Mohammed Shah, has been issuing firmans to us Ismailis to migrate to Africa. Now the Ismailis have built large jamatkhanas in Africa where people can pray and meet freely every day. You won’t be alone. When I heard one of his firmans…I knew it was a message meant for you. It’s your way out.”

PLEASE CLICK: “Conversations on Three Continents”

Please click on image for book excerpt.

Please click on image for book excerpt.

To acquire a Kindle version ($9.11) or a paperback copy ($11.66) at Amazon please click on Conversations on Three Continents.

 

“Madiba, My Hero” by Zulfikarali Khoja and “Renewal and Renaissance” by Nelson Mandela

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children” – Nelson Mandela

Extreme close-up of a detail of a new South African Hundred Rand banknote, featuring an engraving of the face of iconic statesman Nelson Mandela, giving his trademark smile. South African wildlife and African designs form the watermarked background. Photo: Istockphoto> Copyright.

A close-up of a detail of a South African Hundred Rand banknote, featuring an engraving of the face of iconic statesman Nelson Mandela, giving his trademark smile. South African wildlife and African designs form the watermarked background. Photo: Istockphoto. Copyright.

By Zulfikarali M. Khoja
(special to Simerg)

My diverse background has provided me with three world-class heroes. As a Gujarati speaking Canadian, Ghandi stands out as my hero. The Mahatma found the roots of his policy of non-violence in South Africa where he experienced racism in its extreme form. There is a saying that India gave South Africa Ghandi and in return South Africa gave India the Mahatma.

Heroes Gandhi, Mandela, and Pearson

Heroes Gandhi, Mandela, and Pearson. Image: Wikipedia photos.

As a proud Canadian I found my hero in Lester Pearson, Nobel Prize winner for Peace. It is while sitting in a geography class in a segregated school in Pretoria that I was introduced to this figure who originated the Blue Helmeted Peace Keepers to the world. At that time I dreamt of going to Canada. My dream came true!!

As a South African born Canadian there is so much one could write about Madiba, My Hero! I shall restrict myself to two things.

 Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. Map: Wikipedia.

Mandela's cell at Robben Island. Photo: Wikipedia.

Mandela’s cell at Robben Island. Photo: Wikipedia.

His capacity for forgiveness was so deep and pure that it is difficult to imagine. I was fortunate enough to visit Robben Island. The small cell he spent 27 years and the conditions under which he had spent day after day breaking rocks was heart breaking. Tears rolled down my face as I stood in the middle of the quarry. Yet under these awful conditions he stood as a role model for his fellow prisoners, he studied at night, including Afrikaans, the language of his oppressors. How else would he be able to communicate with his prison guards and understand his enemy? How else would be able to negotiate without knowing his enemy. He believed very strongly that forgiveness does not change the past but opens the future. A future for all South Africans and for the world where is civil strife.

In one of the interviews he was asked what did you miss the most while in prison. His response was the interaction with children. Soon after he became the President of new South Africa he established the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (NMCF). Fifty percent of his salary was donated to establish this fund. With headquarters in Johannesburg the NMCF has affiliates in various parts of the world, including Canada.

Nelson Mandela with  Graça Machel  created a bold new movement to turn the world around for millions of children. Photo credit: UNICEF

Nelson Mandela with Graça Machel created a bold new movement to turn the world around for millions of children. Photo credit: UNICEF

I was fortunate to be the NMCF Chapter Chair for Ottawa. This opportunity to share the ideals and vision of Madiba to the youth of Ottawa through Youth Conferences on the Hill and extra-curricular activities in school was an enriching experience beyond measure. The Brookfield High School Choir sang South African songs throughout the city and at a variety of public events. This was only one of the ways in which Madiba’s vision was shared with Ottawa citizens.

As an educator and mediator I have been fortunate to have had these lifetime enriching experiences which I share with my children and especially my grandchildren. They are already following in their grandfather’s footsteps.

Date posted: Saturday, December 7, 2013.

Copyright: Zulfikarali M. Khoja.

Please also see Khoja’s piece Ismaili Penmanship in 1906 contributed for Simerg’s special series I Wish I’d Been There.

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Please click: RENEWAL AND RENAISSANCE – TOWARDS A NEW WORLD ORDER

Please click on image for Nelson Mandela's article.

His Highness the Aga Khan Receives RAIC’s 2013 Gold Medal for his Significant Contribution to Canadian Architecture

Please click: Royal Architectural Institute Awards Gold Medal to 49th Ismaili Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, for his contribution to Canadian architecture

Please click on image for a report of the RAIC Gold award ceremony on November 27, 2013 in Ottawa, Canada.

Please click on image for a report of the RAIC Gold award ceremony on November 27, 2013 in Ottawa, Canada.