Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat — (II) The Beatific Vision of the Imam of the Time

INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT

A very happy moment in my life when I visited Brown University in 1996. I snapped this picture of my beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and only realized that he was looking straight at my disposable nine dollar camera after I got the film processed in Philadelphia.  Photo by Abdulmalik Merchant

A very happy moment in my life when I travelled to Brown University from Philadelphia in 1996. I snapped this picture of my beloved 49th Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and only realized that he was looking straight at my camera after I got the film processed in Philadelphia a couple of days later. Photo by Abdulmalik Merchant

Every Ismaili yearns to see the Imam of the Time. It’s a dream of a lifetime. Throughout history, past and present, Ismailis have travelled far and wide to earn this special moment of grace and barakah (happiness) in their lives. Since the advent of the 20th century, the 48th Imam, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, and the current 49th Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim (His Highness the Aga Khan), have graciously travelled to lands around the world to give their beloved murids (followers) this blessed opportunity. Scientific and technological advancements have speeded up and shortened the time-gap between visits of Mawlana Hazar Imam with his jamats, though even in these situations, some jamats  such as those living in Central Asia, did not have the opportunity of a meeting with the present Imam and his predecessors for decades and centuries. What sustained their faith, sometimes under extremely difficult and extra ordinary circumstances, was their spiritual bond with the Imam of the Time.  

His Highness the Aga Khan pictured amongst his followers in Badakhshan in May 1995.

His Highness the Aga Khan pictured amongst his followers in Badakhshan in May 1995.

A cornerstone of Ismaili doctrines has been the principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the  Ismaili belief and understanding that each Imam, being the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat, is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in. Thus in Ismaili writings, in addition to the importance of the physical didar (or glimpse) of the Imam, a strong emphasis has been laid on the followers to seek to attain the Beatific Vision of the Imam of the Time through special prayers, in addition to the ritual prayers. This idea is also conveyed in the sixth article of the Preamble of the Constitution of the Ismailis, which states:

“Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision…”

The following collection  of writings from Ismaili history articulates the importance of both the  physical as well as the spiritual glimpse of the Imam of the Time. Our next reading in this short four-part series to commemorate Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 58th Imamat Day will consist of excerpts from the writings of Ismaili Imams on the subject of Imamat. This will be followed by contemporary voices on Imamat by members of the jamat.

1. An Inspiring Anecdote: Da’i Al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi ‘s Mulaqat  with  the 18th Ismaili Imam (or 8th Fatimid Caliph), Imam al-Mustansir Billah

A folio from the manuscript of al-Shirazi's Sirat. Credit: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

A folio from the manuscript of al-Shirazi’s Sirat. Credit: The Institute of Ismaili Studies.

“I was taken near the place where from I saw the bright Light of the Prophethood.  My eyes were dazzled by the Light. I shed tears of joy and felt as if I was looking at the face of the Prophet of Allah and of the Commander of the Faithful, Hazrat Ali. I prostrated myself before the one who is the fittest person to bow to. I wanted to say something, but I was awe-struck.

“I tried to speak but my tongue refused to move. People asked me to say what I wished to say. I could say nothing. The Imam said, ‘Leave him. Let his fear and awe subside’.

“After this, I rose. I took the holy hand of the Imam, placed it on my eyes and on my chest and then kissed it. I left the place with immense joy.”

The same dai,  in the following entreaty to Imam Mustansir, typifies an Ismaili’s impatience to behold the face of the Imam of one’s time, and the urgency of this beyond any possible worldly consideration. He states: 

“I swear, were you to crown me, and were you to grant me dominion over the world entire and say to me ‘Let our meeting be postponed but an hour’, I would reply: ‘O my Mawla, let us meet instead!  For your delay of but an hour has turned my hair gray’.”

2. A Pilgrim’s Experience

During the reign of the 34th Ismaili Imam Gharib Mirza, a pilgrim tracked his way to Anjudan to see the Imam on behalf of the jamats in Khurasan. The identity of the pilgrim is not very clear due to the poor quality of the manuscript but the ode to the Imam reads as follows:

“Greetings! O Emperor of the Realm of Faith and World; I come from Khurasan to behold your face. All I have is a soul imperfect, sins and transgressions galore.

“Despite such worthless goods, I long for your grace, hoping that through me you may forgive the trespasses of your servants-one and all.

“As you are the sovereign and governor of all creation, this being testified to by the Qur’an itself, your proper name has been made manifest to all the faithful.

“You are Shah Gharib and Mustansir, the inheritor of Shah Salam!”

3. Pir Sadr al-Din on the True Guide, the Beatific Vision of the Imam, and the Alchemy of Transformation from Contact with the Imam

Folio of Pir Sadr al-Din's Saloko Nano at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

Folio of Pir Sadr al-Din’s Saloko Nano at the Institute of Ismaili Studies.

The following is a translation of Pir Sadr al-Din’s ginanic compositiom “Sakhi māhā pad keri vāt koek jānere.”

“Friend! None but a few know of the exalted station. Indeed, they alone recognize it who have found the true guide.

“Friend! Within the heart, at the confluence of the three spiritual rivers, there is an imperishable light. There – a shimmering effulgence, pearls are showered.

“Friend! I completely lost consciousness of my physical self when my meditation mounted the empyrean, bursting forth.

“Friend! I beheld the place of the lofty throne, I saw the seven islands, the nine continents.

“Friend! The religious scriptures and books cannot fathom this, for there is neither day there, nor night, neither sun, nor shade.

“Friend! My Lord is not such that He can be spoken of. He is to be seen – for He is indescribable, and nameless.

“Friend! How sweet is that Lord, indescribable, nameless. Says Pir Sadr al-Din, truly, with my own eyes, I have seen Him!”

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And the following is a translation of a verse from Sab Ghat Sami Maaro Bharpur Betha on spiritual transformation:

“O Brother, The True Preceptor is like the philosopher’s stone and the followers are like copper.

“When the copper comes in contact with the philosopher’s stone it becomes gold.

“The followers gain spiritual enlightenment from the contact of the Imam. He is the only Glorious, O brother.”

4. Nizar Quhistani on the Imam of the Time As the Source of Salvation, and on the Continuity of Imamat

“Salvation is to be found in the Imam of the Time.

“Ever since I found the Imamate, permanently in human form, I have known no other guide than the living, everlasting Imam.

“For in his command, I have found peace in both the worlds.

“My lover appears in different forms,

“Because for each period there comes a new guidance;

“One after the other, there  follows another Qaim  Imam Ali.

“I have given up everything except that contained in the Qur’anic verse ‘offspring, one of the other’.”

Date posted: July 8, 2015.

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Readings adapted from The Life and Lectures of the Grand Missionary al-Muayyad-fid-Din al-Shirazi and 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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Special Series: Ismaili Expressions on the Imamat and Imam of the Time — (I) The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Canada’s Confederation Day, the American Independence Day, Tanzania’s Saba Saba celebrations and the Imamat Day of His Highness the Aga Khan, all fall in the month of July.

Canada is already preparing for its 150th birthday two years hence when Ismailis around the world will, inshallah, celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of their beloved 49th Imam, whom they respectfully address as Mawlana Hazar Imam.

 A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

A portrait of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, with a framed portrait of Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah in the background. Photo by Philippe Le Tellier/Paris Match via Getty Images. Copyright.

His Highness the Aga Khan succeeded to the 49th hereditary throne of Imamat at the age of twenty by the will of his grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, who served as the 48th Ismaili Imam for a record 71 years (August 17, 1885 – July 11, 1957).

Over the next week, Simerg will provide an insight into the principles of Imamat through short readings. We begin the series by posting the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution, which is an introductory succinct statement giving the historical roots of the Ismaili Imamat, the principle of Imamat succession, and the permanency of the spiritual bond that exists between the Imam and his followers.

Another theme that will be explored in the coming few days through the writings of Ismaili Pirs, missionaries and philosophers is the principle of the Unity of Imamat, that is the Ismaili belief and understanding that each Imam, being the bearer of the Noor (Light) of Imamat, is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in.

Finally, another aspect that will become apparent from the readings to follow is that the hereditary institution of Imamat can never become extinct. This is in accordance with the well known Muslim prophetic tradition, hadith thaqalain, which says, “I leave behind me two weighty things: The Book of Allah and my Progeny. If you keep yourselves attached to these two, never, never will you go astray. Both are tied with a long rope and cannot be separated until the Day of Judgement.”

The Preamble of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

Please click on photo for enlargement

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

December 13, 1986, Geneva: On his 50th birthday, His Highness the Aga Khan is seen ordaining a new constitution for the worldwide Ismaili community.

“Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.”

BACKGROUND

In 1905, the 48th Ismaili Imam, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, His Highness the Aga Khan III, issued a written set of ‘Rules and Regulations’ for the Ismailis of East Africa which effectively served as their communal constitution. This constitution re-affirmed the centrality of the Imam’s authority over the affairs of his community and also articulated the distinctive religious identity of the Ismailis. This document was revised and published several times until 1954, and was made available to Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. Similar rules were given to the Ismaili community in British India.

During the 1960’s, the 48th Imam’s grandson and successor, Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan IV, gave Constitutions to his followers in Africa and Pakistan in 1962, and to the Jamat in India in 1967.

A constitution review committee was then formed in the early 1980’s, and after exhaustive review, Mawlana Hazar Imam, in 1986, ordained a new Ismaili Constitution known as “The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims.”

The Ismaili Constitution became applicable throughout the world, linking all Ismailis to the Imamat. His Highness did this with the belief that the Constitution would provide a strong institutional and organizational framework through which his community would be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Muslim Ummah and of the societies in which his followers lived. He expressed confidence that the Ismaili Constitution would give a stronger integrated identity to his community, and that in abiding by it in letter and spirit, the Ismailis would achieve greater peace, unity, happiness, security and wellbeing. He futher hoped that the Constitution would become an enabling document for all his murids (followers) for an active role in institution building, for creative application of their abilities, for personal development and for intellectual and spiritual satisfaction.

The new constitution was ordained, signed and sealed by Mawlana Hazar Imam on December 13th, 1986, his fiftieth Salgirah (birthday) and thirtieth year of Imamat. The Constitution was revised by Mawlana Hazar Imam on July 11, 1998, when he completed forty one years of his spiritual leadership.

THE PREAMBLE

(A) The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims affirm the shahādah lā ilāha illa-llāh, Muhammadur rasulu-llāh, the Tawhid therein and that the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) is the last and final Prophet of Allah. Islam, as revealed in the Holy Quran, is the final message of Allah to mankind, and is universal and eternal. The Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through the divine revelation from Allah prescribed rules governing spiritual and temporal matters.

(B) In accordance with Shia doctrine, tradition, and interpretation of history, the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) designated and appointed his cousin and son-in-law Hazrat Mawlana Ali Amiru-l-Mu’minin (a.s), to be the first Imam to continue the Ta’wīl and Ta‘līm of Allah’s final message and to guide the murids, and proclaimed that the Imamat should continue by heredity through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s) and his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, Khātun-i-Jannat (a.s).

(C) Succession of Imamat is by way of Nass, it being the absolute prerogative of the Imam of the time to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendents whether they be sons or remoter issue.

(D) The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay‘ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode.

(E) From the time of the Imamat of Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s), the Imams of the Ismaili Muslims have ruled over territories and peoples in various areas of the world at different periods of history and, in accordance with the needs of the time, have given rules of conduct and constitution in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.

(F) Historically and in accordance with Ismaili tradition, the Imam of the time is concerned with spiritual advancement as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids. The imam’s ta‘lim lights the murid’s path to spiritual enlightenment and vision. In temporal matters, the Imam guides the murids, and motivates them to develop their potential.

(G) Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.

(H) By virtue of his office and in accordance with the faith and belief of the Ismaili Muslims, the Imam enjoys full authority of governance over and in respect of all religious and Jamati matters of the Ismaili Muslims.

(I) It is the desire and Hidāyat of Mawlana Hazar Imam that the constitutions presently applicable to the Ismaili Muslims in different countries be superseded and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live.

Date posted: Saturday, July 4, 2015.

© Simerg.com

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References for this post:

(1) The Ismailis: An Illustrated History by Farhad Daftary and Zulfikar Hirji, published by Azimuth editions in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies (2008).

(2) Wikipedia article on Imamah, with link to website, http://www.salmanspiritual.com/

(3) http://www.kamalzar.com, website of Alwaez Kamaluddin Muhammad and Alwaeza Zarina Kamaludin.