(1) “What Ismailis Believe”; and (2) “Ask Me Anything” – A Special Program by Ismaili Institutions to Respond to Questions on Faith from Community Members

Special Series: “What Ismailis Believe”

The.Ismaili, the official website of the Ismaili Muslim community, recently started a series on the beliefs and practices of the Ismailis. We invite all our readers, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike, to read the following articles published in the series so far:

(1) Article: Why Do Ismailis Recite Salawat for the Family of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
(2) Video: The Exalted Status of the Ahl al-Bayt
(3) Video: Imam Ali in Islamic Traditions: No Hero Like Ali
(4) Video and article: Why do Ismailis Call Their Imam Khudavind


“…if there are any questions do not hesitate to ask. It is much better to ask and receive an answer than to have a feeling of frustration inside you”

— Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan

“Ask Me Anything”

Introduced by MALIK MERCHANT

If I am not mistaken, the Ask Me Anything (AMA) program has been active in Canada for quite some time — I have heard announcements in Jamatkhanas going back to pre-Covid-19 times — and I wonder how many Jamati members with questions pertaining to faith, beliefs and traditions have sought to seek answers to questions that have been or are on their minds. How much interaction, if any, is there between Jamati members today, and especially the youth, and those who are best equipped to answer their questions?

As a son of an Alwaez (Jehangir Merchant, d. 2018), who was also a religious education teacher, I recollect the frequency with which he was approached by members of the Jamat with questions, whether it was in Mozambique, Tanzania, Canada, the UK and in countries where he went for sermon duties. Often individuals would approach him in the Jamatkhana as he was about to depart but he patiently took his time to respond to the question. Both he and my mum (Mrs. Merchant, d. 2021) considered their students and members of the Jamat at the centre of their lives.

Of course, as a secondary school teacher, my dad would always engage in Q/A discussions with his students. If he did not have an answer, he would tell the students so and seek out a good and satisfactory response by conducting his own research or consulting with one of his learned colleagues. A leader of an Ismaili institution in Canada, in his tribute to my dad, wrote: “In the passing away of Alwaez Jehangir Merchant I have lost a confidant, a friend and a source of knowledge and wisdom that I will greatly miss. He was my Go-to person for Tariqah matters and was always willing to share.”

Often my parents would welcome Jamati members, young and old alike, to our homes to discuss religious issues and other personal and family matters that often required more time.

In my humble opinion, one of the most brilliant minds in my dad’s friend circle in Dar es Salaam was no other than Hassanali Bhaloo from Zanzibar, whose nickname was Din. A regular visitor to our home, he was an intellectual of the highest caliber, and although not a missionary, could take on any question on faith, science or ethic and answer it satisfactorily. He was also an outstanding Ginan reciter and watching him recite one in Jamatkhana would leave one with the impression he was in a heavenly realm.

On many occasions, the tone of questioning, especially on the part of youth, was harsh and while that would raise my dad’s eyebrows, Din would always respond with calmness and thoughtfulness that left the questioning student(s) with wonder and amazement. A very humble man, Din’s intellectual brilliance was recognized at a young age, and he was offered to study in one of America’s top schools upon completing his high school education. Alas, he had to forego the opportunity due to an untimely death in his family that forced him to attend to family matters for a number of years. He eventually joined the services of the Ismailia Association in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after the mid 1960’s and worked with my dad on many projects. My dad even placed me in his good hands to strengthen my religious knowledge, a few months before I departed Dar es Salaam.

Article continues below

Ask Me Anything image in the Al-Akhbar newsletter. Simerg, News
Ask Me Anything image in the Al-Akhbar newsletter published in Canada.

Like Din in Dar es Salaam, we have many brilliant minds in the Ismaili Muslim community (Jamat) today who are highly qualified as ethicists, scientists as well as in Islamic and Ismaili studies as missionaries and scholars. I sincerely hope that the AMA team will revert to the right individuals to give direction to individuals who come forward with their questions or concerns, and not necessarily restrict the asking of questions only to the Waezeen, as the Al-Akhbar announcement reads.

The announcement about the Ask Me Anything program, dated November 6, 2022, appears in the latest two issues of the Al-Akhbar newsletter which is distributed among subscribers to announce local as well as national programs and events organized by Ismaili institutions which are of benefit to the Jamat. The announcement in Al-Akhbar is reproduced below and reads as follows: (please also read it at SOURCE)

“Have a question on faith that you need clarity on? The Ask Me Anything program is here to help. Do you need more guidance or resources on questions about the faith? The Ask Me Anything (AMA) program provides an accessible and virtual medium to ask a Waezeen for perspectives or resources on faith-based questions. Book a session either one-on-one or as a group (up to 5) to address questions on faith in a non-judgmental and safe space. Sign-up for spots are available for Saturday, November 26 or Sunday, November 27.”

My inspiration for writing this post comes from Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance that he gave to the students during his visit to Mombasa, Kenya, on October 4, 1959. Referring to the memorization of the Qur’an and Ginans, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:

“These pieces of memorization are good, and they are necessary in practice, but at the same time I want you to be able to understand your religion. And if there are any questions do not hesitate to ask. It is much better to ask and receive an answer than to have a feeling of frustration inside you.”

Thus, in keeping with Mawalana Hazar Imam’s wish, please do not feel reluctant to approach the Ask Me Anything program with your question. Please visit Al-Akhbar for further information and to register or click REGISTER for the next Ask Me Anything session go be held on November 25/26, 2022.

Date posted: November 13, 2022.
Last updated: November 15, 2022 (reformatting and link error.)


If you are a Canadian resident and have a question, please click REGISTER for a follow-up meeting with an Alwaez as mentioned in the announcement. The Ask Me Anything program is an Ismaili institution initiative, and NOT a Simerg project. If you live outside Canada, please consult your local Ismaili newsletter to find out if a program such as the one offered in Canada is available in your country.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought-provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos.The editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.

Farhad Daftary and Zayn Kassam Institute of Ismaili Studies, New, Simerg

Zayn Kassam Appointed New Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies as Farhad Daftary, Who Has Dedicated His Life to Ismaili Scholarship, Retires from Management Roles

Compiled and prepared by MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos

The websites of the Institute of Ismaili Studies and the Ismaili community, The Ismaili, have jointly announced the appointment of Dr. Zayn Kassam as the new Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), following the decision by Dr. Farhad Daftary to retire from his management roles, which included serving as the co-director of the IIS for the past 12 years.

Dr. Daftary will continue his scholarly research, writing and teaching activities at IIS indefinitely. As appropriate recognition of Dr. Daftary’s contributions to IIS and his long service of 34 years, Dr Daftary has been conferred the lifetime title Director Emeritus when he relinquishes his current role and will be appointed to the IIS Board of Governors. In this way, IIS staff, students and other stakeholders will continue to benefit directly from his knowledge, wisdom and guidance.

Story continues below

Aga Khan, Illustrated History of the Ismailis, Farhad Daftary, Gilden Jubilee, News Simerg
Professor Azim Nanji (centre), then Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, and his successor Dr Farhad Daftary (left) present Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with a copy of The Ismailis: An Illustrated History on July 4, 2008 during his Golden Jubilee visit to the United Kingdom. Photo: Gary Otte

Following a thorough and extensive international search process undertaken by the Board of Governors which considered internal and external candidates, Professor Zayn Kassam of Pomona College in California has been appointed as the next Director to succeed Dr Daftary with effect from January 2023. Professor Kassam is a highly accomplished scholar and academic leader and has spent the last 27 years in a variety of positions at Pomona College in California. Her profile page on the College’s website reads as follows:

“Zayn Kassam is the John Knox McLean Professor of Religious Studies at Pomona College, Claremont, California. A graduate of McGill University (Ph.D. 1995), she teaches courses on mysticism, gender, literature, ethics, and the environment.

“She has lectured widely on gender issues in the United States, Canada, and Britain. She has been honored with three Wig Awards for Distinguished Teaching at Pomona College, as well as an American Academy of Religion Excellence in Teaching Award.​

Story continues below

Zayn Kassam new director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies, news Simerg
Zayn Kassam, who will succeed Farhad Daftary as the new Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in January 2023. Photo: Pomona College.

“Kassam is the author of Introduction to the World’s Major Religions: Islam (2006), and editor of Women and Islam (2010) and Women in Asian Religions (2018). She is also the section editor for Islam for the volume on Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism for the Encyclopedia of Indian Religions (2018).

“She has chaired the department of religious studies at Pomona College, and has coordinated the programs in gender and women’s studies, Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies. She is currently the director of the Pacific Basin Institute. She serves on several national editorial boards, including the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.”

Simerg congratulates Dr. Zayn on her new appointment, and wishes Dr. Daftary good health and success in all his scholarly endeavours as he continues to serve the IIS in the years to come.

The Ismailis: An Illustrated History
Book that was presented by Dr. Farhad Daftary to Mawlana Hazar Imam during his Golden Jubilee visit to London in July 2008. See photo at beginning of post (without jacket cover)

While the IIS has been in existence since December 1977, it was not until Dr. Daftary joined the Institute that we began seeing a significant increase in the number published texts, short papers and monographs on Ismaili and Shia Studies in particular, and Islamic studies in general. As well as his own books, Dr. Daftary’s fervour for Ismaili history, philosophy and culture, encouraged other specialty scholars in the field of Ismaili studies to submit their scholarly research for publication through the IIS. Among the books that Dr. Daftary published himself or as a co-author or editor of numerous volumes, we would like to mention a few of them: The History of the Ismailis, A Short History of the Ismailis, The Assassin Legends: The Myth of the Ismailis, Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines, The Shia World, A History of Shia Islam, The Ismailis: An Illustrated History, Islam: An Illustrated Journey and, most recently, The Ismaili Imams: A Biographical History. (We invite you to visit IIS Listing of Publications and also Amazon.)

With regard to Zayn Kassam, in addition to some the works mentioned in her profile, we are pleased to share links to two pieces that she contributed to Simerg:

1 Two Tales from Rumi: The Snake-Catcher and the Serpent and The Elephant and the Travellers
2. Henry Corbin and his Understanding of Ismailism

In their announcement, the IIS notes:

“The Board thanks Dr Daftary for his many years of service to IIS, congratulates him on his appointment to the Board of Governors and wishes him continued success in his new role as well as welcoming Professor Kassam as the incoming Director of IIS.”

Date posted: September 22, 2022.


We welcome feedback from our readers. Please click Leave a comment. Your letter may be edited for length and brevity and is subject to moderation.

Before departing this website please take a moment to review Simerg’s Table of Contents for links to hundreds of thought provoking pieces on a vast array of subjects including faith and culture, history and philosophy, and arts and letters to name a few. Also visit Simerg’s sister websites Barakah, dedicated to His Highness the Aga Khan, and Simergphotos. The editor may be reached via email at mmerchant@simerg.com.