Timeline 1995: The Aga Khan’s First Visit to Badakhshan, a Historic Day His Ismaili Followers Will Never Forget

“I was at my uncle’s and there were about 15 of us living at his house. I didn’t understand why suddenly all the grownups started to cry and say SHUKR MAWLO, SHUKR MAWLO. Then the news said that humanitarian aides would be sent as soon as possible…Time went and we reached the most momentous day in our life: May 25, 1995, a historical date that no Badakhshani will ever forget. We were blessed with Mawla’s didar for the very first time.” —  READ MORE @ Barakah: His Highness the Aga Khan A Visual and Textual Celebration

PLEASE CLICK: The Aga Khan’s First Visit to Badakhshan, A Historic Day the Ismailis Will Never Forget

Please click on image for story and photos.

Date posted: Sunday, March 12, 2017.

_________________

Tens of Thousands of Canadian Ismailis Brave Wintry Conditions to Celebrate 80th Birthday of Aga Khan with Zeal and Devotion; France Video Energizes Community for Imam’s Diamond Jubilee

INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
(with material from The Ismaili website)

mosaic-of-salgirah-cards-burnaby-lake-jamatkhana-december-16-2016

A  mosaic of colourful Salgirah cards prepared by children of Burnaby Lake jamatkhana on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday. Photo: Malik Merchant/Simerg

“No ocean, no mountain, and no desert can keep the Imam from his murids,” was the caring message that Mawlana Shah Karim al-Hussaini Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, delivered to his spiritual children, the Ismailis, during one of the many visits which he undertook to his global community during his Golden Jubilee Celebrations. The Jubilee began on  July 11, 2007, when he completed 50 years of his reign as the 49th hereditary Imam, directly descended from the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.), and ended on December 13, 2008, on the exact day of his 72nd birthday. He was born in Geneva in 1936.

Eight years on, on Saturday December 17, 2016, the harsh elements of nature — snow, freezing rain, and cold — did not subdue or keep tens of thousands of Ismailis in Canada, from attending the video showing of their beloved Imam’s 80th birthday celebration that had taken place just a day earlier at his  estate and the Imamat headquarters in Aiglemont, France.

president-malik-talib-at-mawlana-hazar-imams-80th-birthday-by-zahur-ramji

Malik Talib, President of the Ismaili Council for Canada, makes a point during a conversation with other Ismaili leaders at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

Ismaili leaders from around the world, including President Malik Talib of Canada, travelled to France on behalf of their constituents to personally offer congratulations, express shukrana (thanks), and to reaffirm the Jamat’s bayyah (oath of allegiance) to the 49th Ismaili Imam. Also attending the birthday celebration, were members of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family – Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Rahim and his wife Princess Salwa along with their son Prince Irfan, Prince Hussain, Prince Aly Muhammad and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan.

Earlier during the week, on December 13, the actual day of his birthday, Ismailis had gathered in their local jamatkhanas for special prayers and ceremonies to affirm their loyalty and love for their Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam, in becoming 80, has established himself as the oldest serving Imam in Ismaili history!

mawlana-hazar-imam-birtday-dome

Designed specially for the celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday, this centre piece of the venue comprised a geodesic dome. Neither of the East nor of the West, the dome is an ancient symbol of Divine shelter, care and guidance. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.

The celebration in Aiglemont was housed in specially designed marquee, with a protective dome that signified the guidance and shelter that Hazar Imam constantly provides. The dome itself was inspired by an icosahedron — a geometric structure composed of 20 triangles. Each triangle symbolised one of the 20 national Ismaili Councils appointed by the Imam to oversee the community’s well-being.

mawlana-hazar-imams-80th-birthday-with-his-family-members-2

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s family in attendance at his 80th birthday celebration held at his home in Aiglemont on Friday, December 16, 2016. From left to right: Prince Hussain, Princess Salwa and her husband Prince Rahim, MAWLANA HAZAR IMAM, Prince Amyn Muhammad, Princess Zahra, Prince Ali Muhammad, and Princess Zahra’s children, Sara and Ilyan. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

president-muhammad-wardeh-of-syria-recites-a-verse-from-the-holy-quran-by-zahur-ramji

The President of the Aga Khan Ismaili Council for Syria, Muhammad Wardeh, recites the Tilawat-e-Qur’an at the start of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

mawlana-hazar-imam-speaking-at-his-80th-birthday-celebration

Mawlana Hazar Imam addresses Jamati and institutional leaders, who gathered at his home on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji

mawlana-hazar-imam-80th-birthday-cake-family-applause

Prince Amyn Muhammad and Princess Zahra applaud as the birthday cake is presented to Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

mawlana-hazar-ima-cutting-birthday-cake

Mawlana Hazar Imam cuts his birthday cake, as Princess Salwa and Prince Hussain look on. The Ismaili/Farhez Rayani.

mawlana-hazar-imam-with-gift

Mawlana Hazar Imam is presented with a birthday gift on behalf of the global Jamat. Titled “Horses”, this lapis lazuli mosaic was commissioned from the late Ismail Gulgee in 1989. Looking on are the Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders International Forum, Mahmoud Eboo (right), and Vazir Shafik Sachedina. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

prince-hussain-greeting-salim-mukhi-at-mawlana-hazar-imams-80th-birthday

Salim Ahmed, a Canadian jamati leader and a former Darkhana Mukhi, and his wife, are greeted by Prince Hussain at the 80th birthday celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

mawlana-hazar-imam-80th-birthday-with-musicians

Mawlana Hazar Imam meets with the musicians and singers who performed at the celebration of his 80th birthday. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

prince-rahim-prince-irfan-mawlana-hazar-imam-and-princess-salwa

Mawlana Hazar Imam, Prince Rahim with Prince Irfan, and Princess Salwa at the 80th birthday celebration. Photo: The Ismaili/Zahur Ramji.

Reflecting on the progress of the Jamat over the past several decades, Hazar Imam said, “I think we can conclude today that the Jamat is a strong community. It is a global community. It is a community with strong institutions, with strong ethics and it is respected around the world. This evening is an extraordinarily special occasion for the global Jamat and for the leaders who are here present tonight who are representing them.”

He said that his wish for the decades ahead was that “you stand firmly by the principles and ethics of our faith. Wherever you are, whatever age you are, whatever you do in your lives, it is essentially important to me that the principles of our faith should be respected everyday of your lives.”

When Mawlana Hazar Imam cut a birthday cake presented on behalf of the global Jamat, he was serenaded by all those gathered with Happy Birthday sung in two languages. Hazar Imam was also presented with a gift of art — a mosaic of horses by the late Ismail Gulgee that was commissioned in 1989. It was selected “because of Hazar Imam’s passion for horses, the history of horses within Islamic civilisation and the history even within Mawlana Hazar Imam’s own family,” explained Chairman Eboo.

Mawlana Hazar Imam expressed great happiness at the celebration of his 80th birthday. “If I had known it was going to be so wonderful, I would have tried to bring it forward,” he joked, “and I would have tried to multiply it!” He said, “I hope that in the decades ahead, you will remember this occasion as one of special happiness, as I do.”

~~~~~~~~~

CELEBRATION AT THE ISMAILI CENTRE, BURNABY, DARKHANA OF CANADA

jaman-drakhana-ismaili-centre-in-tent-december-17-2016

Jamati members enjoying the jaman at darkhana jamatkhana following the 80th birthday video presentation from Aiglemont, France. Photo: Simerg.

The jamat at the Darkhana, where I was present for the showing, watched the entire program with awe and absolute discipline.We then proceeded in an orderly fashion to a specially constructed tent in the parking lot to partake of the feast (jaman) prepared by a team of special volunteers of the jamat – the randhan committee. It consisted of fresh lettuce, vegetable and chicken biryanis with kachumber (diced tomatoes and onions), a dessert  (barfi), soft drinks and chai! The tent was heated and very comfortable, protecting everyone from the freezing temperatures. The senior citizens of the jamat were served their dinner at the jamatkhana’s social hall on the second floor. After the feast, members of the jamat joined for a dandhia raas (stick dancing and hand clapping) program!

senior-citizens-ismaili-centre-social-hall-december-17-2016

Senior citizens wait for the commencement of the dandhia raas program in the social hall of the Ismaili Centre in Burnaby, after completing their meal. Photo: Simerg.

The 80th birthday celebration has generated the momentum for yet another significant milestone in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s life – the celebration of his Diamond Jubilee beginning July 11, 2017, which will take place as Canada begins celebrating its 150th birthday on July 1, 2017.

Date posted: December 20, 2016.

Related: Montreal’s Beautiful Celebration of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 80th Birthday Through the Lens of Muslim Harji

______________

For a video of the 80th birthday celebration of His Highness the Aga Khan held in Aiglemont, France, on December 16, 2016, please visit http://www.theismaili.org, the official website of the Ismaili community. Readers will also find there a gallery of more than 30 photographs of the celebration.

National Geographic: Remote Gojal in N. Pakistan Where 20,000 Ismailis Live Is Nothing Like You’d Expect

“Alvi, dressed in low-hanging shorts and a Yankees cap, is far from a fundamentalist: He’s Wakhi, part of an ethnic group with Persian origins. And like everyone else here, he is Ismaili—a follower of a moderate branch of Islam whose imam is the Aga Khan, currently residing in France. There are 15 million Ismailis around the world, and 20,000 live here in the Gojal region of northern Pakistan.” — Matthieu Paley, National Geographic, October 24, 2016.

One of the most striking and beautiful group portraits on Simerg is the one below by world renowned photographer Matthieu Paley that shows Ismaili girls commemorating a visit by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, to the Pamirs in the 1990’s. Paley has just contributed a magnificent story and photographs for National Geographic. See his piece by clicking on the image below or on This Remote Pakistani Village Is Nothing Like You’d Expect by Matthieu Paley.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

The photo was taken during Didar (Invitation) – a celebration that takes place on 28th of May every year to commemorate the anniversary of the Aga Khan’s visit to the village in the 1990s. During the celebrations the villagers dress up, dance outdoors to the accordion and drums and sing ginane (religious songs), which tell of him being their Noor (Light). The photograph was taken as these girls, dressed in bright atlas silk fabric with crowns on their heads, were going out to dance. Photo: Matthieu Paley. Copyright.

For Matthieu Paley’s photos on Simerg, please click Matthieu Paley: Journey to the Roof of the World (Portraits of Ismailis).

And, please do not miss our last post, New Video: An Inspiring Moment that Will Never Be Forgotten as Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Blesses Murids in Kyrgyzstan

__________

STARTING SOON AT SIMERGPHOTOS: ALI KARIM’S SILK ROAD TRAVELOGUE

Later this week, http://www.Simergphotos.com will begin to serialize a travelogue by Ali Karim of his recent visit to parts of the Silk Road, including Xinjiang and Hunza. Do not miss Karim’s memorable post commencing in a few days.
ali_silkroad4_15s

A scene from Kashgar’s vibrant night market. Photo: Ali Karim. Copyright.

Date posted: October 25, 2016.
______________

Al-Qaeda, IS and drawing unfortunate parallels with the “so-called Assassins” or Ismailis of the 12th and 13th centuries

Editor’s note: Shortly after the 9/11 attacks in the USA in 2001 which killed almost 3000 people in an instant, numerous articles began to appear in the media around the world that drew parallels between the actions of Al-Qaeda and the warfare activity of the Ismailis during the 12th and 13th centuries that over time grew into fantastic legendary tales. In response to one such column that appeared in the October 8 edition of Canada’s National Post newspaper, Professor Azim Nanji and Dr. Farhad Daftary of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London contributed the following letter in the newspaper:

“It is unfortunate that the search for historical connections in the aftermath of the terrible events of Sept. 11 has made historical truth itself a casualty. George Jonas’s column, Mortal Enemies Are to be Destroyed (Oct. 8) attempts to draw parallels between the ancient history of the Ismaili Muslims and the actions of these terrorists. In the last 25 years, scholarship, Muslim and Western, has shown the legend about the Assassins to be a fabrication concocted by contemporary enemies of the Ismailis. The Nizari branch of Ismaili Muslims organized a state in Iran and Syria in the 12th and 13th centuries. It flourished for almost two centuries, as a place of learning, scholarship and international influence, in spite of adverse circumstances and militant hostility from its neighbours. These Ismailis were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded Cairo and established the University of Al‑Azhar, acts which represented a truly brilliant epoch in medieval Muslim history However, due to hostility prevailing in political and military spheres, the Ismailis became the object of theological and intellectual attacks, as their society attracted many scholars and scientists to their libraries and observatories. This climate of threat was accentuated by direct military attempts to destroy their centres and communities. It is in this context that their attempts at self‑defence need to be understood. These were directed at political and military figures and never against the general populace: a fact recognized by their enemies. Reporters obsessed with tracing tenuous historical links to current episodes of violence can learn much from history about the rich intellectual and cultural interactions among Muslims, Christians, Jews and others.”

Sporadic responses like the letter above, academic books by Dr. Daftary and the late Dr Peter Willey and many others as well as scholarly articles in journals do not appear to have made any impact in demystifying and debunking the myth of the assassins. Furthermore, the non-availability and non-distribution of important historical and theological works on Ismailis,  in giant brick and mortar stores like Chapters and Indigo in Canada haven’t helped the cause either. There are a number of enjoyable, accessible and easy to comprehend books, produced by the Institute of Ismaili Studies and other academic and non-academic publishers, that should be on bookstore shelves alongside numerous Sunni, Shia and general works on Islam and other religions to counter misperceptions and negative stereotyping about the Ismailis as well as to impart an understanding of the community’s religious doctrines from Ismaili sources.

The plot of the highly popular video game “Assassins’ Creed” which is now available on almost all computer platforms revolves around the legendary “assassins” of the 12th and 13th centuries. The video game, which was created in 2007, was inspired by the 1930’s novel Alamut by the Slovenian writer Vladimir Bartol. New versions of the game have appeared annually since but the 2016 edition has been bypassed to prepare for a greatly enhanced 2017 version. However, a movie version of the video game is planned for release at the end of this year under the title “Assassin’s Creed: The Movie.”

Now, in response to the idea that ISIS or IS (Islamic State) is based on the Assassins, Dr. Farhad Daftary has contributed the following piece for the February 21, 2016, (USA) edition of The Conversation, which has a mission to provide readers with a reliable source of high quality, evidence based information.

Islamic State and the Assassins: reviving fanciful tales of the medieval Orient

By Farhad Daftary, The Institute of Ismaili Studies

Article reproduced from The Conversation

(How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of Islamic State? Our series on the jihadist group’s origins tries to address this question by looking at the interplay of historical and social forces that led to its advent.

Today, historian Farhad Daftary debunks the idea that Islamic State is based on the so-called Assassins or hashishin, the fighting corps of the fledgling medieval Nizari Ismaili state).

Many Western commentators have tried to trace the ideological roots of Islamic State (IS) to earlier Islamic movements. Occasionally, they’ve associated them with the medieval Ismailis, a Shiʿite Muslim community made famous in Europe by returning Crusaders as the Assassins.

But any serious inquiry shows the teachings and practices of medieval Ismailis, who had a state of their own in parts of Iran from 1090 to 1256, had nothing in common with the senseless terrorist ideology and ruthless destruction of IS and its supporters.

Attacks on civilians, including women and children, and engaging in the mass destruction of property are forbidden both by Prophet Muhammad and in the tenets of Islamic law. Needless to say, the Ismailis never descended to such terrorist activities, even under highly adversarial circumstances.

Significant discordance exists between the medieval Ismailis and contemporary terrorists, who – quite inappropriately – identify themselves as members of an Islamic polity.

Fanciful Oriental tales

The Ismailis, or more specifically the Nizari Ismailis, founded a precarious state in 1090 under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah. As a minority Shi’ite Muslim community, they faced hostility from the Sunni-Abbasid establishment (the third caliphate after the death of the Prophet Muhammed) and their political overlords, the Seljuq Turks, from very early on.

Struggling to survive in their network of defensive mountain fortresses remained the primary objective of the Ismaili leadership, centred on the castle of Alamut (in the north of modern-day Iran). Their state survived against all odds until it was destroyed by the all-conquering Mongols in 1256.

During the course of the 12th century, the Ismailis were incessantly attacked by the armies of the Sunni Seljuq sultans, who were intensely anti-Shiʿite. As they couldn’t match their enemies’ superior military power, the Ismailis resorted to the warfare tactic of selectively removing Seljuq military commanders and other prominent adversaries who posed serious existential threats to them in particular localities.

An agent (fida’i) of the Ismailis (left, in white turban) fatally stabs Nizam al-Mulk, a Seljuk vizier, in 1092. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

These daring missions were carried out by the Ismaili fidaʾis, who were deeply devoted to their community. The fidaʾis comprised the fighting corps of the Ismaili state.

But the Ismailis didn’t invent the policy of assassinating enemies. It was a practice employed by many Muslim groups at the time, as well as by the Crusaders and many others throughout history.

Unfortunately, almost all assassinations of any significance occurring in the central lands of Islam became automatically attributed to the Ismaili fidaʾis. And a series of fanciful tales were fabricated around their recruitment and training.

These tales, rooted in the “imaginative ignorance” of the Crusaders, were concocted and put into circulation by them and their occidental observers; they’re not found in contemporary Muslim sources.

The so-called Assassin legends, which culminated in Marco Polo’s synthesis, were meant to provide satisfactory explanations for the fearless behaviour of the fidaʾis, which seemed otherwise irrational to medieval Europeans.

The very term Assassin, which appears in medieval European literature in a variety of forms, such as Assassini, was based on variants of the Arabic word hashish (plural, hashishin) and applied to the Nizari Ismailis of Syria and Iran by other Muslims.

In all the Muslim sources where the Ismailis are referred to as hashishis, the term is used in its pejorative sense of “people of lax morality”. There’s no suggestion that they were actually using hashish. There’s no evidence that hashish, or any other drug, was administered to the fida’is, as alleged by Marco Polo.

The literal interpretation of the term for the Ismailis as an “order of crazed hashish-using Assassins” is rooted entirely in the fantasies of medieval Europeans.

Modern scholarship in Ismaili studies, based on the recovery and study of numerous Ismaili textual sources, has now begun to dispel many misconceptions regarding the Ismailis, including the myths surrounding their cadre of fidaʾis.

And the medieval Assassin legends, arising from the hostility of the Sunni Muslims to the Shiʿite Ismailis as well as the medieval Europeans’ fanciful impressions of the Orient, have been recounted and deconstructed.

A culture of learning and tolerance

Living in adverse circumstances, the Ismailis of Iran and Syria were heirs to the Fatimid dynasty that founded the city of Cairo and established al-Azhar, perhaps the earliest university of the world. Although preoccupied with survival, the Ismailis of the Alamut period maintained a sophisticated outlook and a literary tradition, elaborating their teachings within a Shiʿite theological framework.

An entirely fictional illustration from The Travels of Marco Polo showing the Nizari imam Alâ al Dîn Muhammad (1221-1255) drugging his disciples. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Their leader, Hasan-i Sabbah, was a learned theologian. And the Ismaili fortresses of the period, displaying magnificent military architecture and irrigation skills, were equipped with libraries holding significant collections of manuscripts, documents and scientific instruments.

The Ismailis also extended their patronage of learning to outside scholars, including Sunnis, and even non-Muslims. They were very tolerant towards other religious communities.

In the last decades of their state, in the 13th century, even waves of Sunni Muslims found refuge in the Ismaili fortress communities of eastern Iran. These refugees were running from the Mongol hordes who were then establishing their hegemony over Central Asia.

All this stands in sharp contrast to the destructive policies of IS, which persecutes religious and ethnic minorities and enslaves women.

The medieval Ismailis embodied qualities of piety, learning and community life in line with established Islamic teachings. These traditions continue in the modern-day Ismaili ethos. And the present-day global Ismaili community represents one of the most progressive and enlightened communities of the Muslim world.

The Ismailis have never had anything in common with the terrorists of IS, who murder innocent civilians at random and en masse, and destroy monuments of humankind’s shared cultural heritage.

Global terrorism in any form under the banner of Islam is a new phenomenon without historical antecedents in either classical Islamic or any other tradition. IS’s ideology reflects a crude version of the intolerant Wahhabi theology expounded by the Sunni religious establishment of Saudi Arabia, which is itself a narrow perspective that fails to recognise any pluralism or diversity of interpretations in Islam.

Date posted on Simerg: Monday, February 29, 2016.
Last updated: March 1, 2016 (12:50 EST).

_______

This is the fifth article in The Conversation website’s series on the historical roots of Islamic State. Look out for more stories on the theme in the coming days on The Conversation website.

This article by Dr. Farhad Daftary was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Ismaili History: The Marco Polo Myth of the Assassins

alamut14

Major excavation activities have been underway for the past few years resulting in interesting archaeological discoveries. Here we see the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

PULLING BACK THE SILK CURTAIN

“The Nizari [Ismailis] excelled in the fields of theology, philosophy, architecture and science, but their opponents demonized them as bloodthirsty extremist religious murderers…The returning Crusaders brought back the legend of the pothead assassins, partly because they loved to believe imaginative romantic tales of the East…In 1256, Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu, destroyed the Nizali mountain castles, one at a time. Their political and military power was permanently broken (although today, some several million Nizalis still survive in some 25 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and North America).

Timeline

Timeline by Dr. Ali M. Rajput, Birmingham, England.

“In 1273, Marco Polo visited Alamut, and brought back the story of how hashish was used to attract potential killers…After, Dante was the first to use the word “assassin” in the 19th Canto of The Inferno in his Divine Comedy. The word “assassin” remained in various European languages, right through to Dan Brown, author of the Da Vinci Code, who mentions the Assassins in his book, Angels and Demons. But there are a few reasons why the hashish-assassin myth is almost certainly wrong….If hashish is given in a large enough dose to cause unconsciousness, it will first cause nausea and hallucinations – which are usually very scary and unpleasant to the unsuspecting user.” — Excerpts from  Dr. Karl  S. Kruszelnicki’s “Hashish Assassin – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain”, broadcast on ABC Science Australia. Dr. Karl is Julius Sumner Miller Fellow, School of Physics, University of Sydney. 

alamut13

Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

~~~~~~~~~

ETYMOLOGY

Nevertheless, the most acceptable etymology of the word assassin is the simple one: it comes from Hassan (Hassan ibn al-Sabbah) and his followers, and so had it been for centuries. The noise around the hashish version was invented in 1809, in Paris, by the French orientalist Sylvestre de Sacy, whom on July the 7th of that year, presented a lecture at the Academy of Inscriptions and Fine Letters (Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres) – part of the Institute of France – in which he retook the Marco Polo chronicle concerning drugs and this sect of murderers, and associated it with the word. Curiously his theory had great success and apparently still has…Jacques Boudet, in Les mots de l’histoire, Ed. Larousse-Bordas, Paris, 1998

~~~~~~~~~

THE TRUTH IS DIFFERENT

[…] their contemporaries in the Muslim world would call them hash-ishiyun, “hashish-smokers”; some Orientalists thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin,” which in many European languages was more terrifying yet….the truth is different. According to texts Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, meaning people who are faithful to the Asās, meaning “foundation” of the faith. This is the word, misunderstood by foreign travelers, that seemed similar to “hashish” — Amin Maalouf, in Samarkand, Interlink Publishing Group, New York, 1998

~~~~~~~~~

Editor’s note: The following piece by Valerie Gonzalez has been adapted from her review of the book Eagle’s Nest – Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria by the late Professor Peter Peter Wiley, who had spent nearly a lifetime discovering and investigating the Ismaili castles of Iran and Syria. Professor Wiley passed away on April 23, 2009, at the age 86. Valerie’s copyright piece originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008)  and was reproduced on this blog in full (see link below) with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée.

DECONSTRUCTION OF THE MYTH

The Rock of Alamut.

The Castle of Alamut, nested on the top of the colossal mass of granite rock, became the centre of Nizari Ismaili activity after the fall of the Fatimid Empire. It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright. Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

By Valerie Gonzalez

Old myths are very difficult to deconstruct, even when historical evidence reveals the absurdity of their foundations. The infamous “assassin” legend that from the Middle Ages soils the memory of the Nizari Ismaili community is an example of this incorrigible defect of the collective consciousnesses. The image presented by both Christian and Muslim chroniclers of the Ismailis as unscrupulous terrorists is unfortunate if their sole fault lay in surviving as a distinct political and religious community within a hostile and troubled environment. The Crusaders, Sunnis and Seldjuk Turks naturally saw in this Shi’ite minority a threat to their establishment and expended great efforts in eliminating the Ismaili State from Iran and Syria. In addition to the pressures exerted by the great powers holding sway over the Middle East, in the 13th century, the Ismailis had to confront the Mongol threat which finally overwhelmed them. It is not wonder that in such a context they deployed the most efficient means of defense available to maintain not only the network of their strongholds and basis of their State, but also their faith and culture, the very sense of existence. In practice however, they were no more immoral or cruel than their contemporaries. They simply proved tremendously clever and obstinate in facing adversity and in struggling against forces vastly more powerful than their own. And it is probably for this reason that the Nizari Ismaili community were subject to demonization.

alamut09

Attaining the summit at Alamut is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife. The above is an open passage through the mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Much scholarship was required to unravel the dark mystery of the medieval Ismaili community. Numerous historical essays and archeological reports, among them Fahrad Daftari’s extensive works, have provided an accurate view of the Ismailis within the Islamic tradition. But assuredly the latest release on the subject, Peter Willey’s book Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, brings invaluable new insights by accurately portraying the environment in which the life and struggles of the Ismaili faithful took place. There is no question but that this book offers a convincing tool for the deconstruction of the false myths which surround the cult of the Assassins.

Far from being the addicts of hashish (the word assassin is believed widely, but incorrectly, to derive from the word hashishin) and a band of murderous brigands, the Ismailis were highly intelligent and devout Muslims serving their own Imam or spiritual leader (the present Imam is the Aga Khan) and attempting to build a new and vigorous Islamic state independent of the Seljuqs who had conquered Iran in 1038 – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

More than a mere treatise on the archaeology of the Ismaili castles in Iran and Syria, Willey’s book shows multiple qualities. As an academic work, it fulfills its main objective which is to present the results of a meticulous description and observation of these fortified sites. The considerable amount of information contained in the volume reflects a near life-time of research devoted to the subject. Not a single pile of stones or rubble has escaped Willey’s acute attention, or skillful restoration in clear prose of the forbidding grandeur of the Ismaili military architecture. Each remaining element of structure is analyzed and appropriately re-situated in the initial order both of the architectural organization of the building itself and of its broader setting within the coherent chain of fortresses spread over Ismaili territories. The material and documentation at the author’s disposal, including building scale, purpose, population levels and strategic importance have been patiently collected in order to present a reliable picture of the complex network of Ismaili strongholds. Maps, ground plans, photographs and even artists’ impressions and drawings complete the written work together with four appendices which include the castles’ inventory, a list of Willey’s expeditions and two catalogues of the ceramic and coin artifacts dating from the Alamut Period found at the site.

As seen on NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News a meteor's streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

As seen on NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day and the National Geographic News, a meteor’s streak and the arc of the Milky Way hang over the imposing mountain fortress of Alamut in this starry scene. Photo: Babak Tafreshi/Dreamview.net . Copyright.

Beyond the high quality scientific report based on the archaeological record, Eagle’s Nest offers a brilliant reconstitution of Ismaili material culture from an historical, intellectual and sociological point of view, from the 11th century through the Mongol destructions of the mid 13th century. Willey restitutes the very meaning of the architecture he studies through the history of its builders and inhabitants, pointing out the most significant events of their lifetimes and portraying the great spiritual and political leaders of the Ismaili community. Methodically and surely, Willey describes the intricate historical background of the Ismaili State in which multiple powers confronted or fought each other, including Seljuk Turks, ambitious Sunni and Shii’a rulers, Crusaders on the Mediterranean coast, to propose his own interpretation of the historical evidence. Where evidence lacks or where persistent misconceptions require redress, the author proposes and defends critical hypotheses. The historical and cultural dimension of Willey’ archaeological investigation is particularly enhanced by the presentation of certain situations and events as literary narratives, as he does in the beginning of chapter 2, “Hasan Sabbah and the Ismailis of Iran”. The passage in question relates the capture without bloodshed of the Alamut fortress under Seljuk authority and begins thus: “It was nearly noon on a hot day in the early summer of 1090. Mahdi, the lord of the castle of Alamut, was beginning to sweat a little” (p. 21). In this way, the author makes us relive the extraordinary event in a human atmosphere that is quite uncommon in scholarly works.

alamut04

A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Willey’s sensitivity to humanistic values is perceptible throughout the book, not only through the telling of the past but also in the lively narration of the research trips themselves. First, he pays considerable attention to the actual environment of the castles he visits, their awesome natural frame and the rural or urban settings of the surroundings that are presented with delight and consideration. Although most of the time the Ismaili vestiges are ghost constructions in remote, isolated regions, they are not at all presented by Willey as still life portraits. Rather, each fortress is an element in a busy, human landscape. As an example, where appropriate Willey writes about agriculture and local conditions in the surrounding villages for fortresses located in rural areas. Also, the local population and individuals involved in Willey’s expeditions frequently are mentioned as actors in the archaeological narrative. In this way, Willey underscores the support of both his team and the local community in contributing to the success of his research. Particularly moving is his attitude toward the people who help him visit inaccessible locations under difficult conditions and various orders, especially his work partner Adrianne Woodfine. More broadly, the practical aspects of each journey, the general organization and unexpected situations and encounters are meticulously recounted so that the book offers the live texture of a human adventure together with its purely scholarly content.

It is often difficult to describe to friends the problems which the investigation of Ismaili castles present. They are built on the top of high mountains, covering the entire summit, and are normally surrounded by three defensive walls with numerous outworks. Most of the castles were destroyed by the Mongols and the ruins are dangerous and infested with snakes and scorpions on or under the stones or in the cracks of walls. The steep scree and sharp rocks are formidable, especially in the intense heat and altitude of over 2000 metres – Peter Willey, Geographical Magazine, UK, February 1998

Chapters 7 through 12 cover the various areas of the Iranian Ismaili strongholds. Willey naturally begins with the fortresses in the famous Alamut Valley of the Alborz Mountains, the fortress in which the infamous legend of the “Assassins” took place. Alamut fortress constituted the very heart of the Nizari State in Iran and was the seat of Hasan Sabbah. Alamut and its sister fortresses represented the epitome of Ismaili military science. Willey presents it with a rigorous method of sketching, measuring and enumeration of the construction’s features and structures, topography, architectural configuration, water equipment, cisterns, underground storage, garrison quarters and so on.

Alamut Potter Kilns

The pottery kilns in the valley of Andij in the Alamut valley. Some 15 kilns were discovered including good examples of contemporary ceramics. Photo: http://www.iis.ac.uk

The Alamut castle like many of the Ismaili strongholds contained facilities for religious activities and higher learning such as libraries. To support his observations, Willey quotes several times the Mongol historian, Juwayni, who witnessed the surrender of the Alamut fortress among other similar events. Although this chronicler was hostile to the Ismailis, his detailed reports offer an invaluable source of information. In particular he inspected the Alamut fortress’ interior prior to destruction and mentions, not without admiration, its remarkable facilities (p.100). Indeed, the sophistication of their architecture allowed the Ismailis to resist the fiercest attacks while ultimately succumbing to the formidable Mongol war machinery. Willey relates with great empathy for the desperate inhabitants the dramatic capture and systematic destruction of Alamut and other Ismaili strongholds. After Alamut, Willey investigates the other Iranian Ismaili castles of the regions of Qumes, Khorassan, Qohistan and in the surroundings of the Seldjuk capital Isfahan.

Willey terminates his book with a moving epilogue in which he shares a few of the thoughts, feelings and questions raised in his heart and mind by the exceptional fate of the Ismailis. He naturally mentions the remarkable endeavor of the Aga Khan’s organization for the development of both Ismaili and Islamic culture in continuation with the educational tradition of the community since the Middle Ages.

alamut03

Nevin Harji stands by an official road sign when she visited Alamut with husband Muslim. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

If, through such personal treatment, Willey hoped to clarify the historical issues surrounding Ismaili culture through the ages, he most assuredly succeeded. Eagle’s Nest unveils the extraordinary reality and humanity of the medieval Ismaili civilization, often hidden behind romantic images of remote ruins and the dark secrets contained behind crumbling walls. Finally, that Willey should communicate his deep affection for the countries he explored, particularly Iran, and the Ismaili themselves, is not the least quality of this book.

Date posted: December 14, 2015.

___________

Credits and notes:

1. The book review originally appeared in REMMM (Issue 123|July 2008) and was reproduced on this web site with the kind permission of Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée under the title Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community

2. Eagle’s Nest: Ismaili Castles in Iran and Syria, by Peter Willey, published by I.B. Tauris, 2005, London – New York, 321 pages, hard back. Approximate prices in Canada, USA and the UK (at Chapters.ca $45.00 – $61.00; at Amazon.com $37.00 – $58.00; new at Borders.com $58.00, at Amazon.co.uk Pounds 9.95 – 21.25, note price range based on used – new book)

We welcome your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

 

Ginan Central: A Portal to the Ismaili Community’s Ginanic Literature

BY KARIM THARANI
University of Saskatchewan Library
Special to Simerg

Ginan Central is a web portal developed at the University of Saskatchewan Library with the goal of digitally preserving and providing access to ginanic literature in order to promote research and education. The projects undertaken and shared on Ginan Central are diverse and ongoing. For example, the Ginan Index and Search Tool or GIST initiative is a web-based application developed for researchers and scholars to locate and digitally access textual sources such as manuscripts and lithographs of ginans. The Ginan Recitals project, on the other hand, focuses on making oral sources of ginans available to students and researchers. Work is also underway to bring together these textual and oral sources to create an evidence-based master list of ginans in order to ascertain how many unique ginans and granths (titled ginans) are available and accessible today. In addition to these projects, the Ginanic Studies section on Ginan Central is dedicated to compiling and maintaining an online bibliography of research outcomes pertaining to ginans. In terms of education and outreach, the Ginan Central portal also hosts a multimedia Khojki Guide for those who are interested in learning the Khojki script to decipher ginan manuscripts.

Please click on image for enlargement

Ginan Central CEM

The Ginan Central portal uses the University of Saskatchewan Library’s Community Engagement Model (CEM), which was recently presented at the Ismaili Studies Conference, held at the University of Chicago in 2014. The CEM model uses the roles of protector and promoter as two contrasting endpoints to illustrate various possibilities and levels of individual and institutional collaboration to digitally share sacred traditions and literature. At one end of the CEM continuum is the role of an idealistic protector, whose basic instinct is to protect the sanctity of knowledge by limiting access as a security measure against real and imaginary threats. On the opposite end of this continuum is the role of an optimistic promoter who is driven by the sentiment of sharing literature to advance human knowledge.

At Ginan Central, we recognize and appreciate this paradoxical dynamic amongst community individuals and institutions. This is why collaborating and sharing collections with Ginan Central does not require our partners to forgo their identity or control over their collections. Our goal is not to appropriate collections or build massive repositories, instead we strive to build partnerships and processes that can unify and link disparate collections and repositories by leveraging work of our partners to advance study of ginans.

Aga Khan Quote

Collaboration, respect, and trust remain the guiding principles for Ginan Central to be able to carry out its purpose of preserving and providing access to ginanic literature. Libraries have been involved in digitally harvesting community knowledge for decades. At the University of Saskatchewan Library as well, we are capable of utilizing modern day technologies in responsible and respectful ways to balance the need of protecting the sanctity of sacred traditions and providing the necessary access to students and researchers to advance the study of ginans.

 Date posted: September 21, 2015.

_________________

Please visit Ginan Central, and for more information on Ginan Central, please contact ginans@library.usask.ca.

Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Letter to Kofi Annan: “The World’s Drug Problem Must Remain a Matter of Permanent Concern”

“…For all clear thinking individuals, wherever they may be, the world’s drug problem must remain a matter of permanent concern. With the density of the Ismaili population in Gorno-Badakhshan, in Afghan Badakshan, in Chitral and Hunza and elsewhere in South West Asia and Africa, the leaders of the Ismaili Community, its institutions and I, as the Imam, must be particularly concerned with this aggressive and damaging problem…” — Excerpt from Aga Khan’s letter to Kofi Annan. Please download complete letter in PDF format below.

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER

By Abdulmalik Merchant

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has throughout his 58 years of Imamat urged his followers not to indulge in dangerous and unhealthy social habits such as alcohol, drugs and smoking. In the eyes of the Imam, all his followers are his spiritual children and, like all parents, the 49th Ismaili Imam desires nothing but the best for his community in both spiritual and temporal matters.

There is one farman on alcohol and smoking that has particularly reverberated in my heart and memory for many decades. I remember it well because Alwaez Nizar Chunara, who was our neighbour in Dar-es-Salaam, had conveyed it to us well before it got read out in jamatkhanas across East Africa. It was made in Mbale, Uganda, sometime in the 1960’s, and Mawlana Hazar Imam said in the farman that some of his spiritual children had the impression and told others in the jamat that they were not socially advanced if they did not drink and smoke. This he said, “is absolute and complete nonsense,” (repeating it), and further stated that if we really wanted to be socially distinguished we should not drink and smoke.

During the same East African visit Mawlana Hazar Imam described alcohol as not being for his jamat because it led to losing our honour and creating a bad impression, especially when one went around being drunk. A few years later in London he mentioned that alcohol was a bringer of spiritual sorrow. Mawlana Hazar Imam’s beloved grandfather when addressing Muslims in South Africa warned about alcohol as follows:

“The greatest danger to every Muslim citizen – I have not the least hesitation in saying it – is alcohol. Time has shown that it is an injury to you; an injury to your person; an injury to your health. It is forbidden because it carries greater evil than good. Believe me, in a community like yours, alcohol is a very grave danger. Once you got into the alcohol habit, I do not know where it would lead you. A handful, here and there, of the weak, or of the unhappy, find their way to this terrible poison. Avoid it at all costs. Avoid it, I say, for in this country you cannot afford to lose one man.”

KOFI ANNAN’S LETTER TO THE LATE PRINCE SADRUDDIN AGA KHAN

Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00008

7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Kofi Annan, 7th Secretary General of the United Nations, from January 1, 1997 – December 31, 2006

Then, another farman on social habits that immediately comes to mind, because I was present to hear it as a youth  and as a volunteer standing close to the stage, was the one that he made during his visit to Dar-es-Salaam in 1970 for the opening of the IPS building by President Julius Nyerere. The newly established Karimabad Jamat and the Changombe Jamat located in Dar-es-Salaam’s outskirts were brought together for the mulaqat with Mawlana Hazar Imam at the Diamond Jubilee Hall.

The farman dealt substantially on economic matters; Mawlana Hazar Imam spoke about him being happy if families could afford one car and very happy if they could afford two cars, but he went on to say that he did not want to see that second car. Turning to the subject of health and social habits, he made a plea to the jamat not to be wasteful on drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. This mention of drugs was one of the earliest references to drugs in any farman that Hazar Imam had made from 1957 until 1970.

In this connection, it may be mentioned that the use of drugs, particularly of heroin in the USA, was rising at alarming rates in the 1960’s. The Reader’s Digest had even published an incredible heart wrenching essay, “We are All Animals,” about chilling stories of being a drug addict. My mum, I recall, read the entire article out to her students at the Aga Khan Girls Secondary School. Her students literally had tears in their eyes, hearing the sad stories.

HIS HIGHNESS THE AGA KHAN’S LETTER TO KOFI ANNAN

Please click on image or S-1100-0016-07-00005

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Ismaili Imam.

So, when I ran into this letter that Mawlana Hazar Imam sent to Kofi Annan, which had been preceded by the Secretary General’s letter to Mawlana Hazar Imam’s late uncle Prince Sadruddin (and perhaps to Mawlana Hazar Imam too, judging by the acknowledgement given), I thought I had also bring to light the general concern about social habits and their absolute wastefulness, and indignity they bring on the community. In making choices between good and bad habits, Mawlana Hazar Imam has asked us to adopt those that would enable the jamat to live happily, leaving aside alcohol, drugs and other social habits that would compromise the well-being of the jamat.

A key point that emerges from Hazar Imam’s letter to Mr. Annan is the damaging and aggressive problem of drugs not merely in the regions of Central Asia, where poppy plants are being grown in abundance, but elsewhere in the world where his community resides. The growth of poppy is destroying the physical and mental lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Others profit from its growth and illegal trade, as the resin from the plants is extracted and refined into morphine, with further refinements yielding different forms and grades of heroin.

Mawlana Hazar Imam is continuously concerned for the well-being of his jamat, and nothing is more important to him than the strength of our mental health and capacity, which he has said must be preserved and enhanced rather than being destroyed through the use of drugs. The Ismaili community can certainly set a true example of  social distinction and wisdom by avoiding all forms of social habits that do not contribute to any form of advancement. As a small community, our resolve to abstain from detrimental social habits would help us to serve our families, our communities and countries more effectively and purposefully in the coming years and decades.

Date posted: July 23, 2015.
Last updated: July 25, 2015 (updated with additional material from the personal notes of my mother, Alwaeza Maleksultan Merchant, on smoking, drinking and drugs).

________________

Credits: The PDF files are from the United Nations Archives and Records Management Section (ARMS). ARMS is open to the public. Materials are available for research, teaching, legal proceedings, publication, television and radio programmes, and for general interest.

Simerg welcomes your feedback. Please click Leave a comment.

Share this post with your friends and contacts around the world. Subscribe to this blog at the top right of this page. For complete contents of this website, please click on Table of Contents (2009–2015).

Hope, and not Despondency, in the Wake of Misfortune and Tragedy

LETTER FROM PUBLISHER
Yellow Tulips - Hope amidst Tragedy
“Despair not of the Spirit of Allah. Lo! None despaireth of the Spirit of Allah save disbelieving folk.” (Holy Qur’an, Chapter 12, Verse 87).

The recent tragedy in Karachi, where dozens of innocent Ismailis were the subject of wanton violence is extremely disquieting. Besides questioning the humanity of our fellow citizens, it may serve to bring to the fore the insecurities of a people who have been subject to religious persecution in the past and are today, without exception, minorities in every single land they live in. As the Ismailis of Karachi (and of Pakistan in general) reflect on the aftermath of this terrible tragedy, perhaps it would natural for them to give in to despondency. This, however, should be cautioned against, for the following reasons.

Today, Ismaili Jamats globally unite in prayers and solidarity with their brethren of Karachi sending a strong message that their brethren are not just a forgotten minority in a big state, but an indivisible part of a strong global brotherhood. Equally, and no less significant, is the Imam’s global work and name, which has resulted in condemnation across the globe by world leaders, and which will ensure that this tragedy will not end up as just another footnote in an unending series of attacks on religious minorities in Pakistan. As K. N. Pandita says in a recent article:

 “But given the international influence and reach of Prince Aga Khan and the great humanitarian works that his Foundation is doing in many parts of the world including Karachi, the massacre is bound to cause ripples in Pakistan politics. This is the reason why the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Army chief both lost no time in flying into Karachi to take stock of things”. [1]

There is reason to hope that from this tragedy, and from the blood of innocents, a reaffirmation of the rights of religious minorities in Pakistan will result, Inshallah.

Date posted: May 18, 2015.

_______________

[1]  http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/tragedy-descends-on-ismailis/