The first centre since the Fatimid era specifically dedicated to Ismaili Research came into being in 1977 when His Highness the Aga Khan announced the establishment of The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) in London, England. From its modest beginnings some thirty-five years ago, the IIS functions today as an internationally recognized academic centre. In this continuing series on Thank You Letters to Ismaili Historical Figures, Dr. Hatim Mahamid acknowledges the fruits of scholarship that the IIS has started to bear in the history, philosophy, theology and literature of Ismailism and Islam.
1 May, 2012.
Dear Institute of Isma’ili Studies (IIS),
With deep appreciation, I thank the administrative staff, scholars, and everyone in the IIS, who work with inspiration and the strong motivation of their belief to make the work sufficient. The IIS and its staff spare no effort to complete the mission of the Institute in reviving Islamic and Isma’ili Culture with all its depth, richness, and symbolism.
Since its establishment in 1977 by His Highness the Aga Khan, the Institute of Isma’ili Studies in London has become one of the most important research institutes for Islamic studies in the world, particularly regarding Isma’ilis. Since its inception, the Institute continues to promote the study of Muslim cultures and societies, to enhance good relationships and understanding with other societies and faiths. It has contributed in reviving many aspects of Islamic Culture and spotlighting glorious happenings in the Isma’ili community, and highlighting its role in Islamic History and Culture. It also works and functions with the Aga Khan University in London, and other Isma’ili institutions around the world, particularly the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board that was formerly known as the Ismailia Association.
Since the Aga Khan chaired the Ismailia Association Conference in Paris in April 1975, many conferences and seminars have been held, aiming to promote, revive, and invigorate Islamic Culture, stressing Isma’ili studies. As a result — and in addition to the conferences–the Institute draws upon knowledge and scholars from around the world to create awareness through initiatives and publications in the field of Isma’ili studies. It has published monographs, critical editions of original texts, and collections of short papers and studies on the Shi’a sect in general and on Isma’ilis in particular — in addition to other Islamic Studies. The Institute library is a vital central archive of Ismaili manuscripts in many languages (Arabic, Persian, Gujarati and others), in printed texts and audiovisual materials, and continues to support the activities and programmes of the Institute by providing necessary resources. Today, the Institute library includes the largest-known accessible collection of Isma’ili documents and codices in the world, and is considered a major resource in the field.
As a scholar specializing in Isma’ili history through my studies, I became more attracted to this topic since my participation in the celebration devoted to Nasir Khusraw Millennium in Tajikistan sponsored by IIS in September 2003. My soul was touched by the generous treatment of the Isma’ili community in Badakhshan and the goodness of the many other participants and organizers. The places and monuments of Isma’ili figures, cultural symbols, and centres — such as of Nasir Khusraw in Qabodiyon at the foot of the Pamir Mountains — all of these took me back about a thousand years, and recalled to mind the inspired words of Nasir Khusraw in expressing his persecution:
I was prepared to seek justice from the devil of the time,
But all I found in the king’s service was enslavement.
I had to perform a hundred acts of servitude to him before
I was able to fulfill even a single hope of mine.
I gained nothing at all except toil and suffering from
the one to whom I had gone for the sake of healing.
When my heart became disappointed with kings and princes,
I turned to the people of the mantle, turban and cloak.
I said to myself that they would show me the path of religion
because the people of the world had tormented my heart.
Therefore I wasted some years of my life with them in a lot
of empty prattle and useless disputations.
But their wealth and piety was only corruption and hypocrisy,
And I said: “O God, why have I become afflicted again?”
It was as if by going from the king to the jurist, I had
entered a dragon’s mouth for fear of an ant.
About a hundred and fifty years after Khusraw’s death, the poet Farid al-Din ‘Attar wrote a poem about him, saying:
The cry of Nasir Khusraw when he dwelt in Yumgan,
Arched even past heaven’s nine-storied vault.
A little corner he took to hide himself away
Hearing the Prophet himself had named that very spot,
Not a man to enter into the fighting fields of dogs,
Like a Ruby in Badakhshan he hid himself away.
Mid the hidden hearts of mountain he chose the cover of Yumgan,
So as not to have to look upon the horrid faces of his foes.
Thank you IIS for the work and effort you do, and I hope you continue in your great projects for the Isma’ilis, Islam and the whole of humanity. I close with the words of Nasir Khusraw from his Divan:
If you do not turn away from the pursuit of knowledge,
You, in turn, can lead the way.
If your tree bears the fruit of knowledge,
Its force can surely bring down the sphere of heaven.
With full success and all the best,
Dr. Hatim Mahamid,
Copyright: Hatim Mahamid/Simerg, May 2012.
About the author: Dr. Hatim Mahamid received his Ph.D from Tel Aviv University in 2001, where he specialized in the history of medieval Islam, from Fatimid to Late Mamluk Egypt and Syria. He has published numerous articles in journals such The Journal of Islamic Studies, Islamic Quarterly, Nebula and Annales islamologiques, and contributed to four critical anthologies as well as presented papers at numerous conferences. His book Al-Tatawwurat fi Nizam al-Hukm wal-Idara fi Misr al-Fatimiyya was published in Jerusalem in 2001, and his book Dirasat fi Tarikh al-Quds al-Thaqafi fi al-‘Asr al-Wasit was published in Amman in 2009. He currently lectures in the Department of History at The Open University and The College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education.
Other articles by Dr. Mahamid on this Website:
Cairo in the Light of Nasir Khusraw’s Safarnama
Ismaili Dawa and Politics in Fatimid Egypt
Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (I) Their Role in the Army
Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (II) Their Role in the Da’wah and Ismaili Doctrines
Persians in Fatimid Egypt: (III) Their Role in Commerce, the Economy and Trade
We invite your contribution for the thank you series. Please click on Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures to read about the series and links to published letters.
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While I agree with Vali Jamal’s comment, I am astonished to read this article from a scholar in Israel!
I have visited Palestine/Isreal 3 times by now and have been to Tel Aviv, not only because one has to pass through Ben Gurion airport but have met Humanitarian Physicians, a sympathetic Rabbi, the ex-Bishop of Jerusalem, also the joint-editor of Gush Shalom. I am aware of some writers and scholars of Israeli origin. I subscribe to the Writings of a recent philosopher, Gilad Atzmon who is primarily a musician and lives in London whose remarkable book ‘The Wandering Who’ has caused much attention, not only in the Jewish community but internationally.
Little did I know that the Editor, Abdul Malik Merchant via http://www.simerg.com has reached out to an Islamic scholar Dr. Hatim Mahamid in this series, who writes this Letter of Thanks to IIS, the Institute of Ismailic Studies.
I sometimes visit it when in London and am proud to have met Dr Farhad Daftary, the co-Director along with some other scholars. Congratulations for your website! What a small world this is.
Great work as always!! Thanks for sharing.
Yes, great work, but how do we recognize such work? For academics publications are a reward in themselves but I’d like to suggest that AKDN or whoever should establish a scheme of awards for outstanding research/publications – written, filmed, painted or spoken – that enhance inter-communal understanding or simply enhance the reputation of our community. Authors, painters, filmatographers, diplomats, MPs would qualify. How about entrepreneurs? For example we take a lot of pride in Azim Premji and outside communities will often add that he’s Ismaili. In other words he brings credit to our community. Such people may never get a Vaziership. They should be recognised through secular awards given out on Imamat Day. These awards to be given to Ismailis. So basically I am suggesting a scheme of secular awards in parallel to the titles given out for service to the community. Such titles would be based on objective criteria – with a paid vetting committee – and hence be cynicism-proof. People would be nominated for the prize – H H Aga Khan Award for Enhancing the Reputation of the Ismailia Community on the World Stage – or suggest themselves, providing documentation. Some of our younger generation are doing world-quality work.
Great work IIS. Keep on.