Khalil Andani’s Thank You Letter to the School of Isma‘ili Philosophers

Introduction: The series “Thanking Ismaili Historical Figures” continues with Khalil Andani paying a tribute to the School of Ismaili Philosophers who lived in a vibrant age of intellectual thought during which they reasoned, debated and wrote on a wide range of philosophical and theological issues. In his thank you note, Andani takes some key Islamic and Ismaili concepts as expounded by some of the greatest Ismaili thinkers who lived from the 9th through the 13th centuries, and seeks to explain their ideas in simple and accessible language.


August 21, 2012.

Revered Ismaili Thinkers and Philosophers,

I write this “thank you” to a group of Isma‘ili Muslim thinkers whom I call “The School of Isma‘ili Philosophers”, a group which occupies an exalted place among the great names of Isma‘ili history.

My first exposure to Isma‘ili Muslim philosophy took place about ten years ago when I was just a teen in high school. I remember that night quite vividly – my father and I were at Jamatkhana hoping to attend a presentation. It turns out we went to the wrong Jamatkhana that evening and instead there was a presentation featuring a book review of Intellectual Missionary: Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani. The title struck a chord of curiosity within us so we decided to sit in on the presentation. What I saw for the next hour completely blew my mind! It was an entrance into a new world of knowledge and meaning as I was introduced to the intellectually deep and theologically rich ideas of Sayyidna Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani and other Isma‘ili Muslim philosophers of the Fatimid period.

This engagement sparked my interest in classical Isma‘ili Muslim philosophy and its main exponents such as the Ikhwan al-Safa, Sayyidna Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, Sayyidna Abu Hatim al-Razi, Sayyidna Qadi al-Nu’man, Sayyidna Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, Sayyidna Ahmad al-Naysaburi, Sayyidna Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi, Sayyidna Nasir-i Khusraw, Sayyidna Hasan-i Mahmud, Sayyidna Hasan-i Sabbah, Sayyidna Nasir al-Din Tusi, and numerous others whose works continue to be discovered, studied and translated. These individuals were no ordinary scholars: they were members of the Isma‘ili teaching hierarchy known as the Da‘wah (“Calling”) and served as the babs (“gates”), the hujjats (“proofs”), and the da‘is (“callers”) of the Imam of the Time. They served as the Imam’s mouthpiece and it was through their writings and lectures that the esoteric teaching (ta‘lim) of the Imam reached the Jamat. They are often referred to with the epithet of sayyidna (“our master”) to remind us of their spiritual eminence. I refer to these intellectual and spiritual luminaries as the “School of Isma‘ili Philosophers” and this letter is a tribute to their invaluable labours of knowledge.

These Isma‘ili Muslim thinkers did not always agree on everything. In fact, they often used to discuss and debate on many points of disagreement. But such disagreement was governed by a higher sense of responsibility, an ethic of humility, in which they realized that – apart from the Imam himself – a single person cannot grasp all the realities of knowledge. In this spirit, the Isma‘ili theological and philosophical tradition was very open and itself pluralistic. Sayyidna Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani best expresses the sense of fraternity embodied by the Isma‘ili thinkers despite their internal differences. He wrote that:

“The speaking-prophet (natiq) realized that, with respect to the subjects that comprise the sciences of religion, they are too numerous to be comprehended by any single individual other than the Imam, or for one group only to safeguard them. Accordingly, he designated for this purpose a large number of individuals below the office of the Imam who are to collaborate amongst themselves in the pursuit of all the sciences and in their preservation and safekeeping… Religion is in them like a single individual who is composed of its parts and they are to him like the senses by means of which things are perceived… If one of the senses fails to perceive some item in the realm of the physical world, it will not escape the other which will instead cooperate to assist it in fulfilling the duty of religion and confirming the intention of the Lord of the universe.” [1]

As I recollect, Mawlana Hazar Imam in his Farmans in Karachi in October 2000, instructed the Jamat and particularly the younger generation to learn from the Isma‘ili intellectual legacy and to derive from it wisdom, inspiration and happiness.. Having spent some time over the last few years reading, learning and contemplating upon their teachings, below is a brief summary outline of their main ideas and their contemporary relevance: [2]

Tawhid: The Concept of God

  • Classical Isma‘ili thought stressed the absolute transcendence of God, exalting Him above all names, attributes, qualities and categories including those of both the material and spiritual words.
  • God transcends even the classical divine names such as the One (al-wahid), the Living (al-hayy), the Powerful (al-qadir), the Knowing (al-‘alim), the Merciful (al-Rahim), the Eternal (al-qadim), the Truth (al-haqq), the First (al-awwal), the Last (al-akhir), the Manifest (al-zahir), the Hidden (al-batin), etc. as well as the ontological categories of being and existence.
  • As such, the Isma‘ili thinkers spoke of God using the method of “dual negation” whereby they negated both positive and negative attributes from God: He is not existent and He is not non-existent; He is not living and not non-living; He is not subject to attributes and not not subject to attributes. Simply put, God is above both being and non-being.
  • Through this intellectual discipline, the Isma‘ili thinkers acknowledged tawhid – the absolute unity of God – as far as human language and human reason could express.
  • The knowledge of tawhid always lay at the centre of Isma‘ili gnosis and it is the mission of the Imam to summon humanity to the true recognition of tawhid as evidenced by the below inscription on a Fatimid coin:

“The Imam Ma‘add [al-Mu‘izz] summons to the absolute oneness of God, the Eternal.” [3]

  • Today Mawlana Hazar Imam speaks of the Divine Reality in terms of absolute transcendence. In his speeches and writings, Mawlana Hazar Imam refers to the Divine Reality as “that which is ineffable and beyond being”. [4] Explaining the meaning of these words, Dr. Aziz Esmail explains that:

“This ultimate reality is often conceived as ‘transcendent’, or described as ‘He who is above all else’ — not because it is a reality spatially above the human habitat, but because it is above, i.e. goes beyond or transcends, all human categories. Being free from and prior to the dichotomy between subject and object, it is therefore also outside the frame of human discourse.” [5]

This understanding of God in terms of absolute transcendence remains relevant for the Isma‘ili Muslims in the present day. The 1975 All Ismailia Paris Conference chaired by Mawlana Hazar Imam published the following resolution under the section “The concept of God”:

The absolute transcendence of God to be emphasised and the Ismaili belief in God to be expounded in association with the general stress on the transcendence of God in the Qur’an, as exemplified particular in the Surat-u-Ikhlas.” [6]

God’s Command: The Cause of Creation

  • As God Himself transcends time, His act of creation is not contained in time.
  • Creation did not happen at a point ‘in time’. Rather, creation is a continuous and perpetual ‘event’ – taking place in every moment and instant – by which God originates and sustains all being.
  • The Isma‘ili philosophers referred to the God’s unique creative act as ibda‘ (“origination”) and identified it with the Divine Will and the First Cause – which the Qur’an calls the Word (kalimah) or Command (amr) of God:

“Our Command (amr) is but one, like the twinkling of the eye.” – Holy Qur’an 54:50

“Verily, when He intends a thing, His Command (amr) is, ‘Be’, and it is!” – Holy Qur’an 36:82

  • As God is beyond both being and non-being, His Word/Command is the imperative or absolute Being (al-wujud al-mutlaq) of which all beings (mawjudat) are manifestations. The Command is the Unity/Oneness (wahdah) of Being (wujud) which is the origin of all things. [7]
  • This doctrine of creation resonates with the words of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah who described the Islamic concept of creation as follows:

“The creation according to Islam is not a unique act in a given time but a perpetual and constant event; and God supports and sustains all existence at every moment by His Will and His Thought. Outside His Will, outside His Thought, all is nothing, even the things which seem to us absolutely self-evident such as space and time. Allah alone wishes: the Universe exists; and all manifestations are as a witness of the Divine Will.” [8]

Universal Intellect: The First Originated Being

  • In classical Isma‘ili thought, the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kull) is the First Originated Being which has come into being directly through God’s Word/Command.
  • The Universal Intellect is the most perfect being in all existence and encompasses all realities. The Intellect is complete, self-sufficient and is the summit of all existence.
  • Sunni and Shi‘a traditions describe the Universal Intellect as the pre-eternal ‘Light of Muhammad’ or the ‘Light of ‘Ali’:

“The first thing created by God was my Light.” – Prophet Muhammad [9]

“Two thousand years before creation, Muhammad and ‘Ali were one Light before God.” – Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq [10]

  • Today, the Universal Intellect is called the ‘Nur of Imamat’ (nur-i Imamah).
  • For the Ismaili philosophers, all the classical divine names and attributes through which human beings think about the Divine – such as the One (al-wahid), the Living (al-hayy), the Powerful (al-qadir), the Knowing (al-‘alim), the Merciful (al-Rahim), the Eternal (al-qadim), the Truth (al-haqq), the First (al-awwal), the Last (al-akhir), the Manifest (al-zahir), the Hidden (al-batin), etc. – actually belong to the Universal Intellect as God Himself transcends all attributes and qualities.
  • The essence of the Universal Intellect is the Command of God which is the source of all things. In this sense, the Universal Intellect is ‘the One’ (al-wahid), the primordial Monad, and the Command of God is the ‘Unity’ or ‘Oneness’ (wahdah) which comprises its essence.

  • The human intellect (‘aql al-juz) in each person is a trace or reflection of the Universal Intellect. It is human intellect which connects man to the source of all being and distinguishes him from the rest of the physical world.
  • The concept of the Universal Intellect as the source of the human intellect continues to hold relevance today – as mentioned by Mawlana Hazar Imam at the inauguration of the Aga Khan University:

“The Divine Intellect, ‘Aql-i Kull, both transcends and informs the human intellect. It is this intellect which enables man to strive towards two aims dedicated by the Faith: that he should reflect upon the environment Allah has given and that he should know himself. It is the light of intellect which distinguishes the complete human being from the human animal and developing that intellect requires free enquiry.” [11]

Universal Soul: The Creative Being

  • The Universal Intellect continuously bears witness to tawhid and worships God by recognizing its own self or essence as the Command or Unity of God. The praise and worship of the Intellect produces a “glow” which creates the Second Being called the Universal Soul – which emanates from the Intellect akin to light radiating from the sun.
  • The Universal Soul is like the ‘spouse’ (zawjah) of the Universal Intellect and the direct source of all things in the Cosmos. Relative to one another, the Intellect is active, masculine and paternal while the Soul is passive, feminine and maternal.
  • The difference between them is that the Intellect is perfect in both actuality and potentiality while the Soul is perfect only in potentiality but not in actuality.
  • The Universal Soul begins to ‘move’ in its quest to actualize its own perfection, while receiving inspiration from the Intellect, and this ‘movement’ results in the creation of the Cosmos.
  • The direct Creator (khaliq) of the Cosmos (al-khalq) is the Universal Soul by the spiritual assistance (ta’yid) of the Universal Intellect. [12] In this sense, the Universal Soul is like a ‘womb’ which contains the entire Cosmos, while continuously sustaining and nourishing it.

  • In his own Memoirs, Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah speaks of the Universal Soul as spiritually present in all things in the Universe:

“Islamic doctrine goes further than the other great religions, for it proclaims the presence of the soul, perhaps minute but nevertheless existing in an embryonic state, in all existence in matter, in animals, trees, and space itself. Every individual, every molecule, every atom has its own spiritual relationship with the All-Powerful Soul of God.” [13]

Creation as Spiritual Ascent

  • The purpose of the Universal Soul’s creation of the Cosmos is to actualize its essential perfection and return to the Universal Intellect.
  • All things in the Universe including minerals, plants, animals and human beings have a soul and reveal, each according to their own capacity, the perfection of the Universal Soul.
  • For human beings, the purpose of the creation is to attain spiritual perfection and achieve union with Universal Soul, through which the Universal Soul returns to the Universal Intellect.
  • This theme of the spiritual return to the Universal Soul is particularly present in the teachings of Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah who wrote:

“Once man has thus comprehended the essence of existence, there remains for him the duty, since he knows the absolute value of his own soul, of making for himself a direct path which will constantly lead his individual soul to and bind it with the Universal Soul of which the Universe as much of it as we perceive with our limited visions one of the infinite manifestations.” [14]

“It is a Muslim’s highest duty, by intensive prayer and spiritual abandonment of self to the great Universal Soul of the Universe, to get the supreme blessing of direct communion with Absolute Reality.” [15]

Matter and Spirit: Spiritual and Earthly Hierarchies

  • For the Isma‘ili philosophers and other Muslim thinkers, the Cosmos consists of multiple levels of reality including the Material World and the Spiritual World.
  • According to the official Fatimid teachings, the spiritual or upper hierarchy consisted of the Universal Intellect, Universal Soul, and the three Archangels known as Jadd (Seraphiel), Fath (Michael), and Khayal (Gabriel).
  • The Material World consists of the visible heavens, the earth, and the four elements.
  • The World of Faith consists of wise human souls manifest in physical bodies: Imam, Bab, Hujjah, Da‘i, Ma’dhun. The World of Faith is an ‘Intermediary World’ – consisting of subtle souls manifest in physical bodies – between the Material and Spiritual worlds. The Intermediary World also includes an Imaginal Realm (‘alam ak-khayal) which has the attributes of both spiritual and material beings. [16]

  • The relationship between the Spiritual, Intermediary (the World of Faith and the Imaginal World), and Material Worlds is that of reflection. Each world is a mirror or mazhar (locus of manifestation) which reflects the world immediately above it: the material reflects the intermediary, and the intermediary reflects the spiritual, and the spiritual reflects the Divine. Nasir-i Khusraw’s teachings on the correspondence of the Three Worlds is shown in a diagram below:

  • This three-fold hierarchy of the Cosmos is also present in the human being: each person has a body (jism), soul (nafs), and intellect (‘aql) or spirit (ruh) which correspond to the three worlds – physical, intermediate, and spiritual. [17]


  • Thus, there is a ‘unity’ between the worlds of matter and spirit, the Material World and the World of Faith – a reality which Mawlana Hazar Imam has publicly declared:

“Muslims believe in an all-encompassing unity of man and nature. To them there is no fundamental division between the spiritual and the material while the whole world, whether it be the earth, sea or air, or the living creatures that inhabit them, is an expression of God’s creation.” [18]

“We will seek to demonstrate that spiritual insight and worldly knowledge are not separate or opposing realms, but that they must always nourish one another, and that the World of Faith and the Material World are the dual responsibilities of humankind.” [19]

Cyclical Time and Sacred History: Natiq and Asas

  • The Isma‘ili philosophers also believed that the quest for the Universal Soul’s perfection manifested in the plane of human history which consisted of various epochs of ‘cycles’ – including minor cycles, major cycles and grand cycles.
  • The current seven thousand year period consists of Seven Cycles each consisting of about one thousand years – the Cycle of Prophet Adam, the Cycle of Prophet Noah, the Cycle of Abraham, the Cycle of Prophet Moses, the Cycle of Prophet Jesus, the Cycle of Prophet Muhammad, and the Cycle of the Lord of Resurrection (Qa’im al-Qiyamah).

  • Each Cycle begins with the appearance of a Natiq (Speaking-Prophet) and the Asas (the Imam who supports and succeeds him). The Natiq delivers the revealed Book (kitab) and a religious Law (shari‘ah) while the Asas teaches their esoteric interpretation (ta’wil). The Natiq and Asas are succeeded by a line of Imams who continue the exoteric and esoteric interpretation of the Book and the religious Law.
  • The Natiq and Asas in each of the first six Cycles were: Prophet Adam and Mawlana Shith (Seth), Prophet Nuh (Noah) and Mawlana Sam (Shem), Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and Mawlana Isma‘il (Ishmael); Prophet Musa (Moses) and Mawlana Harun (Aaron); Prophet ‘Isa (Jesus) and Mawlana Shamun al-Safa (Simon Peter); Prophet Muhammad and Mawlana ‘Ali. The institution of Imamat continues from Cycle to Cycle, preserving the true meaning of the different prophetic revelations and traditions.
  • The seventh and final cycle – the Cycle of Resurrection – is of paramount importance and was described by the Isma‘ili philosophers as the ‘Epoch of Knowledge’ (dawr al-‘ilm). This is noteworthy especially in light of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s comments about the Knowledge Society of today:

“All of these changes suggest that we are moving into a new epoch of history, a new condition of human life. Many observers describe this new world as the “Knowledge Society” – contrasting it with the Industrial Societies or the Agricultural Societies of the past. In this new era, the predominant source of influence will stem from information, intelligence and insight rather than physical power or natural resources.” [20]

Levels of Knowledge: Exoteric and Esoteric

  • The Isma‘ili thinkers embraced all aspects of human language and categorized them into several levels including the exoteric (zahir) and esoteric (batin).
  • This includes religious knowledge whereby the literal meaning of the Qur’an and the religious law (shari‘ah) was seen as the exoteric (zahir) while their inner symbolic meanings were seen as the esoteric (batin) – which was revealed through ta’wil (esoteric interpretation).
  • Beyond the duality of the exoteric (zahir) and the esoteric (batin), there lies an even deeper level of understanding known as the esoteric of the esoteric (batin al-batin) which can only be ‘seen’ and experienced directly. [21]

  • The role of the Imam is to preserve the balance between the exoteric and the esoteric in light of the times and circumstances while leading the believer to the vision of their spiritual essence – the esoteric of the esoteric – so one may attain the recognition of tawhid.
  • Today, the work of Mawlana Hazar Imam as instituted through the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), the Institute of Isma‘ili Studies, and recent architectural projects, is bringing to light the various aspects of the exoteric and the esoteric knowledge of the Isma‘ili intellectual traditions. Speaking about the Delegation of the Isma‘ili Imamat and its architectural symbols, the Imam said:

“They call for translating concepts that have a context in our faith and our history, yet stride boldly and confidently ahead, into modernity; for expressing both the exoteric and the esoteric, and our awe and humility towards the mysteries of Nature, Time and beyond.” [22]

All these ideas are available to us because of the countless efforts of scholars and academic researchers. Foremost among them is the late Henry Corbin who was fascinated by the Isma‘ili intellectual tradition and brought it to the attention of the academic world. I first read his Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis – a book which summarizes all the above ideas most beautifully – when I was in my last year of high school and it remains my favourite book as one takes away something different every instance one reads it. Corbin himself was not a passive researcher but was spiritually committed to the subjects he studied. He is reported to have considered himself as a Shi‘ite Muslim – using the expression “nous Shi‘ites” (“we Shi‘ites”) – and was spiritually devoted to the Imams. [23]

In addition to Corbin, I also wish to thank the many other scholars and researchers who have tirelessly laboured to bring the Isma‘ili intellectual legacy to light. [24] The aspiration of these scholars is to help bring the Isma‘ili intellectual heritage of esoteric thought back to the forefront of our spiritual and intellectual understanding – both within the Isma‘ili Jamat and in the realm of public discourse.

I remain indebted to the “School of Isma‘ili Philosophers” who, despite their intellectual brilliance, always remembered that the source of their knowledge and inspiration was the Imam of the Time. Thus, Sayyidna Nasir-i Khusraw wrote at the conclusion of his masterpiece known as the Wajh-i Din:

“Whatever is good in this book we have shown by the spiritual help (ta’yid) of the lord of the time.”

I conclude with the inspiring words of Henry Corbin where he calls upon the Isma‘ili youth to renew or ‘resurrect’ the Isma‘ili Muslim intellectual legacy into the present day:

“…The Ismā‘īlīsm which, during the tenth and eleventh centuries of our era, pioneered the most daring metaphysical thought in Islam, has almost withdrawn into silence over the last centuries. Its voice, at once original and traditional, should be heard again today—a task of which it seems that the young Ismā‘īlīs are aware.”


Khalil Andani
Harvard University.

Date posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012.
Date last updated: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 (author profile update).

Copyright: Khalil Andani/Simerg. August 2012.


About the writer: Khalil Andani is a doctoral (Ph.D) candidate specializing in Islamic intellectual history, theology, philosophy, and mysticism at Harvard University and holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University. He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008). Khalil’s publications include a book chapter on Nasir-i Khusraw’s philosophical thought in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy and articles in Sacred Web and the Matheson Trust. Over the last few years, Khalil has been invited to deliver several guest lectures and conference presentations on various topics in Islamic philosophy, theology and mysticism at Harvard University, University of Toronto, University of Chicago, Carleton University, the American Academy of Religion, and the Middle East Studies Association. He can be contacted at


[1] Hamid al-Din Kirmani, Kitab al-Riyad, quoted in Paul Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim, pp.60-61.

[2] For what follows see Paul Walker, Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary, pp. 94-103; Paul Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani: Ismaili Thought in the Age of al-Hakim, pp. 80-90; Faquir Muhammad Hunzai, The Concept of Tawhid in the thought of Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, PhD Dissertation, McGill University 1986, pp. 47-89; Nasir-i Khusraw, Shish Fasl, transl. W. Ivanow  ‘The Six Chapters’, (Bombay: 1948).

[3] Shafique Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages, p. 71.

[4] His Highness the Aga Khan, Foreword to Spirit and Life: Masterpieces of Islamic Art from the Aga Khan Museum Collections, London, 2007; Mawlana Hazar Imam, Address to the International Colloquium ‘Word of God, Art of Man: The Qur’an and its Creative Expressions’, London, October 23, 2003

[5] Aziz Esmail, Reason and Religion: The Old Argument Revisited, Ilm, Vol. 7, No. 3, Dec. 1981-Feb. 1982, pp. 32-40.

[6] Report of the Ismailia Association Conference Paris – April 1975, Ismailia Association, Nairobi 1975, p. 6.

[7] The Command of God is called wahdat (unity) and Absolute Being (al-wujud al-mutlaq) in Nasir-i Khusraw, Gushayish wa Rahayish, transl. Faquir Muhammad Hunzai as ‘Knowledge and Liberation’, pp. 42, 85.

[8] His Highness the Aga Khan (III), Memoirs of the Aga Khan, See Chapter 2 – Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors.

[9] William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 66.

[10] Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in Early Shi‘ism, 30.

[11] His Highness the Aga Khan, Aga Khan University Inauguration Address, Karachi, November 11, 1985

[12] Nasir-i Khusraw, Gushayish wa Rahayish, transl. Faquir Muhammad Hunzai as ‘Knowledge and Liberation’, p. 27.  Nasir specifically uses the term khaliq (Creator) in reference to the Universal Soul, while God is the Mubdi‘ (Originator).

[13]  Memoirs of the Aga Khan, Chapter 2 – Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors.

[14]  Memoirs of the Aga Khan, Chapter 2 – Islam: The Religion of My Ancestors.

[15] Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah, Companionship on High,  Africa Ismaili Kisumu Supplement, March 28, 1969.

[16] The first Isma‘ili thinker to speak of the imaginal world was Muhammad al-Nasafi.  For more on the subject of intermediary worlds in Isma‘ili philosophy, see Simonetta Calderini, Studies in Ismaili Cosmology: The Role of Intermediary Worlds, Ph.D. Dissertation, SOAS University of London, 1991.

[17] There are further sub-divisions in the body-soul-intellect model which include several ‘souls’ (or several ‘bodies’ as per Eastern mysticism) such as the mineral, vegetable, animal, imaginal, and rational souls – all of which are the ‘species’ of the Universal Soul.

[18] His Highness the Aga Khan, Address at University of Virgina, Charlottesville, Virgina, April 13, 1984.

[19] His Highness the Aga Khan, Speech at the Opening Ceremony of The Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe, Ocotber 12, 2009.

[20] His Highness the Aga Khan, Aga Khan University Convocation Address, Karachi, December 2, 2006.

[21] For the teaching on the three levels of zahir, batin, and batin al-batin, see Ja‘far ibn Mansur al-Yaman, Kitab al-‘Alim wa’l-Ghulam, transl. James Morris, The Master and the Disciple.

[22] His Highness the Aga Khan, Address at the Foundation Ceremony of The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat, Ottawa, June 6, 2005.

[23] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, In Search of the Sacred: A Conversation with Seyyed Hossein Nasr on His Life and Thought, pp. 98.

[24] The list includes Dr. Vladimir Ivanow, Dr. Farhad Daftary, Dr. Wilferd Madelung, Dr. Azim Nanji, Dr. Aziz Esmail, Dr. Ali Asani, Dr. Paul Walker, Dr. Arzina Lalani, Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi, Dr. Hamid Haji, Dr. Toby Mayer, Dr. Alice Hunsberger, Dr. Mohamed Alibhai, Dr. Shin Nomoto, Dr. Boustan Hirji, Dr. S.J. Badakhchani, Dr. Faquir Muhammad Hunzai and Rashida Hunzai, Dr. Ghulam Abbas, Dr. Latimah-Parvin Peerwani, Dr. Zayn Kassam, Dr. Tazim Kassam, Mumtaz Ali Tajddin Sadik Ali, Dr. Shafique Virani, Dr. Nadia Eboo Jamal, Dr. Seth Abd-Hakeem Carney, Dr. Diana Steigerwald, and numerous others.


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.

Articles by Khalil Andani on this website:

1. “Isma‘ili Muslim Perspectives on Jesus” and “Shia Isma‘ili Islam” – Two Absorbing Presentations by Khalil Andani
2. Seeking the Forgiveness of the Imam of the Time: A Short Explanation
3. Seeking the Forgiveness of the Imam of the Time: A Short Explanation (II)
4. The Great Resurrection


19 thoughts on “Khalil Andani’s Thank You Letter to the School of Isma‘ili Philosophers

  1. Dear Khalil,
    Your work really helped me in restoring my faith. I pray to God that you get more and more knowledge regarding Ismaili faith.

    I also want to request you that if you please also translate your articles in Urdu language so that I can share with my Pakistani colleagues.

    Mansoor Shaukat Ali

  2. such a nice presentation… one can see the similarity in the levels of spiritual paths of many faiths, but here, Khalil Andani diagramatically summarises unique aspects of the Ismaili faith . The USE of the intellect is just that: the intellect is to be used/exercised, “we” are not subservient to it. Intellect, however, only when combined with spiritual practice can provide insight so that we transcend “physical, verbal appearance”… intellect is necessary, but only one aspect of the faith. there is a “Beyond”. Even the intellect is subservient to the Murshid and to Aql-i-kul as is pointed out .

  3. No doubt Khalil Andani is a very knowledgeable writer and sophisticated thinker, for many of us , to be engaged with. Have one suggestion, however, for him, in the context of this presentation/article. The notion of “classical’ as in the phrase “Classical Isma‘ili thought stressed …” or somewhere else has no application, technically speaking, at all on Ismaili thought-history. As Ismailis of any time are, in my understanding, in their ‘classical’ time( ‘the time of the founder/s’) of their history by following the Imam of his/her time (be him /her during the time of the Holy Prophet (sas) or Imam Ali (as) or the time of the 49th Imam …it has the same importance for his/her survival and salvation. For example the present Ismaili Constitution is as important/”classical” as the Daimal Islam and that as the Madina Charter etc. We have to receive, perpetually, such FOUNDATIONAL Source–Farman to understand the Faith of Islam till the end of time from every imam of future-time … .

  4. I am so illuminated by the depth it contains about the Essence, the Core of Islam, not the Outer form, merely Zaheri but the Batini – the esoteric richness of this World’s one of the Great Faiths.

  5. This article is a perfect summarization of all the different concepts and ideas about the gnosis and basis of Islam and Ismaili thought that I have been reading in different books. It was like a refresher course for me to read this article and put everything together in a concise and simple sequence in my mind. Thanks a lot for sharing your knowledge. May Allah bless you with success in your future endeavors.

  6. Khalil, I really enjoyed reading this synopsis you’ve put together brilliantly! Bravo! Mashallah! I look forward to reading your work evermore. Ya Ali Madad and warm wishes!

  7. Good work may need some corrections as Shith, Sam, Ismail and Harun were Prophets of their times not Imams. Hazrat Ali was the first Imam, The Noor of God, as there was an evolution in faith from Prophets to Imams. Prophets were bound by the revelations they received from God. Imams has all the knowledge of everything embodied in them by God as God says in holy Quran that… We have embodied the knowledge of everything in Present Imam… Which is another proof itself that Imam of the Time is The Noor (Nur) of God, as the only entity in the universe who has the knowledge of everything is God himself.

    Its very simple to understand the evolution in faith, we go from high school to college and then to university. Same way Prophets with there immense hardships prepared mankind so that they receive the Noor of God directly as their Guide.

    Remember Hazrat Ali said that He was with every Prophet spiritually and with Prophet Mohammed he came in physical shape.

    Good work again. thanks

  8. Beautiful work again from Khalil! Unravelling the doctrines of faith has brought forth so much light in this writing. As if a treasure chest of jewels is right open before our eyes. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah has said in farman that our faith is full of diamonds and jewels. Thanks for shining the light of knowledge to see those rays of beauty.

  9. Khalil your hard work is extraordinarily beneficial for so many of us. The elaborative tributes to the Ismaili Thinkers of the Past in a unique way of of enabling the readers to learn about their works and their contributions becomes a spiritual food for mind and soul.

  10. God Bless you Khalil! What a wonderful & outstanding article! You have summarised it so beautifully! Thanks for sharing your khowledge. Congratulations for your effort! You have lightened my soul!

    Best Wishes!

    Rashida Kanji

  11. What an admirable synopsis for casual and trained reader alike. Thank you and Alhamdulillah. May we all heed Mr. Corbin’s call to resurrect our intellectual legacy.

    The principles of faith encourage, nay make it incumbent on us, to pierce the shell of exoteric knowledge and the veil of the material world. Through reflection, debate, outreach, the search for truth wherever it be found, etc., the illusion that there is only one existence (the material one) must be pierced, to gain the inner meaning and the light for the soul’s upliftment.

    The soul is humble, destitute, “duhagan”, having been separated from its origin, and has been granted little of knowledge. Allah knows best the inner meaning of this apparent test of the soul. The paradoxes of philosophy, science, self-referential thinking, multiplicity of creation, mystery of time, of infinity and of multiverses, all the dark, mysterious, startling roles that Mother Nature tends to play in life on this earth, test the soul in its own quest to actualize its noble and lofty status.

    But the soul upon whom Allah has bestowed favours is blessed with wonderful, intellectual traditions! By the grace of Allah, these traditions rescue and reassure the meek soul in its quest. Such are the traditions of the Ginan and Sufi literature and refrains (Sab gat ekaj Rehman dise, to Shane Shane Shan…..aaye Rahem Rehman), that through their esoteric inspiration and grace, the soul, whatever its station in the material world, need not despair of the ineffable essence of Tawhid.

  12. The article articulates in a summary form the philosophical thinking of the many Ismaili Philosophers and Intellectuals in a very clear and concise manner for our understanding of a complex subject which has baffled mature minds. Khalil is to be congratulated for this wonderful effort. God bless you Khalil.

  13. This is a wonderul article for me. It is a good summary of philosophical thinking of the Ismaili Philosophers presented in simple terms. For the interested, the list of refernces adds to the knowledge gained from reading the article. I beleive if I could read the articles mentioned it could deepen my understanding of the Ismaili Theology as it has unfolded over the centuries. Khalil Andani is to be congratulated for bringing this knowlede to the modern Ismailis of today who are seeking to enlighten themselves.

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