His Highness the Aga Khan and the Ismailis
“Mawlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness Prince Aga Khan, in direct lineal descent from the Holy Prophet (s.a.s.) through Hazrat Mawlana Ali (a.s.) and Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s), is the Forty-Ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. By virtue of his office and in accordance with the faith and belief of the Ismaili Muslims, the Imam enjoys full authority of governance over and in respect of all religious and Jamati matters of the Ismaili Muslims”…from the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution, 1986
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INTRODUCED BY ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
Andrew Kosorok, an artist living in Utah made the following poignant observation about the 49th Ismaili Imam: “The more I read about His Highness, the greater my respect. When someone can literally do whatever it is he wants, or can literally have anything his heart desires, whatever that is, says a lot about the person. It is a consistent source of hope to see to what ends the Aga Khan uses the resources at his disposal. I am grateful for a world leader of such stature, with a heart such as his.”
These are highly complimentary words for His Highness the Aga Khan, who explained his role in an interview with Politique Internationale:
“…The Imam’s responsibility covers both domains….his first concern is for the security of his followers; his second is for their freedom to practice their religion; his third is for their quality of life, as I have just mentioned. I repeat, the Imamat is an institution whose two-fold mission is to guarantee quality of life and to interpret the faith….”
Over the past 58 years,His Highness has guided the spiritual growth of his Ismaili followers as well as helped them achieve a better material life through economic, social, and cultural progress. The Aga Khan has articulated that education, self-help, unity, character and generosity as well as the ethic of keeping a balance between the spiritual (din) and temporal (dunya) are the elements which keep a community vibrant and healthy and lead to enlightenment and dignity. His tireless endeavours for his global community have also led to the improvement, well-being and dignity of human beings in some of the world’s poorest, most deprived and most diverse communities regardless of faith, origin or gender.
“THE CLOSER YOU COME THE MORE YOU WILL SEE HIM”
It is impossible to do adequate justice to his vast and monumental work in any form. Akber Kanji of Toronto sought to capture some of the numerous projects of the Ismaili Imam through a highly creative digital work which he titled “The Closer You Come the More You Will See Him.” This remarkable image gives a glimpse of the depth and scope of the work of His Highness the Aga Khan.
Ismailis around the world have a very deep sense of affection and love as well as engagement with their beloved Imam. However, we all realize that even in ordinary lives the affection that parents have for their children is unsurpassed and cannot be equally reciprocated. The same holds for the Ismaili Imam. The Prophet and his successor, the Imams, are regarded as the spiritual parents of their respective communities, and for this reason Mawlana Hazar Imam has himself said: “When I leave this evening I would like that you should remember two things. One, that I will take with me in my heart the remembrance of each and everyone of you, the face of each and everyone of you. Secondly, that my love for my Jamat is a lot stronger than yours can ever be for me and I would like you to remember this…you must remember that Imam loves you more, much more than you can ever love him and you must be strong in this knowledge.”….Farman Mubarak, Pakistan visit 1964, Ismailia Association for Pakistan.
These words convey hope and inspire confidence amongst his followers around the world.
This piece encapsulates the life of the Ismaili community from the earliest times to the present through images, photos and pertinent quotes.
“Allah did choose Adam and Noah, the family of Abraham, and the family of Imran above all people – offspring, one of the other, and Allah knows and hears all things.” (Holy Qur’an, 3:33-34)
“The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community”….His Highness the Aga Khan, Politique Internationale
THE PROPHET OF ISLAM AND HAZRAT ALI
“The Holy Prophet’s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualise. His example of integrity, loyalty, honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be a truly modern and dynamic Islamic Society in the years ahead”….His Highness the Aga Khan, Pakistan, Seerat Conference, 1976.
“This is a time of new freedoms, but it is also one in which new choices must be made wisely. In exercising freedom and making choices, our institutions must be guided, as they have been in the past, by the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace of Allah be upon him), and the tradition of our tariqah, which is the tradition of Hazrat Ali: A thinking Islam and a spiritual Islam – an Islam that teaches compassion, tolerance and the dignity of man – Allah’s noblest creation.” ….His Highness the Aga Khan, May 14, 1992
NORTH AFRICA AND EGYPT
“The future of the Ismaili Faith rests in the hands of the youths of your age and mine. Are we to follow the example of those, who in Egypt, Iran and Sind raised the flag of Ismaili Imams high enough for the world to see its glory? I say, ‘Yes’. We should not fail where our ancestors achieved glorious success” – the late Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan
“A thousand years ago, my forefathers, the Fatimid imam-caliphs of Egypt, founded al-Azhar University and the Academy of Knowledge in Cairo. In the Islamic tradition, they viewed the discovery of knowledge as a way to understand, so as to serve better God’s creation, to apply knowledge and reason to build society and shape human aspirations” – His Highness the Aga Khan, Mozambique, June 25, 2004
“Dr. Kurwa earlier, presented to me some coins from the Fatimid Caliphate. This was a period of great glory and great pride, and I would like to express to all my students my very deep gratitude for the gift that you have offered. It is a link to the past, but it is also an ideal to be achieved, an ideal of strength, an ideal of performance, an ideal of happiness.”…..His Highness the Aga Khan, London, September 1979
“Bequeathing a legacy that to this day enlightens the region’s intellectual traditions Nasir Khusraw was among the premier thinkers whose contributions will be celebrated in the space that we initiate today.”…His Highness the Aga Khan, Foundation Ceremony, Ismaili Centre, Dushanbe, August 2003
“I would be surprised if ever such a big Mehfil-e-Ginan has ever been held…many times I have recommended to my spiritual children that they should remember ginans, that they should understand the meanings of these ginans and they should carry these meanings in their hearts. It is most important that my spiritual children…hold to this tradition which is so special, so unique and so important to my Jamat….I have been deeply happy tonight, deeply happy because I have seen the happiness in the hearts of my Jamat and this is what makes Imam happy”…His Highness the Aga Khan, Karachi, December 16, 1964, Farman Mubarak, Pakistan visit 1964, Ismailia Association Pakistan
ANCESTRY AND SUCCESSION – 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES
“Each Imam presents to the world of his time that facet of the multi-faceted splendour the Ismailis call Imamat. All Ismaili philosophers have emphasized the principle of the Unity of Imamat under the superficial diversity exhibited by each Imam of the Time. It is in this sense that the Ismailis believe that Imam is the same irrespective of his own age or the time he lives in”…Esmail Thawerbhoy, Ismaili author
“Ever since the time of my first ancestor Ali, the first Imam, that is to say over a period of thirteen hundred years it has always been the tradition of our family that each Imam chooses his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from amongst any of his descendants whether they be sons or remoter male issue.
“In view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place including the discoveries of atomic science I am convinced that it is in the best interests of the Shia Moslem Ismailian Community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam.
“I appoint my grandson Karim, the son of my son Aly Salomone Khan to succeed to the title of Aga Khan and to be the Imam and Pir of all my Shia Ismailian followers.”….His Highness the Aga Khan III
“My grandfather dedicated his life to the Imamat and Islam, both of which came first, and above all other considerations. While I was prepared that one day I might be designated the Aga Khan I did not expect it so soon. I follow a great man in a great responsibility and he could have given me no more appreciated honour than to bequeath me this spiritual leadership. My life, as his, will be dedicated to the service of my followers.”….His Highness the Aga Khan
A CEREMONIAL INSTALLATION
Dar-es-Salaam: Clad in a white high-necked tunic, black trousers and astrakhan cap, Mawlana Hazar Imam mounted the dais upon which the 48th Imam, Hazrat Mawlana Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, was weighed in diamonds in 1946. Mawlana Hazar Imam gave his permission to commence the ceremony with the recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an.
The robbing ceremony was performed by putting the red and grey robe over the shoulders of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The robe had been worn by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah during his Jubilee celebrations. The Chief Mukhi of Dar-es-Salaam, Najmuddin Devji, made the presentation of the black astrakhan cap to which was pinned a golden ‘taj’ inlaid with 49 diamonds and precious stones. The beautifully ornamented and jewelled ‘Sword of Justice’ was placed in the hands of Mawlana Hazar Imam and it signified that Imam is the ‘Defender of the Faith.’ Mawlana Hazar Imam was then presented with a golden chain with 49 links which represented the lineal descent of the Imam.
The last of the pageant rites was performed when a signet ring was placed on the finger of Mawlana Hazar Imam. The ring had been used as a seal for communications from Imams to his murids (followers) throughout Ismaili history, particularly during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries and specially to communicate with the Ismailis who were difficult to contact in places such as Central Asia where extra authority, apart from signature, was needed.
Mawlana Hazar Imam then rose to address the Jamat and spoke of the unbounded sources of energy which would be made available to mankind and of the changes that would surely come with them, and added: “I shall devote my life to guiding the community in all the problems which these rapid changes will bring in their wake.”
THE 49TH IMAM: SOME EARLY PORTRAITS AND PHOTOS
IMAMAT ENDEAVOURS FOR HUMAN PROGRESS
The Aga Khan Development Network and its numerous agencies are a recent phenomena. In the 1960’s and 1970’s much of the mandate was carried out by the Aga Khan Foundation. Subsequently, other agencies were added to meet the diverse needs and spread of the Ismaili community and the population among whom they lived. The following chart illustrates the magnitude and scope of the work of the Ismaili Imamat today.
An explanation of the Seal: The circular form of the Seal, with its different levels of imagery contained in concentric circles, has its visual roots in the rosettes of early Islamic periods. The circle also symbolises the world and reflects the internationality of the University. At the centre of the Seal is a star, or sun. Light is a universal symbol for the enlightenment that education provides.
The light emanating from the star is also symbolic of Nur (Divine light). The star incorporates 49 points to commemorate the University’s founding by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan, the forty-ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims.
The outer ring circumscribes a Qur’anic Ayat rendered in classic thuluth script and reads as follows:
“And hold fast, All together, by the rope Which God (stretches out for you), And be not divided among yourselves. And remember with gratitude God’s favour on you: For ye were enemies And He joined your hearts In love, so that by His grace Ye became brethren.”
HAPPY ISMAILI PEOPLE
“The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili Tariqah is testified by Bay‘ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode”….from the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution
“It is the desire and Hidāyat of Mawlana Hazar Imam that the constitutions presently applicable to the Ismaili Muslims in different countries be superseded and that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live”….from the Preamble of the Ismaili Constitution
“I have always urged Ismailis to be loyal to their countries where they live and to whatever Government is responsible for their security and their well-being”…His Highness the Aga Khan, Dar-es-Salaam, November 21, 1982
“I hope that this new and young Jamat in the United States, and the new and young Jamat in Canada, and the slightly less new and slightly less young Jamat in the United Kingdom and Western Europe will succeed in maintaining this tradition [of voluntary service], strengthening it and making it available to the Jamat around the world – not only the traditional service but that, that traditional service should grow, that which is strong and that which is desirable from Western society, from western technology and from western know-how”….His Highness the Aga Khan, quoted in The American Ismaili/Roshni, 1983 special issue
“And for those of you who are old and who say: ‘I am too old to do this now’, remember that you are never too old, never too old; that so long as you are alive every day is a day that must be lived and in that day you must fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability.” Farman Mubarak, Mumbai, November 27, 1973, published by the Ismailia Association for the UK.
“Sometimes people who are not members of the Jamat ask me where the strength of the Jamat comes from and it is very difficult for me to explain to them that the strength of the Jamat, in many ways, comes from this spirit of brotherhood, the spirit of service, the spirit of concern for people of the same faith, the same family”…His Highness the Aga Khan, quoted in The American Ismaili/Roshni, 1983 special issue
“I asked him (His Highness) how he kept his focus and energy. He replied that he surrounded himself with people who were very good at what they do and also many dedicated volunteers. He said he was inspired every day by their efforts and devotion to excellence”….Maria Cook, Ottawa Citizen, in an interview with Simerg’s editor
“Here assembled this evening are people whose parents I have worked with, whose children I am working with, lnshallah, whose grandchildren I will work with. And, I think it is appropriate that I should express, in my office as Imam, my happiness and my gratitude, my pride, in working with such eminent leadership, with leadership which is committed to honorary service taken out of their daily lives which requires of them hard work, commitment to their families but on top of that they have found the time in the past, find the time today, Inshallah, will continue to find the time in the future, to serve the Jamat around the world….His Highness the Aga Khan, quoted in The American Ismaili/Roshni, 1983 special issue.
“I am deeply moved that the Councils in the United States wish to present a token gift to me, and even more moved that Mawlana Hazar Imam has graciously consented to award the token on this happy occasion of his Silver Jubilee Visit to New York. Khudavind, I consider this singular honor as yet another sign of the millions of mercies which you have showered upon me, and I submit to you my humble gratitude. I can only say that it is a rare privilege to be blessed with the opportunity of serving the Imam and the Jamat. Having been so blessed, I consider that what little I have been able to achieve has been no more than what any member of the Jamat would have done. Each one of us is only an instrument of the will and guidance of Mawlana Hazar lmam, and our duty and responsibility is to fulfill his wishes to the best of our abilities”….Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, quoted in The American Ismaili/Roshni, 1983 special issue
ISMAILI SCHOLARSHIP, RESEARCH AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION FOR THE JAMAT
“Founded in 1977 by H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, UK, functions today as a gathering point for the Ismaili community’s interest in its own history and in its relationship with the larger world of Islamic scholarship and contemporary thought.
“Its stated mission is…to explore the interaction of religious ideas within the broader aspects of modern life, but to do so with special attention to often neglected fields that contain the intellectual and literary expressions of esoteric Islam, including Shi‘ism in general and Ismailism in particular, in the full richness of their diversity.
“The Institute has a principal objective to serve the Ismaili community…..A major component of the Institute’s program is concerned with research and publications….namely encouraging the investigation of Islam, Shi‘ism and Ismaili history by both Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike…..Supporting all its programs is the Institute’s Library, which has one of the most valuable and comprehensive collections in the Western world of manuscripts, books and audiovisual materials relating to Ismaili studies in particular…
“The Institute’s Department of Education produces a range of multimedia teaching and learning materials in eight different languages on religious and cultural education for the Ismaili community (known as Ta’alim) at all educational levels other than for advanced studies in its graduate programs. Drawing upon modern principles of education and curriculum design, these innovative materials are intended to make religious learning a creative and appealing process for young minds, as well as to bridge the gap between religious and secular education”….Dr. Paul E. Walker, excerpted from IIS Overview.
THE SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL SPACE: THE JAMATKHANA
The Satagur has arrived,
The sixty-eight shrines
at home’s threshold,
The Ganges and Jamna
are here full and flowing.
Now he who bathes is purified,
While the wicked
Will stay aloof from the Lord.
Diving in the congregation-pond
Pearls invaluable came in hand.
Guard, guard the jewels:
They’ll grow manifold in worth.
Learning the truth,
Keep it in the heart,
Telling no-one else.
(Translation of verse 1 of Pir Satgur Noor’s ginan, Satagura padhariya tame jagajo, from “A Scent of Sandalwood” by Dr. Aziz Esmail)
DARKHANA JAMATKHANA, KARACHI
DARKHANA JAMATKHANA, LONDON
“The Ismailis are grateful to the British people for their understanding, especially at the time when so many of them arrived as refugees after their expulsion by ex-President Amin from Uganda not so long ago. Ismailis are proud of their reputation for industry and self-help which I think is correct; but none of their achievements, including the new Centre which we shall soon see rising from this ground, would have been possible without the faith and cooperation of their neighbours”…..His Highness the Aga Khan, Foundation Laying Ceremony, September 1979
“It is a very great pleasure for us to welcome you, Madam Prime Minister, and so distinguished a gathering for a ceremony which is a most significant one for the Ismaili community: significant because this is the first cultural and religious centre in the Western world to have been built specifically for the community’s requirements…It is probably true to say that eventually Ismailis, like other groups which have settled in the United Kingdom permanently, may lose touch with their original languages and adopt many aspects of British life. But they are certain to seek to maintain their faith and their traditions, whilst accepting what seems best and most appropriate from Western civilisation. This building is more than simply a place of congregation. Through the quality of its design and workmanship, it will be a bridge between the culture of the community’s roots and that of its future as well as a symbol of the hopes of people who have lived through change and turbulence and have ultimately found security here in Britain”…..His Highness the Aga Khan, Opening Ceremony, April 24, 1985
“The Ismaili community in London is self-sufficient and independent, energetic and highly talented. It contributes to society in every sort of way. And at the same time, its powerful sense of community, both spiritual and cultural, provides a firm and unchanging basis for living….It is a monument to the determination of your community to play a full part in the life of our society, while at the same time retaining their own identity and independence. As I believe a great Islamic poet of the 19th century, Mohammed Iqbal, said:
‘For the individual to be bound to society is a blessing: it is in a community that his work is perfected’.
“This new Centre is a splendid testament to the words of the poet and to the vitality of the Ismaili community here, and it is with great pleasure that I now formally declare the Ismaili Centre open”…Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 1985
DARKHANA JAMATKHANA, BURNABY, CANADA
“I succeeded my Grandfather to the office of Imam in 1957, and just two weeks ago on the 11th of July, I entered the twenty-fifth year of my Imamat. During the Jubilee year many new projects will be launched which will impact the material quality of the life of Ismailis and indeed of many others…But this is the first project to be launched during this Jubilee year and it is very important that it is a place of worship. The new building…will be a place of congregation, of order, of peace, of prayer, of hope, of humility, and of brotherhood. From it should come forth those thoughts, those sentiments, those attitudes which bind men together and which unite.”….His Highness the Aga Khan, 1982
“The Jamatkhana is a very special and uniquely spiritual building. It is one of the most significant and important buildings in my career. Spiritual architecture is a unique design challenge because the architecture must be simultaneously, an iconic, symbolic form, complete and unequivocal yet it must transform and become ephemeral. Like a theatre, the building is a pre-event to the fantasy of a play or movie. When the lights go out, the curtain goes up, the building is ephemeral, it vanishes and a new event, the play becomes reality. A theatrical metaphor is useful, however spirituality is a more subtle and complex. The architecture seeks to wed cultural, symbolic and religious aspects to a modern building environment”….Bruno Freschi, architect, the Ismaili Centre and Jamatkhana, Burnaby, in an interview with Simerg
ISMAILI CENTRE, LISBON
“We live in a time of accelerating change, evidence of which surrounds us on a daily basis. Change can mean stimulation, opportunity, and hope, but it can also mean disorientation, dislocation, and even conflict. Change can mean progress, but it can also mean that special efforts are required to improve access to the benefits of development for those less prepared to take advantage of them.
“These countervailing forces of change are of great interest to me because Ismailis have felt their full brunt over the course of their long history. But even more importantly, they are a matter of religious concern. Islam teaches Muslims to strive to achieve equilibrium between human existence and the Absolute, and therefore to attend to both spiritual and physical needs. As Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, my responsibilities extend to both the spiritual and the material welfare of the Ismaili community”….His Highness the Aga Khan, Ismaili Centre, Lisbon, July 11, 1998
ISMAILI CENTRE, TORONTO
” Two features are notable in particular. First, the area ringed by the halo appears calm, whereas the area outside the halo pulsates with heavy traffic. I came away with the impression that the haloed area represents a beacon in a hectic world. Second, the three bright lights inside the halo look like newborn stars, perhaps even a new universe. Viewed through this prism, the photo is asking us to make enlightenment the focal point of our daily lives. This interpretation is consistent with the desired impact of the center: to give strength to those of the Ismaili faith while beckoning others to explore the rich contributions of Islamic culture….Dana Lopez, a winner of Simerg’s essay contest “Why I Like This Photo.”
ISMAILI JAMATKHANA AND CENTRE, DUBAI
“The congregational space incorporated within the Ismaili Centre belongs to the historic category of jamatkhana, an institutional category that also serves a number of sister Sunni and Shia communities, in their respective contexts, in many parts of the world. Here, it will be space reserved for traditions and practices specific to the Shia Ismaili Tariqah of Islam.
“…the Ismaili Centre will be a symbol of the confluence between the spiritual and the secular in Islam. Like its functions, the Centre’s architecture will reflect our perception of daily life, whose rhythm weaves the body and the soul, man and nature into a seamless unity. Guided by the ethic of whatever we do, see and hear, and the quality of our social interactions, resonate on our faith and bear on our spiritual lives, the Centre will seek to create, Insh’allah, a sense of equilibrium, stability and tranquillity….His Highness the Aga Khan, Foundation Ceremony, Ismaili Centre, Dubai, December 13, 2003.
LOVE FOR THE IMAM
In all four ages,
I went about,
I found none
to match you, my lord.
My lord, my heart
is fond of you.
(Translation of verse 3 of Saiyad Imamshah’s ginan Sahebaji tun more mana bhave, from “A Scent of Sandalwood” by Dr. Aziz Esmail)
Date post updated: November 28, 2015.
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Profile of Abdulmalik (Malik) Merchant at Contributors.