An Ismaili Prayer and Ginan to the current Imam
Our Lord Nur Mawlana Shah,
Karim al-Husayni Hazar Imam!
We humble students pray to thee:
Give us your divine guidance to discharge our duties!
Give us the courage and strenght to obey the holy firmans!(1)
have mercy upon us
and bless us with the holy Nurani Didar(2) in this world
and the next.
There is no salvation without our imam.
O ‘Ali! O ‘Ali! (3)
Better than written guidance, (4)
we have the living imam. (5)
O ‘Ali! O ‘Ali!
All-wise, omniscient, sinless.
The imam will give the kingdom to his followers
and they will rule until eternity.
and obey his incarnation.
After these good deeds the soul attains salvation.
Pay your tithes to our teacher, the imam;
it will help you to secure salvation, bliss and happiness.
Without it you may be reborn 10,000 times.
Pay your dues to our Lord accurately.
You will be doubly rewarded for all the things you offer.
Come to the jamatkhana
and drink the water of purity.
While serving him devoutly
we recognize him as imam.
Only those who give all the dashond which they owe,
only those who sacrifice all they possess with love,
only they are the true believers.
He is true and just.
He is pure and sinless.
He is our gracious Lord,
sustainer of creation.
He is the judge of judgement,
the maker of us all.
Serve the imam,
we are his servants.
There is no salvation without the imam.
He is all in all.
O Karim al-Husayni! Forgive our sines. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Fulfil our wishes. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Remove our troubles. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Overcome the enemies of our faith. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Grant us a temporal and spiritual glimpse. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Grant us health for our sick. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Grant is goodness to know you and belive in you. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Keep us perfect in partaking in sukrit and in paying dashond. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Make the community prosperous by giving them long life, wealth and children. Ameen.
O Karim al-Husayni! Please bless those that give money generously. Ameen.
(1) These are the religious teachings of the imam which are binding upon all Ismailis. Only the firmans of the living imam or imam of the time are authorative. This allows the imam of the time to adapt the faith to new times and situations without being hampered by tradition.
(2) This is the Ismaili hajj. Everyone should seek to see the imam both in person and spiritually.
(3) Every imam is Allah’s Noor which first manifested itself as Ali the first imam of this cycle. So every imam is Ali.
(4) This referes to the Koran.
Often I am asked why I am a firm supporter of the Ismailis and even consider myself a “friend of the imam?” when I am a professed Pure Land Buddhist. That is a good question and deserves a good response. I hope this text will make it clear my interest in the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim faith.
The proclamation of Qiyamat by Imam Hasan II on August 8th 1164 is probably the defining event of Ismailism that drew my interest in the faith. My first exposure to this event was through the writings of Peter Lamborn Wilson a.k.a. Hakim Bey. Ironically Wilson’s comments comparing the Qiyamat to Shinran Shonin’s (founder of Jodo Shinshu the largest sect of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan) idea of shinjin (certainty of enlightenment thru Other Power) led me to the Pure Land Faith. This occurred sometime in 1990. However, I was still attracted to the faith of Imam Hasan II and kept re-reading Wilson’s work over the years.
During the fall of 1997 I came into contact with some Ismailis on the Internet and I began to study the faith from an more orthodox Ismaili perspective. One warned me that it was easy to start studying Ismailism but it is not easy to stop. He could have not been more right! During the spring of 1998 I took a Masters level course in the History of Religions at a local university and I made the Ismailis the focus of my course work. During this process I discovered others, who like myself, were not Ismailis but interested in the faith after being exposed to it by Wilson. So I put up a Website, started a Internet mailing list and a newsletter (Qiyamat: A Newsletter for Friends of the Imam) in order to bring information about Ismailism to those who were interested.
I view Ismailism and Pure Land Buddhism as basically similar. Ismailism is a religion centered on the Imam of the Time who possesses Allah’s Light (Noor). Thus it is centered on a being of divine light. Pure Land Buddhism is centered on Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life. Also, Buddhists scholars believe that the ideas of Pure Land Buddhism arose during the early centuries of this Common Era, when Buddhism first moved out of Northern India and into areas under Iranian influence. Thus Amida Buddha is the Buddhist expression for the “Man of Light” in Iranian Gnosticism. Thus another affirmation of the principle that on the level of gnosis, all faiths are One.
“He who counsels his own soul should investigate, during his life in this world, all doctrines concerning God. He should learn from whence each possessor of a doctrine affirms the validity of his doctrine. Once its validity has been affirmed for him in the specific mode in which it is correct for him who holds it, then he should support it in the case of him who believes it.”
-Muhyi al-Din ibn al-Arabi-
How to subscribe to Ismaili Mail Blog
The Light of the Imam
Ulimately there is only Reality (Allah):
it is beyond creation and non-creation;
it is beyond life and death;
it is beyond the infinite and the finite;
it is beoynd knowledge and ignorance;
it is beyond pleasure and pain;
it is behond heaven and hell;
it is beyond nirvana and samsara
it is beyond the One and the many;
and yet the Real can be known.
From the very beginninglessness
the Real has shown its Light
and that Light manifested itself in the world of form.
From Imam Adam to Imam Karim Aga Khan IV
there has never been a time
when this world was without the Light.
The Imam’s Light reaches out
and sparks up the divine light within.
Light upon Light
and so we are raised up,
awakening into Reality
Collected articles from the Zine:
Qiyamat: a newsletter for friends of the Imam
This is a collection of articles from my zine which ran for about a year 1998-9. I collected those articles which mostly dealt with the topic of Qiyamat from a Nizari Ismaili perspective. Also collected here are some Moorish Orthodox Science text which cover the same theme in a post-modern religious framework. There is a hard to find text by Hakim Bey on Anarchism which is a political philosophy that many Moors hold and is a stream of thought in the Qiyamat (the end of Law).
An introduction to the ideas and practices of this little known Shia religious community.
Printed: 144 pages, 6″ x 9″, casewrap-hardcover binding, white interior paper (50# weight), black and white interior ink, white exterior paper (100# weight), full-color exterior ink
Copyright: © 2007 by Jim Davis
Book Review: The Origins of Is’mailism, by
reviewed by Jesse Walker
Because of the secrecy with which the Is’mailis shrouded their literature, most contemporary discussions we have of early Is’maili practice and doctrine comes from hostile Sunni outsiders. The confusion surrounding Is’mailism has produced heated debates on a number of issues, from the origin of the idea that Is’mail was the proper seventh Imam to the nature of the relationship between the Is’maili Fatamid caliphs and the Carmathian Muslims in . In The Origins of Is’mailism, argues that Is’mail himself, along with his son and a number of companions, founded the Is’maili school of thought; that the Fatimid movement and, subsequently, the Fatimid caliphate were a direct continuation of the movement founded by Is’mail; that the Carmathians’ origins are uncertain, but may have been founded by the Is’maili, Abdallah ben Maimun; and that the Carmathian-Fatamid split was a division between radicals and moderates following the founding of the Fatamid State. Lewis argues convincingly that Is’maili thought was (and is) radically different from that of orthodox Islam — both Sunni and Twelver Shi’a. Based on a “quasi-masonic” (Lewis’ phrase) hierarchy of initiation and an elitist attitude towards the uninitiated, Is’mailism opposed the Sunnis’ relatively egalitarian ideas about access to knowledge. But Is’mailism was, paradoxically, more egalitarian in many social matters than Sunnism. It was more liberal in its treatment of women. It appealed to the artisan classes, and may have organized the first guilds of the Islamic world. In its Carmathian variety, it practiced an economic order that the orthodox confused with communism. There may be a connection between Is’maili elitism and Is’maili liberalism. After all, if the truth was properly the property of an initiate few, who cared what the unenlightened masses did? Both tendencies provoked the horrified reactions among the orthodox, who viewed the first — with some justification — as a front for a “secret doctrine” of materialism, libertinism, even atheism, and who saw the second as a threat to their established order.
Lewis’ book is not just an attempt to sketch a history of the early Is’mailis. It is a history of the perceptions the non-Is’maili had of those early Is’mailis, a historiography combined with a history. In many ways, this story of the general perception of a potentially subversive heresy is more interesting than the story of the heresy itself, if only because our knowledge of the former is more substantial. The popular paranoia towards Sevener Shi’ism should remind the reader of similar attitudes throughout Western history: At various times, the orthodox attempted to tar the Is’mailis with patently untrue reports of
non-Islamic origins (Judaic, Zoroastrian, Manichean) and with non-Islamic secret teachings. (Lewis does not draw such comparisons — though he does mention the influence of the gnostics on Is’maili thought. His monograph is narrowly focused and concise.)
This book was originally written as a doctoral dissertation and, as such, is not the best introduction to the subject — it was not written for a popular audience, and it assumes a lot of knowledge on the part of the reader. It is also in many ways out of date: First issued in 1940, the preface to the edition I read — published in 1975 — makes it clear that much has been made obsolete by later discoveries (and that some errors were made in the hasty original preparation of the book). Still, it’s a fascinating study.
Opening his work, Kalami Pir, the author describes the religion of the Ismailis as “theonly leading and rightly guided religion.”1 The words are in strict keeping with the
attitude of the Nizarian or “eastern” Ismailis. Elsewhere the same author writes:
“The Ismailis of the world are those who have made a final determination to live and act
in accordance with Truth, under adverse or favourable circumstances, in hardships or in
pleasures, in despair or in joy, doing everything to help one another, making the utmost
effort, and patiently bearing every form of exile, (or molestation) to which they may be
Literature of the early Nizari period is scarce. Parts of Hasan Sabbah’s al Fusul al Arba’a
are quoted by al Shahrastani in his Kitab al Milal wa’l nihal. A small tract, Haft Babi
Baba Sayyidna, but not written by Baba Sayyidna, perhaps dates before the fall ofAlamut, while another treatise attributed to Nasir al din Tusi,
Mathib al Muminin, the
Aim of the Faithful, and Raudat al taslim by the same author must date before 1274 CE,the date of his death. The original version of the
Kalami Pir is assigned to be the
beginning of the ninth/fifteenth centures; while a small Book on the Recognition of theImam
was writtedn somewhat more than a century latter. These provide the source
material for this chapter. The fact that Hasan Sabbah, who was actual founder of the sect,
had been a leading da’I under Imam al Mustansir bi’llah should justify us in assuming
that in the year 487/1094 the doctrines of the eastern Ismailis were about the same as
those of the Fatimid line, though it is a well recognized fact that Ismaili doctrines were
not uniformly standardized even within the territory of the Fatimid da’wat.
Early in the Alamutian period the teaching of Hasan Sabbah had become sufficiently
distinct as already to be called the New Preaching. His emphais on teaching, with
teachers who had received their truth from the Imam, early made the name “Talimiya” a
synonym for his followers. The Sayyidna is soon said to have blown the first blast of the
trumpet of Resurrection, which forty years latter was sounded by the Qaim himself. The
Guiding Person of the “rightly guided” Ismailis is the Imam, a descendant in the family
of the Prophet, and in the new dispensation initiated by Hasan ‘ala dhikrihi’s salam on
the day of the Great Resurrection, Qiyamat al qiymat, he is himself:
“the Lord of all things in existence; he is the Lord who is the Absolute Existence; He is
all,–there is no existence outside of him; all that is comes from him. He opened the gates
of his mercy, making all, by the light of his knowledge, see, hear, speak and live in
1 Ivanow, W., Kalami Pir, p. 5
2 Ibid., p. 39
eternity; praise and glory are due him for his generosity,–every one who knows has to
render it. Our Lord, Mawlana, is the Lord of the world,–exalted and extolled be He.3
“Knowledge of God is the knowledge of the Imam of the Time. What is said about God is
(also) said about us…We must say that he, the Imam, possesses all the open and hidden
properties of God.4
“The Imam is physically similar to an ordinary mortal man, but his Divine nature cannot
be understood. He is the center (qutb) of the Universe and performs all the functions of
the Deity with regard to ruling the world. He is dressed in the raiments of Divine Unity,
to him is granted the eternity of Lordship; Divine names and properties are granted to
him, and in these he manifests himself. The lights of that name, and the influence of that
attribut become manifest in this way. His word is the word of God the All-high.”5
In fact, to use the words of Ivavow:
“The Imam, who takes entirely the place of Allah of the orthodox is regarded…as eternal,
omnipresent, the real Architect and Creator of the world…and…appears to be an
incarnation of a supreme, absolutely abstract, atrtributeless Deity.6
There are four kinds of descendants of the Imam (according to Ivanow): those who are
descended from him in a physicial way only, “just as Mast-’Ali”; those who are
descended from him in their spiritual nature, as Salman Farsi; those descended both
physically and spiritually as Imam Hasan who is recognized as an Imam Mustawda’ only;
and lastly those who have the physicial and spritual nature and the divinity of the Imam,
as Imam Husain, who alone was able to transmit the essential quality of the Imamate to
The knowledge about the Imam is fourfold: knowledge concerning his body, which may
be known by an animal; knowledge about his name, which his enemies may have and
divulge; knowledge about his Imamate in which his followers, “the people of
degrees”partake, and finally, knowledge if his real nature which is known only to the
Having promoted the Imam, who until now has been the only one through whom the
deity can be known or reached, to be the incarnation of the deity, it become necessary
now to reach the Imam.
3 Ibid., p. 66
4 Ibid., p62
5 Ivanov, W., An Ismailitic Work by Nasir al din Tusi, JRAS, 1931, p. 554
6 Ivanow, W. Ismailitica. pp10-11
“It would be absurd to think that he would leave the “people of degrees’ without the
possiblity of recognizing him; for the purpose of their acquiring this knowledge the wrodl
was created. If he should leave them so–whic God forbid!–he would be ungenerous.
Therefore a moon must exist in this night of faith which would remain perpetually
manifest in its real nature.” (W. Ivanow, Ismailitica p. 26)
At the time of his manifestation at the “resurrection” God was himself revealed to the
faithful and seen by them in the Imam. On that day called the millenium of Saturdays,
God became His own Proof. But thereafter is a period of six thousand years called the
“Night of the Faith,” when he can only be recognized through another, except as he may
graciously become manifest, “sometimes in the form of a father, sometimes in the form
of a son, or a child, or a youth, or an old man.” (Kalami Pir p. 67) At such times,
however, His manifestations are not in His whole glory, so man needs the ‘moon’ to
reveal Him. The hijjat fulfills this need.
“The path to him (the Imam) lies through the heart of hujjat;
The hujjat knows everything by the direct Divine help to his heart.” (W. Ivanow,
Ismailitica p. 31)
Under the Fatimids the tern hujjat had come to be used for the person next to the Imam,
who sustained a very close relation to him, such as Salman had toward Ali. Among the
Nizari Ismailis that position has been lifted immensely higher until the hujjat’s “real
essence is the same as that of the Imam from all eternity.” (W. Ivanow, Ismailitica p. 68)
By his miraculous nature the hujjat needs not to receive instruction, he knows; it becomes
his duty to teach.
“And if he do not appear and teach, the “people of degrees” will fail in attaining salvation
and perfection in the next life and therefore will be no use in the creation of the world.”
(W. Ivanow, Ismailitica p. 32)
The hujjat corresponds with the First Intelligence–and is considered to be ma’sum.:
“One cannot know the Lord except through Him, as one cannot know God except
through God. Only one man can really know God, and this is the great hujjat. All other
people know Our Lord only through him, as the manifestation and the brilliance of reason
appears in him only. he is the “Gate of knowledge” and the Gate of the glory and mercy
of Our Lord. He is the means of knowing the Laws of Reality and of solving doubts; he
is the governor and the commander of all the true faithful, and whoever disobeys him is
placed in Hell and suffers eternal punishment. The manifestations of the Divine attributes
and His exalted properties attain its perfection in the hujjat. All hujjats are the same in
substance. The Imam, who at the period of his full manifestation is the Qaim of the Great
Resurrection, is very near to him; he is greater that the hujjat, through his reavealing the
mysteries of the Reality.” (Kalami Pir pp. 88-89)
The hujjat may carry on the dawat in the absence of the Imam; he can never be hidden at
the same time as the Imam, but in any period of occultation of the Imam the hujjat is
active as a guide to the people. (Kalami Pir. pp-63-64)
Later sectartian accounts, as Kalami Pir, speak of Baba Sayyidna as the hujjat during the
second satr, following Nizar, but early historians never mention him as such. The same
author also names ‘Abd al lahi Qaddah as hujjat during the first satr. (Kalami Pir. p.63)
Neither name appears in the list of hujjats printed in Ismailitica. Working from this
period back, sectarian leaders have assigned a hujjat to every Imam. It is not necessary
for the hujjat to be a relative of the Imam, though this is not forbidden. The position
seems not to be inherited. Not all hujjats are humans.
“The paradise of Adam, the Ark of Noah, the vision of Abraham, Jesus and Mary, the
Mount Sinai of Moses, Gabriel of Mustafa,–all these are forms of the Hujjat.” (Ivanow,
Ismailitica, p 33)
Some hujjats have been prominent dais, as Sadr al din. Anyone may rise to the honor; it
was held by a woman in one case. The hujjat of the present Imam, the Aga Khan III, dies
while still a child only six months of age. His duties have been taken over by the Imam.
Unlike Ismaili doctrine under the Fatimids, all Imams are on the same basis of equality
and the higher position given Ali as Asas vanishes. But Ali’s place in the regard of
Ismailis has in no way decreased. Of Ali we read such extravagant statements as that:
“Ali was he who still in the womb of his mother,
told the Prophet in his ears the meaning of the Koran by heart.” (Kalami Pir p 62)
Of greater importance is the question of the place left the Prophet in this branch of
Ismailism. The term natiq seems to have been discontiued and is never applied to Hasan
‘ala dhikrhi’s salam. But when the Prophet’s era was superceded by the new cycle
initiated under Hasan, the religion Muhammad had initiated was cancelled or was
henceforth to find its true interpretation in a newly “revealed batin which is the dini
qiyamat, i.e., religion of the last day.” This fact is more explicitl;y expressed in these
“There are seven law givers,–six periods of the religious law: Adam, Noah, Abraham,
Moses, Jesus and Muhammas the Apostle of God, and one is that of the Qaim,–
prostration and glorification be due at this mention.” (Kalami Pir p 98)
This is also referred to in Raudat al taslim where we are told that the doctrine of the
Shairah had reached perfection, and needed to be followed by the teaching about
Qiyamat. In the Diwan of Khaki Khorasani this change is indirectly implied in “the
doctrine about the cancellation of the outward forms of religion.” (Ivanow, p 10)
Other indications of a changed attitude toward the Prophet are found in expression like
“AS God said that just as the month of Ramadan is better than a thousand months, so the
Imam of the time is greater than a thousand prophets and apostles.
This means that the light of Prophethood is derived from the light of walayat (i.e.,
Imamship) (Kalami Pir p. 69)
In the time of every prophet who laid the foundation of the new religion, the Imam
manifested himself in his own holy substance…The Prophets had to point him out to the
people. (Kalami Pir p. 61)
Wherever in the common teachings of shariah the Koran, the Lord Gabriel, Mikael,
Israfil, and Azrail are spoken of, their real meaning and archtype, as can be explained, is
the hujjat, because in interpretation, tawil, the meaning of the angel is the people of unity,
i.e., the Hujjat, nobody else. And wherever dai is mentioned, it means the prophet, …and
as regards (his statement) that he (Muhammad) was receiving revelation from Gabriel,
i.e., that he was a dai, he recieved instruction from Salman….”(Ivanov, Ismailitica. pp
If these quotations leave a doubt about the true regard in which the Prophet was held,
other evidence is found in the lists of hujjats from the Khojah Vrttant, by Sachedina
Naujiani, in which Muhammad is shown as the Hujjat of Imam Ali. This is true also in a
second list of hujjats of the Shughnani Ismailis published by Ivanov who suggests that
the hujjat of Ali’s time is believed to have been Salman Farsi but Muhammad’s name
was used for fear of persecution.
Cycles and Numbers
Nizari Ismailism, much more than the other branches, is concerned with cycles, great and
small. The great cycle is equivalent to 360,000 years. The Qiyamat proclaimed at Alamut
by Imam Hasan II marked the last millenium of the first half of the great cycle, or
180,000 years. Smaller cycles are of 7000 years, at the beginning of which a prophet of a
new religion appears. It was at the beginning of the last of these cycles that “the final
form of a revealed religion” was vouchsafed.(Ivanov, Ismailitica. pp xxxv/xxxvi)
Also characteristic of this branch is its emphasis on numbers, chiefly seven and twelve.
“on examining the universe and human nature, we see that everything therein consists of
units of seven.” So the author divides his treatise into seven chapters.
“There are seven heavens, which have seven planets; there are seven earths, seven seas,
seven climes, seven strong winds, seven days of the week,–these makes seven times
seven. Man has seven parts of the body: Two hands, two feet and legs, a face, nose, liver
stomach, lungs, spleen and kidneys. In another way: hair, skin, flesh, bones, veins, fat
and blood. Also seven senses of perception: hearing, sight, taste, smell, growth, reasoning
and imagination. Seven forms of instinct: attraction, touch, digestion, repulsion,
direction, growth and procreation. Man comes out of seven substances: plasm, clay,
sperm, clotted blood, foetus, flesh and bones….” (Kalami Pir p97)
On could quote much more numbers, all of which has mysterious significance–a part of
the meaning that members of the hierarchy need to be acquainted with.
The Nizari Hierarchy
Again and again the people of this branch of Ismailism are referred to as “the people of
degrees.” Nowhere in the sectarian writings of this period do we find a series of
initiations in which all members of the community are promoted degree by degree, but it
seems to be open to any Ismaili to advance through grades of dai. The reference to
“people of degrees” would seem to mean those whose teachers are graded in a hierarchy
similar to, and yet differing from, that which we found among the western Ismailis
(Fatimids). As given in the Book on the Recognition of the Imam, the degrees are as
Imam, the manifestation of the Divine Will
Hujjat, the manifestation of Universal Reason
Dai, the preacher
Madhun: akbar, the more informed
Madhun: asghar, the less informed
Mustajib, the neophyte, needs instruction, but is not allowed to teached
“people of opposition” (adversaries of the religion, who are a manifestation of Universal
The author of Raudat al taslim also staes that these degrees are ‘seven in all,” but groups
them in threee, namely, teachers and hujjat.
The seven pillars, or religious duties of the Nizari Ismailis are usually listed as follows:
Shahadat or witness; taharat or purification; namaz or prayers; roza or fasting; zakat or
religious tax; hajj or pilgrimage; and jihad or religious war. Two other duties are
incumbent on every Ismaili, namely love for Ali and his family, and the recognition of
the Imam. Sectarian works dwell at greater lenght on these than they do on the pillars.
The new era initiated by Hasan II was marked by the lifting of the restrictions and
prohibitions of the shariah as introduced by the Prophet.
“It means that to those who did not acquire the knowledge (of the Imam) even the things
are prohibited which are allowed by the shariah, but to the knower even that which is
prohibited by the orthodox doctrines is permitted, as (drinking) wine, etc. (Ivanow,
Ismailitica. p 39)
“Our Lord, the King of the day of Resurrection is the Lord of the time, …His rules and
laws of Resurrection are the inner meaning of the prescription of the shariah. The angels
conveying the reward are functionaries of his religion. The inhabitants of Paradise are
those who became emancipated from the letter of the Law (zahir) and who attained the
understanding of its inner meaning (batin). In this world their reward is their being
relieved from undergoing the obligatory rules imposed by the shariah.” (Kalami Pir. p.
This inner meaning, which is the only real meaning, since the people of degrees have
escaped from the zahir, is expressed for several pillars as follows:
Dr Syed Mujtaba Ali says that after the recognition of the Imam, zadat, or almsgiving:
“is the second most important pillar….although interpreted allegorically as meaning the
sanctifying of life by means of the understanding of mankind, in practice it means the
giving of one fifth of on’e earnings to the Imam or to one of his deputies.” (p.33)
The author of the Book on the Recognition of the Imam devotes a section to this subject
in which he says:
“It is understood also that the religion of this sect is the true teaching of the Lord and his
Hujjat, and therefore the (material) value of the Truth which they both know (must be)
everything (one possesses), not only the one tenth prescribed by shairah. This one tenth is
the price of the shariah and is not worth more….The Truth can be obtained only by
those…who will sacrifice everything they possess for the sake of Truth. But whoever will
keep for himself a trifle shall not acquire the Truth….If he will hand to him all he
possesses, keeping nothing for himself, he will become a king and lord of both worlds
(Ivanow, Ismailitica. 43/44)
“The meaning of the zadat, or religious tax, is teaching the religion and making it reach
the faithful in accordance with their capacity to understand it.” (Kalami Pir. 92)
The word, shahadat, means “the refutation of the false and the affirmation of the Truth,”
or “to know God as God” in accordance with Ismaili doctrine.
Ceremonial purification, or taharat:
“is to pass beyond custom and sunnat. (Ivanow. An Ismailitic Work. p 560)
“Its meaning is making oneself clean from the acts which are committed by those who
stick only to the outward side, zahir, of the teaching. Ablution means the returning to the
knowledge of the Imam. (Kalami Pir. p. 90)
“Ghusl or bathing is a renewal of the covenant. Zina (adultery) is equivalent to divulging
the mysteries of religion. (The Origins of the Khojahs. p. 33)
“which means becoming free from association with the adversaries.” (Kalami Pir p 91)
In Kalami Pir, namaz or prayer, has the meaning of “reaching the knowledge of the Imam
and of the true religion.” (p 91)
“The meaning of the chief mosque is the hajjat, as all come around him; other mosques
are the teachers. The meaning of the qibla is the turning of everybody towrds the hajjat,
which is necessary; but the hujjat turns his face towards the Imam only.” (Kalami Pir. p.
“Fasting means keeping silent as to what the Imam does, not trying to find his faults, and
recognizing all his actions as just even if they are blameable and impious. (The Origins of
the Khojahs. p. 32)
“(Roza) is to observe taqiya and not divulge the religious secrets.” (Kalami Pir. 92)
“Pilgrimage denotes going and seeing the Imam and the seven ciruits around the Kaba
are to be devoted to him. (The Origins of the Khojahs. p. 46)
“The meaning of hajj, or pilgrimage to Kaba, is gradually abandoning beliefs which one
orginally had, and advancing by stages, from mustajib to hujjat. The uttering of the
formula of labbay-ka means accepting the preaching of the dai. And putting on the
special pilgrim’s dress, ihram, means getting away from the practice and the society of
people who stick only to the letter of the religion, zahir. (Kalami Pir. p 92)
“Jihad is to make oneself non-existent in the Substance of God. (Ivanow. An Ismailitic
Work. p. 560)
“….is the scrutinizing of the arguement of those who are repugnant and bring to naught
their sayings by intellectual proofs and decisive arguements. (The Origins of the Khojahs.
From John Hollister’s “The Shia of India”
The Tolerance of the Fâtimids toward
“The People of the Book” (Ahl al-kitâb)
“With respect to relations between the Western and Islamic worlds,
are we not seeing a conflict of stereotypes and prejudices,
exacerbates by a good measure of ignorance about Islam? There are,
of course, some differences, but if superficiality and
trivialization can be set aside, and be replaced by the will to go
deeper to seek a solid foundation for mutual understanding and
respects, it can be found in the common heritage of the Abrahamic
faiths and the ethical principles that they share.”
His Highness the Âghâ Khân, speaking at the presentation ceremony
for The Aga Khan Award for Architecture, November 6th, 2001, Aleppo,
In the Qur’ân, Jews and Christians are designated as Ahl al-Kitâb
(People of the Book). The Book (Kitâb) refers to previous revelation
such as the Torah (Tawrât), the Psalms (Zabûr), and the Gospels
(Injîl). The status of Ahl al-Kitâb is distinguished from the one of
idolaters (mushrikûn) (XXVII: 62s.). The latter are invited to adopt
Islâm whereas Jews and Christians may keep their religion. The
Qur’ân (III: 110, 199) recommends Muslims to be respectful toward
Ahl al-Kitâb since there are sincere believers among them.
Islâm is a tolerant religion. Tolerance does not mean a passive
adherence to all opinions, but an affirmation of our own faith while
respecting other religions. Tolerance means to accept other people
with their own differences; hence the Qur’ân recognizes the right of
People of the Book to practice their religion. It is clearly
indicated in the Qur’ân (II: 256) that Islâm may not be imposed by
Tolerance invites people to reflect and to dialogue in order to
raise their level of understanding themselves and their relations
with peoples who profess a different faith, position, or outlook.
Prophet Muhammad used to explain that the People of the Book
received only a part of the truth (III: 23; IV: 44). Hence certain
Jews and Christians forgot the original principles of the Abrahamic
faith. Muhammad considered [p. 17] the religious writings compiled
by some scribes corrupted and falsified, where they differed with
the Qur’ânic truth (cf. XX: 133; IX: 30-31). Thus he invited the
Jews and the Christians to accept the Qur’ân which completes former
revelations. The People of the Book could find the confirmation of
the Qur’ânic revelation by carefully examining the Bible (cf. II:
89, 101; III: 7, 64; IV: 47). Even if the Judeo-Christian scriptures
were altered, there still remain some elements of truth within them.
The Qur’ân even recognizes that certain Jews and Christians are
saved in the Hereafter (II: 62).
The Constitution of Medina protected Jews and Christians. They were
called dhimmiyyûn (protected subjects) who were not subject to the
religious tax (zakât) but were required to pay another tax (jiziya).
Their goods were protected and they were given the right to practice
their religions. In exchange for upholding certain obligations, they
were given these rights. The Constitution stipulated that the Jews
would form one composite nation with the Muslims; they could
practice their religion as freely as the Muslims; they had to join
the Muslims in defending Medina against all enemies.
After the death of the Prophet, his direct descendants through his
daughter Fâtima and his cousin `Alî, had to wait many centuries
before creating in 567/909 the Fâtimid Empire, which extended from
actual Palestine to Tunisia. In this Empire, the majority of Muslims
were Sunnî and Coptic Christians constituted a very significant
portion of the population. There were also significant numbers of
Christians, called Melkites, who belonged to an Orthodox Greek
denomination, as well as Jews, especially in Syria. Nâsir-i Khusraw
(d. circa 470/1077), the famous Ismâ`îlî thinker, who visited Egypt,
noticed that nowhere in the Muslim world had he seen Christians
enjoy as much peace and material wealth as did the Copts. The Caliph
al-Mu`izz hired a large number of Ahl al-Kitâb as administrators of
the state. The Caliph al-`Azîz continued his father’s policy of
religious tolerance and married a Melkite Christian. Al-`Azîz’s two
brothers-in- law, Orestes and Arsenius, were nominated Patriarch of
Jerusalem and Metropolitan of Cairo, respectively. In spite of
Muslim discontent and jealousy, al-`Azîz permitted the Coptic
Patriarch Ephraim to restore the Church of St. Mercurius near
Fustât. Moreover, he protected the Patriarch against Muslim attacks.
The Caliph al-Hâkim (d. 411/1021) experienced many difficulties
internally as well as externally during his reign. He temporarily
adopted some antagonistic measures against Christians. Christians
and Jews were forced to follow the Islâmic law. However, toward the
end of his reign, al-Hâkim changed his policy. Thus, he restored
some of the churches and became more tolerant toward the Christians
and their religious practices. The following Caliph al-Zâhir (d.
427/1036) established a complete policy of religious freedom.
During the Fâtimid period, Christians and Jews had full liberty to
celebrate their festivals. Muslims took part in these celebrations
and the state participated as well. The government also used some
Christian festivals as an occasion for the distribution of garments
and money among the people. Christians and Jews were employed in the
Fâtimid administration. They were able to reach very important
ranks, even to go as high as the position of vizier. It is worth
mentioning that no similar examples of employment of non-Muslim
viziers are known among other Muslim contemporary dynasties. Nowhere
in the Muslim world during that time could non-Muslims accede to
such a rank.
The only exception to this policy of religious tolerance was under
al-Hâkim’s reign. According to the historian al-Maqrîzî (d.
846/1442), economic and social life deteriorated during this era.
The Ismâ`îlî dâ`î Hamîd al-dîn Kirmânî (d. 412/1021), in his
treatise Al-risâlat al-wâ`iza, described this critical period in
which there was a great famine. Several of the hostile but temporary
measures taken by al-Hâkim can be explained by the existing
situation, in which some in the community were extremely perturbed
by the growing prosperity of Ahl al-Kitâb and their increasing power
in the state. Al-Hâkim perhaps also wanted to thwart the Byzantine
Empire, which threatened Northern Syria. Broadly speaking, it must
be emphasized that Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived peacefully
and worked together for the well being of the Empire in all Ifrîqiya.
Continuing the Ismaili tradition, even today, His Highness the Âghâ
Khân, while not a head of a state, represents an international
community and one of the world’s largest philanthropic
organizations, employing many skillful people who are not Muslims.
His institutions benefit from the competence of people coming from
different cultures and religions. In many of his speeches, he also
recognizes that Western ethical principles of faith are essentially
the same as those of Islâm.
In the contemporary Islâmic world, the treatment of the Ahl al-Kitâb
varies from one Muslim country to another. While most Muslim
countries proclaim to be secular, their understanding of the
relations between Muslim and non-Muslim is still inspired by the
perspectives which derive from pre-modern interpretations of
juridical traditions. The constitutions of many countries stipulate
that the Chief of State must be Muslim. However, in countries such
as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, and in some other states, religious
minorities are represented in the legislative bodies.
Madelung Wilferd, “Ismâ`îliyya”, EI2, vol. 6 (1978): 198-206.
Steigerwald Diane, L’islâm: les valeurs communes au judéo-
christianisme, Montréal-Paris: Médiaspaul, 1999.
Vajda Georges, “Ahl al-kitâb”, EI2 , vol. 1 (1979): 264-266.
Religious Studies, California State University (Long Beach)