The Religion of the Nizaris (Ismailis)

June 4, 2007 at 1:13 am (doctrines)


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

his descendants.

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 Hujjat

“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.

Religious duties

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.

p. 32/33)

From John Hollister’s “The Shia of India”


1 Comment

  1. Bohras said,

    Progressive Dawoodi Bohras A movement for reform and renewal within their community. Information about the issues, their network, programs and activitie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: