A HISTORY OF THE AGAKHANI
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH
Continued from Section Four
CONVERSION OF SYRIAN ASSASSINS
Persian Assassins extend activities
In the beginning of the twelfth century, Syria was in
an unstable condition. Several religious groups were active within the
coun try. The Crusaders were trying to establish the roots of Christianity;
Druse, Nusayris, Fatimids, and other Shi`ite “heretics” were also securing
their footholds; the rebellions were trying to break the power of the dominant
Sunni Saljuqs who already had their strongholds in Syria. At this time
in history, the Persian Assassins extended their activities into Syria.
Leaders of the Syrian Assassins who were trying to build their own empire
and undermine the power of the Saljuqs came from Alamut or were Persians
acting under the guidance of Persian Assassins.
Sinan Rashid al-Din, the chief Da'i of Alamut and a companion
of Hasan 'ala dhikrihis-salam, introduced his friend's doctrine
of Qiya'ma to the Syrian Ismailis who were followers of the old
Fatimid Imams. But the Qiya'ma doctrine was not accepted in Syria as well
as it had been in Persia. After the death of Hasan II, his son Muhammad
II developed an enmity with Sinan. Muhammad sent fida'is from Alamut to
kill Sinan. The attempts failed and the Syrian branch of the Assassins
separated from their Persian counterparts. Sinan became the Grand Master
of the Syrian Assassins. Marco Polo has referred to as “The Old Man of
the Mountain” of Syria.
Sinan accepted as Imam by the
Below are three extracts from the works of three authors on the subject.
Their sources of information are separate and disclosed by the authors.
1. Edward Burman in his book The Assassins: Holy Killers of
Islam, writes on the subject of Sinan and the Qiyama, quoting several sources
The position of Sinan with regard to Alamut was ambiguous. Although
nominally subject to the decisions at Alamut, he was in fact an independent
ruler in Syria for thirty years. It seems that he exercised this independence
in such a way as to cause ill-feeling with the Grand Masters of Alamut,
who on at least two occasions are supposed to have sent Assassins from
Persia to kill him.
Note: The author refers to the French translation
by Stanislas Guyard entitled Fragments Reliatifs a la Doctrine des Ismaelis
(Paris, Imprimerie Nationale, 1874, p. 100).
Yet Sinan had first been sent to Syria by the Masters at Alamut,
and had maintained a close personal relationship with Hasan II. After the
resurrection announced by Hasan in Alamut and other Persian strongholds,
the ceremony of breaking the Ramadan fast was also carried out in Syria.
The biographer of Sinan reports in language which echoes that used to describe
events in Persia after the declaration of Hasan that 'he allowed them [i.e.,
the companions] to defile their mothers and sisters
and daughters and released them from the fast of the feast of Ramadan,
and they called themselves Sincere'. There is evidence, however, that Sinan
over-stepped his loyalty, either from his own volition or in meeting the
demands of his followers, in being accepted as an imam or direct representative
Some of his own thoughts on the matter have been preserved
in a brief but remarkable fragment published in the nineteenth century
in French translation by Guyard. After reviewing the six previous ages
from creation of the world to the present he proclaims himself as supreme
and divine leader, not only the latest prophet in the series but the incarnation
of God himself.
2. Farhad Daftary writes in The Isma'ilis: Their History and
Doctrines (p. 401):
Sinan enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the Syrian Nizari community,
which enabled him to drift away from the central headquarters of the movement
in Alamut. But it is not known just what role he claimed for himself. Some
sources relate that he was venerated as the imam, at least by some of his
followers who were called Sinanis after him. In the popular Syrian Nizari
literature of later times he is exalted as a saintly
hero with a cosmic rank appropriate to the imam himself; a rank
much higher than that accorded to any representative of the imam. Indeed,
Abu Firas ascribes the glory of Sinan's achievement directly to God, as
if he received divine protection and guidance.
3. Bernard Lewis writes in The Assassins (1985, p. 111):
'In the year 572 [1176-77],' says Kamal al-Din, 'the people
of the Jabal al- Summaq gave way to iniquity and debauchery, and called
themselves “the Pure.” Men and women mingled in drinking
sessions, no man abstained from his sister or daughter, the women wore
men's clothes, and one of them declared that Sinan was his God.'
Note: The author's source is Kamal al-Din,
Zubda. (Ms. Paris, Arabe 1666, fol. 193b ff.)
Downfall of Assassins in Persia
Within a century of the historical declaration of Qiyama came
the extinction of the Assassins in Persia and the downfall of the Assassins
in Syria. In 1256, the soldiers of the Mongolian army led by Hulegu Khan
destroyed the impregnable forts of Alamut and its enclaves, and massacred
almost all the Assassins in Persia. In 1273, the castles of Syrian Assassins
fell to Mamluk Sultan Baybars I, and the Nizari Ismailis lost their political
power in Syria.
Bernard Lewis records in Assassins (p. 121): “The end of the
power of the Assassins came under the double assault of the Mongols and
of the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt, Baybars.” Continuing further, he records
The Assassins, weakened in Syria and disheartened by the fate of
their Persian brothers, were in no position to resist. Meekly accepting
this measure, they themselves paid tribute to Baybars, and soon it was
he [the Mamluk Sultan], in place of the fallen lord of Alamut, who appointed
and dismissed them [chiefs of Syrian Assassins] at will.
And, on page 123: “Ismailism stagnated as a minor
heresy in Persia and Syria, with little or no political importance.”
Syrian Assassins offer to ally
Cyril Glasse has travelled extensively in the Islamic world. Under
the heading “Ismailis,” he writes in the Concise Encyclopedia of Islam
(Harper and Row, 1989, p. 198):
In 654/1256 the Assassin stronghold of Alamut fell to the
Mongols and shortly thereafter the last Grand Master, Rukn ad-Din, was
put to death.... Before the Mamluks stamped out Ismaili power in Syria,
the Ismailis there had offered to ally themselves with the Crusaders and
to become Christians. The offer was enthusiastically received by
the Christian King of Jerusalem and his court, but nullified by the Knights
Templar, who put the Ismaili envoys to death.
This offer to ally with the Crusaders reminds me of Aga Khan III's alliance
with British imperialism in India and with Zionism in the early part of
the present century. During the recent occupation of Afghanistan by the
Russians, Agakhani Ismailis living in the valley of Kayan did not join
the forces of Muslim Mujahideen to fight the invaders. Instead,
the followers of Karim Aga Khan fought against the holy warriors who were
obliged to pass through their territories. Aga Khan's Mukhi and the military
governor, Sayed Jaffar Nadri, proudly declared before the British media
that his army had killed, captured, and imprisoned Afghan Mujahideen.
The details were televised on Channel 4 of British Television and published
in London's Sunday Magazine of 21 May 1989.
Second “Dawr-i Satr” and a split
Shortly after the massacre of Ismailis in Persia, the twenty-seventh
Imam of the Nizari Ismailis was killed by the Mongols. With that the Ismaili
Empire in Alamut came to an end. However, Ismaili historians claim that
a young son of the Imam, who was named Muhammad, survived and became the
next Imam at the age of seven or eight. Posing as a Dervish (mystic) and
a Zardoz (an embroiderer) this twenty-eighth Imam, Muhammad, lived the
rest of his life in complete concealment, somewhere in the mountainous
area west of the Caspian Sea in Azerbaijan. This was the beginning of the
second major Dawr-i Satr (period of hidden Imams). Strange though it may
sound, Noorum- Mubin records (p. 309) that individual who was originally
named Muhammad became known as Shams because he was as handsome as the
sun (Shams). Ismailis now call their twenty-eighth Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad.
This Muhammad, alias Shams, died in 1310. Shortly thereafter,
the community of Assassins split into two branches. Ismaili historians
record that two out of the three sons of the deceased claimed the Imamate.
The majority of the Syrian Assassins and a few Persian Assassins chose
to follow the eldest son, Mu'min Shah, and became known as the “Muhammad
Shahi” branch of Nizari Ismailis. The rest of the Persian Assassins accepted
Mu'min Shah's younger brother, Qasim Shah, as their Imam, and the branch
became known as the “Qasim- Shahi” branch of the Nizari Ismailis. The Aga
Khans claimed their descent from Qasim Shah.
Agakhani Ismaili historians claim that Qasim Shah was a son
of their twenty-eight Imam, Shamsuddin Muhammad. Others have claimed that
Qasim Shah was a grandson of Shamsuddin Muhammad and a son of Mu'min Shah.
One generation omitted altogether
from the genealogy
Dr. Farhad Daftary, who has gone through various sources and documents
over a period of twenty years, has recorded the following facts based upon
several sources (The Ismailis: their History and Doctrines, 1990, pp. 447-
...Muhammad Shah and Qasim Shah were
in fact brothers, both being the sons of Mu'min Shah. And on their
father's death, each of the two sons claimed his succession. The issue
is further com plicated by the fact that the earliest extant Qasim-Shahi
Nizari sources also name Mu'min Shah as the son and successor of Shams
al-Din Muhammad. According to these sources, Mu'min Shah was in turn succeeded
by his son Qasim Shah. But Mu'min Shah's name is
omitted altogether from the later Qasim-Sahi lists of their imams as well
as from the list currently accepted by the Agha Khan's Nizari followers.
it is not clear whether Muhammad Shah and Qasim Shah were the sons of Mu'min
Shah, or whether Mu'min Shah b. Shams al-Din was himself the elder brother
of Qasim Shah. Be it as it may be, Mu'min Shah b. Shams al-Din, who died
around 738/1337-1338, was the father of Muhammad Shah, who soon after Shams
al-Din's death led a faction of the Nizari community in rivalry with his
paternal uncle (or brother) Qasim Shah. This split in the family of the
imams did subdivide the Nizaris into two branches. The Muhammad-Shahi Imams,
possibly representing the elder of the two lines, initially seem to have
acquired a greater number of followers than the Qasim-Shahi Imams. Almost
the entire community in Syria as well as large numbers in Persia, especially
in Daylam, and in Badakhshan, upheld the Muhammad-Shahi cause for some
time. In India, where Shah Tahir and his successors, the final ten imams
of the Muhammad-Shahi line, resided, this Nizari sub-sect had a significant
Traces of Nizari Imams disappear
from 1480 to 1722 a.d.
Edward Burman writes in The Assassins: Holy Killers of Islam (pp.
From 1480, in fact, all traces of the
hidden imams disappear for about three centuries until they appear
again slightly further to the south with the death of Shah Nizar at Kahak,
south of Qom, in 1722. Then from Kahak they seem to have moved much further
south east to Kerman. A plausible hypothesis in this case would be that
an Isma'ili imam of the time gave his support to the tribal leader Karim
Khan Zand — whose name the present Aga Khan bears — when he rose against
the decaying Safavid dynasty in mid-century. It was in fact towards the
end of the eighteenth century that the history of the line again becomes
clearly discernible, when the Nizari Isma'ili imams appear already established
as important members of the Persian nobility. The presumed forty-fourth
imam, Abu al Hasan Ali Shah, in fact became Governor of the city of Kerman
under Karim Khan Zand and died in that city in 1780.
If the recorded history during the Alamut and post Alamut period,
is full of so many unauthenticated and outrageous claims relating to Imam's
true succession, how much more improbable would it be to accept the claim
of uninterrupted succession through three centuries from 1480 to 1722,
during which time “all traces of the hidden imams” totally disappear?
Reappear on the pages of history
Professor Bernard Lewis writes in The Assassins (pp. 123-24):
They [Syrian Assassins] do not reappear on the pages of history
until the early nineteenth century, when they are reported in normal conflict
with their rulers, their neighbours and one another. From the mid-century
they settled down as a peaceful rural population, with their centre at
Salamiyya, a new settlement reclaimed by them from the desert. At
the present time they number some 50,000, of whom some, but not all, have
accepted the Aga Khan as their Imam.
“A succession of disasters”
Dick Douwes and Norman N. Lewis write in their book The Trials of
Syrian Isma'ilis in the First Decade of the 20th Century (Cambridge University
Press, 1989, p. 216):
The [Syrian] Isma'ilis had suffered a succession of disasters
in the first half of the 19th century. In 1808, Misyaf was wrested from
them...in 1816, soldiers serving Mustafa Agha Barbar, the Governor of Tripoli,
ravaged a number of their villages....The army of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt
spread destruction widely through the mountains in the 1830s. In succeeding
decades, the Isma'ili peasantry suffered from heavy taxation....
In 1853, Reverend Samuel Lyde visited the territory of Syrian Ismailis.
An extract from his book The Ansyreeh and the Ismaeleeh (London, 1853,
p. 235) is quoted by Douwes and Lewis on p.216: “...they [Syrian Ismailis]
gave the idea of a lost and corrupt people, of whom all would soon disappear
but the name.”
Syrian Assassins discover an
Imam in India
The foundation of Nizariyya Ismailism is based upon the perpetual
leadership of a living Imam that is present (Hazar) to give guidance to
his followers from time to time. No person can act as a Hazar Imam unless
he is a son of the previous Imam and has been so designated (Nass) by his
father. The physical link must continue without any interruption and join
'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Imam. A community of Imami Nizari Ismailis
cannot survive in its true sense if it fails to establish contact with
their infallible Imam, the spiritual father and mother of the Murids (followers).
As recorded by Edward Burman and mentioned earlier at length,
“from 1480, in fact, all traces of the hidden imams disappear for about
three centuries.” The Ismailis of Syria were desperately looking for an
Imam to lead their community. By the end of the eighteenth century, the
Syrian followers of Imam Mu'min Shah (Muhammad Shahi Ismailis) had lost
contact with their fortieth Imam, Amir Muhammad al-Baqir, who had been
living in India. According to Ismaili historian `Arif Tamir, the last messages
received by the Syrians from their Mu'min Shahi Imam were in 1795 or 1796.
Quoting sources, Dick Douwes and Norman Lewis record (p. 217):
During the dark days of the Syrian Isma'ilis in the first
half of the 19th century, they had little contact with the outside world
and knew nothing about their Imam; it was symptomatic of their revival
in the second half of the century that they then made efforts to rediscover
him. One Syrian sheikh went out to Iran or India in 1881, and three others,
in 1883. The latter group learned that an Isma`ili Imam was living in Bombay,
and in 1887 or 1888, another delegation of Syrian sheiks actually met Sultan
Muhammad Shah, the third Aga Khan, in Bombay. He was then ten or eleven
Upon their return home, the group invited all the Syrian Ismaili Sheiks
and informed them of their meeting with the Aga Khan. A small group of
the Syrian Ismailis called Hajjawis accepted Aga Khan's claim to the Imamate
and became his followers. In the past the majority
of Syrian Ismailis had rejected Qasim Shah's claim to the Imamate. Since
Aga Khan was claiming his descent from Qasim Shah, the larger group, which
was more powerful and known as Suwaydanis, rejected Aga Khan's claim,
record Douwes and Lewis.
Syrian Jama`at asked to recite
Salah five times
In 1890, two years after the meeting described above, Aga Khan wrote
a letter to his Syrian followers appointing Sheikh Sulayman al-Hajj as
the Mukhi and Emir Ismail ibn Muhammad as the Kamadia for his Syrian Jama`at.
Mukhi is a term used for the chief of the Jama`at. His duties are to conduct
the religious ceremonies in the Jama`at khanas as a representative of the
Imam and collect Zakat, Khums, and other donations, and transmits the collected
funds to the Imam. Kamadia is an accountant who assists the Mukhi in his
In the archives of the Ismailia Council in Salamiyya, Syria,
there is a letter bearing the seal of Aga Khan, written in 1307 a.h. (1890
a.d.), in which Aga Khan instructed his Syrian Jama`at
to recite Salah five times a day, observe fasting during the month of Ramadhan,
make the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj), and pay Zakat and Khums.
1895 A.D. — Syrian Jama`at asked
to recite Gujrati Du'a
Dick Douwes and Norman N. Lewis write in The Trial of Syrian Ismailis
Sheikh Sulayman died about 1895 in India; his companion there,
Sheikh Ahmad al- Muhammad al-Hajj, was designated the new mukhi. Before
returning to Syria, he was instructed in the doctrines and rituals of the
Aga Khanis (or Khojas) and was told to introduce them in Syria. They were
completely different from those set out in the letter of 1890. Some of
the main innovations concerned the salat, or ritual prayer: the Isma`ilis
were now bidden to meet for prayer only twice a day, around a table on
which a portrait of the Imam was placed and towards which the worshippers
were to turn, instead of in the direction of Mecca. Many of the prayers
were to be said in Urdu. Among the formulae to be pronounced were the words,
“`Ali Allah, sahih Allah” (`Ali is God, truly God).
Sheikh Ahmad returned from Bombay about 1895 and introduced the form
of worship that was practised by the Khojah Ismailis of India. One can
imagine the plight of Arabs reciting their daily prayers in Gujrati. I
have been told that the Khojah Ismailis who had visited the Jama`at khanas
in Salamiyya were shocked and dismayed to hear the inane pronunciation
of their Arab brothers reciting prayers in Gujrati. The Syrian Jama`at
made repeated petitions to Aga Khan III to change the language of their
prayers. Finally, sixty years later, in 1956, the Gujrati Du'a was replaced
with an Arabic Du'a (not an Arabic Salah).
1920 A.D. — Nusayris attack Ismailis
When the First World War ended, Syrian Ismailis expected a change
in their plight but the worst was yet to come. Moustapha Ghaleb a Syrian
Ismaili scholar writes in The Ismailis of Syria (pp. 166-67):
When the First World War came to its end, the Ismailis began
to feel rest, and expect some good change in their own situation. But -unfortunately-
the Ismailis of the Western mountains in Qad mous, Misyaf, and Khawabi,
were liable to the raids of the Nusseirys in the year 1919 a.d. Their cattles
[sic] were robbed, their houses were burned.
Places of worship
...On the 12th of March 1920 Nusseirys bands, led this time
by (Sheikh Saleh El- Ali) attacked the town of Qadmous, and laid besiege
[sic] on it for some days. When the defenders consumed all their materials
of provision and defence, they were obliged to surrender. Then the Nussairys
bands had a free hand in spoiling, rubbing [sic],
and killing. The Ismailis women and children, left the town bared-foot,
and semi-naked, going towards Salamiah.
“And the places of worship are for Allah (alone):
So invoke not anyone along with Allah.”
Holy Qur'an 72/18
Commentary by A.Yusuf Ali:
(1) No place of worship whatever should be used for the worship
of any other but the true God. The Ka`bah was then full of idols, but the
idols and their votaries were usurpers.
(2) Worship should not be mixed up with vain objects but should
be reserved for the sincere service of God.
(3) All our gifts are for God's service, which includes the service
of His creatures, and not for our vainglory.
Ismailism as a Sect of Islam
Shi'ahs and Sunnis
In 632 a.d., the great Prophet
of Islam departed from this world. Before his departure, he successfully
united the warring desert Arabs under the banner of Islam. He left the
Islamic Ummah (Muslim Brotherhood) as one united body. There were no sects
or factions in Islam. It was the unflinching loyalty to Islam and the strength
of unity that made it possible for the succeeding two Caliphs to expand
the Islamic Empire with miraculous speed.
After the demise of the second Caliph,
the split in the Islamic Brotherhood began to appear in the political arena.
The third Caliph was assassinated in 656 and `Ali ibn Abi Talib was appointed
as the fourth Caliph. It was a time of unrest and political power struggle.
During the Caliphate of `Ali, Muslims fought against their own brothers
on the battlefield. Those who took the side of `Ali separated from the
mainstream of the Islamic Brotherhood. Some historians write that this
happened many years after the death of `Ali ibn Abi Talib.
Today, between 10 and 12 percent of
the Islamic Brotherhood maintain that `Ali ibn Abi Talib had the exclusive
right to succeed his father-in-law, the Prophet Muhammad (upon on whom
be peace), by a divine mandate. The divine authority to lead the Ummah
as Imam (spiritual leader) was then redesignated (Nass) to the descendants
of `Ali. The party that supported these beliefs became known as Shi`ahtul
`Ali (the party of `Ali), or, in short, Shi`ah (literally, the party or
faction). The second major group, comprising nearly 85 percent of the Ummah,
consider `Ali to be the fourth in the line of succession as Caliph. They
became known as “Sunnis” (the people of the [Prophet's] tradition).
'Abdullah ibn Saba'
Dr. John Norman Hollister writes in
The Shi`a Of India (p. 15), supported by R. A. Nicholson's work A literary
History of the Arabs (pp. 215-16) and W. Muir's work The Caliphate, Its
Rise, Decline and Fall (pp. 225-26):
The earliest explicit propaganda in
his ['Ali's] favour is connected with `Abdullah ibn Saba'. He was a native
of San'a in Yemen, and a Jew. During the Khilafat of 'Uthman he became
a Muslim and travelled widely preaching the return of Muhammad, while meantime,
his wasi or executor, was present, as had been true for every prophet.
He opened a campaign on behalf of 'Ali suggesting that Abu Bakr, 'Umar
and 'Uthman were usurpers, since the divine spirit which had dwelt in Muhammad
had passed to 'Ali. His travels took him to Hejaz, Basra, Kufa, Syria and
Egypt. Muir says that he was expelled from Basra, Kufa and Syria. Dis appointed
by 'Uthman, he became an earnest advocate for his overthrow. To this programme
the malcontents responded.
Some Sunni scholars have postulated that 'Abdullah
ibn Saba', a Jew, joined Islam with the intent of creating factions within
the Muslim Brotherhood. He introduced a concept that raised the status
of 'Ali, which led to schism in Islam and the foundation of the Shi`i Ghulat.
Farhad Daftary writes in The Ismailis (p. 64): “Ibn
Saba' is also alleged to have preached `Ali's divinity, which would qualify
him more readily as a ghali.” (Ghali means
extremist. Ghulat is plural of ghali.)
Ibn Saba' and the Apostle Paul
A comparison of the preaching of `Abdullah
ibn Saba' for `Ali with that of Apostle Paul for Jesus Christ shows significant
similarities. Paul was originally a Jew like Ibn Saba'. He was converted
to Christianity by a vision while on the road to Damascus. Paul was not
among “the twelve” nor a replacement for disloyal Judas.
By giving a new dimension to the Law
of Moses, Paul liberated Christians from the observance of the Commandments
that were prescribed in the Old Testament. He pronounced the doctrine of
justification by faith in Jesus, which is known as “Pauline Justification.”
`Abdullah ibn Saba' opened a similar campaign on behalf of `Ali ibn Talib.
Both Paul and Saba' travelled widely, advocating their precepts. Like Saba',
Paul was also expelled from many cities.
Scholars have speculated that Paul,
who had been zealous in persecuting Christians, could have contrived the
narrative of his dialogue with the resurrected Jesus Christ while on the
road to Damascus in order to become a self- appointed Apostle. His intentions
could have been to distort the original teachings of Jesus Christ and mislead
his followers. During his lifetime Jesus had never pronounced self- veneration.
Apostle Peter in his letters strongly encouraged Christians to exert themselves
and to cling to the prophetic word. He issued powerful warnings against
apostasy and false teachers who will introduce destructive heresies. The
Christianity revolutionized by Paul is often called by these scholars “Pauline
Christianity.” Likewise, scholars have also alleged that the
origin of attributing divinity to or exaggerated devotion for `Ali has
its root in the early propagation by ibn Saba', who was also a converted
During the final days of his life, upon his
return from the final “Farewell Pilgrimage” at Ghadir al-Khumm, on 15 March
632, Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) delivered a historical message
to his congregation. He asked those present, specific questions about his
role as a messenger of Allah, and after hearing their response in affirmation,
he gave them the final message. One of the guidelines, according to the
legend, was to hold fast and never to be separated till the day of Resur
rection from the two things that he was leaving behind.
The Sunni version of the legend is that
the Prophet had instructed Muslims to hold fast to the Holy Qur'an and
his Sunnah (traditions). The Shi`ah Muslims profess that the Prophet had
asked Muslims to hold fast to 'itrat (posterity) along with the Qur'an.
The Shi`ah Muslims also claim that at Ghadir al-Khumm, the Prophet declared,
while raising the hand of 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, “Whosoever
has me as his Mawla (master) has 'Ali as his Mawla.”
In some versions the details and the wording of the declarations are elaborated
further. Hence, this distinctive declaration gave the necessary mandate
to 'Ali and his designated successors to lead the Islamic Ummah as an Imam.
The celebration of `Id al-Ghadir as a Shi`ah festival was instituted centuries
later, by Mu`izz ad-Dawlah, the Buyid ruler, in 962.
The New Encyclopedia of Islam, Volume
2, while quoting Ibn Kathir, explains that during the expedition to Yemen
led by `Ali in 631 a.d., `Ali was very strict concerning the distribution
of the spoils of war. `Ali was accused of misusing authority. The Prophet's
statement was intended to “put an end to the
murmuring against Ali.” In the bibliography,
the encyclopedia notes several sources of discourse according to Ibn Kathir.
Whichever of the above two versions
one may choose to accept is his or her prerogative, but attributing divinity
to `Ali, calling him “Mazhar of Allah” or “Sahi Allah” is definitely stepping
outside of the realm of the pronouncements made at Ghadir al-Khumm. In
the old, old Gujrati Du'a, which Ismailis used to recite when I was about
ten years old,
- Muhammad” was defined as “Yak Khudah” meaning,
Three major sub-sects of Shi`ahs
Shi`ahs kept on sub-dividing into sub-sects.
Whenever there was more than one claimant to succession of the Imamate,
a split occurred. The three major divisions are identified below. However,
there are several sub- divisions within these three primary groups.
1. The largest
sub-sect of Shi`ahs is called “Ithna'ashriyya” or “Twelvers.” It is the
official religion of Iran. Also, a large majority of Iraq's population
follow the “Twelve-Imam Shi`ism.” In 873, the eleventh Imam of the Ithna'ashries
died. The succeeding Imam, named Muhammad, whose age is disputed, disappeared
into the cellar (a sort of well or pit) of his family home in Samarra.
The hidden twelfth Imam, Muhammad, is known as “the awaited Mahdi” (al-Mahdi,
al-Muntazar); “the eternal Imam” (al-Qaim); “Master of the Age” (Sahib
ul-Zaman); as well as “Hidden-Imam” (al- Ghayab Imam).
For a period of nearly seventy years,
which is known as Ghaiba Sughra (lesser concealment), the Hidden Imam was
represented by four successive intermediators (Vakils), one after another.
The last Vakil, `Ali ibn Muhammad, declined to name his successor, saying
“The matter now rests with Allah and the Sahib az-Zaman (the hidden Imam).”
Sahib az- Zaman is also called “Hazar Imam” by the Khojah Ithna'ashries.
Before the end of the world, the awaited Mahdi will appear from “lesser
occultation” to “greater occultation.”
On the other hand, another sect known
as Ja'fariya insist that the eleventh Imam
had no son. According to Dr. Hollister this
view is shared by some heresiographers. Syed Ameer Ali records that Ithna'ashries
are divided into two sub-sects — Usulis and Akhbaris (i.e., the followers
of principles and the followers of traditions). They differ on the amount
of authority to be attached to the exposition of Mujtahids, who call themselves
the representatives of the Imam.
2. The second
sub-sect of Shi`ahs is called “Zaydis” or “Fivers.” Their major concentration
is in Yemen (forty percent of the population) and they believe in “Five-Imam
Shi`ism.” This group recognizes Imam Zayd, the grandson of Imam Husayn,
to be the fifth Imam instead of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, who is the recognized
Imam for the rest of Shi`ah community. Imam Zayd was the brother of Imam
Baqir. Imam Zayd believed in secular power (Khilafat) and use of force
as vital elements to claim Imamate. On the other hand, his brother Imam
Muhammad al-Baqir did not involve himself in secular matters and disagreed
with the views of his brother. Zayd was killed in 740 while leading a rebellion
near Kufa. He was succeeded by his son Yahya, who was also killed in a
similar venture. Zahidiyas have for many centuries ruled a small kingdom
3. The third
sub-sect of Shi`ahs is called “Ismailis.”
Edward G. Brown writes in A Literary History
of Persia (Volume 1, pp.407-8):
The chief thing which it derived from Isma'il
the seventh Imam was its name Isma'ili; but it bore several other names,
such as Sab`i (“the Sect of the Seven”), Batini (“the Esoteric Sect”);
Ta`limi (“doctrinaire”), because, according to its tenets, the true “teaching”
or “doctrine” (ta`lim) could only be obtained from the Imam of the time;
Fatimi (“owing allegiance to the descendants of Fatima,” the Prophet's
daughter and `Ali's wife); Qirmati or Carmathian, after the da`i Hamdan
Qarmat already mentioned. By their foes, especially in Persia, they were
very commonly called simply Malahida (“impious
heretics”), and later, after the New Propaganda
of Hasan-i-Sabbah (of whom we shall speak in a later chapter), Hashishi
Today, because of its greater influence, in the
western media as well as in many encyclopedias the term “Ismailis” is used
exclusively for the followers of the Aga Khan. However, there are other
branches of Ismailis who do not recognize Aga Khan as their spiritual leader,
such as Musta`lians, Druzies, and Qarmatians.
1975 A.D. — Karim Aga Khan becomes
“Mazhar of God”
In the early seventies, animosity developed
on the issue of fundamental beliefs, between the Ismaili leaders in non-Islamic
states (e.g., Canada, Kenya, Uganda) and those living in Islamic states.
With the aim of resolving the discord, an international conference of heads
of Ismailia Associations and Ismaili scholars was held under the chairmanship
of Karim Aga Khan in Paris in March 1975.
The Ismailia Association for Pakistan,
with the aim of coordinating Islamic and Ismaili beliefs, tabled a paper
entitled “Fundamental Beliefs of Ismailis.” The conference decided that
“there was no need for such a statement”; hence the paper was not adopted.
However, the conference did define some
of the fundamental beliefs of Ismailis. The report of the conference was
published in Nairobi on 5 May 1975 by Eqbal Rupani, a co- ordinator for
the Ismailia Association Central Co-ordination Office. The defined concept
of “Imamah” reads (p. 6):
The Imam to be explained as `mazhar'
of God, and the relationship between God and the Imam to be related to
varying levels of inspiration and communication from God to man.
1. The Arabic word mazhar means “copy”
or “manifest.” Hence “mazhar of God” would
mean “copy of God” or “manifest, manifestation
2. `Abd Allah ibn Maymun al-Qaddah, the
alleged founder of Ismaili faith and the progenitor of the Fatimid Imams,
who was greatly influenced by Mani, declared “that
God is not separate from His manifestations,” records
Syed Ameer Ali in The Spirit of Islam
of God” became the official definition and concept
for students' syllabuses, etc. The concept was totally un-Islamic. The
outnumbered delegates from Pakistan knew that these kinds of un-Islamic
teaching and preaching would create unsurmountable problems for their Jama`ats,
especially in the rural areas of Pakistan, which they did.
1982 A.D. — Nearly sixty Ismailis
killed in Chitral
More than seventy-five percent of the Agakhani
Ismailis live in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and near its northern
frontier. The preamble of Pakistan's Constitution
defines the main principles on which the constitution
is based. Besides other objectives and principles, the definition reads:
Muslims shall be enabled to order their
lives in the individual and collective spheres in accord with the teaching
and requirements of Islam as set out in the
Holy Quran and the Sunna.
In 1974, Ahmediyyas (Qaddiyyanis) were declared
non-Muslims by the National Assembly of Pakistan, because they had equated
their leader Mirza Gulam Ahmed with Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace.
A few years later, especially in Northern Pakistan, a movement to examine
the teachings of Agakhani Ismailis began to take shape. Equating their
leader with Allah, by the followers, was the issue at hand. If proven,
it was far worse than equating someone with a Prophet of Allah.
Professor Bruce Borthwick of Albion
College, Michigan, wrote an article called “The Ismailis and Islamization
in Pakistan.” Some of the information in Borthwick's article came from
a dissertation by an Ismaili scholar, Diamond Rattansi. Mr. Rattansi had
visited Pakistan on several occasions to do research on the subject of
his Ph.D. dissertation, Islamization and the Khojah Ismaili Community in
Pakistan. Professor Borthwick writes (p. 9):
In 1982 a group of Sunnis in the northern
area of Chitral, provoked and led by some ulama, chanting “Ismailis are
kafirs [non-believers],” attacked and burnt an Ismaili centre, consisting
of a jama`at khanah, hostel, and social services unit. Up to sixty Ismailis
were reported to have been killed. Prior to this attack, a pamphlet signed
by several ulama was circulated saying that the “Agha Khanis” were a threat
to Pakistan and Islam. It alleged that they were trying to lure other Muslims
to their tariqah through material rewards, namely the economical and social
development projets of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program....
1990 — Justice Syed Abdur Rahman's
In 1983 and 84, a student branch of the Jama`at-i-Islami
circulated an open letter to the Agha Khan asking him to declare:
Whether he was a Muslim and had the right
to forgive the sins of his followers;
Whether the Ginans were equal in authority
to the Koran;
Whether he had exempted Ismailis from performing the Hajj and other rituals;
Why jama`at khanahs were closed to
and Why the Ismailis observed so much
It was widely circulated among Muslims
in general and among Ismailis, some copies being affixed to the walls of
In 1986, a group of Agakhani Ismailis
was prevented by members of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps from reciting Adhan
(a call to prayer) and the Islamic Ritual Prayers (Ar. Salat, Pr. Namaz),
in one of the Jama`at khanas of Karachi. The group members wanted to fulfil
the revealed Commands of Allah requiring every Muslim, Shi`ah as well as
Sunni, to recite their Salah (prayers) every day, collectively with the
Jama`at or individually. Following the incident, a formal complaint was
filed at a local police station against the group members.
Consequently, the leaders of the group
filed Civil Suit No. 331 of 1986 in the High Court of Sind at Karachi,
against the President and Secretary of the Ismailia Council. The duties
and activities of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps are governed by the Aga Khan's
Ismailia Councils. The plaintiffs sought a court order to restore their
rights as Ismaili Muslims to recite Adhan and Namaz, individually and/or
collectively, in the Jama`at khanas of Karachi, which are specifically
built for reciting prayers.
The President and Secretary of the Ismailia
Council defended the case on the grounds that "inherent right
of devolution of ownership of Jamatkhanas [is]
in the Imam [Aga Khan]... Jamatkhanas are not dedicated as Masjids...
[they are] additional places for religious practices, other than
Masjids, for supererogatory prayers."
From time to time, the local media has
been reporting the proceedings of this civil suit, which has yet to be
decided. The publicity generated through the media has aroused great interest
among Pakistani Muslims who have been curious about the secret rites and
rituals that are being performed within the four walls of Ismaili Jama`at
khanas, admission to which is restricted.
The aforementioned defence arguments
put forward by the office-holders of Aga Khan's Council have raised some
1. If the Ismaili Du'as (prayers) recited
by the Agakhani Ismailis in their Jama`at khanas are “supererogatory
prayers” and not the obligatory prayers, then what about the Command
of Allah to observe the obligatory prayers called Salah?
2. Is the community exempt from this
fundamental Command of Allah? If so, who gave them that exemption?
On 9 August 1990, an interim judgment
was issued by the presiding judge, Syed Abdur Rahman, in response to the
plaintiffs' application for an interim injunction restraining the defendants,
pending disposal of the suit. After examining the bulk of the documents
filed by the plaintiffs, the judge made the following very critical remark
in his judgment, which was also publicized in the local media:
IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO CONCEIVE THAT
A PERSON CAN ADOPT PURE AND TRUE ISLAMIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES AND AT THE
SAME TIME REMAIN AN
In simple non-legal terms, the judgment by Syed
Abdur Rahman clearly states that a loyal Ismaili Agakhani cannot remain
true to pure Islamic ideals. In other words, an Ismaili Agakhani is NOT
a Muslim from a puritan Islamic view point.
'ISMAILI AGHAKHANI'. The pleadings of the
plaintiff and bulk of documents filed alongwith [sic] the same leads to
the same inference.
The transcript of the interim judgement
alongwith the copies of the court documents filed by both the parties is
published by the Ismailia Namazi Khidmat Committee Trust (Regd.). The publication
is called Paper-Book of Civil Suit No.331/1986 (262 pages) and is distributed
at no cost from Muslim Ismailia Masjid, P.O.Box 8124, Block No.7, F.B.
Area, Karachi-75950, Pakistan. The court proceedings are going on and the
final verdict is yet to arrive.
Recently, in 1991, Pakistan's National
Assembly passed a bill making the Islamic Shari`ah code the country's supreme
law. The plaintiffs are now optimistic that a favourable verdict will be
issued under the Shari`ah code, and that it will open all the Ismaili Jama`at
khanas of Pakistan for the recitation of the Ismaili Du'a as well as the
One who forbids —
Seest thou one who forbids —
A votary when he (turns) to pray?
Seest thou if he is on (the road of)
Or enjoins righteousness?
Seest thou if he denies (Truth) and
Knoweth he not that Allah doth see?
Holy Qur'an 96/9-14
Commentary by A. Yusuf Ali:
Man's insolence leads to two results:
(1) self-destruction through self-misleading; (2) a false example or false
guidance to others. The righteous man must therefore test human example
or human guidance by the question, “Is there God's guidance behind it?”
And visible light would be thrown on it by the question, “Does it lead
to righteousness?” A flouting of God and God's Truth answers the first
question in the negative, and conduct which turns back from the eternal
principles of Right answers the second.
The usual trick of the ungodly
is to refuse to face Truth. If they are placed in a corner, they deny what
is obvious to reasonable men, and turn their backs.
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