(Section Five)


Continued from Section Four


Persian Assassins extend activities to Syria

   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 Syrian Assassins

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 (pp. 113-14):

    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.
     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 of God.
     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.
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). 

 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 and Syria

  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 (p. 122):

    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 with Crusaders

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 among Assassins

  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- 48):

 ...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. Thus, 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 following.

Traces of Nizari Imams disappear from 1480 to 1722 a.d.

Edward Burman writes in The Assassins: Holy Killers of Islam (pp. 175-76):

 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 years old.
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 duties.

 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 (p. 218):

 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.
     ...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.
Places of worship

 “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 Jew.

Ghadir al-Khumm

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,
phrase “'Ali - Muhammad” was defined as “Yak Khudah” meaning, 
“One God.”

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 in Yemen.

 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 (“hashish-eaters”).
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 of God.”

 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 
(p. 332).

 “Mazhar 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.... 
    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 non- Ismailis;
     and Why the Ismailis observed so much secrecy.
     It was widely circulated among Muslims in general and among Ismailis, some copies being affixed to the walls of jama`at khanahs.
1990 — Justice Syed Abdur Rahman's judgment

  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 important questions:

 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:

    'ISMAILI AGHAKHANI'. The pleadings of the plaintiff and bulk of documents filed alongwith [sic] the same leads to the same inference.
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.

  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 Islamic Salah.

One who forbids —

 Seest thou one who forbids —
 A votary when he (turns) to pray?
 Seest thou if he is on (the road of) guidance? —
 Or enjoins righteousness?
 Seest thou if he denies (Truth) and turn away?
 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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