Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

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The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

I am pleased to add a few comments on the write up by Jim Davis below.

As Muslims we have to learn to accept different practices of Muslims. God has intentionally created diversity, every thing in creation is different and unique, it is a model for us to accept the spiritual differences and co-exist in harmony. Prophet Muhammad expanded on that by acknowledging the otherness of other faiths and including them, as they were, with their own belief system into the Madinah pact, an inclusive form of governance.

God knew we are obdurate beings and had asked us to recite the Sura Fateha with every unit of the prayer, Muslims recite “God alone is the master of the day of Judgment” at least fifty times a day, God was hoping that it will rub off on us, he was hoping we would understood the meaning of it and not be judgmental towards others. A good majority of us do believe that only God alone is the judge in matters of faith, the few others may not be sure about God’s wisdom, so they keep on judging other people.

The Ismailia’s pray differently than the Shia’s, Sunnis and Bohra, it is their right and their belief, just as others do what they are taught. They do believe in God and the prophet like all other Muslims.

Please remember, no one is responsible for other’s deeds, each one of us is on our own.
Let’s acknowledge the otherness of other and let every one take pride in their practices.

Mike Ghouse
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Now comes the article by Jim Davis

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims

The Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim sect, or Ismaili for short, is one of the largest and little known esoteric sects in Islam. Its members otal about 15 million people and can be found in India, Pakistan, Central Asia, China, East Africa, Europe, and North America. They are all united by their common allegiance to their spiritual leader, Imam Karim Aga Khan IV, who is a direct descendant of Imam Ali, Prophet Mohammed’s son-in-law and successor, appointed to lead the Islamic community.

Most people in the West view Islam as sort of monolithic religion, but in actuality it is divided into numerous sects. The basic division is the Shia/Sunni split over who should have succeeded the Prophet after his death. Before his death, the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor during his last hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) in the year 632 CE. However, Ali as rejected by a group of the Prophet’s close followers, known as the Companions, who elected Abu Bakr as their Khalif (political successor the Prophet). Ali was eventually elected as the fourth Khalif, but was always considered the leader (Imam) of the Shia (party of Ali). His assassination and the death of his grandson Hussein split the Islamic community permanently into two factions: the Shia and the Sunni.

Imam-e-zaman (The Imam of the Time) must always be a descendant of Imam Ali, and has the sole authority to interpret the Koran according to the time and place. Ismailis hold that Allah’s Noor (the Light) is eternal; they believe this same Noor which was with Ali resides in the current Imam. This light allows the Imam to speak authoritatively and to give out firmans.(spiritual teachings) which Ismailis follow. The Imam has also been called a speaking Koran. As an Ismaili friend once said, “Allah did not stop talking to humankind 1400 hundred years ago; he never has stopped guiding us.” They see the Imam as a reflection of the Divine Reality in this world.

The Shia followed Imam Ali and each succeeding Imam thereafter, who is appointed (nass) by the Imam from amongst his male offspring (usually the eldest son, but not always). Shia Muslims have occasionally faced internal problems regarding the succession of an Imam. As a result of disagreements, the community split and a new sect came into existence. Such a split occurred over the succession of the 6th Imam, Jafar es-Sadiq. It was this split that gave rise to the Ismaili sect. They followed the Imams from Imam Jafar’s son Ismail, while the majority of the Shia followed his other son, Musa al-Kazim. Musa’s followers are known as Ithna Asharis (The Twelvers) which became the state religion in Iran.

Since the split from the Ithna Asharis, the Ismaili movement went on to spread throughout the Islamic world as a social revolutionary movement. Ismaili Dais (religious teachers), appointed by the Imam, would form teaching cells in local communities and conduct missionary work (Dawa).

Their mission was to lead others to recognize and give allegiance to the Imam of the Time. By the 9th century, these groups were strong enough to launch a revolt in North Africa and Eastern Arabia, which resulted in the formation of the Ismaili led Fatimid Empire in Egypt (lasting until 1171 CE).

During the later days of the Fatimid Empire, the Ismaili movement split into two factions over the succession to the 19th Imamate. The Must’ali factions, who maintained control over the Fatimid Empire, are now known as the Bohras, who live mainly in India and Yemen. Since their line of Imams went into hiding, the Dais assumed leadership of the community in the Imam’s name. Before the murder of Imam Nizar by his brother Must’ali, a Dai by the name Hasan bin Sabbah established an Ismaili stronghold in the mountains of Northern Iran. When Nizar was killed, Sabbah started a Dawa called, “The New Preaching.” A son of Nizar was smuggled out of Egypt and kept concealed at the fortress of Alamut. From Alamut, Ismaili missionaries (Pirs) spread the ideas of Ismailism throughout the Middle East and South Asia. They were very successful in South Asia, where several Hindu castes converted en mass to the new faith. These South Asian Ismaili’s gave the Ismaili faith a body of religion called ginans.

In the year 1256 CE, the Ismaili State at Alamut came to end when the expanding Mongolian Empire destroyed it. Ismaili Imams and their followers then went into hiding. They mostly disappeared from history until Imam Aga Khan I fled Iran in 1841 and took charge of his Khoja Ismaili followers in South Asia. In Iran, the group took on the appearance of a Sufi Order, whereas in South Asia, they appeared as Hindus. This concealment, called “taqqiya,” is practiced by all Shia sects for self-defense. From the time Imam Aga Khan I entered India, the Ismailis have gradually lifted taqqiya and practiced their faith openly as a group.

Ismailis today continue to practice their beliefs in secrecy for fear of persecution. The faith, however, is becoming more recognized by outsiders and no longer a secret. They meet daily in Jamatkhanas for prayer and community activities. Only Ismaili Muslims who have pledged allegiance to the Imam are allowed in the Jamatkhanas for services (though most Jamatkhanas do give tours to interested persons). It is Ismaili doctrine that unless one has taken baiyat (oath of allegiance) to the Imam, then Jamatkhans services would not be of any value to the visitor or to the Ismailis worshiping. So visitors during services would merely be a distraction.

While the religious rites are performed privately in Jamatkhanas, their doctrines are not hidden from public view. The teachings and practices of the Ismailis are readily available in books and on the Internet. The group is open to converts, though they do not seem to actively recruit new members. The Ismailis follow the Five Pillars of Islam by obeying the Farmans (official teachings) of the Imam of the Time. Their interpretation of Islamic doctrines and practice can change according to the time and place in which they live. This change can only be brought about by the Imam of the Time.

Ismailis learn from their Imam how to live ethically and find the true way o achieve union with “Divine Reality.” The first step taken by an Ismaili to begin this journey is to recite the Shahada: “There is no God but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and Ali, the commander of the faithful, is from Allah.” Every Ismaili, or a convert to the faith, must pledge allegiance to the Imam of the Time and follow his Farmans. This is basically how Ismailis receive and follow Allah’s achings.

Ismailis perform Du’a (prayer) three times a day in Jamatkhanas or at home. This is derived from the later Shia practice of combining the five regular prayers into three prayer sessions.

Ismailis pay Zakat (alms levied) to the Imam of the Time, which is collected monthly in the Jamatkhanas. It is set at 12½ % of one’s income, but individual Ismailis may pledge to pay more. This tithe is called the Dasond. A portion of this money is used to finance local Jamatkhanas,with the rest being sent to the Imam. The current Imam has used these funds in various Aga Khan Foundation projects throughout the Third World, often in close association with the United Nations (many of the Imam’s close family work in various U.N. developmental projects). Ismailis practice ritual fasting according to the religious customs of the regions in which they live. Some follow the typical Islamic fast of Ramadan as a form of taqqiya in countries ruled by Islamic Governments, while others living in secular societies do not. Many Ismailis fast on days of the year known as Shakravari Beej, which occurs when Fridays coincide with the appearance of a New Moon. This is a traditional fast practiced by Ismailis of South Asian origin. During this fast they repent of their sins and ask for Allah’s forgiveness through their Imam.

Ismailis perform their hajj (pilgrimage) by seeking a Deedar (glimpse) of the Imam of the Time. Since the Noor (Light of the Imam) is present in every Jamatkhana, going to Jamatkhana each day is equal to performing hajj. In the Prophet’s time, to go on hajj was to be with the Prophet.

Therefore, to be in his successor’s (the Imam) presence is the modern hajj. Also, Imam Aga Khan IV has been the most accessible of all Imams. He regularly visits his followers all over the world. This can be seen as an interesting reversal of the pilgrimage. The ultimate goal of Ismailis is to achieve union with Divine Reality.

This part is the deepest secret of Ismailism and must be taught in person. It is pure gnosis, a gift from Allah given to those who prepare to receive the Light of Qiyamat.

Esoteric means the “inner, in the sense of the inner consciousness;
the contemplative, mystical or meditative transpersonal perspective.
This can only be understood by intuition or higher mental or spiritual
faculties.Shiites, more especially Shia Ismailis or Batinis follow the
esoteric interpretation of some of the verses of Qur’an.

Exoteric is opposite of esoteric, which means the “outer”, i.e. the
outer or surface or everyday consciousness.This includes both the
scientific-materialistic and the conventional (or literal) religious
perspective.Sunni Muslims follow exoteric interpretation of Qur’an.

Peace and Light,
Jim Davis

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