The Nizārīs (النزاريون an-Nizāriyyūn) are the largest branch of the Ismā‘īlī (اسماعیلیه and comprise two-thirds of the Ismā‘īlī. The Ismā‘īlī in turn comprise the second-largest denomination of Shī‘ah Muslims and the Shī‘ah are the second-largest movement in Islām.
Imām Ja‘far saw the need for there to be a systematic school of thought for those who sought guidance from the Prophets family, as distinct from the new scholar schools that were being founded in his day. His answer, according to Shi‘as, was the Imāmi or Ja‘fāriyya school of thought.
One of the most important beliefs of this school was that Muhammad was given a divine spark that dated back to the founding of the universe. This Nūr Dīn Muhammad "Light of Religion of Muhammad" had been passed onto his cousin ‘Alī, who had in turn passed it on to his descendants through the concept of nass; where divinely inspired, the Imām appoints his successor. Religious guidance could thus only come from the designate Imām, who would remain a constant guide from God. The term Imām thus took on new meaning and significance for the Shi‘a, whereas in Sunni schools an imām is any member of the congregation who leads prayer.
Imām Ja'far as-Sadiq and his wife Fāṭima, great-granddaughter of Imām Hassan ibn ˤAlī, had two sons; the elder was Ismā'īl al-Mubarak and his younger brother was ˤAbdu l-Lāh. The Ismā'īliyya believe Imām Ja'far as-Sadiq declared Ismā'īl al-Mubarak his successor. However, because Ismā'īl predeceased his father, many of Ismā'īl's supporters claimed he had gone into hiding to protect his life.
Soon after, Imām Ja'far as-Sadiq himself passed on and afterwards, many Shīˤa followed ˤAbdu l-Lāh as imām until his death shortly after his father's.
Some followed a third choice as imām, whose followers are the modern Twelvers: Mūsā l-Kādhim, a son from a slave named Umm Hamida, who Ja'far had taken after his wife's death. Preceding his death, Ja'far is believed by the Twelvers to have declared this son his successor, causing most of the Shia to accept Musa al-Kadhim as their imām.
Ismā'īlīs argue that since a defining quality of an Imām is his infallibility, Ja'far as-Sadiq could not have mistakenly passed his nass on to someone who would be either unfit or predecease him. By their logic, the natural choice should have been Muhammad al-Maktum, Ismā'īl's son, who was himself several years the senior of Mūsā l-Kādhim.
Ultimately, Muhammad al-Maktum made his peace with Mūsā l-Kādhim, and left for unknown destinations with his father's most loyal supporters, effectively disappearing from historical records. There followed a period when mysterious intellectual writings of an Ismā'īlī character appeared, challenging the political and religious establishments with calls for revolution, through the Dāˤwa or "Callers to Islām" propagation machine. This distinctive characteristic of the Ismāʿīlī to challenge established social, economic and intellectual norms with their vision of a just society was opposed directly opposed to Twelver quietism and political apathy and would be a hallmark of Ismāʿīlī history. Ismāʿīl as Mūsā l-Kādhim.
Although Nizar contested this claim, he was defeated after a short campaign and imprisoned; however, he did gain support from an Ismāʿīlī Dāʿī based in Iran, Hassan as-Sabbah. Hassan as-Sabbah is noted by Western writers to have been the leader of the legendary "Assassins".
Hassan as-Sabbah termed his doctrine "The New Preaching" or Al-Dawa al-Jadida, in stark contrast to the Fatimid "Old Preaching". He was viewed as the Hujjah or "Proof" of the Imam, having direct secret contact with Imam Nizar and his rightful successors. Hassan as-Sabbah is also known as the first of the Seven Lords of Alamut, as he chose this secluded fortress as his base.
Hassan began converting local inhabitants and much of the military stationed at the fortress to the Ismā'īlī ideals of social justice and free thinking as he plotted to take over the fortress. During the final stages of his plan, he is believed to have lived within the fortress - possibly working as a chef - under the pseudonym "Dihkunda." He seized the fortress in 1090 AD from its then-ruler, a Zaidi Shia named Mahdi. This marks the founding of the Nizari Ismāʿīlī state. Mahdi's life was spared, and he later received 3,000 gold Dinars in compensation. Hassan and the succeeding Lords of Alamut created a state of unconnected fortresses, surrounded by huge swathes of hostile territory, and surprisingly even created a unified power structure that proved more effective then that in Fatimid Cairo and Seljuq Bagdad, both of which suffered political instability, particularly during the transition between leaders. These periods of turmoil allowed the Ismāʿīlī state respite from attack, and even to have such sovereignty as to have minted their own coinage.
The Fortress of Alamut was thought impregnable to any military attack, and was fabled for its heavenly gardens, impressive libraries, and laboratories where philosophers, scientists, and theologians could debate all matters in intellectual freedom.
The fortress was destroyed on December 15 1256, by Hulagu Khan as part of the Mongol offensive on Islamic Southwest Asia. The last Lord, Rukn ad-Din Khurshah surrendered it as part of a deal with Hulagu. However, the Monguls slaughtered the inhabitants, burnt the libraries, and brought down the fortifications. In subsequent years, the punishment for anyone suspected of being Ismā'īlī would be instant death.
Many Sufi Orders would eventually contribute to the Shi'ization of Iran; transforming it from a Sunni nation. By the 16th century there would be an Ismāʿīlī revival, involving a theological debate and the production of a new body of theological treatises, the first time since the fall of Alamut.
This revival is commonly termed the "Anjudān Renaissance" after the town where it began. These small steps would eventually lead to the open reappearance if the Imāms by the 19th century, and their attempts to reunite the scattered and dwindling communities once more; asserting their ancient position; as Imām of the Age.
From July 1982 to July 1983, to celebrate the present Aga Khan's Silver Jubilee, marking the 25th anniversary of his accession to the Imāmat, many new social and economic development projects were launched, although there were no weighing ceremonies. These range from the establishment of the US$300 million international Aga Khan University with its Faculty of Health Sciences and teaching hospital based in Karachi, the expansion of schools for girls and medical centers in the Hunza region, one of the remote parts of Northern Pakistan bordering on China and Afghanistan, to the establishment of the Aga Khan Rural Support Program in Gujarat, India, and the extension of existing urban hospitals and primary health care centers in Tanzania and Kenya.
These initiatives form part of an international network of institutions involved in fields that range from education, health and rural development, to architecture and the promotion of private sector enterprise and together make up the Aga Khan Development Network.
It is this commitment to man's dignity and relief of humanity that inspires the Ismā'īlī Imāmat's philanthropic institutions. Giving of one's competence, sharing one's time, material or intellectual ability with those among whom one lives, for the relief of hardship, pain or ignorance is a deeply ingrained tradition which shapes the social conscience of the Ismā'īlī Muslim community.
Isma'ilism holds that their are seven pillars in Islam, each of whom have both a Zahir (outer, exoteric) expression, and a Batin (inner, esoteric) expression.
Shahādah or expression of faith is not included as a Pillar in Isma'ilism as it is in other Islamic Schools, but is instead viewed as the Foundation upon which the Seven Pillars are built.ˤAli'yun Amirr'ul Muminina Alyuallh (علي ولي الله) "ˤAlī Leads Believers" is placed at the end of the shahādatayn.
The period of the Aga Khans begins in 1817, when 45th Imām Shah Khalīl Allāh was murdered while giving refuge to his followers by a Twelver Shia mob lead by local religious leaders. His wife took her young 13 year old son and new Imām, Hassan Ali Shah to the then Qajar ruler in Tehran to seek justice. Although there was no serious penalty brought against those involved; Shah Fath' Ali Shah gave his daughter the Princess Sarv-I Jahan in marriage to the new Imām, and awarded him the title Agha Khan (Lord Chief).
The Imām resisted his dismissal, but was eventually defeated and fled Iran to South Asia in the 1840s. Aga Hassan Ali Shah settled in Mumbai in 1848.In 1866, a minority faction from among the Khoja Muslim community of Mumbai sought a court decree to deny the Aga Khan's authority and position as Imam (spiritual leader) of the community. They tried to re-cast the Khojas as a Sunni community, and thereby take control of all property held in trust for the community.
The judge in this case, Sir Joseph Arnold, ruled that the Khoja Muslim community was Ismāʿīlī (and not Sunni), that the "Aga Khan" was its leader, that he was due the traditional titles of the community, and that community property belonged to his Imamate. He described the community as having been "converted to and throughout abided in the faith of the Shi'a Imami Ismailis and which has always been and still is bound by ties of spiritual allegiance to the hereditary Imams of the Ismailis."
Several prominent members of whom were given hospitality by Agha Khan II when visiting India, where under his patronage they composed several works of theology, and poetry. The Nimatullahi Sufi Order also eased the way for Aqa Ali Shah to eventually marry the Qajar Princess Shams Al-Maluk. Aqa Ali Shah died in August 1885, his final resting place is the family mausoleum in the Holy Shia city of Najaf, Iraq.
The Jubilees of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, are well remembered. During his 72 years of Imamat (1885-1957), the community celebrated his Golden (1937), Diamond (1946) and Platinum (1954) Jubilees. To show their appreciation and affection, the Ismā'īliyya weighed their Imam in gold, diamonds and, symbolically, in platinum, respectively, the proceeds of which were used to further develop major social welfare and development institutions in Asia and Africa.
In India and Pakistan, social development institutions were established, in the words of the late Aga Khan, "for the relief of humanity". They included institutions such as the Diamond Jubilee Trust and the Platinum Jubilee Investments Limited which in turn assisted the growth of various types of cooperative societies. Diamond Jubilee Schools for girls were established throughout the remote Northern Areas of what is now Pakistan. In addition, scholarship programs, established at the time of the Golden Jubilee to give assistance to needy students, were progressively expanded. In East Africa, major social welfare and economic development institutions were established. Those involved in social welfare included the accelerated development of schools and community centres, and a modern, fully-equipped hospital in Nairobi. Among the economic development institutions established in East Africa were companies such as the Diamond Jubilee Investment Trust (now Diamond Trust of Kenya) and the Jubilee Insurance Company, which are quoted on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and have become major players in national development.
Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah also introduced organizational forms that gave Ismāʿīlī communities the means to structure and regulate their own affairs. These were built on the Muslim tradition of a communitarian ethic on the one hand, and responsible individual conscience with freedom to negotiate one's own moral commitment and destiny on the other. In 1905 he ordained the first Ismā'īlī Constitution for the social governance of the community in East Africa. The new administration for the Community's affairs was organized into a hierarchy of councils at the local, national, and regional levels. The constitution also set out rules in such matters as marriage, divorce and inheritance, guidelines for mutual cooperation and support among Ismā'īlīs, and their interface with other communities. Similar constitutions were promulgated in the South Asia, and all were periodically revised to address emerging needs and circumstances in diverse settings.
Following the Second World War, far-reaching social, economic and political changes profoundly affected a number of areas where Ismāʿīlīs resided. In 1947, British rule in the South Asia was replaced by the two sovereign, independent nations of India and Pakistan, resulting in the migration of 14 million people and significant loss of life and property. In the Middle East, the Suez crisis of 1956 as well as the preceding crisis in Iran, demonstrated the sharp upsurge of nationalism, which was as assertive of the region's social and economic aspirations as of its political independence. Africa was also set on its course to decolonization, swept by what Harold Macmillan, the then British Prime Minister, aptly termed the "wind of change". By the early 1960s, most of East and Central Africa, where the majority of the Ismāʿīlī population on the continent resided (including Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Malagasy, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire), had attained their political independence.
In Africa, Asia and the Middle East, a major objective of the Community's social welfare and economic programs, until the mid-fifties, had been to create a broad base of businessmen, agriculturists, and professionals. The educational facilities of the Community tended to emphasize secondary-level education. With the coming of independence, each nation's economic aspirations took on new dimensions, focusing on industrialization and modernization of agriculture. The Community's educational priorities had to be reassessed in the context of new national goals, and new institutions had to be created to respond to the growing complexity of the development process.
In 1972, under the regime of the then President Idi Amin, Ismā'īlīs and other Asians were expelled despite being citizens of the country and having lived there for generations. The Aga Khan had to take urgent steps to facilitate the resettlement of Ismāʿīlīs displaced from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and also from Burma. Owing to his personal efforts most found homes, not only in Asia, but also in Europe and North America. Most of the basic resettlement problems were overcome remarkably rapidly. This was due to the adaptability of the Ismāʿīlīs themselves and in particular to their educational background and their linguistic abilities, as well as the efforts of the host countries and the moral and material support from Ismāʿīlī community programs.
Spiritual allegiance to the Imām and adherence to the Shī'a Imāmī Ismā'īlī ṭariqat (persuasion) of Islām according to the guidance of the Imām of the time, have engendered in the Ismāʿīlī community an ethos of self-reliance, unity, and a common identity notwithstanding centuries of being marginalized and persecuted by native and established societies. The present Aga Khan continued the practice of his predecessor and extended constitutions to Ismā'īlī communities in the US, Canada, several European countries, the Gulf, Syria and Iran following a process of consultation within each constituency. In 1986, he promulgated a Constitution that, for the first time, brought the social governance of the world-wide Ismā'īlī community into a single structure with built-in flexibility to account for diverse circumstances of different regions. Served by volunteers appointed by and accountable to the Imām, the Constitution functions as an enabler to harness the best in individual creativity in an ethos of group responsibility to promote the common well-being.
Like its predecessors, the present constitution is founded on each Ismā'īlī's spiritual allegiance to the Imām of the Time, which is separate from the secular allegiance that all Ismā'īlīs owe as citizens to their national entities. The present Imām and his predecessor emphasized every Ismāʿīlī's allegiance to his or her country as a fundamental obligation. These obligations are discharged not by passive affirmation but through responsible engagement and active commitment to uphold national integrity and contribute to peaceful development.
Those Imams recognised by both Ismā'īlīyya and Twelver:
1. Alī ibn Abī Tālib, died 661 CE
The Ismā'īlīya and Ithna' Ashariya split:
A Period of Concealment: The Ismā'īlī leave Mecca and propagate their faith in secret, and produce literature against the established state.
8. Wafi Ahmad Also known as Abd'Allah.
9. Ahmed Taqi Muhammad, son of Abd'allah.
10. Rabi Abdullah, son of Muhammad
The Fatimid Empire The Ismā'īlī re-emerge and found the Fatimid Empire in north Africa, proclaiming themselves Caliphs of the Islamic world.
11. Ubaydullāh al-Mahdī billāh, openly announced himself as Imam, 1st Fatimid Caliph, died 934
12. Muḥammad al-Qā'im bi-'Amrillāh 2nd Fatimid Caliph, died 946
13. Ismāʿīl al-Manṣūr, 3rd Fatimid Caliph, died 953
14. Maʿād al-Muʿizz li-Dīnillāh, 4th Fatimid Caliph, died 975
15. Abū Manṣūr Nizār al-ʿAzīz billāh, 5th Fatimid Caliph, died 996
16. Al-Ḥakīm bi-Amrillāh, 6th Fatimid Caliph, disappeared 1021.
17. ʿAlī az-Zāhir li-Iʿzāz Dīnillāh, son of al-Hakim, 7th Fatimid Caliph, died 1036.
18. Abū Tamīm Ma'add al-Mustanṣir bi-llāh, 8th Fatimid Caliph, died (1094)
The Lords of Alamut: Imam Nizar is imprisoned and Hassan-i-Sabbah leads a rebellion in his cause, working toward establishing Alamut as the centre of a new state, later the crusaders would mark them out as the Order of the Hashshashin (Assassins).
19. Nizār ibn al-Mustanṣir billāh, son of al-Mustansir, died in prison 1094
20. Al-Hādī (escapes to Alamut with a Nizari Da'i Abul Hasan Saidi, remained concealed from public)
21. Al-Muhtadī (remained concealed from public)
22. Al-Qāhir (aka: Hasan I, remained concealed from public)
23. Hasan ala-dhikrihi as-Salaam (Hasan II) - son of Imam al-Qahir and the first Nizari Imam of Alamut to openly declare himself as such, died in 1166
24. Nūru-d-Dīn Muḥammad II, son of Hassan II, openly declared himself the Imam, died 1210
25. Jalālu-d-Dīn Ḥassan III, son of Muhammad II, died 1221
26. ʿAlāʾu-d-Dīn Muḥammad III, son of Hassan III, died 1255
27. Ruknud-Dīn Khurshāh, son of Muhammad III,
The Period of Concealment: In Iran, small Nizari groups survive, Ismā'īlī's begin to form a close relationship with Sufism. By the close of the 15th century, a mini renaissance begins to deveop in the village Anjudan near Mahallat.
28. Shams Al-Din Muhammad
29. Qāsim Shāh
30. Islām Shāh
31. Muḥammad ibn Islām Shāh
32. Mustanṣir billāh II
33. Abdu-s-Salām Shāh
34. Gharīb Mīrzā / Mustanṣir billāh III
35. Abū Dharr ʿAlī Nūru-d-Dīn
36. Murād Mīrzā
37. Dhu-l-Fiqār ʿAlī Khalīlullāh I
38. Nūru-d-Dahr (Nūru-d-Dīn) ʿAlī
39. Khalīlullāh II ʿAlī
40. Shāh Nizār II
41. Sayyid ʿAlī
42. Ḥassan ʿAlī
43. Qāsim ʿAlī (Sayyid Jaʿfar)
44. Abu-l-Ḥassan ʿAlī (Bāqir Shāh)
45. Shāh Khalīlullāh III
The Agha Khans: The age of the Agha Khans begins, and final steps toward unifying and reorganising the Ismāʿīlī community start in earnest.
The Current Ismā'īlī Imām:
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