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INSTITUTE OF ISMAILI STUDIES LTD.

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

In 1974, the Present Imam held a conference in Nairobi, which was participated by the scholars and eleven Ismailia Associations. Later, the members of the conference were invited in Paris in April, 1975, where an International Co-ordinating Committee was formed under the Ismailia Association for Kenya. On that occasion, the Imam said, “We are living in a world of material speed. Until now we have devoted insufficient time and thought on our history and theology. We must find uniform answers to the meaning of Islam, our practice etc. No discussion to take place on such matters by qualified people. Correct interpretation of faith is necessary. Search should be made for Shi’a documents – Fatimid theology and practices also Persian theology and history. We should have broad concept not to compromise on certain issues. Yet our practice should be comprehensible to other Muslims. Arabic language is necessary for understanding esoteric meaning of faith. We should resist criticism but we will not compromise on fundamental issues.”

Almost two and a half years later, in August, 1977, the Institute of Ismaili Studies opened its first offices in a series of small suites in Central London. In addition to the Executive Officer and Board of Governors, chaired by the Imam, the Institute soon hired academic and support staff and began to tackle some of the themes that were raised at the Paris Conference.

In his message of November 25, 1977, the Imam announced the formation of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London. The Imam said, “It gives me great happiness to inform my jamat of the formal inauguration in London of the Institute of Ismaili Studies. As my spiritual children are aware, not since the Fatimid period had there been in existence a Research Centre for Ismaili studies, manned essentially by outstanding Ismaili men and women scholars. This is therefore a significant step in making it possible for my jamat to secure the fruits of Ismaili scholarship in the history, philosophy, theology and literature of Ismailism and Islam by virtue of an academic institution created by our own efforts and resources. Over the past decades, I have given much thought to this project, and have also discussed it with a number of my spiritual children, as well as others whose experience I considered relevant to the creation of an institution of this nature. My jamat is also aware that the formal plans for the establishment of the Institute of Ismaili Studies were finalize during the Ismailia Association Conference in Paris in April, 1975, when a number of Ismaili leaders and scholars met to review with me an international programme of Ismailia Association endeavour. Since that time, work on the many diverse aspects of establishing a recognized academic institution has continued and I am happy to announce today to my jamat that the Institute of Ismaili Studies is now in operation. At the request of the leaders of the jamat, I have accepted for the time being the position of the Chairman of the Board of Governors, which will be responsible for the Institute’s management. Being its Chairman gives me the opportunity to supervise personally its overall policy and functioning. My primary concern in this role is to ensure that the work of the Institute is of direct relevance and benefit to my jamat. In time to come, it is my wish that this Institution should assume its correct position in matters, such as religious education in the jamat, through the preparation of material and manpower of a superior level. I have therefore directed that the Institute as part of its initial work programme embark on compiling a History of Ismailis and undertake an international training programme for creating waezeen and religion teachers capable of imparting knowledge and understanding of our faith to our young generation. In the years ahead, Inshall-allah, we shall create at the Institute a well stocked library as well as archives for manuscripts, books, artifacts and other material of interest and relevance to Islam and Ismailism and other faiths. It is my sincerest wish that in the future the Institute of Ismaili Studies will become one of the major institutions of my jamat. It is my hope that from its modest beginnings, the Institute will grow into an internationally recognized academic center, and that this day will be recalled with pride by Ismailis many years from now. I extend my warm congratulations and give my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all those beloved spiritual children who over the years have worked on the creation of the Institute of Ismailis Studies. To those who are attached to the Institute now in either an honorary or professional capacity, I give my best loving blessings for success in their work. I send my most affectionate paternal maternal loving blessings to all my beloved spiritual children on this happy occasion.”

In 1979, the Institute of Ismaili Studies established a library. The manuscripts spread across the jamat, in private collections as well as in Jamatkhana libraries, in various parts of the world were collected. Printed and audiovisual materials were also acquired, including both studies of the community as well as publications produced by the jamat. Today, the Institute’s library contains one of the largest collections of Ismaili-related materials in the world. Supplemented by a large collection of materials in related disciplines, the library’s holdings include over 25,000 items consisting of manuscripts, artifacts, printed materials and audiovisual resources.

The first of several human resource development initiatives was launched in 1980. It aimed to provide interested and dedicated individuals within important skills, tools and perspective in relevant fields, while at the same time creating resources for the jamat in areas where there was a lack of relevant professional competencies. The programs were also linked to graduate programs in reputed universities, so that individuals would acquire the necessary academic credentials. Since 1994, the Institute has been offering its Graduate Program in Islamic Studies and Humanities.

In tandem with the development of human resources, the Paris Conference had stressed the need for a quality international curriculum to meet the religious education needs of the jamat in modern times. This was realized in the publication of the Ta’lim curriculum, whose preschool component was first published in 1985. Now the Ta’lim curriculum for primary education is available in nine language and used by over 100,000 Ismaili children worldwide. The Institute is at present readying the materials for the secondary curriculum, which will help to provide a strong grounding in the tariqah for Ismaili youth. An effective transmission of such knowledge requires professionally trained teachers with normative grounding as well as knowledge of secular humanistic and scientific disciplines. A program to train a cadre of teacher-trainees for this purpose is currently in preparation.

As early as 1983, the Institute began to publish scholarly monographs and translations to make available to academic institutions and the jamat, contemporary research on different aspects of Islam, Shi’ism and the Ismaili tariqah. The Institute has also begun to hold a series of high-profile conferences that look at the engagement of Muslims with the modern world, whose proceedings were also published. Hence, the Institute has published more than 40 monographs, edited volumes and collection catalogues, and as a result has reinvigorated and given a credible and articulate voice to Shi’ite and Ismaili Studies in academic circles.

The Institute also plays an important role in contributing intellectually to the contemporary endeavours of the Ismaili Imamate, such as the Aga Khan Development Network and other institutions. By doing so, it is able to share perspectives that underpin these institutional initiatives to realism the social conscience of Islam.

To meet the changing needs of the jamat and the new realities of the Muslim world, the Institute has also embarked on several new initiatives over the past few years. The first of these is the formation of a Central Asian Studies Unit (CASU), which supports, build upon and complements the work of Project Tajikistan, originally set up in 1995 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. CASU’s mandate is to explore and commission scholarship on Islam in Central Asia.

The Institute has also formed a Koranic Studies Unit to explore the plurality of interpretations given to the Koran and its diverse negotiations in Muslim societies. As part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, the Institute convened a three-day international colloquium on the Koran and its expression in the arts. The Koranic Studies Unit has also embarked on an ambitious new publication series with Oxford University Press, which is being launched in 2004.

In the changing landscape of the Muslim world, the Institute will have an even more important role to play in the years ahead. Before twenty-five years, it would have been difficult to predict the type of world we live in today. The emphasis and responsibility that is placed upon Muslims in the contemporary world; the geographic dispersion of the jamat and oscillating political and social realities have necessitated an institution that is increasingly capable of addressing new and emerging challenges creatively and intelligently. The Institute, under the guidance of the Imam, will continue to adapt to address the needs of the jamat and the Muslim ummah in the years ahead.

In October, 2003, the Institute celebrated the 25th anniversary. The celebrations reflected the very nature of the Institute, its evolution and the global Ismaili Muslim community. On 19th October, 2003, fifteen students of the class of 2004, from seven countries, received certificates at a Graduation Ceremony presided over by the Imam. More than 1600 guests witnessed the event held at Le Meridian Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Addressing the students, the Imam said, “You have opted to undertake a systematic study of your heritage. I hope that you feel that this choice has not been in vain…The studies you have undertaken should, I believe, enable you to play a role in helping to address the issues of contemporary relevance to Muslim societies.”


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