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Ismailis in Iran

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Tradition has it that Imam Muhammad bin Ismail left Medina and went to southern Iraq, where he acquired the epithet of al-maktum (veiled one), and then at Nishapur in disguise, where he lodged for some times. Afterwards, the Imam proceeded towards Ray, about 15 miles from Tehran. Ishaq bin al-Abbas al-Farsi, the Abbasid governor of Ray professed Ismailism. Imam betrothed to Fatima, the daughter of Sarah, sister of Ishaq bin al-Abbas. When the news of Imam Muhammad bin Ismail's stay at Ray reached the ears of Harun ar-Rashid, he wrote to Ishaq bin al-Abbas, ordering to arrest the Imam and send him to Baghdad. Upon receipt of caliph's letter, he showed it to the Imam and replied to the caliph that he found no trace of the Imam, and would send as soon as he was arrested, and thus he tried to put the caliph off the scent. But the spies planted by Baghdad reported to the caliph that Imam Muhammad bin Ismail not only was living at governor's house, but that he was operating his mission from there. Upon this, the caliph wrote another letter to Ishaq bin al-Abbas, impugning him to come in person with his forces if his orders were not obeyed forthwith. The governor however made his usual reply. Meanwhile, the complaints about Ali bin Musa bin Mahan, the governor of Khorasan reached the point where Harun ar-Rashid could no longer ignore them, and adopted a militant stance. In 189/805, he marched towards Ray with a detachment of his army, and after searching for the Imam through a tracking party, ordered to arrest Ishaq bin al-Abbas. Ishaq died as a result of severe torture inflicted upon him, and was rigorously flogged till death. He did not waver and stood steadfast in spite of excruciating tortures. In spite of the gloomy situation, his faith remained unshakable.

Imam Muhammad bin Ismail selected Hurmuz as a mission centre, and then had made his footing at the fortified city of Nihawand, where he stayed with the governor, Mansur bin Jowshan, who had close ties with Ishaq bin al-Abbas. He allotted the Imam a piece of land in the district of Sarha, where he led a peaceful living. It is related that the Abbasid agent, named Muhammad bin Ali al-Khorasani, who surprised the Imam in a mosque, traced the Imam out on one day in Sarha. He was greatly impressed to behold the Imam, and lost courage to arrest him, and permitted the Imam to escape. Thence, the Imam went to Azar in Khuzistan. The Imam then proceeded to Shapur. Disguised as a merchant, he stayed in Shapur with a certain Qamas bin Nuh, whose daughter Rabta, he married. When the Abbasids intensified their search for the Ismaili Imam to its extreme, Imam Muhammad bin Ismail had to travel out of Iran

Imam Wafi Ahmad came to settle down in Nihawand, and betrothed to Amina, daughter of Hamdan, son of Mansur bin Jowshan, who was from Kazirun. The brother of Wafi Ahmad also married here and had a posterity. Imam Wafi Ahmad further on repaired to Daylam with his 32 trusted da'is, where he got married with an Alid lady in the village of Ashnash. The adoption of strict taqiya, and moving from one to another place, forced the Imam to assign the mission works to his brother, Hussain bin Muhammad. It is most possible that Imam Wafi Ahmad lived in Suk al-Ahwaz for a short period.

In Iran, the Ismailis founded their state in the fort of Alamut, where they ruled for about 171 years. Soon after the fall of Alamut, the Ismailis resided in different villages. The Imams also passed peaceful living as traders, farmers or local persons. In 1841, Imam Hasan Ali Shah left Iran for India. The condition of the Ismailis was worse for about a century. Poor economical condition, living in villages, agriculture, spinners, some employed as teachers or in army.

The King Reza Shah Pehelvi ascended in 1921 in Iran, and gave liberty to the people to practice their faith. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah admired his policy and published a letter in London Times in appreciation of the new policy of Iran, and made a forecast of a bright future of Iran. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah also propagated the splendid culture of Iran in Europe. The Iranians began to cultivate high regards for him.

In 1933, the 1000th anniversary of the poet Firdawsi was celebrated in Iran. Since Imam liked his poetry, he introduced the poet through his writings in the newspapers in Europe. In 1937, he also arranged to place a plate on the front entrance of the edifice of the League of Nations in Geneva, the following verse of poet Firdawsi:- "Whole mankind is like the different organs of one body. If one organ is injured, the other organs have to suffer."

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah visited Iran in 1951. When his airplane landed at Mehrabad airport, loud cheers of joy and continued clapping of hands filled the air with deafening noise. Hakim al-Mulk, the member of the royal court, was the first to greet him on behalf of the king of Iran. Then the gentry and elite of the city of Tehran led by Aqai Ruknuddin Ashyani, welcomed the Imam. One of the relatives of the Imam presented the Koran and a bunch of flowers to the Imam. When the ceremonies ended, the Imam looked at the sky and the scene around him, and said with a smile, "What a lovely and beautiful country I have! I had been cherishing for years the desire to visit my beloved native land." He was then led to Royal Palace of Princess Shams.

The Imam and the Begum then had an audience with the king. On his return to the palace, he also met the diplomats connected with the embassies of England, Egypt and India. He and the Begum spent the evening in the company of Princes Shams Pehlavi, the daughter of the late king. On February 11, the king of Iran awarded the Imam the title of The Order of the Crown First Class. The Imam also attended the marriage of the king on February 12, and presented one case of pure gold, one bangle of gold set with jewels, one lion and the sun with the royal crown set on it. The hand bangle of pure gold contained diamonds and emeralds set in it. During the conclusion of his tour in Iran, the Imam had appointed Timsar Amir Asad Shah Khalili as his agent, who led the Ismailis into a new era and many new schools and jamatkhanas were built in the villages where Ismailis resided.

After assuming the Imamate, the Present Imam visited Iran to see his followers. He arrived at Tehran on October 24, 1959 where he was accorded a warm welcome. He then went to see the king of Iran, and stayed in the palace of Bashgah Afasaran as a royal guest. On next day, he took a lunch with the king, and also attended the birth anniversary of the king on October 27, 1959. The Imam visited Ispahan on October 28, where the governor, Farzanigana, greeted him with great pomp. The village of Meimeh is about 100 kilometers from Ispahan, where a grand didar program had been arranged. Imam visited there on October 29, 1959 to see his followers who were accommodated in 800 tents. The Imam then returned to Ispahan on the same day and took lunch with the governor. He also attended a tea-party being arranged by Akbar Mirza Masud Sarm-i Dawla, the close relative of Lady Aly Shah, and the grandson of Nasiruddin Shah. On the evening, the Imam reached at Shiraz, and on October 31, 1959 he went to Birjand to give didar to his followers. Col. Abdul Ali Khan Shah Khalili, a well-known Ismaili leader had arranged the entire arrangements.

The Imam finally returned to Tehran on November 1, 1959 and held a press conference before evening. He announced for one million shillings for the foundation of a hostel in Tehran University. He also declared a donation of 40,000 shillings per year to the Red Lion and Sun Society of Iran, which continued for five years. At the evening, the Imam had a tea-party with the king of Iran. The Imam was honoured with the title of His Royal Highness. He attended a dinner party of the king, lasted till 11.00 p.m., and left Tehran for Geneva at 1.00 a.m. on November 2, 1959. The Imam also visited Iran to attend the coronation ceremony of the king of Iran on October 26, 1967, which was celebrated at Golestan Palace.

In Iran, the Ismailis are called Muridan-i-Aga Khan (the followers of the Aga Khan), and the jamatkhana is called Khanaqah Panjtani. The Ismailis have populated it for nearly 450 years in Dizbad, which boasts a high school in the name of Nasir Khusaro, and Syed Suleman Badakhshani established it in 1940 according to the advice of the Imam. In Khusk, there is a primary school, which was erected by Mulla Murad according to the Imam's instructions.


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