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Ismaili History 730 - ZULFIKAR ALI (920-922/1514-1516)

Zulfikar Ali, known as Khalil or Khalilullah, was born most probably in 900/1394, and resided in Anjudan. Sayed Imam Shah (d. 926/1520) described the name Shah Khalil in his ginans most possibly for Zulfikar Ali.
Zulfikar Ali used to visit different villages to see his followers, and sometimes stayed with them for few months. It is related that when he had been in the village of Dizbad in Khorasan, the parents of Khaki Khorasan, a renowned Ismaili poet and philosopher, used to go late in the night to see the Imam, after ensuring that their child was sleeping well. The daily absence of the parents aroused the curiousity of Khaki Khorasani, who was then hardly seven years old. On one night, he followed his parents without their knowledge, upto the secret place. He did not enter the house and hid behind the door. He however could watch inside the house his parents and other Ismaili elders. He could not understand the religious ceremonies being solemnized, but his heart palpitated with inner joy, because he just saw the Imam sitting before the congregation. At the end of service, the food offerings brought by the faithfuls were shared. Zulfikar Ali told to a person to share it to each one. When he finished, he was asked to see outside. The person stepped out the house, and found a tired child watching the proceedings. He also got his share, and since then Khaki Khorasani cultivated a love and devotion towards his Imam.

It seems that the Imam was also in close contact with the Syrian Ismailis, and sent his letters from time to time. One like letter is discovered in Syria, which had been sent through a dai Shamsuddin bin Daulatshah. It was read in the Syrian community in presence of the local Ismaili Qadi Shihabuddin bin Ibrahim al-Mainaqi (872-937/1467-1532). This letter reads:-

My spiritual children,

Thanks be to God Who had dignified whom He wanted by His obedience, and reviled whom He wanted due to His disobedience. And prayer be on His Prophet who made all His nations equal, and called them for His obedience and worship.

You must know that the knowledge of the Imam is one of the principles which should be accepted. As the Imam is permanent and an ever existing truth, the world could not be vacant of him for a single hour. And he, who does not know the Imam of his time, he would die a pre-Islamic death.

The Imams are ever existing and permanent. They are continuous dynasty coming out the one from the other. The Imam is known from his original nucleus. If he has nominated and appointed for the post of Imamate, any one of his sons, he should be considered the right Imam.

There are a few other Syrian Ismailis of high repute in the period under review, whose biographies are however not accessible, such as Muhammad bin al-Jazirah, Abu Mansur al-Yameni al-Shadili, who wrote 'Kitab al-Bayan'; Muhammad Abul Makrim, Muhammad bin al-Fazal bin Ali al-Baza'i etc.

Dai Abu Firas is one of the most eminent figures in Syria. His name was Abu Firas Shihabuddin bin al-Qadi Nasr bin al-Jawshan bin al-Hussain al-Daylami al-Maynaqi. His father was a native of Daylam, who migrated to Syria in 859/1455, and settled down in the fortress of Maynaqa. Dai Abu Firas was born at Maynaqa in 872/1468. He acquired his education in Aleppo and served the Syrian community to great extent. He became a chief dai of Syria, and died in 947/1540 at Maynaqa. He was a prolific writer, and his 'Qasidat al-Nasab' deals the lineage of the Imams. He had a son, called Ibrahim Abu Firas, who died during his lifetime.

The Ottoman emperor Salim (1512-1520) inflicted a defeat to the Mamluks in a battle at Marco Dabik, near Aleppo on August 24, 1516. After occupation of Aleppo, the Ottomans captured Hammah on September 19, and Damascus on September 27, 1516. Thus, Syria yielded to the Ottomans, who had prepared the first survey of the land and population duly record the qila al-dawa (castles of the mission). The district of Masiyaf in the province of Hammah, and for the group of districts were called qila al-dawa in the province of Tripoli in Syria, including Khwabi, Kahf, Ulayqa, Qadmus and Maynaqa. The above survey indicates that these places were inhabited by peaceful Ismailis, and used to pay special tax to the rulers.

Khayr Khwah Herati most probably lived in this period. His name was Muhammad Reza bin Sultan Hussain Ghuriyan Herati. His pen-name was however Gharibi. He was born in Herat at the end of 15th century. His father Sultan Hussain was a native of Ghuriyan in Afghanistan, where he served as an Imam's vakil. Being summoned by the Imam through a messenger Mir Mahmud, he started his journey along with Khwaja Kassim Kohistani, but was killed by brigands in Khorasan. His son Khayr Khwah, who was then 19 years old had been taken in his father's place despite the objection of some community elders, because of his young age. Khayr Khwah visited Anjudan and saw the Imam. He describes in his 'Risala', how the different hujjats arrived during the fortnight he spent in Anjudan. He had been given due training of Ismaili mission, and was sent to Mashhad for learning Arabic. Finally, he was made the chief dai in place of his father in Afghanistan. He was a man of great ability and a potential dai. He died most probably after 960/1553.

It appears from the fragments of different traditions that few Ismaili fidais had been commissioned risky task, whose complete details are not accessible. It is however learnt that during the operations, many of them did not return to Anjudan and had lost their lives. Examples of such unknown fidais are found in the time of Imam Murad Mirza, who had taken whole responsibilities of the family members of these fidais. We have a report that Zulfikar Ali had provided substenances to about twelves families, whose young men had been deputed on any unknown mission, some of them returned or died.

Fidai Khorasani (d. 1342/1923) has compiled in 1320/1903 his famous work, 'Kitab-i Hidayat al-Mu'minin al-Talibin' (ed. by A. A. Semenov, Moscow, 1959), and quotes a poem in praise of Zulfikar Ali by an Ismaili poet, Azizullah Qummi who lived in the time of Zulfikar Ali (vide pp. 136-8), whose translation runs as under:-

There will have been not a single sign of the creature on earth, had the world remained without the existence of an Imam.

He, the Imam is apparent and hidden, and shall remain so all the times, and will be perpetual for ever. The compass of the universe is revolving under his command.

None can recognize God in person and even cannot perceive God with his physical eyes, be he talented like Ibn Sina in knowledge and excellence.

Acquire the recognition of God through the hujjat and mu'allim for they are the seekers of the path of the tariqah.

If you recognized the Imam, it means you have recognized God (through his channel), otherwise you will be caught in hell-fire.

Seek the recognition of Shah Zulfikar, the Imam of the Age for he is the dipository of glories.

He is like (an ordinary) man among the people, and sends the seekers of the path of religion towards God.

May I disclose you the interpretation of the 'Mahdi in the cave?' (It means that) the reality of the Imam is concealed in the cave of his heart from the hypocrites.

He is manifest by rule of nass (investiture), which is like a point, and all the affairs are in motion on the way to that point.

Sometimes, he appears as a father, or a son. Sometimes he is seen engaged in the polemics of knowledge like the orthodox people.

Sometimes, he sits on the throne, governing as a sovereign. Sometimes, he is like a darwish, an emperor or as a Lord of the lords.

No changes takes place in his person (dhat), therefore, you ponder over the world of reality from the physical world.

The prophets had foretold the (advent of the) Imam of the Age according to their understanding to all the young and elder ones.

He is apparent and hidden in his form and shall remain so henceforth. They (the believers) had accepted for Ali with pure hearts.

The seekers are acquainted with his person (dhat), who were in search of the truth. For illustration, Nasiruddin (Tusi), Nasir (Khusaro), (Jalaluddin) Rumi, (Shaikh) Sanai and (Fariduddin) Attar.

You recognize the Imam of the Time and adore him. Do not deny (his merits) provided you are among the people of faithful.

Do not speak (a single word) to the hypocrites and illiterates after listening the secret of the truth, otherwise you will have to be crucified like Khwaja Mansur (Hallaj).

Fidai Khorasani also cited the verses of another poet, called Niazi, who also lived during the period of Zulfikar Ali. The translation of few couplets are as under:-

O'soul! put your step into the true path sincerely, and avoid the path of untruth and do not distress yourself.

Do not be heedless (in dealing) with the Lord of the world and religion. Do not sit calmly and glorify his merits.

Go and adore Mawlana Zulfikar Ali, otherwise you will be repented hereafter.

Invoke his name with tongue all the times and get it focused in your soul. Do not utter anything except the excellence of his holy existence.

The earth never exists without his presence. Remember (in this context) the hadith of earth and creation all the times.

Imam Zulfikar Ali died in 922/1516, and was succeeded by his son Nuruddin Ali.

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