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AGA KHAN CASE - 1866

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Imam Hasan Ali Shah had to face periodical troubles from certain dissident members of his community. In 1243/1827, while the Imam was in Iran, a group led by Habib Ibrahim in Bombay refused to pay tithe and forced others to do so. The leaders of the Bombay jamat reported to the Imam in Iran at the end of 1244/1828. The Imam, in order to overcome this opposition, sent to Bombay as his agent, Mirza Abul Kassim, who was accompanied by the Imam's mother, Bibi Sarcar Mata Salamat (1744-1832) in 1245/1829. It was in the course of these proceedings that Mirza Abul Kassim filed a suit on behalf of the Imam against the dissidents in Bombay High Court. The suit, however, was not processed and withdrawn on July 22, 1830. The recusants were summoned in the Jamatkhana, which proved no responsive, and as such, Habib Ibrahim and eleven other persons had been outcast from the community in 1246/1830, who were then known as Bar Bhai (twelve brethren). After five years, in 1251/1835, they were re-admitted conditionally, but laid a root of a dissident group.

Imam Hasan Ali Shah arrived in Bombay on December 16, 1845. He had to leave Bombay for Calcutta, and returned to Bombay on December 26, 1848. Consequently, the Imam's absence for 18 months emboldened the dissident gang to engineer propaganda against him. When the Imam was yet in Calcutta, a fresh litigation, known as Sajan Mehr Ali Case was carried in 1263/1847, in which the question of the rights of female inheritance among the Ismailis was brought before the Supreme Court of Bombay. Sir Erskine Perry (1821-1893), the Chief Justice presided over the Khoja Inheritance Case of a certain Hirbai and Sonabai. In this case, the Imam was represented by his brother, Muhammad Bakir Khan (d. 1296/1879), who endeavoured to uphold the rule of inheritance according to the Koran. The dissident group, Bar Bhai was active in supporting the argument of the defendant. This case led to fresh feuds among the community. The Bar Bhai group began to broadcast aggressive propaganda against the Imam, and in view of their unwillingness to acknowledge the Imam's spiritual authority, they had been ex-communicated in 1264/1848. Henceforward, the basic issue of the tithe originated in 1243/1827 became submerged by the petty quibbles. The other issues challenged the Imam's authority, and claimed themselves as the Sunni Khojas, stressing that the Ismaili Khojas had been Sunnis since their conversion to Islam by Pir Sadruddin. They also built their own separate prayer-hall and graveyard in 1266/1850.

On November 13, 1850, a tragic event arose between the Ismailis and the Sunni Khojas in the prayer-hall in Bombay. On the last day of the commemoration of Muharram, four Sunni Khojas were killed, 19 of the Ismailis were tried in the criminal court and four were hanged on December 18, 1850.

On October 20, 1861, when the dissenting Khojas publicly joined the Sunni fold, the Imam issued a decree in which he expressed his desire to bring the Ismailis to conform to the practices of the Shi'a Imami Ismaili creed of his holy ancestors, regarding marriage ceremonies, ablutions, funeral rites etc. The decree ended thus, "He who may be willing to obey my orders shall write his name in this book that I may know him." Copies of the decree were kept at the house of the Imam's son in Bombay for signatures and were circulated in Sind, Kathiawar, Kutchh and Zanzibar. Except for handful persons in Bombay and Kathiawar, an almost unanimous acceptance was received from the Ismailis. The loyalty of the Ismailis for their Imam can be gauged from the reaction of the Bhuj jamat at Kutchh, who sent a letter dated January 2, 1862 in reply to the communication sent by the plaintiffs as illustrated by E.I. Howard to the Hon'ble Court. It reads: "We are upon the right side, but should His Lordship, the Imam ask for the signatures, we are ready to give thousand times a day. Whatever order comes from him, we are bound to obey." Observing the above letter, Justice Sir Joseph Arnold (1814-1886) remarked: "This is a very decided letter; at any rate, there can be no mistake about that." (cf. The Shi'a School of Islam and its Branches, Bombay, 1906, p. 93).

In the meantime, Mukhi Alarakhia Sumar and Kamadia Khaki Padamsi (d.1877) of Bombay Jamatkhana called a meeting on August 16, 1862. Habib Ibrahim and his son Ahmad Ibrahim and few others were also summoned, but none of them attended the meeting. Thus, a notice of 21 days was served to them, effective from August 23, 1862 but of no avail. At length, they all had been expelled from the Khoja Ismaili community forever.

The seceders erected The Reformers' Society, who refused to acknowledge the Imam as their religious head and tried to withhold from his properties dedicated to him by his followers, and finally filed a suit in April, 1866 against the Imam in the Bombay High Court. This case, generally known as The Aga Khan Case or The Khoja Case was heard by Sir Joseph Arnold (1814-1886). The Plaintiff of the case were Daya Mahomad, Mahomad Saya, Peer Mahomad Kassim and Fazal Ghulam Hussain with H.M's Advocate General as nominal complainant. The Defendants were the Imam, Mukhi Alarakhia Sumar, Kamadia Khaki Padamsi, Mahomad Peer Bhai, Nur Mahomad Rajpal, Ali Bhai Jan, Habib Ibrahim, Muraj Premji, Dharamsi Punja, Aasu Gangji, Dossa Ladak, Nanji Alloo and Mahomad Yousuf Murgay, qadi of the Mahomadans of the Town and island of Bombay. The court's proceedings lasted for 25 days after which the Judge settled down to examine and study the mountain of evidences and seek enlightenment in history. Sir Joseph Arnold had indeed a hard task sifting the evidence, separating facts from a lot of legal chaff. On November 21, 1866, Justice Arnold rendered a detailed verdict against the plaintiffs. The result was a lengthy and well argued judgment which decided, once for all, that the Khoja community "is a sect of people whose ancestors were Hindu in original, which was converted to, and has throughout abided in, the faith of the Shi'a Imami Ismailis, which has always been and still is bound by ties of spiritual allegiance to the hereditary Imams of Ismailis." This judgment unequivocally confirmed the Imam as the spiritual head of the Khoja Ismaili community and legally established the Islamic root and identity of the Shi'a Ismaili Muslims.

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