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KHALILULLAH ALI II (1206-1233/1792-1817), 45TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Imam Khalilullah Ali II was born in 1153/1740 in the city of Kirman. His upbringing in Mahallat began under the care of his uncle, Mirza Muhammad Bakir at the age of two years, and got rudiments of his formal education at home.

In 1157/1744, a daughter Bibi Marium Khatoon, was born at his uncle's home, known as Bibi Sarcar Mata Salamat, with whom the marriage of Imam Khalilullah Ali was solemnized, who gave birth of Hasan Ali Shah. She was a good orator and visited India about at the age of 85 years in 1245/1829 with Mirza Abul Kassim to remove the internal strifes of the community. She went to live at Kera in Kutchh in 1246/1830, where she breathed her last in 1248/1832. She had been interred in Najaf, but her memorial still exists in Kera. The second marriage of Imam Khalilullah Ali had been actualized in Yazd with the sister of Aga Imam Khan Farahani in 1231/1816.

Imam Khalilullah Ali ascended in 1206/1792, which he intimated in writing to his Indian followers. E.I. Howard had delivered his speech in the Bombay High Court in June, 1866, where he presented a few letters of Imam Khalilullah Ali, vide The Shi'a School of Islam and its Branches (Bombay, 1906, p. 85). In pursuant, on 23rd May, 1792, when assumed the Imamate, he wrote a letter, addressed to the community of Bhavnagar, stating that he had been so fortunate as to have assumed his seat on the throne of the Imamate, and directed them to remit the religious dues to him under the care of the jamat at Muscat. Another letter dated July, 1794 also addressed to the jamats of Sind, Kutchh, Surat, Bombay, Mahim, Bhavnagar etc.

Imam Khalilullah Ali also used to go out on regular hunting trips in the woods with his retainers and pages, preferably during the festive of Navroz and Eid al-Ghadir. He had many lands in Mahallat, Kahek and Shahr-i Babak, procuring large earnings. His followers from India, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and Central Asia used to flock at Mahallat, whom he granted the title of darwish. Sometimes, he gave them the letters for the jamat. Some pilgrims are reported to have died in Iran, whose graves exist in Kahek. For instance, Kamadia Datardina Wandani of the dharkhana jamat died in 1217/1803 and a certain Rai Pareo Janguani died in 1224/1810. Imam Khalilullah Ali had acquired few pieces of land in Yazd for the Iranian Ismailis, and himself also moved to Yazd in 1230/1815.

Syed Karamali Shah was an Iranian Ismaili, who lived in Mahallat. He mostly remained in the company of Mirza Muhammad Bakir, who taught him the esoteric doctrines of Ismailism. Syed Karamali was sent to Badakhshan and Chitral, where he launched pervasive mission. He also went to Yasin, whose ruler was Raja Khushwaqt I (1640-1700), the founder of Khushwawaqt dynasty. Syed Karamali had devoted his life in the Ismaili mission and died in Yasin.

Aga Muhammad Khan Qajar had founded the Qajarid dynasty in Iran and made Tehran as his capital in 1210/1796. He concluded a truce with the Russians, and accordingly, the Qajarid retained the occupation of Jurjan and Taghlas. In 1206/1792, Aga Muhammad Khan seized Shiraz and sent his nephew, Fateh Ali to conquer Kirman. Fateh Ali replaced Mirza Sadik, the cousin of Imam Abul Hasan Ali, and himself became the governor of the provinces of Fars, Kirman and Yazd.

Aga Muhammad Khan then turned to the Afsharids of Khorasan, and invaded Mashhad in 1210/1796 and defeated them. Meanwhile, the Russians once again attacked the northern region of Iran, therefore, Aga Muhammad Khan had to take field, where he was killed by his own two slaves in 1211/1797. He ruled over a great part of Iran for a period of 18 years and 10 months, and was succeeded by his nephew, Fateh Ali Shah, who was engaged in expelling his enemies at that time, such as Russia, Turkey, the Uzbeks and Afghans.

The most marked instance of the political involvement of the Shi'a ulema during this period was in the case of the first Perso-Russian War (1804-1813) in the Caucasus, which had been intermittent from about 1804, and resumed in 1811. Abbas Mirza, the son of Fateh Ali Shah was conducting the campaign, turned to the ulema of Iraq and Ispahan to issue fatwa, declaring the encounter against Russia as a jihad. Many of the prominent ulema, such as Shaikh Jafar Kashiful Gitta (d. 1227/1812) and Ahmad Naraqi (d. 1245/1829), responded to this appeal and stirred up hottest agitation. In 1812, the Iranian army defeated the Russians at Qarabagh. Russian forces were reinforced, crossed the Aras river, and defeated the Iranians at Aslanduz.

The first Perso-Russian War was consequently ended in defeat of Iran, and the Treaty of Gulistan in 1228/1813 stripped Iran of all the Caucasian provinces, such as Georgia, Darband, Baku, Shirwan, Shaki, Ganja, Qarabagh, Mughan and part of Talish. This war had considerably depleted the resources of Iran. A number of disorders broke out; and the Afghans also engineered a rebellion in Khorasan in 1813. There was also repeated chaotic condition on the Turkish frontier, but war did not break out until 1821. It however lasted until 1823 when it was concluded by the treaty of Erzurum.

The ulema class however continued to employ effectively the tactics of obstructionism in the Iranian politics, and emphatically agitated for another jihad against Russia. In 1825, the Russian governor-general of Georgia occupied Gokcheh, the principal disputed district with a military force. Fateh Ali Shah was reluctant but when in 1826 he set out for his summer residence in Sultaniyya, he was followed there by Aqa Syed Muhammad Tabataba, Ahmad Naraqi (d. 1245/1829), Muhammad Taqi Baraghani (d.1230/1847) and other prominent ulema, demanded that Fateh Ali Shah should declare war on Russia. They threatened to take control of the affairs of government in case of refusal. They issued fatwa, declaring the war to be obligatory and opposition to it a sign of unbelief (kufr).

The king was pressed into acquiescing, and the war broke out in 1826. Iran gained initial success, recovering most of the territories ceded by the treaty of Gulistan. The Russian forces were reinforced with latest weapons. The ulema imparted to the Iranian soldiers, who had inferior weapons, to recite Sura Yasin of the Koran in the battlefield, to cause their enemies blind. The Russians inflicted a series of severe defeats on the Iranian army. They advanced rapidly and Tabriz was first to be fallen, and various discontented leaders in Azerbaijan went over to the Russian side. The outcome of this second Perso-Russian War was as disastrous as the first. Negotiations for peace began in November, 1827, and a treaty was signed on February 21, 1828 at Turkomanchay. As the result of the Treaty of Turkomanchay, Erivan and Nakhchivan and a large indemnity were ceded by Iran. Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi writes in Iran - Royalty, Religion and Revolution (Canberra, 1980, p. 95) that, "Thus the war-mongering bureaucrates forced upon Iran a war with Russia which ended with the even more humiliating treaty of Turkomanchay in 1828."

The state over which Fateh Ali reigned had much in common with the earliest kingdoms of the Seljuqs, the Ilkhanids, the Taymurids and the Safavids. After the Perso-Russian Wars, Fateh Ali lost large part of the Iranian territories.

Imam Khalilullah Ali resided in Mahallat. He came to live in Kahek after assumption of the Imamate in 1206/1792 where he stayed for about 23 years. The Ismailis of Syria, Iran and India flocked in Mahallat, and then in Kahek. His uncle Mirza Muhammad Bakir also lived in Mahallat.

Some contemporary European travellers have reported the whereabouts of Imam Khalilullah. L.J. Rousseau (1780-1831), a French Consul in Aleppo from 1809 to 1816, was the first person to draw the attention of the Europeans to the existence of the contemporary Ismailis and their living Imam. He writes in Memoire sur les Ismaelis et les Nosairis de Syrie, (Vol. XIV, 1811, Paris, pp. 279-80) that, "There were still many Ismailis in the country who owed allegiance to an Imam of the line of Ismail. His name was Shah Khalilullah, and he resided in a village called Kehk near Qumm, half-way between Tehran and Isfahan." Sir John Macdonnell Kinneir (1728-1830) about the year 1813 also described in his Topographical History of Persia that, "In the district of the Persian highlands especially near the ruins of Alamut, are still to be found a remnant of the Ismailis, who go by the name of Hooseinis ... the Ismailis of Persia recognize (Shah Khalilullah) as their chief and Imam, dwelling near Kehkt whose descent they deduce from Ismail, the son of Jaffir Sadick." The Scottish tourist, James Baillie Fraser (1783-1856), who in the course of his journey through Iran had seen the Ismailis. "Shah Khuleel Oollah", he writes in his Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan (London, 1825, p. 376), "was a person of high respectability and great influence, keeping an hundred gholaums of his own in pay; but he was put to death by the inhabitants of Yezd, in a riot...." Silvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), an eminent orientalist of the 19th century in his Memoir sur la dynastie des Assassins (Paris, 1818, p. 84) quotes an excerpt of a letter of Rousseau's son wrote to him from Tehran on June 1, 1808. It reads: "The Ismailis even today have their Imam, or pontiff, descending, as they claim, from Jafar Sadiq, the chief of their sect, and residing at Kehek, a village in the districts of Qom. He is called Sheikh Khalil Allah...This person, whom his people grace with the pompous title of caliph, enjoys a great reputation and is considered to have the gift of performing miracles."

Syed Ghulam Ali Shah, or Ghulmali Shah from the Kadiwal family was a prominent missionary in Sind, Kutchh and Kathiawar. He had converted many Hindus. He composed few ginans, and died in Karachi in 1207/1792 and was buried in Kera in Kutchh. He was followed by Syed Muhammad Shah in Kutchh, who died in 1228/1813 and was buried in Bombay. He was the last vakil in India to be sent from Iran. He was not married, therefore, he was honoured the epithet of dullah (bridegroom).

Syed Fateh Ali Shah (1733-1798) was an eminent da'i, whose grave exists near Jiraq in Sind. His pen-name was Shamsi, also known as Syed Shamsi. He was hailed from Kadiwal family. Imam Abul Hasan Ali had given him mantle of vakil for India. He seems to have visited Iran for two times, and lastly in 1210/1795 during the time of Imam Khalilullah Ali, where he stayed about for eight months. He arrived in Mahallat on the day of Navroz and his mind became forlorn when he learnt that the Imam had gone on a hunting expedition in the woods to the north of Mahallat. He relates his quest for the Imam which ultimately led to his meeting. His two ginans are accessible, wherein he makes mention of the Imam that:- "Shah Khalilullah enjoys his stay in the fort of Mahallat, and mercifully summoned Syed Fateh Ali, and accomplished his immense desires, where Mawla Ali appeared in an absolute glory."

In 1230/1815, Imam Khalilullah Ali moved to Yazd. On moving to Yazd, he left behind his wife and children in Kahek to live on the proceeds from the lands in the Mahallat. In 1231/1816, Imam Khalilullah Ali betrothed to the sister of Aga Imam Khan Farahani. Imam Khalilullah Ali also tied his close relation with Haji Zaman Khan, the governor of Yazd. The Ismaili pilgrims henceforward began to trek in Yazd to behold their Imam.

In 1233/1817, a dispute took place between the Ismailis and the local shopkeeper at the main market, and the latter violently lodged complaint to Nawab Mirza Syed Jafar, the chief of Yazd, who summoned the Ismailis for punishment. These handful Ismailis had taken shelter in Imam's residence. In pursuit, Nawab Mirza demanded to arrest them, but Imam refused, saying, "They have sought asylum at my residence, therefore I cannot remove them from my protection."

Mulla Hussain Yazdi was a fanatical Shi'a in Yazd. His friends had created chaotic conditions in Tehran. They had made a mosque in Tehran as a centre of their evil activities. Their objective was to harass the innocent citizens, and relieved through bribes, had they arrested. It seems that Fateh Ali Shah was in need of funds through different means, therefore, he had given liberty to these elements. Many eminent persons had become the victims of the gang of Hussain Yazdi and the event of Yazd also reflects a part of his derogatory activities.

Hussain Yazdi instigated the people and stormed the Imam's residence with a terrorist gang, who pelted stones heavily and broke down its walls. They managed to enter the residence and fought with Imam's handful followers and servants. In the collision, Imam Khalilullah Ali was wounded, resulting his immediate death. The terrorists also gutted the house and took flight.

The news of the death of the Ismaili Imam rapidly spread all over the country within couple of days. In reprisal, the Ismailis took arms and the country was likely being blanketed with the darkest hour, but the emperor Fateh Ali Shah turned the tide. He at once ordered Haji Zaman Khan, the governor of Yazd to arrest Hussain Yazdi and his partisans. The governor soon afterwards arrested them while they were about to flee from the city, and sent them chained in Tehran. Hussain Yazdi was whipped and his friends were imprisoned, who relieved themselves through bribes after restoration of peace.

Imam Khalilullah Ali's body had been taken to Mahallat under the protection of the Qajarid soldiers. His bier was soon taken to Najaf for interment. He had four sons, viz. Hasan Ali Shah, Taki Khan, Sardar Abul Hasan Khan and Sardar Muhammad Bakir Khan; and two daughters, viz. Shah Bibi and Gohar Taj.

With the death of Imam Khalilullah Ali II in 1233/1817, the taqiya practice in the Iranian Ismailis being in force for over five hundred years came to an end, and they came up as a leading Shi'ite branch of Islam in Iran.


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