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Imamate Enthronement Disk Set

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THE ISMAILI SECT

On the death of Prophet Mohammed in A.D. 632 his followers split into two groups, the Sunnis, who comprise the vast majority of Muslims, and the Shias. The point of issue was the devolution of the authority of the Prophet upon his death.

The Sunnis maintain that Mohammed’s religious authority ended at his death, that he appointed no successor to his temporal authority, and that his companions elected Abu Bakr as his successor and his Caliph – that is, the head of the civil and secular authority. There was no question of a successor to the religious authority, since the Prophet Mohammed and the Qur’an both stated categorically that he, Mohammed, was the final messenger of God, the Infinite, Spiritual guidance was to be obtained from a study of the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet.

The Shias believe that while Divine Inspiration ceased with the death of the Prophet, the need for divine guidance continued, and that the leader should be Imam or Spiritual Head as well as Caliph or Secular Head. They also believe that the authority devolved not on Abu Bakr, the father of the Prophet’s second wife, but on Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, Hazrat Ali, who had married his beloved daughter Fatima, and who he had said would be to him as Aaron was to Moses. It was generally expected throughout Islam that Ali would succeed to the leadership; in fact he did become Caliph in due course, but only after Abu Bakr, Omar and Osman; the Sunnis regard him as the fourth in the succession to the temporal power, while the Shias regard him as the first.

Perhaps these differences can be summed up best in the Kalama, or Profession of Faith, as it is made by the two branches of the Faith. The Sunnis say “There is no God but God and Mohammed is his Prophet: to which the Shias add “and Ali, the companion of Mohammed, is the Vicar of God”.

Later on, the Shias themselves became divided over a question of succession. On the death of the sixth Imam, Jaf’ar al Sadiq, one section adopted as their seventh Imam his younger son, Muza al Kazim, while the remainder gave their allegiance to Muza al Kazim’s brother, Ismail. It is from this Ismail that the sect takes its name. Later on the Ismailis split into two, again over a question of succession, which this time arose on the death of the eighteenth Imam, Mustansirbillah. The present Shia Imami Ismailis recognise Nizar as the rightful nineteenth Imam, while the other, whose sect is now known as the Bokras, recognise Mustansirbillah’s other son, Mustaali.

This occurred in A.D. 1095 and since that date there has been no further sub-division in the sect.

Through the centuries the Ismailis have produced many soldiers, scholars and statesmen. The Fatimide Caliphs of Egypt, under whom the Islamic civilisation in North Africa reached its height, were also the Imams of the Ismailis. One of their number, Al Moizz founded the city of Al Kahira (the city of Mars) which is now Cairo. Under the Fatimide Empire learning flourished. It saw the invention of the pendulum and the establishment of the fact that in vision it is the eye which receives rays from the object seen and not vice versa as was hitherto believed (this of course is the principle on which modern photography is based). Scientific works emanating from Cairo were read as far away as China as well as in Europe. Omar Khayam was perhaps the most famous Ismaili writer who lived under the patronage of the Fatimide Caliphs.

After the fall of the Empire in the eleventh century, the Ismaili Imams moved eastwards, through Syria and the Lebanon before finally settling in the mountains of Northern Iran.

From there the Ismaili doctrine spread though Central Asia, parts of India and in the nineteenth century to Burma.

In A.D. 1840 the present Aga Khan’s great-great grandfather, Aga Khan I, was forced to leave Persia, where he was hereditary chieftain of Kerman as well as Imam of the Ismailis, because of a quarrel with the Shah over which he had resorted to arms and flee to India where after many vicissitudes he finally settled peacefully in Bombay. Thus the temporal power of the Ismaili Imams came to an end.

THE ISMAILIS TODAY

In such a scattered community (there are large number of Ismailis in South and East Africa, Burma, Malaya, India, Pakistan, Sinkiang and the Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union) it is impossible to adhere to any one rigid administration system. The routine administrative work is done by Councils, Ministers or even in some cases by the hereditary rulers, while general advice and guidance is given by the Imam. One of the points which has always been stressed by the Imams is that Ismailis must always owe absolute loyalty to the government of the country of their adoption. The Ismailis have always been in the fore in the field of social reforms. They were the first Muslim sect to abandon purdah, even in countries which were most conservative in this respect. The Ismaili laws relating to divorce and the taking of a second wife are much more specific than in other sects, the rights of the wife being very carefully safeguarded in such cases. They were pioneers in the introduction of midwifery and other branches of medicine. The Ismailis have been prominent too in the field of education. The fact that the famous University at Aligrah has developed as the leading seat of Muslim higher education is due largely to the patronage of the Ismailis through the late Aga Khan. Throughout the world, wherever there are Ismailis their dynamic approach to modern problems is evident.

THE AGA KHAN

When His Highness Sir Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan III passed away in July 1957, more than twenty million members of the Shia Imami Ismaili Sect in all parts of the world mourned the loss of their spiritual leader, who had been their supreme authority in all religious matters for seventy-two years. Tribute was paid to him also throughout the Western World where he was perhaps better known as a wise statesman, patron of the arts and sportsman.

In his will he said, “Ever since the time of my ancestor, Aly, the first Imam – that is to say over a period of 1,300 years it has always been the tradition that each Imam choose his successor at his absolute and unfettered discretion from among sons or remoter male issue, and in these circumstances and in view of the fundamentally altered conditions in the world in very recent years due to the great changes which have taken place, including the discoveries of atomic science, I am convinced that it is in the interest of the Shia Muslim Ismaili community that I should be succeeded by a young man who has been brought up and developed during recent years and in the midst of the new age and who brings a new outlook on life to his office as Imam”.

So it was that the late Aga Khan’s grandson, a young man of twenty, was suddenly called to a high and arduous office.

The new Aga Khan, Mowlana Karim Shah Al-Hussani, was born in
Switzerland in December 1936, the eldest son of His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan and Princess Tajudulla. From his earliest years, his upbringing was personally supervised by his grandfather. During the war years he resided in Nairobi with his mother and younger brother. It was there that he began to take part in the religious life of the community. He returned to Europe after the war and entered the famous school at Le Rosey in Switzerland; later he went on to Harvard University. He was still there when he was called to become the 49th Imam of the Shia Imami Ismailis, an office which goes back in an unbroken line of descent to the Holy Prophet Mohammed.

The late Age Khan during his lifetime made frequent visits to his followers throughout the world, and it was only natural that his successor should follow in his footsteps. The first major tour of the present Aga Khan was in East Africa, from October to December 1957. The most important ceremonies in the tour were those at Dar-es-Salaam on October 17th, Nairobi on October 22nd and Kampala on October 25th, when the new Imam was enthroned in the presence of large numbers of his followers. The ceremony recorded here is that which took place at Nairobi.

The simple ceremony was witnessed by some eighteen thousand people, who had travelled in from all parts of Kenya.

PART 1: At 4.50 p.m. the distinguished guests begin to arrive. First is Her Highness Mata Salamat, Begum Aga Khan, shortly followed by his Excellency the Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, and Lady Baring. Next come His Serene Highness Prince Aly Khan and Princess Joan, the parents of the Aga Khan. Finally, His Highness the Aga Khan enters, escorted by the President of the Nairobi Provincial Council, Vazier J.B. Ahamed and other Ismaili leaders, and is led to the throne.

PART 2: The ceremony begins with the intonation of verses from Qur’an.

PART 3: His Highness is presented with the five symbols of office by leaders of Ismaili Communities in East Africa. First, the Ceremonial Robe, presented by the President of the Kenya Supreme Council: then the Pagri or Ceremonial Cap of the Imam, presented by the Chief Mukhi of the Nairobi Jamat; then the Sword of Justice, presented by the President of the Federal Council for Africa; next the Chain of Office of 49 links symbolising the 49 Imams since Hazrat Ali, presented by the President of the Executive Council for Africa; and finally the Signet Ring used as a seal on communications from the Imam as far back as the twelfth century, presented by the President of the Nairobi Provincial Council.

PART 4: The religious part to the ceremony closes with the Intonation of Verses from Ginan.

PART 5: The first of the loyal addresses is presented on behalf of the Kenya Muslim League by its President, Khwaja Zafrud-Deen. The second loyal address is presented on behalf of the African Muslim Community by Maulidi Jasho together with members of his committee.

PART 6: The third loyal address is presented on behalf of the East Africa Muslim Welfare Society by its President, the Mayor of Dar-es-Salaam.

PART 7/8: The fourth loyal address is presented on behalf of the H.H. The Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Supreme Council for Kenya by its President, Count Sir Eboo Pirbhai.

Ismaili leaders and their wives then advance to the dais to make their homage.

His highness the Aga Khan replies to the loyal address.

PART 9: Ismaili youth organizations in East Africa march past the dais to conclude the ceremony.

PART 10: A special message to his Spiritual Children, subsequently recorded by His Highness the Aga Khan, followed by the Ismaili Anthem.


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