Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database. Guests are not required to login during this beta-testing phase

Ismaili Missionaries

Publication Type  Article
Year of Publication  Submitted
Authors  Ivanow, Prof. W.
Original Publication  Read and Know
Issue  No. 26
Key Words  missionary

Ismaili Missionaries

The impediment, which belonged to the inner nature of the preaching of Islam was connected with its conservatism of forms. When the preaching started amongst the heathen Arabs, it was easy indeed to demand that they would learn the new forms of worship and accept the new scriptures in the Arabic language. Perhaps it was not so difficult in the case of Semitic peoples who lived in close touch with the Arabs. But for those who had nothing in common with all this, such necessity constituted a serious obstacle both for the acquisition of the necessary familiarity with the religion, and for the final act of conversion. In fact, conversion to Islam demanded that the new convert should not only become a Muslim, but also at least partially an Arab. He had to switch his religious life to the new ideas expressed in a difficult foreign language, adopt foreign standards, ideals, and so forth. This, of course, was quite possible for individuals, but presented an almost unsurmountable obstacle to the masses in a different social system as in the caste organization in India. Here, with the individual being nothing without his caste connections, the only method that could work was mass conversion not of individual, but of whole castes. This simple idea was probably never realised, and it is for this reason that not only the preaching of orthodox Islam met with less success than in other countries, but that many reformatory movements, such as those started by Akbar, Dara Shikuh, and others, failed miserably.

Either by intuition, or sound and clever reasoning, the Nizari Ismaili missionaries devised some methods, which helped them to overcome such local obstacles. Such methods depended on two principles. One was their bold tactics in separating the meaning and spirit of Islam from its hard Arab shell. The other was their concentration of effort on a few definite castes, on those strata of the depressed classes in which the caste hold was weaker than in higher ones. They explained the high ideals of Islam in the familiar terms of ancestral religion Hinduism, future of the new converts, and striving to make of them good mu'mins, sincere adepts of the spirit of Islam, rather than Muslims, i.e. those who formally profess Islam, often, without paying attention to its spirit and implications.

The Ismaili Missionaries were thus in line with the orthodox in this respect. They brought the matter a step further by proclaiming Islam the crowning phase of the whole development of Hinduism. According to them, the Koran (together with the ta'will system) was the last and final Ved, completing, abrogating and superseding the earlier revelation. In this theory Hinduism was merely a preparatory phase just as Christianity, Judaism, etc., in the revelation of the only True Religion, Satpanth. (Islam)

Thus, from a purely Islamic view point, the method of bridging the difference between Islam and Hinduism adopted by Ismailis missionaries was perfectly correct, in no way conflicting with orthodox ideas.

Back to top