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The True Meaning of Religion

By Shihabu'din Shah al-Husayni. Persian Text and an English translation by W. Ivanow. Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press iii + 28pp. Persian text. 1933

This treatise is a presentation of the principles of the Isma'ili religion, written by the son of the 47th Imam of the Nizaris, who died in 1885 while his father yet lived. It was written at the request of some of his "brethren in the religion," and purports to set forth "the principles which should guide them in their lives, showing them the right way of moving amongst their brethren in this world." It is written in simple, direct, almost conversational style.

The reader finds himself immediately facing the principle of the hidden meaning, Batin, in a reference to the Jihad i akbar as "a war against one's own vile instincts to bring them under control," and to Siratu'l-musstaqim as the direct, or straight path of religion for which God has provided a Guide, or Proof (hujjat). Obedience is declared to be the same as devotion, which in turn is the basis for religious knowledge. The possessors of Truth are the Imams, in whom the sacred Light of Muhammad and Ali is continued. One half of the tract is devoted to the Imam and the "close relatives" (Itrat).

Having dealt with these basic truths the author briefly defines true religion as love for Ali "even if you do not show much outward piety." Or to use an illustration, love for Ali is the foundation without which no building can stand, and with which, even if "the walls have no paint on them, the building is indeed strong."

Students of Islam in general, and of Isma'ilism in particular, are indebted to the Islamic Research Association and to W. Ivanow for this careful translation, and for making this work available.