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Ismailis

Note: the author is a faculty member of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (see below).

[From the Preface of Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1990, pp.xv-xvi. See also A Short History of the Ismailis: Traditions of a Muslim Community, (Edinburgh University Press, 1998) by the same author.]

"The Ismailis constitute the second largest Shia community after the Twelvers[?] in the Muslim world and are now scattered in more than twenty countries of Asia, Africa, Europe and America. This book traces the history and doctrines of the Ismaili movement from its origins to the present time, a period of approximately twelve centuries."

"The origins of Sunnism and Shiism, the two main divisions of Islam, may be traced to the crisis of succession faced by the nascent Muslim community following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, though the doctrinal bases of these divisions developed gradually in the course of several centuries. In time, Shia Islam, the minoritarian view, became subdivided into different groups, many of which proved short-lived. But Imami Shiism, providing the common early heritage for several Shia sects, notably the Twelvers and the Ismailis, was a major exception."

"The Ismailis have had a long and eventful history. In mediaeval times, they twice established states of their own and played important parts for relatively long periods on the historical stage of the Muslim world. During the second century of their history, the Ismailis founded the first Shia caliphate under the Fatimid caliph-imams. They also made important contributions to Islamic thought and culture during the Fatimid period. Later, after a schism that split Ismailism into two major Nizari and Mustalian branches, the Nizari leaders succeeded in founding a cohesive state, with numerous mountain strongholds and scattered territories stretching from eastern Persia to Syria. The Nizari state collapsed only under the onslaught of all-conquering Mongols. Thereafter, the Ismailis never regained any political prominence and survived in many lands as a minor Shia Muslim sect. By the second half of the 18th century, however, the spiritual leaders or imams of the Nizari majority came out of their obscurity and actively participated in certain political events in Persia and, then, in British India; later they acquired international prominence under their hereditary title of Agha Khan (Aga Khan[?])."

Because of political developments in Iran in the late 1830s and early 1840s the 46th Imam, Aga Hasan Ali Shah[?], emigrated to the Indian subcontinent. He was the first Imam to bear the title of Aga Khan, which had been previously bestowed on him by the Persian Emperor, Fath Ali Shah[?]. He settled in Bombay in 1848 where he established his headquarters, a development that had an uplifting effect on the community in India and on the religious and communal life of the whole Ismaili world. It helped the community in India gain a greater sense of confidence and identity as Shia Ismaili Muslims, and laid the foundations for its social progress. It also marked the beginning of an era of more regular contacts between the Imam and his widely dispersed followers. Deputations came to Bombay to receive the Imam's guidance from as far afield as Kashgar in China, Bokhara in Central Asia, all parts of Iran, and the Middle East.

In the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Ismailis from the Indian sub-continent migrated to East Africa in significant numbers.

External link and reference

For an authoritative information on Ismailies, go to the Institute of Ismaili Studies which is affiliated with Cambridge University, UK. http://www.iis.ac.uk

The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines by Farhad Daftary. (Cambridge University Press, 1990)



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