1. His Highness the Aga Khan to arrive in Canada on May 1 to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, continues his momentous Diamond Jubilee journey of meeting Ismailis around the world with visits to Jamats of Western Canada from May 5-11, 2018. He will first arrive on May 1 in Ottawa, where he will attend a dinner at Rideau Hall, the official residence of Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette. She succeeded David Johnston as the 29th governor general of Canada on October 2, 2017. Ms. Payette is known for flying two missions in space, and is well respected for her work in developing policies to promote science and technology.
Mawlana Hazar Imam will then visit Vancouver and Calgary to grace the Jamats of British Columbia, Alberta and the Prairies with his holy didar that will involve religious work. During his previous visit to Canada in November 2017, he granted similar mulaqats to Jamats of Eastern Canada in Toronto and Montreal. His visit commenced in Ottawa, where he presided over the first Global Pluralism Award ceremony that took place at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat.
Since the commencement of the Diamond Jubilee year on July 11, 2017, we have been very happy to report on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Diamond Jubilee visits to numerous parts of the world. At the same time, with regard to the religious aspect of his visit, we have presented enlightening articles on the importance of Salawat, the Imamat and the role of Baitul Khayal for our spiritual advancement. We have also sought to heighten the consciousness of the Jamat on the important Islamic ethical principle of forgiving and forgetting at this very important time in the life of every murid. Thus, understanding some key principles of the faith and applying its ethical principle will enhance our spirits as we humbly present ourselves before the Imam to receive his didar and blessings.
2. Let bygones be bygones: “If people have harmed you, forget and forgive…”
Mawlana Hazar Imam pictured at the Olympia Hall, London, during his weeklong visit to the United Kingdom Jamat in September 1979. Photo: Jehangir Merchant Collection.
By ABDULMALIK MERCHANT
The spirit of forgiveness is an ethic that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has articulated many times since his Imamat. In 1969, he said in Mumbai:
“As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little bit more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges. Do not turn around and say, ‘he hurt me yesterday, so I will hurt him today’. This is not the spirit of Islam, and it is not as I understand that our faith should be practiced, and this is fundamental.”
The act of apologizing when one thinks that one was not at fault, and the act of exercising forgiveness when one feels that they have been wronged, are probably the most difficult to struggle with.
However, each one of us has to realize that when there are conflicts, especially within a family, the burden of disunity is the greatest on parents because their love for all their children is absolute. Now consider that in the context of Hazar Imam, who addresses all Ismailis as his spiritual children!
According to a popular tradition, when the Prophet Muhammad asked Angel Gabriel what was meant by the Qur’anic verse (7:199),
“Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant”
the Angel replied:
“It is God’s command to forgive those who have wronged you, to give to those who have deprived you, and to tie relations with those who severe theirs with you.”
Another tradition of the Prophet says:
“Show mercy and you shall be shown mercy. Forgive others and you shall be forgiven by God.”
When Mawlana Hazar Imam received the Adrienne Clarkson prize for Global Citizenship he shortlisted a good measure of forgiveness, along with an abundant capacity for compromise, a little sense of patience and humility, as strengths for an aspiring global citizen. Accomplishing these would mean hard work, he said, “but no work would be more important.”
In a piece “Why Forgive” Fatima Ariadne in her blog Decoding Eden says that “forgiveness is about giving yourself permission to let go of the past….and giving that inner space in your heart for something more positive. We forgive because we deserve peace.”
Through our kind gesture of forgiving, we are also raising the consciousness of this fundamental Islamic ethic in the hearts and minds of the persons we are seeking to forgive. Speaking in Moscow in 1995 during his first physical presence among his community in Central Asia, Mawlana Hazar Imam said that “forgiving those who may have made a mistake or harmed you, will give them respect for your behaviour, and it will encourage them to follow your behaviour.”
Of course, Mawlana Hazar Imam was addressing an audience that had passed through a period of civil strife in Tajikistan. However, this principle is as fundamentally important in our daily attitudes to our families and friends.
Louis B. Smedes, professor emiritus of ethics and theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadens, California and author of book Forgive and Forget wrote that, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” He further noted that “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
The Qur’anic ayat quoted earlier “tie relations with those who severe theirs with you” imposes upon us a moral obligation to forgive.
So as we approach the important day of the holy encounter with Hazar Imam it would be most appropriate for us to reach out to our friends and family members with whom we are seriously at odds and say, “Let unpleasant things that have happened in the past be forgotten.”
That act of courage would be in the truest and finest tradition of our faith. With that kind spirit in our heart, we will truly lavish in the love, grace, and blessing of Mawlana Hazar Imam when he is with us in a few days. Forgiveness will lead to greater unity within families and the jamat.
It is within the framework of united families and Jamats that Mawlana Hazar Imam wishes us to attain spiritual as well as worldly success and happiness. He has explained:
“I would like my spiritual children here to live in the spirit of Islam. I would like you everyday to remember that you are brothers and sisters. When you pray together, you are brothers and sisters; when you face difficulties, you are brothers and sisters; and when you are having success, you are brothers and sisters. In this unity as a family, I would like you to achieve worldly success also. I would like you to have many worldly goods, but if a family is at odds, you can never achieve success. It is only if you work together, that you are united and that you attempt to succeed together, that you will have success.” — 1964, Peshawar, Pakistan.
“I would like you to remember one particular ayat in the Qur’an which says, “Khalaq-kum min nafsin wahidatin” which means He created you, you in the dual — it refers to man and woman — from one soul. This means that Allah has made you from one soul only and He divided you into man and woman. This is what I have said to you, that you are not only brothers and sisters in a worldly manner but also in a spiritual manner.” — 1964, Dacca, East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
3. Allahumm-a Sall-i ‘Ala Muhammad-in Wa Al-i Muhammad
By SHIRAZ PRADHAN
(The author would like readers to note that this short piece was prepared from Khayal Aly’s excellent and elaborate essay on the Salawat titled “Realities of the Salawat”)
Whenever Mawlana Hazar Imam graces us with didar, his arrival and his presence are greeted with the soul-soothing hum of the recitation of the Salawaat:
“Allahumm-a Sall-i ‘Ala Muhammad-in Wa Al-i Muhammad,” meaning “O, Allah shower thy choicest blessings upon Muhammad and the progeny of Muhammad.”
This has been our tradition for centuries. The question arises: Why do we seek blessings upon the Prophet and his progeny?
When the verse of the Holy Qur’an (33:56) “Lo! Allah and His angels shower blessings upon (salloona ‘ala) the Prophet. O you who believe! Ask blessings upon him (salloo ‘alayhi) and salute him with a worthy salutation,” was revealed some of the companions of the Prophet asked him about it: “O Messenger of God, we know already how to greet you; but how should we invoke blessings upon you?”
The Prophet replied:
“You should say, ‘O God, bless Muhammad and his progeny (aal), even as you blessed Abraham and his progeny [O God], you are truly praiseworthy, great in glory’.” 
Further reinforcement of this invocation of blessing upon the Prophet and his progeny comes in the verse “Say: I ask you no reward (arjan) except love of the ‘near of kin (al-qurba)’. ” — 42:23
The key concept that emerges here is that of reward (arjan).
To understand this, we have to look at the fact that the Prophet was sent as a mercy to mankind as attested in the verse:
“And we have sent you not, except as mercy to the world.” — 21:107
What then is the reason for asking the ummah to seek blessing upon the Prophet and his progeny? And what is the reason for the expectation of a reward?
In reality the reward that the Prophet is asking, namely the love for the Prophet and his progeny, is not for his own benefit, but rather, for the benefit of the ummah (Muslim community) itself. And here in lies the elegance and efficacy of the Salawat that we recite. Imam Al-Baqir explains this by citing a verse in which Allah tells the Prophet:
“Say, whatever I ask you with regard to my reward, it is [actually] for you. I rely for my reward on no one except God and He is witness to everything.” — 34:47
Several ginans sing about the joys and delights when the Imam graces his murids with his physical didar. In one of these ginans we come across this concept of “reward”. A verse in Pir Sadardin’s ginan Aji Sham kun avanta jo kahe reads:
Sami ke gale me haar hai, heera manek jaddi ya,
Jis re bhave tan ku dete hai,
Saheb hai dil daariya…
The beloved has a necklace of diamonds and pearls,
He showers these on who so ever he chooses
The beloved’s generosity knows no bounds.
In the joyful assemblage of Imam’s holy presence and didar, not only does the Imam shower the “reward” of jewels of blessings upon the murids, but the recitation of the Salawat opens the gate of mercy and every recitation of the Salawat multiplies these blessings many many many fold. A tradition from Shia sources refers to the blessings of reciting Salawat as follows:
“Whoever sends ten salawats upon Muhammad and his family, God and His angels will send him a hundred salutations, and whoever sends a hundred salawats upon Muhammad and his family, God and His angels will send him a thousand.“
The promise of reward goes even further. When a murid places his hands under the hand of the appointed spiritual authority of the time, Imam-e-Zaman, in an act of allegiance (bay‘at), “he indeed pledge his allegiance to Allah” (innama yubayi‘auna’lla). And thus, fulfilment of this bay’at merits nothing less than a great reward as promised by the verse 48:10 of the Qur’an that whosoever fulfils his bay’at with Allah shall merit a greater reward (arjan azim).
The first act of fulfilment of the bay’at is the declaration of the love for the Prophet and his progeny which is affirmed by the recitation of the Salawat. And its continuous recitation is a demonstration of this love between the murid and the Imam and the continuous shower of the jewels that Ginan Aji Sham kun avaanta jo kahe alludes to.
. Fatimid-Isma‘ili book of law, Da‘a’im al-Islam (Pillars of Islam) by Qadi Nu’man.
4. Baitul Khayal: The path to spiritual enlightenment
“The esoteric (batini) vision, realized through pious works and the constant remembrance of God during the nightly vigil, as well as the exoteric (zaheri) vision, and beholding the gateway of God’s mercy, becomes the ultimate purpose of human life….Piety should be for the purpose of recognizing and beholding God, which is achieved through the recognition and vision of the Imam of one’s time.” — Imam Mustansir-Billah, 32nd Ismaili Imam
By SHIRAZ PRADHAN
In the Memoirs of Aga Khan, our beloved 48th Imam Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah outlines the distinction between two human experiences as categorized by the Muslim philosopher Ibn-Rushd (Averroes):
“On the one hand, our experience of nature as we recognize it through our senses…and on the other hand, our immediate and imminent experience of something more real, less dependent on thought or on the processes of the mind, but directly given to us, which I believe to be religious experience.”
The craving for this direct experience is innate in all of us. Depth psychology which recognizes this craving in a totally different form states that human psyche has great capacity and an insatiable desire for love. The quest for this love molds human actions. In some it takes the form of material pursuits, in others it takes the form of religious and mystical pursuits. And in some souls’ this quest for divine love finds satisfaction in devotion and love for another human being.
Further in his Memoirs, the Imam expounds on this very theme and says:
“We live, move and have our being in God…when we realize this, we are already preparing ourselves for the gift of the power of direct (mystical) experience…some men are born with such natural spiritual capacities and possibilities of development that they have direct experience of that great love, that all-embracing, all-consuming love which direct contact with reality gives to human soul.”
A question naturally arises in the mind: What about people who are not so gifted and not born with the natural capacity of development for spiritual experience?
Allah is mindful of this innate human desire for love and direct vision. Allah grants a gift and a means for this direct experience to all: “And to Allah belong the best names, so call on Him by them.” — Holy Qur’an, 7:180
The invocation of best names (Ism’ul-Azam) referred to in the above Sura are the most beautiful names of Allah, invocation of which provides the path to his mercy and direct experience. The Qur’an also enjoins constant remembrance of Allah:
“O you have faith, remember Allah with frequent remembrance and glorify him morning and evening.” — 33:41-42.
Bol is a Gujarati word for Ism’ul-Azam. In Ismailism, the path to direct experience of the divine reality of Allah through the Noor (Light) of Imamat becomes a very personal and private affair. Each murid has his personal connection with the Imam. The personal spiritual bond of bayah (allegiance) between the Imam and the murid is the cornerstone of this bond.
Every murid has a desire for this vision of Noor. This desire is weak in some and strong in others. The real quest for the vision of the Noor begins when a murid fights the buffeting currents and vicissitudes of daily life and begins to hear the call of the divine and the desire for vision of Noor possesses his heart. The thirst for love that philosophers had talked about becomes a reality. The most enchanting verses of a Ginan of Pir Sadardin which describe the agony of a love-thirsty soul resonate in his heart:
Sajan per hun sada balihari
Ke jine Sajan mohe nipat bhisari
Ab ko je me Sajan pau
Haide under Sej bichau
Milu usinku Noor sangath
Phir nav jalu duje ka haath.
I am forever ready to sacrifice my life for the Beloved,
That beloved who has so forgotten and forsaken me
If perchance I attain to the Beloved
I will spread a silk carpet in my heart
And meet him in a shower of Noor
Never again to thirst for aught.
When a soul become thus love-stricken, the path to enlightenment become visible to him and he seeks the Imam’s guidance. The Imam in his benevolence and love for the murid grants him a personal key to the spiritual universe and the possibility to ascend to that peak from whence he has potential of vision of Noor of Imamat and the quenching of that insatiable thirst for love. The key to this spiritual universe is Bol.
The remembrance (dhikr) of this Bol at prescribed time when the world rests is the essence of Baitul Khayal. “The honor and greatness of a believer lies in his praying at night,” said Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq. A number of verses in the Holy Qur’an attest to the importance of the night worship. Allah says, “and part of the night; bow down before Him and magnify Him through the long night. — 76:26 (tr. Arberry). This verse of the Holy Qur’an tells us to remember Allah at such a time when others are asleep.
The Holy Qur’an tells us:
“You have indeed in the Apostle of God a beautiful pattern of conduct.” –33:21.
Thus, as an example to be followed, the Prophet’s escape to Mount Hira for extended hours of contemplation as well as his experiences during the night journey, miraj, are indicative of the rise of the soul from the plane of material existence to the proximity of God. The night journey emphatically proclaimed that if God has placed man on this earth, He has also set up a ladder for man to climb up to Him. Baitul Khayal accords us this opportunity.
Thus, the practice of Baitul Khyal sits at the crest of spiritual practice of Ismailism and is also referred to as Motu Kam (Big Work). As the prescribed practice becomes a routine, the spiritual universe begins to unfold and the bond between the Imam and murid becomes stronger, and the link that binds the murid to the Imam becomes shorter and shorter. It is a process of divine alchemy which is sung in the Ginan Jire vala, dhan re ghadi:
Paras perse to Loha raang pelte
To jagmag jyote jagaye.
That which was base metal
Transforms to gold and begins to shine
by divine alchemy
The experience of this transformation and the uplifment of the soul through the constant meditative practice of the Ism’ul-Azam is articulated in some of the verses of the Ginan Brahm Prakash composed by Pir Shamsh:
“True Word” (or Ism’ul-Azam, Bol) is my Guide,
to which the world gives no recognition….1
Do meditate on the Word,
and recite Pirshah as often as possible…..2
And upon utterance of the Word,
the light of love shall be kindled,
and in the heart, great “Faith” will be generated….5
Where the Love flows so incessantly,
the devotee drinks of it and
How shall I extol (for you) this divine ecstasy!
Its status is so great, that it defies all speech….11
No amount of literature read or listened to,
Could help to attain this experience of happiness….12
The skies in the West glow
and one witnesses a unique and
unparalled show (of “Light” – “Noor”)
5. The Imam’s True Status
Image credit: roseannapiter.com.
(Adapted from an ode by 33rd Ismaili Imam ‘Abd al Salam)
The talisman that can open the treasure trove of spiritual meaning of the Holy Qur’an is the Imam. The true essence of the Imam cannot be recognized with earthly, fleshly eyes, for these can only see his physical form, perishing like all else with the passage of time.
His true face is to be perceived with the eyes of the heart. He has thousands of physical habitations, but his true home is traceless; he has had a thousand names, but all of them refer to one reality.
Today he is known as ‘Abd al-Salam, but tomorrow the physical body will be gone and the name will change, yet the essence will remain in the next Imam of the lineage.
Those who look at the Imam as they squint will consider him like any other human being, but as soon as the eyes of the heart perceive correctly, his true status is discovered. In form the Imams change, but in meaning and substance they are changeless. Human language cannot attain to the majesty of the Imams. The Imam is the most precious ingredient in the supreme elixir (miraculous substance) of eternal life-red sulphur. He is not simply a pearl, but the ocean that gives birth to pearls. The existence of the Imam, who leads humankind to a recognition of God, is the very pinnacle of creation. — Adapted from Ismaili in the Middle Ages by Shafique Virani.
6. The Importance of the Soul
By AL-MU’AYYAD AL-SHIRAZI
“Look at the trouble your parents have taken from the days of your childhood in the growth of your bodies and in the improvement of your physical life on earth. But for the interest they took in you, you would not have been what you are. Your souls are thousand times more important than your bodies. The Imams are your spiritual parents. Avail yourselves of a few days of life which are at your disposal here and look after your spiritual elevation under the care of your spiritual parents. “Once you miss this opportunity, you will repent forever. You will not be given a second chance to set things right.”
Date posted: April 25, 2018.
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