The Living Imam Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan, and the Nur (Light) of Imamat

Publisher-Editor, BarakahSimerg, and Simergphotos

The doctrine of Imamat has been central in Shia Islam since the designation by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.) of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) as his successor at Ghadir-Khumm. Among the various interpretations in Shia Islam, the Ismaili Muslims believe in the continuity of the Imamat through a living hereditary Imam descended from Hazrat Ali, through the prophet’s daughter Bibi Fatima (a.s).

The current 49th Imam of the Ismailis is His Highness the Aga Khan. Ismailis will be celebrating his 62nd Imamat anniversary on July 11, 2019.

To mark this occasion, we are pleased to provide short excerpts on Imamat and the role of Imamat from his speeches as well as a brief and simple essay on the Nur (Light) of Imamat which was prepared primarily for younger readers – it will, however, be of interest to readers of all ages, Ismailis and non-Ismailis alike. 

Barakah wishes Ismailis the world over Imamat Day Mubarak, and we ever pray for Mawlana Hazar Imam’s blessings, and that his light and guidance should keep us steadfast on the path of Siratal Mustaqim (the Straight Path). May we all strive towards achieving the correct balance between our material and spiritual lives that Mawlana Hazar Imam desires of each one of us.

His Highness the Aga Khan on the Ismaili Imamat and its role


Aga Khan Homage Ceremony July 11 2017
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, flanked by flags of the Ismaili Imamat (left) and his Diamond Jubilee comemmorative year, makes his appearance at the Homage Ceremony on July 11, 2017, to celebrate his Diamond Jubilee. The ceremony was held at his residence and Imamat Headquarters at Aiglemont in France.

“The religious leadership of the Ismaili Imam goes back to the origins of Shia Islam when the Prophet Muhammad appointed his son-in-law, Ali, to continue his teachings within the Muslim community. The leadership is hereditary, handed down by Ali’s descendants, and the Ismailis are the only Shia Muslims to have a living Imam, namely myself.” [1]

“The Ismaili Imamat is a supra-national entity, representing the succession of Imams since the time of the Prophet. But let me clarify something more about the history of that role, in both the Sunni and Shia interpretations of the Muslim faith. The Sunni position is that the Prophet nominated no successor, and that spiritual-moral authority belongs to those who are learned in matters of religious law. As a result, there are many Sunni imams in a given time and place. But others believed that the Prophet had designated his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, as his successor. From that early division, a host of further distinctions grew up — but the question of rightful leadership remains central. In time, the Shia were also sub-divided over this question, so that today the Ismailis are the only Shia community who, throughout history, have been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from the Prophet.” [2]



aga khan university of calgary 2018
Mawlana Hazar Imam poses for a photo following a ceremony where he was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Calgary in recognition of his “impact and spirit,” which Chancellor Deborah Yedlin noted “have been felt by millions of people.” Photo: The Ismaili/Asif Bhalesha.

“When I assumed the responsibilities of the Imamat in 1957 I was eager — as I still am — to see that the countries where my followers live are sound and stable; that they are countries with clear development horizons; countries where, following my Grandfather’s example, I could help to underwrite the integrity of the State and to contribute to improving the quality of life for all communities, not just my own. I hoped to help bridge the gulf between the developed and the developing worlds. This aspiration, I felt, was particularly appropriate to the Imamat because of its commitment to broad social objectives without political connotations, save in its concern for the fundamental freedom of its followers to practise the faith of their choice. 

“Just as a few moments ago, I stressed the all-encompassing nature of Islam, so I must emphasise the non-political character of the Ismaili Imamat. Far from seeking to interfere in politics, I have always urged Ismailis to be loyal to their countries where they live and to whatever Government is responsible for their security and their well-being. This respect for the integrity of nations, coupled with our fundamental aspiration to improve the quality of life in the Third World countries is, I believe, the reason why the role of Ismailis and the Imamat is today generally perceived as being a positive and constructive one.” [3]



akber_hakim_Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee Lisbon d_day_-_hall_1_july_11-12229
Mawlana Hazar Imam walks through the Jamat at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Lisbon on July 11, 2018. Photo: The Ismaili/Akber Hakim.

“The Imamat’s social and economic institutions continue to be privately managed. But I should like to emphasise that our institutional endeavour is not to be confused with the less desirable aspects of unrestrained capitalism. The Ismaili Imamat has no single home country and so its activities are international and institutional as opposed to Governmental.

“All the Imamat activities, agencies and services seek to identify themselves with the objectives of the developing countries and my intention is that the benefit of their enterprise should be recirculated within the Third World.

“For generations Ismailis have been advised by their Imams to be loyal to the countries in which for the most part they are a minority. I believe that they are demonstrating that loyalty, sometimes admittedly in very difficult circumstances, throughout the world. They have adapted themselves to accord with Governmental aims. They and the Imamat Institutions and projects, are forging links between the developed and developing nations, bringing skills and finance from the one to assist the other, in Health, Education and Welfare as well as in Economic Development. They can assist with the vital business of international bridge building, of helping nations to learn from each other and to understand each other. So long as they all maintain the Imamat’s fundamental commitment to improving the quality of human life, I believe their role in the Third World will be of increasing value. [3]



Mawlana Hazar Imam, Aga Khan france Diamond Jubilee_4
Mawlana Hazar Imam pictured at the Diamond Jubilee Darbar in Paris, France.

“….Permit me to share with you a few thoughts about the Ismaili Imamat, the institution that represents the hereditary office that I hold, and its relevance to the creation of development institutions.

“The Imamat is a Muslim institution with a history going back over 1400 years. As Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, I am to be concerned with the quality of life of the community and those amongst whom it lives. Over many centuries and decades, that responsibility of the Imamat has entailed the creation of institutions to address issues of the quality of life of the time, and it today includes a number of non-governmental organisations, foundations and economic development agencies.

“The vast majority of the community now lives in countries of the developing world and the newly emerging nations of Central Asia. In these countries, the quality of life is determined by a number of different factors that are, in my view, not limited to the World Bank indicators on longevity, or health, or the economic welfare of an individual, or a community.

“To the Imamat, the meaning of “quality of life” extends to the entire ethical and social context in which people live, and not only to their material well-being measured over generation after generation. Consequently, the Imamat’s is a holistic vision of development, as is prescribed by the faith of Islam. It is about investing in people, in their pluralism, in their intellectual pursuit, and search for new and useful knowledge, just as much as in material resources. But it is also about investing with a social conscience inspired by the ethics of Islam. It is work that benefits all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality or background. Does the Holy Qur’an not say in one of the most inspiring references to mankind, that Allah has created all mankind from one soul? [4]


The Nur (Light) of Imamat

Aga Khan University Seal
The Seal of the Aga Khan University. At the centre of the Seal is a star, or sun. Light is a universal symbol for the enlightenment that education provides. The light emanating from the star is also symbolic of Nur (Divine Light). The star incorporates 49 rays to commemorate the University’s founding by His Highness the Aga Khan, the forty-ninth Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. [5]

[The following article is adapted from multiple Ismaili literary sources including the Ta’lim curriculum published by Islamic Publications, London — Ed.]

The sun is extremely important for all life on earth. It gives us light, warmth and energy. The sun however is not the final source of life. It is Allah who gives life to all living things. It is God who has created the sun and the stars and everything that is in the universe.

The Qur’an teaches that Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth. Allah guides mankind towards Him through His light. While Allah has created the physical light, He has also provided mankind another kind of light.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“O Mankind! Truly there has come to you a proof from your Lord, and We have sent down to you a clear Light.” (Chapter 4, Verse 174)

What is this special light that Allah refers to, which guides and makes things clear? For Shia Muslims, this light is the Light of Imamat. The Shias refer to it as the Nur of Imamat. Nur means light. The Nur of Imamat is a spiritual light.

This spiritual light is with the Ahl al-bayt, the Imams from the Prophet Muhammad’s family. This light was with the first Shia Imam, Hazrat Murtaza Ali and, for Shia Imami Ismailis, it is now with their present 49th Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussini, His Highness the Aga Khan IV. The Imam guides his murids (followers) with his Nur.

The Imam’s Nur is not like ordinary light. It is a different light altogether. It is a spiritual light. Physical light, such as sunlight, helps everyone see things in the physical world. The Imam’s Nur guides his murids both in the spiritual and worldly aspects of their lives. Above all, the Imam’s Nur leads his followers towards inner peace and happiness.

Ever since the time of Hazrat Ali, the Ismaili Imams have guided their followers in succession, one after another. There have been forty-nine Imams up to the present time, but the Nur of Imamat is one, and it remains the same.

The Nur of Imamat is always there to guide through the physical presence of the Imam. The Imam holds his followers hands and leads them through both difficult and good times. He gives them guidance about how they should live in a particular time and place.

Just as the water of a river continues to flow, the line of Imamat never stops. That is, the Nur of Imamat is there to stay eternally.

One of the goals of the murid of the Imam should be to strive to come closer to the spiritual light of the Imam. This, one can do by fulfilling one’s material and spiritual responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. Praying regularly, living by the ethics of Islam, following the Imam’s guidance and thinking about Allah constantly can bring us closer and closer to the Nur of Imamat.



Ya Shah Karimul Hussaini, Antal Imamul Haqqul Mubeen
(O Shah Karim al Hussaini, you are the True Manifest Imam)

Date posted: July 10, 2019.

Before departing this website, please take a moment to visit Barakah’s Table of Contents for links to more than 160 pieces dedicated to Mawlana Hazar Imam and his family.



[1] Voices: “The Power of Wisdom” – His Highness the Aga Khan’s Interview with Politique Internationale (English translation)
[2] In a Dynamic and Stirring Address to Members of the Canadian Parliament, His Highness the Aga Khan Shares His Faith Perspectives on the Imamat, Collaboration with Canada, the Muslim World Community (the Ummah), the Nurturing of Civil Society, Early Childhood Education, Voluntary Work, and the Unity of the Human Race
[3] Excerpt from speech delivered on November 21, 1982, at the dinner in honour of Tanzania’s then President Julius Nyerere.
[4] December 19, 2003, Athi River, Kenya, on the occasion of the opening of Alltex EPZ Limited
[5]  For the seal’s full explanation, please click The seal of Aga Khan University and convocation regalia of His Highness the Aga Khan


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  1. Dear Malik: A big thank you for this post. You have charged my spirit skyhigh. I will share this with the youth. May Mawlana Hazar Imam always be happy with you. Amen.


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