By FAROUK ESMAIL
(This piece is adapted from the original version “Salgirah” first published in ITREB UK’s flagship magazine Ilm, Volume 11, #’s 3/4, December 1987 – March 1988)
“When I leave, each and everyone of you will be in my heart, in my prayers, in my thoughts….you must remember that Imam loves you more, much more than you can ever love him and you must be strong in this knowledge.” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Karachi, December 13, 1964.
Introduction: Festive celebrations
Festive celebrations are an integral part of the observances of religious traditions. They constitute moments of social solidarity, occasions for the expression in different forms of religiosity and fervour. They are often accompanied by the performance of rites and religious ceremonies which symbolise the event being commemorated. Moreover, they also function as points in time for the believers to re-examine their religious consciousness and its commitments, as well as points for reorientation of their lives in future.
Both the Judaeo-Christian, as well as the Eastern religious traditions, even ancient civilizations provide a plethora of references to the commemoration of certain events. Such events have always been found to be associated with festivities, rites, rituals and ceremonies. Some writers have gone so far as to suggest that the symbolism underlying the rites, rituals and practices of the ancient constitute the very fabric of their mythology which functioned so as to render the enigma of existence intelligible.
In Islam in particular, the observances of the ‘Id al-Adha, the ‘Id al-Fitr, the ‘Id-i Milad al-Nabi and in addition, amongst the Shi’a, the observance of ‘Id-i Ghadir and the commemoration of the birthdays of the Imams have represented important festivals. Their importance lies in the fact that they assist the formation of the identities of the various branches and tariqahs of Islam whilst, of course, maintaining their commitment to the central tenets of the Islamic Faith.
The meaning of the word Salgirah
This paper will approach the subject from the point of view of the significance of the birthday of the Imam in the life of the murids in terms of their love and devotion for the Imam and vice versa.
The term Salgirah is of Persian origin. Sal means anniversary and girah means knot and hence Salgirah literally means ‘an anniversary knot added on to a string kept for the purpose’. Ismailis observe this event with great joy and evident devotion on December 13, the date of birth of the present and living Imam, Mawlana Shah Karim al Hussaini, His Highness the Aga Khan. Besides this, the devotees may celebrate Salgirah on any date which the Imam may specify and this need not necessarily be the actual date of his physical birth.
Mawlana Hazar Imam’s references to his Salgirah
In regard to Salgirah we find the following two references in the Farman Mubarak:
“…You have gathered here today to wish me a happy birthday and to reaffirm your loyalty and love to your Imam. My happiness at being with you on this occasion is deep and pure, all my thoughts, all my hopes and all my prayers are for you…..On this happy day I rejoice in being with my spiritual children and in the knowledge that their spiritual and moral strength is such as to allow them to benefit from many more worldly goods without forsaking the remembrance of, and the submission to ‘He from Whom we have come and to Whom we will return’.” (Salgirah Darbar, Karachi, December 13, 1964).
Several issues are clarified in the excerpt quoted above. For one thing, the Imam’s birthday is an event of happiness for him as well as for his spiritual children. This rejoicing is born out of the fact of the spiritual and moral strength of the spiritual children, who are in constant remembrance of and submission to Allah even as they keep up their efforts at maintaining their material progress.
In the very same Farman Mubarak, one also finds the Imam saying:
“For hundreds of years my spiritual children have been guided by the rope of Imamat; you have looked to the Imam of the Age for advice and help in all matters and through your Imam’s immense love and affection for his spiritual children, his Noor has indicated to you where and in which direction you must turn so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction…” (Salgirah Darbar, Karachi, December 13, 1964)
Here the concept of Imamat as being one which has spiritual guidance at its core is firmly established. In connection to the direction we must turn “so as to obtain spiritual and worldly satisfaction,” one may note that this is what Mawlana Hazir Imam has called “the duality of the life which we live” referring to the two responsibilities “which are placed on you the day you are born — the responsibilities to fulfil your material and spiritual lives…” (Mumbai, November 27, 1973)
In the fulfilment of the material and spiritual responsibilities in the manner prescribed, lies the striving in the way of Allah. Furthermore, the fulfilment of these responsibilities by an individual is not something that benefits only the solitary individual or his own immediate family. In fact, it is something that contributes to the improvement in the general conditions in the Jamat and conversely the non-fulfilment of these responsibilities harms not only the individual and his family but is harming the Jamat as well. The Ismaili tariqah viewing Islam as a whole way of life embracing all its diverse aspects, requires that guidance embraces the totality of life’s aspects not only at the individual level but at the collective level as a whole. Moreover, it is not only guidance and advice but also ‘help’ in all matters that the Ismailis look to the Imam of the Age as noted in the following excerpt:
“Since the 11th of July, 1957 my aims and ambitions have been devoted to help and guide my spiritual children in spiritual and worldly matters…” (Salgirah Darbar, Karachi, December 13, 1964)
The central aspects of guidance, direction and support to man by Allah have been enshrined in the Holy Qur’an. It is there that we find explicit references to the ulil-amri (4:59) and Imam-i Mubin (36:12). Accordingly, obedience to Allah, to the Prophet (S.A.S.) and the ulil-amri (Divine Authority) constitutes a fundamental matter in the Ismaili understanding of the faith and its observances.
Devotion and love for Hazar Imam
In consonance with this position is the complementary aspect of devotion and love on the part of murids towards the Imam. Qadi Nu’man in the second Majlis of his Code of Conduct for the Followers of the Imam says,
“God the Great says to Muhammad His Prophet, may the greetings be upon him and his descendants, ‘Say, I do not ask you to pay me (for the guidance) any reward excepting your love for my kith and kin’ (Holy Qur’an, 42:23).
“When the Messenger of God was asked as to who were his kith and kin, he replied, ‘Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain’. He further said, ‘He who loves them loves me. He who hates them hates me. None but a mu’min loves Ali and none but a hypocrite hates Ali’.
“It is said that in the days of the Prophet, mu’mins could not be distinguished from the hypocrites by anything but their love of Ali. The Prophet ordained and exhorted his followers to love Ali, and God enjoined it as a duty on the Muslims in general…”
Qadi Nu’man quotes Imam al-Baqir (Book of Faith, tr. by A.A.A. Fyzee, pp. 82-83) as saying to Ziyad al-Aswad:
“Glory be to God. What is religion but love? Almighty God says in His Book: ‘(God has) endeared the faith to you and beautified it in your hearts’ – (Holy Qur’an, 49:7) and He said ‘Say (O Muhammad, unto mankind), if you love God, follow me, God will love you’ (Holy Qur’an, 3:31).”
Relating another incident, Qadi Nu’man writes:
“A man came to Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq and spoke to him about a man who had died recently and said: ‘O son of the Messenger of God, the deceased had a very high regard for you (the people of the House) and loved you sincerely’.
“The Imam said: ‘Everyone who bears love to us will be with us on the Day of Resurrection. He will be under our protection and be our companion in all our stations (in Paradise). Doubly do I swear by God, God purifies the heart of everyone who loves us’…”
In other words, in keeping with the authoritative position of the Imam in respect of Guidance, Benevolence and Authority, he commands not only the obedience of the faithful but also their love and devotion.
The depth of Hazar Imam’s love for his spiritual children
On the other hand, the Imam’s deep love for his spiritual children is expressed in the following Farman Mubarak:
“When I leave this evening I would like that you should remember two things. One, that I will take with me in my heart the remembrance of each and everyone of you, the face of each and everyone of you. Secondly, that my love for my Jamat is a lot stronger than yours can ever be for me and I would like you to remember this.
“When I leave, each and everyone of you will be in my heart, in my prayers, in my thoughts and also that you should be strong because you must remember that Imam loves you more, much more than you can ever love him and you must be strong in this knowledge.” (Karachi, December 26, 1964)
This indicates the depth of the Imam’s love for his Jamat. One may, therefore, stress the fact that the centrality of the love of the murid for the Imam makes faith possible and acts of prayers, devotion and piety both significant and meaningful. And as Hazar Imam has pronounced in his Farman:
“…You have gathered here today to wish me a happy birthday and reaffirm your loyally and love to your Imam. My happiness at being with you on this occasion is deep and pure, all my thoughts, all my hopes and all my prayers are for you…” (Karachi, December 13, 1964).
On a day such as Salgirah, the murid than re-examines his original bay’ah (oath of allegiance), his love for and devotion to the Imam of the Age and reaffirms it thereby giving proper orientation.
Date posted: December 10, 2019.
Last updated: December 12, 2020.
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1. Excerpts of 1964 Farmans quoted in the article are from “Farman Mubarak – Pakistan visit 1964 – of Mowlana Hazar Imam Shah Karim Al-Husayni,” published by the Ismailia Association Pakistan, Karachi, Parts I and II.
2. Excerpt of 1973 Farman quoted in the article is from “Farman Mubarak of Noor Mowlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini Hazar Imam,” published by His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Association for the United Kingdom, 1976.
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