The historic decision to create an institute dedicated to Ismaili learning and scholarship was taken in April 1975 during the World Ismailia Association Conference held in Paris in the presence of Mawlana Haza Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan. The conference was attended by the Late Diwan Sir Eboo Pirbhai, Presidents and Chairmen of the Ismailia Associations from around the world as well as Ismaili scholars. The creation of the Institute of Ismaili Studies was then announced on December 13, 1977 through a Talika from Mawlana Hazar Imam. A Board of Governors was established with Mawlana Hazar Imam as its Chairman.
On December 13, 2020, on the occasion of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 84th Salgirah (birthday) the current Board of Governors will pass on the reins to new members, after overseeing a ground-breaking period of development for the Institute.
Over the past 25 years, the Board has overseen the growth and deepening of the Institute’s various education, research, and publications programmes, as well as the expansion of their reach to Jamati and academic audiences across the world. The IIS now plays an instrumental role in the Jamat’s education, through the curriculum for children and adolescents, its two MA programmes, and its Continuing Education initiatives.
Serving a global Jamat
One of the founding tenets of the Institute is to ensure that everything that it does benefits the Jamat directly or indirectly, and one way it does this is by equipping Jamati youth with the knowledge and skills to become leaders, teachers, and change-makers in their own communities. The IIS now has over 650 graduates, many of whom are serving Jamati Institutions in professional and voluntary capacities. Around 35% of the Institute’s own staff are alumni from IIS programmes and, in an exciting development, a number of the new Board members are also IIS graduates.
The Board has also helped to consolidate the Institute’s work in research, publications, and manuscripts, which has positioned the IIS as a critical reference in the field of Ismaili studies and more recently as a pioneer in Shi‘i and Qur’anic Studies.
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This has been reinforced by the simultaneous growth in the Institute’s collections of books, manuscripts, and other rare materials; its collection of Ismaili manuscripts is now the largest of its kind in the world.
No less significantly, with the generous support of Mawlana Hazar Imam and Jamati donors, the Board has secured a level of financial and institutional stability that will enable the IIS to continue to build on this strong foundation at its new permanent home in the inspiring surroundings of the Aga Khan Centre in London.
Invaluable contributions by Shams Vellani and Aziz Esmail
Two figures who have been instrumental to this development are Dr Aziz Esmail and Shams Vellani, who both retire this year. Appointed by Hazar Imam as the first Dean of the IIS (1988-1999) and subsequently to the Board of Governors, Dr Esmail has been central to the development of the intellectual and philosophical underpinnings of the Institute’s work in all its aspects. His broad thinking was the impetus behind the establishment of the Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities (GPISH) in 1994.
Mr Vellani has played a crucial role in the strategic direction and growth of the IIS from its inception. Joining in 1976 as its Executive Officer and member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors and then in 1988-2020, as Director of Special Projects and permanent guest of the Board of Governors, he has been a pre-eminent figure in institution-building and the nurturing of partnerships that underpin the work of the Institute.
Both Mr Vellani and Dr Esmail also played an important role in the development of the curriculum, providing intellectual and philosophical oversight, and have made significant contributions to the strength, reach, and impact the IIS enjoys today.
Diverse new Board of Global Members with Gender Balance
Given this stable platform for its future development, the Chairman of the Board, Mawlana Hazar Imam, felt that now was the right time to make new appointments to the Board of Governors of the IIS.
The new members appointed to the Board by Mawlana Hazar Imam are: Professor Ali Asani, Dr Nadia Eboo Jamal, Mrs Karina Govindji, Dr Arif Jamal, Mr Rahim Karim, Mr Alykhan Kassam, Mr Amyn Kassim-Lakha, Professor Tashmin Khamis, Mr Naguib Kheraj, Dr Sharofat Mamadambarova, Dr Shogufa Mir Maleky, Mr Mr Habib Motani, Professor Nacim Pak-Shiraz, and Professor Farid F. Panjwani.
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The Board is international in its make-up, and reflects diversity as well as improved gender balance. They come from a mix of academic and commercial backgrounds and include, for the first time, alumni of IIS graduate programmes.
The new members (click for profiles) will officially take up their responsibilities in mid-December, ready to both navigate the IIS through the continuing challenges of the pandemic and steward the Institute through the next stage of its evolution as a higher education and academic research institute that is able to respond to and serve the diverse needs of a globalised Jamat.
Date posted: December 10, 2020.
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