Why Do Isma'ilis Refer to the Imam as Khudawand?

Some have confused the title Khudawand to mean God or Creator. This is incorrect.

Khudawand is a Persian word meaning prince, lord, owner, master, and possessor. It is similar in some respect to Arabic word sahib. Prophet Muhammad, in Persian literature, is also called khudawand.

The Isma‘ili Imam is the locus of manifestation (mazhar) of the Universal Intellect or Light (nur) of Imamate. The term mazhar suggests the idea of a mirror which reflects or manifests an object without actually incarnating it physically or causing any change or alternation to the object.  Accordingly, it is the pure human soul of the Imam which serves as this mirror or mazhar of the Universal Intellect which is reflected in the Imam’s soul without actually or materially descending into the person of the Imam. 

In classical Isma‘ili philosophy, God Himself transcends all attributes, descriptions, and names including the categories of space and time, being and non-being, unity and multiplicity, and even existence and non-existence.  God Himself or the Ultimate Reality is referred to simply as ‘He who is above all else’ because He transcends and is prior to the distinction between subject and object and thus outside the range of human knowledge.  

In the Isma‘ili metaphysical worldview, all of the attributes and qualities of greatness, majesty and perfection, particularly those of an anthropomorphic nature, pertain to the Universal Intellect or Light of Imamate while keeping in mind that ‘He who is above all else’ is beyond all such qualities.  The Universal Intellect includes all divine attributes and is, technically speaking, the ‘First Cause’ and the ‘Necessary Being’ (wajib al-wujud) of the onto-cosmological hierarchy which gives rise to the physical world.  The Universal Intellect encompasses all things and all being within itself for it is the first and most perfect entity originated by God.

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