Is Mawlana Hazar Imam Ismaili? Is His Family Ismaili?

The term "Ismaili" is a historical reference - it refers to all of those who recognize the Shi'a Imamat to dwell in the lineage of Imams descended from Isma'il b. Ja'far al-Sadiq. Therefore, this label "Ismaili" certainly applies to the "Ismaili Imams". In this sense, YES, Mawlana Hazar Imam IS ISMAILI. The Imams are totally "Ismaili" because they surely recognize that the Shi'a Imamat dwells in the lineage of Isma'il b. Ja'far al-Sadiq. They belong to that Ismaili lineage - so the label "Ismaili" FIRST and FOREMOST belongs to the Imams of the Ismailis. 

The term "Ismaili" of course is a historical label - it was never initialy used by Ismailis for themselves. The Ismailis originally used to describe their version of Islam as "the Summons to the Truth" or "the Rightly Guided Summons." The Imam was always the leader and head of this Summons. It was the enemies of the Ismailis who first called them "Ismaili" and then by the 13th century, the Ismailis were using this term for themselves. 

Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah and Mawlana Hazar Imam even refer to themselves as "Ismailis." Please see the below examples:

" We Ismailis now in the same spirit [as Hazrat Ali had done] accept the Khalifat of the first Khalifs and such other Khalifs as during the last thirteen centuries helped the cause of Islam, politically, socially and from a worldly point of view. On the other hand the Spiritual Imamat remained with Hazrat Ali and remains with his direct descendants always alive till the Day of Judgement. 

- Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, (The Final Reconciliation between the Shia and Sunni Doctrines)
" We Ismailis must toil with our hands as well as our brains, on factory assembly lines and in offices as well as in shops (,he repeatedly has told members of his East African community). We must also work hand in hand with the newly liberated Africans.

- Mawlana Hazar Imam, (Sports Illustrated Interview, August 10, 1964)
"On their religion we Ismailis have no view; in the Qu’ran it very clearly says no Muslim may judge the strength of another Muslim’s beliefs."

- Mawlana Hazar Imam, (Sunday Times, Dec 12, 1965)
"Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time. This adherence is in harmony also with our acceptance of Sufi principles of personal search and balance between the zahir and the spirit or the intellect which the zahir signifies.

- Mawlana Hazar Imam, (Message to Amman Conference June 2005)

 Above, we clearly see the Imams applying the "Ismaili" label to themselves and including themselves among the Ismailis - as they use the term "we Ismailis".

The term "Ismaili" thus embraces the Ismaili Imam and the "Ismaili murids" or the "Ismaili community" that follows the Imam. But we have to remember that the Ismaili Imams are first and foremost "Ismaili" because they are literally of the House of Isma'il b. Ja'far al-Sadiq - just like the term "Alawi" is used first and foremost for Descendants of Imam 'Ali. Then, in the second place, the term "Ismaili" can be used for all the murids or followers of the Ismaili Imams - giving us the usage of "Ismaili" as we apply it to the "Ismaili Community" today. In this respect, the Ismaili Da'i from the Bohra community explains how the label "Ismaili" is quite accurate and praiseworthy because it refers to those whose physical (and then spiritual) ancestry goes back to Mawlana Imam Isma'il b. Ja'far al-Sadiq: 

"This name designates those whose ancestry goes back to Mawlānā Ismā‘il ibn Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, ibn Muḥammad al-Bāqir, ibn ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Abidin, ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Taqī, ibn ‘Alī al-Murtaḍā al-Waṣī. This is our inherent name. It is our honour and our glory before all of the other branches of Islam, because we stand on the Path of the Truth, in following our guides – the Imāms. We drink at an abundant fountain, and we hold firmly to the guiding lines of their walāyah. Thus they cause us to climb from rank to rank among the degrees of proximity [to God] and excellence.”

– Dā‘ī ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Walīd, (The Destroyer of Error and the Death of He Who Would Defend it, Fasl

It also helps to think about this logically - of all the people in the world who believe in the Ismaili Imamat, follow the teachings of the Ismaili Imamat on Islam, and KNOW the interpretations of the Ismaili Imamat on Islam - the person of the Ismaili Imam would be the highest and the foremost. Thus, the Imam is "Ismaili" in the truest and deepest sense - much more than his murids or followers or community who are "Ismaili" in the derivative sense of following the Ismaili Imam. But this is important because any time Hazar Imam uses the word "Islam" or describes himself as "Muslim" (as he does in many cases), it would be WRONG to conclude from this that Hazar Imam is "just Muslim" but "not Ismaili." Because there is no such thing as "generic" Islam or "Islam in general" - except as a construct of someone's own mind. At the end of the day, the key question is "which" Islam does Hazar Imam believe in and embody? Obviously, the "Islam" that the Ismaili Imam interprets and determines and lives is "Ismaili Islam" and nothing else. Thus, Hazar Imam is Ismaili.

This brings us to the second point - the difference between the Ismaili Imam and the Ismaili murid. In common speech today, it has become the norm to equate the label "Ismaili" with "murid." The question - "is the Imam and his family Ismaili" is usually asked in reference to the performance of some Ismaili Tariqah practice. For example, people ask - if the Imam is Ismaili, then why does he not say Du'a with us, or attend Jamatkhana to perform his prayers. The simple answer is that these Ismaili Tariqah practices like Du'a, Dasond, regular attendance in Jamatkhana, drinking Ab-i Shifa are Tariqah practices for Ismaili MURIDS. They are PRESCRIBED by the Ismaili Imam. Mawlana Hazar Imam is NOT a "murid" (a seeker of spiritual perfection) because he is both the "Murshid" (the spiritual guide) and the "Murad" (what is sought) of the murids. 

  • The Imam occupies a higher spiritual status than the murids: the murid is literally one who "seeks", whereas the Imam is the one who is "being sought." 
  • The murid offers and submits his or her bay'ah to the Imam and takes the Imam as his Spiritual Master and the Imam accepts the bay'ah; the Imam does not offer his bay'ah to the murids and take the murid as his Spiritual Master.   
  • The Ismaili Imam is spiritually perfect and complete, so he is not seeking anything whereas the murids seek spiritual perfection from the Imam.  

Tariqah practices like Du'a, Dasond, Ghat Pat, etc. are not binding on the Imam at all and he need not practice any of them: the healthy doctor who prescribes medicine to his patients has no need to take that medicine himself. Thus, the label "Ismaili" applies to both the Ismaili Imam and the Ismaili murids - but the Imam and murids are at different levels and therefore, their actions and responsibilities in this world are different. It would be an error, therefore, to use the category "Ismaili" ONLY for an "Ismaili Murid" and exclude the "Ismaili Imam" who is the Murshid from the domain of "Ismaili."

So what about the Imam's family? It is a fact that when a new Imam assumes the office of Imamat, the Imam's immediate family including his brothers, sisters, (and in Hazar Imam's case, his father) give bay'ah to him. This is documented in the biographies of Hazar Imam such as "The Aga Khans" by Frischauer. Whoever in the Imam's family has given him bay'ah IS an Ismaili. Sometimes the Imam marries a non-Ismaili and she remains non-Ismaili - like Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah's third wife who was Christian. Other times, the Imam's wife is a non-Ismaili Muslim (like many wives of prior Imams whom they marry for dynastic reasons), and in other cases, the Imam marries a woman who is Ismaili and is spiritually elevated - like the 3 Mata Salamats (wife of Imam Khalil Allah and mother of Imam Hasan Ali Shah, the wife of Imam Aga Ali Shah and mother of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, and the wife of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah). 

When, for example, Mata Salamat and Prince Sadruddin passed away, there were special ruhani prayers held for them in Jamatkhanas across the world - this is because they were both Ismailis. Why else were there Tariqah practices held for their souls? In general, we should assume that Hazar Imam's immediate family ARE Ismailis - including his children and his brother because we have no reason to suppose they are not Ismaili. Their own tireless work for the Imam's mission and the benefit of the Jamat makes their beliefs and their commitment to the Imam quite evident so we should assume the Imam's own family are Ismailis. They even refer to their father as Mawlana Hazar Imam, and they greet the Jamat by saying Ya Ali Madad.

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