:"For the Egyptian city, see Ismaïlia".The Ismāʿīlī (Urdu: إسماعیلی "Ismāʿīlī", Arabic: الإسماعيليون "al-Ismāʿīliyyūn"; Persian: إسماعیلیان "Esmāʿiliyān") branch of Islam is the second largest part of the Shī‘ah community, after the Twelvers ("Ithnāʿashariyya"). The Ismāʿīlī get their name from their acceptance of Ismāʿīl ibn Jaʿfar as the divinely appointed spiritual successor "(Imām)" to Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq, wherein they differ from the Twelvers, who accept Mūsà al-Kāżim, younger brother of Ismāʿīlī, as the true Imām. The Ismāʿīlī and the Twelvers both accept the same initial "A'immah" from the descendants of Muḥammad through his daughter Fāṭimatu z-Zahrah and therefore share much of their early history.

As Muslims, the Ismāʿīlī affirm the fundamental Islamic testimony of truth, the shahādah, that there is no god but God and that Muḥammad is the Messenger of God. They believe Muḥammad was the last and final Prophet of God and that the Qur'ān, God's final message to humanity, was revealed through him. Muslims hold this revelation to be the culmination of the message that had been revealed through other prophets of the Abrahamic tradition before Muḥammad, including Abraham, Moses and Jesus.

In common with other Shī‘ah Muslims, the Ismāʿīlī affirm that after the Prophet's death, ‘Alī, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, became the first Imām – the spiritual leader – of the Muslim community and that this spiritual leadership (known as "Imāmah") continues thereafter by hereditary succession through ‘Alī and his wife Fāṭimah, the Prophet's daughter. Succession to the Imāmah according to Shī‘ah doctrine and tradition is by way of "Nass" "Designation", it being the absolute prerogative of the "Imām of the Time" to appoint his successor from amongst any of his male descendants.

Tracing its earliest theology to the lifetime of Muḥammad, Ismāʿīlism rose at one point to become the largest branch of Shī‘ism, and climaxing as a political power with the Fatimid Empire in the tenth through twelfth centuries. [cite web | url = | title = Religion of My Ancestors | accessdate = 2007-04-25]

After the passing away -- or Occultation according to Seveners - of Muhammad ibn Ismail in the 8th century CE, the teachings of Ismailism further transformed into the belief system as it is known today, with an explicit concentration on the deeper, esoteric meaning "(batin)" of the Islamic religion. With the eventual development of Twelverism into the more literalistic "(zahir)" oriented Akhbari and later Usooli schools of thought, Shi'ism developed into two separate directions: the metaphorical Ismāʿīlī group focusing on the mystical path and nature of Allah, and the manifestation of himself in the personage of the "Imām of the Time" as the "Face of God", while the more literalistic Twelver group focusing on divine law "(sharia)" and the deeds and sayings "(sunnah)" of Muhammad and his successors "(Ahl al-Bayt)" who as Imāms were guides and a light to God. [cite web | url = | title = Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i | accessdate = 2007-04-25]

Though there are several sub-groupings within the Ismāʿīlīs, the term in today's vernacular generally refers to the Nizari community, who are followers of the Aga Khan and the largest group among the Ismāʿīlīs. While many of the branches have extremely differing exterior practices, much of the spiritual theology has remained the same since the days of the faith's early Imāms. In recent centuries Ismāʿīlīs have largely been an Indo-Iranian community, [Nasr, Vali, "The Shia Revival", Norton, (2006), p.76] but Ismāʿīlī are found in India, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Saudi Arabia [cite web |url= |title=Congressional Human Rights Caucus Testimony - NAJRAN, The Untold Story |accessdate=2007-01-08] , Yemen, China [cite web |url= |title=News Summary: China; Latvia |accessdate=2007-06-01] , Jordan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa and South Africa, but have in recent years emigrated to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and North America.cite book |last=Daftary |first=Farhad |title=A Short History of the Ismailis |year=1998 |publisher=Edinburgh University Press |location=Edinburgh, UK |isbn=0-7486-0687-4 |pages=1-4]


uccession crisis

Ismailism shares its beginning with other early Shī‘ah sects that emerged during the succession crisis that spread throughout the early Muslim community.

From the beginning, the Shī‘ah asserted the right of ‘Alī, Muhammad's cousin, to have both political and spiritual control over the community. This also included his two sons, who were the grandsons of Muhammad through his daughter Fāṭimatu z-Zahrah.

The conflict remained relatively peaceful between the partisans of ‘Alī and those who asserted a semi-democratic system of electing caliphs, until the third of the Rashidun caliphs, Uthman died, and ‘Alī with popular support of the people ascended into the caliphate. cite book |first=Ali |last=ibn Abu talib |title = Najul'Balagha]

Soon after his ascendancy, Aisha, the third of the Prophet's wives, claimed along with Uthman's tribe, the Ummayads, that ‘Alī himself plotted the assassination of the third caliph. Fact|date=August 2007 ‘Alī rejected this allegation and soon Aisha would stage a revolt that culminated into the Battle of the Camel where her forces were defeated. Afterwards she retired to a quieter life. [cite web | url = | title = Imam Ali | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

Following this defeat, Muawiya, the Umayyad governor of Syria, also staged a revolt under the same pretences. ‘Alī led his forces against Muawiya until the side of Muawiya held copies of the Quran against their spears and demanded that the issue be decided by Islam's holy book. ‘Alī accepted this, and an arbitration was done which ended in his favor. [cite web | url = | title = Imam Ali | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

A group among his army believed this was tantamount to apostasy, and abandoned his forces. This group was known as the Kharijites, and ‘Alī wished to defeat their forces before they reached the cities where they would be able to blend in with the rest of the population. He was unable to do this, but nonetheless defeated their forces in the battles following afterward. [cite web | url = | title = The Kharijites and their impact on Contemporary Islam | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

Regardless of these defeats, the Kharijites survived and became a violently problematic group in Islamic history. After plotting an assassination against ‘Alī, Muawiya, and the arbitrator of their conflict, only ‘Alī was successfully assassinated in 40 AH (661 AD), and the Imāmate passed on to his sons Hassan and Husayn, or according to the Nizari Ismāʿīlī, only to Husayn. However, the political caliphate was soon taken over by Muawiya who was the only leader in the empire at that time with an army large enough to seize control. [cite web | url = | title = Ali bin Abu Talib | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

Karbala and afterward

The Battle of Karbala

After the passing away of Hassan, Husayn and his family were increasingly worried about the religious and political persecution that was becoming commonplace under the reign of Muawiya's son, Yazid. Amidst this turmoil in 61 AH (680 AD), Husayn along with the women and children of his family wished to go to Kufa and confront Yazid as an intercessor on part of the citizens of the empire. However, he was stopped by Yazid's army in Karbala, during the month of Muharram. His family was starved and deprived of water and supplies, until eventually the army came in on the tenth day and killed Husayn and his companions, and enslaved the rest of the women and family, taking them to Kufa. [cite web | url = | title = Hussain bin Ali | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

This battle would become extremely important to the Shī‘ah psyche. The Twelvers, as well as Mustaali Ismāʿīlī still mourn this event during a holiday known as Ashura. The Nizari Ismāʿīlī however do not mourn this event because of the belief that the light of the Imām never dies but rather passes on to the succeeding Imām, making mourning arbitrary.

The beginnings of Ismāʿīlī Daʿwah

After being set free by the caliph Yazid, Zainab, the daughter of Fāṭimatu z-Zahrah and ‘Alī and the sister of Hassan and Husayn, started to spread the word of Karbala to the Muslim world, making speeches regarding the event. This was the first organized Daʿwah of the Shī‘ah community, which would later develop into an extremely spiritual institution for the Ismāʿīlīs.

After the poisoning of ‘Alī al-Sajjad by Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 95 AH (713 AD), Shiism's first succession crisis rose with Zayd ibn ‘Alī's companions and the Zaydī Shī‘ah that claim Zayd ibn ‘Alī as the Imām, whilst the rest of the Shī‘ah maintained Muhammad al-Baqir as the Imām. The Zaidis argued that any sayed, descendant of Muhammad through Hassan or Husayn, who rebelled against tyranny and the injustice of his age, can be the Imām. The Zaidis created the first Shī‘ah states in Iran, Iraq and Yemen.

In contrast to his predecessors, Muhammad al-Baqir focused on academic Islamic scholarship in Medina, where he promulgated his teachings to many Muslims, both Shī‘ah and non-Shī‘ah, in an extremely organized form of Daʿwah. [cite web | url = | title = Imam Baqir | accessdate = 2007-04-24]

This tradition would pass on to his son, Ja'far al-Sadiq, who inherited the Imāmate on his father's death in 114 AH (743 AD). Ja'far al-Sadiq excelled in the scholarship of the day and had many pupils, including three of the four founders of the Sunni madhabs. [cite web | url = | title = Imam Ja'far b. Muhammad al Sadi'q | accessdate=2007-04-24]

However, following Jaffir's poisoning in 148 AH (765 AD), a fundamental split would occur in the community. Ismail ibn Jaffir, who at one point seemed to be heir apparent, apparently predeceased his father in 138 AH (755 AD). While Twelvers either argue he was never heir apparent and that he truly predeceased his father, Ismāʿīlīs argue that either the death was staged in order to draw harm away from al-Sadiq's successor or that his early death does not mean he was not an Imām, and rightfully the Imāmate would pass to his son, Muhammad ibn Ismail.

Ascension of the Dais

For the Sevener Ismāʿīlī, the Imāmate ended with Muhammad bin Ismail (for Ismāʿīlī - Nizari Hasan was only Pir (not Imām)), who was the expected Mahdi that Jaffir al-Sadiq had preached about. However, at this point the Ismāʿīlī Imāms according to the Nizari and Mustaali found areas where they would be able to be safe from the recently founded Abbasid Empire which had defeated and seized control from the Umayyads in 750 AD. cite book |first=Farhad |last=Daftary |title=The Ismāʿīlīs: Their history and doctrines |location=Cambridge, England |publisher=Cambridge University Press |year=1990 |isbn=0-521-42974-9 |pages=104]

With the Imāms safe from harm, they began to propagate their faith through Dāʿiyyūn from their bases in Syria. This was the start of the spiritual beginnings of the Daʿwah that would later blossom on the Mustaali branch of the faith, as well as play important parts in the other three branches. cite book |last=Daftary |first=Farhad |title=A Short History of the Ismailis |year=1998 |publisher=Edinburgh University Press |location=Edinburgh, UK |isbn=0-7486-0687-4 |pages=36-50]

The Dai was not a missionary in the typical sense, and he was responsible for both the conversion of his student as well as the mental and spiritual wellbeing. The Dai was a guide and light to the Imām, much like the present day Nizari position of the Pir. The student and teacher relationship of the Dai and his student was much like the one that would develop in Sufism. The student desired God, and the Dai could bring him to God by making him recognize the stature and light of the Imām descended from the Imāms, which in turn descended from God. The Dai was the path, and the Face of God which was a Qur'anic term the Ismāʿīlī took to represent the Imām, was the destination. In Nizari thought, this essentially means that the Imām is a manifestation of God himself.cite book |first=James |last=Morris |title = The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue on Conversion Kitab al-'alim wa'l-ghulam |publisher=Institute for Ismaili Studies |year=2002 |isbn=1860647812 |pages=256]

Shams Tabrizi and Rumi is a famous example of the importance between the guide and the guided, and Rumi dedicated much of his literature to Shams Tabrizi and his discovery of the truth.

The Qarmatians

While many of the Seveners and other Ismāʿīlī were content with the Dai teachings, a group that mingled Persian nationalism and Zoroastrianism with Ismāʿīlī teachings surfaced known as the Qarmatians. With their headquarters in Bahrain, they accepted a Persian prisoner,a young Persian prisoner by the name of Abu'l-Fadl al- Isfahani, from Isfahan who claimed to be the descendant of the Persian kings [cite book| title = Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse | author = Abbas Amanat, Magnus Thorkell | page = 123] [cite book| title = Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam | page = 26 | author = Delia Cortese, Simonetta Calderini] [cite book| title= Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse | author = Abbas Amanat, Magnus Thorkell | page= 123] [cite book| title=Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism | author = Abū Yaʻqūb Al-Sijistānī | page = 161 ] [cite book| title=The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy| author=by Yuri Stoyanov] [cite book| title=Classical Islam: A History, 600-1258 | page = 113| author= Gustave Edmund Von Grunebaum] [cite book| title=The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy | author= Yuri Stoyanov] as their Mahdi, and violently rampaged across the Middle-East in the tenth century, climaxing their bloody campaign with the stealing of the Black Stone from the Kaaba in Mecca in 930 under Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi. After the arrival of the Mahdi they changed their qiblah from the Kaaba to the Zoroastrian-influenced fire. After their return of the Black Stone in 951 and defeat by the Abbasids in 976 they slowly faded out of history and no longer have any adherents. [cite web | url = | title = Qarmatiyyah| accessdate=2007-04-24]

The Fatimid Empire

Rise of the Fatimid Empire

The political asceticism practiced by the Imāms during the period after Muhammad ibn Ismail was to be short lived and finally concluded with the Imāmate of Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi Billah, who was born in 260 AH (873 AD). After raising an army and successfully defeating the Alghabids in North Africa and a number of other victories, al-Mahdi Billah successfully established a Shi'ah political state ruled by the Imāmate in 910 AD. Because of his founding of this empire he is often seen as the messianic Mahdi by Ismāʿīlīs. [cite web | url = | title = AL-HAKIM (386-411/996-1021) | accessdate=2007-04-24]

In parallel with the dynasty's claim of descent from ‘Alī and Fāṭimatu z-Zahrah, the empire was named “Fatimid.” However, this was not without controversy and with the extent that the Ismāʿīlī Daʿwah had spread, the Abbasid caliphate assigned Sunni and Twelver scholars with the assignment to disprove the lineage of the new dynasty. This became known as the Baghdad Manifesto, and it traces the lineage of the Fatimid dynasty to a Jew. Its authenticity has been both questioned and supported by many Islamic scholars.Fact|date=November 2007

The Middle-East under Fatimid rule

The Fatimid Empire expanded quickly under the subsequent Imāms. Under the Fatimids, Egypt became the center of an empire that included at its peak North Africa, Sicily, Palestine, Syria, the Red Sea coast of Africa, Yemen and the Hejaz. Under the Fatimids, Egypt flourished and developed an extensive trade network in both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, which eventually determined the economic course of Egypt during the High Middle Ages.

During Fatimid rule, in contrast with much of the world at this time period, there were two very modern ideas. The first was promotion by merit rather than genealogy. The second was religious toleration, under which both Jews and Coptic Christians flourished.Fact|date=November 2007

Also during this period the three contemporary branches of Ismailism formed. The first branch (Druze) occurred with the Imām Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. Born in 386 AH (985 AD), he ascended as ruler at the age of eleven and was feared for his eccentricity and believed insanity. The typical religiously tolerant Fatimid Empire saw much persecution under his reign. When in 411 AH (1021 AD) his mule returned without him, soaked in blood, a religious group that was even forming in his lifetime broke off from mainstream Ismailism and refused to acknowledge his successor. Later to be known as the Druze, they believe Al-Hakim to be the manifestation of God and the prophecized Mahdi, who would one day return and bring justice to the world. [cite web | url = | title = al-Hakim bi Amr Allah: Fatimid Caliph of Egypt | accessdate=2007-04-24] The faith further split from Ismailism as it developed very unique doctrines which often classes it separately from both Ismailism and Islam.

The second split occurred following the death of Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah in 487 AH (1094 AD). His rule was the longest of any caliph in both the Fatimid and other Islamic empires. Upon his passing away his sons, the older Nizar and the younger Al-Musta'li fought for political and spiritual control of the dynasty. Nizar was defeated and jailed, but according to Nizari tradition his son escaped to Alamut where the Iranian Ismāʿīlī had accepted his claim. cite book |last=Daftary |first=Farhad |title=A Short History of the Ismailis |year=1998 |publisher=Edinburgh University Press |location=Edinburgh, UK |isbn=0-7486-0687-4 |pages=106-108 ]

The Mustaali line split again between the Taiyabi and the Hafizi, the former claiming that the 21st Imām and son of Al-Amir went into occultation and appointed a Dāʿī al-Muṭlaq to guide the community, in a similar manner as the Ismāʿīlī had lived after the death of Muhammad ibn Ismail. The latter claimed that the ruling Fatimid caliph was the Imām.

Decline of the empire

In the 1040s, the Zirids (governors of North Africa under the Fatimids) declared their independence from the Fatimids and their conversion to "orthodox" Sunni Islam, which led to the devastating Banu Hilal invasions. After about 1070, the Fatimid hold on the Levant coast and parts of Syria was challenged by first Turkish invasions, then the Crusades, so that Fatimid territory shrunk until it consisted only of Egypt. Fact|date=November 2007

After the decay of the Fatimid political system in the 1160s, the Zengid ruler Nūr ad-Dīn had his general, Saladin, seize Egypt in 1169, forming the Sunni Ayyubid Dynasty. This signaled the end of the Hafizi Mustaali branch of Ismailism as well as the Fatimid Empire.



Very early in the empire's life, the Fatimids sought to spread the Ismāʿīlī faith which in turn would spread loyalties to the Imāmate in Egypt. One of their earliest attempts would be taken by a Dai by the name of Hassan-i-Sabbah.

Hassan-i-Sabbah was born into a Twelver family living in the scholarly city of Qom in 1056 AD. His family later relocated to the city of Tehran which was an area with an extremely active Ismāʿīlī Daʿwah. He immersed himself in Ismāʿīlī thought, however he did not choose to convert until he was overcome with an almost fatal illness, where he finally feared dying without knowing the Imām of his time.

Afterwards, Hassan-i-Sabbah became one of the most influential Dais in Ismāʿīlī history, and would be important to the survival of the Nizari branch of Ismailism, which today is its largest branch.

Legend holds that he met with Imām Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah and asked him who his successor would be, to which he responded, his eldest son Nizar.

Hassan-i-Sabbah would continue his Dai activities and they would climax with his taking of Alamut. Taking two years, he first converted most of the surrounding villages to Ismailism. Afterwards, he converted most of the staff to Ismailism and then took over the fortress, and presented the current leader with payment for the fortress. With no choice, the leader abdicated and Hassan-i-Sabbah turned Alamut into an outpost of Fatimid rule within Abbasid territory.

The Hashashin

Surrounded by the Abbasids and other hostile powers, and low in numbers, Hassan-i-Sabbah derived a way to attack the Ismāʿīlī enemies with a small loss and number. Using the method of assassination, from which the English word is derived from Hashashin, he ordered the killing of Sunni scholars and politicians that threatened the Ismāʿīlīs. Knives and daggers were used. Sometimes, in warning, a knife would be put into the pillow of the enemy and often they understood the message. cite book |first=Anthony |last=Campbell |title = The Assassins of Alamut| year = 2004 |pages=84]

However, when an assassination was actually made the Hashashin would not be allowed to run away, but rather to strike further fear in the enemy by showing no emotion, they would stand there. This further increased the reputation of the Hashashin in the Sunni world. cite book |first=Anthony |last=Campbell |title = The Assassins of Alamut| year = 2004 |pages=84]

Amin Maalouf, in his novel Samarkand disputes the origin of the word Assassin. According to him it is not derived from the word Hashashin - which he believes is a story fabricated by Orientalists to explain how faithfully the Ismāʿīlīs would carry out these suicide-assassinations without fearing death. Maalouf suggests that the term is derived from the word Assaas (foundation), and Assassiyoon, which means "those faithful to the foundation." cite book |first=Amin |last=Maalouf |title = Samarkand |year = 1998 |]

Threshold of the Imāmate

After the imprisonment of Nizar by his younger brother Mustaal, Nizar's son al-Hadi was forced to flee. He was offered a safe place in Alamut where Hassan-i-Sabbah welcomed him. However, this was not announced to the public and the lineage was hidden until a few Imāms later. cite book |first=Anthony |last=Campbell |title = The Assassins of Alamut| year = 2004 |pages=84]

It was announced with the advent of Imām Hassan II. In a show of his Imāmate and to emphasize the interior meaning (the batin) over the exterior meaning (the zahir) he prayed with his back to Mecca, as did the rest of the congregation which prayed behind him. He made a speech saying he was in communication with the Imām, which many of the Ismāʿīlīs understood to mean he was the Imām himself. cite book |first=Anthony |last=Campbell |title = The Assassins of Alamut| year = 2004 |pages=84]

Afterwards his descendants would rule as the Imāms at Alamut until its destruction by the Mongols.

Destruction by the Mongols

The stronghold at Alamut, though it had warded off the Sunni attempts to take it several times, including one by Saladin, would soon meet with destruction. By 1206 AD, Genghis Khan had managed to unite many of the once antagonistic Mongol tribes into a unified force. Using many new and unique military techniques, Genghis Khan led the Mongols across Central Asia into the Middle-East where they won a series of tactical military victories.

A grandson of Genghis Khan, Hulagu Khan, led the devastating attack on Alamut in 1256 AD, only a short time before he would sack the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 1258 AD. As he would later do to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, he destroyed all Ismāʿīlī religious texts. The Imāmate that was located in Alamut along with its few followers were forced to flee and take refuge in the surrounding Iranian countryside.


After the fall of the Fatimid Empire and its bases in Iran and Syria, the three currently living branches of Ismāʿīlī generally developed geographically isolated from each other, with the exception of Syria (which has both Druze and Nizari) and Pakistan and rest of South Asia (which had both Mustaali and Nizari).

The Nizari kept large populations in Syria, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and rest of South Asia, and had smaller populations in China and Iran. This community is the only one with a living Imām, who is titled today as the Aga Khan.

The Druze mainly settled in Syria and Lebanon, and developed a community based upon the principles of reincarnation through their own descendants. Their leadership is based through community scholars, who are the only individuals allowed to read their holy texts. It is controversial whether this group falls under the classification of Ismāʿīlīsm or Islam because of their unique beliefs.

The Mustaali split three times because of disputes regarding who was the rightful Dāʿī al-Muṭlaq, who is the leader of the community within the Occultation. The Sulaimani Bohra are mostly concentrated in Yemen and Saudi Arabia with some communities in the Subcontinent. The Dawoodi Bohra and Alavi Bohra are mostly exclusive to the Subcontinent. The true Mustaali beliefs and practices, unlike the Nizari and Druze, are completely tied with mainstream Islam.


View on the Qur'an

The Ismāʿīlīs understand the Qur'an to have several layers of meaning, but generally divide those types of meanings into two: the exterior (zahir) meaning and the interior (batin) meaning. While a believer can understand the batin meaning to some extent, the ultimate interpretation lies in the office of the Imāmate. The Imām's farmans (teachings) are binding upon the community. In this way, the Ismāʿīlī community can adapt to new times and new places.

The Ginans

The Ginans are Nizari Ismāʿīlī religious texts. They are written in the form of poetry by Pirs to interpret the meanings of Qur’anic ayat into the languages of the Indian subcontinent, especially Gujarati and Urdu. In comparison to Ginans, Ismāʿīlīs of other origins, such as Persians and Arabs have Qasidas (قصيدة) written by Dai's داعي (جمع دعاة)ـ.


The belief in reincarnation in the Satpanth tradition of Nizari Ismailism is attested to in the Ginans and Ismāʿīlīs perform "chanta"s monthly, which is done for the forgiveness of the sins committed in the last month but only those sins which are committed unintentionally; and strictly not for the forgiveness for sins committed in past lives. The system of the four Yugas viz. Sat, Treta, Dwapar and Kali is a Hindu belief. Descriptions of each yuga are codified in the various Puranas, a set of holy books of Hinduism. However, it must be mentioned that the Ginans of Nizari Ismailism do not assert the doctrine of rebirth, but rather, invoke the doctrine in their attempts to teach the message of Ismailism to the people of India.

Reincarnation also exists in the Druze branch of Ismailism. The Druze believe that members of their community can only be reincarnated within the community. It is also known that Druze believe in five cosmic principles, represented by the five colored Druze star: intelligence/reason (green), soul (red), word (yellow), precedent (blue), and immanence (white). These virtues take the shape of five different spirits which, until recently, have been continuously reincarnated on Earth as prophets and philosophers including Adam, the ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer Pythagoras, and the ancient Pharaoh of Egypt Akhenaten, and many others. The Druze believe that, in every time period, these five principles were personified in five different people who came down together to Earth to teach humans the true path to God and nirvana, but that with them came five other individuals who would lead people away from the right path into "darkness".


With the exception of the Mustaali Ismāʿīlīs, most Ismāʿīlī believe in panentheism, meaning God is both reality and transcendent of it. While the figure of the Godhead is beyond this universe, the Godhead has created reality, which is God itself. All living beings exist in this reality; however, reality in its entirety is invested in the form of the manifestation of God, the Imām of the Time.


Ismāʿīlīs believe numbers have religious meanings. The number seven plays a general role in the theology of the Ismā'īliyya, including mystical speculations that there are seven heavens, seven continents, seven orifices in the skull, seven days in a week, and so forth.


In Nizari Ismailism, the Imām is seen through the Qur'anic phrase, “The Face of God.” The Imām is a manifestation of God in this reality, and hence he is their one true desire in this world. [cite web | url= | title = Isma'ilism | accessdate=2007-04-24]

Sevener Ismāʿīlī doctrine holds that divine revelation had been given in six periods (daur) entrusted to six prophets, who they also call "Natiq" (Speaker), who were commissioned to preach a religion of law to their respective communities.

Whereas the Natiq was concerned with the rites and outward shape of religion, the inner meaning is entrusted to a "Wasi" (Representative). The Wasi would know the secret meaning of all rites and rules and would reveal them to a small circles of initiates.

The Natiq and the Wasi are in turn succeeded by a line of seven Imāms, who would guard what they received. The seventh and last Imām in any period would in turn be the Natiq of the next period. The last Imām of the sixth period however would not bring about a new religion of law but supersede all previous religions, abrogate the law and introduce "din Adama al-awwal" ("the original religion of Adam") practised by Adam and the Angels in paradise before the fall, which would be without cult or law but consist merely in all creatures praising the creator and recognizing his unity. This final stage was called Qiyamah. [cite book |first=Heinz |last=Halm |title=Die Schia |location=Darmstadt, Germany |publisher=Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft |year=1988 |isbn=3-534-03136-9|pages=202-204]

Pir and Dawah

Just as the Imām is seen as the Face of God, God's avatar within reality, the guide to the avatar is known as the Dai. During the period between the Imāmates of Muhammad ibn Ismail and al-Madhi Billah, the relationship between the teacher and the student became a sacred one, and the Dai became a position much beyond a normal missionary. The Dai passed on the sacred and hidden knowledge of the Imām to the student who could then use that information to ascend to higher levels. First the student loved the Dai, and from the Dai he learned to love the Imām, who was but a manifestation of God. In Nizari Ismailism, the head Dai is called the Pir. cite book |first=James |last=Morris |title = The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue on Conversion Kitab al-'alim wa'l-ghulam |publisher=Institute for Ismaili Studies |year=2002 |isbn=1860647812 |pages=256] .

However, in the Mustaali branch, the Dai came to have a similar but more important task. The term Dāˤī al-Mutlaq ( _ar. الداعي المطلق) literally means "the absolute or unrestricted missionary". This dai was the only source of the Imām's knowledge after the occultation of al-Qasim in Mustaali thought.

According to Tayyabī Mustaˤlī Ismā'īlī tradition, after the death of Imām al-Amīr, his infant son, AtTaiyab abi-l-Qasim, about 2 years old, was protected by the most important woman in Musta'li history after Prophet's daughter Fāṭimatu z-Zahrah. She was al-Malika al-Sayyida (Hurratul-Malika), wife of Fatimid Dai of Yemen. She was promoted to the post of hujja long before by Imām Mustansir at the death of her husband and she now ran the dawat from Yemen in the name of Imaam Tayyib. She was instructed and prepared by Imām Mustansir and following Imāms for the second period of Satr. It was going to be on her hands, that Imām Tayyib would go into seclusion, and she would institute the office of Dāˤī al-Mutlaq. Syedna Zueb-bin-Musa was first to be instituted to this office and the line of Tayyib Dais that began in 526 AH (1132 AD) have passed from one Dai to another and is continuing till date.


In Ismailism, things have an exterior meaning, what is apparent. This is called zahir.


In Ismailism, things have an interior meaning that is reserved for a special few who are in tune with the Imām, or are the Imām himself. This is called batin.


As with other Shī‘ah, Ismāʿīlīs believe that the understanding of God is derived from the first light in the universe, the light of Aql, which in Arabic roughly translates as knowledge. It is through this knowledge that all living and non-living entities know God, and all of humanity is dependent and united in this light. cite book |title = Kitab al-Kafi] cite book |first=Anthony |last=Campbell |title = The Assassins of Alamut| year = 2004 |pages=84] Contrastingly, in Twelver thought this includes the Prophets as well, especially Muhammad who is the greatest of all the incarnations of Aql.


Ismāʿīlīs believe in taqiyya, which means to hide one's true religious beliefs. This has been pivotal to the survival of Ismāʿīlī groups since they have been small minorities in many countries and empires hostile to them.

Niranjan Nirakar Swaroop

Niranjan Nirakar Swaroop is a Sanskrit term and refers to the Satpanth idea (found in the Ginans of the Ismāʿīlī religious tradition) that the true spiritual teacher is esoteric and all-pervading, found by the Mureed when meditating upon special mantras given by the exoteric spiritual teacher (Bandagi).

even Pillars


A pillar which translates from Arabic as “guardianship.” It denotes, “Love and devotion for God, the Prophets, the Imām, and the Dai.” In Ismāʿīlī doctrine, God is the true desire of every soul, and he manifests himself in the forms of Prophets and Imāms, and to be guided to his path, one requires a messenger or a guide: a Dai.

Taharah or Shahada


A pillar which translates from Arabic as “purity.” The Druze do not believe in this pillar and instead substitute shahada in its place.


In place of Taharah, the Druze have the Shahada, or affirmation of faith.


A pillar which translates from Arabic as “prayer.” Unlike Sunni and Twelver Muslims, Nizari Ismai'lis do not necessarily follow the mainstream Ummah in regards to the number of daily prayers. Nizari Ismai'lis reason that it is up to the Imām of the time to designate the style and form of prayer, and for this reason current Nizari prayer resembles a dua (translated word of Salah from the Quran) and is done three times a day. These three times have been related with the three times that have been mentioned in the Holy Quran, i-e, Sunrise, before Sunset, and After Sunset. In this regard, Imām of the time has the right to amend the prayers according to the needs of the time. The Druze choose not to follow Islamic sharia hence have attributed a solely metaphorical meaning to salah. In contrast, the Mustaali (Bohra) branch of Ismailism has kept five prayers and their style is generally closely related to Twelver groups.


A pillar which translates as “charity.” With the exception of the Druze branch, all Ismāʿīlīs form of zakat resembles mainstream Muslims, only with the addition of khumms, which is 1/8 of one's unspent money at the end of the year. This resembles Twelvers who after the believed occultation of Muhammad ibn Hassan al-Askari pay khumms at the rate of 20% of unspent money/articles to their Ayatollahs under whom they do taqleed, meaning religious emulation. In addition to khums, Ismāʿīlīes pay 12.5% of their monthly gross income to the Hazir Imām, which goes to the central accounts and then spent on welfare of the humankind like education and health projects. One of the major examples of these projects is the Aga Khan Development Network, that is one of the biggest welfare networks of the world. Thus, Ismāʿīlīs believe that as Prophet Muhammad was designated to take Zakah from the muslims in the past, it is now the duty of muslims to pay their Zakah to the Imām of the time.


A pillar which translates as “fasting.” The Nizari and Mustaali believe in both a metaphorical and literal meaning of fasting. The literal meaning is that one must fast as an obligation, such as during the Holy Month of Ramadan, and the metaphorical meaning being that one is in attainment of the Divine Truth and must strive to avoid worldy activities which may detract from this goal. In particular, Ismāʿīlīs believe that the real and esoteric meaning of the fasting is the fasting of soul by avoiding devilish acts, and doing the good deeds everytime. The fasting by not eating during the month of Ramadan has been considered as a metaphorical implementation of fasting, and has been appreciated, but has not been considered compulsory for the Ismāʿīlīes, as the real challenge of a Muslim is the fasting of his emotions and fantasies, rather than his hunger. I


"...Hajj... is the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims are required to make at least once in their lives. Ismailis are not required to make hajj though [there is no] evidence that they are forbidden to do so (and other Shī‘ah sects do make the hajj). A leading anti-Ismaili critic claims that the hajj was abolished by Imam Medhi when the Qarmatians raided Mecca and stole the Black Stone. However, the Bohras Ismailis who follow Fatimid era doctrines and practices do make the hajj. Given that Mecca is in the hands of Sunni fundamentalists who have killed Ismailis and other Shī‘ah, it would be suicidal for Ismailis to go there. For many Ismailis the hajj is one's everyday practice of the faith and the jihad one's progress to the goal of unity with God. The ginanic literature does not mention the hajj but instead emphasis the need to get a deedar (glimpse) of the Imam. Today the Imam Karim makes annual tours to visit his followers throughout the world which reverses the idea of pilgrimage and makes the Imam available for all Ismailis." -Professor Jamshid, editor of Qiyamat: A Newsletter for Friends of the Imam


A pillar which translates from Arabic as “struggle.” The definition of jihad is generally controversial within certain sects of the Muslim ummah (community), with it having two meanings and dispute concerning which is the correct or 'literal' one. One meaning is that of personal struggle, otherwise known as Jihad-e-Akbar, "the Greater Struggle," while the other, Jihad-e-Asghar, "The Lower Struggle" is that of struggle against the 'adversaries' of the faith.' In general, in contrast to other Muslim groups, the Nizari group is primarily pacifist hence interpreting 'adversaries' of the faith as both personal and social vices (i.e. wrath, intolerance, etc.) and those individuals who harm the peace of the faith. Thus Nizari Ismailism does not encourage the stereotypically misconstrued 'warfare' or 'crusade-like' interpretation of the Jihad-e-Asghar. Rather, Ismāʿīlīs are told to avoid provocation and use force only as a final resort only in self-defense.The Druze believe that the Jihad is the struggle to know God, while protecting the brothers in faith is one of the Druze's pillars and is similar to the concept of Jihad-e-Asghar. It is unclear what the Mustaali believe.



The largest part of the Ismāʿīlī community today accepts Prince Karim Aga Khan IV as their 49th Imām, who is descended from Nizar.Fact|date=October 2007 The 46th Imām, Aga Hassan ‘Alī Shah, fled Iran to South Asia in the 1840s after a failed coup against the Shah of the Qajar dynasty.cite book |last=Daftary |first=Farhad |title=A Short History of the Ismailis |year=1998 |publisher=Edinburgh University Press |location=Edinburgh, UK |isbn=0-7486-0687-4 |pages=196-199] Aga Hassan ‘Alī Shah settled in Mumbai in 1848.

Like its predecessors, the present constitution is founded on each Ismāʿīlī's spiritual allegiance to the Imām of the Time ("Imām az-Zamān"), which is separate from the secular allegiance that all Ismāʿīlīs owe as citizens to their national entities. The present Imām and his predecessor emphasized Ismāʿīlīs' allegiance to their country as a fundamental obligation. These obligations discharged not by passive affirmation but through responsible engagement and active commitment to uphold national integrity and contribute to peaceful development.

The Nizari followers of the Aga Khan are found today in China, Syria, the Indo-Pak Subcontinent, East Africa, Central Asia, Europe, Canada and the United States. Notable cities with many Nizaris include: Hunza, Pakistan, Karachi, Mumbai, and Toronto.

In view of the importance that Islām places on maintaining a balance between the spiritual well-being of the individual and the quality of his life, the Imām's guidance deals with both aspects of the life of his followers. The Aga Khan has encouraged Ismāʿīlī Muslims, settled in the industrialized world, to contribute towards the progress of communities in the developing world through various development programs. In recent years, Nizari Ismāʿīlī Muslims, who have come to the US, Canada and Europe, many as refugees from Asia and Africa, have readily settled into the social, educational and economic fabric of urban and rural centers across the two continents. As in the developing world, the Nizari Ismāʿīlī Muslim community's settlement in the industrial world has involved the establishment of community institutions characterized by an ethos of self-reliance, an emphasis on education, and a spirit of philanthropy.


The movement's adherents went on to establish a stronghold in Syria where they developed their body of doctrine and sacred scriptures. Today, the Druze community lives mainly in Lebanon, Syria and Israel.

Large communities of expatriate Druze also live outside the Middle East, in the United States, Canada, Latin America, West Africa, Australia and Europe. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the East Mediterraneans of the region.

There are thought to be as many as 1 million Druze worldwide, the vast majority in the Levant or East Mediterranean. [ [ Druze set to visit Syria] BBC News Online, 30 August 2004. Retrieved 8 September 2006. ] However, some estimates of the total Druze population have been as low as 450,000. [ [ Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents] Last updated 28 October 2005. Retrieved 8 September 2006. ]

Because of their beliefs contrasting greatly with both other Ismāʿīlī groups and Islam in general, the classification of Druze as Ismāʿīlī Muslims is controversial.


In time, the seat for one chain of the Dai was split between South Asia and Syria as the community split several times, each recognizing a different Dai. Today, the Dawoodi Bohras, which constitute the majority of the Mustaali Ismāʿīlī accept Mohammed Burhanuddin as the 52nd Dāʿī al-Muṭlaq. The Dawoodi Bohras are based in India, along with the Alawi Bohra. The Sulaimani Bohra however still are in primarily Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

There has been, in recent years, a rapprochement between the Sulaimani Mustaali and the Dawoodi Mustaali.

The Bohra are noted to be the more traditional of the three main groups of Ismāʿīlī, maintaining rituals such as prayer and fasting more consistently with the practices of other Shīˤa sects. It is often said they resemble Sunni Islam even more than Twelvers do, though this would hold true for matters of the exterior (zahir) only, with little bearing on doctrinal differences.

Dawoodi Bohra

The Dawoodi Bohras are a very closely-knit community who seek advice from the Dai on spiritual and temporal matters.

Dawoodi Bohras is essentially and traditionally Fatimid and is headed by the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq, who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The Dāˤī al-Mutlaq appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of māzūn (Arabic Ma'ðūn مأذون)"licentiate" and Mukāsir (Arabic مكاسر). These positions are followed by the rank of ra'sul hudood, bhaisaheb, miya-saheb, shaikh-saheb and mulla-saheb, which are held by several of Bohras. The 'Aamil or Saheb-e Raza who is granted the permission to perform the religious ceremonies of the believers by the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq and also leads the local congregation in religious, social and community affairs, is sent to each town where a sizable population of believers exists. Such towns normally have a mosque and an adjoining jamaa'at-khaana (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held. The local organizations which manage these properties and administer the social and religious activities of the local Bohras report directly to the central administration of the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq.

While the majority of Dawoodi Bohras have traditionally been traders, it is becoming increasingly common for them to become professionals. Within South Asia many choose to become Doctors, and in the Far East and the West, a large number now work as consultants or analysts as well as a large contingent of medical professionals. Dawoodi Bohras are encouraged to educate themselves in both religious and secular knowledge, and as a result, the number of professionals in the community is rapidly increasing. Dawoodi Bohras believe that the education of women is equally important to that of men, and many Dawoodi Bohra women choose to enter the workforce. Al Jamea tus Saifiyah (The Arabic Academy) in Surat and Karachi is a sign to the educational importance in the Dawoodi community. The Academy has an advanced curriculum which encompasses religious and secular education for both men and women.

Today there are approximately one million Dawoodi Bohras. The majority of these reside in India and Pakistan, but there is also a significant diaspora resident in the Middle East, East Africa, Europe, North America and the Far East.

The ordinary Bohra is highly conscious of his identity and this is especially demonstrated at religious and traditional occasions by the appearance and attire of the participants. Dawoodi Bohra men wear a traditional white three piece outfit, plus a white and gold cap (called a "topi"), and women wear the "rida", a distinctive form of the commonly known burqa which is distinguished from other forms of the veil due to it often being in color and decorated with patterns and lace.

Besides speaking the local languages, the Dawoodis have their own language called Lisānu l-Dāˤwat "Tongue of the Dāˤwat". This is written in Arabic script but is derived from Urdu, Gujarati and Arabic and Persian.

ulaimani Bohra

Founded in 1592, they are mostly concentrated in Yemen, but are today also found in Pakistan and India. The denomination is named after its 27th Daˤī, (Sulayman ibn Hassan).

The total number of Sulaimanis currently are around 300,000, mainly living in the eastern district of Haraz in the North west of Yemen and in Najaran, Saudi Arabia, beside the Banu Yam of Najaran, the Sulaimanis are in Haraz, among the inhabitants of the Jabal Maghariba and in Hawzan, Lahab and Attara, as well as in the district of Hamdan and in the vicinity of Yarim.

In India there are between three to four thousand Sulaimanis living mainly in Baroda, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Surat. In Pakistan there is a well established Sulaimani community in Sind, some five to six thousand Sulaimanis live in rural areas of Sind, these Ismāʿīlī Sulaimani communities are in Sind from the time of Fatimid Ismāʿīlī Muizz li din Allah when he sent his Dais to Sind.

There are also some 900-1000 Sulaimanis mainly from Indian Sub-continent scattered around the World, in the Persian Gulf States, USA, Canada, Thailand, Australia, Japan and UK.

Alavi Bohra

While lesser known and smallest in number, Alavi Bohras accept as the 44th dāʿī al-muṭlaq, Abu Haatim Taiyeb Ziyauddin Saheb. They are mostly concentrated in India.

The Alavi Bohra community has its headquarters at Baroda City, Gujarat, India. The 44th Dāˤī al-Mutlaq, Taiyeb Ziyauddin Saheb, is the head of the community. The religious hierarchy of the Alavi Bohras is essentially and traditionally Fatimid and is headed by the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq, who is appointed by his predecessor in office. The Dāˤī al-Mutlaq appoints two others to the subsidiary ranks of māzūn (Arabic Ma'ðūn مأذون)"licentiate" and Mukāsir (Arabic مكاسر). These positions are followed by the rank of ra'sul hudood, bhaisaheb, miya-saheb, shaikh-saheb and mulla-saheb, which are held by several of Bohras. The 'Aamil or Saheb-e Raza who is granted the permission to perform the religious ceremonies of the believers by the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq and also leads the local congregation in religious, social and community affairs, is sent to each town where a sizable population of believers exists. Such towns normally have a mosque and an adjoining jamaa'at-khaana (assembly hall) where socio-religious functions are held. The local organizations which manage these properties and administer the social and religious activities of the local Bohras report directly to the central administration of the Dāˤī al-Mutlaq.


This branch held that whoever the political ruler of the Fatimid Empire was, was also the Ismāʿīlī of the faith. This branch died with the Fatimid Empire.


A branch of the Ismāʿīlī known as the "Sabaʿiyyīn" "Seveners" hold that Ismāʿīl's son, Muhammad, was the seventh and final Ismāʿīlī, who is presently in the Occultation. cite book |first=Farhad |last=Daftary |title=The Ismāʿīlīs: Their history and doctrines |location=Cambridge, England |publisher=Cambridge University Press |year=1990 |isbn=0-521-42974-9 |pages=104] However, most scholars believe this group is either extremely small or totally non-existent today.


Unreliable statistics have resulted in there being only an estimate as to the number of Ismai'lis in the world. Estimates range from 15-30 million. [cite web | url = | title = Religion of My Ancestors | accessdate = 2007-04-25] It is accepted that Ismai'lis constitute the second-largest Shi'a Muslim population. Within the Ismai'li sub-sect, the largest branch is Nizari at around 10 million. With its three branches added together, the Mustaali are the second largest at under 2 million, followed by the Druze at around 1 million.


ee also

* Nizārī
* Ainsarii
* Batiniyya
* Khoja
* Banu Yam
* Naser Khusraw

External links

* [ A Film on the Aga Khan and the Ismailis]
* [ Official Nizari Ismaili Website]
* [] Ismaili Dating
* [ Ismaili Business Directory]
* [ Ismaili] an article by encyclopedia Britannica online
* [ Institute of Ismaili Studies]
* [ An Official website about Ismaili Community]
* [ Graphical illustration of the sects of Shi'a Islam]
* [ Shia Imami Nizari Ismaili Muslims] Golden Jubilee Celebration
* [ History of Imams from the Nizarī point of view.]
* [ Ismaili Web]
* [ Dawoodi Bohras]
* [ Aga Khan Development Network]
* [ Alavi Bohra: The Smallest Sect of Ismā'īlī Mustaˤlī Faith]
* [ Isma'ilism] , in the Encyclopedia of the Orient

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