Institute of Ismaili Studies

Institute of Ismaili Studies

The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) is a contemporary undertaking by the Aga Khan to study Islam in general and Ismailism in particular. The Institute draws on the worldwide knowledge and experience of institutions and scholars to create awareness through programmes, publications, and partnerships in the field of Islamic studies.

History and conceptualization

The Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS) established in 1977 by the Aga Khan, promotes scholarship and learning of Muslim cultures and societies both historical and contemporary.cite web | title = IIS Overview | publisher = Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29 ] It also functions as a “gathering point” for the Ismaili community as the community endeavors to understand its own history and thought, including the often neglected fields of esoteric Islam and Shi‘ism.cite web | last = Walker | first = Paul | title = Institute of Ismaili Studies | publisher = Encyclopaedia Iranica | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29]

Since its inception, the Institute has been located in London, England although it maintained a small branch in Paris, France for a time. Today it is located at Grosvenor Gardens and Westminster City Hall in London, where it features a library, conference rooms, classrooms, and offices.

Modern Ismaili Studies

Modern Ismaili studies first began in the 1930s in South Asia, where collections of Ismaili manuscripts had been preserved within Ismaili communities and brought to the fore through the pioneering efforts of Wladimir Ivanow, Asaf Fyzee, Husayn al-Hamdani, and Zahid Ali. Much of this early work helped to dispel the writings of the nineteenth century orientalists, which were often defamatory albeit unintentionally, having drawn only on the sources of the Ismailis’ adversaries, while over-sensationalizing occidental accounts.cite web | last = Daftary | first = Farhad | title = Ismaili Studies: Medieval Antecedents and Modern Developments | url = | format = pdf | accessdate = 2007-10-29] Ivanow, in particular, played an important role in the creation of the Ismaili Society of Bombay, which was, in a sense, a precursor to the Institute.

The former Ismaili Society of Bombay was established under the patronage of Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III in February 1946. The Ismaili Society stood for “the promotion of independent and critical study of all matters connected with Ismailism”cite book | last = Ivanow | first = Wladimir | title = Collectanae vol.1 | publisher = E.I. Brill | date = 1948 | location = Leiden] and frequently published monographs, critical editions of original texts and collections of short papers. Like the Institute, the Society’s work was involved in studying the field of particular intellectual movements in Islam, with a specific interest in Shi‘ism and Sufism. With these underlying premises, the Aga Khan chaired the Ismailia Association Conference in April 1975: a four-day meeting in Paris during which groundwork was laid for what was eventually to become the Institute of Ismaili Studies.cite web | last = Esmail | first = Aziz | authorlink = | title = The Role of the Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | format = pdf | accessdate = 2007-10-29] In November 1977, the Aga Khan made a public announcement that formally proclaimed the inauguration of the Institute. In his remarks the Aga Khan expressed his wish that the Institute become a major institution for his community, while reflecting upon the Fatimid centres of learning established by his ancestors a millennium before.

Tradition of learning

The late Aga Khan III was instrumental in the transformation of Aligarh University, for which he campaigned starting as early as 1896.Citation | last = Keshavjee | first = Mohamed | title = Aligarh University | journal = Ilm | volume = 5 | issue = 1 | pages = 16-19 | year = 1979] He also articulated the Muslims’ need for a “Central University” – a place where religion and learning are never divorced and individuality is safeguarded from imitating other cultures – so that early in their lives, students would gain a sense “for truthfulness, and for independence of character”.cite web | last = Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III | title = The True Purpose of Education (Speech at the Muslim Educational Conference) | date = 1904 | url = | format = pdf | accessdate = 2007-10-29] In subsequent years, Aga Khan III founded many schools in East Africa and South Asia. Most of these schools continue to exist today. He and his forefathers trace their ancestry back to the Fatimid Caliph-Imams who were among the first Muslims to establish institutes of higher learning in the history of Islamic civilization.cite book | last = Halm | first = Heinz | title = The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning | publisher = I.B. Tauris | date = 1997 | location = London | pages = 71-95] Therefore despite its recent foundation, the Institute draws upon a long historical tradition that is firmly rooted in education and learning and equally cognizant thereof.


The Institute operates under a board of governors that is chaired by the Aga Khan; its current director is Professor Azim Nanji, and Afzal Ahmed, Professor Mohammed Arkoun, Dr. Aziz Esmail, Mohammed Keshavjee, Naguib Kheraj, Zauhar Meghji and Shafik Sachedina sit on the board. While the Institute functions under the guidance of the Aga Khan, it is not regarded as a part of the Aga Khan Development Network.cite web
last = The Aga Khan Development Network is a superstructure of agencies that focus on health, education, culture, rural development, institution building and the promotion of economic development that is guided under the aegis of His Highness the Aga Khan | title = About the Aga Khan Development Network | publisher = Aga Khan Development Network | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29
] It does, however, work closely with the Aga Khan University, particularly with the university’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations.cite web
last = Report of the Chancellor's Commission | title = The Future of Aga Khan University: Evolution of a Vision | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29

Library and Publications

The Institute of Ismaili Studies Library was established in 1979 and is a major resource at the Institute, which houses the largest-known accessible collection of Ismaili codices in the world.cite web | title = The Library of the Institute of Ismaili Studies | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | format = pdf | accessdate = 2007-10-29] Its role is to preserve, develop and make available a central archive of Ismaili manuscripts, printed texts and audiovisual materials, and to support the activities and programmes of the Institute by providing necessary resources. The Library’s collection comprises some thirty thousand items, including rare manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Gujarati. Many of these manuscripts are described in published catalogues.cite web | title = The IIS Library Catalogue | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | format = Website | accessdate = 2007-10-29]

The Library also actively seeks to expand its holdings through new acquisitions, donations and by obtaining photocopies and microfilms of manuscripts that are held in various private and institutional collections. The Library’s collection has benefited from a number of private collections that have been donated such as the Dr. Zahid Ali collection of two hundred twenty rare manuscripts,cite web | title = Publication Content | work = Arabic Ismaili Manuscripts: The Zahid ‘Ali Collection in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29] and the Sherali Alidina collection. Much of the early collection, however, predates the foundation of the Institute and represents the holdings of the Ismaili Society of Mumbai.


The Institute’s publications are manifold and range from curriculum materials to translations and academic publications. They reflect its mandate of promoting modern scholarship in the area of Islamic studies. Most of the works are published through Islamic Publications Ltd. (IPL) in association with I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd..

The collection of curriculum materials produced by the Institute’s Department of Education for the religious and cultural education of the Ismaili community is known as the Ta‘lim Programme.cite web | title = Curriculum Materials | work = The Ta'lim Programme: Introduction | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29] This curriculum is currently available at primary levels for ages four to twelve in eight different languages. The curriculum is also expected to further expand for students at a secondary school level in the near future.cite web | title = The IIS Secondary Curriculum | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29] Seven types of academic publications are produced by the Institute, as listed below:

#Occasional papers or essays addressing broad themes on the relationship between religion and society, with special reference to Islam;
#Monographs that explore specific aspects of the Islamic religions tradition;
#Significant editions or translations of primary or secondary texts pertinent to the understanding of Islam;
#Translations of poetic and literary texts, which illustrate the rich heritage of spiritual, devotional and symbolic expressions in Muslim history;
#Works pertaining to Ismailism;
#Proceedings of conferences and seminars sponsored by the Institute;
#Bibliographical works or catalogues.


The Institute of Ismaili Studies offers a variety of different programmes from the graduate level to preparatory programmes for Ismaili students who have not previously studied English, such as the Khorog English Programme and the Syrian Preparatory Program.cite web | title = Graduate Studies | work = Preparatory Programmes | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29]

Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities

The Institute’s Graduate Programme has a three-year duration. It is designed to prepare individuals for academic and community life by aiming to engender “a sympathetic yet critical evaluation of many of the issues that are faced by contemporary Muslims”. The Programme focuses on Islam in general, and in particular on Shi‘ism and the Ismaili community, its history, and its teachings as understood within the Islamic religious tradition.cite web | title = Graduate Studies | work = Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29] The programme is interdisciplinary in nature, and begins by offering introductory courses in Arabic language, Islam and Islamic History, Approaches to the Study of Religion, and methods of analysis and criticism.cite web | title = Institute of Ismaili Studies Prospectus | work = Graduate Programme in Islamic Studies and Humanities Prospectus | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | date = 2006 | url = | format = pdf | accessdate = 2007-10-29] After two years of theory based learning, students embark on a field project during the summer of their second academic year. Students spend the final year of the programme at a degree-granting university in a subject related to social sciences and humanities where they study for a Master’s degree. The Institute also awards doctoral scholarships annually to suitable candidates. Preference is given to individuals who have completed the three year graduate programme.cite web | title = Research | work = Doctoral Scholarship Programme | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29]

The Professional Teacher Educators’ Programme

Launched in 2002, the Professional Teacher Educators’ Programme (PTEP) is an international initiative organized by the Institute to develop human resources that can implement the Ta’lim curriculum. The Programme works alongside the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development and various Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs) around the world. The programme is one year long and constitutes three periods of residential training, which are interspersed by periods of fieldwork. Since its inception, the programme has graduated fifty-three candidates who currently work in various capacities around the world.

econdary Teacher Education Programme

The Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) is a post-graduate programme that seeks to train and sustain teachers who will be instrumental in teaching the Institute’s Secondary Curriculum to Ismaili students worldwide. The two-year programme culminates in a Master of Teaching (MTeach) and a Master of Arts in Education and is undertaken through the Institute of Ismaili Studies, the Institute of Education (IOE) and the University of London.cite web | title = Graduate Studies | work = Secondary Teachers Education Programme (STEP) | publisher = The Institute of Ismaili Studies | url = | accessdate = 2007-10-29]


External links

* [ Official website ]

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