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A HISTORY OF THE AGAKHANI
book was first published from Canada in 1991.
has been republished twice from Pakistan.
Urdu translation of the book has been published from Pakistan.
IN THE NAME OF ALLAH
I begin with my gratitude to the Beneficent and
whose Messages have guided the believers to a straight path.
"As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular prayer;
shall We suffer the reward of the righteous to perish."
Holy Qur'an 7/170
The followers of Karim Aga Khan,
the "Agakhani Ismailis," are spread out in various parts of the world.
They constitute the vast majority, and comprise a controversial group,
within the various sub-sects of Ismailis, who in turn form a small minority
within the various groups and sects of the Islamic brotherhood. Thus, the
Agakhani Ismailis represent a minute proportion, some 0.1 percent, of the
Muslim world. However, their fame and profile far exceed their numbers,
due primarily to the prominence of the Aga Khan and his family members
through their international political, economic, and social status.
Of significance has been their
long association with thoroughbred horse racing in Europe; Aga Khan
III's weighing in gold, diamonds, and platinum as a gift from his followers;
the marriage of Prince Aly Khan Karim Aga Khan's father to renowned actress
Rita Hayworth and his role as a leader of Pakistan's delegation to the
United Nations; the service of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan in the United
Nations as High Commissioner for Refugees; and, most recently, Karim Aga
Khan being named Commander of the French Legion of Honour for eminent
services to humanity.
It is a common belief that the
ancestors of the Agakhani Khojah Ismailis were Hindus and that
approximately seven centuries ago they were converted to the Ismaili faith
by Pirs (authorized preachers) that came from Persia. The questions often
asked are: Were these Pirs Imami Nizari Ismailis? Were they sent to India
from Persia by the Ismaili Imams (spiritual leaders)? What was the Islamic
Tariqah (persuasion) adopted by these converts at the time of their conversion?
The faith practised by Ismailis
during the golden era of their history the Fatimid period
of the Caliphate in Cairo was within the spectrum of the various
sects, denominations, and schools of thought that exist in mainstream
Islam. This meant that they observed the Shari'ah laws at the peak
of their glory. Fatimid Imams built the first
university in the world, al-Azhar, which became an institute of
repute in the Muslim world, to study the Qur'an and Islamic jurisprudence,
among other subjects. Fatimid Ismailis recited the canonical Islamic
prayers in mosques five times a day, as opposed to conventional
Ismaili prayers three times a day at present in the Jama`at khanas (literally,
place of assembly; in Ismaili terminology, place of worship). During the
congregational noon prayers on Fridays, the names of the prevailing Fatimid
Imams were mentioned in Khutba (an exhortation or sermon) in Egypt. Like
other Muslims, they observed the Fast during the holy month of Ramadhan
and performed the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).
It is interesting to learn how the dramatic change
occurred that absolved the sect from the requirements of certain
edicts of the revealed laws after the fall of the Fatimid dynasty,
in the Alamut period. The roots of the Fatimid Ismailis were in theregion
of the Middle East where Islam was born. On the other hand, the roots of
the majority of the Agakhani Ismailis, who are the Shia Imami Khojah
Ismailis, are in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, and their conversion
from Hinduism has gone through various phases of proselytization.
During the past one and half centuries, the religion ofthese converts has
undergone such drastic changes that the present generation of Agakhani
Ismailis is almost totally ignorant of the practices of their forbears
three, and four generations ago in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent
and Africa. The Agakhani Ismailis have made significant progress
in the fields of education, commerce, and industry. Spiritually,
however, the propagation of esotericism has left the community virtually
bereft of the fundamental precepts and concepts of Islam.
Today, only a few elderly Khojahs (Ismaili, Ithna'ashri,
and Sunni Khojahs) who have read the literature published during
the nineteenth century, such as Ibrat-afza (an autobiography of
Aga Khan I in Persian) or its Gujrati translation published in 1861, orthose
who have heard from their elders the accounts of the second and thirdproselytizing,
can trace back the trails and rediscover the lost heritage.
A study of primary as well as
secondary documents, some of them rare and others that have been withdrawn
from circulation or that were written for internal circulation in the ancient
form of Sindhi script called Khojki, reveals that the process
of proselytizing has gone through three distinct stages. The last two are
only a century and a half old.
A few Agakhani Ismaili scholars who have compiled a bibliography
of Ismaili literature, and others who have access to these documents,
are well aware of the fact that the conversion of Hindus to the
Ismaili faith has not been firsthand and has gone through more than
one phase. But these scholars are also cognizant of the fact that under
Article 14 of the Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims (1986),
any Ismaili who prints, publishes, or circulates any material or
makes any statement or
convenes a meeting or assembly purporting to be on behalf of, or
in the name of, or relating to, the Imam, the Ismaili Tariqah, the
Jama`at (a congregation or community), and any Ismaili Council or
Institution without the written permission of the National Council
within whose jurisdiction he or she resides shall be liable to disciplinary
action, and the offender can be expelled from the community. It is high
time that these kinds of stipulations and restrictions are lifted
and that Ismaili
scholars have the encouragement and support of community leaders
in publishing their findings.
In 1947-48, a couple of
Ismaili students and I met the Russian professor Vladimir Alekseevich
Ivanov (1886-1970), popularly known as W. Ivanow, and Vice-Chancellor Asaf
Ali Asghar Fyzee (1899-1981), a Sulaymani Ismaili, who were the founding
members of the Ismaili Society in Bombay, to obtain their permission to
translate one of their publications into Gujrati.
In 1946, the Ismaili Society
was founded with the aim of promoting independent and critical study
of all matters connected with Ismaili faith, which included their literature,
history, and philosophy. The Ismaili Society functioned with the financial
support and patronage of the late Aga Khan III.
The Society had undertaken a bibliographical
survey of Ismaili literature. One and a half decades later, when the work
was finally published by the Society in Tehran in 1963, it was in an abridged
form. Professor Ivanow scrutinized 929 works, and his analysis of these
many documents was published in just 180 pages. Asaf Fyzee, the founding
member of the Ismaili Society, wrote, "Everything
connected with Ismailism seems to be enveloped in a cloud of mystery and
Sixty-three years ago, I was born
into an Agakhani Ismaili family where every member of the house over the
age of five was made to recite his or her Du'a (a designated ritual prayer)
in Gujrati three times a day. A prayer in which one would repeatedly prostrate
oneself before a photograph of the Aga Khan and affirm with firm conviction
that the photographed mortal was the physical manifestation of Allah upon
His Highness Sir Sultan
Muhammad Shah, Aga Khan III, came to see my mother at a hospital in Southend-on-Sea,
England, where I was born. He personally gave me the name by which I am
known today. The late Aga Khan was well-known for his wit and uncanny ability
to provoke laughter. While giving his blessings, he wittily appointed me
as a Kamadia (assistant steward cum accountant) and my (late) elder brother
Abdulali who was also born in England as a Mukhi
(chief steward cum treasurer) of his London Jama`at. The year was 1928.
As a devout follower of the
Aga Khan, my father donated Rs.300,000.00 -- practically eighty percent
of his entire wealth -- to the Aga Khan's Diamond Jubilee fund. Half a
century ago, that was an enormous sum of money. Being the highest donor
from India, he received the singular honour of weighing His Highness the
Aga Khan (putting plastic boxes full of rented diamonds on the weighing
scale) in Bombay, on 10 March 1946. Thereafter, contrary to the general
expectations of every believing Ismaili, the downfall of our family began.
My father, who had been
in the carpet and textile business, suddenly had to face charges
arising out of a small business transaction. He had sold goods meant forexport,
locally. I was a student at that time but became an accessory for having
acted as a delivery boy. Our entire stock of textiles was confiscated by
the authorities, who were
acting under instructions from the newly independent Indian government.
Communal tensions were running high and anti-Muslim sentiments were
visible inside and outside of the court house.
Aga Khan had his own tax problems
with the government. The authorities were demanding a large sum as taxes
on his revenues and funds collected from the Ismaili community. Donors
who had donated substantial sums for the Diamond Jubilee were individually
investigated and taxed. Aga Khan decided to stay in Europe till the matter
was settled by his agents, which did not happen during his lifetime.
The court proceedings were slow and
the hearings dragged on for several years. To start a fresh life,
I moved to West Pakistan in 1949 with a few hundred rupees in my pocket.
A few years later, morally depressed and financially depleted, my father
migrated to East Pakistan. After the partition of India, the Aga Khan had
predicted in his private Farmans (authoritative and binding pronouncements)
that Dacca and Chittagong would become London and Paris
of the East. After losing a portion of his investments, my father moved
to East Africa. From there, under the guidance of the Aga Khan, my family
relocated to Belgian Congo. Aga Khan's prognostication that Congo would
be the last colony in Africa to get its independence was wrong, and within
a few years my family had to get out, following the turmoil in that country
From 1949 to 1975, during my domicile
in Pakistan, I diligently served the Ismailia community in various
capacities. I kept up the Jama'ati tradition of serving the Hazar (present)
Imam with Tan, Man, and Dhan (Body, Mind, and Money). In 1972, I was appointed
President of the Ismailia Regional Council for Karachi and Baluchistan
by Karim Aga Khan. I held that position till I emigrated to Canada in 1975.
Towards the end of 1982, I published
in British Columbia my first book on the ancestry of the Aga Khans.
It was entitled From Abraham to Aga Khan. As the years went by, I continued
research on the subject of Ismaili literature and history. At the same
time I augmented my studies with the revealed messages that are to be found
in the Qur'an and the Bible. By the grace of Allah, I got out of my tunnel
vision. I could now see my beliefs from a wider perspective. A perspective
whose outlook was panoramic and not restricted by inherited, imposed or
prescribed thinking. I could now compare with an open mind what
I had studied in the past with what I was learning in the present. Ibegan
asking questions in private as well as in public, by writing memoranda
My doubts were strengthened
when I discovered that a large number of Ismailis had similar
doubts and difficulties in under
standing what they were asked to practise. But most of them were
observing a double standard. To express their doubts or endorse
their feelings in the open was too risky. It could lead to
expulsion from or rejection by the Jama`at, which none could afford
of their family ties and business contacts within the community.
My frustrations germinated, but I alsostayed
within the community. I did not refrain from seeking answers from
Agakhani scholars and missionaries at public gatherings as
well as in private. I flew to Paris after communicating
with Karim Aga Khan's personal secretary hoping to getanswers
from the highest authority, the Aga
Khan, but the promised interview did not take place.
The real change in my attitude came when Idiscovered
to my utter surprise that the Aga Khan is not a direct descendant
Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, through the Fatimid
Imams, but is a descendant of Hasan, a son of Da`i Muhammad of Alamut,
had proclaimed a kind of spiritual filiation with the Fatimid
Imams. I intensified my research on the subject, and compared thedata
recorded by Ismaili and non-Ismaili historians. My findings got
more and more
support as I went through fresh documents.
Finally, I decided to write a book based upon
my discoveries. Understanding Ismailism A Unique Tariqah of Islam
was published at
the end of 1988. It was printed and distributed from British
Columbia, Canada, a country that promotes and guarantees itscitizens
the freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief,
opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and
other media of communication, under its Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
I was expecting rejoinders in the form of books or memoranda
challenging my research, but that did not happen. Instead, something
Hardly a week or two passed after the above
publication when an announcement was read in all the Jama`at khanas
asking the members of the Jama`at not to support the author,
etc. Shortly thereafter, in December 1988, the honorary secretary
the Aga Khan's Ismaili Council for British Columbia filed
a Complaint before the Aga Khan's Conciliation and Arbitration
Board for British Columbia. The complainant asked the Board
to recommend my expulsion from the Jama`at, under Article 14 of
Constitution ordained by Karim Aga Khan.
My lawyers advised me that without going into
the merits of the book or its content, the mere fact that I had
written a book on Ismaili faith and Aga Khan without obtaininga
written permission from the Ismaili Council was sufficient cause
for obtaining an order for expulsion from the community under theordained
Constitution. I had not been a
practising Ismaili for the last several years. Professor
Peter Lamborn Wilson mentioned in the opening sentence of hisreview,
which was published in the book, that I was a former Ismaili.
In March 1989, I publicly withdrew my oathof allegiance
to Karim Aga Khan and at the same time invited him through the media,
well as by a letter, to have an open forum or a public debate
at the Royal Albert Hall in London, either personally or throughrepresentatives.
The offer was not accepted.
At the end of 1989, I wrote 'Understandingthe
Bible - through Koranic Messages'. It was published at a time
in the history of the
Middle East when there was a greater need for Jews, Christians,
and Muslims the three children of Abraham
to re-examine their own
roots and unite as brothers. The book was reviewed by Tom
Harpur, a former professor of the New Testament. Several months
was interviewed by Tom Harpur in his nationally televised
series Heaven and Hell.
In the middle of 1990, I began collectingbooks
and documents that would assist me in discovering the roots of my
inherited beliefs. As a teacher of a religious school,I had heard
almost all the Farmans pronounced by the Aga Khans, recited hundreds
of Ginans (hymnlike devotional songs that are recitedin the Jama`at
khanas), and read practically every book of Ismaili history that
was ublished by the Ismailia Association for India. They
all led me to believe that the
conversion of my ancestors to the Ismaili faith was direct.
The Pirs who performed the onversion were Ismailis.
The data I had now collected told me a different
story. I decided to look outside and approached a few families of
Sunni Khojahs and Ithna'ashri Khojahs whose ancestors were
also converted from Hinduism. They provided me with documents and
facts hitherto unknown to me and probably to most Ismailis.
A History of the Agakhani Ismailis will serve as the most explicit
the history of the followers of the Aga Khan and their religious
This book of history is in particular addressed
to the mundane everyday readers the laity. I have therefore chosen
bibliographical data for the quoted passages before each
quotation, rather than have a consolidated list at the end. The
also prove to be of interest to non-Ismaili readers and scholars
who have, in the words of a professor, "run
into a stone wall" or
"gotten the run-around" while
doing their research on the Ismaili community.
THE ROOTS OF OUR PERSUASIONS
A divine innocence
A captivating smile radiating from the beaming
face of a newly born baby gazing at you from its crib is suffused
with divine innocence. However, that impeccability and candour
are so transient that as soon as the infant grows up, the heavenly
naivete takes its leave and is not seen again. The unblemished
purity with which a human mind was divinely conceived and created
within the womb of a mother has been tainted. A slate that
was once clean and spotless is now delineated with materialistic
characters and figures. The shadow of a human being has
eclipsed that innocent smile.
From time immemorial, one of the major responsibilities
of arenthood has been to enlighten, or to be precise, to influenceoffspring
with certain dictates and precepts. In the process, parents confer
wards their views and personal beliefs. Going back, we discover
that just as we have, our parents, too, inherited their religiouspersuasions
and beliefs from their parents. A child born into a Christian home may
develop his intellect hearing the name of "Lord Jesus"as his
benefactor and saviour. Another, born next door may enrich his intellect
hearing the name of "Shri Rama" and "Shri Krishna".In
an Ismaili home an infant hears the nameof "Mawla Bapa," a
term that refers to their spiritual leader, the Aga Khan.
To extol that revered name and to staunchly defend
His glory becomes one of the sacred duties of that child as
he or she grows up. This childhood training is so well grounded
that even upon maturity, an
educated, well-bred, adult individual would very gratifyingly
imitate his parents.
A sublime act
During my high school days in Bombay, I often walked
home from my school. My home was in a Muslim quarter and the government
school was in a crowded residential-cum-business area that
was predominantly a Hindu neighbourhood. In this journey by foot,
I swam through the
ceaseless flow of ethnically diverse human traffic that dashed
in either direction, at a brisk pace. Occasionally, a freely roaminggauwa
mata (mother cow) would stop her stride, raise her tail, and begin
As a young Muslim, I watched with a feeling
of awe and surprise as the civilized, urbane Hindu men and women
that were walking alongside me suddenly surged forward and placed
their cupped hands under the elevated tail, to catch a spoonful
or two of that fluid. These cultured, devout, high caste Hindus
would then routinely raise their hands and release that sacred liquid
into their wide open mouths. After chanting a few words and
rubbing their wet palms on the back of that holy cow, these sophisticatedindividuals
would resume their journey with joy at having caught that pious
liquid in time. A mind that has developed in a
non-Hindu home can only try to comprehend, but can never
fully understand the sacrosanctity of these acts or the feelingsof
elation, gratification, and bliss that filled the hearts and minds
of these pious
performers, who have dauntlessly followed the footsteps of
their ancestors in this twentieth century.
For the great majority of us the choosing
of a religion has been a matter of family tradition and the
geographical location of our birthplace. Had a person been born
in South America, his chances of being a Brahmin (a high-caste
Hindu) rather than a Catholic would have been one in a million or
probably none at all. It can be said that in most
cases the religion that we follow is not through our personal
discovery but an imposed family persuasion. Yet we protect thatpersuasion
as well as the beliefs and practices that are associated with it
with all our strength and vigour. They have now become our
beliefs and our practices.
When a person migrates from the place of his
birth, he accepts new cultures, speaks new languages, and adopts
new social practices that ameliorate, or are better suited
to, his new environment. But when the
subject is religion, he resents and takes exception to new
influences, beneficial or otherwise. He would proudly maintain that
his religion is holier than thine. There can be no foreign
philosophy or perception worth trading with his.
When someone points a finger at the enigmatic
dogmas that are associated with his religion, he often tries to
defend them for the sake of defending. And when he fails todo a
good job of it, he estranges himself from that individual, rather
than disassociate himself from the identified paradoxes. But when
it is his turn to point a finger at their paradoxical dogmas, he
expect instant submission from his opponents. He expectseveryone
but himself to be rational and logical while discussing religion.
The roots of our truth
For all practical purposes, we assume thatthe
patriarchal affiliation that was enjoined, prescribed, or imposed
upon us by reason of birth or fate has to be the wholetruth and
the only truth worth defending. The
most unfortunate part of this whole scenario is that the
very notion of such an assumption was also imposed upon us by the
same people who handed over to us our religion. What we claim
as "our" truth is indeed a personal truth, but we cannot be positive
and confident of its veracity unless and until we track its
roots through history and discover the source.
The roots of our inherited fanaticism could
be centuries old. Most probably we do not even know the name or
the historical background of that individual ancestor who discovered
our religion or was converted to believing what we believe today.
A sincere effort to trace the origin of our persuasions and
the history of conversion could be a rewarding experience.
Ismaili historians have recorded that themajority
of the progenitors of Agakhani Ismailis were very poor and came
from the rural areas of Sind, Gujrat, Kathiawar, andKutchh. Before
their conversion, seven
centuries ago, they belonged to a middle low-caste Hindu
society that was constantly oppressed by the high-caste Hindu priests,landlords,
and local merchants. In those days, the rural population in India
consisted mostly of uneducated individuals that wouldfall within
the category of "angootha chhap",meaning the
illiterate individuals that place thumb impressions on written documents
in lieu of signatures. These long-suffering,docile human beings
had developed the habit of meekly placing their thumb impressions,with
an unsuspecting mind, on any documentthat was put before them by their
benefactors. Besides, they had no other alternative or
means at their disposal toascertain the authenticity of the documentswithout
offending their masters.
Similarly, these submissive ancestors withno access
to any literature, would place their trust in any story that was
narrated to them by their elders or religious Gurus. Thebase of
their beliefs was a blind faith and reliance upon these individuals.
They had built their traditional, cultural, andreligious convictions
based upon Riwayah
(oral transmissions of traditional stories) that were being
told and retold with a twist, generation after generation.
Serve with an unsuspecting
Ismaili literature, like much other religious literature,
is full of epic stories and folklore depicting the superhuman power
of the Pirs and Imams. Not long ago, all these legends of
miracles (e.g., lowering of the
sun by Pir Shams in the city of Multan) were devoutly respected
and regarded as historical facts by the devoted ancestors. Many
unsuspecting minds would, even today, place their total trust on
legendary supernatural feats of Hazrat `Ali that are vividlynarrated
in the various Farmans made nearly a century ago by the then Aga
Often an Ismaili would quote a popular verse
from a Ginan to prevail over a logically sound argument or win a
losing debate. The verse teaches: "Bhore
mane s'révo", meaning;
"Serve with a mind that is
unsuspecting." This reminds me
of a well-known Christian admonition which has a similar
advice for those who express their scepticism of the Trinity document.
It says: "He who tries to understand the mystery
fully will lose his mind, but he who denies the Trinity will lose his soul."
An English translation of the Holy Qur'an and a detailed commentary
thereof by Abdullah Yusuf Ali enjoys a unique place in Islamicsociety.
I have taken the liberty of quoting his translation and the commentary
at the end of each chapter of this book to convey the revealed
message that stands as a criterion for all mankind.
So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the faith;
Commentary by A. Yusuf Ali:
(establish) Allah's handiwork according to the pattern
on which He has made mankind:
no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah:
that is the standard religion:
but most among mankind understand not.
Holy Qur'an 30/30
As turned out from the creative hand of God, man is innocent,
pure, true, free, inclined to right and virtue, and endued with
true nderstanding about his own position in the Universe and about
goodness, wisdom, and power. That is his true nature, just
as the nature of a lamb is to be gentle and of a horse is to
be swift. But man is caught in the meshes of customs, superstitions,selfish
desires, and false teaching. This may make him pugnacious, unclean,false,
slavish hankering after what is wrong or forbidden, and deflected
the love of his fellow-men and the pure worship of the One
True God. The problem before spiritual Teachers is to cure this
crookedness, and to restore human nature to what it should be under
the Will of God.
THE PIRS OF THE KHOJAHS
The conversion of Hindus in India
Within a century after the passing away ofthe
Prophet of Islam, Muslims expanded their realm as far as India.
Under the leadership
of Muhammad ibn Qasim, Arabs conquered Sind in 712. Thereafter,
Islam spread deeper into India through subsequent conquests by the
Ghaznavids and others. Islamic rule in India reached its
peak under the celebrated Muslim dynasty of the Great Moghuls
who were noted for their cultural refinement and architectural
achievements, and for the blending of their Persian heritage with
On the other hand, the Da`wah (literally, summon,
invitation) activities of Islam - the conversion of Hindus - was
carried out by the
Muslim scholars and Da`is (literally, summoners, religious
propagandists). Along with Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi came the famous
Muslim scientist and genius Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973-1048)
to India. He learnt Sanskrit and became a bridge between the twocultures.
Al-Biruni translated the Hindu classic named Patanjali Yoga into
Arabic and wrote a book called Kitab al-Hind, describingHindu philosophy
and customs. Muslim Da'is belonged to various Islamic sects and
of thought, but the majority of them were Sunni Muslims.
The conversion of the Khojahs
Six to nine centuries ago, a significant number
of Hindus from the subcontinent of India, especially those living
in Kashmir, Punjab, and Sind, and on the western coast of India,
embraced Islam. One such group was converted by a Muslim Da'i named
Shaykh Sadr ad-Din (leader of the faith). Ismailis call him
by the name of Pir Sadr-din. From Turkey to India, this Persian
title Pir is used in preference to the Arabic word Shaykh. PirSadr-din
gave these newly converted Gujrati,
Kutchhi, and Sindhi-speaking Muslims the laqab (honorific
title) Khawajah, meaning an honourable person, and named
their persuasion Sat-panth (true path). As time went by the
word Khawajah became Khojah and the community
became known as Sat-panthi Khojahs, or simply
Khojah Muslims. But, it is very important to understand that
these Sat-panthi Khojahs were mainly Sunni Khojahs as
we shall soon observe.
Prior to the arrival of the Pirs of the Khojahs,
there had come to India many Ismaili Da'is from Persia, but they
were mostly Qirmatis (Qarmatians) who in those day were commonly
( impious heretics ) by their foes. During a peak period
of the Fatimid dynasty, Ismaili Da`is such as al-Sijistani,
al-Haytham, and Jamal bin
Shayban had spread the Ismaili Da`wah from Khurasan to Multan.
But it was short lived in India. When Mahmud Ghaznavi conqueredNorthern
India, he imprisoned Ismaili ruler Abu'l-Futuh Daud ibn Nasr and
ruthlessly killed Ismailis in Sind and Multan. AnIsmaili author,
Ghulamali Allana, writes in 'Ginans of Ismaili Pirs' that Al-Haytham,
nephew of ibn Hawshab, was the one who started the work of
Ismaili Da'wah in Sind nd converted the ruler of Sind to Ismailifaith.
This was the dynasty of Soomras, who ruled Sind for over 300 years.
recorded that when Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi invaded Sind, he
mercilessly butchered thousands of Ismailis, and with that came
end of Ismaili rule in Sind. Dr. John Norman Hollister has
recorded in The Shi'a Of India (2nd ed., 1979, p. 347), based upon
researches of M. Abdul Halim Sharar and Syed Hashimi's publication
The Arab Rule in Sind (pp. 221-22), that Sumras (Soomras) "were
Jewish converts to Islam who, coming to Sindfrom
Iraq, adopted the Qarmatian articles offaith and held power over the province
Sind until the middle of the eighth centuryA.
Pir Satgur Nur
Based upon legends, some historians have,placed
the conversion of the Khojahs as early as the ninth century by a
Da`i named Nur-ud-Din (light of the faith). Ismaili missionary
Abualy A. Aziz records in A Brief
History of Ismailism, (Toronto, 1985, p. 114) that he was
the fifteenth Pir of Ismailis. His name was Sayyid Mohammed. Nooruddi'n
not his name but a title he died in 487 a.h. (1094 a.d.).
Others historians have placed the arrival of this so called
Ismaili Pir in India during the period of the fourth grand
master of Alamut, Hasan 'ala dhikrihis-salaam (d. 1166). T. W. Arnold
says that he arrived in Gujrat during the reign of Sidhraj
Jai Sing (1094-1143). F. L. Faridi says, based upon another legend,
that he arrived in Gujrat during the reign of Bhima II (1179-1242).
Dr. G. Allana writes that he came after Al-Haytham. Thus the legendarydates
vary from the ninth to the thirteenth
The name of this Da'i in Ismaili literature is
Pir Satgur Nur. Various
miracles are ascribed to this legendary preacher by Ismaili
authors, such as making Hindu gods and goddesses (statues of stones)dance
at his command. The claims for Pir Satgur Nur being deputed by an
Ismaili Imam from Persia are conflicting and cannot besubstantiated.
John Norman Hollister records in 'The Shi`a Of India'
(p. 351), that based upon the date of the Pir's death recorded on
his tomb and
the claims made about him, the Pir "wouldhave
been over three hundred years old!"
Professor W. Ivanow concludes in 'The Sect of
Imam Shah in Gujrat' (p. 59): "It must befrankly
admitted that we know absolutely nothing
about the date at which the Pir [Satgur Nur] settled or died at
Nawsari, whohe was, and what religion he really preached."
Pir Shams of Multan
Other traditions have tried to attribute theconversion
of the Khojahs to a Muslim saint named Awliya Shah Shams-ud-Din
of Multan, Punjab (d. 1276). But history records thatthis famous
Muslim saint, to whom Ismailis refer as Pir Shams, had not visited
Gujrat, Kutchh, or Kathiawar during his lifetime, andthe majority
of the Khojah Ismailis have their roots in these districts.
Today, the majority of historians agree that
the development of the Khojah sect was greatly influenced by Pir
Sadr-din and his son Pir Hasan Kabiruddin (Shaykh Kabir ad-Din).
Pir Sadr-din was the one that gave the Khojah community its name.
This Khojah ancestry is the root of almost all the Agakhani
Ismailis of Indo-Pakistan origin, who have since spread all over
the globe. One has also to bear in mind that it is also theroot
of Khojah Shi`ah Ithna'ashries and Khojah Sunni Muslims of Indo-Pakistan
Khojah Agakhani Ismailis claim that Pir Sadr-din
and his mentor Pir Shams of Multan were Imami Nizari Ismailis. Sunni
Khojahs claim that the Pirs were Sunni Muslims and their
converts were observing the traditions (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad,
upon whom be peace. Khojah Ithna'ashries claim that the forefathers
of Agakhani Ismailis were following Ithna'ashri rites and rituals.
Even the ancestors of Karim Aga Khan that came from Persia
were strictly observing Ithna'ashri rites and rituals. These ritualswere
gradually abrogated and systematically abolished during the Imamate
of Aga Khan III.
Today, there are thousands of descendantsof the
original converts and adherents of Shah Shams in Pakistan, India,
Tibet, and Kashmir who regularly visit the shrine oftheir Awliya.
These devotees of Shah Shams are known as Shamsi. A vast majority
of them follow the Sunni Tariqah of Islam, and therest are Ithna'ashries.
With the exception of
a few families in Punjab and the Northwest Frontier province,
there are no Ismaili Shamsis in India or Pakistan. Noorum-Mubin,
a history book (1951 ed., p. 330) written by an Ismaili author
acknowledges that the majority of the converts of Pir Shams now
belong to the Ahle Sunnat Jama`at meaning, belong to the
community of Sunni Muslims.
Khojah is a term
used to describe a caste
Recently, the centennial of a widely readGujrati
monthly, Rahe Najat (path of salvation), was celebrated by the KhojahIthna'ashries.
A special booklet paying homage to its first editor, Haji Gulam
Ali Haji Ismail, popularly known as Haji Naji (the
saved Haji), was published and printedby NASIMCO (Organization of
North American Shi`ah Ithna-ashri Muslim Communities), Toronto,
Professor Abdulaziz A. Sachedina of the University
of Virginia writes in this booklet (p. 4):
It is important to stress the basic characteristic of the
Khoja community whose members retained their caste ideas inherited
from their Hindu ancestors for a long time due to the necessity
of posing as Hindus. However, this caste identity has no
relationship with Islam. In fact, it is correct to say that thereis
nothing like "Khojaism" that competes for loyalty with
in this community. A Khoja is a Khoja only byright of birth. It
is a term used to describe a caste and as such even if a Khoja
changes his religion he still remains a Khoja.
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