Khalil Andani and Faraz Alidina to present on “Modern Ismaili Imamat” at the American Academy of Religion Conference in Boston

Khalil Andani and Faraz Alidina to present on “Modern Ismaili Imamat” at the American Academy of Religion Conference in Boston

The 2016 New England-Maritimes American Academy of Religion (NEMAAR) Conference will feature a Panel on the Philosophy and Authority of the Modern Ismaili Imamat with presentations by Khalil Andani and Faraz Alidina of Harvard University. The conference is being held at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry on Saturday April 2. Any Jamati members wishing to attend these presentations may contact Khalil Andani ( to make arrangements to attend the Panel. Details on these presentations are below:

Panel Title: “The Modern Ismaili Imamat: Religio-Political Thought and Ritual Authority of the Aga Khans”

April 2, 2016 – Date/Time: 2:45 – 4:00 PM
Location: Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, Room STM 100
Panel Organizer: Khalil Andani

1. Between Modernism and Mysticism: The Religio-Political Thought of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah

  • Faraz Alidina (MTS Candidate, Harvard Divinity School)

2. The Ritualization of Walayah: The Authority of the Living Imam in Contemporary Ismailism

  • Khalil Andani (PhD Candidate, Harvard University)

The Modern Ismaili Imamat: Religio-Political Thought and Ritual Authority of the Aga Khans


At a time when media coverage portrays Islam as a faith in crisis, the interpretations and activities of minority Muslim communities are easily dwarfed and overshadowed in both public and scholarly discourses. After an illustrious and enigmatic history, the minority Shia Ismaili Muslims have emerged as one of the more modern, progressive and united Muslim communities in the world. This is in large part due to the leadership of the two most recent Ismaili Imams, Aga Khan III and Aga Khan IV, whom the Ismailis regard as the legitimate hereditary successors to the religious authority of the Prophet Muhammad. Together the papers on this panel shed light upon two distinct but complementary facets of the Aga Khans’ leadership and religious authority – the public intellectual side and the esoteric ritual dimension.

The first paper by Faraz Alidina analyzes the religio-political thought of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III as articulated in his public speeches and writings. In addition to being the 48th hereditary Imam of the Ismailis, Aga Khan III was a key financier for the Aligarh University, president of the Muslim League, leader of the Muslim independence movement in India, and the President of the League of Nations (1937-39). Alidina argues that the Aga Khan’s worldview regards science and religion as primordially inseparable rather than distinct, and accordingly, the decline of Muslim empires and the rise of Western science were inextricably linked. He also shows how the Aga Khan departs from other Muslim modernists by his emphasis on the Sufi doctrine of the Oneness of Being (wahdat al-wujud) and the value of mystical poetry.

The second paper by Khalil Andani focuses on the religious authority of His Highness Prince Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV, the successor of Aga Khan III and present Imam of the Ismaili Muslims. Recent scholarship (Daftary et al. 2011; Poor 2014) has only focused on the present Aga Khan’s leadership as manifested through his institutional work in the Aga Khan Development Network. Andani argues that the religious authority of the Ismaili Imam today is “ritualized” through contemporary Ismaili practices, such as the daily Ismaili prayer (Du‘a), rituals of spiritual purification, and the charismatic event known as didar. On the basis of Wade T. Wheelock’s theory of ritual as a set of “situating” speech acts that communicate archetypes and fundamental values, Andani demonstrates how Ismaili Tariqah rituals (as described in public academic literature) situate the Imam as the possessor of a divinely-ordained authority, known as walayah in Shia Islam, which corresponds in part to the Weberian type of charismatic authority. Specifically, these rituals portray the Ismaili Imam as a medium for God’s blessings, the spiritual father and mother of his disciples, and the locus of manifestation (mazhar) of a primordial spiritual reality called the Light (nur) of the Imamat.

See Full Conference Program:


Faraz AlidnaFaraz Alidna is a Master’s student in Islamic Studies at the Harvard Divinity School. He graduated with a B.A. from McGill University in 2015, where he was the Managing Editor of the McGill International Review and a Research Assistant to Dr. Shafique Virani, Distinguished Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Toronto.

Khalil AndaniKhalil Andani is a doctoral (Ph.D) candidate specializing in Islamic intellectual history, theology, philosophy, and mysticism at Harvard University and holds a Master of Theological Studies degree (MTS 2014), specializing in Islamic philosophy and Ismaili thought, from Harvard University.

Khalil’s publications include a book chapter on Nasir-i Khusraw’s philosophical thought in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Islamic Philosophy, two articles on Ismaili Philosophy in Sacred Web, and an article on Ismaili views of the Crucifixion of Jesus in The Matheson Trust.

He was recently interviewed on CBC Radio about the Aga Khan Museum. He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant (CA-CPA) and has completed Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath) and Master of Accounting degrees at the University of Waterloo (2008). Over the last few years, Khalil has been invited to deliver several guest lectures and conference presentations on various topics pertaining to Islamic thought and Ismaili philosophy.

Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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