Mawlana Hazar Imam visited Bombay (now Mumbai), India, on August 6, 19571 for the first time as Imam. The historical connection of the Imamat to the city dates to the nineteenth century when Imam Hasan Ali Shah transferred his residence there.
After the fall of the Nizari Ismaili state of Alamut (1090-1256), the community was deprived of direct contact with and centralised leadership of the Imams, who remained in hiding for two centuries in order to avoid persecution. Many Persian Nizaris migrated to adjacent lands in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Sind in the Indian subcontinent, developing independently and often in isolation from one another.
The Imams and the community residing in Persia guised themselves under the mantle of Sufism that was spreading at that time. The advent of Shia rule in fifteenth-century Persia led to friendly relations with the Imams who eventually were able to continue the da’wa activities openly. Imam Abu’l-Hasan Ali Shah, rose to political prominence in Kirman and was appointed governor of the province by the Persian ruler Fath ‘Ali Shah, who also granted the hereditary title of Aga Khan to Imam Hasan ‘Ali Shah. He was first Imam to bear the title.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Imam Hasan Ali Shah migrated from Persia to the Indian subcontinent, establishing his headquarters in Bombay in 1846, officially transferring the seat of the Imamat, after seven centuries, from Persia. The Nizari Ismailis who had made the hazardous journey to Persia to see the Imam were overjoyed by the establishment of his darkhana, or chief residence, in the Indian subcontinent. Imam attended jama’at-khana on special religious occasions and held a durbar, when in Bombay, on Saturdays in a special area at his residence that came to be known as the Aga Khan Hall.
Imam Hasan Ali Shah organized the community through a network of functionaries, mukhi (from the Sanskrit mukhya meaning ‘chief’ or ‘most important’) and kamdia (‘accountant’), in every Khoja jama’at, who possessed a jama’at-khana. (Pir Sadr al-Din referred to the converts as Khoja derived from the Persian word khwaja meaning ‘lord’ or ‘master’.)
Imam Hasan Ali Shah passed away in 1881. His shrine lies in the Mazagaon area in Bombay. He was succeeded to the Imamat by his eldest son Aqa Ali Shah.
1Ontario Ismaili Newsletter, Silver Jubilee Issue
Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990
Professor Azim Nanji, Dr. Farhad Daftary, Ismaili Communities – South Asia, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Compiled by Nimira Dewji