The Fatimid era’s great Ismaili jurist, theologian and historian al-Qāḍī al-Nu‘mān reports in his book Da’ ā’im al-Islām that Imam Muhammad al-Bāqir (alayhi-as-salam), was once asked about the meaning of what Allah says to the Prophet in the Holy Quran: “But you are only a warner and [there is] a guide for every people.” (Sura Ar-Ra’d, 13:7)
Imam al-Bāqir (a.s) responded:“The warner is the messenger of God; and in every age there is an Imam from among us to guide (and provide leadership to) the community after him. Thus, the first of the guides after him (i.e., the Holy Prophet) is Ali ibn Abi Talib, then the vicegerents (i.e., awsiya), one following the other after him, the best of salutations be upon them all.”
Today, we are celebrating the 84th birthday of this divinely designated guide – our beloved Mawlana Hazar Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussaini, (Aga Khan IV) salawatullah ‘alayhi – born on 13th December 1936 (28th Ramadan, 1355 Hijri), who is the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad Sal Allah O Wa Alayhi Wasalam and Hazrat Ali, Alayhi-As-Salam. This blessed day, not only brings a great sense of joy and happiness to the Ismaili Muslim community, but also provides us an opportunity to consider the role of the Imamat and the lifework of our beloved Imam as an interpreter of the ethical principles of Islam. It also provides us with an opportunity to convey our humble thanksgiving to Imam-e-Zaman (Imam-of-the-Time) for his love, guidance and protection.
In the Ismaili tradition, the role of the Imam-of-the-Time in a murid‘s life is twofold: The Imam is concerned with spiritual guidance as well as improvement of the quality of life of his murids.
Mawlana Hazar Imam explained this aspect of his responsibility during his Jodidi lecture at Harvard University on 12th November 2015: “What does it mean to become an Imam in the Ismaili tradition? To begin with, it is an inherited role of spiritual leadership. As you may know, the Ismailis are the only Muslim community that has been led by a living, hereditary Imam in direct descent from Prophet Muhammad. That spiritual role, however, does not imply a separation from practical responsibilities. In fact, for Muslims the opposite is true: the spiritual and material worlds are inextricably connected. Leadership in the spiritual realm — for all Imams, whether they are Sunni or Shia — implies responsibility in worldly affairs; a calling to improve the quality of human life.”
Since 11th July 1957, the life of our beloved Imam demonstrates an unswerving commitment to these principles. Time and again, he has reminded us on many occasions that, in Islam spiritual (din) and the material world (dunya) are not to be treated as separate realms. They are inextricably linked, and the pursuit of material gain must be within the framework of ethical concerns. Through the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (akdn.org), he has translated this vision of Islam into concrete social action.
In our personal lives, Mawlana Hazar Imam has constantly guided us to lead our lives according to the ethics of our faith, including empathy towards nature, care for mother planet, helping those in need, kindness, generosity, sincerity and truthfulness, regardless of anyone’s religious belief, race, color, ethnicity, and gender. Simply, us following his guidance, would be considered a great birthday gift to him.
These ethical ideals of Islam are as important for individual murids as they are for institutional endeavors.
Mawlana Hazar Imam in an editorial in a French Diplomacy Journal – Politique Internationale (English edition of special issue on Agence française de développement), n°134 – Winter 2011-2012, says:
“The ethics of Islam bridge the realms of Faith and World — what we call Din and Dunya. Accordingly, my institutional responsibilities for interpreting the faith are accompanied by a strong engagement in issues relating to the quality of life, not only for the Ismaili community but also for those with whom they share their lives — locally, nationally and internationally. This principle of universality is expressed uniquely in the Holy Quran where it is written, “O Mankind, be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul … (and) joined your hearts in love so that by His grace ye became brethren.” www.akdn.org/speech/his-highness-aga-khan
It is through the guidance and blessings of our beloved Imam that today our community is globally recognized as a forward-looking, educated and peaceful community. With our institutions we have made meaningful contributions to the societies in which we live, representing the true values and ethical principles of Islam.
On this happy occasion of our beloved Imam’s 84th birthday, let us offer our gratitude to the Imam-of-the-Time for his commitment towards our spiritual and material well-being (din and dunya). Let us ask ourselves how we can reciprocate the life-long devotion and love that our Imam has for us. Let us also express our gratitude and humble thanksgiving for the grace of Imamat, reaffirm our loyalty to Imam-e-Zaman and recommit to live by the ethical ideals of our faith, to live a balanced life, stay united, be regular in the practice of our faith and strengthen our understanding of our faith. May Allah keep all of us on the straight path (Ihdina-s-Sirat-al-Mustaqim) Holy Quran 1:6. Ameen!