During the month of Dhu’l Qa’dah, in the year 6 after hijrah, the Prophet set out on a journey with his companions to perform the minor pilgrimage or umrah, which may be performed outside the month and time during which the official Hajj is performed. However, the Meccans misunderstood this as an attack on them. Realizing this, the Holy Prophet sent his companion Hazrat Usman-e-Ghani (r.a.) with a message clarifying the purpose of their trip. When Hazrat Usman did not return in due time, it was feared that he had been killed. Under a perceived threat of attack by the Meccans, the Prophet’s 1400 companions, with no weapons, gave their allegiance to the Holy Prophet and pledged to sacrifice their lives, if required, for Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h.) and Islam. This allegiance, known as the Bay’atur-Ridhwan or the Bay’ah of Allah’s Good Pleasure, was a demonstration of their dedication to the cause of Allah. As it turned out, the news about Usman’s death was false. Later, the treaty of Hudaibiyah, named for the place at which it was signed, gave the Prophet and his companions access to the Ka’bah without fear of harm for all future visits. After the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet sat on Mount Safa and took the oath of allegiance from the persons who embraced Islam, both men and women. After his farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet’s caravan, upon the command of Allah, halted at Ghadir al-Khum on 18th Zilhaj, where he declared Hazrat Ali bin Abu Talib as his successor (Maula). Hazrat Ali (a.s) took the Bay’ah of the believers, known as the Bay’ah al-Ghadir. A well-known hadith relates: “Whoever dies without a pledge of allegiance on his neck has died a pagan death.”
“Hence, it is necessary for you that you should remind yourselves of the covenants that you have made with the Imam and the terms of the covenant that you have taken upon yourselves to fulfill. If you ignore inadvertently, or forget, or treat lightly any of those terms, then the moment you realize your mistake you must atone for it by repentance and do what you have omitted to do. If you have forgotten the terms or some part of it then renew them by reviving the terms of the covenant. Admit your guilt and repent to Allah and to the Imam. If you persist in your mistakes or your ignorance then you will appear before God as one who had ignored His sign on earth and broken his vow with Him” (Kitab al-Himma).
This Bay’ah is referred to in the Surat al-Fath (48:10 Qur’an). It assures the believers that the Bay’ah given to the Prophet is the same as giving allegiance to Allah Himself. In the Shi’a tradition, after the Prophet it is the Imam of the Time who receives the Bay’ah of the community and guides the murids. Thus, this event reminds us that Bay’ah to Allah can be accomplished through the Bay’ah to the Imam of the Time; and if we fulfill this Bay’ah, Allah has promised us an immense reward. The word Bay’ah, occurring 14 times in the Holy Qur’an, is derived from ba’ya meaning sale, purchase, or transaction. In Islamic terminology, the term baya refers to an agreement or undertaking between the master and his followers. Other synonymous expressions appear in the Qur’an, in al-ahd (13:19-20) and al-mithaq (33:7, 5:14). In Islam, the best example in this context is the Bay’ah al-Aqba, which had been taken two times by the people of Medina from the Prophet on the hill of Aqba in Mecca. When the Prophet came to Medina, the Ansar women also assembled in a house to take an oath of allegiance.
This fundamental concept is embodied in the Preamble to the Ismaili Constitution which defines Bay’ah or allegiance, as a permanent spiritual bond. Bay’ah entails obedience of the murids to the guidance of the Imam of the Time.
In religious traditions, the birth of a child evokes the mystery of the gift of life. Birth, like death, marks the boundary between existence and that which lies beyond human life. New life is viewed as a sacred trust and a divine gift that needs to be protected and respected. The event of birth signifies the continuity of a family and community. It also symbolizes the continuity of a culture or a tradition – the child becomes part of a new generation that inherits the tradition of a community.
The birth of a child is marked in many communities by special rituals called birth rites. The event of a child’s birth brings about change for the parents. Birth rites facilitate the transition of a family through this period of change. Rites performed before a child’s birth are associated with its safe delivery and the health of the mother, but rites performed after the birth welcome the new person into the family and community.
In Muslim cultures, the recitation of the shahada is among the rites performed upon the birth of a child. In celebrating the birth of a child, Muslims acknowledge the gift of life which God has granted them. The beginning of human life provides an opportunity for believers to reaffirm their bond with their Creator. They seek to maintain and honor this bond throughout their lives.
In the Ismaili Muslim tradition, parents perform the bay’ah on behalf of the infant. The parents assume responsibility to bring up the child as a murid of the Imam of the Time. They provide guidance and care for the child to follow al-sirat al-mustaqim (the straight path according to the Qur’an, Sunnat, and guidance of the Imam of the Time). Bay’ah symbolizes the act of acceptance by the murid of the spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. For Ismailis, the performance of the Bay’ah reaffirms the Qur’anic pledge referred to in Surat al-Fath, as under:
“Indeed, those who pledge allegiance to you [O Prophet], in fact they pledge allegiance to Allah; the Hand of Allah rests over their hands. Then whoever breaks his oath, he only breaks it to his own detriment; and whoever fulfills the covenant he made with Allah, then He will bestow on him a great reward.” (48:10).
After Prophet Muhammad, Muslims asked who should receive their allegiance. Referring to the ayat above, Da’i Nasir-i Khusraw asks the questions: Where can I now find that hand, that oath, that place? Whose hand should we touch when swearing allegiance to God? In Da’i Nasir-i-Khusraw’s view, divine justice necessitated that all Muslims be able to give bay’ah to God through His chosen representatives, not just those who lived in the time of the Prophet. In the Shia tradition, it is the Imams, as the Prophet’s director descendants, to whom believers give their bay’ah. In doing so, they also pledge their allegiance to Allah and His Messenger.
For the Ismailis, bay’ah holds deep meaning in the practice of the faith. In addition to the Qur’anic verse 48:10, the following verses related to bay’ah are as follows:
–“O’ you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in [divinely granted] authority among you…” (4:59), and
–“O’ you who believe, do not betray Allah and His Messenger, and do not betray your trusts knowingly.” (8:27)
These verses are understood in the Shia tradition as referring to the divine covenant where the believers honor their pledge to Allah through the Prophet and the Imams.
Indeed, implicit in the words of the Imam of the Time’s words (for us Ismailis), “My beloved Spiritual Children“, is the understanding of this special relationship that we share with him and that we share with each other. The Preamble to the Ismaili Constitution helps us understand this philosophical underpinning when it states, “The authority of the Imam in the Ismaili tariqah is testified by Bay’ah by the murid to the Imam which is the act of acceptance by the murid of the permanent spiritual bond between the Imam and the murid. This allegiance unites all Ismaili Muslims worldwide in their loyalty, devotion, and obedience to the Imam within the Islamic concept of universal brotherhood. It is distinct from the allegiance of the individual murid to his land of abode.”
During the course of our 1400-year history, we find murids of the Imam, including Pirs and Da’is, traveling across the world to offer their bay’ah to the Imam of the Time. Historically, Imams also appointed Pirs and Da’is who accepted bay’ah on behalf of the Imam of the Time. In recent times however, it has become more common for Mukhis and Kamadias (representatives of the Imam) to officiate bay’ah ceremonies.
Within Ismaili Tariqah, we find diverse expressions of the bay’ah ceremony among the various traditions found in Central Asia, South Asia, Middle East, and the western world. In many parts of the world, while there may not be a formal bay’ah ceremony, many Ismaili parents do bring their children to Mukhi, Kamadia or elders in the Jamat for offering the prayers and blessings in the form of a short formal ceremony in the Jamatkhana.
The applicant recites the Holy Kalama-e-Shahada before the Mukhi/Kamadia. Blessings are then offered to the newborn and the family members present at the ceremony with prayers for strength of Iman, regularity in religious practices, stay on the straight path, (sirat al-mustaqim), and for peace, happiness, and healthy long life.
It is important to note that a formal bay’ah ceremony also takes place for older newly admitted Ismailis once they have their new admissions process and training completed, such as learning of Qur’an with meaning, Foundation of Faith; Concept of Man; Concept of Imamah/Authority of Imam; Concept of Continuity of Guidance; AKDN – Ethics of Service; Ismaili Festivals; Devotional Literature; etc.
While the family and friends celebrate the arrival of a newborn in the community, the bay’ah itself is a deeply personal and private pledge that reflects an intimate and a permanent spiritual bond between the murid and the Imam.