As an Ismaili Muslim, after passing away of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), we look to Hazrat Ali (a.s.) in our daily practices not only as exemplifying virtue and model behavior, but also for guidance, assistance, and comfort. Here we look at ways in which Hazrat Ali, and by extension, the spiritual role and guidance of the Imams, features in our du’a and other rituals, providing a window for us to reflect upon how we, as a faith-based community, relate to him and the institution of Imamat.
This special nature of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and his descendants are mentioned in the Qur’an [33:33], where Allah talks about the pure nature of the Ahl al-Bayt. Our ginans and qasidahs also refer to this special nature. In the ginan, AnantAkhado which we usually recite every day before the maghrib first du’a, we say “Ali Anant Anant, Ya Ali Anantejo Sami…” Here we evoke the sentiments of Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din who devoutly praises Mawlana Ali (a.s.) as the possessor of limitless knowledge, as the Master of souls and the knower of the limits of eternity. Similarly, in the Farsi qasidah, “Dam Hame Dam, Ali Ali,” its poet speaks about how in rapture, his being calls out for the spiritual essence of Hazrat Ali.
We also look to Hazrat Ali for support and guidance. One prayer recited by Shi’a Muslims, including many Ismailis, is that of “Naad-e Ali.” The Naad-e Ali or “Call to Ali” is recited at times of difficulty, worry, danger or fear. In this prayer, which is both personal and intimate, we also refer to Hazrat Ali as the “manifester of wonders,” the mazhar al-ajaib and ask him to come to our aid to help lessen our difficulties.
In our giryazari and mushkil aasan tasbihs, as in our daily du’a, we also ask Allah through the favors of Hazrat Ali (a.s.) and the Imam-of-the-time, to provide us and those around us with comfort and peace, blessings and ease. We do the same every time we recite Hazrat Ali’s name as we are using the tasbih in our individual prayers. Even in our greetings, Ya Ali Madad, “May Ali Help [you],” we invoke the name of our beloved Imam and recognize the sanctity of his name and efficacy of his character.
The mystic, Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, points to this understanding in one of his poems when he recites, “Your eyes [O Ali] have learned to perceive the unseen while the eyes of the bystanders are sealed.” He continues in a later verse about Imam Ali, “In as much as the moon, (even) without speech shows the way, when it speaks it becomes light upon light.”
While most Muslims, regardless of which interpretation of Islam they follow, acknowledge the virtuous character and moral values of Mawlana Ali, Shi’a Muslims and certain mystical communities also look to Hazrat Ali as a gate and symbol to the Divine. Through Hazrat Ali and his guidance (after the passing away of the Holy Prophet and the final revelation), which we recognize in each and every one of our Imams, we are connected to the Prophet (pbuh), the Revelation and all that is Divine in the universe.
In our du’a, we call upon Hazrat Ali by name six times in addition to calling upon “Ya Ali, Ya Muhammad, Ya Muhammad, Ya Ali” in the fifth part of our du’a. In some of these instances, we ask Allah to shower his favors upon Hazrat Ali and the Imams in his progeny. In others we declare the virtues of our first Imam. We also call his name in remembrance and we recognize his important role in both the panj tan pak as well as the anchor of the lineage of the Imamat.
In this way, we can understand Hazrat Ali and his message in at least two ways. One of these ways is through his form, which is historical and places him in Mecca in the 7th century and which we understand and perceive through our intellect. Another way of understanding him is through his grace and essence, which is spiritual and transcends time and moves beyond history. It is this Ali, the eternal Ali, the Ali-that-is-beyond-all-else, that features in our prayers and practices, who we relate to emotionally, symbolically and who we have the potential to feel, live and breathe. For many of us, this experience is reinforced and felt through the grace and blessing of our present Imam, in this world.
Mawlana Hazar Imam (Karim Aga Khan)’s emphasis on ‘continuous remembrance’ which, insh’allah, will enable us to feel the presence of Allah and Nur-i Ali always in our hearts.
This historical coexistence of private prayers and personal search alongside community prayers can be understood further through the hadith of Holly Prophet.
Narrated Abu Huraira:
According to God’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Allah said, ‘I will declare war against him who shows hostility to a pious worshiper of Mine. And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me, is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps on coming closer to Me through performing Nawafil (praying or doing extra deeds besides what is obligatory) till I love him, so I become his sense of hearing with which he hears, and his sense of sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks; and if he asks Me, I will give him, and if he asks My protection, I will protect him; (i.e. give him My Refuge)…” (Narrated by Sahih Al-Bukhaari )
How do we practice continuous remembrance? Simply call on the tasbih for 5 seconds, 15 seconds, a minute and gradually progress on our meditation, God has many good names, Asma e-Husna, and any name that comes in your mind simply keep repeating with understanding of its meaning, and just to name a few, such as: Ya Allah, Ya Wahab, etc…, so that your thoughts and your soul, for that particular moment, is looking at matters which are not material, and it will bring you peace and happiness.
We can practice silent Zikr at every opportunity we get. This conscious effort to practice remembrance will not only give us peace, happiness, courage, wisdom and the ability to deal with issues in our lives, but it will also enable us to receive the blessings, which insh’allah will connect us with the Divine spiritually.
Rites and Ceremonies: how they serve as expressions of the faith.
Rites and rituals in places of worship are universal in all organized religions. They constitute a direct and visible form of communication with the Divine. Individual and collective participation in these acts of piety and worship reinforce our fundamental beliefs, values, and identities. In our tradition, these rites and ceremonies provide a tangible and regular means through which the Imam-murid relationship is sustained and reinforced.
The Holy Qur’an [15:29] says that God has breathed His Spirit into man. It follows naturally that man has an innate desire to communicate with God. One of the ways in which we try to communicate with the Divine is through rites and rituals and our daily prayers. This is also reflected in Qur’an 6:162, which says:
“Say! Indeed, my prayer and (all) my acts of ritual worship and my living and my dying are for God (alone)…”
There is a rich multiplicity of forms of ritual and expressions across Muslim contexts. Mawlana Hazar Imam has emphasized that Islam is very diverse with many languages, cultures, inherited practices, and traditions, which need to be respected and honored by all of us. It is important to note that the forms of practices, which evolve within different cultural contexts, are historically different.
One of the important aspects of rites and ceremonies is that they are symbolic in nature. Some rites and rituals symbolize principles of love and sacrifice; while others may symbolize purification. There are rites of passage such as birth, which is associated with bay’ah; or marriage which is associated with nikkah; or death which is associated with burial rites and ceremonies. Further, even materials utilized in the rituals are symbolic in nature. For instance, ‘water’ symbolizes ‘purity’ or ‘tasbih’ symbolized ‘remembering the Names’. We will have variances in our interpretations and understanding of a particular ritual, depending on our own context, culture, and social and historical backgrounds.
The objective of rites and ceremonies is to provide us with an opportunity to go beyond the form, and move closer towards the essence or intentions that lie behind those symbols. For example, the objective of the practices of various rituals are purification of one’s soul. Forms of some rituals may differ, but the intention is to provide an opportunity for us to repent, ask for forgiveness and achieve purification. We must look for the essence of each ritual which will allow us to achieve the spiritual transformation and better understanding of all faiths and their practices.
Congregational performance of prayers provides a means to bear witness as a community of worshipers. Through its performance, the community of believers present themselves before God as a single body of worshipers and affirms its common faith. The notion of prayer is an experience, personal to each believer, and involving aspects such as a person’s beliefs about prayers, the intention and feelings.
Over the course of time, Muslims became diversified into many communities, Sunni and Shia, based on their understanding of Islam and the concept of authority after the Prophet (pbuh). Their worship and practice of the faith also reflected their interpretation of Islam. Certain elements of salat, for example, were specific to various denominations. In the Sufi tradition, prayers, such as dhikr, express the mystical understanding of Islam. In esoteric traditions, the concepts of zahir and batin informed the worship of the believers. As Muslim communities were located in many regions of the world, their prayers and practices expressed the core principles of Islam in the cultures and languages of their region. In addition to formal prayers, a vast number of collective and personal prayers were composed which reflected the faith, contexts and experiences of communities and individuals. Today, as a result of this diversity in the Muslim umma, such as the historic co-existence between Namaz and Du’a, which has an important place in Islam, since it concerns the relationship of faith with life, here we find a wide variety of prayers which form part of the religious and devotional heritage of Muslims. Du’a, dhikr, tasbih, salawat and Nad’e Ali are some examples of these diverse expressions of prayer. All of these expressions of worship form part of both, our communal as well as our individual prayers of invocation, remembrance and supplication.
Even within congregational and collective prayers we find intimate exchanges between the believer or supplicant referred to in the first person as ‘I’, addressing God directly in a very personal way, as ‘You’. In our daily Du’a, there are many prayers where the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ form part of the believers’ invocation of God, the Prophet, and the Imams. For example, in our first part of Du’a we recit:
“sajada wajhi ilayka wa-tawakkaltu alayk minka quwwati wa-anta ismati ya rabba’l-alamin”
“I prostrate before You and I rely upon You. From You is my strength and You are my protection, O Lord of the Worlds.”
Prayer helps us enter into close communion with the Divine. Through our prayers, we seek God’s help and support and ask for strength and protection. We pray for forgiveness and mercy, and for peace and guidance. Through the Prophet and the Imams, we call upon God to seek His nearness. Just like the Qur’an promises to us:
“[O Prophet] When My servants ask you about Me, then [tell them] I am indeed very close. I answer the prayer of the supplicants who call to Me…” [2:186].