The Shi’ites claim to follow the line of Imams that began at Sayyiduna Ali radiyallāhu ‘anhu. Throughout their history, there were divisions and splits among the Shi’ites, based on who the next Imam was. From the outset, it must be understood well, that there is no basis for the Imamate theory in the Noble Qur’an or Blessed Ahādīth. The Imamate theory is alien to Islam. It is essential to note that the Imams themselves did not claim Imamate. It was the Shi’ites who originated the doctrine.
Over time, these divisions and subsequent sub-sects rose in number, reaching more than a hundred. They are detailed in the work Firaq-ush-Shia of Nawbakhti.
After the demise of Sayyidunā Ja’far As-Sādiq rahimahullah, the Shi’ites said that the Imamate has been transferred to his son Mūsā Al-Kādhim rahimahullāh. Other Shi’ites denied this and said that the Imam is Ismā’īl rahimahullāh. This group became known as the Ismā’īlī Shi’ites. In modern day terminology, they are understood as the Seveners.
The Ismā’īlīs are also known by other names, like, Bātinī. They were given this name because of their belief that for every outward visible manifestation, there is an inward invisible manifestation, i.e., for every zāhir, there is a bātin.
The Qarāmitah and Mazdakiyyah are groups under the Bātiniyyah. The Qarāmitah were engaged in many acts of violence and suppression of Islām in the past. A large number of scholars stood up in defense of the creed of the Ahl-us-Sunnah wal Jamā’ah and engaged in various efforts to deal with this problem. They wrote books, poetry and worked hard at every level to ensure that the common person is not duped into believing or accepting Ismā’īlī beliefs as Islām. At the forefront of these master scholars was Imam Al-Ghazālī rahimahullāh.
After further divisions, the Ismā’īlīs basically consist of the following groups:
- Dawoodi Bohra
- Sulaimani Bohra
- Alavi Bohra
- Nizari, also known as Aga Khani
The dominant grouping is the Aga Khani. However, the Ithna Ashari – the largest Shi’ite sect – continues to dissociate themselves from the Aga Khani. In fact, the Ithna Ashari excommunicate them altogether.
The Ismā’īlīs are led by Shah Karim Al-Husseini, known by his followers as Aga Khan (b.1936). He has been the Imam of the Ismā’īlī Shi’ites since 11 July 1957.
Insha Allāh, we shall be looking at the beliefs and practices of the Aga Khanis in articles to follow.
- Salah ad-Deen Al-Ayyubi, Dr Ali M Sallabi