Muslims Read the Quran, Ismā’īlīs Read the Ginans

In Jamat Khanas, Ismā’īlī children are taught to recite and memorize verses of the Ginans, rather than the verses of the Noble Qur’ān. The Ginans are a collection of the beliefs and traditions of the Agakhani Ismā’īlīs. The vast majority of Ismā’īlīs are generally not interested in the Noble Qur’ān and look at the Ginans as the primary source of learning and teaching.

The Ginans are divided into a number of categories and are used for proselytizing too. If the Ginans are so important, we should be asking the essential questions about their history and source.

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Ashique Ali H Hussain, President of the Ismā’īlia Association for Pakistan has written in his foreword of Ginans of Ismā’īlī Pīrs by G Allana that the first handwritten documents and manuscripts of the Ginans were available only in the seventeenth century. Based on this, we ask, what were the Ismā’īlī adherents following and learning all along? Was there no effort made to codify the beliefs and traditions before this?

Categories of Ginans

The Ismā’īlia Association for India has classified the Ginans into three categories, based on their authorship:

1. Authorized Ginans – composed by appointed Pīrs

2. Devotional Songs – composed by known Sayyids

3. Devotional Songs – composed by unknown Sayyids

In the religion of Ismā’īlism, obedience is first and foremost to the farman of the Imām. Second, in line is obedience and adherence to the Ginans. How does a person adhere to and obey devotional songs whose authors are unknown? Is this not questioned by the common Ismā’īlī?

Now, the common Ismā’īlī cannot even authentically differentiate the Ginans from the Songs. Moreover, it is practically impossible to differentiate and separate the ‘edited’ Ginans from the ‘unedited’ Ginans.

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What is the process for editing the Ginans? Who is authorized to do this? Several collections of Ginans have been published by the Ismā’īlia Association for Pakistan over the last two decades – after making them conducive to the climate of Pakistan. Well, now we have a further change formed of the Ginans. It was changed to suit the climate of Pakistan, so did the Ginans go through editing in other parts of the world too? What if an Ismā’īlī living in another country wants to edit the Ginans to suit the climate there? What climate is ‘suited’ for Ismā’īlism?

The work of editing the Ginans was given to the Ismā’īlia Association for Pakistan in 1975 by Karim Aga Khan, hold it, hold it, it’s getting a bit too much for us. Yes, quite frankly, it is.

Discoveries of Ivanow

Professor Ivanow is regarded as a leading authority on Ismā’īlī literature and history. He had migrated from India to Russia and then devoted his time to research on Ismā’īlī history and doctrine. Aga Khan III had also praised Ivanow for his research and study.

1. Professor Ivanow’s independent research, published in Tehran in 1960, did not support Ismā’īlī beliefs.

Professor Ivanow had written unfavorably about Ismā’īlī history and literature. The result: most of his publications suddenly ‘went out of print’. We find a striking resemblance with social media censorship here.

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2. In one of his ‘out of print’ books, Ismā’īlī Literature p.174, Tehran 1963, Ivanow wrote,

‘It is quite possible to think that what is now in existence is the result of a process of selection which was at work for a long time. The ginans, of which it chiefly consists, were never built into a canonical version, respectfully preserved. The creation of new compositions is suggested by oral tradition, the new good ones were apparently accepted, and the inferior old ones were allowed to fall in oblivion.

A great majority of ginans are the creation of anonymous authors. Apparently, quite a considerable proportion of those attributed to the authorship of Great Pirs probably have nothing to do with them, and were composed at a much later date.’

3. Later publications of Ivanow, translated manuscripts of Ismā’īlī Literature were, in fact, plagiarised Ithnā Asharī documents, passed on him by Ismā’īlīs as works of their Pīrs and Imāms.

In this quagmire of confusion, what does a common Muslim decide? Well, the only safe solution is to turn to and trust the Noble Qur’ān – preserved in its pristine purity, and the blessed Ahadith – transmitted to us with a genuine and unbroken chain of reliable narrators. Turn askance from the Ismā’īlī confusion, turn to Islam.

Follow Mufti Abdullah on Twitter: @MuftiAMoolla


Source: A History of the Agakhani Ismailis, Akbarally Meherally, 1991, Canada pp.32-38

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