Esotericism in the Ismaili Tradition, Part I: Fragile Foundations

Esoterism in the Ismaili Tradition Part I Cover

After my previous article Takmil-e-Deen, a question was haunting my mind: If there is no place of the doctrine of Imamat in Islam, then what can be the origin of the prevailing doctrine of the Imamat?

Here I was caught in the wilderness of a novel doctrine: exoteric and esoteric concept. Here I quote Ivanow to show how difficult is this field:

In addition to these shortcomings of a purely individual nature, the text, in common with all works on haqaiq, presents much difficulty for understanding and interpretation because of the manner in which the argument suddenly leaps from philosophical matters into the field of theology, only to jump again into the sphere of mythology, Kabbalistic and other superstitious speculations, and so forth.

Source: Ivanov, English Translation of Shish Fasal by Nasir Khuraw

In my understanding the subject of taʾwīl, I had to toil much but Allāh blessed me to understand the concept of taʾwīl.

Four Preliminary Considerations

In this section, we will look at the preliminary considerations while exploring this subject which give us clear evidence of the fragile foundations of esoterism in the Nizari Ismaili creed.

Consideration #1: Lack of Evidence of taʾwīl in the Qur’ān

There is no indication in Holy and Divine Qur’ān that there is any point or narration or commands of the Qur’ān have any secrecy. On the contrary the Qur’ān teaches that:

i. Qur’ān is Ki’tab-e-Mubin that is the open book and no secret reservation.

ii. The Qur’ān is easy to understand. This is repeated in many places.

iii. The verses of the Qur’ān are also explained with similes and examples. This point has repeated at many places.

iv. The verses of the Quran are also explained through similitude or tashbih (plural tashbihāt) and can be easily understood.

The Qur’ān, the basic foundation of ʾIslām, is not philosophy. It is the guidance based on revelation by Allāh. Qur’ān is the complete eternal code of guidance and the complete eternal procedure code is in the form sunnah or the prophetic traditions. Every human being has to conduct his life according to these two sources, for this is the only route to salvation.

Consideration #2: Philosophical Foundations of Esoterism, tasawwuf and sufism

Both the system of batini interpretation and tasawwuf or sufism were seeded in the early third century Hijri, and nurtured in the fourth Hijri centuries. This means that both these systems came into existence after more than three centuries after the takmil-e-deen-e-Islam. Both these systems are based on philosophy. Therefore, as far as Islamic sufism is concerned, there is no word tasawwuf or sufism either in the Qur’ān, or in hadith, nor in the traditions of the companions, their next generation (tabieen) and the generation after them (taba tabieen). These words were adopted in the Arabic language in the late third or early fourth centuries Hijri, therefore these words have no ma’ada in Lugatul Quran.

Foundations of tasawwuf: The basis of tasawwuf is the doctrine of wahdat al-wujood and wahdat ash-shahood. Both these have origin in the Greek and Indian philosophies.

Foundations of bāṭenīyatThe basis of bāṭenīyat has its origins in the Greek doctrine of Universal Intelligence, Universal Soul from Plotinus and that of perfect person or Philosophical King of Plato and “Ideal Man” of Aristotle.

Consideration #3: Divine Wisdom or Human Wisdom?

The philosophers themselves did not mean any harm. The outcome of their thought process was placed publicly in the hands of the literary world. The only point which matters is this: Philosophy is human thinking and wisdom, while Qur’ān is divine and supreme wisdom. These two things cannot be compared. Different philosophers have different ideas of Allāh (or the creator), which will be explored in the next episodes of this article.

It is interesting to note that golden period of philosophy is about twelve centuries beginning from sixth century before Christ and about six centuries after the Christ. In this period very genius personalities produced much of the intelligent philosophies and many are referred to even today.

The important point that concerns us is the fact that Allāh blessed the Ummah and the humanity with the final Apostle Muhammad (pbuh) for all the time to come. This means that the origin of the final divine message final apostle of ʾIslām, perfection of the religion and the last ummah after the golden period of philosophy. The interesting point to note is this: There is no mention of any philosopher or any philosophy in the blessed Qur’ān. Human wisdom has very trivial importance, and the Divine wisdom of Allāh is the only source of guidance in the form of Qur’ān, the complete final and eternal code of life for the humanity and the method how to conduct our life in accordance with the sunnah of final Apostle.

Consideration #4: Inconsistent Application

The esoterians fail to consistently apply the doctrine of esoterism throughout the Quran. A prime example of this is Jihad which is referred to in the Qur’ān in two clear contexts: Fighting as well as struggle with the inner self. However, the concept of jihad in tasawwuf is only against one’s inner self (nafs). Therefore, they believe partly in the exoteric interpretation, while partly believe in esoteric interpretation without providing a sound basis of such inconsistency.

Concept of Jihad in the Nizari Ismāʿīlī creed: The concept of Jihad in the Nizari Ismāʿīlī creed at present is this: In the present era Ismāʿīlī Imām has no army but the notional benefit can be purchased on payment of five hundred rupees for five years service in the army, other categories are: nine hundred rupees for twelve years’ service and five thousand rupees for lifetime services in the Imam’s army.

In the next episode to this article, besides finding the definitions of esoterism and exoterism, we will analyze the taʾwīl and how it applied to the word Allāh, through the reference of the works of the noted Ismāʿīlī philosopher Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani.

One thought on “Esotericism in the Ismaili Tradition, Part I: Fragile Foundations

Leave a Reply using your facebook account by typing in the box and clicking the Facebook logo on the right

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s