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2. Ismaili Beliefs, Prayers and Practices

Cult of the Dead in Ismailism

Cult of the Dead in Ismailism

Introduction

In the anthropology of religion, a funerary cult is a body of religious teaching and practice centered on the dead, in which the living are thought to be able to confer benefits on the dead in the afterlife or to appease their otherwise wrathful ghosts. Rituals were carried on for the benefit of the dead, either by their relatives or by a class of priests appointed and paid to perform the rites.

Death in ʾIslām

In Islam the approach is perhaps the simplest where the ritual and rites are the minimum. Death being entirely in the hands of Allāh, for those who readily surrender to Allāh’s will, there is less grieving. Death serves as a timely reminder of one’s own mortality and the futility of the worldly pursuit and so death in the family becomes a time for more prayers.

The disposal of the cadaver is a very simple and quick operation. If circumstances permit, the burial takes place on the same day with a minimum of fuss. Traditionally at the home of the deceased, recital of the Qurʾān is undertaken. The body prepared for the burial – called the janāzah, is brought to the masjid, the prayer for the dead (ṣalāt al-janāzah) is recited and the body is then transported to the cemetery for the burial. There are no eulogies as in Islam ‘All Praise is for Allāh’ and no man would stand up and praise the deceased no matter how important a position the person held. In fact, since Allāh is regarded as having enabled the person to make the contribution, the occasion is a reason to praise Allāh even more.

Death in Ismāʿīlism

In Ismāʿīlism, some of the rites show similarities with other Muslim rites but the similarities are superficial and are really a smokescreen for Ismāʿīlis to be accepted as a Muslim group. Their belief and inner practices are far from Islamic and in fact, are quite bizarre in some ways. Even the Kalimah –  testament of faith – they recite ignores the Shia part.

1. On the Deathbed

Chhanta # 1 (چھانٹا): Sprinkling of Holy Water on the Face

Firstly, when someone is on his or her deathbed, the mukhi and kamadia (who function as priests in Ismāʿīlism) visit the person and go through a chhanta ceremony (sprinkling of holy water on the face) which supposedly clears the person of all his sins and therefore the person dies in a state of grace and the Day of Judgement becomes a matter of formality only. The paradise for that person is virtually guaranteed – very much like the Catholics.

2. Upon Death

Immediately upon the death of a family member, wheels are put in motion to make the deceased’s hereafter smooth and safe – at a price, of course.

Payment Upon Death

Every person or family is under the Jurisdiction of a particular Jamatkhana. When death takes place in a family, the Mukhi i.e. Chief of the Jamatkhana is immediately required to be informed of the death. This information must accompany with (i) a pair of the best of the clothes of the deceased and (ii) Coffin fees plus the price for a place in the Ismāʿīlī graveyard.

People gather at the home of the deceased to console the bereaved. Salawat is recited (Allahuma salli ala Muhammad wa ala aal-e-Muhammad, meaning Oh Allah send your peace upon Muhammed and upon his progeny).

This salawat is repeated usually 99 times – and concluded by asking the Imam to accept and grant the supplication of the salwat. Oddly enough, the same formula is also adopted in Jamatkhanas duringgiriyazari tasbih. The absurdity of this formula has NOT dawned upon any one in the congregation or the members of the Ismāʿīli Tariqa and Religious Education Board.

Recitation of Salawat

They also attend Jamatkhana where after the normal prayers, again salawat is recited and members of the family are consoled – this is called dilsoji or dilsozi of the deceased’s family. Everyone also makes a monetary contribution to a fund called mehmani which is an offering to the Imām through the mukhi and kamadia in the Jamatkhana on the evening of the funeral which also is considered to help the deceased. These mehmani are in addition to the contributions which are given to various activities. Also, the well-wishers and the members of the family prepare special dishes and take them to the Jamatkhana on the evening of the funeral and which are then auctioned in the Jamatkhana and the proceeds from this auction (called naandi or ناندی) are again collected by the mukhi and the kamadia.

The Ismāʿīlis believe that the benefit of that food reaches the deceased in a physical sense in that the dead receive the food (they take great pains to prepare deceased’s favourite dishes) and all the dead have a feast in the graveyard.

Personal Belongings of the Deceased including Jewellery

Some of the close relatives busy themselves in preparing clothes and jewellery to take to Jamatkhana on the night of the funeral. Traditionally the deceased’s own clothes and personal jewellery, like watches and rings which the members of the family do not wish to retain –  as they reminded them of the deceased and such remembrance was much too painful.

So the Jamatkhana served as a place they could be disposed and distributed among the needy.  No longer does this happen however, as most of the old clothes are distributed separately among the poor or given away. Instead a new regime has started under the mistaken belief that the dead actually receive these and so new clothes and various other household things depending upon what the people might need including pieces of furniture are donated with great enthusiasm and in some cases the things are donated by the family and then purchased back by the family for keepsake , the deceased having had the use of it all in the spiritual world as the items miraculously find their way to the deceased on being donated to the Jamatkhana. But the ritual is really to inject money into the Jamatkhana. It would be easier to just go ahead and pay the money, but this entire process of packing up and bringing the belongings of the deceased to the Jamatkhana, putting them on auction, and buying them back, is followed. The end result of this is that the belongings remain in the household, but money goes from the household to the Jamatkhana.

The system smacks of the ancient Egyptian ritual of putting all the things in the burial chamber which the deceased Pharaoh would need in his afterlife. History tells us that they put everything in their tombs for that reason.

The body of course remains buried in the ground. It decomposes so the soul neither has a mouth nor stomach and consequently cannot possibly be in need of food. And as it has no body – all jewellery and clothes are unnecessary.

3. On the Day of the Funeral

Mahadan jo Chhanto and Payments in the Funeral Services Room

Mahadan means the day of Judgement or Yawm al-Qiyāmah, and therefore Mahadan jo Chhanto is the roughly translated as ‘the sprinkle that prepares you fro the day of Judgement’.

This Chhanta is believed to be very potent and Ismāʿīlis are taught that this absolves one of all the sins of the past, present and future, till the day of judgement. Being so important this chhanta is variable priced, and is purchased by every member of the community. This purchase can be repeated for any number of times. The relatives of the deceased can commit these purchases for their dead relatives repeatedly. The minimum price for these Chhanta Rs. 51.00 at the least but those who can, are encouraged to pay more without any upper limit. Definitely a very cheap bargain to get all of your sins forgiven.

When the dead body is washed and is ready for the coffin, all the relatives collect around the deceased and the nearest relatives gets the sins of the deceased pardoned by the mukhi (chief Ismāʿīli priest) on payment of the required money. The chief priest sprinkles A’ab-e-Shifa on the face of the deceased and all the sins committed during the life span by the deceased, are dissipated away.

Thereafter, other relatives one by one repeat this process and in the end the friends, neighbours repeat this ceremony. Everyone is supposed to pay the prescribed fees in cash on the spot, which broadly implies forgiveness by the family members and the close relatives of all the wrongdoing done to them by the deceased. Thereafter, the mukhi asks for samar – which again, translates into payment of money.

Everyone present pays some money to the mukhi as per his capacity or nearness of relationship to the deceased. This samar is considered the hard currency during the voyage from the grave to the day of Judgement.

Is it not strange that The Prophet from whom the Aga Khan claims to derive his authority is on record saying that the Prophet (pbuh) himself would be called to account for all his actions.  Also, he did not know himself what was in store for him. Moreover, his uncle and favourite daughter Fatima (ra) were told that they should prepare for the aakhira as on the Day of Judgement, he would not be of any help to them.

Yet the Aga Khan not only knows where he is going to be but also what he would be doing i.e. repaying the money he has extracted from all his followers, who look upon him as God personified, by granting them paradise.

Payments after the Burial

In the evening, all the persons who had joined the funeral ceremony, all the ladies and children of the family and the relatives, and all the other persons who were not able to have timely information, gather in the Jamatkhana. Every one carries with him a packet of sweets with him. The family members are supposed to bring very wide and large plates laden with sweets. A special du’a is offered and everybody present is supposed to participate in this du’a for which every individual has to pay in advance certain sum of money.

Food auctions or ‘nandi’ in Jamatkhana

The friends and relatives of the deceased are required to send food offerings and donations to the Jamatkhana. There, all of this food is auctioned in a ceremony called the nandi, where the scene is no less than that of an auction house without seats and with no list of approved bidders. Whoever can afford at that time, can come forward and bid. This food goes to the highest bidder and again the money goes to Aga Khan.

Money Collected at Soyem or on the Third Day of Death

All the ceremonies performed in evening of the first day are repeated, with the only difference that more people collect in the Jamatkhana, more sweets, more payments for the services of the du’a for the deceased for which every individual has to pay separately. All of these sweets collected in the Jamatkhana are not distributed for free. Instead, these sweets are auctioned through Nandi.

All the money collected out of the du’a and nandi auction go to the coffers of the Aga Khan as his private and personal property.

Money Collected on Tenth Day of Death

On the tenth day of the death, a special ceremony is held called Ziarat of Daswee also known as gol dhani, which consists of a special majlis called the Majlis of Daswi. Relatives, neighbours and all the acquaintances are supposed to collect into Jamatkhana to participate in this ceremony. People and relatives come from far and wide and undertake long journey to participate. Family members and relatives must take to Jamatkhana all sort of articles like cooked and uncooked food, drinks, crockery, utensils, clothes, cloth, apparel, drapery, even furniture like dining table sets, sofa sets, lounge furniture, jewellery, ornaments. All the articles that can be gifted to a bride as dowry are supposed to be taken to the Jamatkhana, (it is irrelevant whether the deceased is a child, new born or an old lady in her nineties.)

All the relatives also bring sweets, and each and every person has to pay for the du’a individually. The articles brought and sweets are again auctioned through nandi and all the money collected from the auction of the articles and the services for the du’a go directly into the coffers of Aga Khan as his private and personal property.

It is one of the fundamental tenets in the Ismāʿīli cult that the soul of the deceased dwells and finds a place, or merges with the soul of the Imām Aga Khan – this doctrine is called “asal mein wasil”, which is derived from Greek and Hindu philosophy.

Ruhani Tasbeeh after 40 days and annually

Ruhani Tasbihs made to the mukhi (chief priest in the Jamatkhana) involving payments and again at an auction ceremony of food over the forty days after the death and then every month and then annually until memory recedes and other dead have to be taken care of.

Closing Comments

But every Ismaili should know that it is Allāh who is the Lord of the Day of Judgement not the Aga Khan. And Allāh has made it a condition for every human being that whosoever rejects Him or associates a Partner with Allāh or takes another being or an object whom Allāh has created as an object of worship, they will not be forgiven. They would automatically be disqualified from entry into paradise as they would be excluded from the presence of Allāh.

This condition is there in the Qurʾān. However, if you do not read the book – and Ismailis rather listen to the Farman (decrees) of the Aga Khan, who they refer to as The Speaking Qur’an –  the folly of their ways can never be discovered – and such ignorance suits the leader absolutely.

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