In July 2005, a Islamic convention brought together scholars from various parts of the Muslim world who collectively were presented with three points of the Amman Message which discouraged labelling Muslims “who did not apparently deny any self-evident tenant of the religion”, as non-Muslims. This event is often used by Ismailis to claim that Ismailism is ‘universally recognized’ by all other schools of thought. However, upon close examination of Aga Khan’s declaration to the International Islamic Conference and of the reservations expressed by various scholars who were part of the signatories of the Amman Message, dilutes not only the Message itself, but clearly excludes Ismailism from those sects and schools of thought which were really accepted by the panel of the Amman Message.
2. Schools of Thought recognized by The Amman Message
The exact words from the “Three Points of the Amman Message” are reproduced below:
“Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali), the two Shi’i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja`fari and Zaydi), the Ibadi school of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim. Declaring that person an apostate is impossible and impermissible. Verily his (or her) blood, honour, and property are inviolable. Moreover, in accordance with the Shaykh Al-Azhar’s fatwa, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to the Ash`ari creed or whoever practices real Tasawwuf (Sufism) an apostate. Likewise, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare whosoever subscribes to true Salafi thought an apostate. Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and acknowledges the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.
Equally, it is neither possible nor permissible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in God, Glorified and Exalted be He, and His Messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him) and the pillars of faith, and acknowledges the five pillars of Islam, and does not deny any necessarily self-evident tenet of religion.”
There are several crucial criteria buried under the above verbiage. Let’s break it down since we will map Ismāʿīlism against each of them:
- Adherence to one of the named schools of thought (Hanbali, Shāfiʿī, Maliki, Hanafi, Jaʿfarī, Zaydi, Sufi, Ashari and Salafi
- Belief in the pillars of faith
The schools of thought explicitly acknowledged in the Amman Message were the following:
- Sunni Hanafi
- Sunni Maliki
- Sunni Shāfiʿī
- Sunni Hanbali
- Shi’a Jaʿfarī
- Shi’a Zaydi
The Amman Message also forbade declaring the following as apostates:
- Ash’ari and Maturidi
While on one hand this step was welcomed by the above eleven major schools of thoughts who were explicitly named in the Amman Message, other denominations desperately tried fitting themselves into the above eleven categories. The most prominent such desperate attempt was made by none other than Karim Aga Khan.
Karim Aga Khan presented the below letter at the conference falsely claiming that he and Ismāʿīlis adhered to the Jaʿfarī school of thought. In reality, nothing can be further from the truth as you shall see later in this paper.
In the above letter, Karim Aga Khan made the following claim:
“…we have the knowledge that Islam is Allah’s final message to mankind, the Holy Qur’an His final Book, and Muhammad, may peace be upon him, His last and final Prophet.”
He also claimed that:
“Our historic adherence is to the Jafari Madhhab and other Madhahib of close affinity, and it continues, under the leadership of the hereditary Ismaili Imam of the time. This adherence is in harmony also with our acceptance of Sufi principles of personal search and balance between the zahir and the spirit or the intellect which the zahir signifies.”
3. Ismāʿīlism and the Amman Message
We will now analyse each of Aga Khan’s false claims in his letter sent to the International Islamic Conference as a part of the Amman Message, and will also look at the acceptability of the Amman Message itself in the Muslim world:
3.1 Lie #1: Aga Khan’s claim of belonging to the Jaʿfarī school
In reality, Ismāʿīlis do not clearly adhere to the Jaʿfarī maḏhab in any sense. Imām Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq was the teacher of great personalities like Abū Ḥanīfa and Malik ibn Anas, founder of two major Sunnimaḏhabs, the Hanafi and the Maliki. In addition to affirmation of tawḥīd, Imām Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq prescribed and followed basic tenants of ʾIslām like offering of the Islamic ṣalāt, fasting in Ramaḍān, paying zakāt, going for Hajj – all of which are entirely rejected by Nizārī Ismāʿīlis – the present-day followers of Aga Khan.
The claim of belonging to the Jaʿfarī maḏhab is also proven wrong from the books published by the Institute of Ismāʿīli Studies themselves. Ismāʿīlis detached themselves from adherence to the Jaʿfarīmaḏhab and during the Fatimid era, one of their most celebrated scholars on esoterism, Qadi al-numan finally put together their beliefs in a book called “Pillars of ʾIslām”. This is a complete book on Ismāʿīlimaḏhab which exposes Ismāʿīlis’ principles of rejection of ʾIslām. However, most of the Ismāʿīlis have never heard of, let also having read this book.
Moreover, Aga Khan’s claim that Ismāʿīlis trace their roots to Imām Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq is ridiculous, because this claim is made by almost every branch of Shi’a ʾIslām. This is evident from the illustration below – that Shi’a denominations like Fathis, Hafizis, Bohris, Druze, Seveners, Twelvers are all originate from following the lineage of Imām Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq:
If Ismāʿīlis are adherents of the Jaʿfarī maḏhab, then so is every other branch of Shi’a ʾIslām, perhaps with the exception of the Zaydis and the Kaysanis.
However, what sets Ismāʿīlism apart from not only Shi’a ʾIslām, but ʾIslām altogether is the Ismāʿīlis’ rejection of all tenants of faith, including ṣalāt, zakāt, fasting in Ramaḍān and Hajj. This rejection was initially made by their leader on the 17th day of Ramaḍān in 559 A.H. when he declared the following:
“The Imām of our time has sent you his blessing and his compassion, and has called you his special chosen servants. He has freed you from the burden of the rules of Holy Law (Shari’a), and has brought you to the Resurrection (Qiyama).”
Source: Lewis, B., (1985, p. 72). The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam. London: Al Saqi Books.
Burman writes “Then he announced the message which had come to him from the hidden Imām, with its three essential points. He declared himself to be the caliph and divinely appointed ruler, abolished the ritual law which Nizari Ismāʿīlis had followed, and finally proclaimed the resurrection of the dead. Those who believed and accepted him would rise to immortal life, which those who refused to accept him were judged and therefore banished into non-existence.” (p. 81)
The leader above was Hasan II who went on to claim Imamat for himself and became known as Imām Ḥasan ʿAlā Dhikrihi’s Salām. He then called for his followers to join him in a banquet, contravening the strictures of Ramaḍān. This event is termed as ‘The Resurrection’ in Ismaili history. Ever since this event for the past 900 years, Ismāʿīlis have abandoned not only fasting in the month of Ramaḍān, but all aspects of Sharia have been scrapped by the Ismāʿīlis. This historical event is also recorded in history books of Ismāʿīlis themselves, including those published by Institute of Ismaili Studies.
3.2 Lie #2: Aga Khan said he has the ‘knowledge’ that Qurʾān is the final book and Muhammad (pbuh) as the final Messenger
Having knowledge of something and following it and abiding by it are completely different. One could have knowledge of a country’s laws, or universally accepted secular laws, but could still choose to disobey it. For example, any thief would have knowledge that what he is doing is wrong and punishable, but could still continue and persist with the crime of theft. Aga Khan is doing something very similar. He might claim that he knows that the Qurʾān is the final message, but his followers – the Ismāʿīlis do not follow any of the prescribed teachings of Qurʾān, such as fasting, ṣalāt, zakat and Hajj. Many of the commands such as modest clothing for women, not engaging in Ribā and not consuming and selling alcohol is openly rejected by Aga Khan and his immediate family. Alcohol is openly consumed and soled in Aga Khan’s Serena Hotels, none of Aga Khan’s family members have performed Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), his wife and children do not obey the Islamic dress code which is prescribed in the Qurʾān:
“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] theirheadcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (al-Qurʾān, 24:31)
The Qurʾān and it’s teachings as demonstrated by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) are openly rejected by Aga Khan.
Having exposed Aga Khan’s lies, we will now look at the reliability of Amman Message itself.
3.3 Lie #3: Amman Message’s fake definition of ʾIslām vs. Definition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
According to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in the famous ‘Hadith of Jibreel’, when asked what is ʾIslām, he answered: “Islam is that you should testify that there is no deity except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, that you should perform salah, pay the Zakah, fast during Ramadan, and perform Hajj to the House, if you are able to do so.”
This is where Muslims get their tenants, or five pillars of ʾIslām and whosoever adheres the above is a Muslim. Now in view of the above ‘gold standard’, the following is the definition of a Muslim provided by the Amman Message:
“Whosoever is an adherent to one of the four Sunni schools (Mathahib) of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i and Hanbali), the two Shi’i schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Ja`fari and Zaydi), the Ibadischool of Islamic jurisprudence and the Thahiri school of Islamic jurisprudence, is a Muslim.”
It is clear that Amman Message’s definition is loaded with sectarianism – something which is prohibited by the Qurʾān:
“And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by Hisfavor, brothers. And you were on the edge of a pit of the Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus does Allah make clear to you His verses that you may be guided.” (al-Qurʾān, 3:103)
Any Muslim would take his rules from a definite source like the Qurʾān and Sunnah, rather than the Amman Message.
3.4 Lie #4: Amman Message was endorsed by “over 200 scholars”, including Mufti Taqi Usmani
Hand-picked individuals were invited to the International Islamic Conference for the job of endorsing the Amman Message. They included political figureheads, government dignitaries as well as religious scholars. Out of these the most respected one being Mufti Taqi Usmani gave a clear exception to the Amman Message and wrote strict conditions in his letter to the International Islamic Conference. The website which has posted the endorsement of Mufti Taqi Usmani has also posted his seven page fatwa in this regard, but only in Arabic and has not posted an English translation of it.
This Fatwa shows the accurate stance of Mufti Taqi Usmani. On page 3 of this Arabic fatwa (pictured below) Mufti Taqi Usmani categorizes those Madhahîb who claim to be Muslim into 3 distinct groups. In the first of these three groups Mufti Taqi Usmani says:
“First type: Are those who claim to be Muslim, but reject something which has been necessarily known to be from the religion. They hold firmly, for example, that the Prophethood is continued after NabiRasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and they believe in the prophethood of one of the Dajjals who has claimed prophethood after our Noble Prophet, seal of the prophethood sallallahu alayhi wasallam, like the Qadîyânîs; or they hold firmly that the Noble Quran which we have today is changed, Al’Iyaazubillah. And that our Quraan is not the real on, like what some of the extremists among the Shîas say; or they hold firmly (in the aqeeda of ) Aloohiya or some of the specific attributes of it being in one of the humans, like what is attributed to Alawiyeen(Alawis) and others besides them. Then these all are not Muslims and it is necessary to make Takfir of them.”
The very first sentence which refers to self-claimed Muslims but reject something which is necessarily known to be from the religion, are Ismāʿīlis. The Ismāʿīlis who reject fasting, ṣalāt, zakāt and Hajj and every ruling which is derived from the Qurʾān and Sunnah such as prohibition of selling and consuming alcohol and consuming Ribā. In fact, Aga Khan is the owner of multiple Ribā-based banking institutions such as Development Credit Bank Limited, Diamond Trust Bank Kenya Limited, Diamond Trust Bank Tanzania Limited, Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank Ltd, Habib Bank Limited, Jubilee Insurance Company Limited, Jubilee Life Insurance Company Limited, Jubilee Insurance (Mauritius) Limited, Jubilee Insurance Company of Tanzania Limited, Diamond Trust Bank Uganda Limited are just a few examples.
Ismāʿīlis also hold the view that Aga Khan himself is the walking-talking Qurʾān for the modern day and age and his instructions (or farmans), supersede the Qurʾān and the Sunnah.
The fact that Mufti Taqi Usmani disowned and put a lot of caveats around the Amman Message was also mentioned by Volpi (Political Civility in the Middle East, 2014, p. 147) who mentioned that Mufti TaqiUsmani’s fatwa demonstrates “how fragile the so-called consensus” of the Amman Message is.
Therefore, using the Amman Message as a basis of being defined as a Muslim is not only rejected by the Hadith and the Qurʾān, but also by modern-day esteemed scholars who were seemingly signatories of the Amman Message like Mufti Taqi Usmani and by independent, non-Muslim Western researchers such as Frédéric Volpi. Ismāʿīlism has no relation to Shi’a ʾIslām or any version of ʾIslām altogether. The majority of Shi’a, who are the twelvers totally reject Ismāʿīlis. Interestingly, Sunnis and Shi’a agree on very few points, but both schools agree that Ismāʿīlis are out of the fold of al-ʾIslām. The various rulings can be referred to which have been issued against Ismāʿīlis both by the Shi’a and the Sunni schools:
- Darul Ifta Jamia Binoria’s Ruling on Ismailism
- Exposing Ismailism is a Noble Act and an Obligation in Sharīʿah – Mufti Ebrahim Desai
- Ruling on Aga Khan Foundation by Scholars (آغا خان فاونڈیشن اور علماؑ کرام کا فتوی)
- Why are Ismailis not Shia?