Out of the many unsubstantiated claims of Ismāʿīlism is a one that Aga Khan interprets the Qurʾān for them. It is interesting that Aga Khan has never publicly or privately within his followers, interpreted any part of the Qurʾān. He has claimed to believe in the Qurʾān in interviews and has claimed descent from Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through his cousin ʿAlī bin Abi Ṭālib, but actions speak far louder than words and his actions are nowhere close to the teachings of the Qurʾān.
The question which Ismailis should be asking themselves and their leadership is that for someone who claims such close association to the Ahl al-Bayt, why is the attitude towards Qurʾān so different than what was the attitude of the Ahl al-Bayt, and in particular that of ʿAlī bin Abi Ṭālib (ra) towards the Qurʾān?
The education that ʿAlī ibn Abi Ṭālib (ra) received was the same as that which all the Rightly Guided Caliphs and the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) received. They were educated on the basis of the Noble Qurʾān, and their teacher was the master of all mankind, Muhammad (pbuh).
The Beloved Prophet (pbuh) was keen that there should be one source and reference point, and that the Noble Qurʾān was to be the only way to follow, along with the wisdom that the Allāh, may He be glorified and exalted, revealed to him. So he educated the Muslims, individuals, families and society, in the beliefs, acts of worship, ways of interacting and morals and manners that were brought in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of His Messenger (pbuh). The verses that ʿAlī (ra) heard directly from the Messenger of Allāh (pbuh) had an impact on the formation of his Islamic character. They purified his heart and soul and illuminated his mind, and his soul interacted with them. This turned him into a new person with new values, feelings, aims, behaviour and ambitions “ (Al- Isti’sab fi Ma’rifat al- Ashab P.1102 Al- Mari’fat wat – Tareekh , 1/481)
From the Noble Qurʾān and the prophetic education he received, ʿAlī (ra) learned who the Allāh was that he should worship Allāh alone. The Prophet (pbuh) implanted in his heart the meanings of those verses; Prophet (pbuh) was keen to educate his Companions in the correct concept of their Lord and His rights over them, knowing that this concept would lead to belief and certainty when souls are pure and their fitrah is sound. (Fadda’il as- Sahaba, no. 1100).
Therefore ʿAlī (ra)’s view of Allāh, the universe, life, paradise, hell, the divine will and decree, the reality of man and his conflict with Satan were derived from the Noble Qurʾān and the guidance of the Prophet (pbuh).
ʿAlī (ra)’s (ra) view of the universe was based on the words of Allāh:
Ask them, (O Prophet), “How can you disbelieve in the One Who created the earth in two Days? How can you set up equals with Him? That is the Lord of all worlds. He placed on the earth firm mountains, standing high, showered His blessings upon it, and ordained (all) its means of sustenance—completing four Days exactly—for all who ask. Then He turned towards the heaven when it was ˹still like˺ smoke, saying to it and to the earth, ‘Submit, willingly or unwillingly.’ They both responded, ‘We submit willingly.’ So He formed the heaven into seven heavens in two Days, assigning to each its mandate. And We adorned the lowest heaven with (stars like) lamps (for beauty) and for protection. That is the design of the Almighty, All-Knowing.”
(Qurʾān 41: 9-12)
As for this life, no matter how long it lasts, it will inevitably come to an end, and no matter how great its conveniences and luxuries, they are in fact insignificant. Allāh says:
“And give them a parable of this worldly life. (It is) like the plants of the earth, thriving when sustained by the rain We send down from the sky. Then they ˹soon˺ turn into chaff scattered by the wind. And Allah is fully capable of ˹doing˺ all things. Wealth and children are the adornment of this worldly life, but the everlasting good deeds are far better with your Lord in reward and in hope.” (Qurʾān 18: 45-46)
Allāh tells the Muslim about the realty of this life, and that it is not the place of honour, and that the hereafter is better and more lasting. This enables the one in whose heart love of Allāh and His Messenger is entrenched to give precedence to pleasing Allāh and His Messenger above anything else, even if the price of that is this world and everything in it.
Amir- ul-Mu’mineen ʿAlī (ra) expressed this truth when he said:
“O world, try to deceive someone else. Are you trying to tempt me or attract me? No way! I divorce you irrevocably. Your time is short and you are insignificant. Alas! The provision is little, the journey is long and the way is lonely. (al-Fasawi, al- Ma’rifat wat- Ta’rīkh, 1/444)
His view of paradise was derived from the verses which describe it, and he became one of those of whom Allāh says:
“Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Lord in fear and hope, and they spend [in charity in Allāh’s Cause] out of what We have bestowed on them. No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.)” (Qurʾān 32: 16-17)
His concept of hell was derived from the Noble Qurʾān, and this concept became a deterrent which prevented him from going astray from the laws of Allāh. Anyone who studies the life of ʿAlī (ra) will see his deep understanding of how one should prepare to meet Allāh and the extent to which he should fear the wrath and punishment of Allāh.
His concept of the Divine will and decree was derived from the Book of Allāh and the teachings of the Messenger of Allāh. This concept was firmly entrenched in his heaa, and he understood its different categories as mentioned in the Book of Allāh. He was certain that the knowledge of Allāh encompasses all things:
“Neither you [O Muhammad] do any deed nor recite any portion of the Qurʾān, nor you [O mankind] do any deed [good or evil], hut We are Witness thereof, when you are doing it. And nothing is hidden from your Lord [so much as] the weight of an atom [or small ant] on the earth or in the heaven. Not what is less than that or what is greater than that but is [written] in a Clear Record.)”(Qurʾān 10: 61)
ʿAlī (ra) was certain that Allāh has decreed everything that is to be:
“Verily, We give life to the dead, and We record that which they send before [them], and their traces and all things We have recorded with numbers [as a record] in a Clear Book.” (Qurʾān 36: 12)
He understood that Allāh’s will is inevitable and that His power is complete, and believed that Allāh is the Creator of all things.
This correct understanding and deep conviction of the reality of the Divine will and decree bore many fruits which were apparent in his life, as we shall see in this book. From the Noble Qurʾān, he understood the reality of his own self and of all people. He knew that their essence went back to two origins: the ancient origin when man was first created from clay, when he was formed and the soul was breathed into him, and the recent origin when they were created from a drop of sperm” (Musnad ahmed al-Mawasoo’ah al- Hadeethiyyah, no.1328)
ʿAlī (ra) understood that Allāh has created humans with His own hand, and honored them with a beautiful form and an upright posture. He has blessed them with wisdom, logic and discernment, and subjugated to them all that is in the heavens and on earth. Allāh favored human beings over much of His creation, and honored them by sending the Messengers to them. The most wondrous manifestation of this divine honour towards humankind was that He made them qualified to receive His love and good pleasure, which could he attained by following the Prophet (pbuh), who called people to Islam so that they might live a good life in this world and attain eternal bliss in the hereafter. Allāh (swt) says:
“Whoever works righteousness – whether male or female – while he [or she] is a true believer [of Islamic Monotheism] verily, to him We will give a good life [in this world with respect, contentment and lawful provision], and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do [i.e. paradise in the hereafter].” (Qurʾān 16: 97)
Amir al-Mu’mineen ʿAlī (ra) understood the true nature of the struggle between humans and satan. He knew that this enemy comes to them from before and behind, from their right and from their left, and whispers to them, tempting them to commit sin and stirring up their desires. He used to seek the help of Allāh against his enemy Iblees, and he prevailed over him throughout his life, as we see & as we study his biography.
He learned from the story of Adam and Satan, as mentioned in the Qurʾān, that Adam was the origin of humanity, that the essence of Islam is absolute obedience to Allāh, and that man is vulnerable to falling into sin. From the story of Adam’s sin, he learned the necessity of putting one’s trust in Allāh, the importance of repentance and praying for forgiveness in the life of the believer, the necessity of keeping away from envy and arrogance, and the importance of speaking in the best manner to one’s companions, because Allāh says:
“And say to My slaves [i.e. the me believers of Islamic Monotheism] that they should [only] say those words that are the best. [Because] Shaytan [Satan] verily, sows a state of conflict and disagreements among them. Surely, Shaytan [Satan] is to man a plain enemy.” (Qurʾān 17: 53)
He followed the path of the Messenger of Allāh in such a way that he purified his companions’ hearts ad souls by means of all kinds of acts of worship, and he trained them to follow the guidelines for manners and attitude that were laid out in the Qurʾān.
The status of the Noble Qurʾān in the view of ʿAlī (ra)
Amir al-Mu’mineen ʿAlī (ra) lived his life with the Qurʾān reading it, memorising it, understanding it and acting in accordance with it. He used to say: “Whoever reads the Qurʾān and dies and enters hell, is among those who used to take the verses (or signs) of Allāh in jest” (Al- Albani, Irwa’ al- Ghadeel, 8/46)
He also used to say:
“Glad tidings to those who were the dearest of people to the Messenger of Allāh (As- Sunan al- Kubra,8/322)
ʿAlī Abi Taleb (ra) used to say:
“I did not think that anyone with any wisdom would sleep before reciting the last three verses of al-Baqarah. (Al- Mughni, 8/307)
This was directed towards the people of the Qurʾān. He said, describing the Noble Qurʾān and its great importance: “In the Book of Allāh, there are stories of those who came before you, foretelling what will happen after you and rulings on issues between you. It is serious and is not in jest. Whoever among the tyrants neglects it, Allāh will destroy him; whoever seeks guidance in anything else, Allāh will send him astray. It is the strong rope, the wise reminder, the straight path. It is the Book that whims and desires cannot distort and tongues cannot mispronounce. Its wonders never end, and the scholars never tire of it. Whoever quotes it speaks the truth, whoever acts upon it will be rewarded, whoever judges according to it will be just, and whoever calls people to it will be guided to a straight path.” (Al- Fatawa,28/336- 337; Minhaaj As- Sunnah, 6/83; ‘Abdul- Hameed ʿAlī (ra): Khilafat ʿAlī (ra) ibne Abi Talib, p.73)
Because of his great interest in the Qurʾān, ʿAlī (ra) acquired a great deal of knowledge of it and its sciences. It was narrated that hesaid: “By Allāh, no verse of it was revealed but I know why it was revealed, when it was revealed and to whom it was revealed. My Lord has blessed me with a deep understanding and an eloquent,truthful tongue.”( Sunan sa’eed ibn Mansoor, 2/69, no 2083; al Mukhtasar min Kitaab al-Muwafaqah, p. 131)
And he said: “Ask me about the Book of Allāh, for there is no verse in it but I know whether it was revealed by night or by day, on the plains or in the mountain.” (Minhaaj as- Sunnah.6/42)
Ibn’Abdul- Barr narrated that ʿAlī (ra) (4) was one of those who collected the Noble Qurʾān at the time of the Messenger of Allāh while the Messenger was still alive.(al-Mughni wash- Sharh al Kabeer, 11/66, 67)
At the end of his Life he said: “Ask me before you lose me.” (Ibn al- Qayyim: at- Turuq al- Hikmiyyah, p.48)
How ʿAlī (ra) used to teach the Qurʾān
That was when most of the other scholars among the Companions had died, and he was in Iraq. He was very keen to teach the Noble Qurʾān and the teachings of the Prophet (pbuh) to the people, among whom there was a great deal of ignorance. They did not know much about the rulings of Islam, and ʿAlī (ra) was keen to teach them the truth. He was the most knowledgeable of people of his time. This is an example of the devoted scholar who is eager to teach people the truth and train them to follow it addressing real life events that happened in the society in which he lived. It praised some actions and some people, warned against others and pointed out some mistakes. Some verses were revealed that recorded forever some of the exploits of Amir-ul-Mu’mineen ʿAlī (ra) and other Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all).
“These two opponents [believers and disbelievers] dispute with each other about their Lord; then as for those who disbelieved, garments of fire will be cut out for them, boiling water will be poured down over their heads. With it will melt [or vanish away] what is within their bellies, as well as [their] skins. And for them are hooked rods of iron [to punish them]. Every time they seek to get away there from, from anguish, they will be driven back therein, and [it will be] said to them: ‘Taste the torment of burning! Truly, Allah will admit those who believe [in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism] and do righteous good deeds, to Gardens underneath which rivers flow [in paradise], wherein they will be adorned with bracelets of gold and pearls and their garments therein will be of silk.” (Qur’an 22: 19-23)
Bukhari narrated with a chain of narration from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib that he said:
“I will be the first one to kneel before the Most Merciful in a dispute on the Day of Resurrection.”
Qays ibn ‘Uhidah said: Concerning them the verse was revealed: “These two opponents (BeIievers and disbelievers) dispute with each other about their Lord.” He said: They are the ones who went forth for duels on the day of Badr: Hamzah, ‘Ali, Abu ‘Uhaydah, Shaybah ibn Rabee’ah, ‘Utbah ibn Rabee’ah and al-Waleed ibn ‘utbah. (Abdus Saleem as-Sulaimani:Al-Ijtihad Fil-Fiqh al-Islami, p. 145)
ʿAlī’s (ra) view of Jihad in the path of Allāh
The Qur’an confirmed the view of ʿAlī (ra) that jihad is superior to maintenance of al-Masjid al-Haram. In al-Saheeh it is narrated that a man said: I would not care if I do not do any deed after becoming Muslim except maintaining al-Masjid al-Haram.To this, ʿAlī ibn Abi Ṭālib said:
“Jihad for the sake of Allah is better than all of that.”
To this, ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb, said: “Do not raise your voices at the mimbar of the Prophet (pbuh). When the prayer is over, I will ask him about that.”(al Qasim ibn Salam: al-Amwal, p. 57. Abdul Hameed ʿAlī. Khilafat ʿAlī ibn Abi Talib, p. 75).
ʿUmar ibn al-Khattāb asked the Prophet (pbuh) that question, and Allāh revealed the following verse:
“Do you consider the providing of drinking water to the pilgrims and the maintenance of Al-Masjid al-Harim [at Makkah] as equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah? They are not equal before Allah. And Allah guides not those people who are the Zaalimoon [polytheists and wrongdoers]. Those who believed [in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism] and emigrated and strove hard and fought in Allah’s Cause with their wealth and their lives, are far higher in degree with Allah. They are the successful. Their Lord gives them glad tidings of mercy from Him, and His being pleased [with them], and of Gardens [paradise] for them wherein are everlasting delights. They will dwell therein forever. Verily, with Allah is a great reward.”
(Qur’an 9: 19-22)
Therefore, the Prophet (pbuh) told the companions that faith and jihad are better than maintaining the Sacred Mosque in Makkah, hajj and tawaf (Musnad Ahmad,1/149), and better than looking after the pilgrims. (Abdul Hameed ʿAlī. Khilafat Ali ibn Abi Talib, p. 75)
Dasond, Mehmani, and the compassion of ʿAlī (ra)
Verse 58:12 is often cited as ‘evidence’ by Ismāʿīli missionaries that payment of cash to Aga Khan is recommended by the Qurʾān.
“O you who believe! When you [want to] consult the Messenger [Muhammad] in private, spend something in charity before your private consultation” (Qur’an 58: 12)
It was narrated that when this verse was revealed:the Prophet (pbuh) said to ʿAlī (ra): “Tell them to give in charity.”
ʿAlī (ra) said: “O Messenger of Allah, how much?”
He said: “A dinar.” ʿAlī (ra) said: “They cannot afford it.”
He said: “Half a dinar.”
ʿAlī (ra) said: “They cannot afford it.”
He said: “How much?” ʿAlī (ra) said: “Gold equal to the weight of a grain of barley.”
The Prophet (pbuh) said to Ali: “You are a man of little wealth (so you are speaking on the basis of what you have).”
Then Allah revealed the words:
“Are you afraid of spending in charity before your private consultation [with him]? If then you do it not, and Allah has forgiven you, then [at least] perform salah and give zakah.” (Qur’an 58: 13)
As mentioned above, the earlier quoted verse of 58:12 is often misquoted by Ismāʿīli missionaries to justify the payment of dasond, mehmani and majis membership fee (all forms of cash payment to Jamatkhanas). Whereas the context of revelation makes it clear that not only did the Prophet (pbuh) recommend to pay this money in charity, but he actually said that to none other but ʿAlī (ra). Moreover, if someone did not have the capacity to pay, then a simple prayer would suffice.
As opposed to this, Aga Khan collects and plunders from his followers of the Ismāʿīli community, creates non-governmental organizations that collect government grants from United Nations and Canadian government, and has built a business empire for himself. How close is this approach to the approach of the Ahl al-Bayt and that of ʿAlī (ra)?