I would like to bring up a topic that has been in heavy discussion for a while, mainly relating to the clash of beliefs held by Ismaili Gnosis and others about the notion of God and the Aga Khan. I would specifically like to address something that has been on my mind for the past few months, and that is the notion of Tawḥīd in Islam.
Definition of Tawḥīd:
First, I would like to start by establishing the definition of “Tawḥīd.” What better way to define this term than how Allāh has defined it for Himself in the Qurʼān. Here are a few verses that will give us the gist of what Tawḥīd means:
|Allah! There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Him, the Ever-Living, All-Sustaining. Neither drowsiness nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who could possibly intercede with Him without His permission? He ˹fully˺ knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them, but no one can grasp any of His knowledge—except what He wills ˹to reveal˺. His Seat encompasses the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of both does not tire Him. For He is the Most High, the Greatest. |
[Quran: al-Baqarah, 2:255]
| Indeed, sincere devotion is due ˹only˺ to Allah. As for those who take other lords besides Him, ˹saying,˺ “We worship them only so they may bring us closer to Allah,” surely Allah will judge between all regarding what they differed about. Allah certainly does not guide whoever persists in lying and disbelief. |
[Quran: az-Zumar, 39:3]
| They worship besides Allah others who can neither harm nor benefit them, and say, “These are our intercessors with Allah.” Ask ˹them, O Prophet˺, “Are you informing Allah of something He does not know in the heavens or the earth? Glorified and Exalted is He above what they associate ˹with Him˺!”|
[Quran: Yunus, 10:8]
Therefore, we can establish that Tawḥīd in Arabic means attributing Oneness to Allāh and describing Him as being One and Unique, with no partner or peer in His Essence and Attributes. Now that we have a very basic definition of Tawḥīd established, we can take a look at a major tenant in Ismāʿīlism that, I feel, does not align with the core principles in Islam.
Starting off, there is a huge discrepancy between the answers I receive when I ask the question “Does the Aga Khan possess any divine authority or power?” to Ismailis. Today I will list and discuss all the answers that are usually given. Here are the four common schools of thought on the topic, listed from most liberal to most conservative :
- The Aga Khan is just a scholar, and we choose to follow him because we appreciate his school of thought.
- The Aga Khan is divinely appointed by God, but the Aga Khan does not contain any spiritual power himself.
- The Aga Khan is not Allāh, but at the same time contains (or is) the Nur of Allāh.
- The Aga Khan is Allāh on Earth.
As all of the common answers have now been listed, we will analyze each one. My objective is to prove that each school of thought contradicts the principle of Tawḥīd, therefore clashing with Islam as a whole and making Ismāʿīlism an incompatible way of worshiping Allāh according to the Quran and Hadith.
School of Thought #1:
“The Aga Khan is just a scholar, and we choose to follow him because we appreciate his school of thought”
This belief is not held by many but is being included solely for the sake of argumentation.
Although it would be nice to think of the Aga Khan simply as a scholar, it is clearly indicated by the doctrines of Ismāʿīlism that the Aga Khan is by definition much more than that.
For example, think of the meaning of a Deedar. It is said that when Ismailis go to a “deedar” to catch a glimpse of Aga Khan, they are not there to see the physical form of the Aga Khan, but rather to see the “ruhani nur.” This ruhani nur is spoken about by many Ismāʿīli scholars, one of the most famous being Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi in reference to the Imam (present day Aga Khan):
|Come, I will show you that which is truly the House of God,|
Not what you imagine to be the House of God.
O most glorious Qiblah of Truth
And most sublime Ka‘bah of the Living
If the Ḥajj is undertaken to the inanimate House (in Makkah)
So much more fitting, so much more worthy, that we betake ourselves unto you!
Sayyidna al-Mu’ayyad al-Shirazi in Diwān al-Mu’ayyad, in Virani, The Ismāʿīlis in the Middles Ages, 132 & Diwan al-Mu’ayyad, tr. M. Adra, Mount of Knowledge, Sword of Eloquence, 189
If the scholar was not enough, take it from what the Ismāʿīlis claim one of their Imams said about himself:
“We are the Ka‘bah of God (ka‘batullāh), Exalted is He, and we are the Qiblah of God (qiblatullāh). We are the Sacred Sanctuary of God (ḥarāmullah)”
Imam Ja‘far al-Sadiq, (Bihār al-Anwār, 24:211/1, in Muhammad Ali Sabzvari, Tuhfa Yi-‘Abbasi: The Golden Chain of Sufism in Shi‘ite Islam, 68)
Furthermore, the Ismāʿīli Holy Dua also outlines in many places that the Aga Khan is not just a normal human:
“O Allāh, let Thy peace be on Muhammad – the Chosen, and on ‘Ali – the favorite, and on the Imams – the pure, and on the evidence of Thy Authority – the Lord of the age and the time, our present living Imam, our Lord Shah Karim al-Husayni.”
Ismaili Holy Dua or Prayer which is offered as a substitute for the Islamic Salah in the Ismaili Jamatkhana
The key phrase here is “the evidence of Your Authority”, meaning that the Aga Khan is not a scholar but someone who has been designated by Allāh to guide not only the Ismāʿīlis but all else on earth.
So now that it is established that the Aga Khan has some sort of spiritual power that is not inherent in every human (for example, you can not receive the same type of deedar by the nur of your mother walking into the room), then this school of thought must be incorrect. The Aga Khan is not only a scholar, but someone who possesses a certain ordination and designation by God himself. This means that the correct view of what the Aga Khan is must lie in the remaining schools of thought.
School of Thought #2:
“The Aga Khan is divinely appointed by God, but the Aga Khan does not contain any spiritual power himself”
This role is essentially the description of what the Prophet ﷺ was appointed to do by God. He was appointed to deliver the messages of God to the people, without actually possessing any powers himself and being a servant and slave of Allāh (SWT).
|Say, [O Muhammad], ‘I do not tell you that I have the depositories [containing the provision] of Allah nor that I know the unseen, nor do I tell you that I am an angel. I only follow what is revealed to me.’|
[ Qurʼān: al-An‘ām: 50]
This role is clearly defined in the Qurʼān many times. Here is one of those passages, and the parts where Allāh discusses the role of the messenger has been reiterated below:
We never sent a messenger before you ˹O Prophet˺ without revealing to him: “There is no god ˹worthy of worship˺ except Me, so worship Me ˹alone˺.” And they say, “The Most Compassionate has offspring!” Glory be to Him! In fact, those ˹Prophets˺ are only ˹His˺ honored servants, who do not speak until He has spoken, ˹only˺ acting at His command. He ˹fully˺ knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them. They do not intercede except for whom He approves, and they tremble in awe of Him. Whoever of them were to say, “I am a god besides Him,” they would be rewarded with Hell by Us. This is how We reward the wrongdoers.
[Qurʼān: 21, 25-29]
This verse clearly indicates the following points:
- The Prophets are merely messengers appointed by Allāh to pass along His messages on Earth. They do not exceed the limits in their talk before Him and just do His bidding.
- The Prophets are not divine and do not know everything that Allāh knows. He knows whatever is before them and also whatever is hidden from them.
- The Prophets are separate from Allāh and they praise Him. They live in awe of Him, and if anyone of them were to say, “I am also a deity besides Allāh”, Allāh would send him to Hell, for this is the recompense from Allāh for such workers of iniquity, as mentioned in the above verse.
This leads us to the conclusion that the Prophets, including Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, are mere humans and slaves of Allāh. They have been honored, but do not preach any message besides that of pure tawḥīd.
The Aga Khan cannot be considered a Prophet or claim properties of a Prophet, because as a Muslim you acknowledge that Muhammad ﷺ was the seal of prophets and the last messenger of Allāh.
| Muḥammad is not the father of any of your men, but is the Messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets. And Allah has ˹perfect˺ knowledge of all things.|
[ Qurʼān: Al-Azhab: 40]
Therefore, the Aga Khan cannot have this role of merely being a messenger or prophet. To add to this, the prophet ﷺ did not have any special nur that the imams claim to have (as stated above) , so the imams must be higher (or at least different) from prophets.
Since this school of thought has been proven false, the role of the Aga Khan must be within the next two viewpoints.
School of Thought #3:
“The Aga Khan is not Allāh, but at the same time contains the Nur of Allāh”
I will start of this argument with a theological point. Allāh (SWT) is not a physical entity. Allāh is not something divided in half, where one part of him is physical and the other part is nur. Rather, Allāh is One and all of Him is encompassed as One. Therefore, saying that someone or something has the nur of Allāh in it, literally means that that thing or person is Allāh. Furthermore, in order for the Ismāʿīli doctrine to work it is essential that the Aga Khan does have Allāh’s nur, or in other words – in order for anything in Ismāʿīlism to make sense, the Aga Khan has to be Allāh in his entirety. In order to prove this, let us take a look at some Ismāʿīli prayers and supplications:
| Supplication of ‘Niyaz’|
Noor Mawlana Shah Karim Al Hussaini Hazar Imam, Farman
Translation: Shah Karim, Present Living Imam, Guide Us
| Supplication of ‘Tobo Tobo’|
Tobo tobo taksidar, bando sarta pa guneghar, Ya Shah tu ghuna bakshe bakshanhar
Translation: I the humble slave repent, for I am sinful from head to my toes, Oh Shah Karim (Aga Khan) forgive me for you are the forgiver
| Supplication of ‘Mushkil Asaan’|
Mawlana Hazar Imam tumhare kul mushkilyo ahsan kare; Kul aafato, bhalao, bhimariyo, taklifo door kare; kul nek umedo puri khare; sukhi, salamat, aur abad rakhe
Translation: May Mawlana Hazar Imam relieve all your difficulties, remove all your trials, tribulations, and sicknesses; may he (Aga Khan) fulfill all your good wishes; and may he keep you safe and sound)
| Supplication of ‘Ruhani’|
Mawalana Hazar Imam Ruhani jah kul ghuna maaf kare, noorani dīdar naseeb kare, asal mein vasal kare
Translation: May Mawlana Hazar Imam forgive the deceased, grant them a spiritual meeting, and mix them in with the truth
| Supplication of ‘Chanta’|
Maulana Hazar imam bakshe, maulana hazar imam tumhare kul Ghana maaf kare, noorani dīdar naseeb kare
Translation: May Hazar Imam (Aga Khan) forgive you, may the Aga Khan forgive all your sins, grant you a spiritual glance of his soul.
You can see the pattern in the above supplications. All supplications (Ya Ali tu rahem kar ya maula tu fazal kar, ya Ali, ya Muhammad), and praises seem to be directed towards the Aga Khan instead of Allāh. This is not like anything the Prophet ﷺ prescribed because he was a Prophet of God and did not have the ability to forgive people’s sins — just like any other prophet. Instead, he asked people to do certain acts and say certain things so their sins will be forgiven, but by Allāh – not the Prophet himself.
Allāh is al-Ghaffar (The Forgiver) of sins and no one has the ability to forgive sins except He.
And since Allāh says that all praise is due to Him and it is only Him who we should worship and seek for help, then in order for any of this is to make sense the only remaining option is that the Aga Khan must be claiming to be Allāh.
School of Thought #4: “The Aga Khan is Allāh”
Now that all other schools of thought are negated, this is the only one that makes sense in terms of the doctrines in Ismāʿīlism. Now to my main point and conclusion. Since this is the only logical conclusion to how Ismāʿīlism sees the Aga Khan, Ismāʿīlism is not a permissible way to worship Allāh and is the worst sin that can be commited in Islam.
By addressing their prayers to the Aga Khan, Ismāʿīlis are ascribing partners to Allāh and assigning the praise and glory due to Him to someone else.
Firstly, going back to a verse cited earlier, Allāh would never send down a messenger or proof only for them to say “worship me besides Allāh.”
| “…they [the prophets] are His mere servants who have been honored: they do not exceed the limits in their talk before Him and just do His bidding. He knows whatever is before them and also whatever is hidden from them; they “do not intercede for anyone except for the one for whom Allāh pleases to hear a plea, and they live in awe of Him. And if anyone of them were to say, “I am also a deity besides Allāh”, We would send him to Hell, for this is the recompense from Us for such workers of iniquity.” |
Not only this, but since Christians began seeing Jesus as God himself and asking him for their forgiveness, Allāh has addressed this very clearly in the Qurʼān. When God says,
|“‘Jesus, son of Mary, did you say to people, “Take me and my mother as two gods alongside God”?’ he will say, ‘May You be exalted! I would never say what I had no right to say–if I had said such a thing You would have known it: You know all that is within me, though I do not know what is within You, You alone have full knowledge of things unseen–– I told them only what You commanded me to: “Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.” I was a witness over them during my time among them. Ever since You took my soul, You alone have been the watcher over them: You are witness to all things and if You punish them, they are Your servants; if You forgive them, You are the Almighty, the Wise.’”|
Associating partners with Allah is the worst sin anyone can commit, and Allah would never endorse a religion whose entire foundation relies on it. Even if He did choose to have a representative on earth at all times He would not allow him to claim he is God like the Aga Khan does!
Lastly, Muhammad ﷺ has told us that no prophet or apostle would come after him in his last sermon. Why then would anyone who claims to be a Muslim not believe in his ﷺ promise?
|O People, no prophet or apostle will come after me, and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O people, and understand words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Quran and my example, the Sunnah, and if you follow these you will never go astray.|
[Muhammad’s ﷺ Last Sermon]
For those of you who are Ismaili and on the fence about if it’s worth all the hassle converting to Islam, know that Allāh will make it easy for you and that He will forgive all of your sins while letting you keep your good deeds. If one decides to reject the truth and does not sincerely repent before they die, Allāh tells us He will judge like so:
God does not forgive the joining of partners with Him: anything less than that He forgives to whoever He will, but anyone who joins partners with God has concocted a tremendous sin. [Prophet], have you considered those who claim purity for themselves? No! God puriﬁes whoever He will: no one will be wronged by as much as the husk of a date stone. See how they invent lies about God, this in itself is a ﬂagrant sin! Do you not see how those given a share of the Scripture, [evidently] now believe in idols and evil powers? They say of the disbelievers, ‘They are more rightly guided than the believers.’ Those are the ones God has rejected: you [Prophet] will not ﬁnd anyone to help those God has rejected.
And for those of you who believe it is not your responsibility to change religions and that Allāh would have made you grow up in the right religion if He wanted to, Allāh has addressed this in the Qurʼān as well:
The idolaters will say, ‘If God had willed, we would not have ascribed partners to Him–– nor would our fathers–– or have declared anything forbidden.’ In the same way, those before them continually denied [the truth] until they tasted Our punishment. Say, ‘Have you any knowledge that you can show us? You follow only supposition and tell only lies.’ Say, ‘The conclusive argument belongs to God alone. Had He so willed He would have guided you all.’ Say, ‘Bring your witnesses to testify that God has forbidden all this.’ If they do testify, do not bear witness with them. Do not follow the whims of those who have denied Our revelation, who do not believe in the Hereafter, and who set up equals with their Lord.
May Allāh reward you for reading this and may He guide us all to His most favored path, and may He let His peace and blessings be upon our beloved Messenger ﷺ. Please note that with this post I do not mean any disrespect, nor is my intention to mock Ismailis or to view them as lesser people. I am simply trying to make clear how the Quran and Sunnah indicate the worship of Allah should be done since I believe it is all of our responsibilities to seek out and follow the truth in our lives. Please contact me if you have any questions or feel that anything in this article is disrespectful.
JazakAllah Khair and Assalamu alaykum wa rehmatullahi wa barakhatu