The Isma'ili school of Islam is the second largest Shi'a school of jurisprudence after the Ithna Ashari school. The Ismailis are found primarily in the South Asia, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Tajikistan, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, India and East Africa but have in recent years emigrated to Europe and North America. The Ismailis and Ithna Asharia both accept the same initial Imams from the descendants of Prophet Muhammad through his daughter Hadrat Fatima and therefore share much of their early history. However, a dispute arose on the succession of the Sixth Imam, Ja'far as-Sadiq. The Ismailis became those who accepted Ja'far's eldest son Ismail as the next Imam, whereas the Ithna Asharia accepted a younger son, Musa al-Kazim.

A branch of the Ismaili known as the Saaabiyin or Seveners held that Ismail's son, Muhammad, was the seventh and final Imam (a belief inaccurately but commonly ascribed to Ismailis as a whole). There is still a small Sevener Ismaili, Sulaimani Bohra or Makramis, community in parts of Saudi Arabia to this date.

In the face of persecution, the bulk of the Ismailis continued to recognize imams who secretly propagated their faith through missionaries (Da'is) from their bases in Syria. However by the 10th century, an Ismaili Imam, Abdullah am-Mahdi, had emigrated to North Africa and had successfully established the new Fatimid state in Tunisia. His successors subsequently succeeded in conquering much of North Africa (including the prized Egypt) and parts of Arabia. The capital for the Fatimid state hence shifted to the newly founded city of Cairo. from which the Fatimid Caliph-Imams ruled for several generations.

A group of followers of the 16th Imam, Hakim bi-Amr-Allah broke away from the mainstream Ismailis to form the Druze school. The main theologians of Druze were Tariq al-Hakim (meaning Ruler), also known as al-Hakim bi-Amr al-Lah or Ruler in the Name of God, and Hamza ibn-'Ali ibn-Ahmad, the main architect of the movement. It was Hamza who first publicly proclaimed that Hakim was the Ruler in the Name of God. Hakim was opposed by orthodox Muslims for what was considered apostasy.

The founder of the Alawi school was Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d.874), the disciple of the eleventh Shi'a Imam Hasan al-'Askari. He deified Hadrat Ali and his successors in his teachings which started in Persia and Iraq but was brought to Syria by al-Khasibi (d. 957) in the second part of the tenth century. Due to Ismaili influence this school conformed to many Ismaili beliefs.

A more fundamental split amongst the Ismaili occurred on the dispute of which son should succeed the 18th Imam, Mustansir. Mustaali, his younger son, was installed as Imam in Cairo with the help of Vizier Badr al-Jamali. However, Mustansir's elder son Nizar contested this claim and was imprisoned; he gained support from an Ismaili Da'i based in Iran, Hasan as-Sabbah. Sabbah is noted by Western writers to be the leader of the legendary Assassins.

The Fatimid state eventually collapsed after Mustaali's successor Amir was assassinated, but Mustaali Ismaili held that Amir had left a son named Tayyib who had gone into seclusion and that the imamate continued in his progeny during this time. They also regarded a succeeding chain of Yemeni Da'is as representatives of the imam. In time, the seat for one chain of dais was transferred to India as the community split several times, each recognizing a different Da'i.

Today the Dawoodi Bohras, a majority of the Mustaali Ismailis accept as the 52nd Da'i, Syedna Muhammad Burhanuddin, based in South Asia. This group is also known as Dawoodi Bohras. The Sulaimani Bohras are based in Yemen. While lesser known - smallest in number, Alavi Bohras accept as the 44th "Da'i" : Da'i-e-Mutlaq, H.H. Saiyedna Abu Haatim Taiyeb Ziyauddin Sahib (TUS).

There has been, in recent years, a rapprochement between the Yemeni Mustaalis and the followers of the Da'i based out of Mumbai. The Bohras are noted to be the more orthodox of the two main groups of Ismaili, maintaining rituals such as Salat and fasting in Ramadan more consistently with other Sunni and Shi'a sects, although a reformist movement has emerged within the sect challenging the authoritarian Dawoodi Bohra clergy.

The largest part of the Nizari Ismaili community today accepts Prince Karim Aga Khan IV as their 49th Imam. The 46th Imam, Aga Hasan Ali Shah, fled Iran to the South Asia in the 1840s after a failed coup against the Shah of the Qajar dynasty. Aga Hasan Ali Shah settled in Bombay in 1848. The Aga Khan obtained his authority over Shia Ismaili Muslims in Bombay through a legal case at the Bombay high Court in 1866 when Sir Joseph Arnold ruled that the Khoja Muslim community must recognize the authority of the Aga Khan over all their affairs including transfer of their property to the Aga Khan. Many Khoja had declared in the court that they are Sunni Hanafi Muslims but have adopted some Ismaili beliefs.

Ismaili subsects :







  Page last updated: Saturday, February 18, 2006 15:45:30 -0500