In the lifetime of each Ismaili murid, there are special moments when we rejoice in our individual, spiritual connection with the Noor of Imamat. Similarly there are occasions in the history of the Jamat when we collectively celebrate the living presence of the Imam of the Time, and commemorate the continuity of the rope of Imamat that has guided and protected us since the time of Hazrat Ali.
The Diamond Jubilee of Mawlana Hazar Imam will be such an occasion. The 11th of July 2017 will mark 60 years — a milestone anniversary for our 49th hereditary Imam, Shah Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV.
“The anniversaries of the Imam of the Time's Imamat are opportunities and occasions for the Jamat to reflect and to commemorate what the Imam of the Time has done for the Jamat,” says Aitmadi Dr Mahmoud Eboo, Chairman of the Ismaili Leaders’ International Forum.
The Ismaili tradition of Jubilees is well established. The upcoming Diamond Jubilee was preceded by Golden and Silver Jubilees that marked 50 and 25 years respectively of Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat. Four Jubilees were celebrated during the lifetime of Hazar Imam’s grandfather, Mawlana Sultan Mahomed Shah, including his Platinum Jubilee commemorating 70 years of his Imamat.
Jubilee years are looked upon by the Jamat and the Imam as particularly special.
“For the Diamond Jubilee, the leaders of the Jamat made a submission to Mawlana Hazar Imam that for this 60th anniversary, the Jamat would like to commemorate this as a Jubilee,” explains the LIF Chairman. “Hazar Imam graciously accepted, and in doing so mentioned that if we were going to commemorate it as a Diamond Jubilee, then we should look at certain goals.”
Past Jubilees have been catalytic in realising significant goals and initiatives, and have left behind legacy programmes. For example, the Jubilee Insurance Company and Diamond Trust Bank were founded in the 1930s and 40s in response to the financial needs of the Jamat at that time. They’ve persisted over the decades, and grown to become important pillars in the East African region.
The goals for the Diamond Jubilee encompass a range of issues: early child development, strengthening our religious education system, and expanding access to Jamatkhanas. They also include building capacity of the institutions established by the Ismaili Imamat over the past six decades to ensure they grow and flourish in the years ahead.
Jubilee legacy projects are intimately connected with values that also reach back many centuries. The Aga Khan University, which is a Silver Jubilee project, and the more recently established University of Central Asia, are cases in point.
“The notion of education is historical within the Shia Ismaili tariqah of Islam — it goes back 1 400 years,” explains Chairman Eboo. “The Imam's ancestors built Al-Azhar a thousand years ago because of the ethical precept of valuing knowledge, of valuing the notion of education as being central to human development.”
Another example is the Time and Knowledge Nazrana, which was established during Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Golden Jubilee as a way for murids to make a gift of their time and knowledge towards building institutional capacity. In the Diamond Jubilee, it is evolving into a permanent mechanism for harnessing the intellectual capacity of the worldwide Jamat within an ethical framework of service that has long been part of the Ismaili tradition.
These are not projects whose horizons are limited to a few years or decades. “They are programmes that are designed to impact the quality of life of the Jamat for generations to come,” says Chairman Eboo.
Poverty, however, is a more immediate concern. Addressing it will involve bringing to bear the entire capacity of Imamat institutions, says the LIF Chairman, and the time horizon is much shorter.
“We are hopeful that within the next generation, we will be able to improve and address issues of poverty,” he says.
Four main factors have been identified as critical in eliminating poverty: ensuring access to education from early childhood onwards; access to healthcare and quality medical facilities; ensuring that families live in quality homes with clean water, electricity and sanitation; and the ability for individuals to tap economic opportunities to be able to support themselves and their families.
It is critical that these factors be addressed for Ismailis living in rural and urban settings, as well as for the wider populations amongst whom the Jamat lives, says the LIF Chairman. If these efforts are successful, they should result in a marked difference in the levels of poverty over the next 10 years or so.
As far reaching and ambitious as the aspirations of the Diamond Jubilee are, the spiritual foundations of the commemoration remain central: the renewal of that special bond that links each of us with our Imam in this time, and the Noor of Imamat across all time.
It is this legacy that has always been, and shall always be, the most enduring.