On the second Saturday of this month, a hundred or so Ismaili Muslims – from Eindhoven, Stockholm, Bad Salzuflen, Essen, Frankfurt, Munich and Dublin – made their way north from the Ismaili Centre, London. They walked past the Victoria & Albert Museum and continued up Exhibition Road until they reached Prince's Gardens. There, on an immaculate lawn stands a pristine marquee embracing a circular, dome-topped structure. They were amongst the first to visit, followed soon after by 150 youth who had brought their non-Ismaili friends to share in a special experience.
RAYS OF LIGHT: Glimpses into the Ismaili Imamat, A Golden Jubilee International Programme, opened in London on 10 September 2010 on the grounds of Imperial College at Prince's Gardens. Over the course of the week, the European visitors were joined by thousands more – local and foreign, Ismaili and non-Ismaili – seeking to experience the exhibition, which depicts 50 years of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Imamat against the backdrop of the Jamat's 1,400-year history.
“What an amazing exhibition – I am so glad to have visited it,” said one guest. “I am so fortunate to be an Ismaili murid, and I was so very touched to read some of the comments left by not only our fellow Muslim brothers but other members of society as well.”
Since the time of Hazrat Ali, the first Shia Imam, the light of Imamat has illuminated the path of followers and guided their spiritual and intellectual understanding of Islam. Upon acceding to the Imamat in 1957 at the age of 20, Mawlana Hazar Imam declared that he had dedicated his life to the uplift and progress of Ismailis worldwide. Few at that time could have imagined the scope and depth of this lifelong commitment, which today extends not only to the Ismaili Muslims, but also to the wider communities within which they live.
Continuing a long-standing tradition of Muslim leadership and service to humanity, Hazar Imam has devoted more than 50 years of his life towards upholding the dignity of man, promoting peace and stability and working towards the common good of all peoples, regardless of their origin or religion.
Fifteen-year-old Khalil Osman had visited RAYS OF LIGHT before, but he still found himself moved by the work and example of the Imam: “The first couple of times I saw the exhibition I was extremely emotional, and in awe of the inspiring work Hazar Imam tirelessly does – I felt proud to be an Ismaili. Upon returning to see this exhibition today, I feel that as Ismaili Muslims, followers of Hazar Imam, and perhaps simply as human beings, it is our duty and responsibility to try and live by the principles that Hazar Imam shows us.”
“I feel a responsibility to continue this work,” he added, “and emulate the way Hazar Imam lives his life as an example of responsibility and someone who radiates hope, and betters the lives of all. A truly outstanding exhibition.”
Like the exhibition itself, the RAYS of LIGHT experience is multi-faceted. Each individual encounter is at once unique and personal, but it is also a shared event – for none of the visitors emerge from the exhibition unmoved. The visitor comment cards testify to this.
Pinned on large boards just outside the exhibition, the comment cards have become a display in their own right. Visitors use the cards to reflect, to connect, and to pour out their feelings and memories. A random reading reveals poetry and prose, feelings of pride and humility, and above all a deep sense of gratitude. Many who commented came from other faith traditions.
“From one who follows a different path, yet looks towards the same One Light for the hope that triumphs despair, for the indefatigable efforts on behalf of the weak and frail, for the words uplifting the dumb in their misery – thank you for your service,” commented one visitor.
“A really beautiful experience,” remarked a visitor who related to the exhibition through their own faith tradition: “I am a Roman Catholic, but our spiritual bond is evident in all I have seen at your RAYS OF LIGHT experience.”
Expressions of gratitude are a common theme among the comments. So too, is the desire for greater unity, both within the Muslim ummah and across humanity at large.
“Thank you for this beautiful exhibition of the history of the Ismaili's Imamat. As a follower of the Shia faith of 12 Imams, this was a very insightful and brilliant display of the beauty of Islam and acknowledgement of the great work achieved by this faith. I send my warmest gratitude to the Imam Karim Aga Khan and his blessed followers. I hope unity will continue to spread amongst all Muslims of different sects and all of humanity.”
RAYS OF LIGHT is open until 11:00 PM every day, and remains in London until 26 September. Afterwards, the exhibition will set sail for East Africa.