BY AMELIA ALAM (staff writer)
What is Imamat Day?
Imamat Day is a celebration that marks the anniversary of the day that the beloved Hazar Imam Aga Khan IV succeeded his predecessor, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah, Aga Khan III and became the 49th Imam of the Time. The Imam of the Time is the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and is spiritual leader of all Ismaili Shia Muslims from around the world. Imamat Day takes place every year on July 11 because July 11, 1957 was the day of Aga Khan IV’s succession of his position of the Imam of the Time.
Who is the Aga Khan?
The Imam of the Time provides guidance in matters of faith to Ismailis and works to improve the living conditions of all people, not just Ismailis, from around the world. For example, his Highness, the Aga Khan, is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation, which is an organization that “brings together human, financial and technical resources to address the challenges faced by the poorest and most marginalised communities in the world” (https://www.akdn.org/our-agencies/aga-khan-foundation). The Aga Khan Foundation focuses on many different areas of well-being: agriculture and food security, civil society, early childhood, early childhood, economic inclusion, education, health, and nutrition. The Aga Khan himself has said his goals include the elimination of global poverty, the promotion and implementation of religious pluralism, the advancement of gender equality towards women, and the honoring of Islamic art and architecture.
In addition to improving the quality of life of people around the world, he is the spiritual leader of the Ismailis and offers leadership in terms of faith and religion. For instance, the Imam of the Time gives Firmans to his followers, which are highly-respected teachings that encompass the way of life for the Ismailis, spiritually and materially.
Who are the Ismailis?
The Ismailis are a sect from the Shia strand of Islam. There are approximately fifteen million Ismaili Muslims around the world today, and this sect is the second largest one within the Shia Muslims. This sect has existed for 1,400 years, after the death of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Shia Muslims then became the followers of Ali, his son in-law and cousin. This caused the separation from Sunni Muslims, who didn’t believe that Ali was the next Imam. Shia Muslims needed spiritual guidance and leadership from a current and living Imam. Thus, the list of Imams continued to be hereditary for the Shia Muslims, until they became divided. In 765 CE, when Imam Jafar al-Sadiq passed away, the Twelver Shia Muslims believed that his third son, Musa al-Kadhim, was to be the next Imam, whereas Ismaili Shia Muslims believed that his eldest son, Ismail was to be the next Imam.
Hence, the Ismailis carry on with following the descendants of Ismail all the way to the current Imam, the Aga Khan. Ismaili people are the only Muslims to continue to have allegiance to one living hereditary Imam, which bonds the people together and makes the community stronger in terms of faith and belief.
How do Ismailis celebrate Imamat Day?
As mentioned before, Imamat Day has been celebrated on July 11 since the year of 1957. Ismaili people typically take this celebration literally and use this day to celebrate. Last Imamat Day, in 2021, the Ismaili (https://the.ismaili/) offered a list of virtual festivities for Ismailis from all around the world. These festivities included music, dance performance, and poetry in many different languages and film. Ismailis believe that the arts can be an incredible way to express love for the Imam of the Time.
In conclusion, Imamat Day is clearly a special day that holds a place in many hearts of Ismaili people. This year’s Imamat Day has already passed, but there’s still next year’s to look forward to!
Here is the list of the programme offered on ‘The Ismaili’ webpage: