The Delegation Decoded
An Esoteric Exegesis of the Delegation of the Isma‘ili Imamat
A Personal Interpretation by Khalil Andani
4. Inner Glass Fibre Canopy: The Masters of Instruction
“…the great hujjats who, by the purity of their essences, become capable of receiving the emanations of the light of the sublime Word and become distinguished from other souls through divine instruction. “
– Sayyedna Nasir al-Din Tusi
Under the outer shell of the glass roof there is an inner layer of woven glass fibre which hangs over the atrium like a canopy. The glass fibre layer is aligned to the upper glass dome and functions as a shade over the atrium, regulating the amount of sunlight and heat which reaches the atrium while reflecting the sunlight at many different angles.
The light of the sun is transmitted from the translucent glass dome and shines upon the fibre glass canopy. This symbolizes the way in which the light of ta’yid is transmitted from the soul of the Imam to the souls of the rest of the hudud. This is explained by Nasir al-Din Tusi:
“The lights of the divine creative volition (anwar-i amr-i ibda’i), by his command, shine upon those souls who harbour an aptitude to apprehend the perfection of the Divine Command, taking the form of distinctive and true gnosis, love, obedience and devotion.”
– Sayyedna Nasir al-Din Tusi, (Paradise of Submission, p. 111)
These souls ‘who harbour an aptitude to apprehend the perfection of the Divine Command’ are those of the hujjahs who come after the Imam in the hierarchy of the terrestrial hudud.
There are four hujjahs of proximity, twelve hujjahs of the day and twelve hujjahs of the night making a total of twenty-eight hujjahs. It is important to note that the fibre glass canopy actually consists of twenty-eight triangular panels which serve to represent the twenty-eight hujjahs of the Imam.
The hujjahs are distinguished by their spiritual knowledge and purity due to which the their souls are able to receive knowledge from the Imam through ta’yid (inspiration) instead of ta’lim (instruction). The light of the Imam shines upon the hujjah and the hujjah in turn illuminates others with his miraculous knowledge. Nasir al-Din Tusi describes the excellence and functions of the hujjahs in a passage quoted below:
“It is clear that by absorbing the excellence of knowledge, one soul excels others in strength until it attains the degree of the souls of the great hujjats who, by the purity of their essences, become capable of receiving the emanations of the light of the sublime Word (anwar kalimat-yi a‘la) and become distinguished from other souls through divine instruction. By the grace of their teaching and learning, they rescue from darkness the souls of men, who are bound in the ocean of matter and shackled by the ties of nature.”
– Sayyedna Nasir al-Din Tusi, (Paradise of Submission, p. 37-38)
The hujjahs spread their knowledge to the rest of the terrestrial hudud and humanity at large in the form of instruction (ta’lim). Just as the upper glass dome represents the Imams who are the Lords of Inspiration (ashab al-ta’yid), the glass fibre canopy represents the hujjahs who are the Masters of Instruction (ashab al-ta’lim). Some examples of these hujjahs in Isma‘ili history who were distinguished by their luminous teachings are Sayyedna Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, Sayyedna Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, Sayyedna Nasir-i Khusraw, Sayyedna Hasan-i Sabbah, and many others.
The hujjahs are in different ranks. The highest rank is that of the four hujjahs of proximity who have been compared to the four corners of the Ka’ba. Different terms have been used throughout Isma‘ili history to refer to these four great hujjahs and each of them corresponds to a different archetypal personality. One of these hujjahs is known in the South Asian Isma‘ili tradition as the pir or sat-gur and this position was occupied by figures such as Pir Satgur Nur, Pir Shams al-Din, Pir Sadr al-Din, and Pir Hasan Kabir al-Din and there is an entire chain (silsilah) of such hujjahs extending back to the Prophet Muhammad who is their archetype.
Another archetypal personage of the hujjahs is Salman al-Farsi – the famous Persian companion of the Prophet and Imam ‘Ali. The person of Salman, was named by the Prophet as part of his Ahl al-Bayt, represents the ordinary murid who has ascended spiritually to the rank of hujjah and is called the spiritual offspring of the Imam.
A third figure associated with the rank of the hujjah is that of Bibi Fatima al-Zahra – the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, the wife of Imam ‘Ali and the mother of Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn. Isma‘ili sources assert that there is female hujjah like Fatima in every age – just like the Virgin Mary with Jesus and Eve with Adam.
Finally, the son and future successor of the Imam has also been referred to as his hujjah – with the son representing the continuation and validation of the Imamat. During the lifetime of a Natiq (major Prophet), his Asas (succeeding Imam) functions as his hujjah in this sense. In summary, the figures of the four close hujjahs or babs correspond to the pir, the Salman of the age, the Fatima of the age, and the future Imam.
After the special class of four hujjahs come the twelve hujjahs of the day and the twelve hujjahs of the night. In the physical world, the twelve pairs of hujjahs are represented by the twelve hours of the day and night and the twelve constellations. The twelve hujjahs of the day are so called because they function as instructors for the Isma‘ili jama’at. Examples of the twelve hujjahs of the day in Isma‘ili history are Sayyedna Abu Yaqub al-Sijistani, Sayyedna Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, and Sayyedna Nasir-i Khusraw. The twelve hujjahs of the night are those hujjahs whose identities are secret. They are responsible for spreading spiritual knowledge to the people of other faiths and traditions.
In the Delegation building, the glass fibre panels have the function of regulating and moderating the amount of light and heat which reaches the atrium. They prevent the people in the atrium from being blinded by the light of the sun or overwhelmed by its warmth. The hujjahs perform the same functions for the murids in relation to the luminous knowledge of the Imam. Under the hujjahs, the lower ranks of the terrestrial hudud lack the capacity to directly receive the knowledge of the Imam which is overwhelming and intense like fire. The hujjahs first receive the intense and powerful knowledge of the Imam and then mould this knowledge into a form more easily receivable by the lower hudud. In this sense, the Isma’ili da’is have compared the figure of the hujjah to the cool and calming Moon and the figure of the Imam to the intense and blazing Sun. Sayyedna Abu ‘Ali, one of the Imam’s hujjahs of the Fatimid, period made this comparison in the following words:
“Our Lord, the Commander of the Faithful, is like the Sun whose light is bright and blinding such that, if it were not followed by the Moon to moderate and cool its effects, no plant could develop properly on earth and the heat would overpower it.”
– Sayyedna Abu ‘Ali, (Wilferd Madelung and Paul Walker, The Advent of the Fatimids, I.B. Taurus and the Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2000, pp. 35)
The lunar function is most exemplified by the supreme hujjah or pir who is one of the four great hujjahs. Sayyedna Nasir al-Din Tusi also expands on the Moon-like nature of the supreme hujjah in his Paradise of Submission:
“For just as the body of the Moon is in itself dark but illuminated by the Sun, taking the Sun’s place in his absence, and lighting up the Earth in proportion to the amount of light that it has been capable of obtaining from the Sun, so the soul of the supreme hujjat, which by itself knows noting and is nothing, is illumined by the effulgent radiation of the divine assistance (ta’yid) from the Imam… By virtue of his capacity to receive the grace of the lights of knowledge (fayd-i anwar-i ‘ilm) and according to the measure of his aptitude, he enlightens people about the Imam, showing the way to him.”
– Sayyedna Nasir al-Din Tusi, (The Paradise of Submission, p. 131-132)
According to Isma’ili ta’wil, the Qur’anic verses which speak about the Sun and the Moon are also referring to the Imam and his hujjahs. One of these verses is quoted below:
“And the Moon,- We have measured for her mansions (manazila) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk.”
– Holy Qur’an 36:39
The lunar mansions of the physical world (‘alam al-dunya) are the twenty-eight lunar stations which are spread over the twenty-eight day lunar cycle. The lunar mansions of the World of Religion (‘alam al-din) are the twenty-eight hujjahs of the Imam – which are represented by the twenty-eight glass fibre panels of the Delegation of the Isma‘ili Imamat; these twenty-eight hujjahs are the Masters of Instruction (ashab al-ta’lim).
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We counted 28 such panels from inside the atrium. On one of the adjacent sides of the building, there is another set of twelve fibre glass panels. These panels represent the twelve hujjahs of the night. This is because the twelve hujjahs of the night illuminate the communities outside the Isma‘ili jama’ats in the same way that the twelve panels illuminate the outside of the Delegation Building during the night.[back]
Azim Nanji, The Nizari Isma‘ili Tradition,, Carvan Books, New York, 1978, p. 119: “The pirs as the hujja of the Imams are equated in the ginans with the Prophet Muhammad, who, we recall, was made homologuous to Brahma, the Creative principle in the original Hindu triad.”[back]
The Isma‘ili da‘i Nizari Quhistani refers to the bab as Salman in his poetry: “For the way to ‘Ali’s gate by the light of Salman I found!”. Shafique Virani also writes in The Ismailis in the Middle Ages (p. 61):
“In Ismaili thought, Salman al-Farisi is often considered the archetypal gate (bab) and supreme hujjat. A fifteenth-century Ismaili author of Badakhshan, writing on this topic, quotes the Prophet’s declaration, ‘Indeed, paradise longs more for Salman than Salman for paradise!’”.[back]
This is why Imam ‘Ali, in his role of Asas, functioned as the hujjah and bab of Prophet Muhammad who was the Entrusted Imam (al-imam al-mustawda) of the time. This in accordance with the hadith: “I am the city of knowledge and ‘Ali is its gate (bab).”[back]