Retrospective | Ismaili Constitution for global Ismaili community was ordained on Mawlana Hazar Imam’s 50th birthday

Mawlana Hazar Imam ordaining the Ismaili Constitution.Image:Canadian Ismaili March 1987
Mawlana Hazar Imam ordaining the Ismaili Constitution, December 13, 1986 in Geneva
(Image:Canadian Ismaili December 1986)

It is my belief that the Ismaili Constitution will provide a strong institutional and organisational framework through which my Jamat (community) will be able to contribute to the harmonious development of the Ummah and of the societies in which the Jamat lives.”*

Born on December 13, 1936, in Geneva, Switzerland, Mawlana Hazar Imam spent his early childhood years in Nairobi, Kenya. He attended Le Rosey School in Switzerland, and graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA Honours in Islamic History. He succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Mahomed Shah Aga Khan, as Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, on July 11, 1957 at the age of 20.

Consistent with 1,400 years of Muslim tradition of leadership and ethics, covering all interpretations of Islam, as Imam, Mawlana Hazar Imam not only guides the community in matters of faith but also leads the effort towards improving the security and quality of the community’s lives and of all those among whom they live, regardless of creed, gender or ethnicity. In accordance with Ismaili history, tradition and the needs of the time, the Imams have given rules of conduct and constitutions in conformity with the Islamic concepts of unity, brotherhood, justice, tolerance and goodwill.

In 1905 Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah  ordained the first Ismaili Constitution for the social governance of the community in East Africa. This new administration was organized into a hierarchy of councils at the local, regional, and national levels. The constitution also set out rules in matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance, guidelines for mutual cooperation and support among Ismailis, and their interface with other communities. Similar constitutions were promulgated in the Indian subcontinent, and all were periodically revised to address emerging needs and circumstances in diverse settings.

In continuation of this tradition, Mawlana Hazar Imam has extended this constitutional governance to other regions of the world – from Afghanistan and South Asia, through the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, to Western Europe and North America. On December 13, 1986, Hazar Imam ordained an Ismaili Constitution which, for the first time, brought under a common aegis, the self-governance of the global Ismaili community.

Like its predecessors, the present constitution is founded on each Ismaili’s spiritual allegiance to the Imam of the time, which is separate from the secular allegiance that all Ismailis owe as citizens to their national entities. The guidance of the present Imam and his predecessor emphasized the Ismaili’s allegiance to his or her country as a fundamental obligation. These obligations are to be discharged through responsible engagement and active commitment to uphold national integrity and contribute to peaceful development.

It is the desire and Hidayah of Mawlana Hazar Imam  … that the Ismaili Muslims worldwide be given this Constitution in order better to secure their peace and unity, religious and social welfare, to foster fruitful collaboration between different peoples, to optimise the use of resources, and to enable the Ismaili Muslims to make a valid and meaningful contribution to the improvement of the quality of life of the Ummah and the societies in which they live.”

(The Ismaili Constitution, Section I)

Extracts from:
Ismaili Community, Aga Khan Development Network
Farhad Daftary, Modern History, Introduction, The Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Ismaili Imamat and its Institutional Capacity, The Ismaili UK, July, 2007

Research by Nimira Dewji

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