Why I too, chose to leave Ismailism
by Akbar Khoja
A testimonial account of Faisal Gilani. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org
In the name of Allah (Ar-Rahman, Ar-Raheem)
This is my story of how I came to Islam leaving behind Ismailism practised by my parents and my forefathers.
I was born as a Ismaili Khoja (also called in general Muslim circles as Aga Khani).
We will start with some background explanation about Ismailis (also known as Khojas or Aga Khanis), and their basic beliefs.
They call themselves Shia Ismaili Nizari Muslims. They believe in one God and consider that he incarnated on earth as Ali therefore the old prayer (dua) which Ismailis recited, and also their Testimony of Faith (kalma) says "Ali Allah" means "Ali is Allah".
They believe Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the final prophet, but the Ismailis' definition of prophethood is highly corrupt and Ismaili Imamat ultimately suprasses tawheed (oneness of Allah) and prophethood giving all power to Aga Khan. They believe that the Prophet (peace be upon him) appointed Ali as the spiritual leader and that leadership falls to Ali's family (ahl-ul-bayt) until the end of time. The current living Aga Khan (a formal title of the Ismaili leader), whose name is Karim Al-Husayni, referred to as Hazir Imam (the manifest imam) by Ismailis, is the 49th in the self-constructed lineage of imams which began with Ali. However, due to their corrupt belief of "Ali is Allah" this false claim of succession of Ali (which Ali himself never claimed in his lifetime the way Aga Khan is claiming) is misinterpreted in such a way that Aga Khan is ultimate god of Ismailis from whom they ask health, wealth, forgiveness, and help in their dua and afterwards in the supplications. They believe that Aga Khan has "spiritual powers" who comes to their rescue in every calamity. According to them, he writes their destiny and controls the world.
What is the role of Quran in a Ismaili’s life?
Ismailis are highly confused regarding the position of Quran as Aga Khan III rejected it and Aga Khan IV withheld it. You can read more about these opposing claims in the following article:
You might find a copy of the Quran in a Ismaili's house, but never in their Jamatkhanas as Ismaili missionaries threaten Ismailis that if they read Quran they will be misguided, as Quran has esoteric (baatini) meanings which only can be understood by Aga Khan. They are also made to believe that the Quran is outdated and was revealed for a specific time, place, and situation. Ismailis believe that the Quran is neither universally valid, nor relevant for all times and people. They believe that their spiritual leader, Karim Aga Khan, is the “walking and talking Qur’an” and his “religious pronouncements”, whatever they may be, are the “guidance” for the present times. The fundamental article of faith that there will not be any new revelations or after the Qur’an, is being completely violated by the Ismailis.
What is Aga Khan’s role?
A Ismaili kissing the feet of Karim Aga Khan.
Aga Khan in front of media and world is the spiritual leader and advisor of the Ismailis. However, behind the closed doors of Jamatkhana he is God of Ismailis. His words (called farmans) are the rule of law for them. For example when we look at history, there was a time where the Aga Khan of the time decided that Hijab (women’s outer garment that covers the hair) was no longer necessary and was not needed to be worn. Islamic salat was replaced by dua. Thus Aga Khan (being understood by Ismailis as the current representative of God on Earth) can nullify the rulings stated in the Quran or taught by the last Messenger (pbuh) of Allah.
Weren’t you a Muslim?
I used to consider myself a Ismaili Muslim. However, I later found out that the Islam that Ismailis are taught is not the true deen (way of life) that was sent by Allah.
How did you come to Islam?
I had a good friend in high school that used to chat with me about religion and life. He invited me to come and offer the Muslim prayer after school and also invited me to come for the jumuah khutba (Friday prayers and sermon). I had been exposed to the prayer before and my father had always taught me that there is nothing wrong with praying however you liked, and thus I felt at home coming to pray with the other Muslims. Nobody attacked me or my beliefs, or denied that I was a Muslim, and I felt quite welcome and happy to find a way to pray to God. In fact even though Muslim prayed differently I felt that this was still a way for me to pray to Allah (still I used to believed Aga Khan as God) and I was very happy about this opportunity and I even told my younger brother to come join us.
What happened next?
As time passed, my friends continued to take me to the masjid and to different Islamic lectures, conferences, and events. It was amazing to have such good friends who really cared about me and my hereafter in order to involve me. They also gave me audio tapes and video tapes to watch. All this time I never felt that they were preaching to me or trying to convert me. In fact the whole time I felt I was Muslim and I did not feel threatened in the least. Actually in the future when people used to ask me how I converted I used to get very upset and say that I never converted, but later I got over this phase and I accepted that I did revert to another way of life.
What are the differences between Ismailism and Islam?
difference between ismailism and islam
Just at a glance in general, Ismailis do not pray salah (their prayer is different), fast in Ramadan (some might), pay zakah (they pay something else), go for hajj (maybe some do), wear hijab (they do not believe in it), avoid interest (they believe interest is okay). In short, Ismailism is just a 5% Islam and 95% innovated rituals which cannot be completed without paying money. They explain its all esoteric (baatini) sect but at the same time they perform exoteric (zaahiri) rituals which all are money-oriented. When Ismaili missionaries are approached for explanation they will give you a very long explanation borrowing arguments from Quranists, atheists, humanists, Christians, Hindus and all that is not from Islam and will never use Quran as a source of reference. Some missionaries might use few verses of Quran but then again they will misinterpret it neglecting standard things to understand Quran like:
Prophetic tradition (hadith)
Life of Ali
Reason of revelation of verses of the Quran
Islam is centered around oneness of Allah ( tawhid) which can be practiced by the poor and the rich alike whereas Ismailism is centered around Aga Khan and his Jamatkhana where the more you pay, the more virtuous you are - something which only the rich can do.
Why did I convert?
As I began to see both sides of the fence, and started reading the Quran, lots of questions began to appear in my mind. I always felt from a young age that it wasn’t necessary to pray to Aga Khan and ask him for help when we could always talk to Allah directly as commanded in the Quran, taught by the Prophet (pbuh) and practiced by Ali, and this confused me. Questions began to appear such as: What is the worst unforgivable sin? Why do we Ismailis pray to Aga Khan when we can pray to Allah directly? Why don't we read the Quran? Why is money needed in every ritual? Why are Jamatkhanas more of social clubs where immodesty is allowed? Why is there no standard set of rules in Ismailis which is followed by all generations, and we keep changing the way we pray perform other acts of worship all the time and stand out from the rest of the community as a hypocrite sect?
In terms of the "worst unforgivable sin", the Quran says in 4:116 that:
Surely Allah does not forgive associating ˹others˺ with Him ˹in worship˺, but forgives anything else of whoever He wills. Indeed, whoever associates ˹others˺ with Allah has clearly gone far astray.
This answer was really scary to me. A Ismaili fellow told me that Muslims accuse us of associating Aga Khan as a partner with Allah. I did not want to risk my eternity in hell forever, so I decided that I did not want to practice Islam how Ismailis practiced it. I decided that I would practice Islam according to the way Allah wanted me to, not the way my parents or my culture taught me. I decided that I would read the Quran and find out what my Lord and Creator wanted from me.
...whatever the Messenger gives you, take it. And whatever he forbids you from, leave it. And fear Allah. Surely Allah is severe in punishment.
What is your advice to other Ismailis?
First my advice to all the Ismailis is to learn the Quran with tafsir (commentary), understand Islam as practiced by Prophet (pbuh) and Ali from hadith as it is the true deen (way of life) and practice it. Don’t take this amazing title of "Muslim" for granted. You never know when will you die. I would also recommend Ismailis to befriend Muslims and discuss Islam with them, join them in prayer. Do not debate, but instead discuss with them but be gentle, be kind, and pray for Allah to open your heart to Islam. Also keep in mind that nobody is converting you, all they are doing is that they are conveying the message, and then leave the rest to Allah. If you understand the truth, All praise is due to Allah, and if you don’t, still the decision belongs to Allah and He guides whom He wills, provided that you seek guidance.
What is the Ismaili prayer like?
President of Ismaili National Council offering post-prayer Tasbih. The Ismailis pray without gender segregation, not facing the Qiblah.
The Ismaili prayer is known as the “Holy Dua”, it is 6 parts, and it is compiled by Aga Khan. It is partly written by him and has some parts of edited Quranic verses in it.
Click here to read more about the Ismaili prayer.
Are Ismailis the same as Qadiani or Ahmadi?
This is a common mix-up. Qadianis and Ahmediyya are totally different groups that have nothing to do with each other whatsoever.