[P4364] Ismaili Thought through the Medieval and Modern Periods: Gender, Exegesis and Metaphysics

Created by Khalil Andani
Friday, 11/18/16 1:45pm


This panel explores trajectories in Ismāʿīlī thought from the medieval to modern period, focusing on metaphysics, exegesis and gender. An emergent theme of the panel papers is the influence of the metaphysics of Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) upon Nizārī Ismāʿīlī thought well into the modern period.

The first paper sheds light on the framing of gender in pre-modern Ismāʿīlī cosmology. Drawing on pre-Fatimid doctrines such as the cosmogenesis of Kūnī and Qadar, the fall of the primordial shadows, and the systematic Fatimid-Ṭayyibī frameworks, the paper outlines attitudes towards femininity ranging from a metaphysical principle to a tainted result of materiality. Noting how the rhetoric language of their time presupposed a masculine characterization of spiritual hierarchies, the paper shows that the “gendered” metaphysics of Ismāʿīlī thinkers reflects linguistic conventions and conservatism as opposed to treating gender as an absolute.

The second paper analyzes the hermeneutical approaches in the Ismāʿīlī Gināns - devotional hymns of South Asia whose authorship is ascribed to Ismāʿīlī Pīrs from the thirteenth century onward. The paper argues that the Gināns embody Ismāʿīlī taʾwīl by demonstrating how the Gināns depict the journey of the itinerant soul through initiation narratives and thereby transpose classical taʾwīl into a devotional and ritual setting. One such Ginān frames this spiritual journey through cosmological hierarchies associated with Ibn al-ʿArabī's notion of Waḥdat al-wujūd (oneness of being).

The third paper examines metaphysical ideas in the autobiography of Shāh Muḥammad Ḥasan al-Ḥusaynī Aga Khan I (1804-1881), 46th hereditary Imam of the Shīʿī Ismāʿīlī Muslims. It argues that Aga Khan's view on a number of issues such as Waḥdat al-wujūd, the Perfect Man, light and darkness, barzakh, and the question of seeing God has been greatly influenced by Ibn al-ʿArabī's school of thought through the teachings of the Niʿmatullāhī Sufi order.

The final paper examines the theological worldview of Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III (1877-1957), 48th hereditary Imam of the Shīʿī Ismāʿīlī Muslims, as per his public writings. The paper argues that Aga Khan III’s theological worldview fuses major elements of Waḥdat al-Wujūd doctrines and Fatimid Ismāʿīlī Neoplatonism in a modern context. The Aga Khan’s idea of “mono-realism” and continuous creation through Divine Will stems from the views of Ismāʿīlī Neoplatonists, Ibn al-ʿArabī's school and Aga Khan I. Additionally, Aga Khan III's view of the Holy Spirit and Universal Soul convey certain ideas of the Fatimid Ismāʿīlī thinker Nāṣir-i Khusraw (d. 1088).


Self funded


Rel Stds/Theo