Day 1122 – Ken here (M)(10-8-2012)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.220-230)(pages read: 2260)
A little shaky on my feet but getting through Arabic history – Gibbon has another 180 pages and 2 long chapters to go before he’s through and we stumble back to the Roman Empire and its Decline and its Fall. Granted all this Middle Eastern history was probably well worth the subscription rate for Gibbons fifth book in his third volume for all his English readers, BUT, I HAVE TO SAY, I am pining for some solid Roman history.
At the rate I’m reading now – that won’t be for another six months – *sigh* *heavy sigh* – no one said life would give no bitter with the sweet, and if reading Arabic history is the worse thing that ever happens to me, well, I should just shut the heck up…
Gibbon ventures into territory that would have been completely opaque to the average Gentleman Reader of the 1790’s – the difference between Sunni and Shiite, and some further pages on the succession/reigns of the early Caliphs – esp. the descendants of the tragic Ali, whom Gibbon takes quite a shine to.
REMEMBER – the odd spellings used in all this Arabic History comes from the more free-wheeling days of late Eighteenth Century English – for the most part I just use Gibbon’s spelling to make it easier, as some of these names’ transliteration (Arabic script to Latin Letters English) etc (like Chinese transliteration from characters to Latin Letters English) have changed more than once in the last 225 years – so if the Arabic names are odd and quaint – you know the reason.
The cult of the wildly benevolent, extraordinarily courteous gentleman is a complicated subject. Gift-giving as a way of cementing social relationships shows up globally, across our entire species, and over a long period of time.
Romans had their “patrons and clients” – wealthy heads of Roman clans had large groups of poorer people they gave gifts to, who supported them in return. Still, it was an occasion for what Romans considered “civilized” ostentatious giving.
Potlatch among the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest was a festival of reciprocal gift-giving, having less to do with superior/inferior relationships (as the Romans) than to the commonality of possessions – another example on another continent of ostentatious giving.
The hallmark of a Viking leader, and indeed most of Late Antique Europe was the ability of the war-lord to lead his troops of young men out to pillage and battle, guaranteeing them much wealth and plunder in the process. To go a-viking means just that – go pillaging under a war-leader, the leader getting all the spoils, but “giving back” much of it to his loyal battle-friends.
Charlemagne’s empire in the 800’s – the Holy Roman Empire – was built on war-raids against the Saxons as Charlemagne conquered Germany for the Franks and for romanitas or “civilization”. Giving to one’s followers is what a nobleman does. In the Middle Ages, Liberality – i.e. a nobles ability and tendency to give lavishly to his followers was considered (by followers) to be the most important quality (for obvious selfish reasons) in a leader. Thus it entered all the knightly romances.
Arabic mores are not dissimilar. Lavish giving to one’s followers, before and after Mohammed, was considered an admirable, noble, civilized trait.
Thus, here is an example of Gibbon – relating how a son of Ali reacted to his servant, when his servant drops a dish of scalding broth upon him. It’s interesting in that it supposedly shows piety, but actually shows typical values of Arabic nobility, and the desperate, devious, and successful pleading of a much inferior man in the hands of a lawfully furious superior. There’s a picaresque kind of William Tell, Robin Hood, weaker-man-wriggling-out-from-under-the-thumb-of-the-mighty-and-in-turn-thumbing-his-nose-at-him sort of thing going on here too.
A familiar story is related of the benevolence of one of the sons of Ali. In serving at table, a slave had inadvertently dropped a dish of scalding broth on his master: the heedless wretch fell prostrate, to deprecate his punishment, and repeated a verse of the Koran:
“Paradise is for those who command their anger: ” —— “I am not angry: ”
“and for those who pardon offences: ” —— “I pardon your offence: ”
“and for those who return good for evil: ” —— “I give you your liberty and four hundred pieces of silver.”
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.50, pp.225-226)
The Tangled Roots of A Single Tree
Aga Khan – 49th Imam (desc of Moh, leader of spiritual community of Islam) (head of Ismaili “path” of Shia “branch” of Islam). The first great break in Islam is between the adherents of the bloodline of Mohammed (Ali through Fatima), and the battle-chosen leaders of Islam – AbuBekr and following, the Ummayads. Those favoring Mohammed’s blood as the deciding factor were of the Party of Ali (Shiate Ali – or Shiite’s).
They in turn broke away from each other over the centuries into pieces, depending on which man you followed of the later 12 Imams – you got your name by the number of shared Imams you held to be valid – thus the Twelvers (all and largest group now), the Seveners (1st 7 – Ismailis), the Fivers (1st 5). The Ismailis (the Fivers) broke down into parties over the centuries. Only the Naziri party of the Ismailis are left now, for the most part.
They follow the Imam Aga Khan IV – a man confirmed inhis spiritual mission by the British empire in 1866 by Sir Joseph Arnold, Chief Judge of the High Court of Bombay – who legally (for the British Empire) nailed down the identity of the first Aga Khan, settling a long dispute over assets and authority, and from whom the 4th and current Aga Khan gets a portion of his legitimacy, at least in terms of proving his unbroken succession.
The British must have been anxious to quell religious violence after the Uprising of 1857, so perhaps the legal recognition of spiritual leadership was very much a part of British policy of the day.
It’s fascinating that a political body which no longer exists – the British Empire – lives on spiritually by virtue of an obscure court decision in a province (India) and funds an enormous horse-racing-horse-breeding-machine now in Northern France (Aga Khan Stud Farm in France).
- Naziri Ismailiis
—> Sunni (don’t focus on the concept of Imam – spiritual, hereditary voice of Islam – of the blood of Mohammed)
—> Shia (Shiatu Ali) (the Party of Ali – devoted to the blood desc’s of Mohammed)
Once many more, now five main “Paths” of Shia Islam
—–> Twelvers (biggest group – Ithna Ashariyya – hold 12 Imams as auth.) – the 12 Imams that follows Ali – see above and the readings from today
—–> Seveners (next biggest – the Ismaili) (once,many many paths)
——-> Nazir Seveners – largest surviving path within the Ismailis – Aga Khan leads this group – the 49th Imam of Islam, dir desc of Moh. – only hold 7 Imams as auth., hold Aga Khan as curr leader)
—–> Fivers (Zaidi – accept 1st five Imams)
Aga Khan Family – from Mohommed, to Persia, to Afghanistan, to India, via the British Empire, to the Outskirts of Paris
Abu Khan IV is the 49th Imam of the Naziri Ismailis. The history of his family is fascinating. Lest you think this is all idle scholarship – below an excerpt from an online Indian (Subcontinent India)
NIZARI IMAMS COME TO INDIA.
Imam Shah Khalilu’llah took up his temporary residence at Yezd, leading a retired life. People had great regard for him and Fateh Ali Shah, who was then ruling over Persia, himself held him in the highest esteem. This excited the bitter jealousy of a Mullah who instigated some fanatics to murder him. The dastardly crime created quite a sensation in the country, and the faithful followers of the Imam were in no mood to tolerate it.
Fateh Ali Shah realising the seriousness of the situation took prompt measures to allay it. He administered severe punishment to the guilty ones and invited Hasan Ali Shah, the young son of the deceased Imam to his palace where he publicly recognized him as the head of the Ismailis with the title of Aga Khan, and later gave to him one of his daughters in marriage. With the death of Fateh Ali Shah in 1834, civil war broke out and the situation of Agha Hasan Ali Shah, the first Aga Khan was changed. Soon after, he left for Sind via Afghanistan where he was enthusiastically welcomed by the Talpur Amirs of Sind who with other followers had long been his zealous supporters.
THE KHOJA CASE:
The Khoja Case heard by Sir Joseph Arnold, then Chief Judge, in 1866 confirmed beyond doubt the claim of Imam Agha Hassan Ali Shah, the first Aga Khan, as being the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad, through Ali and Fatima.
In setting out the prominent facts established in the High Court of Bombay, Sir Joseph Arnold declared: – “The question ‘Who is the Aga Khan?’ has thus been already partly answered: Mahomed Hussain Hooseinee otherwise Aga Khan, or as he is more formally styled when addressed or mentioned in official documents by the Bombay Government – ‘His Highness Aga Khan, Mehelati,’ is the hereditary Chief and Imam of the Ismailis – the present or living holder of the Musnud of the Imamate – claiming descent in direct line from Ali, the Vicar of God, through Ismail, the son of Jaffir Sadick.’ Writing on the case, John Norman Hollister says:-
“The case was heard by Sir Joseph Arnold. A great deal of information concerning the sect was elicited. Such Sunni practices as the plaintiffs presented were explained by the defendants as being in accordance with the Shiite principle of taqiya. The judgment was rendered in favor of the Agha Khan on all points.” 40
“As a result of this judgment, ” writes A.S. Picklay. “the rights of the Aga Khan as the Spiritual Head of the Shia Imami Ismaili were firmly and legally established much to the discomfiture of a few discontented persons.”
from the Ismaili.net page of the Holy Imams – On The Geneaology of the Imams
This from Wikipedia, on the Aga Khan
His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV (Aga Khan is also transliterated as Aqa Khan and Agha Khan), NPk, NI, KBE, CC, GCC, GCIH, GCM; born December 13, 1936; is an international business magnate,racehorse owner and breeder,as well as the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism – a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam consisting of approximately 5–15 million adherents (under 10% of the world’s Shia Muslim population).He has held this position of Imam, under the title of Aga Khan IV, since July 11, 1957, when, at the age of 20, he succeeded his grandfather, Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III.
The Aga Khan claims to be the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad through the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, the Prophet’s daughter from his first marriage. As the Imam of Nizari Ismailism, the Aga Khan IV is considered by his followers to be the proof or hujjah of God on earth as well as infallible and immune from sin (just as an Imam is viewed in most other denominations of Shia Islam). He is further considered by his followers to be the carrier of the eternal Noor of Allah (“Light of God” – a concept unique to certain denominations of Shia Islam).
In 1986, the Aga Khan ordained the current Ismailia Constitution – an ecclesiastical decree affirming to Nizari Ismailis his “sole right to interpret the Qur’an and provide authoritative guidance on [all] matters of faith” and formalizing his sole discretion, power and authority for the governance of Nizari Ismaili jamats (places of worship) and institutions.
Forbes describes the Aga Khan as one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of $800 million USD (2010). Additionally he is unique among the richest royals as he does not preside over a geographic territory. He owns hundreds of racehorses, valuable stud farms, an exclusive yacht club on Sardinia, a private island in the Bahamas, two Bombardier jets, a 12-seat helicopter, a £100 million high speed yacht named after his prize racehorse, and several estates around the world, including an estate called Aiglemont in the town of Gouvieux, France – just north of Paris.
His philanthropic institutions, funded by his followers, spend more than $600 million per year – primarily in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2007, after an interview with the Aga Khan, G. Pascal Zachary, of the The New York Times, wrote, “Part of the Aga Khan’s personal wealth [used by him and his family], which his advisers say exceeds $1 billion [USD], comes from a dizzyingly complex system of tithes that some of the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims pay him each year [one of which is called dasond, which is at least 12.5% of each Nizari Ismaili’s gross annual income] – an amount that he will not disclose but which may reach hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”
Among the goals the Aga Khan has asserted he works toward are the elimination of global poverty; the promotion and implementation of secular pluralism; the advancement of the status of women; and the honoring of Islamic art and architecture. He is the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the largest private development networks in the world. The organization has said it works toward improvement of the environment, health, education, architecture, culture, microfinance, rural development, disaster reduction, the promotion of private-sector enterprise and the revitalisation of historic cities.
Since his ascension to the Imamate of Nizari Ismailis in 1957, the Aga Khan has been involved in complex political and economic changes which have affected his Nizari Ismaili followers, including the independence of African countries from colonial rule, expulsion of Asians from Uganda, the independence of Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan from the former Soviet Union and the continuous turmoil in Afghanistan and Pakistan. During his visit to India in 1983, the Aga Khan said:
“ There are those who enter the world in such poverty that they are deprived of both the means and the motivation to improve their circumstances. Unless these unfortunates can be touched with the spark which ignites the spirit of individual enterprise and determination, they will only sink back into renewed apathy, degradation and despair. It is for us, who are more fortunate, to provide that spark.