At the end of August 2015, 60 Ismaili students, young adults, parents and seniors from across North America descended on Chicago to attend a unique 3-day event: the inaugural Ismaili Gnosis Retreat. The theme of the retreat — Recognition (ma’rifah) of the Imam — was inspired by Mawlana Hazar Imam’s guidance (Vancouver, August 1992) that “you cannot articulate the [Ismaili] tariqah without articulating the concept of Imamat.”
Some flew in from Vancouver, Edmonton, Dallas and Los Angeles while others — like a van load of seniors from Toronto — drove for hours. But all came because they sought and yearned for a richer, deeper, more satisfying understanding of the Imamat from all its varied dimensions: its intellectual and historical validation, its meaning and significance, its theology and philosophy.
The Essential Ismaili was privileged to attend this landmark event and is proud to bring you the Official Ismaili Gnosis Retreat 2015 video, a moving account that captures the spirit of the retreat. Its sights and sounds. Its mood and ambiance. The comradery and friendship. And the glowing feedback, like that below.
“I’ve been to a lot of Ismaili camps and none of them really taught me anything – this one changed my life.”
This retreat was one of the most incredible experiences of my life and I feel so blessed to have been able to attend. I’ve been to a lot of Ismaili camps and none of them really taught me anything — this one changed my life. God bless you all!
AMS, IG Retreat Participant
As posted on Ismailimail
“I used to think our community had little interest in digging deep into the faith …”
An overwhelming and remarkable experience. Something I never believed could happen. I used to think our community had little interest in digging deep into the faith, but then to find so many people wanting to learn and know more. It just inspired me to be more devoted.
Afsha Merchant, IG Retreat Participant
“You have a uniquely logical, systematic and thorough approach, founded on original sources …”
I cannot tell you how impressed how I was with your presentations this weekend. You have a uniquely logical, systematic and thorough approach, founded on original sources — Imams and Quran — and reliable works. Above all however it was your unyielding endeavour to present a highly intellectual and scholarly perspective that has made your understanding and knowledge so compelling. Yours is indeed the modern day discourse! I hope you share your knowledge and understanding as widely as possible and publish it.
IG Retreat Participant
“The presentations were absolutely magnificent and the bonding that occurred amongst the jamat in attendance will always stay with me. The entire experience was profound … “
It was my absolute pleasure to have attended this fantastic retreat which was filled with intellectually stimulating content about Recognition of the Imam. In fact, it was more than a retreat. Rather, it was a journey towards a better understanding of the faith. The presentations were absolutely magnificent and the bonding that occurred amongst the jamat in attendance will always stay with me. The entire experience was profound and, for a first of its kind, it was superbly organised. I can honestly say that it not only met but exceeded mine and others’ expectations. I take great solace in knowing that the Ismaili intellectual tradition is alive and well.
Ali Badruddin, IG Retreat Participant
“By every measure, the Ismaili Gnosis Retreat was a stellar success … Bravo to you, Ismaili Gnosis, for having the courage and vision to hold it.”
By every measure, the Ismaili Gnosis Retreat was a stellar success and I think far and away surpassed all of our wildest expectations. I learned a huge amount and the chance to meet everyone face to face was just outstanding…. The success was due to the knowledge shared, the engagement of the participants and of course the dedication of the whole logistics team, especially Sabrina’s dedication to every detail — including the catering!! Bravo to you, Ismaili Gnosis, for having the courage and vision to hold it.
IG Retreat Participant
Friday, August 28
- Welcome Dinner.
- Video: The Living Camera’s Aga Khan.
Saturday, August 29
- Opening Remarks.
- Presentation: Proof of Imamat — From the Existence of God to the Ismaili Imams.
Philosophical arguments for God; Qur’anic and historical evidence for the Imamat.
- Presentation: The Imamat: A Signature in History.
A new, objective proof of the Imamat.
- Question and Answer.
- Presentation & Workshop: The Imam Said That? Precious Gems from Hazar Imam’s Speeches and Interviews.
- Presentation: From Adam to Aga Khan — Theologies of the Imamat. On the Imam’s infallibility, inspiration, lineage, and designation.
- Presentation: The Imamat in the Ginans.
- Activity: Sounds of Devotion.
Sunday, August 30
- Presentation: Eternal Imam — The Metaphysics of Imamat.
Tawhid, the Light (nur) of Imamat, and Cosmic Creation in Ismaili philosophy.
- Activity: Receiving the Gift.
- Presentation & Workshop: Spirit and Life.
Recognizing the Imam through the ethics of Islam.
- Question and Answer.
- Presentation: Recognizing the Imam through rituals.
- Video: Mawlana Hazar Imam’s visit to Central Asia.
Monday, August 31
Who, or what, is Ismaili Gnosis?
Inspiration, motivation and vision
Ismailis, must be made to take interest in the reading of serious Ismaili History and Philosophy of Ismailism, particularly youths.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, 1961
A fundamental aspect of the Ismaili interpretation of Islam, and a source of pride, is its “intellectual tradition.” However, what exactly constitutes that tradition is not often clear. Is it just the actual works produced by our past philosophers, intellectuals, Da‘is, hujjats and other thinkers, frozen in time? Or, in our view as well as Ismaili Gnosis’ view, is it the engagement of our intellects with the faith? For otherwise, one may ask: have the works, thoughts and deliberations of our past Ismaili luminaries exhausted all there is to discover, articulate or formulate about our faith? Are later generations’ intellectual engagement with our faith reduced to mere historical analyses, summarizations or dogmatic regurgitations of this past work?
Ismaili Gnosis is a private organization dedicated to reviving Ismaili Muslim esoteric thought and intellectual discussion for today’s audiences. The over-arching inspiration, motivation and vision behind the project are:
- Mawlana Hazar Imam’s critical guidance that we understand the faith within the context of our time.
- The need for an intellectually satisfying, philosophically rich, and spiritually penetrating Ismaili theological discourse for contemporary sensibilities.
- A thorough engagement with teachings of the intellectual Ismaili works composed by the contemporary and past Ismaili Imams, hujjats and Da‘is .
- Henry Corbin’s pioneering research into Ismaili Muslim esoteric thought. Corbin once wrote, astutely: “To know the Imam of the Time and to recognize him through his disguise … is the great concern and preoccupation which mobilizes all the spiritual energies of a devout Ismaili.”
Ismaili Gnosis (IG) was founded 9 years ago, in 2007 as a private Facebook group in response to the lack of a private, Ismaili-only space where Ismailis around the world could engage in and learn from stimulating discussions about their faith and contemporary issues related to it. Ismaili Gnosis is perhaps best understood as the modern day counterpart to the Mombasa Religious Study Group (MRSG) which held regular discussions on faith and philosophy between 1953 and 1960 in Mombasa.
In 1954 Mawlana Sultan Mohammed Shah, writing about such student study groups, emphatically instructed they be set up “immediately” by “missionaries and others who know a good deal about the religion” and that “they should know who the members are.”
In the past 9 years, the group has grown from 200 members to 4,000, all of whom are vetted as Ismailis. Today, the Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Forum is the largest, most respected and trusted, Ismaili-only, online community of Ismailis dedicated to discussing Ismailism in all of its dimensions. Its members come from all ages, all regions and all walks of life — including students, young adults, parents, seniors and scholars — of the community.
In broader terms, the Ismaili Gnosis project is, essentially, part of the growing and respected Ismaili Civil Society, the indigenous counterpart of the larger societal notion of civil society, where constituents of a community contribute to its development and progress through socially responsible, private initiative. Speaking on the legitimacy, and “regrettable” marginalisation of civil society institutions, Mawlana Hazar Imam said, just two months ago, in Egypt:
[T]he role of Civil Society is often misunderstood or taken for granted. At times, Civil Society has been marginalised, discounted, or dismissed…. Even more disturbing have been efforts in some places to constrain or even repress these institutions, stereotyping them as illegitimate, unelected and unaccountable. These attitudes may simply reflect a reluctance to share power and influence, or perhaps a feeling that the creative energy and sheer diversity of Civil Society is daunting and dangerous. Such attitudes have been exceptional, but they are highly regrettable, discouraging the qualities of vision, innovation and forward thinking that progressive societies so badly need.
A notable feature of the Mombasa Study Group were its Circulars, short summaries of meeting discussions. These were collated and organized by topic in a valuable, and unique for its time, 200-page reference for others to study.
Today, online forums, like the IG Group, capture discussions automatically, however, valuable contributions to these discussions — by the founders, scholars and other well-read members — are quickly lost in the volume of discussion posts. Therefore, in 2012, the Ismaili Gnosis Website (ismailignosis.com) was established for original, unique feature length articles on key topics. Over 70 such articles, all grounded in scholarly sources, have now been published. The IG website has even been invited to write a chapterfor an upcoming academic book.
Since its founding, hundreds have praised the IG Website and Facebook group for helping them better understand their faith in deeper terms.
I finally came upon a website called Ismaili Gnosis and I began to read the various articles about topics I previously had questions about. I also joined the Ismaili Gnosis discussion group on Facebook, and I realized that I had finally found what I was looking for.
— Ismaili Gnosis Guest
Ismaili Gnosis has unceasingly provided nourishment for my soul. The content on their website, when followed in its logical progression, rebuilds one’s faith and religious convictions.
— Ismaili Gnosis Guest
Some moving stories, by young Ismailis, highlighting the positive impact the IG website and Facebook group has had on them, may be found here.
Between 2014 and 2015 Ismaili Gnosis expanded further, establishing the Ismaili Gnosis Book Club group on Facebook and an increased presence on social media. Today, a small team of passionate, dedicated, unfunded volunteers manage and contribute to IG’s on-line assets listed below.
- Ismaili Gnosis Website: ismailignosis.com
- Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Page: facebook.com/IsmailiGnosis
- Ismaili Gnosis Facebook Discussion Forum: facebook.com/groups/ismailignosis
- Ismaili Gnosis FB Book Club: facebook.com/groups/igbookclub
- Ismaili Gnosis Twitter: twitter.com/ismailignosis
- Ismaili Gnosis Instagram: instagram.com/ismailignosis
- Ismaili Gnosis Tumblr: ismailignosis.tumblr.com
Image: Ismaili Gnosis Retreat group photo, Adil Lakhani (with permission).