Islam (Religions of the World) by Jamal J. Elias

By Jamal J. Elias

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The concept of Sunna is open to interpretation, since the vast number of individual hadiths sometimes contradict one another; furthermore, the concept of “living tradition” can cause conflict because not everyone agrees on which traditions of a society are in keeping with what Muhammad would have done and which are innovations. From the ninth century onward Muslim jurists have struggled to balance the Qur’an and Sunna, and to derive laws from these sources that can then be applied to new situations.

In every age there is an Imam who represents God on earth, and who designates his successor by giving him a body of knowledge covering the inner and outer meanings of the Qur’an. The institution of the Imam is a covenant between God and human beings, and all believing Twelver Shicis are required to acknowledge and follow the Imam of their age. Twelver Shicis regard Imams as free of sin; they serve as the door-way to God and convey His message directly After the disappearance of the twelfth Imam, envoys (wakils) acting on his behalf claimed that they were in direct contact with him.

In the nineteenth century the Iranian monarch gave the well-known title Agha Khan to the Imam of one of their sub-sects, the Qasimshahis. Today Ismacilis remain fragmented, with Nizaris concentrated in northern Pakistan as well as parts of Afghanistan. Tajikistan, and India. The line of al-Mustacli is concentrated around the Arabian Sea, on the western coast of India and in Pakistan and Yemen. Currently the Institute of Ismacili Studies in Britain is pioneering the collation of Isrmacili literature and, together with others, is helping to reconcile the disparate Ismacili sub-sects.

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