In the name of Allãh, the Kind, Merciful. All Praise is due to Allãh, the Lord of the Universe. May God shower His blessings upon Prophet Muhammad & his progeny.
Islam is one of the major world religions. Every fifth person on the face of this earth is a Muslim. Muslims are found in the Middle East, in north, west and east Africa, in Asia and Eastern Europe. In modern times, Muslims are found in large numbers in Western Europe, the Americas and Australia through immigration as well as conversion. Recent statistics show that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. With the vast world turning into a “global village,” such a wide-spread religion followed by over a billion people indeed deserves a careful study.
WHAT IS ISLAM?
Islam is not just a religion in the conventional sense of the word; it is a way of life—it guides it followers in every aspect of their lives.
The name “Islãm” is an Arab name. (“Islaam” is pronounced with “s” sound and not with “z” as in “Izlaam”.) It comes from the root word “as-silm” which means “peace”. “Islãm” itself means “submission to the will of God”. It means that real peace comes only after a person submits himself to the will of God.
Although Islam started fourteen centuries ago in Arabia, for Muslims it is not a new beginning—Islam, for Muslims, is the culmination of the message of God for human society. Muslims believe that God from day one of human creation sent prophets and messengers to guide the human society. Many prophets were sent to various regions of the world. Muslims are required to have faith in the prophethood of all of them. The most famous of the past prophets were: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
The essential message of all the prophets was the same:
After Prophet Jesus, God sent Muhammad as the Final Prophet and Messenger of God. With his prophethood, the process of guidance reached its peak and perfection.
Prophet Muhammad was born in the city of Mecca in Arabia in the family which traced its lineage to Prophet Abraham through his son Ishmael. At the age of forty, Prophet Muhammad reached the first revelation from God through the Arch-Angel Gabriel.
He called the people of Mecca who were mostly idol-worshippers to the worship of One God, and to a life based on laws of God which would guarantee peace and harmony in inter human relationship. Majority of the people of Mecca refused to accept his message. The small number of his followers did not deter the Prophet from continuing his mission. Muhammad was fully supported in his mission by close family members, in particular his wife, Khadīja, and cousin, ‘Ali.
The leaders of idol-worshippers of Mecca, who did not want any change in the status-quo, started a campaign against Prophet Muhammad and the religion of Islam:
In the meanwhile, the Prophet’s message found a very receptive audience among the people of Medina, a city in northern Arabia. So after thirteen years of hard work in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad migrated to Medina where he lived for the last eleven years of his life.
It was in Medina that the Prophet founded the first Islamic community on the principles of monotheism of the Almighty and brotherhood of the Muslims.
PRIME CREATION : Human being is the prime creation of God. He says, “We have indeed honoured the children of Adam; spread them in the land and the sea, provided them with good things; and preferred them in esteem over many things that We have created.” (17:70)
BORN SINLESS : Islam teaches that every human being is born sinless; no child carries the burden of his or her ancestor’s sins. God says, “No carrier shall carry the burden of others.” (35:18) Each human being is born with a pure conscience which can absorb and accept the true message of God. It is only the social and familial influences which take a person away from God’s message.
ACCOUNTABILITY : Islam also emphasizes on the issue of responsibility and accountability of human beings—each person is responsible for his or her own actions. Although Islam teaches that God has predetermined the span of our life and the time of our death, but this does not mean that even our actions are predetermined by Him. We surely are free in our actions and are, therefore, accountable for them. God only provides guidance for us to know what is good and what is bad. He says, “We created man of a water-drop…Surely We guided them to the right way—now whether he (follows it and) be grateful or (goes astray and) be ungrateful is up to him.” (76:3)
RACE : Islam very categorically rejects racial discrimination. It promotes the feeling of brotherhood and equality among its followers. God clearly says, “O Mankind! We have created you from one male and one female, and then We made you into different races and tribes so that you may know (and easily recognize) each other.” Therefore, no one can claim any superiority over others based on racial or tribal differences. A person is to be judged by his character, not by his colour or race. God continues, “Surely the most honourable of you in God’s sight is the person who is most upright in character among you.” (49:13)
GENDER : Even gender does not count as a criterion of superiority. In Islam, women are as human as men. They are not evaluated on basis of their gender, but on basis of their faith and character. Fourteen hundred years ago, the Qur’ãn recorded God’s clear statements on this issue. Out of four verses, I will just quote one: “Whoever, be it a male or a female, does good deeds and he or she is a believer, then they will enter the Paradise.” (4:124) So there is no difference in the degree or level of woman’s humanity or honour in Islam.
The only difference there exists is concerning the role which Islam has envisioned for man and woman. This has nothing to do with superiority or inferiority. In Islam, man and woman are equal in rights; but equality is not synonymous to similarity.
Islam believes that man and woman are equal but dissimilar. Islam looks at their different roles in society not as superior or inferior but as complementary to each other.
Some historians maintain that he converted the Thakkers to Nizari Ismailis. Whatever may be the case, these converts could no longer be called Thakkers in the Hindu community and Pir Sadruddin gave them the title of Khwaja. The word Khoja is a phonetic corruption of the word Khwaja.
Over a period of time, several pirs came after Sadrudin and gradually, the beliefs crystallised to those of the Ismaili Nizari faith; particularly after the arrival of the Aga Khan 1 from Iran to India in the first half of the 19th Century. By this time the Khojas had spread all over over Kutch and Gujarat. Some had also moved to Bombay and Muscat. They paid their dues to the Ismaili Jamaat Khaana and lived quite harmoniously within their society. The main place of worship was the Jamaat Khaana and the (Jamaat) community was organised round the Jamaat Khaana – which served as a religious as well as a social centre.
With the arrival of the Aga Khan 1 in India, greater control was exercised by the Aga Khan in the affairs of the community. This led to certain groups dissenting and being ousted from the Jamaat Khaana. The most celebrated one was the case of the Bar Bhaya where an influential family by the name of Habib Ibrahim refused to accept the dictate (firman) by the Aga Khan that all the property that belonged to the Jamaat would now vest in the Aga Khan. Eventually this group was out-casted and influenced by the Sunni Aalims they became Sunnites.
This was followed by several court cases and much commotion in the community, In the early 1800s some Khojas went for Ziyarat and while in Najaf they met the Mujtahid of the time, Sheikh Zainul Aabedeen Mazandarani. During their discussions they realised that there was a need for a teacher to come to India to teach the community Islam. Soon after, at the behest of Sheikh Mazandarani, Mulla Kader Hussein arrived in India and some Khoja families left the Ismaili sect and learnt from Mulla Kader the principles of Shia Ithnaasheri faith.
From these few families the community has now grown to well over 100,000 Khoja Shia Ithnaasheries. The overall number is still very small when considering that there are an estimated 60 – 90 million Shia Ithnaasheries in the world today. The Ismaili Khojas number over 270 thousand and there are still a handful of Sunni Khojas.