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Ismaili Studies Conference – University of Chicago

22 November 2014

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Shzd. Dr. Tahera baisaheba and Shz. Dr. Aziz bhaisaheb were invited to participate in the “ground-breaking and first ever Ismaili Studies Conference which many participants noted opens new pathways for Ismaili Studies.” The Conference was organized by two doctoral students at the University of Chicago – Mr. Shiraz Hajiani and Mr. Michael Bechtel - from the 16th-17th of October 2014 - and was attended by scholars from all over the world. http://teachingislam.org/ismailistudies/Conference.html

The field of Ismaili Shi’i studies includes Fatimid studies and also the study of the two large subsections of Isma’ilis – namely the Tayyibis (Bohras) and Nizaris (Agakhanis). 

The organizers invited Shz Dr. Tahera baisaheba to present the conference welcome address in which she emphasized the importance of Ismaili studies as an integral component of Islamic studies. She argued that no course, study, or presentation of Islam, is complete without a consideration of the rich heritage and history of Ismailis. She further asserted that although Ismaili studies had progressed leaps and bounds in the academic arena in the past decades, there is still much work to be done. Dr. Tahera baisaheba’s address was very appreciated by many of the participants.

In the panel on “Texts, Literatures and their Uses”, Shz. Dr. Aziz bhaisaheb presented a paper entitled “A Methodology for the Analysis of Taḥmīd in Fatimid-Tayyibi Texts: The Relational Approach.”  Tahmid refers to the tradition of beginning an oration, epistle or text with the praise of Allah Ta’ala and beseeching blessings on Rasulullah SA and Ahlul Bayt SA. The paper highlighted two distinguishing aspects of Fatimid-Ṭayyibī Taḥmīds, particularly, their embodiment of the consciousness of the continuity of the Prophetic spirit of leadership and guidance (tasalsul) and secondly, their binary view of existence, particularly the binarism of the physical and intellectual. The following is a short excerpt from the paper:

“Soon after the advent of Islam, the Taḥmīd became a symbol/manifestation of Islamic identity and worldview. Even in its simplest form, the Taḥmīd establishes a distinct consciousness, a worldview, and frame of reference, through which cosmological existence is perceived and understood. Even the pronouncement of the standard al-ḥamd-li-Allāh-rabb-al-cālamīn wa al-ṣalāt wa al-salām calā rasūlih sayyidinā Muḥammad wa ālih al-Ṭāhirīn, embodies a belief in the One God, Master of the universe, in the Prophet Muhammad, and an acceptance of the tenets of his message and its vision of creation and existence. Gradually, the Taḥmīd was also adapted to represent the identity of the various Islamic subsects and their worldview. This paper proposes the ‘Relational Approach’ as a methodology for appreciating the distinctive worldview in Fatimid-Ṭayyibī Taḥmīds.

The Taḥmīd brings clarity to a labyrinth of human relations. Through its relatively condensed and well-crafted format it focuses attention on a handful of relations, among millions; relations that provide not only the context and frame of reference for contemporary events and issues, but that also provide context for an individual’s existence at large... the chaotic labyrinth of relations, that forms an individual’s outlook of his world, is in a sense simplified, through the foregrounding of these primary relations [relation with God, Prophet, his progeny and Dais]. All else is background, out of focus and less important. In prioritizing a particular set of relations, even the most conventional of Taḥmīds invites individuals to a clearly prioritized worldview.

The structure of Fatimid-Ṭayyibi Taḥmīds is particularly conducive to be viewed as a set of nisbah-relations because the ‘spiritual genealogy’ fits perfectly with the Fatimid-Ṭayyibī concept of tasalsul - the necessity of the continuity of the line of Imams from the Prophet to the present day, and the continuity of their representatives, the Dā‘īs during the seclusion of the Imam. The Taḥmīd is in effect a representation of the ḥablullah – the chain or rope connecting the audience to God.

The Taḥmīds in the Fatimid period and later Fatimid-Ṭayyibī Taḥmīds in Yemen and India often feature a noticeably expanded structure which beseeches blessings individually on Mohammed, ‘Alī, Fatema, Hasan, Husain, the Imams in the progeny of Husain, the 21st Imam al-Tayyib – who is believed to have gone into seclusion, the Imam of the Age (Ṭayyib al-‘Aṣr) and also on the Dā‘īs representing the Imam during his seclusion. While the structure places the components of the chain in a hierarchical order, the pronouns and relational propositions define and explain the continuity between and through the levels.”

Photos of the conference are presented here.