History of Ismailis
Nothing is known about the early history of the sect. At the end of the ninth century it was firmly established and in 969 an Ismaili dynasty, the Fatimids, ruled in Egypt. In 1021 the first secession took place when the Druzes refused to believe that the Caliph Hakim had died and regarded him as God. In 1094 a more serious breach occurred at the death of Mustansir his younger son Mustali seized power, displacing the elder son, Nizar. The Aga Khan is the present head of this branch. He is said to be the 49th hereditary Imam.
After the fall of the Fatimid dynasty Yemen became the centre of the Mustali branch. From there it spread to India where a schism occurred, into the Sulaimanis, a small Beet, and the Daudis or Bohoras.
Belief of Ismailis
Neo-Platonism is the basis of the system. Nothing can be said about God because any such statement involves a comparison of Him with something else and 'nothing is like Him'. He is God of the two opposites, Creator of the two opponents, Judge of the two contraries. By means of something which is symbolized by the creative word 'be'. He produced the two worlds- the inner consisting of realities, intelligences and spirits, and the outer containing the lower and higher bodies, those of the spheres and elements. The greatest body is the Throne and the next is the Footstool. Immediately below God is the universal intelligence, below that is the universal soul, below it are other emanations which govern the spheres, and the lowest of all is the active intelligence which controls the present world. The universal soul is imperfect and yearns for union with the perfection of the universal intelligence. This yearning produces the circular movement of the spheres. Both worlds move from perfection to imperfection and back again till they both end in the command which is the word 'be' and escape from the chain of living of which the beginning and end is God.
Man differs from the rest of the universe because he is fit to receive the divine light. The universal intelligence is represented among men by a series of seven prophets or speakers, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Ismail. Each was accompanied by a representative of the world soul-a silent one or base. Moses had Aaron, Jesus had Peter, and Muhammad had 'Ali. The prophet judges the external world. His law is twofold, external and revealed, interpreted and internal.
The Imam is the manifestation of the divine command and is accompanied by his 'argument' that is the manifestation of the universal soul. The argument gets supernatural knowledge from the Imam and is the teacher of men. What the universal intelligence is to the universe that is the Imam to the world of men. Without him it could not be. He judges the internal world and interprets the law of the prophet. "God must set up an imam to teach men the knowledge of God and guide them to the proofs and purposes."
First came prophets, then visible Imams, and then the hidden Imams. When the Imam is visible, his messengers are hidden, when he is concealed, his messengers are visible. Codes of law are spiritual worlds and worlds are materialized laws. The end will be when the soul reaches perfection by rising to the universal intelligence by the virtue of the Imam. The earth will be changed, the heavens folded like a paper, good will be separated from evil, all partial good will be united with the universal soul and all partial evil with the devil.
Religious Practice of Ismailis
The Ismailis insisted on the strict observance of all religious duties for there can be no internal without an external. In their earliest literature no mention is made of initiation. The belief that it existed may be due to the fact that instruction was adapted to the capacity of the pupil. The later Nizari branch paid more attention to the inward aspects of the teaching than did the Fatimids. This was the new teaching associated with the lords of Alamut. The system of law is very like that of the Shia.
Followers of the Ismailism are currently found in India, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa, Syria, and South Africa, and have in recent years emigrated to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, North America and Trinidad and Tobago.