I am the 49th hereditary Imam in direct lineal descent from the first Shia Imam, Hazrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib through his marriage to Bibi Fatimat-az-Zahra, our beloved Prophet’s daughter.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Letter to International Islamic Conference, Amman, July 2005, Read at NanoWisdoms)
The purpose of this article is to present the independent historical documentation that proves (as far as the historical method can show) that Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni is the direct lineal descendant of Prophet Muhammad and Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in an unbroken line of descent.
Today there are many Muslims known as Sayyids and Shariffs who claim direct descent from Prophet Muhammad. The “proof” that a Sayyid or Shariff family provides for their lineage usually consists of just a family tree. Sometimes, a small village or community or scholar(s) also testify to the Sayyid’s or Shariff’s lineage. But beyond the family tree, the Sayyids and Shariffs do not offer any more evidence. In comparison, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni has a full family tree of his ancestry (the 49 Imams) – which appears in numerous centuries-old Ismaili texts from Persia, Central Asia, and India. Secondly, in addition to the family tree, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni and each of his ancestors have had an Ismaili community in every generation that testifies to and recognizes their Fatimid ‘Alid lineage. Thirdly, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni’s lineage can be independently historically corroborated through third-party historical documentation (centuries-old texts, documents, tombstones, genealogy trees, treatises, histories, etc.), much of which has been produced by non-Ismailis. Much of this independent historical documentation for each generation of the lineage of 49 Ismaili Imams is presented and summarized in this article. The article provides a historical summary of the life of each of the 49 Imams and lists the major primary historical sources that mention the existence of each Imam in the lineage up to the present day, followed by citing the academic secondary studies that document these primary sources. This is the first article that presents a historical documentation of Imam Shah Karim al-Husayn’s lineage and we reference major academic publications on Ismaili history throughout. Before going into the historical documentation of the Imam’s lineage, we will first present a theological “proof” of Shah Karim al-Husayni’s Imamat that does not require independent historical documentation for the Imam’s entire lineage.
A. The Theological Proof of the Imamat
The Muslims are divided into two main branches: the Shia Muslims and the Sunni Muslims. I suppose one could compare it to the division in the Christian Church between Protestants and Catholics. The main difference is that the Shi‘a accept the members of the Prophet’s family as the rightful successors to the Prophet in his religious heritage…My family and myself trace our family line back to the Prophet and are accepted therefore by the community as the Imams.
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV,
(Pacemakers – A Man of the World: The Aga Khan 1967, Read at NanoWisdoms)
Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan IV is the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shi‘i Ismaili Muslims. By defining himself as the hereditary Imam of the Ismailis, Imam Shah Karim al-Husayni claims the following roles and status:
• the holder of a divinely-ordained leadership office, called the Imamat, which succeeds to the spiritual and moral authority of the Prophet Muhammad
• responsible for providing an infallible interpretation of Islam with respect to any time/context of human history and with respect to the esoteric meaning of the Revelation to Muhammad.
• the spiritual intercessor/intermediary between humanity and Godwith respect to divine guidance, authority, blessings and purification (the Prophet himself performed this function)
• the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad through an unbroken line of descent going back to Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (the paternal cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad) and the Prophet’s daughter Hazrat Fatimah al-Zahra.
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