This is part two of a three-part series on Ismaili Muslims. Read part one here, “A Brief History of Ismaili Muslims.”
Until recently, most people learned about Ismaili beliefs from polemic composed by their detractors. This was even true in Orientalist Islamic studies scholarship for several decades, resulting in the proliferation of inaccuracies and misrepresentations of Ismaili doctrines. Thanks to the recovery of primary sources and the establishment of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in 1977, the beliefs and doctrine of Ismailis can now be studied firsthand.
Ismaili theology has been an ever-evolving enterprise undertaken by various scholars and thinkers throughout the centuries. Under the spiritual guidance of the Ismaili Imams, Ismaili theologians drew on a diversity of religious and philosophical symbols and systems to expound the principles and doctrines of Ismaili Islam, including Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Sufi metaphysics and poetry, Jewish tradition, Christian thought and Indic spiritual traditions.
Amid this historical evolution and diversity, several core principles of Ismaili theology remain paramount. First, there is the notion that the revelation given to the Prophet Muhammad and the shariah consist of both an outward, exoteric level (zahir) as well as a deeper, esoteric dimension (batin). The role of Prophets was to enunciate the exoteric expression (tanzil) of revelation in line with their historical contexts. The role of the Imams is to unveil the esoteric depths of revelation through spiritual interpretation (ta’wil).
Read full article on The Islamic Monthly com