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date: 20 January 2022

Khoja Isma’ilis in Canada and the United Statesfree

Khoja Isma’ilis in Canada and the United Statesfree

  • Karim H. KarimKarim H. KarimDepartments of Journalism and Islamic Studies, Carleton University


Khojas constitute the predominant group in the Shi’a Nizari Isma’ili movement of Islam, globally and in North America. They are of South Asian ethnicities and belong to the 700-year old Satpanth tradition. Other groups attached to the movement are indigenous to Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. Khojas have led them in the formation of a diaspora spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australasia. This transnational religious collectivity holds Aga Khan IV, who ascended to leadership in 1957, to be its Imam in lineal descent from ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib and Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. He has established a “Seat of the Imamat” (also designated a “Diwan”) in Lisbon, Portugal, and he resides in France, from where he provides religious and worldly guidance to followers around the world. The Imam appoints the leaders of the system of councils that govern the jamats (communities) in various countries. His non-denominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), which operates social, economic, and cultural programs, has become one of the world’s largest non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Elite Khoja families, particularly those of East African provenance, tend to dominate the leadership of the Imam’s institutions. They also have hegemony in the Canadian and American self-governance structures. As a group, Khojas are the wealthiest and most educated in the movement, offering substantial funding as well as professional and voluntary services to the Aga Khan’s institutional infrastructure. Their North American ranks provide a steady stream of monetary, physical, and intellectual resources for the Imam’s transnational programs.

However, a paradox lies at the heart of the movement. The Satpanth tradition and Khoja cultural identity has been in the process of marginalization since the early 20th century. A steady effort has sought to eliminate what are perceived to be “Hindu” aspects of the Khojas’ religious and cultural heritage. The movement’s research, educational and cultural bodies give minimal attention to Satpanth. An essentialized Isma’ili Muslim identity is favored over what was, since the movement’s earliest days, a pluralist pursuit of universal truth.


  • Islamic Studies

The 1,000-year-old religious movement that has come to be known as “Isma’ili” in scholarly literature has been a small but significant part of Islam.1 As is common among Shi’a groups, one of the movement’s features is adherence to Imams descended from ‘Ali ibn ‘Abi Talib and Fatima, the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter. The Imam’s continued existence as the ever-present spiritual guide is a key aspect of the community’s theology.2 Adherents hold him to be of a particular lineage of ‘Ali’s and Fatima’s male successors appointed by explicit designation (nass) from one generation to another over fourteen centuries. Disputes about succession in the movement’s long history resulted in several schisms. Its largest branch is the (Qasim Shahi) Nizaris, who consider Shah Karim al-Hussaini (Aga Khan IV) to be their present leader and 49th in the line of Imams.

Aga Khan IV has substantially expanded the community’s institutions in scope and global reach. He explains his extensive involvement in material affairs by emphasizing the duty of Muslim religious leaders to attend to both din (religion) and dunya (world).3 The Imam has endorsed a 2004 declaration of an international gathering of Islamic scholars providing for an inclusive definition of the worldwide Muslim ummah.4 This was an important milestone in the movement’s history, during which it has frequently been accused of heresy. Aga Khan IV publicly emphasizes the importance of ethics in contemporary life as well as the necessity for governments to adhere to pluralism to ensure all citizens’ welfare. The latter is important to him as his multiethnic followers are in a minority wherever they reside and also because significant numbers of them are migrating from various countries to form multicultural jamats (communities) in Canada and the United States.

Estimates of the global Nizari Isma’ili population vary widely. The numbers, according to a community publication, are “approximately 12–15 million”; however, two academic sources have put them between 2 and 4 million worldwide.5 Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tajikistan, Syria, China, and Iran have indigenous jamats while diasporic settlements include those in North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Canada and the United States are estimated to have 100,000 and 80,000 adherents, respectively. The faithful congregate in houses of worship called jamatkhanas.

Nizari Khojas, who constitute the vast majority of the Aga Khan’s adherents in Canada and the United States (and in other diasporic locations), predominate in the leadership of his global institutions. They also constitute the transnational group’s “financial and administrative base, whereas other communities vary in the level of their integration and participation.”6 Yet their 700-year old Satpanth tradition is among the movement’s most under-researched facets. There are approximately 700,000 Khojas transnationally, with the majority living in India and Pakistan. However, the Canadian and American jamats, which are major sources of funding, expertise, and leadership, have become pivotal in the transnational religious group.

Early History and Beliefs

The movement’s long history within the larger context of Islam continues to resonate in North American jamats’ lives. Annual religious commemorations celebrate the day when Muhammad is believed to have declared ‘Ali as the “mawla” (master) of Muslims at Ghadir al-Khumm after his last pilgrimage.7 The Shi’a point to Qur’anic affirmation for the concept of a lineage of Imams: “And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and do not separate” (3:103). Allah’s rope (habl) is viewed as symbolizing the line of Imams. These hereditary religious leaders are seen by the Shi’a as “those who are of sound instruction” from the verse “None knoweth its [the Qur’an’s] esoteric interpretation (ta’wil) save Allah and those who are of sound instruction” (3:7). By conducting ta’wil they help their adherents understand the divine revelation’s originary meanings that exist only as batin (esoteric) truth. Further support for this belief is drawn from the saying (hadith) of the Prophet: “I am the city of knowledge and Ali is its gateway; so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.”8

There were several claimants to the office of the Shi’a Imam in first century after Muhammad, with Jafar al-Sadiq emerging as a major leader by the mid-8th century. A major schism occurred after his death when two rival groups followed the lineages of his sons Isma’il al-Mubarak and Musa al-Kazim, respectively. The latter’s adherents, who have constituted the largest Shi’a group from around the 16th century, came to be known as the Ithna Aasharis (Twelvers) because the line of their hereditary leaders ended with the twelfth Imam. External sources gave those who followed Isma’il’s descendants various names, including “Isma’ilis.” This group’s leadership formed a da’wa (variously translated as mission, call, summons, invitation) constituted of a hierarchy of du’at (sing. da’i) who preached that eternal esoteric truths (haqa’iq) can be gained through the rightful Imam’s guidance. The group’s preachers were active in many Muslim lands where Sunni opponents considered their beliefs to be heretical. Persecution subsequently caused the group’s leaders and their adherents to hide their identities, and the group’s history alternated between periods of concealment (satr) and manifestation (kashf).

Following a century and half of concealment, the Imam Abu ‘Abdallah al-Mahdi emerged in what is present-day Tunisia in 909 and announced the establishment of a Shi’i state which eventually came to rival the Sunni Abbasid and Umayyad Caliphs in Baghdad and Cordoba, respectively. Steadily extending their realm eastwards, a later Imam’s forces conquered Egypt and founded Cairo as the capital. The city became a cosmopolitan center of trade, culture, and learning, and its empire’s frontiers eventually embraced the holy cities of Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. Even Baghdad briefly came under the Imam’s banners and, at various times, his caliphate encompassed southern Italy, Yemen, and Multan in India. Successive Imam-Caliphs, who later came to be called Fatimids (al-Fatimiyyun), after the Prophet’s daughter, ruled over a religiously diverse realm in which their own followers were a minority. After almost two centuries of generally peaceful transitions in the hereditary lineage, the leadership fell into dispute after Imam al-Mustansir’s death in 1094. The political and military establishment, which backed his younger son al-Musta’li, eventually overcame the elder Abu Mansur Nizar’s supporters. The following decades saw considerable turbulence and the Fatimid state fell in 1171 with the end of the Musta’lian lineage, whose adherents today reside in Yemen, India, and in diaspora under the leadership of du’at.

The da’i Hasan-i Sabbah, who had given allegiance to Nizar, became the leading figure in Iran. He elaborated on the concept of ta’lim, the Imam’s authoritative religious instruction. The leaders in lineal descent from Nizar were considered to be in concealment until a pivotal event in 1162 when Hasan ‘ala dhikrihi’s-salam initiated a new era in the community’s religious history by proclaiming the advent of qiyama:

[It] meant the manifestation of the unveiled truth (haqiqa) in the person of the Nizari Ismaili Imam; it was a spiritual resurrection reserved only for those who acknowledged the rightful Imam of the time and were now capable of understanding the truth, or the esoteric essence of Islam.9

Several hereditary Imams presided at the Alamut fortress in northern Iran before it was destroyed by Mongols in 1256.

The group’s leadership went into hiding, beginning a long period of concealment. Links between the scattered communities in Syria, Iran, Badakshan, and India weakened and their religious and literary traditions developed in isolation from each other. They lived in taqiyya (dissimulation) to guard against persecution, often blending in with respective areas’ dominant religious group. Some assumed the guise of Sufis without formal membership in their orders (turuq; sing. tariqa). The Imams of the period had Sufi-sounding names and the vocabulary of Nizari writers of this period overlapped with the mystics’ terminology, a feature that remains in the community’s present parlance.10

The Emergence of Khojas

Muslims have been present in the South Asia since the 7th century. The Amir of Multan gave allegiance to the Imam in Cairo in 965. Following the schism between the followers of Nizar and Must’ali, preacher-saints (pirs) loyal to the former’s lineage of Imams were successful in gaining adherents in Gujarat, Punjab, Sindh, and Rajasthan. Working within the broader socio-religious milieu in which other Muslim groups also operated, these Persian pirs developed a unique indigenous expression of the faith in western India. They called the tradition Satpanth (Path of Truth) and its followers “identified themselves as Satpanthis rather than Ismailis.”11

Satpanth was the manifestation in the subcontinent of Da’wat al-Haqq (“Invitation to Truth”) that had been initiated in Arab and Persian lands in the 8th century. The Indian tradition’s literature “employs a straightforward, matter of fact language, anchoring the whole discourse around the quest for truth, a property depicted as the core feature of the Satpanth ideology.”12 It was a confluence of Islamic and Vedic aspirations for truth, being one among the region’s several panths (paths) or “guru-pir” traditions. The most prominent among them are the Sikh religion (which emerged from Nanak Panth) and the Kabir Panth. Appearing after the 12th century, these traditions were the outcome of the pluralist engagement that reflected both Islamic and Indic religious thought and practice. Individuals subscribing to the broad Indian movement had fluid and shifting identities, which were not seen as exclusively Muslim or Hindu. Apart from the Khojas, several other groups originated from Satpanth, including Shamsis, Momnas, Guptis, Imam Shahis, Nijyapanthis (Nizarpanthis), Mahamargis, and Barmatis (Maheswaris).

The poetry of ginans, granths, shabads, and banis, in which Islamic and Vedic features appear together, are part of the shared musical forms of the guru-pir religious movement. Composers utilized Indic and Muslim lore, symbols, and modes of worship to produce lyrical styles that overlap with each other in the devotions of several communities in the subcontinent. Asani states that

The shaykhs of the Chishti Sufi order, for example, promoted the creation of devotional poetry on Islamic mystical themes in local languages which, in its attitudes, expressions and similes, was strikingly similar to that written by poets influenced by the tradition of [Indic] bhakti devotionalism.13

Guru Nanak incorporated the hymns (shabads) of the Sufi preacher Baba Farid into the Sikh holy book Guru Granth Sahib. A poem of Kabir, who lived in northeastern India, ends with this verse:

Kabir’s a child of Allah and Rama They’re his Guru-and-Pir.14

A Satpanthi ginan says in a similar vein:

Both Ram and Raheman are (one and) the same. O saint! An imbecile comprehendeth not the secrets.15

Drawing on the concept of the batin, the verse refers to the “secrets” of discerning the truth of a spiritual universality that goes beyond the separateness of being Hindu or Muslim.16

Pir Sadardin (d. 15th century), is credited with giving the group the name “Khoja” and establishing the community’s first jamatkhana, in which local officials called mukhis and kamadias presided. This eventually became the model of communal organization for the Imam’s followers in other non-Indian regions as well. Ginans and other Satpanth literature were written in Khojki, a script developed by Sadardin, who is also credited with composing the group’s ritual prayer. Recited thrice daily, this Du’a was in Sindhi and Gujarati languages with some Arabic phrases. Core beliefs of Da’wat al-Haqq, which had originated in Arab and Persian lands, were expressed in Indic languages, myth, and symbolism. Satpanth was an expression of Nizari Shi’a Islam that was indigenized into the subcontinent’s religio-cultural context. Its Khoja adherents revered the Imams in Persia as ‘Ali’s lineal descendants, to whom they sent religious tithes (dassondh) and other offerings.

The Imams in India

Following centuries of communal concealment, the 42nd Nizari Imam made himself known in the latter half of the 18th century as the leader of the transnational religious group. He and his immediate successors played an increasingly public role in Persia and strengthened ties with adherents in other regions. The Qajar Shah of Iran made the 46th Nizari Imam the governor of a province and gave him the title of Aga Khan, which his descendants continue to bear. However, court intrigue caused dissension against him and he left Iran in 1841, eventually settling in India under the British Raj. Whereas the vast majority of Khojas gave him their allegiance, some dissented and launched legal challenges against his authority mostly over issues of communal property. The dissidents eventually left the fold and identified either as Sunnis or Twelvers.

The Imam’s status was legitimized in a celebrated judgment of 1866:

after the Aga Khan Case the British establishment regarded the Khoja Ismailis as a single united socio-legal group of the Raj. They and their leader were Muslims with a complex, but now legally endorsed, religious history, and it was their leader’s role to govern their affairs and define their modes of social organization and religious practice.17

Henceforth, Satpanth’s integral Indic character was systematically downplayed in favor of Arabic and Persian aspects of the movement to develop an essentialist definition of the Khojas’ Muslim identity.18 It has become rare for the Aga Khan’s Khoja followers to refer to themselves as Satpanthis; most are unaware of this term as applying to them even though it occurs in ginans that they sing frequently in religious gatherings.19

The verdict had far-reaching consequences. Due to the global prominence of the British, it gave the Aga Khans legal standing as heads of the community in the empire and beyond, which became increasingly significant as Khojas migrated to other continents. A structure of jamati councils was developed to address adherents’ religious and material needs. In addition to national and local bodies in the countries with significant concentrations of the Imam’s followers, a transnational Supreme Council for Africa was also established to coordinate Khoja communities on the continent. Aga Khan III promulgated communal rules and regulations, which were later developed into a “constitution” for the transnational group under the Imam’s leadership.20 This provided for the structure of internal organization as well as the modality for interactions with other communities, governments, and international bodies.

A Khoja writer saw Aga Khan III as bringing about the “metamorphosis of a moribund society from the depths of degradation to its proud position in modern civilization during the course of only about half a century.”21 He systematically built the group’s social structures along Western lines in Indian as well as in African locations, which were also under European colonial rule. The Imam recognized that wealth creation would be vital for ensuring the means for socioeconomic progress. Hence, advice for the successful establishment and operation of businesses was an important theme in his guidance. Conceptualizing the community’s progress in generational terms, Aga Khan III stressed the proper care and education of young children. Priority was also given to women’s advancement as early as the 1920s.22 A fairly comprehensive range of institutions, including kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, libraries, youth hostels, clinics, hospitals, housing societies, trust companies, and sports facilities, were built.

The development of the jamats in Africa, particularly East Africa, took a very particular trajectory that was to have a transnational impact in later decades. Longstanding trading connections existed between India and the eastern side of Africa in which Khoja merchants had been participants “at least since the 17th century,” with settled communities appearing in the 1800s.23 The Zanzibar jamatkhana’s first mukhi and kamadia were appointed in 1838. Aga Khan III felt that if his communities were to succeed under the colonial societies of African countries, they would have to “in general adopt British and European customs.”24 They were disadvantaged as Indians under colonialism, which arranged distribution of resources along racial lines. Therefore, the Imam embarked on a policy that sought to distance his Khoja adherents from their Indian roots and to westernize them. He succeeded, at least in the larger cities, in producing individuals who sought to be European in speech, thought, and clothing. Gujarati and Khojki, the Khojas’ primary written languages, were dropped from the curriculum of Aga Khan schools. Whereas this transformation had an impact on Khojas’ connections to their indigenous culture, it later gave them a relative advantage in integrating into North American (and other western) societies, compared to their coreligionists migrating directly from South Asia and other regions.

Transforming Identities from Khoja to Isma’ili

In addition to prompting cultural change, Aga Khan III and Aga Khan IV have also sought to shift their Indian followers’ religious sense of self from Satpanthi Khoja to “Isma’ili Muslim.” A strong Khoja identity had been in place for hundreds of years and remained resilient until the mid-20th century. Pir Sadardin is said to have given his disciples the Persian honorific “khwaja” from which “Khoja” is derived. It was meant to replace the corresponding Indian term “thakkur” (lord, master):

The intent behind the new title was apparently to bestow a caste-like status on his followers, a concession to their social milieu in which caste was fundamental in defining status and social relationships. Before the name of an individual the title “khwaja” served to indicate simultaneously occupational (merchant), social and religious identities.25

The Momna (from the Arabic mu’min, believer), another branch of Satpanth, are the most closely allied with the Khojas in South Asia and in diaspora. Punjabi and Sindhi Satpanthis are also distinct groups. They all are often subsumed under the Khoja category.

“Khoja” no longer appears in the community’s official documents or communal media. It has become rare as a form of self-identification among the community’s North American members, especially the youth. However, the name is very much present among Twelvers.26 The 21st-century prevalence of the term “Isma’ili” in the group led by the Aga Khan is particularly interesting because this eponymous name was not adopted as a standard self-designation by the followers of Imam Isma’il’s successors for over a thousand years. It appears to have been first used by 10th-century Twelver heresiographers al-Nawbakhti and al-Qummi to identify the group among others; the designation was subsequently picked up largely hostile Sunni writers and then much later by Western Orientalists.27 There are a few premodern Musta’li and Nizari sources that referred to their respective communities as “Isma’ili,” but it is only one of several names with which they identified.28 The movement did not adopt it as a formal self-appellation until the early 20th century. Yet, there is a general assumption in 21st-century scholarship and among contemporary adherents themselves that “Isma’ili” was the standard name of the movement throughout its history.

An early self-appellation was “al-da’wa al-hadiya” (the rightly guiding mission). “Isma’ili” did not appear as a self-designation in the period during which Imams ruled as caliphs. Even the name “Fatimid” (Fatimiyyun), by which the scholarly literature refers to the group’s caliphate, only came in use among its proponents in the 12th century at the tail end of the period.29 The Abbasids, who saw the North African-centered empire as a major threat, encouraged the writing of polemical works against the movement. Sunni scholars Nizam al-Mulk and al-Ghazali listed various names for the group and its branches including Ismaʿiliyya, Qaramita, Batiniyya, Taʿlimiyya, Khurramiyya, Babakiyya, Muhammira, Sabʿiyya, Mubaraki, Rawandi, Burquʾi, Khalafi, Mubayyida, Saʿidi, and Janabi.30 Several of these terms implied that the movement was outside the bounds of Islam. Other Sunni sources also often called them malahida (heretics). The slur hashishiyya, connoting drug addicts who were deviants, criminals, and immoral outcasts, was attached to Nizaris. This term first appeared in a polemical epistle issued against them by a Musta’lian Fatimid Caliph and was readily adopted by Sunni writers as well as by Crusaders, who Latinized the term as “Assassini” (Assassins).31 The group itself called the self-sacrificing combatants who carried out assassinations against their group’s prominent opponents “fidawiyya” (devotees). Nizaris also referred to their community’s as “ta’limiyya,” most likely in reference to Hassan-i Sabbah’s teachings about the Imam.32

Since its emergence in the 8th century, the movement consistently self-identified with names that emphasized an aspiration for truth: ahl al-haqq, ahl-i haqq, and ahl-i haqiqat (people of truth), da’wat al-haqq (invitation to truth), din-i haqq (religion of truth), “rah-i haqq” and Satpanth (path of truth). Its proponents consistently wrote about the search for haqa’iq and sat, which denoted universal truths in Arabic and Indian languages, respectively. These aspirations were pluralist as the da’wa’s intellectuals developed a theology that incorporated analogous elements from other religious traditions into a Shi’i framework. Satpanth indigenized the group’s beliefs in an Indian context to constitute a “path of truth” to which the rightful Imam guides his adherents. The term “Isma’ili” did not appear in the written or oral traditions of Satpanth, nor in the writings of group’s Imams, before the 20th century.33 Even as late as 1850, the memoir of Aga Khan I only speaks of his “murids” (followers) and “jama’at.”34 The eldest son of Aga Khan II, Pir Shihab al-Din Shah al-Husayni (d. 1884), also did not mention the word “Isma’ili” in his treatise Risala dar haqiqat-i din, instead calling the community “ahl-i haqq.”35

One of the key questions of the celebrated Aga Khan Case (1866) was “Who and What are the Shia Imami Ismailis?”36 The arguments presented in court depended heavily on the views and terminology of Western Orientalist scholars. Justice Arnould

carefully sifted through the evidence he had gathered from witnesses, looking for elements that he could fit with the framework of the categories “Islam,” “Muslim,” “Hindu,” “Sunni,” “Shi‘a,” and “Isma‘ili” deduced from scholarship of Western historians of Islam. He regarded these experts as authorities who had objective knowledge of the subject and were, he felt, more reliable than the Khoja practitioners themselves.37

Arnould’s judgment, which affirmed the leadership of Aga Khan I, came to be seen as an authoritative legitimation of the Imam’s claims. Based on an Orientalist understanding of Isma’ili history and faith, this interpretation became pivotal in the way that the Aga Khans came to position their community in India and transnationally. Even eighty-eight years later, Aga Khan III’s Memoirs stated, “My grandfather had been confirmed in his rights and titles by a judgement of the Bombay High Court in 1866 . . . [which] contains a classic fully-detailed account of the origins of Ismailism and of the beginnings of my family.”38 If the British judge was convinced of the authenticity of the hereditary Imams’ leadership, then Aga Khan III seemed to be reciprocally persuaded about the utility of Western scholarship’s terminology about his own community. Henceforth, the official name of the group unreservedly became “Isma’ili” and its faith “Isma’ilism.”

The term “Isma’ili” was instrumental in distinguishing the Aga Khans’ Indian adherents from the other Khojas who had challenged his status and declared themselves to be either Sunnis or Twelver Shi’a. “Shia Imami Ismaili,” the composite term which had featured centrally in the Aga Khan Case, was adopted as the official designation of the former group under Aga Khan III.39 A self-governance document in Gujarati published in 1905 under Aga Khan III was titled Khoja Shia Imami Ismailia Counsilna Kayadani Book (The Rule Book of the Khoja Shia Imami Ismailia Council).40 “Isma’ili” also began to appear in the names of the group’s institutions, such as Ismaili Sahitya Ujtek Mandal (Ismaili Literary Society), founded c.1918, the community’s weekly Bombay-based publication Ismaili, established c.1921, and the “Ismailia Club” built in 1928 in Kampala, Uganda. Published references to “Satpanth” and “Khoja” remained extant in the community’s materials published in early 20th century, but were becoming increasingly rare in its official terminology.41 Certain ginans that were deemed to have “Hindu” content were prohibited from recitation in jamatkhanas in 1975 under Aga Khan IV. The community’s research organizations increasingly turned away from Satpanth and focused primarily on the Arab and Persian aspects of the movement. Canada’s Ismailia Association resisted these tendencies until the early 1980s, but was ultimately overcome by the transnational centralization of research and religious affairs.

However, the systematic drive to change the self-understanding of the Aga Khans’ South Asian followers from Satpanthi Khojas to Isma’ili Muslims does not appear to have been uniformly successful. The Canadian Khoja novelist M. G. Vassanji noted in 2011:

In my travels throughout Kathiavad (in Gujarat, India), whenever in some village, I asked for an Ismaili or Agakhani, I would meet a perfectly blank stare; it was only when I asked for a Khoja or the Khoja khanu (khano) [i.e., jamatkhana], that a finger would point out, to a paan stall, a vegetable seller, some trader.42

It is also noteworthy that the former darkhana (main jamatkhana) of Kenya is known on the maps of Nairobi and in the city’s popular discourse as “Khoja Mosque.”43 However, the Aga Khan’s followers in North America use the term with decreasing frequency.

Settling in North America

Khojas had been forming jamats in Africa, the Gulf countries, and Southeast Asia by the 19th century; however, racially based policies restricted emigration to Europe, North America, and Australia. The earliest individual migrations to Europe seem to have occurred in the 1930s. It is not clear when members of the movement first arrived in North America. They may have been present among Syrian immigrants to the continent in late 19th and early 20th centuries, but up-to-date research has not provided confirmation of this possibility. However, Canadian archives do indicate that Husain Rahim, who is thought to be a Khoja, arrived in Vancouver in 1910 from India.44 There does not appear to be historical information about other jamati members migrating to the continent until the early 1950s; among the arrivals in that period were two brothers from Pakistan, Safar Ali and Mustansir Billah Ismaily, who traveled to Atlantic Canada as students and eventually decided to stay in the country.45

Communities of adherents began to emerge in the late 1960s after immigration rules changed in both Canada and the United States to allow permanent residence for people of non-European ancestry. Uganda’s expulsion in 1972 of South Asians, who had lived in the East African country for several generations, led to a growth of jamats in North America.46 The formation of the nascent Canadian and American communities was a factor in attracting more coreligionists from other countries. Even before the institution of the councils, which have been vital in the settlement and progress of newcomers, individual adherents, motivated by a sense of fraternity, assisted arrivals in their respective cities.

The diasporic Khojas from Africa who proportionately had had greater exposure to Western education than their counterparts from India and Pakistan were better able to navigate Canada’s points-based immigration system that rewarded academic qualifications. Those coming directly from South Asian countries found it easier to obtain resident status in the United States. The Canadian and American jamats have developed in different ways due to the source countries of immigration and the character of respective receiving societies.

A few Iranian, Syrian, and Afghan adherents had also immigrated by the 1980s, but the diversity of jamats on the continent increased considerably with the arrival of refugees from war-torn Afghanistan in the following decade. A small number from Tajikistan also settled in North America following the Soviet Union’s collapse. Despite the multiplicity of countries from which adherents have migrated to Canada and the United States, the vast majority of the jamats in both countries are dominated by Khojas.

Community members in North America are generally well settled and are experiencing ongoing growth through immigration. Two generations have now been born in North America. Many have a high level of education and communal associations of professionals provide support to individuals. Several members of the community, including women, hold senior positions in major US and Canadian corporations and civil society organizations. Jamati members are mostly in the middle and upper middle classes, with one Vancouver family rising to billionaire status. However, everyone is not doing well. It has been difficult for the institutions to identify and assist the poor, who tend to conceal their deprivation and avoid participation in the dominantly bourgeois jamati culture.

Service, Self-Governance, and Transnational Networking

A strong spirit of volunteerism characterizes the Khojas in both countries. This feature can be traced back to the tradition of seva (service) in their home countries in South Asia and Africa. The 100th anniversary of the transnational Ismaili Volunteer Corps was commemorated in 2020. This transnational organization was founded in India and has chapters in jamats around the world, including Canada and the United States. Volunteers are involved on a daily basis in jamatkhanas and also serve in events outside the community. Organizations called the Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering (iCERV) and Ismaili CIVIC also provide its members with opportunities to serve the public. They have been active in times of natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Time and Knowledge Nazrana,” which is a religious gift to the Imam, enables individuals with particular skills and knowledge to give of themselves to work in projects of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN).

Aga Khan III founded a mode of self-governance for his followers in India in the early 20th century and extended it to other parts of the world. Whereas the organizations and functioning have evolved, the system continues to maintain the basic characteristics of appointments by the Imam and voluntary service. Aga Khan IV established self-governance bodies in United States and Canada under the Supreme Council for Europe, Canada, and the USA in the early 1970s. Major changes took place transnationally in 1986 when the Imam ordained a new constitution.47 The governance of councils and non-denominational Aga Khan institutions was brought together under one aegis. Aiglemont, the Imam’s estate in Gouvieux, France, became the global secretariat to which the national councils reported. In 2018, the Henrique de Mendonça Palace in Lisbon, Portugal, was named a seat and diwan (chancellery) of the Ismaili Imamat, to which several administrative functions were moved. A number of Khojas from North America have leading positions in the secretariat and chancellery’s bureaucracy and in transnational Aga Khan institutions.

The Institute of Ismaili Studies, which the Imam founded in London in 1977, has become a centralized transnational source for guidance and materials on religious matters. It interfaces with the national councils’ Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Boards (ITREBs), for whom it prepares curricula and trains teachers and preachers. The institute prioritizes a rationalistic and civilization-centered approach over faith perspectives. Its research and publications are primarily on the movement’s Arab and Persian history, with minimal attention to Satpanth even though the bulk of donations to its endowment are from wealthy Khoja families.

Aga Khan IV’s non-denominational institutions address the areas of education, health, culture, habitat, and the economy, mainly in Africa and Asia. The Canadian and American branches of the Aga Khan Foundation are pivotal nodes of AKDN, which has grown into one of the world’s largest civil society organizations. Significant partnerships have developed between the network and the aid agencies of the Canadian and US governments as well as with institutions such as universities. AKDN’s activities in North America seek largely to present Muslims’ cultural heritage to the public. Several prominent projects, each costing tens of millions of dollars, have been constructed. The Aga Khan Garden in Edmonton showcases Islamic landscape design in the Canadian climate and Toronto’s Aga Khan Museum exhibits the arts of Muslims. However, the latter exemplifies the paradox in which Khojas are economically and politically hegemonic but culturally marginalized. Despite their generous monetary donations and voluntary service to the museum, references to their own heritage are virtually non-existent. It is noteworthy that across the street sits the lone office of Khoja Wiki, a jamati member’s autonomous and popular initiative to record and share Khoja family histories.48

The Imam established the Global Centre for Pluralism in collaboration with the government of Canada in 2006. Its objective is to deepen understanding of the sources of inclusion and exclusion around the world. Pluralism has become an important theme in AKDN’s preservation and renovation of Muslim architecture as well as in the development of the musical cultures of Muslims. However, little of this is done with reference to the jamat’s own traditions, even though Satpanth and its ginans are the outcomes of a unique and organic religio-cultural pluralism.49 This heritage is being preserved through online initiatives of individuals.50

The community is engaging with its own diversity with the gathering of jamats from different countries in North America. Policies have been developed to integrate non-Khoja adherents by appointing them to boards and committees as well as to the religious positions of mukhi and kamadia. Institutions have also run “leadership training” programs for jamati members of Tajik, Afghan, and Syrian backgrounds.51 Farsi, which is widely spoken by Afghan members of the community, is also increasingly used during religious services in Canadian jamatkhanas. An indicator of the relative success of the community’s internal pluralism is that Khojas are singing Farsi qasidas from Central Asian traditions and Afghans are reciting ginans. However, South Asians continue to remain dominant in the community’s governance structures and there has been some friction between persons of different ethnicities.

The American Jamat

East African countries were the primary sources of communal members’ immigration to the United States until the 1970s, with a few exceptions like Hussein Bhai Patel, who arrived in 1967 from Pakistan’s Momna community. From that period onwards, the largest numbers have been directly from South Asia and they now constitute the majority in the American jamat of around 80,000. Whereas adherents live in various parts of the United States, half of them have chosen to reside in the Houston and Dallas areas of Texas due to the favorable employment opportunities, business climate, housing costs, and quality of life. Most Momnas in the United States have made home here. Atlanta, Georgia, has the other major concentration of the American jamat. Following the recessions in the 1990s and 2000s, there was significant movement to the southern states from California and New York, which are more expensive and have stricter business regulations. Non-Khoja adherents make up less than 3,000 members of the US jamat. Those with Afghan backgrounds have clusters in the Californian cities of Sacramento and San Diego while those from Syria have preferred the East Coast. Immigrants from Tajikistan tend to be drawn to New York and Washington, DC.

After community members began arriving in the mid-1960s, mostly as students from Tanzania, the first place in which informal religious gatherings were held was a Los Angeles apartment in 1967. An official jamatkhana was established in the following year in Chicago. By the mid-1970s, modest places of worship had proliferated in dozens of locations under the jurisdictions of the Ismaili regional councils for the eastern and western United States, which had been established in 1973. New York was at that time the location of the national council’s office and the country’s darkhana, which are now situated in Houston.52 As of 2021, there are seven regional councils in the United States. Major jamatkhanas have been constructed in Sugar Land (a Houston suburb), Plano (a Dallas suburb), Atlanta, and Glenview (a Chicago suburb).

In the late 1960s, Aga Khan IV granted a religious audience to sixteen of his followers who lived in New York, in what was most likely the first such event in North America.53 His uncle Sadruddin and brother Amyn Mohamed met with the community on behalf of the Imam in the early 1970s to inquire about its situation and provide guidance. Aga Khan IV himself made a visit to the growing community during the Silver Jubilee of his Imamat in 1983.

Several members of the Aga Khan family have received higher education in the United States. The Imam, as well as his uncle, brother, and daughter Zahra, studied at Harvard. Sons Rahim and Hussein attended Brown and Columbia universities, respectively. Aga Khan IV has delivered public addresses at several Ivy League schools and has endowed academic chairs in the study of Islam. Yasmin, his half-sister, and daughters-in-law Salwa and Fareen, are American. The Imam has maintained a good relationship with the US government over many decades, meeting with Presidents Kennedy and Clinton during their respective incumbencies. Ronald Reagan’s first summit with USSR’s Mikhail Gorbachev took place at the Aga Khan’s chateau in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1985.

The Imam has signed Agreements of Co-operation with governors of Texas, California, and Illinois, and the community also has a healthy relationship with the state of Georgia. Jamats have engaged with their cities through service and charitable activities. Over 2,500 community volunteers organized and assisted in the recovery of the greater Houston area in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and donated large amounts of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayoral candidates’ public debates have been held at jamatkhana buildings in Sugar Land and Plano. Councils have collaborated with museums in Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York, and occasionally with other Muslim associations to showcase Muslim art and promote a better understanding of Islam. However, there is a tendency for organizations such as the Council of American–Islamic Relations not to mention the jamat or its institutions in their resource materials about Muslims in the United States.54

A large proportion of Khojas in the United States operate small businesses. Others are engaged in professions, including those in information technology, health, education, and journalism. The Sugar Land-based Sidhpur Foundation offers loans for university education to encourage youth to pursue professional careers. Nizari Progressive Federal Credit Union and Platinum Federal Credit Union offer financial services to jamati members. The American Ismaili Chamber of Commerce has a number of local and state-based affiliates, including Greater Houston Retailers Cooperative Association and Atlanta Retailers Association, founded and run by individuals from the jamat. These organizations are also active in the larger society, contributing financially to city-based institutions and community initiatives.

Some community members have worked for leading federal politicians, such as President Barack Obama and Senator Cory Booker, and others have served in the US military. Professor Ali Asani of Harvard University emerged as a prominent scholarly voice on Islam in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Interfaith Youth Core, founded in 2002 by Eboo Patel, has helped shape government policy on inter-religious dialogue; it has also worked on hundreds of American campuses and has been active internationally. Finance expert Liaquat Ahamed, who authored Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for History. Halim Dhanidina was the first Muslim and first South Asian to be appointed a California judge in 2012. The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid for NASA scientist Alaudin Bhanji (d. 2019), who had also been president of the Ismaili Council for the USA.

The Canadian Jamat

The Canadian jamat grew from under 1,000 in the early 1970s to around 100,000 in five decades, with largely Khojas and some Momnas constituting around 75 percent of the community. Initial arrivals met occasionally for devotions and festivals among themselves and with other Muslims. “By 1968 the groups in Vancouver and Toronto each had organized themselves into a jamat and met once a week in either a rented hall or a residence for prayers and communal activities.”55 There were only a few hundred jamati members in Canada before 1972, when an additional 2,862 arrived as refugees from Uganda.56 Uncertainty about the future of South Asians in Tanzania, Congo, Madagascar, and Kenya led to more immigration from those countries.

Amyn Aga Khan met with the community’s leaders in 1973. When Sadruddin Aga Khan visited the community in 1975, it had “swelled to 10,000 strong.”57 He was then the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and had persuaded the Canadian government to accept the South Asians expelled from Uganda. Sadruddin advised the jamat to learn about the country and become good citizens. The first official Canadian visit of the Imam himself was in 1978, when he conducted religious ceremonies in several jamats. This was a cathartic experience for many adherents and was expressed musically in the Gujarati song “Mara Mowla Canada Padharshe” (My Lord Shall Make a Visitation to Canada), which become an iconic cultural monument of the community’s settlement in the new land. Composed and sung by Shamshu Jamal, who had settled in Vancouver from Dar-es-Salaam, the geet articulated both the recently arrived jamat’s anxious uprootedness and aspirations for renewal.

Whereas in the 21st century adherents are located across the country, the largest concentrations are in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta. The biggest communities are in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary, with other substantial congregations in Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa, and elsewhere. Several jamatkhanas dot the country and the Canadian darkhana is in Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb. There is representation from almost every jamat in the world. Many Khojas who had initially migrated from Africa to Europe eventually moved to Canada. Particular groups of immigrants have preferred to settle in specific areas of the country:

In Western Canada, we have a significant concentration of the Jamat from East Africa that is older, while in Quebec the population is younger and its majority is of Afghan heritage. Approximately one-quarter of the Jamat is born in Canada. There is also a steady stream of new arrivals. In the 1990s and 2000s, many of the new arrivals came from Afghanistan. Since 2010, more than half of the new arrivals are from India or Pakistan and are primarily settling in Ontario.58

Notwithstanding this diversity, East African Khojas predominate in terms of overall numbers and in the national and six regional councils’ leadership positions.

Aga Khan IV has had a good relationship with Canadian prime ministers over several decades. He has stated that “This successful collaboration . . . [is] deeply rooted in a remarkable convergence of values.”59 His friendship with Pierre (d. 2000) and Justin Trudeau, in different periods, has been particularly strong. Stephen Harper invited him to address the Canadian parliament in 2014, when the Imam spoke about his religious position, the community, and Muslims at large.60 The Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat operates as an embassy in the Canadian capital.

Individuals from the community have been elected to federal and provincial parliaments; Mobina Jaffer was appointed to the Senate in Ottawa in 2001 and Salma Lakhani became the Lieutenant Governor of the province of Alberta in 2020. In winning the 2010 Calgary municipal election, Naheed Nenshi became the first Muslim mayor of a sizeable North American city and was re-elected in 2013 and 2017. Adherents have found success in the fields of academia, business, civil society, literature, media, and public service, and in the professional field. M. G. Vassanji, a novelist who writes about the experiences of Khojas in India, Africa, and North America, has won major Canadian and international awards. Noorbanu Nimji (d. 2020) sold more than 250,000 copies of her cookbook series on East African Khoja recipes globally. Omar Sachedina and Ali Velshi are news anchors for major broadcasters. The jamat is keen to demonstrate its commitment to the larger society through volunteerism: over 1 million hours of service were rendered to the public in six months to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary and the Imam’s Diamond Jubilee in 2018. A number of community members, like the Nanji and Lalji families (both former Ugandan refugees), have emerged as major Canadian philanthropists.

The North American Jamats’ Challenges

Having found themselves in separate countries due to earlier migrations and the partition of India in 1947, Khojas have been able to reunite in North America. They have also been meeting coreligionists from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China for the first time. The jamat is engaging with diversity within and without in ways that had not occurred previously. There have been a small number of marital liaisons across ethnicities among its traditionally endogamous groups and a growing frequency of marriage outside the community.

Whereas some adherents are experiencing deprivation, the communities in Canada and the United States are generally well settled and are experiencing ongoing growth through immigration. There is strong social support from jamati institutions as well as organizations established by individuals. A substantial proportion of adherents have university education. The community is asserting its North American presence by engaging in the public sphere and constructing spectacular buildings and parks. Two architecturally superior Ismaili centers, which include religious, educational, social, and administrative components, have been constructed in Vancouver and Toronto, with another underway in Houston. Facilities have also been established for the growing segment of the aged.

The community faces several challenges. A central paradox lies in the unusual coupling of Khojas’ econo-political hegemony with their religio-cultural marginalization. Satpanthis are addressing the sharing of power locally and transnationally with Middle Eastern and Central Asian coreligionists. This has been successful to a limited extent and needs to be extended more substantially. The steady devaluation of Satpanth is diminishing the community’s longstanding tradition; it obscures the profoundly pluralist engagement between religious cultures in South Asia, a process in which the community played an integral role. The standardization of a multidimensional and multilayered spiritual endeavor into a uniform “Isma’ili” category threatens to reduce a dynamic and open-ended religious search to an essentialized creed. Khojas urgently need to protect their spiritual and cultural heritage and share it with their coreligionists. Navigating inter-ethnic relations is a significant challenge for this community that has publicly put its weight behind the concept and practice of pluralism.

The broader locus of Islam in North America is also an important context for consideration. Jamati councils began inviting other Muslims communities in the early 1990s to commemorations of the Prophet’s birthday (Milad al-Nabi). These gatherings ended in the late 2000s, but intra-Muslim iftars and ‘id events have continued. Individual involvement in joint Muslim initiatives to promote the understanding of Islam occurs in academic and organizational settings. Jamatkhanas are open only to community members. A significant number of other Muslims, apparently influenced by centuries of antagonism, continue to maintain a distance from the Aga Khan’s followers.61 The particular task here is to be able to discuss the already existing diversity of Muslims within a pluralist framework that is inclusive of the difference that the jamat presents.

The network of highly structured self-governance bodies addresses vital needs of jamati members but simultaneously injects a certain rigidity and conservatism into community affairs. In terms of larger societal relations, a growing call from the jamat’s youth, activists, and academics is asking the institutional stance on pluralism to embrace a clear anti-racism position.62 The leadership’s education-centered rhetoric on meritocracy has decontextualized societal discrimination with respect to class, race, religion, gender, and other factors. It also belies the reality that members of some families of adherents, especially from East Africa, have tended to be generationally appointed with inordinate frequency to North American and transnational leadership posts. There is a rising level of autonomous activity among marginalized members who are using digital media to express discourses that are alternative to those of the centrally controlled jamati communications systems.63 The coming years will demonstrate the ability of jamat’s leadership to develop a well-defined progressive approach to the larger societal issues which invariably affect community members in Canada and the United States.

Discussion of the Literature

M. A. Shaban remarked in 1976 that “more research has been done on the Fatimids than on any other aspect of Islamic history.”64 That statement was obviously an exaggeration, but it alludes to the significant amount of research that continues to be conducted on the movement.65 Denotation of the faith as “Ismailism,” which is “a taxonomical category in . . . Western scholarship,” appears to have been initiated by the Orientalist Wladamir Ivanow in 1934.66 The academic study of the movement became enshrined as “Ismaili Studies” in 1977 with the founding of the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS). It has produced over a hundred books, including five volumes on the primary materials in its collection relating to the Arab and Persian aspects of the movement. The institute has received hundreds of Satpanth-related manuscripts from communal and family collections since the late 1970s; however, these sources have suffered from neglect and their cataloguing was still awaiting completion in 2021.67 Harvard University published its catalogue in 1992.68

Even though the endowment of the IIS has been funded mainly by Khojas, it has produced only three monographs on their tradition.69 Most of the materials on Satpanth in South Asia, its ginans, and the pivotal Aga Khan Case have been published elsewhere.70 A mere smattering of writings has appeared over many decades on the Khojas in Africa.71 The only substantial exploration of the Canadian and American jamats occurs in a few book chapters, journal articles, and theses.72 General surveys of North American Muslims refer to them briefly.73 Other sources in this article are printed and online community publications and the author’s observations. The sparse scholarly literature on the followers of the Aga Khan in Canada and the United States does not refer specifically to Khojas. When the group is mentioned, it is almost always subsumed under the name “Isma’ili,” demonstrating the success of the Aga Khans’ policy of installing a new standard identity for all their adherents. A distinct “Khoja Studies” appears to be emerging; conferences have been organized in 2016 and 2019 in this area of scholarship.74

Research on institutional evolution is a growing area in the study of the community.75 A critical literature, bearing a range of assessments examining various institutional aspects, is unfolding on contemporary communal developments.76 A focus on the namings of the movement brings to attention the communal politics underlying shifting identities and highlights the increasing essentialization of pluralist traditions.77

Primary Sources

A primary source material on the Khojas is the corpus of some 1,000 ginans, many of which were authored hundreds of years ago. Contents from manuscripts were initially published in Khojki by Lalji Devraj in the early 20th century.78 Many ginan books have subsequently been issued in scripts including Gujarati, Urdu, and Latin by publishers such as the Recreation Club Institute in Bombay as well as the Ismailia Associations and the ITREBs of various countries. Recorded oral recitations have been made over time on vinyl, tape cassettes and CDs, some of which are available on several websites and YouTube; Ginan Central is a well-organized and searchable online portal.79 Several 19th-century court cases involving Aga Khan I, regarding his entitlements as Imam, were recorded in published court documents.80 Nooram-Mubin is a Gujarati book on the history of Ismaili Imams; despite containing hagiographical information, it was generally treated by Khojas until later in that century to be an authentic account because it had been commissioned by Aga Khan III and presented to him at his Golden Jubilee in 1936.81 The Ismailia Associations and ITREBs have published religious addresses (farmans) and messages (talikas) made by the Imam to jamats since the mid-20th century.82 Aga Khan III’s memoirs are a rich source of information about his views on his role as Imam.83 Many of his public speeches and writings have been compiled in two volumes by K. K. Aziz.84 A number of Aga Khan IV’s orations have been published and also appear on online platforms.85 Several rulebooks for Aga Khan III’s East African followers were published in the first half of the 20th century in East Africa, and a “constitution” appeared in 1962 under Aga Khan IV.86 Similar documents regulated the affairs of the communities in South Asia. A constitution for all of the world’s Ismailis under the Aga Khan’s leadership was published in 1996; it was repealed and replaced by another one promulgated in 1998.87 The Ismaili is an electronic newsletter operated by the community’s institutional establishment.88

Further Reading

  • Aldrick, Judy. The Sultan’s Spymaster: Peera Dewjee of Zanzibar. Naivasha, Kenya: Old Africa Books, 2015.
  • Andani, Khalil. “A Survey of Ismaili Studies. Part 1: Early Ismailism and Fatimid Ismailism.” Religion Compass 10, no. 8 (2016a): 191–206.
  • Andani, Khalil. “A Survey of Ismaili Studies. Part 2: Post‐Fatimid and Modern Ismailism.” Religion Compass 10, no. 11 (2016b): 269–282.
  • Aziz, Nurjehan, ed. The Relevance of Islamic Identity in Canada: Culture, Politics, and Self. Toronto: Mawanzi House, 2015.
  • Bhimani, Salima. Majalis al-Ilm: Sessions of Knowledge: Reclaiming and Representing the Lives of Muslim Women. Toronto: TSAR, 2003.
  • Daftary, Farhad. The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Engineer, Asghar Ali. The Muslim Communities of Gujarat: An Exploratory Study of Bohras, Khojas and Memons. Delhi: Ajanta, 1989.
  • Ladha, Mansoor. Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West. Regina, SK: University of Regina Press, 2017.
  • Mohamed, Hassan Ebrahim. The Asian Legacy in Africa and the White Man’s Color Culture. New York: Vantage, 1979.
  • Steigerwald, Diana. Imamology in Ismaili Gnosis. New Delhi: Manohar, 2015.


  • 1. Seyyed H. Nasr, “Introduction,” in Isma’ili Contributions to Islamic Culture, ed. Seyyed H. Nasr (Tehran, Iran: Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy, 1977), 1.

  • 2. Andani challenges the idea of adherence to the Imam as an exclusive marker of the movement and lists a number of other characteristics. Khalil Andani, “Isma ‘iliyya and Isma’ilism: From Polemical Portrayal to Academic Inquiry,” in Deconstructing Islamic Studies, ed. Majid Daneshgar and Aaron W. Hughes (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), 306.

  • 3. Aga Khan IV, Where Hope Takes Root (Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2008).

  • 4. The Amman Message,” The Official Website of the Amman Message, 2019.

  • 5. The Ismaili Community,” The.Ismaili, 2020; Faisal Devji, “Preface,” in M. von Grondelle, The Ismailis in the Colonial Era (London: Hurst, 2009), xi; Mohammad Magout, “Transnationalizing Multiple Secularities: A Comparative Study of the Global Ismacili Community,” Historical Social Research 44, no. 3 (2019): 150–179.

  • 6. Magout, “Transnationalizing Multiple Secularities,” 151. Also see Daryoush M. Poor, Authority without Territory: The Aga Khan Development Network and the Ismaili Imamate (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2014), 30.

  • 7. Wilferd Madelung, The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press), 253.

  • 8. Paul Walker, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (London: Tauris, 1999), 106.

  • 9. Farhad Daftary and Zulfikar Hirji, The Ismailis: An Illustrated History (London: Azimuth, 2008), 134.

  • 10. Shafique Virani, The Ismailis in the Middle Ages (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007). Aga Khan IV announced in the 1980s that the religious group would refer to itself as a “tariqa.”

  • 11. Ali S. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim: The Articulation of Ismaili Khoja Identity in South Asia,” in A Modern History of the Ismailis: Continuity and Change in a Muslim Community, ed. Farhad Daftary (London: I.B. Tauris, 2011), 96. During his Nizari phase, the prominent Persian philosopher Nasir al-Din Tusi (d. 1274), wrote about the requirement for adherents’ complete devotion to the “rah-i haqq” (path of truth). Nasir al-Din Tusi, Shi’i Interpretations of Islam: Three Treatises on Theology and Eschatology, ed. and trans. S. J. Badakhchani (London: I.B. Tauris, 2010), 39.

  • 12. Wafi Momin, “On the Cusp of ‘Islamic’ and ‘Hindu’ Worldviews? The Ginan Literature and the Dialectics of Self and Other,” in Intellectual Interactions in the Islamic World: The Ismaili Thread, ed. Orkhan Mir-Kasmiov (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020), 445.

  • 13. Ali S. Asani, Ecstasy and Enlightenment: The Ismaili Devotional Literature of South Asia (London: I.B. Tauris: 2002), 8.

  • 14. Vinay Dharwadker, Kabir: The Weaver’s Songs (New Delhi: Penguin, 2003), 65.

  • 15. Sayyed Muhammadshah, “Saaheb Ji Tu(n) More Man Bhaave: Translation B,” Ismaili.NET—Heritage F.I.E.L.D.

  • 16. Momin seeks to present a perspective from a particular ginan’s narrative which views Hindus as others. Momin, “On the Cusp,” 449–450.

  • 17. Daftary and Hirji, The Ismailis, 195.

  • 18. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim,” 110.

  • 19. For example, Pir Shams. “Satpanth vohari vira alaga na rahiye,” Ginan Central, 2018. However, the Imam Shahis, another branch of the tradition, have adopted the term as a primary identification.

  • 20. Zulfikar Hirji, “Socio-Legal Formation of the Nizari Ismailis of East Africa,” in A Modern History of the Ismailis, ed. Daftary, 129–159.

  • 21. Esmail Thawerbhoy, “The Imam of the Socio-Economic Revolution,” Ilm 3, no. 2 (1977): 19.

  • 22. Zayn R. Kassam, “Gender Policies of Aga Khan III and Aga Khan IV,” in A Modern History of the Ismailis, ed. Daftary, 247–264.

  • 23. Daftary and Hirji, The Ismailis, 204.

  • 24. Aga Khan III, The Memoirs of Aga Khan: World Enough and Time (London: Cassell, 1954), 190.

  • 25. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim,” 98.

  • 26. Iqbal Akhtar, The Khōjā of Tanzania: Discontinuities of a Postcolonial Religious Identity (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2016).

  • 27. Jean Baptiste Rousseau seems to have been one of the earliest Orientalists to use the term “Ismaélis.” Farhad Daftary, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography of Sources and Studies (London: I.B. Tauris, 2004), 373.

  • 28. ʿAli ibn Muhammad ibn Walid (d. 1215), the fifth Musta’lian da’i, saw it as confirming the community’s claim to adhere to the spiritual ancestry of Isma’il who was descended from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. Four early Persian Nizari works also refer to it: Nasir al-Din Tusi’s treatise Matlub Muminin (13th century) (which Khalil Andani kindly brought to my attention), an anonymous author’s Risala-yi Sirat al-Mustaqim (14th/15th century), Abu Ishaq Quhistani’s Haft Bab (16th century), and Muhibb Ali Qunduzi’s Irshad al-talibiyyin fi dhikr a’imma al-Isma’iliyyi (16th century).

  • 29. Paul Walker, personal communication, May 29, 2020, and Farhad Daftary, personal communication, June 9, 2010.

  • 30. Shafique N. Virani, “Early Nizari Ismailism: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of Khwajah Qasim Tushtari’s Recognizing God,” Iran: Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 57, no. 2 (2019): 246 n. 8.

  • 31. Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma‘ilis (London: I.B. Tauris, 1995).

  • 32. Paul Walker, personal communication.

  • 33. Among the other names that the group has given itself in various regions are “Mawlaʾi, ‘the partisans of the lord,’ in Hunza, Gilgit and Chitral [in northern Pakistan]; [and] Panjtani, ‘the partisans of the five,’ that is, Muhammad, ʿAli, Fatima, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, in parts of Central Asia.” Virani, “Early Nizari Ismailism,” 246 n. 8.

  • 34. Aga Khan I, The First Aga Khan: Memoirs of the 46th Ismaili Imam, ed. and trans. Daniel Beben and Daryoush M. Poor (London: I.B. Tauris, 2018), 118 and 119.

  • 35. Shihabu’din Shah Al-Husayni, True Meaning of Religion or Risala dar haqiqat-i din, trans. Wladamir Ivanow (Bombay: Ismaili Society, 1933), 26.

  • 36. Teena Purohit, The Aga Khan Case: Religion and Identity in Colonial India (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 49.

  • 37. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim,” 107.

  • 38. Aga Khan III, The Memoirs of Aga Khan, 9.

  • 39. The 1996 Constitution, amended in 1998, referred to the community as “Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims,” which has become the formal communal identification. Aga Khan IV, The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims (1998).

  • 40. Hirji, “Socio-Legal Formation,” 146.

  • 41. Asani, “From Satpanthi to Ismaili Muslim,” 117; Daftary and Hirji, The Ismailis, 209; Noormohamed Bhamani, “Ismaili Journalism as I See it,” Africa Ismaili: A Collection of Articles of Permanent Value 10 (c.1975): 32.

  • 42. Moyez Gulamhussein Vassanji, “Ginanic Travails, Conflicted Knowledge,” Summerhill: IIAS Review 17, no. 1 (2011): 102.

  • 43. Caroline Njung’e, “Iconic Khoja Mosque Still Standing since 1922,” Nation. Africa, March 18, 2020.

  • 44. Husain Rahim (1865–1937),” Komagata Maru: Continuing the Journey, 2011.

  • 45. Karim H. Karim, “At the Interstices of Tradition, Modernity and Postmodernity: Ismaili Engagements with Contemporary Canadian Society,” in A Modern History of the Ismailis, ed. Daftary, 265–294.

  • 46. Shezan Muhammedi, “Gifts from Amin”: The Resettlement, Integration, and Identities of Ugandan Asian Refugees in Canada (PhD thesis, Western University, 2017).

  • 47. Aga Khan IV, The Constitution (1998).

  • 48. Iqbal Dewji, “What is,” KhojaWiki.

  • 49. Karim H. Karim, “Pluralism, Migration, Space and Song: Ismaili Arrangements of Public and Private Spheres,” in Diverse Spaces: Identity, Heritage and Community in Canadian Public Culture, ed. Susan Ashley (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2013), 148–169.

  • 50. Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan Library, 2018; “Introduction to Ginans and Granths,” Heritage Society

  • 51. Shirin Malik, “Leadership Training Program: A Knowledge-Sharing Immersion,” The.Ismaili USA, July 29, 2019.

  • 52. Nazim Karim, “The Evolution of Jamati Institutions in the United States as Seen through its Leaders,” The.Ismaili USA, Summer 2017, 16–21.

  • 53. Noor Pirani, “The USA Ismaili Volunteer Corps: An Ancient Ethic Instilled in a New Land,” The.Ismaili USA, Winter 2019, 11.

  • 54. Mohamed Nimer, The North American Muslim Resource Guide: Muslim Community Life in the United States and Canada (New York: Routledge, 2002).

  • 55. Azim Nanji, “The Nizari Ismaili Muslim Community in North America: Background and Development,” in The Muslim Community in North America, ed. Earle H. Waugh, Baha Abu-Laban, and Regula B. Qureshi (Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta, 1983), 156.

  • 56. Muhammedi, “Gifts from Amin, 14.

  • 57. Nanji, “Nizari Ismaili Muslim Community,” 157.

  • 58. Al-Akhbar, “Understanding the Jamat: Results of the 2012 Jamati Questionnaire,” The.Ismaili USA, June 13, 2014.

  • 59. Aga Khan IV, Where Hope Takes Root, 95.

  • 60. Aga Khan IV, “Address to both Houses of the Parliament of Canada in the House of Commons Chamber,” AKDN, 2018.

  • 61. Ali S. Asani, “On Muslims Knowing the Muslim Other,” in Muslims in the United States: Identity, Influence, Innovation, ed. Philippa Strum (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2005), 181–190.

  • 62. ITREB USA and ITREB Canada, “Race in America, Respecting Diversity: An Open Conversation about Faith and Social Justice,” The.Ismaili USA, June 7, 2020.

  • 63. Karim H. Karim, “Communal Authority and Communicational Autonomy: Print and Digital Media of South Asian Ismaili Muslims in Canada,” in The Handbook of Ethnic Media in Canada, ed. Daniel Ahadi, Sherry S. Yu, and Ahmed Al-Rawi (forthcoming).

  • 64. Muhammad Abd al-Hayy Muhammad Shaban, Islamic History: A New Interpretation (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 188.

  • 65. Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Isma‘ili Literature (Malibu, CA: Udena, 1977); and Daftary, Ismaili Literature.

  • 66. Andani, “Isma ‘iliyya and Isma‘ilism,” 282; and Wladamir Ivanow, Fifty Years in the East: The Memoirs of Wladamir Ivanow, ed. Farhad Daftary (London: I.B. Tauris), 191.

  • 67. Momin, “On the Cusp,” 437 fn. 14.

  • 68. Ali S. Asani, The Harvard Collection of Ismaili Literature in Indic Languages: A Descriptive Catalog and Finding Aid (Boston: B. K. Hall, 1992).

  • 69. Asani, Ecstasy and Enlightenment; Aziz Esmail, A Scent of Sandalwood: Indo-Ismaili Religious Lyrics (London: Curzon, 2002); Dominique-Sila Khan, Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004). A few chapters on the topic have also appeared in edited volumes.

  • 70. Christopher Shackle and Zawahir Moir, Ismaili Hymns from South Asia: An Introduction to the Ginans (London: University of London Press, 1992); Tazim R. Kassam, Songs of Wisdom and Circles of Dance (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995); Dominique-Sila Khan, Conversions and Shifting Identities: Ramdev Pir and the Ismailis of Rajastan (New Delhi: Manohar, 1997); Michel Boivin, “New Problems Related to the History and Tradition of the Agakhani Khojas in Karachi and Sindh,” Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society 46, no. 4 (1998): 5; Tazim R. Kassam and Francois Mallison, eds., Ginans—Texts and Contexts: Essays on Ismaili Hymns from South Asia in Honour of Zawahir Moir (New Delhi: Primus, 2010); Nile Green, Bombay Islam: The Religious Economy of the West Indian Ocean, 1840–1915 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Purohit, The Aga Khan Case.

  • 71. For example, J. N. D. Anderson, “The Isma’ili Khojas of East Africa,” Middle Eastern Studies 1, no. 1 (1964): 21–39.

  • 72. Parin Dossa, “Women’s Space and Time: An Anthropological Perspective on Ismaili Immigrant Women in Calgary and Vancouver,” Canadian Ethnic Studies 20, no. 1 (1988): 45–65; Nanji, “The Nizari Ismaili Muslim Community”; Fariyal Ross-Sherriff and Azim Nanji, “Islamic Identity, Family and Community: The Case of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims,” in Muslim Families in North America, ed. Earle H. Waugh et al. (Edmonton, Canada: University of Alberta, 1991); Karim, “At the Interstices”; Yvonne M. Hébert and Rani Murji, “Collectivized Identity among Shi’a Imami Isma’ili Muslims of Calgary: Implications for Pluralism and Policy,” Espace Populations Sociétés 1 (2006): 107–119; Arif A. Jamal, Linking Migration and Education across Generations: Ismailis in Vancouver (PhD thesis, Simon Fraser University, 2006); Farzana N. Jiwani, Welfare Production in Canada and Tanzania: The Ismaili Imamat, Ismaili Community Institutions and the Aga Khan Development Network (PhD thesis, Carleton University, 2013); Muhammedi, “Gifts from Amin”; Sahir Dewji, Beyond Muslim Xenophobia and Contemporary Parochialism: Aga Khan IV, the Ismā‘īlīs, and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Ethic (PhD thesis, Wilfred Laurier University, 2018).

  • 73. Jane I. Smith, Islam in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); and Karen I. Leonard, Muslims in the United States: The State of Research (New York: Russell Sage, 2003).

  • 74. Inaugural Khōjā Studies Conference, December 2016, 15–16; Second Khōjā Studies Conference, January 30–31, 2019.

  • 75. Jonah Steinberg, Isma‘ili Modern: Globalization and Identity in a Muslim Community (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011); Karim H. Karim, “Muslim Migration, Institutional Development and Geographic Imagination: The Aga Khan Development Network’s Transnationalism,” in Transnational Europe, ed. Joan DeBardeleben and Achim Hurrelmann (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 205–221; Karim H. Karim, “The Aga Khan Development Network: Shia Ismaili Islam,” in Global Religious Movements across Borders, ed. Stephen M. Cherry and Helen R. Ebaugh (London: Ashgate Publishers, 2014), 143–160; Poor, Authority without Territory; Karim H. Karim, “A Muslim Modernity: Ismaili Engagements with Western Societies,” in Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West, ed. Roberto Tottoli (London: Routledge, 2015), 244–258; Soumen Mukerjee, Ismailism and Islam in Modern South Asia: Community and Identity in the Age of Religious Transnationals (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2017); M. Ali Lakhani, Faith and Ethics: The Vision of the Ismaili Imamat (London: I.B. Tauris, 2018); Sahir Dewji, “The Aga Khan’s Discourse of Applied Pluralism: Converging the ‘Religious’ and the ‘Secular,’” Studies in Religion 47, no. 1 (2018): 78–106; Khalil Andani, “Divine Diversity: The Aga Khan’s Vision of Pluralism,” Journal of Islamic and Muslim Studies 4, no. 1 (2019): 1–42.

  • 76. Devji, “Preface”; Karim, “Pluralism, Migration, Space and Song”; Faisal Devji, “The Idea of Ismailism,” Critical Muslim 10 (April–June 2014): 51–62; Mohammad Magout, A Reflexive Islamic Modernity: Academic Knowledge and Religious Subjectivity in the Global Ismaili Community (Baden-Baden, Germany: Ergon Verlag, 2020); Karim, “Communal Authority and Communicational Autonomy.”

  • 77. Andani, “Isma‘iliyya and Isma‘ilism.”

  • 78. For example, Mukhi Laljibhai Devraj, ed., Vis Ginan ni Chopadi (Bombay: Khoja Sindhi Chapakhano, 1904).

  • 79. Ginan Central, University of Saskatchewan Library, 2018.

  • 80. W. H. E. Hart, ed., Bombay High Court Reports (Bombay: Bombay High Court, 1876).

  • 81. Alimahomed Janmahomed Chunara, Nooram-Mubin (Bombay: Recreation Club Institute, 1936).

  • 82. For example, Aga Khan III, Mubarak Talika and Messages: Mowlana Hazar Imam’s Guidance and Advice in Spiritual and Worldly Matters to Ismailis of Africa (Mombasa, Kenya: Shia Imami Ismaili Associations for Africa, 1955).

  • 83. Aga Khan III, The Memoirs of Aga Khan.

  • 84. Kurshid Kamal Aziz, ed., Aga Khan III Selected Speeches and Writings, 2 vols. (London: Kegan Paul, 1998).

  • 85. Speeches and Interviews,” Aga Khan Development Network; Nanowisdoms Archive of Imamat Speeches, Interviews & Writings.

  • 86. The first of these was Khoja Shia Imami Ismailia Counsilna Kayadani Book: Prakaran Pelu thatha Biju, published in Gujarati by Zanzibar’s Hussein Chapkano; Aga Khan IV, The Constitution of the Shia Imami Ismailis in Africa (Nairobi, Kenya: His Highness the Aga Khan Shia Imami Ismailia Supreme Council for Africa, 1962).

  • 87. Aga Khan IV, The Constitution (1962).

  • 88. See The.Ismaili.