Cult of the Dead in Ismailism

zaidpub (old blog)
zaidpub (old blog)

Posted by Abdulaziz Kassam ⋅ May 4, 2016 ⋅ 1 Comment
Filed Under chhanta, death, funeral, nandi, niyaz
Cult of the Dead in Ismailism
In the anthropology of religion, a funerary cult is a body of religious teaching and practice centered on the dead, in which the living are thought to be able to confer benefits on the dead in the afterlife or to appease their otherwise wrathful ghosts. Rituals were carried on for the benefit of the dead, either by their relatives or by a class of priests appointed and paid to perform the rites.
Death in ʾIslām
In Islam the approach is perhaps the simplest where the ritual and rites are the minimum. Death being entirely in the hands of Allāh, for those who readily surrender to Allāh’s will, there is less grieving. Death serves as a timely reminder of one’s own mortality and the futility of the worldly pursuit and so death in the family becomes a time for more prayers.
The disposal of the cadaver is a very simple and quick operation. If circumstances permit, the burial takes place on the same day with a minimum of fuss. Traditionally at the home of the deceased, recital of the Qurʾān is undertaken. The body prepared for the burial – called the janāzah, is brought to the masjid, the prayer for the dead (ṣalāt al-janāzah) is recited and the body is then transported to the cemetery for the burial. There are no eulogies as in Islam ‘All Praise is for Allāh’ and no man would stand up and praise the deceased no matter how important a position the person held. In fact, since Allāh is regarded as having enabled the person to make the contribution, the occasion is a reason to praise Allāh even more.
Death in Ismāʿīlism
In Ismāʿīlism, some of the rites show similarities with other Muslim rites but the similarities are superficial and are really a smokescreen for Ismāʿīlis to be accepted as a Muslim group. Their belief and inner practices are far from Islamic and in fact, are quite bizarre in some ways. Even the Kalimah – testament of faith – they recite ignores the Shia part.
1. On the Deathbed
Chhanta # 1 (چھانٹا): Sprinkling of Holy Water on the Face
Firstly, when someone is on his or her deathbed, the mukhi and kamadia (who function as priests in Ismāʿīlism) visit the person and go through a chhanta ceremony (sprinkling of holy water on the face) which supposedly clears the person of all his sins and therefore the person dies in a state of grace and the Day of Judgement becomes a matter of formality only. The paradise for that person is virtually guaranteed – very much like the Catholics.
2. Upon Death
Immediately upon the death of a family member, wheels are put in motion to make the deceased’s hereafter smooth and safe – at a price, of course. People gather at the home of the deceased to console the bereaved. Salawat is recited (Allahuma salli ala Muhammad wa ala aal-e-Muhammad, meaning Oh Allah send your peace upon Muhammed and upon his progeny).
This salawat is repeated usually 99 times – and concluded by asking the Imam to accept and grant the supplication of the salwat. Oddly enough, the same formula is also adopted in Jamatkhanas duringgiriyazari tasbih. The absurdity of this formula has NOT dawned upon any one in the congregation or the members of the Ismāʿīli Tariqa and Religious Education Board.
Recitation of Salawat
They also attend Jamatkhana where after the normal prayers, again salawat is recited and members of the family are consoled – this is called dilsoji or dilsozi of the deceased’s family. Everyone also makes a monetary contribution to a fund called mehmani which is an offering to the Imām through the mukhi and kamadia in the Jamatkhana on the evening of the funeral which also is considered to help the deceased. These mehmani are in addition to the contributions which are given to various activities. Also, the well-wishers and the members of the family prepare special dishes and take them to the Jamatkhana on the evening of the funeral and which are then auctioned in the Jamatkhana and the proceeds from this auction (called naandi or ناندی) are again collected by the mukhi and the kamadia.
The Ismāʿīlis believe that the benefit of that food reaches the deceased in a physical sense in that the dead receive the food (they take great pains to prepare deceased’s favourite dishes) and all the dead have a feast in the graveyard.
Personal Belongings of the Deceased including Jewellery
Osiris (the Egyptian god of the Afterlife) receives offerings on behalf of the dead.
Some of the close relatives busy themselves in preparing clothes and jewellery to take to Jamatkhana on the night of the funeral. Traditionally the deceased’s own clothes and personal jewellery, like watches and rings which the members of the family do not wish to retain – as they reminded them of the deceased and such remembrance was much too painful.
So the Jamatkhana served as a place they could be disposed and distributed among the needy. No longer does this happen however, as most of the old clothes are distributed separately among the poor or given away. Instead a new regime has started under the mistaken belief that the dead actually receive these and so new clothes and various other household things depending upon what the people might need including pieces of furniture are donated with great enthusiasm and in some cases the things are donated by the family and then purchased back by the family for keepsake , the deceased having had the use of it all in the spiritual world as the items miraculously find their way to the deceased on being donated to the Jamatkhana. But the ritual is really to inject money into the Jamatkhana. It would be easier to just go ahead and pay the money, but this entire process of packing up and bringing the belongings of the deceased to the Jamatkhana, putting them on auction, and buying them back, is followed. The end result of this is that the belongings remain in the household, but money goes from the household to the Jamatkhana.
The system smacks of the ancient Egyptian ritual of putting all the things in the burial chamber which the deceased Pharaoh would need in his afterlife. History tells us that they put everything in their tombs for that reason.
The body of course remains buried in the ground. It decomposes so the soul neither has a mouth nor stomach and consequently cannot possibly be in need of food. And as it has no body – all jewellery and clothes are unnecessary.
3. On the Day of the Funeral
Chhanta # 2 (چھانٹا): Sprinkling of Holy Water on the Deceased’s Face
The ritual does not stop there though: On the day of the funeral, all the close relatives go through the chhanta ceremony in the presence of the mukhi and kamadia in front of the deceased which broadly implies forgiveness by the family members and the close relatives of all the wrongdoing done to them by the deceased. Also on behalf of the Ismāʿīlī Community, the mukhi and the kamadia go through the chhanta ceremony whereby the wrongs done to the members of the Community are forgiven.
All of this comes with a price as does everything else in Ismāʿīlism. Generally, the contributions are made to various activities and in the Majalis to which the deceased belonged and during the normal Jamati services where outsiders are not present.
Paid rituals like chhanta – a simplified confession once a month on payment of nominal sum – or nyaz (drinking of holy water i.e. water blessed by the Imām his representative) performed by a Ismāʿīli during his or her lifetime ensure guarantee Heaven as promised by the Aga Khan. He tells his followers that on the day of Judgement he will hold their hand.
Is it not strange that The Prophet from whom the Aga Khan claims to derive his authority is on record saying that the Prophet (pbuh) himself would be called to account for all his actions. Also, he did not know himself what was in store for him. Moreover, his uncle and favourite daughter Fatima (ra) were told that they should prepare for the Akhira as on the Day of Judgement, he would not be of any help to them.
Yet the Aga Khan not only knows where he is going to be but also what he would be doing i.e. repaying the money he has extracted from all his followers, who look upon him as God personified, by granting them paradise.
Food auctions or ‘nandi’ in Jamatkhana
The friends and relatives of the deceased are required to send food offerings and donations to the Jamatkhana. There, all of this food is auctioned in a ceremony called the nandi, where the scene is no less than that of an auction house without seats and with no list of approved bidders. Whoever can afford at that time, can come forward and bid. This food goes to the highest bidder and again the money goes to Aga Khan.
Ruhani Tasbeeh after 40 days and annually
Ruhani Tasbihs made to the mukhi (chief priest in the Jamatkhana) involving payments and again at an auction ceremony of food over the forty days after the death and then every month and then annually until memory recedes and other dead have to be taken care of.
Closing Comments
Obviously, there is nothing pertaining to batin or tawil in all of the above practices – evverything is zahir and involved payment of money to Aga Khan.
But every Ismaili should know that it is Allāh who is the Lord of the Day of Judgement not the Aga Khan. And Allāh has made it a condition for every human being that whosoever rejects Him or associates a Partner with Allāh or takes another being or an object whom Allāh has created as an object of worship, they will not be forgiven. They would automatically be disqualified from entry into paradise as they would be excluded from the presence of Allāh.
This condition is there in the Qurʾān. However, if you do not read the book – and Ismailis rather listen to the Farman (decrees) of the Aga Khan, who they refer to as The Speaking Qur’an – the folly of their ways can never be discovered – and such ignorance suits the leader absolutely.
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