Afghanistan Table of Contents
The Ismaili Shia are also known as Seveners because in the eighth century their leaders rejected the heir designated by the sixth Imam, Jafar al Sadiq (d.765), whom the Imami accepted. The new group instead chose to recognize Jafar's eldest son, Ismail, as the seventh Imam and the Shia community split into two branches.
Ismaili communities in Afghanistan are less populous than the Imami who consider the Ismailis heretical. They are found primarily in and near the eastern Hazarajat, in the Baghlan area north of the Hindu Kush, among the mountain Tajik of Badakhshan, and amongst the Wakhi in the Wakhan Corridor.
Many Ismaili believe the line of Imam ceased when Ismail died before his father in AD 760; others believe he did not die but remains in seclusion and will return at the end of the world. Ismaili beliefs are complex and syncretic, combining elements from the philosophies of Plotinus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, gnosticism, and the Manichaeans, as well as components of Judaism, Christianity, and Eastern religions. Ismaili conceptions of the Imamat differ greatly from those of other Muslims and their tenets are unique. Their beliefs about the creation of the world are idiosyncratic, as is their historical ecumenism, tolerance of religious differences, and religious hierarchy. There is a division of theology into exoteric (including the conservative Shariah) and esoteric (including the mystical exegesis of the Quran which leads to haqiqa, the ultimate realty). These beliefs and practices are veiled in secrecy and Ismaili place particular emphasis on taqiya meaning to shield or guard, the practice that permits the believer to deny publicly his Shia membership for self-protection, as long as he continues to believe and worship in private. Taqiya is permissible in most Shia, and some Sunni, sects.
Ismailis in Afghanistan are generally regarded with suspicion by other ethnic groups and for the most part their economic status is very poor. Although Ismaili in other areas such as the northern areas of Pakistan operate well-organized social welfare programs including schools, hospitals and cooperatives, little has been done among Afghan Ismaili communities.
Considered less zealous than other Afghan Muslims, Ismaili are seen to follow their leaders uncritically. The pir or leader of Afghan Ismailis comes from the Sayyid family of Kayan, located near Doshi, a small town at the northern foot of the Salang Pass, in western Baghlan Province. During the Soviet-Afghan War this family acquired considerable political power.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress