This is a useful discussion regarding Sufism which has clearly been able to coexist with Islam from the beginning. Yet it is also quite clear to myself that this is all part of the long developed Hindu lineage of spiritual gurus that rolls back through the deep Bronze Age. That they found a way to survive Islam is instructive. It appears to have been an uneasy association.
"This practice of individual search for spiritual enlightenment is generally speaking part of the Shia tradition, but it is not exclusively part of the Shia tradition. There are groups historically within Sunni Islam who have also practised, and practise today the individual search for spiritual enlightenment. But in the Ismaili tradition, in the Ismaili Tariqah, this has been there for a long, long, long, time."
Whereas other tariqahs are not required to perpetuate their traditions, in Ismailism it is a doctrine.
Otherwise from a practical point of view, we are very similar having the same principles of personal search and the balance between the zaher and the Batin.
The post-Alamut period in Nizari Ismaili history comprises the first two centuries after the fall of Alamut (1090-1256) and the Anjundan revival from the mid-fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
After the fall of Alamut, the Imams remained in hiding for almost two centuries in order to avoid persecution and to safeguard the community; only a handful of trusted da’is had physical contact with the Imams. Imam Sham al-Din Muhammad for instance, was concealed under the nickname ‘Zarduz’ (embroiderer).*
Illuminated pages from Diwan of Hafiz, late 18th century. produced for the 44th Imam Sayyid Abu’l Hasan. (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Painting from India by Anis al-Hujjaj (1677-1680) shows departures from the port of Surat, Gujarat. (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Under the favourable conditions created by the adoption of Twelver Shi’ism as the state religion in Persia by the Safawids (r. 1501–1732), the Imams conducted the da’wa activities more openly, still under the guise of Sufism.
In the fifteenth century (1425-26), Imam Islam Shah may have been the first Nizari Imam to have settled in Anjundan, a city close to the Shi’i centres of learning of Qumm and Mahallat in Persia. This initiated the Anjundan period in Nizari Ismaili history. It was during the Imamat of Imam Ali Shah, better known as Mustansir bi’llah II who succeeded to the Imamat around 1463, that the Imams became firmly established in Anjundan reviving the da’wa and literary activites.
Mausoleum of Imam Mustansir bi’llah (Shah Qalandar) at Anjundan. (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
The Imams often added ‘Shah’ and ‘Ali’ to their names, similar to Sufi masters or took on Sufi names such as Imam Mustansir bi’llah II carried the name Shah Qalandar, the thirty-seventh Imam Khalil Allah was known as Dhu’l-Faqar Ali, Imam Nur al-Din Muhammad’s Sufi name was Abu Dharr Ali.
At an unknown date, Imam Shah Nizar (d, 1722) transferred his residence to the nearby village of Kahak, where the Imams maintained their residences for almost a century.
Due to the hazards encountered by the Ismailis who travelled from the Indian subcontinent to Persia, Imam Hasan Ali transferred his residence to Shahr-i Babak in the south-eastern province of Kirman. The Imam acquired extensive properties in the province, enabling him to administer the affairs of the community, and became actively involved in the affairs of the province.
Shrine of Ni’mat Allah Wali
The forty-fourth Imam, Abu’l-Hasan Ali, also known as Sayyid Abu’l Hasan Kahaki, was appointed to the governorship of Kirman around 1756 by Karim Khan Zand, founder of the Zand dynasty of Persia. The Imam developed close relations with the Ni’mat Allah Sufi tariqa, founded by Shah Ni’mat Allah Wali (d. 1431) who traced his Fatimid Alid genealogy to Muhammad b. Isma’il b. Ja’far al-Sadiq. This tariqa played a vital role in spreading Alid loyalism and Shi’i sentiments in pre-Safawid Persia. The work of Shah Ni’mat Allah, a prolific writer and a poet, has been have been preserved by the Ismailis of Central Asia;his mausoleum lies in Mahan in Persia.
Farhad Daftary, The Ismailis: Their history and doctrines, Cambridge University Press, 1990