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2. Ismaili Beliefs, Prayers and Practices

Majalis, Mandlis and the Rejection of Zakat in Ismailism

Zakat-my-zakat-2.5Like other pillars of Islam, zakat is rejected in Ismailism. Instead, the followers of Aga Khan are required to pay something called dasond (دسوند). Unlike in Islam, where zakat is paid yearly on savings at the rate of 2.5% per annum, dasond is paid to Aga Khan monthly on earnings at the rate of 12.5% – 25% per month depending upon the level of membership a Ismaili holds in the Jamat.

1. What is Dasond?

The word dasond is a derivation from das-ans or das-ant, which means “tenth part”. A contribution of 10% means dasond. To this, a share of 2.5% is added for the current pir (پیر). In Ismailism, the shah (شاہ), which means the current Imām, is responsible for collecting the 10% dasond while the current pir is responsible for collecting 2.5% of his share. The present Aga Khan claims to be both the shah, as well as the pir. Hence he collects both of these which comes to 12.5%.

Aga Khan III sent the following reply to a letter by Dr. Pir Mohammad Hoodbhoy, declaring that he held both the offices of the Shah and the pir.

16th October, 1954

My Dear Hoodbhoy,

In reply to your letter of 8th October, the colors of our family are, as you know, red and green, the reason being that we represent both the (offices of) shah and the peer.

The Shah was Hussein, the pir was Hasan. Hasan had the pir’s color of green, but Hussein’s martyrdom was so enormous in events and was so opposed to even the smallest laws of war that the color of his holy blood, namely red, was accepted with the green of the Prophet’s flag as a souvenir and remembrance of that terrible day.

Ismailis consider the Imām to be their spiritual father and pir to be their spiritual mother, even though both of them have historically always been male. As mentioned above in his official letter, Aga Khan III claimed both the positions of spiritual motherhood as well as spiritual fatherhood.

2. Dasond to be Paid Directly into Jamatkhana and Not as Charity to the Poor

It is general knowledge among Muslims that the eight permissible recepients of zakat are clearly spelled out in the Quran in Surah at-Taubah (The Repentance), Chapter 9, Verse 60 as follows:

إِنَّمَا الصَّدَقَاتُ لِلْفُقَرَاءِ وَالْمَسَاكِينِ وَالْعَامِلِينَ عَلَيْهَا وَالْمُؤَلَّفَةِ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَفِي الرِّقَابِ وَالْغَارِمِينَ وَفِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَابْنِ السَّبِيلِ ۖ فَرِيضَةً مِّنَ اللَّهِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ عَلِيمٌ حَكِيمٌ


Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed to collect [zakah] and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah . And Allah is Knowing and Wise.

Now let us see how vast is the difference is in Ismailism:

This summer, I had the pleasure of meeting an influential Ismaili social worker that  had just returned from his tour of India and Pakistan. He had one very important and valid question on his mind. Since I have lived in Pakistan, he imagined that I would be in a better position to answer his query or else elucidate on the subject. His question was in connection with the Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

One of the senior administrators of the Age Khan Hospital, who keeps on visiting continent after continent, collecting millions of dollars for the hospital project had informed the Jamat that in Pakistan, that the “Muslims” (a term used by Ismailis for non-Ismailis) are contributing their zakat to the hospital.

The question of the visitor was that if that was the case, then could he adjust his past donations to the Aga Khan Hospital against his future contributions of dasond? Alternatively, can he funnel his dasond money to the Aga Khan Hospital, in the future, or to any other lsmaili “Boarding School” (term used for Orphanages)?

He also mentioned that back home it was not difficult to collect cash under the table. In Canada, paying of the dasond in cash to mukhi (minister of the Aga Khan) without obtaining a receipt poses accounting problems. The amount contributed cannot be deducted as expenses on his income tax returns. Physical cash has to be withdrawn from a bank and handed over personally to the ministers of the Aga Khan in the Jamatkhanas every month. At times, there are long queues at the banks and also in the Jamatkhanas to submit the dasond money. Finally, there is a question of savings. Contributions paid to a registered institution having a tax exemption means a big saving in the income tax.

My response was that the senior administrator he had named was not only a roving ambassador but also a very highly paid kingpin at the Aga Khan Hospital. I had no reason to doubt the statement made by him in public or before the Jamat. If “Muslims” can regard their donations to the Hospital as Zakat, then Ismailis can offset their donations to the Hospital as dasond.

In principle, a Ismaili should be able to pay 2.5% to Aga Khan as the share of pir and the balance of 10% can be offset against his contributions as poor-dues to charitable hospitals and orphanages if he so chooses. However, this is not permissible in Ismailism and all dasond has to be paid directly into the Jamatkhana by every Ismaili.

3.  Dasond Rates and Mandli Memberships

Every Ismaili is supposed to pay 12.5% of his gross income as dasond. There are thousands of Ismailis in Canada who pay 25% of their gross income to Aga Khan. They pay this higher contribution because they are members of an exclusive mandli (group) called ‘Mubarak Mandli‘ or ‘One-fourth Mandli‘. They hold secret monthly meetings called “One-fourth Majlis” in Jamatkhanas throughout the world. They pay their dasond of 25% in their Majlis to the mukhis of their Mandlis and not to the mukhi of the Jamatkhana.

An Ismaili who is not a member of the ‘Mubarak Mandli’ cannot participate in their Majlis. Aga Khan gives members of the Mubarak mandli private audiences and makes special farmans. He also gives them special blessings. My wife was a member of a Mubarak Mandli. She paid 25% of her personal income, or pocket money received from me and also on the gifts and prizes received by her. My wife would not tell me the farmans made for ‘Mubarak Mandli‘. She had a book of ‘Private and Confidential Farmans’ for her group which I was not allowed to touch. I believe they consider Aga Khan as their “Partner” or vice verse. I am told there is a group above the Mubarak. The members of these groups, I am told, pay 33.3% of their income to Aga Khan. I have not met any member of this Mandli because they would not reveal their identity, nor would anyone confirm their existence.

On the other hand, I was a member of ‘Noorani Mandli’, of which my wife was not a member. I was not allowed to tell my wife what transpired in our Majlises nor what was revealed by Aga Khan to our private group of elite. To become a member of “Noorani” I had to pay a considerable sum, to the treasurer of Aga Khan, as an entrance fee. I was not issued a receipt for the amount tendered nor a membership card or a certificate. When I attended the first Majlis of my Noorani Mandli, I was surprised to see that practically every well-to-do Ismaili was in the group. Non-members – usually those who could not afford the entrance fees – were not allowed to participate in our Majlises. After the Majlis they were invited to help as volunteers, to serve our lunches and dinners. Every Ismaili is virtually segregated from another Ismaili, or a husband segregated from his wife and vice verse, based on memberships of these mandlis.

Before joining the ‘Noorani‘ I passed through half a dozen smaller segregated Groups or Mandlis; each having their own designated place in the community. After my joining the Noorani Mandli, I was told of a few other Mandlis that were above my group. I have no idea where this hierarchy of elite and super elite Ismailis come to an end. All I know is that the higher the Mandli, the higher the entrance fee and the more segregated you become. Aga Khan gives separate audiences to each Mandli and makes appropriate farmans. The more you pay the closer you are considered to be to Aga Khan. His farmans give you that sense of elevation. The names designated to these Mandlis also identify the class distinctions. Surprisingly, the only requisite for it is, how much you can afford to pay in “cash”. There are Mandlis which are equivalent to clubs of the recipients of “Purple Heart” or “Victoria Cross“. The Membership criteria is money. In other words money is the root of all elevations and distinctions.

4. Triple Taxation

From my personal experience I can say that an Ismaili bread-earner would pay 12.5% of his income to Aga Khan. He then would give his wife pocket money to buy her clothing and other needs. Then his wife would pay 25% of the pocket money, as her Mubarak Mandli dues to Aga Khan. Then, she would give her children a weekly allowance. Each child would pay 12.5% to Aga Khan out of his or her allowance.

I have often asked missionaries, “Why should the wife pay 25%, if the husband has already paid 12.5% prior to the payment of pocket money?” Since I was not a member of the Mubarak, it was not an appropriate subject for me to discuss, and missionaries are not allowed to discuss matters pertaining to “Mubarak” with non-members. A childhood friend of mine is a member of “Mubarak” and so is his wife. In their family, the rate of “triple Dasond” is 25% – 25% – 12.5%. That gives me some consolation that in my family the rate was 12.5 – 25% and 12.5%.

During the period of his Imamat, Aga Khan III had made very strict Farmans for Dasond. Some of his Farmans suggested that losses may occur by fire and sickness if Dasond was not paid in full, and also mentioned that without the Dasond there was no foundation for the religion. An Ismaili cannot attain “Noorani Deedar” (spiritual glimpse of Aga Khan) or make any progress in his esoteric meditation if he defaults in his payment of Dasond. On the other hand, contributors of Dasonds will be repaid here, and hereafter in the ratio of 1:125,000.

The present Aga Khan has not made any specific Farmans for Dasonds, but by the same token has not stopped collecting Dasond or has not stopped giving his “special blessings” to members of the Mubarak Mandli.

5. Dasond is Also Due to be Paid by Recipients of Charity

On the evening of February 8th 1970, Karim Aga Khan was sitting on a sofa in the Prayer Hall (Jamatkhana) of Muhammadi Girls’ Academy Karachi, with his shoes on. I was standing beside him with my shoes off and nearly 200 resident boarders of the Academy and staff members were sitting on the floor facing the Aga Khan. They all were reciting ‘Salwat’ with their hands clasped and raised.

After the usual ceremonies of Niaz, Memanis, Blessings and Farmans, Karim Aga Khan was about to get up from his sofa when the innocent young girls of the Academy, who were dressed in white, began crying. Tears started rolling down their tiny cheeks. The girls were seeking forgiveness, but for what? Aga Khan was surprised. He asked me what was the problem. I asked Mukhiyani the reason. She began talking to Aga Khan in her usual manner and language, which Aga Khan could not understand. She was speaking about ‘Dasond‘ and was pointing at her wrist. With a look of bewilderment, Karim Aga Khan – the one “who has the knowledge and authority of every thing” – asked me to explain what the Mukhiyani had related.

Before I continue further, I wish to inform you that the Ismailia Youth Services – a parent body of Muhammadi Girls’ Academy and Prince Aly Boys’ Academy had hired an Ismaili lady-missionary to teach Ismailism to the girls of the Academy. She was a member of special Mandli mentioned before. She had probably indoctrinated the girls about ‘Dasond’ to be paid from the charitable donations collected. I clarified before Karim Aga Khan that the girls of the Academy who were crying, had certain concepts about Dasond. Because the 12.5% Dasond was not being paid from donations collected, they felt that the food prepared from the money was not pure. Pointing to the veins on her hand the Mukhiyani tried to describe the fact that the blood produced from the food also was impure. Consequently the girls could not progress in their Bandgi‘ (meditation) every morning.

Thereupon, Aga Khan made a Farman to the girls which stated that any money received by him as Dasond is returned. If they paid the Dasond it will be paid back. This was not a simple Farman, to pay or not to pay the Dasond.

In the following meeting of the Ismailia Youth Services I was bombarded with questions. I was requested to strain my memory and repeat the Farman verbatim precisely, because it could be misinterpreted. Unfortunately, no other member of the Youth Services or of the Academy was present at that moment. I could not be precise as I did not make notes. During their two hours tour of boys’ and girls’ Academies, I must admit I answered dozens of questions and heard that many remarks, advises and jokes from their Highnesses.

The issue was delicate and concerned the fundamental aspects of Ismaili religion. The members could not come to a unanimous decision as to the paying of the Dasond , out of charity money. It was resolved that a guidance be sought from Aga Khan by writing a letter.

Aga Khan replied that the Ismaili Youth Services should pay a token amount, every month, in the Jamatkhana as a dasond. Now came the real problem, how to pay the Dasond in cash without any written acknowledgment of the payment? The treasurer would not release funds every month without a voucher because the auditors would not pass such withdrawals. The second question was about justifying to the donors the payment of dasond. Some of them were giving donations in lieu of the dasond  and they would not like their contributions channeled to the treasury of Aga Khan.

Finally, a member of the Youth Services agreed to pay the sum demanded by Aga Khan in the Jamatkhana every month, for a period of one year out of her pocket. Before the year was over I was nominated as President of the Council and had to relinquish my post with the Ismailia Youth Service and Muhammadi Girls’ Academy. I am not sure, but I believe that the farman of the Aga Khan to pay dasond, from the charitable donations, is still being diligently followed. The money continues to go from the pocket of the Youth Services or its members into the collection bag of the mukhi.

Today, the girls of the Academy who were crying must be grown and perhaps, they may be wondering was it necessary to pay “poor dues” (dasond) out of charity money? Was non-payment a reason for not gaining progress in their ‘bandgi‘? “Do we have to follow the teachings of our teachers, missionaries or parents, if they are teaching us or asking us to practice a belief that is sinful in the eyes of Allah?”

Allah mentions in Surah al-Ankabut (The Spider), Chapter 29, Verse 8:

وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حُسْنًا ۖ وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا ۚ إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ


And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.

The above is an improvised extract from Akberally Meherally’s Understanding Ismailism: A Unique Tariqa of Islam. Download the complete book from here for free.


About Akbar Khoja

Giving out free #LessonsInIsmailism.


3 thoughts on “Majalis, Mandlis and the Rejection of Zakat in Ismailism


  1. Pingback: Who are the Ismailis? | Inside Ismailism - August 11, 2015

  2. Pingback: Who are the Shia Ismaili Muslims: A Primer with Visual Charts | Answering Ismaili Gnosis | Rethinking Ismailism - April 23, 2016

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