The Ismailis consist of two main branches  the' Nizari Ismailis and the Musta'lian Tayyibi Ismailis. Both have their roots in the Fatimid period of Ismaili history and differ primarily over their respective belief in the Imamat. that is, spiritual leadership of the community.

The Nizari branch believes in a living, physically present Imam. Their present and forty-ninth Imam is Prince Karim Aga Khan. The Musta'lian Ismailis believe that their twenty-first Imam, al-Tayyib, went into physical concealment (satr) and that while the Imamat continues in his line, authority in his physical absence is exercised by a vicegerent, da'i mutlaq, who acts on his behalf. In their encounter with modernity therefore, the two communities reflect a different pattern of historical and institutional development.


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Professor Azim Nanji

Azim Nanji is currently Special Advisor to the Provost of the Aga Khan University, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Global Centre for Pluralism in Ottawa, a joint partnership between His Highness the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada. He has held many prestigious academic and administrative appointments, most recently as Senior Associate Director of the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies at Stanford University, where he was also lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies. From 1998 to 2008, Professor Nanji served as Director of the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.

Professor Nanji has published numerous books and articles on religion, Islam and Ismailism, including: The Nizari Ismaili Tradition (1976), The Muslim Almanac (1996), Mapping Islamic Studies (1997) and The Historical Atlas of Islam (with M. Ruthven) (2004) and The Dictionary of Islam (with Razia Nanji), Penguin 2008. In addition, he has contributed numerous shorter studies and articles in journals and collective volumes including The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Modern Islamic World, and A Companion to Ethics. He was the Associate Editor for the revised Second Edition of The Encyclopaedia of Religion.

Within the Aga Khan Development Network, he has served as a member of the task force for the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations (AKU-ISMC) and Vice Chair of the Madrasa-based Early Childhood Education Programme in East Africa. He served as a member of the Steering Committee of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998, 2001 and 2016.​​

Professor Zulfikar Hirji

Zulfikar Hirji is an Anthropologist and Social Historian of Muslim Societies and Cultures. He is currently Associate Professor of Anthropology at York University, Toronto. He was formerly a Research Associate at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, and Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford. 


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