ISCU team and Communications and Development team with Professor Zayn Kassam clicking a picture at the premiere of Islamic Heritage event

A short film from the Ismaili Special Collections Unit (ISCU) and Department of Communications and Development (DCD) premiered at the Aga Khan Centre in late April.

The film, Islamic Heritage Past and Present: Ismailis in History and Myth features IIS Director Emeritus Dr Farhad Daftary on the topic of myths perpetuated about Ismailis and how modern scholarship is able to challenge them due to manuscripts held in our collection.

During the event, the team shared insights into the production process behind the series, and the objective of reaching broader audiences to showcase the riches in the ISCU heritage collection. 

In the film, Dr Daftary invites the viewer to look on some of the historic manuscripts and rare printed books held by the ISCU including:

  • Denis Lebey de Batilly, Traicté de l’Origine des Anciens Assassins dated 1603 CE, the earliest independent book written on the Ismailis
  • A 1633 CE copy of Itinerarium Benjaminis authored by French Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, detailing his travels through Europe and west Asia from 1165-1173
  • A 1707 CE copy of the Haft bāb of Ḥasan-i Maḥmūd-i Kātib, an important literary work from the Nizari branch of Isma’ilism
  • A 1694 CE copy of the Dīwān-i Qāʾimiyyāt of Ḥasan-i Maḥmūd-i Kātib, a 13th century Ismaili poet

Some of the featured manuscripts were in the room for the audience to look at before and after the film and Q&A session. 

The event was introduced by Professor Zayn Kassam, IIS Director, who said: 

“A community that does not preserve its heritage is gradually lost in the mists of time. Without evidence that tells us how our forebears lived, what events shaped their lives, what issues animated their writings, what their deepest aspirations were, all our claims about who we are and the contributions we have made to Muslim life and Islamic thought are like houses built on sand.”

The Institute of Ismaili studies holds a significant repository related to the heritage of Ismaili communities and other Muslim traditions. These include nearly 3,000 manuscripts in Arabic, Persian, Indic, and other languages. The collection also holds coins, medals, and other historical artefacts, photographs and audio-visual materials, rare and special printed materials including periodicals and magazines.

Professor Kassam also noted that “One way the collection is brought to light is when scholars turn to manuscripts for their own research to shed light on the past. This series of videos shows the value of the collections held by the Institute and opens them up to a wide audience.”

Dr Wafi Momin, Head of the ISCU further observed that: “It is ten years since the creation of the Ismaili Special Collections Unit which was founded with a view to preserve, study and facilitate research on the heritage of the community. Ten years on, I think we can do more to disseminate the research work that we have done and continue to do.

“In this video series we want to bring the treasures, manuscripts and edited materials to life and to show what scholars have been working on. We aim to cover the breadth of our collections and show what they have to offer beyond just reading them. In this way we can show visually what the treasures are and why they are important to us.”

Islamic Heritage Past and Present: Ismailis in History and Myth with Dr Farhad Daftary

The first in a series of videos featuring scholars and the treasures of the Ismaili Special Collections Unit at the Institute of Ismaili Studies