As different Isma’ilism is from more traditional Muslim practices, there’s still a healthy amount of overlap between the two. There’s the overlap (obviously) in the underlying beliefs: the shahada, but there’s also an overlap with some of the celebrations; two of which are known as Breaking Festival and Sacrifice Festival. These celebrations also share in their practices between Ismaili and other Muslim communities.
In 2017, I was fortunate enough to attend the Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn for Breaking Festival, along with my friend. Although I didn’t understand the Turkish sermons before and after the prayers, the Arabic prayers were almost exactly the same as they were the same day in the Isma’ili Jamatkhana. And I’ll outline that prayer below.
Normally, Isma’ilis recite the Du’a on a daily basis. However, during these two festivals, Isma’ilis join the greater Muslim community to recite a different prayer known as salah (صلاة in Arabic), or namaz (نَماز in Persian). Like the Du’a, namaz consists of multiple different types of prayer such as praise and supplication.
The prayer starts with takbir (from the arabic root k-b-r, meaning great, big, important, etc) which consists of the repeated phrase “God is Great” (Allahu Akbar الله أكبر in Arabic). Then, faith in God is declared with the first part of the Declaration: there is no god, but God (la ilaha ill Allah لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا ٱلله in Arabic). Finally, God is praised for guidance bestowed. This whole stanza is recited three times at the beginning of the prayer.
After opening the prayer, the recitor announces their intention (niyat نیّت in Arabic) for the prayer. The rest of the prayer involves prescribed recitations and movements, the collection of which is known as a rak’ah (ركعة in Arabic). The Isma’ili Namaz consists of two raka’at, while other Muslim prayers consist of between two and four raka’at. The recitor announces their intention of offering two raka’at for either the Breaking Festival or the Sacrifice Festival.
The Breaking Festival (Eid alFitr عيد الفطر in Arabic) marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims spend Ramadan in spiritual reflection and fasting. Just as each daily fast is broken (iftar in Arabic, from the same root as alFitr), the month’s fast is also broken with this celebration.
The Sacrifice Festival (Eid alAdha عيد الأضحى in Arabic) takes place on the 10th of Pilgrimage Month and commemorates the story of Abraham who, when asked to sacrifice what was most important to him, attempted to sacrifice his own son.
The Opening Chapter
The prayer itself begins with the first chapter of the Qur’an. As discussed earlier, not only is this a requirement of Muslim prayers, but symbolically represents the entirety of the the Qur’an. This passage also reiterates a sentiment from the introduction of the Namaz: the importance of Divine guidance.
The Sincerity Chapter
This chapter is also recited in the Isma’ili Du’a. This is one of the defining chapters of the Qur’an, explaining the oneness of God. This is also an expansion of the Declaration, as recited in the introduction to the Isma’ili Namaz.
While standing, the congregation raises their arms and asks for Divine mercy during life, as well as protection from Hell. This is one of the only times in Isma’ili prayers that Hell is actually mentioned, using the words “torment of Fire” (adhaab anNar عَذَابَ النَّارِ in Arabic). The recitor further expresses their humilty, and continues to ask for Mercy on this festival. Then there’s praises of the Divine’s bounty and magnificence, and God is glorified as the lord of the seven heavens and seven earths (and everything in between).
In the first rakah, this prayer is recited five times, in the second it is recited four times.
An action not found in other Isma’ili prayers is bowing (ruku رُكوع in Arabic). Not to be confused with prostration, this is where the body is bent in half and the hands are placed on the knees. Like prostration however, this posture is meant to emphasize humilty. While bowed, the recitor glorifies God, and asks for Divine mercy for the Prophet Muhammad. Then the recitor stands upright, asserting that God hears prayers.
While placing their face on the ground, the recitor calls out the same glorification as when bowing. But when they sit up, they ask for forgiveness using a tasbih we discussed earlier. Then, the congregation returns to prostration and glorifies God for a third time.
In the first rakah, the congregation then stands up and starts the second rakah: a repitition of the first one, starting at the Opening Chapter. In the second rakah, the congregation remains seated and proceeds to
Then the congregation reaffirms their faith, declaring that there is no diety, except God, and that the Prophet Muhammad is God’s messenger. Then, they ask for Divine mercy on both the Prophet and the Imams.
Afterwards, the congregation turns to their right and then left, praying for the peace of the people sitting next to them, and by extention the whole congregation.
The prayer concludes, as does Isma’ilis’ secondary prayers, with a final declaration of faith, including affirmation of monotheism, as well as the position of prophethood and Imamat.