Who are the Ismaili Muslims, whose headquarters were attacked in Lisbon?

Who are the Ismaili Muslims, whose headquarters were attacked in Lisbon?

The news made headlines in the Portuguese-speaking press, a sign of the strong ties that unite Portugal and the Ismaili community. On Tuesday, March 28, an Afghan refugee entered the Ismaili World Headquarters in Lisbon, killing two women and injuring a third person. According to the authorities, the terrorist track is not envisaged, the aggressor – who took lessons within this center – presenting psychological disorders.

A branch of Shiism

Ismailism is a sub-division of the Shiite branch, itself a Muslim minority. Just like Twelver Shiism, the majority in Iran, Iraq or Azerbaijan, the Ismailis are part of the recognition of imams, considered in Shiism as descendants of Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and spiritual guides. Historically, the first recognize the first twelve imams, while the Ismailis stop at the seventh, Ismaïl ben Jafar (died around 762).

“Unlike the Twelver Shiites, the Ismailis are much less versed in orthopraxydescribes Amélie Chelly, researcher at the CNRS, specialist in Iran and author of the “Dictionary of Islamisms” (1). They are characterized more by a certain esotericism, a more spiritualizing vision of Islam, less entangled in the prohibitions of the rite. For example, more Ismailis will not structure their identity belonging to the fact of not drinking alcohol. »

This relative distancing from the rites that structure the life of a Muslim also earns them the antipathy of more rigorous branches. “For some Sunnis, calling a Muslim an Ismaili is an insultcontinues the researcher. And this because they deny the religious character of the Orthodox practice. »

Significance of Portugal

The Ismailis today represent 15 million faithful in the world. They constitute significant minorities, particularly in India and Pakistan. There are also some 8,000 of them in Portugal, for historical reasons. “After the Mozambican War of Independence (former Portuguese colony, editor’s note) in the late 1970s, many Ismailis of Indian origin migrated to Lisbon”specifies Amélie Chelly.

Since 2015, the Ismailis have established their headquarters in the Lisbon city, after an agreement with the Portuguese state. This text notably provides for tax advantages as well as diplomatic privileges for the Ismaili organization, in exchange for investments in scientific research and development. In 2019, the Aga Khan (the spiritual leader of the Ismailis), also obtained Portuguese nationality. After the attack, the Portuguese president and prime minister immediately showed their support for the Ismaili community, alongside the cardinal and patriarch of Lisbon, Manuel do Nascimento Clemente.

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