Isma'ilism is an offshoot of Shia Islam with roots dating back to the seventh century. The Ismailis have had moments of political and cultural prosperity since their beginnings as a minority group within Shi'a Islam, as well as times of persecution and hiding. They are recognized globally for their dedication to Islamic spiritual and ethical precepts, humanitarian work, education, and community well-being.
The seventh direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad through his son-in-law and cousin Ali, Imam Ismail, is revered by the Ismailis for his teachings. The Middle Eastern political and theological unrest of the 7th and 8th centuries significantly impacted Ismailism's early history. With the emergence of the Abbasid Caliphate, which had its capital in Baghdad and ruled the majority of the Islamic world, the Ismailis first arose as a distinct group.
The Ismaili leader Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi founded the Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa in the tenth century. For the Ismailis, this signaled the start of a time of political and cultural flourishing. The Fatimid Caliphate attracted scholars and intellectuals from around the Islamic world because it was known for its tolerance of other religions. Many important Ismaili books were written during this period, which saw Cairo, the capital city of the Fatimid dynasty, emerge as a hub of scholarship and culture. The Ismailis were compelled to flee and practice their religion in secrecy after the Fatimid Caliphate was overthrown in the 12th century. The birth of numerous sub-sects within the Ismaili community also occurred during this time, referred to as the "da'wa" or "missionary" phase of Ismailism.
The Ismailis were governed by Aga Khan I in the 19th century, who was instrumental in modernizing the community and advancing economic and educational advancement. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the current spiritual head of the Ismailis, has carried on this tradition of social and economic advancement, particularly in developing countries.
The Ismaili community has adherents in more than 25 nations, making it global. They are renowned for their dedication to community improvement, charity giving, and education and for emphasizing Islam's moral and spiritual principles.
It's also important to note that several kings, tribes, and nations have persecuted the Ismailis throughout history, especially in recent decades. Their identity, culture, and religious practices have been greatly influenced by their past experiences.