|Title||The metamorphosis of authority: a case study of the Aga Khan Development Network and the Ismaili Imamate|
This research is a study of modern developments of the institutions of the Nizārī Ismaili imamate during the time of the present Ismaili Imam, Shāh Karīm al-Ḥusaynī, Aga Khan IV, as the 49th hereditary living Imam of Shiʿi Nizārī Ismaili Muslims, particularly addressing the formation of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and the functions of the Community institutions.
Using the case study of the Aga Khan Development Network and the Nizārī Ismaili imamate, this research demonstrates that the three ideal types of authority as proposed by Weber, namely the traditional, charismatic and legal-bureaucratic types, are not sufficient to explain the dynamics of authority among Muslims. This is partly due to Weber’s belief in the uniqueness of Western civilisation, which is a product of his thesis on Protestant Ethics and partly because his ideal typical system does not work in the case of the Muslim societies. The Ismaili imamate with its multifarious institutions in contemporary times is the most suitable counter-example by which to powerfully demonstrate that Weberian models of authority fail to explain this phenomenon and it would indeed appear as a paradoxical institution if viewed with Weberian theses.
The Ismaili imamate in contemporary times represents a paradigm shift and a transmutation not only as regards the Weberian models but also when viewed from inside the tradition of Shiʿi Muslim history. This evolutionary leap forward, which has been crystallised over the course of the past half a century, in the Ismaili imamate suggests the development of a new form of authority which is unprecedented. There are clearly various elements in this form of authority which could be discerned as rooted in tradition and history; however the distinctive elements of this new form of authority give it a defining and exciting dimension.
There are several qualities which are peculiar to the contemporary condition of the Ismaili imamate and its style of leadership which are distinctive. Most importantly, while some central features, like succession by way of designation (naṣṣ) has not changed, there is one overarching quality which can best capture all these elements and that is the transmutation of the Ismaili imamate from the person of the Imam into the office of imamate and thus we are now facing the institutionalisation of the imamate and the office being the embodiment of the authority of the Imam. I have described this new development as a metamorphosis of the authority because it gives an entirely new form and content to the previously familiar concept of authority in the Shiʿi Ismaili Muslim tradition.