“The term lakab (pl. alkab) was also termed nabaz (pl. anbaz), and by form labaz, and later on it became lakab. The ancient Arabs excelled in inventing nasty alkab for their enemies, but the Koran (49:11) forbade them not to use pejorative sobriquets: “Do not scoff at each other or give each other derisory nicknames” (wala talmizu anfusakum wala tanabazu bi ‘l-alkab).
The lakab tended to be transmogrified into higher roles within Islamic society. Most significantly for the development of Islamic culture, the lakab developed from being a nickname of praise or admiration. It is invested to a person to distinguish him from others who bear the same name. It is an honorific (tashrifi) or for the purpose of identification (tarif).
Different alkab are seen to have been given to the prophets according to the Koran. Adam as Safiullah (chosen by God), Abraham as Khalil Allah (God’s friend), Ismael as Dhabih Allah (sacrificed for God), Joseph as Kan’an (the beauty), Moses as Kalim Allah (one who talks with God), Jonah as Dhu ‘l-Nun (man in the fish), Jesus as Ruhullah (God’s soul) etc.
The Prophet is reported to have conferred different ecclesiastical alkab to his Companions, the most striking one were the titles of Sayyid al-Shuhada and Asad Allah that were given to his uncle, Hamza b. Abdul Muttalib. Abu al-Haitham Malik b. al-Tayhan used to fight with two swords in hands, the Prophet gave him the title of Dhu al-Sayfayn (the holder of two swords). Amr b. Abd b. Nadlah was granted the title of Dhu al-Yadayn and Dhu al-Shahadatayn to Khuzaymah b. Thabit. On day, the Prophet, while in the course of searching, saw Ali bin Abu Talib in a mosque asleep in the dust and cover over with it. So he said to him in a bantering way, “Arise, O’ the father of dust” and thus, the Abu Turab (father of dust) became his nickname.
A lakab could also be bestowed posthumously, just as the Prophet called Hanzala, who was killed in the battle of Uhad, ghasil al-mala’ika (one who is washed by the angels). Jafar, the son of Abu Talib bore the title, at-tayyar (the flying one) because after his hands and feet had been cut off, he flew.
The Fatimids not only retained the tradition, but also created new titles. Jafr bin Mansur al-Yamen was the first to be invested the title of Bab al-Abwab by Imam al-Muizz, and Imam al-Mustansir billah also honoured same title to Muayyad fid-din Shirazi in 450/1058. Before leaving for Cairo, Imam al-Muizz appointed Buluggin bin Ziri as the governor of Maghrib in 361/972 with an honorific title of Abul Futuh Yousuf. A standard formula for their vizirs in the Fatimids Caliphate was al-wazir al-Ajall (most exalted vizir) awarded to Yaqub b. Killis by Imam al-Aziz in 367/977. Amin al-Milla for Abu Muhammad bin Ammar. Saif ad-Dawla for Yusuf Buluggin in 361/972 and similar titles for Badis and al-Muizz bin Badis. Imam al-Aziz gave the command of the Fatimid army to Manjutagin in 381/991 in an operation with the title of Amir al-Juyush al-Mansura (Commander of the victorious armies). In 406/1016, Imam al-Hakim granted the title of Asad ad-Dawla (Lion of the State) to Saleh bin Mirdas and Mubarak ad-Dawla (Blessed of the State) to Fath. The title of Murtada ‘l Dawa was given to Mansur b. Lulu of Aleppo in 399/1008. The title of Qutb ad-Dawla (Magnate of the State) was awarded to Ali bin Ralah in 404/1013, and Aziz ad-Dawla to Fatik in 407/1017. Imam al-Mustansir billah granted the title of Sharaf ad-Dawla to al-Ka’id the Hammadids in 433/1041. Hamiduddin Kirmani carried the title of Hujjat al-Iraqin (Sign of Iraq and western Iran). An individual feature of Fatimid titulaure for their vizirs was the use of compound titles, e.g. Safi Amir al-Mu’minin wa Khalisatuhu for Abul Kassim Ahmad Jarjarai. Mustapha Amir al-Mu’minin for Abu Mansur Sadaka bin Yusuf al-Fallah. In 447/1050, the vizir Abu Muhammad al-Hasan al-Yazuri enjoyed the titles of al-Wazir al-Ajall al-Awhad al-Makin, Sayyid al-Wuzara wa Taj al-Asfiya wa Qadi ‘l-Qudat wa Dai ‘l-Duat, Alam al-Madd, Khalisat Amir al-Mu’minin to which were later added al-Nasir li’l-Din, Ghiyath al-Muslimin. The ensemble denoting the wide extent of his powers, not merely as vizir but also as chief qadi and chief da’i. Hussain bin Jawhar was in 390/1000 honored by Imam al-Hakim, receiving a robe of honour with the title of Qaid al-Quwwad (supreme commander). Imam al-Mustansir billah granted Badr al-Jamali the triple title of Amir al-Juyush (Commander of the army), Badi al-Duat (Director of the missionaries) and Vizir (Chief Minister).
During post-Alamut period, the title of Varas and Rai were to be invested to the Indian pilgrims in Iran. The title of Darwish was in operative till the time of Imam Shah Khalilullah, and most of them belonged to the Sind. It must be noted that some Ismailis of district Thatta were the title holders of Darwish, and then joined Sunnism who are still known as the Daras. It is said that Varas A’asar, a well-known religion teacher in War, district Thatta was the first in Sind to be invested the title of Darwish.
The title Saif ad-Dawla being granted by the Fatimid Imams was also once applied by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah. He honored this title to his first estate agent for Syria, called Amir Ismail bin Muhammad in 1890.
The Imam conferred to the title of Major to Mukhi Lalji Bhai Devraj in Poona on January 7, 1911. Muhammad Ali Hakimji was given the title of a Shahid in Rangoon on February 10, 1914, Missionary Khuda Bux Talib on December 15, 1925 and Alijah Kassim Budhwani acquired the status of a Shahid in Dhoraji, India on February 10, 1939. The Imam also said for Missionary Master Talkeshi Lawji, “He died while working for the Recreation Club, therefore, he became a Syed. One who dies for the Recreation Club is considered as a Syed.” (Bombay: 27.3.1922).
On April 29, 1920, Itmadi Sabzali was invested the title of Tuti’i Bagh-i Bahisht (The parrot of the garden of paradise). The Imam spoke of Sunderji Kuraji at Bombay on February 20, 1928 that he was the foundation, the tree of religion as well as the soul, light and a hawari in Ismailism. Missionary Varas Isa was honored the title of a flag of the noor on December 31, 1933 at Bombay. Varas Muhammad Remu was declared a member of Ahl al-Bayt in Karachi on November 26, 1938 in the same manner as Varas Basaria and Varas Rahim already were declared members of Ahl al-Bayt. On December 14, 1938, Itmadi Sabzali was told by the Imam as the hujjat of the jamat as well as the alamdar (standard bearer) of the haqiqi momins. Wazir Jafar Ali Bhalwani had been given the title of Honorary Missionary in 1956 in Bombay. Missionary Hussaini Pir Muhammad was given the title of Chief Missionary. Mukhi Jamal Megji was honored the title of Bodh Kamadia in 1900. During the tragic accident of Yeotmal Jamatkhana in India on August 20, 1963, the Present Imam had given the title of Shahid to the 113 Ismailis who lost their lives through a telegraphic message of September 12, 1963.
The Koranic term (20:29) wazir is derived from wizr meaning burden. It literally means one who bears burdens, and helper or aider. It is generally meant as a minister. Besides, the term varas is a title equivalent to the wazir. Khatau, Ismail Gangaji, Tharia Topan and Ghulu were the earliest title holders of the Wazir in the time of Imam Hasan Ali Shah. In Sind, the first title holder of Varas was A’sar of War in district Thatta in the time of Imam Aga Ali Shah.
The present classification of the titles to enumerate the long devoted services of the Ismaili individuals are as under:-
1) Dewan: (lit. a high officer in state)
The highest title of honour being invested so far to Muhammad I.M. Rawji in India and Count Sir Eboo Pir Bhai.
In East Africa, the title of Count is higher than Varas. The word count is derived from Latin comes (pl.
comites), which means companion, resembling graft in Germany, earl in English and sahaba in Arabia. This title created in East Africa in 1936.
3) Wazir or Varas:
It may be noted that the highest among the regular titles in the African community is “Count” and next comes “Varas” and so on. The title of Wazir (chief minister) of the Imam was a high rank, including a broad scope of the responsibilities.
Soon after the very existence of the Ismaili Councils in 1906, the chief ministry of the community was assigned to leaders in the different districts, and for them the title of Varas had been created in each district. The word Varas means one who administers one’s affairs. Hence, each Varas administers as the treasurer of the Imam.
Following the death of Wazir Ismail Gangaji, the title of Wazir ranked in the same status of a Varas. When the range of the Ismaili Councils extended in each province, the functions of the Varas began to be centered with the newly created office of Kul Kamadia in each province. Henceforward, the title of Wazir/Varas came to be given to any prominent persons in the community provided he possessed already the title of Itmadi. It may also be noted that the title of Varas was also invested to Mir Suleman of Salamia, Syria and Shaikh Abdullah Murtaza of Khwabi, Syria. Atalaq Sarfraz Khan, the minister of Chitral was also granted title of Varas.
In the category of this title, the following two unique title of honour has been created:-
a) Chief Wazir : Conferred to Kamadia Kassim Ali Hasan Ali Javeri in India in 1946.
b) Huzur Varas : Conferred to Ali Muhammad Macklai, Bombay and Dr. Ghulam Ali Allana, Karachi.
4) Itmadi : Lit. worthy of confidence or reliable.
5) Rai : roving officer
6) Alijah : man of high rank or dignity.
7) Huzur Mukhi : mukhi of holy presence.
8) Huzur Kamadia : kamadia of holy presence.
Besides the above regular titles, the Imam is reported to have bestowed the following special status in the community:-
1. Pir : Wazir Ismail Gangaji and Itmadi Sabzali Ramzan Ali were honored this status.
2. Shahid : Missionary Khuda Bux Talib, Kassim Budhwani and Muhammad Ali Bhai Hakimji of Rangoon, and some others were given this status.
3. Dai : Abdul Sultan Pir Bhai was given this status.
It must be known that the robes of honour (khilat) were graciously presented by the Imam to the title holders. It was thereafter given to the Alijah, and now to the Itmadi and onwards.