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Isma'ili History

Mediaeval Isma'ili History and Thought by Farhad Daftary (Cambridge University Press) Until recently the Isma'ilis, a major Shi'i Muslim community, were studied and judged almost exclusively on the basis of the hostile accounts of their Muslim enemies and the fanciful tales of the Crusaders and other occidental sources. As a result, numerous misconceptions and legends were disseminated about the teachings and practices of the Isma'ids, made famous in European tradition as the Assassins. In the 1930s, however, authentic Isma'ili texts began to be recovered on a large scale from private collections in the Yemen, Syria, Iran, Central Asia and India which threw new light on mediaeval Isma'ili history and thought. This collective volume, the first major effort of its kind in this branch of Islamic studies, brings together some of the original results of modern scholarship in the area, written by leading contemporary authorities as well as some distinguished Islamists.

The chapters in the book, covering selected themes and developments related to the pre‑Fatimid, Fatimid and Nizari phases of Isma'ili history, deal with a wide variety of topics ranging from the Qarmatis of Bahrayn and their relations with the Fatimids, the earliest cosmological doctrine of the Isma'ilis, the traditions of learning and the development of jurisprudence under the Fatimids, to the Isma'ili perceptions of the `other', the origins of the Nizari Isma'ili movement, Saljuq perspectives on the early Nizaris, a new perspective on Nasir al‑Din al‑Tusis religious affiliations, and the ginanic literary tradition of the Isma'ili Khojas of the Indian subcontinent. As a significant contribution to modern Isma'ili studies, this book serves to underline the richness of the Isma'hs' literary heritage and the diversity of their religio‑political experience and intellectual traditions.

Contents: Preface Note on transliteration and abbreviations Notes on the contributors 1 Introduction: Isma'ilis and Isma'ili studies FARHAD DAFTARY PART I THE CLASSICAL PHASE 2 The Fatimids and the Qarmatis of Bahrayn WILFERD MADELUNG 3 The cosmology of the pre-Fatimid Isma'iliyya HEINZ HALM 4 Abu Ya qub al-Sijistani and the seven faculties of the Intellect WILFERD MADELUNG 5 The Isma'ili oath of allegiance ('ahd) and the 'sessions of wisdom' (majalis al-hikma) in Fatimid times HEINZ HALM 6 Al-Qadi al-Nu'man and Isma'ili jurisprudence ISMAIL K. POONAWALA 7 A critique of Paul Casanova's dating of the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-Safa' ABBAS HAMDANI 8 Portraits of self and others: Isma'ili perspectives on the history of religions AZIM A. NANJI 9 An Isma'ili version of the heresiography of the seventy-two erring sects PAUL E. WALKER PART II THE NIZARI PHASE 10 Hasan-i Sabbah and the origins of the Nizari Isma'ili movement FARHAD DAFTARY 11 The power struggle between the saljuqs and the Isma'ilis of Alamut, 487-518/1094-1124: The Saljuq perspective CAROLE HILLENBRAND 12 The Isma'ilis of Quhistan and the Maliks of Nimruz or Sistan C. EDMUND BOSWORTH 13 The philospher/vizier: Khwaja Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and the Isma'ilis HAMID DABASHI 14 'Sometimes by the sword, sometimes by the dagger': The role of the Isma'ilis in Mamluk-Mongol relations in the 8th/14th century CHARLES MELVILLE 15 The Isma'ili ginans: Reflections on authority and authorship ALI S. ASANI 16 The Nuqtawi movement of Mahmud Pisikhani and his Persian cycle of mystical-materialism ABBAS AMANAT Bibliography Index

Excerpt: Modern scholarship in Isma'ili studies promises to continue unabated as the Isma`ilis themselves are becoming interested in studying their literary heritage and as the Institute of Ismaili Studies founded in London under the patronage of H. H. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the forty‑ninth present imam of the Nizari Isma`fiis, is preparing to make its own contribution to the field through its diverse programmes of research and publications, including its Ismaili Heritage Series. It is also noteworthy that the Institute's collection of some 1,000 Isma`ili manuscripts in Arabic, Persian and Khojki, including the bulk of the collections formerly in the possession of the Ismaili Society of Bombay and the Ismailia Association of Pakistan, representing the largest collection of its kind in the West, is readily accessible to both Isma`ili and non‑Isma'ili scholars and researchers.

This volume aims to make available to students, scholars, and Isma`ilis themselves, some of the scattered results of modern scholarship in Isma`ili studies on aspects of mediaeval Isma'ili history and thought, especially on those themes or topics which have not received sufficient attention in contemporary scholarly literature. The leading chapter in Part I, devoted to the pre‑Fatimid and the classical Fatimid periods in Ismaili history, was originally published in German in 1959. Here Professor Wilferd Madelung offers a somewhat updated English version of his earlier article, a landmark in modern Ismaili studies and a major contribution to our understanding of early Isma`ilism in general and the relations between the Qarmatis of Bahrayn and the Fatimids in particular. The Sunni heresiographers, polemicists, and historians had propagated the idea that the Qarmatis of Bahrayn, notorious for their pillaging and anti‑Islamic activities, were in collusion with the Fatimids, an idea that was reaffirmed by de Goeje and other scholars in modern times. In this classical study, which is still also the best modern survey of the relevant sources, Madelung shows that the leaders of the Qarmati state of Bahrayn could not have acted under orders from the Fatimids. The important findings of this study, published some thirty‑five years ago, attest to the meticulous scholarship of Professor Madelung. In his second contribution, contained in chapter 4, Professor Madelung briefly deals with the more technical topic of the Intellect (al `aql) in Isma'ili thought on the basis of a major work by al‑Sijistani. In particular, he shows how the defective conditions of some Isma'ili manuscripts could lead to erroneous interpretations of their subject matter.

More than any other modern scholar, Professor Heinz Halm has studied the earliest cosmological doctrine of the Isma'ilis. He has in fact reconstructed this doctrine on the basis of fragmentary evidence preserved in later sources, devoting an entire monograph in German to the subject. In chapter 3, Professor Halm presents for the first time in the English language a summary of his study of this particular cosmology, which was later superseded by an Isma'ili Neoplatonic one. In chapter 5, Halm takes up an entirely new field of investigation. Initiation into Isma`ilsm was a favourite subject matter for anti‑Isma`ili authors who produced imaginative travesties showing how the neophyte would be led by Isma'ili dais through several stages of initiation until he reached the final stage of unbelief and atheism. In this chapter, the first scholarly treatment of the subject, Professor Halm investigates the actual initiation process of the Isma'ili adepts, using a variety of lsma'ili and non‑Isma`ili sources. He also presents the evidence for the more advanced education programmes of the Isma'ilis in Fatimid times, especially the Ismaili lectures known as the `sessions of wisdom'.

In chapter 6, Professor Ismail K. Poonawala takes up the subject of Ismaili legal thought and explains how Isma`ili law became codified almost exclusively through the efforts of al‑Qadl al‑Nu`man, the foremost jurist of the early Fatimid times. He discusses the chronological sequence of al‑Nu'man's legal compendia, published and unpublished, and examines both the main sources of Isma'ili law and its agreements and disagreements with other schools of jurisprudence.

Much controversy has surrounded the questions of the authorship and the date of composition of the Rasd'il Ikhwdn al Safa', frequently translated as the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity. The French orientalist Paul Casanova (1861-­1926), who produced some valuable studies on the Isma`ilis, was the first western scholar to have recognized, in 1898, the Isma'iIi origin of the Epistles. Using an astrological prediction contained in the Epistles, Casanova also tried to date this encyclopedic work, concluding that it was compiled shortly before 439/1047. In chapter 7, Professor Abbas Hamdani, who has published several important articles on the subject, refutes Casanova's dating on the basis of internal evidence contained in the Epistles and other relevant information.

Chapters 8 and 9 investigate how the Isma`ilis perceived the `other' during the early Fatimid times. The Isma`ilis, in fine with their cyclical view of the sacred history of mankind, in fact, made interesting attempts to accommodate the major religions known to them, such as Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism, in their gnostic system of thought. Professor Azim Nanji presents selected evidence, drawn particularly from the Rasa' il Ikhwan al Safa' and the writings of certain Isma'ili thinkers, which would define an Isma`ili perspective on the history of religions, reflecting above all the pluralistic and non‑dogmatic approaches of the Isma`ilis towards other religions. Dr Paul Walker, in a complementary study, introduces the only known Isma`ili heresiography on Muslim sects, which has been discovered only recently. This work, called Kitab al‑shajara, was produced by an obscure Khurasaril da i, Abu Tammam, who flourished in the first half of the 4th/ioth century. As a follower of the da`a al‑Nasafi, Abu Tammam probably belonged to the dissident branch of Isma'ilism. In contrast with other Muslim heresiographers, Abu Tammam seems to have been more concerned with understanding and explaining sectarian differences than with refuting and condemning the `other'; his descriptions of several sects are, in fact, unique. As a result, his book promises to be highly valuable for the study of Muslim `sects' and the heresiographical tradition about them.

The mediaeval phase of Nizari Isma'ili history, especially its Alamut period, provides the focus of Part Il, which opens with a study of the origins of Nizarl Isma'ilism. Adopting a somewhat novel approach to this subject, and instead of treating the Nizari Isma'ii movement merely as a schismatic movement, chapter io investigates the complex circumstances leading to the anti‑Saljuq revolt of the Persian Isma'ilis under the leadership of Hasan‑i Sabbah, who played a key role also in the establishment of the independent Nizari da'wa and state. In particular, an attempt is made to identify the Isma'ili and the `Iranian' roots of this revolt, also tracing these roots to earlier religio‑political and social traditions of protest. This chapter also looks at certain political and doctrinal developments during the initial decades of the Nizari history which proved crucial for the survival of the Nizari community and state under highly adverse circumstances of the early Alamut period. In a complementary study in chapter 11, Dr Carole Hillenbrand looks at the Saljuq's attitudes and conduct towards the Isma'ilis of Alamuit during the same period of Hasan‑i Sabbah's leadership. Examining closely the relevant historiographical evidence, including especially the reports of the general chroniclers such as Ibn al‑Athlr and Ibn al‑Jawzi, she also draws attention to some hitherto unknown anti­Isma'ih biases of these sources in connection with their reporting of particular Saljuq‑Isma'ili encounters.

Quhistan (Persian, Kuhistan) in southeastern Khurasan, was the second most important territory, after Rudbar in Daylam, of the Nizarl Isma'ili state in Persia during the Alamut period. The Nizaris of Quhistan possessed the authority of a local chief, called muhtasham, who was appointed from Alamau but enjoyed a great deal of local initiative in managing the affairs of the community there. From early on, these muhtashams were confronted with the hostile reactions of the Saljuqs and other rulers of Khurasan and adjacent regions, who could not tolerate the success of the Nizari Isma'ilia in their midst. Drawing on his vast knowledge of Khurasan and Sistan or Nlmruz in eastern Persia, and their regional Persian chronicles, Professor Edmund Bosworth presents in chapter 12 an overview of the encounters between the Quhistani Nizaris and their ruling neighbours to the south, the Nasrid Maliks of Sistan and their successors, during the Alamut period.

Nasir al‑Din al‑Tdsi's religious affiliation and the circumstances of his long stay in the Nizari Ismaili strongholds of Persia have been subjects of different interpretations throughout centuries. The same issues have been debated in the contemporary writings on this controversial Muslim philosopher, theologian, and astronomer. While al‑Tusi s modern Ithna'ashafi biographers generally contend that he was kept amongst the Isma'ilis against his will, others reject thus view and further argue that in fact he converted to Isma'ilism voluntarily during that same period. In chapter 13, Professor Hamid Dabashi takes a fresh look at these issues. Arguing that too much emphasis on the `sectarian' affiliations of major intellectual and political figures of mediaeval times only distorts the complexity of their characters, he examines al‑Tusi's character and his Isma'ili connection from the perspective of a philosopher/vizier, simultaneously concerned with matters of knowledge/power or philosophy/politics, and as such representing an important mode in Persian political culture.

In chapter 14, Dr Charles Melville examines the curious reports of the Sunni chroniclers concerning the Mamluk employment of ftda'is or fidawis in the wider context of Mamluk‑Mongol relations during the early decades of the 8th/14th century. More specifically, he analyzes the detailed reports on how the Mamluk sultan on numerous occasions despatched fidawis to Mongol Persia for the assassination of a Mamluk defector there. Doubtless, assassins, and probably professional ones, were sent on these missions. However, the term fidawi linked so closely with the Nizaris of earlier times, seems to have been used rather loosely in the Mamluk sources in the sense of a `murderer', rather than an `Isma'ili fidawi By that time, the Syrian Nizaris no longer had any fiddwis, and the Mamluk sultan could have recruited such fidawis from anywhere. It is also possible, however, that the Syrian Nizaris were forced on occasion to supply individuals for the missions in question. That the chroniclers evidently identify the Syrian Nizari Isma'ili community of the Mamluk times as the sole source of supply for the sultan's would‑be `assassins' clearly attests to the durability of the legends and hostile rumours regarding the practices of the Nizari Isma'ilia of the Alamut period.

In chapter is, Professor Ali Asani re‑examines the traditional views on the `authorship' of the ginans, the devotional poems that enjoy a `sacred' status within the Nizari Isma'ili Khoja community. The ginans as it is well‑known, contain instructions on a range of themes and topics related to religious obligations, moral issues, and the spiritual quest of the soul. The authorships of the ginans, which were initially transmitted orally for several centuries, are attributed by the Khoja tradition to a few early missionaries or pirs who converted the Hindus to Isma'ili Islam on the Indian subcontinent. In this thought‑provoking essay, Professor Asani discusses the complex issues stemming from the traditional interpretation of the `authorship' of theginans, including the significance of their bhanitas or signature‑verses, and demonstrates that a better understanding of this subject requires a new approach that would allow for a clear distinction between `authority', in the sense of invoking someone's seal of approval for a work, and `authorship', his actual authoring of that work in the modern sense of the term.

The final chapter 16, contributed by Professor Abbas Amanat, stands apart from other studies in this volume. It deals with the Nuqtawiyya, an obscure esoteric sect that emerged as a significant religio‑political movement in Safawid Persia and, later, briefly enjoyed some eminence in Mughal India. The Nuqtawiyya, as well as their parent sect of the Hurufiyya, cannot be regarded as part of the spectrum of Isma'ili communities. Mahmud Pisikhani (or Pasikhani), the founder of the Nuqtawi sect who died around 831/1427‑1428, in fact claimed to have founded a new religion. However, the Hurufis and the Nuqtawis did belong to those esoteric and mystic movements of post‑Mongol Persia which were influenced by Isma`ilsm. Indeed, Ivanow cited the Nuqtawiyya among the post‑Mongol sectarian movements influenced by Isma`ilsm. But the matter has been barely investigated by modern scholars, mainly because Nuqtawi writings have not survived. As the first scholarly attempt of its kind, Professor Amanat has pieced together in this chapter a good deal of information on the ideas propagated by Mahmud Pisikhani. His study demonstrates that the central Nuqtawi doctrines, such as its materialist type of metempsychosis, were fundamentally at variance with Isma'ili teachings. There is also the crucial matter of Mahmud's `un‑Islamic' claim to prophethood, not to mention the fact that the Nuqtawis did not uphold the Shi'i doctrine of the imamate so central to Isma`ilism. However, Isma`ili antecedents may be detected in the Nuqtawi cyclical view of time and hierohistory. The Nuqtawis also relied heavily on esoteric (batini) exegesis which had found its fullest elaboration among the Isma'ilis.


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