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After the collapse of the political and military power of the Ismailis in the Middle East, their literature virtually disappeared. The abolition of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt and, later, the subjugation of the Ismaili principality in Persia were followed by the dispersal and destruction of their libraries. The militant reassertion of orthodoxy led to the pursuit and suppression of heretical writings (see for example E. Strauss, "L'Inquisition dans l'etat mamlouk" in RSO, XXV, 1950,19), and it is not unlikely that the legend of Umar's destruction of the library at Alexandria, which first appears in the thirteenth century, was invented in order to provide a pious precedent for the burning of books. The Ismailis withdrew into cautious insignificance; their books vanished and were forgotten. Scholars in the Islamic lands, and later also in Europe, who wished to write about the Ismailis and their beliefs had to rely on citations, usually fragmentary, and refutations, usually ill- informed.
The modern rediscovery of Ismaili literature began in the early nineteenth century, when the French consul in Aleppo, J.L.B.J. Rousseau (1786-1831), made contact with the Ismailis in central Syria and acquired some of their books. He published a first account of the Syrian Ismailis and Nusayris in 1810, and followed it with other publications, including some extracts from an Ismaili religious book procured in Masyaf. This and other manuscripts of Syrian provenance received sporadic attention from Western scholars during the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century two new sources of information were added. The famous Ambrosiana library in Milan acquired several batches of Arabic Ismaili manuscripts from the Yemen, where adherents of the sect were--and still are--to be found. They were described by Eugenio Griffini in an article in ZDMG, LXIX, 1915. In St. Petersburg, the Asiatic Museum of the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences acquired two collection of Ismaili manuscripts, obtained among adherents of the sect in Russian-ruled Central Asia. These formed the basis of a number of studies, notably by A.A. Semyonov. Far more important than any of these was the gradual opening to scholarship of the Ismaili, especially the Bohra, collections in the Indian subcontinent. Both the Syrian and Central Asian writings emanated from different groups of followers of the so-called New Preaching, the reformed Ismaili da'wa, and told us little of the teachings of the sect before the great schism in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The same is true of the Indian Khojas or Aga Khani Ismailis. The Yemeni Ismailis, still following the Old Preaching, preserved some earlier material, dating back to Fatimid times; the Bohras of India have preserved a whole literature of Fatimid and perhaps even pre-Fatimid writings, most of it previously unknown to critical scholarship. Its discovery marks one of the major advances of our time in medieval Islamic studies.
Because of the secrecy with which the sectaries surrounded their beliefs, these books became known in a curiously indirect and even furtive way. Titles were given, texts analysed and even edited--but the provenance, ownership and location of the manuscripts were not mentioned. Scholars using this literature themselves formed a sort of da'wa, with an orally transmitted tradition and a pledge, if not of secrecy, at least of discretion. One group of manuscripts came into the possession of the School of Oriental Studies, and was described by Professor A.S. Tritton in BSOS, VII, 1, 1933, 33-9; for the rest, non-Ismaili scholars relied on loans, transcripts, and reports from private, often uncitable sources.
In 1957 Professor A.A. Fyzee, one of the pioneers and masters of modern Ismaili studies, presented his collection of Arabic manuscripts to the library of the University of Bombay, thus for the first time making a substantial body of Ismaili literature accessible to scholars in a public institution under academic auspices. In thus defying the rule of secrecy which he condemns as ‘wrong and outmoded', Professor Fyzee has carried Ismaili scholarship an important step forward on the road from satr to zuhur. This collection, consisting of 186 Ismaili and 23 other manuscripts, has now been catalogued by Dr. Goriawala. Where appropriate, he has given references to editions, studies, and published catalogues, to Brockelmann and Ivanow, and to a manuscript of the Ismaili bibliographical work, the Fihrist of Ismail b. "Abd al-Rasul (since published by 'Alinaqi Monzavi, Tehran, 1966). He has overlooked Griffini's article on the Ambrosiana manuscripts, and, more surprisingly, Professor 'Adil 'Awa's Ismaili chrestomathy (Muntakhabat Ismailiyya, Damascus, 1958) in which several of the texts listed are published for the first time. In general, Dr. Goriawala has done his work with skill, care, and accuracy, and deserves the gratitude of all students of Islam.
The historian of the Ismailis will be disappointed, but not surprised, to find that there are few works of historical content, and most of these already known. Much the same can be said of the recently published catalogue of Ismaili materials from Soviet Central Asia (A. Bertel's and M. Bakoyev,Alfavitnyy, kataloq rukopisey, obnaruzhennykh v Gorno-Badakhshanskoy Avtonommoy Oblasti Ekspeditsiyey 1959-1963 gg., Moscow, 1967). The basic difference between Sunni and Shi'i a attitudes to the recording and study of history deserves closer examination.
Some minor points: p. 12, n. 16: ed. Mustafa Ghalib, Beirut, 1965. p. 13, n. 17: analysed by W. Ivanow, Studies in early Persian Ismailism, second revised edition, Bombay, 1955, 61-86. p. 21, n. 32: partly translated into English by Jawad Muscati and A.M. Moulvi, Selections from Qazi Noaman's Kitab-ul-himma...., Karachi, 1950. p. 23, n. 35: excerpts in S.M. Stern, Byzantion, XX, 1950, 239-58; and Farhat Dachraoui, Hawliyyat al-Jami'a al-Tunusiyya, II, 1965, 27-35. p. 34, n. 46: ed. 'Awa, 3-85. p. 35, n. 48: French translation by Marius Canard, Vie de l'Ustadh Jaudhar, Publications de l'Institut d'Etudes Orientales de la Faculte des Lettres d'Alger, 11e Ser., Tom. XX, Algiers, 1958. p. 41, n. 53: new edition by Mustafa Ghalib, Beirut, 1967. p. 58, n. 66: selections translated into English by Jawad Muscati and A.M. Moulvi, Life and lectures of the Grand Missionary al-Muayyad-fid-Din al-Shirazi, Karachi, 1950. p. 64, n. 76: discussed by S.M. Stern, JRAS, 1950, 20-31; re-edited by Jamal al-Din al-Shayyal, Majmu'at al-watha'iq al-Fatimiyya, 1, Cairo, 1958, 203-47; ef. ibid., 47-70. p. 68, n. 80, (ii): excerpts in Lewis, Origins, 51-2 and 109, Ivanow, Rise, 35-9, of Arabic texts. p. 84, n. 101 (i): cf. Griffini, 86. p. 87, n. 102: ed. "Awa, 87-153. p. 117, n. 147: ed. "Awa, 155-250.
AREF TAMER (ed.): Textes pour l'etude de la pensee isma'ilienne. La Qasida safiya.--Taq al-'aqa'id wa ma'din al-fawa'id: 'Ali b. Muhammad al-Walid, da'i mutlaq des Isma'iliens du Yemen (m. 612/1215). (Recheres publiees sous la direction de l'Institut de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth. Ser. 1: Pensee Arabe et Musulmam, Tom. XXXVI, XXXVII.) Xxii, 99, [XX] pp. ; 11, 193 pp. Beyrouth: dar el-Machreq Editeurs (Imprimere Catholique), 1967. (Distributed by Librairie Orientale, Beyrouth).
Two Ismaili works are here presented. The qasida, containing 654 verses, deals among other things with al-tawhid, al-arm, al'ef, al-fa'al, al-nafs al-kulliyya, matter, nature, the elements, minerals, the human form, and from v. 202 onwards, with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad.Dr. Tamer had found an unsatisfactory manuscript at Masyaf in Syria, on a visit in 1956, but on a later visit in 1961 he found an excellent copy which he presents. here. The Author's name and date are unknown. Two useful introductions are provided, one in French which gives a brief account of the history of the Ismaili movement, its doctrine, the official doctrine of the Fatimids, esoteric doctrine, and the influence of Plotinus, and discusses varieties of Ismaili thought and later developments. Full explanatory notes are given with the poem. The shorter Arabic introduction is mainly occupied with explanations of technical terms in Ismaili philosophy, including references to the teaching of Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani (d. c. 408/1017).
The Taq is by the fifth da'i mutlaq in the Yemen, "Ali b. Muhammad al-Walid (612/1215), the text being compiled from the MSS all of Syrian origian with apparatus criticus. Ivanow has translated some chapters of the work in A creed of the Fatimids. The work consists of a short introduction and 100 chapters, or rather articles of belief, which the author says must be accepted by one who enters the madhhab. They include such matters as creation by God, the only God, who is without material form, and denial of the possibility of applying names or attributes to God who is limited by neither time nor space. Articles deal with angels, jinn, inspiration, prophets and commissioned agents (awsiya')). 'Ali was appointed Muhammad's wasi, a rank next to that of prophet. There can be only one but the imamate continus, the imams being descended from the Prophet, for the earth must have a prophet, a wasi, or an imam. as they hold the keys of knowledge, obedience to them is the way to salvation. The Qur'an contains all branches of religious knowledge expressed either clearly or in a manner a prophet can understand. Its teaching may therefore be understood through an imam which goes back to the Prophet's family. The imam has men in different parts of the world to spread his teaching. The true religion and faith are Shi'ism, following the Prophet's ????, obeying his command, imitating and adhering to his family. On the divine decrees the author wisely remarks that if man's actions and destiny were irrevocably determined there would be no point in sending prophets, or in the praise of good and the condemnation of evil in inspired books. Dr Tamer provide an introduction in both French and Arabic.
These two volumes are a welcome addition to the Ismaili texts which have been published in recent times. There are a number of printing errors, mainly affecting vowels, which should give no trouble to the reader. The editor has drawn attention to some unfortunate transpositions of words in the Qur'an quotations in the qasida volume. F.W. Zimmermann