Welcome to F.I.E.L.D.- the First Ismaili Electronic Library and Database.

D1. The Work : Contents

The doctrine which the author of the opuscule popounds is a very late and
advanced form of Ismailism. Taking the latter as it was towards the close of
the Fatimid Imamat, we can see how much Ismailism in Persia developed after
the Nizari-Musta'lian split (in 487/1094). The doctrine lost much of its
original learned theological finish and became filled with mystical elements.
All this is particularly noticeable in the rather unskilled presentation of its ideas
by the rustic author.

Such alterations have undoubtedly been introduced under the pressure of
various adverse historical, social, cultural, and even economical factors. Ever
since the Nizari-Musta'lian split, for something like 150 years, the Ismailis of
Persia were living in almost continuous state of war, defending their very
existence against the powerful Saljuq state and its successors. Ultimately
immence ruin was caused by the brutal Mongols, and general conditions were
made still worse by Timur with his worthy successors and later on by the
struggle which accompanied the rise of the Safawids. The suffering of the
poulation must have been indescribable. Small wonder that Ismaili literature,
probably not very rich initially, has almost entirely perished. It is really
astonishing in the circumstances that even after all these events their
community still possessed enthusiasts such as the author of the opuscule, who
were still writing books for the benefit of their coreligionists. Exactly for this
reason our text may be treated as particularly valuable, being a rare relic of that
important, and yet almost entirely unknown, process of religious evolution.
To the unprepared and unsophisticated reader the doctrine explained in the
treatise would appear strange, perhaps too mystical. Some beginners amongst
students, or uninformed enthusiasts, may at onve see in it the inevitable
"traces" of various alleged "influences." All this, on sober consideration, is
utterly futile. This doctrine is as legitimate a development of the basic
principles of Islam as any of the orthodox schools of Sunnism. The difference
is only constituted by the general direction of the process forced by the
combination of a different set of historical and general conditions. The
glittering diamond and a piece of coal are of the same substance despite their
difference in appearance; similarly, the same elements form both systems,
though it is often not easy to see this at once.

The basic doctrine of Islam is not only belief in the Divine revelation, but also
the mission of the Apostle of God. Both are inseparable, and the system
collapses if either of these is upset. We may well realise that the Sunnite
version of Islam, patronised by the rulers and ruling classes, developed that
mentality of "clan ownership" of religious knowledge, as it was, for instance, in
the theory of ownership of the state treasury by all the Muslims. This was due
not to any alleged "democratic" spirit, but to a relic of the tribal mentality. It
was probably this mentality which consistently opposed the perspective of the
rise of a priestly class, and even went to such extremities as to legalize the
ijma' and qiyas, i.e., the doctrine of the consensus of the enlightened opinion of
the society on religious matters as binding, or decisions based on analogy. The
representatives of this upper classs of the society sought for religious
knowledge in the study of the Coran and hadiths, and firmly believed in the
spiritual guidance of the Prophet, or of those who carefully studied his

Quite a different approach to the same problem of salvation and righteousness
of life has developed in the strata, or masses who had little chance to acquire
education, and who themselves felt the sad truth that the shari'at was no
protection against oppression and merciless exploitation. Their suffering made
them impatient, looking for a short cut to the attainment of human existence.
This was sought in the dreams of the ideal Alid theocracy which will "fill the
earth with equity and justice even as much as it has always been filled with
oppression and injustice". This depended on what was planned as the
movement for perfecting the shari'at by the wisdom which the Prophet
received from God, but, being unable to reveal it to the still unprepared
humanity, entrusted it for gradual release to Ali with his posterity.

The Imam, an Alid as the candidate for the post of such an ideal ruler, was
originally expected as a mighty warrior who would wrest the supreme
authority in Islam from the Abbasids, and introduce his ideal state. The
Fatimids, the only Alid dynasty with the necessary means, could not, for
various reasons, succeed in the fulfilment of these dreams. By the time of the
Nizari-Musta'lian split no illusion remained as to the futility of such political
aspirations, and the subsequent events, with the Mongol invasion, etc., made
this all too clear. An important metamorphosis then came to Ismailism. From
a religion with clearly defined social and political ideals it became the religion
of personal salvation. This rendered all former ideas, points of view,
organisation and outlook unsuitable to the new purposes. The Imam, deprived
of his earthly ballast, rose to heaven. Out of a mighty warrior descending from
the Prophet, and ideal ruler, but otherwise a man of flesh and blood, he became
an abstraction of the Divine Truth, of the Logos of all existence, a Divine
sunstance of the Divine Light hardly distinguishable from God Himself.

The Fatimid hierarchy of the hududu'd-din, i.e. different agents in one
complete system of the preparation of the future ideal theocracy, parts of a
smoothly working machine, became useless. Formerly the main function of
this hierarchy was propaganda, the preaching of the doctrine. In the new
conditions propaganda became impossible and almost aimless, the da'I with his
subordinates became obsolete. Instead of the whole hierarchy only one person
acquired paramount importance, namely, the hujjat whose significane the
author explains in detail.

This new theory of the hujjat, in fact, almost completely repeats the numerous
theories of the Imam as they were developed at the beginning of the Ismaili
movement. We may note that in the Fatimid hierarchy there were, as is known,
twelve hujjats each of whom was in charge of the propaganda in each of the
conventional twelve divisions (jazira) of the world.[1] All this, of course, was
purely conventional, and in reality their number probably was larger or smaller,
according to circumstances. Fatimid literature is remarkably reticent on the
subject of the functions of and all dtails concerning, the hujjat. Despite of long
search I have bot found as yet any satisfactory answer to the question as to
whether the Fatimid Hujjat was something like a bishop-resident in a province,
or like a minister at the court of the caliph, advising and assisting in matters of
the administration of such a province.

[1] On the meaning and the names of the jaziras see my "Rise of the Fatimids,"
Bombay, 1942, footnote on pp. 20-21.

In many sects with mystical or gnostic tendencies, later on taken over by
Sufism, this ancient idea survived and received further development. We can
see that the author clearly explains the hujjat as the "witness" of the Exalted
Position of the Imam (ff. 10v-11), introduced to absolve the Imam from giving
evidence in his own favour. In fact, both the Imam and hujjat are of the same
Divine origin, and it is only as a concession to the imperfection of human
nature that they appear as two.

This new version of the hujjat is merely a divinised Sufic pir. Only through him
one can attain the knowledge of the Imam and of God, because ordinary mortal
is obviously incapable of penetrating Divine mysteries. The proof of his own
genuineness is his "miraculous knowledge" (f. 11v). The Imam, whose
manifestation has a cosmic importance, and without whom the world cannot
exist, must be manifested in his real essence, but also can appear in disguise.
The hujjat, however, must always be what he really is (ff. 13v-14).

All this would be too mystical for early Ismailism with its sober and
rationalistic outlook, and we may safely treat this doctrine as an importation
from Sufism, incorporated under the pressure of historical conditions. The
Imams had to live in strict disguise and in mortal danger; this is why the ancient
theory of the hijab was, perhaps unconsciously, revived. The term hijab
actually occurs in the text (f. 2), though not in this sense: here the shariat is
the hijab of the Imam. Thus it is highly probable that the words that one can
recognise the Imam only through his hujjat could also have ordinary and direct
meaning, not mystical. Probably only the hujjat, as a close relative and
absolutely trusted person, knew the hiding place of the Imam and could really
point him out to followers who had a very rare chance of seeing him, and
knowing him personally.[1]

The author devotes all his attention to the spiritual or Divine nature of the
hujjat and his theory, but, unfortunately for us, he leaves unanswered many
pertinent questions which inevitably arise: was there only one hujjat at a time,
or several? Did every Imam appoint only one hujjat during the whole of his life
time, or a succession of them? Was it normal if there was no hujjat at certain
periods of time? Did he carry any administrative functions, and if so, which?
These, and many other questions in the same strain, are not touched upon here.
As mentioned in the Preface, the author's terminology bears striking
resemblance to the terminology used in the Rawdatu't-taslim, supposed to be
the work of Nasiru'd-din Tusi, and which, most probably, was the source of
the author's information. I hope to deal with this matter when analysing that
latter work. Now it will suffice if I add a few remarks on some expressions.

The old term hududu'd-din (ff. 3v, 6, 8v) is occasionally used, but a new term
is far more in use, tarattub, i.e. "order." The Badakshani Ismailis invariably
read it as tartib, "arrangement." The expression of ahl-I tarattub is much used,
and occasionally khawassan-I (obviously for khassan-I) tarattub, in the sense of
the dignitaries. This to some extent recalls an early term, of the beginning of
the fourth/tenth century, the ahlu'l-maratib (in Abu Hatim ar-Razi's Kitabu'l-islah).
If the idea of the hujjat being a "witness" of the Imam, i.e. the genuineness of
his claims, recalls the Ali-Ilahi doctrine, still more may this be said of the term
jama, which appears twice on f. 3v. This is neither Sufic nor Ismaili, if the
earlier doctrine is concerned. It probably came in use in Sufic circles during
the Safawid period, when the strong sub-current of Ali-Ilahi ideas spread all
over Persia. It is a Persian equivalent of the Turkish dun, or Arabic libas, used
in the same sense, i.e. the human, mortal "dress" of an incarnation, its dress of

These may be sufficient as preliminary notes on the contents. I would like to
address a request to every student who may care to make use of this text in his
work on Ismailism, not to forget the time factor, the date of the work from
which ideas or references are derived. I have seen so many instances where
nothing but utter confusion is created and good work rendered useless by
indiscrinately pulling out references from any source, any context, regardless of
the period to which it belongs, and the phase of evolution which it reflects.

Back to top