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Ismaili Ideas in the Egyptian Poetry of the Fatimid Period - Review

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Publication Type  Book Review
Year of Publication  Submitted
Authors  Ivanow, Wladimir.
Original Authors  M. Kamil HUSSEIN
Key Words  English; Full Text Online
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Recently two diwans, some complete poems, and various works of Fatimid Da'is have become accessible to students. In the light of the new finds we can penetrate the secret of the Ismaili doctrine which exercises far reaching influence upon the intellectual life in Islam during the period of time between the 1Vth and the V1th centuries A.H.

The point which we have to emphasise in the perusal of the new finds is the existence of a theory which we may call "al-mathal wal-mamthul". It underlies the system of the allegorical interpretation (ta'wil ul-batin). It is this theory that serves as a key to the correct understanding of the peculiarities of the Fatimid poetry in Egypt.

Briefly, this theory is based on the idea that God created the heavens and earth with all the creations, physical and spiritual, for the purpose that men should know them. There are many verses in the Qur'an which are often quoted as referring to this. The Da' is tried to reveal to their disciples the inner meaning of everything in the world, spiritual as well as physical, in a system of parallelism with the principles of the religious doctrine which they preached. The theory of the harmonious parallelism between the system of religion and the principles on which the created world is based, traced both in the sphere of the physical world perceptible by the senses as well as in the sphere of abstract and imaginable truths, is what we may treat as the doctrine of the mathal wal-mamthul.Ismaili authors of all periods undoubtly attached cardinal importance to it. Such speculations of the Da'is are based on the ideas of the Neo-Platonic philosophy. They, however, have islamised it, interpreting it in the terms derived from the Islamic theology, and quoting a profusion of the verses of the Qur'an and Hadiths in its support.

The doctrine of the hudud is probably the most important section of the Ismaili philosophy in which the theory of the mathal wal-mamthul plays a part. This doctrine is the Islamised theory of the stages of emanations of Plotinus. As a parallel to these Higher Hudud, there are also five lower Hudud, which are: the Prophet, on his mission, or the Imam, then the Wasi or Hujjat, the Da'is. Everyone of the Lower Hudud can be the bearer of the same epithets as the corresponding Hadd amongst the Higher ones.

If we understand this theory, we can explain the poetry of the Fatimid period, especially the poems in which the Imams were glorified by the poets Ibn Hani', al-Iskandarani, Amir Tamim, al-Mo'ayyad, al-Akhfash, al-Sharif Ibn Anas ad-dawlat, Omarat al-Jamani and others. There may have been poets in other Islamic countries of their time who also were influenced by the same Ismaili doctrine. Perhaps al-Ma'arry was one of these poets. The same may be possible true in application to the Sufic works of various periods.

M. W. IVANOW (Bombay)

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