Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān

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QĀĪ AL-NUʿMĀN . Abū anīfah al-Nuʿmān ibn Muammad ibn Manūr ibn Amad ibn ayyūn al-Tamīmī (d. ah 363/974 ce), generally called al-Qāī al-Nuʿmān, was the most eminent exponent of Fāimid jurisprudence and an official historian of the Fāimids. His works, all written in Arabic, cover various other subjects, including Qurʾanic exegesis (taʾwīl) and religious etiquette. He entered the service of the first Fāimid caliph, al-Mahdī (r. 909934), in about 924 in Ifrīqiyah (present-day Tunisia and eastern Algeria) and served the first four caliphs of the Fāimid dynasty in various capacities for almost fifty years until his death.

On the eve of the advent of the Fāimids, Ismāʿīlī jurisprudence had not yet developed, while the Muslim population of Ifrīqiyah mostly belonged to two recognized Sunnī schools of jurisprudence: the school of Mālik ibn Anas (d. 796), followed by the popular majority, and the school of Abū anīfah (d. 767), which was usually favored by the deposed Aghlabid dynasty. The new rulers introduced the application of Ismāʿīlī ritual and law in some specific matters, and sought to win adherents. Among those who readily joined the Ismāʿīlī cause were members of old established Shīʿī families, who were not a recognized community in Ifrīqiyah, as well as anafī scholars deprived of patronage. Among the few Mālikī scholars of al-Qayrawān (Kairouan) to embrace the Ismāʿīlī faith was al-Nuʿmān's father, and it is most likely that al-Nuʿmān was brought up as an Ismāʿīlī. Already in his youth he was assiduous in collecting and transcribing books. At al-Mahdī's suggestion, al-Nuʿmān undertook the collection and classification of a vast number of legal traditions (adīth s) narrated on the authority of the family of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt ). This endeavor resulted in his voluminous first work, entitled Kitāb al-Īā (The book of elucidation), of which only a small fragment has survived. Fortunately, some of his several abridgments of the work, including an easy-to-memorize versified version composed during the reign of the second Fāimid caliph, al-Qāʾim (r. 934946), have survived. These, as well as his subsequent works on jurisprudence, represent a development of his thought towards consolidating the legal practices with a view to the codification of Ismāʿīlī jurisprudence.

In his several polemical works refuting the principles and methods adopted by the Sunnī schools of jurisprudence and their founders, al-Nuʿmān established as authorities of jurisprudence, apart from the Qurʾān and the sunnah, the rulings of the imām s from the family of the Prophet, including the reigning imām. In one of the earliest Fāimid treatises on the imamate, entitled al-Urjūzah al-mukhtārah (The exquisite poem), composed during the reign al-Qāʾim, he defended the rights of the Fāimids to the imamate, supreme leadership of the Muslim community. This legitimist doctrine was seriously challenged by the Khārijīs, who comprised the indigenous Berbers. Their rebellion challenged the Fāimid state during the last two years of al-Qāʾim's reign and the early part of the reign of his successor, al-Manūr (r. 946953). After crushing the rebellion, al-Manūr founded, near al-Qayrawān, his new residential town al-Manūrīyah to mark his victory. The caliph summoned al-Nuʿmān from Tripoli, where he had appointed him as a judge shortly after his accession to the caliphate, and invested him with the judgeship of al-Manūrīyah, al-Mahdīyah, al-Qayrawān, as well as all the other towns and provinces of Ifrīqiyah.

Al-Nuʿmān reached the height of his career during the reign of al-Muʿizz (r. 953975), when he was invested with absolute judicial authority to investigate complaints brought before him from the subjects. He was also authorized to hold sessions of wisdom (majālis al-ikma ) in the royal palace to instruct the congregation in the Ismāʿīlī religious doctrines. Under the close supervision of the caliph he composed his Daʿāʾim al-Islām (The Pillars of Islam), which represents a culmination of more than thirty years of effort to codify Fāimid jurisprudence. It was proclaimed as the official code of the Fāimid state, and continues to be the greatest source of authority on medieval Ismāʿīlī law up to the present day.

Al-Nuʿmān is also rightly regarded as the founder of Fāimid historiography. His major historical work, Iftitā al-daʿwah (The commencement of the mission), completed during the reign of al-Muʿizz, relates in detail the exploits of the Ismāʿīlī mission (daʿwah ), first in Yemen and then in Ifrīqiyah among the Kutāma Berbers, which eventually succeeded in establishing a long-awaited Shīʿī state under the supreme authority of a hereditary imām from the ahl al-bayt. It remains the most important primary source for the history of that period and was used by subsequent chroniclers as a reference.

When al-Muʿizz moved to Egypt in 973 after the Fāimid conquest of that country, al-Nuʿmān, together with members of his family, accompanied the caliph. Fāimid law, as codified by al-Nuʿmān, began to be applied and taught in Egypt. He continued to serve al-Muʿizz and died in Cairo on March 27 of the following year. His sons and grandsons continued to teach his works and serve the Fāimids in the judiciary for nearly half a century.


Madelung, Wilferd. "The Sources of Ismāʿīlī Law." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 35 (1976): 2940. Reprinted in his Religious Schools and Sects in Medieval Islam. London, 1985. Article XVIII.

Nanji, Azim. "An Ismāʿīlī Theory of Walāyah in the Daʿāʾim al-Islam of Qāī al-Nuʿmān." In Essays on Islamic Civilization Presented to Niyazi Berkes, edited by Donald P. Little, pp. 260273. Leiden, 1976.

al-Nuʿmān ibn Muammad, al-Qāī Abū anīfah. Daʿāʾim al-Islām. Translated by Asaf A. A. Fyzee. Completely revised and annotated by Ismail Kurban Husein Poonawala as The Pillars of Islam. New Delhi, 2002.

Poonawala, Ismail K. Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature. Malibu, Calif., 1977. On pages 5168, Poonawala gives a complete list of al-Nuʿmān's works, including those attributed to him, numbering sixty-two works.

Poonawala, Ismail K. "Al-Qāī al-Nuʿmān and Ismaʿili Jurisprudence." In Mediaeval Ismaʿili History and Thought, edited by Farhad Daftary, pp. 117143. Cambridge, U.K., 1996.

Hamid Haji (2005)