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Shiism: Ismāʿīlīyah


A major branch of the Shīʿah, the Ismāʿīlīyah traces the line of imams through Ismāʿīl, son of Imam Jaʿfar al-ādiq (d. ah 148/765 ce). Ismāʿīl was initially designated by Jaʿfar as his successor but predeceased him. Some of Jaʿfar's followers who considered the designation irreversible either denied the death of Ismāʿīl or accepted Ismāʿīl's son Muammad as the rightful imam after Jaʿfar.

The Pre-Fatimid Age

The communal and doctrinal history of the Ismaʿilīyah in this period poses major problems that are still unresolved for lack of reliable sources. The Muslim heresiographers mostly speak of two Ismāʿīlī groups after the death of Imam Jaʿfar: The "pure Ismāʿīlīyah" held that Ismāʿīl had not died and would return as the Qāʾim (mahdī), while the Mubārakīyah recognized Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl as their imam. According to the heresiographers, al-Mubārak was the name of their chief, a freedman of Ismāʿīl. It seems, however, that the name (meaning "the blessed"), was applied to Ismāʿīl by his followers, and thus the name Mubārakīyah must at first have referred to them. After the death of Jaʿfar most of them evidently accepted Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl as their imam in the absence of Ismāʿīl. Twelver Shīʿī reports attribute a major role among the early backers of Ismāʿīl to the Khaābīyah, the followers of the extremist Shīʿī heresiarch Abū al-Khaāb (d. 755?). Whatever the reliability of such reports, later Ismāʿīlī teaching generally shows few traces of Khaābī doctrine and repudiates Abū al-Khaāb. An eccentric work reflecting a Khaābī tradition, the Umm al-kitāb (Mother of the book) transmitted by the Ismāʿīlīyah of Badakhshān, is clearly a late adaptation of non-Ismāʿīlī material.

Nothing is known about the fate of these Ismāʿīlī splinter sects arising in Kufa in Iraq on the death of Imam Jaʿfar, and it can be surmised that they were numerically insignificant. But about a hundred years later, after the middle of the third century ah (ninth century ce), the Ismāʿīlīyah reappeared in history, now as a well-organized, secret revolutionary movement with an elaborate doctrinal system spread by missionaries called dāʿī s ("summoners") throughout much of the Islamic world. The movement was centrally directed, at first apparently from Ahwaz in southwestern Iran. Recognizing Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl as its imām, it held that he had disappeared and would return in the near future as the Qāʾim to fill the world with justice.

Early doctrines

The religious doctrine of this period, which is largely reconstructed from later Ismāʿīlī sources and anti-Ismāʿīlī accounts, distinguished between the outer, exoteric (āhir ) and the inner, esoteric (bātīn ) aspects of religion. Because of this belief in a bātīn aspect, fundamental also to most later Ismāʿīlī thought, the Ismāʿīlīyah were often called Bātīnīyah, a name that sometimes has a wider application, however. The āhir aspect consists of the apparent, directly accessible meaning of the scriptures brought by the prophets and the religious laws contained in them; it differs in each scripture. The bātīn consists of the esoteric, unchangeable truths (aqāʾīq ) hidden in all scriptures and laws behind the apparent sense and revealed by the method of esoteric interpretation called taʾwīl, which often relied on qabbalistic manipulation of the mystical significance of letters and their numerical equivalents. The esoteric truths embody a gnostic cosmology and a cyclical, yet teleological history of revelation.

The supreme God is the Absolute One, who is beyond cognizance. Through his intention (irādah ) and will (mashīʾah ) he created a light which he addressed with the Qurʾanic creative imperative, kun ("Be!"), consisting of the letters kāf and nūn. Through duplication, the first, preceding (sābiq ) principle, Kūnī ("be," fem.) proceeded from them and in turn was ordered by God to create the second, following (tālī) principle, Qadar ("measure, decree"). Kūnī represented the female principle and Qadar, the male; together they were comprised of seven letters (the short vowels of Qadar are not considered letters in Arabic), which were called the seven higher letters (urūf ʿulwīyah ) and were interpreted as the archetypes of the seven messenger prophets and their scriptures. In the spiritual world, Kūnī created seven cherubs (karūbīyah ) and Qadar, on Kuni's order, twelve spiritual ranks (udūd rūānīyah ). Another six ranks emanated from Kūnī when she initially failed to recognize the existence of the creator above her. The fact that these six originated without her will through the power of the creator then moved her to recognize him with the testimony that "There is no god but God," and to deny her own divinity. Three of these ranks were above her and three below; among the latter was Iblīs, who refused Kunī's order to submit to Qadar, the heavenly Adam, and thus became the chief devil. Kūnī and Qadar also formed a pentad together with three spiritual forces, Jadd, Fat, and Khayāl, which were often identified with the archangels Jibrāʾīl, Mīkhāʾīl, and Isrāfīl and mediated between the spiritual world and the religious hierarchy in the physical world.

The lower, physical world was created through the mediation of Kūnī and Qadar, with the ranks of the religious teaching hierarchy corresponding closely to the ranks of the higher, spiritual world. The history of revelation proceeded through seven prophetic eras or cycles, each inaugurated by a speaker (nāiq ) prophet bringing a fresh divine message. The first six speaker-prophets, Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muammad, were each succeeded by a legatee (waī) or silent one (āmit) who revealed the esoteric meaning hidden in their messages. Each legatee was succeeded by seven imams, the last of whom would rise in rank to become the speaker of the next cycle and bring a new scripture and law abrogating the previous one. In the era of Muammad, ʿAlī was the legatee and Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl the seventh imam. Upon his return Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl would become the seventh speaker prophet and abrogate the law of Islam. His divine message would not entail a new law, however, but consist in the full revelation of the previously hidden esoteric truths. As the eschatological Qāʾim and mahdī, he would rule the world and consummate it. During his absence, the teaching hierarchy was headed by twelve ujjah s residing in the twelve provinces (jazāʾir ). Below them were several ranks of dāʿī s. The number and names of these ranks given in early Ismāʿīlī texts vary widely and reflect speculative concerns rather than the actual organization of the hierarchy, about which little is known for either the pre-Fatimid or Fatimid age. Before the advent of the Qāʾim, the teaching of the esoteric truths must be kept secret. The neophyte had to swear an oath of initiation vowing strict secrecy and to pay a fee. Initiation was clearly gradual, but there is no evidence of a number of strictly defined grades; the accounts of anti-Ismāʿīlī sources that name and describe seven or nine such grades leading to the final stage of pure atheism and libertinism deserve no credit.

Emergence of the movement

The sudden appearance of a widespread, centrally organized Ismāʿīlī movement with an elaborate doctrine after the middle of the ninth century suggests that its founder was active at that time. The Sunnī anti-Ismāʿīlī polemicists of the following century name as this founder one ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymūn al-Qaddā. They describe his father, Maymūn al-Qaddā, as a Bardesanian who became a follower of Abū al-Khaāb and founded an extremist sect called the Maymūnīyah. According to this account, ʿAbd Allāh conspired to subvert Islam from the inside by pretending to be a Shīʿī working on behalf of Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl. He founded the movement in the latter's name with its seven grades of initiation leading to atheism and sent his dāʿī s abroad. At first he was active near Ahwāz and later moved to Basra and to Salāmīyah in Syria; the later leaders of the movement and the Fatimid caliphs were his descendants. This story is obviously anachronistic in placing ʿAbd Allāh's activity over a century later than that of his father. Moreover, Twelver Shīʿī sources mention Maymūn al-Qaddā and his son ʿAbd Allāh as faithful companions of Imams Muammad al-Bāqir (d. 735?) and Jaʿfar al-ādiq respectively. They do not suggest that either of them was inclined to extremism. It is thus unlikely that ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymūn played any role in the original Ismāʿīlī sect and impossible that he is the founder of the ninth-century movement. The Sunnī polemicists' story about ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymūn is, however, based on Ismāʿīlī sources. At least some early Ismāʿīlī communities believed that the leaders of the movement including the first Fatimid caliph, al-Mahdī, were not ʿAlids but descendants of Maymūn al-Qaddā. The Fatimids tried to counter such beliefs by maintaining that their ʿAlid ancestors had used names such as al-Mubarak, Maymūn, and Saʿīd in order to hide their identity. While such a use of cover names is not implausible, it does not explain how Maymūn, allegedly the cover name of Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl, could have become identified with Maymūn al-Qaddā. It has, on the other hand, been suggested that some descendants of ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymūn may have played a leading part in the ninth-century movement. The matter evidently cannot be resolved at present. It is certain, however, that the leaders of the movement, the ancestors of the Fatimids, claimed neither descent from Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl nor the status of imams, even among their closest dāʿī s, but described themselves as ujjah s of the absent imam Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl.

The esoteric doctrine of the movement was of a distinctly gnostic nature. Many structural elements, themes, and concepts have parallels in various earlier gnostic systems, although no specific sources or models can be discerned. Rather, the basic system gives the impression of an entirely fresh, essentially Islamic and Shīʿī adaptation of various widespread gnostic motives. Clearly without foundation are the assertions of the anti-Ismāʿīlī polemicists and heresiographers that the Ismāʿīlīyah was derived from various dualist religions, such as Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Bardesanism, Mazdakism, and the Khurramdīnīyah.

The movement was rent by a schism about 899 after ʿAbd Allāh (ʿUbayd Allāh), the future Fatimid caliph al-Mahdī, succeeded to the leadership. Repudiating the belief in the imamate of Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl and his return as the mahdī, al-Mahdī claimed the imamate for himself. He explained to the dāʿī s that his predecessors in the leadership had been legitimate imams but had concealed their rank and identity out of caution. They were descendants of Imam Jaʿfar's son ʿAbd Allāh, who had been the rightful successor to the imamate rather than Ismāʿīl; the names of Ismāʿīl and his son Muammad had merely been used to cover up their identity as the imams.

This apparently radical change of doctrine was not accepted by some of the leading dāʿī s. In the region of Kufa, amdān Qarma and ʿAbdan broke with al-Mahdī and discontinued their missionary activity. Qarma's followers were called the Qarāmiah, and the name was often extended to other communities that broke with the Fatimid leadership, and sometimes to the Ismāʿīlīyah in general; it will be used here for those Ismāʿīlīyah who did not recognize the Fatimid imamate. ʿAbdān was the first author of the movement's books. He was murdered by a dāʿī initially loyal to al-Mahdī, and amdan Qarma disappeared. On the west coast of the Persian Gulf, the dāʿī Abū Saʿid al-Jannabi followed the lead of Qarma and ʿAbdan, who had invested him with his mission. He had already seized a number of towns, including al-Qaīf and al-Asā, and had thus laid the foundation of the Qarmaī state of Bahrein. Other communities that repudiated al-Mahdī's claim to the imamate were in the region of Rayy in northwestern Iran, in Khorasan, and in Transoxiana. Most prominent among the dāʿī s who remained loyal to al-Mahdī was Ibn awshab, known as Manūr al-Yaman, the senior missionary in the Yemen. He had brought the region of Jabal Maswar under his control, while his younger colleague and rival, ʿAlī ibn al-Fal, was active in the Bilād Yāfiʿ further southwest. The dāʿī Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shīʿī, whom Manūr al-Yaman had sent to the Kutāmah Berber tribe in the mountains of eastern Algeria, and probably also the dāʿī al-Haytham, whom he had dispatched to Sind, remained loyal to al-Mahdī. Some of the Ismāʿīlīyah in Khorasan also accepted his claim to the imamate. Residing at this time in Salāmīyah, al-Mahdī then left for Egypt together with his son, the later caliph al-Qāʾim, as his safety was threatened because of the disaffection of the leading Syrian dāʿī. At first he intended to proclaim himself as the mahdī in the Yemen. Increasing doubts about the loyalty of ʿAlī ibn al-Fal, who later openly defected, seem to have influenced his decision to go to the Maghreb, where Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Shīʿī, having overthrown the Aghlabids and seized Tunisia, proclaimed him caliph and mahdī in 910.

The Fatimid Age (9101171)

With the establishment of the Fatimid countercaliphate, the Ismāʿīlī challenge to Sunnī Islam reached its peak and provoked a vehement political and intellectual reaction. The Ismāʿīlīyah came to be condemned by orthodox theologians as the archheresy of Islam. The Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah was weakened by serious splits, first that of the Qarāmiah and later those of the Druzes, the Nizārīyah, and the ayyibīyah.

The Qarāmiah

The Ismāʿīlī communities that repudiated the claim of the Fatimid al-Mahdī to the imamate were initially left without united leadership and in doctrinal disarray. Soon after the rise of the Fatimid caliphate they recovered some organizational and doctrinal unity on the basis of a reaffirmation of the belief in the imamate of Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl and in his expected return as the Qāʾim. This belief was also espoused by the Transoxianan dāʿī Muammad ibn Ah-mad al-Nasafī in his Kitāb al-maūl (Book of the yield), which gained wide authority among the Qarmaī Ismāʿīlīyah. The book itself is lost, but numerous quotations from it and discussions in later works attest to its importance and make it possible to reconstruct its contents. Al-Nasafī introduced in it a Neoplatonic cosmology that superseded and partly replaced the earlier cosmolgy and became basic to much of Ismāʿīlī esoteric doctrine throughout the Fatimid age.

In this cosmology Kūnī and Qadar were replaced by the Neoplatonic Universal Intellect and Soul. God, who is beyond any attribute and name and even beyond being and non-being, has originated (abdaʿa ) the Intellect through his divine order or volition (amr ). The Intellect is described as the first originated being (al-mubdaʿ al-awwal) since the amr has become united with it in existence. The Universal Soul emanated from the Intellect, and from the Soul in turn issued the seven spheres of the heavens with their stars. These spheres revolve with the Soul's movement, producing the mixture of the four single naturesdryness, humidity, cold, and warmthto form the composites of earth, water, air, and ether. Out of the mingling of the composites arise the plants with a vegetative soul, which in turn give rise to the animals endowed with a sensitive soul. Out of the animal realm arises the human being with a rational soul that seeks to ascend through the spiritual hierarchy and to rejoin its origin in the Intellect.

Proclamation of the mahdī

The dāʿī of Rayy, Abū Hatim al-Rāzī (d. 934), claimed superior authority among the Qarmaī dāʿī s as the lieutenant of the absent imām. He succeeded in converting a number of powerful men in the region, sent his dāʿī s throughout northwestern Iran, and maintained a correspondance with Abū āhir al-Jannābī, who had succeeded his father, Abū Saʿīd, in the leadership of the Qarmaī state in Bahrein. The Qarmaī dāʿī s were at this time predicting the advent of the mahdī after the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the year 928, an occurrence that they believed would bring the era of Islam to an end and usher in the seventh and final era. As the date approached, Abū āhir carried out daring attacks ever farther into southern Iraq and finally threatened the Abbasid capital of Baghdad itself. In 930 he sacked Mecca during the pilgrimage season, slaughtered pilgrims and inhabitants, and carried off the Black Stone of the Kaʿbah as a sign for the end of the era of Islam. In 932 he proclaimed a young Persian from Isfahan as the expected mahdī.

Events now took a different course than had commonly been predicted by the Ismāʿīlīyah for the coming of the mahdī. According to the erudite expert of the chronology of nations, al-Bīrūnī (d. 1050?), the date was chosen to coincide with the passing of fifteen hundred years after Zoroaster, the end of the year 1242 of the era of Alexander, for which prophecies ascribed to Zoroaster and Jāmāsp had predicted the restoration of the reign of the Magians. The Persian was said to be a Magian and a descendant of the Persian kings. His hometown of Isfahan had long been associated by the astrologers with the rise of a Persian dynasty which would conquer the Arab caliphate. The Persian is reported to have ordered the worship of fire and the cursing of all the prophets and to have licensed the most outrageous abominations. After the Persian put some Qarmaī leaders to death, Abū āhir felt compelled to kill him and to avow that he had been duped by an impostor.

The significance of this episode must be judged with caution. The Persian, anti-Arab aspect was evidently a spontaneous development among the leaders of the Qarmaī community of Bahrein. It does not confirm the assertions of the Sunnī polemicists that the Ismāʿīlī movement originated in an anti-Islamic and anti-Arab plot of Persian dualists, but it may have given rise to them. More deeply rooted in the movement were the antinomian sentiments radically expressed in the cursing of the prophets, the founders of the religious laws. Antinomian tendencies were naturally inherent in religious thought which looked for an esoteric spiritual meaning concealed behind the exoteric surface of scripture and law. Though sometimes latent for a long time, they manifested themselves powerfully at various stages in the history of the Ismāʿīlīyah.

The ignominious course and outcome of the affair led to massive defections of adherents and shocked the leading dāʿī s. Abū ātim al-Rāzī's Kitāb al-ilā (Book of correction), in which he criticized and "corrected" various points of al-Nasafī's Kitāb al-maūl, appears to have been written in reaction to the events. Abū ātim in particular objected to the antinomian tendencies apparent in some of the teaching of al-Nasafī. Arguing that all esoteric truth inevitably requires an exoteric revealed law, he affirmed against al-Nasafī that both Adam, the first speaker prophet, and Jesus had brought a religious law. While admitting that the seventh speaker prophet, Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl, would not bring a law but reveal the spiritual truths, he insisted that the era of Muammad had not come to an end with the first presence and disappearance of the seventh imam. There was in each prophetic cycle an interval (fatrah ) between the presence of the seventh imam and the advent of the speaker prophet who would inaugurate the new era, during which time the seventh imam was represented by his lieutenants (khulafaʾā ).

Abū ātim's ideas failed to rally the Qarmaī communities around his leadership as the lieutenant of the imam. In his Kitāb al-nurah (Book of support), the younger dāʿī Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī consistently upheld al-Nasafī's views against Abū ātim's criticism and categorically rejected Abū Hatim's thesis that esoteric truths could be attained only through the religious law. In Khorasan and Transoxiana in particular the authority of al-Nasafī's Kitāb al-maūl seems to have remained paramount after the author's death in 944. The dāʿī s in Iraq continued to recognize the authority of ʿAbdān, in whose name they composed numerous treatises tinged with popular philosophy. After repudiating their pseudo-mahdī, the Qarāmiah of Bahrein again claimed to be acting on the orders of the hidden mahdī. Abū āhir soon reached an agreement with the Abbasid government under which he guaranteed the safety of the pilgrimage to Mecca in return for an annual tribute and a protection fee paid by the pilgrims. The Black Stone of the Kaʿbah was returned to Mecca in 951 after payment of a high ransom.

Decline of the movement

In preparation for his conquest of Egypt and the East, the fourth Fatimid caliph, al-Muʿizz (953975) strove to win the dissident eastern Ismāʿīlī communities for the Fatimid cause and to this end made some ideological concessions to them (see below). His efforts were partly successful, and he gained the allegiance of Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī, who in his later works fully backed the Fatimid imamate. Other dāʿī s, however, resisted his overtures. Most important, he failed to persuade the Qarāmiah of Bahrein, who even allied themselves with the Abbasid caliphate and fought the Fatimid conquerors in Syria and Egypt. Although they later concluded a truce with the Fatimids and at times officially recognized the Fatimid caliphate, they never accepted its religious authority. In the later tenth century they lost their military prowess and were reduced to a local, self-contained power while the Qarmaī communities elsewhere either were absorbed into the Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah or disintegrated. The Qarmaī state in Bahrein survived until 1077/8. Little is known about the specific religious beliefs of the sectarians there. Muslim law and rites such as prayer and fasting were not practiced, and all mosques were closed. Much property was owned communally, and some of the revenue from tributes and imposts on sea trades was distributed among the members of the community. Such institutions were, however, not directly founded on the religious teaching, which promised a rule of justice and fairness but did not develop a social program.

The Brethren of Purity

Much discussed and still unresolved is the question of the relationship of the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al- afāʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity) and their anonymous authors to the Ismāʿīlīyah. This encyclopedia of fifty-two treatises on all sciences of the ancients pervaded by an esoteric religious message was, according to two authors of the later tenth century, composed by a group of secretaries and scholars in Basra about the middle of the century. Later Ismāʿīlī tradition, however, claims that it was written by one of the hidden imāms and his dāʿī s a century earlier. The treatises speak of the imām as in hiding, though accessible, and foresee his appearance. Some modern scholars have argued that a part or most of the encyclopedia was composed in the pre-Fatimid Ismāʿīlī community and that quotations and references in the text that belong to the tenth century are later additions. Others consider it as essentially non-Ismāʿīlī though influenced by Ismāʿīlī thought; this judgment is usually based on a comparison with Fatimid Ismāʿīlī literature. It is evident that the authors, if they did live in the tenth century, could not have been adherents of the Fatimid imamate. Yet the thought and terminology of the treatises are pervasively Ismāʿīlī and must have originated in an Ismāʿīlī environment. In the middle of the tenth century Basra was dominated by the Qarāmiah of Bahrein. It is not unlikely that the authors undertook their project with the approval of the Qarmaī leaders, but nothing definite is known about their relationship and the attitude of the later Qarāmiah to the encyclopedia.

The Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah

The first Fatimid caliph rose with the claim of being not only the imam but also the expected mahdī. This claim inevitably raised questions concerning the acts and the eschatological role ascribed to the mahdī in apocalyptic traditions. Al-Mahdī answered such questions by maintaining that the prophecies concerning the mahdī would be gradually fulfilled by himself and by the imām s succeeding him. He gave his son and successor the caliphal title al-Qāʾim, another eschatological name that usually had been considered to refer to the mahdī. In one basic respect he uncompromisingly countered the Ismāʿīlī expectations for the advent of the mahdī : While the pre-Fatimid teaching affirmed that the mahdī as the seventh speaker prophet would abrogate the law of Islam and make the esoteric spiritual truths public, al-Mahdī insisted on strict observation of the religious law of Islam and severely punished some dāʿī s who ignored it and published esoteric teaching. Official Fatimid doctrine always emphasized the equal validity and necessity of the zahir and the bātīn, of religious work (ʿamal) in accordance with the law and esoteric knowledge (ʿilm).

Ismāʿīlī law

Under al-Mahdī began the career of Qāi al-Nuʿmān (d. 974), the founder of Ismāʿīlī law and author of its most authoritative compendium, the Kitāb daʿ āʾim al-Islām (Book of the buttresses of Islam). In the absence of an Ismāʿīlī legal tradition, Qāi al-Nuʿmān relied primarily on the legal teaching of Imāms Muammad al-Bāqir and Jaʿfar al-ādiq, transmitted by Twelver Shīʿī traditionists, and secondarily on Zaydi traditions. As a former Mālikī jurist, he was evidently also influenced by Mālikī legal concepts. In substance Ismāʿīlī law naturally agrees closely with Twelver Shīʿī law, it prohibits, however, the temporary marriage (mutʿah ) allowed in the latter and nullifies bequests to a legal heir except when consent of the other legal heirs is obtained. It gives the imam authority for determining the beginning of the month without regard to the sighting of the new moon as required by all other Muslim legal schools. Since the early Fatimid period the beginning of the months was generally established in practice on the basis of astronomical calculation and thus often fell one or two days earlier than for other Muslims; this discrepancy often caused intercommunal quarrels about the beginning and end of the fasting month of Ramaān.

Esoteric doctrines

The Ismāʿīlī law codified by Qāi al-Nuʿmān was adopted by the fourth Fatimid caliph, al-Muʿizz, as the official law of the Fatimid empire to be applied to all its Muslim subjects. Al-Muʿizz also substantially reformed the Fatimid esoteric doctrine with the clear aim of making it more acceptable to the dissident Qarmaī communities in order to gain their backing for the Fatimid imamate. Thus he reaffirmed the early belief that Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl as the seventh imam was the seventh speaker prophet and the Qāʾim and ignored al-Mahdī's claim that ʿAbd Allāh rather than Ismāʿīl had been the legitimate imam after Jaʿfar al-ādiq. In his view, the acts of the Qāʾim in the physical world would, however, be carried out by his lieutenants (khulafāʾ )a term familiar to the Qarāmiah, who also spoke of the lieutenants of the Qāʾim who were to head the hierarchy during his absence. For al-Muʿizz, however, these lieutenants were imām s and descendants of Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl, who would not return to the physical world but would head the spiritual hierarchy at the end of the world. The lieutenants of the Qāʾim formed a second heptad of imams in the sixth era, which the prophet Muammad had been granted as a special privilege. Following the earlier Fatimid caliphs and three hidden imams descended from Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl, al-Muʿizz was the seventh imām of this heptad. He seems to have envisaged an early end of the physical world and is quoted to have affirmed that there would not be another heptad of imams after him.

Al-Muʿizz also opened the door to the Neoplatonic cosmology of al-Nasafī, which so far had been rejected by the Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah. Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī, who was converted to the Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah, became their main representative of Neoplatonic thought. Many of his books and treatises are extant. The esoteric teaching, severely restricted under al-Mahdī, was now organized in formal lecture sessions (majālis ) held twice weekly. The lectures were prepared by the official chief dāʿī and submitted to the imam for approval. Attendance at the lectures was restricted to the initiates, who were required to pay religious dues. The Ismāʿīlī communities remained a small minority throughout the Fatimid reign.

The Druze

During the later reign of the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-ākim (9961021), the eschatological expectations that al-Muʿizz had incited gave rise to a new schismatic movement. Encouraged by al-ākim's abnormal conduct, some of the Ismāʿīlīyah came to speculate that he might be the expected Qāʾim. While the official teaching hierarchy strove to counter these speculations, an enthusiastic follower, asan al-Akhram, publicly proclaimed al-ākim's divinity in 1017. He told his Ismāʿīlī audience that their resurrection (qiyamah ) had occurred and that the era of their concealment had come to an end. In spite of the favor shown him by the caliph, asan was murdered a few months later. In 1019 the movement reemerged, now led by amzah ibn ʿAlī, the true founder of its doctrine.

Its adherents were called durūz (Druze) after al-Dar(a)zī, an early rival of amzah who caught the eye of the public. amzah claimed to be the imam, the Qāʾim of the Age (qāʾim al-zamān ), and the embodiment of the Universal Intellect. He identified some of his assistants with the Universal Soul and other ranks of the spiritual hierarchy of the Ismāʿīlīyah: Al-ākim and his ancestors back to the second Fatimid caliph, al-Qāʾim, were held to be manifestations of the transcendent godhead. amzah proclaimed the abrogation not only of the exoteric religious law but also of the esoteric teaching of the Ismāʿīlīyah through the appearance of God on earth in royal dignity. He defined his own message as the pure doctrine of unity (tawīd) that renewed the message of the Adam of Purity (dam al-afāʾ ), who had opened the cycle of humanity. The six prophets of the following eras from Noah to Muammad ibn Ismāʿīl had each brought a blameworthy law ordering the worship of nonbeing and the unity of the idol (ʿibādat al-ʿadam wa-tawīd al-anam ). amzah thus employed many Ismāʿīlī concepts but transformed them so radically that the Druze religion is usually considered to be outside the Ismāʿīlīyah. After the death of al-ākim the new sect was persecuted and quickly suppressed in Egypt. It has survived to the present, however, in the mountains of Syria and Lebanon.

Leading figures

A prominent part in the initial fight of the official Fatimid teaching hierarchy against the founders of the ākim cult was played by the dāʿī amid al-Dīn al-Kirmānī. Active in Baghdad and Basra, he came to Cairo about 1015, presumably invited to assist in the struggle against the heretics. Recognizing that the heresy was essentially rooted in the fervent hopes for the advent of the Qāʾim with its antinomian implications raised by traditional Ismāʿīlī teaching, al-Kirmānī reacted sharply against them. In a letter addressed to asan al-Akhram he scornfully repudiated the idea that the resurrection had occurred with the appearance of al-ākim and that the era of the prophet Muammad had come to an end. The resurrection would not occur before the signs predicted by Muammad had appeared. The era of Muammad and the validity of the law of Islam would continue under the reign of al-ākim's successors. Ignoring the traditional Ismāʿīlī theories about a limited number of heptads of imām s, al- Kirmānī envisaged the triumphant rule of the hundredth imam in the era of Muammad.

In one of his larger works, the Kitāb al-riyā (Book of meadows), he critically reviewed the controversy between Abū ātim al-Rāzī and Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī over al-Nasafī's Kitāb al-maūl. Almost invariably he backed the position of Abū ātim but went even further in his affirmation of the indispensibility of the law. The belief that the Qāʾim would abrogate the law was faulty, for spiritual knowledge could never be based on anything but the prophetic laws and their rules for worship. Rather the Qāʾim would restore the laws in their original form and abolish the teaching hierarchy, which would no longer be needed because knowledge would become actual and general while ignorance would be reduced to potentiality. Abū Yaʿqūb, he argued, was mistaken in asserting that after the Qāʾim a time of pure spiritual knowledge without work and law would begin like the great era before Adam. Rather, before Adam pure ignorance had reigned among the creatures since they did not know the hierarchy, and likewise, after the Qāʾim ignorance would be gradually actualized again and knowledge would become potential because of the abolition of the hierarchy.

Although al-Kirmānī thus maintained, against Abū Yaʿqūb, the absolute priority of the law over spiritual knowledge, he also made a major contribution to the esoteric teaching. In his most famous work, the Kitāb rāat al-ʿaql (Peace of mind), he propounded a new cosmology evidently influenced by the Muslim philosophers of al-Fārābī's school. He replaced the pair of the Intellect and the Soul ruling the spiritual world by a hierarchy of ten Intellects. The place of the Soul thus was taken by the Second Intellect or First Emanation (al-munbaʿith al-awwal), which proceeded from the higher relation of the First Intellect. From the lower relation of the First Intellect proceeded the Third Intellect, or Second Emanation, which is the first potential being, equated with matter and form and thus the basis of the physical world. Seven further Intellects originated jointly from the First and Second Intellects. The tenth one is the Active Intellect (al-ʿaql al-faʿʿal), the demiurge governing the lower world. The structure of the astral world and of the religious hierarchy was described by al-Kirmānī as closely paralleling that of the spiritual world. Al-Kirmānī's cosmology had little impact on Fatimid doctrine, which mostly preferred the older cosmology of al-Nasafī and Abū Yaʿqūb. It was later adopted by the ayyibi Ismāʿīlīyah in the Yemen.

A prominent dāʿī during the long caliphate of the Fatimid al-Mustanir (10361094) was Nāir-i Khusraw, well known as a Persian poet and as the author of a travel narrative. Because of his activity as a Fatimid dāʿī, he was forced to leave Balkh and found refuge in a Badakhshān mountain village in the upper Oxus valley, where he wrote and taught until his death about 1088/9. He became the patron saint of the Ismāʿīlī community of Badakhshān, which has preserved many of his Ismāʿīlī works. Some of these are Persian translations and adaptations of earlier books in Arabic; most important is his Kitāb jāmiʿ al-ikmatayn (Book joining the two wisdoms), in which he analyzed agreement and disagreement between the views of the Muslim philosophers and the prophetic wisdom of Ismāʿīlī gnosis.

Another leading figure in the contemporary Fatimid teaching hierarchy was al-Muʾayyad fī al-Dīn of Shiraz, the son of an Ismāʿīlī dāʿī active at the Buyid court. Al-Muʾayyad succeeded his father and converted the Buyid emir Abū Kālījār and some of his Daylamī troops to the Ismāʿīlīyah but was forced to leave because of pressure on Abū Kālījār from the Abbasid court. He fled to Cairo where he was appointed chief dāʿī in 1058. Although he was soon dismissed and exiled for a time, he regained wide influence as a dāʿī before his death in 1077. His early career is described in his autobiography. His poetry, gathered in a dīwān, is strictly doctrinal. The most massive of his numerous works is an eight-volume collection of eight hundred of his teaching sessions (majālis ). His doctrine was later considered highly authoritative, especially among the ayyibi Ismāʿīlīyah in the Yemen and India.

Later schisms

During the latter part of the caliphate of al-Mustanir the Ismāʿīlī movement in Iran was spurred to revolutionary activity by the teaching and leadership of asan-i ābbā, who in 1090 seized the mountain stronghold of Alamūt northwest of Qazvin and made it his headquarters. He had earlier visited Cairo when Nizār, al-Mustanir's eldest son, was the designated heir. After the death of al-Mustanir, the powerful vizier al-Afal put the youngest son, Ahmad, on the throne with the caliphal name al-Mustaʿlī and captured and immured Nizār, who had resisted. asan-i ābbā, however, continued to recognize Nizār as the legitimate imam and claimed that Nizār had escaped and broken with the Ismāʿīlī leadership in Cairo. He gained general support among the Ismāʿīlīyah in Iran and northern Syria and thus became the founder of the Nizārī branch. Al-Mustaʿlī was recognized by most of the Ismāʿīlīyah in Egypt, the Yemen, India, and by many in Syria and Palestine.

A further split among the Ismāʿīlīyah still backing the imamate of the Fatimid caliphs occurred after the assassination of al-Mustaʿlī's son and successor, al-mir, by a Nizārī in 1130. Eight months earlier al-mir's newborn son, al-ayyib, had officially been proclaimed his prospective heir, but a cousin of al-mir, ʿAbd al-Majīd al-āfi, was now put on the throne. First merely appointed regent, he was later proclaimed caliph and imām. Some Ismāʿīlī communities, especially in the Yemen and India, repudiated his claim and continued to recognize al-ayyib, about whose fate nothing is known, as the rightful successor of al-mir. They were led by the Sulayhid queen al-Sayyidah residing in Dhū Jiblah in central Yemen. Most of the Ismāʿīlīyah in Egypt, southern Syria, and southern Yemen, where they were led by the Zurayʿid rulers of Aden, accepted the imamate of al-āfi in spite of the irregularity of the succession of a cousin. They were known as the āfiīyah or Majīdīyah. The Fatimid caliphate was now in full decline and was overthrown in 1171 by the Ayyubid āla al-Dīn (Saladin), who restored Sunnism as the official religion in Egypt. āfiī communities survived chiefly in Upper Egypt and continued to recognize as their imām s certain descendants of the last Fatimid caliph, al-ʿAdid, who were kept prisoners in Cairo. Under official persecution the āfiī communities gradually disintegrated; the last mention of them occurs in the late thirteenth century.

The Post-Fatimid IsmĀʿĪlĪyah

With the disintegration of the āfiī branch, only the Nizārī and ayyibī communities, which had separated from the official Fatimid Ismāʿīlīyah before the fall of the Fatimid dynasty, remained. Both branches, though further divided by schisms, have survived to the present.

The Nizārīyah

With the seizure of Alamūt, asan-i ābbā initiated a policy of armed revolt against the seljuk sultanate. The Nizārīyah captured and fortified numerous mountain castles in the Elburz range, towns in Quhistān in northwestern Iran, and later also mountain strongholds such as Qadmūs and Masyāf in northern Syria. In the face of the overwhelming military superiority of their opponents they relied on intimidation through the spectacular assassination of prominent leaders by fidāʾī s, self-sacrificing devotees. Because of their apparently irrational conduct they were commonly called ashīshīyīn, hashish addicts. Stories that the fidāʾī s were in fact conditioned for their task by the use of hashish are legendary. Their designation as ashīshīyīn was taken over by the Crusaders in Syria and entered European languages as "assassins."

asan-i ābbā also elaborated an apologetic missionary doctrine that became known as the "new preaching" (daʿwah jadīdah ) of the Ismāʿīlīyah. At its core was the thesis of humanity's permanent need for taʿlīm, divinely inspired and authoritative teaching, which was basic in much of Shīʿī thought. asan-i ābbā developed it in a series of arguments establishing the inadequacy of human reason in gaining knowledge of God and then went on to demonstrate that only the Ismāʿīlī imām was such a divinely guided teacher. The Nizārīyah came to be commonly called the Taʿlīmīyah after this doctrine, and Sunnī opponents such as al-Ghazālī concentrated their efforts on refuting it. asan-i ābbā further stressed the autonomous teaching authority of each imam in his time, independent of his predecessors, thus paving the way for the Nizārī radicalization of the doctrine of the imamate as compared with Fatimid doctrine.

Among the Sunnīs apparently attracted by the "new preaching" was the heresiographer and Ashʿarī theologian al-Shahrastānī (d. 1143). Although he kept his relations with the Nizārīyah secret, they were revealed by his student al-Samʿāni. Among his extant writings are some crypto-Ismāʿīlī works including an incomplete Qurʾān commentary in which he used Ismāʿīlī terminology and hinted at his conversion by a "pious servant of God" who had taught him the esoteric principles of Qurʾanic exegesis. Most notable, however, is his refutation of the theological doctrine of the philosopher Ibn Sinā (Avicenna) from a concealed Ismāʿīlī point of view, entitled Kitāb al-muāraʿah (Book of the wrestling match). Here he defended the Ismāʿīlī thesis that God, as the giver of being, is beyond being and nonbeing, rejected Avicenna's description of God as the involuntary necessitating cause of the world, and suggested that the Active Intellect which brings the human intellect from potentiality to actuality is the prophetic intellect rather than the intellect of the lunar sphere as held by the followers of Avicenna.

Qiyāmah doctrine

After his death in 1124, asan-i ābbā was succeeded as lord of Alamūt and chief of the Nizārī community by his assistant Buzurgummīd. On Ramaān 17, 599 (August 8, 1164) the latter's grandson, known as asan ʿalā Dhikrihi al-Salām, solemnly proclaimed the resurrection (qiyāmah ) in the name of the absent imam and declared the law of Islam abrogated. He interpreted the spiritual meaning of the resurrection as a manifestation of the unveiled truth in the imam, which actualized paradise for the faithful capable of grasping it while condemning the opponents to the hell of spiritual nonexistence. Two years later asan was murdered by a brother-in-law who objected to the abolition of the Islamic law. His son Muammad (11661210) further elaborated the qiyāmah doctrine. While asan seems to have indicated that as the ujjah of the imam he was spiritually identical with him, Muammad maintained that his father had been the imam by physical descent; apparently he claimed that asan was the son of a descendant of Nizār who had secretly found refuge in Alamūt.

According to the qiyāmah doctrine, the resurrection consisted in recognizing the divine truth in the present imam, who was the manifestation of the order to create (amr ) or word (kalimah ) and, in his revelatory aspect the Qāʾim. The imām thus was raised in rank above the prophets. There had been imām -Qāʾims also in the earlier prophetic cycles: Mechizedek (Malik al-Salām), Dhū al-Qarnayn, Khir, Maʿadd, and, in the era of Muammad, ʿAlī. They were recognized by the prophets of their time as the manifestation of the divine. In the qiyāmah, the spiritual reality of the imām -Qāʾim manifests itself openly and directly to the faithful. The teaching hierarchy intervening between them and the imam thus had faded away as unnecessary in accordance with the earlier predictions about the advent of the Qāʾim. There remained only three categories of humanity: the opponents of the imam adhering to the law of Islam, his ordinary followers known as the "people of graduation" (ahl al-tarattub ), who had advanced beyond the law to the esoteric (bātīn ) and thus had attained partial truth, and "the people of union" (ahl al-wadah ), who see the imam plainly in his spirtual reality discarding outward appearances and have therefore reached the realm of pure truth.

Muammad's son Jalāl al-Dīn asan (12101221) repudiated the qiyāmah doctrine and proclaimed his adherence to Sunnī Islam. He publicly cursed his predecessors as infidels, recognized the suzerainty of the Abbasid caliph, ordered his subjects to follow the law in its Sunnī form, and invited Sunnī scholars for their instruction. Thus he became commonly known as the New Muslim (naw-muūlmān ). His followers mostly obeyed his orders as those of the infallible imam. Under his son ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Muammad (12211255) the application of the law was again relaxed, though it was not abolished.

During, ʿAlaʾ al-Dīn's reign the philospher and astronomer Nair al-Dīn ūsī (d. 1274), originally a Twelver Shīʿī, joined the Ismāʿīlīyah and actively supported the Nizārī cause, though he later turned away from them and wrote some theological works backing Twelver Shīʿī belief. In a spiritual autobiography written for his Ismāʿīlī patrons he described his upbringing as a strict adherent of the law and his subsequent study of scholastic theology and philosophy. While he found philosophy intellectually most satisfying, he discovered that its principles were shaky when the discourse reached its ultimate goal, the knowledge of God and the origins and destiny of humanity, and recognized the need for an infallible teacher to guide reason to its perfection. He then chanced upon a copy of the sacred articles (fuūl-i muqaddas ) of Imam asan ʿalā Dhikrihi al-Salām and decided to join the Ismāʿīlīyah. While some of ūsī's works written in this period, such as his widely read Nasirean Ethics (akhlāq-i Nāīri ), show traces of Nizārī thought, he also composed some religious treatises specifically addressed to the Nizārīyah. The contemporary Nizārī teaching is primarily known through them, particularly his Rawat al-taslīm (Meadow of submission) or Taawwurāt (Representations).

Return to concealment

The restoration of the law by Jalāl al-Dīn asan was now interpreted as a return to a period of precautionary dissimulation (taqīyah ) and concealment (satr ) in which the truth is hidden in the bātīn. The resurrection proclaimed by asan ʿalā Dhikrihi al-Salām had come at about the middle of the millennium of the era of the prophet Muammad and had set the pattern for the final resurrection at the end of it. In the era of Muammad, the times of concealment and of resurrection might alternate according to the decision of each imām, since every imām was potentially a Qāʾim. The contradictions in the conduct of the imams were merely in appearance, since in their spiritual reality they were identical and all acted in accordance with the requirements of their time. In the time of concealment the state of union with the imām was confined to his ujjah, who was consubstantial with him. His other followers, the "people of gradation," were divided into the strong (aqwiyāʾ ) and the weak (uʿafāʾ ) according to their closeness to the truth.

Post-Alamūt developments

In 1256 ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn Muammad's son and successor Khūrshāh surrendered Alamūt to the Mongol conquerors and was killed soon afterward. The Nizārī state was thus destroyed, and the Persian Ismāʿīlī communities were decimated by massacres. Thereafter the imām s lived mostly in concealment, and there is considerable uncertainty about their names, number, and sequence. Following a disputed succession their line soon divided into two branches, one continuing with Muammad-shāh, the other with Qāsim-shāh. Of the Muammad-shāhī imams, Shāh āhir Dakanī (d. 1549?) achieved fame as a religious scholar and leader. The popularity of his teaching aroused the suspicion of the Safavid shah Ismāʿīl, who exiled him to Kashan. Later he was forced to leave Iran and eventually found refuge in Ahmadnagar in the Deccan, where he became an adviser of the ruler Burhān Niām Shāh, whom he encouraged to proclaim Shiism as the official religion. His writings consisted mainly of commentaries on Twelver Shīʿī and philosophical treatises, although he also maintained relations with his Ismāʿīlī followers. The last known imām of the Muammad-shāhī line was Amīr Muammad Baqīr, with whom his Syrian Ismāʿīlī followers lost all contact after 1796. After a vain search for a descendant of his, a section of the Syrian community changed allegiance in 1887 to the Qāsim-shāhī line represented by the Aga Khans. A smaller section, known as the Jaʿfarīyah, is at present the only community that continues to adhere to the Muammad-shāhī line.

Imām s of the Qāsim-shāhī branch are known to have lived in the later fifteenth and again in the seventeenth century in the village of Anjudān near Maallāt in Iran, where their tombs have been found. They were in this period, and until the ninteenth century, commonly associated with the Niʿmatullāhī ūfī order. With the appointment of Imam Abū al-asan Shāh as governor of Kerman in 1756 they rose to political prominence. His grandson asan ʿAlī Shāh Maallātī married a daughter of the Qajar king of Persia, Fat ʿ Alī Shāh, who gave him the title of Aga Khan, which has since been borne hereditarily by his successors. asan ʿAlī Shāh moved to India in 1843 and after 1848 resided in Bombay. Opposition to his authority in the Ismāʿīlī Khoja community led to court litigation ending in 1886 in the judgment of Sir Joseph Arnould in his favor. It recognized the Khojas as part of the wider Nizārī Ismāʿīlī community. The fourth Aga Khan, Karīm Khān, succeeded his grandfather in 1957.

Religious literature

The wide dispersal of the Nizārī communities, language barriers among them, and their often tenuous relations with the concealed imams led to largely independent organization and literary traditions. In Persia conditions after the fall of Alamūt encouraged the imams and their followers to adopt ūfī forms of religious life. ūfī ideas and terminology had already influenced the qiyāmah and late Alamūt doctrine; now Ismāʿīlī ideas were often camouflaged in apparently ūfī poetry, the imām being revered as the ūfī saint. Doctrinal works, written again from the sixteenth century on, essentially reflect the teaching of the late Alamūt age with its emphasis on the role of the ujjah of the imam as the only gate to his spiritual essence and truth. Interest in the traditional Ismāʿīlī cosmology and cyclical prophetic history waned as the religious literature of the Fatimid age was no longer available.

The community of Badakhshān, which accepted the Nizārī imamate probably before the fall of Alamūt, remained attached to the writings, both genuine and spurious, of Nāir-i Khusraw, although many Persian Nizārī works of the Alamūt and post-Alamūt age also found their way there. It also transmitted and revered the Umm al-Kitāb, the anonymous Persian work sometimes erroneously described as proto-Ismāʿīlī. It reflects some of the gnostic thought of the Kufan Shīʿī ghulāt of the eighth century, but its final redaction may be as late as the twelfth century.

The literature of the Nizārī community in Syria, written in Arabic, developed independently of the Persian literature even in the Alamūt period. There is no evidence that Persian works were translated into Arabic. Although the resurrection was proclaimed in Syria, apparently with some delay, the qiyāmah and post-qiyāmah doctrine of the Persian Nizārīyah with its exaltation of the imam as the manifestation of the divine word made practically no impact there. The Syrian community preserved a substantial portion of Fatimid and Qarmaī literature, and scholarly tradition continued to concentrate on the traditional cosmolgy and cyclical prophetic history. In some religious texts of a more popular character, Rashīd al-Dīn Sinān (d. 1193?) the leader of the Syrian Ismāʿīlīyah, known to the crusaders as the "Old Man of the Mountain," is celebrated as a popular hero and assigned a cosmic rank usually reserved for the imam.

The Indian subcontinent

The origins and early history of the Nizārī community on the Indian subcontinent are largely obscure. The Nizārīyah there are often collectively referred to as Khojas, although there are other, smaller Nizārī groups such as the Shamsīyah and Momnas, while some Sunnī and Twelver Shīʿī Khoja groups have split from the main body of the Nizārīyah. According to their legendary history, the Nizārī faith was first spread by pir Shams al-Dīn, whose father is said to have been sent as a dāʿī from Alamūt. The community was ruled thereafter by pirs descended from Shams al-Dīn. Pir adr al-Dīn, who can be dated with some likelihood in the later fourteenth century, is credited with the conversion of the Khojas from the Hindu caste of the Lohanas and to have laid the foundation of their communal organization, building their first jamāʿat-khānah s (assembly and prayer halls) and appointing their mukhi s (community leaders). The center of his activity was in Ucch in Sind. A substantial section of the community seceded in the sixteenth century under the pir Nar (Nūr) Muammad Shāh, who broke with the imām s in Iran claiming that his father, Imam Shāh, had been the imam and that he had succeeded him. This community, known as Imam-Shāhīs or Satpanthis, has further split on the issue of leadership and lives chiefly in Gujarat and Khandesh. It has tended to revert to Hinduism but shares much of its traditional religious literature with the Nizārī Khojas.

This literature, which is known as Sat Panth (True Path), consists of ginān s or gnān s, religious poems composed in, or translated into, several Indian languages and meant to be sung to specific melodies in worship. Most of them are attributed to the early pirs but cannot be dated accurately and may have undergone substantial changes in the transmission. They include hymns, religious and moral exhortation, and legendary history of the pirs and their miracles, but contain no creed or theology. Islamic and Hindu beliefs, especially popular Tantric ones, are freely mixed. While idol worship is rejected, Hindu mythology is accepted. ʿAlī is considered the tenth avatar (incarnation of the deity), and the imams are identical with him. The Qurʾān is described as the last of the Vedas, which are recognized as sacred scriptures whose true interpretation is known to the pirs. Faith in the true religion will free believers from further rebirths and open paradise, which is described in Islamic terms, to them, while those failing to recognize the imām s must go through another cycle of rebirths. The Arabic and Persian Ismāʿīlī literature has been virtually unknown among the Khojas except for the Persian Pandiyāt-i jawānmardī, a collection of religious and moral exhortations of the late fifteenth-century Nizārī imam al-Mustanir which was adopted as a sacred book. Khojas live chiefly in lower Sind, Cutch, Gujarat, Bombay, and in wide diaspora, particularly in East and South Africa, Arabia, Ceylon, and Burma.

Further Nizārī communities are found in the mountains of Chitral, Gilgit, and Hunza in Pakistan, in parts of Afghanistan, and in the region of Yarkand and Kashgar in Chinese Turkistan. Organization, religious practices, and observance of sharīʿah rules vary among the scattered communities. The recent Aga Khans have stressed the rootedness of the Nizārī Ismāʿīlīyah in Shīʿī Islam and its continued bonds with the world of Islam.

The ayyibīyah

After breaking with the Fatimid teaching hierarchy, the ayyibīyah in the Yemen recognized the Sulayhid queen as the ujjah of the concealed imām al-ayyib; with her backing they set up an independent teaching hierarchy headed by a dāʿī mulaq ("unrestricted summoner") whose spiritual authority since her death in 1138 has been supreme. The second dāʿī mulaq, Ibrāhīm al-amidī (11511162), became the real founder of the ayyib i esoteric doctrine, which he elaborated especially in his Kitāb kanz al-walad (Book of the child's treasure). The position remained in his family until 1209, when it passed to ʿAlī ibn Muammad of the Banū al-Walīd al-Anf family, which held it for more than three centuries with only two interruptions. The political power of the Yemenite dāʿī s reached a peak during the long incumbency of Idris ʿImād al-Dīn ibn al-asan, the nineteenth dāʿī mulaq (14281468). He is also the author of a seven-volume history of the Ismāʿīlī imams, Kitāb ʿuyūn al-akhbār (Book of choice stories) and of a two-volume history of the Yemenite dāʿī s, Kitāb nuzhat al-akhbār (Book of story and entertainment), as well as works of esoteric doctrine and religious controversy. While the Yemenite dāʿī s had been able to act relatively freely with the backing or protection of various rulers during the early centuries, they usually faced hostility from the Zaydī imām s and in the sixteenth century suffered relentless persecution. In 1539 the twenty-third dāʿī mulaq appointed an Indian, Yūsuf ibn Sulaymān, as his successor, evidently in recognition of the growing importance of the Indian ayyiī community. Yūsuf came to reside in the Yemen, but after his death in 1566 his successor, also Indian, transferred the headquarters to Gujarat in India.


The ayyibīyah preserved a large portion of the Fatimid religious literature and generally maintained the traditions of Fatimid doctrine more closely than the Nizārīyah. Thus the ayyibī dāʿī s always insisted on the equal importance of the āhir and bātīn aspects of religion, strict compliance with the religious law and esoteric teaching. Qāi al-Nuʿmān's Daʿāʾim al-Islām has remained the authoritative codex of ayyibī law and ritual to the present. In the esoteric doctrine, however, there were some innovations which gave the ayyibī gnosis its distinctive character. The Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-afā ʾwere accepted as the work of one of the pre-Fatimid hidden imams and were frequently quoted and interpreted.

The cosmological system of al-Kirmānī with its ten higher Intellects replaced that of al-Nasafī predominant in the Fatimid age. Ibrāhīm al-āmidī changed its abstract rational nature by introducing a myth that Henry Corbin has called the Ismāʿīlī "drama in heaven." According to it, the Second and Third Intellects emanating from the First Intellect became rivals for the second rank. When the Second Intellect attained his rightful position by his superior effort, the Third Intellect failed to recognize his precedence; in punishment for his haughty insubordination he fell from the third rank behind the remaining seven Intellects and, after repenting, became stabilized as the Tenth Intellect and demiurge (mudabbir ). The lower world was produced out of the spiritual forms (uwar ) that had also refused to recognize the superior rank of the Second Intellect, and out of the darkness generated by this sin. The Tenth Intellect, who is also called the spiritual Adam, strives to regain his original rank by summoning the fallen spiritual forms to repentance.

The first representative of his summons (daʿwah ) on earth was the first and universal Adam, the owner of the body of the world of origination (āib al-juththah al-ibdaʿīyah ), or higher spiritual world. He is distinguished from the partial Adam who opened the present age of concealment (satr ), in which the truth is hidden under the exterior of the prophetic messages and laws. After his passing the first Adam rose to the horizon of the Tenth Intellect and took his place, while the Tenth Intellect rose in rank. Likewise after the passing of the Qāʾim of each prophetic cycle, that being rises and takes the place of the Tenth Intellect, who thus gradually reaches the Second Intellect.

Countless cycles of manifestation (kashf) and concealment alternate in succession until the great resurrection (qiyāmat al-qiyāmāt ) that consummates the megacycle (al-kawr al-aʿam ) lasting 360,000 times 360,000 years. The soul of every believer is joined on the initiation to the esoteric truth by a point of light; this is the believer's spiritual soul, which grows as the believer advances in knowledge. After physical death the light rises to join the soul of the holder of the rank (add) above the believer in the hierarchy. Jointly they continue to rise until the souls of all the faithful are gathered in the light temple (haykal nūrānī ) in the shape of a human being which constitutes the form of the Qāʾim (surah qāʾimīyah ) of the cycle, which then rises to the horizon of the Tenth Intellect. The souls of the unbelievers remain joined to their bodies, which are dissolved into inorganic matter and further transformed into descending orders of harmful creatures and substances. Depending on the gravity of their sins they may eventually rise again through ascending forms of life and as human beings may accept the summons to repentance or end up in torment lasting the duration of the megacycle.

Indian communities

The ayyibīyah in India are commonly known as the Bohoras. There are, however, also Sunnī and some Hindu Bohoras; they are mostly engaged in agriculture, while the Ismāʿīlī Bohoras are generally merchants. The origins of the ayyib i community in Gujarat go back to the time before the ayyibī schism. According to the traditional account an Arab dāʿī sent from the Yemen arrived in the region of Cambay with two Indian assistants in 1068. The Ismāʿīlī community founded by him, though led by local wali s, always maintained close commercial as well as religious ties with the Yemen and was controlled by the Yemenite teaching hierarchy. It naturally followed the Yemenite community at the time of the schism. From Cambay the community spread to other cities, in particular Patan, Sidhpur, and Ahmadabad. In the first half of the fifteenth century the Ismāʿīlīyah were repeatedly exposed to persecution by the Sunnī sultans of Gujarat, and after a contested succession to the leadership of the Bohora community, a large section, known as the Jaʿfarīyah, seceded and converted to Sunnīsm.

After its transfer from the Yemen in 1566, the residence of the dāʿī mulaq remained in India. The succession to the twenty-sixth dāʿī mulaq, Dāʾūd ibn ʿAjabshāh (d. 1591), was disputed. In India Dāʾūd Burhān al-Dīn ibn Qubshāh was recognized by the great majority as the twenty-seventh dāʿī mulaq. However, Dāʾūd ibn ʿAjabshāh's deputy in the Yemen, Sulaymān ibn asan, a grandson of the first Indian dāʿī mulaq Yūsuf ibn Sulaymān, also claimed to have been the designated successor and after a few years he came to India to press his case. Although he found little support, the dispute was not resolved and resulted in the permanent split of the Dāʾūdī and Sulaymānī factions recognizing separate lines of dāʿīs.

The leadership of the Sulaymanīyah, whose Indian community was small, reverted back to the Yemen with the succession of the thirtieth dāʿī mulaq, Ibrahim ibn Muammad ibn Fahd al-Makramī, in 1677. Since then the position of dāʿī mulaq has remained in various branches of the Makrami family except for the time of the forty-sixth dāʿī, an Indian. The Makramī dāʿī s usually resided in Badr in Najrān. With the backing of the tribe of the Banū Yām they ruled Najrān independently and at times extended their sway over other parts of the Yemen and Arabia until the incorporation of Najrān into Saudi Arabia in 1934. The peak of their power was in the time of the thirty-third dāʿī mulaq, Ismāʿīl ibn Hibat Allāh (17471770), who defeated the Wahhābīyah in Najd and invaded aramawt. He is also known as the author of an esoteric Qurʾān commentary, virtually the only religious work of a Sulaymānī author published so far. Since Najrān came under Saudi rule, the religious activity of the dāʿī s and their followers has been severely restricted. In the Yemen the Sulaymānīyah are found chiefly in the region of Manakha and the arāz mountains. In India they live mainly in Baroda, Ahmadabad, and Hyderabad and are guided by a representative (manūb ) of the dāʿī mulaq residing in Baroda.

The dāʿī s of the Dāʾūdīyah, who constitute the great majority of the ayyibīyah in India, have continued to reside there. All of them have been Indians except the thirtieth dāʿī mulaq, ʿAlī Shams al-Dīn (16211631), a descendant of the Yemenite dāʿī Idrīs ʿImād al-Dīn. The community was generally allowed to develop freely although there was another wave of persecution under the emperor Awrangzīb (16351707), who put the thirty-second dāʿī mulaq, Qub al-Dīn ibn Dāʾūd, to death in 1646 and imprisoned his successor. The residence of the Dāʾūdī dāʿī mulaq is now in Bombay, where the largest concentration of Bohoras is found. Outside Gujarat, Dāʾūdī Bohoras live in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, in many of the big cities of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Burma, and the East Africa. In the Yemen the Dāʾūdī community is concentrated in the Haraz mountains.

After the death of the twenty-eighth dāʿī mulaq, Adam afī al-Dīn, in 1621, a small faction recognized his grandson ʿAlī ibn Ibrāhīm as his successor and seceded from the majority recognizing ʿAbd al-ayyib Zakī al-Dīn. The minority became known as ʿAlia Bohoras and have followed a separate line of dāʿī s residing in Baroda. Holding that the era of the prophet Muammad had come to an end, a group of ʿAlias seceded in 1204/1789. Because of their abstention from eating meat they are called Nagoshias (not meat eaters). In 1761 a distinguished Dāʾūdī scholar, Hibat Allāh ibn Ismāʿīl, claimed that he was in contact with the hidden imām, who had appointed him his ujjah and thus made his rank superior to that of dāʿī mulaq. He and his followers, known as Hibtias, were excommunicated and persecuted by the Dāʾūdīyah. Only a few Hibtia families are left in Ujjain. Since the turn of the century a Bohora reform movement has been active. While recognizing the spiritual authority of the dāʿī mulaq it has sought through court action to restrict his powers of excommunication and his absolute control over community endowments and alms. All of these groups are numerically insignificant.

See Also

Aga Khan; Assassins; Druze; Ginān; Ikhwān al-afāʾ; Nāir-i Khusraw; Qarāmiah.


The study of the Ismāʿīlīyah has been transformed since the 1930s, when the existence of a secret and extensive Ismāʿīlī religious literature became known, particularly through the efforts of W. Ivanow. The results of Ivanow's research were published in his A Guide to Ismaili Literature (London 1933), revised and enlarged in Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey (Tehran, 1963). These works are now superseded by Ismail K. Poonawala's Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature (Malibu, Calif., 1977). A general survey of the Ismāʿīlīyah is lacking; W. Ivanow's Brief Survey of the Evolution of Ismailism (Leiden, 1952) is inadequate.

Pre-Fatimid Ismāʿīlī doctrine and its sources are studied in Heinz Halm's Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismāʿīlīya (Wiesbaden, 1978). The historical origins of the Ismāʿīlī movement and the relationship of the Qarāmiah and the Fatimids were first examined in M. J. de Goeje's Mémoire sur les Carmathes du Bahrai'n et les Fatimides, vol. 1 of Mémoires de l'histoire et de géographie orientales, 2d ed. (Leiden, 1886), which is still of interest for the history of the Qarāmiah but obsolete in its conclusions. A new approach to some of the problems was taken by Bernard Lewis in The Origins of Ismāʿīlīsm: A Study of the Historical Background of the Fatimid Caliphate (1940; reprint, New York, 1975). His conclusions were criticized by W. Ivanow through a broader assembly of Ismāʿīlī sources; most relevant among Ivanow's numerous works are his Ismaili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids (London, 1942), containing Arabic texts and some English translations; The Alleged Founder of Ismaʿilism 2d ed. (Bombay, 1957), and Studies in Early Persian Ismailism, 2d ed. (Bombay, 1955). Penetrating articles on various aspects of early Ismāʿīlīyah were thereafter published by S. M. Stern, most of which have been republished together with some previously unpublished papers in his posthumous Studies in Early Ismaʿilism (Jerusalem, 1983). See further Wilferd Madelung's "Fatimiden und Barainqarmaen," Der Islam 34 (1958): 3488, and "Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre," Der Islam 37 (1961): 43135.

The basic study of the history and doctrine of the Nizārīyah in the Alamūt period is Marshall G. S. Hodgson's The Order of Assassins (1955; reprints, New York, 1980). A more recent, briefer historical survey is offered by Bernard Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (London, 1968). The modern Nizārī Ismāʿīlī followers of the Aga Khans is treated with a historical background by Sami N. Makarem in The Doctrine of the Ismailis (Beirut, 1972). Azim Nanji's The Nizārī Ismāʿīlī Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Delmar, N.Y., 1978) deals with the history and the religious literature (ginans ) of the Khojas. J. N. Hollister's The Shiʿa of India (London, 1953), chapters 1326, deals with the history, beliefs, and religious practices of the Bohora and Khoja communities on the Indian subcontinent. A history of the Bohora community and of its modern reform movement by a Bohora modernist is Asghar Ali Engineer's The Bohras (New Delhi, 1980).

The studies of Ismāʿīlī esoteric thought on a comparative basis by Henry Corbin deserve special mention; see for instance his "De la gnose antique à la gnose ismaélienne," in Convegno di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 27 Maggio1 Giugno 1956 (Rome, 1957), and his Histoire de la philosophie islamique, vol. 1 (Paris, 1964), pp. 110151. The volume Ismaʿili Contributions to Islamic Culture, edited by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Tehran, 1977), contains articles by various scholars on aspects of Ismāʿīlī thought.

Wilferd Madelung (1987)

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