DAʿĪ (he who summons), a term used by several Muslim groups, especially the Ismaʿilis, to designate their propagandists or missionaries. It was adopted by the ʿAbbasid daʿwa, or mission, in Khorasan (see ʿABBASID CALIPHATE) and by the early Muʿtazilites, but it soon became particularly identified with certain Shiʿite groups, for example, the Zaydīs and some Shiʿite extremists (ḡolāt), notably the Ḵaṭṭābīya (see ABU’L-ḴAṬṬĀB ASADĪ). The term acquired its widest application in connection with the Ismaʿilis, though early Ismaʿili authors in Persia sometimes substituted other designations, like janāḥ (plural, ajneḥa; see the excerpt from Abū Ḥātem Rāzī, Ketāb al-eṣlāḥ, in Hamdani, p. 109; Sejestānī, pp. 91, 100, 128). The term dāʿī (pl., doʿāt) came to be applied to any authorized representative of the Ismaʿili al-daʿwa al-hādīya (rightly guiding mission), a propagandist responsible for spreading the Ismaʿili doctrine and winning followers for the imam. Different ranks of dāʿīs emerged during the history of the Ismaʿilis and among different branches. In fact, the dāʿī was the unofficial agent of the Fatimid state (297-567/909-1171), operating secretly in many territories outside Egypt and Syria in efforts to promote recognition of the Ismaʿili Fatimid caliph as the Ismaʿili imam.
No information is available on the organization of the pre-Fatimid Ismaʿilism daʿwa, but it is known that the movement was reorganized in about 260/873-74 around a hereditary line of leaders, later recognized as imams, who were then residing at Salamīya, in central Syria. During the second half of the 9th century these leaders initiated the Ismaʿili daʿwa through a network of propagandists in a number of regions of the Muslim world. In Jebāl, Khorasan, and Transoxania, as elsewhere, a chief dāʿī appointed subordinate dāʿīs to the various districts under his jurisdiction. The chief dāʿīs of Jebāl resided at Ray, of Khorasan and Transoxania initially at Nīšāpūr and later at Marv-al-Rūḏ. Some of the early Persian dāʿīs, notably Abū Ḥātem Rāzī and Abū Yaʿqūb Sejestānī, were among the foremost early Ismaʿili theologians and provided important doctrinal links between the pre-Fatimid Ismaʿilis and the Fatimids.
The hierarchical Fatimid daʿwa organization (ḥodūd al-dīn or marāteb al-daʿwa) was fully developed by the time of Moʿayyad fi’l-Dīn Šīrāzī, chief dāʿī in Cairo for twenty years until his death in 470/1078. It mirrored the ideal situation when the Ismaʿili imam would have come to rule the world, and thus many of the ranks mentioned in Fatimid sources were not actually filled at all times. After the imam himself the administrative head was the chief dāʿī, designated bāb or bāb al-abwāb but dāʿī al-doʿāt in non-Ismaʿili sources, with his headquarters in Cairo. He was responsible for appointing the provincial dāʿīs within the Fatimid domain and also outside it and was assisted by a number of subordinate local dāʿīs.
According to Fatimid Ismaʿili authors, for purposes of the daʿwa the world outside direct Fatimid control was divided into twelve jazīras (lit., “islands”), one of which was Persia, designated as Deylam (see Qāżī Noʿmān, 1967-72, II, p. 74, III, pp. 48-49; Sejestānī, p. 172). Ebn Ḥawqal (p. 310; cf. Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, 1341/1923, p. 397), however, mentioned Khorasan as a separate jazīra of the Fatimid daʿwa, adding that the Ismaʿili Baluchis of eastern Persia belonged to it. Each jazīra was in charge of a chief dāʿī, called ḥojja.
In each jazīra the ḥojja was assisted by varying ranks of dāʿīs, as many as thirty in some instances (Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow, 1356 Š./1977, p. 178). Three different categories of such dāʿīs were distinguished in the Fatimid sources: dāʿīal-balāḡ (lit., dāʿī of initiation), dāʿī moṭlaq (lit., dāʿī with absolute authority), and dāʿī maḥdūd (or maḥṣūr; lit., dāʿī with limited authority), apparently in that order. It is not clear what their specific functions were, though the dāʿī al-balāḡ apparently acted as liaison with the daʿwa headquarters in Cairo. There were also two categories of assistant dāʿīs, or maʾḏūn, who might eventually rise to the rank of dāʿī (for this hierarchy and the idealized functions associated with its ranks, see Kermānī, pp. 134-39, 224-25, reproduced with commentary in Corbin, pp. 90-95).
Despite the importance of the dāʿīs, almost nothing seems to have been written about them by Ismaʿilis. Qāżī Noʿmān (d. 363/974), the most prolific author of the Fatimid period, devoted only a short chapter in one of his books (, pp. 136-40) to explaining the virtues of an ideal dāʿī. A more detailed discussion of the qualifications required of a Fatimid dāʿī is contained in what is evidently the only independent Ismaʿili treatise on the subject, al-Resāla al-mūjaza al-kāfīa fī ādāb al-doʿāt, written toward the end of the 10th century by the dāʿī Aḥmad b. Ebrāhīm Nīšābūrī. No manuscript of this treatise has survived, but the work was quoted extensively in some later and still unpublished Ismaʿili works by Ḥātem b. Ebrāhīm Ḥāmedī (d. 596/1199) and Ḥasan b. Nūḥ Bharūčī (d. 939/1533). He could be appointed only with the imam’s permission, or eḏn, and, once dispatched to a locality, he was to operate fairly independently of the central headquarters, which would provide only general guidance. Both authors emphasized that the dāʿī had to be personally acquainted with the individual initiates; the Ismaʿilis never aimed at mass proselytization and indeed sought to maintain utmost secrecy in their activities. Only those candidates possessing advanced educational qualifications and moral and intellectual attributes were to be designated as dāʿīs. Beside being familiar with the teachings of different religions (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and other non-Islamic religions, as well as non-Ismaʿili branches of Islam), the dāʿī was expected to know the language and customs of the region to which he was assigned. Many dāʿīs received extensive training in such specialized institutions as the Dār al-ḥekma and al-Azhar in Cairo. As a result they often became outstanding scholars in theology, philosophy, jurisprudence, and other fields of learning.
Because of the self-imposed secrecy, almost nothing is known about the actual methods by which Fatimid Ismaʿili dāʿīs won new converts (mostajībs). Many Sunnite authors, deriving their information mainly from anti-Ismaʿili polemical works by Ebn Rezām and Aḵū Moḥsen, mentioned a system of seven or nine distinctly named stages of detaching the initiate from his previous religion and initiating him into Ismaʿilism (e.g., Nowayrī, pp. 195-225; Ḡazālī, pp. 21-32). There is, however, no evidence of such stages in the extant Ismaʿili literature, though certainly the preparation of the new converts must have been gradual (see Daftary, pp. 188, 189, 192-93, 224-32).
In 487/1094 the Ismaʿilis split into the Mostaʿlī and Nezārī branches. The Ṭayyebī Mostaʿlīs inherited control of the Fatimid daʿwa hierarchy and after the collapse of the dynasty transferred their base to Yemen, where they remained for several centuries, also expanding into Gujarat (Daftary, pp. 298-99, 315-16, 321-22). The Nezārī, on the other hand, succeeded the Fatimid Ismaʿilis in Persia and other eastern lands. For some time before the schism Ismaʿilis in the domain of the Great Saljuqs (429-552/1038-1157) had been led by a single chief dāʿī at Isfahan. In the early 1070s and perhaps earlier ʿAbd-al-Malek b. ʿAṭṭāš (q.v.) filled this role. The dāʿī at Isfahan may also have supervised the dāʿīs operating in Khorasan and Iraq, though he received his own general instructions from Cairo. After the schism the Persian Ismaʿilis, the Nezārīya, severed relations with the Fatimid daʿwa centered in Cairo and established a separate daʿwa led by the dāʿī of Deylam, who resided in the mountain fortress of Alamūt (q. v.). Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ, founder of the Nezārī state in Persia, and his two successors at Alamūt were also regarded as the ḥojjas of the concealed Nezārī imams.
When the Nezārī imam emerged at Alamūt in 559/1164 he supplanted the ḥojjas as supreme leader of the Nezārī daʿwa and state. The supreme Nezārī leader, whether dāʿī or imam, selected the local chief dāʿīs to serve in the main Nezārī territories: Kūhestān (Qohestān) in southern Khorasan and Syria. The chief dāʿī (often called moḥtašem) of the Kūhestān Nezārīs usually lived in Tūn, Qāʾen, or the fortress of Moʾmenābād, near Bīrjand. His counterpart in Syria normally lived in the castle of Maṣyāf or Kahf in central Syria. The dāʿīs of Deylam and the chief dāʿīs of the Nezārī territories, who often functioned as military commanders, were supported by subordinate dāʿīs and assistants, though no details are available. It is clear, however, that the scattered Nezārī communities of the Alamūt period, which were often engaged in battles with Saljuqs and other enemies, had no use for the elaborate daʿwa structure developed by the Fatimid Ismaʿilis; there were apparently only a few ranks between the imam and his ordinary followers; in Persia the latter addressed one another as rafīq, or “comrade” (Daftary, pp. 335-36, 350-51, 381, 394-95).
After the fall of the Nezārī state in 654/1256 the imams again went into hiding in different parts of Persia, and for two centuries the various local Nezārī communities developed independently of one another. During this period the Nezārīs observed the strictest form of taqīya (dissimulation), in Persia often disguising themselves under the mantle of Sufism. Daʿwa activities seem to have been suspended almost completely, and only local chief dāʿīs, often called pīrs, continued to operate. In most communities the position of pīr gradually became hereditary.
When the imam of the Qāsemšāhī branch of Nezārī Ismaʿilism emerged at Anjedān, in central Persia, during the second half of the 15th century, there was a significant revival in daʿwa activity. During the two centuries of the Anjedān revival the imams, who developed close relations with the Neʿmat-Allāhī order of Sufis, successfully extended their control over the Nezārī communities of Persia, Afghanistan, Central Asia, India, and Syria. They dispatched trusted dāʿīs to all those regions, in order to reassert central authority and undermine the hereditary position of the local pīrs. For the purpose of taqīya, the Nezārīs had readily adopted the master-disciple (moršed-morīd) relationship of the Sufis, along with the associated terminology. To outsiders the Nezārī imams thus appeared as Sufi moršeds, or qoṭbs, and their followers as morīds. The imams were further encouraged by more favorable conditions after the Safavids’ adoption of Twelver Shiʿism as the state religion of Persia at the beginning of the 16th century. They adopted the guise of Twelver Shiʿites, as well as that of Sufis.
Under these circumstances the Nezārī daʿwa organization remained rather simple throughout the Anjedān period; there appear to have been only five ranks below the imam. The highest was the supreme dāʿī, or ḥojja, selected from among the close relatives of the imam. Next were the dāʿīs, chosen from the better-educated Nezārīs. They were no longer restricted to particular regions but were responsible for periodic inspections of the different communities, with reports to daʿwa headquarters in the imam’s residence, and for conveying directives from the imam to local leaders. Furthermore, they were expected to propagate the daʿwa in areas beyond the jurisdiction of particular Nezārī communities. The next lower rank was that of moʿallem, or religious teacher, who was normally attached to a particular community or region, corresponding to the dāʿīs of the jazīras in the Fatimid period. The moʿallems were appointed by the ḥojja in consultation with the imam, and every moʿallem was assisted by two categories of maʾḏūn. By the middle of the 16th century, however, the term pīr had replaced all these titles in the Nezārī organization. It fell into disuse in Persia after the Anjedān period, though it has remained in use until modern times among the Nezārīs of Badaḵšān and adjacent regions (Mostanṣer beʾllāh, text pp. 41ff., 62ff.; Qohestānī, text pp. 49-50, 59; Ḵayrḵᵛāh Herātī, 1935, text pp. 44, 76-77, 93-94, 101, 110; idem, 1961, pp. 3, 23, 58, 113ff.; Daftary, pp. 467-68, 475-76).
By the end of the 19th century the proselytizing activities of the Nezārīs had begun to lose their importance. The title moʿallem thus came to replace the generic title dāʿī, as the function of teaching Nezārī doctrines to members of the community displaced that of spreading the daʿwa and winning new converts. At present moʿallems and wāʿeẓīn, or preachers, are active in Nezārī communities in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America; selected groups receive regular training at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London.
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Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: November 11, 2011
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Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, pp. 590-593