DAWR (1)

(Ar. and Pers.), period, era, or cycle of history, a term used by Ismaʿilis in connection with their conceptions of time and the religious history of mankind.


DAWR (Ar. and Pers.), period, era, or cycle of history, a term used by Ismaʿilis in connection with their conceptions of time and the religious history of mankind. The early Ismaʿilis conceived of time (zamān) as a progression of cycles or eras, dawrs (Ar. pl. adwār), with a beginning and an end. On the basis of their eclectic temporal vision, which reflected Greek, Judeo-Christian, and Gnostic influences, as well as the eschatological ideas of earlier Shiʿites, they worked out a view of history, or rather hierohistory, in terms of the eras (dawrs) of different prophets recognized in the Koran. This prophetic interpretation of history was, moreover, combined with the Ismaʿili doctrine of the imamate, which had been inherited from the Imami Shiʿites.

The Ismaʿilis thus believed from early on that the hierohistory of mankind comprised seven prophetic eras (dawrs) of various durations, each inaugurated by the speaker-prophet or enunciator (nāṭeq) of a revealed message that in its exoteric (ẓāher) aspect contained a religious law, or šarīʿa. The nāṭeqs of the first six eras were Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Moḥammad respectively. Each was succeeded by a legatee (waṣī), also called “foundation” (asās) or “silent one” (ṣāmet), who revealed to the elite the inner (bāṭen) meanings of the message for his dawr. These inner meanings represented the unchangeable truths (ḥaqāʾeq) of Ismaʿili gnosis. Each waṣī was, in turn, succeeded by seven imams, who guarded the true meaning of the message in both ẓāher and bāṭen aspects. The seventh imam of each dawr became the nāṭeq of the following dawr, abrogating the šarīʿa of the previous nāṭeq and promulgating a new one (Feraq al-šīʿa, pp. 61-63; Qomī, pp. 83-85, apud Stern, pp. 49-55; Madelung, pp. 48 ff.; Daftary, pp. 104-05, 136-40). This pattern would change only in the seventh, final dawr of hierohistory.

In the sixth dawr, the era of the Prophet Moḥammad and Islam, the seventh imam was Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl b. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, who had gone into concealment. On his reappearance as the qāʾem (restorer of justice on earth and true Islam), or mahdī, he would become the seventh nāṭeq, ruling over the final, eschatological dawr. Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl would abrogate the law of Islam; his own divine message would not entail a new law, however, but would consist of the full revelation of the esoteric truths (ḥaqāʾeq) concealed in all the previous messages, the immutable truths of all religions, which had previously been accessible only to the elite of mankind. In this final, messianic age there would be no need for religious law. Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl, the last of the nāṭeqs and imams, would rule in justice as the eschatological qāʾem and would then bring to an end the physical world. His dawr would thus mark the end of time and human history (Ebn Ḥawšab, pp. 189, 191-92, 197 ff.; Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr Yaman, 1952, pp. 14 ff., 50, 97, 104, 109, 113-14, 132-33, 138, 150, 170; Abū Yaʿqūb, 1966, pp. 181-93; idem, 1980, pp. 47-56; Corbin, pp. 30 ff.; Halm, pp. 18-37; Walker, pp. 355-66).

The whole cycle from Adam to the advent of the qāʾem as the seventh nāṭeq was also called the “era of concealment” (dawr al-satr), because the truths were concealed in the laws. By contrast, the seventh dawr, when the truths would be fully revealed to mankind, was designated the “era of revelation, or manifestation” (dawr al-kašf), an era of pure spiritual knowledge with no need for religious laws. The Ismaʿilis also used the expression dawr al-satr in reference to a period when the imams were hidden (mastūr) from the eyes of their followers, in contradistinction to dawr al-kašf, when the imams were manifest and accessible.

This Ismaʿili view of history was evidently first committed to writing in Persia and Transoxania by prominent early dāʿīs (missionaries) and authors there, notably Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Nasafī (d. 332/943-44), whose major treatise Ketāb al-maḥṣūl has not survived, and Abū Ḥātem Rāzī (d. 322/934), whose ideas on the subject were primarily expounded in his Ketāb al-eṣlāhá, which is still unpublished. Both these early Ismaʿili theologians envisaged hierohistory in terms of the scheme of seven prophetic eras, though they disagreed on some details. In fact, they became the protagonists in a scholarly debate over religious obligations and certain metaphysical issues, later joined by Nasafī’s disciple Abū Yaʿqūb Sejestānī. Subsequently the dāʿī Ḥamīd-al-Dīn Kermānī acted as arbiter in this controversy (Kermānī, pp. 176-212). Nasafī and Abū Ḥātem devoted much energy and imagination to accommodating other religions, notably those of the Zoroastrians and the Sabaeans, within their scheme of seven prophetic eras, assigning these religions to specific dawrs and nāṭeqs. Abū Ḥātem also introduced the concept of an interim period (dawr al-fatra), marked by the absence of imams and occurring at the end of each prophetic dawr, between the disappearance of the seventh imam of that era and the advent of the nāṭeq of the following era. According to him, the Zoroastrians belonged to the fourth era, the dawr of Moses, and Zoroaster himself had appeared during the interim period at the end of that dawr (pp. 52 ff., 59, 69 ff., 160 ff., 171-77; Abū Yaʿqūb, 1966, pp. 82-83; Corbin, pp. 187-93; Madelung, pp. 101-14; Stern, pp. 30-46; Daftary, pp. 234-39).

The cyclical prophetic view of hierohistory elaborated by the early Ismaʿilis was retained by the Fatimid Ismaʿilis, who refined or modified certain aspects of it, especially in connection with the duration of the sixth dawr, the era of Islam; the number of imams during that era; and the qāʾem and his functions (see, e.g., Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr Yaman, 1984, pp. 21 ff., 57 ff., 67 ff., 101, 105, 109, 112, 164 ff., 201 ff., 217, 219, 229 ff.; Qāżī Noʿmān, pp. 40-368; Daftary, pp. 176-79, 218-20, 234). Some authors of the Fatimid period introduced new concepts into the cyclical scheme. The Persian Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow (394-ca. 471/1004-ca. 1078), for instance, distinguished between a grand cycle (dawr-e mehīn), encompassing the entire sequence of the seven nāṭeqs, and a small cycle (dawr-e kehīn), coinciding with the latter part of the grand cycle and including the era of Islam and thereafter (pp. 62-64, 126-27, 157, 169-70, 245, 256, 331).

Later Ismaʿilis introduced further innovations into the earlier interpretation of hierohistory expressed in terms of the seven prophetic dawrs. On the basis of astronomical calculations the Yamanī Ṭayyebīs conceived of a grand eon (kawr aʿẓam) comprised of countless cycles, each divided into seven dawrs, which would be consummated in the qāʾem of the “great resurrection” (qīāmat al-qīāmāt). Furthermore, the grand eon was held to progress through successive cycles of concealment (satr) and revelation (kašf or ẓohūr), each composed of seven dawrs (see e.g. Ḥāmedī, pp. 149 ff., 205-27, 232 ff., 258-72; Walīd, pp. 100 ff., 121-28; Corbin, pp. 37-58; Daftary, pp. 140-41, 291 ff., 295).

The Nezārī Ismaʿilis of the Alamūt period (487-654/1094-1256) in Persia followed a religious and political path of their own and, unlike the Ṭayyebī Ismaʿilis, were not particularly concerned with the earlier cyclical view of history, though they generally adhered to the scheme of seven prophetic eras. However, in connection with elaborating their own doctrines, they allowed for transitory eras of resurrection (qīāmat) during the dawr of the Prophet Moḥammad, who, like the five enunciating prophets before him, had initiated an era of concealment (dawr-e satr). In the era of Islam, and in special honor of Moḥammad’s greatness, there could be occasional anticipatory eras of resurrection, each offering a foretaste of the qīāmat that was to occur at the end of Moḥammad’s era, ushering in the seventh and final millennium in the religious history of mankind. The condition of qīāmat could in principle be granted at any time, to mankind as a whole or to the elite, by the current Nezārī imam, for every imam was potentially also a qāʾem. As a result, in the era of Moḥammad human life could alternate, at the will of the imam, between dawrs of qīāmat and satr, the normal condition of human life. The Nezārīs, however, interpreted the qīāmat symbolically and spiritually as the manifestation of the unveiled truth in the person of the Nezārī imam, whereas satr meant concealment of the true spiritual reality of the imam, when truth was again hidden in the bāṭen of the laws, requiring the strictest observance of the šarīʿa and taqīya, or dissimulation (Ṭūsī, pp. 61-63, 83-84, 101-02, 110, 117-19, 128-49; Corbin, pp. 117 ff.; Hodgson, pp. 148 ff., 225-38; Daftary, pp. 386 ff., 404 ff., 410-11).



Abū Ḥātem Rāzī, Aʿlām al-nobūwa, ed. Ṣ. Ṣāwī and Ḡ.-R. Aʿwānī, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Abū Yaʿqūb Sejestānī, Eṯbāt al-nobūwāt, ed. ʿĀ. Tāmer, Beirut, 1966.

Idem, Ketāb al-efteḵār, ed. M. Ḡāleb, Beirut, 1980.

H. Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, London, 1983.

F. Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs. Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990.

Ebn Ḥawšab Manṣūr Yaman, Ketāb al-rošd wa’l-hedāya, ed. M. Kāmel Ḥosayn, in W. Ivanow, ed., Collectanea I, Leiden, 1948.

H. Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismāʿīlīya, Wiesbaden, 1978.

Ebrāhīm b. Ḥosayn Ḥāmedī, Ketāb kanz al-walad, ed. M. Ḡāleb, Wiesbaden, 1971.

M. G. S. Hodgson, The Order of Assassins, the Hague, 1955.

Jaʿfar b. Manṣūr Yaman, Ketāb al-kašf, ed. R. Strothmann, London, 1952.

Idem, Sarāʾer wa asrār al-noṭaqāʾ, ed. M. Ḡāleb, Beirut, 1984.

Ḥamīd-al-Dīn Kermānī, Ketāb al-rīāż, ed. ʿĀ. Tāmer, Beirut, 1960.

W. Madelung, “Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre,” Der Islam 37, 1961, pp. 43-135.

Nāṣer-e Ḵosrow Qobādīānī, Wajh-e dīn, ed. Ḡ.-R. Aʿwānī, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

Qāżī Abū Ḥanīfa Noʿmān b. Moḥammad, Asās al-taʾwīl, ed. ʿĀ. Tāmer, Beirut, 1960.

Saʿd b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qomī, Ketāb al-maqālat wa’l-feraq, ed. M.-J. Maškūr, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963.

S. M. Stern, Studies in Early Ismāʿīlism, Jerusalem and Leiden, 1983.

Naṣīr-al-Dīn Moḥammad Ṭūsī, Rawżat al-taslīm, ed. and tr. W. Ivanow, Leiden, 1950.

Ḥosayn b. Aḥmad Walīd, Resālat al-mabdaʾ wa’l-maʿād, ed. H. Corbin in Trilogie Ismaélienne, Tehran and Paris, 1340 Š./1961, pp. 99-130.

P. E. Walker, “Eternal Cosmos and the Womb of History. Time in Early Ismaili Thought,” IJMES 9, 1978, pp. 355-66.

(Farhad Daftary)

Originally Published: December 15, 1994

Last Updated: November 18, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol.VII, Fasc. 2, pp. 151-153