Ismaʿilis had neither a Hadith collection of their own nor a distinct Ismaʿili law before the establishment of the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa in 297/909. As Ismaʿili law began taking definite shape under the patronage of the Fatimid caliphs, the need for a separate collection of clearly defined legal traditions became urgent; espe-cially since by this time Hadith had come to be recognized, both by Sunnis and Shiʿites alike, as second only to the Koran in authority. It was Qāżi Noʿmān (d. 363/974) who undertook the task at the suggestion of the first Fatimid caliph Mahdi (297-322/909-34), while he was still exclusively at the service of the caliph. In the introduction to his Ketāb al-eqteṣār (p. 9), Noʿmān states that he had embarked on the collection of traditions transmitted from the family of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt) dealing with customary practices, legal provisions and precepts, and formal legal opinions on what is lawful and unlawful, by scrutinizing the sources accessible to him by way of samāʿ (direct oral transmission from a shaikh or an Imam), ejāza (license to transmit from a shaikh), monā-wala (a copy of the shaikh’s traditions handed over to a student with ejāza), or ṣaḥifa (book). He further states that he had selected only the well-known and authentic traditions described as mašhur (with more than two transmitters; considered by some as equivalent to motawāter, with many transmitters, all known to be reliable), maʿruf (acceptable but weak and confirmed by another weak tradition), and maʾṯur (handed down from generation to generation). Most of the material that he had consulted was not in classified form (ḡayr moṣannaf); he therefore had arranged the traditions into appropriate chapters and sections according to categories of religious law, indicating the points on which the narrators agreed and disagreed, and denoting with evidence and proofs what was firmly established doctrine of the ahl al-bayt in respect to those categories. This work, entitled Ketāb al-iżāḥ “The Book of Elucidation,” was apparently a voluminous composition, comprising some 3,000 folios (waraqa) or about 220 chapters (ketāb). In it Noʿmān cited the entire chain of transmission for each tradition, recalling several relevant traditions on each legal matter. Unfortunately, however, except for a small fragment from the chapter on ritual prayer, the entire work is lost. Wilferd Madelung has analyzed the extant fragment and identified twenty books listed in it by Noʿmān as sources (Madelung, pp. 33-40). With the exception of part of al-Kotob al-jaʿfariya, none of these works is extant. The surviving section, although comparatively small given the massive size of the original work, arguably provides valuable information about earlier collections of Shiʿite legal Hadith that have not survived the vicissitudes of time.
The crowning achievement of Noʿmān’s long and arduous efforts in collecting legal traditions came when he was commissioned by the fourth Fatimid caliph Moʿezz le-Din-Allāh to compile his most famous work, Daʿāʾem al-Eslām “The Pillars of Islam,” under the caliph’s close supervision (Poonawala, 1996, pp. 126-30). As it was proclaimed the official code of the Fatimid state, authority for the traditions in the Daʿāʾem was confined to Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq for the simple reason that Jaʿfar and the Imams preceding him were accepted as trustworthy sources by both the Sunnis and Shiʿites. Although the Daʿāʾem is a book of law, it is at the same time a collection of Ismaʿili traditions considered as authentic, and arranged according to the subject matter of feqh (jurisprudence) in the style of Imam Mālek’s al-Mowaṭṭaʾ and Kolayni’s al-Kāfi fi ʿelm al-din. It is divided into two volumes, the first dealing with ʿebādāt (worship) and the second with moʿāmalāt (worldly affairs and business transactions). It is considered by the Mostaʿli-Ṭayyebis as the greatest authority on Ismaʿili law, and has remained to the present time a source of supreme authority in legal matters. It is important to note that the Daʿāʾem contains in total approximately five hundred traditions from the Prophet, a very small number compared to Sunni works.
Another of Noʿmān’s major works is a collection of non-legal traditions which he compiled during the reign of Moʿezz le-Din-Allāh, titled Šarḥ al-aḵbār fi fażāʾel al-aʾemma al-aṭhār “Explication of traditions about the excellent qualities of the pure Imams.” It contains approximately 1,460 traditions, all of which, according to the author, are well known and authentic (described as mašhur, maʿruf, maʾṯur, ṣaḥiḥ, and ṯābet) and are related both by Sunnis (al-ʿāmm) and Shiʿites (al-ḵāṣṣ) alike. Like his previous work the Daʿāʾem, it was revised and approved by the caliph. The traditions are arranged topically and the chain of authorities is kept to the bare minimum. Two-thirds of the work deals with the fażāʾel of Iman ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, making it one of the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of the Shiʿite case for ʿAli, and related issues. The rest of the work enumerates the fażāʾel of the ahl al-bayt, Ḵadija bt. Ḵowayled, Jaʿfar b. Abi Ṭāleb, Ḥamza b. ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb and the early Imams up to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq, and it concludes with the traditions concerning the rise of the Fatimid Caliph/Imam Mahdi from the West (i.e., North Africa). The traditions are culled from a wide variety of Hadith, maḡāzi, and siar works. Some of the sources mentioned by Noʿmān are: Ebn Esḥāq (d. 150/767), al-Maḡāzi, al-Sira; Wāqedi (d. 207/822), [al-Maḡāzi]; Ṭabari (d. 310/923), Ketāb ḏakara fihe fażāʾelʿAli [Fażāʾel ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb or Ketāb Ḡadir Ḵomm], of which more than forty pages are cited (Rosenthal, pp. 91-93); Moḥammad b. ʿAbd-Allāh Eskāfi (d. 240/854), Fi tafżil ʿAli ʿalā sāʾer al-ṣaḥāba [Ketāb al-maqālāt fi tafżil ʿAli or Ketāb fażāʾel ʿAli] (“ISKĀFĪ, ABŪ DJAʿFAR” in EI2 IV, pp. 126-27); Zobayr b. Bakkār (d. 256/870), [Nasab Qorayš or Ketāb al-mofāḵarāt] (Sezgin, I, pp. 317-18); Moḥammad b. Salām Kufi (fl., second half of the 2nd/8th century); Yaḥyā b. Salām [Ṭaymi Baṣri] (d. 200/815), al-Tafsir (Sezgin, I, pp. 39, 47). The importance of this work lies in the fact that most of the sources used by Noʿmān are no longer extant. Another work by Noʿmān titled Ketāb al-manāqeb le-ahl bayt rasul Allāh al-nojabāʾ wa’l-maṯāleb le-bani Omayya al-loʿanāʾ "The Book of the excellent qualities of the noble family of the Prophet and the unworthy qualities of the damned house of Omayya,” is interspersed with traditions.
There is no reference in Noʿmān’s works to any of the six Sunni canonical Hadith collections. This suggests that, at the time when Noʿmān was writing, these collections had probably not yet gained wide currency and acceptance. Also questions connected with the reliability of the Hadiths as well as criteria for their acceptance had not been finally settled. After Noʿmān’s works no fur-ther Hadith collection of significance was compiled by Ismaʿilis. Excessive emphasis on the bāṭeni (esoteric) sciences, identified with the ʿolum ahl al-bayt (sciences derived from the Prophet’s family), as opposed to the ẓāheri sciences (exoteric, especially Hadith and jurisprudence) probably accounts for this lack of interest. Hadith was not a crucial ingredient of religious learning among the Ismaʿilis and consequently it never assumed much importance in their later history. It may be said that Ismaʿili Hadith-collection began with Noʿmān under special circumstances dictated by the needs of the emerging Fatimid state, and also ended with him.
Farhad Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990, p. 233.
Wilferd Madelung, “The Sources of Ismāʿīlī Law,” JNES 35, 1976, pp. 29-40; repr. in idem, Religious Schools and Sects in Medieval Islam, Variorum reprint series, London, 1958, no. XVIII, separate pagination, pp. 29-40.
Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature, Malibu, Calif., 1977, pp. 48-68.
Idem, “Al-Qāḍī al-Nuʿmān and Ismaʿili Jurisprudence,” in Farhad Daftary, ed., Mediaeval Ismaʿili History and Thought, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 117-43.
Qāżi Noʿmān, Daʿāʾem al-Eslām, ed. Asaf Ali Asghar Fyzee, Cairo, 1951-61; tr. A. A. A. Fyzee, as The Pillars of Islam, completely revised and annotated by I. K. Poonawala, New Delhi, 2001.
Idem, Ketāb eḵtelāf oṣul al-maḏāheb, ed. S. T. Lokhandwalla, Simla, 1972.
Idem, Ketāb al-eqteṣār, ed. M. W. Mirzā, Damascus, 1376/1957.
Idem, Ketāb al-manāqeb wa’l-maṯāleb, ms. collection of Mollā Qorbān Ḥosayn Godhrawala.
Idem, Šarḥ al-aḵbār fi fażāʾel al-aʾemma al-aṭhār, ed. M. al-Ḥosayni al-Jalāli, Qom, 1409-12/1988/89-1991/92, 3 vols., originally divided into 16 parts (Vladimir Ivanow ed. and tr. the traditions in this work concerning the rise of the Mahdi in his Ismaili Traditions Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, Bombay, 1942, pp. 1–34 (text), pp. 97-122 (tr.).
Franz Rosenthal, Intro. and tr., The History of al-Ṭabarī I: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, Albany, NY, 1989, pp. 91-93.
(Ismail K. Poonawala)
Originally Published: December 15, 2002
Last Updated: February 24, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 5, pp. 449-451