KETĀB AL-EṢLĀḤ, an early Ismaʿili work in Arabic, the title of which can be translated as The Book of Correction, written by Abu Ḥātem Rāzi, who was a leading dāʿi in the first half of the 4th/10th century in what is now northwestern Iran. The book was intended to refute, or to “correct” (aṣlaḥa), the Ketāb al-maḥṣul by Moḥammad Nasafi (d. 332/943). The Eṣlāḥ quotes and discusses many of the theses in the now lost Maḥṣul, one of the oldest Ismaʿili works that extensively utilized Neoplatonist philosophical ideas, thus becoming one of the few extant texts from the earliest phase of Neoplatonist-influenced Ismaʿilism. The text covers various topics, both philosophical and non-philosophical, such as cosmology and cosmogony, the theory of the soul (nafs) and the intellect (ʿaql), divine transcendence, prophethood, sacred laws (sharāʾeʿ), and Isma‘ili missionary activity (daʿwa). The surviving text of the Eṣlāḥ consists of six parts (ajzāʾ), but its beginning and ending are missing. Part I deals with the dāʿis’ administration of their communities. Part II contains a number of sections (foṣul) that discuss philosophical issues. Other parts deal mainly with the interpretation of the stories of the prophets in the Qorʾān and sacred history as divided into seven cycles (adwār).
The Eṣlāḥ’s polemic against Nasafi triggered a doctrinal debate among his fellow Ismaʿilis that continued up to the early 5th/11th century. Taking sides with Nasafi, Abu Yaʿqub Sejestāni (fl. mid-4th/10th century) wrote the now lost Ketāb al-noṣra. Later, in an attempt to reconcile Nasafi, Rāzi, and Sejestāni (who are also called the “Persian School” because of their common presumed-Persian origin and Neoplatonist influence), Ḥamid-al-Din Kermāni (d. after 411/1020-21) wrote Ketāb al-riāż, in which he mainly revisited the issues debated in Part II of the Eṣlāḥ.
Part II of the Eṣlāḥ displays a cosmological framework common to Rāzi and Nasafi (and, later, Sejestāni), which uses Neoplatonist notions and terminology: with His creative Word (kalema) the absolutely transcendent God, called “the Originator” (al-Mobdeʿ), even the negation of whose attributes (ṣefāt, sg. ṣefa) should be negated, originated the hypostatic Universal Intellect, from which the Universal Soul emerged (enbaʿaṯa; cf. W. Madelung, COSMOGONY AND COSMOLOGY vi. IN ISMAʿILISM). One of the major philosophical points of disagreement between the two thinkers is the relation of the Universal Soul to the human rational soul. Whereas Nasafi holds that the human rational soul is a “particle” (jozʾ) of the Universal Soul, thus emphasizing their closeness to each other, Rāzi maintains that the rational soul is a mere “trace” (aṯar) of the Universal Soul, insisting on their distance. Paul E. Walker points out the similarity of Nasafi’s thesis with the theory of Plotinus, the late ancient philosopher, and that of Rāzi to Proclus (Walker, 1993, pp. 51-60; idem, 1992). In Part III, due to Rāzi’s insistence on the distance of the human soul from the Universal Soul, Rāzi denies that the enunciator-prophets (nuṭaqāʾ, sg. nāṭeq), such as Abraham and Moses, may directly recognize the Universal Soul and Intellect, whereas Nasafi accepts that they indeed are able to recognize thereof (Halm, 1978, pp. 67-71). Thus, in these debates, Rāzi and Nasafi incorporate the issue of philosophical cosmology and the theory of the soul into their doctrinal discussion on prophecy.
In addition, in the Eṣlāḥ some notions of Greek natural philosophy are used in order to explain the development of sacred history and the role of prophets in it. For example, the four religious communities—Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Sabeans—are compared to the four elements (ommahāt). From their convergence emerges a new “form” (ṣura) of being, by which is meant the Muslim community. Likewise, after four Muslim groups, the Morjeʾa, the Māreqa (i.e. the Kharijites), the Qadariya, and the Rāfeża, the fifth one —the Ismaʿilis—emerged. The Ismaʿilis are designated as “the people of the pure religion” (ahl al-din al-ḵāleṣ) and “the people of reality” (ahl al-ḥaqiqa). Further, the seventh enunciator-prophet, that is, the messianic Qāʾem (literally the “one who rises”), is compared to “ether” (aṯir), which is, according to Rāzi, the distinct element encircling or comprising (moḥiṭ) other elements; similarly, the Qāʾem can grasp the spiritual meaning of all the sacred laws, which belongs to the higher “simple world” (al-ʿālam al-basiṭ).
The debates in the Eṣlāḥ also reflect the religious and political situation of the Isma‘ilis of Rāzi’s time. For example, against Nasafi’s denial of the existence of Adam’s sacred law, Rāzi maintains that Adam had actually brought a law. Thus, although propagating the Carmatian prediction of the imminent advent of the Mahdi, Rāzi was strongly opposed to their millennialist antinomianism that culminated in their declaration of the advent of the Mahdi and abolishment of the sacred law in Bahrain in the year 319/931. It has also been pointed out that this criticism by Rāzi suggests that the Eṣlāḥ may have been written after the rapid disastrous fall of the Mahdi of Bahrain (Madelung, 1988, pp. 96-99). Furthermore, Rāzi interprets the status of prophetic figures such as David and Solomon in the Qorʾānic stories as the chief lāḥeq (“lieutenant”), or the dignitary ranked next to the Imam, and refers to the importance of this position as the leader of the daʿwa. This suggests that Rāzi did not recognize the Fāṭemid claim to the imamate nor the Carmatian claim of the appearance of the hidden Mahdi-Qāʾem (Halm, 1991, pp. 335-36; tr. Bonner, pp. 378-79; Madelung, 1961, p. 110; and Nomoto, 1999, pp. 285–305).
Edition, printed version, and related texts.
Abu Ḥātem Rāzi, Ketāb al-eṣlāḥ, ed. Ḥ. Minučehr and prepared for publication by M. Moḥaqqeq, with an English introduction by S. Nomoto, Tehran, 1998; partial English translation by S. Nomoto in Reports of the Keio Institute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies 34, 2002, pp. 97-152 (a chapter of Part 5); 35, 2003, pp. 105-131 (Part 1); 36, 2005, pp. 45-78, 39, 2008, pp. 99-119; 40, 2009, pp. 69-90; 42, 2011, pp. 127–49 (sections of Part 2).
Idem, Ketāb al-zīna, fascicles 1 and 2, ed. Ḥ. al-Hamdani, Cairo, 1957-58, and fascicle 3, ed. ʿA. S. Sāmarrāʾi in Al-ḡolow wa’l-feraq al-ḡāliya fi’l-ḥażāra al-eslāmiya, Baghdad, 1972.
Idem, Aʿlām al-nobowwa, ed. Ṣ. Ṣāwi and Ḡ.-R. Aʿvāni, Tehran, 1977; tr. T. Khalidi as The Proofs of Prophecy, Provo, Utah, 2012.
Ḥamid-al-Din Kermāni, Ketāb al-riāż, ed. ʿĀ. Tāmer, Beirut, 1960.
Esmāʿil b. ʿAbd-al-Rasul Majduʿ, Fehrest al-kotob wa-al-rasāʾel, ed. ʿA.-N. Monzavi, Tehran, 1966.
I. K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature, Malibu, Calif., 1977.
J. Ali, Language and Heresy in Ismaili Thought: The Kitab al-Zina of Abu Hatim al-Razi, Piscataway, N. J., 2008.
F. Daftary, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography of Sources and Studies, London, 2004.
Idem, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2007.
D. de Smet, “Adam, premier prophète et législateur? La doctrine chiite des ulū al-ʿazm et la controverse sur la pérennité de la šarīʿa,” in Le shīʿisme imāmite quarante ans après: Hommage à Etan Kohlberg, ed. M.-A. Amir-Moezzi, M. M. Bar-Asher and S. Hopkins, Turnhout, Belgium, 2009, pp. 187-202.
H. Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismāʿīlīya: Eine Studie zur islamischen Gnosis, Wiesbaden, 1978.
Idem, Das Reich des Mahdi: Der Aufstieg der Fatmiden, Munich, 1991; tr. M. Bonner as The Empire of the Mahdi: The Rise of the Fatimids, Leiden, 1996.
W. Ivanow, Studies in Early Persian Ismailism, Bombay, 1955.
W. Madelung, “Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre,” Der Islam 37, 1961, pp. 43-135.
Idem, Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran, Albany, N.Y., 1988.
S. Nomoto, “Early Ismāʿīlī Thought on Prophecy According to the Kitāb al-Iṣlāḥ by Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī (d. ca. 322/934-5),” Ph.D. diss., McGill University (Montreal), 1999.
Idem, “An Early Ismaili View of Other Religions: A Chapter from the Kitāb al-iṣlāḥ by Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī (d. ca. 322/934),” in Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy and Mysticism in Muslim Thought, ed. T. Lawson, London, 2005, pp. 142-56.
Idem, “Early Ismāʿīlī-Shīʿī Thought on the Messianic Figure (the Qāʾim) According to al-Rāzī (d. ca. 322/933-4),” Orient: Reports of the Society for Near Eastern Studies in Japan 44, 2009, pp. 19-39.
A. Shamsuddin Talbani, “The Debate about Prophecy in Kitāb Aʿlām al-Nubūwah,” M.A. thesis, McGill University (Montreal), 1987.
S. M. Stern, “Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī on Persian Religion,” in Studies in Early Ismāʿīlism, Leiden, 1983, pp. 30-46.
P. E. Walker, “The Universal Soul and the Particular Soul in Ismāʿīlī Neoplatonism,” in P. Morewedge, ed., Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought, Albany, N.Y., 1992, pp. 149-66.
Idem, Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī, Cambridge, 1993.
Originally Published: March 24, 2017
Last Updated: March 24, 2017Cite this entry:
Shin Nomoto, “KETĀB AL-EṢLĀḤ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2017, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ketab-al-eslah (accessed on 24 March 2017).