Wellsprings of Wisdom: Persian Contributions to Ismaili ThoughtThe Fatimid Period
The foundation of the Fatimid state in 909 in North Africa marks the beginning of not only a glorious age in Ismaili history, but also one of the greatest eras in Egyptian and Muslim history. Following the conquest of Egypt in 969, Cairo - the new capital of the Fatimids - became a flourishing centre of scholarship, sciences, art and culture, in addition to serving as the headquarters of the Ismaili da‘wa, which achieved particular success outside the domains of the Fatimid state.
During the Fatimid period, Ismaili da‘is composed texts that were to become not only important contributions to Ismaili thought and literature, but which also left an indelible mark on the Islamic philosophical tradition. The da‘is, in particular those from the Iranian lands - notably Abu Hatim al-Razi, Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani, Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani, and al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi - created an intellectual and philosophical tradition that synthesized Muslim ideas with strands from classical Greek, Persian and other philosophical sources. Numerous treatises written in Arabic express the complex metaphysical systems of thought developed by these scholars.
In the writings of Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani, we have perhaps the earliest systematic exposition of Ismaili philosophy. He was particularly influenced by Neoplatonism and his contributions to various cosmological and philosophical doctrines can be traced through his numerous extant works, including the Kitab al-yanabi‘, whose primary theme is the wellsprings of human knowledge and spiritual life in each era of religious history.
Hamid al-Din al-Kirmani’s thought represents a unique tradition within the Iranian school of philosophical Ismailism. In his Rahat al-‘aql, an extremely significant text that reveals the richness and diversity of philosophical thought, al-Kirmani expounds a modified cosmology, replacing the Neoplatonic dyad of intellect and soul in the spiritual world with a system of ten separate intellects in partial adaptation of al-Farabi’s Aristotelian cosmic system. On the other hand, al-Mu’ayyad fi’l-Din al-Shirazi’s al-Majalis - arranged in eight volumes of one hundred lectures each which he delivered at the Dar al-‘Ilm in Cairo - deals with a wide range of theological, philosophical and ethical questions.