The Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London houses the largest–known accessible collection of Ismaili codices in the world, including approximately 750 volumes of Ismaili manuscripts in Arabic. The early history of the formation of this collection pre–dates the foundation of the Institute’s Library in 1979 and even that of the Institute in 1977. In 1946, the Ismaili Society inherited a collection of Ismaili manuscripts in various languages brought together by the Russian Professor Wladimir Ivanow (1886–1970) and other scholars.
With the formal establishment of the Institute’s Library, these manuscripts came to form the basis of the Institute’s current collection. Between the early 1980s and mid–1990s, the collection was further expanded with the contribution of over 160 other manuscripts. The largest contribution in recent times to the expansion of the Library’s manuscript holdings came with the bequest in 1997 of 226 codices (221 Arabic Ismaili, one Persian Ismaili and four Arabic non–Ismaili) formerly owned by the late Dr Zahid ‘Ali. The manuscripts, donated to the Institute by the ‘Ali family, now based in California, represent an outstanding record of transmission of Ismaili learning and scholarship through many generations. The present catalogue is primarily intended as a tribute to Dr Zahid ‘Ali and to his past and present family members, for their exemplary dedication to the preservation and study of Ismaili literature.
Professor ‘Abid ‘Ali, as the only surviving son of Dr. Zahid ‘Ali, inherited the collection of manuscripts formerly owned by his father and forefathers. It was Professor ‘Abid ‘Ali who identified the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies as the most suitable venue for the preservation of such a valuable literary heritage. He set out to donate the collection to the Institute but passed away before achieving his goal. His wishes, reiterated in his will, were fulfilled in 1997.
This catalogue is dedicated exclusively to the Zahid ‘Ali corpus. The present volume lists 179 title entries of Arabic Ismaili texts featured in a total of 221 manuscript volumes. Five codices of Ismaili non–Arabic and non–Ismaili Arabic materials are listed in an appendix, together with other miscellaneous fragments of texts. With these exceptions, all the works cited in this catalogue belong to the tradition of legal, theological, philosophical and historical Ismaili literature produced over a period of nearly ten centuries, from pre–Fatimid to modern times. While featuring a substantial number of previously unrecorded works and possibly unique manuscripts, a large portion of the titles listed here duplicate entries already included in the published catalogues mentioned above. However, the opportunity has been taken to often expand and, occasionally, amend those same entries in the present volume.
The oldest dated Ismaili codex in the collection is a copy of vol. 1 of the legal treatise Kitab al–Hawashi by Aminji b. Jalal, dated 1145/1733. Apart from some six manuscripts dating back to the 12th/18th century, the remaining material is relatively recent, dating mainly from the middle of the 19th to the first half of the 20th century. Except for three manuscripts written in Yemen, Makka and Madina, the codices were primarily copied in India. The manuscripts in the collection consist of what one can, generally speaking, call ‘provincial’ copies, having been mainly produced for practical purposes, i.e. personal or didactic use. In many instances, the copyists were members of Dr Zahid ‘Ali’s family and, as the titles or dedications in the colophons often suggest, learned men, either occupying high positions in the Bohra religious–administrative hierarchy or working for its members. Among the miscellaneous material listed in the appendix, of particular importance is the Persian translation by al–Mu’ayyad fi’l–Din al–Shirazi of al–Qadi al–Nu‘man’s Asas al–ta’wil. Also of interest is a 10th/16th century copy of a Zaydi summary of al–Zamakhshari’s Qur’anic commentary.
The rest of the Arabic Ismaili collection in the Library is featured in the first volume of A. Gacek, Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies (London, 1984–1985) in two volumes, and in D. Cortese, Ismaili and Other Arabic Manuscripts (London, 2000).
Edited and Abbreviated from the Introduction by Delia Cortese
A selection of manuscripts from the collection can be viewed in the associated gallery, Manuscripts of the Zahid ‘Ali Collection.