Publication

  • Abu Ya‘qub al-Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary

    London: I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 1996, pp. xv, 132.

    ISBN Paperback:
    1 86064 294 2
    ISBN HardBack:
    1 85043 921 4
  • The writings of al–Sijistani come from a period in history that has dramatic importance for the development of Islamic thought. Many trends in Islamic philosophy and in theology, law, Sufisminfo-icon, or issues of sectarian rivalry crystallised only during the 4th/10th century when this eminent Ismaili theoretician lived and worked. It was also an age of powerful achievement for the Shia and, particularly, for the Ismailis. One generation prior to al–Sijistani, they were a secret movement largely unknown. By the end of his lifetime, they possessed a vast empire of both political and spiritual power.


    The Ismaili revolution attested to by these changes involved, first and foremost, issues of religious loyalty, but, in addition, matters of reasoning and of an intellectual commitment to a way of understanding Islam and the mission of its Prophet. This second, more intellectual dimension of the Ismaili programme was as serious as the first, and it required for its propagation and defence a thoroughly trained group of writers and thinkers. Their goal was the conversion of other Muslims to the truth, not merely in respect to proper leadership in religious and political affairs, but in all matters that arise in the pursuit of knowledge.


    The 4th/10th century was also the time of a great intellectual ferment in Islamic thought. The Mutazilites brought to Muslim doctrine a kind of rationalism; the Philosophers did likewise but in a different manner. Other groups found their own answers and tried to nullify the influence of both of these. In the midst of all this doctrinal strife, the Ismailis proposed their own solutions and fought hard to have them accepted. Rather than shy away from the great debates, they entered the fray and became a party to the conflicts and contentions of these other scholars. The Ismailis could not do otherwise if they hoped to contend for the hearts and, especially, the minds of the majority. The generation of al–Sijistani aimed to become the voice of majority Islam.


    In the midst of this turmoil, al–Sijistani stands as the pre–eminent spokesman of the intellectual wing of the Ismaili mission. He was, of course, not alone, nor was he the first. From our modern perspective, however, we see him more clearly than the rest because Ismaili disciples of the following centuries chose to preserve his books rather than those of his predecessors or contemporaries. Therefore, strictly in terms of the scholarly literature that expresses Ismaili doctrine – outside of the subject of positive law – al–Sijistani’s treatises assumed the highest position for his century and earlier.


    Ironically, the man himself is a mystery. There now exist almost no details of his personal life except his name, two dates, the name of the governor who ordered his execution, and his curious nickname “cotton–seed.” In Ismaili tradition he is called Abu Yaqub Ishaq ibn Ahmad al–Sijistani. The nisbainfo-icon, al–Sijistani, links him to the Iranian province of Sistaninfo-icon or Sijistan and appears to indicate his main place of residence and activity. Here then we have a major Ismaili writer and agent, active in Sistan from roughly 320/932 to 361/971. Not long after 361/971, he was put to death by the governor of Sistan, Khalaf b. Ahmad, and he thus became a martyr for the Ismaili cause.


    These few facts, however, add up to little. Yet, from the prominence of his books and the profoundly impressive intellectual contributions they represent, we discover a truly significant mind and voice – one that deserves recognition as an outstanding figure in the Ismaili past and as a major force in Islamic thought in general. But, in looking at Ismaili literature of the kind produced by al–Sijistani, with its quasi–philosophical themes that bridge the subjects of religion and science, we discovered less political ideology than of rather lofty and abstract, almost timeless, discussions of soul, intellect and God. The questions in al–Sijistani’s writings turn out to concern problems in the theory of creation, in epistemology, in the origin of nature, in the ultimate end of humankind, and in salvation through knowledge. Al–Sijistani wrote about prophecy and human development, the role of law, the formation of law, its interpretation, previous prophets and history, and other themes that had little direct application to the everyday practice of governments and political movements.


    Prior to writing this book, Dr. Paul E. Walker wrote another one specifically on al–Sijistani’s Neoplatonism (Early Philosophical Shi‘isminfo-icon: the Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu Yaqub al–Sijistani). It seemed to him at the time that the most interesting aspect of al–Sijistani’s thought was his combination of Neoplatonic ideas and Ismaili doctrine. But the Ismaili Shi‘ism of al–Sijistani holds a comparable interest. Al–Sijistani himself wanted most to provide the movement with a sound, readily defensible theoretical foundation; he personally cared little for philosophy, Neoplatonic or otherwise.


    Only one of al–Sijistani’s books, The Wellsprings, has been edited and published carefully. Because it represents a fascinating combination of philosophy and Ismaili religious doctrine, Dr. Walker followed Early Philosophical Shi‘ism with a volume entitled The Wellsprings of Wisdom containing a complete English translation and commentary on it.


    Both of these earlier publications had a scholarly reader in mind. Each, for example, has a full apparatus of citations to the original sources and the early Ismailis, the Greek and pseudo–Greek philosophical texts in Arabic that were read by al–Sijistani and his colleagues, the exact contributions of al–Sijistani’s predecessors in the Ismaili mission, and other matters pertinent to al–Sijistani and his work. In as much as these details of specialised scholarship were already available, it seemed quite appropriate that they not be repeated again in the present volume.


    As a new approach, therefore, Walker decided to rearrange al–Sijistani’s own statements – statements which he certainly never presented in a single coherent fashion himself – and to draw out of them a picture of the whole cosmic system that he was trying to describe. In his own writings al–Sijistani explained his thought one item at a time. Never once did he provide either an introduction to the whole or a general framework in which the individual pieces fit. Nevertheless, he did envision a master plan, a scheme that explains the cosmos at large, the position of the human species in it, and the role of a series of mediators who all convey knowledge of the truth about God and about the universe to the individual, to the community and to the nation.


    This book about al–Sijistani differs from the others, therefore, in that it looks at his thought as a coherent whole without special regard to his own discussions of precise details or controversial aspects of individual doctrines. Instead the chapters in it, by assembling its parts and forming them into one complete system, constitute more generally the author's reflections about what al–Sijistani wrote and why he said what he said. Its purpose then is to explain the sources of al–Sijistani’s knowledge, the universe he analysed, the paradise he longed for, and the God he worshipped.



  • Preface



    1. The Shiiteinfo-icon Renaissance: Religion and Science in the Early Ismaili Mission
      The Renaissance Century
      The Intellectual Dimension
      The Intellectual Mission and its Missionaries
      The Confrontation with Philosophy
      The Personnel of the Renaissance
      The School of Khurasaninfo-icon
      Two Renaissance Men
      The Literature of Ideas

    2. The Sources of Truth
      The Quest for Certainty
      The Wellsprings of Truth
      Intellect and ta’yid
      The Soul and its tarkib
      The Speaking–prophet and his ta’lif
      The Sacred Interpretation and its Founder

    3. The Ladder of Salvation
      The Excellence of Humans
      History and Hierarchy
      The Messiah
      Paradise

    4. The Ultimate Recourse in God and the tawhidinfo-icon
      The Problem of tawhid
      Intellectual Anthropomorphism
      Creation
      A Language for Theology
      Al–Sijistani’s Contributions

    Appendix: The Study of al–Sijistani and his Works: A Brief History and Guide


    Select Bibliography


    Index



  • Abu Firas, Shihab al–Dininfo-icon, Kitab al–idah,. Edited by A. Tamer, Beirut, 1965.


    Abu Tammam, Kitab al–shajara. Part one manuscript: Hamdani Library; Part two (?) edited by A. Tamer as Kitab shajarat al–yaqin (by ‘Abddn), Beirut, 1982.


    Alibhai, Mohamed Abualy, ‘Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani and Kitab Sullam al–Najat: A Study in Islamic Neoplatonism’, Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1983.


    Altmann, A., and S. M. Stern, Isaac Israeli: A Neoplatonic Philosopher of the Early Tenth Century. Oxford, 1958.


    al–‘Amiri, Abu al–Hasan, A Muslim Philosopher on the Soul and Its Fate: al–‘Amiri’s Kitab al–Amad ‘ala al–abad. Edited and translated with commentary by Everett K. Rowson. New Haven, Conn., 1988.


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    Anawati, Georges C., ‘Le Néoplatonisme dans la pensée musulmane: état actuel des recherches’, in Etudes de philosophie musulmane. Paris, 1974, pp. 155–221.


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    Arnaldez, Roger, ‘Influences néoplatoniciennes dans la pensée d’Abu Ya‘qub al–Sigistani’, in Actes de colloque Pensée Arabe et culture grecque, Morocco, 1985, pp. 540–8.


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    –. Trilogie ismaélienne. Tehran and Paris, 1961.


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    Dunlop, D. M., ‘al–Balkh–i, Abu Zayd’, The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New edition. Leiden, 1960


    Endress, G., Proclus Arabus: Zwanzig Abschnitte aus der Institutio Theologica in arabischer Ubersetzung. Beirut, 1973


    ‘Epistle on Divine Science’see Theologica, shorter version.


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    Goldstein, ‘A Treatise on Number Theory from a Tenth Century Arabic Source’, Centaurus, 10 (1964): 129–60.


    Goriawala, Mu‘izz, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fyzee Collection of Ismaili Manuscripts. Bombay, 1965.


    Halm, Heinz, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der fruhen Isma‘iliya: eine Studie zur islamischen Gnosis. Wiesbaden, 1978.


    Hamdani, Abbas, ‘The Da‘i Hatim Ibn Ibrahim al–Hamidi (d. 596 H./1199 A.D.) and his book Tuhfat al–Qulub’, Oriens, 23–24 (1970–71):258–300.


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    al–Hamidi, Ibrahim b. al–Husayn, Kanz al–walad. Edited by M. Ghalib, Beirut, 1971.


    al–Harithi, Muhammad b. Tahir, Majmu‘ al–tarbiya. Manuscript: Hamdani Library.


    Hirji, Bustan, ‘A Study of al–Risalah al–Bahirah’, Ph.D. Dissertation, McGill University, 1995.


    Ibn Babuya, Muhammad b. ‘Ali al–Qummi, A Shi‘ite Creed: A translation of Risalatu’1–i‘tiqadat. Translated by A. A. A. Fyzee, London, 1942.


    Ibn Sina, The Life of Ibn Sina. Edited and translated by W. E. Gohlman, Albany N.Y., 1974.


    Ibn al–Walid, ‘Ali, Diya’ al–albab. Manuscript: Hamdani Library.


    Ikhwan al–Safa’, Rasa’il. 4 vols. Beirut, 1957.


    al–Isfara’ini, Abu al–Muzaffir, al– Tabsir fi al–din. n.p., 1940.


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    –, Studies in Early Persian Ismailism. 2nd edition, Bombay, 1955.


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    al–Kindi, Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq, Al–Kindi’s Metaphysics: A Translation of... ‘On First Philosophy’. Translated by Alfred Ivry. Albany, N.Y, 1974.


    al–Kirmani, Hamid al–din, Rahat al–‘aqlinfo-icon. Edited by M. K. Husayn and M. M. Hilmi, Cairo, 1953.


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    –. al–Risala al–mawsuma bi’l–mudi’a fi al–amr wa al–amirinfo-icon wa al–ma’mur. Edited by M. Ghalib in Majmi‘at rasa’il al–Kirmani, i pp. 43–60.


    –. al–Risala al–wadi’a fi ma‘alim al–din. Ms: Fyzee Collection, Bombay University Library.


    –. Majmu‘at rasa’il al–Kirmani. Edited by M. Ghalib, Beirut, 1983.


    Kitab shajarat al–yaqin. See Abu Tammam.


    Kohlberg, Etan, ‘From Imamiyyainfo-icon to Ithna‘ashariyya’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 39 (1976): 521–34.


    Kraemer, Joel L., Philosophy in the Renaissance of Islam: Abu Sulayman al–Sijistani and his Circle. Leiden, 1986.


    Kraus, Paul, ‘Hebraische und syrische Zitate in isma‘ilitischen Schrifen’, Der Islam, 19 (1931): 243–63.


    –. ‘Plotin chez les arabes’, Bulletin de l’Institut d’Egypte, 23 (1941):263–95.


    –. Jabir ibn Hayyan: Contribution a l’histoire des idées scientifiques dans l’Islam. 2 vols, Cairo, Mémoires de l’Institut d’Egypte, 44 and 45 (1942 and 1943).


    Longer Theologia, see Theologia, longer version.


    Madelung, Wilfred, ‘Fatimiden und Bahrainqarmaten’, Der Islam, 34 (‘959): 34–88


    –. ‘Das Imamatinfo-icon in der fruhen ismailitischen Lehre’, Der Islam, 37 (1961): 43–135.


    –. ‘the Sources of Isma‘ili Law’, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 35 (1976): 29–40.


    –. Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran. Albany, N.Y., 1988.


    –. ‘Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani and Metempsychosis’, in Iranica Varia: Papers in Honor of Professor Ehsan Yarshater (Textes et Memoires Volume XVI) Leiden, 1990, pp. 131–43.


    –. ‘Aspects of Isma‘ili Theology: The Prophetic Chain and the God Beyond Being’, in Seyyed Hossein Nasr (ed.) Isma‘ili Contributions to Islamic Culture. Tehran, 1977, pp. 51–65.


    –. ‘Karmati’, The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New edition, Leiden, 1960–.


    –. ‘Isma‘iliyya’, The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New edition, Leiden, 1960–.


    al–Majdu‘, Isma‘il b.‘Abd al–Rasulinfo-icon, Fihrist al–Kutub wa la–rasa’il. Edited by ‘Ali Naqi Munzavi, Tehran, 1966.


    Marquet, Y., ‘La pensée d’Abu Ya‘qub as–Sijistani a travers 1’Ithbat an–Nubuwwat et la Tuhfat al–Mustajibin’, Studia Islamica 54 (1981): 95–128.


    al–Maturidi, Muhammad b. Muhammad, Kitab al–tawhidinfo-icon. Edited by F. Kholeifa, Beirut 1970.


    Mawazin al–din (unknown author), photocopy of Hamdani Library ms. (no longer extant) in the papers of Henry Corbin.


    McDermott, Martin J., The Theology of Al–Shaikh al–Mufid (d. 413/1022). Beirut, 1978.


    al–Nasafi, Muhammad, Kawn al–‘alaminfo-icon. Ms: The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.


    Nasir–i Khusraw, Khwan al–ikhwan. Edited by Y. el Khachab, Cairo, 1940.


    –. Zad al–musafirin. Berlin, 1923.


    –. Jami‘ al–hikmatayn. Edited by Henry Corbin and Muhammad Mo‘in, Tehran and Paris, 1953.


    Al–Nawbakhti, Abu Muhammad al–Hasan b. Musa, Kitab firaq al–shi‘a. Edited by H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1931.


    Netton, Ian Richard, Muslim Neoplatonists: An Introduction to the Thought of the Brethren of Purity, Ikhaawan al–Safa’ . London, 1982


    Nizam al–Mulk, Siyasat–nama. Edited by Charles Schefer, Paris, 1891; English translation by H. Darke, The Book of Government or Rules for Kings; the Siyasat–nama or Siyar al–Muluk. New Haven, 1960.


    Pines, Schlomo, ‘La Longue recension de la théologie d’Aristote dans ses rapports avec la doctrine ismaélienne’, Revue des études islamiques, 27(1954): 7–20.


    Plotinus, Plotini opera. 3 volumes, edited by P. Henry and H. R. Schwyzer. Paris and Brussels, 1951, 1959, 1973. English translations by A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge, 1966) and S. Mackenna, revised by B. S. Page (3rd edition, London 1962).


    Poonawala, Ismail, ‘Al–Sijistani and his Kitab al–Maqalid’, in Donald P. Little (ed.), Essays on Islamic Civilization Presented to Niyazi Berkes. Leiden, 1976, pp. 274–83.


    –. Biobibliography of Isma‘ili Literature. Malibu, Ca., 1977. pseudo–Ammonius, see Ammonius (pseudo).


    al–Razi, Abu Bakr, Rasa’il falsafiyya. Edited by P. Kraus, Cairo, 1939.


    al–Razi, Abu Hatim, Kitab al–islah. Ms: Hamdani Library.


    –. Kitab al–zina. Fasc. I and II edited by H. Hamdani, Cairo, 1957 and 1958. Fasc. III, edited by ‘Abdallah Sallum al–Samarra’i in his al–Ghuluww wa al–firaq al–ghaliya fi al–hadara al–islamiyya (Baghdad, 1972), pp. 228–312 (corresponding to Hamdani ms. pp. 214–46). Complete Hamdani ms. photocopy: ARCE Cairo.


    –. A‘lam al–nubuwwainfo-icon. Edited by Salah al–Sawy, Tehran, 1977.


    Rowson, Everett, ‘An Unpublished Work by al–‘Amiri and the Date of the Arabic De causis’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 104 (1984): 193–99.


    Rudolph, Ulrich, Die Doxographie des Pseudo–Ammonius: Ein Beitrag sur neuplatonischen Uberlieferung im Islam. Stuttgart, 1989.


    Sachedina, A. A., Islamic Messianism: The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shi‘ism. Albany, N.Y., 1981.


    –. The Just Ruler in Shi‘ite Islam: The Comprehensive Authority of the Jurist in Imamite Jurisprudence. New York, 1988.


    al–Samarra’i, ‘Abdallah Sallum, Al–Ghuluww wa al–firaq al–ghaliya fi al–hadara al–isldmiyya. Baghdad, 1972.


    Sara’ir al–ma‘ad wa’l–ma‘ash. Ms. by unknown author: Hamdani


    al–Shajara, Kitab, sec Abu Tammam.


    Shaykhinfo-icon al–Yunan, ‘Sayings of . . . .’ See Theologia, shorter version.


    Shigeru, Kamada, ‘The First Being: Intellect (‘aql/khiradh) as the Link Between God’s Command and Creation According to Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani’, The Memoirs of the Institute of Oriental Culture (University of Tokyo), 106 (March 1988): 1–33.


    al–Sijistani, Abu Ya‘qub, Kitab al–maqalid. Ms: Hamdani Library.


    –. Kitab al–yanabi‘. Edited and partially translated into French by H. Corbin in Trilogie ismaélienne. Tehran and Paris, 1961. A second edition by M. Ghalib, Beirut, 1965. Ms: Fyzee Collection; Hamdani Library (two copies one of which is the original source of Corbin’s edition).


    –. Ithbat al–nubuwwa (or al–nubuwwat). Edited by A. Tamer, Beirut, 1966. Ms: Fyzee Collection.


    –. Kitab al–ifrikhar. Edited by M. Ghalib, Beirut, 1980. A definitive edition by I. Poonawala is as yet unpublished and is available only from the editor.


    –. Sullam al–najat. Edited by M. Alibhai as part of a Ph.D. dissertation entitled ‘Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani and Kitab Sullam al–Najat: A Study in Islamic Neoplatonism’, Harvard University, 1983.


    –. Risalat tuhfat al–mustajibin. Edited by A. Tamer, in al Mashriq (March–Apri1,1967): 135–46. This printing supercedes the earlier one in Khams rasa’il isma‘iliyya.


    –. al–Risala al–bahira fi al–ma‘ad. Manuscript: Hamdani Library and The Institute of Ismaili Studies. Edition of the Arabic text and Persian translation in Tahqiqat–i islami, 7(1992): 21–62. See also Bustan Hirji.


    Kashf al–mahjub. Edited by H. Corbin, Tehran and Paris, 1949. French translation by H. Corbin, Le Dévoilement des choses cachées. Paris, 1988. (Other titles sometimes attributed to al–Sijistani but probably not written by him are listed anonymously in the general bibliography by title.)


    Stern, S. M.,‘Heterodox Isma‘ilism at the Time of al–Mu‘izz’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 17 (1955): 10–33; reprinted in Studies in Early Isma‘ilism. Jerusalem and Leiden, 1983. pp. 257–88.


    –. ‘The Early Isma‘ili Missionaries in North–West Persia and Khurasaninfo-icon and Transoxaniainfo-icon’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 23 (1960): 56–90; reprinted in Studies in Early Isma‘ilism. pp. 189–233.


    –. ‘Ibn Hasday’s Neoplatonist: A Neoplatonic Treatise and Its Influence on Isaac Israeli and the Longer Version of the Theology of Aristotle’, Oriens, 13–14 (1960–61): 58–120.


    –. ‘Abu’l–Qasim al–Busti and his Refutation of Isma‘ilism’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1961): 14–35; reprinted in Studies in Early Isma‘ilism. pp. 299–320.


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    –. ‘The Kalam fi mahd al–khair (Liber de causis) in the Islamic Philosophical Milieu’, in Pseudo–Aristotle in the Middle Ages. London, 1986, pp. 37–52.


    Theologia, longer version, manuscript edition of surviving Judeo–Arabic text by Paul Fenton. For a description of this edition and the work as a whole, see Fenton, ‘The Arabic and Hebrew Versions’. I am much indebted to Professor Fenton for his generosity in sharing this material.


    Theologia, shorter version. Edited by A. Badawi along with material from the ‘Epistle on Divine Science’ and the ‘Saying of Shaykh al–Yunan’, in Aflutin ‘inda al–‘arab. Cairo, 1966. English translation by G. Lewis in vol. II Plotini opera, P. Henry and H. R. Schwyzer(eds). Paris and Brussels, 1959.


    van Arendonk, C., Les débuts de l’imamat zaidite au Yémen. French translation by J. Ryckmans, Leiden, 1960.


    Walker, Paul, E., ‘Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani and the Development of Ismaili Neoplatonism’, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1974.


    –. ‘The Ismaili Vocabulary of Creation’, Studia Islamica, 40 (1974):75–85.


    –. ‘An Isma‘ili Answer to the Problem of Worshipping the Unknowable, Neoplatonic God’, American Journal of Arabic Studies, 2 (1974): 7–21.


    –. ‘An Early Ismaili Interpretation of Man, History and Salvation’, Ohio Journal of Religious Studies, 3 (1975): 29–35.


    –. ‘Cosmic Hierachies in Early Ismaili Thought: the View of Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani’, The Muslim World, 66 (1976): 14–28.


    –. ‘Eternal Cosoms and the Womb of History: Time in Early Ismaili Thought’ International Journal of Middle East Studies, 9 (1978): 355–66.


    –. ‘The Doctrine of Metempsychosis in Islam’, in W.B. Hallaq and D.P. Little (eds), Islamic Studies Presented to Charles J. Adams. Leiden, 1991, pp. 219–38.


    –. Early Philosophical Shiism: The Ismaili Neoplatonism of Abu Ya‘qab al–Sijistani. Cambridge, 1993.


    –. ‘Abu Tammam and his Kitab al–shajara: A New Ismaili Treatise from Tenth–century Khurasan’, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 114 (1994): 343–52.


    –. ‘Platonisms in Islamic Philosophy’, Studia Islamica, 79 (1994):5–25.


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    –. ‘Abu Ya‘qub Sejestani, in Encyclopaedia Iranica I, London, 1982–, pp. 396–8.


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