• A Short History of the Ismailis: Traditions of a Muslim Community

    Islamic Surveys Series. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998, pp. viii + 248.

    ISBN Paperback:
    0 7486 0687 4
    ISBN HardBack:
    0 7486 0904 0
  • The Ismailis represent the second largest Shi‘i Muslim community after the Ithna‘asharis (Twelversinfo-icon) and are today resident as religious minorities in more than 25 countries in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. Despite their long and eventful history dating back to the formative period of Islam, the Ismailis were studied until recently primarily on the basis of the accounts of their opponents and detractors, including Sunni polemicists, European travellers and Crusader chroniclers. As a result a host of legends and misconceptions were disseminated on the teachings and practices of the Ismailis. The character and place of Ismailism in general Islamic history was further obscured by the community's traditional practice of concealing their own writings as a precautionary measure against religious and political persecution to which they were often subjected. However, from the 1930s the study of Ismailism began to be radically revised with the discovery of a large number of Ismaili texts preserved in private collections. Since then, modern scholarship in the field has made great strides in distinguishing fact from fiction in many aspects of Ismaili history and thought.

    A Short History of the Ismailis brings together the results of this scholarship on the highlights of Ismaili history and doctrines within the broader contexts of Ismaili history and Shi‘i thought. After critically examining historiographical and other relevant source materials in the first chapter, this book covers the main developments in all the major phases of Ismaili history, including the early formative period in the 3rd/9th century when Ismailism arose as a revolutionary movement of religious and political reform in Iraq, Iran and Syria; the Fatimid ‘golden age’ when the Ismailis ruled from Egypt over a vast state extending across North Africa and southern Arabia; followed by the Aga Khans. In the course of his study, the author also discusses the major schisms that occurred among the Ismailis and subsequent developments among the Musta’li–Tayyibi and Bohrainfo-icon communities of Ismailis.

    This work does not represent a condensed version of the author’s earlier more comprehensive account of the same subject, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge, 1990), as it is addressed to a wider readership and contains additional information, especially on the modern period. It is also organised quite differently, with the discussion of each major phase in Ismaili history commencing with doctrinal and historical overviews and leading to a discussion of important themes and developments. Among these themes, the book concentrates in particular on the intellectual traditions and institutions elaborated by the Ismailis, as well as their responses to the challenges and complexities they have encountered in the course of their history. The book does not presuppose any specialised knowledge of the subject on the part of the reader, since the author's account of the Ismailis is contextualised within the broad historical panorama of Islam from its earliest period. The task of the reader is also facilitated by a helpful glossary of technical terms and a select bibliography of published sources and studies which can be consulted for further studies.

    The publication of this book makes it possible for the first time for scholars, students and the general public alike to have access to a concise and authoritative introduction to Ismaili history and thought, based on the findings of the most recent scholarship on the subject. By consolidating the accumulated research of modern scholarship on the Ismailis dispersed in numerous specialist sources in diverse languages, while at the same time cutting through centuries of hostility and polemics of their enemies, as well as the misconceptions and prejudices of western Orientalists, the author has been able to arrive at the most informed and balanced historical summation of the Ismailis that is available today for the general reader. The overall view of the Ismailis that emerges from this account is of a highly organised and energetic Muslim community with a progressive vision of Islam who, in spite of their minority status and almost uninterrupted persecution throughout their history, were able to make significant intellectual and cultural contributions to Islamic civilisation, a tradition which they have continued to maintain to the present day.

  • Preface

    Note on Transliteration, Dates and Abbreviations

    1. Ismaili History and Historiography: Phases, Sources and Studies
      Phases in Ismaili History
      Evolution of Ismaili Historiography
      Anti–Ismaili Writings of Other Muslims
      The Assassin Legends of Medieval Westerners
      Orientalist Perspectives
      Modern Progress in Ismaili Studies
    2. Origins and Early History: Shi‘is, Ismailis and Qarmatisinfo-icon
      Diversity in Early Islam
      Origins of Shi‘isminfo-icon
      Early History of Shi‘ism: The Kaysaniyyainfo-icon and the Imamiyyainfo-icon
      Ja‘far al–Sadiq’s Imamateinfo-icon, Abu’l Khattab and Isma‘il
      The Earliest Ismailis
      The Da‘wainfo-icon of the 3rd/9th Century
      The Schism of 286/899 and its Consequences
      Early Ismaili Doctrines
    3. The Fatimid Age: Dawlainfo-icon and Da‘wa
      Foundation and Consolidation of the Fatimid Caliphateinfo-icon
      Fatimid Achievements under al–Mu‘izz
      Philosophical Ismailism of the Iranian Da‘iinfo-icons
      Fatimid Ismaili Da‘wa and Da‘is: Cairo and the “Islands”
      The Nizari–Musta‘li Schism of 487/1094
      Later Fatimidsinfo-icon and Early Musta‘li Ismailism
    4. The Alamutinfo-icon Period in Nizari Ismaili History
      Hasan Sabbah and the Revolt of the Persian Ismailis
      The Doctrine of Ta‘lim and Consolidation of the Nizari State
      Proclamation of Qiyama or Resurrection
      Rapprochement with Sunni Islam and al–Tusi’s Interpretations
      The Final Decades
    4. Later Developments: Continuity and Modernisation
      Post–Alamut Patterns and Research Problems
      Early Post–Alamut Centuries and Nizari Relations with Sufisminfo-icon
      The Anjudan Revival in Nizari history
      The Khojasinfo-icon and Satpanth Ismailism
      The Bohras and Tayyibi Ismailism
      Modern Developments in the Nizari Community


    Select Bibliography


  • The bibliography includes some basic works of reference and a selection of published sources and studies. The abbreviations used in the bibliography are the same as those used in the notes to the individual chapters. See Note on Transliteration, Dates and Abbreviations for a list of these abbreviations.

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  • Dr. Farhad Daftary

    Farhad Daftary completed his early and secondary education in Tehran, Rome, and London, before going to Washington, D.C., in 1958. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees from the American University there, and then continued his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley, leading to a Ph.D. degree in 1971. Subsequently, Dr. Daftary held different teaching posts, and, since 1988, he has been affiliated with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London, where he is currently Co-Director and Head (since 1992) of the Department of Academic Research and Publications. An authority in Shi...Read more