Ismâ’ili materials

p. 259


   SOME time ago, I received from Dr. Henry W. De Forest, missionary in Syria, an Arabic manuscript of fifty-seven leaves, consisting of three documents which throw new light upon the opinions held by the Ismâ’ilis, and other sects of Allegorists, or Mystics, of Muslim origin. Two of these documents bear marks of being authoritative with the sects themselves whose views they profess to represent; while the other, though controversial in its design and character, is valuable for comparison with them. The history of the Ismâ’ilis and their branches, of which the Druzes constitute one of the most important, is, at least in its outlines, sufficiently well known. But excepting the Druzes, whose books have now for some time been in the hands of the learned, the opinion of none of them have been definitely ascertained.* Of the Nuṣairian and Ismâ’ilian documents announced within the last three years, in France and Germany, as recently discovered, only outlines with brief extracts, or mere tables of contents, have as yet been published.

   Under these circumstances, though with some diffidence, I publish the following translation of two of the documents p. 260 sent to me by Dr. De Forest, setting one of them aside, for the present, for fear that I may not have yet fully mastered the system contained in it. The document set aside consists of two fragments of what purports to be a conversation between Muḥammed Ibn ’Aly El-Baḳir and Khâlid Ibn Zeid El-Ju’fy, related by the latter in the form of a ###, i. e. Missive, for the purpose of directing certain persons supposed to have "deviated from the path of rectitude." The former of the two interlocutors here introduced can be no other, as the conversation itself shows, than the fifth Imâm of the Ismâ’ilis, commonly known as El-Bâḳir, a great-grandson of the Khalîfeh ’Aly; the other, who appears as an inquirer, is not so easily identified, but may be conjectured to be a descendent of ’Aly, whose father was a brother of El-Bâḳir.* But, inasmuch as Esh-Shahrastâny informs us that the Shî’ite sects, after the time of El-Bâḳir, were much disposed "to pass off" their opinions "upon his followers," and "to refer their origin to him, and to fix them on him," the question noturally arises, whether we have, in this Missive, the genuine doctrine of El-Bâḳir, or that of some party availing itself of his name to give currency to views in reality not his. To judge by what Esh-Shahrastâny tells us of the opinions of El-Bâḳir, the Missive in question might be taken as an authentic expression of his mind, for he here denies, either explicitly, or by implication, each of certain doctrines which are particularly mentioned by Esh-Shahrastâny as not actually held by him, and which therefore appear to have been those oftenest ascribed to him falsely. It is possible, however, that some party with which he was not so generaly confounded, or perhaps kindred to his own, may have here used his name without authority. At all events, this Missive sets forth doctrines different from those maintained by either of the sects referred to, or represented, in the other two documents.

   The first portion of the following translation is made from the controversial document. The original of this is entitled ### i. e. The Attack of the Partizan of Justice p. 261 upon the party of the Ismâ’ilîyeh, and the Angry Eye upon the party of the Ḳarâmaṭah, and is an extract from a larger work entitled ### i. e. The Book of the Open Ways of Approach [to God,] touching on the Gladdenings of [Divine] Lenity. It seems to have been written on the appearance of some followers of Ḳarmaṭ in the Wâdy Ḥamâh, probably near to Ḥamâh in Syria, "between Ḥomṣ and Kinnesrîn," as Abulfeda says, who adds that those who threw off the faith of Islâm, had free range there.* There is no precise indication of the date of its composition, nor is the name of the author given. He only calls himself Esh-Shâfi’y, or the Shâfi’ite. This document consists of three parts. The author begins with eight hundred and thirty-two lines of rhymed measure, in which he portrays the hated party against which he writes, in concise and pointed terms. These rhymings I have passed over in translating, as the fuller statements in prose which follow them, though less piqutant as a specimen of controversy, may be more safely relied upon for information. Next is introduced a piece in prose by another author. This author calls himself El-Âmidy, and it may be suggested as quite probable that he is the Seif ed-dîn El-Âmidy whom Ibn Khallikân speaks of as having taken up his residence at Ḥamâh, and there composed works "on the principles of religion, and jurisprudence, and logic, and philosophy, and disputation," and whose death, as the same authority informs took place A. H. 631, i. e. A. D. 1233-4. It is worthy of notice, in this connection, that a portion of this piece strikingly resembles what Von Hammer published many years ago, on the Ismâ’ilis, as in substance contained in a work by El-Jorjâny, who, according to D'Herbelot, died A. H. 816, i. e. A. D. 1413-14.§ The third part of this document is a statement of inquiries respecting the Nuṣairis, presented to Taḳḳy ed-dîn Ibn Yatmiyeh, with his answer. This person was a distinguished doctor of Muslim law, who died, according to D'Herbelot, A. H. 768, or, as some say, A. H. 748, i. e. A.D. 1366-7, or A. D. 1347-8. p. 262 It follows from the limitation of date thus given to the concluding part of this document, that it must have been compiled as late as the middle of the fourteenth century of our era. This document was obtained by Rev. Dr. Eli Smith, missionary in Syria, from Mikhâil Meshâka of Damascus.

   The second portion of the following translation is made from a document without title, but of which the nature of the contents is sufficiently evident. It consists of four pieces. The first piece presents a system of cosmogony; the second, a formula of religious belief; the third, a mystical allegorizing of the doctrines set forth in that formula; and the fourth, a statement of the doctrines of the Imâm. All these pieces are in form declarative, not argumentative; and in reading them attentively one cannot resist the impression, that they are specimens of the so-called sermons which the Dâ’is, or missionaries, of the Ismâ’ilis are said to have been in the habit of delivering, at stated seasons, in general assemblies of the sect, to those whom they would initiate into their system.* That they express Ismâ’ilian doctrine is put beyond doubt by allusions contained in them. But, what is more, one may even refer some of them, with considerable confidence, to particular grades of initiation which are described by oriental writers as recognized by this sect, and are briefly alluded to in our first document. For the fourth piece evidently belongs to that stage of instruction of which the object was to impress with the sense of dependence upon the Imâm; and the third, to that which was designed to initiate the proselyte into a pretended mystic sense of the doctrines and precepts of Islâm; while the second might very appropriately have been delivered to less advanced scholars, by way of "pretension of agreement with them on the part of the great in religious and worldly affairs," that is, the leading religious and civil authorities of the day, or those of the Muslims, which our controversial document charges upon them as one of their practices. The date of these peculiar missionary-sermons cannot be exactly determined. But there seems to be an intimate connection between them all, so that whatever date belongs to one is probably to be affixed to all. This document, so important for its contents, was obtained through p. 263 the courtesy of Mr. Von Wildenbruch, late Prussian Consul General for Syria, whose dragoman, Mr. Catafago, found it near Aleppo.

   As a farther introduction to the following translation, are here added translations of several passages from Esh-Shahrastâny's celebrated Book of Creeds and Sects, relative to the parties to be brought before the reader. The passage above referred to, in which this author gives an account of El-Bâḳir, is also appended. It seemed the more desirable to make these extracts, as no English translation of this high authority on such subjects is known to have been published, and the German translation by Haarbrücker, of which the first volume has recently appeared, although a good one, does not supply the place of one in our own language.* The first of these extracts relates to the Ismâ’ilis, under the more general name of the Bâṭinis, which includes also the followers of Ḳarmaṭ and the Nuṣairis. The second is on the Ghâlis, the Extravagant Shî’is, in general. The third is on that particular portion of this party denominated the Nuṣairis and Isḥâḳis.§ The fourth relates to El-Bâḳir.

   Exactness has been my aim in translating; and to this every thing else has been sacrificed, so far as was consistent with preserving the English idiom. The foot-notes are intended mainly to facilitate the understanding of the text. A discussion of the many interesting topics suggested by it, would probably have been premature, if indeed it could have been entered upon.



p. 259

* See Mémoires de l'Académie Royale des Inscriptions, Tome xvii. pp. 127, ff.; Notices et Extraits des Manuscrits, Tome ix. pp. 143, ff.; C. Niebuhr's Reisebeschreibung, Bd. ii. ss. 439, ff.; Mémoires de l'Institut Royal, Classe d'Hist. et de Littér. Anc., Tome iv. pp. 1 ff.; Die Geschichte der Assassinen, d. Joseph von Hammer; Mémoires sur les trois plus fameuses Sectes du Musulmanisme, par M. R. pp. 51 ff.; Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, by John Lewis Burkhardt, pp. 150-6; Journal Asiatique, Tome v. pp. 129, ff.; Exposé de la Religion des Druzes, par M. le Baron Silvestre De Sacy, 2 Tomes; Die Druzen and ihre Vorläufer, von Dr. Philipp Wolff, Einleitung; Geschicte der Chalifen, von Dr. Gustav Weil, Bd. ii. ss. 493, ff.; Journal Asiatique, Série iv. Tome xiii. pp. 26, ff.

See Journal Asiatique, Série iv. Tome xi. pp. 149, ff.; Idem, Tome xii. pp. 72, ff. 485, ff.; Zeitschrift d. Deutsch. Morgenländ. Gesellschaft, Bd. ii. ss. 388, ff.; Idem, Bd. iii. ss. 302, ff.

p. 260

* See Weil's Geschichte der Chalifen, Bd. i. ss. 625-7; Id. Bd. ii s. 204.

The orthodox author so designates himself as one holding to the justice of God in respect to predestination.

p. 261

* See Géographie d'Aboulféda, ed. Reinaud et De Slane, pp. 262-3.

See Ibn Khallikân's Dictionnaire Biographique, ed. De Slane, pp. 456-7.

See Journal Asiatique, Tome vi. pp. 332-5.

§ See D'Herbelot's Bibliothèque Orientale, p. 373.

See Idem, p. 444.

p. 262

* See Mémoires de l'Institut, Tome iv. p. 4-5.

p. 263

* Abu-’l-Fatḥ Muḥammed asch-Schahrastâni's Religions-Partheien und Philosophen-Schulen, zum ersten Male vollständig aus d. Arab. übersetzt von Dr. Theodor Haarbrücker. Erster Theil. Halle: 1850.

See Book of Religious and Philosophical Sects, by Muhammad Al-Shahrastâni, ed. Rev. W. Cureton, pp. 147, ff.

Idem, p. 132.

§ Idem, pp. 143, ff.

Idem, pp. 124, ff.