[P4078] Medieval Ismaili Muslim Thought: Methodology, Hermeneutics and Cosmology

Created by Khalil Andani
Monday, 11/23/15 5:00pm


This panel explores some of the key methodological, hermeneutical and cosmological themes in medieval Ismā‘īlī thought from the pre-Fatimid, Fatimid, and Tayyibi traditions from the 8th to 13th centuries. The first two papers address methodological and hermeneutical issues that have not received attention in prior scholarship while the third and fourth papers make original contributions to areas of discussion in Ismā‘īlī studies and Islamic thought in general.

The first paper notes how Islamicate scholarship continues to characterize Ismā‘īlī traditions as 'esoteric' or 'exclusionary' and argues that such terms should be viewed as methodologically proscriptive; these expressions reinforce the evaluation of the faith-tradition as extreme in its deviation from a more 'open' Sunni ethos. While early Ismā‘īlīs favored elitism and esoterica, such a methodological conclusion is unevenly applied across Islamicate faith-traditions and Ibn Rushd’s Decisive Treatise is analyzed as a prime example. The second paper analyzes the doctrines of Jābir ibn Ḥayyān vis-à-vis the Ismā‘īlī metaphysics of the Fatimid dā‘īs Sijistani and Kirmani by focusing on their respective attitudes towards history and the natural world. The paper highlights how both systems make use of a hermeneutic principle whereby history and the natural world are regarded as exterior signs of interior truths, and therefore require interpretation. The third paper revisits prior scholarship regarding the Ismā‘īlī influence upon al-Ghazālī and argues that al-Ghazālī’s Mishkāt al-Anwār likely appropriated Ismā‘īlī cosmological ideas and discourses from Nāṣir-i Khusraw. This is demonstrated by first analyzing Faḍā’iḥ al-Bāṭiniyya and tracing a great deal of its material back to Nāṣir-i Khusraw’s Wajh-i Dīn. The paper then reveals the presence of Ismā‘īlī ideas in al-Ghazali’s two-world cosmology that permeates his Mishkāt and further shows how al-Ghazālī’s unique “Veils” cosmology and its astral symbolism is derived from the Ismā‘īlī cosmology. The final paper examines the role of the dāʿī muṭlaq in Ṭayyibī Ismāʿīlism, the highest rank within the religious hierarchy through analyzing several historical Ṭayyibī texts, including Kanz al-Walad, Zahr al-Maʿānī. The paper argues that the dāʿī muṭlaq has essentially acquired by proxy the ability to transmit religious knowledge - whose transference and propagation is ritualized act -in lieu of the Imam. Meanwhile, the Imam takes on the role of a cosmological principle, an “imam absconditus” who guarantees the legitimacy of the dāʿī.


Participants funding themselves; school funding is available too.


Rel Stds/Theo



Daniel Beben

(Nazarbayev University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Chair;

Khalil Andani

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Paul Anderson

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Aaron Viengkhou

(Harvard University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;