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Ikram

Its a copy paste froma website , this search was done by bernard lewis a histori
an .
During a recent stay in Cairo, I found in the Taimuriya library a manuscript cop
y of an interesting Ismaili work entitled Kitabu'l-idah wa'l-Bayan, by the Yemen
ite da'i Husain ibn 'Ali.1
The manuscript is of 165 pages, 16 by 23 cms., in two hands-the first till p.70,
at 22 lines per page, the second pp.71-165 at 19 lines per page. The first and
last lines of each page are in red ink through out. The copy was started by the
Sharif 'Abdullah Abu Yusuf, and completed on his death by 'Ali b. Shaikh Ibrahim
Al-Haidarabadi. It is dated 22nd Dhu'l Hijja 1286 (=26/3/1870), and was made by
order of the chief Da'i Al-Hasan b. Ismaili. As there was no orthodox Da'udi ch
ief Da'i this name at that date, it may be assumed that this copy belongs to one
of the minor sub-sects of the Da'udi da'wa, or perhaps to the Sulaimanis.
The work is mentioned in Ivanow's Guide to Ismaili Literature 2 of which it is i
tem 242. Mr. Ivanow gives the following description of the author: "Sayyidna Hus
ain b. 'Ali b. Muhammad b. Al-Walid, the 8th Da'i (of Yemen), died the 22nd Safa
r 667/31-x-1268." He was probably the son of the famous da'i Sayyidna 'Ali b. Mu
hammad b. Al-Walid (Ivanow, Guide, xixvii), author of the Risalat Jala'i I-'Uqul
, of which there is a manuscript in the School of Oriental Studies, London.3 I h
ave not been able to find any other information regarding the author. There is p
robably a notice on him in the 'Uyumu'l-Akhbar of the Da'i Idris,4 but I have un
fortunately not had an opportunity to consult this work.
In recent years, much Ismaili literature has come to light, thanks to the effort
s of the scholars like Massignon, Ivanow, Kraus, Hamdani and others. Yet most of
it is still in private collections, usually inaccessible, and the amount availa
ble to students in print and even in manuscript is still regrettably small. It m
ay therefore be claimed that the finding of this manuscript and its partial publ
ication do constitute an increase of our scanty supply of this literature.
The book is a compendium of response on theological subjects, in which twenty-fi
ve questions are answered in accordance with Ismaili doctrines. A general idea o
f the character of these questions may be got from Ivanow's note, where a list o
f the author's other works will also be found. I wish here to draw attention to
the ninth question, which, with its answer, is printed below.5 This passage, whi
ch deals with the age-old problem of Adam and his fall, seems to me to be of par
ticular interest, for a number of reasons. Although the book as a whole is worth
y of publication, I am afraid that there is little likelihood of its being edite
d for some time to come, and I have therefore thought it worth while to offer th
is part alone.
The author opens with a series of questions pointing out the inconsistencies and
injustices of the Fall story. The manner in which the questions are put, and th
e customary Muslim answers dismissed, is thoroughly reminiscent of method of "in
stilling doubt and leaving in suspense" attributed by various Sunni writers to t
he Ismaili da'is.6
The author asks: if the tree was good, why was Adam forbidden to eat-if evil, wh
y did God wish to have it there? Why was Adam given the free run of the Garden,
but refused one tree-would it not have been simpler not to plant it there, espec
ially as God knew beforehand that it would bring about the Fall and suffering of
Adam?
If, as some commentators say, it was the wheat-plant, why was it forbidden to Ad
am in the garden and allowed to his progeny on earth, believers and infidels ali
ke? If, as others says, it was because he had no intestines and the fruit would
rot in his stomach and cause him pain -then why that particular tree, for the sa
me is true of any other?
Why did God not place the descendants of Adam in the garden, for they were guilt
y of no sin? Why should they have been punished for the sins of others? it is no
t valid to argue, as some do, that God knew beforehand that they would not be wo
rthy ones to Paradise afterwards. He knew beforehand that Adam would rebel, yet
He placed him first in the garden. Why should not Adam have been treated like th
e rest.
The author then proceeds to give two sets of explanations for these events, both
true, he tells us. The first of them is in the real or historic world, the seco
nd in the Alamu'l-Ibda, or immaterial, pre-existing world which preceded the Cre
ation. Both are highly allegoric, and provide an interesting example of Ismaili
esoteric interpretation.
This first is briefly as follows. The tree, he tells us has two aspects, one goo
d, one bad. In the good sense the tree is the Ilm Haqiqi,7 or true knowledge, th
e divulgence of which (to unqualified persons) is forbidden. It is the Qoranic t
ree of immortality i.e. of immortality 8 attained through knowledge of and faith
fulness to the Imams.9 Some say that the tree represents the rank of the Qa'im,
who brings the absolute true knowledge, others that the tree is the Wasi of Adam
, who brings the Ta'wil, or esoteric interpretation of his (Adam's ) Shari'a.
Iblis, by posing as a prospective convert, succeeded in obtaining from Adam the
secret knowledge as to the identity of Adam's wasi. Being told that it was Abel-
Al-Qa'im bi-rutbati'l - Batin wa't- ta'wil he sowed dissension between the broth
ers Cain and Abel, making the former jealous of the latter's Wasaya, and thus in
citing the murder of Abel. Here occurs the curious phrase describing the murder
of Abel by Cain - qatalahu qatlan diniyan waba'da dhalika tabi'iyan he killed hi
m first in the religious then in the natural sense.10
The evil aspect is as follows. Iblis is the tree, Adam being forbidden to disclo
se to him the true secret wisdom. The fact that the tree, although evil, is in t
he garden is explained by the statement that Iblis was formerly a da'i of some r
ank, but had been expelled for his arrogance and his rebelliousness.
The second main objection-namely the injustice of excluding the innocent descend
ants of Adam from the Garden-is answered as follows. The garden in reality means
the daru'd-Da'wa, the mission, which is a potential paradise. The dictum that t
he Garden is in Heaven refers to a higher grade of the da'wa -each grade being a
s Heaven relative to the lower ones, or as earth relative to the higher ones, th
e highest being Heaven, and the lowest earth for all the other.
Adam was in the highest grade-that of Ta'yid, and the Fall means his successive
relegation to the lower rank of Ta'lim and then to the simple status of Mustajib
. Here the author notes that Ta'lim is the rank of teachers, whose duties are to
instruct and aid the Mustajibun, the simple converts without rank in the da'wa,
those who owe simple, uncomprehending obedience to the externals of the law, pe
nding their elevation to higher grades.
The descendants of Adam -his dhurriya- are his converts and followers-al-mustaji
buna li da-watihi I-mutaqalliduna li'ahdihi wabay'atihi.
Their being on earth refers to their literal fulfilment of the externals of the
Shari'a without understanding its inner significance, during the first stage of
their conversion through which they must pass before being initiated into the se
cret knowledge.
The reasons for Adam's receiving a different treatment is that he was the last o
f the preceding cycle of Kashf, and the initiator of a new period of Satr.11 He
thus possessed the secret knowledge, and did not have to pass through the stages
of initiation like his disciples. This is the meaning of his being in the garde
n.
This then concludes the first interpretation. The second lifts the events of the
story from the historic to the cosmic plane, and places them in the Alamu'l-lba
d, or pre-existing immaterial world. Adam represents the living Intelligence, wh
ich first created the world and is known as Adam Ruhani, spiritual Adam, because
of his freedom from denseness or matter. The Garden is the 'Alamu'lbda' in whic
h he was, together with the remaining seven intelligences. The good aspect of th
e tree, which he might not approach, is the rank of the First Emanation. His Ibl
is is his evil imagination and his ambition to attain equality with the first em
anation. The prohibition is his knowledge of the obedience due to the Sabiq, or
Pre-existent, from the Tali and likewise from himself the Tali is his God forbid
ding him to commit the above-mentioned offence.
This duty was thus to imitate in his relation with the Tali, the attitude of the
Tali in its relations with the Sabiq. His eating from the tree means his ambiti
on to attain equality of rank. So he fell into sin and was expelled from the gar
den, i.e. lost his rank and his pre-eminence over the remaining seven intelligen
ces,13 so much so that they preceded him in obedience and materialization. These
seven intelligences, we are told, are the Words (Kalimat) of Qur'an, 11:35. Wit
h these words Adam then supplicated his God, i.e. the Tali who ruled his fate, a
nd was purified and restored to the garden, that is, to his former position of e
minence near the Tali. Through them (the words) he was materialized. His descend
ants (dhurriya) are the people on earth who imitated him and were misled by him
into arrogance and error. Iblis, who is his evil imagination and ambition, fell
to earth, and did not return to the garden in which he had formerly been with Ad
am, whose fall he had caused. He (Iblis) remained of the fallen and a permanent
corrupter.
The hatred of Iblis for Adam and his progeny after his expulsion means the stren
gth of their rebelliousness and arrogance.
Their being on earth is interpreted as meaning a world lower than that of the Hi
gh Heavens, even though they were all in the Alamu'l Ibda together. Those among
the progeny of Adam who repented came gradually to the garden again as did their
father Adam. Those who did not were numbered among the party of Iblis, and fell
with him to hell. This is the meaning of their being on earth. Summing up, the
good aspect of the tree is the Tali, the evil one is arrogance.
The work from which this extract is taken is of particular interest, for the fol
lowing reasons. In the first place, unlike the Persian Nizari, Ismaili texts edi
ted or analyzed by Ivanow,14 it is of the unreformed Fatimid Da'wa the Da'wa Qad
ima of Shahrastani's classification,15 and thus represents an earlier and purer
Ismaili tradition than do they. Even as against Fatimid works like the Taju'l-Aq
a'id,16 the A'lamu-n-Nubuwa,17 or the Da'a'imu'l-Islam,18 it is perhaps more rel
iable, in that these works are popular, exoteric compendia for general consumpti
on, whereas our book is a secret work on Ta'wil reserved for the initiate. It th
us compares among published or analyzed Ismaili texts only with Zahru'l Ma'ani o
f the Da'i Idris,19 another secret work produced by a Yemenite Da'i some two hun
dred years after our author. The points of similarity, especially as regards cos
mogony, between the two works are at once obvious.
Doctrines of a nature strikingly similar to that of our text are also to be foun
d in one of the Druze epistles, the Risala Mustaqima bi Sha'ni'l'Qaramita.20 Her
e the rather shadowy figures of the story in our text are given a local habitati
on and a name and the events are described with a wealth of detail missing here.
The general conception, however, is not so clear, and the division between the
two interpretations, the historic and the cosmologic, not made. It would seem th
at our text is but a resume of a fuller version of which the Druze epistle repre
sents an earlier recension.21
On reading this treatise one is immediately struck by the extreme allegoric char
acter of the interpretation, and by the characteristic mingling of rational and
gnostic ideas read into the Qoranic text by means of it. The explaining away of
the Garden, the Tree, and Iblis as symbolic figures, immediately distinguishes t
he Ismailis sharply from orthodox Islam. Nowhere except in the Druze epistle, is
the denial of the literal meaning of the Qoranic text carried so far. Even the
Nizari texts do not go beyond vague hints in this direction.
Three points in this text are of special importance. The first of these is the c
lear and explicit recognition of the existence of grades of initiation, three be
ing mentioned by name. The three terms employed, Ta'yid, Ta'lim, and Mustajib, a
ll occur in the Kalam i Pir,22 but in a vague and spiritual sense, with nothing
like the clear indication of an organized hierarchy that we find here. This does
not prove correct the nine grades of initiation mentioned by Akhu Muhsin,23 Bag
hdadi,24 Ghazali,25 and others-they have nine, as against three here, and moreov
er the stages they mention do not include any of the three named here-but it may
be taken to show that some such system was in existence at some period of Ismai
li history.
The Second point of note is the explanation of the word Dhurriya, progeny, as re
ferring to disciples. This is no isolated reference, but is in accordance with t
he general Ismaili doctrine of Nasab Ruhani, or spiritual descent, which is expo
unded in detail in the Rasa'il Ikhwani's Safa 26 and implied in many Ismaili and
Druze works.27 The relevance of this doctrine, whereby a man's disciple is his
son in a truer and deeper sense than is his physical offspring, to the vexed pro
blem of Fatimid ancestry will readily be seen.28
In the third place it is to be noted that by speaking of Adam as a the last of a
preceding era of Kashf, the author clearly accepts the doctrine of which Ismail
is were accused by many Sunnni writers,29 namely the admission of men before Ada
m.
In this he is at one with Nasiru'd-Din Tusi 30 and the Druze epistle, the latter
even going so far as to say that it is a monstrous blasphemy to maintain that A
dam was literally without parents-the scriptural statement to that effect meanin
g that he was Imam of his own accord, i.e. without a teacher or predecessor.31
The second interpretation, that dealing with Cosmogony, closely resembles the Za
hru'l-Ma'ani.32 It is curious in that it links up the Neoplatonic system of eman
ations imported into Islam, with some modifications, by two lines of philosophic
tradition-Pseudo empedocles and Ibn Masarra on the one hand, and the Theology o
f Aristotle, Farabi and Ibn Sina on the other-and incorporated with further modi
fications into the Ismaili system by the early Fatimid philosophers, with yet an
other gnostic conception, namely that of the Primal man (Adam Ruhani, Insan Qadi
m, Adam Qadmon).33 This figure, which can be traced in the writings of Philo, pa
sses through Midrashic, Christian, Clementine, Mandaean, Manichean, and Qabbalis
tic literature, and is here identified with the living intelligence, the third e
manation of the Ismaili form of Neoplatonism.34

over a year ago