Editorial note: Note that we have updated spellings and nomenclature of the original text to reflect current standards and usage.
The Research Department of the Ismaili Association, West Pakistan, Karachi, is pleased to bring out the first publication of its series the main object of which is to popularise the Ismaili literature among the Ismailis and others who are interested in Ismailism.
It is a translation of a well known book in Arabic Kitab-ul-Himma of Qadi al-Nu’man who wrote it in the tenth century CE Its subject-matter is the laws of behaviour prescribed for the followers of the Imams.
Since our object in the publication is the popularisation of the Ismaili literature and not necessarily a scholarly contribution, we have made, not a verbatim but a free translation of the book. Without tampering with the original we have changed the construction here and there by splitting long sentences into small ones and by treating long adjectival and adverbial clauses as independent sentences. We have made no additions and alterations but we have made some subtractions which we believe are out of date now.
In every chapter we have dropped down one or more paragraphs here and there and we have omitted the ninth chapter from the first part and the first, eighth, and eleventh from the second. It is on this account that we have named the book Al-Majalis from Kitabul-Himma. Since, the author Qadi al-Nu’man and his family have made the largest and the richest contribution to the Ismaili literature, we think it proper to give a short sketch of the life of this great man.
Life of Qadi al-Nu’man
In the history of the Fatimids, we know no talented family which has influenced the intellectual life of the Fatimid period in Egypt and in other countries to the extent to which the family of Nu’man has done. Nu’mans have played a great part in enriching the Fatimid period with their great intellectual wealth. This gifted family has left behind books on the Fatimid Faith which were used as models by almost all the religious divines of the period and the later writers. The writings of the family of Nu’man upto this day are considered to be the most authoritative information on the Fatimid Faith.
The writings of the family of Nu’man upto this day are considered to be the most authoritative information on the Fatimid Faith.
Qadi Abu Hanifatun-Nu’man bin Abu Abdullah Mohammad bin Mansoor bin Hayunat-tamimi-al Maghrabi was the founder of this family. In the history of the Fatimid missionaries he is known as Qadi al-Nu’man and not as Abu Hanifah lest he should be mistaken for Abu Hanifa Nu’man, a well known Sunni founder of a school of thought.
We know very little of the date of his birth and the earlier part of his life. Different historians have suggested different dates of his birth but they all seem to be a guess work. There is nothing authentic on which we can lay hands. The date of his birth continues to be a mystery, but the year of his death has been unanimously put down by the historians as 363 AH/973 CE. He is reported to have served in Egypt for a considerably long period as the Qadi until he died there at the end of the year 363/973. He is said to have lived for more than a hundred years.
We know practically nothing of his earlier days and of his fore-fathers. ibn Khalikan tells us that his father Abu Abdulla Mohammed had lived a long life. He had a great fund of information which he often used to give to the people as a result of his long experience. He died in the month of Rajab of 351/951. His funeral prayers were led by his son Nu’man and he was buried at one of the gates of Qairwan. This is all that ibn Khalikan tells us. The life of the fore-fathers of this great man is obscure. Historians make no mention of it. Al Nu’man himself mentions nothing in his books either about his fore-fathers or about his earlier career before the establishment of the Fatimid Khilafat in the West in 269/882.
“The Imam Al-Moizzo-le-dinillah often used to invite me to address the people on the knowledge of the Fatimid Faith. I used to write books and read them to the Imam, chapter by chapter, before I read them to the people.”
ibn Khalikan tells us that originally he belonged to the Maliki sect of the Sunnis and later on he embraced the Fatimid Faith. But the Shia historians tell us that al-Nu’man was first a Maliki. From a Maliki he turned into an Isna Ashri Shia and from the Isna Ashri Shia he turned into an Ismaili. Beyond this we know nothing of his earlier activities.
When Imam Mehdi made his appearance public and founded the Fatimid Khilafat in 296/908 after routing the Aghlabites and capturing their countries, a large number of the Muslims from the West followed his faith and Qadi al-Nu’man was one of them.
In the days of the Fatimid Caliph Al-Qayem-be-Amrillah, al-Nu’man came into importance and was appointed the Qadi of Tripoli in the West. When the Imam Al-Mansoor built the city of Mansooriya, he appointed al-Nu’man as the Qadi of this place and all the other important cities in Africa. Qadi al-Nu’man talks of this in his Majalis and books of travels in the following manner.
When the Imam Al-Mansoor Billah called me back from the capital city of Tripoli and granted me an interview, it happened to be the morning of Friday. The Imam conferred on me a robe of honour and ordered me to go to the Jama-Masjid at Qairwan and conduct the Juma prayers and recite the Khutba in the name of the Imam. He ordered a party of well-armed body guards to accompany me to the mosque and bring me back safe. The next day he issued orders of my appointment as the Qadi of Mansooriya, Qairwan, Mahdiya and all the cities and provinces of Africa.
This shows that al-Nu’man was the head of the judicial department of the Fatimids. In 341/952 when Imam Al-Moizo-le-dinillah ascended the throne al-Nu’man rose to the height of his influence. He became a constant companion of the Imam. He was always with him whether the Imam was in the capital or outside it on his tour. In his book Al-majaliso-wal-musayarat al-Nu’man refers to his influence with the Imam by quoting a reply from Imam Al-Moizo-le-dinillah to his letter. The reply is as follows:
O Nu’man, may God preserve you. I have read the contents of your letter. I find that you are not sure of my patronage. You seem to entertain unnecessary fears. You have no reason to fear any adverse change in my attitude towards you. On the contrary you should entertain greater hopes. and aspire for a higher position. I know every thing about you. Every well-wisher of mine ought to look upon you as a model. You should continue on with your work in right earnest. Your friends will envy your lot and your enemies will feel jealous of you. May God help you and keep you straight. With regard to the position that you occupied with my predecessor, nothing is hidden from my notice. We, the Imams, are the roots and branches of the same tree. If my father has disappeared physically, the Imamat shall continue for ever. The spirits of the Imams are a connected chain, a link within a link. If your patron is gone your Imam is here. Thank God and entrust your affairs to Him. Write to me about your needs and you will get what you want.
The contents of this letter show that after the death of Imam Al-Mansoor, al-Nu’man was afraid of being removed from the post of the Qadi. But, contrary to his fears the Imam Al-Moiz treated him with great respect and raised his position by making him a close associate with him. Al Nu’man has mentioned in his Al-majaliso-wal-musayarat all that he “had seen” and had heard from Imam al-Moiz during his association with him.
When Imam Al-Moiz came from West to Egypt in 362/972 the members of the family of Nu’man were with him and al-Nu’man was the Qadi of the army. People thought that al-Nu’man would be appointed the Qadi of Egypt but Imam Al-Moiz allowed the former Qadi Abu Tahir Mohammed bin Ahmed-az-zehli to continue the job with instructions that he should give his decisions according to the Fatimid theology. The Qadi always consulted in his decision Qadi al-Nu’man until he died in 363/973 in Egypt.
In 341/952 when Imam Al-Moizo-le-dinillah ascended the throne al-Nu’man rose to the height of his influence. He became a constant companion of the Imam. He was always with him whether the Imam was in the capital or outside it on his tour.
ibn Khalikan tells us on the authority of Al-Musubbihi that al-Nu’man was well-versed in the Fatimid theology. He further tells us on the authority of ibn Zulak that al-Nu’man bin Mohammed, the Qadi was an authority on the Qur’an. In theology he was so well-versed that he was conversant not only with all its branches but all the differences of opinion among the theologians of different schools of thought. He was very well informed in literature, poetry and history. All those historians who happen to talk of al-Nu’man make special mention of his learning and accomplishments. His great works are the best proof of what the historians have said about him. There is no wonder then if we find his books the very best and the most authoritative works on the Fatimid Faith. Almost all the learned divines have drawn their inspiration from his works. We know no Fatimid missionary worth the name who differed from al-Nu’man in his solution of the important problems in theology.
Al Nu’man tells us in his Majalis-wal-Musacrat:
The Imam Al-Moizzo-le-dinillah often used to invite me to address the people on the knowledge of the Fatimid Faith. I used to write books and read them to the Imam, chapter by chapter, before I read them to the people. At one time Al-Moizzo-le-dinillah gave me the subject matter of a book in a nut-shell and explained to me every thing that pertained to this matter to my fullest satisfaction. He asked me to write a comprehensive book on the subject. I took a long time to finish the work. When I carried it to him I apologised for the delay I had made in executing his order. He said: “O Nu’man, do not mind the delay. Your work is brief but it is full of substance. You have used few words conveying a wealth of meaning. You think that you have taken long to finish this book. You are unnecessarily worried over the matter. Had it not been for your sincerity of purpose and the Divine help which has crowned your efforts with success, you would not have been able to produce even one chapter in a much longer period than what you have taken to finish this book.”
There are many such instances that go to prove that al-Nu’man before he wrote any book got the necessary instructions and inspiration from the Imam Al-Moizzo-le-dinillah. Before he showed his works to the public he always referred them to the Imam for his approval. This is the reason why the historian ibn Zulak calls al-Nu’man a da’i. We have nothing on record to show that he ever acted as a da’i. He was called da’i because like the da’i he always showed his writings to the Imam before he read them to the public.
The da’i Idrees says in his Uyoonul-Akhbar “Nu’man was held in high esteem by the Imams. He held a very high rank with them. He was one of the pillars of the mission.” This very writer who calls him one of the pillars of the mission never says in clear terms whether al-Nu’man was a da’i or a hujjat and does not say a word in praise of his missionary work as he does in the case of other da’is.
With regard to his works, ibn Khalikan says:
Nu’man has written for the Ahle-beit voluminous works of one thousand pages each in the best possible style. He has written a marvellous book on the virtues of the Imams and the vices of their enemies. He has a large number of publications on the refutation of the arguments of the opponents of the Fatimid Faith. His refutations of Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafa-e and ibn Surej are the best known ones of their kind. He has written a comprehensive book on the difference of opinion among the learned divine to prove the validity of the doctrines of the Ahle-beit. He has written a Qasida on theology which is known as Muntakhaba.
Al Nu’man has written for the Ahle-beit voluminous works of one thousand pages each in the best possible style.
Professor Ivanow in his book Guide to the Ismaili Literature gives a long list of his works under different headings. Under theology he mentions:
- Kitabul Eazah
- Kitabul Akhbar fil Fiqh
- Mukhtasarul Aasar. This book is very popular with the Bohras.
- Al-iqtesar, which is a well known book
- Minhajul Faraiz
- Kitabul Ittefaq wal Ifteraq
- Kitabul Yamboo
Under the heading “The books on Realities” he mentions:
- Sharahul Khutabatil-lati le Amiril-Mominin Ali
- Kitabul-Tauheed wal Imamat
- Isbatul Haqaiq fi Marefat-tauheedul Khaliq
- Hududul Marafat fi tafsiril-Qur’an
- Nahjul Sabil ila Marafat ilmittaweel
Under the heading of “Refutation of the opponents” he mentions:
- Al-Risalatul-Misriyah fil-radde-al-Shafie
- Al-Rado ala ibn Sarajul-Baghdadi
- Zatul-Bayan fil-rade ala ibn Quteba
- Dameul Mujiz filrad-ala-al-Ataqee
Under the heading of “The books on Doctrine” he mentions:
- Kitabul Ibadat Youme-wa-lela
- Kaifiatus-salat alan-Nabi
- At-Taqeeb wal-Inteqad
- Kitabul Hula wa Siyab
- Maqamatul Aaimma
Under the heading “Books on Preaching and History” he mentions:
- Resala ilal-murshidi da’i bi-Misr fi-tarbeyatil-Momeneen
- Al-Majalis wal Masaerat
- Al-Manaqib le Ahle bait
Qadi al-Nu’man bin Mohammad was the head and the founder of the family of Nu’mans. His sons and grand-sons kept up the family reputation and every one of them made a name for himself in the field of literature. They had specialised in theology and the post of the Qadi and the da’i in Egypt were monopolised by them upto the days of the Fatimid Caliph Al Imam Al-Mustansir-billah who ruled from 1035/1094.
Qadi al-Nu’man Abu Han fa had two sons, Abul Husain Ali who died in 374/984 and Abu Abdullah Mohammed who died in 389/998 Abul Husain had one son known as Abu Abdullah-ul-Husain-an-Nu’man bin Ali who died in 395/1004 Abu Abdullah left a son Abdul Qasam Abdul Aziz who was murdered in 401/1010. He had a son Abu Mohammed al-Qasam who died in 441/1049 This is all that we know of his progeny.
When the Imam Al-Moizo-le-dinillah came to Egypt he brought with him Abul Husain bin Nu’man who was born in the month of Rajah in the year 328/939 along with the other members of the Nu’man family. After the death of al-Nu’man, Abdul Husain was appointed a joint Qadi of Egypt with Abu Tahir Zahli. They continued to hold this post jointly until the Imam Al-Moiz died and he was succeeded by Imam Al-Aziz. In the month of Safar of the year 366/976. Abu Tahir suffered from paralysis and Ali bin Nu’man was appointed the sole Qadi of Egypt. He was held in high esteem by Al-Aziz, but unfortunately he did not hold the job of the Qadi long. He suffered from fever and within a fortnight he died on Monday the 6th of Rajab of the year 374/984 Imam Al-Aziz conducted the funeral prayers of this great learned divine who had made a mark in theology like his father. Ali bin Nu’man was the first person who bore the title of the Qadi-ul-Quzat.
After the death of Ali bin Nu’man, Imam Al-Aziz wrote to his brother Abu Abdullah Mohammed bin Nu’man saying “After your brother the post of the Qadi is reserved for you. It will continue in your family.”
After the death of Ali bin Nu’man, Imam Al-Aziz wrote to his brother Abu Abdullah Mohammed bin Nu’man saying “After your brother the post of the Qadi is reserved for you. It will continue in your family.” Thus, Mohammed bin Nu’man was appointed to the post of Qadi-il-Quzat in which he had acted sometime during the life time of his brother. He was very well versed not only in theology but in other sciences as well such as literature, psychology, history, poetry and physiognomy.
In 375/985 his son Abdul Aziz was married to the daughter of Al-Qaidul-Joharus-Saqli and Imam Al-Aziz attended the marriage as a mark of respect for Mohammed bin Nu’man. Later on he appointed this newly married son of Mohammed bin Nu’man to act for his father at Cairo and Misr. Mohammed bin Nu’man rose so high in the estimation of the Imam that he was allowed to sit along with the Imam on the Mimber. ibn Khalikan tells us, on the authority of ibn Zulak, who was a contemporary of ibn-un-Nu’man, “We never saw a Qadi in Iraq or Egypt who enjoyed the dignity of Mohammed bin Nu’man.” He well deserved this elevated position which was due to his great learning accompanied with piety and a high sense of duty. The Wazir Yaqub bin Killis grew jealous of the Qadi and fearing lest his great influence with the Imam should harm him, he adopted ways and means of decreasing the importance of the Qadi. He cut down the powers of the Qadi but when the Imam Al-Hakim be-Amrillah succeeded Imam Al-Aziz in 385/995. Qadi Mohammed bin Nu’man resumed his former powers and became a great favourite of the Imam. On the 24th of Safar 399/1008 the Qadi died and his funeral prayers were led by the Imam who was greatly grieved by the loss of this genius. The Imam kept the post vacant for a month and ultimately filled it with Husain bin Ali bin Nu’man of the well-known family of the Nu’mans.
Husain bin Ali bin Nu’man was born at Mehdiya in 353/964. In his very early days he shifted to Cairo where he learnt theology so well that he acquired the reputation of a “Polar Star” among the learned divines of the Fatimid Faith. He often acted as a Qadi for his uncle Mohammed bin Nu’man and after his death in the month of Safar 391/1000 he was appointed the permanent Qadi. One day, after delivering his lectures on theology in the Jama Mosque of Fustat, when he stood for prayers and bent down for ruku some one hit him on the head and he was taken home with a bleeding wound in his head After sometime when his wound was completely healed he was given twenty armed men to protect his life. Whenever he stood for prayers these body guards stood behind him with nacked [sic] swords to guard him. The Imam Al-Hakim treated him with [the] highest respect and made a great addition to his allowances. He put him in charge of leading of [sic] the Juma prayers and the reciting of the Khutba and appointed him a da’i with the special privilege of giving lectures on the interpretation of the Ismaili philosophy at the palace. He is the first Qadi from amongst the Fatimid Qadis who, in addition to the job of the Qadi, also held the position of the da’i.
Abdul Aziz bin Mohammed bin Nu’man is another prominent figure in the Nu’man family. He was born in the West in Rabiul-awwal of 355/965. He was well informed in the knowledge of dawat. In the life time of his father he often acted as the Qadi and after the death of his cousin he was appointed the permanent Qadi. He is the author of the famous book on the Fatimid Faith namely Kitabul Balaghul Akhbar-wan-NamusuI-Azam fi Usooliddin. He was the first person to be appointed the head of the University which was founded by Al-Hakim. Here he used to lecture to the students on his grandfather’s book Ikhtilaf-usoolul-Mazahib.
This is the short sketch of Qadi al-Nu’man, the author of the book Kitabul-Himma. We could not deal with the details of his life within the space of a few pages. To excite curiosity amongst the Ismailis and the enthusiastic students of Ismailism, our brief survey of the life of this illustrious family, we feel pretty sure, will not miss the mark. They will not fail to realise the extent to which the Ismailis are indebted to the family of Nu’man for the contribution they have made to the Ismaili literature, to the Ismaili philosophy and to the general culture of Islam.
Prof. Jawad Muscati, Prof. A. Moulvi
Code of Conduct for the followers of the Imam, Selections from Qadi al-Nu’man’s Kitab-ul-Himma fi Adabi Ataba-el-a’emma
1966, The Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Africa
1950 as “Volume 1”, The Shia Imami Ismailia Association for Pakistan
Image: Calligraphy, amaana.org (Bill C-11, Section 29.21 http://bit.ly/1yRu6UZ)
Image: Background geometry, Aga Khan Museum (Permitted use) (Bill C-11, Section 29.21 http://bit.ly/1yRu6UZ)