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Arabica 61 (2014) 455-470

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Bulletin critique
Agostino Cilardo

The Early History of Ismaili Jurisprudence: Law under the Fatimids. A critical edition
of the Arabic text and English translation of al-Q al-Numns Minhj al-fari,
London, I.B. Tauris Publishers-The Institute of Ismaili Studies (Ismaili Texts
and Translations Series, 18), 2012, 142 p. + xi + 48 Arabic pagination,
ISBN 978-1-78076-129-9, 35 .

The title of the book The Early History of Ismaili Jurisprudence: Law under the
Fatimids is misleading. The sub-title A critical edition of the Arabic text and
English translation of al-Q al-Numns Minh al-fari is also incorrect
because attributing the treatise to al-Q l-Numn is spurious. No reliable
Ismaili work ascribes Minh al-faris authorship to Numn. The editor
fails to present a dependable source or sound evidence for such an ascription.
The mistaken attribution of this treatise to Numn seems to have originated
from W. Ivanow who states in his A Guide to Ismaili Literature that the Minh
al-fari is usually ascribed to Numn.1 Most likely, Ivanow relied for this
information on a manuscript that he was able to consult which was ascribed to
the authorship of Numn. However, he clearly states that it is mentioned
neither in the Fihrist of Mad nor in the Uyn al-abr wa-a al-r of
Idrs Imd al-Dn, the two most trustworthy sources for the works of Numn.
He further adds that it is apparently quite spurious. Moreover, Ivanows listing of the Minh as no 64a, which immediatetly follows the entry of the
Daim al-Islm, no 64, makes one wonder that he might have thought the
Minh was part of the Daim. In their respective catalogues, both Goriawala
and Cortese merely state that it is ascribed to Numn without clearly stating
that the manuscripts they described are attributed to Numn on the title page
or not.2 Of the three manuscripts the editor has relied upon only one, namely
1 W. Ivanow, A Guide to Ismaili Literature, London, Royal Asiatic Society, 1933, p. 37,
no. 64a; id., Ismaili Literature, Tehran, Tehran University Press (Ismaili Society texts and
translations Series, A, 15), 1963, p. 36, n. 88.
2 Muizz Goriawala, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fyzee Collection of Ismaili Manuscripts,
Bombay, University of Bombay, 1965, p. 25-26; Delia Cortese, Arabic Ismaili Manuscripts: The
Zhid Al Collection, London, I.B. Tauris, 2003, p. 118-119.

koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 4|doi 10.1163/15700585-12341298

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Bulletin critique

copy C (of the Zhid Al collection), is ascribed to Numn while the others are
anonymous.
There are an additional five copies of this manuscript in private collections
and another copy in a public library that could have been easily obtained if the
editor had known about them and tried.3
Similarly, the editor takes it for granted that the Yanb is also an authentic
work of Numn. He states:
The Yanb is undoubtedly an Ismaili work, and its doctrine does not differ much from that of the Iqtir, thr and Daim. However, the
arrangement of the subjects and its exposition appear more rudimentary
than the Daims. Therefore, I believe that the Yanb could have been
written before the Daim.4
The above conclusion, similar to that of the Minh, was reached by the editor
without sound arguments or evidence. Simply put, the Minh and the Yanb
are not authored by Numn as demonstrated by Lokhandwalla and Poonawala.5
It is obvious that Cilardos acquaintance with Ismaili traditions and literature
is perfunctory.
Moreover, his assumption that the Yanb could have been composed by
Numn prior to his magnum opus, the Daim is also groundless. The Yanb
is in one volume and deals with mumalt (laws pertaining to human intercourse) only. While the Daim, like other major works of Islamic law, is in two
volumes and deals with both the ibdt (acts of devotion and religious observances) and mumalt. The present author has elaborated elsewhere the evolution of Numns theory of Ismaili jurisprudence based on the chronology of
his works on jurisprudence.
The primary flaw of the book is the methodology. Simply stated, the author
compares apples with oranges. Moreover, the basis of his whole analysis and
discussion is focused on a very narrow issue of inheritance. It would have made
better sense if the Minh, a very short treatise on the question of inheritance,
3 Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Isml Literature, Malibu, CA., Undena Publishers,
1977, p. 67.
4 Cilardo, The Early History of Ismaili Jurisprudence, p. 84.
5 See Ismail K. Poonawala, Al-Q al-Numn and Ismaili Jurisprudence, in Medieval Ismaili
History and Thought, ed. F. Daftary, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996,
p. 117-143; id., The Evolution of al-Q al-Numns Theory of Ismaili Jurisprudence Based
on the Chronology of his Works on Jurisprudence, in The Study of Shii Islam, eds. F. Daftary &
G. Miskinzoda (in press).

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was compared with the same section in the Daim or other authentic works
of Numn. The arrangement and the treatment of the subject matter dealt
with the Yanb are totally different than any legal works of Numn. Thus, to
place the Yanb side by side with the three authentic works of Numn, namely
the Iqtir, the Mutaar, and the Daim and evaluate them from a very slender perspective of inheritance is an unsound approach. Numns theory of
Ismaili jurisprudence evolved over a period of time as demonstrated by the
present author. Cilardos approach raises the question: How can one relate
such a prolific author like Numn from such a narrow perspective of inheritance? Certainly, one cannot disregard the major contributions of Numn in
the development of the theory of walya (devotion to the imm) and its integration into the system of law and raise it to a pre-eminent rank. Strangely
enough, with such a flawed methodology the editor tried to accommodate
both the Minh and Yanb as authentic works of Numn under the hypo
thesis the early history of Ismaili jurisprudence. The average reader might be
misled by the editors closing remarks wherein he merely reiterates the conclusion that was previously reached by scholars like Fyzee, Lokhandwalla and
Poonawala, namely that the Daim was the crowning achievement of Numn.
Chapter I entitled The life and works of al-Q Ab anfa al-Numn,
which forms a substantial part of the book in addition to the Arabic text and
English translation, is replete with major and minor errors. It is unfruitful to go
into further details and refute all the errors. The present author has indicated
in his previous study that there are references in the works of Numn regar
ding his religious affiliation.6 The editor has disregarded those internal
references and expressed his doubts concerning Numns first doctrinal orientation. In short, the editor lacks familiarity with Ismaili history, its traditions
and sources.
A cursory examination of the edited text further reveals numerous failings
on the part of the editor. Most of the notes could have been avoided because
they are nothing but notations of the scribal errors. Stating those errors in the
description of the manuscripts would have been sufficient. Later corrections
and the addition of omitted words from the text are generally noted in the
margins when that copy is collated with the original copy (or another copy), or
read in the alqa (a small group of students studying under a learned shaykh).
This is the normal scribal practice followed throughout the centuries.
Unfortunately, the editor is confused with those marginal notes and could not
decipher them correctly. Hence, instead of incorporating those corrections in
the text, he has added them as footnotes. For example, on page 2 of the Arabic
6 See Poonawala, Al-Q al-Numn and Ismaili jurisprudence, p. 135-136, n. 17.

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text, note 10 reads A: min al-ikhwa on the mrg [margin]. I think that those
words were missing from the manuscript A; therefore were added in the margin and thus the error is rectified. There are also several typographical errors.
Another issue worth mentioning is that the Arabic text is devoid of even the
most minimal vocalization. The English translation is readable.
The common reader unless he/she is a competent scholar of Arabic would
not be able to read a text full of technical vocabulary.
Finally, the question arises: How could such a book be published by the
Institute of Ismaili Studies in London? The normal practice followed by all the
reputed publishing houses is that, when a manuscript that is supposed to
encourage Ismaili Studies is submitted for publication, it undergoes rigorous
peer review by at least two expert scholars from that particular field. Strangely
enough, as far as I am able to ascertain, the Institute of Ismaili Studies does not
follow such a procedure. The decision about its publications is arbitrarily taken
by one person in charge of academic research and publication. In other words
there is no quality control. Had there been a peer review, I am certain those
errors would have been avoided or rectified and the editor would have been
advised to thoroughly revise his introduction as well as the edited Arabic text.
I hope that this type of oversight will not be repeated in the future.
Ismail K. Poonawala

University of California at Los Angeles

Arabica 61 (2014) 455-470