This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol. XIV, Fasc. 4, p. 349, in December 2008.
Ja‘far b. Manusr al-Yaman was a high-ranking Ismaili author who flourished during the reigns of the first four Fatimid caliphs. His father, Ibn Hawshab (d. 302 AH / 914 CE), originated from a learned Shi‘a family of Kufa, and pioneered the Ismaili da‘wa in Yaman, where his conquests earned him the honorific title of Mansur al-Yaman (Conqueror of Yaman).
Ja‘far’s detailed account of his father’s life (Sirat abihi) has been largely preserved through quotations. After Ibn Hawshab’s death, Ja‘far was his only son to remain faithful to the mission (da‘wa). Antagonism between him and his disgruntled brother, Abu’l-Hasan, eventually forced him to immigrate to the Maghreb, where he arrived during the reign of the second Fatimid caliph al-Qa’im (r. 322-34 AH / 933-46 CE; see Hammadi, pp. 39-41).
Ja‘far witnessed the serious anti-Fatimid rebellion led by the Khariji, Abu Yazid (d. 336 AH / 947 CE), which rattled the Fatimid state during the last two years of al-Qa’im’s reign, and the beginning of the reign of his successor al-Mansur (r. 334 - 41AH / 946 - 53 CE). Ja‘far’s fervent support for the Fatimids, celebrating their victories, is expressed in his poems composed during the years 333 - 36 AH / 945 - 48 CE (Stern, pp. 146-52).
After defeating Abu Yazid, al-Mansur founded, near Qayrawan, his new residential town Mansuriya, where Ja‘far had a fine house. His financial situation led him to mortgage his house, and he was in danger of losing it when the caliph al-Mu‘izz (r. 341-65 AH / 953-75 CE) saved him from his predicament by paying off his debt in recognition of his and his father’s services (‘Azizi Jawdhari, pp. 126-27; tr. pp. 193-94). Ja‘far died at an unknown date in the early period of al-Mu‘izz’s reign.
Ja‘far’s works were often copied and incorporated in later anthologies of Isma‘ili literature (Poonawala, pp. 71-75, 144, 150, 317, 323). They are largely devoted to allegorical interpretation (ta’wil), in which he relates words and expressions from the Qur’an, Islamic rituals, and letters of the Arabic alphabet, to the grades of the hierarchy of the Fatimid da‘wa (hudud al-din); the numbers seven and twelve feature prominently in his scheme. Among Ja‘far’s early works are Kitab al-‘alem wa’l-ghulam, a dialogue of spiritual initiation, and Kitab al-kashf containing six short pre-Fatimid ta’wil treatises dealing mainly with the subject of the Imamate.
Ja‘far viewed the Imamate as a continuation of prophecy. His works on stories of the Prophets were written particularly with this view. These include al-Shawahed wa’l-bayan supporting ‘Ali’s succession to the Imamate, Sara’er al-nutaqa’ and its sequel Asrar al-nutaqa, as well as the interpretation of the sura Yusuf contained in his Kitab al-fara’iz wa hudud al-din. One epistle of Ja‘far, Sharh dalalat huruf al-mo‘jam (or Risalat ta’wil huruf al-mo‘jam) is devoted to the interpretation of the letters of the Arabic alphabet.
Kitab al-fara’iz wa hudud al-din, The Institute of Ismaili Studies Library, London, MS no. 928; al-Reza’ fi’l-batin, London, IIS, MS no. 1143;
Sharh dalalat huruf al-mo‘jam, London, IIS, MS no. 141;
Al-Shawahed wa’l-bayan, London, IIS, MS no. 142;
Ta’wil surat al-nesa’, London, IIS, MS no. 1103;
Kitab al- ‘alem wa’l-ghulam, ed. and tr. James W. Morris as The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue, London, 2001;
Kitab al-kashf, ed. Rudolf Strothmann, London, 1952;
Sara’er al-nutaqa’ and Asrar al-nutaqa’ ed. Mustafa Ghalib as Sara’er wa asrar al-nutaqa’, Beirut, 1984.
Abu ‘Ali Mansur ‘Azizi Jawdhari, Sirat al-Ustaḏ Jawdhar: wa behi tawqi‘at al-a’emma al-fatemiyin, ed. Muhammad Kamil Husayn and Muhammad ‘Abd-al-Hadi Sha‘ira, Cairo, 1954; tr. Marius Canard, as Vie de l’Ustadh Jaudhar (contenant sermons, lettres et rescrits des premiers califes fatimides, Algiers, 1958.
Farhad Daftary, Isma‘ilis: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990.
Heinz Halm, Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman, in EI2, suppl, pp. 236-37.
Husayn b. Fayz-Allah Hamdani, al-Ṣulayhiyun wa’l-haraka al-fatimiya fi’l-Yaman, Cairo, 1955.
Muhammad b. Malik Hammadi, Kashf asrar al-bateniya wa akhbar al-Qaramita, ed. Muhammad Zahed b. Hasan Kawthari, Cairo, 1939.
Ismail K. Poonawala, Bio-bibliography of Ismaili Literature, Malibu, 1977.
Edris ‘Emad-al-Din Qureshi, ‘Uyun al-akhbar wa funun al-athar fi faza’el al-a’emma al-athhar, vols. 4-6, ed. Mustafa Ghalib, Beirut, 1973-84; vol. 5 and part of vol. 6, ed. Muhammad Ya‘lawi, Beirut, 1985.
Fuat Zezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, 8 vols, Leiden, 1967-82, I, pp. 578-79.
Samuel Stern, Studies in Early Ismailism, Max Schloessinger Memorial Series, Monograph 1, Jerusalem, 1983.