The Use of the Term ‘Da‘i’

(He who summons), a term used by several Muslim groups, especially the Ismailis, to designate their missionaries. It was adopted by the Seljuk ‘Abbasid da‘wa, or mission, in Khurasan and by the early Mu‘tazila, but it soon became particularly identified with certain Shi‘i groups, for example, the Zaydis and some Shi‘i extremists (ghulat), notably the Khattabiya.

The term acquired its widest application in connection with the Ismailis, though early Ismaili authors in Persia sometimes substituted other designations, like janah (pl. ajniha: see the excerpt from Abu Hatim Razi, Kitab al-islah, in Hamdani, p. 109; Sijistani, pp. 91, 100, 128).

The term da‘i (pl. du‘at) came to be applied to any authorised representative of the Ismaili al-da‘wa al-hadiya (rightly guiding mission), a missionary responsible for spreading the Ismaili doctrine and winning followers for the imam.

Different ranks of da‘is emerged during the history of the Ismailis and among different branches. In fact, the da‘i was the unofficial agent of the Fatimid state (297-567/909-1171), operating secretly in many territories outside Egypt and Syria in efforts to promote recognition of the Ismaili Fatimid caliph as the Ismaili imam.


Dr Farhad Daftary

Co-Director and Head of the Department of Academic Research and Publications

An authority in Shi'i studies, with special reference to its Ismaili tradition, Dr. Daftary has published and lectured widely in these fields of Islamic studies. In 2011 a Festschrift entitled Fortresses of the Intellect was produced to honour Dr. Daftary by a number of his colleagues and peers.


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