The question of Imamat has historically stimulated and elicited a variety of responses from scholars within Muslim society. Among the genre of such works is one by Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi, an Ismaili scholar during the time of the Fatimid Imam-Caliph al-Hakim bi-amr Allah (AH 386/996-411/1021 CE). His work, Ithbat al-Imama seeks to affirm the Imamat from the perspective of rational and philosophical arguments instead of establishing it on the basis of the Qur’an and hadith exclusively. Beginning with a premise that the Imamat is the pole and foundation of religion, he uses numerous ways of establishing his thesis ranging from the 10 categories of the philosophers to several biological metaphors from plants and trees to animals and minerals. Accepting that there are differences and disparities in every genus and species, his gives paradigms of perfect examples in each variety, demonstrating in a parallel manner that the Imam is at the apex of humanity. Al-Naysaburi does not mention al-Hakim by name in his treatise but refers to him as the “commander of the believers” and feels compelled to comment on “the time in which we live”. A number of reasons could have inspired him to write on the subject of the Imamat. He was certainly not the only one who was perplexed by the circumstances of the day, for we have two other writers, al-Kirmani and Abu’l Fawaris, both of whom have written on the subject, al-Kirmani being the more explicit of the two. The “Baghdad Manifesto” sponsored by the ‘Abbasid caliph, al-Qadir (AH 381/991-422/1031 CE) denying the ‘Alid genealogy of the Fatimids in the early part of the fifth century as well as the refutation of Abu’l Qasim al-Busti against the Ismailis would clearly seem to have been the external reasons. However, internal challenges faced by al-Hakim from his own followers, some of whom wished to ascribe divinity to him, appear to have been the more obvious reasons. Like his contemporary Hamid al-Kirmani, al-Naysaburi also rejects the ascription of divinity to al-Hakim. He characterises al-Hakim’s purpose as “enjoining the good and forbidding the evil” (amr bi’l ma‘ruf wa nahy ‘an al-munkar), being a duty of the Imam.
Arzina R. Lalani received her doctorate in 1988 from the Department of Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Edinburgh. Formerly a recipient of the Institute's Visiting Research Fellowship (1999-2000) she is currently a Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies, London.