The purpose of this book is to introduce a major Ismaili scholar and writer from the time of the Fatimid caliph–Imam al–Hakim bi–amr Allah, who reigned from 386/996 until 411/1021. He is Hamid al–Din Abu’l–Hasan Ahmad b. ‘Abdallah al–Kirmani. So important was his role in the da‘wa (the teaching and proselytising organ of the Ismaili movement) of that era that he deserves recognition alone for his support and defence of his Imam. Beyond that, however, Al–Kirmani possessed a profoundly ingenious theoretical mind that allowed him both to master the philosophical and scientific achievements of the best Arabic works of his day and to express these same principles in a way that made sense in terms of the instruction provided by the da‘wa.
After writing numerous books and treatises that contain a fascinating mixture of religion and philosophy, Al–Kirmani ultimately disappeared only to be remembered through them. The histories and chronicles are silent about him. In fact there is now no information about the man or his life that does not derive directly from his own words. Yet we know that he was the first of the great eastern Iranian da‘is to take up residence in Egypt in the capital city of the Imam. And we are fairly certain that he did so after having been summoned there by Khatkin al–Dayf, the Imam’s newly appointed administrative head of the da‘wa. Al–Kirmani’s scholarship was obviously impressive even then and his reputation has grown ever since. Many later Ismailis, who looked back on that period, tended to see it primarily in terms of Al–Kirmani’s contributions. It is as if he defined the best of that age and he was its permanent legacy. Although we now know a great deal more about the reign of al–Hakim and many of the events that took place during that time in Egypt and elsewhere, only some of which concerned Al–Kirmani, in the literature of thought and the sciences of this period, no other figure in the ‘ came even remotely close to him. It is thus certainly proper in this one sense to regard him as its foremost spokesman and his works as its finest achievement.
If Al–Kirmani had been merely an active agent of the Ismaili da‘wa and not a writer of profoundly influential works of doctrine, he might have been more readily ignored. He also represented a scientific outlook that matches most closely the thought of his contemporary Ibn Sina (Avicenna), and that makes him doubly fascinating. But, ironically, modern scholarship has tended to ignore him except to note in passing his importance both as an outstanding da‘i from that era and a major theologian within the Islamic philosophical tradition. His greatest work was the Rahat al–‘aql (Peace of the Intellect). Once it had been published, its overwhelming complexity, sophistication and resulting difficulty were immediately recognized and admitted. He gained some notice accordingly but still attracted little serious scholarship. Despite the publication of more of his books and treatises in recent decades, few were willing to undertake the arduous task of deciphering, evaluating and ultimately explaining the workings of his mind as it appeared in his individual writings or in his thought as a whole. This deplorable situation finally changed, and changed dramatically, with the publication of Daniel De Smet’s La Quietude de l’Intellect: Neoplatonisme et gnose ismaelienne dans l’oeuvre de Hamid ad–Din al–Kirmani in 1995. De Smet offered an extremely important, full–scale study of his philosophy and its context and sources, at last a truly impressive contribution to the scholarly understanding of Al–Kirmani. Nevertheless, much more can and should be said about him; his works are not all in print by any means and those that have been published have appeared in many cases with serious textual problems and flaws. There are as well quite interesting issues of interpretation regarding Al–Kirmani’s thought and how to classify it. De Smet has both set an enviable scholarly standard for evaluating what Al–Kirmani said in his books and also, in the process, proposed ways to understand it that involve an interpretation which will in itself stimulate further investigation of him.
This present book, however, was not the appropriate place to engage in the detail and nuance necessary for such scholarly debates. Al–Kirmani remains largely unknown to the reader of English, and thus the most pressing responsibility here was to bring together the information about the man and his works and to provide a guide to his thought in such a way that others – specialists and interested laypersons alike – may follow and understand him. In this instance, an exhaustive treatment was, therefore, postponed in favour of an introduction and a preliminary accounting of the basic facts and ideas. This book therefore examines this great da‘i first as a member of the Ismaili da‘wa and next tries to explain his thought in broad terms. Its purpose is similar to Dr. Walker’s previous study in this same series of al–Kirmani’s equally important predecessor, Abu Ya‘qub al–Sijistani. However, readers of that book will find that the approach here is different. For Al–Sijistani a fair amount of previous scholarship already existed. Since, for example, the earlier books and articles by Walker himself on al–Sijistani contained a full apparatus of source citations, he decided for that volume that he could attempt a new interpretation of al–Sijistani without burdening the reader with the distracting array of notes and other academic niceties. For Al–Kirmani, however, that was simply not feasible since there existed no foundation for it. Despite De Smet's valuable beginning, many references and details are included here to support what appears in this book. But the author has tried, nevertheless, to keep in mind twin obligations, one to the scholarly expert who will demand to know where the information he relates comes from, and the other to the less expert reader who desires to learn more about the era of Al–Hakim and about his ardent supporter, the great da‘i and philosophical theologian, al–Kirmani, whose writings so brilliantly defined Ismaili thought in those momentous times nearly a millennium ago.