• The Master and the Disciple: An Early Islamic Spiritual Dialogue

    I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 2001, pp. xiii + 225 (English) + 180 (Arabic).

    A New Arabic Edition and Translation of Ja‘far b. Mansur al-Yaman’s Kitab al-‘Alim wa’-l-Ghulam, Ismaili Texts and Translations Series 3

    ISBN HardBack:
    1 86064 781 2
  • This volume presents a fully annotated English translation and critical edition of the Arabic text of the Kitab al–‘Alim wa’l Ghulam (The Book of the Master and the Disciple), one of the earliest Ismaili Shi‘i writings by the famous AH 4th/10th century CE Yemeni author, Ja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman. It preserves in authentic form a glimpse of the character of Ismaili thought and activities in the period prior to the establishment of the Fatimid state in AH 296/909 CE.

    The Master and the Disciple is presented as an old and timeless story of one seeker’s quest for and gradual realisation of the truth – the spiritual knowledge and eternal life of the true ‘knowers, ’ the ‘friends of God’ – and the ongoing story of their necessary return to this world in order to fulfil their responsibility to transmit that divine trust and discovery to their fellow human beings, to their family and other members of their wider community. Like its source of inspiration, the Qur’aninfo-icon and hadithinfo-icon, this story acts as a map, a guide and a reminder that readers must follow and interpret in their own way, in the light of their own experience and insight.

    In addition to being a key source of pre–Fatimid Ismaili thought, this book is uniquely important as an elaborate example of the narrated dialogue form in Arabic literature. It consists of a series of dramatic dialogues between the ‘Master’ or ‘Knower’ (‘alim) and his young disciple (ghulam), and their own encounters with other seekers of truth and justice. These archetypal encounters, reminiscent of the Platonic dialogues (although probably unknown to the author), underline the full variety of human capacities and the corresponding methods of spiritual pedagogy and guidance.

    The Master and the Disciple also contains a number of similarities in its ideas and approaches with certain aspects of later Sufisminfo-icon, parallels which owe a great deal to their common sources and spiritual inspirations in esoteric Islam. In this respect, the work vividly illustrates the processes in which early esoteric Shi‘i ideas and institutions eventually contributed to the evolution of the more familiar forms of Sufism in the Muslim world.

    Within the Ismaili tradition, Ja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman is recognised as a master of ta‘wil (esoteric interpretation of the Qur’an). This reputation is amply reflected in his complex integration and existential elaboration of Qur’anic themes illustrated throughout the dialogue. The numerous allusions to the Qur’an embedded in the text, both explicitly and implicitly, serve to illuminate the correspondence between the underlying principles of the sacred book and the structures of one’s own spiritual life.

    The work also provides a general understanding of the early stages of Ismaili Shi‘isminfo-icon and the Fatimid da‘wainfo-icon, which are still too often the subject of many highly inaccurate myths and stereotypes, as well as the still relatively unstudied religious history of the Musta’li branch of Ismailism.

    The Master and the Disciple will be of interest to students and scholars of Islamic Studies and Comparative Religions, as well as individuals interested in esoteric and spiritual literature in general.

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  • Preface
      I. General Presentation
      II. The Historical Significance of the Kitab al–‘Alim wa’l–ghulam
        A. The Literary Form of the Text
        B. Sufisminfo-icon and Esoteric Shi‘isminfo-icon
        C. Early Ismailism and the pre–Fatimid Da‘wainfo-icon
        D. Later Musta‘li Ismailism
      III. Ja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman and His Writings
      IV. Reading a Qur’anic Dialogue
      V. Manuscripts and Edition
    Notes to the Introduction
    The Book of the Master and the Disciple (English Translation)
    Notes to the Translation
    Index to English Parts
    Kitab al–‘Alim wa’l–ghulam (Arabic Text and Indices)


  • Works by Ja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman

    Ja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman. Asrar al–nutaqa’, ed. Mustafa Ghalib, Beirut, 1404/1984, pp. 121–264 in volume entitled Sara’ir wa asrar al–nutaqa’. Ms. no. 239 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 8; ms. no. 51/984, and Cortese, Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 32–33. [The description in Poonawala, Biobibliography, p. 72, should be corrected: this work is a separate book from the Sara’ir al–nutaqa’, continuing Ja‘far’s ta’wilinfo-icon of the prophets from the story of Abraham and Lot onward.] The concluding chapter on Shi‘i sects after Ja‘far al–Iadiq has been edited (pp. 81–106) and translated (pp. 275–304) in W. Ivanow’s Ismaili Traditions.

    –––Kitab al–Fara’id wa hududinfo-icon al–dininfo-icon, ms. no. 520 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 42; ms. no. 53/928, Cortese, Descriptive Catalogue, p. 34. It is followed by short extract from Ja‘far’s (otherwise lost?) K. al–Adilla wa’l–shawahid ‘ala ma‘rifat al–hudud min al–afaq wa’l–anfus.


    –––Kitab al–Fatarat wa’l–qiranat. Ms. no. 726 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 42.

    –––Kitab al–Kashf, ed. R. Strothmann, London, 1952; ed. M. Ghalib. Beirut, 1404/1984. –––Kitab al–Rida‘ fi al–Batininfo-icon. Ms. no. 167 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 48.

    –––Sara’ir al–nutaqa’, ed. M. Ghalib. Beirut, 1404/1984, pp. 17–118, in volume entitled Sara’ir wa asrar al–nutaqa’. Manuscript no. 178, dated 1316/1898 (183 pp.), in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 111.

    –––Sharh dalalat huruf al–mu‘jam [Ta’wil al–huruf al–mu‘jam], ms. no. 716 (ff. 48b–52b) in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 118.

    –––K. al–Shawahid wa’l–bayan fi ithbat amirinfo-icon al–mu’minin wa’l–a’imaminfo-icon, ms. no. 734 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, pp. 118–119.

    –––Sirat Ibn Hawshab. (For the sections preserved in later historians, see Introduction, Section IV above, and al–Qadiinfo-icon al–Nu‘man, Iftitah al–da‘wainfo-icon; Idris ‘Imad al–Din, Uyuninfo-icon al–akhbar; Ibn Malik al–Yamani, K. Kashf al–asrar; and Ibn al–Walid, R. al–Wahida.)

    –––Ta’wil al–zakatinfo-icon, ms. no. 216 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 129; ms. no. 54/1028, Cortese, Descriptive Catalogue, pp. 34–35.

    Other Primary Arabic Sources (together with translations)

    al–‘Alawi, ‘Ali b. M. b. ‘Ubaydallah al–‘Abbasi. Sirat al–Hadi Yahya b. al–Husayn, in Akhbar al–Qaramita, ed. Suhayl Zakkar. Damascus, 2nd ed., 1482/1982, pp. 87–110 (excerpts concerning the Ismailis in Yemen).

    ‘Ali b. Abi Éalib. Nahj al–Balagha, ed. M. ‘Abd al–Hamid, with commentary of M. ‘Abduh. Cairo, n.d. English tr. A. Jafery, Peak of Eloquence. Bombay, 1978.

    Amuli, Sayyidinfo-icon Haydar. Kitab Jami‘ al–asrar wa manba‘ al–anwar ('La philosophie Shi‘iteinfo-icon'), ed. H. Corbin and O. Yahia. Tehran–Paris, 1347 s./1969.

    Arberry, A.J., tr. The Koran Interpreted. London, 1955.

    Ghalib, Mustafa, ed. Arba‘a kutub haqqaniyya. Beirut, 1403/1983.

    al–Hamidi, Ibrahim b. al–Hasan. Kanz al–walad, ed. M. Ghalib. Wiesbaden, 1971.

    al–Harithi, M. b. Tahir b. Ibrahim. Majmu‘ al–tarbiyya, ms. no. 263 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 71.

    Ibn al–Haytham. Kitab al–Munazarat , ed. and tr. W. Madelung and P.E. Walker as The Advent of the Fatimidsinfo-icon: A Contemporary Shi‘i Witness. London, 2000.

    Ibn Hawshab: see Mansur al–Yaman.

    Ibn Malik al–Hammadi al–Yamani, M. Kitab Kashf asrar al–Batiniyyainfo-icon wa akhbar al–Qaramita. In Akhbar al–Qaramita, ed. S. Zakkar. 2nd ed., Damascus, 1482/1982, pp. 202–251.

    Ibn al–Nadim, Abu al–Faraj Muhammad. Kitab al–Fihrist li–l–Nadim, ed. R. Tajaddud. Tehran, 1971. English tr. B. Dodge, The Fihrist of al–Nadim. New York, 1970. Ibn al–Walid, ‘Ali b. M. b. Ja‘far. Lubb al–ma‘arifinfo-icon, ms. no. 716 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, pp. 53–54.

    Ibn al–Walid, al–Husayn b. ‘Ali b. M. Risalat al–Wahida fi tathbit arkan al–‘aqida, ms. no. 676 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, pp. 102–103. [See also A. Hamdani, ‘An Early Fatimid Source’.]

    Idris ‘Imad al–Din. ‘Uyun al–akhbar wa funun al–athar fi fada’il al–a’immat al–athar, ed. M. Ghalib, Beirut, 1973 (vol. 4), 1975 (vol. 5), and 1984 (vol. 6; 2nd ed.).

    al–Jawdhari, Abu ‘Ali Mansur al–‘Azizi. Sirat al–Ustadh Jawdhar, ed. M. K. Husayn and M. A. H. Sha‘ira. Cairo, 1954. French tr. M. Canard, Vie de l'ustadh Jaudhar. Algiers, 1958.

    Ja‘far al–Hajib: see al–Yamani, M.

    Kalaminfo-icon al–‘Abd al–Ialih ma‘a Waladih al–Mustajibinfo-icon (anonymous), ms. no. 241 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 34.

    al–Kulayni, Abu Ja‘far M. b. Ya‘qub. al–Usul min al–kafi. Tehran, 1334 s./1955.

    al–Kirmani, Ahmad Hamid al–Din. Rahat al–‘aqlinfo-icon, ed. M. Kamil Husayn and M. Mustafa Hilmi. Cairo, 1953; ed. M. Ghalib. Beirut, 1967.

    Kitab Bilawhar wa Budhasf, ed. D. Gimaret. Beirut, 1972. French tr. D. Gimaret, Le Livre de Bilawhar et Budhasf selon la version arabe ismaélienne. Geneva–Paris, 1971.

    al–Majdu‘, Isma‘il b. ‘Abd al–Rasulinfo-icon. Fahrasat al–kutub wa’l–rasa’il, ed. ‘Ali N. Munzavi. Tehran, 1344 s./1966.

    Mansur al–Yaman (al–Husayn b. Hawshab b. Zadan al–Kufi). Kitab al–Rushd wa’l–hidaya, ed. M.K. Hussein, ‘Fragments of the Kitabu’r–Rushd Wa’l–Hidayat,’ in Collectanea, vol. 1. Leiden, 1948; tr. W. Ivanow, in Studies in Early Persian Ismailism, pp. 32–59.

    al–Qadi al–Nu‘man, Abu Hanifa b. M. K. Asasinfo-icon al–ta’wil, ed. ‘A. Tamir. Beirut, 1960.

    –––K. Da‘a’im al–Islam, ed. A.A.A. Fyzee. Cairo, 1951–60; Partial English tr. The Book of Faith (first chapter of Da‘a’im al–Islam, on walayainfo-icon), tr. A.A.A. Fyzee. Bombay, 1974

    –––Kitab al–Majalisinfo-icon wa’l–musayarat, ed. H. al–Faqi et al. Tunis, 1978.

    –––Risalat Iftitah al–da‘wa wa ibtida’ al–dawlainfo-icon, ed. W. al–Qadi. Beirut, 1970; ed. F. al–Dachraoui. Tunis, 1975.

    –––Ta’wil al–da‘a’im, ed. M. H. al–A‘óami. Cairo, 1968–72.

    al–Razi, Abu Hatim. A‘lam al–nubuwwainfo-icon, ed. I. al–Sawi and G. R. al–A‘wani. Tehran, 1397/1977.

    al–Iaffar al–Qummi, Abu Ja‘far M. b. al–Hasan. Kitab Basa’ir al–darajat al–kubra fi fada’il Al Muhammad, ed. M. M. Kuchehbaghi. Tehran, 1380 s./1981. al–Sijistani, Abu Ya‘qub Ishaq. Kitab Ithbat al–nubuwwat, ed. ‘A. Tamir. Beirut, 1966.

    al–Sultan al–Khattab b. al–Hasan al–Hamdani. Ghayat al–mawalid, ms. no. 249 in the library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies: see Gacek, Catalogue, vol. 1, p. 25.

    al–Yamani, Muhammad. Sirat Ja‘far al–Hajib, ed. W. Ivanow, in Majallat Kulliyyat al–Adabinfo-icon bi–l–Jami‘at al–Misriyya, 4, Part 2 (1936), pp. 33–107; tr. W. Ivanow, in Isma‘ili Tradition Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids, pp. 184–223; French tr. M. Canard, ‘L’autobiographie d’un chambellan du Mahdî ‘Obeidallâh le Fâtimide,’ in Hespéris 39 (1952), pp. 279–329; reprinted in his Miscellanea Orientalia, London, 1973, article 5.

    Secondary Sources and References

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    Brunschvig, Robert. ‘Fiqhinfo-icon Fatimide et histoire de l’Ifriqiyainfo-icon,’ in Mélanges d'histoire et d'archéologie de l'occident musulman, Algiers, 1958, vol. 2, pp. 12–20; reprinted in R. Brunschvig, Ïtudes d'Islamologie, ed., A.M. Turki. Paris, 1976, vol. 1, pp. 63–70.

    Corbin, Henry. Histoire de la philosophie islamique. 2nd rev. ed., Paris, 1986; tr. P. Sherrard, History of Islamic Philosophy. London, 1993.

    –––‘L’Initiation ismaélienne ou l’ésoterisme et le Verbe,’ ; in L’Homme et son ange. Paris, 1983, pp. 81–205; originally in Eranos–Jahrbuch, 39 (1970), pp. 41–142.

    –––‘Un Roman initiatique ismaélien,’ in Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, 15 (1972), pp. 1–25, 121–142.

    Cortese, Delia. Ismaili and Other Arab Manuscripts: A Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies. London, 2000.

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    Daftary, Farhad. The Isma‘ilisinfo-icon: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge, 1990.

    –––The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma‘ilis. London, 1994.

    –––ed., Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought. Cambridge, 1996.

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    Gacek, Adam. Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of The Institute of Ismaili Studies. London, 1984–85.

    Goriawala, Mu‘izz. A Descriptive Catalogue of the Fyzee Collection of Ismaili Manuscripts. Bombay, 1965.

    Halm, Heinz. ‘The Cosmology of the pre–Fatimid Isma‘iliya,’ in F. Daftary, ed., Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought. Cambridge, 1996, pp. 75–83.

    –––‘Dja‘far b. Mansur al–Yaman,’ in EI2, Supplement, pp. 236–237.

    –––The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning. London, 2000.

    –––‘The Isma‘ili Oath of Allegiance (ahdinfo-icon) and the “Sessions of Wisdom” (majalis al–hikmainfo-icon) in Fatimid Times,’ in F. Daftary, ed., Mediaeval Isma‘ili History and Thought. Cambridge, 1996, pp. 91–115.

    –––Kosmologie und Heilslehre der Frühen Isma‘iliya: eine Studie zur islamischen Gnosis. Wiesbaden, 1978.

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    –––‘Die Sirat b. Hausab: Die ismailitische da‘wa im Jemen und die Fatimiden,’ Die Welt des Orients, 12 (1981), pp. 109–135.

    –––‘Die Söhne Zikrawaihs und das erste fatimidische Kalifat (290/903),’ Die Welt des Orients, 10 (1979), pp. 30– [?].

    –––‘Zur Datierung des isma‘ilitischen “Buches der Zwischenzeiten und der zehn Konjunktionen” (Kitab al–fatarat wal–qiranat al–‘ashara) HS Tübingen Ma VI 297,’ Die Welt des Orients, 8 (1975), pp. 91–107.

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    –––‘An Early Fatimid Source on the Time and Authorship of the Rasa’il Ikhwan al–Iafa’,’ Arabica, 26 (1979), pp. 62–75. [Includes fragment of Ja‘far b. Mansur’s Sirat Ibn Hawshab–separate from those in the Iftitah al–da‘wa–preserved in Ibn al–Walid’s R. al–Wahida.]

    –––‘Shades of Shi‘isminfo-icon in the Tracts of the Brethren of Purity,’ in P. Slater and D. Wiebe, ed., Traditions in Contact and Change: Selected Proceedings of the XIV Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions. Waterloo, Ont., 1983, pp. 447–460, 726–728.

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  • James W. Morris

    James W Morris is currently Professor and Chair of Islamic Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. He has previously taught at The Institute of Ismaili Studies in London as well as in its earlier Paris branch and in departments of Religious Studies at Princeton, Temple and Oberlin Universities. Professor Morris lectures and offer seminars and workshops extensively throughout Europe, North America and the Muslim world. Professor Morris‘ interests in Islamic thought and religious studies date from his BA work at the University of Chicago. After further...Read more


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