The eminent Muslim scholar al-Shahrastānī, who may have been a crypto-Ismaili, wrote the Majlis-i maktūb in the final years of his life, some time between 538/1143 and his death in 548/1153. No longer in government service and having withdrawn to the village of Shahrastāna, in Khurāsān, it is possible that he felt he could express his personal beliefs more openly than hitherto. At any event, the Ismaili character of the work has been noted in the past and this element of the Majlis receives further confirmation in this new edition and translation. Its theme is the Divine Command, Be! (kun) and Creation, a topic central to the Ismaili understanding of cosmology. This theme is presented in the form of a sermon (waʿz) comparable to the sermons of the great Fatimid dāʿī, al-Muʾayyad fi’l-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d. 470/1078) collected in his al-Majālis al-Muʾayyadiyya, or those of the medieval Persian poets Rūmī and Saʿdī.

The style of the Majlis is varied, immediate and engaging, and it includes logical argumentation as well as two dramatic duologues, between God and Iblīs and then Moses and Khidr. In the course of the sermon al-Shahrastānī challenges the arguments of various theological schools, including the Ashʿarīs, Muʿtazilīs and the Karrāmīs, as well as those of the philosophers. In the end it is the mystical truths of the enigmatic Khidr that he affirms. The concepts he outlines here went on to influence later Ismaili ideas, notably those concerning the declaration of the qiyāmat by the fourth lord of Alamūt, Ḥasan II ʿalā dhikrihi’l-salām, which took place in 559 /1164. As a result, this new edition and translation of the Majlis-i maktūb by Daryoush Mohammad Poor is an important addition to the study of early Nizārī Ismaili thought and provides a unique insight for anyone seeking to explore Islamic thought of the medieval era in general.