Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Naysaburi (d. 996), an Ismaili da’i who flourished in the tenth century, was born in Nishapur in Persia (modern day Iran). He seems to have spent most of his life in Fatimid Egypt during the time of Imams al-Aziz (r.976-996) and al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (r. 996-1021). His works included the important historical source titled Istitar al-imam, dealing with the settlement of the early Ismaili Imam Abd Allah al-Akbar in Salamiyya and the later journey of Abd Allah al-Mahdi, founder of the Fatimid Caliphate, from Syria to North Africa.
Composed during the time of al-‘Aziz, the Istitar al-imam relates important details on ‘Abd Allah al-Akbar and his successors down to ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi, when he founded the Fatimid dynasty in 909. The narrative discusses the hardship suffered by ‘Abd Allah al-Akbar and the quest for him by the da’is who had lost touch with him. The work also provides information about the early da’wa (mission) as well as the setbacks faced by ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi in his departure from Salamiyya to North Africa.
The Russian scholar, Wladimir Ivanow (d. 1970), observes that in it “we have precious crumbs of information about a period which is a lost world in history, information which cannot be found anywhere else.”* He also composed the Ithbat al-imama arguing about the legitimacy of the Imamate and its necessity.
An Arabic edition and an English translation of the Ithbat al-Imama by Dr Arzina R Lalani, a Research Associate at The Institute of Ismaili Studies, is published by the Institute, titled Degrees of Excellence.
*Manuscripts of Ahmad al-Naysaburi, The Institue of Ismaili Studies
Farhad Daftary, Historical Dictionary of the Ismailis, Scarecrow Press Inc., Plymouth, 2012
Research by Nimira Dewji