Today in history: Ali ibn al-Nu’man was appointed supreme judge of the Fatimid state

Title page of the manuscript of the second volume of the Da'a'im al-Islam produced in India in 1686 (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Title page of the manuscript of the second volume of the Da’a’im al-Islam produced in India in 1686 (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)

On September 30, 976, Ali ibn al-Nu’man, son of al-Qadi al-Nu’man, was appointed supreme judge in the Fatimid capital of Cairo during the reign of Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Aziz. Qadi al-Nu’man and his descendants dominated the judicial affairs of the Fatimid Empire for many decades.

Born in 903, al-Qadi al-Nu’man served the Fatimids in various capacities from the time of Imam al-Mahdi in North Africa. Imam al-Mansur appointed al-Nu’man to the highest judicial office of the Fatimid state. In 954, Imam al-Mu’izz confirmed al-Nu’man’s status as chief judge while also authorizing him to hold the “sessions of wisdom” every Friday after the noon prayers.

Al-Qadi Al-Nu’man “codified Ismaili law by systematically collecting the firmly established legal hadiths transmitted from the ahl al-bayt.”* He subsequently compiled the Da’a’im al-Islam (The Pillars of Islam) under close supervision of Imam al-Mu’izz who endorsed it as the official code of the Fatimid state. The first volume of the work deals with acts of obedience to God, while the second volume  focuses on codes of conduct and regulations for the community.**

Manuscript of a page from the Da'a'm al-Islam copied mid-19th century, India (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)
Manuscript of a page from the Da’a’m al-Islam copied mid-19th century, India (Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History)

The Ismaili legal code was explained to the people in regular public sessions authorized by the Imam and delivered by al-Qadi al-Nu’man after the midday prayers on Friday. The sessions to explain the batin, known as “sessions of wisdom” (majalis al-hikma) and catered to Ismailis only, were held at the Fatimid palace following the sessions on the zaheri aspects of the law. The lectures prepared for the majalis al-hikma were approved beforehand by the Imams, and were subsequently collected in his Ta’wil al-da’a’im al-Islam (Hermeneutics of the Pillars of Islam).

The Da’a’im al-Islam continues to be one of the primary sources of Ismaili law to the present day for some Muste‘alvi Ismaili communities.

References:
*Farhad Daftary, A Short History of the Ismailis, Edinburgh University Press
**Farhad Daftary, Zulfikar Hirji, “Al-Qadi al-Nu’man and the Ismaili madhab,” The Ismailis: An Illustrated History, Azimuth Editions in association with The IIS
Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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