Today in history: Fatimid jurist Qadi al-Nu’man passed away

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

One of the greatest Ismaili jurists and theologians of the Fatimid era, Qadi al-Nu‘man, passed away on March 27, 974 in Cairo, after serving the Fatimid dynasty for almost fifty years. Imam al-Muizz led the prayers for al-Nu’man’s funeral.

Qadi al-Nu‘man was born around 903, and entered the service of the first Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi in 925, serving the next three Imams in various capacities, such as the keeper of the palace library and the qadi (judge). His growing position and importance reached its zenith under the fourth Fatimid Caliph-Imam al-Mu‘izz, when he became the highest judicial functionary of the Fatimid state, the chief judge (qadi al-qudat).

The early Fatimids were confronted with the issue of statehood because there did not exist an Ismaili law similar to the Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanafi, and Hanbali law developed by the Sunni Muslims, and the Ja’fari law developed by the Twelver Shi’is. While the Ismailis had observed the law of the land wherever they lived, the need for a code of law arose when they formed the Fatimid state, although Ismailism was never imposed on all subjects of the state.

Al-Numan's Tarbiyat, 10th majlis copied in 1858. Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History
Al-Numan’s Tarbiyat, 10th majlis copied in 1858. Image: The Ismailis: An Illustrated History

Although the process of codifying Ismaili law occurred during the time of  time of Imam al-Mahdi, Qadi al-Nu’man was officially commissioned by Imam al-Mu’izz to prepare a legal set of law.

“Al-Nu’man codified Ismaili law by systematically collecting the firmly established legal hadiths transmitted from the ahl al-bayt. His efforts culminated in the compilation of the Da’a’im al-Islam (The Pillars of Islam), which was scrutinized closely by Imam al-Mu’izz and endorsed as the official code of the Fatimid state.”1

The Da’a’im is divided into two volumes. The first volume deals with acts of devotion and religious duties, and the second volume deals with worldly affairs such as food, clothing, wills, inheritance, and marriage.

The esoteric counterpart of the Al-Nu’man’s Da’a’im al-Islam is the Tarbiyat al-mu’minin, better known as the Ta’wil da’a’im al-Islam (Hermeneutics of the Pillars of Islam).  This volume comprised 120 lectures on the esoteric  Ismaili doctrines, or hikma that were delivered at the majalis al-hikma, or “sessions of wisdom.” These private lectures, delivered by the chief da’i in a special hall of the Fatimid palace, developed into an elaborate program of instruction for a variety of audiences including the initiates, courtiers, high officials, and women.

The texts for these lectures, addressing a wide variety of  theological, philosophical, and ethical issues as well as the esoteric interpretation (ta’wil) of the Qur’an, were pre-approved by the Imam before they were delivered at the majalis.

Sources:
“Al-Qadi al-Nu’man and the Ismaili madhab,” in The Ismailis An Illustrated History, Azimuth Editions in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies
Heinz Halm, The Fatimids and their Traditions of Learning, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd., London, 1997

Compiled by Nimira Dewji

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