Nazrana (Offerings): Early Age of Islam - Qurtubi (d. 1273) writes in Al Jami li-Ahkam al-Koran (13th vol., p. 132) that, “The Prophet of Islam and all the prophets accepted and encouraged the exchange of gifts on account of their beneficial effect on human relations.”
By Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali
Nazrana in Ismaili History
The legacy of the nazrana was prevalent in the Dawr-i Satr (concealment period) of the Ismaili history. When the animosity of the enemies reached to its extreme, the Imams had to hide themselves to elude discovery. Once, when the contact of the Ismaili dais was broken with Imam Wafi Ahmad (d. 828), dai Hurmuz and his son Mahdi, dai Surhaf bin Rustam and his son Imran came forward to institute a search of the Imam. They collected over four thousand dinars from the Ismailis as a nazrana for the Imam. After a struggle of one year, they succeeded to find the Imam in the district of Hims in Syria and presented the nazrana.
In the era of Fatimid Shi’a Dynasty
Qaid Jawhar (911-992), the Commander-in-Chief of the Fatimid forces conquered Egypt in 969. In 970, he sent a special gift (nazrana) to Imam Muizz in Maghrib. The gift, according to Idris Imad al-Din (d. 1468) in Uyun’l Akbar consisted of 21 domes loaded on she-camels, which included five domes and the camel covering decorated with gold, one studded with jewels and the rest were silk and brocade; 50 horses, saddled and bridled, 50 decorated she-camels and more than 50 camels. These she-camels and camels had wrapped loads, tied cages, rarities and birds. Jafar, the son of Qaid Jawhar set out with this gift to al-Mansuria in Maghrib accompanied with a galaxy of dignitaries.
In 973, Imam al-Muizz entered Cairo, which was placarded with Imam’s name and the praises of Ali. He was acclaimed by the people, who crowded to his first public audience. He was presented precious nazrana by the prominent noblemen, in which the nazrana of Jawhar was splendid. Stanley Lane Poole writes in History of Egypt (London, 1914, p. 98) that, “It includes 500 horses with saddles and bridles encrusted with gold, amber and precious stones; tents of silk and cloth of gold, borne on Bactrian camels; dromedaries, mules, and camels of burden; filigree coffers full of gold and silver vessels; gold-mounted swords; caskets of chased silver containing precious stones; a turban set with jewels, and 900 boxes filled with samples of all the goods that Egypt produced.”
According to Daim al-Islam (p. 330), “When people provide food (ma’ida, pl. mawa’id) or feasts for the progeny of the Prophet, the angels surround them and glorify the Lord and ask for the pardon of those that partake of the meal.”
We have many examples of the affluent class, who presented their choicest nazrana to the Imams through the Dais, Pirs or Vakils. Dr. Mustapha Ghaleb writes in Alam al-Ismailia (Beirut, 1964) that the Syrian Ismailis used to send their nuzur (nazrana) to the Imams from time to time during the Fatimid and Alamut periods.
During the post-Alamut period, the Pirs, vakils or any visitors when travelled in Iran from India, the followers gave them few items to be presented to the Imam, known as nazar (nazrana) or khidmati. The value of nazrana ranged from a coconut to that of precious jewels, established among the people of all walks of life. The food, fruits, grains, furniture, jewels, etc. were not possible to take away during the long tedious journey. It seems to have been decided to get them disposed off in the house of an elder person, and its proceeds were sent to the Imams as a nazrana of so and so members of the jamat.
Nazrana (Offerings) In Ginans - Pir Sadruddin exhorted that whatever is offered to the Imam, the giver (wahib) will get its rewards
Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali has authored several articles and books, including Encyclopedia of Ismailism, 101 Ismaili Heroes and Ismailis through History. For several decades, he has been involved with Ismaili Tarqiah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) in Pakistan as an Honorary Missionary and lecturer of religious education classes on history, ginans and other educational topics.
Karachi: April, 2017