Shi‘i Interpretations of Islam: Three Treatises on Islamic Theology and Eschatology
Dr Sayyad Jalal Badakhchani
I. B. Tauris Publishers in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 2010
ISBN (Hardback): Hardback ISBN: 9781848855946
Publication page on Google Books
The celebrated 13th-century Persian scholar Nasir al-Din Tusi (1201-1274) was one of the most prominent Muslim scholars and scientists of the medieval era. Tusi dedicated himself from an early age to the search for knowledge and truth. In the course of his long and distinguished career, first under the patronage of the Ismailis at their fortresses in Persia and later in service of the conquering Mongols, he produced over 150 works on a variety of subjects from theology and philosophy to mathematics and astronomy.
In this publication, Dr Jalal Badakhchani brings together critical editions and English translations of three shorter Ismaili works of Tusi, namely Solidarity and Dissociation (Tawalla wa tabarra), Desideratum of the Faithful (Matlub al-mu’minin) and Origin and Destination(Aghaz wa anjam). In these treatises, Tusi provides concise philosophical interpretations of key motifs in Ismaili thought, with special reference to the existential condition of human beings, their primordial origin and nature, their earthly existence and their destiny in the Hereafter.
The Tawalla wa tabarra is grounded in the integral notion of solidarity and dissociation, based on a tradition attributed to Prophet Muhammad: “ Religion is love and hatred for the sake of God”. Tusi takes solidarity with the Imams and dissociation from anything alien to them as an indispensable condition for the seekers of truth. In the manner that Tusi describes it, this principle corresponds to the Shi‘i principle of walaya, the first pillar of Shi‘i Ismaili Islam as articulated by the Fatimid chief da‘i al-Qadi al-Numan in the opening chapter of his Da‘a’im al-Islam. Essentially, walaya requires recognition of the Imams descended from ‘Ali b.Abi Talib, and the demonstration of absolute devotion and obedience to them. Tusi’s object in this treatise in not merely to reaffirm an established theological principle of Shi‘a Islam, but also to delineate the internal, psychological and spiritual process by which solidarity may be cultivated and attained by the individual.
The second treatise, Matlub al-mu’minin, is a development on the main themes introduced in the Tawalla, reminding the reader of the essentials of faith, such as recognition of the Imam, the conditions of faithfulness, solidarity and dissociation, the degrees of certitude, etc. But in contrast to the brevity of Tawalla, it is a longer text with four chapters, and Tusi’s perspective is focused much more on the idea of origin and destination (mabda’wa ma‘ad) or, in his words: ‘Where has man come from, why has he come, and where is he heading to?’ Also, the Matlub goes much farther in its final chapter with a discussion of the seven pillars of Shi‘i Ismaili Islam. In common with his Fatimid predecessors, Tusi provides both the exoteric and esoteric meanings of religious rituals such as prayer, fasting, pilgrimage. He is careful in declaring that the observance of shari‘a practices is obligatory for all Ismailis, but it must be performed in both their exoteric and esoteric aspects.
The third and longest of the treatises collected in this volume, the Aghaz wa anjam, is notable for Tusi’s philosophical exegesis of the Qur’anic doctrine of Qiyama (Resurrection). In his Preamble to the discourse, Tusi admits to the difficulty of writing about the Hereafter, especially because his intention is to record an account ‘not as rendered by scholars,’ but by ‘men of insight’.
In the first four chapters, he establishes the intellectual groundwork by exploring the basic issues of human origin and destination, existence and non-existence, perfection and deficiency, the relationship between the corporeal and spiritual worlds, the hidden and the manifest, the nature of time and space, etc. In the chapters that follow, he ranges across a broad spectrum of eschatological themes from the soundings of the Trumpet and the in-gathering for Resurrection, to the reading of the Scroll of Deeds, Heaven and Hell, angels and satans, the rivers of Paradise, the Tree of Bliss and its counterpart the Infernal Tree.
Tusi concludes the Aghaz with the core message that appears in all of his Ismaili works; that the people of this world who have attained absolute certainty and unity of purpose with the Divine are already resurrected and liberated in spirit. Apparently for Tusi, the essence of this message is encapsulated in the famous Prophetic tradition which he quotes in the Aghaz,Tawalla and Matlub: “This world is forbidden to the people of the Hereafter, and the Hereafter is forbidden to the people of this world and both of them are highly forbidden to the people of God”. Throughout his discourse, Tusi maintains a highly subtle, dialectical balance between the exoteric and esoteric readings of the Qur’an, between fidelity to the letter of the text and its inner, spiritual meaning.
While Tusi’s hermeneutics is consistent with Qur’anic teachings, it draws conclusions which are in certain respects quite distinctive from those of the Sunni and the Twelver Shi‘i authors.
Content Date: January 2011