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Sharh al-akhbar fi fada il al-a immat al-athar, 3 vols.

By AL-QADI AL-NU MAN. Edited by MUHAMMAD AL-HUSAYNI AL-JALALI. Qum: MU ASSISAT AL-NASHR AL-ISLAMI, 1409-12 A.H. [1988-92 A.D.]. Pp. 496, 611, 599. Riyals 1800, 2500, 3200.

When the Isma ilis made their dramatic appearance on the stage of Islamic history in A.H. 297/A.D. 909 by establishing the Fatimid dynasty in North Africa, they had neither a hadith collection of their own nor a distinct Isma ili law. As Isma ili law began taking definite shape under the patronage of the Fatimid caliphs, the need for a separate collection of legal traditions was greatly felt by their da is, because by this time hadith had come to be recognized, by the Sunnis and Shi is alike, as second only to the Qur an in authority. It was al-Qadi al-Nu man (d. 363/974) who undertook this task at the suggestion of the first Fatimid caliph, al-Mahdi (297-322/909-34), while he was under his service. Referring to the task, al-Nu man states in the introduction to his Kitab al-iqtisar (ed. M. Wahid Mirza [Damascus, 1376/1957], 9), that he embarked on the collection of traditions transmitted from the family of the Prophet (ahl al-bayt) dealing with customary practices, legal provisions, and formal legal opinions concerning what is lawful and unlawful, by scrutinizing various sources accessible to him by way of sama (direct oral transmission from a shaykh or an imam), ijaza (license to transmit from a shaykh), munawala (a copy of the shaykh's traditions handed over to a student with an ijaza), or sahifa (book). The result was a voluminous composition entitled Kitab al-idah, comprising 3,000 folios. Except for a tiny portion from the chapter on ritual prayer, the entire work is lost. In "The sources of Isma ili law" (Journal of Near Eastern Studies 35 [1976]: 29-40), W. Madelung has analyzed the extant fragment and identified twenty books named in it by al-Nu man as his sources. All of those works, with a single partial exception of al-Kitab al-ja fariya, are no longer extant. Even this small section, thus, provides invaluable data about earlier Shi i collections of hadith that did not survive the vicissitudes of time.

The crowning achievement of al-Nu man, however, came when he was commissioned by the fourth Fatimid caliph, al-Mu izz li Din Allah, to compose his most famous work, Da a im al-islam. As it was proclaimed the official code of the Fatimid state, the authorities for hadith cited in the Da a im are confined to Imam Ja far al-Sadiq and the preceding Imams, for the simple reason that they were accepted by both the Sunnis and Shi is as trustworthy sources. The Da a im is a book of law, but at the same time it is a collection of Isma ili traditions arranged according to the subject matter of jurisprudence, like Malik's al-Muwatta and al-Kulayni's al-Kafi fi ilm al-din. It contains approximately five hundred traditions from the Prophet, a very small number compared to Sunni works.

The work under review, another major work of al-Nu man, deals with the explication of traditions about the excellent qualities (fada il) of the Imams and was revised and approved by al-Mu izz. It contains approximately 1,460 traditions, all of which are, according to its author, well known and authentic, and fall into the categories of mashhur (with more than two transmitters), ma ruf (acceptable but weak and confirmed by another weak tradition), ma thur (handed down from one to another, from generation to generation), sahih (sound, utterly faultless, in whose isnad there is no weakness, and which does not contradict prevalent belief) and thabit (established, standing as good). All these categories are accepted by the Sunnis (al-amm) and Shi is (al-khass) alike. The traditions are arranged topically and the chain of authorities is kept to a bare minimum. It is divided into sixteen parts; two thirds of the work deals with the fada il of Ali b. Abi Talib. It is, therefore, one of the earliest and the most detailed and comprehensive accounts of the Shi i case for Ali, and its related problems. The rest of the work enumerates the fada il of the ahl al-bayt, the Prophet's first wife, Khadija; Ja far b. Abi Talib; the Prophet's uncle Hamza; and the early Imams up to Ja far al-Sadiq; and concludes with the traditions concerning the rise of the Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi from the west, i.e., North Africa.

The traditions are carefully culled from a wide variety of hadith, maghazi, and siyar sources. Ibn Ishaq's (d. 150/767) Kitab al-maghazi or the Sira,(1) and Yahya b. Salam [al-Taymi al-Basri]'s (d. 200/815) Tafsir(2) are cited by their titles, while Kitab al-maghazi of al-Waqidi (d. 207/822)(3) is referred to without its title. A1-Tabari's (d. 310/923) Fada il Ali ibn Abi Talib (or Kitab Ghadir al-Khumm) is referred to as kitab dhakar fihi fada il Ali.(4) It is no longer extant, but its contents can be gleaned from al-Nu man's work, as it contains lengthy extracts which comprise thirty pages of the printed work. Kitab al-magamat fi tafdil Ali (or Kitab fada il Ali) by Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Iskafi (d. 240/854) is referred to by qad dhakar ikhtilaf al-firaq fi tafdil Ali ala sa ir al-sahaba wa l-tafdil alayhi ba d an dhakar fadlahu. Zubayr b. al-Bakkar (d. 256/870) and Muhammad b. Salam al-Kufi are mentioned without the titles of their works.(6)

Al-Nu man's version of the Prophet's marriage to Khadija seems to be convoluted. It was, according to him, her uncle who married her to Muhammad while he was plied with wine until he was drunk.(7) The question as to whether Abu Talib ever professed Islam or not is much discussed in Muslim sources. Al-Nu man asserts that he did embrace Islam, but did not publicly proclaim it because if he had done so, he would not have been able to protect Muhammad.(8) It is also worth noting that both A isha and Abd Allah b. Umar have been portrayed as repenting their actions: the former for rising against Ali and the latter for not supporting CAll against his opponents.(9)

There is no reference to any of the six Sunni canonical hadith collections in the book under review or in any other work by al-Nu man. This implies that probably by the time of al-Nu man's writing, those collections had not yet earned large-scale acceptance and currency. Even Muslim's Sahih, which had precedence in North Africa over other works, is not mentioned. From al-Nu man's discussion of hadith one could also infer that the problems connected with the reliability of the hadiths, as well as standards of their acceptance, had not yet been finally settled.

Although the present edition is based on a very small number of recent manuscripts, all of Indian provenance, it seems to be adequately edited. It is unfortunate that all of the available manuscripts in public libraries were not obtained and used. Unlike most of the Arabic works published in Iran it is nicely printed. Takhrij al-ahadith is exceedingly well done. Except in the introduction, misprints are not numerous. The following errors (some might be faulty manuscript readings) need to be corrected:

Vol. 1, p. 9, line 12: chi should be read ji.

Vol. 1, p. 10, line 2: mullachi should be read mullaji.

Vol. 1, p. 10, line 15: min alfadiha should be read min al-faziha.

Vol. 1, p. 47, line 13: al-Qa im should be read al-Mahdi.

Vol. 2, p. 134, line 4: Ali b. Ishaq should be read Muhammad b. Ishaq.

Vol. 2, p. 163, line 8: fi l-siyar most likely is fi l-sira.

Vol. 3, p. 355, line 4: kitab ma alim al-huda should be read kitab ma alim al-Mahdi.(10)

Vol. 3, p. 402, last line: qatluhu bi-ilmihi, Ivanow's(11) reading, qatluhu illa bi-ilmihi, is better.

Vol. 3, p. 403, line 12: sanat tis in wa-mi atayni should be read sanat [] wa-sittin wa-mi atayni.(12)

Vol. 3, p. 413, footnote 1: al-Hamdani should be read al-Hamdani.

Vol. 3, p. 416, line 4: sanat [] wa-mi atayn should be read sanat thamanin wa-mi atayn.(13)

It is unfortunate that the editor has not furnished indices, either of proper names, places, or books. This is a major drawback. In this work al-Nu man refers to eleven of his own works. A book of this magnitude should have an index if it is to achieve its maximum usefulness and enable a reader to find every pertinent statement made in the book. A proper index of the Qur anic verses and the ahadith would also be extremely useful. Occasionally, al-Nu man gives linguistic explanations of difficult words in the traditions cited and quotes poetry to support his contention. A separate listing of such words and poetry could also be provided.

A long introduction about al-Nu man and his works is written, not by the editor, but by Muhammad Husayn al-Husayni al-Jalali. Unfortunately, it is far off the mark and replete with errors, mainly because of the latter's unfamiliarity with Isma ili studies and sources written in Western languages. The reference given to al-Nu man's Kitab al-majalis wa l-musayarat (ed. al-Habib al-Faqi et al. [Tunis, 1978], 7), is also incorrectly cited. The word tasharraqa (and not tashawwaqa) in the sources is correct; it is not a distortion of tashayya a as alleged by al-Jalali. Although the reviewer's Biobibliography was available to him it is not aptly used. For example, it seems that some of al-Nu man's works were introduced in the Imami circles quite early. Ibn Shahrashub (d. 588/1192) was the first Imami author to include Nu man in his list of Shi i authors and traditionists. He lists seven works of al-Nu man, including Sharh al-akhbar; however, he explicitly states that al-Nu man is not an Imami. This implies that in certain Imami circles al-Nu man was considered an Imami. The present reviewer has discussed al-Nu man's madhhab (religious affiliation),(14) yet Sayyid Jalali contends that al-Nu man was an Imami and practiced taqiya (dissimulation of one's religion under duress) because he served the Fatimid caliphs. Probably, for this reason, the editor has also supplied in the text - of course, within square brackets - two headings indicating al-Nu man's taqiya: walayat al-ahd li l-imam al-Rida alayhi al-salam (3: 338) and al-a imma ithna ashar (3: 400). Anyone who is intimately familiar with the works of al-Nu man and his criticism of the Imamis would not venture such an untenable proposition.

The above criticism of some aspects of the work, however, is not intended in any way to detract from the real value of this scholarly edition. It is a welcome addition to the growing list of al-Nu man's works. It is hoped that the above errors will be rectified in the second edition and the learned editor will supply all the indexes.

1 Al-Nu man states: dhakar Ibn Ishaq, sahib al-maghazi, fi kitabihi al-mu allaf fi al-siyar [or al-sira] (vol. 1, p. 107; vol. 2, p. 163). A segment of the original preserved in Fas and Damascus manuscripts is also entitled Kitab al-maghazi: see Sirat Ibn Ishaq, ed. M. Hamid Allah (Rabat, 1396/1976); F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (Leiden, 1967), I: 289.

2 Sharh al-akhbar, 3: 418; for its manuscripts see Sezgin, op. cit., 1: 39, 47. It should be noted that Yahya b. Salam had visited North Africa and was known as a mufassir and muhaddith and is listed among ulama ifriqiya.

3 Sharh al-akhbar, 3: 265; al-Waqidi, Kitab al-maghazi, ed. M. Jones (London, 1966).

4 Sharh al-akhbar, 1: 128, 130, 137. Al-Nu man states that al-Tabari compiled this work to refute the allegation that the tradition of Ghadir Khumm and the walaya of Ali on should be rejected the ground that CAll did not witness the Farewell Pilgrimage with the Prophet as he was, at that time, in the Yemen. The same reason is given by Ibn Kamil; see F. Rosenthal tr. The History of al-Tabari, vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood (Albany, 1989), 91.

5 It is no longer extant. The editor's note that the reference is to Kitab al-mi yar wa l-muwazana seems incorrect. The latter is by al-Iskafi's son; see Encyclopaedia of Islam (new edition), 4: 126-27. Although al-Iskafi, a Mu tazili of the Baghdad school, maintained the superiority of CAll to Aba Bakr he supported the imamate of the mafdul. Al-Nu man (Sharh al-akhbar, 2: 226) refers him as min ahl al-kalam wa l-jadal min al- amma.

6 Sharh al-akhbar, 3: 163, 164, 266, 417. See Sezgin, op. cit., 1:317-18 (3: 417; 3: 163, 164, 266).

7 Cf. Ibn Hisham, al-Sira, ed. Mustafa al-Saqqa et al. (Cairo, 1355/1936), 1: 201; Sirat Ibn Ishaq, ed. Harold Allah, 60-61; al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, ed. M. Abu l-Fadl Ibrahim (Cairo, 1961), 2: 281-82; The History of al-Tabari, vol. 6: Muhammad at Mecca, tr. W. M. Watt and M. McDonald (Albany, 1988), 47-49; Ibn Sa d, Al-Tabaqat al-kabir, ed. E. Sachau (Leiden, 1917), 1.I: 84-85.

8 Sharh al-akhbar, 3: 221. In his Kitab al-manaqib wa l-mathalib, al-Nu man has dealt with it at much greater length.

9 Sharh al-akhbar, 2: 69-71, 72.

10 See I. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Isma ili Literature (Malibu, 1977), 58.

11 W. Ivanow, Ismaili Traditions Concerning the Rise of the Fatimids (Bombay, 1942), 31 (Arabic pagination).

12 Al-Nu man, Iftitah al-da wa, ed. F. al-Dashrawi (Tunis, 1975), 15; idem, Iftitah al-da wa, ed. W. al-Qadi (Beirut, 1970), 44; Husayn al-Hamdani, al-Sulayhiyun wa l-haraka al-Fatimiya fi l-Yaman (Cairo, 1955), 32.

13 Iftitah al-da wa, ed. al-Dashrawi, 47, or Iftitah al-da wa, ed. al-Qadi, 71.

14 I. Poonawala, "A Reconsideration of al-Qadi al-Nu man's madhhab," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 37 (1974): 572-79. I have provided some additional evidence to corroborate my earlier contention that al-Nu man was raised and educated as an Isma ili: see "Al-Qadi al-Nu man and Isma ili Jurisprudence," in Medieval lsma ili History and Thought, ed. F. Daftary (Cambridge, 1996), 136.

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Author:Poonawala, Ismail K.
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1998
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