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Everything connected with Ismailism seems to be enveloped in clouds of mystery and secrecy. The most ordinary doctrines are zealously guarded by sectarians themselves. even the books that are exoteric and quite harmless never reach the light of day.
The Qadi Abu Hanifah an-Nu'man b. Abi 'Abdullah Muhammad b. Mansur bin Ahmad bin Hayyun-at-Tamimi al-Ismaili al-Maghribi was the greatest of Ismaili Jurist and a protagonist of the early Fatimids in Egypt. Nu'man appears to have sprung from a Maliki school in Qa'rwan, adopting the Ismaili faith early in life. It is interesting to observe that according to most matters the qadi was a Maliki (1) and later adopted Ismaili faith. Ibne Hajar is silent on this point and calls him "al-Ismaili". Gotheil, however, points out that some authorities like Abu'l Mahasin says that he was at first a Hanafi. (2) The Ithna 'Ashari sources sometimes imply that he was first Maliki then he became an Imami (Twelver) and later adopted the Ismaili faith (3) The fact of his never citing any Imams later than Ja'far as-Sadiq 'is freely discussed, and fear and taqiyya. (permissible dissimulations) are also attributed to him.
The 'Uyun does not discuss the question of his Madhab, for according to the Ismailis the Qadi was a pillar of their faith and the founder of their legal system. It seems probable that as he served four Fatimid Caliphs, he was an Ismaili from the very beginning, or at any rate adopted that religion from his early days. As his sons are given the nisba of 'al-Qairwan' by Ibn Hajar, it is quite likely that his family originally came from, Qairwan and was of the Maliki persuasion; and the differing accounts of his being Maliki, Hanafi, Ithna 'Ashari and Ismaili may be due to his practise of taqiyya in the early days of the Fatimid Caliph or misapprehension in the minds of others.
The exact date of his birth is not known, but it is probable that he was born in the last decades of the third century of the Hijra. His connections with the Fatimids began with his entering the service of Imam Mahdi (the first Fatimid Caliph), and serving him for the last nine years of his life (A. H. 313-322). There after he continued to serve Imam Qa'im (the Second Fatimid Caliph) for the- whole of his life. During his time Nu'man was concerned chiefly with the study of history, philosophy and jurisprudence and the composition of his numerous works. Just prior to Imam Qa'im's death, which occurred in 335/946, he was appointed a Qadi. His rank increased during the time of Imam Mansur (the third Fatimid Caliph) and he reached his zenith in the time of the fourth Fatimid Caliph, Imam Mu'izz (d. 3651976). whom he predeceased by two years. Officially, he does not seem to have been appointed "qadi'l-qudat", a designation given for the first time to Nu'man's elder son 'Ali, but during the reign of Imam Mu'izz, Nu'man acquired great power and was in effect the highest judicial functionary of the realm, one of the most important figures in the hierarchy of the Da'wat.
Qadi an-Nu'man describes his first meeting with Imam Mu'izz in very graphic terms. (4) He seems to have been greatly impressed by the Imam's appearance. He says that he was struck by, "the refulgence of the Imamat from his countenance". He goes on to say that afterwards he came to be on very familiar terms both with Imam Mansoor and with Imam Mu'izz, and became their confident.
In his book Al-Majalis wal-Musayarat Nu'man refers to his influence with the Imam by quoting a reply from Imam Mu'izz to his letter. The reply is as follows: "0, Nu'man, may God preserve you. I have read the contents of your letter. I find that you are not sure of my patronage. You seem to entertain unnecessary fears. You have no reason to fear any adverse change in my attitude towards you. On the contrary you should entertain greater hopes, and aspire for a higher position. I know every thing about you, Every well-wisher of mine ought to look upon you as a model. You should continue on with your work in right earnest. Your friends will envy your lot and your enemies will feel jealous of you. May God help you and keep you straight. With regard to the position that you occupied with my predecessor, nothing is hidden from my notice. We. the Imams. are the roots and branches of the same tree. If my father has died physically, the Imamat shall continue for ever. The spirit of Imams is a connected chain, a link within a link. if your patron is gone your Imam is here. Thank God and entrust your affairs to Him. Write to me about your needs and you will get what you want".
Imam Mansur had ordered him to sit as qadi .within the threshold of his own palace (5). But Imam Mu'izz finding that it was an inaccessible place for the poor, sick and the women, who were frightened to come within the precincts of the Palace, ordered a new building to be built, where he finally was accommodated.
When Imam Mu'izz came from the north he brought with him an-Nu'man as his own qadi. When Imam Mu'izz entered Cairo and made that his home and remained there, he allowed Qadi Abu Tahir Muhammad b. Ahmed b. 'Abdulla to remain as Qadi of Cairo (6) probably indifference to the wishes of the Qa'id Jawhar. He did not supersede him by appointing Nu'man, who had come with him as the Qadi of the army in his place. (7) Abu Tahir, however, always consulted Nu'man and asked him to revise his judgements. Thus according to the Ismaili tradition, although Nu'man was not formally appointed to a higher official position, his real rank as a judicial officer was higher than that of Abu Tahir. Abu Tahir remained qadi of Misr throughout the reign of Imam Mu'izz, under the general supervision of Qadi an-Nu'man. This continued only for a short time, for Nu'man, died in the following year 363/974. and then the affairs passed into the hands of Abu Tahir and 'Ali b. Nu'man.
After Nu'man's death Abu Tahir used to refer to 'Ali b. Nu'man, just -as he used to refer to Nu'man in his lifetime, and used to have his judgements revised accordingly. This continued till the end of Imam Mu'izz's reign 3651976 and the beginning of the reign of al-Aziz bi'l-lah.
Qadi an-Nu'man was a man of great talent, learning and accomplishments, diligent as a scholar. prolific as an author, upright as a judge. Not many external facts of his life are known. Possibly he was a recluse, immersed in juristic and philosophical studies and engaged in the composition of his numerous works. He was the founder, and is rightly regarded as the greatest exponent of Ismaili jurisprudence. According to the Ismaili tradition he wrote nothing without consulting the Imams. Nu'man tells us in his, 'Majailis-wal'-Musaerat' "The Imam al-Mu'izz often used to invite me to address the people on the knowledge of the Fatimid Faith. I used to write books and read them to the Imam. chapter by chapter, before I read them to the people. At one time AI-Mu'izz gave me the subject matter of a book in a nut-shell and explained to me everything that pertained to this matter to my fullest satisfaction. He asked me to write a comprehensive book on the subject. I took a long time to finish the work. When I carried it to him I apologised for the delay I had made in executing his order. He said, 0, Nu'man do not mind the delay. Your work is brief but it is full of substance. You have used few words conveying a wealth of meaning. You think that you have taken long to finish this book. You are unnecessarily worried over the matter, Had it not been ' for your sincerity of purpose and the Divine help which has crowned your efforts with success, you would not have been able to produce even one chapter in a much longer period than what you have taken to finish this book," (9) His greatest work, the Da'a' imul-Islam (the pillars of Religion) is regarded as almost the juristic work of Imam Mu'izz and qadi an-Nu'man, and, therefore, as of the highest authority.
It is this Ismaili tradition, placing Qadi an-Nu'man in such close proximity with the Imams, that gives him the highest rank and authority.
Ibn Zuiaq, in his history of Egyptian Qadis, speaking of his son 'Ali is reported to have paid him a graceful tribute. "His father the Qadi an-Nu'man ibn Muhammad, was a man of the highest abilities, deeply versed in the Quran, fully acquainted with the meaning of the expressions contained in that book, skilled in the systems of jurisprudence, well informed respecting the conflicting opinions entertained by the legists learned in Arabic philology, in poetry of the higher class, in the history of the battle-days of the people (the Ancient Arabs), and distinguished for intelligence and equity. He composed for that family (the Fatimids) some volumes containing thousands of' leaves, they were drawn up with great talent and in a style remarkable for the beauty of its cadences and rhymes" (9).
He was the official corpus jurist during the time of Imam Mu'izz. In addition to being a jurist, some of his works on other subjects are also considered to be standard works by the Ismaili doctors and are still eagerly studied, for example: Asasu't-Ta'wil and Ta'wilu'd Da'a'im (ta'wil), Sharhu'l-Akhbar and Ifti'tahu'd-Da'wat (akhbar), and al-Majalis wa'l -Musayarat(wa'z).
Nu'man was the founder of a distinguished family of Qadis, and both his sons, 'Ali and Muhammad, attained the rank of chief Qadis (Qadi'-I-qudat). Qadi an-Nu'man died at old Cairo (Misr.) on Friday the 29th of Jamadi II 363/974 C.E. and the Caliph, Imam Mu'izz led the funeral prayer. Then the affairs passed into the hands of Abu Tahir and 'Ali b. Nu'man, who acquired from his father much of what he had derived from the Pure Imam, who in terms derived it from the Prophet.
The 'Uyun (Vol. vi), describing the personality of the Qadi Nu'man, says that Qadi an-Nu'man held a most respected and honoured position with the Imams
who were contemporary with him. How he served Imam Mahdi, Imarn Qa'im, and Imam Mansur, has been mentioned. His position went on increasing in the reign of each successive Imam, the Zenith being reached in the time of Imam Mu'izz, when he became "High in rank, great in fame, well established in position and near to his heart in affection. Imam Mu'izz continually mentioned him and his excellence, and made him Qadi'I-Qudat "Chief Justice", and added to it a high rank in the Da'wat. His regard for the Qadi may further be judged from the fact that he himself led the funeral prayer of Nu'man' (10). Thus according to Sayyidna Idris not only was he a great lawyer, but a pillar of the Isrnaili religion.
Works: Nu'man was a prolific and versatile author, and the names of forty-four of his works have survived. Of these twenty are totally lost, and eighteen are Wholly, and the rest partially preserved by the Ismailis of IndoPakistan.
After classifying the works of Qadi an-Nu'man, I now give below names of his works.
1. Kitabu'l-ldah. 2. Mukhtasaru'l-Idah, 3. Kibatu'l-Ikhbar, 4. al-Yanbur, 5. al-Iqtisar, 6. allttifaq wa'l iftiraq, 7. al-Kitabul'I Muqtasir, 8. al-Qasidatu'l Muntakhaba, 9. Da'a'imul-Islam. 10. Mukhtatasaru'l-Athar. 11. Kitab Yaum wa laila, 12. kitabul'-Tahara, 13. Kaifiyatu's-Salat, 14. Minhaju'l Fara'id.
(B) MUNAZARA: (Controversy)
1. ar-Risalatu'l-Misriya fir-Radd 'ala'sh-Shafi'i, 2. Kitab Fihi'r-Radd 'ala' Ahmad b. Shuraih al- Baghdadi, 3. ar-Risala Dhatu'l-Bayan fi'r-Radd 'ala ibn Qutaiba. 4. Ikhtilaf Usuli'l-Madhahib, 5. Damigu'l-Mujiz fi'rradd 'ala'l-Itki.
(C) TA'WIL: (Allegorical Interpretation of the Quran)
1. Nahju's-Sabil ila Ma'rifati 'ilmi't-Ta'wil, 2. Asasu't-Ta'wil, 3. Ta'wilu'd-Da'a'im.
(D) HAQA'IQ (Esoteric Philosophy)
1. Hududu'l-Ma'rifa, 2. Kitabu't-Tauhid wal-Imamat, 3. Kitab Ithbatu'l-Haqaiq, 4. Kitab fi'l Imamat.
(E) 'AQA'ID (Dogmas)
1. al-Qasidatu'I-Mukhtara, 2. Kitabu'I-Ta'aqub wa'l-intiqad, 3. Kitabu'd-Du'a, 4. Kitabuf- Himma, 5. Kitabu'I-Hula wa'th-Thiyab, 6. Kitabu'sh-Shurut.
(F) AKHBAR AND SIRA: (Traditions and biography)
1.Sh'arhu'l-Akhbar, 2. Dhatu'l-Miaan, 3.. Dhatu'l- Minan.
(G) TA'RIKH (History)
1.Manaqib Bani Hashim. 2. Iftitah'ud-Da'wat.
(H) WA'Z: (Sermons)
1. Ma'alimul-Mahdi, 2. ar-Risala ila'l-Murshid ad-Dai bi mirs fi tarbiyati'l-Muminin, 3. Kitab al- Majalis wa'I Musayarat, 4. Ta'wilu'r-Ru'ya, 5. Manajatu'l-A' imma, 6. Kitabu't-Taqri' Wa't- Ta'nif, 7. Mafatihu'n-Nima.
(J) APOCRYPHA: (Works sometimes erroneously attributed to Qadi an-Nu'man)
1. Taqwimmu'l-Akham, 2. ar-Rahat wa't Tasalli. 3. Siratu'l A'imma.
Sources and bibliography: The most important sources for the study of the life and works of Nu'man are: 1. Ibn Khallikan Biographical dictionary, Trans. De Slave, iii, 565 et seq., 2. Ibn Hajar. Sayyidna Imadu'din Idris bin Hasan 3. Raf'u'l-Isr, G.M.S. 'Uyunu'l-Akhbar, volume vi folios 33-41. and the later help of volume v. A full account of Qadi an-Nu'man appears n JRAS 1934 Jan. No. pp. 1-32, Shorter accounts may also be found in Fyzee's Ismaili law of wills (Oxford University Press 1933) 9-14 and Ivanow, Guide to Ismaili Literature and Kitabul Himma trans. by Javad al Masqati 1950.
1 Ibne Khallikan, ravzatu'I-Jannat, Mustarak and others.
2 op. cit. 227 n. 3.
3 M. iii-313 et seq.
4 His words are uted verbation in 'Uyun v. folio 378-9.
5 'Uyun V. Folio 379
6 'Uyun VI folio 188.
7 Gotheil op. cit., 289.
8 'Uyun. VI folio 41.
9 Ibn Khalikan iii 365-6.
10 Ibn Khallikan.