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Ilkhanid Chronicles as Sources for History and Doctrines of Fatimid Ismailism

Ilkhanid Chronicles as Sources for History and Doctrines of Fatimid Ismailism

Paper by Shiraz Hajiani

Given online as part of the Third International Ismaili Studies Conference on August 7, 2021

Abstract: Studies of Fatimid history and thought have predominantly relied on Ismaili daʿwa literature preserved among the Ṭayyibī communities and on non-Ismaili histories. Among the histories, al-Maqrīzī’s (d. 1442) writings are regarded as pivotal since he drew on contemporary and eyewitness accounts of the amīr al-Musabbihī (d. 1029) and the like which have since been lost.

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Ismailis did not write history. Ayyubid and Mamluk era authors, such as Ibn al-Athīr (d. 1233), in their peripheral mentions of the Fatimids, drew from sīra and manāqib reports in Ismaili doctrinal texts. The Fatimid era Arabic daʿwa literature has been highly privileged; however, the historiography was often written at distant removes of time, space and Creed.

The earliest most complete account of the Ismailis was written a century before al-Maqrīzī, by Juwaynī (d. 1283), as a dynastic chronicle based on texts plundered from the legendary library at Alamut. Rashīd al-Dīn (d. 1318) and Qāshānī (d. after 1337) also wrote sections on Fatimid and Nizari history and doctrine. These Persian sources have rarely been referenced for the study of the Fatimids—Farhad Daftary’s chapter on the Fatimids in The Ismāʿı̄lı̄s: Their History and Doctrines has three footnote mentions of these sources and Paul Walker’s important Exploring an Islamic Empire: Fatimid History and its Sources has no mention of these Persian Texts.

These Ilkhanid authors derived their accounts directly from Nizari daʿwa literature, including the earliest history written by the Ismailis with taʾrīkh in the title, namely the non-extant Taʾrīkh-i Ḥasan-i Ṣabbāḥ. Fragments in these chronicles preserve Nizari construals and some information about the Fatimid era not found elsewhere. In this paper, I show that these histories, shorn of the narrative frameworks of Persian historical writing and the vitriol directed at the Ismailis, are important witnesses of Fatimid history and doctrine. Nizari sources embedded in Ilkhanid Persian chronicles along with the information from Arabic texts preserved by the Ṭayyibīs and in often hostile Sunni histories, used in studies over the past century, will give us better understandings of past actualities and Fatimid thought.

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Shiraz Hajiani completed his PhD at the Univeristy of Chicago in 2019. Click here to learn more about him from Islamicate.net.

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Top Image: Noah’s Ark, from The Jami‘ al-Tawarikh of Rashid al-Din, Tabriz, Iran, 714 AH (1314–15 AD). From the Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

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