Reviews

This monumental work, by a most prominent figure of Isma‘ili studies, provides students and researchers with an invaluable tool for documentary inquiry.  Though Isma‘ili communities of Central Eurasia (mainly Badakhshan) are dealt with by the author through contributions by Soviet and present-day Tajikistani scholars, these communities are well present in the introductory chapter on Isma‘ili history and its literary sources, as well as in the wide bibliography of secondary sources—a clear progress if the present work is compared with the available literature on Isma‘ilism.  The historical peculiarities of Badakhshan have been very well perceived, notably through this region’s distinctive literary tradition, drawing on the classical Persian Isma‘ili literature, with particular reference to the writings of Nasir-i Khusraw (d. 1070) as well as to the Sufi traditions of Iran and Central Asia.  If the Nizaris of the Pamir are not credited with the production of any noteworthy author in the post-Alamut period, they are nevertheless praised for having preserved the bulk of Isma‘ili literature of different periods written in Persian language, in the form of manuscripts held in numerous private collections by khalifas (local congregation leaders) in Shughnan, Rushan and Ishkashim.  However, the author’s considerations on the lack of a production of histories of their communities by the Isma‘ilis of Badakhshan show excessive, since they do not take into account significant documentary discoveries of the last fifteen years (see infra the section 5.2.A.).

A key feature of Badakhshani (and Sindi) Isma‘ilism, viz. the influence of the Persian gnostic tradition, is well illustrated here, and properly explained by taqiyya (dissimulation) practices of the post-Alamut time.  The latter used to bring the faithful to disguise themselves under the cover of Sufism, without necessarily establishing affiliations with any of the Sufi tariqas then spreading in Iran and Central Asia.  The introductory historical chapter also stresses the role played by the da‘is dispatched from Quhistan (Eastern Iran) during the late Alamut period in the acknowledgement of the Nizari Imamate by the Isma‘ilis of Badakhshan and other places of Central Asia (mainly Khuttalan, present-day Khatlan).  The author also mentions the role of dynasties of pirs and mirs founded by these da‘is, who were to rule over Shughnan and other districts of Badakhshan until the arrival of Russians in Central Asia:  They had to face the persecutions by local Timurids and then by Uzbek rulers.  In the course of time, the Nizari imams of Badakhshan, where Isma‘ilis were led for long periods by those independent dynasties of pirs, took advantage of the changing religious climate in Iran, including the spread of Shiite tendencies through Sunni Sufi orders.  They began to reorganise and reinvigorate their da‘wa activities and gradually replaced the powerful autonomous pirs with their own local appointees.  Nothing is said, unfortunately, of the central social and political role played by the heirs of these dynasties of da‘is in Isma‘ili Badakhshan during the Soviet period.  The chapter on Isma‘ili studies from the Middle Age to our days mentions in passing the collection of primary textual sources in Shughnan and Rushan by scholars of the late Tsarist and Soviet periods, from Aleksandr A. Semenov (1873-1958) onwards.  Unfortunately, the author does not show interested neither in more recent contributions, especially in the discoveries and reassessments of the last fifteen years by young scholars from the University of Khorog and from the Institute of Humanities in the same city, nor by the social science approach experimented during the same period of time by European (mainly German) specialists in economic and social development (see for example in infra 740 & 741 my reviews of the works by Bliss and by Herbers).

The bibliography itself is divided up into a first section on published primary sources, Arabic and Persian (each notice includes a bibliography of the text’s editions and translations, followed by a short description of the work’s content), and a second section on modern studies, in both Oriental and European languages.  Specialists of Central Asia will find here interesting references in Russian and Tajik on the destinies of Isma‘ilism in Badakhshan—notably descriptions of collections of documents, the result of successive expeditions organised by researchers from Dushanbe until the end of the Soviet period.  Unfortunately, if more recent contributions by Western scholars (those by Gabrielle van den Berg, for instance) have found their place in the present reference work, numerous publications of the last fifteen years by scholars from Dushanbe and Khorog (see infra 5.2.A.) have been let aside.  In all, the present book offers a most useful and attractive reference work, by the only scholar capable of covering such a wide historical field—to be completed, as far as Badakhshan is concerned, by reference to the most recent developments of research by Tajikistani scholars and by European specialists in development studies.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: I-1.1.A-2