Reviews

The author of this synthetic overview, centred on the subcontinent, begins with a panoramic study of Ismailism since the origins of the theory of Imamate, before tackling the modern division of the creed into the Gujarati Bohras and Persian Khojas. The former are introduced as more traditionalist, and the latter as modernists, despite their attachment to the recitation of devotional anthems (ginan), thanks to the Agha Khans who, since their installation in Europe, look more Westernised than the Da‘i al-Mutlaq of the Bohras. The article goes on with an overview of the history of Ismaili studies in France, beginning with mediaeval chroniclers favourable to the Assassins, continuing with the positive vision conveyed by the first specialists of Oriental studies Antoine Isaac Sylvestre de Sacy (1758-1838), Stanislas Guyard (1846-84), Clément Huard (1854-1926), and Louis Massignon (1883-1962). The latter’s contribution on the Qarmat movement as original Ismailism, his pioneering evaluation of Ismaili philosophy are introduced as the fundament of further developments by Henry Corbin (1903-78). Corbin’s phenomenological interpretation of Ismailism is opposed to Bernard Lewis’ historical reading. The last paragraphs of this study are devoted to the development of Ismaili studies in France since the 1960s, especially through the development of literary and anthropological approaches, as well as through the appearance of diaspora studies focusing on merchant communities. As for the international level, the authors merely notes the domination of the field by authors of Khoja origin ― with very few interest in the revival of Persian and Russian-language Ismaili studies in the former USSR, most notably in Tajikistani Badakhshan and Dushanbe. There, since the early 1990s, mutually concurring Khoja and Bohra missionary activity ― to say nothing of cultural difficulties between Urdu-speaking Khoja reformists, hostile to the Agha Khan, and local Persian-speaking Ismaili traditionalists ― has been contributing to raise quibbles on the significance of traditional rituals and, more generally speaking, on the place and role of Nasir-i Khusraw and his mediaeval Persian heritage in the transmission of the Ismaili creed in this region till our days.

Another article by the same author is of relevance for Central Eurasian studies: “L’écriture de l’histoire chez les Khojas de l’Inde et du Pakistan [History Writing among the Khojas of India and Pakistan],” ibid.: 75-102, bibliography. In this text, Michel Boivin, himself a leading representative of present-day Ismaili studies in France, notes the initial development of genealogical studies after Agha Khan Hasan-‘Ali Shah’s departure from Iran and installation in India in 1843. The study goes on with the impact exerted on the development of Khoja studies in India by the Agha Khan case of 1866, and by historical research by Judge Arnould on the Khojas as true Ismailis, and on the Agha Khan as their leader (for the most part through works by Sylvestre de Sacy and by Hammer-Purgstall ― on the latter’s contribution, see infra review No. 21). The real beginning of modern Ismaili historiography is nevertheless dated of the efforts made by Agha Khan III Sultan Muhammad Shah (the Nizari Imam from 1885 to 1957) for demonstrating that the Islamic civilisation did guide other civilisations towards progress (on the basis, notably, of works by Edward Gibbon and Thomas Carlyle). In the late nineteenth century, the defection of part of Khojas and their adoption of Twelver Shiite Islam called forth a new wave of polemical literature: the author casts light on the Persian treatise Kitab al-hidayat al-mu’minin al-taliban [“Book for the Guidance of the Faithful Students”] by Iranian author Fida’i Khurasani (1850-1923) which, having been preserved in private libraries of Tajikistani Badakhshan, could be edited in 1959 by A. A. Semenov. The following paragraphs deal with the development of Urdu and Gujarati-language vulgates of the history first developed by Judge Arnould, and of the elaboration of a new theory of the Imamate through the Qur’anic concept of Glaring Light (nur al-mubin). The last paragraphs are devoted to the transition from hagiographic or apologetic to more historicist approach during the last decades of the twentieth century, within research institutions like the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London ― though doctrinal considerations continue to determine historical narratives and periodisation in most of the must-reads of historical literature on Ismailism, a field of Islamic studies that still waits for the development of social science approaches.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific research, Paris
CER: II-1.2.A-20