We are pleased to announce a new publication from HPRS Prof. Daniel Beben:
“The Fatimid Legacy and the Foundation of the Modern Nizārī Imamate.” In The Fatimid Caliphate: Diversity of Traditions, ed. Farhad Daftary and Shainool Jiwa (London: I. B. Tauris, 2017), pp. 192-216
A copy of the paper may be accessed here.
This article examines the place of the Ismaili Fatimid state (909-1171) within the cultural memory of the Nizari Ismailis, who departed from the Fatimids following a schism in 1095. This article demonstrates that the emphasis placed on the Fatimid era in present-day Nizari historical discourse is a relatively recent development, rooted in the dynamic changes that occurred in the social and political context of the community in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Rather than the Fatimids, the primary locus of Nizari communal memory in the period from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries was the declaration of the qiyāma (‘spiritual resurrection’) under Imam Hasan II in 1164. It was only in the eighteenth century, when the Nizari Imams emerged from a long period of persecution and concealment, that we see the first signs of a de-emphasis of the qiyāma and a renewed focus within historical discourse on the Fatimid era. In particular, the model of leadership exercised by the Imams in the Fatimid era came to be embraced in the nineteenth century as a precedent for their claims to social and spiritual authority beyond the immediate base of their Ismaili communities in Persia and in British India.
This reorientation of the locus of Nizari communal memory away from the qiyāma and towards the Fatimid era was facilitated by an even more dramatic shift in historical consciousness that saw a revision in the very notion of historical time. While the notion of time in the Ismaili tradition has received some consideration in scholarship, to date these studies have focused almost entirely on presentations found in the ‘classical’ period of Ismaili literature from the Fatimid era, with little attention being given to the manner in which these conceptions have changed over the course of time or with consideration to the social and political contexts that informed these shifts. In this paper I explore how the cyclical model of history presented in Ismaili works of the Fatimid era was revised in the light of the declaration of the qiyāma, and then ultimately discarded entirely in the new Nizari historiographical tradition established in the nineteenth century. These developments facilitated a major shift in the place of the Fatimid era in the historical imagination of the Nizaris.
Please join us in congratulating Dr. Beben on his latest publication!