Early Ishmaelite Philosophy and the Bábí—Bahá'í Religions

By Farshid Kazemi

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #89
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
June 28 – July 1, 2009
(see list of papers from #89)

    From the earliest days of the advent of the Bábí—Bahá'í religions both polemical and scholarly sources have noted similarities between Ismai'ili thought and that of the Bábí—Bahá'í religions. In light of the apparent similarities and correspondences between these so called heterodoxies, however, very little has been done in a sustained look at these instances. Indeed the hermeneutic lexicon of early Ismai'ili Shi'ite philosophy seems to have certain correspondences in the Bábí—Bahá'í Writings and are used as transcending the literal interpretation of Islamic textual universe and even Islam as such via a process of divine hermeneutics or the hermeneutics of the divine (ta'wil illahi). This hermeneutics is related to the idea commonly known in Shiite thought as or the exoteric and bátin or esoteric level of the text of revelation, namely the Qur'an. It is not záhir possible, however, to discuss in depth all the areas in which similarities have been noted by scholars, but by way of introduction we will look at some of the more obvious points of comparison. There is broadly speaking perhaps three areas in which similarities may be said to properly exist: apophatic theology, cosmogony, and eschatology or matters pertaining to the drama of the "end of time" (eschaton), such as the rising of the messianic figure — the Qa'im — and the Resurrection. Both traditions also share similar conceptions of Cycles of theophanic history and time, which as well will be briefly outlined. In this paper, our investigation of the above three lines of correspondence will largely revolve around the second phase of Ismai'ili thought, which is less informed with mytho—Gnostic motifs of the first phase (here we have in mind the phase of Ismai'ilism as found in the Crypto—gnostic—Manichean work called the Mother of the Book (Umm al-Kitáb), and is more characterized by Hermetic and Neoplatonic motifs, namely the works of the philosophers of the so called Persian school, such as Abu Hatim al-Rázi (d. 933—5) Muhmmad al—Nesafi (d. 945), Abu Yaqub al—Sijistani (d. 971), and perhaps the last proponent of this school, Násir Khosrow (d. 1072).

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