Fatimid House - medieval Cairo.

Ismaili Law: A case for reinterpretation

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by Ismail K. PoonawalaOct 7, 2013

This is an article by Ismail K. Poonawala arguing how Ismaili Law as followed by Bohras is in dire need of reinterpration and revision as it does not meet the demands of modern times. The article is from The Study of Shi'i Islam: History, Theology and Law, edited by Farhad Daftary et al. (London: I.B.Tauris, 2013). The book will be officially released next month.

Ismail K. Poonawala writes, "Ever since its promulgation, most probably in 349/960, as the official code of the Fatimid empire, the Daāim has reigned supreme, particularly with the Mustalī-Tayyibī Ismailis of Yemen and the Indian subcontinent after the fall of the Fatimids in Egypt in 567/1171. However, this centuries-old law has not met the necessities of modern life for the Ismaili communities of the Dāudīs, Sulaymānīs and Alawīs who follow this school of Islamic jurisprudence. Those advocating the status quo (maintaining the traditional system), notably the conservative religious establishments of all the three above-mentioned communities, have had little to offer in terms of a constructive legal reform which might adapt Ismaili law as formulated by its founder, al Qāīdi al-Numān, to the modern conditions of life.

Ismail K. Poonawala

Ismail K. Poonawala

"For example, the religious authorities have buried their heads in the sand regarding family law, once considered the most sacred aspect of Islamic law, and which has undergone modifications in all Muslim countries except India. In a previous work of mine, I have suggested that the entire structure of family law, including the law of Personal Status, needs to be reconsidered leaving aside the whole theory of law in itself. The structure of the Daaim and Numan’s discussion of the fundamental principles of Ismaili law evolved for an extensive period of time, particularly after his profound scrutiny of a vast collection of legal traditions. Before he undertook the compilation of the Daaim, Numan already had several legal works to his credit. Moreover, he had acquired first-hand experience of interpreting textual evidence and its application, initially in the capacity of a provincial judge and then as the supreme qai of the Fatimid empire. He had also written a number of refutations, including the three founding figures of the major Sunni schools of law, Abu Hanifa, Malik and Shafii. The Daaim, compiled at the height of his career and with the blessing and supervision of the Imam al-Muizz li-Din Allah, demonstrates the mature legal reasoning of Numan."

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