A Brief History of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah

The history of Aljamea-tus-Saifiyah is synonymous with the history and tradition of Fatemi education established at the dawn of Islam. Though Aljamea today is in the form of a physical institute, in spirit Aljamea is the educational legacy of the Dawoodi Bohra community.

brief-history

The Holy Quran is considered the source of all knowledge in the Islamic tradition. The illuminated Quran Majeed pictured here was used by His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA.

The bedrock of this movement has always been and will always remain the Holy Quran, which in its first articulation asked the Prophet MohammedSA, and through him, all of humankind to read and learn. The ProphetSA made the seeking of knowledge compulsory for every Muslim man and woman. He, along with his legatee, Amirul Mumineen Ali bin Abi TalibSA, and the imams of their progeny ensured that the repository of divine knowledge and its tradition of learning would continue in the form of a dynamic movement through the ages. This movement blossomed during the course of the second/ eighth century when Imam Mohammed al-BaqirSA and Imam Jafar al-SadiqSA, the 4th and 5th imams respectively, categorised and elaborated upon the corpus of jurisprudential knowledge they inherited from their noble grandfather the Prophet MohammedSA and educated a generation of notable jurisprudents. The encyclopaedic epistles of Ikhwan al-Safa, composed by Imam Ahmad al-TaqiSA during the third/eight century illustrated the divine nature of knowledge and confronted al-Mamun’s rationalistic dogma which he endeavoured to spread across the Islamic world, thereby undermining prophetic revelation. The epistles of Ikhwana al-Safa prove that divine revelation encompasses other philosophies and branches of knowledge and that each discipline when perceived with discerning eye of the Imam, attests to the existence of Allah and brings one closer to Him. The foundations established by these imams impelled a civilisation that saw all forms of learning flower upon an epistemology soundly rooted in the Islamic value system. Science and philosophies developed under the firm belief of a created purposeful universe. In this milieu, the Fatemi state, headed by the imam from the progeny of the Prophet, excelled and bequeathed to posterity its rich philosophy of education and noble legacy of knowledge.

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Al-Azhar university began as informal teaching sessions conducted in al-Jaame al-azhar, pictured here.

Soon after founding the city of Cairo, Imam Moiz le DeenillahSA established al-Azhar University, one of the oldest universities in the world existing till present day. After teaching sessions were initiated in 365/975, it subsequently became famous for the quality of its tuition and for granting free boarding and lodging to students. Imam’s chief justice Syedna al-Qadi al-NumanRA was a prolific thinker and writer who authored books on jurisprudence, history, ethics and philosophy. His comprehensive jurisprudential work Da’im al-Islam was and remains the authoritative Fatemi code of law. Similarly, in 395/1005 Imam al-Hakim be Amr Allah founded the House of knowledge in Cairo which attracted intellectuals from all over the world. The subjects taught included history, literature, jurisprudence, lexicology, grammar, law and medicine. The House and its magnificent library of thousands of works were open to all. His chief dai, Syedna Hamiduddin al-KirmaniRA exhibited mastery over many disciplines, the most notable among them being philosophy on which he has written a number of significant works. This efflorescence of scholarship reached its zenith with the eight hundred treatises of Syedna Muayyad al-ShiraziRA that discussed Quranic interpretation and Fatemi philosophy in an unprecedented manner of discourse.

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The mausoleum of the 3rd Fatemi Tayyibi Dai, Syedna Hatim bin Ibrahim RA, the author of Majaalis Hatimiyyah among other scholarly works. (Image courtesy of Taha Raja)

Following the seclusion of the imams, their vicegerents, the Du’at MutlaqeenRA preserved and enriched the tradition of education and learning that was the essence of Fatemi civilisation. The Du’at fostered the Fatemi educational system in Yemen and continued to document the history and philosophic heritage of the imams in writing, building up a priceless library of manuscripts. Treatises composed by Tayyibi Dais in Yemen represent one of the greatest corpuses of literature on the concepts of Ismaili and Fatemi cosmology, theology and philosophy and are the focus of scholarly study to this very day.

Burhanuddin Moula in Jamnagar

His Holiness Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA gracing the bethak or seat from where his predecessors would conduct teaching sessions from in Jamnagar, India.

Over four centuries ago in 946/1539, when the Du’at came to India the locus of learning shifted with them. Ahmedabad, a city in western India soon became the seat of Dawat where the 27th dai Syedna Dawood bin QutubshahRA established an academy for Fatemi theology. Since the community at that time was perceived and labelled as a non-conforming and heretical minority by various governors and clerics, it suffered extensive persecution and discrimination at their hands. However, the Du’at adhered to their traditions of learning, never failing to fulfill their responsibilities even in the direst of circumstances. In these trying times, teaching sessions were sometimes held on rooftops late at night or even in underground shelters. This movement shifted with the Du’at as their seat of Dawat transferred from Ahmedabad to other cities in India such as Jamnagar, Mandvi, Ujjain, Burhanpur and finally to Surat. In 1225/1810 almost after three centuries, this educational movement was institutionalised by the 43rd dai Syedna Abdeali SaifuddinRA in Surat and took the name of Darse Saifee. In this purpose built academy, funded from Syedna Saifuddin’sRA own personal wealth, stages of learning were defined and an academic hierarchy was formed. After centuries of transition and flux, the education movement of Dawoodi Bohra community took root in the city of Surat, India.