Books and treatises on the subject of religion and philosophy, as also literature and history, aim at tracing the reality of life and proclaiming it for the benefit of the human race, with emphasis and conviction. Of the plethora of such writings, a few stand out, by virtue of their deep erudition and convincing and effective expression. The present work while falling in the latter category, bears similarity to a rainbow which is the beauty resulting from a masterful combination of colours. ‘A Philosophical Discourse’ is indeed a masterful combination of words and phrases, giving a lucid expression to a notion of philosophic thought and practical knowledge and revealing above all a brilliant intellect.
A commentator handling such a work is confronted with a difficult task. A literal translation of the Arabic language is fraught with obstacles, as the finer shades of meaning and the exact connotation of the words cannot easily be conveyed or set out. In Fatimi literature, Arabic words and phrases have through specialized and deliberate usage acquired a traditional and exact connotation. In an attempt at translation this meaning invariably tends to be impaired and even lost sight of. To do justice to such traditional connotation, in this book, a few of the basic Arabic words have not been translated, but the Arabic version has been adhered to. To adopt this method of literal translation in respect of a scholarly work on a subject of philosophic character makes the task immeasurably more perplexing. Above all in the discharge of the task one is immediately and unmistakably overwhelmed with the knowledge of the serene and majestic personality of the author, his vast field of learning and experience which one discerns as the real source of radiance which shines out of ‘A Philosophical Discourse’.
The book consists of 177 verses. It deals with Aql in man, which broadly defined bears reference to the intellectual capacity in man. The author commences the work with a studied consideration of the
concept of Aql and then goes on to deal with its attributes, the subject of Creation, the omnipotence of the Creator, the pitfalls and dangers confronting man, the safeguards to be taken and the function of Aql in the day to day problems that arise in man’s life in this world. The book is primarily intended to provide man with a reliable measure for discriminating between Light and Darkness, to comprehend that which is pure and the essence, and in this way to lead a life of purpose, contentment and achieve ultimate happiness.
Fatimi philosophy is the result of a distinct thought-process, and is not, as is erroneously assumed, to be treated as an offspring of Greek and Persian philosophy. Fatimi thinkers have a characteristic approach different from others and in this way, have made a significant contribution to this field of knowledge. The manuscripts of these thinkers are to be found in the library of His Holiness. They cover an extensive field. Out of the treasure-house of knowledge one recalls to mind the classical works of the ninth Fatimi Imam, Moulana Ahmed-al-Mastur (third century A.H.) and Syedna Hamiduddin-al-Kirmani (fifth century A.H.). In a passage in his famous book Ikhwan-al-Safa, Imam Ahmed-al-Mastur (A.S.) conceives philosophy as a three-tiered pyramid, the three tiers comprising of, love of the Sciences, the comprehension of the facts of Creation to the best of human ability and the practice by words and deeds of the knowledge so gained. Syedna Hamiduddin-al-Kirmani in his great work `Rahatul Aql’ (Peace of Mind) says that before any serious student of philosophy undertakes to study that work (Rahatul Aql) he should first make a study of all the books listed by the author, one of which is entitled ‘Ar-Riaz’. The author further goes on to say that not only should ‘Ar-Riaz’ be read, but it should be read seventy times over, nay, made the qibla of the student’s constant education. ‘A Philosophical Discourse’ may be stated to follow in the line of these famous works and to serve the reader with the essence of the thought processes employed by Imam Ahmed-al-Mastur and Syedna Hamiduddin-al-Kirmani and the other Fatimi thinkers. Each verse opens up a fruitful inquiry and reveals a treasure of knowledge and wisdom.
His Holiness Dr. Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb who is 77 years of age has adorned with magnificent and glittering brightness the office of Dai-al-Mutlaq. He is the 51st in the line of succession. He has the keys to the treasure house of Fatimi knowledge and bears the torch of learning handed down from the Holy Prophet (S.A.) through his successors who are distinguished as the Fatimi Imams, tracing their origin to Maulatena Fatima (A.S.) the daughter of the Holy Prophet and her consort Amirul Momineen Maulana Ali (A.S.) The 21st Imam went into seclusion 800 years ago. It is an article of Fatimi faith that the line of succession of the Imams continue in seclusion and the line is unbroken. There shall always be an Imam who is not only a descendant of the Holy Prophet (S.A.) but is in direct line from father to son. Imam after Imam.
Thereafter the Dai-al-Mutlaqs as vice-gerents of the Imam, deputised in shouldering the responsibility of leading the faithful. The eight hundred years have witnessed an unbroken chain of 51 Dai-al-Mutlaqs, each of whom diligently pursued the Fatimi way of life and advised and directed his followers to meet the challenge of his time. The Dai-al-Mutlaqs besides their purity and piety of life devoted their energies particularly to the preservation and the propagation of Fatimi literature, philosophy, history, etc. with special reference to the spread of education and knowledge. The contribution of many of these Dai-al-Mutlaqs to human knowledge and experience has been outstanding and the subject of enquiry and research by students of the arts, whose inquiry has revealed that the works of Fatimi litterateurs, writers, thinkers and poets had a characteristic, and significant bearing on the history, life and times of the world.
His Holiness is not only the heir to that great tradition of learning, but has in the course of his fifty years of office wrestled with the problems of the modern age. Literature and poetry, learning and teaching, organisation and administration, national and international harmony, commerce, industry and technology, these are the broad facets which received his diligent attention and filled every moment of his life.
The challenge to religion, a regulated life and true happiness has marked the present times. Humanity has been relentlessly drawn into the whirlpool of materialism to a marked degree. Life has become complicated and confused and the mileposts of the true path of living have become obscured and lost sight of. Mankind is groping and yearning for true guidance. This book has been published in the hope that it may serve as a guide with its messages of truth, a way of life and ethical conduct.
The first volume deals with the first 25 verses of the entire poetic composition of 177 verses. It is hoped to publish the second volume at an early date. The preface to the second volume and the commentary will endeavour to deal in much greater detail with those aspects of Fatimi literature, the Arabic language, etc. which have been referred to here in a brief manner.
This is perhaps the first time that a publication on Fatimi philosophy is being undertaken under the guidance of a most outstanding Fatimi scholar of our times. If I have not been able to follow that guidance with exactitude the reader will bear with me for my shortcomings.
I am particularly happy that this volume is coming out on His Holiness’s 78th Birthday and even more so at a time when the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness’ as the 51st Dai-ul-Mutlaq is being celebrated. The occasion is unique in the 800-year history of the Dawat. Since the seclusion of the 21st Imam in the sixth century A. H., His Holiness is the first to adorn the office of Dai-el-Mutlaq continuously for over fifty years.
May Allah bless him with many more decades of life and may his guidance and grace ever abide with us.
April 20, 1936