Those few students in Britain who study Islamic history by and large learn the Sunni version. This is the familiar story of the four ‘rightly-guided’ caliphs who succeeded Muhammad and the Umayyad, Abbasid and Ottoman caliphates that followed them. When Shia dynasties, like the Buyids of Iraq and Iran, the Fatimids of Egypt and North Africa, the Hamdanids of Northern Iraq and Northern Syria or even the Safavids of Iran, feature in this version of Islamic history, they appear mainly as foils for the Sunni narrative.
Given that Sunni-Shia sectarianism is a key factor in the politics of the Middle East, thinking about Islamic history in this skewed way is unhelpful.
One institution working to highlight the Shia contribution to Islamic civilisation is the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, which, since its founding in 1977, has produced specialist studies on Ismaili Shia theology and culture. Through its new World of Islam series, the Institute is seeking to reach a broader readership.
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The Fatimids: The Rise of a Muslim Empire
by: Dr. Shainool Jiwa
In this lively and comprehensive introduction, readers will discover various milestones in Fatimid history and the political and cultural achievements that continue to resonate today.
Click here to learn more about this book.
In Paul Walker’s book ‘Abu Yakub Al Sijistani: Intellectual Missionary’(IIS Academic Publication, 1996) there is a chapter on the 8th and 9th century Shiite Renaissance which I found to be riveting reading. In keeping with the Prophetic injunction “Seek knowledge even in China” Shia intellectuals of that era mixed up Shia Theology with Greek Philosophy and Judeo-Christian monotheism to give a rather cosmopolitan synthesis which greatly appealed to intellectual elites in both the Arabic and Persian worlds, melding the Neoplatonism of Greek Philosopher Plotinus to key Shia Theological principles to give a unique synthesis which I like to call Shia Cosmological Doctrines, widely disseminated by Shia Ismaili cosmologists like An Nasafi, Al Sijistani, Al Kirmani, As Shirazi, Nasir Khusraw; in the present era of fevered momemtous scientific discoveries occurring on a daily basis in all corners of the world these 1000-year old cosmological doctrines meld tantalizingly harmoniously with the discovery of scientific and other new knowledge to provide a rich scaffolding within and around which seekers can discover higher spiritual truths moving along a ramp ranging from rational mental thinking and melting into the realm of suprarational divine reality.