Isma’ili Thesis on the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy

It is widely accepted by scholars in Islamic studies that there is no ecclesiastical hierarchy in Islam or, in other words, that there is not one hierarchical body which can legislate in matters of religion and the authority of which is undisputed among Muslims. There are experts in religious matters, the ‘ulama`, with their theological and legal specializations. However, these are only individuals, and no matter how highly esteemed they are, they do not represent a full body. Even when Muslim scholars have presented elaborations of Islamic creeds, it is understood that they are no more than individual formulations of belief, not official ones. This assumption perpetuates a myth: the myth of one, static, uniform and united Islam. This is the Islam that many Sunnis would like to believe exists, and the Islam that several Western scholars find more convenient to study. Recent introductory books on Islam have just started to include chapters which reflect a more accurate story: there is not one Islam, there are several Islams, or to put it more moderately, there are several interpretations of Islam. There is the mystical way, with its hierarchy of spiritual masters and angels, there is popular Islam with its hierarchy of saints, and there is Shii Islam. Even though Shiism represents only 10% of the total Muslim population, it is nevertheless very active, articulated and in itself composite.This paper examines the authority of the “ecclesiastical” hierarchy, that is the teaching, spiritual and temporal hierarchy, in Medieval Ismailism. My aim is to establish a relationship between this hierarchy and the cosmological doctrines of Medieval Ismailism.

–Simonetta Calderini

Dr Calderini’s (PhD, Laurea) main areas of teaching and research are Islamic Studies including Shiism and specifically Ismailism, Islam and Gender, Religion and Human Rights. Her doctoral research (SOAS, 1991) was on medieval Ismaili cosmology and authority. She researched further the relationship between cosmology and religious hierarchies and publisehd an article on this topic “Cosmology and authority in medieval Ismailism” which was later republished and translated into Czech (2004) and French (2006). She published with D. Cortese Women and the Fatimids in the World of Islam (Edinburgh University Press, 2006). She is currently researching into classical and contemporary scholarly arguments in favour and against women imams, Ismailism and the issue of the veil, as well as women’s rights.

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Author: ismailimail

Independent, civil society media featuring Ismaili Muslim community, inter and intra faith endeavors, achievements and humanitarian works.

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