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The Risalah Ramadaniyya Tradition: A Brief Introduction

21 September 2014

Several centuries ago the Risalah Ramadaniyyah became more or less an annual tradition. They were written ahead of, or during, Ramadaan. They were sent to Bilad Imaninyah during the month of Ramadaan to impart pearls of wisdom to Mumineen and to encourage them to take barakaat in the holy month. The term Risalah – which literally means a letter or message in Arabic— is known in the Arabic tradition of writing as a treatises, epistle or monograph (a book). The term Risalah Ramadaniyyah became a genre in itself in our tradition.

Often, learned scholars wrote these Risalahs with the permission and supervision of the Dai (thus they would be published in the Dai’s name). In Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin’s time , one of the remarkable individuals who composed these Risalahs was the unmatched scholar Syedi Abdeali Imaduddin. He was tutored by Syedna Abdeali Saifuddin personally, and rose in the ranks of Dawat, ultimately attaining the high rank of Mukasir. Syedna Taher Saifuddin, the fifty-first Da’i, was the first Da’i to personally author the Risalah Ramadaniyyah.

The Risalahs begin with Hamd and Salawaat (Tahmid) and this section itself is a treasure trove of knowledge as each word, each phrase contains layers of meanings. Following the lengthy Tahimd the Risalahs then offer wise counsel (maw‘izah), and encourage followers to take full advantage of the season of devotion. Following the maw‘izah is an explication of various Fatimid philosophies, the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and tenets of the Shari ‘ah (including the seven pillars of Islam). There is always an assertion of the continuity of the silsila from the time of the Prophet, especially focusing on the transition of the Da‘wah from the zuhur period (the presence of the Imam among the people), to the satar period (the seclusion of the Imam and the appointment of the first Dai al-Mutlaq in Yemen), to the transfer of Dawat to India. This silsila continues till today, through the Dai who writes the current Risalah. The history of preceding Dais, and the accomplishments and steadfastness of their hudood through the ages, is also featured in the Risalahs. The Risalahs end with a Tahmid as well. 

The Risalahs of Syedna Taher Saifuddin were distinguished by the fact that they were the first Risalahs that were composed by the Dai himself. Even at the very young age that he became Dai, Syedna Taher Saifuddin was an ever flowing fountain of the knowledge of Aale Mohammed. Syedna Taher Saifuddin was a master of the Arabic language. In his very first Risalat, ‘Daw’u Nooril Haqqil Mubeen’, he addressed the fundamentals of our aqeeda, the necessity of the continuity of the chain of Imams, and in their seclusion, the Dais. He addressed head on the allegations by dissenters of the breakage of the line of succession of Dais. This Risalah was a critical work especially in the historical context in which it was published and continues to be an immense treasure for mumineen today.

The Risalahs of Syedna Taher Saifuddin were, according to him, both original composition (tasneef) and collation of excerpts from earlier texts (ta’leef). The Tahmid was the primary section for tasneef, especially in Syedna Taher Saifuddin’s earlier Risalahs, and he used its potential to the utmost in order to express his insights into Fatimid-Tayyibi philosophy. The ta’leef formed the larger part of the main body (matn) of the earlier Risalahs, in which excerpts from various Fatimid- Tayyibi texts, carefully selected on the basis of thematic relevance, were presented. Each excerpt was preceded with a brief introduction by Syedna Taher Saifuddin. The Risalahs were also valuable because they were repositories of excerpts from many manuscript texts and provided a proper table of contents (fihrist). The printed and, relatively speaking, readily accessible Risalahs became an encyclopedia of Fatimid- Tayyibi theology and a vital resource for the various disciplines of Fatimid- Tayyibi learning. The extent and variety of tasneef and ta’leef increased concurrently over the years.

An excerpt from Shz Dr. Aziz bhaisaheb’s thesis in which he introduces the Risalahs of Syedna Taher Saifuddin is presented here