By Mr. Saifuddin Qassir, Salmieh (Syria)
Translated by Al-Wa'z Bulbul-Shah
To write about the persons who have played important roles in shaping the course of Ismaili History is an immensely difficult task for a historian or a biographer. lbn Hawshab is also such a personage whose antecedents and career are barely discernible through the misty veil hung by the sectarian prejudice of his contemporary annalists or bigotry of latter historians. Most of the Muslim historians appear to have deliberately ignored him or suppressed facts about his life and career. Notwithstanding the dearth of original biographical material about his life, historians are unanimous about his solid contribution to the spread of Ismailism in Yaman during the last quarter of 3rd century Hijri.
There appears to be considerable difference of opinion amongst historians about lbn Hawshab's birth, name and early life. According to Qadi Numan, (Iftitahad-Da'wa, page 32) he was named Abul Qasim al-Husayn bin al-Farah bin Hawshab bin Zadan al-Kufi, while lbn-ul-Athir (Al-Kamil Volume 8, page 30) gives his name as Rustam bin al-Husayn bin Hawshab bin Dazan al-Kufi, lbn-e-Khaidun (Al-ibar, Volume 3, Chapter 3, page 740) gives his name, as Rustam bin al-Husayn bin Dawood un-Jar, while Da'i ldrees gives yet another name Al-Hasan bin Farah bin Hawshab al-Mansur. Out of these, Qadi Nu'man's version appears more believable due to his closer proximity. In Ismaili annals he is famous as lbn Hawshab Mansuru'l - Yaman for his outstanding contributions towards the spread of Ismailism in Yaman.
As far as his ancestry and place of origin are concerned. al-Jundab (as-Suluk, page 140) states that he was a descendant of Aqeel bin Abu Talib and hailed from Kufah as most other historians also aver. There is no record extant about his date of birth but according to the guesses of historians he must have been born sometime during the second quarter of 3rd century Hijri.
About his early life and education also records are scant, but Qadi Nu'man attests (Iftitah--ud-Da'wat page 33) that he learned Ouran, Hadith and Fiqah at home. According to Qadi Nu'man, (Iftitah-ud-Da'wat, pages 33-38). lbn Hawshab originally belonged to Shia lthna-'Ashri persuasion, but he could not reconcile himself to the strange disappearance of Muhammad bin Hasan al-Askari, the twelfth lthna'Ashri Imam, and the abrupt and inexplicable termination of lthna-'Ashri Imamat. It is said that he used to spend most of his time in a secluded spot on the bank of Furat, reciting Ouran and cogitating upon the fate of the last Ithna-'Ashri Imam and the consequent implications for himself and his fellows-in-faith. In such a state he is reported to have met lmam Husayn bin Ahmed (Imam Radhi Abdullah, the tenth Ismaili lmam) and discoursed with him upon religion and the questions that were exercising his mind. The lmam left him after promising to meet again soon. lbn Hawshab was so impressed by his chance meeting with lmam Husayn bin Ahmed (Radhi Abdullah) that he eagerly looked forward to further meetings with him. However, when after an anxious wait of several days, the Imam did not appear again, he became restless and began a search for him. Despite his frantic efforts to locate the lmam's whereabouts, he could not trace him. After sometime he accidentally met the Imam's Naib or Shaikh (Deputy) and through him he eventually succeeded in reaching the presence of lmam again.
Imam Husayn bin Ahmed (Radhi Abdullah) answered his queries to his satisfaction and assuaged his doubts. He readily accepted Ismaili faith at the lmam's hand.
Imam Husayn bin Ahmed (Radhi Abdullah) himself imparted the knowledge of Ismaili creed, tenets and esoterism to him and he was so eager and devoted to his new faith that he was soon initiated in the higher mysteries of Ismailism.
When the Imam found that lbn-Hawshab was firmly grounded in Ismaili faith and groomed enough for the responsibility of its propagation, he jointly entrusted him and his colleague, lbn-e-Fadhal with the onerous task of propagating Ismailism (Da'wa) on his as well as his son, Imam Mahdi's behalf in Yaman. Before they set off on their venture, he called each of them in private audience separately and urged him to respect and co-operate with the other, and to avoid all differences for the greater cause of their faith. While seeing them off, he again exhorted both of them to be faithful to their cause and to co-operate whole heartedly with each other in achieving their aim.
Beside the individual and collective directions, the Imam entrusted lbn-Hawshab with a voluminous tome which comprehensively dwelled upon the exoteric and esoteric aspects of the Ismaili faith. Thus fully equipped with verbal as well as written guidance, both of them set forth on their mission to Yaman sometime in the last months of 268 Hijri. First of all they proceeded to Mecca and accosted the Hajj caravan from Yaman. They discreetly enquired about the religious, climate and political situation then prevailing in Yaman. Having ascertained the propitiousness of their venture, they availed the opportunity to join the Yaman Hajj caravan and proceeded to Yaman as returning Hajis. They had to adopt this strategy to escape the merciless persecution of Abbasids as also to avoid arousing suspicions of their Yamani hosts. Thus they reached Yaman.
After reaching Yaman, both of them separated. lbn-Hawshab headed towards Southern Yaman and started looking for the village of Adanla'a, which abounded with Shiat-e-Ali (Well wishers of Ali) and to which the Imam had directed him. After some difficulty, he succeeded in reaching Adanla'a and was welcomed by its inhabitants. There he learnt that a learned and pious man, Ahmed bin aliah bin Khuleh, used to live there, but was imprisoned by lbn-abi-Yaafar for his suspected sympathies with the Ismaili Da'wa. lbn- Khuleh had died in imprisonment. Ibn-Hawshab settled down in lbn-Khuleh's house and after some time married one of his (Ibn-e-Khuleh's) friend's daughter.
Though he married a local woman and ostensibly settled down in Adanla'a, lbn Hawshab continued to observe strict Taqiyya. He did not reveal by word or action his identity as an Ismaili and a Da'i (Missionary) of highest order for that matter. (Ibn-e-Khaldun' Al-ibar, Volume 3, Chapter 3) - In the open he strictly subscribed to the lthna-'Ashri creed, the faith of his hosts, but secretly he went on cultivating them by his pious and exemplary behaviour, gathering adherents and sympathisers in ever-increasing numbers. In a short time he became so popular as a learned and pious man that the populace of Adanla'a and the surrounding villages became his faithful supporters. After having won their allegiance, he at first only exhorted them to render Zakat scrupulously and appointed honest and trustworthy Collectors to collect Zakat. (Al Hamadi, Kashf-ul-Israr-ul-Batiniya, page 25). When he felt that the time for revealing his identity and mission had become propitious, he discreetly started inviting them to the Ismaili fold and accepting Ba'it on behalf of Imam Husayn Bin Ahmed (Radhi Abdullah) and his designated successor, Imam Mahdi. (Al-Gandhi, ars-suluk, page 141).
On the other side, his colleague, Ali bin Fadhal too, was following the same pattern and in a short time succeeded in winning the sympathy, and adherence of the people of Saroyafoa and its neighbourhood. First he gained popularity through piety and exemplary behaviour and then established complete sway over their hearts and minds. Under his orders his adherents built a strong fort in a Vantage Corner of Saroyafoa (Ash-sharfi, Volume 2, page 85).
Thus Ibn-Hawshab and Ibn-e-Fadhal carried on their missionary activities without hindrance and unnoticed in the rural seclusion of Yaman for nearly two years and now felt strong enough to openly challenge the authority of Sanaa, the Yamani capital (Qadi Nu'man, lftatah-ul-Da'wat, page 44).
Ibn-Hawshab got a strong fort constructed on a hillock and made it his headquarters. He arranged military training for his adherents and in a short time contrived to have an excellent fighting force at his command. First he attacked Jabal-al-Jusayah and occupied it. Then he set forth to assault the stronghold of Jabal-al-Maswar. Despite its reported invincibility, he successfully overran it. He assured the occupants of al-Maswar that he was neither after booty nor personal glory, but his campaigns were solely meant for spreading the true Islamic faith i.e. Ismailism. He not only allowed them to retain their possessions, but distributed amongst them the booty he had collected earlier (Al-Hamadi. Kashf-al-Asrarul-Batiniya, page 26). His benevolent treatment of the conquered won him their general acclaim and to the last man joined the Ismaili fold. He used to claim that he owed his successes to his being Da'i, (Missionary) of Imam Mahdi.
According to Qadi Nu'man, Ibn-Hawshab finally conquered Sanaa, the capital of Yaman, exiled the ruling tribe of Bani Laydir and established Ismaili authority there on behalf of Imam Mahdi. After transferring his headquarters to Sanaa, he sent out his Da'is (Missionaries) to the farthest corners of Yaman to preach Ismailism. He is also said to have sent his Da'is as far outside Yaman as Yamama, Bahrain, Sind, India in the East and Egypt and Tunisia, in the West. (Qadi Nu'man, Iftatah-ul-Da'wat, page 47).
In the early stages, there was complete unenmity between lbn Hawshab and lbn-e-Fadhal. lbn-Hawshab being the senior of the two, lbn-e-Fadhal used to show proper deference to him. However, when in 289 Hijri (901 C.E.) Imam Mahdi headed West instead of Yaman as was originally planned, one of his Da'is', Feroz, defected and escaped to Yaman (Qadi Nu'man, Iftitah-ul-Da'wat, page 149).
First he went to lbn-Hawshab and tried to undermine his loyalty to Imam Mahdi, but Ibn-Hawshab remained steadfast. Then he went to Ibn-e-Fadhal and succeeded in winning him over. Ibn-e-Fadhal had become intensely jealous of Ibn-Hawshab and succumbed to the evil machinations of Feroz. Ibn-e-Fadhal had the audacity to order Ibn-Hawshab, his senior, to switch his fealty to him (Ibn-e-Fadhal) and to obey his commands thenceforth Ibn-Hawshab wrote him a mild and affectionate epistle urging him to come to his senses and fulfil the pledges of loyalty he had solemnly made to Imam Husayn bin Ahmed, (Radhi Abdullah) when the Imam had sent them off to their mission. He also tried to impress upon Ibn-e-Fadhal the serious consequences that were sure to ensue his rebellion to Imam and parting with himself (Ibn-Hawshab). But lbn-e-Fadhal was in no frame of mind to listen to reason, particularly from lbn-Hawshab of whom he had grown intensely jealous. He replied in a very rude manner and persisted in his erroneous way, greatly undermining the successes both of them had achieved under the aegis of their Imam.
Ibn-Hawshab remained steadfast to the Ismaili cause and loyal to his Imam till his death. On his death-bed he did not appoint or nominate his successor, but in his will to his son Hasan, and his trusted lieutenant - Abdullah Shawari, he strictly commanded both of them to remain staunchly loyal to their Imam and obey the orders of Imam in the matter. He urged each of them to defer to whomever of them the Imam in his spiritual sagacity thought fit to succeed him (Ibn-Hawshab). (al-Gandhi, as-suluk, page 150).
However, Ibn-Hawshab's son, Hasan was aspirant of succeeding in his father's post. Immediately after his father's demise, he left Yaman for Maghrib to seek audience with Imam Mahdi, who had succeeded (his father) Imam Husayn bin Ahmed (Radhi Abdullah), with a view to secure his succession to his father's post. But to his disappointment and chagrin, he learnt that Imam Mahdi had already appointed Abdullah Shawari, frustrated he returned to Yaman and of implicitly abiding with his father's will, persisted in his resentment and took the path of rebellion.
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