Ismaili Heroes - Da'i Ali lbn Muhammad al-Sulayhi - note015
Da'i Ali lbn Muhammad al-Sulayhi

(b. ca 410-1020 d. 459-1067)


Dr. Akbar H. Ladak. London, (England).

Yemen, like Syria, had come in contact with lsmaili da'wa at a very early point in Islamic history. Already in the time of the Prophet, Hazrat Ali Murtazah was sent on mission work there for not less than three times. The Yemenite Muslims were, therefore, long aware of the lmam of Ahle-Bait, and when in the second half of the 3rd/9th Century the Ismaili da'i Abu ai-Qasim ibn Hawshab, Mansur al-Yemen, arrived there, he found no difficulty in bringing many of them in the fold of Ismaili da'wa. By the last quarter of the same century Yemen had not only become a strong Ismaili centre, but now under the able leadership of ibn Hawshab it was sending da'is to Egypt. Sind, and to the distant lands of North Africa (al-Maghrib). There were signs that even lmam ai-Mahdi was getting ready to appear in Yemen. But. to everybody's surprise, lmam changed his mind'. Yemen, as such. was not to be the Ismaili state then and not for another hundred years, until a great da'i was born in the person of 'Ali al-Sulayhi, who was to bring whole of it under the banner of lmam al-Mustansir biilah.

Da'i 'Ali al-Sulayhi, like ibn Hawshab, had become lsmaili after having thoroughly studied it. He was born in a learned Sunn family of Yemen, and his father was a qadi of the Shafi'i persuasion. Both father and son came in contact with an lsmaili -da'i called Sulaiman in 'Abd ai-Zawahi., 'Ali soon mastered the doctrine and teachings of the da'wa and accepted lsmailism. So much was the teacher impressed by his young pupils's progress and knowledge, that at the time of his death he appointed him as his successor in the da'wa of Yemen.

Da'i 'Ali had no misgivings about his faith and mission, and was determined to spread it to others. After his initial success in the year 439/1048, he wrote to Imam al-Mustansir in Cairo for the permission to make open proclamation of the Ismaili da'wa. Once granted the permission, he began to conquer the other parts of his native land, and before the end of the year 455/1063 had subjected whole of Yemen to his authority. "None of its plains or of its hills, of its lands or of its waters remained unsubdued. No parallel case can be found of so rapid a conquest, either in the days of ignorance of the days of Islam "

The Yemenite Ismaili da'wa, under the leadership of da'i a-Sulayhi became a very strong Ismaili centre and, for a while, appeared to be more stable than it's headquarter itself. Now in the midst of military and political crisis. This strength and stability of Yemenite da'wa were recognized by the Imam himself when he asked it to look after and bring order into, the Meccan administration. Indeed, at this time, Yemen of da'i 'Ali, was seen in the Ismaili world as the other home for the da'wa that was then being undermined by the autocrats in the very presence and capital of the Imam. -The confidence of the Imam in da'i 'Ali and his da'wa organization were demonstrated yet again, when the Imam decided to transfer a collection of Ismaili books and literature to the distant Yemen and far from the rebellious soldiery and bureaucrats of Cairo.

It is quite clear from the various letters of alMustansir, written at this time to his da'wa in Yemen, that his da'i 'Ali was not only aware of the unhappy state of Cairo but that he even desired to help correct the situation. However, before he got permission to go to Cairo, a new development in Mecca called for the immediate attention of the Yemenite da'i. In the year 459/1067 the ruler of Mecca broke his ties with the Fatimid lmam-caliph of Egypt and entered in relations with the 'Abbasid caliph of Baghdad. This behavior of Mecca was bound to disturb the d'ai who was in no mind to see any further loss of prestige to the da'wa, not at least in the area of his responsibility. Determined to march to Mecca in person, da'i 'Ali ai-; Sulayhi set forth at the head of two thousand horsemen of whom one hundred and sixty were members of his own house. On the way, while resting for the night, they were attacked suddenly by an old enemy tribe and beheaded.

Da'i 'Ali al-Sulayhi lived at the time when the Ismaili da'wa had reached peak of its religious and political glory. This climax of the da'wa was, to a great extent, contribution of. and shared by, the three contemporary giants of the Ismaili history, namely, the great 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Sulayhi, the renowned ai-Mu'ayyad fi'd-Dins. and the redoubtable Hasan ibn al-Sabbah. The untimely end of the first and the absence of the second, had affected the very nerve center of the Ismaili community and da'wa. Now, Therefore, in 47111078, the third and the last of the living giant was summoned to Cairo and from there, sent toward Alamut in Persia, in search of a new home for the da'wa. Indeed this now search in the remote lands was made necessary largely because of the absence of da'i 'Ali al-Sulayhi and the subsequent loss of hope in the strength of Yemenite da'wa. Still, it was in Yemen and in the house of the da'i al-Sulayhi that the Musta'iian section of the Ismaili da'wa found refuge, just as the Nizari line of the Imams and da'wa had been secured in Hasan's Alamut, when both were made to quite Cairo.

1. This was so because one other da'i, called Ali ibn al-Fadl, who was assisting ibn Hawshab in the da'wa work, began to show signs of independence and rebellion. As such, Imam Mahdi rather looked towards North Africa where another assistant of ibn Hawshab, that is, da'i Abu Abd Allah was successfully winning ground.

2. Ibn Hawshab was a scholar of Twelver Shi'i allegiance, prior to his coming into Ismaili fold.

3. Umarah (d. 569/1174), Tarikh al-Yaman ed. And trans H.C. Kay, London, 1892, text 18, trans 24-25.

4. Ibid. Text 22, trans., 30-31.

5. Da'i al-Mu'ayyad achieved for the Imam what hitherto could not be taken with the whole military and navel might of the Ismailis. He was mainly responsible for the Fatimid victory in Baghdad in the year 451/ 1059.

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