Featured Reading: “The Ismā‘īlī Response to the Polemic of Ghazālī” by Henry Corbin

Henry Corbin introduces and summarizes an Ismā‘īlī Muslim response to a polemical work undertaken against the Ismā‘īlīs by the famous theologian Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505/1111).

Al-Ghazālī’s work against the Isma‘ilis was titled Kitab faḍā’iḥ al-bāṭiniyya wa faḍā’il al-mustaẓhiriyya (“The Shames of the Bāṭinites and the Excellence of the Supporters of al-Mustaẓhir”) and the Ismā‘īlī response by Da‘ī ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Walīd, the fifth dā‘ī al-mutāliq of the Mustalian Isma ‘ilis in Yemen, was titled Damigh al-batil wa half al-munazil (“The Destroyer of Error and the Death of He Who Would Defend It”).

Henry Corbin introduces the text by remarking that:

“As one can see, this immense work, in order to give a pertinent response to Ghazālī, is thus required to take up all the major themes of Ismā‘īlī gnosis. It constitutes an important episode in the history of theosophical religion, in respect of its consciousness of being the true and truthful interpreter of the prophetic revelation.”

– Henry Corbin, (Introduction to the Text, 73)

The Ismā‘īli text, commenting on al-Ghazāli’s reference to the name al-Ismā‘īliyyah, declares that:

“Of all the sects which this ‘heretic’ [Ghazālī] enumerates and describes, of all the names and surnames which he variously arranges, there is only one, of a single branch, that concerns us, and that is the name Ismā‘īliyya, Ismā‘īlīs. This name designates those whose [spiritual] ancestry goes back to Mawlānā Ismā‘il ibn Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq, ibn Muḥammad al-Bāqir, ibn ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Abidin, ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Taqī, ibn ‘Alī al-Murtaḍā al-Waṣī. This is our inherent name. It is our honour and our glory before all of the other branches of Islam, because we stand on the Path of the Truth, in following our guides – the Imāms. We drink at an abundant fountain, and we hold firmly to the guiding lines of their walāyah. Thus they cause us to climb from rank to rank among the degrees of proximity [to God] and excellence.”

– Dā‘ī ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Walīd, (The Destroyer of Error and the Death of He Who Would Defend it, Fasl 1)

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2 thoughts on “Featured Reading: “The Ismā‘īlī Response to the Polemic of Ghazālī” by Henry Corbin

  1. It’s interesting that the brilliant Ghazali spent a good deal of his time and intellectual capital attacking Ismaili ideas and doctrine yet in his later years he embraced the same esoteric dimension of religion(albeit from a Sunni perspective) that he had fought so hard against during the earlier part of his life. I guess some of the ideas the al batiniyya espoused rubbed off onto him.

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