Ismaili Propagation in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent Before the Advent of the Ginanic Da’wah


Shaded in green, the Fatimid Caliphate at its height. Yaman (Yemen) is shown by blue arrows. The Ismaili dawa'h in India originated in Yaman, when the Fatimid Empire was not yet established. Click on map for enlargement.

Shaded in green, the Fatimid Caliphate at its height. Yaman (Yemen) is shown by blue arrows. The Ismaili da’wah into India began from Yaman, when the Fatimid Empire was not yet established. Click on map for enlargement.

The Pre-Fatimid (Yaman) and Fatimid Periods

The aim of this article [1] is to establish historically the Isma’ili da’wah prior to the development of the Ginanic da’wah. [2] The period under study is from 207 AH/883 CE — 752 AH/1351 CE.

The earliest contact of Isma’ili da’wah with the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent was well before the Fatimid empire was established. It began with the establishment of the  Isma’ili principality in Yaman (Yemen) in the year 268 AH/881 CE by da’is Ibn Hawshab and Ali bin Fadl. From Yaman, da’i Ibn Hawshab sent his nephew da’i al-Haytham to Sind in the year 270 AH/883 CE.

When al-Qadi al-Nu’man wrote his work on the history of the da’wah in 346 AH/957 CE, he mentioned “the da’wah still existing in Sind.” [3] The da’wah began to permeate other areas such as Multan, Gujarat and Punjab and “by the time of Fatimid Caliph/Imam al-Mu’izz it had quite a large following” [4] also in Baluchistan.

The da’wah activity was continued by another da’i sent to Sind in the time of Hazrat Imam al-Muizz. He converted many Magians (Majus), but allowed them to continue to practise some of their own beliefs and customs. The Imam did not approve of this and asked another dai, Jalam (Hilm) bin Shayban, to take his place. The former da’i died in a riding accident and da’i Jalam, who was already very active in Multan, was the obvious successor. Even before the incident, da’i Jalam had defeated the last Arab prince of Banu Sama then ruling Multan in the year 354 AH/965 CE thus preparing the way for the establishment of Ismaili rule in Multan. His first task was to restore order in the chaotic situation created by his predecessor. He destroyed the idol aditiya worshipped by the Magians and built a mosque in the place of the temple where the idol was standing.

Multan is known as the City of Sufis or City of Saints and Madinat-ul-Auliya because of the large number of shrines and Sufi saints from the city. Map Source: Wikipedia. Edited by Simerg.

Multan is known as the City of Sufis or City of Saints and Madinat-ul-Auliya because of the large number of shrines and Sufi saints from the city. Map Source: Wikipedia. Edited by Simerg.

An interesting account of Multan under Ismaili rule is given by an Arab traveller and historian, al-Muqaddasi, who visited Multan in the year 375 AH/985 CE, some 20 years after Multan was conquered by Halam b. Shayban, an Ismaili da’i . The description, which appears both in Hamdani’s and Stern’s works, is as follows;

“The people of Multan are Shi’a…In Multan, the khutba is read in the name of the Fatimid Khalif of Egypt and all decisions are taken according to his command. Their envoys and gifts are regularly sent to Egypt. The ruler, da’i Jalam b. Shayban, is a powerful and just ruler.

“Multan is smaller than Mansurah in size, but has a large population. Fruits are not found in plenty, yet they are sold cheaply…like Siraf (another town), Multan has wooden homes. There is no bad conduct and drunkenness here, and people convicted of these crimes are punished by death or by some heavy sentence. Business is fair and honest. Travellers are looked after well. Most of the inhabitants are Arabs. They live by a river. The place abounds in vegetation and wealth. Trade flourishes here. Good manners and good living are noticed everywhere. The Government is just. Women of the town are modestly dressed with no make-up and hardly found talking to anyone in the streets. The water is healthy and the standard of living high. There is happiness, well-being and culture here. Persian is understood. Profits of business is high. People are healthy, but the town is not clean. Houses are small. The climate is warm and the people are of darkish complexion….In Multan the coin is minted on the style of the Fatimid Egyptian coin, but the Qanhari coins are also used”.

Mahmud Ghazna shown with his forces attacking a fortress  in Zaranj, located in SW Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. Further to the East when Mahmud took over Multan, he massacred the Ismailis. Photo: Wikipedia.

Mahmud Ghazna shown with his forces attacking a fortress in Zaranj, located in SW Afghanistan, near the border with Iran. Further to the East when Mahmud invaded Multan he massacred the Ismailis in a series of campaigns. Photo: Wikipedia.

The da’wah in Multan was dislodged by the onslaught of Ghaznavid power in Sind. The leader of the Ghaznavid was Mahmud, who invaded Multan in 396 AH/1005 CE. At this time the Isma’ili da’i Abu-l-Futuh Daud b. Nasr was ruling Multan. Abu-l Futuh agreed to pay tribute to Mahmud, but the latter invaded Multan through a series of campaigns during which the Ismailis of Multan were massacred. [8a] Abu-l Futuh died in prison in Ghazna, [8b] but the influence of Isma’ili da’wah persisted in Multan and we have evidence to suggest that Ismailism had spread far east of Multan, in Gujrat, Sind and Delhi. [10]

The other major principality of Ismaili da’wah was Mansurah. This town was built during the Ummayad times, and attained the status of a capital for the Arab community in Sind. In 240 AH/854 CE an Arab dynasty known as the Habbaris ruled the town. There is evidence that this dynasty later on had espoused the Isma’ili cause, sometime between 375 AH/985 CE and 416 AH/1025 CE. [11] It is therefore likely that during this time Mansurah became another important centre for the Isma’ili da’wah. The conquest of Multan by Mahmud of Ghazna displaced many Isma’ilis who migrated to Mansurah, where the Isma’ili rule began in 401 AH/965 CE. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, for in 416 AH/1025 CE Mahmud, while returning from his other conquest, annexed Mansurah and again massacred many Isma’ilis. “Ismailism however did not die. It remained a force that grew stronger for it was accepted and patronised by yet another dynasty – that of the Sumras”. [12]

The Sumras were Muslim converts from a Hindu tribe. In the year 443 AH/1051 CE they revolted against the Ghaznavids and established themselves under the rule of one Shaykh Sumar Rajibal. It is very likely that the Sumras had, by then, accepted the Isma’ili da’wah, [13] and were closely attached to the official da’wah organised on behalf of Fatimid Imams/Caliphs Hazrat Imam Al-Zahir and Hazrat Imam al-Mustansirbillah.

The rule of Sumra Dynasty came to an end in the year 752 AH/1351 CE or sometime after that, but definitely before 762 AH/1360 CE [14] corresponding to  the Imamat of Hazrat Imam Qasim Shah from 710 AH — 771 AH/1310 CE — 1369 CE.


The above exposition gives a clear indication that there was a very strong presence of Isma’ili da’wah in India and that it continued to survive the various pressures. What was the objective of the da’wah and how was this achieved?

In general terms, in the Isma’ili da’wah “the da’i went out not only to summon the people to allegiance to the rightful Imam, but also to promote the social, moral and spiritual welfare of the Imam’s followers. Ultimately, the da’is were charged with hastening not only the establishment of an Isma’ili state, but also articulating the fundamental doctrinal and moral ends that the state was meant to serve”. [15]

The most effective way of doing this, without upsetting the political balance of power a great deal and thereby minimizing the impact of the change on the economic situation as well, was to win over to the cause of da’wah the local chiefs or dynastic leaders, “hoping to see Isma’ilism introduced from above”. [16] This tactic was employed in many regions in Yaman, in North Africa, in Khurasan and Transoxania and as noted above in Mansurah and in the case of the Sumras as well. [17]

The da’wah in Hind and Sind was also like the da’wah in other places to “summon the people to allegiance to the rightful Imam. In this, as is shown above, it was very successful. There is however less information available about the second aim of “articulating the fundamental doctrinal and moral ends,” during the earlier settlements in Sind and Multan. Only during the period of Ginanic da’wah did this important aspect develop fully.

Taking the above background into consideration, we shall in  a future piece examine the development of the Ginanic da’wah, particularly giving an analysis of how the doctrinal and practical aspects were so ingeniously effected to achieve such a sustaining impact on those who were converted, so as to last even today as a tradition with its unique and special influence on a large section of the Isma’ili community.

Date article posted: November 21, 2013.

Copyright: Bashir F. Ladha.


This article has been adapted from Ilm Vol. 11, No.1, December 1986. It was originally presented under the title “Ginans in the Historical Context” in a lecture series on Ginanic tradition, organised by the Ismailia Association for the U.K. (now known as Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board, ITREB).

Major References

The author, who has been associated with the United Kingdom ITREB for several years, would like to note that the article summarizes his major findings from the following important works:

(1) The Beginnings of the Ismã ‘ili Da‘wah In Northern India, by A. Hamdani (pub. Hamdani Institute of Islamic Studies, Surat, India. Distributed in Cairo, 1956, pp 1-16.)

(2) Studies In Early Ismailism. E.J. Brill Leiden (1983), by S.M. Stern (pub. E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1983) Part II Chapter III, Isma’iliPropaganda and FatimidRule in Sind, pp. 177-187.

3. The Nizäri Ismã’ili Tradition in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent by Azim Nanji, Caravan Books, N.Y. 1978 pp. 33-49.


[1] The original paper was entitled “Ginans in the Historical Context.”
[2] The term “Ginanic da’wah” is used to define the period of Ism’ili da’wah that flourished in Hind and Sind from the mid-fourteenth century. It does not however differentiate between Isma’ili da’wah of the preceding period and what is here referred to as Ginanic da’wah.
[3] Dai Qadi Nu’man’s work referred to here is “Iftitah al-Da’wah Ibtida at dawlah“, see also Stern pp.  178. For a detailed study of dawah in Yaman, see Jiwa S. “The Initial Destination of the Fatimid Khalif ‘Abd Allah al-Mahdi’s Dar al-Hijrah: Yaman or Maghrib. The Political-Military Activities of  the Da’wah in the Maghrib and Yaman. Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate  Studies and Research, Institute of Islamic Studies McGill University Montreal August, 1984, pp 21-77.
[4] See Hamdani “Beginnings…“ p. 1.
[5] Ibid, p 2 See also Stern “Studies…” p. 264.
[6] Ibid, p. 3 and p. 5.
[7] Stern “Studies…” p. 183.
[8a] Virani, Shafique N. “The Ismailis in the Middle Ages: A History of Survival, A Search for Salvation” (New York: Oxford University Press), p. 100.
[8b] Hamdani “Beginnings…“ p. 4.
[9] This period begins the Imamat of Hazrat Imam al-Mu’izz (341 AH — 365 AH/952 CE — 975 CE) and ends during the Imamat of Hazrat Imam al-Hakim bi Amr Allah (386 AH — 411 AH/ 996 CE — 1020 CE.
[10] Hamdani “Beginnings…” p. 6.
[11] Ibid, p. 7.
[12] lbid, p. 8.
[13] Ibid, pp 8-9. Hamdani discusses the genealogy of this dynasty in detail, and also examines the questions as to which da’wah did the Sumra accept at the point of the Nizari-Mustalian split in  487 AH/1094 CE.
[14] Hamdani “Beginnings…“ p. 14.
[15] Esmaili A. & Nanji A., “The Isma’ilis in History” in lsma’i!i Contribution to Islamic Culture (ed) S.H. Nasr. Imperial Iranian Acadamy of Philosophy Tehran (1977) p. 233.
[16] Stern, “Studies… “ pp. 234-235.
[17] This tactic was also employed in the period of Ginanic da’wah as well, as will be shown in the follow-up article.


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7 thoughts on “Ismaili Propagation in the Indo-Pak Subcontinent Before the Advent of the Ginanic Da’wah

  1. Thank you very much for that journey into the past. Now we look forward to reading a next article on the Ginanic da’wah. I am sure it will be as well referenced and enjoyable as this one.

  2. Congratulations to Bashir Fazal Ladha for an excellent job. A very knowledgeable article for me as I was ignorant of many facts and may be for many others as well. Secondly the references to other authors and books will be very useful for everyone. Good luck to Bashir for his future such projects.
    Kind regards,
    Akbarali Nagji,
    Phoenix, AZ

  3. Good information; it’s so good to get more and more information about Isma’ili Da’wa in other places, such was presented in this nice article.

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