The Mustā‘lī (Arabic: مستعلي) are a sect of Isma'ilism named for their acceptance of al-Musta'li as the legitimate nineteenth Fatimid caliph and legitimate successor to his father, al-Mustansir Billah. In contrast, the Nizari—the other living branch of Ismailism, presently led by the Aga Khan IV—believe the nineteenth caliph was al-Musta'li's elder brother, Nizar. Isma'ilism is a branch of Shia Islam.

The Musta'li originated in Fatimid-ruled Egypt, later moved its religious center to Yemen, and gained a foothold in 11th-century North India through missionaries.

The Taiyabi and the Hafizi

Historically, there was a distinction between the Taiyabi and the Hafizi Mustaalis, the former recognizing at-Tayyib Abu'l-Qasim as the legitimate heir of the Imamate after al-Amir bi-Ahkami'l-Lah and the latter following al-Hafiz, who was enthroned as caliph. The Hafizi view lost all support following the downfall of the Caliphate: current-day Mustaalis are all Taiyabi.

Most Mustaali are Bohras, and the largest Bohra group is the Dawoodi Bohra, who primarily found in India. The name Bohra is a reinterpretation of the Gujarati word vahaurau "to trade". The Bohra comprise two principal groups: a chiefly merchant class Shi'i majority and a Sunni Bohra minority who are mainly peasant farmers.

Mohammed Burhanuddin was the 52nd Da'i al-Mutlaq of the Dawoodi Bohra community. After his death, there was a dispute regarding succession with both Mufaddal Saifuddin and Khuzaima Qutbuddin claiming to be the 53rd Da'i al-Mutlaq. This dispute is unresolved.


According to Musta'lī tradition, after the death of al-Amir bi-Ahkami'l-Lah, his infant son, Tayyib, about two years old, was protected by Arwa al-Sulayhi, wife of the chief Fatimid Da'i of Yemen. She had been promoted to the post of Hujjat al-Islam long before by al-Mustansir Billah when her husband died and ran the Fatimid dawah from Yemen in the name of Imam Tayyib. During her leadership Tayyib went into occultation so she instituted the office of Da'i al-Mutlaq. Zoeb bin Moosa was first to be instituted to this office and the line of Taiyibi Da'is that began in 1132 has passed from one Da'i to another up to the present day.


In 1592, a leadership struggle caused the Ṭayyibi to split into the Sulaymani (formerly the "Makrami") and Dawoodi Bohra. The Sulaymani – named after Sulayman ibn Hassan – are mainly concentrated in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, while the Dawoodi are found mostly in the Indian subcontinent.

There is also a community of Sunni Bohra in India. In the fifteenth century, there was schism in the Bohra community of Patan in Gujarat as a large number converted from Mustaali Ismaili Shia Islam to mainstream Hanafi Sunni Islam. The leader of this conversion movement to Sunni was Syed Jafar Ahmad Shirazi who also had the support of Mughal governor of Gujarat. Thus this new group is known as Jafari Bohras, Patani Bohras or Sunni Bohras. In 1538, Syed Jafar Ahmad Shirazi convinced the Patani Bohras to cease social relations with Ismaili Bohras. The cumulative results of these pressures resulted in large number of Bohras converting from Ismaili Shia fiqh to Sunni Hanafi fiqh.

There was a later split in 1637 from the Dawoodi; a new subsect, the Alavi Bohra was formed. The Hebtiahs Bohra are a branch of Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a Islam that broke off from the mainstream Dawoodi Bohra after the death of the 39th Da'i al-Mutlaq in 1754. The Atba-i-Malak community are a branch of Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a Islam that broke off from the mainstream Dawoodi Bohra after the death of the 46th Da'i al-Mutlaq, under the leadership of Abdul Hussain Jivaji in 1840. They have further split into two more branches, the Atba-e-Malak Badar and Atba-i-Malak Vakil. The Progressive Dawoodi Bohra is a reformist sect within Mustaali Ismai'li Shi'a Islam that broke off circa 1977. They disagree with mainstream Dawoodi Bohra, as led by the Da'i al-Mutlaq, on doctrinal, economic and social issues.

In 2014 following the death of Mohammed Burhanuddin, there was a succession dispute over who became the 53rd Da'i al-Mutlaq. This dispute has not been resolved and is being adjudicated.

Mustaali Imams

According to Mustali belief, the line of Imams (descendants of Ali and hereditary successors to Muhammad in his role of legitimate leader of the community of Muslim believers) is as follows:

A tree depicting the branching of the Shia showing the Mustaali Imams
  1. Hasan ibn Ali 625–670 (Imam- 660–670)
  2. Husayn ibn Ali 626–680 (imam-670-680 )
  3. Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidinm 659–712 (imam-680-712)
  4. Muhammad al-Baqir 676–743 (imam 712–743)
  5. Ja'far al-Sadiq 702–765 (imam- 743–765)
  6. Isma'il ibn Jafar 719/722–775 (imam 765–775)
  7. Muhammad ibn Isma'il 740–813 (imam 775–813)
  8. Ahmad al-Wafi (Abadullah) 766–829 (imam 813–829)
  9. Muhammad at-Taqi (Ahmed ibn Abadullah) 790–840 (imam 829–840)
  10. Radi Abdullah (Imam 840–909)
  11. Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah (909–934)
  12. al-Qa'im bi-Amr Allah (934–946)
  13. al-Mansur Billah (946–953)
  14. al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah (953–975)
  15. al-Aziz Billah (975–996)
  16. al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021)
  17. Ali az-Zahir (1021–1036)
  18. al-Mustansir Billah (1036–1094)
  19. al-Musta'li (1094–1101)
  20. al-Amir bi-Ahkami'l-Lah (1101–1130)
  21. at-Tayyib Abu'l-Qasim

Imams one through five are well-known historical figures in the early history of Islam who are also revered by Twelvers. The Imams numbered 11-21 are the Imam-Caliphs that ruled the Fatimid Caliphate.

The imams from Muhammad ibn Isma'il onward were occulted by the Mustaali; their names as listed by Dawoodi Bohra religious books are listed above.[1]

Followers of the Mustaali Imams also recite the names of these imams in Dua-e Taqarrub after salah daily. This tradition is reported to have come from the imams of the Ahl al-Bayt The prayer is as follows in English:

O Allah send blessings upon Muhammad and his progeny. O Allah I seek nearness to you not only with your help but also with the good wishes of Prophet Muhammad, the chosen one, Ali al Murtadha, the source of Imamah and the successor of the prophet, and lady Fatimah az-Zahra, the daughter of the prophet, and Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain, the grandsons the Prophet and the masters of the youth of paradise, and the descendants of Imam Hussain from Imam Ali Zayn al-Abidin, Muhammad al-Baqir, Ja'far al-Sadiq,..(so on as listed above).., al-Amir and Imam At-Tayyib Abi l-Qasim.

O Allah indeed I seek nearness to you by my reference to all of them since I love them and keep away from their enemies. O Allah make me steadfast in following their examples and include me in their company on the day of judgement. Bestown honour upon me and success in this world and the hereafter since I am their follower.

I bear witness and sincerely believe that they will undoubtedly lead me unto you. May your blessings be upon them all.

The above Fatimid era are based on the direct descendants of the Prophet and to reconcile Islamic religion, based on divine revelation.

The Fatimids claimed to be descendants of Fatima, the daughter of Muhammad, and wife of Ali, the fourth caliph and first Shi'i imam. The Fatimid leader defined himself not only as caliph – leader of the Muslim world, but even as Mahdi, the promised leader of the Muslim world. According to old ideas of the caliph, the Fatimid caliphs considered themselves to be infallible and sinless, and divinely chosen perpetuators of the true form of Islam
The Fatimid Caliphate was an exception in that the ruling elite belonged to the Ismaili branch of Shia Islam. The rulers were also Shia Ismaili Imams, hence, they had a religious significance to Ismaili Muslims. They are also part of the chain of holders of the office of Caliph, as recognized by most Muslims, the only period in which the Shia Imamate and the Caliphate were united to any degree after the death of Ali.

The Mustaali also feel themselves on same line and consider their imam and Dais as infallible and sinless, and divinely chosen perpetuators of the true form of Islam. Their Dais are keeping the tradition which was instituted by Arwa al-Sulayhi, wife of the Fatimid Dai of Yemen, who was instructed and prepared by al-Mustansir and the subsequent Imams for the second period of Occultation.

However, in the Mustaali branch, the Dai came to have a similar but more important task. The term Dā'ī al‐Mutlaq (Arabic: الداعي المطلق) literally means "the absolute or unrestricted missionary". This dai was the only source of the Imām's knowledge after the occultation of al-Qasim in Mustaali thought.

Dais (earthly leaders)

For a listing of Dais according to the Dawoodi Bohra faction, see List of Dai of Dawoodi Bohra.

According to Fatimid tradition, after the death of Al-Amir bi-Ahkami'l-Lah, Arwa al-Sulayhi instituted the Da'i al-Mutlaq to run the dawah from Yemen in the name of Imam Taiyab. The Dais are appointed one after other in the same philosophy of nass (nomination by predecessor) as done by earlier imams. It is believed that God's representative cannot die before appointing his true successor. This is being followed from the time of 3rd Imam Ali ibn Husain, the strong army of Yezid also could not think of killing him, although they did not spare even a child of six months, Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn.

On the similar belief, the Mustaali think and their Dai claim, that one day their Imam Tayyab's heir will again reappear as Imam (as happened with the eleventh Imam, Abdallah al-Mahdi Billah, who appeared after period of 150 years since the sixth Imam).

Under the fifteenth Imam, Al-Aziz Billah, the fifth Fatimid caliph, religious tolerance was given great importance. As a small Shi'i group ruling over a majority Sunni population with a Christian minority also, the Fatimid caliphs were careful to respect the sentiments of people. One of the viziers of Imam Aziz was Christian, and high offices were held by both Shia and Sunnis. Fatimid advancement in state offices was based more on merit than on heredity.[2]

Al-Aziz Billah rebuilt the Saint Mercurius Church in Coptic Cairo near Fustat and encouraged public theological debate between the chief Fatimid qadi and the bishops of Oriental Orthodoxy in the interest of ecumenism.[2]

Profession of faith

As is the case with the majority of the Shia, Ismailis conclude the Shahada with ʿAliyun waliyu l-Lah ("Ali is the friend of God"). Mustaalis recite the following shahada:

ʾašhadu ʾan lā ʾilāha ʾillā l-Lāh,
waʾašhadu ʾan Muḥammadun ʿabduhun warasūlu l-Lāh;
ʾanna mawlāna ʿAliyun waṣiyuhu wawazīruhu;

I bear witness that there is no god but God,
and I bear witness that Mohammad is God's servant and His Messenger
and Ali is his successor and minister.

Photo of the qibla of al-Mustansir Billah in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo showing the Shahada
Photo of the Shahada at Bab al-Futuh Fatimid Cairo

The first part of this shahada is common to all Muslims and is the fundamental declaration of tawhid. The wording of the last phrase is specific to the Mustaali.

The second phrase describes the principle of Prophecy in Shia Islam.

The third phrase describes the Mustaali theological position of the role of Ali.


External links and references

Further reading


  2. 1 2 Mullahs on the mainframe: Islam and modernity among the Daudi Bohras, page-29, By Jonah Blank
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