Dar Al-Hikmah

“Amid the surging splendour, Imam al-Hakim emerges as an unusual personality judged by any standard. He founded Dar al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom), also known as Dar al-Ilm (House of Knowledge) in 395/1004, where the sciences including astronomy, logic, philosophy, mathematics, history, theology, languages and medicines were taught. Qadi Abul Aziz bin Muhammad bin Noman was its first supervisor. This academy was connected with the royal palace, enriched with a huge library, and distinct conference rooms and chambers. The scientists, philosophers, professors, theologians, scholars etc conducted scholastic activities. Staff of clerks and servants was employed for the upkeep of the institution. Scientists, professors and learned men were employed as lecturers.

The Dar al-Hikmah was founded to facilitate the working of the Ismaili mission too, and became rapidly a cultural centre. It attracted the students from all parts of the Muslim world, where the Imam would himself often visit the lecture-halls, joining debates and granting generous gifts to encourage notable proficiency. The lectures delivered by the da’is were known as majalis and were given at different levels according to the intellectual capacity of the audience. Some were designated as majalis al-khassa (sessions for the selected) and others as majalis al-amma (sessions for the public). From the picture drawn by Musabbihi and Ibn Tuwayri, both quoted by Makrizi in his al-Khitat (1:391), it would appear that the majalis al-khassa were attended only by the Ismailis. In the others, the lectures read were merely explanations of the doctrines, which concerned the meaning of Imam, the theological differences between the Shi’a and Sunni laws and their historical background. In Imam al-Hakim’s time, the majalis expanded in an endeavour to reach every group of people including even visitors to the country and women. Special meetings were divided into two. One was for the high officials and learned men and was known as majalis al-awliya and the other was for the ordinary officials and the branch of it was especially for women of the palace. The public sessions were divided into three – one for men of the general public, one for the women and one for the visitors to the country.

By the end of the 4th/10th century there were also regular assemblies on every Thursday and Friday for the reading of majalis al-hikmah (lectures on wisdom), which was flourished to its zenith. Makrizi quotes in his al-Khitat (1:391) al-Musabbihi (d. 420/1029) as giving some details of these majalis. According to him, “The da’i gave many lectures in the palace, lecturing separately to the adepts, the members of the court, the common people and strangers. To women, he lectured in the Jam-i Azhar, where a separate chamber was allotted to the women of the court. The da’i prepared the lecture in his house, after being presented its text to the Caliph, a neat copy of the lecture was prepared. The contributions (najwa) of the Ismailis were also collected during these lectures, which were called majalis al-hikmah.” The fixed monetary contribution (najwa) was collected from the individual Ismailis during the majalis al-hikmah, and the lists of the contributors were kept by a special secretary (katib al-dawa) appointed by the chief da’i. Makrizi writes that the wealthy Ismailis made substantial voluntary donations.

Ibn al-Tuwayri (d. 617/1220) describes the preparation of the text of the majalis differently. According to him as quoted by Makrizi (Ibid.), “The Ismaili theologians, housed in Dar al-Hikmah, met on Monday and Thursday and agreed on the text of a booklet called majalis al-hikmah. A clean copy was brought to the Chief Da’i, who after checking it, presented it on to the Caliph. If possible, the Caliph read it; at any rate he put his signature on it. The Chief Da’i then read the lectures in the palace in two different places