“The Arabic word nazr (pl. nazur) means an offering, gift or present, occurring seven times in the Koran. The Persian noun word nazrana means a gift offered especially to a prince to pay respect. Nazrana is a “special gift” in the Ismailis to be presented to the Imam mostly during the mehmani or any occasion to earn best blessings. It is presented individually on behalf of the family as well as collectively on behalf of a jamat or the all jamats of a country.
The Arabic word hibah (pl. hibat) means gift. He who makes the gift is called wahib (one who presents); the things given, mauhub, and the person to whom it is presented is mauhub lahu. Two kinds of gift-giving occur in the Koran: (1) God giving gift (ata) to humans and people giving or presents (nihla, hadiyya). God gives (ata) to humans is mentioned five times in the Koran. The only case that involves gift-giving in a narration context in the Koran is the Queen of Sheba’s sending gift (hadiyya) to Soloman to test whether he was noble prophet or a worldly king (27:35-6). In his Tafsir (9:515), Tabari writes that the Queen’s presents are said to have consisted of bricks of gold and silver, slave boys and girls, horses and jewellery. Qurtubi (13:132) writes that, “The Prophet of Islam and all the prophets accepted and encouraged the exchange of gifts on account of their beneficial effect on human relations.” Thus, “the Prophet also accepted the gifts” (Bukhari, 51:11).
The present of the nazrana to the Prophet was in vogue in Medina. Abdullah b. Bushr relates: My sister used to send presents with me to the Prophet and he accepted them (Tabaqat, 2:458). Once a tiffin made of clarified butter, honey and wheat presented, the Prophet ate it and said, “How good it is?” He also liked to have gourd among curries, vinegar condiment, dried dates among dates. Anas bin Malik relates that once he chased and caught a hare in the forest of Marruz-Zahran. Abu Talha slaughtered it and sent both of its hind-legs (between knee and the trunk) to the Prophet as a gift. The Prophet gladly accepted it. Besides, Umm-i Malik Behzia, Umm-i Aws Bahzia, Umm-i Salim and Umm-i Sharik were noted for sending ghee in leathern bottles to the Prophet.
Once Sa’d bin Mu’adh told the Prophet, “Why should I not build a cottage for you to take rest? I also wish to offer a conveyance for you.” The Prophet praised and prayed for him and accepted the gifts (al-Bidayah, 3:268).
Anas b. Malik also narrates that the ruler of Rome presented a cloak of serenest to the Prophet (Ibid., 2:571). Tabari (1:1528) writes that a man of the clan of Najjar presented a stronghold to the Prophet. Abdullah b. Buraydah relates that the ruler of Abyssinia presented to the Prophet two simple boots which he wore (Tabaqat, 2:573). The ruler of Yamen presented a precious robe to the Prophet, whose value was equal to the price of thirty camels (Abu Daud, 2:203). A white mule was presented by a Syrian chief, another mule received from the ruler of Egypt and Aila (Bukhari, 24:54). A chieftain had sent him a pair of sockings.
The tradition of the nazrana continued in Ismailism, whose accepter (mauhub lahu) i.e., the Imam is present on earth all the times. In 363/973, Imam al-Muizz entered Cairo, which was placarded with Imam’s name and the praises of Ali. He was acclaimed by the people, who crowded to his first public audience. He was presented precious nazrana by the prominent noblemen, in which the nazrana of Jawhar was splendid. Stanley Lane Poole writes in History of Egypt (London, 1914, p. 98) that, “It includes 500 horses with saddles and bridles encrusted with gold, amber and precious stones; tents of silk and cloth of gold, borne on Bactrian camels; dromedaries, mules, and camels of burden; filigree coffers full of gold and silver vessels; gold-mounted swords; caskets of chased silver containing precious stones; a turban set with jewels, and 900 boxes filled with samples of all the goods that Egypt produced.”
We have many examples of the affluent class in India, who presented their choicest nazrana to the Imams through the Pirs or Vakils, and this tradition is still prevalent.