Ismaili Pirs, Vakils and Sayeds of South Asian Regions, written by Mr. Mumtaz Ali Tajddin Sadik Ali – A writer from the Ismaili community and the caretaker of the Mukhi Hashoo Museum, Karachi – is an epigrammatic history of the Ismā’īlī Dā’īs (preachers) known as Pīrs, Vakīls and Syeds, who were responsible for the spread of the Nizārī Ismā’īlī form of Islam in the name of Satpanth in the regions of South Asia. The author, an M.A. in Islamic History, has written more than a dozen books on Ismā’īli history, beliefs, practices, institutions, doctrines etc. Written in an uncomplicated style, the book employs straightforward and easy-to-understand English. The motive behind the compilation of this brief book is to provide scholars and non-academic readers with content liberated from the myths and legends that surround the life of the Ismā’īli Dā’īs of the Indian subcontinent.
In today’s time, the Ismā’īlī community is a global one – with its members living in various countries of Asia, Africa and Europe. Generally speaking, like most of the youth, Ismā’īlī youth also find it boring to read about the history of their faith. A few who successfully develop their interest are forced by the pressures of linguistic barriers and paucity of reliable historical documents, to turn their attention towards the Ismā’īlī history beyond the boundaries of South Asian regions. Thus, hardly a few academic publications have hitherto been made on the history of the spread of Ismā’īlī form of Islam in India. This book is therefore not only an attempt to compile the Ismā’īlī history of Indian subcontinent, but also a treasure for those who are interested in producing scholarly works on the history of the Nizārī Ismā’īlī mission in the Indian subcontinent.
Academically speaking, it is very strange to note that the book is not divided into chapters. However, headings have been appropriately used to distinguish the discussion on the life and missionary works of one Dā’ī (preacher) from another. Moreover, the flow of the book is very easy to follow for the life and missionary works of all the Dā’īs have been presented in a chronological order. Nevertheless, the narrative and argumentative style of the author combined with simple everyday English enables a reader to easily retain the interest in the book. In-text citations have been preferred over other forms of citations. Although author has used certain rare and atypical primary sources at a number of junctures to prove his points, however, it is very disappointing to note that the author has made several claims which lack proper historical evidence – an act which is not uncommon in author’s other publications as well.
The book highlights a number of new discoveries of primary sources and rarely known historical sites, however, not even a single illustration of a primary source or historical sites of relevance have been incorporated along with the text. Deliberate omission of pictures and illustrations combined with the quality of paper and binding style has resulted in low cost of the book. In fact, the book is easily available at a number of stationery shops owned by Ismā’īlī individuals at very cheap rates.
Last, but by no means the least, this is a praiseworthy effort by the author to shed light on a subject that receives almost no attention by the Ismā’īlī studies scholars and academics, but deserves a great deal of scholastic consideration.