- Explores Alavi Bohra community, it's manuscripts and their spaces of dwelling.
- Utilises extensive archival and ethnographic fieldwork including unique access to the Alavi Bohra treasury of books.
- Shows that the manuscript transmission of Fatimid manuscripts compiled and published in Egypt is as much alive today as centuries ago.
- Argues that the Alavi Bohra community’s manuscript collection is fundamental to the construction of its Neo-Fatimid identity.
- Shifts the focus from the study of manuscripts as material objects to the social framework within which they gain meaning through their interaction with readers.
This book tells the story of a manuscript repository found all over the pre-modern Muslim world: the Khizaanat ul-Kutub, or treasury of books. The focus is on the undisclosed Arabic manuscript culture of a small but vibrant South Asian Shi’i Muslim community, the Alavi Bohras of Taiyebi branch of Isma'ilis having Yemen as the work-force and energy-house for literary activities. It looks at how books that were once part of one of the biggest imperial book repositories of the medieval Muslim world, the Khizaanah of the Fatimids of North Africa and Egypt (909CE-1171CE) ended up having a rich social life among the Bohras across the Western Indian Ocean, starting in Yemen and ending in Gujarat. It shows how, under strict conditions of secrecy, and over several centuries, one Khizaanah was turned into another, its manuscripts gaining new meanings in the new social realities in which they were preserved, read, transmitted, venerated and copied into. What emerged was a new distinctive Bohra Taiyebi Isma'ili manuscript culture shaped by its local contexts.
Unlike other Muslim communities, Bohras are governed in each aspect by a central personality or authority called Da'i ul-Mutlaq acting as a deputy-naa'ib of the Hidden Imaam. He is revered as a sole representative of the Ahl ul-Bayt i.e the Household of Prophet Muhammad PBUH and its progeny-aal. The story of the Khizaanah of Alavi Bohras differs with other Bohra communities. This distinctive identity is founded by the open-minded and benevolent approach of incumbent Alavi Da'i, Saiyedna Haatim Zakiyuddin saheb, the 45th in the line of succession of Du'aat e Mutlaqeen. The library of Alavi Bohras preserved and maintained by Da'i ul-Mutlaq is the only place where a research scholar can find, see, feel, read and think over the original Isma'ili-Taiyebi texts written during different eras of Da'wat e Haadiyah in Salamiyah (Syria), Tunisia (North Egypt), Cairo, Yemen and Indian Subcontinent. This too on the direct hands, presence and guidance of a Da'i. Without any bureaucracy, reservations and reluctance Da'i is always read to have discussions, dialogues and debates on any of the Islamic sciences promulgated by Ahl ul-Bayt.
It is the age-old custom chiefly related to Da'i ul-Mutlaq that, he not only conducts special assembly-majlis for selected persons on Esoteric interpretation of Shari'ah referring to the manuscripts, but regularly pen down on separate handmade papers-awraaq some of the most important or useful topics covered in Lectures-taqaareer delivered on various religious gathering. There are huge number of hand-written loose papers preserved in Khizaanah. Also, for future reference Da'i writes date/year/occasion on top of a paper when that particular topic was delivered. To sum up, as it is perceived for other Bohra sects that their Khizaanah has remained unread or untouched for years together, it's not the case with Alavi Bohras. Reading, Copying, Transmitting and Assimilating of manuscripts is a common tradition of a Da'i. As per the mental capabilities of his believers-mumineen, Da'i always try to make them understand the intricacies and depth of Shari'ah espoused by the holy texts of these unique manuscripts.