A major Shii Muslim community. Currently number several million and are scattered as Muslim minorities in some twenty-five countries of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America. Named after Ismail, the eldest son of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (d. 765), in whose progeny they have recognized a continuous line of Alid imams, they have had a complex history dating to the middle of the eighth century. Elaborated specific literary and intellectual traditions based on a fundamental distinction between the exoteric (zahir) and esoteric (batin) aspects of religious scriptures and prescriptions, and made important contributions to Islamic civilization, especially during the Fatimid period of their history, when they possessed an important state over which the Ismaili imams ruled as Fatimid caliphs. In the course of their long history, the Ismailis have been subdivided into a number of major branches and minor groupings. Today the Nizaris, who recognize the Aga Khan as their imam, and the Daudis, belonging to the Mustali-Tayyibi branch, who have acknowledged a line of dais in the absence of their imams, represent the two main Ismaili communities. The Nizari and Mustali-Tayyibi Ismailis of South Asian origins have been more commonly designated, respectively, as Khojas and Bohras.
See also Aga Khan; Bohras; Khojas; Nizaris; Qaramita