The term Dā'ī al-Mutlaq or ad-Da'i ul-Mutlaq (Arabic: الداعي المطلق) (pl. Du'at Mutlaqeen دعاة مطلقين) literally means "the absolute or unrestricted missionary" pl. Du'aat-دعاۃ. The office of Da'i al-Mutlaq is a spiritual rank in the Isma'ili Da'wah which became more explicit and operational after the seclusion of the 21st Fatimid Imam of Cairo, At-Tayyib Abu'l-Qasim in 528 AH/1134 AD. According to Tayyibi-Ismaili tradition, the Da'i al-Mutlaq is the highest authority in the faith in the absence of the Imam. Before the seclusion of the 21st Imam, the Da’i al-Mutlaq operated under the direct orders of the Imam and his trusted associates in regions where faithful were present, either living openly propounding their faith, or secretly due to fear of persecution.
In Yemen, after the seclusion of the Imam, the Da’i was given the authority of Itlaaq (إطلاق), or free conduct and absolute religious and social authority, under the governing principles of the Isma’ili Taiyebi faith. His command is regarded as a final decree guided by the divine support of the Imam. Unlike the Imam, who appoints his successor only from his sons (with one exception), the Da’i can appoint anyone as his successor who he deems trustworthy, pious and capable of carrying Da’wah affairs with wisdom and proficiency.
According to Ismā'īlī Musta'alavī Tayyabī tradition, before the 21st Fatimid Musta'alavi Imam, Taiyab abi al-Qasim went into state of occultation from Cairo in 528 AH/1134 AD, his father, the 20th Imām al-Amīr had instructed Queen Arwa al-Sulayhi/Al-Hurra Al-Malika in Yemen to anoint a vicegerent after the occultation of his son al-Tayyib Abu'l-Qasim. Queen Arwa trained and appointed Syedna Zoeb bin Moosa  as the first Da'i in the modern office. After breaking with the Fatimid teaching hierarchy, the Tayyibiyah in the Yemen recognized the Sulayhid queen as the hujjah of the concealed imam Al-Tayyib; with her backing they set up an independent teaching hierarchy headed by a daee mutlaq (“unrestricted summoner”) whose spiritual authority since her death in 1138 has been supreme. The second daee mutlaq, Ibrahim Al-Hamidi (1151–1162), became the real founder of the tayyibi esoteric doctrine, which he elaborated especially in his Kitab kanz Al-walad (Book of the child’s treasure). The position remained in his family until 1209, when it passed to Ali ibn Muhammad of the Banu Al-Walid Al-Anf family, which held it for more than three centuries with only two interruptions. The political power of the Yemenite daees reached a peak during the long incumbency of Idris Imad Al-Din ibn Al-Hasan, the nineteenth daee mutlaq (1428–1468). He is also the author of a seven-volume history of the Ismaili imams, Kitab uyun Al-akhbar (Book of choice stories) and of a two-volume history of the Yemenite daees, Kitab nuzhat Al-akhbar (Book of story and entertainment), as well as works of esoteric doctrine and religious controversy. While the Yemenite daees had been able to act relatively freely with the backing or protection of various rulers during the early centuries, they usually faced hostility from the Zaydi imams and in the sixteenth century suffered relentless persecution. In 1539 the twenty-third daee mutlaq appointed an Indian, Yusuf ibn Sulayman, as his successor, evidently in recognition of the growing importance of the Indian tayyii community. Yusuf came to reside in the Yemen, but after his death in 1566 his successor, also Indian, transferred the headquarters to Gujarat in India.
Tradition of Nass governing the Appointment of Da'iEdit
Nass-نص is a declaration and designation through Divine Indication and Spiritual Intervention-تأئید إلھي for the appointment of a successor-منصوص, be it an Imam or his deputy-داعي during Imam’s concealment by his predecessor-ناص amongst his subjects, publicly-نص جلي or privately-نص خفي and at times supported by written documentary orders-سجل شریف. This tradition and practice-سنۃ اللہ is related to the Isma’ili Taiyebi succession to the seat of Imaamat, whereby each Imam under hidden heavenly commands designates his successor, when he witnesses the Light of Imaamat-نور الإمامۃ has got transferred to one of his sons whom he selects for Nass. During the seclusion of Imam, his deputy-Da’i performs this act of succession whom he finds eligible for the status of Da’i. He might not be from his sons, unlike the succession of Imam where an Imam always appoints his successor from one of his sons.
The tradition stems from the events of Ghadire Khumm where Mohammad appointed his son-in-law, cousin and his heir 'Ali bin Abi Taalib as his Vicegerent, legatee and Wali of the Faithful. This tradition continued through all the Tayyibi-Ismaili Imams and Du'aat; according to Tayyibi-Ismaili belief, neither Imam nor Da'i al-Mutlaq can pass away without naming his successor.
The Da'i al-Mutlaq has the authority to appoint, at his discretion, a trusted individual to each of two proscribed ranks: Mazoon al-Da'wat and Mukasir al-Da'wat.
- المأذون الدعوة - al-Mazoon al-Da'wat, Mazoon e Dawat: The Licentiate, Authoritative Rank, the most trusted associate in Da’wah ranks whose traditional role includes taking Bay'at from his subjects by the orders of Da’i al-Mutlaq. He is on a Spiritual Rank in the Isma’ili Taiyebi Da’wah hierarchy immediately below the authority of Da’i and sits to his right, and who carries out the religious activities as per the regulations of Da’wah organization. At any cost he always assists and obeys his superior and his Master, the Da’i al-Mutlaq. In the absence of the Da’i he acts as his legatee. The Da'i al-Mutlaq's successor is often appointed to the rank of Mazoon; however, this is not the rule and the Da'i's successor has often been someone other than the Mazoon. Upon the death of the Mazoon, the Da'i selects a new trusted associate to fill the position.
- المکاسر الدعوة - al-Mukaasir al-Da'wat, Mukaasir e Dawat - The second deputy rank to the Da'i proscribed in Isma’ili Taiyebism. He sits to the right of the Mazoon during religious gatherings (Majalis). In the absence of both the Da'i and Mazoon, the Mukaasir acts as their legatee. Upon the death of the Mazoon, the Da'i selects a new trusted associate to fill the position.
Since the establishment of the office of Da'i al-Mutlaq following the death of the Fatimid Caliph-Imam Mansur al-Amir Bi-Ahkamillah, there have been several disputes over the succession to the office, leading to a number of extant sects, each with their own incumbent to the office.
Within the Dawoodi Bohras, the title of Da'i is currently disputed between Mufaddal Saifuddin and Taher Fakhruddin. The last undisputed Da'i was Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, who passed away in 2014. The vast majority of Dawoodi Bohras recognize Saifuddin as the 53rd incumbent, while a smaller number recognize Fakhruddin as the 54th. There is currently an ongoing legal battle in the High Court of Mumbai over legal succession to the post, initiated by Fakhruddin's father Khuzaima Qutbuddin.
The current seat of the Dawoodi Bohra Da'i is in Mumbai, India.
The current seat of the Alavi Bohra Da'i is in Vadodara, India.
Starting from 1677, Sulayman's successors almost always came from the Makrami family. The Sulaymani Du'at made Najran their headquarters and ruled the area, supported by the Banu Yam, until their power waned under the successive rules of the Ottomans and Saudis.
The current incumbent is Mohsin bin Ali al-Makrami.
The Atba-i-Malak community are a branch of Musta'ali Isma'ili Shi'a Islam that broke off from the mainstream Dawoodi Bohra after the death of the 46th Da'i al-Mutlaq, under the leadership of Abdul Hussain Jivaji in 1840. They have further split into two more branches. The Atba-e-Malak Badar is a branch of Atba-i-Malak Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a Islam. They follow the preachings of both Abdul Hussain Jivaji and Badruddin Ghulam Hussain Miya Khan Saheb. The current leader or Dai al Mutlaq is Maulana Muhammad Amiruddin Malak Saheb. The Atba-i-Malak Badar community is based in Mahdibagh, Nagpur in India. The Mahdibagh Atba-i-Malak Badar community, is a unique community of peaceful and progressive Muslims, an elitist sect, known as Atba-e-Malak Badar (followers of Maulana Malak and Maulana Badar) named after the two founders of the religious order who founded it in 1891 AD in Nagpur, India.
The Atba-i-Malak Vakil is a branch of Atba-i-Malak Mustaali Ismaili Shi'a Islam. They follow Abdul Qadir Ebrahimji, who they believe to be the true successor to Abdul Hussain Jivaji. Their current leader is Tayyebhai Razzak.
- 'Aqeedat ul-Muwahhedeen wa Muzehato Maraatib Ahl id-Deen: 8th Da’i-e-Mutlaq Saiyedna Husain bin Saiyedna Ali bin Mohammad al-Waleed (d. 667 AH/1269 AD)
- "The Dawoodi Bohras - The Dal Al Mutlaq". thedawoodibohras.com. Retrieved 2016-07-27.
- Dawat-e-Hadiyah Act 1993 (c. x) at Legislation.gov.uk
- Tohfat ul-Quloob wa Farjat ul-Makroob: 3rd Da’i-e-Mutlaq Saiyedna Haatim Mohiyuddin (d. 596 AH/1199 AD)
- Taaj ul-‘Aqaa’id wa Ma’dan ul-Fawaa’id: 5th Da’i-e-Mutlaq Saiyedna Ali bin Mohammad al-Waleed (d. 612 AH/1215 AD)