ˇABARÀNÌ (D. 426/1034
À la mémoire de notre ami
François P. Dreyfus, o.p. (1918-1999)
The study presents and analyzes Kitàb al-ma'àrif by Abù Sa'ìd Maymùn b. al-Qàsim al-
ˇabarànì (d. 426/1034-35), an outstanding Nußayrì leader and a prolific author in the
formative period of the Nußayrì religion. Inner knowledge (ma'rifa) constitutes the con-
ceptual core of the treatise, whose twenty-three chapters deal with esoteric knowledge
of various aspects of religion. The article focuses on the central theological issues discussed
by al-ˇabarànì, such as manifestations of the deity, in human form and in the histor-
ical ”ì'ì Imams, and knowledge of God through visual perception. It further discusses
certain ritual issues—such as the antinomian stance toward Muslim law, especially regard-
ing the five pillars of Islam, as well as al-ˇabarànì’s uncommon view of taqiyya.
nis study aims to present and analyze Kitàb al-ma'àrif by Abù Sa'ìd
Maymùn b. Qàsim al-ˇabarànì (d. 426/1034-5), one of the outstand-
ing Nußayrì religious leaders and a prolific author in the formative period
of the Nußayrì religion. Al-ˇabarànì was a prominent figure in the golden
chain of Nußayrì learning. He played an eminent role in the transition
of the Nußayrì community from Aleppo—where it had settled following
the emigration from its cradle in Irak—to the north-Syrian coast, which has
remained ever since the physical and spiritual heart of the Nußayrì sect.
* An earlier version of this study was read in a seminar of the research group on
“Exclusivity and Universality in Shì'ì Islam,” held at the Institute for Advanced Studies
of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in winter 2002-2003. We are grateful to our
colleagues Professors Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, Etan Kohlberg and Wilferd Madelung
for reading this article and for their instructive comments.
See e.g. Mu˙ammad Amìn ˝àlib al-ˇawìl, Ta"rì¢ al-'alawiyìn, Beirut, n.d., pp.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005 Arabica, tome LII,1
Also available online –
ARAB648DS_Kofsky_43-65 1/25/05 4:49 PM Page 43
Al-ˇabarànì is also reported to have led the struggle against the Is˙àqiyya,
the rival sister sect headed by Ismà'ìl b. ›allàd al-Ba'labakkì, better
known as Abù Duhayba.
Al-ˇabarànì’s nisba indicates his connection
with the town of Tiberias in northern Palestine. This connection, hitherto
uncorroborated, is now attested by al-ˇabarànì’s own words in Kitàb
al-ma'àrif, reporting a tradition concerning the affinity between prayer
and theodicy that he heard from his master Abù al-Óusayn Mu˙ammad
b. 'Alì al-]illì (d. ca. 384/984) in Tiberias in the year 392/1002.
Al-ˇabarànì is credited with numerous writings, most of which have
not come down to us. In his Kitàb al-bàkùra al-sulaymàniyya fì ka“f asràr
al-diyàna al-nußayriyya,
Sulaymàn al-A≈anì, the renowned nineteenth-
century Nußayrì apostate, specifically mentions three of them and refers
generally to others; and Massignon in his list of Nußayrì works enu-
merates the titles of seventeen treatises ascribed to al-ˇabarànì.
the attribution of some of these titles, such as Kitàb al-haft and Risalàt
al-taw˙ìd, to the latter seems questionable. Al-ˇabarànì is particularly
known in modern scholarship through his book on Nußayrì festivals—
Kitàb sabìl rà˙at al-arwà˙ wa-dalìl al-surùr wa-l-afrà˙ ilà fàliq al-aßbà˙, better
known as Ma<mù' al-a'yàd.
The treatise Kitàb al-ma'àrif forms part of the collective Nußayrì man-
uscript Or. 304 in the Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Hamburg Carl
von Ossietzky, folios 1a-126b. The colophon, which is silent regarding
the place of copying, is very specific about its date. The copy of this
treatise was completed on Friday, 27 February 1887
/15 Jumada II
1304. It further states that this copy was transcribed from a manuscript
262-265; H. Halm, Die islamische Gnosis: Die extreme Schia und die 'Alawiten (Zurich, 1982),
pp. 297-298; idem, Shiism, translated by J. Watson, Edinburgh, 1991, p. 159.
On him, see ˝àlib, Ta"rì¢ al-'alawiyìn, pp. 262-264; M.M. Bar-Asher and A. Kofsky,
The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion: An Enquiry into Its Theology and Liturgy (Leiden, 2002), pp. 17-19.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 59b, lines 8-10.
Beirut, n.d., pp. 17-18; new edition (Cairo, 1410/1990), p. 28; Óasan Dìb 'Alì,
A'làm min al-ma≈hab al-<a'farì al-'alawì (Beirut, 1998), vol. 1, pp. 20-21.
L. Massignon, “Esquisse d’une bibliographie nusayrie,” Mélanges syriens offerts à Monsieur
René Dussaud (Paris, 1939), pp. 913-922, at p. 917 (reprinted in idem, Opera Minora,
edited by Y. Moubarac, vol. 2 [Beirut, 1963], pp. 640-649). See also J. Catafago’s list
of Nußayrì works in his letter to Journal Asiatique 8 (1876), pp. 523-525.
A critical edition, based on three manuscripts, was published by R. Strothmann in
Der Islam 27 (1946). For a discussion of the Nußayrì calendar based mainly on al-
ˇabarànì’s Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, see e.g. M. Moosa, Extremist Shi'ites: The Ghulat Sects (New
York, 1988), pp. 382-397; 'A. al-Du<aylì, Kitàb ma<mù' al-a'yàd wa-l-†arìqa al-§aßìbiyya, in
Ma<allat al-ma<ma' al-'ilmì al-'iràqì 4 (1956), pp. 618-629; Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-
'Alawì Religion, pp. 111-151.
This date is according to the Julian calendar, corresponding to 11 March in the
Gregorian calendar.
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copied in 1295/1878, which was in turn copied from a manuscript
completed in 1275/1858-9. The frequent copying of this treatise nat-
urally attests to its importance.
Our manuscript also includes al-ˇabarànì’s Kitàb al-dalà"il fì ma'rifat
al-masà"il (folios 141a-207b), mentioned in al-A≈anì’s list. These two
works are so far available only through this manuscript and, apart from
a few excerpts published by Rudolph Strothmann, have not attracted
any scholarly attention.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, not mentioned in al-A≈anì’s
list, is cited in the thirteenth-century Nußayrì polemical treatise entitled
MunàΩarat al-“ay§ Yùsuf ibn al-'A<ùz al-Na““àbì tata∂ammanu a§aßßa 'aqà"idi-
him bi-l-taw˙ìd,
discussed by us in an earlier study.
Al-ˇabarànì’s acquaintance with earlier Nußayrì literature is well
attested in Kitàb al-ma'àrif, though the author does not mention specific
titles. He refers, for example, to certain works of Abù 'Abd Allàh al-
Óusayn b. Óamdàn al-›aßìbì
—perhaps the actual founder of the
Nußayrì religion—and the tenth-century Abù al-Óusayn 'Abd Allàh b.
Hàrùn al-Íà"i©.
Verbatim passages are adopted from the proto-Nußayrì
work Kitàb al-haft wa-l-aΩilla,
and parallel sections appear in Kitàb al-
ma'àrif and in al-ˇabarànì’s other work, Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, raising the
question of interdependency between the two works. Dates of specific
traditions appearing in both works and said to have been transmitted
in Tripoli (Syria) on 28 ˛ù al-˙i<<a 398 (3 September 1008) furnish
a terminus post quem for the writing of both works.
The title Kitàb al-ma'àrif may appear somewhat ordinary; in Nußayrì
parlance, however, it seems to bear a special connotation. Whereas
elsewhere the same title simply denotes general knowledge of various
R. Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung bei den Nußairì,” Oriens 12 (1959), pp. 89-114.
See Ms. Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale), fonds arabe 1450, fol. 67-155, at fols. 94a,
line 5, 135b, line 2. Cf. Massignon, “Esquisse d’une bibliographie nusayrie,” p. 917.
Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 7-41.
See e.g. Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 21a, lines 6-7 (referring to an unspecified risàla of al-
›aßìbì), and fol. 30a-b (citing one of his odes dedicated to an allegorical interpretation
of the pilgrimage commandment).
Ibid., fols. 102a, lines 3-5. On al-Íà"i© and two of his theological treatises, see Bar-
Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 89-109.
See Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 37b-39a, and cf. Kitàb al-haft wa-l-aΩilla (attributed to al-
Mufa∂∂al b. 'Umar al-]u'fì, edited by 'A. Tamer [Beirut, 1969]), pp. 34ff. For a sim-
ilar employment of these passages by al-ˇabarànì, see Kitàb al-dalà"il fì ma'rifat al-masà"il,
fol. 186a-b (question 142).
Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, p. 4, lines 16-18, and Strohmann’s note in his introduction to the
work, p. 7; Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 52b. lines 6-7. See also Massignon, “Les «Noseïris» de
Syrie: Leurs origines; répatrition actuelle de leurs clans,” Revue du monde musulman 38
(1920), pp. 271-280, at p. 273 (the date 1002 is a misprint and should be 1008).
roov. .xr ni+t.r ix KITÀB AL-MA'ÀRIF 45
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topics recommended for the educated—as in the case of Ibn Qutayba’s
renowned book—in al-ˇabarànì’s treatise the title clearly alludes to
gnostic knowledge being the core of the Nußayrì faith.
The importance of ma'rifa (gnosis) as the inner meaning of worship
is emphasized by the author in his introduction. Commenting on the
Qur"ànic verse 51 (al-≈àriyàt)/56: “I have not created jinn and mankind
except to worship Me (wa-mà §alaqtu al-<inna wa-l-insa illà li-ya'budùni ),”
al-ˇabarànì interprets the worship of God as gnosis.
Inner knowledge
thus becomes the conceptual axis of Kitàb al-ma'àrif, whose twenty-three
chapters deal with the esoteric knowledge of various aspects of religion.
These chapters treat a spectrum of thematically unrelated topics, such
as theology, liturgy, ethics, psychology, and transmigration. The over-
all impression is that the author may have intended the book to serve
as a compendium of Nußayrì doctrine. This appears to be in line with
al-ˇabarànì’s didactic motive manifest in the three of his works that
have come down to us: Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, which presents the sectarian
dimension of the Nußayrì calendar; Kitàb al-ma'àrif, which covers some
general liturgical aspects only partially discussed in Ma<mù' al-a'yàd as
well as other themes; and Kitàb al-dalà"il fì ma'rifat al-masà"il, the earliest
equivalent of a Nußayrì catechism known to us, which presents in an
uneven and unsystematic manner a series of questions and answers on
a wide range of religious topics.
Some of the topics treated in Kitàb al-ma'àrif, such as transmigration
and ethics, are familiar from other Nußayrì writings. In this book, how-
ever, they seem to be rather marginal and contain little that is inno-
vative. We therefore focus in the present study on those theological
and liturgical themes that appear to carry more weight and innovation
within the overall import of the book.
Theological Issues
One of the central dogmas of Nußayrì theology is the manifestation of
the deity in human form in various historical cycles, through historical
or mythical figures.
The manifestation of the hierarchic Nußayrì trin-
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 3a, line 11-3b, line 1. For a similar notion of ma'rifa in Imàmì
”ì'ism, see Abù ]a'far Mu˙ammad b. al-Óasan al-Íaffàr al-Qummì, Baßà"ir al-dara<àt
(Tabriz, 1380H), pp. 2-12.
On the doctirne of divine manifestation in historical cycles, see e.g. Risàlat al-taw˙ìd
by al-›aßìbì, in ms. Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale), fonds arabe 1450, fols. 42-48; Nußayrì
Catechism, in Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, p. 171 (question 5); S. Lyde,
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ity—in the figures of 'Alì as the first person (ma'nà), Mu˙ammad as the
second (ism), and Salmàn the Persian as the third (bàb)—sets the theo-
logical principle for these cyclical revelations.
These manifestations
amount to a revelation in history of the whole divine realm of ema-
nation identified with a gallery of human figures.
The doctrine of the manifestation of the deity in human form, cur-
rent already in early ”ì'ì circles,
was undoubtedly influenced by the
Christian theology of incarnation. Nußayrì theology, however, was unhin-
dered by some of the Christological postulates that determined the
development of Christology. Yet the theological ramifications of any
doctrine of incarnation cannot be too dissimilar. We thus find that with
the development of the Nußayrì theological discourse in its formative
stages, many problems arose reminiscent of those of early Christianity.
The Christian theology of incarnation is rooted in the famous scrip-
tural pronouncement that God, the Logos, “became flesh and dwelt
among us” ( John 1:14).
This gave rise to the inherent theological
difficulty of the deity becoming human. Nußayrì theology, however, was
bound neither by Christian scriptural dogma nor by the doctrine that
it was the Son-Logos who was incarnated in Christ. It could therefore
freely adopt the notion that the supreme aspect of the deity—namely,
the first person of the trinity—also appeared in human form.
This concept, however, is not alien to the history of Christian dogma.
It was known in early Christianity under the various titles of Sabellian-
ism, Monarchism, and Patripassianism.
It stemmed from the inherent
difficulties in reconciling the doctrines of the divine Son and the trin-
ity with the monotheistic creed. Unfettered by a strict dogma of incar-
nation, Nußayrì theology could also opt for various docetic solutions in
The Asian Mystery: The Ansaireeh or Nusairis of Syria (London, 1860), p. 118; Moosa, Extremist
Shi'ites, pp. 352ff.
On the Nußayrì hierarchic trinitarian concept, see Lyde, The Asian Mystery, pp. 118-
119; R. Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Noßairîs (Paris, 1900), pp. 46-72; Moosa, Extremist
Shi'ites, pp. 50-56, 342-351. See also Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp.
14-42; M.M. Bar-Asher, “Sur les éléments chrétiens de la religion Nußayrite-'Alawite,”
Journal Asiatique 289 (2001), pp. 185-216, esp. 191-199.
See Nußayrì Cathechism, in Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 176-185
(questions 22-42).
See M.A. Amir-Moezzi, “Aspects de l’imàmologie duodécimaine I: remarques sur
la divinité de l’Imàm,” Studia Iranica 26 (1996), pp. 194-216.
See e.g. Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 28-33; Bar-Asher, “Sur
les éléments chrétiens de la religion Nußayrite-'Alawite,” pp. 199-208.
For the general development of early Christology, see A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian
Tradition (Atlanta, 1975), vol. 1.
See J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrine (San Francisco, 1978), pp. 115-126.
roov. .xr ni+t.r ix KITÀB AL-MA'ÀRIF 47
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its theological interpretation of the appearance of the deity in human
—similar in principle to various forms of docetism known from
early Christianity, Manicheism, the Qur"àn, and early ”ì'ism.
whereas in Christianity the incarnation was perceived as a unique sin-
gle event, in Nußayrì doctrine it is perceived as cyclical. But here too,
some Christian theologians have promoted the concept that the Logos
had appeared to chosen people in human form—albeit not in the flesh—
in previous generations, prior to the incarnation of the Logos.
A type
of crude cyclical revelation of an aspect of the deity in human form is
also known in Manicheism.
It is therefore almost inevitable to find in
Nußayrì trinitarian and incarnation theology inherent difficulties and
various solutions similar to those encountered in early Christianity.
A peculiar development of the Nußayrì doctrine of divine manifes-
tation in human form is its application to the historical Imams of
Twelver ӓ'ism.
This concept manifestly has its roots in the deification
of the holy family and in the special status accorded to the Imams in
early ӓ'ism. As Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi has convincingly argued,
the doctrine of the divine light, passing through the line of the Imams,
developed among certain ”ì'ì circles into a belief in the actual deification
of the Imams.
This notion was further accentuated in Nußayrì theol-
ogy and extended to include not only the twelve Imams, but also promi-
On the concept of docetism in Nußayrì theology, see e.g. Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The
Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 51-52, 56-57; Bar-Asher, “Sur les éléments chrétiens de la
religion Nußayrite-'Alawite,” pp. 202-208.
For the doctrine of docetism in Manicheism and its possible influence on the
Qur"àn and early ”ì'ism, see I. Friedlaender, “The Heterodoxies of the Shiites accord-
ing to Ibn Óazm,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 28 (1907), pp. 1-80, 29 (1909),
pp. 1-183, at pp. 29-30; idem, “Jewish Arabic Studies,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 2
(1912), pp. 481-516, 3 (1912), pp. 235-300, esp. 507-515; G. Widengren, Mani and
Manicheism (New York, 1965), p. 66. On this doctrine in the Qur"àn and its Christian
background, see also G. Parrinder, Jesus in the Qur"àn (London, 1965), pp. 110ff;
T. ›alidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge, Mass.,
2001), pp. 12-13.
See e.g. Justin, Dialogue with Tryphon 56, edited by G. Archambault (Paris, 1909);
Eusebius of Caesarea, Eclogae Propheticae 1,3 (PG 22); idem, Ecclesiastical History 1,2, 7-8,
edited by K. Lake (London 1926); Philoxenus of Mabbug, Commentary on the Prologue of
John, edited by A. de Halloux (Louvain, 1977), pp. 7-8.
Widengren, Mani and Manicheism, pp. 76-77.
See Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 30-33.
See M.A. Amir-Moezzi, “Aspects de l’imàmologie duodécimaine I: remarques sur
la divinité de l’Imàm,” Studia Iranica 26 (1996), pp. 194-216; idem, “L’Imàm dans le
ciel. Ascension et initiation: Aspects de l’imàmologie duodécimaine III,” in Le voyage ini-
tiatique en terre d’Islam: Ascensions célestes et itinéraires spirituels, edited by M.A. Amir-Moezzi
(Louvain-Paris, 1996), pp. 99-116.
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nent leaders in later Nußayrì history until modern times.
It was not,
however, shared by all Nußayrì theologians and did not pass without
internal polemics.
Al-ˇabarànì, for his part, prounounces an explicit
position in favour of the deification of the Imams. He does not delve
into the difficult question—familiar from other sources—as to whether
the appearance of the deity in human form involves real incarnation
or a certain form of docetic appearance.
He likewise avoids the ques-
tion of the exact manner in which the supreme deity reveals itself in
human form—an issue developed in later texts.
Al-ˇabarànì opens his work with the recurrent Nußayrì injunction
to attain the gnostic mystery of divinity.
Moreover, according to a
tradition ascribed to the Imam al-Óasan al-'Askarì—on whose authority
many traditions in Kitàb al-ma'àrif are transmitted—God in fact exempted
His creatures from worshiping Him through religious commandments
and only “wanted them to know Him, for gnosis is the worship of
God” ( fa-mà aràda minhum illà al-ma'rifa wa-hiya al-'ibàda).
This tradition,
reflecting basic Nußayrì radical antinomianism, epitomizes the gnostic
character of the Nußayrì religion.
Al-ˇabarànì is nevertheless unequivocal in establishing—through tra-
ditions ascribed to the Imam Ja'far al-Íàdiq—the theological principle
that knowledge of God is dependent on visual perception.
This con-
cept can be viewed against the broad discussion of the human cognition
of God through sensual perception, widely debated in Muslim theology.
On this, see e.g. Strothmann, “Esoterische Sonderthemen bei den Nusairi: Geschichten
und Traditionen von den heiligen Meistern aus dem Prophetenhaus,” Abhandlungen der
deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (Berlin, 1958), pp. 5-23, ms. Hamburg 303,
at pp. 9 and 11.
Various positions regarding the doctrine of divine manifestation in human form
are debated in al-Na““àbì’s MunàΩara. For an analysis of this debate, see Bar-Asher-
Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 14-28.
In his Kitàb al-Dalà"il fì ma'rifat al-masà"il (fols. 159a-160b, questions 80-83) al-
ˇabarànì, however, unequivocally advocates a clear stance of incarnation theology.
See e.g. Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 28-30, 50-57.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 5b, lines 3-5. This concept forms the core of one of al-Íà"i©’s
theological treatises published in Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 89-
97. See also al-›aßìbì’s Risàlat al-taw˙ìd and the study on it by T. Ra<ab, “The Nußayrì
Theology of the Epistle of Unity by 'Alì b. 'Ìsà al-]isrì” (unpublished M.A. thesis, The
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001 [Hebrew]).
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 7b, lines 4-5.
On Nußayrì antinomianism, see Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp.
47-48, 66-67, 82-83, 114-115, 154-159.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 10a, lines 7-9.
On this concept, see e.g. M. Allard, Le problème des attributs divins dans la doctrine
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Al-ˇabarànì’s radical view, conditioned by the dogma of divine reve-
lation in human form, is further spelled out in the following statement
ascribed to al-Íàdiq:
He who claims to have an invisible god has no Lord. He who claims to have a
god beyond cognition is from the party of the devil of devils. He [= al-Íàdiq]
then said: “He who seeks God, who is present among His creatures and has neither
rival nor opponent—indeed I am He”
(wa-man za'ama anna lahu ilàh là yurà, fa-
là rabba lahu; wa-man za'ama anna lahu ilàh là yu'rafu, fa-innahu min ˙izb iblìs al-abàlisa;
∆umma qàla: 'man aràda llàha al-maw[ùd fì ¢alqihi alla≈ì là ∂idda lahu wa-là niddan—
fa-anà huwa).
According to al-ˇabarànì, then, there must be some mode of sensual
perception of the deity in order to obtain gnosis. God must somehow
be visible, “for the existence of whoever is concealed and invisible is
doubtful” (li-anna man ©àba fa-lam yurà (!) yu“akku an là yakun “ay"an).
is therefore a sign of the wise that he worships only a revealed being
(min ßifat al-˙akìm an là ya'bud illà maw[ùdan Ωàhiran).
God thus revealed
Himself to His creatures in the primordial luminary world and later in
His cyclical human appearances in the material world.
Divine reve-
lation is therefore a postulate for a knowledge of God. Moreover, this
revelation must be a manifestation of the deity in its totality through
a human form.
This apparently follows the familiar principle of divine
condescension, adapting to the limited human spiritual faculties. The
general dogma of divine revelation through a visible human form is
here combined with a didactic existential context: knowledge of the
deity is not possible without sensual perception. This implies the con-
stant need for divine revelation. It sets the theological foundation for
d’Al-A“'arì et de ses premiers grands disciples (Beirut, 1965), pp. 264-269; G. Vajda, “Le prob-
lème de la vision de Dieu (ru"ya) d’après quelques auteurs “ì'ites imâmites,” in Le Shi'isme
imâmite, edited by T. Fahd (Paris, 1970), pp. 31-54 (reprinted in Variorum Reprints,
London, 1986); J. Van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra: eine
Geschichte des religiösen Denkens im Frühen Islam, (Berlin, 1991), vol. 4, pp. 411-415; D.
Gimaret, “Ru"yat Allàh,” EI
, vol. 8, p. 649; M.A. Amir-Moezzi, The Divine Guide in
Early Shi'ism: The Sources of Esotericism in Islam, translated by D. Sreight (New York, 1994),
pp. 47ff.; See also B. Abrahamov, “Fa§r al-Dìn al-Ràzì on the Knowability of God’s
Essence and Attributes,” Arabica 49 (2002), pp. 204-230, at p. 207.
These word have a similar ring to some ecstatic exclamations (“a†a˙àt) ascribed to
al-Íàdiq in ”ì'ì literature and resembling those of the Sufis. See Amir-Moezzi, The Divine
Guide in Early Shi'ism, pp. 180-181, note 277.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 8b, lines 7-11.
Ibid., fol. 9b, lines 9-10.
Ibid., lines 8-9.
Ibid., fol. 9b, lines 10-11.
Ibid., fol. 10b, lines 2-6.
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the divine appearance in human form as a precondition for salvation
through gnosis and thus establishes the dogma of divine manifestation
in the figures of the historical Imams. Al-ˇabarànì, however, does not
deduce from these assumptions the general rule that this principle is,
in fact, essential for gnosis in every generation, or that it postulates
perennial incarnation.
Al-ˇabarànì expounds the dogma of divine incarnation in ”ì'ì Imams
through a series of accounts about some of them, notably al-Íàdiq.
One of these traditions recounts a pertinent dialogue between the Imam
Mu˙ammad al-Bàqir and his disciple Íàli˙ b. 'Uqba:
Abù Ja'far [= Mu˙ammad al-Bàqir], peace be from him,
said: “God is revealed
but not seen, near but not tangible.” I [= Ibn 'Uqba] said: “Praise to God who
has not concealed Himself from us.” [al-Bàqir] answered: “Do you indeed know
that He has not concealed Himself from you?” I answered: “Yes, my master.” He
then asked: “Who is He?” I answered: “You are He” (Qàla Abù ]a'far minhu al-
salàm: 'inna llàha Ωàhiran (!) là yurà wa-qarìb là yu˙àssu.’ Qàla qultu: ‘al-˙amdu lillàh
alla≈ì lam ya©ib 'annà.’ fa-qàla li: ‘wa-qad 'alimta annahu lam ya©ib 'anka?’ qultu: ‘na'am,
yà mawlàya.’ qàla: ‘man huwa?’ qultu: ‘anta huwa’ ).
In another account al-Bàqir discloses to his disciple Dàwud b. Ka∆ìr
al-Raqqì (d. ca. 200/815)
the chain of 'Alì’s revelations in mythical
and historical figures, identifying himself as the deity revealed in these
More explicit pronouncements of the belief in the divinity of
the Imams are connected with al-Bàqir’s son, al-Íàdiq. In one of these
traditions al-Íàdiq is said to have revealed to a certain visitor that he
was the manifestation of God on earth and that this secret might be
divulged only to the initiate.
He may probably be identified with Íàli˙ b. 'Uqba b. Qays, mentioned by Abù
'Abbàs A˙mad b. 'Alì al-Na<à“ì, Kitàb al-Ri<àl (Qumm, 1407H), p. 200.
This idiom (in Arabic: minhu al-salàm) is characteristic of Nußayrì texts as a vari-
ant of the more common expression 'alayhi al-salàm (peace be on him).
Ibid., fol. 9a, lines 6-10.
One should note that Ibn Ka∆ìr, who is known to have been a disciple of al-Íàdiq
and his son Mùsà al-KàΩim, is unlikely to have transmitted directly from al-Bàqir.
According to al-Na<à“ì (Kitàb al-Ri<al, p. 156), Ibn Ka∆ìr was considered a somewhat
weak authority (∂a'if ), whose tranditions were transmitted mostly by extremist ”ì'ìs.
From al-Ki““ì’s entry on him, however, Ibn Ka∆ìr emerges as a more credible source.
Al-Íàdiq is reported to have expressed his appreciation of Ibn Ka∆ìr, stating that the
latter’s rank in relation to him was similar to that of al-Miqdàd in the eyes of the
Prophet; see Abù 'Amr Mu˙ammad b. 'Umar al-Ki““ì, Kitàb al-Ri<àl, edited by A. al-
Óusaynì (Na<af, n.d.), pp. 243-244.
Ibid., fols. 106b-108a.
da§ala ra<ul 'alà al-Íàdiq minhu al-salàm fa-qàla lahu al-Íàdiq: ‘yà fulàn, là ta“ukka bi-
lla≈ì taràhu “ay"an’; fa-qàla al-ra<ul: ‘a'ù≈u bi-llàh an u“rika bihi’. fa-qàla lahu al-Íàdiq: ‘inna
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Another cluster of traditions cited by al-ˇabarànì associates the self-
pronouncement of al-Íàdiq’s divinity with Abù al-›a††àb (d. ca. 138/755),
a leading figure of the Kufa ©ulàt and the eponym of the ›a††àbiyya
extremist sect.
Here al-Íàdiq claims Abù al-›a††àb to be the “beloved
and chosen among my creatures” (awliyà"ì wa-¢àßßatì min ¢alqì).
al-›a††àb is said to have taught his disciple Yùnus b. ¸abyàn
God reveals Himself to His creatures in their own form, and whoever
wishes to know Him, knows Him according to His appearance. This
general principle soon becomes concrete as Abù al-›a††àb explains that
the god Yùnus had seen—apparently referring to al-Íàdiq—had been
God in His totality (huwa huwa bi-kulliyyatihi ).
These traditions, associated
with Abù al-›a††àb, conform to the notion of the deification of al-
Íàdiq characteristic of the various ›a††àbiyya groups. These traditions
also claim a supposed kinship in Nußayrì doctrine between the ›a††àbiyya
and the Nußayriyya, Abù al-›a††àb being regarded as bàb of the seventh
Imam Mùsà al-KàΩim.
Abù al-›a††àb, as well as other conspicuous
˝ulàt figures—e.g. ]àbir b. Yazìd al-]u'fì, Mufa∂∂al b. 'Umar, and
'Umar ibn al-Furàt—have come to represent people of great merit and
quasi-Nußayrì ancestry. They were further incorporated into the Nußayrì
system and were identified as bàbs of various Imams of the Twelver ”ì'a.
Moreover, Kitàb al-ma'àrif is marked by its detailed discussion of these
bàbs and their role in the Nußayrì reconstruction of Nußayrì pre-his-
tory. With the development of the doctrine of the apotheosis of the
Imams, the role of their bàbs has received special emphasis, with a
sense of divine presence being attributed to the historical figure of the
alla≈ì taràhu fì-l-samà" huwa alla≈ì taràhu fì-l-ar∂.’ fa-qàla al-ra<ul: ‘a“hadu annaka anta huwa
yà sayyidì’. fa-qàla [al-Íàdiq]: ‘ra˙imaka llàh, uktum hà≈à wa-là tu˙addi∆ bihi a˙adan ©ayra ahlihi
fa-yuriyannaka allàh maràrat ˙arr al-˙adìd’ (Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 9a, line 11-9b, line 6).
On this sect, see e.g. B. Lewis, The Origins of Isma'ilism (Cambridge, 1940), pp. 32-43;
Halm, Die Islamische Gnosis, pp. 199-217; F. Daftary, The Ismà'ìlìs: Their History and Doctrines
(Cambridge, 1990), pp. 88-89, 96-100; W. Madelung, “‡a††àbiyya,” EI
, vol. 4, pp.
Ibid., fol. 9a, lines 3-4.
On this renowned extremist ”ì'ì, see al-Ki““ì, Kitàb al-Ri<àl, pp. 310-311; Halm,
Die Islamische Gnosis, p. 217.
Ibid., fols. 10a, lines 8-10b, line 9.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 78b.
On these and other disciples of the twelve Imams, their roles as bàbs, and mira-
cles reported to have been performed by them, see Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 74a-95b (chaps.
17-18). See also the tradition in praise of Abù al-›a††àb in ibid., fols. 49b-50b. For sto-
ries on the miraculous powers of Abù al-›a††àb and his loyalty to the Nußayrì cause,
see ibid., fols. 88b-89b.
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bàb. The special status of the bàbs is here expounded through stories
of miracles performed by them. One may readily note the kinship
between historical figures, identified as bàbs of the Imams, and Salmàn
the Persian, the original bàb of 'Alì in his role as the first Imam. A
list of quasi-historical bàbs was thus constructed to accompany the first
eleven ”ì'ì Imams.
To this list were drafted prominent ©ulàt figures,
generally conforming to the chronology of the ”ì'ì Imams.
The ultimate bàb of this category is the eponymous founder of the
Nußaryì religion, Mu˙ammad b. Nußayr, regarded in Nußaryì tradition
as the bàb of the eleventh Imam, al-Óasan al-'Askarì. Al-ˇabarànì
assigns a prominent place to these two figures, emphasizing the eminent
role of the eleventh Imam and his bàb in the early history of the sect.
Whereas he devotes essentially cursory accounts to the first ten bàbs
and their miracles, the account of Ibn Nußayr is exceptionally elaborate,
being in fact the most detailed account on Ibn Nußayr known to us.
Al-ˇabarànì’s panegyric on Ibn Nußayr opens with a saying by a
certain 'Alì b. Óassàn,
depicted as “an authority among the unitari-
ans” (wa-huwa ∆iqa 'inda ahl al-taw˙ìd ).
In a dialogue between the two,
Ibn Óassàn addresses the Imam al-Óasan al-'Askarì with the following
“From whom should I learn the guide-posts of my religion, for opinions are many?”
Al-'Askarì answered: “From him whom the enemies of the ”ì'a (nàßiba) accuse of
”ì'ism (raf∂);
from him whom those who fell short (muqaßßira)
accuse of [uluww;
from him whom “those who exceedingly exalt [the Imams]” (murtafi'a)
denouncing him as heretic—seek him and you shall find in him the guide-posts
of your religion.
The twelfth Imam is not counted among the Imams in these traditions and there-
fore has no bàb. However, in Nußayrì eschatology, he retains some of his traditional
role as Mahdì.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 75a-83a. For similar lists see Nußayrì Catechism, in Bar-Asher-
Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 176-183 (questions 22-42).
He may be identified as 'Alì b. al-Óassàn al-Hà“ìmì, regarded as an entirely unre-
liable source (on him, see al-Ki““ì, Kitab al-Ri<àl, p. 383).
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 81a, lines 4-5.
For the notion of raf∂ and the title ràfi∂a or rawàfi∂ as one of the prevailing titles
of the ”ì'a in both ”ì'ì and non-”ì'ì sources, see E. Kohlberg, “The Term Ràfi∂a in
Early Imàmì Shì'ì Usage,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 99 (1979), pp. 677-679
(reprinted in idem, Belief and Law in Imàmì Shì'ism, Variorum [Aldershot, 1991], chap. 4).
On the appellation muqaßßira, see H. Modarressi, Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative
Period of Shi'ite Islam (Princeton, 1993), pp. 29, 35-37.
On this title, see ibid., p. 23.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 81a, lines 6-10. Cf. Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung bei den
Nußairì,” p. 104.
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'Alì b. Óassàn concludes by stating that he found no person deserving
of this definition save Mu˙ammad b. Nußayr. He then followed him
and found in him everything he had wished for.
This virtually amounts to a negative self-definition of the Nußayrì
identity according to the attitude of their external enemies. True religion
is identified by al-ˇabarànì as “the true ”ì'a” (“ì'at al-˙aqq),
being the
brand of ”ì'a denounced by “mainstream” ”ì'ism as heresy.
Nußayr, then, is portrayed here as the ultimate representative of this
higher ӓ'a and the religious sage par excellence.
Moreover, al-ˇabarànì recounts a story about two documents signed
by the Imam al-Óasan al-'Askarì, presenting Ibn Nußayr as the ulti-
mate bàb and “the intermediary between God and his servants” (al-
wàsi†a bayna Allàh wa-bayna 'ibàdihi ),
and thus implying the Imam’s
divinity. In fact Ibn Nußayr is portrayed here as the father of Nußayrì
Other traditions focus on Ibn Nußayr’s role as a missionary for the
Imam al-Óasan al-'Askarì. His propagandist activity became known to
the 'Abbàsid caliph al-Mu'tamid (reigned 870-892), alarming the Imam,
who promptly denounced Ibn Nußayr. The caliph, however, surpris-
ingly promoted and honoured Ibn Nußayr. The transmitter of this story
reports Ibn Nußayr’s explanation that al-'Askarì’s malediction was in
fact directed at Abù al-›a††àb rather than at him.
This tradition,
locating Ibn Nußayr in the circles of both al-Mu'tamid and al-'Askarì,
may also imply a certain rift between Ibn Nußayr and the Imam.
Of significance is a tradition presenting the rivalry between Ibn
Nußayr and Is˙àq al-A˙mar, the eponymous founder of the Is˙àqiyya,
Ibid., fols. 81a, lines 10-81b, line 2.
Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, p. 113, line 10. For similar self-appellations, such as “ì'at al-hudà
and al-“ì'a al-kubrà, see ibid., p. 112.
For the Nußayrì self-definition as the true ”ì'a, see also Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 101a,
lines 5-9.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 82a, lines 4-5.
Ibid., fol. 91b, lines 1-2.
Two other accounts, where Ibn Nußayr is reported to have magically repaired bro-
ken vessels, are presented to illustrate his miraculous powers. These tales are referred
to as the “story of the grail” (˙adì∆ al-qada˙) and the “story of the bowl” (¢abar al-qi˙f )
(Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 91b-93a). For similar miracle tales of Ibn Nußayr, see Ma<mù' al-
a'yàd, pp. 203-206.
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the competing sect of the Nußayriyya.
According to this tradition,
transmitted by Mu˙ammad b. Jundab—a personal aide of the Imam
al-Óasan al-'Askarì
—when a delegation of Persian horsemen paid a
visit to al-Óasan al-'Askarì, they found him dressed all in green, sur-
rounded by green mats and pillows, and next to him Ibn Nußayr, also
clad in green and holding a branch of myrtle (às).
With them was
Is˙àq al-A˙mar drowsing in the hallway. When Ibn Jundab entered
the hallway to summon the guests, he found Is˙àq reading to them
from a book. Entering and prostrating themselves before the Imam,
Is˙àq then told the guests to raise their heads and present their requests
to the Imam. They answered that they would not speak before being
granted permission by the Imam. The Imam then ordered them to
present their requests and to set forth what they had with them. Each
took out a dinar and offered it to the Imam. The Imam then directed
Ibn Nußayr to sign the coins and return them to their owners. Ibn
Nußayr obeyed and told each of them personally: “Take it, your request
has been fulfilled in it.” And behold, on one side of each coin was
written: “There is no god but the master al-Óasan al-'Askarì, his ism
Mu˙ammad, and his bàb Mu˙ammad [b. Nußayr],” and on the other
side: “There is no god but al-Óasan al-'Askarì, his ism Mu˙ammad,
and his bàb Abù Shu'ayb Mu˙ammad b. Nußayr b. Bakr al-Namìrì (or
al-Numayrì); whoever says otherwise is lying.” Is˙àq then told the Imam
that he should sign the coins, whereupon al-'Askarì answered: “Power
resides where the Almighty wills it” (˙allat al-qudra ˙ay∆u shà"a al-qàdir).
The Imam next ordered Ibn Nußayr to give a dinar to Is˙àq to read.
On the rivalry between the Nußayriyya and the Is˙àqiyya, see Bar-Asher-Kofsky,
The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 16-19.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 94a, line 1. Ibn ]undab is here called “the yatìm of the time”
( yatìm al-waqt). The yatìms (incomparables) are divine entities emanating from the bàb,
the third person of the trinity. The yatìms, like the persons of the trinity, are identified
with Muslim figures. On the place of the yatìms in Nußayrì theology, see Dussaud, Histoire
et religion des Noßairîs, pp. 68ff; Moosa, Extremist Shi'ites, pp. 357-361. Cf. Nußayrì Catechism,
in Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, p. 183 (question 42), where Ibn ]undab
is presented as the first yatìm of Ibn Nußayr.
On this plant and its usage in Nußayrì ceremonies, see e.g. Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, pp.
188, 201, 202, 208, 211; Al-A≈anì, al-Bàkùra al-Sulaymàniyya, Beirut edition, p. 37, Cairo
edition, p. 47. Myrtle branches also play an important role in Madaean ritual (see
E. Lupieri, The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics [Grand Rapids and Cambridge, 2002], pp.
15, 23, 25, 29).
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 95b, line 7.
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Upon looking at the coin Is˙àq’s complexion changed, becoming black
and then red (ta©ayyara lawnuhu wa-fa˙uma wa-˙marra). “The nation has
been destroyed” (halakat al-umma), he uttered, whereupon the Imam
replied: “It is rather you [who has been destroyed]” (i≈à kunta anta).
Is˙àq’s face reddened further. Ibn Jundab goes on to recount that the
four guests left the Imam, joyful, while Is˙àq, whenever he looked at
Ibn Nußayr, would become red in the face and turn aside his eyes
( ya˙marru wa<huhu wa-tazwarru 'aynuhu), being jealous of Ibn Nußayr’s
distinguished role as deputy and representative of the Imam.
Apart from enhancing the position of Ibn Nußayr as a confidant of
the eleventh Imam, this tradition clearly emphasizes the climate of
rivalry in the early years of the nascent Nußayriyya and the circum-
stances in which the sect emerged. Here the religious rivalry is pre-
sented as a mythical contest between two members of the inner circle
of al-Óasan al-'Askarì. Is˙àq’s inferior status is portrayed explicitly in
contradistinction to the status of al-'Askarì and Ibn Nußayr, who are
clad in green, the colour of the garments of the righteous in paradise.
The etiological nature of the story is clear, throwing light on the epi-
thet of the arch-rival Is˙àq “the red.” Moreover, al-ˇabarànì goes a
step further in presenting the role of Ibn Nußayr as the bàb of the
Imam, in a direct link with trinitarian symbolism. This is clearly expressed
in a unique formulation of a quasi “ahàda, inscribed on the two sides
of the coins. Al-'Askarì is pronounced God, that is, the incarnation of
the first person of the trinity, while Ibn Nußayr is essentially identified
with the third person of the trinity, that is, the incarnation of the bàb
Salmàn. It is noteworthy that in this scheme of Imams and their bàbs,
there is virtually no need for an ism, representing the second person of
the trinity. It seems that in such a context the ism is always one and
the same—namely, the archetypal ism, the Prophet Mu˙ammad. This
is apparently due to the original historical context of Imam and bàb
within Imàmì ”ì'ism, later combined with the tripartite trinitarian ter-
minology. In the later development of Nußayrì theology, however, a
special role was assigned to the ism in a complex concept explaining
the manifestation of the deity in the historical Imams.
Ibid., fols. 93b-95b. For another tradition on the rivalry between Ibn Nußayr and
Is˙àq al-A˙mar, see Risàlat al-“ay§ Ma˙mùd Ba'amra ibn al-Óusayn al-Nußayrì, in
R. Strothmann, “Esoterische Sonderthemen bei den Nusairi: Geschichten und Traditionen
von den heiligen Meistern aus dem Prophetenhaus,” Abhandlungen der deutschen Akademie
der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (Berlin 1958), p. 18 (of the Arabic text of Ms. Hamburg 303).
See Qur"àn 76 (al-insàn): 21.
On this role of the ism, see Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 31-32.
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This presentation of Ibn Nußayr does not mean that he should be
viewed as the person who actually moulded the nascent Nußayrì iden-
tity into an organized religious group with a distinct theology, a liturgy,
and social cohesion. This may have occurred in the following genera-
tion under the leadership of al-›aßìbì.
Nevertheless, it seems that Ibn
Nußayr should not be dismissed as a merely quasi-mythical figure who
was adopted into the reconstructed historical beginnings, shrouded in
mist, of Nußayrì religion.
Ritual Aspects
An antinomian stance toward Muslim law is a salient trait of the
Nußayriyya as well as of other radical groups that seceded from ”ì'ì
Islam. It is present to a certain extent in virtually all the Nußayrì texts
available to us. Most of these texts, however, do not elaborate on the
antinomian essence of specific religious commandments. Al-ˇabarànì’s
writings, especially Kitàb al-ma'àrif, stand out in their extensive presen-
tation of the antinomian dimension of Muslim law or, more precisely,
“the pillars of Islam” (arkàn al-islàm).
In five chapters (3-6, 13),
al-ˇabarànì deals with the inner knowl-
edge of four of the five pillars of Islam—that is prayer (ßalàt), alms giv-
ing (zakàt), fasting (ßawm) and pilgrimage (˙a<<). The absence here of a
discussion of the “ahàda, dealt with in several Nußayrì sources, is notice-
but not surprising, bearing in mind that the theme is normally
integral to a wider discussion of the doctrine of the trinity, the core of
Nußàyrì theology.
As with his strategy in Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, the author opens his discussion
by referring to Muslim canonical sources, thus creating an impression
On the prominent role of al-›aßìbì as the real founder of the Nußayrì religion,
see e.g. Strothmann in his introduction to Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, p. 7; H. Halm, Shiism, trans-
lated by J. Watson (Edinburgh, 1991), p. 159; Y. Friedman, “al-Husayn ibn Hamdàn
al-›asìbì: A Historical Biography of the Founder of the Nusayrì-'Alawite Sect,” Studia
Islamica 93 (2001), pp. 91-111.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 10b-30b, 59b-62b.
See Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 27, 84, 117.
This may reflect a radical development within ”ì'ì doctrine, whereby the “ahàda
was viewed as integral to the tenet of walàya (allegiance) to the Imams. The “ahàda thus
belongs to the sphere of theology rather than ritual. On this, see J. Eliash, “On the
Genesis and Development of the Twelver-Shì'ì Three-Tenet Shahàda,” Der Islam 47
(1971), pp. 265-272; M.M. Bar-Asher, Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imàmì Shiism ( Jerusalem
and Leiden, 1999), pp. 196-199; M.A. Amir-Moezzi, “Notes à propos de la walâya
imamite: Aspects de l’imamologie duodécimaine X,” Journal of the American Oriental Society
122 (2002), pp. 722-741.
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58 vrin v. n.n-.snrn .xr .nvrn korskv
of a binding commitment to them. Soon, however, his discussion is
channelled in a sectarian direction, propounding his esoteric antinomian
understanding of Islam. As in the Druze canonical epistle al-naq∂ al-
al-ˇabarànì’s treatment of the pillars of Islam is tantamount to
a militant attack against the external facets of religious law. The exclu-
sively esoteric antinomian nature of religious law—as both the Druze
author and al-ˇabarànì maintain—is carried to the extreme of denying
its positive value, thus emptying the Muslim commandments of meaning
and transforming them into a merely spiritual code. Moreover, citing
a saying ascribed to al-Íàdiq, al-ˇabarànì goes so far as to assert that
the precepts of fasting, prayer, pilgrimage, and holy war are demonic,
leading to perdition. Obeying these commandments is therefore tanta-
mount to polytheism.
Al-ˇabarànì opens his treatment of the pillars of Islam with a brief
discussion on prayer, referring the reader to a treatise by a certain Abù
al-Óusayn Mu˙ammad, most probably his teacher, al-]illì. The point
of departure is a saying, ascribed to the Prophet, that “He who has
no prayer has no religion” (man là ßalàt lahu là dìna lahu).
This is fol-
lowed by the pertinent Qur"ànic verses spelling out the duty of prayer,
such as Q. 4(al-nisà"):103, “Surely prayer is a timed prescription for the
believers” (inna al-ßalàt kànat 'alà al-mu"minìna kitàban mawqùtan).
The author proceeds to discuss the inner essence of prayer, thus clar-
ifying that his earlier statement regarding the duty of prayer is merely
nominal. Al-ˇabarànì elaborates on the common Nußayrì concept that
the inner meaning of the five daily prayers constitutes knowledge of the
five persons of the holy family—namely, Mu˙ammad, Fà†ima, Óasan,
Óusayn, and Mu˙sin (or Mu˙assin)—as part of the divine realm.
See epistle VI (al-kitàb al-ma'rùf bi-l-naq∂ al-§afì) of the Druze canon. For an unpub-
lished critical edition of this epistle, see D.R.W. Bryer, “The Origins of the Druze
Religion: An Edition of Óamza’s Writings and an Analysis of his Doctrine,” D. Phil.
diss., University of Oxford, 1971, vol. 2, pp. 31-50 (the Arabic text), and vol. 1, pp.
226-227 (a discussion of the text). See also, S. de Sacy, Exposé de la religion des Druzes
(Paris, 1838), vol. 2, p. 673.
“Iyyàka an tuqìma “ay"an min ≈àt al-radà. Qultu: ‘<u'iltu fidàka, wa-mà ≈àt al-radà?’ qàla:
‘min hà≈ihi al-∂udùd’ Qultu: ‘mà hà≈ihi al-∂udùd?’ qàla: ‘min ßawm wa-ßalàt wa-˙a<< aw <ihà-
dan (!)’ fa-man aqàmahunna mutadayyinan bi-hinna fa-qad itta§a≈a ma'a llàh ilàhan” (Kitàb al-
ma'àrif, fols. 101b, line 8-102a, line 1).
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 10b, line 11.
Ibid., fol. 11a, line 1.
Ibid., fol. 11b, line 8. On this concept, see also Taqì al-Dìn ibn Taymiyya’s legal
opinion on the Nußayrìs, in S. Guyard, “Le Fetwa d’Ibn Taymiyyah sur les Noßairis,”
Journal asiatique 8 (1871), pp. 162-178, at p. 162. The tendency to identify religious pre-
ARAB648DS_Kofsky_43-65 1/25/05 4:49 PM Page 58
roov. .xr ni+t.r ix KITÀB AL-MA'ÀRIF 59
the equation between prayer and religion in the aforementioned say-
ing of the Prophet, al-ˇabarànì now substitutes knowledge of the sec-
ond person of the trinity for prayer: “He who does not truly know the
master mìm (= Mu˙ammad) has no religion” (man là ya'rifu al-sayyid al-
mìm bi-˙aqìqatihi fa-là dìna lahu).
This principle of allegorical interpretation is further applied to a
series of Qur"ànic verses concerning prayer. Notable is al-ˇabarànì’s
commentary on Q. 29(al-'ankabùt):45 “Prayer forbids indecency and dis-
honour” (inna al-ßalàt tanhà 'an al-fa˙shà" wa-l-munkar). The author refutes
the literal sense of the verse, arguing that “the external prayer neither
commands nor forbids; it is rather the ism who commands and forbids,
and he is the ruler of the whole kingdom” (al-ßalàt al-Ωàhira ©ayr àmira
wa-là nàhiya wa-innamà al-sayyid al-ism al-àmir wa-l-nàhì wa-huwa al-mud-
abbir li-<amì' al-mulk).
Unsurprisingly, and in line with ”ì'ì typological
exegesis, “the indecency and dishonour” mentioned in the verse are
interpreted as applying to the first two caliphs, who are “the root of
every falsification and the head of every hypocrisy” (aßl kull zùr wa-ra"s
kull nifàq).
The allegorical and symbolic tendency of the author is implemented
in detail in his exposition of the inner knowledge of the laws of ablu-
tion preceding prayer. The specific acts of purification and the parts
of the body involved are perceived as a unified complex indicating the
hierarchical and dynamic structure of the realm of emanation. Thus
purification of the face indicates the emanation of the ism from the
ma'nà; the five facial cavities symbolize the manifestation of the ism in
the five persons of the holy family; and the fingers and the elbows rep-
resent lower masculine emanations while the toes stand for lower fem-
inine emanations. Consistent with the principle of the inadmissibility
of feminine figures into the divine realm, they are first neutralized of
their femininity before being admitted into the divine sphere.
for al-ˇabarànì the ears symbolize Zaynab and Ruqayya, the daughters
cepts with certain persons was widespread among early ”ì'ì groups of the “gnostic”
type. See e.g.: “Religion is indeed knowledge of persons” (inna al-dìn innamà huwa ma'ri-
fat al-ri<al ) (al-Íaffàr al-Qummì, Baßà"ir al-dara<àt, p. 526).
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 11b, lines 9-11.
Ibid., fols. 12a, line 10-12b, line 1.
Ibid. fol. 12b, lines 3-4. For a ”ì'ì typological interpretation of this and similar
verses on the first two caliphs, see Bar-Asher, Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imàmì Shiism,
pp. 104-120.
See Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 37 (note 144), 144-145.
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of the Prophet, and their cleansing stands for the neutralization of their
Finally, al-ˇabarànì refers to the ”ì'ì law of wiping the feet (al-mas˙
'alà al-qadamayn) instead of washing them as required by Sunnì law.
Wiping the feet and abstaining from washing them signifies for the
author the inferior degree of the defeminized woman in the divine
world as well.
The principle that the inner meaning of the pillars of Islam is the
knowledge of divine mystery is similarly applied to the commandments
of alms giving, pilgrimage, and fasting. Al-ˇabarànì’s discussion of the
first two commandments does not add substantially—beyond certain
details—to his overall antinomian interpretation of Muslim law.
ˇabarànì’s discussion of the fast, however, is notable in its extremely
radical concept of the sectarian dimension of this commandment.
As with his discussion in Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, al-ˇabarànì presents the
fast essentially as abstinence from speech rather than from food.
anchors this interpretation in a tradition describing 'Abd Allàh b. 'Abd
al-Mu††alib, the father of Mu˙ammad, maintaining silence during the
month of Ramadan. This understanding of the fast further relies on
Q. 19(Maryam):26, referring to Mary’s vow of fasting and silence, and
to the avowed silence of Zecharia, father of John the Baptist (Q. 3[àl
'imràn]:42, and 19[Maryam]:10-11).
In other words, al-ˇabarànì’s view
here is an explicit case of antinomian interpretation of the fast. A sim-
ilar antinomian interpretation of the fast was advocated in Ismà'ìlì and
Druze writings.
According to al-›aßìbì as cited by al-ˇabarànì, 'Abd
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 17b, lines 10-11.
On the Sunnì-”ì'ì controversy regarding this issue, see e.g. C. Pellat, “al-Mas˙ 'alà
al-¶uffayn,” EI
, vol. 6, 700-710; E. Kohlberg, “Some Imàmì Shì'ì Views on Taqiyya,”
Journal of the American Oriental Society 95 (1975), pp. 305-402 (reprinted in Belief and Law
in Imàmì Shì'ism, chap. 3); A.R. Lalani, Early Shì'ì Thought: The Teachings of Imam Mu˙ammad
al-Bàqir (London, 2000), pp. 120-121. For this debate in ”ì'ì Qur"àn exegesis, see M.M.
Bar-Asher, “Variant Readings and Additions of the Imàmì-”i'a to the Quran,” Israel
Oriental Studies 13 (1993), pp. 56-57.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 18b, lines 1-2.
For his brief discussion of alms giving, see ibid., fols. 12b-13a; for his more detailed
discussion of pilgrimage, see ibid., fols. 23b-30b.
Ibid., fols. 18b-21b. See also Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, pp. 12-17; Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The
Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp. 114-117.
Qur"àn commentators are unanimous that according to the context of the verse
this fast refers to Mary’s silence.
See epistle VI (al-kitàb al-ma'rùf bi-l-naq∂ al-§afì) of the Druze canon in Bryer, “The
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Allàh demonstrated in his conduct the various common observances
practised during Ramadan, anticipating the revelation of “the greatest
master Mu˙ammad” (al-sayyid al-akbar Mu˙ammad), who is identified here
with the Qur"àn.
Within the context of Ramadan, 'Abd Allàh represents
the proscriptions for the month—that is, the Muslim ritual aspects of
the fast, whereas Mu˙ammad stands for the breaking of the fast ( fi†r).
In other words, Mu˙ammad stands for the antinomian abolition of the
religious proscriptions of the holy month.
Here however al-ˇabarànì’s interpretation of the fast is considerably
more radical: abstinence from speech no longer signifies only a contem-
plative silence; rather, it represents the prime religious commandment
of taqiyya, now perceived as the inner meaning of the fast. The aim of
the mandatory silence is to preclude any divulgence of religious secrets
to the uninitiated. A saying ascribed to the Prophet, “The believer is
constantly in a state of fast” (al-mu"min ßà"im abadan), is accordingly inter-
preted as the existential state of the believer being in continuous taqiyya.
As often in his treatment of other topics, al-ˇabarànì also sets this
fast of taqiyya—characterizing the new, vulnerable religious minority—
in an eschatological context. Taqiyya as the inner meaning of the fast
endures until the eschatological summons. Al-ˇabarànì accordingly inter-
prets the Qur"ànic command (Q. 2[al-baqara]:187) “complete the fast
unto the night” (wa-atimmù al-ßiyàm ilà al-layl), in line with this eschato-
logical context: “The meaning of the fast is taqiyya whereas its break-
ing is the declared revelation of secrets and the exit from the state of
taqiyya” (ma'nà al-ßawm al-taqiyya wa-l-if†àr huwa al-taßrì˙ wa-l-§urù< min al-
The eschatological meaning of ' ìd al-fi†r as the day of
Origins of the Druze Religion:,” vol. 2, pp. 43-46. For an Ismà'ìlì interpretation of fast-
ing as silence, see e.g. the Ismà'ìlì da' ìs Abù Óanìfa al-Nu'màn b. Mu˙ammad al-
Tamìmì al-Ma©ribì (d. 363/973-4), Ta"wìl al-da'à"im, edited by 'A. Tàmir (Beirut,
1415/1995), vol. 2, pp. 119-122; 'Alì b. Mu˙ammad al-Walìd (d. 612/1215) in his Kitàb
tà< al-'aqà"id wa-ma'dan al-fawà"id, edited by 'A. Tàmir (Beirut, 1967), pp. 140-141.
The theological notion of identifying Mu˙ammad, the second person of the trin-
ity, with the Qur"àn as the word of God—a concept reminiscent of the Logos of
Christian theology—is not familiar to us from other Nußayrì texts. Yet, it may be con-
ceived of as complementary to the various terms denoting the ism.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 22a. Cf. Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, p. 13, lines 10-12. On this role of
Mu˙ammad, see the discussion of ' ìd al-fi†r in Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion,
pp. 117-118.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 19a, line 3.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 19a, lines 9-10. Cf. Ibn Taymiyya: “the mandatory fast is [for
the Nußayrìs] the [obligation] to conceal their secrets” (wa-l-ßiyàm al-mafrù∂ kitmàn asràri-
him); see Guyard, “Le Fetwa d’Ibn Taymiyyah sur les Noßairis,” p 168.
roov. .xr ni+t.r ix KITÀB AL-MA'ÀRIF 61
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abolition of secrecy, when Nußayrì believers will declare their religion
openly, is specified in Ma<mù' al-a'yàd.
The eschatological era and
the end of taqiyya will take place with the liberation of the believers
from the demonic reign (dawlat al-∂idd) unequivocally identified with
Sunnì rule. This liberation is tantamount to the end of the fast denot-
ing two complementary aspects: on the one hand abolition of taqiyya,
on the other—public manifestation of religious antinomianism hitherto
camouflaged under the veil of taqiyya.
External Versus Internal Taqiyya
The significance of taqiyya as a strategy of religious survival in most ”ì'ì
factions is well known and has received ample scholarly treatment,
notably in two studies by Etan Kohlberg.
The concept of taqiyya is
widespread in Nußayrì writings as well, reflecting an attitude basically
similar to that common in ”ì'ism. However, al-ˇabarànì’s discussion of
the concept of taqiyya in Kitàb al-ma'àrif reveals some uncommon aspects
of this doctrine.
Opening his discourse on taqiyya, the author explicitly states the
supremacy of inner faith—that is, Nußayrì antinomian gnosis—as a pre-
requisite for religious liberation. However, observance of the external
manifestations of religion in the presence of non-Nußayrìs—which may
be characterized, according to Kohlberg’s classification, as a form of
“prudential taqiyya”
—is mandatory. These non-Nußayrìs are referred
to by the somewhat vague term 'àmma (the masses),
which in our
text seems to refer to both ”ì'ìs—later on named ]a'fariyya—and
Sunnìs. A perfect dissimulation of external devotion, exceeding that of
Ma<mù' al-a'yàd, p. 23 lines 7-8; Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì Religion, pp.
On the realization of the eschatological abolition of taqiyya and religious law in
Ismà'ìlism, see e.g. B. Lewis, The Assassins: A Radical Sect in Islam (London, 1967), pp.
72-73; C. Jambet, La grande résurrection d’Alamût: les formes de la liberté dans le shî’isme ismaélien
(Paris-Lagrace, 1990), pp. 95-131.
E. Kohlberg, “Some Imàmì Shì'ì Views on Taqiyya”; idem, “Taqiyya in Shì'ì
Theology and Religion,” in Secrecy and Concealment: Studies in the History of Mediterranean
and Near Eastern Religions, edited by H.G. Kippenberg and G. Stroumsa (Leiden, 1995),
pp. 345-380. Most Zaydìs, however, were opposed to the doctrine of taqiyya. See Kohlberg,
“Taqiyya in Shì'ì Theology,” p. 354, note 50.
Ibid., p. 345.
For the term 'àmma, commonly used in ”ì'ì sources to denote the Sunnìs, see
E. Kohlberg, “'Àmma,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 1, pp. 976-977.
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ordinary Muslims, is further required of the Nußayrì believer. “He is
not one of us,” declares the author, “who, being in a crowd of forty
[Muslim] people, does not externally behave more piously than the rest
of them” (man kàna fì qabìlatin fìhà arba'ùna ra<ulan là yakùnu Ωàhiruhu
awra'a minhum).
In his endeavour to establish the paramount importance of taqiyya,
the author goes so far as to state that manifest performance of Muslim
religious duties among Muslims is credited with a similar value to that
of the inner core of religion. Such a believer will be rewarded for both
his religious dissimulation and his internal faith; whereas he who neglects
both conduct according to taqiyya and the inner content of religion is
devoid of faith.
Having established the necessity for taqiyya among non-Nußayrìs, the
author warns against an existing tendency that is familiar, albeit uncom-
mon in Imàmì circles,
to apply this principle among the initiated and
even in seclusion—namely, in situations where the believer is not directly
exposed to external danger. This is epitomized in a saying ascribed to
al-Íàdiq: “He who performs [the religious commandments] in secret is
similar to him who publicly abandons them; and he who publicly aban-
dons them is like him who performs them [in secret]” (al-muqìmu lahà
sirran ka-l-tàrik lahà 'alàniyatan; wa-l-tàrik lahà 'alàniyatan, ka-l-muqìm lahà).
The implicit logic of al-ˇabarànì’s argument is that the ubiquitous
practice of taqiyya virtually annuls the primary value of this concept.
He then, as is his wont, exemplifies this principle by a series of anec-
dotes, three of which are presented here. The first, taken from an
anonymous work by al-Íà"i©, recounts a story of three believers who
visited the Imam al-Íàdiq. The Imam lodged them in one of his houses,
supplying them daily with three pomegranates
containing all the
desired flavours. Another believer arrived and was given accommoda-
tion up with them. The believers, noticing that the Imam had ignored
his new guest and had denied him any food, wondered about it.
Miraculously appearing, the Imam explained to them that the reason
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 100b, lines 2-4.
Ibid., lines 6-8: “Man ista'mala al-Ωàhir ©ayr “àkkan (!) fì-l-bà†in a∆àbau llàh al-Ωàhir
wa-l-bà†in, wa-man taraka al-Ωàhir wa-l-bà†in salabahu llàh al-ìmàn <amì'an.”
Kohlberg, “Some Imàmì Shì'ì Views on Taqiyya,” p. 397; idem, “Taqiyya in Shì'ì
Theology,” p. 364.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 102a, lines 1-3.
For the pomegranate as a symbol of esoteric knowledge in ӓ'ism, see Bar-Asher,
Scripture and Exegesis in Early Imàmì Shiism, pp. 150-151.
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for this behaviour was that “your brother had practiced taqiyya in soli-
tude” (inna a§àkum yuqìmu al-taqiyya fì-l-§alawàt). The Imam then disap-
peared. Perceiving his misconduct, the rebuked brother repented and
subsequently received nourishment.
Another account tells of one of “the elite of the ”ì'a” ('àliyat al-“ì'a)
in Sàmarrà" who received a certain guest named Íàli˙ al-Nìlì. They
spent the day eating, drinking, and studying. When the time of the
evening prayer arrived, the host started praying while al-Nìlì was still
drinking and wandering around the house. The following day, the host
paid a visit to 'Alì al-Hàdi, the tenth Imam. Smiling, the Imam gen-
tly reproached his disciple: “Your friend [who was with you] yesterday
knows God better than you” (kàna ßà˙ibuka al-bàri˙ata a'rafa bi-llàh minka).
Finally, al-ˇabarànì recounts a tradition about al-Mufa∂∂al b. 'Umar
and a group of disciples of al-Íàdiq who gathered in an attic to drink
wine and study. As they were drinking and talking, their master (al-
Íàdiq) suddenly descended on them from the roof, carrying a wreath
of marigolds (bàq min al-a≈aryùn).
Al-Íàdiq addressed them with a say-
ing in Persian,
followed by a formula in Arabic—similar to formu-
las familiar from other sources—permitting the ritual drinking of wine:
“It is permitted to you among yourselves, but prohibited to you among
others (˙alàlan lakum ma'akum, ˙aràmun lakum ma'a ©ayrikum).”
These three anecdotes amply demonstrate al-ˇabarànì’s admonition
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fols. 102a, lines 5-102b, line 7.
Ibid., fols. 103a, lines 1-103b, line 1.
For the use of marigolds (a≈aryùn) in the Nawrùz Nußayrì festival, see e.g. Ma<mù'
al-a'yàd, pp. 188, 201, 202, 208, 211.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 103b, lines 7-8. The corrupt Persian text reads “à§ar bà“ wa-
da§àz andakàn (n∏KÎNa z∏"du =∏B ‰"∏+). Our colleague M.A. Amir-Moezzi has proposed the
plausible reading “àd bà“ wa-ra<à" az andakàn aaaaaan∏KÎNaza˘∏Jru =∏B d∏+ (be happy and
have hope in the few), appropriate to the context of the discussion on taqiyya. On the
”ì'ì motif of praising the few as custodians of religious truth, see 'Alì b. Mu˙ammad
al-Walìd, Kitàb tà< al-'aqà"id wa-ma'dan al-fawà"id, pp. 125-126 (“truth lies within the small
group” [ fì anna al-˙aqq fì-l-firqa al-qalìla]); E. Kohlberg, “In Praise of the Few,” in Studies
in Islamic and Middle Eastern Texts and Traditions in Memory of Norman Calder, edited by J.R.
Hawting, G.A. Mojaddedi, and A. Samely (Oxford, 2000), pp. 149-162.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 103b, lines 8-9. Cf. e.g. Bar-Asher-Kofsky, The Nußayrì-'Alawì
Religion, p. 169, with note 26. Elsewhere, in a similar context, al-Íàdiq is said to have
referred explicitly to the sacred wine imbibed by his disciples by its cultic appellation
'abd al-nùr (servant of light). Entering a study session and asking his disciples the rea-
son for their gathering, they replied: “We are drinking 'abd al-nùr, contemplating through
it the science of your unity” (natanàwalu 'abda al-nùr wa-nata≈àkaru 'alayhi 'ilma taw˙ìdika).
Al-Íàdiq then commended them on their conduct, saying: “Be as you are, and not oth-
erwise” (hàka≈à kùnù wa-illà—fa-là) (Kitàb al-ma'àrif, fol. 67b, lines 3-7).
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against erroneous excessive practice of taqiyya. The common denomi-
nator of the three exempla is that performing taqiyya among believers
and in solitude undermines the very purpose of this concept.
Kitàb al-ma'àrif serves al-ˇabarànì’s enterprise of furnishing the Nußayrì
sect in its formative phase with a corpus of religious paideia. Though
written as a compendium of religious issues, the author elaborates cer-
tain theological and liturgical aspects. The theological stance advocated
by al-ˇabarànì regarding the central dogma of the divine manifesta-
tion in human form is closer to the Christian dogma of incarnation
than it is to docetic concepts.
The doctrine of divine incarnation in pre-Islamic figures, in the holy
”ì'ì family and in the Imams of the Twelver branch is familiar from
other Nußayrì sources—such as the polemical treatise of al-Na““àbì and
the Nußayrì catechism. Kitàb al-ma'àrif, however, is marked by its unequiv-
ocal advocation of this incarnation theology and its elaborate applica-
tion to the Imams and their bàbs, particularly Ibn Nußayr. The prominence
of the latter in Kitàb al-ma'àrif is unparalleled in other sources familiar
to us.
Finally noteworthy are al-ˇabarànì’s antinomianism—already famil-
iar from his Ma<mù' al-a'yàd—radically applied in Kitàb al-ma'àrif to the
fundamental commandments of Islam; and his somewhat uncommon
perception of taqiyya. These amount to an overall transformation of the
meaning and practice of Islam, defining the new religious identity as
the true ӓ'a, reminiscent of antinomian Pauline Christianity and its
self-definition as verus Israel.
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