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-(YISM

T ^ s v e P t W ^ .

B E L I E F S A N D

by

Caesar

E.

Farah,

Ph.D.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA

B a r r o n ' s E d u c a t i o n a l Series, I n c . WOODBURY, NEW YORK

CHAPTER

Heterodoxy

and

Orthodoxy

THE OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Muslims today subscribe

175 SHI'ITES one impact they all had in common was to distract from the theological, political, and consequently social unity of Islam. The first blow to Islamic unity took place twenty-five years after Muhammad's death; and it was the result of political, not religious, considerations which arose from Mu'awiyah's desire to wrest the caliphate from cAli, Muhammad's son-in-law, the fourth and last of the Orthodox Caliphs. Mu'awiyah was then Muslim governor of Damascus, and the son of Abu-Sufyan, Muhammad's chief Meccan opponent, the Umayyad head of the Qurayshite-ruled Meccan commonwealth, who was intensely disliked by many Muslims who had suffered strong privations at his hands before the conquest. In the ensuing first civil war in Islam, cAli won the battle (Siffin, 657) but lost the aftermath when he was compelled to submit to arbitration the matter of his caliphate, which he legally possessed, at the behest of the claimant Mulwiyah. Kharijites A group of cAli's followers, mostly desert Arabs inspired by the democratic free spirit of their environment, objected to cAli compromising his stand by responding to the appeal for arbitration and broke away from him, insisting that there should have been no appeal save to the Book of Allah. These, known later as Khawarij (Kharijites), went a step further and insisted that the caliph should be elected from all Muslims, not just the Quraysh. They turned on fellow Muslims and hunted them down as renegades, refusing to have social intercourse with those who did not share their religio-political views and went so far as to put to death the children of unbelievers. A moderate faction of the Khawarij known as Ibadis, named after the leader 'Abdullah ibn-Ibad, still exists today in parts of Algeria, East Africa, and Oman. Shiites Another party, mostly city Arabs influenced by Persian ideas, clung to cAli with worshipful affection insisting that only he and

to Islam of the Sunnah or Sunni Islam with its faithful adherence to the doctrine evolved in the nascent Medinan period of Islam under the four Orthodox Caliphs. Subscribers to this doctrine are known as orthodox or "Sunnis," and they constitute over eighty-five per cent of all those who call themselves Muslims today. The Sunnis form one major sect but juridically they may belong to one of four recognized rites or madhahib (sing. madhhaby. Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi, or Hanbali. An adherent may pass from one into the other without ceasing to be known as an orthodox or Sunni Muslim. Heterodoxy in Islam owes its origin basically to two historical factors. One resulted from political challenges to existing authority, with the disputing parties invariably taking on the sanctity of religious protection and thus giving rise to a multitude of sects. The other resulted from attempts to provide rational bases for the basic tenets of the faith, leading to the proliferation of philosophical schools of approach to theological beliefs. This trend was abetted by efforts to reduce the rather legalistic and somewhat impersonal implements of the faith to a more personal experience, thus encouraging the mystical approach to religion. The 174

w 176 H E T E R O D O X Y A N D O R T H O D O X Y his descendants had the legitimate right to be caliphs. They were undoubtedly influenced by the divine-right-monarchy concepts of pre-Islamic Persia and were joined by Persians on a permanent basis after 1500. They called themselves Shfat CAU (The partisans of cAli) to be known later as plain "Shfah" or "Shfites." They are today the largest single sect next to the Sunnis, constituting about fourteen per cent of the total, and numbering no more than sixty million, including all splinter and radical groups. Shfism for all practical purposes is the religion of Iran, modern Persia, and over fifty per cent of the Muslims of Iraq are also Shrite. During the Umayyad caliphate they, like other religious minorities, particularly the Christian, were tolerated and left primarily to themselves. The early Umayyads put up with them because they were anxious to enlarge their secular powers and expand their dominions. Indeed, the Umayyad caliphs with the exception of cUmar II were considered by their adversaries as "irreligious" and "unpious." This toleration, however, soon disappeared under the cAbbasids when the Shfah had helped wrest the caliphate from the Umayyads in 750. One hundred years later in 850 the caliph al-Mutawakkil became particularly harsh with the Shfah, destroying their venerated shrines: the tombs of cAli at Najaf and his more venerated son Husayn at Karbala'. In the ensuing atmosphere of increasing hostility, the Shfah in their bid for survival began to practice dissimulation (taqiyak), that is, they outwardly purported to be espousing other than what actually constituted their real beliefs. Unlike the Sunnis who were loyal to the duly empowered caliph, the Shfahs professed loyalty to an Imam, leader or guide, who was a direct descendant of cAli, on the grounds that cAli allegedly had inherited from the Prophet both his spiritual and secular sovereignty, i.e., the power both to interpret and to enforce the canon law. Thus in the place of the secular guide of the Sunnis whose religious authority was confined solely to setting an example of pietylong absent with few exceptions after the third caliph of Islamthe Shfahs recognized an Imam who, until his disappearance, was regarded as an infallible teacher and the only SHI'ITES 177

source of religious instruction and guidance. When the twelfth Imam mysteriously disappeared, the collective body of Shicah c ulam% (ulema) began to exercise the prerogatives of his office pending his expected return. The infallibility of the Imam's teachings, according to Shfah conceptions of divine successorship, comes first from Allah, then from His chosen mouthpiece Muhammad, then cAli, and finally his legitimate descendants. By reason of kinship with Muhammad through blood and marriage of his daughter Fatimah, cAli not only sired the Prophet's' only grandsons, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, but initiated at the same time a "legitimate" line of successorship divinely ordained and guided. The line from Husayn produced nine of the twelve Imams acknowledged by the main body of the Shfahs, commonly known as "Twelvers" (lihna 'AshariyaK). Their fate, however, was not very pleasantfour died of poison, and most of the others either fell in battle against the caliphs or were executed for sedition. The twelfth, youthful Muhammad, simply disappeared in 878 in the cave of the great mosque at Samarra without leaving any heir. Hence he has become known as the Muntazar (awaited) Imam whose return will usher in the golden era of true Islam shortly before the end of this world. Thus the messianic concept so dear to Christianity finds an equivalent of a sort among the Persians of today, as it had with their spiritual predecessors of yesteryears like the Zoroastrians and related sectarians. This hidden Imam, who is not dead but merely in a stage of occultation, is destined to reappear as the "Mahdi." Some false alarms had been sounded by the famous Mahdi of the Sudan at the end of the last century, and a little earlier by the so-called "Bab" (lit. "the gateway," that is, to the Mahdi's reappearance) whose movement inside Persia was ruthlessly suppressed but succeeded in flourishing outside the country in such areas as Chicago and Los Angeles under the guise of Baha'ism. The Twelvers' variety of Shfism was formally and forcibly imposed on a then predominantly Sunni Persia by the early Safawid Shahs in the year 1502. These Shahs subsequently claimed themselves to be descendants of the seventh Imam, Musa

178 H E T E R O D O X Y A N D O R T H O D O X Y al-Kazim, each regarding himself as a place-holder (locum tenens) of the hidden Imam until such time as he chooses to return. His spokesmen and intermediaries are the mujtahids, the interpreters of dogma who have been serving in the capacity of higher theologians. Ismailis It is important to note that Shllsm opened the floodgates for the overwhelming majority of the splinter sects, no less than seventy-three according to tradition, that sprang into being in subsequent centuries. One sect that agrees with the Twelvers is the Ismalli or "Seveners"; they honor the line of succession down to the sixth Imam, Ja'far al-Sadiq (d. 765), then regard his eldest son Ismail (d. 760) as the seventh (whence the appellation "Seveners") and last Imam.1 He too in the eyes of his followers is the ImamMahdi who becomes the hidden leader and whose return they await. Both in their cosmogony and in their religious beliefs generally, the Ismailis reflect a very pronounced influence derived from Greek philosophy in its primitive stage of development. The Pythagorean system with its stress on the number "seven" was consecrated by the Ismailis who have predicated all cosmic and historical developments on the number seven. Neo-Platonism imparted to them the conception of gnostic knowledge through emanation in seven stages: (1) God; (2) the universal mind (faql); (3) the universal soul (najs); (4) primeval matter; (5) space; (6) time; (7) the world of earth and man. The Ismailis acknowledge the prophet-legislator roles of seven prophets2 who are considered founders; but the position of others, treated as "silent" legislators,3 seven in between each set of two of the founders, is also respected. Next and parallel but at a lower level come the propagandizers Qiujjah') and simple missionaries (sing. While Sunni Islam, with its emphasis on the fulfillment of the law (Sharf c ah) and of duties, was essentially non-proselytic, the non-Sunnis and especially the Ismailis actively labored to gain followers. They sent missionaries throughout the world

QARMATIANS

179

of Islam to preach their esoteric (hatini~)- doctrine, an activity which had a drastic effect on Islamic society and reflected one of the most pronounced facets of religio-political internecine conflict in Islam. The esoteric of inner doctrine would look beyond the outward manifestation, insisting that the apparent Qzahir) is merely a camouflage of the true inner meaning which is purposely hidden from the non-initiates. Such an interpretation is quite familiar to the land where Gnosticism was first announced to the world. The Sunnis, on the other hand, pay strict attention to the literal pronouncements of the Qur'an since to them it is the unembellished word of God. But the Ismailis and other sectarians subscribing to their views argue that one must look beyond the manifestations of expressed words and seek the inner meaning of the verses. This bold proposition is only one step removed from that sore spot of controversy among Muslims which revolved around the classical debate of whether the Qur'an was or was not created. Some historians5 argue that behind this seemingly religious controversy lies a subtle political plot, an attempt by Persians overwhelmed in Islam to undermine Arab hegemony. 'Abdullah the son of Maymun al-Qaddah (d. ca. 874) of Ahwaz (Persia) not only perfected the Ismalli religio-political system, but also used his religious doctrine to exploit Arab-Persian enmity in the hope of destroying the caliphate and gaining political hegemony for himself and his descendants. His pattern of scheming gave birth eventually to the Fatimid dynasty of Egypt and Tunisia; and one of his disciples, Hamdan Qarmat, a peasant of Iraq, gave birth to the movement named after him, the Qarmatian. Qarmatians The Qarmatians appealed to native masses, both artisans and peasants, Persians and Arabs. The movement, bearing a sectarian coloring, appeared to revive the ancient feud between the townsman and the nomad. Admission to this predominantly communistic sect sharing in property and wives was by initiation. The Qarmatians made use of an allegorical catechism which derived