5. The Nusayris Religious System: The Concept of God

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The Nusayri Religious System

The Concept of God

 

The fundamental article of the religion of the Nusayris is the absolute oneness of God, who is self-existent and eternal. Like other Gulat, the Nusayris believe in God without attempting to define His existence, essence, or attributes, either philosophically or theologically. Like the Ahl –al-Haqq[1], the Nusayris believe that this God appeared on earth seven times in human form. The two sects each name seven different forms, however; the one form they both name is Ali.

 

In the Nusayri catechism known as Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, the fourth question asks how often our lord (Ali) changed his form and showed himself in the likeness of man. The answer is seven times:

  1. He took the name of Abel and took Adam as his veil.
  2. He took the name Seth and took Noah as his veil.
  3. He took the name Joseph and took Jacob as his veil.
  4. He took the name Joshua and took Moses as his veil.
  5. He took the name Asaf and took Solomon as his veil.
  6. He took the name Simon Peter and took Jesus as his veil.
  7. He took the name Ali and took Muhammad as his veil.[2]

As the last manifestation of the Deity, Ali was the consummate reality, in all the preceding manifestations found their ultimate end and completion.[3]

 

This God who appeared in seven human forms is a single entity, but first is called the Mana (Meaning); theologically, it signifies the causal determent who is the source and meaning of all this. This Mana created the second person, the Ism (Name), who created the third person, the Bab (Door). Thus, in each of His seven manifestations, God had with Him two other persons through whom He became completely manifested to mankind. Together with God, these two persons form an indivisible trinity:

 

Mana Ism Bab
Abel Adam Gabriel
Seth Noah Yail ibn Fatin
Joseph Jacob Ham Ibn Kush
Joshua Moses Dan ibn Usbaut
Asaf Solomon Abd Allah Ibn Siman
Simon Peter Jesus Rawzaba Ibn al-Marzuban
Ali Muhammad Salman al-Farisi[4]

 

The last and supreme manifestation of God is Ali; his Ism is the Rasul of Allah, Muhammad (saw), and his Bab is Salman, the Persian — the Rasul’s Sahabi. These three form the trinity of the Nusayris, whose mytery is represented by the initial letters of their names: A for Ali, M for Muhammad, and S for Salman, also known as Salsal. Louis Massignon speculates that the Salsal derives from the Arabic word silsila (chain, or link). In this context, Salman is the link between Muhammad and Ali.[5]

 

Like another Ghulat sect, the Ahl-i Haqq, the Nusayris divide time into seven cycles, each corresponding to a manifestation of the deity. The concept of seven cycles dates back to pagan Harranians, who maintained that the creator was multiple because of his manifestation in seven forms, corresponding to the seven heavenly bodies governing the universe.[6]

 

This concept of seven periods is also used in the Isma’ilis religious system to symbolise the authority of the seven Imams, beginning with Ali and ending with Ismail (d. 762), son of Ja’far al-Sadiq, from whom they received their names. According to Muslims sources, the Isma’ilis are known as Sab’iyya (Seveners) because they believe in the divine authority of seven Imams.[7]

 

Since the Nusayri dogma of the seven incarnations of the deity is probably based on the Isma’ili concept seven incarnations of the divine nature, a brief overview of the Isma’ili concept follows.

In their attempt to explain the origin of the universe by means other than divine creation, and in accordance with their esoteric belief in the necessity of having a divinely inspired Iman in every generation, the Isma’ilis adopted the neo-Platonic doctrine of emanations, stripping it of mysticism. The non-Platonists assert that everything that exists proceeds from God in successive emanations. The Isma’ilis, while maintaining seven stages of emanation, assert that God was not the immediate creator of the universe. They aver that the only thing emanating from God was the divine Will (Amr), and that this Will is the source of everything that exists, the cause of causes.[8] This Will, which is transubstantiate into the divine word “Be” (Qur’an 36: 82), is the first intellect, the universal reason (al-Aql al-Awwal), the first emanation of the divine nature. It is, as the Isma’ili writer al-Kirmani (d. 947) states, “the first intellect of the first Existence, whose existence is not by its self but by its creation and transcendence.”[9]

 

According to this reasoning, God has no attributes or qualities. He is an abstraction, the first Intellect or Universal Reason. As an abstract principle without attributes, God becomes so obscure that man cannot communicate with Him. This Isma’ili seems to contradict those of Neo-Platonism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which teach that God has divine attributes and that He is the primary source of existence.

 

Continuing their esoteric line of reasoning, the Isma’ilis believe that the Universal Soul created primal matter, and that space, time, and the perfect man (al-Ihsan al-Kamil) conclude these emanations. This perfect man comprises the sublime world, al-Alam al-Ulwi, which is the seat of creation, Dar al-Ibda.[10]

 

In each cycle of these emanations there exists a prophet who is the reflection of a perfect man. In Isma’ili terminology this prophet is called the Natiq (speaker, or proclaimer). He is accompanied by a coadjutant called the Samit (mute) or Asas (Foundation), who is the reflection of the Universal Soul in the world of senses. This Samit or Asas serves as a minister to the Natiq and is charged with the duty of proclaiming and interpreting (ta’wil) the revelation (tanzil) of the prophet. Al-Kirmani states that his interpretation reveals the inner knowledge of the revelation (Ilm al-Batin), which is the true meaning of the divine message. Therefore, al-Kirmani says, it is the function of the Imam to carry on this inner knowledge and guide the community along its lines.[11]

 

The cycles of the Natiqs (proclaiming prophets) began with Adam, followed by Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, whose coadjutants were respectively Seth, Shem, Ismail, Aaron, Simon Peter, and Ali. Ali has a unique system in the Isma’ili system because he is the Asas of the Rasul of Allah (saw), and his descendants, the Imams after him, have the exclusive function of interpreting the inner meaning of the divine message of Islam.

 

Therefore it is imperative, al-Kirmani says, that an Imam should exist in every generation, whose duty to preserve the divine message is delivered by the Rasul and to protect it from distortion and alteration.[12] Thus, in his religious capacity as the Imam, the Isma’ili Aga Khan III, becomes the successor of the Rasul.[13]

 

According to the Isma’ilis, six of these Natiqs and Samits have already appeared. The seventh cycle will be ushered in by the advent of the last and greatest of the Prophets, the Mahdi, or al-Qa’im, who will appear before the end of the world.[14]

 

The concepts of the Rasul as the Natiq of his coadjutant, the Samit, did not originate with the Isma’ilis. They were formulated by one of the earliest Ghulat, Abu al-Khattab Muhammad ibn Abi Zaynab al-Asadi, killed in 138/755. According to Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari (d. 935), Abu al-Khattab taught that the Imams are God’s new prophets, His divine Hujjas (proofs), and messengers to mankind. Two of these remained he said; the Natiq, who was Muhammad, and the Samit, Ali ibn Abi Talib. They possessed the knowledge of what was, what is, and what will be, and it is imperative that all men obey them.[15] Al-Ashari does not elaborate on Abu al-Khattab’s concept of the Natiq and Samit, but we may speculate that the Isma’ilis, who were more philosophically sophisticated than Abu al-Khattab, made great use of this concept, which they combined with Neo-Platonist philosophy.

 

The Nusayri dogma of the seven incarnations of the deity probably derives from the Isma’ili concept of seven emanations, but lacks its philosophical subtlety. René Dussaud rightly observes that, unlike the Isma’ilis, the Nusayris were incapable of philosophical speculation, and therefore arrived at the concept of one god not stripped of divinity and authority, as is the god of the Isma’ilis, who is pure intellect. They could not comprehend the abstract philosophical terminology and reasoning of the Isma’ilis with respect to the emanation of the divine nature and the relationship between the Natiq and the Samit, applied to Muhammad and Ali; thus, the Nusayris readily accepted Ali as the Incarnation of God. Dussaud concludes that the Nusayris represent a remarkable example of a sect passing directly from paganism to Isma’ilism. This transformation, however, was not complete. It was rather a compromise between Isma’ili doctrine and the Nusayri practices, resulting in a creation of a new religion.[16]

 

The fundamental tenet of this religion lies in the legend of Ali. Dussaud’s conclusion seems to be correct, because the Nusayris exaggerate the position of Ali, regarding him as God, and as the Asas (foundation) of the Rasul of Allah, Muhammad (saw). He is the Mana, taking precedence over Muhammad, who is the Natiq (proclaimer) of the divine message contained in the Qur’an.

 

Closely associated with their belief in the seven human manifestation of God in seven periods is the Nusayris cosmogony. The Nusayris belief that in the beginning, before the world existed, they were brilliant, heavenly bodies and luminous stars, conscious of the distinction between obedience and disobedience. They did not eat, drink, or pass excrement. Their only activity was to behold Ali ibn Abi Talib in a sapphire of splendour. They remained in this state for 7,077 years and 7 hours. Then they boasted of themselves, saying, “Surely, he has created no more noble creatures than we are,” thereby committing their first sin of pride.

 

Ali then created for them a Hijab (veil, or intermediary), who held them under restraint for a further 7,000 years. Ali then appeared to them and asked, “Am I not your Lord?” [Qur’an 7:172], to which they replied, “Certainly you are.” After a while, Ali revealed to them his all-encompassing divine power (Qudrah), and they fancied that they could behold him fully, supposing him to be one like themselves; this was second sin they committed.[17]

 

Thereupon Ali made visible to them the Hijab, with whom they wondered 7,077 years and 7 hours. When this period was up, Ali appeared to the Nusayris in a form of an old man with white hair and a white beard; through this form, he tested the people of the light, of the higher spiritual world. The Nusayris did not look beyond the form in which he appeared to them, and when he said to them, “Who am I?” they replied. “We do not know.”[18] Ali then appeared to them in a form of a young man with a curled moustache, riding upon and angry looking lion, and again in the form of a small child. In each manifestation, he called “Am I not your Lord?”

 

Ali was accompanied by his Ism (name), Muhammad, and his Bab (door), Salman al-Farisi, together with the people of the orders of his holiness, namely, the first seven orders constituting the great luminous world. When Ali called to the Nusayris, they imagined him to be one like themselves. They were bewildered and did not know what to do. In order to put an end to their doubt about his nature, Ali told them he would create a lower sphere for them and cast them down to it. He would also create a human form for them and appear to them in a veil akin to their human forms. He told them that he would rise up again anyone who acknowledged him, together with his veil and his door. Anyone who rebelled against him would face an adversary created by Ali, and anyone who denied him would be subject to Musukhiyya (degrading transformation) into an animal form.

 

The Nusayris implored God to leave them where they were to praise, magnify, and worship him, and not to cast them to the lower sphere. But He said, “You have disobeyed me. If you had said, ‘Lord, we know nothing save what you have taught us, you are inscrutable, omniscient one,’ [Qur’an 5:109] I would have forgiven you.”

 

Because of the disobedience of the Nusayris, Ali created the Abalisa (plural of Iblis — devil or Satan), and from the Abalisa he created woman. For this reason, the Nusayris do not teach their woman any form of prayer or initiate them into the mystery of their religion. Because they are believed to be created from the Abalisa, Nusayri women are degraded and held in low esteem.[19]

 

After casting the Nusayris into lower, human form, Ali appeared to them in seven Qibab (domes, tabernacles), that is, periods inhabited by al-Hinn, al-Binn, al-Timm, al-Rumm, al-Junn, al-Jinn, and al-Yunan (the Greeks).[20] In each of his seven appearances during these periods, Ali was accompanied by an Ism, a Bab, and an adversary. It is worth noting that , according to Sulayman al-Adani, in each of these seven cycles the adversary, or Satan, consisted of three person in one (a kind of Satanic triad), namely, the “rightly guided” Khulafa’, Abu Bakr, Umar, and Uthman (ram).[21] This, to be sure, expresses the implacable hatred the Shi’ah’s harbour for these men, whom they accuse of usurping the Khilafah from Ali. They also accuse Umar and Uthman of burning those portions of the Qur’an which, they assert, included the designation of Ali by the Rasul Muhammad (saw) as his heir and successor in leading the Muslim community.

 

From this account; it is clear that the Nusayris believe in the existence of Pre-Adamite ages, during which the world was inhabited by different kinds of beings who worshiped Ali. The Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq acknowledged the existence of seven Pre-Adamite nations. He said the Shi’i aver that before God created Adam, there were seven Adams who occupied seven ages, and that the time span of each age was fifty thousand years. Later, when God created mankind, “We, the Imams, were the first Hujjas (divine proofs) and messengers of God to mankind.”

 

Al-Sadiq also state that there were beings living on the earth before Adam. After they died, they were resurrected, judged, and consigned temporary to paradise or Hell. Finally, the people of paradise were transformed into Angels, while the people of Hell, the qashshash (waste heap), were transformed to such animals as pigs, bears, and dogs, and jackals.[22]

 

The concept of seven ages is found in Zoroastrianism and may have reached the Shi’ah through Persia. According to a Persian legend, Zoroaster, by divine favour, saw a tree with seven branches, one of gold, one of silver, one of bronze, one of copper, one of tin, one of steel, and one of iron alloy. Hormizd (Ahura Mazda) revealed to him that this tree was the image of the world, and that each of these branches represented one of the periods through which he (Zoroaster) had to pass.[23] This is similar to the image King Nebuchadnezzr saw in a dream, which represented different periods of world kingdoms.[24]

 

These, then, are the Pre-Adamite periods, or domes as the author of Kitab al Bakhurah calls them, whose inhabitants worshiped Ali. According to Edward Salisbury, the people of these periods represent a gradation of human existence from inferior to higher, corresponding in reverse order to the seven form of musukhiyya (degrading transformation) which the Nusayris believe that they had to pass through as punishment for their disobedience, or perhaps to worship Ali wholeheartedly.[25]

 

Salibury further states that the periods of the Greeks, the seventh and last, represents the highest point of human existence before the final special manifestation of Ali in the sab qibab dhatiyya (seven periods of divine quality), which began after the Nusayris failed to recognise the divinity of Ali.[26] Ali manifested himself seven times in this world, as Abel, Seth, Joseph, Joshua, Asaf, and Simon Peter, and finally in his own person. In this final manifestation, Ali revealed to the Nusayris that they were the highest among mankind, and that he was the only deity to be worshipped.[27] In other words, Ali was one and the same god in each of his manifestations, and the Ism, Bab, and adversary who accompanied in each likewise appeared in successive theophanies.[28]

 

The concept of the seven manifestation of the deity is also found in the Druze religious system. According to the Druzes, Hamzah ibn Ali, the founder of the Druze religion, appeared seven times in this world in human form. The Formulary (catechism) of the Druzes contains the question, “how many times did Hamzah appear, and under what names?” the answer is, “He appeared seven times, from Adam to the Rasul of Allah Muhammad (saw).” Then follow the names in which Hamzah appeared in each of the seven periods.[29] Silvestre de Sacy doubts whether this was the original teachings of the Druzes, since he could not find the number of Hamzah’s appearances given in other Druze sources.[30]

 

The same Druze Formulary contains another question about the Fatimid Khalifah al-Hakim ibn Amr Allah (d. 1021), considered the supreme deity of the Druzes, and his names and the maqamat (stations, or periods) in which he appeared.[31] The description of al-Hakim’s manifestations shows that the Druzes, like the Nusayris, believe in a single deity who remained constant although he manifested himself in different forms. It also shows that the deity and his Hijab (veil) are so united in words and deeds that they form one person. Regardless of the number of his manifestations, the deity remains a single entity. He precedes the whole of creation and his prototype of men. The reason al-Hakim appeared in human form was to enable man to acquire full conviction of his existence. Al-Hakim is considered by the Druzes to be the culmination of all the manifestations, which pointed to him and were completed in him.[32]

 

The religious system of the Druzes and the Nusayris are strikingly similar, with one major exception: al-Hakim is God to the Druzes, while Ali is God to the Nusayris. It is not surprising, then, that the Formulary of the Druzes condemns the Nusayris from separating themselves from the Druzes.[33] It is interesting to note that both sects have their roots in Persia. Their founders, Muhammad ibn Nusayr and Hamzah ibn Ali, were both of Persian origin, as were the founders of the Isma’ili’s and their offshoot, the Assassins.[34] Later we shall see the influence of Persian tradition on the religious system of the Nusayris.

 

At the outset of this chapter, we noted that the first article of the Nusayri faith is the oneness of God, self-existent and coeternal. We also noted, however, that this God has three personalities, the Mana (Ali), the Ism (Muhammad), and the Bab (Salman al-Farisi), who form an inseparable trinity. In essence, however, these three are Ali ibn Abi Talib. As the Nusayri catechism explains, the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab are united as “God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” in the formula which precedes all but one of the surah’s of the Qur’an. What the author of the catechism intends is that in this formula “God” signifies the Mana (Ali), “the Compassionate” signifies the Ism (Muhammad), and the “Merciful” signifies the Bab (Salman al-Farisi).[35]

 

Question 12 of the same catechism asks, “Are the Mana and the Bab separate from the Ism?” the answer is, “No, they are with it, they cannot be separated.”[36] This trinity, symbolised by AMS, the initial letters of the names Ali, Muhammad, and Salman, form a single divine essence. In the Munazarah (debate) of al-Nashshabi, we read, “The one whom we saw in human form [Ali] is the M [for Muhammad], and this Muhammad, Ali, Salman are one essence and one light.”[37]

 

Each of these three persons manifests himself in the others, although as the “Most High” they do not change or cease to be. There is no difference between the Mana and the Ism. They are inseparable, as is the light of the sun from its sphere.[38] The tenth-century Nusayri writer Ali ibn Isa al-Jisri states in Risalat al-Tawhid (the epistle of the unity of God) that God is the Ism and the Mana. He is the Ism (Name) which manifested in the world in order that men might come to know the Mana. The Mana cannot be separated from his Ism, and the Ism cannot be separated from the Mana.[39]

 

The Nusayris believe that these three persons are one, and that it is sheer ignorance, even blasphemy, to separate or differentiate them. A Nusayri who does not recognise the relationship among the three the persons of this trinity is not a true believer. This is attested by Nusayri sources, which attribute to Ja’far al-Sadiq the tradition, “He who differentiates between the Ism and the Mana has blasphemed, and he who truly worships the Ism has also worshipped the Mana, and he who worships the Ism in the place of the Mana is an infidel, but he who worships the Mana through the divine reality of the Ism has in fact professed the oneness of God.”[40]

 

The trinity forms the foundation of the Nusayris’ religious system. In the ninth surah (in al-Kitab al-Bakhurah), called the Luminary Ayn (the initial letter of Ali’s name), Muhammad ibn Nusayr, founder of the Nusayri sect, is firmly associated with the third person of the trinity, Salman al-Farisi. This trinity is the focal point of the Nusayris’ profession of faith: “There is no God except Ali ibn Abi Talib, with the bold forehead and temples, the adorable, and no veil but the Lord Muhammad, worthy to be praised, and no door other than the Lord Salman al-Farisi, the object of desire.”[41] This trinity is so sacred that is Kitab al-Mashyakhah (Manual for shaykhs), Ali is invoked “by the truth of the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab.” In this same book, reference is made to “al-Mana al-Qadim (an ancient meaning), al-Ism al-Adhim (great name), and al-Bab al-Karim (honourable door).”[42] In Nusayri sources, a wife of the Rasul of Allah (saw), Umm Salamah, is spoken of as being endowed with divine grace, “Through her saintliness” says one source, she ‘has indicated the manifestation of the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab.”[43]

 

Thus, the trinity symbolised by the letters AMS is the centre of the Nusayri worship and faith. No Nusayri will ever swear by trinity and then tell an untruth. Indeed, we learn from Kitab al-Bakhurah that the most binding actions among the Nusayris is to place one’s hand in that of another, saying, “I adjure you by your faith, the faith of the covent of Ali, the Commander of the faithful, and by the covenant of AMS,” making it obligatory to speak the truth.[44]

 

Another form of this oath involves moistening a finger with saliva and placing it on the other person’s neck, saying, “I am absolved from my sins and lay them on your neck, and I adjure you by the foundation of your religion, by the mystery of the covenant of AMS, to tell me the truth regarding [this] matter.” This form also precludes the telling of a falsehood. Thus the whole life of the Nusayris — their conduct and relations with each other — is motivated by the grace of this trinity and bound by their faith in it.[45]

 

To the Nusayris, the letters AMS constitute a sir (mystery) of their trinity, bringing to mind the mystery of the holy trinity in Christianity, although Christians do not use enigmatic letters to denote their trinity. The use of cryptic letters was practiced by the ancient people to accentuate the mysterious powers of the universe or deities.[46] Some surah’s of the Qur’an begin with cryptic letters that no one could understand or explain, except God and those Muslims scholars well versed in religious sciences (Qur’an 3:7).[47] Perhaps it was God’s design to leave parts of His revelation enigmatic and not fully understood by mortals, as is stated in Qur’an 111:15: “it is He who revealed to you the Qur’an. Some of the verses are precise in meaning—they are the foundations of the Book—and others are ambiguous. Those whose hearts are infected with disbelief follow the ambiguous part, so as to seek dissention by seeking to explain it. But no one knows its meaning except Allah.”

 

The book of al-Jafr, believed by Shi’ah’s to have been revealed to the Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, contains, among other things, an esoteric explanation of the meaning of the Arabic alphabet.[48] In fact, some Nusayris, like the nineteenth-century Shaykh Muhammad ibn Kalazu, use the letters HBQ in a spiritual sense to denote Hilal, Badr, and Qamar, indicating the different cycles of the moon.[49]

 

In summation, the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab form the inseparable trinity of the Nusayris, which is fashioned like the Qur’anic formula, “in the name of God, the Compassionate, and the Merciful.” The Mana, the Ism. And the Bab have threefold names: Mathaliyyah (figurative), Dhatiyyah (essential), and Sifatiyyah (attributive). The figurative name belongs to the Mana; the attributive is that of which the Ism has made use, but which belongs peculiarly to the Mana, as when we say “the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Creator,” Thus Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah (the Nusayri catechism) begins with the formula: “In the name of the ancient Mana, the great Ism, and the eternal Door, who is God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”[50]

 

The orthodox Muslim formula, “God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,” is explained by the Nusayris in accordance with both the outward and inward meanings of the divine mysteries. So to question 98 of the catechism. “What do the outer and the inner words, al-zahir and al-batin, denote?” the answer is, “The inner [signifies] the divinity of our Lord [Ali], the outer his manhood. Outwardly, we say that he is spoken of as a Lord Ali, son of Abi Talib, and this denotes inwardly the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab, one Compassionate and Merciful God.”[51] Or, as Joseph Catafago has noted in his description Kitab Majmu’ al-Ayad (Book of Feasts), its author, Abu Sa’id Maymun ibn Qasim al-Tabarani (d. 1034), distinguishes three principles in Ali: the divinity or the essence of being, the light or veil, and the door, which is faithful spirit.[52]

 

The Nusayri trinity has been linked by various writers to trinities of other religions. Rev. Samuel Lyde, for example, states that the Nusayris took many things from Christianity, including the doctrine of the Trinity.[53] Rev. Henri Lammens, who seems to believe that the Nuayris are converts from Christianity, maintains likewise that they have retained many Christian tenets, including the trinity.[54] René Dussaud, on the other hand, sees in the Nusayri trinity all the characteristics of an adaptation of the local cults, and asserts it recalls the triads common in the ancient Syro-Phoenician cults.[55] Although we shall return to this subject later, it should be pointed out that there is no fundamental resemblance between the Nusayri trinity and the Christians, despite similarity in terminology. According to Christianity, the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprises three persons who are one in essence, power, and majesty. They form one Godhead, coequal and coeternal. In this Godhead, the Son, Christ, is begotten, not made, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father; the three are but one God, who is Trinity Unity and Unity in Trinity.

 

The Nusayri trinity, however, is not a trinity of persons united in one Godhead, for the Mana (Ali) created the Ism (Muhammad), who in turn created the Bab (Salman al-Farisi). This is made clear in a question in the Nusayri catechism, “How did the Mana create the Ism, and how did the latter create the Bab?” the answer is, “The substance of substances produced the name out of his unity.”[56] According to Kitab al-Mashyakhah, “Ali created Muhammad from the light of his unity and from the power of his eternity. And he made him a light extracted from the essence of his Mana, and called him Muhammad the time when he conversed with him, and caused him to move from his state of rest, and chose him, and called him by his name, and elected him. And Muhammad had no lord but him, and Ali made him his flashing light and his sharp edge and his speaking tongue, and set him over the great matter and the ancient cause, and made him the circle of existence and the centre of prayer. And he said to him, ‘Be the cause of causes, and the framer of the door and the Hijab [veil].’ Muhammad created the door, Salman al-Farisi, by the command of the Lord [Ali] and according to his purpose. Then he commanded the door [Salman] to create the higher and lower worlds.”[57]

 

From this passage we learn that Ali created Muhammad, and that Muhammad has no lord but Ali. As the creator of Ali, Muhammad cannot be homologous with Ali in his divinity. He must (and does) occupy an inferior position in the trinity of the Nusayris,as is clear from the Nusayri catechism, which charges Muhammad with the duty of calling the believers to the knowledge of their Lord Ali. This catechism also asserts that Ali is the one who taught Muhammad the Qur’an through Gabriel.[58] Further evidence of Muhammad’s inferiority to Ali is shown by his own sayings, “For I was created out of the light of his [Ali’s] essence,” and, “Is not Ali your Lord and my Lord?”[59] It is for this reason that we find in the Nusayri sources the Mana and the Ism coupled. We have already cited the statement attributed to the Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq, “He who differentiates between the Ism and the Mana has blasphemed, and he who truly worships worshiped the Ism has worshiped the Mana, and he who worships the Ism in the place of the Mana is an infidel, but he who worships the Mana through divine reality of the Ism has in fact has in fact professed the oneness of God.”[60] The same Ja’far al-Sadiq also explains, in Kitab al-Haft al-Sharif, that God, the Mana, chides the believers for worshipping the Ism without the Mana, asking, “Will you, then, worship the Ism without the Mana?” This clearly indicates that the Mana alone should be their focus of worship.[61]

 

Thus, it is clear that the Nuayris’ trinity is not a trinity of persons coequal and coeternal with God, nor is it true that in the unity of the Godhead, there are three persons of one substance, power, and eternity, as in the Christian trinity. It is rather a trinity of partnership, in which Ali, Muhammad, and Salman are three different facets of the divine nature.

 

Although in essence the Nusayri trinity is different from that of Christianity, yet Sulayman al-Adani, in his commentary on Surah al-Fath, states that these three, Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi, form the “Holy Trinity” of the Nusayris. He explains that in this trinity, Ali corresponds with the Father, Muhammad to the Son, and Salman al-Farisi to the Holy Spirit, the three Persons of the Christian Trinity.[62] Al-Adani may be justified in suggesting this correspondence, however, for we find in ancient Nusayri writings an explicit recognition of the sonship of the Christ and His consubstantiality with the Father, although these sources do not suggest an analogy between the Nusayri and the Christian trinities.

 

In Kitab al-Usus (Book of foundation), the Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq describes the seven periods of the manifestations of God. He states that in each of these periods, God played different roles. In the period of Moses (as), for example, God commanded Moses to build a tabernacle in which He dwelt. God also gave Moses the Torah and commanded him to instruct the Israelites to observe the rules of tahara (purity), and to abstain from eating the flesh of certain animals which were forbidden to them. “However,” says al-Sadiq, “when Christ, the Son, came, who assumed the form of the Sonship and dwelt in Mary, he altered the law of Moses and absolved the people from the obligation of purification.”

 

Al-Sadiq continues, “Do not you who inquire see that He [Jesus] (as) has absolved them [Israelites] from many obligations imposed upon them by Moses (as)?”[63] In this statement, we find the concept of a Father, and a son who is one in being with the Father and has become incarnated through a virgin, the essence of the Christian religion. The context, however, is unmistakably Nusayri.

 

What, then, is the true relationship between Ali and Muhammad in the theological system of the Nusayris? We can answer this question only by examining each of the three persons of the Nusayri trinity. This we will do in the forthcoming chapters.

 

NEXT⇒ The Apothesis of Ali


[1] The Ahl-i Haqq is an extremist Shiite group of Iran, one of the most popular, also known as Ahl-i Haqiqat, Ali Ilahis or Ali Allaahis. They consist of a number of sub-divisions known by either the names of specific ‘saints’, or by the names of objects peculiar to those groups. They regard Nusayr as their patron saint (and refer to themselves at times as Nusayris — not to be confused with the Nusayri sect founded by Muhammad ibn Nusayr al-Namiri, the ‘companion’ of the eleventh imam al-`Askari. It is alleged by the Ahl-i Haqq that Nusayr was a member of the fighting troops  of the Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib dispatched by the Prophet of Islam against the Jewish fortress of Khaybar. Nusayr was killed in this campaign, and his mother beseeched Ali to raise up her son from the dead, which Ali did. Upon opening his eyes and seeing Ali , Nusayr cried out, “Verily I see that you are a God.” Ali became angry because the young man considered him a God and in his wrath he slew Nusayr with his sword, Dhu al-Fiqar. It is said that seven times Ali slew the young man and brought him back to life, trying to make him repent and stop his blaspheming. But Ali’s efforts were in vain. Finally, Ali heard a voice coming from heaven, the voice of God, telling him that He is the only God, the creator of heaven and earth, in whose hands are life and death. But God went to tell Ali, “Never mind this time, I will be the God of all the world, and you will be the God of Nusayr.” In obedience to God, Ali sent Nusayr back to his mother, alive and well. (Shah Mama-ye Haqiqat 1:236-239, al-Majlisi: Hayat al-Qulub 44)

[2] See Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah (catechism), Arab MS. 6182, fol. 4, Bibliothèque Nationale; and the English translation in Lyde, Asian Mystery, 271. See also, Dr. Wolff’s German translation in Wolff, “Auzüge aus dem Katechismus der Nossairien,” 303-9. Cf. al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 49.

[3] Lyde, Asian Mystery, 110; and Bar Hebraeus, Tarikh Mukhtasar al-Duwal, 97.

[4] See question 9 to 33 of Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 61182, fols. 4-15, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Carsten Niebuhr, Travels, reproduced with an English translation in Lyde, Asian Mystery, 2295-97. Niebuhr’s information is based on a Nusayri book that fell to his possession. The book, says Niebuhr, was founded by Turkish official in the room of a Nusayri whom they had surprised in the night and taken to prison. The seven manifestations of the deity in human form is also found in the Druze religion but in the case of the Druzes it was Hamza ibn Ali, founder of their religion and considered by the Druzes to be their God, who has appeared seven times in this world. See Formulary or Catechism (instruction of the Druze Religion) in Arab MS. 5188 question 24 and 25 fols. 58, Bibliothèque Nationale; and de Sacy, Exposé, 1:66.

[5] See Surah’s in chapters 5 and 8 of Kitabb al-Majmu’ in al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah al-Sulaymaniyyah, 3, 19-20 and 23-24. For an explanation of the term Salsal, see Massignon, Salman Pak et les Prémices Spirituelles de I’Islam iranien, 37, including no. 3.

[6] De Sacy, Exposé, 1:471; Dusaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairies, 45 and von Haamer-Purgstall, The History of the Assassins, 35.

[7] Jamal al-Din Abu al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi, Talbis Iblis, 103; al-Sahrastani, Kitab al-Milal, 2:38; Arif Tamir, Khams Rasail Isma’iliyyah (Beirut: Dar al-Ansaf, 1956), 147-50; Petrushevsky, Islam in Iran, 244; and al-Shaibi, al-Sila bayn al-Tasawwuf wa al-Tashayyu’, 200-3.

[8] Abu Yaqub Ishaq al-Sijistani, Tuhfat al-Mustajibin in Tamir, Khams Rasa’il Isma’iliyyah, 143-50; and Sami N. Makarem, The Doctrine of the Ismailis, (Beirut: The Arab Institute for Research and Publishing, 1972), 17.

[9] Al-Kirmani, Rahat al-Aql, 252-54; Makarem, “The Philosophical Significance of Iman in Ismailism,” see Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 30-58 and 184.

[10] Petrushevsky, Islam in Iran, 245.

[11] Al-Kirmani, Rahat al-Aql, 252-54; Makarim, “The Philosophical Significance of the Imam in Ismailism, “Studia Islamica 28 (1967): 47-48; Idem, The Doctrine of the Ismailis, 29-30; von Hammer-Purgstall, The History of the Assassins, 35; and Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 42, 45, 47, 98, 157, and 184.

[12] Al-Kirmani, al-Masabih fi Ithbat al-Imamah, ed. Mustafa Ghakib (Beirut: Nashurat Hamad, 1969), 80-95; and Makaren, The Doctrine of the Ismailis, 37-39. Cf. Corbin, En Islam iranien, 3:231, 257, and 4:281-86.

[13] The Memoirs of Aga Khan (London: Cassel and Company, 1954) 3:178-79.

[14] Petrshevsky, Islam in Iran, 235.

[15] Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Ismail al-Ashari, Kitab Maqalat, 10-11; and Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi, al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, 247-48.

[16] Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Nosairis, 45 and 51.

[17] Ibid., 70-71. See also, al-Mufaddal ibn Umar al-Jufi, Kitab al-Sirah, in Arab MS. 1449, fol. 86a, Bibliothèque Nationale; al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 59-69 and the English translation of the same in Salisbury, “Notes on the Book of Sulayman first ripe fruit,” 280; and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 67.

[18] See Kitab al-Usus in Arab MS. 1449, fol. 9a Bibliothèque Nationale; al Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 60; Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 71; and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 67.

[19] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 60-61; Dassaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 72; al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 68.

[20] See Kitab al-Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah in Arab MS. 6182, question 52, Bibliothèque Nationale; Kitab al-Mashyakhah (manual for Shaykhs), quoted in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 61; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 74-75.

[21] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 17 and 62.

[22] Kitab al-Haft al-Sharif, 186-88; and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 69. Cf. Ali ibn Ibrahim, Tafsir, 19 and 21, on al-Sadiq, who maintains the existence of pre-Adamite beings.

[23] E. Blochet, “Études Sur l’Histoire Religieuse de l’Iran,” Revue de l’Histoire des Religion (1899), 2:15; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 75. Cf “Cyclical Time in Mazdaizm,” in Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 1-30.

[24] See book od Daniel 2:31-45. Cf. Frédéric Macler, Les Apocalypse Apocryphes de Daniel, (Paris: C. Noblet, 1895); and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 75.

[25] See Edward Salibury’s translation of al-Adani’s Kitab al-Bakhurah in “Notes on the Book of Salaiman’s First Ripe Fruit,” note on 287.

[26] Ibid.; and al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 85-86.

[27] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 11, 47 and 59-63, and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 70.

[28] See the Nusayri catechism in Arab MS. 6182 fols. 3-4, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 87.

[29] The Formulary of the Druzes in the Arab MS. 5188, fol. 58, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 87.

[30] De Sacy, Exposé, 1:65-67.

[31] Arab MS. 5188, fols. 59, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[32] For details, see De Sacy, Exposé, 1:66.

[33] See Formulary of the Druzes in Arab MS. 5188, fols. 5152, question 44, Bibliothèque Natioanle.

[34] De Sacy, Exposé, 1:66.

[35] See Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, fols. 4, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[36] Ibid.

[37] See Munazarah, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 139, Bibliothèque Nationale

[38] Ibid., fols. 96-96.

[39] Risalat al-Tawhid, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 47, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[40] Ibid., fols. 6-7; Masa’il, related by Abu Abd Allah ibn Harun al-Saigh of his master Abu Abd Allah ibn al-Husayn ibn Hamdan al-Khasibi, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 50, Bibliothèque Nationale; Abu Abd Allah Shuba al-Harrani, Kitab al-Usayfir, Arab MS. 1450, fols. 7b and 8a, Bibliothèque Nationale, where the author quotes Jafar al-Sadiq. Cf. De Sacy, Exposé, 2:581.

[41] Se Surah 4 of Kitab al-Majmu’ in al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 14; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 166.

[42] For these passages, see Kitab al-Mashyakhah in Lyde, The Asian Mytery, 121; Surah 6 of Kitab al-Majmu’ in al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 21; and preamble to Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[43] Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 22, fol. 6, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Kitab al-Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 121 and 136.

[44] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 83.

[45] Ibid.; and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 43.

[46] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 65.

[47] Theodor Nöldeke, Sketches from Eastern History, trans. John Sutherland Black (Beirut: Khayat, 1963), 47-48.

[48] Abd al-Rahman ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddimah, (Cairo: Matbat Mustafa Muhammad, n.d.), 334 and 338. Cf. Dussaud, Histoire at Religion des Nosairis, 67.

[49] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 64; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 67.

[50] Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, fols. 1 and 4, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[51] Ibid., MS. 6182, fol. 19.

[52] Abu Sa’id ibn Maymun ibn al-Qasim al-Tabarani al-Nusayri (known as al-Tabarani), Kitab Sabil Rapat al-Arwah wa Dalil al-Surur wa al-Afrah ila Faliq al-Isbah, known as Majmu’ al-Ayad. This second title would be used troughout. This manuscript was discovered by Joseph Catafago, chancellor of the Prussian General Consulate in Beirut, who published in French the titles of the Nusayri feats and some prayers, especially those of the Nawruz and Christmas Eve. See Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseries,” 149-68. And English translation of the same can be found in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 289-90. The whole text was later published by R. Strothmann in three parts; see al-Tabarani, Kitab Maju al-Ayad, ed. R Strothmann, in Der Islam, 27 (1943-44): 1-60 and (1946): 161-273.

[53] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 118. Cf. Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 64.

[54] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 64.

[55] Henri Lammens, “Les Nosairis Furent-Ils Chṛétiens?” Revue de l’Orient Chrétien 6 (1901): 33-50; and idem, “Les Nosairis, Notes sur leur Histoire et luer Religion,” Études Religieuses (1899): 482-83; and idem, “Au Pay des Nosairis,” Revue de l’Orient Chréstien (1899): 572, Seq and (1900): 99, Seq; and Edward J. Jurji, “The Alids of north Syria,” The Moslem World 29, no 4 (October 1939): 337, no. 30.

[56] Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, fol. 4, Bibliothèque Natioanle.

[57] Kitab al-Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery 125-25; and al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 19-20.

[58] Kitab Ta’lim al-Diyanah al-Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, questions 3 and 73, fols. 2 and 15, Bibliothèque Natioanle, 271 and 278.

[59] Kitab al-Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 124.

[60] See the works cited in note 39 above. Se also De Sacy, Exposé, 2:158; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 67 n. 7, who follows De Sacy.

[61] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 209.

[62] Al-Adani, Kitab al-Bakhurah, 19-20.

[63] Kitab al-Usus,  in Arab MS. 1449, fols. 56b-57a, Bibliothèque Natioanle, and al-Hariri, al-Alawiyyun al-Nusayriyyun, 50-51.