The doctrine of metempsychosis, or transmigration of souls, is an integral part of the Nusayri religious system. This doctrine is not new, and may have been adopted from early religions of the East. From al Nawbakhti (tenth century) we learn that a certain Abdullah ibn al Harith (late seventh century), whose father was Zindiq (agnostic) from al Mada’in (Ctesiphon), enticed some Muslims to adopt the doctrine of metempsychosis. Al Shahrastani (d. 1153) also affirms this, stating that the Ghulat are unanimous in their belief in metempsychosis, having received it from the Mazdakians, Brahmans, Philosophers, and Sabeans.
It is evident that metempsychosis is not an Islamic doctrine based on the Qur’an. Rather, it is a belief held by the early Ghulat, who interpreted certain passages of the Qur’an in their own way to justify their belief in it.
Metempsychosis (in Arabic, tanasukh) is referred to by Nusayris as Taknis or Tajayyul [from jil (generation] and means reappearance in successive generations. The Nusayris maintain that the soul of man passes from one body to another several times. But the soul of a good Nusayri will enter into a body more perfect than his own, while the soul of a sinful Nusayri will enter the body of an unclean beast.
From the second chapter of Kitab al Majmu’, we learn that there are seven kinds of metempsychosis:
The Nusayris’ belief in metempsychosis is attested to by both Nusayri and non-Nusayri (especially Druze) sources. Hamza ibn Ali, the great Druze apostle and author (d. 1030), wrote that a Nusayri book entitled Kitab al Haqa’iq wa Kashf al Mahjub (The book of truth and the manifestation of that which is veiled) had fallen into his hands. He condemns anyone acquiring this book as a servant of the devil because its Nusayri author believed in metempsychosis. Apparently the author attributed this doctrine, together with the telling of falsehoods and the practice of sexual immoralities, to the Druzes. Hamza declares, “God forbid that the religion of our Lord [the fatimid Khalifah al Hakim ibn Amr Allah (d. 1021), defied by the Druzes], should authorise criminal action.” He goes on to say that the Nusayris assert that the souls of the Nawasib (Sunni Muslims) and the addad (adversaries of Ali) will pass into dogs and such other unclean beasts as pigs, monkeys, owls, and fowl, till they the enter the fire to be burned and beaten under the hammer. Hamza rejects the belief that human souls enter bodies of animals as preposterous and utterly false, and warns that anyone believing in metempsychosis will suffer the loss of both this world and the next. Hamza is correct in asserting that the Nusayris believe in Musukhiyyah, the transmigration of human souls into dreadful forms, especially those of animals. But what is the origin of Musukhiyyah? Why should human beings be transformed into unclean animals like dogs, pigs, and monkeys, as the Nusayris maintain?
According to Jafar al Sadiq, Musukhiyah occurs as the result of the disobedience of Iblis (Satan) to God. When God created Adam, He asked all angels to prostrate themselves before Him. They all did so except Iblis, who disobeyed God and refused to worship Adam. When God asked why he refused to worship Adam, Iblis replied that he was nobler than Adam, who was created from clay, while he, Iblis, was created from fire (see Qur’an 7:12 and 38:75-77). Thus, from the disobedience of Satan and his posterity, God initiated Musukhiyyah. Satan looked at the state of Musukhiyyah and said, “What is this?” God answered, “This is your state and the state of your posterity, who will be transformed into all kinds of beasts.” So God clothed Satan and his posterity with animals’ skins, and clothed Adam and his posterity in human forms. Musukhiyyah, then, is the punishment inflicted on the infidels or unbelievers, who are the posterity of Satan. For this reason, says al Sadiq, it is difficult to distinguish between those infidels who are still in human form and those who have been transformed into animals. He states that one may see a man and believe that he is a human being, when in reality he is a monkey, a bear, or a dog in human form. Or a man may pass by a strange dog that follows him or jumps at him. This man, al Sadiq says, may unknowingly be married to the wife of this dog, once a human being, whom God has punished by transforming him. The “dog” sees this man living with his wife, and in his home, and tries to harm him.
Al Sadiq gives another example, of a female beast biting or kicking or trampling a man until he is dead for no apparent reason. Al Sadiq explains that this beast in life was probably an infidel who was wronged by a believer, without having the opportunity to avenge the wrong done on him. The infidel, transformed after his death into a female beast, seeks to take revenge on the believer. By the same token, one may see a believer kill a female beast, who in a previous life was an infidel who had wronged the believer, and therefore deserves to be wounded or killed for its bad deeds.
Here we find the law of retaliation implemented in both spirit and fact. In Kitab al Sirah, we find that when a man is killed in this life by a beast, he will later be transformed into a beast to enable him to kill the beast that had killed him in his human form. Thus, while it appears that people kill lions and lions kill people, in fact, “no one kills a lion except lion.” Thus, if one creature gets satisfaction by killing another, the victim in turn gets satisfaction by killing the killer.
The point here is that the state of Musukhiyyah, or transformation into animal forms, does not rob the transformed person of his reason or humanity. He retains empathy toward people and animals alike. Thus — so it is stated in Kitab al Sirah — one finds some people like to raise dogs, cats, pigeons, and other creatures, because they have previously had the forms of these animals. Thus, what happens to a man in his transformed (animal) state because of disease or misfortune has already happened to him in his human form.
In this same work, a certain Muhammad ibn Sinan states that there is no bird or fowl which does not have human antecedents. He then points to a carpenter working on his house and says that this carpenter was, in his first dawr (period), a rooster. The Nusayris use the terms dawr and kawr to indicate the cycles of rebirth into this world, the revolution of time, and particularly the manifestations of Ali in human form.
According to Sulaiman al Adani, all Nusayris believe that the spirits of Muslim (Sunni) dignitaries well-versed in religious science are reborn after death in the form of asses; the souls of learned Christian men enter the bodies of swine; and the souls of learned Jewish men take the forms of monkeys. The soul of wicked Nusayris, however will enter the bodies of cattle, especially those used for food.
The souls of persons of mixed character, partly good and partly bad, return in the bodies of persons from other sects that deviate from the Nusayri religion. When a person outside the Nusayri sect recants his belief and joins the Nusayris, they believe that in the past generations this person was one of them, and that, because of sins he had committed, he had renounced the Nusayri faith and joined another sect. However, the metempsychosis of “wicked Nusayris” related by al Adani seems to be qualified by other Nusayri sources, as shall be seen shortly.
Rev. Samuel Lyde relates that he often heard the Nusayris laugh and say, when the Jackals howled toward dusk, “those are the Muslims calling [the faithful] to afternoon prayer, for the souls of Muslims passed into jackals.”
The souls of the adversaries of Ali, as Hamza, the Druze apostle, said, will enter into dogs and other unclean beasts. An episode related by al Khasibi seems to confirm Hamza’s statement. Al Khasibi says that when, on the day of Ghadir Khumm, the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam cited Ali to him and told those present, “This is your God, worship him, and this is your Lord, proclaim his oneness,” some of the host from heaven and earth who could not fully comprehend the oneness of the Lord of creation (Ali) were disturbed. Others who had full knowledge of the oneness of God became more firm in their belief and praised and thanked their God (Ali). Those of the heavenly host who denied the Rasul’s salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam proclamation of Ali as Lord and God were transformed by Ali into toads and sent, croaking, through the clouds of earth. Ali also hardened their hearts so that they could not remember the proclamation of the oneness of the Commander of the faithful. In his wrath over their unbelief, the sad Ali, carried by clouds, descended to earth and slaughtered these unbelievers with his sword, Dhu al Fiqar. When Salman al Farisi saw Ali with his unsheathed sword dripping with blood, he asked him the reason for the carnage. Ali answered that some of the heavenly host had denied his oneness (as God), so he punished them with his sword.
The Nusayris’ belief in the metempsychosis is connected with the concept of reward and punishment. The souls of the wicked are punished by being made to assume the forms of unclean animals, like pigs, dogs, and monkeys, while the soul of the righteous will enter human bodies more perfect that their own.
The Nusayris do not apply the term “wicked” to themselves, applying rather to non-Nusayris, who occupy a status much inferior to their own; for their wickedness — that is their denial of Nusayri beliefs — such Nusayris shall be forced to assume forever the forms of such beasts as pigs, bears, dogs, jackals, and weasels. While it is true that there are wicked Nusayris, they will not be punished by transformation into beasts; rather, their soul will enter human bodies (most likely Nusayri bodies) more perfect than theirs. They become purified by passing through a number of revolutions, as many as twenty-one, each lasting for 1,077 years. After their purification, the Nusayris join the heavenly host, becoming luminous stars and angels of light, because of the spirits of believers and those of angels are one and the same. For this reason the Nusayris pray to their God Ali to clothe the brethren in qumsan (literally, shirts), or envelopes of light.
We do find in some Nusayri sources, however, instances of Nusayris being transformed into unclean animals, without evidence that these people were wicked or that their reappearance in animal form was a punishment. One such case concerns a carpenter who turned into a rooster. Another, related by Dussaud, was derived from a Druze source; although it was meant to caricature the Nusayris’ belief in metempsychosis, it nevertheless corroborates this belief, especially with regard to the transformation of human beings into animals.
According to this story, a Nusayri husbandman had a vineyard. After his death, his son took care of the vineyard. The son noticed that during the grape season, a wolf visited the vine yard to eat grapes. He grew tired of the wolf’s damage to the vineyard and decided to kill him. One day, therefore, the owner tried to shoot the wolf when he visited the vineyard. But just as he was about to shoot, the wolf spoke in a human voice, saying, “Would you kill your own father, who spent his whole life tending the vineyard, just because he ate a few grapes?” The son was startled to hear the wolf speak like a man and, turning to the wolf, he asked, “Who are you?” The wolf said, “I am your father. I have been transformed into a wolf, and this is my vineyard, which you and I worked together.” The son could not believe his ears. He decided to test the wolf to see whether it was really his father. He remembered that before his death his father had hidden a sickle somewhere in the vineyard; the son had tried his utmost to find it, but had failed. He turned to the wolf and asked, “Well, if you are really my father, tell me, where is the sickle that my father and I used to trim the vines?” The wolf asked the son to follow him, and when they reached the place in the vineyard where the father had hidden the sickle, the wolf picked it up and handed it to the son, saying, “This is it.” Now the son was convinced that the wolf was his father, and he allowed him to visit the vineyard and eat the grapes unmolested.
The doctrine of metempsychosis also serves to support the superior position held by Nusayri men over Nusayri woman. It is quite clear from Kitab al Haft al Sharif that a Nusayri woman can be transformed into another woman if God wills it, but never into of a male believer. Jafar al Sadiq is reported to have said that God was too gracious to allow the transformation of a woman into a man. God would not degrade any Nusayri man, let alone a believing Nusayri, by permitting a Nusayri woman to assume the form of a man. This is so because the Nusayri believe that God created woman from devils, and therefore accord them a low status in Nusayri society.
Metempsychosis also reinforces the position of the catamite in Nusayri society. When asked why some woman are used as catamites by men, al Sadiq asserted that the state of being a catamite is an abomination with which God afflicts non-Shia and those who deny that Ali is the Vicegerent of God. Al Sadiq concludes that the catamite (mabun) was a harlot in his first incarnation who in his second was transformed into a man and came to be used as a catamite by men.
It is evident, then, that according to their belief in the metempsychosis, the Nusayris, whether wicked or righteous, will pass through many stages of transformation in human form, leading ultimately to total purification and transformation into luminous stars. The infidels and the damned will be transformed into unclean animals, and will continue to be reborn as animals until the Mahdi returns. Their transformation into animals is lesser punishment, however, the final punishment will come when the Mahdi appears and kills these infidels by the sword. He will also kill the taghut (the Qur’anic term for idols, or false gods) and destroy the cross (the symbol of Christianity), in order to establish one and only religion of God: Shia Islam.
The Nusayris seem to take their belief in transmigration seriously, citing example to support it. Lyde relates many such examples. If a villager died and a child was born at the same time in another village, Lyde often heard the Nusayris say that the soul of the dead man has returned in a form of the child. He also heard a certain healer of snake bites claim that he had been a healer throughout all generations. Lyde even heard a peculiar story of a Christian woman who claimed that she had been a Nusayri in her former age, and that she could describe what she did in that age. Another woman, so Lyde says, claimed that she had appeared in seven forms, and that she went a village where she had lived in a previous state to tell the people where to dig for water. The villagers listened to her advice, and when they dug at the spot she pointed out, they found water. Lyde seems to dismiss these anecdotes as lies and fancy, however.
The Nusayris support their belief in metempsychosis by citing passages such as Qur’an 6:38: “There is no beast on earth nor fowl which flies with its wings but communities like you. We have not omitted anything from the Book [Qur’an], and they [beasts and fowl] shall all be gathered [on the day of resurrection] before their Lord.” This and other passages from the Qur’an believed to confirm metempsychosis are found in Kitab al Haft al Sharif.
According to the Muslim heresiographers, these passages were also cited by the ancient Ghulat to justify their belief in the transmigration of souls. In this context, al Nawbakhti notes the passage from the Qur’an cited above together with another (35:24), “and there never was a people without a warner (a prophet who carries a divine message) having lived among them [in the past].” He comments that the Kaysaniyyah, Harathiyyah, Abbasiyyah, and Khurramdiniyyah sects, which believed in the transmigration of souls, interpret these passages to mean that beasts and fowl were formerly people and communities. Those good among them who died were reborn in bodies more perfect than their own, while the wicked were transformed after death into grotesque and dirty forms. Thus, the state of beasts and human beings in this context seems to be the same.
Among other passages cited by Nusayris to support their belief in metempsychosis is the Qur’an 6:27: “If you could see them they stand before the fire of Hell, they would say, ‘Would that we could return. Then we would not deny the revelation of our Lord.’” In Kitab al Sirah, the author seems to have twisted this passage to read, “Would that we could return in order to do other than what we did.” the author apparently takes the passage to mean that people facing the fire of Hell shall return to the world once more in human form, in order to act justly and be purified of their former sinful ways, finally being drawn to heaven.
Another passage, Qur’an 40:11, states, “They shall say, ‘Lord, twice you have made us die, and twice you have given us life. We now confess our sins. Is there no escape from Hell?’” Again, the Nusayri author of Kitab al Sirah cites this passage to show that God’s causing people to die and live again is a continuous; the people in this passage are asking whether there is any escape from it.
Still another passage, Qur’an 4:56, says, “Those that deny our revelations, we will burn in Hell-fire. No sooner will their skins be consumed than we shall give them new skins, so that they may truly taste our scourge.” Qur’an 17:50-51 adds: “… Say: You shall; whether you turn stone or iron, or any other substance which you may think unlikely to be given life.” The author interprets these passages, taken together, to mean that those people who after death assumed human form (skins) but were not sufficiently purified would be transformed into inanimate substances, like stone or metal.
In Kita al Haft al Sharif, the Imam Jafar al Sadiq cites several Qur’anic verses to support metempsychosis. One of these in Qur’an 10:31-“Who brings forth the living from the dead, and the dead to the living”-which al Sadiq interprets to mean that people will pass through seven stages of metempsychosis in seven bodies. The believer shall assume a human form, while the infidel shall assume an animal form. Another passage is Qur’an 95:4-5-“We moulded man into a most noble image, and in the end we shall reduce him into the lowest of the low” — which al Sadiq interprets as a meaning that the infidel shall assume an animal form in perpetuity, while the righteous shall be free from such transformation. Thus the destinies of the wicked infidel and the believing Nusayri will go through a process of purification by metempsychosis, finally becoming a luminous star, or angel.
Do the Nusayris embrace a concept of eschatology, including resurrection and a day of judgement? Nusayri sources imply that the Nusayris do expect a kind of millennium in the world, for they speak of Resurrection and Judgement. But the significance of these events in the Nusayri religious system seems to be allegorical rather than literal. In Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, Iblis (Satan) is said to have asked God to postpone his punishment to the Day of Resurrection, but he was granted a shorter postponement: to the day of the appearance of the Mahdi, who shall kill Iblis. Such a mention of the Day of Resurrection is purely Islamic and conflicts with the Nusayri belief, as stated in the catechism, that after leaving their graves, the souls of Nusayri believers will go to the great world of light, while those of the godless and polytheists will be tormented and suffer for all ages. We learn form Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nisayriyyah that Ali will manifest himself once more without any transformation, in pomp and glory, to claim for himself the world from one end to the other. He will become the Lord of all. In this last manifestation, without veil or intermediary, he shall reclaim the souls of the deceased believers from their flesh and blood coverings and clothe them in eternal light.
There is no evidence here of a real resurrection or Judgement. There is only an indication of a state on which perfect soul become part of the divine essence (the essence of light). The Nusayris believe that stars are perfect souls. Hence, they pray to their God Ali to draw the believers to his presence, that they may enjoy the bliss of being near him and his might. Another prayer says, “Remember God with a due remembrance, and remember His Name, and His Door, and His Incomparables and all the people of His hierarchies, that they may release you from your graves, and the envelopes of flesh and blood in which you are now enclosed.”
The Nusayris believe that at death, the soul leaves the body of the dying person through the mouth. For this reason, the Nusayris object to the hanging of criminals, believing that hanging prevents the soul from quitting the body. Thus, whenever the government of Latakia in the last century condemned a Nusayri to die by hanging, his relatives offered considerable sums of money to have him impaled instead. Lyde relates that he often saw in the houses of the Nusayris two holes over the door, so that when the soul of a departed Nusayri left the body, it would not meet an evil spirit entering the house through a single hole.
The day of the appearance of Ali is called Yawm al Kashf (the Day of Manifestation). On this day all the kings and rulers of earth shall stand in the presence of Ali, who shall subdue his adversaries by the sword, destroy the unjust, and conquer all regions. The earth will be in great turmoil, but Ali will come and save all the worthy ones.
After Ali, the Mahdi shall appear and possess all the earth. He shall conquer kings, rulers, and Kharijites [those who turned against Ali in his struggle with Muawiyah, the Umayyad governor of Syria]; control the seven regions of the earth by his sword; establish justice; destroy oppression; banish the corruptors; and alter the law and ordinances. Then will follow the judgement of the people according to their deeds. Those who have done good deeds shall go to paradise, but the wicked who passed through many periods of transformation and still failed to become totally purified shall be cast into eternal fire.
This concept of reward and punishment is allegorical, however; in the Nusayri system, the bliss of Paradise and the torment of the fires of Hell are not to be understood in the Islamic sense. Paradise or eternal bliss is to know Ali and acknowledge him as God, and to honour and acknowledge the mystery of the Nusayri trinity of Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al Farisi. He who knows these three is in Paradise, while he who does not know or acknowledge them is in Hell. Thus, the infidels, atheists, and polytheists of all sects and religions who do not know or who deny Ali shall be in Hell. The ultimate state of happiness, then, is to know the trinity without an intermediary and live eternally in one of the seven heavens according to one’s position. According to Jafar al Sadiq in Kitab al Haft al Sharif, the first heaven is for the Imams, the second for the Natiqs (proclaiming prophets), the third for the Najibs (excellents), the fourth for the Mukhlisun (peculiars), the fifth for the seventh for the Babs (doors).
 Al Nawbakhti, Firaq al Shia, 51. For more on the Nusayris’ concept of musukhiyyah, see Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung Bei Den Nusairi,” Oriens, 113, especially 104-13.
 Al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:12. For a detailed account of metempsychosis, especially the transformation of human beings into animal forms, see Abdul Qahir al Baghdadi, al Farq bayn al Firaq, 272-76; and Strothmann, “Seelen wandering Bei Den Nusairi,” 107.
 Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 140.
 Risalat al Bayan, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 57, Bibliothèque Nationale.
 Kitab al Majmu’, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 10-11; Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 175-76; Neibuhr, Travels, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 140; al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 72; al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:12; and Dussaud, Histoire at Religion des Nosairis, 122 and 124.
 See Hamza ibn Ali, al Risalat al Damighahh wa al Radd, ala al Nusayri al Fasiq (refutation of the Nusayris), Arab MS. 1419, fol. 2, Bibliothèque Nationale; DeSacy, Exposé, 2:561-68.
 Hamza ibn Ali, Risalat al Damighah, Arab MS. 1419, 5 and 14, and MS. 1419, fol. 2, Bibliothèque Nationale; and De Sacy, Exposé, 2:579. Cf. Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 140.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 59-61, 144-45. There is evidence that Jafar al Sadiq considered metempsychosis to be one of the Ghulat’s errors and deceptions. See Abu Mansur Ahmed ibn Ali al Tabarsi, al Ihtijaj, ed. Muhammad Baqir al Khirsan, (al Najaf: Matbat al Nu’man, 1386/1966), 2:89.
 Kitab al Sirah, Arab MS. 1449, fols. 117-18, Bibliothèque Nationale.
 Ibid., fols. 114, and 118, 173b.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 205; Kitab al Mashyakhah in Lyde, The Asian Mystery,141, and al Tabarani, Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 67.
 Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 81; and Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 97.
 Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 141.
 Al Tabarani, Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 71-72.
 Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 81 85-86; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 140.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 146-47 and 152-53; and Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 141-42.
 Kitab al Mashyakhah in Lyde, The Asian Mystery,141-42.
 Arab MS. 4291, fol. 56, Berlin Royal Library, quoted in Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 35.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 166-67; and Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung bei den Nusairi,” 113, in which he quotes al Tabarani as stating that God created woman from the disobedience Iblis (Satan).
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 164-65.
 Ibid., 152-54.
 Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 144.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 88-90.
 Al Nawbakhti, Firaq al Shia, 52-53.
 Kitab Sirah, Arab MS. 1449, fols. 112-13, Bibliothèque Nationale.
 Ibid., fol. 126.
 Ibid., fol. 146.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 62.
 Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 198; and Journal Asiatic (February 1848), 166.
 Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 7, fol. 4 and question 80 and 81, fol. 16, Bibliothèque Nationale; and al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 67.
 Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 141.
 Risalat al Tawhid, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 46, Bibliothèque Nationale.
 Burckhardt, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, 156; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 143.
 See al Nashshabi, Munazara, Arab MS. 1450, fols. 140-41, Bibliothèque Nationale. Ibid.
 Ibid., fol. 132.
 Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 102.Back to top