13. The Nusayri Ceremonies: Festivals

12. The Nusayris Religious System: Initiation
December 10, 2015
14. The Nusayri Mass
December 10, 2015

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Nusayri Ceremonies



The Nusayris celebrate many festivals of varied origins: Arabian, Persian, and Christian. One major source of information about these festivals is the Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad (Book of feasts), by the prominent Nusayri, Abu Sa’id Maymun ibn al Qasim al Tabarani (d. 1034), described because of his religious knowledge as alShabb alThiqah (the authoritative young man).[1]


From al Tabarani we learn that the information about the Nusayri festivals is (falsely) derived from Imam Jafar al Sadiq. It is reported that one day Muhammad ibn Sinan, who attended the assembly of al Sadiq, asked him to explain the Arabian and Persian feasts that God had mentioned in the Qur’an. Al Sadiq gave an account of the festivals, beginning with the Arabian ones.[2]


The association of the Imam Jafar al Sadiq with the religious system of the Nusayris, and especially with their festivals, is very significant. It demonstrates that the Nusayris are Shia who recognise al Sadiq’s authority. The Imam is considered as an outstanding jurist and religious authority; indeed, a special juristic and theological school, al Mazhab al Jafari, bears his name. To obtain legitimacy as sound and moderate Shiites, the Nusayris capitalised on the name of this Imam. It is no wonder that Kitab al Haft al Sharif, one of the secret books of the Nusayris, is believed to have been related by al Mufaddal ibn Umar al Ju’fi from Imam Jafar al Sadiq.[3]


But we should not be misled by the Nusayris’ association with the Imam al Sadiq into believing that they are moderate Shia like the Twelvers, who constitute the majority of Shia’s. The Nusayris were and still are Ghulat, or extremist Shia, who have exceeded the religious bounds of Shi’ism by deifying the Imam Ali. Indeed, the purpose and celebration of the many feasts found in Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad constitutes clear evidence that the Nusayris are Ghulat. Some of their festivals may seem similar to those of the orthodox Sunni Muslims, but in reality they demonstrate the Nusayris’ extreme Shia beliefs. The account of each of their festivals given in Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad is followed by supplicatory prayers or sermons in praise of the God Ali and His divine attributes.


In one section off this book Imam Jafar al Sadiq associates the Nusayris with one of the earliest Ghulat, Muhammad ibn Abi Zainab, known as Abu al Khattab. According to Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, Muhammad ibn Sinan asked the Imam al Sadiq about the day on which Abu al Khattab proclaimed his dawa (call or message). Al Sadiq answered that day, a Monday, the tenth of the month of Muharram, is a great day glorified by God. Therefore, believers should spend that day praising God and praying for Abu al Khattab and his companions.[4]


Who was this Abu al Khattab, and why was his message so significant to the Nusayris that the Imam al Sadiq considered the day of its proclamation to be a festival among the Nusayris?


Abu al Khattab was a Persian client of the Arab tribe of the Banu Asad; for this reason, he was called al Asadi. He was one of the many Ghulat who lived in Kufah, in sourthen Iraq, which in the eighth century was a hotbed of extreme Shia teachings.[5]


Abu al khattab was a contemporary and acquaintance of the Imam Jafar al Sadiq. His extreme teaching included the deification of the Imam al Sadiq. It is said that he pitched a tent in a certain district of al kufah and began to call for the worship of the Imam al Sadiq as god. He also preached that the Shia Imam were gods and sons of gods. When the Imam Jafar al Sadiq learned that Abu al Khattab was deifying him, he cursed and expelled him.[6]


Abu al Khattab and his followers revolted against the Abbasid governor of al Kufah, Isa ibn Musa (d. 783), who sent a force against them. Abu al Khattab was captured and crucified in 755. After his death, his followers taught that, although the Imam Jafar al Sadiq was God, yet Abu al Khattab was more excellent than him and the Imam Ali.[7] Thus it is clear that Abu al Khattab’s followers considered him to be divine.


In chapter 26, we discussed the Nusayri belief that, in each of the seven cycles of divine emanation, a prophet called the Natiq existed, who was a reflection of the perfect man, and was accompanied by a Samit who would proclaim and interpret the prophet’s revelations. If, as we suggested earlier, this belief, thought to have been created by the Ismailis and adopted by the Nusayris, was in fact generated by Abu al Khattab, there must have been a close connection between his followers and the Nusayris. It is significant that al Nawbakhti considers the Ismailis and the Khattabiyyah (named after Abu al Khattab) to be one and the same sect.[8]


Arabian festivals


Among the Arabian (Islamic) festivals celebrated by the Nusayris is Id al Fitr, the feast of breaking the fast. Muslims celebrate this feast at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. But to the Nusayris, it does not have the same significance, for there is no evidence in their book of feasts that they fast in the month of Ramadan. There is, however, a prayer in this book of Ramadan; a plea to God Ali to help, protect, and guide the believers (Nusayris). According to al Khasibi, Id al fitr, much like prayer and alms, is believed to be a personification of Lord Muhammad.[9]


Another Arabian feast is Id al Adha (the feast of sacrifice), which the Nusayris celebrate on the tenth of the Islamic month of Dhu al Hijjah. To the Nusayris, this festival marks the day in which the Mahdi will appear wielding a sword and causing much bloodshed. To the Muslims, it is the commemoration of Abraham’s offering his son, Ismail, as a sacrifice.[10]


Another feast is celebrated in honour of Salman al Farisi, the third person on the Nusayri trinity. It is observed on the second al Ahad (Sunday) of the month of Dhu al Hijjah. It is reported on that Sunday, Ali ordered Salman to enter the place of worship, preached to the people, and, through Ali, expose the false gods and the apostates (those who rejected Ali’s divinity). It is also the day on which Ali told Salman that if he asked, he would endow him with eloquence and give him evidence of his (Ali’s) divinity. Ali declared Salman to be a distinguished luminary and told the believers, “Salman is a tree, and you are the branches.”[11] This is further evidence of the prominent position Salman, the Persian, occupies in the religious system of the Nusayris.


The Nusayris also celebrate three Shia festivals, but these observances are characterised by their extreme Shia beliefs. The first of these festivals is Id al Ghadir, which is named after Ghadir Khumm (Khumm is a Pond), the spot where the Rasul salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam is believed to have appointed Ali as his lawful successor to lead the Muslim community, thus confirming the divine office of the Imamah.


According to Shia tradition, in the year 632 A.D., when the Rasul salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam was returning to Madinah from Makkah, where he performed his last pilgrimage, he camped near the Ghadir Khumm. Making a pulpit of camel saddles, he began to preach. His followers fraternised with one another, joined in a bind of brotherhood. Ali was not invited to join this circle, however, and that broke his heart. Noticing that Ali was unhappy, the Rasul called him and, holding his hand, he raised it, saying, “He who recognises me as his master: for him, Ali too, is master. May Allah love those who love him and be the enemy of those who hate him.”[12]


According to the Nusayri version of this event, the Prophet Muhammad said, “He who recognises me as his master, for him Ali is his Mana,” indicating that the Rasul was revealing the manawiyyah (divine reality) of Ali as God, the casual determinant of the entire creation. According to this version, when Muhammad called Ali to him that day, he knew that he was standing before his Lord Ali and his Bab (Salman), but he wanted to reveal the reality of Ali as the Mana (casual determinant) to the world. This is confirmed by al Khasibi, who declares in a lengthy poem entitled “al Qasidah al Ghadiriyyah” (The Ghadir’s Ode) that this feast is called the Feast of al Ghadir because the lord Muhammad there revealed the divinity of his master, Ali, by saying, “This is your Lord, God and creator; therefore, know and worship him. He is the only one, the architect, the first and the last, the one who causes life and death, the compassionate. I am his apostle servant, sent to you with a divine book [the Qur’an]. He commanded me to inform his creation that he is their lord and master. He is truly God, and you who have denied this truth shall remain to be transformed, generation after generation.”[13] For this reason, says the author of Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, the Nusayris (whom he calls Ahl al Tawhid) celebrate this feast with joy, eating and drinking.[14]


Another Shia feast is the Feast of Mubahalah, which the Nusayris celebrate on the 21st day of Dhu al Hijjah. As we have already seen in chapter 7, the Prophet Muhammad debated a group of Arab Christians from Najran, in southern Arabia, as to whether Jesus was the son of God. Muhammad, asserting that this belief is blasphemy, asked the Christians of Najran for a Mubahalah; that is, the disputants would supplicate (bahala) God over this matter and God, as judge, would strike dead those who were in error. The Shia use this incident to prove that Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, and Hussain are the family of the Rasul par excellence, and therefore the Imamah (leadership of the Muslim community) should be confined to Ali and his descendants. This Imamah is a divine office that no other Muslim, no matter how excellent his qualities, can occupy. Moreover, since the members of the family of the Prophet are pre-existent and their names are inscribed on the throne of God, Ali and his descendants, the Imams, are the only one who possesses the right, pre-ordained by God, to rule over the Muslim community.


The Nusayri account of the Mubahalah is a little different from the Shia account. It expresses the Nusayris theological dogma of the trinity of Ali, Muhammad, and Salman. According to this version, the Mubahalah took place near al Kathib al Ahmar (the red hillock). The hillock was ablaze with lightning flashes, and when the lightning subsided, Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, Hassan, Hussain, and Salman al Farisi appeared. Then, together with some companions, all were covered with a mantle. When the leaders of the Arab Christians of Najran were asked to draw near the shrouded figures to begin the Mubahalah, they found they were unable to move. They tried three times to draw near, but failed each time. This greatly astonished them. One of the Christian leaders, Shihab ibn Abi Tammam, called to his companions in rhyme, asking whether they were seeing the same thing he saw, the deity covered with a mantle. The only sense that can be made of this episode is that the Christians of Najran were greatly surprised to realise that they were appealing to Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al Farisi, the Nusayri trinity, which was identical in makeup to their own Trinity of god the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.[15]


Still another Shia feast the Feast of Firash (bed), which the Nusayris observe on 29 Dhu al Hijjah, to commemorate the night when Ali slept in Muhammad’s bed to save him from being killed by his enemies, the people of the Quraysh tribe. In the year 622 Muhammad decided to emigrate with his companions to Madinah, to escape the persecution of his enemies, the polytheist of Quraysh. Fearing that his enemies will kill him, Muhammad asked Ali to sleep in his bed, and Ali agreed. When the men of the Quraysh stormed into the bedroom, they found Ali in Muhammad’s bed. Realising that they had been tricked, the men gave chase to Muhammad, but he escaped on his camel.[16]


According to one version of this episode, God blinded the attackers and poured dust on their heads. They spend the night in pain and confusion. Then when morning came, Ali went out to them, and they realised that Muhammad had already escaped to safety.[17] Appended to this version of the episode is an ode by Ibn Harun al Saigh.[18]


One of the revered festivals of the Nusayris is Dhikr Id Ashur, or the Commemoration of Ashur, as the title appears in Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad.[19] Ashur, or Ashurah, is the tenth day of the month of Muharram in the Islamic year 61 (10 October 680), on which Hussain, second son of Ali, was brutally murdered with his entourage in Karbala’, twenty-five miles northwest of Kufah in present day Iraq. To the Shia, this day is a day of grief and mourning over Hussain, who was murdered by his enemies, the Umayyads. Muawiyah, the Umayyad governor of Syria, had challenged Ali, Hussain’s father, had disputed with Ali during his khilafah in 661. Ali was killed by a Khariji, Abdul Rahman ibn Muljam, and instantly became a canonised martyr to his partisans, the Shia’s. In that year, Muawiyah was proclaimed khalifah in Jerusalem. He made Damascus his capital, and with him began the Umayyad khilafah (661-750).


The Shia’s of Iraq declared Hassan, the eldest son of Ali, as khalifah. However, Hassan was not interested in becoming a khalifah; he abdicated the office in favour of Muawiyah and retired to Madinah, where he died in 669 at the age of forty-five.


Hussain, the younger brother of Hassan, refused to acknowledge Muawiyah’s son, Yazid, who succeeded his father as khalifah in 680. The same year, the Shia’s of Iraq invited Hussain to come to Iraq and be their khalifah. Hussain travelled to Iraq with a small entourage. It was at Karbala’, where they camped, that Hussain and his band were brutally murdered by a contingent of four thousand Umayyad troops commanded by Umar, son of the prominent Arab army commander, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas. Hussain’s head was cut off and send to the khalifah Yazid in Damascus. The Shia consider Hussain as Sayed al Shuhadah (the chief of martyrs). With the murder of Hussain, Muslim politics triumphed over Muslim brotherhood.


While the tenth day of Muharram (Ashurah) is the day of mourning to the Shia, it is a day of jubilation, of praising God, and affirming his unity, to the Nusayris. The reason for jubilation is that the Nusayris believe that Hussain, like Jesus Christ, was not killed: that his murderers merely thought they had killed him. Concerning Jesus’ crucifixion, Qur’an 4:157 states “They [the Jews] declared, ‘We have put to death the messiah Jesus, the Son of Mary, the Apostle of God.’ They did not kill Him, nor did they crucify Him, but they thought they did.”[20] According to Islamic tradition, Jesus was neither killed nor crucified, but was made to resemble another man, a substitute, whom the Jews really killed. So was it with Hussain. His murderers thought they had killed Him, but he was concealed from their eyes and killed another man, Hanzalah ibn Asad, instead: one who resembles Hussain. The Imam Jafar al Sadiq, believed to be the source of the Nusayris’ festivals, states that the episode of Hussain is similar to that of Jesus Christ, whom the Christians maintain that he was crucified, but in fact was not. Likewise the Muslims [Sunni] and the Shia believe that Hussain was killed, but in fact he was not, because, “Our Lord Hussain is Christ and Christ is Hussain.”[21]


In accordance with the Nusayris’ belief, al Sadiq maintains that all the names from Adam to Qa’im (the twelfth Imam, the Mahdi), including Jesus and Muhammad, denote one and the same manifestation of the Prophet Hood and the Imamah. In other words, Hussain is believed to be one of the manifestations of God which appeared during the period of Muhammad, and one of the five members of the Ahl al Bayt (the family of the Prophet), who are considered by the Nusayris to be deities.[22]


In Kitab al Haft al Sharif, Jafar al Sadiq states that Hussain escaped being killed because he was an Imam and a vicar to God; indeed, God was veiled in him. God showed his grace in not allowing Hussain, one of His chosen, to suffer death at the hands of the infidels. This, says al Sadiq, is a great mystery which is incomprehensible to unbelievers, who do not have vicars of God. But, al Sadiq, continues, “Our own followers, the Shia, who hear from us the inner knowledge of God, His vicar Ali, and His apostle Muhammad, understand this mystery and deliver it to the believing brothers… As Ismail, son of Ibrahim, was ransomed by a ram when his father tried to offer him as a sacrifice, so Hussain was ransomed by the old man, Adhlam, of the Quraysh tribe, who was transformed into a ram and was sacrificed instead of Hussain.”[23]


Al Sadiq further explains that the would-be murderers of Hussain could not have killed him because, as an Imam, Hussain had the power to transform himself from a physical to a spiritual body (and vice versa) at his own discretion. When the attackers of Hussain tried to kill him, he simply left his physical body; God lifted him up to prevent his enemies from killing him.[24]


Moreover, al Sadiq asserts, Hussain could not have been killed because God was veiled in him; he was God. This statement confirms to the Nusayris’ belief in the divinity of the Imam’s. Al Sadiq states that when the enemies of Hussain advanced to kill him, he called the Angel Jibril and said to him, “Brother, who am I?” Jibril answered, “You are god; there is no God but He, the Everlasting, the Ever living, and the One who is the author of life and death. You are the One who commands the heavens and the earth, the mountains and the seas, and they will obey you. You are the one who no one can deceive and harm.” Hussain asked, “Do you see those wretched people who intend to kill their Lord because of their weakness? But they will never achieve their aim nor be able to kill any of God’s vicars, just as they failed to kill Jesus and the Commander of the faithful, Ali. However, they intended to kill these vicars of God, and their intention might beproof convicting them of torture.” Following the command of Hussain, Jibril assumed the form of a stranger and went to see Umar ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, who had orders from the Umayyad governor Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad to kill Hussain.


In this guise, Jibril appeared before Sa’d, who, though surrounded by guards and generals, was frightened by his looks. Sa’d asked the stranger what he wanted. Jibril told him that he was one of God’s servants who had come to ask Sa’d who it was that he intended to fight. Sa’d replied that he had orders to fight Hussain, son of Ali. Jibril said, “Woe to you. You want to kill the Lord of the Worlds and the god of those who are first and last, the creator of the heavens and the earth and all therein.”


When Sa’d heard these words, he became frightened and ordered his men to attack Jibril. Just as they were about to strike, Jibril spat in their faces, causing them to fall to the ground unconscious. When they regain consciousness, Jibril had disappeared.[25]


Sa’d and Muawiyah (the Umayyad khulafa’) suffered metempsychosis as their punishment for the plan to murder Hussain. They were transformed first into ugly giants, and then into rams. When they appeared as rams before the Lord of Mercy (Hussain) and asked Him to restore them to human form, Hussain refused to do so. He commanded that they remain in the Musukhiyyah (metempsychotic state) for a thousand years, saying, “I will never forgive you or have compassion for you. I forgive and have compassion for the holy and chosen only.”[26] According to this account, the angel Jibril, whom Hussain dispatched to Umar ibn Sa’d, was none other than Abu al Khattab, who talked to Sa’d and spat in his face and the faces of his men and caused them to fall to the ground unconscious; and he is the one in charge of their torment forever.


This demonstrates the mind-set of the Nusayris. Religion is the focal point of their lives, directing their every action, at home and in their community, even extending into their government. The story clearly demonstrates the Nusayri belief that Abu al Khattab existed from the beginning, together with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and Muhammad. It is a tenet of the Nusayris’ faith, and their sincere belief, that Abu al Khattab appeared in different forms and was known by different names in every one of the generations of the Imam’s, and that he controls life and death and provides for mankind by the order of his Lord (Hussain).[27]


The story of Abu al Khattab is also significant from another standpoint. It shows that the Nusayris were among the early Ghulat (extremists Shia). Abu al Khattab, whose full name is Muhammad ibn Abi Zainab al Asadi (d. 755), was one of the early extremists Shia who proclaimed the divinity of the Imams, especially Jafar al Sadiq. Earlier we discussed the association of Abu al Khattab with Jafar al Sadiq and the tradition that al Khasibi related, indicating that al Sadiq called Abu al Khattab the Bab (door), just as his great grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad, had called Salman al Farisi the Bab.[28]


Hussain’s divinity and his freedom from death are reaffirmed by al Khasibi, the great apostle of Nurayrism. He states that Hussain was Christ and the Mana and the death therefore had no power over him. He also attributes divinity to Hussain in a lengthy ode, asserting that divinity could not be killed.


After asserting that there is no difference between Jesus Christ and Hussain, al Khasibi goes on to say, “How is it possible to kill the one [Hussain] by whose power and mercy people live?” he laments over those (Shia) who weep over their Lord (Hussain), saying, “I will never be party to those who weep over their Lord, whom they think of having been murdered in Karbala’. Such thought is false because, like Jesus, Hussain was not killed.”[29]


Thus the Shia’s observance of the murder of Hussain on the tenth of Muharram (Ashurah) as a day of sorrow and lamentation is transformed by the Nusayris into a day of festivity and joy because, being divine, Hussain has triumphed over death. Their celebration of this day affirms that the Nusayris are extremist Shia.


We close the subject of the Nusayris’ celebration of Ashurah with the following supplicatory prayer, entitled Ziyarat Yawm Ashurah, which Nusayris recite upon visiting a holy shrine on the day of Ashurah. It epitomises the Nusayri assertion of the divinity of Hussain, over whom death has no power.


Ziyarat Yawm Ashurah


Peace upon you, O brilliant light, radiant beam, shooting star, the Proof against mankind, the Insoluble Bond, the veritable Door, and the Strong Kernel (of faith). I testify that you have not been killed or vanquished, you have not died or slept, but that you concealed yourself by your power and hid from human eyes by your wisdom. You are my Lord, present and absent, witnessing and hearing what people ask, and you provide them with answers. My Lord, upon you and from you is peace. I have come visiting in knowledge and recognition of your excellence, professing your manifestation, seeking refuge in you, worshipping your forms, renouncing those who set themselves to fight against you. You are greater than their will and purpose, and through your power you are far from being subject to killing, captivity, defeat, and persecution. You cause to die whom you will. You provide livelihood to whom you will, without account. You are glorified and highly exalted above the falsehood of the iniquitous, who claim that on this spot (in Karbala’) you were buried and vanquished. For you are the creator of death and annihilation. You are the everlasting, ever-living, the ancient of days. You are the lord of lords and god of gods. How could you be killed while you are he who authorised life? Or how could your enemies lay hands on you while you are the one who cause them to live and die, whatever you will and whenever you will? Exalted are you above those who say you were killed, vanquished, persecuted, contained, and buried on this spot. Nay, you have cast your form on your chosen one, Hanzalah, who came to resemble you, and for this reason you promised through your forgiveness your Garden (Paradise) and offered him a lofty rank and position. May your greeting, salutation, prayer, and peace be upon Hanzalah and upon the Unitarian believers [the Nusayris], who recognise their creator forever and ever.[30]


Another festival celebrated by the Nusayris is called the Remembrance of the Middle of Sha’ban is the last month of the Nusayri calendar; the first being the month of Ramadan. The Nusayri calendar was arranged by al Khasibi, and for this reason it is called in Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad the year of the Muwahhidin (Unitarians), who are “the noble sect of al Khasibiyya al Jiliyya.”[31]


In a discourse called the Rastbashiyyah, al Khasibi extols the night of Sha’ban as a blessed night celebrated for the glory of Fatir (Fatimah), Hassan, Hussain, and Muhsin (a third son of Ali and Fatimah who died in infancy), who are the light and essence of Muhammad. Al Khasibi cites Qur’an 44:2-3 to show that this night is blessed because in it, God revealed the Qur’an. To al Khasibi, it is the night of power (Laylat al Qadr), in which, Muslims maintain, Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad.


The Muslims celebrate the revelation of the Qur’an during the night of the 26th and 27th of Ramadan, not during Sha’ban as the Nusayris do. The Nusayris, desiring to stand apart from the rest of the Muslim community, give the celebration of this night a dogmatic meaning suited to their own extreme Shia beliefs. Thus, al Khasibi interprets the Qadr to mean Muhammad, and the night to mean Fatir (Fatimah), Muhammad’s daughter. Further, he interprets Qur’an 44:1-2—“We have revealed it [the Qur’an] on a blessed night… in that night is made distinct every affair of wisdom,” —to refer to Hassan, Hussain, and Muhsin, through whom the legitimacy of the Imamah was established. Al Khasibi considers Fatimah one of the Imam’s, asserting that it is only through sheer confusion that she appeared to them in a feminine form.[32]


Here al Khasibi is in fact reiterating a belief held by some ancient extremist Shia sects, the Alya’iyyah, the Dhamiyyah, and the Mukhammisah, who maintain that the members of the family of the Prophet (that is, Muhammad, Ali, his wife Fatimah, and their sons, Hassan and Hussain) are gods, and that Fatimah (whom they call by the masculine form Fatir), is one of the Imams.[33]


Persian Festivals


The Nusayris celebrate two solemn festivals of Persian origin, the Nawruz and the Mihrajan. The feast of Nawruz and the Mihrajan (New Year) is celebrated in April. A very solemn and holy feast, it is the source of great merit to those who have received the faith (the Nusayris).[34]


The Nusayris celebrate this day because of their belief in the spiritual supremacy of the Persian over the Arabs. They belief that the Mana, Ali, appeared in the persons of Persian (Sassanid) kings, and that the Persians preferred the divine mystery thus revealed to them after the Arabs, Ali’s own people rejected him. As discussed at length in chapter 27, the Nusayris’ observance of the Nawruz reveals the Persian origin of the Nusayri religion.[35]


The Festival of Mihrajan is celebrated on 16 October. Although the Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad refers to it as one of the finest of feasts, it contains no description of its observance or of its benefits to believers. This book does contain, however, two lengthy invocations describing the divinity of Ali and his appearance in the Persian periods, the second of which states clearly that the Mihrajan is a Persian holiday: “O great Lord Ali, this is a Persian day and a Bahman feast [Bahman is a Persian word for king], which you have instituted and revealed to your chosen ones, offering the Mihrajan to your creation in order that they may receive forgiveness by the knowledge of its inward and out ward truth.”[36]


Christian Festivals


The Nusayri celebrate many Christian’s feasts, of which al Tabarani, in Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, lists only one, Dhikr Laylat al Milad (Remembrance of Christmas Eve).[37] Sulaiman al Adani describes only the Christmas festivals, but he lists many other Christian’s feasts observed by the Nusayris, including the Epiphany, Pentecost, Palm Sunday, and the feast of Saint John the Baptist, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Barbara, and Saint Mary Magdalene.[38]


The festival of Epiphany, which the Nusayris call Ghattas (Immersion), is celebrated on 6 January, following the custom of the Eastern Churches. It is the celebration of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the river Jordan. Jesus was completely immersed in the water during His baptism, and for this reason the Christians, especially the Syrians and the Lebanese, call this festival “Ghattas,” it is also for this reason that the Eastern Churches baptize by immersion — in the font in the case of an infant, or in a deep receptable with an adult.[39]


The Nusayris have a tradition of adorning trees on the eve of the Epiphany, believing that by doing so they will receive anything they have prayed for. On their way back from the ceremony of immersion, they pick the branches of the myrtle. They dip these branches in water and put them in containers filled with corn, which they then place in various parts the house. They also bring in stones from their sacred sources of water and place them on fruit trees; this, they believe, will assure them of a bountiful harvest of fruit.[40]


The festival of Saint Barbara is celebrated on the 16 of October. Some Nusayris have a tradition of lightning bonfires in the village square or in special containers at home on the eve of this feast. On the same evening, young men gather and choose from among themselves one whom they call Arandas (the lion). They dress him in grotesque clothes and blacken his face with charcoal. Then they take him from house to house, shouting, “Biseyyat Barbara, biseyyat Barbara [supposedly the name of the Egyptian cat-headed goddess Bast]”[41] This feast is a combination of Christian and pagan traditions.


The Nusayris celebrate the feast of Christmas Eve (Dhikr of Laylat al Milad) on the 24th of December according to one version of Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, and on the 25 December according to another version.[42] Their purpose in celebrating Christmas is to affirm their belief in the different manifestations of god, of which Ali was the final one. The Nusayris’ Christmas is outwardly Christian, but closer examination shows it to be a demonstration of their extremist Shia beliefs, Furthermore, we should not be mislead by the Nusayri narrative of the birth of Jesus, based on the Qur’an, to conclude, as did Abdul Rahman Badawi, that this narrative is Islamic. Badawi maintains that the Nusayris celebrate the birth of Jesus as a manifestation of God because he spoke like a grown-up, when a new born in the cradle. Badawi concludes the Nusayri celebration of the birth of Jesus is not Christian, but Islamic, and in full conformity with the story of the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Qur’an.[43] This conclusion seems faulty, however. The Nusayris did utilize the Qur’anic rather than the Biblical narrative of the birth of Jesus, but they did so to affirm their own extremist belief in the different manifestations of God, which is not an Islamic belief. The Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad provides evidence for this view.


According to this book of feasts, Christmas Eve falls on the 24 of December, the last day of the Greek year. On this night God manifested Himself through birth to the holy Virgin Mary. In the Qur’an 66:12, Mary is described as “Mary, daughter of Imran, who preserved her chastity, and into whose womb he breathed our Spirit. She believed in the word of her Lord, gave credence to His books, and was obedient.” To the Nusayris, however, Mary is none other than Aminah, the daughter of Wahb and the mother of the Lord Muhammad. In other words, in the Muhammdan period, Mary was manifested in the person of Aminah. Many Nusayris believe that this Mary — Aminah was also a manifested in Fatir (Fatimah), Muhammad’s daughter, because Muhammad reportedly addressed her once by saying, “Come in, O you who are the mother of her own father (Umm Abiha).” A more moderate interpretation is that the Prophet used this language merely to indicate that his daughter Fatimah was the mother of his grandsons, Hassan, Hussain, and Muhsin.[44]


The Nusayris belief that Muhammad’s mother appeared in the form of Mary in the Christian period is affirmed by the prominent Nusayri writer Abu al Hussain Ahmed ibn Ali al Jilli. Al Khasibi also speaks of the sanctity of Christmas Eve, in which Jesus Christ manifested himself: “On the hill where peace sojourns and pure water flows, Mary brought forth Jesus Christ, the Messiah, for whom I sacrifice myself and whom I love sincerely.”[45]


The author of Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad concludes his description of Christmas Eve by stating that ever since the Lord Christ spoke and manifested himself during the night, it has been sanctified and honoured.[46] Although this narrative does not mention Ali by name, it does indicate that since Aminah, the mother of Muhammad was none other than Mary, the mother of Jesus, Muhammad is the manifestation of Jesus. In other words, Muhammad, the Ism of Ali in the Nusayri trinity, is also Jesus, who was the Ism of another: of the seven manifestations of God. As the Ism of Ali, Muhammad had to be born miraculously, like Jesus, or else the sequence of manifestations of God asserted by the Nusayris would have interrupted. That is why the author of Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad considers Muhammad’s mother homologous with the mother of Christ.


One prayer from the feast of Christmas Eve tells how, on the eve, Ali manifested himself in human form as a child and proved to men his eternity and divinity, as he had done before with different forms in his periodic manifestations. What is important is that Ali Manifested not only himself on the Christmas night, but also his name, Muhammad (who is his Soul, his Veil, and his Throne), and his Bab, Salman al Farisi.[47]


Another Christmas Eve prayer seems to be more emphatic in stating that Ali appeared in the person of Jesus, and that, as the veil of Ali, Muhammad was manifested in the preceding prophets, including Moses and Jesus. Thus Ali, like his veil, Muhammad, became manifested in Jesus, who is intimately is associated with the Nusayri trinity. The prayer contains invocations of Christian personages and describes rituals in-comprehensible to any who are not familiar with Christian terminology.


The following prayer, written in very difficult Arabic (in one place it uses the Syriac term Sullaq [Ascension]), particularly illustrates the Christian elements in the Nusayri religion:


O Lord, I adjure you by the shinning light of your awe-inspiring majesty and the tongue which utters mysteries of your wisdom and explains truths through the mouths of your saints. I adjure you by the by him who spoke miraculously in the cradle and raised the dead from the grave; by him who binds and looses, threatens and promises; by him whose mind cannot comprehend excepts by the knowledge and understanding supported by divine miracles and extracted from the universal elements of the divine world and transcendent spirit manifested in Yasu (Jesus) whose manifestation was Greek and whose speaking [in the cradle] was Jacobite, who appeared as Lord, was lifted up while he was veiled and concealed when he was crucified, and is the same to all those who see him. O Lord, my Master, I adjure you by the celebration of Easter, by the Salluq [Ascension of Jesus to the heaven], by the Anathemas [in assertion of the Christian orthodox faith, by the Epiphany, by the great sprinkling of water associated with the Epiphany, and by the innermost [mystery] of Christmas Eve and in honouring it, that you purified the hearts of your saints by fire and spirit.

I adjure you by the glorification of the Great Cross and the Holy Mary and by what is said in Church; by the monks; by the Saint Simon and his light; by the Figs and Olives [Qur’an 95: 1]; by what was dwelt in Peter [probably the words of Christ delivering to him the Keys of the kingdom] and thy Saint George, who outdid him in the truth; by the crucifixion and Him who was lifted on the cross, by the gospel and him who reads it, by Christ and him who sees Him, by Him “Who is God in heaven and God on earth” [Qur’an 43: 84], there is no God but Him our Lord, the prince of Bees, Ali, who is manifest in John and Simon Peter, and no Hijab [veil] except our Lord Muhammad, who is manifest in Jesus, Moses, and Saint George, and no Bab except Salman. I adjure you by your self (for there is nothing greater than you) to bring us in full knowledge of you in every transmigration and revolution, inspire us with your guidance, confirm us in following your command, open for us the treasures of your bounty and knowledge; increase generously our livelihood in order to extend the same to our brethren and friends, and do not decrease it or offer it to us with a tight hand. Protect us from all evil and perils, you who control the affairs of heaven and earth, O benevolent and gracious, O Ali, O great.[48]


In essence, the prayer is in affirmation of the Nusayris’ belief in Ali’s divinity. The Christians terms and the names of saints it contains have been borrowed from the Eastern Churches of Syria, to assert the Nusayris’ belief in the many manifestations of God in different periods of time, the last and the most important of which, of course, is Ali.


The various festivals celebrated by the Nusayris, whatever their origins, are transformed within the Nusayri culture into testaments of their belief in the divinity and eternity of Ali. It should be remembered that in the Middle Eastern societies, be they Islamic or Christian, religious dogma and doctrine plays a very insignificant role directing the peoples lives. Rather, it is the outward aspects of religion—traditions, customs, and ceremonies—that govern the lives of these people.


The importance of these various festivals as an affirmation of the Nusayris’ popular beliefs can scarcely be overestimated. Given their importance, it is not surprising that during the seasons of these festivals, the Nusayris visit many Ziyaras (holy shrines) of their saints, there celebrating the great mystery, the secret of secrets, the consecration of wine, in a mass called “Quddas,” the very word used by he Eastern Churches for the celebration of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This mass will be discussed at length in the following chapter.


Among the Christians, Muslims, and Yezidis (the so called devil worshippers), saint worship has exercised a great influence on the religious life of the people.[49] This is true among the Nusayris also. They visit many holy shrines; some commemorating Biblical figures such as the Prophet Yunus (Jonah), Rubayl (Reuben), Saint Yuhanna (John), Saint Jirjis (George), and the Sayyida (the blessed Virgin Mary), while others commemorate Shia notables: Sheikh Badr al Halabi, Ahmed al Kirfas, a Nusayri holy man; Jafar al Tayyar, brother of Imam Ali and a Shia personage; and al Arbayn, the forty Martyrs of Sebaste. These holy shrines and tombs are generally situated on hilltops, amid groves of evergreens and oak, with spring nearby, recalling the Canaanite shrines situated on high hills under evergreens. Lyde believes that many of the Nusayri groves are very, very old, perhaps as old as the Canaanites. The shrine typically consists of one square room, topped with a white plastered dome, although some like that of Jafar al Tayyar, consist of three rooms.[50]


The Nusayris believe in the divine power of the holy men buried in these shrines to cure many diseases. Nusayris also take oaths by these shrines, which they take very seriously, firmly believing that a false oath leads to calamities.[51]


Munir al Sharif relates that one of the shrines in the village of Rabo, in the district of Masyaf, has a very narrow window. An oath taker whose veracity is in doubt is made to try and pass the window; if he has told a falsehood, he cannot pass through it. However, al Sharif says, many Nusayris mock the miraculous power of the window; they commit immoral acts and then pass through the window purportedly proving that their denials about these acts were truthful.[52]


Other Nusayris believe that some of these shrines warded off bullets fired by the French. Still others, particularly young Nusayri men and women, look to the saints in the shrines to find them the right partner. Childless couples invoke the saints to grant them offspring; farmers pray to them for abundant crops; and householders ask for blessings on their homes.[53]


NEXT⇒ The Nusayris Mass

[1] Al Tabarani, Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann.

[2] Ibid., 27:4-5; and Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 149-68. The titles of these feasts are reproduced in Badawi, Madhahib al Islamiyyin, 2:462, 470.

[3] See the title page and the introduction of Kitab al Haft al Sharif.

[4] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 10.

[5] Al Al, Harakat al Shia al Mutatarrifin, 8-33.

[6] Sa’d ibn Abdullah al Ashari, al Maqalat wa al Firaq, ed. Muhammad Jawad Mashkur (Tehran: Matbaat Haydari, 1963), 55.

[7] Al Nawbakhti, Firaq al Shia, 81-82; al Baghdadi, al Farq bayn al Firaq, 247; Abu al Hassan Ali ibn Ismail al Ashari, Kitab al Maqalat, 11; al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:17; Abu Hanifah al Nu’man, Da’a’im al Islam (Cairo: Dar al Ma’arif, 1951), 62-63; al Al, Harakat al Shia al Mutatarrifin, 74-75; and al Sha’ibi, al Sila bayn al Tasawuf wa Tashayyu’, 136-40.

[8] Al Nawbakhti, Firaq al Shia, 80.

[9] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 20, 21, and 22; and Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, question 101, Arab MS. 6182, fol. 38, Bibliothèque Nationale, where Muhammad is personified as a prayer.

[10] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 34.

[11] See this festival listed among others in Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, fol. 38, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[12] Al Kulayni, al Usul min al Kafi, 1:294-95; al Razi, Kitab al Zina, 256-57; Ibn Sa’d, al Tabaqat al Kubra, 3:14; and Ahmed ibn Abi Yaqub Wadih al Yaqubi, Tarikh al Yaqubi (al Najf: Matbat al Ghari, 1358/1939), 2:93.

[13] See al Tabarani, Kita Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 55-59, which covers al Khasibi’s ode. I have tried only to give translation of excerpts of this ode. The prayer and the sermon associated with this feast continue until p. 84 of the same.

[14] Ibid., 55.

[15] Ibid., 85-87.

[16] Ibid., 97-102.

[17] Ibn Khaldun, al Ibar wa Diwan al Mubtaba wa al Khabar (Beirut: Dar al Qalam, 1956), 2:737-38; and Badawi, Madhahib al Islamiyyin, 2:459. Cf. al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusyriyyun, 136.

[18] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 104-6.

[19] Ibid., 107.

[20] Ibid., 107-10; and Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 116. For the commemoration of Ashurah from the view point of the Twelve Shia, see Ayub, Redemptive Suffering in Islam; and Marcais, “Ashurah,” in The Encyclopedia of Islam, (Leiden and London: E.J. Brill, 1960), 1:705.

[21] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothman, 107-8. Cf. Ibn Babawayh (al Qummi), Ilal al Shar’i (al Najaf: al Matbaat al Haydariyyah, 1963), 1:227, where Ibn Babawayh condemns those who say that, like Christ, al Hussain was killed, but that he was thought to have been killed.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 116-20.

[24] Ibid., 120.

[25] Ibid., 121-22.

[26] Ibid., 123-26.

[27] Ibid., 124-25.

[28] Al Nuri, Nafas al Rahman, part 5, 53; and Massignon, Salman Pàk et les Prémices Spirituelles de l’Islam iranien, 48.

[29] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 111-13.

[30] Ibid., 124-25.

[31] Ibid., 19-20.

[32] Ibid., 154-55 and 163-74.

[33] Al Razi, Kitab al Zinah, 307; Abu al Hassan Ali ibn Ismail al Ashari, Kitab al Maqalat, 14; al Baghdadi, al Farq bayn al Firaq, 251; and al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:13.

[34] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 188; Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 161-65; and lyde, The Asian Mystery, 289-94, which is the English translation of Catafago’s French translation of the original text.

[35] Al Tabarani, Kkitab Majmu’ al Ayad, 188-222.

[36] Ibid., 223.

[37] Ibid., 175-77; Catafago, ‘Notices Sur les Anseriens,” 154 and 158-59.

[38] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 34-35.

[39] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 177. Cf. Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 149; al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 140.

[40] Lyde, the Asian Mystery, 177-78; and Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Nosairis, 149.

[41] Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Nosairis, 150. For a very brief account of this and other Nusayri feasts, see Munir al Sharif, al Alawiyyun Man Hum wa Ayna Hum, 136-37. For Bast, see E. A. Wallis Budge, The Book of the Dead (New York: Bell Publishing Company, 1960), 187.

[42] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, Ed. Strothmann, 175.

[43] Badawi, Madhahib al Islamiyyin, 2:466-69, especially 468.

[44] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 175: Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 156-57 and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 285-86, who gives translation of the episode of the Christmas Eve.

[45] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 175, 177; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 287.

[46] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 177; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 187-88.

[47] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 177; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 288.

[48] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 178-79.

[49] For example, see White, “Saint Worship in Turkey,” 8-18.

[50] For these Ziyaras, see Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 167-75; and al Sharif, al Alawiyyun Man Hum wa Anya Hum, 130-35.

[51] Al Sharif, al Alawiyyun Man Hum wa Anya Hum, 133. Cf. Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 168.

[52] Al Sharif, al Alawiyyun Man Hum wa Anya Hum, 134.

[53] Ibid.