6. The Nusayris Religious System: The Apotheosis of Ali

5. The Nusayris Religious System: The Concept of God
December 10, 2015
8. The Nusayri “Trinity: Ali, Muhammad and Salman al-Farisi
December 10, 2015

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The Nusayri Religious System

The Apotheosis of Ali

 

TO THE NUSAYRIS, Ali ibn Abi Talib, blood cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is the last and only perfect one of the seven manifestations of God, in which the Islamic religion and its Shari’ah (law) have been revealed. He is, as noted in the proceeding chapter, the one who created Muhammad and taught him the Qur’an. He is the fountainhead of Islam. He is God: the very God of the Qur’an.

 

Whatever attributes the Muslims ascribe to Allah, the Nusayris ascribe to their God, Ali. Some attribute to him in his human form, others to his Godhead.[1] The first question of the Nusayris’ catechism asks, “Who is our Lord who created us?” the answer is, “He is the commander of the Faithful, Amir al Nahl (Prince of Bees), Ali ibn Abi Talib, who is God and the only God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

 

The second question asks, “Hence how do we know that our Lord the Commander of the Faithful, Ali ibn Abi Talib, is God?” the answer is, “Through his own testimony given in a public sermon which he delivered from the pulpit before many people, and which he taught to scholars and speculative thinkers. In this sermon he said, “I have the knowledge of the hour (the end of the world). The apostles designated me, proclaimed my unity, and called people to my knowledge. I have given the creation its name, flattened the earth, fixed the mountains, made the rivers flow, and brought forth fruits. I have fashioned the dusk and caused the sun to rise and lightened the moon. I have created mankind and provided livelihood. I am the Lord of lords, the possessor of necks. I am al Ali (the most high), al Allam (the omniscient). I am Qarm al Hadid (the Almighty Lord). I am the one who commands life and death, who begat Jesus in the womb of His mother, Mary, and who sent the apostles and instructed the prophets!”[2]

 

The divinity of Ali is further acknowledged in the eleventh chapter (of Kitab al Majmu’), entitled al Shahadah (testimony) and called by the common people of al Jabal (the mountain). What is peculiar is that the testimony of divinity of Ali is associated with Islam as God’s religion. The chapter begins thus: “God bears witness, the angels, to, and all those well versed in religious sciences, that there is no God beside him, the doer of justice… Verily, the religion with God is Islam. O, our Lord, save us by your revelation, cause us to follow the messenger [Muhammad], and so firmly count us among those who testify to AMS.”

 

Further on the statement is made, “I testify that there is no God but Ali ibn Abi Talib with the bold forehead, the adorable, and no Hijab but Lord Muhammad, worthy to be praised, and no Bab but Lord Salman al Farisi… I testify that the manlike form manifested among men was the end of all existence, and that it made manifest the essential light, besides which there is no God, Ali ibn Abi Talib, and that he is immeasurable, illimitable, incomprehensible, inscrutable. I testify that I am a Nusayri in religion.”[3]

 

The Nusayris further maintain that the proof that Ali is God is based on his own testimony in the Qur’an, which they claim contains an inner meaning referring exclusively to divinity of Ali. This is evident in Kitab al Mashyakhah, where Ali is reported to have said, “God has described me in his precious book and said, ‘He is God, beside whom there is no God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Holy King, the Creator. Him all things praise in heaven and earth.” Now these attributes belongs to Him and are in Him, for it is necessary for Him to describe himself (because no other being could do), but they are in me and refer to me, and they are part of my descriptive marks. For when He says, ‘He is God,’ it refers to me, for I am God.”[4]

 

The Nusayris go a step further by maintaining that the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has personally testified to the divinity of Ali. The Nusayri catechism contains the question, “Who called us to the knowledge of our Lord, the Commander of the faithful?” The answer is, “The Apostle Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who in his sermon called Bay’at al Dar said, ‘Now hear what I am going to tell you, and never doubt it. I am calling you to Ali ibn Abi Talib as I call you to God, except that Ali is your master and mine… And I call those who follow me to Ali with full understanding. Praise be to God, for I am not one of the polytheists… I call you to Ali by his own command. My very state of prophet ship is under the dominion of Ali, because he is the one who sent me to you as a Rasul. He is the one who created me from the light of his essence. He is my God and your God, my creator and your creator. Fear Him and obey; declare his unity; praise, sanctify, and worship him, for there is no God beside him.”[5]

 

Kitab al Mashyakhah contains a similar but more detailed testimony by the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam of the divinity of Ali, related by Salman al Farisi. Salman states that the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam invited him and others of his companions, including Ali, to the house of Umm Salamah, one of the Rasul’s wives. After the companions assembled, the Rasul told them to be of good cheer, for he has invited them for their own good to hear and mind what he, as their Rasul, would tell them. The discourse is very long, so I shall give only excerpts of it.

 

The Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam began by saying, “Do you believe in God most high and in me?” We all [Salman and the companions] said, “We believe in God Most High and in you…” “Hear now what I tell you, and beware of doubting what you hear from me. Know that I call you to Ali son of Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu, as I call you to the great and glorious God. Is not Ali your Lord and mine? I call you to Ali with my eyes open, I and those who follow me. I call you to Ali by his command; take care not to doubt. Is not my office of prophet under the dominion of Ali, because he has sent me as a Rasul to you, and because I was created from the light of his essence? Did not Ali teach me the Qur’an? Has not Ali sent me as an apostle to you? Is not Ali my Lord and your Lord? Is not Ali your God? Then Respect him.

 

Is not Ali your Framer, your producer, your healer, your witness and lender, your balance, your keeper, your enricher? Then know him, fear him, mind him, and worship him… Is not Ali the Lord of the Throne? To him are all things committed. Does not Ali know what is secret and what is open to you? Is not Ali the creator of the heaven and earth and the Lord of the east and the west. There is no God but him. Then take him as your patron. Has not Ali the keys of heaven, giving bountifully and sparingly to whom he pleases, for he is all-powerful? Does not Ali (there is no God but he) quicken and kill? He is your Lord and the Lord of your ancestors.

 

Does not Ali seize all the souls? To him all things tend. Is it not Ali to whom all things return? Therefore, hear him, and proclaim his unity, and praise him and sanctify him and glorify him, and say there is no God but him. He begat not nor was he begotten, neither he has any equal; neither he has been incarnated in flesh, nor taken to himself a female companion, nor a child. He has no partner in his dominion, nor any to protect from contempt. Therefore, magnify him (Qur’an 17:3). He appears as dhahir [outward] in revelation and is concealed in batin [inward] in created things. He is the lofty and great one [Qur’an 2:256]. He is all powerful and all knowing, and no one can bear his might or stand in his sight.”[6]

 

Then the Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam turned to the Commander of the Faithful, Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu, who was sitting in his right hand, and said, “I ask you, by the strength of your strength and the might of your glory and the dignity of your Godhead and the greatness of your kingdom-“ and before the Lord Muhammad finished his words, the Prince of the Bees (Amir al Nahl), Ali, disappeared, and there shone upon the assembled companions a great light whose nature could not be comprehended, nor could its vision be and end be understood. A swoon came upon the companions from the intensity of its shining, and they saw it, as it were, in a dream.

 

When they saw this shining light, those assembled shouted, “Praise to you, how great is your dignity! We believe in you and believe in your apostle [Muhammad].” And there was not one of them who did not worship and see a vision from the fear and awe which had fallen upon them… what manifestation is more evident, and what witness and proof more just than that which is given in this information received from the greatest Lord Muhammad, and which he has manifested to the people of truth and faith [the Nusayris] in making known the unity of our lord [Ali] and his indication of him, for the greatest of his end and Mana? May God be exalted and his name sanctified.[7]

 

The books of the Nusayris are replete with similar statements indicating the apotheosis of Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu. One has only to read Kitab al Majmu’ and the Quddases (masses) incorporated in Sulaiman al Adani’s Kitab al Bakhurah to realise how fully the Nusayris have acknowledged Ali alone as their almighty God. For example, the Quddas al Ishara (Indication Mass) begins thus: “Praise be to God, Ali the light of men, Ali is the lord of might. Ali is the cleaver of the grain. Ali is the creator of the breath of life. Ali is the fountain of wisdom. Ali the key of mercy… Ali is the possessor of this world and the world to come. Ali raised the heaven. Ali spread the earth. Ali is the creator of the night and day. Ali is the first and the last. Ali is the ancient of days. Ali is the Imam of Imam’s. Ali is the light of light. Ali is one. Ali is Abel, Ali is Seth, Ali is Joseph, Ali is Joshua, Ali is Simon Peter, Ali is the Commander of the Faithful. We refer to him [as divine] as former ages referred to him, and as the people who maintained the belief in the oneness of God have indicated the priority of his essence, from the beginning of creation until this time. We refer to him as did our Lord al Hussain ibn Hamdan al Khasibi, his Sheikh Muhammad ibn Nusayr, and before him Salman al Farisi, who indicated that the archetypal divinity of Ali was shown by the Lord Muhammad, the veil, the seven domes from Abel to Haydara Abu Turab [an appellation of Ali]. Know ye, brethren, that your God is eternal, Mana al Maani, the ancient, the alone, the sublime Ali ibn Abi Talib, the indivisible, the uncompounded, whom no number comprises, who is neither restricted nor finite, to whom periods and ages bring no change.”[8]

The apotheosis of Ali given expressions in this mass is contrary to the spirit and letter of Islam, violating both the Qur’an and the tradition of the Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. To Orthodox Muslims, such pronouncements are sheer blasphemies. However, although the Twelver Shia renounce the Ghulat and their deification of Ali, yet their belief in the eternal pre-existence of the Imams, including Ali, and their belief that these Imams are free from human sin strengthens our conviction that the Twelver are themselves not very far from considering Ali more than mortal.

 

One appellation given to Ali – the Mana – has special connotation in the theological system of the Nusayris. As noted in chapter 26 in this book, Ali is the first person of the Nusayri trinity. He is thus called the Mana (Meaning), a term theologically denoting the casual determinant, the primal element, the divine reality, and the meaning of all created things. Their use of the name Mana for Ali, then, illustrates the Nusayri belief that Ali is God, the source and the cause of all things. His manawiyyah (archetypal divinity), revealed by Muhammad, is the very essence of God. Mana is the name for the Godhead in all its manifestations in relation to the Ism and the Bab, the second and third persons of the trinity. Because this manawiyyah cannot be comprehended separately from the Ism, it was necessary that the Ism (Muhammad) become the intermediary to manifest the manawiyyah of Ali. As Abu Abdullah ibn Harun al Saigh relates, his master al Khasibi, in discussing the manawiyyah, states while Ali is Muhammad, the latter is not Ali, because divinity is peculiar only to the Mana (causal determinant), just as heat is peculiar to fire. Fire includes light, smoke, and activity, as well as heat, while heat alone does not contain all elements. Thus, while Ali contains Muhammad and all that is in the Muhammadan dome (period of manifestation), Muhammad does not contain all divine reality.[9]

 

The term Mana is not exclusively a Nusayri term. It was used by Baha al Din al Muqtana, one of the earliest Druze writers, who said, “Praise to the Lord God, who is distinguished from all other beings, in that He alone is the Mana of all the divine manifestations.” De Sacy, who reproduces this statement, says, “This expression (Mana) is especially sacred with the Ansayri [Nusayris] even at the present time; it signifies the divinity concealed under human form.”[10]

 

In their desire to emphasise the divinity of Ali, the Nusayris deny that he was flesh and blood. They believe him to be a luminous appearance. This point is made clear in the catechism, where the question is asked, “If Ali be God, how did he become of the same nature with men?” the answer is, “He did not so become, but took Muhammad as his veil in the period of his transformation and assumed the name of Ali.”[11] In other words, Ali was a Ghilaf (sheath) of the deity, and this sheath was concealed in another sheath, Muhammad, the veil.[12]

 

But if Ali is not considered flesh and blood, how do we account for the fact that in Nusayri writings Ali’s human relationship are often detailed? He is spoken of as the only Hashimi on both sides of his family; his brothers – Hamza, Jafar, Talib, and Aqil – are named; his sons – Hassan and Hussain – are named; his daughters – Zainab and Umm Kulthum – are named; and his tomb near al Kufah in Iraq is described.[13] The explanation of this apparent contradiction is found in the fourteenth chapter of Kitab al Majmu’, called al Bayt al Ma’mur. According to this chapter, Ali’s brothers, like Ali himself, are light of light and substance of substance. Ali is far above having brothers, sisters, father, and mother; that is to say, he is hidden by the nature of his divine essence. He is the mystery of the house – the roof, the grounds, and the firm underpinnings; that is, he is all and every one of the members of the house, or family of the Prophet salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who with him, form but one divine unity.[14]

 

The Kitab al Haft al Sharif, related by al Mufaddal ibn Umar al Ju’fi of the Imam Jafar al Sadiq clearly indicates that the Imams, of whom Ali is chief, are not subject to the natural laws of life and death applied to the rest of mankind. According to al Sadiq, when God desires to manifest an Imam, He sends His spirit into the future Imam, who thus becomes purified of human uncleanness, or sin.[15] According to a Nusayri manuscript acquired by Carsten Niebuhr, the Nusayris apparently believe that Muhammad, and Fatir (Fatimah), together with Hassan and Hussain, and Muhsin (the three sons of Ali by Fatimah, Muhsin having died in infancy), form but one unity, and all are Ali.[16] These five constitute the Ahl al Aba or al Kisa (family of the Nabi), considered by the extremist Shia al Shurayi and his followers to be divine beings.[17] In this respect, the only difference between the Nusayris and al Shurayi’s followers is that the latter count Ali among the five, while the Nusayris count Ali’s son Muhsin, who died in infancy, among the five, believing them to be one divine unity denoting Ali.

 

The Nusayris belief in the divinity of Ali is further manifested in their use of the many names which in the Bible and the Qur’an are given only to God. We have already stated that according to the Nusayri sources, the Mana, the Ism and the Bab have threefold names: Mathaliyyah (figurative), Dhatiyyah (essential), and Sifatiyyah (attributive). But a careful study of Nusayri sources shows that all these names of three persons of the Nusayri trinity are given to Ali and him alone.

 

In the seven periods of his manifestation in human form, Ali assumed many names, although he is a single entity. In the introduction to his Kitab al Hidayah al Kubrah (The Book of Great Guidance), the prominent Nusayri teacher al Khasibi (d. 957) states that this book contains the names of the ambiya’ of Allah (Muhammad) and those of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali ibn Abi Talib, his wife Fatimah, and the Imam’s from Ali to Muhammad the Mahdi. Al Khasibi then goes on to say that there are three hundred names for Ali in the Qur’an, which contradicts the Orthodox Muslims’ belief that God has ninety-nine beautiful names. He gives some examples, based on Qur’an 11:17 and Qur’an 78:1 to show that Ali is the glad tidings; “Are they to be compared with these who have received a veritable word from their Lord recited by a witness from him?” and, “About what are they asking, about the great tidings (al Naba al Azim), the theme of their dispute?”[18] He further states that Ali’s name appears in the books of Seth, Idris (Enoch), Noah, and Ibrahim (Abraham), books which are certainly apocryphal. In Syriac, his name is Miubin (Evident); in Hebrew, he is called Hayula (Primordial Matter), alAmin (Faithful), Thabat (Firmness in Faith), Bayan (Divine eloquence), Yaqin (Indisputable Truth), and Iman (Faith).

 

Al Khasibi also asserts that Ali is called Elias in the Torah, and Ariyah in the Psalms; that the Zanj (Black African) call him Habina, a distortion of Abuna, the title of the Ethiopian Metropolitan; that the Abyssinians call him Tabrik (a distortion of Batrik, or Patriarch). In Arabic he is called Haydarah (lion) because he used to knock down his older brothers in their fights with him. He is also nicknamed Abu al Hassan and al Hussain; Abu Shibr and Abu Shabir (the sons of Aaron in Islamic tradition); Abu Turab (a nickname given to him by the Prophet); Abu alNur (father of light); and Abu A’immah (father of the Imam’s).[19]

 

So far this list of names is only slightly different to the one given in Kitab al Mashyakhah.[20] But further on, al Khasibi gives other names of Ali, some of which are current both among the Nusayris and among mainstream Shia. Ali is called, for example, the Dividing Line between Paradise and the Fires of Hell, the Judge of Religion, the Fulfiller, the Promise, the Great Destroyer of Jinn, the Dispeller of Sorrow, the Ship of Safety, and the Firm Foundation who forever appears new in God.[21]

 

Al Khasibi also gives Ali the epithet of Amir alNahl (Prince of Bees, i.e., of the [Shia] believers), a name peculiar to the Nusayris and the one most constantly used in their books. The Nusayris base this appellation on a tradition related by Jafar al Sadiq of the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who reportedly said, “The believer is like a bee, its sucks nectar and produces honey.”[22] This is echoed in the Qur’an 16:68, “And your Lord has revealed to the bees.” In these cases, “the bees” are interpreted by the Nusayris to mean the believers.

 

In the Nusayri catechism, we find still more names given to Ali along with few already cited by al Khasibi. These names were given to Ali by many people including the Arabs, Hebrews, Hindus, Africans, Armenians, Daylamites (inhabitants of the Mountain region south of the Caspian Sea), and even beings believed by Nusayris to have pre-existed Adam.[23] Obviously, what al Khasibi and the author of the catechism intended is to establish the universal recognition of Ali as God of all nations in conformity with the Nusayris’ belief of the apotheosis of Ali.

 

Through the linguistic manipulation of the term Ali, which literally means “high?” The author of Kitab al Usus states that the term Ali means “Most High,” above every name and triumphant over every name.[24] Obviously, the intention of the author is to ascribe divine attributes to the name Ali, which was and still is commonly used by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with no spiritual connotations.

 

According to Dussaud, the Nusayris call Ali Allah (God-Ali), recalling the name Ali al Ala (Ali the Most High).[25] Dussaud does not mention any Nusayri sources for the name Ali al Ala; rather, he refers to De Sacy, who states that this name was used in a Druze text dealing with the manifestation of the divinity in human form.[26] Dussaud then proceeds to offer an etymological explanation for this name. He does not believe that it is of Arabic origin, because if it were, it will be written Ali Ta’ala, which is the name of God meaning Most High in Arabic. Dussaud conjectures the name Ali al Ala instead derives from the old divine epithet El-Elioun, which is equivalent to the Greek Zeus Ophistos, and the Phoenician god known by the as Adonis.[27] I find Dussaud’s reasoning unconvincing, however. The name Ali al Ala is used by Jafar al Sadiq in Kitab al Haft al Sharif, page 147, in reference to God. Al Ala is certainly an authentic Arab term and forms the title of Surah 87 of the Qur’an.

 

A study of the Nusayris’ religious system reveals the existence of deep-rooted Persian elements which give the Persians a prominent place in the divine economy of the cult of Ali. This is a vital point because Ali was an Arab, a pure Hashimi like his blood cousin, the Prophet Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and most likely had nothing to do with the Persians or their kings. Yet he is called by the Nusayriyah the Crown of Kisras, from Khosraw (Chosroes), as the Sassanid kings of Persia were called by the Arabs.[28] Among the figurative (mathaliyyah) names given to Ali from Adam to Muhammad the Mahdi, we find the names of the two Persian kings, Ardashir and Sapor.[29]

 

The seven appearances of the deity from Abel to Ali are said to have taken place in seven domes of periods, including the period of Abraham, the Arab periods, the periods of Muhammad and the Persian period, in which Ali manifested himself.[30] In Persian books Ali is called Numair, the word for fire.[31] This is an indication that Ali is connected with the Persian worship of Fire, as shall be seen shortly.

 

The association of Ali with the Persian kings is more than fortuitous. It is the result of a deliberate attempt by Nusayri writers to project, through Ali, the supremacy of the Persians over the Arabs, by maintaining the Persian kings were the medium through whom Ali, his Name, and his Door were manifested in the world of light. This is indicated by al Tabarani in his book Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad (Books of feast) when he discusses the celebration of the festival of Nawruz (the New Day), which begins the Persian New Year. Al Tabarani states: “The Lord (Ali, May he be glorified!) manifested himself in the person of the Persian kings, and it is in them that he affected the manifestations of his Names, his doors, and his sacred hierarchies, which constitute the great world of light.”

 

Al Tabarani goes on to say, “Our Lord al Khasibi (may God sanctify his soul) has explained this point in one of his treatises called Risalah fi al Siyaqah.”[32]

 

In this Risalah, al Khasibi discusses the manifestations of Ali since Adam in different periods, especially the Persian period. He states that in this period, Ali (who was also Adam) manifested himself in the person of Ardashir, son of Babek, the first of the Persian Sassanid Kings of the line of Khosraw (Chosroes), the Sassanid kings, and then manifested himself in the person of Sapor, so of Ardashir.

 

Afterwards, Ali manifested himself among the Arabs in the person of Lu’ay, son of Kilab (an ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad and of his cousin, Ali). Lu’ay, al Khasibi explains, means “he who turns,” signifying that he turned the light from the land of the Persians to the land of the Hijaz, where the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab were manifested.[33]

 

Al Khasibi further explains that when the divinity (Ali) left the Persians to manifest himself among the Arabs, he delegated to the Persians the maqamat (stations) of his wisdom, to be transmitted successively to their kings, whom he designated as the personifications of the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab. However, a change took place in the time of Kisra [Khosraw, or Chosroes] Anushirwan; because of pride, he disobeyed the Lord Muhammad, and through his disobedience, the Persians lost their royalty.[34]

 

What al Khasibi means is that the Persian kings were the personification of the divine religion, manifested from the time of Adam in Ali. But when Ali manifested himself in the period of Muhammad, which ushered in the religion of Islam, whose source is Ali, the religious light was transferred through Ali from the Persians to the Arabs. The Persian king, Anushriwan, disobeyed the new revelation and consequently lost his dominion to the Arabs. However, al Khasibi attempts to minimise the Persians’ loss of supremacy to the Arabs by stating to observe the festivals of Id al Ghadir, instituted by the Lord Muhammad. All of these festivals, then, will be celebrated until the future manifestation of al Qa’im bi al Amr, the last Imam (Mahdi).[35] This must mean that the Persians were foremost in the divine manifestation of Ali, his Ism, and his Bab, and never lost their spiritual position, even after Ali manifested himself among the Arabs in the Muhammadan period, and that the Persians continued the tradition of the divine Ali through the celebration of their pagan festivals, which became the counterpart to the Islamic festivals instituted by Muhammad. This argument by al Khasibi becomes pointless, however, when we realise that Id al Ghadir was not instituted by Muhammad, and that its observance corroborates the Shia claim that the Prophet appointed Ali as his successor at Ghadir Khum.

 

In a special chapter of his Risalah fi al Siyaqah, al Khasibi shows supreme spiritual wisdom and positions of the Persian kings, whom he considers the manifestation of the Nusayri trinity, the Mana, the Ism, and the Bab. He ascribes great honour to the Persians because the Bab (Salman) was a Persian and the wisdom he possessed derives from the Persians. Furthermore, this Persian Bab, together with the other two persons of the trinity, the Mana and the Ism, was manifested in two maqamat (stations) of the first two Sassanid Persian kings, Aradashir, son of Babek, and Ardashir’s son Sapor. Al Khasibi asserts that through these manifestations the Persian kings received divine wisdom, which was transmitted in an unbroken line to the last three kings, whom al Khasibi calls Sharwin, Kharwin, and Khosraw. He goes on to say that through these manifestations, these kings too, came to occupy the place of the Mana (Ali) and possessed full knowledge of him. This is indeed a very significant statement. Al Khasibi means here that the Nusayri trinity, which is the essence of the Nusayri religion, has become a symbol of Persianism because the Bab (Salman) is Persian. Al Khasibi also implies that divine wisdom and revelation are not the possession of the Arabs exclusively, but of the Persians too. Al Khasibi concludes that on quitting the Persians, the Lord (Ali) deposited his wisdom with them, promising to return.[36]

 

While al Khasibi seems in error in making these three Persian kings “the last trinity,” his intentions is quite clearly to show that these Persian kings are the embodiment of the three persons of the Nusayri trinity. In other words, they are Ali, Muhammad, and Salman the Persian, which means that the Persians are much part of the divine economy of the god Ali as the Arabs are. At the same time, al Khasibi establishes the spiritual supremacy of the Persians over Arabs by asserting that the Arabs (and here he most likely means Sunni Muslims) have lost the divine mystery, while the Persians preserved it: “The Most High [Ali] deposited his wisdom with the Persians and then left, being pleased with them. He is the one who said that the God Almighty has deposited His mystery with you [Arabs], manifested Himself amongst you, and destined you to receive it. But you have lost it while the Persians have preserved it even after its disappearance, by means of fire and light, in which He manifested Himself.”[37]

 

Thus, the religious system of the Persians, based on their worship of fire and light, becomes the forerunner of the revelations of the Prophet Muhammad. This statement becomes even more important when we realise that in the treatise of Fiqh (Jurisprudence), mentioned by al Tabarani, “The Persians have sanctified fire, from which they await the manifestation of their Deity. This manifestation will take place among the Persians, for they never cease to keep lighted the fire from which they await this same manifestation and the accomplishment of the promise of the deity in that event.” Since the divinity manifested itself in the form of Ali, Ali becomes the personification of fire and the god of the Persians, not the Arabs. The Arabs, al Khasibi states, lost their spiritual privileges when they refused to believe in the divine mystery of Ali while the Persians preserved it. This mystery is the manifestation of Ali in fire and light, which al Khasibi likens to the fire of the burning bush which Moses `alayh al-Salam saw when speaking to God.[38]

 

Al Tabarani then cites a tradition related by al Mufaddal ibn Umar al Ju’fi of the Imam Jafar al Sadiq, who is reported to have said, “The Mana [Ali] manifested himself in the time of the Persians twice each year, at the time of the change from cold to heat, and from heat to cold. The change from cold to heat was called Nawruz, and that from heat to cold was called Mihrajan. These two days are held sacred by the Persians because the Mana manifested himself in transmigration among them.[39]

The spiritual supremacy of the Persians over the Arabs is also maintained in Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, in connection with the celebration of Nawruz. Question ninety, about the nature of the Nawruz, is answered in a poem by al Khasibi, who states that the Nawruz is the truth established by the authority of the most noble Hashimi. It is the day on which God [Ali] manifested himself in the periods of the Persians before he did so in the periods of the Arabs and raised these periods of the Persians to high heaven.[40] We shall give a full translation of this poem in the discussion of the celebration of the Quddas.

 

The several passages cited above reveal many Persians elements in the religious system of the Nusayris. As Rev. Samuel Lyde has rightly observed, they contain “wild conceits which are probably by some Persian.” Lyde goes on to say that these passages are contained in a section of Kitab al Mashyakhah entitled, “The Traditionary Sayings of [the Persian] Abu Ali of Basrah, in his Dwelling in Shiraz in the year of the Hijrah 327 [A.D. 938]”[41]

 

The fact that these passages glorify the Persians over Arabs convinces us of the Persian origin of the Nusayris and their religious system. As Abdul-Hussain Mahdi al Askari rightly observes, these passages betray “the Nusayri partisanship toward the Persians and indicate the hatred (Shubiyya) which non-Arabs, especially the Persians, harbour towards the Arabs.”[42] Such hatred is also observed by Sulaiman al Adani, who states, “No member of any Arab sect is admitted into their [the Nusayris] fraternities for the first time unless he be one of the Ajam [Persians], because, like the Nusayris, the Persians believe in the divinity of Ali ibn Abi Talib radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and without doubt, their progenitors were from Persia and Iraq.”[43] Al Adani seems to be correct, because the founder of the Nusayri sect, Muhammad ibn Nusayr was of Persian origin.

 

The Persian element is most conspicuous in the association of light and the fire with the manifestation of the deity. Light and Fire constitute an essential part of the ancient Persian religious system. We have already seen in the description of the merits of the Nawruz that upon leaving the Persians to manifest himself among the Arabs, the deity deposited his wisdom with the Persians and promised to return to them. According al Khasibi, God, as Ali, then deposited his mystery [his Manifestation as God] with the Arabs and ordered them to preserve it, but they failed to do so. After the deity left the Persians, however, they perpetuated his manifestation through their sanctification of light and fire, from which they await the manifestation of the deity.[44] The manifestation, according to Risalat al Fiqh, will take place among the Persians because they do not cease to keep lighted the fire from which they look for this manifestation and the accomplishment of the promises made by the deity during his appearance.[45]

 

We have summarised these passages in order to show the lengths to which the Nusayri writers went in order to appropriate Ali as the manifestation of God and make his manifestation an “exclusively Persian” privilege, associated with the worship of the light and fire, which are part of the Persian tradition. The Nusayri writers, who are mostly of Persian origin, have Persianised Ali as a divinity to allow the Persians to boast to the Arabs that the Arab Hashimi Ali had become a “Persian” deity, whom the Arabs had lost because they were not worthy of him. Making Ali a Persian deity also offered the Persians the opportunity to boast that, although the Arabs, have Muhammad from the light of his essence. Hence, the Persians and the Nusayris can claim spiritual superiority over the Arabs.

 

NEXT The Nusayri Concepts of Light Shamsis and Qamaris


[1] Risalat al Tawhid, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 47 Bibliothèque Natioanle; al Nashshabi, Munazarah, ibid., fols. 80-81 and 103; and Lyde, 113.

[2] See Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, fol. 2, Bibliothèque Natioanle; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 271. Cf. al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 55. According to Ali ibn Ibrahim, Tafsir, 283, the bees are Shia.

[3] This surah is in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurahh, 26-27, and Kitab al Mashyakhahh, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 114.

[4] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 114.

[5] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 3 fol. 2-3, Bibliothèque Nationale; Munazara, MS. 1450, fol. 95, Bibliothèque Nationale. Cf. al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 55-56.

[6] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 237-42.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 46-48; Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 246-48; Risalat al Bayan li Ahl al Uqul wa al Afham wa man Talaba al Huda ila Ma’rifat al Rahman, in Arab MS. 1450, fol. 54b, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Kitab al Usus, Arab MS. 1449, fol. 54, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[9] See Masa’il, related by al Saigh of his master Abdullah ibn al Hussain ibn Hamdan al Khasibi, Arab MS. 1450, fols. 52-53, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[10] De Sacy, Exposé, 1:60.

[11] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS, 6182, question 4, fol. 3, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[12] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde The Asian Mystery, 116.

[13] Kitab al Mashyakhah ibid., 87-88; and Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, questions 45-48, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[14] See this surah in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 30.

[15] Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 114.

[16] See an English translation of this manuscript acquired by Niebuhr in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 294-98; Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 21, fol. 6, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Risalat al Tawhid, Arab MS. 1450, fols. 45-46 Bibliothèque Nationale.

[17] Abu al Hassan Ali ibn Ismail al Ashari, Kitab Maqalat, 14-15; and al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, reprinted together with Ibn Hazm’s Kitab al Fisal fi al Milal wa al Ahwa’ wa al Nihal (Cairo: Muassasat al Khanji, 1321/1903), 2:13.

[18] Al Sheikh Abu Abdullah al Hussain ibn Hamdan al Khasibi, Kitab al Hidaya al Kubra, appended to Uthman, al Alawiyyun, 229-97, especially 229 and 230.

[19] Ibid., 230-31. Cf. Ibn Babawayh, Ma’ani al Akhbar, 59-60.

[20] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 115.

[21] Al Khasibi, Kitab al Hidayah al Kubra, in Uthman, al Alawiyyun, 231-32.

[22] Ibid., 230, Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 93; and Risalat Fitrat al Munsan wa Nuzhat al Qalb wa al Ayan, fols. 38-39 in Uthman, 28 of the introduction; Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 87-88; questions 45 and 50 of Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, Bibliothèque Nationale; and most of the surah’s of Kitab al Majmu’ in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 7, 10-11, 21, 23.

[23] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, questions 43 and 50, fol. 11 and 12, Bibliothèque Nationale; Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery 115; and the first Surah of Kitab al Majmu’ in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 8.

[24] Kitab al Usus, Arab MS. 1449, fol. 42b, Bibliothèque Nationale; and al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 59.

[25] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 51.

[26] Ibid., 51-52; and De Sacy, Exposé, 1:31-32.

[27] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 52. Theres evidence that Fatimah, daughter of the Rasul of Allah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, claimed that she was divine and called herself Ali al Ala. See Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Genosis, 145-46, n. 214. In his Ma’ani al Akhbar, 55, Ibn Babawayh states that God derived the name of Ali from His name, Ali al Ala.

[28] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 115.

[29] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 14, fol. 5, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[30] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 118; and Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 5, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[31] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 43, fol. 11, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[32] Al Tabarani in Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 161-61.

[33] Ibid. 161-62.

[34] Ibid., 163.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 164-65. Cf, al Askari, al Alawiyyun aw al Nusayriyya, 104-5.

[37] Al Tabarani, Majmu’ al Ayad, in Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 165.

[38] See al Tabarani, Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothman, 190; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 292.

[39] Al Tabarani, Majmu’ al Ayad, in Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Anseriens,” 167.

[40] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 90, fol. 17, Bibliothèque Nationale.

[41] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 137-38.

[42] Al Askari, al Alawiyyun aw al Nusayriyyah, 105.

[43] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 81-82.

[44] Al Tabarani, Majmu’ al Ayad, in Catafago, “Notices Sur Les Aseriens,”

[45] Ibid., 167; idem, Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothmann, 190; and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 292.

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