7. The Nusayri Concept of Light: Shamsis and Qamaris

8. The Nusayri “Trinity: Ali, Muhammad and Salman al-Farisi
December 10, 2015
9. The Nusayris Religious System: The Twelve Imams
December 10, 2015

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The Nusayri Concepts of Light

Shamsis and Qamaris


Reverence for light forms an essential part of the Nusayri religious system. Among the Nusayris, light is symbolised by the sun, considered the light of lights. This light, according to Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, is the mystery of God. It is the ancient Mana [Ali], who was veiled by the light. The sun is the light of the light because it is the abode of the eternal, the everlasting, the mystery of mysteries, and Ali, who is veiled in the light which is the eye of the sun from which he shall appear again. Thus, the sun is the Qiblah (holy place) toward which the Nusayri believer (Ahl al Wala) should turn his face when he prays.[1]


It should be pointed out there is dissension among the Nusayris over the connection of the sun with the adoration of their God Ali. They are divided by this question into two groups, the Shamsis, whose name is taken from Shams (sun), and the Qamaris, whose name derives from Qamar (moon). The Shamsis are also called Mawakhisa, Ghaybis, or (most often) Shamalis (from Shamal, whose connotation shall be explained later), and the Qamaris are known as Kalazis. The Shamsis are the original and oldest people of the mountains, while the Qamaris came from the east, from Jabal Sinjar (Sinjar Mountains) in northern Iraq in the thirteenth century, led by Hasan al Makzun.[2]


The Shamsis and the Qamaris disagree over whether Ali and Muhammad should be associated with the sun or with the moon, and this disagreement causes a great deal of confusion. The Shamsis believe that Ali is the source of the morning sun, and the sun is his abode. It is also their belief that Ali is the creator of the luminous full moon. Therefore, the sun, as the abode of the creator, should be reverenced in greater measure than the moon, a created object. The Qamaris, who reverence the moon, answer that Ali created the moon as a place to live, just as man builds a house to live in. they claim that the black spots which appear on the moon are the personification of the worshipped Ali, who was a body, arms, and legs, and who wears a crown on his head and carries a sword named Dhu al Fiqar.[3]


To prove they are correct in honouring the moon, the Qamaris cite the eleventh chapter of Kitab al Majmu’, which states that Ali shall appear out of the eye of the sun. Commenting on this chapter, Sulaiman al Adani states that the Qamaris claim that the appearance of Ali out of the eye of the sun (Ayn al Shams) must mean that the moon’s light issues forth from the sun.[4]


Al Adani further comments that those who worship the twilight (he does not identify them) believe that it comes from the eye of the sun, while at the same time they maintain that the reddening of the sky at twilight results in the appearance of the sun. The Shamsis’ answer to this assertion is that the sun in this context is only a symbol for Fatimah bint Asad, Ali’s mother, and the other Fatimah radiya Llahu ‘anha, daughter of the Prophet and wife of Ali, who are closely connected with the expressed deity, that is, Muhammad, who they maintain is symbolised by the sun.[5]


Al Adani goes on to say that, based on the fourteenth chapter of Kitab al Majmu’, called al Bayt al Ma’mur, the Nusayris all agree that Muhammad is the sun, and disagree only regarding the Mana and the Bab. While the Qamaris believe that the moon is the Mana (Ali), the Shamsis hold that the moon is the Bab (Salman al Farisi). In other words, the Shamsis recognise the divinity of the sun under the name of Muhammad; as the abode of Ali, the sun also represents Muhammad. What this really means is that the Shamalis believe that in their association with the sun, Ali and Muhammad are the same deity. Such a belief is expressed in the seventh chapter, called alSalam (Salutation).


While the Shamsis believe in the divinity of Muhammad, the elect, the Qamaris maintain the divinity of Ali. The Qamaris assert that the Shamsis have fallen into error by ascribing divinity to Muhammad and Ali indiscriminately. The Shamsis reply that Muhammad Ali are allied not opposed. While Ali is the first cause (al Ghayah al Kubrah), they say, Muhammad is also a creator, and it is not an error to believe in Muhammad’s divinity: the Shamsis and the Qamaris share the same doctrine of the trinity.[6] The Shamsis also cite the fifth chapter of Kitab al Majmu’, entitled alFath (the victory), to demonstrate that Ali and Muhammad are one in their divinity. According to this chapter, Ali created Muhammad out of the light of his essence and called him his Ism (name), his self, his throne, his seat, and his attribute. Muhammad is thus united with Ali as the sun’s rays are to its disk.[7] Whatever their reasoning, there is evidence that the Qamaris pray to the sun and the moon because they are very much afraid of them. It is also common among their woman and children to consider the moon the face of Ali, and the sun the face of Muhammad.[8]


Another point of difference between the Shamsis and the Qamaris is that while the former believe that heaven is the Mana (Ali) and the moon is the Bab (Salman al Farisi), the latter believe that the moon is heaven.[9] The Shamsis’ apparent identification of Ali with heaven (the sky) was a matter for reproach, according to an ancient Druze source.[10]


Where did the Nusayris get these beliefs, which are certainly neither Biblical nor Islamic? Chapter 13 (of Kitab al Majmu’), entitled al Musafarah (the journey), offers a clue but not much detail. In it, we read about the mystery of Lord Abu Abdullah (al Khasibi) and his elect children, drinkers from the sea of AMS (the trinity of Ali, Muhammad, and Salman), who are fifty one in number. Of these, seventeen were from Iraq, seventeen from Syria, and seventeen of unknown origin, all stationed at the gate of the city of Harran.[11]


Commenting on this chapter, al Adani states that whenever a city was mentioned in the Nusayris secret books, they interpreted it figuratively as signifying the heavens and supposed that its inhabitants were the stars. So it is with the city of Harran, at whose gate stand the fifty one disciples of al Khasibi, believed to be the stars of the order of the small spirit world.[12] This explanation of al Adani of the Nusayri interpretation of this chapter may shed a revealing light on the source of many of the astral beliefs of the Nusayris. We are indebted to René Dussaud, who traced a connection between some of these beliefs and the astral cult of Harran, to which he traced the origin of the name Shamalis (a common name to the Shamsis).[13]


The Harranians are an Aramaic people who, like the ancient people of Syria, spoke the Aramaic-Syriac language. During the Muslim period, they came to be known as Sabeans, a name that they are still known by today. Their earlier name derives from their city, Harran, situated on a tributary of the Euphrates in upper Mesopotamia. It is the place in which Terah, Abraham’s father, settled with his household after leaving his house in Ur, in the southern part of the present day Iraq (Genesis 11:31-32). The Sabeans were not confined in the city of Harran alone, however. They spread all over Syria, including the area inhabited by the Nusayris. In the tenth century, there were Sabeans living in Baalbak and Hierapolis (Manbij).[14]


Daniel Chwolsohn maintains that these Sabeans were a remnant of the Hellenized pagans of Syria.[15] Their religion was based on worship of the sun, the moon, and five planets. In his Fihrist, Abu al Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq, known as ibn al Nadim (d. 873), devotes several pages to the religion and festivals of Sabeans of Harran, reproduced from earlier sources. He quotes a report by Ahmed ibn al Tayyib (al Sarakhsi) of the account of the Arab philosopher al Kindi (d. 873), indicating that the Sabeans worship the sun at its rising and setting. Ibn al Nadim also quotes another, writer, said Wahb ibn Ibrahim al Nasrani (the Christian), who states that the Harranians offer sacrifices every day of the week to a certain god. One of these gods is the sun god, Helios, to whom they offer sacrifice on Sunday. Another is a moon god, Sin, to whom they offer sacrifice on Monday.[16] The Harranians also recognise five principles, as did the Neo-Platonists, the Gnostics, the Cabbalists, and, later, the Ismailis.[17]


Ibn al Nadim’s account of the Sabeans’ religious practices is of the utmost importance to our subject. On several occasions throughout the year, he says, the Harranians would fast, pray, and celebrate a mystery (a kind of sacrament), offering sacrifices to their gods, including the god Shamal (Chief of the Jinn and their greatest god). They observed the birth of their lord, the moon on 24 January and celebrated for Shamal, offering sacrifices. In February, they fasted seven days for their great god of good, the sun, for the rest of the month, they would pray only to Shamal, the Jinn, and devils. Only on the first day of May, they celebrated the sacrificial mystery for Shamal, and on the 27 June, they celebrated the same sacrament in honour of the god Shamal, to Jinn, and devils. On 8 August, they would sacrifice a new born infant, mix his flesh with flour and spices, and bake it in a new oven, as a mystery to the people of Shamal. In September, the Harranians would bathe in boiled water as part of a celebration of the mystery of Shamal. They would also offer eight sheep, seven for their gods and one for the god Shamal. On the twenty seven and twenty eight of the same month, they would hold many celebrations and sacraments, offering sacrifices and oblations to Shamal and to the devils and the Jinn, who protect them and bring them luck.[18]


It is quite important to note that, according to ibn Nadim’s account, the feasts, fasting, prayer, and sacrificial offerings to the god Shamal are often associated with the sun cult and seven planet gods of the Harranians. Most of these celebrations take place shortly before sunrise. For example, on 26 September, after they have offered sacrifices to Shamal, the Harranians climb the mountain to receive the sun.[19] Thus, in list of feasts, we find the same characteristics attributed to both Shamal and sun god, “the greatest god.”[20] Does this mean that the Shamsis derive their more common name of Shamalis and some of their religious practices from the ancient solar cult of Harran?


It is true that the word Shamalis means “northerners” (from Shamal, “north”), but these Nusayris are not called Shamalis because they live in the northern part of their country. If this were the case, then the Nusayris who live in the south (janub) of that country should be called Junubis; no such name appears in the Nusayri books or tradition. Rev. Samuel Lyde, who lived for many years among the Nusayris, observed that the Shamalis are not confined to the northern part of the country, as the name suggests, but are dispersed throughout the land, some living even in the extreme south, near Mount Hermon.[21] In fact, the only time the word Shamal, here meaning “left,” is used in Kitab al Majmu’ is to distinguish Abu Dharr al Ghifari from al Miqdad, who is called the Yamin (right handed side). Although Abu Dharr and al Miqdad are considered by the Nusayris to be five of the Aytam (incomparables) created by Salman al Farisi,[22] the word Shamal, as used in this context, does not appear to have any religious connotation; even if it does, we are forced to speculate that the term derives from the Harranian cult, for otherwise, characterising these men as Shamal (left) and Yamin (right) makes no sense.


We need not to elaborate on this point any more. The few examples cited clearly show the correlation between the Nusayris’ cult and that of Harran.[23] The Nusayri conception of God does not differ greatly from that of the Harranians, to whom god was unique in essence, but multiple in his manifestations as the seven heavenly bodies governing the world.[24]


NEXT⇒ The Nusayri Trinity

[1] Kitab al Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 82 and 95, fols. 16 and 18, Bibliothèque Nationale; Kitab al Mashyakha in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 295; al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 27-28; Munazara, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 126, Bibliothèque Nationale; and De Sacy, Exposé, 2:561.

[2] Kitab al Majmu’, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 20-23, 28, 31 and 85. Cf. Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 78-79; al Tawil, Tarikh al Alawiyyin, 361-66, and Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 50-54, and 138.

[3] Kitab al Majmu’, Surah 6, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 20-21, 85. Cf. Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 39, especially the argument on this point between representatives of the Shamsis and the Qamaris.

[4] This Surah is in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 26-27.

[5] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 28.

[6] Ibid., 22, 31.

[7] Kitab al Majmu’, Surah 5, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 18-19. Cf. Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 87-88.

[8] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 139.

[9] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 31 and 91.

[10] De Sacy, Exposé, 2:561; and Dussaud, Histoire at Religion des Noisairis, 79.

[11] Kitab al Majmu’, Surah 13, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 29.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 82-92.

[14] Ibid., 82; and Daniel Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (St. Petersburg: Buchdruckerei der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1856), 1:489-91.

[15] Chwolsohn, Die Ssabler und der Ssbismus, 1:180, and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 83.

[16] Abu al Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn al Nadim, Kitab al Fihrist, ed. Gustav Flügel (Halle, University of Halle, 1871-72; reprinted, Beirut: Khayat, n.d.), 320-21; Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 1:180, and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 83.

[17] Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus, 1:748; and Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis,

[18] Ibn al Nadim, al Fihrist, 322-24.

[19] Ibid., 323.

[20] Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 84.

[21] Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 50-55.

[22] Kitab al Majmu’, Surah’s 11 and 15, in al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 26-27 and 32.

[23] For Further examples of the of the relations between the Nusayris cult and that of the Harranians, see Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Nosairis, 87-92.

[24] Al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:97-99.

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