9. The Nusayris Religious System: The Twelve Imams

7. The Nusayri Concept of Light: Shamsis and Qamaris
December 10, 2015
10. The Nusayris Religious System: Role of the Aytam and Spiritual Hierarchies
December 10, 2015

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The Nusayri Religious System

The Twelve Imams


According to the Nusayris each of the Imams has the Bab (door), who serves as the path leading believers to him. They base this belief on tradition in which the Rasul Muhammad salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam is reported to have said, “I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate,” and, “He who seeks divine knowledge must go through the gate.”[1]


Because each Imam possessed the divine knowledge of former ambiya’ and messengers of God, it is necessary that each should have a Bab able to transmit this divine knowledge to the faithful of his age. The office of the Bab was best explained by the Imam Jafar al Sadiq, who said that the Bab is the one who, at will, knows the affairs of the Imams. Nothing can conceal the Imam from him — no high mountain, deep sea, or surrounding wall.[2] The Bab acts as the testamentary trustee and heir to the Imam and, like the Imam, possesses divine knowledge and the capacity for allegorical interpretation (Ta’wil) of the inward and outward meaning of the Qur’an. This explains the necessity of the Bab for every Imam. In the Nusayri religious system, their Imams and their Babs are as follows:


Imam Bab
Ali Salman al Farisi
Hassan Qais ibn Waraqa, known as al Safi
Hussain Rashid al Hijri
Ali Zayn al Abidin Abdullah al Ghalib al Kabuli nicknamed Kankar
Muhammad Baqir Yahya ibn Muammar ibn Umm al Tawil al Thumali
Jafar al Sadiq Jabir ibn Yazid al Ju’fi
Musa al Kazim Muhammad ibn Abi Zainab al Kahili
Ali al Riza Al Mufaddal ibn Umar al Ju’fi
Muhammad al Jawwad Muhammad ibn Mufaddal al Ju’fi
Ali al Hadi Umar ibn Furat known as al Katib
Al Hassan al Askari Abu Shu’ayb Muhammad Ibn Nusayr


Since the twelfth Imam, Muhammad (the Mahdi), had no Bab still living when the Mahdi disappeared and who had been the Bab of the Mahdi’s father, al Askari, became the heir, representative, and guide of the Mahdi. In short, Ibn Nusayr became the Bab; he was succeeded by Muhammad al Jannan al Junbulani, who in turn was succeeded by al Khasibi (d. 957), already mentioned. It was al Khasibi, more than his predecessors, who established a firm foundation for the Nusayri sect and spread Nusayrism throughout the lands. Thus, according to the Nusayri writer al Tawil, the office of the Bab forms a fundamental part of the religious system of the Nusayris.[3]


The twelve Imams also constitute an essential part of the Nusayri system. In Kitab al Mashyakhah, they of spoken of as the culmination of the sixty-three personifications of the Ism (Muhammad). This work also states that the Imams are part of the divine economy of God. In a supplicatory prayer, the Nusayris ask their God Ali establish them in obedience to Him, to his apostle Muhammad, to His Wali (vicegerent) Salsal (Salman al Farisi), and to “the Imam’s, who are yours, you had named yourself by them; they are not empty of you, but you are of them.”[4]


Like the Twelver Shia, the Nusayris maintain that the twelve Imams existed before all of creation. The Imam Jafar al Sadiq is reported to have said that God created the Imams thousands of years before he created Adam. They were spirits around the throne of God, praising Him, and were joined by heavenly host in their praise. Later the Imams descended to earth in physical bodies; there they continued to praise God, joined in their praise by the people of the earth, as is related in the Qur’an 37: 165-66: “and we are verily ranged in rank [for service]; and we are verily those who declare [God’s] glory.”[5]


The Imams were also God’s first delegates to His people. They acted as God’s spokesmen, repositories of His divine knowledge and storehouses of His secrets, the heirs of His prophets and messengers, His light, His proof against mankind, and the trustees of His creation. In the words of the fifth Imam, Muhammad al Baqir, the Imams are vicegerents of God on earth. No part of God’s knowledge on earth and in heaven escapes them. They are the arm, the hand, the face, the eye, and the side of God. Wherever the believer turns his face, he sees them. Whatever is God’s will is also that of the Imams. Al Baqir concludes by saying, “Praise be to God, who chose us from the light of His power, granted us the secret of the knowledge His will, and commanded us to inculcate in our partisans [Shia] the truth of His creed in order to redeem their souls from eternal torment through adherence to Him.”[6]


The Nusayri representation of the Imams as pre-existent celestial beings having divine status, seems no different from the view of the Twelver Shia. In the treatise entitled al Tawjih (Direction) in Kitab al Mashyakhah, for example, the eleventh Imam, Hassan al Askari, is portrayed as a divine being. It is reported that a certain Yahya ibn Muin al Samiri went to see Hassan al Asakari and found him sitting on the throne of light, with rays of light before him and a light between his eyes which filled the east and the west. Al Samiri said, “When I saw him, I fell in my face in adoration; then raised my head and stood praising and thanking my Lord [al Askari] and said, ‘My Lord is to be praised. He is holy. Our Lord is the Lord of the angels and of the spirit.’”[7]


This spiritual pre-eminence of the Imams is further asserted by Jafar al Sadiq, who is reported to have said that God created seven heavens, the first being the abode of the Imams. Al Sadiq also said that whenever a believer (Shia) dies, his soul is carried to the Imam Ali to be examined, in order that Ali may determine whether the soul is that of a true believer and may decide whether it should be sent to Paradise or to Hell. Indeed, so magnificent is the spiritual position of the Imam that al Sadiq interpreted Qur’an 41:10, “He set on the earth mountains standing firm and high above it,” to mean that the mountains are the Imams, without whom the believers (Shia) would have doubted their religion and gone astray.[8]


The same Jafar al Sadiq also said that when mentioning an Imam, “the speaker should observe silence, and on mentioning God, [he] should fall silent and attentive.”[9]


Such, then, is the lofty spiritual plane occupied by the Imams in the religious system of the Nusayris. They are divine beings chosen to guide believers to knowledge of the God Ali through the medium of their Babs. This role is reason the Imams are considered leaders of their communities and are so highly honoured.


According to Sulaiman al Adani, the common people among the Nusayris regard Imams as infallible and not subject to the laws of nature.[10] They also believe that their Imams have knowledge of the future; they consult them in any matter on which they need advice, such as the building of a house, or marrying, or moving from the village.[11]


The religious hierarchy of the Nusayris embraces seven ranks. They are the Babs, the five Aytam of Salman al Farisi, the Naqibs, the Babs are the highest of these, followed by the Aytam.[12] The Aytam number 500, all of whom are connected with the different Isms (names) of Salman al Farisi radiya Llahu `anhu, five with Muhammad salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, five with Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah radiya Llahu `anha, five with Muhammad’s wife Umm Salamah and five with one of al Farisi’s close associates Abu Abdur Rahman ibn Waraqa al Riyahi nicknamed al Safinah (the Ark).[13] In the Nusayris religious system, however, al Miqdad ibn al Aswad, Abu Dharr al Ghifari, Abdur Rahman ibn Rawahah, Uthman ibn Madh’un and Qandar ibn Kadan, are considered the five Aytam par excellence who exclusively belong to Salman al Farisi and are believed by Nusayris to have been created by al Farisi.[14]


It is strange that women are mentioned as Aytam, since they have no place in the Nusayris religious system. Like the extremists Shia, however, the Nusayris regard Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, as a male and given her the name of Fatir.[15] We shall further discuss the Aytam in the following chapter.


Fatimah/Fatir holds an interesting place in the Nusayri religious system, serving to exalt the Imamah. In Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad (The Book of Feasts), Fatimah-Fatir is described as the personification of Laylat alQadr (the Night of Power), during which the Qur’an was first revealed to the Rasul Muhammad salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam. Qur’an 97:1-5 states, “We have revealed the Qur’an in the Night of Power. Do you realise what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. On it the angels and the Spirit, by their Lords’ leave, descend with His decrees. That night is peace till the break of dawn.” Al Khasibi explains that Laylat al Qadr, which falls in the middle of Sha’ban (the eighth month of the Islamic calendar), is a noble night during which God rewards and answers the prayers and fasting of His people [the Nusayris] for the glorification of Fatir [Fatimah], Hassan, Hussain, and Muhsin, who are the light and essence of Muhammad. He adds that the Qadr (power) is Muhammad, and the night of that power is Fatimah — Fatir, who is the mystery of Muhammad. Fatimah, he says, appeared in a feminine form to delude the wretched created beings.


Another Nusayri writer, al Jilli, reiterates al Khasibi’s interpretation, stating the Fatimah is the Night of Power. People believed that Fatimah appeared in feminine form, says al Jilli, but God dispelled this belief when He asked [Qur’an 97:1], “Do you realise what the Night of Power is?” Al Jilli explains that this Night of Power is Fatimah — Fatir, who created all mankind.


He goes on to interpret “better than a thousand months” to mean better than a thousand ambiya’, “angels” as those who posses knowledge of Fatimah’s reality and “the Spirit” as her magnification and the call to know and obey her. Al Jilli interprets the final sentence of the passage to mean that Fatimah will uphold justice and manifest herself on behalf of the Imams until the day of the appearance of the Mahdi.


From the preceding evidence we are able to state that to the Nusayris, Fatimah is divine. She is the creator of mankind. She is not only the daughter of the Rasul salla Llahu `alayhi wa sallam, but homologous with him. They are the same essence. It is in this sense, as shall be seen later, that the Prophet addresses Fatimah as umm Abiha (mother of her father). Furthermore, Fatimah — Fatir is the Manifestation of the Imams, who emanated from her, and she is acting on their behalf until the day when the Mahdi shall appear and bring justice to the earth.


Just as Laylat al Qadr is exalted as the time when the Qur’an was first revealed to the Rasul, so Fatimah — Fatir is exalted because she is the mother of the Imams, the one from whose essence they emanated. In other words, as the nubuwwah was exalted through the divine revelation of the Qur’an, so the Imamah was exalted through divine Fatimah, who is the very essence of Muhammad. Thus, the Nusayris believe that the nubuwwah and the Imamah are coequal; on this point they are in complete agreement with the Twelver Shia, although the Twelvers do not regard Fatimah as divine.[16]


The preceding evidence also indicates that the Nusayris are one of the ancient Ghulat sects called the Mukhammisah (Fivers), who maintained that the five members of the family of the Rasul are incarnation of God, and who prefer to call Fatimah by the masculine name of Fatir. Among the Fivers mentioned by al Razi are the al Shurariyyah and al Namiriyyah sects.[17] But in fact, as we have seen earlier, al Namariyyah is none other than the Nusayriyyah, founded by Muhammad ibn Nusayr.


NEXT⇒ The Role of the Aytam and Spritual Hierarchies


[1] Al Tawil, Tarikh al Alawiyyin, 254. See also chapter 5 of his book, notes 10 and 15.

[2] Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 67; and al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 24-26.

[3] Al Tawil, Tarikh al Alawiyyin, 254-59.

[4] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 132.

[5] Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 205.

[6] Ibid., 190, 192-93, 196, 201, 221. In his Ma’ani al Akhbar, 35, Ibn Babawayh relates similar statements by the Imam Ali Zayn al Abidin.

[7] For this treatise of al Tawjih, see Arab MS. 6182, fols. 21-22, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 133.

[8] Kitab al Haft al Sharif, 102, 105.

[9] Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 265 and 132.

[10] Al Adani, Kitab al Bakhurah, 56.

[11] Al Hariri, al Alawiyyun al Nusayriyyun, 100.

[12] C.Niebuhr gives the names of these Aytam at the seven appearances of the Deity. See the English translation of Niebuhr’s manuscript in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 294-98.

[13] Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusyariyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 23-43, and 70, fols. 7-11 and 15, Bibliothèque Nationale; and Kitab al Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothman, 23 and 69. Cf. Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 133.

[14] Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusayriyyah, question 56-63, and 70, Arab MS. 6182, Bibliothèque Nationale; Risalat al Tawhid, fol. 55; and Kitab al Mashyakhah, in Lyde, The Asian Mystery, 134.

[15] Kitab Ta’lim al Diyanah al Nusyariyyah, Arab MS. 6182, question 70, fol. 15 which refers to Fatimah in the masculine as al Sayyid Fatir; al Razi, Kitab al Zina’, 307; and al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:14. In the proto-Isma’ili source Umm al Kitab, Fatimah declares that she is the creator — Fatir, of heaven and earth and the spirit of the true believers. See Umm al Kitab, ed. W. Ivanow, 39-40; and Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 146, the note carried from previous page.

[16] Al Tabarani, Kitab Majmu’ al Ayad, ed. Strothman 155-56 and Risalat al Tawhid, Arab MS. 1450, fol. 45, Bibliothèque Nationale. Cf. Corbin, Cyclical Time and Ismaili Gnosis, 101; and Shari’ati, Fatimah is Fatimah, 134-36, where the author produces a tradition in which the Rasul states that Fatimah is part of his body and that she is the final link in the chain of divine justice. Cf. Ibn Babawayh, Ma’ani al Akhbar, 55-56.

[17] Al Razi, Kitab al Zina’, 307; al Ash’ari, Kitab al Maqalat, 14; and al Shahrastani, Kitab al Milal, 2:14.

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