Antiquities of the Illuminati
4. THE PURE BRETHREN OF BASRA:
Isma'ili, Yezidi, Sufi.
IT IS an impossible task, presenting an entire history of schismatic Islamic
sects and Secret Societies in a short chapter. None of the sects which we shall
be surveying in this section fall under the category of Sabian, proper. However,
since there have been misunderstandings in the West as to the term Sabian, Sabaean,
etc., and to the connections between the Templars, Rosicrucians and Sufis, "Suphees",
"Sufees" "Sophees", "Sophis", etc., the Assassins,
and the Yezidis (Yazidi, Jezidee, Yesdan, Dasni, etc.,), it is worth our time
to present a brief survey, and present some of our comments on the subject.
At least comments relevant to the work as a whole. For rather good work on the
subject, we recommend James Wassermann's Templars & Assassins: The
Militia of Heaven. It represents long years of research into a very
We shall not be disappointed with what we come across, either, for it is in
just such a model as the Isma'ili paradigm provides us, that the Gnosis was
able to survive the Dark Ages, along with far older systems, which, in the final
analysis, owe their inspiration to not only the Assyrian Religion, but also
to the Sabaeans.
Before we start, let us make a few relevant points in re current events of
the time (i.e., mid-September of 2001 c.e.).
This chapter/section was originally written in November of 1997 c.e. Most of
us had not yet heard of Osama bin Laden, even though he appeared in mid 98 c.e.,
on an episode of FrontLine. We first heard of him in the summer
of that year, in relation to the bombings in Africa.
Now he has become a household word.
When we speak of Islam, or of Islamic secret societies, his is not the type
we are referring to, nor is his the type we endorse. His is the type that is
associated with the most rabid of Fundamentalist Islamic groups. As we have
stated many times, Fundamentalism is evil, whether it is Islamic Fundamentalism,
Christian or Jewish Fundamentalism, or whether it is Fundamentalism belonging
to other religious groups. The Japanese have sprouted some strange Fundamentalist
groups too. So have the Hindus and the Buddhists. And though there are those
who would take us to task, there are Fundamentalist Thelemites. And that is
an oxymoron and a half!
People who began as Baptists and became Thelemites might consider throwing the
Baptist in the Baptistry and go on without it, rather than bring it with them,
so as to convert the Third World to Thelema, as if it wants to or needs to be
By endorsing or even writing about certain traditions, does not mean we are
"sleeping with the enemy" or that we are a "weak sister"
-- it is a part of our endeavor to understand several cultures.
Indeed, we had reservations about whether or not we should continue posting
this section over the Internet, because we had been slammed fairly hard by people
over the previous section.
And, too, we have gotten death threats from fundies who call our work a pack
of lies, and so on and so forth.
Also, the present global crisis before us, may make it uncomfortable to write
about certain things, but write we shall.
Therefore, we are readying ourselves to publish everything we have, however
long it takes, and however much bandwidth and server space it takes. The Story
is Here, and it is in the process of being told.
There are those who would like to discharge hormones and embark
on a crusade to rid the world of all three major religions of the book, thinking
that that is the way to go about it. There is a lot of inflammatory rhetoric
going around. There is ridicule of our position, namely that we need to understand
the roots of the situation, and by venturing down these ancient avenues, we
can find it a lot quicker than we can by getting a pack of buddies together
and ripping the cloths off as many Moslem ladies as we can find. And there is
no point in pretending to be democratic, whilst holding to these values. What
is desirable is that these evil radical fundamentalist belief systems will be
rendered unpopular, not made illegal, mind you, but rendered unpopular, in that
a greater future may be had for us all.
James Burke provided us with a model, pointing out the relationship
between the past and present, and offered his portents for the future, and as
we go through this long survey, we, too, shall be holding to the same basic
Further, there is more value in attempting to raise the vibrations,
rather than create more division. After all, is that not Choronzon's work, yea,
is that not Choronzon's work?
A. OVERVIEW: THE ARAB WORLD.
WE begin with a basic survey of the schisms within the Dar-al-Islam.
But, before we can do that, we must first see just what the Arab world was like
before Islam came about, and then we must examine the effect that Islam had
upon the people it dominated. It is these two areas that facilitated the birth,
growth, and development of the Schismatic sects which arose, primarily in Shiite
Islam, as a reaction against the despotism and tyranny represented by the Orthodox
Sunni Moslems. [This seems to still be the case today.]
As this work is a sort of syllabus/anthology, we will be presenting extracts
(Readings) from excellent works we have run across, because they demonstrate
our thesis. The first passage is from G. E. von Grunebaum's CLASSICAL
ISLAM: A History 600 A.D. to 1258 A.D., pp. 20-6. We have supplied the
title for this extract, as it will be a part of the Readings In The Authentic
Tradition series; it is "Religion in Southern Arabia before Islam,"
and we have taken pp. 91-6 of the same work, and titled it "The Hellenization
of the Arabs," and we have also taken pp. 67-9, titling it, "The Conquest
of Central Asia."
a. Religion in Southern Arabia before Islam. Grunebaum CLASSICAL ISLAM:
A History, 600 A.D., to 1258 A.D., pp. 20-6.
Since the middle of the third century, the history of the Near East has been
dominated by the conflict between first the Roman Empire, later its eastern
half, and finally its Byzantine successor, and Sasanid Iran with its capital
at Ctesiphon in Semitic Mesopotamia. As is always the case in such situations,
the hostility spread into areas which intrinsically had little concern with
the interests and cultures involved. The sphere of influence of the Persians
in Arabia lay on the whole to the east of a line running from Palmyra to the
eastern boundary of Hadhramaut, so that the trade routes through Sasanid Mesopotamia
to the Persian Gulf and through Persia proper to Central Asia were under Persian
control. This circumstance forced the Byzantines to use the sea route through
the Red Sea; the entrance was in their hands and its eastern shore was not occupied
by any power which could threaten them. The exit to the Indian Ocean however
was controlled by the Yemenites, and on the Western shore the empire of Axum,
core of the later state of Abyssinia, made its interests felt.
It was therefore essential for Byzantium to ensure the goodwill of the Abyssinians
and Yemen, while the Persians seized every opportunity to disturb Byzantine
understanding with these peoples. It should not be forgotten that South Arabia
and Iraq had long kept in close contact over a much-used route. The kingdom
in South Arabia seems to have declined slowly since the first century A.D.,
and to have shared its power increasingly with the local 'feudal' lords. As
a consequence south-east Yemen fell under Abyssinian domination as early as
the first half of the fourth century.
The conversion of Abyssinia to Monophysite Christianity emanating from Egypt
began just at that time, but was not completed until the sixth century. It is
very likely that because of this political connection Christianity was introduced
at the same time in South Arabia. Their associated with the 'hated blacks' was
in any case injurious to the Christian mission and probably prejudiced the cause
of the Monophysite preachers coming from Syria. The national reaction
which drove out the Abyssinians towards the end of the century did not result
in a renascence of native paganism but led gradually to an impressive spread
of Judaism, which during the fourth and fifth centuries found growing support
from the Jews who had migrated into South Arabia after each of the two destructions
of the Temple in Jerusalem. Persian Mazdaism was too much a national phenomenon
to spread at all in foreign parts; Byzantine intolerance of the Jews made them
acceptable allies for the Sasanids.
Byzantium was prepared to make common cause with the Monophysites abroad. With
her blessing the Abyssinians re-embarked on a policy of expansion at the beginning
of the sixth century. Their first success forced the Yemenite king to flee into
the interior and there to adopt the Jewish faith. But a change in the fortune
of war brought fierce persecution on the Christians, though their cult centre
in Najran soon recovered. Renewed efforts by the Abyssinians culminated in 525
with the death of the Jewish king Dhu Nuwas and the transformation of his empire
into an Abyssinian satrapy, which the legendary Abraha a little later built
into an almost independent state under an Abyssinian ruling class. He encouraged
Christianity and seems to have tried to get control of Mecca or at least to
wrest it from the Persian sphere of influence, into which it had been brought
by the sympathies of the leading circles in the city. This campaign must have
happened at least ten years earlier than the date (560) traditionally ascribed
to it. It failed and their repulse of the enemy strengthened the Meccans' 'national
Not much later the Yemenites rose against the Abyssinians whom they then expelled,
with the sanction of the Persians. In 597 the Persians decided to put an end
to the independence of the Yemen, since it was threatened by internal feuds.
Persian rule converted the Yemenite Christians to Nestorianism. It was considered
reliable by the Persians because of its irreconciliable hostility both to the
Byzantine imperial church and to the Monophysitism which was strong in the Semitic
borderlands and in Egypt. The Persians established it as a state religion of
the second rank. Thus it was probably Nestorians who a generation later came
to an agreement with Muhammad on the fate of the Christian town of Najran.
The Christianization of the borderlands
meant that the areas that had remained pagan had a vague acquaintance with Christians
and Christianity. This first, and secondly the penetration of Judaism into the
peninsula were the two most important intellectual influences towards cultural
change among the Arabs. The Greek church was for the most part harshly opposed
to the heretical communities of the non-Greek subjects of the empire, and these
in their turn forced out splinter groups into the furthest borderlands. Thus
the Bedouin world learnt of Christianity mostly in a guise which differed considerably
from our idea of the religion. Ancient Arab poetry does not convey the impression
that dogmatic questions were of any interest; what made an impression were the
hermits and the church processions. According to the evidence of the poetry
the Christian pilgrimages were also a common pagan form of god- or saint-worship.
Conversely, Christians participated in the pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Mecca,
whose lord was for them simply 'God'; refusal to join in this ritual subjected
some tribes to the accusation of godlessness.
Only the Monophysites after their reorganization by Jacob Barde'ana (Baradaeus,
Bishop of Edessa, c. 542-578) seem to have applied themselves systematically
to converting the Bedouin: bishops were appointed to the large camps. From the
Monophysites, who sought to unite themselves after the middle of the sixth century,
the Ghassanid princes adopted a new line of policy, which brought them into
opposition with the central Byzantine government and ultimately hastened their
end. But dehellenization was not a process that could be arrested, Greek gradually
receded. When the Persians conquered Syria in the early seventh century they
persecuted the Greeks but protected the Syrians; the Monophysite churches achieved
their union in 610 under Persian aegis.
The advance of the Nestorians into Mesopotamia had resulted in the establishment
of a see in Hira, whose incumbent Hosea appears at a synod as early as 410.
While the Monophysite Arabs continued their nomadic life, the Nestorians of
central Mesopotamia and chiefly of Hira congregated into a community of 'Servants
of God' ('IBAD) which tended to eliminate the sense of tribal differentiation.
They put their mark on the culture of the Lakhmid State of the sixth century,
although the dynasty itself, unlike the Ghassanids, did not adopt Christianity,
before its last ruler. The 'IBAD can be considered as a forerunner of the Islamic
UMMA, 'community', for they represent the first known example of Arab speakers
grouped by a common ideology, and thus a group which, like the Muslim community
in its first years, combined the organizational functions of the tribe with
those of a religious fraternity. On the whole the contact of West and Central
Arabia with the Lakhmid centre seems to have been stronger than with the Ghassanids.
The stability of the court of Hira towards the end of the pagan period attracted
almost all the more important poets for a time, yet the development of Islam
was not on that account more affected by influences from the eastern cultural
centres than from the Northern.
Be that as it may it was opposition to the Persians which led in 611 (some say
604) to the battle of Dhu Qar, in which the Banu Bakr and a few other tribes
allied with them completely routed the Persians in alliance with other Arabs.
This event had little immediate consequence, but in retrospect it appeared to
the Arabs as the emergence of a national consciousness and as the trial of strength
for a policy of conquest.
Although Christianity had touched and even been adopted by a number of different
tribes, and Judaism too had been able to win proselytes, for instance in Yathrib,
paganism suffered few losses in the northern zone of Arab culture. One cannot
avoid the impression however that it continued rather from tradition and from
the lack of organized opposition than because of any deep conviction. Of course
the scholars to whom we owe the transmission of evidence of the pre-Islamic
period have exercised a certain censorship in what they preserved and in the
way they composed their information. No monuments were built from whose
remains we might now draw inferences, what was probably the only sanctuary erected
in stone, the Ka'aba ('cube') of Mecca, was taken over by Islam. But it appears
from literary sources that, particularly in the north of the peninsula, the
religious atmosphere was fairly uniform: the same piety is mirrored in the 'red
stone', the deity of the South Arabian city of Ghaiman, in the 'white stone'
in the Ka'ba of al-Abalat (near Tabala south of Mecca) and in the 'black stone'
of Mecca itself; but equally in the conception and shape of the Ka'aba of Najran,
of al-Abalat, and of Mecca. It can certainly be affirmed that the experience
of divinity at that time was particularly associated with stone fetishes or
was roused by mountains, special rock formations, or trees of strange growth.
This experience survives to this day; the sacred places of paganism still play
their part as saints' or prophets' graves.
But it is certainly not the fault of the Islamic purveyors of tradition when
they speak of the religion of the JAHILIYYA, the 'time of ignorance', as remarkably
poor in myth, and can find no sign of an attempt to bring the numerous divinities
together into a pantheon. The absence of a priestly class may be at least partly
responsible. There were of course sanctuaries which were at the same time the
property and cult-estates of certain families -- traces of such an order
are to be found even in Mecca -- but these families did not cohere over wide
areas. Only once does a Chief Priest appear as the Leader of a large group
of tribes, the Rabi'a, with the title AFKAL; the title is of Babylonian
origin and has mistakingly been taken as a personal name. The nomads themselves
who carried (and still carry) certain sacred objects or Gods about with
them had little to do with the local deities. The Sky Cult common to
the Semites must also have been important in Arabia; the Koran gives a few indirect
hints of this, for instance when it makes Abraham fight through to recognition
of the True God by passing through a phase of Star Worship.
Fatalism and the Star Cult are closely connected throughout antiquity; in
Arabia, even in the Koran, the Goddess of FATE appears together with Venus of
the Morning Star and a third figure designated simply as 'THE GODDESS'. They
are the 'daughters of Allah' favoured by the Pagans. While in Arabic MANAT is
the linguistic counterpart of Hellenistic TYCHE, DAHR, Fateful 'Time' who snatches
men away and robs their existence of purpose and value, and who was the favourite
of later pagan generations, particularly the poets, can be connected with the
eternal Chronos of Mithraism and Zurvan theology the universal ruler and consumer
of all things. [cf. Amitabha.]
Another idea common to the Semitic peoples is that of the highest (local) divinity
as king. It can be found on Arab soil among the Thamudites, buit seems later
to have died away; at any rate Malik does not occur among the divine names that
have come down to us, although its transference to the One God of Islam has
preserved it in Muslim names, for instance the Caliph Abd al-Malik, 'servant
of the king'. Comparable to this is the term Rahman or Rahim for the High God,
the 'Merciful' whom we meet in Safaitic, Palmyran and Sabaean; it has been preserved
and given prominence by its transference to Allah. That the Islamic God received
the most abstract of all possible names, Al-Ilah, Allah, 'the God' is certainly
to a great extent due to the linguistic usage of Muhammad's environment, but
it is to be ascribed too to its meaning, which is free of all associations,
and to a certain resistance to an imported nomenclature. It seems quite a defensible
suggestion that even before Muhammad the Ra'ba was the first and foremost holy
place of Allah, and not that of the Hubal deriving from the Nabataean and the
359 other members of the astrological syncretic pantheon assembled there. Circumambulation
('Tawaf'), standing in worship (Wuquf), bloodless and bloody sacrifice were
the essential cult elements everywhere on the peninsula; equally universal among
the Arabs was the piece of land (HIMA) removed from profane use, the holy ground
with right of asylum for all living things, the Haram surrounding the Meccan
Ka'aba is no more than a particularly impressive example of it.
Within the consciousness of the Muslim community there lives a small class
of seekers after God, one of whom was related to Muhammad's first wife and has
been placed directly into the history of the foundation of Islam. Turning as
alternatives to Judaism, Christianity, or to an unorganized form of Monotheism,
these personages are to be understood, however much they may have been individualized
by legend, not as distinct historical characters but as personified symbols
of a current of unrest and spiritual experimentation. They seem to have singled
themselves out from their environment, but evidently were not persecuted. They
are all ascetics. Strangely enough not one of them is recorded as having ended
his road by coming to rest in the Muslim community. Their contemporaries know
them as HUNAFA (sing. HANIF), the Arabization of the Syrian HANPA, (pagan).
In church language the word was used for heretics, who were considered as hellenistic
pagan renegades. Even the Manichaeans were damned as 'pagans'. The Arabic meaning
-- approximately: confessionally unaffiliated monotheist -- is best understood
if HANPA or HANIF be taken first and foremost to mean dissenter, and dissenters,
individualists, the HUNAFA remained. The sympathy for them felt both by contemporaries
and by posterity throws light on the spreading of dissatisfaction with inherited
religion, whose preservation was impossible to combine with full integration
into the Near Eastern cultural sphere.
b. The Hellenization of the Arabs, Grunebaum, op. cit., pp. 91-6.
Even disregarding the fact that the 'Abbasids owed the throne to a religious
slogan, the intense religious excitability of the times alone would have made
religion into a public concern and with it philosophy, then beginning its development;
there was an inherent need to interpret social grievances as religious deficiencies
and to seek the means to abolish them in religion and eschatology. On the other
hand it was characteristic of the Islamic world of the time -- and it has hardly
altered to this day -- that theologico-philosophical investigations and trends
were wont to start from political situations or problems.
A typical instance is the school responsible through agreement and conflict
for the formulation of the articles of faith: the 'Mu'Tazilites', 'Those who
hold back', 'the Abstainers'. They received their name towards the end of the
Umayyad period by refusing to recognize either party to the rift in the Jama'a
as free from guilt. The very fact of association with this abomination was tainting;
uet this sin neither involved exclusion from the community nor did it excuse
the use of force against the guilty government, for this would only have brought
injury to the community as a whole. Nevertheless in Bosra, which remained well
into the ninth century the most active intellectual centre of the Islamic world,
the sympathies of the early Mu'tazilites lay rather with the 'Alid and later
with the Abbasid side, and the Abbasids (with the exception of Harun ar-Rashid)
maintained good relations with them for a century. This attitude of the caliphs
was in the last resort because the Mu'tazilites alone were in a position to
undertake the disciplining of theological and religious reasoning which had
become so necessary through the uncontrolled growth of different sects, and
to protest Islam in this way against rival faiths or modes of thought.
The later attacks of 'orthodoxy' against them should not disguise the fact that
the Mu'tazilites stood firmly on the ground of the Muslim revelation. They were
concerned with the absolute unity and righteousness of God demonstrable from
the Koran. They were in no way freethinkers or men of enlightenment, they disciplined
the methods of thought, concerned themselves with clear theological concepts
and, one might say, humanized the teaching in that they raised up RATIO ('AQL)
to the decisive criterium of truth as an element which joined God and man in
a kind of pre-stabilized harmony. Like Plato in the EUTHYPHRON, though independently
of him, they conceive of what is morally good and what is reasonable as set
up by God in conformity with their own essence; they do not just become good
or reasonable by divine ordinance. Thanks to the reason common to God and men,
man has an insight into the motive of creation and moral judgment and with it
-- without prejudice to the divine knowledge of the totality of being -- freedom
of decision and moral responsibility. Evil exists only in the human sphere,
as a result of free will; on the cosmic level God can only will good. The separation
of creator and creature is absolute. The Koranic anthropomorphisms are to be
understood allegorically. Such traditions and ISMA' as seem to support their
literal sense are spurious and without authority; not Concensus but Ratio is
the touchstone. The believer has a duty to assist in the triumph of right and
to eliminate wrong -- an attitude indeed common to almost all Muslim movements
-- though this does not imply any duty to rebel, but justifies the alliance
with state power in order to make secure and pursue the true faith.
To 'orthodoxy' the Mu'tazilite position was distressing on two scores: first
their attempt to circumscribe and define the religious experience; second their
restriction of the omnipotence of God, the 'humanism' which conceives of Allah
as bound by his own moral laws and ordering of nature, and sees the key to God's
actions and motives in the reason common sense in essence to both God and man.
But at first the Mu'tazilites were successful in their 'mission' in all parts
of the empire, though they never formed a united school. They even served orthodoxy
as useful campaigners against a dualist movement which was gaining ground among
the intelligentsia and the upper reaches of society influenced by Iran. The
belief in a double creation which frees the 'good' God from any responsibility
for evil and assigns to man his role in the universe is common to the Zarathustrians
and the Manichaeans, and in spite of persecutions it found constant support
in Medieval Christendom along with the extreme asceticism peculiar to the Manichaeans.
Fow far the government tried to stamp out Manichaeism, which had increased towards
the end of the Sasanid oppression, and how far it was merely anxious to prevent
the public reversion of Islamized circles is not clear. At any rate Al-Mahdi
felt it necessary to intervene against the Manichaeans (ZINDIQ) in a series
of trials which even led to executions. The concept of ZAN DAQA went beyond
the actual 'dualism', it characterized an independent attitude to revealed religion
which subjectively and frivolously rejected the reference to definite teachings.
That an undertone of political dissonance vibrated in sympathy hardly needs
saying, in the Islamic context.
The arsenal of intellectual weapons to use against the Manichaeans, and the
means whereby the Muslim revelation could be brought into a form suitable to
the day were only available in one place: the heritage of antiquity. This had
already rendered Christian theology the service now required of it by Islam.
The material was to hand. THE ALEXANDRINE ACADEMY NEVER CEASED TO STUDY ARISTOTLE
UNTIL IT CLOSED, AND IT HAD REACHED BAGHDAD BY WAY OF ANTIOCH AND HARRAN (THE
SEAT OF A TENACIOUS HELLENISTIC STAR CULT); the Christians there (mostly Nestorians)
were acquainted with Greek philosophy and science in the original or in earlier
Syriac Translations; and the interest of the educated class of Muslims was exceptionably
great, though indeed only in so far as the Classical texts were suitable to
give support to their faith with their philosophy, and to make scientific, principally
medical, facts accessible. Fine literature and history awoke no echo, particularly
because of the totally different background which would have been necessary
to make them comprehensible.
In addition there was an attractive and highly prized native tradition in poetry,
and an independent historiography was quickly developing which dealt with the
appearance of the Prophet and the rise of the Islamic empire. Lastly a personal
and political ethic had already been created from Persian sources. Many classical
influences also reached Arabic through Middle Persian. In contrast the Roman
Tradition remained quite unheeded because of the remote position of Spain and
the low cultural level of the romance-speaking world at the time of the Arab
conquest. For Islam the classical world was the Greeks, and in the first place
the Neo-Platonic interpretations of Plato and Aristotle.
The translations, performed with admirable scholarship and for the period with
exceptional philological perspicuity, reached their zenith under the Nestorian
Hunain ibn Ishaq (d. 873), though they were continued into the eleventh century
in response to great public interest. The formation of an Arabic terminology
for the philosophical sciences and the extension of available knowledge was
in its effects perhaps less important than the possibility afforded by the new
concepts not only to express ideas but to be able to conceive them at all: in
some ways analogous to the intellectual development in Europe between the sixteenth
and eighteenth century, when the development of vernacular languages made it
possible to extend thought as well. In 1654 Pascal could still complain that
it was impossible to formulate a mathematical problem in French. We will only
note in the margin, but nonetheless with gratitude, that the Arabic translators
preserved a highly important heritage for the West.
The tension between the 'rationalists' and the pious masses who remained untouched
by the movement came to a climax on a specially sensitive issue. To the Mu'tazilites,
whose fundamental tenet was the immaculate unity of God (TAUHID), His Word appeared
-- like His Knowledge -- as ancillary and in this sence not coeval with the
Divine Substance and thus not eternal A PARTE ANTE. Any other conception implied
the deification of the WORD, and hence the association (SHIRK) of a second divine
being and the destruction of the Islamic idea of God. The reverence of the mass
of believers for the Word of God, the Kalam Allah, was too great for them not
to feel injured by the doubtless conceptually correct position of the Mu'tazilites;
they could not accept, so to speak, that the Word of God should be made into
The combat was conducted under the battle cries of the Created or Uncreated
Koran. Official opinion was in time won over to the "Created Koran"
(KHALQ-AL-QUR'AN). In 827 Ma'Mun decreed the MIHNA (often translated 'inquisition',
more correctly Test of Faith); the theologians and jurists had to acknowledge
in writing the 'Created Koran'. The majority of theologians acquiesced, but
in their hearts remained on the side of the uncompromising AHMAD IBN HANBAL,
whom the government in this case, unlike some others, did not dare to put to
death. The anthropomorphism of many verses in the Koran was less distressing
than subtilizing over the Word of God; the Hellenizing systematization seemed
like an alienation from living piety. Ma'Mun's third successor Al-Mutawakkil
(847-861) tried to win over the Jama'a in his efforts to strengthen the authority
of the caliphate and in 849 he declared himself publicly for the 'Uncreated
Koran', abolished the Mihna and dismissed the Mu'tazilite chief judge. At the
same time, characteristically, he attacked the cult of HUSAYN in KARBALA, and
had his tomb mosque razed to the ground, while he intensified the external marks
of inferiority attaching to Jews and Christians.
The true significance of the conflict and its outcome did not reside in the
fall of the Mu'tazila, which survived as a school and even more as an attitude
of mind, but in the understanding between government and UMMA that both Islam
and the caliphate would be best served if the public authority limited its interference
in religious life to guaranteeing its external conditions. The result was that
politics were disassociated from religion and the universal UMMA, now increasingly
independent of a government committed to the affairs of the moment, took on
a new momentum.
This independence forced theology to reassure the self-confidence of the faithful
by the reliability of its reasoning. This happened in two ways. On the one hand
the concepts and methods of thought of the critics had to be accepted, often
unwillingly and thus to some extent the problems the theologians had to solve
were prescribed: FREEDOM OF WILL and PREDESTINATION, the NATURE and ATTRIBUTES
of GOD, the sense of the anthropomorphic epithets of Allah in the revelation,
the VISIO DEI, the Question of the Logos. Secondly, the attitude to the prophetic
tradition was changed; since it was the only conclusive criterion it was inevitable
that each party should invent it anew to support the aims of the day as circumstance
dictated: a practice often censured but never readily condemned.
By the ninth century the traditional material had swollen beyond all manageable
proportions, and a critical sifting became essential. The nature of the case
dictated, and the insufficiently developed sense of anachronism too, that no
selection of the words of the Prophet by content was possible. Hence investigations
centred around the chain of witnesses, round the process of tradition which
led back to the Prophet or his contemporaries. Only too often it became apparent
that a tradition was attested only once, or only from unreliable witnesses.
Thus it is typical of the aims of this new science that the first great collections
were compiled by men who are remembered by posterity chiefly as the founders
of law schools: Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. With the transition
from arrangements by persons -- the authorities standing closest to the Prophet
in the Chain of Transmitters -- to systematization by subject matter, criticism
also was appreciably refined. This circumstance created enormous authority for
the collections of such men as Bukhari (d. 870) and Muslim (d. 875). The other
four collections to achieve equal canonical validity derive from the late ninth
The laconic notes on the TRANSMITTERS OF TRADITION gave rise to the BIOGRAPHY
so characteristic of medieval Islam. There is nothing in the West until well
into the sixteenth century remotely comparable to the comprehensive lexika which
treated of Poets, Scholars and the eminent in all walks of life. These biographical
collections, perhaps even more than the historical writings, have provided Islamic
civilization with its own portrait.
Hellenization went apace. Before the end of the ninth century the caliph al-Mu'tadid
was again supporting scholars and attracting them into his palace. Receptivity
for Greek thought grew remarkably quickly even outside theology. While al-Mu'tasim
was still reigning (833-842) the 'first Arab Philosopher' Ya'qub Al-Kindi from
Basra began his work on a synthesis of Greek thought acceptable to Islamic premises.
In it the Platonic element shows to greater effect than the Aristotelian. An
occasional lack of skill in handling the new concepts and a certain insensitivity
to the contradictions between Greek and Islamic axioms is compensated by the
seriousness and proud confidence of a great searcher after truth. 'THE TRUTH
NEVER DEGRADES HIM WHO SEEKS IT, BUT ENNOBLES ALL... IT MUST BE TAKEN WHEREVER
IT IS TO BE FOUND, WHETHER IT BE IN THE PAST OR AMONG STRANGE PEOPLES. TO ME
IT APPEARS RIGHT FIRST TO PRODUCE IN ITS ENTIRETY WHAT THE ANCIENTS HAVE SAID
ON A SUBJECT, AND THEREAFTER TO COMPLETE WHAT THEY OMITTED TO SAY ACCORDING
TO (OUR) WAY OF SPEAKING AND THE CUSTOMS OF OUR TIME". (Trans. R. Walzer.)
Kindi's voracious openness to knowledge and truth becomes the hallmark of the
next generation -- not only among 'Hellenists' but among those concerned with
the Arab tradition done like that astoundingly encyclopaedic anti-shu'ubi, Ibn
Qutaiba (d. 889), outstanding as traditionist, linguistic praeceptor, historian
and theoretician of literature.
Kindi worked for the 'men of our tongue' Ahl-Lisani-Na, important evidence for
the emergence of a new consciousness of a common culture balancing, at least
in many circles, the religious separatism. This cultural consciousness is documented
in the great Muslim philosopher, Al-Farabi (d. 950) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna;
d. 1037) who, one of Turkish, the other of Persian extraction, found themselves
working together in a common philosophical idiom. Jewry too made its first pervasive
contact with the Greeks through the intermediary of Islam. Throughout the whole
Hellenistic period it had obstinately turned away from it all, apart from Philon.
Greek thought at that time was irresistable; it pervaded all intellectual endeavor
to such an extent that even the Zarathustrians of the ninth and tenth centuries
were seized by Aristotelian scholasticism. The leading spirits of Medieval
Islam never lost the sense that Intellectually they belonged to the Greek West.
c. The Conquest of Central Asia. Grunebaum, op. cit., pp. 67-9.
In 664 the army reached Kabul in what is now Afghanistan, ten years later it
crossed the Oxus to Bukhara whence the victor brought a bodyguard of two thousand
archers, first to Basra, and shortly afterwards to Samarkand. These conquests
and the consequent Arab settlement of Khorasan then were extended further with
Basra as their base. They brought the Muslims into contact with a highly cultivated
world of relatively small city states, basically Sogdian in speech and culture,
bordering on the west with the Khwaresmians (who were also related to the Iranians)
of modern Khiva, and all interspersed with Turkish tribes who often furnished
the ruling families.
This plethora of peoples created a colourful juxtaposition of religions. The
heathen shamanism of the Turks, the Nestorian version of Christianity, even
Buddhism in the great temple centre of Balkh (Bactra) (the family of the Barmakid
Viziers, later to become so famous, acquired its name from the office of Parmak
or principal [Sanskrit Pramukha] of the Buddhist Monastery of Nava Vihara [Naubahar]
which was held by its ancestors), and in the monastery to which Bukhara owes
its name, not to mention the Zarathustrians and the Manichaeans, all seem to
have lived side by side without serious friction. The wealth of the land epended
in part on the fertility of the oases which must have been more densely populated
than now, but mainly on transit trade. This was not noticeably affected by the
perpetual skirmishes between Turks and Iranians, between steppe-dwellers and
peasantry. The Sogdians were not defeated nor the cultural centres Islamicized
until the campaigns of Qutaiba ibn Muslim (705-715); then Arab garrisons were
set up in Khwaresm, Bukhara, and Samarkand, as they had been earlier in Khorasan
at Merv, Nishapur, and Herat. The local petty princes remained in many places
for some time as allies or as the instruments of indirect rule.
The extension of Islamic rule in Sindh went on at the same time (711-712). A
reconnaissance expedition had already reached there under 'Umar. The port of
Daibul (now Karachi) and Nirun (now Hyderabad) with its statue of the Buddha
'forty els high' fell into the hands of Muhammad ibn-al-Qasim, who like Qutaiba
was despatched by the governor of Iraq. Although various poets and scholars
of Sindhi origin are met with in Islam in the eighth century, the province as
a whole exerted no influence worthy of mention on intellectual life. In Khwarezm
and Transoxiana it was different. The decimation of the Sogdian and even more
of the Khwarezmian elites was followed by a 'colonization' which turned these
territories into mission centres, and Bukhara and Samarkand especially developed
an individual and highly intensive Islamic intellectual life. In the Iranian
territory the Arabs were a small minority. According to Arab sources the Arab
population of Khorasan was calculated at two hundred thousand, of which about
40,000 were fit for military service. Hence it is understandable that the native
converts to Islam, who had also taken over the Arab language, should become
of more importance, and sooner, than they were for instance in Syria. By about
700 Iranian officers were already beginning to play a role, and their importance
grew from decade to decade. Qutaiba himself contemplated building up a Persian
army whose first loyalty would be to him personally.
From the point of view of the Iranians, especially in Khorasan, the main task
of the Arabs was to protect them against the Turks, a task which on the whole
they performed with greater success than the Iranian petty princes, and even
than the Sasanids. It is true that the bastion erected by the Arabs was not
vouchsafed a long life. With the crumbling of the power of the caliphate the
defensive strength of the empire waned, and the Turks, themselves now largely
within the Dar al-Islam, soon won back their supremacy. Even so Islam grew in
strength as a spiritually productive religion, unprejudiced by the changeable
political circumstances of its position. The intellectual and political orientation
eastwards towards China which had previously been dominant now gave way to one
turned southwards towards the Islamic world. The battle on the Talas (July 751)
in which Western Turks and Arabs influcted a crushing defeat on the last Chinese
army sent out to Central Asia, signifies the end of direct Chinese influence,
and at the same time, of Sogdian hopes of a political recovery.
These extracts should provide the interested reader with vital information
as to the early history of Islam. It is from Islam that we in the West can extend
a lot of gratitude towards, for preserving works of antiquity from being completely
lost to us. This is not something to be passed over lightly, as so many people
might tend to do, when considering the past. The implications here are great.
Outside of the surviving schools of the Thebaid brethren, and the Jewish schools
in France, Spain, and Southern Germany, intellectual culture did not exist,
in the West during the so-called Dark Ages. The degradation brought upon society
by the Church lasted until... well, it really never went away, in all honesty.
We fail to apologize to those who consider the type of long quotation we employ
as plagiarism or as lack of originality. The passages quoted demonstrate the
position of religious and philosophical ideas in the Middle East at the coming
of Islam, and as a result of it.
From Muhammad to Ali, his cousin and adopted son, the progress of Islam was
steady, and fairly unified. But, it became apparent that Islam wasn't the hoped-for
unifier of tribes that it was advertised as being. The Sunnis proclaimed that
the succession stopped with the four Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad.
There were many, however, who held that Ali was a legitimate successor, and
out of this arose the party known as Shiah.
Ali was the first Imam of the Shiah branch of Islam. His two sons were murdered,
to prevent their rising to power. The Imamate went from the youngest of these
two sons, Husayn, whose murder is commemorated every year, down to the Sixth
Imam, Jafar-al-Sadik, who died in 765 c.e.
It is at this point that the Shiah schism in Islam, had a schism of its own.
The 'orthodox' Shiites hold that there were Twelve Imams. They are known as
the Twelvers. The Seventh Imam was Musa-al-Kazim (d. 799). The Twelfth, Muhammad
al-Muntazar, died in the year 878 c.e.
The party that broke off from this group became known as the Isma'ili, after
its claimant to the status of Seventh Imam, Isma'il. They are known as the Seveners.
Every secret sect we are studying in this work, that came out of Islamic Society,
has its roots (at least its Islamic roots) in Isma'ili belief and practice.
Please refer to the first chart.
The Gnosis survived in the Middle East in at least two ways:
a. Separatist sects which remained for the most part outside Islam as a whole,
such as the Yezidis, the Mandaeans, the Harranians.
b. Groups which are connected to and recognized by the Dar-al-Islam, such as
the Sufis, the Isma'illiyya, etc.
In the groups mentioned above, the second group is where we find the Batinis,
the Carmathians, the Assassins, the Nusayri, the Druzes, etc. The Second Chart
shows where these sects fit into the chronology. It shows the connection with
the Johannite Gnosis, via the Batinis and Carmathians.
Refer to the second chart.
The Isma'ili system may have evolved as a result of the circumstances of its
birth in the Islamic context, but it cannot be denied that there are Harranian,
Hellenistic, Manichaean, Barbelo-Gnostic, and Sufi influences.
Hellenistic Philosophy and Science was endorsed by the Abbasid Caliphs, especially
We shall sub-divide this survey according to chronological order. First, we
shall briefly discuss the Batinis of Abdullah ibn Maymun, the Carmathites, and
We shall see that through the Fatimites came the Assassins and Druzes. Also
we shall cover the Arabic influence upon the West and upon Jewry as well. We
shall also discuss the Sufis and Yezidis. And, too, we shall show the influence
of the Arab World upon the Crusaders, the Alchemists and upon the Rose-Croix.
All Original material contents © 1997 - 2001 c.e.,
Jonathan Sellers. All Rights Reserved.