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R E L I G I O N
Islam in Iran, Early Periods
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Encyclopedia Iranica
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The Malāmatiya arose, at least in part, as a reaction to the effusive and public devotions of the Karrāmiya in Nishapur. The name of this movement derives not from a person but from a concept, malāmat (“blame”), or more precisely its occurrence in Qurʾan 5:54: “They struggle in the path of God and fear not the blame of any blamer.” The Malāmatis interpreted “blame” in this context to mean a readiness to endure the disapproval of others as a necessary condition for gaining the pleasure of God. They also focused “blame” on themselves in the sense that the primary duty of the believer is to reproach his own self for its shortcomings, not to engage in ostentatious displays of piety. Insofar as any individual can be regarded as the originator of their movement, it is Abu Sāleḥ Ḥamdun Qaṣṣār (d. 270/884) of Nishapur; the early Malāmatis were indeed sometimes known as Ḥamdunis or Qaṣṣāris. Concerned as they were with inward, secretive devotion, the Malāmatis shunned certain aspects of Sufi practice evolving at the time in Khorasan, such as samāʿ (musical sessions) and vocal—hence audible—ekr (q.v.), but it would be a mistake to see them as opposed to the Sufis in general. Ḥamdun Qaṣṣār was favorably regarded by Jonayd Bāgdādi, the prime exemplar of “sober Sufism,” and the line of demarcation between Sufi and Malāmati was not always clear; some individuals, notably Abu ʿOṯmān Ḥiri, are varyingly depicted as the one or the other in the hagiographical literature. Although no prominent individuals are identified as Malāmati after the 4th/10th century, Sohravardi (d. 623/1234) had occasion to remark in his ʿAwāref al-maʿāref that “there is still a group of them [Malāmatis] in Khorasan; they have their elders who their fundamental principles and make known to them the conditions of their states.” The attitudes inculcated by the Malāmatis persisted considerably later, first in the craft guilds and then in the teachings of the early Naqšbandi Sufis. As for their name, it was ultimately usurped by antinomians who actively sought the blame of others, instead of being simply ready to accept it; instead of hidden piety, flagrant libertinism was their hallmark (Sohravardi, p. 71).

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Shi’ism in Iran in the Medieval Period

Although predominantly Sunnite until Safavid times, Persia also housed communities varying in size and significance that espoused the three main branches of Shiʿism: Imami, Zaydi, and Ismaʿili. What has been called “political Shiʿism,” that is, support for ʿAlawi rebellions against the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs inspired purely by political considerations, appeared very early in Persia, in the form of the Hāšemi movement that arose in the aftermath of Moḵtār’s unsuccessful revolt in Kufa (Madelung, p. 77; Jaʿfariān, p. 146). “Religious Shiʿism,” dedication to the cause of the Prophet’s descendants as doctrinally obligatory and as varying interpreted by each branch of the Shiʿite movement, came somewhat later.

Imami Shiʿism. By the end of the 2nd/8th century, the city of Qom had become one of the staunchest and most dedicated centers of Imami Shiʿism, the school based on loyalty to a line of Imams that ultimately came to an end with the occultation of the Twelfth Imam; it has retained this status down to the present. There is broad unanimity that the population of Qom has been continuously and exclusively Imami since the end of the 2nd/8th century. The city may have had pre-Islamic origins, but it began to acquire historical importance only with the arrival of Arab migrants in the 1st/7th century. Significant among these arrivals were the Banu Saʿd b. Mālek Ašʿari, who turned definitively to “religious Shiʿism” soon after the establishment of the Abbasid dynasty. From their ranks emerged Imami devotees and scholars such as ʿIsā and ʿEmrān, who went from Qom to visit Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq in Medina; Abu ʿAli Moḥammad, the son of ʿIsā, who communicated with Imams ʿAli al-Reżā and Moḥammad al-Taqi; and Abu Jaʿfar Aḥmad, the son of Abu ʿAli, who visited three of the Imams in succession (Jaʿfariān, pp. 127­29). Contacts such as these with the Imams and their deputies continued until the end of the Lesser Occultation (that period in which the occulted Imam had four named representatives in succession) in 329/941. The loyalty of the Qomis to the Imami line manifested itself also in the regular forwarding of ḵoms (a one-fifth share) to the Imams and in their strict avoidance of dissident factions such as the Fatḥi and the Wāqefi that divided the movement in Kufa and elsewhere; the hesitation and confusion that regularly accompanied the transition from one Imam to the next was never witnessed in Qom. The special merit of Qom was acknowledged in pronouncements by Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq such as the following: “Kufa will be emptied of believers, and knowledge will vanish from it as a serpent vanishes into its hole. Knowledge will then reappear in a city called Qom, which will become a source of knowledge and learning, and they will spread thence to other cities” (cited by Razi, p. 27). The “other cities” that under the influence of Qom turned to Imami Shiʿism at an early period may be identified as Āva, Kāšān, Farāhān, and Tafreš. The definitive elevation of the city to prominence in the spiritual geography of Imami Shiʿism came with the death and burial there, in 202/817, of Fāṭema Maʿṣuma, sister of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā. In the 3rd/9th century Qom also shone as a center of learning, with an emphasis on the cultivation of Imami Hadith; fully 80 percent of the traditions included in Kolayni’s al-Kāfi, one of the principal Shiʿite collections, were narrated from the scholars of Qom.

The sectarian composition of Rayy was more complex. The entire population is said originally to have been strongly Sunnite, even Nāṣebi, a group that regarded as permissible the cursing of Imam ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb. Shiʿism was also present in Rayy from early times, however, in both its Imami and Ismaʿili forms. Imam Moḥammad al-Bāqer, fifth of the Imams according to both traditions, had a number of Rāzis (natives of Rayy) among his followers, and some emāmzādas (q.v.) of the region date from the late 2nd/8th century. The Imami community was evidently large enough to participate, together with the Hanafites and the Shafeʿites, in the triangular strife that continuously ravaged Rayy down to the Mongol invasion. According to an anti-Shiʿite polemic written in Saljuq times, the ‘Rawāfeż’ (“rejecters”: a term of opprobrium used for Shiʿites) even formed a majority in the city (cited by ʿAbd-al-Jalil Qazvini, p. 453, in the response to the polemic he composed in 560/1163). Yāqut Ḥamawi likewise reports that within the city the Shiʿites had once predominated, while of the two Sunnite communities, the Hanafites were the more numerous; as for the villages of the area, they were all Shiʿite (Yāqut, III, p. 117). Among the quarters of the city of Rayy, Moṣleḥgāh had a consistently Imāmi majority, and among its villages, Qaṣrān, on the site of which several centuries later Tehran came into being. Kolayn, some 30 km distant from Rayy, was another center of Imami Shiʿism. Varāmin, to the south of Rayy, described by Qazvini as a village but the equal of any city with respect to religion and learning, had a sectarian mix similar to that of Rayy, also with a Shiʿite majority; intercommunal relations were, however, more irenic than in Rayy, for feasts would be served every Ramażān at which everyone was welcome—Hanafite and Shafeʿite as well as Shiʿite (Qazvini-Rāzi, p. 200). To the north of Rayy, Oram, a town near Sāri on the borders of Ṭabarestān, had an Imami population, which engaged in regular warfare with the Ismaʿilis ensconced to their north (Qazvini-Razi, p. 200; Yāqut, I, p. 157).

In northwest Persia, Qazvin was the most solidly Sunnite city and the most hostile to Shiʿites of all types. The Imami minority was subject to intermittent pressure; it is said that on one occasion all its elders were humiliated by having a formula proclaiming love for Abu Bakr and ʿOmar branded on their foreheads (Zakariā Qazvini, p. 402). Sunnites and Shiʿites nonetheless both made devotions at the shrine of Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Ḥosayn, a son of Imam ʿAli al-Reżā known locally as Šāhzāda Ḥosayn (Qazvini-Rāzi, p. 589), and the city produced Imami scholars of some eminence. Isfahan was another militantly Sunnite city. Apparently lacking any Shiʿite population, it was in some sense the hostile counterpart of Qom with its integrally Shiʿite citizenry; this may help to explain a riot in Isfahan in 345/956 which resulted in the plundering of goods brought by some merchants from Qom (Jaʿfariān, p. 164).

As for Khorasan, Nishapur from early times housed a Shiʿite community which was overshadowed, demographically and otherwise, by the Sunnites, but produced a number of significant scholars such as Fażl b. Šāḏān (d. 260/874), a companion of the tenth Imam of the Twelver Line, al-Hādi. Matters were the reverse in Bayhaq (later and more commonly known as Sabzavār); the convergence on the city of a number of ʿAlawi sayyeds from elsewhere in Khorasan, especially Nishapur, led gradually to the emergence of a Shiʿite majority. By the 8th/14th century, the city is reported as being entirely Imami, although some anecdotal evidence suggests the survival of a residual Sunnite community. There was a more modest Imami presence in Marv and Balkh. Imam ʿAli al-Reżā died and was buried near Ṭus in 203/818, firmly inscribing the region in the sacred geography of Imami Shiʿism, but the city of Mashad, which grew up around the shrine, displacing Ṭus as a major urban center, remained predominantly Sunnite until the Safavid period. Farther to the east, both Samarqand and Kaš (the present-day Šahr-e Sabz) had Imami communities in the 3rd and 4th centuries, evidently small, but notable for producing traditionists such as Moḥammad b. Masʿud ʿAyyāši (d. early 4th/10th century) (Madelung, p. 84).

Zaydi Shiʿism. Zaydism—that variant of Shiʿism which believes the Imamate may rightfully be claimed by any learned descendant of either Imam Ḥasan or Imam Ḥosayn who rises up against illegitimate rule—reached Persia much later than did its Imami counterpart. In the late 3rd/9th century, a certain Yaḥyā b. ʿAbd-Allāh, who had supported an unsuccessful Zaydi uprising launched in the Ḥejāz by the Hosaynid Ḥosayn b. ʿAli, took refuge with the Jostanid rulers of Deylam, but there is no evidence he used the opportunity this provided for the propagation of Zaydism. It was in a somewhat more easterly region, the Ruyān, Kalār, and Čālus areas of Ṭabarestān, that Zaydism first took firm root. In 250/864, the local population rebelled against their Taherid overlords and invited al-Ḥasan b. Zayd to join them from Rayy and assume rule over them. This he did, taking the title al-Dāʿi ela’l-Ḥaqq and implementing the legal ordinances of Zaydi Shiʿism from his capital in Āmol. His brother and successor, Moḥammad b. Zayd, was killed in battle in 287/900 by a Samanid army, but Zaydi rule was restored some fourteen years later, when one of Moḥammad b. Zayd’s associates, Ḥasan b. ʿAli al-Oṭruš al-Nāṣer le’l-Ḥaqq, arrived in Deylam with an invitation from the Jostanids (q.v.) to use their territory as a base for the reconquest of Ṭabarestān. Initially frustrated in his efforts, he devoted himself to converting the local populace, especially those living to the east of the Safidrud, to Zaydi Shiʿism, before launching a decisive campaign for the control of Ṭabarestān. He died and was buried in Āmol in 304/917. The Zaydis of Deylam and Ṭabarestān were henceforth divided between the Nāṣeris, who regarded the teachings and lineage of Nāṣer le’l-Ḥaqq as authoritative, and the Qāsemis, whose point of reference was Qāsem b. Ebrāhim Rassi (d. 246/86) and his descendants. Reinforced by ethnic distinctions between the Gilakis to the east of the Safidrud and the Deylamis to its west, this division was only partly resolved by an attempt to declare the two subsects as equally valid insofar as they were based on ejtehād (q.v.) (Madelung, pp. 86­89).

Outside the Caspian region, Zaydism was the original choice of the Buyid dynasty, the founding members of which had been in the service of the Zaydi Imams of Lāhijān, and although the Buyids later transferred their loyalties to Imami Shiʿism, they continued to patronize and protect Zaydi Imams in the Caspian region and beyond. Zaydi scholars were active in Rayy as late as the first half of the 6th/12th century, but the sect ultimately disappeared everywhere in Persia, with the exception of Deylam, and even there it was challenged both by Sunni Islam and by Ismaʿilism.

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