QARᾹMIṬAH (sg., Qarmaṭī) is the name applied to a dissident Muslim group that broke away from the parent Ismāʿīlī movement. At first, this name referred to the followers of Ḥamdān al-Qarmaṭ, an Ismāʿīlī dāʿī (missionary) in the rural district of Kufa, who was given the surname Qarmaṭ (meaning either that he was short-legged or red-eyed). Later the term was used in a wider and derogatory sense to include all the Ismāʿīlīyah.
The missionary activities of Ḥamdān, who was converted to the Ismāʿīlī cause by the dāʿī Ahwazi, began around 873. He was assisted by his deputy and brother-in-law, ʿAbdān. In 899, because of change in the central leadership of the Ismāʿīlī movement and the doctrinal issue involved in this change, Ḥamdān severed his relations with the leadership. Shortly thereafter he disappeared, and ʿAbdān was murdered by his subordinate dāʿī Zikrawayh, who at first showed loyalty to the central leadership. When Zikrawayh was threatened with revenge by ʿAbdān's followers he went into hiding. In 902 Zikrawayh's son succeeded in winning the support of tribes in the Syrian desert and attacked and pillaged several cities in Syria. Two years later he was captured and executed. After several unsuccessful attempts at organizing revolts, Zikrawayh himself came out of hiding in 906 and defeated the Abbasid army, but the following year he was routed and killed, and the Qarmaṭī revolts in Syria came to an end.
The split of the Ismāʿīlīyah into two factions profoundly affected the loyalty of the various daʿwah (mission) groups to the central leadership. The daʿwah in Syria-Mesopotamia and western Persia refused to recognize the Fatimid claims to the imamate and instead supported the Qarāmiṭah. The daʿwah in Yemen at first remained loyal to the central leadership, but in 913 ʿAlī ibn al-Faḍl renounced his allegiance to the Fatimids and began waging war against his companion Manṣūr al-Yaman, who had remained loyal to them. Because of internal strife the political power of the Qarāmiṭah disintegrated rapidly. The dāʿī s in Rayy, who were successful in gaining the support of the Daylamis and some rulers of the Musafirid dynasty, maintained their contacts with the Qarāmiṭah.
QarĀmiṬah of Bahrein
Abū Saʿid al-Jannābī, the founder of the Qarmaṭī state in Bahrein (the coastal area of eastern Arabia between Basra and Oman, embracing the oases of al-Qaṭīf and Hajar/al-Ḥasā), who was sent by Ḥamdān al-Qarmaṭ and ʿAbdān, began his missionary activity in 886/7. Following the murder of ʿAbdān, he sided with the rebels against the central leadership and plotted the murder of the dāʿī Ẓamāmī, who had been sent to Bahrein before him by Manṣūr al-Yaman from Yemen and who had remained loyal to the central leadership. He himself was murdered in 913. In 923, under the leadership of Abū Ṭāhir, the son of Abū Saʿīd, the Qarāmiṭah launched devastating attacks on southern Iraq and raided pilgrim caravans. Then, interpreting the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 928 as a sign indicating the end of the Islamic era and the beginning of the final era, Abū Ṭāhir predicted the appearance of the Mahdi (messiah) in the near future. In 927–929 he led new attacks on southern Iraq and threatened the Abbasid capital of Baghdad itself. In 930 he attacked the holy city of Mecca during the pilgrimage season, committed slaughter, and carried away the Black Stone of the Kaʿbah, thus demonstrating the end of the Islamic era. The following year he handed over his reign to a Persian youth from Isfahan in whom he recognized the expected Mahdi, but events took an entirely unexpected turn when the Persian ordered the cursing of all the prophets and instituted the worship of fire. When the Persian encouraged certain extravagant abominations and executed prominent Qarmaṭī leaders, Abū Ṭāhir plotted his murder and admitted that he had been duped by the youth. This episode demoralized his followers. Consequently, the Iraqi Qarāmiṭah, who had escaped from the Abbasid army and had joined Abū Ṭāhir, left Bahrein. Many apostatized, disclosing their secrets, and some tribal leaders joined the army of the Sunnī rulers. Abū Ṭāhir nevertheless continued to raid southern Iraq until his death in 944.
After the death of Abū Ṭāhir his brothers ruled jointly, and in 951 they returned the Black Stone for a high sum paid by the Abbasids. The Fatimid caliph al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allāh (953–975) failed in an effort to bring the Qarāmiṭah of Bahrein back to the Ismāʿīlī/Fatimid fold. Open hostilities broke out after the Fatimid conquest of Egypt, when their army advanced to northern Syria, provoking the Qarāmiṭah, who had their own interests in Syria. Temporary alliances were formed when the Qarāmiṭah were aided by the Buyids of Baghdad and the Ḥamdānids of Syria against the common enemy, the Fatimids. Subsequently, the Qarāmiṭah threatened the Fatimid capital of Cairo, but they were defeated both times. As their relations with Baghdad became strained they renewed their attacks on southern Iraq. In 988 the Abbasid army inflicted a crushing defeat on the Qarāmiṭah; their capital, al-Ḥasā, was besieged; and al-Qaṭīf was pillaged. When they were defeated and reduced to local power they renewed their nominal allegiance to the Fatimids in return for a tribute, but these relations did not last long. Gradually, the Qarmaṭī communities outside of Bahrein were either absorbed by the Ismāʿīlīyah or disintegrated. In 1067 they lost the island of Uwāl, and soon thereafter al-Qaṭīf was lost. Finally, in 1077–1078, after a long siege al-Ḥasā was lost to an emerging local tribe that was aided by the Seljuks of Baghdad, thus ending the Qarmaṭī rule of almost two centuries.
The basic tenet of Qarmaṭī doctrine was the appearance of Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl as the seventh nāṭiq ("apostle" of God), the Mahdi, al-Qāʾim (the Redeemer), who would abrogate the sharīʿah (Muslim canon law) and promulgate the bāṭin (inner truth of religion). The doctrine carries an antinomian tendency. The reports of historians that the Qarāmiṭah dispensed with Islamic ritual and law are therefore correct, but other accusations, of licentiousness and libertinism, are not true. Abū Hātim al-Rāzī (d. 934/5), Abū al-Ḥasan al-Nasafī (d. 943), and Abū Yaʿqūb al-Sijistānī (d. after 971) are some of the illustrious dāʿī s who have elaborated Qarmaṭī doctrine.
The Qarāmiṭah drew a fundamental distinction between the ẓāhir ("exoteric") and the bāṭin ("esoteric"), the two aspects of religion. The former consists of external aspects of religion as laid down in the religious law and explains the apparent meaning of the Qurʾān. The ẓāhir changes, therefore, with each prophet in accordance with time and circumstance. The bāṭin is comprised of the inner, true meaning of the law and the Qurʾān. It remains unchanged.
The Qarāmiṭah formulated a new synthesis of reason and revelation based on Neoplatonic cosmology and Shīʿī doctrine. Thus, they offered a new world order under the imam, who resembles Plato's philosopher-king. The classic formulation of this synthesis is found in the well-known encyclopedic work entitled Ras āʾil Ikhwān al-Safāʾ (Epistles of the Brethren of Purity). The Qarāmiṭah viewed history as a developmental process that progresses through seven major cycles, each containing seven minor cycles. The length of these cycles varies. In conjunction with the cyclical view of the Qarāmiṭah history also had a notion of different epochs, according to which the seven major cycles progress through three different epochs: dawr al-kashf ("epoch of unveiling"), dawr al-fatrah ("epoch of langor"), and dawr al-satr ("epoch of occultation"). During the first epoch good prevails, hence there is no need for external law, and the bāṭin is promulgated openly. This is followed by the second epoch, during which goodness loses its hold over the people and religion becomes corrupted. At the end of this period begins the third epoch, when the prophet receives the revelation and lays down the law. The prophet then appoints his successor, known as waṣī ("plenipotentiary"), who promulgates the bāṭin. The imams during this epoch remain hidden. At the end, when the people are ready, al-Qāʾīm appears and abrogates the law; he thus becomes the first imam of the following epoch of unveiling. These cycles are repeated until all souls are emancipated from matter and return to the Universal Soul.
Historical and Social Significance
The Qarāmiṭah were a powerful movement that shook Sunnī Islam, threatened the Abbasid caliphate, and terrorized southern Iraq. They had such an enormous influence in the region that during the Buyid supremacy in Baghdad the Qarāmiṭah had their own customhouse in the port of Basra alongside that of the Abbasid government. Their representatives resided in Baghdad, Kufa, and Jaʿfarīyah and wielded considerable influence. Sunnī Muslim authors considered them a heretic group led by people of the faiths superseded by Islam in order to undermine the latter from within. The general accusation against them that they practiced communism of goods and women is false; however, the shift in their opponents' arguments from theological issues to economic ones does indicate that they were perceived as a social threat.
The Qarāmiṭah constituted a messianic movement promising a better future with the rule of justice and equity; hence the social character of their preaching is undeniable. The famous historian al-Ṭabarī (d. 923) observes that the Qarāmiṭah consisted mainly of peasants and tillers. Their support came from rural areas and from the bedouin. Although the backbone of the army consisted of able-bodied Qarāmiṭah who were trained militarily, bedouin tribesmen joined them regularly for military campaigns. Some tribes, such as Banū Kilāb and Banū ʿUqayl, were integrated into the Qarmaṭī community. They did experiment with communal ownership of property, but those experiments remained peripheral. Their concern for the welfare of their community produced a unique experiment in the state of Bahrein. Its order and justice even evoked the admiration of non-Qarmaṭī travelers. Ibn Ḥawqal, who visited Bahrein in the latter half of the tenth century, makes interesting observations on its political structure. According to his account, the Qarmaṭī state was very much like an oligarchic republic. The ruler was not absolute and ruled with the aid of a ruling council comprised of important government officials and his own close associates. Following Abū Ṭāhir's death, the leadership was held collectively by his brothers.
Ibn Ḥawqal also describes the various taxes and tolls by which the state raised its revenue, and the distribution of these revenues among the ruling council. Income from grain and fruit estates was assigned to the Qarmaṭī community, while the revenues from customs on the island of Uwāl were allocated to Abū Saʿīd and his descendants. All other revenues from taxes, tribute, protection fees paid by the pilgrim caravans, and booty from military campaigns were disposed of in agreement with the ruling council after setting aside one-fifth for the Mahdi.
Nāsir-i Khusraw, a Persian Ismāʿīlī who visited Bahrein in the eleventh century, makes the following observations. There were in al-Ḥasā more than twenty thousand inhabitants capable of bearing arms. Though the inhabitants acknowledged the prophethood of Muḥammad, they observed neither fasts nor prayers. The ruling council ruled with equity and justice; it owned thirty thousand black slaves who did agricultural labor. No taxes were paid by the inhabitants, and any impoverished person could obtain a loan without interest. New artisans arriving there were given loans to establish themselves. Repairs for poor homeowners were done by the state. Grain was ground free of charge in the mills owned by the state. There were no mosques, but a foreign merchant was allowed to build a mosque for the use of Muslim visitors. People did not drink wine.
The fourth century of Islamic history, known for the flowering of Islamic civilization, witnessed a dramatic Shīʿī ascendancy to power, with the Fatimids in North Africa and Egypt and the Buyids in Baghdad. It was during this period that the Qarāmiṭah, representing a powerful, radical revolutionary movement, also succeeded in establishing their state in Bahrein. This state exemplifies their rule of justice and equity.
The surviving fragments of Qarmaṭī writings from early historical works are collected, along with extracts from later works, in Taʾrikh akhbār al-Qarāmiṭah, edited by Souhayl Zakkar (Beirut, 1971). The best modern studies are by Wilferd Madelung, S. M. Stern, and Vladimir A. Ivanov. Madelung's article "Ḳarmaṭī" in the new edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960–) contains an excellent bibliography.
Ismail K. Poonawala (1987)