Qarmatians

Qarmatians

The Qarmatians, Arabic Qarāmita قرامطة (also spelled "Carmathians", "Qarmathians", "Karmathians" etc.) were a millenarian sect of Ismaili origin centered in eastern Arabia, where they established a utopian republic in 899 CE. They are most famed for their revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate and particularly with their seizure of the Black Stone from Mecca and desecration of the Well of Zamzam with Muslim corpses during the Hajj season of 930 CE.

History

The Qarmatians split off from the Fātimid Ismā'īlī when its founder, ˤAbdu l-Lāhi l-Mahdī bil-Lāh, claimed the Imāmate of the expected Sevener Mahdi, Ismā'īl ibn Jaˤfar. They take their name from Hamdan Qarmat, who followed the Sevener teachings of Husaynu l-Ahwāz, a missionary of Ahmad, son of the Persian Abdallah ibn Maimun. They were originally based in Kufa, but took over Bahrain where they established a republican government in the tenth century.

The Qarmatian Revolution

Bahrain, which at this period included much of eastern Arabia as well as the islands that comprise the present state, was under Abbasid control at the end of the ninth century, but a slave rebellion in Basra disrupted the power of Baghdad. The Qarmatians seized their opportunity under their leader Abu Sa'id al-Hasan al-Jannabi who captured Bahrain’s capital Hajr and al-Hasa in 899, which he made the capital of his republic and once in control of the state he sought to create a utopian society.

Even before taking over Bahrain, the Qarmatians had instigated what one western scholar termed a "century of terrorism" in Kufa [Citation
last =Al-Jubūrī
first =I M N
author-link =
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publication-date =2004
date =
year =
title =History of Islamic Philosophy
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publisher =Authors Online Ltd
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] . They considering the pilgrimage to Mecca a superstition, and once in control of the Bahraini state they launched raids along the pilgrim routes crossing Arabia: in 906 they ambushed the pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and massacred 20,000 pilgrims [John Joseph Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam, Routledge 1978 p130] . Under Abu Tahir Al-Jannabi they came close to raiding Baghdad in 927 and sacked Mecca and Medina in 930. The assault on Islam's holiest sites saw the Qarmatians desecrate the Well of Zamzam with corpses of Hajj pilgrims and take the Black Stone from Mecca to Al-Hasa [ [http://ismaili.net/histoire/history05/history510.html The Qarmatians in Bahrain] , Ismaili Net] . Holding the Black Stone to ransom they forced the Abbasids to pay a huge sum for its return in 952 [cite web|url=http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/islam/shia/qarma.html | title=Qarmatiyyah|publisher=St. Martin's College|work=Overview of World Religions|accessdate=2007-05-04] .

The revolution and desecration shocked the Muslim world and humiliated the Abbasids. But there was little that could be done; for much of the tenth century the Qarmatians were the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf and Middle East, controlling the coast of Oman and collected tribute from the caliph in Baghdad as well as from a rival Ismaili imam in Cairo, whom they did not recognize.

After their expulsion from Iraq by the Buyids in 985, a group of Qarmatians also settled in Multan.

Qarmatian Society

The Qarmatians' goal was to build a society based on reason and equality. The state was governed by a council of six with a chief who was a first among equals [John Joseph Saunders, p130] . All property within the community was distributed evenly among all initiates. The Qarmatians were organized as an esoteric society but not as a secret one; their activities were public and openly propagated, but new members had to undergo an initiation ceremony involving seven stages. In an echo of cyclical Mazdean thought, the Qarmatian world view was one where every phenomenon repeated itself in cycles, where every incident was replayed over and over again.

The land they ruled over was extremely wealthy with a huge slave based economy according to academic Yitzhak Nakash:

It has been argued that the desecration of Mecca and the stealing of the Black Stone was to symbolise the ‘end of Islam’Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma’ilis, IB Tauris, 1994, p21] . And one western scholar argues that “they may not have been Ismailis at all at the outset, and their conduct and customs gave plausibility to the belief that they were not merely heretics but bitter enemies of Islam.” [Saunders p130] .

The sack of Mecca followed millenarianism fervour among the Qarmatians (as well as in Persia) over the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in 928 – an event which happens every 960 years. The date of the conjunction, 27 October 928 CE, was interpreted in light of Islamic revelation, which they saw as heralding a new period as a return of Persian dominance.

The Mahdi-Caliph

In 931 Abu Tahrir believed he had found the new Mahdi in a young Persian from Isfahan, and handed over the power of the state to him. The new Mahdi-Caliph immediately set about abolishing Sharīa law and changed the qibla of prayer from Mecca to that of fire, a specifically Zoroastrian practice. According to Isma’ili historian Farhad Daftary:

Indeed, under Abu Tahir "Islam was to be abrogated, for a complete revelation of past hidden esoteric truths was to take place.... The Isfahani Messiah abolished the Shari'a and sanctioned the worship of fire and the cursing of Muhammad and his family... the truth meant a return to a Persian past." [Citation
last =Babayan
first =Kathryn
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publication-date =2002
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title =Mystics, Monarchs and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran
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series =Harvard Middle Eastern Monographs
volume =35
publication-place =Cambridge MA
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publisher =Harvard University Press
pages =276-277
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]

After this episode the Qarmatians reverted to their former beliefs and Abu Tahrir was soon back to raiding southern Persia and Iraq.

Collapse

After defeat by the Abbasids in 976 the Qarmatians began to look inwards and their status was reduced to that of a local power. This had important repercussions for the Qarmatians' ability to extract tribute from the region; according to Arabist historian Curtis Larsen:

cquote|As tribute payments were progressively cut off, either by the subsequent government in Iraq or by rival Arab tribes, the Carmathian state shrank to local dimensions. Bahrain broke away in AD 1058 under the leadership of Abd al-Buhlul who re-established orthodox Islam on the islands. Similar revolts removed Qatif from Carmathian control at about the same time. Deprived of all outside income and control of the coasts, the Carmathians retreated to their stronghold at the Hofuf Oasis. Their dynasty was finally dealt a final blow in 1067 by the combined forces of Abdullah al-Uyuni, who with the help of Seljuk army contingents from Iraq, laid siege to Hofuf for seven years and finally forced the Carmathians to surrender. [Citation
last =Larsen
first =Curtis E
author-link =
last2 =
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author2-link =
publication-date =1984
date =
year =
title =Life and Land Use on the Bahrain Islands: The Geoarchaeology of an Ancient Society
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publisher =University Of Chicago Press
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page =65
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]

In Bahrain and eastern Arabia the Qarmatian state was replaced by the Uyunid dynasty, whilst it is believed that by the middle of the eleventh century Qarmatian communities in Iraq, Iran and Transoxiana had either been won over by Fatamid proselytising or had disintegrated [Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Ismaʻilis, IB Tauris, 1994, p20] . The last contemporary mention of the Qarmatians is that of Nasir ibn Khosrau, who visited them in 1050, although Ibn Battuta, visiting Qatif in 1331, found it inhabited by Arab tribes whom he described as "extremist Shi`is" ("rafidiyya ghulat") [Citation
last =Ibn Battuta
first =
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
publication-date =1964
date =
year =
title =Rih1a ibn Battuta
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publication-place =Beirut, Lebanon
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publisher =Dar Sadir
pages =279-80
page =
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] , which historian Juan Cole has suggested is how a 14th Century Sunni would describe Ismailis [Citation
last =Cole
first =Juan
author-link =Juan Cole
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
publication-date =2007
date =
year =
title =Sacred Space and Holy War
edition =
volume =
series =
publication-place =
place =
publisher =IB Tauris
pages =
page =
id =
isbn =
doi =
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url =
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] .

Religious beliefs

There is a general tendency in the Sunnite and Shiite sources, when referring to the Ismailis, often erroneously call them Qarmatians without perception of the distinction between them. The Qarmatians have been discredited invariably as the extremist and opportunistically nihilist, and their extreme activities have been wrongly conflated with the Ismailis. Syed Abid Ali writes in "Political Theory of the Shiites" (cf. "A History of Muslim Philosophy", ed. by M.M. Sharif, Germany, 1963, 1st. vol., p. 738)" [ [http://ismaili.net/histoire/history05/history512.html The Ismailis and the Qarmatians ] ]

References

* Kathryn Babayan 2002: "Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran", ISBN 0-932885-28-4
*1911

ee also

*Shanga, in the Lamu Archipelago, Kenya
*History of Bahrain

External links

* [http://ismaili.net/histoire/history05/history510.html Qarmatians in Bahrain] , Ismaili Net
* [http://i-cias.com/e.o/qarmatians.htm Encyclopaedia of the Orient]


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