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The Qarmatians (Arabic: ‎, romanizedQar?mi?a; Persian: ?‎, romanizedQaramti?n; also transliterated Carmathians, Qarmathians, Karmathians) were a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shia Islam. They were centered in al-Hasa (Eastern Arabia), where they established a religious-utopian republic in 899 CE. They are most known for their revolt against the Abbasid Caliphate.

Mecca was sacked by a Qarmatian leader, Abu Tahir al-Jannabi,[1] outraging the Muslim world, particularly with their theft of the Black Stone and desecration of the Zamzam Well with corpses during the Hajj season of 930 CE.[2]


The origin of the name "Qarmatian" is uncertain.[3] According to some sources, the name derives from the surname of the sect's founder, Hamdan Qarmat.[4][5] The name qarmat probably comes from the Aramaic for "short-legged", "red-eyed" or "secret teacher".[6][7][8] Other sources, however, say that the name comes from the Arabic verb ? (qarmat), which means "to make the lines close together in writing" or "to walk with short steps".[2][9] The word "Qarmatian" can also refer to a type of Arabic script.[10]

The Qar?mi?ah in southern Iraq were also known as "the Greengrocers" (al-Baqliyyah) because of a preacher Abu Hatim, who, in 906 or 907, forbade animal slaughter as well as the eating of vegetables such as alliums. It is not clear if his teachings persisted.[11]


Early developments

Under the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE), various Shiite groups organised in secret opposition to their rule. Among them were the supporters of the proto-Ism?'?l? community, of whom the most prominent group were called the Mub?rakiyyah.

According to the Ismaili school of thought, Im?m Ja'far al-Sadiq (702-765) designated his second son, Isma'il ibn Jafar (ca. 721-755), as heir to the Imamate. However, Ism?'?l predeceased his father. Some claimed he had gone into hiding, but the proto-Ism?'?l? group accepted his death and therefore accordingly recognized Ism?'?l's eldest son, Muhammad ibn Ismail (746-809), as Im?m. He remained in contact with the Mub?rakiyyah group, most of whom resided in Kufa.

The split among the Mub?rakiyyah came with the death of Mu?ammad ibn Ism?'?l (ca. 813 CE). The majority of the group denied his death; they recognized him as the Mahdi. The minority believed in his death and would eventually emerge in later times as the Isma'ili Fatimid Caliphate, the precursors to all modern groups.

The majority Ism?'?l? missionary movement settled in Salamiyah (in present-day Syria) and had great success in Khuzestan (southwestern Iran), where the Ism?'?l? leader al-Husayn al-Ahw?z? converted the K?fan man ?amd?n in 874 CE, who took the name Qarma? after his new faith.[2] Qarma? and his theologian brother-in-law 'Abd?n prepared southern Iraq for the coming of the Mahdi by creating a military and religious stronghold. Other such locations grew up in Yemen, in Eastern Arabia (Arabic Bahrayn) in 899, and in North Africa. These attracted many new Shi'i followers due to their activist and messianic teachings. This new proto-Qarma movement continued to spread into Greater Iran and then into Transoxiana.

The Qarmatian Revolution

A change in leadership in Salamiyah in 899 led to a split in the movement. The minority Ism?'?l?s, whose leader had taken control of the Salamiyah centre, began to proclaim their teachings - that Im?m Mu?ammad had died, and that the new leader in Salamiyah was in fact his descendant come out of hiding. Qarma? and his brother-in-law opposed this and openly broke with the Salamiyids; when 'Abd?n was assassinated, he went into hiding and subsequently repented. Qarma? became a missionary of the new Im?m, Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah (873-934), who founded the Fatimid Caliphate in North Africa in 909.

Nonetheless, the dissident group retained the name Qarma. Their greatest stronghold remained in Bahrain, which at this period included much of eastern Arabia as well as the islands that comprise the present state. It was under Abbasid control at the end of the ninth century, but the Zanj Rebellion in Basra disrupted the power of Baghdad. The Qarma?ians seized their opportunity under their leader, Abu Sa'id 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 set up a utopian society.

The Qarma?ians instigated what one scholar termed a "century of terror" in Kufa.[12] They considered the pilgrimage to Mecca a superstition and once in control of the Bahrayni state, they launched raids along the pilgrim routes crossing the Arabian Peninsula: in 906 they ambushed the pilgrim caravan returning from Mecca and massacred 20,000 pilgrims.[13]

Under al-Jannabi (ruled 923-944), the Qarma?ians came close to raiding Baghdad in 927, and sacked Mecca and Medina in 930. In their attack on Islam's holiest sites, the Qarmatians desecrated the Zamzam Well with corpses of Hajj pilgrims and took the Black Stone from Mecca to al-Hasa.[14][15] Holding the Black Stone to ransom, they forced the Abbasids to pay a huge sum for its return in 952.[16]

Gold dinar minted by the Qarmatians during their occupation of Palestine in the 970s

The revolution and desecration shocked the Muslim world and humiliated the Abbasids. But little 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 collecting tribute from the caliph in Baghdad as well as from a rival Isma'ili imam in Cairo, the head of the Fatimid Caliphate, whose power they did not recognize.

Qarmatian society

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

The Qarmatian state had vast fruit and grain estates both on the islands and in Hasa and Qatif. Nasir Khusraw, who visited Hasa in 1051, recounted that these estates were cultivated by some thirty thousand Ethiopian slaves. He mentions that the people of Hasa were exempt from taxes. Those impoverished or in debt could obtain a loan until they put their affairs in order. No interest was taken on loans, and token lead money was used for all local transactions. The Qarmathian state had a powerful and long-lasting legacy. This is evidenced by a coin known as Tawila, minted around 920 by one of the Qarmathian rulers, and which was still in circulation in Hasa early in the twentieth century.[17]


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:

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 Abu al-Bahlul al-Awwam 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 bin Ali 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.[18]

In Bahrain and eastern Arabia the Qarmatian state was replaced by the Uyunid dynasty, while it is believed that by the middle of the eleventh century Qarmatian communities in Iraq, Iran, and Transoxiana had either been won over by Fatimid proselytising or had disintegrated.[19] The last contemporary mention of the Qarmatians is that of Nasir Khusraw, who visited them in 1050,[20] although Ibn Battuta, visiting Qatif in 1331, found it inhabited by Arab tribes whom he described as "extremist Shia" (rafidhiyya ghulat),[21] which historian Juan Cole has suggested is how a fourteenth-century Sunni would describe Isma'ilis.[22]

Imamate of Seven Imams

According to Qarmatians, the number of imams was fixed, with Seven Im?ms preordained by God. These groups considers Muhammad ibn Isma'il to be the messenger - prophet (Ras?l), Im?m al-Q?'im and Mahdi to be preserved in hiding, which is referred to as the Occultation.[23]

Im?m Personage Period
1 Ali ibn Abi Taleb[24]
2 Hasan ibn Ali (661-669)
3 Husayn ibn Ali (669-680)
4 Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin (680-713)
5 Muhammad al-Baqir (713-733)
6 Ja'far al-Sadiq (733-765)
7 Muhammad ibn Isma'il[24][23]
Im?m al-Q?'im al-Mahdi also
a messenger - prophet (Ras?l)

Ismaili imams who were not accepted as legitimate by Qarmatians

In addition, the following Ismaili imams after Muhammad ibn Isma'il had been considered heretics of dubious origins by certain Qarmatian groups,[25] who refused to acknowledge the imamate of the Fatimids and clung to their belief in the coming of the Mahdi.

Qarmatian rulers in Eastern Arabia

Substitution after Abu Tahir al-Jannabi

Farhad Daftary writes about the fate of the successors of Abu Tahir al-Jannabi:

It may be noted that at the time the Qarma state was still being ruled jointly by Ab? hir's brothers. Ab? hir's eldest son S?b?r (Sh?p?r), who aspired to a ruling position and the command of the army, rebelled against his uncles in 358/969, but he was captured and executed in the same year. But the ruling sons of Ab? Sa'?d al-Jann?b? themselves did not survive much longer. Ab? Manr A?mad died in 359/970, probably of poisoning, and his eldest brother Abu'l-Q?sim Sa'?d died two years later. By 361/972, there remained of Ab? hir's brothers only Ab? Ya'q?b Y?suf, who retained a position of pre-eminence in the Qarma state. Henceforth, the grandsons of Ab? Sa'?d were also admitted to the ruling council. After the death of Ab? Ya'q?b in 366/977, the Qarma state came to be ruled jointly by six of Ab? Sa'?d's grandsons, known collectively as al-s?da al-ru'as?'. Meanwhile, al-?asan al-A'?am, son of Ab? Manr A?mad and a nephew of Ab? hir, had become the commander of the Qarma forces. He was usually selected for leading the Qarmas in military campaigns outside Ba?rayn, including their entanglements with the Fimids.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Mecca's History, from Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. ^ a b c Glassé, Cyril. 2008. The New Encyclopedia of Islam. Walnut Creek CA: AltaMira Press p. 369
  3. ^ Akbar, Faiza. "The secular roots of religious dissidence in early Islam: the case of the Qaramita of Sawad Al-K?fa", Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, 12.2 (1991): 376-390.
  4. ^ Madelung, Wilferd. "?AMD?N QARMA?". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2016.
  5. ^ Madelung 1978.
  6. ^ Seta B. Dadoyan (23 September 2013). The Armenians in the Medieval Islamic World, Volume Three: Medieval Cosmopolitanism and Images of Islam. Transaction Publishers. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-4128-5189-3.
  7. ^ Daftary 1990, p. 116.
  8. ^ Heinz Halm (1996). Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten. BRILL. p. 27. ISBN 978-90-04-10056-5.
  9. ^ Edward William Lane. Arabic-English Lexicon. p. 2519.
  10. ^ Josef W. Meri (31 October 2005). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-135-45596-5.
  11. ^ Madelung 1996, p. 71.
  12. ^ Al-Jub?r?, I M N (2004), History of Islamic Philosophy, Authors Online Ltd, p. 172
  13. ^ John Joseph Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam, Routledge 1978 p. 130
  14. ^ Houari Touati, Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages, transl. Lydia G. Cochrane, (University of Chicago Press, 2010), 60.
  15. ^ The Qarmatians in Bahrain, Ismaili Net
  16. ^ "Qarmatiyyah". Overview of World Religions. St. Martin's College. Archived from the original on 28 April 2007. Retrieved 2007.
  17. ^ Yitzhak Nakash, Reaching for Power: The Shi'a in the Modern Arab World, Princeton 2007, page 24.
  18. ^ Larsen, Curtis E (1984), Life and Land Use on the Bahrain Islands: The Geoarchaeology of an Ancient Society, University Of Chicago Press, p. 65
  19. ^ Farhad Daftary, The Assassin Legends: Myths of the Isma'ilis, IB Tauris, 1994, p20
  20. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Carmathians" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 357.
  21. ^ Ibn Battuta (1964), Rihla ibn Battuta, Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Sadir, pp. 279-80
  22. ^ Cole, Juan (2007), Sacred Space and Holy War, IB Tauris
  23. ^ a b Muhammad ibn Isma'il (158-197/775-813)
  24. ^ a b Daftary 1990, p. 97.
  25. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica, "?ABDALL?H B. MAYM?N AL-QADD"
  26. ^
  27. ^ Daftary, Farhad (2007). The Ism?'?l?s: Their History and Doctrines (Second ed.). CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-511-35561-5.


External links

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