Legendary founder of the Qarmatian-Ismaʿili doctrine and alleged forefather of the Fatimid dynasty.


ʿABDALLĀH B. MAYMŪN AL-QADDĀḤ, legendary founder of the Qarmatian-Ismaʿili doctrine and alleged forefather of the Fatimid dynasty. He is featured in an account dating back to an early 4th/10th century author, Ebn Rezām, which was disseminated by opponents of the Ismaʿilis. This account was the source upon which Aḵū Moḥsen, a šarīf of Damascus, drew for his widely circulated polemic against the Ismaʿilis (mid-4th/10th century); parts of it survive as lengthy quotations in Maqrīzī, Ebn al-Davādārī, Ebn Šaddād (in Ebn al-Aṯīr) and Nowayrī (see bibliog.). According to this tradition the father of ʿAbdallāh, Maymūn Qaddāḥ (allegedly the “ophthalmologist” but in reality doubtless a “maker of arrow shafts”) was a dualist and Bardesanite from Qūraǰ al-ʿAbbās in Ḵūzestān; he was said to have followed the teaching of the Shiʿite arch-heretic Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb. His son ʿAbdallāh is held to have been the real founder of the Qarmatian doctrine; according to Aḵū Moḥsen, this consisted in arousing the curiosity of its adepts through mysterious intimations and promises and in leading them through nine stages of initiation to the highest degree of knowledge, that is, godlessness and unbelief. An allegedly Ismaʿili text, Ketāb al-balāḡ al-akbar (also Ketāb al-sīāsa and other titles), “Book of supreme initiation,” from which Aḵū Moḥsen quotes long passages, depicted in detail the stages of this initiation into atheism. According to Aḵū Moḥsen’s polemic, ʿAbdallāh was the forefather of the Fatimid dynasty. He had to flee from ʿAskar Mokram in Ḵūzestān, where for a time he had been living and preaching in (the quarter of?) Sābāṭ Abī Nūḥ, because of the wrath of the Shiʿites and Muʿtazilites; accompanied by his dāʿī, al-Ḥosayn al-Ahvāzī, he moved to Baṣra. Since he made himself out to be a descendant of ʿAqīl b. Abū Ṭāleb, he found hospitality with the clients of his alleged kinsfolk. After once more taking to flight, he and Ḥosayn Ahvāzī eventually reached Salamīya in Syria; this now became the center of Ismaʿili propaganda. When ʿAbdallāh died, he was succeeded as head of the sect by his son Aḥmad, then by the latter’s sons Ḥosayn and Moḥammad; these were in turn followed by Ḥosayn’s son Saʿīd, who became the first Fatimid caliph in North Africa under the name of ʿObaydallāh al-Mahdī.

The main features of Aḵū Moḥsen’s account are unfounded. As early as 1874 St. Guyard refuted the accusation of atheism, of which he found no evidence in the original Ismaʿili texts that he published; he suggested instead that ʿAbdallāh had taught philosophical ideas of Greek origin (Fragments, 1874). B. Lewis and W. Ivanow located the personalities of Maymūn al-Qaddāḥ and ʿAbdallāh in their correct historical context; Maymūn al-Qaddāḥ was one of the Mecca disciples of the fifth imam, Moḥammad al-Bāqer; his son ʿAbdallāh handed on utterances of the sixth imam, Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 148/765). Thus they are known to Twelver Shiʿite tradition (Kaššī, Reǰāl, ed. Sayyed Aḥmad al-Ḥosaynī, Karbalā, 1963, pp. 212 and 332; Naǰāšī, Reǰāl, Bombay, 1317/1899, p. 148; Ṭūsī, Fehrest, ed. M. Ṣādeq, Naǰaf, 1356/1937, p. 129). Whereas Lewis continued to maintain that both men had played a leading part in the extreme Shiʿism of the 2nd/8th century which had given rise to the Esmāʿīlīya (Origins, 1940), Ivanow refuted the legend completely (The Alleged Founder, 1946) and denied that there was any connection between these adherents of the Twelver Shiʿism in the early 2nd/8th century and the Ismaʿili movement of the late 3rd/9th century. S. M. Stern, on the other hand, deemed it possible that descendants of the historical Maymūn al-Qaddāḥ (“Ḳaddāḥids”) might have figured in the Ismaʿili mission which got under way about 260/872. The real intention behind the account of Ebn Rezām and Aḵū Moḥsen was to discredit the whole Ismaʿili movement. While its alleged atheism was easily discounted by reference to original texts, the other charge, that the Fatimids in reality stemmed from heretics of dubious origins, could not be dismissed so readily. This accusation was directed not so much against the Ismaʿilis as against the Fatimid dynasty; it seems to derive from certain Qarmatian groups who refused to acknowledge the imamate of the Fatimids and clung to their belief in the coming of the mahdi Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl b. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq.

New light is thrown on the problem by the letter which the first Fatimid, ʿObaydallāh al-Mahdī, sent to the Yemeni Ismaʿilis, disclosing the secrets of his origin (published in Hamdani, Genealogy). There it is stated that the “hidden imams” bore pseudonyms such as Mobārak (“the blessed one”), Maymūn (“the fortunate one”) and Saʿīd (“the blissful one”). Apparently these are names for the mahdi; “Mobārak” was the sobriquet of Esmāʿīl b. Jaʿfar (cf. Ivanow, Alleged Founder, p. 111; Madelung, “Imamat,” p. 46; Seǰestānī, Eṯbāt al-nobūwāt, ed. ʿA. Tāmer, Beirut, 1966, p. 190); and according to numerous Ismaʿili and non-Ismaʿili sources, “Saʿīd” was ʿObaydallāh’s pseudonym prior to his advent in North Africa. The mystery of the Maymūn legend can be solved if one assumes that “Maymūn” was the mahdi name of the Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl originally awaited by the Ismaʿilis. Ivanow already guessed as much (Alleged Founder, p. 110f.) on the basis of a letter from the Fatimid al-Moʿezz, where the latter’s forebear ʿAbdallāh is described as son of the maymūn al-naqība, “son of the one divinely blessed with success in affairs” (i.e., of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl). This is consistent with the information in Ebn ʿEnaba’s ʿOmdat al-ṭāleb that Moḥammad b. Esmāʿīl was the imam of that Maymūnīya sect, which Ebn Rezām and Aḵū Moḥsen claim was founded by Maymūn al-Qaddāḥ (Ivanow, Alleged Founder, p. 106). In reality therefore “Maymūnīya” must have been merely another name for the Esmāʿīlīya itself. In this sense ʿAbdallāh, the great-grandfather of ʿObaydallāh, was indeed, as his descendants maintained, “the son of the Maymūn;” it was not surprising that, by accident or design, he was confused with the traditionist of the 2nd/8th century. The rest of the story—ʿAbdallāh’s journeying from Ḵūzestān to Syria—is possibly quite authentic; the Fatimid genealogy from ʿAbdallāh to ʿObaydallāh which is given in Aḵū Moḥsen tallies with that in ʿObaydallāh’s letter. There remains some doubt about ʿAbdallāh’s ʿAlid blood. Later Ismaʿili and Druze authors aver that, during the “hidden” period, Maymūn al-Qaddāḥ received the imamate in trust (vadīʿa) from the ʿAlids and bequeathed it to his own descendants down to ʿObaydallāh; only with the latter’s ostensible son, Abu’l-Qāsem al-Qāʾem, did the imamate pass back from the Qaddahids to a genuine ʿAlid. Though this version has been accepted by certain modern authors (Ḥasan/Šaraf, al-Moʿezz le-dīn Allāh, pp. 13, 140; Lewis, Origins, p. 44), it seems just as fictitious as the identity of the Fatimid ancestor ʿAbdallāh. This invention made it possible for the Qarmatian groups who were skeptical of ʿObaydallāh’s ʿAlid origins to acknowledge the later Fatimids as ʿAlid imams (Madelung, “Imamat,” pp. 73-80).



Primary sources: Fehrest, pp. 186f.

Ebn al-Davādārī, Kanz al-dorar VI, ed. Ṣ. al-Monaǰǰed, Cairo, 1960-61, pp. 17-21.

Maqrīzī, Etteʿāẓ al-ḥonafāʾ, ed. al-Šayyāl, Cairo, 1967, pp. 22-29, 38-40.

Ebn Šaddād, in Ebn al-Aṯīr, s.a. 296H.

Novayrī, Nehāyat al-ʿarab, translated by Sylvestre de Sacy, in Exposé de la religion des Druzes I, Paris, 1838 (repr. 1964), pp. lxxiv-clxv.

Secondary literature: St. Guyard, Fragments relatifs à la doctrine des Ismaélîs, Paris, 1874, pp. 184-92.

B. Lewis, The Origins of Ismailism, Cambridge, 1940, pp. 49-73.

W. Ivanow, The Rise of the Fatimids, Bombay, 1942, pp. 127-56.

Idem, The Alleged Founder of Ismailism, Bombay, 1946.

S. M. Stern, “ʿAbd Allāh b. Maymūn,” EI2 I, p. 48.

H. I. Ḥasan/T. Šaraf, al-Moʿezz le-dīn Allāh, Cairo, 1954.

H. F. al-Hamdani, On the Genealogy of Fatimid Caliphs, Cairo, 1958.

W. Madelung, “Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre,” Der Islam 37, 1961, pp. 65-80.

(H. Halm)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: July 15, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 182-183

H. Halm, “Abdallah B. Maymun Al-Qaddah,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 182-183; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abdallah-b-maymun-al-qaddah-legendary-founder-of-the-qarmatian-ismaili-doctrine (accessed on 17 January 2014).