Founder of the extremist Shiʿite sect Ḵaṭṭābīya.


ABU’L-ḴAṬṬĀB MOḤAMMAD B. ABĪ ZAYNAB MEQLĀS AL-AJDAʿ AL-ASADĪ, founder of the extremist Shiʿite sect Ḵaṭṭābīya. Ṭūsī gives his name as Moḥammad b. Meqlās (Meqlāṣ) al-Asadī al-Kūfī (Reǰāl, p. 302). Kaššī gives the longer form (Reǰāl [abridged and purged version entitled Eḵtīār maʿrefat al-reǰāl by Ṭūsī], Mašhad, 1348 Š./1969-70, p. 290). Maqrīzī calls him Moḥammad b. Abī Ṯawr/Abī Yazīd (Ḵeṭaṭ, Būlāq, 1270/1853-54, II, p. 352). His usual konyas were Abū Esmāʿīl and Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb (Kaššī, op. cit., p. 290). He was a native of Kūfa and a mawlā of the tribe of Asad. Nothing is known about his early life or when and how he came in contact with Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 148/765-66). This might have occurred during the Imam’s visit to Kūfa; the earliest meeting seems to have taken place in the reign of the ʿAbbasid caliph Ṣaffāḥ (132-37/749-55), at the time when he is said to have revealed the burial site of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb to the public for the first time since the latter’s assassination in 40/660-61 (Mofīd, al-Eršād, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, p. 14). Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb apparently held a significant position as a dāʿī of this Imam only. He does not appear to have had anything to do with the latter’s father, Imam Moḥammad al-Bāqer (d. 113/731-32); Lewis makes such a connection on the authority of Kaššī and Nawbaḵtī, who are, however, silent on this matter (The Origins of Ismāʿīlism, Cambridge, 1940, p. 32). But in the Central Asian Ismaʿili work entitled Omm al-ketāb (Der Islam 1939, pts. 1/2, p. 98), Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb is mentioned as the associate of Imam al-Bāqer; whereas in the Noṣayrī text he is mentioned as the bāb of the seventh Imam, Mūsā al-Kāẓem (d. 183/799-800; Ṭabrānī Noṣayrī, Maǰmūʿ al-aʿyād in Der Islam 1946, pp. 9-10). Kaššī reports several traditions in which Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb is accused by Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq of divergencies in ritual law; these reveal that questions of law were referred to him in his capacity as one of the chief dāʿīs of this Imam in Kūfa (op. cit., pp. 290f.).

Shiʿite sources refer to him well after the conflict between him and Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq arose because of his having interpolated the latter’s teachings. There is little doubt that in his early career as the dāʿī of the Imam he was held in high esteem because of his profound devotion. Thus, when Imam Jaʿfar later repudiated him as going too far, this repudiation greatly disturbed some of his associates. Imam Mūsā al-Kāẓem was asked by one of his followers, apparently after his father Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s death, the reason for his renunciation, since the Imam had earlier ordered them to be friendly to Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb (Kaššī, op. cit., p. 296). To comprehend his excommunication and the later development of moderate tendencies among the Eṯnāʿašarīya, one must take into account the historical background.

The period coincided with the decline of Omayyad rule and the approach of the ʿAbbasid revolution masterminded by the so-called extremist Shiʿite sect of the Hāšemīya; and in his prominent position as the head of the ʿAlids Imam Jaʿfar had to show great restraint and prudence to reject any extravagant claims made for him by such overzealous disciples as Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb. Without such a consideration it is difficult to understand why the Imam considered Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb a continual threat to him, saying: “I dread him all the time, whether I stand or sit or lie in my bed. May God make him taste the heat of iron” (Kaššī, op. cit., p. 290). Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb’s popularity in Kūfa is evident from his following there. About 138/755-56, he and seventy followers, who had assembled in the mosque of Kūfa, were attacked by the order of ʿĪsā b. Mūsā (who was the ʿAbbasid governor until 147/764-65). He armed his followers with stones, reeds, and knives, assuring them that these would prevail against the enemy’s swords and lances. The assurance proved to be wrong; after a bitter struggle some thirty of his followers were killed; and he himself was captured and brought before the governor, who had him executed and crucified at Dār al-Rezq on the bank of the Euphrates, together with a number of his followers (Nawbaḵtī, Feraq al-šīʿa, Istanbul, 1931, pp. 59f.). The probable date of this event appears to be 138/755-56 and not 145/762-63. Kaššī records a conversation between a certain Moyasser and Imam Jaʿfar which took place in 138 and certainly refers to the recent massacre and execution of Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and his followers (op. cit., p. 296; Lewis, Origins, p. 33, is more accurate in his interpretation of this conversation than Ivanow, The Alleged Founder of Ismailism, Bombay, 1946, p. 117, who understands the report to refer to the rupture between Imam and disciple; he places the latter’s death in 145).

It is difficult to reconstruct what Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb himself taught and what were the later supplementary doctrines taught by his numerous followers. In the Shiʿite, as well as some Sunnite, sources he is named as the founder of the Ismaʿili sect (Lewis, Origins, pp. 32f.). Two basic tenets of the Khattabites can be plausibly traced back to Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb himself and appear to have shaped the Ismaʿili doctrine of the transference of spiritual authority and the Noṣayrī belief in the manifestation of the Deity in man (ḥolūl). Firstly he asserted that Imam Jaʿfar had transferred his authority to him by designating him to be his waṣī (deputy or executor of his will) and entrusting to him the esm al-aʿẓam (the “Greatest Name”), which was supposed to empower its possessor with extraordinary strength in conceiving hidden matters (Nawbaḵtī, op. cit., p. 38); secondly, he claimed to have risen through the hierarchical grades of prophethood (nobūwa), apostlehood (resāla), angelic existence, and the ḥoǰǰa—the proof of God’s existence on earth (ibid., p. 38). In Noṣayrī texts he is revered as the one who manifested the daʿwa at Dār al-Rezq on 11 or 12 Moḥarram (Ṭabrānī, op. cit., p. 10), while in the Fatimid Ismaʿili works he is condemned as a heresiarch (Qāżī Noʿmān, Daʿāʾem al-eslām, Cairo, 1951, I, pp. 62ff.) who taught radical ideas unacceptable to the Fatimids. The latter, like the Twelvers, rejected his teachings as his personal interpretations attributed to Imam Jaʿfar.

Bibliography: Given in the text.

(A. Sachedina)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, pp. 329-330

A. Sachedina, “Abu'l-Kattab Asadi,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 329-330; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abul-kattab-mohammad-b (accessed on 31 January 2014).