ḤAMDĀN QARMAṬ b. al-Ašʿaṯ, Ismaʿili dāʿi and founder of the Ismaʿili movement in Iraq. He came from a village in the ṭassuj of Bādaqlā, east of Kufa, and is described as working as a carter when he was converted by the Ismaʿili dāʿi Ḥosayn Ahvāzi sometime between the years 260/873-74 and 264/877-78. The name Qarmaṭ is variously explained as having been derived from Nabataean “Karmitā” (red-eyed), or as meaning short in stature, short-legged. After the death or departure of Ahvāzi, he became the organizer of the Ismaʿili movement in the sawād and soon took up residence in the town of Kalwāḏā south of Baghdad. His partner and chief propagandist was his brother-in-law ʿAbdān (q.v.). Besides appointing the dāʿis throughout the districts of the sawād, Ḥamdān, and ʿAbdān also trained dāʿis for missions abroad. Thus they sent Abu Saʿid Jannābi (q.v.) first to the coastal regions of Fārs and later to Bahrain, and Ebn Ḥawšab and ʿAli b. al-Fażl to the Yemen. Later Ḥamdān sent Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Šiʿi to the Yemen for training, from where he proceeded to the Maghrib. There he converted the Kotāma Berbers to the Ismaʿili cause. According to ʿAbd-al-Qāher Baḡdādi (p. 267), al-Maʾmun, the dāʿi of Fārs, was a brother of Ḥamdān.
In accordance with the leadership of the Ismaʿili movement in Salamiya in Syria, Ḥamdān and ʿAbdān summoned people to the imamate of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil b. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and predicted the latter’s early advent as the Mahdi. Once ʿAbd-Allāh (ʿObayd-Allāh), later the Fatimid caliph al-Mahdi, succeeded to the leadership at around 286/899, an ideological schism occurred within the movement. Once ʿAbd-Allāh claimed the imamate for himself, affirming that the name of Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil had been used merely as a cover for the concealed imams, Ḥamdān and ʿAbdān suspended their missionary activity. Soon afterwards Ḥamdān disappeared from Kalwāḏā, while ʿAbdān was murdered. The main account, which can be traced back to anti-Fatimid Iraqi sources, reports nothing about Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ after his disappearance. However, according to Ebn Ḥawqal (p. 96), Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ was the former name of the Fatimid dāʿi Abu ʿAli Ḥasan b. Aḥmad. Since Ebn Ḥawqal was a Fatimid sympathizer and intimately acquainted with Abu ʿAli’s son Abu’l-Ḥasan, his information may well be reliable. If that is the case, Ḥamdān left Kalwāḏā in order to rejoin the service of the Fatimid imam ʿAbd-Allāh. He was given a new identity as the dāʿi Abu ʿAli, with a pedigree going back to Moslem b. ʿAqil b. Abi Ṭāleb, and was sent to Fosṭāṭ in Egypt in order to renew his ties with those of his dāʿis who remained loyal to the Fatimid cause. While he was unable to regain the allegiance of most of the dāʿis in Iraq, who remained faithful to the teaching and memory of ʿAbdān, and of Abu Saʿid Jannābi in Bahrain, he restored his control over Ebn Ḥawšab in the Yemen and Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Šiʿi in the Maghrib and acted as an intermediary between them and the imam in Salamiya. When the imam and his household spent a year in Fosṭāṭ in 291-92/904-5, on their way to the Maghrib, Abu ʿAli took charge of their safe lodging.
After the imam’s triumphant accession to his reign in Raqqāda, Abu ʿAli visited him to pay his respects. Mahdi now sent him to Anatolia with the mission of spreading Islam and the teaching of the imams. However, he was denounced before the Byzantine emperor and imprisoned for five years. After his release he rejoined the Imam Mahdi in the Maghrib. The latter had turned the direction of the daʿwa over to his son and heir apparent Abu’l-Qāsem al-Qāʾem, who employed Abu ʿAli as chief dāʿiwith the title bāb al-abwāb and commissioned him to compose books for it. In a work entitled Ommahāt al-eslām, he refuted the philosophers and asserted the primacy of the principle of taʾwil, esoteric interpretation, in Ismaʿili religious teaching. This was evidently aimed at the philosophical speculation put forward in the works of ʿAbdān and his followers as well as the Neoplatonic thought propounded by the Transoxanian dāʿi Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Nasafi. In the service of the Fatimids, Abu ʿAli, formerly Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ, was thus countering the teaching of the anti-Fatimid eastern Ismaʿilis who were commonly called Qarāmeṭa after him because of his former teaching in Iraq. Abu ʿAli died on 14 Rabiʿ I 321/14 March 933 and was buried with full honors. His son Abu’l-Ḥasan Moḥammad was appointed chief dāʿi in his place and put in charge of the public treasury. He served the first four Fatimid caliphs. Abu ʿAli’s grandson, Ḥasan, became an informant of the Egyptian chronicler Moḥammad b. ʿObayd-Allāh Mosabbeḥi.
The main account of Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ’s activity in Iraq is related with variants by Ebn al-Dawādari, Kanz al-dorar VI, ed. Ṣ. Monajjed, Cairo, 1961, pp. 44-54, 65; Maqrizi, Etteʿāẓ al-ḥonafāʾ be-aḵbār al-aʾemma al-Fāṭemiyin al-ḵolafāʾ, ed. Jāmal-al-Din Šayyāl, Cairo, 1967, I, pp. 151-60, 167-68; and Nowayri, Nehāyat al-arab XXV, ed. M. J. al-Ḥini, Cairo, 1984, pp. 187-231.
See also ʿAbd-al-Qāher Baḡdādi, al-Farq bayn al-feraq, ed. M. Badr, Cairo, 1910, p. 267, and Ṭabari, III, pp. 2124-30.
For the career of the dāʿi Abu ʿAli, see: Farhad Daftary, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines,Cambridge, 1990, pp. 116-18, 125-26.
M. J. de Goeje, Mémoire sur les Carmathes du Bahraïn et les Fatimides,2nd ed., Leiden, 1986, pp. 16ff.
ʿEmād-al-Din Edris, ʿOyun al-aḵbār wa fonun al-āṯār V, ed. M. Yaʿlāwi, Beirut, 1985, pp. 236-38.
Heinz Halm, Das Reich des Mahdi, Munich, 1991, esp. pp. 33-37, 64-66.
Wilferd Madelung, “Ḥamdān Qarmaṭ and the Dāʿī Abū ʿAlī,” in Proceedings of the 17th Congress of the UEAI, ed. W. Madelung et al., St Petersburg, 1997, pp. 115-24.
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 6, 2012
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Vol. XI, Fasc. 6, pp. 634-635