MOḤAMMAD B. NOṢAYR

Abu Šoʿayb al-Nomayri/al-Namiri (d. after 868), the founder and eponym of the Nomayriya/Namiriya sect.

 

MOḤAMMAD B. NOṢAYR, Abu Šoʿayb al-Nomayri/al-Namiri (d. after 868), the founder and eponym of the Nomayriya/Namiriya sect (the nucleus of the later Noṣayriya; see also Noṣayris and ʿAlawi)—a circle (majles) of Shiʿite mystics whose activities took place in the 9th century between the house of its leader in Baṣra and the tenth and eleventh Imams ʿAli al-Hādi (d. 868) and Ḥasan al-ʿAskari (d. 873) in Samarrāʾ.  Accused of extremism (ḡoloww), he was excommunicated by the Imami Shiʿism.  Nevertheless, his backing by the Banu Forāt family enabled the survival of his group.

Biography.  Ebn Nosayr’s nesba is ʿAbdi-Bakri-Nomayri-Baṣri, to indicate his Arab origin from Baṣra, of the ʿAbd-Allāh b. Nomayr tribe of the ʿĀmer b. Saʿsaʿa confederation, who were allies of the Banu Taḡleb.  His tribal affiliation makes Nomayriya a more favorable variant for the name of his sect than Namiriya, but more indications are needed for that.  Bakr seems to have been the name of his grandfather (Ḵaṣibi, p. 338).  Although no accurate information is available concerning the years of his birth and death, he is known to have been a contemporary of the Imams ʿAli al-Hādi and Ḥasan al-ʿAskari.  Considered by his followers as the true and the only bāb (gate) to the eleventh Imam, he taught a combination of mystical traditions transmitted from disciples of the previous Imams, mainly AbuʿAbd-Allāh Jāber Joʿfi (d. between 745 and 750), Mofażżal b. ʿOmar al-Joʿfi (d. 796), and Moḥammad b. Senān (d. 835), who were disciples of the fifth and sixth Imams Moḥammad al-Bāqer (c. 677-736?; q.v.) and Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 765).  The Noṣayri literature preserved accounts of the meetings of the circle of Ebn Noṣayr at the time of ʿAli al-Hādi (Ḵaṣibi, pp. 323-24) and Ḥasan al-ʿAskari (Idem, pp. 338-39).  According to these accounts, as well as to other sources of the sect, Esḥāq b. Moḥammad al-Naḵāʿi al-Aḥmar betrayed Ebn Noṣayr and left his circle to lead his own group, the Esḥāqiya (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, pp. 58, 62-65, 98, 136).  Although the followers of Ebn Noṣayr are referred to in one source as Banu Nomayr/Namir, which looks as a tribal nomination (al-ʿĀni, fols. 150a, 151a, 159a, 165a-166b, 186b), the connection between his sect and his tribe is unclear.  The close relationship of the Noṣayriya with the Hamdanid dynasty may have had its roots in the relations between the Banu Nomayr and the Banu Taḡleb in the time of Ebn Noṣayr.  More accurate available information concerns the religious and economic backing of the  the Noṣayris by the respectable Banu Forāt,and that of Ahmad b. al-Furāt, the Shiʿite vizier of the caliph al-Muqtadir (d. 932) in particular. Noṣayri’s writings, describing the presence of members of the Banu Forāt at Ebn Noṣayr’s assembly (majles) in Baṣra, back Louis Massignon’s hypothesis concerning this connection between the Banu Forāt family and Ebn Noṣayr (Massignon, pp. 25-29; Ḵaṣibi, pp. 323, 338).  This connection explains the maintaining of the Nomayriya/Namiriya as well as its survival after its rejection from the Imami mainstream.  The hostility of the Shiʿite sources towards Ebn Noṣayr indicates not only that he was a charismatic figure who threatened the authority of the sofarāʾ (representatives), but also that the mystical nature of his teaching was known in the Shiʿite community.  Indeed, the safir Abu Jaʿfar b. ʿOṯmān (d. 917) cursed him in public (Nawbaḵti, pp. 93-94; Majlesi, XXV, pp. 285, 318; Idem, LI, p. 367).  This excommunication did not prevent the continuity of the sect’s activities, probably under taqia (dissumilation).  Imami heresiographers did not succeed in revealing the identity of the true successor of Ebn Noṣayr, Moḥammad b. Jondab (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, p. 58; an incorrect assumption concerning the identity of his successor is given in Nawbaḵti, p. 94).  Since Ebn Noṣayr was considered by the Noṣayris as part of the divinity, there is no record of his death or burial in any source of the sect.  According to Imami sources, he died from an illness, which is not specified (Majlesi, XXV, p. 285).

Doctrine.  Original books by Moḥammad b. Noṣayr, which became available recently (Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi, vol. I), enable us to reconstruct the original doctrines of the Nomayriya/Namiriya.  His most important works are the Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya and the Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura.  These books were later canonized by Ḵaṣibi (d. 956-57 or 969), the founder of Noṣayrism, and most of the issues dealt with in these two books were developed by him and by other leaders of the sect in the 10th and 11th centuries.  The main issues of the Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya are: the account of the divine creatures of ranks (ahl al-marāteb), who dwell in heaven (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, pp. 40-44, 72, 137-83); the existence of cycles of history (akwār, adwār) before the creation of the material world, in which the deity appears in the world of lights (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, pp. 47, 62); the transmigration of the soul as a punishment (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, p. 186); and the issue of the mystical meaning of the Iranian celebrations on the days of the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the Nowruz and the Mehregān (Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, p. 98).  The main theological discussion concerns the relationship between the two main aspects of the divinity, the maʿnā (meaning) and the esm (name), that is, the abstract God and its definition.  In Ebn Noṣayr’s writings, which reflect an early stage of development of the sect’s theology, there is no clear concept of a third aspect of the divinity, the bāb (gate), which forms the later Noṣayri’s divine triad of maʿnā-esm-bāb.  It was seemingly only after Ebn Noṣayr’s death and his sanctification as Bāb Allāh (Gate of God; see Ṭabarāni, p. 130) that the bāb became clearly the third inferior aspect of the divinity, which serves as mediator between the divine and the human.

The Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura develops Gnostic ideas dealt with in Mofażżal b. ʿOmar al-Joʿfi’s Ketāb al-haft wa al-aẓella (Halm, 1978) concerning the heavenly world of light and its creation, before the creation of the inferior material world (Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura, pp. 208-16).  It also deals with the akwār and adwār, adding the appearance of divinity also to human history (Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura, pp. 226-27).  Besides, the Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura contains a mystical tradition concerning the creation of the world by the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet (Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura, p. 225), which may have been inspired by the same source as the Jewish Sefer Yetsira.  Like the Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, the Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura repeats the main idea of the ʿelm al-tawḥid (the science of monotheism), which is that God is the one and the only, transcendental and abstract (Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura, pp. 208-9).

Apart from the above-mentioned books, Noṣayri’s writings mention other books of Ebn Noṣayr which are lost or still concealed by the sect.  A certain Aqrab al-asānid is mentioned once in the context of the prohibition of wine (Jonbalāni, p. 272), while both the Ketāb al-kāfi le’l-żedd al-manāfi (Ṭabarāni, 2006, pp. 53, 105, 110, 112) and the Ketāb al-mawāred (Idem, 2006, pp. 49, 53) deal with the initiation to the sect.

In accordance with a known pattern in the creation of several religions and sects in the Middle East, the Nomayriya/Namiriya, which later turned into the Noṣayriya, was created by two persons: the first, Ebn Noṣayr, was the messenger who brought a revelation to his followers, and the second, Ḵaṣibi, was the actual founder.

 

Bibliography:

 Works of Moḥammad b. Nosayr:

Akwār wa al-adwār al-nurāniya, published in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, vol. 1, ed. Abu Musā and Al-Šeyḵ Musā, Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 31-205.

Ketāb al-meṯāl wa al-ṣura, published in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, vol. 1, ed. Abu Musā and Al-Šeyḵ Musā, Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 207-34.

Sources: Montajab al-ʿĀni, Divān, Manchester, John Ryland Library, MS Arab. 452C-D, fols. 122b-214b; cf. A. Mingana, Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the John Ryland Library Manchester, Manchester, 1934, pp. 747-49.

Y. Friedman, The Nusayri-'Alawis: History, Religion and Identity of the leading minority in Syria, Leiden, Brill, 2010, pp. 6 - 16.

Mofażżal b. ʿOmar al-Joʿfi, Ketāb al-haft wa al-aẓella, ed. A. Tamir and ʿA. Ḵalifa, 2nd ed., Beirut, 1969.

ʿAbd-Allāh b. Jannān al-Jonbalāni, Iżāḥ al-meṣbāḥ, in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya 1, Abu Musā and Al-Šeyḵ Musā, eds., Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 235-99.

Ḥosayn b. Ḥamdān al-Ḵaṣibi, Al-Hedāya al-kobrā, Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 1986; repr. in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya 7, ed. Abu Musā and Al-Šeyḵ Musā, Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2007.

Moḥammad-Bāqer al-Majlesi, Beḥār al-anwār, 110 vols., Beirut, 1983.

Ḥasan b. Musā al-Nawbaḵti, Feraq al-Šiʿa, Beirut, 1984.

Maymun b. Qāsem al-Ṭabarāni, Majmuʿ al-aʿyād, ed. R. Strothmann as “Maimun ibn el-Qāsim von Tiberias (um 968-1035): Festkalendar der Nusairer—Grundlegendes Lehrbuch im syrischen Alawitenstaat,” Der Islam 27, 1946, pp. 14-273.

Idem, Ketāb al-ḥāwi fi ʿelm al-fatāwā, published in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. Abu Musā and Al-Šeyḵ Musā in Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi 3, Diār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 45-116.

Studies: H. Halm, “Das ‘Buch der Schatten’: Die Mufaḍḍal Tradition der Ḡulat und die Ursprünge des Nuṣairiertums,” Der Islam 55, 1978, pp. 219-66; Der Islam 58, 1981, pp. 15-86.

L. Massignon, “Les origines Shiites de la famille vizirale des Banū’l-Furāt,” in Mélanges Goudefroy-Demonbynes, Cairo, 1935, pp. 25-29.

(Yaron Friedman)

Last Updated: May 25, 2010