ḴAṢIBI, ḤOSAYN B. ḤAMDĀN AL-JONBALĀNI, ABU ʿABD-ALLĀH (d. 969), founder of Noṣayrism. The mystical Shiʿite sect whose present-day followers in Syria and southern Turkey call themselves ʿAlawis (Turk. Alevis), became widespread throughout Iraq and Syria as it was backed by the Ḥamdānids of Aleppo (r. 944-1004) and the Buyids of Baghdad (r. 945-1055).


Ḵaṣibi was born in Jonbalāʾ, an Iraqi village located between Kufa and Wāsiṭ, to a well-educated family with close ties to Ḥasan al-ʿAskari (d. 874; see ʿASKARI), the 11th imam of the Twelver Shiʿites. He was nicknamed Ḵaṣibi after his grandfather, Ḵaṣib. His father, Ḥamdān, and his uncle, Aḥmad, were traditionists, in particular of the Prophet's biography (sira), while his uncle Ebrāhim was a devoted assistant (morābeṭ)of the Imam(HK, pp. 54, 59-60, 67, 69, 151-53, 159). In 886, at a young age, he prayed in a mosque in Medina, and performed the pilgrimage (ḥajj) in 895 (ibid., pp. 67-68, 121). Two mystics initiated Ḵaṣibi into the mystery of Moḥammad b. Noṣayr al-Namiri, the sect's eponym (d. after 850). The first was ʿAbd-Allāh al-Jannān al-Jonbalāni (d. 900?), a fellow townsman nicknamed al-Fāresi al-Zāhed (lit. “the Persian ascetic”). In 926 Ḵaṣibi met his second guide, a certain ʿAli b. Aḥmad, in the presence of a group of about 150 of his disciples in Ṭorbāʾ, a village near Karbalāʾ (Ṭabarāni, pp. 126-31). Only after their guidance did Ḵaṣibi begin to spread his doctrine in Baghdad. His open propaganda led to his imprisonment, which supposedly happened before the Buyid conquest of Baghdad in 945 (see BUYIDS), and his mysterious escape allowed for the survival of the Noṣayri sect (DḴ, fol. 3a; cf. Aḏani, p. 16).

After this traumatic event Ḵaṣibi probably practiced taqiya since the differences between the Noṣayri and the Shiʿite sources suggest that Ḵaṣibi led a double life. The Shiʿi accounts document his open activity, and the Twelver Shiʿite literature preserved several important traditions ascribed to Ḵaṣibi (Majlesi, I, p. 39, XV, pp. 4, 25-28, L, p. 335, LXXXII, p. 27, CII, pp. 37, 102). In Kufa, Abu ʿAbbās b. ʿOqba relied on Ḵaṣibi's traditions (ʿAsqalāni, II, pp. 343-44), and Hārun b. Musa Talʿakbari received a license (ejāza) from Ḵaṣibi (Astarābādi, p.112). Nonetheless, Najāši (982-1058; I, p. 187) was suspicious and accused him of “heretical doctrine” (fāsed al-maḏhab). Of Ḵaṣibi's Twelver Shiʿite writings only al-Hedāya al-kobrā, which is probably identical to his previously assumed lost Taʾriḵ al-aʾemma, has survived. Yet five more books are mentioned in Shiʿite sources: al-Māʿeda, al-Eḵwān, al-Masāʾel, Asmāʾ al-Nabi wa'l-aʾemma, and Resālat taḵliṭ (ʿĀmeli, V, p. 491).

Ḵaṣibi's secret activity is preserved in the Noṣayri sources. After his escape from prison he moved to Ḥarrān in northern Syria, where he established a secret community of 51 disciples whom he called “monotheists” (mowaḥḥedun). This group included the future leaders Moḥammad b. ʿAli Jelli, ʿAli b. ʿIsā Jesri, and Ḥasan b. Šoʿba, who was probably a resident of Ḥarrān (DḴ, fol. 145a; cf. Aḏani, p. 29). After the Buyid dynasty had seized power in Baghdad, Ḵaṣibi returned to Iraq. He appointed Jesri to lead the mowaḥḥedun in Baghdad (Ṭawil, p. 259; Jesri, fol. 47b-48a), and in 947 he visited his community, which numbered around 140 disciples, in Ṭorbāʾ (Ṭabarāni, p. 131). Ḵāṣibi dedicated an Arabic treatise (RR), whose title includes the Persian imperative rāst bāš (“be righteous!”), to the Buyid prince ʿEzz al-Dawla Baḵtyār (r. 967-78). This dedication and a panegyric of the Noṣayri poet Montajab al-ʿĀni (d. ca. 1009; cf. C. Brockelmann, GAL S I, p. 327), indicate that Baḵtyār backed the sect's community in Iraq.

Toward the end of his life, Ḵaṣibi returned to Syria. In Aleppo he was granted the patronage of the Hamdanid Sayf al-Dawla (r. 944-67), and dedicated to his patron al-Hedāya al-kobrā (DḴ, fols. 4a-5a; cf. Ṭawil, p. 259; ʿAsqalāni, II, pp. 343-44). Ḵaṣibi appointed Jelli as his successor in Aleppo, but the only information about his tomb in the north of Aleppo, called Šayḵ Yābrāq,stems from a problematic source (Ṭawil, p. 259).


Ḵaṣibi is the key figure to the understanding of the sect's identity. He was the first to use the terms “deficient believers”(moqaṣṣer, pl. moqaṣṣera) and “ignorant mass” (ʿāmma) for Shiʿites and Sunnis, respectively. Ḵaṣibi considered his own group not to be a deviant sect but “the true Shiʿa” (shiʿat al-ḥaqq), a phrase repeated throughout his Divān (see AHL-e ḤĀQQ). According to his doctrine of the “science of God's unity” (ʿelm al-tawḥid), only the combination of Islam's esoteric and exoteric practices will result in a true monotheism. Within the Noṣayri religion, tradition and legacy, the Path of Ḵaṣibi (Ḵaṣibiya) is the orthodox Noṣayrism, and his immediate followers Jelli, Jesri and Ebn Šoʿba, as well as their successor Maymun b. Qāsem Ṭabarāni (d. ca. 1027), were busy editing the accumulated materials taught by their master.

Ḵaṣibi was a charismatic figure who succeeded in turning the small group of Ebn Noṣayr 's partisans in Syria and Iraq into a large community that was backed by powerful dynasties. Without his presence, the mystical circle of Ebn Noṣayr, which was first known as namiriya, probably would have disappeared, like most of the known olāt sects of the post-ḡayba period (see ḠAYBA). Ḵaṣibi's taqiya became a model and served his followers as a means of survival, while they preserved his esoteric literature and poetry as the canonic Noṣayri text. Ḵaṣibi was a talented poet and expressed much of his doctrine in his poetry, which in turn was included in Noṣayri prayers. But the Divān (DḴ, fols. 16b-18b, 47a-50b) also contains references to his biography, such as his imprisonment and his immigration to Syria. In his Divān (DḴ, fols. 29b, 33b, 38b, 47a-50b, 107a) Ḵaṣibi reveals resentment towards Syria, and expresses longing a for the Shiʿite sanctuaries in Iraq. Moreover, three treatises have been preserved, since al-Resāla al-rastbāšiya (RR) and its supplement, the Feqh al-resāla al-rastbāšiya (FRR),contain long citations from the lost Resāla fi'l-seyāqa.

The Noṣayri doctrine is unsystematically spread out in Ḵaṣibi's writing, but they document that his vast knowledge comprised both the exoteric (ẓāher) and the esoteric (bāṭen) Shiʿite traditions. Ḵaṣibi's bāṭen teachings focus on the Qurʾān's allegorical interpretations (taʾwil), accounts of miracles performed by the imams and their bābs (q.v.), and the teachings of known ḡolāt from Kufa, ranging from Mofażżal b. ʿOmar, a disciple of the sixth imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. 765) to Ebn Noṣayr. Ḵasibi's concepts of emanative creation and the pre-existence of the world of light are derived from Mofażżal's Ketāb al-haft wa'l-aẓella (Halm, 1978).

Unlike other ḡolāt sects, Ḵaṣibi rejected the principle of incarnation (ḥolul) because the mixture of the spiritual and material worlds is considered impossible and rejected as a serious heresy. He relied on the docetist tradition to explain the appearance of the deity to mankind, and presented the cases of Jesus and Ḥosayn b. ʿAli (d. 680) as evidence. In the Qurʾān it is stated that Jesus was not killed “but so it was made to appear to them” (laken šobbeha lahom, Qurʾān 4:157). In two poems Ḵaṣibi (DḴ, fols. 29b-31b, 37b-38a) even argued that ʿĀšurāʾ is a day of joy and mourning is forbidden, because Ḥosayn's martyrdom was an illusion.

This teaching is based on the dualist division of the cosmos into an ideal and an evil part. The ideal part is “the immense world of light” (al-ʿālam al-kabir al-norāni) in which “the creatures of ranks” (ahl al-marāteb) dwell. All these are the pure emanations of the three most exalted aspects of the divinity. The “meaning” (maʿnā) that is the One and the only God is the divinity's most transcendent part, because the eternal being has never been created and has no form or boundaries. From this emanate the two other aspects of the deity, which have different goals. The “name” (esm) of God defines the deity. This aspect is also called the “veil” (ḥejāb) because the divinity veiled itself from the creatures of light after they had committed the sin of denial. The third aspect is the “gate” (bāb), through which inferior beings can get close to the divinity and which therefore reflects God's mercy. The evil part of the cosmos is the negation of the world of light. In “the small world of dust” (al-ʿālam al-ṣaḡir al-torābi) dwell the inferior emanations of the deity, which are associated with the inferior ranks (marāteb), surrounded by an evil material universe (Ḵaṣibi, RR, p. 16).

This concept combines Neo-Platonism with Gnosticism, and is commonly found in Ḵaṣibi's works. In Mofażżal's Ketāb al-ṣerāṭ, which was transmitted by Ḵaṣibi, the mystic is elevated through gnosis (ʿelm, maʿrefa; see ʿERFĀN) in degrees to higher stations of spirituality in order to be freed of the material world and return to the divine source. That the mowaḥḥedun are imprisoned in this world and must transmigrate from one human body to another is their punishment for the Original Sin. Ḵaṣibi refers to Mofażżal's Ketab al-haft when he explains the “fall” (habṭa) of spiritual beings into the material world, which is a well-known Gnostic idea, as the sin to deny the divinity when it appeared in their form. Metempsychosis is a punishment that prevents the escape from the materialist prison (RR, pp. 60-66; cf. DḴ, fols.7a-7b, 101a). Unlike the mystic who is ascending according to the stations of the “path” (ṣerāt), a sinner descends in the degrees of “repeated transmigration” (takrir), from humans to animals, plants, and finally even to stones and metals.

Ḵaṣibi explains the important concepts of the appearance of the deity's three aspects in human history and the degrees of metempsychosis in al-Resāla al-rāstbāšiya. The divinity contacted humanity in a cyclical transition of appearance (seyāqat al-ẓohurāt) during which maʿnā, esm, and bāb took on a docetic human form and constantly changed roles. These appearances have occurred in historical cycles (kawr pl. akwār, dawr pl. adwār) from the time of Adam until that of Ebn Noṣayr. The most prominent appearance was during early Islam when the divinity's three aspects were personified in ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (d. 661), the superior maʿnā, Moḥammad who was the esm, and Salmān al-Fārsi (d. after 656 ?), the bāb. Afterwards the divinity appeared in the form of the twelve imams and their bābs until the last cycle of Ḥasan al-ʿAskari, Ebn Nosayr, and the 12th imam Moḥammad al-Mahdi, who went into ḡayba in 874 (FRR, pp. 83-111).

Influences. While most of the concepts that exist in Noṣayrism can be traced back to Ḵaṣibi's teaching, some Noṣayri sources, which have recently become available, provide a better insight into the sources of Ḵasibi and of his spiritual guides. The Iẓāḥ al-meṣbāḥ, which is the only published text of Ḵasibi's guide Jannāṇ, does not contain any trace of Iranian religious and mystical traditions, but the sect may still keep Jannān's writings a secret. Two works of Ebn Noṣayr have been published, and the Ketāb al-akwār wa'l-adwār and Ketāb al-meṯāl wa'l-ṣura contain most of Ḵaṣibi's teachings in a less developed form. Ebn Noṣayr refers to Nowruz and Mehregān, the Iranian holidays of the spring and the fall equinox, respectively, and Ḵaṣibi (DḴ, fol. 103b) explains them as the deity's appearance in the Persians' historical cycles.

The present state of research does not yet allow one to draw decisive conclusions about the possible external influences. Ḵaṣibi himself never mentions non-Muslim scholars, and his use of known Iranian and Christian terminology completely altered their original significance. Dualism exists in many aspects of Kaṣibi's doctrine, but the divinity itself is perceived as unity. Although the influence of Christian heresies, such as the denial of the crucifixion and of Gnostic beliefs are present, the Islamic heresiographical literature indicates that those had earlier infiltrated Shiʿite ḡolāt circles. Still, the Iranian influence on Ḵaṣibi and his general sympathy towards Persian culture should not be explained as an expression of anti-Arab sentiment (šoʿubiya), since some of his masters and disciples, as well as his Hamdanid patrons, were actually Arabs (see ʿARAB; IRĀN). They seem, rather, to reflect that the emergence of Noṣayrism coincided with the renaissance of Persian culture in the Buyid state, which Adam Mez (1869-1917) described in Die Renaissance des Islam (Heidelberg, 1922).




Works of Ḵaṣibi. In some imprints and catalogs Ḵaṣibi is vocalized as Ḵoṣaybi, even though L. Massignon and H. Halm have rejected this reading as wrong.

DḴ = Divān al-Ḵaṣibi, of which two manuscript copies are known: Damascus, Ẓāheriya, MS arab. 247, fols.1-82a, cf. ʿEzzat Ḥasan, Fehrest maḵṭuṭāṭ Dār-al-kotob al-ẓāheriya: Al-Šeʿr, Damascus, 1964, pp. 140-41; and Manchester, John Ryland Library, MS arab. 452A, fols. 3a-83b, cf. A. Mingana, Catalogue of Arabic Manuscripts in the John Ryland Library Manchester, Manchester, 1934, pp. 745-47, the author referred to the Manchester MS; the available imprint is problematic: Divān maʿa šarḥ le'l-romuz al-bāteniya al-wāreda fihi, ed. S. Ḥabib, Beirut, 2001.

FRR = Feqh al-resāla al-rāstbāšiya, mystical treatise pub. in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. M. b. ʿA. Jelli, Selselat al-toraṯ al-ʿalawi 2, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 83-156.

HK = Al-Hedāya al-kobrā, Beirut, 1986; repr., Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi 7, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2007; in the 1930s, C. Brockelmann (GAL S I, p. 326) considered this Imami treatise lost, while L. Massignon (Opera minora, 3 vols., Beirut, 1963, I, p. 642) mentioned an Iranian imprint.

RR= Al-Resāla al-rāstbāšiya,mystical treatise pub. in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. Jelli, pp. 15-82.

Fragments of Ḵaṣibi's works are spread almost in all Noṣayri sources, and the longest excerpt is cited in a treatise of his Baghdadi successor ʿAli b. ʿIsā al-Jesri, Resālat al-tawḥid, Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS fond arabe 1450, fols. 42a-48a; cf. W. M. de Slane, Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, Paris, 1883-95, p. 277; G. Vajda and Y. Sauvan, Catalogue des manuscrits arabes: II - Manuscrits musulmans, Paris, 1985, III, pp. 311-14.

Ḵaṣibi's biography.

Solaymān al-Aḏani, Al-Bākura al-solaymāniya fi kašf asrār-al-diāna al-noṣayriya, Beirut, 1863, esp. pp. 16-17; repeatedly reprinted modern ʿAlawi source.

Moḥsen al-Amin al-ʿĀmeli, Aʿyān-al-Šiʿa, 10 vols., Beirut, 1986, esp. V, p. 491 for a summary of all Shiʿi biographies.

Ebn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalāni, Lesān al-mizān, 8 vols., Beirut, 1987, esp. II, pp. 343-44 for the Sunni version of his biography.

Moḥammad b. ʿAli al-Astarābādi, Manhaj al-maqāl, Tehran, 1889, p. 112.

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

Aḥmad b. ʿAli Najāši, Rejāl al-Najāši: Aḥad al-oṣul al-rejāliya, ed. M. J. Nāʾini, 2 vols., Beirut, 1988, I, p. 187.

Maymun b. Qāsem al-Ṭabarāni, Majmuʿ al-aʿyād, the 11th-century treatise is the most important source for his biography and doctrine in addition to his own writings, pub. by R. Strothmann as “Maim¨n ibn el-Ḳāsim von Tiberias (um 968-1035): Festkalendar der Nusairer - Grundlegendes Lehrbuch im syrischen Alawitenstaat,” Der Islam 27, 1946, pp. 14-273.

Moḥammad Amin Ḡāleb al-Ṭawil, Ta'riḵ al-ʿalawiyin, Beirut, 1966, esp. pp. 259-60 for the modern ʿAlawi version, which is less reliable than that of al-Aḏani.

Noṣayri and proto-Noṣayri works.

ʿAbd-Allāh al-Jannān al-Jonbalāni, “Iżāh al-meṣbāḥ al-dāll ʿalā sabil al-najāḥ,” in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. Abu Musā Ḥariri, Selselat al-toraṯ al-ʿalawi 1, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 236-99.

Mofażżal b. ʿOmar al-Joʿfi, Ketāb al-ṣerāṭ, Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, MS fond arabe 1449, fols. 80a-182a; cf. de Slane, Catalogue, p. 277.

Idem, Ketāb al-osus, ibid., fols. 1a-79b.

Idem, Ketāb al-haft wa'l-aẓella, ed. A. Tamir and ʿA. Ḵalifa, 2nd ed., Beirut, 1969.

Idem, “Al-Resāla al-mofażżaliya,” in al-Majmuʿa al-mofażżaliya, ed. Abu Musā Ḥariri, Selselat al-toraṯ al-ʿalawi 6, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 9-18.

Montajab al-ʿĀni, Divān, Manchester, John Ryland Library, MS arab. 452C-D, fols.122b-214b, esp. fols. 191a-214b for a panegyric on ʿEzz al-Dawla, cf. Mingana, Catalogue, pp. 747-49.

Moḥammad b. Noṣayr al-Namiri, “Ketab al-akwār wa'l-adwār al-nurāniya,” in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. Abu Musā Ḥariri, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006, pp. 33-205.

Idem, “Ketab al-meṯāl wa'l-ṣura,” in Rasāʾel al-ḥekma al-ʿalawiya, ed. Abu Musā Ḥariri, Diyār ʿAql, Lebanon, 2006,pp. 207-34.


General information about the Noṣayris.

M. Bar-Asher, “Nosayris,” EIr, online publication available at iranica.com.

M. Bar-Asher and A. Kofsky, The Nuṣayri-ʿAlawi Religion, Leiden, 2002.

R. Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Nosairis, Paris, 1900. H. Halm, “Das 'Buch der Schatten': Die Mufaḍḍal-Tradition der Ġulāt und die Ursprünge des Nuṣairiertums,” Der Islam 55, 1978, pp. 219-66; 58, 1981, pp. 15-86.

Idem, “Nuṣayriyya,” EI2 VIII, 1995, pp. 148-50.

S. Lyde, Asian Mystery: Illustrated in the History, Religion, and Present State of the Ansaireeh or Nusairis of Syria, London, 1860.

Ḵaṣibi's biography.

Y. Friedman, “Al-Ḥusayn ibn Ḥamdân al-Khasîbî: A Historical Biography of the Founder of the Nuṣayrî-ʿAlawi Sect,” Studia Islamica, 2001, pp. 91-112.

H. Halm, “`Buch der Schatten',” 1978, pp. 258-60.

(Yaron Friedman)

Originally Published: May 1, 2012

Last Updated: July 28, 2008

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