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Ismailiyya History: Pre-Fatimid and Fatimid times


After the death of Ja'far al-Sadiq in 148/765 a group of his followers held fast to the imamate ofhis son Isma'il, who had been named by him as his successor but had predeceased him. Some of
them maintained that Isma'il had not died and would reappear as the qa'im or Mahdi. Others
recognized Isma'il's son Muhammad as their imam. Nothing is known about the history of the
Isma'ili movement developing out of this nucleus until after the middle of the 3rd/9th century,
when it appeared as a secret revolutionary organization carrying on intensive missionary efforts
in many regions of the Muslim world. In the area of al-Kufa its propaganda was spread from
about the year 264/877-8 by Hamdan qarmat [q.v.], who was later aided by his brother-in-law
'Abdan [q.v.]. Hamdan's followers were named after him qarmati, a name which came to be
applied derogatorily also to other sections of the movement. In the area of al-Rayy the mission
was started about the same time by Khalaf, whose followers became known as the Khalafiyya. In
Fars a brother of 'Abdan was active. In Khurasan Nishapur and later Marw al-Rudh became
centres of Isma'ili activity (see S. M. Stern, The early Isma'ili missionaries in North-West Persia and in
Khurasan and Transoxania, in BSOAS, xxiii (1960), 56-90). A convert of al-Nasafi [q.v.], one of the
da'is of Khurasan and Transoxania, was the first to carry the propaganda to Sidjistan, probably
in the early decades of the 4th/10th century. Presumably in the first half of the 4th/10th
century, the qufs tribe in Kirman was converted by da'is from Khurasan. In the Yemen two
missionaries, 'Ali b. al-Fadl and Ibn Hawshab, known as Mansur al-Yaman [q.v.], in 268/881
established themselves in the area of the Jabal Maswar and succeeded in gaining strong tribal
support. In 270/883 Ibn Hawshab sent his nephew al-Haytham as a missionary to Sind. Later he
sent Abu 'Abd Allah al-Shi'i [q.v.] to the Maghrib, where he arrived in 280/893 and won the
support of the Kutama Berber tribe in western Algeria, thus laying the foundation for Fatimid
rule. In 286/899 Abu Sa'id al-Jannabi [q.v.], a follower of Hamdan qarmat and 'Abdan, founded
a qarmati state in al-Bahrayn, from where he later conquered al-qatif, 'Uman and al-Yamama.
The whole movement was centrally directed, at first probably from al-Ahwaz and al-Basra and
later from Salamiyya in Syria. Muhammad b. Isma'il was acknowledged as the imam, who had
disappeared and was about to reappear as the qa'im and to rule the world. The leaders of the
movement in the absence of the imam claimed the rank of hudjdjas [q.v.].

In the year 286/899, after the succession of the future Fatimid Caliph 'Ubayd Allah al-Mahdi to
the leadership in Salamiyya, a schism split the movement, provoked by the claim of 'Ubayd
Allah to theqimamate for himself and his ancestors. Hamdan qarmat and 'Abdan, who may have
previously drifted slightly away from the doctrine propagated by the leadership, broke off their
support. 'Abdan consequently was murdered by a subordinate da'i, Zikrawayh b. Mihrawayh
[q.v.], who at first pretended to be loyal to the leadership. Zikrawayh and his sons organized the
'qarmati' revolts among Syrian bedouin tribes from the year 289/902 until his capture
and execution in 294/907. Doubts concerning Zikrawayh's loyalty, which soon turned out to be
justified, induced 'Ubayd Allah to leave Salamiyya for the journey which ended with his
establishment as caliph in Raqqada in 297/910.

Though information concerning the attitude of the various Isma'ili groups following the split of
the movement is scanty, the results can be summarized with some degree of probability as
follows: The community in the Yemen at first remained faithful to 'Ubayd Allah. 'Ali b. al-Fadl,
however, in 299/913 renounced his allegiance to him and made war on Ibn Hawshab, who
remained loyal. After 'Ali's death in 303/915 his party disintegrated rapidly. The da'is in the
Maghrib and probably in Sind, having been sent by Ibn Hawshab, also remained loyal. There
are indications that the da'wa in Khurasan generally maintained its allegiance to 'Ubayd Allah,
who was able to appoint some da'is there, but there were probably also counter-currents. The
communities in 'Iraq, al-Bahrayn, and western Persia refused to recognize the Fatimid claim to
the imamate. Among the qarmatis of 'Iraq 'Isa b. Musa, a nephew of 'Abdan, continued the
latter's work propagating the imamate of Muhammad b. Isma'il, who would return as the qa'im.
After 320/932 he was active in Baghdad. He and other da'is in 'Iraq ascribed their writings to
'Abdan, thus stressing the doctrinal continuity. The da'is of al-Rayy were in close contact with
those in 'Iraq and with the qarmatis of al-Bahrayn and like them were expecting the
reappearance of the Mahdi-imam for the year 316/928. At least in the twenties of the 4th
century (1030-9) they controlled the missions in Mosul and Baghdad. They worked successfully
among the Daylamis and won at least the temporary allegiance of Daylami leaders like Asfar,
Mardawidj and later of some rulers of the Musafirid dynasty. The qarmatis of al-Bahrayn, led by
Abu Tahir al-Jannabi, were predicting the appearance of the Mahdi-imam for the year
316/928. In 319/931 they accepted a Persian prisoner of war as the Expected One, and Abu
Tahir turned the rule over to him. The early disastrous end of the affair weakened the
ideological vigour of the qarmatis of al-Bahrayn and their influence among the da'is in 'Iraq and
Persia, but did not generally lead to an expansion of Fatimid influence. Soon afterwards the
great revolt of the Kharidji Abu Yazid [q.v.] under the Fatimid Caliphs al-qa'im and al-Mansur
stifled any Fatimid activity among the eastern Isma'ili communities. Only the fourth Fatimid,
al-Mu'izz (341/953-365/975), was in a position to lead an intensive campaign to regain the
allegiance of the schismatic Isma'ilis. His efforts were partially successful, but failed in regard to
the qarmatis of al-Bahrayn, whose hostility erupted, after the Fatimid conquest of Egypt in
358/969, in open warfare against the Fatimid armies. After concluding a peace with the Fatimid
al-'Aziz in 369/979-80 and a severe defeat by a bedouin tribe in 378/988, the qarmatis of
al-Bahrayn were reduced to a local power unable to exert any ideological influence beyond its
boundaries. The movement still supporting the doctrine of the return of Muhammadqb. Isma'il
rapidly disintegrated about the same time. The qarmati state in al-Bahrayn survived until
470/1077-8. (See M. J. de Goeje, Memoire sur les Carmathes du Bahraien2, Leiden 1886; idem, La
fin de l'empire des Carmathes, in JA 9th ser. v (1895), 5-30; W. Madelung, Fatimiden und
Bahrainqarmaten, in Isl. xxxiv (1959), 34-88; S. M. Stern, Isma'ilis and Qarmatians, in l'Elaboration de
l'Islam, Paris 1961, 99-108).

In the time of al-Mu'izz a Fatimid vassal state was established in Multan in Sind. The Isma'ili da'i
there succeeded before 348/959 in converting a local ruler. Multan became an Isma'ili
stronghold where the

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