vii. Ḡazālī and the Bāṭenīs.

viii. Impact on Islamic thought. See Supplement.



The Bāṭenīya, or Ismaʿilis, occupied Ḡazālī’s mind throughout his writing career. He devoted more space to refuting them than to any other school of Islamic thought. Even in his autobiographical al-Monqeḏ men al-żalāl, written late in his life, he singled them out for lengthy denunciation after having critically discussed kalām theology and philosophy and before endorsing Sufism as the most fulfilling form of Islam. This preoccupation reflected his concern about the reinvigorated Ismaʿili missionary activity in contemporary Persia organized by the dāʿīs (q.v.) ʿAbd-al-Malek b. ʿAṭṭāš and Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ. Deeply committed to the Sunnite caliphate and anti-Shiʿite, he saw in the Ismaʿili movement a grave political threat. Although he recognized certain affinities between his own and Ismaʿili religious thought, it is unlikely that he was ever attracted to Ismaʿilism. There is, on the other hand, no sound evidence that he ever felt personally threatened by the Ismaʿilis and that he, as suggested by Farid Jabre (pp. 84-94), gave up his prestigious teaching position in Baghdad and went into hiding afraid for his life because of the assassination of his patron, the vizier Neẓām-al-Molk, by a fedāʾī (q.v.) in 485/1092.

The first and most comprehensive refutation of Ismaʿilism by Ḡazālī was his Ketāb fażāʾeḥ al-Bāṭenīya wa-fażāʾel al-Mostaẓherīya, often simply called al-Mostaẓherī. It was, as the title indicates, commissioned by the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Mostaẓher and was composed in Baghdad between al-Mostaẓher’s accession in Moḥarram 487/February 1094 and the death of the Fatimid caliph al-Mostanṣer in Ḏu’l-Ḥejja/December of that year. The refutation was largely based on the earlier tradition of anti-Ismaʿili polemics. In particular Gazālī appears to have relied on the Ketāb kašf al-asrār wa-hatk al-astār of the Ashʿarite Abū Bakr Moḥammad b. Ṭayyeb Bāqellānī (d. 403/1013), as noted by himself or a gloss in his Eḥyāʾ ʿolūm al-dīn (see Goldziher, p. 16). Thus he repeated the black legend of the polemicists about Ismaʿilism having been founded by a clique of atheist conspirators seeking to destroy the rule of Islam, quotes Bāqellānī’s characterization of Ismaʿilism as “a doctrine whose exterior was Shiʿite rejectionism and whose interior was pure unbelief (maḏhab ẓāherohu al-rafż wa-bāṭenohu al-kofr al-maḥż)” (Goldziher, Ar. text, p. 7) and lists among the names under which the Ismaʿilis were said to be known those of Persian Mazdakite heresies such as the Ḵorramīya, Bābakīya, and Moḥammera with whom the polemicists tried to associate them. He describes nine fictitious degrees of initiation, also known from other polemicists, through which the Ismaʿili dāʿīsallegedly guided the neophytes from scrutiny (tafarros) to the stripping away of all religious belief (salḵ), and characterizes Ismaʿilism as moving between doctrines of dualists and the philosophers while distorting both of them to serve their purposes. Ḡazālī, however, does not mention the most notorious pamphlet ascribed by the polemicists, including Bāqellānī, for defamatory purposes to the Ismaʿilis, the Ketāb al-sīāsa wa’l-balāḡ al-akbar (see Stern, chap. 4) and admits that the Ismaʿilis in his time universally denied some of the accusations of the polemicists against them, such as their alleged disregard of the šarīʿa.

In mentioning their being called Taʿlīmīya, Ḡazālī notes that this name is the most appropriate for the Bāṭenīya of his own age because of their call for reliance on taʿlīm, inspired instruction by their infallible (maʿṣūm) imam, and their rejection of personal reasoning (raʾy). This observation reflects his awareness of the thrust of the propaganda of the new daʿwa of Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ. He stresses the need to counter this doctrine and devotes a chapter to refuting it in particular. In another chapter he discusses the legal status of the Ismaʿilis. While he describes some of their basic Shiʿite beliefs as merely error not constituting unbelief, he considers others as definite unbelief requiring their treatment as apostates subject to the death penalty. In his later Fayṣal al-tafreqa (p. 198), he brands the Ismaʿili doctrine that God can only be described as giving existence, knowledge, and unity to others while Himself being above such qualification as manifest unbelief (kofr ṣorāh). The final section of the Mostaẓherī is devoted to the exaltation of the caliph al-Mostaẓher as the sole legitimate vice-gerent of God (ḵalīfat Allāh) on earth and to the functions of the imam according to the Sunnite doctrine (Goldziher, pp. 80-97).

Nowhere in his refutation does Ḡazālī quote or name any Ismaʿili authors. The reason was evidently, as he explains in his Monqeḏ (p. 28), his agreement with the opinion of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal that the arguments of heretics should not be quoted in refuting them lest some readers might get attracted by them. Ḡazālī defends himself that he refuted only arguments that were widely known among the public. His reliance on the anti-Ismaʿili polemical literature, however, made it easy for the Yemenite Ismaʿili dāʿī moṭlaq ʿAlī b. Moḥammad b. Walīd (d. 612/1215) in his detailed refutation of the Mostaẓherī, entitled Dāmeḡ al-bāṭel, to point out Ḡazālī’s numerous distortions and misrepresentations of Ismaʿili teaching.

In his Monqeḏ, Ḡazālī names four other books besides the Mostaẓherī, in which he refuted Ismaʿili doctrine. Of these only one is extant, namely the Ketāb al-qosṭās al-mostaqīm. In this book he describes an imaginary debate between himself and an Ismaʿili about the question of taʿlīm, in which his opponent eventually concedes defeat and asks Gāzālī to become his teacher, which the latter refuses. Ḡazālī accepts the universal human need for an infallible teacher as stipulated by his opponent, but he insists that the sound balance for weighing religious truth is provided by the Koran and the teaching of the Prophet Moḥammad without any need for an infallible imam after him. Also extant is Ḡazālī’s Jawāb al-masāʾel al-arbaʿ allatī saʾalahā al-Bāṭenīya be-Hamadān (see Badawī, pp. 132-34). It contains brief answers to four questions concerning the compatibility of taklīf, the imposition of duties on man, by a God who was believed to be self-sufficient (ḡanī). Ḡazālī further wrote a refutation in Persian of the “Four Chapters” (al-Foṣūl al-arbaʿa) in which Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ had set forth his argument for mankind’s need of an infallible teacher. The beginning of the refutation is quoted by Faḵr-al-Dīn Rāzī in Monāẓarāt and criticized as an inadequate response to Ḥasan-e Ṣabbāḥ’s argument (Kholeif, pp. 63-65, Ar. text pp. 40-42).

The question of taʿlīm evidently concerned Ḡazālī in his later life more than any other aspect of Ismaʿili thought. In his Monqeḏ, too, he speaks of Ismaʿilism only as the maḏhab al-taʿlīm. He severely criticizes those opponents of the Ismaʿilis who endeavored to refute their assertion of the need for taʿlīm and an infallible teacher, suggesting that they lost the argument and thus strengthened the cause of the heretics. The proper way was to argue that Moḥammad was the infallible teacher of all Muslims and that his death after God had announced the perfection of their religion (Koran 5:3) could not be any more detrimental to them than the inaccessibility of the allegedly infallible imam to most Ismaʿilis.



ʿAlī b. Moḥammad b. Walīd, Dāmeḡ al-bāṭel wa-ḥatf al-monāżel, ed. M. Ḡāleb, 2 vols., Beirut, 1982.

ʿA. Badawī, Moʾallafāt al-Ḡazālī, Cairo, 1961.

H. Corbin, “The Ismāʿīlī Response to the Polemic of Ghazālī,” in Ismāʿīlī Contributions to Islamic Culture, ed. S. H. Nasr, Tehran, 1977.

Abū Ḥāmed Moḥammad Ḡazālī, Ketāb al-qosṭās al-mostaqīm, ed. V. Salhat, Beirut, 1959.

Idem, Fayṣal al-tafreqa bayn al-Eslām wa’l-zandaqa, ed. S. Donyā, Cairo, 1961.

Idem, Ketāb fażāʾeḥ al-Bāṭenīya, ed. ʿA. Badawī, Cairo, 1964.

Idem, al-Monqeḏmen al-żalāl, ed. F. Jabre, Beirut, 1959; tr. F. Jabre as Erreur et deliverance, Beirut, 1959.

I. Goldziher, Streitschrift des Ġazālī gegen die Bāṭinijja-Sekte, Leiden, 1916.

E. Glassen, Der mittlere Weg: Studien zur Religionspolitik und Religiosität der spätern Abbasiden-Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1981.

M. Hogga, Orthodoxie, subversion et réforme en Islam: Ġazālī et les Seljūqides, Paris, 1993.

F. Jabre, “La biographie et l’oeuvre de Ghazālī reconsiderées a la lumière des Ṭabaqāt de Sobkī,” MIDEO 1, 1954, pp. 73-102.

F. Kholeif, A Study of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and His Controversies in Transoxiana, Beirut, 1966.

M.-J. Maḥjūb, “Ḡazālī wa Esmāʿīlīān: Morūr-ī bar Fażāʾeḥ al-Bāṭenīya,” Iran-nāma/Iran Nameh 4/4, 1365 Š./1986, pp. 616-78.

S. M. Stern, Studies in Early Ismāʿīlism, Leiden, 1983.


viii. IMPACT ON ISLAMIC THOUGHT. See Supplement.

(Wilferd Madelung)

Originally Published: December 15, 2000

Last Updated: February 3, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. X, Fasc. 4, pp. 376-377