ḴAṬṬĀBIYA (Khattabiyya), an extremist Shiʿite sect named after Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb al-Asadi (killed ca. 755 CE), who for some time was an authorized representative (dāʿi) of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (d. ca. 765) in Kufa.

Our knowledge of the Ḵaṭṭābiya comes primarily from two well-known theologians, who show little agreement: Hešām b. al-Ḥakam (d. ca. 796; q.v.) and Abu ʿIsā al-Warrāq (9th century).  The work of the former is transmitted by the Shiʿites Ḥasan b. Musā al-Nowbaḵti (d. between 911 and 922) and Saʿd b. ʿAbd-Allāh al-Ašʿari (d. 912 or 914), while the accounts of the latter were preserved by the Sunnite Abu’l-Ḥasan al-Ašʿari (d. 935; see AŠʿARI). In works of synthesis (e.g., Halm, pp. 199-217), these sources are customarily combined with information taken from other works. According to these heresiographic sources, the Ḵaṭṭābiya took its name from the heresiarch Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb Moḥammad b. Abi Zaynab al-Ajdaʿ al-Asadi al-Kufi (q.v.), and became the most important extremist Shiʿite sect (see ḠOLĀT) in Kufa.  Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb was without doubt an exceptionally charismatic individual, and at first Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq is said to have designated the dāʿi  as his successor (waṣi), but apparently around 748 the imam rejected and denounced him for his extremist ideas.  The tension between Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and his master caused Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb’s followers to split up into several factions, and these are briefly characterized below.  Given the strong bias of the heresiographic literature to condemn these factions, every element of these characterizations has to be considered with reserve.

(1) One group claimed that a single Divine Light lives in those imams who are both imam and prophet.  In each generation, God is incarnate in one imam-prophet who speaks (nāṭeq) and in another who keeps silent (ṣāmet), as was the case for the pairs of Mohammad and ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, and Jaʿfar and Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb.  Their fully initiated followers were free from obligations imposed by the Sharia (šariʿa), such as Friday prayer (see EMĀM-e JOMʿA), fasting, or the pilgrimage to Mecca (ḥajj). In other words, they adhere to a form of antinomianism (see EBĀḤIYA).

(2) The Maʿmariya, or Moʿammariya, were supporters of Maʿmar (Moʿammar) b. Aḥmar; they believed in the transmission of the Divine Light from ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb to Jaʿfar, having passed through Moḥammad, ʿAli and the line of imams to Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and Maʿmar.  Some members of this faction claimed that Jaʿfar and Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb had attained the rank of angels, while Maʿmar occupied divine rank.  Denying the existence of heaven and hell, they preached antinomianism and claimed that the initiated would not know death but would enter the beyond with their physical bodies.

(3) The Baziḡiya were followers of Baziḡ b. Musā, and believed that he and Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb were the messengers of Jaʿfar, who was worshiped as the incarnation of God. They believed that initiated followers were able to receive divine revelation (waḥy) and to attain immortality through the daily ascetic practice of mortifying the body.  It is surprising that heresiographers classified this group as a faction of the Ḵaṭṭābiya, since Baziḡ considered himself the equal of his companion Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb, who in turn rejected Baziḡ’s claims.

(4) The ʿOmayriya adhered to the teachings of ʿOmayr b. Bayān al-ʿEjli.  While they rejected the belief that those who were initiated into the mysteries attained immortality, they claimed that initiated believers would be elevated to the rank of imam-prophet.  They deified Jaʿfar.  Around 748, Yazid b. ʿOmar b. Hobayra, the governor of Iraq, ordered the arrest and the execution of their leader, ʿOmayr in Kufa.

(5) The disciples of al-Sari al-Aqṣam considered him to be the messenger (bāb) of Jaʿfar.  They deified Jaʿfar, and believed that al-Sari possessed the supernatural powers of the prophet Musā. They worshiped Jaʿfar and al-Sari, his principal bāb.

(6) The Mofażżaliya were followers of al-Mofażżal b. ʿOmar al-Joʿfi.  Al-Warrāq classified them as a faction of the Ḵaṭṭābiya who deified Jaʿfar.  Yet most sources—and in particular Imamite works—argue that Jaʿfar first condemned Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and then charged Mofażżal to return the Ḵaṭṭābiya to the right path.  According to these sources, Mofażżal always remained a close disciple of the imams Jaʿfar and Musā al-Kāẓem, and never fell into heresy.

(7) The heresiarch Yunos b. Ẓebyān (Ẓabyān) and his followers believed Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb to be the Messenger of God, and Yunos allegedly later taught the divinity of the Imam ʿAli al-Reżā.  He is considered the author of the book Ḥaqāʾeq asrār al-din which the Noṣayris later included into their canonical books (Ṭusi, 1983b, no. 791; cf. Massignon, 1963b, p. 642).

Some have been quick to identify the Ḵaṭṭābiya with the Moḵammesa (derived from Ar. ḵamsa “five” and comprising Moḥammad, ʿAli, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn). There is not much documentary evidence to support this identification with regard to the Ḵaṭṭābiya factions just described, but it is possible that later on these two movements reconciled their differences. Similarly the assertion of some Imamite authors to perceive the Ḵaṭṭābiya as a template for the nascent Ismaʿilism should be regarded with considerable reservations (cf. Ṣadiqi).  Early Ismaʿilite doctrines are not very similar to those attributed to the Ḵaṭṭābiya and the Moḵammesa, aside from some recognition given to Esmāʿil b. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq and his son Moḥammad.  For it is true that Mofażżal, to whom some Ḵaṭṭābiya owe allegiance, never condemned the claim of Esmāʿil to the imamate, and it might be true that, after the execution of Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb, some followers claimed that Jaʿfar’s Divine Light had passed from Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb to Moḥammad b. Esmāʿil. 

In the 10th century, after the Noṣayris, who accord Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and Mofażżal a high rank among the manifestations of the Divine Light, had split from the Imamiyya, the Moḵammesa could emerge because some, probably rather marginal, members of the Imamiyya had continued to hold and transmit Ḵaṭṭābiya doctrines.  The acceptability of Ḵaṭṭābiya doctrines to some members of the Imamiyya is not surprising, if one is willing to acknowledge both the existence of extremist Shiʿite sects and the above- mentioned obvious distortions of the heresiographic literature.  For the underlying principal themes of the Ḵaṭṭābiya doctrines are found in most Imamite traditions.  Aspects of the gnostic (see GNOSTICISM) doctrine of the imam as the locus of the manifestation of God (Amir-Moezzi, 1996; 2002, pp. 730-33), the doctrine of the transmission of the Light of the divine man to his descendant or disciple (Amir-Moezzi, 1992a, pp. 109-13), or the doctrine of the salvific role of transformative wisdom (Amir-Moezzi, 1992a, pp. 174-99)—all these themes are to a great extent represented in the principal hadith compilations of Imamite authors, such as Forāt b. Ebrāhim Kufi, Abu Jaʿfar al-Ṣaffār al-Qommi, ʿAli b. Ebrāhim al-Qommi, Abu’l-Nażr Moḥammad al-ʿAyyāši, al-Kolayni, or Ebn Bābuya al-Ṣaduq (see EBN BĀBAYWAYH (2)).

The Imamite scholar Abu ʿAmr Moḥammad b. ʿOmar b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAziz al-Kašši (first half of the 10th century) transmitted many instances in which the imams Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq or ʿAli al-Reżā cursed and powerfully refuted doctrines ascribed to Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb and his supporters; Abu Jaʿfar Moḥammad b. Ḥasan al-Ṭusi (d. 1067) preserved those in his abridgement of Kašši’s work (Ṭusi, 1983a, no. 409). Yet these examples appear as apocryphal reports that support the rationalist Imamite distinction between the true moderate orthodoxy of the imams and the false heresy of the extremist (sing. ḡālin, pl. ḡolāt).  While this moderate-extremist dichotomy became very important for the rationalist Imamiyya in the second half of the 11th century, after the Buyids had lost their power, it seems of little relevance for the time before the rise of the Buyids in the early 10th century, when the esoteric Imamiyya (see BĀṬENIYA) was much more influential (Amir-Moezzi 1992a, pp. 33-48; Amir-Moezzi and Jambet, pp. 181-283).  A significant number of prominent men who were accused of exaggeration (ḡoluw) were disciples of the imams, and many whom an imam had cursed remained nonetheless members of his circle.  This observation suggests that the public curse (barāʾa) might have had tactical implications, since the cursed disciples apparently continued to follow the teaching of their imams.  On the one hand, the imams might not curse their followers for what they said but rather because they violated their obligation to preserve the secrecy (taqiya) of the revealed knowledge (Amir-Moezzi 1992a, pp. 313-16; 1992b, 227-29; cf. Kohlberg).  On the other hand, the public curse might have protected these followers from persecution by the authorities.  Two traditions about Imam Jaʿfar which are preserved in the orthodox Imamite sources support both these interpretations.  In the first, the imam stated: “It happened that I taught something to someone; then he left me and repeated this teaching word for word to someone else.  I therefore declare that it is permissible to curse him and to dissociate from him” (Ebn Abi Zaynab al-Noʿmāni, p. 57 s.v. chap. 1, 7).  In the second the imam asked his disciple ʿAbd-Allāh b. Zorāra: “Tell your father Zorāra [b. Aʿyan] that I have dissociated myself from him and I have cursed him publicly; this is in order to protect him. In fact, our enemies persecute those whom we admire and leave alone those whom we banish” (Ṭusi, 1983a, no. 221).  

This evidence suggests that until the mid-10th century the imams used the term ḡoluw to specifically reject antinomian teaching, according to which the discovery of the hidden meaning (bāṭen) of the Sharia allowed the initiated believer to disregard its literal meaning (ẓāhir) and its obligations for the believer (Abu Jaʿfar al-Ṣaffār al-Qommi, pp. 526-36 s.v. sec. 10, chap. 21, 1: “The letter of Jaʿfar to al-Mofażżal against the ḡolāt”). But until the rationalization of the Imamiyya under the aegis of theologians such as Shaykh Mofid (d. 1022) and al-Šarif al-Mortażā (d. 1044), other gnostic or esoteric doctrines that are central to all branches of Shiʿism were never considered ḡoluw.




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Aḥmad b. ʿAli al-Maqrizi, Ketāb al-mawāʿeẓ wa’l-eʿtebār be-ḏekr al-ḵeṭaṭ wa’l-āṯār al-maʿruf be’l-Ḵeṭaṭ al-maqriziya, 2 vols., Bulāq, 1853; repr., Beirut, n. d.

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(Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi)

Originally Published: May 31, 2013

Last Updated: April 5, 2013

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