MOḴAMMESA, an early extremist Shiʿite (ḡolāt) sect who divinized five members (ahl al-kesāʾ/Āl-e ʿabā “the family of the cloak”) of the Prophet Moḥammad’s family, including Moḥammad himself, his cousin ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb, his daughter Fāṭema, and his grandsons Imam Ḥasan and Imam Ḥosayn. It is not clear whether the term Moḵammesa (pentadists) referred to an organized group or a sect or was applied to disparate individuals and groups. The term is used only in outsiders’ accounts, never in the few surviving original texts detailing this belief.

Saʿd b. ʿAbd Allāh Qomi’s heresiography (pp. 56-59; cf. Madelung, 1993; for a shorter but similar account, see Rāzi, p. 307) provides the most detailed description of the Moḵammesa’s doctine. According to this work, the Moḵammesa taught that God was Moḥammad and that he became manifest in four members of his family, namely ʿAli, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn. Qomi (Ar. Qommi) attributes to them a number of other doctrines and terminology appearing in primary ḡolāt texts that are not necessarily associated with Moḵammesa teachings. Thus, God had become incarnate in numerous persons throughout history, including biblical patriarchs, Jesus, kings, ḡolāt personalities, such as Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb Asadi (d. ca. 138/755), Moḡira b. Saʿid, and others. Salmān Fārsi was God’s Bāb (lit. “Gate, Door”), who appeared in human form together with Him throughout history, while Abu Ḏarr Ḡefāri and Meqdād b. ʿAmr, two companions of the Prophet, were the two yatims (“unique ones”; for attestations of these views in ḡolāt literature, see Joʿfi, 2004, pp. 77-80; idem, 2007, pp. 102-3; Ādāb, p. 265). The Moḵammesa were antinomians, Qomi goes on, allowing what religion forbade and considering formal acts of worship redundant for those who had reached a certain degree of spiritual perfection. For them, duties and prohibitions were in reality names of individuals, and performing a duty or abiding by a prohibition was in reality following that person. Finally, they taught that the souls of sinners underwent reincarnation (tanāsoḵ, q.v.) into other human bodies and into sub-human species and objects. The believers, meanwhile, did not reincarnate but went through seven degrees of spiritual perfection, ultimately reaching God and becoming able to contemplate Him in His luminosity.

The antinomian views attributed to the Moḵammesa are also well attested in ḡolāt writings, along with other cosmological and theological ideas and terminology. In particular, the notion that duties and prohibitions are names of persons appears to be a frequently recurring motive (for a list of excerpts from ḡolāt writings featuring this idea, see ESḤĀQ AḤMAR NAḴAʿI; see also Joʿfi, 2004, p. 79; idem, 2007, p. 40; Ḥarrānī, p. 145).

Original texts featuring Moḵammesa teachings are the Omm al-ketāb and a number of excerpts from earlier ḡolāt writings preserved in Noṣayri literature. The Omm al-ketāb is a multi-layered text, whose main part was written in ḡolāt circles probably in the late 9th-early 10th century (cf. Anthony, p. 18; Halm, 1982, pp. 113-98). Here, all of the five persons are nearly identified with God, presented as five eternal (qadim) lights of different colors that existed when nothing else was, and from whose beams everything was created. They are seated on the divine throne (taḵtgāh-e izadi) at the head of the believers, and in humanity (bašariyat) they are called Moḥammad, ʿAli, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn. They are connected (peyvasta) to the Speaking Spirit (ruḥ-e nāṭeqa), who is God (Omm al-ketāb, par. 113), and all the fives in the world, such as the five fingers, are derived from their light (Omm al-ketāb, pars. 81-83, 96-98). Their divinity is asserted more openly in the so-called “school anecdote,” where the Lord successively manifests Himself to ʿAbd-Allāh b. Sabaʾ in the form of Moḥammad, ʿAli, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn, each time openly declaring His divinity (Omm al-ketāb, pars. 39-42; Anthony, p. 27; Halm, 1982, pp. 132-33).

Excerpts of other original texts by the Moḵammesa have been preserved in the writings of the Noṣayris, whose own doctrine also contains pentadist elements. This is not surprising, as the Noṣayris were initially based in Iraq and are an offshoot of the Iraqi Kufan ḡolāt (Friedman, pp. 23-25). When they emigrated to Syria in the 10th century, they apparently took along with them a large number of ḡolāt texts, including those written by the Moḵammesa: late 10th-century Noṣayri author Ḥasan b. Šoʿba Ḥarrāni says that he had in his library nearly 250 books containing, among others, the teachings of the pentadists (taḵmis), whom he considers “close to Divine Unicity” (tawḥid; Ḥarrāni, pp. 12, 14). The Moḵammesa were still known to 13th-century Noṣayri author Naššābi (Bar-Asher and Kofsky, p. 20).

The pentadist passages found in Noṣayri literature present ideas similar to those of the Omm al-ketāb and Qomi’s Moḵammesa. The only major difference is that ʿAli is sometimes substituted with a certain Moḥsen, who is probably ʿAli’s third, unborn son believed to have been killed by ʿOmar while still in Fāṭema’s womb (Halm, 1982, p. 387, n. 689). It is unclear whether the introduction of Moḥsen is a Noṣayri innovation or an earlier ḡolāt element. In any case, it is found both in works written by Noṣayri authors and in passages of earlier ḡolāt texts that they quote. Thus, the five prayers are said to be in reality the five members of the pentad (with Moḥsen instead of ʿAli), which is quite in keeping with Qomi’s statement that for the Moḵammesa duties and prohibitions are in reality persons (Ḥarrāni, p. 113). The five are said to be united in one (Moḥammad b. Senān, p. 62), and God is said to appear in five individuals, one female and four male (Majmaʿ al-aḵbār, p. 63). Ḥarrāni enumerates the names of men who, according to the Moḵammesa, were in the position of Bāb, including Salmān Fārsi, Abu’l-Ḵaṭṭāb, and Mofażżal Joʿfi (Ḥarrāni, p. 58). The same work also contains a tradition narrated on the authority of several early ḡolāt personalities, where Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq calls the five members of the Prophet’s family God’s five lights (pp. 172-72).

Pentadist ideas crop up in works written by the Noṣayris themselves; for instance, in a text attributed to Ḥosayn Kaṣibi, one of the founders of Noṣayrism, God is said to have concealed Himself in five, become manifest in five, and manifested five. In Ḥāwi’l-asrār, attributed to the 10th-century Noṣayri author Moḥammad Jelli, the five takbirs (expressing the formula Allāho Akbar) are said to signify that Moḥammad had appeared in five persons in three historical cycles (Jelli, p. 269; cf. Ṭabarāni, p. 108). In one story found in a later Noṣayri work, ʿAli drinks five cups, which are said to represent Moḥammad, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, Ḥosayn, and Moḥsen (Majmaʿ al-aḵbār, p. 141).

References to real people who held Moḵammesa beliefs are very few. Several members of a 10th-century family called collectively “Karḵiyun” (because of their origin in Baṣra’s quarter of Karḵ) are one example. Qāsem b. ʿAli b. Moḥammad Karḵi, his sons Jaʿfar and Moḥammad, and his brother Abu Aḥmad were governors of several provinces of the ʿAbbasid caliphate, and one of them was vizier in the courts of al-Rāżi (r. 322-29/934-40) and al-Mottaqi (r. 329-33/940-44). Yāqut says that they were Moḵammesa, as they believed that ʿAli, Fātema, Ḥasan, Ḥosayn, and Moḥammad were five eternal specters (ašbāḥ) and lights (anwār), and adding that this is a “well-known teaching” (Yāqut, pp. 447-48).

Another pentadist, who apparently learned the Moḵammesa doctrine from the Karḵiyun, was Moḥammad b. Moẓaffar Abu Dolaf Azdi Kāteb, whom Ṭusi portrays as a madman who adhered to “extremism” (ḡolow), the teaching of the “delegators” (mofawweża), and was a “pentadist” (moḵammes). This, according to Ṭusi, was the result of having been brought up and taught by the Karḵiyun, who were famous Moḵammesa (Ṭusi, pp. 254-56; Ḥelli, 163; Massignon, pp. 524-25).

Another Moḵammes was Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAli b. Aḥmad Kufi (d. 352/963), who claimed descent from Imam Musā al-Kāẓem. He was initially an Imami of “good faith,” who wrote many orthodox (sadid) books, but toward the end of his life he became a pentadist and began writing on their teachings. The pentadist doctrine, which Ḥelli describes as part of Abu’l-Qāsem’s biography, slightly differs from what is found in other sources. He says that the Moḵammesa believed that five among the Prophet’s companions—Salmān Fārsi, Meqdād b. Aswad Kendi, ʿAmmār b. Yāser, Abu Ḏarr Ḡefāri, and ʿAmr b. Omayya Żamri—were delegated with the welfare of the world (mowakkalun be-masāʾel al-ʿālam; Ḥelli, p. 233; Ebn Šahrāšub, p. 57; Madelung, p. 517). It is not clear whether they also believed in the divinity of the Prophet and his four descendants, or whether this was the only pentadist element in their teachings.

A group that taught a slightly different version of the pentadist doctrine of the Moḵammesa was the ʿAlyāʾiya (for questions concerning this designation, see Halm, 2000; idem, 1982, p. 229), allegedly founded by Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq’s contemporary Baššār Šaʿiri. They considered ʿAli as God and “agreed with the Moḵammesa on the four persons” (ʿAli, Fāṭema, Ḥasan, and Ḥosayn), which probably means that they divinized them as well. They considered Moḥammad as ʿAli’s slave and his envoy to the humanity (Qomi, p. 59; Rāzi, p. 307; Šahrastāni, I, p. 179; Ebn Ḥazm, p. 66). A follower of the ʿAlyāʾiya was the famous 9th-century “heretic” Esḥāq Aḥmar Naḵaʿi. An early ḡolāt work titled Ādāb ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb, where Esḥāq appears as the chief narrator, contains an echo of the ʿAlyāʾiya teaching as presented by the heresiographers. It says that God manifests in five persons (which is the usual set, with Moḥsen instead of ʿAli, see above), and adds that ʿAli is God and Moḥammad is his apostle (rasul; Ādāb, pp. 263-65; cf. Halm, 1981, pp. 61-64).



Ādāb ʿAbd-al-Moṭṭaleb, in Abu Musā and Shaikh Musā, eds., Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi VI: al-Majmuʿa al-mofażżaliya, n.p. (Lebanon), 2006, pp. 261-87.

Sean Anthony, “The Legend of ʿAbdallāh ibn Sabaʾ and the Date of Umm al-Kitāb,” JRAS 21/1 2011, pp. 1-30.

Meir Michael Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion: An Enquiry into Its Theology and Liturgy, Leiden, 2002.

Ebn Ḥazm, Ketāb al-feṣal fi’l-melal wa’l-ahwāʾ wa’l-neḥal, tr. Israel Friedlaender, as “The Heterodoxies of the Shiites in the Presentation of Ibn Ḥazm,” JAOS 28, 1907, pp. 1-80.

Ebn Šahrāšub, Ketāb maʿālem al-ʿolamāʾ fi fehrest kotob al-moṣannefin, ed. ʿAbbās Eqbāl, Tehran, 1935.

Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs: An Introduction to the Religion, History, and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria, Leiden, 2010.

Heinz Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Ismāʿīlīya: Eine Studie zur islamischen Gnosis, Wiesbaden, 1978.

Idem, “Das ‘Buch der Schatten’: Die Mufaḍḍal-Tradition der Ġulāt und die Ursprünge des Nuṣairiertums,” Der Islam 58, 1981, pp. 15-86.

Idem, “Ulyāʾiyya,” in EI2 X, 2000, p. 814.

Idem, Die islamische Gnosis: die extreme Schia und die ʿAlawiten, Zurich, 1982.

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Mofażżal b ʿOmar Joʿfi (attrib.), Ketāb al-ṣerāṭ, ed. Monṣef b. ʿAbd-al-Jalil, Beirut, 2004.

Idem (attrib.), Ketāb al-haft wa’l-aẓella, ed. Arif Tamir, Beirut, 2007.

Wilfred Madelung, “Mukhammisa,” in EI2 VII, 1993, pp. 517-18.

Majmaʿ al-aḵbār, in Abu Musā and Shaikh Musā, eds., Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi VII: Majmuʿat al-aḥādiṯ al-ʿalawiya, n.p., (Lebanon), 2008, pp. 7-161.

Louis Massignon, “Recherches sur les Shiʿites extrémistes à Baghdad à la fin du troisième siècle de l-Hégire,” in idem, Opera Minora I, Paris, 1969, pp. 523-26.

Moḥammad b. Senān (attrib.), “Ketāb al-ḥojob wa’l-anwār,” in Abu Musā and Shaikh Musā, eds., Selselat al-torāṯ al-ʿalawi VI: al-Majmuʿa al-mofażżaliya, n.p. (Lebanon), 2006, pp. 19-64.

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Saʿd b. ʿAbd-Allāh Qomi (Qommi), Ketāb al-maqālāt wa’l-feraq, ed. Moḥammad-Jawād Maškur, Tehran, 1963.

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Abu’l-Fatḥ Moḥammad Šahrastāni, al-Melal wa’l-neḥal, ed. Aḥmad Moḥammad Fahmi, Beirut, 1992; tr. Afżal-al-Din Ṣadr Torka Eṣfahāni, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Jalāli Nāʾini, Tehran, 1956; tr. Theodore Haarbrücker, as Religionspartheien und Philosophen-Schulen, 2 vols., Hildesheim, 1969.

Abu Saʿid Maymun b. Qāsem Ṭabarāni, Majmūʿ al-aʿyād, ed. Rudolf Strothmann, as “Festkalender der Nusairier,” Der Islam 27, 1946, pp. 1-273.

Moḥammad b. Ḥasan Ṭusi, Ketāb al-ḡayba, ed. Āḡā Bozorg Ṭehrāni, Najaf, 1965.

Šehāb-al-Din Abu ʿAbd-Allāh Yāqut, Moʿjam al-boldān IV, Beirut, 1957.

(Mushegh Asatryan)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: November 21, 2013