Early Muslim Heresies

A common tactic for Muslims holding discussion over the early Christian church is to bring up the many heresies that existed around that time. Arianism, Gnosticism, Marcionism, Modalism…they’re all brought in as if they’re all equally “Christian,” especially if, such as the case of Docetism, they hold beliefs similar to Islam.

However, was the history of Islam free from such early heresies? Ignoring the Sunni/Shia split (although it could be just as relevant) or the existence of Ahmadi Muslims, was there an isolated consistent stream of belief from Mohammad to today? In fact, there existed heresies even within the first few centuries of Islam’s existence, as we will soon see.

My point in this post is not to present a kind of tu quoque fallacy, as if to argue, “Well you had early heresies, so we can have early heresies too!” Rather, it is a call for consistency: would the discerning Muslim be willing to hold the early Muslim heresies by the same standard they hold the early Christian heresies? It is simply an attempt to create more progressive and open discussion.

Ghulat (the extremists) and Ghuluww (extremism): those sects which hold either the opinion that any particular person is God or that any person is a prophet after Muhammad, are called by this title. Certain other doctrines such as tanasukh (transmigration of souls), hulul (descent of God or the Spirit of God into a person) and tashbih (anthropomorphism with respect to God) are also usually ascribed to these groups. [pg. 45]

Ulyaniyya or ‘Alya’iyya…who appear to have been active around AD 800 and are also called adh-Dhammiya (the blamers) because they stated that ‘Ali was God with Muhammad as his Apostle and that Muhammad was to be blamed in that he was sent to call the people to ‘Ali but called them to himself. Others of this group assigned divinity to both Muhammad and ‘Ali. [pg. 46]

Muhammadiyya or Mimiyya. This sect are a counterpart to the ‘Ulaniyya and stressed the divinity of Muhammad. [ibid]

Karibiyya…They considered that Ibn al-Hanafiyya [a descendant of ‘Ali] had not died but was concealed on Mount Rawda…and would return to fill the earth with justice. Because they believed that prior to the return of the Imam, the drawing of swords was forbidden, they fought with sticks…Two of the most famous of Arab poets belonged to this sect, Sayyid al-Himyari and Kuthayyir. [pg. 47]

The Janahiyya…In 127/744 ‘Abdu’llah ibn Mu’awiya rose in revolt against the last Umayyad Caliph. ‘Abdu’llah was… accused of holding a number of extreme opinions: the incarnation of God in a succession of Prophets and Imams…some of his followers asserted that he had not died but was concealed in the mountains of Isfahan and would appear again. [pg. 51]

The Mansuriyya or Kisfiyya…followers of Abu Mansur al-‘Ijli…The name Kisfiyya arose because Abu Mansur believed himself to be the piece (kisf) of heaven falling down which is mentioned in Qur’an (52:44). He maintained that the first thing created by God was Jesus and then after him ‘Ali. He held to an allegorical interpretation of the Qur’an which among other things meant that those things forbidden in the Qur’an were nothing but allegory for the names of certain evil men. Thus his followers are accused of all manner of immorality and sin. [pg. 52]

The Khattabiyya. [Founded by] Abu ‘l-Khattab Muhammad ibn Abu Zaynab al-Asadi al-Ajda’…Central to Abu’l-Khattab’s doctrines appears to have been an allegorical interpretation to the Qur’an. His followers also believed that they would not die but would be lifted up to heaven. They are accused of having disregarded all religious observances and regarded everything as lawful. [pg. 52-53]

Bazighiyya. The followers of Bazigh ibn Musa, the weaver, who followed Abu’l-Khattab’s doctrines and claimed that a man who had reached perfection should not be said to have died and that the best of his followers were superior to the angels. [pg. 53]

Mu’ammariyya. The followers of Mu’ammar ibn Khaytham, the corn dealer, who claimed prophethood…and asserted that the present world would never come to an end but that both paradise and hell were to be experienced here. [ibid]

Ghurabiyya. The followers of this group…are said to have held that since Muhammad and ‘Ali were as indistinguishable from each other as one raven (ghurab) is from another, when the angel Gabriel was sent with the divine revelation from God for ‘Ali, he gave it by mistake to Muhammad. [ibid]

Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi’i Islam. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985. Print.

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