The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Sunday, June 01, 2014


Here's another sect roaming the early Caliphate: the Manichees. They weren't given much space in Seeing Islam; and I've already given space here to that other gnostic sect in the area (the Mandaeans). So, here we'll lay out some context.

As of the Umayyad period the Arabs would have known a follower of Manih by the Persian-derived word zindiq. The religion was suppressed under the Sasanians and, moreover, had fallen to schism. The sectarian leader, the "Archegos", had sat in Ctesiphon. But, now it had adherents in Transoxania - exiles, mostly, from Iraqi persecutions. These men, the "Denawars", had made a base there and now decided that the seat of the faith would be better sited further East. Negotiations went nowhere; the Denawars set up that counter-archegate.

I'm not sure about how the earlier Arabs dealt with the Manichees (probably "benign bemusement") but from AD 695-705, al-Hajjaj as governor over Iraq showed toleration at least to the Manichees he had, which were the western ones: Cyril Glassé, The New Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 63. The sectarians flourished enough that they had (I assume) converted one `Abd al-Samad bin al-`Alâ - whom Yazîd the son of `Abd al-Malik saw fit to teach his son al-Walîd (presumably this was before Yazîd took the caliphate and became an iconoclast). Meanwhile the nebulous possible-Manichee Ja`d bin Dirham taught al-Walîd's cousin Marwan bin Muhammad and his son.

After al-Hajjaj (and after Yazîd II), Khâlid ibn Abd Allah al-Qasri governor of Iraq 724-738 gave gifts to the archegos, Mihr (Khalid was probably a crypto-Christian for his own part). This was probably because under Mihr, the Manichees were united again. One Zad Hurmuz had joined the faith in Iraq; there he (somehow) convinced the Denawars to return under Iraqi control. Thus Glassé, 64.

(And then... another gap. Khâlid eventually had at least Ja`d executed; Hishâm in turn had Khâlid deposed and imprisoned.)

Cyril Glassé reports that when al-Walîd II became caliph, he maintained "company with the Manichaeans, had a richly ornate portrait of Mani, and had the Christian Metropolitan of Jerusalem mutilated for criticising Manichaeans" (p. 334). A similar fate befell Peter the Chalcedonian metropolitan of Damascus, which the Greek historian Theophanes would ascribe to Peter's opposition to Manichaeism as well as to Islam. After them we can probably assume similar pro-Manichean sentiment of Marwan II.

(Al-Walîd had the luckless Khâlid tortured as well.)

Mandaeism was and is an inward-looking faith; it has never sought for converts. Manichaeism by contrast proselytised, mostly among those who considered themselves intelligent (and also, strangely, among eastern Turks). This goes some way to explain why so many royal tutors ended up zindiq, and vice versa.

Apparently the Manichees went on to suffer another schism; this time because they viewed Mihr (accurately) as one too fond of the pleasures of this world. This seems to have expressed itself after Mihr's death, whenever that was.

UPDATE 10/13/2016: The Manichaean view of Islam.

posted by Zimri on 14:54 | link | 0 comments

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