UPDATE: There is a low hanging piece of fruit on the Wikipedia page for the Qarmations. I might give the bounty to someone who finds that.


I'm asking about the reasons for the division of Shi'ism that brought about the Fatamid-Qarmation rivalry in the 10th and early 11th centuries. I'm interested in traditional accounts of the different sects, but also how much they can be interpreted or verified. I'm also going to mention the Twelvers because they appear to have been the main body of Shi'ism.

The split between Ismaili and Twelver Shi'ites began after the death of Jafar Al Sadiq in 761. Generally, the Twelvers followed a policy of reconciliation with the Abbasids, while the Ismailis opposed them. The position of the Ismailis required them to become increasingly secretive.

The Ismailis and the Qarmation Seveners both recognized Jafar's eldest son, Ismail, but the seveners considered him to be the last Imam. Ismail's eldest son, Muhammed (d. 813), initially practiced in Kufa, but later went to Syria.

The Ismailis consider their subsequent Imams to have secretly practiced in Syria until the 11th one went to Africa and started the Fatamid Caliphate in 904.

Twelver Imams appear to have had the most popular support during the time of Harun Al Rashid and his successors. I think this is logical if the Ismailis were retreating from the public and plotting against the most formidable Abbasids, who weren't too opressive, yet. However, Al Ma'mun imprisoned and poisoned the twelvers Imam, and the remaining ones resided in the captivity of the Abbasids in Baghdad or Samaria.

This is just my summarization of the traditional accounts of the various sects as they are considered to have split. Judging by diverging allegiances to different Imamates, it seems possible that the different sects stem from different successional crises, but over what?

  • The Twelvers came under control of the Abbasids and then disappeared.
  • The Ismailis plotted against the Abbasids and were located in Syria, then Africa.
  • The Qarmations formed in the Persian Gulf and broke away from the Ismailis. The Qarmations and Fatamids then fought for control of the Hijaz, Arabia, and the Imamate.

Can the split in Shi'ism between the Fatamids and Qarmations be traced further back to a time before they were founded? Was it caused by a long standing division or divergent tendencies within Shi'ism, such as a geographic, ethnic, or tribal one? Was it exacerbated by foreign influences? Can one be considered more autochthonous?

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    It cannot be dismissed as "typical tribal rivalry" unless you are willing to dismiss the whole early medieval history as such. That being said you can make the argument that with the caliphate basically exploding into the massive empire it was, before the rulership could culturally catch up and learn how to consolidate all that, schismatic movements would have a great time finding footholds – Victor S Jan 4 at 21:26
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    One can even support that argument looking at all the contemporary Christian sects and heresies coming into existence in a similar fashion and suppressed similarly, with the difference being the existence of a much more institutionalized clergy as opposed to the loose network of clerics in Islam – Victor S Jan 4 at 21:35
  • Strongly suggest you edit all comments into the question and then flag comments for deletion. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 11 at 3:08

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