The Imams Against the Ghulat

Originally posted on Shiitic Studies.

“We have woken up (i.e. a time has reached) and there is no one who is more inimical (an enemy to us) than those who claim to love us”1

– Imam al-Sadiq


The most serious challenge to the school of Ahl al-Bayt came from the Ghulat. This is because, unlike external enemies whose opposition to the Imams was apparent, the Ghulat were internal enemies whose opposition was hidden. The Ghulat claimed to be the true followers of the Imams and in possession of their ‘secret teaching’. They called for the recognition of the ‘esoteric’ status of the Imams which they considered to be the only means of acquiring salvation. This proved to be especially attractive to many among the gullible Shia who were otherwise sincere in their love towards the Ahl al-Bayt.

We will have occasion to discuss the beliefs of the Ghulat in more detail, suffice it to say that a major component of the world-view of these ‘exaggerators’ was to deify the Imam in some way. How did the Imams react to the exaggerated beliefs concerning them?

Keeping in mind how exemplary they were in their piety to Allah, how exceedingly committed they were to defending Islam against corruption which they saw as their foremost duty, and how earnest they were in their concern for guiding the Muslims, there can only be one answer to this question. How it must have affected them to find that there were ‘devils’2 out there using them as figureheads to drive a message that was wholly antithetical to their own. Indeed making a mockery of all that they stood for!

This article seeks to gather relevant evidence about the Imam’s reaction from an early work, the so-called Rijal al-Kashshi, accepted by all scholars to be an authoritative source of information on the ‘men’ i.e. companions around the Imams. The work is especially suited to our purposes since it provides intimate details as to the interaction between the Imams and their contemporaries who associated with them in some way (be it positive or negative). I have taken the liberty to arrange the reaction of the Imams as per the categories below:

(a) Fear and Apprehension

This was a natural reaction in light of the weighty and blasphemous charge in which they were caught up in through no fault of their own.

Abu Hamza al-Thumali quotes Imam al-Sajjad as saying:

I remembered Abdallah b. Saba – so all the hair-lets in my body stood up (in apprehension). He had claimed a grave matter. What is (wrong) with him?!3

Imam al-Sadiq says while speaking of one particularly notorious Ghali:

There is a group who have lied about me! What is wrong with them … Woe be upon them! What is wrong with them?! May Allah curse them! They have hurt Allah, and they have hurt His Messenger صلى الله عليه وآله in his grave, and the Commander of the Faithful, and Fatima, and al-Hasan, and al-Husayn, and Ali b. al-Husayn, and Muhammad b. Ali صلوات الله عليهم …

Here I am in your midst, the flesh of the Messenger of Allah and the skin of the Messenger of Allah. I spend the nights remaining awake upon my bed sheet whilst being afraid, apprehensive, and alarmed! They feel safe while I am terrified. They sleep upon their bed-sheets while I am fearful, awake, and in apprehension. I wander disturbed (faltering) between the mountains and the desert plains …4

(b) Anguish and Sorrow

Consider the reaction of Imam al-Sadiq at being told by his servant Musadif that a group of Kufans had proclaimed the Talbiyya, declaring their readiness to journey to their Lord usually proclaimed at the commencement of the Hajj, but with him in mind:

He dropped himself into prostration, attached his chest to the ground and started to cry.

He raised his fingers (to the sky) and began saying – ‘rather a mere slave of Allah and a humble bondsman’ – repeating it constantly.

After a while he raised his head (from prostration) and his tears were reaching down to his beard.

Musadif comments:

I deeply regretted having informed him of it (because of how he took it) so I said to him: May I be made your ransom! And what do you have to do with those!? …5

(c) Clarification

The Imams, many times, proceeded to immediately set the record straight so as not to leave any doubts in the minds of their followers.

Imam al-Sajjad explains the key to their honoured status:

Ali عليه السلام was – by Allah – a righteous slave of Allah, and the brother of the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم. He did not attain any honour from Allah except through his obedience to Allah and to his Messenger, and the Messenger of Allah did not attain any honour from Allah except by obedience to Allah6

Imam al-Sadiq eloquently describes their lowly status in relation to Allah:

For by Allah! We are not but the littlest slaves of the One who created us and chose us. We do not have the ability to cause harm or give benefit, if we are given mercy then it is by His mercy, and if we are punished then it is by our sins.

By Allah! We do not have against Allah an argument, and we do not have with us from Allah an exemption. We are to die, be interred into the graves, raised, resurrected, made to stand, and interrogated …

I testify to you (make you bear witness) that I am a man – the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله has begotten me. I do not have an exemption from Allah, if I obey Him He has mercy upon me, and if I disobey (rebel against) Him – He punishes me a severe punishment (or he said: the severest of His punishments)7

In another instance:

I am merely a slave the son of a slave, wholly subservient8, the son of a bondswoman. The loins and wombs enclosed me. I am to die, be resurrected, made to stand, then questioned by Allah …9

Imam al-Askari is absolutely unequivocal:

Muhammad صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم did not call the people except to Allah alone who has no partner. Similarly we who are the Awsiya from his descendants are mere slaves of Allah, we do not associate anything with Him.

If we obey Him He has mercy on us and if we disobey Him he punishes us.

We do not have any authority over Allah, rather Allah Mighty and Majestic has authority over us and over all His creatures10

Indeed, the Imams knew very well that they were going to be asked about this very issue by Allah i.e. it was going to have an impact on their hereafter, and they took all necessary steps to be in the clear on that day.

As Imam al-Sadiq clarifies:

By Allah I am going to be questioned about what this liar has spoken concerning me and imputed to me. O Woe be upon him! What is with him! May Allah terrorize him, for he is secure on his bed-wrap (sleeping peacefully) while he has frightened me and made me anxious such that I have abandoned my bed. Do you know why I say all this? I say this so that I may be secure in my grave11

They knew well the consequences of remaining silent in the face of such blasphemy.

Imam al-Sadiq says:

Their belittling has not reduced the greatness of Allah in any way whatsoever. Verily, something occurred in Uzayr’s heart with regard to what the Jews had said about him so Allah effaced (removed) his name from the Prophethood.

By Allah! If Isa had acquiesced to what the Christians had said about him Allah would have deafened him until the day of Judgement.

By Allah! If I were to agree to what the people of Kufa say about me the earth would take (i.e. swallow) me!

I am not but a bonded slave, I do not have power over anything – to avert evil or bring about good12

In another instance:

If Isa had remained silent after what the Christians had said about him then it would have been appropriate for Allah to deafen his hearing and blinden his sight.

If I remain silent after what Abu al-Khattab has said about me then it would be appropriate for Allah to deafen my hearing and blinden my sight13

(d) Disassociation

The Imams repeatedly declared their Bara’a (disassociation) from the Ghulat.

Imam al-Sadiq says:

Woe be upon the one who lies upon us. There is a group that says about us what we do not say about ourselves. We disassociate to Allah from them. We disassociate to Allah from them14

In another instance:

O Sadir, my hearing, my sight, my hair, my skin, my flesh, my blood is free from these. Allah is disassociated from them and (so is) His messenger. These are not upon my religion and the religion of my forefathers. By Allah – Allah will not unite me and them on the Day of Judgment except that He is angry on them15

In fact, the Imam swore never to be in the same room as the Ghulat and chased them away from their presence:

No – by Allah! A roof of a house will never shelter me and him at the same time ever! They are more evil than the Jews, the Christians, the Zoroastrians, and those who associate (i.e. the polytheists). By Allah! Their belittling has not reduced the greatness of Allah in any way whatsoever16

The same instruction was given to the followers of the Imams to avoid the Ghulat at all cost.

Imam al-Sadiq says to one of his companions:

Do not sit with them, do not eat with them, do not drink with them, do not shake their hands, and do not give them anything in inheritance17

Imam al-Askari wrote ‘of his own accord (i.e. without being prompted)’:

I disassociate to Allah from al-Fihri and al-Hasan b. Muhammad b. Baba al-Qummi so you too disassociate from them.

I caution you and all my followers (about them) and I curse them, the curse of Allah be one them18

(e) Cursing

Perhaps the most common theme in these reports is the Imams enduring La’n (cursing) of the Ghulat.

Imam al-Sadiq says:

May Allah curse the one who claims for us what we do not claim for our own selves!

May Allah curse the one who excludes us from servitude to Allah who created us and to Him is our return and destination and in His hands are our forelocks (in submission)19

The Imams did not only curse themselves but asked their followers to do the same.

Imam al-Rida says the following about one of the Ghulat:

O Yunus – I have only said this so that you may warn my companions about him and order them to curse him and disassociate from him for surely Allah is far disassociated from him20

In fact, they not only cursed them and their followers, but even those who do not curse them and are passive in the face of their claims.

Imam al-Jawad cursed the Ghali Abu al-Khattab, his successors and those who accept their message, saying:

O Ali – do not feel any discomfort in cursing them – may Allah curse them – for they have been cursed by Allah

Then he said:

The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله said: Whoever refrains from cursing the one who is cursed by Allah (considering it a sin) then upon him be the curse of Allah!21

(f) Supplication

The Imams had a particular supplication for the Ghulat which was for them to ‘taste the heat of the iron’. This was a euphemism for being put to death by the sword.

Imam al-Sadiq says at the end of listing down the names of several of the Ghulat:

May Allah suffice us against ever needing the help of any liar and may Allah make them taste the heat of the sword22

We are told that the Imam al-Kadhim supplicated about the Ghali Muhammad b. Bashir

May Allah make him taste the heat of the iron, may Allah kill him in the worst form of killing there is!23

Another report lays bare the end-result:

Abu al-Hasan عليه السلام used to supplicate to Allah about him, and used to ask Him to make him taste the heat of the iron (die by the sword), so Allah made him taste the heat of the Iron, after he was punished with diverse punishments (first)24

Imam al-Ridha provides a summary of the fate of the Ghulat before him:

Bayan used to lie about Ali b. al-Husayn عليه السلام so Allah made him to taste the heat of the iron.

al-Mughira b. Sa’id used to lie about Abi Ja’far عليه السلام so Allah made him to taste the heat of the iron.

Abu al-Khattab used to lie about Abi Abdillah عليه السلام so Allah made him to taste the heat of the iron.

Muhammad b. Bashir used to lie about Abi al-Hasan Musa عليه السلام so Allah made him to taste the heat of the iron.

The one who lies about me is Muhammad b. Furat

The narrator (Abu Yahya) comments at the end of the report:

Muhammad b. Furat was one of the clerks (scribes) and he was (later) killed by Ibrahim b. Shakala25

Indeed this was the fate of all those whom the Imams supplicated against, since their apocalyptic beliefs compelled them to rise up in rebellion against the temporal authorities of their day and they were swiftly done away with.

As Imam al-Ridha says:

By Allah there is none who lies about us except that Allah makes him taste the heat of the iron (i.e. death by the sword)!26

And even when the Imam was informed of the death of one of them he did not show any grief for that.

Abdallah b. Abi Ya’fur reports that al-Sadiq was informed of the killing of one of them so the Imam replied:

All praise is due to Allah – for there is nothing more appropriate for these Mughiriyya (i.e. followers of al-Mughira b. Sa’id) than being killed, this is because they will never repent – ever27

(g) Excommunication

The Imams did not hesitate to excommunicate the Ghulat because their beliefs meant that they were undoubtedly outside the bounds of Islam.

Imam al-Sadiq instructs his companion Murazim to ‘say to them’:

Woe be upon you, repent to Allah for you are indeed Kafirun (disbelievers) and Mushrikun (polytheists)28

In a variant report we are told that Imam al-Sadiq announced to the Ghulat:

Seek forgiveness from Allah for you are Fussaq (open sinners), Kuffar (disbelievers) and Mushrik (polytheists)29

In fact, the Imam considered them to be worse than other non-Muslims.

Imam al-Sadiq said:

Among those who have taken up this matter (i.e. believe in Tashayyu) – there are some who are worse (i.e. more evil) than the Jews, the Christians, the fire-worshippers and those who disbelieve30

(h) Legalizing their blood

Since the Ghulat were apostates from Islam and because of the great harm and damage they were causing to the religion of Islam, the ruling of the Imams for some of them was that they should be assassinated by anyone who had the ability to do this.

Imam al-Askari says about the Ghulat such as Ali b. Hasaka and al-Qasim al-Yaqtini:

I disassociate myself from the one who says such things and I disassociate to Allah from this belief.

So exile them, may Allah curse them, and restrict them to the narrowness of the road, and if you happen to find one of them alone then smash his head with a rock31

Ali b. Hadid asked Imam al-Kadhim:

May I be made your ransom, if I were to hear that (i.e. blasphemous statement) from him (i.e. the Ghali Muhammad b. Bashir) is he not Halal for me (to kill him) his blood being permitted (to be shed), the way the blood of the abuser of the messenger and the Imam is permitted?

The Imam replied:

Yes, his blood is – by Allah – Halal and I permit it for you and for whoever hears that from him

Ali asked:

Is such a one not an abuser of you?

The Imam replied:

Such a one is an abuser of Allah and an abuser of the Messenger of Allah and an abuser of my forefathers and an abuser of me, and which abuse does not fall short in comparison to this and (which abuse) is not out-stripped by this saying (of Muhammad b. Bashir)?!

Ali asked:

Consider if he were to come to me and I do not fear to signal for that to be done (i.e. him to be killed by one present) without being implicated but I do not do so and do not kill him – what will be on me of burden (i.e. sin)?

The Imam replied:

Upon you will be his burden multiplied many times without diminishing from his burden anything!

Don’t you know that the best of martyrs in degree on the Day of Judgment is the one who defends Allah and His messenger behind his back (i.e. in his absence) and rebuts (responds) on behalf of Allah and on behalf of His messenger!32

However, the Imams warned their companions to not get caught while doing this.

Consider the case of Abu al-Samhari and Ibn Abi al-Zarqa who were claiming to be ‘callers’ to the Imam while were in actuality ‘two accursed seducers’ deceiving the Shia.

Imam al-Jawad requested of Ishaq al-Anbari:

O Ishaq, give me rest from them two, Allah Mighty and Majestic will make you restful through your life in Janna.

Ishaq said:

May I be made your ransom, is killing them permissible for me?

The Imam replied:

They are two seducers seducing the people, and working towards placing a noose around my neck and the neck of my followers, so their blood is legal to be shed for all Muslims.

But beware of public assassination, for Islam has curbed (restricted) public assassination, and I fear that if you kill him openly you will be asked why you killed him and will not find a way to establish a proof (in your favour) and it will not be possible for you to furnish a convincing argument to repel that (the consequences of the act) from your person, so the blood of a believer from our followers will be shed because of the blood of a Kafir.

Upon you is killing by stealth.

The narrator comments:

So Ishaq did not cease seeking that, (looking) to find a way to kill them by stealth, but both of them were on their guard with him, may Allah curse them both33


  1. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 555
  2. Imam al-Sadiq refers to one of their leaders as ‘A devil and the son of a devil! He emerged out from the sea to lead my companions and followers astray’ (Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 746, see also No. 745).
  3. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 173
  4. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 403
  5. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 531
  6. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 173
  7. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 403
  8. The Arabic here is قن which is defined as العبيد الذي ملك هو وأبواه ‘A slave who is owned together with all his ancestors’, in other words, a slave born into slavery and with no exit clause. The Imam is characterizing his relation to Allah as that of خالص العبودة, that is, absolute indebtedness.
  9. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 746
  10. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 997
  11. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 746
  12. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 538
  13. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 531
  14. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 172
  15. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 551
  16. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 538
  17. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 525
  18. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 999
  19. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 400
  20. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 1047
  21. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 1012
  22. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 549
  23. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 908
  24. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 907
  25. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 544
  26. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 1048
  27. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 550
  28. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 743
  29. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 527
  30. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 528
  31. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 997
  32. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 908
  33. Rijal al-Kashshi: No. 1013