1The so-called first letter of ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ has long been considered as an authentic message of the founder of the Ibâḍiyya to the Umayyad caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwân in response to a letter of the caliph. It begins with the words : « From ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ to ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwân », and in the course of the text the recipient is repeatedly addressed either as ‘Abd al-Malik or ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwân. The writer informs the recipient that he had received his letter, conveyed by an otherwise unknown messenger Sinân b. ‘Âṣim and that he is now sending his reply at his correspondent’s request. The identity of both the sender and the recipient was first questioned by John Wilkinson and, following him, Michael Cook, who in his Early Muslim Dogma argued that some passages and the general tone of the letter ruled out that it could have been addressed to a ruling caliph (Cook, 1981 : 57-65). The real recipient, Cook tentatively suggested, might well have been the Umayyad official ‘Abd al-Malik b. al-Muhallab b. Abî Ṣufra. Cook also rejected the identity of the writer of the letter with ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, whose role as the founder of the Ibâḍiyya sect asserted by the heresiographers had become more and more dubious in modern research. He suggested that the author might well have been the prominent traditionist and legal scholar Jâbir b. Zayd al-Azdî (d. 93/712), who was generally claimed by the later Ibâḍiyya as their spiritual leader during the second half of the 1st/7th century. Jâbir is, moreover, known to have written letters to ‘Abd al-Malik b. al-Muhallab.
2Against Cook’s hypothesis, John Wilkinson in his recent book on Ibâḍism has proposed to identify the recipient of the letter as ‘Abd al-Malik, the son of the caliph ‘Umar II (Wilkinson, 2010 : 202-205). From Ibâḍî sources it is known that this son of the later caliph ‘Umar established a good relationship with Ibâḍî leaders, who seem to have put high hopes on his presumptive succession to the caliphate. ‘Abd al-Malik died, however, during his father’s caliphate. As Cook had already observed, there is a passage in the letter that seems to suggest that the recipient was an Umayyad (Cook, 1981 : 61). Wilkinson argues against the possibility that Jâbir b. Zayd could have been the author of the letter, noting the openly militant spirit of the letter which seems in sharp contrast with Jâbir’s cautious inclination to counsel secrecy to avoid antagonizing the government. Like Cook, however, he dismisses the ascription of the letter to ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, a largely legendary figure, as fictitious. The writer, Wilkinson suggests, must have been some early militant leader of the Ibâḍiyya, such as Bisṭâm b. ‘Umar al- Ḍabbî, Sâlim b. Dhakwân or perhaps Ḍumâm b. al-Sâ’ib.
3On a close reading of the text, Wilkinson’s hypothesis distinctly fits the contents of the letter best. The addressee must have been an Umayyad hoping to enlist the allegiance of the writer, but definitely not a reigning caliph. Wilkinson suggests that the patronymic Ibn Marwân was added to the addressee’s name by the redactor of the letter, who assumed that it was addressed to the caliph ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwân, in good faith (Wilkinson, 2010 : 203). This is not necessarily the case. Ibn Marwân can well be understood as a nisba ila l-jadd, referring to the recipient’s great-grandfather Marwân b. al- Ḥakam as the founder of the ruling House. The writer may thus have expressly acknowledged ‘Abd al-Malik’s high status as a member of the ruling dynasty, especially if his father ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azîz, as assumed by Wilkinson, was not yet the ruling caliph.
4The letter reflects the deep ideological conflict between the Ibâḍî writer and the Marwânid prince which they were unable to overcome despite their evident desire to reach agreement and their appeal to shared Islamic values. Their disagreement was primarily about the status of the caliph ‘Uthmân in Islam. In an earlier letter the writer had angrily denounced the wrong-doings of ‘Uthmân, and the Umayyad prince ‘Abd al-Malik evidently had sought to calm his ire against him by observing that God certainly knows the truth about all the accusations against him best and by stressing ‘Uthmân’s outstanding early merit in Islam. The Ibâḍî author replies conceding ‘Uthmân’s early conversion and meritorious acts, but affirms that God does not grant Muslims immunity from seduction and apostasy from Islam. He then enumerates at great length ‘Uthmân’s transgressions and violations of the commandments of the Qur’an which provoked the uprising of all faithful Muslims against him. Concerning the caliph Muʿâwiya, the prince ‘Abd al-Malik had noted that God had granted him support and full success when he sought revenge for the wrongfully spilt blood of ‘Uthmân. The Ibâḍî writer counters that temporary success and victory on earth are no indication of right and the ultimate favour of God. God may at times grant victory to the infidels, as He did at Uḥud in the age of the Prophet, in order to test the faith of the Muslims. The opponents of the Umayyads also won victories on many occasions, as they did when they killed ‘Uthmân. The writer warns ‘Abd al-Malik not to ask anyone else questions about Mu‘âwiya and his actions, « for we have experienced him (adraknâhu) and seen his action and conduct among the people, and we know no one more disrespectful of the division (of property) God has made and the laws God has laid down, nor more inclined to the shedding of forbidden blood than him » (Kâshif, 1986 : 2/340, reading ghayranâ for ghayr annâ). Mu‘âwiya then appointed his son Yazîd as his successor, a profligate accursed among the people, addicted to drinking intoxicating wine and pursuing his passions without any guidance from God. The writer appeals to ‘Abd al-Malik not to deceive himself by defending the record of Mu‘âwiya and Yazîd. He evidently had some hope of persuading the Marwânid prince in this matter, hinting: « It has reached me that some of your family (ahl al-bayt) criticize Mu‘âwiya and Yazîd and their actions » (Kâshif, 1986 : 2/340).
5In his letter, ‘Abd al-Malik had cautioned his Ibâḍî correspondent against extremism in religion (al-ghuluw fî l-dîn, Kâshif, 1986 : 2/341). The Ibâḍî counters that according to Qur’an 3:171 extremism in religion consists in stating about God anything but the truth. The Marwânid prince was guilty of that in following and obeying the caliph ‘Uthmân and the unjust imams after him and in collaborating with them in their rebellion against God. ‘Abd al-Malik then sought to incite (Kâshif, 1986 : 2/341, reading tuḥarriḍu for tu‘arriḍu) to action against the Khârijites, asserting that they were extremists in their religion. They departed from the people of Islam and did not follow the path of the faithful. The Ibâḍî writer promises to clarify their path and affirms that they were at first the supporters of ‘Uthmân, but then they rebuked and deserted him for his innovations in violation of the sunna. They were the companions of ‘Alî b. Abî Ṭâlib until he surrendered the judgement (ḥakkama) to ‘Amr b. al-‘Âṣ and abandoned the judgement of God. They were the ones who in their religion and sunna obeyed the Messenger of God, Abû Bakr and ‘Umar and summoned to their path. The writer proclaims his unconditional solidarity with the Khârijites, except for Ibn al-Azraq and his followers. These had seemed good Muslims when they first rose up in revolt, but then they had turned away from Islam and become infidels.
6The Marwânid prince, it is evident, was in no position to concede that the caliph ‘Uthmân might have rightfully been overthrown and killed by the rebels against his reign. The claim of legitimacy of the Marwânid caliphate depended entirely on the rightful caliphate of the wronged caliph ‘Uthmân, Marwân b. al- Ḥakam’s first cousin, and on Marwân’s just revenge upon ‘Uthmân’s enemies, even more so than Mu‘âwiya’s claim had depended on it. Mu‘âwiya b. Abî Sufyân had been a more remote kinsman of ‘Uthmân and had been appointed governor of Syria by ‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭâb. Marwân had been highly critical of Mu‘âwiya’s conduct, including his alliance with ‘Amr b. al-‘Âṣ who had been the first of the Companions of the Prophet to undermine ‘Uthmân’s caliphate after the latter had dismissed him from the governorship of Egypt. Marwân’s great-grandson ‘Abd al-Malik might thus perhaps distance himself from Muʿâwiya and Yazîd, but he knew that he would inevitably be disowned by his own family if he expressed doubts that ‘Uthmân’s violent death had been wrongful.
7The Khârijî author of the letter in turn could not concede that ‘Uthmân might have been wrongfully killed without betraying the cause of his Muḥakkima brethren. It was the constant persecution of the « murderers of ‘Uthmân » pursued by the Umayyad authorities, monstrous governors such as ‘Ubayd Allâh b. Ziyâd and al- Ḥajjâj, that drove them ever again into open suicidal revolt against the tyrants (jabâbira). In the view of the author of the letter even the reckless revolt of the radical followers of Nâfi‘ b. al-Azraq was initially justified, although he evidently condemned their excesses against civilian Muslims. Perhaps a solemn proclamation of universal amnesty by the government might have been attractive to the author. But all the Marwânid prince had to offer was a warning against extremism in religion and incitement to combat the alleged extremism of the Muḥakkima for the benefit of the regime. The writer indignantly rejected the offer, without, however, breaking off the correspondence. The negotiations between the caliph ‘Umar II and the delegation of Ibâḍî leaders that met him also ended in failure, no doubt on similar grounds, although Ibâḍî tradition preserved a favourable image of this caliph.
- 1 Jâbir b. Zayd died according to most early sources in 93/712, although al-Wâqidî gives his death da (...)
8Wilkinson is evidently right in maintaining that the letter, in view of its militant Khârijite tone, cannot have been written by Jâbir b. Zayd. Jâbir became the early religious adviser and guide of the moderate Muḥakkima later known as Ibâḍiyya already in the time of the leadership of Abû Bilâl Mirdâs (d. 61/680) among the Basran Khârijites. According to a letter of Abû ‘Ubayda Muslim b. Abî Karîma, he used to visit Abû Bilâl frequently and spent much time with him. Jâbir, however, never personally identified with the Muḥakkima and hardly would have defended the killing of the caliph ‘Uthmân or ‘Alî. He taught them to practice non-violent resistance to oppressive government by strictly obeying the rules of the divine law rather than the unjust governors. Moreover, Jâbir was most likely already dead at the time the letter was written if it was addressed to ‘Abd al-Malik, the son of ‘Umar II. In that case the letter is to be dated in the later nineties of the first century/ca. 715-171.
- 2 It may be noted here that according to the second edition of al-Ash‘arî’s Maqâlât al-islâmiyyîn by (...)
- 3 In both articles, M. Cook’s suggestion that the first letter might have been written by Jâbir b. Za (...)
9The attribution of the letter to ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, rejected as fictitious by both Cook and Wilkinson, must be reconsidered in the light of recent research on the historicity of the alleged founder of the Ibâḍiyya. In an earlier article it has been proposed that ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, a Basran of the Banû Tamîm, was punished and imprisoned by the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Manṣûr in 142/759 and died soon thereafter in prison as reported by Abû ‘Ubayd Allâh al-Marzubânî (d. 384/994) (Madelung, 2006). This ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ chronologically could not be identical with the ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ who, according to the account of Abû Mikhnaf, in 63/683 belonged to the group of Khârijî activists which under the leadership of Nâfi‘ b. al-Azraq went to Mekka to defend ‘Abd Allâh b. al-Zubayr against the Umayyad army and who not much later acted as the spokesman of the moderate Muḥakkima in Basra opposing the radical theses of Ibn al-Azraq. The Ibn Ibâḍ imprisoned in 142/759 can hardly have been born long before the year 70/689. He may have clashed with the Khârijî leader Abû Bayhas, as reported by al-Madâ’inî, not at the time of the split between the moderates and Ibn al-Azraq, but later before the execution of Abû Bayhas in 94/713. He was involved in the Ibâḍî uprising against the last Umayyad caliph Marwân b. Muḥammad as reported by al-Shahrastânî and al-Qazwînî2. In another article, it was argued that the so-called second letter ascribed to ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, which is addressed to an anonymous Shî‘î, may well be an authentic polemic of Ibn Ibâḍ sent to the poet al-Sayyid al- Ḥimyarî with whom Ibn Ibâḍ was engaged in an ideological quarrel according to al-Marzubânî (Madelung, 2011)3. The militant spirit and highly polemical style is the same in the two letters attributed to ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ.
- 4 The Maghribî version of the letter in al-Jawâhir al-Muntaqât of al-Barrâdî (8th/14th century) has t (...)
10If ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ wrote his letter to the son of ‘Umar II not long before ‘Umar’s succession to the caliphate in 99/717, he must still have been a young man, yet the leader of a significant force of Tamîmî Muḥakkima tribesmen. ‘Abd al-Malik may have initiated their correspondence aware of Ibn Ibâḍ’s condemnation of Abû Bayhas for his permission of harsh treatment of civilian Muslims in the Khârijî uprisings. Both Cook and Wilkinson suggest on the basis of the passage of the letter quoted above that the writer must have been alive during the reign of Mu‘âwiya and Yazîd to have experienced the iniquity of their conduct (Cook, 1981 : 60-61 ; Wilkinson, 2010 : 204). It is to be noted, however, that the writer expresses himself as the spokesman of his group of Muḥakkima speaking in the first person plural throughout the letter. He states repeatedly that « we departed from (fâraqnâ) ‘Uthmân » and « we witnessed (adraknâ) our Prophet » (Kâshif, 1986 : 329-30 and 343). His claim that « we have experienced him (Mu‘âwiya) and seen his action and conduct » thus need not be understood as implying that the writer personally was alive and present at the time4.
- 5 Al-Malaṭî’s description of the followers of Ibâḍ, that they revolted in the Sawâd of Kûfa, killed e (...)
11There remains the question of the identity of the ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ who, according to the historical sources, acted as the leader and spokesman of the quietist Basran Muḥakkima at the time of the split with Ibn al-Azraq. While he cannot be identical with the writer of the two letters, it is difficult to assume that the reports about his role are entirely fictitious. A conflation of two persons into a single ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ must have occurred in the historical tradition. A single heresiographical source, al-Malaṭî, succinctly states that the Ibâḍiyya were the followers of Ibâḍ b. ‘Amr5. It may be tentatively suggested that this Ibâḍ b. ‘Amr, presumably the father of ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, was the leader of the moderate Muḥakkima in Basra, mostly of the tribe of Tamîm, who replied to Ibn al-Azraq in 64/684. He presumably belonged to the original Khawârij who seceded under the leadership of ‘Abd Allâh b. Wahb al-Râsibî and became a follower of the Tamîmî Abû Bilâl Mirdâs in Basra. When he died in the seventies or eighties of the first century/690-708, his young son ‘Abd Allâh succeeded him in the leadership of the original Ibâḍiyya, the followers of Ibâḍ b. ‘Amr. The name Ibâḍiyya was later, after the caliph al-Manṣûr imprisoned ‘Abd Allâh b. Ibâḍ, applied by the ‘Abbâsid government to all those suspected to share his heretical political ideology which had first been developed by Abû Bilâl and Jâbir b. Zayd. Eventually it was adopted also by the sectarians themselves.