The Movement of Ghuluw – Ayatollah Madadī

Source: Nigāhī beh daryā by Ayatollah Madadī, p. 126 to 131

At this stage of the school of Kufa the appearance and outburst of the movement of ghuluw [1] was extremely influential, as this was a school which to an extent had been crystallized and possessed a relatively large amount of cultural heritage. As per the historical accounts, ghuluw in respect to the position of the Imāms went back to the beginning of Islam[2], but the emergence of it in the form of an ideological movement within a specific framework occurred during the time of Imām Sādiq. The apparent reason for this sudden emergence was the unique political and social situation at the time. Till the time of Imām Bāqir the Shi’ī school was built upon it’s own exclusive beliefs and doctrinal creed, however at the time of Imām Sādiq or to be more precise after the martyrdom of Zayd the foundations of the Umayyad empire began to tremble.

The situation of the time was ripe for a revolution and naturally people began to ask themselves who the leader would be going forward. It’s known that the Shi’ī began to pave the way so that the Imām himself could take over the reins of governance. A faction amongst them in this regards were extreme and by relying on fringe elements amongst the downtrodden Shi’ī community they actively sought to manage this movement. The ideology that drove their political and social movement was to negate any legitimacy in the governance of the ruling parties and to prove the absolute authority (wilaya mutlaqa kulliya) of the Imāms. However, it’s quite clear that the negation of legitimacy was not limited to the present rulers but extended back to every political ruler after the Prophet with the exception of Imām Alī and Imām Hassan. This defiance and rage to the government in contrast to the absolute submission to the Imāms on the other led to them being accused of ghuluw.

In a number of historical sources, the reason for the naming of the Shi’ī as rāfidhī was down to the Zaydīs. A group of Shi’ī were not interested in giving the oath of allegiance to Zayd when they found out he looked positively at the first and second Caliphs, they left Zayd and in response they were labelled as rāfidhī. However, the correctness of this view is open for discussion [3]. In contrast to this movement a moderate movement also existed who were far less active when it came to rejecting the legitimacy of the ruling parties. This group became the founders of the strongest sources of Shi’ī ideology.

As for what exactly is the reality behind ghuluw requires an extremely lengthy discussion. In our older sources the characteristic of being a “ghāli” was a form of weakening a person’s reliability in narrating traditions, and in our later sources, not only is this term not used anymore for weakening a persons reliability, but the very ideas and thoughts that were previously declared as ghuluw have now been accepted as part and parcel of the Shi’ī doctrine![4] To analyse the ideology and underpinnings of the ghuluw movement requires its own lengthy and independent thesis, and even after all of this research there remain many areas of ambiguity due to its complexity. Our aim is to briefly understand the role of this movement in the formation of the ideology and heritage of the Shi’ī school.

It is essential that we split the movement of ghuluw into two groups, deviated (munharif) and faithful (mu’taqid). The deviated group can then be subdivided into idealogical deviation (inhirāf aqīda’ī) and practical deviation (inhirāf amalī). The first group of deviation were responsible for creating the false and absurd doctrines of the Imāms divinity. The most notorious person in the concoction of these ideas was Abul Khattāb Asadī whose thinking should be understood to have represented the worst of all types of deviations. He was the leader of an armed movement against the government of the time and with approximately 70 people behind him and with the slogan of “labbayk yā Ja’far[5] he started an uprising from the mosque of Kufa. Near the doors of the mosque they clashed with soldiers from the government and they were all killed except for one person called Abῡ Khadīja who managed to escape alive. He was injured and hid himself amongst the dead and then fled in the dark of the night[6]. This ideological deviation was severely condemned by Imām Sādiq and its leader was also cursed and excommunicated by him.

As for the ideological deviation, this was more in respect to the perpetration of sins. They attempted to esoterically interpret the realities of prayer, fasting, hajj, zakāt and all the other forms of worship and in the end concluded that the reality for all of these actions was the wilāyah of the Imām[7]. This group with the slogan “recognise your Imām then do what you want” would abandon all the obligatory acts of religion and would instead commit sins such as drinking alcohol, fornication and stealing. They believed that if a person had hatred towards the enemies of the Ahlulbayt in their heart this would suffice and that a believing person can commit whatever sin he wishes, God forbid, even incest![8] Under the false pretence of loving the Ahlulbayt and hating their enemies this group would abandon the obligatory acts and perform every single of the forbidden ones, and this lead to the Shi’ī being generalised and described in this manner (of debauchees and hedonists).

Historical accounts testify that this group had no belief in the reality of Islām and neither did they have a clue as to its lofty teachings, and they likely took the description of Shi’ī for themselves as a means to act obscenely and immorally. The beliefs of this group on the one hand and the pure preaching of the Imāms towards the obligatory acts, virtue and ethics on the other makes for a rather surreal sight. It should be added that this deviated thinking still exists in the two Ismā’īlī factions, the Aga Khāns and the Drῡze, which both were Ismā’īlī in actuality and have no resemblance to any religion or religious school, and this thinking also pretty much exists amongst the splinter sect of Twelver Shi’īsm such as the Nusayrīs (who live in Syria). Perhaps from this the relation between contemporary movements and those in the past has become a little more apparent.

Parallel to these two deviated movements you also had a correct movement considered to be amongst the ghuluw. This movement had some similarity with the ideological deviation movement and was more in the areas of doctrinal belief, the use esotericism in understanding wilāyah and their socio-political activities. However, the individuals within this movement had full belief in the fundamentals of faith and fully complied with the rulings of the sacred shari’a. They were righteous and passionate Shi’ī who strived to bring the wilayāh of the Imāms to every aspect of life, both individual and social. The most notable of them were Jābir ibn Yazīd, Mufadhal ibn Umar, Mu’alla ibn Khunays, all of whom were from the Yemeni tribe of Ju’f. Also Mohammad ibn Sinān and Sahl ibn Ziyād should be considered to be part of this movement too. Perhaps the reason why there were accused of ghuluw was down to some rumours spread about them during that time. It should be mentioned that during that time simply preferring Imām Alī over others would have been sufficient to have been labelled with ghuluw, and this is how we find ghuluw described in the works of Sunnis.

Nevertheless, individuals like these should be separate from the first movement as they were multidimensional individuals whose motives and agendas cannot be easily understood, and perhaps for this reason differences of opinions about them arose. To add, these individuals also strove to separate themselves from the first movement. Mufadhal ibn Umar, the biggest personality within this group, wrote a letter to Imām Sādiq mentioning the ideological deviation as well as the corrupt practices by groups of Shi’ī. In this letter he says: “They commit muharamāt and abandon the wājibāt” and from there he mentions a number of their strange esoteric interpretations and corrupt practices. On that same page the Imām responds severely against these groups. The Imāms would heavily stress on observing the sacred sharī’a, and even though the complete letter of Mufadhal isn’t with us today, from the response of the Imām the situation of these groups can become clear. This letter can be found at the end of Basā’ir al-Darajāt[9] and even in Ilal al-Sharāi’[10]. The narrators of this tradition, for example, Mohammad ibn Sinān were also from this movement of ghuluw, and they attempted to spread this letter in defence of themselves.

Another letter from Mufadhal ibn Umar is available where he describes the condition of the Shi’ī community. In this letter, Mufadhal emphasises on observing the sharī’a and upholding piety in every aspect of life. The complete letter can be found at the end of Tuhaf al-Uqῡl[11] and a portion of it which is linked to Imām Sādiq has been narrated in al-Kāfī[12]. The tradition in Tuhaf al-Uqῡl contains no chain of narrators unlike that of Kulaynī where he has also mentioned its chain. To appreciate the extent of accusations levelled against this movement it suffices to say that Mufadhal ibn Umar himself was accused of not praying! Kashī narrates from those who travelled with Mufadhal that when he travelled to Karbala for pilgrimage he didn’t pray his morning prayer[13].

It can be understood that within the context of the various social and political movements that occurred in the first few centuries accusations of ghuluw were thrown around with political motivations of defaming one another. One group would accuse the other of having ghuluw. Shaykh Sadῡq narrates from his own teacher ibn Walīd: “The belief that the Prophet did not have forgetfulness (sahw) is from the first stages of ghuluw”[14]. Elsewhere in his book he refers to those who perform the third testimony in their ādhān as mufawwidha and he invokes God’s curse on them also[15].

In the school of Baghdad, ibn Ghadā’irī should be recognised as the most vociferous opponent to the movement of ghuluw. In the works we have under his name, the most common method he used to accuse narrators was through claims of ghuluw. Unfortunately we have very little with us from this great scholar, however from the little that we have, we can understand that Ibn Ghadā’irī was very familiar with narrators of traditions and even so with literature, and at some times had parts of important works at his disposal. Until his time there was no complete book compiled in the field of bibliography. He studied alongside Najāshī[16] and in respect to his strength in familiarity of the narrators he can be preferred over the likes of Shaykh Tῡsi and Najāshī. His most fundamental contribution was his take on those accused of ghuluw and attacking them. He passed away while still quite young and parts of his works and writings were destroyed[17]. It appears like ibn Ghadā’irī was a victim of character assassination and his sudden death was most likely the result of that.

To summarise what’s been said, the accusation of ghuluw isn’t enough to reject a tradition or to reject a belief as we don’t have the understanding of the two great biographers Najāshi and ibn Ghadā’irī to hand [to explain why they accused them of having ghuluw]. Therefore it comes to mind that the thinkers behind the correct movement of ghuluw which we have just discussed, putting aside a few beliefs, were carrying the correct ideology of the Ahlulbayt and their movement should not be confused with the two other movements of ghuluw.


1 – Ghuluw in Arabic refers to the transgression of boundaries, to exceed the limits or to exaggerate in  (refer to al-Ghuluw by Sayyid Kamāl Hayderī, p. 11).

2 – Rijāl al-Kashi by Mohammad al-Kashi, p. 307

3 – Al-bidāya wa al-nihāya by Ibn Kathīr, v. 9, p. 330

4 – Tanqīh al-Maqāl fi ilm al-Rijāl by Abdallah Māmaqānī, v. 2, p. 305

5 – Al-Kāfī by Kulaynī, v. 8, p. 225 and Rijāl al-Kashi by Mohammad al-Kashi, p. 297

6 – Rijāl al-Kashi by Mohammad al-Kashi, p. 352-353

7 – Ma’ānī al-Akhbār by Shaykh Sadῡq p. 388, Mustadrak al-Wasā’il by Muhaddith Nῡrī, v. 1, p. 17, Illal al-Sharāi’ by Shaykh Sadῡq, v. 1, p. 250

8 – This idea has parallels with the antinomianism tradition within Christianity.

9 – Basā’ir al-Darajāt by Saffār, p. 526

10 – Illal al-Sharāi’ by Shaykh Sadῡq, v. 1, p. 250

11 – Tuhaf al-Uqῡl by al-Harrānī p. 514

12 – Al-Kāfī by Shaykh Kulaynī, v. 2, p. 344

13 – Rijāl al-Kashi by Mohammad al-Kashi, p. 325

14 – Man lā yahdhuruhu al-Faqīh by Shaykh Sadῡq, v. 1, p. 360

15 – ibid, v. 1, p. 290

16 – Fihrist al-Najāshī by Ahmad ibn Alī Najāshī, p. 83 and p. 219

17 – Fihrist al-Tῡsī by Shaykh Tῡsi, p. 2

2 thoughts on “The Movement of Ghuluw – Ayatollah Madadī”

  1. Salam Alaikum, Jizaakum Allah Khair for this insight. Reading through the Into to Hadith by Sheikh Ab Al-Hadi al-Fadhli the section of the Fabricated Hadith had eventually lead me to this article and Abdallah b. Saba – Man or Myth? in my research. One brief note in paragraph six beginning with “As for the ideological deviation…” was the intent there actually “As for the practical deviation…

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