Nosairis - Encyclopedia

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NOSAIRIS (also known as Ansayrii, sometimes Ansariyeh), the people who inhabit the mountainous country of N. Syria, which is bounded on the S. by the north end of the Lebanon at the Nahr el-Kebir (Eleutherus), on the N. by Mt Casius, Antioch and the Nahr el-`Asi (Orontes). Various settlements of them are found also in Antioch itself and in Tarsus, Adana, and a few other places, while in harvest time they come down as far as the Biqa (Buka`a). From the time of Strabo until about two centuries ago, the country was famed for its wine, but now more for its tobacco (especially at Latakia). The total number of Nosairis inhabiting this country is variously estimated at from 120,000 to 150,000.

The origin of the name Nosairi is uncertain. Among the more possible explanations is that the name is derived from that of Mahommed ibn Nusair, who was an Isma`ilite follower of the eleventh imam of the Shiites at the end of the 9th century. This view has been accepted by Nosairi writers, but they transfer Ibn Nusair to the 7th century and make him the son of the vizier of Moawiya I., while another tradition (cf. Abulfeda, Geog. vol. ii. p. 11, No. 7) identifies him with Nusair, a freedman of the caliph `Ali. It is, however, noteworthy that Pliny (Hist. nat. v. 81) gives the name Nazerini to the inhabitants of this district. In this part of Syria paganism remained even up to the middle ages (cf. Archives de l'Orient latin, vol. ii. 2, p. 375), and there is a complete absence of churches of the 5th to the 7th centuries in these mountains. In the 7th century the Arabs invaded Syria, but do not seem to have got into these mountains. At the end of the 10th century, however, the Isma`- ilite propaganda won some success among the people. Their strongholds were taken by Raymond in 1099, and later Tancred secured the very summits. In1132-1140the Assassins (q.v.) gained possession of their chief towns, but Saladin recovered them in 1188. In 1317 the sultan Bibars endeavoured to convert them to orthodox Islam, and built many mosques, but Ibn Batuta (i. 177) says they did not use them. A fatwa of Ibn Taimiyya (d. 1327) of this time shows that the Nosairis were regarded with fear and hatred by the orthodox. For the next 500 years they were given over to their own internal disputes, until they came under the power of Ibrahim Pasha in 1832. At the present time they are under the direct administration of the Turks.

The religion of the Nosairis seems to have been almost the same in the first years of the 5th century A.H. (11th century A.D.) as it is to-day, judging by the references in the sacred books of the Druses. As set forth in their own sacred book, the Majmu`, it seems to be a syncretism of Isma`ilite doctrines and the ancient heathenism of Harran. The ages of the world are seven in number, each of these having its own manifestation of deity. But the manifestation of the 7th age is not a Mandi who is yet to come, but the historical person `Ali ibn abu Talib. This is stated in the crudest form in Sura 1 i of the Majmu`: " I testify that there is no god but `Ali ibn abu Talib." `Ali is also called the Ma`na (" Idea"; cf. the Logos of the New Testament), hence the Nosairis are also called the Ma`nawiyya. `Ali created Mahomet, who is known as the Ism (" Name"), and a trinity is formed by the addition of Salman ul-Farisi, who is the Bab (" Door"), through whom the propaganda is made, and through whom one comes to God. A mysterious symbol much used in their ceremonies of initiation consists of the three letters these being the initials of `Ali, Mahomet and Salman. Of these three, however, `Ali is the supreme. In Sura 6 of the Majmu` the Nosairi says: "I make for the Door, I prostrate myself before the Name, I worship the Idea." Each of the seven manifestations of God in the ages of the world has been opposed by an adversary.

The Nosairis are divided into four sects. (1) The Haidaris (from the name haidari, "lion," given to `Ali on account of his valour) are the most advanced. (2) The Shamalis or Shamsis preserve many traces of the old nature-worship. `Ali (i.e. the supreme god) is the heaven, Mahomet is the sun, Salman the moon. (3) On the other hand the Kalazis, so named from a sheik Mahommed ibn Kalazi (cf. E. Salisbury in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, viii. 237), or Qamaris, hold that the supreme god (`Ali) is the moon, not the sun. Their poetry addressed to the moon is translated by C. Huart in the Journal asiatique, ser. vii. vol. xiv. pp. 190 ff. (4) The Ghaibis are worshippers of the air, for God is invisible. In this they come nearer to the ordinary Isma`ilite doctrine. Religion is restricted among the Nosairis to the initiated, who must be adults over fifteen years of age and of Nosairi parentage. The initiator, who must not be a relative, becomes a spiritual father, and the relation cannot be broken except by his consent. The initiation consists of three stages. In the first the novice is received and told to meditate on the three mystic letters; in the second, after a period of forty days, he is taught the titles of the 16 suras of the Majmu`; in the third, after seven or nine months (intended to correspond with the ordinary period of gestation), he is taught Suras 5, 6 and 9, learns the meaning of the three mystic letters and goes through a further period of instruction from his initiator. The initiated are divided into two classes, the sheiks, who are recruited from the families of sheiks only, and the ordinary members.

The Nosairis are believers in metempsychosis. The pious Nosairi takes his rank among the stars, but the body of the impious undergoes many transformations.

B IBLIOGRAPHY. - Rene Dussaud, Histoire de la religion des Nosairis (Paris, 1900); St Guyard, "Le Fatwa d'Ibn Taimiyyah sur les Nosairis," in Journal asiatique (ser. vi. vol. xviii. pp. 158 ff). List of forty Nosairi MSS. by J. Catafago in Journal asiatique (ser. vii. vol. viii. pp. 523 ff). C. Huart, "La Poesie religieuse des Nosairis," Journal asiatique (ser. vii. vol. xiv. pp. 190 ff). The Kitab ul Bakuta, containing the Majmu`, was published at Beirut, 1863, and translated for the most part by E. Salisbury in the Journal of the Amer. Or. Soc. (viii. 227-308). (G. W. T.)

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