CARMATHIANS (Qarmathians, Karmathians), a Mahommedan sect named after Hamdan Qarmat, who accepted the teaching of the Isma'ilites (see Mahommedan Religion: Sects) from Hosain ul-Ahwazi, a missionary of Ahmed, son of the Persian Abdallah ibn Maimun, toward the close of the 9th century. This was in the Sawad of Irak, which was inhabited by a people little attached to Islam. The object of Abdallah ibn Maimun had been to undermine Islam and the Arabian power by a secret society with various degrees, which offered inducements to all classes and creeds and led men on from an interpretation of Islam to a total rejection of its teaching and a strict personal submission to the head of the society. For the political history of the Carmathians, their conquests and their decay, see Arabia: History; Caliphate (sect. C. §§ 16, 17, 18, 23); and Egypt: History (Mahommedan period).
In their religious teaching they claimed to be Shi'ites; i.e. they asserted that the imamate belonged by right to the descendants of Ali. Further, they were of the Isma'ilite branch of these, i.e. they acknowledged the claim to the imamate of Isma'il the eldest son of the sixth imam. The claim of Isma'il had been passed over by his father and many Shi'ites because he had been guilty of drinking wine. The Isma'ilites said that as the imam could do no wrong, his action only showed that wine-drinking was not sinful. Abdallah taught that from the creation of man there had always been an imam sometimes known, sometimes hidden. Isma'il was the last known; a new one was to be looked for. But while the imam was hidden, his doctrines were to be taught by his missionaries (da'is). Hamdan Qarmat was one of these, Ahmed ibn Abdallah being nominally the chief. The adherents of this party were initiated by degrees into the secrets of its doctrines and were divided into seven (afterwards nine) classes. In the first stage the convert was taught the existence of mystery in the Koran and made to feel the necessity of a teacher who could explain it. He took an oath of complete submission and paid a sum of money. In the second stage the earlier teachers of Islam were shown to be wrong in doctrine and the imams alone were proved to be infallible. In the third it was taught that there were only seven imams and that the other sects of the Shi'ites were in error. In the fourth the disciple learnt that each of the seven imams had a prophet, who was to be obeyed in all things. The prophet of the last imam was Abdallah. The doctrine of Islam was that Mahomet was the last of the prophets. In the fifth stage the uselessness of tradition and the temporary nature of the precepts and practices of Mahomet were taught, while in the sixth the believer was induced to give up these practices (prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.). At this point the Carmathian had completely ceased to be a Moslem. In the remaining degrees there was more liberty of opinion allowed and much variety of belief and teaching existed.
The last contemporary mention of the Carmathians is that of Nasir ibn Khosrau, who visited them in a.d. 1050. In Arabia they ceased to exercise influence. In Persia and Syria their work was taken up by the Assassins (q.v.). Their doctrines are said, however, to exist still in parts of Syria, Persia, Arabia and India, and to be still propagated in Zanzibar.
See Journal asiatique (1877), vol. i. pp. 377-386.
(G. W. T.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)