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Islamic heresiological and associated works




        Islamic heresiological and associated works


Stephen Lambden UC Merced.

1980s + Under revision 2017


Well‑known prophetic traditions have it that there would exist 73 (72+1) Islamic and other  factions or sects. Out of this "fertile suggestion" grew the "flourishing literature of Islamic heresiography dedicated to describing and cataloguing these prophetically forseen dissidents" (Peters, 1968:244).  Several of the major Islamic heresiological works expound this tradition and list scores of aberrant sects in order to attain the requisite number. Some of these factions hardly existed historically such as the Ḥulūliyya (proponents of ḥulūl ) ghulāt sect   and are simply named after a doctrinal aberration

            Early Shī`īte texts of Firāq (Factionalism) formed the basis of the later heresological tradition. The first three Shī`ī heresiographers were, Hisham b. Al‑Ḥakam (d.199/814), Yunūs b. `Abd al‑Raḥmān (d.202/823) and Abū`¡sā al‑Warrāq (d.247/861). Later Shī`īte works expanded and consolidated this tradition. Thu s al‑Ḥasan b. Mūsā al‑Nawbakhtī [al‑Qummī](d.c. 300/912)  wrote his  Firāq al‑Shī`ah  (Divisions of the Shī`ites) and  Sa`d b. `Abd‑Allāh al‑Qummī (d. 301/913).

            The Khurasānī Ismā’īlī Dā`ī Abū Tammām (fl. 4th/10th c.)  wrote his Kitāb al‑Shajara (Book of the Tree) which identified more than eighty sects in treating  the expected  seventy and two "erring sects" whose future appearence Muhammad predicted.  Another Ismā’īlī Dā`ī named Ḥamīd al‑Dīn Kirmānī (         )  incorporated at the beginning of the 5th/11th century a detailed Islamic heresiography in his Tanbih al‑hādī wa’l‑mustahdī.  One of the distinguishing features of heresy in this latter work is that undue importance is given to the ¥āhir  ( external) sense of sacred writ without due recognition of its corresponding bāṭin (interior) dimension  (Walker, 1996:163).

Abū al‑Ḥasan al‑Ashari’s (d. 324/925‑6),

The early Sunnī  heresiographical tradition is expressive of Mu`tazilite and Ash'arite perspectives. Important is Abū al‑Ḥasan al‑Ashari’s (d. 324/925‑6), Maqalāt  al‑Islāmiyyīn (XXXXXXX), and the          of al‑Malaṭi (d.    /987). The Asharite theologian and mathematician  `Abd al‑Qadīr al‑Baghdādī (d.429/1038) wrote a heresiography entitled K. al‑farq bayn al‑firāq (The Difference among Differences).6 The various sects or factions are here differentiated on a doctrinal basis. 

Generally known as the Milal wa niḥal   later Sunnī heresiological works are often closely related to kalam, fiqh... and other modes of Islamic scholarship. They contain detailed critical surveys  of mainstream and heterodox‑heretical Abrahamic and other religious‑and philosophicl traditions. Within the Islamic heresiographical traditions Biblical texts and references are occasionally cited. Details regarding pre‑Islamic religious doctrines are likewise often given.

Drawn on by both al‑Shahrastānī and  al‑Bīrūnī  (‑‑>) Abū ¡sā  al‑Warrāq, in his  Kitāb al‑Maqālāt  (Book of the     ) al‑Isfarā’ini (d.    /1078)  Tabsīr fī’l‑Dīn (Clarification in Religion)

Abu Tammam

  • Abu Tammam and His Kitab al-Shajara: A New Ismaili Treatise from Tenth-Century Khurasan, Paul E. Walker Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 114, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1994), pp. 343-352.

Abū Fat al‑Shahrastānī (d.548/1153)

Abū Fatḥ al‑Shahrastānī (d.548/1153) is perhaps the best known Muslim heresiographer, historian of religions and theologian. Best known for his K. Al‑milāl wa’l‑niḥal  (“The Book of Religious and Philosophical Creeds”) this work has led to his having been reckoned the first writer of a history of religion in world literature (Sharpe, 1975:11) and as "the motherlode of the History of Religions" ( Wasserstom, IOS XVII:128). al‑Shahrastānī not only deals with Muslim sects but details the actual and supposed  ahl al‑kitāb  religons and their sectarian factions. Among many other sub groups he discusses Judaism,  Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, Hinduism  and  the ancient Sabean religion which is considered,  like Hellenistic philosophy, the Indian religions and polytheism,  a "natural religion".

Shahrastānī gives significant coverage to matters Jewish including the important  sect of the īsāwiyyā, to  Jesus’  teaching to the NT as well as to three major  oriental Chritian sects, the Nestorians, Monophysites and Jacobites ? Melkites (see Sharastānī, al‑Milal; M. Watt IC XX: 198?; Wasserstrom, ibid). The richness of this work cannot be befittingly registered here; it must suffice to note a few   the detaileds given.

An Arabic version of Deut 33:2 is cited as prophetic testimony to the missions of Moses (Allāh ja`a min ṭūr ṣīnā = Sinai) , Jesus ( Allāh.. ¥ahara bi‑S ā`īr = Seir) and Muhammad (Allāh... `alana bi‑fārān) (Milal,1:221) and there is mention of the period of Jesus’ summoning  (da`wa) as being the precise "three years, three months and three days" (ibid 1: 220). .


al-Shahrastanī =  Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Karīm (b. c. 469 [479]-542 [548] = c. 1086-1153).


  • Mafatīḥ al-Asrār wa Maṣābīḥ al-Abrār [Persian Facsimile editon in 2 vols. covering Surat al-Fatiha and Baqara Q.  Surahs 1-2]. Tehran: Markaz-i Intishār-i Nushakh-i Khaṭṭī  ( = Centre for the Publication of Manuscripts). Facsimile edition of the Unique Manuscript at the Library of the Islamic Consultative Assembly  or Bunyād-i Farhang-i Irān. Introduction by `Abd al-Husayn Ha'iri and Indices by Parviz Akhka'i,  1989 CE/1409 AH/1368Sh.  (Vol. 1 = 26pp +pp. 1-240 + vol.2 = pp. 241-434 + Index pp.869-913). *
  • Tafsīr al-Shahrastānī, Mafatīḥ al-Asrār wa Maṣābīḥ al-Abrār, [Keys to the Mysteries and Lamps for the Pious] ed. Muhammad `Alī Ādharshab. Tehran: Iḥyā-i Kitāb, Daftar-i Nashr-i Miras-i Maktub, 1997.*

Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-niḥal ("The Book of Religious and Philosophical Communities"), written 1127 CE.

  • Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-niḥal ed. `Abd al-Aziz Muhammad al-Wakil. Cairo:  Mu`assasat al-Halabi wa Sharkāh li-l-Nashr  wa al-Tuzi`  1387/1968. (202+222+115pp.= 3 vols. in 1). *
  • Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-niḥal ed.  Ahmad Fahmi Muhammad,  3 vols in 1 Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya, n.d. [199?]  (734pp.). *
  • Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-niḥal trans. A.K.Kazi and J.G. Flynn, `Muslim Sects and Divisions, The Section of Muslim Sects in Kitāb al-Milal wa'l-niḥal by `Abd al-Karim Shahrastani (d. 1153)'. London, Boston, Melbourne and Henley: Kegan Paul International, 1954 Rep. 1984. (195pp.).*
  • Nihayat al-`iqdam ("The Culmination of Demonstration in Scholastic Philosophy").

Kitab al-Musara‘a

  • Al-Shahrastani, Muhammad. Struggling with the Philosopher: A Refutation of Ibn Sina’s Metaphysics. A new Arabic edition and English translation of Kitab al-Musara‘a by Willferd Madelung and Toby Mayer. Ismaili Texts and Translations Series, 2. London: I. B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2001.

Bruce B. Lawrence [Muhammad ibn Abd al-Karim Shahrastani]

  • Shahrastani on the Indian Religions, 1976 ISBN. 9027976813  (297 pp.) *


  •  6. His work exists in several Cairo editions and have been translated into English (in  2 vols. Chambers Seeyle+ Halkin) (see Van Ess, EIr. III: 409‑10).
  • 7. A list of early heresiographers can be found in Ritter 1929 ("Philologika III: Muhammedanische Haresiographen ", Der Islam, xviii [1929], 34ff).

Fakhr al-Din al-Rāzī (d. XXX/1209)

Fakr al‑Dīn Razī (d.     /1209), I`tiq adāt al‑muslimūn wa’l‑mushrik īn (Doctrines?  of the Muslims and the [non‑Muslim] Unbelievers). The second half of this book discusses Jews, Christians,  Zoroastrians, Manichaeans and Sabeans. Numerous other works dealing with the religions of the ahl al‑kitāb  their sects and beliefs cannot be detailed here.7

Kholief, Fathalla.

  • A Study on Fakhr al-Din al-Rāzī and His Controversies in Transoxiana. Beirut: Dar E\-Machreq, 1966.


[Qaḍī ]`Abd al-Jabbār,`Abu'l-Ḥasan Asadābādī (ca. XXX-415 = c. 935 = 1025). Major late Mu`tazilite theologian

See Sezgin 1:624-626. .

  • al-Mughnī fi abwab al-tawhid wa'l-`adl. 14 vols. ed. Taha Husayn, Cairo: Dar al-Misriyya li'l-Ta'lif wa'l-Tarjama. 1958-1965.
  • al-Mughnī fi abwab al-tawhid wa'l-`adl. XX vols. *
  • al-Mughnī fi abwab al-tawhid wa'l-`adl. XX vols.*
  • Sharh al-Usul al-Khamsa. ed.      Dar al-Ihya' a;-Turath al-`Arabi, 1422/2001 (567pp.).*

Pines, Shlomo

  • Studies in the History of Jewish Thought Shlomo Pines, Moshe Idel, Warren Harvey.  1997 (821pp.)  ISBN= 9652239100
  • Collected Works S. Pines Brill Academic Pub.,  1997  ISBN= 9652236268
  • Studies in Abul-Barakat Al-Baghdadi: Physics and Metaphysics Shlomo Pines.  1979   ISBN =  9652233323 (339pp.)

Reynolds, Gabriel Said,

  • A Muslim Theologian in the Sectarian milieu, `Abd al-Jabbār and the Critique of Christian Origins. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2004.
  • Jesus, the Qa'im and the End of the World.
  • Saint Thomas' Islamic Challenges...