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Bella Tendler Krieger

Abstract

This paper explores the description of Nusayrī initiation found in the recently published Kitāb al-Hāwī fī ‘ilm al-fatāwī of the Vth/XIth century Nusayrī scholar al-Tabarānī. Like other so called ġulāt sects, the Nusayrīs believed that religious knowledge must be hidden from the masses and should only be revealed to the elite after proper initiation. Al-Tabarānī's work gives new insight into this process, showing how the laws of Nusayrī initiation were systematically modeled on Islamic marital laws. Al-Tabarānī's description of initiation is a perfect example of the type of esoteric exegesis characteristic of the bātinī sects active in early Islamic times and reveals the extent to which the Nusayrīs made use of the Qur’ān and Hadīth. Rather than discarding Islamic precepts, as they have often been accused of doing, the early Nusayrīs paid great attention to the laws of Islam, extracting inner meanings from the text of the Qur’ān in order to create their own legal system that was at the same time Islamic and distinctly sectarian.