Those Who Wrote in Small Letters
March 2, 2015 1:01 PM   Subscribe

For much of the tenth century, the Qarmatians enjoyed supreme power in northeastern Arabia, exacting tribute even from the caliphs in Baghdad and Cairo. They were an esoteric Isma'ili Shi'ite sect from the oases of the desert fringe and the islands of the Persian Gulf, where they built themselves an egalitarian utopia—"probably the only communist society to control a large territory, and to endure for more than a generation, before the twentieth century." Utopia, however, depended on the agricultural labor of thirty thousand Ethiopian slaves and the proceeds from constant raiding and pillaging. In 930, the Qarmatians stormed Mecca, killed thousands of pilgrims at the foot of the Kaaba, and removed the Black Stone to Bahrayn. A year later, they identified the Mahdi, their prophesied redeemer, in the form of a young Persian prisoner. They believed that once he assumed control of the Qarmatian state, he would lead them to even greater triumphs...

You might also see the Qarmatians referred to as "Qaramita," "Karamita," and "Carmathians." Contrary to Wikipedia, they may not have been vegeterians.

In fact, everything above the cut may be wrong. As historian Robert Kluijver discovered during his travels in Bahrain, anyone wishing to learn about the Qarmatians will very quickly run up against bias, half-truths, and silence.
The mention of the Carmathians mostly drew blank stares from the Bahrainis I spoke to (as if you would mention the Picts to a Briton). The historian Ali Bushehri affirmed that the study of this period was problematic, because it was one of Shia rule; also for the lack of historical evidence about the Carmathians, as they did not practice writing, and few contemporaries wrote about them. In the Bahrain National Museum there is almost nothing about this period. The Carmathians are only mentioned twice, both in the phrase "After the Carmathian period…"
posted by Iridic (9 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Egalitarian utopia...with about 30,000 slaves.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was expected that the Mahdi would now reveal the inner truths behind all previous religions. However, this young Isfahani, who claimed descent from the Persian kings and manifested anti-Arab sentiments, began to energetically propagate the Zoroastrian creed and had zealously embarked on restoring this ancient Persian religion. Establishing rituals from the Magian religion, he ordered the worship of fire and the cursing of all prophets, he forbade obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, also instituting a number of ceremonies that shocked the Qarmatians and encouraged all kinds of debauched behaviour. When the Isfahani Mahdi began, furthermore, to execute many notable Qarmatians of Bahrain, Abu Taher Sulayman had no choice but to have him killed and admitted that this had been a disastrous error of judgement on his part and that he had certainly been an imposter.
This paragraph is one imaginary musical instrument away from being a Jack Vance footnote.
posted by theodolite at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2015 [14 favorites]


Thank you for this.
posted by Palindromedary at 3:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


"probably the only communist society to control a large territory, and to endure for more than a generation, before the twentieth century." Utopia, however, depended on the agricultural labor of thirty thousand Ethiopian slaves and the proceeds from constant raiding and pillaging.

Pre-modern cognitive dissonance.
posted by Nevin at 3:13 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is it with communists and slavery?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 4:30 PM on March 2, 2015


What is it with people and slavery?
posted by benito.strauss at 4:51 PM on March 2, 2015


What is it with communists and slavery?

*Fry squint*
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2015


I'm reminded of the egalitarian principles of Jacksonian democracy (which the Five Civilized Tribes would be happy to explain), or even the way that the good men of Athens were free to dedicate themselves to public service and philosophical reflection because of course all that annoying life-sustaining work stuff was being done by women and slaves.
Being able to retain multiple contradictory beliefs is what makes us human (Lewis Carroll, citation needed).
posted by Octaviuz at 4:19 AM on March 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was a regular visitor to the National Museum in Bahrain 13-14 years ago, there were several small mentions of the civilization, always labelled as "the Qarmatian Heresy". I filed it away in my brain as something to learn more about, but until today hadn't followed up. Thanks for the great post!
posted by seasparrow at 11:06 AM on March 6, 2015


« Older KVLY-TV   |   You don’t need to be persuaded / You are being... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments