In the year 278/891, a few years before the appearance of Ubaydullah al-Mandi in North Africa, there appeared in Küfah an unknown person from Khuzestan (in southern Persia) who never revealed his name and identity. He would fast during the day and worship at night and made a living from his own labor. In addition, he invited people to join the Ismaili cause and was able to assemble a large number of people about him. From among them he chose twelve “chiefs” (naqib) and then he set out for Damascus. Having left Kufah, he was never heard of again.
This unknown man was replaced by Ahmad, known as the Qaramite, who began to propagate Batini teachings in Iraq. As the historians have recorded, he instituted two daily prayers in place of the five of Islam, removed the necessity of ablution after sexual intercourse and made the drinking of wine permissible. Contemporary with these events, other Batini leaders rose to invite people to join their cause and assembled a group of followers.
The Batinis has no respect for the lives and possessions of those who were outside their group. For this reason, they began uprisings in the cities of Iraq, Bahrain, the Yemen and Syria, spilling the blood of people and looting their wealth. Many times, they stopped the caravans of those who were making the pilgrimage to Mecca, killing tens of thousands of pilgrims and plundering their provisions and camels.
Abu Tahir al-Qarmati, one of the Qaramite leaders who in 311/923 had conquered Basra and did not neglect to kill and plunder, set out with a large number of Batinis for Mecca in 317/929. After overcoming the brief existence of government troops, he entered the city and massacred the population as well as the newly arrived pilgrims. Even within the Masjid al-haram (the mosque containing the Ka’bah) and within the Holy Ka ‘bah itself, there flowed streams of blood. He divided the covering of the Ka bah between his disciples. He tore away the door of the Ka ‘bah and took the Black Stone from its place back to the Yemen. For twenty-two years, the Black Stone was in Qaramite hands. As a result of these actions, the majority of Muslims turned completely away from the Batinis and considered them outside the pale of Islam. Even ‘Ubaydullah al-Mandi, the Fatimid ruler, who had risen in those days in North Africa and considered himself the promised Mandi, abhorred them.
According to the view of historians, the distinguishing characteristic of the Batini school is that it interprets the external aspects of Islam in an esoteric manner and considers the externals of the Shari’ ah to be only for simple-minded people of little intelligence who are deprived of spiritual perfection. Yet, occasionally, the Batini Imams did order certain regulations and laws to be practised and followed.
Adapted from: “Shi’ah” by: “Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i”