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term used to denote a person who is perceived as harboring malice for ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.) or members of his household.

N ĀṢEBI (pl. nawāṣeb), the term used to denote a person who is perceived as harboring malice for ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb (q.v.) or members of his household (see AHL-E BAYT). The term nāṣebi is also used among Shiʿites to refer to a Sunni with anti-Shiʿite views. 

Introduction. In contrast to the popular tendency to venerate ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb and his kin among Moslems, some personalities are described in medieval literature as holding them in contempt and having anti-ʿAlid sentiment (naṣb, boḡd ʿAli, ʿadāwat ahl al-bayt; Ṭorayḥi, II, pp. 173-74). Since devotion to ʿAli and his house was so central to Shiʿism, those who challenged ʿAli’s alleged claims to authority after the Prophet’s death or his caliphate in the last years of his life were portrayed as nawāṣeb in Shiʿite historiography. For example, the first two caliphs in early Shiʿite literature became villainous figures who displayed open animosity for ʿAli and Fāṭema (q.v.; Ketāb Solaym, pp. 148-61, 224-59). ʿĀʼesha, Moʿāwiya, ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ, the Omayyads, the Zobayrids, the ʿAbbāsids, and others who contested ʿAli’s rule or the authority of the Twelver Imams are similarly portrayed as nawāṣeb. In many cases, these portrayals do not mention the term naṣb or nāṣebi, but the personalities exhibit all of the usual characteristics, including: (1) support for the murder, persecution, or assault of ʿAli and his kin, (2) cursing, mocking, and insulting them, and (3) accusing them of crimes or heresy. Sunnis with strong pro-ʿAlid tendencies and Shiʿites further included anti-Shiʿite polemicists like Ebn Ḥazm and Ebn Taymiya in this group for their propensity to reject widely transmitted hadith (q.v.) about the merits (fażāʾel) of the ahl al-bayt. Some Shiʿite hadith attributed to Jaʿfar al-Ṣādeq (q.v.) further identified anyone displaying animosity for Shiʿites as a nāṣebi (BaḥrāniX, pp. 361-62; Ebn Bābawayh, III, p. 601). The report suggests that since the Moslem community no longer consented to nawāṣeb openly reviling the ahl al-bayt, their only recourse was to express their aversion to Shiʿism. 

Historical overview. According to pro-ʿAlid Sunni, Muʿtazilite, and Shiʿite sources, antipathy for ʿAli is attributed to a number of his contemporaries for a variety of reasons. Those who nursed a grudge against the Prophet for decades, even after their surrender and conversion to Islam, continued to express their dissatisfaction with the religious and political ascendancy of Muslims by opposing any further attempts by the Prophet’s clan, the Hashemites, to produce authorities that the community was obligated to follow. The first two caliphs and Moʿāwiya, speaking on behalf of the tribe of Qorayš and the clan of Omayya respectively, are credited with stating that tribal elders would not accept both prophetic authority and rule (nobuwa wa emāra/ḵelāfa) to belong to Hashemites alone (Ketāb Solaym, pp. 153, 157; Balāḏori, X, pp. 378-79; Soyūṭi, II, p. 173). In one anecdote, ʿAli remarks that had the Prophet left a direct son as an heir, the community would have killed him after the Prophet’s death had he conducted himself any differently than ʿAli (Ebn Abiʼl-Ḥadid, XX, pp. 298-99). From these sources, anti-ʿAlid sentiment appears to be a by-product of tribal rivalries that manifested themselves in contestations for power. 

ʿAli was noted for his austerity and alienated some of the Companions of the Propher (ṣaḥāba) in his lifetime, some even admitting to have hated him at the time. Such reports usually end with the Prophet censuring these Companions for their hatred of ʿAli (Boḵāri, V, p. 110). Others reportedly resented ʿAli for killing leading members of their family during the wars of the Prophet. These personalities, who became Moslems near the end of the Prophet’s life and after the Moslem conquest of Mecca, received epithets like “the pardoned” (tolaqāʼ) and “those whose hearts needed placating” moʼallafat al-qolub (a category of people mentioned in the Qurʼan). The latter received monetary rewards for their continued allegiance, which was considered irresolute. Those who kept ʿAli from ruling after the death of the Prophet are described as hypocrites (monāfequn) and remain unnamed in Muʿtazilite sources (ʿAbd al-Jabbār, I, pp. 224-25). In these sources, the first three caliphs only rule with ʿAli’s permission in response to this anti-ʿAlid sentiment. In Shiʿite sources, the first two caliphs and ʿĀʾeša are portrayed as particularly envious and resentful of ʿAli’s close relationship to the Prophet and many of the honors that were bestowed upon him. Among Shiʿites, these three figures are consistently portrayed as nawāṣeb who despised ʿAli and Fāṭema and deliberately deprived them of their special rights as ahl al-bayt

Kharijites. Sometime after the Battle of Ṣeffin and ʿAli’s agreement to an arbitration with Moʿāwiya, some of his forces withdrew their support and seceded from his army. This group of early Kharijites (see KHARIJITES IN PERSIA) argued that ʿAli had committed an act of disbelief (kofr) by agreeing to arbitration and ignoring the command of scripture (Qur’an 49:7) to fight rebels like Moʿāwiya until their total surrender. In Ebāḍi sources, ʿAli is portrayed as a just ruler who eventually compromised his faith out of a desire to remain in power. In Sunni literature, Shiʿites are collectively condemned as deceitful and untrustworthy in their transmission of hadith. In Ebāḍi literature, the ill repute of Shiʿites is extended to ʿAli himself, who is credited with forging hadith and beginning the Shiʿite heritage of mendacity (Cook, p. 19). In addition to the sin of arbitration, ʿAli refused repeated Kharijite requests to publicly repent of his unbelief and killed thousands of pious Moslems at Nahrawān, whom Ebāḍis considered innocent of any wrongdoing (Siar, I, pp. 200-201; Warjalāni, I, pp. 15, 28). In accordance with Kharijite political theory that allowed a ruler guilty of unbelief and refusing repentance to be forcefully removed or killed (Siar, I, pp. 75-76), a Kharijite assassinated ʿAli. ʿAli’s assassin, Ebn Moljam, is held in high esteem in some Ebāḍi texts (Siar, I, p. 109), but not others. After ʿAli’s death, Ḥasan b. ʿAli (q.v.) eventually surrendered to Moʿāwiya and abdicated the caliphate to him. Ḥasan’s conduct with Moʿāwiya led to a Kharijite assassination attempt, but the attacker, Jarrāḥ b. Senān al-Asadi, was killed after striking Ḥasan’s thigh with a pick-axe. Since Ḥosayn b. ʿAli (q.v.) backed the political careers of his father and brother, he was condemned as an inhabitant of Hell with them. Kharijites generally did not consider membership in the tribe of Qorayš or ʿAlid kinship with the Prophet to have any merit in theological and political debates.

Omayyads. The Omayyads epitomized nawāṣeb in ʿAbbāsid-era historiography and Shiʿite literature. The dynasty is credited with going to war against ʿAli and his sons and successfully foiling their opportunities to rule as caliphs, massacring Ḥosayn and his family at Karbalāʼ (q.v.), killing Zayd b. ʿAli, persecuting and killing close companions of the ʿAlid imams for their allegiance to them, and ritually cursing ʿAli during Friday sermons across the Moslem world. The Omayyads considered ʿAli and his partisans directly responsible for the death of ʿOṯmān. It seems ʿAlids (descendants of ʿAli) were allowed to live unmolested as long as they refrained from openly challenging Omayyad rule. According to Shiʿite literature, the Omayyads also poisoned the Twelver imams, ʿAli Sajjād (see ʿALI B. ḤOSAYN B. ʿALI B. ABI ṬĀLEB) and Moḥammad Bāqer (see BĀQER, ABU JAʿFAR MOḤAMMAD).

ʿOṯmāniya. The ʿOṯmāniya (partisans of the first three caliphs) apparently reviled ʿAli well into the 3rd/9th century. Members of the ʿOṯmāniya included hadith transmitters and theologians who did not consider ʿAli a legitimate caliph after ʿOṯmān. They did not necessarily support the Omayyads either. Some supported the claim to the caliphateby Ebn Zobayr and his family (the Zobayrids). Others were quietists who insisted on the religious obligation to obey those in power (including tyrants). The early ʿOṯmāniya considered ʿAli an antagonist to the first three caliphs, who opposed their succession and quarreled with them on a number of issues. Like other nawāṣeb, the ʿOṯmāniya considered ʿAli covetous of the caliphate.

Sometime around the 3rd/9th century, influential hadith scholars residing in Baghdad began to incorporate pro-ʿAlid hadith in their compilations and distance themselves from the nawāṣeb. During this period, extreme anti-ʿAlid sentiment among the ʿOṯmāniya largely declined in popularity except in a few historically nāṣebi strongholds such as Baṣra and Aleppo. Milder ʿOṯmāniya such as the famous story-teller Sayf b. ʿOmar (Madelung, 2009) still refrained from recognizing ʿAli as a legitimate caliph; however, ʿAli was now absolved of the crimes attributed to him in early nāṣebi historiography. Responsibility for these sins and crimes (the murder of ʿOṯmān, the civil war, etc.) were primarily transferred to ʿAli’s disciples and a nefarious group of heretics led by the legendary Ebn Sabaʼ (Anthony, pp. 47-57, 87).

It appears that the ʿOṯmāniya of the 3rd/9th century also devalued hadith about the merits of ʿAli by reinterpreting them in ways that made such proof-texts seem insignificant or even blemishes. For example, in the Resāla ʿOṯmāniya, ʿAli’s early conversion is belittled as the action of a child with no real rational faculties or responsibility to convert (Jāḥeẓ, pp. 13-24). Some even questioned the validity of his conversion (Ebn Taymiya, VII, p. 155).

ʿAbbāsids. Various ʿAbbāsid caliphs and poets appear as nawāṣeb in historical chronicles. The ʿAbbāsid caliph al-Motawakkel (r. 232-47/847-61), for example, (1) persecuted ʿAlids, (2) killed Shiʿites who proclaimed their allegiance to ʿAlids, (3) razed the shrine of Ḥosayn b. ʿAli and forbade pilgrimage to the site, and (4) enjoyed the company of people who openly disparaged and mocked ʿAli (Ḏahabi, Siar, XII, pp. 18, 35; Ebn al-Aṯir, VII, pp. 55-56). Since early ʿAbbāsid claims to legitimacy centered upon their kinship with the Prophet, Hashemite ancestry, and even a waṣiya from the family of ʿAli, ʿAlids remained rivals to their authority. Many ʿAlid insurrectionists and their families were killed, imprisoned, and brutally tortured under the ʿAbbāsids. The ʿAbbāsids, like many caliphs before them, were motivated to characterize the descendants of ʿAli as individuals with no special claim to authority. Initially, this was accomplished by highlighting ʿAlid descent from Abū Ṭāleb, who was discredited as a pagan, and from females (like Fāṭema) who could not claim to be heirs of the imamate, which was considered a patriarchal institution. Later, the ʿAbbāsids abandoned Kaysāni and Rāwandi claims to their right to the imamate and became patrons of proto-Sunni scholarship which altogether rejected Hashemite claims to inheritance from the Prophet.  

Anti-Shiʿite polemicists. A common theme in Shiʿite narratives about early nawāṣeb is their portrayal as individuals who secretly acknowledged their own desire to usurp or deny the rights bestowed upon the ahl al-bayt. Nawāṣeb appeared as literary devices to validate the beliefs of the Shiʿite audience (i.e., since the villains in these stories will also acknowledge ʿAlids to be God’s true deputies on earth). However, in later periods, when judging the case of Sunni Moslems, Shiʿites considered their allegiance to Sunnism to be accidental, inherited, and due to ignorance. Thus, Shiʿite scholars devoted themselves to polemical works that sought to acquaint Sunnis with the history, unique qualities, and merits (fażāʾel) of the ahl al-bayt

Shiʿites considered a number of Sunnis active after the 7th/12th century guilty of anti-ʿAlid sentiment primarily for their rejection of pro-ʿAlid hadith, partiality to accepting reports that exalted ʿAli’s predecessors and rivals, and open hostility to Shiʿism. Popular expressions of anti-Shiʿite sentiment included treatises that condemned Shiʿite doctrine as unbelief (Ebn Taymiya, 1986), the persecution or execution of Shiʿites (such as Zayn al-Din ʿĀmeli, known as al-Šahid al-Ṯānī, killed in 965/1558) and Sunnis suspected of Shiʿism (such as Moḥammad b. Yusof al-Kanji, killed in 658/1260), and the destruction of Shiʿite libraries and shrines (such as the shrines of ʿAbbās and Ḥosayn b. ʿAli in Karbalāʾ and the massacre of the city’s inhabitants in 1802, the tombs of the Twelver imams buried in Medina in 1925, and the shrine of al-Ḥasan al-ʿAskari in 2006).


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Yusof b. Ebrāhim Wārjalāni, Ketāb al-dalil le-ahl al-ʿoqul le-bāi al-sabil, 3 vols. in 1, Cairo, 1888.

Cite this page
Husayn, Nebil, “NĀṢEBI”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 01 April 2023 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_366423>
First published online: 2023

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