The New International Encyclopædia/Ansaries

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AN'SARIES, or ANSA'RIANS, but more properly Nosairians. An Arab sect living in the mountains between the northern part of Lebanon and Antioch; found also in Antioch and in various places along the Syrian coast and in the interior. The origin of the sect is involved in obscurity, though it appears probable that it was founded by a certain Mohammed ibn Nosair at the close of the ninth century. The sect belongs to the so-called Shiitic branch of Islam (q.v.), and may be described as the result of the accommodation of Islam to the old Syriac heathenism. Their tenets are therefore a mixture of paganism and Mohammedanism, with some faint suggestions from Christianity, particularly in the form of Gnosticism. While their doctrines bear a resemblance to those of the Ismailitic sect, and they are clearly influenced by this sect, still they manifest an independent development of their beliefs. They divide time into seven cycles, each corresponding to an appearance of the divine spirit in some personality. Divine honors are paid to Ali and his sons, who became the representatives of the ancient deities of Syria and Phœnicia. Ali is practically the personification of the sun, and the standing formula of the religion is, “I bear witness that there is no god but Ali.” They also set up a kind of trinity, associating with Ali, Mohammed and Salman-al-Farisi. The latter two are emanations of Ali, Mohammed being created by Ali, and Salman by Mohammed. Ali is designated as the “lord,” Mohammed as the “veil,” and Salman as the “gate.” The symbol of Ali is ma‘am, “the meaning,” and the symbol of Mohammed is ism, “the name.” This trinity is eternal, and despite the superficial resemblance of this belief to the Christian doctrine, it appears rather to be due to the transformation of the ancient local cults in Syria and Phœnicia. Salman-al-Farisi in turn created five persons, known as “the incomparable ones,” who are the real creators of the world. The mystical character of their doctrines is further increased by the assumption of two worlds, an upper and a lower one, and corresponding to seven divine manifestations in each, there are seven adversaries, one appearing with each manifestation, which, moreover, consists in each case of a ma‘am, “meaning” (representing Ali), and an ism, “name” (representing Mohammed). Leaving aside the seven—or, rather, fourteen—divine manifestations in the upper world, we have for the lower world as the seven manifestations of ma‘am, Abel, Seth, Joseph, Joshua, Asaf, Peter, and Ali, and as seven manifestations of ism, Adam, Noah, Jacob, Moses, Solomon, Jesus, and Mohammed.

Among the populace great veneration is paid also to Khodr, a mythical personage corresponding to St. George, who delivered the country of a great monster, and in return for this and other feats the Nosairians dedicate their daughters to Khodr. Before giving them in marriage they proceed to the convent of Mar Jorjis (St. George), near Beirut, and there pay ransom money to the monks of the convent, the amount varying, according to the vow, from a third to the entire sum of the dowry.

The Nosairians believe in migration of souls, which for the faithful will be a progress in seven stages from pure to more pure, until they become stars, as they originally were; but sinners will be transformed into Jews, Christians, camels, mules, asses, dogs, and sheep. They practice circumcision and ablution, and pray in the open air three times a day. Their chief festivals are (1) Al-Gadir, falling on the eighteenth day of the month of pilgrimage, commemorating the supposed proclamation by Mohammed of Ali as his successor; (2) Fitr, “breaking of the fast,” sacred to Mohammed, and the first of the festivals of the year; (3) the festival of sacrifices, sacred to Ismail, the founder of the Ismailitic sect, on the tenth day of the pilgrimage month; (4) Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram, commemorating the murder of Hussein, the son of Ali; (5) al-Gadir the second, on the ninth day of the first month of Rabi’, commemorating Mohammed's recognition of the mission of the sons of Ali, Hasan and Hosein; (6) Christmas, known as “the festival of the birth,” on the night of the twenty-fourth of December, in memory of the birth of the Messiah, by the wife of Lazarus, daughter of Annai, according to the statement in the Koran. Besides these there are a large number of minor festivals, betraying Persian as well as Christian and old Syriac influences.

The charges of immoral practices indulged in on the occasion of their festivals are pure fabrications, due in part to the mystical character of some of their rites, particularly of those practiced at the initiation of members of the sect. Their religion inculcates benevolence, honesty, and patience. While split up into various divisions, the sub-sects differ only in matters of minor importance. Each community is governed by a chief, who is almost entirely independent. Consult Dussand, L'Histoire et la religion des Nosaries (Paris, 1900).