The Malāmatiyya (ملاميه) or Malamatis are a Sufi (Muslim mystic) group that was active in 8th-century Samanid Iran (Encyclopædia Britannica). Believing in the value of self-blame, that piety should be a private matter, and that being held in good esteem would lead to worldly attachment, they concealed their knowledge and made sure their faults would be known, reminding them of their imperfection (Encyclopædia Britannica).

The Arabic word malāma (ملامه) means "to blame". According to Annemarie Schimmel, "the Malāmatīs deliberately tried to draw the contempt of the world upon themselves by committing unseemly, even unlawful, actions, but they preserved perfect purity of thought and loved God without second thought" (Schimmel 86). Schimmel goes on to relate a story illustrative of such actions: "One of them was hailed by a large crowd when he entered a town; they tried to accompany the great saint; but on the road he publicly started urinating in an unlawful way so that all of them left him and no longer believed in his high spiritual rank" (quoted in Schimmel 86).

In fact, the Malāmatīs are considered, by one of the better known Sufi Masters, Ibn al-'Arabi, as the ultimate Sufis, people whose deep inward piety is concealed not only from the eyes of men but ultimately from themselves, the attachment to the perception of one's own piety constituting a formidable barrier to genuine self-realisation. The Malamati is one for whom the doctrine of "spiritual states" is fraught with subtle deceptions of the most despicable kind; he despises personal piety, not because he is focused on the perceptions or reactions of people, but as a consistent involuntary witness of his own "pious hypocrisy". God in turn wishes to keep him preserved and sheltered in divine occultation. The nature of this sheltering may be occasioned by a "public fall from grace" or a scandal that involves public opprobrium. Farid, in one of his Odes quoted by R.A. Nicholson in his Studies in Islamic Mysticism, describes the Malamatiyya thus: "My fellows in the religion of love are those who love; and they have approved my ignominy and thought well of my disgrace". Ibn al-'Arabi, by contrast, calls the Malamatiyya "the most perfect of the gnostics", those who "know and are not known". The Malamati's "sins" are considered to be on the outward shell of his being whereas the "pious" but ignorant man sins in the kernel of his.

The Malāmatiyya were first written about by Abu ‘Abd ar-Rahman as-Sulamī and Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Hujwīrī in the 11th century AD (4th–5th century AH). Sulamī is much more positive about them than Hujwīrī, who according to Schimmel mistakenly accuses them of spiritual ostentation, saying: "The ostentatious men purposely act in such a way as to win popularity, while the malāmatī purposely acts in such a way that people reject him. Both have their thought fixed on mankind [as opposed to God] and do not pass beyond that sphere" (quoted in Schimmel 87). But as already observed, the term Malamati if used to denote a set of unconventional, unorthodox or even antinomian practices, includes involuntary acts that do not arise from individual self-will or decision-making and therefore cannot serve to define the term as is commonly perceived by the rudimentary standards of popular Islamic mysticism or Sufism. The distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic sincerity, between outward "spirituality" and subtle wordliness, is a sharp one from a Malamati point of view; this additional demarcation is confirmed by the most learned of the greatest Sufi Masters as the single most important distinction in the movement towards the penultimate stages of the Sufi spiritual hierarchy.

In their actions, the malamati bore much resemblance to the Greek Cynics, such as Diogenes of Sinope and Dionysius the Areopagite, as well as to certain of the Eastern Syriac Christians, such as Isaac the Syrian. Within the Islamic tradition, some of the tales concerning Nasreddin bear some similarity to the practices of the Malāmatiyya, insofar as Nasreddin's wisdom is rather well hidden behind a foolish façade.

See also


  • Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. ISBN 0-8078-1271-4.
  • Encyclopædia Britannica, Micropædia: "Malamatiyah"
  • Toussulis, Yannis. Sufism and the Way of Blame. ISBN 10-083560846

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