Zindīq (pl. zanādiqa) is an Islamic pejorative applied to individuals who are considered to hold views or follow practices that are contrary to central Islamic dogmas.[1] Zandaqa is the noun describing these views.[2]

Zandaqa is usually translated as "heresy" and often used to "underscore the seriousness" of the religious error of the accused Muslim. It originally referred to the Manichaean Religion, but "soon came" to be applied to Muslims who were accused of concealing deviant beliefs.[3]

Under the Abbasids

The Arabic zindīq is a loan word from pre-Islamic Middle Persian 𐭦𐭭𐭣𐭩𐭪 zandik, a Zoroastrian term of uncertain etymology and meaning (for a discussion of the term in a pre-Islamic context, see zandik).

Zindīq (زنديق) or Zandik (𐭦𐭭𐭣𐭩𐭪) was initially used to negatively denote the followers of the Manichaeism religion in the Sasanian Empire.[4] By the time of the eighth-century Abbasid Caliphate however, the meaning of the word zindīq and the adjectival zandaqa had broadened and could loosely denote many things: Gnostic Dualists as well as followers of Manichaeism, agnostics, and atheists.[5][6] However, many of those persecuted for zandaqa under the Abbasids claimed to be Muslims, and when applied to Muslims, the accusation was that the accused secretly harbored Manichaean beliefs.[6] "The proof for such an accusation was sought, if at all, in an indication of some kind of dualism, or if that individual openly flouted Islamic beliefs or practices."[6] As such, certain Muslim poets of early Abbasid times could thus also be accused of zandaqa as much as an actual Manichaean might.[6]

The charge of zandaqa was a serious one, and could cost the accused his/her life.[6][7] A history of the time states cites the first Abbasid caliph Abu al-'Abbas As-Saffah as having said "tolerance is laudable, except in matters dangerous to religious belief, or to the sovereign's dignity."[8] The third Abbasid caliph, Al-Mahdi, ordered the composition of polemical works to refute freethinkers and other heretics, and for years he tried to exterminate them absolutely, hunting them down and exterminating freethinkers in large numbers, putting to death anyone on mere suspicion of being a zindiq.[8] Al-Mahdi's successors, the caliphs al-Hadi and Harun al-Rashid, continued the pogroms, although with diminished intensity during the reign of the latter and was later abolished by him.[6][9] This policy in turn influenced the Mihna policy of al-Ma'mun which targeted those Muslim religious scholars and officials who refused to accept the doctrine of created nature of Quran.[6]

The reason for these persecutions are not easy to determine.[6] Zandaqa was viewed as a threat to Islam, to Muslim society, and to the state.[6] In the eighth century, Islamic norms were still under development and had not yet crystallized, and Muslims were still a small minority in the vast territories ruled by the caliphate, and even those who had converted were perceived to have been only "imperfectly" Islamized. Many of these converts had previously been Manichaeans, and Manichaeaism with its well developed missionary ideals had undergone a slight resurgence during early caliphate rule. As such, the Manichaeans were perceived as a threat to the security of the Muslim religious elite and to the Abbasid state. The threat was perceived to be especially evident in the quasi-scientific manner in which the Manichaeans posed unsettling questions, their skill at creating a favourable impression in public debate, and their ability in defending their own intellectually-appealing world-view.[6]

Later usage

In time, Muslim theologians came to apply zindiq to "the criminal dissident—the professing Muslim who holds beliefs or follows practices contrary to the central beliefs of Islam and is therefore to be regarded as an apostate and an infidel. The jurists differ as to the theoretical formulation of the point of exclusion, but in fact usually adopt the practical criterion of open rebellion."[1]

In modern times, the term zindiq is occasionally used to denote members of religions, sects or cults that originated in a Muslim society but are considered heretical or independent faiths by mainstream Muslims.[10] In this sense, a zindiq is perceived to be incorrigibly disloyal to the tenets of Islam.[11]


  1. ^ a b Lewis, Bernard (1993), Islam in history: ideas, people, and events in the Middle East, Open Court, p. 287.
  2. ^ Blois, F.C. De (2012). "Zindīḳ". In P. Bearman; Th. Bianquis; C.E. Bosworth; E. van Donzel; W.P. Heinrichs (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd ed.). Brill. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_1389.(subscription required)
  3. ^ Adang, Camilla; Ansari, Hassan; Fierro, Maribel (2015). Accusations of Unbelief in Islam: A Diachronic Perspective on Takfīr. Brill. p. 18. ISBN 9789004307834. Retrieved 25 December 2020.
  4. ^ Taheri-Iraqi, Ahmad. Zandaqa In The Early Abbasid Period With Special Reference To Poetry. University of Edinburgh. p. 3. [...] the word zindiq/zandik was initially applied in the Sassanid Empire to the Manichaeans as a pejorative epithet [...]
  5. ^ Taheri-Iraqi, Ahmad. Zandaqa In The Early Abbasid Period With Special Reference To Poetry. University of Edinburgh. p. 3. Allthough the word zindīq/zandik was initially, in the Sassanid Empire, applied to Manichaeans as a pejorative epithet, by the time of the Islamic Epoch its usage had broadened and was loosely applied to Gnostic Dualists, agnostics, atheists, and even free-thinkers and libertines. Eventually in the later period, even up to the present time, 'zindīq' came to be synonymous with 'irreligious'.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Zaman, Muhammad Qasim (1997), Religion and Politics Under the Early 'Abbasids: The Emergence of the Proto-Sunni Elite, Brill, pp. 63–65, ISBN 9004106782.
  7. ^ Bowker, John (1997), "Zindiq", The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, OUP.
  8. ^ a b Glassé, Cyril (2013), "Zindiq", The New Encyclopedia of Islam (4th ed.), Rowman & Littlefield, p. 491.
  9. ^ Christine Caldwell Ames (2015). Medieval Heresies. Cambridge University Press. p. 88. ISBN 9781107023369.
  10. ^ Adamec, Ludwig W. (2016), "Zindiq", Historical Dictionary of Islam, London: Rowman & Littlefield, p. 494, ISBN 978-1-4422-7723-6.
  11. ^ Hughes, Thomas Patrick (1895), "Zindīq", Dictionary of Islam (2nd ed.), London: W.H. Allen & Co., p. 713.