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Last Updated: 2008/07/09
Summary of question
What is ghulu (exaggeration) and how is it possible to avoid it?
What is ghulu about Ahlul-Bayt? What are the reasons and aims behind it? How can a Shi’ah Muslim keep away from exaggeration?
Concise answer

Ghulu (exceeding proper limits) means an increase or doing something more than what is ordained by Allah (Exalted be He). The Arabic word 'ghala' (boil) denotes the rise of water because of fire. Therefore, ghulu means exceeding proper limits by doing something more than what is legally ordained.  Ghulu or exaggeration in religion translates into rejection of religion since its damage is not less than the damage done by rejection of religion. Sometimes exaggeration in religion makes many people abandon religion because their pure nature does not accept the impurities and interpolations of exaggeration. Then along with the rejection of those impurities the body of religion is also rejected. The Holy Quran says about exaggeration as such: “O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion nor say of Allah aught but the truth.”  There are different levels and degrees of ghulu and we can class them under three degrees as under:

1. Ghulu in the stage and position of godhood

2. Ghulu in the stage and position of prophethood or prophecy

3. Ghulu in any traits or attributes connected with God’s attributes and actions.

As Allamah Majlisi says, ghulu (exaggeration) in prophet (pbuh) and imams can occur by claiming deity for them or that they are partners with Allah in godhood or in creating or in giving livelihood or that Allah incarnated in them or united with them or that they know the unseen without revelation or inspiration (revelation in case of prophet (pbuh) and inspiration in case of imams or saying that knowing them makes us needless of performing duties and forsaking sins. The belief in any of the points is atheism and infidelity and enough to throw someone outside the fold of Islam as it is proven through the intellectual and textual proofs.

The Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and the infallible Imams (a.s) dealt seriously with the evil phenomenon of ghulu by adopting two important strategies. First, they explained to truth seekers the true beliefs of Islam especially those of the Ithna Ashari religion. This was done with emphasis on centrality of monotheism and worship of One God. They explained the religious principles and their frameworks, clarified the pillars of the prophethood and imamate and the way the Prophet and Imam communicated and maintained relationship with God. The second method they adopted against ghulu was to stand up against the deviant actions by exaggerators denouncing them and considering their thoughts and imaginations as foolish.  

Here are some of the ways to avoid ghulu and not to get influenced by such an intellectual stigma:

1. Making recourse to Thaqalayn i.e. the Book of God and family of the Prophet

2. Identifying the causes of ghulu and anything that may lead to creation of such an evil phenomenon, and also keeping away from such factors such as ignorance and extreme love.

3. Not relying on the narrations which have been transmitted by exaggerators or ghulat.

4. Taking special notice of the conspiracies and plots hatched purposefully by enemies to spread such poisonous  and destructive thoughts in Islamic communities; conspiracies such as creation of certain sects including Babism, Bahaism and Qadiyaniyah etc. which are sponsored and supported by Russia, UK and Zionism.

Detailed Answer

Before investigating the answer to the foregoing question, we must remind the reader that ghulu [lit. exaggeration or extremism] is not restricted to a certain Islamic religion or sect or denomination. As ghulu exists in Buddhism, it also exists in Judaism and Christianity. Of course, we must note that ghulu is presented in the form of a personal and individual view in the sense that it is not manifested in the form of a sect or ideology with specific teachings. Hence, it is seen that ghulu vanishes and gets annihilated with the death of the ghaali (exaggerator). So ghulu depends on the individual and it gets obliterated and perished with the death of its innovator. As soon as the innovator dies, nothing remains except a name.[1] Perhaps, it is for the same reason that we can see that ghulu, in fact, stems from atheism and infidelity.[2] Because in a genuine religion which is based on pure love, reason and faith in God, people’s faith and conviction grow stronger with the death of the owner of that mission and religion whereas this is not the case with ghulu.

Having said that, it is necessary to say that ghulu (exceeding proper limits) means an increase or doing something more than what is ordained by Allah (Exalted be He). The Arabic word 'ghala' (boil) denotes the rise of water because of fire. [3]Therefore, ghulu, as also stated by Lisan al-Arab, means exceeding proper limits by doing something more than what is legally ordained or going to extremes.[4]  It has been said that ghulu means exceeding the proper limits in doing something.[5]

Ibn Athir believes that the word “ghulu” originally means “height” or “summit” and it also means exceeding the proper limits in doing something.[6]

God, the Glorified, forbids all kinds of exaggerations in the Holy Quran.[7] He says: “O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits in your religion nor say of Allah aught but the truth.”[8]

Else where in the Holy Quran, God says about exaggerations in beliefs: ‘Say: "O people of the Book! exceed not in your religion the bounds (of what is proper), trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by,- who misled many, and strayed (themselves) from the even way.”[9]

In many verses of the Quran, God describes the beliefs of the exaggerators as such: “In blasphemy indeed are those that say that Allah is Christ the son of Mary.”[10]

Also, He says in this verse: “Certainly they disbelieve who say: Surely Allah is the third (person) of the three; and there is no god but the one Allah.”[11]

Also, in another verses, God, the Exalted, says: “And the Jews say: Uzair is the son of Allah.”[12]

According to Martyr Baqir al-Sadr, there are different levels and degrees of ghulu and we can class them under three categories as under:

1. Ghulu in the position and stage of godhood

2. Ghulu in the position of prophethood or prophecy

3. Ghulu in any trait or attributes connected with God’s attributes and actions.

As for ghulu in the in the position of godhood, it means ascribing divine characteristics to figure of Islamic history. In some cases, the person about whom exaggeration has been done is considered to be God’s partner. This partnership is either in the form of considering that figure as equal to God or considering him as bearing some of the divine characteristics.  At times, ghulu in the stage of godhood is sometimes interpreted as the incarnation of God in something or His unity with that thing. The belief in any of the points is atheism and infidelity and enough to throw someone outside the fold of Islam as it is proven through the intellectual and textual proofs.

The first type of ghulu amounts to infidelity (kufr) because such a belief is tantamount to denying God. The second type of ghulu amounts to infidelity because it denies monotheism and worship of One God. The third type of ghulu amounts to infidelity because incarnation and unity of God with something amount to divinity and godhood of something other than God, the Glorified.

Ghulu in the position of prophethood is such that the person about whom exaggeration has taken place is considered as a figure higher than the prophet. He is considered as someone linking God with the prophet. At times, he is regarded as someone who is in the same position as the prophet. Of course, he himself is not a messenger as he does not receive any revelation yet he is regarded as someone being in that position and rank. Both of these types of ghulu amount to infidelity because it is in clear opposition with the established meaning of shahdah (testimony) of the prophethood.  

As for ghulu in attributes and actions, it means ascribing a trait or action to someone who is not in that position and cannot be the manifestation of such a trait or action. If an attribute or action is prerogative of God and is considered an essential belief in the religion, such kind of exaggeration amounts to denying  the essentials of the religion and it is a heretic belief and considered infidelity, otherwise it will not be infidelity.[13]

As martyr Baqir Sadr (may Allah bless his soul) explained and divided ghulu into several kinds, late Sayyid Abdul A’laa Sabzevari has also sorted out ghulu and ghulāt into five categories. Thus he explains:

First: Belief in godhood of someone about whom exaggeration has taken place.  The exaggerator believes that he is eternal and not bound by time and space and there is no god but him. We must say decisively that such a person who has such a belief is kafir and out of the fold of Islam.

Second: Belief in the godhood of an external individual together with belief in him as a necessary being. Such a belief is polytheistic and the believer is considered to be a mushrik (polytheist). The jurisprudential rule regarding such a person is that such a person is ritually impure because God has no partner or an equal whereas in fact the person who has such a belief associates with Him a partner and considers someone else as bearing attributes that are prerogative of the one God.

Third:  Incarnation of God in a person which means that all the actions done by the individual are attributed to God, actions such as eating, drinking, sleeping etc. which are particular to human beings. We must say that such an assumption which involves denying of the essentials of religion amounts to infidelity. Man’s sound reason considers God, the Glorified, free of these physical accidents.

Fourth: Belief in annihilation of an external individual in God, a belief whose holder can be considered infidel because he has denied the essentials of the religion.

Fifth: Belief in a person being an external expression of divine attributes, a position granted by God. He who considers him as an expression of divine attributes believes that he has been affirmed in that position.[14] In fact, it goes without saying that as per the two unconditional and unrestricted testimonies (shahadatain), he is treated as Muslim.[15]

If we go through Shia legacy and literature, we find out that ghulu in all its forms and levels has been strongly reprimanded and fought against by Shiites especially their Imams. Indeed, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) superseded others in confronting such deviant thoughts by explaining the truth and also separating the wrong way from the way of monotheism and divine unity.

When it comes to the first area, we see that the Holy Prophet (pbuh) making reference to the Holy Quran focused on the issue of divine unity in all of its stages and levels. Many different narrations and various exegeses by Shia scholars indicate the same.[16]

As for the second area, it is seen that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) prevented all kinds of deviant actions in Islamic society. Hadith sources are replete with instances of the Prophet (pbuh) confronting exaggeration. For example, we can point the following narration: “Abu Rafi‘, the Jew, and the head of the Christians of Najran said, ‘O Muhammad! Do you want us to worship you and take you as our Lord?’ The Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him and his family, said: ‘Allah forbid that other than Allah Himself be worshipped or that we be commanded to worship other than Allah. This is not what Allah has sent me for nor did He command me with this”.[17]

The Infallible Imams followed suit as they behaved with the ghulāt (exaggerators) more sternly and adamantly than they behaved with others. Here we will make mention of certain instances which have been mentioned in various reliable narrations:

1. Imam Sadiq (a.s) says: The closest thing that drives him out of his sound faith and beliefs is associating with the ghulāt and hearing their words and endorsing their assumptions. Verily, my father narrated from his father and he from grandfather narrated: Two groups of my Ummah have not benefited from Islam, they are ghulāt and qadariyah (adherents of free will).”[18]

2. In another tradition, it has been narrated from Abu al-Hasan al-Redha that he said: "La'nah (curse) of Allah (swt) on the ghulāt. Do not sit with them and do not affirm them and dissociate from them, Allah (swt) is dissociated from them."[19]

3. Abu Hashim Ja’fari says: I asked Imam Redha about ghulāt and mufawweza, and he replied:  I asked  Imam Redha (a.s) about ghulāt and mufawweza and he replied as such: “Ghulāt are infidels and mufawweza are polytheists. Associating with them, mixing up with them, sharing food and drink, communicating with them, marrying them, giving them shelter, trusting them, affirming and helping them even to as small an extent as the point of a needle will take him out of wilayah of God, His Apostle and wilayah of us, the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s).[20]

There is no doubt that there are a lot of narrations in this regard and we will suffice to mentioning the above for the sake of brevity. However, there is consensus among Shia’s great jurisprudents and scholars that ghulāt are infidels and that they are out of the fold of Islam. The author of Urwatul Wuthqa says: “There is no objection as to the impurity of ghulāt, the Nasibis[21] and Kharijites.”[22]

It is stated in Wasilat al-Nijat as such: It is not permissible to give ghusl-e mayyit (ghusl for dead body) to a person who is an infidel and also any individual from the Muslim community who has been considered to be infidel such as the Kharijites, Nisibis and Ghulāt.[23]

Having answered the first part of the question, we shall now take up the discussion concerning the second part of the question i.e. the causes and goals of ghulu and also the ways through which Shia Muslims can get rid of this intellectual evil.

Causes of ghulu:

If we know the causes and goals of ghulu, we will definitely come to know the extent and expanse of the danger concealed in it. The causes of ghulu are enumerated as under:

1. Extreme and excessive love

2. Intellectual decline and shallow thinking

3. Cravings, greed and snatching of people’s property; it can be said that some ghulāt’s motive in expressing and demonstrating ghulu was to reach some worldly ambitions and to control religious dues. Some of the Imams (a.s) have made clear and explicit reference to this point.  Imam Hasan Askari denouncing the exaggerators says: “May God’s curse be upon those who appropriate people’s property in our name.”[24]

This issue had also been known to the companions and true followers of the Shia Imams. Sharik bin Abdullah Nakha’ei Kufi says: “They (Ghulāt) are a group of people who used to ascribe false hadiths to Imam Sadiq (a.s) to take possession of people’s property and money.[25]

4. Moral anomaly and imprudence towards Islamic values: Some exaggerators (ghulāt) used ghulu to make halal what was haram.

5. False and unreal interpretation of religious texts.

6. Organizational factors such as the influence of the followers of various religions among Muslims not to mention the fact that even the rulers accompanied the ghulāt and supported the ghulāt who spread deviant thoughts and carried out destructive actions in Islamic society as it happened with Babism and Bahaism.[26]

We can get rid of ghulu using various ways the most important of which are the following:

1. Defining and ascertaining the limits of religious authority and putting into practice the Will and recommendations of the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh) by making recourse to Thaqalayn (the Two Weighty Things). If we want to distinguish the right way of religiosity from the wrong one, we must, in accordance with the Prophet’s will, make recourse to the Book and Itrah (progeny of the Prophet). Obviously, making recourse to the Book of God and the Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) is made possible by obeying practicing and God-fearing scholars who know the Quran and Itrah in the best and most perfect manner possible. The clear manifestations of such scholars are the grand and sagacious religious authorities.

2. Identifying the causes which lead to immergence or development of ghulu the most important of which is ignorance. Ignorance plays a key role in the development and creation of bid’ah (innovation) and deviant thoughts. It is therefore necessary to equip ourselves with the weapon of knowledge in two dimensions. The first dimension involves complete and precise knowledge of God and of the stages of monotheism which is made possible by comprehensively and profoundly studying reliable mystical, philosophical and theological books written by scholars who have perfect understanding of God, man and the universe. The second dimension involves knowledge of the imams and their ranks with God (we mean their relationship with God) and their main motto which they repeated most often and which was servitude to God, the Exalted and Glorified.

That is why the Shia Imams are like torches which help guide man towards God and noble and dignified servants of the Truth.

3. Not relying on the narrations which have been narrated by ghulāt. This requires knowledge of ghulāt in biographical (rijal) sources.[27]

4. Confronting Ghulāt thoughts through introducing genuine and correct Islamic thoughts

5. Keeping away from being driven by extreme love, excessiveness in love and lack of proper understanding of the limit and frame of love which lead to creation of deviant thoughts.  That is why the Infallible Imams (a.s) have warned us to avoid excessive love.  Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) denouncing this kind of love says: “Verily, the Jews loved Uzair (a.s) and they exaggerated about him whereas in fact neither Uzair was from them nor were they from Uzair. The Christians loved Jesus (a.s.) and they exaggerated in their love whereas, in fact, neither Jesus (a.s.) was from them nor were they from Jesus. The same tradition will be exercised about us; a group of Shiites will love us to the extent that they will say about us what the Jews said about Uzair and what the Christian said about Jesus. So they are not from us nor are we from them.”[28]

6. Vigilance and prudence in tackling the enemy who continue to present deviant thoughts; it is necessary for us to be completely aware of the conspiracies and plots hatched by enemies by designing deviant and destructive thoughts in Islamic society. Babism and Bahaism are some of the most tangible manifestations of such evil conspiracies worked out by enemies such as Russia and UK. The role of British and Russian embassies in supporting and backing Babism and Bahaism has been recorded in history[29] as was the case with the Qadiyani sect that was created by the British embassy in India.[30]

Of course, the point to be kept into consideration is that we must distinguish ghulu from non-ghulu through precision and scientific investigation because there are instances or issues which, in the first glance, is considered to be ghulu such as the fifth supposition in late Sabzevari’s sayings but they are not ghulu. In fact, they carry very precise and profound meaning in Islamic sciences which can be discerned and separated from non-ghulu by way of careful investigation and thinking.


[1]  Sa’d Mut’ab al-Mansoori, Al-Ghulu wa al-Mawqif al-Islami, p. 10.

[2]  Ibid, p. 11.

[3] See Mufradat Raghib Esfahani, p. 377.

[4] Lisan al-Arab, vol.6, p. 329.

[5]  Ibid.

[6]  Ibn Athir, al-Nehayah, vol.3, p. 382.

[7]  Sa’d Mut’ab al-Mansoori, Al-Ghulu wa al-Mawqif al-Islami, p. 17.

[8]  Al-Nisa, 171

[9]  Al-Maedah, 77.

[10]  Al-Maedah, 17.

[11]  Al-Maedah, 73.

[12]  Al-Tawbah,30.

[13]  Bohuth fi Sharh Urwat al-Wuthqa, vol.3, p. 307.

[14]  It is necessary to note that the fifth kind of ghulu has been rejected by some researchers and has not been considered one of the manifestations of ghulu.

[15]  Muhazzab al-Ahkaam, Sabzevari, vol.1, pp. 383 – 384.

[16]  See “Mafahim Quran”, Subhani, Ja’far.

[17]  Behar al-Anwar, vol.25, p. 262.

[18]  Ibid, p. 270.

[19]  Ibid. p. 273

[20]  Ibid.

[21]  Nasibi is an Islamic term used by the Shias for someone whom they claim hate the Ahlul Bayt of the prophet Muhammad, their followers and others.

[22]  Urwat al-Wuthqa, vol.1, p. 141.

[23]  Wasilat al-Nijat (with annotations by Imam Khomeini, p. 63.

[24]  Behar al-Anwar, vol.25, p. 318.

[25]  Ibid, p. 303.

[26]  Vide: al-Ghulu wa al-Mawqif al-Islami, pp. 101 – 106.

[27]  Such as Rijal Kashi, Tusi, Mu’jam Rijal al-Hadith, Khoei, Abul Qasim and other sources.

[28]  Behar al-Anwar, vol.25, p. 289.

[29]  For further information about Babis and Bahais authored by Hamayoon Himmati, pp. 37 – 38.

[30]  Vide: Al-Mas’alah al-Qadiyaniah, Abul A’laa al-Mawdudi, p. 76, and also Al-Mu’jizah al-Khalidah by Hebat al-Deen Shahristani, p. 17.


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