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"Simonism" is an umbrella term for a variety of Christian groups who, counted together, form the largest branch of Christianity worldwide. Most Simonist Christians live in Africa, but there are large Simonist communities in Roman Arabia, Roman Asia and Roman Europe, too.
The name of this branch of Christianity is derived from Simon, a Jewish Christian who organised resistance against the persecutions with which all Christians were faced under the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius in the 250s. Whereas the Christian minority had hitherto adopted a pacifist stance and endured persecutions and martyrdom without striking back, Simon led a number of Palestinian, Arabian, Syrian and Egyptian Roman Christian groups into an organised guerrilla warfare.The religious wars between Decius` administration and the Simonists were an important factor in the downfall of the Principate. Simon himself opposed any alliance with non-Christian Romans in the revolutionary fight against the forces of the old regime, but militant Christian groups under the Simonist banner of the red cross, led by his internal rival, Zacharias, made up a significant portion of the revolutionary armies in the civil war which brought down the Principate and installed the Second Roman Republic. In fact, the Second Roman Republic mirrored several important goals and tenets of Simonist Christians, among them the abolition of the Roman state cult, religious freedom, and the abolition of slavery.
Although Simon fled to the Garamants, and the Simonists within the Roman Republic were led by the disciples of Zacharias, both militant pro-republican Christians within the Roman Republic as well as the Garamant Berbers, who were converted by Simon, continued to call themselves and be called by others as "Simonists".
Throughout the following centuries, Roman Simonists established rural co-operatives and communes throughout Northern Africa, Egypt, Palestine, Arabia and Syria. In their civitates and the Republic, they were powerful leftist, pacifist, anti-polytheistic and egalitarian forces, and there have always been Simonist members of the Conventum Romanum ever since.
But from the 4th century onwards, Simonism`s centre of gravity moved Southwards, into Africa. Supported by Roman civitates, who sought to secure and pacify the Southern border of the Empire, i.e. themselves, the Garamants conquered and united all the Berber tribes in the immediate vicinity of the Roman Republic as well as throughout the entire Sahara, converting them to Simonist Christianity. After the cruel, genocidal Pontic Campaign conducted by the Roman Republic against the Huns and other nomadic people - and perhaps helped along by the return of economic inequality in the Roman civitates -, the Simonist Berbers loosened their ties to the Roman Republic and began to focus on proselytising the nations to their South, with which they traditionally maintained trading relations.
Thus, throughout the 5th and 6th centuries Simonism spread to the Malinké, bringing down the Wagadu Empire, and to the Tubu, bringing down the Empire of Kanem. Simonists emerged victorious from religious wars in the city states of the Hausa, Banza and Sao, and they gained followers among various Sub-Saharan tribes who had been living in stateless societies anyway.
Throughout the first millennium CE, Simonism differentiated itself among the various oasis communes, rural tribes and Sub-Saharan cities, bringing forth a host of local varieties. These differences went unnoticed for a long while, the different groups entertaining only loose contacts and never establishing a state or any other centralised polity.
But in the 10th century, with the global spread of the printing press and the establishment of a Simonist Theological School in Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem), the differences became evident. A group of more literalist Simonists led by Masuna, a theologian from Mune, condemned the semi-animist syncretic practices, which were very common among Southern Simonists. At the heart of the theological dispute between Masunists and their opponents, later led by the Hausa theologian Samaila, was the question where the righteous deceased dwelled before Judgment Day and the coming of the New Jerusalem:
- the Masunist Simonists held the view - shared by their Roman Apostolic, Nestorian, Celtic, Paulician and Aryan Christian brethren in Europe and the Middle East - that the deceased, whether saints or sinners, remained dead until awoken on Judgment Day. Although they did not condemn prayers to the saints directly (a very common practice among the non-Paulician Christians in the Roman Republic), they insisted that any miracles ascribed to saints were in fact deeds of God or his Holy Spirit, the latter being conceived of as a pure part of the trinity.
- the Samailans, on the other hand, held the view - shared by their non-Christian Southern neighbours like the Poro Society, the Akan, the Edo, Yoruba, Igbo, Kwararafa and others - that the spirits of the saints remained a real force, capable of perceiving the deeds of the living and interfering into their lives, before all humans would become corporally alive on Judgment Day. They saw prayers to the saints as prayers to actually powerful entities. Samaila formulated the view that the souls of the deceased saints became merged in a communion with the Holy Spirit.
Conflicts between Masunists and Samailans brewed among the communities for several decades before two blocs were formed: the Masunists had emerged victorious in much of the Sahara except for a few oases in OTL Mauretania, while the Sahel and Sub-Saharan communities had become dominated by Samailans. A costly thirty-year-long war between Masunists and Samailans raged in the 11th century, mostly unobserved by the rest of the world, which was ravaged by the Black Death and other pandemics at the same time.
At its end, several oases and cities were destroyed, and almost a million had died. The Masunists maintained control over the Sahara and began to establish closer ties between the different oases, with Garama and Mune functioning as the spiritual and political centres. The individual communes remained stateless egalitarian communes, though.
As a result of the conflict, the Samailan South was politically united in the Gao Alliance, the continent`s largest and ethnically most diverse federal republic. The religious developments of the Samailan Simonist South have been described by 17th century historians as the "Melanosis" of Simonism, a term, which has later been discredited as racist. At its conceptual core, the term seeks to describe the growing integration of ancestor worship into the Simonist cult as well as the emergence of socio-political structures which combined Simonist egalitarianism with a more formalised alliances between communes based on representation according to multiple, cross-cutting social categorisations (generations, occupational groups, tribal/linguistic groups, local/municipal units).
Both Masunist and Samailan SImonists and their polities came under political, economic and military pressure by expanding industrialised nations from the 14th to the 18th centuries. While many of the relatively stateless polities have lost their autonomy for longer periods of time, the Simonist faith has remained strong in the Northern half of Africa, and it was one of the major traditions on which the reconstruction of the polity of the Imaziyen was based.