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Islam in Iran, Safavid Era
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More numerous and significant were the clashes that occurred during the long reign of Nāṣer-al-Din Shah (1848-96), for it witnessed the beginnings of processes that were perceived as a threat to the integrity of Perso-Islamic society: foreign encroachment, widening prerogatives of the state, and a degree of westernization. At the same time, the methodology of Oṣuli jurisprudence was additionally refined in a way that further enhanced the authority of the ulema: it was propounded that the common believer choose, as his source of imitation, a mojtahed judged to be more learned (aʿlam) than all his colleagues. Such comparative evaluations of erudition were, of course, beyond the capacity of the common believer, and the emergence of a mojtahed as “more learned” tended to be the result of a general reputation for piety and the promotion of his claims by lesser-ranking ulema associated with him. The first mojtaheds to be generally accepted as aʿlam and therefore deserving the taqlid of the entire community were Shaikh Moḥammad-Ḥasan Najafi (d. 1266/1850), son of Shaikh Jaʿfar Najafi, and, more notably, Shaikh Mortażā Anṣāri (d. 1281/1864, q.v.). Neither of these had the occasion or inclination to make political use of the power that was implicit in their position, but it was Anṣāri’s foremost pupil and successor, Mirzā Ḥasan Širāzi (d. 1312/1895), adorned with the honorific mojadded, who issued in 1308/1901 the celebrated fatwā that forbade the consumption of tobacco as long as its marketing was in the hands of a British monopoly. Universally obeyed and resulting in violent clashes in the capital and elsewhere, this fatwā and the reaction it aroused marked the beginning of mass politics in Persia (Algar, 1969b, pp. 205-18). Širāzi did not, however, allow his authority to be mobilized for more ambitious purposes, and the ulema in general had as yet no interest in a comprehensive reshaping of the political order under their leadership.

Many of them nonetheless participated in the Constitutional Revolution (q.v.), despite their initial lack of acquaintance with the constitutional concept. As Sayyed Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾi, one of the leading constitutionalist mojtaheds, freely admitted, “we had no direct experience of constitutionalism. But what we heard from those who had seen countries with constitutional regimes was that constitutionalism conduces to the security and prosperity of a country” (cited in Ādamiat, p. 226). The cause was supported to great effect by three mojtaheds resident in Najaf: Shaikh ʿAbd-Allāh Māzandarāni (d. 1331/1912a, q.v.), Āḵund Moḥammad Kāẓem Ḵorāsāni (d. 1329/1911, q.v.), and Ḥājj Mirzā Ḥosayn Ḵalili Tehrāni (d. 1325/1908), and the telegrams they sent to Persia proclaimed efforts to establish the constitution “equivalent to a jehād waged under the command of the Lord of the Age [the Twelfth Imam]” (Hairi, 1976-77, p. 144). No clearer or more categorical endorsement of the cause could be imagined. Not all the ulema, however, saw matters in the same light. Shaikh Fażl-Allāh Nuri abandoned his early support of the movement once he concluded that it had been infiltrated by “members of the new sects [an allusion to the Azali identity of some prominent constitutionalists] and the naturalists” (Hairi, 1977, p. 331) He accordingly condemned the movement as it stood and called instead for mašruṭa-ye mašruʿa, that is, a form of constitutional government limited by and compatible with the šariʿa, a slogan that soon became abbreviated to mašruʿa and served as the opposite of mašruṭa. He was answered by Mirzā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Nāʾini, a pupil of Āḵund Ḵorāsāni, in a tract that argued that rejection of constitutionalism led ineluctably to tyranny, which is itself an ongoing violation of the šariʿa. Nuri did indeed associate himself with the royalist coup d’etat of July 1908 and was executed by a band of revolutionaries that included non-Muslims. This was received as an affront by the entire clerical class, as was the assassination, almost exactly a year later, of Sayyed ʿAbd-Allāh Behbahāni, a prominent supporter of the constitution. The net result of the Constitutional Revolution was to induce in the ulema a distrust of political involvement which was, in turn, one reason for their acquiescence in Reza Shah’s rise to power.

Once the Oṣuli cause had triumphed in Persia, with these manifold long-term socio-political consequences, the Aḵbāri tendency became effectively confined to Khuzestan and the Shiʿite communities of Bahrayn and al-Aḥsā on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. It was also from al-Aḥsā that emerged the Shaikhi movement, so named after its founder, Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾi (d. 1241/1826, q.v.), adding a further element of diversity to Twelver Shiʿism in Persia and elsewhere. Like the issues separating Oṣulis and Aḵbāris, the distinctive teachings that set the Shaikhis aside from the main body of the community also related to the implications of the continued occultation of the Twelfth Imam, but more to the spiritual and cosmological aspects of the problem. Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾi and his followers propounded the notion of a “fourth pillar” (rokn-e rābeʿ) of religion, by which was meant the presence in the world of “a perfect Shiʿi” (Šiʿa-ye kāmel) who serves as a privileged intermediary between the Occulted Imam and his community (Corbin, IV, pp. 274-86); implicit to this concept was the claim that first Aḥsāʾi and then his successors served as the intermediary in question. Further, they located the Imam in the imaginal realm of Hurqalyā, where they also claimed the ascent (meʿrāj) of the Prophet had taken place—thus denying its corporeal aspect—and the resurrection of all men will occur (Corbin, IV, pp. 28-291). Aḥsāʾi came to Persia in 1221/1806 and was met with both acceptance and denunciation. Ḥājj Mollā Moḥammad-Taqi Borḡāni of Qazvin issued a fatwā declaring him an unbeliever, primarily because of his teachings concerning Hurqalyā (Algar, 1969a, p. 69). Aḥsāʾi thereupon left Persia, first for the shrine cities of Iraq, where again he encountered hostility, and then for the Hijaz, dying in Jidda in 1241/1826. His named successor (ʾeb al-manāb) was Sayyed Kāẓem Rašti, resident in Karbalāʾ, who had made the acquaintance of Aḥsāʾi in Yazd and then accompanied him to the ʿatabāt.

Rašti omitted to name a successor before his death in 1259/1843, with the result that several claimants to his mantle arose and the Shaikhi community was sundered into four. One group was led by Sayyed ʿAli-Moḥammad the Bāb (d. 1850), the founder of Babism (q.v.), a movement that lies beyond the purview of this article. Another, directed by Mirzā Ḥasan Gowhar of Karbalāʾ, never gained much support in Persia. The two factions important for the history of Shaikhism in Persia were those led by Ḥāji Mirzā Šafiʿ Ṯeqat al-Eslām and Mollā Moḥammad Mamaqāni Ḥojjat-al-Eslām in Tabriz and by Ḥājji Moḥammad-Karim Khan Kermāni (d. 1871), a member of the Qajar family, in Kerman. Both factions moved swiftly to “normalize” their doctrines, that is, to align them with the conventional beliefs of Twelver Shiʿism as then understood, and Moḥammad-Karim Khan Kermāni in particular was energetic in distancing Shai-khism from Babism. This process of adjustment did not prevent the Shaikhis, however, from forming distinct and fairly substantial communities, under the hereditary leadership of first the Ḥojjat-al-Eslām and then the Ṯeqat-al-Eslām family in Tabriz, and of the descendants of Moḥammad-Karim Khan in Kerman. In both Tabriz and Kerman, clashes repeatedly took place between the Shai-khis and their neighbors, in yet another manifestation of the recurring propensity of Persian cities for factional warfare. The adversaries of the Shaikhis became known, in this context, as the Bālāsaris (q.v.), that is, those who paid their respects at the shrines of the Imams while standing at the head of their tombs, by contrast with the Shaikhis, who thought it more respectful to stand at the foot. It is, however, improbable that the mutual hostility derived from this or any other detail of doctrine or ritual. Shaikhi-Bālāsari clashes ravaged Kerman for a full year in 1295/1878, and for a somewhat shorter period in 1322/1905; on the latter occasion it was rivalry for the control of lucrative awqāf that ignited the hostilities. In Tabriz, the Shaikhis were deemed heretics and ritually unclean, and they were accordingly denied access to the city’s bathhouses. Hamadān also witnessed clashes between Shaikhis and Bālāsaris in 1315/1897. Smaller Shaikhi communities than those in Tabriz and Kerman came into being in Ḵorramšahr, Ābādan, Shiraz, and Zonuz (Momen, pp. 225-31).

Yet another element of differentiation in the religious life of Qajar Persia was provided by the Neʿmat-Allāhi order of Sufis, reintroduced into the country toward the end of the 18th century by two emissaries of Rezā-ʿAlišah Dakani (d. 1214/1799). One, Shah Ṭāher Dakani, lived peacefully and largely unnoticed in Yazd, but his companion, Sayyed Mir ʿAbd al-Ḥamid Maʿṣum-ʿAlišah, a man of ecstatic temperament, met both with great success in his preaching and with determined hostility on the part of the Oṣuli ulema (ʿolamāʾ). He arrived in Shiraz sometime during the reign of Karim Khan Zand, probably in 1190/1776, but not long after was banished to a village near Isfahan at the urging of the ulema. The death of Karim Khan emboldened him to settle in Isfahan itself, but the enthusiastic popular response he encountered there again aroused clerical hostility. Several of Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāh’s followers were mutilated by way of punishment for their perceived heresy, and two prominent disciples, Nur-ʿAlišah and Mostāq- ʿAlišah, fled to Kerman, where every Thursday evening they would lead thousands on pilgrimage to the shrine of Shah Neʿmat-Allāh in the nearby hamlet of Māhān. This spectacle—suggestive of a longstanding devotion to the eponym of the order in Kerman—enraged a certain Mollā ʿAbd-Allāh Mojtahed to the extent that he contrived to have Mostāq-ʿAlišah executed in 1205/1790. Nur-ʿAlišah fled Kerman for Iraq, by way of Isfahan and Kermanšāh, but there, too, he was not safe; he died in Mosul in 1215/1800, allegedly as the result of a poisoning administered by two agents of the redoubtable Āqā Moḥammad-ʿAli Behbahāni, whose repeated display of murderous energy against the Sufis earned him the sobriquet of “Ṣufikoš” (Sufi-killer). It was also Behbahāni who had Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāh himself put to death in Kermānšāh in 1212/1797 (Pourjavady and Wilson, pp. 93-135).

Behbahāni sought to ground his hostility to the resurgent Neʿmat-Allāhi order in two treatises, Resāla-ye ḵayrātiya and Qaṭʿ al-maqāl fi radd ahl al-żalāl, that are replete with wideranging accusations such as pederasty, neglect of prayer, drug addiction, and the use of musical instruments. Whatever be made of these charges, it seems plain that the Neʿmat-Allāhiya as now constituted had doctrinally little in common with the order as first established by Shah Neʿmat-Allāh and his immediate descendants. The works of Nur-ʿAlišah contain many theopathic utterances; themes of ḡolāt Shiʿism that seem to echo the verse of Shah Esmāʿil; and repeated criticism of the ulema for their alleged corruption. The nub of the matter was, however, the claim advanced by Nur-ʿAlišah (and presumably by Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāh as well) that the Sufi master was the true ʾeb (deputy) of the Occulted Imam (Algar, 1995a, p. 46). Insofar as the Oṣuli ulema were engaged, at precisely the same time, in consolidating their own claims to the deputyship, it was inevitable that the two groups should clash. The ulema were plainly the stronger party, enjoying—at least in this contest—the support of royal authority throughout the first quarter of the 19th century.

This support ceased with the accession to the throne in 1834 of Moḥammad Shah, who himself had Sufi proclivities, as did his vizier, Ḥāji Mirzā Āqāsi. The acerbity of the contest between Sufi and scholar was in any event beginning to fade as the Neʿmat-Allāhis began to adopt more circumspect attitudes, in a process somewhat similar to that undergone by the Shaikhis. The formula of Ḥaydar Āmoli, a Shiʿite gnostic of the 8th/14th century, that identified Sufism with Shiʿism was repeated by Maʿṣum-ʿAlišāh II with some elaboration: “True Sufism is true Shiʿism; the path of the Immaculate Imams is outwardly the šariʿat of the Imāmi Shiʿites, and inwardly the divine truths of Sufism” (Ṭarāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq I, p. 104). This implied a division of deputyship and hence of authority between the Sufis and the jurists. A fundamental antagonism has nonetheless persisted down to the present.

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