International Society for Iranian Studies

Some Observations on Religion in Safavid Persia Author(s): Hamid Algar Source: Iranian Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1/2, Studies on Isfahan: Proceedings of the Isfahan Colloquium, Part I (Winter - Spring, 1974), pp. 287-293 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of International Society for Iranian Studies Stable URL: . Accessed: 05/01/2011 00:04
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that Sufism owes its Nasr's contention Professor essential origin to Shicism. and true Sufism is Shicism. The first is an expression of respectful and the others are intended to direct disagreement. There are however a number of minor that I observations on Professor Nasr' s presentation wish to make. as well as the Iranian plain Transoxania of groups and individuals with diverse teau. attention to matters not mentioned in his otherwise comprehensive paper. which includes some of the greatest names of Islam. a plethora in our and aspirations tendencies that it is difficult. Thus. it tends too to obscure the rich legacy of Iranian Sunni spirituality. to present Sufism as an unacknowledged borrowing from Shicism. and that therefore its suppression in the Safavid period ought to be regarded as a return to the womb that bore it. to synthesize into a comprehensible whole. There is a certain tendency. is highly contestable.SOME OBSER VATIONS ON RELIGION IN SAFAVID PERSIA HAMID ALGAR that the religious It is indisputable history that both of the Safavid period and of the two centuries There existed preceded it remains inadequately explored. deriving above all from the work of Henry Corbin. present state of knowledge.hll Apart from the fact that this view of the "origins" of Sufism is hardly more plausible than Orientalist theories of Christian or Vendantine parentage. which receives its most extreme formulation in the claim that "true Shicism is Sufism. and Anatolia. in his En Islam 287 .

but we know largely the Kubriviyyah is still in the the Kubraviyyah flourished that in Transoxania 288 . particucombine respect to the Four larly the Twelve Imams.cases of HamadanI and Nfrbakhsh and "sha khhood."5 of the for the evolution should not be taken as typical it is not as if there were a seed of whole Kubraviyyah: its Shicism planted by Najm ad-Dtn Kubrf that attained of The later history natural flowering with Niirbakhsh. any certainty The others are shown only to guity surrounding Hamadini. "non-Shicitell is delicately Iran was assumption that the Sunni Sufism of pre-Safavid of ShiCite in essence and origin has the further effect break with the past that the Safathe radical concealing of Shicism represented. cites a place of refuge the supremacy as of Seljuq Anatolia too on correct belief He insists there of Sunnism. unexamined. and Sayyid Mutammad b. for example.4 of the People of Sunna defined as the belief (ictigad). SaCd ad-Din Hamuya. howThe conclusions on the subject. to these Kubr&vI means peculiar Najm ad-Din was very marked. article in his interesting fresh and important material drawn by him are. cAla ad-Daula SimnAnl. as a condition The. open to question. the Safavids by tarlgats The case of the Kubriviyyah is often adduced in this conand the late Marijan Mole indeed assembled much nection. none would deny. for the Family of the Prophet. formative developments that the way was prepared for the coming of the assertion pregnant with Shicism is dubious. cAbdull&h Nurbakhsh. Sunnism of the Kubravl as one reason for his choice RUzi D&ya.3 examined by Of all the figures ever..Corbin makes hardly any mention of sunni figures. for the state of "Imuridhood" and Community. him--Najm ad-Din KubrA. is only the last that may be regarded with although there is some ambias a Shicite. CAll HamadAni. with allegiance Caliphs and the Four Imams of the mazAhib--an attitude for the leaders of the iammahby no respect of integral The or their age. as it mention of that Sufi's almost apologetic The affiliations) put. of RuzbihAn Baqli is preceded by an and his discussion Sunni or. antecedents That Shicism had historical and that the Mongol and Timurid periods had witnessed But in ShiCism. vid establishment in Iran.

a 289 .10 and numerous examples of similar devotion to the figure of cAll can be supplied from the later history of the tarlqat. two jarigats of unquestioned sunni allegiance. Some consideration of this larigat is appropriate here. an calavi element in the spiritual ancestry of this purely Sunni jarlyat.8 extirpated It is true that the chief initiatic chain of the Naqshbandiyyah leads back to Abu Bakr rather than CAlI. are to be found also in the Naqshbandiyyah.9 There is. who migrated from Khwarazm to Istanbul in the reign of SultAn Selim II. tariqat. and wrote a work setting forth their initiatic chains and devotional and making practices it plain that they were three strands of a single tradition bearing an unmistakable sunni stamp. several branches of the Kubr&viyyah are known to have flourished briefly in various areas: there is no indication that they were Shicite. but since that chain passes through Jacfar as-lidiq the Naqshbandiyyah also a secondary silsilah. is moreover related to have beheld visions of cAll at critical points in his wayfaring on the path. possesses leading from Jacfar agP&diq through the Imamite line of descent to cAlt. Khaztnt. Nor is it purely a question of CAll. although it had spread from its Transoxanian homeland as far west as Isfahan and Qazvin before the Safavids it from the Iranian plateau.same atmosphere of sunni dominance as the Yasawiyyah and the Naqshbandiyyah. as late as the second half of the sixteenth A certain century. Bah& ad-Din Naqshband. that it designates as the "Golden Chain" (Silsilat az-zahab).6 The Kubravriyyah later died out in the Ottoman lands. being absorbed like the Anatolian remnants of the Yasawiyyah. all of the Twelve Imams are regarded as deserving of reverence and even as capable of functioning poshumonously as spiritual guides. It is noteworthy that the celebrated Rawdat ash-Shuhad&c. The eponymous founder of the Naqshbandiyyah. such as expressions of devotion to the Twelve Imams. into the a process that would hardly have been Naqshbandiyyah. then. possible for a proto-Shicite In addition.7 Elements in KubrivI texts regarded as protoshicite. since the Corbin version of Iranian Sufism omits all mention of it. was initiated into all three vrtcqats.

fundamental work on the early history That devotion to the Imams has Rashabit CAyn al-Iay t. Divine Presence by way of sainthood. wrote a bitterly the MaktiibAt described the Shica. with ShiCism is further demonconnection no necessary to by its combination with pronounced hostility strated Shaykh Athmad cases. Rix! and another in condemnation of the hiCite culama of the city. Fakhr Kishifi. applied. the of the tartgat. but in his celebrated those who approach the Twelve Imams as the leaders of the Similarly. of Muharram. 12 on the Kubr&viyyah and From these observations of Naqshbandiyyah we conclude then that the existence of devotion to the Twelve Imams in the jariqats attitudes of the Mongol and Timurid periods was neither a borrowing It is therefore element. against treatise polemical the _tariqat. wrote the whose son. the way for the coming of Shicism prepared effectively in Iran. from Shicism nor a proto-Shicite that the evolution to accept the assertion not possible from Sunnism to ShiCism mirrored a general of the Safavids or that the Tarigats development among the tarigats.of the martyrdom of Husayn at Kerbela and one description of the ShiCite commemoration of the most important props Husayn b. point of view. when passing Naqshbandl through M4ashhad on his way to India in the early ninecomposed one poem in praise of the Imam teenth century.11 saint MawlAnA Khflid Baghdadi. not a ruthless place. the rise to power of ShAh IsmAcil certain of Iran from the may be regarded as a Turkoman invasion 290 . CAll by a Naqshbandi. it manifestly as state religion nature of its introduction the violent picture the historical by Shah Ism&Cil would be to distort took transition painless and to suggest that a relatively From a campaign of suppression. was written ad-Din CAll Saf-1. accomplished of the transformation Any discussion by the Safavids must include some mention of the violent Clearly. ShiCism in a number of significant founder of the important Mujaddidi branch of Sirhindi. methods they liberally and coercive in the Iranian soil as Shicism could not have flourished but to ignore has through mere imposition.

the tombs of Sunni saints and scholars and sunni mosques were were violated. and although their repetition became to some extent a matter of scribal tradition.15 of Arab Saicite scholars from al-Ahs& and Jabal cAmil that more temperate doctrines came to prevail: an Arab scholarly influx came to complement the Turkoman military as a fundainvasion ment of Shicite Iran. but also because it was connected with the peculiar and messianic form of Shicism practised by ShAh IsmAcil. desecrated. not only because it demonstrates that Iran was far from ready for a swift passage into Shicism. as persecutors of scholars crators and defilers of tombs. it should be remembered that the violence used by the Safavids in the establisha shocked and horrified ment of Shicism elicited reaction in the sunni neighbors of Iran that for long determined their whole attitude to Shicism. In conclusion. one at variance with subsequent Ithal cashari orthodoxy. ShiCism on the Sunni majority of Iran.13 It is important to recall this violently coercive policy of the early Safavids. Even contemporary Turkish attitudes to the Shicah may be said unconsciously to be colored by Safavid memories. and even the deity descended to It was only with the importation earth. Ghul&t elements appear to have entered the Safavid doctrine with Junayd and Haydar. sunni culama were and the the first three Caliphs. some of the wider effects on the Islamic world of the conversion of Iran to Shicism may be indicated. who in his Turkish poetry puts forward an ecstatic of claims variety to being.14 and to have reached their apogee with Shah Ismacil. There is a certain of tone and content in all the Ottoman fatvas consistency calling for war on Iran. obliged to execrate recalcitrant among them were immolated. the Mahdi come in the fullness of time. alternatively.16 could be justified These accusations with reference to Shah Ismacil. there is no doubt that in general the Shicites of Iran were seen by the Ottomans as irredeemably violent and prewest that produced almost as violent disruptions In order to impose vious incursions from the east. down to the eighteenth century: are seen as neglecters of prayer and desethe Shicites of mosques. Finally. With the emergence of a militantly shicite 291 . cAll reincarnate.

state in Iran. It is true that despite the barrier of Safavid Iran the Ottomans communicated sporadically with Central Asia. and it may be held in part responsible for the stagnation and gradual decay of the Uzbek khanates. 258. (Ankara: Ilk Mutasavviflar. ed. 5. V (1337/1959). p. 9-11. ila l-Mac%d. TUrk 2nd ed. "Les Kubrawiya entre Sunnisme et Shiisme aux Huitibme et Neuvibme Si&cles de l'Hegire. 6. pp. It may also be conceded that their Balkan and Mediterranean interests would in any event have precluded a successful eastward expansion of their authority. ancien fonds persan. Lujjat al-Abrar dar As&mi-yi Auliy&-yi Kibar. 244. ending in their conquest by the Russians in the nineteenth century. Mirs&d al-CIbAd min al-Mabdal AmIn RiyAhl (Tehran: Mubjanmmad Ibid. NOTES 1. En Islam Iranien (Paris: 1972). pp.. Bibliothbque Nationale." Revue des Etudes Islamiques (1961). all possibility of territorial continuity between the western and eastern parts of the Islamic world was excluded. III. Ada- 2. Henry Corbin. p. pp. and had some seaborne contact with India and even Sumatra. 56. p. ff. 3. I"Sih Guftir dar bab-i Tartkh-i MaCnavtyAt-i IrAn. 61-142. vol. vol. Some information on Khazini and another work of his is to be found in Fuad Kt5prUlU. the most powerful sunni state."1 Majalyla-l Danishkada-yi biyat-i TihrAn.7 Safavid Iran nonetheless condemned the Sunni of Afghanistan and Central Asia to virtual populations isolation from the Ottomans. 323. 20. 4. This too was part of the price paid for the minor renaissance of Islamic culture that took place under Safavid patronage. 1352/1973). 292 . Edebiyatinda 1960). 103b-173b. 1226.

pp. Abiu Bakr: his maternal grandfather Muhammadb. 10. ms. Laleli (Istanbul: 1381). pp. 68. See Bandirmalizade Ahmed MUnib. Rault al-JanAn Jannat al-Jinan. 15. Ris&la dar Radd-i Rav&fid is printed as Sirhindil's an appendix to this edition of the Maktiibat. pp. ff. The subject has been examined in detail by Elke Eberhard in Osmanische Polemik gegen die Safawiden im 16. 41-42. ed. 237-238. Jahrhundert nach arabischen Handschriften (Freiburg: 1970). We may note in passing that Imam JaCfar as-Sadiq was also physically descended from was Q5sim b. Divan (Bulaq: 1260/1844). "The Poetry of Shah Ism&C il vol. 247-248. On this topic see the interesting Asrar. Ij&fiz Husayn Karbali'! Tabrlzi. 12. Husayn b. Minlorsky. 135. wa 9. I. Osmanlilarin Dini Siyaseti (Istanbul: 1972)." Le Shicisme Imamite (Paris: 1970). I. Mirat (Istanbul: 1306/1889). at-Turuk Muhammadb. 293 . See Michel Mazzaoui.7." BSOAS. 12. 16. Maktub&t (Lucknow: 1306/1889). The Origins (Wiesbaden: 1972). 73. 13. pp. 8. Silsilanama-yi Khwfljag&n-i Naqshband. of the Safavids 14. CAbdull&h Qazvini. one of the prominent tabici-n. study of Ahmet ve tslam Alemi 17. p. V. See Jean Aubin. 9a-llb. 1006a-1053a. 2b-3a.. III. ff. 11. p. Ibid. "La Politique Religieuse des Safavides. Jacfar SultAn al-QurrVlt (Tehran: 1344/1965). Abi Bakr. X (1940-1943). p.

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