Entangled Religions 13.5 (2022) er.ceres.rub.de

Nūrollāh Šūštarī on Shi’i Notables

Reza Pourjavady University of Bamberg, Germany

Nūrollāh Šūštarī’s (d. 1019/1610) Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn (Assemblies of the Believers) is an extensive work on distinguished Shi’i figures throughout history. The author, trained in Safavid lands, composed this work while residing in the Mughal empire. There, he was associated with the court of Akbar (r. 963–1014/[1556]–1605). The present article introduces various aspects of Šūštarī’s project and examines what might have motivated him to undertake such a significant task. It also touches on the internal challenges found in the circles of the Shi’i scholars, with which the author was intellectually engaged, and discusses later critics of the work, who blamed its author for including in it many Sufi figures of the classical and post-classical period. Furthermore, the possibility that the composition of the Maǧāles caused its author’s death will be discussed. With his authorship of this work, Šūštarī was pioneering a trend of writing Shi’i bio-bibliographical works, to which many scholars contributed up until the twentieth century.

Nūrollāh Šūštarī, Sunni-Shi’i controversy, Safavid Shi’ism, Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, Shi’i bio-bibliographical works, Shi’ism, Sufism, Shi’ism in the Mughal court, Safavids and Naqšbandīya



Nūrollāh Šūštarī’s (d. 1019/1610) Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn (Assemblies of the Believers) can be considered the first comprehensive Shi’i bio-bibliographical work.1 Earlier works of this kind included only Shi’i scholars who transmitted Shi’i ḥadīs̱. Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn’s scope was much wider, mapping out the entire Shi’i communities of previous centuries. It introduces Shi’i personalities in different spheres of life, including rulers, viziers and officials as well as scholars, thinkers, Sufis and poets. Moreover, the work is significant for presenting the Shi’a as an intellectual perspective within Islam instead of a sect like many others.


Born in or around 956/1549 in Shushtar in the south-west of Iran, in 979/1571, Nūrollāh Šūštarī moved to Mashhad to study among Safavid scholars there (Šūštarī [1378] 1999, 24–25). In 992/1584, he went to Mecca via India. Following his pilgrimage, Šūštarī did not return to the Safavid territory and spent the rest of his life in the Mughal empire (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 6:535). Shortly after he arrived in Fatehpur Sikri in 993/1585, he went to the residence of the Mughal emperor, Ğalāl al-Dīn Akbar (r. 963–1014/1556–1605). The Mughal court physician, Abo-l-Fatḥ Gīlānī (d. 997/1589), who probably knew Šūštarī from the time he spent in Mashhad (Ṣafā [1363–1370] 1984–1991, 5(2): 825), introduced him to Akbar (Badāʾūnī [1379] 2000–2001, 3:93). Šūštarī was in contact with the emperor even before moving to India. He completed a work, titled al-Risāla al-Ǧalālīya (The Ǧalālian Treatise), which he dedicated to Akbar while he was still in Mashhad in Ramażān 992/September 1584, which was shortly before his departure to India (Šūštarī [1377] 1584; Neyšābūrī Kentūrī [1409] 1988, 157).2 This work consists of nine questions on Qurʾānic exegesis (al-tafsīr), tradition (al-ḥadīs̱), morphology (mabādiʾ al-luġa), syntax (al-naḥw), semantics (al-maʿānī), the theory of figurative speech proper (al-bayān), legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh), rational theology (kalām) and logic (al-manṭiq). By showing his engagement in various sciences, Šūštarī tried to impress the emperor with his competence in these sciences in advance. Sometime after he arrived in India, Akbar appointed him the chief judge of Lahore (Badāʾūnī [1379] 2000–2001, 3:93; Šūštarī [1378] 1999, 25), a post which Šūštarī held for more than a decade.


Šūštarī was not the only Shi’i scholar associated with the Mughal court.3 However, he was the one most rigorous in defending Shi’i doctrines. During the years he was associated with the Mughal court, he engaged in several Sunni–Shi’i debates.4 He also wrote several polemical works in response to Sunni refutations of Shi’ism. The subjects of most of his works are, in one way or another, related to Shi’ism. Among his works, Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, which is the focus of the present study, arguably is the most revealing work of Šūštarī in terms of his view of Shi’i intellectual heritage. Fortunately, a group of scholars in Mashhad has recently prepared a critical edition of this work, which is far more reliable than earlier editions.5 Moreover, the editors’ extensive introduction to this book and their footnotes throughout the text were beneficial for the present study.

The Structure of the Work


Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn consists of a preface (dībāča), a prologue (fāteḥa), twelve chapters which the author called ‘assemblies’ (maǧāles, sing. maǧles) and an epilogue (ḫātema). The subjects of the chapters are as follows:


  1. On the places and regions associated with the Imams and the Shi’a;
  2. On the Shi’i clans (ṭavāʾef; sing. ṭāʾefa);
  3. On the distinguished Shi’i companions of the Prophet;
  4. On the notable Shi’i contemporaries of the companions (tābeʿīn);
  5. On the Shi’i theologians, Qurʾān exegetes, jurists, reciters of the Qurʾān (qorrāʾ), grammarians and philologists among the generations following the companions;
  6. On the Shi’i Sufis;
  7. On the Shi’i philosophers and theologians;
  8. On the notable Shi’i kings and sultans;
  9. On the notable Shi’i provincial rulers (omarāʾ, sing. amīr) and army commanders;
  10. On the Shi’i viziers and officials;
  11. On the Shi’i Arab poets;
  12. On the Shi’i Persian poets (shoʿarāʾ-e ʿaǧam).

Duration of the Composition of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn and Its Dedication


While residing in India, Šūštarī devoted more than a decade of his life to writing Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn. According to the author’s statement at the end of the Maǧāles, he started writing the work on 1 Raǧab 998/6 May 1590 and completed it on 23 Ẕo l-Qaʿda 1010/15 May 1602 ([1401] 1981, 5: 269–70).6 However, Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrānī ([1403–1406] 1983–1986, 19:370) and the recent editors of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:346–52), have moved the starting date of the composition to sometime before 982/1574–75. The reason is that at one point in the text, the author refers to the current date as 982/1574–75 (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 5:360).7 At another point in the prologue (fāteḥa), the date was given as 990/1582 (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:51–52). Nevertheless, it is not reasonable to doubt the author’s statement about the time he started the composition simply because of the two earlier dates mentioned in the body of the text. Those dates may have been taken from sources which Šūštarī had drawn upon on certain occasions. In any case, the date given by the author as the beginning of the composition, i.e., 1 Raǧab 998/6 May 1590, must be the date he made up his mind to compose the work.


Šūštarī was able to produce his works of scholarship with remarkable speed. He wrote the draft of his extensive Maṣāʾib al-nawāṣib (Afflictions of ʿAlī’s Enemies) in seventeen days (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:21). He also wrote his Iḥqāq al-ḥaqq (Establishing Justice), which is likewise extensive, in seven months (Šūštarī [1377] 1957–1958, 1:32). The fact that it took him twelve years to compose the Maǧāles indicates that the composition was done with greater care and attention. Moreover, Šūštarī benefitted from a large number of sources in the Maǧāles, some of which were not at his disposal at the very beginning of his project. He was gathering and accumulating the materials gradually, incorporating his notes in the text. This process even continued after the completion of the first draft. In the epilogue, Šūštarī indicates that after the completion of the draft, whenever he found some further information on a particular matter which could improve the text, he inserted a gloss (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 6:529). These glosses were later incorporated into the book (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:350, editors’ introduction). Therefore, the text has several recensions, depending on the extent to which additional materials have been incorporated in it.


Šūštarī dedicated the work to the “Imam of the time,” the Twelfth Shi’i Imam, Muḥammad b. Ḥasan al-ʿAskarī. Dedication of a work to the Twelfth Imam was not unprecedented by this time. The most well-known example preceding the Maǧāles was ʿAbd al-Ǧalīl Qazvīnī’s (fl. 560/1164–65) Baʿż masāleb al-navāṣeb fī naqż baʿż fażāʾeḥ al-ravāfeż, known as Ketāb al-naqż. Qazvīnī wrote this work in Persian in response to an anti-Shi’i polemical work, the Baʿż fażāʾeḥ al-ravāfeż. Šūštarī was familiar with Qazvīnī’s Ketāb al-naqż as he used it and referred to it in various occasions in his Maǧāles (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:373). Apart from the dedication to the Imam, the Maǧāles and Ketāb al-naqż share some other features. They are both apologetics, they were both written in Persian, and the target readers for both works were not only specialists but also the general Shi’i reader. Nevertheless, the structure and the goal of the Maǧāles were quite different from those of Ketāb al-naqż.


The dedication of the work to the “Imam of the time” is also an indication that the author did not intend to show it to the Mughal emperor because it goes without saying that he would not have been pleased with the way its dedication was formulated. There are reasons to believe that at the end of Akbar’s reign Šūštarī was no longer receiving the support of the emperor (Rizvi 1986, 1:369–70; Rezavi 2017, 41). While the exact reason for the emperor’s change of attitude towards Šūštarī remains unknown, S. A. A. Rizvi (1986, 1:369–370) and Rezavi (2017, 41) relate it to the death of the Mughal vizier, Abo-l-Fażl ʿAllāmī, who used to support Šūštarī in several occasions. They assume that Šūštarī lost the royal support after Abo-l-Fażl’s death on 4 Rabīʿ I 1011/22 August 1602. However, there is no evidence supporting this assumption. Šūštarī might have lost the support a few months earlier than Abo-l-Fażl’s death, sometime before 23 Ẕo l-Qaʿda 1010/15 May 1602, when the Maǧāles was completed. Knowing that he could no longer secure patronage at the court might be one of the reasons that Šūštarī decided to dedicate the Maǧāles to the Twelfth Imam.

The Scope of the Work


In the preface to the Maǧāles, Šūštarī explains that Shi’is in the period between the caliphate of ʿAlī b. Abī Tāleb and the rise of the Safavids were mostly practising dissimulation (taqīya), undertaking precautionary concealment of their beliefs. Sunni scholars had the opportunity to establish their principals and their positions on various religious matters, and ultimately it is these scholars who have been recognized and listed in the bio-bibliographical works (aka Ṭabaqāt works). In these works, Shi’i scholars who were practising taqīya were considered to be Šāfeʿī or Ḥanafī. The Shi’is themselves, Šūštarī noted, did not compose a significant bio-bibliographical work. The only exceptions are the collections of names and brief biographies of the Shi’i transmitters of ḥadīs̱, the purpose of which was purely a matter of dogma. With the rise of the Safavid dynasty, Šūštarī argued, there remained no need for taqīya. Therefore, he intended to devote his time to writing a book, in the style of Ṭabaqāt works, on pre-Safavid Shi’i figures (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:8–9).


The above explanation makes several points clear. First, the scope of the work has been given. It starts with the period after the caliphate of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and ends with the rise of the Safavids. However, there are exceptions, so that he went beyond the limit he had set and included figures whose career was spent partially or entirely within the Safavid era; scholars such as Ġeyās̱ al-Dīn Daštakī (d. 949/1542), Šams al-Dīn Ḫafrī (d. 942/1535–36), Šāh Ṭāher Dakanī (d. 952/1545-46), Aḥmad b. Naṣrollāh Daibalī Tattawī (d. ca. 996/1587–88), Saiyed Rāǧū Bokhārī Hendī (fl. 990/1582) and poets such as Ahlī-ye Šīrāzī (d. 942/1535–36) and Lesānī (d. 940/1533–34). Šūštarī himself explains the reasons for the inclusion of these exceptions:


If occasionally a distinguished Safavid personality or someone contemporaneous to them was included in one of the chapters of the book, it is because either it is pretty hard to imagine that the Safavids imposed [Shi’i] belief on him, or there is another reason which can be understood from the context.8 (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 6:531)


Šūštarī’s sole criterion for inclusion of such pre-Ṣafavid individuals was that they should have been one of the famous figures of Shi’a (mašāhīr-e Šīʿa) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:10), and by the Shi’a, he had its broad sense in mind, namely anyone who believed ʿAlī to be the immediate successor of the Prophet. The details of Shi’i belief, which might differ from one person to another, were not taken into consideration. In other words, he included not only the Twelver Shi’i figures but also the Esmāʿīlīs and Zaidīs. The author appears to be consistent in applying this criterion throughout the work, even when he disliked an individual. For instance, he included the Abbasid Caliph, al-Manṣūr (r. 136–158/754–775) because of his Shi’i beliefs, even though he was admittedly cruel to many Shi’i individuals (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 5:72).


However, the criterion is not as straightforward as the author claimed it to be because he also included figures who had only a remote association with Shi’ism. For instance, he included Abū Naṣr Fārābī (d. 339/950) as a Shi’i philosopher because of enjoying the patronage of a Shi’i ruler. Moreover, on numerous occasions, the author seemingly aimed to convince the readers of the Shi’i affiliation of the persons in question without caring much about the truth of the matter.


Some later scholars criticized Šūštarī for having generous criteria for Shi’i belief by which some Sunni scholars and Sufis were considered Shi’is. Among later Shi’i scholars, the harshest critic was Muḥammad ʿAlī Behbahānī (d. 1216/1801), who first labelled Šūštarī the ‘Shi’a-fabricator’ (Šīʿa-tarāsh) (Behbahānī [1370] 1991, 2:155).9 It seems that the primary concern of Behbahānī and other critics was the inclusion of the Sufi figures. Despite this criticism, the imposition of Shi’i identity was overlooked by most readers, and Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn gained much popularity generally. Its wide circulation was mainly because of the work’s broad scope, its encyclopaedic features and the author’s use of a vast number of sources, including numerous bio-bibliographical works and chronicles. Thereby, the Maǧāles was considered a highly significant work.


Notably, Šūštarī did not include women in his book. We might think that there were a few well-known Shi’i women. However, if the author wanted to include notable Shi’i women, at least as a subsection, it would have been possible. In it he could have provided biographies of the wives of the Imams or their sisters and perhaps some later Shi’i women. However, as explained below, Šūštarī intended to compose a book similar to Ḥanafī and Šāfeʿī bio-bibliographical compositions, and none of those works included female figures. Nevertheless, Šūštarī must have noticed that ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ğāmī’s (d. 871/1492) Nafaḥāt al-uns, which was one of his primary sources, had a section on female Sufis. In any case, Šūštarī’s exclusion of female figures was not exceptional. Among later authors of Shi’i bio-bibliographical works, Saiyed ʿAlī Ḫān Ḥusainī Šīrāzī Madanī (d. ca. 1120/1708), author of al-Daraǧāt al-rafīʿa fī ṭabaqāt al-Imāmīya, was the only one who devoted a chapter of his work to women and hence addressed a shortcoming of the Maǧāles (Madanī [1397] 1976, 1:75). Unfortunately, the Daraǧāt is only partially extant, missing several chapters, including the chapter on women.

The Target Audience


In his correspondence with Šūštarī, Yūsof-ʿAlī Astarābādī (fl. 1011/1602–3) criticized Šūštarī for applying legal judgments according to the Ḥanafī School (Šūštarī and Astarābādī [1388] 2009, 174). It suggests that Šūštarī was not given the freedom to apply legal judgments based on Shi’i jurisprudence during the time he held the position of a judge. In his Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, Šūštarī revealed that before the completion of the Maǧāles (i.e., before 1010/1602), he had been practising taqīya with non-Shi’is and tolerating Sunni positions without raising any objections to them. Šūštarī then announced that the practice of taqīya had ended with the authorship of the Maǧāles (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:83), possibly because he intended to distribute the Maǧāles among selected non-Shi’i individuals who were not hostile towards the Shi’is. Therefore, one can conclude that all the Shi’i works he composed in India before the completion of the Maǧāles, i.e., 1010/1602, were only intended for Shi’i readers and that within the Mughal territory, they were circulated almost exclusively among Shi’i communities. In particular, his anti-Sunni polemical works, in which the author did not mind using harsh words or cursing the first three Rashidin Caliphs, were unlikely to have been written for a Sunni audience.


Compared with his polemical works, the tone of Šūštarī in the Maǧāles is less provocative for general non-Shi’i readers. Most probably, the decision to distribute the Maǧāles among selected Sunni readers was not taken at the beginning of the composition. It might be that the author revised the text, removing any polemical discussions from it after he decided to open up the readership. Nevertheless, the text still contains elements that might irritate the general Sunni reader.10 In other words, even if the author aimed to make the text tolerable for Sunni readers, it is not likely that he would have had much success with them.


Obviously, Šūštarī wanted the book to be circulated in the Safavid empire. Nevertheless, the readers of the Indian subcontinent were of great significance for him too. In the work, Šūštarī provided a vivid account of the Shīʿī community in Kashmir. In 999/1591 and 1000/1592, on the orders of Akbar, Šūštarī journeyed twice to Kashmir to inspect the state of the region in terms of its ongoing conflicts and the mismanagement and corruption of its rulers (Abo-l-Fażl ʿAllāmī 1877–1886, 3:595). Besides the report, which must have been an official document, Šūštarī also gave accounts of what he had witnessed there in the Maǧāles.11 In the epilogue of the Maǧāles, Šūštarī reveals his anxiety about including them. He states:


Furthermore, they [= the readers] may hide the book from those opponents or those who have an unfriendly attitude towards Shi’is (moḫālefān o sāʾer-e nā-ahlān). Because if those people were to know about the Shi’i regions and their community, they might persecute individuals of this rightful sect who live in foreign regions. They might also attack the graves of their ancestors. (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:531)


Šūštarī was worried that this account might put the Shi’is of the region into trouble. For this reason, he begged his readers not to make the book available to those who treated Shi’is harshly.

The Authorʼs Motives


Šūštarī’s implicit reference to Šafeʿī and Ḥanafī Ṭabaqāt works in the preface suggests that his work was planned to be a work of the same type, dedicated to the Shi’is. He must have been familiar with several Ṭabaqāt works of Ḥanafī and Šāfeʿī scholars composed in the eighth/fourteenth and ninth/fifteenth centuries. As was the case for the authors of Ḥanafī and Šāfeʿī Ṭabaqāts, broad inclusiveness held particular importance for Šūštarī.


To undertake such a demanding task, Šūštarī must have had a specific motive. In the epilogue of the work, he clarifies his reason to some extent. He indicates that the work is an indirect response to arguments presented by hostile individuals (moʿānedān) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 6:530). The argument he tries to tackle can be reconstructed as follows: Throughout history, there had not been many notable Shi’is. The Safavid rulers, with the assistance of the Qizilbāš, forcefully implemented the conversion of people to Shi’ism. Moreover, the Safavids have been trying to get the idea across that the Shi’is were always highly significant throughout Islamic history (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 6:530–531).


Šūštarī did not explicitly name the person(s) whose anti-Shi’i argument(s) motivated him to write the Maǧāles. However, we do know that he was aware of two anti-Safavid polemical works written in the Ottoman territory within the last few decades. These were Ḥosain b. ʿAbdollāh Šervānī’s al-Aḥkām al-dīnīya fī takfīr al-Qizilbāš, completed after 950/1543 and Mīrzā Maḫdūm Šarīfī’s (d. 995/1587) al-Nawāqiḍ li-bunyān al-rawāfiḍ. While he possibly knew the former only indirectly, he was thoroughly familiar with the latter.12


In his al-Aḥkām al-dīnīya fī takfīr al-Qizilbāš, Šervānī treated the Safavid religion as the religion of the Qizilbāš. He consciously avoided the term Shi’ism. According to him, “the Qizilbāš religion” was initiated by Šāh Esmāʿīl I’s (r. 907–930/1501–1524) grandfather, Ǧonaid (d. 864/1460), in the ninth/fifteenth century and developed further when Esmāʿīl I gained power. He pinpointed those beliefs and practices of the Qizilbāš which were not only in conflict with Sunni Islam but also at odds with the well-established form of Shi’i Islam, such as believing in the divinity of Šāh Esmāʿīl I. The divinity was explained in various ways; for example, some argued that the soul of ʿAlī, who was the true God, transmigrated to the body of Šāh Esmāʿīl I (Šervānī et al. [1376] 1997–1998, 735–36). According to Šervānī, after Šāh Esmāʿīl I’s death, some Qizilbāš spoke about the transference of this divinity to his son, Šāh Tahmāsp I (r. 930–84/1524–76) (Šervānī et al. [1376] 1997–1998, 729). Moreover, the Qizilbāš argued that they were exempt from the obligation to perform various religious duties such as the daily prayers and the pilgrimage to Mecca and from some prohibitions, including drinking wine (Šervānī et al. [1376] 1997–1998, 733–34, 736). Besides, Šervānī pointed to the Qizilbāš practice of cursing of the Prophet’s wife, ʿĀʾeša, which he regarded as disrespectful to the Prophet (Šervānī et al. [1376] 1997–1998, 725).


For unclear reasons, in his al-Nawāqiḍ, Mīrzā Maḫdūm Šarīfī rejected Šervānī’s account of the Safavid religion as an “unjust imputation” (iftirāʾ) (Šarīfī, fol. 30a). According to Mīrzā Maḫdūm, Šervānī was not sophisticated enough to comprehend the complexity of the Safavid religion. In his response to the Nawāqiḍ, Šūštarī chose not to interfere, other than indicating agreement with Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s judgment (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:21). He was possibly aware that Šervānī’s account was partially correct. At the dawn of the Safavid era, some Qizilbāš did claim that Šāh Esmāʿīl I was divine. Šervānī’s was also correct in his argument that the Qizilbāš did not observe the šarīʿa fully and justified this. However, Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s rejection of Šervānī’s argument meant that Šūštarī did not have to respond to it. Šūštarī’s only comment was that Mīrzā Maḫdūm likewise had imputed the Shi’is unjustly (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:22).


Šūštarī’s knowledge of Šervānī’s al-Aḥkām al-dīnīya might have been only indirectly through the references to the work by Mīrzā Maḫdūm. In contrast, he had profound knowledge of Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s Nawāqiḍ, of which he wrote a refutation. Šūštarī considered the Nawāqiḍ a significant threat to Shi’ism. In his correspondence with Mīr Yūsof-ʿAlī Astarābādī, Šūštarī stated that Mīrzā Maḫdūm, either genuinely or to entertain the Ottomans, put forward some new and precisely-aimed ideas (fekr-e daqīq-e tāza) in his anti-Shi’i arguments. Šūštarī also acknowledged the popularity of the Nawāqiḍ by saying that the Ottoman scholars snatch the work from each another, and that about a hundred copies of it were brought back to India by Indian Sunnis who had gone on the pilgrimage to Mecca (Šūštarī and Astarābādī [1388] 2009, 143).


The significance of the Nawāqiḍ as an anti-Shi’i polemic lies in its author’s following qualifications: his education in the religious sciences and theology, and his familiarity with the Safavid religion, based on his direct experience of living in Safavid lands and being associated with the Safavid court at the highest possible level.


Coming from a family of learned and landed notables, Mīrzā Maḫdūm was the third member of his family to serve the Safavid monarchs. His grandfather, Sayyed Šarīf al-Dīn ʿAlī (d. 920/1514), acted as ṣadr (head of religious administration) during the reign of Šāh Esmāʿīl I and his father, Mīr Šarif Šīrāzī, was the chief judge and kalāntar (local mayor) of Shiraz, then vizier of the province of ʿErāq-e ʿAǧam, and finally grand vizier of Šāh Ṭahmāsp I (Ghereghlou 2019, 157–58). Mīrzā Maḫdūm entered the political scene in the final years of Šāh Ṭahmāsp I’s reign when his father was the grand vizier. He spent most of his time in the capital, Qazvin, and enjoyed the patronage of the influential daughter of the shah, Parīḫān Ḫānum (d. 985/1578) (Ghereghlou 2019, 158–59). When Šāh Esmāʿīl II (r. 984–85/1576–77) ascended the throne, Mīrzā Maḫdūm was appointed as the ṣadr. Intending to weaken the prerogatives enjoyed by the Shi’i religious authorities, Esmāʿīl II sought to pursue a more moderate policy towards the Sunni population. Mīrzā Maḫdūm is said to have played a significant role in this change of policy (Ghereghlou 2019, 159–60). After Esmāʿīl II died in 985/1577, Mīrzā Maḫdūm fled to the Ottoman empire. Shortly after, in 987/1580, he completed his Nawāqiḍ (Stanfield Johnson 1994, 125).


Although Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s Nawāqiḍ should be considered an anti-Twelver Shi’i polemical work, the target of this work was not the core Shi’i beliefs, such as their belief in ʿAlī as the true successor of the Prophet or the emāma. Instead, Mīrzā Maḫdūm in this work targeted some ideas and practices which he believed to have been developed by Twelver Shi’i scholars, such as temporary marriage (mutʿa) and cursing the Sunni Caliphs, among others. Moreover, he argued time and again that before the rise of the Safavids, both in terms of numbers as well as social and intellectual weight, the Shi’is were not considered significant. For instance, discussing the view of the majority of Shi’i scholars that anyone other than Twelver Shi’is will be held in Hell forever, Mīrzā Maḫdūm states:


I say: As if He [= God] created Paradise, which is as wide as heaven and earth, for these minor and rare people, who are incredibly minor and rare, or better to say less than anything minor and rare, and as if He would keep most of the Muslims, even those pure and innocent, in Hell forever. Because it is well known that all the Companions and contemporaries of the Companions, the scholars firmly rooted in knowledge and the saints who reached perfection had liked Abū Bakr, the truthful, and had truly acknowledged his excellence. Hence, according to them [= Shi’i scholars], they cannot be counted among believers and deserve to be burned forever in Hell […]. They do not understand what they are implying [by what they say] about the generosity of God, the Generous and Affectionate, whose mercy precedes his wrath and who is Forgiving and Beneficent […]. (Šarīfī, n.d., fol. 33a)


In 995/1586, a few years before the beginning of the composition of the Maǧāles, Šūštarī completed his response to the Nawāqiḍ, titled Maṣāʾib al-nawāṣib fī radd ʿalā Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:275; Afandī Eṣfahānī [1401] 1981, 5:268). Although Šūštarī devoted a work specifically to responding to the Nawāqiḍ, he must have been fully aware that Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s criticisms cannot be profoundly responded to within a dialectical framework. More specifically, Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s humiliation of the Shi’is deserved a more demonstrative response, in which a survey of Shi’i notables throughout history was provided. Writing such a response was the task which Šūštarī undertook in his Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn. Unlike his direct response to Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s Nawāqiḍ, which was written in Arabic, he chose to write Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn in Persian, probably because he meant this work to have a broader readership in the Safavid and Mughal empires.


At the same time, it is simplistic to assume that Šūštarī composed Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn merely as a response to the Nawāqiḍ. Instead, it is more likely that a set of antecedent causal conditions was responsible for the composition of this work, and the Nawāqiḍ was just one of them.

Šūštarī on Shi’i Ulama


The chapter on the Shi’i ulama in the Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn is unprecedented, in the sense that no one before Šūštarī had devoted a piece of writing to Shi’i scholars in its broader sense. To accomplish his task, Šūštarī used Shi’i reǧāl works, whose primary task was to determine whether the persons featuring in the chain of support (esnād) of Shi’i traditions (aḫbār) are trustworthy or not. These include such works as Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Naǧāšī’s (d. 455/1063) Asmāʾ al-riǧāl, Šaiḫ Abū Ǧaʿfar Ṭūsī’s (d. 459/1067) al-Fihrist and his Iḫtiyār maʿrifat al-riǧāl, Ibn Šahrāšūb’s (d. 588/1192) Maʿālim al-ʿulamāʾ and Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī’s (d. 725/1325) Ḫolāṣat al-aqwāl fī maʿrifat al-riǧāl.


Some of the people that the author included in this chapter were merely narrators of ḥadīs̱. However, he also included some significant ḥadīs̱ scholars like Ebn Bābūya (or Ebn Bābawayh, d. 381/991), Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb Kolaynī (d. 329/941) and Abū ʿAlī Ṭabresī (fl. sixth/twelfth c.), Qurʾānic exegetes like Abo-l-Fotūḥ Rāzī (d. 525/1131), and theologians like Abū ʿAbdullāh al-Mufīd (d. 413/1032) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:302–7, 385–87, 329–65). In addition to Reǧāl works, Šūštarī used several other sources for the composition of this chapter which were not Shi’i, including bio-bibliographical works such as al-Ansāb by Abo-l-Qāsem Samʿānī (d. 534/1140) and Buġyat al-wuʿāh by Ǧalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 911/1505). He also made use of several chronicles, such as those by Ibn Ḫallikān (d. 681/1282), Ibn Kaṯīr (d. 774/1373), ʿAfīf al-Dīn al-Yāfiʿī (d. 768/1367) and Ġeyās̱ al-Dīn Ḫwāndamīr (d. 942/1535-6).


The author seems to have experienced some difficulty covering the decades immediately preceding the Safavid period since there were not many sources he could have consulted. Nevertheless, he endeavoured to show the continuity of Shi’i scholasticism, not only in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain but also in the Indian subcontinent (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:453ff.).

Šūštarī on the Sufis


In the introduction to his chapter on Sufis, Šūštarī describes them as “the purpose of the creation and the formation of the human being” after the Prophets and the Imams (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:9). He explicitly states that he considers all Sufi orders to be Shi’i except for Naqšbandīya (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:15). Notwithstanding, he excludes two distinguished Sufi masters, whose names usually appear in the Sufi chains of lineage, namely Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) and Aḥmad Ġazālī (d. 520/1126). Concerning Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, he was uncertain about his Shi’i faith. As for Aḥmad Ġazālī, he expresses less uncertainty and refuted him, because based on the general opinion of Shi’i scholars: ḥāl-e ū saqīm bāšad (his spiritual awareness was puny, feeble or infirm). No more clarification is provided in this regard. What is more, Šūštarī explains how to avoid these two figures in the Sufi chains of lineage (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:19–21). At the end of the introduction, Šūštarī adds two notes. The first one is about anti-Shīʿī occultists who pretend to be true Sufis. These people, Šūštarī states, though they might be able to implement supernatural powers by bringing ǧenn into their service, or as a result of jugglery (ʿamal-e šaʿvaẕa) or by using the science of illusion (sīmīyāʾ), are veiled from the truth (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:21–22). The second note addresses the wayfarers on the Sufi in their initial stage. The author alerts them to the concern that choosing an inappropriate master might have long-term consequences for them. Again, Šūštarī indicated that he has some Naqšbandī Sufi masters in mind. If the master is a liar (mobṭel), disbeliever (molḥed), or heretic (zandīq), he might cause his disciples to deviate from the right path. Even if a master observes the šarīʿa, yet is immature, he could harm the wayfarers. The disciple might think after a while that he reached the level of the Sufi masters. It is also possible that he could come to fundamentally doubt the achievements of the great Sufi masters of the past (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:22–28).


Although Šūštarī generally spoke about the immature masters, he referred at the beginning of this note to the Naqšbandī Sufi masters (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:23). He might have had, in particular, the Naqšbandī Šaiḫ Aḥmad Sirhindī (d.1034/1624) in mind, whose number of followers was rapidly increasing in North India. Sirhindī, who considered himself the ‘Renewer of the Second Millennium of Islam’ (Muǧadded-e alf-e sānī), was at the time an ambitious young Sufi šaiḫ with rigid orthodox Sunnī positions. At the same time, he was a critic of the great Sufi master of the past, IbnʿArabī (d. 638/1240).13 Although the description fits Sirhindī well, since Šūštarī did not identify the Sufi šaiḫ, the assumption remains speculative.


In the body of the chapter, Šūštarī included those Sufis who, in his opinion, had an affinity with the Shi’i Imāms. The chapter starts with Kumayl b. Ziyād al-Naḫaʿī (fl. 40/661), loyal to ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, who is well-known among the Shi’is for recording one of ʿAlī’s supplications (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:28–31). Clearly, by considering Kumayl a Sufi and putting his entry at the beginning of the chapter, the author aimed to emphasise the connection between Sufism and Shi’ism. The chapter contains several major early Sufis including Abū Yazīd Basṭāmī (d. 261/874–5 or 234/848–9), Sahl Tostarī (or as the author referred to him Šūštarī, d. 283/896), Ǧonaid Baġdādī (d. 298/910), and Ḥosain b. Manṣūr Ḥallāǧ (exe. 309/922) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:49–90). Šūštarī then moves on to the post-classical Sufis such as Aḥmad Ǧām (d. 536/1141), Shehāb al-Dīn ʿOmar Sohrawardī (d. 632/1234), Ibn al-Fāriḍ (d. 632/1235), Ibn ʿArabī, and Ṣadr al-Dīn Qūnavī (d. 673/1274) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:91–229), and then he adds some Persian Sufi poets namely Sanāʾī (d. 525/1131), ʿAṭṭār (d. 618/1221), Rūmī (d. 672/1273), Saʿdī (d. 691/1292) and Ḥāfeẓ (d. 792/1390) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:230–323). By including significant Sufi figures of the classical and post-classical periods, the author intended to establish the idea that the foundation of Sufism is Shi’i.


As mentioned above, most of the Shi’i criticisms of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn were due to its inclusion of distinguished Sufis. Behbahānī suggested that Šūštarī’s treatment of the Sufis might be a reaction to the position of Mīrzā Maḫdūm in his Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ:


Moreover, Qāżī [=Šūštarī]’s definition of Sufism and his consideration of Sufis as being Shi’a […] might be because of his opposition to Mīrzā Maḫdūm Šarīfī, who in his Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ enumerated the nonsensical positions (hafavāt) of the Shi’is. Among others, Mīrzā Maḫdūm referred to Shi’i scholars’ forbidding inner purification (taṣfeya-ye bāṭen). That is the reason, he argues, that darkness and impurity covered their inner side and deprived them of perceiving divine emanations and mystical lights. Therefore, there is no way that a Sufi or a valī could emerge from among them. In order to rebuff Mīrzā Maḫdūm Šarīfī on the matter, the Shi’a-fabricator Qāżī, states that most of the Sufis were Shi’a, and only a small number of them were Sunni and false believers such as the immature Mollā Ǧāmī and the Hypocrite Sunni and Šāfeʿī, ʿAbd al-Qāder Gīlānī. (Behbahānī [1370] 1991, 2:155)


As Behbahānī noted, Mīrzā Maḫdūm in his Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ quoted from al-Makāsib by Šams al-Dīn Makkī ʿĀmelī, known as Šahīd I (d. 786/1384), a statement in which it seems taṣfiyat al-bāṭin (the inner purification) was held prohibited. According to Mīrzā Maḫdūm, the Safavids’ attitude towards Sufism was aligned with that position. They did not hesitate to display their animosity to Sufism and to harass those who read their books. In particular, in the Safavid lands, the followers of the Naqšbandī order were at risk of death. Therefore, as long as one lived in the Safavid territory, Mīrzā Maḫdūm argues, one should keep oneself away from anything associated with the Naqšbandīs and any ritual resembling their practice (Šarīfī, n.d., fol. 35a).


In his response to Nawāqiḍ al-rawāfiḍ, Šūštarī argued that Mīrzā Maḫdūm had misunderstood the intention of Šahīd I. However, he admitted that some notable Shi’i scholars were against the Sufis. As an example, Šūštarī referred to Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī, who accused those Sufis who supported the idea of unification with God (ittiḥād), as well as the followers of Ibn ʿArabī (whom al-Ḥillī referred to as wuǧūdī Sufis) of unbelief and blasphemy (al-kufr wa-l-ilḥād). Šūštarī disagreed with al-Ḥillī on this matter. Moreover, he insisted that al-Ḥillī’s view did not represent the view of the mainstream Shi’is (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:161–164).14


It is indeed plausible that Šūštarī allotted a long chapter to the Sufis in response to the above-mentioned argument by Mīrzā Maḫdūm. At the same time, he was aware that the image of Shi’ism presented in the Maǧāles was not the one widely accepted among Shi’i scholars. Therefore, by embracing the main parts of the Sufi tradition, Šūštarī was consciously fighting on two fronts: one against anti-Shi’i scholars such as Mīrzā Maḫdūm Šarīfī who blamed the Shi’is for their animosity to the Sufis, and the other against those of his Shi’i colleagues who, following al-Ḥillī, believed that many distinguished Sufi masters deviated from the right path.


In any case, the emphasis of the chapter is on the Nūrbaḫšīya order. Šūštarī lists Naǧm al-Dīn Kobrā (d. 617/1220), Saʿd al-Dīn Ḥammūya (d. 650/1252), Rażī al-Dīn Lālā (d. 642/1244) and ʿAlāʾ al-Dawla Semnānī (d. 736/1336) as the earlier masters of the order, and then he presents Mīr Saiyed ʿAlī Hamadānī (d. 786/1385) and finally Muḥammad Nūrbaḫš (d. 869/1464). Then, after Nūrbaḫš, he continues the chapter with the disciples of Nūrbaḫš, namely his son and his successor Šāh Qāsim (d. 927/1520–21) and the prominent figure, Šams al-Dīn Lāhīǧī (aka Ǧīlānī, d. 912/1506–7) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:220–30, 352–404). In other words, he presents a list of the successors of Nūrbaḫš up to the early Safavid era. Altogether, he included eight figures in the Nūrbaḫšī cluster. The author’s strong affinity for the Nūrbaḫšīya is evident from the way he speaks about the masters of this order. Moreover, Šūštarī indicates that his grandfather, whose name was also Nūrollāh, was a Nūrbaḫšī Sufi and a direct disciple of Saiyed Moḥammad Nūrbaḫš (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:456). Furthermore, throughout the Maǧāles, Šūštarī frequently quotes from several of Moḥammad Nūrbaḫš’s works, and he uses any opportunity to praise him (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:196–97). Based on these signs, the editors of the Maǧāles suggested that Šūštarī had been a Nūrbaḫšī Sufi (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, editors’ introduction, 1:195).15


In his Nafaḥāt al-uns, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ǧāmī, who was himself a Naqšbandī, dismissed the Neʿmatollāhīya and Nūrbaḫšīya orders altogether (Algar 2013, 106; Rizvi 2018, 249). Supposing that Šūštarī was a Nūrbakhshī Sufi, we might be meant to believe that he, likewise, did not have high regard for competing Sufi orders, namely the Ṣafavīya, Neʿmatollāhīya, Ẕahabīya and Naqšbandīya. Regarding the Ṣafavīya and Neʿmatollāhīya, specifically, there is no evidence of such feelings of rivalry, as the founder of the two orders, namely Ṣafī al-Dīn Ardabīlī (d. 735/1334) and Šāh Neʿmatollāh Kohbonānī (d. 827/1431), were both highly venerated by him (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:100–3, 110–17). As for the Ẕahabīya, a sense of rivalry might seem to be an explanation for some of Šūštarī’s attitudes. Undoubtedly, his emphasis on Moḥammad Nūrbaḫš as the true successor to Esḥāq Ḫottalānī (fl. 826/1423) ruled out the succession of Sayyed ʿAbdollāh Borzešābādī Mašhadī (d. ca. 856/1452), the founder of the order that later became known as the Ẕahabīya. Moreover, Šūštarī explicitly stated that Ḫottalānī considered Borzešābādī an apostate (mortad) for not recognising Nūrbaḫš as a Sufi master (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:378). Evidently, on the succession of Ḫottalānī, Šūštarī drew upon a Nūrbaḫšī source without any moderation. However, a sense of rivalry does not explain why Šūštarī included three Sufis whose lineage goes back to Borzešābādī, namely Ḥāǧī Moḥammad Ḫabūšānī (d. 938/1531–32), ʿEmād al-Dīn Fażlollāh Mašhadī (d. 914/1508–9) and Kamāl al-Dīn Ḥosayn Ḫwārazmī (d. after 914/1508–9) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:404–450).


The author’s treatment of the Naqšbandīya deserves special attention, too. Šūštarī considered the Naqšbandīya a fake order (selsela-ye moḫtaraʿa) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:23). He not only excluded distinguished Naqšbandī Sufis, but he also used every opportunity to criticise their current masters for being charlatans and for their false pretences (šaiyādī va talbīs) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:23). As one can see from Mīrzā Maḫdūm’s Nawāqiḍ, the Safavids were hostile to the Naqšbandīs decades before the authorship of the Maǧāles. In his Maṣāʾib al-nawāṣib, Šūštarī referred to hostility in the other direction, namely that of the Naqšbandīs towards Shi’is. He explained this by saying that many ordinary people in Transoxiana were Naqšbandī Sufis and their Uzbek rulers had been deliberately intensifying their anti-Shī’ī sentiments (Šūštarī [1426] 2005–2006, 2:165). Therefore, one can safely assume that there was hostility on both sides, which was political as well as religious. However, the Naqšbandīs, whose false pretences were criticized by Šūštarī, are unlikely to be the Uzbek Sufis. Šūštarī must have referred, therefore, to a branch of the order with whom he had encountered in his day-to-day life.

Šūštarī on Muslim Philosophers


A review of Šūštarī’s writings reveals that metaphysics was not his primary interest. However, he had some significant contributions to logic and rational theology.16


In the chapter on the philosophers, he included two highly significant figures, namely Fārābī and Ebn Sīnā. The main reason Šūštarī presents for them being Shi’i is their preference for having Shi’i patrons. Fārābī was associated with the court of Hamdanid Saif al-Daula (r. 333–356/945–967) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:455) and Ebn Sīnā, according to Šūštarī, was born into a Shi’i family, and he chose to work for Shi’i patrons, namely Qābūs b. Vošmgīr (r. 366–371/977–981 and 388–403/998–1012), the Buyid Maǧd al-Daula (r. 387–420/997–1029) and the Kakuyid ʿAlāʾ al-Daula (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:466). Abū ʿAlī Moskūya (or Meskavayh, d. 421/1030) is another distinguished philosopher included in the chapter (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:476–78).


Then, after citing some minor figures, Šūštarī included an entry on Abū Ḥāmed Ġazālī (d. 505/1111). According to Šūštarī, Ġazālī inwardly was Shi’i, and late in his life, he revealed his Shi’i affiliation in his Sirr al-ʿālamayn (otherwise known as Sirr al-maknūn), a Shi’i polemical work whose attribution to Ġazālī was taken for granted by Šūštarī (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:492–96). Evidently, for Šūštarī, it was particularly important to include Ġazālī, as he discussed his hypothetical conversion extensively. Šūštarī continues the chapter again with some rather minor figures. His focus is then trained on philosophers who lived from the seventh/thirteenth century onwards, most notably Naṣīr al-Dīn Ṭūsī and Qoṭb al-Dīn Rāzī (d. 766/1365) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:503–627). The only reason provided for the latter holding Shi’i beliefs is a license (iǧāza) he received from Ibn Muṭahhar al-Ḥillī (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:524). The chapter ends with a cluster of philosophers of Shiraz, starting with Mīr Saiyed Šarīf Ǧorǧānī (d. 816/1414), to whom he devotes a lengthy entry. However, no substantial evidence for his Shi’i affiliation is presented. In this final section, Šūštarī included most of the distinguished philosophers of Shiraz working in the late Aq Qoyunlu and the early Safavid period, namely Ǧalāl al-Dīn Davānī (d. 908/1502), Ṣadr al-Dīn Daštakī (or Šīrāzī, d. 903/1498), Ġeyās̱ al-Dīn Daštakī, Šams al-Dīn Ḫafrī and Šāh Ṭāher Dakanī (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:541–576), even though the later ones were mainly active or, indeed, exclusively active, after the rise of the Safavids. Šāh Ṭāher Dakanī might have been included for his enormous impact on India. Notwithstanding, Šūštarī encouraged his Shi’i readers to embrace the intellectual endeavours of the philosophers of Shiraz as their own heritage.


Ġazālī, Ǧorǧānī and Davānī were three distinguished Ašʿarī theologians who, Šūštarī held, were Shi’i. In the case of Ġazālī, Šūštarī argued that his thought was inwardly Shi’i, although his kalām works on the surface are Ašʿarī (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:496). As for Ǧorǧānī, Šūštarī argued that his commentary on Ażod al-Dīn Īǧī’s (d. 756/1355–56) Mawāqif did not truly represent his thought, because it was written merely to appeal to ‘the noble patron of Shiraz’, namely the Timurid prince, Eskandar Mīrzā (r. 811–817/1408–1415). Šūštarī added that the commentary was mainly based on Saif al-Dīn Abharī’s (d. after 778/1376–77) commentary on the same text and Ǧorǧānī’s contribution was nothing other than rephrasing Abharī’s arguments and lemmatizing the commentary with Īǧī’s text (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:538–539). On Ǧorǧānī’s other significant theological work, namely his gloss on Šams al-Dīn Eṣfahānī’s (d. 749/1348) commentary on Taǧrīd al-iʿtiqād, Šūštarī’s note was more positive. Nevertheless, he did not give Ǧorǧānī the full credit for his innovative thought in the work. He argued that before Ǧorǧānī, a Shi’i theologian and philosopher, Naṣīr al-Dīn Kāšī (d. 755/1354) wrote a gloss on Eṣfahānī’s commentary on the Taǧrīd and Ǧorǧānī adopted the substance of that gloss in his own gloss on the same commentary (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:532).


Like Ǧorǧānī’s commentary on the Mawāqif, Davānī’s commentary on Īǧī’s ʿAqāʾid was supposedly written to appeal its author’s patron, who in this case was the anti-Shi’i ruler of Ǧarūn, Salġor Šāh (r. 880–910/1475–1505) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:547). However, Šūštarī treated this work as exceptional within Davānī’s oeuvre. Having a great admiration for Davānī, Šūštarī included a detailed bibliography of Davānī’s works in this chapter. Although at first admitting that this kind of bibliography was inappropriate in the context of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn (bā ānke munāseb-e maqām nīst), he justified it because it is unknown to most of the people of the time and cannot be found in the bibliographical works (ḫoṣūṣīyāt-e ān bar aks̱ar-e ahl-e zamān ẓāher nīst va dar davāvīn-e arbāb-e seyar az ān as̱arī peydā na) (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:551–558). Šūštarī’s familiarity with the works of Davānī makes it unlikely that he was ignorant of Davānī’s defence of Ašʿarī theology in his other works. Nevertheless, he firmly argued that Davānī was inwardly Shi’i (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 4:549–51). As we discussed earlier, Šūštarī brought the same argument for Ġazālī. However, Šūštarī appeared to be more inclined to theological views of Davānī than those of Ġazālī. In his Mūnis al-waḥīd fī tafsīr āyat al-ʿadl wa-l-tawḥīd (The Unique Companion to Interpreting the Verse on Divine Unity and Justice) for example, Šūštarī conforms the view of Davānī on the question of determination and free will without any hesitation (Šūštarī [1385] 2006, 2:516–62). Hence, Šūštarī not only believed in the Šīʿī foundation of Davānī’s thoughts but also personally found some of Davānī’s ideas appealing.

Šūštarī on Persian Poets


Being himself a poet, Šūštarī paid particular attention to Persian poets in his Maǧāles. As mentioned above, the chapter on Sufism includes several Persian poets, such as Sanāʾī, ʿAṭṭār, Rūmī, Saʿdī and Ḥāfeẓ. Nevertheless, a further chapter of the Maǧāles was exclusively devoted to Persian poets. That Šūštarī included the poets mentioned above in the chapter on Sufism and not in the chapter on Persian poets is significant. It seems that Šūštarī wanted to convey the idea that these poets were primarily distinguished Sufis, and their literary works should be considered within the context of their Sufi identity.


The chapter on Persian poets was mainly based on Daulat-šāh Samarqandī’s (d. 900/1494 or 913/1507) Taẕkerat al-šoʿarāʾ. Šūštarī starts the chapter with a long section on Ferdausī (d. 411/1020). Apparently, it was important for Šūštarī to have the composer of the Šāhnāma on board and argue for his Shi’i belief. The chapter includes some other well-known poets such as Asadī-e Ṭūsī (d. 465/1073), Ḫāqānī (d. after 580/1185), Anvarī (fl. 565/1170) and Salmān Sāvaǧī (d. 778/1376). Šūštarī ended the chapter with four poets who had been active on the cusp of the Safavid period. Some of them lived in the early Safavid period, namely Neẓām Astarābādī (d. 921/1515–16), Bābā Feġānī (d. 925/1519), Ahlī-ye Šīrāzī and Lesānī. These four poets had not been included in Daulat-šāh Samarqandī’s Taẕkera, because they were still alive or only in the early stage of their poetic careers. By including them in this chapter, it could be argued that Šūštarī intended the chapter of the Maǧāles to surpass the Taẕkera.

The Supplement to Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn


One of the addenda to Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn is an independent remark which can be considered as a separate work. It is called Resāla-ye dafʿ-e šobahāt-e Eblīs (Removing Satan’s Sophistries). At the beginning of the treatise, Šūštarī explains that in the prologue (fāteḥa) of the Maǧāles, an analogy was made between the sophistries of one of the members of the Umma and Satan’s sophistries. A highly ranked friend of Šūštarī and possibly a courtier (baʿżī az eḫvān-e ʿālī-šān-e malek-nešān) who read the introduction of the Maǧāles requested that the author add a supplement to the work, clarifying that particular point by recounting Satan’s sophistries together with a response to them. Šūštarī aimed to do so by writing the treatise (Šūštarī and Heravī [1369] 1990, 40).


Along with his analogy in the prologue of the Maǧāles, this work implies an anti-Sunni polemical subtext against the second caliph, ʿUmar b. al-Ḫaṭṭāb. However, the author refrained from directly referring to this subject in this treatise. Instead of naming ʿUmar explicitly, he referred to him vaguely and neutrally as one of the members of the Umma. Such a neutral reference to ʿUmar might indicate that the author was concerned about the non-Shi’is among readers of the work. It is not unlikely that the very person who requested Šūštarī to write this piece was Sunni.


The so-called “Satan’s sophistries” are about the nature of human action, its predestination and divine justice on this particular matter. The author’s source for these sophistries is ʿAbd al-Karīm Šahrastānī’s (d. 548/1153) al-Milal wa-niḥal. However, Šūštarī blamed Šahrastānī for his Ašʿarī resolution of the issue of the sophistries, a resolution which it should be said was approved by Faḫr al-Dīn Rāzī (d. 606/1210).17 Instead, Šūštarī supported the Moʿtazelī and Emāmī view on God’s justice (Šūštarī and Heravī [1369] 1990, 40–49).

Transcription of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn under the Author’s Supervision


At the end of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, Šūštarī states that he commissioned the production of seven clean copies of the work and that he collated them with his draft (mosvadda) before he started distributing it. None of these seven manuscripts has been identified so far. However, MS Tehran, Maǧles 7842 and MS Tehran, Maʿāref 1176 must both have been based on a copy produced under the author’s supervision. Moreover, the copy of the Maǧāles owned by Mīrzā ʿAbdollāh Afandī Eṣfahānī was also produced under the author’s supervision. In his Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ, Afandī Eṣfahānī indicated that he had a copy of the Maǧāles, with a note by Šūštarī about the date of completion of the work in his hand (Afandī Eṣfahānī [1401] 1981, 5:269–70).

Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn as a Possible Cause of the Author’s Death


The closest report about Šūštarī’s tragic death, which occurred on 26 Rabīʿ II 1019/18 July 1610, can be found in Taqī al-Dīn Auḥadī Balyānī’s (d. 1030/1621 or after) ʿArafāt al-ʿāšeqīn. According to Auḥadī Balyānī, upon the emperor Ǧahāngīr (r. 1014–1037/1605–1627) questioning him about his religious affiliation, Šūštarī claimed to be Šāfeʿī. Knowing Šūštarī was lying or more accurately speaking practising taqīya, the emperor became angry and had him flogged five times, which was the cause of his death (Auḥadī Balyānī [1389] 2009, 7:4496; Rizvi 2017, 64).


Later, biographers narrated the event with some more details. Accordingly, Ǧahāngīr was informed about Šūštarī’s Shi’i affiliation by members of his court. They brought Šūštarī’s Maǧāles al-moʾminīn or/and Iḥqāq al-ḥaqq to the emperor’s attention (Rizvi 1986, 2:4). However, this additional information is not verifiable. Because in the account written close to Šūštarī’s death, no book was mentioned being brought to the attention of the emperor on that occasion.



For a long time, Muslim scholars, Sunni and Shi’i alike, have considered the Shi’is a small sect within the broader Muslim community. In his Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, Šūštarī made an effort to establish the idea that the Shi’is throughout the history were not followers of a minor sect, but a significant portion of Islam with highly influential figures among them, worthy of respect. The Shi’is, according to Šūštarī, are the true Muslims. He divided the Muslims from the beginning of Islam into two groups: those who liked ʿAlī and those who did not like him. Šūštarī’s decision to make the Maǧāles accessible to friends of the Shi’a among the Sunnis could be an indication of the propagational nature of the work. The implication to Sunni readers was that, as Muslims, if they liked ʿAlī and preferred his path to that of other Rashidun caliphs, they could regard themselves as Shi’i.


In some of his writings, Šūštarī did not hesitate to use expressions that would offend Sunni readers. He was the author of several refutations of anti-Shi’i polemics in which he applied the same aggressive attitude that his opponents had shown. In his Maǧāles, however, he refrained from provoking Sunni sensitivities. His aim in this work was not confrontation but rather to gain credibility and respect for the Shi’a. Šūštarī’s concern was particularly for Shi’i communities of the Indian subcontinent. On the one hand, he tried to give members of these communities a sense of pride, and on the other, he tried to gain the respect of the Mughal intellectuals for their tradition.


Šūštarī depicted Shi’ism as a religion of high culture, an outlook open to Sufism and mysticism in general, a rational path taken by many significant philosophers, and finally, an aesthetic viewpoint held by distinguished poets. Clearly, Šūštarī not only tried to present an enhanced picture of the Shi’a for the outsiders but also internally tried to modify the cultural attitude of the Shi’is by rejecting the views of those Shi’i scholars whose definition of Shi’a would not allow practising mysticism, philosophy and poetry. Indeed, the composition of the Maǧāles aimed, among other things, to establish Shi’ism as a religion open to cultural values.


The significance of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn in the development of Shi’i biographical literature cannot be overestimated. As the first comprehensive Shi’i bio-bibliographical work to be written, the Maǧāles was used as a model and an instructional work for the composition of Shi’i bio-bibliographical works of later periods, such as al-Daraǧāt al-rafīʿa fī ṭabaqāt al-Imāmīya by Saiyed ʿAlī Ḫān Šīrāzī Madanī, Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ by Mīrzā ʿAbdollāh Afandī Eṣfahānī (d. 1130/1718), Rawḍāt al-ǧannāt by Saiyed Moḥammad Bāqer Ḫvānsārī (d. 1313/1895–96), Aʿyān al-Šīʿa by Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn al-ʿĀmilī (d. 1371/1952) and Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-Šīʿa and al-Ḏarīʿa ilā taṣānīf al-Šīʿa by Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrānī (d. 1389/1970). The authors of these works might have disagreed with Šūštarī on the Shi’i beliefs of specific figures. Nevertheless, they knew that Šūštarī’s hints to the relevant sources on each figure were indispensable. Among the bio-bibliographers mentioned above, Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrānī, with his overarching attitude towards the Shi’a, had perhaps the mindset closest to that of Šūštarī. We know that Āqā Bozorg had great respect for Šūštarī (Monzavī [1382] 2003, 122). There were some other Shi’i scholars with a similar attitude as well. In 1190/1776–77, Saiyed Moḥammad-Šafīʿ Ḥosaynī ʿĀmelī (fl. 1190/1776) composed a supplement to Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, titled Maḥāfel al-moʾmenīn. This work consists of two parts: part one deals with Shi’i rulers of Iran and India, and part two deals with Shi’i saiyeds, scholars and poets. This work covers the centuries from the beginning of the Safavid period up to the date of composition of the text. Nevertheless, it also includes some figures of earlier periods who cannot be found in the Maǧāles. The author of Maḥāfel al-moʾmenīn tried to be faithful to the criterion of Šūštarī. However, he could not help but include even the Naqšbandī poet ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Ǧāmī in his work (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 391–94).


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  1. The author would like to thank Annabel Keeler, Arham Moradi, Kianoosh Rezania, Shahrad Shahvand and Christoph Werner for their comments on the draft of this paper.↩︎

  2. The holograph, and probably the unique extant copy of this work, is preserved in the Habibganj Collection of Maulana Azad Library in Aligarh (MS Habibganj 1043). I want to thank Shahrad Shahvand, who generously shared the images of this manuscript with me.

    In 995/1587, a few years after the composition of Ğalālīya, Šūštarī completed another work with a similar structure, titled al-ʿAšara al-kāmila. This work consists of ten chapters on tafsīr, ḥadīs̱, syntax, dialectics, legal methodology (uṣūl al-fiqh), jurisprudence (fiqh), logic, metaphysics, natural philosophy and mathematics (Šūštarī [1071] 1661, fols. 34b–49a). Šūštarī followed Ğalāl al-Dīn Davānī’s (d. 908/1502) Unmūẕaǧ al-ʿulūm in the structure of both his Ğalālīya and al-ʿAšara al-kāmila. Nevertheless, Ğalālīya is closer to Davānī’s work, in terms of having a similar purpose of securing patronage. On the structure of Davānī’s Unmūẕaǧ al-ʿulūm and some other works written in this genre, see Pourjavady (2014, 300–301).↩︎

  3. In addition to Twelver Shi’i scholars, a few Zaidī scholars were also active at the Mughal court. See N. Šūštarī ([1392] 2013, 1:132–149); Bandy (2019, 249–74, 423).↩︎

  4. An account of one of these debates was presented by Badāʾūnī ([1379] 2000–2001, 3:93).↩︎

  5. Nūrollāh Šūštarī, Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn, edited by Ebrāhīm ʿArabpūr, Manṣūr Setāyeš, Moḥammad Reżā Moḥammadeyān, Moḥammad Ḥasan Khazāʾī and Moḥammad ʿAlī ʿAlīdūst. 6 vols. Mashhad: Bonyād-e Pažūhešhā-ye Eslamī-e Āstān-e Qods-e Rażavī, ([1392] 2013). The work was published at least five times earlier; (1) Lithography edition in Tehran in 1268/1851–52 by Saiyed Ḥosain Ṭehrānī; (2) lithography edition in Tehran in 1299/1881–89 by Mollā Amīn Vāʿeẓ Ṭehrānī; (3) lithography edition in Tehran in 1326/1908–9; (4) lithography edition in Tabriz, n.d.; (5) printed edition in Tehran: Entešārāt-e Eslāmīya, 1335 Š/1956–57, rpt. 1365 Š/1986–87. See N. Šūštarī ([1392] 2013, 1:396).↩︎

  6. The author’s statements about the start and end dates of the composition are given in some copies of the text, such as MSS Tehran, Maǧlis 7842 and Maʿārif 1176. Mīrzā ʿAbdollāh Afandī Eṣfahānī’s knowledge of the dates is based on a copy of the Mağāles, produced under the supervision of the author. See below the transcription of Maǧāles al-moʾmenīn under the author’s supervision.↩︎

  7. As noted by the recent editors of the Mağāles, that particular passage was taken from Qāżī Aḥmad Ġaffārī Qazvīnī’s Tārīḫ-e Ğahānārā (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 1:350, editors’ introduction). In the edition of Tārīḫ-e Ğahānārā, the date was given as 972/1564-65 (186). The recent editors of the Mağāles assumed that Šūštarī updated the date. In other words, the year 982/1574-75 was when he wrote this part of the work. However, it is also possible that Qāżī Aḥmad changed the date to ten years later when preparing a later recension of his work. This possibility needs to be investigated further.↩︎

  8. All translation by the author unless indicated otherwise.↩︎

  9. Following Behbehānī, Mīrzā Abo-l-Qāsem Qomī (d. 1231/1815-16) in his Resāla-ye eǧāza-ye ẕekr ([1384] 2005–2006, 89) and Moḥammad Bāqir Ḫvānsārī (d. 1313/1895-96) in his Rawḍāt al-ğannāt (Ḫānsārī [1390] 1970, 3:142) applied this label to Šūštarī. Mainly because of the popularity of the latter work, this label became widespread and used by several scholars of the twentieth century; see N. Šūštarī ([1392] 2013, 1:183–84).↩︎

  10. For instance, on one occasion, he stated that all the Sunnis hate ʿAlī (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:478). On another occasion, he indirectly offended Abū Ḥanīfa (Šūštarī [1392] 2013, 3:487).↩︎

  11. For example, see N. Šūštarī ([1392] 2013, 1:330–332).↩︎

  12. Another sixteenth-century anti-Twelver Shi’i polemics was Ibn Ḥağar al-Haytamī’s (d. 973/1566) al-Ṣawāʿiq al-muḥriqa fī l-radd ʿalā ahl al-bidʿ wa-l-zandaqa. Šūštarī was undoubtedly familiar with this work, as he wrote a response to it (Šūštarī [1327] 1948). However, the author of al-Ṣawāʿiq al-muḥriqa attacked Shi’ism in its historical form, and he did not refer to the Safavids at all. For this reason, this work was not relevant to the present discussion.↩︎

  13. On Sirhindī and his connection to the Mughal court, see Moin (2012, 134–36).↩︎

  14. For more detailed study of Šūštarī’s argument in support of Sufism, see S. A. A. Rizvi (1986, 373–75).↩︎

  15. Shahzad Bashir, likewise, argued for Šūštarī being a Nūrbaḫšī Sufi. He assumed that Šūštarī was an indirect disciple of Šams al-Dīn Lāhīǧī (Bashir 2003, 55, 175, 180).↩︎

  16. For a list of Šūštarī’s writings on logic and rational theology, see S. Rizvi, ??↩︎

  17. Šūštarī considered Šahrastānī to be an Ašʿarī theologian rather than an Esmāʿīlī. For the same reason, he did not include him in the Maǧāles.↩︎