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Islam in Iran, The Mongol and Timurid Periods
Encyclopedia Iranica

The particulars of Moḥammad b. Falāḥ’s doctrine, far more conformable to olāt than to Twelver Shiʿism, can be gleaned from his Kalām al-Mahdi. There he asserts that ʿAli b. Abi Ṭāleb is an eternal mystery, traversing the heavens and the earth at all times, whereas the role of the Prophet is simply to act as a veil; as for the Imams after ʿAli, they are angels assuring communication between him and the Prophet. His own status as the Mahdi means that he possesses all the perfection of all the prophets and all the saints. Despite this exalted status, Moḥammad b. Falāḥ did not neglect to regulate the details of public hygiene and punish offenders with death (Caskel, p. 73). As for the designation Mošaʿšaʿa used by the sect, it comes from a root meaning “to glitter,” especially wine in a glass, the sense presumably being that the adherents of Moḥammad b. Falāḥ “glittered” from the intoxication produced in them by their creed. The rise of the Safavids, less than half a century after the death of the sect’s founder, brought an end to the independence of the principality, and normative Twelver Shiʿism gradually came to prevail throughout Khuzestan.

It is also in the 9th/15th century, the last of the pre-Safavid era, that the rise of the Ahl-e Ḥaqq, well described by Vladimir Minorsky as “a federation of associated movements,” is to be located (see van Bruinessen, p. 118; a considerably earlier date is given, however, by Minorsky, basing himself on an early 20th-century Ahl-e Ḥaqq text; Minorsky, p. 313). This “federation” is sometimes designated by outsiders living in proximity to it as ʿAli-Allāhi, but although its adherents find room in their capacious pantheon for a divinized ʿAli and may well have been influenced by teachings of the olāt Shiʿites, this particular belief plays only a minor role in their loosely built doctrinal system. Far more important are elements apparently derived from the pre-Islamic religions of Persia: Manicheism (a pearl functioning as the container from which the entirety of creation was brought forth), Zoroastrianism (a heptad of sacred beings [haft-tan] assisting the creator in the work of extraction), and Mithraism (the sacrifice of a bull on that primordial occasion). Belief in the cyclical manifestation of sacred entities in fleshly form is also an article of Ahl-e Ḥaqq belief (Minorsky, pp. 307-8). At various dates, a miscellany of Islamic details were successively grafted onto this scheme, not only Extremist Shiʿite but also Sufi: use of the term pir in connection with the elders of the sect, rites of initiation, and invocation of a threefold scheme šariʿat-ariqat-aqiqat to describe the stages of religious insight and practice. The unanimously recognized founder of the Ahl-e Ḥaqq was a certain Solṭān Soḥāq (= Esḥāq), descended from a sayyed of Hamadan. He lived in the Gurān region of Kurdistan, which counts for the Ahl-e Ḥaqq as the sacred territory where all cosmologically significant events have taken place, and was buried in a mausoleum on the right bank of the Sirvān river. The shrine of his son and successor, Bābā Yādgār, an incarnation of one of the haft-tan, is situated in the mountains west of Kermanshah. Both shrines are on Persian territory. From Gurān, the sect spread first to Lorestān and other parts of Kurdistan; then, under the auspices of a certain Ātaš Beg, to Qarāja Dāḡ and Sahand in Azerbaijan; and thence to a scattering of other locations—some isolated villages near Qazvin and Rašt, and others in Māzandarān. Most of the texts deemed sacred by the Ahl-e Ḥaqq, and designated by them as kalām, are in Gurāni, but some are in Azerbaijani Turkish; they laud Shah Esmāʿil, referred to by his nom de plume as Ḵaṭāʾi, as a divine manifestation, and betray a number of similarities with Qezelbāš doctrine (Minorsky, p. 314). It should not be inferred from this, however, that the Ahl-e Ḥaqq played any part in the rise of the Safavids to power, or even that they in some sense foreshadowed it; apart from the seepage of their sect outside Kurdistan, they played no role in the religious destinies of Persia as a whole.

Rather than these geographically and doctrinally disparate movements, the religious life of Persia and Transoxania during the Mongol and Timurid periods was dominated by a number of Sufi orders, in conformity with a pattern generally observable at the time in much of the western Islamic world. They all arose in the Persian-speaking world, although their lineages ultimately found diffusion beyond it. Each represented the crystallization of an existing initiatic line under the impact of a personality deemed either to represent a partially new departure or, on the contrary, to provide an authoritative summation of the tradition.

The first and in many ways the most interesting of these orders was the Kobrawiya, named after Najm-al-Din of Chorasmia, whose distinctive epithet “Kobrā” was the abbreviation of al-āmmat al-kobrā (the overwhelming event), a nickname bestowed on him because of his insuperable powers in debate (Meier, 1957, p. 8). Born in 540/1145, he showed a propensity to visionary experience early in life but long remained preoccupied with the study of Hadith, and it was not until he was thirty-five years of age that he embarked on the search for a spiritual preceptor. The precise chronology of this search is uncertain; definite only is that Kobrā associated with three figures, each possessing a Sohravardi lineage. These were Ruzbehān Meṣri, ʿAmmār Yāser Bedlisi, and Esmāʿil Qaṣri, whose company he kept in Cairo, Tabriz, and Dezful respectively. Bedlisi may have been the most important of them, for it was he who bestowed on Kobrā his principal erqa (initiatic cloak) and to him alone that Kobrā referred in his writings; on the other hand, it was Qaṣri who proclaimed his training complete and sent him back to Chorasmia in 580/1184. He devoted the rest of his life to training some sixty disciples and to writing a number of relatively brief works, for the most part in Arabic, that provide practical guidance for wayfarers on the Sufi path and both describe and interpret the visionary experiences of their author. He died in the slaughter wrought by the Mongols on Chorasmia in 618/1221, perhaps while fighting against them at the head of a band of his disciples (Meier, 1957, p. 53).

Kobrā was, in a sense, posthumously avenged by those of his initiatic descendants who facilitated the conversion to Islam and general acculturation of the Mongol rulers in Persia and Central Asia; their political involvements foreshadowed the better-known case of Naqšbandi engagement in the politics of the Timurid period. The Kobrawis were significant, too, for the production of a diverse and abundant literature in both Persian and Arabic which went beyond the distinctive concerns of Kobrā himself, and for disseminating what was originally a localized order, centered on Chorasmia, unevenly over a broad swath of territory extending from Azerbaijan to China. A leading member of the first generation of Kobrawis was Majd-al-Din Bašdādi, executed in 617/1220 by the ruling dynasty of Chorasmia before Kobrā’s own death. He had, therefore, little opportunity to exercise preceptorial functions, but Kobrā did assign him the training of Najm-al-Din Dāya, a disciple who seems to have come to Chorasmia relatively late in Kobrā’s life and prudently to have left not long before the Mongol cataclysm. Despite the implication of his apparently self-awarded sobriquet “Dāya” (wetnurse) that he succored numerous spiritual offspring, Najm-al-Din trained no disciples of note. He compensated for this deficiency by writing a number of influential works, above all Merād al-ʿebād men al-mabdaʾ ela’l-maʿād, an elegantly written compendium of Sufi doctrine and practice, which, translated into Arabic, Turkish, and Chinese, enjoyed a lasting popularity even among Sufis not affiliated to the Kobrawiya (Algar, 1979, p. 20).

More important for the perpetuation of Kobrā’s initiatic line was Saʿd-al-Din Ḥamuya, the scion of a family in Baḥrābād near Jovayn in Khorasan that had for long been associated with Sufism. Like Dāya, he became a disciple of Kobrā relatively late in the life of the master, and again like him, he left Chorasmia shortly before the Mongol invasion. He spent the rest of his life traveling incessantly in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and the Hijaz, returning for the final years of his life to Baḥrābād, where he died in 649/1252. One of the more important way stations on his travels had been Damascus, where he made the acquaintance of Ebn al-ʿArabi (q.v.) and the two men conceived a profound respect for each other. Ḥamuya counts, in fact, as the first of those several Kobrawis who functioned as one of the main channels for the transmission of Ebn al-ʿArabi’s concepts and terminology to the Persian world. He is notable also for his somewhat abstruse reflections on the quality of welāyat (sainthood) and its relationship to prophethood, and his assertion that the term wali might legitimately be applied only to the Twelve Imams from the Household of the Prophet. This has caused him—and by extension, the Kobrawiya as a whole—to be regarded as proto-Shiʿite, but there is nothing in his writings to suggest any inclination to confessional Shiʿism; if anything, he is engaged in an attempt to appropriate the Twelve Imams for a distinctively Sufi concept of sacred history (Ḥamuya, pp. 100-102).

After Ḥamuya, the direction of the Baḥrābād ānaqāh (Sufi residence and hospice) was inherited by his son Ṣadr-al-Din (d. 722/1322), notable principally for having presided over the conversion to Islam of the Mongol ruler Ḡāzān Khan in 694/1295, who was, significantly, draped for the occasion in a robe that had belonged to Saʿd-al-Din. A more important successor to Saʿd- al-Din was ʿAziz-al-Din Nasafi. Like his preceptor, he was an indefatigable traveler, but in none of the places where he alighted did he set himself up as a spiritual guide; he seems even to have distrusted this essential aspect of Sufism. His influence came rather from his books, which largely echo those of Ḥamuya in several respects and differ from them chiefly in being easily comprehensible. Their content is generally inspired by the concerns and terminology of Ebn al-ʿArabi; like his predecessor, he thus identifies the Twelfth Imam with the “Seal of the Saints” (ātam al-awliāʾ) of whom Ebn al-ʿArabi speaks. Attempts to identify Nasafi as a proto-Shiʿite are misguided; he observes, however, that a person’s choice of Sunnite or Shiʿite affiliation is generally the result of mere imitation (taqlid), and if one is unable to investigate the matter oneself, he should do those things on which all schools agree (Nasafi, pp. 27-29).

Two of Kobrā’s immediate heirs remained in Central Asia: Bābā Kamāl Jandi (d. 672/1273), who fled eastwards from Chorasmia into the eye of the Mongol storm, and whose descendants were active primarily among Turkic populations; and Sayf-al-Din Bāḵarzi (d. 659/1261), founder of a hereditary line in Bukhara with an offshoot in Kerman. No distinguishing doctrinal emphasis can be associated with Bāḵarzi, who is noteworthy primarily for fostering Islam among the Mongols; Berke Khan, ruler of the Golden Horde, visited him in Bukhara and was either converted by him to Islam or strengthened in the affirmation of the faith (Richard, pp. 173-78). The Bāḵarzi line survived in Bukhara until the 19th century and had a short-lived offshoot in Kerman.

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