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A Turcoman line ruling in Iran from 1736 to 1796 was known as the Afsharid dynasty. The empire established by the dynasty’s founder, Nadir Shah Afshar (r. 1736-1747), stretched from Iraq to northern India; Nadir’s successors reigned only in northeastern Iran(Khurasan province). Nadir Shah began his career as commander-in-chief for Tahmasp II, claimant to the throne of the Safavid dynasty, which had been ousted from Isfahan by the invading Ghilzai Afghans in 1722. In 1732 he deposed Tahmasp in favor of his infant son and, in a series of military and diplomatic offensives, drove the Afghans from Iran and obliged the Ottoman Turks and Russians to withdraw from territory that they had occupied. In Azerbaijanin 1736 he convened a quriltay (national assembly of tribal chiefs, provincial governors and religious leaders). Backed by his large army, containing strong contingents of Sunni Afghans, he engineered the deposition of the Safavid dynasty and his own acclamation as shah. Moreover, he obtained nominal consent to the abolition of the ritual cursing of the first three caliphs and other distinctive practices of the Twelver Shi’a, established by the Safavids as the national cult of Iran.

Nadir Shah had been brought up a Shi’i and twice embellished the shrine of Imam ‘Ali Riza at his capital,Mashhad. His religious volte-face was evidently political in motivation: he wished to conclude a stable treaty with the Ottoman Empire, leaving him free to invade India, and explicitly regarded Iran’s religious dissidence as an obstacle to this. He may also have planned to challenge the Ottoman claim to leadership of the Muslim world, although in his correspondence he was careful to acknowledge the sultan as caliph, and stressed their ethnic ties. After subjugating the Mughal emperor and the khan of Bukharain 1739-1740 and recruiting more Sunni Afghan and Uzbek troops, Nadir again advanced on Ottoman Iraq. Having made pilgrimages to both Sunni and Shi’i shrines, he called a council of clergy at Najaf in December 1743 and forced a compromise: the Shi’i `ulama’ agreed to renounce explicitly anti-Sunni practices, and the Sunni `ulama’ agreed to recognize certain legal precepts of Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq as a fifth madhhab (school of orthodox Islamic law). The sultan, however, refused to recognize the Ja’fari madhhab; a peace treaty was signed in 1746 without mention of the religious question.

The next year Nadir Shah was assassinated by Shi’i Turcoman officers who feared a plot against them by the shah and his Afghan officers. His immediate successors, his nephew `Adil Shah (r. 1747-1748) and the Tatter’s younger brother Ibrahim Shah (r. 1748), failed to hold western Iran during their struggle for power. Shahrukh Shah (r. 1748-1796), Nadir’s teenage grandson by a Safavid princess, was for most of his “reign” a puppet of tribal chieftains, his own sons Nasr Allah and Nadir Mirza, and the Afghan monarch Ahmad Shah Durrani, who invaded Khurasan three times. Shahrukh was briefly deposed during 1750 in favor of Mir Sayyid Muhammad, the mutawalli (waqf-administrator) of the shrine at Mashhad, who was also of Safavid descent; Nadir Shah’s attempts, both political and religious, to demolish the Safavid tradition had obviously failed. Shahrukh was deposed and killed by Agha Muhammad Khan, the first Qajar ruler, during his reconquest of Khurasan in 1796. Although Mashhad retained its prestige asIran’s preeminent place of pilgrimage, the internecine power struggles and looting of the treasury (even the shrine) during the later Afsharid period plunged the province into an economic depression that lasted well into the nineteenth century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Lockhart, Laurence. Nadir Shah: A Critical Study Based Mainly upon Contemporary Sources.London, 1938.

Perry, John R. “Afsharids.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol 1, 58’7-589.New YorkandLondon, 1982-.

JOHN R. PERRY

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/afsharid-dynasty/
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  • writerPosted On: October 6, 2012
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