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MAJLISI, MUHAMMAD BAQIR AL- (1616-1698/1700), leading Iranian Shi’i scholar of the late Safavid period. He was born in Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid state, into a family of `ulama’ (religious scholars). His father, Muhammad Tagi al-Majlisi, was a noted religious figure. It is said the Majlisls were related to the `Amilis of south Lebanon (Jabal `Amil) who, when Shah Isma’Il founded the Shi`i Safavid state in Iran in 1501, flocked to Iran to participate in the flowering of a new era of ShN scholarship. Al-Majlisi’s life and works marked the end of this “golden age.” He died in Isfahan and was buried in the great old mosque of the city.

 MUHAMMAD BAQIR MAJLISI,

MUHAMMAD BAQIR MAJLISI,

The most readily accessible biography of Majlisi is to be found in Muhammad Baqir Khwansarl’s well-known nineteenth-century biographical dictionary, Rawdat aljannat, (vol. 2, pp. 78-93). In narrating the life and works of Majlis7i, Khwansarl, as is his usual style, quotes from contemporary and later sources. He refers to him as “Shaykh al-Islam” of the Safavid capital, adding that “he was the chief figure [ra’is] in religious and secular matters.” During the reign of the last Safavid ruler, Shah Sultan Husayn, the affairs of the state had deteriorated to such a degree that it was only thanks to Majlisi’s activities that the country maintained a semblance of unity. The end came soon after Majlisi’s death.

Aside from his religious duties as a member of the `ulamd’, which the sources describe in exaggerated detail, Majlisi’s position in regard to the government and the shah is unclear. He was not a statesman.

In addition to the material in Khwansarli’s work, the earliest life of Majlisi is included in Mit’at al-ahvdl-i Jahan-namd, written by Ahmad ibn Muhammad `Ali Bihbahani (d. 1819 or 1820) and recently published in

Tehran, edited by `All Davvanl (only pp. 112-26 deal specifically with Majlisi. This work served as the basis for a more elaborate biography of Majlisi written in 1884 by Husayn ibn Muhammad Tagi’ ibn `All ibn Muhammad al-Nuri al-Tabarsi, entitled Al fayd al-qudsi ft tarjamat al-`Alldmah al-Majlisi. This work was published as part of volume 105 of the new edition of Majlisi’s Bihar al-anwdr. After a short introduction, the biography deals with Majlisi’s personal characteristics, his works, his teachers and students, his ancestors, his descendants, and his life and visions of him after his death.

The sources stress two aspects of Majlisi’s life: his strong opposition to Sufism and his attempt at popularizing Shi’i thought among Iranians by writing several of his works in Persian rather than Arabic. His major work, however, Bih, ar al-anwdr, a compendium of Shi’i knowledge, is in Arabic. A new (second) edition of this work, which began to appear in Tehran in the 1960s is in 110 volumes. Karl-Heinz Pampus wrote a doctoral dissertation on Bihar al-anwdr in 1970. The first 134 pages of Pampus’s work is a comprehensive life of Majlisi; the rest (pp. 135-229) is a detailed analysis of Bihar. An index (Sajinat al-bihdr) to the first (1887) edition of Bihar al-anwar, composed by ‘Abbas Qummi, is useful inasmuch as the new edition awaits a comprehensive index.

Majlisi is said to have written as many as thirteen books in Arabic and fifty-three in Persian. Some of these compositions are short treatises dealing with such topics as belief, prayer, ethics, and morality, many of which intended to teach the common person. In Shi`I thought and scholarship, Majlisi represents the culminating point in the Ithna `Asharl revival that can be said to have begun with the rise of the Safavid dynasty. The continuity in Shl’i learning that the Safavid rulers provided for Ithna `Ashari scholars (thus linking them with their predecessors of the late Middle Ages, such as Ibn al-Mutahhar al-Hilh, Ibn Makkl al-`Amill, Ibn Fahd alHill-1, and others) is counterbalanced with the continuity that Majlisi himself provided for future generations of Shi’I scholars, linking the Safavid period with that of the Qajar dynasty in the nineteenth century-all the way to the present Islamic Republic of Iran. No modern scholar today dealing with Islamic thought, Shl i or otherwise, can afford to ignore the writings of Muhammad Bagir al-Majlisi. Majlisi, al-Hurr al-`Amill, and Mulla Muhsin Fayd constitute the so-called Three Later Muhammads who, with the “Three Early Muhammads” (Kulayni, Ibn Babuyah, and Shaykh al-Td’ifah al-Tusi), share among themselves the most important writings of the teachings of the Shi`i tradition of Islam.

[See also Shi’i Islam, historical overview article.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

General and uncritical material on the life and times of Majlisi may be found in Shi i biographical works such as Muhammad Baqir Khwansari, Rawdat al -jannat (Tehran, n.d.), and Mirza M. Tunkabuni, Qisas al-`ulama’ (Tehran, n.d.). For basic information and a proper evaluation of Majlisi and his works, consult Agha Ahmad ibn Muhammad ‘Ali Bihbahani, Mir’at al-Ahval Jahan-nama, edited by ‘Ali Davvani (Tehran, 1370/1992), and Husayn ibn Muhammad Tagi al-Nuri al-Tabarsi, “Al-fayd al-qudsi fi tarjamat al-`Allamah alMajlisi,” in volume 105 of Majlisi’s Bihar al-Anwar, new ed., vol. 105, pp. 2-165 (Tehran, 1391/1971). Volume I of the new edition of Bihar contains an extremely useful introduction, as does the Persian translation of volume 13 by `Alil Davvani.

The following may be consulted for useful insights about this learned scholar:

Browne, Edward G. A Literary History of Persia. Vol. 4. Reprint, Cambridge, 1969.

Hairi, Abdul-Hadi. “Madjlisi, Mulla Muhammad Bakir.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 1086-1088. Leiden, 196o-. Momen, Moojan. An Introduction to Shi’i Islam. New Haven, 1985. Contains a reconstructed family tree of Majlisi and his descendants on pages 132-134.

Pampus, Karl-Heinz. Die Theologische Enzyklopadie Bihar al-Anwar des Muhammad Baqir al-Maglisi (1037-1110 A.H. = 1627-1699 A.D.): Ein Beitrag zur Literaturgeschichte der 9i ‘a in der Safawidenzeit. Bonn, 1977. Published doctoral dissertation on Majlisi and his Bihar.

Shaybi, Kamil Mustafa al-. Al -fikr al-shi’i wa al-naza’at al-sufiyah. Baghdad, 1386/1966.

MICHEL M. MAZZAOUI

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/majlisi-muhammad-baqir-al/
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