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MULLABASHI. An institution designating a high religious functionary in Shi’i Islam, which seems to have come into usage toward the very end of the Safavid period (1501-1722), and slowly disapeared in the nineteenth century, mullabashi was intended to replace the more-established term Shaykh al-Islam, but it did not succeed in doing so. A passing reference to it is encountered as late as 1906 (Arjomand, 1988, p. 92). The term itself comes from a Perso-Arabic word, mulld (“mullah”, a Muslim clergyman) and a Turkish word, bash (or bas, head or chief), thus having the general meaning of “head of the clergy.” In point of fact, however, the mullabashi did not possess such an important function.
One of the earliest references to the term occurs in Tadhkirat al-muluk, completed about 1726. The anonymous author states that the mullabashi was the chief mullah, foremost religious scholar, and had a privileged seat next to the shah on formal occasions. The duties of the mullabashi included soliciting pensions for students and men of merit, generally upholding virtuous conduct, and giving advice on legal matters. Thus, the mullabashi was more an adviser rather than an executive. The contemporary Zubdat al-tavarikh makes the mullabashi sound more like the shah’s boon companion, joining him in discussing literary problems and poetry and the preparation of dishes and medicines (Minorsky, 1943, p. 24).
Said Amir Arjomand (1988) has convincingly established that the office of mullabashi was “formally instituted” for Mir Muhammad Bagir Khatun-abadi in 1712, disproving Minorsky’s conjecture (1943, pp. 110 ff.) that the first occupant of the office was Mulls Muhammad Bagir al-Majlisi (d. 1699 or 1700), the most powerful Shaykh al-Islam of Isfahan toward the end of the Safavid period. Abdul Hadi Hairi claims that “Madjlisi’s title was changed to Mullabashi on Sultan Husayn’s accession to the throne in 1106/1694” (Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 5, pp. 1086-1088, Leiden, 1960-).
The mullabashi had his rivals in the “mujtahid of the age,” the Sadr, and the Shaykh al-Islam. There is some indication, however, that the mullabashi was the most powerful of them all. This is shown by the Dastur almuluk, a work on the Safavid administration from the same period as Tadhkirat al-muluk, whose author refers to the mullabashi as the leader and most learned of the `ulama’ (community of religious scholars).
The position of mullabashi became more of a publicrelations office during the reign of Nadir Shah Afshar (d. 1747). The shah, anxious to reach some kind of reconciliation between the Shi `i Iranians and the Sunni Ottomans, sent his mullabashi, Mulls `All Akbar, as his chief representative to the conference at Najaf in 1743 where he defended the Shi’i views in lively conversations with Shaykh `Abd Allah al-Suwaydi, an Iraqi Sunni scholar, who was accepted by both sides as an impartial mediator. This reconciliation attempt ended in failure; in any case, it was essentially a political ploy by Nadir Shah, who at the same time was actually at war with the Ottomans.
The office of mullabashi kept an attenuated existence throughout the Zand and Qajar periods. The incumbent often became tutor of the royal princes. At one time, “towards 1905, the buffoon of a governor of Kirman figures in the rolls as mulla-bashi” (Minorsky, 1943, p. 110, n. 5).
[See also Safavid Dynasty; Shaykh al-Islam; and the biography of Majlisi.]
Algar, Hamid. “Shi’ism and Iran in the Eighteenth Century.” In Studies in Eighteenth-Century Islamic History, edited by Thomas Naff and Roger Owen, pp. 288-302. Carbondale, Ill., 1977. Discusses the Nadir Shah period and draws attention to Shaykh `Abd Allah al-Suwaydi’s memoir, Al-Hujaj al-Qat’iyah li-Ittifaq al-Firaq al-Islamiyah (Cairo, 1323/1905).
Arjomand, Said Amir. “The Mujtahid of the Age and the Mullabashi.” In Authority and Political Culture in Shi’ism, edited by Said Amir Arjomand, pp. 80-97. Albany, N.Y., 1988. Comprehensive treatment of the subject.
Danishpazhuh, M. T., ed. “Dastur al-Muluk.” In Majallahyi Ddnishkadahyi Adabiyat va `Ulum-i Insant. Vol. 16, parts I and 2. Edition of the Dastur al-Muluk, a work on the Safavid administration.
Gholsorkhi, Shohreh. “The Religious Policy of Nadir Shah.” Unpublished article, Princeton, n.d. Presents up-to-date research on religion and state in eighteenth-century Iran.
Minorsky, Vladimir, ed. and trans. Tadhkirat al-muluk: A Manual of Safavid Administration (c. 1137/1725). London, 1943 Standard work on Safavid institutions before the fall of the dynasty in 1722.

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/mullabashi/

  • writerPosted On: September 29, 2014
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