Abū Aḥmad Jamāl al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Nabī b. ʿAbd al-Ṣāniʿ al-Nishābūrī al-Istarābādī (b. 1178/1764- d. 1232/1816), known as Mīrzā Muḥammad al-Akhbārī, was a scholar of fiqh and hadith and a founder of the Akhbari approach in Shi’a fiqh.
He wrote several books to reject the Usuli school. Because of his opposition to Usulis, including al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, he had to leave Iraq for Tehran. In Tehran, he was welcomed and respected by Fath-Ali Shah Qajar. It is said that during his stay in Tehran, he displayed some kiramat (supernatural acts), and thus, he came to be known as “Sayyid Muhammad Sahib Kiramat“.
The antagonism of Usuli scholars, and in particular, a book written by Kashif al-Ghita’ against Akhbarism, which was sent to the Shah, led the Shah to withdraw his support for Sayyid Muhammad. Thus, he left Tehran to Kadhimiya. However, the Usuli scholars did not rest content to this and publicly permitted his murder. Thus, people attacked his house and killed him.
Born and Family
There is a disagreement about Sayyid Muhammad’s lineage. One of his grandchildren, Ibrahim b. Mirza Ahmad, considers him as one of Radawi Sadat in his preface to his book, Iqaz al-nabiyya. According to him, his lineage goes back to Husayn b. Musa al-Mubarqa’, a son of Imam al-Jawad (a). There are quotes from Diya’ al-Muttaqin Mirza Muhammad to the effect that his lineage goes back to Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Juwayni, a minister and the author of Diwan.
Mirza Muhammad was born in Akbarabad or Farrukhabad in India from an Istarabadi mother. Al-Tunikabuni considered him to be from Bahrain.
His grandfather, ‘Abd al-Sani’, was from Astarabad, and his father, ‘Abd al-Nabi, lived in Nishapur at first, and then immigrated to India. Mirza Muhammad had a daughter and three sons, Muhammad, Ahmad, and ‘Ali. His daughter was Mulla Hadi Sabziwari’s wife. Despite his fundamental disagreements with the majority of mujtahids, everyone acknowledged his mastery of rational and transmitted disciplines.
Mirza Muhammad accomplished his preliminary educations in India. When he was about 20 years old, he and his family departed to Hijaz in order to perform hajj rituals. On the way, he lost his father. After performing the rituals, he went to Iraq and stayed in Najaf and Karbala for a while. He finally chose to live in Kadhimiya. In these cities, he studied with prominent scholars, such as Muhammad ‘Ali Bihbahani, Mirza Mahdi Shahristani, and Shaykh Musa Bahrayni. He soon became an expert of rational and transmitted disciplines. In addition to standard religious disciplines, he also studied occult sciences, such as spells (tilismat), “nayranjat” (magical tricks), jafr, and a’dad (numbers), as well as rhetoric and dialectics.
Muhammad Ali Bihbahani
Mirza Mahdi Shahrestani
Shaykh Musa Bahrini
- Fath Ali Khan Shirazi
- Muhammad Ibrahim b. Muhammad ‘Ali Tabasi
- Muhammad Baqir b. Muhammad ‘Ali Lari Dashti
- Muhammad Rida b. Muhammad Ja’far
- Muhammad Jawad Siyahpush
- Mustafa b. Isma’il Musawi
- ‘Abd al-Samad b. Muhammad Ja’far Dawani
Opposition to Usuli Scholars
Since Mirza Muhammad had adopted the Akhbari approach, he had serious frictions with Usuli scholars of fiqh, such as Shaykh Ja’far al-Najafi, Sayyid ‘Ali Tabataba’i, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Hujjat al-Islam Isfahani, and Muhammad Ibrahim al-Kalbasi. The pressures on the part of Usuli scholars forced him to leave Iraq for Iran. He lived in Mashhad and other cities of Iran for a while, and then he was welcomed by the government of Fath-Ali Shah to live in Tehran for 4 years. His presence in Tehran coincided with the first round of Russo-Persian War (1805-1813). Throughout this time, he was particularly respected by the Qajar Shah. He engaged in writing and teaching, and since some kiramat from him were widely spread among laypeople, he was known as “Sahib al-Kiramat”.
After pressures by influential figures, the Qajar king withdrew his support for Mirza Muhammad, and thus, he had to return to Iraq. He resided in Kadhimiya. In his deportation from Iran, the role of some Usuli scholars, particularly Shaykh Ja’far al-Najafi by writing his book, Kashf al-ghita’, to reproach Mirza Muhammad, should not be neglected.
After his residence in Kadhimiya, he continued to express his public opposition to Usuli scholars, both in his speeches and his writings. Thus, well-known scholars of the time, such as Sayyid Muhammad Mujahid, Shaykh Musa, Sayyid ‘Abd Allah Shubbar, and Shaykh Asad Allah Kazimayni, issued a fatwa according to which it was permitted to murder Mirza Muhammad. It is noteworthy that the struggle between two Ottoman agents for the rule of Baghdad, that is, As’ad Pasha who supported Mirza Muhammad, and Dawud Pasha who sought the support of Usuli scholars, was a fuel for fire.
Attribution to Sufiyya or Shaykhiyya
Although Mirza Muhammad wrote rejections for Sufi beliefs, the author of Bustan al-siyaha related him to the unknown Sufi sect of “Mahdiyya”. Others have attributed beliefs to him which are close to the mystical beliefs of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa’i, appealing to Mirza Muhammad’s remarks in his book, Wamdat al-nur, in which he referred to Shaykh Ahmad Ihsa’i as “our master in the science of certainty [that is, mysticism] Ahmad b. Zayn al-Din”.
Mirza Muhammad wrote several books mostly concerned with fiqh, kalam, the defense of Akhbari teachings, and the rejection of Usuli doctrines. He wrote over 80 books and essays. According to Ibrahim b. Mirza Ahmad’s bibliography, Mirza Muhammad wrote 30 books, 56 essays, and 2 collections of poems. Most of his work is in Arabic and some are in Persian.
- Iqaz al-nabiyya
- Dawa’ir al-‘ulum
- Al-Burhan fi l-taklif wa l-bayan
- Fath al-bab
- Masadir al-anwar fi l-ijtihad wa l-akhbar
During Mirza Muhammad’s stay in Tehran, laypeople spoke about his kiramat (supernatural acts), and referred to him as “Sahib al-Kiramat” (owner of kiramat). A kirama attributed to him is his prediction of the murder of Pavel Tsitsianov, the Russian General in Caucasus. The story was that he suggested to Fath-Ali Shah that he can have a 40-day sit-in for the death of this Russian General until his head is taken to the Shah. The Qajar government was supposed, instead, to reveal the story and support Akhbarism. After this agreement, Mirza Muhammad went to the Shrine of ‘Abd al-‘Azim in Rey and sat in a chamber with closed doors for 40 days. After 40 days, the head of the Russian General was taken to Fath-Ali Shah by a cavalry.
There was an anecdote to the effect that a few years before his murder, Mirza Muhammad predicted the year of his death by saying: “صدوق غلب، صار تاریخنا” ” ([an honest man was defeated] became my date). The Abjad number of the phrase “صدوق غلب” is 1232 which is the year of his murder. Even some people have claimed that the night before his murder, he told some of his companions that only a few hours remain from his life.
When the fatwa of Mirza Muhammad’s murder was issued, a group of people attacked his house and killed him and his son, Ahmad, as well as one of his students. Mirza Muhammad’s corpse was moved around the city by tying a rope to his legs.