AŠRAFĪ, ḤOJJAT-AL-ESLĀM ḤĀJJĪ MOLLĀ MOḤAMMAD B. MOLLĀ MOḤAMMAD MAHDĪ, religious leader, born sometime before 1235/1819 and died 1315/1897-98. The only information about him comes from fragmentary accounts given by some of his contemporaries such as Moḥammad Tonokābonī (Qeṣaṣ al-ʿolamāʾ, Tehran, 1304/1886-87, pp. 118ff.), and Moḥammad Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-salṭana (al-Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār, Tehran, 1306/1888-89, pp. 143-44), who refer to him as a well-recognized religious leader, an authority in Islamic mysticism, and an excellent orator.
Originally from Ašraf (the present-day Behšahr in Māzandarān), he spent most of his life in Bārforūš (the present-day Bābol), also in Māzandarān; see M. Qazvīnī, “Wafayāt-e moʿāṣerīn,” Yādgār 3/3, 1325 Š./ 1946-47, p. 35). Concerning Ašrafī’s advanced education, we do not have any solid information. According to M. Tonokābonī Ašrafī studied under Mollā Moḥammad Saʿīd-al-ʿolamāʾ (d. 1270/1853-54), a former colleague of Shaikh Mortażā Anṣārī (d. 1281/1864-65, q.v.) and then a distinguished religious leader residing in Bārforūš (Qeṣaṣ, p. 124; M. A. Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab III, Tabrīz, n.d., p. 38; P. Ḥosaynzāda, Šahr-e Bābol, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964-65, p. 120 and passim). Ašrafī’s name is also mentioned among the disciples of Shaikh Moḥammad-Ḥasan Ṣāḥeb-al-ǰawāher (d. 1266/1849-50) by M. Ḥerz-al-dīn (Maʿāref al-reǰāl fī tarāǰem al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-odabāʾ II, Naǰaf, 1384/1964-65, p. 227). This report, however, is hard to substantiate because we do know (ibid., II, pp. 225) that Ṣāḥeb-al-ǰawāher had lived in Naǰaf since the beginning of the 13th/18th-19th century, but we do not know of any period of Ašrafī’s life to have been spent in Naǰaf. Tonokābonī (p. 124) adds that Ašrafī had not had much education and attributes his distinction to his asceticism and his extreme fear of God, and asserts that he had the power to perform saintly miracles (karāmāt). His lack of systematic training under distinguished religious authorities of the time is also clearly referred to by Sayyed Moḥammad-Mahdī Mūsawī Eṣfahānī Kāẓemī (Aḥsan al-wadīʿa fī tarāǰem mašāhīr moǰtahedīn al-šīʿa I, Naǰaf, 1388/1968, pp. 100-01). However, Ašrafī proved to be a highly respected religious authority and it is believed that he reached the rank of eǰtehād (independent judgment in Islamic jurisprudence) at the age of twenty-one and received the title of ḥoǰǰat-al-eslām from the then great religious leader of Iran, Sayyed Moḥammad-Bāqer Šaftī (Ḥosaynzāda, Bābol, pp. 125-27). The fact that he wrote a Persian resāla-ye ʿamalīya (a guidance for the individuals wishing to follow the instructions of a specified moǰtahed) confirms the report of Eʿtemād-al-salṭana that Ašrafī had a certain number of followers (A. Hairi, Shīʿism and Constitutionalism in Iran: A Study of the Role Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Iranian Politics, Leiden, 1977, pp. 62-65, 194, 201). It deals with matters related to this world (moʿāmalāt) and with religious observances (ʿebādāt); it was published in Tehran first in 1312/1894-95 and again in 1316/1898-99 (a year after Ašrafī’s death), but this time footnoted by and adjusted to the fatwās (legal rulings) of Shaikh ʿAbdallāh Māzandārānī (d. 1330/1912, q.v.).
Two other books are known to have been written by Ašrafī, both evidence of his mastery in the field of the Shiʿite tradition and jurisprudence. Ašrafī’s most important and often quoted book is a catechism called Šaʿāʾer al-eslām fī masāʾel al-ḥalāl wa’l-ḥarām (Tehran, 1312/1894-95, 1316/1898-99), which has earned him the admiration of his biographers (e.g., Mūsawī Kāẓemī, Aḥsan al-wadīʿa I, p. 100). Mollā ʿAlī Wāʿeẓ Ḵīābānī also admired Ašrafī and his books, but the fact that Ašrafī was reputed both as a marǰaʿ-e taqlīd (religious authority) and as a Sufi astonished him (Ketāb ʿolamāʾ moʿāṣerīn, Tabrīz, 1366/1946-47, pp. 62-64). Ašrafī’s other book, also in Persian, is entitled Asrār al-šahāda and was published twice, once in 1315/1897-98 and another time in 1322/1904.
Ašrafī was also respected by the then shah of Iran, Nāṣer-al-dīn (r. 1265-1314/1848-96). They exchanged visits during the shah’s two trips to Māzandarān in 1282/1865-66 and 1292/1875 (M. Ḥ. Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, Merʾāt al-boldān-e nāṣerī I, Tehran, 1294/1877, pp. 156-59; E. Mahīūrī, Tārīḵ-eMāzandarān II, Sārī, 1345 Š./1966-67, p. 180). The shah is said to have personally taken photograph of Ašrafī (Ḥosaynzāda, Bābol, pp. 126, 127; the same picture is claimed to belong to Mollā Moḥammad Fāżel Šarabīānī (d. 1322/1904; cf. Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab III, p. 185; Kāẓemī, Aḥsan al-wadīʿa, end of vol. II).
Ašrafī died in 1315/1897 and was buried in the quarter of the Jāmeʿ Mosque in Bārforūš.
See also al-Ḏarīʿa II, p. 46; XI, p. 218; XIV, p. 191.
Bāmdād, Reǰāl III, p. 223.
M. ʿA. Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab I, Tabrīz, 1346 Š./1967-68, pp. 128-29.
Ḵ. Mošār, Moʾallefīn-e kotob-e čāpī-e fārsī o ʿarabī V, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964-65, cols. 849-50.
Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār, Safar-nāma-ye nāṣerī ba Māzandarān, Tehran, 1294/1877.
ʿA. Qomī, Fawāʾed al-rażawīya fī aḥwāl ʿolamāʾ al-maḏhab al-ǰaʿfarīya, Tehran, 1364/1947-48, p. 628.
Ḥ. Š. Gīlānī, Tārīḵ-eʿolamāʾ wa šoʿarā-ye Gīlān, Tehran, 1328 Š./1949-50.
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 17, 2011
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Vol. II, Fasc. 8, pp. 798-799