DĀʿĪ-AL-ESLĀM, SAYYED MOḤAMMAD-ʿALĪ, Persian scholar, preacher, and lexicographer, born 1295/1878 at Lārījān. After receiving his early education at Āmol and Tehran, in 1316/1898 he went to Isfahan to continue his studies under the guidance of such respected religious teachers as Āḵūnd Mollā Moḥammad Kāšī, Jahāngīr Khan Qašqāʾī and Āqā Khan Najafī (q.v.). His stay at Isfahan (1316-24/1898-1906), during which he also learned English and Hebrew, coincided with the arrival of some European missionaries, who, through their preaching and distribution of polemical literature, caused a great stir. The young Moḥammad-ʿAlī so effectively refuted their allegations in his monthly journal Majallat-al-Eslām (launched in December 1902) that he aroused considerable favorable attention, causing Moẓaffar-al-Dīn Shah (1314-24/1896-1907) to bestow upon him the title Dāʿī-al-Eslām (Nīkū Hemmat, p. 438). In 1324/1906 he went to the Ḥejāz on pilgrimage; on the way back he passed through Egypt, where he was warmly received by Persian merchants familiar with his activities in Isfahan. He wanted to return home via Bombay, but when he reached there the local Persian expatriates sought his help in defending Islam against Christian missionaries. He learned Urdu, founded the Anjoman Daʿwat-al-Eslām and the Majalla Daʿwat-al-Eslām (October 1906), and preached so actively that he soon became known all over India. During the third year of his stay in Bombay he was appointed professor of Persian in the Neẓām college in Hyderabad, Deccan, an ideal forum for his preaching. Despite this new position, he remained active in polemical activities and year after year devoted one quarter of his salary to the Anjoman (Dāʿī-al-Eslām, n.d.b, pp. 24-25)
From his vantage point in India Dāʿī-al-Eslām (n.d.a, p. 23), pained at the political plight of Persia and longing to see the country restored to its past glory, pleaded for universal literacy and a bipartisan approach by the ruling elite and ecclesiastical leaders to national problems (Dāʿī-al-Eslām, n.d.b, p. 23). He believed that, through national unity and revitalization, Persians could restore their country to greatness, as they had done under Nāder Shah (1148-60/1736-47), despite much greater odds (Durand, tr., p. ii). In order to further understanding of Persian history and culture in India, Dāʿī-al-Eslām established a chapter of Jāmeʿa-ye maʿāref in Hyderabad (1928, pp. 43-44; cf. pp. 27-28) and circulated numerous pamphlets.
Despite his political efforts, Dāʿī-al-Eslām’s greatest achievement was his Farhang-e neẓām, the first Persian etymological work that approximated in format and range of information comparable dictionaries in European languages and thus marked a watershed in the evolution of Persian lexicography. Despite developments in the language in the last fifty years, it still retains its usefulness. Dāʿī-al-Eslām worked on his dictionary for nineteen years, three of which he devoted exclusively to research into the linguistic and dialectal aspects of the language spoken in Persia (Dāʿī-al-Eslām, n.d.b, p. 25). Unlike its predecessors, Farhang-e neẓām is not a mere compendium of archaic terms found mainly in poetic contexts; it includes words from Persian, Arabic, Turkish, and European languages that were likely to be required by those who spoke Persian, each classified according to part of speech, as well as to whether it was colloquial, slang, literary, obsolete, and so on. Words confined to specific dialects or associated with different social groups were also clearly identified. Pronunciations were recorded in Avestan script; when pronunciation varied, that of Tehran was preferred. When appropriate he illustrated correct usage by means of illustrative couplets, phrases, and the like. Because some knowledge of Sanskrit is required for the understanding of the etymologies of many Persian words, Dāʿī-al-Eslām compiled a Sanskrit grammar, which he included in Farhang-e neẓām (IV, pp. v-xcvi). He also attached great importance to the Avestan language (IV, pp. i, vi) and vehemently opposed the exclusion of Arabic vocabulary, which he considered an integral part of Persian as it had developed over the centuries. On the other hand, he had such a low opinion of the Persian verse of the Qajar period that he ignored it as a source for his dictionary (1983, V, p. 1). He also destroyed all the poetry that he himself had composed under its influence (n.d.b. p. 25); all his subsequent compositions emulated Safavid style.
To Dāʿī-al-Eslām goes the credit for the first article ever written in Persian on the poetry of Eqbāl-e Lāhūrī (d. 1938; Jūnāgarḥī, p. 79), introducing him to Persians outside India (Moḥīṭ Ṭabāṭabāʾī, p. 208). In 1321 Š./1942 Dāʿī-al-Eslām returned to Persia, where he spoke openly about his views on various social, cultural, historical, and religious issues. After about four years he returned to Hyderabad, where he died on 26 Ābān 1330 Š./18 November 1951 (Naqawī, p. 256; Nīkū Hemmat, p. 438).
M.-ʿA. Dāʿī-al-Eslām, Šeʿr o šāʿerī-e ʿOrfī-e Šīrāzī, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1345/1926.
Idem, Eqbāl wa šeʿr e-fārsī, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1346/1927a; Urdu tr. T. Kāẓemī as Nayrang-e ḵayāl, Lahore, 1928; repr. in Noqūš, special issue on Eqbāl, Lahore, 1977, pp. 400-21.
Idem, Šeʿr o šāʿerī-e ʿaṣr-e jadīd-e Īrān, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1346/1927b. Idem, Farhang-navīsī-e fārsī, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1347/1928a.
Idem, Ḵaṭṭ-e lātīn barā-ye fārsī, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1347/1928b.
Idem, Fārsī-e jadīd, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1349/1930a.
Idem, comp., Taqrīẓāt-e jadīd bar farhang-e neẓām I, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1349/1930b.
Idem, Resāla-ye ḵaṭṭ-e Dāʿī, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1352/1933.
Idem, Seh mosammaṭ, Tehran, 1322 Š./1943.
Idem, Ḵod āmūzeš-e sanskrīt, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982.
Idem, Farhang-e neẓām, 5 vols., Hyderabad (Deccan), 1346-58/1927-39; 2nd ed., Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.
Idem, Ḵaṭṭ-e āsān barā-ye taʿlīm-e ʿomūmī, Hyderabad (Deccan), n.d.a.
Idem, “Sawāneḥ-e Zandagānī-e Sayyed Moḥammad-ʿAlī Dāʿī-al-Eslām,” in Āʾīn-e Eslām, n.p., n.d.b.
M. Durand, Nadir Shah, London, 1908; tr. M.-ʿA. Dāʿī-al-Eslām as Ketāb-e Nāder Šāh, Hyderabad (Deccan), 1914.
Rafīʿ-al-Dīn Hāšemī, Ketābīyāt-e Eqbāl, Lahore, 1977.
Qāżī Aḥmad Mīān Aḵtar Jūnāgarḥī, Eqbālīyāt kā tanqīdī jāʾeza, 2nd ed., Karachi, 1965.
M. Moḥīt Ṭabāṭabāʾī, “Eqbāl wa zabān-e-fārsī,” Gowhar 213, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 206-09.
Š. Naqawī, Farhang-navīsī-e fārsī dar Hend o Pākestān, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.
A. Nīkū Hemmat, “Dāʿī-al-Eslām,” Dāneš 218, 1330 Š./1951, pp. 437-39.
Ḥ.-A. Salīm, “Īrān aur Eqbāl,” Māh-e now (Karachi) 30/5, September 1977, pp. 406-10.
(M. Saleem Akhtar)
Originally Published: December 15, 1993
Last Updated: November 11, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, pp. 594-595