ḤALABI, Shaikh MAḤMUD (b. Mašhad, 13 Rajab 1318/6 November 1900; d. Tehran, 26 Dey 1377/16 January 1998; Figure 1), a charismatic cleric and the founder of Ḥojjatiya Association (Anjoman-e Ḥojjatiya; q.v.). Shaikh Maḥmud Ḥalabi Ḵorāsāni was born in Mašhad to Ḡolām-Reżā, who descended from a clerical family but made his living as a maker of tin samovars, hence his reputation as “Ḥalabi-sāz” (tinsmith). He was also a devotee of the Third Imam, Ḥosayn b. ʿAli (q.v.) and bore the title of invocator of Ḥosayn (“Ḏāker-e Ḥosayn”). Maḥmud, the second son of the family, started his education in a traditional school (maktab; see EDUCATION v.). Upon completion of his preliminary education, he pursued the study of Arabic, logic, jurisprudence, and principles of juridical application (oṣul; q.v.) in a local seminary. His most significant mentor at this stage of his education was Adib Neyšāburi (q.v.), a notable poet and literary figure. Ḥalabi entered the highest level of seminary education (ḵārej) and simultaneously embarked on an elective course of studies in Mollā Ṣadrā’s philosophy and ethics (Goruhi az šāgerdān, pp. 19-22).
Ḥalabi’s later intellectual development was influenced by two seminal figures: First, a chance encounter with a clerical mystic, Shaikh Ḥasan-ʿAli Noḵodaki Eṣfahāni (1862-1942; Meqdādi; Ḥalabi, “Baḥṯi dar bāra-ye,” pp. 21-24) during which Ḥalabi was cured of a life-threatening illness, led him to choose the healing cleric as his mentor. In the following years, the otherwise rigorous philosopher undertook intense ascetic and mystical practices that involved prescribed cycles of seclusion and meditation (čella-nešini). This period coincided with an eight-year hiatus in the outskirts of Neyšābur at the height of Reżā Shah’s persecution of the clergy in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Although he later abandoned these esoteric practices, the experience left an indelible mark on his personality. Second, a series of debates with a renowned theosophist, Mirzā Mehdi Ḡarawi Eṣfahāni (1885-1945; Ḥalabi, Yādi az, pp. 21-26), during which Ḥalabi felt obliged to abandon his relentless defense of philosophy and to succumb to Mirzā Mehdi’s interpretation of kalām theology that excoriated the Hellenistic influences on traditional Islamic philosophy and called for a separation of secular philosophy from religious thought as well as a more vigilant adherence to the Shiʿite approach to the interpretation of Islam. This encounter led to four years of instruction during which Ḥalabi transcribed and edited Mirzā Mehdi’s teachings. The manuscripts of these lessons, along with Ḥalabi’s other philosophical commentaries from this period (Ḥa-wāši bar Manẓuma-ye Laʿāli,Šarḥ al-asmāʾ, and Šarḥ al-hedāya) are extant in Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi in Mašhad. Ḥalabi’s lifelong devotion to this school of thought, which has come to be known as Maktab-e tafkik (Moḥmmad-Reżā Ḥakimi, pp. 5-26) was a result of his apprenticeship at this stage of his life.
Although by the late 1940s Ḥalabi had emerged as an erudite seminarian and seemed destined for a quiet scholarly life that would ultimately lead to religious leadership, he also came to be recognized as a persuasive orator. Thus, rather than the quiet pursuit of advanced jurisprudence, he found himself steeped in a life of public involvement and instruction (author’s interview with Ayatollah ʿEzz-al-Din Zanjāni, 1976). As an influential and popular orator, Ḥalabi joined Prime Minister Moḥammad Moṣaddeq’s struggle for the nationalization of the oil industry (1951-1952) and along with Moḥammad-Taqi Šariʿati (the father of ʿAli Šariʿati; q.v.) was nominated in the 1952 Majles election from Mašhad (Nabard-e šarq, 20 Esfand 1330 Š./11 March 1952). In the aftermath of this struggle, Ḥalabi endeavored to reconcile Moṣaddeq with his erstwhile clerical ally Ayatollah Sayyed Abu’l-Qāsem Kāšāni. His failure in this mission and the subsequent 1953 coup d’état marked the end of Ḥalabi’s political career (Goruhi az šāgerdān, p. 51). His experience during this period may also explain his general disillusionment with, and disdain for, politics.
After the 1953 Coup d’état (q.v.), Ḥalabi moved to Tehran and dedicated himself to launching a highly disciplined, quietist lay organization known as Anjoman-e Ḥojjatiya (q.v.). The primary objective of this voluntary association was to meet the polemical challenge of the Bahai faith (q.v.) and the perceived danger of its aggressive missionary activity in Persia. Ḥalabi characterized the mission of Ḥojjatiya as “the scientific defense of Islam” (Interview with the author, 1977).
Ḥalabi’s interest in the Bahai religion stemmed from a personal encounter during which a Bahai missionary (moballeḡ) converted a seminarian colleague of his, Sayyed ʿAbbās ʿAlawi, to their faith. Alarmed by this experience, Ḥalabi abandoned his classical studies and devoted himself to the study of the Bahai original texts with the intention of forging a comprehensive Islamic response. These studies yielded “Naqd-e iqān,” a sprawling critique of Bahai theology. Smaller manuscripts from this period include “Naqd bar estedlāliya-ye Mirzā Naʿim” and “Naqd bar mofāweżāt.” These works were later made available, in typed and bound volumes, to the higher echelons of his Ḥojjatiya Association. Throughout the next three decades Ḥalabi remained at the helm of this counter-reformation style messianic Shiʿi association.
The Islamic revolution of 1979 caught Ḥalabi by surprise. Initially incredulous and privately critical of the revolutionary process, Ḥalabi nevertheless arranged a meeting with Ayatollah Ruḥ-Allāh Khomeini within months of the success of the revolution, but he encountered a cold reception by the Ayatollah and a bold rebuke by his lieutenant Ṣādeq Ḵalḵāli (p. 189). Four years later Khomeini, weary of the organizational prowess and ideological heterodoxy of the Ḥojjatiya, denounced it in thinly veiled words in a public address. Ḥalabi responded by publicly ordering all the activities of the Ḥojjatiya terminated (interview with Pahlavān).
Suffering from infirmities associated with a stroke in 1980, Ḥalabi now retired to his newly purchased house in the Zaʿferāniya district of Tehran. A group of his devotees and former students continued to frequent his house to hold debates on Islamic mysticism and philosophy (Author’s interview with Dr. Ḥosayn Tājeri and Dr. Manṣur Pahlavān, July 20, 2002). Ḥalabi died in Tehran on 26 Dey 1377 Š./16 January 1998). He is buried in the Ebn Bābuya cemetery, in southern Tehran. He is survived by four sons and two daughters.
Goruhi az šāgerdān-e ostād, ṭalāyadār-e āftāb,yādbud-e čehellom-e dargoḏašt-e ostād Ḥalabi, Tehran, 1997.
Moḥammad-Reżā Ḥakimi, “Maktab-e tafkik,” Keyhān-e farhangi 9/12, 1992, pp. 5-26.
Maḥ-mud Ḥalabi, Maʿāref-e elāhiya, (manuscript 12480), Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Astān-e Qods-e Rażawi, Mašhad.
Idem, Al-tawḥid wa’l-ʿadl, manuscript. Idem, Baḥṯi dar bāra-ye ʿālam-e tašriʿ, manuscript.
Idem, “Yādi az ostād-e ṭariqat,” in Enteẓār 5, 1981, pp. 21-24.
Idem, “Yādi az ʿālemi rabbāni marḥum-e Mirzā Mehdi Eṣfahāni,” in Enteẓār 4, 1980, pp. 21-28.
“Āfāq-e enteẓār,” transcript of two sermons, ed. Goruhi az šāgerdān, Tehran, 1999.
Idem, Naqd-e iqān (Ḥojjatiya limited internal issue), Tehran, 1967.
Idem, Naqd-e estedlāliya-ye Mirzā Naʿim (unpublished man.), Tehran. Naqd-e mofāweżāt, (Ḥojjatiya limited internal issue), Tehran.
ʿAli Meqdādi, Nešān az bi-nešānhā, 2 vols., Tehran, 1998.
Ṣādeq Ḵalḵāli, Ḵāṭerāt, Tehran, 2000.
Mahmoud Sadri and Ahmad Sadri, Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: The Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush, New York, 2000.
Author’s Interviews: Interviews with Shaikh Maḥmud Ḥalabi, Tehran, 1966, 1977, 1978.
Interview with Ayatollah ʿEzz-al-Din Zanjāni, Zanjān, 1976.
Interview with Manṣur Pahlavān, Faculty of Theology, University of Tehran, 1 August 2002.
Interview with Aṣḡar Ṣādeqi, Member, Board of Directors of Ḥojjatiya, 28 June 1999.
Interview with Dr. Ḥosayn Tājeri Nasab, Member, Board of Directors of Ḥojjatiya, 25 July 2002.
Originally Published: December 15, 2003
Last Updated: March 1, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XI, Fasc. 6, pp. 581-583