ABU’L-MAʿĀLĪ MOḤAMMAD B. ʿOBAYDALLĀH B. ʿALĪ, author of Bayān al-adyān, the oldest work on religions and sects written in Persian. From the somewhat abbreviated genealogy which he gives in the preface, it becomes clear that he was an ʿAlid. A comparison with Ebn ʿEnaba (ʿOmdat al-ṭāleb, Naǰaf, 1381/1961, p. 331.2ff.) shows that he belonged to the descendants of Ḥosayn Aṣḡar, the son of Zayn-al-ʿābedīn. A great-grandson of this ancestor, Ḥosayn b. Jaʿfar (al-Ḥoǰǰa) b. ʿObaydallāh al-Aʿraǰ, had settled in Balḵ. Abu’l-Maʿālī’s grandfather represents the third generation of this branch; he is mentioned, together with his son ʿObaydallāh, Abu’l-Maʿālī’s father, by Ebn Ṭabāṭabā (Montaqelat al-ṭālebīn, ed. M. Ḥ. al-Ḵarsān, Naǰaf, 1388/1968, p. 92.13ff.). Abu’l-Maʿālī is called Abu’l-Ḥasan Moḥammad al-Zāhed by Ebn ʿEnaba; he seems thus to have had two konyas.

Although an Indian manuscript gives the date of its composition as 525/1131 (observation by F. Moǰtabāʾī, mentioned by A. Tafazzoli in Memorial Jean de Menasce, Louvain, 1974, p. 339, fn. 8), Abu’l-Maʿālī states that he wrote his book 230 years after the birth of the twelfth Imam (ed. Rāzī, p. 42.5ff.), i.e., in 485/1092. At this time he seems to have lived at Ḡazna (cf. pp. 18.2, 40.1), in close connection with the court (cf. p. 2.11). The sultan was Ebrāhīm b. Masʿūd (r. 451-92/1059-99), a grandson of Sultan Maḥmūd. Abu’l-Maʿālī mentions Ḥasan Ṣabbāḥ (p. 39), but does not yet introduce him as the master of Alamūt, conquered less than two years before. He also furnishes us with the earliest, though scanty, information about Nāṣer Ḵosrow (d. 481/1088). He openly disapproves of the Ismaʿilis; it is possible that he himself held Eṯnāʿašarī views, although he does not explicitly say so. In his juridical standpoint he seems to have adhered to the Hanafite maḏhab, as should be expected in the region where he lived.

His book is not voluminous; in five chapters he treats monotheism outside Islam and pre-Islamic religions, the Hadith of the seventy-three sects with a subsequent exposition of the feraq (sects) in detail, and finally the appearance of pseudo-prophets in Islam, especially in the Iranian world. This last chapter contains valuable and new information; it was long considered lost and only recently discovered by M. T. Dānešpažūh (ed. in FIZ 10, 1962, pp. 282ff.). Abu’l-Maʿālī quotes his sources conscientiously, among them Moṭahhar b. Ṭāher Maqdesī’s Ketāb al-badʾ wa’l-taʾrīḵ, the heresiographical works by Abu’l-Qāsem Balḵī and Abū ʿĪsā Warrāq, Bīrūnī’s Ārāʾ al-Hend, a number of treatises on Ḥallāǰ, and a book by Jayhānī (with respect to the Shiʿite gnostic Kayyāl). There are three editions: by Ch. Schefer (Chrestomathie persane, Paris, 1883, I, pp. 131ff.), ʿAbbās Eqbāl (Tehran, 1312 Š./1933), and Hāšem Rażī (Tehran, 1342 Š./1963). Only the last one is complete (but the notes do not go beyond the first four chapters already contained in older editions). A translation of the incomplete text was published by H. Massé in RHR 94, 1926, pp. 17-75.

Bibliography : M. Blochet, Messianisme dans l’hétérodoxie musulmane, Paris, 1903, pp. 147ff. A. Christensen, “Remarques critiques sur le Kitāb bayāni-l-adyān d’Abū’l-Maʿālī,” MO 5, 1911, pp. 205ff. A. E. Bertels, Nasir-i Khosrov i ismailizm, Moscow, 1959, pp. 148, 184. G. Lazard, La langue des plus anciens monuments de la prose persane, Paris, 1963, p. 116.


(J. van Ess)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, pp. 334-335

Cite this entry:

J. van Ess, “ABU’L-MAʿĀLĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 334-335; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abul-maali-mohammad-b (accessed on 31 January 2014).