AḤMAD-E JĀM, in full ŠEHĀB-AL-DĪN ABŪ NAṢR AḤMAD B. ABU’L-ḤASAN B. AḤMAD B. MOḤAMMAD NĀMAQĪ JĀMĪ, a Conservative Sufi with unreserved loyalty to the Šarīʿa (b. 440/1049 in Nāmaq, near Toršīz, Khorasan; d. 536/1141 in Maʿaddābād on the outskirts of Jām, which today, thanks to his tomb, is called Torbat-e [Šayḵ-e] Jām). Although he claimed descent from the line of Jarīr b. ʿAbdallāh al-Baǰalī, a companion of the Prophet, he had a distinctly non-Arab physiognomy (EI2 I, p. 283) and an unusually original and thoroughly native sounding quality to his Persian. The nickname Žandapīl, “the colossal elephant,” expressive of both his appearance and religio-social conduct and mentioned first by Ḥamdallāh Mostawfī, goes back to his own lifetime (Būzǰānī, p. 26). In his youth Aḥmad enjoyed some formal schooling, and the claim to total lack of education forwarded by himself (Maqamāt, p. 357) and his biographer Moḥammad Ḡaznavī is meant to credit him with supernatural knowledge. At the age of twenty-two, while immersed in the pleasures of a loose life, Aḥmad experienced a miracle which led him to denounce worldly interests and spend the following eighteen years in the secluded mountains of Nāmaq and Bēzad, undergoing self-imposed hardships, meditating, and studying. At forty (?), ordered by God, he left the solitary life and embarked on a long career devoted to preaching, combating sin and irreligion, spreading orthodoxy, teaching Sufi followers, and writing books. He traveled to many nearby towns and villages including Nīšābūr and Herat, and once made the ḥaǰǰ.

As a Sufi Aḥmad stands rather alone, unrelated to any known order of his time. His pīr, Abū Ṭāher Kord, an otherwise unknown figure, appears in several stories of Aḥmad’s early period (repeated in the Nafaḥāt of Jāmī to fill a gap and is quickly abandoned. The attempt made by Ḡaznavī to present Aḥmad as the legitimate successor of Abū Saʿīd Abi’l-Ḵayr is baseless. He built a mosque and a ḵānaqāh in Jām, his permanent residence. His contact was mostly with the local population and minor dignitaries, only rarely including a figure as distinguished as Faqīh Moḥammad b. Manṣūr Saraḵsī—revered by Sanāʾī—with whom Aḥmad clashed in a hostile conflict for personal recognition. Sultan Sanǰar was the one great exception: He allegedly had conceived a particular liking for Aḥmad who in turn devoted his Rawżat al-moḏnebīn to him. Two extant letters to Sanǰar, one defending Jām’s inhabitants in a rather fearless tone and the other answering Sanǰar’s question about the “signs of God’s friends,” support this report (Ḡaznavī, Maqāmāt, pp. 60, 337).

Aḥmad is portrayed by Ḡaznavī as meddling in everyone’s affairs, destroying vats of wine and musical instruments, and punishing sinners and forcing them to repent, but this does not correspond to the impression left by his books, where he appears gentle and ready to forgive a whole life of sin and corruption if only the last breath is taken in repentance. He constantly warns against hypocrites, who disguise themselves as ʿālem, qāżī, moftī, faqīh, Sufi, Koran reciter, etc. His discussions concern ordinary subjects of Sufi practice and religious morality, hardly ever touching on sophisticated questions of philosophy or theology. (For a listing of his more important topics, see ʿA. Fāżel’s introd. to Rawżat al-moḏnebīn, pp. 68-69.) Writing in the simple though penetrating style of sermons, he often repeats himself, even word for word, in his different books. He must have impressed certain simple believers with his religious zeal and demonstrations of power and authority; they in turn imagined the wild miracles recorded in the Maqāmāt but practically unsupported by Aḥmad’s own writings. Unlike other famous mystics, his appeal to scholars and poets remained minimal; ʿAṭṭār never mentions him, though he practically followed in his footsteps and, one feels, should have sensed his presence in the air.

Aḥmad’s works, over 850 years old, are more precious for their contribution to Persian literary history than for their teachings. His style is mostly conversational, clear, flawless, rich in rare obsolescences, abounding in parables and situational examples, beautiful and truly enjoyable to read. His books are 1. Serāǰ al-sāʾerīn, 3 vols. written in 513/1119; 2. Meftāḥ al-naǰāt, 522/1128 (pp. 65-69 unexpected significance attached to the figure seven); 3. Rawżat al-moḏnebīn, 526/1132; 4. Ons al-tāʾebīn, date unknown (2, 3, and half of 4, edited by ʿAlī Fāżel, were published in Tehran by Bonyād-e Farhang-e Īrān in 1347 Š./1968, 1355 Š./1976 and 1350 Š./1971 respectively); 5. Beḥār al-ḥaqīqa, 527/1133; 6. Konūz al-ḥekma, 533/1139; 7. Resāla-ye Samarqandīya, a collection of several letters in answer to questions (partly printed in Maqāmāt, pp. 329-47). Of the remaining five books mentioned in sources, no mss. have been discovered. (M. T. Dānešpažūh has given the headings of the chapters of the existing seven works with brief selections of important samples in FIZ 16, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 240-325). A dīvān of poems, mostly ḡazals, with the pen name Aḥmad or Aḥmadī is attributed to him and has been lithographed several times in India. Aḥmad certainly wrote poems; the authenticity of the printed text, however, is at least partly questionable (see Maqāmāt, introd., pp. 52-67).

Aḥmad married eight wives and was survived by fourteen sons, some of whom became famous, wrote books, and carried their father’s tradition ahead. A few generations later, his descendants were widely spread and numbered in the thousands. In 840/1436 about 1,000 of them were living in Jām, Nīšābūr, Herat, and some nearby places. They met with particular good fortune in India: Homāyūn’s mother as well as his wife, i.e., Akbar’s mother, to mention just two examples, belonged to the great Jāmī family (Maqāmāt, introd., pp. 67-71). Rulers of the Āl-e Kart dynasty (8th/14th century) greatly respected them and entered into kinship with them by marriage. Numerous kings including Tīmūr, Šāhroḵ, and Shah ʿAbbās are said to have visited Aḥmad’s grave and contributed to the complex of educational and religious buildings on its site. The family Jāmī al-Aḥmadī is influential and respected to the present day, particularly in Jām and Herat. Their true spiritual center, however, is Ḥawż-e Karyās near Herat where in 1968 I met their venerable shaikhs and the hierarchy’s “ḵalīfa”. The living tradition and practices still need to be studied.


See also Sadīd-al-dīn Moḥammad Ḡaznavī, Maqāmāt-e Žandapīl Aḥmad-e Jām, ed. H. Moayyad, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, 2nd enlarged ed. 1967.

Abu’l-Fatḥ Moḥammad b. Šams-al-dīn Moṭahhar, Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqa, ed. M. ʿA. Mowaḥḥed, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964.

Abu’l-Makārem b. ʿAlāʾ-al-molk Jāmī, Ḵolāṣat al-maqāmāt, Qandahār, 1335/1956; incomplete text ed. W. Ivanow, JRAS, 1917, pp. 308-65.

Darvīš ʿAlī Būzǰānī, Rawżat al-rayāḥīn, written in 929/1523 on Aḥmad’s prominent descendants, ed. H. Moayyad, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

Yūsof-e Ahl, Farāʾed-e Ḡīāṯī, 2 vols., ed. H. Moayyad, Tehran, 1977, 1979 (contains many letters from and to members of the Jāmī family).

F. Meier, “Zur Biographie Aḥmad-i Ğām’s und zur Quellenkunde von Ğāmī’s Nafaḥātu’l-Uns,” ZDMG 97, 1943, pp. 47-67.

Idem, EI2 I, p. 283 (detailed bibliography).

M. T. Dānešpažūh, “Dar bāra-ye Šayḵ-e Jām va āṯār-e ū,” Rāhnemā-ye Ketāb 10, 1346, pp. 394-98 (valuable information on rare prints and mss.).

H. Moayyad, Die Maqāmāt des Ġaznawī, eine legendäre Vita Aḥmad-i Ğām’s, genannt Žandapīl (dissertation), Frankfurt a. M., 1959.

Idem, introductions to above-mentioned editions.

Idem, “Eine wiedergefundene Schrift über Aḥmad-e Ğām und seine Nachkommen,” AIUON 1964, pp. 255-86.

(H. Moayyad)

Originally Published: December 15, 1984

Last Updated: July 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 6, pp. 648-649

Cite this entry:

H. Moayyad, “AḤMAD-E JĀM,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/6, pp. 648-649; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ahmad-e-jam (accessed on 19 March 2014).