ĀL-E BORHĀN, the name of a family of spiritual and civic leaders in Bokhara during the 6th/12th and early 7th/13th centuries; stemming from Marv, they were so called because virtually all of them seem to have had the laqab (honorific) of Borhān-al-dīn or Borhān-al-mella wa’l-dīn.
The Islamic religious institution in the cities of Turkestan seems to have enjoyed a position of special importance and local power vis-à-vis the secular ruling powers, at least during the period of the Qarakhanids and their successors. The headship of the Hanafite maḏhab—by then largely dominant throughout Transoxiana—was known in Bokhara and in other cities of Transoxiana and Khorasan as the ṣadāra (“eminence”); its holders were accorded the title of ṣadr (pl. ṣodūr). In Bokhara we find the even more elevated titles of ṣadr-e ǰahān and ṣadr-e šarīʿat. The Āl-e Borhān itself seems to have succeeded to this power in Bokhara after lines of ṣodūr of the Esmāʿīlī and Ṣaffār families. Such houses seem to have been economically powerful, with rich estates, and able to exert an influence far beyond the purely religious sphere, behaving almost like independent city princes. Hence it is not surprising that many of their members clashed with the ruling Turkish temporal power. All but the founder of the Āl-e Borhān are accorded the title of šahīd (“martyr”) by later authors; and it is specifically recorded that various of them found martyrdom at the hands of the Qarakhanids, Qara Ḵitay, etc.
Although there are scattered mentions of the Āl-e Borhān in contemporary historical and literary sources, it is not easy to construct a firm, chronological history of the family; and even the filiations of the successive ṣodūr are not completely clear. The following account follows the researches of O. Pritsak, who has corrected the earlier account of Barthold; both authors have drawn heavily on the Ketāb-e Mollāzāda or Ketāb-e mazārāt-e Boḵārā, an account of the cemeteries of Bokhara and their occupants by the early 9th/15th (?) century author Aḥmad b. Moḥammad, called Moʿīn-al-foqarāʾ.
The Āl-e Borhān traced its ancestry back through Arab settlers in Marv to the caliph ʿOmar b. al-Ḵaṭṭāb. In 495/1102 the Saljuq sultan, Sanǰar b. Malekšāh, who had come to Bokhara and Transoxiana to impose his suzerainty over the Qarakhanids, appointed ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. Māza, famed for his learning as “the second Abū Ḥanīfa,” as ṣadr in Bokhara in place of a member of the Ṣaffār imams; he also gave him one of his sisters in marriage. Ebn Fondoq, the local historian of Bayhaq, records the ṣadr as a school fellow of his own father (Tārīḵ-eBayhaq, ed. A. Bahmanyār, Tehran 1317 Š./1938, pp. 106-07). ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz’s son, Ḥosām-al-dīn ʿOmar, succeeded to his father’s dignity. Famed as a legal expert (for his extant works, see Brockelmann, GAL I2, pp. 461-62, Supp. I, pp. 639-40), he was killed by the pagan Qara Ḵitay after Sanǰar’s great defeat at the battle of the Qaṭwān steppe in 536/1141. Subsequently, however, the Qara Ḵitay acknowledged the spiritual authority in Bokhara of the ṣodūr and used them as their own representatives in the city; the ṣodūr also accommodated themselves to the rule of the Ḵᵛārazmšāhs, when, for instance, Tekeš appeared at Bokhara in 578/1182. It was to the ṣadr ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz II b. Moḥammad (d. 593/1196-97) that the epitomizer of Naršaḵī’s Tārīḵ-eBoḵārā, Moḥammad b. Ẓofar, dedicated his work in 574/1178-79 (ed. Modarres Rażawī, Tehran, 1319 Š./1940, p. 2; tr. Frye, The History of Bukhara, Cambridge, Mass., 1954, p. 4). The authority of the Qarakhanids of Samarqand was for a while restored in Bokhara, but the Āl-e Borhān still retained great riches and power. Moḥammad II b. Aḥmad (d. 616/1219) acted as virtual ruler there, collecting the tribute for the Qara Ḵitay. When he made the pilgrimage his arrogance was such that people in Mecca changed his title ṣadr-e ǰahān to ṣadr-e ǰahannam; Nasavī says that he united the office of ḵaṭīb with that of raʾīs (mayor of the city) and maintained a retinue of 6,000 faqīhs.
The popular movement which broke out at Bokhara in 636/1238 under the shield-maker Maḥmūd Ṭārābī was unfavorable to the Borhānī ṣodur; and the last of the family, Aḥmad II b. Moḥammad, was driven out to seek refuge with the Qara Ḵitay, who were, however, by now impotent to restore him (see Barthold, Turkestan3 pp. 469-71). To the ṣadāra in Bokhara there now succeeded a new line, that of the Hanafite faqīh Šams-al-dīn Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Maḥbūbī, a supporter of Ṭārābī’s movement; the Maḥbūbīs were still influential in Bokhara when Ebn Baṭṭūṭa was there in 733/1333 (Paris, III, p. 28; tr. Gibb, III, p. 554).
Ketāb-e Mollāzāda, lith. Bokhara, 1322/1904.
Scattered references occur in Ebn al-Aṯīr, Ebn Fondoq, Neẓāmī ʿArūżī’s Čahār maqāla, ʿAwfī’s Lobāb and Jawāmeʿ al-ḥekāyāt, Nasavī, and Jovaynī.
Of secondary sources, the pioneer work was done by W. Barthold, who first published extracts from the Ketāb-e Mollāzāda in the Texts volume of the original Russian edition, I, pp. 166-72; see his Turkestan3, pp. 326-27, 353-55, 379, 430.
Idem, “Burhān,” EI1 I, pp. 797-98.
E. G. Browne’s revised translation of the Čahār maqāla, London, 1921, contains notes on the Āl-e Borhān based on material gathered by Mīrzā Moḥammad Qazvīnī (pp. 110-12).
More information was brought to light and used by O. Pritsak in his article “Āl-i Burhān,” Der Islam 30, 1952, pp. 81-96; included are a chronological list and a genealogical table of the family (pp. 88-91, 94).
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1984
Last Updated: July 29, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 7, pp. 753-754
C. E. Bosworth, “ĀL-E BORHĀN,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/7, pp. 753-754; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/al-e-borhan (accessed on 14 May 2014).