ʿALAM-AL-HODĀ, ABU’L-QĀSEM ʿALĪ B. AL-ḤOSAYN AL-MŪSAWĪ AL-ŠARĪF AL-MORTAŻĀ, leading Imamite scholar, man of letters, and naqīb (syndic) of the Talibids in Baghdad. He was born in Baghdad in Raǰab, 355/June-July, 965. His father Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥosayn b. Mūsā b. Moḥammad b. Mūsā b. Ebrāhīm b. Mūsā al-Kāẓem (d. 400/1009) several times held the position of naqīb of the Talibids. Through his mother, Fāṭema bent al-Ḥasan b. Aḥmad b. al-Ḥasan al-Nāṣer al-Kabīr (d. 383/994), ʿAlī was a descendant of the Zaydī imam, Nāṣer Oṭrūš (d. 304/917), ruler of Ṭabarestān and eastern Gīlān. His teacher of Imamite theology and law was Shaikh Mofīd, the foremost scholar of the age. He heard Shiʿite Hadith also from Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī b. Bābūya, brother of Shaikh Ṣadūq, and from others. He received his first language training from the poet Abū Naṣr ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz B. Nobāta; later he studied with others, among them Abū ʿObaydallāh Marzobānī, a man of letters with Muʿtazilite and Shiʿite leanings, who appears to have had the largest influence on his literary formation. He also studied Muʿtazilite kalām with Abū Esḥāq Naṣībīnī and with Qāżī ʿAbd-al-Jabbār of Ray when he visited Baghdad on his return from a pilgrimage in 389/999. His public career began in 380/990 when his father was named naqīb for his fourth term and he and his brother Moḥammad (Rażī) were appointed as his deputies; they were all dismissed in 384/994. In 397/1007 the Buyid Bahāʾ-al-dawla induced the caliph Qāder to appoint Moḥammad naqīb and to grant him the title Rażī Ḏu’l-ḥasabayn, while ʿAlī was given the title Mortażā Ḏu’l-maǰdayn. The reason Bahāʾ-al-dawla preferred Rażī (who was four years younger than Mortażā) for the position of naqīb may have been that the former was politically more ambitious and could be expected to show more independence from the caliph than his elder brother. On 3 Ṣafar 406/23 July 1015, after the death of Rażī, Mortażā was appointed naqīb al-noqabāʾ and granted the jurisdiction for the maẓālem and the leadership of the pilgrimage (ḥaǰǰ). He occupied these positions until his death on 25 Rabīʿ I 436/21 October 1044. The title ʿAlam-al-hodā was given to him in 420/1029 by ʿAmīd-al-dawla Abū Saʿd, vizier of the Buyid Jalāl-al-dawla. He is said to have accepted it only after having been assured by the vizier that he had heard ʿAlī in a dream naming him thus. His great wealth, in addition to his official position, his learning, and his poetic gift, enabled him to play an outstanding role in the political and social life of Baghdad. He owned eighty villages between Baghdad and Karbalāʾ, from which he derived an annual income of 24,000 dinars. When he and his brother Rażī were detained by Ebn al-Jarrāḥ of the Banū Ṭayy during a pilgrimage of 389/999, they paid a ransom of 9,000 dinars.

Under the reign of the Shiʿite Buyids, the position of naqīb of the Talibids gained considerable political importance and independence from the caliphate. In the early Buyid age the naqībs, mostly Zaydīs, openly demonstrated their opposition to the ʿAbbasid caliphate by wearing white garments. But from the beginning the Imamite Mūsawī naqībs wore the black robes of honor bestowed upon them by the caliphs and tried to maintain intimate relations with them as well as with the Buyid amirs. Mortażā in particular served the ʿAbbasid caliphate loyally. He implicitly justified his official position from the Imamite point of view in a treatise, Fi’l-ʿamal maʿ al-solṭān, arguing that under a usurper and unjust ruler it may not merely be licit but even a religious duty (wāǰeb) to accept public office, if the holder is likely to be able to do good or prevent evil. He had friendly ties with the caliphs Ṭāʾeʿ, Qāder, and Qāʾem and eulogized them in poems. He signed the document charging the Fatimid caliphs with having forged their ʿAlid genealogy, which Qāder published in 402/1011. At the accession of Qāʾem in 422/1031, he was the first person to do homage. His relations with the Buyid viziers in Baghdad were close, and he belonged to the literary circles of several of them. Particularly intimate was his friendship with Faḵr-al-dawla, vizier and governor of Baghdad from 401/1011 to 407/1016. He traveled to Wāseṭ to greet him on his arrival in Iraq as governor and composed numerous panegyrics and congratulatory poems for him. When Mortażā, after the death of Rażī, went to stay in the sanctuary of Kāẓemayn, as he could not bear witnessing the funeral of his brother, Faḵr-al-molk personally came to accompany him back to his home. After the execution of the vizier in 407/1016, he vowed to refrain from composing poetry. He broke the vow when the Buyid Solṭān-al-dawla came to Baghdad (in 408/1017?) and repeatedly asked him for a eulogy.

As the last Buyids progressively lost control over the army, Mortażā was several times called to mediate between them and their Turkish troops in Baghdad. In 415/1024 the vizier Abu’l-Qāsem Maḡrebī asked him, together with other dignitaries, to witness a special oath of loyalty of the Turks to Mošarref-al-dawla. The oath aroused the suspicions of the caliph Qāder, and he reprimanded the dignitaries for attending the ceremony without his permission. The matter was settled by a mutual oath of loyalty between the caliph and Mošarref-al-dawla. Shortly afterwards the Turks threatened the vizier Maḡrebī. When Mošarref-al-dawla took his side, the Turks sent Mortażā to Awānā outside Baghdad to assure the amir of their loyalty. Still in the same year, Mortażā acted as walī in the marriage of Mošarref-al-dawla with a Kakuyid princess. Jalāl-al-dawla, ruling in Baghdad from 418/1027 to 435/1044, had the highest esteem and trust for Mortażā. In 421/1030, the latter congratulated him with a poem on his victory over his cousin Abū Kālīǰār. In 422/1031, Jalāl-al-dawla sent him with the vizier Roḵḵaǰī to Madāʾen to persuade two Turkish generals, who had fled after being accused of abusing their men, to return to Baghdad. Mortażā witnessed the mutual oath of loyalty between Jalāl-al-dawla and the caliph Qāʾem in 423/1032 and was given custody of the vizier Abu’l-Qāsem b. Mākūla after his arrest in 427/1036. In 424/1033 and 427/1036 Jalāl-al-dawla sought refuge from the mutinous Turks in Mortażā’s house in Karḵ on the west bank of the Tigris.

Mortażā was also involved in the troubles with the street gangs of ʿayyārūn who pillaged and devastated Baghdad in the later Buyid age. In 415/1024 his house on the Ṣarāt canal was burned by them; Mošarref-al-dawla sent Turkish soldiers to protect his new house in the Darb Jamīl in Karḵ. In 417/1026, however, after the death of Mošarref-al-dawla, Karḵ was pillaged by the ʿayyārūn, soldiers, and common people from other quarters, and Mortażā sought refuge in the caliphal palace. After the people of Karḵ and the army sent a delegation to him requesting his return and the caliph Qāder bestowed special honors on him, he was brought back to his home with a military escort. In 425/1034 the ʿayyārūn under their leader Borǰomī raided a house behind his own in Karḵ. A year later, after Borǰomī had been killed, he was authorized by the government to negotiate with the ʿayyārūn and received their pledge to leave the town.

As a resident of Karḵ, Mortażā became the spokesman of the Shiʿite community there while also trying to prevent Shiʿite excesses leading to clashes with the Sunnis. In 420/1029 he headed a delegation from Karḵ which persuaded the caliph to appoint a preacher and reopen the mosque of Barāṯā, which had been shut because of extremist Shiʿite activities. On ʿĀšūrāʾ, 421/1030, at official request he had the signs of mourning removed from the stores in Karḵ, since they were provoking street fighting between Sunnis and Shiʿites. In 422/1031, Sunnis attacking Karḵ broke into his house, but he and his family were protected by their Turkish neighbors.

Mortażā was widely recognized by the Imamite Šīʿa in his time as their most authoritative scholar. This is reflected by the numerous legal and theological questions submitted to him from Imamite communities outside Baghdad. He wrote responses to such questions coming from Ṭūs, Ray, Gorgān, Ṭabarestān, Māmaṭīr, Daylam, Wāseṭ, Bādorāyā, Mosul, Mayyāfāreqīn, Aleppo, Damascus, Ṭarābolos, Ṣaydāʾ, Ramla, and Egypt. Evidently his reputation rose early, since his first responses to questions from Mosul were written in 382/992; it eclipsed that of his teacher Mofīd long before the latter’s death in 413/1022. His position and wealth allowed him also to protect and support financially his Shiʿite students even though his teaching ran directly counter to the anti-Muʿtazilite and anti-Shiʿite policy of the caliph Qāder. Among his students were most of the prominent Imamite scholars of the following generation, e.g., Shaikh al-Ṭūsī, al-Naǰāšī, Ebn al-Barrāǰ, al-Karāǰakī, Abū Ṣalāḥ al-Ḥalabī, Abū Yaʿlā Salār al-Daylamī, Jaʿfar b. Moḥammad al-Dūryastī, and Abu’l-Ḥasan al-Ṣehraštī.

As a poet, Mortażā has generally been judged as ranking below his brother, though his description of dream apparitions (ṭayf) is specifically praised by Ebn Ḵallekān. As a critic, he combined a fine taste with a perfect command of the Arabic language. From his literary works it is evident that he disliked Motanabbī, a fact that gives some credence to reports that he and Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ Maʿarrī, a great admirer of Motanabbī, quarreled during Abu’l-ʿAlāʾ’s visit to Baghdad (399-400/1009-10), though the story has been anecdotically transformed.

Doctrine. In Mortażā the rationalist, anti-traditionalist trend of the Imamite school of Baghdad reached its peak. In contrast to his teacher Mofīd, who had maintained that reason is unable to reach any religious knowledge without the aid of inspired tradition (samʿ), he affirmed, in agreement with the Muʿtazilite thesis, that the fundamental truths of religion must be established by reason alone. In theology he agreed mostly with the doctrine of the Basran school of the Moʿtazela, which was prevalent in Baghdad in his time. He strictly affirmed that the official version of the Koran was identical with the text established and arranged in the time of the Prophet and held that the Koran was produced in time, though the application of the term “created” (maḵlūq) to it was improper. Consistent with his Muʿtazilite attitude, he sharply opposed philosophy and scathingly criticized its representatives. Thus he wrote refutations of Yaḥyā b. ʿAdī rejecting the existence of prime matter (hayūlā) and he denied the reality of laws of nature (ṭabīʿa), explaining consistencies in nature as customary acts (ʿāda) of God. Here his anti-philosophical sentiment led him to adopt a position closer to Asḥʿarite than to Muʿtazilite doctrine. He totally repudiated belief in astrology and affirmed the futility of most dreams, ridiculing the philosophical explanation of them as the soul’s rising to its own world. Indeed he rejected the philosophers’ thesis of a separate, live, and active soul constituting the reality of man, a thesis upheld among the Emāmīya by the Banū Nawbaḵt and his teacher Mofīd; he defined man as the totality of the body in which the spirit (rūḥ) inhered merely as the principle of life. In his doctrine about the imamate and related questions, Mortażā stood, however, firmly in the Imamite tradition. Thus he maintained that all Muslims denying the explicit appointment of ʿAlī by the Prophet as his successor or the imamate of any of the twelve imams were infidels (koffār). He reinforced this thesis further by arguing for the doctrine of mowāfāt, i.e., that anyone dying an infidel could never have been a true believer, thus holding that the great majority of the Companions of Moḥammad had been hypocrites (monāfeqūn). However, he rejected the Muʿtazilite tenet of waʿīd, i.e., the unconditional condemnation of the unrepentant sinner to hell, affirming the effective intercession of the imams for the sinners among their followers. He upheld the Imamite belief in raǰʿa, the return of some of the dead to life on earth for the sake of retribution before the resurrection.

Mortażā’s anti-traditionalist tendency is also apparent in his doctrine on legal methodology and the law itself. Most notable here is his total rejection of the aḵbār āḥād, reports transmitted by a single or a few transmitters. In this respect he went beyond his teacher Mofīd, who had admitted the validity of the aḵbār āḥād if there was an additional indication of their truthfulness. Mortażā insisted that the aḵbār āḥād could not be accepted as a valid basis of the law, even if their transmitters were known to be thoroughly reliable; in fact, however, the Imamite legal traditions were transmitted by the traditionists of Qom who were, with the single exception of Ebn Bābūya Ṣadūq, anthropormorphists and predestinarians (not to mention other heresies to which some of them adhered); thus they were as unreliable as their Sunnite counterparts. From this negative assessment Mortażā did not exclude Kolaynī, whose Ketāb al-kāfī, he stated, was full of forgeries. In the place of the aḵbār āḥād, on which the law had traditionally been based to a large extent, in practice he greatly expanded the role of the consensus (eǰmāʿ). In agreement with general Imamite theory, he held the principle of the consensus of the Imamite community or the scholars to be valid as necessarily including the view of the infallible imam. This consensus, he held, was not invalidated by the disagreement of a few, identifiable scholars and could even be restricted to the Imamite kalām scholars; for the views of the traditionists who did not use sound reasoning were, essentially, as immaterial as those of the common people. In the three elements of consensus, the Koran (interpreted by sound reason), and aḵbār motawātera, i.e., reports with multiple chains of transmitters, Mortażā claimed that there existed the principles of certain knowledge (ʿelm, yaqīn). He insisted that religious law, as well as theology, must be founded on this knowledge, to the exclusion of all “probable opinion” (ẓann). In agreement with most Imamite scholars, he rejected the use of analogy (qīās) in the law.

Mortażā’s thought remained influential among the Emāmīya long after his death. In theology his doctrine along with that of Mofīd prevailed until the 7th/13th century, when it was criticized and replaced by the “modern” kalām, which was tinged with the philosophy of Ebn Sīnā and espoused by Naṣīr-al-dīn Ṭūsī and others. In feqh his radical rejection of the aḵbār āḥād was never widely accepted; the majority tended to follow his student, Shaikh Ṭūsī, who basically held that the legal reports transmitted by the school of Qom were valid, since they were covered by the consensus of the Imamite community. Mortażā’s position, however, was supported still in the 6th/12th century by some prominent scholars like Moḥammad b. Edrīs (d. 598/1202) in Ḥella and Ḥamza b. ʿAlī b. Zohra (d. 585/1192) in Aleppo.

The titles of over eighty works by Mortażā are mentioned in the sources. The following have been published: (1) Dīvān of his poetry. (2) Ḡorar al-fawāʾed wa dorar al-qalāʾed, also known as Amālī al-Mortażā, containing eighty maǰāles and completed on 28 Jomādā 1413/30 August 1022. It offers interpretations of verses of the Koran and of Hadith from a Muʿtazilite Shiʿite point of view, discussions of theological and literary subjects, and literary reports (aḵbār). (3) Takmelat al-ḡorar wa’l-dorar, containing discussions of theological and literary questions which Mortażā appended to the previous work. (4) Al-Šehāb fi’l-šayb wa’l-šabāb, an anthology of verses, including Mortażā’s own, describing old age and youth with critical comments. (5) Ṭayf al-ḵayāl, a similar anthology of verses describing dream apparitions. (6) Tafsīr qaṣīdat al-Sayyed al-Ḥemyarī, a literary and historical commentary on a poem of Sayyed Ḥemyarī in praise of ʿAlī. (7) Al-Enteṣār (or al-Enferādāt fi’l-feqh), dealing with matters in which Imamite feqh differed with all other legal schools. (8) Al-Masāʾel al-Nāṣerīya, a commentary on the feqh doctrine of the Zaydī imam Nāṣer Oṭrūš, Mortażā’s maternal ancestor, from the Imamite point of view. (9) Al-Ḏarīʿa elā oṣūl al-šarīʿa, a comprehensive work on oṣūl al-feqh. (10) Jomal al-ʿelm wa’l-ʿamal, a concise summary of his theological and feqh doctrine. (11) Tanzīh al-anbīāʾ, dealing with the interpretation of Koranic verses and Hadith implying sins of wrongdoing on the part of prophets, from the point of view of the Imamite dogma of perfect sinlessness of all prophets and imams. The final section deals with alleged faults and errors of the imams. (12) Al-Šāfī fi’l-emāma, a refutation of the chapters on the imamate in Qāżī ʿAbd-al-Jabbār’s Ketāb al-moḡnī. (13) Enqāḏ al-bašar men al-qażāʾ wa’l-qadar, a refutation of the doctrine of predestination on the basis of Koranic quotations. (14) Al-Moqneʿ fi’l-ḡayba, a defense of the Imamite doctrine of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam. (15) Masʾala waǰīza fi’l-ḡayba. (16) Masʾala fī tafżīl al-anbīāʾ ʿalā al-malāʾeka. (17) Al-Maṇʿ ʿan tafżīl al-malāʾeka ʿalā al-anbīāʾ. (18) Al-Oṣūl al-eʿteqādīya, a brief summary of his kalām doctrine. (19) Maǰmūʿa fī fonūn men ʿelm al-kalām, dealing with various theological questions. (20) Masʾala fi’l-ʿeṣma. (21) Aḥkām ahl al-āḵera. (22) Resāla fi’l-moḥkam wa’l-motašābeh. According to Mortażā’s introductory statement, the text is taken from the tafsīr of the Imamite scholar Moḥammad b. Ebrāhīm Noʿmānī. (23) Al-Foṣūl al-moḵtāra, excerpts from the works of Shaikh Mofīd, especially his al-ʿOyūn wa’l-maḥāsen. (24) Masʾala fi’l-ʿamal maʿ al-solṭān.

The Nahī al-balāḡa, the famous collection of statements of ʿAlī gathered by his brother Rażī, has sometimes erroneously been ascribed to him. 


Ṯaʿālebī, Tatemmat al-yatīma, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl, Tehran, 1353/1934, I, pp. 53-56.

Ṭūsī, Fehrest, ed. A. Sprenger, Calcutta, 1853-55, pp. 218-20.

Naǰāšī, al-Reǰāl, Tehran, n.d., pp. 206ff.

Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād XI, pp. 402ff.

Bāḵarzī, Domyat al-qaṣr, ed. ʿAbd-al-Fattāḥ Moḥammad al-Ḥolū, Cairo, 1388/1958, I, pp. 279-83.

Ḥākem Jošamī, Šarh al-ʿoyūn, in Fażl al-eʿtezāl wa ṭabaqāt al-Moʿtazela, ed. F. Sayyed, Tunis, 1393/1974, p. 383.

Ebn Šahrāšūb, Maʿālem al-ʿolamāʾ, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl, Tehran, 1353/1934, pp. 61-63.

Ebn al-Jawzī, al-Montaẓam, ed. F. Krenkow, Hyderabad, 1357-59/1938-41, VII, index; VIII, pp. 120-26 and index.

Yāqūt, Odabāʾ V, pp. 173-79 and indices.

Ebn al-Aṯīr, index. Ebn Ḵallekān, Wafayāt, ed. E. ʿAbbās, Beirut, 1968-72, III, pp. 313-17.

Lesān al-mīzān (Hyderabad) IV, pp. 223f.

Ṣadr-al-dīn Šīrāzī, al-Daraǰāt al-rafīʿa, ed. M. Ṣ. Baḥr-al-ʿolūm, Naǰaf, 1382/1962, pp. 458-66.

Ḵᵛānsārī, Rawżāt al-ǰannāt, ed. A. Esmāʿīlīān, Qom, 1390-92/1970-72, IV, pp. 296-312.

ʿA. Moḥyī-al-dīn, Adab al-Mortażā, Baghdad, 1957.

R. al-Ṣaffār, ed., Dīvānal-Šarīf al-Mortażā, Cairo, 1958, intro.

Mortażā, Ṭayf al-ḵayāl, ed. Ḥ. K. al-Ṣayrafī, Cairo, 1381/1962, intro.

Mortażā, al-Ḏarīʿa elā oṣūl al-šarīʿa, ed. A. Gorǰī, Tehran, 1346-47/1967-68, intro.

W. Madelung, “Imamism and Muʿtazilite Theology,” in Le Shîʿisme Imâmite, Paris, 1970, pp. 25-27.

Idem, “A Treatise of the Sharīf al-Murtaḍā on the Legality of Working for the Government,” BSOAS 43, 1980, pp. 18-31.

R. Brunshvig, “Les usûl al-fiqh Imamites à leur stade ancien,” in Le Shîʿisme Imâmite, pp. 208-11.

H. Busse, Kalif und Grosskönig, Beirut, 1969, pp. 288-90 and index.

For Mortażā’s works extant in manuscript see in particular the book by ʿA. Moḥyī-al-dīn. Mss. of his two main works on kalām have now been found: The Ketāb al-molaḵḵaṣ, Tehran, Maǰles 9632; and al-Ḏaḵīra (see M. T. Danešpažūh in Nosḵahā-ye ḵaṭṭī: našrīya-ye Ketābḵāna-ye Markazī-e Dānešgāh-e Tehrān V, 1347/ 1968, p. 356).

His Tatemmat anwāʿ al-aʿrāż men ǰamʿ Abī Rašīd al-Naysābūrī is available in ms., Tehran, Maǰles 5187, ff. 326-28.

(W. Madelung)

Originally Published: December 15, 1985

Last Updated: July 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 791-795

Cite this entry:

W. Madelung, “ʿALAM-AL-HODĀ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/8, pp. 791-795; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/alam-al-hoda-abul-qasem-ali-b (accessed on 17 May 2014).