ĀQĀ NAJAFĪ, ḤAJJĪ SHAIKH MOḤAMMAD-TAQĪ EṢFAHĀNĪ (1262-1332/1846-1914), prominent religious leader involved with a number of important political events of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Opinions differ concerning his role. One of his disciples, Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Ḥasan Khan Shaikh Jāberī Anṣārī, states that Āqā Naǰafī elevated wisdom and religion and gave the state a new life (Tārīḵ-e Eṣfahān o Ray o hama-ye ǰahān, Tehran, 1331 Š./1952, p. 369 and passim). Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrānī calls him “one of the pillars and custodians of religion in his age,” and adds that the bloody incidents that resulted in Āqā Naǰafī’s banishments were simply the fruit of his enemies’ jealousy (Āḡā Bozorg Ṭehrānī, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-šīʿa I, Naǰaf, 1373/1954, pp. 247-48). Other writers have called him a hoarder, conspirator, opportunist, and murderer.
Āqā Naǰafī’s ancestors were originally related to the khans of Varāmīn, near Tehran. The family moved to Isfahan, then a great center for religious studies, where they produced numerous distinguished ʿolamāʾ and moǰtaheds. Āqā Naǰafī’s grandfather, Shaikh Moḥammad-Taqī b. ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm “Ṣāḥeb-e Ḥāšīa” (d. 1248/1832), and his father’s uncle, Shaikh Moḥammad-Ḥosayn b. ʿAbd-al-Raḥīm “Ṣāḥeb-e Foṣūl” (d. 126l/1845), founded their own school of Shiʿite jurisprudence, which was followed by such later Shiʿite authorities as Āḵūnd Ḵorāsānī.
Āqā Naǰafī received his early education under his father Shaikh Moḥammad-Bāqer, in Isfahan and then went to Naǰaf, where he studied feqh and oṣūl under Mīrzā Ḥasan Šīrāzī, Shaikh Mahdī Āl Kāšef-al-ḡetāʾ, and others. Returning to Isfahan, he undertook various religious responsibilities in cooperation with his father. After Shaikh Moḥammad-Bāqer’s death (1301/1883), Āqā Naǰafī was recognized as an authoritative moǰtahed and judge; at times, following his father’s pattern, he exercised his own judgments despite a governmental injunction to the contrary (Y. Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer yā ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā I, Tehran, 1336 Š./1957, p. 78). He led the congregational prayers in his father’s place in the Shah Mosque of Isfahan and preached at home. He came to be called “Āqā Naǰafī,” a title that implied he was a qualified graduate of the Naǰaf circle of learning; by compiling or translating a number of books on feqh, he was able to “occupy the chair of the sole clerical leadership” (Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ I, p. 38).
Writers and biographers credit Āqā Naǰafī with books on various religious subjects, reportedly published at his own expense. His nephew Abu’l-Maǰd Shaikh Moḥammad-Reżā, ascribed over 100 books to him (Aʿlām al-šīʿa I, p. 248), but “many informed people believe that these were not Āqā Naǰafī’s own, but were written by others and published in his name” (Bāmdād, Reǰāl III, p. 326). Mortażā Modarresī Čahārdehī says that Āqā Naǰafī published Fāżel Golestāna’s Šarḥ asmāʾ al-ḥosnā in his own name; he also translated and published Imam Yāfeʿī’s Ḵawāṣṣ-e ṣowar-e Qorʾān and claimed it as his own. For Modarresī, Āqā Naǰafī’s best book is his Dalāʾel al-feqh, but he believed that it was comprised of the personal notes of Āqā Naǰafī’s grandfather (Tārīḵ-e rawābeṭ-e Īrān o ʿErāq, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 295-96). Āqā Naǰafī lectured on philosophy (ḥekmat), theology (kalām), and other religious subjects before a sizable body of disciples; one of them, Shaikh Moḥammad Ḥosayn Nāʾīnī (d. 1936), became a leading clerical supporter of the Constitutional Revolution and an authoritative moǰtahed (A.-H. Hairi, Shīʿīsm and Constitutionalism in Iran: A Study of the Role Played by the Persian Residents of Iraq in Iranian Politics, Leiden, 1977, pp. 109-11 and passim).
Āqā Naǰafī’s wealth meant he had certain common interests with the ruling class, such as Ẓell-al-solṭān, governor of Isfahan. At times they opposed each other (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965, pp. 227-28), but they often cooperated in ways that protected their financial interests and earned Āqā Naǰafī more religious and judicial prestige (Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ I, pp. 86-87).
To avoid paying government taxes, Āqā Naǰafī manipulated revenue officers; one he publicly treated as unbeliever (Nūrallāh Dānešvar ʿAlawī, Tārīḵ-e mašrūṭa-ye Īrān o ǰonbeš-e waṭanparastān-e Eṣfahān o Baḵtīārī, Tehran, 1956, p. 189); in the end he had to pay taxes of at least 60,000 tomans a year (Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ I, p. 339). According to M. Malekzāda, during a famine Ḥāǰǰī Moḥammad Jaʿfar, the mayor of Isfahan, complained that people were dying of hunger while Āqā Naǰafī had stored thousands of ḵarvārs (one ḵarvār = 300 kilos) of wheat that he would not sell at any reasonable price; the mayor was then tortured to death in the street (Tārīḵ-e enqelāb-e mašrūṭīyat-e Īrān I, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948, p. 166).
Āqā Naǰafī often accused his opponents, such as the well-known constitutionalists Mīrzā Naṣrallāh Malek-al-motakallemīn and Moḥammad-Walī Khan Sepahdār Aʿẓam Tonokābonī, of Babism and heresy (Nāẓem-al-Eslām Kermānī, Tārīḵ-e bīdārī-e Īrānīān, ed. ʿA. A. Saʿīdī Sīrǰānī, Tehran, 1967-70, I, pp. 259-60, 347, 355; III, p. 100). In the name of fighting Babism, Āqā Naǰafī became actively involved in two massacres, one in 1307/1889 (Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, Rūz-nāma-ye ḵāṭerāt, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 684, 697, events related to 8 Raǰab and 15 Ramażān 1307; Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ I, pp. 86-89, 315-25) and the other in 1320/1902. In a letter to Mīrzā Moḥammad-Ḥasan Āštīānī (d. 1319/1901), Āqā Naǰafī appears to have sought sanction for the execution of the “accursed sect of Babis” (E. Ṣafāʾī, Nāmahā-ye tārīḵī, Tehran, n.d., pp. 63-65). On the two occasions, Āqā Naǰafī was summoned to Tehran to reduce tensions. Dawlatābādī believed that the second incident stemmed from Babi activities under Russian patronage and the negative British response (Tārīḵ I, pp. 315f.).
Āqā Naǰafī supported the nationalist movement against the tobacco concession in 1309/1891-92 and was among the first moǰtaheds to ban the use of tobacco (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, Tārīḵ-e bīdārī, Moqaddema, pp. 23, 26, 45). He also backed the constitutional revolution, though not consistently. He was criticized as being venal and unreliable in one of the sessions of the secret society (anǰoman-e maḵfī held by the Persian nationalists in Tehran in 1323/1905 (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, Tārīḵ-e bīdārī I, pp. 31-32). According to Kasravī, he had frequently changed his position during the revolution, but after Eqbāl-al-dawla, a good friend of Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah, became governor of Isfahan and treated Āqā Naǰafī and his brother very badly Āqā Naǰafī rose against the despotic shah and openly supported constitutionalists (Āẕarbāyǰān, pp. 2-3). Nevertheless he refrained from issuing a fatwā against the shah’s despotism as long as possible, because he was afraid that “Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah might eventually defeat the liberals, and that he might take Āqā Naǰafī to task” (Dānešvar ʿAlawī, Tārīḵ, p. 188).
Kasravī denounces Āqā Naǰafī’s constitutionalist activities as “insipid shows” harmful to the revolution (Mašrūṭa, p. 387), but he did take measures in favor of the constitutionalists. Thus he signed a manifesto declaring the enemies of the Persian constitution to be “in the rank of the murderers of Sayyed-al-šohadāʾ” (i.e., Imam Ḥosayn; A. Tafrešī Ḥosaynī, Rūz-nāma-ye aḵbār-e mašrūṭīyat o enqelāb-e Īrān, ed. Ī. Afšār, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 109-10); he took bast in Qom with the constitutionalist ʿolamāʾ of Tehran in 1324/1906 (Nāẓem-al-Eslām, Tārīḵ-e bīdārī I, p. 31); and he cooperated to some extent with the constitutionalist ʿolamāʾ of Naǰaf (ibid., II, p. 215). He also cooperated closely with the Baḵtīārīs after signing an agreement with them, who under their pro-British, constitutionalist leader Ḥāǰǰ ʿAlī-qolī Khan Sardār-e Asʿad, conquered Tehran in 1327/1909 (Dānešvar ʿAlawī, Tārīḵ, p. 40; F.O. 416/36, Grey to Marling, Foreign Office, 10 June 1908, no. 269; Hairi, Shīʿīsm and Constitutionalism, pp. 96-98; G. R. Garthwaite, “The Bakhtīyārī Khans, the Government of Iran, and the British, 1846-1915,” IJMES III, 1972, pp. 24-44).
For some forty of the works ascribed to Āqā Naǰafī, see Mošār, Moʿallefīn, pp. 198-203.
See also H. Algar, Religion and State in Iran 1785-1906, Berkeley, 1969, pp. 180, 208-09, 220, 231-32.
E. G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909, Cambridge, 1910.
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Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār, Tehran, 1306/1889, p. 161.
N. Fatḥī, Zendagī-nāma-ye šahīd-e nīknām Ṯeqat al-Eslām Tabrīzī, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 140-41, 178, 729.
ʿAbd-al-Karīm Gazī, Taḏkerat al-qobūr, Isfahan, 1324/1906, I, p. 173.
A.-H. Hairi, “Why Did the ʿUlamā Participate in the Persian Revolution of 1906-1909?” Die Welt des Islams 17, 1976, pp. 127-54.
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L. Honarfar, Ganǰīna-ye āṯār-e tārīḵ-e Eṣfahān, Isfahan, 1344 Š./1965, p. 825.
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ʿAbbās Mīrzā Molkārā, Šarḥ-e Ḥāl, ed.
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Ḥ. Saʿādat Nūrī, Ẓell-al-solṭān, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968.
ʿAbbās Qomī, Fawāʾed al-rażawīya fī aḥwāl ʿolamāʾ al-maḏhab al-Jaʿfarīya, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948, p. 438.
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Ḥ. Sayyāḥ and S. Golkār, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 620, 628 and passim.
Mollā ʿAlī Wāʿeẓ Ḵīābānī, Ketāb ʿolamāʾ moʿāṣerīn, Tehran, 1366/1946, pp. 101-02.
Masʿūd Mīrzā Ẓell-al-solṭān, Tārīḵ-e sargodašt-e masʿūdī, Tehran, 1325/1907.
Originally Published: December 15, 1986
Last Updated: August 9, 2011
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