BEHĀFARĪD, Zoroastrian heresiarch and self-styled prophet, killed 131/748-49. His name is given variously as Behāfarīd b. Farvardīnān, “Behāfarīd the son of Farvardīn” (Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, p. 38; Bīrūnī, Āṯār al-bāqīa, p. 210). ʿAwfī (fol. 213b) mentions him among false prophets and mistakenly identifies him as Māhāfarīn but elsewhere (fol. 336a) speaks of him as Behāfarīd (see also Ebn al-Nadīm, p. 407; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar,p. 34; and Gardīzī, ed. Ḥabībī, p. 119). In Haft kešvar (p. 91), he is called Behzād-e Majūs (Behzād the Magus), which, since the name Behzād is synonymous with Behāfarīd, makes it likely that the author inter­preted an Arabic translation of the name as the Persian Behzād (Sadighi, p. 115 n. 4). The name Behāfarīd is not unprecedented among Iranians (cf. Ṭabarī, II, p. 813, the lineage of Ardašīr Bābakān; Tārīḵ-eSīstān, p. 8). Only Šahrestānī (I, p. 238) calls him Sīsān and his followers Sīsānīya and Behāfarīdīya. Zūzan in the Ḵᵛāf district is generally acknowledged as the place where Behāfarīd was born, and raised (Bīrūnī, Ṯaʿālebī, and Gardīzī, p. 119), though Ebn al-Nadīm (p. 407) gives the village Rūy of Abaršahr, i.e., Nīšāpūr. According to Ḵᵛārazmī and Bīrūnī, Behāfarīd began his crusade in the township of Sīrāvand in the Ḵᵛāf district (rostāq) of Nīšāpūr. Gardīzī and Šahrestānī also record Ḵᵛāf, and Majd Ḵᵛāfī (p. 280) mentions the province of Ḵᵛāf and the village Zāva (present-day Torbat-e Ḥaydarīya) as the place where Behāfarīd began his crusade. These places are all located close to one another in the Ḵᵛāf area (Yāqūt [Beirut], II, p. 399, III, p. 158; Zūzanī, introd., pp. panjāh-haftād o šeš, Jonayd Šīrāzī, p. 539; Ebn Baṭṭūṭa, I, p. 252). Behāfarīd’s Zoroastrian back­ground is confirmed by both his own name and that of his father as well as by the report that Zūzan was the site of a fire temple (Yāqūt, III, p. 158; Maqdesī, Badʾ IV, p. 26; Ebn al-Nadīm; Ṯaʿālebī; Baḡdādī, p. 214; Gardīzī; Šahrestānī). Behāfarīd’s birth date, however, is not recorded in the sources. Bīrūnī and Majd Ḵᵛāfī record that at the outset of his mission, Behāfarīd vanished for seven years, staying in China. Ṯaʿālebī states that he went to China as a trader; on his return he brought back wondrous objects with him, among which was a shirt of green silk and a matching robe that were so sheer and soft that they could be folded so as to fit in the palm of the hand (on China and the green color of this garment, see Amoretti, p. 513). Ṯaʿālebī (Ḡorar, p. 34) relates that Behāfarīd used the shirt and the robe during a resurrec­tion he staged to support his claim of prophethood, telling people that they were heavenly garments and that he would reveal to them what he had learned when he was in the next world. After his resurrection, many people in the area became Behāfarīd’s followers. (Bīrūnī’s account is slightly different.) After Behāfarīd made his views known, many Zoroastrians gravitated to him.

Various accounts indicate that the period of Behāfarīd’s activity occurred between the revolt of Abū Moslem against the Omayyads (129/747) and the date Abū Moslem left Marv for Nīšāpūr (131/748-49; Ṭabarī, III, p. 3). Spuler (p. 196) considers 127/745 to be the beginning of Behāfarīd’s movement. The sources (Ḵᵛārazmī, Bīrūnī, and Šahrestānī) also state that Behāfarīd wrote a book in Persian in which he expounded his views and practices to his followers and which has not survived. From what can be gleaned from the sources, Behāfarīd has the following credenda: He accepted Zoroaster as a prophet, but rejected some of the practices of contemporary Zoroastrians (Bīrūnī; Majd Ḵᵛāfī, p. 281; Haft kešvar, p. 91). This affirmation combined with Behāfarīd’s exposition of innovative views causes one to speculate: Did Behāfarīd consider himself above Zoroaster, a prophet charged with the completion of his mission, or did he consider Zoroaster’s followers to have strayed from their prophet’s teachings? What is likely is that he approved of those Zoroastrian beliefs about which he did not express an opinion (Sadighi, p. 123). As Bīrūnī, Ṯaʿālebī, and Gardīzī make clear (and as indicated by references in Ḵᵛārazmī and Šahrestānī to Behāfarīd’s scripture), Behāfarīd claimed to be a prophet and to have received revelation. According to one source, he prescribed five daily prayers facing the left side of the qebla but without full prostration (Ebrāhīm Ṣūlī apud Ebn al-Nadīm, p. 408). Most sources, however, mention seven prayers, a number which seems more correct in view of the importance of the number seven to Behāfarīd: namely, seven years in China; the tithing of one-seventh of his followers’ wealth for public works and welfare (cf. Amoretti, p. 515). The prayers, whose times were not specified, were devoted to: 1. affirmation and worship of the one god; 2. the creation of the heavens and the earth; 3. the creation of animals and their sustenance; 4. death; 5. resurrection and the day of judgment; 6. the inhabitants of heaven and hell and their fates; and 7. extolling the inhabitants of paradise (Bīrūnī; Gardīzī, p. 120). Prayers were to be performed facing the sun and kneeling on one knee (Bīrūnī, Ṯaʿālebī, Gardīzī, Šahrestānī). Behāfarīd also called for: aban­doning fire-worship (Šahrestānī, I, p. 238); giving up the practice of zamzama, ritual droning during meals (Bīrūnī; Šahrestānī, I, pp. 238-39; on zamzama see M. Moʿīn, Mazdayasnā wa taʾṯīr-e ān dar adabīyāt-e fārsī, Tehran, 1326 Š./1947, pp. 254-57); a ban on eating the flesh of dead animals (Bīrūnī; Ṯaʿālebī; Gardīzī, p. 120; Šahrestānī, I, p. 238) and of animals not slaughtered in the proper manner or not hunted (Sadighi, p. 126); prohibiting the killing of animals before they became old and weak or reached a specified age (Šahrestānī, I, p. 239); banning marriage with one’s mother, daughter, sister, niece, nephew, and maternal and paternal aunts (Bīrūnī; Ṯaʿālebī; Gardīzī, p. 120; Šahrestānī, I, p. 238); limiting the marriage portion to 400 dirhams (Bīrūnī; Ṯaʿālebī; Gardīzī); letting their hair grow long (Bīrūnī; Šahrestānī, I, p. 238); prohibiting wine (Bīrūnī; Šahrestānī; Ṯaʿālebī ḏamm-e mastī); not burying corpses (Sadighi, p. 129); the one-time tithe of one-seventh of one’s wealth for bridge and road repair and caravan­serai construction (Bīrūnī; Ṯaʿālebī; Gardīzī; Šahre­stānī); nursing the sick, helping the needy, and other charitable acts (Sadighi, p. 126). A precedent for the last practice was found among Zoroastrians, who tithed one-third of their wealth to help the needy, repair bridges, dredge rivers, and develop the land (Maqdesī, Badʾ IV, p. 28).

Several points emerge from these prescriptions. From the disruptions and splits that were taking place among the Zoroastrians of the time Behāfarīd sensed the necessity of reform, especially reform of those parts of the Zoroastrian rite which were the subject of the most criticism (e.g., incest). Moreover, the similarity between some of his beliefs and those legislated in Islam (e.g., prohibition of incestuous marriages, of wine, of eating the flesh of dead animals, and calling for donating a measure of one’s wealth for the public good) has prompted the view that Behāfarīd intended a kind of synthesis between the rites of ancient Iran and those of Islam (cf. Sadighi, p. 127 n. 2; Spuler, p. 196; Sourdel, p. 1209; Zārrīnkūb, 1352, pp. 142-43; idem, Camb. Hist. Iran IV, p. 33; and Amoretti, pp. 489-90). Behāfarīd’s indirect borrowings from Islamic teachings and the ascendancy of the practical and social over the spiritual and philosophical aspects of his beliefs has caused scholars to assert that his movement was at root social in nature (Sadighi, pp. 117, 122, 127). This view is supported by the fact that the beginning of Behāfarīd’s movement coincided with the troubles Naṣr b. Sayyār, the Omayyad governor in Khorasan, was having with Ḥāreṯ b. Sorayj (Ṭabarī, s. aa. 127-28), the struggle against Jodayʿ b. ʿAlī Kermānī, and the insurrection of Abū Moslem in Khorasan (Yūsofī, pp. 161-62). Thus Behāfarīd’s actions at this juncture signify his grasp of the proper moment for political and social change. One cannot also rule out such priorities as shoring up the defenses of his coreligionists and fellow countrymen or such personal incentives as ambition and the quest for fame (Sadighi, p. 117). That, accord­ing to most sources, in a relatively short period of time he attracted many followers testifies to the speed with which his cause progressed, and it is likely that the anti-Omayyad political and social atmosphere of Khorasan at the time aided this progress. Some authors have also suggested that the fact that Behāfarīd offered a scripture in Persian played a role in attracting the masses and that perhaps the decrease in the marriage portion and the allocation of one-seventh of one’s wealth to public works caused the poorer elements of society to gravitate toward him. Another factor which speeded the progress of Behāfarīd’s movement was the internal dissension among the Zoroastrian priests. In general scholars have seen Behāfarīd’s actions as a revolt supported by farmers and the poor against the traditional Sasanian-­Zoroastrian power (Amoretti, p. 490). Muslims, of course, would have naturally opposed Behāfarīd, and the Zoroastrians soon realized the danger his movement presented. Given their belief in a 12,000-year world cycle and in the appearance of Zoroaster at the end of the ninth millennium and of a prophet at the end of each millennium, Behāfarīd’s claim of prophethood in the year 129/747 was unacceptable, and thus they branded it heresy. In order to eliminate the danger he represented and to redress the blow and insults they had received at his hands, the Zoroastrians were not even loathe to turn to Abū Moslem, the Muslim standard-bearer of the ʿAbbasid cause in Khorasan (Spuler, p. 196). Thus a group of priests (mowbad) and religious masters (hīrbad) went and complained to Abū Moslem that Behāfarīd was destroying Islam and Zoroastrianism. Abū Moslem charged Šabīb b. Wāj (Ebn al-Nadīm has Dāḥ but Wāj is correct, see Sadighi, p. 127 n. 3) and ʿAbd-Allāh b. Saʿīd (Bīrūnī, Ṯaʿālebī, ʿAwfī, and Majd Ḵᵛāfī, who probably perpetuated a scribal error, have ʿAbd-Allāh b. Šoʿba) with the task of overthrowing Behāfarīd. ʿAbd-Allāh advanced on Zūzan with an army, captured Behāfarīd in the mountains of Bādḡīs and brought him to Nīšāpūr where he was hanged at the Bāb al-Jāmeʿ (Šahrestānī, I, p. 239); his followers were also put to death (131/748-49). According to Ebn al-­Nadīm, Šabīb and ʿAbd-Allāh gave Behāfarīd the chance to affirm his faith in Islam, and he accepted but his confession was not accepted on grounds of auguring (according to one account for apostasy) and thus he was executed. Bīrūnī and Šahrestānī (I, p. 239) write that Behāfarīd’s servant and followers claimed that he mounted a golden horse and flew to heaven, and would return quickly to get even with his enemies. Scholars have explained Abū Moslem’s motives in destroying Behāfarīd in several ways: as his taking advantage of an opportunity presented by the Zoroastrians to involve himself in their affairs (Spuler, p. 196); an attempt to attract the Zoroastrians of Khorasan to his cause with actions that were more advantageous to them than to the Muslims (Zarrīnkūb, 1352, pp. 132, 144; idem, 1343, p. 470); a form of mobilizing anti-Arab forces against the Omayyads (idem, Camb. Hist. Iran IV, p. 33); and as a coincidence of sentiment in the two religious movements, i.e., just as the guardians of the Zoroastrian rite were opposed to Behāfarīd, so too would Abū Moslem, as the Muslim champion, have been opposed to him (Frye, p. 30).

Despite its limited duration, Behāfarīd’s movement survived his death by several centuries. According to Spuler (probably based on Gardīzī, pp. 124-25) the revolt of Ostāḏsīs (150/767) during the time of the ʿAbbasid caliph al-Manṣūr (136-58/754-75) attracted remnants of Behāfarīd’s supporters. Ebrāhīm Ṣūlī (d. 243/957-58) as quoted by Ebn al-Nadīm (p. 408) confirms that in this day a group in Khorasan were followers of Behāfarīd (for other references see Maqdesī, Badʾ I, tr. p. 164; Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, p. 94; tr. pp. 105, 238; Bīrūnī, Āṯāral-bāqīa, pp. 210-11; Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, p. 35; Šahre­stānī, al-Melal wa’l-neḥal I, p. 239). Baḡdādī (pp. 214-­15) classifies the Behāfarīdīya among the four Zoroas­trian sects: from among these a Muslim is forbidden to take a wife, and he is not allowed to partake of the flesh of an animal slaughtered by them; he also did not consider collecting the head tax (jezya) from them to be permitted, because their doctrine was an innovation that appeared after Islam.



B. S. Amoretti, in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, pp. 489-90, 513-17.

Moḥammad ʿAwfī, Jawāmeʿ al-ḥekāyāt wa lawāmeʿ al-rewāyāt, MS, Bib. Nat., supp. Pers., 95. Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd-al-Qāher Baḡdādī, al-Farq bayn al-feraq, ed. M. L. Kawṯarī, Cairo, 1367/1948, pp. 214-15.

Barthold, Turkestan4, London, 1977, p. 194.

Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia I, pp. 308-10.

Dehḵoda, s.v. Behāfarīd. ʿA. Eqbāl, “Ḏekr-e baʿż-ī az qadīmtarīn āṯār-e mafqūda-ye naṯr-e fārsī,” Šarq 1/2, 1309 Š./1932, pp. 95-98.

R. N. Frye, “The Role of Abū Muslim in the ʿAbbāsid Revolt,” Muslim World 37, 1947, pp. 28-38.

Haft kešvar yā ṣowar al-aqālīm, ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974.

Moʿīn-al-Dīn Abu’l-Qāsem Jonayd Šīrāzī, Šadd al-ezār fī ḥaṭṭ al-awzār ʿan zowwār al-mazār, ed. M. Qazvīnī and ʿA. Eqbāl, Tehran, 1328 Š./1949, p. 539.

Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Moḥammad Ḵᵛārazmī, Mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. van Vloten, Leiden, 1895, p. 38.

Majd Ḵᵛāfī, Rawża-ye ḵold, ed. M. Farroḵ, Tehran, 1345 Š./1967, pp. 280-81.

V. Minorsky, “Sharaf-al-Zamān Ṭāhir Marvazī,” in On China, the Turks and India, London, 1942, pp. 3, 65.

M. Mos­cati, “Studi su Abū Muslim,” Rendiconti della Reale Accademia dei Lincei, ser. 8/4, 1949-50, pp. 474ff.

Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, pp. 407-08.

Gh. H. Sadighi, Les mouvements religieux iraniens au IIe et au IIIe siècle de l’hégire, Paris, 1939, pp. 111-31.

Abu’l-Fatḥ Moḥammad Šahrestānī, al-Melal wa’l-neḥal, ed. M. S. Gīlānī, Beirut, 1395/1975, I, pp. 238-39.

C. Salemann, Mélanges asiatiques tirés du Bulletin de l’Académie impériale des sciences de St.-Pétersbourg 9/4, Leipzig, 1887, pp. 453ff.

D. Sourdel, “Bihʾāfrīd b. Farwardīn,” in EI2 I, p. 1209.

B. Spuler, Iran in frühislamischer Zeit, Wiesbaden, 1952, p. 196.

Ṯaʿālebī, Ḡorar, in M. Th. Houtsma, “Bihʾafrid,” WZKM 3, 1889, pp. 30-37.

Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Abū Moslem, sardār-e Ḵorāsān, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 158, 161-62.

ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Zarrīnkūb, Do qarn-e sokūt, 4th ed., Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, pp. 141-44.

Idem, Tārīḵ-eĪrān baʿd az Eslām, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, p. 470.

Idem, in Camb. Hist. Iran IV, p. 33.

Zūzanī, Ketāb al-maṣāder, ed. T. Bīneš, Mašhad, 1340 Š./1961, introd., pp. LIX-LXXVI.

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(Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Yūsofī)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

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