KALBĀSI (KARBĀSI), Ḥāj Moḥammad Ebrāhim (b. Isfahan, 1766; d. Isfahan, 1845), prominent Oṣuli jurist, influential in the affairs of Isfahan during the reigns of Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah and Moḥammad Shah. His father, Ḥāj Moḥammad had migrated there, by way of Kāḵk in eastern Khorasan, from the Shiʿi-inhabited district of Herat known as Ḥawż-e Karbās, the cistern (ḥawz) in question having been built by a pious lady from the proceeds of the muslin (karbās) that she wove; hence the name “Karbāsi” by which he and his descendants came to be known (Modarres, V, p. 44).

Ḥāj Moḥammad Ebrāhim began his studies in Isfahan and then, in accordance with a well-established trajectory, left for further study in Karbalāʾ and Najaf (see ʿATABĀT). He studied with leading Oṣuli scholars of the day, such as Sayyed Mahdi Baḥr-al-ʿOlum Ṭabāṭabāʾi, Mirzā Moḥammad-ʿAli b. Mirzā Moẓaffar, Sheikh Moḥammad-Bāqer Behbahāni, Mir ʿAli Karbalāʾi, and Sheikh Jaʿfar Kāšef-al-Ḡeṭā, receiving ejāzāt (certificates) of ejtehād from the two last-named. It is, perhaps, surprising that while in Najaf he also studied with Sheikh Aḥmad Aḥṣāʾi (q.v.), eponym of the Sheikhi tendency in Shiʿism that differs significantly in its emphases and views of religious authority from the Oṣuli school of jurisprudence. Returning to Iran, Kalbāsi resided for a while in Qom, where he received a further ejāza from Mirzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qomi, and then in Kashan, similarly benefiting there from Mollā Mahdi Narāqi, before settling for the rest of his life in Isfahan. He held classes in jurisprudence at the Masjed-e Ḥakim, a mosque, the foundation of which dated back to the time of the Buyids (Buwayhids), and involved himself in the affairs of the city in varying ways and with varying results. When some incautious person delivered himself of the opinion that “the mollās have no religion,” Kalbāsi sought to have him executed, until, persuaded that the offender was subject to repeated bouts of insanity, he commuted the sentence to one year’s banishment to Najafābād. There were other, more assertive, foqahāʾ in Isfahan at the time, especially Sayyed Moḥammad Bāqer Šafti, with whom Karbāsi was on close terms, but his standing was such that Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah deemed it wise to pay him his respects when once visiting the city. On another occasion, he is said to have obtained by prayer the dismissal of a governor of Isfahan who had aroused his disapproval (Algar, pp. 59-60). In somewhat contrasting mode, he helped Fatḥ-ʿAli Shah avoid a renewal of hostilities with Russia in 1829 by persuading a certain Ḥāji Mirzā Masiḥ, regarded as responsible for the sacking of the Russian legation in that year and the death of the envoy, the dramatist Alexander S. Griboedov, to leave Tehran peaceably in accord with Russian demands for his expulsion (Hedāyat, IX, p. 713).

Kalbāsi was renowned for piety, modesty, scrupulosity, and extreme caution (eḥtiāṭ) in matters of legal import, and he was for long reluctant to compile a handbook of legal rulings (the genre known as resāla-ye ʿamaliya), thereby declaring his availability as a marjaʿ-e taqlid; this, he explained, was because his bones would be unable to endure hellfire. Mirzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qomi persuaded him to relent, and thereafter, whenever approached for a ruling, he would record it immediately in his resāla instead of responding orally. The resulting compilation is accordingly known as Ajwebat al-masāʾel. Kalbāsi’s other works, most of them on oṣul al-feqh, include al-Iqāʿāt; al-ešārāt fi’l-oṣul; Ketāb naqd al-oṣul; Menhāj al-hedāya; Eršād al-mostaršedin; Šawāreʿ al-hedāya, a commentary on Moḥammad Bāqer Sabzawāri’s Kefāyat al-aḥkām; a treatise on the impermissibility of taqlid al-mayyet (following the guidance in juristic matters of a deceased mojtahed); another on the supposed religious impermissibility of tobacco (or, perhaps, simply of smoking tobacco while fasting during Ramażān); and the refutation of a polemical tract by Henry Martyn, an English missionary who came to Shiraz in 1811.

Kalbāsi died on 8 Jomādā I 1261/15 May 1845, and he was buried next to the mosque where he taught. (The year of his death may, however, have been 1262/1846; see Modarres, V, p. 43.) He was survived by four sons: Sheikh Āqā Moḥammad; Sheikh Moḥammad Mahdi (d. 1292/1875), who held an ejāza from his father and wrote a well-regarded book on ejtehād and taqlid; Sheikh Moḥammad Jaʿfar; and, most eminent of the brothers, Mirzā Abu’l-Maʿāli (d. 1898), a prolific author on theology as well as jurisprudence (Modarres, VII, pp. 269-70).



Hamid Algar, Religion and State in Iran, 1785-1906: The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar Period, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1969, pp. 59, 98, 101.

Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā-ye Nāṣeri, 10 vol., Tehran, 1960-66.

Moḥammad Ḥerz-al-Din, Maʿāref al-rejāl II, repr., Qom, 1985, pp. 190-91.

Moḥammad Bāqer Ḵᵛānsāri, Rawżāt al-jannāt fi ahwāl al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-sādāt, Tehran, 1907, p. 10.

Moḥammad-ʿAli Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab V, Tabriz, n.d., pp. 42-44.

Hossein Modarressi Tabātabāʾi, An Introduction to Shiʿi Law: a Biobibliographical Study, London, 1984, pp. 86, 93, 99.

Moḥammad b. Solaymān Tonokāboni, Qeṣaṣ al-ʿolamāʾ, Tehran, 1887, pp. 84-86.

(Hamid Algar)

Originally Published: April 19, 2012

Last Updated: April 19, 2012

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