MAJLESI, MOḤAMMAD-TAQI b. Maqṣud-ʿAli Eṣfahāni, commonly referred to as Majlesi-ye Awwal, an important Twelver Shiʿite jurist and Hadith scholar of the Aḵbāri school (see AḴBĀRIYA) in Safavid Iran (b. 1003/1594-95, d. 1070/1659-60). He is generally considered to be the first eminent member of what was later to become one of the most influential families of scholars in Shiʿite Islam, the most outstanding representative of which was without doubt his son Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, subsequently known as Majlesi-ye Ṯāni (q.v.). The genealogy of the family is sometimes traced back to Abu Noʿaym Aḥmad b. ʿAbdallāh Eṣfahāni (d. 430/1038; q.v.; cf. also Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, I, pp. 282-85; Pampus, Enzyklopädie, pp. 54-55), the author, inter alia, of a History of Isfahan, entitled Ḏekr-e aḵbār-e Eṣfahān (Tehran, 1377/1998). The first historically reliable ancestor, however, seems to be his maternal grandfather Kamāl al-Din Darwiš Moḥammad b. Ḥasan ʿAmeli (Aʿyān al-šiʿa, VI, pp. 395-96; Nuri, al-Fayż, pp. 106-08), a disciple of the Šahid Ṯāni, who is credited with having been the first scholar to propagate the science of (Shiʿite) Hadith in Isfahan after the advent of the Safavids (Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, II, p. 114). Originally of Lebanese descent, he later assumed the nisbas Naṭanzi, from a village north of Isfahan, and Eṣfahāni. Majlesi also used these names and signed some of his ejāzāt as “al-Eṣfahāni al-Naṭanzi al-ʿĀmeli” (cf., e.g., Majlesi, Beḥār al-anwār, CX, p. 73; Tonokāboni, Qeṣaṣ, 230). His father ʿAli (mostly Maqṣud-ʿAli), finally, was the first who bore the honorific epithet “Majlesi” that he had been given in appreciation of his renowned lectures and assemblies (majāles; cf. Nuri, al-Fayż, p. 105; Dawwāni, Mafāḵer, pp. 41-42). Moḥammad-Taqi Majlesi had three sons (Moḥammad-Bāqer, ʿAbdallāh and ʿAzizallāh) and four daughters who were married to Shiʿite scholars (on the many branches of the Majlesi family cf. Pampus, Enzyklopädie, pp. 51-92).
In contrast to the number of the entries on Majlesi in biographical dictionaries and their sometimes flowery style, the bare facts of his life remain disappointingly few and vague. Even a usually well informed author such as his contemporary ʿAbd al-Ḥosayn Ḵātunābādi mentions only the year of Majlesi’s death, adding that the deceased was between 67 and 68 years of age (Waqāʾeʿ, p. 521). Majlesi had obviously been taught the religious sciences very early in his life, because, according to his own testimony, already at the age of four he knew enough about God, the ritual prayer, paradise and hell to teach other children (Qommi, Fawāʾed, p. 440). Among his later teachers, two stand out as particularly important: ʿAbdallāh Tostari (or Šuštari; d. 1021/1612; cf. Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, IV, pp. 228-37) and Bahāʾ al-Din ʿĀmeli (d. 1032/1623; q.v.). Later in life, Majlesi was also to become one of the latter’s successors in his capacity as leader of the Friday prayer in Isfahan, at that time a still informal office that remained in the Majlesi family for several generations after him (Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, II, pp. 118-19; see also EMĀM-E JOMʿA).
This office is not the only instance suggesting that Majlesi enjoyed close ties to the Safavid court and the kings of his time. Majlesi himself relates how – during a winter he spent in Najaf – the Imam ʿAli b. Ṭāleb appeared to him in a dream and ordered him to return immediately to Isfahan. The Imam wanted him back in the capital in order to guide the people there, because in the same year, i.e. 1629, Shah ʿAbbās I was going to die, and severe unrest would follow the ascension to the throne of Shah Ṣafi. After his return, Majlesi revealed this dream to a friend who in turn communicated it to the heir to the throne, Ṣafi. The latter indeed became Shah shortly afterwards, following the death of Shah ʿAbbās during a journey to Māzandarān (Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, II, pp. 117-18; Qommi, Fawāʾed, p. 440). Finally, Majlesi composed the Persian translation of his commentary on Man lā yaḥḍµuruhu’l-faqih, one of the four canonical Shiʿite Hadith compilations by Ebn-e Bābuye Qommi (d. 381/991, q.v.), explicitly at the request of Ṣafi’s successor, Shah ʿAbbās II (q.v.), and even changed the title of his translation from the Arabic Rawżat al- mottaqin to the decidedly royalist Lawāmeʿ-e ṣāḥeb-qerāni (Majlesi, Lawāmeʿ, pp. 4-5; Arjomand, Shadow, p. 148).
Virtually all biographical entries on Majlesi contain more of less detailed accounts of his various dreams, leading Ḵvānsāri to conclude that “on the whole, his life was wondrous and marvelous” (Rāwżat, II, p. 118). Obviously, these anecdotes (see DREAMS AND DREAM INTERPRETATION) served the purpose of enhancing his position as a scholar and providing legitimacy for his writing. Majlesi knew about this function of the supernatural and consistently made use of it, e.g. when he ascribed his writing of the Arabic version of the commentary of Ebn-e Bābuye’s Man lā yaḥḍuruhu’l-faqih to having been encouraged to do so in a dream by his teacher Bahāʾ-al-Din (Širāzi, Ṭarāʾeq, pp. 278-79; Qommi, Fawāʾed, p. 445-46), or when he repeatedly stated in his ejāzāt that he had received the authorization to transmit the Ṣaḥifa sajjādiya (on which cf. Pampus, Enzyklopädie, p. 57 and al-Ḏariʿa, XV, p. 18) directly from the Mahdi in a dream (Majlesi, Beḥār, CX, pp. 43, 45, 60, 63, 79). According to Père Rafaël Du Mans, superior of the Capuchin mission in Isfahan in the second half of the 17th century, Majlesi also derived the alleged duty to perform the Friday prayer from a vision of Mahdi (Estat, p. 58; this passage seems to be the only clear reference to Majlesi by a European observer. Jean Chardin, however, mentions a “Mahamed Mirza Taki” whom he identifies as “curé de la mosquée cathédrale de la ville,” who may also be identical with Majlesi; cf. his Voyages, VIII, pp. 13-14).
Probably not least due to this aura of saintliness Majlesi was greatly revered by the common people. After his death, his coffin is reported to have been broken into pieces which were worn by the believers as amulets (Arjoman, Shadow, p. 186). In sharp contrast to this general admiration stands the outspoken critique by an otherwise largely unknown scholar, Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Ḥosayni Mir-Lawḥi, himself also a disciple of Bahāʾ al-Din. He accused Moḥammad-Taqi Majlesi of Ṣufi leanings and of having interpreted Shiʿite Hadith in a blameworthy fashion (A. Hairi, “Mir Lawḥi,” EI2, VII, pp. 94-95). Most subsequent Shiʿite scholars have constantly refuted this allegation, citing as a principal witness Moḥammad-Taqi’s son Moḥammad-Bāqer who insisted – somewhat vaguely – that his father had only pretended to endorse Ṣufi tendencies in order to refute them more effectively (Baḥrāni, Loʾloʾat, p. 60; Nuri, al-Fayż, pp. 117-18). Nevertheless, as late an author as Maʿṣum-ʿAli Širāzi (d. 1344/1926) declares that it is “brighter than the sun and clearer than yesterday” that Majlesi was indeed a Ṣufi, and in turn accuses Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi of having made contradictory statements on this issue (Ṭarāʾeq, I, pp. 268, 280-81). Western scholarship also widely agrees on Moḥammad-Taqi’s Ṣufi leanings (Arjomand, Shadow, pp. 114, 149; cf. Browne, Lit. Hist. Persia, IV, pp. 403-404).
Moḥammad-Taqi Majlesi seems to have become a prolific writer only towards the end of his life, when he completed his main works within some four years (for exact dates cf. the references in al-Ḏariʿā, given in the bibliography below; lists of his books of varying length are provided by Modarres, Rayḥānat, pp. 200-01 [10 titles]; Mahdawi, Taḏkerat, p. 220 [22 titles]; Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt, p. 116). Besides the two commentaries on Ebn-e Bābuye already mentioned, two commentaries (Arabic and Persian) on the Ṣaḥifa sajjādiya, a commentary on Sheikh Ṭusi’s Tahḏib al-aḥkām entitled Eḥyāʾ al-aḥādiṯ fi šarḥ tahḏib al-ḥadiṯ, and Ḥadiqat al-mottaqin fi maʿrefat ahḳām al-din li-erteqāʾ maʿārej al-yaqin deserve special mention. From this it becomes clear that he concentrated his activity nearly exclusively on the transmission of Shiʿite Hadith. In his view, the traditions of the Imams were the noblest of the religious sciences and the only way to understand the Qorʾan, especially its unclear passages, as well as to gain religious knowledge in general (cf. the remarks in some of his ejāzāt: Tonokāboni, Qeṣaṣ, 230; Majlesi, Beḥār, CX, pp. 73, 74). In this, he perfectly followed the Aḵbāri current and may well have served as the most important model for his son Mo ḥammad-Bāqer, who was to embark on the monumental Hadith compilation Beḥār al-anwār after his father’s death.
Moḥsen Amin ʿĀmeli, Aʿyan al-šiʿa, Beirut, 1986, pp. 192-193.
Moḥammad b. ʿAli Ardabili Ḡarawi Ḥāʾeri, Jāmeʿ al-rowāt, Beirut, 1403/1983, II, p. 82.
Said Amir Arjomand, the Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam. Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shiʿite Iran from the Beginning to 1890, Chicago & London, 1984.
Yusof al-Baḥrāni, Loʾloʾat al-Baḥrayn fi’l-ejāzāt wa-tarāğem rejāl al-ḥadiṯ, Beirut, 1406/1986, pp. 60-61.
Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Behbehāni, Merʾāt al-aḥwāl jahān-nomā, Tehran, 1370Š/1992, pp. 99-102.
ʿAli Dawwāni, Āqā Moḥammad Bāqer b. Moḥammad Akmal Eṣfahāni maʿruf be Waḥid-e Behbehāni, sar-āmad-e moḥaqqeqin wa dānešmandān-e šiʿa dar sade-ye dawāzdahom-e hejri, Tehran, 1362Š/1983, pp. 98-99.
Idem, Mafāḵer-e Eslām, VIII: ʿAllāme-ye Majlesi, Tehran, 1375Š/1996, pp. 28-44.
ʿAbdallāh Efendi Eṣbahāni, Riyāż al-ʿolamāʾ wa-ḥiyāż al-fożalāʾ, Qom, 1360Š/1981, V, p. 47.
Abdul-Hadi Hairi, “Maḏjlisī-yi Awwal,” in EI2, V, pp. 1088-90.
Moḥammad-Reżā Ḥakimi, Tāriḵ-e ʿolamāʾ ʿabr al-ʿoṣur, Beirut, 1403/1983, pp. 100-02.
Moḥammad b. Ḥasan Ḥorr-e ʿĀmeli, Amal al-āmel fi ʿolamāʾ Jabal ʿĀmel, Baghdad, 1385/1965, II, p. 252.
M. Jorfadaqāni, ʿOlamā-ye bozorg-e šiʿa az Kolayni ta Ḵomeyni, Qom, 1364Š/1985, pp. 144-45.
Ḥamid Mir Ḵandān, Moḥammad Taqi Majlesi be sāḥel-e ḥadiṯ, Tehran 1374Š/1995-96.
Moḥammad-Bāqer Ḵvānsāri, Rawżāt al-jannāt fi aḥwāl al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-sadāt, Beirut, 1991, II, pp. 114-19.
ʿAbd al-Ḥosayn Ḵātunābādi, Waqāʾeʿ al-senin wa’l-aʿwām yā gozārešhā-ye salyāne az ebtedā-ye ḵalqat tā sāl-e 1195 hejri, Tehran, 1352Š/1973.
Etan Kohlberg, “Some Aspects of Akhbāri Thought,” in: N. Levtzion / J. O. Voll, eds., Eighteenth-Century Renewal and Reform in Islam, Syracuse 1987, pp. 133-60 (repr. in Etan Kohlberg, Belief and Law in Imāmī Shīʿism, Aldershot 1991, Chapter XVII).
Moṣleḥ-al-Din Mahdawi, Taḏkerat al-qobur yā dānešmandān wa-bozorgān-e Eṣfahān, Isfahan, 1348Š/1969, pp. 219-21.
Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, Beḥār al-anwār, Beirut, 1983, CX, pp. 32-84.
Moḥammad-Taqi Majlesi, Lawāmeʿ-e ṣāḥeb-qerāni al-moštahar be šarḥ (man lā yaḥḍµuruhu) al-faqih, I-IV, Tehran 1331/1913.
Rafaël Du Mans, Estat de la Perse en 1660, Paris, 1890.
Mirza Moḥammad ʿAli Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab fi tarāğem al-maʿrufin bi’l-konya wa’l-laqab, Tabriz, 1967-70, V, pp. 198-201.
Ḥosayn Nuri Ṭabresi, al-Fayż al-qodsi fi tarjamat al-Majlesi, contained in Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesi, Beḥār-al-anwar, Beirut, 1983, CVII, pp. 1-163.
Karl-Heinz Pampus, Die theologische Enzyklopädie Biḥār al-anwār des Muḥammad Bāqir al-Mağlisi (1037-1110 A.H. = 1627-1699 A.D.). Ein Beitrag zur Literaturgeschichte der Šīʿa in der Ṣafawidenzeit, PhD. Diss., Bonn, 1970.
ʿAbbās Qommi, Fawāʾed al-rażawiya fi aḥwāl ʿolamāʾ al-maḏhab al-jaʿfariya, n.p., 1327Š/1948, pp. 439-46.
ʿAbbās b. Moḥammad Reżā Qommi, Hadiyat al-aḥbāb fi ḏekr al-maʿrufin bi’l-konā wa’l-alqāb wa’l-ansāb, Tehran, 1363Š/1984, p. 251.
Moḥammad Maʿṣum-ʿAli Širāzi, Ṭarāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq, Tehran, 1339-45Š/1960-66, I, pp. 268-86.
Ḥasan Ṭārami, ʿAllāme-ye Majlesi, Tehran, 1375. Āqā Bozorg Ṭehrani, al-Ḏariʿa elā taṣānif al-šiʿa, Najaf, 1355-95/1936-75, I, p. 307; II, p. 145; VI, p. 389; XI, pp. 190, 302-03; XIV, p. 66; XV, p. 148; XVIII, pp. 369-70; XXII, p. 258.
Moḥammad b. Solaymān Tonokāboni, Qeṣaṣ al-ʿolamāʾ, Beirut, 1992, pp. 230-45, 250-51.
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: July 20, 2002