ʿABDALLĀH MĀZANDARĀNĪ, SHAIKH (1256-1330/1840-1912), a theologian (moǰtahed) who, through his fatvās and proclamations, lent powerful support to the constitutional movement. He was born in Bārforūš (present-day Āmol); in his early youth, after preliminary studies in Iran, he proceeded to the ʿatabāt to study under the leading scholars of the day. He settled first in Karbalā, where his chief teachers were Zayn-al-ʿābedīn Māzandarānī and Shaikh Ḥasan Ardakānī, and then moved to Naǰaf, where he was to spend almost all the rest of his life. There his teachers were Shaikh Mahdī Kāšef-al-ḡeṭāʾ, Mollā Moḥammad Īravānī, and, most important, Shaikh Ḥabīballāh Raštī, whose principal pupil and successor he became. He began to teach independently already in the lifetime of Shaikh Ḥabīballāh; and when his master died in 1312/1895, he inherited his considerable following. He was recognized as marǰaʿ-e taqlīd (q.v.) by all the Gīlānīs and Māzandarānīs resident in the ʿatabāt. Soon he acquired still wider fame and acceptance, so that he had become one of the foremost moǰtaheds of Naǰaf by the time the constitutional movement began.

Māzandarānī supported the constitution from the very beginning, and came to form, together with Āḵūnd Ḵorāsānī (d. 1329/1911) and Ḥāǰǰī Mīrzā Ḥosayn Ḵalīlī Ṭehrānī (q.v.; 1326/1908), a trio of constitutionalist moǰtaheds; their activity in Naǰaf complemented the efforts of the two moǰtaheds leading the movement in Tehran, Sayyed ʿAbdallāh Behbahānī and Sayyed Moḥammad Ṭabāṭabāʾī. From the position of relative immunity afforded by their residence in the Ottoman territory, Māzandarānī and his colleagues dispatched a flow of telegrams to Iran that encouraged and guided the constitutionalists and condemned their opponents as traitors to religion. Their declarations afforded religious sanction to the constitutionalist cause and were decisive on some occasions in rallying popular support.

Despite the influence they came to wield on events in Iran, the position of Māzandarānī and his associates in Naǰaf was initially weak. The opponents of the constitution, led by a rival moǰtahed, Sayyed Kāẓem Yazdī, were supported both by the Ottoman authorities and the Arab Shiʿites of Naǰaf. They enjoyed such superiority that Māzandarānī, Ḵorāsānī, and Ṭehrānī at one point almost hesitated to venture out to public prayers for fear of physical attack (Mahdī Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb-e mašrūṭīyat-e Īrān, Tehran, 1330 Š./1951, III, pp. 69-70; Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, pp. 294, 382). They nonetheless held firm to the constitutionalist cause and sent telegrams to Tehran that both sanctioned the principle of a Maǰles and also offered guidance on the correct meaning and application of constitutionalism in the context of Shiʿite Iran (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 441). When, for example, in Šaʿbān, 1325/October, 1907, the Maǰles inserted an article in the supplement to the constitution stipulating that all legislation should be in conformity with the šarīʿa, Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī sent a telegram expressing their satisfaction, and proposed a further article prohibiting the diffusion of irreligion and atheism (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 411; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb III, p. 90).

In the spring of 1908, when Shaikh Fażlallāh Nūrī came out in open opposition to constitutional rule as contrary to Islam, Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī sent a telegram to their counterparts in Tehran denouncing him as a “worker of corruption” whose continued participation in affairs was repugnant to religion (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 528; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb III, p. 167; Mahdī-qolī Khan Hedāyat, Ḵāṭerāt va ḵaṭarāt, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1334 Š./1965, p. 164, n. 1). They also criticized Mīrzā Ḥasan Tabrīzī, a moǰtahed with views similar to those of Nūrī, for his demand that all provisions of the šarīʿa be implemented; they pointed out that such perfect application of religious law would have to await the return of the Occulted Imam and the institution of a Maǰles was a necessary means of lessening the evil that inevitably obtained in the meantime (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, pp. 286-87). The prestige of Naǰaf was thus enlisted on behalf of the constitutionalists.

After the suppression of the constitution in Jomādā I, 1326/June, 1908, all constitutionalist voices among the ʿolamāʾ in Iran were silenced, and the role of Māzandarānī and his colleagues in Naǰaf became correspondingly enhanced. It was indeed the combined effect of their fatvās and proclamations and the armed resistance of the Tabrīzīs that brought about the restoration of the constitution one year later. The fatvās issued in this period by Māzandarānī, Ḵorāsānī, and others in Naǰaf were bold and decisive in tone. When informed by Behbahānī and Ṭabāṭabāʾī that the royalist troops were massing for their attack on the Maǰles, Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī responded with two telegrams, one informing the constitutionalists of continued support for the constitution and urging them to persist, and another addressed to the troops, prohibiting any action against the constitution as equivalent to an act of war against the Occulted Imam (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 645; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb IV, p. 29).

When, on 18 Jomādā I/19 June, Moḥammad ʿAlī Shah sent a telegram attempting to justify his actions as motivated by concern for religion and true constitutionalism, Māzandarānī, Ḵorāsānī, and Ṭehrānī sent an uncompromising reply. They demanded that the monarch fulfill his undertakings and regard himself as bound by law and the constitution (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 617; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb III, p. 30-32; Yaḥyā Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer yā ḥayāt-e Yaḥyā, Tehran, 1331 Š./1952, II, pp. 358-65). Later the same year, they addressed to him a still stronger communication, which was printed and widely distributed, reproaching him for his hypocrisy and treachery, condemning the whole record of the Qajar dynasty, and concluding with the invocation of curses upon tyranny (Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb V, pp. 111-13; Ẓahīr-al-dawla, Asnād va ḵāṭerāt, ed. Īraǰ Afšār, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 387-89; Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer III, p. 32).

At almost the same time as the royalist coup d’état in Tehran, a change of opposite nature took place in Istanbul with the restoration of the Ottoman constitution. This development strengthened the position of Māzandarānī and the constitutionalists in Naǰaf. Yazdī was discountenanced, and links were established between Māzandarānī and the Ottoman government. In Šaʿbān, 1326/September, 1908, we find them seeking the intervention of Sultan ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd in order to obtain the reestablishment of the Iranian constitution (Hairi, Shiʿism and Constitutionalism, pp. 164-65). Some communication with the British diplomatic representatives also took place, without any satisfactory result (see report of J. Ramsay, British consul-general in Baghdad, dated 4 August 1908, quoted in Hairi, op. cit., p. 166). More important were the close links now formed between Naǰaf and the Anǰoman-e Saʿādat in Istanbul, an organization of Iranians resident in the Ottoman capital favorable to the constitution. Many of the fatvās and proclamations issued by Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī were telegraphed to Iran—especially Tabrīz—by way of Anǰoman-e Saʿādat, which also printed and distributed copies of them in large quantities. Liaison between Naǰaf and Istanbul was assured by Asadallāh Mamaqānī, who went to Istanbul as personal representative of the moǰtaheds (Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb V, p. 105; Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer II, pp. 369-70).

In their communications of support to Tabrīz, Māzandarānī and his colleagues again likened hostility to the constitution to warfare against the Occulted Imam. Invoking the memory of Karbalā, they declared that obeying Moḥammad ʿAlī Shah was tantamount to obeying Yazīd, and that the blockade of Tabrīz by the royalist forces was the same as that imposed on the camp of Ḥosayn (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, pp. 729-30; Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb IV, pp. 174-75; Dawlatābādī, Tārīḵ-e moʿāṣer II, pp. 367-68). Later they expressed themselves still more clearly, calling for the overthrow of “this blood-thirsty tyrant” and prohibiting the payment of taxes (Kasravī, Mašrūṭa5, p. 730; Ẓahīr-al-dawla, Ḵāṭerāt va asnād, p. 403).

In Jomādā II, 1324/July, 1909 constitutionalist forces advancing from Isfahan and Gīlān and elsewhere conquered Tehran and deposed the shah. A telegram was immediately sent to Naǰaf, thanking Māzandarānī and his colleagues for their efforts; and a similar declaration of gratitude was made at the first meeting of the reopened Maǰles (Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb VI, p. 95; Kasravī, Āẕarbāyǰān3, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, p. 76). The moǰtaheds responded with messages of congratulation, calling upon the new Maǰles to show more unity than the old one (Malekzāda, Tārīḵ-e enqelāb VI, pp. 108-09; Nāẓem-al-eslām Kermānī, Tārīḵ-e bīdārī-e īrānīān, ed. ʿAlī Akbar Saʿīdī Sīrǰānī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 239-40). The irreligious tendencies that had aroused the concern of Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī in the first Maǰles were, however, to reappear. They found it necessary to protest, in a telegram to Nāṣer-al-molk in Rabīʿ II, 1328/June, 1910, at the continued absence of any restraint on atheism, and the open irreligiosity of the political authorities (Hairi, Shiʿism and Constitutionalism, p. 224). Later in the year they singled out Sayyed Ḥasan Taqīzāda for particular criticism, condemning his attitudes as contrary to Islam (text of their declaration in Esmāʿīl Rāʾīn, Ḥoqūq-begīrān-e Engelīs dar Īrān, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 439-40).

A more serious threat to constitutional rule in Iran was posed by the increasingly aggressive stance of both Britain and Russia, particularly the latter. Māzandarānī and Ḵorāsānī now turned their attention to this external danger. They protested against a British memorandum stating the intention to raise a force under British command in southern Iran, allegedly to establish security (Kasravī, Āẕarbāyǰān3, p. 150), and gave fatvās calling for a boycott of Russian goods (ibid., p. 241). Seeing Iranian independence threatened, they abandoned their preoccupation with constitutionalism and joined with quiescent and even royalist ʿolamāʾ to call for an effective union of the Ottomans and Iranians, under the leadership of the sultan, to save the freedom of the last two independent Muslim nations (see the declaration of the Shiʿite ʿolamāʾ of the ʿatabāt, headed by Māzandarānī, dated 1 Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa 1328/4 December 1910, reproduced in RMM 13, 1911, pp. 385-86). In Raǰab, 1329/July, 1911, the Russians openly invaded Iran and attempted to restore Moḥammad ʿAlī Shah to the throne. Their attack coincided with the Italian onslaught on Libya. Māzandarānī and his associates, condemning both invasions in the spirit of Pan-Islam, sent telegrams to Sultan Mehmed Reşad calling for ǰehād, and others to various parts of the Muslim world, especially India, asking for solidarity (Neẓām-al-dīn-zāda, Hoǰūm-e rūs be Īrān va eqdāmāt-e roʾasā-ye dīn dar ḥefẓ-e Īrān, Baghdad, 1330/1912, pp. 144-45, 204-05, 221-26; Hairi, Shiʿism and Constitutionalism, p. 232). Not content with issuing of fatvās, Māzandarānī and the other ʿolamāʾ of the ʿatabāt set out for Iran late in 1329/1911 in order personally to wage ǰehād against the Russians; but they were discouraged from proceeding beyond Kāẓemayn, first by the sudden death of Ḵorāsānī and then by the receipt of reassuring messages from the Iranian government (Kasravī, Āẕarbāyǰān3, p. 246; Hairi, Shiʿism and Constitutionalism, pp. 228-35; letter of Taqīzāda to E. G. Browne dated 6 January 1912, in Nāmahāʾī az Tabrīz, ed. Ḥasan Javādī, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 85-86).

Māzandarānī died in Naǰaf on 4 Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa 1330/11 November 1912, with his political objectives largely unattained. He had defined, however, with great clarity the clerical understanding of modern political concepts such as constitutional rule (“the limitation of the sovereign power by laws established in conformity with the Jaʿfarī maḏhab”), liberty (“freedom from subjection to arbitrary impositions by the wielders of power”), and equality (“the absence of distinction between strong and weak, rich and poor, with respect to rights under the law”—see Kermānī, Bīdārī, intro., pp. 238-40). He also left a legacy of religiously authoritative comment on Iranian politics by the ʿolamāʾ of Naǰaf that persisted for many decades.

In addition to his numerous proclamations, Māzandarānī also wrote a book in Arabic on fundamental religious obligations, entitled Ohbat al-maʿād and printed in Baghdad in 1327/1909 (Ṭehrānī, Ḏarīʿa II, p. 486), as well as some unpublished treatises on feqh and kalām.


Abdul-Hadi Hairi, Shiʿism and Constitutionalism in Iran: a Study of the Role Played by the Clerical Residents of Iraq in Iranian Politics, Ph.D. thesis, McGill University, 1973 (page references in text); publ. Leiden, 1977.

H. Algar, “The Oppositional Role of the Ulema in Twentieth-Century Iran,” Scholars, Saints and Sufis, ed. N. R. Keddie, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1972, pp. 233, 238.

E. G. Browne, The Persian Revolution of 1905-1909, Cambridge, 1910, pp. 262, 421-22.

Moḥammad Ḥerz-al-dīn, Maʿāref al-reǰāl fī tarāǰem al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-odabāʾ, Naǰaf, 1383/1964, II, pp. 18-20.

Mīrzā Moḥammad ʿAlī Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab, 2nd ed., Tabrīz, n.d., V, p. 146.

“Sanadī az ʿAbdallāh Māzandarānī va Moḥammad Kāẓem Ḵorāsānī,” Vaḥīd 1, 1342-43 Š./1963-64, p. 69.

Āḡā Bozorg Ṭehrānī, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-šīʿa I, Naǰaf, 1381/1962, pp. 1291-20.

(H. Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 1982

Last Updated: September 19, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 200-202

Cite this entry:

H. Algar, “Abdallah Mazandarani, Shaikh,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 200-202; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abdallah-mazandarani-shaikh (accessed on 17 January 2014).