ARBĀB, ĀQĀ MOḤAMMAD-MAHDĪ B. ĀQĀ MOḤAMMAD-REŻĀ ARBĀB EṢFAHĀNĪ, a prominent merchant and scholar of Isfahan (fl. ca. 1234/1818 to 1314/1896-97). His ancestor was reportedly a Baghdadi Jew converted to Islam after migrating to Isfahan (Bāmdād, Reǰāl III, p. 450). In the early 1850s (before 1269/1852-53) he went to Bombay where he learned various agricultural and industrial techniques from Parsis, most importantly the Indian method of poppy cultivation and opium making, which, after returning to Isfahan in 1273/1856-57, he introduced both there and in other provinces (Mahdī Arbāb, Neṣf-e ǰahān fī taʿrīf al-Eṣfahān, ed. M. Sotūda, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, p.125; Mīrzā Ḥosayn Khan Taḥwīldār Eṣfahānī, Joḡrafīā-ye Eṣfahān, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963, p. 58). Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Ḡaffār Naǰm-al-molk, who met him in Isfahan in 1299/1881-82 testifies to Arbāb’s role in disseminating opium production (Safar-nāma-ye Ḵūzestān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, p. 177). He not only cultivated poppy in his own lands but also traded opium. In the beginning of the 1880s, together with other Isfahani merchants, he established the Kompānī-e Teryāk-e Eṣfahān for poppy refining and opium exporting. This company was then one of the largest business concerns in Isfahan (Eʿtemād-al ṣaltana, al-Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār Tehran, 1306/1888-89, p. 105; A. Ašraf, Mawāneʿ-e tārīḵī-e rošd-e sarmāyadārī dar Īrān: Dawra-ye qāǰārīya, Tehran, 1359 Š./1980, p. 76). It was only as a result of Arbāb’s efforts that poppy-growing took root in Persia, though in 1267/1850-51 Amīr-(e) Kabīr had experimentally cultivated poppies near Tehran, at the proposal of Mīrzā Ḥosayn Khan Mošīr-al-dawla, then Persian consul at Bombay (Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, Tārīḵ-e montaẓam-e nāṣerī III, Tehran, 1300/1882-83, p. 210; Bāmdād, Reǰāl I, p. 411; F. Ādamīyat, Amīr-e Kabīr wa Īrān, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, p. 393).
He also successfully cultivated sugarcane (ney-šekar) by the Indian method, though he was not able to produce sugar, for which he lacked the technique. His attempt to introduce this new crop into Isfahan thus proved in vain. He also taught Isfahani qalamkārs (printed calico makers) the Indian method of the art (Joḡrāfīā-ye Eṣfahān, p. 58).
Arbāb was also an eminent scholar, well versed in history, geography, astronomy, and mathematics, (al-Maʾāṯer wa’l-āṯār, p. 220). While he was staying in Bombay, he published Tārīḵ-e Waṣṣāf (1269/1852-53) and the Šāh-nāma (Bāmdād, Reǰāl IV, p. 6). Two years after his return from India, Eʿtemād-al-salṭana, who was then compiling Merʾāt al-boldān-e nāṣerī, summoned him to Tehran and commissioned him to write a geography of Isfahan. He wrote it in 1300/1882-83 and it was published in a government newspaper. It was revised in 1303/1885-86 and completed in Raǰab, 1308/February-March, 1891 under the title of Neṣf-e ǰahān fī taʿrīf al-Eṣfahān. The statistics used in this book are those of Moḥarram, 1287/April-May, 1870 (Āḵūnd Mollā ʿAbd-al-Karīm Jazī, Reǰāl-e Eṣfahān, Tehran, 1328 Š./1949-50, pp. 232-33; Bāmdād, Reǰāl IV, p. 6; M. Sotūda’s introduction to Neṣf-e ǰahān). He was also the author of astronomical works. Finally, he was reckoned among the modernists of the day. The prominent scholar Ḏokāʾ-al-molk Mīrzā Moḥammad-Ḥosayn Forūḡī was his only son.
See also Storey, I/1, pp. 349-50.
“Afyūn,” Encyclopaedia Iranica I, p. 594.
S. Okazaki, “The Great Persian Famine of 1870-71 ,” BSOAS 49/1, 1986, pp. 183-92.
( S. Okazaki)
Originally Published: December 15, 1986
Last Updated: August 10, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 3, p. 275