DAKANĪ, SAYYED MĪR ʿABD-AL-ḤAMĪD MAʿṢŪM-ʿALISĀH (ca. 1151-1211 or 1212/ca. 1738-97), the “renewer” (mojadded) of the Neʿmat-Allāhī Sufi order in Persia and thus the initiatory ancestor of all present­-day Neʿmat-Allāhīs. He was born in Hyderabad (Deccan) to an aristocratic family that, like most of the governing elite of the province, was probably of Per­sian origin. Early in his youth he joined the followers of Reżā-ʿAlīšāh (d. 1214/1799), qoṭb (leader) of the Neʿmat-Allāhī order, who gave him the Sufi sobriquet Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, by which he is commonly known (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 170). In 1190/1776, suppos­edly on instructions received in a dream from both Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā and Šāh Neʿmat-Allāh Walī (d. 834/1430-31), the eponymous founder of the order, Reżā-ʿAlīšāh dispatched Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh to Persia to reestablish the order there after a hiatus of more than two centuries. In Neʿmat-Allāhī tradition Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh is considered Reżā-ʿAlīšāh’s successor as master of the entire order, but this belief is problem­atic, as Reżā-ʿAlīšāh slightly outlived him, dying at the approximate age of 120 years. It appears rather that Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh became effectively independent of his master as soon as he left the Deccan and that his departure signaled the transfer of the entire order from India to Persia. After Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh’s departure Reżā-ʿAlīšāh ceased training and initiating disciples, and the Neʿmat-Allāhī order died out in the Deccan (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 170).

Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh traveled to Persia by sea, probably landing at Būšehr, where he may have spent some time before moving inland. It was in Shiraz that he began to propagate the Neʿmat-Allāhī path, with apparently spectacular success; the estimate of 30,000 devotees in that city alone, recorded by Sir John Malcolm (II, p. 417), may be taken as a hyperbolic indication of the growth of the order. Most important among Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh’s followers recruited in Shiraz were Moštāq-ʿAlīšāh, also a gifted musician; Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Fayż-ʿAlīšāh, a prayer leader from Ṭabas; and Fayż-ʿAlīšāh’s son Moḥammad-ʿAlī Nūr-ʿAlīšāh. The last named was to become Maʿṣ¡ūm-ʿAlīšāh’s principal lieutenant and successor, and it is said that he had already, in the first years at Shiraz, been assigned responsibility for administration of the order (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p.171). Karīm Khan Zand (1163-93/1750-­79) permitted Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh two or three years of more or less untrammeled activity in Shiraz before arresting him and then expelling him and his followers from the city. This move was probably instigated by the ʿolamāʾ, who sought to persuade Karīm Khan that the order represented a threat to his rule; nevertheless, Neʿmat-Allāhī sources stress the maleficent role of Janī Hendī, an Indian alchemist attached to the court (Nūr-ʿAlīšāh, 1348 Š./1970, p. 107).

The dervishes moved to Isfahan, where initially they enjoyed the favor of ʿAlī-Morād Khan Zand, a rival of Karīm Khan. He was particularly attached to Fayż-ʿAlīšāh, whose knowledge of numerology he found impressive, and he built a hospice (ḵānagāh) for the Neʿmat-Allāhīs, assigning them a daily stipend. Fayż-ʿAlīšāh died in 1195/11780-81, however, and not long afterward Isfahan became as inhospitable as Shiraz had been. Urged on by the ʿolamāʾ, ʿAlī-Morād or­dered the Neʿmat-Allāhīs arrested, confined to the house of the dārūgā Rostam Khan, stripped of their possessions, and finally expelled from the city.

The Neʿmat-Allāhīs set out on the road to Kāšān, intending to proceed thence to Mašhad, but while resting at Mūṛča-ḵort they were attacked by a party of horsemen from Isfahan, who cut off their ears as trophies for ʿAlī-Morād Khan; the marauders also forced them to turn northward, in the direction of Tehran, which was outside Zand territory (Maʿṣūm­-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 172). Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qājār had already been in contact with Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh during his confinement before the expulsion from Shiraz, a certain Mollā Jaʿfar Šūštarī having acted as go-be­tween (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 173). Āqā Moḥammad Khan received the party kindly in Tehran and provided for the journey to Mašhad. In Mašhad, however, the

Neʿmat-Allāhīs’ stay was cut short by the hostility of the mojtahed (theologian) Mīrzā Mahdī Ḵorāsānī, and Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh and his followers had moved on to Herat by about 1198/1783-84. In Herat Maʿṣūm­-ʿAlīšāh was able to resume his proselytizing without major opposition. Among his new disciples were Reżā-ʿAlīšāh Heravī, who accompanied him on all his remaining journeys, and such members of the local Shiʿite aristocracy as Fīrūz-al-Dīn Mīrzā. From Herat in the same year Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh sent Nūr-ʿAlīšāh and his other senior disciples back to Persia and himself continued on to “Kābol, Zābōl, and Hendūstān” (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 173). How long his journey to India lasted and whether or not it included a visit to the Deccan is unknown.

After leaving India Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh visited the ʿatabāt, the shrine cities of Iraq, traveling either over­land through Persia or by sea to Baṣra. He settled first in Najaf and then in Karbalāʾ, no later than September 1792, when he was joined by Nūr-ʿAlīšāh, coming from Kermān via Shiraz (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 173). With Moštāq-ʿAlīšāh, Nūr-ʿAlīšāh had been working to establish the order in Kermān, but he had fled after Moštāq-ʿAlīšāh was stoned to death in 1206/1792 (Wazīrī, pp. 348-50; Bāstānī Pārīzī, pp. 190-95, 204-­08).

It may be imagined that the situation of the Neʿmat-­Allāhīs in the ʿatabāt was perilous, given the concen­tration there of so many hostile externalist ʿolamāʾ; Ottoman authority limited the freedom of action of the ʿolamāʾ, however, thus enabling Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh to proselytize and even to gain recruits from among the ʿolamāʾ themselves, notably ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad Hamadānī and Ebrāhīm Ḵoʾī (Šīrvānī, p. 224). Nonetheless, the climate in Karbalāʾ became increasingly threatening. Nūr-ʿAlīšāh was the first to leave, settling in Pol-e Ḏohāb after a brief stay in Baghdad. Then Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh himself left, intending to make a pilgrimage to Mašhad (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 173). He made the fatal error of traveling by way of Kermānšāh, however, entering the city openly, despite the presence there of the virulently anti-Sufi mojtahed Moḥammad-ʿAlī Behbahānī, known as ṣūfikoš (Sufi killer). Why he did so is unknown, though Neʿmat-Allāhī lore has it that he had foreseen, and willingly accepted, his martyrdom at the hands of Behbahānī. He may have intended to join Nūr-ʿAlīšāh there, in order to continue the journey to Mašhad together; to strike north for Hamadān, where he had a fairly large and well-entrenched following; or even to meet with Behbahānī’s son Āqā Maḥmūd, who at some point had become a Neʿmat-Allāhī initiate (Pourjavady and Wilson, p. 130). In any event Behbahānī had Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh arrested forthwith and proceeded to interrogate him on simple questions of jurisprudence. The answers are said to have been erroneous, but it is clear from the Resāla-ye ḵayrātīya, Behbahānī’s account of the whole affair, that the question of Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh’s guilt had been decided long before this confrontation (for ex­tracts from this still unpublished work, see Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, II, pp. 176-82; Nafīsī, II, pp. 43-44; Davānī, pp. 302-10). According to the account of Sayyed Moḥammad Kūhrūdī, a pupil and associate of Behbahānī, the three days that elapsed between the trial and the execution of Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh were in­tended not so much to afford him time to reflect and repent as to challenge him to make good on his alleged boast of being able to ascend to heaven; when he proved unable to do so, he was put to death (apud Davānī, p. 311). According to most sources, the body, in a weighted sack, was thrown into the Qarasū river outside Kermānšāh, so that there should be no tomb to attract veneration; it is also said, however, that Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh was buried where he was killed, in the ʿArš-e Barīn garden at Kermānšāh (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, p. 174).

The stated grounds for Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh’s execution were his claim that his spiritual rank exempted him from the duty to pray; his encouragement of his followers to worship him personally; his free use of narcotics and alcohol; his misleading of the Muslims (eḡwā-ye moslemīn); his organizing his followers in Hamadān for insurrectionary purposes; pederasty; and general “licentiousness and immorality” (fesq-o-fojūr; Davānī, p. 313). This list of charges is implausibly long and wide-ranging. What is certain is that Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh embodied an ecstatic and antinomian religiosity that was anathema to the externalist ʿolamāʾ of the time, not least because it might prove widely attractive and thus deprive them of the popular obedience they demanded. It is unlikely that Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh cherished dreams of political influence, as suggested by Nūr-ʿAlīšāh’s warning to ʿAlī-Morād Khan, issued after the expul­sion from Isfahan, that “welfare to the ruler depends on obedience to the qoṭb” (quoted in Pourjavady and Wilson, p. 117). For Behbahānī and his colleagues it was crucial at that early point in Qajar history that their prerogatives vis-à-vis the state be vindicated. Al­though Behbahānī had the support of Ḥājī Ebrāhīm Khan Šīrāzī, minister to Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah (1212-50/1797-1834), and Moṣṭafāqolī Khan Zangana, governor of Kermānšāh, for the execution of Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh he took care to claim for himself the entire merit of the act as an exercise of clerical prerogative (see his letter to Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah, quoted in Davānī, p. 309).

It has been suggested that Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh was un­able to write Persian with ease (Pourjavady and Wil­son, p. 129), and his literary legacy is certainly very meager. In addition to an unpublished treatise, Anwār al-ḥekma (see Dānešpažūh, I, p. 414), mention may be made of his recorded dicta, which are elegant in style though unoriginal in content (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, III, pp. 184-86; Nūr-ʿAlīšāh, pp. 68-85). It is above all Jannat al-weṣāl, the voluminous work of Nūr-ʿAlīšāh, that must be regarded as the most substantial record of Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh’s teachings.



M.-E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, Āsīā-ye haft sang, 6th ed., Tehran, 1367 Š./1988.

M.-T. Dānešpažūh, Fehrest-e ketāb-ḵāna-ye ehdāʾī-e Āqā Sayyed Moḥammad Meškāt be Dānešgāh-e Tehrān, Tehran, 1330 Š./1951.

ʿA. Davānī, Waḥīd Behbahānī, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1362 Š./1983.

R. Gramlich, Die schiitischen Derwischorden Persiens I. Die Affiliationen, AKM 36/1, 1965, pp. 30-32.

M. Homāyūnī, Tārīḵ-eselselahā-ye ṭarīqat-e Neʿmat­ Allāhīya dar Īrān, 4th ed., London, 1992, pp. 36-44.

J. Malcolm, History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1815.

Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh Šīrāzī, Ṭarāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq, 3 vols., ed. M.-J. Maḥjūb, Tehran, n.d.

S. Nafīsī, Tārīḵ-eejtemāʿī wa sīāsī-e Īrān dar dawra-ye moʿāṣer, 2 vols., Tehran, 1344 Š./1965.

Moḥammad-ʿAlī Nūr­-ʿAlīšāh Eṣfahānī, Jannāt al-weṣāl, Tehran, 1348 Š./1970.

Idem, Majmūʿa-ī az āšʿār-e Nūr-ʿAlīšāh Eṣfahānī, ed. M.-J. Nūrbaḵš, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

N. Pourjavady and P. L. Wilson, Rings of Love. The History and Poetry of the Ni’matullahī Sufī Order of Iran, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978.

Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn Šīrvānī, Bostān al-sīāḥa, repr. Tehran, n.d., pp. 223-26.

Aḥmad-ʿAlī Khan Wazīrī, Tārīḵ-eKermān (Sālārīya), ed. M.-E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961.

ʿA.-Ḥ. Zarrīnkūb, Donbāla-ye jostojū dar taṣawwof-e Īrān, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 319-24.

(Hamid Algar)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: November 11, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 6, pp. 606-608