KARAKI, Nur-al-Din Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli b. Ḥosayn b. ʿAbd-al-ʿĀli, known as Moḥaqqeq al-Ṯāni or Moḥaqqeq ʿAli (1464-1533), a major Imamite jurist.

Karaki belonged to a family of legal scholars from Karak-Nuḥ in Baalbek (Baʿlabakk). Scores of scholars—referred to collectively as ʿĀmeli—emerged from the towns of Jabal ʿĀmel and Baʿlabakk al-Hermel, where relatively autonomous, non-endowed madrasas had formed around family-based traditions of learning and regional scholarly networks. The madrasas were sustained through the ulama’s collective but modest contributions and through sporadic funding from local benefactors. The distinct size of trained ʿĀmeli jurists was comparable to earlier clusters of Shi’ite ulama in Aleppo, Hilla (Ḥella), and Najaf, and warranted the production of the first region-based biographical dictionary by Moḥammad al-Ḥorr al-ʿĀmeli (d. 1699).

Karaki studied the religious-legal sciences with scholars like Šams-al-Din Moḥammad b. Ḵātun al-ʿĀmeli in ʿAynāṯā, Moḥammad b. Dāwud b. Moʾaḏḏen in Jezzin, and Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Ṣohyuni in a certain ʿĀmeli locality (Moḥaqqeq al-Ṯāni, 1988, pp. 27-40; cf. Afandi, III, pp. 441-60, Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, pp. 346-60). In Egypt, Karaki studied the legal foundations of the four Sunnite schools of law (sing. maḏhab), and in Syria he received further training in Sunnite fiqh (see FEQH) and hadith. He also studied with ʿAli b. Helāl Jazāʾeri (d. after 1504), a major jurist, originally from Khuzestan, who spent a good part of his life in Najaf and possibly some time in Karak-Nuḥ (Ṣobḥāni, X, pp. 162-66, 191). Karaki left Jabal ʿĀmel for Najaf around 1504 to become the first major ʿĀmeli jurist in the service of Shah Esmāʿil (r. 1501-24) in Iran. The urban legal and doctrinal changes which high-ranking ʿĀmeli jurists and shaykhs (sing. šayḵ-al-Eslām) like Karaki proposed found resonance among the Safavid sovereigns and particular sectors of the Iranian military and administrative elites. Juridical rationalism (oṣuliya) and a marked expertise in fiqh aided the ʿĀmeli scholars in standardizing enactments of worship (ʿebādāt) and developing new regulations in the area of social contracts (moʿāmalāt). These efforts created new forms of social discipline and supplied the young empire with political legitimacy. The assertion of Imami doctrine also fulfilled Safavid aims of religious conversion from Sunnism to Shiʿism and helped homogenize the cultural landscape of the major cities through common belief and rituals. Ultimately, these developments strengthened the Safavids and vindicated them against Ottoman accusations of heresy and un-Islamicness. The building of a Shiʿite state needed the type of doctrinal validation and legal coherence which clerical Shiʿism under mojtaheds (see EJTEHĀD) like Karaki could effectively deliver. The expression of folk and heterodox religious beliefs in Iran changed partly through suppression and partly through an engagement with the Sharia (šariʿa) itself. A Sharia-centered discourse about ‘sound’ belief was demanded by Iranians from below. Karaki’s clerical career is vital for understanding these complex social processes in Safavid Iran during the 16th century.

Around 1510 Shah Esmāʿil officially honored Karaki, who was residing in Najaf (Moḥaqqeq al-Ṯāni, 1988, p. 237). Karaki’s acceptance of the shah’s land grants as a hereditary endowment, including the land tax (ḵarāj) revenues, became a source of contention between him and major Shiʿite scholars like Ebrāhim b. Solaymān Qaṭifi (d. after 1539; Modarressi, pp. 47, 54, 56-8). During one of his stays at the Safavid court, Karaki witnessed the military preparations for the battle of Chaldiran (see ČĀLDERĀN) against the Ottomans in 1514 (Afandi, III, pp. 441-60). During the reign of Shah Ṭahmāsb (r. 1524-76), Karaki achieved considerable power, causing, for example, the dismissal of two administrators of religious endowments (see ṢADR, online; Ḥasan Rumlu, p. 254; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 231-32; tr. pp. 362-63). He developed strong ties with a few Iranian families through teaching, scholarly exchange, and social alliances, such as the marriage of his daughter with Mir Šams-al-Din Moḥammad Astarābādi, the father of the renowned theologian and jurist, Mir Dāmād (d. 1631; see DĀMĀD). In a decree (see FARMĀN) of 1532, Shah Ṭahmāsb honored Karaki by conferring on him the titles of nāʾeb al-Emām and ḵātam al-mojtahedin (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 229-31; Ḥosayni Ḵātunābādi, p. 360; Moḥammad Bāqer, VII, pp. 168-69; cf. Arjomand, 1984, pp. 133-34; Madelung). The decree triggered disputes, particularly among Arab and Iranian ulama, notables, and landed elites. The title ḵātam-al-mojtahedin was also held for some time by Karaki’s son ʿAbd-al-ʿĀli (d. 1585), but most notably by his maternal grandson Ḥosayn Mojtahed (d. 1593). Ḥosayn b. ʿAbd-al-Ṣamad Ḥāreṯi (d. 1576), another émigré ʿĀmeli scholar who served as šayḵ-al-Eslām in Qazvin, Mashad, and Herat successively, found these honorific titles presumptuous, declaring that, “no mojtahed has been saved from a critic, nor a person from a deficiency” (Ḥāreṯi, fol. 3a). Ḥāreṯi argued, on the basis of juridical rationalism, that no scholar can hold an exclusive or ultimate legal-religious authority. He insisted on the renewal of legal rulings and warned against emulating the opinions of dead mojtaheds.

Karaki was called Moḥaqqeq al-Ṯāni in connection to Jaʿfar b. Ḥasan Ḥelli, known as Moḥaqqeq al-Awwal (d. 1277, see ḤELLI, NAJM AL-DIN). But inasmuch as Karaki became associated with worldly rulers, produced simplified legal manuals and commentaries, elucidated Shiʿite doctrine, and sifted hadith, he resembled ʿAllāma Ḥelli (d. 1325; see ḤELLI, ḤASAN). Karaki’s scholarly contribution was evident primarily in the fields of fiqh, doctrine (ʿaqida), and polemics (monāẓarāt) against Sunnism and Sufism, as well as partly in jurisprudence (oṣul al-feqh; Abisaab, 2004, pp. 156-73). He was recognized for his commentaries on the fiqh works of Moḥaqqeq al-Awwal, ʿAllāma Ḥelli, and Moḥammad b. Makki Šahid al-Awwal (d. 1384). His inferential legal activity and wide coverage of positive law (foruʿ) is reflected in the various collections of legal inquiries (masāʾel) and injunctions (sing. fatwā). He wrote commentaries on ʿAllāma’s Eršād al-aḏān, Muḵtalaf al- šiʿa, and Taḥrir al-aḥkām. Karaki’s Jāmeʿ al-maqāṣed became the most useful and lucid commentary on ʿAllāma Ḥelli’s Qawāʿed al-aḥkām at the time (Āḡā Bozorg, pp. 55-56; Ḥosayni Ḵātunabādi, p. 458). Karaki’s treatise on worship and ablution, known as al-Resāla al-jaʿfariya, and his commentary on the al-Alfiya of Šāhed al-Awwal circulated widely among Iranians (Abisaab, 2004, p. 157); Ḵᵛāndamir, III, pp. 114). He also wrote commentaries on two other works by Šahid al-Awwal: al-Ḏekrā and al-Dorus al-šarʿiyya fi feqḥ al-emāmiya. In the field of jurisprudence, Karaki discussed the conditions of ejtehād in Resāla fi al-manʿ ʿan taqlid al-mayt and Resāla fi al-oṣul, which reflected his adoption of the methods of Zayn-al-Din b. ʿAli Šahid al-Ṯāni (d. 1558).

Karaki traveled considerably in Iran to disseminate the Shiʿite creed and ensure the application of legal rulings on the basis of the Jaʿfari legal school (Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, p. 358; Vāleh Eṣfahāni, pp. 429-30). He worked closely with a network of scholars and judges who applied his rulings in Safavid provinces like Herat, Kashan, and Tabriz. Karaki, for instance, provided governors with a manual (dastur al-ʿamal; see DASTUR) elucidating the legal basis for the collection and administration of land tax. He set the legal punishments (ḥodud) and encouraged the performance of Friday prayer (see EMĀM-E JOMʿA; Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, pp. 354-60; Moḥaqqeq al-Ṯāni, 1988, I, p. 139). He ordered the appointment of prayer leaders in Iranian cities and villages, though he considered the observation of Friday prayer optional (wājeb taḵyiri) rather than obligatory (wājeb ʿayni) in the absence of the Imam. Congregational prayer, he argued, must be held by a designated mojtahed, qualified to act as deputy of the Hidden Imam. Only in the presence of such a mojtahed or the Imam himself is it obligatory for Shiʿites to perform Friday prayers (Karaki, fol. 31b). Kamāl-al-Din Ḥosayn Elāhi Ardabili (d. 1543), a student of Jalāl-al-Din Dawāni (d. 1502), however, disagreed with Karaki. He issued an injunction that the observance of Friday prayer was unlawful during the occultation of the Imam (Āfuštaʾi Naṭanzi, p. 183). In Najaf, Qaṭifi also refuted Karaki’s position on Friday prayer, land tax, and the lawfulness of accepting the gifts of worldly rulers (Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, p. 356).

A diverse group of landed notables, sayyeds, and ulama tried to bring Karaki into disrepute (Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, p. 357; Vāleh Esfahāni, p. 428; cf. Sarwar, p. 102). The ṣadr Mir Jamāl-al-Din Moḥammad Astarābādi had an altercation with Karaki over the latter’s commentary on ʿAllāma Ḥelli’s Al-Qawāʿed and afterwards avoided contact with Karaki, claiming that an illness prevented him from attending Karaki’s lectures. The opposition to Karaki was strong enough to cause the forging of a letter attributing to Karaki insults and slurs against Shah Ṭahmāsb (Ḥasan Rumlu, pp. 254-57). The letter circulated at the Safavid court in Tabriz, so that the shah himself investigated the matter and implicated Amir Neʿmat-Allāh Ḥelli (d. 1533) in the affair. Neʿmat-Allāh was an Iraqi scholar and notable who had studied with Karaki for some time but then had turned against him in support of Qaṭifi. Shah Esmāʿil had appointed Neʿmat-Allāh as joint ṣadr with Mir Ḡiāṯ-al-Din Manṣur Daštaki Širāzi (d. 1540), and because of the letter Shah Ṭahmāsb banished Neʿmat-Allāh from Iran. After Neʿmat-Allāh’s departure to Baghdad, the relationship between Ḡiāṯ-al-Din and Karaki evolved into open discord (Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 229-30; tr., I, p. 231; cf. Pourjavady, pp. 13-14, 22).

The Ottoman Sultan Solaymān the Magnificent (r. 1520-66) criticized Shah Ṭahmāsb for having his courtiers and subjects prostrate to him, arguing that in Islam prostration is permissible only to God (Moḥammad Bāqer, VII, p. 182). Ḡiāṯ-al-Din defended prostration only to be refuted by Karaki, who agreed with the Ottoman criticism that it has no Islamic basis. Karaki feared that such a practice would encourage the Sunnite Ottomans to consider the Shiʿite character of the Safavid empire non-Islamic and, by implication, heretical. The shah seemed to have adopted Karaki’s position. The disagreement between Karaki and Ḡiāṯ-al-Din, however, extended to other issues, such as the direction of prayer (qebla), which Karaki altered in south-central Iraq (al-ʿErāq al-ʿArab) and Khorasan (Navidi, p. 193; cf. Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, pp. 357-508, VII, pp. 168-69; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 229-30;). Ḡiāṯ-al-Din maintained that mathematicians, and not jurists, should designate the qebla, because they know how to apply geometry to various regions (Navidi, pp. 66-67; cf. Ḥasan, pp. 190-91). Shah Ṭahmāsb, however, dismissed Ḡiāṯ-al-Din from office in 1532 (Ḥosayni Ḵātunābādi, p. 360; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 229-31; Moḥammad Bāqer, VII, pp. 168-69).

A more comprehensive criticism of Karaki’s legal methods emerged from within the ranks of jurists. Mollā Moḥammad Amin Astarābādi (d. 1624 or 1627), who articulated the first comprehensive theory of juridical traditionism (aḵbāriya), debunked the methods and inferential legal apparatus of mojtaheds like Karaki. Astarabādi, writing around half a century after Karaki’s death, evoked the debate on the qebla and expressed support for Ḡiāṯ-al-Din’s arguments. Among “the many errors” Karaki committed, Astarābādi (pp. 364-65) stated, was his “destruction of the qeblas which existed in the land of the Persians since the time of the Companions of the Imams by pious scholars who were experts in mathematical sciences like Ibn Šāḏān.” Indeed, Astarābādi rejected the reliance on logic (kalām) to furnish rationalist procedures for legal inference characteristic of the scholarship of ʿAllāma Ḥelli and major ʿĀmeli jurists.

Karaki devoted much energy to the explication of Imami beliefs, rejecting particular folk and heterodox delineations, as well as publicizing the arguments of the ulama against Sunnism. He redrew the normative boundaries of Imami Shiʿism in Iran textually through the ulama’s verified sources, excluding oral Persian traditions, Sufi trends, and the Sunnite interpretation of Ahl al-Bayt whenever they contradicted these sources. In his treatise Nafaḥāt al-lāhut fi laʿn al-jebt wa’l-ṭāḡut (Breath of divinity concerning the cursing of witchcraft and idolatry), composed in 1511, Karaki contested the doctrinal and legal foundations of Sunnism (fols. 4b-5a, 6b). He tried to provide the Safavid sovereigns with an ideological defense against the Ottomans by verifying the religious ‘authenticity’ of the Safavids. He also buttressed anti-Sunnite rituals, especially the public cursing of the first two caliphs Abu Bakr (d. 634) and ʿOmar I (r. 634-44) by religious propagandists (tabarrāʾiyān) roaming the streets (Abisaab, 1994, pp. 108-20). In his famous treatise Maṭaʿen al-mojremiya fi radd al-ṣufiya (Invectives of criminals regarding the refutation of Sufis), composed around 1530, Karaki contended that several Sufi traditions contradicted Shiʿite tenets, lacking the kind of scriptural and legal accountability possessed by the clerics (Šahid al-Ṯāni, fols. 10a, 16b; cf. Ḥamawi, pp. 145, 188-89). For instance, Karaki condemned the deification of Abu Moslem Ḵorasāni (d. 755) by his followers, as well as by the Ḵorrāmis and the Jermāniya (Ḥamawi, pp. 147, 175).

Among Karaki’s sons ʿAbd-al-ʿĀli had close ties to the court in Qazvin, and at the time of Shah Esmāʿil II (r. 1576-78), he moved to Kashan. The aforementioned grandson Ḥosayn Mojtahed became šayḵ-al-Eslām and received special honors (Aḥmad, pp. 6, 13, 17, 93; Eskandar Beg, I, pp. 214-15; Marʿaši Najafi, p. 335; cf. Dānešpažuh, pp. 80-82). Two of Karaki’s maternal grandsons were, however, more eminent polymaths: the aforementioned Mir Dāmād and Aḥmad b. Zayn-al-ʿĀbedin ʿAlawi ʿĀmeli (d. 1644). Aḥmad’s son ʿAbd-al-Ḥasib (d. 1709) served as prayer leader (piš-namāz) in Isfahan and was a distinguished author of exegetical and philosophical works. Aḥmad’s grandson Moḥammad Ašraf b. ʿAbd-al-Ḥasib Musawi Karaki (d. 1732) wrote Fażāʾel al-sādāt, a treatise about statecraft (siāda), and a polemical work against Sunnism, known as Maṣaʾeb al-nawāṣeb (Abisaab, 2004, p. 124).

Several of Karaki’s descendants became qadi (qāżi) and šayḵ-al-Eslām, and a few served as ṣadr and vizier (Moḥammad Bāqer, IV, pp. 362-63; Ṣadr, pp. 95-96, 137, 224, 265, 291-93). Ḥabib-Allāh, who was married to a daughter of the ʿĀmeli scholar Loṭf-Allāh Maysi (d. 1623), was ṣadr and vizier during the reign of Shah ʿAbbās II (r. 1642-66). His son Moḥammad Mahdi b. Ḥabib-Allāh (d. 1669) also became ṣadr and grand vizier in Isfahan, while his brother ʿAli-Reżā acted as šayḵ-al-Eslām in Isfahan for 30 years. Ḥabib-Allāh’s grandsons Ebrāhim b. Moḥammad and Jaʿfar b. Ebrāhim became šayḵ-al-Eslām in Tehran, and the former also served as qadi (Ḥosayni Astarabādi, pp. 66, 244). Moḥammad b. ʿAli b. Maḥmud Mašḡari (d. after 1679) acted as vizier at one of the provincial Safavid courts. ʿAli b. Moḥammad b. Ḥasan b. Zayn-al-Din Jobbāʿi (d. 1691), known as ʿAli Šahidi, was a descendant of Karaki and Šahid al-Ṯāni (Abisaab, 2004, pp. 95-96). Kamāl-al-Din, Bahāʾ-al-Din (d. 1621 or 1622; q.v.), and Moḥammad Šafiʿ b. Bahāʾ-al-Din (d. 1713), who wrote Maḥāfel al-moʾmenin, all were šayḵ-al-Eslām in Qazvin (Abisaab, 2004, p.167). Jaʿfar ʿĀmeli Reżawi (fl. 1735) became grand ṣadr in Isfahan.



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(Rula Jurdi Abisaab)

Originally Published: December 15, 2010

Last Updated: April 24, 2012

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