ŠĀH ṬĀHER ḤOSAYNI DAKKANI (b. Ḵvānd, ca. 880-90s/1480-90s; d. Ahmadnagar, 956/1549), thirty-first and the most famous imam of the Moḥammadšāhi (or Moʾmeni) branch of the Nezāri Ismaʿilis.  Due to his years of residence in the Deccan (Dakkan), in southern India, he was also known as Šāh Ṭāher Dakkani.  Šāh Ṭāher was also a learned theologian, poet, literary stylist, and an accomplished diplomat who rendered valuable services to the Neẓāmšāhi dynasty of Aḥmadnagar in the Deccan.

The most detailed account of this Nezāri imam is related by Moḥammad-Qāsem Hendušāh Astarābādi, better known as Ferešta, in his Golšan-e ebrāhimi, commonly called Tāriḵ-e Ferešta, a general history of Muslim India completed in 1015/1606-7 (Ferešta, II, pp. 213-31).  Earlier sources, such as Badāʾuni, Ṭabāṭabā, and Šuštari, contain briefer accounts of this Ismaʿili imam.  Later works, such as those produced by Nahāvandi, Ḵāfi Khan and Loṭf-ʿAli Beg Āḏar Bigdeli, do not add any new details to the accounts of Ferešta and Ṭabāṭabā.  More recent Nezāri Ismaʿili authors hailing from the rival Qāsemšāhi community, such as Šehāb-al-Din Šāh Ḥosayni (d. 1302/1884) and Fedāʾi Ḵorāsāni (d. 1342/1923), treat Šāh Ṭāher in an erroneous and confusing manner.  The entire extant literature of the Moḥammadšāhi Nezāris themselves is comprised of a handful of treatises that remain in manuscript form (Ivanow, pp. 165-67).

Šāh Ṭāher was born in the last decades of the 9th/15th century in the village of Ḵvānd near Qazvin.  Šāh Ṭāher’s ancestors as imams were also known as the Ḵvāndi sayyeds in that locality, where they had followers from the middle of the 8th/14th century.  Šāh Ṭāher’s father, Šāh Rażi-al-Din II b. Ṭāher, who had succeeded to the imamate of the Moḥammadšāhi Nezāris around 868/1463 and had followers also in Syria and Qohestān, seems to have migrated from Sistān to Badaḵšān around 913/1507.  There, with the help of the local Nezāris, Šāh Rażi-al-Din established his rule over a large section of Badaḵšān.  Soon after, in 915/1509, however, in the midst of quarrels among his followers, Šāh Rażi-al-Din himself was killed, and his head was taken to Mirzā Khan, a local Timurid ruler (Duḡlāt, pp. 185-87, 194; tr., pp. 217-21, 227; Barthold, pp. 326 ff.).  Mirzā Khan and his Timurid successors, as well as the local Özbegs, severely persecuted the Nezāris of Badaḵšān, who then belonged almost entirely to the Moḥammadšāhi faction.

Rażi-al-Din II was succeeded in the Moḥammadšāhi Nezāri imamate in 915/1509 by his son Šāh Ṭāher, who, in Ferešta’s words, now became the sajjādanešin, that is, head of his family and community.  Šāh Ṭāher’s imamate coincided with the rise of the Safavids, and he was evidently the earliest Nezāri leader to have disguised his teachings under the Eṯnāʿašari form of Shiʿism.  This dissimulation (taqiya) practice may also explain why he composed several commentaries (šarḥ) on the theological and juridical works of some well-known Eṯnāʿašari Imami scholars, such as ʿAllāma Ḥelli (d. 726/1325; Ferešta, II, p. 230; Poonawala, 1977, pp. 271-75).  Many of his poems have also been preserved.  Similarly to the preceding Nezāri imams of the post-Alamut times, Šāh Ṭāher also used Sufism as another dissimulating cover.  In this connection, it may be added that Šāh Ṭāher might have been the actual author of an anonymous work entitled Baʿż-i az taʾwilāt-e golšan-e rāz, representing esoteric interpretations (taʾwilāt) of selected passages of Maḥmud Šabestari’s well-known versified Sufi work, Golšan-e rāz (Ivanow, p. 164; Poonawala, 1977, pp. 274, 351; Daftary, 2007, pp. 419-20, 454). 

Šāh Ṭāher acquired much popularity in Persia due to his learning and piety.  The Safavid Shah Esmāʿil I (r. 907-30/1501-24) heard about Šāh Ṭāher and invited him to join the circle of scholars at his court in Solṭānia in Azerbaijan.  However, soon the Safavid monarch became apprehensive of Šāh Ṭāher’s growing religious following.  But on the intercession of Mirzā Ḥosayn Eṣfahāni, an influential dignitary at the court, who may have been a secret convert to Ismaʿlism, Šāh Ṭāher was permitted to settle down in Kashan.  There, the Ismaʿili imam became a religious teacher (modarres) at a local theological seminary and acquired many students and disciples.  Many of Šāh Ṭāher’s followers (morid) proceeded to go to Kashan from other localities in Persia to attend his lectures.  Šāh Ṭāher’s success soon aroused the hostility of the local officials and the Eṯnāʿašari scholars, who forwarded malicious reports to Shah Esmāʿil about the ‘heretical’ teachings of Šāh Ṭāher.  He was also accused of leading the Ismaʿilis and other heretical sectarians and of corresponding with foreign rulers against the Safavids (Ṣafā, p. 663).

Shah Esmāʿil, who had already been suspicious of Šāh Ṭāher’s activities for some time, now issued an order for his arrest and execution.  But Šāh Ṭāher was warned in time by his friend at the Safavid court, Mirzā Ḥosayn Eṣfahāni.  In 926/1520, the Nezāri imam fled from Kashan with his family, just missing the guards who had been sent for his arrest.  He first went to Fars and then sailed for India, landing at Goa.  Šāh Ṭāher initially proceeded to the court of Esmāʿil ʿĀdelšāh (r. 916-41/1510-34), who ruled from Bijāpur over one of the five states emerging from the breakdown of the Bahmanid kingdom of the Deccan (Ṣafā, pp. 663-64).  Esmāʿil’s father, Yusof, was the first Muslim ruler in India to adopt Shiʿism as the religion of his state.  But Esmāʿil ʿĀdelšāh himself did not have any deep religious convictions.  Disappointed by his poor reception at the ʿĀdelšāhi court, the Nezāri imam then met some dignitaries in the service of the Neẓāmšāhs of Aḥmadnagar, another of the dynasties succeeding the Bahmanids.  Soon afterwards, Borhān I Neẓāmšāh (r. 915-61/1509-54) invited Šāh Ṭāher to his capital.

In 928/1522, Šāh Ṭāher arrived in Aḥmadnagar, which was to become his permanent abode.  He soon became the most trusted advisor of Borhān Neẓāmšāh and attained a highly privileged position at his court.  With the approval of Borhān Neẓāmšāh, Šāh Ṭāher delivered weekly lectures on different religious subjects inside the fort of Aḥmadnagar.  These lectures, attended by numerous scholars and the Neẓāmšāhi ruler himself, served to spread Šāh Ṭāher’s fame throughout the Deccan (Ferešta, II, p. 218). Ferešta, who knew Šāh Ṭāher’s descendants, also relates interesting details on this imam’s miraculous healing of Borhān’s young son, ʿAbd-al-Qāder, which led to the conversion of Borhān Neẓāmšāh from Sunni Islam to Eṯnāʿašari Shiʿism, which, according to all sources, was the form of Shiʿism propagated by Šāh Ṭāher in India from the beginning (Ferešta, II, pp. 219-23; Ṭabāṭabā, pp. 258-63).)

The propagation of Eṯnāʿašari Shiʿism by a Nezāri Ismaʿili imam may indeed represent a very strange phenomenon.  It should be recalled, however, that Šāh Ṭāher and other Nezāri Ismaʿili leaders of the Safavid times were still obliged to use taqiya in the guise of Eṯnāʿašari Shiʿism, which was more acceptable also to the Muslim rulers of India, who cultivated friendly relations with the Twelver Shiʿi Safavids (Daftary, 2005, pp. 395-406).  In addition, Šāh Ṭāher expressed his Ismaʿili ideas in the guise of Sufism.  These complex associations are clearly reflected in the Lamaʿāt al-ṭāherin, a versified Moḥammadšāhi Nezāri treatise composed around 1110/1698 in the Deccan by a certain Ḡolām-ʿAli b. Moḥammad (Ivanow, pp. 166-67; Poonawala, 1977, p. 281).  In this sole Moḥammadšāhi work preserved in India, the author camouflages his scattered Nezāri ideas under Eṯnāʿašari and Sufi expressions and covers.  He eulogizes the twelve imams of the Eṯnāʿašaris while also alluding to the Moḥammadšāhi Nezāri imams.

Šāh Ṭāher achieved his greatest religious success in the Deccan when Borhān I Neẓāmšāh, shortly after his own conversion, proclaimed Eṯnāʿašari Shiʿism as the official religion of the Neẓāmšāhi state in 944/1537.  Henceforth, an increasing number of Shiʿi scholars, including Šāh Ṭāher’s own brother, Šāh Jaʿfar, gathered at Borhān I Neẓāmšāh’s court and benefited from his patronage.  Meanwhile, the Safavid court in Persia rejoiced at hearing about the endorsement of Shiʿism in the Neẓāmšāhi kingdom, and Shah Ṭahmāsb sent an emissary carrying gifts to Borhān I Neẓāmšāh.  In return, Šāh Ṭāher’s son and future successor, Ḥaydar, was despatched on a goodwill mission from Aḥmadnagar to Persia (Ferešta, II, pp. 228, 230).

Ferešta and other authorities relate many details of the diplomatic services rendered by Šāh Ṭāher to Borhān I Neẓāmšāh.  This Moḥammadšāhi Nezāri imam participated during more than two decades in numerous negotiations and mediations on behalf of his Neẓāmšāhi patron with neighboring Muslim rulers in Gujarat, Bijāpur, Golconda, and Bidār.  After an imamate of some forty years, Šāh Ṭāher died in Aḥmadnagar sometime between 952/1545-46, the year mentioned by the contemporary Safavid Prince Sām Mirzā (p. 29), and 956/1549, the most probable date recorded by Ferešta (II, p. 230).  His remains were later taken to Karbalā and buried in the Imam Ḥosayn’s shrine complex.

Šāh Ṭāher was succeeded in the Moḥammadšāhi Nezāri imamate by his eldest son Šāh Ḥaydar, who was then still at the court of Shah Ṭahmāsb I in Persia.  Šāh Ṭāher had three other sons; all attained high positions at the courts of various Deccani rulers. The Moḥammadšāhi imamate was handed down among the descendants of Šāh Ḥaydar (d. 994/1586), who continued to live in Aḥmadnagar and later in Awrangābād.  This particular line of the Nezāri imams ended with Amir Moḥammad-Bāqer, the fortieth in the series, who had his last contact with his Syrian followers in 1210/1796 (Tāmer, pp. 597-98; Ṣafā, p. 665).  The only known members of this Nezāri group are still located in Syria.


Loṭf-ʿAli Beg Āḏar Bigdeli, Ātaškada, Bombay, 1299/1881-82, pp. 238-39. 

ʿAbd-al-Qāder Badāʾuni, Montaḵab al-tawāriḵ, ed. Aḥmad-ʿAli et al., 2 vols., Calcutta, 1864-69, I, pp. 482-88, 490-91; tr. George S. Ranking and William H. Lowe, as Montakhabu-t-tawārikh, 2 vols., Calcutta, 1884-98, I, pp. 624-32, 635-36. 

Baʿż-i az taʾwilāt-e golšan-e rāz, ed. and tr. Henry Corbin, in idem, Trilogie Ismaélienne, Tehran and Paris, 1961, text pp. 131-61; tr., pp. 1-74. 

Vasili Barthold, Gozida-ye maqālāt-e taḥqiqi, tr. Karim Kešāvarz, Tehran, 1979. Farhad Daftary, “Shāh Ṭāhir and Nizārī Ismaili Disguises,” in Todd Lawson, ed., Reason and Inspiration in Islam: Theology, Philosophy and Mysticism in Muslim Thought: Essays in Honour of Hermann Landolt, London, 2005, pp. 395-406.  Idem, The Ismāʿīlīs: Their History and Doctrines, 2nd ed., Cambridge, 2007. 

Mirzā Moḥammad-Ḥaydar Duḡlāt, Tāriḵ-e rašidi, ed. Wheeler M. Thackston, Cambridge, Mass., 1996; tr. N. Elias and E. Denison Ross, as A History of the Moghuls of Central Asia, 2nd ed., London, 1898. 

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Moḥammad-Qāsem Hendušāh Astarābādi Ferešta, Tāriḵ-e Ferešta, ed. John Briggs, Bombay, 1832, II, pp. 213-31; tr. John Briggs, as History of the Rise of the Mohammedan Power in India, London, 1929 (without the section on Šāh Ṭāher). 

Reżāqoli Khan Hedāyat, Riāż al-ʿārefin, ed. Mehr-ʿAli Garakāni, Tehran, 1965.  Wladimir Ivanow, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963.  Moḥammad-Hāšem Ḵāfi Khan, Montaḵab al-lobāb, ed. Kabir-al-Din Aḥmad et al., Calcutta, 1860-1925, III, pp. 162-82. 

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Šehāb-al-Din Šāh al-Ḥosayni, Keṭābāt-e ʿālia: Dar masāʾel-e aḵlāq wa ʿaqāyed-e Esmāʿiliya, ed. Hušang Ojāqi, Bombay, 1963. 

Charles A. Storey, Persian Literature: A Bio-bibliographical Survey, London, 1927, I, pp. 740-41. 

Qażi Nur-Allāh Šuštari, Majāles al-moʾmenin, 2 vols., Tehran, 1955-56, II, pp. 234-40. 

ʿAli b. ʿAziz Ṭabāṭabā, Borhān-e maʾāṯer, ed. Sayyed Hāšem Faridābādi, Hyderabad, 1936, pp. 251-70, 274 ff., 281 ff., 291, 308, 314, 324-26, 338-39, 361, 381, 433, 448-50, 452-54, 502-3, 505, 525, 584. 

ʿĀref Tāmer, “Foruʿ al-šajara al-Esmāʿiliya al-Emāmiya,” al-Mašreq 51, 1957, pp. 581-612.

(Farhad Daftary)

Originally Published: May 7, 2015

Last Updated: May 7, 2015

Cite this entry:

Farhad Daftary, "ŠĀH ṬĀHER ḤOSAYNI DAKKANI," Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2015, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/shah-taher-hosayni-dakkani (accessed on 07 May 2015).