Imperial Twelver Shi‘ism and Shi‘i ‘Ulama: The Case of Shaykh al-Islam ‘Ali Naqi Kamarehi (d. 1650)

By Maryam Moazzen
Submitted to Session P4871 (Changing configurations of the political and the religious in the early modern Ottoman and Safavid Empires, 2017 Annual Meeting
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
As religious life in Safavid Iran (1501-1722) took its Shi‘i form, Shi‘i religious scholars were able to expand their power within the socio-religious spheres. The ‘ulama managed to acquire and exercise considerable influence through their roles as administrators of educational, judicial and religious institutions. The more structured nature and administrative complexity of Shi‘i religious life furthered the consolidation of power in the hands of the religious scholars whose professional expertise proved to be invaluable to the Safavid court.

Association with secular rulers was categorically discouraged by some of the Shi‘i Imams; hence it had been a subject of debate among Shi‘i religious scholars since the early days of the Major Occultation (941). In time, however, the majority of usuli mujtahids saw no problem in collaborating with the political power. ‘Ali Naqi Kamarehi, similar to the majority of usuli Shi‘i jurists, believed that co-operating with Safavid monarchs is not only acceptable but necessary because one can promote the religion, eradicate heretics, command right and forbid wrong with the help of a Shi‘i shah.

This research examines the political views of Shaykh al-Islam Kamarehi as they appear in his Himam al-thawaqib, which is still in manuscript format. The Himam, written in the genre of advice literature or “mirror for princes,” contains his advice for Shah Safi (d.1642). One of Kamarehi’s main concerns was formulating the most legitimate and functional way of collaborating with Safavid shahs who might not have always fully followed religious rulings and observances, but who nonetheless relentlessly supported Shi‘ism. In this work, Kamarehi advocates a symbiotic relationship between the Safavid ruling elite and religious authorities. He maintains that, in order for the shari‘a to be implemented in the absence of the Twelfth Imam, Shi‘i mujtahids must embrace and support the secular power, while Safavid shahs should always seek the company of ‘ulama. Otherwise, Kamarehi warns, injustice, corruption and heretical ideas and behaviors become commonplace, thus undermining both political power and religion.