Syed Khamena’i on Syed Ni’matullah Jaza’iri and a Scholar’s Need for Humour

The following speech was given by Syed Khamenā’ī in a commemoration for the great Shi’ī and Akhbāri scholar Syed Ni’matullāh Jazā’irī (d. 1701). The original speech can be found here.

Syed Jazā’irī was one of the most celebrated students of Allamah Majlisī II (d. 1699) and played a significant and influential role in propagating Shi’ism during the Safavid period. Unfortunately to date his legacy and contribution to Shi’ī thought has yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Two good articles written regarding him in English are Sajjad H. Rizvi’s article titled: Sayyid Nimatullah al-Jaza’iri and Safavid Shiism and E.G. Browne’s translation of his biography as mentioned in Qisas al-Ulamā: The Life of an ‘Ālim.


I am extremely grateful to the organisers of this event who thought about honoring and introducing this great and abandoned personality. I refer to him as abandoned because even though he is known for his two books Zahr al-Rabī’ and Anwār al-Nu’māniyya, the stature that he had deserves a lot more [recognition] than this. He was a jurist (faqīh)and a narrator of hadīth (muhaddith). He was well informed and aware of our books of hadīth, and in addition to this he was also a poet.

What stands out with this family is that in addition to being strong in their religious knowledge and hadīth they were also people fond of poetry and prose. Marhūm Syed Nūr al-Dīn, his son, has a well-known book Furūq al-Lughāt which not only is a book of linguistics but also demonstrates his mastery over the Arabic language. His grandson was also Syed Abdullāh Jazā’irī, making it three continuous generations of well known and esteemed scholars from his family. However, it should be noted that all three were Akhbāri, with (the grandson) Abdullāh being a lot more than the other two in this regard. Keeping his Akhbāri inclinations in mind Ni’matullāh Jazā’irī would give attention to the opinions and views of the Usūli scholars and even wrote a book on this whose name currently doesn’t come to mind.1 Within this book he mentioned the necessity to refer to the books of the jurists (fuqahā) and without a doubt he’s referring to the Usūli scholars. With all things said he was truly a great person.

His book Zahr al-Rabī’ which became famous within the seminaries for being a book of jokes and humour shows that while our great scholars and jurists were engrossed in their intensive intellectual endeavours they still had time to pay attention to these things [humour and jokes]. In the beginning of the book Zahr al-Rabī’, which I recall reading around 50 or so years ago, he says “I noticed students of the seminary were in need of a book of humour and jokes and I wrote this book for them.” He wrote this book so that the students who were drowning in their studies and [contained to the four walls of] the seminary and dorms would have something at their disposal to make them laugh. Showing he wasn’t heedless of this [and what students go through]. Nowadays we all sit here uptight and tense and if a person dares to make a joke we immediately  react confrontationally [and negatively]. Our scholars were not like this!2

A scholar of the like of Syed Ni’matullāh Jazā’irī who was an Akhbārī and uncompromising in his belief still managed to ensure he retained this [need for jokes and humour]. In my opinion this hobby of our previous scholars is extremely important [for us to hold onto]. This family is a family of knowledge, and praise be to God that until today it has continued as a family of knowledge. And I hope that it remains this way forever. Praising him [Jazā’irī] is like praising knowledge and the religious sciences. If we were able to do more to present this great individual that would be a big accomplishment. In particularly if we were able to research and publish his books. His book Anwār al-Nu’māniyya3 has already been published a number of times, and it’s already quite famous, however [we should look at] his many other works which are currently inaccessible and have been given less attention. For example his books on hadīth and his various commentaries.


  1. The book being referred to here is a treatise called Hidya al-Mu’minīn wa Tuhfa al-Rāghibīn where the rulings of prayers and ritual purity are focused on. This book also contains his famous discussion on the permissibility of following a dead jurist, a matter which was hotly debated between the Usūlis and the Akhbāris.
  2. It was a common practice amongst scholars to write a book full of jokes, anecdotes, poems or other things as a light-hearted means amusement. This was often referred to as a Kashkūl and was particularly common amongst scholars during the Safavid time. Sometimes a scholar would put jokes within this book of his that would very explicity push the boundaries of what an acceptable joke is today. For example, the famous scholar Shaykh Yusuf Bahrāni (d. 1772) wrote a joke in his Kashkūl about a homosexual encounter between a man and a child using verses from the Qur’ān.
  3. There has been some controversy lately on whether or not the books of Jazā’irī should be read or not, for example, Syed Agunjī (d. 1958) gave a fatwa that reading some of his books is not permissible. This is because his works are filled with extreme content such as belief in the distortion of the Qur’ān, cursing the companions and wives of the Prophet, racist jokes towards Turks, disrespectful remarks against Sunnis to name a few.

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