The Fate of Mirza Muhammad Akhbari

Below is a translation of an article written by Professor Hassan Ansari (Source: ) regarding al-Mīrzā Muḥammad b. ‘Abd a-Nabī b. ‘Abd al-Ṣāni’ al-Akhbārī (1178 – 1233 AH / 1765 – 1818 CE) who was born in the city of Akbarabad in India (today Agra). He moved to Iraq in 1198 / 1784 on his return from the pilgrimage in Makkah and settled there for further studies. He was lynched by a mob

Notes: Only the first footnote is taken from the original article as the source was not Arabic or Persian. Rest of the footnotes in this translation were added by the translator, while the original article in Persian contains many more valuable footnotes that can be looked into by those familiar with the language.

During the time of Sayyid ‘Abdullah Shubbar (d. 1242), the outstanding Shi’i scholar during the beginning of the 13th century, the Uṣῡlī and Akhbārī dispute in the Shi’i community was still quite dominant. This dispute was represented by Shaykh Ja’far Kāshif al-Ghiṭā (on behalf of the Uṣῡlīs) and Mīrzā Muḥammad Akhbārī (on behalf of the Akhbārīs). Previously I have written a number of articles on the role of Sayyid Shubbar in this dispute and his role in confronting the traditionalists, however in this piece I will look specifically at (his role in) this event, which is related to the last representative of the Akhbārī movement, Mīrzā Muḥammad Akhbārī[1]. This piece is based on the reports regarding the killing of Mīrzā Akhbārī written by Moḥammad Ḥusayn Aāle Kāshif al-Ghiṭā (d. 1373) in his book[2]. This book was written in his youth and its significance is that it has been written based on oral accounts passed down to him from family members.

As we know, in the ‘atabāt[3] Mīrzā Akhbārī heavily opposed the students of Waḥīd Behbahānī, and out of all them Shaykh Ja’far Kāshif al-Ghiṭā in particular. Shaykh Ja’far was an Uṣῡlī jurist who devoted himself to the teachings of his teacher Behbahānī and had even written a treatise against the Akhbārī movement which was then later published. Mirza Akhbārī strongly criticised the Uṣūlī scholars from the school of Behbahānī who at that time happened to be in charge of the ‘atabāt, meaning they had full (ideological) dominance over Najaf, Karbalā and Kādhimayn. Each of the seminaries present in the ‘atabāt, which during this time were teaching fiqh and uṣῡl, were being run under the auspices of either Behbahānī’s students or family relations and on this basis, they wielded extra-ordinary religious influence within these cities. This was also the situation in numerous cities across Iran, where the seminaries were similarly under the control of the Uṣῡlī school. This happened to coincide with the rule of Fatḥ ‘Alī Shāh the Qājār ruler. Naturally, the presence of Mīrzā Akhbārī in the ‘atabāt and his ensuing harsh criticism and trouble for the Uṣῡlī school was considered to be unacceptable, eventually leading to a confrontation between him and the Uṣῡlī school. In this regards Mīrzā Akhbārī had written a number of books in critique of the Uṣῡlī school which were later published in Najaf and Baghdād.   

Out of all the Uṣῡlī jurists, Mīrzā Akhbārī held exceptional animosity towards Behbahānī as a result of the historical dispute between him and the Akhbārīs. This open resentment towards Behbahānī was very difficult for Behbahānī’s students and family to tolerate. In the midst of this, Sayyid ‘Alī Ṭabāṭabāī – author of al-Riyāḍ – who was the nephew, student and son in law of Behbahānī, and also Aqā Muḥammad ‘Alī Behbahānī (d. 1216), the son of Behbahānī, pleaded with Shaykh Ja’far Kāshif al-Ghiṭā to deal with Mīrzā Akhbārī and in the end Shaykh Ja’far issued an edict of takfīr on Mīrzā Akhbārī, declaring him to be an infidel.  The result of this declaration ended in his killing, or at the least, his exile from Iraq. This stern reaction and it’s religious, social and political implications is undoubtedly something which would merit further research. Nevertheless, after this edict was issued Mīrzā Akhbārī was forced to flee Iraq and take refuge in Iran, and in Tehran, to the horror of the Uṣῡlī scholars, he was warmly welcomed by Fatḥ ‘Ali Shāh. This was unbearable for the scholars of the ‘atabāt as they themselves to some extent were reliant on the support of Fatḥ ‘Ali Shāh. Similar to what Mīrzā Akhbārī had done in Iraq, he also started to resist and criticise the leading Uṣῡlī scholars in Iran, the most notable of them being Mīrzā Qumī, Sayyid Shaftī Isfahāni (d. 1260) and Ibrahīm Kalbāsī (d. 1261).

The reasons for the Shāh supporting Mīrzā Akhbārī are not that clear, and on top of what other historians have mentioned in this regard, it should be noted that the Shāh had a clear motivation to promote unity amongst the different religious factions under his control in an attempt to gain some sort of religious legitimacy for his rule. This situation caused Shaykh Ja’far to send a letter against the views of Mīrzā Akhbārī to the Shāh (in an attempt to get him to withdraw his support). This situation continued after Shaykh Ja’far passed away through his son and successor Mῡsa (d. 1242), who sent Shāh a letter criticising his support for Mīrzā Akhbārī and his extremist tendencies. This letter caused the Shāh to withdraw his support from Mirzā Akhbārī and under pressure from other Uṣῡlī scholars in Iran Mīrzā was left with no option but to return back to Iraq where he took up residency in Kādhimayn. This was a city where Sayyid Shubbar and his father, and the Uṣῡlī school in general, were looked upon very respectably and held in high esteem. There were also a number of well-known Uṣῡlī scholars living there at the time of his arrival. From the time he arrived his problem with the Uṣῡlī scholars continued and he wrote another book against them as well.

Sayyid Mujāhid (d. 1242), the outstanding jurist and son of Sayyid ‘Ali Ṭabāṭabā’ī, after the death of his father (d. 1231), was on his way from Karbalā to Isfahān and decided to stop for a while in Kādhimayn. In this city he became entangled in a confrontation with Mīrzā Akhbārī and due to the torment he was given by the companions of Mīrzā Akhbārī, he decided to leave Kādhimayn for Karbalā as soon as he could. Immediately after this, Sayyid Mujāhid sent a letter to Shaykh Mῡsa complaining about the dire situation (that Mīrzā Akhbārī had fomented within Kādhimayn against the Uṣῡlī school). After reading the letter (and realising the grave situation) Shaykh Mῡsa went to Karbalā to meet Sayyid Mujāhid and together they headed towards Kādhimayn to put an end to the machinations of Mīrzā Akhbārī.

On the basis of the information from the book of Muḥammad Ḥusayn Aāle Kāshif al-Ghiṭā, Sayyid Mujāhid and Shaykh Mῡsa approached Sayyid Shubbar asking for help in dealing with Mīrzā Akhbārī. Sayyid Shubbar was also residing in Kādhimayn and was known for his piety, seclusion and due to his religiosity held considerable influence over the people. Out of the respect that Sayyid Shubbar had for the Uṣῡlī school and Shaykh Ja’far, he showed great respect to Shaykh Mῡsa. With the support of Sayyid Shubbar, Shaykh Mῡsa was then able to call upon a number of scholars who were living in neighbouring cities to help him in this affair. Whilst Shaykh Mῡsa was in Kādhimayn he also entered into an alliance with Sayyid Shubbar and married his daughter. This was to strengthen the two families and create a united front against the threat posed by Mīrzā Akhbārī. Due to the persistence of Sayyid Mujāhid, Shaykh Mῡsa issued a fatwa on the (permissibility of) killing of Mīrzā Akhbārī. This fatwa was then endorsed by Sayyid Shubbar and Shaykh al-Kadhimī after which it was released to the public upon which the means for its execution were prepared.

On the basis of what Kāshif al-Ghiṭā narrates, the fatwa was read to the people by the messenger of Sayyid Shubbar, and similarly it is reported he played a pivotal role in this event. The reporting of Kāshif al-Ghiṭā makes it clear that in addition to considering themselves authorised by Shaykh Mῡsa and Sayyid Shubbar to kill Mīrzā Akhbārī, they also believed killing him would be their guarantee to get into heaven. After the fatwa was released a group of people attacked his house and killed Mīrzā Akhbārī, his son Ahmad and one of his students. After that they tied a rope to his feet and dragged him around the streets (for all to see what they had done).

Kāshif al-Ghiṭā almost mythically narrates how Mīrzā Akhbārī, who was familiar with the Occult Sciences, attempted to use sorcery to defend himself but in the end, the faith of the killers acted as a protection and allowed them to carry out their mission. This manner of reporting shows that for some time Mīrzā’s position and power were commonly understood to be down to his use of sorcery and in this light his killing was seen as a big accomplishment. Based on the accounts of one of Mīrzā’s students, his killing took place on the 28th of Rabī’ al-Awwal 1232 but from the reports of Kāshif al-Ghiṭā it took place in 1233. It’s not clear to what extent these reports are correct, or to what extent those who attacked him claimed to be acting according to the fatwa in question, however what is for certain from looking at the time and context (with the presence of different groups contesting with one another) is that the ground was ripe for such an act.

The reality is that the reason behind the strong reaction of the Uṣῡlī scholars to Mīrzā Akhbārī isn’t known, however what is apparent is that they considered Mīrzā’s political activities a grave danger for both the Shi’ī society and their own position as Uṣῡlī jurists. According to what Hamid Algār has said[4], the power struggle between two separate parties of the Ottoman Empire, both of which claimed to run Baghdād, exacerbated this conflict. On the one side Sa’īd Pāshā recognised his interest lay in supporting Mīrzā Akhbārī whereas on the other side Dawῡd Pāshā was seeking to attract support from the Uṣῡlī jurists. Kāshif al-Ghiṭā narrates a story recalling how Mīrzā Akhbārī had lobbied the Ottoman Governors trying to get them to kill Shaykh Mῡsa, saying he was the leader of the Shī’a and had no loyalty to the Ottomans.

From this angle it can be understood that Mīrzā Akhbārī’s actions were inappropriate given the critical situation of the Shi’ī community who were at that time under the control of the Ottomans, and his activities, be it in Iran or in Iraq, had caused the Uṣῡlī jurists to become severely concerned. On top of the fact that we know that Mīrzā’s extreme views and anti-Uṣῡlī beliefs were already a cause for concern for the Uṣῡlī jurists, the reports of Mīrzā’s use of Occult Sciences could have been an additional factor which affected their decision (to deal with him). We also know that he had occasional contact with Shaykh Ahmad Aḥsā’ī (which would have only made this situation worse for him). Be that as it may, a point worthy of attention in respect to Sayyid Shubbar is given his own Akhbārī inclinations[5] his key role in this event definitely raises questions.

What has been narrated is merely a fragment of the historical dispute between the Akhbārī and Uṣῡlī movements which transpired during the time of Wahīd Behbahānī and his students. The Uṣῡlī movement with its struggles and extensive ideological discussions, alongside incidents like these, emerged victorious and achieved complete domination of its thought over the seminaries. This dispute resulted in the flourishing of Uṣῡlī thought and the publishing and production of different works, either in favour of the Uṣῡlī school or against it, which till today still require further research and investigation.


[1] For more information see: Robert Gleave, Mīrzā Muḥammad al-Akhbārī’s Kitāb al-Jihād, in Amir-Moezzi M, Asher MB, Hopkins S (eds) Le Shi’isme Imamite Quarante Ans Apres – Hommage a Etan Kohlberg, Paris: BREPOLS, 2009, 209-224 ; Iranica, I: ۷۱۶

[2] al-Abaqāt al-’anbariyya fī al-tabaqāt al-ja’fariya (

[3] ‘atabat refers to the mausoleums of the Imāms in Iraq

[4] Religion and State in Iran, 1785 – 1906: The Role of the Ulemā in the Qājār Period by Hamid Algār, p. 64 – 66

[5] An example of his Akhbārī inclination would be his documented support for the idea of tahrīf of the Qur’ān.

1 thought on “The Fate of Mirza Muhammad Akhbari”

  1. May Allah curse the Usooli scholars who were part of this and to this who ever is in support of the satanic ijtehad innovation into the divine religion. May Allah curse the one who wrote this article to support the deviant usoolis.

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