Skip to main content

Majlisī, al-


MAJLISĪ, AL- (ah 10371110/11, 16271699/1700 ce), Muammad Bāqir ibn Muammad Taqī, preeminent Persian Shīʿī theologian in the late Safavid period. Born to a family of renowned scholars, he was made leader of the Friday prayers in Isfahan sometime after the death of his father in 1659. Shah Sulaymān appointed him as shaykh al-Islām, the highest religious official in the land, in 1687, and he reached the zenith of his power under Shah Sulān usayn, the last Safavid ruler (16941722). He died and was buried in Isfahan.

Al-Majlisī's career epitomizes the increasing predominance of the Shīʿī religious hierarchy. He used his influence in court circles to propagate his brand of Shiism, to persecute ūfīs and non-Muslims, and to encourage the often forcible conversion of Sunnīs to Twelver Shiism. In order to reach beyond the learned circles in which Arabic was used as a means of expression he produced a large number of works in Persian, of which the best known are ayāt al-qulūb (Life of the Hearts), a work of biographies of the prophets and imams, and aqq al-yaqīn (Certain Truth), his last completed work, which sets out the main tenets of Twelver Shiism.

In his Arabic works, al-Majlisī dealt with a variety of doctrinal issues; he also composed commentaries on some of the classical Shīʿī legal texts. Yet he is best known for his Biār al-anwār (Oceans of Light), a voluminous encyclopedia containing a vast number of Shīʿī traditions from various sources. As such, it spans virtually all major aspects of Twelver Shīʿī religious thought: the unity of God and the divine attributes; the concepts of knowledge, belief and unbelief, and free will and predestination; the lives of the prophets and imams and the pilgrimages to their graves; the position of the Qurʾān; and positive law.

Thanks to the Biār, much of the corpus of Shīʿī tradition was saved from oblivion and returned to center stage. In preparing the work, al-Majlisī relied heavily on the help of pupils and enlisted the financial backing of the Safavid court to obtain manuscripts of rare or inaccessible works. The first volume of the Biār appeared in 1666, and by the time of al-Majlisī's death seventeen of the twenty-six projected volumes had been finished. The rest were completed by his pupil ʿAbd Allāh Efendī. A lithograph edition of the entire work was first published between 1885 and 1897, and a new edition containing 110 volumes has been published in Tehran. Various volumes of the Biār have been translated into Persian, and the many excerpts, abridgments, and supplements in existence attest to the continuing influence of the work.


The fullest account to date of al-Majlisī's life and works, with special emphasis on his magnum opus, is Karl-Heinz Pampus's Die theologische Enzyklopädie Biār al-Anwār des Muammad Bāqir al-Maǧlisi, 10371110 ah = 16271699 ad. (Bonn, 1970). There is a useful analysis of some aspects of al-Majlisī's theology on pages 9395 of Said Amir Arjomand's "Religion, Political Action and Legitimate Domination in Shiʿite Iran: Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries a.d.," European Journal of Sociology 20 (1979): 59109. Al-Majlisī's influence on Safavid policies is discussed in Laurence Lockhart's The Fall of the afavī Dynasty and the Afghan Occupation of Persia (Cambridge, 1958). Abdul-Hadi Hairi's "Madjlisī" in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed. (Leiden, 1960), contains a good bibliography. A highly competent rendition of selected passages from the Biār is included in A Shīʿite Anthology, edited and translated by William C. Chittick (Albany, N. Y., 1981).

Etan Kohlberg (1987)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Majlisī, al-." Encyclopedia of Religion. . 26 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Majlisī, al-." Encyclopedia of Religion. . (March 26, 2019).

"Majlisī, al-." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved March 26, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.