MAJLISĪ, AL- (ah 1037–1110/11, 1627–1699/1700 ce), Muḥammad Bāqir ibn Muḥammad 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 Sulṭān Ḥusayn, the last Safavid ruler (1694–1722). 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 Ṣūfīs 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 Ḥayāt al-qulūb (Life of the Hearts), a work of biographies of the prophets and imams, and Ḥaqq 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 Biḥār 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 Biḥār, 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 Biḥār 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 Biḥār 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 Biḥār al-Anwār des Muḥammad Bāqir al-Maǧlisi, 1037–1110 ah = 1627–1699 ad. (Bonn, 1970). There is a useful analysis of some aspects of al-Majlisī's theology on pages 93–95 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): 59–109. Al-Majlisī's influence on Safavid policies is discussed in Laurence Lockhart's The Fall of the Ṣafavī 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 Biḥār is included in A Shīʿite Anthology, edited and translated by William C. Chittick (Albany, N. Y., 1981).
Etan Kohlberg (1987)
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