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ABUL HASAN ALI (1143-1206/1730-1792), 44TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Imam Abul Hasan Ali was also known as Syed Shah Muhammad Hasan Shah, Hasan Beg and Abul Hasan Ali Shah. He was born in Shahr-i Babak. The Iranian sources called him, Abul Hasan Kaheki, a name mostly was popular among the inhabitants of Kahek, whom he generously helped for about two times. One of the ways he utilized his wealth was to serve delicious dishes strewn with ample varieties of food to the hungry and needy while he himself would seldom taste it.

Imam Abul Hasan was the governor of Kirman during the Afsharid and Zand periods. It seems almost appropriate to mention that Imam Abul Hasan Ali was the first Ismaili Imam after the fall of Alamut to emerge slowly from obscurity. He was highly learned and a friend of the local Sufis. He had also patronized the local artists. Few chambers of the Imam's residence are reported to have been decorated with the rare collection of the Iranian paintings.

He was a prominent land-owner (Sahib amlak wa raqabat) in Kirman. According to Athar-i Muhammadi (p. 70), "When the Afghans had launched terrible raids in Iran, Imam Abul Hasan Ali had laid the foundation of a strong edifice of the fort in Kiab on the shore of Hibala and Depine, lying between Rugan and Jinjan, where he began to reside after its completion."

Nadir, the last great Asiatic conqueror was born in 1102/1688 in Afshar tribe of Khorasan. He was the son of a certain Imam Quli, and was tending flocks after his father's death. Later, he became a leader of the plundering band. In 1138/1726, the Safavid Shah Tahmasp II learnt his valour, and acquired his help to repel the Gilzay Afghans from Iran. Nadir readily responded the call and came with his troop of 5000 Kurd and Afshar warriors. He was hailed and granted the title of Tahmasp Quli Khan. Nadir took field against the Gilzay Afghans by commanding the Safavid army, and inflicted them a defeat. Shah Tahmasp II rejoiced on Nadir's role, and appointed him a chief commander (qurchi-bashi). In 1144/1732, Nadir deposed Shah Tahmasp II and crowned the latter's son Shah Abbas III. In 1148/1736, Nadir also deposed Shah Abbas III, and assumed the power, and thus he got the declination of the Safavid empire. He established the Afsharid rule in Iran, and fought with the Afghans and dominated Iran like Taymurlame. He also fought with the Turks and captured Iraq and Azerbaijan.

It appears that Imam Abul Hasan Ali had also maintained his best of ties with Nadir, and the seat of his governorship in Kirman coming from the period of the Safavids, remained intact during the Afsharid rule. When Nadir had been in Kirman in 1160/1747, according to Athar-i Muhammadi (p. 73), "Imam invited him at his residence and presented many valuable gifts." After Nadir, his successor Shah Rukh also retained his relation with Imam. John R. Perry writes in Karim Khan Zand (Chicago, 1979, pp. 135-6) that, "Abu'l-Hasan enjoyed the respect of all the leading citizens and even the provincial warlords and would seem the perfect choice for beglerbegi (governor-general) now that Kirman was relatively settled. On his appointment, therefore, Mirza Hosayn, Mortaza Qoli Khan, and the other local rulers meekly handed over their provinces to him. No details of his administration are recorded; he probably re-allocated the regions to several local khans and used his moral rather than military authority to check injustice. He remained on good terms with the leading men of the bureaucratic class, consulting them readily in matters of government." John R. Perry also adds, "After Nader's death, Sayyed Abu'l Hasan took a winter residence in Kirman itself, retaining his house at Babak for the summer. Shahrokh Khan accorded him great respect, even marrying his son Lotf Ali Khan to the Sayyed's (Imam's) daughter." (Ibid. p. 135)

In India, after the death of emperor Aurengzeb in 1707, the next Mughal rulers who followed him one after another were Bahadur Shah (1707-1712), Jahandar Shah (1712-1713), Farukh Siyar (1713-1719) and Muhammad Shah (1719-1748), in whose time, Nadir had conducted his expedition to India. Nadir set out from Nadirabad for Ghazna on May 21, 1738 and crossed the Indian frontiers with a gigantic army. He crossed Khyber Pass and reached Peshawar, and left it on January 6, 1739 for Lahore after passing through Wazirabad and Jhelum. He set off from Lahore on February 6, 1739 and proceeded to Sirhind, where he heard that the Mughal king Muhammad Shah had reached Karnal with 3 lac soldiers and 2000 elephants with a large deposit of cannon. Nadir ordered Nasrullah Mirza on February 24, 1739 to march from Jamna for Karnal, and he himself advanced in between Jamna and Ali Mardan Canal.

The tradition relates that Imam Abul Hasan Ali had also accompanied Nadir during the operations, but it cannot be substantiated in the Indian sources. We may safely infer that Imam Abul Hasan Ali would have joined the regiment of Nasrullah Mirza in the operations of Karnal, had he truly accompanied.

Nadir finally entered Delhi on March 20, 1739 and pillaged the treasure of the Mughal empire. He took away huge money, jewels, diamonds and gold for the worth of about 70 crore of rupees, including the famous pea-cock throne and Koh'i Noor diamond. He left Delhi for Kabul. On December 9, 1739 and entered India once again to plunder Sind. He reached Dera Ismail Khan on January 5, 1740 and at Larkana on February 12, 1740 and pillaged gold, jewels and pearls amounting over one crore rupees from the ruler of Sind. Nadir left Sind on April 10, 1740. To this we must add the likelihood that Imam Abul Hasan Ali had availed chance to see his followers secretly in Sind, provided the tradition of his company is genuine. If so, he would have seen his followers when Nadir was hunting booty between January and April, 1740.

Nadir thus dominated Iran, Afghanistan and India. In Iran, he tried to solve differences of Usuli and Akhbari groups and also endeavoured to have the Jafari fiqh accepted as a fifth fiqh in the Sunni framework of the four schools of law. He also tried to overcome the Sunni theologians. Nadir was a brave campaigner, and so was cruel and proud, and had executed a large number of innocent people. He was at last killed in his tent near Mashhad in 1160/1747.

Immediately after the murder of Nadir, the Afghan and Turkoman leaders in Afsharid military collided each other for the treasures pillaged in India. Ahmad Shah Abdali (1747-1773) lastly succeeded to take away the whole lot to Kandhar and established the Dhurrani rule in Afghanistan in 1160/1747. In Iran, the southern Caucasus and Azerbaijan had been captured by the Afghan general called, Azad Khan. Another leader, Ali Mardan Khan occupied Ispahan, and Karim Khan Zand took Fars and Laristan.

Ali Quli Khan was the second Afsharid ruler, known as Adil Shah (1747-1748), the nephew of Nadir Shah; who ruled Khorasan. His brother Ibrahim (d.1161/1748) became the third ruler for few months. Shah Rukh, the son of Nadir escaped from prison at that time, and attacked on Khorasan, and became the fourth ruler for few months. He was deprived of his sight by his own Khorasani chiefs, and Murad Khan had been proclaimed as the fifth ruler. Murad Khan was also blinded, and once again the blind Shah Rukh was placed on the throne, who ruled till 1210/1795.

In sum, Iran was dominated by three rules at that time. Muhammad Hussain Qajar possessed northern region. The southern area was under the control of Karim Khan Zand, and Khorasan on eastern area was ruled by the Afsharids. Muhammad Hussain Qajar had been killed, and Karim Khan Zand took over the power of whole Iran, including Khorasan; and founded the rule of Zand dynasty in Iran in 1163/1750.

Karim Khan Zand (1163-1193/1750-1779) had a friendly relation with Imam Abul Hasan Ali and his brother Pir Mirza Muhammad Bakir. Mirza Hussain Khan, the governor of Kirman treated the Imam with great respect, who charged certain towns and districts of Kirman under the control of the Imam. Later on, Karim Khan Zand appointed the Imam as the Beglarbegi of Kirman in 1170/1756. According to The Cambridge History of Iran (London, 1991, 7:85), "Eventually, Karim Khan appointed as beglerbegi an Ismaili Sayyid, Abul Hasan Ali Shah Mahallati, well respected locally for piety and generosity. His moral authority overrode the petty squabbles of the regional military governors, and his ample private income precluded any necessity for extortion or peculation."

Karim Khan Zand died in 1193/1779, and Iran once again disintegrated. His brother Zaki Khan declared Muhammad Ali, the second son of Karim Khan, and his son-in-law as the second ruler of the Zands. Afterwards, Abul Fateh Khan, the elder son of Karim Khan was made a joint ruler with Muhammad Ali.

Meanwhile, a certain Aga Muhammad Khan Qajar reached to Mazandaran, and took charge of his tribe in Astrabad, and declared his rule in 1193/1779 immediately after the death of Karim Khan Zand. Zaki Khan dispatched his forces in command of his nephew, called Ali Murad Khan against Aga Muhammad Khan. Instead of fighting with Aga Muhammad Khan, he himself rebelled against the Zands, and captured Ispahan. He levied high taxes on the landlords and put to death who refused. He also tortured many persons, and once he is said to have thrown out 18 persons from his window to a ditch. The people in Ispahan rebelled, and killed Zaki Khan. Meanwhile, his brother Sadik Khan came in Shiraz and tore the eyes of Abul Fateh Khan from their sockets, and occupied Shiraz. In the succession disputes following Karim Khan Zand's death, the Imam is said to have lent his support to Sadik Khan, who was assisted in raising an army in Kirman. Sadik Khan restored the governorship of the Imam in Kirman. Imam's timely support to Sadik Khan had also avoided a massacre of the Ismailis. Meanwhile, the border region between Kirman and Afghanistan, including Narmashir, was raided by the Afghan and Baluchi troops of Azam Khan, an amir from Kandhar. Azam Khan was subdued by the Imam's forces, consisted of 7000 soldiers in command of Mirza Sadik, the cousin of the Imam. Later on, Azam Khan ravaged the districts of Kirman from Narmashir and reached as far as the entrance of the city of Kirman. This time, Abul Hasan Ali himself commanded his forces from Shahr-i Babak and inflicted a defeat to Azam Khan outside Kirman.

Ali Murad Khan raided Shiraz and killed Sadik Khan, the brother of Zaki Khan in 1195/1781. Then followed Jafar Khan (1779-1785), the son of Sadik Khan, who defeated Aga Muhammad Khan Qajar many times. His son Lutf Ali Khan, the last ruler of the Zand dynasty attacked the rising power of the Qajarids in Ispahan in 1205/1790, but his advisor, Haji Ibrahim abandoned his side and joined Aga Muhammad Khan. Lutf Ali Khan proceeded to Sirjan, intending to occupy Shahr-i Babak and the stronghold of the Imam, guarded by the Ataullahi Ismailis. Imam Abul Hasan Ali had fortified and well-provisioned fortress in Shahr-i Babak under the command of Mirza Sadik. Lutf Ali Khan failed to gain Shahr-i Babak, and committed massacres of the Ismailis in the localities. He advanced to the city of Kirman. On that junction, Imam Abul Hasan Ali refused to allow his entry in the city, and reinforced the city's defence and prepared to withstand a long siege. After one day of the siege, the inhabitants of the city sent out the Qadi and Shaikh al-Islam to the camp of Lutf Ali Khan with an offering of 20,000 tumans, imploring him to raise the siege and postpone the occupation of the city.

Hasan-i Fasai compiled his Farsnama'yi Nasiri in 1314/1896 (tr. by Heribert Busse, London, 1972, pp. 37-8), who writes, "Lotf Ali Khan, however, was full of pride and said that he would not raise the siege before Seiyed Abu'l Hasan Khan Kaheki, the governor of Kirman, and all the nobles and aldermen had come out of the city to the encampment. When the Qadi and Shaikh al-Islam returned unsuccessful to the city, Abu'l Hasan Khan took greater care in the defence of the fortress than he had done before. When the winter came and roads and paths were blocked by snow and rain, the camp was cut off from provisions. For some time the people in the camp were satisfied with eating the meat of horses and donkeys, and patiently endured snow and rain. When things, however, became unbearable, the soldiers folded their tents and moved off. Lotf Ali Khan could not but do the same, and in the month of Jomadi I of that year (1205/January, February, 1791), he returned to Shiraz."

In Shiraz, Lutf Ali Khan also sought no entry due to the hold of Aga Muhammad Khan. He fought next year with the Qajars, and defeated them in 1206/1792. In 1209/1794, Lutf Ali Khan captured Kirman. Aga Muhammad Khan besieged it for six months. It is said that Pir Mirza Muhammad Bakir had given a shelter to Lutf Ali Khan in a fort, who was seriously injured and sought mercy. Lutf Ali Khan finally managed to escape from Kirman, to which Aga Muhammad Khan, while entering Kirman, had accused the local people to have helped in escaping Lutf Ali Khan. By the vengeance he was wreaking on the inhabitants of Kirman, and issued orders to deprive all the adult males of their life, or of their eyesight; and the females and children, to the number of twenty thousand, were granted as slaves to the soldiers. G.R.G. Hambly writes in Aqa Mohammad Khan and the establishment of the Qajar Dynasty (JRAS, vol. L., January, 1963, p. 166) that, "Kerman was systematically ravaged for three months. Twenty thousand women and children were handed over to the army or sold as slaves. For the male population a different punishment was reserved and tradition relates that 7,000 eyes were brought to the conqueror, who personally counted them, informing the officer in charge of the operation: "Had one been missing, yours would have been taken!" As a memorial to the downfall of the Zand dynasty, a pyramid of skulls was erected in Bam on the spot where Lotf Ali Khan had been captured. Six hundred prisoners were executed in Kerman and their heads were carried to Bam by a further three hundred who were decapitated when they reached their destination. According to Henry Pottinger, this monument was still standing in 1810."

Lutf Ali Khan was arrested when he was about 25 years old. His eyes were torn from the sockets and was executed in 1209/1794. With his death, the Zand dynasty had been declined in Iran, and Aga Muhammad Khan (1193-1212/1779-1797) founded the Qajarid empire.

In India, after the departure of Nadir, the Mughal empire in the time of Muhammad Shah (1719-1748) had become crippled. The constant expeditions of Ahmad Shah Abdali between 1161/1748 and 1181/1767 not only had broken down the backbone of the Mughal army, but also left the country economically collapsed. The next Mughal rulers on the throne of Delhi were Ahmed Shah (1748-1754) and Shah Alam II (1759-1806).

In India, it may be noted that Multan had been a centre of the Shamsi Ismailis of Kashmir and Punjab, where the descendants of Pir Shams had served as the vakils of the Imam. In Sind and Kutchh, the descendant of Pir Dadu also worked as the vakils. While, the Kadiwal Syeds were active in Kutchh and Sind, in which Syed Ghulam Ali Shah, or Syed Ghulmali Shah was most prominent. He initiated a bulk of the Hindus during the reign of Maharao Godmalji in Kutchh. Many other Indian da'is and vakils are reported to have lived in the period under our review, whose names are known only through their ginans, viz., Syed Fateh Ali Shah, Syed Miran Mahdi, Syed Miran Muhammad Shah, Syed Ladha Shah, Syed Kutabuddin, Syed Aal-i Imam, Syed Hussain etc.

The Mughal emperor Aurengzeb (d. 1707) is reported to have persecuted the Ismailis in Gujrat and Sind, and most among them had taken refuge in Iran. Some among them returned afterwards, but many other settled in Kirman and died there, whose graves still exist, giving dates in Khojki character. The grave of Aga Nihal, possibly a Kashmiri Ismaili, bears the date of 1722 and Kamadia Muhammad dates 1725. One unknown grave indicates the date of 1742. In Mahallat, the graves of Khoja Peeru and Kamadia Bhalu of Sind bear the date of 1705 and 1711 respectively.

It seems that Imam Abul Hasan Ali had moved to Shahr-i Babak in Kirman, most possibly in 1158/1745, situated about 180 kilometers southwest of the main city of Kirman. The decision seems to have been motivated for the security of the Indian pilgrims, since the Bakhtiyari tribesmen committed banditry on the roads, terrorizing the highways. Ahmad Ali Khan Viziri (d. 1295/1878) writes in Tarikh-i Kirman (Tehran, 1973, p. 542) that, "During the chaotic conditions of Iran after the downfall of the Safavids, the Indian Ismailis who regularly travelled to Anjudan and Mahallat regions for seeing their Imam and remitting to him their religious dues, were often plundered and killed between Nain and Yazd by the Bakhtiyari tribesmen."

The Imam thus, had to move to Shahr-i Babak, a location closer to the Iranian Gulf ports and the main pilgrimage route. He acquired extensive properties in Shahr-i Babak, also erected a winter residence in the city of Kirman, where his daughter, Fakhru'z-Zaman died in 1170/1756. He is also reported to have spent generously colossal money for the benefit of the people of Kirman, which enhanced his popularity. His fame in Kirman can be estimated from the fact that he was able to continue his governorship of Kirman when the Zand dynasty disintegrated upon Karim Khan's death in 1193/1779, and henceforth, the Imam ruled over Kirman independently.

Syed Fateh Ali Shah (d. 1212/1798), an Indian vakil had visited Shahr-i Babak to see the Imam, and made its brief description in his one extant ginan that: "The Lord resides in the western land as an Iranian. He speaks Persian in northern Iran (sheter deep). His residence is in Shahr-i Babak, and his name is Shah Abul Hasan Ali in elegant form."

When Imam Abul Hasan Ali left for Shahr-i Babak in 1158/1745, he was succeeded as a governor of Kirman by his cousin, Mirza Sadik. In 1206/1792, Aga Muhammad Khan seized Shiraz and sent his nephew, Fateh Ali to conquer Kirman. Fateh Ali occupied Kirman, and replaced Mirza Sadik, and himself became the governor of the provinces of Fars, Kirman and Yazd.

When Aga Muhammad Khan massacred a large number of the local inhabitants in Kirman, the Ismailis were however spared in the operation. The Ismaili Syed families and the relatives of the Imam, living in Shahr-i Babak were allowed to repair to Kahek, where Aga Muhammad Khan gave them new pieces of land to compensate for what they left in Kirman city; and assigned them according to the rank emoluments (wazifa) and pay (mostamarri). Imam Abul Hasan Ali's first historical debut in the Iranian sources is recorded from the event of the capture of Kirman by Lutf Ali Khan in 1205/1791. His death is also recorded in the contemporary sources as 1206/1792 under the name of Syed Abul Hasan Ali Shah Mahallati Kaheki. He had however passed his whole life in Shahr-i Babak, but his death took place in Mahallat on May 23, 1792, and was interred in Najaf.


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