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ABUZAR ALI (902-915/1496-1509), 35TH IMAM

Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

"Muhammad Abuzar Shah, surnamed Abuzar, was also called Nuruddin. He is also known as Shah Nuruddin bin Gharib Shah in the Syrian works. Like his father, he also passed a darwish life in Anjudan. He had however advised his followers to exercise precautions in view of new religious tendency and political cataclysm in Iran.

The village of Anjudan considerably accelerated on account of ample water supply, therefore, the new protective walls with fortifications were built around it during the early time of Imam Abuzar Ali's Imamate. It caused the old enclosure itself to play the part of a sort of citadel. Some craftsmen, blacksmiths, potters tanners and dyers had come from outside, and possibly built their workshops on the outskirts.

In 904/1499, Shah Ismail had decided that the time was ripe for the supreme bid for power. He prepared a colossal army, and began to conquer the Iranian territories in 905/1500 including Iraq and founded the Safavid empire. In Iran, he absolutely dominated in Hamdan, Mazandaran, Shirwan, Khorasan, and Yazd etc. He tried to extend his influence in Afghanistan, Balkh and Bukhara. The Ottoman empire evidently opposed the growing power in Iran. The Uzbek rulers of Bukhara however checked the advance of the Safavids. Thus, the Safavids considered their two borders insecure for the empire.

Shah Ismail's fist action on his accession was the proclamation of the Shi'ism as the state religion of Iran, differentiating from the Ottoman of Turkey, who were the Sunnis. Shah Ismail however failed to impose Shi'ism in many Iranian regions. Many people are reported to have been executed, and other migrated. The Sunni theologians went to Herat, India and Bukhara. Under such rigorous policy, one renowned Ismaili scholar, Shah Tahir Hussain Dakkani also fled from Kashan, and repaired to India. The Sufis were also not spared in Iran, who began to live under the cloak of the Twelvers.

The strict Shi'ite tendency in Iran had certainly forced the Ismailis to assume the mantle of the Twelvers to get rid of the executions. Weathering these storms, it seems that Imam Abuzar Ali had gone into hiding for about seven years between 905/1500 and 912/1507, which can be ascertained also from the version of Khayr Khwah Herati's Tasnifat (ed. W. Ivanow, Tehran, 1961, p. 52). Before leaving Anjudan for an unknown place, he had most possibly left behind his hujjat to act as a link between the Imam and the followers.

Momin Shah, the son of Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was the hujjat in Syria. Since he was an elder son, therefore, a small section in Syria had considered him as his father's successor. He returned from Syria and settled down in a village called Khwand in Qazwin, bordering Gilan too. He preached the esoteric teachings of Ismailism on Sufic pattern. Momin Shah built a small khanaqah (cloister) in Khwand, where he and his descendants were revered as the "Saints of Khwand" (sadat-i khwandia) due to their piety and learning. Momin Shah died in 738/1337 and remained faithful to the line of Kassim-Shahi. None among them had ever claimed for Imamate, or visited Syria to nourish that small growing group, who later on became known as Momin-Shahis. The trivial section of Momin-Shahis was neither a forgotten branch of the Ismailis, nor a schism of great importance.

Muhammad Shah (d. 807/1404), the son of Momin Shah became the next saint (sadat) of their khanaqah in Khwand, who also acquired few powers in the locality of Daylam. He was succeeded by his son, Raziuddin I (d. 833/1429), who in turn was succeeded by his son Muhammad Tahir Shah (d. 867/1462). His son Raziuddin II (d. 915/1509) had gone to Badakhshan from Sistan in 913/1508 for mission. He established his rule over a large part of Badakhshan with the help of the Ismailis during the time of a certain Taymurid amir called Mirza Khan (d. 926/1520). Raziuddin II was killed in the local tribal fighting in 915/1509. Mirza Khan then executed many Ismailis in Badakhshan.

Imam Abuzar Ali is said to have returned to Anjudan in 912/1507 after getting congenial atmosphere. He maintained his cordial ties with the local amirs, elites and the Safavids. Imam Abuzar Ali is said to have betrothed to Sabira Khatoon, the daughter of Shah Ismail, and was granted the title of Amir al-Umra (chief of the chiefs). This matrimonial relationship suggests a close tie of the Imam with the ruling power in the mantle of the Twelver.

Imam Abuzar Ali died in 915/1509 and was buried in Anjudan. The Russain scholar W. Ivanow had visited Anjudan in 1937 to collect the details from the inscriptions of then existing graves and mausoleums of the Ismaili Imams. He failed to locate the grave of Imam Abuzar Ali in Anjudan. But, before him, Muhammad Taqi bin Ali Reza, who compiled Athar-i Muhammadi in 1893 had visited Anjudan before the migration of Imam Aga Hasan Ali Shah in 1842. He had discovered the grave of Imam Abuzar Ali, and writes, "Imam Abuzar Ali had been invested the honorific title of Amir al-Umra, whose description is still preserved on the marble slab of Imam's grave" (pp. 65-66). It tenaciously corroborates to the fact that the grave of the Imam in Anjudan had been decayed before the visit of W. Ivanow, and it is, of course, possible that the same would have been happened with the grave of Imam Murad Mirza.

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