Aspects of ʿAllāmah Majlisī’s Impacts on the
Research Culture of Shi‘ites and Persian Speakers
A H M A D J A L A L I
The Islamic College - London
ABSTRACT: Generally speaking, religious teachings have had a considerable impact on the cultural and civic heritage of societies, to the extent that in practical terms one may classify many personalities in religious disciplines as among setters of social norms and shapers of culture. Thus, regardless of the degree of authoritativeness of the very content of their work, such figures are deserving of introduction, as their achievements merit being reviewed and critiqued. This article primarily treats certain aspects of Muhammad Baqir Majlisī’s (1627- 1698) contributions to and their impacts on Shiʻi culture in the domains of education and research. It neither aims to consider the prominent and effective positions held by him, nor to examine the results of his influence in the administrative and political spheres, nor even to assess his work regarding Islamic teachings in modern Shi‘i societies; rather, it addresses some aspects of Majlisī’s influence on the educational and scholarly research culture of Shi‘ites and Persian speakers since his age and, furthermore, the impact of his work on the preservation of Shi‘i communities’ written intangible heritage per se. Learned scholars may not consider some of the elements included in Majlisī’s works, especially his masterpiece, Biḥār al-Anwār, as either reasonable or acceptable in terms of explicit content; nonetheless, this does not detract from the validity of this encyclopaedic work as a research resource. The author further aims to demonstrate the significant difference between the following two approaches: firstly, considering this major work as merely a source of raw research material; and secondly, as a resource for the direct deduction of religious injunctions or doctrines of Shi‘ites’ way of life. Majlisī should be acclaimed for having preserved such an extensive collection of great value, of course to those scholars who understand how to use it. Some researchers may not attach significance to the authenticity of a tradition quoted therein but may instead indirectly find in this work a key to better comprehend a subject matter which may not even have occurred to its compiler. His erudition, expertise, and methodology as well as his keen interest in writing numerous works in Persian profoundly inspired and impacted his contemporaries and coming generations in standardizing Islamic and mainly Shiʻi sources and made them available to scholars, and some of them to Persian readers and speakers in particular, and thus indirectly culminated in a greater popular interest in reading and writing in this language through their spiritual motives. His Persian prose style is admiringly ornate and embellished in his introductions but flowing and simple elsewhere, whereby these writings appealed to scholars while also being an encouragement to enrich their social Shi‘i circles through reading about religious narratives and figures in Persian. However, for such an influential and distinguished jurisprudent to accord significance to the role of stories and popular narrative style was in itself innovative in his era. Illustrations of this point are presented in the article. The delicate matter of a correct approach to his legacy requires attention to be paid to the fact that, in general, in order to avoid the potential for confusion or even the promulgation of erroneous reasoning, intellectual and socio-cultural phenomena should be studied within their historical context. Acknowledging this is crucial in not only the intellectual and social critique of Majlisī, but also in order to recognize the importance of his work, and its impact on the formation of a certain cultural identity and laying the foundations of academic research and multifaceted investigation into Shi‘i society and intangible heritage. KEYWORDS: ʿAllāmah Majlisī, Shi‘i cultural heritage, Shi‘i culture, Shi‘i jurisprudents, Biḥār al-Anwār, Shi‘i tradition, Encyclopedia of Shi‘i hadith, Persian-speaking Shi‘i, Jurisprudence in Persian, Persian religious scholars, Muḥammad Bāqir Bihbūdī, Mahdawī Dāmghānī, Mulla Muḥammad Taqī Majlisī, Zād al-Maʻād, Ḥayāt al-Qulūb, Ḥilyat al-Muttaqīn, ‘Ayn al-Ḥayāt, Ḥusniyyah, Bilawhar and Būdhāsaf.