The Three Shams in Ismaili History: Imam Shamsuddin, Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz

Editor’s Note: Malik Mirza’s recent piece, Exclusive Photo Essay: The Mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, resulted in comments from our readers concerning the status of the shrine today, its role within the Ismaili community, the miracles attributed to Pir Shams, as well as confusion over the identities of Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz. Simerg turned to Mumtaz Ali Tajddin for some answers, and we are pleased to publish his piece that sheds light on the subject.

By RAI MUMTAZ ALI TAJDDIN S. ALI
Special to Simerg

In the contemporary period of 13th century, there is a confusion on the name “Shams” as there were three personalities existing at the same time. These were Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, Pir Sham Sebzewari and Shams Tabriz, which is discussed in this paper. 

1. IMAM SHAMSUDDIN MUHAMMAD

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad (1257-1310), the 28th Imam of the Nizari Ismailis is said to have been born in 646/1230 in the fortress of Maimundiz. He was known as Agha Shams in Syria and Shah Shams in India. He is also known as Shamsu’l Haq in a few Iranian poems. Poet Nizari Kohistani (d. 1320) called him Shamsuddin Shah Nimroz Ali and Shah Shams. He was also known as Shams Zardozi due to residing in a village called Zardoz in Azerbaijan, but another tradition suggests that he had adopted the profession of embroidery, and as such the term zardoz (embroiderer) became his epithet. 

JUVAINI AND MODERN HISTORIANS’ VIEWS ON ISMAILIS AND THE IMAMAT

Ata Malik Juvaini, the Persian historian who wrote an account of the Mongol Empire, wrongly considers the butchery of the Ismailis conducted by the Mongols in Qazwin and Rudhbar following the reduction of Alamut in 1256, as an end of the Ismailis and unbroken line of the Imamate as well. It is however, ascertained from reliable sources that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad had left the fortress of Maimundiz probably on 11th Shawal, 654/November 1, 1256; the Mongols reached there on 17th Shawal, 654/November 7, 1256.

Ata Malik Juvaini joined the Mongols after 12th Zilkada, 654/December 2, 1256, and as is well known entered the library at Alamut, and upon the orders of Mongol leader burnt the entire library, sparing only a few copies of the Qur’an and some other works, just enough to fit into a small wheelbarrow.

According to Bernard Lewis in The Assassins (London, 1967, p. 63), “The extirpation of the Ismailis in Persia was not quite as thorough as Juvaini suggests. In the eyes of the sectarians, Rukn al-Din’s small son succeeded him as Imam on his death and lived to sire a line of Imams.” Marshall Hodgson also writes in The Order of Assassins (Netherland, 1955. pp. 270 and 275) that, “Juvaini assures himself that every Ismaili was killed; yet even if all the members of garrison were in fact killed, a great many other will have escaped.”  He further adds, “but their spirit was more nearly indomitable; as it is from among them that the great future of Nizari Ismailism sprouted again. It is said the child Imam was carried to Adharbayjan, where the Imams lived for some time.” According to W. Montgomery Watt in Islam and the Integration of Society (London, 1961, p. 77), “In 1256, Alamut was surrounded, and was destroyed and in the following year the Imam met his death and there was a widespread massacre of the Nizaris. It may be further mentioned that, despite this catastrophe and the fact that it has never since had a territory of its own, the community was not exterminated and the line of Imams was maintained unbroken.” 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad went to Daylam, and thence moved to Ardabil. It is said that he also lived in Ahar, about 150 miles west of Ardabil. He had been also in Tabriz, which he most possibly evacuated in the early months of 1257 as Halagu invaded Tabriz on July 26, 1257. It seems that he became known as Shams Tabriz in the Sufic circle in Tabriz. Pir Shihabuddin Shah (d. 1884) writes in Khitabat-i Alliya (Tehran, 1963, p. 42) that, “Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad who lived in Tabriz, was compared by the local people to the sun, because of his handsome countenance, and thus he came to be called Shams (the sun) of Tabriz. This gave rise to the confusion between him and Shams Tabrizi, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but they were always in reality two different persons.” 

The tradition has it that Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad most probably lived from one to another place under different mantles in the province of Azerbaijan. The veritable locality of his residence, however, has not been substantiated. Azerbaijan was an ideal land for the growing Sufi circles, and the Imam had settled in northern region with his family, where he professed in the embroidery works. 

Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad is reported to have betrothed to a Sufi lady at Daylam in 1276, or in the next year. His sons, Momin Shah and Kiya Shah operated Ismaili mission as far as Gilan. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310 in Azerbaijan after vesting the office of Imamate to his son, Kassim Shah.

2. PIR SHAMS

The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza. Simerg.
The mausoleum of Pir Shams in Multan, Pakistan. Photo: © Malik Mirza.

Pir Shams was born most probably in Sebzewar, a town in Khorasan, lying 64 miles west of Nishapur. His father Syed Salauddin had been deputed in Baltistan by Imam Kassim Shah, who most probably came into the contact of Taj Mughal in Badakhshan. Kamaluddin Mujahri of Sebzewar writes in Malfuz-i Kamalia that Pir Syed Muinuddin Hasan of Sebzewar of Ajmer had a meeting with Syed Salauddin in Sebzewar in 1165. It is recounted that Pir Shams had gone to Badakhshan with his father at the age of 19 years, and thence he proceeded to Tibet and returned back to Sebzewar.

It is said that after the death of Syed Salauddin, Imam Kassim Shah commissioned Pir Shams as the hujjat of Sind and Hind at Daylam. In referencing the Imam, Pir Shams says: “Adore sincerely the true guiding light manifested in the person of Kassim Shah, the Lord of the Time.” (vide, Garbi, 5:17).

The earliest description of Pir Shams is found in the treatise of the biographies of Sufis, entitled Nafahat al-Uns (comp. 1478) by Nuruddin Abdur Rahman Jami (1414-1492), the last classic poet of Iran. Nurullah bin Sharif Shushtari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (comp. 1604) traces his ancestry back to the Ismaili root. Some details are also found in Tarikh-i Firishta (comp. 1606). The great Sufi saint Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) also referred to Pir Shams in his poetry.

It is indeterminable point in the modern sources as to when Pir Shams was born? The extant materials however don’t afford one to draw a safe conclusion. His death in 1356 however is indisputable, based on the plaque at the mausoleum in Multan. The most confusing and unsolved point is to locate his date of birth. Most of the scholars concur in his age for 115 years, but it however seems that Pir Shams had lived to an advanced age beyond 115 years. Syed Bawa Ahmad Ali Khaki writes in his Dar-i Khuld-i Bari (Ahmadabad, 1905, p. 123) on the basis of an old manuscript that the span of Pir Shams’s life was for 171 years. If the date of his demise in 1356 may be considered genuine, it means that his birth would have been taken place around 1175 during the period of Imam Ala Muhammad (1166-1210). The genealogy of Pir Shams given in the Shajara, preserved in the shrine at Multan, indicates the birth of Pir Shams in 1165, which is also corroborative.

Pir Shams arrived from Daylam to Badakhshan, where he is said to have brought many followers of Momin Shahi sect into the Ismaili fold. He visited Gilgit and proceeded to Tibet and as far as the ranges of the Himalayas. He came back to Ghazna, where he deputed the local converted prince to Badakhshan on mission work. Pir Shams also converted a bulk of the Hindus during their dasera festival after singing garbis (songs) in a temple for ten consecutive nights in the village called Analvad. W. Ivanow places its location in Gujrat, called Anilvad, not far from Ahmadabad. Pir Shams also visited Kashmir in 1316 and converted the Chak and Changad tribes, thence he proceeded to Multan in 1326 for the first time.

Pir Shams Mausoleum in Multan Pakistan, Simerg
A board on a wall of the mausoleum of Pir Shams which briefly describes short incidents from the life of Pir Shams. He is referred to him as ‘Hazrat Shamshuddin Tabrizi Sabzwari’ which has resulted in confusion over his identity Photo: © Malik Mirza.

In Multan, many miracles of Pir Shams are reported, but not potential for historical value. It needs interpretation to translate the miracles. It is therefore difficult to penetrate through the mist of legends, which formed even during the lifetime of Pir Shams and thickened rapidly after his death. The most popular miracle was the bringing down of the sun on earth, which earned him an epithet of taparez (burning) in Punjab. The word taparez is so coherent with that of Tabriz that it began to be pronounced as Tabriz, contriving a wrong theory to merge these two into one. Since Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz were proximate to each other in time, it is probable that Pir Shams, also known as Shams Taprez was confused with that of Shams Tabriz. It is believed that Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, left Konya and then died in in Khoy, where he was buried. A false tradition arose that he moved from Konya to Multan, thus charactering Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz as the same and one, which is absolutely untrue.

Among the Sufis, there existed four principal orders in India, viz. Chisti, Qadari, Suharwardi and Naqashbandi. The period of Pir Shams was thus noted for the several skilled exponents of Sufi thought. He therefore launched his brisk and pervasive mission during the eve of the growing Sufi circles in Punjab. In the villages of Punjab, he mostly converted the Aror or Rohra, a leading caste in south-western part of the Punjab, i.e., of the lower reaches of the five rivers and below their junction, extending through Bahawalpur into Sind. They were mostly cultivators, and their large portion on the lower Chinab were purely agricultures, while in the western Punjab, they were mostly tailors, weavers of mats and baskets, makers of vessels of brass and copper and goldsmiths. Pir Shams appointed musafir (one who travels) in different regions to collect the religious dues, and also built prayer-halls (khana) and appointed their Mukhis. He also introduced the daily prayer in Sairaki dilect, which continued to be recited till the period of his son, Pir Sadarddin. Pir Shams expired in 1356 and was buried at Multan.

MAUSOLEUM OF PIR SHAMS AND ITS RECONSTRUCTION

The mausoleum of Pir Shams is located on the high bank of the old bed of the river Ravi. The tomb is square, 300 feet in height surmounted by a hemispherical dome. It is decorated with ornamental glazed tiles.

Seth Mehr Ali was a prominent person in Sind. His later life was quite different from his early life, which sounds his great leaning towards the doctrine of the Kaysania sect. In spite of the diversity in the oral traditions, there is a common story that Seth Mehr Ali had visited Bombay and then proceeded to Pirana, and came into the contact of the Kaka (headman) of the Imam Shahi sect, named Syed Sharif (d. 1795). This contact would have created his strong disposition towards the veneration of the shrines. Soon after his return, he visited Multan and became the disciple of Makhdum Safdar Ali alias Jiwan Shah, the custodian of the mausoleum of Pir Shams. This contact prompted Seth Mehr Ali to rebuild the mausoleum of Pir Shams. A sum of Rs. 75,000 was spent in its renovation, which he procured through donation in Sind in 1779. He posed himself as a Syed to win the hearts of the people. This is the reason that he is called Syed Mehr Ali in Tawarikh-i Zila’e Multan (Lahore, 1884, p. 85) by Munshi Hukam Chand and Multan: History and Architecture (Islamabad, 1983, p. 206) by Dr. Ahmad Nabi Khan.

CULTURE OF VENERATNG SHRINES AND ISMAILI RESPONSE

Syed Mehr Ali intended that the mausoleum should be crowded on the first Friday after 15th Shaban. He therefore he invited the local Shi’ites and the Ismailis of Sadiqabad, Uchh Sharif and Sind, but his objective was foiled. The Shi’ites venerated it and took its possession, but few Ismailis responded.

The culture of veneration and vows gradually continued to thicken. The custodian of the shrine gave thread and so called sacred water. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah visited Multan on February 16, 1950, the Mukhi humbly requested the Imam that some local Ismaili attended the shrine of Pir Shams, claiming that there was power, which fulfilled the vows. The Imam asked the Mukhi to make an announcement in the Jamatkhana that he would visit the shrine of Pir Shams, and the Jamat was also invited to be there

On the next day, before noon, Ismailis gathered outside the mausoleum. The Imam also came and entered alone, while the Ismailis were outside. It is said that the Imam made seven rounds around the grave of Pir Shams, and came out and said to the Ismailis, “You claim that there is power in the shrine.” Then the Imam raised his right hand and put inside his pocket and said, “I have picked up all the power. Hence, there is nothing in the shrine, therefore, don’t come here and make your vows in the Jamatkhana.” Since then, the Ismailis didn’t go to make the vows at the shrine of Pir Shams as well as other shrines of Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin in Uchh.

The shrines of Pir Shams, Pir Sadardin and Pir Hasan Kabirdin are under control of the local Muslims.

3. SHAMS TABRIZ OR SHAMSUDDIN TABRIZI, MASTER OF JALALUDDIN RUMI

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Tomb of Shams Tabriz in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Shams Tabriz was born either in Daylam or Tabriz in 1165. He was called Parinda (flying bird), because he was always traveling from place to place.

In 1244, while Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi was teaching his pupils in an open courtyard next to a fountain in Konya, a shabbily externally dressed but perfectly internally adorned Sufi Shams Tabriz came to their assembly and watched them. He saw Maulana Rumi was referring to a large stack of handwritten books in the course of his teaching. Shams Tabriz asked him as to what was in the books. Rumi scoffed and replied, “O! Sufi. This contains knowledge that is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to recite your rosary.” Unnoticed by Rumi, Shams Tabriz threw the stack of books into a nearby pond of water. When Rumi’s students saw what had occurred they began beating Shams Tabriz. Rumi complained that all his valuable knowledge had been destroyed. Shams Tabriz said, “I will give back your books.”

A visibly dejected Rumi conceded to the request thinking that this was impossible. He was surprised to see that Shams Tabriz lifted the drenched books from the pond, blew dust of them and returned the books intact. He asked Shams Tabriz as to how he did this. Shams Tabriz replied, “This knowledge is beyond your comprehension, so you continue to teach your pupils.” Rumi fell at his feet and was swept into the currents of love. The presence of this ragged Sufi, Shams Tabriz, changed Rumi from a respected professor of theology into a lover of God. This event made Rumi to become a disciple of Shams Tabriz.

Hence, Rumi left orthodox teaching of his disciples, and learnt esoteric treasure from Shams Tabriz. One day, Shams Tabriz mysteriously disappeared, and was never seen again. Some say that he was killed by close disciples of Rumi, who were jealous of the close relation between Rumi and Shams. Other also assert that in the plot of his murder, Sultan Walad, the son of Rumi was involved. Shams Tabriz the master of Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), was not traceable after 1247 in Konya. Shamsuddin Aflaki, who wrote in 1353, stated that the death of Shams Tabriz took place in Konya in 1247.

However a group of Sufis maintained that after leaving Konya, Shams Tabriz travelled to Tabriz, about 900 miles to the east. Interestingly, a tomb of Shams Tabriz that had remained obscure for many centuries was discovered in Khoy in the Western Azerbaijan Province in Iran. It has been nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The distance from Khoy to Tabriz is approximately 100 miles.

Shams Tabriz Tomb
Bust, monument tower, and Tomb of Shams Tabrizi — in Khoy, South Azerbaijan province, Iran. Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

As we have noted previously, Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad died in 1310. When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was in Tabriz, he became known as Shams Tabriz.

Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872), a 19th century poet, scholar and literary historian in the service of Qajar kings, writes in Majmau’l Fusaha that, “Shaikh Abu Hamid Awhadu’ddin Kirmani had seen and met Shams Tabriz in Tabriz.”

It is therefore quite likely that Shaikh Abu Hamid had actually seen Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad in the mantle of Shams Tabriz, and that the Imam’s identity began to be equated with that of Shams Tabriz. Henceforward, the presence of two Shams Tabriz during the same period became perplexing and puzzling. 

When Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was identified as the “son of the last ruler of Alamut”, he was made the “son of Alauddin Muhammad,” incorporating him in the above report. 

The scrutiny of the sources indicates that a bulk of the frightened Muslims began to evacuate the vicinity of Rudhbar and Kohistan during the period of Imam Alauddin Muhammad (1221-1255) to escape the main brunt of the Mongols.

The stampede of the Muslims also carried away with them, the then latest report that, “Alauddin Muhammad is the ruler of Alamut, and the Mongols are about to come to reduce Alamut.”

These Muslims ultimately settled down in Qazwin, Daylam and Tabriz, where they came to know the fall of Alamut by the Mongols in 1256. They seem to have generalized an image in mind that the Alamut’s fall would have taken place in the time of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, and this story continued to prevail for many years in Qazwin, Rudhbar and Tabriz, making Imam Alauddin Muhammad as the last ruler of Alamut.

Marco Polo (1254-1324) passed by these regions in 1272, and heard these fantastic stories from these orbits, which he noted in his diary as follows, “I will tell you his story just as I Messer Marco, have heard it told by many people…The Shaikh was called in their language Alaodin…So they were taken, and the Shaikh, Alaodin, was put to death with all his men.” (vide, The Travels of Marco Polo (London, 1958, pp.40-42) by Ronald Latham. 

When the people conclusively identified Imam Ruknuddin Khurshah as the last ruler of Alamut, most probably after 1272, one other tradition seems to have originated to distinguish these two characters. Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad was deleted from that story from being the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, but Shams Tabriz was made known as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad instead. Being influenced with this tradition, Daulatshah (d. 1494) was the first to show Shams Tabriz, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, as the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad, in his Tazkertu’sh Shu’ara.

A question then arises, who was Shams Tabriz?  He indeed was an Ismaili, the master of Jalaluddin Rumi, but not the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. As to the early life of Shams Tabriz, we are yet in dark. Shamsuddin Aflaki (1310-1354) in Manaqibu’l Arifin and Abdur Rahman Jami (d. 1493) in Nafhatu’l Uns concur that Shams Tabriz was the son of a certain Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad. Rida Quli Khan (d. 1872) in his Majmau’l Fusaha also relied on Aflaki and Jami. According to Silsilatu’ad-Dhahab, it is wrong to allege Shams Tabriz to have been the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad. It was only Daulatshah, who made him the son of Imam Alauddin Muhammad.

Prof. Muhammad Iqbal of Punjab University, who prepared the Lahore edition of Daulatshah’s work, makes his remarks that: “It is evident that Daulatshah has not written historical facts carefully in his book. He has accepted all sorts of traditions, right or wrong, owing to which several errors have crept into his work.” The British orientalist Edward G. Browne writes in A Literary History of Persia (3:436) that “This is an entertaining but inaccurate work, containing a good selection of historical errors.” 

It is also curious that Daulatshah quoted another tradition of parentage of Shams Tabriz that, “Some people say that he was originally a native of Khorasan and belonged to the town of Bazar. His father had settled in Tabriz for the purpose of doing business in cloth.” It is probable that Shams Tabriz was the son of Muhammad bin Ali bin Malikad according to Aflaki and Jami, and he seems to be a native of Khorasan as per another tradition cited by Daulatshah.

Nurullah Shustari (d. 1610) in his Majalis al-Mominin (6:291) states that Shams Tabriz descended from “Ismaili headman” (da’iyani Ismailiyya budand). His father had settled in Tabriz, and was a cloth merchant. Shams Tabriz was indeed an Ismaili like his father. Imam Sultan Mahomed Shah delivered a historical speech on 20th July, 1945 at Dar es Salam during the Ismaili Mission Conference in which he said, “Jalaluddin Rumi himself was not an Ismaili, but a murid (disciple) of an Ismaili (Shams Tabriz)”. It clearly means that Shams Tabriz was the master of Jalaluddin Rumi.

There is also a reason to believe that Jalaluddin Rumi must have known both Shams Tabriz and Imam Shamsuddin Muhammad, but did not describe that palpably in his Diwan. He however addresses Shams as the heir of the Prophet (verse no. 2473) and compares him to Ali (verse no. 1944), which seems to have been referred only to the Imam. 

Rumi has repeatedly said in his Mathnawi and Diwan that it was not him but Shams talking through him. That is why he did not use his name in any of the verses out of more than 50,000 verses that he left behind. Rumi ends most of his poems with the name of Shams of Tabriz.

Finally, I may humbly note that the above write-up is not conclusive; it still needs further research.

Date posted: September 23, 2020.
Last updated: September 25, 2020 (typo, wrong birthdate was given for Shams Tabriz).

___________________________

Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

About the author: Mumtaz Ali Tajddin S. Ali is a prolific writer based in Pakistan. He majored in Islamic history with a Masters degree. Over the past several decades, he has contributed numerous articles to Ismaili literary journals, and is also the author of several books including 101-Ismailis Heroes, Encyclopaedia of Ismailism, and Ismaili Pirs,  Sayeds, Vakils of South Asian Region. Most recently his Brief History of Ismaili Imams was serialized on the website Ismaili Digest. Within Ismaili institutions, he has served as a religious education teacher at the Karachi Religious Centre in Kharadar as well as an Honorary Lecturer/Waezeen with the Ismaili Tariqah and Religious Education Board (ITREB) for Pakistan. In addition, he is a curator of Hashoo Museum in Karachi which is dedicated to memorabilia from recent Ismaili history. For his long and devoted services to the Ismaili community, he has been bestowed with the titles of Huzur Mukhi (1986), Alijah (1996) and Rai (2010) by Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan.

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2 thoughts on “The Three Shams in Ismaili History: Imam Shamsuddin, Pir Shams and Shams Tabriz

  1. As always writings of Mumtaz Ali Tajdin are always informative and presents a great learning opportunity. Keep up the good work!
    PI

  2. Malik

    I take this opportunity to acknowledge Mumtaz Tajddin for preparing this piece on the 3 Shams in Ismaili History. I also would like to thank you for the time you devote towards this website and your other 2 websites. Please keep up the good work and may Mawlana Hazar Imam bless you with good health, spiritual and material happiness as well as bless you and your family with lot of Barakah.

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