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Khayrkhah Harati: Nizari Ismaili da‘i, author, and poet (15th-16th CE centuries)

Khayrkhah Harati, Muhammad Reza b. Sultan Husayn Ghuriani, Nizari Ismaili da‘iinfo-icon, author, and poet. He was born into a prominent Nizari Ismaili family in Ghurian near Harat, in present day western Afghanistan, in the final decades of the 15th century CE and died not long after 960 AH/1553 CE, the latest date cited in his writings. Khayrkhah thus lived during the first century of the so-called Anjudan revival in Nizari Ismaili dawa activities after the collapse of the Nizari centres of power in Persia in 654 AH/1256 CE.

By the middle of the 15th century CE, the Nizari Imams had established themselves in the village of Anjudan, near Mahallat, initiating the Anjudan revival in Nizari Ismailism that lasted for about two centuries. During this period, the Nizari Imams and their followers continued to disguise themselves under the mantle of Sufisminfo-icon. But, with the adoption of Twelver Shi‘isminfo-icon as the official religion of the Safavid realm, the Nizarisinfo-icon and other Shi‘i communities in Persia could now reduce the extent of their taqiyyainfo-icon (precautionary dissimulation of one’s faith) practices.

The Anjudan period also witnessed a renaissance in literary activities in the Persian Nizari community. Doctrinal works now began to be composed for the first time in the post-Alamutinfo-icon Persian Nizari Ismaili community. Khayrkhah Harati may be considered as one of the most important Nizari literary figures of the early Anjudan period in Persia, second in significance only to Abu Ishaq Quhistani (d. after 904 AH/1498 CE). Khayrkhah’s few extant works are extremely valuable for understanding the Anjudan revival in post-Alamut Nizari Ismailism and the contemporary Nizari doctrines, which were essentially rooted in the Nizari teachings of the late Alamut times, when Khwaja Nasir al-Dininfo-icon Tusi lived in the Nizari fortress communities of Persia and synthesised the Nizari doctrines in the Rawza-yi Taslim attributed to him (see editor’s Preface, pp. xv-xvi).

In the autobiographical part of his Risala (pp. 35 ff.), Khayrkhah relates how his father, Khwaja Sultan Husayn, a da‘i in the region of Harat, was murdered by brigands whilst on a journey to visit the Nizari Imaminfo-icon at Anjudan. Subsequently, the contemporary Nizari Imam, probably Mustansir bi Allah III (d. 904 AH/1498 CE), better known under his Sufi name of Shah Gharib, apparently designated Khayrkhah himself, then only nineteen years of age, to the position of the chief da‘i or hujjainfo-icon, then more commonly called pirinfo-icon, of Khurasaninfo-icon and Badakhshan. In that capacity, the youthful Khayrkhah made the hazardous journey to Anjudan to see the Nizari Imam of the time. Khayrkhah has preserved unique details in his Risala on how the Imam managed the affairs of the Nizari da‘wainfo-icon and da‘is from his secret headquarters in Anjudan. In his Risala, Khayrkhah also expounds his own views on the status and high attributes of the rank of pir in the Nizari da‘wa hierarchy.

Khayrkhah was a prolific writer (see Ivanow, pp. 142-44; Poonawala, pp. 276-77; Daftary, 2004, pp. 123-24), and his works, all written in Persian, have been preserved mainly by the Nizari Ismaili communities of Badakhshan (now divided between Afghanistan and Tajikistan), as well as Hunza and other northern areas of Pakistan. Khayrkhah also composed poetry under the pen-name (takhallus) of Gharibi, after the epithet of the contemporary Nizari Imam. His works include Fasl dar Bayan-i Shinakht-i Imam (1922, pp. 3-49), which was composed around 1545 CE. This work contains a summary of the author’s views on the Imamateinfo-icon and other contemporary Nizari teachings. Khayrkhah’s other writings include the Risala, his Qita‘at, and selections of his poetry, all edited and published by Wladimir Ivanow in a collection entitled Tasnifat-i Khayrkhah (pp. 1- 75, 77-111, 113-32, respectively). As argued by Ivanow (1963, pp. 142-43), Khayrkhah also produced a rescension of Abu Ishaq Quhistani’s Haft Babinfo-icon (pp. 3-8) under the title of Kalaminfo-icon-i Pir, attributing it to the Ismaili poet Nasir-i Khusraw (d. after 462 AH/1070 CE) in order to enhance its popularity within the Nizari communities of Afghanistan and Central Asia.



Risala-yi Khayrkhah Harati, lithographed ed. in part by Sayyed Monir Badakhshani as Kitab-i Khayrkhah muwahhid wahdat, Bombay, 1333/1915; repr. in idem, Tasnifat, Kalam-i Pir, ed and tr. Wladimir Ivanow as Kalam-i Pir: A Treatise on Ismaili Doctrine, Also Called Haft Babi Shah Sayyidinfo-icon Nasir, Bombay, 1935 (a rescension of Abu Ishaq Quhistani’s Haft Bab).

Fasl dar Bayan-i Shinakht-i Imam, ed. and tr. Wladimir Ivanow in his “Ismailitica,” in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 8, 1922, pp. 1-76; 2nd ed., Leiden, 1949; tr. Wladimir Ivanow as On the Recognition of the Imam, Ismaili Society Series B, no. 4, Bombay, 1947.

Tasnifat-i Khayrkhah Harati, ed. Wladimir Ivanow, Ismaili Society Series A, no. 13, Tehran, 1961 (contains Risala, Qita‘at, and poems).


Abu Ishaq Quhistani’s Haft Bab, ed. and tr. Wladimir Ivanow, Bombay, 1959.

Andrey E. Bertel’s and Mamadvafo Bakoev, Alfavitnyi Katalog Rukopisei, Obnaruzhennykh v Gorno-Badakhshanskoi Avtonomnoi Oblasti Iksepeditsiei 1959-1963 gg. (Alphabetic catalogue of manuscripts found by 1959-1963 Expedition in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region), ed. Bobodzhon G. Gafurov and A. M. Mirzoev, Moscow, 1967, pp. 73, 104; tr. Qodrat Beg Ilchi and Sayyed Anwarshah Komarof as Fihrist-i Nuskhaha-yi Khatti-i Mawjud dar Wilayat-i Badakhshan-i Tajikistan, Quminfo-icon, 1997.

Farhad Daftary, The Isma‘ilis: Their History and Doctrines, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 439, 469-71, 476-77, 481.

_ _, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliography of Sources and Studies, London, 2004, pp. 123-24.

Wladimir Ivanow, Ismaili Literature: A Bibliographical Survey, Tehran, 1963.

Ismail K. Poonawala, Biobibliography of Isma‘ili Literature, Malibu, Calif., 1977, pp. 270, 275- 77.

Nasir al-Din Tusi (attributed), Rawza-yi Taslim, ed. and tr. Sayyed Jalal Badakhchani as Paradise of Submission: a Medieval Treatise on Ismaili Thought, London, 2005.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, April 2009, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/.

Khayrkhah Harati, Muhammad Reza b. Sultan Husayn Ghuriani, Nizari Ismaili ...