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Hasaniya’s Treatise: Shi’ism, Popular Narrative, and Public Performance in the Early Safavid Period - Rosemary Stanfield-Johnson, University of Minnesota, Duluth


Date: 05/01/2012

Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

Location: 1210 Heller Hall

Cost: Free and open to the public


Rosemary Stanfield-Johnson is a professor of Religious History in the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Professor Stanfield-Johnson’s research focus is late medieval and early modern Iranian history, Shi‘i political and popular culture, and popular sectarian literature. Her publications include “The Tabarra’iyan and the Early Safavids” (2004), “Sunni Survival in Safavid Iran: Anti-Sunni Activities during the Reign of Tahmasp I” (1994), “Yuzbashi-yi Kurd Bacheh and ‘Abd al-Mu’min Khan the Uzbek: A Tale of Revenge in the Dastan of Husayn Kurd” (2007), and “The Hyderabad Connection in the Dastan of Hoseyn Kord” (2004). She is currently working on a book on the theology, the politics, and the practice of public ritual in 16th century Iran.  

With the Safavid Revolution of 1502, Twelver Shi‘ism, for the first time in history, became the confession of a ruling house committed to its implementation in society as a whole. The Safavid concern for Twelver Shi‘i authority was thus felt in popular literature as well as in learned doctrinal tracts. Risala-yi Hasaniya (Hasaniya’s Treatise, or the Hasaniya) is a popular tale about a slave-girl named Hasaniya, or Husniya, who debates the Sunni scholars in the royal audience (majlis) of the (Sunni) Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809) and stuns them all with her expert knowledge of Shi‘ism. A certain Ibrahim Astarabadi claims to have brought the work from Damascus to Iran in 1551, translated it from Arabic into informal Persian, and presented it to Shah Tahmasp (r. 1524-1577). From Iran the story traveled eastward to India and Pakistan. That Astarabadi credits original authorship to the 12th century scholar Abu’l-Futuh al-Razi (d. after 525/1131), who wrote in Persian, and preferred to do so, leaves open the possibility that the original work was written not in Arabic but in Persian. As a translation, it would have been subject to substantial editing for a Safavid audience; as an “original” Persian work, it was set in Abbasid times (750-1258) for a reason.

This paper explores author/translator’s motives in producing the Hasaniya. It tentatively concludes that the he sought to discredit the Abbasids while familiarizing the listener with Twelver Shi‘i tenets. At the same time he strove to confirm the right of the Shi’i participation in the traditional art of public disputation from which they had been excluded under hostile Sunni governments. Additionally, a risala, defined as an epistle, letter, or monograph, calls for an educated audience to recite and publicly discuss it. The language of the Hasaniya, however, invites wider participation and suggests the Safavid concern for broad public appeal. The curious appearance of a female scholar raises questions about gender, status, and public visibility, also to be discussed in this paper.


  • Name: Center for Medieval Studies
  • E-mail: cmedst@umn.edu
  • Phone: 612-626-0805
  • Sponsored by: Medieval Studies


Parking is available at the 21st Avenue ramp and in the 19th Avenue ramp. Reciprocal contract parking is also available for those with contracts on the east bank or on the Saint Paul campus. 

More information: http://www.cmedst.umn.edu

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To request disability accommodations, please contact the Center for Medieval Studies.

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