The Gawhar Shad Waqf Deed: Public Works and the Commonweal.

Author:Mahendrarajah, Shivan


Gawhar Shad, the wife of Shah Rukh b. Temur (r. 807-50/1405-47), is remembered favorably in the Persian world even if the specifics about her contributions to Persian and Islamic cultures are hazy. Bazaars, colleges, roads, and squares are named in her honor, not just in Herat and Mashhad (as expected), but also in Kabul and Tehran. In addition to her public works, she was mother to the sultan Ulugh Beg (r. 850-53/1447-49), renowned for his scholarship in the sciences; Baysunghur, an exceptionally talented artist; and Muhammad Juki, another patron of the Islamic arts. Gawhar Shad's execution at age 81--an act that besmirched a Timurid sultan's name--was an ignoble finale to an exemplary life of public service.

This article examines the charitable trust deed and endowments (mawqufat) of 829/1426 of the Gawhar Shad Mosque, located inside the Imam Riza shrine in Mashhad, Iran, and some of the socioeconomic implications of its terms and obligations. The use of waqf as an instrument to advance social and economic policies has been demonstrated by Leonor Fernandes, (1) Robert McChesney, (2) Maria Subtelny, (3) and Christoph Werner. (4) Examples of socioeconomic policies supported by waqfs include the development of agricultural estates, the increase in agricultural production, and the maintenance of hydrological systems and mills. An integral aspect of the Gawhar Shad deed is the Sunni-Shi'i dimension: Gawhar Shad, the benefactress (waqifa), "junior" spouse to a staunchly Sunni sultan, conveyed to mortmain agricultural estates that were to generate revenue streams (in perpetuity) for the Gawhar Shad Mosque and the Shi'i shrine of Imam Riza. In addition to the Imam Riza complex, the indubitably Sunni shrine of Ahmad-i Jam at Turbat-i Jam (Iran) is a beneficiary. What does Gawhar Shad's display of munificence reveal about the state of Sunni-Shi'i relations in the Timurid period?

The waqf deed (Ar. waqfiyya; Pers. waqfnama) translated and analyzed below was edited by Mehdi Sayyidi with the support of the office of charitable endowments for the province of Khurasan-i Rizawl in the Islamic Republic of Iran. (5) It is a "critical edition" based on the scrolls housed at the above office. Previously, scholars had relied on the extensively redacted excerpt published by Muhammad Hasan Khan (1884-86) (6) and on a recension by Aziz Allah AtaridI (1992). (7) Sayyidi is critical of these two editors for their methodological failures, including failure to account for textual variations, (8) and he attempts to rectify these deficiencies through recourse to the four surviving copies (discussed below). Nonetheless, critical editions--like translations-can deduct value from primary sources: the author's intent may become distorted, consciously or otherwise, by the interpretations, experiences, and biases of editors and translators.

Few Timurid-era waqfiyyas have survived in comparison to the rich corpus from the Mamluk period. (9) Following a brief account of Gawhar Shad's life--a fuller study, including her contributions to Islamic-Persian art and architecture and the social and economic impacts of her sundry acts of munificence, is overdue--and a discussion of the deed and its socioeconomic policy objectives, the Sayyidi edition has been reproduced here, with Sayyidi's diacritical and grammatical markers adopted with a few minor emendations. The edition is followed by a glossary, annotated translation, and commentary. A preliminary map of three endowed blocks in the province of Jam is included (see Map 2 and appendix).


Gawhar Shad was born ca. 780/1378f. to Ghiyath al-Din Tarkhan, an emir in Temur's (Tamerlane's) service, and married Shah Rukh ca. 795/1393. (10) Shah Rukh became the governor of Khurasan in 799/1396f. and later succeeded Temur (d. 807/1405) as sultan. Gawhar Shad's six brothers supported Shah Rukh in the succession struggles. The Tarkhans remained loyal and indispensable, serving Shah Rukh in the dlwan and army. (11) As the second wife, Gawhar Shad theoretically ranked lower than his first, but was nonetheless close (or, closer?) to Shah Rukh and intimately involved with his public works. She bore him three sons: Ulugh Beg (d. 853/1449), who ruled in Transoxiana, Baysunghur (d. 837/1434), and Muhammad Juki (d. 848/1444); and three daughters: Maryam Sultan, Qutlugh Tarkhan, and Sa'adat Sultan. (12)

Women of the Timurid royal family were prolific patrons of architecture and the arts. They commissioned mosques, madrasas, hospices (sg. khanaqah, ribat), caravanserais, and the like. (13) The quality of the buildings, however, was not always stellar. For example, Shah Rukh's first wife, Malikat Aqa, commissioned multiple building projects, three of them in Herat, (14) but by ca. 928/1521f. most were in ruins, partly due to neglect, (15) and partly due to the inferior construction not uncommon to the Timurid era. As miscellaneous Timurid royals and officials sponsored edifices hither and thither, quantity outpaced quality; senior royals and grand officials secured the best architects and craftsmen, virtually keeping on retainer architects from prominent architectural currents, such as the "Shirazi school." (16) Gawhar Shad's public works, though relatively few, were of superior quality. In Bernard O'Kane's estimation, she "was responsible for what were arguably the finest monuments of the Iranian world in the fifteenth century." (17)

Gawhar Shad's superb construction projects in Herat and Mashhad were due in part to her imagination and willingness to expend monies, and in part to the artistic vision of her architect, Qiwam al-DIn b. Zayn al-Din Shirazi (d. 841/1438). (18) He was responsible for, inter alia, designing the Sufi shrine of Abd Allah Ansari at Gazur Gah (Herat), (19) the Gawhar Shad Musalla complex outside Herat, (20) and the Gawhar Shad Mosque in Mashhad. (21) Her "Musalla" Complex is an ensemble of madrasa, mosque, and open prayer area (musalla), with four minarets standing about 120 feet high, and four portals (sg. iwan). In 1885, with the assent of Abd al-Rahman (r. 1880-1901), the "Iron Emir" of Afghanistan, the British Army destroyed the Gawhar Shad complex to provide clearer lines of fire for their artillery and to prevent the "advancing" Russian Army from obtaining cover. The Russians demurred (on this occasion). One of the demolishers, Major C. E. Yate, has described the beauty of the complex. (22) The mausoleum of Gawhar Shad, which holds her remains, those of her son, Baysunghur, and other Timurid royals, survived the rampage. (23) Only one minaret stands; three collapsed during the past century. The ruins of the Gawhar Shad complex hold, oddly enough, a destroyed Soviet tank.

The Gawhar Shad Mosque in Mashhad, an integral component of the shrine-complex of Imam Riza, has been extensively renovated and expanded by successive Iranian governments. (24) The original mosque (masjid-i jami') was erected in 821/1418 under the supervision of Baysunghur, a talented calligrapher. He designed the primary inscription for the man. (25) On 12 Shaman 821/14 September 1418, Gawhar Shad and Shah Rukh were in Mashhad on pilgrimage (ziyarat), for which reason Shah Rukh visited frequently. (26) The visit presumably involved an inauguration ceremony, although all that is said is that the Gawhar Shad Mosque was sponsored by Gawhar Shad. (27) The waqfiyya for her mosque was executed in mid-Rajab 829/ca. 23 May 1426.

Shah Rukh's death in 850/1447 set in motion a cycle of depositions, bloodshed, and devastation in Khurasan that lasted for years. Herat suffered several ephemeral rulers. The man who emerged on top was Sultan Abu Sa'id (r. 855-73/1451-69) of the house of Miranshah b. Temiir. In a dreadful bout of paranoia, and goaded by malicious tongues that she was conspiring against him, he commanded Gawhar Shad's death. She was executed on 9 Ramazan 861/31 July 1457. (28) Sultan Abu Sa'id was captured in battle in 873/1469 by Uzun Hasan (d. 882/1478), the chief of the Aq-Quyunlu Turkmen confederation of Iraq and western Persia. One of Gawhar Shad's grandsons was accorded the honor of executing him.


A waqf is the conveyance by a settlor (waqif) of property (amlak, asbab) to mortmain (in perpetuity) with the designation of its usufruct (manfa'a) to named beneficiaries. (29) The settlor memorializes the conveyance in a deed and describes in its mawqufat section the principal (asl) immobilized, assigning the usufruct to beneficiaries. The settlor designates, inter alia, the conditions (shurut; sg. shart) of the trust, the trustee (mutawalli), and the protocols of succession for trustees. The trustee could be the donor, and the donor's heirs the beneficiaries. Hanafi law, which predominated in Timurid Khurasan, was the most efficacious toward the establishment of waqfs, allowing for the conveyance of movable property, "including cash and income-producing instruments such as the [land grant, SM] soyurghal." (30)

In the Timurid period, the public waqf (waqf-i khayrl, waqf-i'amm), established for the benefit of a public institution (mosque, madrasa, soup kitchen), and the family (or private) waqf (waqf-i khass, waqf-i ahli, waqf-i awlad), (31) established for the benefit of the founder, were ubiquitous. Lines between the two types were not clear-cut: founders of public waqfs could designate their progeny as beneficiaries; founders of private waqfs could designate Islamic institutions as beneficiaries. During the Timurid period, mixed waqfs (waqf-i mushtarak), which had both public and private purposes, predominated.

Timurid waqfs were not inherently tax exempt. Abu Hanifa, the eponym of the prevailing legal school, explains: "The productive lands in our territory are never exempted from taxation. This taxation consists either of kharaj or of 'ushr." (32) Waqf lands, even if exempt from the higher kharaj tax, pay "at least 10 per cent ('ushr) of...

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