Ihya-al-Mulook and the History of Seistan


Abdul Hai Habibi


Seistan was an important and developed region of the country. It was named Haitumanat in Avesta because that was the old name of the Helmand river. In the old writings related to Darius its name was Zaranka. The name Zarang and its Arabic version Zaranj, are from the same root. During the second century CE, when the nomadic Saka people came here and captured Zarang, they called it Sakistan, and the names Sajistan and Seistan are later forms of the word.

Avesta and other Pahlavi books show that this land was the nurturing ground for a large number of braves and kings and according to Vendidad Zoroaster is said to have taken refuge in the court of Gashtasap and spread his religion from this region. Other famous men and braves were born in this land too, among whom we know Rustam and Zaal, whose fables are famous until this day.

When Seistan was captured during the early part of the first Islamic century, we see that beside its old culture, Islamic traditions also spread in the region and for the next six centuries Seistan was a developed and modern city until the forays of the Mongols and the armies of Genghis Khan and his followers. The second independent Islamic government was started here by Yaqub Lyce, resulting in the nurturing of many politicians, military leaders and scholars.

Arabs changed the name of Seistan to Sajistan and the famous cities of this region were Zaranj, Bost, Farah, Neya, Taaq, Dazq, Auwq, Khashm and Dawar. Khorasani culture of the Islamic period was preserved here and for the first time Dari literature also began to grow here. It was during this time that the former kingdom of the Ratbels of Zabul came to an end and Yaqub managed to conquer all of Zabulistan, Kabul, as far as Gardez and attached the northern areas of the Hindukush, all the way to Balkh, with his capital of Zaranj.

It is likely that several books may have been written about its history and eminent leaders of Seistan but we only know about these books:

1. Abu Abdullah, who was a strong follower of narrations wrote Tarekh-e Seistan (History of Seistan) in Arabic which probably contained the names and description of the life of narrators of Seistan. This book has been lost but its hand-written manuscript was present until 1618 CE.

2. During the time of Shah Qutbuddin Ali, Abu Mohammad Seistani, translated the Arabic Tarekh-e Seistan into Dari. This book is also lost.

3. Tarekh-e Seistan, authored by Amir Mohammad Mubarez, a king of the Safavi family, wrote a detailed history of Seistan until the year 1238 CE. This book also does not exist but a copy of the book was present until 1618 CE.

4. Mahmud Yusuf Asfahani’s Tarekh-e Seistan which has also been lost but a copy existed until 1618 CE. It is believed the book was written around 1398 CE.

5. Tarekh-e Seistan of Mawlana Shamlsuddin Mohammad Mawali, which is lost now.

6. Seistan, which was published by the late poet Bahar, whose author is unknown. This book was published in Tehran in 1936 CE from a hand-written manuscript with a scholarly appendix by Bahar. It is an excellent example of the Dari language. Another copy of the book has not been discovered as yet.

The chieftains of Seistan remained in power for eight centuries until the time of Yaqub Lyce around 864 CE, but the period of independence ended in 1003 CE when Sultan Mahmud besieged Khalf bin Ahmad, the learned king of Seistan in the Taaq Fort, and exiled him to Jouzjan. He was a scholarly king, who has been praised by many poets and he wrote the interpretation of the Holy Quran in a hundred volumes. Badi-al-Zaman Hamdani, a resident of Herat, a famous writer and poet of Arabic, in his praise states: “I went to the court of this eminent person, who has pardoned many, who looks after his people. This is because of the benevolence of Khalf bin Ahmad showers upon the people.”

After Khalf, the administration of Seistan remained among members of this family but they lived under the Ghaznavi, Ghori and Herati rulers as a united front in Afghanistan despite the fact that the cities of Seistan had been ruined in the barbaric forays of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. Malek Shah Husain son of Malik Ghiasuddin was born in 1570 CE in this family. He was a scholarly historian, traveler, politician and military genius. During his lifetime he traveled 15 times and saw the whole of Khorasan from Kandahar to Balkh, Merv and Neshapur.

Shah Hussain was in possession of the mentioned books and has read numerous other books of history. In 1619 CE he wrote a book with the title of Ihya-al-Mulook in Farah which contains an introduction, three chapters and an end note. He has written about historical events pertaining to Seistan in detail in this book. The endnote contains his eye-witness accounts regarding Seistan.

He spent 15 years and nine months of his life traveling and covered 7750 farsangs (about 33,000 kms). He went from Sind to Arabia and conducted the pilgrimage by way of Shiraz, Basria and Najd. During that time Seistan had administrative links with Kandahar and he stayed there for 13 months between 1596 to 1599 CE.

Malik Shah Husain Seistani has authored other books also. One of his book, by the name of Mehr wa Wafa, was converted to poetry by Sheikh Faizi in 1605 CE. Tuhfa-al-Haramein is another book which contains his travelogue of pilgrimage to Arabia in 1698 CE. He has also written a memoir of poets entitled Khair-al-Bayan, which he completed in 1627 CE.

This book is important in Afghan history because Shah Husain gathered material from books which are missing and not available anymore, such inferences are extremely valuable which makes this book even more important.

The author’s own observations are also very useful as it provides us a glimpse of the social and spiritual life of the people and beliefs of society at the time. The author provides the names of different countries, chieftains, clerks, apostles, companions, accountants, book-makers, weapon-makers, chiefs of administration, heads of tribes, lords, jugglers, phantom-believers, poetry-reciters, watchmen, conjurers, story-tellers, elders, wrestlers, public-singers, rope dancers, employers and workers. From this we know which social classes were present in society at that time.

Beside being a prolific writer he was also a brave warrior. He names a number of leaders whom he encountered in different cities he visited and provides us the status of courts and the politics underway within the courts and the life of the people, their anxiety, insecurity and their engagement in bloodshed. The book is considered as an important reference in the writing of the history of Afghanistan, especially those episodes to which the author was an eye witness. He provides us details about the state of affairs in the courts of the Timurids in Herat, the Safavids and the Mughal rulers of India as conquerors all over Afghanistan.

The book also has literary and geographical value. The author provides the names of places he has visited, issues which are of value in geographical history of the country and provides us a useful account of Seistan, the Helmand Valley, Bost, Zamindawar, Kandahar, Herat, Ghor, Khorasan and many other places, which sheds light on the geographical features of these places.

He talks about the chieftains of Seistan as though someone has provided inside information from the households of these leaders. His book seems to be harmonious with the published Tarekh-e Seistan of Menhaj Seraj, Habib-al-Sayr and other such books of history of the time. These books provide us information about beginning and end of the Safavid family in Seistan and furnishes a beneficial account of the civilization of Seistan several centuries ago.

The forays of Genghis and Tamerlane turned certain cities like Bamiyan, Baghshur, Taloqan and Merv to rubble and we can see their ruins up to this day. From this book we learn that Seistan was not totally destroyed and until the 17th century CE there was an active civilization in some parts of the region.

The author was also a poet and in Tuhfa-al-Haramein he describes the ocean in these words:

      It was not a sea but a world full of waves,

      Sometimes calm and at other times stormy.


      A fathomless sea without a shore

      Where you lose your direction.

      It was not a ship but a hell-hole

      With one coffin and hundreds of dead.


He describes the Hushang pass as such:

      I saw a mountain high

      Almost reaching the sky.

      To climb the mountain’s flume

      Will bring nothing but gloom.

From the description of Khair-al-Bayan we know that Malik Shah Husain was alive in the year 1627 CE, but we do not have any information about the date of his death.[1]




[1]Kabul Magazine, Vol. 11, 1975.