Shahrbānū (or Shehr Bano) (Persian: شهربانو) (Meaning: "Lady of the Land") is one of the wives of Husayn ibn Ali, (grandson of Muhammad and third Twelver Shī`a Imām) and the mother of Ali ibn Husayn (the fourth Twelver Shī`a Imām).[1][2][3] She has also been referred with other names[4] by different writers such as: Shaharbānawayh,[5] Shahzanān,[6] Salāma,[7] Salāfa,[8] Ghazāla,[9] Salama,[10] and Sādira.[11]

Shahrbānū was a Sassanid princess and daughter of Yazdegerd III the last Emperor of the Sassanid dynasty of Persia/Iran,.[12][13][14][15] Shī`a' scholars, interalia, discuss the poetic verses attributed to Ali ibn Husayn by Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali an Arab companion of `Ali who was still alive during the time of Ali ibn Husayn]] and affirmed that Shahrbanu was Sassanid princess and daughter of Yazdegerd III [16][17] According to Majority of Shia writers, she died shortly after giving birth to her son Ali ibn Hysayn [18][19] and buried in the graveyard of "Jannat ul Baqi" alongside other members of Muhammad's family, however, some Shia scholars relate the shrine at Ray to her. The eighth Twelver Shia Imam Ali ar-Ridha has also been quoted as saying, "(Shahrbānū) died during her confinement, and one of (Husayn's) slave-maid looked after him (Ali ibn Husayn). The people claimed that the slave-girl was his mother, while she was his retainer".[20] Shahrbanu is generally considered to be a fictitious figure by non-Shiite historians but is revered by Shia Muslims around the globe [21]

Pedigree of Shahar Banu

According to the Table of Nations one of the sons of Saam was Arphaxad or Arpachshad also known as Zo’ul Had Nabi Allah. The second generation of Shem was Sar Qus the son of Arphaxad (or Arfakhshad). Through his descendents her lineage is further traced to (i) Ku’Mars (ii) Siya Mak (iii) Hoshang (iv) Sayo Mars who was the father of (v) King Jamshed. The period of King Jamshed is traditionally assigned to be near-contemporaneous with the life of the Prophet Ibrahim/Abraham, making Abraham a sixth cousin of Jamshed through Salekh Zo'ul Battee the brother of Sur Qus. Sha-Poor Dhul’al Kinaf (died ca 224 AD[22]) is the 22nd generation after Shem and his son Ardeshir I, the founder of Sasanian Empire in 241 CE, was in the 23rd generation after Shem. His fourth descendant was Yazdegard and his sixth descendant in generation (tenth to Sha-Poor Dhul’al Kinaf) was Yazdegerd III, died in 652/53 ca. With this pedigree Shahar Bano is placed at serial number 33 in descendant to King Jamshed and fortieth in Pedigree to Sa’am Bin Noah[23][24] The genealogy of Bahá'u'lláh also provides detail about Shahrbanu[25]

Shahbanu and Shahar Banu

The name Shahbanu was not new in Sassanid Dynasty and can be traced first in the period of Ist Sassanian King and also a similar name as wife of King Khosrow I.[26] The name of one of daughters of last Sassanid king is, however, regarded as Shahar Banu either as her name or title, after minor substitution in her original name.

Parents and siblings

Al-Masudi mentions names of two sons to Yazdagard-III and three daughters, namely Adrag, Shahar Banu and Mardawand, respectively.[27] Col. James Tod, writer of the Ancient History of Rajasthan "The Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan" writes that in ancient time Rajpootana (Rajasthan) was included as vassal kingdom in the Sassanid Empire and there were family relations between Persian and Rahjistan. He wrote further that one of Yazdegard's daughter Mah Bano was wife to Chundar Bhan who was Rana of Audhaypur (king of Audhaypur), popularly known as Chundar Bhoga. This book reveals that King Yazdegard-III had three daughters and Firoze as son, and Mahmud Ghazni was 7th in descendants to Feroze.[28] One of his sisters was the wife of the Emperor of China.[29]

Al-Tabri and Ibn Khaldun inferred marital engagement of Yazdegard-III with a woman at Merv in addition to previous marriage(s).[30][31] Washington Irving in his book "Mahomet and His Successors" cited not only wives but also concubines and their female attendants during hideout.[32]

Surrender of Gorgan and participation by Husnain

Upon hearing the defeat in Nihawand, Yazdegard sought refuge in one province after another until at last he along with most of Persian nobilities fled further inland to the northern province of Khorasan till his death.[33][34] However, issuance of coins in his name until 650 AD is on record in British Museum.[35]

In the period of third Rashidun Caliphate the Muslim Army was composed of groups from clans and tribes settled in the newly established garrison town Kufa. The leader of each tribe led their clan as commander or chief in the battle. Al-Tabri gave an account for participation by sons of Ali Ibn Abi Talib and Umar al-Khitab in the campaign launched for Khorasan in the end of 30 AH.[30] Persian historian Firishta in his well known book[36] Tarikh-i Firishta wrote that the dwellers of Gorgan (also called as Jurjan) surrendered their territory peacefully to Husnain (Hassan Ibn Ali and his brother Hussain) during 30/31 Hijra ( ca 652/53 AD) and confessed Islam. The campaign in Khorasan, however, was ended with conquest of Balkh in 654 AD. According to John Norman Hollister, Hazara located near Bulkh. 90% members of Hazara tribe follow shia faith since adoption of Islam. It is believed that family of Yazdegard was in hide either in Badakhshan or Hirat under protection of King of Kabul.

Hazara Tribe and their relation to Gorgon

Shia sources, quote a historic name of “Shansab Ibn Hareeq”[37][38] King of Ghor who during the caliphate of Ali along with a large delegation came to the governor of Imam Ali in Iran inquiring about Islam. The governor referred him to meet Imam Ali in Kufa. In Kufa Shansab heard the sermons of Imam Ali and met with his two sons, Al-Hassan and Al-Hussain. Imam Ali presented to Shansab a flag of Prophet that he carried when he entered Mecca. Upon his return to his homeland he preached Islam to his people, in accordance with preaching he received from Imam Ali, and the entire Hazara tribe embraced Shia Islam as their faith.[39][40]

Capture of daughters of Yazdegard-III

Differing reports in history state that Shahrbānū was brought to Madinah as a slave either during the caliphate of `Umar,[41] `Uthmān,[42] or `Ali.[43] Narrations of Shahrbānū have also been reported in Sunni sources[44][45] including, "Bab 27" of Qabusnama, where Salmān the Persian is recounted to have been involved in the selection of Husayn by Shahrbānū. Study of historical events and their comparison with date of births, socio status and the regional position of personalities under reference give an evaluation for the authenticity of event. Referring to a tradition from Kitab al-Kafi book al-Hujjat (Chapter-10), most of the writers gave an interesting account for capture of Bibi Shahar Banu in the Caliphate of Umar al-Khitab. But scholars in terms of principles of “Ilm-ur-Rajjal (Biographical evaluation )” reject the reporters of that tradition, namely (i) Ibrahim bin Ishaq al-Ahmar (ii) Abdul Rahman bin Abdullah Khiza’ee (iii) Umroo bin Shammar.[46] Additionally Allama Majlisi in his monumental work "Mirat al Uqool fi Shara al Kaafi" which is a commentary on authenticity for good and weak hadiths, had turned down the acceptance of tradition by said reporters.

Refutation of Capture by Allama Shibli Nomani

Shibli Nomani, a prominent Sunni Muslim Scholar, in his well appreciated book "Al-Farooq (Umar the Great)" had cross examined the capture reference provided by Al-Zamakhshari and Ibn Khallikan and refuted the capture of Bibi Shahr Banu in caliphate of Umar al-Khitab.[47]

Capture after 644 AD

Her capture during caliphate of Usman is referred through a tradition from Bihar-ul-Anwar by its narrators (i) Muhammad Bin Yahya us-Soolee, and (ii) Aun bin Muhammad al-Kindi. The narrators of this tradition had also been marked as unreliable.[48]

Shia View

Based on comparisons and the study of hadith, Shī`a's believe that the daughters of Yazdigird III were captured by Horayth ibn Jābir the then governor of eastern provinces during the caliphate of Ali.[49][50] Shia scholars also state Marriage of one sister of Shahrbanu with Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr[51] stating further that Ali foretold the birth of the next Shī`a Imām and advised his son Husayn: "Treat this lady kindly, for she will bear you the best of the people of the Earth after you. She is the mother of the trustees (of authority), the pure progeny".[52][53]

Zoroastrian source

Capture of Shahrbanu and her marriage in the family of Prophet Muhammad, has also been cited by Dr. Sam Kerr, well known Zoroastrian writer and founder of Zoroastrian Educational Institute, Sydney, Australia [54] in his researched document “The Sassanian Dynasty (Historical Perspective), 2002.[55]

Al-Masudi’s reference and Jewish sources

Jewish sources unveil the first exilarch Bostanai during Arab period who established a new house of exilarchs from the children of his Jewish wife and his other wife.[56][57][58] With reference to Sassanid princess Izdundad, Jewish encyclopedia suggested that marriage of Bostanai with daughter of Persian king (called "Dara" in "Ma'aseh Bet David," or "Azdad-war" (Nöldeke, "Isdundad") could have been taken place during Caliph Ali.[59] There is no criticism amongst Shia Muslims over the name of "Shahrbanu" being the mother of Ali Ibn Hussain as provided by the Al-Masudi in his history compilation.

Shireen, the maid of Shehrbano

The printing press was introduced to the West in the Holy Roman Empire by Johannes Gutenberg, around 1440 AD. Prior to book publishing there were only manuscripts and inaccessible to people at large. Thus dependency over oral communications was the customs of the Globe. Dwight M. Donaldson while writing Preface to his book “The Shi’ite Religion” quotes statement by Browne that “we still possess no comprehensive and authoritative statement of Shi’a doctrine in any European language” and further writes that the primary sources for the study of both the Sunnite and the Shi'ite traditions are in Arabic, along with extensive use from Persian books.[60]

In Shia traditions it is repeatedly traceable that Shahar Banu arrived in Madina with a number of slave maids, most of them were freed and the last most beautiful slave girl named “Shireen” was freed after birth of Imam Zain-ul-Abideen. In Shia books it is described that one day Hussain Ibn Ali in the presence of Shahar Banu randomly saw the Shireen. Upon seeing her, Imam Hussain told his wife “Shahar Banu your maid is very beautiful”. Hearing that she thought Hussain liked her maid, so Shahar Banu with precious clothes and ornaments presented the Shireen in honor of her husband with the declaration that “I free the Shireen and gift you in my love and your likeness. Hussain comprehended the doubt of Shahar Banu and pointed out that I need no woman in presence of wife like you, and asked further that “you had freed many maids but this one received a very special treatment. She explained to her husband that previously freed maids were freed accordingly to my will and choice but Shireen is being freed by the son of Prophet Muhammad.

Muslim pilgrims to the Shrine of Imam Hussein, April 1943 (This was Ascalon, Present Day Israel)

Later Shireen stayed with the family of Hussain and looked after the suckling child Ali Ibn al-Hussain until her marriage with Zarreer Ascaloni, a richman from Kufa. At time of her departure from her Master’s house, she got an assurance from Hussain Ibn Ali for visit and stay with her at her place in Ascalon. After event of Karbala, the family of Ahle Bayt while returning to Madina from court of Yazid I, stayed in front of mountain Mamura in Ascalon where home of Shireen was situated. Besides, recording in books this event of visit and hospitality served to Ahle Bayt by Shireen has immensely been expressed poetically by Mirza Dabeer and Anees in addition to narration of this tradition in Majalis since the time of Amir Khusrow[61][62][63] and Syed Muhammad Gaisu Daraaz a grandson in 7th generation of Imam Hadi born in 1120 AD.[64]

Ascalon and Head of Hussain

It is also inferred in the tradition that Zareer was Chief of Ascalon, a territory of Damascus during 7th and 8th Century. Ibn Khalikan points out that it was in Ascalon that the head of Husain was interred. Ibn Batuta remarks that from Jerusalem I paid a visit to Ascalon which was in ruins[60]

Relation to Sindh

Mirza Imam Ali Baig Afsar, Ph.D in Sindhi in his book “Sindh Jee Azadari” with its translation into Urdu language book “Sindh and Ahle Bayt” writes that Monarchs of Sindh maintained friendly relations with Sassanid Kings. During Rai dynasty Yazdegerd III visited the present day city Matali in District Badin, Sindh. There he married a Sindhi princess with whom Yazdegerd had two daughters, namely Shaharbanu and Ghayan Banu respectively.[65] Research scholar Dr. Zameer Akhtar Naqvi traces the name of first wife of Yazdagard-III and the mother of Shahar Banu, quoting that the city Matli situated in the Province of Sindh was first established for habitation by the last Sassanian King in honor of his wife. Her name was either Mah Talat or Maha Talat, a daughter of vassal king of Sindh in the Sassanid Empire.[66]

Among earlier Muslim historiographers, Ibn Qutaybah in his book “al-Ma‘ārif” republished in 1934 from Egypt at page-73 had written that one of wives of 4th Shia Imam (Jayda al-Sindhi) belonged to Sindh who was mother of Zaid Shaheed and daughter in law to Shahar Banu. Zayd Shaheed was grandson of Husain Ibn Ali, borne in 695 CE in Madina. This fact has also been inferred in book “Zayd Shaheed” by Abdul Razzak, published from Najaf.[39]


Shrine of Shahrbānū (A.S.) in Tehran, Iran

There are two versions regarding death of Shahr Banu. First relates to her death in between 655-659 AD, and a majority of Shia Muslims acknowledge her death after birth of Ali Zainul Abedeen as authentic. The second tradition relates to her participation in the event of Karbala. Thus her death is suggested after 681 AD.

As regard of her appearance and construction of her Shrine in Ray of that time Khurasan, a tradition in a 460 pages researched English book titled "The Princess Shehr Banoo[67]" compiled by a Shia Ismailee, traces a visit of couple that Hussain Ibn Ali with his wife Shahar Banu traveled towards Khurasan during caliphate of Ali Ibn Abe Talib. After giving birth to Zainul Abedeen, mother of this baby expired in the nearby of present-day "Ray".[68] Reference of that event and considering it with the archaeological observations[69] made by Mary Boyce in her article, the construction of shrine at Ray at later period can be considered as a clue to the construction of shrine which is widely discussed as a myth.[70][71]


Some scholars regard the Shahrbanu-Husayn legend as a myth. A thorough treatment of the matter can be found in the Encyclopædia Iranica:

"Neither do any of the scholars of ancient history that have chronicled, at times with great attention to detail, the invasion of Persia by Muslim troops and the fate of the last Sasanian sovereign and her family, establish any relationship between the wife of Imam Husayn and one of the daughters of Yazdgerd III.[72]

According to Mohammad Ali AmirMoezzi, the purpose of the tradition is to make Shia Islam appear authentically Iranian, helping to facilitate conversion from the native Zoroastrian religion. Shahrbanu gives a Shiite and Iranian legitimacy to her "sons" the Husanynid imams as well as dual nobility, Qurashi and Sassanian. A similar effort was made by Iranians to connect the mother of the twelfth imam to a Byzantine Emperor and disciple of the Apostle Simon, thereby linking the imamate to Shia Islam, Mandaeism, and Christianity.[73] One detail that casts doubt on the historicity of Shahrbanu is Yazdgerd's age at the time of the Muslim conquest of Persia. Yazdgerd III was 28 (or thirty) years old at the time of his death, fifteen years of which were spent in exile.[74] Subtracting this from his age at death, his age at the time of Fall of Ctesiphon amounts to 13 (or 15) years. Since the Arab conquest began on the second year following his ascension to the throne, he was only eleven years old and therefore he could not have had a daughter to be captured by the Arabs. Criticisms in the Sunni Muslim world point out that the narrators of the Shahrbanu legend are deemed unreliable and their narrations inauthentic.

Even amongst the Iranian scholars there has been some dispute as to the existence of a Persian princess by the title of Shahrbānū. The scholars Ali Shariati and Murtaza Mutahhari are amongst those who have declared that any narrations pertaining to Shahrbānū shrine are weak and false. Whereas Al-Mubarrad, al-Dinawari, Allameh Tabatabaei[75] and many others including Seminary of Qom website supporting the claim.[76][77][78]

Shiite and Sassanid relation

One of the grand-daughters of Yazdgerd-III was captured and presented to Caliph Walid Ibn Abd al-Malik, who married her and by this marriage his son Yazid Ibn Walid, born in 701 AD,[79] and perhaps also "Ebrāhim b. Walid" (Ṭabari, I, p. 2873 and II, pp. 1247 and 1874).[80] The excerpt from the book of “Murtada Mutahhari” (Translated from the Persian “Islam and Iran: A Historical Study of Mutual Services” by Dr. Wahid Akhtar) negates the censure of Iranians respect to Ahle Bayt due to Sassanid princess Shahrbanu by arguing that if Iranians held religious inclination towards Hussain Ibn Ali, for the same reason they should also pay respect to the Umayyad family, because “Shah Afrid” was the grand-daughters of Yazdgerd-III, wife of Caliph Walid Ibn Abd al-Malik, and mother of Yazid Ibn Walid, while majority of Iranian Muslims was following Sunni Islam during that period. With this history Ummayyad caliph also held royal relations to the Sassanid kings through biological carrier. Mutahhari also points out that Iranians do not express their love and respect for Yazid ibn al-Walid for him being an Iranian prince. He quotes that if adoption of Islam by Iranian was based on such national sentiments they should have more respect to Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, who was half Iranian through a woman of Shiraz, namely Marjanah. He further discloses that Iranian Muslim do not accord greater reverence to Shahrbanu over the mothers of other infallible Imams, mothers and wives of each infallible Imams are respectable, irrespective of their previous nationality, for instance Narjis Khatun, the mother of 12th Imam is respectable in like manner, in spite of knowing that she was a Roman slave girl.[81]


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Further reading

  1. S.H. Nasr and Tabatabaei. Shi'a Islam. 1979. SUNY Press. ISBN 0-87395-390-8
  2. Safavī, Rahīmzādah. Dāstān-i Shahrbānū. 1948. LCCN 76-244526
  3. Sayyid Āghā Mahdī Lakhnavī, Savānih Hayāt-i Hazrat Shahr Bāno. LCCN 81-930254. Reprint 1981.
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