Zeynalabdin Shirvani

Zeynalabdin Shirvani (Azeri: Zeynalabdin Şirvani) (16 August 1780, Shamakhy—1838, near Jeddah), also known as Tamkin, was an Azerbaijani geographer, philosopher and poet.

Early life

Shirvani was born to a family of a Muslim cleric Isgandar Shirvani in Shamakhy (then the capital of the Shirvan Khanate, now a city in Azerbaijan). In 1785 the family moved to Karbala (present-day Iraq) where Zeynalabdin Shirvani was admitted to a religious school and studied mostly Islamic subjects as well as Persian, Arabic and Turkic languages (Azerbaijani Turkic, Anatolian Turkish and Turkmen). In 1796, he moved to Baghdad where he spent a year studying geography, literature, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and mathematics. At the age of 17, he went on his first journey. By the end of his life he will have travelled over 60,000 kilometres within 37 years.


Zeynalabdin Shirvani had keen interest in exploring Asia and almost never visited Europe. He was attached to his homeland and turned down many offers of local lords who were fascinated by his erudition and wanted him to settle on their lands (in Egypt, Turkey, etc.).

During his first journey, Shirvani visited what is now Azerbaijan,[1] Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

His second journey included Iran, Oman, Yemen, Ethiopia, Sudan (he is considered the last Eurasian to visit the independent Kingdom of Darfur in 1820), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Levant, and Turkey.

Finally, on his third journey he travelled to Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Iraq.

In between those journeys, Shirvani also went on several small trips within Iran and Azerbaijan. He wrote reflections on all of his travels in three main works[2] (all of them in Persian):

Philosophical & Other Works

As well as his famous travel works, Shirvani also composed the Kashf ul-Maarif (The Discovery of Enlightenment), a rather philosophical piece of writing. It consists of Shirvani's biography in the preface, his meetings with famous scholars, and their beliefs and theories. The only copy of the book that is known to have survived to our era was discovered by Azerbaijani historian Agamir Guliyev in Kabul in 1973. The book was never published and the manuscript remained at Guliyev's private library.

Some scholars believe that Shirvani wrote a biographical reflection on the great sufi poet Rumi under the pen name Rahmat Ali Shah. The work was not published during Shirvani's lifetime but was later used in the introduction of an 1895 Bombay edition of the Masnavi.[3]

It is important to note that Shirvani warned readers that inaccurate statements might have been included in his works as he was often persecuted by Islamic feudals who regarded his books as a "threat to the religion". In one case, a study on which he had been working for 25 years was stolen from him and burned by Muhammad Qasim of Gumsha. It took Shirvani a long time to partially restore the lost data.


Shirvani got married in Shiraz in the early 1820s. He had two sons one of whom died early and the other, Husamaddin Ali, followed his fathers footsteps and also became a geographer.

In 1838, Shirvani planned a pilgrimage to Mecca but died of an unknown disease on a ship near Jeddah (present-day Saudi Arabia), where he was buried.


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