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From wikishia
Coordinate36°45′29″N 66°53′53″E / 36.75806°N 66.89806°E / 36.75806; 66.89806
FeatureOne of the important cities of the Islamic world in the pre-Mongol period
Total population138,594 (2021)
LanguagePersian and Uzbek Turkish
ReligionHanafi (Sunni), Shi'a Ja'fari
Historical Information
Year of foundation500 BC
Shi'a backgroundSecond half of the first lunar century
Important eventsThe uprising of Yahya b. Zayd
Historical placesThe Nine Domes Mosque • The shrine and mosque of Khwaja Nasr Parsa • The shrine of Prophet Seth • The old cemetery
ShrinesThe shrine of Prophet Seth

Balkh (Arabic: بَلْخْ) is a historical region in the greater Khorasan and also one of the oldest provinces and cities of Afghanistan. The majority of Balkh's population is Sunni, and it has a Shiite minority as well.

The Barmakid family was among the most well-known families of this city, some of whom became viziers in the Abbasid era. The travel of Yahya b. Zayd to Balkh was the first Shiite event that occurred in the city.

Toward the end of the first/seventh century, Muslims conquered Balkh. Before the destruction of the city by Genghis Khan in the seventh/thirteenth century, Baklh was one of the four main parts of Khorasan from which many religious scholars and hadith transmitters hailed.

The number of hadith scholars who transmitted hadiths form the Imams (a) in Balkh was on the increase from the second to the fifth/eleventh century. These scholars include Muqatil b. Muqatil, Ziyad b. Sulayman, Umar b. Harun, Muzaffar b. Muhammad, Nasr b. Sabah, and Mutawakkil b. Harun (the narrator of al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya).

Balkh is considered the birthplace of Persian literature and Sufism.

Among the prominent figures of Balkh are Shahid Balkhi, Rashid al-Din Watwat, Ibrahim b. Adham, Shaqiq Balkhi, and Rumi.

Haji Piyada mosque, the oldest mosque in Afghanistan, is located in Balkh.

Geographical and Social Features

Balkh is in northern Afghanistan in the Balkh Province. It is surrounded by the cities of Dawlat Abad, Chimtal, Dihdadi, and Chahar Bolak. Balkh is located beside the Balkh river and about 20 km northwest of Mazar-i Sharif. The city's area is about 481 square kilometers, and it had an estimated population of 133,000 in 1398 sh/2019-20, which is mostly a combination of Uzbek and Tajik ethnic groups, with some Pashtun and Hazara presence. The majority of the people are Sunni, but there is a Shiite minority presence.

Before Islam

A grave attributed to Shayth (a) in Balkh

Balkh was inhabited since 500 BCE. Alexander the great conquered the city in 300 BCE. At least since his time, the city was protected by a great fortress. Balkh later became the capital of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and then the capital of Kushan and Hephthalite empires.

Before Islam, the city was a Buddhist center, where the famous temples of Nava Vihara were located. The Barmakids, a prominent family from Balkh who gained immense influence in the Abbasid court, were from the Buddhist elite of Balkh.

Balkh was also significant for Zoroastrianism and had five fire temples before Islam. Some scholars believe that Balkh was in fact the birthplace of Zoroaster.

In the book Hudud al-alam, Balkh is introduced as India's trade center.

Balkh had a greater area in the past. It was a major canter of Persian culture and civilization. The geographical location of Balkh added to its importance as it was a crossroad of trace roads such as silk road and the road of Indian trade.

In the Islamic Era

"Haji Piyada mosque", the oldest mosque in Balkh, Afghanistan

In 31 AH/651-2, Abd Allah b. Amir, the governor of Basra at the time of Uthman sent an army under the command of Ahlaf b. Qays to chase Yazdegerd III and to conquer Khorasan. Ahnaf and his army besieged Balkh, and the people of Balkh made peace with the Muslims in return for paying their annual tax to them and thus the Muslim army left Balkh.

During the caliphate of Imam Ali (a), the People of Balkh and some other regions refused to pay tax, but the Imam (a) commanded the governor of Khorasan to avoid taking military measures against them.

Muslims were not able to bring Balkh completely under their control until about the end of the first century AH, and the ongoing conflicts led to destruction of Balkh.

However, Asad b. Abd Allah, the governor of Khorasan moved his capital from Merv to Balkh in 110/728-9 a decision which improved the city's conditions.

From the Abbasids to the Mongols

Balkh was conquered by Abu Muslim's army in 130/747-8.

The Barmakid family entered the Abbasid court and gained increasing influence until 187/802-3 during the time of Harun al-Rashid, which was the zenith of their power.

In 287/900, Balkh was conquered by the Samanid ruler Isma'il. The historians and geographers of the Samanid period have written about Balkh flourishing in the Samanid period such that it came to be called Umm al-Bilad (the Mother of Cities) and Balkh al-Badiha (the Magnificent Balkh). In this period, Balkh became one of the four major cities of Khorasan beside Merv, Herat, and Bukhara.

Mosque and Grave of "Abu Nasr Parsa" (Poet and Mystic in 9th/15th century) in Balkh. Built in Timurid era

In 389/998-9, Balkh came under the rule of Mahmud of Ghazni, but in 397/1006-7 the city was plundered by Qara Khitai.

In 435/1043-4, Alp Arsalan, the Seljuk sultan, made Balkh his capital. At the time of Sultan Sanjar, the vizier Nizam al-Mulk founded a Nizamiyya madrasa in Balkh.

In 602/1205-6, the Khwarazmian rulers adder Balkh to their territories. A few years later, in 618/1221-2, Genghis Khan committed a vast genocide in Balkh and wreaked havoc on the city.

From the Mongol Period until Contemporary Times

Balkh was conquered in 771/1369-70 by Tamerlane and the city began to regain its prosperity.

Sultan Husayn Bayqara, the last Timurid sultan, was killed in 911/1505-6 in a battle with the Uzbeks and Balkh fell to the latter. In 1164/1750-1, Ahmad Shah Durrani conquered Balkh, but the city fell again to the Bukharayis. In 1257/1841-2, Balkh was added to the territories of Afghanistan.

In 1261/1844-5, and epidemic of Cholera exacted a high toll in Balkh, and in 1282/1865-6, Balkh lost its status as the capital of the province as it was replaced by Mazar-i Sharif. In 1313 sh/1934-5, Balkh began to be reconstructed and found urban infrastructure.

Shiites in Balkh

Currently, there is a Shiite minority in Balkh from Hazara, Sadat, Tajik, and Pashtun ethnic groups. There is historical and hadith-based evidence for the early presence of Shiites in Balkh and their relationship with Imam al-Sajjad (a) in the first/seventh century.

In the second/eighth century, with the increase of the Umayyad persecution, a number of Alids and Shiites sought refuge in various cities of Khorasan, including Balkh.

Among the significant events related to the Shiites of Balkh, the following can be mentioned:

The Presence of Yahya b. Zayd

The first event in Balkh that had Shiite significance was Yahya b. Zayd's seeking refuge in Balkh in 124/741-2 and his imprisonment by the ruler of the city. When Yahya was later released, some of the Balkhis bought Yahya's chains and made with them rings for themselves.

In the battle between the Yahya and Umayyad troops in Juzjan, a number of Balkhis went to his help. The martyrdom of Yahya promoted Pro-Shiite sentiment among the Balkhis, and many of them joined the Abbasid revolution as a result.

Preservation of al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya

When Yahya b. Zayd came to Khorasan, Mutawakkil b. Harun al-Balkhi visited him and informed him of the prophecy of Imam al-Sadiq (a) about his martyrdom. When Yahya heard that, he entrusted a codex to Mutawakkil so that he hands it over to Yahya's cousins Muhammad and Ibrahim, sons of Abd Allah al-Mahd. The codex was a collection of the prayers of Imam al-Sajjad (a) compiled by Zayd b. Ali, which later came to be known as al-Sahifa al-Sajjadiyya.

Al-Shaykh al-Saduq

The presence of al-Shaykh al-Saduq in Balkh and his compilation of the book Man la yahduruh al-faqih there in 368/979 is another event in Balkh that had Shiite significance. Al-Saduq heard hadiths from several traditionists in Balkh such as al-Husayn b. Muhammad al-Ashnani and Muhammad b. Sa'id al-Samarqandi. Then he met Muhammad b. al-Hasan, known as al-Sayyid Ni'ma, in Ilaq and the latter asked him to compile a book on Islamic law similar to the book Man la yahduruh al-tabib (He Who Does Not Have Access to a Physician) by Muhammad b. Zakariyya al-Razi on medicine. Al-Shaykh al-Saduq accepted this request and compiled a jurisprudential book entitled Man la yahduruh al-faqid (He Who Does Not Have Access to a Jurist).

Attacking the Mourners

On October 12, 2016, on the day of Ashura, there was an explosion in Balkh near a Shiite mosque in which a mourning ceremony was held, and as a result fourteen people were martyred and twenty-six were injured.

Scholar and Transmitters of Hadith in Balkh

The number of Shiite hadith transmitters was on the increase from the second to the fourth/tenth century. There were also Sunni and Sufi transmitters of hadith in Balkh.

In the second/eighth century, there were at least seventeen Shiite transmitters of hadith from Balkh, most of whom were among the direct narrators of the hadiths of Imam al-Sadiq (a), such as Abu Abd Allah al-Balkhi, Umar b. Harun (d. 194/809-10), Salm b. Salim (d. 196/811-2), Nasr b. Sabbah (one of the teachers of al-Kashshi and the author of the books Ma'rifat al-naqilin and Firaq al-Shi'a), Adam b. Muhammad al-Qalanasi, and Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150/767-8, the author of al-Tafsir al-kabir).

Among the Balkhi narrators and disciples of Imam al-Kazim (a) were Ziyad b. Sulayman, Sa'd b. Abi Sa'id, Sa'd b. Sa'id, and Shaqiq b. Ibrahim.

The Balkhi narrators and disciples of Imam al-Rida (a) included Muhammad b. Abi Ya'qub, Muqatil b. Muqatil, and Yahya b. Sa'id.

Muhammad b. Isma'il from Balkh was among the transmitters of the hadiths of Imam al-Hadi (a). Abu Sahl and Muhammad b. Abd al-Aziz also witnessed a miracle from Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (a) and reported it.

During the Minor Occultation, Abu Abd Allah al-Balkhi was in contact with Husayn b. Ruh and Ahmad b. Ishaq. Nasr b. Sabbah was also among the trusted people by the Twelve Imam (a).

The number of Balkhi hadith transmitters in the fourth/tenth century is said to have been 25. Ahmad b. Ali al-Balkhi (the shaykh of Talla'ukbari), Abu Muhammad Shu'ayb b. Muhammad b. Muqatil (the shaykh of Abu Mufaddal al-Shaybani) and Muzaffar b. Muhammad (d. 367/977-8; a student of Abu Sahl al-Nawbakhti and a shaykh of al-Mufid) were among the prominent hadith transmitters of this period.

In rijal and hadith works of the fifth/eleventh century, five unknown Balkhis are mentioned. There are also three Balkhi hadith transmitters whose dates are not known: Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Kasra b. Yasar b. Qirat (a narrator of Dua al-Samiri), Ja'far b. Ali b. Hassan, and Khalid b. Shu'ayb (a narrator of hadiths about Imam Mahdi (a)).

Some of the Balkhi companions of the Imams (a) produced written works. Abu l-Qasim al-Balkhi, a companion of Imam al-Sajjad (a), wrote a commentary of the Quran. Aban b. Salt, a companion of Imam al-Rida (a) and Imam al-Hadi (a) authored a book titled al-Farq bayn al-al wa al-umma (Difference between the Family [of the Prophet] and the Ummah). Ibrahim b. Abi Muhammad, a companion of Imam al-Kazim (a) and Imam al-Rida (a) produced a book titled al-Masa'il (Issues). Hamdan b. Ishaq was the compiler of the book al-Nawadir (Rare Anecdotes). Muhammad b. Khalid, Muhammad b. Isma'il, Nasr b. Sabbah, and Umar b. Harun also produced written works.

Well-Known Figures

Prior to the Mongol invasion, Balkh was described as Dar al-Fiqaha (the Abode of Jurispridence) and Qubbat al-Islam (the Dome of Islam). Several madrasas and education centers were established in Balkh and prominent scholars and men of literature hailed from it, such as Shahid Balkhi, Abu l-Mu'ayyad Balkhi, Rabi'a Balkhi, Abu Shakur Balkhi, Unsuri, Rashid al-Din Watwat, Abu Zayd Balkhi, Hamid al-Din Balkhi, and Rumi.

According to some scholars, Balkh was the birthplace of Sufism. Prominent Sufis in Balkh included Ibrahim b. Adham (b. 80/699-700 d.160/776-7), Abu Ali Shaqiq Balkhi (d. 194/810; the disciple of Ibrahim b. Adham), Hatam b. Asamm (d. 237/851-2), and Rumi.

Balkh Province

The city of Balkh is located in the Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan. The capital of this province is Mazar-i Sharif. Balkh Province borders Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the north, Kunduz Province in the east, Samangan Province in the south-east, Jowzjan Province in the west, and Sar-e Pol Province in the south.

Balkh Province has fifteen sections:

  • Balkh
  • Charbolak
  • Charkint
  • Chimtal
  • Dawlatabad
  • Dihdadi
  • Kaldar
  • Khulm
  • Kishindih
  • Marmul
  • Mazar-e Sharif
  • Nahri Shahi
  • Sholgara
  • Shortepa
  • Zari

Hazara, Uzbek, Tajik, Pashtun, Turkmen, and Arab ethnic groups reside in Balkh Province.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from بلخ in Farsi WikiShia.