GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TIMURID ERA
At the time of Tīmūr's death and under his immediate successors the religious situation in Iran was characterised by two complementary processes, which were the primary determinant of – or, minimally, ultimately resulted in - that particular form of religious reality known as Safavid Shi'ism.
The first factor is the great flexibility, bordering on prevarication, displayed by the religious world in fulfilling its cementing function between the political rulers and their subjects in the most disparate alliances between successive sovereigns and the local religious (and administrative) aristocracy, even when the diversity of madhhab professed by the two protagonists would lead one to expect an at least dual missionary activity rather than a day-to-day cooperation. It is true that there was a diversity of madhhab in a slightly broader and more equivocal sense, rather than in that usual connotation of the word which restricts it simply to the canonical schools. But it is indisputable that there was a rapprochement on the concrete plane which occurred at a time when, as all scholars admit, there was a “return” to the myth of the ideal sovereign, a “true Caliph”, and consequently to a renewal of the hope in the advent of a leader in spiritual affairs and so too in religious affairs. This eagerly awaited leader was the Mahdī, a figure who was variously delineated and characterised in the different areas and madhāhib proclaiming and anticipating his coming.
The other decisive factor is a gradual trend towards Shi'ism among the “aberrant” currents of orthodoxy, including sufism, allied with the presence of strong “Twelver” elements in the movements consciously aiming at a centralist outlook, which transcended the traditional divisions of Muslim religious society.