No one did as much to mine and develop the raw
potential latent within the writings of Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim as did one of the latter’s most important students,
Āqā Muḥammad Karīm Khān Kirmānī
). A powerful and iconoclastic personality, the mark he left on the Shaykhī community was so great that, even today, Shaykhism as such is often identified with the work of this man and with the sub-branch of the Shaykhī community that he established.
Āqā Muḥammad Karīm was a member of the Qājār royal family. This provided him with a certain limited (but by no means absolute) degree of protection to pursue his projects. In response to the persecution of Sayyid Kāẓim by the scholastic establishment, Āqā Muḥammad Karīm made the fateful decision to break off from it entirely and to establish a semi-independent community. With indefatigable energy, he set out to single-handedly recreate the entire curriculum of Shīʿī Islāmic studies from the ground up.
philosophy of law
) as scholastically conceived was cast off, to be replaced with a kind of neo-Akhbārī framework which sought to make the average educated Shīʿī independent of recourse to the traditional
Although he claimed to be nothing except an expositor of the teachings of Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim, Āqā Muḥammad Karīm has to be considered an original thinker in his own right. Most significantly, the Āqā, via the focused application of his own genius, distilled much of the cosmological meditations of Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim into a new form intended for both the common man and experts alike: This distillation especially emphasized concepts such as the high metaphysical stations of the Ahlulbayt
and the cosmogony of the intermediary universe of subtle matter, space, and time;
. A particularly controversial doctrine developed by the Āqā is the doctrine of the
), pertaining to the need of the Shīʿī community at any given time for the existence of at least one especially enlightened cognizant within their midst. These and other doctrines distilled from higher cosmological meditations on the Prophetic sources, via a loving spiritual connection with the Ahlulbayt
, constitute what we call Āqā Muḥammad Karīm’s
. This is in contrast to the scholastic establishment’s traditional method, which involves the distillation of
from the Prophetic sources via (in large measure) the dry and dispassionate application of traditional Aristotelian logic.
In the course of his project to establish a semi-independent Shaykhī community in the spirit of Shaykh Aḥmad and Sayyid Kāẓim, Āqā Muḥammad Karīm penned nearly 280 books and treatises covering a wide array of disciplines and sciences. The Āqā is keenly aware of the importance of the dialectical and objective-logical aspects of the thought of Shaykh Aḥmad – see for example his
Treatise on the Red Hyacinth
). Indeed, one area of philosophical thought where he makes an important contribution is in the
of (natural) science and (theosophical) religion. However, the dialectical movement of the cosmos and its consciousness that is so critical to the
of Shaykh Aḥmad becomes somewhat ossified in the
of Āqā Muḥammad Karīm. His theosophy and associated praxis are, in an important sense,
. Indeed, it is not far-fetched to compare Āqā Muḥammad Karīm’s interpretation of the teachings of Shaykh Aḥmad with the then contemporary phenomenon of Right-Hegelianism in Europe. Space does not allow us to say more at the moment.
The theosophical school of Shaykhī thought still has many adherents: The main sub-branch, led until recent times by the descendants of Āqā Muḥammad Karīm, is centered in Kerman and Basra. A smaller sub-branch of theosophical Shaykhism, founded by one of Āqā Muḥammad Karīm’s top students,
Mīrzā Muḥammad Bāqir al-Hamadānī
), is still active in such cities as Mashhad, Isfahan, and Tehran.