Here is Part Three of our seven-part series of reflections on the life, influence, and philosophical foundations of the cosmology of Shaykh Aḥmad Ibn Zayniddīn al-Aḥsāʾī. This post focuses on some of the prominent disciples, licensees, admirers, and select contemporaries of the Shaykh, including some of the Sufis.
Contents of the seven parts of this series:
- Life, Travels, Character and Charisma
- Works: Opera Majora and Minora
- Legacy and Influence I: Students, Close Disciples, Licensees, and Other Contemporaries
- Legacy and Influence II: Shaykhism
- Major Arcs in the Philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad I: Preliminary Considerations
- Major Arcs in the Philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad II: Objective Logic and Dialectics
- Major Arcs in the Philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad III: Dialectical Metaphysics and the Project of Illuminationism.
In WALAYAH SAMAWI
Shaykh Aḥmad Ibn Zayniddīn al-Aḥsāʾī: Biography, Impact, and Philosophical Essay (Part 3.i)
Legacy and Influence
Over a career spanning many decades Shaykh Aḥmad attracted many dozens of students and admirers. In this section we must restrict ourselves to a brief mention of some of his dedicated students in philosophy, as well as of some prominent contemporaries or admirers from the scholastic establishment who received licenses from the Shaykh.
Students and Close Disciples
A comprehensive list of the known students of Shaykh Aḥmad has not been done, and the lists one finds in the various sources on the life of the Shaykh are incomplete. The vicissitudes of the era, including the intense persecution suffered by the devoted followers of the Shaykh, have left us in many cases with little more information about a given student of significance than just a name. Again, we restrict ourselves to only a very limited selection of his students either within philosophy proper or who played a critical role in preserving his thought over generations to come.
Sayyid Kāẓim al-Rashtī
By far the most significant of Shaykh Aḥmad’s disciples, Sayyid Kāẓim became a student of the Shaykh during the Yazd period. He says that, as a young teenager, he had a dream where the daughter of the Prophet of Islām commanded him to go to Yazd and seek out the Shaykh. He became so close to Shaykh Aḥmad that Mīrzā Khwānsārī describes him as the equivalent of the
“shirt on the body”of the Shaykh (Khwānsārī 1938, p. 225). In the last years of the life of his master, Shaykh Aḥmad often delegated to Sayyid Kāẓim the task of replying to philosophical questions he received from others.
As the age of severe persecution of the school of Shaykh Aḥmad began in earnest after his passing, it fell upon the shoulders of the Sayyid to both defend his teacher as well as continue to expand upon his teachings. He wrote at least three hundred treatises in Persian and Arabic, most of them under constant and unrelenting duress. He passed away quite young in Karbala, his adopted home for many years, at about 55 years of age. Most of his larger projects were never completed, and some of his treatises exhibit what we may call a very
“rushed”quality. There was hardly ever time to go back and carefully edit any particular book or treatise.
No one amongst the immediate students of the Shaykh appears to have grasped the dialectical and objective-logical depth of the thought and methodology of Shaykh Aḥmad more than Sayyid Kāẓim.
Commentary on the Ḥadīth of ʿImrān al-Ṣābīʾ. The text being explained is a dialogue and debate that Imām Riḍā
(ʿa)had with a Hermetic philosopher. This particular dialogue also constitutes a very important inspiration for some of Shaykh Aḥmad’s own philosophy; the commentary of Sayyid Kāẓim on this dialogue deserves a careful study.
Mullā Kāẓim ibn ʿAlī Naqī Simnānī
Shaykh Aḥmad wrote three treatises in reply to Mullā Kāẓim. In the first of them (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 2, p. 286) the student addresses the teacher as his spiritual father. In the third, the teacher calls the student his
“dear and honored son”.
Mullā Kāẓim Simnānī wrote a commentary on
al-that has been at least partially preserved in manuscript.
Mullā Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Naṣīr al-Rashtī al-Gīlānī
From a note of Sayyid Kāẓim (Rashtī 2011, Vol. 7, p. 339) we gather that he was the son of a prominent judge. Mullā Muḥammad wrote an important commentary on
al-that still exists in manuscript.
cecompleted at least one treatise in reply to some of Mullā Muḥammad’s philosophical questions, where he rejects an interesting attempt by his student to reconcile some of the Shaykh’s positions with those of Mullā Ṣadrā. Eight years later, Sayyid Kāẓim would complete a treatise of his own in response to further questions from Mullā Muḥammad (Rashtī 2011, Vol. 3, pp. 1–91).
In Mullā Muḥammad’s writings and questions we see first hand the struggle of a student of the Shaykh who is having some difficulty putting the dialectical framework of the Shaykh into proper context with respect to traditional philosophy in general, and the philosophy of Mullā Ṣadrā in particular.
Mullā Muḥammad ibn Muqīm al-Bārfurūshī al-Māzandārānī
A budding scholar pursuing his higher studies in Isfahan, Mullā Muḥammad apparently met Shaykh Aḥmad during the latter’s last visit to the city, where he gave the 53 days of lectures mentioned earlier. He requested Mullā Muḥammad to take some time from his other studies and to pay careful attention to his major works such as
Sharḥ al-Mashāʿir, and
Sharḥ al-ʿArshiyyah. At some point the Mullā, possessing only volume one of
Sharḥ al-ʿArshiyyah, wrote a commentary on it for the benefit of beginning and intermediate students. He apparently never completed it, but what he did complete survives in a number of manuscripts (this author has personally seen at least four).
Although he apparently did not have the opportunity to become a close disciple of the Shaykh, Mullā Muḥammad is one of the only one of his students to ever attempt a commentary on one of his larger philosophical works.
Shaykh ʿAlī Naqī ibn Aḥmad ibn Zayniddīn
Among the children of Shaykh Aḥmad, the most learned of them and the closest to his way of thinking was his second son ʿAlī Naqī. He passed away in Kirmanshah less than five years after his father’s passing. He often served as his father’s secretary; a number of manuscripts said to be autographs of Shaykh Aḥmad are actually in the handwriting of Shaykh ʿAlī Naqī. At the request of his father he sometimes wrote replies to questions received by the former. Similar to Sayyid Kāẓim, he also participated in writing works in defence of the thought of Shaykh Aḥmad. His early death (from a plague that swept through Kirmanshah) is one factor that made the burden of Sayyid Kāẓim that much greater.
The dialectical thrust of Shaykh Aḥmad’s philosophy is not nearly as palpable in the works of Shaykh ʿAlī Naqī as it is in those of Sayyid Kāẓim. It is not too much of an oversimplification to suggest that, as in the case of Mīrzā Ḥasan Gawhar, the works of Shaykh ʿAlī Naqī somewhat lend themselves towards what would become the more scholastic branch of the Shaykhiyyah (see page 30).
Mīrzā Ḥasan Gawhar
Mīrzā Ḥasan met Shaykh Aḥmad in Karbala, probably around 1230
ce. He became a devoted student of the Shaykh, and the Shaykh even delegated to this student the task of answering some theological questions that had been addressed to the teacher. He later became a close companion and student of Sayyid Kāẓim. See Ṭāliqānī (2007, pp. 183–185).
Mīrzā Ḥasan was arguably attracted more to
) proper than to philosophy (
falsafah) per se. He was an important scholar and author in his own right, and his works established the foundations for the more scholastic sub-branch of the Shaykhiyyah after the passing away of Sayyid Kāẓim. His most prominent student,
Mīrzā Muḥammad Bāqir Uskūʾī(d. 1301
ce), would become the progenitor of one of the most important families in the leadership of the scholastic branch of the Shaykhī community, a family which maintains a leadership position within that community until present times.
Ḥujjah al-Islām Mīrzā Muḥammad Shafīʿ ibn Ḥusayn al-Māmaqānī
After completing his higher studies in jurisprudence and theology in the ʿAtabāt, Mīrzā Muḥammad Shafīʿ passed through Kirmanshah on his return journey to his hometown of Tabriz. Going to the city’s main mosque, he happened to hear a lecture that Shaykh Aḥmad gave after the public communion. Deeply impressed, he decided to put off return to Tabriz and became a devoted disciple of the Shaykh, until the Shaykh himself commanded him to return to Tabriz and serve the community there. See Ṭāliqānī (2007, pp. 186–188).
Mīrzā Muḥammad Shafīʿ never became a full-fledged philosopher in its theoretical aspect, although he lived his later life in Tabriz life under the deep influence of his teacher’s practical philosophy. His importance lies primarily in that fact that he and a few generations of his descendants in Tabriz constituted one of the most important families in the more scholastic branch of Shaykhī thought until the early-to-mid 20
thcentury; this family produced a number of important and exceptional scholars during this period. This family also belonged to the more scholasticism-oriented Shaykhī community founded by Mīrzā Ḥasan Gawhar.
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd ʿAlī Āl Jabbār al-Qaṭīfī
Shaykh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd ʿAlī was a very important
mujtahidof Greater Baḥrayn (or Hajar), inclusive of the districts al-Qaṭīf, al-Aḥsāʾ, and the island of Baḥrayn proper. His most famous work is his
Direction of the Intellects), in many volumes. It is perhaps the largest exposition ever of
Uṣūl al-Kāfī, the first two volumes of the most famous collection of
aḥādīthin the intellectual history of Tashayyuʿ.
A significant figure in the scholastic establishment in his own right, Shaykh Muḥammad tried very hard to effect a reconciliation between Sayyid Kāẓim and his opponents in the ʿAtabāt. One of his books constitutes a refutation of some of the accusations against Shaykh Aḥmad. Along with Mīrzā Ḥasan Gawhar and Mīrzā Muḥammad Shafīʿ, Shaykh Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd ʿAlī was also a pillar of what would become the more scholastic branch of the Shaykhī community.
Shaykh ʿAbduṣṣamad ibn Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Hamadānī
It is not clear if Shaykh ʿAbduṣṣamad ever actually met Shaykh Aḥmad; however, he was one of the most important students of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī. Later he became associated with Āqā Muḥammad Karīm Khān Kirmānī (see page 30).
Divine Knowledge), a philosophical investigation into divine knowledge that also replies to and seeks to refute the objections of some of the philosophers of Isfahan to Shaykh Aḥmad’s own
Sharḥ Risālat al-ʿIlm
Commentary on the Treatise on Knowledge).
Shaykh ʿAbduṣṣamad has another work in Arabic that, as far as this author is aware, a) exists only in a single manuscript;
Licensees and Other Contemporaries
A number of Shaykh Aḥmad’s contemporaries in the scholastic establishment were not his students or disciples strictly speaking, but some of them were both pillars of that establishment as well as admirers who sought and received licenses from him for the narration of the
) of the Imāms
(ʿa). Being scholars in their own right, they had no need for these licenses except to have the honor of being able to claim association with the Shaykh. We restrict ourselves to mentioning four of the most famous as well as one lesser known figure:
Ḥājj Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Karbāsī
Of the most influential scholars of Isfahan, he was probably the most outwardly devoted to Shaykh Aḥmad. After the passing of the Shaykh, Ḥājj Muḥammad Ibrāhīm led three days of mourning dedicated to praying for his departed spirit, attended by both the notables of Isfahan as well as the elites (Khwānsārī 1938, p. 232). Like his friend Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī, he was also a student of the mystical philosopher Āqā Muḥammad Bīdābādī. The specialty of Ḥājj Muḥammad Ibrāhīm was philosophy of law, a field in which he wrote a famous multi-volume work,
Sayyid ʿAbdullāh Shubbar
Sayyid ʿAbdullāh Shubbar was especially famous as a theologian and a commentator on the Qurʾān. One of his most popular books is his two-volume
Ḥaqq al-Yaqīn, on the essentials of
Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥasan al-Najafī
Shaykh Muḥammad Ḥasan is the author of
Jawāhir al-Kalām, an encyclopedia of jurisprudence that is arguably the very most important work in that field up to today. Despite his (relatively minor) connection with Shaykh Aḥmad, he was critical of the efforts of the latter’s student, Sayyid Kāẓim. Given the polemical nature of the sources, this is an area that needs more careful research.
Shaykh Murtaḍā Anṣārī
It was Shaykh Murtaḍā who revolutionized the foundations of the philosophy of law so much so that it is not an exaggeration to say that virtually all of the
sof today follow his school of legal philosophy in one way or other. He is famous for the advanced text
Farāʾid al-Uṣūl. In his personal life he exemplified, in palpapble ways, some of the practical philosophy of Shaykh Aḥmad. He is quoted by some as having privately praised the Shaykh for understanding, more than anyone else, the cosmological meanings behind the rules of, e.g., the daily rituals of cleanliness.
Mullā Muḥammad Mahdī ibn Muḥammad Shafīʿ Astarābādī
Already an established scholar, he happened to be living in Kirmanshah around the time that Shaykh Aḥmad established residence there. About a year before the passing of Shaykh Aḥmad he moved to Lucknow, India (Momen 1991, p. 56), where he worked as an important scholar.
Mullā Muḥammad Mahdī occupies something of an intermediary position. Despite his close association with Shaykh Aḥmad in Kirmanshah, it is not clear that he was a disciple in the strict sense of the word, as is the case of the scholars in the earlier list of students; apparently he later became a critic of
“some students”of Sayyid Kāẓim Rashtī (Ṣadr 2008, Vol. 6, p. 120).
One of the sets of questions sent by Mullā Muḥammad Mahdī to Shaykh Aḥmad includes some inquiries pertaining to some fine points in the Peripatetic philosophy of Ibn Sīnā and Fārābī (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 2, pp. 469–504). This is unusual; usually philosophical questions presented to the Shaykh were in the context of either his own thought or that of the Illuminationists in the school of Mullā Ṣadrā. The answers given by Shaykh Aḥmad in his reply are thus important for examining his relationship to the earlier, classical, period of Islāmic Philosophy.
Mullā Muḥammad Mahdī may provide an example of what appears to have been the relatively common phenomenon of a contemporary who was deeply impressed by the knowledge and personality of Shaykh Aḥmad while at the same time kept a certain distance as the controversies within the establishment were escalating.
An important contemporary, admirer, and sometime critic of the Shaykh was
Mullā ʿAlī ibn Jamshīd al-Nūrī(d. 1246
ce), head of the followers of Mullā Ṣadrā in Isfahan. According to Hamid Algar (1969, p. 67) this Mullā also received an
license) from Shaykh Aḥmad. Despite his concerns with regards to the Shaykh’s criticisms of Mullā Ṣadrā, that could very well be the case. On the other hand, it is not yet clear to this author that Algar’s claim is correct, and it needs to be investigated further. We will say more about Mullā ʿAlī Nūrī in Section 4.2.
Despite Shaykh Aḥmad’s severe opposition to Sufism and Ṣūfī influences within philosophy, some of the more Shīʿī-oriented Ṣūfī orders tried to claim him or associate themselves with him in a positive way.
Shaykh Jaʿfar Qarāgazūlī Hamadānī, also known as Majdhūb ʿAlī Shāh (d. 1239
ce), head of the Niʿmatullāhī order at that time, was facing considerable pressure from his opponents within the scholastic establishment. In 1237
ce, about a year before passing away, he reached out to Shaykh Aḥmad by way of submitting his statement of religious belief to the latter for review. That is, he sought Shaykh Aḥmad’s assessment of that statement and even asked him to correct it. At the beginning of his letter, Shaykh Jaʿfar mentions a meeting he had with Shaykh Aḥmad and the deep impression the latter left on his own heart. The Shaykh replied with a respectful yet dispassionate critical commentary on Shaykh Jaʿfar’s creed (Aḥsāʾī 2009, Vol. 5, pp. 5–14). That the head of the Niʿmatullāhī order would make Shaykh Aḥmad the arbiter of his own
) speaks for itself.
Representatives of the Dhahabī order have also claimed that Shaykh Aḥmad studied under their own
shaykh, Sayyid Quṭbuddīn Muḥammad Shīrāzī, during a trip he made to al-Aḥsāʾ (Shīrāzī 196?, Vol. 3, p. 217). However, as pointed out by Mīrzā ʿAlī ibn Mūsā, also known by the honorific
Trustworthy in Islām), Sayyid Quṭbuddīn passed away in 1173
ce), when Shaykh Aḥmad was at most seven years old; this makes the Dhahabī claim chronologically impossible.
Hence the famous statement of Shaykh Aḥmad:
“Sayyid Kāẓim gets it; the rest do not”.↩
Henry Corbin had access to a photocopy of a manuscript of this work, and was apparently impressed with Mullā Muḥammad al-Gīlānī’s commentary (Corbin 1983, p. 167; Corbin 1973, Vol. 4, p. 264). The original manuscript is now housed in Kitābkhānih wa Markaz Isnād, Markaz Dāyirat al-Maʿārif Buzurg Islāmī; call no. 298. It is our hope to be able to present a critical edition of this commentary in the near future.↩
See Bilādī (1957, pp. 317–319).↩
There is a brief entry on him in Ushkūrī (2000–01, Vol. 2, p. 62). See also the introduction to Kirmānī (1900, p. 3).↩
UCLA Near East Coll. 1062 Arabic Medical MS 116.↩
At that time Lucknow was the most prominent center of Shīʿī Islāmic studies in the Indian subcontinent.↩
Probably Āqā Muḥammad Karīm Khān Kirmānī is meant. This needs further research and investigation.↩
See the preamble to Aḥsāʾī (1957, pp. j-d [abjad numerals]). It is worth noting that Thiqah al-Islām, one of last major figures in one of the most prominent Shaykhī families of the 19
thcentury, was martyred by the Russians in 1330
ceduring their occupation of Tabriz.↩
Thank you so much for this series! It is so beneficial and insightful! I look forward to the rest of it, insha Allah!
Once again, you are most welcome! Thanks for the kind words, may Allah Bless you!
The most interesting and ground-breaking installments are coming next, inshaaAllah.