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COLLECTIONSEncyclopedia articles, Biographies
TITLEAhsá'í, Shaykh Ahmad
AUTHOR 1Denis MacEoin
VOLUMEVolume 1
TITLE_PARENTEncyclopaedia Iranica
PUB_THISColumbia University
ABSTRACTBrief excerpt, with link to article offsite.
NOTES The following is an excerpt of the article at
TAGS- Interfaith dialogue; Shaykh Ahmad-i-Ahsai; Shaykhism
CONTENT AHSÁʾÍ, SHAIKH AHMAD B. ZAYN-AL-DÍN, 1166-1241/1753-1826, Shiʿite ʿālem and philosopher and unintending originator of the Šayḵī school of Shiʿism in Iran and Iraq.

Life. He was born in Raǰab, 1166/May, 1753 in the small Shiʿite village of al-Matayrafí in the oasis of al-Aḥsá (al-Hasá) near the east coast of the Arabian peninsula in the greater Baḥrayn region. His family, originally nomadic Sunnis, had converted to Shiʿism five generations before, at a time of widespread conversion in the area, and had settled in al-Ahsá at the same period. They belonged to the dominant Mahāšer clan of the ruling Banī Ḵāled, but do not appear to have been active in the politics of the region, and there is no evidence of links between them and the ʿolamāʾ . From two autobiographical accounts, it is clear that the young Shaikh Aḥmad was given little encouragement to study, but that, at his own insistence, he was able to complete his elementary studies under a shaikh in a nearby village. Later he found more advanced teachers and, by his twenties, seems to have made considerable progress in Shiʿite theology and philosophy. The identity of his teachers in this period is not known. He makes no mention of having traveled to Hofūf, al-Mobarraz, or any other large settlement in the region to find suitable teachers; in any case the obvious breadth and fundamental soundness of his learning by the time of his arrival in Iraq around 1205/1790 indicates that he must have had competent masters from an early stage. At the same time, it is possible that many of the original elements in his later doctrine owed much to his being in part self-taught. There is evidence of neo-Qarmaṭī influence in the al-Aḥsá region after the 1760s, but the possibility of links with the shaikh remains purely speculative. He himself indicated that, from early childhood, he developed a predilection for introspection, seclusion, and asceticism. At an unspecified age—probably during adolescence—he experienced a series of dreams and visions, of the type familiar to Shiʿite piety, in which the Imams or the Prophet figured as transmitters of supernatural knowledge. In one dream recounted by him, he believed that he was granted eǰāza or permission to transmit knowledge by each of the twelve Imams.

In 1186/1772-73, at the age of twenty, Shaikh Aḥmad left al-Aḥsá for the ʿatabāt or Shiʿite shrines in Arab Iraq, apparently with the aim of studying there under the ʿolamāʾ who had congregated in the region under the general direction of Āqā-ye Behbahānī. Not long after his arrival, however, plague broke out in Iraq, and he was forced to return to al-Aḥsā. He married his first wife shortly after this and appears to have abandoned any plans to return to the ʿatabāt. The next twenty years or so were spent in al-Aḥsá and in Baḥrayn proper (where he spent four years), during which period he studied Shiʿite feqh and kalām and read works on “theosophy” or “divine wisdom” (ḥekma eláhíya), including texts by Mollā Ṣadrā and Moḥsen Fayż. He received what seems to have been his first formal eǰāza in 1205/1790 from Shaikh Aḥmad b. Ḥasan Baḥrānī Damasanī, a pupil of Shaikh Yūsof Baḥrānī. His earliest known works also date from about this time, among them Ṣerāṭ al-yaqīn (a commentary on the Tabṣera of Ḥellī) and al-Resálat al-qadrīya (on the subject of qadr). Now in his late thirties, he had succeeded in attracting some attention in the region, but apparently more as a saint than as a scholar.


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