|Mutayrifi (a village in Ahsa' region), Arabia
|Karbala and Najaf
|Al-Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum, Muhammad Baqir al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, etc.
Aḥmad b. Zayn al-Dīn b. Ibrāhīm al-ʾAḥsāʾī (Arabic: اَحمَد بن زَین الدّین بن اِبراهیم الأحسايي), (b. Rajab 1166/May 1753 - d. Dhu l-Qa'da 1241/June 1826), also known as 'Ahmad al-Ahsa'i, was a well-known Imamiyya scholar, philosopher and jurist to whom Shaykhiyya (a Shiite sect) is attributed. His practices and thoughts and his life events have brought about drastic developments in the history of Imamiyya.
Sources of Biography
The major source of al-Ahsa'i's life is a short essay that he wrote at the request of his eldest son, Muhammad Taqi, where he talks about his early life and his own experiences. Another source is a work by his son, Abd Allah, and a third one is parts of Dalil al-mutahayyirin by his pupil and successor, al-Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti, containing additional information about al-Ahsa'i's life.
Al-Ahsa'i was born in the village of Mutayrifi located in the al-Ahsa area in East Arabia. According to al-Ahsa'i, his forth ancestor, Daghir abandoned the Bedouin life and resided in Mutayrifi. After the migration, Daghir converted to Shiism, and all his progeny went on to believe in Shiism.
Al-Ahsa'i was educated in al-Ahsa until he was twenty years old. In 1186/1772-3, he migrated to Karbala and Najaf. Upon the Cholera outbreak in Iraq in 1208/1793-4, he returned to al-Ahasa and after four years he went back to Iraq. Upon his return, he sojourned in Basra and stayed in Dhawraq near Basra until 1216/1801-2. At this time, he had short sojourns in Basra and villages nearby.
In 1216/1801-2, he went to Karbala and Najaf, and then he went to Mashhad as a pilgrim—on his way, he had a stay in Yazd. People in Yazd warmly welcomed him and because of their insistence, he stayed in Yazd after his return from Mashhad. Al-Ahsa'i went to Tehran for a while at the command of Fath 'Ali Shah, and in 1223/1808-9 he returned to Yazd by the permission of the Shah.
In 1229/1813-4 al-Ahsa'i went to Kermanshah on his way to Karbala and Najaf, and was welcomed by people. The governor of Kermanshah insisted that he stay there, and promised that he provide all the means for al-Ahsa'i to annually travel to Iraq. The stay took about ten years, except two years when he was on travels. He then went to Mashhad, Yazd, and Kermanshah, and then to Iraq. He then departed from Iraq to Mecca, but he died near Medina.
Visiting Fath 'Ali Shah
When al-Ahsa'i resided in Yazd, he was well-known in Iran, and Fath 'Ali Shah began correspondences with him and invited him for a visit in Tehran. Al-Ahsa'i made excuses to reject the invitation. However, the Shah wrote to him if Shah comes to Yazd with his troops, lives of people in Yazd will be disturbed and asked him to go to Tehran. Since al-Ahsa'i was disinclined to accept the invitation, he decided to go to Basra, but people of Yazd told him that this would bring about troubles for them. Finally, al-Ahsa'i went to Tehran to visit Shah. After a while, he returned to Yazd with the permission of Shah.
Teachers and Masters
He was respected by his teachers. During his stay in Karbala and Najaf, he received a number of permissions to narrate hadiths from well-known scholars, such as:
- Al-Shaykh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita'; he praised the scholarly character of al-Ahsa'i in his 'ijaza when he saw two of al-Ahsa'i's works in jurisprudence and theology.
- Al-Sayyid Muhamamd Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum
- Mahdi al-Shahristani
- Al-Sayyid 'Ali al-Tabataba'i (known as the author of Riad)
- Al-Shaykh 'Ahmad al-Bahrani al-Damistani
- Al-Shaykh Musa b. Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita'
- Al-Shaykh Husayn Al 'Usfur
- Al-Shaykh 'Ahmad Al 'Usfur
- Al-Sayyid Kazim al-Rashti (b. 1205/1790-1 - d.1259/1843) sought to promote the thoughts of al-Ahsa'i after his death and became his successor.
- Mirza Hasan Gowhar, al-Ahsa'i assigned him the duty to answer some letters.
- Al-Shaykh Muhammad Hasan al-Najafi, the author of Jawahir al-kalam
- Muhammad 'Ibrahim Kalbasi
- Muhammad Taqi al-Nuri
- 'Asad Allah al-Kazimi al-Shushtari
- 'Ali Baraghani
- Rajab 'Ali al-Yazdi
- 'Ali b. 'Abd Allah al-Simnani
- 'Ali b. Darwish al-Kazimi
Al-Ahsa'i had two sons who were also his pupils, Muhammad Taqi and 'Ali Naqi.
Expertise in Various Disciplines
Al-Ahsa'i's views might be summarized in the slogan that knowledge and truths about anything can exclusively be found in prophets (a) and Imams (a). Wisdom—as the knowledge of the reality of everything—is compatible with both the interior of shari'a and its exterior. He holds that reason can know the reality only if it is enlightened with Ahl al-Bayt (a)—whether in theoretical knowledge or the practical one. Reasoning about religious beliefs is an obligation for anyone, but since truths are with Ahl al-Bayt (a), the truth of the judgments issued by reason depends on the light it receives from Ahl al-Bayt (a).
On the one hand, al-Ahsa'i does not accept the position of those who rest content to the exterior or superficial meanings of shari'a, and on the other hand, he rejects the view of those who maintain that with the interior of shari'a, we will not need its exterior.
In his works, there are strong oppositions to Ibn al-Arabi's views. He also makes objections to views of Mulla Sadra and Fayd Kashani. Al-Ahsa'i says that his appeal to Ahl al-Bayt (a) helped him accept only the parts of philosophical views that are not in contradiction with what he believes to be the interior of shari'a.
Resurrection and the Developments of the Body
The best known view of al-Ahsa'i is the one concerning the quality of bodily resurrection. He does not accept the exterior superficial understanding of shari'a according to which the bodily resurrection occurs with the worldly natural body, this is in his view in contradiction with the changeability and corruptibility of the body. Al-Ahsa'i's solution is to distinguish between body and corpse. According to al-Ahsa'i, human beings have two bodies and two corpses.
- The first corpse is our apparent observable body consisting of temporal elements. This corpse will be annihilated in the grave.
- The second corpse is the "huwarqilya'i" one which is not immortal, like the first one, but will be resurrected on the Dooms Day. It consists of ideal (mithali) and delicate elements of the earth of huwarqilya which is an element superior to elements of this world. The second corpse is concealed in the first one until one's death, and after the annihilation of the first corpse in the grave, the second one will be refined and will survive in the grave, though it is not visible because of its delicacy.
Human death consists in the detachment from these two corpses:
- The first body is the vehicle of the soul in the world of barzakh—it is in company with the first body that the soul separates from the two corpses. The first body is a delicate ethereal body that informs the faculties of the soul in its life in barzakh.
- The second body is the original and the real human body that preserves one's identity in all the worlds—from this world to barzakh to the afterlife. The body consists of the hayula (matter) and the form (mithal), and is a vehicle of the soul and the reason, and it is identical with a human person. Sometimes al-Ahsa'i refers to this body as the "soul".
With the first blowing the trumpet, the first body is detached from the soul and is annihilated, and then after the second blowing, it will be resurrected, the second body accompanying the second corpse. The development of the human body, as described by al-Ahsa'i, has two aspects: the real body was merged with the first body and the first corpse when it came to this world, and in the afterlife, it will be detached from both.
One objection to al-Ahsa'i was that it cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of the bodily resurrection, as stated in the Qur'an, but he responds that the second body that will be resurrected is identical with our visible bodies in this world, though it is refined in such a way that will be incorruptible.
According to al-Ahsa'i, even the bodies of the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) will be corrupted and annihilated in the grave—he distinguishes between their apparent bodies and their original bodies that are highly delicate. Their apparent bodies are accidental to them. These bodies are just created so that people could be able to see them and have contacts with them. Hadiths concerning the survival of their bodies in the graves concern not their apparent bodies; rather they concern a body without any elemental forms, that is, the huwarqilya'i body which is only visible to other Imams (a) and not to other people.
Place of Imams in the Creation
In his works, al-Ahsa'i has assigned a significant role to the issues of Imamate, for example, in his extended exposition of Ziyarat al-Jami'a al-Kabira. He particularly focuses on the generative aspects of the position of Imamate—the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) are the greatest creatures of God and are the mediums of his grace, and they are the four causes—efficient, material, formal, and teleological—of the world. In the Aristotelian and Islamic philosophies, each of these four types of causes is an aspect of phenomena's needs to causes. Appealing to a hadith, al-Ahsa'i tries to show that the Prophet (s) and Imams (a) play the roles of all these causes.
Existence and Quiddity
Al-Ahsa'i has a specific view about the principality of existence ('asalat al-wujud) or quiddity (mahiyya). He holds to the principality of both, each being an aspect of each object. The object's existence or coming to be has two aspects: the act of God that is the existence, and the passivity of the act, which is the quiddity of the object. Thus every possible object is literally a compound out of two elements.
Al-Ahsa'i has an anthropological view in this regard. From the duality of obedience and disobedience in the human nature, he infers that both cannot be attributed to one single object. The way existence and quiddity are merged can be known by knowing the combinatory tendencies of humans and their volitional acts. The combination is such that neither of the two parts loses its effects. Just as the principality of both tendencies does not preclude the attribution of the act to the whole, the principality of both existence and quiddity does not undermine the unity of the object. Therefore, existence and quiddity are two conventions or aspects for one single object. However, the quiddity without the existence is nothing. The primary object of creation is the existence, but the existence requires quiddities in its manifestation.
Al-Ahsa'i says that God does not need any quiddity, since there is no homogeneity between God and His creatures. If they have the same sorts of existence, then God's existence would be a combination, and the unity of existence should then be ruled out. In different places, al-Ahsa'i rejects the unity of existence (wahdat al-wujud) or pantheism, and takes it to be incompatible with monotheism.
Al-Ahsa'i has left many works in various topics. There are two bibliographies of his works: (1) Fihrist al-tasanif by Riad Tahir, and (2) a chapter of Fihrist-i kitab-i mashayikh-i 'izam by Abu l-Qassim 'Ibrahimi which is much more detailed than (1). Many of al-Ahsa'i's works are short essays that he wrote in response to some questions; some of these were later recognized as highly significant and were published independently. Al-Ahsa'i has left over 100 essays that might be found in some printed or manuscript collections. Sharh al-ziyara al-jami'a al-kabira is his most famous work.
Oppositions of Contemporary Scholars
Late in his life, al-Ahsa'i faced the opposition of some scholars—they considered some of his views as deviations from standard Shiism and as exaggerations (ghuluw) about Imams (a). Al-Ahsa'i himself says that Muhammad b. Husayn Al 'Usfur Bahrani, whose father had given an 'ijaza to al-Ahsa'i, rejected his views in an oral discussion.
The first explicit opposition with al-Ahsa'i was, however, from Mulla Muhammad Taqi Burghani—an influential scholar in Qazvin. In a meeting, he discussed with al-Ahsa'i about bodily resurrection, and made objections to his view which led to controversies among other participants. The ruler of Qazvin held a meeting to reconcile the two, but this time Burghani accused al-Ahsa'i of blasphemy. By the circulation of the news about this accusation, al-Ahsa'i left the city.
After he left Qazvin, he faced oppositions in Mashhad, Yazd and Isfahan, but despite all these he was popular among people—in Isfahan he was an Imam of prayers (congregations) followed by about 16000 people.
Burghani's accusation brought about many troubles for al-Ahsa'i in his last travel to Karbala, and led him to abandon the city despite his intention to stay there. Meanwhile, some people accused him of exaggerations about Imams (a), and instigated the scholars of Karbala and some Ottoman leaders against him.
He passed away on the way form Karbala to Mecca, near Medina in Dhu l-Qa'da 1241/June 1826 and was buried in al-Baqi' cemetery.
Defenses by Some Scholars
Some people resisted such accusations to al-Ahsa'i. For instance, Muhammad 'Ibrahim Kalbasi was fully familiar with the views of al-Ahsa'i, and after the al-Ahsa'i's death, he held mourning ceremonies for three days in Isfahan. He says: "it is bold to accuse shaykh [al-Ahhsa'i] of inappropriate beliefs by people who do not know his views and terminologies".
- The material for writing this article has been mainly taken from احمد بن زین الدین بن ابراهیم احسایی in Farsi WikiShia.