Sayyid Ahmad b. Zayn al-'Abidin al-'Alawi

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Sayyid Ahmad b. Zayn al-'Abidin al-'Alawi
Personal Information
Full NameSayyid Aḥmad b. Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn al-ʿAlawī (al-Ḥusaynī) al-ʿĀmilī al-Iṣfahānī
Religious AffiliationTwelver Shi'a
Place of BirthIsfahan
DeathBetween 1054/1644-5 and 1060/1650
Burial PlaceTakht-i Fulad Cemetery, Isfahan
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsAl-Shaykh al-Baha'i, Mir Damad

Sayyid Aḥmad b. Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn al-ʿAlawī (al-Ḥusaynī) al-ʿĀmilī al-Iṣfahānī (Persian:سید احمد بن زین العابدین العلوی (الحسینی) العاملی الاصفهانی) (d. between 1054/1644-5 and 1060/1650) was a figure in the Islamic philosophical school of Isfahan and a commentator of the theology section of Ibn Sina's book, al-Shifa'. Sayyid Ahmad al-'Alawi studied with al-Shaykh al-Baha'i and Mir Damad. Most of his works are concerned with Islamic philosophy and kalam (theology). His works, like those of Mir Damad, have a mystical orientation. He was also diligent in defending Islam and proving the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad (s) against objections by Christian missionaries. Most of his works have been published the most important of which are Miftah al-shifa' and al-'Urwat al-wuthqa fi sharh Ilahiyyat al-shifa' .


Sayyid Ahmad's father was naqib (the head of Sadat) in Jabal Amel. His father immigrated to Iran during the Safavid period and resided in Isfahan. Before his immigration, he studied with Shaykh Nur al-Din 'Ali al-Karaki, known as al-Muhaqqiq al-Thani and married his daughter. They gave birth to Sayyid Ahmad.

Another daughter of Karaki's married Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Mar'ashi, a favorite student of Karaki, and a Mar'ashi sayyid of Mazandaran. This marriage led to the birth of Mir Muhammad Baqir Damad, Sayyid Ahmad 'Alawi's teacher.

Thus Sayyid Ahmad al-'Alawi and Mir Damad were cousins and are both grandsons of al-Muhaqqiq al-Thani. Later Sayyid Ahmad became Mir Damad's son in law.

It seems that Sayyid Ahmad al-'Alawi was born in Iran and spent most of his life in Isfahan. His year of birth is not known. He was much younger than Mir Damad. He died in Isfahan and was born in Tekyeh Aqa Radi. His year of death is not exactly known. However, according to Aqa Buzurg Tihrani, he died in years between 1054/1644-5 and 1060/1650.


Some of his children and grandchildren were Shiite scholars and writers:

  • Mir Muhammad 'Abd al-Hasib (d. 1121/1709-10 or 1133/1720-1), Sayyid Ahmad's son who had a permission to narrate hadiths from his father. He wrote some Arabic and Persian works concerning the exegesis of the Holy Qur'an, kalam, supplications and religious teachings.
  • Badr al-Din, Sayyid Ahmad's son, was a scholar of hadith, fiqh, literature, and a poet. He lived in Tus and taught there. He wrote works concerning the principles of religious beliefs, hadiths, and supplications.
  • Mir Muhammad Ashraf, Sayyid 'Abd al-Hasib's son, was a student of al-'Allama al-Majlisi and had a permission to narrate hadiths from him. He died in the suburbs of Isfahan in 1133/1720-1 or 1145/1732-3 and was buried there. He wrote works concerning the Islamic philosophy, kalam, hadith and 'ilm al-rijal. His book, Fada'il al-sadat (virtues of sadat) was published in 1380/1960-1.


He studied Islamic philosophy, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), hadith, exegesis of the Holy Qur'an and other Islamic disciplines with al-Shaykh al-Baha'i and Mir Damad, and received a permission for hadith transmission from them. The permissions are mentioned in al-'Allama al-Majlisi's book, Bihar al-anwar.

In his letter of permission to Sayyid Ahmad (issued in 1018/1609-10), al-Shaykh al-Baha'i admired him, and gave him the permission to narrate hadiths of the Four Books (al-Kutub al-Arba'a) as well as his own works.

In his first letter of permission to him, Mir Damad admired him and wrote that he studied al-Ilahiyyat min kitab al-Shifa' with him, and is now studying the Categories part of al-Shifa' and the first and the third parts of Ibn Sina's al-Isharat as well as Khwajih Nasir al-Din al-Tusi's commentary on the book.

His second permission shows that he studied the Second Analytics, that is the proof part of al-Shifa' with Mir Damad and made researches about the book.

Sayyid Ahmad always mentioned Mir Damad with respect, calling him the “teacher of faith-based (īmānī) and right (yamānī) wisdom”. In his works, he tried to defend Mir Damad's views.

In the book, al-Nafahat al-lahutiyya fi l-'atharat al-Baha'iyya, he takes sides with Mir Damad's views and criticizes the views of al-Shaykh al-Baha'i. Mir Damad exhibited a special respect for Sayyid Ahmad, as is shown by his preface to the latter's book, Kashf al-haqa'iq. Mir Damad asked Sayyid Ahmad to write a commentary on his book, al-Qabasat.

Apologetics of Islam

Sayyid Ahmad had a good command of Hebrew and was deeply familiar with the Torah and the Four Gospels. In one of his works, he cited a part of the Book of Genesis in Hebrew, though with Arabic scripts, and translated it into Persian.

He wrote many books to defend Islam and prove the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and reply to objections to Islam. When Christian missionaries were trying to write books against Islam, he defended the truth of Islam with his knowledge of philosophy, kalam and other Islamic disciplines as well as his knowledge about the Bible.

In some of his works such as Misqal al-safa, Lawami' rabbani, Sawa'iq al-rahman and Lata'if ghaybiyya, he shows that his views are supported by evidence; for example, he cites the Bible with reference to the exact verses and translates them into Persian and gives an interpretation of them.

In these works, Sayyid Ahmad tried to show that both Old and New Testament prognosticated the prophecy of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and that Muhammad (s) is the Paraclete in the Gospel of John.

According to Henry Corbin, “the conception this Shiite scholar has of early Christianity is very up-to-date, especially that his conception is based on a theology which is based on Paraclete”.

His Position in Islamic Philosophy

In his Muntakhabati az athar-i hukama-yi ilhahi-yi Iran (An anthology of the works of Iranian divine philosophers), Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani introduced Sayyid Ahmad al-'Alawi and gave an analysis of some of his views by citing his commentaries on al-Ilahiyyat min kitab al-Shifa'. With respect to Sayyid Ahmad's thoughts and his philosophical methodology and his relation with Mir Damad, Ashtiyani believes that he was a follower of Muslim Peripatetic philosophers in his philosophical methodology and was also influenced by Shaykh al-Ishraq's views and his followers and commentators. Moreover, due to his respect for his teacher, Mir Muhammad Baqir Damad, he also follows his thoughts. Although he was contemporary with Mulla Sadra, he never mentioned his views.

In some of his works, Henry Corbin introduced Sayyid Ahmad's life, works and views. For him, Sayyid Ahmad's commentaries on al-Ilahiyyat min kitab al-Shifa' are very important. He holds that Miftah al-shifa' (the commentaries) shows the impact of Ibn Sina's illuminationist (Ishraqi) Shiism on the philosophical school of Isfahan.


Most of Sayyid Ahmad's works are concerned with philosophy and kalam and are, like Mir Damad's works, mystically oriented. He wrote some works in Arabic and Persian. In both languages, his writing is very fluent and attractive, and he is very skillful in formulating issues. His Persian prose is very strong and mixed with philosophical and mystical terminologies as well as figures of speech.

Most Important Works

  1. Izhar al-haqq wa mi'yar al-sidq: Mir Lawhi had authored a book to criticize Abu Muslim al-Khurasani and Hasan b. Mansur al-Hallaj but it was rejected. Sayyd Ahmad wrote this book to defend Mir Lawhi.
  2. Bayan al-haqq wa tibyan al-sidq: It is about the rulings of endowment.
  3. Riad al-quds: It contains annotations on the commentary on al-Shaykh al-Tusi's book, al-Tajrid, by al-Qushchi as well as annotations on the same book by al-Khafri.
  4. Risala fi nijasat al-khamr: This is a refutation of a treatise by Muhammad Amin al-Istarabadi in which the latter has proposed the purity of the wine.
  5. Rawdat al-mutaqqin: This is a commentary and annotations on chapter five and six of al-Tajrid.
  6. Hazirat al-uns min arkan al-riad al-quds: This is an excerpt of Riad al-quds.
  7. Sawa'iq al-rahman: This is a refutation of Jewish beliefs and proves the distortion of the Torah.
  8. Kuhl al-absar: It contains annotations on al-Isharat by Ibn Sina.
  9. Kashf al-haqa'iq:It is composed of commentary and annotations on Taqwim-i iman by his teacher, Mir Damad.
  10. Lata'if ghaybiyya: It is about Principle Beliefs of Imamiyya.
  11. al-Lawami' al-rabbaniyya: Sayyid Ahmad wrote this book in response to an anti-Islamic book written by a christian missionary.
  12. Masqal-i safa dar tajliya-yi ayinay-i haq nama: This is a refutation of a book with anti-Islamic content in Persian. In this book, Sayyid Ahmad tries to prove the distortion of the Bible. Its manuscripts can be found in different libraries.
  13. al-Ma'arif al-ilahiyya:
  14. Miftah al-shifa wa l-'urwat al-wuthqa fi sharh ilahiyyat al-Shifa' : A detailed commentary and some annotations on the theology section of al-Shifa' by Ibn Sina. This is the most prominent philosophical work by Sayyid Ahmad that gained him reputation.
  15. Manahij al-akhbar (al-akhyar) fi sharh al-Istibsar: It contains Sayyid Ahmad's commentary on hadiths in al-Istibsar by al-Tusi.
  16. al-Nafahat al-lahutiyya fi l-'atharat al-baha'iyya: In this book, Sayyid Ahmad criticizes some of al-Shaykh al-Baha'i's opinions in favor of Mir Damad.