A brief introduction to the hierarchy and the school of Shaikhiism
In the name of God
The compassionate the merciful
With thanks to God and greetings to his chosen servants.
This is a brief introduction to the hierarchy and the school of Shaikhiism, and also a short account of their convictions and scholars that will be presented as a foreword to this collection which includes some of their principle books.
Shaikhi is the name given to a group of Shia Muslims who follow the great Shia omniscient the late Shaikh Ahmad ibn Zainaddin Ahsaii, may God exalt his status.
Shaikhis’ beliefs, in principles, subordinates, and the religious rulings are taken from God’s book and traditions of the Prophet, may God’s salutations be upon him and his household, and also the traditions and tidings of the Imams, God’s praise be upon them. In short Shaikhis are Shiite who try to follow the infallible Imams (the twelve successors of the Prophet who were his decedents) in general and minor issues.
They don’t trust anything unless it is from Imams which is no doubt taken from God’s book and the Prophet’s traditions. They don’t take anything arrived at by imperfect minds, analogy or personal tastes of ordinary people. They are also diligent in reporting the virtues of the Prophet and his household (God’s praise be upon them), and they are adamant in saying that it shouldn’t be thought that lore of Islam is limited to the rules of Physical worship and interactions among people. They also castigate those superficial believers who have stopped at mundane aspects of Islam.
They also believe that the doctrine of those Sufis who take only the arcane aspects of the religion and abandon physical worships is defected and would not advance and transcend man, which is the reason for its creation.
The just religion is to accept all the physical aspects and perform them while trying to learn the basics, the essence, and the truth of those issues to the best of our capability.
In any case it is a certainty that the beliefs of Shaikhis are those of the 12-Imam Jaafari Shiite and they have neither deducted nor added to the religion of the infallible Imams as a matter of fact they don’t condone any adding or deducting in God’s religion.
Of course at times, in explanation of some aspects, considering the holy book, the traditions, and tidings they have recounted reflective views which differed from some other Shiite scholars’ viewpoints. In order to offer a short introduction of this school it is better to mention some of these points of difference of opinions to indicate to an extent the boundaries and limits of this school.
To explain this we must divide these different viewpoints into two groups. One is the differences in obtaining the rules from the existing rules by means of reasoning which pertains to jurisprudence. The other is differences in some reflective philosophical issues, or sapience such as the attributes of resurrection, the Prophet’s ascension, and the virtues of the Holy Imams or Shia ulama (Sages).
For obtaining the rules from religious sources i.e. principles of jurisprudence, Shaikhi Ulama have made suggestions that, from one point of view or perhaps from the apparent point of view, may be considered a synthesis of the two Usuli and Akhabari doctrines (Usuliin believe that except in the case of frequently reported tidings and traditions certitude cannot be attained-so they have devised principles -usuls- to come to a conjecture and people have to follow their decisions. Akhbariin, on the other hand believe that tidings and traditions from the Prophet and his household which have reached us are all authentic and applicable. Shaikhis primarily believe in the necessity of practicing after attaining knowledge, and claim that it can be obtained. Secondly, they believe in many principles of Usuliin, i.e. those principles that have religious origins and have their roots in the tidings. They object to those principles which are not taken from the religion and reject some of them.
Regarding the proof of the rules, they certainly accept the holy book, traditions and reports which are certainly well documented and are the proofs of our religions’ rules. But in division of the tidings they differ from Usuliin, also they don’t pay credence to Usulliin’s total confidence in the history of reporters of tidings.
But regarding wisdom and consensus, Shaikhi’s have only confidence in the wisdom of the infallible Imam or something that all wisdoms agree on its accuracy and its conformity with religious dictums. They do not accept the intelligence of one or a few scholars to be our certificate in comprehending the rule of God and they believe that the primary responsibility of Ulama is reporting tidings from the infallible Imams and not to sit and think and take whatever seemed correct to them to be the rule of God, without any dictum, and to make it obligatory for the followers.
Imam’s dictum is:” About the events that happen, refer to the reporters of our tidings.” Specifying ‘reporteres of our tidings’ here conveys the fact that Ulama must ‘report’. This is the reason for referring to them, because they are reporters of the tidings. Otherwise it is very probable that there is a person of higher intelligence among the followers so if the scholar does not report from the infallible Imam why should following his personal understanding be obligatory to others.
As for consensus, Shaikhi ulama believe that in addition to the requisites of Islam and Shiism, whenever there is a consensus about correlating a report to the infallible Imam it is acceptable. Or if all Ulama comprehend the same meaning from a report this consensus is also obligatory to follow. But if consensus is on a decree or a reflective point of view, which is not based on a proper dictum we are not obligated to accept such a consensus. If there is no religious ruling on the issue, we have the Imam’s dictum that says: “Everything is unconditional unless you receive a dictum or an interdiction.” Having this ruling at hand who needs intellectual reasoning. Why should ulama restrict people when God has left them free on those cases? Actually they must hold their decree so that the freedom which Imam has bestowed upon people is not forfeited.
These were some instances of agreement and disagreement between Shaikhis’ views and Usuliin’s and Akhbariin’s’. But Shaikhis’ description of the main issue-that is the method of taking to the tidings and acquiring assurance- although it didn’t seem new, the descriptions are modern, in a way they are arcane and deeper and based on the sapience of Shaikhis which are chiefly depictions of the virtues and the ranks of Mohammed and His household, praise he upon them, and also Shiite Ulama.
Shaikhis have based their reasoning on the sapience established by Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii, may his status be elevated, and later expounded on by exegetes: the late Haj Sayed Kazam Rashti and the late Haj Mohammad-Karim Khan Kermani, May God elevate their status, and the later Ulama after them. Concerning jurisprudence issues they propounded the reason of substantiation and confirmation by Holy Imam and so proved how credence may be gained from the traditions and why our religious rules are irrefutable and not suppositional.
Our Ulama stated that without this method of reasoning there would be no choice but to accept all the possibilities of not gaining certainty and the only path open would be acting on suppositions. It might be said that without the confirmation reason even supposition could not be obtained in all cases. In some cases even an illusion is hard to gain. Actually there would be no religion without the confirmation of Holy Imam and there would be no certainty. Whereas believing in Imam’s confirmation and observing its effects in the world a certain, lasting religion and not a suppositions or illusions will be gained. Here we are going to mention very briefly the fundamental basis of this reason. And then, God willing, we will point out that this proposal and view by Shaikhi ulama is not to create differences or express personal viewpoints or insistence and showing prejudice about personal or group taste but an effort to reach the truth and reality and to describe it.
The intention was to briefly describe the proof by confirmation and endorsement. As a fact Shaikhi Ulama have written numerous books on this subject and proven it by reasons of wisdom, “Moeze Hasaneh” (or “The best argument” is an argument without any doubt about it. No wise person can abrogate it and it does not need any certification. Understanding it is not through reasoning but denotation). And ‘mojadeleh bellati hia ahsan’(when a person is knowledgeable about an issue and is at a position to dictate good deeds or interdict bad deeds, if he argues the issue on the basis of the undisputables of Qurran and undisputables of the fundamentals of Shia and Muslims, and by wise reasons supported by traditions, and so proves that issue it is called “mojahedeh bellatin hia ahsan’ or arguing by means of what is better than all.)
For example the late Haj Mohammad Karim Khan-e-Kermany has extensively discussed this issue in the epistels “Ghavaed” (Rules), “Elm-ol-Yaghin” (the knowledge of certainty), “Tasdid” (confirmation), and in the book “Fetrat-os-Salimeh” (perfect disposition) and many books on jurisprudence and principles. Interested individuals should refer to those books. We are actually listing part of those reasonings.
The general meaning of this expression in jurisprudence principles is that any time we gain certainty about the tidings or reports that have reached us and we have taken them from the same sources that Imams have specified then they are exactly the rules and matters that Imam has considered right for us and has delivered it to us. So such tiding and reports, or in some cases such people, that have not been revoked by God and also that we have not received any reason showing their untruthfulness, are asserted and established by Imam and consequently confirmed by God.
A brief reason for this issue is that Shaikhi Ulama argue that there is no doubt that God created people for seeking knowledge of Him. He is capable and able to do anything. He is also a knowing omniscient creator. Since in the beginning the mankind was ignorant and didn’t realize what was good or bad for them God sent prophets to guide them. The prophets were knowledgeable, wise, able, and obedient toward God to perform their mission and deliver the rules of God and to welcome people of God’s mercy or frighten them of His wrath, to teach and guide to facilitate the salvation of the nations.
This is true for all prophets especially our Prophet who is nobler and superior to all prophets and also the last one of them. His nation is the last nation and his religion the last religion. That’s why he must have brought whatever is necessary for their salvation and to guide them till the judgment day and to deliver to people whenever they need it. There is no doubt that he has come and delivered his mission for twenty three years. Then he announced: “Halaal (permitted to do or eat) and Haraam (not permitted to do or eat) are more than I could count for you, so I will leave them to Ali, the son of Abi Talib, and the Imams after him to explain for people.” As he had predicted, the twelve Holy Imams, his successors, came and explained God’s ruling for people, which were entrusted with them. Until God saw it prudent for the twelfth one to go into concealment, that he did, and advised the nation to refer to the reporters of the tidings and traditions of his infallible predecessors. He said that these reporters are his hojjat (proof) to the people and that he is God’s hojjat.
It means that when there are people who have the characteristics and attributes of truthful reporters people must refer to them. These are those ulama whose attributes were counted by Hazrat Sadegh (God’s salutations on him): “Whoever is of ulama (jurisprudents), safeguards his essence from his nature, resists his whims and desires, and obeys his lord people can adhere to him”. This adherence is the same following which was mentioned in the preceding tiding about ‘referring to the reporters of our traditions.’ This actually means taking the tidings from them which in reality is taking from Imam.
It is obvious that they have not ordered the nation to follow private views of those Ulama. It is mentioned at the end of the same tiding that only some of Ulama have these attributes not all of them.
The purpose behind all this emphasis, and insisting on having these accomplishments and distinguished characters and souls is to be obedient to their Imam and not self-willed or inclined to act independently from the Holy Imam. That’s why the reporter must be true to his own attributes and to the reports and tidings which he reports very carefully. Such persons with such unblemished souls are appropriate to be confirmed, established, and supported by Imam. And their conjecture, which is in reality reporting the traditions of Imams, whether it’s a single tiding or a compound of a few reports, is exactly the ruling that God prefers for people and is confirmed by the Holy Imam.
Expanding on this issue they say that if the 12th Imam is in concealment and cannot have any benefit for God’s religion then the prophet’s and Imams’ instructions are handled by liars, cheats, and frauds or altered through mistakes or oversight by those who copied the reports, and a variety of events- which no doubt may exist- these would render the tidings useless, they won’t be truthful and changed so much that God would not be satisfied with them. So it must be thought that either God has not been able to deliver his religion to people or the Prophet did not fulfill his mission or Imams have not protected the religion and that the last Imam’s concealment has happened without wisdom or program and at the time being Imam cannot do anything about the problem –God forbid-.
So the duty- bound nation cannot know God’s ruling for sure, and for now this is what we have and not more than a guess can be obtained about the righteousness of the tidings and these conjectures plus the wisdom of Ulama, together or by itself, according to the issue and the time, must choose the God’s ruling.
Whereas the Shia nation admits that Imam’s existence is for safekeeping the religion and because of this he has the power to command plus universal guardianship. As God set him up to protect the religion He gave him all the necessary tools including knowledge, power, and command; he is infallible that’s why not only he will not disobey God but also won’t leave a preferred action for a non-preferred one. So he will certainly preserve the religion and deliver the correct rulings to people at each time as he deems advisable.
Hearts and minds of Ulama are in his hand and especially those Ulama who fit the attributes mentioned in the tiding, ascribed to Hazrate Sadgh (God’s salutations be on him), whose hearts are like mirrors and when they cleanse their essence, and pray for Imam to show them the answer to their problem, and if they stay within the realm of reports and traditions the answer which is certainly the right answer for them and other people will reach them. So they will derive the right ruling from correct tidings and this is actually God’s confirmation and assertion which is practiced by the concealed Imam. Imam confirms and installs the true Ulama to deliver to people exactly that diction which God wants.
In short Shaikhis say that the world has a master who is knowledgeable and powerful. He has not left the protection of his religion at the mercy of the temporal events but to the Holy Imam who has both incipient and religious authority and the affairs of religion are entrusted in him. None of the affairs of the world is hidden from him and there is no problem that he cannot solve and set right. Protecting the God’s religion is his duty. He is infallible too so he has and will fulfill his duties. Our ulama say to those who don’t believe this reason: “Your imaginations are based on the assumption that Imam does not control and protect. Sometimes you say that the existence of Imam is a courtesy and his control is another courtesy, whereas the tidings concerning the virtues of Mohammed and his household (God’s salutations be upon them) express that the existence of Imam is obligatory and his control is a certainty, necessary, and obligatory.
If we really believe in virtues and the lofty status of Imams and go beyond a vocal admission in our faith about their virtues and accept all the necessities and accompaniments of those virtues and then consider the issues in the world on the basis of the fact of existence of such persons in the world many problems, including this grave one will be solved. And considering the presence of Imam, and his being witness and also being able to control, believing in all those conjectures and presumptions change into certainty and knowledge.
Of course all these issues have been proven by Shaikhi ulama through various reasons and methods and we mentioned only some of them here for brevity.
But the differences of viewpoints between Shaikhi ulama and others, concerning sapience and the lore such as resurrection, the Prophet’s ascension, some of the virtues of Imams and ulama which has been hard to accept by certain temperaments, it must be said first that such view-point differences are not new and have always existed amongst Shia and Muslims and are not the basis of infidelity or piety. In fact the existence of an environment where thinkers can express their opinions is elemental for the development and improvement of the society and the advancement of science.
Taking into consideration the verses of Quran and tidings, different reasons intrinsic or mundane about bodily resurrection or bodily ascension, Shaikhi ulama had arrived at an explanation which would interpret the levels and ranks of various worlds easier. It would solve many problems including incorrect ideas of the previous Ulama about the dense and impenetrable cosmos, also the famous issue of “Khargh”(meaning splitting which refers to the notion of skies being made of solid ruby which had to be split for the Prophet to ascend to Heaven) and “Eltiam”(meaning restoration of the split after the Prophet descended). They also expressed their point of view about resurrection and although they have not dismissed physical or spiritual resurrection they’ve expanded on the subject of the ‘body’ that returns and proved by various reasons that resurrection is with a more delicate body which was somewhat different from the imaginations and primary interpretations of non-professionals. As, was the custom of those days, some clerics cried “heresy” as soon as they heard an idea which was slightly different from what they had in their mind. They treated the viewpoints of Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii with the same attitudes and cries of objection were heard from some, arguing that the idea that there is a more delicate body that resurrects is heresy.
The excommunicators never paid any attention to the fact that this is one of the greatest issues of divine wisdom that has stymied many of Ulama in conceiving even its preliminaries. It is absolutely impossible for people whose expertise is limited to jurisprudence or exoteric aspects of religion or the laws of Halaal or Haraam (allowed or forbidden) to accept or reject these ideas summarily. They did not take into consideration at all that till then there had been fourteen different versions defining the characteristics of resurrection and there never was a consensus on bodily resurrection so that infringing on it would constitute a malfeasance.
In short, heedless of the above, they repudiated the great omniscient who endeavored to extract and describe philosophical matters, and divine sapience, of course with reference to reports and tidings of Mohammed and his household (God’s salutations be upon them). Most probably many of those who repudiated did not exactly know what they were rejecting or what really the reason for his excommunication was.
Regretfully the history of science contains many such occurrences. Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii believed that physical elements don’t return to the other world, because they have not come from there. There is a more delicate essence within man which goes to the other world along with the spirit. This issue has been fully expounded in Ershad-ol-Avam, along with extensive reasoning, also in Mahdavieh both written by Haj Mohammad Karim Khan Kermany (may God exalt his status).
Also the nature of ascension of the Prophet is a judgmental issue over which Shaikhis are at discord with some other ulama. Shaikhis say that although ascension was done bodily but it wasn’t the physical body composed of the elements. And the idea that the Prophet flew like a missiles from the earth towards this visible sky is a laical illusion because flying into the sky has to be in one of the direction whereas the Prophet’s ascension was for proximity to God who does not reside in one side of the sky so that one can approach Him by following one of the usual earthly directions. Such notions necessitate limiting God to a certain direction which would mean his absence at other directions which is in clear opposition of the principle of God’s unity and exclusiveness.
We reported the subject very briefly and avoided scientific expressions and descriptions. If anyone wants the detailed reasoning of Shaikhis must refer to their principle books in sapience, such as “Sharhe Ziarate Jamee Kabire” and “Sharhe Arshieh” and “Sharhe Mashaer” by Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii, also “Alfetrat-os-Salime” and “Ershad-ol-Avam” by Haj Mohammad Karim Khan Kermany, and other books by the ulama of this school.
Another difference of viewpoints of Shaikhis with other recent Ulama is that most Shias count the principles of the religion as five while Shaikhis count four. This does not mean that they deny any of the principles but they say this counting of principles is not taken from the holy book or traditions and it is a matter of Ulama’s preference, whereas counting “justice” as one of God’s attributes is not a preferred choice today. Besides it is recounted within the first principle: “the unity and exclusiveness of God.” As it is necessary to accept and believe in His knowledge, power, immortality, abundance, and other attributes within the first principle, it is not then necessary to mention justice separately. Also counting “resurrection” specifically is not necessary since it is contained in the second principle: “believing in the Prophet and what he has brought from God” because resurrection is one of them. We believe in His commands and discourses so mentioning resurrection in particular does not have a particular preference.
But the thing that should be a principle of orthodoxy, and we do have tidings and traditions showing that it is, is the fourth principle of religion which is: recognizing the Shia religious leaders, brotherhood, the issue of cherishing the brethren and enmity toward others. All these are a single subject and its being a principle is quite evident and well founded. When we can’t receive revelations from God, the Prophet isn’t among us, and the Imam is in concealment, inevitably we have to refer to Shia ulama and dignitaries.
Unfortunately there are truthful and untruthful, also good and bad among ulama then how can knowing them be not a principle and referring to them be without recognition and confidence. So recognition of those ulama, who are considered our older brothers, is a principle. We must recognize the truthful from the liar, to love and cherish the truthful and avoid the liars.
There are many books on this subject by Shaikhis most renown of all being that same Ershad-ol-Avam, the fourth volume of which deals with this subject which the Shaikhis call “Rokne-Rabe” or “the fourth column”.
Shaikhi ulama have difference of opinion with many thinkers and philosophers on some judgmental issues. They neither accept pantheism, (God and the material universe being of the same substance), nor that all creatures, including the Prophet and his household being of the same substance as opposed to God. This is too detailed to explain in this summary. For various issues one should refer to particular books such as “Sharhe Mashaer” or “Sharhe Arshieh” and so on.
This much will suffice here. Now in order that those who refer to this site get acquainted with the names of Shaikhi ulama we’ll mention a few lines about each one. For more detailed information one should refer to “Sharhe Ahval va Fehrest Kotobe Mashayekhe Ezam” (Biography and the list of books of exalted Mashaikh) by the late Haj Abolghasem Khan Ebrahimi.
The true recognition of these erudite is obtained through the books that they’ve written which add up to twelve hundred volumes of treatise, small or voluminous books in various Islamic sciences.
It should be noticed that today all those who call themselves Shaikhi or followers of Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii (may God exalt his status) don’t necessarily follow the above mentioned omniscient and many propensities have appeared in the school. For example one group follows only Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii and Said Kazem Rashti . Some others favor Haj Mohammad Karim Khan in addition to the above two. Possibly each group has different viewpoints from other groups. Our reason for mentioning these eight great scholars was not due to kinship or father and son relationship but because in my opinion and the opinion of our friends and fellow thinkers, regardless of any prejudice, these omniscient were the best reference for acquiring science, sapience, and worldly wisdom of Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii (may God exalt his status). I don’t mean that they were at the same status as the eminent Shaikh but some of them might not have reached his status and reported from him. The purpose of mentioning them specifically is that among the ulama of Shaikhis, contemporary to each of them, we don’t recognize anyone who could take precedence over them in having acquired the essence of the sapience, the soul of knowledge, insight, and instructions of which the eminent Shaikh was the forerunner.
“This is what I’ve picked and all its good ones are in it; though any picker eats the good ones himself” (Arabic poem)
Concluding this foreword, while emphasizing again that Shaikhis are not apart from the twelve-Imam Shiite but a group whose scholars have had viewpoints concerning religious sciences and divine sapience and just like other Shia ulama have disclosed their views and are considered one of the main schools of thought among Shiite. It is appropriate to report what the great jurisprudent, scholar, and interpreter the late Aiatollah Allameh Tabatabii (may God bestow the paradise on him) has said about Shaikhis in his book “Shia in Islam” to show that those scholars who were connoisseurs of philosophy, sapience, and jurisprudence not only don’t excommunicate or deny hurriedly but also consider this school of thought of Shia and not a separate group from Shia. In the above mentioned book and at the end of a chapter about the branches of Shiite he mentions:” The two clans of Shaikhi and Karim Khani that have appeared during the last two centuries have expressed issues from a different point of view. Since they don’t deny or confirm any of the basic principle we don’t consider their division a separation.”
Issues that he has mentioned include things like the characteristics of resurrection, the ascension of the Prophet (God’s salutations be upon him), some issues in jurisprudence, philosophy, and divine sapience. And by’ … they don’t deny or confirm… ‘it is meant that he believed Shaikhis have no difference with other Shiite in confirming or refuting the principles of beliefs and that there is no separation or faction. The only issue refers to their interpretation of some theoretical issues which has established a school of thought within the Shiite. Obviously there are differences of opinion among ulama o---n theoretical issues and does not necessitates heresy, piety, staying within bounds of religion or getting out of it.
The expression “Karim Khani that the reverend Allameh has used, according to Azerbaijani people, refers to those Shaikhis who followed Haj Said Kazem Rashti and Haj Mohammad Karim Khan Kermani(May God exalt their status) after Shaikh Ahmad Ahsaii. These people who constitute the largest portion of Shaikhis and are scattered in various regions and countries are called Shaikhis.
We will suffice with this brief introduction of Shaikhis in the foreword to this collection of their books called “Ketab-ol-Abrar” (the Book of the Pious)
God’s blessing and salvation be upon Mohammad and His household who are the unblemished and pure.