Shaykh Ahmad Al-Ahsaʾi on the Sources of Religious Authority

Juan R. I. Cole

in The Most Learned of the Shiʿa

Published in print August 2001 | ISBN: 9780195137996
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199849055 | DOI:
Shaykh Ahmad Al-Ahsaʾi on the Sources of Religious Authority

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The Usuli ulama were not without competitors. Aside from the Akhbari school and Sufism, the Shaykhi school emerged as the ideas articulated by Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'i gained prominence during the late 18th and early 19th century. This chapter examines the ideas of Shaykh Ahmad on the issue of religious authority and shows the rich variety of influences that shaped his thinking. Shaykh Ahmad was a defender of the rationalism of the Usulis, yet the ideas of the philosopher Suhravardi are reflected in his belief that the jurist receives illumination (ishraq) from the Hidden Imam. It is argued that Shaykh Ahmad's ideas resemble those of clerics who turned to the Ni'matu'llahi Sufi order in the 19th century, though Shaykh Ahmad himself scorned Sufism and vehemently opposed blind obedience of a Sufi pir. To be a religious leader, according to Shaykh Ahmad, one must have great knowledge of jurisprudence (i.e., be trained in the Usuli school) but, in addition, he must have mystical insight. In other words, authority is “visionary yet rational, esoteric yet in accord with the literal text of scripture, and ethical in such a way as to put contemporary state practices inevitably under judgment.”.

Keywords: Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa'I; Shaykhi school; religious authority; rationalism; Usuli

Chapter.  7011 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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