, SHAIKH MOḤAMMAD B. ḤOSAYN BAHĀʾĪ, Imami scholar and author, a prolific writer, in Imami circles regarded as one of the leading lights of his age (1547-1621).


BAHĀʾ-AL-DĪN ʿĀMELĪ, SHAIKH MOḤAMMAD B. ḤOSAYN BAHĀʾĪ, also known as Shaikh Bahāʾī, Imami scholar and author born near Baalbek on 27 Ḏu’l-ḥejja 953/18 February 1547 (other dates are also given). He moved with the rest of his family to Isfahan and from there to Qazvīn after the execution in 966/1558 of al-Šahīd al-Ṯānī, who had been his father’s mentor; reports that Bahāʾī was taken to Khorasan already at the age of seven are probably incorrect. Bahāʾī’s father was appointed by Shah Ṭahmāsb I (r. 930/1524-984/1576) to serve as šayḵ-al-eslām in several important cities to propagate Twelver Shiʿism among the populace. According to some authorities, Bahāʾī accompanied his father throughout these years; others maintain that he remained in Qazvīn to pursue his studies. Uncertainty also surrounds Bahāʾī’s whereabouts after his father relinquished his post to go on the hajj. According to one version, Bahāʾī accompanied him to Mecca and to Bahrain where he stayed until his father’s death in 984/1576-77, and only then returned to Iran to take up the post in Herat that had once been his father’s. A second version has it that Shah Ṭahmāsb refused to let Bahāʾī leave the country and ordered him instead to replace his father as šayḵ-al-eslām in Herat. The existence of a letter sent to Bahāʾī from his father in Bahrain argues in favor of the second version.

Bahāʾī’s erudition won him the admiration of Shah ʿAbbās I (r. 996/1588-1038/1639), who appointed him šayḵ-al-eslām of Isfahan after the death of the previous incumbent, Bahāʾī’s father-in-law Zayn-al-Dīn ʿAlī Menšār ʿĀmelī (from whom Bahāʾī inherited a particularly rich library). During his years in Isfahan he befriended Mīr Dāmād and counted among his many students Mollā Ṣadrā and Moḥsen al-Fayż. He was known for his charitable deeds, which included turning his home into a refuge for orphans, widows, and the poor. Bahāʾī was active in the service of the Safavid state and advocated the expansion of the powers of the ʿolamāʾ. He resigned his post after a brief period, perhaps in reaction to attacks by rival clerics.

Bahāʾī spent a number of years traveling outside Iran. After performing the hajj he went to Egypt (where he is known to have been in 992/1584, associating with Shaikh Moḥammad b. Abi’l-Ḥasan Ṣeddīqī Šāfeʿī, d. 993/1585), to Jerusalem (where he spent much of his time at the Masjed al-Aqṣā) and Syria. Reports that he only returned to Iran after thirty years are, however, contradicted by his own testimony. He is thus known to have visited Tabrīz in 993/1585, Qazvīn in 1001/1592-93, Mašhad in 1007/1598-99 (or 1008/1599-1600), and Azerbaijan in 1015/1606, the latter two places in the company of Shah ʿAbbās. It is likely that Bahāʾī did not leave Iran after 1019/1610. He spent his last years in Isfahan, and died there on 12 Šawwāl 1030/30 August 1621 (or 12 Šawwāl 1031/20 August 1622). He was buried in Ṭūs.

Bahāʾī was a prolific writer, composing perhaps as many as one hundred works in both Arabic and in Persian. Among the best known are the two anthologies, Kaškūl (written in Egypt) and the earlier Meḵlāṭ, both consisting of morsels of information on divers subjects in typical adab fashion. He composed works on tafsīr, ḥadīṯ, grammar, and feqh (such as the Jāmeʿ-e ʿabbāsī and the epistle prohibiting the consumption of meat slaughtered by the ahl al-ketāb). His interest in the sciences is evident in works such as the astronomical treatise Fī tašrīḥ al-aflāk (Anatomy of the heavens) and the summa of arithmetic, Ḵolāṣat al-ḥesāb (of which a German translation by G. H. L. Nesselmann was published as early as 1843). In addition, he wrote a book of divination (Fāl-nāma) and other works on the occult sciences. Bahāʾī was also a poet, and is best remembered for his two allegorical maṯnawīs, Nān o ḥalwā and Šīr o šakar (both published, together with other works, in Cairo [1347/1928-29] and later in Tehran [ed. Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Jawāherī, 1341 Š./1962] under the title Kollīyāt-e ašʿār wa āṯār-e fārsī-e Šayḵ Bahāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad al-ʿĀmelī mašhūr be Šayḵ Bahāʾī).

In Imami circles, Bahāʾī is regarded as one of the leading lights of his age, and as the mojadded of the eleventh/seventeenth century. It is thus noteworthy that certain Sunni scholars wish to see in him one of their own. Their attitude is apparently based on a misunderstanding of Bahāʾī’s behavior: since he moved between Ottoman and Safavid territories, probably he felt constrained to suit his public utterances to the circumstances. The actions surrounding his visit to Syria are a case in point: before entering the country, he changed the introduction to a tafsīr originally dedicated to Shah ʿAbbās and instead dedicated the work to the Ottoman Sultan Morād III (r. 982/1574-1003/1595). During his stay in Aleppo he professed his allegiance to Shafiʿite Sunnism and his love of the Ṣaḥāba, and claimed that his apparent Shiʿism had been forced on him by the Safavid ruler; and he left Aleppo in haste when he heard that people from his home area of Jabal ʿĀmel were about to visit him (thus exposing him as a Shiʿite). There is in fact no doubt that Bahāʾī was, by both upbringing and conviction, a dedicated Imami, as witness his frequent pilgrimages to the tombs of the imams, his poem in praise of the Twelfth Imam, his verses defending the practice of vilifying Abū Bakr and ʿOmar, and especially his proselytizing efforts among non-Shiʿite Iranians. In composing commentaries on Sunni works (such as the tafsīrs of Zamaḵšarī and Bayżāwī) Bahāʾī was continuing a tradition established by previous Imami authors.

Despite the subsequent apologetics of some Imami scholars, it is clear that Bahāʾī had distinct Sufi leanings, for which he was severely criticized by Moḥammad Bāqer Majlesī. In fact, Bahāʾī appears in the chain of both the Nūrbaḵsī and Neʿmatallāhī spiritual genealogies (Maʿṣūm-ʿAlīšāh, Ṭarāʾeq al-ḥaqāʾeq ed. M. J. Maḥjūb, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, I, pp. 183, 254, II, p. 322). During his travels he dressed as a dervish and frequented Sufi circles. In his Resāla fi’l-waḥda al-wojūdīya (ed. Cairo, 1328/1910), Bahāʾī speaks of the Sufis as true believers, calls for an unbiased assessment of their utterances, and refers to his own mystical experiences. His Persian verses, too, are replete with mystical allusions. At the same time Bahāʾī called for strict adherence to the šarīʿa as a prerequisite for embarking on the ṭarīqa, and condemned pantheistic and antinomian mysticism.



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(E. Kohlberg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1988

Last Updated: August 23, 2011

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Vol. III, Fasc. 4, pp. 429-430