The Need for a Contemporary Shaykh Baha’i

Source: Shaykh Bahā’ī barāyeh zamān mā by Rasῡl Ja’fariyān in Majmῡ’ eh maqālāt tārīkh islām va īrān, p. 1002 to 1004

400 years have elapsed since Shaykh Bahā’ī passed away yet unfortunately to date no serious research has taken place on him. Shāh Abbās had a special affinity for Shaykh Bahā’ī and held him in great esteem, respecting his status as a great scholar and a very knowledgeable person. Shāh Abbās himself was a great ruler and alongside Shaykh Bahā’ī Safavid Iran was able to reclaim some nobility for itself. Shāh Abbās himself was unparalleled and is considered to be amongst the best rulers to have ever ruled Iran at that time. Shaykh Bahā’ī likewise was an exceptional scholar, poet, mystic and extremely wise man. He was a jurist, fully aware of the conditions and situations of his time and his likes in history have been very rare.

The historical accounts in respect to these two figures are almost mythical. It is very unlikely to find an Iranian who hasn’t heard the name of Shāh Abbās and similarly there are very few who haven’t at the least heard the name of Shaykh Bahā’ī. The presence of both these individuals together should be considered one of the highlights of Iran in that era. Perhaps the most important feature shared between these two was on top of both being Shī’ī and interested in the propagation of this school, they both put great emphasis on the use of the intellect in addition to its theory and practice. A large portion of administrative matters was managed through the intellect coupled with considerable amount of knowledge on the current affairs of the world.

Shaykh Bahā’ī was someone who had travelled the world [1], he had visited pretty much every Arab country and was very familiar with the Islamic world. He recognised the environment he lived in very well, was able to tell friend from foe and was well versed in the religious and social sciences prevalent at the time. Similarly, Shāh Abbās was inquisitive and curious. He tried very hard to understand the different religions and movements of the time and where possible he would look to build bridges and arrange for dialogues to be held with the representatives of different traditions. He would also try to get as much information as possible regarding Europe out of the various European ambassadors residing in Iran. He would think from a global perspective and when he realised that the Iranian society was not ready to travel to Europe he established links with the Armenians to improve the local economy.

Shaykh Bahā’ī also had this open-mindedness and global understanding. He grew up on a juristic and ‘irfāni path and at no point in time was he seen to be dogmatic or bigoted. Not only was he open-minded when it came to other Muslim schools but this tolerance and progressiveness extended even to other religions completely. There are numerous reasons why in our time we desperately need a personality like Shaykh Bahā’ī and I would like to mention a few of the criticisms levelled against him just so we can get a glimpse to his deep thinking and his acceptance of different understandings within Islam. Shaykh Yῡsuf Bahrānī [2] narrates three issues that he himself and others had with Shaykh Bahā’ī:

One: His interest in taawwuf.

Two: His open socialising with people from different religions and different backgrounds.

Third: Having a number of weak doctrinal beliefs, such as his belief that “a person who strives completely to gain evidence (for a belief), there is no blame on him if, in reality, he has erred in his belief, and he will not remain in Hell permanently, even if (his belief) turns out to be wrong”. [3][4]

Shaykh Yῡsuf Bahrānī in his discussion on Shaykh Baha’ī’s interest with taawwuf brings the same justification that Sayyid Ni’matullāh Jazā’irī did, that Shaykh Bahā’ī would mix and mingle with all sorts of types of people and Ṣūfīs were just one of them, and even Sunnīs would claim that Shaykh Bahā’ī was one of them. Here it should be said that the fundamentals of the path of Shaykh Bahā’ī were ‘irfānī and not that of taawwuf. If we understand taawwuf to have its own historical development as an independent school and if we consider ‘irfān simply as a mystical and spiritual approach, then it is fair to say that Shaykh Bahā’ī was pretty much a mystic (and not a ṣūfī). Such an assumption (on him being a Ṣūfī) could be made by reading his poetry and his works but given his strength in jurisprudence and his status as Shaykh al-Islām it is hard to believe such an accusation.

The notion that Shaykh Bahā’ī would socialise with people from different religious backgrounds and would do so on their own terms (and not impose his view on them) highlights his ideology and spirituality which had the ability to enter and tolerate different views and different behaviours. This is the exclusive trait of someone who has an open mind, not a closed one.

As for the third issue which appears to have traces of modern-day secularism, Shaykh Yῡsuf mentions this from a number of his own teachers that he held the belief that all those who follow a school of disbelief will not stay in Hell forever provided that their exhaustive search for the truth was what led them to such a path. Shaykh Yῡsuf objects to this idea by positing that they have not searched exhaustively for the truth, for if they had done so they would have reached it. A glance at the views of Shaykh Bahā’ī and some of the harshest criticism against him makes apparent his knowledge, his broad-minded personality and the contemporary need that we have for the likes of him.


1 – Ayatollah Madadī has mentioned how Shaykh Bahā’ī is reported to have spent thirty years travelling the world.

2 – Lu’lu’ al-Bahrayn by Shaykh Yῡsuf Bahrānī, p. 20 – 21

3 – The actual phrase narrated by Shaykh Yusuf which has been attributed to Shaykh Bahā’ī is as follows: ان المکلف اذا بذل جهده فی تحصیل الدلدیل، فلیس علیه شیئ اذا کان مخطئا فی اعتقاده، و لا یخلد فی النار، و ان کان بخلاف الحق

4 – This idea has been referred to as hujjiyat al-qat’ (the probative force of certainty). Syed Kamāl Hyderīs discussion on this can be found here.

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