vii. In Shaikhism

It is in some respects redundant to speak of a “Shaikhi cosmology” distinct from that of Imami Shiʿism as a whole (see v, above). Shaikhi ideas never developed independently of ordinary Shiʿite thought but were either part of it (during the lifetime of Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī; 1166-1241/1753-1826) or in dialogue or conflict with it (during the periods of his successors, from Sayyed Kāẓem Raštī to the present leadership of the school). For this reason, it is extremely difficult to form a picture of Shaikhi doctrine free of apologetic or obfuscation.

Shaikhi cosmology and cosmogony are rooted in the numerous Imami aḵbār (reports) in which the origins and structure of the universe are set forth in detail. The distinctiveness of the Shaikhi worldview lies in a metaphysical interpretation of the standard Imami cosmological doctrines, a heavy emphasis on the role of the imams as creators and sustainers of the universe, and several innovative anthropogenic concepts having a direct bearing on individual eschatology.

Among the earliest charges laid against Aḥsāʾī was tafwīż, imputation of God’s creative activity to the imams as demiurges (for the orthodox criticisms, see Hamadānī, pp. 23ff.; for Aḥsāʾī’s defense against the charge of ḡolūw, exceeding proper boundaries, see 1355-56 Š./1976-77, IV, pp. 59ff.). Using standard Aristotelian terminology, Aḥsāʾī described the imams as the four causes of the universe: the active cause (al­-ʿella al-fāʿelīya), in that the world was brought into being through them as the loci of God’s will (or of His actions); the material cause (al-ʿella al-māddīya), in that the universe is constructed from the residue of the rays of their light; the formal cause (al-ʿella al-ṣūrīya), in that God created the forms of all creatures from the lights of their bodies (hayākel); and the final cause (al-ʿella al-ḡāʾīya), in that God created all things for them and will return all to them (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-­77, I, pp. 196-97, II, p. 193, IV, p. 47).

More technically, the material of the world (māddat jamīʿ boldān al-donyā) is composed of all the elements from the residue (fāżel) of the rays emanating from their physical bodies (ajsād). This residue is itself understood to take the form of additional rays, and the ajsād are themselves rays from their spiritual bodies (ajsām). Similarly, the forms of worldly things are created from the residue of the rays emanating from their phantom images (ašbāḥ); these phantom images are shadows or illuminated corporealities (abdān nūrānīya) without spirits. The souls (nofūs) of worldly things are created from the residue of the rays of the souls of their humanity (nofūs bašarīyātehem; Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, I, p. 76). Elsewhere Aḥsāʾī wrote in more conventional terms, describing the material substances (mawādd) of things as having been brought into existence from the light of Moḥammad and their forms from that of ʿAlī (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, I, pp. 39-40). He stressed, however, that the imams were not actually creators, the causes of men’s actions, or sustainers of the world, such epithets being reserved for God (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, IV, p. 57).

According to Aḥsāʾī, existence is entirely good (enna’l-wojūd ḵayr kolloh; Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-­77, II, p. 185). Nevertheless, a sharp, almost Manichean division between good and evil, truth and falsehood exists. When God created universal reason (al-ʿaql al-­kollī), the first of the spiritual existences, He immedi­ately brought its opposite, universal ignorance (al-jahl al-kollī), into being. Aḥsāʾī rejected the view that darkness is merely the absence of light and in itself nonexistence, on the grounds that God had created it (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, II, p. 181; cf. III, p. 9, on negation, al-nafy, as a created thing).

The imams are created from light, their enemies from darkness, and all others from a mixture of the two (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, II, p. 68). Man is formed of reason and ignorance, having two “mirrors” within him, one facing reason, the other ignorance (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, II, p. 18). As representations of good, the imams are in a state of perpetual confronta­tion with their counterparts, the “imams of error” (aʾemmat al-żalāla; Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, II, pp. 258, 260, 292). Heaven was created from love of the imams, hell from hatred of them (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, II, p. 273; cf. IV, p. 157). This division of the world between the forces of affirmation and denial came to play a major role in the cosmological system of the Bāb (see babism).

Aḥsāʾī divided the universe in conventional fashion into three principal parts: al-donyā or al-molk (the present world), al-āḵera or al-malakūt (the transcen­dent world), and an interworld (barzaḵ) between them (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, III, p. 41; idem, n.d., p. 308; in a more elaborate division he added a tempo­rally prior al-ʿālam al-awwal “first world”; Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, IV, p. 201).

Similarly, the periods of the world are three: al-­donyā (the present period), al-rajʿa (the time of the return of Moḥammad and the imams), and al-qīāma (the age of universal resurrection; Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, III, p. 183). This periodization corresponds to the parts of the universe, the age of al-donyā being equivalent to the physical realm of al-donyā, the time of the rajʿa to a barzaḵ between al-donyā and al-­qīāma, and the age of al-qīāma to al-āḵera (al-rajʿa is sometimes said to correspond to al-āḵera, which is then considered to follow al-donyā immediately, with­out an interworld; Aḥsāʾī, 1273/1856, “ʿEṣma wa rajʿa,” p. 102). Within these three periods time (zamān) itself is altered, growing more subtle as it moves from a worldly to an otherworldly state (Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, III, pp. 305, 357-58; Hamadānī, p. 340).

The barzaḵ between the spiritual and physical realms is generally referred to in Shaikhi literature as hūrqalyā. The term played an important role in the works of Aḥsāʾī, who claimed to have borrowed it from a Syriac word used by the Sabeans (Mandeans) of Iraq (Aḥsāʾī, n.d., p. 309). Moḥammad Moʿīn, however, has suggested (p. 84) that it was derived from the Hebrew phrase habal qarnaīm (doppelgänger) and that its correct pronunciation is hawarqalyā. Henry Corbin proposed an origin for the concept in the Mandean world of “celestial images” (mšunia kušta), though he admitted some difficulty in finding an etymological connection between the two terms (1971-72, II, p. 310 and n. 440). Aḥsāʾī was not the first Muslim author to use the term. Its earliest occurrence in an Islamic context seems to have been in the writings of Šehāb-al-­Dīn Yaḥyā Sohravardī, who used it as an analogue for the celestial realm of similitudes (ʿālam aflāk al-­moṯol; Sohravardī, Ketāb al-mašārīʿ wa’l-moṭāraḥāt, cited in Corbin, 1960, p. 195; Moʿīn, pp. 84-85). According to Aḥsāʾī, hūrqalyā is a barzaḵ between the realms of molk (al-donyā) and malakūt; he described it in one place as “another molk” (Aḥsāʾī, n.d., p. 308). Its lowest extension touches the “prime mover,” the outermost of the celestial spheres, “in rank but not in direction.” Images appearing in physical mirrors be­long to this level of hūrqalyā (Aḥsāʾī, n.d., p. 309). In temporal terms it stands between the highest point of earthly time (aʿlā al-zamān) and the lowest level of eternity (asfal al-dahr; 1856, I/2, p. 136). Hūrqalyā is situated in the “eighth clime” (al-eqlīm al-ṯāmen), of which it forms the highest part, with the cities of Jābalqā and Jābarsā forming the lower. The earthly paradise (jannat al-donyā) is located in the western part of hūrqalyā and the earthly hell (nār al-donyā) to the east (for an extended account of the Shaikhi con­cept of hūrqalyā and its antecedents, see Corbin, 1960).

The realm of hūrqalyā plays an important role in Shaikhi eschatology. Although accounts of eschatological events in the works of Aḥsāʾī and later Shaikhi writers are structured on a traditional basis (see Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, III, pp. 54-121; idem, 1856, I/1, pp. 9-14, 38-111), a barrage of orthodox criticism has been leveled at their explanation of physi­cal resurrection. For Aḥsāʾī, personal eschatology was rooted in a concept of man as a being possessed of four distinct “bodies”: two jasad and two jesm. The former denotes “body” as an animate, organic substance, the latter “body” in the sense of something possessing mass and volume. According to Aḥsāʾī, man origi­nally entered the physical realm from the unseen world (ʿālam al-ḡayb). In his essence he consists of a “real self” (al-ensān al-ḥaqīqī, al-jesm al-ḥaqīqī, al-jesm al-aṣlī, referred to here as al-jesm al-ṯānī, or jesm II) made up of five constituent elements: intellect (ʿaql), soul (nafs), essential nature (ṭabīʿa), primal matter (hayūlā), and archetype (meṯāl; Aḥsāʾī, n.d., pp. 109-­10; but cf. p. 112; spirit, rūḥ, is added to these five in Aḥsāʾī, 1355-56 Š./1976-77, IV, p. 332). In his descent to al-donyā, this essential self acquired acciden­tal blemishes (aʿrāż). Thus, in the world of similitudes (hūrqalyā), it acquired an accidental counterpart (jesm I), made up of the elements of hūrqalyā; this stage also appears to be the one at which the essential jasad (al-­jasad al-bāqī, jasad II) attached itself. At the final level of descent the latter acquired its nonessential counterpart (al-jasad al-ʿonṣorī, jasad I), composed of the elements of al-donyā (Aḥsāʾī, n.d., p. 310).

This process becomes clearer when viewed in re­verse. Jasad I is a wholly physical entity composed of the dense elements of this world. It is compared to the garment put on by the real man or to the density that renders silica and potash opaque in their natural state (in contrast to their transparent state when heated and transformed into glass). At death its constituent parts return to their origin in the grave, from which they will not be resurrected. Jasad II, however, is a subtle body composed of the elements of hūrqalyā. It represents the real man, with neither addition (e.g., from food) or depletion (e.g., through loss of limbs), and it will remain intact in the grave after the decomposition of its gross counterpart. It is, of course, invisible to the fleshly eye. At the time of the resurrection a water will fill the earth, causing the limbs of jasad II to be reassembled. Thereupon a trumpet will blow, the spirits of men will rejoin their subtle bodies, and the latter will rise from the grave.

Of the two jesms the grosser, jesm I, provides a vehicle for the spirit on its departure from the physical body. Unlike jasad II (which remains in the grave), jesm I remains with the spirit, accompanying it and the supracelestial body, jesm II, to the earthly paradise (jannat al-donyā) or hell (nār al-donyā), situated, as noted, in the realm of hūrqalyā (from which jesm I originated). Here they will all remain until the first blast of the trumpet of resurrection. At that point the relatively dense form of jesm I will be destroyed, leaving only the original jesm (jesm II), purified of all opacity. At the second blast of the trumpet the spirit and jesm II will descend together into the tomb, where they will penetrate into jasad II as a vehicle for their entry to paradise or hell. Man’s “resurrected body” will therefore consist of a combination of the original jesm and original jasad.

Although this system of four bodies was not retained in either Babism or the Bahai faith (see viii, below), its influence may still be discerned in the allegorized eschatology and spiritual survival detailed in the writings of both groups.



Shaikh Aḥmad Aḥsāʾī, Šarḥ al-­zīāra al-jāmeʿa al-kabīra, 4 vols., Kermān, 1355-56 Š./1976-77.

Idem, Jawāmeʿ al-kalem, 2 vols., Tabrīz, 1273-76/1856-1860.

Idem, Majmūʿat al-rasāʾel al-ḥekmīya, Kermān, n.d.

H. Corbin, En Islam iranien, 4 vols., Paris, 1971-72.

Idem, Terre céleste et corps de résurrection de l’Iran mazdéen à l’Iran shîʿite, Paris, 1960 (contains an appendix with numerous Shaikhi texts); tr. N. Pearson as Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Princeton, N.J., 1977.

Ḥājī Moḥammad-Bāqer Hamadānī, Ketāb al-ejtenāb, n.p., 1308/1890-91.

Ḥājī Moḥammad-Karīm Khan Kermānī, Eršād al-ʿawāmm, 4th ed., 4 vols. in 2, Kermān, 1380/1960-61.

M. Moʿīn, “Havarqalyā,” MDAT 1/3, 1333 Š./1954, pp. 78-105.

V. Rafati, The Development of Shaykhi Thought in Shiʿi Islam, Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1979 (esp. chap. 4).

Sayyed Kāẓem Raštī, Majmaʿ al-rasāʾel, Kermān, n.d. Idem, Šarḥ al-ḵoṭba al-­ṭotonjīya, Tabrīz, 1270/1854.

(Denis M. MacEoin)

Originally Published: December 15, 1993

Last Updated: October 31, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VI, Fasc. 3, pp. 326-328