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Shaikh Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani

Category: Philosopher

A manuscript page of the Qur'an in the script developed
in al-Andalus, 12th century

The following description by Henry Corbin provides both a short biography, but perhaps more important a context in which Shaikh Muhammad Karim Khan Kirmani can be seen.

History of Islamic Philosophy - Henry Corbin [translated by Liadain Sherrard -  SHAYKH AHMAD AHSA'I AND THE SHAYKHI SCHOOL OF KIRMAN

The Shaykhi school …. occupies a place which is completely its own. As for the designations 'shaykhism' and 'shaykhis', it was not the school itself which chose them in order to distinguish itself, they were chosen by 'others', who gave it these names in order to define its students as disciples of the 'shaykh' — that is, of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i.

Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i had never even had the intention of founding a school, and did not mean to differ from the 'others' save in his strict adherence to the integral theosophical teachings of the Imams of Twelver Shiism.

He had deepened this teaching through a life of personal meditation, and possessed evidence of it in his inner experiences, in which he was privileged to speak in vision to the Imams whom he regarded as his only teachers. This integral Imamism confronted a persistent failure of understanding, the history of which is not particularly edifying. It should nevertheless be said that it had the scope of a metaphysical reformation, possessing quite different aims from those envisaged by the 'reformist' movements which sprang up elsewhere in the Islamic world.

 

Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i was a man of noble spirituality, who manifested all the features of a 'man of God' — something that has never been contested. He was born in 1166/1753 atal-Ahsa', in the territory of Bahrayn. He appears to have been of pure Arab descent, coming originally from the part of Arabia which is on the coast of the Persian Gulf (where the Qarmats in the tenth century had founded a little ideal State, visited by Nasir-i Khusraw).

But he spent about fifteen years in Iran, and were it not for the response and the enthusiasm aroused there by his person and teaching, ‘Shaykhism' would doubtless not exist. His first steps along the spiritual way are known to us from his autobiography.

 

The Shaykhi tradition has no teacher of whom he might have claimed to be a disciple. It is as though he had no teacher other than the ustadh-i ghaybi — that inner teacher whom other spiritual men have also claimed as their own, but who in his case expressly designates in turn one of the 'Fourteen Immaculate Ones'. Nevertheless, we know the names of a few teachers whose lectures he attended. After an astonishingly full life, in which he inspired fervent devotion in his followers — and also, unfortunately, the all too human jealousy of some of his colleagues — he died a few steps away from Medina in 1241 /1826: his intention had been to settle in Mecca with his family.

His work is considerable, and consists of over a hundred and thirty-two titles — many more, in fact, for certain works are collections of several treatises. Almost everything he wrote has been published in lithographic editions.

The successors of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i have all been exceptional thinkers and spiritual men, although this by no means guaranteed them a peaceful existence.

Leaf from a Qur'an Manuscript

Firstly, there was the figure who was truly his spiritual son, Sayyid Kazim Rashti, born at Rasht, south-west of the Caspian Sea, 1212/1798,and dying at Baghdad in 1259/1843. Sayyid Kazim was gifted with a rare aptitude for profound metaphysical speculation, and he too wrote a considerable number of works. Some of these unfortunately disappeared, together with a number of autograph manuscripts of Shaykh Ahmad, when his home in Karbala' was plundered, as happened on two occasions. With Shaykh Ahmad's second successor, the school established its centre at Kirman in south-eastern Iran, where it has a madrasa of theology, a college and a printing works.

Shaykh Muhammad Karim-Khan Kirmani, who was born at Kirman in 1225/1809 and who died in 1288/1870, belonged through his father, Ibrahim-Khan, to the imperial ruling family. He studied under Sayyid Kazim at Karbala', and has left an impressive number of works (more than two hundred and seventy-eight titles) covering the whole field of Islamic and philosophical sciences, including alchemy, medicine, optics and music.

qu'ran old illuminated manuscript

His son, Shaykh Muhammad-Khan Kirmani (1263/1846-1324/1906), who succeeded him, also wrote an enormous number of works. Father and son were in intimate collaboration, both intellectual and spiritual, and this was also the case between Muhammad-Khan and his younger brother, Shaykh Zaynal- 'Abidln Khan Kirmani (1276/1859-1360/1942), who succeeded him and whose equally considerable writings are in the main unedited.

Finally, the fifth successor, Shaykh Abu al-Qasim Ibrahimi, known as 'Sarkar Agha' (1314/1896-1389/1969), was also the author of important works in which he had to confront the most burning questions. He was succeeded by his son 'Abd al-Rida Khan Ibrahimi, who has already published a great deal. Altogether the works of these masters, which are preserved in Kirman, amount to a thousand titles, of which barely half have been published.

 The pictures have been chosen for their interest, rather than their direct association with the text.

References

  • Risālah dar javāb-i suʾālāt-i niẓām al-ʻulamā
  • Risālah-i sī faṣl.
  • Irshād al-ʻawāmm.
  • Sulṭānīyeh.
  • Risāleh-yi Nuṣrat al-dīn.
  • Hād︠h︡ihi risālah sulṭānīyah .
  • Taqwīm al-ʻawaj.
  • Kitab-i shams-i al-mudiʾah .
  • Hādhā kitāb Daqāʼiq al-ʻilāj fī al-ṭibb al-badanī 
  • Hādhā kitāb ʻIlm al-yaqān

Observations

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