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Friday, 24 April 2015 06:31

Sheikh Bahaei, the shining gem of science and art

Sheikh Bahaei, the shining gem of science and art

The 3rd of Ordibehesht is commemorated every year in the Islamic Republic of Iran as National Day for the acclaimed religious scholar and scientist, Sheikh Baha od-Din Ameli. He was a master of not only jurisprudence, philosophy, and hadith, but an expert mathematician, astronomer and architect, well versed in both rational and metaphysical sciences. Please stay with us for a special feature on this multisided genius of the Safavid era.

 

Born in 953 AH in Ba’lbak in the Jabal Amel mountainous region of what is now Lebanon, Mohammad Baha od-Din or Sheikh Bahaei, as he is known, was the son of the prominent religious scholar, Izz od-Din Hussain. His grandfather Abdus-Samad was also a religious scholar, tracing lineage from Hareth al-Hamdani, the prominent companion from Yemen of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), the divinely-designated vicegerent of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA). The father of Sheikh Bahaei was a student of the celebrated Sheikh Zayn od-Din al-Jubai al-Ameli, famous as Shaheed Thani or the Second Martyr. Following the martyrdom of his teacher, Sheikh Izz od-Din Hussain, in order to avoid persecution by the Ottomans, decided to leave his homeland and migrate to Iran, along with his family, including his young son, the future Sheikh Bahaei. In Iran, the talents of the young boy flowered, as he eagerly studied various branches of sciences under the leading scholars of the Safavid Empire, and soon besides his native Arabic, mastered the Persian language and became an outstanding scholar of Islamic and natural sciences. Impressed by knowledge and erudition, Shah Abbas the Great appointed him as Sheikh ol-Islam of Isfahan – a post he held till his death. He was a prolific writer and authored over a hundred books and treatises. In view of his outstanding contributions to astronomy, UNESCO or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and cultural organization, designated 2009 as the Year of Astronomy and Sheikh Bahaei.

Among his works on astronomy is The Flat Surface, which is a work on the astrolabe. His most important astronomical work “The Anatomy of the Heavens”  or "Tashrih alAflaak". It isa summary of theoretical astronomy where Sheikh Bahaei affirms the view that supports the positional rotation of the Earth as it orbits around the sun – long before Copernicus and the Europeans copied it from Islamic World. Among his works on grammar are: The Secrets of Eloquence; and The Elevated Words, which is an Arabic grammar. Among his religious works are: “Arba’een” or The Forty Hadith, which is an annotated compilation of forty statements from Prophet Mohammad (SAWA). He also wrote “The Orchards of Veracity” which is a commentary on the “Sahifat-as-Sajjadiyya” – anthology of supplications of the Prophet’s 4th Infallible Heir, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS). He also wrote the Treatise on the Determination of the Qibla or direction of the ritual prayer towards the holy Ka’ba in Mecca. Sheikh Bahaei was also famed as a poet. His poetical works include Naan va Halva, which describes the experiences of an itinerant holy man and this could well be autobiographical describing his own Hajj pilgrimage. His other famous poetical compilation is titled “Shir va Shakar” or Milk and Sugar. Another work is "Kashkoul" on philosophy and poetry.

Sheikh Bahaei is regarded as a leading scholar of his age and a "Mujaddid" or Revivalist. Among his works on jurisprudence is "Jama’e Abbasi", written at the behest of Shah Abbas. He was a master of medicine and architecture as well. A number or architectural and engineering designs in Isfahan stand proof to the genius of Sheikh Bahaei, including the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the Grand Shah Abbas Mosque known as the Imam Mosque today. He also designed and constructed a furnace for a public bath, which still exists in Isfahan. The furnace was warmed by a single candle, which was placed in an enclosure. The candle burned for a long time, warming the bath's water. According to his instructions, the candle's fire would be put out if the enclosure was ever opened. This happened during the restoration and repair of the building and no one has been able to make the system work again. He also designed the Minar Jonban (or Shaking Minaret), which still exists in Isfahan. His treatise on mathematics was in use as a textbook until the end of the 19th century. Sheikh Bahaei also made a sun clock to the west of the Imam Mosque. There is also no doubt about his mastery of topography. The best instance of this is the directing of the water of the Zayandeh River to different areas of Isfahan. He designed a canal called Zarrin Kamar in Isfahan which is one of Iran's greatest canals.

Sheikh Bahaei is considered one of the main co-founders of Isfahan School of Islamic Philosophy. In later years he became one of the teachers of the famous philosopher, Mullah Sadra. Sheikh Bahaei was also a Gnostic. During his travels he would dress like a Dervish. He also appears in the chain of both the Nurbakhshi and Ne'matullahī Sufi orders. In the work called "Resāla fi’l-Wahdat-al-Wojouduya",  he states that the Gnostics are the true believers, calls for an unbiased assessment of their utterances, and refers to his own mystical experiences. Sheikh Baha od-Din calls for strict adherence to the Sharia as a prerequisite for embarking on the Tariqah or mysticism. Sheikh Bahaei passed away in Isfahan in 1031 AH and as per his will, his body was taken to holy Mashhad and buried in the mausoleum of the Prophet’s 8th Infallible Heir, Imam Reza (AS).

AS/ME

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