Follower of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsaʿi (1753–1826), a Twelver Shiʿite Islamic thinker who emphasized the esoteric and intuitional aspects of the religion.
Shaykh Ahmad cultivated followers in al-Hasa in eastern Arabia, Bahrain, and Iraq, as well as in Yazd and Kermanshah in Iran. A separate school of Shiʿism did not coalesce around his name until after his death, when he was succeeded by Sayyid Kazim Rashti (d. 1844) in Karbala; for a time, esoteric Shaykhism offered a challenge to the scholastic orthodoxy of the Usuli school.
After Rashti's death, though many Shaykhis became Babis, important Shaykhi communities continued to exist in the Persian Gulf, and in Kerman and Tabriz. The Tabriz Shaykhis diminished their doctrinal and ritual differences with the majority Usuli school, and played a progressive role during Iran's Constitutional Revolution (1905–1911). The Kerman Shaykhis, led by the Qajar noble Karim Khan Kermani (1810–1871) and his descendants, remained esoteric. Some among the Qajar nobility, as well as Mozaffar al-Din Shah (r. 1896–1906), converted to this school. Kerman Shaykhism proved conservative and often was supported by local governors. This privileged position helped to provoke Shaykhi-Usuli riots in 1905.
In the twentieth century Shaykhism became marginalized as a Shiʿite sect and Shaykhis suffered persecution under the Islamic Republic of Iran after 1979. Shaykhi communities persist in Kerman and elsewhere. The Ihqaqi family (based in Kuwait but originally from Tabriz) now produces most Shaykhi publications and claims many followers in southern Iraq. The movement also has been prominent in recent decades in Pakistan, where debates have raged over its orthodoxy and a Shaykhi Institute was founded in Faisalabad.
see also babis.
Amir-Moezzi, Mohammad Ali. "An Absence Filled with Presences: Shaykhiyya Hermeneutics of the Occultation." In The Twelver Shiʿa in Modern Times: Religious Culture and Political History, edited by Rainer Brunner and Werner Ende. Boston; Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
Bayat, Mangol. Mysticism and Dissent: Socioreligious Thought in Qajar Iran. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1982.
Cole, Juan R. I. "Casting Away the Self: The Mysticism of Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsaʾi." In The Twelver Shiʿa in Modern Times: Religious Culture and Political History, edited by Rainer Brunner and Werner Ende. Boston and Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
Naqvi, Syed Hussain Arif. "The Controversy about the Shaykhiyya Tendency among Shiʿa 'Ulama' of Pakistan." In The Twelver Shiʿa in Modern Times: Religious Culture and Political History, edited by Rainer Brunner and Werner Ende. Boston and Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
juan r. i. cole