Sheikh Bahai (1547-1621 AD) was a scholar, philosopher, architect, mathematician, astronomer and poet in 16th century Iran. He was born in Lebanon and migrated in his childhood to Safavid Iran with his father. He wrote 88 books on philosophy, logic, astronomy and mathematics. He had Sufi leanings, often dressing like a Dervish and joining Sufi circles, specifically the Nurbakhshi and Nimatullahi Sufi orders.
He was one of the main founders of the Isfahan School of Philosophy and drove the design of several monuments such as Monar Jonban (Shaking Minarets) in Isfahan. He was also an expert in topography, directing the water of the Zayandeh River to different areas of Isfahan and designing a canal called Zarrin Kamar which is one of Iran’s greatest canals.
He also constructed a furnace for a public bathroom which was open to the public until 20 years ago. Interestingly, the furnace was warmed only by a single candle, which was placed in an enclosure, warming the bath’s water. For centuries, the unsolved mystery of the bath preoccupied scientists around the world. Known as the “mysterious bath” because it was warmed without the use of a direct energy source, the heating system was considered an engineering masterpiece.
When recently repair work was done in Sheikh Bahai’s house, clay pipes and connected wells were discovered on the floor of a building next to it, shedding light on where the energy of the candle comes from. Archaeological studies revealed that the sewage system in Isfahan was connected to the bath through pipes.
Scientists have said that the heat stemmed from its water container (boiler) which is made of gold,, which is a perfect conduit of heat and electricity, generating vast amounts of energy with low amount of heat. As to why Sheikh Bahai refused to reveal the secrets of the bath’s heating system, some say it might have been due to concern about thieves attempting to steal the gold in the bath had they known about it.
Sadr-al-Din Moḥammad Shirazi, better known as Molla Sadra, was born in Shiraz in Iran in 1571 AD and is easily one of the most significant Islamic philosophers after Avicenna. We know very little about his early life. He was a sole child of a courtly family from Shiraz and moved first to Qazvin in 1591 AD and then to Isfahan in 1597, capitals of the Safavid dynasty to pursue his studies with two pre-eminent teachers of his time, Mir Damad and Shaikh Bahai.
Molla Sadra is often described as a metaphysics revolutionary because of his unique approach to the doctrine of existence. He combined the philosophies of Avicenna and the School of Illumination of Suhrewardi with the gnostic metaphysics of the Andalusian Sufi, Ibn Arabi.
He said that though existence is a singular reality, there is a vertical and horizontal hierarchy that we all are a part of; that all individuals in existence undergo motion and flux and at every instance we, and all existence, are renewed in time with the goal of achieving perfection. To Molla Sadra, philosophy was a way of life in which reflection, reading and learning were complemented by gnostic spiritual practices and exercises. He said that one cannot become a sage purely based on his own intellectual efforts, nor can one truly understand the nature of reality as an illiterate ascetic reliant solely on mystical intuition.
As with most gnostics and philosophers, Mulla Sadra’s innovative thoughts were opposed by Islamic orthodoxy and he was ultimately driven away from Isfahan. A key figure of a group of thinkers which scholars such as Corbin have referred to as “School of Isfahan,” he played a major role in intellectual life during the revitalization of philosophy and later on became the most important teacher at the Khan School in his hometown of Shiraz. His main works include The Transcendent Theosophy in the Four Journeys of the Intellect, or simply Four Journeys.
Sibuyeh who was born in 760 AD in the Fars Province of Iran, and died in Shiraz in Iran in 796/797 was an influential linguist and grammarian of the Arabic language. Sibuyeh was a nickname given to him by his mother, meaning “The scent of apples.” Though not Arab, he was the first to write on Arabic grammar and the first to explain it from a non-Arabic perspective.
He traveled to Basra and studied extensively with famous scholars and grammarians, writing his famous scholarly work “al-Kitab.” Al-Kitab was the first book ever written on Arabic grammar and it seems to have been the first published book in Arabic in the form of prose rather than poetry, setting the standard for explaining Arabic grammatical structure. Sibuyeh would travel through towns and villages, sitting with locals and recording their poetry and oral history in an attempt to gather evidence for each argument made in his book.
Though he died at the young age of 34, his book, al-Kitab, became one of the greatest books on Arabic grammar to have ever been written in history, so much in fact that it was called “The Quran of Grammar.” Since Sibuyeh’s death, subsequent scholars of Arabic grammar have often been compared to him.
Mir Damad was an Iranian Gnostic philosopher and poet of the 17th century. He is the founder of the School of Isfahan and is known for his remarkable synthesis of Avicenna’s peripatetic philosophy and Suhrewardi’s Philosophy of Illumination, and for his efforts to integrate Shiism and Sufism. Born in Astarabad in Iran, he studied in the city of Mashhad, and one of his students became the renowned Sadr al-Din Shirazi, better known as Mulla Sadra, who himself was a great philosopher.
Mir Damad is known as the chief architect of the Masjid Shah (Shah Mosque) in Isfahan, Iran, for which he employed highly advanced mathematical calculations. The mosque is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its construction began in 1611 when Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty decided to move Iran’s capital to Isfahan, initiating a remake of this ancient city. The mosque had a four-iwan format, an architectural style that had been established when Iranian Sufi mysticism had been on the rise. The Iranians already had a rich architectural legacy and the distinct shape of the iwan was taken from earlier, pre-Islamic palace designs, such as the Palace of Ardeshir. When creating the dome, the Safavid borrowed heavily from pre-Islamic knowledge of dome building.
Therefore, in Iran, Islamic architecture began to differ in style from earlier mosques such as the Umayyad Mosque. The four-iwan format took the form of a square-shaped, central courtyard with large entrances on each side, giving the impression of a gateway to the spiritual world. The blue-colored and turquoise domes of mosques began to dominate Iran’s skyline, guiding travelers from miles away to its ancient cities.
Abul-Hassan Kharaqani was one of the greatest Sufi masters. He was born in 963 AD, in a village called Kharaqan, in Iran. He was a follower of the teachings of the famous Sufi Master, Bayazid Bastami.
Attar, one of the most famous Iranian Sufi poets, devoted a large part of his book in “Biography of the Saints” to stories about Kharaqani. Attar referred to him as The King of Kings, Ocean of Spiritual Knowledge, Focus of Attention and Sun of the Lord.
It has been said that Avicenna, Shah Mahmood of Ghazna, Naser Khosrow and Abul-Khair visited him in Kharaqan to express their deep feelings of respect and admiration toward him. His teachings influenced many renowned Sufis such as Rumi, Attar, Khajeh Abdullah Ansari and Jami.
Kharaqani refused all titles and aspirations, respected all faiths and religions, and put the needs of others and service to fellow human beings before anything else. Once Sultan Mahmud sent a message to Kharaqani saying, “Quran tells us to obey God, follow his prophet and heed your ruler’s order.” Kharaqani told the messenger to tell the Sultan, “Abul-Hassan is so profoundly in love with God, that he is embarrassed for his negligence of the prophet, let alone heeding the orders of rulers.”
He also used to say, “I am not a rahib (hermit). I am not a zahid (ascetic). I am not a speaker. I am not a Sufi. O God, You are One, and I am one in Your Oneness.”
The book Noorul-Uloom (The Light of Science), which is believed to have been written by Kharaqani’s disciples, is dedicated to him. Only a single manuscript copy remains which is held in the British Museum.