Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ardabili known as Moqaddas and Muhaqqiq Ardabili a Imamite theologian and jurist of the early Safavid age. As his nesba indicates, he probably originated from Ardabīl in Azerbaijan, but nothing is known about his family, date of birth, and early life.
He studied theology and philosophy under Jamāl-al-dīn Maḥmūd SHīrāzī, a student and commentator of the Asḥʿarite theologian Jalāl-al-dīn Davānī (d. 908/1502-03), most likely in Shiraz. Among his co-students were ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥosayn Yazdī (d. 981/1573), who later, at the same time as Ardabīlī, taught in al-Najaf; and the Shafeʿite Asḥʿarite theologian Mīrzājān Ḥabīballāh Bāḡnavī SHīrāzī (d. 994/1586), who later went into exile in Bukhara.
Ardabīlī studied fiqh with some students of the Shahīd al-Ṯānī Zayn-al-dīn al-ʿĀmelī (d.966/1559), especially with Sayyed ʿAli al-Ṣāʾeḡ al-Jazzīnī (d.780/1572). These fiqh studies were pursued by him evidently after his study of theology and probably in the Jabal ʿĀmel, since ʿAlī al-Ṣāʾeḡ is not known to have taught elsewhere. Later he lived and taught in al-Najaf until his death in Ṣafar, 993/February, 1585. In his Ḥadīqat al-shīʿa he mentions a former stay in Isfahan and a trip to Mecca, presumably for a pilgrimage. He is also reported to have repeatedly visited the shrines of the imams in Karbalāʾ, al-Kāẓemayn, and Sāmarrāʾ. Many edifying and miraculous stories are related about his saintly conduct, which earned him his epithet Moqaddas. He is reported to have regularly been given, at night, the answers to his scholarly questions by a voice from Imam ʿAlī’s (p.b.u.h) tomb and to have met the Twelfth Imam in the mosque of al-Kūfa. The Safavids Shah Ṭahmāsp and Shah ʿAbbās are said to have revered him and to have tried to induce him to come to Iran. However, a story about Shah ʿAbbās’s attempt to lure him to Isfahan as imam of the Masjed-e Shāh is clearly anachronistic.
Among his students were Sayyed Moḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Abu’l-Ḥosayn al-ʿĀmelī and al-Ḥasan b. Zayn-al-dīn al-ʿĀmelī (known respectively as ṣāḥeb al-madārek and ṣāḥeb al-maʿālem, after their popular fiqh works), Mollā ʿAbdallāh b. al-Ḥosayn Tostarī, and Sayyed Fayżallāh b. ʿAbd-al-Qāher Tafreshī.
The following works by him are known:
(1 ) Majmaʿ al-fāʾeda wa’l-borhān fī sharḥ ershād al-aḏhān, a commentary on the fiqh compendium al-Ershād of ʿAllāma al-Ḥellī, begun in Karbalāʾ in Ramażān, 977/February, 1570 and completed on 2 Ṣafar 985/21 April 1577. Ardabīlī composed it for his son Muhammad. The section on marriage and some other parts were lost, because they were found unreadable in the author’s original. Shaikh Yūsof al-Baḥrānī characterizes Ardabīlī on the basis of this fiqh work as a pure mojtahed like al-Ḥellī. However, Ardabīlī appears to have relied less on the principle of ejmāʿ than had been common before his time and greatly refined the methods of judging and interpreting legal traditions.
(2) Zobdat al-bayān fī barāhīn aḥkām al-Qorʾān, a commentary on the sūras of the Quran containing legal rules. It was completed before 2 Ḏuʿl-ḥejja 986/30 January 1579, the date of a manuscript of it.
(3) Two treatises on the land tax (Resāla kharājīya), in which he supported the position of Ebrāhīm al-Qaṭīfī that government grants of kharāj land were illegitimate in his time and could not be accepted by the Imamite ʿolamāʾ; this was against the view of ʿAlī b. ʿAbd-al-ʿĀlī al-Karakī. They were printed together with Dorar al-fawāʾed of Mortażā al-Anṣārī, Tehran, 1381/1900; in al-Kalemāt al-reżāʿīyāt wa’l-kharājīyāt, Tehran, 1313-15/1895-97; and in Kalemāt al-moḥaqqeqīn, Tehran, 1313-15/1895-97.
(4) Ḥadīqat al-Shīʿa, in Persian. The first part, containing the biography of the Prophet and his ancestors, is apparently not extant. The second part dealing with the imamate and the biographies of the twelve imams has been repeatedly printed in Iran. The authenticity of the work has been questioned by several scholars since the late 11th/17th century and is still subject to dispute. These doubts have arisen partly because of the popular, unscholarly character of the book, in contrast with Ardabīlī’s other works, and because of the scathing condemnation of Sufi doctrine and practice and of philosophy, while in another work he appears to espouse the Sufi doctrine of waḥdat al-wojūd. There exists, moreover, a slightly different version of the book, sometimes entitled Kāshef al-ḥaqq, which was written in Hyderabad in 1058/1648 and dedicated to the Shiʿite ruler Qoṭb Shah. This version does not contain the section denouncing Sufism, and Ardabīlī’s references to his own works in the first person are either given in the third person or are missing. This version is attributed to Moʿezz-al-dīn Ardestānī who is reported to have claimed it as his own original composition. The chapter on Sufism is, on the other hand, also extant in manuscript as a separate work. Though the question may not definitely be settled until a manuscript or a reference to the book earlier than 1058/1648 is found, there are indications that the former version is the original one. The book, in which the practice of cursing the first three caliphs is expressly endorsed, was written late in Ardabīlī’s life, as is evident from the references to his other works, and has to be viewed on the background of the renewal of extreme antagonism polarizing supporters of Shiʿism and Sunnism after the death of Shah Ṭahmāsp and the attempt of Shah Esmāʿīl II (984-85/1576-77) to restore Sunnism in Iran. Ardabīlī’s repudiation of Sufism and philosophy may reflect the aim of dissociating himself from the school of Davānī in Shiraz, which had superficially been converted to Shiʿism at best and to which he had belonged before joining the more strictly Shiʿite school of the SHahīd al-Ṯānī. This purpose is indicated by the fact that his former co-student Mīrzājān (Bāḡnavī) SHīrāzī is singled out for sarcastic comment as a “mofti” of the Sufi libertinists.
(5) Oṣūl al-dīn or al-ʿAqāʾed, in Persian, also called, after its first chapter, Resāla fī eṯbāt al-wājeb, a short exposition of the creed with chapters on the proof of the existence of God, prophecy, the imamate, and the hereafter (maʿād).
(6) Ḥāshīat al-tajrīd le’l-Qūshjī, a commentary on al-Qūshjī’s commentary on the theological part of Naṣīr-al-dīn al-Ṭūsī’s Tajrīd al-ʿaqaʾed containing a lengthy chapter on the imamate. It was written for his son Abu’l-Ṣalāḥ Moḥammad and completed on 13 Rabīʿ I 986/21 May 1578.
(7) Ḥāshīat sharḥ mokhtaṣar al-oṣūl al-ʿAżodī, a commentary on the section on consensus (ejmāʿ) of ʿAżod-al-dīn al-Ījī’s commentary on Mokhtaṣaral-oṣūl, Ebn al-Ḥājeb’s compendium of legal methodology (oṣūl al-fiqh). (8) Al-Naṣṣ al-jalī fī emāmāt mawlānā ʿAlī, referred to in Ḥadīqat al-shīʿa, does not seem to be extant. (9) Resāla fi’l-ejtehād waʾl taqlīd
( 10) Resāla fī masʾalat al-sharṭ fī żemn al-ʿaqd.
(11) Resālat al-layl wa’l-nahār, on the legal rules concerning day and night.
(12) Estīnās al-maʿnawīya, on theology. The authenticity of this work has been questioned.