Tuesday, 19 November 2013



He was born Sayyid Muhammad Hussain 
Tabatabai in a small village near Tabriz, Iran, in 1321 AH. Upon completing his initial education in the seminary of Tabriz, he traveled to the holy city of Najaf for his higher education. In Najaf, he studied under such eminent scholars as Sheikh Muhammad Hussain al-Gharawi, Mirza Hussain Naini, Sayyid Abul Hassan al-Isfehani, Sayyid Muhammad Hujjat Kohkamri, and Sayyid Ali Qadi Tabatabai. Although he was by all means a competent and qualified jurisprudent, Allama Tabatabai's main areas of interest were philosophy, spirituality, and Gnosis. He was also quite knowledgeable in astronomy, mathematics, engineering, and several occult sciences (i.e. numerology, Ilm Jafr, etc.).
Upon completing his education in Najaf, he returned to Tabriz. However, due to political instability in the region caused by the star of World War II, he shortly thereafter moved to the seminary of Qom, where he spent the rest of his life teaching and researching. In an age of new political ideologies, Allama Tabatabai stood as the bulwark of traditional Islamic thought. Much to the chagrin of other teachers in Qom, he took up the study of materialist philosophy and wrote several refutations to it. When he was challenged by some Marxists, he immediately responded to their challenges and once even traveled from Qom to Tehran to hold an eight-hour debate with a Marxist.
Instead of large classes of jurisprudence, Allama preferred to hold small philosophy and Gnostic discussions with a close circle of students, which included such notables as Martyr Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Beheshti, Martyr Shaikh Murtaza Mutahhari, Martyr Shaikh Ali Quddusi (his son-in-law), Shaikh Muhammad Fadil Lankarani, Shaikh Nasir Makarem Shirazi, Shaikh Ibrahim Amini, and Shaikh Ja'far Subhani.
Allama Tabatabai's arguably greatest contribution to Shia academia came in the form of his exegesis of the Qur'an. When he arrived in the Qom seminary, he found that teaching Tafsir was viewed as a sign of incompetence. Therefore, he took it upon himself to revive that field. After several years of devoted scholarship, he completed his acclaimed Tafsir al-Mizan, considered the greatest commentary on the Qur'an written in the last few centuries. Whereas previous commentators, such as Shaikh Tabarsi and Shaikh Qummi, had used narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) as the primary mode of interpreting the Qur'an, Allama Tabatabai used the unique method of exegesis by using one verse of the Qur'an to explain the other or, as he called it, "permitting the Qur'an to speak for itself". The 20-volume Arabic work has since been translated into many languages, and a partial English translation is also available online.
In addition to Al-Mizan, Allama Tabatabai authored a series of books on Shia Islam, which made him an internationally-recognized authority on the Shia faith. The trilogy of books was translated by Sayyid Hossein Nasr and Professor William C. Chittick and consists of Shi'ite IslamA Shi'ite Anthology, and The Qur'an in Islam.
Allama Tabatabai was well-aware of the political situation in Iran and the rest of the world as evidenced by his academic activities. He strongly criticized Western hegemony, colonialism, and the post-colonial imperialism. He found Marxism to have discredited itself by failing to create revolutions in the industrialized world, as Marx had predicted.  In contrast, Western democracies had also failed to uphold their ideals by exploiting and enslaving people in other parts of the world. Nearly all the top leaders of the Islamic Revolution were direct or indirect students of him. Although he was too physically frail to participate in the activities of the Islamic Revolution, his contribution can be summed up by a statement from Martyr Mutahhari, who said that there was not a single political predicament he faced whose answer could not be found in Tafsir al-Mizan.
Allama Tabatabai was an extremely humble and pious individual. His students narrate that during the month of Ramadan, the Allama would walk to the shrine of Lady Masooma (peace be upon her) every day before breaking his fast. Despite being an eminent and well-respected scholar, Allama Tabatabai would often stand in the last rows when praying at the mosque. His student Sayyid Tehrani notes that for 40 years, they asked Allama to lead them in prayers, but he always refused. When his students referred to him as Ustadh(teacher), he would insist that they treat him as a colleague rather than an instructor and would sit on the ground along with them instead of higher up on a chair. When discussing weak or questionable narrations in jurisprudence lectures, he was particularly careful with his words so as not to show disrespect towards what might potentially be a true narration from the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them).
Despite his numerous academic activities, Allama attached great value to his home life and fulfilling the rights of his family members. He always performed all his chores himself, and even in times of illness, he did not bother his wife or children. Once when his daughter visited him and saw Allama pour tea for himself, she asked him why he didn't have her do it. He replied, "You are a guest. As well, you are a descendent of Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her), so I cannot give you any such orders!" During his wife's last days, he left all his academic activities and spent nearly a month by her bedside, attending to all her needs and concerns. When she passed away, he wept profusely and remarked, "It was this woman who allowed me to reach this position. She has been my partner, and whatever books I have written, half [of the credit] belongs to her."
Because of his intense spiritual exercises and nearly ascetic lifestyle, Allama had reached an extremely high spiritual station. He relates that while praying in the mosque of Kufa as a student, he once had a vision of a Hoor (angelic being) offering him a goblet filled with a heavenly beverage. But he was so intent in his prayer that he brushed the Hoor aside, causing her to retreat with an offended look on her face! During his last days, he was said to have stopped paying attention to food and drink and used to continuously stare at one corner of the room with amazement and bewilderment.
     Due to cardiac problems, Allama Tabatabai was eventually admitted to the hospital in 1401 AH. During the last moments of his life in Muharram 1402 AH, he was said to have remarked, "Those whom I have been waiting for are finally here!" With a dazed look of astonishment, he then returned to his Lord. His funeral prayers were led by Ayatollah Gulpaygani, and he was laid to rest near Shaikh Abdul Karim Hairi in the shrine of Lady Masooma (peace be upon her).

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