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Allama Majlisi

ImageThe Safavid dynasty was in power in Iran, and many Safavid rulers had appointed Shia scholars as overseers of the law. Upon the demise of Mullah Faiz Kashani, Allama Majlisi was eventually appointed as Shaikh al-Islam by Shah Suleiman. It is during this time that Shi'ism was publicly preached and practiced in Iran, and Shia festivals and commemorations like Ghadir and Ashura became part of the culture.

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Allama Majlisi

The scholar ascended the pulpit, and eventually the crowd in the mosque became quiet. He began with his usual praise of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), but soon there was a change in his tone. He began talking about the various beliefs of the Shia faith, and to the shock of many people,  a funeral shroud was brought in. As tears started rolling down people's faces, the scholar held it up and said, "These are my beliefs. I wish for each of you to place your signature on my shroud as witnesses that I subscribe to and adhere to these beliefs!"

One of the most prolific scholars in the history of Shi'ism, he was born Muhammad Baqir Majlisi in Isfehan in 1037 AH. His father, Mullah Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, was himself a prominent scholar, and it is under his tutelage that Allama Majlisi acquired much of his education, starting at a tender age of four. As time progressed, he also studied under Mullah Sadra, Mullah Faiz Kashani, and Allama Hassan Ali Shustari. In all, he received permission to perform Ijtihad (derivation of Islamic law) from 21 different teachers.

The Safavid dynasty was in power in Iran, and many Safavid rulers had appointed Shia scholars as overseers of the law. Upon the demise of Mullah Faiz Kashani, Allama Majlisi was eventually appointed as Shaikh al-Islam by Shah Suleiman. It is during this time that Shi'ism was publicly preached and practiced in Iran, and Shia festivals and commemorations like Ghadir and Ashura became part of the culture.

Several hundred years ago, Shaikh Kulayni, Shaikh as-Saduq, and Shaikh Tusi had compiled four different collections of narrations they had found fairly authentic. In Allama Majlisi's period, Mullah Faiz Kashani and Shaikh Hurr Ameli had also compiled collections which contained rearrangements of these four books as well as other narrations. Yet Allama Majlisi knew that there still existed dozens of booklets and notebooks belonging to students of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) that contained invaluable narrations. So he took it upon himself to compile a collection of every single narration that was attributed to an Infallible. After several years of struggle, he produced the renowned Bihar al-Anwar al-Jami'atul Darar Aimmatul At'har ("Sea of Lights of the Collection of the Pearls of the Pure Infallibles"), his 110-volume magnum opus that contains narrations of the Infallibles on every topic imaginable, ranging from articles of belief and issues of jurisprudence to recommendations on personal hygiene and matters of everyday routine. However, it must be kept in mind that Allama's goal was to collect every single narration available, not sift through and find the reliable ones, so only a trained scholar can determine which ones are authentic.

In addition to Bihar al-Anwar, he also wrote several other noteworthy books, including Miratul Uqool ("Mirror of Intellects") and Malazul Akhyar ("Shelter of the Pious"). His three-volume Hayatul Qulub (a historic account starting with Prophet Adam and culminating with a discussion regarding the Infallibles) and Ainul Hayat (a discourse on ethics and morals) have been recently translated in English. A well-rounded scholar, he also wrote a treatise on engineering.

In addition to dozens of volumes of books, Allama Majlisi also produced over a hundred jurists, among them his own daughter. An extremely pious man, the Allama had a keen sense of humor. During the compilation of Bihar al-Anwar, one of his students once brought in a book in which the Allama found a few crumbs of bread. He jovially remarked to his student, "Young man, if you wish, I will give you a cloth on which to keep your bread while you eat it! Oh my students, I wish that you are more considerate about these books. I hope you don't eat on them or leave them in the sun or use them to swat flies!"

On the 27th of Ramadhan, 1111 AH, Allama Majlisi departed this world. He was buried in his native Isfehan, where he had spent his entire 77 years in remarkable service to Islam and Shi'ism.


EDITOR'S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.

About Arsalan Rizvi

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