He was the first Religious Authority (Marja Taqleed) to really look beyond Iran and Iraq, and he sent representatives and envoys to oversee the socio-political affairs of Shias all over the world.The teacher answered the question and tried to move on, but the student kept persisting. With a small frown, the teacher answered his follow-up query and once again tried to move to the next topic. But the student seemed in a good mood to argue, and he kept repeating his argument against the teacher. “Be quiet, young man!” the teacher suddenly snapped. Silence momentarily engulfed the room, and the teacher was finally able to continue with the lesson. After the lecture was over and the students began leaving, the teacher asked for the student to come see him. To the student’s astonishment, the teacher handed him a cloak and a sum of money and said, “Forgive the mistake of Burujardi! I did not know how the reins of my soul slipped from my hand when I spoke harshly to you.” The student was utterly bewildered, but he was even more bewildered when he later found out that in order to tame his temper and make sure he never did something like this again, his teacher had begun fasting for a whole year, all for uttering a statement that was neither an insult nor inappropriate!
He was born Sayyid Hussain ibn Sayyid Ali Tabatabai in Burujard, Iran, in 1292 AH. He received his early religious education in his hometown and then moved to Isfehan and Najaf, where he finished his education under such great scholars as Akhund Khurasani, Sayyid Kadhim Tabatabai Yazdi, and Sayyid Muhammad Taqi Mudarris. In order to have a thorough and complete understanding of jurisprudence, he studied the jurisprudence of the four main Sunni schools as well. Upon completion of his education, he returned to Burujard in order to cater to his community’s religious and spiritual needs.
Soon thereafter in 1355 AH, Shaikh Abdul Karim Hairi passed away, and the seminary of Qom was left without a strong leader. At the time, Ayatollah Burujardi was arguably the most senior jurist in the Shia world. Upon insistence from the teachers of the seminary – including Ayatollah Kohkamrani, Sayyid Taqi Khunsari, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – he agreed to move to Qom and assume leadership of the seminary.
The Pahlavi dynasty was in power in Iran, and it had introduced a series of radical changes meant to undermine the religious fabric of society and bolster the Shah’s autocratic rule. The scholars of the Qom seminary were at the forefront of speaking out against these so-called reforms. Ayatollah Burujardi has often been criticized for maintaining a passive and “quietist” attitude towards political affairs. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He was the first Religious Authority (Marja Taqleed) to really look beyond Iran and Iraq, and he sent representatives and envoys to oversee the socio-political affairs of Shias all over the world, including Agha Shariat to Pakistan, Sayyid Muhaqqiqi to Germany, and Sayyid Musa as-Sadr to Lebanon. He corresponded frequently with Shaikh Mahmood Shaltut of Al-Azhar University, and this eventually led to the latter’s historic edict declaring Shia jurisprudence to be a valid school of jurisprudence within Islam.
Furthermore, in order for the revolutionary movement to succeed in Iran, Ayatollah Burujardi believed that the foundations of the seminary must be strong. Therefore, he appointed Ayatollah Khomeini as his advisor on political affairs, but he himself refrained from participating actively in any political matters and devoted most of his efforts towards producing great jurists and scholars. He introduced many new concepts and ideas to the seminary, including mandatory examinations for all students. Over time, his students included such great luminaries as Martyr Sayyid Muhammad Hussain Beheshti, Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, Shaikh Fadhil Lankarani, Shaikh Mirza Jawad Tabrizi, Shaikh Taqi Behjat Foumani, Shaikh Ja’far Subhani, Shaikh Jawad Ameli, Shaikh Safi Gulpaygani, Shaikh Nasir Makarem Shirazi, Sayyid Ali Khamenei, and Sayyid Ali Sistani.
Martyr Mutahhari narrates that throughout his life, Ayatollah Burujardi never needed glasses and had extremely good eyesight. When they asked him for the secret to his strong eyes, Ayatollah Burujardi narrated an incident from his early days as a student. At the age of 18, he became extremely ill and began to lose his eyesight. His goal in life had been to study in the seminary and serve Islam, so he repeatedly beseeched Imam Zamana (may Allah hasten his reappearance) to restore his eyesight and recited Ziyarat Waritha for 40 nights in a row. Eventually, he was instructed in a dream to attend the Arba’een procession. In many cultures, it is common to toss sand and dirt on the mourners. He was told to take some of the dirt that had touched one of the mourners, and the high status of one who mourns for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) was demonstrated by the fact that when Ayatollah Burujardi rubbed that dirt on his eyes, his eyesight was completely restored, such that even in his eighties, he did not need glasses and was able to easily read fine newsprint in dim moonlight!
A shining beacon of knowledge and piety, Ayatollah Burujardi passed away in the year 1380 AH. His funeral prayers were led by Imam Khomeini, and he was laid to rest near the shrine of Lady Masooma (peace be upon her) in Qom.