Over the years, Mufti Ja’far struggled continuously to ensure that the rights and beliefs of the Shia population were not neglected.The scholar finished his speech, and the crowd went wild! During a period of martial law and under rule by a ruthless military dictator, this crowd had not only managed to mobilize from around the country and descend on the capital to declare its demands, it had in fact forced the government to accept its demands. As shouts of “Aik Hi Rahbar, Mufti Ja’far” (Only one leader, Mufti Ja’far!) rang through the air, the tyrants must have realized that the Shia community was now firmly united behind a strong and tireless leader, a man who would no longer let his community be sidelined and discriminated by the powers that be.
He was born Ja’far Hussain ibn Hakim Chiragh ad-Din in Gujranwala (now part of Pakistan) in 1332 AH. His uncle was a noted physician and religious scholar, and Mufti Ja’far began his religious education under his tutelage. By the age of 12, he had already acquired mastery over Urdu, Arabic, and Farsi and completed his early education. He then traveled to Lucknow, the center of Shia learning in South Asia, where he continued learning under such prominent scholars as Sayyid Najm al-Hassan, Sayyid Zahur Hassan Baharvi, Mufti Sayyid Ahmed Ali, and Sayyid Ali Naqi Naqvi. After eight years in Lucknow, he traveled to the holy city of Najaf, where he was soon certified as a jurist by the likes of Sayyid Abul Hasan al-Isfehani and several other teachers of the seminary.
Upon his return to the Indian subcontinent, Mufti Ja’far proceeded to establish a Shia seminary in his hometown of Gujranwala. While the seminary began training Shia scholars, Mufti Ja’far traveled all over the subcontinent to spread the teachings of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) among the masses. He also took it upon himself to translate Nahj al-Balagha and Sahifa Kamila into Urdu, both of which were done with great accuracy and breathtaking eloquence.
Around this time, the subcontinent was divided into India and Pakistan. As the constitutional framework of Pakistan was being prepared, certain sects attempted to dominate the process and dictate their religious interpretations upon all the Muslims of Pakistan. At this time, Mufti Ja’far spoke up against this monopolizing of religion. Along with a few other dedicated scholars, he established the Organization for the Protection of the Rights of Shias. Because of their quick response, the constitutional committee acquiesced to their demands and included Mufti Ja’far in the Committee. In addition to giving a voice to the country’s Shia population, this event made Mufti Ja’far the unofficial leader of the Shia community and caused them to unite behind him.
Over the years, Mufti Ja’far struggled continuously to ensure that the rights and beliefs of the Shia population were not neglected. He was appointed to the Board of Education, and he fought hard to make sure that Shia beliefs and practices were appropriately represented in the country’s religious studies curriculum. Similarly, as member of the Islamic Council, he always made sure Shia beliefs and practices were not sidelined by others.
In 1399 AH, President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan went about enacting very stringent religious laws in the country. These laws were implemented with no regard for the different beliefs and practices of the Shia population. In response, Mufti Ja’far called for a Shia conference in Bhakkar. The conference concluded with demands for a separate Shia entitlement board (for financial dues), an end to all restrictions on Azadari and Muharram commemorations, appointment of Shia scholars to religious courts, Shia representation on educational planning committees, and invitation of Shia scholars from Najaf and Qom (in response to Sunni scholars being invited from Saudi Arabia) to Pakistan. The demands were flatly refused by General Zia, who claimed that because the majority of the Pakistani people follow Hanafi law, Hanafi law must therefore be implemented in the country. In response, Mufti Ja’far traveled all over the country and called for a peaceful march on Islamabad.
Despite the government’s opposition and threats, tens of thousands of Shias descended on Islamabad from all over the country. They declared that they wouldn’t leave unless the government met their demands. As junior scholars attempted to keep the crowd’s passions under control, Mufti Ja’far and a few top leaders met with General Zia for several hours. Eventually the latter had no choice but to give in to their demands.
General Zia made a public declaration affirming the rights of Shias to their beliefs and practices. Zakat Committees were to be set up across the country to take care of Zakat for the Shias. And the jurisprudence of one school of thought would not be imposed upon the followers of other schools. Restrictions were to be removed from Azadari commemorations.
Despite this great victory, Mufti Ja’far continued to improve the representation of Shias on the national level. He did so despite his ailing health. In 1404 AH, he was admitted to the hospital for nearly a month. After many unsuccessful attempts by doctors to save his life, his soul eventually departed from this world. The news spread like wildfire throughout the Pakistani and international Shia community, and a massive crowd gathered in his hometown of Gujranwala, where the funeral prayers were led by Allama Safdar Hussain Najafi. His body was laid to rest inside the famous Karbala Gamay Shah center in Lahore.
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.