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Sayyid Mahdi Bahrul Uloom

ImageA shining beacon of virtue and piety, he was born Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi ibn Sayyid Murtadha Tabatabai in Karbala, Iraq, in 1155 AH. His father was himself a well-known scholar renowned for his piety, and traditions talk about his father having a vision of Imam Ali Ridha (peace be upon him) in his dream giving him a brightly-lit candle, which was supposed to represent the light of knowledge and guidance his son would bring to the world.

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Arsalan Rizvi

Sayyid Jawad Ameli was about to sit down to dinner, when a messenger arrived from his teacher's house and told him to follow him. Sayyid Jawad immediately got up and followed the messenger to his teacher's house, where he saw his teacher sitting with a disapproving look on his face. "Sayyid Jawad!" the teacher said to him. "Have you no fear of Allah?!" Sayyid Jawad was shocked. He tried hard to remember if he had done something recently to incur his teacher's displeasure. "It is now a week," said the teacher, "and your neighbor and his family are without any wheat or rice." "By God I had no knowledge of this," replied Sayyid Jawad. "That is even worse," his teacher said. "How can seven days pass by, and you know nothing of your neighbor's plight? Indeed, if you had known of this and purposely ignored it, you would not even be a Muslim!" Sayyid Jawad hung his head in shame, but his teacher continued, "Take this food here to your neighbor's house. Eat with him, so he does not feel shame. And place this sum of money under his pillow or carpet for his future expenses. Inform me when this task is done, for unless you do so, I refuse to eat myself!"

A shining beacon of virtue and piety, he was born Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi ibn Sayyid Murtadha Tabatabai in Karbala, Iraq, in 1155 AH. His father was himself a well-known scholar renowned for his piety, and traditions talk about his father having a vision of Imam Ali Ridha (peace be upon him) in his dream giving him a brightly-lit candle, which was supposed to represent the light of knowledge and guidance his son would bring to the world.

He studied in Karbala under his father and several local scholars. In 1186, he traveled to Isfehan, where he studied philosophy under Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Isfehani, a well-known scholar and philosopher. One day, his teacher was so impressed by his knowledge and intelligence that he remarked, "Truly you are Bahrul Uloom (a sea of knowledge)!" After that occasion, he continued to be known by that title.

Upon returning to Karbala, Sayyid Mahdi continued studying under Shaikh Yusuf Bahrani, a well-known Akhbari scholar. However, like many of his colleagues, he was soon influenced by the lectures of Waheed Behbahani, who spoke in favor of Usuli methodology and the use of reason and intellect rather than the blatant literalism of the Akhbaris. Along with Muhaqqiq al-Naraqi and Shaikh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita, Sayyid Mahdi soon renounced his former Akhbari ideas and joined Allama Behbahani in his struggle to reestablish Usuli thought.

Upon the demise of his mentor, Sayyid Mahdi was recognized as one of the Religious Authories in the Shia world. He wrote extensively on matters of Ijtihad and jurisprudence, and his Fawaid Rijaliya and Fawaid Usuliya are considered extremely important works on jurisprudence. His students included among the top scholars of the time, including Muhaqqiq al-Naraqi and Shaikh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita, who, despite being his contemporaries, attended his lectures in recognition of his extensive knowledge. In fact, Shaikh Ja'far showed his respect and admiration for Sayyid Mahdi by wiping his shoes with the end of his turban!

In addition to his knowledge, Sayyid Mahdi was well-known for his piety and his high spiritual status. In fact, due to his great devoutness, scholars have placed him in a rank right after the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). He was known to have met the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) several times, often spending hours at end discussing complex issues of jurisprudence with him and seeking his advice. Several eyewitnesses testify that whenever he approached the shrine of Amirul Momineen (peace be upon him) in Najaf at the time of Fajr, the shrine doors would miraculously open for him. In the hot summers of Karbala, whenever he walked through the streets, a cloud was seen to always provide shade to him. His students attribute his high spiritual status to his piety, devoutness, and strong adherence to the laws of the Sharia.

In 1212 AH, this fountainhead of wisdom, knowledge, and piety passed away from this world. He was laid to rest in Masjid Tusi in Najaf.

About Arsalan Rizvi

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  • masooma

    Asalaam alaaykum,

    Thank you for this series, it is very informative!

  • Arsalan.Rizvi

    Wa Alaikum Assalam
    Thank you for your kind words!

    -Arsalan

  • Yahya

    Bro you’re information central for me when it comes to our grand scholars

  • Zacariya Abdullah

    Assalamu alaikum akhii
    I enjoyed your article and it is a blessing to write such beauty of a great scholar. However habibi, calling akhbarii’s “literalists” can be misconstrued by people, even mistaken with such groups like the wahabi. But you chose to use that word so i only wish to give clarity to “literalist.” There are 2 types of literalism. You have the Wahabi literalism which is defined: “adherence to the exact letter or the literal sense, as in translation or interpretation: to interpret the law with uncompromising literalism. And yes Akhbarii’s are literalist defined as “exact representation or portrayal.. . . . “. In this case, religion. For reference of my definitions look to dictionary.com

    Shukran for the article my brother, w/s
    Zachariah

  • Husain

    Thank you for this article, very well written inshallah we strive to become men like him.

  • Abd e Murshad

    Dear Br
    I appreciate your efforts to write a good article on a great scholar. But if you do not mind, you have completely omitted one of the graetest aspects of his life. And that is his personal contact with Maula Imam e Zamaan ajtfs. Is it because of the fact that you belong to the school of thought that denies the direct contact?

  • RE: Abd e Murshad

    [quote]He was known to have met the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance) several times, often spending hours at end discussing complex issues of jurisprudence with him and seeking his advice. [/quote]

    😉

  • Anum Jaffry

    Jazak Allah for sharing such an informative stuff!