Shaikh Ja'far began teaching in Najaf, and as a result, the city of Amirul Momineen once again acquired its former glory. He trained several prominent scholars and jurists, including Shaikh al-Jawahari, Sayyid Jawad Ameli, and Mullah Ahmad Naraqi.
The poor man became angry very quickly. "What do you mean you already distributed all the money?" he shouted at the Shaikh. "I am sorry," responded the Shaikh quietly, "but you came too late, and I have already distributed all the Khums money." The crowd in the mosque looked on to see how the man would react. And to their horror, he suddenly spat at the Shaikh's beard! A few people ran forward to grab him, but the Shaikh at once held up his hand. With great composure, he wiped the spit from his beard and turned to the crowd. "This poor Sayyid is in need of assistance," he said, "if this Shaikh's beard is worth something to you, you will help alleviate this man's need." The Shaikh held out his cloak and walked around the congregation, and each person dropped a few coins in it. By the time he returned to the poor man, it was filled with money. The Shaikh emptied all the money in front of the poor man, who began sobbing uncontrollably in regret at the great scholar's patience and forgiving nature
He was born Ja'far ibn Khidr ibn Yahya al-Maliki al-Janaji in Najaf in 1156 AH. His father was a descendant of Malik al-Ashtar, the famous companion of Imam Ali (peace be upon him), and had migrated from southern Iraq to the holy city of Najaf. Shaikh Ja'far received his early education from his father. He also studied under Shaikh Yusuf Bahrani, a famous Akhbari, but upon the arrival of Allama Waheed Behbahani in Iraq, Shaikh Ja'far renounced his previous Akhbari ideas and accepted the Usuli school of thought. Upon the demise of Sayyid Mahdi Bahrul Uloom in 1212 AH, Shaikh Ja'far was recognized as the Supreme Religious Authority of the Shia world.
In the previous century, the center of Shia learning had shifted from Najaf to Karbala. Shaikh Ja'far began teaching in Najaf, and as a result, the city of Amirul Momineen once again acquired its former glory. He trained several prominent scholars and jurists, including Shaikh al-Jawahari, Sayyid Jawad Ameli, and Mullah Ahmad Naraqi. All three of his sons, Shaikh Musa, Shaikh Ali, and Shaikh Hasan, also became prominent jurists. He was a noted theologian, linguist, and poet. However, his greatest contribution to Shia academia came in the form of his magnum opus on jurisprudence, Kashif al-Ghita an Khufiyat Mubhimat Shari'at al-Ghara. In fact, because of this book, he (and other scholars of his family) came to be referred as "Kashif al-Ghita".
In the time of Shaikh Ja'far, the Wahhabi movement was gaining momentum in the Arabian peninsula as a result of an unholy alliance that came into existence between Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, an obscure radical preacher, and Muhammad ibn Saud, a tribal chieftain. The movement considered many Shia practices to be heretical, and on the day of Ghadir in 1215 AH, a group of Wahhabi militants led by Saud ibn Abdul Aziz launched a surprise raid on Karbala, looting the shrines and massacring over five thousand innocent civilians. When Shaikh Ja'far found out, he organized a small militia of civilians and seminary students to defend the holy shrines. When the Wahhabis tried to raid Karbala again five years later, the 64-year-old scholar personally led the charge against the enemy onslaught and caused it to retreat. In addition, he was the first scholar to write a theological challenge to the warped beliefs of the Wahhabi movement, entitled Minhaj ar-Rishad.
A true scholar, Shaikh Ja'far was renowned for his piety and humbleness. Between the two congregational prayers, he would walk around the mosque and collect funds for the needy. His family members narrate how he would often stay up all night in prayer and remembrance of God. He traveled all over Iraq and Iran, preaching the message of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) to the masses.
In 1228 AH, Shaikh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita passed away from this world. Amidst an outpour of grief by the people of Najaf, he was laid to rest near the shrine of Amirul Momineen. After him, his descendants continued his legacy of religious scholarship and propagation, and many of them went on to become prominent scholars, preachers, and jurisprudents.
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.