Allama Hilli was among the foremost scholars to acquaint the people of Iran with Shi’ism. With his witty first appearance at King Oljaitu’s palace, he managed to make a deep impression on the king regarding Shi’ism. Eventually, he embraced the True Path and changed his name to Khudabanda (God’s servant). He made it illegal to curse the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) from the pulpit and in fact made it mandatory for their names to be recited during the Friday prayer sermon.
However, the Shia creed was still not prominent among the masses, and the king consulted Allama Hilli on how he could help in that regard. The Allama advised him to show up to his house the next day. When the king arrived, Allama Hilli came out riding his horse. He asked the king to hold the reins of the horse, and as a lowly servant, walk him to the mosque. When the people saw the king holding the reins of a scholar’s horse, they were quite impressed and slowly started coming towards the Shia faith.
During a sermon at the mosque, Allama Hilli was challenged by a Sunni scholar for beginning his lecture by invoking blessings upon the Prophet and the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). The scholar said that although invoking blessings upon the Prophet was understandable, how could Allama Hilli justify asking for blessings upon the Ahlul Bayt? The Allama immediately referred to verses 155-157 of Sura Baqara, where Allah says, “And We will most certainly try you with somewhat of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits; and give good news to the patient, who, when a misfortune befalls them, say: Surely we are Allah’s and to Him we shall surely return. Those are they on whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord, and those are the followers of the right course.”
At this point, the scholar pointed out that these verses are for those people who faced calamities, and exactly what kind of calamities did the Ahlul Bayt face? Upon hearing this, Allama Hilli gave a detailed description of the tribulations and tragedies that occurred to each member of the Ahlul Bayt. As a lighthearted conclusion, he asked the Sunni scholar, “You yourself are a descendant of the Ahlul Bayt – a Sayyid. This itself is a great calamity upon them that one of their own descendants is not willing to accept their high status!”
Allama Hilli was the supreme religious authority (Marja Taqleed) of the Shia world for almost 50 years. Before his time, a jurist’s Resalah (code of practice) did not follow any sort of sequence. He was the first scholar to organize the Resalah in order of Ibadaat (acts of worship), Mu’amilaat (personal and social transactions), Ita’at (acts of obedience), and Ahkaam (mandates). He is credited for having written so many books that if the number of pages were divided by the number of days in his life, he must have written at least a thousand pages each day since the day he was born!
Allama Hilli’s son was equally blessed as his father, and he too reached the level of Ijtihad before his teenage years. Due to his great achievements, historians and scholars have given him the title Fakhrul Muhaqqiqeen (pride of the researchers). In his will, Allama Hilli specified that his son should revise and correct many of the books he had written in his lifetime, and as such, we don’t find too many books which were written by his son himself.
Once Allama Hilli was travelling from Hilla to Karbala, when an Arab man began travelling with him. After talking with him for a little while, Allama Hilli began to realize that this Arab was in fact quite knowledgeable, and he was surprised that he hadn’t met him before. He asked him many questions on matters regarding which he had confusions in his mind. The Arab answered them effortlessly. Lastly, as the two were parting company, Allama asked the Arab if it is really true that a person can meet the 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance)? As he asked this, his horse whip fell from his hand. The Arab dismounted and handed it to him. As their hands made contact, the Arab said with a smile, “O Hilli, what a question to ask, especially when your hand is in fact in the hand of your Imam?!” Allama Hilli immediately dismounted so he could kiss the feet of his master, but the Imam had disappeared!
After being the spiritual authority of the Shia world for almost half a century, Allama Hilli departed from this world in the year 726 AH. He was laid to rest in the shrine of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in Najaf.
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.