During this time, the Safavid dynasty of Iran was experiencing a decline, and the Akhbari school of thought was at its peak in Karbala. The Akhbaris rejected the concept of Ijtihad and held the narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) to be the only true source of Islamic law.
The scholar entered the mosque and quickly made his way towards the prayer niche. He knew he was late, and the whole mosque was filled to the brim with believers waiting for him to lead them in prayers. After the prayers, he could not help but feel a little proud. All these people were waiting all this time just for me to lead them, he thought. And then, he suddenly realized what a grave sin he had committed. Without thinking about it, he had allowed for such a vain and narcissistic thought to cross his mind! Panicking, he thought he must do something to make sure such a thought never came to him again. I am considered knowledgeable here in Behbahan, he thought to himself, but to prevent such a thought from coming to mind again, I must move to Karbala. There are so many scholars there, I will not be worth anything at all, and Insha'Allah I will never be so boastful of myself then. The next morning, the people of Behbahan found out that their resident scholar and his family had packed up and left for Karbala, never to return back to Behbahan.
He was born Muhammad Baqir ibn Muhammad Akmal in Behbahan, Iran, in 1116 AH. After pursuing religious education at the seminary, he return to his hometown and became the resident scholar at the local mosque. After the abovementioned incident, he migrated to Karbala, where he began leading prayers in a small mosque.
During this time, the Safavid dynasty of Iran was experiencing a decline, and the Akhbari school of thought was at its peak in Karbala. The Akhbaris rejected the concept of Ijtihad and held the narrations of the Infallibles (peace be upon them) to be the only true source of Islamic law. (For a detailed discussion of Akhbari and Usuli thought, see Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari's The Principle of Ijtihad in Islam.) Given the irrationality of their ideas, many scholars believe that Akhbaris were nothing more than a deviant sect influenced and financed by colonial powers in order to weaken the influence of scholars and religious authorities over the Shia masses.
In Karbala, Allama Behbahani challenged the authority of the Akhbaris, and numerous debates later, the Akhbaris lost all their credibility. Eventually they were driven out of Karbala, and the Usuli school of thought once again gained prominence. Given this supreme service of his to save the institution of Ijtihad and Marjaiyyat (religious authority), Allama Behbahani is given the title of Ustad al-Kul ("teacher of all").
Allama Behbahani also trained numerous scholars and jurists who continued to preserve and uphold the tradition of Ijtihad after him. Many of his students were former Akhbaris who in fact renounced their old beliefs and accepted Usuli thought as correct. Most notable among these were Mulla Mehdi Naraqi, Sayyid Mahdi Bahrul Uloom, Sayyid Mahdi Shahristani, and Shaikh Ja'far Kashif al-Ghita. In addition, he authored several significant works on jurisprudence, including Sharhul Mafatih, Hashiatul Madarik, Hashiatul Wafi, and Hashiatul Kafi.
In 1205 AH, this savior of Shia jurisprudence passed away from the world. He was laid to rest in the shrine of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in Karbala.