Muhaqqiq al-Karaki

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Most people, including most Shias, think that the concept of “scholarly guardianship” (Wilayat-e-Faqih) was first implemented in Iran after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. However, the tradition of clerical leadership in Iran was actually established over 400 years before Imam Khomeini, when an eminent scholar of the time was given the reins of the government in Iran. He is known through history as Muhaqqiq al-Karki.

He was born Ali ibn Abdul-Aal al-Karki in Jabal Amil (in southern Lebanon) in the 8th century AH, but little is known about his early life. He studied under several great scholars of the time, such as Ali ibn Hilal al-Jazaeri. He continued his higher education in Iraq.

During his time, Shah Ismail of Isfehan slowly began to extend his rule over all of Iran, eventually establishing the Safavid dynasty in 927 AH. Being a pious man who recognized the role and rank of scholars in the Shia faith, he wrote to Muhaqqiq al-Karki and told him that he was appointing him Shaikh al-Islam and handing over total control of the government to him. Muhaqqiq al-Karki accepted, but by the time he arrived in Iran, Ismail had died, and Shah Tahmasp had taken over. Tahmasp offered to turn over the entire management of the government to Muhaqqiq, but he instead decided to let Tahmasp rule as his representative, while he himself would have complete control over all legal and jurisdictional matters. Tahmasp agreed.

A great scholar and jurist, Muhaqqiq al-Karki travelled all over Iran, preaching the message of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) to the masses. Slowly, the Shia faith began to take root in Iran. It is said that second only to Shaikh Naseeruddin Tusi, Muhaqqiq al-Karki spread the message of the Ahlul Bayt to more people than anyone else in history. In fact, many non-Shias accuse him of being the “inventor” of the Shia faith. He also established seminaries in Qazvin and Isfehan, making Iran once again a center of religious learning after it had seen some decline since the time of Shaikh as-Saduq. He wrote several books, the most notable of them being Jami al-Maqasid, a commentary on Allama Hilli’s Qawaid. He also wrote extensive commentaries on the works of Shaheed al-Awwal and Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.

Seeing the establishment of the Shia faith and government in Iran, other scholars of Islam became quite jealous. One such scholar in the court of Shah Tahmasp once mentioned how, if you take the numbers of the year 927 and take the Abjad numerical values of letters, the number 927 equals Madhab Na-Haq (“the false religion”). Muhaqqiq al-Karki immediately challenged the scholar, asking him why he was taking the Persian version of the equation. The language of Islam is Arabic, he said, and in Arabic, the letters combine not to form Madhab Na-Haq, but rather Madhabuna Haq (“our religion is the right one”). The court erupted in jubilation at his quick thinking and wit.

In the year 940 AH, Muhaqqiq al-Karki passed away. After him, the reigns of clerical guardianship were taken over by Shaikh Ali Minshar, and by the esteemed Shaikh Bahai after him. Meanwhile, he left a great intellectual prodigy in the form of his student Shaheed Thani.

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.

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