Sayyid Sharafuddin al-Musawi
Sayyid Sharafuddin called a conference of the major scholars of Lebanon, and they declared Jihad against the French occupation. A death warrant was immediately issued for him.
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The wife opened the door to let in her husband and was aghast to see that he was clearly not wearing a shirt under his clerical robes. She hastily beckoned him inside the house and inquired exactly where his clothes had disappeared. “I saw a religious student wearing tatters that did not befit him,” the scholar replied with a smile, “so I took off my clothes and gave them to him and came home with my robes wrapped around me!” As if it was nothing big, he cheerfully walked over to his room, leaving his wife of only one month in an even greater state of confusion and bewilderment….
He was born Sayyid Abdul Hussain ibn Sayyid Yusuf ibn Sayyid Jawad Sharafuddin al-Musawi in Kadhimiya, Iraq, in 1290 AH. His father Sayyid Yusuf Sharafuddin was then studying in Iraq, but once he finished his education, he moved with his family back to Jabal Amil, where the young boy started his early religious education under his father. At sixteen years of age, he then travelled to Iraq to study under the scholars in Najaf, Samarra, Karbala, and Kadhmiyya, including Akhund al-Khurasani, Sayyid Kadhim Tabatabai Yazdi, Shaikh Hussain Nuri, and Sayyid Ismail as-Sadr.
Upon completing his education, Sayyid Sharafuddin returned to Lebanon, but he also traveled extensively around the Muslim world, encouraging Muslim unity and opposition to colonial powers. During his stay in Egypt, he developed a close relationship with Shaikh Saleem al-Bishri, the rector of Al-Azhar University. The two men often had extended discussions and correspondences on theological and jurisprudential topics, whereby Sayyid Sharafuddin successfully defended each and every matter of Shia belief and practice to his Sunni counterpart. Eventually, this discussion culminated in the renowned book Al-Muraja’at, which is considered perhaps the greatest defense of Shia beliefs written in the 20th century and has since been translated into many languages, including English. Based on the discussions contained in this book, Al-Azhar University eventually issued an edict declaring Shias to be within the folds of Islam and the Ja’fari legal though to be a valid branch of Islamic jurisprudence.
Sayyid Sharafuddin eventually came back to Lebanon and continued serving the masses. Four years later, World War I broke out, and the Ottoman Empire sided with the Central Power. When the war ended, the Central Powers had suffered a major defeat. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk put an end to the 1300-year-old caliphate in the Islamic world by proclaiming a secular Turkey, and the French took control over Lebanon. Under the French occupation, Lebanon underwent a major secularization process, as the colonial government attempted to Westernize the masses by promoting irreligious elements in society. Widespread repression resulted when people spoke out.
Sayyid Sharafuddin called a conference of the major scholars of Lebanon, and they declared Jihad against the French occupation. A death warrant was immediately issued for him, and Sayyid Sharafuddin was forced to hastily leave his house for Syria and then for Egypt. However, the vengeful French tore down his house and burned down his library, which contained thousands of invaluable books and manuscripts. Eventually, Sayyid Muhammad as-Sadr, who was a highly-respected scholar in Lebanon and a first cousin of Sayyid Sharafuddin, was able to use his leverage with the colonial government to have Sayyid Sharafuddin’s death warrant annulled, and the latter was able to return to his hometown.
Back in Lebanon, Sayyid Sharafuddin continued an intellectual struggle against the colonial government. Every time he received any monetary gifts from believers, he would donate them to help the resistance. In addition, he continued with his academic activities. In addition to Al-Muraja’at, he also penned An-Nass wa Al-Ijtihad, Abu Hurayra, and Al-Fusul al-Muhimma fi Ta’leef al-Ummah. Unfortunately, many of his books and articles were lost when the French burned his library, a fact that he mourned for the rest of his life. He also established Jaffari College, which until recently was a renowned institute of higher Islamic learning in Lebanon.
In 1377 AH, Sayyid Sharafuddin fell ill and shortly passed away. Amid an outpour of grief, his body was carried to Beirut and then flown to Baghdad, Kadhmiyya, and Karbala. At each of those places, religious scholars and leaders gathered to pay their final respects. He was eventually laid to rest in the courtyard of Imam Ali’s (peace be upon him) shrine in Najaf.