Shaikh Zainuddin used to travel frequently, and the incidents that transpired during his journeys testify to his brilliance and piety. Once during a visit to Constantinople, he was asked a juristic question by the Chief Magistrate of the city. The Shaikh told him that he would reply in a few days.
The scholar and his student were walking through the wilderness, when the former's face turned pale. Before the student could ask, the scholar himself spoke, "A very pious person will be martyred at this place. A believer will writhe in his blood at this place." As he gaped in horror, little did the student realize that his mentor was in fact foreseeing his own future, when he would be martyred for his devotion and service to the cause of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) and go down in history as the acclaimed "Second Martyr".
He was born Zainuddin ibn Nuruddin in Jabal Amil (in southern Lebanon) in the year 911 AH. Growing up in a family of scholars, he was naturally inclined towards pursuing religious studies. He completed his early education in his hometown, and he received his higher education under the acclaimed Muhaqqiq al-Karki. He shortly became his favorite and closest disciple. During his early 30s, he was granted permission to perform Ijtihad. However, he was hesitant to openly publish his edicts and rulings.
One day, a student of Shaikh Zainuddin had a dream where he witnessed his teacher give a long and strange speech. Later on, when he told him about the incident, Shaikh Zainuddin remarked that perhaps that was a sign for him to go public with his Ijtihad. When the curious student inquired why, Shaikh Zainuddin took out his book of edicts which he had always hidden from others. To the student's surprise, the speech he had heard in his dream was in fact an exact copy of the introductory chapter of the Shaikh's book.
Shaikh Zainuddin used to travel frequently, and the incidents that transpired during his journeys testify to his brilliance and piety. Once during a visit to Constantinople, he was asked a juristic question by the Chief Magistrate of the city. The Shaikh told him that he would reply in a few days. Eighteen days later, he had in fact written a comprehensive book in response to the Magistrate's query from all four Sunni schools' points of view, all this while he was away from his homeland and had no access to any resources!
The Magistrate recommended that Shaikh Zainuddin be appointed a high-level instructor at a religious seminary in Syria. His expertise in matters of both Shia and Sunni jurisprudence surprised and angered many. In fact, given that he was practicing Taqayya (dissimulation), he was shortly forced to resign from his position after people began to realize that he was actually a Shia.
Another time, as he was travelling to Kufa, he arrived at a local mosque. He noticed that the prayer niche in the mosque was not exactly in the direction of Mecca, and he declared that he would pray with his prayer mat at an angle. Although most locals deferred to his judgment, one of the local scholars refused to pray behind him. Three days later, however, this scholar was seen praying behind him as well. When people asked him about his change of mind, he told them that he had had a dream where the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) had visited this mosque and corrected the Qibla exactly how Shaikh Zainuddin had done!
As the atrocities against Shia academia increased, Shaikh Zainuddin devoted a considerable amount of effort and energy into collecting old manuscripts of hadith and jurisprudential literature. In addition, he wrote Sharh al-Lum'a, a commentary on the First Martyr's al-Lum'a Dimishqiya that is still used in the seminary curriculum. His brilliance can be gauged by the fact that whereas it takes most teachers over two years to go over the book today, Shaikh Zainuddin in fact completed it in just over six months.
As word of his knowledge and brilliance spread, jealousy and hatred against him and the School of Ahlul Bayt began to grow. Leaders from other sects of Islam complained to the ruler that he was a threat to the establishment. An arrest warrant was issued, and he was martyred while being taken from Mecca to Constantinople in the year 966 AH in the exact same location where he had predicted his martyrdom several years ago to his student. Traditions say that Constantinople was struck with violent storms and floods the next day, and nearly half the city was submerged under water.
As his body lay in the wilderness, a few people passing by the area noticed a ray of bright light traveling from the sky to the Earth. They went towards it and, seeing Shaikh Zainuddin's body, realized that this must have been a great man of God. These God-fearing men washed and shrouded his body and gave him a very respectable funeral.
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.