The caravan from Iraq finally arrived, and the crowd lining the streets of the small town became ecstatic. The caravan included a very famous and respected scholar, and rumor had it that he was planning on settle in their town. A few days later, word spread throughout the town that the scholar was indeed planning on permanently settling in the city and revitalizing its dormant seminary. Little did they know, however, that very soon their city would gain prominence throughout the world and become the greatest center of Shia learning.
He was born Abdul Karim ibn Muhammad Ja’far al-Hairi al-Yazdi in Yazd, Iran in 1276 AH. His parents were farmers, but Shaikh Hairi was attracted towards learning from an early age. As a young boy, he began attending the seminary in Ardkan. For his higher education, he traveled to Yazd, Najaf, and Karbala. In Karbala, he studied under Shaikh Fadhil Ardkani and soon began teaching in the seminary. However, Shaikh Ardkani knew of Shaikh Hairi’s intellectual potential, and he recommended that his disciple travel to Samarra and study under Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi.
In Samarra, while Shaikh Hairi was studying under Ayatollah Mirza Shirazi and Ayatollah Taqi Shirazi, a very interesting event took place. Bubonic plague broke out in the city, and hundreds of people were dying every day. Shaikh Hairi narrates that he was sitting with a few colleagues and talking about the epidemic, when Ayatollah Taqi Shirazi entered and said, “If I were to issue a Hukm (religious order), would it not be incumbent on all to follow it?” They all replied in the affirmative. Ayatollah Shirazi said, “I am hereby issuing a Hukm that every Shia in Samarra must recite Ziyarat Ashura for ten days and gift the reward to the soul of Lady Narjis, mother of the Twelfth Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance), so that Allah may repel this calamity from us.” Word was sent out to the entire city, and believers everywhere began the recitations. From that day on, not a single Shia died from the plague. Eventually, followers of other schools of Islam came and inquired, and they too began the recitation. Very soon, the plague was eliminated from the city of Samarra.
Upon the demise of his teachers, Shaikh Hairi was recognized as one of the leading religious authorities of the time. During this time, the people of Qom invited him visit their small city and revive the seminary there. The city of Qom had existed since the times of the earliest Infallibles (peace be upon them), and in 201 AH, Lady Fatima Masooma, sister of Imam Ali Ridha (peace be upon them), had died there en route her journey to visit her brother in Marv. The city was home to a small seminary, but recently, it has fallen into disuse and disrepair.
When Shaikh Hairi arrived in Qom in 1340 AH, he was greeted by a very excited populace. A few months later, he held a meeting at his house with the leading scholars of the city, and it was agreed that Shaikh Hairi would head the seminary. He invited several of his students and colleagues from Iraq and went about collecting funds for the establishment of several new schools in the seminary. Slowly, the seminary began to attract the greatest and brightest minds from around the Shia world. Shaikh Hairi was well-known for his vast knowledge and piety, and his students included such noteworthy scholars as Sayyid Muhaqqiq al-Damad, his own son Shaikh Murtadha Hairi, Ayatollah Shahabuddin Mar’ashi Najafi, Sayyid Sadruddin as-Sadr, and Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Araki.
Two years prior to Shaikh Hairi’s arrival in Najaf, a lowly military officer by the name of Raza Khan Pahlavi had launched a rebellion against the Qajar dynasty, and with the backing of European colonists, he declared himself emperor of Iran. Raza Shah was deeply influenced by the radical secularism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and he too initiated efforts to remove the influence of religion from Iranian society and culture. Stores were forced to only sell Western clothing, and it became illegal for men to wear turbans and women to wear the headscarf in public. Alcohol and narcotics were introduced to the youth.
Shaikh Hairi was deeply disturbed by the government’s perpetuation of immorality and indecency. At a meeting of scholars and community leaders, he declared that Hijab was a matter of Faith, and that one should be willing to lay down his life in defense of this great obligation! He encouraged his students and the populace to speak out against Raza Shah’s tyrannical government, and he himself condemned the regime several times.
In 1355 AH, at the age of 79, Shaikh Haeri passed away. He was laid to rest in the shrine of Lady Masooma. Scared of the support that he enjoyed, the government only allowed a period of two hours for his mourning. Little did they know, however, that although Shaikh Hairi had initiated the revolt against the corrupt and immoral regime of the Pahlavi dynasty, the revolution would very soon be brought to its climax by one of Shaikh Hairi’s own students, then a young boy from Khomein by the name of Sayyid Ruhollah Mousavi.
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.