Allah is always most merciful to His servants. After their creation, they were not left on their own, rather He sent several guides for their guidance. Even today, despite the occultation of Imam Mahdi (as), He has ensured that the course of guidance is not disrupted. He has made a provision to the effect that some select persons are associated with the Holy Imam (as) who then provide the essential guidance to the people at large. In this article, we cast a glance at the life of Allamah Sayyed Mahdi Bahrul Uloom (ra).
Birth and early life
He was named Mahdi and his father was Sayyed Murtuza Tabatabai Burujardi (ra). His lineage can be traced to Ibrahim (who was known as Tabataba), a descendant of Hasan Mussanna who was from the progeny of Imam Hasan Mujtaba (as). (Aayaanush Shiah by Sayyed Mohsin Ameen volume 48 page 164)
Allamah Sayyed Bahrul Uloom was born in Karbala on Thursday in the month of Shawwaal in 1155 AH. Shaikh Abbas Qummi (ra) in his book ‘Fawaed Razawiyyah’ writes that the night when Allamah Bahrul Uloom was born, his father saw Imam Reza (as) in his dream. Imam Reza (as) gave a big candle to his student Mohammad bin Ismail bin Bazee’a and instructed him to light it and go on the terrace. Allamah’s father says that when Mohammad bin Ismail lit the candle, the flame got connected to the divine light of the skies and the whole world got illuminated.
Allamah received his training and education from his father and other veteran scholars and jurists of the era. The formative four years were spent in learning Arabic grammar, literature, logic, jurisprudence and and theology. Subsequently, Allamah attended the discourses of Ayatullah Waheed Bahbahaani (ra) and Shaikh Yusuf Bahrani (ra). In the next five years, Allamah managed to make the grade for Ijtehaad.
Books and Compilations
Allamah has written innumerable books which are replete with the gems of knowledge and wisdom. Some of them are:
- Masabih fi sharhe-Mafatih- The book was on the subject of Fiqh
- Ad-durratu Najafiyah – The book is based on Taharat (purity) and Namaz and a thousand poems/verses and their explanations.
- Mishkatul Hidayah – Under the instructions of Allamah, the exegesis to the book was compiled by Shaikh Jaafar Kashiful Ghita (ra).
- Al Fawaedul Usuliyah
- Hashiyah Ala Taharatish Sharaae’ of al-Muhaqqiq Al Hilli
- Al Fawaedul Rejaaliyah
- Resalah fil Feraq wal Milal
- Tohfatul Keraam fi Tarikhe Makkah wal Baitil Haraam
- Sharh Babil Haqiqah wal Majaaz
- Qawaedul Ahkaam ash shakuk
- Ad durrul Bahiyyah nazm baa’az al masael al usuliyah
- Deewan (which has over 1000 couplets)
- (Foqaha-e-Naader Shia, pg. 1295 by Abdur Rahim Aqiqi Bakshaishi pub. by Kitab Khanae Ayatullah Mar’ashi)
The title of ‘Bahrul Uloom’ was a gift of Imam Mahdi (as)
Allamah Sayyed Bahrul Uloom was a Shiah scholar of prominent repute. Allamah’s contribution and service to the religion is accepted by all. Shiaism became synonymous with his eminent personality and spread wherever he went. All these evident and hidden excellencies were undoubtedly due to the kind endowment of Imam Mahdi (as) on him.
Mirza Abul Qasim Qummi (ra) writes that he used to accompany Allamah to the lectures of Agha Baqir Bahbahaani (ra). They both used to intensively debate and discuss the discourses of Agha Bahbahaani. At the time, Allamah used to be benefited by Mirza’s knowledge and perspective. Then Mirza writes that he had to stay back in Iran and Allamah migrated to Iraq. In the meanwhile, Allamah acquired an enviable esteem among the scholars.
Mirza writes, “I was stunned because I thought that Allamah was not capable of such an indepth knowledge and understanding. How did he manage to achieve this?”
Later, Mirza traveled to Najaf and happened to meet Allamah. Mirza observed that the number of students who attended the lectures of Allamah was easily over 100. During the question and answer sessions, Mirza was further surprised to see Allamah’s command over theology and concepts, it was then that he conceded that Allamah truly deserves the title of ‘the pillar of knowledge’ and ‘Bahrul Uloom’ (the ocean of knowledge).
Once when Mirza got an opportunity to meet Allamah in private, Mirza got straight to the point and told Allamah in as many words that when they both used to attend the lectures, Allamah was not so well versed with the knowledge and he rather learnt lot of concepts from the discussions with Mirza. Then how come he managed to attain such prestigious position despite he being not such a brilliant student, Mirza asked.
Allamah replied to this in an enigmatic manner, “Mirza Abul Qasim the answer to your question is actually a secret. And I will let you in on this secret only on one condition that you will not disclose it to anyone in my lifetime.”
When Mirza promised that he would be steadfast in keeping the secret, then Allamah began his narration. “It happened one fine evening in Masjid Kufa when Imam Mahdi (as) embraced me.”
Mirza was taken aback at the revelation. Not able to hold back his curiosity, he asked “How come?”
“One evening I saw my master, Imam Mahdi (as) busy in prayers in Masjid Kufa. I approached him and saluted him. He replied to my salutations and asked me to come closer. I went closer. He said come further close to me. I went closer to him. I managed to inch nearer to him. He said come close.” Allamah continued, “I went so close to him that he embraced me tightly. After that whatever Allah wished it got transferred to my heart.”
The eminent scholars and researchers were pleasantly surprised by the divinely blessed knowledge of Bahrul Uloom which was directly bestowed on him by none other than Hazrat Imam Mahdi (as). Allamah stayed in Mashad for seven years. Once he visited the martyred teacher Mirza Mahdi Isfahani (ra).
The eminent teacher was left speechless and astonished with Allamah’s in-depth knowledge and command over the subjects. It was then that he addressed him thus – “Certainly thou art the ocean of knowledge”.
The author of Rauzaatul Jannaat, Ayatullah al Uzma Meer Sayyed Mohammad Baqir Khwansaari (ra), who is enumerated among the top scholars, writes about Allamah’s title of Bahrul Uloom – “It is sufficient for the prestige of Sayyed that none before him or after him will be honoured with the title of Bahrul Uloom.”
The satisfaction of Hazrat Imam Mahdi (as)
One of the basic responsibilities of the Shiahs is to earn his satisfaction. Allamah’s life was the perfect embodiment of this responsibility. A glance at the life of Allamah shows that the cause of his elevated status was actually his persistent endeavors to please Hazrat Imam Mahdi (as) through various efforts throughout his life which included spending money in the name of Imam Mahdi (as), organizing gatherings for discussions on him, propagate his name, publishing and distribution of the books which were written on Imam Mahdi (as), also helping the Sayyeds and other believers.
One of the ways of helping Imam Mahdi (as) is providing assistance and pleasant interaction with the believers. As it is mentioned in Majmaul Bahrain: “Equality of brothers is their participation and partnership in sustenance and livelihood.”
Allamah remained involved in almost all the stages of lives of people, whether those were mundane issues or serious matters. So much so that he was invariably helpful to everyone which is a source of delight for Hazrat Imam Mahdi (as). Allamah’s generosity was not just limited to his friends and associates, in fact he was also extremely compassionate and magnanimous with the destitute and paupers. Following the example of Imam Zainul Abedin (as), Allamah used to leave home in the dead of night with a heavy bag full of food packets and eatables on his shoulder. Allamah distributed the food among the needy and starving, with overwhelming grace and affection.
The stint at Makkah
As per the instructions from Hazrat Imam Mahdi (as), Allamah stayed in Makkah for two years. Allamah had chosen to live in dissimulation and imparted lessons to students of all four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. Allamah was so proficient in all four schools of jurisprudence that everyone presumed that he belonged to their creed. In the meanwhile, he fulfilled all his responsibilities assigned to him by Imam Mahdi (as).
According to scholars in these two years, Allamah also stipulated the essential tenets and precepts of Hajj.
The primary reason for being the main executive of Imam Mahdi’s (as) assignments and significant tasks was the spiritual purity of Allamah.
Allamah Sayyed Mohsin Ameen (ra) writes – “During Allamah’s stint at Mecca, he managed to manifest numerous signs (which had remained concealed until then). It is due to this reason that the pilgrims could easily perform the Hajj as per the directives of the Ahle Bayt (as), which otherwise was not possible.
These signs have survived even after the death of Allamah and they immensely benefit the people. For instance Allamah promulgated the limit for Mawaqeet and Ehraam as also rituals for Muzdalifah. These spots were until then undiscovered, which were made public by Allamah. (Imam Mahdi (as) and Allamah Sayyed Mahdi Bahrul Uloom (ra) page 106 by Sayyed Jaafar Rafi’ee)
Thus those Hajj rituals and obligations which we perform today were actually facilitated by Allamah. This also clearly indicates that in the era of the major occultation (Ghaybat Kubra), Imam (as) guides us in the similar manner as other Imams (as) had done during their tenure.
Some anecdotes of meeting with Imam (as)
Meeting in the Cellar
Muhaddise Noori (ra) writes that the reliable researcher and scholar, Sayyed Ali, the author of Burhaane Qaate was actually the paternal grandson of Allamah’s daughter. Sayyed Ali has related from Sayyed Murtuza, who was the son of Allamah’s sister:
“I and Allamah had left together for the Ziarat of Samarrah. Allamah used to sleep alone in his tent, while my tent was adjacent to his, which made it easier for me to spend days and nights in the company of Allamah. Those were the days when people used to gather around Allamah and spend hours with him. At times, the discussions continued until late night.
One night as usual, there was a crowd of people around Allamah. But it seemed that Allamah was weary of the crowd and desired privacy. He stopped talking and the gathering dispersed, I was the only person who remained with him. Allamah then asked me to leave. Although I left, I remained concerned about Allamah’s wellbeing. I could not sleep. After a while, I left my tent surreptitiously and looked at Allamah’s tent. I saw the door was closed. Then I peeped through ventilator, I saw the room was vacant and the lamp was burning. Then I realized that he is not on his bed. I entered his tent but did not find him. Then I stepped out of the tent barefoot and began searching for him discreetly. I reached the sacred portico of the shrine and saw that the doors of Hazrat Imam Askari (as) and Hazrat Imam Naqi’s (as) shrines were closed.
I returned and began looking for him in the neighborhood of the shrine. But he was nowhere to be found. I came back to the portico and moved towards the cellar, where to my relief I found that the doors were open. I began descending the stairs of the cellar quietly. As I entered the cellar, I heard muffled sounds of conversation, though I could not figure out what the conversation was about.
Even as I descended a few more stairs, when Allamah suddenly raised his voice from the place where he was seated – “O Sayyed Murtuza what are you doing here? Why did you leave home?”
I was terrified to hear the rebuke of Allamah and stood frozen where I was standing. I thought of returning before giving a reply. On second thoughts, I decided to stay put, as I knew that I could not hide myself when Allamah has already recognized me.
Subsequently, I apologized and came down from the stairs. I saw Allamah was standing alone facing Qibla. There was none else in the cellar. It was evident that Allamah was in conversation with our Hidden Imam (as)” (Najmus Saqib page 256; Jannatul Mawa page 228; Darus Salaam of Noori volume 2 page 211; Muntahal Aamaal volume 2 page 475- 476)
When Allamah kissed the hands of Imam Mahdi (as)
The great scholar Akhund Mulla Zainul Abedin Salmaasi (ra) who happened to be with Allamah in Makkah says, “Despite being away from his city and separate from his family, Allamah was a large hearted man. Due to his unabated generosity and kindness, he had nothing left for himself. Incidentally, I went to him on that day as I had nothing for the expenses. I informed him of the situation. However, Allamah remained unresponsive.
Allamah had a habit of going for a circumambulation (tawaf) of Holy Kabah every morning after which he went to his private chambers. In the meanwhile, I used to bring the smoking pipe for him and he partook it. Then he used to visit other rooms where students from other sects were waiting for the lessons. Allamah used to teach every group according to the tenets of their own sect.
The day after I sought financial help from Allamah as per the routine, I brought the smoking pipe for him after the tawaf. Suddenly someone knocked at the door. The knock made him extremely restless. Allamah handed the smoking pipe back to me and said you may leave and take this with you. After that Allamah rushed to answer the door.
As the door opened, I saw a dignified man dressed in Arabian attire entered and took seat in Allamah’s room. While Allamah sat near the door with utmost reverence and humility. He also indicated to me that I should not bring the smoking pipe near him.
They both sat for a while and conversed. The dignified Arab rose to leave, Allamah too hurriedly stood up with him and opened the door for him. At the door, Allamah kissed the hands of the Arab and helped him mount his horse which was tied outside the door. The Arab departed. Allamah returned and came to me with a note in his hands. He instructed me to give it to the money exchanger near the mount of Safa and tell him that the amount is written in the note.
I carried the note to the money dealer at Safa. The dealer saw the note, kissed it and touched it to his eyes. Turning towards me, he asked me to get four workers. I got four porters. The dealer looked at the men and as per their physical strength filled French Francs (which was the local currency in those days) in the sacks and loaded on their shoulder. Each Franc was equivalent to five Iranian Qiraan (Qiraan was in currency before Riyal). The men carried the sacks to my house.
One day I decided to check out the dealer. As I reached the mountain of Safa, I found that neither the shop existed nor the dealer. Then I enquired from the neighboring shopkeepers about the shop. The shopkeepers told me that such a dealer or an exchange shop was never there on that spot. I was convinced that it will remain a divine mystery.” (Dar Intezaare Khurshide Vilayat, pg. 147)
The mourning for Imam Husain (as)
A great scholar narrated an incident thus, “In 1333 A H when I was studying in Najaf, I traveled to Karbala on foot along with some scholars. When we reached Taviraj, which is at a distance of four farsakh from Karbala, one of the scholars told me that on the day of Ashura, groups of people leave this place for Karbala. Often they are accompanied by some scholars, at times even Marjae Taqleed follow them. They all beat their chest with enthusiasm and sincerely mourn Imam Husain (as). On one such Ashura when I was passing through Taviraj, I happened to spot a Marjae Taqleed who joined the group and with utmost emotions, he was beating his chest hard and was also weeping.
I approached the Marja and inquired, ‘Do you have any religious sanction for this action of yours?’ The Marja replied: Late Allamah Bahrul Uloom (ra) along with some students was passing through Taviraj for Karbala. When suddenly, the students saw that Bahrul Uloom who despite having such an esteemed position, disregarded his status, unbuttoned his shirt like others and began beating his chest vigorously.
The students tried their best to control Allamah’s emotions but they failed in calming him down. Then they all made a protective circle around Allamah.
After the maatam some of Allamah’s close friends asked him as to what happened that he plunged himself in uncontrolled mourning.
Allamah replied that, “When I went close to the group of mourners, I spotted Imam Mahdi (as) whose head was uncovered and he was profusely crying and doing maatam. At this I lost control over myself and joined Imam Mahdi (as) in mourning and maatam on Imam Husain (as).”
Allamah spent his entire life awaiting Imam Mahdi (as) and searching for him. He expired in 1212 AH. As per the will of Allamah, Mirza Mahdi Shahrastani led his funeral prayers and he was buried next to the shrine of Shaikh Tusi (ra).
It is mentioned in the book Fawaaedur Rejaliyah, “When this great scholar and jurist was being buried, those present heard a call,“Your grave is among those graves which carries the knowledge of the prophets from Nuh (as) till the end. Your life was spent in the revival of Islam and with your death, knowledge and honor too died.”
Read More: Miscellaneous Articles on Imam Mahdi (as)