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Allama Seyyid Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai Philosopher Exegete and Gnostic

Allama Seyyid Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai Philosopher Exegete and Gnostic

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6
ALL
2
MA SAYYID MU
E
AMMAD
E
USAYN
F
AB
2F
AB
28>
: PHILOSOPHER, EXEGETE,AND GNOSTIC
HAMID ALGAR
University of California, Berkeley
The transmission of scholarly eminence within a given family has been afrequent occurrence in the history of Islamic Iran, particularly after theadoption of Shi
6
ism during the tenth/sixteenth century. Few, however,are the lineages that could compete for continuity of erudition with theancestry of 
6
All
:
ma
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
, the author of 
Tafs
r al-M
z
:
n
. From theAq Qoyunlu through the Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi periods into the eraof the Islamic Republic, members of this family have been consistentlyprominent as scholars of religion, q
:@;
s, and
shaykhs al-Isl 
:
m
, especiallyin Tabriz. The progenitor of this illustrious line was a certain Sayyid
6
Abd al-Wahh
:
b Hamad
:
n
;
who, born and bred in Samarqand, succeededto the position of his father, Sayyid Najm al-D
;
n
6
Abd al-Ghaff 
:
r
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
, as
shaykh al-Isl 
:
m
of Tabriz not long before the Safavidsdisplaced the Aq Qoyunlus in 907/1501. Successfully negotiating thedelicate transition between dynasties, Sayyid
6
Abd al-Wahh
:
b gainedthe trust of Shah Ism
:6;
l sufficiently to be entrusted with a diplomaticmission to Istanbul, where, however, he was detained until his death in930/1524.
1
From Sayyid
6
Abd al-Wahh
:
b,
6
All
:
ma
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
was separatedby twelve generations.
2
His ancestor in the seventh generation, M
;
rz
:
Mu
A
ammad
6
Al
;
Q
:@;
, had been
q
:@; 
al-qu
@:
of Azerbaijan, and the
1
For a detailed account of 
6
Abd al-Wahh
:
b and his responses to theturbulence of the age, see Hamid Algar, ‘Naqshbandis and Safavids: AContribution to the Religious History of Iran and Its Neighborsin MichelMazzaoui (ed.),
The Safavids and Their Neighbors
(Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2003), 9–13.
2
For the complete genealogy, see Mu
A
ammad al-
E
usayn al-
E
usayn
;
al-Tihr
:
n
;
,
al-Shams al-S
:3 
i
6
a
(Beirut, 1417/1997), 31–2. (This is the Arabictranslation, made by
6
Abb
:
s N
<
r al-D
;
n and
6
Abd al-Ra
A;
m Mub
:
rak, of aPersian original,
Mihr-i
:
b
:
n
[Tehran, 1401
SH
 /1982], unavailable to thepresent writer).
ß
The Author (2006). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Oxford Centre for IslamicStudies. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oxfordjournals.org
Published online 5 April 2006 Journal of Islamic Studies 17:3 (2006) pp. 326–351 doi:10.1093/jis/etl002
 
designation ‘Q
:@;
clung as a proper name to later members of thelineage, whether or not they exercised the profession of judge.
3
Amongthe ancestors relatively close in time to the
6
All
:
ma particular mentionmay be made of his great-great-grandfather, M
;
rz
:
Mu
A
ammad Taq
;
Q
:@; F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
, pupil of the great U
B<
l
;
jurist,
2
q
:
Mu
A
ammad B
:
qirBihbah
:
n
;
, and of Bihbah
:
n
;
’s gnostically inclined student, M
;
rz
:
Mahd
;
Ba
A
r al-
6
Ul
<
m (d. 1212/1797). M
;
rz
:
Mu
A
ammad Taq
;
’s son, M
;
rz
: 6
Al
;
A
B
ghar, was a man of somewhat different temperament and accomplish-ment: as
shaykh al-
sl 
:
m
of Tabriz during the reign of N
:B
ir al-D
;
n Sh
:
hhe was involved in many of the disturbances that pitted the townsfolkagainst the corruption of the Qajar dynasty and its local agents.
4
Destined to overshadow all of his ancestors in scholarly accomplish-ment,
6
All
:
ma
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
was born in the village of Sh
:
d
:
b
:
d (orSh
:
dag
:
n) near Tabriz on 29 Dh
<
l-
E
ijja 1321/16 March 1904. He losthis father, Sayyid Mu
A
ammad
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
, at the age of five, and hismother died four years later while giving birth to his brother, SayyidMu
A
ammad
E
asan. This experience of being orphaned doubtlesscontributed to the closeness that bound the brothers together throughouttheir lives, a closeness which came to manifest itself in virtually identicalinterests and inclinations. The guardianship of the two boys fell to apaternal uncle, Sayyid Mu
A
ammad
6
Al
;
Q
:@;
, and it was under hisguidance that
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
began his primary education. In accordancewith well-established convention, he first memorized the Qur
8:
n, studiedPersian texts such as the
B
<
st 
:
n
and
Gulist 
:
n
of Sa
6
d
;
, and learnedcalligraphy before moving on to the specialized study of the ‘Arabicsciences’—Arabic grammar, syntax, and rhetoric, the essential prerequi-sites for the serious study of Islam—some ten years later.This was a relatively late initiation into the world of scholarship, notat all presaging the eminence that the
6
All
:
ma was ultimately to attain.He recounts, indeed, that he was initially averse to study anddiscouraged by his inability to understand fully what he was reading,a condition that continued for about four years. A turning point wasreached when he failed a test on Suy
<3;
s well-known treatise ongrammar, a staple of the traditional elementary curriculum, and hisexasperated teacher told him: ‘Stop wasting my time and your own.’Shamefaced, he left Tabriz for a while to engage in a devotional practice
3
6
All
:
ma
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
himself was initially known as Q
:@;
after his arrival inQum in 1946, but he discouraged this practice, preferring to use
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
assurname. See al-Tihr
:
n
;
,
al-Shams al-s
:3 
i
6
a
, 13, n. 1.
4
See N
:
di M
;
rz
:
,
:
r
kh va-jughr
:
-yi
:
r al-sal 
ana-yi Tabr
z
(Tehran,1323/1905), 118, 244.
F
AB
2F
AB
28>
:
philosopher, exegete, gnostic 327
 
(
6
amal 
) that resulted in the divine bestowal on him of an ability to masterwhatever difficulty he encountered; this remained with him to the endof his life. In keeping with his general reticence on personal matters,he never identified the practice in question.
5
What is certain is that henow acquired a passionate love of learning. He later recalled:
I ceased entirely to associate with anyone not devoted to learning, and began tocontent myself with a minimum of food, sleep, and material necessities, devotingeverything to my studies. It would often happen, especially during the spring andthe summer, that I would remain awake studying until dawn, and I alwaysprepared the next day’s class on the previous night. If I encountered a problem,I would solve whatever difficulty I encountered, however much effort it cost me.When I came to class, everything the teacher had to say was already clear to me;I never had occasion to ask for an explanation or for an error to be corrected.
6
It was presumably during these early years that
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
alsoacquired a surprising variety of athletic skills that in later life were beliedby his frail and ascetic appearance: horsemanship, swimming, moun-taineering, hunting, and marksmanship. He must have maintained theseskills at least long enough to pass them on to his son,
6
Abd al-B
:
q
;
.
7
After completing the
su
3<A
level of the religious studies curriculum in1343/1925,
6
All
:
ma
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
went together with his brother to Najaf in order to benefit from the ample opportunities offered by that centreof Shi
6
i learning, traditionally designated as D
:
r al-
6;
lm (‘The Abode of Knowledge’). Jurisprudence, then as later, was the principal focus of instruction in Najaf.
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
accordingly spent many years studyingthat discipline at the
kh
:
rij
level with authorities such as M
;
rz
: E
usaynN
:8;
n
;
(d. 1355/1936),
2
yatull
:
h Ab
<
l-
E
asan I
B
fah
:
n
;
(d. 1365/1946),
2
yatull
:
h
E:
jj M
;
rz
: 6
Al
; >
rav
:
n
;
, and
2
yatull
:
h M
;
rz
: 6
Al
;
A
B
ghar.Among his teachers in
fiqh
it was however Mu
A
ammad
E
usayn Gharav
;
I
B
fah
:
n
;
Kump
:
n
;
(d. 1361/1942) to whom he became particularly
5
It may, however, have been a lengthy prostration, in the course of which
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
beseeched God either to bestow on him the ability to master whateverdifficulties he encountered, or to take his life. Conversation of Shaykh
4
adral-D
;
n
E:
i
8
r
;
Sh
;
r
:
z
;
with the
6
All
:
ma, cited in l-Tihr
:
n
;
,
al-Shams al-S
:3 
i
6
a
, 34,n. 1.
6
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
, autobiographical essay prefaced to his
Barras
h
:
-yi Isl 
:
m
, ed.Sayyid H
:
d
;
Khusraush
:
h
;
, (Qum, 1396/1976), 10–11.
7
6
Abd al-B
:
q
;
recalls that his father regarded hunting as
A
ar
:
m
except incases of dire necessity. See N
:B
ir B
:
qir
;
B
;
d-i-Hind
;
, ‘Mufassir va
A
ak
;
m-iil
:
h
;
,
E
azrat-i
2
yatull
:
h Sayyid Mu
A
ammad
E
usayn
F
ab
:3
ab
:8;
,’
<
r-i
6
Ilm
, 3:9(
2
zar 1368/December 1989), 77.
328 hamid algar

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