Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husaini as-Seestani
The Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him and his family) said:
"One Scholar is more powerful against the Devil than one thousand worshippers."
FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY, the school of the late Grand Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khu'i (May Allah raise his rank) has been an inexhaustible spring that has enriched and enlivened Islamic thought and knowledge throughout the world. From his school graduated hundreds of jurists, scholars, and dignitaries who took it upon themselves to continue his ideological path, which was full of achievements and sacrifices in the service of faith, knowledge, and the society.
Among those, are the outstanding 'Ulama' of the Hawza 'Ilmiyyah, especially those in the holy cities of Najaf and Qum. Some of them have attained the level of Ijtihad - the competence to deduce independent legal judgments - enabling them to assume the office of supreme religious authority. Others have reached lofty levels qualifying them for shouldering the responsibilities of teaching and educating the future generation of scholars.
One of the most distinguished among these towering figures in today's age is His Eminence Grand Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni as-Seestani. He ranks among the brightest, most qualified and knowledgeable of Imam al-Khu'i's (May Allah raise his status) students.
1. His Birth and Upbringing
His Eminence, Ayatullah al-'Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni as-Seestani was born in 1349 A.H. (1928) in the month of Rabi' al-Awwal in the holy city of Mashad, Iran, where the sacred shrine of Imam 'Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (Peace be upon him) is located. His father was one of the devout Scholars of his region, and in order to help his son continue his Islamic studies and to gain a deeper knowledge of the Islamic sciences, he introduced him to the 'Ulama and scholars of the Hawza 'Ilmiyyah.
Ayatullah al-'Uzma as-Seestani began his introductory 'Arabic studies, including eloquence (Balagha), in Khurasan under the renowned teacher of 'Arabic, Muhammad Taqi Adib Nishaburi. He also studied jurisprudence (Fiqh), principles of jurisprudence (¬sul), logic (Man§iq), and beliefs (Aqaid) under the great 'Ulama and teachers of Khurasan. It was in this city that he took part in Dars-e-Kharij (the highest level of studies in the Hawza). At this time, he also benefited from the presence of Allamah Muhaqqiq Mirza Mahdi Isfahani (May Allah sanctify his spirit).
In order to advance further and complete his studies, he traveled to the city of Qum in 1368 A.H. (1948), so as to benefit from the 'Ulama of the grand Hawza in this city. The Hawza 'Ilmiyyah of Qum was at that time under the supervision and guidance of the sole Marja' of the Shi'a world, namely Ayatullah al-'Uzma as-Sayyid al-Hajj Husayn Burujerdi (May Allah raise his rank).
Ayatullah Seestani who was present in the lessons of Fiqh and Usul, which at that time were being taught by Ayatullah Burujerdi, was quickly recognized as the brightest student in the fields of Fiqh, Usul, and Rijal. He also took part in the classes of Ayatullah al-Uzma Hujjat Kuhkumrai and other teachers and scholars in order to quench his thirst for knowledge.
As-Sayyid as-Seestani excelled his peers, especially in the force-fullness of his interjections, his quick wit, research in
jurisprudence, biographies of the transmitters of ahadith, and his keeping abreast with many theories in different fields of the theological sciences.
In the year 1371 A.H. (1951), Ayatullah Seestani once again moved, this time to Najaf al-Ashraf. At that time, the Hawza of Najaf was blooming and was full of splendor and glory. He took part in the classes that were being offered and learnt the various Islamic sciences from the most well known 'Ulama of that time.
For more than 10 years he took part in the lessons of Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Musawi al-Khu'i (May Allah be pleased with him). At this time, he also attended the lessons taught by Ayatullah al-'Uzma as-Sayyid Mohsin al-Hakim (May Allah sanctify his spirit). He also finished one complete course in Usul al-Fiqh under the auspices of Ayatullah al-'Uzma al-Shaykh Husayn Hilli (May Allah be pleased with him).
In the year 1380 A.H. (1960), in recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the distinction certifying that he had attained the level of Ijtihad - deduction of legal judgment in matters of religion, by Imam al-Khu'i and again, by al-Shaykh al-Hilli.
In the same year, he was awarded certification by the distinguished traditionalist and scholar al-Shaykh Agha
Buzurg al-±ehrani testifying to his skill in the science of 'Ilm al-Rijal, or research into the biographies of the narrators of ahadith. He achieved this grand status when he was a mere 31 years of age!
In the year 1381 A.H. (1961), after years of studies and participating in the lessons of Usul, Fiqh, and Man§iq in the Hawzas of Mashad, Qum, and Najaf he started to teach his own lessons in Dars-e-Kharij, revolving around the book, al-Makasib by Shaykh Ansari (May Allah be pleased with him). After teaching Dars-e-Kharij based on the framework found in al-Makasib for years, he advanced his lessons onto a higher level by teaching from the book Urwatul Wuthqa.
2. His Comparison Between the Various Schools of Thought
In order to put forward a sound study for any subject, as-Sayyid as-Seestani compares his findings with those of
al-Mirza Mahdi al-Isfahani, representing the Mashhad school of thought, as-Sayyid al-Burujerdi of Qum, and of as-Sayyid al-Khu'i and al-Shaykh Hussain al-Hilli representing Najaf.
3. His Juristic Methodology
His juristic methodology has the following distinct characteristic: Comparative Jurisprudence between Shi'a and Sunni. Familiarizing oneself with the Sunni juristic thought, contemporary to the time of the text such as Imam Malik's "al-Muwatta" or Abu Yusuf's "al-Khiraj", make clear to us the opinions and goals of the A'immah (Peace be upon them) at those times. Making use of modern-made laws in certain juristic respects, as is the case with his reference to Iraqi, Egyptian and French laws when he discusses the topic of "Contract of Sale and Right of Withdrawal", widens one's scope in analyzing juristic principles, its goals, and expands its practical use.
4. His Inventiveness of Approach
Unlike traditional clerics who follow literally what they have been taught, as-Sayyid as-Seestani's approach to juristic
principles is characterized by lending weight to some of these principles by re-interpreting them. To give an example, the principle of Izlam (compulsion) is expounded by some jurists as follows: "A practicing Muslim may make use of the laws of other Islamic Schools of Thought insofar as his personal interest is best served even though his school of thought does not approve it."
As-Sayyid as-Seestani interprets such a practice on the basis of respect (ihtiram) i.e. showing respect for other peoples' laws and opinions. He has based his interpretation on the freedom of expression, like when we say, "Everyone has his/her own way of conducting marriage"; hence "the lawfulness of marriage of a polytheist".
5. His Examining the Text in its Social Context
Investigating the text in its social climate and the circumstances surrounding it helps us to arrive at a better understanding of it and leads to deducing a sound legal judgement.
Such is the approach of as-Sayyid as-Seestani for example when he tackled the hadith of the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him and his family) at Khaybar forbidding the eating of donkey meat. As-Sayyid as-Seestani's interpretation was that such was prohibition is confined to that particular incident at that point in time. The evidence he puts forward is that the Prophet's forbidding was due to a military requirement, in that the donkey was a means of transportation and protecting it was needed to serve that purpose. Hence, no extrapolation should be made from it at a later time since circumstances have changed.
6. His Expertise in the Tools of Deduction
This great Marja' is of the opinion that a jurist cannot be called as such until he has acquired all the necessary qualifications to enable him to be one. Among such vehicles is the mastery of Arabic, full knowledge of the traditions of the Prophet and his Progeny (Peace be upon all of them) and detailed accounts of their narrators - for the science of 'Ilm al-Rijal (biographies of transmitters of hadith) is a prerequisite for the jurist to achieve authenticity.
In this respect he holds many opinions which may go against what is universally held. He also stresses the importance of familiarizing oneself with the different compilations of hadith and their different copies to ensure knowledge about the author as regards to the accuracy, authenticity, and the manner of compiling.
7. His Character
Those who come into close contact with as-Sayyid as-Seestani will discover that he is endowed with ideal spiritual traits. Of these are the following:
1. Fairness and respect for the other opinion. Based on his love for science and knowledge, interest in arriving at the truth, and upholding freedom of expression and the constructive word, he is constantly reading in order to acquaint himself with the different opinions - whether they are expressed by well-known scholars or less known ones. Thus, he may quote an opinion expressed by al-Shaykh Muhammad Rida al-Mudhaffar in his book "Usul al-Fiqh" (Fundamentals of Jurisprudence); and by the same token he may take the liberty of alluding to another opinion which he admires, though it may belong to a peer, rival, friend, or a less famous scholar.
2. Etiquette of debate. His manner of conducting a debate or discussion is a far cry from the heated, aimless, time wasting arguments that others indulge in. He never resorts to silencing others, interrupting them or belittling their contribution to the subject that is to be discussed. No matter who the other side is - teacher, or student - and he always uses polite words to address them. Thus, he adopts an appropriate approach in handling any category without overstepping the line of courtesy and good manners in order to preserve the integrity and respect of those involved.
3. Manners of the Teacher. Teaching is not simply a paid profession - if it is not coupled with the concern for the advancement of the student and showing love and affection for him, then the teaching process will be devoid of its noble aims and objectives in producing a committed, well-mannered generation, fully aware of their responsibilities towards themselves and the society in general. As-Sayyid as-Seestani is considered among the elite, just like as-Sayyid al-Hakim and as-Sayyid al-Khu'i who viewed teaching as an heavenly obligation which must be fulfilled to the best ability of the teacher. Thus, he constantly reminds his students to spare no effort in asking about everything, however trivial it may seem to them, such as inquiring about the number of pages in a book, so that they may get used to close contact with the teacher. Moreover, he often encourages them to compare his study and research with the others in the same field, with a view to find out their strengths and weaknesses.
4. Godfearing and Piety. There is a striking phenomenon that the majority of scholars and great men seem to share, in that they do not allow controversy and disputes to get between them. Such a stand has proven to be wise since they have been necessitated by the concern for the public interest. Indeed, "...at times when innovations threaten to creep into the religion, it is incumbent on the scholar to put his knowledge to use in the defence of faith - otherwise Allah will take away the light of belief of the scholar," as the Prophet of Islam (Peace be upon him and his family) had put it.
When trials and tribulations are deployed to serve the personal ends of a scholar, or the community experiences propaganda warfare fanned by mutual enmity and envy, the 'Ulama' of the Hawza 'Ilmiyyah, one of them being as-Sayyid as-Seestani, prefer silence and refrain from entering the conflict.
Such was the state of affairs in the aftermath of the death of as-Sayyid al-Hakim and as-Sayyid al-Burujerdi, and history repeated itself after the departure of the Guardian of the Hawza 'Ilmiyyah, as-Sayyid al-Khu'i where competition and jockeying for titles and positions became widespread.
Furthermore, as-Sayyid as-Seestani's contentment and humility is reflected in his simple attire, the small house in which he lives (but does not own) and the simple furniture therein.
5. His ideological production. As-Sayyid as-Seestani is not a jurist so to speak. Rather, he is a highly educated man who keeps in touch with modern visions with regard to the development of political and economic thought. He has very good ideas in the realm of administrative theory, as well as social thought that is compatible with modern progress. With all this in perspective, he views the dispensation of religious edicts as a right of the Islamic society.
6. Office of the supreme religious authority. Some scholars of the Najaf center for theological studies (Hawza an-Najaf) were quoted as saying that after the death of as-Sayyid Nasrullah al-Mustanbit, they advised the late as-Sayyid al-Khu'i to groom someone for the office of the supreme religious authority and the guardianship and overseeing of the Najaf Hawzah. The choice fell on as-Sayyid as-Seestani for his excellence, knowledge, and impeccable character. Accordingly, he started leading the prayer in Imam al-Khu'i's masjid, al-Khadra, during the lifetime of his late teacher, and writing and compiling his annotation based on as-Sayyid al-Khu'i's "Islamic Laws."
After the passing away of Marja' Taqlid of the Shi'a world, and the Guardian of the Hawza 'Ilmiyyah, the Late Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid Abu al-Qasim al-Khu'i, Ayatullah al-'Uzma al-Hajj as-Sayyid 'Ali al-Husayni as-Seestani was among the six people who were permitted to take part in his funeral and performed the services on the deceased.
8. Works of this Scholar
Ayatullah Seestani, for close to 40 years, has been continuing the important task of teaching Dars-e-Kharij in Fiqh and Usul, and Rijal, and the fruits of his struggle for knowledge and his accomplishments have been preserved in writing (now numbering over 40 books). Many of these books have been translated into the various world languages including; English, Urdu, Gujarati, Turkish, and others.
9. Books translated into English
1. Islamic Laws (Translation of Tawdhiul Masa'il).
2. Manasek Hajj.
3. Contemporary Legal Rulings in Shi'i Law.
4. Jurisprudence Made Easy.
5. Simplified Islamic Laws for Youth and Young Adults.
6. A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West
7. Rules Relating to the Deceased: Condensed Version.
8. Rules Relating to the Deceased: Philosophy and Ahkam.
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