Ulamaa index  

Lessons from the Lives of our Ulema – Part 98 A Phase of the Muslim Mystics (al-Urafa’) By Br Abbas Jaffer

Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Shah-Abadi - (May the Mercy of Allah swt be upon him) - (1875-1950)

    Film on his life Noble ones

Purification of the soul and struggle for its perfection is a fundamental Islamic concept. The Holy Quran in an absolutely unique style emphasises on self-purification as the only way to eternal success and salvation.

Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self. And indeed he fails who corrupts his own self.”    91:9-10 

The path to this success is a lifetime struggle and the journey of self purification will end when lovers meet. 

“O man! Verily, you are endeavouring towards your Lord an endeavour until you meet Him.”  84:6                                                                                                                                     

The methodology of how to successfully pass the trip is the subject of Islamic mysticism called Irfan.  However, Islamic Irfan like many other Islamic sciences has been on occasion misused and misrepresented and hence those who fail to distinguish the authentic from the forged tend to deny the whole subject. The weakness of this approach is similar to denial of Islamic jurisprudence (al-Fiqh) for the reason that some so-called jurists have utilised analogy and inference in their deduction or relied on non-authentic Hadiths!     

From the rise of Islam to this present day, many devoted Muslims have struggled on the Path of nearness to the Almighty Allah. Among them were the true followers of the Imams of Ahlul-Bait (a.s) who were satisfied from the pure prophetic fountain of Kauthar; through the holy hands of Ahlul-Bait.

What makes the Shia mystics distinguished whilst acknowledging the Tareqeh (path) and the Haqiqah (Truth) is their absolute obligation to the Islamic Shari’a law according to the pure and authentic teachings of Ahlul-Bait (a.s) and living in moderation far from either side of extremes.   

This article aims at sharing some phases of the mystical personality of one of the great Shia mystics of the 20th century; Grand Ayatollah Mirza Sheikh Muhammad Ali Shah-Abadi, the main teacher and mentor of the late Imam Khomeini who without doubt had a grave impact on the mystical and spiritual personality of Imam Khomeini.  

The late Ayatollah Shah-Abadi was originally from Isfahan-Iran. He was an expert in Islamic jurisprudence, Philosophy and Irfan. In philosophy and Irfan, he was the student of the late Ayatollah Mirza Abul-Hasan Isfahani (1823-1897AD) known as Jelweh and one of the four most celebrated philosophers in the history of Islamic philosophy. Apart from Jurisprudence and philosophy and Irfan, the Grand Ayatollah Shah-Abadi was acquainted with Mathematics, al-Jafr and mastered  the French language too.

Imam Khomeini & Ayatollah Shah-Abadi 

The blessings of the Almighty Allah upon Imam Khomeini (r.a) are indisputably the most significant of all Muslim scholars in the history of Islam. The Islamic Revolution in Iran and the establishment of an Islamic state under the full authority of Muslim jurists only is a favour that the Almighty Allah did not bestow upon any other scholar throughout the history of Islam.  

In the entire blessed life of Imam Khomeini (r.a) two decades are the most significant of all. The first is the decade of studying Irfan under Ayatollah Shah-Abadi (r.a) commencing from 1928 and the other, the last decade of his life commencing from February 1979 during which he established the Islamic government in Iran.Experts assert that the first decade was a causing factor to the latter.   

Ayatollah Shah-Abadi was one of the main teachers of Imam Khomeini (r.a) in Irfan[1]. The late Imam Khomeini was very much influenced by his teacher and repeatedly quoted from him in his books referring to him as “The Perfect Arif Sheikh Shah-Abadi.” 

Imam Khomeini in acknowledging the impacts of his teacher said in one of his speeches:  “Indeed, our honourable Sheikh had the right of spiritual life on me that my hands and tongue are insufficient to appreciate.” [27 April 1984] 

The son of Imam Khomeini; the late Seyyed Ahmad said:  “I asked my father what he studied under Ayatollah Shah-Abadi, he replied: Sharh Fosoos[2] and Mesbahul-Ons[3] and Manazelu-Saa’erin[4].  I asked how many classmates did you have. Imam Khomeini replied: Three students if it were crowded otherwise usually it was only me.”  

The late Imam Khomeini (r.a) studied Irfan under Ayatollah Shah-Abadi for about 6 years although he was saying: “If Ayatollah Shah-Abadi would teach for seventy years, I would still attend his classes, for every day he had new wisdom to offer.”   

Purification of the soul and struggle for its perfection is a fundamental Islamic concept. The Holy Quran in an absolutely unique style emphasises on self-purification as the only way to eternal success and salvation.

Indeed he succeeds who purifies his own self. And indeed he fails who corrupts his own self.”    91:9-10  

Ayatollah Shah-Abadi & The Love for Ahlul-Bait (a.s) 

Ayatollah Nasrullah; one of the sons of Grand Ayatollah Shah-Abadi quoting from his father says: “The foundation of Islam is the love for Fatima (s.a). The foundation of Islam is to dislike the enemies of Fatima (s.a). Whoever loves Fatima (s.a) and dislikes her enemies, is a (true) Muslim.”   

His Worshipping

Ayatollah Shah-Abadi was the Imam of the grand mosque in the Bazaar of Tehran-Iran. When he was standing on his prayer mat to lead the prayer he would become detached from this world and when he was sitting up from his Sujood (Prostration) tears flowed onto his cheek and beard.

 His recitation of Do’a Kumail was very significant. He used to recite the Do’a of Kumail in the same mosque about two hours before Fajr prayer at dawn with a few people who were enthusiastic to attend such a spiritual supplication.    

Some of His Recommendations

His son, Ayatollah Nasrullah narrating from his father says:  “My father always reminded us of the Salawaat of Fatima (s.a) before the Fajr prayer.[5] And even if you are not spiritually prepared to pray the night Prayer make sure you are awake at its time even for a cup of tea!” 

“One day he was invited to give a lecture at one of the mosques in Tehran. To save his time and the time of others he made his speech very short but proposed to the audience that if anyone was really interested in self-purification and self-building they should come and see him later. 

One of the businessmen from the audience came to him later and requested a prescription for self purification.

Ayatollah Shah-Abadi gave him three recommendations:  

1) Be mindful of Salaat in its fixed times, especially in congregation as much as possible.

2) Be fair in your transactions and don’t be greedy.

3) Although the obligation of Khums payment is annual, try to pay it monthly. 

The businessman says, “I followed his instructions for a couple of months until on one occasion I was praying behind the Sheikh in one of the mosques in Tehran.   During the prayer, to my astonishment, I noticed that the Imam was momentarily disappearing.  Immediately after the prayer I shared my observation with him.  With a big surprise he humbly replied that before he attended the prayer, he had been involved in some family problems and hence could not fully focus on his prayer at all times.             It was only then that I realised I had my first mystical experience.  The Imam had been disappearing from his position every time he lost his concentration during the prayer.”

 Imam Khomeini (r.a) said: “My teacher, the late Shah-Abadi was recommending to me to frequently recite Surah al-Hashr (59) especially from Ayah 18 to the end of the Surah.”  

The Perfect Arif; Grand Ayatollah Shah-Abadi departed this temporary world to his eternally dwelling in nearness to his Beloved One; the Almighty in 1950 (1875AH) and his body was buried at the shrine of Hazrat Shah-Abdul-Azim  in Tehran.



  1. Arif Kaamel by Research Department of the Cultural Institution of Shahid Shah-Abadi
  2. Shah-Abadi Bozorg; the heaven of Irfan, by Mohammad Ali Mohammadi

[[1] Another important teacher of Imam Khumeini in Irfan was Ayatollah Mirza Jawad Maleki.

[2] Sharh Fosoos by al-Qounawi, the second most advanced textbook in Theoretical Irfan, is an explanation on Fosoosul Hekam ( the Gems of Wisdom) by Ibn al-Arabi.

[3] Mesbahul-Ons (the Light of Intimacy) by Ibn Fanari, the most advanced textbook in Theoretical Irfan, is an explanation for ‘Meftahul-Ghayb’ by al-Qoonawi

[4] Manaselu Saa’erin by Khaje Abdullah al-Ansari with its most famous explanation by al-Kashani is the main textbook in Practical Irfan.

{5] Salawat of Fatima (s.a) is to say: “ Allahumma Sallé Alaa Fatima Wa Abiha Wa Ba’leha Wa Baniha Wa Serrel Mosta’da’e Feeha Be Adadeh Maa Ahata Behi Elmok.