Lessons from the Lives of our Ulema – Part 90

Life & Times of Late Ayatullah al-Uzma Shaykh Hasanali Isfahani

1279/1862 – 1361/1942

Brief Biography

Shaykh Hasanali was born in 1279/1862 into a pious, God-fearing family, who were interested in religious learning.  Both his father Akberali, and grandfather Rajabali Miqdadi Isfahani, were eminent scholars and gnostics in their own right.

His father had a unique practice of using exactly half his income for his family’s needs, and distributing the other half to the poor amongst the descendents of Lady Fatima Zahra (A).

Under the careful care of his father, Shaykh Hasanali began to receive religious and spiritual training from a very young age.  The Shaykh narrates: “I remember being only 8 years old when my father first took me to visit his own spiritual instructor, the great arif, Haj Muhammad Sadiq (RA).

It was the time nearing sunset in the month of Ramadhan.  Somebody presented a gift of nabaat (rock candy) to Haj Muhammad.  He returned most of it with thanks, but he had a small piece in his hand which he gave to me and said, “Eat”. I ate it immediately.  My father informed him that I was fasting.

Haj Muhammad asked me, “Do you not know that eating candy while fasting breaks the fast?”  I replied, “I do know.”  He asked, “Why then did you eat it?” I replied, “I was obeying your command.” He placed his blessed hand on my shoulder and said, “Through such obedience, you will achieve the status that you deserve!”

From this moment Shaykh Hasanali began to receive the special attention of Haj Muhammad, who guided him into the secrets of salaat, fasting and other acts of worship. In fact, that great soul always stayed in touch with him and guided him whenever necessary.

Shaykh Hasanali used to say: “Whenever I needed guidance or instruction, I would receive instructions from the soul of this great arif in a dream at night. And his guidance would immediately solve my difficulty. I remember clearly that after his death, another teacher was very insistent that I should seek out a living master and guide (for the wayfaring path). That night I saw Haj Muhammad in a dream. He grasped my shoulder and stated, “Whoever drinks from the fountain of life in the manner that I drank from it, shall never die. Where (else) do you wish to go?” « ولا تحسبنّ الذین قتلوا فی سبیل الله امواتاً بل احیاء عند ربهّم یرزقون ».

This is also what Amir al-Mo’amineens (A) has mentioned in a narration:  « الا انّ اولیاء الله لا یموتون بل ینقلون من دار الی دار» - The close servants of Allah never die; they merely transfer from one house to another

The lasting effect of his childhood training by this great teacher was evident in the conduct and habits of Shaykh Hasanali. From the age of 15 till the end of his blessed life, Shaykh Hasanali always fasted the three months of Rajab, Sha’ban and Ramadan, and never slept in the night and only rested after sunrise.

His teachers

Shaykh Hasanali embarked on the study of the Islamic sciences from an early age. He studied usul, fiqh, Arabic, exegesis, philosophy and logic under the best teachers in Isfahan. He studied fiqh and philosophy under Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kashi and tafsir under Haj Sayyid Muhammad Fishariki and Haj Sayyid Murtaza Kashmiri.

He himself narrates: “The first time I visited Sayyid Murtaza Kashmiri at his home in the Madresseye Bukharaiyyiha, it happened to be a Friday and there was no one in the courtyard of the Madressa, whom I could ask for directions to his room.  Suddenly, from behind a closed door, I heard a voice call out my name.  I went to that room, and the great man said, “Come in, I am Kashmiri.”

About this great scholar Shaykh Hasanali narrates “Once, in the month of Ramadan, Sayyid Kashmiri was invited out for iftar.  On his return, he realized that he had not got the key to open his room.  After some thought, he said to us (the students who had accompanied him): “It is said that uttering the name of the mother of Musa (A) opens locks, why then should not the name of Fatima Zahra (A) do the same?”  Then he placed his hand on the locked door and uttered her blessed name and the lock immediately sprang open in front of us.”

After finishing his preliminary studies under these illustrious teachers, Shaykh Hasanali came to Najaf to benefit from the great masters who lived and taught at the feet of Amir al-Mu’mineen (A).  Afterwards, he proceeded to Mashad where he completed his studies with the eminent teachers of his day, such as Haj Muhammad Ali Fadhil, Agha Mir Sayyid Ali Hairi Yazdi, Agha Husein Qummi and Agha Sayyid Abdul Rahman Mudarris. 

At the same time he continued with his rigorous personal spiritual practices and exercises.  In matters of spiritual instruction, in addition to studying under Haj Muhammad Sadiq, he also benefited from the teaching of Agha Sayyid Ja’far Huseini Qazvini of Isfahan.

He studied the “Qanun” (which is Ibn Sina’s most important work, a medical text comprising five volumes) under the medical practitioner, Dr Haj Mirza Ja’far Tabib in Isfahan.   Shaykh Hasanali says, “In the mornings I would work at the doctor’s surgery, writing prescriptions and treating some of the ill patients, In the afternoons, I would study under him Ibn Sina’s Qanun.

Haj Mirza Ja’far’s practice was that he would not demand a set fee for his services. Each patient would pay what they could afford, and if they did not have anything, he would not press them to pay. In this manner, despite being a doctor, his income did not exceed 8 or 9 riyals a day.

I remember one day, he came to work and prayed, “O God, I have a guests for dinner tonight, command your angels to make arrangements for my guests.” That day, his income was 35 riyals. However, the rest of the days his income did not exceed 9 riyals, and he never complained, or prayed for any more.

In the time I was with him, he treated about 3000 patients, and no one ever needed to return to him more than twice. Only three of his patients died, and in each case, he told me about it beforehand.”

His Attitude towards the Study of the Islamic Sciences

Shaykh Hasanali had a masterful command over all the main Islamic sciences. He would say, “After acquiring a thorough understanding tawhid, wilayat and the sharia, which is obligatory, the acquisition of knowledge about all other sciences is recommended and desirable. The prohibition regarding some sciences is not about learning them, but practising them.”

His son says, “My late father held classes in fiqh, tafsir, astronomy and mathematics. However he would not teach philosophy or theology, although he was very competent in these fields. He would say in this regard, “one who seeks this knowledge must first become completely conversant with the sayings of the Ma’sumin (A) and embark on a process of self-purification, because God has said, “یزکیهم و یعلّمهم الکتاب و الحکمة” –(the Prophet (S) was commanded to purify the people before teaching them hikmah - Ayat 3/164).”

 His Routine

In 1319, Shaykh Hasanali went for Haj. He travelled by ship to Jeddah, then on foot to Madina. After paying his respects to the Prophet (A), Lady Fatima (A) and the Imams (A), he put on Ihram at Masjid-er Shajarah and proceeded to Makka on foot for the Haj.

He lived for some years in Najaf and Isfahan, but in the year 1329/1911 he moved permanently to Mashad.

His son reports: “My father was ever ready to help people with their difficulties and questions, night or day. I said to him, “O Father, assign a specific time of the day for the people to approach you with their needs.” He replied, “In the eyes of God there is no morning or evening. (Laysa ‘inda rabbina sabaahun wala masa’a). It does not befit a person who has dedicated himself to serve God’s creatures to only attend to their needs at appointed times.”

His son described Shaykh Hasanali’s daily routine thus:

  1. At the beginning of the night, after completing his obligatory prayers, my father would busy himself in replying the queries and letters that he had received.
  2. Thereafter he would engage in study for some time.
  3. From midnight to sunrise, he would be occupied in prayers and worship.
  4. After sunrise, he would take some rest.
  5. Then, until midday, he would meet with people and prepare and dispense medicines for the ill.
  6. Finally, in the afternoon, he would proceed to the Madressa, where he held his classes.
  7. In the evenings he would make himself available to answer questions and help the needy with their problems.

This remained his normal routine through the years, whatever the season and   whatever his situation. He would only rest for a while after sunrise or briefly in   the early afternoon.

When he was in Isfahan, every year he would retire for forty days to the Zafra Mountains, where he would engage in constant contemplation, self purification and worship.

His Attitude towards Life

He was very insistent that prayers should be prayed exactly on time, and would counsel us to remain awake a part of the night and engage in supererogatory worship.

He would tell us to stay up all Thursday night and fast on the Ayam al-Baydh (the “white” days – 13th, 14th and 15th nights when the moon is full).

He would encourage us to serve the people, especially the descendants of the Prophet (S), and to visit the graves of the Imams (A) and the saints, especially on Friday.

Whenever Shaykh Hasanali would give someone medicine or pray for them he would say, “We are no more than a pretext (bahane) for your cure – this whole world is just a manifestation of effects of the Ultimate Cause - your cure actually comes from Allah. According to a hadith from Imam Sadiq (A), God only manifests His affair through a system of causes and effects that He has decreed (asbab), That is why one must seek out a doctor – who is the instrument of God’s healing - when one is ill.”

Then he said, “When Musa (A) fell ill, he asked God to cure Him. God revealed to him to consult a doctor. Musa (A) was surprised. Then God revealed, “O Musa, I have created a system through which My grace and blessings are dispersed in the world. I have placed healing in certain substances, and doctors have discovered and studied some of these substances and their effects. Therefore, do not ask Me to bypass the system that I have created; go to a doctor.” 

Shaykh Hasanali’s son reports that his father advised him thus:

1.      « ولقد وصینا الذین اوتوا الکتاب من قبلکم و ایاکم ان اتقوا الله.... And We enjoined those who had been given the book before you, and you also, to observe taqwa (God-wariness) [4/121]

O Son! If I have achieved anything, it is only through adopting taqwa; if this factor is absent, no amount of effort and striving will have any effect. All your hard work and study will bring you nothing but loss, and eventually result in pushing you farther away from God. Imam Ali bin Husain *(A) has cautioned, « انّ العلم اذا لم یعمل به لم یزدد صاحبه الا کفرا و لم یزدد من الله الاّ بعدا » (If a man does not act on his knowledge, it only serves to increase his kufr and increase his separation from God.)

2.      Know my son that heedlessness towards acts what are disliked by God (makruh) and performing them often eventually leads to the fall of a person’s station in front of Allah. In contrast, extra care towards that which is not obligatory, but liked by God (mustahab), greatly enhances ones station and proximity to Allah.

3.      Know that if I have reached any level in my spiritual wayfaring towards God, it is because I stayed awake at nights, kept away from the makruh acts, and hastened towards the mustahab. The other important aspect of my conduct was that I always respectfully helped and served the saadat – the noble progeny of the Prophet (S).

Advice to his son

Firstly: Always pray you daily prayers exactly on time.

Second: Work as hard as you can to help and meet the needs of the people. Do not be hesitant to take on what appears to be a difficult task, because when a man takes one step on the path of God, then God’s help always follows.

[His son asked, “But father, sometimes efforts to alleviate the difficulties of others results in blame and disgrace.” He replied, “What could be better than suffering humiliation while serving God.”] 

Third: Respect and look after the needs of the descendants of the Prophet (S) and spend whatever you have to make their lives more comfortable. Never ignore the plight of the poor and destitute. In this manner, even if you have less, at least you are not accountable.

Fourth: Do not be negligent about observing the tahajjud and night prayers, and make taqwa the pivot of all your actions.

Fifth: Study the religion to a level that you become free of the need to follow another scholar (taqlid).

[His son states, “It occurred to me that in that case, I would have to distance myself from social activity in order to have some spare time for self improvement, purification and study.” However, as this thought passed my mind, my father stared at me and said, “Do not fall prey to useless thoughts – your progress and responsibility will only be realised by helping and serving God’s creatures.”

After saying all this, he said, “When Sunday morning comes, my affair will come to an end. If possible, give me the funeral bath (ghusl) and shroud (kafan) yourself, and then arrange for my burial.”

He also asked his friend Marhum Sayyid Murtaza Ru’ayn to keep some time free on the coming Sunday so that “after I have passed away, you can sit next to my head and recite the Qur’an for an hour.”

Just as he had predicted, Shaykh Hasanali passed away on Sunday, 17 Sha’ban 1361 AH. News of the death of this great scholar spread quickly and thousands of mourners attended his funeral. His body was laid to rest in the old courtyard of the shrine of Imam Ridha (A), at the same spot which he had indicated in his lifetime.