Ayatullah Gulpaygani was born on the wiladat of the 8th Imam and was therefore named Muhammad Radha. He lost both his parents at a very young age; his mother died when he was 3 years old and his father died when he was 9 years old. His father’s name was Syed Muhammad Baqir Imam; he was a renowned aalim for his worldly detachment and Taqwa (God- Consciousness), and was very diligent on correct etiquette, performing the mustahabaat (recommended acts) of the religion, Amr-bil-Ma’ruuf and Nahi anil Munkar. His grave is still a place where people go and perform Ziyarat.
Ayatullah Gulpaygani was not much more then a teenager when he discovered intense love for learning Islamic knowledge from his teacher, Ayatullah Syed Muhammad Hassan Khonsari, and his Arabic language teacher, Syed Muhammad Taqi Gawdhi. At the age of 19 years he went to the city of Arak, and joined the Madressa of Agha Syed Zayauldeen
where he completed his initial studies, before joining the lessons of Usul Fiqh at the Dars-e-Kharij level taught by Ayatullah Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi for three years.
His migration to Qom:
At the age of 24 years, Ayatullah Gulpaygani followed his teacher Ayatullah Haeri (who had moved to Qom to form the Hawza) to the Holy city of Qom, and joined the Faiziya Madressa. His teacher Ayatullah Haeri saw the tremendouspotential and talent in him and became extremely fond of him.
He made Ayatullah Gulpaygani one of his private disciples and placed him in the council to answer religious queries.
Ayatullah Gulpaygani gained permission from Ayatullah Haeri to practice Ijtihad.
As soon as Ayatullah Gulpaygani arrived in Qom in the year 1921, he immediately became involved in teaching at the Hawza and taught well known texts such as Makasib, Rasail
and Kifaye. After the death of Ayatullah Haeri, he began to teach Fiqh and Usul at the Dars-e-Kharij level and for 70 years taught the knowledge of the Ahlul Bayt (as).
Some his well known students include: Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari, Syed Muhammad Hussein Beheshti, Ayatullah Jaffer Subhani, Ayatullah Saafi Gulpaygani and Ayatullah
Hassan Zadeh Amuli. Ayatullah Gulpaygani was a Marja-e-Taqleed for over 32 years and on a daily basis used to be busy answering questions from all over the world. He also issued fatwas on all areas of fiqh, which are currently available in a number of texts.
His political role:
From the beginning of the revolution, even though Ayatullah Gulpaygani put his own life at risk, he played a significant role during the revolution and the fight against the Shah’s
regime. He was one of the first Ulema to protest against a controversial bill passed in 1922, and he continued issuing statements till the fall of the regime.
Among his characteristics were: lack of worldly attachments, humility, making use of opportunities and encouragement of aalims and writers. He placed a great emphasis on reciting and
memorising the Qur’an; every day/night, he would complete 2 chapters of the Qur’an, despite any pains, etc. He also placed emphasis on respect towards teachers; he would recite Sura
Fateha for his teacher before every class, and paid great respect to the son of his teacher, Ayatullah Murtadha Haeri, even though he himself was his teacher.
AyatullAh al-U²ma al-HAj as-SAYYID MUHAMMAD RIDHa AL-GULPAYGAn« departed for his heavenly abode on Thursday night, 9th of December at the age of 96. He suffered from acute respiratory deficiency and lung infection for which he was confined to the hospital. The Ayatullah who was the supreme religious authority of the Shi'a world, became terminally ill immediately after midnight Tuesday and was shed to the Cardiac Care Unit of the hospital but his condition continued to deteriorate, despite the extra care and attention of the doctors.
Ayatullah al-Gulpaygani went into a coma on Wednesday morning and eventually left the mortal world minutes before the evening prayers on Thursday.
He was born in the village of Koukeh near the city of Gulpaygan (135 kms north-east of Isfahan) in the closing years of the 19th century. At the age of 20, he went to Arak which was the centre of the Theological studies. There, he received his education under Ayatullah al-‘U¨ma ash-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karim al-Hairi. Later in 1921 he went to the city of Qum to complete his studies.
In the early 1960’s following the death of Ayatullah al-‘U¨ma al-Hajj as-Sayyid Mu¦ammad Hussein al-Burujerdi and during the banishment of Ayatullah al-‘U¨ma al-Hajj as-Sayyid R£¦ullah al-Musawi al-Khumayni from Iran, he became superintendent of the Qum Theological Seminary. He took over the administration of the school at a crucial time when both the theological school and Islamic scholars were in at stake due to repressive measures directed by the Shah. At that time he had about 800 students who attended his classes and received advanced training in religious studies.
Ayatullah al-Gulpaygani is the author of a number of scholarly works and treatises, as well as commentaries on various other valuable Islamic works. Among them is an annotation on ‘Urwatul Wuthqa’, 'Taw¤i¦ al-Masa’il', ‘Manasik al-Hajj' and many others.
He rendered valuable services during his superintendence of the Theological Seminary in Qum, and also helped establish almost 30 theological schools in various towns and cities throughout Iran, as well as health clinics for students and other types of public utility centers in many parts of the country and abroad as well.
Ayatullah al-Gulpaygani was a great scholar and Marja’ and he had many followers throughout the world. He subscribed to the concept of Wilayat-e-Faqihi put forward by Ayatullah al-Khumayni.
The present Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatullah as-Sayyid ‘Ali al-Husaini al-Khamenei’, expressed deep condolence over the sad demise of the Grand Ayatullah Mu¦ammad Ri¤a al-Gulpaygani. He was one of the pillars of the Islamic Revolution and The Islamic Republic, said the leader in a statement.
During the oppressive rule of the former regime and in confronting the bitter incidents which occurred in the years after the banishment from Iran of Ayatullah al-Khumayni (in 1963), there were some occasions when the voice of this great personality was the only threatening voice against the former regime, which was raised from the Qum theological seminary and gave enthusiasm to the Islamic movement.
After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, he gave an active contribution in managing the general affairs of the revolution, and he unequivocally supported the Islamic Republic system and its exalted leadership. He was respected and honoured by the late Ayatullah al-Khumayni.
“The departure of this divine scholar was a grave and irreparable loss”, the statement added. It also stated that the Grand Ayatullah was a Marja‘ Taqlid for 32 years, a teacher at the Qum theological seminary for about 72 years, while his learning and teaching Fiqh (Jurisprudence) lasted for about 85 years.
He was the first person to establish modern theological seminary and his institute was the one for Qur’anic studies in Qum. He was the first person to prepare a table of contents for Fiqh and Hadith (Tradition) by using modern technology (computers and CD-Rom).
He founded hundreds of schools, mosques and Islamic propagation centres in Iran and other countries, and he brought up thousands of scholars.