Great Scholar, Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari
“The Luminous Sun of Philosophy”
Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari was born in the year 1925 in the city of Tabriz. He grew up under the care of a chaste and educated mother and a caring and pious father who was famous for his honesty and truthfulness.
The professor himself says: “I heard from the aged men of Tabriz that not even one lie had been heard from my father. I asked my father about this and he confirmed what I had heard, saying that he did not remember telling a lie since he had reached adolescence.”
Professor Ja’fari acquired his primary education in esteemed School of Tabriz. Because of financial difficulties he could not continue his studies and was forced to leave school. But a dream changed the course of his life. He says: “One night, while asleep I was reciting a poem in Arabic. In the morning my father asked me what I was saying in my sleep. I told him the dream I had and explained to him the meaning of the poem which was roughly that: May the hand of fortune be cut for bringing about these events, barring me from reaching my objective which is knowledge.
My father was very touched and told me to go and pursue my studies, adding that it is Allah (SWT) who provides mankind’s sustenance. After this encounter I went back to Talabiyeh School. It was about the end of the Second World War and the students had a very poor livelihood. So I used to work for half of the day and spend the other half studying.”
Because of his love of learning and knowledge, Professor Ja’fari entered the clerical school of Tabriz with his father’s approval, and continued his studies on the subject of religion. Later on he moved to Tehran and settled in the Marvi School. He began studying Makaseb [a book by the eminent jurist Sheikh Morteza Ansari (RA) on Islamic law] and Kefayah [a book by Akhund Khorasani (RA) on the principles of inference] under the supervision of Ayatollah Tonekaboni (RA) [father of the now-deceased, famous orator Mr. Falsafi (RA)]. He also studied Manzumeh of Molla Hadi Sabzevari (a book on logic and philosophy for beginners) and some parts of Molla Sadra’s Asfar (a book on theology) under the guidance of the renowned philosopher and mystic, Mirza Mahdi Ashtiani (RA).
After these studies he entered Qom and had the opportunity of attending the lectures of Ayatollah Saduqi, Abdus-Samad Khoei, Sheikh Mahdi Mazandarani, and Sheikh Muhammad Taqi Zargar Tabrizi. For a while he also attended the lectures of Imam Khomeini (RA). He says: “I remember the first time I went to Imam Khomeini’s (RA) lecture he was expounding on the last verses of the Surah Al-Hashr. His teachings were full of mystical points and his face showed that he enjoyed some God-given qualities that others lacked.”
Professor Ja’fari after several years of studying Islamic subjects, moved to Najaf in 1364 H.Q and for eleven years attended the lectures of the ayatollahs Sayyid Abdul-Hadi Shirazi, Shahroodi, Khoei, and Hakim - may peace be upon their souls. The professor says: “During the years that I was in Najaf from the academic point of view it was very rewarding. In those days the students were very diligent and hard working, and there were many good teachers in Najaf. To do justice, I shall say there wasn’t a subject on which there was not a competent teacher.” After that, he went back to Qom. He says: “I went to see Ayatollah Borujerdi and he said to me: Stay in Qom and begin teaching a subject.” I said: “With your permission I’ll go to Tehran or Mashhad.” He allowed me the choice and said: “Very well, go and stay wherever you like.”
Professor Ja’fari after staying in Mashhad for a year came to Tehran and began teaching, preaching and composing.
About Professor Ja’fari’s scholarly status it will suffice to say that he got his permission for Ijtihad (the highest degree in Islamic jurisprudence) from Ayatollah Shirazi when he was only twenty-three years old. Also he got this permission from Ayatollah Milani when he was twenty-eight, while not only had he not asked but he didn’t even know about it.
Correspondence and dialogue with western scholars
During his stay in Najaf, Professor Ja’fari was acquainted with the ideas of western scholars and tried to contact some of them like Bertrand Russell, Professor Young, Dr. Giovanni Dermai of Italy, Dr. Picket of England, Rosenthal of Germany and many others.
At the university
Upon settling in Tehran, because of the martyred Ayatollah Muttahari and Mr. Ayati’s insistence, the professor began lecturing in Tehran University, Shahid Beheshti University, Sharif Technical University and some of the universities of the provincial capitals. These lectures had a lot of success amongst the students and professors. “Of course at the time there were severe restrictions about what one could talk about, be it in Tehran University, in the then National University (University of Shahid Beheshti), or in Sharif Technical University. He was repeatedly invited to lecture in the universities of Isfahan, Tabriz, Mashhad, Ahvaz and Shiraz.”
The main issues of the day like philosophy sociology, psychology from an Islamic point of view, the relationship between morality and religion, the relationship between science and religion, the philosophy of life, the relationship between reality and knowledge, the relationship between physics and metaphysics and many other subjects were dealt with in the many lectures delivered by the professor in various universities. Some of these lectures were later published in print.
Chair of professorship
In a very short time because of his knowledge, piety, character and modesty Professor Ja’fari acquired a celebrity status amongst the university students and professors, because of the subject which he was invited to teach, philosophy. Professor Ja’fari was always interested in academic activities and so he accepted the invitation with pleasure. Thus until the end of his blessed life the professor used to teach Islamic sciences (logic, philosophy, Islamic law and economics) and reared many learned students for the academic society.
The students and professors of Islamic sciences, in their search for answers and to solve their problems always benefited from his knowledge. They even went to his humble house to pose their questions and the professor always welcomed them with open arms.
Interest in learning western philosophy
After learning Islamic philosophy, Professor Ja’fari decided to acquaint himself with western philosophy. On this matter he says: “I saw this spirit in myself when I was in Tabriz; this spirit of rationalism and being curious to know the world and the human being, which had already taken root in my mind. Though then I had just started my studies, as I proceeded this spirit only intensified. One of the reasons for this was that I used to see a strange kind of indifference in the westerners who came to the east and in the eastern youth who went from countries like Iran and Iraq to the west. They were totally indifferent towards our cultural identity. I used to ask myself what are these people given in the west that makes them so indifferent. It was as if these people didn’t know Averos, Avicena, Farabi, Abu-Reihan, Zakaria Razi, Mirdamad, Molla Sadra, Mawlavi, Suhrawardi, and hundreds of scientists like Sheikh Musa Khawrazmi, Juzjani, and Forghani who had discovered so many things.” This point increased Professor Ja’fari’s keenness towards further examination of western philosophy.
One of the ethical characteristics of Professor Ja’fari was the instructiveness of his encounters. He tried to make a point at every turn and to foster pure souls. If possible he would have made his point directly and if not he would have taught his lesson in an indirect manner.
One day upon his return home, the professor finds out that his house has been broken into and sees the thief carrying away a carpet from his house. He follows the thief till they reach the bazaar of Tehran. The professor waits until the thief starts to sell the stolen carpet, then goes forward and buys his own carpet. He asks the thief to carry the carpet to his house. When they arrive the thief understands what has happened and begins apologizing. The professor denies having seen him taking away the carpet and says: “I have only bought this carpet from you.”
One of the secrets of Professor Ja’fari’s success in different academic and social areas was his modesty. This characteristic made him popular amongst the university students and amongst the other professors. His modesty also made him distinguishable from others.
About the professor, Dr. Abdollah Nasri says: “One of the most distinguishing aspects of Professor Ja’fari’s personality was his ethical character. Included amongst his characteristics was modesty and humility. His modesty in many cases has caused him not to be truly known and as a result in some subjects he is considered to be an ordinary person, which is not true. The professor in all his encounters, whether with intellectual personalities or with ordinary people, always showed humility.”
“Whoever shows humility for Allah’s (SWT) sake, Allah (SWT) himself will raise his status.” As the professor’s academic and social status raised, it only increased his modesty. That was why whenever the ordinary people met him they showed their respect for him and their fondness of his personality.
Ayatollah Sobhani says: “The professor despite his vast knowledge was a modest person. In intimate gatherings he animated the meeting, and in literary gatherings he was the center of attention. He lived the life of a delivered mystic and in his manners he was always humble and modest. He always showed respect towards the distinguished people and was unhappy about degrading scholars through fault-finding in their works.”
When the professor went to Semnan to pay a visit to the great scholar Semnani, many people had come to the train station to welcome him. At the same time as Professor Ja’fari was getting off the train another cleric too got off. The professor says: “That cleric had a prominent figure and an attractive appearance. The people, mistaking him for me, gathered around him and said: “Praise the prophet for the health of Professor Ja’fari.” I said jokingly to my companions that a calamity had come our way but passed without harm!”
The professor used to say: “I would not forgive anyone who exaggerates about my personality after my death.” All this shows how modest the learned professor was.
3-Having a simple life.
The professor was renowned for his simple life. He had an old and worn out house in south Tehran. This humble house was the place where he received many of the students and ordinary people who came to show their fondness for him.
The professor used to wear very ordinary clothing. He lived amongst the people, and in the university too he spent his time amongst the students. In his relationship with them there were none of the master and pupil formalities.
He says: “One day I came out of the classroom and I was very tired. A student asked me a question. Usually when I was tired I would have excused myself and left the question for some other time. But on that day I saw that the question was very important and that it meant a lot to that student. Despite being tired I sat right outside the classroom on the ground, listened to the student’s question and answered it with patience.”
This behavior of the professor had such a positive effect on that student that the professor writes: “Later this student had written to me to say that the incident had been like a whip on his horse which had kept it running even after twenty years. I kept his letter.”
Professor Ja’fari and the youth.
The professor’s son, about his father’s relationship with the youth says: “As far as I remember the youth always came to our house to meet the professor and he always received them with open arms and a smiling face. His relationship with the youth, some of whom came to him with many questions, was always friendly and free of any formalities. Maybe the fact that the youth were placed in such an intimate atmosphere, considering the purity of their hearts and their potential had a positive effect on them. The manner in which the professor talked to the youth was very different from the manner in which he talked to others. He received them with cheerfulness and joked with them. He kept his bright spirit and animation all-through the meeting even when he was answering their questions and giving them advises.”
The professor advised the youth not to leave the issues which are discussed in the society without deliberating upon them. He told them to take questioning seriously and to further their field of research. He believed the youth must know that one’s thoughts and efforts would be incomplete without a spiritual aspect to them. He recommended to the school students to form “cultural centers” for themselves and to spend at least several hours a week for affecting spiritual development. He asked the youth to train themselves in questioning and wanted them to understand the importance of posing questions. He believed one must always go after the answer to his questions and advised the youth to do this.
Professor Ja’fari besides teaching, used to write and do research. He has left many valuable works, of which only some are mentioned below:
1- Al-Amr Baynol-Amrain: this book is a collection of notes from the lectures of Ayatollah Khoei. It was published in Najaf in the year 1371 H.Q.
2- Compulsion and free will: this book was published in the year 1965 in Iran.
3- Fosterage: this book is the collection of notes from the lectures of Ayatollah Abdol-Hadi Shirazi for the advanced students of Islamic law. It was published in 1373 H.Q. in Najaf.
4- The relationship between man and the world: this book was planned in Najaf, but it was written in Iran and published in the year 1378 H.Q.
6- The creation of mankind.
7- Science at the service of mankind.
8- Morality and religion.
9- Physics and metaphysics.
10- The relationship between knowledge and reality.
11- Imam Hussein’s (AS) prayer in Arafat.
12- The benefits of Islamic law.
13- Human being from the Qur’an’s point of view.
14- A look at Imam Ali (AS).
15- Life’s ideal and the ideal life.
16- Mawlavi and world view.
17- Philosophy and the objective of life.
18- Exegesis, criticism and analysis of Masnavi (Mawlavi masterpiece).
19- Exegesis of Nahjul-Balaghah.
Professor Ja’fari, who always followed the path towards Allah (SWT) and was an example of morality and modesty, after a blessed life of 72 years died at 10:30 London-time, in one of the hospitals of that city, on the 16th of November 1998, leaving behind many valuable works on the subjects of exegesis of Qur’an and Nahjul-Balaghah, philosophy, theology, and Islamic law. He had presented the society with some learned pupils before taking leave of the world and flying towards the Friend.