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  • 3/28/2005

'Allamah Sayyed

Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i
(1321 A.H. (lunar)/1282 vor A.H. (solar)/ A.D 1903-Aban 1360/November 1981)

Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i'was born in Tabriz in a family of descendants of the Holy Prophet which for fourteen generations has produced outstanding Islamic scholars. He received his earliest education in his native city, mastering the elements of Arabic and the religious sciences, and at about the age of twenty set out for the great Shi'ite University of Najaf to continue more advance studies. Most students in the madrasahs follow the branch of transmitted sciences" (al-'ulumal-naqilyah),especially the sciences dealing with the Divine Law, fiqh or jurisprudence andusul al-fiqhor the principles of jurisprudence. Allamah Tabataba'i, however, sought to master both branches of the traditional sciences; the transmitted and the intellectual he studied Divine Law and the principles of jurisprudence with two of the great masters of that day, Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini and Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Isfahani. He became such a master in this domain that had he kept completely to these fields he would have become one of the foremostmujtahidsor author ties on Divine Law and would have been able to wield much political and social influence.

But such was not his destiny he was more attracted to the intellectual sciences, and he studied assiduously the whole cycle of traditional mathematics with Sayyid Abu-l-Qasim Khansari and traditional Islamic philosophy including the standard text of theShifa'of lbn Sina theAsfar of Sadr al-Din Shirazi and theTamhid al-qawa’idof Ibn Turkah with Sayyid Husayn Badkube'i, himself a student of two of the most famous masters of the school of Tehran; Sayyid Abu-l-Hasan Jilwah and Aqa 'Ali' Mudarris Zunuzi.In addition to formal learning, or what the traditional Muslin sources "acquired science"('ilm-i husuli), Allamah Tabataba’i sought after that "immediate science" (‘ilmi-I-hudari) or gnosis through which knowledge turns into vision of the supernal realities. He was fortunate in finding a great master of Islamic gnosis, Mirza Al-Qadi, who initiated him into the Divine mysteries and guided him in his journey toward spiritual perfection. Allamah Tabataba’i once told that before meeting Qadi he had studied theFusus al-hikamof Ibn 'Arabi and thought that he knew it well. When he met this master of real spiritual authority he realized that he knew nothing. He also told that when Mirza 'Ali Qadi began to teach theFususit was as if all the walls of the room were speaking of the reality of gnosis and participating in his exposition. Thanks to this master the years in Najaf became for Allamah Tabataba'i not only a period of intellectual attainment but also one of asceticism and spiritual practices, which enabled him to attain that state of spiritual realisation often referred to as becoming divorced from the darkness of material limitations(tajrid).He spent long periods in fasting and prayer and underwent a long interval during which he kept absolute silence.

Allamah Tabataba’i returned to Tabriz in A.H (solar) 1314 (AD 1934) and spent a few quiet years in that city teaching a small number of disciples, but he was as yet unknown to the religious circles of Persia at large. It was the devastating events of the Second World War and the Russian occupation of Persia that brought 'Allamah Tabataba’i fromTabriz toQum in A.H. (solar) 1324 (A.H. 1945)Qum was then, and continues to be, the centre of religious studies in Persia. In his quiet and unassuming manner Allamah Tabataba’i began to teach in this holy city, concentrating on Qur'anic commentary and traditional Islamic philosophy and theosophy, which had not been taught in Qum for many years. His magnetic personality and spiritual presence soon attracted some of the most intelligent and competent of the students to him, and gradually he made the teachings of Mulla Sadri, once again a cornerstone of the traditional curriculum.

The activities of Allamah Tabataba'i since he came toQum have also included frequent visits to Tehran. After the Second World War, when Marxism was fashionable among some of the youth in Tehran, he was the only religious scholar who took the pains to study the philosophical basis of Communism and supply a response to dialectical materialism from the traditional point of view. The fruit of this effort was one of his major works, Usul-e-falsafeh Wa rawesh-e re'alism (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism),in which he defended realism in its traditional and medieval sense against all dialectical philosophies. He also trained a number of disciples who belong to the community of Persians with a modern education.

Since his coming to Qum, Allamah Tabataba’i had been indefatigable in his efforts to convey the wisdom and intellectual message of Islam on three different levels: to a large number of traditional students in Qum, who are now scattered throughout Persia and other Shi'ite lands; to a more select group of students whom he had taught gnosis and Sufism in more intimate circles and who had usually met on Thursday evenings at his home or other private places; and also to a group of Persians with a modern education and occasionally non-Persians with whom he had met in Tehran. During the past ten or twelve years there had been regular sessions inTehran attended by a select group of Persians and in the fall season by Henry Corbin. Sessions in which the most profound and pressing spiritual an intellectual problems had been discussed.
Allamah Tabataba’ihad therefore exercised a profound influence in both the traditional and modern circles in Persia. He had tried to create a new intellectual elite among the modern educated classes who wish to be acquainted with Islamic intellectuality as well as with the modern world. Many among his traditional students who belong to the class of ulama have tried to follow his example in this important endeavor. Some of his students, such as Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani ofMashhad University and Murtada Mutahhari ofTehran University, are themselves scholars of considerable reputation .Allamah Tabataba’i often spoke of others among his students who possessed great spiritual qualities but did not manifest themselves outwardly.

In addition to a heavy program of teaching and guidance, 'Allamah Tabataba’i had occupied himself with writing many books and articles which attest to his remarkable intellectual powers and breadth of learning within the world of the traditional Islamic sciences.
At his home inQum the venerable authority devoted nearly all of his time to his Qur'anic commentary and the direction of some of his best students. He stands as a symbol of what is most permanent in the long tradition of Islamic scholarship and science. He exemplified in his person the nobility, humility and quest after truth which have characterised the finest Muslim scholars over the ages. His knowledge and its exposition are a testimony to what real Islamic learning is how profound and how metaphysical, and how different from so many of the shallow expositions of some of the Orientalists orthe distorted caricatures of so many Muslim modernists. Of course he did not have the awareness of the modern mentality and the nature of the modern world that might be desired, but that could hardly be expected in one whose life experience has been confined to the traditional circles inPersia and Iraq.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Rabi aI-awwal, 1390/Urdibihisht, .1350/May, 1911

The Works of 'Allahma Tabataba'i

1-Al-Mizan (The Balance): The Allahma's most important single work, a monumental commentary upon the Qur'an of which nineteen of the projects & twenty volumes have been completed, and fourteen volumes already printed, in the origin Arabic as was in Persian translation
2-'Usul-i-falsafah wa rawish-i-ri'alism (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism) in five volumes, with the commentary of Murtada Mutahhari, of which the first three volumes have been published twice and One volume has appeared in Arabic
3-Hashiyahi kifayah (Glosses al-kifayah). Glosses upon the new edition of the Asfar of Sadr al-Din Shirizi (Mulla Sadra) appearing under the direction of 'Allahma Tabataba'i of which seven volumes have appeared. This edition will not include the third book (or rather ''journey'." safar) on substances and accidents (al-jawahir wa'l-a-rad)
4-Mushabat ba Ustad Kurban (Dialogues with Professor Corbin) Two volumes based on conversations carried out between 'Allahma Tabataba'i and Henry Corbin of which the first volume was printed as the yearbook of Maktab-i tashayyu’, 1339 (A.H. Solar)
5-Risalah dar hukumat-i islami, (Treatise on Islamic Government) printed in both Persian and Arabic
6-Hashiyah-i kifayah (Glosses upon al-Kifayah)
7-Risalah dar quwwah wafi'C(Treatise on Potentiality and Actuality
8-Risalah dar ithbat-i dha~t (Treatise on the Proof of the Divine Essence)
9-Risalah dar gifat (Treatise on the Divine Attributes)
10-Risalah dar ata! (Treatise on the Divine Acts)
11-Risalah dar wasa'ir (Treatise on Means)
12-Risalah dar insan qabi al-duny& (Treatise on Man before the World)
13-Risalah dar insan fl~i-dunya (Treatise on Man in the World)
14-Risalafi dar insdn ba'd al-dunya (Treatise on Man after the World)
15-Risalah dar nubuwwat (Treatise on Prophecy)
16-Risalah dar walyat (Treatise on Initiation)
17-Risalah dar mushtaqqat (Treatise on Derivatives)
18-Risalah dar burhan (Treatise on Demonstration)
19-Risalah dar mughalatah (Treatise on Sophism)
20-Risalah dar tahlil (Treatise on Analysis)
21-Risalah dar tarkib (Treatise on Synthesis)
22-Risalah dar i’tibara’t (Treatise on Contingents)
23-Risalah dar nubuwwat wa manarnat (Treatise on Prophecy and Dreams)
24-Manza’mah dar rasm-i- khatt-i-nasta’li’q (Poem on the Method of Writing the Nasta’liq Style of Calligraphy)
25-Ali’ wa’l-falsafat al-ilahiya (Ali and Metaphysics)
26-Qur'an dar islam (The Qur’an in Islam), the English translation of which will form the second volume of the present series.
27-Shi’ah dar islam (Shi'ite Islam), the present book

'Allahma Tabataba'i is also the author of many articles, which have appeared during the past twenty years in such journals as Maktab-i tashayyu’; Maktab-i islam, Ma’arif-i islami, and in such collections as The Mulla Sadra Commemoration Volume (ed. by S. H. Nasr, Tehran, 1340) and Mar ja'iyat Wa rabbaniyat, Tehran, 1341.

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