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Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani

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Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani
سید ابوالحسن اصفهانی.jpg
Personal Information
Full Name Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani
Lineage Musawi sadat of Behbahan
Birth 1284/1867 Linjan (Isfahan)
Residence Isfahan, Najaf
Studied in Isfahan, Najaf
Death 1365/1946 Kadhimiya
Burial Place Holy shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)
Scholarly Information
Professors Mirza Habib Allah Rashti, Akhund Khurasani, Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi,Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kashani
Students Mirza Hasan Bujnurdi, Sayyid Mahmud Shahrudi, Sayyid Muhsin Hakim, Sayyid Hadi Milani, Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i.
Works Wasilat al-naja, Commentary on al-'Urwa al-wuthqa, Commentary on Najat al-'ibad, Dhakhira al-salihin, Sirat al-naja
Socio-Political Activities
Believing in the principles of constitutional government, Struggle with England

Sayyid Abu l-Ḥasan al-Isfahānī (Arabic: سید أبوالحسن الإصفهاني), (b. 1284/1867 - d.1365/1946) was a great Twelver jurisprudent and the marja' of Shi'a and the writer of Wasilat al-naja and Sirat al-naja. He was the special student of Akhund Khurasani. After the demise of Na'ini and Ha'iri Yazdi in 1355/1936 and Aqa Diya' 'Iraqi in 1361/1942, he became the only Shi'a marja' in the most parts of Shi'a world.

Like Akhund Khurasani, he believed in constitutional government and limiting the power of dictatorship. Throughout his life, he used to take position on political affairs especially on constitutional movement. Moreover, even his demise sparked a political movement; According to some sources, the large attendance of people at his funeral ceremony, in Dhu l-Hijja 1365/November 1946, had a significant role in the failure of democratic movement in Azerbaijan.

Birthplace and Lineage

He was born in Madisah, a village near Lenjan, Isfahan. His ancestors were descended from Musa b. Ibrahim b. Imam Musa al-Kazim (a) and were from Behbahan.[1]

His father, Sayyid Muhammad, who was born in Karbala[2] and buried in Khansar[3], lived in Madisah, Lenjan, Isfahan.

His grandfather, Sayyid 'Abd al-Hamid, who was born in Behbahan and buried in Isfahan, was the student of Sahib Jawahir and Shaykh Musa Kashif al-Ghita'. In addition to collecting and composing jurisprudential class notes of his teacher, Shaykh Musa, he has written a commentary on Sharayi' al-Islam by Muhaqqiq al-Hilli.[4]



Sayyid Abu l-Hasan received elementary education in the village of Madisah and went to Isfahan seminary when he was very young. His father opposed him becoming a student of religious studies because of difficulties such as poverty and being far from family which students usually encounter while they study at seminaries.[5] He continued his education at Nimavard school in Isfahan and benefited from teachers of the school to expand his knowledge of traditional and rational sciences.

After completing regular levels of fiqh and usul, he attended kharij lessons [seminary lectures not based on reading textbooks] of the seminary.

Among his teachers in Isfahan seminary, Isfahani has mentioned only the name of Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kashani[6] who taught rational sciences and mathematic.

Sayyid Mahdi Nahwi, Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Durchi'i, Sayyid Hashim Chahar Suqi, Abu l-Ma'ali Kalbasi, and Jahangir Khan Qashqa'i were among his teachers in Isfahan[7].

Emigration to Najaf

He left Isfahan on Rabi' I 13, 1308/October 27, 1890 and arrived in Najaf on Jumada I 11 of the same year. He resided in Sadr seminary school, which was one of the main centers of Najaf seminary, and benefited from teachers of fiqh and usul.

After a while, his father went to Najaf to return him to Iran. Sayyid Abu l-Hasan would not like to return home. So, Sayyid Muhammad, his father, went to his teacher, Akhund Khurasani so that he convince his son to return home. Akhund told him, "The rest of your sons for you, leave Sayyid Abu l-Hasan for me! Let me take care of him!"[8]

Among his teachers in Najaf, Isfahani has mentioned the names of Mirza Habib Allah Rashti and Akhund Khurasani.[9]

Some other teachers of him were Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Tabataba'i Yazdi, Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi, Fath Allah Shari'at Isfahani, and Mula 'Abd al-Karim Irawani.[10]

He did not benefit from the lessons of Mirza Habib Allah Rashti for more than three years. After that, he regularly attended the class of Akhund Khurasani and became one of the best and closest friends and students of his teacher.

In reply to someone who had asked why his permissions to issue fatwa were not many, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan answered, "I'm not of those people who spend their time on such affairs".


After the demise of Akhund Khurasani, according to Isfahani himself, some people of Khurasan decided to emulate him.[11]

After the demise of Akhund Khurasani, the general authority (al-marja'iyya al-'amma) was transmitted to sayyid Muhammad Kazim Yazdi and Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi. Shirazi was the first authority (marja') who referred his preference of cautions to Isfahani.[12]

Also it is recorded that Shirazi had introduced Abu l-Hasan Isfahani and Shari'at Isfahani as the jurisprudents who deserved to be authorities after himself.[13]

After the demise of Na'ini and Ha'iri Yazdi in 1355/1936 and Aqa Diya' 'Iraqi in 1361/1942, Isfahani became the unique authority in the main part of Shi'a world.[14] He answered all the letters and requests for judicial opinions himself and did not agree to employ secretaries. The reason, as he himself had stated, was that he would not like the name of those who swore at him to be revealed and their honor to be destroyed.[15]

Ayatollah Burujirdi, in reply to some traders of Tabriz who, at the time of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani, asked him to write risala [a collection of legal opinions] wrote: "Writing risala is easy, but it would split Muslim community into two. Now, the flag of Islam is raised by Ayatullah Isfahani. He is the authority of all Shi'a."[16]


A large number of great authorities and prominent scholars in the field of fiqh and usul have been Isfahani's students at Najaf seminary, some of whom are Mirza Hasan Bujnurdi, Sayyid Mahmud Shahrudi, Sayyid Muhsin Hakim, Sayyid Hadi Milani, and Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i.[17]

Murder of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan's Son

Sayyid Hasan, the son of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan,[18] usually submitted the requests of financial help to his father. At the night before Safar 16 1349/July 13, 1930, someone called Shaykh Ali Qumi, because of being severely poor and because he thought that Sayyid Hasan had neglected to help him, murdered him by a dagger between Maghrib and 'Isha' prayers, and then introduced himself to the police. Sayyid Abu l-Hasan used to perform Maghrib and 'Isha' prayers in the courtyard of Imam Ali's (a) shrine and Sayyid Hasan stood in the last line of the congregation prayer so that people referring to him do not bother other people praying.

Sayyid Abu l-Hasan forgave the murderer and after a while police's law of forgiveness was issued about him. After being released, Shaykh Ali Qumi wrote a letter to Sayyid Abu l-Hasan and asked for permission to go to Najaf and continue his education. Sayyid Abu l-Hasan told the person who had brought the letter, "No problem, but he would not be safe here. It is better for him to go to Iran and live somewhere anonymously".[19] Sayyid Abu l-Hasan then had given some money to him to give the murderer for his living spenses.

After the murder of Sayyid Hasan, people disrespected some students of religious studies and sometimes harassed them. In the funeral ceremony of his son, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan asked Shaykh Muhammad Ali Ya'qubi, who was the preacher of the ceremony, to quote from him and say, "One of my sons has killed another son of mine! What's your problem with my other children? All the students of religious studies are my children".[20]

Refraining from Going to Hajj

It is said that he did not go to hajj. Ayatollah Shubayri Zanjani has reported that Sayyid Abu l- Hasan never went to hajj. He says that he heard that the reason was that he believed: "if I go to hajj, then I should be able to reconstruct the graves of the Imams of al-Baqi', and if I fail to do so, then it would be great damage to Shiism, since people would say that the general authority of the Shi'as went to hajj and failed to do anything". After the death of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, Murtada Ha'iri saw him in his dreams and realized that it is required that hajj rituals should be performed on his behalf. Thus, he paid some money to someone and sent him to hajj on behalf of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan.[21]

Political Activities

In addition to scholarly activities, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani was not indifferent to political activities and has performed influential roles in momentous period of contemporary history.

Contrary to Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Tabataba'i Yazdi, Akhund Khurasani believed in the principles of constitutional government and limiting the power of dictatorship; and in this regard, Isfahani followed his teacher, Akhund Khurasani.[22]

Based on such background, on Jumada I 3, Akhund Kuurasani and Shaykh 'Abd Allah Mazandarani introduced Isfahani as one of twenty top authorities, who were aware of the demands of the age,