Mirza Mahdi Isfahani

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میرزا مهدی اصفهانی.jpg
Personal Information
Full Name Mirza Mahdi Gharawi Isfahani
Well-Known As Founder of Maktab Tafkik
Religious Affiliation Twelver Shi'a
Birth 1303/1885
Place of Birth Isfahan
Residence Isfahan, Najaf, Karbala, Mashhad
Studied in Najaf, Karbala
Death 1365/1945
Burial Place Mashhad
Scholarly Information
Professors Al-Sayyid Isma'il al-Sadr, Akhund Khurasani, Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, ...
Students Mahmud Halabi, Mirza Jawad Tihrani, Mirza Hashim Qazwini and Shaykh Mujtaba Qazwini
Permission for Hadith
Transmission From
Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Aqa Diya' al-Din 'Iraqi, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani, and 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri Yazdi
Works Ma'arif al-Qur'an, Usul wasit, ...

Mīrzā Mahdī Gharawī Iṣfahānī (Persian: میرزا مهدی غروی اصفهانی) (b. 1303/1885 d. 1365/1945) was a Shiite scholar of the 14th/20th century and the founder of the Ma'arifi School of Khorasan or the Tafkik School. He had studied in Najaf with Muhammad Husayn al-Na'ini. After his migration to Mashhad, he taught fiqh and the principles of Islamic teachings or beliefs, campaigning against the Islamic philosophy which led to the establishment of the Ma'arifi School of Khorasan or the Tafkik School. His books include Abwab al-huda, I'jaz al-Qur'an, and his lectures. Students of his school include figures such as Mahmud Halabi, Mirza Jawad Tihrani, Mirza Hashim Qazwini and Shaykh Mujtaba Qazwini.

In his school, Isfahani distinguished divine teachings and human teachings, holding that the latter was totally invalid and had to be rejected. He believed that philosophers and mystics were misguided.

Lineage and Birth

Mirza Muhammad Mahdi, the son of Mirza Isma'il Isfahani Gharawi, was born in Isfahan in 1303/1885. His father passed away when he was 9 years old. After his father's death, he was under the custody of Hajj Aqa Rahim Arbab. Isfahani studied the preliminaries and elementary fiqh and usul al-fiqh with local scholars of Isfahan.

Migration to 'Atabat

At the request of Rahim Arbab, Mirza Mahdi Isfahani moved to 'Atabat al-'Aliyat in 1315/1897, and studied with al-Sayyid Isma'il al-Sadr. Al-Sayyid Isma'il al-Sadr had moved to Karbala after Mirza Shirazi's demise and stayed there until his death. It is not known how long he stayed in Karbala.

When Isfahani was studying with al-Sayyid Isma'il al-Sadra in Karbala, he joined the circle of Mulla Fath 'Ali Sultanabadi as well. During this time, in addition to learning standard disciplines, he was also engaged in asceticism and the training of his soul. It is said that he had achieved the power of detaching his soul from his body.

Later, Isfahani went to Najaf and attended the lectures of Akhund Khurasani on fiqh and usul al-fiqh. In this period, he met al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Karbala'i, Shaykh Muhammad Bahari, Sayyid 'Ali Qadi and Sayyid Jamal al-Din Gulpayigani. It is said that during his short companionship with al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Karbala'i, he acquired the position of Murshid (mastership) and guiding talented people. In the midst of the Constitutional Revolution (1322/1904-1325/1907), he attended lectures of Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini (1273/1856-1355/1936). Sayyid Jamal al-Din Gulpayigani and Sayyid Mahmud Shahrudi also attended these lectures. It seems that before his migration from Najaf to Mashhad, Mirza Mahdi Isfahani attended all of Na'ini's lectures. In 1338/1919, he received a permission of ijtihad from Na'ini, which was also annotated and confirmed by Aqa Diya' al-Din al-'Iraqi, Shaykh 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri Yazdi and Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani. Details of Isfahani's life in Najaf are not clearly known.

Migration to Mashhad

Mirza Mahdi Isfahani moved to Mashhad in 1340/1921 or, on another account, 1345/1926. In 1338/1919, he received his permission of ijtihad from Mirza Na'ini. In Mashhad, he went to the Parizad School there and attended lectures of Mirza Hashim Qazwini. However, he made an objection to Qazwini in one of his lectures. Qazwini admitted that Isfahani was more competent than him to occupy his teaching position. Since then, it was Qazwini who attended Isfahani's lectures.

His Lectures in Mashhad

  • The first course: as soon as he arrived in Mashhad, he started teaching Akhund Khurasani's and Na'ini's fiqh and usul al-fiqh.
  • The second course: in this course, he taught his principles of fiqh and usul al-fiqh. On weekends (Thursdays and Fridays), he gave lectures that were never taught in seminary schools under "Ma'ārif" (معارف) or Islamic teachings. Shaykh Hashim Qazwini, Shaykh Mujtaba Qazwini and Shaykh Mahmud Halabi Tawalla'i attended these lectures. Muhammad Hasan Burujirdi and Mahmud Halabi transcribed these lectures. Their transcriptions are available today.
  • The third course: this course started early in the period of Reza Shah Pahlavi. Anti-cleric policies of Reza Shah led to the shutdown of most seminary schools in Mashhad except one or two. So no official lectures were held and there was an inactivity there. After Shahrivar 1320 SH (August 1941), Shaykh Murtada Ashtiyani and Mirza Mahdi Isfahani took over the administration of the seminary school of Mashhad, and so it began to thrive again. According to a report by Muhammad Baqir Maliki Miyanaji, in this period Isfahani only gave lectures on "Ma'arif", and not usul al-fiqh.

Death

Mirza Mahdi Isfahani died on Dhu l-Hijja 19, 1365/November 14, 1946. He was buried in Dar al-Diyafa of Imam al-Rida's (a) Shrine. After his death, the seminary of Mashhad became inactive again, and many of its students moved to Qom or Najaf.

Scholarly Accomplishments

In 1338/1919, Isfahani received a permission of ijtihad from Mirza Muhammad Husayn Na'ini at the age of 35. It was a permission for absolute ijtihad which was the highest-ranking permissions issued by Na'ini. Aqa Diya' al-Din 'Iraqi, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani, and 'Abd al-Karim Ha'iri Yazdi annotated and thereby confirmed this permission.

Husayn Wahid Khurasani, one of the last students of Isfahani, claimed in an interview that Mirza Mahdi Isfahani had revolutionized the seminary of Mashhad, and many knowledgeable scholars of Mashhad were his students, and people who said that Isfahani was not a great, knowledgeable scholar were ignorant. Wahid Khurasani said that he attended Isfahani's lectures of usul al-fiqh in Mashhad and then went to Na'ini's lectures in Najaf, but he found no new ideas in the latter's lectures. Wahid Khurasani quoted Sayyid Jamal al-Din Gulpayigani as saying that Mirza Mahdi Isfahani was one of the 6 or 7 people with the aid of whom Na'ini developed his views in the first course of his lectures on usul al-fiqh.

After his death, his students such as Hashim Qazwini, Hasan 'Ali Murwarid, and Mirza Jawad Tihrani undertook the teaching of the most important intermediate and advanced lectures in the seminary of Mashhad.

Spiritual Accomplishments

Meeting the Owner of Condensed Knowledge

It is said that Mirza Mahdi Isfahani encountered some problems when he had just moved to Najaf and made friends with al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Karbala'i and Shaykh Muhammad Bahari—who spent their time together to practice asceticism and train their souls—and thus he resorted to Imam al-Mahdi (a) to overcome his problems. It is said that in the early years of his stay in Najaf, he met someone who he enigmatically called "Ṣāḥib al-'Ilm al-Jam'ī" (صاحب العلم الجمعي), that is, the Owner of Condensed Knowledge. It is said that only infrequently did Isfahani mention him much and never did he reveal his name.

However, according to reports by his students, although the Owner of Condensed Knowledge was very influential in shaping his thoughts, Isfahani did not completely agree with all of his views.

The Alleged Seeing of Imam al-Mahdi's (a) Handwriting

In a manuscript written by Mirza Mahdi Isfahani, he refers to a revelation occurred to him in which he saw a writing by Imam al-Mahdi (a) according to which people who seek knowledge through a path other than Ahl al-Bayt (a) will end up denying it. This revelation was very influential on Isfahani's approach and views. He interpreted this revelation as a refutation of philosophy and mysticism. The story is very significant for Isfahani's students and opponents. Muhammad Rida Hakimi appealed to this story to show that Isfahani was one of the people who met Imam al-Mahdi (a). Halabi claimed that the story did not happen in Isfahani's dreams; it happened when he was awake. Opponents deny or cast doubts on the story, since words such as "ma'arif" (teachings) and "musawiq" (equivalent) that allegedly occurred in the writing are very far from the language of Ahl al-Bayt (a).

Work

Work of Mirza Mahdi Isfahani during his stay in Mashhad can be classified into two groups: ones that were copied by his students from his own writings, and transcriptions of his lectures by his students.

Copies of his Writings

  • Ma'arif al-Qur'an: this work was copied by Namazi, Burujirdi and others. It seems that this is the last detailed and prolonged work of Mirza Mahdi Isfahani in which he elaborated his principles, from knowledge, intellect and knowledge of God to divine names and attributes, prophethood, imamate, providence, bada', creation and the like. The author did not organize the work into chapters and sections.
  • Usul wasit: it is concerned with usul al-fiqh. It is intermediate in size between his Taqrirat and Misbah al-huda. There are some copies available of this work.
  • Risala misbah al-huda: it is a report of Isfahani's views concerning the principles of usul al-fiqh in which he made some innovations.
  • Abwab al-huda: it was the last work by Mirza Mahdi and one of his best-known works. It is an account of his theories regarding Islamic teachings. In this work, he did not intend to prove his theories. Thus he avoided to elaborate his discussions or appeal to verses of the Quran or hadiths except in few cases.
  • Anwar al-hidaya: this is newly found work by Mirza Mahdi Isfahani. It was registered in the library of the Department of Theology and Islamic Teachings at the University of Mashhad on January 28, 1978 with the code number 22718.

He also wrote other essays such as "I'jaz al-Qur'an" (concerning the miraculous nature of the Quran), "Sawarim al-'aqliyya" (a rejection of Shaykhiyya and Shaykh Ahmad al-Ihsa'i), "Ghayat al-muna", "Mi'raj al-qurb wa l-liqa'" (concerning the reality of prayer), "al-Mawahib al-saniyya wa l-'inayat al-Radawiyya" (concerning sarcasms and tawriya), "al-Ifta' wa l-taqlid" (concerning the issuance of fatwa and taqlid), "Khilqat al-'awalim" (concerning the creation and the natural science), "al-Jabr wa l-tafwid" (concerning predestinations and bada'), bibliographies of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, Islamic teachings (ma'arif) and ethics, "Risala ma'rifat-i nafs" (a transcription of his lectures on ethics and Islamic teachings), and some jurisprudential (fiqhi) essays concerning kurr water, conditions of taklif (jurisprudential obligation) and najasat (jurisprudential impurities), "al-Tahara wa l-taharat al-thalatha" (cleanliness and the three taharas), "Fi ahkam al-wudu" (on the rulings of wudu'), "al-Mutahhirat wa l-najasat wa salat al-mayyit" (purifiers, najasat, and funeral prayer), "Fi alfaz al-'ibadat wa l-taharat" (on the words of worships and taharat), "Fi l-qur'a" (on lotteries), "Fi ba'd ahkam al-salat" (on some rulings of the prayer), "al-Salat" (prayer), "al-Khums" (Khums), "al-Talaq" (divorce), "al-At'ima wa l-ashriba" (foods and drinks), "Hasr al-muharramat min al-hayawanat" (an enumeration of haram animals), and "Jannat al-Radawiyya".

Lecture Transcriptions

Transcriptions of Isfahani's lectures are related to the second and the third courses of his lectures. The most important work related to the second course is Shaykh Mahmud Tawalla'i's transcriptions of his lectures marginalized with Isfahani's corrections. Another work related to the second course is Muhammad Hasan Burujirdi's incomplete transcriptions of Isfahani's lectures.

There are transcriptions of the third course of Isfahani's lectures written by Maliki Miyanaji, 'Askari Tabataba'i and Burujirdi. There are also transcriptions of lectures on al-qada' wa l-qadar (predestination) by Burujirdi, on epistemology by Sadrzada, and general lectures regarding ethics by Yigana. The general lectures were given on weekends for all people.

It seems that the third course of lectures was first held secretly in Isfahani's house after the recitation of Ziyara 'Ashura. Some stories are reported about these secret lectures.

Sayyid Jalal Ashtiyani's View about Isfahani

Sayyid Jalal al-Din Ashtiyani did not believe in the scholarly achievements of Mirza Mahdi Isfahani. He held that Isfahani did not have the capacity and talent to learn philosophy. According to him, Isfahani's strenuous efforts to understand complex problems of philosophy and mysticism frustrated him and so he could not tolerate philosophy and mysticism anymore. This is why he campaigned against philosophy.

References