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Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i

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Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i
Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i.jpg
Personal Information
Full Name Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Qadi Tabataba'i
Lineage Descendants of Imam al-Hasan (a)
Well-Known Relatives Sayyid 'Ali Qadi
Birth 1321/1904, Tabriz
Residence Tabriz, Najaf, Qom
Studied in Tabriz, Najaf
Death 1402/1981, Qom
Burial Place Holy Shrine of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma, Qom
Scholarly Information
Professors Sayyid 'Ali Qadi Tabataba'i, Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani, Muhammad Husayn Gharawi Isfahani, Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, and Sayyid Husayn Badkubi'i
Works Tafsir al-mizan, Usul-i falsafa wa rawish-i ri'alism, Sunan al-Nabi, Shi'a in Islam, Bidayat al-hikma, and Nihayat al-hikma

Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabāʾī (Persian: سید محمدحسین طباطبائی), also known as 'Allama Tabataba'i (Persian: علامه طباطبائی) (b. 1321/1904 - d. 1402/1981), was one of the most influential Shi'a scholars in the context of Iran in the 14th/20th century. He was an expert in philosophy, exegesis, theology, Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, and mysticism.

Allama Tabataba'i is the author of Tafsir al-mizan (a Quranic exegesis), and the famous books of philosophy, Bidayat al-hikma, Nihayat al-hikma, and Usul-i falsafa wa rawish ri'alism.

Among his students are Mutahhari, Jawadi Amuli, Bihishti, and Misbah Yazdi - some of the most well-known Shi'a clerics of Iran in the 14th/20th century.

'Allama Tabataba'i introduced the Shi'a school of thought to Europeans through his discussions with Henry Corbin, a French philosopher and an expert in Shi'a studies.


Birth and Lineage

Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i was born in Shadabad, a village in Tabriz, on Dhu al-Hijja 29, 1321/March 17, 1904. His previous 14 ancestors were well-known scholars of Tabriz.

His paternal ancestors were descendants of Imam al-Hasan (a), while his maternal ancestors were descendants of Imam al-Husayn (a).

Muhammad Husayn's mother passed away when he was five, and his father passed away when he was nine. He had one younger brother, is known as Sayyid Muhammad Hasan Ilahi.

Marriage and Children

His wife, Qamar Sadat Mahdavi, was one of the Sadat Tabataba'i.[1] Their first three children died in Najaf in their childhood. Sayyid 'Ali Qadi Tabataba'i, his teacher and a relative of his wife, once came to their home and expressed his sympathy to them. When he was about to leave he said to his wife, "This time your child will be a son, and he will survive; name him 'Abd al-Baghi (lit. the servant of the Remaining One) so that he will remain for you." Tabataba'i, who did not even know about his wife's pregnancy at the time, was astonished. The prediction came to light,[2] and after the birth of Sayyid 'Abd al-Baghi, they were also granted a daughter, Najma Sadat.

In 1385/1965 Tabataba'i's first wife passed away and after a while he married Mansura Ruzbih.

Education and Teaching

For six years (1329/1911 - 1335/1917) of his childhood, Tabataba'i learned how to read Qur'an and how to read Ghulistan, Bustan, etc.. In addition to studying literature, he learned the art of calligraphy from Mirza 'Alinaqi Khattat. He then entered the Talibiyya School of Tabriz (1336/1918-1343/1925), where he studied in fields such as Arabic literature, intellectual sciences, jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence. He then immigrated with his brother to Najaf, where he continued his seminary education and developed his moral and spiritual perfection for ten years (1343/1925-1354/1935). After settling again in Tabriz (1354/1935-1365/1946), he moved to Qom (1365/1946), where he was teaching and writing till the end of his life.


His pupils beside his corpse

'Allama Tabataba'i took his last breaths on Sunday morning (3 hours before noon), Muharram 18, 1402/November 15, 1981. On the following day his body was carried from Imam al-Hasan al-'Askari (a) mosque to the courtyard of Holy Shrine of Lady Ma'suma (s). There, hundreds of people performed his Salat al-Mayyit along with Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Rida Gulpaygani.

Academic and Scholarly Career


After completing the first stage of his education in Tabriz in 1344/1925, Tabataba'i headed to Najaf - the central Shi'a seminary of the time. For the next ten years, he developed his knowledge in various fields of Islamic studies. He studied under well-known teachers such as: Muhammad Husayn Na'ini, Muhammad Husayn Gharawi Isfahani (in Fiqh and Usul al-Fiqh), Sayyid Husayn Badkubi'i – a student of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Jilwa and Aqa 'Ali Mudarris - (in philosophy), Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Khwansari (in mathematics) and Sayyid 'Ali Qadi (in ethics and mysticism). He also studied a complete course of ancient mathematics from "Euclid's Elements" to "Ptolemy's Almagest". Tabataba'i attained the stage of "ijtihad" in philosophy, theology, mysticism and Qur'an interpretation.


Due to the poverty that he was suffering in Najaf, Tabataba'i moved back to Tabriz where he had some agricultural land from which he was not receiving funds. He then farmed for ten years in Shadabad village.


'Allama Tabataba'i's fame began spreading to other seminaries and cities after he immigrated to Qom (1365/1946). In the Qom seminary he was able to revive the study of intellectual sciences and exegesis. He held tafsir and philosophy classes unpretentiously, and gradually began teaching fundamental books of philosophy such as al-Shifa (by Avicenna) and al-Asfar (by Mulla Sadra).

His distinctive moral character, in addition to his close and beautiful relationships with his students, attracted more and more talented pupils to his classes every day. Hundreds of seminarians participated in his philosophy classes in the latter years, and many reached the stage of Ijtihad in this field under his supervision.

It can be said that the most important contribution of 'Allama Tabataba'i - even more so than the expansion of philosophy - is the special attention he gave to his students' spiritual purification. In fact, 'Allama Tabataba'i established a school of developing knowledge and morality hand-in-hand, an Islamic principle that is almost forgotten in present educational systems.

Scholarly Sessions in Tehran

While living in Qom 'Allama Tabataba'i attended philosophical and scientific discussions in Tehran. During these frequent trips he made contact with those interested in philosophy and Islamic studies, and sometimes debated with opponents in philosophy and religion. Scholars like Henry Corbin, Sayyid Hussein Nasr, and Daryush Shaygan participated in these sessions and discussed various issues with 'Allama Tabataba'i.

His sessions with Henry Corbin were held every fall for 20 years (1378/1959-1399/1979) in the presence of other scholars and seminarians. Vital issues about religion, philosophy, and also the challenges of the present world for those who seek truth and spirituality were discussed.

According to Dr. Sayyid Hussein Nasr: "Such sessions with that high level and wide horizon are unique and matchless in the present Islam world, even it can be said that after Middle Ages when the intellectual and spiritual connection between Islam and Christianity was broken, such connection between Islamic east and west has not been made."[3]


Some of 'Allama Tabataba'i's well-known students are:


Some of the important books and treatises he wrote are:

  1. Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an known as Tafsir al-Mizan
  2. Usul falsafi wa ravish ri'alism (The Principles of Philosophy and the Method of Realism)
  3. Tafsir al-bayan fi l-muwafaqat bayn al-Hadith wa l-Qur'an
  4. Gl0ss on Bihar al-anwar
  5. Musahibat ba ustad Curban (Dialogues with Professor Corbin)
  6. Gloss on al-Asfar
  7. Sunan al-Nabi
  8. Gloss on Kifayat al-Usul
  9. Shi'a in Islam
  10. Qur'an in Islam
  11. Treatise on Islamic governance
  12. Manzumi (about Persian calligraphy)
  13. 'Ali wa l-falsafat al-ilahiyya ('Ali and Divine Philosophy)

Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an

English translation of Tafsir al-Mizan

'Allama Tabataba'i began writing this Tafsir in 1374/1955 and finished in 1392/1972. Al-Mizan fi tafsir al-Qur'an -also known as Tafsir al-mizan- consists of 20 volumes and is written in the Arabic language. It is based upon the Qur'an to Qur'an method of interpretation. In addition to interpretations and lexical discussions, traditional, historical, theological, philosophical, scientific and social topics have been discussed thoroughly.[4]

A Persian translation by Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Musawi Hamadani has been published in 20-volume and 40-volume editions. English and Urdu translations are also available.

Tafsir al-bayan

Before writing al-Mizan, 'Allama Tabataba'i started writing a tafsir with a focus on narrations. Tafsir al-bayan fi l-muwafaqat bayn al-Hadith wa l-Qur'an was written in Tabriz in 1364/1945-1369/1950. It covers only the first ten Suras of the Qur'an, and was likely left incomplete due to the Russian military invasion of Tabriz.[5] Tafsir al-bayan was published a few years after 'Allama Tabataba'i's demise.

Gloss on Bihar al-anwar

'Allama Tabataba'i believed that Bihar al-anwar is the best Shi'a compilation of narrations. However, since al-'Allama al-Majlisi (author of Bihar al-anwar) was not familiar with philosophy, 'Allama Tabataba'i did not agree with the explanations of some narrations. He therefore began to write a gloss to Bihar al-anwar containing his critical comments. Some scholars were not pleased with his criticisms and only 6 annotated volumes of the work were published.[6]


'Allama Tabatab'i had great talent in poetry. He had composed many poems which he has eliminated them. Some of his poems have been quoted in the book "Zi mihr afrukhta" (alighted from love). 'Allama Tabataba'i has written some poems which are completely in Persian and do not contain words from any other language - including Arabic.

Perhaps his most famous poem is a Ghazal named "Kish-i Mihr" (creed of love).

Related Works

Many books have been written about 'Allama Tabatab'i. Some of which are just remembrance books and contain scholarly articles and some others are about his life.

  1. Yadha wa yadigarha; written by 'Ali Taj al-Dini
  2. Mihr-i taban; written by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tihrani
  3. Zi mihr afrukhta (collection of his poems)
  4. Shinakhtnami-yi 'Allama Tabataba'i
  5. Jur'iha-yi jan bakhs; written by Ghulamrida Goli Zavara
  6. Shams al-wahi Tabrizi; written by Ayatollah Jawadi Amuli


  1. Husayni Tihrani, Muhammad Husayn. Mehr-i taban. p. 41
  2. Taj al-Dini, 'Ali. Yadha wa yadigarha. p. 28
  3. Tabataba'i, Muhammad Husayn. Shi'a dar Islam. Introduction
  4. Husayni Tihrani, Muhammad Husayn. Mihr-i taban. p. 63-65
  5. Tabataba'i, Muhammad Husayn. Tafsir al-bayan fi l-muwafiqat biyn al-hadith wa l-Qura'n. vol. 1. p. 24-27
  6. Husayni Tihrani, Muhammad Husayn. Mehr-i Taban. p. 55-57


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from سید محمدحسین طباطبایی in Farsi Wikishia.
  • Husayni Tihrani, Muhammad Husayn. Mehr-i taban.
  • Taj al-Dini, 'Ali. Yadha wa yadigarha.
  • Tabataba'i, Muhammad Husayn. Shi'a dar Islam.
  • Tabataba'i, Muhammad husayn. Tafsir al-bayan fi l-mawafiqat bayn al-Hadith wa l-Qur'an.