Al-Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum

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Al-Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum
Personal Information
Well-Known AsBahr al-'Ulum
Religious AffiliationShia Islam
Place of BirthKarbala
ResidenceKarbala, Najaf, Mashhad
Studied inKarbala, Najaf, Mashhad
Burial PlaceShrine of Imam 'Ali (a), Najaf, Iraq
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsAl-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, al-Wahid al-Bihbahani

Al-Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Baḥr al-ʿUlūm (Arabic: السید مُحَمَّد مهدي بحرالعلوم) (b. 1155/1742 - d. 1212/1798) was a mystic and a Shiite religious authority in the 12th-13th/18th century.

He was fully proficient in jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, hadith, theology, exegesis of the holy Qur'an and 'ilm al-rijal.

It is repeatedly stated that he had visited the Imam al-Mahdi (a). Not only his contemporary scientists accepted this event but also later scholars confirmed it.

Birth and Lineage

Al-Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi b. Murtada al-Burujirdi al-Tabataba'i Bahr al-'Ulum was born in Karbala in Eid al-Fitr (Shawwal 1) of 1155/November 29, 1742. His father and ancestors were well-known scholars. The mother of his father was a descendant of Muhammad Taqi al-Majlisi, therefore Bahr al-'Ulum called the First Majlisi as his ancestor and Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi as his uncle.[1]


He started his education in his birthplace where his father and al-Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani were teaching him, then he went to Najaf to complete his education.

He went to Mashhad in 1186/1772-3 and lived there for seven years and attended the classes and participate in different scientific sessions as well as he learned philosophy from Mirza Muhammad Mahdi Khurasani. His teacher, because of his extensive knowledge, called him Bahr al-'Ulum (ocean of knowledge). This title was not awarded to anyone else other than him until that time and his family inherited this title from him and they are bearing it now.[2]

Al-Wahid al-Bihbahani was old, therefore, his class dismissed. On the advice of his teachers, Bahr al-'Ulum came back to Najaf then held a class. Bahr al-'Ulum went to hajj in 1193/1779-80 and held a class there, he taught four schools of jurisprudence as well as other beneficial activities. Many students attended his class held there.[3]


He had many students and gave permission to narrate hadith to many, including:

General Religious Leadership

His moral courage and spirit of reconciliation between Muslim was cause of his collaboration with the great contemporary scholars on the performing of the social duties. Some of his social activities are mentioned in the following:

  • He guided people to follow al-Shaykh Jafar al-Najafi in the affairs regarding the fatwa.
  • He introduced al-Shaykh Muhyi al-Din to perform the judgment.
  • He announced the appointment of al-Shaykh Husayn Najaf, the pious scholar and the Imam of congregational prayer of Masjid al-Hindi as the leadership of the congregational prayer.
  • He encouraged his student al-Sayyid Javad al-'Amili –the author of the Miftah al-kirama- to compile the books including the writing his own teachings, which was based on the book of al-Wafi written by Fayd Kashani.
  • Bahr al-'Ulum himself managed the people's affairs as well as teaching jurisprudence and hadith.[5]

Ethical Characteristics

Bahr al-'Ulum was not severe in his daily life, and his generosity and loftiness of purpose were proverbial, so some scholars said that he had mystic tendencies. The effect of these tendencies would not be denied in some of his students and the scholars after his death. All of the contemporary scholars accepted that he had great knowledge and piety, so al-Wahid al-Bihbahani, as his teacher because of the possibility of lacking the ability of ijtihad in the last years of his life, asked him to express his opinion in jurisprudential problems.[6]

It is repeatedly stated that he had visited the Imam al-Mahdi (a). It is worth mentioning that not only contemporary scholars but also latter-day religious scholars did not deny this event.[7]

The grave of al-'Allama Bahr al-'Ulum in the shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)


Some of his works are as follows:

  • Al-Masabih
  • Al-Durrat al-Najafiyya, in which the two parts of prayer and tahara of jurisprudence are written in poetic form.
  • Mishkat al-hidaya, tahara chapter of al-Durrat al-Najafiyya in prose form.
  • Al-Fawa'id al-rijalliyya, about famous Shia narrators, scholars, and families.
  • Tuhfat al-kiram fi tarikh Makka wa l-Bayt al-Haram, about the naming, extent, map, and about the building history of Ka'ba and Mecca
  • Collection of poem, with more than 1000 verses mostly about Ahl al-Bayt (a)[8]


Al-Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Bahr al-'Ulum passed away in Rajab, 1212/1798 when he was 57. He was buried next to the grave of al-Shaykh al-Tusi in the holy shrine of Imam Ali (a).


  1. Qummī, al-Kunā wa l-alqāb, vol. 2, p. 62.
  2. Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, al-Fawāʾid al-rijālīyya, vol. 1, introduction, p. 43; Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 10, p. 159.
  3. Ḥabībābādī, Makārim al-āthār, vol. 2, p. 417.
  4. Khāwnsārī, Rawḍāt al-jannāt, vol. 7, p. 204; Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 10, p. 159-160.
  5. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 10, p. 159.
  6. Ḥabībābādī, Makārim al-āthār dar aḥwāl-i rijāl-i dawra-yi Qājār, vol. 2, p. 416.
  7. Ḥabībābādī, Makārim al-āthār, vol. 2, p. 418.
  8. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 10, p. 160; Āgā Buzurg Tihrānī, al-Dharīʿa, vol. 21, p. 81; Ḥabībābādī, Makārim al-āthār, vol. 2, p. 419-421; Ziriklī, al-Aʿlām, vol. 7, p. 113.


  • Āgā Buzurg al-Tihrānī, Muḥammad Muḥsin. Al-Dharīʿa ilā taṣānīf al-shīʿa. Beirut: Edited by Alī Naqī and Aḥmad Munzawī, 1403 AH.
  • Amīn, al-Sayyid Muḥsin al-. Aʿyān al-Shīʿa. Beirut: [no name], 1403 AH.
  • Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, Muḥammad al-Mahdī al-. Al-Fawāʾid al-rijālīyya. Tehran: Edited by Muḥammad al-Sadiq and Ḥusayn Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, 1363 Sh.
  • Ḥabībābādī, Muḥammad ʿAlī. Makārim al-āthār dar aḥwāl-i rijāl-i dawra-yi Qājār. Isfahan: 1362 Sh. [n.n].
  • Ḥusaynī Tihrānī, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn. Sharḥ-i risāla-yi seyr-o-sulūk-i mansūb bi Baḥr al-ʿUlūm. Mashhad: Malakūt Nūr-i Qurān, 1425 AH.
  • Khāwnsārī, Muḥammad Bāqir. Rawḍāt al-jannāt. Qom: Intishārāt-i Ismāʿīlīyān, 1392 AH.
  • Muḥammad 'Alī Mudarris Tabrīzī. Rayḥānat al-adab fi tarājim al-ma'rufin bi l-kunya aw al-laqab. Tehran: 1369 Sh.
  • Qummī, Shaykh ʿAbbās. Al-Kunā wa l-alqāb. Sidon: 1358 Sh.
  • Ziriklī, Khayr al-Dīn. Al-Aʿlām. Beirut: Dār al-ʿIlm li l-Malāyīn, 1986.