Al-Sharif al-Murtada

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Al-Sharif al-Murtada
His tomb in Kadhimiya
His tomb in Kadhimiya
Personal Information
Full NameAli b. al-Husayn
Well-Known AsAl-Sharif al-Murtada, 'Alam al-Huda
LineageDescendant of Imam al-Kazim (a)
Well-Known RelativesAl-Sharif al-Radi
Studied inBaghdad
DeathRabi' I 25, 436/October 20, 1044
Burial PlaceKarbala or Kadhimiya
Scholarly Information
Professorsal-Shaykh al-MufidAbu 'Ubayd Allah al-Marzbani

'Alī b. al-Ḥusayn b. Mūsā b. Muḥammad b. Mūsā b. Ibrāhīm b. Imām Mūsā al-Kāẓim (a) (Arabic: علي بن الحسين بن موسی بن محمد بن موسی بن ابراهيم بن الامام موسی الکاظم ع ) (known as al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, al-Sayyid al-Murtaḍā, and ʿAlam al-Hudā) (b. 355/966 - d. Rabi' I 25, 436/October 20, 1044) was a Twelver Shia jurists and theologians. He was the elder brother of al-Sayyid al-Radi, the compiler of Nahj al-Balagha, a supporter of Shia, Naqib of Talibids in Baghdad, Amir al-Hajj, and the head of diwan al-mazalim (supreme court) after his brother al-Radi who had these positions after their father.

Like his teacher, al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid al-Murtada had rationalistic tendencies and was interested in theology. Indeed, his most significant contributions are theological. He also had a rationalistic tendency in jurisprudence. He wrote a book concerning principles of jurisprudence which is considered as the first comprehensive, independent Shi'a work in this field. His best-known student is al-Shaykh al-Tusi. Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was a distinguished man of literature as well. He also wrote books concerning the exegesis of the Qur'an.

Birth and Lineage

Ali b. al-Husayn b. Musa b. Muhammad b. Musa b. Ibrahim b. Imam Musa al-Kazim (a) was born in 355/966.[1] Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was the elder brother of al-Sharif al-Radi and was known as al-Sharif al-Murtada and 'Alam al-Huda. His kunya was Abu l-Qasim.[2] His other title was Dhu l-Majdayn, which was given to him by Baha' al-Dawla Buyahi.

His father was the scholar, leader, and representative of Talibids. His mother was the daughter of al-Hasan (or al-Husayn) b. Ahmad b. al-Hasan b. Ali b. 'Umar al-Ashraf b. Imam al-Sajjad (a) (d. 385/995-6).[3]


He and his brother, al-Sayyid al-Radi, learned Arabic lexicon and primary studies before the poet Ibn Nubata al-Sa'di.[4] They learned jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence before al-Shaykh al-Mufid. Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was also a student of Abu 'Ubayd Allah al-Marzbani and he frequently quotes from him in his Amali.

Some of his teachers are:


Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was very well-known during his life. His lectures were said to be very crowded. Some well-known figures of his students are: al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Sallar al-Daylami; Abu l-Salah al-Halabi, Ibn al-Barraj al-Tarabulusi and Muhammad b. 'Ali al-Karajuki.[6] According to some reports, he had a big house which he had turned into a seminary and in which students of jurisprudence, theology, exegesis, Arabic philosophy, poem, and other sciences such as astronomy and calculus were studying.[7] This house did not only host Shia students but also students from any sect and nationalities such as Abu l-'Ala' al-Ma'arri.[8]

Social and Political Life

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was close to Buyid and Abbasid kings. In some of his poems, he praised the caliph al-Qa'im and some other Abbasid caliphs.[9] Since 406/1015-6, al-Sharif al-Murtada was appointed by the Buyid king and the Abbasid caliph as the naqib of 'Alawis, amir al-hajj (commander of hajj rituals), and the head of "diwan al-mazalim" (supreme court). These positions used to be held by his father and his brother, al-Sharif al-Radi.[10]

Political Thought

In an essay, "Fi l-'amal ma' al-sultan" (on cooperation with the king), al-Sayyid al-Murtada has replied to a question about cooperation with the government.[11] There is no question about the legitimacy of cooperation with a just ruler, that is, the Infallible Imam. The main question which concerned Shiite jurists, including al-Sayyid al-Murtada, was whether it is legitimate to cooperate with, and undertake positions offered by, an unjust ruler in the period of occultation. According to al-Sayyid al-Murtada, it is legitimate to cooperate with an unjust ruler if it has rational and legitimate advantages, that is, in case one can establish justice via such cooperation or execute divine rulings.[12]

Some Shiite authors have accounted for al-Sayyid al-Murtada's own cooperation with Abbasid and Buyid governments in accordance with this jurisprudential approach. Thus, they consider his closeness to, and praise of, caliphs to be intended as a service to the Shiite community.[13]


Al-Sayyid al-Murtada is considered among the greatest scholars of Twelver Shia and from his many works, it can be understood that he was knowledgeable in many disciplines of his time, including Islamic theology, jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, tafsir, divine philosophy, astronomy, different branches of Arabic literature ranging from lexicon, syntax, semantics, composition, poetry and as such. He focused his attention on jurisprudence, Islamic theology, and Arabic literature and served Twelver Shia and strengthened their principles and secondary issues through them.

Rationalism and Theological Views

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was a rationalist thinker. For him, it is obligatory to rationally inquire about God and related issues, because God's existence is not a truism, and one cannot appeal to transmitted knowledge (such as hadiths and religious texts) in order to prove God since the reliability of such texts comes from belief in God. According to al-Sayyid al-Murtada, it is not acceptable to believe in God only on the basis of following some authorities without having an argument or evidence.[14]

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada emphasized the reliability of reason with regard to beliefs and theological issues. Everything contrary to the reason is, for him, invalid. Thus, when hadiths are in contradiction with the reason, he believed that it is the reason that should be preferred. He held that not all hadiths are to be trusted. For instance, he did not accept hadiths implying tashbih (assimilation of God to creatures), jabr (predestination), seeing God, and eternity of His attributes, as well as hadiths confirming some superstitions such as the thunderstorm being an angel. He interpreted away the Quranic verses which initially seem contrary to the reason.[15]

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada and the Mu'tazila:

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada's views were, because of his rationalism, close to those of the Mu'tazila. This is why some Sunni scholars have considered him as a Mu'tazili thinker. Mu'tazili views were popular in Baghdad, where al-Sayyid al-Murtada lived, and so he was influenced by such a context.[16] However, as a Shiite thinker, he opposed some Mu'tazili principles. In his book, al-Shafi, he criticized the views of the prominent Mu'tazili scholar, Qadi 'Abd al-Jabbar. With regard to issues such as Imamate, the Infallibility of the prophets, al-Manzila bayn al-Manzilatayn (a position between the two positions), and divine will, he rejected Mu'tazili views.[17]

For al-Sayyid al-Murtada, hadiths and religious texts are credible in theological issues. In addition to beliefs that should only be based on reason, there are theological beliefs that can be established both through the transmitted tradition and through reason, such as imamate. Moreover, there are some theological beliefs that can only be based on the transmitted tradition. For instance, in the view of al-Sayyid al-Murtada, the eternity of rewards and punishments in the Afterlife cannot be settled by the reason, and so it can only be settled by the transmitted tradition.[18]

Jurisprudential Views

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada had a rationalistic approach to jurisprudence as well. He believed in the reliability of the reason in discovering divine rulings in the absence of transmitted evidence. He was also a pioneer in the ijtihad method in Shiite jurisprudence.[19] He employed verbal and rational principles in deducing sharia laws. He would disagree with the methods of muhaddith and later Akhbaris scholars.[20] He did not require appeals to transmitted evidence with regard to some jurisprudential issues, which he considered to be discoverable by rational principles. However, he permitted the use of transmitted evidence with respect to the ancillaries of the religion and believed that some rulings and even some beliefs can only be proved by transmitted evidence. For instance, he believed that enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong is obliged by the sharia rather than the reason.[21]

Unreliability of khabar al-wahid:

like his teacher al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al-Sayyid al-Murtada did not believe in the reliability of khabar al-wahid. He held that appealing to khabar al-wahid is impermissible not only in the case of beliefs,[22] but also with regard to jurisprudential rulings.[23] According to him, for khabar al-wahid to be reliable its transmitter needs to be just, and for him or her to count as just, they need to be Twelver Shi'a, rather than members of deviated Shiite sects. However, many cases of khabar al-wahid are transmitted by such people (such as Waqifi or Ghali transmitters). Thus, the condition for the reliability of khabar al-wahid cannot be met.[24] Some researchers believe that the denial of the reliability of Khabar al-Wahid led al-Sayyid al-Murtada to excessively rely on consensus (al-ijma') to deduce jurisprudential rulings.[25]

The book, al-Intisar, is a jurisprudential work by al-Sayyid al-Murtada which contains rulings specifically held by the Shi'as. This is one of the first jurisprudential works concerning the disputed jurisprudential problems between the Shi'as and Sunni Muslims. Another important jurisprudential work by al-Sayyid al-Murtada is his al-Nasiriyyat. He wrote the book as an exposition of the jurisprudential views of his grandfather, al-Hasan al-Utrush. Other jurisprudential views of al-Sayyid al-Murtada appear in essays he wrote in response to questions and letters.[26]

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada also wrote some work concerning principles of jurisprudence, the most important of which is al-Dhari'a ila usul al-shari'a. It is the first comprehensive work by a Shiite scholar concerning principles of jurisprudence.[27] In this book, al-Sayyid al-Murtada cited the views of Sunni scholars and then developed his own views. Thus, the Shiite principles of jurisprudence can be said to be formed out of this book. In fact, it was with this book that independent Shiite principles of jurisprudence began to take shape.[28]

Exegesis of the Qur'an

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada wrote books and essays concerning Quranic sciences, such as a book about the miraculousness of the Qur'an under al-Mudih 'an wajh i'jaz al-Qur'an. Moreover, there are scattered discussions by al-Sayyid al-Murtada regarding the exegesis of the Qur'an in different works of his. In addition to short essays regarding the exegesis of some Quranic verses, much of his exegeses are collected in his, al-Amali. In this work, he provided exegeses of about 140 Quranic verses. Also in his Tanzih al-anbiya', al-Sayyid al-Murtada provided exegeses of some Quranic verses regarding prophets.[29] In other works by him, including his theological works, such as al-Shafi, some Quranic verses are exposed and explained.[30]

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada employs a rationalistic method in his exegeses of the Qur'an as well. In accordance with his rational principles, he provides a ta'wil (interpreting away) of Quranic verses which, prima facie, seem to contradict rational principles.[31] He also adopted a theological approach to the exegesis of the Qur'an. He mostly concerned himself with the exegesis of Quranic verses concerning beliefs. His exegeses were intended to provide support for Shiite theological views.[32] Another feature of al-Sayyid al-Murtada's exegesis is his literary and philological approach, as well as his consultation of linguistic schemas, Arabic "bayan" (eloquence), and wide-ranging lexicological issues in order to understand the meanings of Quranic words.[33]

Literary Work

Al-Sayyid al-Murtada was a distinguished, prominent man of literature.[34] He wrote some literary works, including 6 volumes of his poems. He also wrote a well-known literary work under al-Durar wa l-ghurar containing literary, philological, and syntactic issues.[35] Moreover, he also wrote some essays to criticize the literary works of his predecessors.[36]


He had several works in different fields of Islamic studies including jurisprudence, hadith, theology, etc. [37] The most important ones are:


It is a book on jurisprudence, including the rulings definitely or supposedly specific to Twelver Shia. This book contains 319 jurisprudential issues and is important historically and scientifically since it is the oldest Shia reference in jurisprudence which includes comparative issues and has mentioned different opinions.

Al-Shafi fi l-Imama

Al-Shafi fi al-imama wa ibtal hujaj al-'amma is among the most important theological books compiled by al-Sayyid al-Murtada on Imamate and answering questions about it. Al-Sayyid al-Murtada wrote this book to answer the questions of Qadi 'Abd al-Jabbar al-Mu'tazili about Imamate.


About the demise of al-Sayyid al-Murtada, al-Najashi said, "al-Sayyid al-Murtada passed away in Rabi' I 25, 436/October 20, 1044[38] and his son prayed upon his body in his house.[39] He was buried in his house and I undertook to perform his ritual bath and my companions were Abu Ya'la al-Ja'fari and Sallar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz."

There are different opinions regarding his burial place; some have said that he was later taken to Karbala from Baghdad and was buried near the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a)[40] and his grave is now well known to people. Also, Ibn Maytham's report supports this idea that the graves of al-Sayyid al-Radi and al-Sayyid al-Murtada are in Karbala.[41] In his commentary on Nahj al-balagha, he wrote, "al-Sayyid al-Radi and his brother, al-Sayyid al-Murtada were buried near their forefather, Imam al-Husayn (a)."

However, some believe that al-Sayyid al-Murtada and al-Sayyid al-Radi are buried in Kadhimiya.[42] Now, near the grave of Imam Musa al-Kazim (a), there are two mausoleums, people say the graves of al-Sayyid al-Radi and al-Sayyid al-Murtada are there. Some people visit there and recite Qur'an 1 (Sura al-Fatiha) to be blessed.

See Also


  1. Tihrānī, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-Shīʿa, vol. 2, p. 120-121.
  2. Tihrānī, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-Shīʿa, vol. 2, p. 120-121
  3. Muḥāmī, Tarjumat al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, p. 11-12.
  4. Tihrānī, Ṭabaqāt aʿlām al-Shīʿa, vol. 2, p. 120-121.
  5. Muḥāmī, Tarjumat al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, p. 11-12.
  6. Muḥāmī, Tarjumat al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, p. 47-48.
  7. Muḥāmī, Tarjumat al-Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, p. 22.
  8. Asʿadī, ʿAlīreza. Mutikallimān-i Shīʿa: Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 52-53.
  9. Naṣr, ʿAlī. Taḥlīl-i fiqhī-yi rābiṭa-yi sulṭān wa ʿulamā-yi dīn az dīdgāh-i ʿAlam al-hudā, p. 172-173.
  10. Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Muntaẓam, vol. 15, p. 115; Ibn Athīr, al-Kāmil fī l-tārīkh, vol. 9, p. 263.
  11. Sayyid Murtaḍā, Risāla fī al-ʿamal maʿ sulṭān.
  12. ʿAlīkhānī and his group. Andīsha sīyāsī mutafakkirān-i musalmān, vol. 2, p. 154-155, 160-161.
  13. Naṣr, ʿAlī, Taḥlīl-i fiqhī-yi rābiṭa-yi sulṭān wa ʿulamā-yi dīn az dīdgāh-i ʿAlam al-hudā, p. 173.
  14. Asʿadī, ʿAlīreza. Mutikallimān-i Shīʿa: Sayyid Murtaḍā, introduction.
  15. Sharīʿatī Nīyāsar, ʿAql wa naql dar dīdgāh-i Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 76, 81-82.
  16. Sharīʿatī Nīyāsar, ʿAql wa naql dar dīdgāh-i Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 75.
  17. Asʿadī, Mutikallimān-i Shīʿa: Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 91-94.
  18. Birinjkār, ʿAql-garāyi dar madrisa imamīya-yi Baghdād wa muʿtazila, p. 70-71.
  19. Asʿadī, Mutikallimān-i Shīʿa: Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 50, 59.
  20. Gurjī, Tārīkh-i fiqh wa fuqahā, p. 148-149.
  21. Sharīʿatī Nīyāsar, ʿAql wa naql dar dīdgāh-i Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 84-87.
  22. Jibraʿilī, Sayr taṭawwur-i kalām-i shīʿa, p. 100.
  23. Jaʿfarī, Muqāyisa-yi mīyān-i du maktab-i fikrī-yi shīʿa dar Qom wa Baghdād, p. 22-23.
  24. Ḍamīrī, ʿUṣūlīyān-i shīʿa, p. 152.
  25. Ḍamīrī, ʿUṣūlīyān-i shīʿa, p. 152-153.
  26. Gurjī, Tārīkh-i fiqh wa fuqahā, p. 165-168.
  27. Ḍamīrī, ʿUṣūlīyān-i shīʿa, p. 120.
  28. Gurjī, Tārīkh-i fiqh wa fuqahā, p. 173.
  29. Qurbānī Zarrīn, Mabānī-yi adabī wa kalāmī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā dar tafsīr Qurʾān karīm, p. 19.
  30. Shukrānī, Muqaddima-yī bar mabāḥith-i tafsīrī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 51-52.
  31. Shukrānī, Muqaddima-yī bar mabāḥith-i tafsīrī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 58.
  32. Shukrānī, Muqaddima-yī bar mabāḥith-i tafsīrī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 57; Qurbānī Zarrīn, Mabānī-yi adabī wa kalāmī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā dar tafsīr Qurʾān karīm, p. 22.
  33. Qurbānī Zarrīn, Mabānī-yi adabī wa kalāmī-yi Sayyid Murtaḍā dar tafsīr Qurʾān karīm, p. 20-22.
  34. Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Muntaẓam fī tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 15, p. 294.
  35. Amīn, Aʿyān al-Shīʿa, vol. 8, p. 213.
  36. Muḥaddithī, Shakhṣīyyat-i adabī Sayyid Murtaḍā, p. 61-63.
  37. Ṭūsī, al-Fihrist, p. 99; Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 270.
  38. Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 271.
  39. Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 271.
  40. Qazwīnī, Kitāb al-mazār, p. 253-254.
  41. Ibn Meytham al-Baḥrānī, Sharḥ Nahj al-balāgha, vol. 1, p. 89.
  42. Qazwīnī, Kitāb al-mazār, p. 254.


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