Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani

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Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani
Personal Information
Full NameSayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani
LineageMusawi sadat of Behbahan
Birth1284/1867-8 Linjan (Isfahan)
ResidenceIsfahan, Najaf
Studied inIsfahan, Najaf
DeathDhu l-Hijja 9 1365/November 4, 1946 in Kadhimiya
Burial PlaceHoly shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsMirza Habib Allah Rashti, Akhund Khurasani, Mirza Muhammad Hasan Shirazi,Akhund Mulla Muhammad Kashani

Sayyid Abu l-Ḥasan al-Isfahānī (Arabic: سید أبوالحسن الإصفهاني), (b. 1284/1867-8 - 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'ini1355/1936 and Ha'iri Yazdi in 1355/1937 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/December 23, 1890. 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 in 1355/1936 and Ha'iri Yazdi in 1355/1937 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 Husayni 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 3,1328/May 13,1910 Akhund Kuurasani and Shaykh 'Abd Allah Mazandarani introduced Isfahani as one of twenty top authorities, who were aware of the demands of the age, to the parliament for implementation of the second article of the supplementary to the Constitution (1325/1907-8) i.e. confirming compatibility of the National Consultative Assembly's approvals with the rulings of Shi'i fiqh.[23] However, finally Isfahani decided to stay in Najaf and, through a telegram sent on Dhu l-Qa'da 2, 1328/November 5, 1910 to the National Consultative Assembly of Iran, refused to fill the position.[24]

Several years later, in 1341/1922-3, the course of events in Iraq happened in a manner that Isfahani was involved in politics again. This time, he opposed foreign imperialism.

In the same year, Shaykh Mahdi Khalisi Kazimayni, a scholar from Najaf, announced the election of Constituent Assembly of Iraq as unlawful, therefore he was exiled to Hijaz by Brithish agents. Isfahani and some other Shi'a scholars including Mirza Husayn Na'ini and Sayyid 'Ali Shahristani objected to the sentence, and because of that, they were obliged to leave Iraq and go to Iran. However, after a while, the English ruler of Iraq agreed to send Khalisi to internal exile and return Shi'a authorities from Iraq to Iran.

Finally, after about 11 months, without reaching their goals of fighting against occupation of Iraq by England, Isfahani and his friends left Iran, and on Ramadan 18, 1342/April 23, 1924, returned to Iraq.[25]


After returning to Kadhimiya from Lebanon and suffering a short illness, Ayatullah Isfahani passed away on Monday Dhu l-Hijja 9, 1365/November 4, 1946. After a large funeral ceremony, he was buried in a room in the courtyard of Imam 'Ali's (a) shrine.

In addition to his positions during his life, his demise also practically became a political movement. According to some sources, the large attendance of people in the funeral ceremony of Isfahani in Dhu l-Hijja 1365/November 1946, played an influential role in the failure of Democrat sect in Azerbaijan.[26]

The religious emotions of people against Democrat sect which aroused in the funeral of Isfahani have been also shown in the elegy about Isfahani composed by Khushdil Tihrani.[27]


The works of Isfahani can be classified into five groups:

  • The first and the most important group is his class notes on fiqh and usul which have been recorded and written by some of his students.

A complete version of his class notes has been written in several volumes by Mirza Hasan Siyadati Sabzawari during 1338/1919-20 - 1345/1926-7, and another version of his class notes has been compiled by Shaykh Muhammad Rida Tabasi. A selection of Isfahani's class notes on usul shows his scholarly position which is the fruit of benefits he had gained from Akhund Khurasani, and apparently his most important class notes is Istishab by Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Amuli, one of his students.

  • The second group includes class notes of Isfahani's teachers on fiqh and usul which have been composed by Isfahani.

In this group, the most important work is the book which has been called Sharh Kifaya al-Usul Akhund Khurasani by the authors of Isfahani's biography.[28] It is highly probable that this book is the class notes of Akhund khurasani on usul.

The complete version of this work was published in 1355/1936-7 and its abridged versions, including issues which his followers needed to know for their everyday practices, were published 16 times in 44000 editions.[29]

Wasila al-Naja as a reference of judicial opinions has been used by great jurisprudents of next generations, the best example of which is Tahrir al-Wasila by Imam Khomeini.

Another work of Isfahani on judicial opinions is Sira al-Naja (in Farsi) which was composed based on Wasila al-Naja and published once in 1334/1915-6 and another time in 1345/1926-7.

His judicial opinions in Farsi called Dhakhira al-Salihin was published 3 times during his life time.[30] Another judicial work of him called Manasik Hajj in Farsi was published in Najaf, 1342/1923-4. Also a selection of his judicial opinions called Muntakhab al-Rasa'il has been published 42 times.[31]

Also he has commentated on al-'Urwa al-Wuthqa by Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Tabataba'i, Najat al-'Ibad by Sahib Jawahir which has been published frequently in Najaf, Dhakhira al-'Ibad by Fadil Sharabyani, and Manasik al-Hajj by Shaykh Murtada Ansari.

  • The fifth group includes collections of Isfahani's judicial opinions which have not been written by himself, but rather others have compiled them, such as:
  1. Anis al-Muqallidin compiled by Sayyid Abu l-Qasim Safawi Musawi Isfahani
  2. Tuhfa al-'Awam (a selection of Isfahani's judicial opinions) in Urdu by Khaja Fayyad Hasan Hindi[33]
  3. A collection of judicial opinions on the rulings of rituals in Turkish which has been used by Shi'ites of Kirkuk (a city in Iraq). The place and date of publication of this book is not known.[34]

Works about Isfahani

Hayat Jawdani has been written about the life of Sayyid Abu l-Hasan Isfahani by Sayyid Ja'far Musawi Isfahani, his grandson, and Sayyid Hadi Mir Aqa'i.



  1. Maybudi, Wajiza dar zindigani ayat allah Isfahani, p.12-13
  2. Muhsin Amin, 'A'yan al-Shi'a, vol.2 p.332
  3. Maybudi, Wajiza dar zindigani ayat allah Isfahani, p.13-14
  4. Agha Buzurg, al-Dhari'a, vol. 13, p. 325; Mahdawi, Tadkirat al-qubur, p. 38
  5. Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.25
  6. Muhsin Amin, 'A'yan al-Shi'a, vol.2 p.332
  7. Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, p. 33-36; Hirz al-din, Ma'arif al-rijal, vol.1, p.46-47
  8. Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.20-21
  9. Muhsin Amin, 'A'yan al-Shi'a, vol.2 p.332
  10. Sharif Razi, Mashahir danishmandan Islam, vol.4, p.375; Mahdawi, Tadkirat al-qubur, p. 38
  11. Tabasi, al-Shi'a wa al-raj'a, vol.1, p.279
  12. al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu al-Hasan, p.46
  13. Tabasi, al-Shi'a wa al-raj'a, vol.1, p.279
  14. Muhsin Amin, 'A'yan al-Shi'a, vol.2 p.333; Tabasi, al-Shi'a wa al-raj'a, vol.1, p.279
  15. see: Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.53, 60
  16. see: Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.75,78
  17. Al Mahbuba, Madi al-Najaf wa hadiruha, vol.3 p.237,534,558
  18. Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.106-117
  19. Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.111
  20. Musawi Isfahani, Hayat Jawdani, p.116
  21. Shubayri Zanjani, Jur'ih-i az darya, vol.3 p.444
  22. Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, p.42-43
  23. Ha'iri, Asnad-i rawhaniyyat wa majlis, vol.1, p.13-14
  24. Ha'iri, Asnad-i rawhaniyyat wa majlis, vol.1, p.39-40
  25. Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, p.47-48
  26. Hashimi, Duran-i mubarizi, vol.1, p.118; see: Hidayat, Khatirat wa khatarat. p.455
  27. Ganjini danishmandan, vol.1, p.223; Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, p. 77 ff
  28. Mahdawi, Tadkirat al-qubur, p. 40; Maybudi, Wajiza dar zindigani ayat allah Isfahani, p. 27
  29. see: Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, pp. 44-65
  30. Agha Buzurg, al-Dhari'a, vol. 10, p. 16
  31. Mahdawi, Tadkirat al-qubur, p. 40; Al-Imam al-Sayyid Abu l-Hasan, p. 66
  32. Bidhindi, Nujum umat, p. 110
  33. Agha Buzurg, al-Dhari'a, vol. 3, p. 457
  34. see: Muhsin Amin, 'A'yan al-Shi'a, vol.3 p.457


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