Al-Allamah al-Sayyid Muhammad Husayn at-Tabataba’i (1892-1981) is one of the greatest and the most original thinkers of the contemporary Muslim world. He was a prolific writer and an inspiring teacher, who devoted whole of his life to Islamic studies. His interests were varied and the scope of his learning was vast. His books number about forty-four, three of which are collections of his articles on various aspects of Islam and the Qur’an. His major contributions are in the fields of tafsir, philosophy and history of the Shi’ah faith. In philosophy the most important of his works is Usul-e falsafah wa rawish-e-riyalism (The Principles of Philosophy and the method of realism), which has been published in five volumes with explanatory notes and commentary of Martyr Murtadha Mutahhari. It deals with the Islamic outlook of the world, which is not only opposed to idealism that negates the reality of the corporeal world, but is also opposed to the materialistic conception of the world, which reduces all reality to ambiguous materialistic myths and fabrications. The point is established that while the Islamic world-outlook is realistic, both the idealistic and materialistic outlooks are unrealistic. His other major philosophical work is a voluminous commentary of al-Asfar al-‘arba’ah, the magnum opus of Mulla Sadra, the last of the great Muslim thinkers of the medieval age. Besides these, he wrote extensively on philosophical issues. His humanist approach is underlined by his three books on man – before the world, in this world and after this world. His philosophy is overloaded with sociological treatment of human problems. His two other works, Bidayat al-hikmah and Nihayat al-hikmah, are considered among works of a high order in Muslim philosophy.
Stories From The Life Of Allama Tabatabi
Section 1: Love For Ahlul Bayt
Allāma Tabātabā’ī used to visit the shrine of Hazrat Ma’sūma (s) at least once every week. He would walk [to the shrine], and along the way, if he saw a discarded orange, cucumber or banana peel, he would use his staff to remove it from the sidewalk. During the summer he used to visit the holy city of Mashhad. When visiting the shrine of Imām Ridha (a) at night, he would sit in the area adjacent to the side of the shrine (dharīh) where Imām’s head is buried. In a state of humbleness and humility he would then recite the ziyārat (greetings to the Imām). Whilst in Mashhad he would participate in the Maghrib and ‘Ishā congregational prayers led by Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Hādi Mīlānī, sitting in a corner amongst the people [during the namaz].
‘Allāma had an intimate relationship with the Prophet (s) and the Imāms (a). He would mention their names with extreme decorum and
reverence, participate in gatherings where their deaths were mourned, and weep profusely for the tragedies that the Ahlul Bayt had faced.
Ayatullah Ibrāhim Amīnī
Marhūm ‘Allāma’s connection with the Ahlul-Bayt was one of complete love. Not once do I remember him mentioning the names of any one of the Imāms without respect. Each time he would enter the shrine of Imām Ridhā (a) in the holy city of Mashhad, I would see him place his trembling hands on the threshold and kiss it – his entire body quivering from the depths of his soul.
Occasionally in his presence we would ask him to pray for us. He would reply, “Go and ask from Hazrat [Imām]. We have no special position here, everything is available from him”.
When he kissed the wooden frame of the shrine (dharīh), his entire being reflected a profound etiquette towards Imām Ridhā (a). With
complete propriety (adab) and extreme love he would then recite his prayers in a corner. From the time he would enter until the time he left he conducted himself with adab.
Hujjatulislām Doctor Ahmadi
A scholar once asked Shahīd Ayatullah Mutahharī, “Why do you respect ‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī so much and say may I be sacrificed for him”?
I have seen many philosophers and mystics. My unique respect for ‘Allāma is not related to his being a philosopher. Rather, my reverence stems from the fact that he is an enamored lover of the Ahlul-Bayt. [For example] ‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī used to break his fast in the month of Ramadhān by kissing the shrine (dharīh) of Hazrat Ma’sūmā (a). He would walk to the holy shrine, kiss the dharīh, and then return to his home to eat. It is this characteristic of his that has captivated me to such a degree.
Daily activities that occupied ‘Allāma day and night did not prevent him from seeking intercession and exhibiting propriety (adab) for the Ahlul-Bayt. Rather he recognized that he was indebted to their intercession for his situation. His respect for the words of the Ma’sūmīn was so great that even when dealing with traditions whose chains of narration were weak, he acted in a cautionary manner because of the possibility that they might be from the Ahlul-Bayt. In addition, he believed that even the slightest disrespect or ill-thought towards this pure family should not be tolerated.
Ayatullah Misbāh Yazdī
Whenever the name of one of the Ma’sūmīn was mentioned, humility and etiquette would be apparent on ‘Allāma’s face. He had particular reverence for Imām Zamān [the 12th Holy Imam] – may we be sacrificed for him. He considered the position of the Prophet, Imāms and Hadhrat Siddāqa Kubrā [Sayyida Fatima] (a) to be beyond description. He had a humble, reverential and pious manner in respect to them, considered their position and status to be celestial, and had an in-depth knowledge of their actions and history.
Section 2: Manner of Character
‘Allāma was refined, kind, chaste, humble, sincere, lacking desire, patient, sweet and a great companion. For 30 years I was with ‘Allāma, attending his classes, participating in his private Thursday night and Friday sessions, and benefiting from his presence as much as I could. Not once during this time do I remember him ever becoming angry or yelling at one of his students or speaking harshly or insulting anyone.
He used to teach his classes calmly and quietly, never raising his voice. He became familiar and made friends with others very quickly. He was so friendly with everyone, even a new student, that one might have thought they were two dear friends. He listened to everyone and always displayed signs of love and friendship. He was incredibly humble…and did not give importance to the number of his students, sometimes agreeing to teach only two or three individuals.
In private sessions he would normally remain quiet and calm. If he was asked a question, he would answer, and if not, he would maintain his silence. Occasionally if someone would refer to him as a Professor (Ustād), he would say, “I do not like this title. We have gathered here as colleagues in thought so that we might discover the truths of Islam”.
‘Allāma was very well mannered, listening to every individual and never interrupting anyone. If he heard the truth he would acknowledge it. He would avoid argumentative discussions, but willingly answer any sincere questions asked of him.
Ayatullah Ibrāhīm Amīnī
‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī’s manner was one that conformed completely to the Qur’ān. Perhaps it can be said that his behavior had become the Qur’ān. Every verse that God has placed in the Qur’ān describing a perfect human being (Insāne Kāmil), we found it in ‘Allāma’s behavior to the extent that it is possible to be seen in an individual. His gatherings were those of perfect Islāmic etiquette and Godly character. It was rare for him to commit even an action which, without being a sin, was not the best course of action to take (tarke ūla). He never mentioned someone’s name with ill-feeling, nor anyone’s bad characteristics, and tried to always pray for the well-being of others.
Ayatullah Jawādī Āmulī
‘Allāma Tabātabā’ī was extremely kind and sentimental. He never forgot his friends and always kept in touch with them. He acted benevolently with his private students, and was attached to and familiar with them, and inquired about the situation of those who had moved to other cities.
Ayatullah Ibrāhīm Amīnī
One of the outstanding characteristics of my father was his close relationship with his students – especially Āghā Mutahharī. He himself used to say: every time I sit with my friends, it is as if the entire world lights up in my view. Truly I take pleasure [from their company].
‘Allāma’s daughter, Najma As-Sādāt Tabātabā’ī
‘Allāma used to speak very little, and he also used to advise others to speak less. He regarded speaking a lot as a sign of a weak intellect. He talked very simply and in such a manner that sometimes people used to believe he was a regular individual, and not a scholar and a philosopher.