Jafar ibne Yahya ibne Hassan ibne Saeed known as Muhaqqaq Hilli was the first religious leader in Hillah. He was born in 602 A.H. at Hillah city.
While Baghdad became the center of Shia learning during the time of the Seventh Imam (a.s) and the Four Deputies of the Imam (a.s) too were in Baghdad. But the persecution of the followers of the Prophet (s.a)’s Progeny reached its zenith and they started migrating from the city in large numbers to Hilla. It was around this time that the Shia scholars, in the leadership of Sheik Toosi, moved to Najaf e Ashraf in the year 448 H. When Halaku was plundering Baghdad, the people of Hilla sent a delegation to him and sought amnesty for their town. During the next century and half Hillah produced several eminent Mujtahids and Muhaqqaq Hilli was one of them.
Shia Scholars Groups
The Shia Scholars have been classified into three groups: the first is called the Mutaqaddameen (Early), the second is the group of Muteakhareen (The later) and the last group is Mutakhar al Muteakhareen (The Later of the Later or the Modern). Muhaqqaq Hilli was a very important Mujtahid of the period of transition between the epochs of the Mutaqaddameen and Muteakhareen. We have mentioned this here so that the reader will find it easy to understand these terms while perusing the books of history and Fiqh. In fact Muhaqqaq Hilli is considered the last of the roster of the Mutaqaddameen. The Muteakhareen start with the advent of his nephew Allama Hilli, about whom we shall discuss later in this chapter. Muhaqqaq Hilli was so learned and erudite in the field of Fiqh that he was known with the title of Muhaqqaq or the researcher. If in some paper the author refers to Muhaqqaq in his dissertation, it will be understood that he is referring to Muhaqqaq Hilli. Any other person could be a muhaqqaq but this sobriquet will be prefixed or suffixed with his given name.
The Greatness of Muhaqqaq Hilli
Muhaqqaq Hilli’s greatness can well be gauged from one anecdote. Halaku Khan’s prime minister, Naseer ud Deen Toosi, who was also an eminent Mujtahid, wanted to visit Hillah to meet the scholars there. When Muhaqqaq Hilli got news of his schedule, he started making arrangements to give befitting reception to Naseer ud Deen. The eminence of Naseer ud Deen can well be fathomed from the fact that he is considered as the Shia Mujaddad (Revivalist) of the Seventh Century Hijri. It is said about him that excepting the Holy Imams (a.s) none other has propagated the Shia Faith more than Naseer ud Deen Toosi. When Naseer ud Deen got word that Muhaqqaq Hilli personally wanted to come out and receive him, he requested him not to do this and continue with his day’s routine. Muhaqqaq Hilli abided by the request of the guest. When Toosi entered Hillah, he learned that Muhaqqaq was in the mosque giving lessons to the children from his book “Sharaeh al Islam”. Naseer ud Deen entered the mosque. Muhaqqaq Hilli discontinued his talk to meet the guest. Toosi said politely that he had come there traveling the long distance particularly to take part in the Muhaqqaq’s lessons and he requested him to continue with the talk. It was an event when one great scholar was keen to learn from another erudite scholar!
The Learning of Naseer Ud Deen Toosi
The status of learning of Naseer ud Deen Toosi was of such caliber that even Allama Hilli was once his disciple. The amazing thing about him was that he was learned in most of the disciplines of knowledge. Particularly he was recognized as an expert in the subject of geography. Coming back to our discussion, Muhaqqaq Hilli continued with his lesson that he had stopped with the arrival of Naseer ud Deen in his classroom. The topic of discussion was rather intricate. Everyone may not be able to comprehend the intricacy of the subject, but I shall throw a little light on it here. His talk was on the subject of facing towards the Qibla (Kaaba) while standing in prayer. In this regard there are certain traditions of the Infallibles (a.s) as to how to determine the right direction of the Qibla. Whenever people from any city visited the Imams (a.s) they used to guide them with regard to the direction of the Qibla from there. The general procedure was to take into account the location of certain stars It is mentioned in the books of Fiqh that the direction of the Qibla is determined in Iraq observing the location a certain star and facing towards it, but it was said that it is Mustaheb (Desirable) to turn ones face a little to the left while standing in prayer. When Muhaqqaq Hilli came to this point, Naseer ud Deen Toosi raised a question. He asked if the Qibla is towards that star why is it Mustaheb to turn a little to the left from that direction? His contention was that facing the Qibla was Wajib (mandatory) and deviating from it would be Haram (taboo). Muhaqqaq Hilli gave only one reply, “Min al Qibla ilal Qibla—turn from the Qibla towards the Qibla!” Turning a little towards the left was advised to ensure that the direction of prayer was positively towards the Qibla. Naseer ud Deen Toosi kept quiet hearing this clarification. After he returned to his head-quarters, Muhaqqaq Hilliwrote a treatise on the subject and sent to Naseer ud Deen Toosi who acknowledged that his objection wasn’t correct. Although Naseer ud Deen was an expert geographer, he had to accept the argument of Muhaqqaq Hilli in the matter of the direction of the Qibla.
On 13th Rabi al Aakhir 676 H Muhaqqaq Hilli was walking on the terrace of his house when he slipped and fell down on the ground from that height. He instantly passed away because of the grievous hurt that was caused with the impact of the fall. The great scholar was interred in the graveyard of Hilla. On the passing away of Muhaqqaq Hilli, his disciple and nephew, Allama Hilli, was rightly endowed with the position of the Mujtahid in Hilla although he was a youth of 28 years at that time.
The monumental work that established the name and fame of Jafar ibne Yahya ibne Hassan ibne Saeed as Muhaqqaq Hilli is the book “Sharaeh al Islam”. This book is a very important reference for the scholars who do research on the Shia Fiqh. This is a much translated book and its English version is on the curriculum of the Oxford and Cambridge universities where Shia history and jurisprudence is taught. The book has also been translated into the French, German and the Russian languages. This book is in two volumes. The immense value of this book is evident from the fact that there isn’t any Shia seminary in the world where it isn’t a very important part of the curriculum. This is studied by the students in small Madrassah as well as the great seminaries in Najaf and Qum. One very popular commentary on the book has been written by Sheik Mohammed Hassan under the title and style of “Jawahar al Kalam”. Reading this commentary the rector of the Azhar University, Cairo, had perforce to admit that the Shias are truly Muslims! Another very important fact about this book is that only the works of 5 authors are mentioned to be in Jazeera e Khizra (the Green Island). One of the five authors is Muhaqqaq Hilli. The interesting thing is that the traveler who visited the Jazira e Khizra and met the Naib e Imam (a.s) there and had the privilege of discussing with him about Muhaqqaq Hilli’s book. He had said that all the questions discussed in the book were authentic and correct, excepting two questions. He didn’t elaborate what those two questions were. Muhaqqaq Hilli has left behind this book for the posterity and also a disciple like Allama Hilli who was also his nephew.