Home / All / Fuqaha / Biographies / Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Ibn Sayyid Mortaḍā Ṭabāṭabāʼ ī Baḥr al-ʻOlūm

Sayyid Muḥammad Mahdī Ibn Sayyid Mortaḍā Ṭabāṭabāʼ ī Baḥr al-ʻOlūm

Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Bahr al-‘Uloum was born in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq on January 17, 1927.


Al-‘Allamah Dr. Sayyid Muhammad Bahr al-‘Uloum was born in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq, on17 Rabi’ al-Thani 1347 AH, corresponding to 17 January 1927.

He grew up under the patronage of his father, Sayyid ‘Ali Bahral-‘Uloum alongside his brothers: al-Shahid Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Ala’al-Din Bahr al-‘Uloum, al-Shahid Ayatullah Sayyid ‘Izz al Din Bahral-‘Uloum and Sayyid Mehdi Bahral-‘Uloum.

Hawza Education

Growing up within the hawza (Islamic seminaries) in Najaf, under the leadership of the maraji’ surrounded by rich social, cultural and religious gatherings, strengthened his strong sense of belonging to Najaf and Iraq and highly influenced the path he took in life. He completed his hawza studies in Arabic grammar, almantiq (Logic), fiqh (Jurisprudence), usul al-fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) in Najaf under the tutelage of Grand Ayatullah Sayyid MuhammadTaqi Bahr al-‘Uloum, Grand Ayatullah Shaykh MuhammadAmin Zain al-Din, Grand Ayatullah Shaykh ‘Ali Zain al-Din, Ayatullah Sayyid MuhammadTaqi al-Hakim, al-‘Allamah Shaykh ‘Abd al-Mun‘im al-Fartusi and al ‘Allamah Sayyid Sadiq Al Yassin amongst many others.

Academic Education

Sayyid Muhammadwas one of the first members of the Islamic seminary to pursue academic studies alongside his hawza training; first receiving a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Law and Arabic from the College of Jurisprudence (Kulliyyat Al-Fiqh) at the University of Baghdad in 1961.

Such exposure to an academic environment led him to be one of the first to join in the curricUloum reform movement within the hawza led by Ayatullah Shaykh MuhammadRidha al- Mudhaffar. He then completed a Master’s degree in Islamic Law from the Institute of Islamic Studies at the University of Baghdad in 1969. However, he was forced to flee Iraq before he was able to complete the final section of his degree, which was an oral examination of his dissertation.

Consequently he was able to achieve a Master’s degree in Islamic Law from the College of Theology, University of Tehran, in 1970.

After this, he received a PhD in Islamic Law from the Dar al-‘Uloum College, University of Cairo, in 1979.

Besides his academic and hawza studies, Sayyid Muhammadwas very well read and informed on many subjects. He was a well known writer, Islamic thinker, poet and historian. He participated in many conferences and seminars within Iraq and around the world over a period of six decades.


He also taught Arabic, fiqh and usul al-fiqh at the Scientific University (Jami’ah al-‘Ilmiyyah) in Najaf and taught tafsir al-Qur’an (Qur’anic exegesis) at the Usul al-Din College (Kulliyyat Usul Al-Din), Baghdad, 1967-1969.

Cultural Activities

He was one of the founders of the Literary As-sociation (Jam’iyyat al-Rabitah al-Adabiyyah) in Najaf and became its president from 1967 to 1970.
As well as this, he was a trustee in the Publishing Forum Association (Jami’iyyat Muntada al-Nashir) founded in 1958, a trustee in the Iraqi Writers’ and Authors’ Association (Jam’iyyat al-Kutab wa al-Mu’allifin al-Iraqiyyin) founded in 1960, a founding trustee of the Eliqidh Family of Literature (Usrat al-Adab Eliqidh) founded in 1956, a founding trustee of the Holy Shrines Association (Jam’iyyat al-Atabat al-Muqaddasah) founded in 1966 and was a founding trustee in the Imam al-Hakim Cultural Foundation (Mu’assasat al-Imam al-Hakim al-Thaqafiyyah) in 1965.

He also participated in the founding of many seminary and academic institutions such as the College of Fiqh (Kulliyyat Al- Fiqh) in Najaf in 1960, Usul al-Din College (Kulliyyat Usul Al-Din) of Baghdad University in 1964 and was a founding trustee of the University of Kufa in 1966.

He was a regular participant and actor in the resurgent Islamic movement during the 1940s and 1950s and worked within the ranks of the Islamic Da‘wa Party (Hizb al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyyah) with Ayatullah Sayyid MuhammadBaqir al-Sadr until 1960. The rejection of the policies of governments that came to power in Iraq after the coup d’état in 1958 and the several coups that followed was a major focus during the leadership of the late Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim, whowas the leading marja‘ in Najaf at that time. This rejection turned into a major political crisis and was met by the Baathist regime harshly and violently. Men of significance were prosecuted by the Baathists in order for them to either support their regime or to silence opposition.

During his time in London, he co-founded the Ahlulbayt (as) Islamic Centre in London with his lifetime friend al-Shahid Sayyid Mehdi al-Hakim in 1980.

He set about liaising with Islamic leaders and organisations across the world to form the World Ahlulbayt Islamic League (WABIL) in 1985.

It was a project to unite all Shi‘a Islamic Institutions across the world under one umbrella organization to give them a more prominent voice on the world stage. In parallel to this, he gave special efforts to unify the many members of the Iraqi opposition against the Baathist regime and won great respect amongst them for his moderation and his commitment to national unity.

He founded the International Rescue Committee for Iraqi refugees in 1991 after the first Gulf war and supervised the publication of an Arabic language journal known as Al-Ma’had which published articles specializing in Islamic Studies, Political Science and Law from 1999 until the present.

Political Activities

For being one of the influential members of the late Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhsin al-Hakim’s inner circle, Sayyid Muhammadwas persecuted by the Baathist regime which issued a death sentence against him. This forced him to flee Iraq in 1969, moving to many countries of the Arab and Muslim world; during his time in Kuwait, he was a judge at the personal status laws court from 1971-1977, but did not practise as a judge until he had gained the permission (ijaza) from most of the living scholars at the time.

He stayed on as an instructor and advisor to the judicial service in Kuwait in regards to personal status law.

He settled in London in 1980 to start a new political phase of intensive work with his brothers in the Iraqi opposition.

Sayyid Muhammadwas the first Iraqi religious figure to sign the political document ‘Democracy and Human Rights in Iraq’ in 1988.

This document was the first of its kind to highlight the injustice and oppression of the Baathist regime towards the Iraqi people and the violation of human rights in Iraq. It rallied the opinion of Iraqis and the global public against the oppressive regime. The document then led to the formation of a broad political coalition, known as the Iraqi National

Congress, established during its first conference in Vienna, Austria, in June 1992. During this conference he was a member of the leadership delegation along with Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, the two major political leaders of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.

In addition to this, he was a prominent figure during the establishment of the Salah al-Din conference held by the Iraqi opposition in Iraqi Kurdistan in October 1992. It was the first of its kind in the history of the Iraqi opposition, which included parties from the entire political spectrum; party-based Islamists and independent Islamists, liberals, Communists and parties representing the many different ethnicities in Iraq under the title ‘The United Iraq Conference’. Sayyid Muhammadwas elected to the Presidential Leadership Committee which also consisted of Massoud Barzani and the late Maj. Gen. Hassan al-Naqib.

He continued his political activism over the years throughout the 1990s, along with the rest of the new unified opposition. They established and participated in many seminars and conferences in the UK, US and the Middle East until their final opposition conference which was held in London in December 2002.

After the fall of Saddam’s regime, he was finally able to return home in March 2003. He was popularly received by the people of Basra in Safwan as his convoy crossed into Iraq from Kuwait after a long absence for 34 years. In July 2003, he was selected as a member of the Iraqi Governing Council and was the first leader of the nine member executive leadership council who led the Iraqi Governing Council. He was also a member of the interim Iraqi National Council from June to December 2004. After that, he decided to retire from public life and return to his hometown Najaf to continue his religious, cultural, social, and literary work. As well as this, as a result of the precarious political situation, he continued meeting political elites, intervening when he could to resolve Iraq’s political crisis and support the democratic political process that has been developing in Iraq since then.

He was able to cap and crown his career by founding the Bahr al-‘Uloum Charitable Foundation in Najaf in 2004, the Al-‘Alamayn Institute for Higher Studies in Najaf in 2007, the first private academic institution in Iraq to provide postgraduate education specialising in Islamic thought, Law and Political Science and the al-‘Alamayn Library in Najaf in 2014. He taught the Personal Status Law module at al-‘Alamayn Institute for Higher Studies, 2013-2015, being one of the first to write about the topic.

He had published Adwa’ ‘ala al- Ahwal al-Shakhsiyyah (Lights on Personal Status Laws) in 1963. In 2010, he was awarded an Honorary Professorship in Islamic Law from the Islamic University,Beirut.


Al-‘Allamah Dr Sayyid MuhammadBahr al-‘Uloum passed away on 18 Jamad al-Thani 1436 AH, corresponding to 7 April 2015. His death was mourned by all corners of Iraqi society from all its various religions, sects and ethnicities. Tributes and letters of condolences were offered to the Bahr al-‘Uloum family by world leaders, religious and political, from across the world.

Source:Shia Studies ejournal

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