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A Glimpse at the Islamic Seminary of Hillah

This article presents information on Islamic seminary of Hillah, the revival of ijtihad in it and introduces its prominent scholars.

The establishment of the Islamic seminary of Hillah is simultaneous with the establishment of the city of Hillah itself towards the end of the fifth century Hijri. Factors such as its large Shi‘a population, its educated founders, the formation of a Shi‘a government at its inception, and unstable political conditions in adjacent areas are reasons for its growth, and its Islamic seminaries were the leading Shi‘a seminaries for three centuries.

After the downfall of the Khwarezmid Empire by the hands of the Mongols, Mongol ruler Hulagu Khan attacked Iraq in 551 AH to expand the empire and took over Baghdad. This event led to the decline of the Islamic seminaries of Baghdad and Najaf. The seminary of Hillah, which remained unharmed by the Mongols’ attacks due to wise policies adopted by the scholars of the town, was revived and was able to introduce and provide the Shi‘a world with renowned scholars.

This flourishing period thrived from the time Baghdad was attacked in the sixth century to the ninth century Hijri; afterwards, with the revival of the Najaf seminary, the seminary of Hillah faced a downturn. Although it was still considered to be one of the active seminaries of Iraq, it was not able to gain back the strength it had in the first period.

The revival of Ijtihad in the Islamic Seminary of Hillah

One of the characteristics of the Hillah seminary was its dynamism and vitality and steadfastness against decline and emulation. This is unlike the seminary of Najaf in the period after Sheikh Tusi which was so heavily influenced by the great scholarship and spiritual characteristics of Sheikh Tusi that for several centuries, his views were adopted by successive scholars. It was only due to innate talent and matchless courage of Muhammad ibn Idris the author of al-Sara’ir that ideas of Sheikh Tusi were seriously challenged and criticised. After ibn Idris, his method of ijtihad was continued in the later centuries by other religious scholars of the seminary of Hillah and finally reached its peak towards the end of the eighth century through the hands of Allamah Hilli.

The great scholars of the Hillah Seminary

The following are some of the seminary’s great scholars:

  1. Najib al-Din Muhammad Ja’far, known as Ibn Nima, Muhaqqiq al- Hilli, Shaykh Sadid al-Din, and Sayyid Ahmad bin Tawus and his brother, Radhi al-Din.
  2. Ja’far bin Muhammad bin Ja’far bin Abu al-Baqa’ Hibatullah, of Allamah Hilli’s teachers.
  3. Najm al-Din Ja’far bin Hasan bin Yahya, known as Muhaqqiq al- Hilli was one of the renowned jurists of Hillah and Allamah Hilli’s teacher where through writing books, he helped with growth of science of usul and accelerated the movement of ijtihad in the Hillah seminary. He also took a great step in expanding jurisprudential texts with his Shara’i al-Islam fi Masa’il al-Halal wa al-Haram where he examines recounted sayings, their implications, and their effects. For this reason, this book has been used in the seminaries up until the present years, and to this day, many commentaries and interpretations have been written on it, including Jawahir al-Kalam, an encyclopedia in Shi‘a jurisprudence. Some of his other works include al-Mu‘tabar fi Sharh al-Mukhtasar, which after Shaykh Tusi’s al-Mabsut, is counted as the second comparative and demonstrative work on Shi‘a jurisprudence.
  4. Radi al-Din Ali bin Sa’d al-Din Musa, known as Sayyid bin Tawus was of the learned and pious jurists of Hillah where asceticism (zuhd) and worship (ibadah) were his recognizable characteristics.

Reaching a high level in mysticism as well as meeting the Twelfth Imam, were some of his greatest achievements which were verified by many contemporary scholars and scholars who came after him. Nonetheless, in addition to his level of spirituality, he had a great deal knowledge, even though his particular viewpoint in regards to sciences such as jurisprudence and theology1 set him apart from others, and although he had reached the level of ijtihad, he would not issue juristic rulings (fatwas). On the other hand, he was proficient in the science of narration and the study of the stars (ilm al-nujum; astronomy). He authored a book on the lives of the astronomers called, “Faraj al-Mahmum fi Tarikh Ulama’ al- Nujum.”

  1. Sayyid Jamal al-Din Ahmad bin Musa bin Tawus. His popularity is mostly due to his efforts made in the field of prophetic narrations and biographical evaluation (rijal). His most important works in the field of biographical evaluation is the book Hal al-Ishkal fi Ma’rifi al-Rijal which contains the most important information about Shi‘a rijal. He was the one who proposed classification of hadiths into four categories: authentic (sahih), approved (hasan), reliable (muwaththaq), and weak (da‘if). This classification was welcomed by other scholars and is still used.
  2. Hasan bin Yusuf bin Mutahhar Hilli, known as Allamah Hilli was a renowned Shi‘a jurist and scholar; it was through him that Shi‘a jurisprudence flourished.

Allamah Hilli was a prolific author in the fields of jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence, philosophy, logics, biographical evaluation, Qur’anic exegesis, narration, the science of Arabic syntax (ilm al-Nahw), supplications and other various books in which some believe its total to be over five hundred volumes. His most important works are in the fields of jurisprudence, principles of jurisprudence; theology, biographical evaluation, Qur’anic exegesis, and philosophy and logic.

One of Allamah’s important initiatives was his positive response to the request of the Mongolian ruler, Uljeitu (Khodabandeh), and his migration to Iran and taking advantage of the political atmosphere to spread and present Shi‘a Islam. After converting to Shi’ism, Uljeitu (Khodabandeh) summoned a large group of scholars from Hillah and Iraq, including Allamah Hilli and his son Fakhr al-Muhaqqiqin, to Iran and provided a school in Soltaniyyeh for Allamah to teach Islamic studies. He also provided a traveling school (madrasah sayyarah), with the management and supervision of Allamah, in order that it could travel with the ruler to various areas for other areas to make use of his presence and valuable knowledge. The books Nahj al-Haq wa Kashf al- Sidq, Minhaj al-Kirama, and Kashf al-Yaqin fi Fadha’il Amir al- Mu’mineen were written upon Uljeitu’s request.

Coexistence and heartfelt interactions with scholars of different Islamic sects, while standing firm in his principles and Shi‘a beliefs was another important characteristic of the Allamah. This very act is what led scholars and students from other sects to gather in his traveling school which was instituted by Uljeitu (Sultan Muhammad Khodabandeh) to study and teach. Some scholars from the Sunni school of thought such as ibn Hajar Asqalani in Lisan al-Mizan and Safdi Shafa’i in ‘Ayan al-Asr and ‘Awan al-Nasr have praised him. Safdi considers Allamah Hilli a sign (ayah) of God that no writer is capable of describing all his good attributes.

The selection taken from “Major Shia Islamic Seminaries” by Iman Khoshro.

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