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A Review on the Islamic Seminary of Najaf

The seminary of Najaf is by far one of the most important institutions of academics and ijtihad in the history of academia and Shi‘a culture.

The seminary of Najaf is by far one of the most important institutions of academics and ijtihad in the history of academia and Shi‘a culture and has played an undeniable role in leading political change in various historical turns throughout Shi‘a history. For a long period of time, this seminary was amongst the most important Shi‘a seminaries and because of its extensive history and the presence of well-known scholars, and it continued to be the center of focus and assembly of great scholars and virtuous figures.

According to historical reports, the basis for founding the seminary of Najaf was Shaykh al-Taifah Shaykh Tusi who relocated from the city of Baghdad in the year 448 A.H. to this city after the attack of the Saljuqs. Ibn Juzi writes in regards to the attacks made on Shaykh Tusi’s house in Baghdad that a group of the Ahulul Sunnah attacked Abu Ja’far Tusi’s house in Karkh and burnt his books, notebooks, his pulpit used when teaching, and other belongings.

Even though this city was the residence of several Shi‘a scholars and narrators before Shaykh Tusi’s relocation to Najaf, it was with his arrival and the constitution of the Islamic seminary that Najaf became the center of Shi‘a jurisprudence and an institute for educating and training great Shi‘a scholars. It became a focal point where seminarians and researchers in Islamic sciences turned to, and under the supervision of Shaykh Tusi, were able to train and teach students various religious sciences such as jurisprudence and theology.

After 12 years of his fruitful presence in Najaf, Shaykh al-Tusi passed away in Najaf in 460 A.H. After him, the leadership of Shi‘a and the management of the seminaries which he had founded were passed on to his son, Shaykh Abu Ali Tusi, and afterwards to his grandson Abu Nasr Muhammad bin Abi Ali al-Hasan bin Abi Ja’far Muhammad bin al- Hasan al-Tusi.

The Time of Recession

The seminary of Najaf experienced a recession and relative decline from the sixth until the ninth century Hijra. Some of its reasons could be related to the expansion of the Islamic seminary of Karbala and Hillah. The academic activities and group study circles executed by great scholars such as Ahmad bin Ali Najashi, Abi Hamza Tusi, Sayyid Fakhar Musawi Haeri, Ali bin Tawus, Shams-ud Din Muhammad bin Makki, (Shahid Awwal) and ibn Khazin Haeri in the seminary of Karbala were important in training students in religious studies. On another hand, with the spread of the House of Knowledge (buyut ‘ilmiyyah) of Aal Idris, Aal Shaykh Waram, Aal Fahad, Aal Tawus in the city of Hillah, the Islamic seminaries of Najaf became increasingly marginalized.

Flourishing Once Again

The recession period of the Islamic seminary of Najaf continued until the ninth century Hijri. During this time, with the appearance of great figures such as Fadhil Miqdad24 and Muqaddas Ardebili25 it was rejuvenated and those who sought Islamic knowledge from other areas turned to this city. The features of this time period include the spread of the science of jurisprudence, comparative and demonstrative jurisprudence, and composing valuable books like Ma’alim al-Din a work of Hasan bin Zaid al-Din.26 In this period along with jurisprudence and principles of jurisprudence, sciences like logic, Verses of Legislature (Ayat al-Ahkam), exegesis, theology, and biographical evaluation (rijal) started to spread and as a result, treasurable books were written in the fields.

The eleventh century Hijri can be viewed as the new era in the history of seminaries in Najaf. The growth and activities of scholars that were present in Najaf and were under the radar were theological discussion and the method of ijtihad, which were of the most pronounced features of the Najaf seminaries. This continued until the migration of Waheed Behbahani from Iran to Iraq in the twelfth century and created a certain academic excitement in the seminary of Najaf. Of the renowned figures of this time is Sayyid Muhammad Mahdi Bahrul-Ulum, a student of Waheed Behbahani and a splendid figure in the Shi‘a world who had an extensive amount of knowledge and had travelled the different stages of a peripatetic journey towards God (sayr wa sulook); he was indeed respected amongst the Shi‘a scholars of that time.

Graduates of the Islamic Seminary of Najaf

Because of its historical background, its unique academic dynamic, and the presence of sessions run by the most well-known and sought after scholars, the seminaries of Najaf were fostered by great scholars throughout history, all of whom have shined in Shi‘a academia and ijtihad. Indeed, they have been the source of blessing in terms of the expanding of the Shi‘a seminaries in different areas. Through studying the biographies and profiles of the founders of Shi‘a seminaries in various areas, as well as the socially and politically influential personalities in Shi‘a history, it is clear that participating in the Najaf seminaries and making use of its academic and spiritual merits is a common factor amongst its participants.

In what follows are a few spiritual and knowledgeable personalities whom were present in this seminary:

-Ibn Idris Hilli, the founder and leader of the Islamic seminary of Hillah;

-Mirza Shirazi, who issued boycotting the use of tobacco and the leader of the Islamic seminary of Samarra;

-Hajj Muhammad Ibrahim Kalbasi and Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Shafti the two leaders of the Islamic seminary of Isfahan;

-Hajj Shaykh Abdul Karim Haeri Yazdi, founder of the Islamic seminary of Qum,

-Mowla Ahmad bin Muhammad Ardebili, known as “Muqaddas Ardebili”, a well-known scholar in the Shia world;

-Shaykh Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita’, leader and great Shi‘a authority (marja’);

-Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Najafi, great jurist (faqih) and author of Jawahir al-Kalam;

-Shaykh A’adham Murtadha Ansari, the undisputable scholar in jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence;

-Mulla Muhammad Kadhim Khorasani, author of Kifayat al-Usul;

-Hajj Husayn Burujerdi, leader of the Islamic seminary of Qum,

-Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, author of the Quranic exegesis al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur’an; and -Allamah Sayyid Sharafiddin Amuli, author of al-Muraja’at.

Jurisprudence in the Najaf Seminary

Jurisprudence was amongst the sciences taught in Najaf and from its inception, the subject of focus amongst students via Shaykh Tusi. Until recent years, it was called the Science of Jurisprudence. Like other sciences, the science of jurisprudence underwent the process of development. After putting behind its introductory stages of narrated jurisprudence, it reached its highest level of accuracy – comparative and demonstrative jurisprudence – as well as the use of rules of deduction (istinbat) for extracting religious laws from firsthand sources. Although the Najaf seminary undertook periods of excellence in recounting and reporting, as well as periods of decline in the science of jurisprudence, comparative and demonstrative jurisprudence, and ijtihad, after the decline with the presence of usuli scholars, it returned to its previous station in comparative jurisprudence and the science of jurisprudence. The seminary was able to present the great and well-known scholars of the Shi‘a world.

We owe the turning point in comparative jurisprudence and ijtihad in the Najaf seminaries to the hard work of the prominent scholar Shaykh Ansari. With his innovative outlook in the principles of ijtihad, he made great changes in the science of jurisprudence; and with reviving principles of jurisprudence and its foundation, he was able to use it for deducing various branches and religious laws. Through this method, he brought Shi‘a laws to a whole new stage. From amongst his works are two books, Fara’id al-Usul (known as Articles in the Science of Jurisprudence) and Makasib (a legal manual of Islamic Commercial Law) which have been taught in the seminaries for years. Ansari’s his intellectual ideas in Shi‘a law were then developed by his outstanding students, some of whom were Mirza Shirazi, Mirza Rushti, Ayatullah Kuh Kamari, and Akhund Khorasani. With introducing debatable topics in reasoning in the creation of new rules of fiqh and placing them in a new and innovated framework, Akhund Khorasani wrote Kafayatul al- Usul, which is used until this day as a seminary textbook.

The evolution and development of the science of jurisprudence after Akhund Khorasani continued through great intellectuals such as Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Isfahani, Ayatollah Agha Diya al-Din Iraqi and with Allamah Na’eni’s insightful thinking and scrutiny, the depth of topics and content related to reasoning in new fiqh rules (usuli) increased and its status in Shi‘a ijtihad and jurisprudence showed itself more than ever.

The composition of two very valuable books, with comprehensiveness regarding religious jurisprudential matter was another remarkable service of the Najaf Seminaries. One is Urwa al-Wuthqa by Ayatullah Sayyid Kadhim Yazdi and the other Wasilah al-Nijat by Ayatullah Sayyid al-Hasan Isfahani. With 3,260 jurisprudential issues, Urwa al- Wuthqa became a reference book in jurisprudence. Prominent jurists used its methods in writing legal books, and its fundamental legal topics are discussed in advanced jurisprudential studies (dars-e kharij-e fiqh) to such a point that today many commentaries and interpretations have been written on it. Moreover, Wasilah al-Nijat, which contained most of the Islamic legal issues necessary for Muslims at the time, because of the skillful text it became the foundation of many jurisprudential books afterwards and many of the collections of juridical edicts (risalah) are written as a form of commentary on it. Currently, the Islamic seminaries of Najaf continue to shine and have introduced judicial personalities and supreme legal authorities (maraji’) such as Ayatullah Sayyid Muhsin Hakim, Ayatullah Sayyid Abul Ghasim Khoei, and Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Sistani.

Philosophy in the Seminary of Najaf

The appearance of philosophy and the spread of philosophical ideology in the Islamic seminaries of Najaf – and Iraq in general – are due to the migration of great scholars from Iran. This was structured around Islamic philosophy from long before. Khajah Nasr al-Din Tusi’s trips to Baghdad between the years 662 to 672 A.H. and his meetings with Iraqi scholars set the grounds where intellectual ideas were spread in Iraq. However, the widespread familiarization of the Najaf seminaries with philosophy was the migration of Akhund Mulla Husayngholi Hamedani to the holy Shi‘a sites of Iraq, and his studies and instructions in the seminary of Karbala and Najaf. He himself benefited from Mulla Hadi Sabzevari’s classes in the seminary and made his own students familiar with Islamic philosophy, in which he found his perfect form in Mulla Sadra’s Transcendent Theosophy (al-Hikmah al-Muta’liyah). He also promoted transmitted knowledge (ulum naqli) alongside intellectual knowledge (ulum aqli) and made efforts to spread it within the seminaries. Sayyid Jamal al-Din Asadabadi, Sayyid Abd al-Husayn Lari, and Sayyid Ahmad Karbalaei have all been trained in the Najaf seminary.

Other philosophy teachers in Najaf include Agha Mirza Muhammad Baqir Istahbanati, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Gharuri Isfahani, Agha Shaykh Ali Muhammad Najaf Abadi, Agha Sayyid Husayn Badkoobehi, Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai, and Shaykh Murtadha Taleqani, Allamah Muhammad Taqi Ja’fari’s teacher. The next part of this series continues with information on the Islamic Seminary of Hillah – including its revival of ijtihad and its prominent scholars – and the Kadhimiya Seminary.

About Ali Teymoori

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