Ayatollah Haj Sheikh Abdulkarim Haeri Yazdi was born in 1859 in Mehrjerd, Yazd. He lost his father when he was only 6 and thereafter was brought up by his mother..Education
Then arrived the time to go to the Madrasa. He was keenly interested in reading and writing from very early days. He sometimes expressed this wish to his father. Although his father was interested in giving good, formal education to his son, he was helpless because there wasn’t any school at MehrJard those days. Most of the children occupied themselves as farm hands, as shepherds or helping the parents in their trade. Abd al Karim too was in a similar situation. This went on till a relative of the family, Mohammed jafar, arrived there. He was himself a scholar and was dressed in the apparel of an Alim. At the first sight he fathomed the intelligence and worth of the child. He expressed his interest in becoming the guardian of the child. With the consent of the parents he took Abd al Karim to Ardkan. The place, those days, was called a miniature Greece. Although the Fiqhs and scholars from there had migrated to Qum, it still retained the status of a center of education. The instruction in elementary education and the Holy Quran was quite good in the place Abd al Karim spent some years commuting between MehrJard and Ardkan to pursue his education. He used to stay in his guardian’s home and visit his parents on the week-ends. These were difficult years for the youth. But when he reached the status of a Marja, he used to give credit to Mohammed Jafar, his guardian during the early years, for his achievements! He talked of his days at Ardkan with nostalgia.
His migration to Iraq
Abdul Karim had barely reached the age of 18 years when he had an intense yearning and love in his heart to go and visit the Holy Shrines of Iraq. He, together with his mother, joined a caravan and left for the four holy cities of Kerbala, Najaf, Kadhmain and Samarra. When he reached Iraq, he immediately got in touch with the circle of Ulema and spent a few of his early years in the Hawza in Kerbala. His teacher in Kerbala was Ayatullah Fadhil Urdakani and with his guidance, Abdul Karim moved to Samarra and became a student of Ayatullah Mirza Shirazi. During that period, Mirza Shirazi was the Marja and the head of the Hawza of Samarra. It is said that when Mirza Shirazi read the letter from Abdul Karim’s former teacher, Ayatullah Fadhil Urdakani, he turned to Abdul Karim and said that ‘I have found sincerity in you’; on this basis, Mirza Shirazi accommodated this youthful hardworking student in his own house.
When Ayatullah Haeri reached the station of Ijtihad, he used to fondly remember his time in Samarra and used to narrate: ‘the cellar of the house of Mirza Shirazi was a place for my studying and resting. In the Holy Month of Ramadhan, I used to eat my sahari in the same place, but for iftaar, instead of returning home, due to the draining heat I used to go to the Euphrates and drink a lot of water and then go for a swim.’
All in all, Ayatullah Haeri spent 12 years in total in the Hawza of Samarra. During this time he obtained his knowledge from Ayatullah Syed Muhammad Fisharky, Ayatullah Muhammad Taqi Shirazi and Ayatullah Fadlullah Nuri.
After the passing away of Mirza Shirazi, Ayatullah Haeri made his way to Najaf. Although he had an intention to stay there, he realised that the Hawza in Kerbala needed his services, and thus immediately made his way to the city of Imam Hussein Β. Once upon a time Kerbala had a renowned and well respected Hawza, but then lost this status. It was for this reason that Ayatullah Haeri chose Kabala, in order to revive the hawza once again. Within no time after the arrival of Ayatullah Haeri, the haram of Imam Hussein Β was again buzzing with the hum of students engaged in religious discussions. Ayatullah Haeri during this time taught two subjects in Usul Fiqh at the Dars-e-Kharij level3, and was referred to the same position as Ayatullah Mirza Muhammad Taqi Shirazi (Marja-e-Taqleed) and undertook the responsibility of giving verdicts to religious questions.
Towards the end of 1913, the riots and the problems relating to the British invasion had intensified all over Iraq including Kerbala, and hence, after receiving an invitation from the people of Arak, Abdul Karim made his way there. He served in the Hawza of Arak for 8 years before leaving for Qom in the year 1921. He had trained and guided hundreds of students towards Islam. It is said that during this period Imam Khomeini was 20 years old, and after hearing about the reputation of the Hawza in Arak, he abandoned his decision to go to Isfahan and instead made his way there, where he used to attend and benefit from the lessons of Ayatullah Haeri.
Return to Qum
In the year 1921, Ayatullah Haeri accepted the invitation of the people of Qom and came to Qom with his older son.
The formation of the Hawza in Qom
The formation of the Hawza in Qom was narrated in the hadith of Imam Jaffer Sadiq Β: ‘It will be soon that there will be a time in Kufa that it will be empty of Mu’minin and learning there will disappear, …and it will appear in a place by the name of ‘Qom’ …’ It was the arrival of Ayatullah Haeri to Qom that was going to bring this hadith into reality. Two months after his arrival, he attended a meeting with respect to the formation of a hawza at the house of Ayatullah Paeen Shahri. The meeting involved businessmen, learned scholars and jurists including Ayatullah Bafqi, Ayatullah Kabir and Ayatullah Faiz. This meeting lasted for hours and the final outcome was delegated to Ayatullah Haeri.
Ayatullah Haeri initially believed that the Hawza in Qom should be formed by the elders and residents of Qom.
However, due to the intense persistence of the learned scholars, he accepted the responsibility on the following condition – he said: ‘I will perform an Istikhara on the basis that is it feasible for me to stay in Qom and invite the students and teachers who are waiting for my return to come here or not?’
Early the next morning, before leading the salaat-e-Fajr,Ayatullah Haeri reached for a Qur’an and stood in the Haram of Bibi Ma’sooma ϑ engaging in dua before performing the Istikhara. It is narrated that Ayatullah never used to do Istikhara by use of the Qur’an and he used to say that I don’t fully understand if the verse is good or bad. However, when he performed the Istikhara with relation to whether or not he should stay in Qom, he left everything in the hands of Allah,and when the verse of Qur’an was chosen: ‘Take this shirt of mine, and cast it upon my father’s face; he will regain his sight, and bring me all your folks,’4 Yusuf [12:93] it left him in no doubt as to where his future lay. He therefore immediately began the task of setting up of a Hawza and in the process wrote to all his former students in Arak to invite them to Qom.
It is because of the efforts of Ayatollah Abdul Karim Haeri that Qom today has become the epicenter of Shia learning.
An anecdote from his life
One of the most outstanding qualities of Ayatullah Haeri was his asceticism and simple life, both before and after he became a Marja-e-taqleed. He lived the life of a ‘talabe’ (Hawza student) until the end of his life, and always thanked Allah that he was able to help the poor with the little that he had. Once, somebody gave his son an expensive abaa (robe) as a gift. When Ayatullah Haeri came to know about this, he told his son: ‘My son, this abaa is too much for you’ and urged him to sell it and buy three moderately priced ones instead, one for himself and two for his fellow students, which he did.
He passed away on 17 Zilqa’dah 1355 A.H (1937) in Qum and his body buried in holy shrine of Hazrat Masoumah (P.B.U.H).