Behbahānī, Aqā Sayyed Mohmmad-Bāqer, Shiʿite mojtahed and champion of the Oṣūlī school in Shiʿite law (fiqh). Often designated as Waḥīd-e Behbahānī (Behbahānī the unique) or Moḥaqqeq-e Behbahānī (Behbahānī the investigator), he is commonly regarded as the “renewer” (mojadded) of the twelfth Islamic century (see opinion of Fāżel-e Darbandī quoted by Moḥammad Ḥerz-al-Dīn in Maʿāref al-rejāl, Najaf, 1384/1964, I, p. 121).
He was born in Isfahan either in 1116/1704-05 or in 1118/1706-07. His father and first teacher was Mollā Moḥammad Akmal.
Immigration to Karbala, Iraq and His Education
His father took him first to Behbahān and then to Karbalāʾ, which was destined to be his home for the rest of his life. There the young Behbahānī became his father’s principal student, while studying also under Sayyed Ṣadr-al-Dīn Qomī. Mollā Moḥammad Akmal was a pupil of Mollā Moḥammad-Bāqer Majlesī, the great divine who had dominated Iranian Shiʿism in the late Safavid period, and had in addition married his niece; Āqā Sayyed Moḥammad-Bāqer, who came to exercise a similar dominant role at the close of the twelfth/eighteenth century, was thus both spiritually and genealogically a descendant of Majlesī. It is said that after completing his studies in Karbalāʾ, Behbahānī intended to go elsewhere and teach, but a dream in which he saw Imam Ḥussain instructing him to stay dissuaded him (Moḥammad-Bāqer Ḵᵛānsārī, Rawżāt al-jannāt fī aḥwāl al-ʿolamāʾ wa’l-sādāt, Tehran, 1304/1887, p. 122).
Battling with Akhbari School
Remaining in Karbalāʾ, he began to do battle with adherents of the Aḵhbārī school of fiqh, which predominated at the time both in Karbalāʾ, and in the other shrine cities of Iraq. The controversy between the Aḵbārīs and the Oṣūlīs, centering on various questions of oṣūlal-fiqh and especially the problem of ejtehād, was an ancient one, but it had become particularly intense in the late Safavid Period. Before Behbahānī’s appearance on the scene, the Aḵhbārīs were so assured in their dominance of Karbalāʾ that no one dared openly to carry books of Oṣūlī fiqh, but by the end of his life he had almost completely uprooted Aḵhbārī influence from the ʿatabāt. This achievement, combined with similar developments that were taking place in the Shiʿite centers of Jabal ʿĀmal, established the Oṣūlī position as normative for the whole Twelver Shiʿite community.
He left behind a large number of influential pupils: his sons, Āqā Moḥammad-ʿAlī Behbahānī, Āqā ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn; Mollā Mahdī Narāqī, Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qomī, Shaikh Jaʿfar Najafī: Ḥājj Moḥammad-Ebrāhīm Kalbāsī; and Sayyed Moḥammad-Bāqer Šaftī. These exercised a determining influence on religious life in early Qajar Iran, but Āqā Moḥammad-Bāqer Behbahānī accomplished far more than the training of a generation of mojtaheds. Through his vindication of the Oṣūlī position and emphasis on the function of mojtahed, he was in effect the forerunner of those numerous ʿolamāʾ who since his time have sought to play a directive role in Iranian society.
He was vigorous in debate and polemic, and also wrote a number of refutations of the Aḵbārī position: al-Fawāʾed al-oṣūlīya, a response to al-Fawāʾed al-madanīya of Mīrzā Moḥammad-Amīn Astarābādī, one of the main Aḵbārī texts; Ketābal-ejtehād wa’l-aḵbār; and Ebṭāl al-qīās. In all, he is credited with more than sixty works (for a partial list see Moḥammad-ʿAlī Modarres, Rayḥānat al-adab, Tabrīz, n.d., I, p. 52), some of which were preserved in autograph in the library of his descendants in Kermānšāh (see Aʿyān al-šīʿa XLIV, p. 96). His writings on oṣūlal-fiqh are said to have been compiled into a single work by a pupil, Sayyed Mahdī Qazvīnī.
He died in 1206/1791-92 or, according to certain accounts, in 1208/1793-94, and was buried close to the tomb of Imam Ḥussain (p.b.u.h), which he had diligently and reverently visited every day of his life in Karbalāʾ.